Friday, November 30, 2007

Keep Holy The Sabbath

There is no soccer-playing on Sundays in Northern Ireland. Can't very well keep the Sabbath holy if you're running around the pitch or cheering on the sidelines, can you?

Reverend Roy Cooper, a Methodist, is distraught at plans made by the Irish Football Association to overturn the ban on Sunday sport. What of the Lord's day, the family, and rest? Church is being set aside, and now the institution of religion is getting a swift kick out of bounds.

Once the referees are blowing whistles on a Sunday, you can bet that Methodist youth will not be permitted to play or watch. Except for those who are as Methodist as an old acquaintance of mine, who snuck drinks behind her mother's back because the Methodists don't indulge in alcohol. All sorts of young men will slip into the stands after telling their parents that they were going out for a pray with the lads.

Rev. Cooper understands that other religions aren't anywhere near as Sabbath-keeping as his particular sect is. Many are called but few are chosen, don't forget, and if those others wish to partake in Sunday activities that do not revolve around sitting in the church half the day, well, they're going straight to hell anyway so leave them to it.

Methodists in Northern Ireland will soon face a tremendous test of faith. Those who abide by church teachings will find themselves at home, alone and bored and forgotten, while the rest of the country runs off and has a grand time. Reverend Cooper will be praying for you.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting Ready For Christmas

Sure you could rob a bank, but you'd come away with nothing but money, and even that could be stained by an exploding dye pack and there'd you be. Pointless, in the end.

A robber in Dublin stole something far more useful for Christmas celebrating ... and something much more tasty than ordinary currency. He drove a truck into the Guinness Brewery, hitched it to a loaded trailer, and calmly departed into the rush hour traffic of Victoria Quay.

Hosting a party at your place? You don't really need piles of cash, but you do need drink, and what the savvy lad made away with could make for a particularly joyous celebration -- 180 kegs of the black stuff and 90 kegs of Carlsberg, along with 180 kegs of Budweiser that I'd dump in the Liffey myself, but to each his own taste. Gardai estimate the total haul at 40,500 pints. Now that's a party I'd like to attend.

Bad news for Guinness, which is running full bore to get enough kegs delivered to the pubs for the busy Christmas season. Gardai are carefully examining CCTV footage in an effort to identify the perpetrator, but so far there's no sign of the brewery's trailer or the missing kegs. They don't expect to recover the beer. This is Ireland, after all. Slainte!

The Blame Shifts Back

It's all your fault, Brian Fitzgibbon's bosses told him just before they booted him out of his job. The head of home loans at Irish Nationwide Building Society was given the blame for making some very bad loans to a couple of shylock solicitors who are so deeply in arrears there's little chance that their creditors will be fully repaid.

INBS lent solicitor Michael Lynn EU4.1 million for the purchase of a grand pile in Howth, adding to Mr. Lynn's debt load that is thought to be approaching seventy million euro. So it must be the head of home loans who's at fault for lending such a poor credit risk so much credit. Here's the door, Mr. Fitzgibbon, and don't let it hit your arse on the way out.

However, Mr. Fitzgibbon knew full well that he hadn't been the one to grant the loans in question. On the contrary, he said that those very loans should be denied. Who did approve the mortgages? That would be the managing director of INBS, Michael Fingleton. The man who showed Mr. Fitzgibbon the door.

The matter went to court, where Mr. Justice Frank Clarke proved that he is no fool. Not only could INBS not fire Mr. Fitzgibbon, they could not hold a disciplinary meeting against him. Indeed, any sort of inquiry that the building society might make in relation to those who work under Mr. Fingleton would be suspect, since he's the one who signed off on the loans, went around normal channels to grant them, and then canned an innocent bystander.

In its defense, INBS claimed that Mr. Fitzgibbon was let go because of other dealings regarding questionable bonus payments to branch managers. The bad loans to the solicitors were only part of an overall inquiry. No scapegoating here, they insisted, but the facts as presented in court proved otherwise.

As your granny often said, when you point a finger at someone, there's three more fingers pointing back at you. And wouldn't you know it, but a judge might be looking to see where all the fingers are directed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eighty-Six The Fish

Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers and Citigroup sought to cook up a tasty deal for HM Riverdeep, but no one is ordering the fish. The item has been pulled off the financial menu.

Encountering some difficulties in selling $7.15 billion in bonds to finance the minnow's insatiable hunger, the banks have suggested. Riverdeep scarfed down Houghton Mifflin and then tackled Reed Elsevier's Harcourt Education unit, but someone has to foot the bill and bond traders have turned up their noses at the banker's offer.

Like the Chicago Cubs, it will be "wait until next year". There's not enough credit to go around these days, especially for deals that have questionable returns. Moody's rated the bonds as B3 with a negative outlook, which is not the sort of rating that would see nervous buyers put up their scarce cash. It's the uncertainty that is hurting the deal, questions as to whether or not Mr. O'Callaghan can achieve the returns he claimed. Will the cash flow be where it needs to be? Will all those mysterious cost-cutting "synergies" be realized? Well, not right before Christmas, at any rate. Too cruel to sack people en masse, er, I mean, realize synergies, during the holiday season.

As far as HM Riverdeep is concerned, the acquisition of Harcourt is going forward, pending a nod from the Department of Justice. With McGraw Hill and Pearson to serve as competitors, there should be enough evidence that the deal would not create a monopoly among educational materials publishers.

Davy Stockbrokers will hit on their clients for $235 million and Reed Elsevier has already agreed to kick into the kitty for the sake of unloading Harcourt. The bankers will be counting on an upswing in the bond markets so that they can sell off the oppressive weight of the minnow's tab. They were burned badly by the mortgage foreclosure fiasco, and they'd rather not take another hit with another round of defaults.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Big Doctor Is Watching You

Within the next five years, Irish scientists expect to fully develop a new fabric that will change the face of national health. This applies to you, tubby, sitting in your chair with the television blaring, your face stuffed with crisps and chips. You'll not be getting away with that much longer.

These so-called "smart fabrics" will be loaded with sensors that will monitor every movement of the obese. How much more palatable socialized medicine would be if all of us healthy folks knew that the fat ones were being closely watched. Benchmarks could be set, to force compliance with healthy eating or risk financial consequences.

Not getting your exercise as prescribed? Pay for your own Type II diabetes medicines in that case. The rest of the taxpayers aren't covering it if you don't make the effort.

All those embedded sensors will send data wirelessly. Obese folks will not be able to tell their physician that they exercised when they didn't, because the doctor would know. Health care workers could download the data that measure heart beat, respiration and even location. They'd know you were in your kitchen, with your head in the refrigerator.

A new bureaucracy will have to be formed to deal with the recalcitrant fatties.

You, in the darkened kitchen. Drop the drumstick and step away from the turkey.

A Book Stall In The Halls Of Congress

A writer of non-fiction must have a firm platform from which to promote their book. What better platform than a resume that includes Congressional membership? Wouldn't a literary agent perk up to receive a query letter from a former Congressman, seeking representation for a political hash-up on all that's wrong with Iraq?

John Hostettler used to represent the great state of Indiana, until his constituents voted overwhelmingly for his Democratic rival in the last election. He served on the House Armed Services Committee, so he spent some quality time in the trenches during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The platform might have been shaky because Mr. Hostettler isn't a Congressman any more, but his past experiences would have an agent on the phone within seconds of reading his query.

Did Mr. Hostettler go that route at all? His tell-all book, exposing all the hidden motives and dirty deals, will be published by Mr. Hostettler himself. He set up his own publishing house so that he could sell his own book.

No need to worry about editing and rewrites and running it past legal to make sure there's no potential for a lawsuit. At the same time, there's no publicity department to generate buzz and arrange talk show appearances. There's no distribution system in place to get the book into stores. Still, whatever Mr. Hostettler sells will be pure profit for him. No need to give some literary agent 15% of something that will sell like corn dogs at the Indiana State fair.

How does a vanity-published author sell their words? Assuming that Mr. Hostettler made a few friends in Congress, he might seek permission to set up a little stall in the Capital Rotunda. Just a small table piled high with his book and maybe a few souvenirs for all the tourists who come through daily. And there's always the busy street corners of Washington, D.C. A box full of books out to serve nicely in lieu of a soapbox.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Persuasive Arguments

Should you find yourself arrested, you'd want a good solicitor. One with a gift for persuasion, because you'd like to not go to jail. Such a man is Evan O'Dwyer. He got his client off and then some.

Thomas Cunningham was charged with causing bodily harm to his father. He murdered his da, or so the prosecutors believed, but until all the evidence was in hand, they went with the bodily harm business so that they could get Mr. Cunningham into custody.

Ah, sure and it's unfair, says Mr. O'Dwyer. In custody since August, M'lud, and such a slight charge against the lad. My client's right to liberty is more important than State Pathologist Dr. Cassidy's overburdened schedule. Just because she can't get the papers to the court in a decent span of time shouldn't be held against this poor young lad.

Out the door went Thomas Cunningham, Jr., but he was quickly re-arrested on another charge. Outrageous, says the solicitor, to arrest my client for the sole purpose of keeping him in custody after the District Court said he could go. Abusing the system, they are, and the man shouldn't be punished in this manner.

Out the door and out of the country went Thomas Cunningham, Jr. Later, the gardai had the paperwork they needed to arrest him on more serious charges that would have kept him behind bars until the trial, but Mr. Cunningham was no fool and he saw the writing on the wall. Wiser by far to not try his luck a third time.

My client is indeed out of the jurisdiction, says Mr. Evan O'Dwyer when the gardai came looking for Mr. Cunningham. Flew the coop, to use a cliche that may or may not indicate the use of an airplane in making his getaway.

You have to be in awe of a man with such persuasive power, to convince Judge David Anderson twice in the same day to turn a murderer loose.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holiday Cleaning

When I whipped up a new, tasty query and sent off a few copies every couple of weeks until the beginning of November, I foolishly hoped for some sort of response prior to the holiday season. Surely the literary agents clean their offices before departing, I says. The rejections will arrive in a timely manner and I can polish the query during the Christmas break when no one's around to read it anyway.

The mailbox is empty. Christmas season has officially begun.

Nadia Cornier is promising new things to come for Firebrand, according to her new blog, but now I'm starting to believe that the new thing will be the 'no response means no' style of agenting. After the stomach's settled again, that's when the office cleaning will start, do you think?

The local post office sorting station has won the top prize in worst overnight mail delivery, so it can be no surprise that the agents at RLR Associates haven't replied. They might not even have received the snail mailed query sent in the middle of September. The whole batch of queries I sent are all in one sack, stuffed in a corner, to be sorted at the postman's convenience. Pity that Nancy Coffey, Sally Hill McMillan and Margret McBride have all been deprived of a good story. Unless they're not yet done with cleaning out their in-boxes. After the stomach's settled, a reply might be in the mail?

The slowest time to get a response has typically been the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's Day, when the publishing industry closes up completely. I'll keep on querying anyway, because I'm tragically addicted to the process, and because I'd like my letter on the top of the pile when the doors open up again in 2008.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Who Owns The Children

A man and a woman met up in England and decided to live together. So in love they were, but not so enamored of one another that they wanted to make it legal. Who needs a piece of paper when they already know they'll be together forever?

The couple had twins, two darling boys. They were a family now, in their own eyes, and who needs a marriage license and it's just a bother to go to the registry office and it's too much effort to lift the pen to sign the book. They'd be together forever.

They went back to his homeland, to Ireland, the nuclear family. The couple got engaged, with the boys just past a year old. They never did tie the knot officially. Things soured between them, the relationship fizzled, and she packed her bags, took the boys, and went back home to England in January of 2007.

He missed his boys. On 9 March, he went to court and claimed that his twins had been abducted by their mother. She took them and never discussed the matter with him, the father; brought them to England and it's far away.

The courts in Ireland declared that it was wrong for the mother to high tail it to England because that breached the father's rights under the Brussels regulations of the European Union. It was wrong for her to go to England, thereby removing the boys from the jurisdiction of the Irish courts. The fact that the father waited over a month to do anything about custody has no bearing on the case, according to the High Court.

The fight over custody will now begin. The couple will, in a different way, be together forever, battling over two boys. The woman who had seen enough of her partner will never be quit of him, not so long as the boys are minor children. Where she lives will be up to the courts to decide; where her children will reside will be a matter for judicial review.

No need of a piece of paper, she believed in love everlasting. Will the girls never learn?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving, 2007

For the financial resources that pay for stamps and paper and self-addressed, stamped envelopes and the Internet connection that brings it all together --

For the literary agent who's out there somewhere, just waiting for the very story that I've written --

For the editors of literary journals who heed Stephen King's advice and publish good stories instead of navel-gazing, angst-ridden shite --

But most of all, I'm grateful for my family, for the brother who'll bring the perfect wine, the parents who will reminisce about the old days, the sister who will do all the driving and wave away a second glass of that perfect wine. I'm thankful for a cousin who minds the siblings who are far from home today, putting on a big feed and making them welcome because we are all family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Creative Non-Fiction

Publisher Gill & Macmillan believed everything that Delaney Wilson put in her book, High Society. She had notes aplenty to substantiate her every allegation. This was a work of non-fiction, after all, and not a novel.

RTE put together a two part documentary based on the book, which is the sort of promotion that any publisher would love. The publisher was satisfied that Ms. Wilson could prove her case, which would be necessary down the line. After all, when an author claims that a government minister is a coke head, she'd best have some very solid documentation because the government is going to be inquiring as to specifics and substantiation. After RTE aired the show, the questions from government quickly followed. Can't go off and make such sordid claims about ministers without getting noticed, can you?

Yes, well, ahem, said Gill & Macmillan. We thought that Ms. Delaney Wilson had copious notes, and now she's saying she made audio recordings? Don't know a thing about that. She misled us. As for the notes and the recordings, they've all been destroyed. It wasn't our idea.

Ms. Wilson says that her solicitor advised her to destroy the lot so that she could maintain the confidentiality of her sources. Gill & Macmillan is pitching a fit, since she never asked them if that was a good idea, and they are her publisher.

RTE is feeling the heat, since they broadcast the program that suggested government ministers were snorting cocaine. It would be expected that RTE, in turn, would apply the flames to Gill & Macmillan's feet, while the publisher can only say that they were duped.

They could offer to return the purchase price, a la James Frey, but this particular work of creative non-fiction may lead to deeper trouble. Delaney Wilson is on holiday in New Zealand, at the other end of the world. Her publisher would very much like to talk to her when she comes home.

A Stumble On The Long Road

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was arrested at Dublin Airport recently, charged with being drunk and disorderly. He had just appeared on Tubridy Tonight, to promote his new film, and managed to take a big feed of drink between that appearance and his arrival at the airport.

Yesterday morning, the actor's mother passed away in Cork after a brief illness.

The Irish-born actor has admitted to a drinking problem, and spent a short time in rehab. As any reformed alcoholic knows, there are often stumbling blocks along the road to recovery. If you don't have someone to ease you over, you'll fall.

The gossip columns will make much of the arrest. The Irish courts will not. There but for the grace of God, you see.

Doing Something About Darfur

The U.S. is busy in the Middle East, making sure that oil flows and the western world's economy can chug along as per usual. Enormous volumes of hot air have been blown out of the UN and the EU in an effort to get the Yanks out of Iraq and into Chad, where a humanitarian crisis is brewing. Look, it's been said, there's problems with Islamo-fascists in Africa, won't you please come and shoot them up.

Stretched to the limits, the US said, and why don't you go into Chad yourself and, you know, actually do something besides complain about the humanitarian crisis.

Ireland is on the verge of sending its troops into Chad, to create a safe haven for refugees and protect those who are trying to distribute aid. The United Nations said it was all right to go, and the European Union has given its blessing. The final key to unlock the door to Chad will be provided by the Dail, where Minister of Defense Willie O'Dea is soon to request Ireland's stamp of approval for the mission.

All those years of buying African babies, but will Irish politicians allow their young men to journey into harm's way? It's easy to talk about the needs of the Darfur refugees, but voting to send someone's son to a war zone is another matter entirely.

Will there be more hot air billowing out of Dublin? Perhaps a call to other EU member nations, to send some of their children to face mortal danger, and why must it be us doing all the heavy lifting? Or will the elected officials have the courage to walk the walk after talking the talk?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sittin' On The Corner Watchin'

After An Bord Pleanala allowed the Poolbeg waste incinerator to move forward, Minister for the Environment John Gormley stirred.

Steady on, he was heard to say, I intend to change national waste policy. Any day now, I'll have a well-considered, thoughtful plan to reduce waste. When that day dawns, there'll be no need for this giant waste incinerator in Poolbeg. The nation won't produce 600,000 tons of waste per year, which is the expected capacity of the new incinerator. Why, the whole island won't generate but 400,000 tons and this monstrosity at Poolbeg will be redundant and it will have to close. You don't want to be building something that will lose money in the end, do you?

Been there, done that, the planning board was thought to be mumbling to themselves. It's been five months since the Green Party went into coalition and it's been five months that Mr. Gormley's been promising a new waste management strategy. Five months gone, and it's the same rhetoric, and there's no reduction in waste. Build the incinerator before we're buried up to our necks in garbage.

The residents of Poolbeg put Mr. Gormley in office so that the incinerator would not be built in their neighborhood. They've had more than enough, thanks ever so much, of the stench of their local sewage treatment plant and they'd prefer not to have to smell the garbage.

Mr. Gormley promises to fight on, to see that the incinerator doesn't get built, even as the world moves along without him. Construction is scheduled to take place 24/7, in a mad rush to put the thing up and get it running.

Moving at a snail's pace, the minister may well be leading protests on the day of the Poolbeg incinerator grand opening. By that time, he will have to switch tactics and vow to his constituents that he will do all in his power to have the place dismantled, even as plumes of incinerated garbage waft over his head.

Shopping For Your Author Friend

The gift must be unique, one of a kind, and it must suit to a tee --- how about a t-shirt?

Over at, the gift-giving season has begun and some old classic designs are being re-issued. Even if you don't have an author to buy for, you can find something unique there.

Each design was created by an artist who received a monetary award for their work. Can't go wrong when you support the arts.

Best of all, there's no long lines when you shop on-line and you won't be putting too much carbon into the atmosphere. Except for your breathing, of course. And maybe methane, depending on what you ate last night. There's some pollution created in the production of electricity, so this isn't a carbon neutral activity by any means.......

Monday, November 19, 2007

Running Dry

Billions have been written off recently, as high risk loans go into default and shaky mortgages are foreclosed. The money stream is running low, a time of fiscal drought that could be a problem for the whale-swallowing minnow that has become HMRiverdeep-Educational Media-Harcourt-and what all.

Should HMRiverdeep get approval from Washington for their acquisition of Harcourt's educational media arm, will the deal still get done? Where's the money to come from?

Paul Finnegan of Madison Dearborn Partners believes that leveraged financing is still alive, although the investment bankers will ask for a higher premium to cover their exposed arses. He adds that cash flows have to be demonstrably strong as well, since the bank wouldn't like to take on a risky venture with the mortgage fall-out still resounding. It would then be up to Barry O'Callaghan to convince the bankers that he's their man and his merged entity is a lean, mean publishing machine.

If he can show good performances at HMRiverdeep, he has a better chance of attracting investors to buy his commercial paper. So what of Mr. O'Callaghan's original projections? As suggested by Patricia Lane of Foley & Lardner, such a deal could come at a higher price than originally calculated. Before the fall, investors were snapping up bonds that arose from leveraged buyouts, but those same investors were burned and are not quite so ready to jump back into the fire. They'll want more in return for taking another chance. There's also the risk that they won't want to buy at all, as happened to JPMorgan's attempt to sell bonds for Clayton Dubilier & Rice's acquisition of ServiceMaster. JPMorgan had to eat their own paper, and an investment bank doesn't much care for a $1.15 billion feast.

Selling bonds to finance HMRiverdeep's buyout of Harcourt Education could take a lot longer, given the state of the market and the hesitancy of the investment banks. However, there is money out there, estimated to be in the range of $263 billion, and a smaller deal has a better chance of going forward than a mighty whale of a leveraged buyout. $7 billion is such a small portion of the bigger pool, a drop in the bucket you might say.

The Rhythm Method

In a move that will bring down the wrath of Ireland's bishops, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has not condemned the suggested use of artificial contraception. Years of religious education and it's all forgotten, the Church's teachings abandoned in a bid to control the immigrant population.

Ireland is being over-run by grey squirrels, those foreign invaders who have made themselves at home, and at the expense of the native red squirrels. Something has to be done, clearly, or the Irish species will be wiped out. Mr. Gormley is keen to preserve the reds, and he is ready to work with his colleagues in the north to craft a workable solution.

The only way to save the red squirrel is through an all-island initiative, but one proposed solution is not in keeping with Catholic beliefs. Artificial contraception is essentially forbidden, and putting grey squirrels on the Pill would be tantamount to a sin of some sort.

It has been suggested that the grey squirrels be poisoned with warfarin, but the use of deadly chemicals is banned in Northern Ireland. Greys might also be shot but hunting is not popular with members of the Green Party. Trapping could be effective, but once caught, there is no place to send the pesky varmints but to their death, and again, such a plan would prove unpopular.

To find the best way to deal with the overabundance of greys, local squirrel groups may be established to observe and monitor the reds, encouraging them to be fruitful and multiply. The most basic method to beat the greys is via reproduction. Such a concept worked well for Sinn Fein in the north, where the Catholic population has steadily increased since the partition. In addition, a red squirrel action plan steering group could be set up to spread research money around, all in an effort to boost the red population.

The Republic of Ireland must maintain their Catholic ethos and find a grey squirrel behavior expert, in the hopes that someone could instruct the immigrant rodents in the Church approved rhythm method, thereby regulating the population through natural means. Grey squirrels in the north would, of course, find artificial contraception readily available at their local chemist's.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Even Better Than The Real Thing

The Protestant Ascendancy sat back while millions of impoverished Irish starved during An Gorta Mor. In spite of such abuse, the average Dubh is interested in preserving the plethora of Georgian architecture that was constructed during that troubled era. For good or ill, the Georgian buildings are tightly woven into the fabric of Dublin and few would like to see the old facades come down.

Bono and The Edge have something even better than the past. They have big plans for the old Clarence Hotel in the Temple Bar area. It's a posh enough address, with the likes of Bill Clinton spending the night on Saturday. He was in town to raise money for the missus, tapping into the coffers of well-heeled American ex-pats or Irish green card owners. Earlier in the day, he met with Bertie Ahern to talk Northern Ireland and peace. No mention of whether or not An Taoiseach had a suitcase filled with money to slip into Bill's hands, but what are friends for if not to come to a friend's aid? One dig-out deserves another.

The Clarence Hotel is small, too few rooms to generate much profit from the tourist trade. That being the case, U2's front men asked for, and just received, permission to tear down four neighboring buildings, each one of them listed as a Georgian treasure. Can't put up an eye-popping spectacle of a tower without the space, and surely that's enough reason for Dublin City Council to green light the project. The law is clear, that only exceptional circumstances will allow for the destruction of a listed structure. Nothing more exceptional than U2, is there?

The former head of An Taisce, Michael Smith, is outraged that four listed buildings will disappear forever. City Conservation architect Clare Hogan is on record as recommending a no vote on the demolition, claiming that the circumstances aren't the least bit exceptional.

Anthony Abbot-King has a different opinion. The senior executive planner believes that the owners (Bono and The Edge) have demonstrated exceptional economic reasons and doesn't the west end of Temple Bar need a good tarting up? Besides, the Georgians are old and rundown and there's going to be this magnificent new tower all aglow so it's out with the old, in with the new.

An Bord Pleanala has yet to weigh in on the case, but if they approve, there will be a fight in court to protect buildings that were supposed to be protected.

It's largely a matter of opinion as far as preservation goes. Bono himself brought up the lingering emotional pain of the Great Famine that is woven into the Irish psyche, and he may be glad to see four more reminders of British cruelty removed from Dublin forever. One need only take another look at the artist's rendering of the proposed hotel complex, and examine carefully the recording studio that has been described as a space ship suspended in the air. It's not a spaceship at all. It's a giant spud, towering over the quay, as the Celtic Tiger thumbs its nose at the once mighty Empire.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Life On Line

NBC will begin a new experiment, one that weds the Internet to old-fashioned television. Wouldn't you know that the series making its debut in February focuses on a wannabe writer.

The show will be run in short spurts on MySpace before hitting the airwaves. What could be the point, except to lure Internet users to their dusty, unused televisions? That's where the commercials are, the source of money that pays for the programs, and if no one is watching, the advertisers aren't interested in buying air time.

Quarterlife will have its own dedicated website where viewers can pick up streaming video of the program, but it gets better. The site is going to become a social network destination for "artists, thinkers and doers." That describes all of us in the literary community, doesn't it?

Blogs are hot, hot, hot, and the lead character in Quarterlife is blogging away. He wants to be a writer, so he writes what he knows, which is all about the fascinating lives of his twenty-something friends. Picture Seinfeld, but on line, or Friends, but with computers.

The show won't make it unless the lead's friends have some interesting events to report. Face it, a writer's life is not the least bit interesting. You sit in front of a computer, hands on keyboard, or you pick up a pen and put it to paper, and then you compose sentences. For at least an hour every day if you're to get anywhere. Who'd watch that on television, let alone on line?

There could be dramatic moments. The wannabe writer gets a request for a partial manuscript and experiences elation. His partial is rejected with a form letter that suggests the partial was never read and he experiences deep depression. Might as well blog about the mates, who are having a much better time of it, unless his colleagues are wannabe Broadway actors or dancers. Then everyone's having a miserable time of it, and there's a limit to the entertainment value.

What of the website, the social networking place? Will it be a variation on the Zoetrope theme that Francis Coppola put together? Will it be a new and improved forum akin to WritersNet? One thing is certain. It will be a new place for potential novelists to waste time when they should be writing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Travails of Travel

The Clanard Court Hotel in Athy, Co. Kildare is a charming little boutique accommodation, family owned and operated.

What could be more of a bride's dream than a wedding in Ireland, with a festive reception in such lovely surroundings? Looking for a hotel that's off the beaten path of Dublin? Look no further than the Clanard Court Hotel, where guests can find in-house entertainment and more things to do than days to do them in. Tour Whites Castle, the Athy Heritage Centre Museum, the Waterford Crystal factory....the list goes on and on.

Don't forget your Uzi.

The hotel was raided last night by four men in balaclavas, armed with shotguns and one sledgehammer. The latter was used to bash in the front door, which the night porter had locked against the criminal gang.

Local gardai were called and arrived promptly. Within minutes, the armed robbers had their guns trained on the unarmed law officers and had stolen their Garda van. Makes for a much better getaway, one must suppose, than any other stolen vehicle. Not to blame the gardai, of course, because if anyone were to point a gun at a man's head and demand the keys to the van, you'd expect him to hand over the keys without complaint.

The crooks made away with about 150 euros of petty cash, a truly pathetic haul for a job that required so much work to pull off. Add in the cost of increased jail time for robbing a garda and thirty-seven euros fifty is hardly worth the effort to lift.

As the hardened criminal has taken to carrying weapons, and the members of An Garda Siochana do not, the savvy traveler should consider protection of their own when wandering the boreens of Ireland. Enjoy your trip!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Please Continue To Hold

Thanks ever so much for submitting, the editors of the Carolina Quarterly said. Can you continue to wait for a response?

According to their submission policy, the literary journal will not accept simultaneous submissions. In other words, if you wish to submit your short story to them, you are not supposed to submit it to other journals at the same time.

I asked after a short story submission a few months back, but the submission was made a year previously and I thought that the packet was lost in the mail and the journal never received it. How wrong I was. The manuscript was in a slush pile of enormous proportions, so swamped were the editors. They had yet to get to it, sorry, but if I wanted to withdraw and try my luck elsewhere, just drop a line.

Of course, I was submitting the story to other places during the year, prepared to withdraw the submission if the folks at the University of North Carolina accepted it by some off chance. Why not let it ride and see how things played out?

Just the other day, a new type of rejection arrived, with an additional .02 postage courtesy of the university. It wasn't a no, it wasn't a yes.....

Rather like being put on hold, waiting for the next available customer service representative, only to be told that you've waited entirely too long so please call back. The slip of paper in the SASE stated that the editors could not get to the manuscript in a timely fashion. They simply were too overwhelmed with other submissions to read it at all. Please resubmit in September....cross that off. Make it January of 2008. Send it again, won't you? And get back in the queue?

Thanks for the offer, but I don't submit to journals that require exclusive submissions. Tie up a story for over a year and limit the chances of getting published? I felt too guilty skirting the submission rules, Carolina Quarterly, and I'm a believer in casting a wide net.

Good Location, Needs Work

A house and five acres in Howth is about to go up for auction. If you lived there, you'd have the likes of Riverdance's Moya Doherty and John McColgan as neighbors. Good location, you'd say. Add in a splendid view of Dublin Bay and a private beach, and you're looking to secure a mortgage already.

Sadly, solicitor Michael Lynn must sell his dream home, which he purchased only last year. As it turns out, he has three or possibly four mortgages taken out for the property, which he bought for EU5 million. The bank will start bids at EU4.5 million and hope to get some of their money back. A couple of other banks are still in court, hoping to get some sort of judgment against Mr. Lynn so that they, too, can get a few pennies back on their loaned euros.

The bargain price reflects the sorry state of the home, which is in the midst of a major remodeling that involved the removal of internal walls. To say that the place needs work is a bit of an understatement. However, the grounds are splendid and the house was known for its gardens. Having an address in Howth tells the world that you've arrived, you're successful, and such a bragging point will have to be desirable to you, the potential buyer, because that's about all you'd have. The house is not inhabitable.

Mr. Lynn is around EU70 million in arrears on a number of mortgages taken on a several properties. As a solicitor, he was able to take advantage of a lack of regulation and oversight of the property conveyance system, building up a sizable debt portfolio by mortgaging the same parcel over and over again. What better way to fund your lavish lifestyle than at the expense of others?

Who are the others? They would be the average, ordinary people who go to the bank to obtain a mortgage and can't get one because credit is too tight because too many mortgages are in default and there's not enough money to go around.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Smear Not

The world long ago learned that Judith Regan carried on an affair with Bernard Kerik in an apartment that was meant to be used by rescuers at Ground Zero. Lovely flat, great location. Mr. Kerik was the police commissioner, after all, and he was as entitled as anyone else to drop in for a bit of rest and relaxation with his memoir's publisher. New York City's the publishing capital of the world, after all.

Is this the sort of thing that Judith Regan regards as a smear? She is suing former employer News Corporation (owner of HarperCollins) for $100 million, claiming that the company set out to sully her reputation and then fired her without cause.

Why was she so hard done by? Because Roger Ailes is an old friend of Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Ailes runs Fox News, which is owned by News Corporation which is owned by Rupert Murdoch who everyone knows is an evil media baron who wants to run the world by controlling the output of knowledge. Ms. Regan, as the paramour of the recently indicted Bernard Kerik, had the goods on Rudy Giuliani (pillow talk, wouldn't you know), and if she ever spoke up, poor Rudy would be up the flue.

So, to sum up, Judith Regan was given the sack so that Rudy Giuliani could run for the presidency without being assaulted with past peccadilloes. Ms. Regan was smeared to keep her quiet, to prevent the campaign from running off the rails. And she'd like $100 million to cover the damages.

Her imprint, Regan Books, was making money. She caused a scandal when she tried to publish O.J. Simpson's crime tell-all, but any publicity is good when it comes to book sales. No reason at all to fire her, except for all the dirty little secrets that Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes feared she held in her head.

News Corporation says there is no merit in Ms. Regan's lawsuit. But news coverage of the case will make for fascinating reading.

Bring Your Own Mop

Not that I'm fond of hospitals, but the uncle was recovering from his second heart attack and we went to cheer him up.

The cleaning lady came through while we were chatting, so we danced around her mop. Next thing, she's going after every flat surface with a dust cloth and then it was time to wipe down all solid objects that might have come into contact with a patient. The room was spotless when we arrived, and it was even more spotless when we left.

Contrast that with a recent inspection tour of Irish hospitals, which resulted in poor ratings when it came to hygiene. Should you fall ill in Ireland, you'd best be advised to bring along your cleaning supplies, because the cleaners don't clean very well.

Reports of dusty beds, dusty pipes and dusty floors is bad enough. Recovered or not, you'd want to be released as soon as possible, before dust bunnies landed in your recently sutured wounds. Far worse to learn that the intravenous pumps aren't being cleaned. You'd rip out your own I.V. rather than risk getting an infection from the previous user.

A recent assessment of hospital hygiene determined that no one is minding the store when it comes to the cleaning crews. They are paid to clean, and management assumes that the job gets down. Obviously, no one from management ever walks into a ward to look under the beds or verify in any way that hospital patients were getting what their taxes paid for.

Just another joy of national health care. Bring along your own mop, and if you can afford it, you'd want to provide your own medical supplies and equipment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Money Makes Money

The average vanity press is a high-priced way to get a hard copy of your verbiage into your hands. Authors who search the Internet for advice will discover that self-publication is rarely the way to go.

C. Ben Bosah didn't do any Google searches on the publishing industry, vanity or traditional. A brainy engineer, he put together his own business model so that he could get his wife's brilliant non-fiction book into the marketplace. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the man did it all wrong, but the same article puts paid to the initial argument.

Mr. Bosah believed strongly in the self-help book that his wife, a gynecologist, put together. He titled it Letters to My Sisters, making his first mistake by seemingly targeting black women. White women have gynecological issues, too, but they'd not look at a book for black women, the WSJ implied. Hence, a large chunk of the book's market was lost.

Next, Mr. Bosah skipped the whole literary agent - publisher route, figuring that if he did it all himself he could keep all the profits. And the book was so good, there were sure to be massive profits. Wisely, Mr. Bosah had Letters published by a book manufacturing company, which is the cheapest way to get something with respectable quality. He even ordered a huge number of copies, knowing that the book would fly off the shelves, but aware that he got a volume discount so that the book could be priced within range of any other trade paperback.

Oops, no distributor, Mr. Bosah quickly realized. That's where the big publishing houses have it over all the rest. If you get published by HarperCollins, they'll get your work into brick and mortar stores. Mr. Bosah was therefore left to do it on his own -- with a stock of over 15,000 copies to push.

Through persistence, he linked up with a distributor who got the book into Borders, and then the missus won an award from the Independent Book Publishers Association which generated a bit of a buzz. He claims that he's managed to recoup his $40,000 investment. At $16.95 per copy, that's just over 2,300 books sold on-line or door-to-door, along with a boost from a presence in a real book store.

Assuming that the would-be author has plenty of time on their hands to do their own promotion, and that they have a spacious garage in which to store boxes and boxes of books, it would be possible to get published without going through the usual channels. The key is, said author would have to working in non-fiction (easier to sell) and would have to have a nice pile of cash to seed their personal publishing house. Didn't they always tell you that it takes money to make money? Or in the case of self-publishing, it takes money to break even.

By Royal Decree

The middle class families of Illinois are on the verge of getting cheap health insurance. So it is ordered by his most regal majesty, the King, Rod the First.

Now that Congress has axed an expanded SCHIP program, Governor Rod Blajojevich decided that his state was going to offer health care to adults anyway. Why wait for Washington to make the move?

The problem is, there is no way to pay for a program that would provide medical insurance at low, low rates to a family of four that earns $82,600 per year. At the present time, only families making $38,202 are eligible for the discounted insurance. Reduced cost coverage will be pegged at about $360 per month, to make it affordable for those who can already afford.

When His Most Royal Majesty tried to push expanded health insurance coverage through the Illinois legislature last March, the decree failed miserably. Imagine facing your constituents as you explain why you voted in favor of benefits for those comfortably off? It would have involved a tax increase to pay for it, and the average voter making $35,000 per year would not be too keen on paying a wealthier family's health care costs.

Still, the governor wants this bigger and better program, so he has issued a royal decree in the form of an emergency order. It is an emergency, isn't it? If the rules-making committee doesn't strike down the rule, it stands for five months and someone will have to pay the price. The fact is, the state of Illinois simply doesn't have the money to pay for existing health care, especially since the state has already paid money to friends of the King for medical tests billed but never performed.

Most people figure that it'll be more of the same, with an expanded pool of suckers to draw from, if the emergency decree is allowed to stand. It's business as usual, the price of corruption to be paid by the hard-pressed taxpayer who can't afford to get sick.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Holiday Travel Made Easy

You've threatened to pull over and leave them on the side of the road if they ask, one more time, "Are we there yet?"

Heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house can be a nightmare if you have young children in the car. They need amusement, but counting silos grows old in short time. Thanks to the genius of Houghton Mifflin's David Langevin, those horrendous and endless journeys may be at an end.

Read to the wee babes, Mr. Langevin suggests, and his publishing house has just what you need. Ring up an e-book on your cell phone, and motoring becomes quality time as you read aloud. In a deal with Mobifusion, the book publisher now provides e-books that can be accessed by mobile, allowing the harried parent to amuse the little chislers while the miles slip by.

You yourself may wish to read, and if the trip is a long one, you can download War and Peace to your cell phone. Travel by car becomes more pleasant when you add in an amusement. No need to hit the book shop before you head off for holiday fun, not when you can punch in a few numbers and access Houghton Mifflin's e-book library.

Considering the size of the screen and the state of the average reader's eyes, it is debatable whether or not the mobile phone book will make a huge impact on sales. That, and the fact that reading will provide yet another distraction to the motorist, who really should be watching the road and minding the pedestrians. It's just a matter of time before more jurisdictions ban the use of cell phone e-books while driving.

Harlequin is getting in on the act as well, offering five hundred word bits of their steamy novels available in serial form. Imagine someone reading some of that while driving, and you'd be rushing to take public transportation to get where you're going.

Safer altogether if the downloaded e-book was in an audio format.

Show Me The Money

The Ulster Defence Association must disarm, Minister Margaret Ritchie said, or they won't get a penny of funding for the disadvantaged areas that they control.

You can't make us, said UDA, now give us our money.

No, said Ms. Ritchie, a member of the nationalist SDLP.

After a great deal of bluster and puffery, the UDA announced that they were going to stand down, just as the IRA had done months ago. Put weapons beyond use, under the watchful eye of the same general who verified the IRA's disarmament. The UDA's south Belfast brigadier, Jackie McDonald, has also called on his colleagues to give up criminality. Organized crime and drugs are the lifeblood of his organization these days, and there aren't so many loyal members any more. The UDA is a Protestant Mafia, not an army bent on maintaining the Union. It was long since time to disband.

Lest anyone think that Ms. Ritchie's refusal to show the UDA the money had anything to do with the move to decommission, Mr. McDonald stated quite unequivocally that it didn't. Pure coincidence. The UDA is disarming because they feel like it. No pressure whatsoever.

The UDA made their grand announcement on Poppy Day, to drive home the point that they are loyal to the Crown and have loving memories of the First World War and fighting for the Empire that began its slow death in Flanders fields. They're going to give up their guns, the fight is over, and now the loyalist communities can focus on the war that they are very much involved in.

Those who originally organized to defend the Union of Ireland and Great Britain have a bigger battle on their hands. Today, their members are known for gangland murders, drug wars and all the misery that organized crime brings to an area. Show us the money, Ms. Ritchie, the loyalists shout, because the Shinners are getting all the attention and they're moving ahead of those who were supposed to always be on top.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

An Answer At Last

If you sent a query to Jacqueline Hackett when she opened up her own shop, and you've yet to hear back, you can blame me.

Six weeks after submitting, I received the rejection, thanking me for my patience. The folks at Literary Works (Ms. Hackett's intern, possibly) reviewed my query and they were so intrigued that they reviewed it for weeks. Couldn't get to anyone else, no doubt, because they were fascinated by the prose.

As per instructions, I pasted the first ten pages into the e-mail query, and I've no doubt that the formatting went askew. Quotations turned into question marks, paragraphs not indenting, that sort of thing. It's almost impossible to read something like that, but if it took so long to get back to me, they must have been working diligently to decipher the e-mail and then ponder the wonderful word play.

Sorry that my query stalled things for everyone else. Now that I've been turned down -- Literary Works is not the right match for this project -- they can get on with the overloaded inbox and get your rejection off to you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

R.I.P. Norm

He projected the image of a post-World War II Hemingway -- tough, hard-edged, boozy, brawling. Norman Mailer won a pair of Pulitzers for his literary efforts that were as tough and hard-edged as the author himself.

Today he is dead and he will write no more. He leaves behind a collection of works that English teachers will one day point to when they describe the change in writing styles that followed the Second World War. Mr. Mailer began his career by penning The Naked and the Dead, putting his experiences in the war-torn Philippines into every page, and doing it in a way that was fresh and new.

He worked with non-fiction and turned it into something bordering on fiction, thus launching a new genre. With success he became bigger than life, and he eschewed a more writer-like isolation for the glare of the public spotlight. His feud with Gore Vidal remains the stuff of legend.

Women will not particularly mourn the passing of Norman Mailer, given his misogynistic rants. Good riddance, the feminists are heard to cheer, and may he sink into dismal obscurity, his books gathering dust in some library basement, unread and unwanted. Literary historians will keep him alive in course curricula, Norman Mailer as poster boy for the Beat Generation and the mood swings of the 1960's.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Misery Loves Company

First there was chick lit, the hot genre for women. Shopping, glamour, excitement, New York City, men, sex....but now it is said to be dead.

The men got in on the act with lad lit, full of bravado and elan, sex, willing women, more sex...but the genre never really had much of an attraction for the gentlemen. Nothing could beat a good thriller or a spy novel, either of which had plenty of action and willing women and sex, so why bother with the angst business?

We've got brick lit, a new genre for the established author who's gotten too pompous and self important altogether. Think John Irving's Until I Find You, a solid block of paper that weighs in at dangerous poundage and contains so much verbiage that you wonder if he had a quarrel with his editor and sacked the poor underling. No doubt publishers would like to get away from the weighty tomes, since it's expensive to produce such bricks and they'd prefer a slimmer volume and fatter profit margins.

What's the latest genre? Think Oprah's talk fest, think tragedy followed by redemption, and you've found mis lit. Sorrow and sadness, the most miserable of miserable existences; there's the fodder for the misery lit author.

Some have blamed Frank McCourt for starting it, with Angela's Ashes. He injected heavy doses of humour into his writing, but the genre evolved into some deadly serious stuff. And the stuff sells.

Kathy O'Beirne's memoirs about an abusive childhood has been largely discredited, but she sold more copies of her book than Anne Enright, winner of this year's Booker Prize (and writer of misery, the heart of Irish literature).

Where did this fascination come from, and why do these tear-soaked pages fly off the shelves? I'd lay all the blame at Oprah's feet. On a daily basis, her viewers watch the downtrodden parade across the stage, broadcasting their personal tragedy. It could be a drug addict, it could be an alcoholic, it could be any number of dysfunctional family incidents. Before the hour is up, the drug addict or the alcoholic or the dysfunctional family is redeemed, the tragedy made comedy, and everyone goes home happy.

It's all so very Victorian, with the message of sin and redemption. And it's a bit of a prayer as well, by those who read misery lit. There but for the grace of God, the reader can murmur, and it's not unlike witnessing a terrible traffic accident. Perhaps it's a fascination with someone else's problems, or it might be a curiosity about that which goes on behind closed doors.

If you're trying to get published, and you've got a background that's awash in abject misery, now is the time to get in touch with a literary agent. Even the hottest genre can go cold before you know it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

But For The Irish Sea

Due to security concerns, the British have announced that the common travel area has to be modified. No longer can the Irish travel across the Irish Sea and set foot on British soil without producing a passport.

Travel between Scotland or Wales and England will remain unaffected. How else could it exist, seeing as how those components of the United Kingdom are all on one island. Crossing the border between one and the other involves walking over an imaginary line, with no real demarcation to mar the land.

Ian Paisley believes that his little corner of the U.K. is every bit as British as the soil of Wales and Scotland. When a Welshman or a Scot wish to go to London to see the Queen, they do not have to produce a passport in order to leave their home turf. The diploma mill Reverend has made it known to Prime Minister Gordon Brown that it will be very dangerous, and downright unfair, to force a Northern Irish Englishman to show papers in order to gain entry.

Very dangerous, he says, to treat the citizens of Northern Ireland any differently than the rest of the U.K. Why, it would appear as if the folks in the Six Counties aren't actually part of the U.K. at all. They'd be asked for passports, just like the travellers making their way from the Republic of Ireland. It's almost as if everyone living on the island of Ireland were Irish, and if that's the case, is London wavering on the union?

Mr. Paisley is aware that, without added security controls, terrorists could travel from Dublin to London with ease, and that could endanger lives. Illegal immigrants arriving in the Republic could hop over to England and what's to stop them? Yes, greater control is needed, but surely there must be some other way, Prime Minister.

What truly rankles is the British decision to not beef up security at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. As it is nothing more than a long imaginary line, and it would be impossible to regulate the land border (see also U.S./Mexico border control), there is no financially sensible way to secure it. More logical, then, to stop unwanted entrants at the main gate.

Don't have a different set of rules for one group of British citizens, Mr. Paisley insists. No difference would need to exist, but for the Irish Sea, which is not a land border at all, at all. Mr. Brown's government understands that Ireland is an island, a single land mass. Mr. Paisley, however, would prefer not to believe it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Too Awkward

So said Hilary Quinlan's attorney in court today. The former mayor of Waterford City, charged with brawling at a family wedding, was not present, but his legal representative was. Mr. Quinlan would like the charges dropped, please, and let bygones be bygones. Water under the bridge. No harm, no foul.

McLean County prosecutors have offered a plea deal, something unfamiliar to Mr. Quinlan as Irish law does not make allowances for wheeling and dealing in the courtroom. If Mr. Quinlan were to take responsibility for hitting a female wedding guest, the prosecutors have suggested, they could let things disappear from his record. According to attorney Jon Backman, such a deal would be too awkward.

Court supervision would be another option, not unlike going to driving education class to erase a speeding ticket. In Mr. Quinlan's case, his supervision would have to be carried out under the auspices of the Irish courts, as he was allowed to go home to Waterford after he was bailed out. Returning to Bloomington, Illinois would become a rather expensive proposition, what with the cost of air fare and lodging. Possibly someone from the McLean County prosecutor's office could be convinced that a vacation in Ireland, with a side trip to look in on Mr. Quinlan, would be a rather pleasant duty, particularly if the taxpayers covered all expenses.

If the charges aren't dropped, Hilary Quinlan could be looking at 364 days in jail and a fine of $2500, which he would surely like to avoid if at all possible. But that leaves the other option, to admit that he was at fault, that he started it and he's the one to blame for the wedding fiasco.

Given the choice, I'd say it's far more awkward to be jailed for a year than to take the blame for a fight. Mr. Quinlan has until 19 December to decide which he'd prefer, jail time or a slice of humble pie.

Architect vs. Engineer: No Holds Barred

If they're so smart at M.I.T. they would have done a bit of research about Frank Gehry. Sure he's a star in the architectural firmament. Sure he's done some large projects that generate buzz and sightseers. Sure he doesn't know how to put up what he's drawn on paper.

The Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park ran over budget -- beyond what was paid out to friends and those who know the right people, the usual graft of the city. Well over one million dollars was spent by structural engineers at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, trying to figure out how to make steel curve and arch like an exploded tin can, while at the same time putting up a functional music pavilion. Techniques had to be tried and then others tried when the first attempts failed in a series of experiments that cost plenty. In the end, the bandstand worked, but the curving bridge across the park proved to be useless in the winter, when the weight of snow and pedestrians would have caused it to collapse.

The Stata Center, an image from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, has its problems. Leaks, cracks, poor drainage, that sort of thing, and now the engineers are taking the architect to court. A bit of negligence here, a touch of contract breaching there; the three-year-old building is an engineer's nightmare.

Skanska USA, which built the center, has pointed the finger of blame at the architect. The engineers wanted to change the design of an amphitheatre that is now falling to pieces, but the architect wasn't having any of it. Mr. Gehry is not taking the blame, instead shunting the problems onto M.I.T.'s shoulders. It's the client's fault, he's implying, because they cut corners and created the very problems that are named in the lawsuit.

What sort of problems? Things like snow (which Mr. Gehry does not have to deal with in Los Angeles) and ice falling off the building and blocking the emergency exits. M.I.T. had to pay out another $1.5 million to fix that and the cracking amphitheatre, but having spent $300 million on the structure, they'd like to not spend more to fix what never should have gone wrong.

With all the engineers on campus, at one of the best engineering schools in the world, you'd think that one or two of the professors might have taken a glance at the blueprints, and maybe spoken to some structural engineers in Chicago about translating a Gehry design into functional reality.

The Empty Chair

Brings a tear to the eye, the image of the empty chair at a table set for Christmas dinner. All over Ireland, mammies are sinking into the depths of depression, anticipating that very chair at their own table. The son or daughter has gone to the US for work, undocumented and illegal, and they don't dare try to come home for they may not get back after the holidays.

Families and Friends of the Undocumented Irish held a rally outside the Dail yesterday, urging the government to do something. Cut a deal with U.S. Immigration, they pleaded. Fix it so that the children can be home for Christmas. Fill the empty chair with a familial bottom.

Enda Kenny is on top of the issue, speaking to the FFUI. Look at Australia, he said, which won 10,000 work visas for its citizens in America. Australia agreed the same number of visas for Americans looking for work down under, tit for tat, and why not the same for Ireland. The fact that Australia is part of the coalition of the willing in Iraq might have a great deal to do with the arrangement, but Mr. Kenny would never suggest that Ireland join in as well. Better the empty chair, wouldn't you say, missus, than our lads off fighting in a Middle Eastern country other than Lebanon?

FFUI has circulated a petition, but signatures on paper don't move bureaucrats. They like to get something when they give, and Ireland has something that Washington DC would like very much. There's a lot of corporate profits, shuttled to Ireland under the guise of shell companies that are set up to take advantage of lower taxes. Now, it the Dail could craft a bit of legislation so that some of that cash ends up in the pockets of the IRS.....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Same Day Service

"We apologize for responding with a form letter," says literary agent Richard Parks. No need to apologize. It happens all the time.

"We are taking on few new clients at present and virtually no fiction." That would be the case on the first of November, when the rejection was prepared with my very own name printed by hand in the salutation. My query letter was sent on 28 October. That is same day service, without a doubt.

Can't fault the man for being on top of his in basket. The reply had to have been sent as soon as the query letter was received. But Mr. Parks is not alone in his speed.

From the same batch of queries sent during the Halloween season (suitable time for querying, oddly enough) comes a response from Loretta Barrett. I queried new agent Gabriel Davis, but Ms. Barrett responded with a form rejection. An instant rejection, a no from the moment an intern or a secretary or a clerk opened the letter. "This project did not resonate with me as strongly as I feel it should in order for me to be able to represent it properly," she said in her negative response.

What does it mean, when a literary agent gets back to you so fast it sets your head to spinning? They run an organized office, for one. And your hook sucks. Not doing its job, to generate enough interest to get the agent's eyes all the way through the rest of the query letter, down to the single paragraph synopsis and the closing paragraph. For me, it means the new hook I crafted has to be tossed and a new one born to replace it.

That's a project for another day. I'll take a brief vacation from the manuscript and fire off some short story submissions -- no hook required.

Impac 2008

This year's Impac award field is filled with literary heavyweights. Who might take home the hundred thousand euro prize?

Of the 137 books in the running, six were penned by Irish authors. Considering that the Impac award is an Irish award, you'd think they could have found a few more for the sake of pride, but there you are. The top seller in the Irish category is John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a Holocaust novel that looks at Auschwitz through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy who wonders about the people on the other side of a tall fence, all clad in striped pyjamas.

An outstanding novel, to be sure, but Mr. Boyne is up against the likes of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day and Martin Amis's House of Meetings. Margaret Atwood, Michael Collins, and Vikram Chandra are also on the long list.

Librarians select the books for the Impac award, with a hope to encourage people to read some high quality fiction that may not feature in some best seller list. In five months time, the field will be narrowed to the short list, and then the bookies will be taking bets.

Pick up some of the listed novels and have a good read. That's a guaranteed win.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Saver Of Lost Pigs

Show me the pigs. I have come to set them free!

For some unknown reason, the media failed to fully report on the recent arrest of actor Shia LaBeouf. Granted, it was 2:30 in the morning when the security guard fingered the young man, so a few minor details may have been forgotten in the chaos.

Mr. LaBeouf was in the Walgreen's shop on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and he was arrested for criminal trespass when he refused to leave. The security guard claimed that the actor appeared intoxicated, but anonymous sources (the pixie fairy voices in my head, if you must know) clearly heard Mr. LaBeouf ask about Mrs. Estelle Walgreen's pot-bellied pigs.

With her property in foreclosure and other investments going bad, the fate of the divorcee's pet pigs has been in limbo. Shia LaBeouf was alarmed over the potential fate of the farmyard animals (slabs of bacon and juicy hams) and went to the Walgreen's store to save them. When the clerks failed to help him locate and rescue the endangered swine, he naturally refused to budge. This was life and death for Porky and his family, and Mr. LaBeouf was not about to be pacified.

The 21-year-old actor was reportedly polite following his arrest, but his pleas that the pigs be saved went unheeded by Chicago's finest. He will appear in court on 28 November, at which time he will gain a greater platform for his cause.

Pot-bellied pigs of the Walgreen estate, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Doing The Marketing

What better alibi for a robber could exist? I was only doing the marketing for the partner. The robbery of the cash van? Pure coincidence. And that goes for the other two fellas with me.

A spate of robberies in Dublin and its suburbs caused a great deal of alarm, largely because it seemed like such a straightforward and simple operation. Wait for the cash van to turn up at the ATM, which it inevitably will, and then pull guns on the delivery men. They, being unarmed, are more than willing to give up the money in order to hold on to their lives.

One particular gang was quite adept at lifting the loot, usually a million or two euros with each haul. What to do? Send the army along with every delivery? Send a convoy of armed gardai? Oh, and by the way, who's to pay for the added security?

As it turned out, there was another way to foil the crooks. Acting on a tip, gardai kept a close eye on the gang that was pulling off most of the heists. For a couple of months, every move that the men made was monitored. On Friday, they made their last move and now they're in jail.

While shoppers came in and out of Tesco in Celbridge on Friday, the seven gangsters jumped out of their vehicles, prepared to cut open the armored van and lift the cash. Three men were using stolen cars. Three men used their own cars, to set up the "doing the marketing" alibi. The seven man? He exited the cash van from the driver's door.

Loose lips sink ships. It's always the informer who does in the most well-contrived plot.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bubbles Behind Bars

No one knew where the appellation came from. Suffice it to say, the boys called him Bubbles behind his cassock.

He taught Greek as part of the classical Jesuit education that the prep school was known for.

Give me the boy and I will give you the man.

Discipline was part of the package as well. Corporal punishment for the lads who got out of line, strict rules, but the young men who left after four years were ready for university education, ready to take their place as Catholic leaders in business or politics.

In later years, he became a retreat leader, organizing prayer sessions in far flung places. He even worked with Mother Teresa's group for a time. Don't be messing with the boys, the Jesuit provincial said to Bubbles, but Father McGuire turned a deaf ear.

Give me the boy and I will give you the man.

Bubbles, they called him behind his back. Now they call him a serial abuser to his face. Father Donald McGuire of the Society of Jesus appeared before a judge in Federal Court, charged with sexual misconduct with a minor. That's only one of the charges, however. Someone else has accused the priest of sexual molestation over the course of four years. The young man whose life was destroyed was entrusted to the care of the pervert by his parents, who had adopted Father McGuire as the family's spiritual leader.

It's the same old story, one that has been told several times. The priest cultivates his victim by going through the family, gaining trust and gaining access. The boy says nothing, too ashamed and convinced that his parents would never believe him anyway. Since 1969, it's been suggested, the Jesuits knew that Father McGuire was molesting young men he was supposed to be mentoring.

Give me the boy and I will give you the man.

While involved with Mother Teresa's organization, Father McGuire organized retreats around the world. Don't take young men on your retreats, the priest was told, but he did it anyway. Don't mess with the boys, and that's an order. That ought to do it, now on to the next pressing issue.

Perverts like Father McGuire can't just stop doing what they're doing because the boss said to knock it off. Yet that is all that was done. No one removed him from his post, even after it was known that he was molesting young boys. He was issued a directive, he failed, and no one thought to confine him to the rectory and then find him something to do that did not involve traveling overseas with minors who were brought along to be molested.

Year after year, since 1969, trusting parents gave their boys to the Jesuit, and in return, they were given the shells of men -- damaged, broken and crushed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Voice Of Labour, The Voice of Justice

The ghost of big Jim Larkin walks the streets of Hollywood today, haunting writers who are preparing to stand up for their rights. No justice, no scripts, they bellow as they march along.

How is anyone to notice their absence?

Films and prime-time television programs are set for the season, and if one were being honest, the industry is set for life. When was the last time an original film was aired? When was the last time an original situation comedy was broadcast?

The writers seek monetary gains from the new media, having priced themselves out of the old. Sure they won concessions in the last industrial action, but the industry responded with cheap to make reality shows. No writers needed, thanks very much, don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

Panic in the streets of Hollywood, as the little people face the consequences of a shut down. Those who provide the leafy landscaping, those who wash the costumes, et al., fear for their livelihoods, yet the show will go on. Hollywood will do what it has been doing for years -- recycle old scripts and serve up the re-heated left-overs.

Remakes will be your entertainment fare should the writers stay out for long. Late night talk show hosts will have to repeat old jokes or make up their own routines, but other than programs that most people miss because they're in bed asleep, the viewer will not notice any change.

It's all to the good, so, that Steven Colbert's presidential race has been effectively quashed. With a show that's done daily, he's out of new material as soon as his writers take to the picket lines. Although he could channel Pat Paulsen and recycle some previously used material...

A Tipple Of Sanguis Domini Nostri Jesu

Sweet Jaysus, now we've got to worry about drunken priests dashing about, a big feed of Communion wine on them. You'll have to head straight home from Mass on a Sunday and bolt the door, or risk getting killed on the roads.

With the current shortage of priests, those that remain find themselves celebrating several Masses on a Sunday, and Fr. Brian D'Arcy of Enniskillen is afraid that God's messengers are going to get arrested for drink driving through no fault of their own. Sure and it's a crisis brewing.

There's Mass at Church A, then it's into the car and off to Church B. Speed off to Church C and then fly over to the hospital to visit the sick and what would happen if the gardai had a road block set up and gave a cleric a breathalyser test? Wouldn't the alarm bells go off?

Father D'Arcy is afraid that his Vatican-mandated tipple could put him over the legal limit. According to regulations, the priest has to finish all the wine that is consecrated at the Mass, so if a large portion of the congregation balks at sipping from the communal cup, a priest could be consuming a mouthful of wine. Multiply that by three Masses and Father D'Arcy figures he'd have had three mouthfuls of wine in the span of three hours. And that could put him over the limit. But he has to drive to tend to his Catholic flocks. Holy Mary, Mother of God, what are we to do?

Harking back to the altar boy days, I can recall some priests who never cared for the Communion wine and liked a long splash of water to dilute it. If Father D'Arcy were stationed in Galway I could understand why he'd hesitate to add much water, given the cryptosporidium infestation. Still, if he's so worried about drink driving, couldn't he dilute the wine with a pour of Evian?

Sorry, I can't seem to finish the post. It's too hard to type when you're rolling on the floor laughing. Over the limit after three mouthfuls of wine? Must have bumped his head when he fell off the turnip wagon.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Under The Table

Even back in 2000, the Iraqi regime was tagged with the mark of Cain, labeled as aggressors and thugs and whatever other derogatory term might fit. The U.N. was in agreement, slapping on rules and regulations that were meant to pressurize Saddam Hussein to rein in his murderous tendencies.

Yes, but the U.N. would not wish to inflict pain and suffering on the Iraqi people, so the oil for food program was born. Contracts for goods and services had to be vetted through the U.N., which perused the invoices and approved payments. Shocking to learn that the oil for food program was as corrupt as the government they were seeking to regulate.

Ingersoll-Rand would never trade with America's enemy. Neither would they engage in such under the table transactions as bribes to secure business with the old Iraqi regime. Surely the American firm was shocked, shocked as could be, shocked beyond all measure, to discover that their left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. Shocking.

Thermo-King Europe is an Irish subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand. Thermo-King Europe paid bribes of $963,000 between 2000 and 2003 so that they could sell parts for refrigerated trucks to Iraq. Technically, Ingersoll-Rand wasn't doing the bribing, it was their Irish branch slipping wads of cash under the table and then hiding the pay-outs as "after-sales service" fees. Thanks for paying the bill, U.N., and what sort of service was performed, you ask? Don't ask, don't tell, right?

The Securities and Exchange Commission dug up the dirt on Ingersoll-Rand's Irish arm and laid out its case before the Justice Department. Those after-sales service fees were bribes, no services were performed after sales, and Ingersoll-Rand was engaging in corrupt business practices. Let them say they didn't know what those dumb micks were about, offering the cash in clear violation of the law. The head must know what both the left and right hands are doing because it's guiding the whole body, and Ingersoll-Rand showed no evidence of severe brain damage.

One hopes that the business proved highly lucrative for Ingersoll-Rand, because they have been levied some substantial fines for breaking the law. The bill comes to $6.7 million in settlements, $2.5 million in fines to the Justice Department as a plea deal, and another $4.2 million for civil claims.

Stockholders might want to pay closer attention to the annual reports from here on in. And when it's time to vote for the board members? If they don't know what's happening in their foreign subsidiaries, are they competent enough to run the whole company?