Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fair Treatment Of Prisoners

The Irish anti-war crowd is quick to criticize the Americans and the Israelis, pointing accusing fingers. Turns out that the other fingers in the fist are indeed pointing right back at the Irish.

State documents dating from the days of the Irish Civil War were sealed, not to be released for eighty years when it was expected that all those involved would be dead. Dead and unavailable for comment to the press, that is.

Papers dating from March of 1923 paint a very horrific picture of the Irish Free State, which morphed into the current Republic of Ireland.

It wasn't merely a matter of an Easter Rising in 1916. Ireland was forged from the heat of a civil war that burned both anti-Treaty forces and the army of the Free State that was content to abandon the six Northern counties to England. Bad blood and determination to win resulted in a toxic mix.

War is ugly, and the anti-Treaty forces believed that they had to kill off their Free-State brethren to create the nation they dreamed of. Free-State soldiers retaliated, and in 1923, they retaliated by blowing up anti-Treaty POWs with land mines in Kerry. Charming technique.

The official position stated that anti-Treaty POWs were put to work clearing land mines that they had themselves laid, and if one of their own died while cleaning up the mess, well, that's how things go sometimes.

For the first time since 1923, the Free State Army's "Visiting Committee" has been exposed. As a matter of Army policy, prisoners of war were taken out and killed by a select group of soldiers, and the Free State government colluded with the military to cover it up. For eighty years, it was locked away in a vault so that no one would know.

As 2009 dawns, we are reminded that no one is qualified to throw the first stone because no one is free of sin.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Marketing Gimmicks

Fresh and new. That's what literary agents want from debut authors.

There's plenty of Holocaust memoirs out there already. That left Herman Rosenblat with no other choice but to make his version of events fresh and new.

So he did.

He got caught.

Lovely that he met his wife on a blind date, but that's so ordinary. He changed things a bit, all in a bit of marketing wizardry meant to appeal to the literary agent and the publisher and even Oprah herself.

We met when she tossed an apple over the fence, he said, over the fence of the concentration camp. After the Jews were liberated, we were married and life is beautiful and we don't believe in hatred etc. etc.

Okay, so they were introduced in New York City. What agent would take on such a boring client? No publisher would buy memoirs without a heart-tugging hook.

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't used the title Angel At The Fence. Maybe if he hadn't played it as a love that survived brutality and horror. But then the memoirs wouldn't have sold and Mr. Rosenblat's story wouldn't have seen the light of day.

Once again, memoirs have proven to be fiction, but fiction is such a hard sell that the author pretended the plot was pure fact, rather than fact-based. A novel about a concentration camp inmate being aided by a woman outside the fence would make for a charming story, but Andrea Hurst might not have picked it up and Mr. Rosenblat wouldn't have the platform he built when he first made up the tale in the 1990's.

It's not about the writing. It's all about the marketing, and what an author can get away with for the sake of being published.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Story Has Already Been Written

Inspired by the Bernard Madoff scandal, are you? Thinking about putting together an entire novel, based on actual facts?

It's been done already. Anthony Trollope wrote it. Over one hundred years ago.

The Way We Live Now is vintage Trollope, skewering his contemporaries and their pathetic pursuit of instant wealth. The wicked Augustus Melmotte is Bernard Madoff in almost every way, although Trollope inserted a large dollop of anti-Semitism in his telling of the tale.

At a time when men thought they could profit by cornering the silver market, by flipping real estate or selling commercial paper, the lure of riches hung heavy in the air. Trollope was appalled and he used his disgust as inspiration for a long novel that he filled with the sort of intrigue that lies at the heart of a well-crafted fraud.

Rather than railroad shares, Mr. Madoff peddled investments at a time when we look to the financial markets for some instant wealth. As in Trollope's day, a promise of generous dividends was the lever that parted a man from his money, and the end result is largely unchanged. At some point, the artificial construction collapses under its own weight, and the investors discover that there are no generous dividends to be had.

If people would only read more, these things wouldn't happen so easily. The get-rich-quick scheme of Queen Victoria's era failed then, so why would anyone expect it to work this time around?

We must consider, of course, that a novel written in 1875 isn't on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2008, and what trend-setter would be seen with something that dated? Apologies to Mr. Spinoza, as those who don't know history repeat it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Shepherd's Tale for 2008

And there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly.

"The poitin's poisoned," Seamus exclaimed. "I'm hallucinating."

They'd been sharing a jar, trying to keep warm, and to a man they were heated through. Wasn't it like Seamus to panic, always listening to the warnings that were issued every year. There's chicken droppings been found in poitin, that was the latest scare meant to put an end to drinking. Cormac knew that his cousin brewed the best poitin this side of Tuam and there were no adulterants.

"Fancy a drop?" Cormac offered their glowing guest.

"I bring you good news," the angel said, and took another wet. "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you."

"Grand, grand," Seamus said. He took the bottle back before the visitor polished it off. Clearly this one had no idea how powerful a beverage this was.

"You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger," the angel concluded.The news delivered, the angel stumbled off, singing of glory and peace to men of good will. Poitin would do that to a fella, put him in a generous state of mind and ease any and all burdens. It also caused the occasional hallucination, Cormac realized, because it looked like the stranger floated up to the heavens and the one voice singing magnified into a multitude like a choir giving voice.

"Let's us go over to Bethlehem," Seamus said.

"Sure and it couldn't hurt," Cormac agreed. "Might be strangers passing through and here's a new babby born and no one about to wet the wee little head."

So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

"An angel told me to call his name Jesus," Joseph said when the shepherds asked after the child's health.

Cormac wasn't sure about offering a drop to a man he didn't know, but if ever there was proof that this Joseph had taken drink in his life, this angel business was it. The men passed the bottle around and offered their heartiest, and somewhat inebriated, congratulations to the proud da.

"I'm not the father, actually," Joseph said.

"No indeed, our boy was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit," Mary chimed in.

"'Tis a sacred thing, missus," Cormac said and he offered the last of the poitin to a woman who must have taken advantage of the medicinal effects of the spirit during her labor.

They admired the baby a little more, paid compliments to the lovely mother and made bawdy jokes with Joseph. Before they wore out their welcome, the shepherds left the family in their temporary lodging, all well warmed by several drops of the cratur.

And the shephereds returned, glorifying and praising. Cormac hurried over to his cousin's place, to tell that genius of the still how splendid this year's batch of moonshine had proved to be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Make It A Happy Christmas

As this may be the last happy Christmas for some time, you're advised to enjoy it.

An Taoiseach Brian Cowen has told the nation that the standard of living is going to slide down from the stratospheric heights of Celtic Tiger days. Do you know how to cut peat? You might consider asking Santa for a proper spade. At least you can keep yourself warm when you can't afford the utilities.

The tax take is down and is expected to go further into decline, which means there won't be as much cash on hand for social welfare. What's left will most likely be budgeted for infrastructure and public works projects that will provide jobs, the things that will matter to tourism.

In Limerick, it's expected that Dell will shut down their manufacturing facility and move production to cheaper places like Eastern Europe or Asia. Nothing is appearing on the horizon to replace those two thousand paying jobs.

The economic crisis is global, and it started with too many people being given mortgages that they couldn't afford, while the risk was sold down the line where it burned even more financial institutions.

So make it a happy Christmas this year. Next year, you might be at home alone while your children are in the States, living out a more traditional Irish custom of emigration. Go ask your parents about those days...those same people who watched prosperity take root and told you it wouldn't last because it never did.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who Says There's No Money In Bookstores?

All this wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth---the independent bookstore is going the way of the dinosaur, they're saying.

No one reads, no one buys books, and those that do are making their purchases online.

Anna Susan Kosak put paid to that entire notion.

The North Carolina resident was employed for seven years at Quail Ridge Books & Music in the lovely city of Raleigh. In that time, she managed to embezzle almost $350,000.

Fifty grand per year is a very nice salary, and if the angst over bookstore closings were true, it would be an astronomical income. But that's just what was stolen off the top, while the owner chalked up the hard times to the growing illiteracy of the general public.

Despite the theft, the bookstore managed to bring in enough cash to keep the doors open and pay the help, while Ms. Kosak helped herself. For seven years.

By all means, buy books this Christmas. They make wonderful gifts that can decorate a coffee table or intrigue a mind. Support your local independent vendor, who knows the inventory and can make recommendations for good reads that your computer screen cannot.

And rest easy. If one woman can lift $350,000 from a bookstore, there must still be hope for the survival of the book shop on the corner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Priests Have Needs Too

The abused children had their parents, didn't they? And who did the priests have to turn to if not their bishop? Someone had to look out for them, after all, while the children were having their emotions tended to.

Now everyone's criticizing Bishop John Magee for being so very caring. Isn't that what a proper bishop is about?

Bishop Magee is taking the heat for not giving the names of alleged clerical sexual abusers to the gardai. Sure the kids who were abused could do that much at least. Is it up to the bishop to do every little thing?

Lazy sots. Ring up the garda station yourself for feck's sake. Bishops have a flock to mind, all that feeding of lambs and sheep as Jesus Himself ordered.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children has its knickers in a knot because there was a delay in reporting abuse allegations, and they don't think the fault should have been deposited at the door of the abuser for not talking to the guards. So?

It's this socialistic government, always handing out and doing and thinking for people. They can't lift a finger for themselves anymore, and if something they should be doing doesn't get done, well, the next thing you know they're giving out about how the bishop didn't drop around to the Garda station and let the authorities know that a couple of his priests were likely abusing children in the parish of Cloyne.

If parishioners didn't want to be bothered to make a simple phone call, isn't it obvious that they weren't so interested in pursuing their complaint? Naturally, Bishop Magee would be inclined to believe that the complaint wasn't worth his time and effort to pursue. He's a man of God, educated and wise. Not a trained professional in psychology or mental health, but that never stopped anyone before and the Church has existed for a couple of thousand years, hasn't it?

Bishop Magee is sorry. Are you satisfied now? He's apologized for not moving faster, for not following Church guidelines and turning the complaints over to a trained professional. Sorry for protecting his priests rather than the children in the parish.

Try to remember in the future that the Lord helps those who help themselves.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Consider It A Loan And It's Come Due

All Matt Leen wants is his pension.

He's 61 years of age and paid in to the pension system for sixteen years. Now he's retired, and he'd like his money. An Post wants him to reimburse them first.

It seems Mr. Leen took out a loan, of sorts, in 1978. That's when he helped rob the Tralee Post Office. All in a good cause, mind you. He was standing against the occupation of Irish soil, doing his bit to free the oppressed Irish up in the Six Counties. Nothing wrong with that, so where does An Post have the audacity to suggest that he pay back the stolen money before he'll see any of his pension?

He can have his weekly stipend if he returns the proceeds of the robbery, plus interest compounded annually.

Having managed to navigate Portlaoise Prison for seven years, Mr. Treen now finds himself in a bureaucratic maze. An Post says he owes them, the pensions ombudsman wants An Post to decide if this really is an issue in which an employee has to pay back the money, since it was a robbery after all and not exactly a loan, and Mr. Treen is spinning in circles.

He could try robbing various post offices across Ireland, taking 170 euro per week, every week, and then tell the gardai that he's just collecting his pension in the only way left open to him. Or he could wait for An Post to make a final decision. Either way, it's a crime.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Money-Losing Nation

It's worth $25 million, swear to Jesus, says LiveNation.

Ah but your stock is worth only $3.91 per share and that means you've misled us, says U2. It's been grand, but we'd like our money now please.

Only last March, U2 and LiveNation inked a deal in which U2 Inc. picked up 1.6 million shares of LiveNation and expected to amass a considerable return.

As a bad market would have it, LiveNation's stock took a dive and the March deal is undone.

U2 Inc. is going to sell its shares, and LiveNation will take the hit. A heavy hit it is, with losses expected to reach $19 million.

On top of that, Madonna had a similar deal and she's expected to exercise her option as well. So that's another $25 million stock deal that won't pan out for LiveNation.

LiveNation should head over to Congress and beg for a bail-out. The concert promoting industry is on the verge of collapse without an injection of funds! No more U2 at a stadium near you! No more Madonna.....well, there's some good coming out of the bad news.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Nuns Are Not To Be Trifled With

Take that, all you pundits. You were sitting around, just waiting for the President-elect to announce that William Ayres was going to be the Secretary for Education.

Who'd he pick, so? Arne Duncan, a name unknown outside of Chicago.

The public school system in Chicago is so stellar that the Rev. Mr. James Meeks took a protest group up to the North Shore suburbs to make a holy show about how the children can't enroll in one of the elite districts because they are so unfortunate as to live in Chicago. The North Shore kids go to elite universities and get plum jobs at the end, while the inner city youth rarely make it as far as graduation.

Who better for education than the man who's in charge of the whole miserable excuse for an education system?

If President-in-waiting Obama were at all serious about doing something for education, he would have trotted over to Dubuque, Iowa, where the saintly Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary keep themselves busy in spite of retirement.

If Mr. Obama truly wanted to shake up the schools of America, he would have selected a few of the good sisters and put them in charge. They've got a track record of positive results, they'd not take any nonsense from some lobbyist, and they'd never look for monetary reward.

You think your schools are bad now? Just wait. Arne Duncan will soon be working his magic. Better hope there's a Catholic school nearby so that your children can avoid such a fate. That's what the people in Chicago do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Holidays Eat Up Time

We have to send out Christmas cards soon, as in, get them posted today.

Who has time to ponder the hook for a query when there's little notes to be scribbled to the aunts and cousins? We're grand, hope you're grand, Happy Christmas, see you soon. Repeat as needed, until the stack of blank cards are inked, stuffed into envelopes, labeled and stamped.

It's all such an enormous expenditure of valuable time.

I haven't even sent out a single short story submission this month, which is half-over already. Not that it's that critical at this point, so close to the holidays. Who knows if the journal will even be in existence by the first of January next? Why rush, except that I've thought of a way to re-write an older story, make the characters Mexican immigrants instead of white folks, and I'd love to try it out with some college intern who thinks that majoring in American literature or creative writing is a good plan for the future.

So I'll waste my creative writing skills on witty bon mots to the relations far and near, while my manuscript collects dust for another day. After all this time trying to get an agent's attention, what's another twenty-four hours?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bernard Madoff Needs A Bailout

If you can't trust a former chairman of Nasdaq, who can you trust? No one, it would seem, because if you trusted Bernard L. Madoff, you were taken for a ride.

It was "all just one big lie..., a giant Ponzi scheme" Mr. Madoff said. A $50 billion Ponzi scheme, to be more precise.

The house of cards came tumbling down when some investors wanted their money. Of course, there was no money there, and Mr. Madoff was rumbled. Managed to pull off the biggest scam Wall Street has ever seen, so there's something to hang his hat on while he's sitting in a posh minimum security prison.

Dublin-based Pioneer Alternative Investments ran a fund that was sunk entirely in Madoff's care, which means that the parent company is going to have some explaining to do to the people who entrusted their money to Pioneer Investments. Perhaps as much as 5 billion euros, which is a sizeable loss to make up.

A billion here, ten billion there, and the next thing you know, it's gone. Some, in the classic Ponzi scheme, went to pay dividends to the early suckers, and no doubt Mr. Madoff took his slice of the pie, leaving not so much as a crumb for those who came on board later.

All those hedge funds, up the flue. Who's going to bail them out?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Effect Of Personalization

Do your research, drop a name, and the query letter will sparkle.

Or so goes the advice. Does it work?

By selecting books based on the inclusion of an agent's name in the acknowledgments, I've managed to collect about four or five potential agents for the latest manuscript.

The folks at InkWell Management are obviously stunned into a senseless coma. I sent a query in the middle of November, dropped an author name, and it's been silence ever since.

Of course, it could mean that the particular author I used is also one who failed to sell through and who is even now hunting for a new agent after being dropped by InkWell.

Not the best choice, in such a case, but how would any of us know if some debut author is finding success? Would it improve your chances of having a query considered because you made an effort, or would the effort be in vain if the author didn't produce as hoped and your hopes are tossed away along with the new author whose name you dropped?

As for the query to Ann Rittenberg, well, it was a wasted effort. After a couple of rejections from other agents, I took a look at the opening pages and completely revised the opening. She has the old one, and it's a flat beginning that won't attract interest.

There's still a couple of other agents to be pestered, however. Better get things off in the mail before the holiday season really gets into gear.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

He Might Be Mad But He's Not Crazy

To listen to the talking heads on television, you'd have to believe that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is nuts.

There's been interviews with psychiatrists, analysis at a distance from trained professionals, but they're all off track.

Blago is nothing more than a traditional and typical Chicago Machine politician. The kinds of shake-downs and arm twisting, the wheeling and the dealing, that were caught on tape are not signs of insanity. They're signs that Rod learned a great deal from his father-in-law.

This sort of activity is normal for Chicago and Springfield politicians. Makes no difference if they're Democrats, like Blagojevich, or Republicans, like William Cellini (recently indicted). "Where's Mine" is a more accurate motto that should be emblazoned on the vehicle license plates and official stationary. It describes things much more fully than something as innocuous as "Land of Lincoln" or "Urbs in Horto".

Blago's nuts? No, he might be mad, considering that his downfall began when he squabbled with his father-in-law, who then went to the press and declared that the Governor was accepting bribes for favors. But he's not crazy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time-Out Or Bashing

The students at NUI Galway don't want to pay more in fees and such to get their university degree. No one wants to pay more for anything, when you get down to it, so it's no surprise that they'd be protesting.

Sometimes a protester gets a bit upset, especially one of college age who thinks no one's listening to his protests and didn't it always work with mammy and da when the protest was kicked up a notch?

A group of students cornered the secretary of Eamon O Cuiv last night where he was attending an official function. He's the Minister for Gaeltacht and Community Affairs, not Education, but the students have to take what's handed to them when it comes to government ministers. They didn't go after Batt O'Keefe, the Minister for Education, who was there as well. Far easier to put a scare into a woman than have a go at two grown men.

According to one of Mr. O Cuiv's spokespeople, the poor woman was "squashed up against a wall" and some of the wee students had at her with their feet, kicking away like spoiled children. Someone was in possession of a piece of timber, it was said, and they were menacing the secretary.

In rushes Mr. O Cuiv to defend the woman, and now the Students Union president says the minister over-reacted.

Sure he could have told the students in his most severe voice that they'd all be given a time out for such naughty and bold behavior. Instead he used physical force to protect his secretary, who probably thought she was about to be injured.

Ms. Muireann O'Dwyer thinks that the minister lost his composure, to engage in physical abuse.

He should have taken the recalcitrants by their ears and dragged them home to their parents for a proper shaming. Aren't there laws against bullies?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Recycling Gone Wrong

Recycling used cooking oil is supposed to be an ideal way to power your diesel car and conserve crude oil. The exhaust smells like fried chicken or chips, but it's better than dumping the oil in a landfill.

The use of recycled oil went a step too far in Ireland, and now the entire pork producing industry is shut down.

Pigs turned up loaded to the loins with dioxins, an extremely hazardous chemical that is stored in fat once ingested. But how did the pigs eat so much dioxin?

The Environmental Protection Agency went to feed producers to answer that question, and they found that Millstream Recycling had manufactured the tainted feed. But how did their product end up contaminated? All they do is take human food scraps and turn it into pig food.

Except that they had to dry the recycled food scraps, and they used recycled oil to heat the burners that powered the dryers.

Millstream Recycling was licensed to produce pig feed and they passed all their inspections. The problem arose from something that wasn't being ground up and put into sacks for pigs to eat. Recycling food was one thing, but they used recycled oil and never asked what might be in it.

Pig farmers across the island can't sell their animals, and there's not a scrap of pork to be found anywhere. Pork has been recalled and the losses to the meat industry have yet to be counted, but it's millions of euros. The EU is talking about a complete ban on Irish pork until further notice, which translates into huge losses for the pork sector.

All because one feed producer used recycled oil in a bid to do good by the environment or to cut production expenses. But what's an oil supplier doing with dioxin tainted product in the first place?

Monday, December 08, 2008

No News Is Bad News

Investigative journalism.

It was reporters who toiled in newsrooms, courted sources and conducted interviews. It was the facts. If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Reporters on the streets got tips, did the research, and put together stories. Their news made a difference. People learned what was going on behind the scenes, discovered what those in charge didn't want discovered.

News doesn't matter any more. We don't need a piece of paper when we've got a screen covered with electronic letters. Except that you pick and choose the stories you read, and don't happen to come upon something by accident, only to find that it's a very interesting story.

The Tribune Company is looking at bankruptcy. Sam Zell bought it, and like all the other leveraged buy-outs that have failed, the debt burden is so onerous that it's unlikely the company can service all that debt.

Newspapers are losing ad revenue to the Internet and it's ad revenue that pays for the investigative journalists and the beat reporters and the staff who keep us informed about local happenings. Mr. Zell took the Chicago Tribune and shook it up, reduced staff, decreased the amount of news coverage, and lost even more clients.

People didn't like the new look. They noticed that they got less for their money. They couldn't find certain sections they liked to read first because sections got merged in a bid to save on paper.

Then Mr. Zell put his own personal stamp on the editorial page. His editors endorsed the Democratic candidate for president, when the Chicago Tribune was historically a Republican-leaning publication.

Between the change in format and the change in direction, people began to cancel subscriptions. With even fewer readers, the advertisers found less reason to buy ad space.

Now the company is considering re-organizing its debt in an effort to survive, but once management makes too many mistakes, there's no turning back. The television and radio stations may be profitable, but the many newspapers in the Tribune Company stable are dragging the whole corporation down.

So what will become of the Nelson Algren Awards? Will the prizes for best short stories be eliminated as well, along with all the other extraneous expenses?

Bad enough to lose the book reviews in a frenzy of cost cutting. A pity to lose a recognized venue for short fiction. But far more troublesome is the loss of the investigative journalists who expose corruption and dirty deals, because if they aren't there to do it, it won't get done anymore.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Rose Between Two Thorns

It's rare indeed to see the next President of the United States anywhere near the sitting Governor of the State of Illinois. Governor Blagojevich is now wishing that some of his friends were equally shy about his company.

The FBI, as part of an investigation into corruption in Illinois government, recently announced that they "convinced" a Blagojevich confidante to wear a wire. An October meeting was taped in its entirety, although no one's thought to release a transcript just yet.

Any connection between that conversation and the search warrant that was executed at two Joliet pharmacies?

The owner of said premises, Mr. Harish M. Bhatt, just happened to be the one to help his pal get a job as the state's pharmacy regulator. Concidence? Mr. Bhatt also raised money for Mr. Blagojevich's campaigns. As coincidence would have it, when state auditors took a closer look at Mr. Bhatt's records in an investigation into Medicare fraud, the pharmacy regulator put an end to the investigation.

Little wonder, then, that Mr. Blagojevich was most unwelcome during the recent presidential race, and no surprise that he was absent from the Democratic victory celebration in Grant Park. No President-elect wants to be photographed with a felon-elect.

Friday, December 05, 2008

There's Too Much Beer In Ireland

Since 1690, Beamish has brewed beer in Cork. Now there's too much beer in Ireland and one of two Cork City breweries has to go.

Hard to believe that anyone could ever say there was too much beer, but apparently there is now that Heineken bought up the Beamish label. What would a Dutchman know about how much is enough, right?

Consolidation is running rampant, as small firms get bought up to make big firms that are supposed to be all about efficiency and cost containment. It amounts to people losing jobs.

Because Beamish Crawford has two sites in Cork City, and together the breweries pump out more Beamish Stout than is necessary, Heineken Ireland decided to close one and sack 120 workers. It's all about cost savings and making the best use of what's at hand. The parcel of land that the brewery sits on has a value, and it's no doubt more than the value of the product versus the cost of creating Beamish stout. Better financially to shutter the facility and sell it off.

Three hundred years is a good, long run. Why did it have to end just when someone else came in and spent a small fortune to buy Beamish?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Swim Away From The Scene Of The Crime

Profit and loss statements are all the same. It doesn't matter if the company in question makes ax blades or published books. There's expenses, there's income, and there's a bottom line.

Those involved in the publishing trade think that they're all about art, about the beauty of the written word, but a book is a screw is a bedpan. At least that's how it is when your firm is taken over by a financial guru. Then art lies in rich green American dollars and shining sterling pounds and colorful euros.

When Barry O'Callaghan's Riverdeep swallowed up the Houghton Mifflin whale, he said he'd need to realize lots of synergies. When HMRiverdeep consumed Harcourt, the synergies to be realized only increased.

HMH Executive Editor Ann Patty has been synergized, she's said, along with several other employees whose services are no longer needed.

If the adult trade division is indeed on the selling block, it would make sense to paint an attractive financial picture. It's a going concern, and here's the income statement and the balance sheet and the numbers are pure works of art, aren't they? Sure there's some big name authors in the goodwill calculation, but nobody reads anymore, do they?

Realize some synergies so the financials look good, then unload the adult trade division to get some much needed cash to service the debt that accrued when Barry O'Callaghan, formerly of Credit Suisse, decided he wanted to run an educational publishing materials firm. It's all widgets in the business world. Widgets and synergies and reverse mergers that give a little minnow a bit of a tummy ache.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fifty Years Gone

Fifty years ago on this day, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary entered their classrooms at Our Lady of the Angels School. They prepared that morning as they did every morning, with their lesson plans. It was the first day of Advent.

Hundreds of children from the neighboring community went to school on this day fifty years ago. They stuffed their winter coats and boots in their lockers, sat at their desks, said morning prayers, went home for lunch and came back for afternoon lessons.

As the school day drew to a close, someone set the school on fire. Fifty years ago today, ninety-two children and three nuns died.

David Cowan and John Kuenster wrote To Sleep With The Angels, a fascinating expose of fear, panic and incredible bravery in the midst of tragedy. The survivors are old now, fifty years older, but they still recall clearly what they experienced on that day.

There's a reason that children are forced to endure fire drills, even in the cold of winter. There's a reason that there are numerous fire alarms in the hallways of all schools. It's the lessons learned fifty years ago today.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Dorsal Fin Doesn't Know What The Tail Fin Is Doing

Word came that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's adult trade division wasn't buying.

Word came from HMH that they're buying children's manuscripts and they'll take something exceptional for the adult trade and this freeze business is only temporary so don't panic.

Word came that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was available for purchase if the price was right.

Word came from Dublin that the firm's not for sale and whoever says such a thing is a shower.

Now it's been reported that Becky Saletan, the senior vp of adult trade for HMH, has quit as of December 10. Less than a full year in the post.

If the senior vp leaves a division that's said to be frozen in place, does it make it less likely that Barry O'Callaghan would like to unload that very division? Anyone owing a great deal of money at a time when buying is down would surely be looking for another way to raise funds, and getting rid of a big expense is a fine way to realize some synergies.

Besides, Mr. O'Callaghan is into educational publishing, and he wouldn't mourn the loss of adult trade. The people who work in that division, however, have a great deal at stake. And they've been through this uncertainty before.

Don't Bother Calling Your Alderman

Sooner or later, if you drive in Chicago you will have to park, and chances are, you'll park in a spot that is metered.

It's not just in the Loop, but all over the city. Prime spots, those precious few square feet near your favorite bar, all require payment if you don't want your car towed.

Prices vary, with some locations more expensive than others. Free market economics works at many levels.

If you weren't happy about the cost of parking on a busy street, you could always call your alderman and voice a complaint. Not that it did any good, but the venting was free which is more than you could say about the parking spot.

When you discover that the meter is eating more of your coins than ever before, don't even waste your breath on your elected officials. Mayor Richard Daley has struck a deal with a private firm, which will pour $150 million into the city's coffers in exchange for any and all revenues generated by parking meters.

That means that this unnamed private firm gets to set the rates. If you want to park in a certain spot, you'll pay what they demand or go elsewhere. Monopolies work at many levels.

Midway Airport's been leased, the Skyway is operated by a for-profit corporation, and now the city will give up the steady income from the parking meters in favor of a lump sum. There's a huge budget deficit to deal with, and Mayor Daley is not one to cut a budget that is filled with patronage jobs and sweetheart deals. As long as he can keep his seat, why worry about the little people?

But what happens when there's nothing left? Where's the money to come from when private firms are running everything that creates a revenue stream?

As we have all seen recently, you can't keep spending money you don't have with an expectation that more will magically appear to keep you afloat.

Of course, there is that potential for a huge tourist trade. The Barack Obama Heritage Tour kicks off here. Don't forget to tip your servers. They're paying astronomically high taxes in Chicago and every penny counts.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Monster, But In The Best Possible Way

"She is stooping to anything" said Samantha Power, and the next thing we knew, she was resigning from Barack Obama's campaign. Calling Hillary Clinton a monster just wasn't acceptable to the well-orchestrated campaign.

Sure all is forgiven, Samantha, and you can come back from University College Cork. Drop in at the White House-Elect Chicago and meet your new boss, Hillary Clinton.

Ms. Power will be added to the transition team in the capacity of national security agency advisor. She'll be working for Mrs. Clinton, if the rumors are true and the former presidential contender takes the post as Secretary of State.

Won't that be a pleasant work environment, sitting at the big conference table with Mrs. Monster. Should the new Secretary of State make a suggestion that isn't to Ms. Power's liking, will she trot out her previous opinion and lay it out there? "The amount of deceit (Mrs. Clinton) has put forward is really unattractive," Samantha might say in rebuttal, and Madame Secretary will smile with great joy.

And then she'll do all she can to undermine Samantha Power.

Things are shaping up for the incoming administration. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some Agents Are Workaholics

The queries that went out before the holiday weren't expected to garner any answers before next week, but wouldn't you know that Pam Strickler was toiling away on Friday.

When I submitted my little piece of magic to her, I considered her an ideal agent. The genre was right up her alley, as they say, and surely the opening pages would attract her attention.

Except that on Friday, when she read the query, she didn't find it suitable. Can't say that I blame her.

Her response to the e-mail included my original query, which I scrolled through to see if it had made it in one legible block through cyberspace. Then I read the first paragraph of the manuscript and I couldn't believe I'd ever thought this was ready to send.

A weak opening, entirely lacking in punch, and largely because I was so thrilled with the way the manuscript flowed that I was blind to the strings of words. There was a paragraph that was poorly written, not making all that much sense, and things didn't get better until three pages in. By that time, of course, an agent has stopped reading.

That'll curtail the urge to submit until I sit down and revise the beginning. After writing up a query letter, I know where to focus the manuscript's opening. I'm only sorry that I didn't let the thing rest before I pasted it in to a query and sent it off.

It's been a waste of a perfectly suitable agent, one who's so keen to find new talent that she's working on a holiday weekend when anyone else would be off visiting or sitting in front of a television blaring sports programs.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Food Coma Friday

The slightly oak-y chardonnay was flowing. The table was too small to hold all the platters and bowls and assorted crockery. Even so, we managed. And then we managed to sample all of the deserts.

Still under the effects of a serious food coma. Who in their right mind would do anything today besides recover?

Must rest. Digestive system on overload.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give Thanks

From Mary Black, her version of Jimmy McCarthy's Bright Blue Rose. For a peaceful ending to your day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Minnow a la carte

Everything's for sale if the price is right.

That's a basic business outlook for any firm. Name the right price, and this baby's yours. Make an offer that makes me a profit on my investment and you can have the keys.

So if some book-loving hedge fund manager wanted to snap up something like, oh, shall we say, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the deal could be done. That's pretty much what EMPG's Jeremy Dickens was saying when he mentioned that he'd be willing to part with HMH.

Wouldn't Barry O'Callaghan love a Happy Christmas? If he could find someone to pick up his little fish turned big whale, he'd accept the check. He wanted to create the biggest educational publishing materials firm in the world, and he's pretty much done that. Making it viable is another matter. If it means letting go of trade and keeping education, that's how things fall sometimes.

HMH Children's Division is buying, by all accounts, but then again, young adult is the hottest genre these days. The need to service a seven billion dollar debt is cutting into funds for riskier acquisitions, and no one knows how long this adult trade buying freeze will continue. What does this mean down the line, after planned releases are released? What's going to come out in a year, or in two years?

It's hard to imagine a large firm relying on its backlist, or even counting on a stable of literary stars who may not produce another bestseller. Can HMH survive without the occasional debut novel? Can they move ahead without taking a chance on an unknown who might just be the next Dan Brown?

The Last Of The Five And Dime

Woolworths has been gone from American Main Streets for a long time, but the bargain shop managed to survive in England. Until now, almost one hundred years after it first arrived.

Sales are down, and it isn't just the recent financial crisis that's done it. One or two months of bad sales won't torpedo a company. A firm already weakened by ongoing problems, on the other hand, cannot survive a hard blow.

As many as 30,000 people could lose their jobs if Woolworths cannot work out a deal with lenders, including GMAC and a branch of the Bank of Ireland. Executives are hoping to cobble together an agreement with Hilco, an investment fund that buys up distressed companies. Hilco will buy the retail side of Woolworths for one pound, and take on 385 million pounds worth of debt. And then hope that Christmas shoppers in search of bargains flood the shops.

With no money in the till to meet payroll, Woolworths may go under, and majority shareholder Ardeshir Naghshineh will be left holding the bag. He's not keen on Hilco's low-budget offer, either, but when suppliers won't supply it's hard to run a store with empty shelves.

At a time when consumers are looking for bargains, the classic bargain store is going out of business. Tough to compete with the likes of Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fishing Ban Enacted

There's to be no manuscript purchases made at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the undigested whale that is giving the little minnow Riverdeep some serious indigestion.

Why would a publishing house want manuscripts, anyway? No one's buying books. Why pay authors an advance for something unwanted? That's good money thrown away when there's really not much money to throw anywhere.

According to Josef Blumenfeld of HMH, it's only a temporary measure. Editors are banned from trawling the agent pool for new manuscripts. Needless to say, the literary agents are in shock. A publisher not buying? It's unheard of.

HMH can sell what they already have, what's already paid for, and make money there. No point in investing in a new book unless it's got blockbuster potential. Sure there's a ban on buying new, but if Stephen King or the ubiquitous Mr. Grisham were to drop off a manuscript for publication, it would indeed be published.

There's been no talk of changing another one of publishing's old bad habits. The outrageously expensive custom of printing up huge orders, and then accepting returns when the books don't sell, hasn't been jettisoned. The whole print-on-demand concept isn't being floated as an alternative to creating books that end up as landfill pulp.

No agents need apply to HMH, so they'll stop calling since it's a waste of their precious time. And what happens when things calm down in the financial markets and HMH wants to acquire again? Will they have editors in house to do a bit of reading, or will they have sacked the extraneous editors who weren't needed because HMH wasn't acquiring?

But if Houghton Mifflin Harcourt doesn't produce books, what business are they in? Reprinting old titles?

As an author, this is very bad news. It's hard enough to break into the business, and it's been made more difficult with the loss of a major publisher. But I have a job, and writing is merely a deeply held dream. For those employed by Barry O'Callaghan's behemoth, they're seeing more of Captain Ahab in their boss, and they're hoping to be the Ishmaels who survive.

Can You Define Several?

Kneerim & Williams has gone from hard copy only to e-query only. All e-mail all the time, submit the letter and the sample chapter, no pieces of paper ever.

I'm fond of saving a few cents when the opportunity presents itself, so I sent my query to the submissions address, with the letter meant for Deborah Grosvenor. That was almost three months ago.

According to the agency's submission page, someone will respond in several weeks. They do their best to respond quickly, but it may be several weeks, they say.

How many is several?

Have I gone past the cut-off date? Was the query lost? Was it read and ignored? Deleted by mistake?

I could re-submit the query, but is there much point? After so much time, I'd have to guess it's a no and move on. By my calculations, several is more than one but not as many as twelve. Of course, there's Thanksgiving Day intruding in the mix, adding empty days to the cycle. But twelve weeks?

Eight would be several. Twelve is lost in the spam filter. Maybe Brettne Bloom would like to see the newest manuscript in the meantime?

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Litany Of Failure Continues

I made a conscious effort to copy the style of openings of other novels that are out there. What better example could there be than that which succeeded?

While a couple of agents peruse the pages of my historical fiction, I thought I'd try out a piece of contemporary stuff. After a year of rewriting and editing, a year of reading other author's debut novels, I had to run a test. Have I improved, have I learned more about how to write a novel? The only way to know is to query agents.

Now, this may not be the best time of year to send out queries, what with holidays and parties and other such distractions, but if something was really intriguing, they'd ask for pages at any time of year.

Turns out that the contemporary fiction isn't all that irresistible.

Those pages pasted in to the bottom of the query letter just didn't draw Andrea Somberg in. It's her standard rejection, boilerplate language.

Basic commercial fiction, nothing deep or probing, but still the opening lacks a strong hook or the main character isn't all that appealing. As if that isn't bad enough, my query was filtered through her spam folder. My brilliant words, received as spam. Low spam, to be sure, but spam nonetheless.

Onward and upward, waiting on agents who showed interest in a different project, and waiting on the select few agents who have been sent a query for something new. Can't make progress without moving forward, head down, shoulders set.

I've got two more agents whose names I culled from acknowledgment pages. Can't hurt to really personalize that query.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And Flights Of Angels Sing Thee To Thy Rest

There wasn't a job to be had in all of Ireland back then, when we left. Nothing in the trades, to be sure, without buildings going up. Certainly nothing in the fine dining industry. There wasn't fine dining to be found in any corner of Dublin.

No money could be made in drinking or smoking dope, which was the main occupation of our generation. So we followed the well-worn path to America, to paying jobs and the hope of making something of ourselves.

Some of us put our heads down and plowed ahead, and some of us floated above it all, never quite gaining a sure footing. You couldn't get away from the drink, and once you had a bit of cash you discovered an entirely new class of illegal substances that took the edge off after a hard day of delivering food and taking orders.

Then came the day that you decided you were gay. We thought you were mad, or possibly brain-damaged. The partying was taking its toll.

You pulled away from us, seeing our disbelief as censure. Not all of us felt the same way as your father, who turned his back on you, but you treated us all the same. We lost touch. You didn't return calls, we gave up and stopped calling. Your sister told us you had decided that you weren't gay after all, but transgendered. There was talk of surgery, but she came from conservative Catholic stock and not much more was ever mentioned.

When your father died, you weren't there at the removal or the funeral. As the years went by, we'd ask after you but your mother only asked that we pray for you. You weren't well.

Now, as we prepare to celebrate a day of thanksgiving, your sister's gone home with your ashes in a box. She's not saying much, but some of us believe it was AIDS that took you. She had you cremated so your mother wouldn't see what you'd become.

On Thursday we'll sit at the table, to count up our blessings, and we'll thank God that we had the opportunity to know you.

Suiamhneas siorai.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Love Most Fowl

Maybe my manuscripts haven't resonated with literary agents because I'm not creative enough.

Try as I might, I cannot imagine how a man can have sex with a chicken. I've tried to use my imagination, but it doesn't stretch that far. Filthy, stupid birds---I don't much care to eat them either, and making love is out of the question.

Michael Bessigano is far more clever than I could ever hope to be. He had the ability to conceive and execute such an incident. The man loves chickens. Passionately.

His physical attraction to our feathered farmyard friends has cost him more than forty-one cents per pound. Mr. Bessigano served four years after enticing a buxom fryer to a hotel in Hammond, Indiana, for the express purpose of having sex.

Someone at the hotel must have heard the clucking because the poultry lover was caught with the dead bird. Yes, after hours of hot sex, he did her in. Planned to eat the evidence, no doubt, with a crisp pinot grigio and roasted potatoes.

His love that dares not crow its name has landed him in hot water once again. He's been charged with receiving images of bestiality over the Internet.

I don't know that I could face an egg this morning. My imagination might get the better of me and some things you just don't want to think about over breakfast.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Europe Online

Think culture.

The European Union would like you to think culture and they've made it possible. Today, according to their schedule, the 27 members invite you to browse European literature, film archives, pictures and more. By the time everything's digitized, there will be six million pieces of Europe available for anyone with a computer.

When it's up, that is, but it isn't at the moment because the server got overwhelmed as soon as it the site went live. 10 million hits in an hour is more than any server can take, but it does demonstrate how excited people are.

Once things calm down, anyone with a yearning to see what once would have required an expensive journey to Europe can go to: And then browse to your heart's content.

Only items in the public domain will be available, with the Europeans taking a cue from Google's expensive debacle.

This being run by the EU, you can find what you're looking for in English, or French, or German.

And it's better than Google's Book Search, or so they say. Hard to tell when the site's crashed so quickly, and Google is running just fine right now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When You Say Budweiser, You've Said It All

Who says there's no credit available? The owners of Belgium's InBev managed to scrape together $54.8 billion with no trouble, and now the Busch family is out of the beer business.

InBev lusted after Anheuser-Busch for quite some time, drooling at the idea of a merger. It's a marriage of behemoths, a happy union, at least for those who profit from the deal. They've hyphenated their last times, to show how equal they are. When you say Anheuser-Busch InBev, you've said it all.
The new company stands on top of the beer world as the largest, nudging aside the upstart SABMiller.
For the employees of Anheuser-Busch, they can take little consolation in the fact that their new partner is noted for cost cutting with a chain saw rather than a scalpel. And they can take even less consolation in the need for InBev to slash $1.5 billion in costs over the next three years.
What does that mean? Ask the people who toil away for the whale-swallowing minnow, HMRiverdeep. It means redundancies, hundreds and hundreds of redundancies. One big firm doesn't need two bookkeeping departments, two marketing departments, two finance departments, etc. and so on. Hundred and hundreds of realized synergies, as workers get the sack so that InBev can lay claim to the championship title.
Anheuser-Busch InBev has taken on a $7 billion bridge loan, expecting to pay it off in a year via sales of assets. Might one of those assets be a brewery? The Busch theme parks? Half of St. Louis, Missouri?
With the economy sliding, will Bud and Michelob continue to generate $36 billion in annual sales? Will Stella Artois fly out of the tap at the local? There's a lot of beer that has to be chugged if ABI is to survive.
Funny, how ABI managed to line up financing while the Big Three automakers in Detroit have gone empty-handed. It says a lot about who the banks believe has the best chance to survive the current climate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There's One Prayer Answered

After one hundred years of fervent prayer, there's still no championship for the Chicago Cubs. A full century of futility and they have yet to win the World Series, the only team to go so long with so little to show for the effort.

Clearly God hasn't had His ear tuned to the baseball fans on Chicago's North Side. Until now.

Would-be owner of the storied Cubs franchise Mark Cuban is not exactly the choice of the fans. They'd rather anyone else buy up the Cubs, now for sale by Sam Zell. He only wanted the Tribune Company's news organizations and media outlets, not a baseball team, when he picked up the corporation.

Mr. Cuban showed a definite interest, raising money and forming his consortium. He gave every indication of wanting to buy up the Cubs, and the fans raised up their voices to the Almighty. Mark Cuban has just been rumbled on a charge of insider trading.

So he knew that his shares in an Internet search engine would drop in value before anyone else knew. So he sold those shares to turn a paper profit into real money. That's a bit illegal. That's a crime that the other baseball team owners could point to before they point Mr. Cuban to the door.

Mr. Cuban's legal representative can insist all he likes that being charged with insider trading has nothing whatsoever to do with owning a baseball team and a close personal relationship with the Securities and Exchange Commission won't matter.

The fact is, the other owners decide who gets in to their little clique, and many of them don't much care for Mark Cuban. Now they have a very solid excuse to deny him, one that proves the man's not to be trusted with something as sacred and honest as America's game.

Cubs fans are rejoicing. Their team is saved from a despicable owner. Now if only the Lord would hear the prayers of the faithful and guide the bats to hit the baseball with greater frequency.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Proving Grounds

For months, we heard about change and spreading the wealth around, and for months we heard pundits expound on the effects of such an alteration to the tax code in a time of recession.

How can the Obama/Biden proposals be tested? Like everything else, this too has been outsourced overseas.

The Irish government is facing some tough times, not unlike all the other nations around the globe. Money's tight and expenses won't budge, so the citizens of the Emerald Isle will have to pay more taxes. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has been sharpening his pencil while tabulating numbers that don't add up.

The latest version of the Finance Bill includes a new provision to soak the rich in exactly the same manner as the Democrats in Washington have proposed. Anyone earning more than 250,000 (euros in this case) will face an additional levy of 3%. Anyone making below the minimum wage will be exempt from any increase.

Taxes on estates will climb to 22%, so if your elderly relatives are looking weak, you'd want to encourage them to liquidate all assets and hand you all their cash before they shuffle off the mortal coil. But on the sly, of course, because gifts are to taxed at the same higher rate.

Noel Dempsey, Minister for Transportation, is looking at a 10% rise in fares for public transit, while other Cabinet ministers are hunting for excess fiscal fat that's slated for liposuction.

Ireland's in a recession, there's been a spate of job losses, and if the new tax measures don't send the nation into a financial tailspin, Washington will have a fine example to point to come January when the new Congress convenes.

If the tax increases in Ireland send wealth fleeing, if the expected millions don't appear and the jobless rate soars, expect every Republican in Congress to point fingers overseas as they argue against any revisions to the U.S. tax code.

Either way, Ireland's to be the proving ground. There's nothing wrong with outsourcing some things, is there?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Writing The New Washington Novel

According to Hillel Italie of the Associated Press, novelists are going to have to step up their game in the future. The old plots of political intrigue are no more. Reality has intruded in the world of fiction.

You can't just insert a black man in the Oval Office anymore and use it as a plot device. And if you don't want the Secret Service knocking on your door, you definitely can't have that black man the object of some believable assassination plot.

What's a thriller writer to do? You can't write about a President of color in danger. You can't have him at the head of some devious Islamo-fascist plot to overthrow the government, unless of course you have Jesse Jackson ride to the rescue with Al Sharpton riding shotgun.

Author Richard North Patterson has already shifted gears, using racial themes in his works to reflect the changed attitudes that an Obama presidency represents. Like many readers, it is his hope that all the post-9/11 scenarios are played out, to be replaced by the aura of vibrancy and youth that will soon radiate from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Comedians are on edge, afraid that a policy-wonk type of administration won't provide them a crumb of material to work with. The incoming crew is all intense and professorial, and where's the humor in them?

There's still an opportunity for writers who are fond of conspiracies and devious plots, along with comedians who require objects of mockery. All they have to do is research Chicago politics, the Machine that gave sustenance and strength to Barack Obama, and there's more than enough material to last for the next four years.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No Host For You

Screw your secret ballot. Confess.

Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, but Father Jay Scott Newman is the new Torquemada.

Confess. Did you vote for Barack Obama? You're going straight to hell, in that case, and how dare you stroll up to the communion rail with that blot of sin on your immortal soul?

The good Father has told his parishioners in Greenville, South Carolina, that if they voted for Obama, they have no business participating in Catholic sacraments. Neither do those who've been divorced and remarried without an annulment granted. All sinners are treated alike in the Roman Catholic Church.

Confess. Did you color in the circle next to the Democratic candidate's name? You cooperated with evil, consorted with Satan himself. Don't touch the body of Christ until you've confessed your sin and admitted to the priest that you voted for Obama. Stay away from the Holy Eucharist until you've been thoroughly absolved.

It's not too late to bring back the rack and the thumbscrews, you know. This is your immortal soul we're talking about here. Confess and find salvation. Go and vote Democratic no more.

Now, since Father Michael Pflager at Saint Sabina's Church in Chicago was so heavily pro-Obama, is he due for excommunication? Does this make his parish a center of Satanism?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Haven't A Prayer

The Lord helps those who help themselves. He is unable, however, to help the credit crisis.

Presbyterians in Northern Ireland were salting away their savings through their own mutual society. Laymen and clergy, side by side, monitored and watched and shepherded the money. It was as if God Himself was behind it all, His mighty hand holding shut the door of the vault.

But the Lord giveth, and the credit crisis taketh away.

As the Presbyterian Mutual Society is not a bank, it is not protected by government guarantees. Members grew nervous in recent weeks and began to withdraw funds, to the point that the society was forced to freeze the remaining accounts or go under.

Money paid in by members was loaned out to churches, and the society holds a portfolio of commercial properties that bring in rental income. Like a bank, the cash was out in the world earning a profit, and when the members wanted it back, it wasn't at home.

For those who waited to see how things would pan out, they can't access their savings. The society grieves for those who will suffer, but they couldn't force their borrowers to immediately repay loans, any more than they could liquidate all real estate assets and expect to recoup the investment.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland would like all of the society members to know that they are distressed by the situation, but the mutual society is not an arm of the church and there's nothing the church can do.

Except pray, of course. Your local minister will be happy to meet with you, to pray with you, but in general, you haven't a prayer of getting your money back any time soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where Does It End

Shane Geoghegan stepped out of his house on Sunday. A car drove past, shots were fired, and the man was dead.

He was somewhat well known, owing to his skills at rugby, but he resembled someone else and for that he's dead.

The town of Limerick is no different than the ghettos that ring the city of Chicago. Drug lords fight for turf, guns are plentiful in spite of a ban, and murders are a regular occurrence. Innocent people get caught in the cross-fire and innocent people die.

The citizens are outraged, they demand action, but what action will work? Law enforcement is floundering, trying to prosecute criminals when the victims are terrified into silence.

The priests will offer prayers, Mr. Geoghegan's team mates will speak of his character, the man's family will grieve, and before long the process will repeat with another innocent victim.

Where does it end? When users boycott the drug dealers and drug traffic grinds to a halt? When witnesses sacrifice their homes and families in return for a new life under a new identity? When a neighbor braves retribution and speaks up?

Shane Geoghegan was gunned down outside of his house in Limerick because drug dealers want to kill off the competition, and there's too much money involved to worry about making a mistake. They'll just head back out and find the right man to murder.

Where does it end? If anyone had an answer, there wouldn't be hundreds of people killed every year for another's greed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Green Cards For Sale, Contact Senator Leahy

Go on, things are falling off the cliff in Ireland. Unemployment's up, the Exchequer's skint, and there's signs that the young are emigrating again. You know you want to get out yourself. Go on, buy yourself a green card.

Senator Pat Leahy is in Dublin, hawking EB-5 visas for all who'll listen. It's an irresistible deal, this opportunity to buy your way to legal residency in the United States.

You and the wife and the kids, doesn't matter if you're illiterate or make a living in the poitin trade. All you need to do is invest 390,000 euros in a Vermont ski resort.

Wait now, it's a grand place, that ski resort. It's but ninety minutes from Montreal, and aren't all the Canadians eager to get out of Canada and vacation in the States? The Canadian dollar goes farther these days than it used to.

Right, the snow melts and what's the good of a ski resort, that's what you're asking yourself. The resort boasts of a championship golf course to draw in guests during the warmer months. Sounding more and more brilliant, isn't it?

You pay down your fee, you live in the U.S. without having to hide from the immigration agents, and in five years time you can apply to become a citizen. You'd be allowed to vote in elections, but you've stalled too long and you'll not be eligible for the 2012 go-round.

Can you not scrape together the half million U.S. dollars you'll need? There's nothing in there about having to live in Vermont as well, which is a good thing, because native Vermonters are fleeing the state in droves to escape the murderous taxes.

Who wants more of the humble and the poor, yearning to be free? Senator Leahy wants the rich, yearning to turn a profit.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Now Everyone Will Want To Eat There

The food is very good, if you can afford the high prices. Those in the know take their dining business to Cafe Spiaggia, the satellite facility that isn't is as high end as Spiaggi. Same kitchen, same food, and when you're cutting back, even the fine dining has to go. That little secret may soon be out, however.

When you're about to be the President of the United States, you're pulling down enough in salary to splurge on such luxuries.

News reporters around the world are reporting on the comings and goings of the President-designate, to the joy of Chicago businesses. He's living a normal life, they write, he goes about his normal routine and.....he's taken the wife out for dinner.

Was there a red carpet run out from Michigan Avenue to the front door of Spiaggia? You'd think so, to read the articles that describe the attire of the golden couple. All that was missing was Ryan Seacrest and a camera crew from the E! Network.

All the publicity, the excitement and the crowds that gathered on the street to greet the newest celebrities---just try to get a reservation at Spiaggia now. The place will be packed, waiting lists for tables running into months rather than weeks.

And someone will figure out that Cafe Spiaggia is just as good, but it costs less, and the rest of us don't stand a chance of getting in there for our special occasions.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

And Then There's The Reality

Writing in The Irish Times, famed novelist Colm Toibin shares his delight over the election of a black man as president of the United States.

His prose is touching, heartfelt and sincere. His lack of familiarity with Chicago is telling.

Remarkable that white America voted in a black man, considering the sort of racial animosity his friends found while canvassing for Barack Obama in rural Pennsylvania. What's truly remarkable is the sort of racial inequality that exists in Chicago, held in place by clout and sweetheart deals.

Had Mr. Toibin's friends gone to the 35th Street, they would have discovered that black folks live on the east side of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Bridgeport dagos and the Irish are found on the west. Had they wandered down to 75th Street, they would soon learn that all the African-Americans dwell to the east of the railroad underpass, and the whites to the west. The Augustinian-operated high school is but blocks away from one of the worst public high schools in Chicago, but those blocks separate different worlds.

Father Michael Pflager preaches to the black parishioners of St. Sabina's, and accepts state funds for his various programs, and he keeps the blacks where they belong. Jesse Jackson runs Operation Push and twisted Anheiser-Busch's corporate arm until his sons had the most lucrative beer distributorship in Chicago, and he keeps the blacks where they belong.

A black teen made the mistake of crossing the Dan Ryan Expressway one sunny day, to shoot hoops on the white side where the gangs couldn't hassle him. Frankie Caruso and his pals beat the kid senseless, left him permanently brain damaged. Frankie got a little slap on the wrist and it's all but forgotten in Armour Square.

President-elect Obama might know Frankie's dad, Toots Caruso. He's been linked with Richard Daley's political machine, the same machine that got out the vote for Rahm Emanuel. And he's considered one of the leading members of Chicago's Outfit.

Amazing that white Americans could vote in a black man, while the city of Chicago remains one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

Amazing that white Americans expect great changes coming when the Daley political machine is slowly taking over the White House. Chicago on the Potomac, is it?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Another Week Of No Responses

There was a flurry of activity after Labor Day, when the agents came back from summer holidays and tore into their queries. With winter coming on, they've gone to ground.

Two months ago, I inquired of Emily Sylvan Kim of Prospect Agency, following her instructions and using the on-line form. Uploaded the file, sent, received confirmation, and began the wait. Since that time, I've done a revision at the request of another agent, so the uploaded file is the flawed version. In which case, I'm only waiting to check off another rejection.

Even Deborah Grosvenor of Kneerim & Williams is swamped, or the intern's quit and there's no one to answer the queries. They do their best to respond quickly, they say, but after two months and counting, I don't know if they've adopted the no response is a no manner of rejection, or if the e-mail query was caught in a spam filter, or if they're extremely busy.

Two months wasn't considered overly long when agents were keen on snail mail. With e-mail and on-line forms, we've come to expect something a little faster, maybe three weeks at the most, before the query's tagged as a reject.

The revisions are almost done, the manuscript will be ready for a new round of queries, and all I have to do is come up with a new title to throw off the previously queried. Have to catch them before the next round of holidays, or wait until January of 2009.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hope And Change and Corporate Taxes

Joy runs in the streets. The world rejoices over the results of the U.S. Presidential election. Three cheers. Now, about the corporate tax rates....

Sure it was all blarney, the rhetoric about changes to come. After all, Barack Obama lied through his teeth about NAFTA, with threats to re-negotiate made for public consumption while behind closed doors he assured the trade partners that the words were empty.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is banking on further obfuscations from the President-elect.

American firms have long been operating little shadow companies out of Ireland, shuttling profits from one side of the Atlantic to the other. The American-based unit makes little or no profit, the Irish subsidiary is phenomenally successful, and the taxes are paid at Ireland's rate of 12.5%. Paid to the Republic of Ireland, that is.

So, have you had a word with himself, goes Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, have you explained to him that Ireland's economy would sink like a stone if American firms couldn't park their profits in the Emerald Isle? Have his distant relations in Moneygall explained their potential plight?

Will you be bringing him a bowl of shamrock in March, inquires Eamon Gilmore of Labour. As you hand him the Waterford crystal, you could tell him straight out that a change in taxation would be a disaster. We're hoping for an invitation, says An Taoiseach.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin explained to members of the Dail that the U.S. is in need of those same taxes themselves, and their Congress has a strong incentive to institute change. About all that Ireland can do is lobby when the issue comes up, and then hope for the future.

Those vacuous campaign slogans, about hope and change? They hold more meaning than the average voter understood.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Not The Best Example

Not a slim man, An Taoiseach Brian Cowen. And the cartoonists like to picture him with a cigarette stuck in his ear.

So there you have it. Less than a perfect example of good health.

But would you mind, Mr. Cowen, leading the van against mid-life obesity? It's all about stopping the obesity epidemic before it completely swamps the already overburdened health service.

Dr. Donal O'Shea believes that all the money spent conquering cancer and diabetes would be better spent on obesity prevention, what with obesity directly linked to the development of adult-onset diabetes and certain cancers.

It will take the leadership of Brian Cowen to guide a shift in research funds, to tell the cancer researchers that they're being cut so that Ireland can find a cure for all the fatness that is growing more pervasive by the day.

A quarter of the Irish people are too big for their own good, and they're on a path to illness that doesn't need a fancy cure when a national diet would make all the difference. In Dr. O'Shea's mind, it's a waste to study something like diabetes when the source of the disease isn't getting enough attention.

Unless Mr. Cowen stars in an all-Ireland version of Biggest Loser, the idea that he could promote obesity prevention at his present size isn't going to be taken seriously.

The time has come for a change in health service policy. The obese have to be mandated to take exercise and eat right, or risk imprisonment and/or fine. It's only fair to those who pay the taxes that fund health care and who keep fit so that they don't have to use the health care system. No point in getting sick when you have to wait months to see a doctor. That's the biggest impetus to lose weight that there is.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

If He Was Bright He Wouldn't Be In Prison

The prison guard told Peter Duff that he had to clear the toilet paper out of the air vent in his cell. But did the guard tell him how he was to it? No indeed, it was the guards who set the bad example by standing on the toilets to clear the vents and how was Mr. Duff supposed to clear the vent but by imitating what he'd seen done?

So it was the guard's fault that Mr. Duff fell off the toilet and scraped his shin. So the government owes him 38 thousand euro as compensation.

Look, he goes in court, here's pictures of the toilet and it wasn't secured to the wall when I stood on it and it fell over and I went with it and the suffering I've endured, etc. etc.

Were the photographs taken on the day of the accident goes Judge Joseph Mathews, but the inmate had to admit that he was moved to a new cell and he went back a few days later when the Prison Service was making repairs.

And how did you take pictures in prison His Honor further inquired, and if Peter Duff wasn't quite so thick he might have realized that the cell phone he used to take the pictures wasn't allowed in the prison.

Not against the law, is it, Mr. Duff declared, only against prison rules for an inmate to have a cell phone.

There's that, and then there's the fact that the pictures weren't taken after the accident and there's the fact that Mr. Duff didn't clear the vents when the guard was there but waited a few days until he was alone. Sure and the State's still at fault for him thinking he was to stand on the toilet in the first place.

Judge Mathews threw out the case. He couldn't, however, recover the time that was wasted.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Selfishness Redefined

We thought we were being generous when we gave money to the Salvation Army. After all, almost all of their donations are used for charity, not a bureaucracy to run the place. Turns out we were wrong.

We thought we were being generous when we donated bags of groceries to the food pantry, when we gathered up the coats that the kids had grown out of so that some other kids could be warm.

When we scraped up the spare change and gave it to the Augustinians to help cover the tuition costs of the needy, we thought we were doing the right thing. Who could have guessed that we were so wrong?

It was all selfishness, as selfishness has been re-defined by the man who would be president.

The government is to be the source of all bounty, and if you do it yourself you're being selfish. If you thought that you had the sense to choose which charity to give to, if you thought that you were being generous, you've been misguided.

Sure isn't the European model the ideal, where the government handles all the hand-outs and the citizens are spared the concern. Am I not my brother's keeper? Apparently not, according to the new definition of selfishness.

Americans are the most generous people on earth, giving what they can't well spare to help someone with even less. Turns out they weren't being generous at all. We'll look to Europe as an example in the future, where everyone assumes the government will be there to help and no one needs to give of their own accord. With a new definition of selfishness you may venture forth in a manner that you once thought of as selfish, keeping your hands in your pockets when you're confronted with need. Go see a government official, you'll be able to counsel the homeless and the hungry, and you'll not have to feel guilty.

Grand system, over in Europe. So why did so many of us leave and never go back?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Quintessential Hyde Park Liberal

They don't make them like Studs Terkel any more, but then, he was a product of his times and those times are long gone.

He observed the Great Depression from his family's boarding house, witnessing the hard luck and hard times that made Communism seem like a better way to go.

As an adult, he asked questions and crafted the answers into book form, coming up with oral histories of ordinary folks living ordinary lives. No catalog of the rich and powerful, his works chronicled those who aren't featured in the history books.

Not that he was one of those ordinary ones, however. At the height of the Depression he attended the University of Chicago, even then a prestigious and expensive private university that a good Catholic wouldn't go near. Someone had some spare change to send the young Studs off to university when others couldn't even find a job.

He made a point to stand with labor, while he toiled as a radio disc jockey. He dabbled in acting, with a local television program to his name, followed years later by a bit part in Eight Men Out, a story of betrayal and corruption that could only have happened in Chicago.

From his perch on the ivory tower, he championed the working man whose ranks he never joined, speaking from his observations rather than experience.

They're still there, down in Hyde Park, surrounding the University of Chicago---the Hyde Park liberals, spouting rhetoric about social engineering and change over white wine and cheese. Men like Studs Terkel, the quintessential Hyde park liberal, was their voice, and sadly, that voice is now silenced. Sic transit gloria.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Beware On Halloween

A young man was walking home from the local, his coat up around his eyes. It was a cold night indeed, the wind howling in the bare trees and carrying along the bite of snow. A responsible lad, he was walking because he knew it wasn't safe to drive after drinking.

Thoughts of his warm bed and a Saturday morning free of chores lifted his spirits, to say nothing of the four pints that did their fair share of spirit lifting. Close to home, he picked up the pace.

A sparkle caught his eye. Just ahead, on the pavement, something shiny was in his path.

He bent over to pick up the silver comb, pausing to admire the filigree work that marked a very expensive item. Any lady who lost such a lovely thing would surely be looking for it.

The wind whipped around and he turned his back to the hard blow. Only a few yards away was a woman, eyes to the ground, and sure she had to be the one who had lost the comb.

"Is this what you're looking for there?" the young man called out.

She looked up, her long blond hair lifting on the wind like angel's wings. Her smile was as bright as a May morning, her step light as she hurried to his side.

"You've picked up my comb," she said, her voice a song. As if she had to test it out, she ran the comb through her hair. A note of joy rose in her throat and filled the air, but too late the young man realized that she was't singing, but was keening.

The headlights of the oncoming car blinded him. The collision happened too fast; he was gone before he felt any pain.

The Moral of the Story: Never pick up a comb you see laying about. The bean si's left it to trap you.

If you fall into her snare, you might try to confuse her with a song of your own----sean nos could save your soul.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not Everyone Loves A Parade

The unionists would like to welcome home the brave soldiers who served their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nationalists would like to point out that British soldiers aren't serving the Irish nation, so why stage a big parade to welcome them back to the occupied six counties?

In a colony where every word is heavily weighted and every action is highly suggestive, the Parades Commission has a problem. Permission has been given for the British Army to march in Belfast, where the DUP wants a big television production with fly-overs and all the rest of the bells and whistles.

Sinn Fein has been given permission to have their own parade, to remind everyone that all the British Army means to some people in Belfast is collusion with paramilitaries, the Bloody Sunday massacre, and various other repressive actions. Welcome home? They're not welcome in Belfast at all.

Then there are the illegal parades, the gatherings of the socialists and the paramilitary groups who don't support the peace process. There's been rumblings that they plan to protest, and those sorts of parades aren't peaceful and usually result in mayhem.

The Parades Commission is considering its options. To deny Sinn Fein their right to march would only make matters worse, what with the DUP not adhering to the St. Andrews Agreement timeline on devolution of policing powers. To allow Sinn Fein to march will draw in the malcontents, and that isn't a pretty picture.

Or no one can be allowed to march, thereby making everyone equally unhappy. Sounds fair.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Free Books, Small Catch

I'm an avid reader, but a poor one. Buying books is such a luxury that it's rare for me to actually put money down. The public library's the place for us of small means, which may explain why it's getting harder and harder to find a good book available on the shelf. Everything's circulating.

There's a way for the cash-strapped, book-hungry public to get free product, thanks to a new marketing angle cooked up at Thomas Nelson.

They'll send you a free book. An actual hard copy, all for you. You are then required to post a review of the book on your blog, and then you have to go over to and tout it there.

The catch is, you have to read the whole book.

Keep that in mind before you sign up for the program. Do you honestly think that you could slog through every single page of the memoir penned by Britney Spears' mother? Could you digest that much shite without losing your mind?

What would your neighbors think if they dropped round for a cuppa and found a copy of The Faith of Barack Obama in your home? Ah sure it's strictly business, you'd babble, and they'd never look at you the same way again.

Still, something free being given away---that's a powerful temptation. And if you didn't want to keep the books once you'd reviewed them, they'd make for grand treats to pass out at Halloween. No better way to ensure that the little ones steer clear and you'll keep all the candy for yourself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That Old Thing?

What query are you referring to, I had to ask.

The rejection e-mail was resting comfortably in the inbox, but I didn't know who had sent it. RE: your query isn't much of a subject line when you're sending out queries all the time and don't have any e-queries current.

So there it was, a rejection from Stuart Krichevsky. Or from his assistant, more accurately. Thanks for the response, but what query might I have sent? Nothing recent, to be sure.

In this day of no reply equalling a no, Mr. Krichevsky's assistant responded to a query sent six months ago. Six months. Just to let me know that he wasn't interested.

I'd quite forgotten it, of course, and had marked it as a rejection long ago. Very civil of him, however, to make a point to respond, albeit rather late in the game.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paying More For Patriotism

The Irish people discovered bargains in New York City. With the value of the dollar well below the euro, all those highly desirable goods were cheaper, so why not hop a budget airline flight and do your holiday shopping in the States? Who needs Grafton Street?

That hunt for the biggest bang for the buck has the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association up in arms. You're killing jobs, they've said. All you who look for the most for your money are wrecking the economy.

When you buy on Fifth Avenue, you're not paying taxes to the Exchequer, goes the reasoning, so the government has less with which to operate. The government, in turn, isn't rummaging through bags as thoroughly as they should, so customs isn't finding those additional sources of revenue that could be had by forcing overseas shoppers to pay duties and fees.

Now there's an uproar over budget cuts that have to be made because there's no money. Every single special interest group affected has been roaring in protest. Don't cut our funds, or the following dire circumstances will occur, they all go, and now the solution that Brian Lenihan seeks may be at hand.

Ban shopping in America. Force everyone to stay at home and patronize their local vendors, whatever the prices may be. Legislate patriotism. By law, everyone shall be made to pay more for all their purchases.

Or would-be overseas shoppers can lobby the government to raise taxes. It's the same thing. Either way, it will cost you more. It's rip-off Ireland, isn't it, so why not embrace the fleecing?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Honest Abe

Let's remember that it was Abraham Lincoln who was described as honest. Not the executive director of his library.

Any armchair psychiatrist could tell you that Richard E. Beard, executive director of the Abraham Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, needs help. The man's not even close to poverty, yet he was caught shoplifting a $40 box of DVDs from the local Target store.

This isn't the first time he's been rumbled. Only last year he was caught swiping neckties at the local Macy's. He was fined and let go with a slap on the wrist, but that sort of discipline didn't do a thing for his mental state.

He's on administrative leave for now, with pay, while his underlings keep things running for the tourists who come to see all that was Honest Abe.

Sure everyone's on the take in Illinois. Unfortunately for Mr. Beard, who came from points east, he didn't seem to fully comprehend what that phrase meant exactly. He could have received the complete set of "House, Season 4" from someone looking for the painting contract for the museum's walls. He could have had a closet full of ties by dropping the hint in the right place, exchanging men's haberdashery for a no-bid contract on some concrete work. He didn't have to actually 'take' the items in question.

A psychiatrist will help him deal with his kleptomania. It will take a Springfield power broker to educate him on the ways of Illinois politics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voting In The Peace Dividend

It's often said that the peace process in Northern Ireland yielded a dividend of opportunity. Jobs, money, security, and all the rest have contributed to the economy, but it's voting that's giving Derry a boost.

When you stand in the voting booth in Washington DC you are standing in a product that was made in Derry.

Pakflatt, a small firm owned by the McGonagle family, designed a simple and stow-able product that was easily assembled without tools. They won the contract to supply the DC area with voting booths, and they couldn't be happier.

If this keeps up, Mr. McGonagle expects to see his U.S. business grow, until the States are his number one market. That means a steady salary for his twenty employees, and this in a colony that relies largely on hand-outs from London to keep things going.

All over the world, democracies are emerging and governments are in need of voting booths. Patrick McGonagle's small business can only get bigger, and it's largely due to the lack of bombs and bullets, to the peace that is still settling into place.

Not too much peace, of course. Sinn Fein is going to stage a parade to protest the parade of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Wouldn't want to go and forget all the rhetoric about oppressed peoples and British oppression and colonialism and all that. All politics is local, after all, and a global war can always be reduced down to a personal level. Care to vote on it?