Monday, March 31, 2008

White Lab Coat Optional

New and Improved! Be the first one on your block to test the paternity of your children! Makes the perfect Christmas gift!

So you thought that only scientists could run DNA tests. Takes a head full of knowledge, years of education and experience with scientific instruments to determine paternity. How wrong you are.

For only $29.99, you can pick up a do-it-yourself Junior Scientist test kit. To get any results back, you'll have to pay an additional $119.99. Science does not come cheap.

Imagine the home-based business you could run. At PTA meetings, at the local, at soccer games or wherever parents congregate, a whispering campaign targeting fathers could generate untold of revenues. Little Taylor there doesn't look a bit like her father, you say, and by planting enough bugs in enough paternal heads, who knows how many men would ask you to be sure that the offspring they support are actually theirs.

Women have it easy. They know they're the mother and everyone knows they're the mother, but the father? Could be any sperm donor when you get right down to it. Nervous fathers across the land will be snapping up the kits and anxiously awaiting the news that their daughter is actually another man's.....son. There is always some inherent chance of sampling or clerical error, which could lead to some truly ugly divorce proceedings.

Determined to test the kids? You're also questioning your partner's honesty. Not exactly the best way to solidify a relationship.

Landscaping Improvements

Say you're visiting Dublin and you find that all that exercise has left you perspiring. You'd like to stop in at a pub for a cold pint, but at the risk of offending with your body odor, you move along down Cathal Brugha Street, dehydrated and spitting cotton.

If the Dublin City Council has their way, streets in the city could soon be sporting these lovely facilities. Perfect for the visitor who can't get back to their hotel room easily. More perfect for the homeless, who don't have a shower or indoor plumbing. Or an indoors, by definition.

As put forward by the homeless charity Trust, these self-contained little capsules could be funded in part via large advertising placards, as shown in the example to the right. Really adds to the over-all atmosphere of the street, doesn't it. So colorful. So golden arching.

It's been proposed that a small fee be charged, unless a person is so destitute that the small fee is out of reach and then they'd be given vouchers. A blast of water for fifteen minutes, and you're fresh as a spring daisy. Junkies would have to shoot up that much more quickly, given the time frame. Unless a workforce could be hired to monitor the showers, in which case the addicts would continue to make use of other public facilities now available.

Trust has suggested that these space capsule pods be placed near bus stops and near tourist attractions, under the assumption that the homeless would be panhandling among commuters and tourists, so they'd need their shower facilities close at hand.

And you, the over-heated tourist, can enjoy a public shower whenever the mood strikes. Keep some shower sandals at the ready. You wouldn't want to be stepping on all the used needles that the junkies will be dropping.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Another Agent Sent Packing

How long will it take April Eberhardt of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency to respond? Or is she one of those non-responders?

I sent a query three weeks ago, after discovering on the website that she is looking for the very sort of novel that I have written. How easy to personalize the query letter, to insert a short note that let her know I had read the website and was aware of her predilections and preferences.

Back to the website today, to see if there was any time schedule or the sad news that the agency is so swamped that they won't bother to reply if they aren't swept away by a magical query. So where is Ms. Eberhardt? She's not there any more.

The list of agents is missing one name.

I've done it yet again. My query frightened off another one. Here's my novel, says I, and she's out the door as fast as the wind.

The query was sent to her personal mailbox, so I'd guess that it won't be looked at by any other agent there. Cross another one off the list. Bid my time. There'll be a new victim coming up soon enough.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Control Of Knowledge

This monument on the island of Okinawa must be a memorial to something that didn't happen, if we're to believe Shinzo Abe of Japan. The former Prime Minister was ready to delete all references to the event that gave rise to the Suicide Cliff Monument.

Kenzaburo Oe wrote a series of essays about Okinawa and what happened when the Japanese were on the verge of losing the island to American forces as World War II came to an end. The author said that surviving Japanese soldiers told him that the military went around and encouraged civilians to kill themselves rather than face capture.

Here's a grenade, the soldiers said, go blow yourself to bits. Otherwise the Yanks will rape and torture and murder you.

Mr. Oe became the defendant in a defamation suit that was filed by a former soldier, who claimed that none of that ever happened. The plaintiff had plenty of support from those who would like to deny that Japan ever committed a single atrocity. They'd like all references to mass suicides on Okinawa and the rape of Nanking to be erased from written records. Don't let the kids learn of it, and eventually it will all go away.

Sorry lads, said Judge Toshimasa Fukami. He ruled that there was plenty of evidence that Japanese soldiers passed out grenades like so much candy. The only places where civilians killed themselves en masse were villages that hosted Japanese troops. People who survived the invasion of Okinawa testified that their own military urged them to take their own lives. Mr. Oe is not guilty of defaming anyone. He told the truth.

Like most nations, Japan is open to outside influence and outside information flows in. A government can't control knowledge in such a situation. The evidence always rises to the top.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guilty Again

They said that Dutchy Holland murdered Veronica Guerin. He, of course, denied it.

He was a career criminal who had served time for armed robbery when he was caught after holding up the Berkeley Court Hotel in Ballsbridge. He served time for possession of explosives and detonators. He served time for possession of cannabis. But he never served time for murder.

The Veronica Guerin case came up again when Dutchy was freed after doing his ten years on the possession charge. He denied it again.

Will he still claim that he's being persecuted of a crime he says he didn't commit when he goes back to court in England?

Mr. Holland has been nabbed in another crime. His scheme was quite elaborate, but still as stupid as could be.

The lovely Khan Coombs was supposed to get a job at a company and then lure the owner into a trap. Mr. Holland and his crew would then hold the man for ransom, a payout of ten million pounds sterling that would have gone a long way to making his existence more comfortable.

Brilliant plan, but what's a kidnapper to do when the sexy bait can't get the job?

Next thing he knows, the police are on to the plan and he's arrested for attempting a crime of huge proportion.

Dutchy's 68 years old now, and he won't have to worry about how to fund his retirement. Chances are, he'll be in prison for the rest of his life. He was never convicted of murdering Veronica Guerin, but he won't walk the streets again, and that's as much closure as the Guerin family can expect --- not perfect, but better than nothing.

Insulting Milwaukee

The cost of a plane ticket should be related to how much fuel it will take to get you to the destination, shouldn't it?

Not when you're looking to fly to some destination that is off the beaten path.

Anyone flying out of Des Moines, IA would be looking for a place to go that's not so dull and rural. The nearest big city is Chicago, therefore, the bean counters at the major airlines know that the average Iowan would pay well to get down off the farm to see the bright lights and tall buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan.

How much would it take to get that same Iowan to another backwater sort of place? After all, who in their right mind would travel to a place like Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Want to go to Chicago? Save up your egg money, because a flight will set you back nearly $400, and that's flying on the cheap. Forced to go to Milwaukee to visit some ancient relation who might or might not keep you in the will? $240 and you're there.

The funny thing is, you'll fly into Chicago on your way to Milwaukee, and then you'll have to get on another plane for the last leg of the journey. You'll burn up more jet fuel, but you'll pay less money.

The citizens of Milwaukee are being insulted by this financial slight. If the tourism bureau was alert, they'd be trying to capitalize on this cost-saving feature to promote the inexpensive beauty of Wisconsin to the potential visitor who wants to go on vacation but is strapped for cash.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Time-Share Scam

The post card will turn up in the day's mail and you'll give it a glance. Offers of free dinners, or better yet, an offer for a free trip to some warm, sunny place in the middle of winter.

Do you bite? Or do you take another look and realize that it's just a ruse. A promise of something fun hides the real reason for that offer being made.

You just know that if you eat that free meal or take that free trip, you're going to be made to sit in a room with a trained salesperson, and you will be subjected to some high-pressure sales pitch to buy a time share that no one wants.

Pity that some of our Congressmen aren't so well aware of the pitfalls of the free vacation offer. Jim McDermott of Washington fell for it, and he's looking the fool now.

Free vacation, all expenses paid, visit sunny Baghdad. Who could resist, when the weather at home is miserable and D.C. isn't known for its salubrious climate.

Off he went, with two colleagues, for the free trip. He asked the State Department if it was all right for him to go, and they laughed at his naivete before waving good-bye. Sure, go on, they said. Enjoy that badgering to sway your opinion. Have at it. Don't stay long, though. We'll be invading in a few months time.

Mr. McDermott and pals returned, only to begin singing the praises of Iraq. Don't go disarming those lovely people, the trio demanded. Don't try to get the rest of the world to unite against them.

Sure the sales force makes that time share look attractive so that you'll fall for their spiel. It takes someone with a drop of cynicism to ask what's in it for the seller before succumbing to the intoxicating aroma of shite and onions.

The Congressmen did nothing wrong, in the legal sense. They did, however, violate the rules of common sense. But then, if the high-pressure tactics didn't work, no one would ever buy a timeshare that no one wants, and we all know that those worthless deals are made all the time.

Taking The Poor Taste Prize

Ireland's biggest bookmaker is famous for their advertising. This particular poster has won the prize for number of public complaints. Vulgar, rude, distasteful, and yes, offensive to everyone who's breathing.

But it's only to promote on-line bingo says Paddy Power.

Exercise more restraint in future, says the Advertising Standards Authority.

Will Paddy Power change their ways, or will they find something even worse to get all the attention again? What are the odds?

In Support Of Recycled Paper

Save a tree is the new cry among literary agents.

Kristin Nelson is very emphatic about it. Under no circumstances should anyone send her a query on a piece of dead tree. She will no longer open the envelope to return your self-addressed envelope. If you want to pitch your manuscript to her, it will be via e-mail or not at all.

Jeff Kleinman at Folio Lit would like you to inquire via e-mail if you please. He'll get back to you sooner, in fact, and that's one of the best incentives he could offer the potential client. Just a bunch of electrons needed. No trees will be harmed in the making of your query.

For a time, the agents at The Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency would not respond to your paper query if they were not interested in your manuscript. That saved them the trouble of printing up reams of rejection letters, at the cost of half a forest. Now they've moved on and have switched to e-mail as well.

Something new is on the horizon, like a vast wave of agents who have been swamped with easy to shoot out en masse queries. Thinking of querying Barbara Braun? Put down your Internet connection. Go buy a stamp.

In a reversal of previous policy, Ms. Braun will no longer accept e-mail queries. You have to type up your letter, print out your synopsis and sample chapters, and put the lot into a large envelope. Then you drop it in the post box, go home, and wait. That's how it was done before. It's how she's doing it again.

When you have to put money and effort into the submission process, you won't be so quick to fire off a mass mailing of queries. For an agent with an overflowing inbox, that could mean a reduction in poorly written and poorly targeted queries blasted out by a service. Ms. Braun must be hoping to put an end to the bombardment.

What of the poor, defenseless trees that must be pulped to make the paper? By using recycled paper products, you encourage the industry to recycle even more. That's another way to save a tree and save a literary agent's eyesight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making And Keeping Appointments

"Burglar," he said. "Just here to rob the place."

"Do you have an appointment?" they asked.

"I've got a gun," he said.

"Yes, but do you have an appointment? You have to make an appointment to see the manager. We don't have any money on hand and he's the only one to get into the safe. He's never in this early. Can we pencil you in for, oh, let's say, in four hours?"

"I'm a busy man," he continued. "Here's the number of my mobile phone. You call me when he gets in, or I'll come back this afternoon and blow you all away."

"Absolutely, sir," they said. "We'll be more than happy to call you. Around noon, then?"

The burglar left, to burgle another premises as that was his full time occupation. The employees of the transmission shop on Chicago's northwest side phoned the police, to report on the attempted armed robbery, and to let the officers know that they were bound on oath to ring up the burglar. Rather than let the men go back on their word, the police encouraged them to phone the burglar and ask him back to conclude his business.

"Surprise!" said the employees when the burglar returned. "We invited the police to your little burglary party. Hope you don't mind."

The guest of honor took offense at the presence of armed police officers when he was planning a more intimate gathering. Rather than be a gracious guest, he pointed a weapon at a plainclothes policeman. The would-be burglar, Ruben Zarate, is now in hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg.

Face it, if he wasn't a complete eejit he wouldn't be robbing transmission shops to earn his keep, would he?

Standing On Common Ground

In Commons, David Trimble pitched a fit because he believed that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was ignoring Northern Ireland. They're as British as any other member of the United Kingdom, Mr. Trimble would like the Prime Minister to know, and just because half the population of the Six Counties don't think they're the least bit British shouldn't figure into the equation.

The DUP is still angry with Ian Paisley for going into government with the Shinners and the rest of the nationalist-leaning politicians. How can a man be staunchly pro-Union and even think of speaking to someone who has the audacity to hold an Irish passport while residing in Northern Ireland? And now Gordon Brown is shuttling Northern Ireland off to one side?

To listen to Peter Robinson, heir apparent to Ian Paisley, one would think that Mr. Brown considered the sacrosanct union to consist entirely of England, Wales and Scotland. Is there no common ground for the unionist of Northern Ireland to share with their beloved masters on the island to the east?

The common ground is right under their noses, and Mr. Paisley knows exactly where all communities are joined. He's riding the Free Presbyterian mission bus into the Republic of Ireland this summer, bringing some of that common ground with him.

It's not about being British. It's about sin. Whether nationalist or unionist, you're all sinners. There's your common ground. That's why Mr. Paisley was able to come to terms with Gerry Adams. We're all just sinners, even though some are Shinners.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happy Face, Sad Face, Climate Change

How to get the average idiot to decrease their carbon footprint? That's the question that University of Chicago researchers hashed out. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler even went so far as to make a book, Nudge, to give us all guidelines to follow.

Folks in Chicago are aware of the dangers of global warming. They're living through one of the worst winters in years, which certainly proves to them how hot the planet is getting. It doesn't help the carbon footprint folks, especially when this year's temperatures are included in the average and the world's temperature comes out unchanged.

The duo of Sunstein and Thaler have discovered that people care very much about what their neighbors think, in a bid to keep up. Therefore, if you believed that you used more electricity than your mate on the other side of the fence, you'd be so ashamed that you'd cut your own use.

And what might reinforce your desire to be like others? A smiley face on your electric bill. Charming, isn't it? When you use less power, you get a smiley face. Too much juice, and that smile turns upside down into a sad frown. Wouldn't want that, would you? The postman would see it through the thin envelope and all the neighborhood would be talking about you, the carbon spewer.

You can presume that Sunstein and Thaler have never paid a utility bill, or they would have noticed that the people of the Chicago area were recently punished for cutting back on their natural gas usage. While folks in the Windy City suffered through a blisteringly cold, snowy winter, they shivered in their homes with the thermostats scaled back.

In return, the suits at People's Gas decreed that all this conservation was costing them money. How could they face the shareholders and tell them that people were using less gas so there would be a minuscule dividend issued? It's the global warming, they cried, and hotter weather and people not using much natural gas to heat homes.

Reduce your carbon footprint, think that you're saving a bit of money on your heating bill, and someone will find a way to make you pay more for using less. So you're out of pocket to a greater degree, due to a claim of global warming, and the winter's dragging on.

If it isn't one scam, it's another.

It's All The Non-Catholics

Before the migrants migrated in, just about everyone in Ireland was Catholic.

No one minded that the Church ran all the schools, while taxpayers covered the costs. There was no diversity, so who cared that primary education was so decidedly non-secular? All the children needed religious training anyway, and if they had catechism lessons as part of their daily routine, things were running smoothly.

In came the others. All those non-Catholics, trying to get their children into Dublin schools that were already getting crowded. There are only about 200 primary schools that aren't Catholic, and that doesn't allow for a large student population.

There are plans to cut back on the Church's influence in the schools. The Archbishop of Dublin is not entirely against the idea, either.

A school here and there, should the parents wish, could be handed over to some other groups. Educate Together, which is a rainbow coalition of religions, might be interested in adding to their stable of schools. No need for catechism in such a place, and that would make it perfect for those who do not want a traditional Catholic education for their child.

The problem is, there's a move on to cut back on spending at all levels. Revenue is down as the Celtic Tiger slows to a crawl. If the Church no longer stands as a school's patron, with financial help from the collection plate, where is the money to come from?

As things now stand, some schools hold fundraisers to scrape up the cash for electricity and heat. Special needs aren't being met everywhere because there's not enough money to go around. Ireland has long been at the bottom of the league tables when it comes to financing education, and things can only get worse.

The Church might not be doing the best job at including all in the education system, but the old system produced the highly educated, computer savvy workforce that keeps the economy moving. Pity that the New Testament has to get in the way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Personal Issues

Do you turn a blind eye when your boss orders you to cover up his immoral activity? Or do you turn him in?

Kwame Kilpatrick's security force was put into action when he was cheating on his wife. A couple of the boys in blue took a look at the allegation that mayoral security was securing a secret tryst, and for that, they got fired.

The officers filed suit, claiming that they were sacked because they were running a legitimate investigation. It's illegal for a sitting mayor to manipulate his taxpayer-financed security force. They get paid to protect his body, not his reputation. Examining an illegal activity is not grounds for termination, and the city of Detroit agreed. The settlement was somewhere in the vicinity of $8 million.

There was no romance, insisted Mr. Kilpatrick. It's a lie, claimed his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. Under oath, they both swore they weren't having an affair.

What of the text message from him to her? "I'm madly in love with you" isn't exactly a request with any sort of business relationship. "I am madly in love with you, too" is not what one expects to hear from a chief of staff addressing His Honor the Mayor.

Pity that the mayor signed off on the settlement with an eye to keeping the text messages out of the public eye. Wouldn't you know that the public got wind of them anyway, and now all of Detroit knows about the affair. And about Mr. Kipatrick's whopping great lie.

Kwame Kilpatrick has now been charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and official misconduct. He would have been ahead of the game if he'd just admitted to the wife that he had strayed. Sure it's a tangled web that he wove, deceiving one and all, only to get caught by his own words.

A Lack Of Confidence

When he was Minister of Finance, Bertie Ahern warned the Irish people in a manner so subtle that it went unnoticed until now. He had no faith whatsoever in the Irish pound. Why else would his salary as minister be paid out in sterling?

Evidence given to the Mahon Tribunal indicated that some of Mr. Ahern's lodgements to a building society account were, in part, his paychecks. He would hand the checks over to his secretary and she would make the deposits for him. Sometimes she cashed the checks. Sometimes she put money into accounts for the Ahern daughters.

The branch manager recently testified that the very same teller who handled the Ahern deposit was also handling a sterling exchange immediately before. That would suggest that Mr. Ahern's checks or cash or what have you were pounds sterling, which had to be exchanged for Irish pounds before the transaction could be finalized.

An Taoiseach has hinted that he will address this unusual turn of events in the coming weeks, perhaps not waiting until his return to the Mahon Tribunal in May.

Will he dare to admit what is becoming more and more evident -- that he had such little confidence in Irish finance that he had to be paid in British pounds? Was he ready to shoot across the border in the event that the entire Irish economy collapsed in 1994? What other explanation could there possibly be?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Skepticism Hits The Bottom Line

Find a niche and fill it. That's the axiom for success in business. Create a new product or service that tackles a problem. Or, invent something that no one needs at all, and convince them that they do need it. Result? Massive profits.

With that in mind, a group of entrepreneurs met in the British Virgin Islands for a brainstorming session that was meant to inject some fresh ideas into their myriad ventures.

How can a bunch of corporate types convince you, the general public, that man-made global warming not only exists, but that it's critical to act now. They have investments to protect, and if people don't start jumping more forcefully on the band wagon, the businessmen are going to lose.

Larry Page, of Google fame, has put his savings into the Green Power revolution. That means he has to get us all to use biofuels, even if they cost us more. We pay higher prices for green fuels and he makes money off of it. Can you not cooperate?

Richard Stromback, who heads Ecology Coatings, has been involved in organizing these discussion sessions. He's found his niche in clean technology, so he's determined to make us believe that there's a need for his products.

Richard Branson has sunk millions into biofueled planes. If he can't make you believe that you should pay a premium to his company, his bottom line takes a hit. The same goes for Vinod Khosla, who has invested heavily in ethanol production technology. There's big money riding on their ability to promote man-made global warming as a reality.

Tell people often enough that a computer-generated prognostication is as good as fact and they'll run to their governments and demand that Green Power be harnessed --- at a profit to Mr. Branson and his mates. Just don't tell people that computer generated predictions are a case of Garbage In, Garbage Out. Don't tell the folks at home about the variables that are left out of the calculations because the system is too complex. That's very bad for business.

The Cost Of Corruption Adjustment

The Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign will meet on Wednesday to discuss tuition.

A proposal will be on the table to raise tuition. yet again. It would be a miracle if they voted the issue down.

The trustees would very much like us all to think of this State school as a quasi-private institution. It's Ivy League quality without leaving the Midwest. It's a prestigious university, and if they say it often enough, surely someone will believe it.

A prestigious institution requires a prestigious level of tuition, so if you want to attend UIUC, be prepared to come up with $9200 dollars per year, plus another $8K for a place to lay your weary head. That's a jump of 9.5 percent over this year, and you know that the cost of living hasn't climbed anywhere near that much in the last twelve months.

In a Chicago court room, Stuart Levine has been explaining how the fix was put in by his pal and handler, Tony Rezko. Shake-downs and bribes were paid for business, and those who were shaken down or bribed just passed the cost on to the State of Illinois.

Every student enrolled at UIUC is paying a portion of the graft. When the State has to pay a premium for ordinary expenses, someone has to cover the difference. There's only so much tax money to go around, and the university system comes up short. So what? Let the students make up the difference, while Rod Blagojevich's and Barack Obama's campaign chests are stuffed to overflowing with the profits of racketeering.

Thinking of sending a donation to a presidential candidate? If you're paying tuition at UIUC, you already a roundabout way.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Case of Poor Timing

When I queried Faye Bender, I had forgotten that she's probably quite preoccupied these days. She was the agent in the middle of a phony memoir debacle, and the dust has yet to settle.

No wonder then that I got the form rejection within a couple of days.

She's only taking on things selectively, and anything that mentions the word "memoir" is not to be part of the selection process.

My manuscript is pure fiction, and I said so up front, but I used historical data to flesh out the story's bones and wasn't I foolish to mention memoirs as a source document.

Sorry. I'll go back to the agent search and find someone with a quieter office.

Random House Has Reservations

What could be better for the spring reading season than gossip? Juicy, juicy gossip, about the stars and the wealthy and those who thought that they were assured of some privacy.

Abigail Hart and Nancy Joyce Callahan once worked the concierge desk at Chicago's elite Four Seasons Hotel. What stories they accumulated over the years. The rich and the famous were their clients, all people who could ask for whatever and expect to get it because they could afford it.

The ladies penned a tell-all book, to put their many memories in print for all to share. The manuscript was sold to Random House, and the publisher was fully prepared to lay down the book on April 22. Reviewers had their review copies so that the publicity machine could be revved up into high gear. You can imagine how thrilled the authors must have been, to be riding this wave of literary promotion.

It has all come crashing down.

Random House pulled the plug on Great Reservations. Ms. Hart and Ms. Callahan assured their publisher that they had legal opinions on their side. It seems that they had signed confidentiality agreements when they were hired by The Four Seasons, and they did not believe that they were in violation of their contract. The Four Seasons felt otherwise. The hotel must have had a more convincing argument, because the tell-all won't be telling anything anymore.

Some of their anecdotes are floating about on the Internet, gleaned from ARCs sent out earlier. If you're the sort who wanted to read about Demi Moore falling for a panhandler claiming he ran out of gas, then you'll sorely miss what might have been.

As for the book's authors, will they sorely miss their advance? After all, the book's been killed. Do they have to return the money?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sending The Book On Tour

Is it a book tour if only the book is traveling the globe?

Sebastian Horsley has been deported, although his so-called memoir was allowed entry from the U.K. The self-proclaimed dandy was going to hawk his book from sea to shining sea, but Homeland Security thought better of it. He's been told to go back to England and it's a pity that he's missed his own book launch party but life's a bitch, ain't it.

Given the current hysteria over artificially contrived memoirs, Mr. Horsley has not been forthcoming when asked how real his written word might be. He's a dandy, you see, someone who exists to attend parties and amuse the guests with outrageous tales. He's not holding up the bar at the local. His memoir is in the same vein: an amusement that may or may not be accurate. As long as the book sells, why should he care?

His book details wild excesses of drug abuse and purchased sex. One must presume that Mr. Horsley was not much of a romantic, as one might expect of a classical dandy. Beau Brummel is in the past, as is the art of seduction. Mr. Horsley had to shell out thousands of pounds for thousands of prostitutes, all in his quest to go over the top.

Authorities at Newark Airport were aware of the author's fondness for drugs and whores. Taking his memoirs as fact, they applied the "moral turpitude" label to the man and denied him entry.

The party went on without the guest of honor, who had a long flight ahead of him. Publisher Carrie Kania was so moved by Mr. Horsley's prose that she was determined to carry on. We must all read this shite, it's so very important, and no, Harper Perennial didn't fact check the manuscript.

Isn't this just what the book-buying public is clamoring for?

No Welcome Mat At The Door

Can I come to see your lovely land, asks Her Majesty the Queen of England. My beloved granny is on record as finding the island a delight, although the people were quite ragged and emaciated when Victoria first came to call.

No British monarch has set foot in the Republic of Ireland. That's ninety years of having the welcome mat pulled from the door. Bygones aren't ready to be bygones just yet.

Victoria was on the throne in Black '47. She came to visit her restless subjects and was surprised at their shabby state. Not to worry, though. The Queen of England indulged in a sumptuous feast in Dublin while the Irish people were dying of starvation. She came again, when the land was in turmoil over the Home Rule issue, and was roundly ignored by the nationalists.

To say that the Irish people have no love for British royalty would be an understatement. But with herself calling on the high and mighty in Belfast on Thursday, there's noises being made about a royal visit. Ireland's free of English rule, so why not let the Queen trot around Punchestown?

You want to stop in, asks the Irish government. Fine. As soon as policing powers are devolved to the Stormont Executive, up there in Belfast where you're handing out your Maundy money. When Home Rule has come to Northern Ireland, fully and completely, then you can set your feet on Irish soil. Until then, the door's closed and locked.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Vow Of Poverty

Father Tadhg O'Donovan wasn't particularly impoverished before, but his wallet is 213,222 euros lighter today.

The good Father is a landlord, although he's not after evicting anyone for not paying their rent. In fact, he's made a fat bit for himself by renting to the poor and collecting rent subsidies from the government.

No good deed goes unpunished, does it? Father O'Donovan was collecting his rents, letting the poor occupy his thirteen premises, but then he slipped up. He was supposed to report his income to the Revenue people.

Priests don't have much revenue to speak of, what with salaries in the clerical field being so low. A man can't be faulted for supplementing his income, but he can be faulted for not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.

Failed to file correct tax returns for five years, failed to provide correct rental income statements, failed to keep proper records....ah, but there's so few priests and the man was kept busy with his clerical duties. An oversight here or there, is it so bad?

All the fines have been paid and the past due taxes have been settled. Even so, it's going to be difficult for Father O'Donovan to take to the pulpit and ask his parishioners to dig deep when the collection basket goes around.

Not Special

Here's a lovely crystal bowl of shamrock, Mr. President. Can I have a free pass for the undocumented Irish in return?


Bertie Ahern brought up the problems of the illegal Irish immigrants when he called at the White House over the weekend. Like anyone else living on shaky ground, the Irish who live in the shadows would like to be free, to come and go as they please, without worrying about getting back in once they've gone out.

Mr. Ahern's suggestion that the Irish be given an amnesty was turned down. The best he sees ahead is a new visa program that would give the illegals a chance to normalize their situation, but only after they've gone back to Ireland and filed the proper applications. Rather difficult for a man who has a little plumbing business to up sticks, go back to the parents' humble home, and wait. What would become of his client base if he wasn't there to fix the pipes? How would he make money to support his family if he's in Ireland and his work is in the States?

Fine Gael is all over An Taoiseach for not coming out of Washington with a better deal. Michael Ring was highly critical, claiming that Mr. Ahern wasn't even trying to help the undocumented.

Niall O'Dowd of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform must have been scratching his head with puzzlement after Mr. Ahern's announcement. His group isn't looking for an amnesty deal. They'd like Irish illegals to be treated like Australian and Chilean illegals, whose situations were normalized under a bilateral agreement. Why can't Ireland and the U.S. trade visas as well?

If the Irish Defense Force had a few boots on the ground in Iraq, do you think that the visa issue would be cast in an entirely different light?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Novelist Writes History

What if there had been talking instead of fighting, suggests Nicholson Baker. The novelist has taken that question and put it to the events surrounding the onset of the Second World War. As one might expect from the perspective of hindsight, the author comes to a surprising conclusion in Human Smoke.

Winston Churchill figures prominently in Mr. Baker's treatise, being cast as a war-monger who had no inclination to sit down at a bargaining table with the Nazis. Mr. Churchill's father wasn't one to sit down at the table with the Irish who were pushing for Home Rule back in the day, so it comes as no surprise. Without His Lordship's machinations, there might not have ever been an Easter Rising in 1916. Like father, like son?

If only the pacifists had been given a chance, the author believes, then the Jews could have come out ahead via a negotiated settlement. Considering Hitler's love of his "final solution", I imagine that the negotiated settlement would have been something along the lines of killing off every Jew in Europe and then there'd be no war. Not everyone would have been happy with that, of course, but what's the lives of millions of Jews against the lives of thousands of soldiers and the preservation of some exquisite architecture?

Revisionist historians are forced to accept the premise that the madmen who ruled Germany were amenable to rational discussion. Winston Churchill was of a mind that they had to be eliminated because there was no reasoning with them. Mr. Baker feels that if the U.S. and other European countries had held talks, there would have been no need for war and therefore the European continent would not have been destroyed and millions of lives lost. A summit convened at the right time would have done it. After all, Hitler had proved his trustworthiness when he promised not to go past the Sudetenland, and he didn't. Or did he?

It makes for a grand plot for a novel, where the reader is willing to suspend disbelief. But for non-fiction? Hard to suspend disbelief in evil and the darkest side of man.

The Earth Stopped Spinning

Did you feel that? That rumbling. Not twenty-four hours ago. The earth must have stopped spinning on its axis and the mountains crashed into the sea and the continents shifted....

Ah, no, it was only the St. Patrick's Day parade in Belfast.

For the first time that anyone can recall, a big parade wound through Belfast. Ulster Unionist, and Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers led the parade. Stood at the head, walked from City Hall to Custom House Square, and he never once was struck down by a bolt from the heavens.

Green painted faces, green apparel, shamrocks and all the rest were in abundance on the streets of Belfast. Loyalist groups marched in the parade, and revelers enjoyed some trad and some samba. Ireland's multicultural now, and there was a touch of Carnival tossed in to the mix.

Tourists from foreign countries came to watch the parade and enjoy the festivities. No one worrying about bombs and bullets and goings-on. There's peace in the north.

Peace that Mrs. Clinton had a hand in creating, contrary to Mr. Obama's opinion. So said Bertie Ahern earlier, after he'd handed over the bowl of shamrock to himself in the White House. The Democratic Party could use a bit of that peace over here, if there's any left to go around.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Holy St. Patrick's Day

Of course you all celebrated on Saturday so as not to be coming home drunk on the Monday of Holy Week.

Then there's the godless heathens who celebrated on Saturday and have every intention of celebrating today as well.

It happens but rarely, so take full advantage. Two St. Patrick's Days in one year. Sure it's brilliant.

If you're feeling extra Irish today, here's a little Dolores Keane in the native tongue:

Beanachtai na feile Padraig....and now you can learn how to pronounce it yourself:

Slap Down

The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution added amendments to protect certain rights that had been trampled underfoot by the British. The very first amendment, in fact, promised freedom of speech, which was sorely missed in the former colonies.

All these years later and the British never did cop on to the glories of free speech. That's why author Rachel Ehrenfeld was sued abroad. She's a Yank. The complainant is an Arab. The issue is free speech and where can a man sue an author who's accustomed to free speech. Let's go to England.

Ms. Ehrenfeld wrote an expose on the financing of Islamofascist terrorism. The bag man for the House of Saud was named, and the billionaire banker Khalid bin Mahfouz took her to court. In England. So much easier to prosecute for libel there, wouldn't you know.

That's what they call a slap suit in the halls of American justice. The rich bully tries to scare the poor writer into submission by suing. He's got more money than he knows what to do with, and he knows that Ms. Ehrenfeld is practically skint.

Publishers are watching the case closely. The implication? American books won't get published in England, and Amazon can't sell them in England, because of the libel laws. As long as a writer of any nationality can be sued in an English court if the book is available in England, there'll be corporate lawyers deciding that it's too risky to speak freely.

A British court found in Mr. bin Mahfouz's favor, and Ms. Ehrenfeld is facing a $225,000 judgment. She can't dare go to London or she'll be arrested. The state of New York, where she resides, is trying to pass a law that will protect American writers from foreign (i.e. British) judgments, by declaring that rulings from "libel tourism" cases aren't worth the foreign paper they're printed on. And you thought that the War of 1812 settled things.

The constitutional lawyers in New York State are wrangling over the new bill, not sure if it will pass muster.

Surviving a slap suit takes a great deal of courage and some powerful friends at one's back. Will Amazon step up with an open wallet to protect their right to sell products to England?

Losing The Low Profile

Nothing could better call attention to a person than to have that person followed about by a television crew. The reporter, the producer, the camera man, the sound's a crowd, and too many people to go unnoticed.

A man suspected of being a top dog in the Real IRA was taken into custody yesterday in Donegal, near the border. Him and several BBC journalists, that is.

The gardai were busy with an investigation into paramilitary activity in Donegal. That's code for probing the activities of Real IRA members who are making money by the gallon along the border. They take cheap diesel meant for farm machinery, wash it up, and sell it on as more expensive motor fuel. It's been going on for a long time and the governments of both the Republic and Great Britain would like to stop it. They're losing money on the deal, and the fuel laundries are causing tremendous pollution problems.

There was the BBC crew, doing their reporting on paramilitary activity and fuel laundering, and didn't the gardai get a bead on their man when they saw the lights, camera, action. Everyone got brought in, swept up together with the criminals they were examining.

Gardai have confiscated the day's filming as well. That should provide all sorts of interesting facts for the courts to hear. The journalists are expected to protect their confidential sources, while gardai will be seeking to identify the same, with an eye to making more arrests and putting a crimp in the diesel laundry business.

The National Union of Journalists is waiting by the phone, in the event that the BBC reporters need legal aid. They are, after all, British citizens and they were lifted in Ireland, so the whole Offenses Against the State Act could cause them a bit of confusion.

The Real IRA operative? He's wishing he'd kept a low profile and not gone after his fifteen minutes of fame on the telly.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama - The Damage Control Tour

For months, the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune has been after Barack Obama, looking for answers. How well did you know Tony Rezko, after all? How much did he actually donate to your campaigns? How involved was he when you bought the house and he bought the side yard?

Yesterday, Senator Obama sat down with editors of both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times to give some answers. Why now, you might ask.

Last night, Senator Obama sat down with a reporter for FoxNews and gave some answers.

What is happening? It's the damage control tour, to stop the rumor train before it runs away and the race to the White House goes off the rails.

The amount of money that Tony Rezko gave to the Obama campaigns has changed with every telling, ever climbing. It has now reached the admitted amount of $250,000. No favors asked for, mind you. Not at the time, at any rate.

It turns out that Mr. Obama knew that Tony Rezko was under indictment when they went house hunting. Did he not realize that the man was radioactive politically? Not to worry. Mr. Rezko assured his up and coming politician friend that there was no merit to the charges. Mr. Obama's instincts told him to believe the word of a man who is on trial and on the verge of jail time.

The Obama family minister has turned out to be a virulent racist, and where better than FoxNews to find the doughy white guys that are critical to Mr. Obama's success. What a shock for the Senator, to learn that his spiritual leader is anti-American, anti-white, and believes that the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill off the black folks. Now, if he'd heard such preaching, Mr. Obama would have quit the church. Everyone knows that you never listen to the sermons anyway. You sleep through them, eyes open, but brain not engaged.

The damage control tour will chug along, all the way to Pennsylvania. Will he manage to convince people that his faulty instincts aren't faulty any more, or will the Chicago Way prove effective once again? Deny, deny, deny.

Real Estate For The Unemployed

I make 40,000 sterling per year, David Patrick Belton told the banker. He secured a mortgage in 2000, and another in 2001, with a lovely tale of gainful employment at a filling station in Belfast.

As it turns out, Mr. Belton was on the dole at the time. Another cheater about to default on his mortgage, you're thinking, and you'll not waste a drop of sympathy for his fate. Nothing of the kind. He paid up regularly, in cash, or with third party checks. Never late, never missed a payment. Not bad for an unemployed gentleman.

The houses in County Louth and County Monaghan are about to be seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Even though Mr. Belton paid his bills, he got his money from cross-border fuel laundering, and a man can't launder money in real estate these days.

Diesel for use in farm equipment isn't taxed like motor fuel. Criminal gangs take the modified off-road diesel, clean it to remove elements that mark it as non-road fuel, and then sell it on to filling stations who don't mind getting petrol at a discount. The government, on the other hand, very much minds not getting the taxes due on vehicle fuel.

It's a lucrative business, and Mr. Belton made enough to buy a couple of lovely homes. But he got greedy, and went on the dole to pick up some walking around money. For fifteen years, he received handouts from either the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland, and as a charity case he paid no taxes.

That's the problem with criminal assets. You can't enjoy the fruits of your illegal labors without someone wondering how you were able to afford something and you not even working.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Pus Arm Of The Law

Child endangerment is a serious issue. Children are often left unattended by mothers who are incapable of caring for them. Children are often left to fend for themselves when mothers have to go to work but can't afford child care.

Then there are mothers who leave a child in the car, lock the door, and walk thirty feet away to donate money to the Salvation Army. That's child endangerment in Crestwood, Illinois.

A community service officer jumped in to save the Coyne toddler. Ms. Coyne was met at her vehicle by a local police sergeant, who was in her face about this dangerous practice that the community service officer had come upon. "I've got your back, dearest, and let's charge this evil miscreant with child endangerment just like you said, honey," or would someone risk an intimate relationship and tell one's lover to get one's head out of one's ass? Ms. Coyne was at a disadvantage from the start.

The case has been dismissed. Security video showed that Ms. Coyne was not gone for more than three minutes, and she denied that her view of her car was obstructed. She had an eye on the sleeping toddler, and she had an eye on her other children. She was doing what mothers do. She was multitasking.

Ms. Coyne would like an apology, but she'd best not hold her breath while waiting. She could, of course, take satisfaction from the fact that this example of sheer idiocy is all over the news, and the Crestwood police are looking as competent as a troop of circus clowns.

Destruction For A Worthy Cause

Protesters have dug a hole in Rath Lugh. They aren't archaeologists, by any means, and they did not try to preserve the site. They dug a hole, constructed a trench and carved out a cave. All for a worthy cause.

The National Roads Authority is determined to build the M3 through the hills of Tara. If something of historical significance turns up, presuming that someone notices such items before they're clawed out of the ground and thrown into the waste pile, then archaeologists can come in and excavate. Chart and catalogue and photograph and what all, but important items must then be moved out of the way.

Plenty of people are adamantly against the road, which is going to destroy what has always been the seat of the Irish kings. Don't need a road, don't want a road, but the NRA is building them a road and they can all go feck off.

Lisa Feeney has taken up residence in Rath Lugh. She says she's quite comfortable, thanks, and plans to live on tinned foods and some seeds she's going to sprout. If she knew anything about horticulture, she'd be planning on growing mushrooms. For air circulation, there's a wind-powered pump, so she's hoping the gales continue to blow. Her chamber is stabilized by bits of wood and a car jack. A bit dicey, but she's determined.

Meath fire officials refused to enter the tunnel to evict Ms. Feeney, who has chained herself to the car jack. One tug on her arm and the whole cave crashes in, suffocating all who dare to enter. Ms. Feeney is willing to give her life to preserve Tara.

If protesters wish to occupy the sight, they're welcome to it. They've been working on their tunnel since August, and we all hope that they dug up an archaeologist while they were at it. Rather foolish to cry out for protecting a place if you've done a fair bit of damage to it yourself.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Politics Ain't Funny

For years, Saturday Night Live was seen as a television dinosaur, an old show that had long ago run out of funny bits and was broadcast out of habit. Enter a political season that has candidates going for jugulars, and finally there's something to mock.

Political strategists, however, have no sense of humour whatsoever. Nothing is funny to them because everything is serious. Poll numbers, public opinion, a spin here or a retort's war.

The writers of SNL are in the entertainment business. They keep an ear to the ground, to pick up on current events that will resonate with viewers for one particular evening. This isn't writing for the history books. It's more fast food than haute cuisine.

Before Jim Downey touched a key and composed a line, plenty of other pundits had noticed that Senator Obama was getting press coverage as if he were the Second Coming. When the first bit aired, featuring a fawning press and a debate that sought to crucify the female candidate, people laughed. They saw it aired on news programs and they laughed again. They talked about the bit at work, and more viewers became aware that SNL was funny again. Mr. Downey did his job, and did it well.

Not so fast, sir, said the Obama handlers. You're clearly backing Ms. Clinton with your satire. We don't find it amusing in the least. That actor playing Obama, he isn't even black. Thanks a million, went the Clinton campers, for letting the public see how unfair the media have been.

The SNL writers are said to be pro-Obama. Their job is to make people laugh, and it doesn't make any difference who they skewer. That's the nature of political satire.

Obama's handlers come from Chicago by way of the Daley machine. They must not have ever spent a Saturday evening at The Second City. Even they had, they wouldn't have gotten the jokes.

The Poet And His Boys

Neasa Ni Chianain went to Nepal to make a documentary about poet Cathal O Searcaigh. What she came back with was a story of a Western man exploiting boys.

There has been an uproar, from those who felt that RTE should never have broadcast the program, to those who think An Garda Siochana should investigate the poet for child abuse. Was the director trying to tarnish the image of a talented writer? Was the talented writer an unrepentant pervert?

As a noted Irish poet, O Searcaigh's works are studied in Irish schools. If he's a pedophile as portrayed, should children study his poems? It took two hours of discussion before the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment could decide what to do.

In the end, it was determined that the work had literary merit, and should remain part of the curriculum. No need for teachers to say a word about the man's sexual preferences, no need to bring in his private life since that's private.

Minister of Education Mary Hanafin has taken the advice of the council and decreed that students sitting the Leaving Cert will find O Searcaigh on the test. The written words are too important to be cast aside. No one is complaining about Oscar Wilde any more, are they?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Envy Or Parsimony

What value to the citizens of Ireland, asks Enda Kenny. The entire cabinet takes to the skies, flying to every country with decent weather, and at taxpayer expense. Where's the return?

Mr. Kenny has questioned the benefit of the annual St. Patrick's Day migration. Last year, it cost more the 500,000 euro to send the ministers off on their various destinations. Mr. Kenny, being in opposition, was not invited to go along for the ride.

As usual, An Taoiseach will be in Washington D.C. on Saturday, to present the traditional Waterford crystal bowl of shamrock. Shamrock is nothing more than newly sprouted clover, but it's tradition and it has to be done.

There are trips planned to China, to Italy, to here and to there. What good does it do the Irish people?

It's exposure. On the news, on the radio, getting interviewed so the listening audience can be charmed by the brogue -- and won't you come visit us. Won't you come and invest in our country? Won't you come and build a factory or shuttle your profits through our low corporate tax rate nation?

Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day. There's millions of descendants of the Irish diaspora all over the globe, and they buy things and run companies and travel. Once a year, the ministers head out to remind folks that there's a quaint little island tucked up near England, and the tourists do indeed show up and spend their money on food and lodging and souvenirs.

The value in travel? It's a sales call, a face to face encounter with the people you're selling to, and the ministers are selling Ireland. And don't think that Enda Kenny wouldn't love to be the one handing over the bowl of shamrock and sitting down to dinner with the most powerful man on the planet.

Was She Or Wasn't She

With a wave of her hand, Hillary Clinton brought peace to Northern Ireland....or not. Depends on who you talk to.

She didn't do a thing to bring peace, says Barack Obama. All talk, all puffery and posturing.

Easy for him to say, seeing as he wasn't there. What about the others, those who were there in Belfast when the dealing was done?

There's himself, of course, but you'd expect Bill to say that the missus was a key member of his team, ten years ago. Totally biased opinion, and not worth a second glance.

David Trimble was minister at the time. representing Whitehall. The Irish love Bill for the peace deal, so how can a proper English type be positive? According to Mr. Trimble, Ms. Clinton was along for the ride, like any other wife of any other executive. First Ladies are supposed to travel with their presidential mates. She wasn't there at the table when the negotiations took place. Why, she was nothing more than a cheerleader.

Gerry Adams was there at the time. As far as he's concerned, Ms. Clinton is within her rights to say that she played a role. As for David Trimble, he's a shower of shite that one. Mr. Adams met with Ms. Clinton, in her capacity as the First Lady and the Senator. What does Trimble know of their meetings, talking out of his head and he doesn't know a thing.

John Hume was there at the time. The former leader of the SDLP can't believe that anyone is so dense as to downplay Ms. Clinton's role in the peace process. She played a positive role, he says, and he ought to know since he was there at the table as well.

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was there at the time. He was the chairman who presided over the peace negotiations. In his opinion, Ms. Clinton was involved and she helped the process along. She did more than the average First Lady, and went so far as to found an organization to encourage women to engage in the political arena. Hence, Mr. Trimble's animosity towards a woman who encouraged others to get out of the kitchen and raise their voices.

Who's got it right? The nationalists like Gerry Adams and John Hume? Or the loyalists?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

As Time Runs Out

Worried about global warming and all the ensuing catastrophes?

In a panic over global cooling and a new Ice Age?

Forget all that. It's all going to end in a horrible sequence of events that will culminate in our home planet being sucked into the sun's orbit. We, and all that we know, will be vaporized.

We have as little as 7.59 billion years to find another place to live.

It's never too soon to shop around for new digs. Our current neighborhood is going downhill and we have to move out before it's too late.

Scientific research must focus on interplanetary travel. The earth won't be around forever, so why waste money on tarting up a losing proposition? Ice, heat, pollution, overpopulation, what have you....none of it matters, does it, when you realize there is something much worse to be afraid of?

Thank You From The Governor Of Illinois

Since Tony Rezko went on trial, the spotlight has been shining on the governor of Illinois. Things have gotten so bad that Rod Blagojevich won't even leave his Chicago condominium for his office in the State of Illinois Building. All those reporters, all the time, ready to pounce and ask embarrassing questions about pay-to-play politics.

At this time, Governor Blagojevich would like to extend his bottomless gratitude to New York's Elliott Spitzer. Just when evidence given at trial showed how corrupt the Republican and Democratic leadership is in Illinois, Mr. Spitzer was good enough to hire a prostitute. Now the spotlight is glaring on him, and Mr. Blagojevich can breathe a little easier.

Doesn't everyone love a sex scandal? How very thoughtful of Mr. Spitzer to add that certain touch of arrogance coupled with outrageous sums of money. Wealth and deceit, all rolled up into a neat package. Who cares about the state of corruption in Illinois now?

Shaking down companies that wanted to get a piece of state business is dull fodder indeed, when a reporter can tell us all about ratings and fees for jet-setting whores. Rezko putting in the fix for those who paid the bribes, seeking plum posts on state boards? Who cares to hear about that, when psychologists can spend hours analyzing Mrs. Spitzer's body language and divorce lawyers can debate possible settlements and marriage counselors can preach about reconciliation and forgiveness.

In recent testimony, it was revealed that the top Republican in Illinois held a fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich. But the reporting focus has shifted back to New York, and the Governor of Illinois is hoping that no one will hear what comes up at the trial for the next few days. Thanks, Elliott, you're a pal.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Man Walks Into A Bar

A man walks into a bar, right? And he's got a sawn-off shotgun.

Not a joke at all, when you see a weapon with that kind of firepower. That was the scenario last night in Limerick, when a man wearing a balaclava strolled into the local pub and pointed a shotgun at a customer.

What does any right-thinking person do? Run away and get help, you might suppose, but this is County Limerick, after all.

Gardai were eventually called in, but not before four people in the pub went to the aid of their fellow drinker. By the time help arrived, it was the criminal who was in need of help. Now, if he'd gone into the pub and the man he was after was alone, that's one thing. But to walk into a busy place and expect to hold the entire place at bay is quite another.

There was safety in numbers in this case. Four potential victims set upon the gunman and he ended up at the Mid-Western Regional hospital with head injuries.

And aren't we all relieved to know that none of the four got hurt in the altercation? Nor did they get arrested for battery. Good to know that four men won't be prosecuted for believing that they are, indeed, their brother's keeper.

The Shuttered Workshop

Aurora, Illinois, is a hard-scrabble sort of town. Part of the rust belt, it used to boast of a large population and plenty of heavy industry.

Heavy industry pulled out long ago. The population dropped, following the jobs.

How to generate taxes when the tax producers have gone? The city of Aurora started up a literary festival five years ago, to bring in the tourists and their tourist dollars. There's more to urban renewal than riverboat casinos and gamblers, after all.

There'll be no two-day Midwest Literary Festival this year. Too few people were coming, and the cost could no longer be justified by the diminishing returns.

Writers used to turn up at the one-day workshop, to mingle with published authors and the occasional literary agent. Well known novelists were brought in, to push their books and speak to those who would like to be in their place, but year after year, the numbers in the seats declined.

Rather than put together a festival, the city will spread things out and bring in whatever author happens to be on a book tour and is willing to stop in Aurora for a few hours. No more workshop for aspiring writers. The best they'll get is a chance to ask a question or two.

Local favorite Scott Turow is scheduled to appear on April 6, the first author of what is hoped to be a long series.

An expensive festival closes down, in favor of the more affordable collection of speaking engagements. Doesn't that prove that there's no money in writing?

Motoring In Ireland

In a land famous for tea drinking and beer by the pint, you'd not want to down too much liquid before hitting the road.

There was a time when few people had cars and not many people did much driving around the island. Back then, there was little need for rest areas and public toilets. Things have certainly changed in Ireland, but there still isn't any place to pull over and answer nature's call.

The National Roads Authority has come to see that driving with one's legs crossed and one's mind focused entirely on prayer (or locating a patch of scrub in which to find relief), is downright dangerous. An average, healthy human being cannot drive from the south end of Wexford all the way to the border without running out of petrol or running out of bladder space.

As Ireland enters another phase of its growth, the motorway rest area will soon be added to a fine list of accomplishments. Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey has signed the order, and no less than two service stations will be built on the M1. Ten more are said to be coming for other major roads.

What was a nightmare before, driving for miles with small children and their small bladders, will become a joy. Families running up to Belfast to take advantage of the lower prices will not have to bundle the brood in nappies. No need to dehydrate before attempting a trip north. As they do in every other civilized and motorized country, you can pull into the service station area and make a mad dash to the jacks, rather than water the roadside flora and hope that no one can see you.

Pity that the cost of fuel is so high. Who can afford to drive at all these days?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Time For The Book Tour

Don't feel sorry for Samantha Power. She's not worrying about how to pay her mortgage these days.

She's not even in America at the moment. Ms. Power is in Dublin, hawking her book. And maybe she'll be squeezing in a bit of a visit home at the same time.

Ms. Power is considered an expert on genocide, and as such she was serving as a foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign. On top of that credential, she's won a Pulitzer Prize, so she's got some talent to fall back on, now that she's been forced to resign the advising post.

All those brains, and she didn't know that when you give an interview, on the record, to a reporter, you can't just mumble an aside about something being off the record and expect the reporter to not use the quote. This is off the record, she said, and you can bet that the reporter's ears pricked up and every word was transcribed with accuracy.

As an expert on genocide, Ms. Power described Ms. Clinton as a monster, hell bent on winning. That, in itself, is hardly news. Most people figured out long ago that the former First Lady was ambition on legs.

There was one other tiny remark that the author on her book tour made to the BBC. All the things that Barack Obama has been saying about pulling out the troops from Iraq and ending the war? Don't worry. He has no intention of following through on any of his campaign rhetoric. Isn't that the Chicago Way?

Make It A Lifetime Ban

Give it up for Foley's Pub in Manhattan. Management has banned any and all singing of Danny Boy for the month of March.

It's a wretched song, full of smarmy Victorian sentiments that wail about death and separation and when you come back for me I'll be dead and buried and let's have a good cry.

The song is popular with Irish-American politicians who can't quite hit all the notes but by God they won't be made to shut it. And they have to trot it out every year for St. Patrick's Day, like it's some kind of holiday carol.

There's more than enough sad songs in the Irish songbook, tunes that were actually written by Irish people. Forget the Danny Boy nonsense. It was penned by a Brit.

Favor the Shinners? Warble a few stanzas of Only Our Rivers Run Free and there'll not be a dry eye in the house. Thinking of romance? You'll melt a girl's heart with an on-key rendition of The Grey Lakes of Loughrea.

Please. No more pipes a'callin' from glen to glen and down the mountainside. Try a bit of this instead:

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Pot And The Kettle And The Black

Twenty years ago, Caoimhin MacBradaigh went to the funeral of an IRA member who had been killed in the "line of duty". A loyalist murdered Mr. MacBradaigh at the funeral. Now Sinn Fein would like to honor the memory of the man.

Edwin Poots is outraged. How dare the Shinners suggest that one of the new Irish language bodies in Northern Ireland be used to memorialize a terrorist? Of course the man was a terrorist. He was killed at a funeral for another terrorist so he's tarred by the same brush.

As culture minister, Mr. Poots must look out for the culture, and he doesn't want IRA culture to be glorified. It's deplorable, he says. It's a slap at the beautiful Irish language, and it's a slap at the unionists who might, should hell freeze over, wish to learn how to speak Irish. Sure, he was against funding for legislation that would have promoted the Irish language, but he's a unionist and unionists are in the majority and they aren't Irish so why waste money?

Having lost that battle, Mr. Poots has taken another tack, lambasting Sinn Fein over the choice of a name, and who cares that the murder victim spoke Irish? All those Shinners go around speaking Irish just to annoy the Democratic Unionists.

In other news, the most vicious and vile mural in Belfast is finally getting painted over, after ten years of negotiations. The huge image that celebrates the glories of the loyalist thugs who terrorized Belfast's Catholics will be no more. In its place will rise another mural, celebrating William of Orange and his victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne.

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot. Both black.

Taking Attendance At The Funeral

Was it a grand funeral, the late Ari Squire asked his widow. Did many attend?

Mrs. Squire did a fine job of pretending that she was mourning her beloved husband, killed in a freak accident. The corpse that she buried was not that of Mr. Squire.

Two weeks ago, authorities found a body crushed under a pick-up truck in a garage belonging to Ari Squire. The garage had been set ablaze, but the height and weight of the victim fit Mr. Squire's measurements and he was presumed dead. Mrs. Squire held a memorial service last week. Her husband sent her an e-mail, asking for the attendance figures.

A day after Mr. Squire's supposed demise, Justin Newman's mother reported him missing when he failed to come home after going out to take up a new job....with Ari Squire.

The local coroner was a bit confused by the evidence before him. Mr. Squire was inked, but the body was not tattooed. Then there were the dental records, which didn't match. Couldn't be Mr. Squire, in that case, so who was it? When the DNA test results came in, the police easily determined that it was Justin Newman who was dead. In which case, where was Ari Squire?

Police in Eureka, Missouri discovered Mr. Newman's car in a motel parking lot. They found his name on a list of missing persons and went to talk to him. They never did get to tell him to call his mother, she was worried about him.

Mr. Squire put a bullet in his head rather than surrender and face justice. He may have thought he was fooling everyone, by coloring his hair and wearing blue contact lenses so that he looked a bit like Justin Newman. He was not bright enough to figure out that his teeth and his genetic material could never be made to match the man he killed.

A man with substantial debt, Mr. Squire may have been driven to kill as a means to get his hands on a $5 million life insurance policy. Mrs. Squire was questioned but has yet to be charged as an accessory. That begs the question: is Mrs. Squires entitled to the settlement? After all, her late husband is really most sincerely dead this time.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Literary Representation And Hand-outs

You know that you need a literary agent to gain access to the halls of publishing. Did you know that your agent is good for a hand-out as well?

Faye Bender, the sucker who fell for Margaret Seltzer's literary scam, apparently is a soft touch. The woman's a talented agent and she's been in the trenches for a time, but anything outside of literary pursuits is a new world. The agent got her cut of the royalties, and then turned around and gave some of it back to Ms. Seltzer, and it was all another scam.

As part of her elaborate scheme, Margaret Seltzer not only passed a novel off as a memoir, she also claimed to have established a charitable foundation that was meant to help the poor and underprivileged that she wrote of. Poor Ms. Seltzer was poor indeed and couldn't afford to pay for server space. In steps her agent, Faye Bender, with wallet wide open.

The site promoted Ms. Seltzer's book, but as it turns out, there was actually no charitable foundation in existence. What Ms. Bender did was to pay for some of her client's publicity.

And what of the other organizations that were listed on the website? Strange how it turned out that no one involved in those charitable groups had ever heard of Ms. Seltzer or her foundation.

Trying to land an agent? Close out your query letter with a promise not to come begging. The commission that they earn will be theirs to keep in its entirety, and you'll cover the cost of your own webspace.

No Mid-Week Nudity

Pole dancing is so much in demand in Kilkenny that Whispers has to shut down on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Now, you'd think that the pole-dancing club was doing poorly, but you'd have reached a wrong conclusion. No, the place has to close two nights of the week so the dancers can rest. Up and down the pole, spinning until their brains are scrambled, and it's no wonder that they have to put their feet up every now and again.

Dave Coughlan, Whispers' director, promises to fling the doors open every night of the week after St. Patrick's Day, when all Irishmen miraculously begin to go out to lap-dancing clubs every night of the week. Do the girls not need a rest after the 17th of March? If they're too tired now, what's so magical about St. Patrick's Day that they could last the week?

All of Kilkenny is still waiting for An Bord Pleanala to reach a decision on whether or not the facility requires planning permission. The group that gathers every Friday to shame the patrons is, of course, praying to St. Patrick for a positive response. There'd be a better chance of Whispers being shut down if the planning people could determine that the pole dancing business violates planning laws.

Given that it's been so busy that the ladies need a two day rest, and assuming that Mr. Coughlan's prediction comes true, it's only a matter of time before the place has to close its doors every day. The dancers would spin themselves to death otherwise, with such a press of business.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Trust Me

Your fiancee is about to have her manuscript published. She's been given an advance that approaches $100,000. A freelance reporter asks you to verify her story. What do you say?

Ah, sure it's all as she's said, a wise man would say. Who'd be fool enough to give up that kind of money? Especially when Penguin is fool enough to print a nonsense and pay handsomely for it.

Margaret Seltzer made up a whopping great lie of a tale. She said it was true, and her word was good enough for literary agent Faye Bender and publisher Geoffrey Kloske and editor Sarah McGrath. The book that Ms. Seltzer wrote was not a memoir at all, at all, and isn't the entire publishing world shocked.

A white girl in a black foster home? Don't question that impossible scenario, lest you appear to be racist.

A white girl, running drugs for a black gang? In a racially unmixed neighborhood? Does this not defy all credibility?

Who's your foster uncle, Ms. Seltzer was asked. He's in prison, she said. And then she named a prison. Did anyone check with the Bureau of Prisons to be sure that the uncle was indeed locked up there? No, but they did verify that the prison actually existed. How difficult is it to say that he's locked up in Folsom, Dwight, Pontiac, Leavenworth, or what all? And the freelance reporter is stunned that Ms. Seltzer's fable wasn't outed?

Ira Silverberg, the literary agent who represented the fraud that was J.T. Leroy, doesn't believe that the publishing industry is capable of fact checking. How about just listening to the little voice in one's head that says this is the biggest load of shite ever yet produced. Publishers should keep in mind that there's plenty of would-be authors out there who hold to the axiom that there's a sucker born every minute.

Pepsi Prize

I'm truly honored, Pepsi, that you've chosen me as a prize winner.

What has me stumped is your address. You claim to be located on Canary Wharf in London, or at least the Pepsi Company's Promotion/Prize Award Department is there. I'd have expected an e-mail that originated in New York or San Antonio or the like.

The Promo Board is going to pay me 1.5 million pounds sterling. Lovely, but could I get it in euros? Easier to bank, and I don't want to cause too much trouble for the bank teller, having to calculate the exchange rate and all.

Time to get down to business if I'm to be a newly minted millionaire. Mr. Vanden MacAlister is sitting in his office on Canada Square, just waiting for my information. What does he need to know? My name, oddly enough. You'd think he'd have that data at hand, since he's the one contacting me. Why, it almost sounds like he's picked my e-mail address at random.

Age, occupation, phone, fax and mobile, annual income, how often I drink Pepsi. Easy to answer. Sex? Yes, please.

There's another puzzle here as well. The web address of the computer that sent me this exciting news is based in a private residence in Whitecourt, Alberta. That's in Canada. Nowhere near Canary Wharf, which is in London, England.

Perhaps that's where Rhonda Williams, the Online Co-ordinator, is co-ordinating all these prize notifications. Of course, that explains it. This couldn't possibly be any sort of scam.

Please Look In On Granny

Is she still breathing? Able to sign over her pension check? The Department of Social and Family Affairs would like to know.

It's possible that as many as 8,000 pension recipients living outside of Ireland are receiving their weekly stipend, but they're a bit, shall we say, dead. No one is quite certain.

Money is sent overseas but there has been no verification that it arrives into the hands of the person who is entitled to collect. If funds are tight, the heirs might be tempted to deposit granny's pension in the bank and then use the funds for themselves, while dear granny is enjoying her heavenly reward. After all, if no one in Ireland is looking, what's the harm?

The harm is somewhere in the vicinity of one million euro per week if all 8,000 recipients are six feet under. Even if the percentage of dead pensioners is small, it's still money thrown away.

Social welfare staff has begun the process of verification, sending notices to overseas pension recipients and asking them to please confirm that they are, indeed, alive. After a set period of time, a lack of response will be taken as an indication of death, and the checks will stop.

Been living on the pig's back, have you, with pension funds that your granny can't use anymore because she's deceased? The party will soon be over. Social and Family Affairs have copped on.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Make It A Memoir

A riveting tale, set on the border at the height of The Troubles. A young man, running guns for the IRA, forced into service to save his family. Faye Bender will love it. She's a great one for the fiction. I mean memoir.

James Frey did it. Misha Defonseca did it. Most recently, Margaret Seltzer did it. Why not me? Sure I'd love to read a review of my great work in the New York Times, penned by noted critic Michiko Kakutani. She'll call my memoir humane and deeply affecting. My publisher will give me a high five figure advance.

Grand, until a sibling rings up the publisher and tells them it's a cod. Never lived further north than Rathkeale, they'd say. Never touched a gun and wouldn't know a Shinner from shinola.

Margaret Seltzer lied through her teeth, but her cause was noble if you listen to her excuses. Giving a voice to the voiceless, she penned a tale of a white girl raised by black gang bangers, running drugs for the Bloods or the Crips or the Ulster Volunteers for all we know. No one questioned her details. No one checked her facts.

Faye Bender fell in love with the prose, sent the manuscript out on submission, and got an editor at Riverhead to bite. The book was laid down; the author went out on a tour, and then her sister ratted her out.

Fiction is such a tough market, the agents like to tell us in the rejection letters. Is it any wonder that some would lie and cheat to get their prose published?

But just in case I can pull off my own scam, Up the 'RA.

More Response Times

Just over three weeks, and Mary Beth Chappel of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth has decided to pass on the full manuscript. Strong writing, she says, but the story's not for her. Maybe it's been told too many times. Maybe there aren't enough famous characters in it.

That's hot these days, historical fiction that re-tells the life of some famous person. No one cares about the servants' lives, or the existence of those who only watched the important person pass by. The story that agents want is not the one I tell, so it's a pass.

Someone was intrigued enough by the query to visit my website and read the excerpt posted there. But that strong writing must not have been enough to garner a request for more, because I've yet to get an e-mail from anyone I've queried in the past couple of weeks.

It wasn't Joy Harris knocking at my digital door. I sent her a query letter via snail-mail ten days ago. Her rejection letter arrived today, postmarked Friday afternoon, but my web visitor came calling well after dinner on that same day.

I've reached that hazy point between giving up and continuing. I could do the research for the next manuscript I've been plotting out. Or I could drop the whole thing and give up the stress of waiting and querying and the whole idiotic business. I could write another short story and pursue some tonier literary journals for a decent credential. Or I could abandon the lot.

I'd go read something, to take my mind off it, but my last trip to the library resulted in slim pickings. There's nothing there that piques my interest. Good thing I'm not a literary agent. I'd have starved to death by now.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The State of Denial

What went on, exactly, at the meetings that were held at St. Andrews? Did Ian Paisley really say what Gerry Adams says he said? Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists, would like to know.

According to the St. Andrews agreement, police service in the northern six counties was to be put under local control. Instead of being run from London, the PSNI was to be answerable to the boys and girls sitting in Stormont. Some of those boys and girls are Catholics, as luck would have it, and can any unionist really accept a Papist having anything to do with police business?

Speaking for the Democratic Unionists, Mr. Paisley insists that his group never said that May of 2008 was the deadline for devolution of policing powers. No dates were set at all, and the IRA has to disband their army council, and end their sectarian campaigns against the sectarian Orange Orders and did that last bit change the subject for once and all?

The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are both pushing for devolution, and both governments believe that May, 2008, was the agreed month. Sinn Fein has been trumpeting the deadline as well, so you'd think that if three out of the four attendees believe in the date, then the fourth attendee is in a state of denial.

With Shinners nosing around the police records, and investigators looking into collusion between the British Army and the RUC, it isn't looking good for the old loyalist dinosaurs. Are they headed for extinction after May, or will Westminster blink?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Homeless In New York City

Gramercy Green was on the verge of becoming an outpost of Ireland. Around eighty investors had paid their deposits on luxury condominiums, planning to snap up a holiday home in the city that never sleeps. Wouldn't you know it, but just when the new owners were ready to take possession, New York University barges in and the holiday home plan is up the flue.

The developer ran into a problem when the booming housing market took a tumble. The Irish had bought up 80 flats, but JD Carlisle had the rest of the 290 condos to unload and there were precious few takers.

Looking around for another buyer, the developer was approached by New York University. The school needed additional accommodation for their students, and what better place than the luxuriously kitted out Gramercy Green?

The Irish are getting their money back, along with a little extra to cover the difference in the exchange rate so that they don't take a bath on their investment. Even with such generous terms, the buyers are stunned. They had no idea that there was a back-out clause in the contract, and they're not at all happy to have their dream of New York City living crushed so coldly.

KMS, the Dublin agency that handled the sales, will be left to sort things out and handle the fall-out from some angry investors who are wealthy enough to afford a second home that's worth close to $1 million. That's going to be some kind of angry.