Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Particular Urgency

One year after the bridge collapsed in Minnesota, the governor of Illinois is up in arms. There are worse bridges in our own state, he says, and the legislature must free up the funds. People will die. The bridges will fall. We're all doomed. And when that happens, remember, it's all the fault of House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Why the urgency, after a full year has gone by? Is Rod Blagojevich privy to some inside information? Has he been handed some particularly frightening report that is too horrifying for the average citizen?

No, it's just the fund-raising business again.

A bill is sitting on Mr. Blagojevich's desk, but he won't sign it. The Illinois legislature put together a new law that would forbid political donations from firms doing business with the state. The governor has packed his coffers with political donations from firms doing business with the state, and he's not about to turn off the spigot.

While the bridges crumble, the governor hosts one fund-raiser after another, and who does he meet and greet? Important people who own large engineering firms, as luck would have it. With an indictment hanging over his head, Mr. Blagojevich has to cram in as much fundraising as he can, before Patrick Fitzgerald gathers enough evidence to end it all.

In the Illinois world of pay-to-play, some donors wish that the governor would sign the bill and set them free. Tony Karam of Albert Benesch & Co. would like to not have to donate to the governor, but if his firm is to get a piece of the bridge repair pie, he has no choice but to kick in and then add the cost as overhead. The engineers aren't going to actually pay out of their pockets, not when the taxpayers of Illinois can be hit for the pay-off.

We must have money to fix our infrastructure, the governor of Illinois trumpets.

He's taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the companies that would do the work, and they're putting the pressure on him to make good on his half of the deal. Syed Hussaini kicked in a couple of grand, and his company needs the work. Entran Engineering, Accurate Group, V3 Companies---they paid, and it's time to play.

Illinois must start work at once, the governor says, these repairs are critical.

We want a piece of that $11 billion capital development plan that you've put together, say the engineers who kicked in to the fundraising efforts.

The big engineering firms are gambling on an indictment not coming down just yet. They're betting that the Illinois legislature will cave in to the governor's overblown, $11 billion improvement plan even though the state is flat broke. Barack Obama can't get elected fast enough, and Patrick Fitzgerald can't get promoted to a paper-shuffling desk job in Washington fast enough.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paper-free And Answer-free

E-mail queries only, if you please.

It's the rule for anyone submitting to the Linda Chester Literary Agency. No more clutter in the office, no more stacks of query letters waiting to be rejected. Everything resides on the computer, small and compact.

"Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming number of queries we receive, we can no longer respond to each one. We will contact you within four weeks if we are interested in your material."

Unfortunate indeed for the author seeking representation. You don't know if your query was ever seen, or if it was caught up in the spam filter. You sit back for four weeks, wondering, and then you think about sending the letter again, just in case.

For an agent, it's much easier to work with e-queries. Your letter pops up on the screen, they scroll down to see if you've been published yet, and then they can hit delete and the letter is gone.

In reality, it's not quite so bad as all that, but you wouldn't be surprised if an agent did just that after a long day of query reading. A few variations on "My book is going to be a bestseller and Dan Brown will grovel at my feet" and you'd chuck the lot in your inbox as well.

It becomes that much more important to grab the agent's interest with the first line of the query. You have to compose a verse, a collection of words that make the agent read on to get to your synopsis paragraph. Such a task is not easy for even the most talented writer, because it's all about marketing when you're seeking representation. There's another reason why you'll never get published.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some News Isn't

Who would have guessed that the Chinese lied through their teeth so that they could host the Olympics? While the vast majority of the population are not in the least shocked to learn that China has recently cracked down even harder on dissenters, in spite of previous assurances not to, Amnesty International treats this like it's new.

They promised to ease up on the persecution of protesters, Amnesty cries, but aren't they going after the unhappy with greater force? Well, of course Chinese authorities are cracking down with full force. Would they do anything else?

China must have a smooth and successful run during the Olympics, to show that they're worthy of a perch on the world's stage. They're a well-run country, everyone's happy, Maoism is grand with a touch of capitalism thrown in, and won't you look at us now.

To achieve that lofty goal, more people than ever have to be arrested and confined, kept off the streets and well away from the probing lens of the news camera. Human rights cannot be allowed to interfere in the precisely orchestrated stage show that will soon be unveiled.

Therefore, Amnesty International's website is offline if you're Googling in China. The media reporting from Beijing on the run-up to the Olympics discovered this remarkable fact. Oh, yes, by the way, the Chinese did indeed promise to grant the international media full access for all reporting, but, sure promises are made to be broken. What can the International Olympic Committee do this late in the game? Take their Olympic Games and go home?

If everyone would play along, stop protesting and stop reporting on the thick clouds of smog that envelope the host city, the Chinese wouldn't have to do all this hard-handed cracking down. It's not their fault at all, clearly. It's the fault of those who would speak the truth.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Geography Intrudes

In the interest of heightened security, anyone setting foot on the British island will be subject to stiffer security checks.

If you happen to live in Scotland or Wales, you're on the land mass already and you'll not notice any difference.

If you happen to live in Northern Ireland, you'll be treated like any other foreigner. The unionists are outraged. Geography defies them once again.

The fact of the matter is, the six counties in the north are not, in any way, connected to the rest of the United Kingdom. The unity is political, and the planet was not consulted when partition was agreed in 1922.

While Scots and Welsh can move about the U.K. with ease, the poor, beleaguered Northern Irish will be subject to all the same checks and inspections as those arriving from the Republic of Ireland. As much as the unionists would seek to deny it, their little corner of the kingdom is firmly attached to Ireland and no amount of rhetoric can move a large land mass.

Unionists traveling within the U.K., but outside of the island of Ireland, will be asked for identification. A passport will do, but that implies that they're citizens of some other country, and they don't see it that way. The government is planning to accept other documents as well, possibly a national I.D. card, but even that won't go down well with those who love the United Kingdom of England and the little bit of Ireland that used to be important to Westminster but isn't any more because Harland & Wolf stopped making ships.

Geography. Making a mockery of unionism, as if things aren't difficult enough already, what with the Shinners in government and the young people all leaving and the Catholic population climbing. It takes sheer determination to be a unionist these days.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Visas In The Cupboard

For three years, a woman waited in Dublin for the visas that would allow her husband and children to flee Ethiopia. For three years, two small children and an orphan adopted by her aunt waited in a refugee camp, dreaming of a new life in Ireland.

The visas were approved in August of 2005. Terribly sorry, missus, but they must have gotten lost in the post. Three years later, someone realized that the all-important visas were collecting dust in some office somewhere, forgotten or misplaced or misfiled.

Dermot Ahern has apologized profusely to the Somali woman who was granted refugee status in 2004. The Minister for Justice laid the blame on "profound system failures", which is a way of saying that someone shuffled the paperwork into the wrong pile and how's anything to be found if it's not in the right place?

The refugee was eager to have her family join her in Ireland, and she got after the department every year, asking after the status of her application. What did the Justice Department have to say at the time? They didn't answer her letters. No response is a no, in seeking literary agent representation as well as family reunification.

It took a gaggle of solicitors and the Freedom of Information Act to unlock the door to the halls of Justice, and wouldn't you know it, a bunch of legal minds discovered the visas. They had to pry the file out of the department's hands, too, but who wouldn't try to cover up something so embarrassing a gaffe as that?

Without delay, those visas were promptly.....well, when her husband went to the Irish Embassy in Addis Abbaba to pick up the new visas, nobody there knew nothing about no visas. So it was off to the High Court with the Somali refugee.

Mr. Justice John Hedigan asked the Department of Justice to explain itself, which it did, but in a rather bumbling fashion. The visas have since been re-issued and retrieved from the embassy, while the Somali refugee is working with her legal team to sue the pants off the government, citing all sorts of damages.

It would have been cheaper to pay a clerk a little extra to come in on a Saturday morning and rummage about in the bins and cupboards, back when the refugee first inquired about the status of her family reunification bid. But then, who ever said that bureaucracies were cost-efficient?

Friday, July 25, 2008

An Abysmal Human Rights Record

Living in Ireland is hell on earth, what with the nation's utter lack of human rights. The UN has finished their inspections, using reports from groups that believe that Ireland lacks human rights, and now it's all there in print, every failing. And people complain about rights in the U.S.

The Oireachtas has yet to pass new laws that over-ride the laws of biology. Transgendered folks have the right to turn back the clock and have their birth certificates changed, right along with the surgery that transformed them. New rules must be put in place, that force biologists to ignore the Y-chromosome should DNA tests be performed on Susie because he says he's a girl and that's good enough for everyone. Down with biological laws! Up with human rights!

Ireland's been Catholic far too long, and let's just forget about the religious persecution of the old regime that drove so many to become so devout. The restrictions on abortion are too severe, and if you'd stop listening to the priests and bishops, and enact the right sorts of civil laws, Ireland would be grand indeed. It's not good enough that women can hop on a ferry and go to England for an abortion. And it's not an excuse that the women of Northern Ireland have to do the same, with an island-wide ban that's entirely driven by religious prejudice. Down with abortion restrictions! Up with human rights!

Speaking of Catholicism, it's no excuse that the writers of the Irish Constitution were such hard-core Papists. Making judges take a religious oath? Outrageous. We're all secular here at the U.N., and the Irish had better step up. That means the schools can't include religion in the curriculum. No more faith-based education; call it "character counts" and don't bring up the laws of Moses. Down with God! Up with human rights!

Immigrants came to America because they were fed up with being told what to do, and that attitude has remained deeply ingrained. The U.N. might be based in New York City, but Americans ignore the august body completely when they're not laughing at it. But for those who stayed put in Europe, the U.N. has your marching orders.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Adults Located In Neighborhood

John and Deb Kunz didn't want a sidewalk running near their house. No matter to them that municipalities decide where sidewalks go, in the interest of the public good. They didn't like the sidewalk where it was, so they took it out.

Kids used the path to get through the subdivision on their way to school and a nearby park. All those footsteps, tromping near the Kunz's front door, was unbearable. All those children, and their parents, could....dear God, the horror...could see into the Kunz home!

In Lake Forest, Illinois, where all this took place, one doesn't put up with that which is unbearable when one has the financial ability to take action. Let the kids go around, the Kunz family decreed. Let Lake Forest put a sidewalk in someone else's back yard.

The city sued, claiming that the sidewalk was installed in the 1980's so that children could safely walk to the school and park. Legal representatives for the Kunz family claimed that the city didn't have an easement, and the walk was on their property. They're entitled, and Mr. Kunz didn't bust his ass at work earning enough money to buy that fancy house in Lake Forest so a bunch of local kids could walk in front of his house.

As it turned out, the kids kept right on walking where the sidewalk used to be. It was the shortest route to the school and the local playground. But they'd get their shoes muddy on wet days, so there. Take that.

After a lot of squabbling, a local adult has stepped forward. The city of Lake Forest will build a new sidewalk a few feet over, on a neighbor's lot. The family on the other side of the Kunz home has volunteered to host the concrete. They'll pay half and the Kunzes will pay the other half out of the proceeds of a lawsuit against their title company, which failed to tell them that the city sidewalk was on their property. Lake Forest will kick in $19,000, money that might have gone to repair some other sidewalk in town.

Not very neighborly, you might think, but when you can afford to pay someone to do all the little things that a neighbor might do to lend a hand, who needs neighbors?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Sock Puppets Rise Up

Long ago, I commented on WriteHigh, an editing service that would like to become a literary agency. Anyone interested in finding an agent, however, is looking for someone with a track record, and the employees of WriteHigh are sorely lacking in that regard.

So the sock puppets rose up to sing the praises of their literary agent. I tried to open their eyes to the world of literary agents. They sell manuscripts to royalty paying publishing houses that require agents for submission. Pretty simple concept. The sock puppets went away.

Now they've returned. A charming young lady from California insisted that the agents of WriteHigh had worked wonders for her. They edited her manuscript. They didn't sell it. The poor girl doesn't understand what an agent is supposed to do, nor does she want to discover that her editor can't help her when it comes to selling the manuscript.

Now there's another one, and Celia comes out with guns blazing. Why, she's been corresponding with Monique Raphael High for eight years! Has Ms. High sold a single manuscript in all that time? Celia's not talking. My guess is, the answer is no.

She's an honest literary agent, Celia goes, and I says, sure she's honest but she's not sold anything so what good is honest? The parish priest is honest as well, but I wouldn't hire him to represent my manuscript. And no, Celia, Ms. High doesn't need my conduct certificate to prove she's worthy. She needs a roster of sales to royalty-paying publishing houses. She doesn't have it.

It's been said many times and it's worth repeating. A good literary agent has sold manuscripts to publishing houses that you've heard of, and the books can be found on the shelves at brick and mortar shops. Has Ms. High sold such manuscripts? No. She is no doubt a wonderful human being and a fine editor. That doesn't make her a qualified literary agent.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Doctor Will See You Now

Hiding in plain sight, Radovan Karadzic disguised himself by growing a beard and avoiding hair cuts. Then he did the Clark Kent thing, and put on a pair of eyeglasses. No one ever recognized Superman, did they?

He went to Belgrade, to a big city, where he could get lost in the crowd. Rather than revert to his previous occupation---no, the job he held before he became the orchestrator of mass murder---he avoided being too obvious. Once a psychiatrist, he did a complete turn and became a phony doctor practicing alternative medicine.

No one suspected that the old man who resembled a Q-tip with glasses was being sought by international authorities. He had his share of patients, having made a small living in his pose of physician. What did he prescribe? Kill two Muslims and call me in the morning, you'll feel better?

By living openly, under a false identity, Radovan Karadzic avoided a meeting with justice for thirteen years. In all that time, someone must have recognized him, must have seen him and known who he was. In all that time, he never lost the luster among some of his hard-core followers, who would have known him but turned the other way, rather than turn him in.

A trial will follow, a trial in which the accused will deny everything, in spite of the mounds of evidence presented. He will be sent to prison, after thirteen years of relative freedom, where he will grow old and sick and plead for clemency so that he might die in the loving arms of his family. His request will be seriously considered, because the dead of Srebenica will not be in the courtroom on that day, to remind everyone that the man pleading for mercy never granted them the opportunity to die peacefully in their beds.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Pride of Stackstown

All that talk of Greg Norman, the old man of golf, all the attention...he's just gotten married again, to the tennis star, and do you think his legs might be too tired to walk the course...

Toiling away, sore wrist and all, was the Irishman. His wrist was aching, limiting the amount of swings he could take for practice, but he kept on going.

No one mentioned him much, except in passing. Last year's winner, he wore that label when the British Open started, while the chatter surrounded Greg Norman. Under miserable conditions, not unlike a typical day at the Stackstown Golf Club in Rathfarnham, Padraig Harrington shot an eagle. He walked off the eighteenth green with a three over par, the winner of the British Open. Again.

They're very happy at the club, where Padraig Harrington learned how to play the game of golf. They're very happy that an Irishman won the British Open once again, two years running. The only ones who aren't happy are the bookies, who never expected a second win, after an opening round bogey. There's a true legend in Irish sport for you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Your Travel Guide To Limerick

----------Lovely views of the River Shannon
--------Savory Irish cuisine
------Contemporary rooms done up in warm tones
---Brazilian prostitutes

All that and more is yours for the asking at the Hilton Limerick Hotel.

The staff is courteous and extremely attentive. They couldn't help but notice that Gercilene De Silva and Anna Lucia Sandoval had an inordinately enormous number of gentlemen callers to their room, and all that in the course of only three days.

Escort services like to provide their clients with the finest, and a room at the Hilton Limerick Hotel became the base of operations for the two ladies. Clients needed only to visit an Internet website, which listed their contact numbers. Like a well-organized site, there were answers to some Frequently Asked Questions. A man needs to know where he's to park his car since he can't very well park in the hotel parking lot when he's not exactly a paying guest.

Upon searching the room, gardai discovered some mobile phones, the appointment register and the retail price list, along with enough condoms to supply half the island for a month. The ladies only had EU1000 on them, but they were lifted early in the day, before the most profitable part of the evening.

They're lovely girls, or so their defense solicitor suggested in court. Never been arrested for this sort of thing before, only just arrived from Spain by way of Brazil, looking to Ireland as the place to make their fortunes.

Judge Tom O'Donnell returned half the cash, so that the ladies could board the next flight to Spain. The state keeps the remainder, along with the phones and the paperwork.

For the record, you can rest assured that the Hilton Hotel corporation doesn't particularly care to be known as the finest brothel in Limerick, or anywhere else for that matter.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Even Stocks Are Obese

One in four Americans is obese. The epidemic has even spread into the stock market.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley have discovered that Coca-Cola Enterprises is too fat. They've branded the stock as 'overweight', and it needs to slim down for the sake of corporate health.

Beverage consumers overseas hear news about the fat Americans and attribute the problem to all the fizzy drinks that are so popular in the States. That means Coke and its various products are not selling as they might, and investors don't like that sort of thing. Overseas growth is where the money's to be made, and if the world's not being bought a Coke to sing in perfect harmony, the profits don't plump up.

Drinkers in the U.S. have cut back on soft drink purchases, perhaps in a bid to take off a few sugar-induced pounds. At the same time, Coca-Cola has experienced a decine in profits of 23%. That's a heavy load of profits shed, and that's not where the company wants to reduce.

Coca-Cola Enterprises is on a diet that is not palatable to its investors. Commodities prices are up, the cost of shipping is up, and sales are slipping. The company is looking at a price increase, but if the bottlers pass on the increase to consumers, there's a risk that Pepsi will pick up the bargain hunters and Coke's sales will continue to slide.

With obesity and fizzy drinks inextricably linked, Coca-Cola's volume growth is not helped by surveys that remind consumers of that very link. The overweight public is cutting back on soft drinks in a bid to lose a few pounds, but what does an overweight stock do to get back to fighting weight? That's the dilemma for the suits who run Coca-Cola.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

U2 And The Flying Saucer

So Bono and the lads have gotten their wish, albeit in a slightly modified form. They've been given approval to tear down the historically significant Clarence Hotel, and the listed buildings that surround it. Only the facades will remain in this Disney-fication of Wellington Quay. Their new complex will be built, rising up into the air, ultra-modern collared by Georgian---as if a space ship is hovering over Dublin, plopped down on the Clarence Hotel. How will this abortion look, once it is constructed and not merely an artist's rendering? Look no further than Chicago's own Soldier Field.

The historical colonnade rims a spaceship, the overall structure bearing a remarkable resemblance to a toilet bowl. The result serves the function of sports stadium with all the modern amenities, while preserving the outer appearance in a jumble of pieces that don't fit together. Before long, Wellington Quay in Dublin will look just as ridiculous, but U2 will be too busy reaping their rich rewards to notice.

You Can Ring My Bell

The bell chimes and Wall Street opens for business. It's quite a show every morning in New York City, and freshly-minted Taoiseach Brian Cowen did the honors yesterday.

On his first official visit to the U.S., he went straight to the stock exchange, where the money is. Up on the podium, with the eyes of the traders on him, he clanged away. Ireland is open for business, let it be known in the halls of corporate America. We'd like your business.

The corporate tax rates are still low. Unfortunately, the labor costs are going up, and that's becoming a bit of a problem. Minimum wage in Ireland is far higher than its American equivalent, and when a firm is manufacturing widgets, they'd like to make those widgets as cheaply as possible.

Ireland has a well-educated labor force, very tech-oriented. It takes bright people to create computer technology and complex products that can't be cranked out in a sweatshop in Poland. Everyone who's high-tech, forward thinking and modern is doing it, An Taoiseach said. Everyone who's on the cutting edge is investing in Ireland. You don't want to be left out of the party.

Tourism Ireland is going along for the official ride, to encourage more people to visit the country and spend their dollars that just don't go very far any more. "Can you afford not to go?" the tourism people have taken to asking. Don't you want to see what a beautiful country your ancestors left? How else can you appreciate how very bad things were in Ireland when they left, after discovering what they gave up to come to America?

Not to worry about the global credit crunch and economic uncertainty. As Mr. Cowen assured everyone, Ireland will still be there, all resilient and creative, waiting for your visit once things settle down. In the meantime, feel free to bring your corporate profits overseas.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reverse Discrimination

Frank Prendergast wants to be an Irish doctor. He's an Irish citizen, studied hard in Irish schools, but there's no place for him in Irish medical schools. Only so many spots to go around for Irish students. Have to save room for those who aren't arriving from the European Union.

Mr. Prendergast has gone to court, to force a medical school to let him.

He was willing to pay the same rate as a non-EU student, to take up a slot that's held open for foreigners to fill, but the Minister of Education said no. Irish students had to earn 570 point and Mr. Prendergast only had 550. No room at the inn for someone falling short of the mark.

If EU students weren't limited to a certain number, Mr. Prendergast feels that he would have gotten his placement and he'd be off to medical school. He's being discriminated against because he's Irish, and is being made to suffer because of quotas. A non-EU student can get in to the medical school with lower grades, and only because they have places set aside just for them. Places that are not available to the Irish.

The plaintiff would like the courts to eliminate the quota system, to end the practice of setting quotas that are unfair to the natives. It's not as if the non-EU group are plucked from disadvantaged countries who are desperate for medical personnel. But they do pay higher fees, which is always a consideration when it's time to prepare the annual budget.

Perhaps there needs to be a quota system for those who will pay a higher rate, rather than base the fees on country of origin. That way everyone gets what they're after.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kick It Up To The U.N.

When no one at home pays you any mind, take it to the United Nations.

When no one at home takes your complaints seriously, the U.N. will listen.

When no one at home follows your guidelines, get the U.N. to pressure them into toeing your line.

The Human Rights Commission has been preparing one report after another, all detailing the appalling lack of human rights in Ireland. Roger Sweetman, a member of the commission, is particularly upset about suspects being detained for periods he thinks are too long, and the fact that they don't always get a solicitor in a reasonable period of time. Oh, and by the way, he happens to be a solicitor. Nothing like a bit of legislation to help business, is there.

There's overcrowding in the jails and the 'Joy still doesn't have indoor plumbing and isn't that beyond the Pale. The inmates don't have access to enough services, illegal aliens get deported in the blink of an eye and it's near impossible for a solicitor --- did he mention that he's a solicitor? ---have a tough go maneuvering through a maze of asylum laws.

That's not all. Mr. Sweetman has made complaints about the way that politically oriented groups are treated, in that they're not labeled as charitable organizations. And what of the Travellers, that group of Irish folk who want to be branded an ethnic minority when they're not ethnically distinct from any other Irish person and the anti-discrimination legislation doesn't cover cultural differences.

The United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights is going to take Ireland to task, for their failures to submit to HRC demands. The government has some explaining to do.

Justify your policies on the deportation of illegal aliens, justify the lack of flush toilets in a Victorian prison, justify your failure to grill the U.S. government about renditions through Shannon airport.

It only gets better. Ireland will be asked to justify its lack of secular schools, and don't be telling the U.N. that the country is mostly Catholic and the citizens want religion in the schools.

Judge Michael Kirby of Australia is part of the group that wants things changed in Ireland. He's upset about the lack of legal protection for same-sex couples in Ireland. Did he mention that he's been with the same man for over forty years? Why can't everyone be forced to accept his happiness?

What the Irish people don't want, the U.N. will insist upon. Considering the U.N.'s record in Zimbabwe, Darfur, Kosovo, et al., the Irish don't have to worry about anything getting changed at all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Write About That

He writes of isolation and estrangement, of life in exile. He writes from experience, and Desmond Hogan's recent conviction should provide fodder for another round of stories.

Mr. Hogan, author of numerous short stories, has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a boy of fifteen. The reclusive writer appeared in court, but he failed to promise that he'd never do such a thing again and offered no reason as to why it happened in the first place.

Not many people in Ballybunion knew the author well. He was fond of exercising on the beach, and made acquaintances among the local youth, but never managed to form any friendships with people his own age. Perhaps he felt isolated, being a gay man in the west of Ireland. He couldn't fit in with the nuclear families.

During the trial, Mr. Hogan objected to the Garda sergeant's testimony, disputing the details of the assault, but testimony continued and it wasn't pleasant. Anthony Farrell of Lilliput Press presented a character reference for his client, and noted author Colm Toibin sent along a note that described Desmond Hogan as a writer of immense power and importance. All well and good, but the judge found the writer guilty of taking advantage of a young boy.

A man who writes of isolation is now in the deepest sort of exile, very much alone. Everyone in town knows and every boy in Ballybunion will be expressly forbidden from so much as looking at the man. What friendships he was able to strike up are no more, and Mr. Hogan can write that much more powerfully, writing from personal experience.

Perhaps he'd like to compose a bit of fiction that explores the mind of the sexual predator who doesn't understand that what he does is anathema to society, that it causes great harm to the victim. That's the sort of thing that would garner a literary prize.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Orangefest, A Celebration Of Religious Hatred

The Orange Order has re-branded their annual Twelfth of July celebrations. For over three hundred years, the Protestants have lorded over King William's defeat of the Catholics in Ireland. Marching season culminates with parades through Catholic areas, and wouldn't that make for a perfect tourist attraction?

Northern Ireland tourism promoters have been touting Orangefest, the old Twelfth of July in fancy dress, and urging folks to come from all over to have a grand time. Unless you're Catholic, in which case you might be offended by some of rhetoric. And also if you're part of the Irish diaspora, in which case, you'd never consider traveling to the north if your life depended on it.

The problem is, any tourist spending this weekend in Belfast would be hard-pressed to find anything open. Shops close up, restaurants are shuttered, and anyone who can get away has left the north for Donegal or points south.

What is now Orangefest was traditionally marked with violence and riots. You'd be mad to consider a weekend in Portadown, for instance, even today. Leaving the area during the middle of July is as much a part of the celebrations as balaklavas and beating drums. Why cower in your house while the petrol bombs are flying? Take a holiday in Dublin, where you can walk to Mass without having your life threatened.

Like every year, there have been riots and arrests and police officers injured, but it isn't as bad as it used to be. That's what the tourism office wants you to know.

Pretend that the bowler-hatted and orange sashed aren't marching in triumph over the Papists. Pretend that there's not a hint of sectarianism on display, that you aren't watching a modified version of the Ku Klux Klan. Pretend that there's nothing amiss when a so-called celebration sends the locals fleeing.

Cookbooks To Look For

The lawsuit goes on.

Missy Chase Lapine has no intention of backing down from her contention that Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld plagiarized her children's cookbook. She won't be beaten down by the weight of Seinfeldian fame, and a recent re-run of Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld's appearance on Oprah's show only added fuel to the fire. With the Oprah touch, even in repeats, Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld's book rose in the sales rankings, while Ms. Lapine's cookbook met a slight rise.

Look for Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld's book on Amazon and you'll be given a recommendation to also purchase Ms. Lapine's offering. That may help the plaintiff in the lawsuit, but nothing beats a slot on Oprah to generate book sales, and nothing beats celebrity status to get people to think the celebrity knows what they're talking about. Just because Ms. Lapine was there first, with the same recipes and an eerily similar cover, doesn't get her seven-figure sales.

Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld is said to be hard at work, ignoring the threat of legal action from one of the little people and creating a new cookbook. Everyone at HarperCollins, her publisher, has been quiet about the details, but don't be surprised if Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld creates a series of clever recipes to sneak healthy foods into the husband's daily fare. After she's done with that, she will turn her culinary attention to the dieters who could use some tasty recipes to ease their travails in hunger.

As soon as Missy Chase Lapine's new recipe collection for sneaking healthy foods into the husband's daily fare are laid down, Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld will be at her keyboard and HarperCollins will be gearing up the publicity machine. It's only a matter of time before Ms. Lapine's cookbook for dieters is available in the shops, and by sheer coincidence it'll be the third in the series for Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld. Not there's anything wrong with that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Lawyer For Every Lawsuit

The family of Adelina Weber has filed a lawsuit against the city of Waukegan, Illinois. They blame the police department for her death. They found a lawyer who was willing to take the case.

Ms. Weber was stabbed to death by her husband, against whom she had an order of protection. Her family has laid the blame for her murder at the feet of the Waukegan authorities. She'd be alive today, they claim, if the police had taken more aggressive action against Clarence Weber.

Clearly the man posed a threat to his wife, and there was enough evidence that he was a danger to her. Orders of protection are not handed out by the courts without good reason.

As the Weber divorce grew increasingly bitter, Mr. Weber took to making threats. Should have arrested him then, the family of Adelina Weber has stated in their lawsuit. Not locking the man up was an act of willful and wanton conduct on the part of the police department.

The attorney representing the relatives of the murder victim may have gone in with the hope that the city of Waukegan would settle, rather than proceed with a more costly court case, and there'd be a check in the mail for legal services rendered.

When the suit is heard in court, the lawyers for the city of Waukegan will present some evidence that was taken from Ms. Weber's car on the day she was murdered. They will show the note from Mr. Weber, asking her to meet him near her place of work. They will show that Ms. Weber went to meet him, in spite of a court order that barred the warring couple from close contact. They will show that Ms. Weber violated the order herself.

As lawsuits go, this one is on shaky legs. When it's tossed out of court, the family will blame the justice system, the unfairness of jurisprudence. They won't blame the lawyer for accepting a case that had little or no basis in law and no chance of succeeding.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Geniuses Of The MacArthur Foundation

For the brilliant and gifted, there might be a MacArthur Foundation grant in the offing. Genius grants, some call them, those bundles of cash that permit the lucky few to spend a year pursuing their brilliancy without worrying about paying the mortgage or the grocery bill.

How can they pick who's a genius, though, when they're not the brightest at picking employees?

Timothy J. Hoeppner is, or maybe now it's was, an employee of the foundation. He's going to be busy in the coming days, dealing with a misdemeanor charge of pointing his video camera up women's skirts. His genius selecting chores will be put on hold, possibly indefinitely.

During the course of Frontier Days in a Chicago suburb, little Timmy wandered about, adjusting his shoes next to any woman not clad in trousers. Smart boy, your man, with his shoe adjusting tactic that was meant to hide his camera manipulations.

Policemen aren't quite so dumb as they might appear, and Mr. Hoeppner learned this amazing fact when he was lifted. An officer of the law observed him in action, and knew exactly what he was up to.

Only one woman lodged a complaint, in all likelihood the one who was the last victim of the hidden camera trick. None of the other ladies on the film could be identified, but any gynecologist could tell you that the girls all look alike from that angle.

Sometimes those who think they're smarter than everyone else aren't the least bit clever.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cutting Back

The Chicago Tribune will reduce its staff in the coming months, and the paper itself will shrink by over 10%. Cuts have to made.

The party's over in Ireland as well. Brian Lenihan, Minister for Finance, has announced cuts of 440 million euros to the budget. Jobs will be made to disappear, positions that are opened will be eliminated, and all departments will have to scale back. Not enough cash to go around anymore, as the economy comes down from its unsustainable high.

Everywhere you turn, there's a cut. The global economy is in a downturn, as the price of energy climbs and cuts are made in other areas to cover the cost of that energy. Little luxuries are the first things to go from the household budget.

Starbucks is retrenching. Cuts have to be made. Shops have to be closed if they're not profitable. The original "Starbucks experience" has to be re-introduced, so that a latte is no longer a luxury but an essential.

A venti beverage is pricey, but Starbucks has no intention of cutting back on drink volume. Not so at the Intelligentsia chain in Chicago.

The 20 oz. venti is coming off the menu boards. Anyone in need of that much caffeine will have to buy a couple of 12 oz. cups and learn to live with the extra four ounces.

Most people are fine with a smaller coffee. If you're looking to save a little, and still have a latte, you'll go small or go home. By eliminating the least popular size, Intelligentsia can save on overhead, eliminating a cup that must be bought and held in inventory until needed, and the need hasn't been great.

Corporate heads don't talk in terms of cost savings. They're proud of their brew, which is tastier than the steeped and burnt of Starbucks. The official explanation is that the gigantic portions dilute the coffee with too much milk, spoiling the Intelligentsia experience. Before you can finish that ocean of java, it's gone cold, and nature never intended coffee to be sipped at room temperature.

You want a giant slurp of caffeine? Try Dunkin' Donuts, with the rest of the unwashed masses.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Alderman And Theater Director

Chicago alderman Ed Smith has donned another cap and taken over as director of the hit musical, "The Jersey Boys."

There is no smoking in public buildings, ever, in the city of Chicago. Not ever.

The problem is, theater directors have a habit of utilizing props that fit the era of the play they are directing, so Mr. Smith had no choice but to take over the production of "The Jersey Boys." Such authenticity has no place in Chicago, not when Alderman Smith is in charge of everyone's health and well-being. You're too feckin' stupid to mind your own self, so he's doing it for you.

If you have seen the show in New York, and then see it in Chicago, you might notice the long gaps that once were filled with actors on stage, puffing away. In keeping with the new ordinance, Mr. Smith has re-worked the stage directions so that the actors now go outside, like everyone else must do, to have a smoke.

Although it makes for odd gaps and slows the performance, Mr. Smith feels that his new version not only holds to his beloved ordinance, but reinforces the spirit of the law. Foolish actors, who will do just about anything to be true to the character they portray, no longer have to be exposed to smoke just because Frankie Valle and his crew indulged in tobacco. Audience members no longer are exposed to the possibility of a minute trace of second-hand smoke.

And once again, Chicago comes across as ridiculous and small-minded, the unsophisticated rube who can boast of the nation's highest sales taxes and pettiness on a mind-bogling scale.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Resonance Of The Debut

As writers, we are supposed to compose manuscripts that will "resonate" with a literary agent. What might such resonance be?

When Jill Althouse-Wood queried Denise Marcil, she was possessed of resonance. It's in the first words of her debut novel, Summers at Blue Lake. The author did her research, of course, and knew that Ms. Marcil wanted issue-related fiction that pertained to today's family. Well, maybe today's family in New York City. But it's the beginning that strikes a chord.

"My grandmothers were lesbians" opens the story, and if that doesn't make you sit up and take notice, you'll never understand resonance.

Lesbians as normal people is the sort of modern-day topic that resonates with publishing houses, who think that everyone would like to read more stories about lesbians when they're not devouring books about misunderstood and maligned Muslims. It's a fresh and new wrapper for an old package, a plot device that's not been done to death just yet.

The bad guys in Ms. Althouse-Wood's story are the straight people, of course, and the lesbian grandmothers are hard done by. The lesbian couple that lived down the street from me when I was young were just another set of neighbors and nobody gave a rat's arse if they were gay or straight, but that doesn't make for the sort of story that resonates with the bean counters at Workman Publishing. A novel must adhere to the party line, oppression of the minority by the cruel and unenlightened majority, but the oppressed win in the end.

By using the first person point of view, the author had to resort to the old trick of inserting letters written as if they were short stories, with dialogue for feck's sake, to get the back story in. You might think that's too hackneyed, not written well enough to get published, but it's the resonance factor that takes hold and moves a manuscript through the acquisitions process.

Resonance is the spark that makes an agent keep reading, and an author would do well to remember that the agents they are querying are living in New York and hanging around very liberal types who see everyone as a victim of some sort or other.

Tailor your writing accordingly. Insert oppressed minority character as needed, fluff up the "woman in relationship crisis" story line, and Denise Marcil's your girl.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

In The Blink Of An Eye

His family claims that Andrew James Hanlon was succumbing to bouts of paranoia and bizarre behavior. They never expected that the police would end up shooting the man, but then, who would?

Mr. Hanlon came to Silverton, Oregon in 2007 to visit his sister, and never left. Technically, he was one of the many undocumented Irish who found work in the States. Who knows why he chose to remain? His brother-in-law wouldn't let him live at the house when the visa expired, but that didn't encourage Mr. Hanlon to go home. He found his own place.

The family wanted him to seek help for his delusional thinking, but those suffering from delusions think they're fine and the delusions are very real. He never sought mental health counseling. No one had him forcibly committed to a mental hospital.

When the brother-in-law called the police to report that Mr. Hanlon had broken into the house, he might have hoped that the police would do something, or that Mr. Hanlon would get a fear put into him, and finally get help for his problems. That didn't happen.

Last night, police responded to a call and Mr. Hanlon was shot dead. No details have been released yet, but friends of Mr. Hanlon have spoken out. Ah sure, he was paranoid, he had delusions, he thought everyone was out to get him, but the police should have-would have-could have.

In the days to come, a police report will reveal that Officer Tony Gonzalez felt that his life was threatened and responded with deadly force. No matter that Mr. Hanlon wasn't armed, because in a fight, he could have taken the officer's gun and used it. It happened in Chicago two nights ago, and that police officer is dead.

There's no time to ponder, no time to weigh options or ask the suspect to please hold on for a minute while the Taser is fetched. AJ Hanlon fought his demons alone, but the demons won.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Difficult Decision

Tesco Ireland had a very difficult decision to make. The corporate heads got together and crunched numbers, to see if there was some other way to avoid taking the slightest hit to the bottom line.

For anyone else, the decision to boycott products from Zimbabwe would take less than a second of thought. Residents of the troubles African nation are being beaten for exercising their right to vote, all dissent is stifled with barbarity, and the misery won't stop until the world unites against the thug Mugabe. Of course you wouldn't buy anything from Zimbabwe.

Not so easy for Tesco. They buy from Robert Mugabe's fellow thugs because it saves money. Zimbabwean goods that can be had on the cheap are preferable to any other nation's more expensive product.

Many years ago, the Dunnes store chain faced a boycott of another nature, when the check out ladies wouldn't ring up oranges from South Africa. They nearly lost their jobs in a protest that dragged on for months, but in the end, the Irish people realized that supporting a despised regime financially was the wrong thing to do, even if it ended up costing everyone a little bit more.

Tesco Ireland took a look back and recalled the clerks' protest that was supported by the buying public. No need, in this day of fierce competition, to be on the wrong side of public opinion. Let one person walk into a Tesco and ask if anything in the shop comes from Zimbabwe, and the resounding answer will now be "No".

If you pop in to your local Tesco, you won't find runner beans amongst the produce. When enough consumers apply enough pressure to other retailers, all Zimbabwean goods will disappear from the shops, and one of Robert Mugabe's sources of cash will dry up completely. It is unfortunate that the workers in Zimbabwe will be made to suffer even more, but removing a cancer can be painful, and is followed by great relief after a successful surgery.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One Scam Deserves Another

Bit by bit, man-made global warming is being exposed for the fallacy that it is. Bad science, poor statistical analysis, and a complete reliance on computer models is coming undone by observation. No matter how often the alarmists revise their computer models, the actual weather refuses to cooperate.

Bob Williamson believes in global warming. He believes so fervently that's he's penned a terrifying scenario of the future, when there's no more fossil fuels and we're stewing in our own juices.

He means well, I'm sure. He honestly believes that a computer can correctly extrapolate fifty years of CO2 measurements into an accurate prediction of weather that has been changing for the past few billion years. Given that he's fallen for one scam, is it right that he be taken in by another?

The rights to Mr. Wiiliamson's book are available. If anyone is interested, they can contact his literary agent. Yes, that's right. He thinks that the WL Literary Agency Group is a real literary agency that sells books to publishers.

Can someone in Australia please let the poor man know that he's the victim of yet another scam? Eventually he'll find out that the earth's climate is variable and man has little or nothing to do with the changing, but he should be told right now that he's signed on to a company that exists to take his money and give nothing in return. Rather like the carbon offset industry.

The Agent Rests

If you were thinking of sending your query to literary agent Pam Strickler, you're too late. I sent mine already. And she's gone on hiatus because of it.

One look at my letter and she was off to update her submission policy. Even the e-mail address for contacting her has been changed. Any queries sent to the old address will never be seen or read. You can thank me for that.

My skill at driving agents into hiding has been proven once again.

On the heels of that failure, and with so much talk on agent blogs lately about marketing, I re-wrote the query last night. A book that was similar to mine, in that it was historical fiction and dealt with a relationship that had to cross societal barriers, became the source for the synopsis paragraph.

Not that I had to read the book. I read the back flap copy, the marketing pitch that publishers tack on to get a browser to become a buyer. Change a few things, names and minor details, and I'll see how it plays.

As of now, eight hours gone since three e-mail queries were sent, there's been not a single rejection. So far, so good. But Pam Strickler is still not taking queries.