Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Fortify Fortis

Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands plumped up Fortis to the tune of 11.2 billion euros, and still the firm is sliding downhill. Did the financial world fail to notice this fortification?

Shareholders were unimpressed with the move. Stock prices declined because the bank was running out of money, so you'd think that more money would be the solution. Such is not the case.

It's more than just the cash shortages that have turned away investors. Even Filip Dierckx, the newly installed chief executive officer, realizes that the acquisition of ABN Amro was a mistake.

When the suits who run the place are viewed as incompetent, it doesn't matter how much money the government pours in to re-float the financial boat. Poor management will only bungle things again, and then the government has to step in again, but the next time might not come with bundles of cash. The next time might be collapse and bankruptcy. New management might be as mistake-prone as the old. Who's going to gamble when the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain?

It is expected that Fortis will try to unload ABN Amro, which bought out Chicago's LaSalle Bank a few years ago. With no credit available, who's going to buy, and what will become of ABN Amro as the toxic mortgage loan fall-out poisons the credit markets?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not Enough To Go Around

Back in the day, Jesus was able to feed a multitude with little more than a few fish and a loaf of bread. Unfortunately, bankers are unable to work such miracles with their funds and their legions of clients.

There's not enough money to go around. It was all lent out. Some of those who borrowed couldn't pay it back, and the banks had to take a loss. They had even less money to loan, and they couldn't borrow from anyone else because everyone had too little money. No loaves and fishes-like scenario when it came to cash.

The U.S. Treasury has all the money, and they'll be doling it out to those who thought the party would go on forever. People too poor to afford their mortgages aren't going to be in any better shape, but the source of their financing is going to get help so that they can lend another day.

Over in Europe, Fortis has been taken over by the Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands governments to avert a total collapse. In England, Bradford & Bingley has joined the list of the newly nationalized. Germany's Hypo Real Estate has cut a deal to avoid collapse, but that's only resulted in a 75% drop in the company's value.

There's not enough money to go around and the banks won't lend to one another because there's no little bit extra left in the vault to share.

All over the world, property was worth a lot and the value just kept going up. Why not hop on the gravy train, went the logic, but the train has ground to a halt.

The same thing happened in the United States following the Civil War, back around 1873. Everyone was speculating in property, buying with the notion that the property could be flipped and you'd get rich quick. Didn't work then. Didn't work this time either.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dark Side Of Sports

Cubs mania is sweeping the north side of Chicago. As for the other end of town, it's gotten very gloomy. Bridgeport isn't the sort of place where you go looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, because you just know it's the headlight of the train coming straight at you.

The average Cubs fan watches the games at home, with ticket prices so outrageously expensive that only the corporate big-shots or the well-to-do commodities traders can afford a season pass.

There's a lot of sharing, of course, in which a group of people will split the cost and then divvy up the tickets. Works well enough during the season, but the Cubs are in the play-offs and the lawsuits are flying like home runs off of Aramis Ramirez's bat.

Jerry Slavin owned season tickets but he sold them to Laurence Wright and Brad Ginsberg. Then the post-season play-off tickets arrived, and Mr. Slavin decided that the purchase agreement didn't include them. He stood to make a great deal of money off of them on the resale market (up to $40,000), on top of the $15,000 he made from the sale of his season ticket package.

He said he'd sell us the post-season tickets, said Mr. Wright and Mr. Ginsberg. Did not, said Mr. Slavin. We'll see you in court, went the two businessmen. Fine, went Mr. Slavin.

Judge Mary K. Rochford (she's a Sox fan, with a name like that) looked at the trio before her in the court room and told them to work it out. She no doubt said the same to her children when they were little.

Four tickets, three men, everyone gets a seat and one left over for Mr. Slavin's family. He said he was going to bring them along, in spite of the fact that he's had bypass surgery, hip replacements, and hasn't been to a game in two years because of ill health. But it's a reasonable settlement.

We don't want to so much as sit next to the greedy, cheating bastard, they all chorused.

Fine, said the judge, you'll split the tickets and everyone gets to go to some of the games and Mr. Wright and Mr. Ginsburg will pay face value.

If this had been a dispute involving White Sox fans, they'd have handled it like gentlemen. With fists, behind Schaller's Pump.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Economy Bad? Tax Carbon

Poor Brian Cowen's been taking a beating in the Dail, what with the economy on the decline and what's Fianna Fail going to do about it? Jobs are going, the Exchequer isn't collecting as much revenue as it was last year, and the situation is growing dicey.

Comhar, the national sustainable development council, has a brilliant plan to solve the mess. What better time, they believe, than now, when people are worried about paying this year's heating bill with fuel prices expected to be higher...what better time than to introduce a tax?

They'd like a carbon tax added to the new budget. Nothing outrageous, of course, only about 550 million euros per annum. Everyone would contribute, from the household in Rathkeale to the farmer in Tipperary, all paying twenty euro per tonne of CO2 expelled. One would expect that respiratory activity would not feature in the calculations, but then again, this is a tax we're talking about and everything's fair game.

The deep thinkers of Comhar believe that adding 5 pence to the cost of a litre of petrol will grow the GNP and create jobs. The money raised could then be used to promote "emissions-savings activities" such as not driving to work, not heating the home, and sitting around in the dark with the television off. Sounds like the good old days in the Emerald Isle, doesn't it.

Dr. Lisa Ryan is the director of research for Comhar. You can bet she's not an economist, and you can bet that An Taoiseach isn't about to consider her carbon tax proposal. Things are bad enough without adding fuel to the economic fire.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Job Interferes

Of all the days for the printer to act up, it had to be today.

For some reason, the latest version of the query has been working rather well, once we got past the Labor Day and late August holiday season. Within the past three weeks, I've had two partials requested and rejected by agents who don't often ask for partials, so the query's not bad.

Not good that the partials aren't getting any traction, but at least something's getting read, which is a start. As for the rejections, it's the usual 'didn't relate to the characters' sort of thing that doesn't mean anything.

Now I've got another request for the first three chapters, and the printer bogs down and shuts off because it's old and tired. No time to do much of anything else today but get the thing to crank out thirty pages, a cover letter and a label.

If I didn't have to work, if I didn't have to earn a living, I could have all day to get the problem solved. This need to earn money is interfering terribly with my writing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Shrinking Pool

HM Riverdeep swims along on its way to profitability. All's quiet in the privately held company, and who knows what's happening with the financial maneuvering that was supposed to pay for Barry O'Callaghan's dreams of educational publishing hegemony.

Over at Scholastic, things aren't so bright and rosy. This educational publishing company is looking to slash expenses by $25 million.

The economy isn't booming these days, and budgets are tight in the education world. The company is looking to the old folks, those over the age of 50, and encouraging them to jump. After all, it's the longest lasting who make the most money, and if they'd go quietly and leave the jobs to the low-paid crowd, there'd be a nice cost savings right there.

There's sure to be redundancies (that's synergies in corporate-speak) and there won't be any pay increases this year, or next most likely. No new employees will be sought; open jobs will be eliminated or turned over to those who will have to do more for less, an acceptable situation as compared to unemployment.

Scholastic plans to accomplish all this by the end of this year. That's three months to cut $25 million from the budget, and that has the sound of some drastic slicing and dicing. The Harry Potter phenomenon has played out, there's nothing new coming down the track, and there's no other solution than to shrink the company.

Competition is growing more fierce by the day. Who'll be left standing when the dust settles?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Wearing Of The Political Green

They can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, so there's no contest as to who is more Irish among the U.S. presidential candidates. So who can be more Irish in the here and now? Who can be more Irish and do more for Irish-Americans and the illegal immigrants hiding in the shadows?

Senator McCain, a man of the northern counties, promises to keep the special envoy to Northern Ireland, where the Troubles haven't quite gone away as completely as one would like. He also says he'll help the illegals become citizens, set them on a path to normalcy. He's a maverick, don't you know, and even though his fellow Republicans don't agree with him, he's determined to bring about such reform.

Sure and it's all blarney, countered Barack Obama supporters at the Irish American Presidential Forum. Why, it was John McCain who wanted Gerry Adams to be barred from entering the U.S. in 1994, when Bill Clinton allowed the Sinn Fein leader to come on in and raise funds. According to Senator Pat Leahy, that just proves that McCain is out of touch, unaware of the importance of bringing both sides together. Once the center of Omagh went up in a deadly explosion in 1998, the IRA stopped setting car bombs, so doesn't that prove Mr. Leahy's point.

Oh, right, and about Senator Obama's earlier decision to eliminate the special envoy? He's changed his mind and now he says he'll appoint one. That's change we can believe in.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Free Discrimination With Every Prize

A gentleman in India won a lovely prize. A trip to Ireland, courtesy of Tourism Ireland, was given away as part of a promotion run out of the Mumbai satellite office. The economy in India is booming, and what better way to encourage those with newly minted coin to spend their money in Ireland than to give someone a chance to experience the Emerald Isle.

Pity that no one thought to mention the guest's arrival to the people who run the customs office. When the honored guest arrived at Dublin's airport, he was promptly questioned as to his reason for the trip. Why indeed would anyone from India want to come to Ireland?

Here's my letter from Tourism Ireland said the man, a page of cead mile failte. It's a fake, said the immigration officers.

Immigration didn't believe for a minute that an Irish tourism bureaucracy would use the likes of Thomas Cook to book the hotel, because that's a Brit company. Didn't that just prove that the party from India was only looking to enter the country illegally?

A flurry of correspondence followed the honored guest's complaint to Tourism Ireland. Tourism Ireland had to explain to the Department of Arts and Tourism that they were mandated to increase the number of visitors from Asia, by the way, and would it be too much trouble for someone in immigration to be made aware of that bit of news?

With any government policy, it is best if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, especially when the right hand is held out in friendship and the left hand is slapping the snot out of those foolish enough to believe they're welcome.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Waiting For The Electrician

After all the excitement surrounding the start-up of the mighty super collider, the end result is nothing short of devastating.

For want of a nail, the battle was lost, according to the nursery rhyme. And for want of a proper electrical connection, the super collider ground to a halt.

The Large Hadron Collider attempted to duplicate the Big Bang for all of thirty-six hours before an electrical connection failed. Once that happened, the superconducting magnets associated with the connection melted down, and after that, the helium escaped and that was the end of that.

Scientists expect to be on a forced hiatus of several months as the equipment is warmed up enough to allow for a repair and then cooled back down for the experiment. The elusive Higgs boson is safe for now, hiding in its lair of subatomic particles, although it's just a matter of time before physicists are on the hunt once again.

When the electricians arrive to replace the connector, will they select a fine piece of equipment from Square D's parent company in Paris? After all, the collider is located on the border between France and Switzerland. Or will they go with good old American know-how, and call overseas for their electrical connector needs?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eat At Your Own Risk

Anyone traveling to China would be wise to pack enough food to sustain themselves for the entire trip. It's a matter of life and death.

Not too long ago, it was discovered that heparin made from Chinese ingredients was tainted with a deadly substance that killed a few patients in the U.S. The factory in China that produced the key ingredient from pig intestines wanted their product to appear more potent, so they dumped in a toxin that gave a false positive for heparin content. By diluting the heparin with something cheaper, they could stretch the goods and make more money. So people died, who cares? Life is cheap in China.

At the Olympics, Yili dairy products were everywhere. Did you drop a little powdered milk in your tea while you were enjoying the Games? Sample a scoop of Chinese ice cream? You'd want to have your physician check your kidneys, in that case.

Eight of Yili's thirty products are contaminated with melamine. Four Chinese babies are now dead after drinking formula made by the company. 6,244 children are sick. 158 kids are suffering from acute kidney failure.

Yili is not the only one to add melamine to milk products to make it look like their items have more protein. Twenty-two Chinese dairy producers have used melamine as well, to create an image of a better product. Sort of like the Olympics, isn't it? Substitute a cute little girl and have her lip-synch because the girl with the beautiful voice doesn't have a face to match. As long as things look good on the outside, what's the problem?

No one would have known if New Zealand's Fonterra dairy products firm hadn't blown the whistle. They own 43% of China's Sanlu Group, which has been putting melamine in its milk since 2005.

Made in China is becoming less of a label of origin and more of a death threat. Caveat emptor, when the only thing that matters is making lots and lots of money.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Change You Can Pay For

Forrest Claypool wanted to clean up the Cook County Board, to bring much needed change to the cronyism and nepotism and outright fraud that was wringing the taxpayers dry. Barack Obama backed the incumbent, John Stroger, who just happened to be dying.

Todd Stroger took over for his father, as is the custom in Illinois. He proceeded to trim the payroll by adding family members to the rolls, but somehow that didn't help reduce operating expenses. For some odd reason, the costs to run Cook County only went up.

Cook County raised the sales tax, so that the lucky citizens of Chicago now get to pay more than anyone else in the United States. Quite an accomplishment. That's change we can believe in.

Sorry to say that the tax hike didn't do it, either. The rubber stamps of the Cook County Board have given Mr. Stroger permission to borrow $3.75 billion (with a b, yes, you read that correctly) to cover the cost of corruption.

A big chunk of the loan will go towards paying current operating expenses, which makes no sense at all. That's change we can believe in. Forrest Claypool, however, isn't buying the line.

"How are you going to pay for (insurance and pension funds) with money you don't have," asks the young Stroger. By borrowing it, like everyone else who's maxed out on their credit card and can't pay their mortgage or their property taxes. Oh, wait. The average taxpayer can't do that, but government entitities can.

What next? Declare bankruptcy? Ask the Federal government for a bail-out?

What about cutting the budget, eliminating wasteful spending and fraud and the salaries of those who aren't actually working?

There's change we can believe in, but then there's drastic change, and those who grow fat at the public trough don't believe in some kinds of change.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sue The Boss

If only the people who toiled away unnoticed at Lehman Brothers could sue management. After all, it's the suits in the corner offices who made a mess and cost them their jobs.

Employees of the Los Angeles Times are taking Sam Zell to court. As far as they're concerned, he's responsible for bringing down the value of the newspaper. Zell and his devious colleagues plotted and planned, and all so that they could reap rewards at the expense of the scribblers who created the paper day in and day out.

In the case of the Tribune Company, which owns the L.A. Times, the creation of an employee stock ownership plan made the employees part-owners, and it's in that capacity that they've filed suit. They own a piece of the pie, and if management does nothing but stick in its thumb and pull out the only plum, management will be forced to put the plum back.

How much of the pension plan was used to pay off those who were sent packing, the plaintiffs want to know. They also want to replace the Board of Directors who manage the company, and who were put in place by Mr. Zell.

The trial will drag on, but a lawsuit won't change the fact that fewer and fewer people read the newspaper every day, and advertisers know this. Without advertising income, there's no money to be made, and without money, there's no way to pay employees, even if they are stockholders.

It doesn't matter who's minding the store if no one makes a purchase.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Agent Manuevers

They don't stay put, those literary agents.

If you thought Mollie Glick was still to be found at Jean Naggar's establishment, you'd be sending your query to the wrong place. She's moved to Foundry Literary, and after a week to settle in, she might be looking for some new clients. The same goes for Lisa Grubka, a super-agent who once toiled for William Morris is now sharing office space with Peter McGuigan, who used to work for Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

Kirby Kim, literary agent for many children's authors, left Vigliano Associates for Richard Abate's start-up, Endeavor. If you're writing middle grade or young adult fiction, representation could be an e-mail away.

No Talking Allowed

Stanley Kurtz wrote a book and went out into the world to plug it. That's what authors do, to sell more books. Can't very well make a sale if no one knows your material is out there.

The problem is, he wrote a book about Barack Obama and that man's ties to William Ayres. He was plugging his non-fiction tome on a radio show in Chicago, and the Obama Action Wire was put to the task of silencing Stanley Kurtz.

Extremists at either end of the spectrum are so much alike as to be twins.

They flooded WGN Radio's switchboard with calls, to protest Mr. Kurtz's ability to speak freely in public, which effectively did nothing to change the radio talk show, but did aggravate the ordinary people who had to spend their time answering the calls. They crammed the e-mail inbox with complaints. No one, however, called in to debate with Mr. Kurtz, which was the whole point of the radio program. Better to try to silence all debate, to hog all the phone lines, than permit free speech and rational discussion.

But did WGN learn their lesson? Apparently not, because the radio show then hosted David Freddoso, who also had written a book that was not a paean to Barack Obama. And so, the Obama Action Wire went into action, to complain to WGN and clog the phone lines and stuff the e-mail box.

Don't tell them it smacks of fascism, to try to stifle free speech. Don't tell them that their tactics suggest a fear that the truth will come out, thereby lending more credence to the very authors they believe have distorted the truth. Like most spoiled children, they won't listen, and they'll have their temper tantrum while the adults go on about their business.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Margin Calls Come Calling

Once upon a time, everyone was buying stocks. They didn't need to pay the full price, not when credit was available. All an investor needed was a portion of the price, with the rest picked up on margin. It was a loan, in a fashion, backed up by the ever rising price of the stock.

How could it go wrong?

And so the Roaring 20's came crashing down, when the value of the stocks didn't keep going up and people were left holding paper that wasn't worth what they paid for it.

Welcome to the home mortgage market, where people were able to obtain loans even though they didn't make enough money to afford the house. What could go wrong? The value of the house was sure to keep climbing, so if by chance the borrower couldn't meet the escalating cost of the mortgage, the lender could foreclose and sell, at a profit, to someone else.

Alas, homes didn't keep going up, just like the stocks of the 1920's. People who shouldn't have bought in the first place are faced with another version of the margin call, and just like in the 1920's, they don't have the money.

Farewell, Lehman Brothers. The venerable firm hung around for a century and a half, only to fall victim to the greed that was the mortgage market. Bank of America might buy out Merrill Lynch, which suffocated itself in a sea of bad paper. Other banks will be buffeted by the fall-out, as the stock market tumbles down on all the bad news.

What was a bad idea in the 1920's has proven to be a bad idea in the 21st Century. Batten down the hatches; the storm's rolling in.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Money For Education

In Illinois, there's a state-run lottery that provides extra funds for education, but that's not enough. Politicians and preachers all cry out for more. More money for education. Your taxes simply don't meet the needs and the budget shortfall will lead to cuts and you don't want that, do you?

Where does all the money go, anyway, that they rake in? Why don't schools have sufficient funding to pay for books and science labs and computers and all the rest?

If you're looking at the expenses of the Chicago Public School system, you'd have to include fraud. Turns out that theft by the employees is a big reason why the city's empty palm is permanently outstretched, begging for more.

Three rather clever folks figured out that they could take advantage of their jobs as voucher coordinator, school clerk and payroll adjustment clerk to amend their salaries. They wrote out bogus payroll checks, had some accomplices cash them, and then collected a commission.

Easy to pretend that the teacher had worked long hours and tack on a bit of overtime. The teacher involved was happy to get the bonus, even if it was shared with Tremaine Edwards, Mark France and Shandta Lambert. One of the teachers involved took home an additional $56,000, while Ms. Lambert pocketed $8100, and just in time for Christmas.

Fraud to the tune of $137,000 was uncovered, and more people are expected to be charged in connection with the operation.

Little wonder, now, that Illinois taxpayers are strongly opposed to changing the current system of local property taxes paying for local schools. Who'd be dumb enough to see their taxes raised so that everyone could contribute equally to getting fleeced?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Justice Is Blind And Sometimes Stupid

Mixing testosterone and liquor is never a good thing. The result is usually a fight, and someone gets hurt. There's charges filed, judges and courtrooms, and then the guy who started it goes home while the guy who was attacked goes to jail.

At least that's how it works in Iowa, where Jake Gothard picked a fight. He decided that he was such a tough guy that he could take on Michael Mette, a Chicago cop who was at his brother's party in Dubuque. They'd both been drinking.

Officer Mette tried to get rid of the overly aggressive college student, but Jake was not one to back down. He followed Mr. Mette, intent on demonstrating his pugilistic prowess, and Mr. Mette had no choice but to defend himself.

A Chicago cop knows about clout, about not messing around with somebody's somebody, but Officer Mette was on foreign soil and didn't know that the man who wailed on him had connections. By the time the case went to court, it was Michael Mette who was the bad guy, because he didn't run away from a drunken asshole but chose to defend himself. In Iowa, defending yourself against someone with friends in the right places constitutes a crime.

Mr. Mette was sentenced to five years in jail. For defending himself from an inebriated Jake Gothard. For not trying to talk to his assailant. For not running away from a man who followed him for the purpose of punching his lights out. For not being as blind and stupid as the judge who suggested such options.

He's been sitting in an Iowa jail for the past year, but his appeal has finally been heard. A bus filled with his fellow Chicago cops attended the hearing, to show that they support him. They've been thinking about showing their support by ticketing any car that carries an Iowa license plate while on Illinois soil, but they may not have to go that far.

Appeals court judge Terry Huitink doesn't see how Michael Mette could have done anything but defend himself, given the situation and how the events unfolded. The judicial panel didn't rule yet, but they have the option of sending the case back to a lower court, where Michael Mette would face misdemeanor charges, and get out of jail.

Unfortunately, Jake Gothard can't be charged with being a piece of shit, of instigating a fight and then crying about the end result when he ended up getting the worst of the bout that he started.

That's what civil courts are for.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Extra Crispy

How very sad, when the pizzeria caught fire on Christmas Eve and the family living in the apartment upstairs were burned out. On Christmas Eve, of all the times, and it was lucky that a young man happened by to help them escape.

As it turned out, the brave man was sent by his superiors who had started the fire. The street gang had only been paid to torch the building, not kill innocent tenants.

Robert Didiana owns all of the Bacci pizzerias in Chicago, but the one on Western Avenue was in need of repairs. Old buildings require upkeep, and the cost was more than the owner wanted to spend. Add up the profit, divide by the number of pizzas required to generate enough cash, and his solution was arson.

The boys from A.T.F. finally cracked the case when they wired a gangster who was facing some serious weapons charges.

Mr. Didiana was friendly with the gangster, keeping him informed of police activity in the neighborhood. Such information isn't free, of course, and the gangster owed a favor. He generously offered to burn down the place, for a small fee, and Mr. Didiana would then collect on his $250,000 insurance policy.

Currently out on bail, Mr. Didiana is expected in court on Friday to face charges.

Any chance that he might be running a special at Bacci across from Wrigley Field? The Cubs are red hot these days, and a play-off run would bring in plenty of business. Nothing like an extra crispy crust under all that sauce and cheese to generate the price of a good lawyer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday And Can I Keep My Job

No one has a gun to their head over at the office of the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. No one is being forced to buy expensive tickets to Clerk Dorothy Brown's grand birthday bash and campaign fund-raiser.

It's pure coincidence that the group putting on the posh affair are all employees of the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, Dorothy Brown.

For only $125, a friend of Dorothy Brown can attend her party, but of course they're really a 'friend' if they give $1500. The platinum grade requires a hefty donation of $25,000, a price well within the reach of the highest paid employees if they turn half their annual salary over to the boss.

This sort of political fundraising has been going on in Chicago for longer than anyone can remember, and the politician benefiting from the party has always insisted that not one of the employees is under pressure to pay.

That's what George Ryan said when his employees were accepting bribes from folks who hoped to obtain a driver's license in the State of Illinois. The cash had to come from somewhere, didn't it? The average clerk doesn't make anywhere near enough to cover the price of those party tickets, and if someone got a driver's license who wasn't qualified, well, it was more important that Governor Ryan got his campaign donations.

Pity that Senator Barack Obama didn't say something, voice a protest or make a strongly worded statement, back when he was in the Illinois State legislature. He's a real corruption fighter, that one.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Sin Of Waste

Every now and again, the gardai will raid a shebbeen and haul away the evidence. There's a trial, the purveyor of illegal spirits is fined and/or jailed, and then what?

No need to store a lot of alcohol once the case is closed. The various bottles and cans are opened, poured down the drain, and the containers, one would hope, are brought to a recycling center.

Sure 'tis a sin to waste good liquor. Can it not be used in some manner that would bring benefit to those in need?

Chris Andrews would like to recycle the confiscated booze, to distribute drink amongst those who are dry. Why, last month alone, according to the Irish Times, 1600 miscellaneous containers were destroyed. Over the course of a year, that's a tremendous amount of perfectly good beverages down the drain.

In an effort to better serve his constituents, the Fianna Fail TD would like the law changed. Liquor from An Garda Siochana evidence rooms would be packed into lovely gift hampers and given to charities for fundraising auctions. Or, perhaps some local community organization would like to give away bottles of confiscated spirits to the old codgers at Christmas for a bit of liquid holiday cheer.

Why should a garda be put to the task of disposing of the stuff, when there's plenty of people in Ireland who would be perfectly happy to pour drink down their throats. Better that the officer of the law be out on patrol, looking for drink drivers, than wasting valuable time opening bottles and cans.

Waste not, want not. It's high time that the Intoxicating Liquor Act was amended.

Monday, September 08, 2008

There's An Entrepreneur Born Every Minute

Come up with a new product that meets needs not yet realized, and you can make a fortune. Who would have imagined that we all needed a computer in our home, but that was the niche that Bill Gates filled.

Sometimes the niche that needs filling is highly specialized. Sometimes all you need to do is provide a product that's difficult to come by, and there's the road to your personal success.

A group of Chinese entrepreneurs discovered that their fellow countrymen were short on dead bodies. Not just any dead body of course, since we all know that death is inevitable and once we shake our mortal coil, there's a corpse left behind.

Custom and belief in China require burial for the remains of the loved one. Law requires cremation. Ever so much more practical, like the one child policy, in that space is saved and good farmland doesn't get under-planted. Besides, the burial nonsense is a load of superstition, based on the notion that your ancestors will bring you good luck and blessings if they're in the ground and not burnt to a crisp.

How to get around the law? Some clever fellows provided a corpse service, in which someone with ten thousand yuan could buy a dead body to turn over for cremation, while the late, lamented family member's remains were buried with full pomp and circumstance.

Only the wealthy could afford the service, but even a specialty market proved to be profitable. The problem arose when the elderly and the mentally challenged began to disappear from small, impoverished towns in Guangdong and the authorities started to investigate.

The gang was rumbled and their stock was confiscated. The funeral home owner who was involved in the business has admitted guilt, and the supply of corpses to the rich has temporarily dried up.

This isn't the first cadaver-providing firm to go out of business, nor is it the last. As long as there is a demand, someone will step in with the supply.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Jobs Overseas

Jobs are going. They're getting packed up and shipped out and sent to places where the labor costs are cheaper.

While Americans are reminded of this gloomy fact during the presidential campaign season, they might take comfort in knowing that the places that those jobs went to are losing the jobs as well.

Dell makes computers in Ireland because it was cheaper than making them in Texas. A couple of thousand Limerick residents found work because Dell outsourced production. The Irish came cheaper, but they also came educated. If there was one thing the Emerald Isle had, it was schooling.

Recently, Dell announced that they would sell off their factories and outsource production once again. The folks at the Raheen Industrial Estate were making good salaries, but computers weren't selling for good prices, and such a situation couldn't be allowed to remain.

Who has Dell gone to, to peddle their factories? They've gone to Asia, offering the facilities to companies that make computers at low cost. Dell's rivals employ these firms to make their products on the cheap, and Dell has no choice but to follow. A company that operates at a loss year after year is not a company with a long life span.

For the Irish worker, they might have the option of keeping their job but accepting an Asian-level salary of two or three euros per day. In all likelihood, the plant in Limerick will be shuttered and unemployment in Ireland will take a sharp upturn, while thousands of Asian laborers find work where jobs are otherwise scarce.

There is one hope for the folks who put together computers for Dell. They're in Ireland, after all, where corporate tax rates are low. If Dell can be convinced that they're saving more on their taxes than they might save on closing the Limerick plant, salvation could be at hand.

No one running for President of the United States has mentioned lowering corporate taxes to save American jobs. And that's good news for Ireland. The island's economy is built on American firms who ship their profits offshore and An Taoiseach Brian Cowen would be in Washington in record time if anyone suggested eliminating that particular overseas operation.

Friday, September 05, 2008

An Enduring Technology

Two hundred years ago, the Fagel family watched with horror as Napoleon rode across Europe, turning the continent into a war zone. They decided to flee from the Netherlands, selling many of their possessions. Trinity College in Dublin was to benefit from the Fagel's extensive library.

The Fagels had collected books and other printed materials of importance, with items going back two hundred years. Trinity College purchased 20,000 individual bits of the collection, and transformed its own library in the process.

If you're in Dublin, you're welcome to stop at the Long Room of the Old Library and take a look at history. A display has been opened to the public, featuring many of the most important books from the library's extensive holdings.

The words that were put down on paper long ago provide the modern reader with invaluable insight into the state of that ancient world. Within the special collection at Trinity College, the researcher can re-discover what was new when the world was a very small place.

Four-hundred -year-old books provide knowledge today, in a technology that has endured. Open the book and the words are there to be read. Can the same be said of an e-book, whose electronic letters require the proper program and operating system to be opened? Hard to imagine that an e-book published today would be readable four hundred years from now, when technology changes at a rapid pace. The printed page, however, endures.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No More Pencils, No More Books

Anyone paying for college textbooks will look at an advertisement for an e-book reader and wonder when the technology will be put to a really good use.

Thanks to a pilot program initiated by Gill & MacMillan, a small group of lucky students at Caritas College in Ballyfermot have lightened the load in their backpacks. No more books for eighteen girls at this secondary school in County Dublin. Nor pencils, for that matter. They're carrying around the iLiad e-book, developed by iRex Technologies.

All of their schoolbooks are loaded into the reader, along with fifty works of fiction that will see them through coursework in literature. The device also serves as a pad to take notes, reducing the scrawls and scribbles of the young ladies into bits and bytes. Should one of them spend the day writing "Mrs. Justin Timberlake" or "Mrs. Jonas Brother" in the margins, there'll be no need to worry about that pesky kid brother finding the evidence. Like any other computer-type device, the notes can be erased or kept if desired.

So there goes the excuse about forgetting the maths textbook at home. Everything is on one compact device, easier to remember, all the necessities in one convenient location.

Will this modern technology ever catch on with the university bookstore? Or will e-book versions of the ever-changing textbooks cost just as much as the hard copy, on top of the expense of buying the e-book reader?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Collecting Agents And Authors

I've been choosing books to read based on whether or not they acknowledge their agent.

No point in wasting time on pleasure, when there's work to be done. If a personalized query is needed, you can't do better than to reference an agent's client, to show that you've done your research and are reading what's currently out there. You're market savvy, dropping those names like breadcrumbs.

If you're writing women's fiction with a touch of humor, you'd want to query Molly Lyons who's currently at Joelle Delbourgo's agency. Your manuscript, which deals with the relationship of a thirty-something who's coming off a bad break-up, would resonate with fans of Lynn Kiele Bonasia, author of "Some Assembly Required".

After reading the book, or skimming it at any rate to get a taste of it, I realized that I have to rewrite my manuscript to lead with the female character. I've already done the bit about giving over one chapter to her and then follow with one chapter from him, back and forth as their relationship progresses.

There's wit, just a touch, there's danger, the female protagonist saves the day, and my manuscript would be a perfect fit for Molly Lyons.

Assuming that I manage to catch her at the right time, when there's a gap in her client roster and she's looking to repeat a past success.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Fishing Expedition

Binyam Mohamed used to do drugs, back when he was just an Ethiopian immigrant in London. He tried school, then he got a menial job, and he turned to drug abuse to deal with the unfairness of his life. Then he discovered radical Islam and all its promises. He could be somebody, the sort of somebody that had power and was important.

Off he went, to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan, to claim his right to impose his will on the world. He learned how to make and set bombs, he fought against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and when his side lost, he ran away to Pakistan where he could perfect his "dirty bomb" in peace.

The Pakistani police lifted him at the Karachi airport, him and his false passport. He ended up at Guantanamo. What happened in between is something his lawyers are trying to discover.

Charged by U.S. authorities with terrorist offenses, Mr. Mohamed's defense centers on his claims that he was the victim of extraordinary rendition, followed by torture. Therefore, his testimony is null and void because it came out of torture which is illegal.

According to the terrorist's lawyers, American aircraft landed at Shannon Airport on the way to, or coming back from, an interrogation session. They have asked the Taoiseach for detailed information about the flights. Who was on them, what passports did they carry, where did they stay in Ireland while their plane was re-fueled. They want hotel records, they want phone records, they want flight plans and anything else they can think of.

The Council of Europe insists that the flights had something to do with rendition, but they can't prove a thing because there is no proof. Hence, Mr. Mohamed's attorneys are doing the work for them, to sneak in the back door and get that smoking gun of a secret document.

The point of all this is not to defend Binyan Mohamed or keep him off of death row. The point is to find evidence where none exists, to show that the Irish government was complicit in extraordinary renditions because they let American planes, without any terrorists in them, land on Irish soil.

Sometimes the red herring that's thrown in to the mystery is so obvious that the reader figures out the ruse. Spoils the whole book, though, when the author can't employ subtlety.