Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fair Treatment Of Prisoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Marketing Gimmicks

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

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

So he did.

He got caught.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Story Has Already Been Written

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Shepherd's Tale for 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Make It A Happy Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who Says There's No Money In Bookstores?

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

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

Anna Susan Kosak put paid to that entire notion.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Priests Have Needs Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Consider It A Loan And It's Come Due

All Matt Leen wants is his pension.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Money-Losing Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Nuns Are Not To Be Trifled With

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Holidays Eat Up Time

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bernard Madoff Needs A Bailout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Effect Of Personalization

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

Or so goes the advice. Does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

He Might Be Mad But He's Not Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time-Out Or Bashing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Recycling Gone Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

No News Is Bad News

Investigative journalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Rose Between Two Thorns

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

There's Too Much Beer In Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Swim Away From The Scene Of The Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fifty Years Gone

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Bother Calling Your Alderman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Monster, But In The Best Possible Way

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

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

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

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

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

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