Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bertie Ahern's Farewell Tour

The government jet has landed in Washington DC, and Bertie Ahern has begun his farewell tour. In a matter of days, he won't be An Taoiseach any more.

He won't be travelling alone. Loyal supporter Des Richardson has come along, the very man who organized the personal fundraising that's become a major topic of discussion at the Mahon Tribunal. Then there's David McKenna, another friend who contributed to the "dig-out" that's been so finely sliced and diced at the hearings that Mr. Ahern decided it was time to step down from office.

Everybody loves the Irish, even if they've been investigated for peculiar financial dealings while serving as Minister of Finance. Ignoring the Mahon Tribunal evidence and considering the millions of Americans with Irish heritage, Congress has invited Mr. Ahern to address them.

It isn't often that foreign politicians are allowed to stand at the front of the room and deliver a speech, but Irish leaders have been up there five times before, including Charles Stewart Parnell and Dev himself. It's the brogue, of course, so charming, so easy on the ears.

The speech to the joint session of Congress will be followed by a meeting with President Bush, where Mr. Ahern plans to bring up the problem of the illegal Irish immigrants who aren't the least bit like all those Mexicans and can't they have their own special dispensation so they can go home for a funeral and still get back in to the States.

From the White House, the tour will continue to a luncheon with the Friends of Ireland, where Mr. Ahern will present General Francis Meagher's sword. It's only good manners, to give the US a sword from the very man who founded the Fighting 69th in New York during the Civil War. President Kennedy gave Ireland the Fighting 69th's battle flag when he was calling on his ancestral land, and the people of Waterford would like to reciprocate.

In an event-packed day, Bertie Ahern will be tipping pints of Bass Ale with the Irish Ambassador at an evening reception, and then it's on to Boston to give a talk at the JFK School of Government at Harvard.

No word on what he'll say to the students of Harvard, but chances are, he won't be delivering a lecture on how to acquire funds from friends without making it look like you're accepting bribes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Clothes Make The Author

There are times when you need to make a statement, and those are the times when a T-shirt can say it for you.

New this week, the mad artists of the Threadless company are offering a shirt that every writer should have in their wardrobe.

The journal that carries my short story is holding a launch party soon. If I had the courage to read in public, I'd be wearing this when I got up in front of friends and family to deliver my words of wisdom. As I'm not so bold as that, I'll sit in the back of the room, but I could still wear this shirt and make a quiet statement.

For only $20.00, you too could trumpet your love of books and mock the masses who don't turn a page. These items go fast, so you'll be wanting to get yours today. Unlike publishing houses, which crank out more copies than are needed, only to pulp the overstock, there are a limited number of shirts and when they're gone, that's it. No remainders.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chocolate Coating The Wrigley Building

On the banks of the Chicago River stands a white confection of stone. The Wrigley Building, an icon of the city, is as white as a stick of spearmint gum, pure and pristine like sugar, standing high and tall.

On the banks of Oak Park Avenue in Chicago stands another iconic structure, a composition of nougat-hued brick and caramel-colored roofing tiles. Not a high-rise, but a low slung chunk of brown and tan; from here comes the chocolate goodness that is the M&M and the Snickers and the Three Musketeers.

The earth beneath Chicago is quaking. Two behemoth firms, two key figures in the city's mammoth candy industry, are talking about joining forces.

Mars, the biggest chocolate manufacturer in the world. Wrigley Company, the most famous gum maker on the planet. United in one fold, one sweet and delectable firm, churning out snacks and refreshments and giving the York peppermint patty a run for its minty money.

The Wrigley family has owned the namesake firm since it was begun in time for the World's Columbian Exposition, but with billions of dollars at stake, they have apparently decided to take the cash and leave the Juicy Fruit.

The firm's headquarters on Michigan Avenue will go as part of the proposed deal. Will Mars have an urge to coat the glittering white gem in a rich chocolate coat, to better reflect their main product?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Make Self-Publishing Work For You

Now that the New York Times has exposed the sad truth about the plethora of authors and lack of publishing venues, even more people with a story to tell will be out there telling it.

More books than ever are being created, and that's good news for the likes of iUniverse. For a fee, they'll print up whatever drivel is submitted, so that the author's friends can order their very own copies. As a result, anything put out by a vanity press is presumed to be worthless drivel, and not the sort of thing you'd include in an author's bio.

Those of us who have been at the agent-attracting game are well aware of the dead end that is self-publishing. You'll never break into the big leagues if you can't land an agent who can then land a publishing deal. But if your dream is to have your story heard, where do you turn?

Why look to Lulu or iUniverse? If you can't get a literary agent to take an interest in what you have to say, and you're determined to preach to an actual audience, you must get creative.

Take a page from a Chicago-area entrepreneur. All you need is money. Someone else's money, of course, because you don't have that kind of cash in pocket. With Jason Hyatt as an example, you can reach that distant star of legitimate publication.

Jason Hyatt, of St. Charles, Illinois, must have had a hankering to be a restaurateur. Like publishing, it's an expensive proposition. Where does a man with a dream go to get financing for his dream?

While employed by BCI, an aircraft leasing firm, he sought out investors. Not for his restaurant. No one would willingly sink money into such a risky venture, not unlike the high risk game that is publishing. No, Mr. Hyatt rounded up investors who thought that they were buying into the airplane leasing business. The SEC figures that he amassed $82 million dollars.

Of that, Mr. Hyatt used $1.6 million on his own personal needs, which included a Maserati, a Hummer, and some art for the walls. Then he sank $2 million into his dream Latin-themed restaurant in a trendy Chicago neighborhood. He had a culinary story to tell, and De La Costa was the result.

What does this have to do with your dream of literary stardom? Rather than turn to a vanity press with a poor reputation, line up some venture capital. Pretend that you're looking for investment in some legitimate, money-making operation, like airline leasing. Look to Mr. Hyatt's error and avoid attention. Don't slip and give in to greedy excess. Just take a chunk of your net gain and start up your own publishing house.

Launch an independent press, one that only accepts agented submissions because there's a lot of worthless babble out there and you don't want to be bothered with a slush pile. Take on a publicist. Put together a sales force, a marketing department, an art department, and all the rest. You've got your embezzled funds at hand, and you might as well make the most of it.

If you want to publish your own novel, and have it sell beyond your small circle of friends and family, you couldn't do better than to become a publisher yourself. Otherwise, it's back to the endless misery of querying, getting rejected, and writing something else that gets queried and rejected, ad infinitum.

Coca-Cola: Blood Substitute

Eighteen months ago, a Congolese woman presented at Coombe Women's Hospital, in labor. All very ordinary, babies born every day, and things proceeded as per usual.

Sometimes childbirth is not usual and ordinary. The woman, known as Ms. K., began to hemorrhage after her son was delivered. She lost buckets of blood, but a good obstetrician has seen such a complication before. Transfusion is the answer, but when the time came, Ms. K. declared that she was a Jehovah's Witness, and a transfusion was against her religion.

There was a newborn infant in need of a mother to consider. Ms. K. was given a transfusion, whether she liked it or not. And because of that, she took the hospital to court, seeking damages to her person and breach of rights and what all.

The judge decided that there was no assault. No rights breached. The hospital was well within its right to treat her as good medical practice dictated.

Ms. Justice Laffoy noted that, since Ms. K. told the admitting desk that she was Roman Catholic, she laid the groundwork for her own undoing. What was a doctor to believe, the first statement or the second one? After all, Ms. K. said she was a Jehovah's Witness after she had lost 80% of her blood volume, so she'd hardly been in a position to make an informed decision about anything. Add to that Ms. K.'s assertion that all she needed was tomatoes, eggs and Coca-Cola to make her right as rain, and the doctors figured that she was not at all mentally competent.

So the doctors have been vindicated and Ms. K. is out of luck. And possibly out of pocket. This is Ireland, after all, where the loser pays legal costs.

This entire case proves that Coca-Cola may be the pause that refreshes, but it's no substitute for red blood cells and plasma.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hang Up Or Try Again

"...reply to all email queries....whether we are interested or not." Or not.

I'm not entirely against e-mail queries, but I can't get used to not getting any sort of reply back. How can I tell if it was received, or ended up in some spam filter? Robert Astle says he'll respond for sure, as long as I follow his guidelines.

And I do follow, straight down the path as marked. The e-mail subject says "Query", I hail the agent as Dear Robert, and I paste in my query letter with its three paragraphs of pure literary bliss.

That was ten weeks ago. There's been no response.

Do I resubmit? Hang it up?

Not that snail-mail is any better these days. Anita Diggs has a new agency, but she must be swamped. I've been waiting seven weeks for the SASE to show up in the post. Stephanie Cabot of The Gernert Company has had a full month's head start on Ms. Diggs, and there's no SASE coming back from her agency either. Did they arrive? Or is there a bag of mail in some sewer in Lower Manhattan, rotting away to pulp?

No responses to e-mail. No responses to hard copies. Is there anybody out there?

How To Get Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

Gregory Perdue had whacked people before. He'd been charged and convicted of battery, violated his bail bond, assaulted. No one paid him any mind back then.

How do we now know of Mr. Perdue and his penchant for violence? Was it because he went after six people on the streets of Chicago's Loop? In a way, yes. One of the people he attacked just happened to be a television anchor for WLS-ABC 7. Not just a reporter, but the lovely lady who reads the news at night.

Cheryl Burton was on her dinner break, relaxing before work. The ABC 7 studio is located right on State Street, Chicago's main drag, and anyone is welcome to stand out front on the sidewalk and watch Ms. Burton and her colleagues read away. Some clever chap tried to drive his car through the windows of the showcase studio one fine evening during the news broadcast, but that's another story.

As Mr. Perdue made his rounds, slugging passers-by, Ms. Burton had the misfortune to stroll into his sphere. With that, Mr. Perdue became famous.

The city is filled with the unfortunate, those who are mentally ill but have no place to go because they're supposed to go home and take their meds but they don't. A man who should have been confined somewhere, with his history of mental instability, was being crazy and putting a hurt on a few old folks and a television anchor. No one would have heard of him, if not for Ms. Burton's involvement.

If not for an assault on a lady who could broadcast the attack to millions of viewers, Mr. Perdue would have been a paragraph in the back pages, another nut job going after innocent people until the police catch him and put him back in jail, where he's been before.

Fifteen minutes of fame, and Mr. Perdue will soon drop back into obscurity. In the meantime, it would be grand if he could get some help for his mental illness, now that he's in a secure location.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Taking Their Ball And Going Home

Loyalists, in league with British security forces, murdered Pat Finucane in front of his family in 1989. No one was ever charged with the crime. No one ever will be.

With the peace process active in the north of Ireland, victims of sectarian violence are seeking justice. In the case of Mr. Finucane, there was evidence that the very government that was supposed to protect all citizens was actually working to eliminate a few of the troublemakers. People like Pat Finucane, who defended nationalists in British courts.

Independent inquiries were launched for other crimes, but the Crown suddenly decided that it had to change the rules in the middle of the game when the Finucane family started asking questions. After all, when it's your boys who are looking guilty, you want to protect them from prosecution and jail time.

We'll be happy to inquire, said the Crown, but it's got to be in secret. No public hearings. No evidence released to the public. If you don't like it, we're taking our ball and going home. There'll be no hearing.

Can you say cover-up, boys and girls? The Finucane family could certainly smell it, and they refused to accept the new rules that would have made a mockery of the hearings.

Peter Hain, the Secretary of State in 2006, must have known that the family wouldn't stand for such shady dealings. He quashed the investigation, and never bothered to let Mrs. Finucane know.

On the other hand, an inquiry into Rosemary Nelson's murder is going forward. She too was murdered at the hands of loyalist thugs and colluding British forces. Why the difference? Why is one case of collusion being examined under existing rules of an open, public hearing, while another is treated like it's radioactive?

Makes a person wonder who was in charge of the colluding, and just how high up the chain of command an inquiry would climb. And who is so keen to keep their involvement a secret forever.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Railroad Runs Through The Middle Of The House

Railroads laid tracks long before the suburbs sprawled out around them. Congress, in its collective wisdom, decreed that the train had the right of way at all crossings. Had to keep the U.S. moving, ever moving, further west, across the entire continent.

So here we are, all these years later, and there are cars on the roads where none used to be, when railroads were granted the right of way. The enormous diesel engines chug along, unstopping, while the motorists pull up to the gates and wait. If you live in a town where a lot of freight trains cross, you do a lot of waiting with your car engine idling and burning expensive gas.

Canadian National would like to buy a little belt line that winds through Chicago's suburbs, bypassing the congested freight yards of the big city. The railroad men find it a brilliant idea. The little-used line would get used, heavily, so that freight could move around without the train having to wait for other trains to clear the track.

The once sleepy farm towns where the tracks run are now bustling suburbs, and the folks who live there don't want to spend their days at railroad crossings, waiting. They are less than thrilled with the notion of heavy freight traffic criss-crossing their downtown area, sharing the road with a fleet of school buses that have been hit by trains in the past.

CN CEO E. Hunter Harrison has slapped down the residents with the mighty cudgel of economics. If Canadian National doesn't get to do what it wants, why, Chicago won't be the rail capital of the world anymore. Trains will stop....well, no, actually, the rails are there, the system is there, and there's nowhere else for the trains to go. They have to run on the rails, wouldn't you know it.

Jobs will be lost, he says, to a population that doesn't work on the railroads. Who cares about those jobs?

The area's economy will be hurt, he concludes. Actually, the area's economy would be hurt by an increase in rail traffic, which stops car traffic, which keeps folks from moving around and through the affected towns. Stores do less business, people travel to avoid train crossings, and the downtown areas would suffer.

You want the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern line? Build an overpass at every level crossing. Let the cars flow freely, and you can put your trains where you like. That's the deal that's been proposed. Of course, CN has turned that down flat. It would cost a small fortune to keep the cars and the trains both moving at the same time. The railroad is looking to buy the EJ&E to increase their profits, not to add to expenses.

After hearing the complaints of those who would be affected by CN's move, Mr. Harrison suggested that those who would seek to stop his train are engaging in "Not In My Back Yard" tactics. They'll have to learn to live with his railroad, as far as he's concerned. Let them eat cake.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Give Him A Cookie

Little Jimmy used his inside voice and he was very polite. Such a good boy. He deserves a cookie. And a nap.

All the talk, the dust-up and fuss, because former President (and foreign policy failure) Jimmy Carter was going to solve the problems in the Middle East. He would go talk to Hamas, have a discussion and resolve all those long-standing issues. Sounds like an episode with Dr. Phil.

See what I've done, the insignificant politician cried. I've gotten Hamas to recognize Israel.

Ah, no, came the clarification from Khaled Mishaal of Hamas. We said nothing of the kind.

For his return to the spotlight, Mr. Carter came away with an agreement that would leave a wiser man cringing with embarrassment. His moment of being the sensitive man resulted in absolutely nothing.

If Israel goes back to the 1967 borders, losing key defensive positions in the process, then Hamas will grant a ten year cease fire. There's progress for you. Ten years to build up arms, train forces, and move into positions that once were Israeli soil. Brilliant.

Mr. Carter should stick with charitable work, with building houses for the homeless. He never did understand the evil side of the human mind, and he doesn't recognize it now, when it bites him in the arse.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Protesting Against The Unknown

CNN is in hot water over in China. Their own Jack Cafferty called out the government, and now the government's called out the crowds.

"We don't have the right to watch CNN" noted an online protester, "but we have the right to reject it." Now doesn't that just make all the sense in the world?

Makes the whole online protest so vitally sincere. I've never seen what I'm against, but I'm against it. And the rest of the world nods and laughs. There go the goons and thugs, orchestrating the masses. Go out and post this online. Run over there and protest. Marshall the students, loyal Chinese Communist members all, and give them their marching orders.

Oh look, say the goons and the thugs, we have protests too. Oh look, says the rest of the world. You're a shower of shite.

The Chinese cannot watch CNN, they cannot access the Internet freely, and when the goons snap their fingers, they crowd around the Carrefour shop in Xian to demonstrate that they can follow government orders. They're boycotting the Carrefour outlet in Beijing, except for those who continue to shop there. A person's got to live, and any Chinese who can afford imported food is going to buy it, rather than risk the dodgy local fare.

Wherever the Olympic torch lands, there are human rights advocates there to protest. Chinese television is hard-pressed to get positive coverage for the folks back home. Things aren't going well at all, and the world refuses to cooperate with the media control game.

What if no one shows up for the grand Olympics party?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Trinity College Gets Creative

Richard Ford has been described as one of America's finest authors. He won both the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner awards, which aren't shabby prizes by any means.

Wouldn't you as a budding author be thrilled beyond measure if you could study creative writing under the likes of such a man? And you'd expect that he'd be lecturing at some prestigious university with a world-renowned writers program. The Iowa Writers Workshop, perhaps? None of it.

In what is surely a coup for the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at Trinity College, Dublin, Richard Ford has been made an adjunct professor in the School of English. Want to study creative writing under him? You'll have to travel to Ireland.

Can't blame the man for accepting the part time job, which will see him in Ireland several times over the course of the year for the next three years. It's a beautiful little island, and cead mile failte hasn't been forgotten in the rush to prosperity.

Graduate students have already been treated to classes with the well-known author, who will be giving public readings as part of his duties.

Trinity College opened the Wilde Centre ten years ago in the Wilde family home, with a mission to teach and study Irish literature. Having the likes of Richard Ford in residence, instructing and reading, is a perfect fit for the college's plans to develop an international reputation as a creative writing powerhouse.

How grand would it be, to fill out your biography paragraph in a query letter with a mention of studying under Richard Ford at the Oscar Wilde Centre in Dublin? Beats the mundane dullness of Iowa City, doesn't it?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Action When Words Fail

The An Yue Jiang made port in South Africa. The dockworkers won't unload it.

Zimbabwe was expecting a cargo of munitions from China, but as the country is land-locked, all goods have to be shipped into South Africa and ported. Aware of what is going on in Zimbabwe, the South African transport workers, all 300,000 of them, have made a statement when no other African leader will speak.

What might Robert Mugabe want with arms from China? The union believes that the weapons are meant to be used against the people of Zimbabwe, who would like to be rid of Mr. Mugabe and his disastrous regime. Will anyone step up and force Mr. Mugabe to put an end to his blatant power grab? Anyone?

Well, we can't interfere with trade between China and Zimbabwe, says the South African government. Why, it's none of our business what Robert Mugabe does with those four containers of arms and ammunition. It's nobody's business.

To which the union says, feck off. We're not taking them off the ship.

Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, has been mediating the dispute in Zimbabwe. His citizens are apparently less than impressed with his progress. The transport union has made their position clear. Can Mr. Mbeki hear his people now?

A Little Black Dress On Your Great-Aunt

Don't be so quick to toast your success, Mr. Hewson. The Clarence Hotel isn't going to be demolished just yet.

An Bord Pleanala has been gathering evidence as you and Mr. Edge push for planning permission. You'd like very much to tear down some historic buildings, listed and protected structures, so that you can put up a space-age tower.

How out of place would your fancy hotel/spa/spud in the sky studio be on Wellington Quay? It's been described as putting a little black dress on your elderly aunt. Unpleasant imagery, indeed.

Speaking in favor of your proposal, Kieran Rose claims that this tear-down and gutting of listed structures should go forward because of exceptional circumstances. You'd tear down a hotel and put up a new one that would be better than the stodgy old Clarence. And there's the financial situation to consider. You've spent a tremendous amount of money on the land, and you'll never make it back if you don't get permission to do what you want.

The Department of the Environment doesn't see any architectural merit in your plan whatsoever. They don't find a single extenuating circumstance that would weigh in your favor. In fact, they're convinced that an ultra-modern skyscraper, wedged in the middle of Georgian architecture, would be radically out of place.

For now, you'd best put the cork back in that bottle of champagne. This is a government body holding hearings. The fine bubbly will go flat before a decision is reached.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Change In Management

There's a new sheriff in town and his name is Benedict.

The Pope came to Washington DC and let it be known that the clerical sex abuse scandal was mismanaged. How many times has a new CEO taken over a company and come to realize that his predecessor botched a few things and that's why sales are down? The Roman Catholic Church took a hit when middle management failed in their duties, so His Holiness has put them on notice. Shape up, gentlemen. You'll never make cardinal if you don't improve performance.

No pedophiles need apply, the Pope has declared. The seminaries will be barred to them. As for the gay culture that is pervading the priesthood, that's a matter for another day. There's not anywhere near enough priests, and if you're going to hold the line on married clergy, who else is there to fill the slots?

In his forward-looking statement, His Holiness has put his red-shod foot down. In the future, pedophilia will not be tolerated amongst the religious. But what about the past?

Victims of clerical sexual abuse wonder if Benedict XVI will take things a step further, and demand that his underlings come clean about the cover-ups. Will the Holy Father issue a decree that parishes around the globe confess their sin of moving pedophiles from one church to another, rather than show the perverts the door? Will bishops be made to reveal their records, to confess that they harbored a pedophile and chose to shuttle him around, to abuse more children in other localities?

Will the buck stop at the foot of the Papal Throne?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What Drinking Problem?

Teenagers have not had a place to hang out since God invented teenagers.

There's never anything for them to do. They don't want to sit at home with their parents, not when they've been doing that since birth and they're not babies any more. They can't get into the pubs like the adults. Will no one in government listen to the teen plea?

In Ireland, the government has met and consulted with this downtrodden mass, to find out what it is that teens want. They want to be able to drink.

Sure they'd like something to do at night that's appropriate for their age group. Teen cafes would be lovely. Locals without booze would be adequate. A few mentioned educational opportunities, such as night classes that would offer something fun to do. The key is, whatever the teens want, they want to be able to be with their peers and not have adults mucking up the fun.

So why not lower the drinking age to sixteen from eighteen? Kids today swear that they'd act responsibly. It isn't their fault that so many are binge-drinking on weekends, using fake IDs to buy liquor. That's the parents' fault, isn't it?

Not only that, but the only reason those kids are drinking is because they're not supposed to be drinking, and what a thrill it is to sneak around and get away with it. If drinking was legal, well, where's the fun, right? Binge drinking among the mid-teen set would disappear.

They don't binge drink in France, do they? No, they drink responsibly. So let the Irish teen do the same, and then it's up to the parents to set the good example and quaff alcohol like the French do.

What sort of wine does one serve with boiled bacon and cabbage?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Long Gap Between Writing and Publication

Books take a long time to produce. First, the manuscript must be written. Then there's the query process, followed by the agent submission process, and then editors at publishing houses have to accept the manuscript and someone has to edit the thing. There's time needed to set the type and print the pages and bind and box and ship and it's well over a year gone by.

No one is more aware of the slow pace than Robert S. Miller, the chairman of the bankrupt Delphi Corporation. This is hardly the time to be laying down a book that trumpets his success at rescuing "America's Most Troubled Companies", is it?

Accustomed to forward-thinking statements, Mr. Miller penned his tome with the notion that, by the time the whole publishing process was done, he'd have turned Delphi around. What a grand book launch that would make. In and out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and here's how I did it.

Sadly for the author, his predicted success turned out to be wishful thinking. Delphi is still on its deathbed, but the book is coming out anyway. HarperCollins held off on the lay-down, in the event that Delphi's creditors and shareholders came to a peaceful agreement, but no white knight ever rode into the scene with bundles of cash for the troubled firm.

The book has been launched, on the quiet. Mr. Miller is out on his book tour, largely on his own dime.

Book shops and libraries are having a difficult time in dealing with The Turnaround Kid. Where does it go on the shelves? Is it non-fiction, or is it a complete fiction?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Them's Fightin' Words

Perfectly all right for Green Party leader John Gormley to get all up in the Chinese ambassador's face. A verbal slap? Fine, grand, give Mr. Liu a good hard tongue lashing. But don't call Tibet a country. That's taking it too far.

Mr. Gormley spoke at the Green Party conference, where Liu Biwei was most cordially invited to attend. The ambassador was given a heads up before hand, to let him know that Mr. Gormley was going to say a word or two about Tibet, and the man came anyway.

Respect for human rights, exploited, suppressed, etc. etc. said Mr. Gormley. And then he dropped the "c" bomb. He referred to Tibet as a country, and not a region of China that is seeking greater autonomy and even the Dalai Lama isn't talking independence or anything of the sort so it can't be a country.

Mr. Liu up and walked out over the "c" word. Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern has been in a flutter ever since.

Won't damage trade, not a bit of it, he's been reassuring everyone. The ambassador was offended by that one word, that's all. China will still buy Irish-made goods. They'll still export their own manufacturing. And that Gormley fellow, why, I never met him before in my life. I don't know him at all, at all.

Of course Mr. Ahern would put some space between himself and Mr. Gormley. After the ambassador walked out, Mr. Gormley refused to apologize, and even went so far as to remark on his own freedom of speech, in contrast with the utter lack thereof in China.

Would it have been better if he'd referred to Tibet as a nation?

Too Late, Sorry

"We regret to inform you that your work does not suit our needs at this time."

I'm terribly sorry, but I rejected you first.

Months ago, in fact. I sent an e-mail to your editor, to let that person know that a literary journal had decided to publish the short story, and I had to pull it off your desk.

Did you not pay any attention to the e-mail? Are you ignoring it because it's my rejection of you and you're trying to get your rejection in first?

Too late for your regrets, I regret to inform you. You might not have found a place for the story, but someone else did. It's going to be published. The other editor who liked the work sent me a note to let me know that my copy is on the way soon, and I've been looking for it in the post.

You really should stay on top of your e-mails, especially the ones that reference a manuscript withdrawal. Would have saved you the time of reading the story and someone else could have been rejected in my place.

I did respond promptly when the submission's status changed, just like I said I would. After that, well, it was up to you to read the e-mail.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't Retire Yet

If you're in line for a pension issued by the City of New York, could you postpone your retirement for a bit longer?

New York City Pension Funds has dumped $150 million of your hard earned dollars into the North of Ireland, in the hope that they'll reap more than they sowed. If it's a bumper crop, the fund could increase its investment to as much as $750 million.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is all for investing in the Six Counties, with a mind to stabilizing the shaky coalition of unionists and nationalists. He'll be present in Belfast next month, representing President Bush at a trade conference that is designed to suck in lots of U.S. dollars.

The economy in Northern Ireland is dependent on a private economy, one that revolves around government jobs paid by government funds. There's really no private sector to speak of, not when the majority of private firms are small, with less than ten employees. It will take foreign investment to build a private sector and get the economy in the north to boom like the one to the south.

The continuing problem that ministers Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley face is not of their making, and even the devolution of powers to Stormont has not helped. Corporate tax rates in the U.K. are high, far higher than the rates in the Irish Republic. How can Northern Ireland hope to compete when a company could locate just across the border, employ the very same people, and save a bundle on taxes?

As for your pension, it looks like a long road ahead before the investment will pay off. You'd best keep at it, working every day, until the rate of return turns positive.

Anticipating A Rejection

They popped in for a visit, but it was very short. One page of the website, the home page, was the area of interest. What about the last page, with its list of publication credits? What of the sample writing pages? None of that. Only the first page, the default.

I presume that someone connected with the literary journal was poking around my website. The stats log identified the ISP as belonging to the university, so who else would it have been?

It's been a month at least since the short story was submitted. The journal usually responds quickly, as journals go, and four weeks isn't out of bounds for a hasty dismissal.

What's new with Duotrope? Check the listings of recent submission results and learn that someone else has just been rejected by the same journal. Looks like the editors and readers are going through submissions, making decisions.

My SASE will be in my mailbox by Monday, considering the slow pace of the postal service. Only the home page of my website was examined. How can that be a good sign?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You're In Good Hands

Forever clear and free, the Chicago lakefront was decreed by law to be open land, green space for the citizen whose wretched hovel provided little air and sun. Unless, of course, some politically connected types want to put up a museum.

Thanks to corruption and insider deals and graft, it costs a great deal to run Chicago. The taxpayers are turnip-like in their inability to provide money when squeezed, so who is going to foot the bill?

Put those two situations together and you've got yourself a museum where none is supposed to be, and thank you Allstate for donating $15 million to the boondoggle. In gratitude, the new pile will be labeled the Chicago Children's Museum at Allstate Place.

There's been an uproar among those who would like to see the lakefront kept as park land, and they're not buying into the claim that the museum's to be largely underground. The building's architects must think that children are little moles, or they subscribe to the old adage that children should be neither seen nor heard.

The Park District has rubber-stamped the plan, in spite of repeated protests. A lot of talk and outrage at public meetings proves that those opposed have missed the point. They could easily stop the disaster from landing on the grassy field along the lake. All they have to do is come up with $20 million to counter Allstate's offer.

This is Chicago. It's all about the bribe and the pay-off.

Bonds For Ireland

Why should the Jews have all the fun? Vote for Hillary Clinton and give the Irish-Americans a chance to have one of those grand fund-raising dinners.

Where would Israel be without the Bonds for Israel? Jewish-Americans have pumped billions into the country through the massive annual appeal, so why not let Irish-Americans do the same for Northern Ireland?

In speaking to the Irish-American Presidential Forum, Ms. Clinton put forth this new idea. She's been touting her role in bringing about peace in the Six Counties, so it stands to reason that she's looking to bring along some much needed financing. The special envoy to Northern Ireland, who would be directly answerable to herself in the Oval Office, might be able to help her decide where to spread the bounty.

More and more, it's looking like Westminster would like to be quit of Northern Ireland, with its heavy reliance on government jobs at a huge cost to the Exchequer. Bit by bit, the budget's been getting trimmed, and the loyalists are growing increasingly nervous. Any day now, the Six Counties are liable to be ceded back to the Irish and where would unionism be without the union?

What's to become of all that added cash? Ms. Clinton envisions a stream of investments that will " the legitimacy and credibility of the government". Does that sound like more police officers on the streets, or is there a ring of a united Ireland in all that?

But wait, there's more. Once elected, Ms. Clinton will convene a trade conference within two years. No one's told her, apparently, that there's all kinds of trade between the U.S. and Ireland, largely involving tax dodges by major corporations. Or is she planning to hold a conference to tell Ireland the game's up? In which case, that whole Bonds for Ireland drive will take on added significance.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spinning A Bleak Yarn

At present, it is estimated that 200,000 people are out of work in Ireland.

We're back to the 1980's, trumpets Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party. Things are that bad, he'd like you to believe. You remember those wretched days, don't you?

What Mr. Gilmore fails to mention is that those 200,000 people without jobs in the 1980's were the few unemployed who actually stayed in Ireland. The rest got on planes and left.

The 1980's were grim times, but no worse than the decades before when Ireland exported workers by the boat load. There were no jobs to be had. If Mr. Gilmore wished to paint a complete picture, he might include the emigrants in his jobless count, to present a more accurate portrayal. The real figure would be 200,000 out of work, plus how many tens of thousands who would be out of work if they hadn't gone job-hunting in other countries.

Twenty years later, the workers who left for sunnier shores are enjoying new lives in America or England or Australia. The parents they left behind are alone in their old age, worried about how they'll take care of themselves with all the children gone abroad. Mr. Gilmore's assertion that the 1980's are back is directed at them.

It's as bad as the 1980's, the Labour leader says, and the voters look around their quiet houses and wonder what the grandchildren might be doing. It's the 1980's out there in the economy, Mr. Gilmore proclaims, and the voters worry that they'll end up in a nursing home in a few more years if their health doesn't hold out.

With Brian Cowen about to don the mantel of An Taoiseach, the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern would like to remind those same voters that the economy is still growing, albeit more slowly, and no one said that in 1983. The nation doesn't need new building programs to generate jobs, and the government doesn't need to cut spending in other areas so that money can be channeled into school construction.

There was marching in the streets in the 1980's, Mr. Gilmore noted. No one's marching these days. Back in the 1980's, they were upset about the lack of employment, but they were more upset that the only other option was to emigrate. Mr. Gilmore may not have noticed, but Ireland's been importing workers for several years now, and no one can say that about the 1980's.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Michael Collins, Carbon Fighter

He's long dead, murdered during the Irish Civil War, but Minister for the Environment John Gormley has resurrected one of Ireland's heroes. The battle this time is not between the Free Staters and the Anti-Treaty faction. It's a war against carbon emissions.

Eamon de Valera has been drafted into the fight as well, even though he fell out of favor with a great many people. Looking back, he's largely responsible for dragging Ireland into the isolated backwater that it was after the Free State was formed. Still, he was one of the survivors of the 1916 Easter Rising and he did his bit for freedom so why not exhume his corpse and send him into the front lines against CO2?

People aren't believing the man-made global warming propaganda, so a new campaign has been launched. At a cost of 12.5 million euro, the Irish public will be bombarded in one minute adverts, featuring Mick Collins and Dev. They believed in Irish freedom, so won't you believe that you're the cause of the earth's temperature going up? Or at least it was going up last year. Don't look at this year's results.

Look, the snippets of air time will declare. Look at the challenge faced by that long dead generation, back when we were more worried about not getting shot than about how much CO2 the cows were pumping into the atmosphere every time they farted. Look at the challenge that Mick and Dev faced down. Now here's our challenge, for this generation.

Cut down on those carbon emissions, just like Mick cut down the Black and Tans in Cork.

And please, please start believing the climate change people who would have you believe that the earth was never warmer than it is now, in spite of geological evidence.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lighting The Way To Freedom In Tibet

Appropriate that French officials extinguished the Olympic flame today. The light of freedom was snuffed out in Tibet long ago.

In London yesterday, the torch relay was met by protests. Not just discontented ex-Tibetans, but ordinary people turned up to show China that their appalling behavior has not gone unnoticed. There were scuffles and some were arrested when they tried to steal the torch.

When Hitler used the Olympics to showcase his Aryan nation, no one said anything. When Jesse Owens, the great American track star who just happened to be quite non-Aryan, won one race after another and Hitler fumed, no one voiced a concern about Nazism.

How times have changed. This time around, it's China that's looking to use the Olympics as a showcase for their brand of Communism, in which all are equal, but some are more equal than others. This time around, the world is stepping up, giving voice to their protests.

Athletes train for years, all for that one chance that comes but every four years. They should not be asked to give up a dream for the sake of politics.

Thinking of going to the Olympics in Beijing? Don't go. Planning to attend so that you can cheer on a friend or relation? Fly in for the event, and then go home. Don't buy anything. Don't stay in a hotel. Don't eat a meal. Don't do anything to support the regime.

Concerned about the suppression of religion and human rights in Tibet? You don't have to do business with a vendor you find offensive. Snuff out the Olympic torch in a symbolic way.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

20/20 Hindsight

Attention, world! Biofuels are good!

With that mandate from the United Nations, the world jumped onto the biofuels bandwagon and road it straight into hunger.

Attention, world! Biofuels are bad!

The free market rears its ugly head once again.

Corn can be turned into ethanol which can be pumped into car engines to make them go. The UN was keen on biofuels as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The non-green element was keen on reducing imports of foreign oil, since those foreigners who own the oil are a dangerous crew of thugs. The production of plant-based ethanol became the latest boom industry.

Farmers can grow only so much corn. When the demand for corn as fuel climbs, and the supply is fixed, then the price of corn rises. That's the most basic of economic principles, and one that the brain trust at the UN should have known about. Sadly, they must have slept through those lectures at university.

So, the farmer grows corn and sells it to make fuel. The chicken farmer has to pay more for his chicken feed and the cost of eggs goes up. The tortilla factory has to pay more for corn meal and the cost of tortillas goes up. Consumers on fixed incomes can't meet the higher prices so they go hungry. And there's nothing like a crowd of hungry citizens when it comes to stirring up unrest. Let them eat cake, indeed.

American farmers plant more corn, but that means less soybeans and wheat are produced. Farmers in other countries, like Brazil, pick up the slack and plant the soybeans. The problem is, they have to destroy the rain forest to develop arable farm land for those soybeans. The Amazon rain forest is the biggest sink for CO2 on the planet, so as the rain forest shrinks, there's fewer plants to suck up the carbon emissions and the atmosphere gets dirtier.

Last year, biofuels were good. This year, biofuels are a crime against humanity according to Jean Ziegler of the UN, and should be banned.

The free market will weed out the excess ethanol plants. The free market will reduce the value of biofuels if production costs cannot compete with fossil fuels. Biofuels will fall out of favor if they are not cost effective. That's more economics. It's not something that the UN knows much about.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Becoming A Cartoon

The Orange Order is dying a slow death. David Scott, its director of education, is determined to revive the struggling institution before it is nothing more than a forgotten relic of a bygone age.

How to get the young people interested in a group that promotes sectarianism, when all the rage is to educate against discrimination? How to get new members into a group that is watching Catholics make tremendous strides while they are left behind, the dinosaurs on the verge of extinction?

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Diamond Dan, tricked out in orange collarette but lacking the bowler hat and brollie that would make any gent a laughing stock if he were to be seen walking down the street. That ought to do it.

Mr. Scott would like to make bigotry fun for the wee ones, so that when they grow up they'll join the Orange Order and parade through Catholic neighborhoods. Let the children follow Diamond Dan as he beats his huge drum, to remind the Papists that they lost at the Battle of the Boyne four hundred years ago.

Will the Orange Order's next generation look to their new cartoon superhero and see that religious persecution is still relevant in the Twenty-first Century? Or will they shrug their shoulders and move on, bored with the dinosaur exhibit at the sectarian museum.

Before The Electrons Were Dry

Revise the query and submit. It's a common practice amongst those who would like to see their novel in print.

Why not pitch to Matt McGowan at Frances Goldin's firm? Surely he was trawling for queries when he updated his Publishers Marketplace page this morning.

Like a shirt at the dry cleaners, it was in by nine and out by noon. Before the electrons had a chance to dry on the virtual page, I received my reply: "I don't think I would be the best agent for this and so I am going to pass." And best of luck trying to sell it to someone else, he says.

Caren Johnson says she's looking for commercial fiction, something with a bit of humor. She needed twenty-four hours to analyze my single page submission before concluding that it wasn't for her because: "the subject isn't something that we are interested in, the idea is interesting, but the execution is flawed, one of our own authors is already writing a similar book, etc."

I've twenty-five queries still floating around out there, along with a partial manuscript, and while it's disappointing to be rejected, it's a relief to be able to move on to someone else.

The best cure for the distraction and frustration of waiting for replies is to settle down and get to work on a new story. I've got my research documents stacked up neatly. There's a couple of pages of a short story already written and just waiting for more words.....where's that drop of motivation gone off to?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Free For The Taking

Anyone with a dream of being a hospital administrator can see that dream come true.

St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island, Illinois, is available. For free. Yours for the asking.

The nuns are keen to unload the facility, which was recently upgraded. There are fabulous surgical suites and private rooms with comfortable furnishings. Would you not like to claim it as your own? For no money down and no installments?

Like most Catholic hospitals, St. Francis had a policy to treat all, regardless of ability to pay. When the place was first built, the patients came from all walks of life, and many had private insurance that helped cover the cost of the poor. That's how it was, back then. Privately insured patients were billed at a rate that included a bit on the side for the needy, in a version of charity that suited the purpose.

The neighborhood began to change and the privately insured patients moved to the suburbs. Other hospitals followed them, and before long, all that St. Francis had were the destitute, with no paying clients to foot all the bills. It was up to Medicaid to carry the load, but in Illinois, the bills are so far in arrears that doctors won't even accept a Medicaid patient if they've got their roster of charity cases filled.

Tens of millions of dollars were eaten up by health care costs that never got fully reimbursed by federal or state dollars. St. Francis wanted to expand into the wealthier suburbs, but the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board said no. Apparently, the good Sisters didn't have any clout with Tony Rezko, who controlled the board so that his pals could make a pile.

Patients using St. Francis have four or five other places to choose from, all within a five mile radius.

Did no one at the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board notice that there were more than enough hospitals in the area before they approved construction for those other four hospitals?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

And Then He Came To His End

The evidence coming out of the Mahon Tribunal painted a grim picture.

Money floated through Bertie Ahern's constituency. In suitcases. In envelopes. In trouser pockets.

Where did it come from? Gifts from friends that became money meant for the constituency that became salary checks that turned out to be sterling notes. Money that was loaned to Celia Larkin to buy her auntie a house. Money that was coming and going while Bertie Ahern was the Minister for Finance.

An Taoiseach will step down at the beginning of May. He did nothing wrong, he's said, but things don't smell fresh and clean either. With members of the Opposition ready to pepper him with questions about the sterling transactions that were passed off as salary checks, Mr. Ahern decided that he had best make an exit now and leave on his own terms.

He'll be remembered for his tenure, riding the Celtic Tiger to prosperity. He'll be remembered for his work on the peace deal in the north. Ultimately, he'll be remembered for the shady financial dealings. His official portrait will be painted with broad strokes of corruption and bribery, with a patina of personal greed.

No Pranks, Just Silence

Maybe it's the fact that Easter was so early this year, but the first of April came and went without a single prank being pulled. It's as if none of us remembered that it was April Fool's Day. Just another Tuesday.

Just another day in a string of days, another day when there was no response to a query. No envelopes returned with a form rejection, no e-mail asking for a partial manuscript. Average day, so typical of all the rest. Who could recall that it was supposed to be something other than average?

Yesterday marked six weeks since I queried Anderson Literary Management. Is it time to write it off as a non-response? So many decisions to be made.

What about the snail mail? Did the letters ever arrive at The Gernert Company or Brandt & Hochman? Five weeks and no news; if an agent were interested I would have heard by now.

Try, try again. I've laid in a stock of Forever stamps.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Waiting For Nothing

Literary journals are typically staffed by undergraduates who are learning how to be editors of literary journals. They have other things to do in their lives besides read submissions. Somewhere in their day they are expected to attend lecturs, read great literature, and write essays.

Given the situation, it's no wonder that it takes forever to get a response back when you've submitted a short story in the hope of getting a credential. Knowing that you'll have to wait, you sit back and do just that.

The time grows longer. You haven't been rejected yet. The submission requirements suggest that you'll know in five months time, unless they are interested in your work.

Five months goes by. You wait. It's looking positive, if they've kept you dangling past the expected time.

If you don't hear from us, they said, so I asked after the short story that was sent six months ago. Oh, they replied. So sorry. We rejected that in less than a month. Don't know why you didn't get the rejection e-mail. Do please submit again, though. It wasn't the worst writing we've ever seen.

Most journals don't accept submissions in the summer, when the interns have all gone home to earn some money to help them pay for college and work as unpaid interns during the school year. Rejected at one place, and the short story will be sent to several other places. Must rush, to beat the deadline.

U2 Inc.

Want U2 T-shirts? U2 caps? U2 pajama bottoms? U2 buttons? U2 anything?

Talk to Live Nation.

For the next twelve years, the American promoters will be the hand that rocks U2. The contract is said to be in the $300 million range, which is a fair bit of change. For that, Live Nation will manage all U2 merchandise and manage the tours.

If the Rolling Stones could work far past their sell-by date, why not an equally megalithic band? Bono and the lads will have to produce if they are to get a return on their $300 million investment. The high cost presumes that U2 will continue to sell out every venue on several more world tours. Their last go-round brought in well over $300 million, so one good tour ought to do it. Then the rest is icing on the money cake.

U2 has been so phenomenally successful that the band had to shift assets off-shore to reduce their tax burden. With Live Nation behind them, they'll be glad of the tax dodge because profits can only go up for U2 Incorporated.

Live Nation won't get all of the action, however. Universal Music Group managed to hang on to a proven winner. They'll get their piece of the upcoming album, due in October, and Live Nation will make a fat bit for themselves when the tour October, most likely.