Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bless Me Father

Bless me Father, but it's you who has sinned.

Remember that bit in the New Testament about the house of prayer becoming a den of thieves? Pity that you weren't more aware of Christ's teachings when Senator Barack Obama saw to it that St. Sabina's got a government hand-out. You donated to his campaign and the State of Illinois returned the favor with interest. Not Christ-like, but remarkably in keeping with the Chicago way of doing deals.

Maybe you dozed off at the seminary when the lecture covered the wedding feast at Cana. Maybe you've heard of it? It shows how much Jesus respected his mother, who told him to solve the wine shortage and he didn't argue with her. Pity that you missed it. You wouldn't have been so quick to show utter disrespect for a woman by mocking her for shedding a tear.

You may have a solid grasp of the Ten Commandments, but the Seven Deadly Sins seem to have slipped from your mind. Pride, to be sure, has been your downfall and has damaged the reputation of the Catholic Church in Chicago. And whatever they told you about obedience to your superiors has gone in one ear and out the other.

You're special, of course, and that's why you didn't insist on following the rules and move out of St. Sabina's after your twelve years were up. When Cardinal George told you to shut the fuck up, you had a mental lapse and completely forgot.

Ah sure you're sorry, but Catholics have had their fill of apologetic clergymen and their empty words. Can someone point you in the direction of the confessional?

Friday, May 30, 2008

The BEA Hiatus

I'm trying a slightly different query tactic for now. Letters are sent out in small batches, five to eight at a time, and then I wait to gauge the response. Every two weeks ought to do it, if I pay heed to Noah Lukeman's query advice.

This week, however, is not one to be counted in the two week interval. There's no great response to the query letter because the agents are flocking, like swallows, to California. Book Expo America has descended on Los Angeles and there's no one in New York to read the letters or stuff rejections into the SASEs.

Granted, the expo is geared towards book buyers, but it's gotten to the point that agents will attend so that they can meet and greet foreign rights buyers or editors. They do lunch, they have drinks, they network and socialize and make connections. But they don't consider queries from authors.

The new and improved query went out a couple of weeks ago, but between the long weekend and BEA, there's not a single response. With the literary journals closing up for the summer holidays, I'm running out of places to submit to, and that makes the waiting that much more difficult. Nothing better to do, it would appear, than work on another manuscript.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

They Don't Know How Lucky They Are

Publicity is doing its dirty work, as the buzz over the new Sex and the City film has some women chattering. Can't wait to go see it, they say, to study the fashions and all those shoes.

Men, on the other hand, are facing a truly horrific choice. Go with the partner and sit through over two hours of sheer torture, or live with the dire consequences. Some men, however, are surely blessed by God.

Thanks to an ongoing dispute between the Ward Anderson cinema chain and Entertainment Film Distributors, the movie will not be seen in any Ward Anderson facility. That means that a clever man will offer to take his lady to the Savoy on Dublin's O'Connell Street, and then pretend to be dismayed that the film is not opening there after all.

To create a truly complex ruse, one need only suggest a weekend in Killarney or Tralee, where once again there will be no cinematic women on the prowl for men in New York City at a Ward Anderson venue.

The key to saving your brain from the torment is to avoid any towns that feature UCI cinemas. This distributor has laid in extra seats at several venues, planning to cash in on the demand by women who dream of outlandish apparel and a closet stacked with shoes when they've only the two feet to be shod.

For those who aren't lucky enough to live where the film won't be screened, you have to many men are going to fall ill on Friday or Saturday night, about an hour or two before show time?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Agent Is An Angel....Literally

Writers need agents to negotiate contracts for them. Some writers, like Lorna Byrne, have their contract negotiated by angels.

She believes in angels, and not just the garden variety guardian angel that we're all issued at birth. No indeed, Ms. Byrne sees angels all around, and they talk to her. She talks to them. She's got a six figure deal with Doubleday to publish her memoir, so she must have landed some high powered angels with some very good legal advice at their wing tips.

Angels in My Hair is riding along the upper reaches of the Irish bestsellers, and Ms. Byrne's book is soon to be laid down in Australia. Before much longer, American readers will have a chance to read about her experiences with angels, God popping round for tea, and encounters with dead people. All thanks to the angels.

It was her talent for healing that brought her together with Jean Callanan, a marketing executive who helped Ms. Byrne put the book together. Sometimes it takes real live flesh and blood types to promote things, after all.

The book is selling well because it offers a bundle of Oprah-esque emotions about love and compassion. For a Catholic, it's more of the same old, same old, but in an increasingly secular world, the memoir is a sure hit.

Who wouldn't feel better to know that there's an angel whispering in your ear, giving you guidance? When the pressures of life get to you, isn't it grand to believe that there's a mystic out there who can heal your pain?

Now to convince my angel to fly to New York and work on those four agents who are looking at my manuscript.....

Politics In The Illinois Style

We hear you knocking, said the Supreme Court to former Illinois governor George Ryan. We hear you knocking, but you can't come in.

Convicted of fraud and racketeering, Mr. Ryan has run up the legal ladder in a determined attempt to stay out of jail. His last chance, the Supreme Court, won't bother to hear his so-called case. He's guilty. That's the end of the discussion.

Poor lad. Health gone, career and reputation ground into the dust....and where's the sympathy? How can they let such a man rot in jail?

No doubt the Justices looked over the court transcripts and realized that Mr. Ryan had gotten a fair trial. Let him cry all he likes but he should have thought about the consequences when he was doling out the sweetheart deals and encouraging his employees to accept bribes for his campaign coffers. He was found guilty, and his sentence remains in place.

Former Illinois governor Jim Thompson is wailing and gnashing his teeth as well, sobbing over his colleague's lost pension. A convicted criminal doesn't get to retire on the taxpayer's dime, after all, especially when he pocketed so very many taxpayer dimes during his tenure.

What's to be done, after all legal avenues have turned into blind alleys? Why, turn to the President himself and ask for a pardon for poor little Georgie, so sickly, so frail. Might not live to see the end of his sentence. Ah, sure the heart bleeds for him.

The notion of a presidential pardon is not so far-fetched, if you look at the connections. Jim Thompson, a prominent Illinois Republican, turns to Bob Kjellander, another prominent Illinois Republican who's a member in good standing of the political machine that has all but destroyed the Republican Party in Illinois. As was mentioned in the Tony Rezko fraud trial, Mr. Kjellander is a close friend of Karl Rove, who in turn has the ear of George W. Bush, who trusts his advisors.

That's how it works in Illinois. There are no true Democrats or Republicans, no true aisle to reach across to do a deal. It's only a collection of grifters working a scam and hiding behind a political facade.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What Became Of The Day Off

Noses to the grindstone, the editors of Crazyhorse were hard at work on Memorial Day while their peers were off enjoying baseball and barbecue. Shouldn't they have taken a day off as well?

If they had, I wouldn't have found "...We are sorry this particular manuscript (with emphasis on "this particular") was not selected for publication in Crazyhorse..." in my inbox and I could have had one more day to engage in blissful fantasy. After months of waiting, it came down to another rejection, but on a most upbeat note. That's more than can be said of Glimmer Train, whose editors were also hard at work on a holiday, sending off rejection letters.

Sometimes I get the feeling that literary journals put together a collection and then verify that all the content that they've selected is available. And they keep a second collection of second place finishers in reserve, to move up to the big leagues should a first round selection not pan out. Bad luck for me, to never have cleared that hurdle in a come-from-behind victory.

The editors must have found something worthwhile in the short story that I submitted. After all, they ..."hope (I) will send us another soon, though...". Will this morning be soon enough?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Riverdeep, Mountain High

Do I love you, my oh my.....If I lost you, I would cry....

Don't you love the old songs? The songs you grew up hearing on the radio?

There was once a pirate station in Dublin, back in the early '80's. And there was a young Barry O'Callaghan, dreaming of founding an educational publishing media empire, with his ear pressed to the radio, tuned in to Radio Nova.

His minnowish publishing firm engulfed a couple of whales, but Mr. O'Callaghan still has a few euro in his pocket. He's joined with his pal Pat McDonagh and a few other friends to form a consortium which has applied for a radio license.

Radio Nova is going back on the air, swinging to the oldies....well, we like to call it classic rock because old is what our parents listened.

The radio gig is small beer, and not only when it's compared to HMH Riverdeep. Forecasts call for an initial cost of EU3.8 million, which is a far cry from the billions of euros in debt that financed the publishing conglomeration. With no synergies to decrease expenses, again unlike the massive merger recently completed, Nova will bring in around one million in its first year.

The Broadcasting Commission will hold oral hearings in October, to decide if the father of Riverdeep will get his license.

No word yet on how much time will be given over to commercial spots, but you would imagine that there would be frequent mention of textbooks and on-line products and the occasional advert for Harcourt's latest product.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Got A Guy

Chicago works when you've got a guy.

Need to get that occupancy permit and there's no time to wait for the inspector? You need a guy.

Need zoning changed on a piece of land that you'd like to develop and sell for a tidy profit? You need a guy. Or at the very least, you need a guy who's got a guy.

Everyone knows the game. If you have clout, you can skirt the rules that apply to the commoners. What is common knowledge among the dogs in the street was a startling revelation to David Hoffman, Chicago's Inspector General. The man who runs the show was shocked at the level of corruption in the zoning and building departments. And Barack Obama sat in a church for twenty years and never heard a sermon.

City employees took bribes so that builders could get the right zoning or get a plan approved that didn't meet code. Zoning changes were approved for builders who just happened to make a generous campaign contribution to the local alderman.

Eight city workers were arrested last year, charged with accepting bribes, but the payoffs didn't stop, just because a few guys got caught. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has announced another round of arrests as his crew continues to investigate the entrenched system of corruption that passes for government in the city of Chicago.

William Wellhausen is one of the government employees who got caught. He's got a guy, a powerful guy, who got him his job. Alderman William J.P. Banks, the chairman of the Zoning Committee, saw to it that Mr. Wellhausen was hired, and it had nothing to do with qualifications. Mr. Wellhausen was written into the clout list, the roster that was handed to Mayor Daley's patronage chief, so that the right people were given employment in the right departments.

The patronage chief is in jail, and Mr. Wellhausen will be joining him soon. So Mr. Banks must wonder, will Mr. Wellhausen keep his mouth shut, or will he rat out his clout?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And That Goes For You Too

Back in my younger days, I studied a Katherine Anne Porter short story. All full of imagery, it was, and what was going on in the main character's head and how does the author show, rather than tell, her mindset? It was so obvious, and didn't the critique ruin the story for me? Such is the world of literary analysis. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

In the story, a young lady attends a boxing match after having an argument. Of course, her lack of horror at the brutality of a beating represents her transference of anger to the punched out boxer etc. etc. and can't a blind man see where Ms. Porter was going with this?

It was an obvious outcome because it happens all the time.

Sara Tinsley was merely acting out an updated version of a classic short story. It's so unfair that she should face charges when her story is so old, yet still relevant in these modern times.

It seems that Ms. Tinsley's partner beat the snot of out her, which may explain in part her reason for seeking a divorce from Harry. In retaliation, she stabbed his precious lizards.

Take that, ye feckin' bastard, she may have shouted as she plunged a steak knife into Fred and Ethel. She couldn't very well plunge that knife into himself, could she? She'd be up for murder, and that's taking things to an extreme.

All would have been well if she'd checked the little creatures for a pulse before disposing of the evidence. As bad luck would have it, Fred was not quite deceased, so when his nearly lifeless body was discovered in the dustbin, Ms. Tinsley was hauled in and charged with cruelty to animals.

Sure Harry's in tears over the loss of Ethel, and the $1000 veterinary bill for Fred's life-saving surgery. He can't be all that sorrowful that his about to be ex-wife pleaded guilty to a count of aggravated cruelty to animals and has to go to court.

Chances are, if she had stabbed Harry in the heart and then presented at hospital covered with bruises, no grand jury would have found cause to charge her with murder. But it's those poor defenseless lizards, you see, and she'll have to go to face up to her guilt and be sentenced and pay a fine that she can ill afford.

Transference of anger and retribution might seem like a good idea, on the surface, but it always leads to trouble. Ms. Tinsley should have gone to a boxing match...but then again, she'd already been in one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lay-Offs And New Hires

Would you like to work for " of America's leading publishers of textbooks, educational software, fiction, nonfiction and reference works..."?

In all likelihood, so would the hundreds of people who have gotten the sack recently from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the whale that was swallowed by the Riverdeep minnow.

There's been rounds of consolidations as Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin become one, and that's meant a great deal of synergies being realized. In other words, several people were made redundant because Harcourt already had enough of certain types of employees.

What neither firm had enough of, apparently, is Editorial Associates for the Children's Department. There's an opening.

Here's what you'd be doing if you were lucky enough to get hired, and you've got to believe that none of the hundreds of synergies were qualified or they'd have snatched up the position rather than go on the dole.

The Editorial Associate provides editorial support for assigned

Sounds simple enough. But you'll also be expected to proofread, copy edit, traffic manuscripts, write selling copy for tip sheets, write flap copy catalog copy, and when you've got that nailed down you're expected to read and write reader's reports, handle agent relations and do research on authors and illustrators.

So it's getting to be eight at night and your work day still isn't finished. Before you go home, you'll have to track materials, correspond with authors and freelancers, create and maintain files, do the photocopying, distribute those copies, and schedule meetings.

Not just anyone can handle that sort of job. HMHRiverdeep et al. is looking for an employee who can work independently, set priorities, be well organized, manage projects well, and be able to communicate well with authors, illustrators, agents. Not to mention being possessed of customer service skills.

If this sounds like you, and you don't mind doing the work of three people for the pay of one, then you can apply on-line at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and ask after Job Number 5235.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Strangest Of Bedfellows

In a startling expose, it has been revealed that a group working mightily against passage of the Lisbon Treaty is connected with.....the U.S. military.

We all know that Sinn Fein is dead set against the new treaty that is coming up for a referendum in Ireland. They were against the European Union's constitution, as were so many Europeans that the constitutional referenda were halted. Now the constitution is back in fancy dress, masquerading as the Lisbon Treaty, and the Shinners are still against it.

However, it's not Sinn Fein that's in bed with the U.S. There's another group out there, just as dead set against the Treaty as the Shinners. They call their special interest group "Libertas Institute, Ltd.", but nearly every member is an employee of Rivada Networks LLC's Galway subsidiary.

Rivada was founded by Declan Ganley of Galway, and five of his colleagues operating Libertas are residents of Galway. The company makes communications widgets for a segment of the U.S. military and a few national guard units, so it hardly constitutes a secret CIA plot to undermine the Lisbon Treaty. And yet, one does wonder.

Sinn Fein is so riddled with informers that it's hard to say whether or not they've been infiltrated by Rivada Networks. According to reports, Libertas didn't spend a euro last fiscal year on their "No" campaign, while Sinn Fein has pumped out hundreds of thousands of leaflets. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and there could be nothing stranger than Sinn Fein united with the U.S. military. The Shinners must really, really, really be anti-Treaty.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Me, Too

When Alexi Giannoulias ran for Illinois State Treasurer, he had to duck an unpleasant fact about his past. As an executive at his family's bank, he had approved a loan to a known member of Chicago's Outfit. He was the banker to the Mob, an unpleasant appellation that hung around his neck but did not upset the voters who followed the Machine's marching orders.

Illinois' finances are in a very poor state, although Mr. Giannoulias has no control over the budget overruns and the insanity of the sitting governor. Even so, when the time comes for re-election, what does he point to with pride and trumpet as a grand accomplishment?

The wheels are in motion, albeit in a "Me, too" sort of way. The name of William Cellini arose during the course of the Tony Rezko trial, in that Mr. Cellini the Republican power-broker held a fund-raiser for Democrat Rod Blagojevich. It's all about reaching across the aisle, isn't it....reaching for the pay-out, the cut of the action.

Mr. Giannoulias is going to release a report that describes one such sleazy deal, in which Mr. Cellini and pals obtained a loan from the state to open a hotel in Springfield. Terms were generous, to the point that the loan was never repaid. The Treasurer's report will describe the scam in operation, where money was diverted to cover Christmas gifts and creative accounting hid any profit that would have required some payment made on the loan. Patrick Fitzgerald's probe brought the filth up for air, and now Mr. Giannoulias would like to gain some political capital, riding Mr. Fitzgerald's coat tails with an expose carrying his name.

The original loan? That was concocted by Jim Thompson, the Republican Governor of Illinois. And when Mr. Cellini and his cohorts couldn't make their payments? Mr. Thompson reached across the aisle and renegotiated the loan with the help of Treasurer Jerome Cosentino. Democrat. That's the sort of reaching across the aisle that Senator Barack Obama knows so well. It's how it's done in Illinois.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tilting At Clout-Driven Windmills

You have to extend a note of sympathy to Brendan Reilly, alderman of Chicago's 42nd ward. The rookie politician has been beset on all sides by conflict and citizen complaints that he has no chance of righting.

Mr. Reilly is a freshman on the Chicago City Council, and he's not one of Mayor Daley's boys. That much is obvious, given Mr. Reilly's strong opposition to the relocating of the Children's Museum to a choice corner of Grant Park. The mayor wants the park moved there, as do his influential friends, and the museum is going there whether the people like it or not. This is Chicago, after all, the city that for some, at any rate.

Now the alderman has tried to take on the well-positioned owners of Dick's Last Resort, a bar that prides itself on being loud and rude to its neighbors. They've chosen to relocate as well, to an available spot at the bottom of the iconic Marina City towers. Unclouted residents of the complex don't want all the noise drifting up to their flats while they're trying to sleep, and they've turned to their alderman to put a stop to it. It's never going to happen. Mr. Reilly has no clout in City Hall.

If Alderman Reilly had been wise, he would have gone along with Mayor Daley on the Chicago Children's Museum deal. He would have gained political capital, which might have been spent on blocking Dick's Last Resort. Alas, the alderman tries to play fair, but this is Chicago after all, the city that works.

Efforts to label Marina City as a protected landmark will never get past the City Council, and Dick's will install their roll-up doors and the sound will travel out and bounce off the Chicago River and reverberate through Marina City.

When it's election time again, Mr. Reilly will have no accomplishments on his roster of repeated failures. Someone else will run against him, someone who understands how the city that works, works. The entrenched will become further entrenched, and Chicago will continue to work for a select few.

Channeling His Inner Neville Chamberlain

Rather than repeat history, we would do well to remember what has gone before.....

When you hear talk of appeasement, this is what it's all about. Sure a picture's worth a thousand words.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wrong Form

Literary agents employ a few different rejection letters, all to suit the need of the moment.

A standard issue rejection comes in handy when the agent is swamped and can't consider another author. Something kind, of course, to let the writer down gently, but it's all quite boiler-plate. The writing might be dreadful, the plot trite, or the query nearly incomprehensible, but it's one size fits all when it comes to a straightforward rejection. Some agents will fire off something that implies they'd not mind if the author sent something else, or on the rare occasion, might suggest that the novelist query an agent friend who might like that sort of story.

Then there's the wrong form altogether. Robin Straus's assistant lifted a sheet from some other pile of form rejection letters, and I've got a rather odd reply to my query.

"Thanks for sending the material we requested," she begins. What material might that be? I only sent a query letter, and you didn't even ask for it.

"We gave this a considered reading," the note goes on, followed by the usual bit about not falling in love, etc. It was nothing more than a one page query letter, and a considered reading couldn't have taken up too much time I hope.

No matter. It's another rejection just the same, to a query letter I've stopped using because it wasn't working. On to the next agent.

Recalling The Rising

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey is putting forth a concept that could not be more timely.

Two years ago, only 2% of the population did much touring by bicycle, not counting those too young to drive one must presume. Mr. Dempsey would like that number to climb to 10% by 2020. An action plan will soon be put into place to promote cycling as a form of transportation, all sustainable and eco-friendly. But what about putting an historical spin on the notion?

Twelve years on, just over one hundred years since the Easter Rising, Mr. Dempsey believes that cycling will make a resurgence. Why drive a car when you can pedal your way from Rathkeale to Newcastlewest, or wheel from the Four Courts to Boland's Mill? What better time to recall the day when those very trips were made by leg power, petrol free?

How many women were recruited by the rebels because they had a bicycle? Messages flew from one side of the island to another, carried by young women who rode two wheels because few people had four wheels and a motor.

There's the biggest stumbling block in this scheme to get more people moving under their own power. When Ireland was poor, and that's not so long ago, bicycling was all the rage because there was no other choice. To listen to Mr. Dempsey promote cycling is to awaken some memories in those old enough to have lived through a time when owning a car was a mark of status. Riding a bike? Who wants to go back to that era?

The younger generation, those who know of nothing but prosperity, should be the target audience for the cycling promotion. They could be swayed by a marketing campaign that would apply status to the most expensive, elaborate and quality-engineered bicycle...something that costs as much as a car. Good luck getting them to actually use it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

We're All Grand

Ministers of Finance deal with such huge sums of money on a daily basis that it's no wonder one particular minister wouldn't take note of the piddling change in his own accounts.

The Mahon Tribunal continues to explore Bertie Ahern's tangled finances, focusing now on the money that went towards St. Luke's and the Cumann O'Donovan Rossa. Who better to ask about finances than Fianna Fail's treasurer?

How much money was in the three accounts associated with the constituency and the cumann? Well, how much is "grand"? Liam Cooper kept tabs on one account and asked after the other two which he didn't have control over. He'd ask Tim Collins or Joe Burke, trustees of the accounts, what the bottom line was, and they'd assure him it was grand. It's all there yet, they'd say, it's grand. Sure it's grand, Mr. Cooper would reply, but how does one insert "grand" into an income statement?

Money in envelopes, sterling and Irish pounds, exchanged back and forth like so many pieces of colored paper....Judge Mahon finds it a bit odd, not quite the normal way of doing business. For trustee Joe Burke, it's business as usual. Twenty thousand in a safe, getting transformed into sterling and back again, why, what's so unusual about all that? It's a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's Still A Rejection

Last march, I sent a query to William Clark. At the time, I thought it was a good letter, but I've since revised it and made a brand new hook with a different character playing the lead.

At any rate, Mr. Clark was quick to respond to the e-query. Within a week, it was a form rejection, one in a series of rejections that suggested my query wasn't working, hence the revision and all that.

Today, he rejected my query again. No, not the new and improved version. He rejected the same submission that he rejected in March.

Was this to emphasize his lack of desire to read more? A couple of months gone by, and in case I was thinking of submitting again, well, I'm not forgotten apparently and I'd never slip in under his agent radar.

It was a rejection in March. It's still a rejection in May. I hope we don't continue this depressing correspondence any further.

The Bright Dawning Of Realization

There are aid directors out there who have just now discovered a dazzling fact that everyone but the aid directors saw coming.

Relief supplies were sent to Burma and officials refused to accept them. Then, the same officials grudgingly accepted the supplies but they absolutely refused the aid workers who came with the aid.

The Burmese won't be able to distribute the aid efficiently, the directors noted, because they don't have the experience or the resources. The rest of the world did not see this as a problem, because the rest of the world believed that the Burmese officials weren't going to distribute the aid to the needy anyway.

Sure enough, directors are stunned to discover that relief supplies were never given out to those in need. The dictatorship took all those expensive supplies and put them away in warehouses, to be sold on perhaps or used to feed the soldiers who keep the dictatorship in power.

There hasn't been much public outcry over the cyclone in Burma, but it's not because people are tapped out or weary of being asked for help. The average person is well aware of how Burma operates, and they're not so stupid as to donate money that will never reach the person who needs it. Why give to some charity that will give the money to Burmese officials? What's the point?

Still, relief agencies send supplies, in some naive hope that the ruling junta will grow a conscience. In the meantime, Burmese soldiers maintain their strength and health on the dime of the outside world, while those who would seek to overturn the existing government grow weak and die. For the ruling junta, the cyclone couldn't have been more welcome.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Island, One Court

The town of Omagh lies within the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Crown Courts. Ten years ago, a bomb went off on a busy street and twenty-nine people died. Today, a judge from the north will sit in a Dublin courtroom and gather evidence from Republic of Ireland citizens. In this case, the border has been effectively erased.

Seven years ago, the European Union issued a directive related to evidence being taken for a civil trial. For the first time in Ireland, the directive has been put into play. Mr. Justice Declan Morgan of the Northern Ireland High Court will join district judge Conal Gibbons in Dublin, to hear evidence in a civil case against four men thought to have been involved in the Omagh bombing.

An Garda Siochana has long been monitoring and observing all sorts of shady characters along the border. A line on a map does not translate into a less than porous barrier, after all, and IRA operatives had been shuttling from one side to the other since the partition. It was a matter of public interest to mind those who splintered off from the old Irish Republican Army. Knowing that the gardai had relevant information, the Crown could call on them to testify in the court case that has been brought by relatives of the victims, but the Irish government was hesitant to let the gardai speak.

In an Irish court, a garda could claim immunity to avoid answering a question that might harm some ongoing investigation. In the Northern Ireland courtroom, that immunity would not apply. Without the gardai testifying, the plaintiffs in the civil trial would be at a disadvantage. To avoid that problem, the High Court in the north asked Dublin for help. Last month, the proper legislation was put into place.

A judge from the north is sitting next to a judge from the south. The border makes no difference. It's as if Ireland is one island, under one set of rules, and isn't that what the Real IRA was after when they set off that bomb ten years ago?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Average And Ordinary

The query letter has been tweaked beyond recognition, all in an attempt to craft a beguiling hook and a synopsis that will leave a literary agent asking for more.

All the other query letters before it have failed to garner much of a response from agents, beyond the occasional rejection. By and large, it's been silence at the e-query end, and even the SASE has failed to come home to roost.

Why not take a chance? Agent Janet Reid at Fineprint Literary is running a new blog in which she analyzes query letters in her own unique and snarky way. She's looking for material, so what's the harm in offering up this new query for a professional take?

After a week, there have been other queries examined. Not mine. Of course.

What I put together follows the standard protocol. The hook may not be irresistible, but it's average. The plot description may not be perfect, but it's adequate. It's ordinary. The query is not so dreadful that Ms. Reid could craft a delightful blog post, but it's not a good example either.

Christina Hogrebe at Jane Rotrosen's agency is accepting queries again. Perhaps she won't find the letter quite so average and ordinary. All I can do is try.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Let There Be Dancing In The Streets

St. James Gate lives on.

Drinks conglomerate Diageo has decided that they will continue to brew Guinness where it has been brewed for the past 250 years. The grand and glorious pile at St. James Gate will not be shuttered after all. Lift a pint of the black stuff and rejoice.

What is good news for Dublin is sorrow for Kilkenny and Dundalk, where a couple of satellite facilities have been percolating to meet global demand. At a time when job losses in Ireland are climbing, the addition of 250 able-bodied workers to the unemployment rolls is not welcome news.

The Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate is a huge tourist attraction, and the demise of a drinker's beauty spot would have marred the Diageo reputation. In addition, any potential overseas clients could have been lost if they didn't have a chance to sample the tasty beverage from the top of the visitor center, looking out over Dublin. As a business decision, it made sense to keep the original site up and running as part of an overall marketing strategy.

There's still money to be made in stout, ale and lager. Diageo plans to build a new brewery somewhere in Dublin, to expand on their export production. Sales are down in Ireland, but the rest of the world is guzzling Guinness like never before. With one new and bigger brewery, Diageo is expecting to need fewer employees while increasing production, making for a decrease in overhead and an increase in profit.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

The High Court's Parting Gift

Amidst all the pomp of Brian Cowen's elevation to taoiseach, the lovely parting gift that Bertie Ahern received might go unnoticed.

The High Court ruled in Mr. Ahern's favor. Thanks for eleven years, thanks for the economic stimulus, here's a token of our gratitude and esteem.

During the course of the Mahon Tribunal's inquiries into Mr. Ahern's financial dealings in the late '90's, he was asked about a few things that came up during the course of parliamentary proceedings in the Dail. Not so fast, claimed the taoiseach. I was babbling in the Oireachtas and you can't use any statements I made there. There's article 15.13 to consider.

How could anyone expect a politician, in the heat of debate, to be thinking about their words and whether or not they could swear under oath that what they said was true? Would a member be afraid to use trickery or obfuscation to win an opponent over to the other side? It isn't right that any of the hot air blown out of the building would be subject to inquiry by a sitting legal body. Even the framers of the Irish Constitution realized that much.

The High Court agrees with Bertie. What he said in the Dail about lodgements made to certain accounts was not fodder for the Mahon Tribunal.

Testimony given in the course of a tribunal hearing is said under oath. What is uttered in the Dail is, apparently, gibberish.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Need Of Fiscal Viagra

The publishing concern that made nude photos mainstream is now doddering, old and looking somewhat incontinent. Playboy Enterprises Inc. has been falling for a long time, failing to keep up with the rest of the porno pack on its old, arthritic legs.

Other magazines are available with more graphic photographs. Other cable channels are available with sex scenes on demand. There's enough pornography on the Internet to eat up all the bandwidth available. What was cutting edge fifty years ago has slipped back until it is so far from the edge that it's been left in the rear, outpaced by rapidly changing technology.

Shares of Hugh Hefner's enterprise have hit a 52-week low, presenting shareholders with first quarter results that fell short of expectations. Not that many men are picking up a copy of the magazine, which used to be famous for its soft-core porn as well as its notable columnists. Fewer lads are sitting in front of a cable-accessing television.

Back in the day, when the Chicago Mafia held sway over Las Vegas, a young man could turn to Hugh Hefner's advice on how to be cool. Clearly those days are well over, and the men who once read Playboy are now looking for advice on pacemakers and the most effective statins.

The publishing firm will re-work its web presence, but it's a game of catch-up rather than setting the pace. Once the innovator in delivering dirty pictures to Middle America, Playboy Enterprises is becoming irrelevant in a world that its founder essentially created.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Home Bound, Carbon Lite

Have you calculated your carbon footprint yet? Have you figured out how to get that number down?

There's more that you could do, a laundry list of ideas that you probably haven't yet considered. Minister John Gormley is ready with some simple suggestions to help us all decrease our contribution.

1. Become a vegetarian.

Eat only vegetables, and you can reduce the amount of CO2 that you exude. Avoid meat and the world will require fewer domesticated animals with all their flatulence, to say nothing of the CO2 that the beasts give off with every exhalation. The meat industry trots around the globe on enormous carbon feet, and it's up to each and every citizen to do their bit by joining the vegetable squad.

1. Sell your car.

Walk or bike or take public transportation wherever you go. That's such an obvious solution, it's a wonder more people don't follow suit. Vehicle emissions are a large source of pollutants, and you'd shrink your Yeti-sized carbon footprint in no time if you quit driving. Naturally, if you've purchased a house in the far-flung suburbs, you'll want to sell it immediately, unless your boss will be understanding and allow you to work from home. Otherwise, you'll have to quit your job and find another line of work that will let you lower your CO2.

3. Don't fly.

Avoid the airline industry like the carbon plague that it is. Stay away from planes at all costs. If you must go to Europe for a holiday, go by wind-powered schooner or hire a crew to man some oars. As Mr. Gormley has noted, "...once you step on a plane your CO2 emissions go through the roof." You don't want that, do you?

So stay at home and tend your vegetable garden. And by all means, try not to exhale.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Story Hour

If you were fortunate enough to live near a public library, you may have trundled off on a Saturday morning to hear a story. At the appointed hour, the children's librarian would take a seat at the head of a small group of eager ears, and read books aloud.

What better way to encourage reading than to show how grand an experience it could be? The young listeners were transported to other times and places, setting off on voyages of imagination, and discovered that such a trip was easy to take as long as they had a book under the nose.

Even now, adults organize book groups to read and discuss the latest best seller or obscure classic. A meeting is often nothing more than an opportunity to socialize, to mingle and chat with fellow literates, but attendance at the meeting does force a member to actually read the book.

Green Party deputy leader Mary White would like to combine the children's story hour with the adult's book group and bring the magic of books to those who may not otherwise experience the pleasure of reading.

She'd like the government to fund training for librarians so that they could run meetings in which adults would read to anyone who wished to listen. Hospital patients, school children and jailed criminals would all benefit from being read aloud to. The elderly, isolated in their homes, might be drawn out and given an opportunity to interact with people. There's even a name for it --- bibliotherapy.

As government-run schemes go, this seems far more useful to the general public than most of the things that politicians believe to be essential for citizens' good. All well and good to provide public transportation, subsidies and school lunches. Why not provide a little food for the soul?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Down The Rabbit Hole

The architects who have re-designed Chicago's new Children's Museum are clearly great fans of Lewis Carroll. Why else would they come up with a structure that is as hidden as a rabbit hole?

Friends of open park lands have repeatedly pointed out that the Illinois Supreme Court long ago held that the city's lakefront had to be kept free of buildings and obstructions. It's open land, parks and green space, so you can't plunk a pile of bricks and mortar where those with clout would like to plunk said bricks.

Here you go, the latest revision: a children's museum that is so entirely underground that you won't even know it's there. How very pleasant for the little wee ones, to jump down the rabbit hole just like Alice. Will they be serving up tea with the Mad Hatter at four in the afternoon?

No structures, say those who are against the museum's proposed location. In that case, say the architects, we shall eliminate the skylights that were meant to bring in natural light to the subterranean burrow. The entrance pavilion leaves the park and moves out to the public sidewalk. No structures on the park's grassy turf, you see? Brilliant.

Not quite there yet, says Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago. Nothing obstructs the open views, but there was a bit more to the court ruling all those years ago. No obstruction can be built that is private, or that charges admission, or that is not dedicated for park purposes.

Where's the biggest stumbling block in that long list? It's the admission business. The Children's Museum will charge a fee, and that should keep those poor black kids from the ghetto out of the place. This is a museum for white kids whose parents can afford the cost of a ticket. Making the museum free to all comers would defeat the purpose of putting a posh kiddie attraction in a posh neighborhood.

There are plenty of other suitable locations for a children's museum in Chicago, sites that would not require the construction of Alice's Wonderland. The society doyennes, however, want their names plastered about in places where their friends can see those names, and that pretty much limits their desired location to Chicago's Millennium Park.

Perhaps a sixth revision is in order, one that includes a croquet field over the top of the rabbit warren. I'm sure the Lincoln Park Zoo could be called upon to provide the flamingos.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Threatened By Symbolism

A cardinal, an archbishop and a moderator walk into Jerusalem and the bartender says, cover up them crosses, lads, you're in Jewish territory now.

Or something to that effect.

A group of Irish church leaders, including Cardinal Sean Brady, Church of Ireland Archbishop Alan Harper, Presbyterian moderator John Finlay and Methodist moderator Roy Cooper, were on a visit to Israel. They called on the grandson of Ireland's first chief rabbi, and Isaac Herzog suggested that they stop at the Wailing Wall. Welcome any time, he assured them, and when the clergymen found that they had a bit of time to kill between meetings, they took Mr. Herzog up on the offer.

Sure it was all a misunderstanding. The security guards weren't in sync with the spirit of cead mile failte. They got one look at the crosses worn by the four clerics, and it was Katie bar the door.

To say the least, Mr. Herzog was embarrassed, having invited guests who were then turned away. He's apologized, of course, and isn't it all the worse that the Irish group had just come from calling on the Al Aqsa mosque when they arrived at the Wailing Wall? The Muslims let them in to their holy site, and the Jews said no? As a PR move, it was a disaster.

Cardinal Brady has been magnanimous about the misunderstanding. Asking a clergyman to take off his cross might have been a grand faux pas, but these things happen in these touchy days. No harm done, and if the quartet had not been pressed for time, they would have waited for officials to sort out the confusion.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, whose territory includes the Western Wall, was not so apologetic. He was less than pleased that the clergymen refused to take off their crosses out of respect for a Jewish holy place. Why, a Jew wouldn't wear his prayer shawl when entering a Christian holy place, would he now?

Hard to imagine the average Christian telling a rabbi he couldn't come in to the Pro-Cathedral with his prayer shawl draped over his shoulders. It would result in a different misunderstanding, in which the Christian would be trying to raise the heat in the church because the visitor was so cold that he was wearing a wool blanket. Not all symbols get interpreted in the right way if you don't know what it is that's supposed to be getting symbolized.

I Got A Guy

Chicago works when you've got a guy.

Need to get that occupancy permit and there's no time to wait for the inspector? You need a guy.

Need zoning changed on a piece of land that you'd like to develop and sell for a tidy profit? You need a guy. Or at the very least, you need a guy who's got a guy.

Everyone knows the game. If you have clout, you can skirt the rules that apply to the commoners. What is common knowledge among the dogs in the street was a startling revelation to David Hoffman, Chicago's Inspector General. The man who runs the show was shocked at the level of corruption in the zoning and building departments. And Barack Obama sat in a church for twenty years and never heard a sermon.

City employees took bribes so that builders could get the right zoning or get a plan approved that didn't meet code. Zoning changes were approved for builders who just happened to make a generous campaign contribution to the local alderman.

Eight city workers were arrested last year, charged with accepting bribes, but the payoffs didn't stop, just because a few guys got caught. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has announced another round of arrests as his crew continues to investigate the entrenched system of corruption that passes for government in the city of Chicago.

William Wellhausen is one of the government employees who got caught. He's got a guy, a powerful guy, who got him his job. Alderman William J.P. Banks, the chairman of the Zoning Committee, saw to it that Mr. Wellhausen was hired, and it had nothing to do with qualifications. Mr. Wellhausen was written into the clout list, the roster that was handed to Mayor Daley's patronage chief, so that the right people were given employment in the right departments.

The patronage chief is in jail, and Mr. Wellhausen will be joining him soon. So Mr. Banks must wonder, will Mr. Wellhausen keep his mouth shut, or will he rat out his clout?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Poliltics In A Novel

You've heard the advice to write what you know. That doesn't mean that you restrict your prose to your personal experiences, of course. Anyone can go to a reference library and research a topic, and gain knowledge to write on a particular subject or period of time. Through study, you could even write about a different country, one you've never set eyes on.

That's what Asne Seierstad did. She wrote "The Bookseller of Kabul" after examining letters of Afghani women who spoke of their lives and the things going on around them. At the Cuirt Festival in Galway, her credentials came under fire.

A member of the audience called out Ms. Seierstad, who happens to be Norwegian, and claimed that the author wrote from a Westerner's perspective and therefore had no business writing about Afghanistan. Not exactly the sort of thing one would care to deal with on a book tour, to be heckled from the crowd.

Ms. Seierstad fired back, explaining the use of documents to gain knowledge that would be turned into a story arc. Things must have gotten heated, because at some point, the novelist asked her questioner if she'd even read the book at all.

It's no surprise that things would get so testy at the literary festival. Galway was packed with the politically bent, from novelists to poets, all speaking out against the injustice that they document in their words. Novelist Ronan Bennett took Salman Rushdie to task for accepting a knighthood, and then he proceeded to criticize Martin Amis for making comments against Muslims. Poets from South Africa read verses that arose from apartheid and imprisonment, while memoirists sought strength to fight HIV and breast cancer.

Just when things were getting increasingly glum and morose, former stand-up comedian Dave Gorman injected a dose of humour with an excerpt from his latest novel. The young people need something, don't they? With all that doom and gloom, it's no wonder that they aren't flocking to the Cuirt Festival.

Throw in some short stories, and every segment of the literary world had its time on the stage, to present the state of the world and decry the politics of the age. History's written in novels as well, isn't it?