Saturday, August 30, 2008

Welcome To Winnetka, Have A Cookie

If all goes as planned, 150 buses will be packed with poor kids and sent up to Winnetka, Illinois, where the rich kids go to school. It's a big show, to get a spotlight shining on James Meeks, while Chicago kids miss a day of school and everyone gets reminded about the way that schools are funded in Illinois.

Those wealthy kids have everything, and the poor have nothing. In the mind of Rev. Meeks, that's why the poor kids don't do well on tests and go to college and get good jobs. It's all about the money.

It has nothing to do with the two-tiered school system in Chicago, where property taxes are sky-high. The poor black kids could try for a spot in the magnet schools, which are better than the high school in Winnetka, but that doesn't fit the scenario Mr. Meeks is trying to paint.

The poor black kids aren't suffering so much from a lack of funding. There's not a huge difference in the amount that Chicago pays per pupil as compared to other wealthy communities. What they're lacking is attitude.

Students in wealthy communities don't have the option of failing. If anything proves difficult, they will be told to study more. They cannot quit. They cannot take it easy. No one in their family will tell them that it's all right to give up. Parent-teacher conferences are taken seriously and the parents are guaranteed to be there. Students in wealthy communities are not allowed to misbehave in class. They are under pressure to perform, to excel, to succeed.

On Tuesday, the cameras will roll and the highly organized event will be shunted off to a little used campus on the far west side of town, where fewer Winnetka residents will be inconvenienced by the traffic. The New Trier parents will serve water and cookies to their visitors. They won't serve up the rules that govern their own children's success.

Catholic schools have a record of success on a tight budget. There's plenty of money put into the Chicago public school system, and the real issue isn't money. The problem is where those dollars go, whose pockets are lined, and 150 busloads of Chicago schoolchildren won't solve that.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sometimes You Can't Suspend Disbelief

The Ken Burns video played out on the screens. The common man, surrounded by his white relations; the black folks wept with joy at the history being made, the candidate declared to be black in spite of his origins.

The man who supported the likes of Emil Jones, the Strogers pere et fils, and Richard Daley, was trumpeted as the vector of change. The man who turned to Tony Rezko when the dogs in the street knew the influence peddler was radioactive was presented as the embodiment of ethics.

I turned off the television and went back to the novel I was reading. Good fiction requires the suspension of disbelief. Bad fiction makes it impossible for the reader, or the listener, to continue because the premise is too fantastic.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not Irish Enough

Genealogists claim that John McCain's ancestors hailed from the north of Ireland, while Barack Obama's roots only run as far north as Offaly. This would explain their divergent attitudes about the need for an American presence in Northern Ireland.

There's been a special U.S. envoy keeping an eye on the peace process for a long time. Mr. Obama believes that, ten years after the peace proceess began, there's no need. It was a Clinton policy anyway, and he's keen to rid himself of all things Clintonian.

As for Mr. McCain, with drops of the north coursing through his veins, he sees the envoy as key to holding the fragile peace together. Get rid of the special envoy? Doesn't that demonstrate the untested lad's poor judgment and complete lack of foreign policy savvy?

Mr. Obama has no intention of putting an end to the great tradition of welcoming the sitting Taoiseach on St. Paddy's Day. He might even make his way to County Offaly, to call on the old homestead, after he's elected. It's not as if he means to cut Ireland out of the picture altogether.

The bricks and Molotov cocktails have been flying in Antrim of late. You'd have to believe that the folks huddled in their homes would like that special envoy to stick around a bit longer, until the peace can find its legs and support itself.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blue Ribbons And Dustbins

There's a tight link between the county fair and the display of baked goods. Winning a blue ribbon for the best apple pie in the county is a prize much sought after, and being able to sample the best apple pie in the county is a treat worth paying for.

Unless you're in Europe, in which case you're not to touch that entry. By law, it must be chucked in the dustbin.

In a bid to direct every single minute fragment of life, the European Union has decreed that baked goods in competition must be destroyed after the judges have tasted. Once Joe Mellett of the Mayo County Council has nibbled on Mrs. Hartnett's whisky cake, it must be removed and treated like hazardous waste. That's how restrictive, and ridiculous, the European Union has become.

Mr. Mellett is still in shock over the latest directive from Brussels. Who would bother to bake a beautiful cake for the agricultural fair baking competition if they knew it was going to be dumped in the landfill as soon as a few crumbs were consumed? He's afraid that people won't bother, and that's the end of the baking contest at the fair.

What truly boggles the mind is that there's a bureaucrat somewhere who actually thought about this, and came up with a law to regulate it. No doubt it's some clever lad whose mother couldn't bake a cake if her life depended on it, and he's hell bent to eliminate the source of her failure.

It's all about making it fair for everyone, those who can and those who can't. Now no one can.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guinness For Strength

High in iron, huge in taste, the Irish know how to brew up some nutritious products.

Now comes word that Glanbia has bought out Optimum Nutrition, manufacturer of some less than yummy items like pure whey protein and creatine powder.

The deal was reportedly worth $315 million, picked up for cash by Ireland's biggest food group. Stockbrokers and analysts are pleased with the purchase, what with Glanbia being in the food business and the sports supplement market being an offshoot.

The two firms should get along splendidly. Glanbia is looking to expand into the nutrition market, and Optimum's employees will gain new markets for their products.

Glanbia is happy to have a ready-made company to give them a leg up, with the sports nutrition market said to be worth a couple of hundred billion euros. And the users of Optimum Nutrition's products should soon be finding that their supplements are more flavorful than ever. After all, Glanbia's big in cheese and butter. Won't they be adding a touch of Ireland in every bottle and gelatin capsule?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Laws Of Moses

The Catholics are always going on about the decline in numbers, about those who marry outside the faith and how can the bishops force them to raise their children as Catholics. The Jews are just as bad, crying over their male offspring who find nice non-Jewish girls and the Jews will be wiped out in a generation if this doesn't end.

A Chicago dentist found a way to encourage his grandchildren to avoid such tainted unions. Max Feinberg left a codicil in his will, disinheriting any of his heirs if they didn't marry a Jew.

And as anyone would expect, it's led straight to a court room with the aunts and the grandchildren at one another's throats.

There's funny business going on with the estate, claimed a couple of grandkids who didn't find romance among the Chosen People.

You should have thought about Grandfather's will before you tied the knot, said Mr. Feinberg's son. All this talk about funds not being distributed properly is due entirely to the complaining party, namely the kids with gentile spouses, not being happy with Grandfather Max's wishes. His last will and testament is what it is, and the son was only doing what his father wanted done with his money.

The Illinois Appellate Court is looking at the case, and the judges aren't united on the issue. His Honor Mr. Patrick Quinn, and I guarantee he's no more Jewish than I am, is upset at this display of bigotry beyond the grave. Can a grandfather forbid his descendants from marrying a black person? An Irish Catholic? As far as Judge Alan Greiman is concerned, the answer is yes. It's Max Feingold's money to do with as he pleased.

And then a third judge broke the tie and Max Feingold's so called "Jewish clause" was declared null and void. Even in death, you can't discriminate.

The case has been kicked up to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The family is torn apart, with writs flying like snow in a blizzard. Charges of mismanagement, of fraud and deception, are tossed about, while Max Feinberg's son tries to do what his father asked be done. It's cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

There's a reason why greed and avarice are deadly sins. Sure that's a Catholic notion and not something out of the Old Testament.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Fighting Irish

Light-heavyweight boxer Kenny Egan is going for the gold in Beijing.

The pride of Ireland, the captain of the boxing team, has punched his way to the medals podium, where he just might be standing soon, a gold medal around his neck. Mr. Egan has vowed to leave it all in the ring, nothing held back.

The fighting Irish aren't located entirely in South Bend, Indiana.

His last bout will be a tough one indeed, going against local favorite Zhang Xiaoping. The stands will be filled with raucous Chinese, while the Irish will be cheering from homes across the island.

Can someone make sure that Mr. Egan doesn't touch any Tiger Balm or Icy Hot or, in a pinch, a dab of Equi-block? Keep all over-the-counter cold medicines and the like out of his hands?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Doping At The Olympics

You'll see balms and creams advertised everywhere, replete with the magical ingredient capsaicin. It's what makes hot peppers hot, and it's supposed to be great for relieving arthritis pain and soothing sore muscles. It's also banned in the Olympics.

Horses have their own brands of pain-relieving ointments containing capsaicin, and Denis Lynch made the mistake of using it on his horse. He didn't think twice about rubbing a bit of Equi-Block on Lantinus. It's not a product requiring a prescription or a vet's approval.

A horse jumping in Olympic competition is an athlete, and is subject to the same doping tests. The lab in Hong Kong discovered capsaicin in Lantinus' samples, and so Tipperary native Denis Lynch was disqualified from the competition.

Capsaicin works the same in horses as in people, but when it's a champion jumper that's getting pain relief, it's not allowed. A showjumper that isn't feeling a twinge would jump a bit better, hence the performance would be enhanced and performance enhancement is strictly forbidden for all athletes competing in the Olympic Games.

You'd think that after the Athens Olympics, when Cian O'Connor lost his gold medal because his horse turned up with traces of banned substances, that Ireland's riders would be doubly cautious. However, the Irish horse wasn't alone in showing traces of capsaicin. Brazil, Germany and Norway also had riders tossed out.

Mr. Lynch faces a long-term ban from showjumping, unless he can convince the ruling body that he wasn't cheating, but was merely rubbing his horse with the sort of cream that any desk jockey would apply after a weekend of yard work. The equestrian federation will have to decide if this is a new angle to get horses to lift their legs higher, or if riders were only tending to their horses with loving care.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Limits Of Technology

Windows has encountered a problem and must close.

The Word program was in the process of saving the changes made to a manuscript that has been in progress for the past five years.

Windows encountered a problem and closed, the manuscript was lost.

Five years of work, disappeared. The only remaining glimmer was a recovered document in Notepad, a string of question marks, gibberish. The only copy of the manuscript that was being re-written from a second draft is as gone as if it had never been written.

All that remains is the first draft in hard copy, and a back-up of the first 18,000 words. The rest is lost to the limits of technology, to the crash of a computer program that wiped out five years of inspiration. I'm at a loss for words.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Resonating With The Agent's Authors

Whether or not you should drop an author's name in your query is a subject of debate. Some literary agents like to know that you know the market, know who's selling and what's hot. Some think it's ridiculous because no two writers are alike and they'll be the judge of how marketable your story is.

When you've done the research and found a book you think is similar to your style or the tone of the story is close to what you've done, you'd want to send a query to that author's agent, and drop that particular author's name.

You know that the literary agent liked the manuscript because they sold it, so there's no problem with mentioning some popular writer that the agent might not care for. Here's a book, you say, that will resonate with fans of Author X, and the agent goes, that's one of mine, and isn't this budding novelist brilliant.

Karen Joy Fowler wrote The Jane Austen Book Club, which was wildly popular, even though I didn't read it. Imagine that. Her latest, Wit's End, was on the shelf at the library and I picked it up, headed straight to the acknowledgments, and found Wendy Weil listed there.

The cover flap provided enough information to suggest that one of my manuscripts might be right up Ms. Weil's alley, a bit quirky, a little humorous, so I started to read the actual novel.

It was unreadable. I re-read the first chapter and still didn't know what the story was about. The quirkiness of the writing left me confused as to who was who and what was going on. After trying to finish it at least three times, I gave up.

But that won't stop me from querying Wendy Weil when I put together a decent query letter for the manuscript that's stewing away, waiting to ripen and get edited down to perfection. I've got an author's name, the literary agent tied to it, and that takes care of the personalization section of the query letter. It's all about fiction, isn't it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Turned Down Flat(ley)

In need of a place to put up his feet of flames, millionaire dancer Michael Flatley wanted to build a little cottage on Rossmore Island. His idea of little, however, has run up against Kerry County Council's notion of what constitutes a modest structure.

Mr. Flatley's architects drew up a plan for a grand spread, which the council wouldn't even consider. There's scale, there's the fitting in with what's there, and there's the view of others getting blocked, of course, but the council has a planning concept in place and new buildings are expected to fit in to the plan.

He came back with a scaled down version of his cottage, one that would require the existing farmhouse be torn down. Only 9100 square feet of dancing room on a 56 acre site, as compared to a 70,000 square foot mansion, but the council said it was still too big and it didn't adhere to the local development plan. So the answer, Mr. Flatley, is no and there's no dancing around that.

The problem may lie with the architects, who are based in Geneva and not Dublin. They were unaware of Kerry's little quirks and requirements, just as they were unaware of the Department of the Environment's concerns about the conservation area that the house would be sitting next to. And they were probably unaware that, in a nation of begrudgers, no one will cut Michael Flatley any slack, just because he put Irish dance on the world map.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thanks For Not Noticing

Before there was Querytracker, before there was LitMatch, there was the database.

It wasn't anything fancy. No statistics or agent preferences. Just a column of agencies, listed alphabetically, and two adjoining columns for sent and received.

Such was the do-it-yourself world of querying literary agents. The system served its purpose, to keep track of who was queried, who was yet to be queried, and what the results were of the query.

Before I sent a letter to an agent, I would look at the list to see if they'd been queried before. If they had been, and it had been long ago, I'd toss in Title Option 2 into the most recently revised query and there it went.

With on-line sites to do the monitoring, it's easy to lose track of what's been done. With e-mail querying, it's too easy to shoot off a query and forget to check to see if the agent's gotten the letter and already responded.

Which is how I came to send a query to Kathryn Green, two months after she rejected the same letter. She may think I'm an idiot, she may think I'm thick, and she may have added my e-mail addy to her blacklist, but she fired off the standard form rejection and never made an issue of the same thing sent again as if I'd be expecting a different answer because the summer was drawing to a close.

So thanks for not noticing that I screwed that one up. I'll check my hard copy query list next time before I hit send, in search of the next rush of excitement as I wait to see if this one comes up a winner.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Greatest City in Alabam....Or Is It England

How well do you know your own skyline? If you were presented with a photograph of your home town, would you recognize it?

There are some things that are distinctive in city skylines. Landmark buildings, tall ones and short ones, all line up in unique ways. You'd not mistake the Manhattan skyline for Rome, or mix Des Moines with Paris.

The proud members of the Birmingham City Council are remarkably unfamiliar with their own city. In an effort to publicly thank the citizens for recycling their little hearts out, they had leaflets printed that featured their thanks emblazoned across the Birmingham skyline.

Thanks, Birmingham, but isn't that the skyline of the Birmingham that's in Alabama? And aren't the recyclers in Birmingham, England?

Human error, for the second time. Someone went to Google and did an image search, and up popped an attractive picture so there it went, onto 720,000 leaflets. And never once did a single person look at the picture and say, "That's not our city."

No one examined the Google image; no one noticed that the picture was entirely lacking in any really old buildings, and the canals were very much not there as well. But the city in England doesn't have this song, so who can blame them for their preference to their American namesake?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Everywhere In The World Is Just Like China

China got the Olympics because they promised to treat members of the media just like every other country in the world treats journalists. Did they mention that they are operating under the presumption that every other country in the world silences reporters?

Sure the reporters can report, the Chinese said, and that little girl you saw at the opening ceremony was really singing live and in person.

John Ray is a correspondent for England's Independent Television News, and he was doing his job on Wednesday, reporting the news as it happened. Unfortunately, the news that he was covering just happened to be a pro-Tibet protest staged by American activists, who didn't happen to have the proper approval for their banner unfurling ceremony.

For his troubles, Mr. Ray was forcibly removed from the protest site, about half a mile from the Bird's Nest Stadium, and detained. The Chinese police then continued to allow Mr. Ray free and unrestricted coverage by sitting on his arms, confiscating his equipment bag, and holding him for twenty minutes.

As further evidence that the Chinese are not restricting members of the media, they opened up access to the country outside of Beijing and let the reporters in. A pair of Japanese journalists who were reporting on an attack in northwest China, where the Uighur minority has been restless, were detained and beaten bloody by the local police.

The British Embassy is strongly concerned, but is it the fault of the Chinese when they don't know the difference between a fake and the real thing? In a land that produces knock-off Prada handbags by the boat load, would anyone expect them to be honest about anything?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Complete Confession

$12.7 million dollars will be culled from the assets of the Chicago Archdiocese and given to the victims of clerical sex abuse. Look for "For Sale" signs on church property near you.

More than money was offered as compensation to the victims. Francis Cardinal George also released a complete record of the church's investigations, and frankly revealed that his bishops had engaged in an intricate dance to protect their priests, even if it meant further damaging the youngest members of the flock.

Unlike other settlement decrees, Chicago's spiritual leader did not insist on confidentiality. To prove that confession is good for the soul, he released a copy of his own deposition, given in the most recent case of clerical sex abuse at St. Agatha Church.

Here's what I did wrong, the Cardinal stated without guile or obfuscation. This is what happened on my watch, this is what is my responsibility. This is what I learned from the mistakes I made.

Here is where trusted clerics hid the evidence, here is how Joseph Bennett was able to abuse children and then abuse even more. Here is where the church hierarchy closed ranks against the faithful, the very flock that Jesus commanded them to tend with love.

The vicar for priests coached Father Bennett to deny allegations, the Archdiocese of Chicago now admits. In spite of detailed evidence from the victims, he was not removed from a parish that didn't even know about the credible allegations. In spite of recommendations to remove him, he was put under the watchful eye of a monitor who just happened to be a close friend.

The bishops wanted to be fair to the accused, but there were no lay people making calls as to what was fair and what was dangerously misguided. After the apologies, will there be a shake-up in management? Will there be openings for those who aren't as concerned with protecting their fellow priests as they are with protecting and preserving the Catholic Church?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is This A Bad Time?

The word on the street is to query an agent when they move, under the assumption that they're looking to make a big splash at the new office and are more open to new clients.

Melissa Chinchillo didn't move offices, but she did move up, becoming an agent in her own right at Fletcher & Parry. A good time to send off a query letter?

Or maybe not. She's a full agent because Emma Parry has given it up. She left the agency, and she left her clients behind. Ms. Chinchillo, along with Christy Fletcher, inherited a number of clients who were no doubt a little upset to be losing their agent and having to deal with someone who might not get what they were writing.

But I sent a query anyway, just in case, in the middle of the turmoil, there might be a slight chance.

The form rejection arrived, the typical photocopied sheet. It could be a bad time to query anyone at Fletcher & Parry. It could be that my manuscript wasn't quite what they wanted at the time. It could be that they're only open to established authors because they've got enough on their hands at the moment.

It's the August doldrums. This is a good time to polish a query letter or work on another manuscript.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Love For Sale

Can't buy love, but it's a great Illinois tradition to buy votes. Second term governor Rod Blagojevich is so unpopular that he may have to purchase his way back into his job, assuming that he hasn't been indicted before then. He's having a rather difficult time of it, though, trying to find out what it is that would make the voters love him again.

The man who would be king of the state has taken to throwing out ideas that sound voter-friendly on the surface. He's at the point in his political career, however, when pundits look beneath the surface and report on the facts, rather than his flights of populist fancy.

He came up with an enormously expensive plan to build new roads and schools, but everyone knew he had been gathering campaign contributions from the companies that would build those same roads and schools, so the voters of Illinois won't support the legislation and they don't want their elected representatives to support it either. They know a cod when they see one.

Nothing is moving, no programs in train that would make Mr. Blagojevich popular and beloved of the citizens of Illinois.

How about buying the love of Illinois' 16,000 disabled veterans? Doesn't that sound like the act of a kind and thoughtful man?

The governor would like to eliminate property taxes for those 16,000 who made a great sacrifice for the rest of us. Hurray, said the attendees of Veterans Day at the State Fair when he made his grand announcement.

Who's going to pay for it? said the rest of the taxpayers of Illinois.

Anywhere from $35 million to $40 million dollars would be lost to local governments, which means all non-disabled veterans would pay more in property taxes to make up for the shortfall.

Who can argue against my plan, says Mr. Blagojevich, to do this great act of loving kindness for our disabled veterans?

Someone needs to tell him that those who would be made to foot the bill would easily argue against it, and that would be a majority. 16,000 votes, bought at a cost to millions of property owners in the state of Illinois---not anywhere near enough to get elected.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Money To Buy Happiness

They bought the house and called in the contractor, to make a few small improvements. The house was old and needed a repair here and there, but they were living in the wealthiest suburb and the prestigious address more than made up for the cost of maintaining the structure.

The contractor scheduled the work and the project proceeded nicely, at least from his angle. Out of the blue, the homeowner asked that the bill be sent to a different address. To an apartment in a suburb closer to the city.

Only a few months after moving, the couple were getting divorced, he said, and he was going to pay for the work to be done and then the missus would have the house. Fair enough, and everyone presumed that the couple was having problems well before they moved in to their spacious home in the elite suburb.

Can we cut back, she asks as the divorce is finalized. I've been in and out of the hospital, undergoing treatment for cancer, and the expense of this project is too great of a burden. I have to sell the house as well.

When we heard that politician and ambulance-chaser John Edwards had cheated on his wife, and this while she was dealing with severe health issues, we weren't shocked. We'd seen it before, the wealthy, self-made man who dealt with his wife's critical needs by taking some "me" time. He worked hard to create that oasis amongst the well-heeled, and he doesn't want to deal with stress when he comes home from a hard day at the office. If the wife can't hold up her end of the bargain, she's gone.

Money doesn't buy happiness, but it can buy a lot of other things that pass for happiness. When you can afford to get what you want, you tend to go out and get it, and then you don't understand what all the fuss is about. It's easy to be a self-absorbed son of a bitch when you've got the funds to bankroll yourself.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Slow Season In Publishing

By tradition, August is not the best time to send a query letter.

In the publishing industry, the end of summer is the time to take a vacation. There's school looming on the horizon, so it's the one last chance to get away with the kids before the school year starts up again and the running around begins anew.

Of course, you never know which agents might be hard at work and which might be sitting on the beach with a good book. You could send off a round of queries and take a chance that yours will get a look and a response. Or if you don't mind waiting longer than usual, have at it.

August is the time when literary journals begin to open their doors once again, as the university interns return. August is not the best month to submit a query, but it's the perfect time to submit short stories.

You need writing credentials these days. More and more agents make mention of such things in their submission instructions. Author bio and relevant publishing credentials? That means: "Who's thought your prose was good enough to put into print?"

Think of it as another hoop that you have to jump through on the way to getting your novel published. Oh, right, the hoop's on fire and it's a tight squeeze to make it through, but no one ever said this was an easy business to break into.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sensational But Not Politically Correct

To get an agent's attention, you need a well-polished query letter, but if your story is tired it won't matter how brilliant the letter. In these days of the blockbuster mentality, all or nothing, an author needs plot devices that come straight out of current events.

Read a piece of debut women's fiction and you'll find distant parents who are overworked at their yuppy jobs, a teen-aged daughter who's been targeted by an online predator, and some tragic illness that's getting lots of press. Jodi Picoult has made a good living at writing about things that have appeared in the news or been bandied about on Oprah or Dr. Phil.

There's other ways to be different and fresh, of course. Write about something that hasn't been done to death by other authors in the past ten years.

When debut author Sherry Jones got "the call" from agent Natasha Kern, you can imagine her excitement. She had an agent. She was on her way.

Then Random House said yes. Her manuscript was picked up, sent off on its journey to publication. There was buzz created, marketing getting into gear.

The Jewel of Medina was fresh and new, with its exotic setting in the harem of the Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him). No one writes about Muslims, about the formation of the religion, and certainly no one in the western world knows a thing about it, beyond the terrorists, and aren't readers clamoring to know more?

Denise Spellberg, a professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, Austin, was asked to blurb the book. She thought it was more soft-core porn than textbook, and she got the ball rolling. This is explosive stuff, she said when she warned editor Jane Garrett, it's more dangerous than Salman Rushdie's writings and worse than the Danish cartoons.

Publish or perish might be the watchword in academia, but it's become a threat to mainstream publishing. Publish a book that has anything whatsoever to do with Islam, unless it's a call to jihad, and some shadowy group will threaten mayhem and death. Once Ms. Spellberg got the word out, the threats came back in to Random House.

Can't have that, said the publisher. Don't want to appear politically incorrect or insensitive or anything like that. Danger to employees, have to pay for more security, psychological counseling, too costly. Rather than stand up to a bully, Random House turned over their lunch money.

Ms. Kern is free to shop the manuscript to other publishers, but she'll be hard pressed to find one that isn't well aware of the potential risks and has the courage to defend the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There's always self-publishing. At least a large portion of the marketing and publicity has already been done.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

Young Ireland, the Fenians, the Easter Rising: all were undone by spies within the ranks. The enemy planted informers who befriended the rebels, then turned on them, killing the movement. Now comes word that the National Rifle Association has infiltrated CeaseFire.

For ten years, Mary Lou McFate championed the cause of gun control. She volunteered her time and energy to lobby Congress, all in evident support of the cause. Turns out she was an agent for the National Rifle Association.

She's a professional double agent, according to reports, having infiltrated an animal rights group at the behest of a medical device testing firm. And she was good at her job. One of the group's members was convicted of using a pipe bomb to attack her employer.

In spite of her history, there sat Ms. McFate, in a seat of power on the board of directors, all affairs of the anti-gun group laid out before her. They never would have known, if the clever spy hadn't been tripped up by corporate greed that had nothing to do with her.

Ms. McFate was working her magic for security firm Beckett Brown, while Beckett Brown defrauded the beer distributor who provided their funds. In matters of fraud, lawyers and accountants will review cash distributions, and Ms. McFate's name turned up in the ledgers. She was paid for intelligence-gathering activities. The NRA was also a client of Beckett Brown.

The gentle folks of Ceasefire feel betrayed, deeply hurt and shocked by Ms. McFate's double dealings. Here she was, in the pay of the NRA, spying for them, reporting back to them, supporting the gun-toting thugs. They trusted her. They believed in her.

Rather than boot her out, they'll hold a meeting to vote on expelling the turncoat. How things have changed. In the old days, the traitor would have been ambushed and shot dead.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Extrapolating 200 Million Years

At last, we'll get a handle on this global warming issue with some hard data. Gardeners of America, start taking notes.

Project BudBurst needs your observations, to have some numbers to throw around at the skeptics. When, exactly did your serviceberry bloom this year? Can you keep a close eye on your swamp white oak?

Who better than the dedicated green thumb to observe plants and create a massive database for botanists to study? If plants pop earlier than usual.....what is usual, exactly?

In this modern world, usual is what happened last year or since you bought the house or since your father was a kid but who knows it's what he remembers anyway. That means, if your little apple tree bloomed a day earlier this year than last, it's global warming. If you noticed some plant sprouting in the middle of a January thaw, it's global warming.

Did an apple tree bloom a day earlier than usual, say, ten thousand years ago? One hundred thousand years ago? In Lombard, Illinois, home of the lilac festival, they've observed lilacs for twenty years. Using their data, and extrapolating out to the evolution of flowering plants, we can say with certainty that the statisticians are laughing their heads off. The margin of error expands to a point where no conclusion can be reliably drawn.

Go right ahead and keep track of the day that the shagbark hickory breaks bud. Keep at it for thousands of years, and you'll have some real data. Whatever day you have for this year means nothing in the overall scheme.

This year, my tomatoes are ripening a good two weeks later than they have for the past fifteen years. Can I declare it's an ice age coming?

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Accomplishment Incomplete

Climbers attempt to ascend K2 because it is more challenging, more difficult, and a greater accomplishment than reaching the top of Mt. Everest.

They fight against their own bodies, against the elements, against the planet itself, to reach the peak. Where oxygen is low, the cold intense, they struggle to get up, but then they must struggle to get back down.

Gerard McDonnell reached the summit of K2, a dream he failed to reach on a previous attempt when his climbing partners succumbed to altitude sickness and they had to turn back. This time, he made it to the top. On Friday, he became the first Irishman to scale the mountain.

On the descent, storms blew in and a rescue operation was mounted. It is believed that an avalanche then took out fixed ropes that climbers need to cross an ice wall. Two of the rescuers were killed, and the number of climbers lost has not yet been finalized.

There were twenty-two climbers in the slopes of K2 at the time. Twenty-two determined people who sought to achieve what very few human beings achieve.

It is a difficult and technical climb, to the peak of K2. Gerard McDonnell made it to the top, but his accomplishment was not completed. The weather beat him, the storms and the mountain together beat him, but not before he set foot on the top of the world.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pride And Prejudice, Belfast Style

Come one, come all, to cheer on the queer.

Stand along the route as the Belfast Gay Pride Parade passes by, to show the world that the people of Northern Ireland are not in the least bit prejudiced. Gerry Lynch of the Alliance Party is rounding up attendees to fill the streets with applause and cheers, to drown out the anti-gay protesters who are congregating around Belfast City Hall.

Pay no attention to MP Iris Robinson, the born-again Christian who has stated, quite publicly, that homosexuality is an abomination, a sin more vile than child abuse.

If a record number of ordinary people turn out, it will show that the citizens of the town are not at all like Ms. Robinson and her ilk. It will prove that the unionists who adore King William of Orange, their hero, aren't the least bit upset to be told by gay rights activists that he liked the boys.

Attend the parade, bring the wife and kids, the grannies and granddads, but please don't bring along that full page advert that the Free Presbyterian Church paid for, the one that trumpets their belief that God's own words condemn sodomy. Can we avoid bringing religion into this?

Parade organizers have promised that no one is going to be dressed up like Jesus, proclaiming that the Son of God was gay. That was last year, and it caused a terrible fuss, and it will not be repeated.

Considering Belfast's record on prejudice and hatred, it's highly unlikely that the parade will draw a crowd of any size. Mr. Lynch wants to demonstrate that Northern Ireland has moved on from the past, but most of its citizens are so firmly rooted in the past that they cannot hope to budge.

Friday, August 01, 2008

For The First Time

The Arra has never flooded before, at least not that anyone can recall. A heavy rain overnight sent the water flowing over the banks, into Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick. Roads where my ancestors once walked are under water, shops where they used to call have been swamped.

It came as a surprise in the middle of the night. The weather service couldn't have predicted it, and those who live along the banks of the River Arra had to be evacuated, with help from the fire brigade and a Coast Guard helicopter.

There was a time when the area was home to dairy farms and tanneries. The town was small, and the open land was large. Plenty of space to absorb rain water.

Even a quiet outpost like Newcastlewest was touched by the boom of the Celtic Tiger. New homes, new paved roads, new parking lots---all contributed to the first flood in memory. If there's no open ground for the rain to fall on and soak into, the water runs off until it finds a low spot. Down the streets, off the roofs, and straight to the Arra it went, buckets and buckets of rain, until the Arra filled up and climbed higher.

The first flood has come, to the dismay of those who didn't have insurance, but if there's never been a flood who'd spend money for something they've never needed before?

Development comes at a price sometimes, a cost that is not budgeted. Cover the land with hard surfaces and the rain will go where it will. It's a modern reality, a knock-on effect of spreading out.