Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Everyone Is At BEA

The query isn't doing a thing. One request for pages, and that ended up as a rejection.

Today, I revamped the query, taking a new approach.

A trial run of five submissions sounded like a suitable test. Five agents who accept e-mail queries and express some interest in the sort of thing that I write. Well, fiction at any rate, and my genre isn't on the list of what they aren't looking for.

With Book Expo America running this weekend in New York City, you'd think that all the literary agents would be busy. But no.

Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management managed to spend some time with his inbox. Already I've gotten the first rejection on the latest version of the query. Or was it the first page of the manuscript that didn't attract the slightest enthusiasm?

Not off to a very promising start for this summer's crop of submissions.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why The Pews Are Empty

Hard to imagine what might be worse than priests and nuns, put in charge of small children, abusing them.

Hard to imagine what might be worse than torturing innocents with random beatings and psychological abuse that leaves them scarred for life.

Hard to imagine what could be worse than those who preached God's love not following through with their actions and doing the exact opposite.

Spain's Cardinal Antonio Canizares is possessed of a vivid imagination and he can easily imagine something worse than decades of abuse and thousands of lives destroyed.

Why, abortion is worse, says the Cardinal. Millions of lives lost, and there's your crime against humanity. What happened in the industrial schools and Magdalene laundries might have been bad, but in no way does any of it compare with abortion.

Any wonder why the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to pedophiles and abusers in the ranks? Any wonder why the Church refused to work with local police to prosecute their own perverts? Any wonder why the pews are empty?

New Agent For Children's Lit

Brenda Bowen was lured to HarperCollins to start up a children's imprint. She'd made a name for herself at Disney, Simon & Schuster's children's division, and Scholastic Press, so she had the credentials and the expertise.

In the recent round of cost cutting, unfortunately, Bowen Books had to go. Carrying the employee load of a separate imprint was more than HarperCollins could manage.

Ms. Bowen has announced that she will be joining Sanford J. Greenburger on 6 July as a literary agent.

If you write for the kids, you'll want your query ready to go.

Like most publishing execs who enter the dark side, she'll start slow to get a feel for the agent side of things. Slow start, yes, but it's a start and she'll need clients. She'll be reading queries, searching for the sorts of things that she was selling at Bowen Books before she was downsized.

Ms. Bowen has never been an agent before, but she has an incredible network of contacts in the publishing end, which is where the agent is going to sell your manuscript. No need to worry about her sales. She'll be making plenty of them in a short period of time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Brother, Who Won't Spare A Dime

On the heels of the Ryan report that detailed decades of child abuse by religious organizations in Irish schools, the cry went up over a deal that was cut in 2002.

Back then, the Irish government sat down with the congregations at the heart of the scandal and negotiated a compensation package. The orders were to kick in so many millions, and the State, having a large chunk of responsibility on its own hands, would cover the rest. Total cost was estimated to be around 250 million euros, give or take.

The report's been issued, and the compensation to victims is estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of euro. How about if the religious orders reconsider their deal and accept more of the burden? No, thanks just the same, they've said, let's not.

Father Enda McDonagh has a much better idea.

Since the Sisters of Mercy have said no, they won't re-negotiate the deal, and the Christian Brothers cry poor, Father McDonagh would like all the Catholics to dig deep and fund compensation for the victims of clerical abuse.

Sure didn't you have a fine Christian Brother as a teacher, and aren't you successful today because of it? Don't you owe it to the order, to help them out when they're busy putting their assets into a trust? Shouldn't we all we be contributing?

Ask the orders about their assets and you'd think they'd all taken a vow of silence. How much do they have that might be donated to the very people who worked as slave labor while the congregations raked in money on rosary beads and laundry? None of anyone's business, apparently.

And there's the good Father, asking that the faithful bail out those who caused incalculable damage to human beings and the very Church itself.

Sad, how so many are blind because they will not see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Looking Clean

The dilemma for Roland Burris revolved around perceptions. How would it look, once he was appointed, if he donated to the Rod Blagojevich for Governor of Illinois campaign?

No worries on the legality of it. Not for a Chicago politician.

How would it look? Would he "catch hell", as he put it?

Maybe he could have his attorney make the donation. Then Mr. Burris could remain clean and spotless, and he could call in the stone cutters to emblazon his elaborate mausoleum with another accomplishment.

No worries on the legality of that tactic, either. Hiding campaign contributions is illegal, but Roland Burris wasn't the least bit concerned. He wanted to be a Senator with all his heart and soul.

Now the junior Senator from Illinois, Mr. Burris is shouting it from the rooftops. The FBI wiretaps that reveal the wheeling and dealing he engaged in to snag the Senate seat prove that he did nothing wrong.

He did nothing wrong because he never actually paid for the seat. It was all talk. No blood, no foul.

So there's nothing wrong with having a serious discussion about buying the Senate position? No taint, no stink of filthy corruption in showing an unquestionable willingness to write a check in return for the title of Senator?

It's all a matter of looking in a mirror that's already so filthy, one's image as a clean operator is artificially enhanced.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Any Excuse Will Do

In Scottish League play, Rangers defeated Celtics on Sunday.

Good enough excuse for the Ulster Defense thugs to murder a Catholic and beat another half to death.

Rangers defeated Celtics, in a game, and while anyone outside of the Six Counties wouldn't see that as a reason to kill, the Proties are satisfied with any excuse for killing Catholics.

Kevin McDaid knew well enough that the loyalist gangs would cause trouble. He went out looking for his sons, to bring them home to safety. He walked out of his own house and that was a good enough excuse for a gang to set on him and kill him.

Rangers defeated Celtics. King Billy defeated the Catholics hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It's all linked, in the pea-sized brains of the UDA murderers.

Because a team that the Irish Catholics support lost a match, Kevin McDaid was killed. The gang that was roaming through the Catholic part of Coleraine didn't pick him out for any particular reason, just that he was out and about in the Catholic part of town and that was a good enough excuse. They were there to kill a Catholic, any Catholic.

Gregory Campbell, the local DUP representative to Stormont, condemned the killing, but then again, he thinks that all killings should be condemned. Nothing special about a Catholic being murdered in Coleraine by the UDA. They have their excuses, you see.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Weekend Revisions

While it's not the latest hot read, Galway Bay was available in the public library and I can't argue with the price.

I've gotten through almost half of Mary Pat Kelly's long saga that is based on her family's emigrant tales.

It's her first work of fiction, but I can't use this as a sample of the sort of writing that's working for debut authors. She's got a pile of writing credentials, non-fiction and newspapers, so there's a lot of slack that gets cut.

Enough "As you know, Bob" moments to set the teeth on edge. Characters dropping Irish phrases, only to translate them into English as if they don't quite understand their own language. Still and all, it's not the writing so much as the over-all style.

I've got my own tale of Irish emigrants to tell, albeit set many years after the Great Hunger that drove Ms. Kelly's ancestors across the Atlantic.

Her novel has inspired me to re-write my own manuscript. I'm in the process of converting a third person point of view to first person.

Make it more personal, so the reader can relate better to the main character who has a miserable time of things.

Then it's off to study the flap copy, to lift a few ideas that can be worked into a query, and then I'll have something else to send around now that the first manuscript seems destined to collect dust under the bed.

Can't seem to stay away from the words, in spite of the heartbreak and disappointment when I learn that no one wants to hear my story. So I keep trying to find the right story.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Reason To Drink Away The Weekend

The partial manuscript had enough appeal to Kathleen Anderson that she asked for the full.

That's the sort of news anyone would like to hear during the submission process. There's something in the opening chapters that's working, drawing a reader in.

Today's mail brought the bad news. It was a form rejection.

No guidance, no editorial suggestions, just a form letter without any salutation.

For the past three months, there was hope that this might be the breakthrough. Today, the hope is gone.

At the moment, I feel like giving it up completely. I've started to query a new manuscript but there isn't much interest in it at all. The stories that I like to write don't seem to resonate with the literary agents who want historical fiction, but not the parts of history that interest me.

Cocktail hour will start early today and continue through the holiday weekend. Maybe by Tuesday I'll feel differently. Maybe on Tuesday morning, I'll roll out of bed before dawn to write, to put down on the paper the story that's in my head.

And if that happens, I'll do it with a tremendous hangover.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Early this year, as Monday is only the 25th day of May and summer will officially begin.

For literary agents, there's a long holiday weekend. After that, it's Book Expo America in New York City, and they'll be out of the office to attend the bash.

For you, the author in search of representation, it means longer waits to hear back if you submit a query during the busy time of holiday weekend/BEA.

Once all that dies down, there's the summer hours to contend with. There's nothing going on in the big publishing houses on Friday afternoons and the literary agents put up their feet as well. The really successful ones head off for their beach cottages in the Hamptons on Friday afternoons.

Again, you the author will be waiting longer to get a response to your query.

Not that it isn't a good time to submit. There's not much point in waiting for a particular, magical season for sending off your sample pages and pleadings. A process already slow runs that much slower. Some writers are put off by it and don't submit, so that's all to your benefit if the piles of letters that teeter on the agent's desk are a bit shorter and maybe your particular plot synopsis can stand out in a smaller crowd.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bank Error In Your Favor

Imagine checking your bank balance and finding that, rather than ten thousand New Zealand dollars, the bank said you had ten million. Over four million in euros, at the current rate of exchange. What would you do?

Ring up the personal banker and mention this unfortunate bank error in your favor? Off by a few decimal places, you'd laugh, and could it be corrected please.

Or would you, like the New Zealand couple who discovered such an error, take the money and run?

The couple has not been named, but they are on international radar as the authorities attempt to track them down.

As far as the bank is concerned, that money was stolen, even though it was someone at the bank who made the mistake. After all, they surely knew that they didn't have ten million and the money couldn't be theirs. Withdrawing the sum was the same as stealing it, though without the need for guns, getaway cars and heavy lifting.

No one makes that kind of money running a petrol station in Rotorua, even allowing for a particularly good tourist season. But how does Westpac Bank know for certain that the couple didn't think they'd come by the money in a different manner?

Did anyone check e-mails to see if the New Zealanders had been contacted by the Minister to the Vice-President of Nigeria, seeking assistance in transferring hidden assets in return for a slice of the pie?

Everlasting Shame

For years, they knew about the pedophiles in their midst but they hid them, rather than be shamed. Better to preserve the good name of the Christian Brothers, to avoid the loss of prestige. A religious order that was a danger to young boys could hardly be perceived as a voice of moral authority.

The Irish people knew all along. Word leaked out. Stories were carried out of the industrial schools and passed from one neighbor to the next. No one talked about it, of course. To disparage a clergyman was to bring shame to a man of God.

Now all the world knows, and the shame is everlasting.

The Commission To Inquire Into Child Abuse released a five-volume report that detailed what was once only whispered. It took nine years to compile the overwhelming amount of evidence.

It took nine years and the resignation of Mrs. Justice Laffoy to force Ireland's Department of Education to cooperate with the commission and give them the records. It took nine years of battling against the religious orders who stonewalled and played every legal game they could find in an effort to keep the filth well hidden.

When next a bishop stands in the pulpit and proclaims the sanctity of life, the parishioners will laugh and remind him that there was precious little sanctity granted to Ireland's children. They were punished because their widowed mother was seen with a man. They were punished if their mother wasn't married. They were punished if they were born poor.

For every issue of morality that the Church would like to champion, there will be a reminder of the utter lack of morality that was allowed to stand for decades.

The children who were irreparably harmed suffer from the everlasting shame of their incarceration and abuse. The Catholic Church will suffer everlasting shame for turning a blind eye, and attempts by the clergy to guide the faithful, to be the moral compass, will be turned aside with a nod to the actions that made a lie of the words.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There's More Than One Fish In The Sea

The state of California believes that the merger of Harcourt with Houghton Mifflin-Riverdeep has reduced competition. They'd like to see an end to it.

Seems a bit late, but California is suing to untie the bonds that Barry O'Callaghan fashioned out of yards and yards of debt. The lawsuit is filled with the usual complaints of prices being driven up because HMH would be the possessor of over half the nation's supply of educational publishing materials. They claim that the value of the goods would decline, since there'd be no incentive for HMH-Riverdeep to do a good job.

The Feds already looked at the merger and let it go through, because competition was seen from Pearson and McGraw-Hill. If HMH lets things slide, the logic goes, there's two other textbook publishers hot on their heels.

With California so deeply in debt, you'd think they should have more to worry about than the off-chance that HMH will be producing the one and only version of some textbook that the state's school board must have or go without.

In essence, that is the basis of their lawsuit. Maybe, just maybe, Pearson and McGraw-Hill won't have what California school children need. And maybe, just maybe, neither publisher would sink the money into production to meet that need, even though it would be worth millions in sales.

Textbook publishers create textbooks that fill the specific needs of a specific school board, goes the lawsuit. It's not as if Pearson could run off a social studies text for seventh-graders and find a customer in California as well as Michigan and New Hampshire. Because of this tailored fit, it's expensive to make textbooks and only a big, rich publisher could do it.

Look at Kansas. They wanted science texts that omitted evolution. Such a book would be cheap to produce, of course, since most of science is based on evolution and without covering the topic, there'd be few pages between the covers. No other state school board would want such a thing. So if HMH were pursuing business in Kansas, they'd write up the special book, and have to charge more to recoup costs, leaving Kansas with no other choice since no one else would want their business.

If there's so much prestige in gaining state business as the lawsuit claims, why would the likes of Pearson or McGraw Hill choose not to participate, as the suit also claims? Is Barry O'Callaghan's little whale-swallowing minnow that fearsome of a competitor?

The California school board could just buy textbooks that have been approved by other school boards in other states, thereby negating the effect of customizing. Such a simple solution appears not to have occurred to them.

Far easier to weave imaginary Hollywood doomsday scenarios and take HMH-Riverdeep to court, in the hope of squeezing some concessions out of the educational publishing firm. Just in case someone at HMH was thinking about setting a price for next year's textbook order, keep that lawsuit in mind...and tack on a generous discount.

Speaker Of The House To Step Down

It began with a small news story which the DUP hoped would discredit the Shinners.

Look at the vast sums of money that Sinn Fein members in the House of Commons are claiming as reimbursement for their allowances, the unionists barked. Everyone knows that Irish republicans boycott the House as a matter of political symbolism. Back in 1919, after the Shinners swept the elections, they refused to go to London, and the habit did not end with a peace treaty and partition of the island.

The story didn't go far. The family that received British government money to cover the cost of renting space to Sinn Fein for lodging that was rarely used was a staunch Sinn Fein family. If the amount of rent that they charged seemed exorbitant, everyone supposed that much of the excess was funneled back to Sinn Fein to support the struggle.

The next shoe dropped. DUP darlings David Robinson and his lovely wife Iris were harshly criticized for the outrageous bills they submitted for reimbursement. Their food bills reflected lavish spending, and all at taxpayer expense.

Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons, was blasted as one expense report after another became public and the public became outraged. Not a single notch of belt-tightening was seen among the M.P.s, while the British people were cutting back at home in the face of a financial crisis.

Mr. Martin resisted calls to step down over his mismanagement of the debacle, but he cannot beat back the tide any longer. He's heading out the door, shouldering the blame for runaway expenses. Due to his failure to act, to protect the public's trust in Parliament's expense account system, his will be the face of the pampered and selfish politician, gorging at the public trough.

Gordon Brown has urged his fellow Labourites to hit the streets and meet the angry voters, to soothe irate feelings before the next election.

Whether or not damage has been done to Labour remains to be seen. A great deal depends on the length of the voting public's memory.

How Great A Hatred

This is Haiti.

Former President Bill Clinton is being sent here by the U.N.

How could they hate the man that much?

Actually, the people of Haiti love Mr. Clinton. He's been there before, trying to encourage other countries to invest and bring jobs for the most desperately poor people on earth.

The U.N. may be hoping that the former U.S. President can charm away the problems and perhaps convince developed nations to donate funds. A nation that has no money to make improvements is not a stable one.

Following a series of tropical storms last year, the island nation was hard-pressed for food, and that in turn led to rioting that does nothing to support a stable government.

Ban Ki-moon will make the announcement official and Mr. Clinton will jet off, leaving his wife behind to do her own round of international travel. Once there, he will probably tour the slums, tip-toe around the raw sewage, and wonder how soon he can leave.

Not exactly the most posh of settings, but there are plenty of upper-end establishments in Haiti. That's one of the difficulties that defy solution. There are very rich, and there are very poor, but what's needed is a population in between.

How much can a former President do to solve such problems?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Ultimate Irony Of Faith

Faith admits doubt, says himself. And then President Barack Obama suggested that this doubt should compel Catholics to continue the debate over abortion.

Poor man. He's being guided by a couple of Jewish lads from Chicago so how would anyone expect him to be informed about the Catholic faith.

There is no debate over abortion for Catholics. It's pay, pray and obey, and they've been given their orders.

All that talk of appealing to universal rather than parochial principles? Only Catholic principles apply. It's not a matter of debate at all.

Persuade through reason, suggests the President, and clearly he was preaching to the wrong choir. The University of Notre Dame is run by priests from the Congregation of the Holy Cross. If he was looking for an audience that was skilled at persuading through reason, he should have tried the Jesuits.

They're all about being of service to others, a point on which the President has spoken favorably. Also, they're the religious order for debate, for splitting hairs like the most skilled lawyer and using reason to persuade.

Except, of course, they answer to the Pope himself, and the morality of abortion isn't a matter of debate. The Catholic Church is not a republic and it's certainly not a democracy. So if the leader of the free world suggests that everyone should temper their passions and be humbled by doubt, he won't find a receptive audience among the Roman-collared crowd.

No matter how glib a tongue God might have put in his head.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Question Of Habit

The woman on the left of the picture is a Sister of the Fraternite Notre Dame. This particular religious order still wears the old style of habit, with veil and long dress.

If she were on trial, attired so, would you be able to render a sensible verdict? Would you be swayed by her habit?

Prosecutors in Kane County, Illinois, wondered if it was really necessary for Sister Marie Marot to wear her official nun's uniform when she stand trial for running into a van and killing a passenger.

Would anti-Catholics declare her guilty as charged without listening to evidence? Would Catholic jurors decide that she's innocent without giving the prosecution a chance to present their case?

Judge Ronald Matekaitis has decided that the nun can keep her habit. Sisters of the Fraternite Notre Dame do not wear civilian garb for any reason, and the judge sees no reason to infringe on their right to religious expression.

All the same, it's going to be a difficult case. Everyone knows that nuns never lie. Sister Marie says the light was green and the mini-van she struck went through the red. The driver of the mini-van says that the nun ran a red light.

Who are you going to believe in a case of 'he said, she said'? And remember, God knows what you did and you don't want a black stain on your immortal soul, do you?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Unimpeachable Source

Stuart Pearson is a billionaire, according to Wikipedia. If an Internet site that anyone can edit says so, it must be true.

That would explain how Stuart Pearson came to be identified, in the mainstream media, as a man with extensive land holdings, inherited wealth, and an interest in acquiring the failing SR Technics firm.

As it turns out, Stuart Pearson runs a small shop in Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny. Not the stuff of which millionaires are made. Unless he's the shy, retiring or secretive type.

He was living in a rented house, but inquiries by the Irish Times leave more questions as to his whereabouts. According to Mrs. Pearson, the couple separated some time ago and she doesn't know where he is.

As far as Wikipedia is concerned, Mr. Pearson inherited money and invested it well. So well, in fact, that he's the proud owner of an enormous portfolio of properties both in Ireland and England, and he dabbled in New York real estate while he was at it. Made money hand over fist.

Is it all pure fiction? Did Stuart Pearson put up his own page on Wikipedia and make up some whopping great tale of financial success? Or is the entry true, and Mr. Pearson is Ireland's version of Warren Buffett? Billionaires are not required to live in splendor.

Barry O'Halloran of the Irish Times and John Mulligan of the Independent have both quoted Mr. Pearson in regard to various business deals, none of which ever came about, but you'd have to wonder if it was Mr. Pearson who contacted the newspapers and acted the part. He never did buy into Taggart Holdings or make an offer for Aer Lingus.

More digging will be done to get to the bottom of the Stuart Pearson mystery, if one of the Irish newspapers can afford to assign a reporter to the slow and arduous task. Following a paper trail does not come cheap.

If your mother says she loves you, check it out. But not on Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How Much Would You Pay For This

We'd all like to be paid for every word that we write.

Now Amazon would like to help.

Of course, I always have the option of "monetizing" this blog. Any time I want, I could give my electronic approval and Google ads would appear in the sidebar. The pennies would soon be rolling in, as readers clicked on ads for every scam literary agent in the world.

Amazon's program is, as one would expect, far superior.

It's all a matter of signing on, and what could be easier?

I have to agree to send the same thing to Kindle as I publish to the blog. They say they'll check it, to ensure accuracy. But if I was monetizing my blog, I'd have to get rid of the ads. No Google sidebar ads allowed on the Kindle, not when the user is paying so much for the privilege of not having to buy an actual, physical paper and ink entity.

Amazon will then take my content and sell subscriptions.

There's a fortune to be made.

Who wouldn't pay just about any price for the information contained, at the moment for free, within this blog? All kinds of news about literary agents, about who's on the rise and who might be acquiring. Critical information about the length of time it takes to hear back after you've queried. Pertinent information about rejection letters. Pages and pages of whinging about those who don't ever reply.

It's priceless. However, Amazon would indeed set a price. In fact, they have the option of providing free content, just to entice people to sign up for the continuing saga.

I'd get 30% as my share of the loot, and I'd have to wait until my readership base was large enough to generate $50 in total royalties before I'd see a penny in my bank account.

Doesn't sound like a sure-fire, get rich quick sort of scheme. Then again, writing isn't a money-making proposition either.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Benefits Of The Forever Stamp

Last year, as the buds began to swell on the trees and the daffodils lifted their leaves out of the once frozen soil, I printed a query letter to Devin McIntyre.

He represents Tim Molloy, author of How To Break Bad News. Since that debut novel was similar to one of my manuscripts, I figured Mr. McIntyre for a good fit. Granted, the novel was panned, and you do get a bit nervous when you compare your brilliance to something that the critics didn't care for, but it was a personalization at any rate.

The letter was stuffed into an envelope and then the SASE was tucked up next to it for company on the long journey to New York.

More than 365 days elapsed and I never saw a sign of the stamped envelope. Until yesterday.

Over one year later, I received the rejection in the mail. If not for the Forever stamp, I might never have received it at all.

My local postmaster is a stickler for detail, and the fact that the postal rates went up Monday means that all correspondence must have proper postage or be returned to sender. No agent would pay the extra two cents and go to all the trouble to send the rejection again.

The use of the Forever stamp meant that I could verify what I had suspected for the previous eleven months. The query did not garner Mr. McIntyre's interest and he would not be asking for a sample of the manuscript.

Fair play to him. At least he responded, albeit in a less than timely manner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pulling The Hook On The Minnow

For anyone tracking Moody's rating of HMH Riverdeep debt, you have reached the end of the line. Moody's has dropped their rating of the debt completely. It suggests that they think all of HMH's debt is too high risk to consider.

Anyone hoping to invest in the little minnow that's choking on the Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin whale is to be advised that Moody's expects HMH Riverdeep to default on up to $6.4 billion owed to creditors.

Moody's considered everything, from the position of HMH Riverdeep in the overall market, the projected income that could pay off all that debt, and the experience of management in handling such a scenario.

Not impressed was the investment ratings service, not impressed and not hopeful that Barry O'Callaghan can fully digest all that he's bitten off. He created the largest educational publishing materials firm in the world, but it's built on debt and that's a foundation as stable as sand.

Already hard-pressed for money, HMH Riverdeep will have to pay through the nose to borrow more. The higher the risk, the higher the interest rate that an investor will demand. If Moody's figures HMH Riverdeep for default, hedge funds and capital markets are going to demand enormous returns on their investment, if they're willing to take a chance at all.

With sales of $2.1 billion, expensive debt, and anticipated cuts in school district budgets, the minnow is floundering.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Breaking The Monopoly

It is illegal to create a monopoly in the U.S., with the exception of the labor unions, but that's a story for another day.

Free markets require competition for the benefit of the citizens, and laws were enacted during the era of the robber baron to ensure that no industry holds a monopoly.

For that reason, government lawyers are taking a close look at the deal that Google reached with authors and publishers. The book scanning proposal is intended to protect the owners of copyrights, but Google has set itself up as the sole holder of a vast expanse of knowledge.

Anything not held in copyright, commonly referred to as "orphan works", become the property of Google after scanning and uploading. So if they are the only business owning a given book, how much would someone have to pay to see it?

The idea of a monopoly is to control a given industry so that the industry, and not the market, sets the price. If Google controls the products that students need to prepare term papers or a thesis, how much might the search engine behemoth charge the college library for access to their stash?

What about your local library? How much could Google charge the library's taxpayers for permission to see things online? It's a convenience, after all. The scanned books exist in hard copy, but thumbing through an old journal might involve travel to Princeton or the University of Milan. Can't afford it? You're out of luck, then, with getting the data that you need.

Should you find a willing librarian to copy the required pages for you, are you then violating Google's copyright?

The U.S. Department of Justice has many other such questions, and they will pick apart the Google settlement very carefully. No administration wants to be known as the one that shut the doors on knowledge for all.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Darling Jim: A Book Review

Before there were written words and novels, there were storytellers who wove tales of mystery and horror, of morality and sin and penance.

Christian Moerk takes a page from Ireland's traditions, using the character of the seanchai in his engaging novel. Darling Jim is a tale as bizarre as any that might be told before a peat fire on a long winter's night, in a time before television or radio intruded.

When a postman discovers a diary in the dead letter bin at the An Post office, he can't help but read it. The name of the woman who posted it had been in the papers, one of three women discovered dead in a house that dripped with blood.

From the start, the reader is snagged. Such a curious tale, one that hints at Stephen King's style, but there are no goblins or ghosts. The postman cracks open the notebook, and Fiona tells her story.

In contrast to the novel's opening chapters, with a description of a gory crime scene, the images that Fiona's diary reveal seem out of place. From horror, the narrative shifts to an ordinary town filled with dull people, but that same place is turned upside down when Jim arrives in the small rural town in Cork. He's sex on legs, a man so captivating that women are falling all over him, desperate to share their bed and competing with one another to catch Jim's wolf-like eye.

Like a seanchai of old, Jim is a spellbinding teller of sagas that feature wolves, fair maidens and brotherly betrayal. Mr. Moerk does a masterful job of linking the tale told in the pub with the action of the novel, in which three sisters and their aunt all vie for Jim's attentions.

The diary describes the downward descent into madness that results from jealousy, the emotions stoked by Jim as if he were baiting his prey. As Fiona concludes her version of events, scribbled down just before she died, there are still many unanswered questions, and Niall the postman sets off for west Cork to solve the riddle.

The middle section of the novel serves as a bridge, where Niall verifies all that he's learned from Fiona's last words. Like a knight, he's determined to do right by the three sisters, and he persists against those who would block his way. There's a second diary, he's learned, and he manages to get his hands on it in the rural village where the sisters once lived. This one was written by Fiona's sister Roisin with her last gasp of breath, the second half of a death-bed confession.

A fast-paced novel picks up speed as Roisin's version of events paints a more frightening picture of darling Jim. She is the one who explains why the sisters did what they did, interlinking Jim's fable about the man who became a wolf with the women's growing realization of what Jim really was.

As the novel winds down, Roisin lays out the final details of how she and her sisters came to be locked up by their aunt, and why they would all be found dead. Mr.Moerk delves into the mind of the deranged, and at the same time reveals the human habit of seeing what one wants to see. The evil that the three sisters uncover is not the least bit evident to all.

Still there are questions to be answered, and Niall persists in his quest, while the readers hang on every twist and turn of the plot. The author ties up all the loose ends as the novel closes, to provide a satisfying ending to a story that began as a rather gruesome offering.

To say more would be to give the ending away, and you'd not want that. Suffice it to say that there's three sisters, and only two were found dead in the house with their aunt.

Darling Jim is the perfect read for a dark summer night around the campfire, a cautionary tale told by a seanchai that would scare the pants off you. It is 285 pages of entertainment, creepy horror and enough plausibility to rope you in. Published by Henry Holt, you couldn't go wrong with this selection for a summer's lazy afternoon.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Protecting Journalism

The Police Service of Northern Ireland would like Suzanne Breen to come by for a chat.

She's to bring her notes, phones, computers, computer storage devices, and anything else that relates to her coverage of the Real IRA for the Sunday Tribune.

Ms. Breen has declined the invitation. She's a journalist who wrote an article that included interviews with gentlemen who are very dangerous, and the PSNI would like her help in nabbing the miscreants.

She's a journalist. She tracked down people who could give her information that she could report, in her capacity as a newspaper woman. Those people would never talk to her again if she turned them in, and she'd be a poor reporter if she couldn't acquire information. Who'd confide in her again, if she broke the bond of trust?

A journalist's ethics are under assault by the police.

The request of the PSNI was declined, and they have taken their request to the High Court to turn it into a legally binding demand.

Ms. Breen recognizes the fact that she is not a police detective. It's not her job to track down criminals so that they can be arrested. Her job involves asking them questions and quoting them in the newspaper so that people can know more about the inner workings of the Real IRA.

If the PSNI would like to discover the facts behind the murder of IRA double agent Denis Donaldson, they'll have to do the leg work themselves. If they want to learn who organized the murder of two British soldiers outside of Massereene Baracks, they can't grill a journalist who gained access to that information because she promised to keep her sources confidential.

If they want to unmask the Real IRA representative who spoke to Ms. Breen, they'll have to look elsewhere. An investigative reporter should not be considered a witness, doing the work of the police. Such an intrusion would undermine the investigative process, and the public would be worse served in the long run.

The PSNI is due in court today, to obtain an order forcing Ms. Breen to give up her sources.

Life's unfair. The criminals who'll talk to reporters won't talk to the police. A court order won't change it. But a court order could kill the ability of news reporters to gather the news.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

In Life, There Are Few Guarantees

Once you get beyond death and taxes, there's nothing you can count on in this world.

For a time, employees of the Boston Globe had one extra guarantee. They were guaranteed a job for life.

When the newspaper owner and the union representatives cobbled together that deal, it may not have made sense, but it kept the workers at their desks and the newspaper was going to live forever so why not.

Newspapers are dying a slow death, undone by the Internet that has diverted the advertising revenue stream. Add to that the flurry of mergers and buy-outs and consolidations that was normal business practice for a few decades, and newspaper owners find themselves so deeply in debt that they can't hope to get out from under.

Costs have to be cut or the paper dies. It's life-saving surgery with no guarantee for the patient's outcome, but there's no other choice. The employees at the Boston Globe who were clinging to their lifetime employment guarantee have discovered that the guarantee has to be sliced away or their newspaper will die. It's a job guarantee for the Globe's life, not theirs.

Either the New York Times, owner of the Globe, gets to lay off workers or the Globe is declared dead. Either the guild members give up the guarantee, or they'll have no job at all.

Word is, the union members understand the sad state of their newspaper and they'll abandon the job guarantee in an effort to save the paper.

Greater love has no man than to lay down his lifetime job guarantee for another.


Honey's nothing more than bee vomit.


In spite of its origins, there are plenty of people who mix it into cakes and spread it on toast and suck it down by the spoonful. Some think that consuming modest amounts of honey made from the pollens to which you're allergic will stave off the allergy.

There's a market for bee vomit, in other words. A market lucrative enough to have attracted smugglers.

It's a German concern, Alfred L. Wolff Inc., that's at the center of this shady operation. Magnus Von Buddenbrock and Stefanie Giesselbach were rumbled in their Chicago offices recently and charged with conspiracy, for shipping honey around the world in attempt to disguise its origin.

Wouldn't you know, the honey comes originally from China. There's a country that really understands the concept of the worker bees who toil unto death for the queen bee who reaps all the rewards with no effort.

To protect American honey producers, the U.S. government slaps big tariffs on foreign honey. It keeps the Chinese from dumping their product at non-competitive prices, and when the laborers work for next to nothing, it's tough for Americans to make a go of it.

Of course, the Chinese are keen to sell their honey at their price, and if it takes a bit of a shell game to do it, well, there's no slogans about honesty in Mao's little red book.

The Germans are cooperating with the Feds, which has led to the arrest of Yong Xiang Yan, president of a Chinese honey company. He was picked up at LAX, along with his associate who is wanted in Seattle on another "honey-laundering" charge.

Who'd have thought that there was so much gold in spew?

And now aren't you wondering if there's melamine or some other deadly contaminant in that sticky bottle on the kitchen counter?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Liars Anonymous, The Teaser

This week, the St. Martin's Press book club is featuring a smart-ass protagonist and reading for entertainment.

Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure is the sort of thing you're looking for when you've got hours to kill when you're flying from New York to LA, or while your kids are in between heats at the track meet.

It tells the story of Jesse Darling, a killer working for one of those roadside assistance companies that you know is called "OnStar" but which the author insists on labeling "HandsOn" like you wouldn't figure it out.

Except for that annoyance, the opening has the makings of some summertime entertainment. Not too deep. It's a mystery, in which the main character hears someone being murdered through the wonders of satellite transmission. According to the flap copy, the gentleman wasn't murdered at all. There's a hook for you.

The author pulls you in and makes you wonder what actually happened, since the narrative is from the POV of the protagonist and all that she can do is listen without watching.

The voice is smart-ass and cheeky, just the sort of non-literary fluff that we all enjoy for the entertainment and to hell with great writing or prose as poetry.

I'll be watching for the book at the public library, so I can read the ending.

That's about all I read of mysteries. No patience to get through the whole thing and collect clues and be led down blind alleys. If there's time, I'll read it all, but if not, at least I'll know whodunit.

If you'd like to join the book club, click your way over to St. Martin's Press and they'll be happy to send you five installments of an opening, five days per week.

It's free. What's not to like?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Coffee For The Common Man

It doesn't matter how much McDonald's spends to promote their coffee. Not to the connoisseurs of the bean. Mickey D's could give away their beverages and not a drop would be accepted.

McDonald's is for the common man.

Starbucks is for the beautiful people.

It's obvious. McDonald's floods the airwaves with advertisements. Starbucks publishes a full page advert in the New York Times. Not just everyone reads that paper. Well, all right, hardly anyone's reading it these days, but it still has that certain cachet.

McDonald's coffee is cheap. Starbuck's coffee concoctions taste better, so where's the real bargain?

If you live in a place with a local coffee shop, where the owner roasts the beans, you'll probably find something that tastes better than Starbuck's but can compete with McDonald's for price.

Not so lucky as that? Dedicated coffee drinkers still choose Dunkin' Donuts coffee by far. It's tasty, hot and cheap. And they have donuts.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Employment Opportunity For Job Seekers

The economy is weak and you're thinking that you don't have any prospects. Who's hiring?

Want a job with a lifetime's guarantee of steady employment? Looking for a position with excellent benefits?

How about a job that comes with room and board?

You have to be male, willing to be celibate, and preferably not gay but as long as you're not a pedophile, there's a place where jobs are going begging.

The Catholic Church has job openings like no other industry.

Over the bank holiday weekend, some priests set up a booth on Kilkenny's High Street, advertising positions that the Church is having a very hard time in filling. If there's one thing that's in short supply, it's Catholic priests, and the Diocese of Ossory thinks that all the men who have lost their jobs in the building trades, manufacturing, and tourism just might be desperate enough to try the priesthood.

Once you've made it through the seminary, you get a position in a parish that includes a house. Meals and lodging are covered, plus you get a bit of walking around money. 2500 euros per month isn't to be sneezed at, even if the uniform is rather boring.

If you signed up at the Kilkenny location, you'd get a choice between study at Maynooth or education in Rome, and once you're done you'd have four weeks of paid holiday per year to look forward to.

Hard to pass up that kind of opportunity.

Except for the celibacy thing. Who'd want to go on holiday from sex for the rest of his life, in exchange for four weeks of vacation?

The head of the Church has made it clear that it's one requirement he's not willing to change.

No wonder then that so few young men went anywhere near the vocations booth in Kilkenny this past weekend.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Prisoners Of A Dissident War

With the success of the film Hunger, more people are aware of Bobby Sands and the battle that the IRA waged during The Troubles.

The Provisional IRA was fighting to free Northern Ireland from British occupation, while the British considered the Provies a bunch of thugs and murderers, common criminals.

It took a hunger strike and several deaths to change things.

Members of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA and the IRA that hasn't accepted the cease fire are housed in Ireland's Portlaoise Prison, and it turns out that they're being treated, by and large, as prisoners of war rather than common criminals.

According to the Prison Officers Association, incarcerated IRA volunteers march like soldiers, and it's permitted. Prison officers are expected to clear the landings when the troops come by.

Their visitors are not searched upon entering, and the men of the Real IRA are known to order in food. Prison grub just doesn't do it, and don't real soldiers get Red Cross packages?

It's nothing new, however. The treatment of IRA prisoners has been different than that of the common criminal since Bobby Sands and his colleagues starved to death in a British prison.

A government can't very well demand one form of treatment for POWs and not follow through on their end. The problem is, with the Provies in office in Stormont, everyone would like to think that the IRA has gone away, but it hasn't. There are still dissidents out there.

And if they serve time in an Irish prison, they're a prisoner of war, even if most people think that the war is long over.

Friday, May 01, 2009

All The News That The Survey Says Is Fit To Print

Do you have a few minutes to participate in our survey? Here's a news story. What do you think? Like this story?

How about this one? No?

In an effort to be relevant, the Chicago Tribune turned their subscribers into their editorial board. Before stories were published, short synopses were e-mailed to the people who buy the newspaper and who were willing to participate in a survey.

The stories that were used were stories that reporters were still working on.

Newspapers are supposed to report the news, but they have marketing departments that are designed to sell papers. The Tribune's marketing department spilled out of its cluster of offices and seeped into the editorial section, and the newspaper's editors and employees are up in arms.

They worry about things like journalistic integrity, and not having someone whose only qualification is that they buy the paper be given a story before it's finished. To what end? Is the potential reader to be allowed to decide what goes in the paper?

Tribune editor Gerould Kern had no idea that marketing was seeking consumer opinions on stories not yet published, and he's moved to stop the practice. He understands the news business, which is not driven by consumer surveys. He believes that the Tribune is there to tell people what's happening, whether they like the news or not.

According to Mr. Kern, the survey data never made it to his desk and it had no impact on how the paper was prepared every day.

He understands that marketing has its place. The newspaper is a business, after all. In future, however, marketing will have to keep to its place and not try to sneak into the editorial department.