Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Night Watchman At Harper Studios

People would try to hide after hours, that was human nature. Seth made his rounds carefully, thoroughly, probing every room, every corner, every stairwell and bathroom stall. They'd want to hide and then break into her office, maybe take a souvenir. Not on his watch they wouldn't.

At the end of the corridor, Seth could hear people walking. Not one or two, but a whole crowd, sounding just like the folks who came for the taping. A sort of shuffling, a lazy stroll when the mob moved as a unit into the studio. By the time he reached the place where he thought he heard footsteps, there was nothing but the quiet of the empty building.

Too nervous, he told himself. Too worked up about doing a perfect job, and maybe a little concerned about screwing up just one time and losing the best position he'd ever get. He'd been a bouncer at the nightclub where the folks stampeded in a blind panic and those poor women got the life squeezed out of them at the bottom of the stairs. No, he'd never work as a bouncer again. The way the cops and the paramedics had to peel the bodies apart, all twined together like tangled branches. Night watchman suited him fine.

A little girl giggled. Seth heard her, clear as if she were laughing in his ear. When he turned to see who was playing a joke, he saw nothing more than the shadows cast by the safety lights. Couldn't have been a child, he realized. It was just the building settling, an old board creaking. It was real old, this building, used to be an armory long ago. Over one hundred years ago, at least. Old buildings made a lot of noise, same as old people did.

Aware of movement over his shoulder, Seth spun around to see if he had an intruder on his hands. A woman in grey crossed the hall at the far end, heading towards the boss's office. He took off at a fast clip, ready to demand an I.D. Then they'd know he was on the job, nothing getting by Seth Lewis.

"Ms. Winfrey," he called to the woman. It was her, he was certain, putting in a late night, getting ready for the next week's round of taping. "That you, Ms. Winfrey?"

The lady in grey had disappeared before he could round the corner, but Seth's ears picked up her mournful wailing. Steadman must have broken up with her, to bring on that kind of sorrow, or that school in Africa had bigger problems than anyone knew.

He followed the sound of weeping to the green room and threw open the door. The room was filled with bodies, lined up so tight that a person could scarcely get a step between them. They were covered with sheets, but their shoes were exposed, rows of shoes on the feet of men and women and children. Old-fashioned shoes, the kind that buttoned.

Was this some kind of joke? A prank played on the new guy? A musty smell, the stink of the Chicago River, was a miasma that mingled with the eerie gloom that was broken only by his flashlight's beam.

"This is Harpo Studios," Seth said. They had the means to rig up a scene from some cheap Hollywood horror picture.

A picture crashed to the floor behind him and Seth spun on heels, heart pumping so fast it threatened to gallop out of his chest. The flashlight swung around, spraying sparkles across the carpet where the shards of glass had scattered. Except for the rattle of air bellowing out of the night watchman's lungs, the hallway was strangely quiet.

With his breath catching in his throat, Seth took one look at the broken picture. The montage featured an old photograph of the Eastland, a lake steamer that had tipped over in the Chicago River not long after the Titanic sunk. Whole families, hundreds of people, had been trapped below deck and drowned, almost all of them employees of Western Electric headed over to Michigan for a company picnic. Spread around the center photo were newspaper articles that described the horrible day, accompanied by pictures taken by press photographers or maybe the County Coroner, chilling images of bodies that had been pulled from the river and brought to the armory. Hundreds of dead, all lined up in a makeshift morgue.

Harpo Studios was the makeshift morgue. Seth's lips mouthed the words that clattered in his skull. The victims, taken out of the water, cold and lifeless,, had waited here to be claimed. The anonymous bodies, in neat rows, waited to be identified.

A howling rose up behind him, the voices of the dead screaming, as they had screamed while the Chicago River swept over their heads. The hallway was thick with people, but not human beings, just the shadows of people, drifting, moving. Through the wall, into the green room.

The woman in gray was at his side, he saw tears shining on her face but her features were fuzzy. Seth reached out, to touch her and tell her the joke was over, but his hand went right through her.

Overhead lights flickered and then went out. The door of the green room slammed shut. Seth ran and never looked back.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Virtual Minnow

Books take up space. They have mass.

Electronic books, however, don't require much room at all. There's no bindery needed to put pages together, no rolls of paper delivered to factories where ink is applied and pages cut to size.

Publishing hard-bound books takes money. Publishing interactive software is less costly in comparison, and an educational publisher would see a bigger profit with e-books.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the educational publishing arm of Barry O'Callaghan's empire, has landed a contract with the Detroit public school system, a deal worth $40 million and don't think that the little fish in the HMH corporate offices aren't dancing a merry jig.

Children in Detroit's public schools will be connected with their teachers via computers. The teachers can use the software to assign homework and track progress.

No more books! A mouse and monitor will bring facts and figures, to fill the minds of Detroit's impoverished youth. No books? The federal stimulus money that's paying for the interactive system allows for e-books, not physical books.

It's a brilliant system, and home computers all across Detroit will be buzzing with learning, with kids interacting with their teachers, teachers interacting with administrators, and what happens if the Detroit family is too poor to have a computer in the home?

Federal stimulus money could provide that as well, although buying personal computers for Detroit's schoolchildren isn't exactly a way to generate jobs for the unemployed of Michigan.

Teachers have to learn how to use the new system, but once the school is tied in with HMH's program, it's steady income for the whale-swallowing minnow. Too expensive to switch over to the likes of Pearson's competing product, and there'll be all those updates and upgrades and revisions down the years.

Barry O'Callaghan prayed for stimulus money to boost sales at HMH, and God has heard his pleas. With the U.S. Treasury footing the bill for e-books and interactive learning systems, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Riverdeep et al. are well positioned to reap the benefits.

And when the stimulus money is all gone, the interactive systems will remain, and they'll be in need of tweaking at some point. So maybe the federal stimulus money does help to save jobs, albeit in a round-about way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Explaining The Lack Of Agent Interest

Good writing, said the agent who rejected my full manuscript.

Nothing wrong there. Grand to be reassured when a writer's riddled with self-doubt.

Rejection just the same, however. The story isn't a blockbuster type, the sort of thing that major publishing houses are after.

It's the economy, they say. Big, splashy hits like Dan Brown has produced, or Jodi Picoult or Steven King, that's what is selling.

So it's a rejection. I've been advised to go direct to the small publishers, to find a niche that fits my story, and do it that way. Small houses pay little to no advance, and a literary agent won't waste his or her time pursuing an editor if there's no money to be made. They're in business, after all, not operating a charity for needy authors.

I've nothing to lose in finding some little companies that might be interested in a novel that covers a rather obscure area of Irish history. Instead of sending off packets to agents, I'll be sending off packets to publishers who crank out ten or twelve books per year, and hope that I land in their niche.

While I wait to hear back, I'll work on something else, dust off an old manuscript and re-work it into something that might appeal to a larger audience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Author's Drivel Is Another Man's Entertainment

Publishers pay huge money to celebrities, who are then supposed to go out and "write" something.

It could be the life story of a girl in her teens, it could be a pop singer penning a tome filled with fashion and diet advice.

Author Lynda La Plante would prefer that publishers stop paying enormous sums for such shite and print more readable, quality writing.

Actress Martine McCutcheon, who rose to fame with a starring role in EastEnders, a long running British soap, begs to differ.

Ms. McCutcheon wrote a novel and is under contract for two more. The first chapter of her debut novel, The Mistress, was made available on line, to generate some pre-release buzz. There was indeed buzz generated, with critics panning the writing as "a truly awful piece of pedestrian drivel."

She was well paid for her drivel because she's got an enormous platform. The book will sell, based entirely on her fame and not at all on the quality of her prose. Whether or not it well sell through to earn the advance is another story entirely.

Some other author will be paid a pittance in royalties to make up the difference. That also means that new authors will find it that much more impossible to get their chance, because the publishers are crying about the tight market and the literary agents hear the call. Untried authors won't get a foot in the door because the money's going out to pay celebrities and only published authors need apply.

So a highly respected crime fiction novelist calls on the publishing houses to re-arrange their priorities, to put out a quality product. A television soap opera actress defends the status quo, noting that her book is nothing more than entertainment for the average man.

The average man enjoys pedestrian drivel, as far as the major publishers are concerned, pedestrian drivel written by someone famous. It's all about the author's platform, about business, and there's precious little art involved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

As Seen On Mythbusters

Can a man be electrocuted by urinating on an electrified rail?

As seen on Mythbusters, it's not entirely likely unless he's standing close to the track, but a man wee-ing on an electrified fence should take precautions.

Urine conducts electricity, and current requires that a circuit be completed. When stream of piss connects grounded man to electrical source, more will flow than the gallons of beer he drank that evening.

John O'Connor is tired of drunken eejits pee-ing on his shop front and he's turned to science to solve the problem.

He's installed an electronic device on the store's facade that will send a charge back up a urine stream, to deliver a shock to a very delicate part of the male anatomy.


No doubt Mr. O'Connor is at his wit's end, dealing with his place of business serving as an outdoor toilet, forced to clean up some disgusting messes every Monday morning. You'd have to believe that he thought about more violent means to punish the filthy pigs who've made his life a misery, but filling a young man's privates with bird shot isn't legal---although the prosecutor's office would have a hard time finding a jury willing to convict a man for such a crime.

Signs will be posted and you can bet that more than a few morons will have a slash, just to see if they really do get a shock.

He'd installed CCTV cameras earlier, in the hopes of catching the perpetrators. Will we soon seen videos on YouTube of drunks testing out a concept that's already been confirmed by Mythbusters?

And can the voltage be cranked up for the repeat offenders?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Devil In The Details

To be a writer is to be a researcher. No matter if it's about finding who represents an author or bringing accuracy to a manuscript, there's work involved.

Heather Barbieri, she of international short story award fame, managed to snag Emma Sweeney's interest with a manuscript, so my research began with reading her debut piece.

Bringing accuracy to a manuscript isn't all that.

I've known since I was small that you don't call those who roam Ireland's roads "tinkers" as it's considered an insult. They like to be called Travellers. With two 'L's.

That minor point slipped past the editors and Ms. Barbieri, who opens the novel with a character who describes himself as a traveler. One 'L'. He's driving his caravan, makes a living fixing things (that's where the tinkering comes in) but he's not a card-carrying member of the Travellers, not one to support Pavee Point's quest for Travellers' rights. Is he truly a Traveller (and they're not gypsies either) or just a man who likes to roam?

Unfortunately, such small errors set the teeth on edge and make it harder to read. There's an ongoing awareness that things aren't quite right, and if it's all about suspending disbelief, even that becomes hard work.

The story is set in the west of Ireland, but it's in a Gaelic village.

What might that be? Is Ms. Barbieri referring to the Gaeltacht? If so, the folks would be speaking Irish and all the signs would be in Irish and the local newspaper would be in Irish.

But there's no one in the entire novel speaking Irish. They're all talking another language called Gaelic.

The fact is, the great majority of Ms. Barbieri's readers wouldn't know that. They wouldn't cringe every time the word 'Gaelic' was used when 'Irish' was the more accurate word. They've most likely never heard of the Gaeltacht and have no idea how restrictive the places are, how little English is heard.

Outside of the details, the story is well told. The plot revolves around loss (mother dies) and finding a new man (post-break-up) and there's the usual female problems tossed in to the subplot (wife abuse).

With a bit of clever phrasing, I could probably come up with a query letter that claims my manuscript would be snapped up by Ms. Barbieri's readers. Except my manuscript has a few more words of Irish in it.

The devil's in such details.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We Know You're Here

Already literary agents are putting all advertising for Barnes & Noble's e-reader in the bin. A reading device that can't handle Word documents is worthless to those who earn their keep with words.

Anyone who values their privacy will not be keen to purchase a Nook either.

Barnes & Noble will know when you enter one of their shops.

Combining free WiFi with marketing, Big Reading Brother will zap your Nook with sample chapters the minute you wander into the shop. You wouldn't want to be carrying your Nook if you were a hit man on your way to a job near a Barnes & Noble. One subpoena and your movements would be traced as easily as that.

The suits at Barnes & Noble will tell you it's a brilliant thing, to be able to read the opening of a new book that's not to be laid down for another month, and you'd be the first. Why, there'd be coupons and such dumped into your Nook, and that's all to the good, the marketing department is proclaiming. Never mind the creepiness factor, that your electronic reading device is being used to spy on you.

As for lending e-books, the publishers don't like that at all, even if Nook users can share one title with one friend just the one time. It's one thing to do that with a hard copy that costs $24.99 and quite another to do so with an e-book that's going for $8.99.

Still, the device will store 17,000 books, and that's enough reading material to last a lifetime.

Just don't carry the thing around if you don't want B&N to know where you are.

Monday, October 19, 2009

There's More To Literature Than Little Red Books

If this is how honored guests are treated, the Chinese would rather not be honored.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, China expected to have a platform from which to hawk their Communist culture, and expand into yet another export market.

Sad to say, Beijing, but the world doesn't want your books.

Literature springs from free speech, from the right to express opinions that are often contrary to the party line. As this concept is anathema to those on high, Chinese books are worthless.

Then there's all those Chinese dissidents, invited by the book fair organizers and then uninvited when China complained. Wouldn't you know, with all that freedom in the Western World, that the organizers caved in to pressure and let them in after all. Freedom of movement is also troubling to the Chinese of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

When the message is controlled, it's so much easier to indoctrinate to the party line. That hasn't happened in Frankfurt.

They didn't come to be instructed about democracy, but the honored guests got a lesson just the same. Chinese censorship dictated what books the Chinese exhibit displayed, but all their censorship couldn't prevent participants in the German book fair from displaying those same works that criticized Chinese censorship and other aspects of the brutal regime.

Of course they complained mightily about the Germans, about the rudeness of the host and the focus on human rights when it was supposed to be about selling books.

That's the problem with literature. It's too much about human rights and the human condition, and even though publishing is a business, there's no controlling the readers who buy those books. So if there's no market for censorship, what's the point in selling it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Form E112 (IE)/EU/EEA And Fill It Out In Triplicate

What could be better and more efficient than government running the health care system?

Like a good citizen seeking treatment in the proper way, Judi Costello filled out form E112(IE) and submitted it to Ireland's Health Service Executive. Her son Adam has severe medical problems, and treatment for his common variable immune deficiency requires regular injections.

Those injections are, as luck would have it, only available in the United States. Remarkable that the States would be on the cutting edge, considering how dreadful their privately run health system is said to be.

Ms. Costello filled out her forms, submitted, and brought her son to Newark, NJ, for his vaccinations, and has done so for the past seven years. The HSE then paid for the trip and the treatment.

The lad is showing signs of improvement and his immune system appears to be improving.

Sadly, it was all a vast bureaucratic error. The HSE can't pick up the tab after all. The U.S. doesn't recognize Form E112(IE) as it is not a EU/EEA signatory.

Ms. Costello's son is no longer eligible for the expensive treatment and the HSE has informed Ms. Costello that her most recent submission has been denied. All those previous reimbursements for the past seven years? A mistake. So sorry.

No medical facilities in the EU or Switzerland, where Form E112(IE) allows for treatment abroad to be paid through HSE, has the necessary injections.

Only in America.

The group that lobbies for Irish interests might bring Ms. Costello's son to the halls of Congress during the health care debate and push for the U.S. to sign on to Form E112(IE) and save the young man's life. The prognosis without the shots is pretty grim and wouldn't it be grand to put a face to a matter of life or death?

Just don't let it get out that a government-run program denied life-saving treatment to Adam Costello-Doherty because of cost. That would only fuel the opposition, and proving them right wouldn't do at all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Murky Future Of Publishing

Librarians figured out how to solve the e-book dilemma. Some libraries have downloadable books available on their websites.

However, patrons can't download to Kindle or iPhone or other e-readers because there's simply too many platforms and libraries aren't equipped to handle them all. For now, a library download is available to computers only.

Barnes & Noble is coming out with their own device to compete with the Kindle. Like the VHS vs. Beta wars of long ago, one device has to dominate the market to make it practical for public library lending via an e-reader.

From the publisher's perspective, libraries offering downloads of books means fewer buyers of those same titles. Neither Simon & Schuster nor Macmillan will sell e-books to libraries because there's so much "free" involved. A popular title might result in sales of multiple copies because the library wants to have enough to meet demand. Downloads? Only need one and everyone who wants the latest book can have it. Even the most impatient, who otherwise might have bought the book, can read it through the library.

Even so, former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman has thrown her hat into the e-book ring. Her new venture, Open Road Integrated Media, is all about electronic books. She's planning on releasing the backlist of several popular authors such as William Styron and Iris Murdoch.

Clearly she thinks there's money to be made in electronic publishing, while old school publishers are struggling to find the profit center.

However, Ms. Friedman is hedging her bets by including video content and film production under her publishing tent, along with a sideline in vanity publishing that could prove to be very lucrative.

Is the e-book the future of publishing? The industry indicates that it is, but what form it will take, and what form publishing will take, is still unclear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Lovely (Golden) Bones

The Albanians would like Mother Teresa's bones returned from India. Time is of the essence.

In fact, India has been given until August to dig up the nun's remains.

Already beatified, Mother Teresa is considered a shoe-in for sainthood. Sure the Nobel Peace Prize was grand, but that's become a bit of a joke and it's sainthood that's to be taken seriously.

Will the Pope make the official declaration next August, on Mother Teresa's 100th birthday?

Should that happen, the Albanian tourism ministry would very much like to have the sainted bones mouldering in Albanian soil, to be prayed over by tourists who would spend money on food and lodging and souvenirs.

India has shown no signs of giving in to the demand. As far as the Indian government is concerned, Mother Teresa became an Indian citizen in 1951 and so she is Indian. She is buried in her homeland, in Calcutta, and the Albanians can name as many roads and airports after her as they like, but those bones aren't leaving.

Albania does not even have a birthplace to turn into a tourist trap, since Mother Teresa was actually born in Macedonia. Don't think that doesn't grate on Albanian nerves. Technically, the woman was Macedonian and not Albanian at all, except for her parents having been born in Albania.

Times are hard, and it's even harder in Albania, a poor country with nothing to attract hordes of wealthy foreigners. The government has vowed to increase pressure on India to deliver the remains, but Albania is poor and India is booming. What real pressure can be applied when such inequality exists?

Beatified individuals must perform miracles to make the final step to sainthood. It's time for the Albanians to start praying.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking Things Literally

As the offspring of Simon & Schuster's Simon, singer Carly Simon could be expected to take things literally. After all, it's words that financed her childhood and made her life well-cushioned.

So when Starbucks said they'd promote her new album in their plethora of coffee shops, she took them at their word.

Their word turned out to be as fleeting as the steam on a grande no-fat double-shot latte.

In Ms. Simon's opinion, Starbucks failed to stock enough albums in the stores when it was fresh and new, thereby losing valuable impulse purchasers. When the racks were finally filled, Starbucks cut the price to move them out, and everyone in publishing knows that cut-rate products are remainders that no one wanted the first time around. Not where any artist wants to be, on the remainder table.

Starbucks has countered with a more simple explanation. They did what they were supposed to do. Ms. Simon's album sucked. No one wanted to buy a collection of shite pressed into discs, and all the publicity in the world wouldn't move it.

Like manuscripts, opinions are subjective. Carly Simon should be aware of this sad fact.

In a way, the failure of the album to sell at Starbucks is a giant rejection letter. It's the sort of things that writers are painfully familiar with.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Maximizing Investment

Multi-billionaire George Soros has invested heavily in climate change and he's keen to see a return on his investment.

While Des Moines, Iowa, saw its earliest measurable snowfall and farmers in the Midwestern states prayed that their corn crop was ripe enough for harvest with a growing season cut short by cold weather, Mr. Soros is pushing governments to force their citizens to accept global warming as real, and pay for it.

He's putting $1 billion of his hard earned cash into investments that would help "solve" the global warming problem, and he's open to anything that would be profitable.

Of course.

To that end, he's founding the Climate Policy Initiative in San Francisco with a grant of $10 million per year for ten years.

The Climate Policy Initiative, wealthy and thus powerful, would be used like a hammer to pound down resistance to climate change scepticism. Huge sums of money will be thrown at elected representatives who would then be expected to sit in government and draw up laws that would promote the use of that which Mr. Soros has invested in.

Shivering in your Minnesota home, you might find that your Congressman has promoted legislation to build wind farms in Eden Prairie, paid for by your tax dollars, and it's for your own good because the world is getting dangerously warm.

What chance do you have against Soros' billions? Sure he's only out to make more money, and he's gambled on global warming...sorry, it's now called climate change because everyone's pretty much figured out that it's not getting warmer around here, it's getting colder.

Those billions won't go towards research on the effect of sun spot activity on the planet's climate. Unless Mr. Soros invests in nuclear power or heating oil or furnace manufacturers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Funny Weather For This Time Of Year

As I head out to the garden to harvest the peppers before they're lost to the hard freeze that's predicted, I'm glad to hear that someone is doing well in spite of the funny weather we've had.

Heavy spring rains kept farmers (and that includes small scale farmers like those of us with vegetable gardens) out of the fields until later than usual. A drive through Iowa in May showed corn not anywhere near as high as it usually was at that time of year.

Then there was the cool weather. Global warming was a hard sell this season, with temperatures consistently lower than years past and the lovely vegetable plants refusing to grow until they had some nice, warm days.

Ask anyone around here and they'll tell you how miserable the tomato crop was. Fruit not as sweet as usual, ripening much later and the plants not producing much in the end.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service is predicting a bumper crop in corn and soybeans, even though plenty of farmers are worried that the hard freeze will hit before their late-planted corn can fully mature.

So it might be the second largest corn crop in recorded history. Or it might not. It all depends on what actually comes into the silos.

Wouldn't want to be a commodities trader in weather times like these.

Friday, October 09, 2009

What Just Happened?

I open up the Irish Times and what's the headline?

Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize for talking up nuclear disarmament.


The man who hasn't actually done anything concrete, but who makes the most brilliant speeches, was awarded a prestigious prize for words. There is no action behind it.

The committee believes that he's put in an extraordinary effort towards international diplomacy. I guess they really liked his endless apologizing for all America's excess and greed and general evil when he was last in Europe.

Mr. Obama has been trying to get the warring parties in the Middle East together, just like every other U.S. President since Jimmy Carter garnered a handshake across the divide. There's no peace there, of course, and anyone with a sharp eye can see that there's not to be peace there, but over in Oslo they think that talking a good game is proof enough that a man deserves a prize.

What makes it all the more shocking that is I can't say I heard the slightest whisper from the touts at Paddy Power, laying odds on who might be awarded ten million crowns by the King of Sweden.

We're all blindsided by the news, and the conservative pundits are going to have to scramble like mad to prepare lists of other, more deserving, individuals who should have been given the award.

At last. A respite from the health care debate.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hurrah For Deficit Reduction

The latest version of the Health Care bill will reduce the deficit!

Let us all rejoice and be glad.

There's nothing like raising taxes to get the difference between income and expenses down. It certainly helps when expenses get reduced on top of it. The deficit just keeps right on shrinking and the picture glows ever more rose-hued.

So when that healthy young man glares at you with your walker or your oxygen tank, yes, he is wishing that you'd die. You'll be costing him money, in the form of a tax that he'll be paying. It will be called mandatory insurance, but it's a tax just the same, and it's money he'd rather be spending on his own pleasures than your doctor's bills.

Where's the incentive for our youth to go out and stay fit so they don't get sick? Their income is reduced because they have to pay that extra tax, so they can't afford much in the way of fun. They'll be eating fast food, trying to extract some small joys in life, and then where will you be when you need a heart by-pass and all those others in line ahead of you?

Worse than that is the fact that, with less disposable income, those same formerly healthy young things will buy less stuff, like books.

Book sales decline and publishers will buy fewer manuscripts. Fewer authors will have a chance to break into the big time.

It's all bad news to me.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

FTC Compliant

The books I've mentioned in this blog? I didn't keep a single one of them.

That makes this blog FTC compliant.

If someone's giving away free books, I'm there with open hands, as greedy as any miser when it comes to reading material.

I don't doubt that publishers give away free books to people who blog, in the hope that some positive (free) publicity will be generated. Held up my end of the bargain as best I could, tossing out brief reviews that may or may not recommend a book to the reading public.

But I share the wealth with friends and move the books along to other members of my book group.

Dear FTC, I won't tweet a book review. Having to squeeze FTC required disclaimers into 140 characters doesn't leave room for the book title, let alone a thumbs up or down. No need to monitor my activities, I swear to Jesus I'll never do it.

Same goes for Amazon reviews. That takes an account with Amazon, of course, and a credit card on file, so in that case it's the principle of the thing. Even if I had a stack of free copies from publishers, I couldn't post a review on Amazon so we're good on that score.

I'm not a literary agent, plugging my clients' work on my site with a mind to increase sales and thus my commission. Now there's the ones for the FTC to keep an eye on. They're working hand in glove with the publishers, making all those endorsements.

The FTC's Richard Cleland says he won't be reading every single blog, searching out perpetrators and levying $11,000 fines.

To date, no one in the publishing world is entirely clear on who Mr. Cleland is going after, let alone who has been harmed by on-line book reviews in which the reviewer is compensated by a free copy of a book that might sell for $25.95.

Hardly the stuff that riches are made of. What next? Charging the reviewer sales tax on their free book?

Monday, October 05, 2009

When Pedophilia Becomes A Sacrament

For years, the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut has fought to keep hidden all records pertaining to sex abuse by its priests.

Once they reached settlement agreements with the victims, the diocese had everything sealed up, to never see the light of day or the eyes of the faithful who faithfully drop their pennies in the plate. The last thing they wanted was to make the whole thing public.

Unfortunately, legal proceedings in the States are subject to other than Canon law. Several newspapers, including the New York Times, sued to obtain access.

But we only turned the records over because the Connecticut court said we had to, went the Church's argument. The judge promised us that they'd go no further than that.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it won't listen to the clerics. The Justices, in their wisdom (and there's four Catholics on the bench) don't believe that the state of Connecticut was messing about in official Church business by pursuing the priestly pedophiles. They don't see how the law of man interfered with the law of God in regard to letting the Church run its operation.

Say Mass however you like, Father, but there's no sacrament of pedophilia that the legal system is disrupting by prosecuting the perverts.

The last, best hope of the Bridgeport diocese is that the Supreme Court would agree that the Church's First Amendment rights are being violated by the release of the secret documents.

Actually, it's the children who were violated. Sexually abusing children has nothing to do with internal affairs.

Render to God and forgive the priests if they make a full and sincere confession. Render unto Caesar and throw them to the mercy of the court system, to be prosecuted for their crimes.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Winners Of The Ig Nobel Prize For Literature

It's not often that an entire police force earns their literary chops.

Congratulations are due to the men in blue who keep Ireland safe. An Garda Siochana has won this year's Ig Nobel prize in literature.

Research turned up evidence that a Polish man, Prawo Jazdy, was racking up driving offenses at a remarkable rate. The mobile Pole was all over the country, on the receiving end of tickets issued by the gardai.

Who was this remarkable, and rather reckless, driver?

The Garda's traffic division had to find out.

That's when they discovered that 'prawo jazdy' means 'driving license' in Polish. The word went out among the force that Prawo Jazdy was not the driver's name at all, at all. The Garda's computer system had to be re-programmed and gardai across the nation had to be given a very brief Polish language lesson.

No one from An Garda Siochana went to Harvard to collect the prize. Thus far, no one has made an official comment. Or offered their official thanks for the recognition.

What A Difference A Recession Makes

The last time that Ireland voted on the new European Union treaty, times were good. So good, in fact, that there was no end in sight.

The end did indeed come, and emigration is once again the job seeker's route to work.

Without the great incoming rush of tax revenues from a buying-mad public, even the government is going under.

What better time than now to ask the Irish people, once again, if they'd like to approve the Lisbon Treaty?

In flush days, it was a no. Why let Europe push Ireland around, with its low, low corporate tax the envy of the French who'd raise it the minute they had a chance? Ireland was doing just fine, on the fringes of the EU, and who would ask for more restrictions?

What a difference an economic downturn can make in a nation's outlook.

The Lisbon Treaty is passed with a resounding majority in favor. The people voted Yes to the promise of jobs that would appear on the heels of the Treaty's approval. They voted yes so that Ireland wouldn't be pushed aside in the EU, knowing that membership has done more good than harm to the little island nation.

Like any other enormous document of bureaucratic legalese, it remains to be seen if things will work as promised, or if there are enough loopholes for the larger countries to jump through and avoid some restrictions. All for one and one for all is grand, until you're the one (Ireland) that watches another country (Poland) steal away your Dell franchise and have to pay to relocate the firm on top of it.

The U.S. Constitution, which made thirteen states into one nation, was a small document that was written by hand. The Lisbon Treaty, which is meant to make European Union members into one nation, is cumbersome and complex.

The United States did not truly become united until the separate states fought a bloody civil war. The EU plans to do their squabbling in the courts and hope that legal judgments are equally as effective.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Back To Stacking Wheat

City of Big Shoulders....Stacker of wheat....Chicago.

Not City of Big Olympics after all.

Let the pundits blame Obama and claim it's a loss to the President, while the other side brushes it off as no big concern for the President.

At the national level, it won't make much difference, and the big-time talking heads on the national news shows will find other dry bones to pick at. All the talk will continue in Chicago, where the local pundits are already questioning Mayor Richard Daley's chances of survival.

He was banking on the Olympics to bring construction jobs and truckloads of money to his city, to be distributed among his many friends who keep him in power. The city is essentially broke, thanks in no small part to the high cost of corruption and the expense of the sweetheart deal.

Now there's no such windfall in the offing, no gifts to be doled out to his patronage army.

The citizens are outraged about their ever-rising property taxes. They're livid about the parking meter fiasco, in which the meter business was leased to an outside firm that promptly jacked up rates and drove business from the neighborhoods. Broken meters, meters that only took quarters when parking was over $3.00 per's been a disaster that might have been forgotten if the Olympics were coming to town.

But there's not to be Olympic games in Chicago in 2016.

Pundits are ready to start taking bets on whether or not Richard Daley will run again for office, under the presumption that the slap in Copenhagen could prove to be a fatal blow.

Sports lovers look to Rio de Janeiro. They are advised to pack heat. The crime rate is obscene.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Great Irish Book Week

Book selling is about marketing, about authors making themselves available to meet their readers and publishers doing promotions.

Beginning next Monday and running for one week, Irish publishers and book sellers are joining Irish authors in a nationwide campaign to encourage people to buy books.

The land of saints and scholars, the country that produced Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and Colm Toibin, is not a land of book purchasers. Economic decline has hit hard in Ireland, and the book business is suffering like any other maker of luxury goods.

Buying a book is a luxury when you're not sure if you'll have a job from one day to the next. Given a choice between a new book and milk for your children, it's no contest.

How about choosing between the price of admission to a film that isn't very good, or a trade paper-back? The book will last. You can read it again, or pass it around to friends. Any time, day or night, that book is there on the shelf, available for amusement or education.

If no one buys books, according to Alan Hayes of the Irish Book Publishers Association, emerging authors have no place to go to get published. What stories are being lost, even now, because of cost cutting by major publishing houses?

Anyone buying one of thirty titles will receive a free book that contains excerpts from all thirty available titles. Readers can sample other works of non-fiction, poetry, or fiction, and perhaps be intrigued enough to buy another.

There's a unique pleasure in walking through a book shop and thumbing through the opening pages of a novel or perusing the flap copy of a history title. Sitting in a comfortable chair with a book and a cup of tea is an experience not to be missed, a slice of time that provides escape from the world and all the worries about how you'll pay the electric bill this month.

Buy a book. It's a vacation between hard covers and it costs far less than a plane ticket.