Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dubai Meltdown Cooks The Minnow

What a tangled web Barry O'Callaghan did weave when first he practiced to borrow his way into educational publishing materials nirvana.

One acquisition after another, and before long he had EMPG, a debt-laden whale that was propped up by Istithmar World Capital. All looked well on the minnow's horizon.

As bad luck would have it, Istithmar World Capital is situated in Dubai, owned by the very people who have asked the world to hold off on getting repaid on $60 billion in debt.

As Istithmar must come up with some cash to make its payments or face a total meltdown, those associated with EMPG (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for example) are wondering if Dubai's stock in EMPG will have to be sold to raise money.

There is more to Dubai's financial woes than a sharp decline in the real estate investment market, although that is said to be the trigger that started the trouble. Having borrowed heavily to promote Dubai real estate, tourism and other non-crude oil ventures, the nation-state is hard-pressed to carry the debt load of others. Others being Barry O'Callaghan's former minnow of an educational materials publisher.

As one investor that took a big chunk of EMPG during the $7 billion debt restructuring, Istithmar now must exit its position. That being the case, is there anyone who wants to buy?

Chances are good that such stock would go at fire-sale prices, given the shaky situation in the entire publishing industry. The set-up that got HMH Riverdeep out of some seriously boiling hot water is looking more like a house of cards, and the foundation is on the verge of washing away.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Everybody Knew, Nobody Said

There is not doubt any more that the Catholic Church and the Irish government colluded to cover up endemic child abuse by priests.

The report of the Commission of Investigation stated this in clear terms.

What everybody has known for years is finally acknowledged as fact, and the Church is most sincerely sorry. An Garda Siochana is launching their own investigation, an examination long delayed, into the State's participation in the scandal.

Was there criminal liability? Are gardai to be taken to task for kow-towing to the local bishop and not pursuing complaints? Is the State to be sued for failing to act, for helping the Church to hide and avoid prosecution?

What can be done for the victims whose lives were destroyed by criminal acts of physical and sexual abuse that were ignored, all to save the reputation of the Catholic Church?

It is hoped that the report will provide a framework to avoid a repeat of such incidents in the future, but the damage is done to both the victims and the Church, which has lost its former standing as moral authority. A bishop or priest cannot open his mouth without being laughed at, for those who would throw stones are now proven to be with sin.

That which was hidden has been revealed. The perpetrators must now deal with the fall-out of their decades of hypocrisy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

For friends and family, we give thanks every day of the year. For good books and good arguments, we count our blessings.

We'll eat too much and drink far too much, enjoy the company of our siblings and mourn the physical decline of our aging parents, who may be celebrating their last Thanksgiving Day on earth.

Clean the house, scrub the bathrooms, baste the turkey, mash the spuds, and in a flash the meal will be concluded and we'll pause after the guests have gone home, pause to recollect and reflect on our blessings.

We don't have much money. Business has been bad and won't be better in the coming year, but no matter how grim the economic climate, we'll have friends and family to provide food for the soul.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unfair To Who?

Trade unions in Ireland have gone out on strike, to protest against planned wage cuts for public service workers. A successful strike requires the support of non-union members, the general public---the same people who make less than those who walked off their jobs.

People employed in the private sector earn less than the public service sector. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions seems to have forgotten this proven fact. Instead, in the face of unsustainable costs, they've decided to launch a very public complaint about being asked to take pay cuts that would bring member wages in line with everyone else's.

And they expect sympathy from the general public.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters and paper-shufflers are walking the picket lines, demanding that their pay not be reduced. Demanding that people who make as much as 20% less than them pay more in taxes to fund their bloated pay checks. Inconveniencing people, frightening people who are afraid to get sick or light a match in case no one will be there to take care of the issue. Yes, ICTU expects sympathy for their cause.

When Jim Larkin called out the workers, conditions were grim and pay was low. Today, ICTU calls out the workers and they're well-paid, with decent working conditions.

In 1913, W.B. Yeats wrote poems in support of those locked out in Dublin. In 2009, no one's writing poems. Just as no one is demanding that service workers paid by tax dollars aren't asked to make sacrifices like everyone else when the government's run out of money.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Day For Giving Thanks

The long awaited report on clerical sex abuse in Dublin's archdiocese is due to be published, after much delay, on Thursday.

As luck would have it, that's also a major holiday in the U.S. Makes for a slow news day, a relatively quiet day, and it's less likely that the Irish diaspora will get many details in their newspapers. By Friday, of course, it's old news.

The report would have come out sooner, but there's a strike scheduled and people who might need mental health counseling after reading the report would find that the helplines are down due to industrial action.

Then there was the Department of Justice weighing in, adding to the delay. One of the priests mentioned in the report is about to be tried for child sex abuse, and they didn't want certain information relevant to their case to be released.

All the delay, yet it won't be much news in the end. It's well known by now that the Catholic Church had a pattern of moving abusing priests around from parish to parish. It was done all over the globe, in every parish in every country. And the State did nothing, not when it was the Catholic Church they'd have to deal with. The bishops didn't tell the authorities, the authorities didn't pursue cases aggressively because the bishops promised to take care of it, and the end result was thousands of children abused and broken.

On Thanksgiving Day, while the Americans are sitting down to a feast, the people in Ireland will be sitting down to yet another litany of abuse. A sensitive telling of the story, in fiction form, can be found between the pages of The Leaven of the Pharisees, if you're interested in learning more.

And Patrick Kennedy's bishop has decided that the man is to be denied Communion for his political views.

How can they wonder why no one takes them seriously?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Encounters With A Brick Wall

Query letters aren't getting any attention. The current work in progress was put aside in favor of editing an old manuscript, and when I went back to it, I knew the opening had to be re-done but I didn't know where to start. Revised query letters aren't getting any attention.

I've reached the tallest brick wall yet, the one that I'm having a difficult time climbing over. It's the wall that's covered with graffiti, all of which declares my utter inability to write anything that anyone would want to read.

Crisis of confidence perhaps? Or the faintest glimmers of reality poking through? So what's at the top of this brick wall if I try to clamber up? More failure? Yet another wall?

The partial manuscript that was sent to a publisher may never move along any further than the bottom of the slush pile, forgotten until some cleaning session sees it tossed into the bin. The agent who's reading the full manuscript may be composing a rejection query letter even now.

Ah, the ups and downs of the writing game. The temptation to quit is quite strong. Be done with the pain of rejection, the weariness of early mornings spent with words. What point is sleep deprivation if it leads to nothing but....nothing?

But if I give it up, I'll be expected to find the leak under the kitchen sink and actually fix it. Rooms in need of paint will have to be painted. I'd have the time for the mundane chores, if I would abandon a hobby that's provided years of frustration.

Maybe if I can hypnotize myself and try writing from a trance......

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Kind Of Town?

The massive McCormick Place complex on the shores of Lake Michigan has long been a destination for major trade shows. Plenty of space for exhibitors and guests, the venue has the added advantage of being situated in Chicago, a bustling town famous for its steaks and respectable nightlife.

Unfortunately, McCormick Place's other claim to fame has caught up with it. The major trade shows are going elsewhere, and just when Chicago is desperate for money.

The plastics industry got fed up. The healthcare info management industry got fed up. And now the restaurants are letting the city know that the goose is cooked.

Since time immemorial, it was known that an exhibitor didn't dare to so much as screw in a single lightbulb out of fear that the booth would come to harm overnight. Call an electrician, or else. And then pay an astronomical fee.

An exhibitor had to have a union operative for every possible activity, and the cost was high but there wasn't much choice. Over the years, however, other cities figured that they could build large exposition halls and attract conventions. The conventions realized that they could go someplace else, have great fun, and not get gouged for the privilege.

Orlanda, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada, have stolen two key trade shows from Chicago, taking along tens of millions of dollars in business that includes hotel rentals, meals, and other incidentals. The National Restaurant Association, booked for the next two years, is making some noise about 2012. They might not choose Chicago.

When you own a monopoly, you can charge what the market will bear. Chicago's McCormick Place isn't the only game in town anymore, and Mayor Richard Daley has a hard choice to make.

He has the union's support because he takes care of the union bosses, but the union bosses have become too greedy. Now the Mayor must rein them in, but if he cuts off their access to the trough, why would they continue to get out the vote for Richie? But if he doesn't bring them to heel, there goes another trade show and the tax revenue they generate.

The high cost of corruption is taking a toll. Will someone blink and make a sacrifice? Or will they sit back as business departs, content with the knowledge that they run a place that's all but abandoned?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Talk To The Hand

The Irish government might as well talk to the hand, because the religious congregations ain't listening.

The cost of compensating thousands of Irish citizens for the abuse they suffered as children under the care of the Sisters of Mercy or the Christian Brothers is astronomical. Since the religious made money off the slave labor of those children (small fingers work best to string rosaries), it was expected that they would take a large share of the blame.

What few outside of Ireland know is that Irish children were literally arrested on trumped up charges such as begging, and commited to industrial schools. The idea was to socially engineer poverty into oblivion, and the girls could be well trained in morality and there's the end of premarital sex. The ultimate outcome was thousands of men and women wholly unprepared for the outside world, institutionalized, emotionally stunted.

The cost of psychological counseling alone will cost millions of euro, to say nothing of the financial remuneration for pain and suffering.

So will the religious organizations answer the government's call to contribute more to the redress scheme than what they originally were willing to give? More than worthless land and the heartfelt prayers of the congregations?

Thus far, there's been little response to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's request. No surprise, of course. The religious orders did nothing when they learned that they were harboring pedophiles within the confines of their institutions, and they did nothing when children were physically and/or sexually abused. Why break with tradition and actually do something productive?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Old Age Isn't Pretty

Playboy Enterprises is up for sale. Who'd want such an old dinosaur?

Anyone looking for something particularly creepy to watch on television can spend time with a very geriatric Hugh Hefner, looking more and more senile by the week. This is the face of Playboy? It's isn't pretty.

The man who helped to launch the sexual revolution is now watching the revolution pass him by. There's so much porn on the Internet that no one needs to pick up a copy of Playboy's magazine. It's not the only game in town, and apparently no one was reading the thing for the quality articles either. The prose is still there but the sales are not.

The corporation is bleeding red ink. A casino project from the 1980's fell apart, and there went that source of outside, non-porn, income. When the business is sex, and the competition is fierce, where does a CEO go to diversify the portfolio? The nightclubs are long gone, just as the habit of going to nightclubs is long gone. What passes for entertainment fifty years after Hugh Hefner launched the bunny on the world is radically different.

For now, that is. Pay attention to the commercials for liquor that feature handsome (a bit gay, actually) men sipping things like scotch or expensive bourbons. Dressed in tuxedos. All very formal, like something our parents might have thought was a look to aim for.

Then look up old videos of Hugh Hefner's television program, in which he roamed a room filled with sophisticated types, sipping scotch or expensive bourbon. Dressed up, not down.

It seems as if the style pendulum is going back to the 1950's, to the age of cocktail parties that flowed with witty repartee and not a single glass of white wine to be seen. It's the Playboy image that Hugh Hefner promoted, and it may be making a return appearance. Just in time for some investor to buy up the potential that could be residing in Playboy Enterprises.

Then they could put Grandpa Hugh out to pasture and bring in a younger, hipper spokesman. One far less creepy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Minnow Swims Into Court

An asset isn't worth much if its value has been artificially inflated.

That's Cengage Learning's take on their earlier deal with Barry O'Callaghan's conglomerate.

Looking to dispose of that which could lower its heavy debt load, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sold off the college textbook department and set about focusing on the younger set. Now Cengage is claiming that HMH dumped a load of books on the market and now that the market's been flooded, Cengage doesn't have any business going forward.

Not only did HMH flood the foreign market, they did deals with some "shady" operators who planned all along to re-distribute their inventories back to the U.S. through "unauthorized distribution channels." Sounds like a black market in low-priced books, and what hard-pressed school board wouldn't look for any discount they could find.

Since Mr. O'Callaghan promised to reimburse Cengage if the deal wasn't all it was supposed to be, Cengage has taken the whale-swallowing minnow to court, to get what they feel is owed.

No word yet on the defense that will be mounted, but there's always the "Who could have guessed" type of excuse. Who could have guessed that the foreigners would sell under the table? Who could have guessed the overseas buyers were only looking for cheap inventory that would undercut Cengage?

Times being hard, it's not as if Cengage could lower their own prices to compete. Cengage not being an Irish firm, they probably never heard of gombeen men. You'd think that somewhere in their collection of history texts would be something explaining the "shady" dealings that took place after the potato crop was wiped out.

Caveat emptor?

Send The Boy To America

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about Adam Costello Doherty, an Irish teen with common variable immune deficiency.

He's been showing marked improvement over the years that he's been treated in the U.S., the only place in the world that has the protocol needed. At this point, he only needs twice-yearly injections to keep him alive, but it's not so easy as it sounds.

Under Ireland's national health care plan, Adam can't get the life-sustaining injections he needs because it's not covered. The Health Service bureaucrats paid for it before, but now they've realized it was all a huge mistake and Adam can only be treated in the European Union. Which doesn't have the treatment. At all.

If you're outraged by this kind of callous disregard of a child's life, you can sign a petition to the HSE to insist that Adam's critical care be paid for.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How To Turn Your PC Into A Kindle

No magic required to perform this amazing feat.

No need to spend all that money on a Kindle if you have your laptop handy. It's one less thing to carry on those business trips, and who would go on vacation over the upcoming holidays without their computer?

Amazon has a new app for the personal computer that will bring Kindle publications to anyplace that can access the site.

Log on and get a free download for your old-fashioned Windows XP operating system, and you can buy all the books you like. Amazon will store them for you on their servers, in your own electronic library. Your well-to-do cubicle neighbor at the office can show off his financial largesse with a posh Kindle, but you don't have to be deprived of the expansive collection of e-books when you have a PC that will work just as well.

The more available the e-book, the more sales that can be generated, and that puts a nice boost into Amazon's bottom line.

Those who are upgrading to Windows 7 will have access to more features, including the all important page turning function that works by a swipe of the finger, quite similar to the motions a reader makes to turn a physical page.

To the publishing world, it's a mixed set of emotions that greet the news. At $9.99, Amazon's e-books are downright cheap compared to the cost of a hard copy, and that means less profit. They've responded by holding up the release of electronic versions of new titles, in the hope that everyone will rush out to buy the more expensive version from a book shop.

At the same time, making it this easy to buy a book anywhere, anytime, and have it in hand (so to speak) at once sounds like the sort of arrangement that could sell more books, even at a lower price.

Will volume be the salvation of publishing, or will the heavy discount send the major publishing houses to the poor house?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And You Thought It Was All About Literature

Sweating over the perfect word, agonizing over the placement of a comma, now we're learning that authors have it all wrong.

It's all about being green.

Today, in only a few short minutes, one hundred bloggers are going to review books based entirely on their ecological correctness. Printed on recycled paper? You're golden.

Eco-Libris has organized the campaign, which is meant to promote saving trees. The trees that are grown to be harvested to make paper? That's like not eating tortillas to save the corn plants.

As would be expected, several of the books scheduled to be reviewed are books that tell us how to live in an ecologically preserved manner. There's a fair number of books geared towards children, who aren't learning how to save the planet from Mom and Dad and their wasteful SUV.

What will the reviews entail? Might the reviewers look at the quality of the prose, or will the critique focus on the green message contained within?

Wouldn't it be more eco-friendly to bypass the print process and go straight to the Kindle or the Nook? Limit books to downloads that don't require a scrap of wood pulp?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Direct To The Web

Over the past few years, sales have declined at Harlequin, the publisher that gave the world Fabio.

Muscles rippling, hair floating on an artist's breeze, Fabio graced many a cover of a Harlequin romance, and it's said his manly physique boosted sales.

Now Harlequin is giving up on the aging cover boy and launching a new line that will be published direct to the Web. No hard covers, no paper, just digital pages for downloading.

Carina Press plans to put out something new every week, not unlike its parent publisher, and like Harlequin, they'll look at your manuscript without the need of a literary agent.

For now, if your steamy erotic roman-a-clef is picked up by Carina, readers will only be able to access your words through the Carina website. They have plans to expand distribution to other places, possibly Amazon for the Kindle or Barnes and Noble for the Nook. Then you, the author, would have to promote yourself like mad across the Internet to drive traffic to Carina's on-line shop. With a book a week coming out, you can't expect much publicity from your publisher.

Thanks to the discretion inherent in online publishing, Carina could put out women's porn and not have to worry about offending shoppers at Wal-Mart or Target. The only person who might know that a reader has purchased such naughty material is the computer repairman. There's no hiding files from the computer savvy, so you'd want to be careful where you store your digital downloads.

Anyone can submit just about anything to Carina, and they provide detailed submission instructions.

You have a manuscript under the bed, don't you? The one that the literary agent said was well written but without a market? Maybe you won't earn a huge advance from Carina Press, but wouldn't your novel do you more good online than among the dust bunnies?

Just to be sure, you might want to revise it a bit, through in some throbbing members and shafts and the like. And then use a pseudonym. Wouldn't want your neighbors to think you were some kind of pervert.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

If It Isn't Too Much To Ask

A body can't be buried in Ireland without a proper death certificate.

Unless the burial is done by the Catholic Church, in which case no one needs to notify next of kin, take down names, or any of those other formalities that take up too much valuable time.

A group of women who once slaved in the Magdalene laundries met with officials yesterday, to ask if it wouldn't be too much trouble for An Garda Siochana to investigate the exhumation and subsequent re-burial of an uncounted number of women who died while inmates of the Magdalene laundry at High Park, Drumcondra.

The nuns who owned the facility had sold the property for development, and the cemetery was in the way. They had the remains dug up, cremated, and interred in Glasnevin, all without contacting next of kin or filing the proper paperwork. The uproar grew into a shout that eventually brought the entire system of abuse out into the open.

Those who toiled to wash away their sins, whether it was the stain of premarital sex, the crime of being attractive, or the taint of illegitimacy, not one of them ever received a penny in wages while the religious orders who ran the operations were paid by their customers.

To understand how the system worked and how it psychologically bent the innocent, you'd want to pick up a copy of The Leaven of the Pharisees, a novel that tells a powerful tale.

The buck's getting passed around, from the religious orders to the State to the Department of Education to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme, an endless loop that allows no one to accept responsibility for what was done to innocent women in the name of overblown morality.

Sean Aylward of the Department of Justice said he'd look into some of the women's issues, but victims like Kathleen Legg and Marina Gambold are in their seventies. Justice for the Magdalenes can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mickey Has Come, A New Theme Park Has Come

There's money in China. Aren't they funding the U.S.'s enormous debt?

The Mouse is expanding, according to reports. As soon as agreement can be reached, the Walt Disney Company will break ground on a new theme park in Shanghai.

Lots of money to found in Shanghai, and with China's one child policy, there's an army of spoiled brats to be catered to. All in all, it's the perfect combination for success.

Granted, the Hong Kong site hasn't done as well as expected, but Hong Kong was a British colony for so long that they aren't quite so starved for Western style decadence. For those who suffered through the Cultural Revolution, a day with Mickey and Minnie and Goofy and Donald Duck has a definite appeal.

Soon, Mickey Mouse will lead the daily parade down Main Street, waving Mao's little red book and singing of the glories of communist rule.

And if the Disney Company doesn't like what they're told to do by an oppressive regime, they can take their mouse elsewhere.

Not exactly the free-est of free enterprise in China. But a savvy investor will hold his nose with one hand and rake in cash with the other. It's all about making money, and even bank robbers know that you have to go where the money is.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Love On The Rocks

The Associated Press may not be all that in the news reporting business.

The Chicago Tribune is going to test that theory.

A newspaper can't afford to put reporters all over the globe to catch the latest news. They've come to rely on other sources, like the Associated Press, to provide content for a fee. The stories are ready to go, can be edited down to fit the column space available, and the paper is as current as the print medium can be.

The fee is the part of the equation that's not adding up for the Tribune Company. Struggling to emerge from bankruptcy brought on by a heavily leveraged buy-out, the newspaper is looking to cut costs and they've discovered that AP isn't cheap.

Starting next week, the Chicago Tribune will use AP on a limited basis. If a story can be obtained from Reuters, CNN, or the New York Times among others, they'll buy that content and AP can go scratch.

Anyone with a subscription to the Tribune knows that there's precious little news and much less physical paper than there used to be. To cut costs, the volume was brought down, and there's not so much need for AP stories to fill out the pages. There simply aren't that many pages.

Some might say that newspapers are dinosaurs in a digital age, dying out. That puts the Associated Press in a bad position, not a dinosaur itself but symbiotically dependent on the industry.

Newspaper watchdogs will follow the experiment and study the feedback from Tribune least those who are left.

AP has a web presence. Subscribers to the Chicago Tribune who miss their stories in the morning paper can simply log on and fill in the gap, for free.