Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Newspapers Are Dying

I believe in books.

If I didn't, I wouldn't be spending so much of my time in starting up Newcastlewest Books. I wouldn't be investing my money in a contract with Lightning Source to print the books and ship them off to the reading public.

How misguided am I?

Students enrolling in the journalism program at Dublin City University are not equipped to jump into their work. They don't have the basic writing skills needed to put together a simple news article.

First year students are being taught basic grammar and English, to compensate for all that they failed to learn as children.

Clearly, someone who is a poor writer is likely a poor reader. There's a great deal that can be absorbed by frequent exposure to the written word, and the digital generation isn't getting it.

They can text, but they can't spell and they don't know how to use punctuation. They want to be journalists but they can't communicate in a standard, accepted fashion.

Do these would-be journalists even read a daily newspaper? If they did, how could they have avoided learning proper sentence structure and the use of the comma?

Those who wish to be journalists can't write. Does it matter? There won't be anyone to read their words because children don't seem to be reading.

Will there be enough literate people in five or ten or twenty years to buy books and support the publishing industries?

Or do we return to the days of the town crier, calling out the news for those who are incapable of either reading or writing it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chicago Takes Over The World

The press has been busy lauding Christine Lagarde as the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund. The fact that she's replacing a man accused of rape (and serial groping) has been proclaimed ironic.

Has no one noticed that yet another Chicagoan has risen to a position of power and prominence?

Ms. Lagarde's early years haven't drawn much coverage. In fact, she was once employed by Baker and McKenzie, a large and politically powerful law firm in Chicago.

The President of the United States came out of the swamp that is Chicago politics. His first Chief of Staff is now the mayor of that same city. The current Chief of Staff is the brother of the man who Rahm Emanuel replaced. And Bill Daley's father was the mayor for decades before that.

Not only is Bill Daley a Chicagoan, but he was employed by JP Morgan Chase, which everyone knows is a financial powerhouse. And now comes Ms. Lagarde, to lead the International Monetary Fund.

Mere coincidence?

Or has the moving and shaking, the wheeling and dealing, been carried on too quietly for the Washington press corps to hear, too far from Chicago to pick up on the murmurs?

You can't help but notice that a lot of muscle, both political and financial, has found a center on the shores of Lake Michigan. In a city where it isn't what you know, but who you know, it should come as no surprise that a long line is forming behind Ms. Lagarde, seeking the return of favors granted.

Just don't expect representatives from JP Morgan Chase to be there with their hands out when Ms. Lagarde starts dispensing Greek debt. After the subprime loan disaster, no one is looking to take on another bad risk.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Exported Rebellion

On Monday, America will shut down and spend the day in celebrating its independence from England.

On open fields where the North meets the South, many will gather to remember the bloody battles that united the states.

In some circles, the memories of the Irish who fought alongside their Yankee counterparts will be toasted.

If you believe Hollywood's treatment, you'd be thinking that those Irish lads walked off the emigrant ships and into a blue coat out of desperation, but you'd be a bit misguided.

The American Civil War served as Ireland's West Point.

Men enlisted to learn how to be soldiers so they could go back to Ireland and stand a decent chance against the British army. America exported cotton to England and unwittingly exported trained soldiers to Ireland.

The story is told in A Terrible Beauty, a novel that traces the long path of Ireland's rebellion from the Fenian movement that found a home in the hearts of Irish soldiers fighting for American unity, through the Easter Rising of 1916.

The plot has twists and turns that reflect the real trajectory of history. Fighting gives way to political intrigue and espionage before the fighting flares anew. Told from the perspective of one family that is divided by a struggle with its roots in the American Civil War, A Terrible Beauty will keep you on the edge of your seat and perhaps bring a tear to your eye.

Newcastlewest Books is offering the e-book for a reduced price, so how can you say no to the bold Fenian men. Pick up a copy, sit back and be transported to an era when there were no holds barred in the drive for independence.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The State of Illinois: Now A Charitable Organization

Taxpayers in Illinois can opt to donate some of their income tax refund to Habitat for Humanity, child abuse prevention, or military family relief, to name a few.

How much better is it to tick a box on a tax form and know that your donation will go to help a homeless person? No chance of being scammed by a professional beggar, you'd think.

Turns out that anyone foolish enough to think their hard-earned cash was going to a good cause have proved P.T. Barnum right. There are suckers born every minute.

The State of Illinois considers itself a deserving charity.

Over $1 million that taxpayers donated to charity has been "borrowed" by the state to help pay its bills.

That's $1 million not passed through to those in need. Illinois considers itself far more needy.

Hungry people in eastern Illinois can go to the food bank and IOU from the Illinois General Assembly. Whatever money was donated in 2009 and 2010 hasn't shown up in the group's coffers. Hard to stock a food bank with nutritious debt, isn't it?

It'll be repaid, says Kelly Kraft of the Office of Management and Budget. Why, it's the law. The money has to be returned in eighteen months.

Except that laws can be changed, and in a state with a single-party government, it's not all that difficult to manipulate the rules well after the game has begun.

Now you've been warned. If you want to donate to charity, and have your money actually go to the charity, you can't expect the government to do it for you.

Some things you have to do yourself.

Voting, for example.....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unbowed, Unrepetant, Un-Free

A reasonable person could indeed conclude that Conrad Black is guilty.

He's right on that count.

The man dipped into the coffers of Hollinger International to fund his lavish (dare we say, lordly) life style, as if he were entitled to special treatment.

That same reasonable person, in His Lordship's eyes, would also conclude that poor, put-upon Conrad has been punished enough.

All the people who once worked for Hollinger, all the reporters and staff who put out the Chicago Sun Times under Black's ownership, must not be very reasonable then.

As for Judge Amy St. Eve, well, she must not be reasonable either.

To this day, Mr. Black thinks he's being picked on by zealous prosecutors, jealous corporate heads, and possibly God Himself. He doesn't think he did anything wrong when he stole funds and then tried to keep the Feds from uncovering the extent of his crime.

For the next thirteen months, he can stew over the injustice done him. Once he's out, he'll resume his lavish lifestyle with his remaining funds. He'll probably write a book that details his many grievances and some publisher will give him a hefty advance for the privilege of printing up the whine festival.

If all goes well, Conrad Black will return to Canada, where his peerage means something, and he will drift into obscurity within American circles.

Except for those left at the Chicago Sun Times, who will joyfully report on every mis-step, every social slight, and every humiliation that might befall an unrepetant thief.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quoth The Raven: Pottermore!

Brick and mortar bookshops are very concerned about the e-book. It's cutting into their profits.

Now comes J.K. Rowling and the electronic versions of the Harry Potter books, and the concern has become annoyance.

Ms. Rowling made a fortune off the hard-cover series and both her publisher and book vendors delighted with every new installment. People flocked to actual stores, rather than order from Amazon, so that they could have Harry Potter instantly in their hands, rather than wait for An Post to get around to making the delivery.

The author has decided to join the ranks of the digitally published, to capture what audience might be left. She is not, however, cutting the bookstores in on the game. Ms. Rowling is doing what so many other authors have done and is going direct to digital herself.

Bloomsbury will receive a portion of the profits, and it's only fitting since they took a chance on an unpublished writer with a YA manuscript without knowing if it would tank or end up defining a genre.

But the only place you can buy the electronic Harry is through the Pottermore website. You can't wander into Waterstone's and download there. You can't go to Amazon and purchase a Kindle version.

Book store owners are upset because they've served as the browsing department for too long. You can always stroll into a shop, pick up the book, thumb through the pages, and then whip out your smart phone to order the e-book from someone else. The shop still has to pay their rent and overhead, but they don't benefit from the transaction.

It's the author's prerogative, of course. Ms. Rowling stands to make more by controlling the digital edition herself. In addition, the website will offer interactive games and the like, to generate continued interest and enthusiasm for all things Potter.

In the end, Pottermore might boost hardcover sales among adults who are purchasing for the children in their lives. You want to give something a bit more permanent than an electronic download for Christmas, and an e-book isn't something to wrap and put under the tree.

There is no easy answer, as a new technology undercuts the old and leaves everyone wondering where things are headed. Buy digital, but support your local independent book seller. There's still something to be said for a wall covered with books, and that's not a setting you can create with a Kindle.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Word Made Product

Do you photocopy? Or do you Xerox?

Did you pull a tissue from that box, or is it a Kleenex?

Do you associate the term "App Store" with Apple products, or do you think in generalities?

A Federal judge in California appears to be leaning in the direction of words made products when it comes to Apple's lawsuit against Amazon.

Apple took Amazon to court, claiming infringement on "App Store". Clients will be confused, Apple said, and that will harm their business. For its part, Amazon insists that "app store" is a generic term that refers to anyplace selling applications for any electronic device.

Like Xerox, the brand name has become the product.

Apple might have invented the label, but it's become so ubiquitous that the general public doesn't associate it strictly with Apple. Anyone with an Apple device will go to Apple's app store because they know that's where they'll find the programs to make their iPod or iPad or iPhone perform a desired function.

Customers aren't so stupid as Apple would like to make them out to be in its effort to force Amazon to stop using "app store" for its collection of Android applications. End users know what they want and they know where to find it.

There is no trademark infringement here.

It's a case of a business developing a product that swept through the industry and became a common name. Apple's problem isn't with Amazon, it's with the public who embraced the new technology.

As much as Apple would like them to think that "App Store" is Apple, they don't see it that way.

Apple has lost control of a couple of words and there's no going back in the public's mind. There's no changing terminology when the brand name becomes the common name and there's no suing the world for mis-using a phrase.

Just ask Kimberly-Clark.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Propaganda on Parade

In an American tradition, local communities stage parades on the Fourth of July.

It used to be all about the community and children and dogs and the local high school band. Lately, it's become a forum for propaganda.

Last year, in the all-American enclave of Palatine, Illinois, a group put in their request to be allowed to march in the parade. The Jaycees, who run the parade, said it would be fine. All sorts of community groups march in the parade, and it would be fitting for a group of Catholics to represent their segment of Palatine's diversity.

And there they marched, with their banner proclaiming their anti-abortion stance. The picture of the near-term foetus frightened some and disgusted others.

The group wants to come back this year to proclaim their message, with the same banner that they find to be so effective. The Jaycees have said thanks, but no.

There's a time and a place for protest. The Fourth of July parade, heavily attended by families with small children, is not the place for images that are offensive, alarming or unpleasant.

Some people get wrapped up in their cause and fail to consider the sentiments of others. The crusading Catholics have become insensitive, as if their cause is higher than any dictate to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Courtesy? Consideration? When you're busy waving your cudgel, it's easy to forget the most important commandment.

Love one another.

And if you loved your neighbor and their little children, you would think about the impact of your message on them, rather than focus on your own satisfaction at proclaiming your pro-life stance with graphic images.

The Magdalene women used to march in parades as well, and the Catholic Church used the setting to spread their version of morality far and wide.

The parade is a public venue where images are used to deliver a powerful message, but because it is public, those in charge have to weed out that which is not suitable for a family setting. The Jaycees aren't picking on the Catholics. They're being responsible when others are not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Now Comes Plaintiff

If you felt cheated by Greg Mortenson's revelation that his blockbuster memoir, Three Cups of Tea, was partly fiction, you can do more than grumble about the lack of honesty.

You can join Deborah Netter in a lawsuit.

Ms. Netter feels duped. She never would have bought the book if she'd known that the author exaggerated certain elements of his tale. Not unlike James Frey's literary debacle, the Mortenson memoirs should have been marketed as fiction, rather than non-fiction. Therefore, Mr. Mortenson is liable, as is his publisher, Penguin Group.

In essence, the lawsuit claims that Mortenson profited from fraud, and that's illegal in Illinois where Ms. Netter filed her suit. All readers who wasted their time, and book buyers who wasted their money, can be a party to the class action suit.

Chances are, Penguin Group will claim that Mr. Mortenson defrauded them as well, and they aren't to blame. The author can claim that it's a memoir, and memoirs are always based on recollections that are often faulty.

A judge in the U.S. Northern District court will decide if the plaintiffs should be given some financial compensation for their loss. How much might that be? A full refund of the purchase price if you present your receipt? What about the cost of the reader's time?

It's unlikely that the judge would also block further sales of the book, especially since it's become common knowledge that there is a Mt. Everest-sized pile of discrepancies within the pages. Penguin might be required to paste a disclaimer on the cover of the book to warn consumers, but to expect Penguin to take all profits from the book and put them into a trust fund to compensate the plaintiffs sounds like a stretch.

Who wins out in a case like this?

The attorneys, of course. If Ms. Netter et al. win the suit, Mortenson and Penguin will be required to cover legal expenses. If there's anything left, you might get a refund, but who keeps receipts for five or six years?

Promises, Promises

Long ago, a lady could sue her ex-fiance for breach of promise if the gentleman changed his mind about marriage.

Breach of promise is alive and well and living in the U.S. State Department.

Recently, the State Department informed 22,000 lucky winners that they had been randomly selected to receive the object of their desire----a green card.

Permanent residency in the United States. Free to work, to travel, and not worry about deportation back to the old country where work is scarce.

It wasn't long before the State Department notified the lucky few that it was all a misunderstanding, a computer glitch. They weren't getting those green cards after all.

Legal firm White and Associates is representing the jilted party, pro bono. Partner Kenneth Wright believes that the good name of the U.S. Government is on the line in this case. Having made a promise, the State Department should be forced to keep it.

Unless the State Department reverses itself yet again, it will be up to a judge to decide how sincere and binding the original offer was.

Can the U.S. be dragged to the altar and forced to issue those green cards, or will a cash settlement to ease the broken hearts of 22,000 would-be permanent resident aliens be the final outcome?

Monday, June 20, 2011

If You Were A Rockefeller You'd Be Published By Now

What sort of platform does a Rockefeller construct?

If you're Ashley Prentice Norton, a descendant of the oil man, you'd be standing atop a solid platform and the likes of Bill Clegg would notice your manuscript.

Mrs. Norton has penned a novel about a wealthy Chicago heiress. She herself is a wealthy Chicago heiress.

It's the sort of novel that you'll see often, with well-placed writers putting themselves into their manuscripts and publishers snapping them up because the reading public wants the inside story on the lives of the rich and famous.

In Mrs. Norton's case, however, you can expect the writing to actually be good. Not only is she the daughter of writers, but she holds a master's in English.

The Chocolate Money sounds like the usual saga of money, power, sex and all the things you can only read about because you're lucky to have two dimes to rub together.

You're not living on the streets, either, and there you have it.

You have no story to tell about yourself because you're average, so you make up stories, but that's no sort of platform at all.

So you struggle to get your novel published.

No chance that you could marry well and make your life more interesting to a literary agent?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Environment On The Edge

When you're a multimillionaire, you look for sound investments to make your millions grow. Who wants to run short in one's golden years?

David Evans, otherwise known as The Edge, invested in real estate in Malibu, California. They're not making any more land, now, are they? A sound investment indeed.

Being a member of U2, quite environmentally conscious, Mr. Evans proposed building a housing estate on his property. It was all going to be sustainable and sensitive to the environment.

As far as the California Coastal Commission is concerned, it's not.

The edge of the cliff which The Edge would like to develop is covered with "sensitive habitat". Construction of several homes, even if they are powered entirely by wind and solar energy, would destroy that habitat. Like toothpaste, the habitat can't be put back as it was before the hillside got squeezed.

The Edge believes he's being singled out because he's famous, but the fact is, there's more to environmentally conscious construction than using insulation made from corn cobs.

All well and good that the mansion's roof will be green and undulating like a leaf. There'll be several square feet of leaves getting stripped off the hill top to make room for that roof. And it doesn't matter if the developer is a rock star or a man with a pile of 2 x 4s and a nail gun. Construction is devastating, in so many ways, to the land under our feet.

All that's left is a lawsuit in this ongoing battle over property rights. It has fuck all to do with the environment and everything to do with a return on investment.

This War Is Lost

The DEA fought the good fight, but they've lost.

Drugs have won.

Poor blacks and Hispanics take the brunt of enforcement.

They're poor. Can't they have some heroin or marijuana to ease their misery?

Where's the harm? It's not like they're contributing members of society, serving a necessary function. It would be much cheaper to let them overdose and stop taking up space.

Toni Preckwinkle, newly elected head of the Cook County Board, has boldly declared that the war on drugs is lost and all that's being done is locking up poor folks for using or dealing. Cook County, which includes Chicago, is desperate to cut costs. One way to reduce expenses is to decrease the prison population.

As Ms. Preckwinkle points out, the junkies are non-violent offenders. How about if we just put them back on the streets, lay off the extra prison guards, and call it even?

The city's new police chief, Garry McCarthy, looks at the big picture of the drug war but he doesn't come down on the side of failure.

He knows that drug users commit crimes to get money to pay for the drugs. He also knows that guns are often blazing on city streets because rival gangs are fighting over lucrative turf where they make money selling drugs.

It's all about the money to Mr. McCarthy. That's where he would like to focus the anti-drug efforts. Locking up a small time user doesn't get at the root cause of the issue. Under his leadership, Chicago's police will be out in force to shut down the corners where drugs are sold, to aim for the head of the drug problem instead of taking easy whacks at the tail.

Any good general can tell you that waging war is a question of strategy. Maybe it's a battle against drugs that has been lost because those leading the charge didn't understand the enemy. There's still a chance that the war can be won.

Friday, June 17, 2011

If You Please, Sir, Can We Have More

If you were walking on Grafton Street yesterday, you would have seen costume-clad ladies and gentlemen strolling in Edwardian finery.

Wouldn't it be grand, you might have said, if this were a holiday and everyone could enjoy the spectacle of Bloomsday?

Ireland promotes the celebration of James Joyce's novel that few have read, and tourists find a long list of things to do if they're in town.

The problem is, it's not an official holiday for the Irish, and so the average citizen misses out on the fun.

The other problem is, Ireland can't unilaterally declare Bloomsday a holiday, where the Irish devote a day to their literary heritage. They have to ask the permission of those who hold the bailout pursestrings.

Rather than issuing a decree to make Bloomsday official, Ireland has to make a case to the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

The island nation is deep in the hole, and giving its citizens a day off, with pay, flies in the face of efficiency and debt repayment.

There's already a bank holiday on the first Monday of June, and to turn around and have a second holiday less than two weeks later? Where's the money to come from to pay salaries and holiday rates and all the rest?

It would come from increased revenue from tourism, and Northern Ireland would be invited to join in, and for Christ's sake they're up there celebrating the Battle of the Boyne every feckin' 12th of July and rubbing Catholic noses in defeat year after year so how about a little something for the downtrodden?

With Tourism Ireland already pushing Bloomsday, there's little traction to be gained from playing the tourism angle. The bailout tsars will want to know what it's going to cost employers, and if another holiday would harm business competitiveness.

So we won't be looking for a Bloomsday holiday any time soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Archiving Narcissism

Timothy Leary of LSD fame has been gone from this earth since 1996, and it's taken this long for an institution to show some interest in his records.

We've gotten beyond the 'Me Generation', far beyond. Who cares about self-discovery and navel gazing these days? We're more concerned with finding enough loose change to cover the cost of our commute to work....if we have work.

The New York Public Library has paid $900,000 for the collected papers of Timothy Leary. Some of that money will be donated back in turn by the Leary estate to cover the costs of archiving the material, as if they had to pay someone to take the dust-gathering boxes off their hands.

Researchers are excited to get their hands on the data the late professor collected on psychotropic drugs, but after thirty or forty years, you'd have to wonder how useful old notes might be.

Then there's Leary's interactions with the Beat Generation for the historical record.

Still not generating much excitment, is it?

Several years after the fact, we can look back on the Sixties as a time of self-centered narcissism.

It was all about discovering your inner consciousness, finding personal happiness, experimenting with drugs to make yourself feel good. Many of those who turned on, tuned in and dropped out have become adults and they feel a bit embarrassed about living so selfishly.

You see an aging hippy these days and you see an almost comical figure, brain somewhat pickled, speaking in a patois that marks them as a being embedded in amber.

We're still too close to the Sixties to look at the era with a calculating eye.

In time, the archives purchased by the NYPL will be valuable to historians who wish to chronicle an era. Right now, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to dive into the recent past, unless it's too see how much we've grown up since those childhood days of mind-altering drugs and free love that were as unrealistic as a fairy tale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Altering The Competitive Landscape

Before long, you won't be able to buy a Kindle-formatted book to read on your Apple electronic device.

It should come as no surprise. Apple wants you to buy from their iTunes store so that they reap all the profits. Why share with their biggest competitor in the e-book market?

Apple isn't coming right and saying they won't allow the Kindle app for iTunes. Instead, they've said they will no longer permit "external mechanisms for purchase" of things like e-books.

If Amazon wants to continue to sell through iTunes, they'd have to disable the feature that takes a potential purchaser to Amazon's site. Any e-book purchased would have to be channeled through the iTunes store, and Apple would then get their cut of the profits.

Apple stands to gain because the Kindle app is extremely popular. After all, the iPad doesn't have a vast library for a reader to choose from. Amazon has the reputation for e-books, and it's unlikely that Apple could expand their selection to rival that of Amazon.

The answer, then, is to allow iTunes shoppers to keep buying from Amazon, but Amazon has to pay Apple for the privilege.

Apple is counting on its users to not turn around a buy a Kindle for reading in the event that Amazon refuses Apple's demands. They also have enough faith in customer loyalty to believe that Hewlett Packard's TouchPad won't cut into iPad's base by allowing Amazon to move their operation and leave Apple behind.

There's always risks in business. A firm can try to alter the competitive landscape, but pull a weed in one corner of the market and two or three more may sprout on the other side. Attempting to wring money out of Amazon could backfire, or it could prove successful.

If it works, it's a bonus for the executives who held Amazon's e-book feet to the fire. Should it backfire, those same executives might be looking for new jobs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Driver From The State Of Re/Max

This license plate sponsored by Re/Max would you like to drive a car with some corporate logo emblazoned on the tag?

You there, wearing that Ralph Lauren-logo-ed shirt, does it matter much what state you actually reside in when your plate looks like a small billboard?

What of the ladies trotting around town with Donna Karan's logo plastered all over their handbag? They must not mind being used to advertise a company without receiving compensation.

To raise more money (and thus not have to cut any spending), the state of Illinois is considering a new line of license plates that feature some form of advertising. The sponsor would pay the state for the privilege, and the drivers would get to pay the same amount for their vehicle plates.

What if you're a vegan? Would you be able to choose not to promote McDonald's as you drive through the parking lot of Whole Foods?

Then there's the issue of who will be allowed to sponsor the tags. While a card-carrying member of the NRA would not object to advertising Smith & Wesson, it would be unseemly for a card-carrying pacifist.

The advertising tags will only work if the consumer has some say in which company they'll be stuck promoting, if they have to promote any company at all.

If you're a stockholder in one of the sponsoring companies, you'd have to ask yourself how effective this advertising scheme could be. Who reads license plates, unless you have a car full of small children in need of entertainment.

In Texas, the corporate plates generated a little more than $50,000 dollars for the state, money that came from advertising budgets. What is the rate of return on that investment? You wouldn't expect it to be much.

Maybe they're going for the subliminal advertising, the subtle approach that garners a response. A license plate featuring a picture of a delicious burger just might be effective at the height of the evening rush hour, when hungry commuters sit in traffic with nothing better to do than read license plates and realize how hungry they are.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Litany Of The Words

The Story Behind The Story
Sisters of Mercy?

No further comment.

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity?

No further comment.

Good Shepherd Sisters?

No further comment.

United Nations Committee Against Torture?

A full investigation, is it?

What say you, Conference of Religious in Ireland? What say you, Sisters, about the Magdalene laundries your orders ran, and profited from, for decades, now that the UN has called for the government to launch a full and complete investigation into the Magdalene laundries?

Suddenly, the religious orders are speaking up, but if your shite detector is sounding an alarm, there's good reason.

Women who failed to toe the party line on morality were locked up in the laundries. Some of them were pregnant but not married. Some of them were unmarried orphans living with post-pubescent brothers, at moral risk of sexual something or other. There were victims of sexual abuse, women made pregnant through rape, women who ran afoul of the local parish priest, all incarcerated and put to work without pay.

To understand the severe psychological damage caused, read The Leaven of the Pharisees. And understand why the religious orders, once they were caught, had no comment to the onslaught of questions.

With the UN involved, the focus has shifted from Irish eyes to the eyes of the world, and the Catholic Church is awash in bad publicity from the clerical sex abuse scandal. The members of CORI are in full damage control. 

"This is a sad, complex and dark story of Irish society," say the four religious congregations. They're not alone in fielding blame. They're pointing their fingers back at you, Irish people who knew what was going on behind those thick walls and sent your dirty clothes there just the same.

"We are willing to participate in any inquiry that will bring greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved," their statement continues. So if they deem the inquiry as a witch hunt, as something meant to damage the Catholic Church, they won't participate.

And if they don't think the interests of their victims are being looked after, that's the end of it as well.

Not quite a ringing endorsement of the fight being waged by Justice for Magdalenes.

Read the statement and you'd have to believe that every politician learned the fine art of obfuscation and weaseling from a Sister of Mercy. There's nothing being said that guarantees their cooperation. It's a pretty little collection of words that sound like a step forward, but the content is as hollow as anything else the religious have said about their treatment of Ireland's underprivileged.

Will the Sisters cooperate in a way that's meaningful? Will they suddenly be able to find records of forced adoptions that they say they lost long ago? Will they ever be able to identify the women buried in unmarked graves, the women whose names were taken from them when they were incarcerated?

I won't be holding my breath.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

I Was In Prison And You Visited Me

In the Gospel of Matthew, you'll find a brief phrase that strikes at the heart of Christianity. It's about caring for the underprivileged, those who need food and clothes.

Matthew 25:36 also assigns Christians the duty to visit those in prison, to bring hope and salvation.

Nowhere that I've seen does it say that a good Catholic is also supposed to bring messages out of the prison from the prisoner when said prisoner isn't allowed unfettered communication with the outside.

And it certainly doesn't say anything about breaking into the prisoner's summer home to swipe a rare violin.

Father Eugene Klein can't be faulted for following Christ's teaching as he ministered to inmates at the Federal facility in Springfield, Missouri. Doing his duty as a priest, he was, and then he met Frank Calabrese, Sr.

Now Father Klein is facing some jail time himself, for passing messages on behalf of the convicted mobster. It's alleged that the priest also helped to set up a little scheme to get into Calabrese's cottage in Wisconsin so that the expensive violin could be liberated before the Feds sold it to pay part of the convicted hit man's various fines.

What the Feds don't know is whether or not Father Klein circumvented the rules out of some misguided sense of compassion for the mobster's family, or if Calabrese saw to it that the priest was taken care of financially.

Another black eye for the clergy, to be sure, but aren't all the Catholics out there offering up a prayer of thanksgiving that at least it's not another case of pedophilia?

What'll You Have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!

The latest trend in raising funds is called crowdsourcing.

You put together a crowd, ask them for donations for your project, and then you go do your project.

Michael Migliozzi II and Brian William Flatow thought that crowdsourcing was the perfect solution to their heady dreams of owning Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

The old staple of your grandfather's era is very trendy these days, the hipster's choice of non-hip brews. The brand's owner was ready to sell.

The partners went out into the world and found a mob of people who were willing to contribute an accumulated $200 million in pledges. In return, the donors would get a stylish certificate of ownership and the value of their donation in beer.

All in all, it was a good deal for everyone.

Except for the SEC, however. The Feds cracked down on the crowdsourcing because Mr. Migliozzi and Mr. Flatow failed to register their offering as old-fashioned securities.

And because they didn't go through proper regulatory steps, the SEC made the gentlemen abandon their fundraising effort, take down their website, and stop asking for donations on Facebook or Twitter.

There are times when you have to agree with the Republicans when they lambaste the stifling restrictions that government bureaucracy places on start-up businesses.

With the crowdsource crowd blocked in their effort, Pabst Blue Ribbon was recently purchased by C. Dean Metropoulos for the amusement of his sons.

The young Metropoulos has immediately begun to reposition the blue-collar brew as the drink of the trendy and famous, the direct opposite of its promotion by the executives who brought the brand back from the brink of extinction.

Those same executives, some of whom were shown the door by young Mr. Metropoulos, are calling on PBR drinkers to boycott the beverage, to express their outrage.

That wouldn't be happening if a pair of social-media savvy PBR lovers had been able to acquire Pabst through the very modern mode of crowdsourcing.

The SEC has killed PBR as we know it.