Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cooking Everything But The Books

One benefit from the Celtic Tiger was the introduction of edible food to Irish palates.

Conrad Gallagher is one of the stars who brought fine cuisine to a once isolated backwater that had fully mastered the art of boiling everything to mush. As a chef, he can cook like no other. As a businessman, it's a pity he can't cook his books as well.

Two of Mr. Gallagher's restaurants have gone under, buried under a mountain of unpaid taxes. Ms. Justice Mary Laffoy has declared them insolvent, unable to pay what they owe and not in any position to pay in the future.

Salon Des Saveurs is but a memory of what sudden prosperity brought to Dubliners. Residents of Sligo won't have Conrad's Kitchen to delight their palates any more.

Perhaps Mr. Gallagher spread himself too thin, building an empire while demand was white hot but not able to see the end coming at him. Then again, there's a certain mindset needed to create imaginative dishes, and quite another to manage a thriving business.

He may be down, but he's not out. If you still have a few euros left in your wallet and a hankering for some delicious food, you might try The Dining Room or The Tasting Room at La Stampa Hotel.

Of course the restaurants are located in a posh hotel. The locals may not be able to afford it, but there's always the tourist trade that supports the Irish economy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sight Unseen, Ready To Return

Order Now!

Don't wait!

Don't ask what it is we're asking you to order!

Little, Brown has informed book sellers that there's going to be an exciting new piece of non-fiction arriving in November. They aren't telling anyone what the book's about.

Of course buyers are buying.

If the book turns out to be a loser, they'll box it up and send it back.

All they'll lose is their time in ordering, stocking, and re-packing.

On the other hand, if it sells, they'll make some money.

So what's in this "inside story" of a figure that dominated news coverage recently?

There's some speculation that the new book is a tell-all about Bernard Madoff as related by his son's fiancee. Or maybe it's not. The publicity machine has booked an interview on "60 Minutes", so it's expected that television appearances will generate enough buzz to get people into their local shop to buy their very own copy. As a store owner, you'd want those copies on your front table, prominently displayed.

Then again, the untitled book by Anonymous could be a complete bust. In that case, the problem is all on Little, Brown's shoulders. The publisher has to lay out money to get the manuscript into print, they have to pay shipping costs, and they'll have to pick up the price of pulping unsold copies.

Book sellers can take a chance without too much concern because the publishing business has a very bizarre method of operation.

Imagine a home builder constructing a new community, and then bulldozing the lot when it turns out that they guessed wrong on what the public wanted. What would that do to the price of a new home if they had to recoup all their costs on the units that did move?

Look for copies of Untitled at a book store near you. The mystery of its subject will be revealed in November.

Whether or not Little, Brown will come out ahead is a mystery that won't be solved until sales figures roll in some time later. Expect book shops to repeat their venture into the unknown the next time a publisher asks them to. They have less to lose on taking a chance than the publisher does.

And new authors will pay the price in lower advances and smaller royalty payments if Little, Brown has to make up the difference in the end.

Under Deadline But Falling Behind Fast

A manuscript is never finished. There's always something to be tweaked, a plot-line to flesh out, another to cut.

But to get a manuscript published, at some point, I have to call it finished and hope for the best.

I've been proof-reading with one eye on the letters and the other on content. And wouldn't you know it, I read Chapter Eight and felt that it got a little repetitive.

The manuscript is due for an Autumn release and here I am, still doing re-writes.

Cover art hasn't been tackled yet.

I do, however, have an ISBN and a bar code.

Better than nothing. Although a book to go with the book number would probably be a really, really good idea.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Throwing Metaphors Around Like Thunderbolts

Writers are often cautioned to use metaphors carefully.

They're tricky things, those comparisons that show rather than tell the story.

To begin with, when you compare two things, the metaphor has to make sense. You'd not be saying that the ocean was as deep as the desert. Of course not. You'd think of something else that's deep, like the blue of her eyes or the blackness of a bottomless pit.

Then there are some metaphors aren't acceptable by society at large. And they almost all seem to have something to do with Adolph Hitler.

We all know that the Catholic Church is more than a little upset with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who dared to criticize the Vatican's position on stopping clerical pedophiles in Ireland. Like an outraged guest insulted at a party, the papal nuncio took his leave of the island nation and didn't let the door hit his arse on the way out.

For Father Thomas Daly of St. Columcille's in Togher, County Louth, that metaphor didn't clearly express how upset all Irish Catholics should feel. Using the parish newsletter, he upped the metaphor ante. And took it a step too far.

Who else dared to criticize the Holy Father, asked Father Daly.

None other than Adolph Hitler.

If A equals B, then Enda Kenny equals Hitler.

In his literary ramblings to his flock, the priest sorrows over the loss of the old ways like a jilted bride mourning the death of her expectations of future happiness. He believes that anti-Church elements celebrated Mr. Kenny's diatribe like godless heathens given fresh fuel for their bonfires. As an instructor to the faithful, he'd probably like them to share in his outrage and go out among the political class to broadcast their displeasure.

The parishioners are now upset with the priest for going overboard on the metaphor.

The lesson to be taken away from this metaphorical misunderstanding? Be very careful how you use metaphors in your writing. You risk being taken for a misguided fool or an anachronism, or worse yet, a big part of the problem that's eating up the Catholic Church like an aggressive cancer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

After All This Time, The Facts Are Checked

James Frey might have been the first to fake his memoirs, but he wasn't the last.

It turns out that Three Cups Of Tea wasn't exactly a blow-by-blow, accurate account of Greg Mortenson's experiences in Afghanistan. The author is facing a few legal entanglements, not only due to a lack of accuracy in his book but a lack of clarity in his charity's accounting books.

That being the case, it should come as no great surprise to hear that super-agent Andrew Wylie is off in search of another publisher for Michael Hastings' expose that isn't standing up to scrutiny.

Little, Brown was fully prepared to publish the story of General Stanley McChrystal and the gross subordination that Mr. Hastings claimed he had uncovered during a long interview of the general. In fact, the author had received an advance that was said to be somewhere in the six-figure range, so positive were Little, Brown's bean counters that the book would be a best seller.

Positive, that is, until someone finally did what publishers have been failing to do lately. The Department of Defense conducted an inquiry into the Afghan theatre and couldn't find the corroboration they needed. There wasn't a soldier around who backed up some key details of Mr. Hastings' story.

On the heels of the Mortenson dust-up, the publisher backed out and Mr. Hastings will have to return his advance. His agent will have to find someone else who's satisfied that Rolling Stone magazine stands by their reporter, even if the Defense Department doesn't.

There aren't any six-figure advances to be had for a work of fiction. The market's too tight, and the sales figures just won't support a large pay-out. And there won't be six-figure advances for a work of non-fiction that can't be verified enough for a nervous corporation looking to avoid the sort of controversy that has buyers demanding refunds.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Early Arrival Or Late To The Party

It's not unlike the British Invasion of the 1960's that revolutionized rock music.

This time around, it's literary agents acting as publishers.

The latest to hop on the e-book bandwagon? BookEnds LLC, a respected literary agency. They're joining the likes of Ed Victor and Shiel Land, UK-based agencies that took that big leap into the unknown.

Literary agents are supposed to be coasting above the shark-infested publishing waters, guiding their clients through the door of the major houses. The ease of putting out an e-book has changed the game.

In England, it's been largely a case of an author's backlist being re-packaged and refreshed in electronic form by the literary agent acting as their publisher. The book's been through its purchasing cycle, and rather than have it fall into obscurity, the agent does the publishing job and gets the book back into circulation.

Dystel & Goderich, an American agency of some repute, have gone a step further with plans to become publishers of works that they believe in, but the major publishers don't.

The blockbuster mentality has taken hold and publishers aren't much interested in the little gems. They want the next big thing that will sell millions, which means the reading public is losing out.  If you're a fan of anything but thrillers, mysteries or romances, you know how hard it can be to find something to read.

Those who don't write all of the above won't be left out in the cold if they're a client of Dystel & Goderich. The agency begun to experiment with e-book publishing, helping an author through the morass so that the author can focus more on writing than mastering Adobe PDF.

Newest guest at the self-publishing party is BookEnds, LLC. They've set up a side business for the express purpose of helping their clients e-publish.

There is growing concern that the line between publisher and agent has become blurred, and in a way that is to the author's detriment. After all, why should an agent kill herself trying to get a traditional publisher to take on an author's second or third book when she can do it herself, get her 15%, and call it a day?

On the other hand, an author might be frustrated with the process and ready to go independent, but they like having their agent at their back, handling the edits and cover design and distribution. Assuming that the process hasn't been skewed by the literary agent's new role as e-publisher, of course.

The problem is, there are no rules yet because it's too new a game. Is it a violation of ethics to offer an e-publishing option, or is it a smart, forward-looking business practice?

Only time will tell. BookEnds and Dystel & Goderich might be cutting edge. They just might be ahead of the curve, assuming the curve continues in the direction they've taken and doesn't veer off on a tangent somewhere.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Earth's Axis Shifts

Under a barrage of reports detailing a long history of clerical child abuse, the Vatican was shaken by the words of an Irish leader.

Gone are the days of Eamonn DeValera, who worked hand in hand with the Catholic Church in Ireland to re-shape Irish society....and left a horrible legacy behind.

Long gone, it has become obvious, is the day when an Irish politician held his tongue out of fear of the power of the Catholic Church.

On the heels of the Cloyne Report, Enda Kenny lambasted the Vatican for aiding and abetting the abuse by not taking action to protect the children. Instead, the Church played a little shell game by moving the pedophiles from one parish to another, rather than tackle a serious issue.

How bad has the once cozy relationship become?

Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, papal nuncio, has been recalled to the Vatican for a consultation.

That has all the sound of damage control in full swing, a highly organized dance to avert disaster that must be planned by the top of the hierarchy.

When the leader of a country that was long considered the most Catholic nation on the planet accuses the Holy See of looking after its power base rather than preventing the rape and abuse of children, you know you have a serious problem that can't be ignored. It's not going away.

The Vatican's world has shifted on its axis, caused a trembling within Castel Gandolfo. So great was the shock, and all its aftershocks, that a response to Mr. Kenny cannot be left to a lone priest.

Does this mean that the Pope's visit to Ireland is put off indefinitely, so?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Story Of Lazarus

We take the New Testament on faith, but don't you wonder sometimes if there's a reasonable explanation for the miracles described by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

Take, for example, the story of Lazarus.

Few know that Lazarus had a bad gambling addiction that cost him his seat on the Gallilee Board of Trade. He even tried to forge his wife's name on a second mortgage to get his hands on more cash to pay off the Roman Legion, a precursor to the Cosa Nostra.

Naturally, the Lazarus clan assumed the worst when he suddenly disappeared and seemed to drop off the face of the earth, like he was dead and entombed. The wife had him declared legally dead so that she could collect survivor's benefits to put matzah on the table.

Imagine everyone's surprise after thirty years go by and Laz's childhood pal Jesus raises him from the dead. Sure it could be thirty years. There's not much specificity in the the Bible when it comes to time and dates.

Technically, it wasn't a tomb that held the body of Lazarus, but a jail cell. The story was changed to protect the family's good name.

After thirty years on the run, Lazarus was tripped up by changing times.

When he first went into hiding, he bought phony documents to mask his identity. Thirty years later, the fear of identity theft altered the landscape and what worked three decades earlier wasn't an option anymore.

Lazarus went to renew his chariot driver's license, still under his false identity, and it came up as questionable. So the authorities questioned him, and the whole thirty year episode came to an abrupt end.

At any rate, that's the way the story would be written if it was taken from the life of Gerald Jones, a former resident of Highland Park, Illinois, and current guest of the Henderson, Nevada, police department.

If it's true that the Chicago Outfit is still waiting on past due payments on his debt obligations, he might prefer to remain behind bars and not be bailed out by old friends acting out of charity.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pretend It Didn't Happen

In a few short years, Ireland will be celebrating its centennial, an anniversary that calls for some sort of fuss to be made.

While those in charge put together a roster of activities and pace out walking tours for the tourists, Minister of State Dinny McGinley would like the young nation to officially pretend that most of what happened didn't happen.

The 1916 Easter Rising was a violent affair. There's no denying that blood was shed. Mr. McGinley has made it known that he doesn't want to commemorate the fighting. He'd much prefer that Ireland celebrate its one hundredth birthday by talking up the traditional culture.

By making the GPO a tourist attraction in conjunction with the big day, it would be rather difficult to get around the fact that the building is important for something other than An Post.

Using one's imagination, it's possible to think of Frank McCourt in relation to the Irish postal system. Then again, perhaps not. Angela's Ashes is just a reminder of the disaster that was Ireland post-rebellion, and there's no romance to be found there.

Forget the battles and the bloodshed, as Mr. McGinley would prefer. Focus on Ireland's contribution to the world's culture.

Skip over Oscar Wilde. He was a disgrace.

Don't get into W.B. Yeats. He supported the rebel movement and that reminds us all of fighting and we're trying to forget the unpleasant side of rebellion.

And don't invite Colm Toibin to speak about modern writers like John McGahern. At the opening of the John McGahern International Seminar and Summer School, Mr. Toibin noted that the late author was a victim of an over-reaching Catholic Church.

Indeed, when Mr. McGahern was sacked after writing a novel that the priests did not approve, everyone should have woken up from their long, incense-infused slumber and realized that the bishops held too much power and the cowed Irish government did nothing to protect the rights of the people.

Hardly something to celebrate when you're telling the visitors about the glories of freedom won from the Brits.

All in all, it might be more appealing to showcase the bravery of the few who took up arms...and pens... Who risked their lives...and a series of brutal battles that are not quite fully ended.

Did you not hear the sounds of battle rise up out of the Dail just the other day, when An Taoiseach Enda Kenny beat down the Vatican with the evidence of the Cloyne Report?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Doors Close, Others Open....Or Not

The saga of Borders is coming to a close.

Lawyers for the bankrupt book chain are heading to court for approval on a plan to liquidate assets, shutter shops, and go out of business.

It's expected that the liquidation will bring in $250 million, which the creditors preferred to the deal of $215 million in cash and $220 million in assumed liabilities that Najafi Companies put on the table.

If there's a favorite chair that you'd like to purchase, to move into your home now that Borders is no longer able to serve as a second residence, this is your chance.

Strip malls that relied on Borders' foot traffic are looking at a rather bleak future, given the state of the current economy. Those big boxes will sit empty in towns all across the country, offering too much space for a small start-up and costing too much to divide.

Those who bought from Borders will go elsewhere for their purchases, but there is not enough business there to induce Barnes and Noble or Books-a-Million to take over the leases.

Small indies stand to benefit, but only if they are already operating. There doesn't seem to be much incentive for start-ups, especially when brick and mortar stores are increasingly becoming nothing more than display sites for those who then buy online.

If Borders was the only game in town, it's likely that the nearest public library would see in increase in patronage as people find a ready source of the books they want to read. That's not such great news if you're trying to sell a lot of books.

Major publishing houses are mourning the loss of another outlet for their product. More and more, they are thrown into Amazon's maw, with all the steep discounts and pricing cuts that are required to gain entry into the world's largest bookstore.

What's an avid reader to do? If you live near a bookshop, buy from them as often as you can.

It's not more expensive, in the long run. It's an investment in your future ability to obtain the sorts of books you like to read, as recommended by someone who knows what all those books on the front table are about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fewer Offerings At Higher Prices

The Independent Publishers Guild is against Amazon's purchase of The Book Depository.

They have told British regulatory authorities that the merger of the two entities would create a pallid, blockbuster-only monster and that would not be good for the reading public.

It's bad enough as it is, with the major publishing houses looking for the next DaVinci Code or Harry Potter, and not bothering with anything else. Should Amazon, the biggest book seller on the planet, eat up a smaller vendor, it will only get worse.

For a small indie publisher, getting noticed is tough enough. The IPG claims that Amazon, being so large, would simply ignore their clients and the reading public would have little to choose from if they wanted something besides the same plot as the last five thrillers published by the majors.

Amazon, being so large, is driving the local bookshops out of business, and the cozy relationships developed between owner and the rep from the indie publisher is being killed in the process.

Without an actual shop in which to display their wares, the indies are at a serious disadvantage when facing competition from the big houses with their big publicity budgets.

Allow Amazon to keep growing, goes IPG's thinking, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a brick and mortar shop in the U.K. All that the indie publishers are offering would fade into the background, while the big publishers use their financial might to muscle their books to the forefront.

Don't let Amazon continue to grow, ask the members of the IPG. One fine day, if things aren't stopped now, we'll wake up to a world where the indies are gone out of business due to lack of sales and readers will be deprived of the little gems that make literature such a pleasure.

And just in case the government regulatory agency doesn't see that same future, let's not forget the whole monopoly, price-gouging thing. Amazon's cheap now, sure, but when they're the only game in town?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Company For Bishop Magee

At the moment, Ireland is being rocked by yet another report about yet another diocese filled with pedophile priests who ran rampant.

Lovely to have the Catholics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joining in to share the shock and disgust.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, like Bishop Magee, presided over his fiefdom with his eyes wide shut when it came to clerical abuse by his underlings. He no doubt assumed that his flock would act like good little sheep and pray, pay and obey.

No need to deal harshly with perverts, not when there's such a shortage of priests to begin with. Besides, admitting to the problem would mean settling with the victims and Christ Almighty, but that's an expensive proposition.

That which was hidden has been revealed, once again.

Cardinal Rigali failed to keep the scandal contained after civil authorities launched an inquiry and three of his priests were indicted for their criminal conduct.

Now he's out of a job, stepping down from his lofty perch, a dark cloud following over his head.

He'll find plenty of company with Bishop Magee, who has gone into hiding as far as anyone can tell. Together, they can share the ignominy of walking away from a position of authority with their reputations tattered, their names linked to a growing outrage that is undermining support for the Catholic Church.

Where does a failed administrator go when he's kicked out of his archdiocese? Will Cardinal Rigali find a soft landing in the Vatican somewhere?

Or perhaps he'd like a quiet vacation in County Cork, which is lovely at this time of year. Bishop Magee might be getting lonely.

A Next, Logical, Step

Think back to your college days, when you'd camp outside the door of the bookstore so that you'd be first in line to get your hands on a used textbook and save a few dollars.

Recall your disappointment to find that there was a new edition and there were no used books, only new ones, and at full price.

Shake off the old ways. Welcome to the modern university bookstore.

It's a Kindle rental.

Taking the next step in its plan to corner the book market, Amazon has developed a program for the college student who went off to school with a brand-new laptop and a Kindle app. College textbooks can be rented and downloaded to a Kindle or any electronic device with the right application, and the student only pays for the term of the rental.

It's far, far cheaper than buying the book. Students do, of course, have the option to buy. A book in your major is worth purchasing and keeping because there's no telling when you might need it again.

Meanwhile, the university bookstore will be reduced to selling branded merchandise and the material published specifically by the professor who likes to compile his or her own course studies.

How long might those bookstores be in business, in their large corner of the Student Union, with a big chunk of their profit margin gone?

University tuition is high and going up. Students, and their parents, are desperate for ways to save money, and the Kindle rental is just what they're looking for.

In the end, the university will most likely hike tuition a little more to make up for lost revenue at the bookstore. Fewer students will find employment stocking the shelves and they'll be scratching to make up for the lost income.

Publishers will make less money on non-printed books, and the freelancers who write the textbooks can look forward to smaller paychecks.

It's an all-win situation for Amazon. Students majoring in finance are probably buying up shares already.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Road To Publishing Is Paved In Paperwork

Before Newcastlewest Books can release its next work of fiction, there's a great deal of work to be done.

There's reams of paperwork to be managed. There are contracts to vet and sign. There are tax documents to be filed. Operating a business, whether it's a start-up publisher or a plumbing contractor, requires reams of paperwork.

Here at NWC Books, we'll be using Lightning Source as printer, and as our subcontractor, they're not moving until we assure them we'll be paying for their printing work.

The problem we've run into is that all three of the partners work day jobs, and that leaves little time for the busy-work that any business requires. It means that I'll have to set aside some of the spare time I use for writing and turn my attention to filing the required documents.

Why go through all that? Most novels now being released go straight to e-books, and e-books are outselling hard copies.

It's because hard copies endure, no matter how much technology changes.

Where will e-books go when Apple or Microsoft or some company not yet in existence develop something different? Where will e-books be in one hundred years?

A hard copy of a book will still be there, the pages gone yellow and brittle at the edges, but there's no need for batteries or devices to pick up a book with an actual, physical existence, and read it.

So for that reason I'll sit down and finish filing the necessary paperwork, even though I know that e-book editions of our novels will far outsell the hard copies. To date, no one's come up with a different way of providing good books to the reading public that has proven to be as enduring.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Irish Workers Still Needed, Criminals Need Not Apply

The town of Fremantle, Western Australia, features prominently in A Terrible Beauty. Within the pages of Katie Hanrahan's powerful novel, you'll find the Irish playing significant roles in creating and expanding what was little more than a penal colony.

Except that the Irish made to build the roads and raise the roofs and clean the floors were transported out of England's jails, and they were essentially slaves until they served out their term.

Once freed, they were stuck, without the financial means to pay for the journey home. And so, Australia become populated.

They could use some Irish workers now, and under roughly similar terms.

No criminals need apply, of course. The days of transportation to rid the Empire of annoying rebels is long gone. But Western Australia would like some Irish to come and work for a few years and then go back to Ireland, thanks for the help.

Remarkable how history repeats itself.

Just like in 1867, the government of Western Australia is embarking on infrastructure projects. Back then, it was convicts who built the roads. With a projected labor shortfall of 150,000 workers, it's not the simple matter of rounding up the least violent offenders and shipping them off to work construction.

At the same time, Australia doesn't want them settle there for good. At least the convicts had the decency to die off under the harsh conditions. Modern times don't hold with that kind of employee turn-over.

The Australian and Irish governments are cooperating closely so that the emigration process flows seamlessly. Ireland will export her young men, and Australia will put them to work on road crews.

Only this time, the laborers will be allowed to go home at the end of their term. And they won't be making the same sort of trouble that the Fenians made when they broke out of Fremantle's jail and made their way to America.

Friday, July 15, 2011

To Protect The Priests And Sacrifice The Children

Irish bonds have been reduced to junk status, but the general public hasn't paid much notice.

The latest report on clerical child abuse has been released and the information contained within is beyond shocking.

Should it come as any real surprise, given the Church's past history, that the orders from on high were to protect the hierarchy at all costs, and not worry about the human fall-out?

In the report recently published, the former Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, has come under fire for his relaxed attitude towards pedophile priests, even after the Irish bishops had created a framework for dealing with the perverts.

After the scandal broke in the 1990's, it was supposed to be dealt with and the pedophiles unmasked and routed. The Cloyne Report reveals that such a house-cleaning didn't take place. Rather, the abuse continued.

As it turns out, Bishop Magee was only following orders from the Vatican, where the official position was to adhere strictly to canon law and if that meant breaking local laws, well, it's God's work they're doing and the laity just wouldn't understand.

Protect the hierarchy and don't worry about those they harmed, such was the Vatican's stand on the matter.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny plans to meet with the Papal Nuncio, amid threats to expel the Holy See's representative, but such a meeting will do nothing to decrease the number of phone calls coming in to abuse victim help lines.

A few months back, there was talk about the Pope coming to Ireland for a visit. That excitement has been replaced by outrage, and it's doubtful that His Holiness will find a welcome on the Shamrock Shore in the near future.

Indeed, the fury that the Cloyne Report generated is about to create a fierce collision between the law of the land and the law of the Church. Mr. Kenny seems to be seriously considering new legislation that would require priests to go to the authorities if a child molester happens to confess.

The Irish bishops have only brought it upon themselves, by failing to adhere to reporting guidelines as mandated by civil law. Now they've walked into a new crisis that will further damage the Church, and that in a land that the world sees as the most Catholic on the planet.

Not for much longer, it appears.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Religious Freedom Can Be Annoying

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, marriage is between one man and one woman.

You can create all the civil laws you want that say otherwise, but it doesn't matter. Church teaching trumps your law.

It becomes a bit annoying when you're talking about the foster program.

In Illinois, gay couples have the right to register their union and be treated as a married couple in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of the Church, they're as gay as ever and not married. And only married couples can foster a child through Catholic Charities.

In light of the new law, the State of Illinois told Catholic Charities that the contract for foster care services wasn't going to be renewed because Catholics don't recognize anything besides a church wedding.

Catholic Charities went to court, citing the religious freedom clause in the Bill of Rights.

A judge has decided that a full hearing is needed. The State can't make any changes to the existing situation until then.

Illinois says they can't continue to partner with Catholic Charities because the organization won't consider foster or adoption requests from unmarried or same sex couples, which violates the new law. Catholic Charities cites a much older law which protects their right to practice the Catholic faith, even if the tenets of that faith collide with civil law.

Since the 1920's, Catholic Charities has contracted with the State of Illinois to handle foster care, and they've done it under the Catholic ethos. A judge in Sangamon County has blocked the State's attempt to force compliance when doing so would violate the rights of Catholic Charities to be Catholic.

This isn't over with yet, and it won't end quietly.

In the end, a few thousand children will either find disruption or security in an ongoing program with case workers they know.

The dispute doesn't really seem to be about what's best for those children, does it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Decline And Fall Of The Empire

To save Rebekah Brooks, a long-standing newspaper was shuttered. The News Of The World, published since the 1840's, had to die to save her job.

The Murdoch clan is discovering that the death of a single tabloid has not staved off the disease of scandal and the whole empire may wither and die.

Investigations have turned up evidence that another Murdoch newspaper, the Sunday Times, paid a P.I. to pose as Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, and get the gory details on the politician's bank account. There is also evidence that one of the Murdoch newspapers managed to get a look at Mr. Brown's tax records and legal files, as well as his children's medical records.

It's one thing to hack into cell phones to get personal details to create a scoop for the newspaper. It's quite another to break the law in order to get private information about politicians when that information can be used to sway voters and influence an election.

Rupert Murdoch is busy acquiring media outlets so that his children have jobs to go to every morning. With the ever-growing scandal arising out of inquiries into the News Of The World phone hacking, anti-competitive boards in the UK and the U.S. are on full alert as he tries to expand his empire.

Investigative reporters perform an important service, but does it do anyone any good if said reporters are more interested in toppling one particular political party rather than all corrupt politicians? As for current Prime Minister Cameron, the fact that he is a close friend of Mr. Murdoch only adds to the appearance of dirty tricks that rival the Watergate scandal.

Mr. Murdoch's desire to buy up satellite provider BSkyB is on shaky ground because of his corporation's laundry list of sordid activities. The easiest solution is to divest, and the future looks more digital than wood-pulp analog.

There are rumors floating through the media stratosphere, that the Murdochs will sell their News International interests and put all their newspaper troubles behind. The acquisition of BSkyB could then proceed without fear of monopolistic practices.

What, then, of David Cameron, who won the last election and then hired former NOTW editor Andy Coulson? Mr. Coulson resigned when the phone hacking story broke, but how many British voters are wondering if the popular News Of The World misled them and used them to further the Murdoch family's fortunes?

What, then, of investigative reporters who expose the criminal conduct of corrupt politicians? Will readers begin to wonder if there's an ulterior motive, some particular agenda which the newspaper's editor or publisher are promoting?

If you can't believe what you read in a newspaper, there's no place left to get the news.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Less Than Desirable Vacation Destinations

Looking for someplace new to travel?

If your vacation falls around the 12th of July, you'd be wise to cross Northern Ireland off your list of possibilities.

Sure, you've heard all sorts of good things about the peace accord and the Shinners and the loyalists sitting down together in government.

You need to further educate yourself by reading A Terrible Beauty, however, to understand what's underneath the facade of happy, smiling faces. And then you'd understand why the north of Ireland is no place to travel.

It used to be the Irish who rose up against discrimination and injustice. Now it's the loyalists who see the past drifting out of their grasp. After a period of relative calm, in which the tourism trade dared to suggest Twelfth of July activities as tourist fodder, the loyalists have been rioting in Newtonabbey and Carrickfergus.

The fighting is said to have begun over the flying of flags that are meant to intimidate the Catholics. Forced to remove the flags, the loyalists starting throwing rocks and setting fires and all the usual mayhem.

Not what you'd want to be caught up in when all you wanted to do was see the Norman castle.

It's like the last, dying breath of an ancient beast that is not going peacefully.

Only about three hundred Orange Order members showed up for the Drumcree parade, and the Catholics in Portadown didn't even bother to stage a counter-protest. Who cares about a gaggle of old men making fools of themselves? There's better shows for watching.

And none may be better than the big loyalist parade in Belfast on the Twelfth. The tension has been building as the Catholics chaff under renewed loyalist bullying, and security services are preparing for the worst.

Not quite the family-friendly fare that has been promoted to attract tourists. No place to be, unless you're an anthropologist chronicling the last days of socially-approved prejudice.