Friday, September 30, 2011

Marketing To The Grunge Set

Publisher William Morrow does not believe the popular wisdom that the young don't read.

They've put down good money on Courtney Love's memoirs, and if you're part of the largest book-buying demographic, you don't know who she is. Or much care.

No, the HarperCollins imprint is counting on your children and their children to snap up copies.

Wags are already cracking wise. It's doubtful, they say, that Ms. Love recalls much of anything from her drug-fueled past.

Literary agent David Vigliano was able to sell the idea, not the manuscript. Ms. Love will be working with Anthony Bozza, who you'd expect to be the one to do all the writing while Ms. Love sifts through her memories.

Like any memoir, there must be something new, and shocking, to be revealed or readers won't bother. Those who know of Ms. Love already know a great deal about her. What they'll pay for is honest insight into what was happening when her husband, Kurt Cobain, spiraled into a depression so deep that he blew his brains out.

It won't take long for reviewers to reveal what fresh gossip lies within the pages of the memoir once it's released. If the suicide angle is explored, it's likely the book will be a best-seller. Otherwise, it's just another celebrity tell-not-quite-all, and that's a tough sell to a generation that doesn't read.

Charity Begins At Home

So many people are going hungry. Food pantries can't keep up with demand. Everywhere, those who can afford it are asked to donate.

In the face of so much need, does it make sense that a charitable organization providing food at a deep discount would go out of business?

That's why Angel Food Ministries' excuse doesn't pass the laugh test.

The organization was founded seventeen years ago by Pastor Wesley Joseph Wingo. His goal, or so he claimed, was to distribute cheap food to those in need through various church-run food pantries.

Headquartered in Georgia, Pastor Wingo and his family ran the operation, in which boxes of food were sold at a steep discount. Churches participating in the program were paid $1 per box, and Angel Food Ministries claims they distributed around 4 million boxes in 2009 alone.

With that kind of volume, how could they go wrong?

It was a case of charity beginning at home. In this case, it was Pastor Wingo's home.

He was paid a substantial salary, over $600,000 per year. His family was on the payroll as well, at a cost of a couple of million dollars in 2006.

There's only so much money to go around and the dollars didn't seem to get farther than a Wingo pocket. And let us not forget the loans that Mr. Wingo took out when his salary didn't stretch far enough to meet his needs.

Hard to believe this is a charity we're talking about, unless Mr. Wingo was the charitable cause at the heart of Angel Food Ministries, and the food bank was so much fluff to hide his extravagance. The fact that the Wingos charged $850,000 in personal goods and services to the charity's credit card doesn't fit the charity scenario, which is why board members sued the family in 2009.

Angel Food Ministries has shut its doors and those who relied on the food program will have to look elsewhere.

They are "heartbroken to have to cease operations", but if you had a brilliant scam going, you'd be heartbroken too when it all fell apart.

In the meantime, the FBI is looking closely at Angel Food Ministries.

They don't seem to be buying the line about tough economic times and rising food prices and high fuel costs and a decline in sales as the root cause of Angel Food Ministries' demise. Not when the Wingo family benefited so richly from what was supposed to be a non-profit designed to help others, rather than themselves.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Takes Controversy To Sell Through

Publishers put books into stores with a plan to sell them. They aren't much interested in biographies that won't provide a decent profit.

Those who knew Walter Payton claim that a new book about his private life is nothing more than a bid to make a lot of money at a legend's expense. That's not far off the mark.

What the average fan knows of Walter Payton is the surface of a man. There are those who can spout statistics, who can recall a given run or a particular touchdown.

Jeff Pearlman went far below that surface, down into the realm of things that were considered private at the time. This is the age of social media. Nothing is private any more. His book is stirring up controversy, and that controversy will be used by the marketing department at Gotham to push sales.

Who knew that a running back with such gifts was not the great hero the fans thought he was?

It's all there, put down on paper where the seamy underside of Walter Payton's existence will live on forever, long after his accomplishments are overshadowed by some other great athlete.

The facts that Mr. Pearlman uncovered in his research will become fodder for gossip, stories traded in offices and bars across the city. Talk will turn into sales, as those who can't believe what they hear will want to read all about it, in a book that must be reporting the truth because no publisher would risk a lawsuit.

A book tour will no doubt be arranged, so that Mr. Pearlman can plug his tome and gin up the controversy. The Payton family may experience some discomfort at the sight of all their dirty laundry being aired, but there's money to be made.

Walter Payton was a normal human being who was put on a pedestal because he had certain physical gifts. Jeff Pearlman has exposed the feet of clay holding up the hero.

He's doing a good deed, by reminding us that the athletes we so admire are merely human.

It keeps things in perspective.

What troubles us is not that Walter Payton was flawed, but that someone is making a lot of money off the exposing of those flaws. Remember, it's not personal. It's business.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Fishermen Trawling For A Big Catch

John Paulson gobbled up the whale-swallowing minnow after Barry O'Callaghan choked on his venture.

If you believe the stories being floated by the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Paulson is gasping for air, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Riverdeep Greenwood et al. is about to be floated out to sea once again.

The hedge fund manager is facing losses, they say. Who wouldn't be facing losses? The market is in a tailspin, Greece is about to default on its debt, the banks holding that debt are going to take a hit, and so the house of cards tumbles.

Something has to be sold to ease the pressure. Or, in Mr. O'Callaghan's term, synergies have to be realized.

The educational publishing materials whale that Barry O'Callaghan created is deep in debt, but it has a chance of surviving. No thanks to the Irish boy wonder, but it's the people who work in the cubicles at HMH that are keeping the place afloat.

The downside to all that effort is a respectable prospectus, and the sharks circling Mr. Paulson's hedge fund investments are hungry for choice bits of chum that are about to be pitched over the side to keep Mr. Paulson from sinking.

God help the employees of HMH.

Once again, their futures are in turmoil as they await the outcome. HMH could be sold for parts. It could be sold as a going venture, perhaps picked up by another hedge fund with an interest in educational materials. Paulson may hold on to the company, hoping that it can generate revenues to finance his mistakes. There's no predicting the ultimate outcome.

Not a pleasant scenario when you'd like to know for certain that you'll be able to pay your mortgage and put food on the table in the near future.

Bites Out Of The Apple

First was the Kindle, a tablet device that did nothing more than act like a book.

Then came Apple's engineers with a tablet that was much more like a netbook, but it also could be a book if you had the right app.

Not to be outdone, Amazon is about to introduce their version of the iPad.

What's going to be so special about Amazon's product? What will set it apart from Apple's offering?

Price, for one.

Amazon is famous for their deep discounts, and the word on the street has the Amazon pad device retailing at around $300. Cheaper than the competition, yes, but does it do as much?

If you're a fan of streaming video and the television offerings of Fox, you'd be quick to buy Amazon's tablet rather than an iPad. Amazon Prime thrown in to the deal, so if you're a huge Amazon user, it could be a plus.

Still not enough to get you to stop considering Apple products?

The upgraded Kindle will maintain its function as an e-reader, which is what Amazon's devices do better than the rest. Whether or not it will match the variety of apps available for the iPad remains to be seen.

Then there's the current economic climate to consider, and it isn't pretty.

If you need a tablet device and don't have much money, you might consider Barnes & Noble's Nook, which allows for Internet surfing at a lower price. If you're desperate for a tablet, you might consider Amazon's cheaper alternative to the iPad, but much will depend on the style points that will set the two devices apart. If Apple is seen as far superior, not everyone will settle based on cost.

If you're really looking to save money, however, you might consider buying a netbook.

While it's a bit more expensive than a tablet device, it does so much more that there's no comparison. It just doesn't look as cool.

But when you want functionality and a bigger return on your investment, is 'cool' worth anything?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yet Another New Agency Opens Its Doors

If books were really dead, you wouldn't expect a literary agent to take such a huge financial leap as to open a new agency.

So books aren't quite dead yet.

Formerly of the Margaret McBride agency, Annie Bomke has opened her doors to submissions.

As a new agent taking on the expenses of her own business, it's a good bet that Ms. Bomke will be more open to signing up new clients than someone more fully established.

In other words, this is one to jump on if you're a writer of most anything besides children's books or poetry.

Submission requirements are simple and straightforward, and electronic.

Fire away. These sorts of opportunities don't come along often.

Not A Publisher, Just An E-Book Producer

One after another, the literary agencies fall.

Latest to the e-book party is mega-agency Trident Media Group, in spite of Robert Gottlieb's earlier lack of enthusiasm for the concept of literary agents acting as publishers.

How does one square this change of position? Mr. Gottlieb says that Trident Media isn't a publisher. They're only helping their authors publish electronically. Trident E-Book Operations is going to be a separate entity within the agency, charged with aiding clients in managing their electronic versions.

One way they might manage e-books is by threatening the traditional publisher with keeping the digital rights unless the author gets a sizeable royalty in exchange. Pay up, or the author walks, and walks right into the E-Book Operations office where Trident Media employees can handle formatting, cover art, and distribution.

You want distribution? Anyone can use Smashwords, Kindle Direct or Barnes & Noble's PubIt, and cover all the formatting options without breaking a sweat. Trident's clients don't really need the traditional publisher for the digital edition, and the traditional publishers know it.

According to Mr. Gottlieb, Trident's version of the literary agency as publisher is different because they have an entire department dedicated to e-book production. It's not just the agent doing the work. It's a unit of this very large agency.

Nice image, but in the end, it's another case of a literary agency joining a growing trend, and joining in a hurry in case the trend becomes the norm and they don't want to be left behind.

What can the major publishers do?

Either pay more for digital rights, or watch the agents see to it that their clients reap the greater financial rewards that mean a bigger profit margin line for the agency.

After all, 15% of $10,000 is greater than 15% of $100, and you don't have to be a maths genius to realize that.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fake Recommendations Or Real Advice

With a trip to Paris booked in part (we have a hotel), at some point we have to deal with restaurants.

Obviously, a traveler has to eat and who wouldn't want to get the most for their euro?

And considering the fact that we don't have an unlimited stash of euro to draw on, we're especially keen on value for price.

Did you look at TripAdvisor, friends asked when we mentioned our quandary. Crowd-sourced reviews to be had in plenty, comments and star-ratings and where better to find what's best.

Except that the reviews might be faked and the comments posted by the establishment to boost sales. Or a rival might have rigged the stars to hurt his competition and you'd be missing something grand.

Businesses in England have launched a counter-attack, making a complaint with the Advertising Standards Agency.

How can anyone trust a review if the reviewer isn't first vetted? TripAdvisor claims they possess reviews you can trust, but that's false (and illegal) advertising because it isn't quite true.

There's a possibility that TripAdvisor might be taken to court in the U.S. on the same grounds, that they're promising something they can't possibly deliver, unless they somehow vet each and every reviewer who posts a comment on the site. Not likely to happen, given the vast number of users who've put in their opinion.

So can I trust a TripAdvisor recommendation for a restaurant or not? Will I be falling for a scheme by an overpriced, untalented chef to rope in the gullible? Or will I really be steered to some undiscovered gem in a quiet corner of the Marais district?

No surprise that the Brits liked to haul around a supply of digestive biscuits on their Grand Tours. They had no idea where to find a decent meal, either.

Friday, September 23, 2011

And Authors Everywhere Second The Motion

In an interview in today's Irish Independent, best-selling author Roddy Doyle issues a simple and heartfelt plea.

He's wishing that more middle-aged men would buy books, and by default, read them.

Authors everywhere second the motion.

As a businessman, you'd expect Mr. Doyle to push his product whenever possible, but there's more than that behind his frustration.

The notion of reading as a pleasurable way to spend some time is getting lost amid a mass of competing distractions that don't add to a person's personal growth. Grand that you're the Halo champion, but you learn nothing substantial by pushing buttons repeatedly on a control device.

Reading opens up new worlds, exposes the reader to new ideas, and often provides the reader a few hours of escape from the world's troubles.

Sure the author uses imagination to craft the novel, but the reader has to use imagination to envision what is presented in words. And while existing in that imaginary world, the stock market tumbling or the stack of past-due bills ceases to exist for a few precious minutes.

Support an author. Support your local independent book vendor. Go buy a book. Read.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

All Men Are Create Equal But Commissioners Are More Equal Than Others

Things aren't as bad as they were in the 1930's, when there wasn't enough money in the coffers to pay public employees.

That being the case, Cook County's governing board realized that, while they couldn't afford full salaries, they could still meet payroll if everyone took some unpaid days off.

Everyone except them, of course.

It's their job to ask others to sacrifice, isn't it?

Earlean Collins was fine with asking others to sacrifice, but how could anyone expect her to give up so much as one cent of her $85,000 annual salary. Commissioner Deborah Sims is outraged over the very idea.

As Ms. Sims has pointed out, she could be getting her full salary with no problem if there hadn't been such a public outcry over the sales tax increase that was levied by the previous administration.

The little people, the peasants, should be happy to pay 10% tax on every purchase, just so Ms. Sims can continue to be paid in full. Why, if they'd just shut up and hand over the cash, Cook County wouldn't have to be cutting its budget and, well, struggling.

It's so common, all that struggling. So vulgar.

County County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is trying very hard to be the adult in the room, speaking of shared sacrifice just like President Obama.

But you see, those who share the sacrifice aren't meant to be those at the top, the ones who are more equal than others. She'll make no headway with the five commissioners who are standing on a statute that prevents pay cuts for lawmakers in the middle of their term. They're standing on principle.

The principle that five Cook County commissioners are more equal than those they were elected to serve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Australian For Mega-Merger

In an ongoing attempt to create a brand that is global for beer, SABMiller is about to buy up Foster's.

Sic semper the oil can.

SABMiller is the only major brewer left with enough money to finance the merger. All the other big names, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, are skint after buying up other smaller breweries.

The maker of Italy's Peroni and Milwaukee's Miller High Life will soon become Australia's beer provider. If they have their way, there will come a day when you won't be able to walk into a bar anywhere in the world and buy something other than a SABMiller product.

Foster's shareholders could still block the deal, if they're more inclined to maintain Foster's as Australian for beer than to reap a hefty profit on their holdings.

Such a scenario, however, is unlikely.

With the global economy on the decline, beer sales have followed. No one has the money for a pint, much less an enormous can full of liquid Prozac.

Indeed, Foster's has pulled back from its own heady days of acquiring smaller rivals, and it off-loaded its wine business some time back when profits were heading in the wrong direction.

Just a matter of time, then, before Foster's becomes Australian for SABMiller's long reach around the globe.

How much longer before all the beers start to taste the same, as one mighty behemoth brewer seeks to reduce overhead by making the same thing at multiple locations to better reduce costs?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Black Eye For Freelance Writers

What could be simpler than hiring a freelance writer to pen an ode to the many treasures held by the National Library of Ireland?

The staff members put in charge of the project took the first step, by advertising the job offering. After that, it was a disaster that has cost the hard-pressed Irish taxpayers nearly E100,000.

A cynic would say that the staff member who was supposed to review freelance submissions intended to hand the job off to a friend who needed work, because there's no evidence that anyone evaluated the writer who was hired. There's no evidence that anyone evaluated the three submissions that were rejected, either.

The money was spent and the book that was ultimately produced was found to be so riddled with errors that it had to be pulled.

On the surface, it's a black eye for freelance writers, a professional group of underpaid but highly skilled wordsmiths who understand the importance of getting it right. An expensive tome that turned out to be a complete waste of money reflects badly on those who research what they write, and then go back and check it all again.

You would think that a group of bureaucrats who deal with books and the written word all day would have a better understanding of how the freelance writing process works. Once again, the bureaucrats have proved us wrong.

It wasn't the writer's fault that the contract was flawed and the library board failed to oversee the project in any way. Even so, it's the freelancer who looks like the culprit in a scheme to defraud the National Library.

The library has learned its lesson and in future will have a clear contract in place before paying for freelance work. Little things, like deciding in advance how the book will be proof-read, must be settled before the next check is cut to a freelance writer.

And more than one person is going to doing the vetting. Just, you know, to keep things honest.

Monday, September 19, 2011

It Ain't Much But It's A Living

What do you do when you've lost your job and the unemployment money's run out?

Maybe you'd look for odd jobs or even beg for a spot at McDonald's grill, spatula in hand, ready to flip burgers for minimum wage.

Unless you're Jaclyn and Steve Madera, a pair of siblings who found a really odd job to support themselves.

The not-so-clever couple from the Chicago suburbs don't have to worry about finding work for the near future, not when they'll have their basic needs met by Illinois taxpayers.

Who says crime doesn't pay? It got the Madera clan free food and lodging for as many years as the judge sentences them for theft.

Jaclyn drove the get-away car, sometimes with her children in the back seat. The woman was hard up for cash, and where do you get money to pay a sitter if you don't have enough to keep body and soul together to begin with?

Her brother would leap from the car, fake gun in hand, and snatch gold chains from the necks of startled women. Then the pair would drive off, to pawn their ill-gotten gains and put food on the table.

No harm meant by Steven, obviously, since he couldn't have shot anyone. It was all to scare the victim, and just long enough to snatch and flee.

There's not much money to be made at McDonald's, and there sure isn't much to be made in pawning a few gold chains that don't have all that much pure gold in them. The Maderas had to steal a lot of chains, and the necessary frequency of their job-related thieving got them caught.

They had to keep going back to the same area, what with the price of gas and the time needed to drive to more distant suburbs. It was, perhaps, the greatest flaw in their business model.

Bail's been set at $2 million, and as you'd expect, the financially strapped duo won't be leaving jail any time soon.

But they'll eat for free and sleep in a decent shelter for free, be given clothing that's not stylish but it's free, and they can look forward to free medical and dental care.

Not the most desirable situation, but that's how it worked during the Great Depression, when people were desperate and had no other choice than to turn to petty crime to get a roof over their heads.

As for the metal bars that form the rest of the little place the Maderas will soon call home, that's the trade-off for choosing crime over a job that no one else wants to do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Long Road Takes A Turn

The battle for a free Ireland isn't really quite finished.

What began in 1916 is still going on, but the form of that battle has altered to fit the times. To gain a better understanding of where the process began and how it's changed over the decades, read Katie Hanrahan's powerful novel A Terrible Beauty. Then you'll realize how sensational this announcement is.

The long road to liberty is about to take an interesting turn.

Martin McGuinness of peace process and IRA fame has thrown his caipin into the ring and is now running for the Presidency of Ireland.

The public face of the nation, the President is the one to greet honored visitors from foreign lands. So might that President spend a little face time in making the case for a united Ireland?

The successors of the original IRA will be pitted against the successors of those who favored the 1922 treaty that divided Ireland. The Irish people will once again have a chance to express their opinion on a solution that gave rise to The Troubles, although few saw that coming back when the treaty was signed.

Fine Gael waged a civil war against the IRA nearly one hundred years ago, and this upcoming political election will be no less violent---although it will be a war of words this time around. Actual shooting of bullets is frowned upon in these modern times.

Even so, an otherwise dull election is about to get very, very hot. And very, very interesting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Classic Tease

Long ago and far away, Saturday afternoon at the cinema meant catching the latest installment of a serialized drama.

Whether it was Flash Gordon in outer space or Gene Autry fighting bad guys, there was adventure and action and a cliff-hanger of an ending at the close of every episode.

Caught up in the plot, moviegoers returned week after week, just to find out how the story ended. What mattered to the film makers is that those people paid, week after week.

It's a classic marketing ploy called the tease. Give them enough to get their interest, then give a little more until they're hooked. They'll keep coming, buying tickets, and thus grow the profits.

Now Starbucks has engaged in a classic tease with the publishers of The Night Circus.

Customers were given a "free ebook", but when they reached page 330, they arrived at the fine print.

Just when the plot approached the climax, readers learned that what they were given was only a "sample", and to find out how the story ended (now that they were hooked), they'd have to purchase the entire book. Which meant they had to pay for the last 70 pages.

Or be left wondering what happened to the two magicians who star in the novel.

Naturally, some felt duped because they're too young or not enough of a film aficionado to recognize the classic tease, the use of the cliff-hanger to keep the money flowing towards the content provider. Starbucks has fielded complaints.

But in the end, sales of the book will be increased because enough people got hooked on the story and want to finish it. The publisher gave away only a part of the whole for free. If the hook works, they'll end up getting reimbursed for almost all the free content through book sales, and the author will share in the bounty.

It's all about grabbing control of eyeballs these days, beating out the competition for the entertainment dollar.

What's next? Free dishware given away with every ticket sold?

I know times are hard, but have we really reverted back to the marketing ploys of the Great Depression?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Perhaps UBS Is Hiring

What are my qualifications to work as a broker at Swiss banking giant UBS?

I could easily lose billions of dollars, and I'd do it at a lower cost to the bank. I wouldn't demand as high a salary as Mr. Kweku Adoboli, but then again, I wouldn't live in London where it's far too expensive to survive.

And how difficult could it be to make $2 billion in bad investments? Look at the U.S. Federal Government. They sank half a billion into a single solar-panel manufacturer and lost it all. I'd only have to find four such firms to reach my goal.

My ability to work such complex maths calculations in my head is also indicative of my latent abilities. The office supply department at UBS wouldn't have to buy me a calculator. I'd save them money the minute I sat at my desk.

Also, I'm a self starter, so it wouldn't be difficult for me to go rogue on the trading floor. A little fraud, a little computer manipulation, and I, too, could achieve the success which Mr. Adoboli found.

With UBS still reeling from the losses it took by investing in U.S. sub-prime mortgages, it's little wonder that their share price has plummeted. An investor would be inclined to believe that the investment segment of UBS has no idea what it's doing, which is not a way to inspire confidence in potential clients. Without clients, you don't have much of a business, and who wants to own a piece of that?

Also of concern to investors is the apparent inability of UBS to learn from a similar debacle at Societe Generale in 2008. The French bank lost even more due to a rogue trader in the ranks, but UBS failed to install the sort of safeguards that a more cautious firm might have put into place to avoid a repeat of such a serious mistake.

Not that any of us rogue traders are stealing the money for ourselves. When a single mistake can cost you your job, you'd try to cover up the mistake or make good before the bosses found it. Then that leads to further losses, and the cover up becomes more extensive. The entire system spirals out of control, until the losses becomes so huge that it's impossible to hide them anymore.

For the sake of keeping a grip on his job, Mr. Adoboli will end up in jail, disgraced. He'll never work on a trading floor again, and who would trust him to work in banking after he's served his time?

If he'd confessed at the beginning, he'd have been sacked, but he would stand a better chance of re-employment than he does now. Wasn't it Sir Walter Scott who had something to say about the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Hit And A Miss---oni

Italian knitwear manufacturer Missoni is known for their colorful line of apparel. And the high price that goes hand in glove with the sorts of things you find at Saks Fifth Avenue.

When that sort of big-type fashion icon appears at Target, of all places, you just know there will be blood.

The Target website fell victim to a frenzy of bargain shoppers longing to snap up Missoni for themselves.

It's an indication of where the economy is at, up at the higher end of the economic spectrum.

There's not enough business available to allow the likes of high-end Missoni to survive on caviar and champagne alone. The firm made a business decision, and they saw where sales could be made.

The items available at Target aren't to be had where the higher-quality Missoni line is featured. What's selling at Target is of lesser quality, with profits to be made on the Missoni name rather than a piece of clothing that will last for ages because it's well-made.

That's important for Missoni, to maintain a little distance between the hoi polloi and the bon ton. The wealthy will accept the help dressing in cheap knock-offs, as long as the cut and pattern and fabric weights aren't the same.

Why, if that were the case, it would mean that Missoni was ripping them off at Saks and the Italian designer could lose some of its cachet.

Target sold out of its Missoni line in a day. They planned to carry on with the special promo for six weeks.

That's an indication of where the market's at, down at the lower end of the spectrum. People have a little bit of money to spend, but they'd never be able to afford the distinctive Missoni look. Once it arrives at an affordable location, it's consumed in a frenzy.

The party's over, and if you didn't get there, you're out of luck.

Unless you want to try Ebay, where Missoni labels aren't always separated between the good stuff and the cheap stuff. Many will get burned when they over-pay for Missoni that isn't top of the line.

The free market can be a dangerous and ugly place, even if it's tricked out with the vibrant color schemes of Missoni.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lawsuit Filed Against The Vatican

Americans are hearing about a complaint just lodged against the Vatican and it's likely the first they've heard about the extent to which the Catholic Church's hierarchy is implicated in an ongoing scandal that's been fairly localized. 

This lawsuit in the International Criminal Court has arisen in large part from events that took place in Ireland over the course of decades. How far did the Church go to protect its bureaucracy and its employees, the priests and bishops who covered up the abuse?

Read The Leaven of the Pharisees and you'll gain a very thoroughly researched account, presented as a novel but based on the words of those who were the innocent victims of absolute power at its most corrupt.

The book is available in both hard copy and e-book formats.

Creating Fiction In A Non-Fiction World

With Three Cups Of Tea author Greg Mortenson facing lawsuits from the disgruntled, you'd think that those who say they've composed non-fiction wouldn't continue to pretend that their fiction is all real when it isn't.

The latest author to fall is the University of Illinois' law school assistant Dean of Admissions. Paul Pless has been placed on leave, for publishing a fictional account of events that were supposed to be utterly factual.

Maybe this is more of a case of false advertising, but still, it's writing fiction and claiming it's non-fiction.

The law school wants all who consider to believe that the students admitted to U of I are nothing short of brilliant. The smartest. The brightest. The highest test score achieving.

You see, the higher the average GPA and LSAT score, the higher the school is ranked by important organizations. The higher the rank, the more competitive and smart people will apply. The smarter the incoming class, the higher the average, which leads to a higher school ranking, and around it goes.

So it needed to be. So it was written.

An assessment of those numbers resulted in an abrupt change to the school's website. The purported falsification of grade point average and test scores in a profile of the incoming class may have been made up (fiction) and presented as fact (Three Cups Of Fraud).

Oddly enough, it was Mr. Pless who took exception to the previous policy (until the Chicago Tribune exposed the scandal) in which politically connected but otherwise unqualified applicants were admitted to the University of Illinois law school.

Why, sticking those miserable GPAs and bottom-dwelling LSAT scores into the class average would bring down the average and make the U of I law school look like it was desperate for students and that's not the stuff of which prestigious institutions are made.

Now it's Mr. Pless who's being blamed for fictionalizing the incoming class averages, boosting the numbers as if politically connected but otherwise unqualified applicants are still being admitted, and he's not going to stand by and let them besmirch the reputation of the U of I law school.

The school is investigating. They'll get back to the American Bar Association with the legitimate numbers as soon as possible.

Can't the U of I just claim author privilege or dramatic license? Is it a crime to pump up the narrative to make it more appealing, albeit less accurate?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Speak Out, Ladies

Ladies, Father Sean McDonagh would like you to make your voices heard.

Not that anyone expects the Holy See to listen, but don't sit by doing nothing.

The Association of Catholic Priests is calling on Catholic women to write to their bishops and let them know how they feel about the new translation of liturgical prayers that is about to become standard operating procedure at every Mass.

They'd like you to speak up if you're upset at the revised language that uses the male form throughout, when it's not using elitist, archaic phrasing that only a canon lawyer could understand.

It's implied, according to the leading lights of the Catholic Church, that using "men" implies women as well. On the other hand, you'd have to wonder why using "women" throughout wouldn't also imply men. Considering the population in the pews, a priest would reach well over half his congregation if the prayers were in the feminine.

Like everything else the Vatican does, the laity wasn't consulted, so if you're tired of the princes dictating to you, express your outrage.

Sure, you could write a scathing letter.

More effective if you dropped a scathing letter into the collection basket every Sunday, in lieu of cash.

If it's to be for "us men and our salvation", and you're a woman, why continue to fund the system? When they include you in their prayers, then you'll include them in your financial support.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Will They Show "Moneyball"?

Lots of buzz out there about a new baseball movie that opens next Friday.

Moneyball is the mostly true story of the Oakland A's baseball team and how its general manager put together a winning team. A winning team that was put together on a shoestring budget, I might add.

Also in baseball news, the Family Ricketts would like to turn the Chicago Cubs venue, Wrigley Field, into an outdoor movie theatre for a night.


What do you think?

Come October, when the ballpark would be turned into a cinema, the Cubs won't be needing the field and the owners would like to generate some income because they didn't exactly turn fans away from the gates this season.

It's a match made in heaven.

The overpaid Cubbies and the budget Oakland A's, playing on the same field (so to speak)...will this be an opportunity to watch and learn?

Only next year's roster (or cast, if you will) can indicate which way the Ricketts family is leaning.

In the meantime, the local alderman is all in favor of a movie playing on Oct. 1 at the old ballpark. A nice, family-oriented event of maybe 4,000 people would give mourning Cubs fans a chance to see the ivy in autumn, a sight rarely seen. Worth the price of admission for some dedicated and die-hard followers.

And if Moneyball isn't box office boffo the week before, there's no better publicity for a struggling movie than showing it in Wrigley Field, where the Cubs have struggled for nearly a century.

Those in the Chicago area who want to see what a winning team looks like will be heading up to Milwaukee in October. They might not want to see Moneyball. Too depressing, to know that others have done what no one in Chicago seems to be able to do.

Friday, September 09, 2011

There Is A Time To Print And A Time To Conserve Paper

When you're doing your final edit on your manuscript, there's no point in thinking green.

You genuinely need to print out the words on pieces of paper, sit down with an old-fashioned pen or pencil (red, in either case), and actually look at what you've written.

It's nice to read on the computer screen if you're technologically minded, but when it comes time to determine if your manuscript parts are equally divided, you can't very well lay out piles of printed sheets without printing them, can you? How else can you determine if you've followed the formula to write a break-out novel?

Sure there is a boom in e-reader sales, but the majority of readers continue to use the old-school printed book. As an author, you have to emulate the experience as you prepare your final draft or you're likely to miss something.

Only with real paper can you lay out each chapter individually and look at the last few paragraphs of each, comparing the level of tension. Does the tension mount as you approach the conclusion? Easy enough to see it when it's laid out before you. Not so easy to see if you have to scroll through an entire manuscript.

Here at Newcastlewest Books, we've reached that level with our upcoming release, slated for Christmas gifting season. The manuscript has been edited and re-written and cut until it looks perfectly polished. The time has come to print it, and then read it like a reader.

We'll be giving ten copies away in the future, taking advantage of all that Goodreads has to offer both authors and those who love books. Keep watching the skies.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

From The Bill Gates School Of Big Fish

Under John Paulson's administration, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Riverdeep EPMG et al. is swimming along.

Now there's a new leader for what is left of Barry O'Callaghan's dream of grandeur, what's left after his little minnow of a publisher Riverdeep swallowed a couple of behemoth publishing whales.

Rather a Captain Ahab sort of character, isn't he?

So the great white whale swims on through educational publishing materials waters, and there's a new captain at the helm.

Not a denizen of the publishing world is Ms. Linda K. Zecher. She comes from another firm that was once a minnow and now rules the digital waves. Ms. Zecher is a product of Bill Gates' Microsoft Corporation.

When Mr. O'Callaghan set out to create the world's largest educational publishing materials company, he had the digital world in mind. His Riverdeep start-up was all about the electronic side of publishing, and it's clear that Mr. Paulson is continuing where Mr. O'Callaghan went aground.

The new CEO of HMH is all about technology. She's a product of the industry, and it is hoped that her background will translate into future success for HMH.

But what about the books?

What is going to happen to trade publications, to the fiction and non-fiction hard copies that HMH produces? Would someone who knows all about tech and computers be the right person to guide a traditional publisher?

Does John Paulson seem to be signalling his intent to unload the traditional publishing arm of HMH, to focus on the digital future?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Quiet On The Set

Roll 'em. And action!

A Hollywood script doesn't look at all like a book.

I've seen several, thanks to a friend in the TV business. Sure, they have a cover like a book, but once you crack that thing open, you'll realize that it isn't a book at all.

No matter to ABC. They've got a promotion going that seeks to entice viewers to a debut program, and they're using Kindle.

If you have a Kindle, you can download the script for the pilot episode of Revenge.

That's right. You, an ordinary book lover, can read a genuine Hollywood script just like the stars use.

Without the descriptions supplied by the author, however, you might be hard-pressed to create scenes in your head that go with the words. Then there's the lack of internal dialogue and the written details that help you bond with the characters and understand what's going on.

A script is just the dialogue. It's the set decorator and the wardrobe department that do so much to make those words work. It's the director and the actors who flesh out words into recognizable human beings.

In a book, it's the author who sets the scene and describes the clothes and the emotions the character is feeling. A script doesn't have any of that. So why would a lover of books want to read something as flat and static as a script?

Well, it is free and we all like free things.

At the end of the Kindle download, you'll find a link that takes you to the pilot (apologies to Elton John) and you would have the opportunity to watch a brand new television show before anyone else who doesn't have a Kindle.

If you care about the Hamptons and the wealthy denizens thereof, you might be interested in the freebie. ABC is trying a new approach to attract eyeballs, which drives up advertising income, and they're willing to provide content in a unique format to generate some buzz.

Not the least bit interested in a toney New York enclave? You'd find it very interesting to read the script while watching the pilot. You'd be amazed at how much gets changed over the course of filming, as a writer's words or plot devices are shifted, sliced and diced.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Nation Is Closed

Planning to blow the last of your puny savings on a Grand Tour?

You should also plan ahead in the event that Italy is closed when you arrive.

It's closed today, for example.

The European Union has insisted on austere budgets for countries seeking bail-outs, and Italy is under pressure to stop spending more than it takes in.

That means the people who are accustomed to getting things for nothing won't be getting those things, and they're not taking it lightly.

You get the sense that those who are protesting want someone else to take the brunt of the pain from the budget axe.

Make the wealthy pay, say those who reap the rewards of generous government hand-outs.

Even the wealthy don't have enough to cover the expense of social welfare gone wild.

Cut Department X, say the employees of Department Y. Fire the politicians, say the citizens who were promised the moon without bothering to figure out that the moon could not possibly be brought down out of the heavens.

In protest, they've closed Italy. Their strikes and marches are an expression of their unhappiness. By closing Italy, they believe the government will buckle and restore the constant flow of benefits.

There's no money. They can close Italy for the next week and it won't change the fact that there's no money.

As a tourist, you should consider renting an apartment instead of booking a hotel room. Then, you'd want to stock up your frigo with enough food to last the duration of your stay.

While your cooking skills aren't up to the level of a fine Italian chef, you can use the same ingredients and create a passable pasta con vongole. And you'll be able to eat, while the tourists at the hotels will be near hysteria, wondering how they'll eat when all the restaurants are closed in protest.

If the strikes don't work and the austerity pinches, some are claiming that Italy will see rioting in the Greek style.

Maybe you don't want to be travelling right now after all.

Monday, September 05, 2011

No Burgers In Temple Bar

In its bid to take over the world, McDonald's has been stymied by the Irish.

The fast food giant thought they would open up a shiny new outlet in Dublin's Temple Bar area, a location of historical significance for the city. It's also where the tourists go and the nightlife pops, and what better place for an international icon.

The Dublin City Council said no.

They weren't alone, of course. An Taisce as well as the Temple Bar Cultural Trust were aghast at the very idea that something as non-Irish as McDonald's would land in an area that is prized for its architecture. An architecture that does not feature a single golden arch.

In its ruling, the Council stated that there are enough restaurants on site already. Temple Bar doesn't need a fast-food takeaway. McDonald's would not add to the ambience or the mixture of venues.

And in case that doesn't make things explicit enough, the council also took umbrage at McDonald's planned installation of automatic doors. This is Temple Bar, not the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Doors open and close on hinges in this part of Dublin, thank you very much, and entrance is gained by pulling or pushing the physical door.

Not everyone loves the iconic American burger vendor. Not every city feels the need to embrace the odor of frying beef parts for the sake of filling an empty storefront and creating jobs for a few citizens.

Better instead to wait for someone else willing to take a chance on a new business, a different someone who wants to be part of the scene rather than create one.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Do You Renounce

I do renounce it, says the Vatican.

They renounce An Taoiseach Enda Kenny's claim that the Holy See was coddling pedophile priests at the opening of the 21st Century.

Contrary to Mr. Kenny's opinion, the Vatican says they didn't come right out and tell the Irish bishops not to call in the gardai to investigate abuse cases.

You can safely assume that the bishops and the cardinals and all the rest of the hierarchy didn't much appreciate Mr. Kenny referring to them as residents of Elitist Land from the state of Narcissism.

So that settles it. The Holy See rejects Mr. Kenny's assertions. As far as the Vatican is concerned, his allegations are unfounded.

So will all of you who have seen how elitist and narcissistic the Irish bishops have been, will you please return to the pews? You can't believe your own eyes. The Vatican has so decreed, and so it must be.

The basis of much of Mr. Kenny's lashing of the Vatican is based on documents issued by the Vatican, in which the protective measures put in place to end decades of misery were parsed and analyzed in a way that suggested a team of lawyers was on the hunt for loopholes.

It's the sort of attitude that Catholics find reprehensible, and it's the sort of attitude that's turned people off from Catholicism.

To describe the Irish government's dictates on handling abuse cases as "study guidelines", and to express serious reservations about the new policies, isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for ending clerical child abuse.

Even so, the Vatican rejects the assertion that they tried to insert themselves between Church and State. If members of the Dail had read the Cloyne Report objectively, they never would have passed a motion that slapped down the Holy See with a mighty fist.

The Vatican renounces Enda Kenny's assertions. They do renounce them. But why don't people believe they're being sincere?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Seeking The Limit Of Free Speech

Journalists tend to believe that they can interview people so that they can have all the facts for their story.

What criminal would bare his soul to a police officer? But he or she would be willing to admit certain things to a probing journalist, confident that they would remain anonymous.

Maybe that's true most of the time.

Journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre spent countless hours interviewing members of the Irish Republican Army as part of an oral history project organized by Boston College. Now the Police Service of Northern Ireland would like those tapes, please, and Eric Holder has gone after them.

Boston College is in court, trying to quash subpoenas issued by Mr. Holder's crew.

The argument is simple. There is freedom of the press in the States, and that freedom extends to a journalist's right to keep his sources a secret. No matter if the source describes criminal activity. It's up to the cops to find the bad guys. They can't force a journalist to do the tracking for them.

In addition, the university argues that the attempts by the U.S. Government to seize the tapes would infringe on academic freedom and the ability of a professor to conduct research.

Just because the PSNI thinks that maybe, just maybe, there's some little nugget of information about an IRA-ordered murder, the thinking goes, all such rights and freedoms should be tossed out the window because the IRA won't talk to the PSNI like they talked to Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Moloney.

The journalists have now filed their own suit, claiming that this PSNI fishing expedition violates the terms of the Belfast Agreement. This new front utilizes a different legal tactic, a second strategy.

Behind all the legal jargon is a basic question. How far can a journalist go to prepare a story without being roped into the prosecution of the crime he's writing about?

It's looking like Eric Holder would like to locate the limits of freedom of the press, and get on England's good side at the same time. His department is pursuing the tapes with some vigor.

Not such a surprise. President Obama's Irish ancestors were Protestant interlopers on Irish soil. Not exactly the stuff of which an IRA supporter is made.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

When The Sack-ee Hits Back

Simon Negus was working for Dell when Microsoft in England enticed him to join their ranks. Hefty signing bonus, nice office, a promise of long-term employment, and best of all, Mr. Negus was led to believe he'd be first in line for a promotion to head of the entire operation.

Then he was prompted booted out the door for sexual harassment of female employees.

He lost a great deal of income and prestige, did Simon Negus, to say nothing of his reputation.

Competition among the corner office set is fierce and bloody. Mr. Negus was not going to go quietly. He has filed suit against Microsoft for wrongful termination, seeking fifteen years worth of lost wages.

Among Microsoft's reasons for showing Mr. Negus the door is one in which the executive was alleged to have asked a female employee to stand on a chair so that all could see her short skirt. He asked another woman to flutter her eyelashes, and purportedly kissed another sweet young thing at a party in Atlanta.

Even before Microsoft completed an investigation, the head of Britain's Microsoft division, Gordon Frazer,  had mapped out a way to get rid of the man who represented his stiffest competition at the firm. Jean-Philippe Courtois, head of Microsoft International, received an e-mail from Mr. Frazer outlining the steps to be taken, and indicated that he was advertising the position before it was officially open.

What became of Microsoft's investigation? The skirt viewing incident never took place, the young lady was indeed asked to bat her lashes, and the Atlanta lip-lock could not be proved. 

So, in Mr. Negus's mind, the whole scenario was concocted by Mr. Frazer to clear the field and safeguard his position.

The case will play out in the High Court, where the tabloids will have a grand time of it. All the inner secrets and behind-closed-doors activities of Microsoft, the corporate culture of frat boy drunkenness and lewd behavior, is perfect fodder for a public weary of nothing but bad economic news.