Thursday, March 31, 2011

Feel The Burn

Ever since man invented leisure, we've had the fitness club. And ever since we've had the fitness club, we've had fitness clubs going bankrupt because man is lazy at heart.

Total Fitness Leisure Clubs fall into the failed category.

That means there is a group of people who joined up with an intention of maintaining good cardio health and have now been burned.

Total Fitness says it's due to high rents being charged at its Irish locations, but the property owner disputes that contention. The real problem is one of income, which clearly proved to be insufficient.

Not enough people joined up and stayed on board to make the fitness clubs viable. Maintenance, machines, and a suitable supply of towels do not come cheap and when the economy melts down, the potential clients become increasingly stingy.

The clubs have closed their doors, and 11,500 members are out the cost of their membership, with nothing to show for it. Total Fitness has gone belly up, and there simply is no cash on hand to reimburse the members.

To say that the ex-members are irate would be an understatement. At a meeting between the company directors and furious clients, the exchange was heated and there were few answers forthcoming.

No matter how much weight a man can bench-press, he can't squeeze blood out of a turnip and Total Fitness is as dry as the average turnip these days. Following liquidation, whatever capital can be generated will go to pay off secured creditors, and it's doubtful that there'd be anything left in the kitty to reimburse membership dues.

The members did get quite a workout at the meeting. They're all feeling the burn, but it's not in their muscles.

This About Sums It Up For The Day

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cut The Fat But Avoid The Bone

Book shops are having a time of it these days. After all, when you're trying to scratch together enough cash to cover the month's mortgage payment, the last thing you'll be doing is buying a book.

That means firms like Eason  have to find a way to make do with less.

At the same time, it can't lop off whole limbs and trumpet the success of the diet. A monetary liposuction requires care and precision if the patient is to survive.

Eason has announced that it is seeking to cut costs by E8 million per year. It's either cut the fat, or go under.

But how much is fat and how much is vital flesh?

Conor Whelan, managing director, is full speed ahead on opening three new stores in locations near the reading public that still has enough money to afford a few small luxuries. A business can't do business without a place in which to do business. Closing up shops, in Mr. Whelan's analysis, would be counter-productive.

Then there's the online end of the book industry. Eason will continue to go up agains the likes of Amazon through its own electronic shop, a strategy that requires investment up front with an eye to profits returned down the road.

In addition, they'll offer more e-books so take that, iPad and Kindle.

Eason will do all this with fewer people. People eat up money in the form of salaries and benefits. It's extra fat when a chunk of the business is carried on via the Internet, or as a download without the need of a clerk to ring up a sale.

Will it be a serious trim or will Eason nick an artery and bleed out cash until they're dry?

No one can really say until the cutting is done. But it wouldn't hurt to pray for an economic recovery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Spambots Strike

There's a good reason for comment moderation on your blog.

We're so glad we have that option.

You won't find links to off-shore gambling sites in the comments of various posts. No, they've all been deleted before appearing in public.

Sorry, spambot.

You're locked out.

It wasn't the inane, five or six word comment that you tried to post. It was the fact that the poster's name screamed SCAM before I even read the rest.

Of course, spambots like this are counting on open forums where there is no moderator to screen their posts. The geniuses behind the sites are hoping that a positive-sounding comment would lead some unsuspecting reader to click on the link and that's all they need.

Maybe you won't be able to get out of the site without shutting down your computer.

Maybe you'll be asked for personal information in a backhanded phishing scheme.

Doesn't matter.

It won't happen here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Not So Debut-ish After All

Mary Curran Hackett is a debut author.

She teaches literature and writing at the University of Cincinnati. Not such a rookie in the field, is she?

Her novel, Proof Of Heaven, is due for release later this year. Her publisher, William Morrow, believes they can turn a profit on it. Chances are, the manuscript required little editing given Ms. Hackett's profession. They saved money there. What are you bringing to the table?

Ariel Djanikian earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Michigan. She won a Fulbright Fellowship which allowed her to travel to the Yukon to research her novel, which is due out soon from Viking. What are you bringing to the table?

Debut authors don't seem to be ordinary, creative people who are not teaching others how to write or following the formulas they've been taught by those who teach writing.

It makes getting noticed that much more difficult, in an area that is already crowded.

Rather than spend our days attracting the attention of a literary agent, we've moved on. As publishers, it will be our task to attract the attention of the reading public.

They aren't swooning over MFAs or prestigious awards. They're looking for something to entertain and/or enlighten them. It's the road less taken, and we're heading off in that direction.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Money, Like A River, Flows

In Ireland, it was the industrial schools at the center of a horrific scandal. Children incarcerated by their government, all for the sake of doing good, to ameliorate poverty or instill strong morality, were routinely abused for decades.

The story is laid out in Katie Hanrahan's powerful novel, The Leaven Of The Pharisees.

Should it truly come as a surprise to learn that the Jesuits have now paid out $166 million to victims of the same system in a different part of the world?

For their own good, it was said at the time, Native American children were taken from their parents and packed into schools where they would learn how not to be native. The set-up is startlingly like the industrial schools of Ireland, down to the era in which the worst abuses took place.

The case against the Jesuits covers a wide area in the Pacific Northwest, a collection of lawsuits that forced the Oregon Province into bankruptcy court to survive. Over five hundred victims came forward to seek justice, a small number compared to the Irish experience, but still too many.

As in Ireland, the abuse was both sexual and psychological in nature. As in Ireland, you can bet that those who left the Jesuit-run schools entered upon a lifetime of problems, ranging from depression to alcoholism and suicide.

The pay-out will not make them whole, but it can pay for the necessary psychiatric counseling that will make life somewhat tolerable. The money will help wounded psyches to heal, even if nothing can be done to erase the scars.

First Ireland, and now the American Northwest. Where else have religious communities set up shop, to make the world a better place? Will we find more cases of abuse there as well?

Friday, March 25, 2011

When You See A Fork In The Road, Take It

We are a group of authors who have shared the long road to publication.

Beta readers, critique partners, editors and fact-checkers, we have done it all. Like so many other authors, we have yet to find real success.

Keep on querying, hunting for an agent when we lack the right credentials to get attention? Or strike off on our own, pooling our various talents and skills?

We've decided to form our own publishing company.

Initially, it will be small, putting out one or two books a year until we see where things might go.

There is a great deal to be done, of course, before our first book is released. Writing is one thing. Formatting a manuscript, deciding on a printer, and finding a distributor are not easy matters.

We have nothing to lose, except a small amount of money that we may never realize in sales. It makes little difference, all things considered. We've spent money on submissions, on paper, on toner cartridges and software upgrades. It's the cost of pursuing a hobby for people who don't actually have hobbies.

We've invested time in the agent search. For a change, we'll invest time in preparing a manuscript for publication and then publish it.

More to come, as the business venture develops.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

One Toke Over The Line

The man who passed out doobies as campaign material has smoked his last joint. A moment of silence, please, for the decline of the political grand gesture.

Luke Flanagan, Independent (as you'd expect) from Roscommon, has long been advocating the legalization of cannabis. He has never made it a secret that he smokes weed. And yes, he was once convicted for possession back in 1998. 

A man who is open about his illegal activities, who wanders about in a fog of THC, will eventually see the light and realize that he is asking for trouble. Mr. Flanagan claims that he is under pressure from his wife and children, who fear his arrest would lead to the loss of his job and incarceration.

It's asking a lot of innocent bystanders to sacrifice their security for the sake of making a point. So rather than lose his seat in the Dail, Mr. Flanagan has given up smoking.

In Ireland.

Should he find himself abroad where cannabis is legal, he won't hesitate to take another toke.

While he's not lighting up (Note to An Garda Siochana: no need to call to his home and embarrass the family, nothing illegal taking place), he will continue to push for legalization.

He'll go along willingly, however, if the gardai are forced to act on complaints lodged by John Coonan. And have you ever seen a pot-smoker be anything but peaceful and mellow?

Now that Mr. Flanagan has taken the pledge, you can expect the press and his political adversaries to watch him closely, to be ever on the alert for the slightest whiff of ditchweed. They may even monitor his electric bill, in the event that the Independent from Roscommon is growing cannabis in his cellar on the sly.

Does this mean that Mr. Flanagan will be seen with some frequency in Amsterdam when he needs a break from the stress of politics?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Brilliant Idea Grows Dim

Wouldn't it be brilliant if you could have the world's library at your fingertips?

As a writer of historical fiction, I've found that my research has become much easier since Google put scanned books online. The local library doesn't have old tomes on dusty topics sitting on the shelf, and it can be frustrating to need a piece of historical data and not be able to snag it.

What sounds good in theory, unfortunately, doesn't always translate into practice. A judge has decided that Google's grand scheme to become the world's biggest provider of books violates anti-trust laws. By eliminating competition in old books or online access to printed material, Google had an unfair advantage and that is simply against the law.

Back when Google first proposed scanning everything, authors and publishers were concerned about copyright violations. It wasn't just books in the public domain that would be turned into billions of electrons. Interested parties worked out a solution so that copyright holders could get paid, and it looked like everything was a go.

Judge Denny Chin's decision puts paid to Google's plan to control millions of out-of-print books that are often only available as a single copy in an obscure college library.

The problem is, scanning so many books is an expensive proposition and Google is about the only company around with the financial means to undertake the project. Because of its massive size, it could not only scan all the books but control the market for such materials, and the smaller companies like Internet Archive would die.

It would be a severe loss. Internet Archive is more like an online library, with free access. Google, of course, would operate as a money-making venture.

Having already scanned so many books, it's unlikely that Google will fold up its internet tent and go away quietly.

Too much has been invested. The deal making has not yet concluded, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Information Not Available From Google

The U.S. Government would like Google's branch in Dublin to take a good, long look at its current tax situation because Ireland.

Apparently, when Mr. Obama chatted with Mr. Sarkozy about bombing Libya, something must have come up about an all-EU tax rate which will be higher than Ireland's current 12.5%.

So, hiya Google. What are you thinking there, if Ireland is forced to accept a higher level and you'll be paying more? Wouldn't it just be easier to pay that 35% tax rate in the United States and you could stop shipping profits overseas?

It's estimated that Google has saved itself around $3 billion (with a b) over the course of the past three years by using tax shelters, as do so many other large firms. At the same time, Ireland profited. 12.5% is far better than nothing, even if the 35% advertised rate sounds as if it should be a lucrative siphon of corporate profits.

When people feel over-taxed, they find ways to get around the rules. Not as much comes in as might be realized if corporations were required to submit 15% or 18% or some level that felt more equitable.

The Internal Revenue Service couldn't very well use Google to find out about Google's internal affairs. And whatever Google said to them in reply to their inquiry has not been released to the general public.

Odds are, Google told the IRS to feck off. There's nothing illegal about utilizing tax shelters, and as long as corporations can realize savings in Ireland, that's where the profits will go.

If Congress were populated by the wise, they might figure out that lowering the tax rate could result in more tax income, as corporations weigh the costs of maintaining overseas operations that serve only as shadow offices for tax purposes.

At some point, it's cheaper to pay the taxes than it is to avoid them, and that should be the goal.

For now, there is big talk and subtle intimidation applied to the multinationals, while Ireland fights like a demon to hold down the corporate tax rate in the face of EU pressure to raise it up.

There's a reason for Ireland's stance. Maybe someone in Washington, D.C., could Google it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Manipulate The Market

Using tax incentives or other sweeteners, many a town has manipulated corporations into locating within the city limits.

Sometimes it's a question of attracting an anchor store for a mall development. Tax money is invested in the ability of a firm, say, a Borders book store, to attract additional traffic that benefits all.

The locality then reaps the rewards of increased sales tax that more than makes up for what is lost on the sweet deal and everyone's happy.

Sometimes the municipality backs a losing horse.

The city of Pico Rivera in California bet that Borders would be a winner and they invested federal grant money and their own assets.

The taxpayers of Pico Rivera may be paying a price they can't well afford. That's the problem with gambling. You never want to bet more than you can afford to lose.

To get Borders to open up shop in their town, the electorati of Pico Rivera put together a deal that subsidized the bookstore's rent. As far as Borders' executives could determine, the store in Pico Rivera wasn't going to aid in the ailing vendor's resurrection and the place is slated for closure by April.

Note to public officials: If you build it, the customers won't necessarily come. Borders fell behind the technology curve and its survival depends on turning around an unwieldly train that's waiting at the e-book station while Barnes & Noble and Amazon race ahead.

With seven years left on the lease agreement, Pico Rivera is trying to find a way to get out from paying over $30,000 per month in rent. It is hoped that the city is only on the hook for $10,000 per month in subsidies that were promised to the property owner and Borders.

Either way, it's a lot of cash and the taxpayers can't be pleased at developments.

Clearly, they didn't make extensive use of Borders or the store wouldn't be rated as underperforming. Add to that the cost of subsidizing the rent for the next seven years, do the math, and the next election won't be pretty.

The city council plans to re-negotiate the lease, and if property owner Vestar doesn't cooperate, they'll be seeing a great deal of the local building inspector.

Considering the current economic climate, it's unlikely that the Borders space will be rented anytime soon.

Which means the people of Pico Rivera will be covering the cost of a bad bet for some time to come.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Company's Coming, Clean the Town

Moneygall in County Offaly is a very tiny town. There can't be more than 300 people who call it home.

It shouldn't take very long to clean the place, you'd have to imagine. There's the main street to spruce up, and someone should scrub the toilets in the pubs just in case A CERTAIN VISITOR has to answer nature's call.

All the same, there's a flurry of cleaning going on, and the honored guest won't arrive for weeks.

Henry Healy is laying in a supply of Jacob's Biscuits for the occassion. He's President Barack O'Bama's distant relation, and current resident of Moneygall. The distinguished visitor would surely be dropping in on the relatives.

John Donovan, who lives on the spot where Mr. O'Bama's ancestor once lived, has been scrubbing away at the roof to dislodge the moss that's grown. He's planning to tackle the problem with a power washer, to put a sparkle on the place.

As for the church where Falmouth Kearney's siblings were baptised, well, the Church of Ireland is close to a memory in County Offaly. The canon will have to uncover everything and air the place out before welcoming, potentially, a caller.

All in all, there's a buzz and excitement about the place, but it's been said that Mr. O'Bama has a full schedule and is only stopping by on his way to England. Moneygall will be spit-polished on the day of his visit, but it's possible that his visit will consist of a drive-through, a very brief stop to allow the press to snap a few photos, and that will be it.

Whatever corner of scenery makes it into the picture, however, will look like new.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Erin Go Barack

Just in time for the evening news, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny will present President Barack O'Bama with the traditional gift of shamrocks in a lovely crystal bowl. Where the bowl will come from is hard to say, since Waterford Crystal shut down the plant and moved production to Poland.

There'll be lunch with Congressman John Boehner, and then there will be the awkward pauses.

The U.S. House just passed a bill that eliminates the International Fund for Ireland, and at a time when Ireland is truly desperate for money.

$15 million dollars is a significant sum for a country that's on the financial skids.

A severe case of bad timing, you'd have to say. Since 1985, the U.S. has sent money to Ireland to bolster the peace at the border. While all the guns have yet to go away, it's far more peaceful now than it was then, and the U.S. is just about as skint as Ireland. For several Congressmen, it's an easy place to start trimming.

Mr. O'Bama was willing to cut, not eradicate, but now that the damage is done he has to face Mr. Kenny with a smile and accept a gift when all he can give in return is bad news.

In tough times, it's a mistake to rely on government.

Look back and you won't see Eamonn de Valera begging the U.S. Congress to give his fledgling Irish Free State a few million in start-up money. He went straight to the people, the descendants of the Irish diaspora, and asked them to contribute. They did, and generously, in spite of their own meagre circumstances.

With governments all over the world looking to cut expenses, it's time to return to the old way of doing things. The direct approach, the personal approach, is easier than glad-handing hundreds of politicians who are more interested in their re-election than hard times in the ancestral homeland.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Shocking Lack Of Whimsy

Look, if a staunch Republican publican wants to bar someone from his premises, it's his right. And if he wants to post an enormous notice of his refusal to grant access, where's the harm? Can't we have a bit of whimsy in our lives?

John Stokes doesn't want Her Royal Self crossing his threshhold and he's letting everyone know how he feels. A royal hasn't been in Ireland since shortly before the Rising, and in some quarters, they're still not welcome.

Apparently, that includes a pub in a Dublin suburb.

The judge has no sense of humor. Mr. Justice Paul Kelly has ordered that the banner be removed. Not that he does or does not agree with the sentiment. It's a question of the size of the sign and local planning laws to be considered.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Stokes plans on making some other, legal, grand gesture against Queen Elizabeth II's upcoming state visit.

Now that Gerry Adams is sitting in the Dail, the bar owner might consider approaching the noted Shinner and getting some kind of special dispensation from the rules for the duration of the Queen's sojourn. Perhaps some of the other Irish citizens who believe that England is illegally occupying six counties of Irish territory would like to offer suggestions of their own?

Cold Fish

St. Paddy's Day is fast approaching. It's hardly a day to send an Irishman packing.

Or should I say, to realize a synergy?

Barry O'Callaghan, the little minnow, swallowed a whale that ended up consuming him. He's off to pursue other ventures, as they say.

In his wake, he leaves an ocean of debt that finally did him in. He borrowed so heavily, shifted and adjusted and synergized to the full extent, but time was against him.

You don't honestly believe he left of his own accord, do you?

John Paulson, whose hedge fund took over the struggling EMPG-HMH-Riverdeep-etc., etc., etc., knew he had a potential winner. The concept of the world's biggest educational publishing materials company works well in theory. The problem came in the practice, at a time when the world's economy fell into the deep end and the principles of debt financing had to be re-aligned.

Not to worry. Mr. O'Callaghan has plenty of other investments in hotels (tourism's down in Ireland, wouldn't you know) and there's always stock holdings (not worth what they once were, sadly).

Like so many other of Ireland's Celtic Tiger millionaires, he'll find other streams to swim up.

If worse comes to worse, he might find an opening at Credit Suisse, from whence he came. After all, he's demonstrated a certain gift for money manipulation. You can be sure that he's learned a hard lesson and won't be so eager to overextend himself in the future.

He's swallowed his last whale. But that's not to say that he won't nibble on the occasional cod.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leave The Book, Take The Cannoli

In 1988, Dominic Senese was coming home to his lovely Oak Brook, Illinois, residence when someone took a shot at him. The fact that he was able to live in an expensive enclave like Oak Brook can be chalked up to his hard work with the Teamsters Union. The attempted murder was chalked up to a power struggle at the top of the Union local.

The village of Oak Brook, then, is no stranger to Mafia violence.

In which case, it should come as no surprise that a book signing had to be cancelled in the quiet suburb.

Frank Calabrese, Jr., is pushing his account of his exploits with the FBI, aimed at bringing several of his relatives and close associates to justice.

Operation Family Secrets
has the potential to be a big seller, and the Borders bookstore chain could use the foot traffic. What they don't need, of course, is a mob hit while buyers wait in line for Mr. Calabrese to autograph their copies of his book.

Taking his book to Oak Brook, where mobsters find spacious estates and relative safety from vendetta, could be seen as yet another slap in the face to those whose livelihood has been damaged by Mr. Calabrese's efforts.

You could almost say that he must be asking for it.

The store decided not to take risks and cancelled the signing. Oak Brook's police department is investigating, but it probably won't go far.

No one was ever arrested for trying to assassinate Dominic Senese, and there's still no one serving time for trying to kill his son Lucien with a car bomb.

With the publicity, however, it's likely that Mr. Calabrese will see his Amazon numbers climb as readers play it safe and order online.

More bad news for Borders, isn't it?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Irish Are A Stubborn People

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy were thinking that they had Ireland by the short hairs and finally, finally, they'd have their way.

For a very long time, Germany and France have been more than irked at Ireland's refusal to raise its corporate tax rate. Anyone can see that Ireland attracts shadow businesses that are set up to avoid the higher tax rates in their home countries, and it's that source of income that fueled the Celtic Tiger.

It's that source of income that Ireland is counting on to recover from the recent economic meltdown. Germany and France, however, are competing with Ireland for those same tax dollars.

While they could lower their rates and compete at that level, they insist that Ireland raise its corporate tax rate up to meet theirs. They wish to level the playing field to meet their pitch, rather than sloping down to join Ireland.

Now that Ireland's gone to the EU, hat in hand, the member nations who would like to force a change in Ireland's tax rates figure they can make a deal. Boost the Irish rate up to meet that of the over-taxing EU nations, and the interest rate on Ireland's bailout loan will drop by 1%.

No small beer, considering how much money Ireland will be borrowing. Enda Kenny, the newest taoiseach on the block, says no.

Attracting foreign investment is the key to Ireland's future. Siphoning off those investors and bringing them into France or Germany is their particular dream, a way to stop money from running off-shore to tax shelters like Ireland. So what if it kills Ireland? France and Germany are only look out for their own interests, and if they have the power to take what they want, they won't hesitate to turn the screws.

The Irish, however, are a stubborn people and the lackluster, bland as dry toast Mr. Kenny is not going to budge. In the long run, Ireland is better off to keep its tax shelter status and find a way to pay blood money to the EU.

Foreign investment brought Ireland out of poverty. Give it away to France or Germany and it's not unlike the soupers of the Famine, selling their souls for a meal. After it's been digested, it's gone and what do you sell the next time, and the next time?

Lecture Series If You Can't Get To The Classroom

I believe that you can teach yourself how to write by reading as much as possible, from the old classics to the newest debut fiction.

However, there are only so many hours in the day and all that boring, mundane stuff (like laundry or cooking) tends to eat into our precious time.

Then there's the money aspect. College tuition is sky-high and the cost of an MFA is up in the stratosphere. YouTube, however, is free. I don't know how much of an expert Laura Turner is, but she earned a degree in English so she's at least qualified to teach what she knows.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bring Back The Magic

Chicago Tribune journalist Julia Keller has taken another look at Jane Eyre in light of the latest film treatment of the classic novel.

On screens big and small, we've seen the story presented as a timeless love story, coupled with some beautiful period costumes and sets.

As Ms. Keller has noticed, now that she's read the novel again as an adult, is that it isn't such a love story after all. If we consider the times during which Charlotte Bronte wrote, we'd see that the story has more to do with women's liberation from traditional roles than it details the boy gets girl, boy loses girl, girl gets boy back sort of arrangement.

But beyond that, Ms. Keller makes an important point.

The narrative is driven by magic. And we just don't put that same magic in the modern novel.

So much of a well-told story involves twists of fate that work almost like magic. Out of nowhere, it seems, a relative turns up who just happens to be well-acquainted with a key player in the plot, and on that sudden burst of coincidence the story turns.

It's ridiculous in this day and age to believe that anyone couldn't know everything about a given person. There's all the links via Facebook friends and LinkdIn and Google to prevent the magic of a chance encounter.

Yet the novel is beloved, in spite of things that we don't choose to believe in.

We do need the magic back. Reading fiction is all about suspending disbelief, and why can't we suspend disbelief in a story set in the present time? Could it be that the magic is lacking as authors try to create plots that conform to hard-boiled realism?

Are you listening, literary agents and publishers? How about trying something with a touch of magic and see if the reading public accepts what they love in the classics but can't seem to find in modern novels.

Maybe, just maybe, the decline in reading and book sales would inch up a fraction.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prison Break, Words Escape

The men incarcerated in Portlaoise and Midlands prisons are among Ireland's most dangerous and violent criminals. Little wonder that security is so tight, to keep them in.

There's an interest by the State to keep their words within the walls of the prison as well, hence the ban on mobile phones. After all, part of the point of jailing gang leaders is to keep them from controlling their gang. Communication, or the lack thereof, becomes an important part of security.

Someone cut a hole in the perimeter fence at Portlaoise Prison, a fence that had been installed to keep the general public beyond throwing distance of the Midlands prison yard. Those someones used the breach to get close to the wall and toss mobile phones to exercising prisoners.

Breaking a man out of prison is next to impossible. Breaking his voice out is as easy as spiriting a small device into his hands.

A prison guard saw the mobiles flying through the air and took a shot at the delivery men. No fools them. They bolted through the fence hole and disappeared into the night.

It's said that only five devices successfully landed, and all five were immediately confiscated.

How do they know they got them all? Of course they can't be completely sure.

Mobiles have turned up in prisoner possession often enough for the various prisons to raid cells periodically. Notorious criminal John Gilligan, thought to be responsible for the death of Veronica Guerin, was recently found with a mobile in his cell. He wasn't using it to phone his ma, you can be sure of that.

This time, the gangbanger-in-chief failed to get his hands on a very important communication device. His underlings will keep on trying, however. Without the CEO of the enterprise, drug dealing and robbery are difficult to organize and an inefficient gang is one that loses money.

The gang-bangers will keep on trying to spring communication from the cold stone walls of the prison. The guards will keep trying to stay one step ahead.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The End Of Working At Home

For all the Amazon associates located in Illinois, my deep condolences on the loss of your work-at-home job and the little bit of extra cash it brought your way.

The gravy train has ground to a halt, thanks to Governor Jell-O Quinn.

He won't stand for any major company, especially one as enormous as Amazon, getting away with not paying sales tax to Illinois. Bad enough that the taxpayers don't voluntarily report their purchases and pay up. The least Amazon could do is fork over some money.

It's the same old "physical presence" notion that's been used in other states against Amazon's competitive advantage, and Amazon is responding in the same way as it has in the past.

Their affiliates who compile lists and push books as a sort-of independent contractor have been cut off at the knees. The physical presence is immediately severed and no more.

Estimates have the state of Illinois losing as much as $153 million in revenue because citizens buy on-line, but enacting new legislation won't fix the budget gap. Companies like Amazon have simply eliminated the physical presence and that meets the Supreme Court's rules for tax avoidance.

Store owners up and down Main Street Illinois are cheering, but they won't find more business coming their way. People will continue to buy from Amazon, and nothing will change.

Except that the State of Illinois will get a little bit less income tax from the former Amazon associates who will no longer be getting paid for their efforts.

How does that level the playing field, as Wal-Mart has claimed?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

For The Love Of Hurling

Only certain ash trees have the proper shape and form to win the coveted honor of becoming a hurley.

The knob of wood must conform to the bend of the business end while still providing a solid handle of the necessary length and heft. Not just any ash tree can make the cut.

It seems as if some ash tree owners are oblivious to this grand honor. They've taken a hurley-loving woodsman to court and won their case.

John Keene says he had permission to harvest eight of the mature ash trees he felled in the private woods owned by Declan Ganley near Tuam in Galway. The founder of the Libertas Party, who worked like a demon to promote a "NO" vote on the EU's Lisbon Treaty, firmly denied that he gave permission. Not only that, but he certainly wouldn't be giving the valuable wood away for free, in exchange for a hurley carved from his ash tree.

Judge Groarke wasn't having any of Mr. Keene's excuses, including the defendant's claim that he wouldn't have travelled all the way from Tipperary to Galway is he didn't have prior approval for logging.

It's possible, of course, that some farmers let Mr. Keene cut down ash trees on their land and were happy for the hurley, but Mr. Ganley is evidently not so enamored of hurling as all that. He's upset over the loss of the trees which cannot be replaced.

As punishment, Mr. Keene has lost his driving privileges, with the idea being that he can't travel around and haul away his ill-gotten ash gains without a proper license. He doesn't have the money it would take to reimburse Mr. Ganley for the price of the wood, so about all the judge can do is immobilize the mighty woodsman.

Who could just ask a mate for a lift the next time he sets off in pursuit of the magical ash that holds within its wooden folds the perfect hurley that will bring victory and honor to its possessor.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Taliban Or IRA

Really, New York Times?

The Irish Republican Army of the 1960's into the 1980's is the moral equivalent of the Taliban?

Consider the religious aspects. The Taliban seeks to force its religious view on all. Convert or die. Just like the IRA back in the day, when the Catholics in the north of Ireland fought to...practice their religion in peace. Hmm. Something's amiss here.

New York Representative Peter King is being attacked because he has dared to call for investigations into radical elements of Islam in the U.S. Why, that paints all Moslems with a tarry brush, doesn't it? Just like the Congressional hearings into the Mafia painted all Italian-Americans as criminals. Hmmm. Something's amiss here.

To bolster their argument against Mr. King, the NYT has decided that he once supported a terrorist organization----the Irish Republican Army. However, before the IRA set off a car bomb in Omagh to gain revenge for the Protestant car bombs that murdered scores in Dublin and Monaghan, no one considered the IRA to be anything more than a group fighting for equal rights.

For descendants of the Irish diaspora, what the New York Times finds shocking is the very reason that they have long supported Mr. King.

From the start, dissaffected Irish who fled their homeland because of blatant anti-Catholic prejudice never let their offspring forget what the British had done to the Irish. Eamonn de Valera found a ready audience when he toured the States, seeking support for the rebellion that ended centuries of British rule. He went home with a well-stuffed wallet.

To seek to dirty Mr. King's name by claiming he supports a terrorist organization is to court the anger of a large part of the population that may not know where Great-Great-Great-Grandfather came from in Ireland, but they know the family hates England with a passion.

As far as they're concerned, it's Great Britain that's the terrorist and the IRA was only fighting back. If anyone at the New York Times had bothered to look into Cromwell, the Penal Laws, etc., they might have had a better idea of where the IRA came from and why Irish-Americans don't think of it as a terrorist organization.

And didn't Bill Clinton get Jerry Adams a visa to come to America to raise funds?

So, New York Times, you won't turn Mr. King's supporters against him and have them flooding his office with irate phone calls to stop investigating radical Islam. You may find that you've lost a few more subscribers, however.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Teaching An Old Dog

I'll admit I'm not so enamored of the latest technological gadgets that I run to buy the newest toy.

Family finances play into my sacrifice. If I could afford it, I'd have an iPad to play with.

The old computer is getting on in years and it's time to consider a replacement, before the hard drive gives up the ghost in the middle of the busy season and there I am with my thumb up my ass.

What has my heart beating is the anticipation of updated software that will force me to adapt to a revised program that will be much like the earlier version, only a bit different. My purchase of a netbook has given me a taste of what's to come.

Word 2003 may or may not be the best version ever, but it's the one I'm used to. The netbook is running Word 2010 and for feck's sake I don't have time to get re-oriented to new toolbars and icons and more bells and whistles.

I can stumble along on my own, or I can sit down with this handy tutorial, eating into valuable writing time but, it is hoped, saving time in the long run.

Sadly, there is more time available than I care to admit. With the jump in oil prices, there's been a decline in work around here and when I head back to the States after Easter, I don't expect an uptick at that end either. Time to become proficient at Word 2010, I suppose, and maybe it's time to expand the business into the secretarial arena.

But I warn you, potential clients. I make very strong coffee.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Last Brick & Mortar Standing

Wasn't it good news for Barnes & Noble when Borders filed for bankruptcy?

Didn't that make them the last brick and mortar bookshop standing?

Not quite.

In spite of the initial glow of victory that sent stock prices higher, B&N is still in the midst of finding a buyer. The book business, even for a big box vendor, is not all that rosy.

Barnes & Noble stock has been sinking since those early, heady days. No matter that their competition is further reduced. There is no entity out there with deep pockets to be picked. There is no flurry of interest in ownership, and to stockholders, that doesn't bode well. Hence the decline in price.

Some say that new blood doesn't want to mingle with the likes of Leonard Riggio, majority shareholder and survivor of a bruising battle for control. Smart money looks at the competition and sees dark clouds on the B&N horizon.

A big competitor is still out there, still going strong, and doesn't look likely to shrink any time soon. If anything, e-books are growing, and Amazon has been at the forefront of e-book sales.

The expensive-to-maintain-bookshops are often serving as display cases, where readers can peruse the merchandise and then go home and order it at

How much can B&N cut into such sales with their e-reader and the ability to download a purchase right there in the store? Possibly not enough to keep all the lights on. In which case, stock ownership becomes a risky proposition, what with the demise of Borders ringing loudly in investors's ears.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

When Does As Soon As Possible Come

As a rule, I wait about three weeks on an e-query before checking it off as a rejection. I haven't been wrong yet. What a track record.

The minute I learned that Lisa Gallagher was working as an agent at Sanford J. Greenburger, I jumped on the information. New agents are looking for new clients and it's always best to be at the head of the line.

Apparently, I'm far back in a very long line.

The auto-response to my query said that Ms. Gallagher would get back to me as soon as possible. So do I keep waiting? Or is she so swamped that she's becoming a "no response means no" agent?

It's well over six weeks and counting, but there's been nothing. Of course I could just move on, but Ms. Gallagher has such unique submission requirements that I hate to give up so soon.

Fill out the form on her website and submit, and there are other literary agents doing the same. In Ms. Gallagher's case, however, she asks for sample pages in PDF format and large print.

She's using a Kindle to read her submissions.

I went to the effort of copying and pasting the opening chapters. I sat there at the computer and converted the font and then saved it all as a PDF file. Takes time to do all that, and there isn't enough time around here to be wasted. So if I mark the submission as a rejection, then I'm admitting I wasted precious time.

I will not be so easily defeated. I will wait it out, checking the e-mails daily. Eventually, I'll learn just how much time is involved in "as soon as possible".

Friday, March 04, 2011

Plus A Choice Of Fine Products

If you hurry over to Bookperk soon, you can pick up some free bronzer.

Free with purchase of a book, that is.

Perhaps you're satisfied with your skin tone but you could do with a change of nail color. You'd be interested in the lovely collection of Melissa Marr's novels, in that case.

For those not so vain as all that, there are signed first editions or a poster to go with Harper Lee's one and only novel. Makes a charming addition to any room.

What is HarperCollins up to with this new concept in book sales?

The idea of Bookperk is to move more inventory, naturally enough, but the concept of giving away little goodies with every purchase suggests a marketing gimmick cooked up by someone who's fond of the samples at the cosmetics counter of Bloomingdale's.

According to the website, you the Bookperk member shall feel like an industry insider, getting extras that are not available to the general public. Not everyone can boast of a Joyce Carol Oates autograph on their frontispiece.

How many people care enough about exclusivity? Enough to make a dent in declining book sales?

To encourage greater participation, you are encouraged to sign up your friends and gain discounts towards your future purchases. Expect your friends to be somewhat more enthusiastic than if you'd offered them an opportunity to sell Amway products.

But ask yourself, is there a vast, underserved population of potential readers in your social circle? Do you know people who would buy a book so that they could enter a contest to win a tour of the Cosmo offices in New York?

I'd like to think that most of us read for the entertainment that's in it. Some are after edification or education or insight into the human condition.

Pairing books with commodities almost seems desperate. By attaching product and prize, HarperCollins implies that the books wouldn't sell themselves without the incentive. So why are they bothering to publish those books to begin with?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Not A Publisher, Never Played One On TV

The e-mail came from Ann Smith.

We don't know anyone named Ann Smith.

"Introducing myself as a literary agent representing an author"
Quite the beginning, but couldn't you at least say hello? I mean, to jump in like that, no greeting or salutation, and introduce yourself. And what sort of an introduction is it? You didn't give us your name in any proper manner.

At any rate, Ann Smith has an unnamed client who wants us to publish a book with "tranquil settings" in India, Malaysia and/or Thailand.

What the hell is a "tranquil destination"? Someplace other than Tripoli?

Should we be interested, we can be assured that not much editing will be required because this gem is a compilation of articles already printed in travel magazines we've never heard of.

This is spam of the most misdirected order.

Literary agents approach publishers. Real publishers.

They don't fire off queries to authors.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cherish The Ladies But Don't Give Them A Discount

Women tend to take better care of their health and they drive more cautiously than the average sixteen-year-old male.

Just because they're of the female persuasion, however, doesn't mean that they should get any sort of discount on their insurance premiums.

The wisdom of the European Union shall once more prevail across the Emerald Isle. Gone are the days when an insurance underwriter could consider statistical risk when assessing the potential expenses of insuring a given individual. The court has decided that such mathematical tinkering constitutes sexism.

Vivianne Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, trumpets this as a watershed for equality. As of now, women will pay for the greater risks that their male counterparts take. Now that's real equality for you, European Union style.

So ladies, stop running off to the doctor every time you feel a bit queasy or when it's been a year since the last Pap smear and you believe in routine maintenance of your equipment. You're wasting your money.

Don't look both ways before proceeding through an intersection. It's pointless.

All the things you've done to reduce health and safety risks will no longer pay you back any financial benefits.

Look at it this way. You're paying extra for that eejit down the road who thinks nothing of getting behind the wheel with a feed of drink on him. You know the one. With the bloodshot eyes, pissed most of the time. Why should you work hard to avoid such risks, now that the EU has made it all equal and made it worse for you?

All across Ireland, insurers have to recalculate their charts, and then they'll have to sit down and explain to the girls why they have to dig deeper into their handbags. It's all about equality.

How much longer before the time-honored "Ladies Night" becomes a ritual of the past as well?