Saturday, April 30, 2011

If You Had A Choice, Who Would You Save

A new billboard campaign in favor of animal testing for scientific research has caused a stir because it asks people who they would rather see live, a cute little girl or a nasty lab rat.

You'd pick the child, of course. It's a question designed to tug at the heart strings, to infuse guilt. What decent person would let a baby perish so that a white rat might live?

Who would you save? What if you had a choice between farmland or houses?

Homes means people. Farm land is empty. Sounds like an easy choice, but it's a choice that will have to be decided by a judge.

The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet at the tip of Illinois, where the insignificant town of Cairo lies. It used to be a might river city, bustling and prosperous. Now it's poorer than poor, with a few thousand black residents. The homes to be saved are not mansions. They aren't particularly valuable.

They're rather like the housing stock in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

The farmland is in Missouri, and it is valuable indeed. Should the Army Corps of Engineers be allowed to breach a levee to prevent Cairo from drowning, it means the farmland would be covered in silt and muck and the farmers wouldn't be able to plant this year. There's a chance that the land would never be productive again. So how are they to make a living and pay their property taxes?

So which would you choose? The farmland? The run-down homes?

If Cairo gets washed away, would the Fed provide trailer-homes for the displaced? Sadly, a FEMA trailer would be luxurious accomodations as compared to what some have. Would that be preferable, in the long run?

If the farmland gets washed away, would the Fed compensate Missouri for lost tax income? Would the farmers be paid the value of their land and told to farm elsewhere?

As far as Missouri is concerned, they'd rather see Cairo go than lose fertile land. They know that the Army Corps of Engineers tried a levee breach back in 1937, and all that did was to ruin farmland and Cairo got flooded just the same.

If you had to choose, would you pick the black folks in Cairo, or the white folks in Missouri? Does skin color really matter, or is it a question of social class and financial strength? Is either option really preferable to the other?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Re-Patriating The Profits

Some years ago, Pat McDonough decided to conquer the American food industry. He invested heavily in a franchise of expensive Irish pubs and ended up in a feud with his partner/manager Kevin Blair.

And in the end, he was the sole owner of the Claddagh Pub chain. Heavily in debt, it was no sure thing that the restaurants would survive.

Kevin Blair was right about one thing, even as he over-reached and over-extended. The idea and the menu and the venue were all going concerns. Claddagh Pubs have turned a profit.

The money was earned in the U.S., but Mr. McDonough is Irish and so the profits have gone home with him. He's expanding his SuperMac's chain of fast food emporia. In Ireland. With money earned in the U.S.

It's not so one-sided as it might appear, however. Mr. McDonough plans to build a string of travel plazas along Ireland's motorways, and the first one will rise up in Moneygall.

And we all know who is going to be stopping in Moneygall soon, to visit his ancestral homeland (on his mother's side).

Granted, the place won't be opened until next year, long after President Obama has gone home, but it would be nice if the press photographers managed to snap a few "Coming Soon Supermac's" signs in the background.

Makes for outstanding, and free publicity. Perhaps a tag line might be added, somthing about "Be sure to visit Claddagh Pubs when you're in the States" and keep the profits flowing across the water.

Healthy Entrees Will Be Available

Most towns are dotted with empty storefronts these days, as businesses struggle and then die.

In Evanston, Illinois, home to Northwestern University, one property owner would like to reverse the trend. Or at least got some of his real estate turning a profit before he goes broke paying taxes on a vacant parcel.

Local residents, however, aren't on the same page.

This sort of thing as pictured above will not be tolerated in a suburb that was founded by Methodists seeking a bucolic setting for their college. We're talking about the home of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, a town that was dry until the 1970's.

The Tilted Kilt would like to open one of their Irish pub-themed restaurants in Evanston. Themed is the key word. The franchises are far removed from an Irish pub, and bear a remarkable resemblance to Hooters.

There's a general uproar about endangering Evanston's "girl children" (as opposed to old women who refer to one another as "girls"), miseducating (sic) the boys and girls, disrespecting the womenfolk, and insulting some of the men. To say nothing of sexual harassment.

Tilted Kilt's owners say they run a high-end sports bar. There's enough grease on the menu to clog every artery in town.

Petitioners who seek to block the issuing of a liquor license see a bunch of silicone-implanted, semi-nude vixens parading around in Catholic school girl uniforms, which promotes the notion of pedophilia. To say nothing of other sick fantasies. What does that have to do with Celtic themes or dinner?

Ted Mavrakis owns the building where Tilted Kilt plans to open. He scoffs at the complaints about the scanty outfits.

Not that revealing, he says. So the cleavage is popping out of the tops and the midriffs are bare and the skirts are short. You'd see as much at the local swimming pool.

Northwestern professor Gary Fine notes that the ladies of Tilted Kilt have larger endowments than the university (insert rimshot here), but he's not so sure that downtown Evanston is the right sort of place for a sexually-charged bar.

The petition drive to keep a single kilt from tilting is a pretty good indication that the bar would face continued opposition from a population that is exceedingly liberal but as Victorian as their restored period homes.

Like the Hooters franchise that opened in the north suburban shopping enclave of Vernon Hills, a Tilted Kilt could have a brief shelf life. A family-centric suburb won't support semi-nudity, and the Northwestern college students can't afford the prices of a high-end bar.

But at least Mr. Mavrakis could sleep a little easier for the year or two that the Tilted Kilt might exist before going bust (rimshot!).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Still Alive, Still Kicking

As it turns out, Harper Lee (still alive, who'd have thought) is not cooperating with former journalist Marja Mills on an official biography.

The author issued a statement through her sister, an attorney, to set the record straight. What Ms. Mills is writing is her own memoir, and trades on what she describes as a friendship with Harper Lee and various relations. Ms. Lee assures us that she is not cooperating with Ms. Mills, has not authorized this book, and if you think otherwise you're seriously misguided.

Marja Mills' agent lands somewhere between the two. Miriam Altschuler says that Ms. Mills was granted support in writing from Alice Lee, and Harper Lee gave her a verbal pat on the back. Before her stroke in 2007, mind you, so maybe the old brain isn't as sharp as once it was?

Where did the memoir come from? Likely the book is an expansion of an article Ms. Mills wrote about Harper Lee back in 2002, when she interviewed family and friends of the author. It is worth noting that Harper Lee declined to speak to the reporter back then as well.

The book will sell if it can be positioned as an exclusive, never before heard tale of an author who only penned but the one novel. Sales will not take off if the buying public believes that the Lee family had no real input into the content, and all that's left is the ramblings of a journalist who's presenting an investigation that turned up no new data.

Of course, sales will be good if enough publicity and buzz of any sort can be generated, and dragged out until the memoir is laid down on the front table of bookstores nationwide.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If She's Talking She Can't Be Dead

Sweet Jesus, I thought Harper Lee had died years ago.

After she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, she retreated into privacy and never did write another novel. Or at least, none that we know of.

I associate her prose with a long gone era, and I presumed that like authors of her time, she had passed on. As it turns out, Ms. Lee is alive and well and working with her biographer.

According to reports, Marja Mills has penned what must be considered an authorized telling of Harper Lee's life. Topics will include Ms. Lee's experiences growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era, which will give scholars a chance to analyze how her past influenced her work. Family and friends are weighing in as well, to paint a complete picture of a somewhat reclusive figure.

Penguin has picked up the book and plans to release it, they say, but no date has been given.

Are they maybe waiting for the celebrated author to die so that they can capitalize on the publicity surrounding her passing? That's when hundreds of others like me will shake our heads and mumble, "I thought she died years ago."

And then we'll all run out to buy the book to see what she was doing when we thought she was resting in peace.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Create Believable Fiction

As an author, you want to draw in your readers, draw them in so deeply that they suspend disbelief. Some are far better at this than others.

If you ask Paula Bonhomme, she'd say that Janna St. James has a remarkable talent for creating believable fiction.

Ms. Bonhomme didn't know Janna St. James as Janna, however. That was all part of the fiction. Through chat forums and e-mails, she got to know the person as Jesse James, a rugged Colorado firefighter.

And he was a believable character, a man with issues that would not be out of place in a piece of women's fiction. There were other characters brought in as well, to flesh out the plot and drive the narrative. A jealous ex-wife and young son were introduced, to provide the emotional element that would keep the pages turning.

If there had been pages, that is. This particular work of fiction took two years to write to completion. More of an old-fashioned serialized novel.

As often happens without a good editor to give advice, Janna St. James inserted an epilogue that spoiled the entire story.

Appearing in the role of consoling friend of the late Jesse James, she used her own name when she met up with Paula Bonhomme out in Colorado, where they traveled to sites important to the deceased firefighter. She padded her resume, and Ms. Bonhomme checked things out on-line. It turned out that Janna St. James was a suburban housewife whose on-line description includes a boast that she is the greatest online scammer ever.

Ms. Bonhomme sued, but the court dismissed the case, noting that Ms. St. James was creating fiction and therefore was not liable. The appeals court felt differently about the perceptions of falsity and reality in fiction. The lawsuit will be heard.

Rather than a lawyer, perhaps Ms. St. James should consider hiring a literary agent. She's demonstrated remarkable talent at making up things.

And she's not sorry about it, as you can see on the video.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday At The G.P.O.

Ninety-five years ago, small bands of armed volunteers took possession of the General Post Office, Boland's Mills, and St. Stephen's Green.

The Irish rebelled against the British, but then, they'd tried the same thing in 1867. And 1848. And 1798. Every time, different tactics were tried, and every time, the Irish rebels sought outside help.

Foreign nations stood by and watched, not willing to get involved.

While some wonder what the patriots of the past might think about Ireland's present day problems, some of us wonder what might have happened in the past if present actions were applied.

What if France or Germany or the United States had intervened in 1916?

What if there had been an international outcry over the harsh treatment of Irish Catholics at British hands, similar to the outcry over the repression of the Libyan regime?

Irish-Americans were lobbying their elected representatives prior to 1916, hoping to force regime change through political pressure, but there was no will to call the mighty British Empire to task. Alas, Ireland was impoverished by centuries of pillage, and the Corrib gas fields were unknown.

How different things would be if foreign nations had eyeballed all that fossil fuel, trading assistance for deep discounts and guaranteed supplies.

The French went to America's aid at the behest of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but it wasn't out of Christian charity. There was much to be gained by an alliance that was supposed to enrich France and impoverish England. America had vast resources. Ireland in 1916 had the worst tenements in Europe.

What might have become of Ireland if American aid arrived in 1916? That's a matter for authors of alternative fiction to ponder and imagine.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Explanation Will Be In Order

Not the same Daniel
Americans following President Obama's itinerary through Ireland will note that he plans to stop at Glasnevin Cemetery and possibly lay a wreath at the grave of Daniel O'Connell.

That singer, they'll say, did he die? And so young.

You're thinking of Daniel O'Donnell and it's not the same Daniel at all. Have no fear. You can still hear your one warble tunes when next you vacation in Branson, Missouri.

This one we're talking about
The President wishes to demonstrate his African roots by paying homage to a man who was, among many things, a fierce abolitionist.

Daniel O'Donnell is called 'The Liberator' and his name is cherished in Ireland.

He came of age when Catholics were legally banned from sitting in Parliament. So great was the injustice that O'Donnell took a stand, speaking against the Union of Ireland and England which did away with the Irish Parliament and further weakened the rights of Catholics.

England fought back, passing laws and regulations to rein in the agitating Catholics and keep the Protestant Ascendancy in place. O'Connell's goal became emancipation for Ireland's Catholics. Frederick Douglass, a champion of emancipation, called on O'Connell while visiting Ireland in 1845.

President Obama will visit O'Connell's grave, just as Frederick Douglass visited the man himself. It's loads of symbolism, although Mr. Obama may not wish to remind everyone of the strong religious bias that once existed in Ireland, and continues to fester in the north.

If the journalists could please not put much emphasis on Daniel O'Connell's strong religious faith and the esteem with which he's held by the Catholic Church? No need to remind the voters that the Catholic Church isn't holding Mr. Obama in high regard these days.

Shouting Into Deaf Ears

Justice for Magdalenes has been shouting into deaf ears. They've turned to the United Nations Commission Against Torture in the hope that someone there might be listening.

On the heels of the investigation into Ireland's industrial schools, the women who were held as virtual slaves for the crime of being pregnant outside of marriage (or too pretty in some cases) sought equal treatment for their injuries.

The bureaucrats claimed that the women were not part of the education system, as was the case with those incarcerated for the crime of being poor.

Besides, incarceration in the laundry was voluntary...wasn't it? Not ordered by any court....was it? And can't the Magdalene laundry survivors just please go away and stop reminding everyone of a hideous practice?

To date, the women who slaved in the laundries without pay have not received so much as an apology.

Maeve O'Rourke has authored a submission to the UN commission which lays out the grievances, in the hope that the Irish government will be forced by a world authority to open its deaf ears and listen. And act.

Because cruelty, torture, degradation and inhuman treatment were part and parcel of the Magdalene laundry system, Ireland is required by UN convention to investigate and provide compensation.

The laundries were shuttered completely in the late 1990's. If the government can stall long enough, all the Maggies will die of old age and the problem will go away.

Ms. O'Rourke has upped the stakes to prevent this from happening, by turning to the UN and making the injustice known throughout the world. By embarrassing the Irish government, she may turn up the volume just enough, making the voices of the Maggies heard at last.

The barbarity of the laundries is too unpleasant to contemplate, and most would rather not think about it, as if it never happened. The problem is, it did happen. Innocent women were physically and mentally abused by order of the State and the Catholic Church. Those who suffered for no reason deserve to be heard.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Mood Made Solemn By Law

We won't be heading off to the local for a friendly pint on a Friday evening.

In Ireland, it's against the law.

Maybe you're not of a religious bent or you're unfamiliar with Christianity, but today is Good Friday. It's a solemn day, a day in which we are to reflect on our evil ways with a mind to set things right in the future.

Since 1927, when the Irish Free State began to flex its puny muscles, pubs have been forced to shut their doors on Good Friday. Can't have people laughing or smiling or getting drunk when they should be contemplating Jesus Christ's suffering for our sakes. And since there's always a few weak ones in the bunch, the Government made it official and the bars are shuttered.

As usual, the Vintner's Federation is making some noise about the antiquated legislation.

Why can't people decide for themselves if they wish to carry on an old tradition, rather than have the decision made for them by the State?

Then there's the issue of the tourists who take their holidays around Easter time. The tourism industry promotes the camaderie and friendly atmosphere of the pub, but will visitors be happy to find that the pub they planned to visit on Friday is closed, along with every other liquor-serving establishment around?

Old habits die hard. In spite of the drop-off in Mass attendance and the furor generated by the clerical sex abuse scandal, politicians are reluctant to tackle a minor issue that may not be all that unpopular.

Good Friday closing is part of the fabric of Irish life. It's always been so, and where's the harm if we abstain from beer for one day out of the year? Besides, you can stock up at an off-license on Thursday evening and make your own party at home.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Royal Wedding Shrinks To A Small Screen

The excitement! The buzz! The fashion! The hats!

Unless you're here in County Limerick, where the general sentiment regarding the Royal Wedding ranges from a yawn to vulgarity not suitable for publication.

In Limerick City, the wedding coincides with the start of the tourist-attracting Riverfest. Naturally, someone in charge of things saw a need to make a fuss over the Prince taking a bride.

A big screen with a live feed would do the trick.Placed in a prominent area, say, the Milk Market.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 is just so much worthless paper in the west of Ireland. Aware of the local sentiment, Michael Sheehan implied that things needed to be toned down. Former mayor John Gilligan took it a step further and stated that the Milk Market was not a venue meant to promote the monarchy. Maurice Quinlivan, of Sinn Fein, reminded us all that not everyone is welcoming royalty.

Those who wish to watch the wedding will have to make do with small screens and the derision of their nationalist neighbors. It's really for the tourists anyway, the ones who are captivated by the fashion, the hats, and the Disney-fication of princesses.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

All About The Platform

Dublin-based literary agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor made her name when she wrangled a huge deal for Bertie Ahern's little girl.

Reviews of Ms. Ahern's debut novel were mixed, but it sold. Her father was the taoiseach, after all, and that connection alone generated all sorts of buzz in Europe. Cecelia Ahern, you see, had a firm platform on which to stand.

For the same reason, Kathleen MacMahon will be blessed with an advance of 600,000 shiny British pounds for two books, the deal concluded by Marianne Gunn O'Connor. Say what you will about the quality of her clients' prose, but she's unbeatable as a literary agent.

Ms. MacMahon also has a sizeable platform from which to launch her sales campaign. She's been with RTE for ages and she's not exactly a complete unknown.

News of the deal serves as pre-launch buzz-building. Then there's the favorable review that one would expect from the Irish Times, where Ms. MacMahon's auntie is the literary editor.

For publisher Little, Brown, it's a risk worth taking. A first time author with name recognition goes a long way, as compared to a first time author who is unknown outside of their immediate area.

Authors hoping to break into the publishing fortress should not point to this deal as an achievable dream that could apply to them. Some things are reserved for those who can construct a platform, sparing the publisher some publicity costs.

It doesn't matter if This Is How It Ends is as smarmy as Cecelia Ahern's offerings, if it takes an entire box of tissues to soak up all the tears. It doesn't matter that your prose is superior or your plot less hackneyed.

It's all about the platform. If you don't have one, it's a very large strike against you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Kill A Queen

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has assured his colleagues in England that "the vast majority" of the the Irish people will welcome Queen Elizabeth when she sets foot on Irish ground.

Notice that he didn't say "everyone".

The timing could have been better. Her Majesty will inhale the misty air of Dublin on the anniversary of the city's bombing by unionist thugs in 1974. Mr. Kenny anticipates a bit of a protest but nothing so big as to interfere with the "vast majority" making welcome.

That's not the least of it. The use of the bomb as a regime-changing tool is part of Irish history, featuring prominently in Charles Stuart Parnell's time, when a long-standing battle for liberty fired up fresh.

Irish nationalists attempted to set off bombs all over London, with funding and planning largely coming out of Chicago (but that's another story for another day). When Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee, security was massive. An attempt on her life was feared.

To learn more about those times and the mindset of those who would kill a queen, you'll find it in the pages of A Terrible Beauty.

After you've read that book, you'll understand how a mission can carry on, down through the generations. You'll understand why Enda Kenny hedged his bets when he spoke of "the vast majority".

There's a minority he's worried about. They want England out of Ireland, as did their ancestors before them. They might have tried to kill a queen once before with a bomb. Or maybe the plot on Queen Victoria's life was perpetrated by someone on her side, to put an end to Home Rule and preserve the Empire.

The Irish have long memories. Expect security to be stifling.