Friday, May 31, 2013

God Wants You To Be A Coward

A woman died in an Irish hospital because the staff didn't know where they stood legally if they went ahead with the abortion that would have saved her life. So rather than risk prosecution, they just let Savita Halappanavar die.

The uproar sent the politicians into a legislative fever, composing new rules and regulations to bring Ireland out of the dark ages of women's health care. All that noise woke up the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, however, and now they have weighed in with their wisdom.

God wants you to run away says Monseigneur Jacques Suaudeau of the Vatican's main anti-abortion unit. Don't vote on the new abortion legislation that permits such things as saving the life of the mother over that of the child, politicians of Ireland. Just resign.

Don't be like the Nazis, blindly following orders. Run away. It worked so well during the war when the rest of the world was fighting and dying to stop the Nazis, didn't it?

Sure the man's French.

At issue is whether or not a woman would really and truly commit suicide like she threatens if she can't have the abortion. The Vatican says she's not to be believed, and they have studies to prove it. Or so says the Monseigneur. Why, to include a provision for suicide prevention in the new abortion law would be to normalize suicide! Then what would the suicide prevention people do if suicide was normal?

"If you see an act is evil," Msgr. Suaudeau says to those about to vote on the new law, "you cannot do it." Unless, of course, the evil act is to let a woman die as if her life does not matter. Then it's perfectly acceptable for an obstetrician to deny an abortion because maybe, just maybe, that fetus is still viable even if the mother has gone into septic shock.

And where does Enda Kenny stand on the issue?

He's as much as told the clergy that he doesn't tell them how to run their church and they don't have any business telling him how to run his secular government.

There was a time when the Irish government was largely a branch of the Catholic Church, and it's only in recent times that the horrors resulting from the arrangement have come to light. It is going to cost a phenomenal amount of money to repair the damaged psyches of the victims. The Irish people aren't going to stand by and allow the Church to have that sort of influence again.

And they aren't going to listen to a Frenchmen suggest that their elected officials turn tail and run away from a difficult issue that affects women only because they are the only half of the population that can ever get pregnant, no matter what laws a secular body might enact.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Convention Season

You're wondering if you should send a query letter to that agent you've decided is perfect to represent your manuscript. There is that element of luck to the process and you'd like to maximize yours by timing the submission, but when is that time?

Not now.

Chances are, your New York City-based ideal agent is wandering around the Javits Center in their home town, perusing the displays at Book Expo America.

They are sitting in conference rooms listening to those in the know discuss where books and publishing are headed so they can be one step ahead. They are getting their hands on ARCs of new books they did not rep so they can see what the competition is doing. In short, they are not in their offices clicking through their e-mail inbox, skimming the opening line of query letters.

You could send your query anyway, but then your letter is in an inbox stuffed full and when the agent does come back to the office, they'll be put off by the huge number of items they have to deal with. They'll start reading and become aggravated. Their patience will wane. And that is not the frame of mind you want your dream agent to be in when she gets to your intriguing epistle.

And don't forgot publishing hours. The industry takes off for the weekend on Thursday evening or Friday noon at the latest, so the agents are gone as well to their summer home in the Hamptons (or their tiny flat in Brooklyn).

Try next Tuesday.

It's as good a day as any.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Be Your Own Publisher, Magazine Edition

It seems like only yesterday that Newsweek went strictly digital.

Not exactly yesterday, but close enough. In 2010, Sidney Harman bought the hoary old rag for one dollar and liabilities, which isn't the sound of a going enterprise. That he then died the following year has nothing to do with the stress of turning around a sinking ship. He was 92 years of age and may not have been in his right mind when he thought to merge Newsweek with The Daily Beast.

Media guru Barry Diller has a big piece of the merged pie and he is willing to part with his stake under the same terms: one dollar U.S. and assumption of liabilities.

This is your chance to become a publisher if you've ever dreamed of being the 21st Century version of Thomas J. C. Martyn or Henry Luce. This being the modern age, you'd be publishing your creation digitally, which would save on the sort of printing costs that the founders of Newsweek and Time had to tackle back in their day.

You might be wondering why Mr. Diller is keen to unload the news magazine after such a short period of time. Could it be that it is impossible to turn this thing around, and it isn't a very good investment after all?

The difficulty with operating Newsweek is that no one really knows where publishing is going. Digital may not be the answer that everyone thought it would be. Not everyone who likes to read can afford an iPad, and older readers who are not tech savvy wouldn't know what an iPad is. All they know is that they can't get a copy of Newsweek at the public library anymore so it must have gone out of business and there's only Time left to inform and analyze world events.

How does going digital make sense if parents prefer to buy their children hard copies of books? Are they not training the next generation to value the physical version of reading material instead of acting as if there is only the ebook? If you were to buy Newsweek and hang on for twenty years, perhaps you could catch the next wave of readers.

Or does it all boil down to content? Could you become Newsweek's publisher and make a hard right turn? Step out of what they call the mainstream media and skew the reporting slant, and perhaps that would be the key to success.

Who can say? No one can predict. Mr. Diller thought he saw into the future but after a couple of years, he's decided that his vision was unclear and he does not wish to pour money into a losing venture. Someone else with a different perspective could make a go of it. Maybe.

It's only one dollar. And a boatload of debt.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No Taxes, Larger Dividend

Every year I find a little something extra in my bank account. It's the dividend from Abbott Labs. And I pay tax on it.

Apparently there's some dissatisfaction among members of the United States Congress over that dividend, because it represents money that they did not get. Abbott's division in Ireland, you see, does not pay corporate tax anywhere, but those profits end up in the pockets of the shareholders so how can I be upset?

The corporation is based in Illinois, although it has branches all over the world. (I am particularly envious of those employed in Italy, where the food is better than anything you'll find in Dublin.)

For tax purposes, however, Abbott Laboratories does not reside anyplace. Therefore, no government can claim its revenues under tax laws. And for that, politicians in the States are angry at politicians in Ireland for allowing that to happen.

To make matters worse, Ireland doesn't much care about the hurt feelings and grumblings. It is such corporate tax strategies that provide the island with much needed jobs and tax revenues from the salaries of those employed.

It's a question of who pays for things, and in Ireland, it is the citizen doing the heavy lifting while corporations get a pass. As long as they come, build offices, and hire people, they are providing something of value.

Foreign investment paid for Ireland's boom years and lifted the nation out of its isolation. Until then, the nuns were still operating Magdalene laundries where girls were locked up for the crime of being pregnant outside of marriage. The last one closed in 1996. Yes, 1996.

The Irish might get stirred up to learn that multinationals like Abbott managed to escape paying corporate taxes in Ireland, but they are clever enough to realize that Abbott might not be there if not for the low tax rate and the laws that allow them to not be a resident of anyplace. Those who remember what Ireland was like in the 1970s and 1980s, when the leading export was young people, aren't going to demand massive changes to the corporate tax structure.

They might be quietly hoping that the U.S. Congress doesn't figure out that lowering their own corporate tax rates might make the homeland a more desirable place to put up an office building and hire local people. Heaven forbid that it happens. All those Irish jobs just might evaporate.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Imminent Death Will Do That To A Man

Wise old folk are fond of commenting on atheists proclaiming their lack of belief until they are facing their mortality and all of the sudden they've found God again.

No less a non-believer than James Connolly had one of those miraculous conversions. It was not until after the Easter Rising had gone wrong, and he was listening to the sound of the firing squad murder his co-conspirators, that he became a Catholic once again.

It's the sort of revelation that could tarnish a Marxist's image.

An unpublished manuscript has turned up in England, said to have been written by the British Army chaplain who was in Dublin in 1916 when the Empire struck back against the rebellious Irish.

In the memoir, George Kendall claims that he met James Connolly on two occasions. One, when Mr. Connolly was in hospital being treated for wounds suffered in battle, and again when Mr. Connolly was in Kilmainham awaiting execution. It was at their second encounter that the man who wanted to create a worker's paradise in Ireland asked to see a priest. He made a confession and received the Eucharist, embracing God as if he was preparing for the judgment that really mattered, before he was propped up in a chair and shot to death.

Mr. Kendall's grandson would like to get the memoir published. Although written in 1961, it is an important document penned by someone who was there and saw things through his own lens, a very British prism. Without the publication of manuscripts like this, the public could forget that a British Army chaplain truly believed that the Easter Rising was misguided and due largely to the stumblings of an incompetent government. Not that religious intolerance or centuries of prejudice had anything to do with it. Not at all. Mr. Kendall was fond of the Irish people. Like some people are fond of cute little dogs and small children?

While it is almost amusing to realize that a hard-bitten agnostic like James Connolly could bend at the end and seek comfort in the faith of his fathers, the faith that was once illegal to practice in Ireland, the attitude and opinion of an Englishman is well worth preserving for all time.

It's but three years away, the centennial of the Easter Rising that set the Republic of Ireland into existence. It is time for a book that shows a different view of events, from the side of those who could not understand why anyone would want to leave the glorious United Kingdom.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Limits Of Love When It Loses Money

No matter how prestigious, literary magazines are not popular enough to turn a profit. Consider how many are published by creative writing programs at publicly-funded universities, and you can see why many of the journals continue to exist. You, the taxpayer, are covering the losses.

In the private world, Granta is one of the most prestigious, published quarterly and filled with the words of both established writers and fresh scribblers. It does not make a profit. It continues to exist because an heiress pumps money into it. Out of love.

Sigrid Rausing is a philanthropist sitting on the profits reaped by Tetra Pak. Having all that money, she is able to enjoy the rather expensive hobby that is publishing.

The people she hired to run Granta's literary journal and book publishing divisions had free rein to choose what they thought was the best in literature, without having to worry if there was a large enough audience to generate blockbuster profits. What editor wouldn't love that position?

Inherited capital has to be invested to keep it growing, but the markets took a dive and investors took stock. Having one's holdings plummet in value over a short period of time will make an heiress pause, and often the psychological impact is greater than the actual financial hit. Chances are good that Ms. Rausing realized that she could not keep funneling money into Granta like it was water in unlimited supply, because there were limits.

Perhaps she had a change of heart because she was not delighted with the selection of Britain's best young novelists, as chosen by the Granta staff. Book reviewers weren't entirely thrilled by it, and if the reviews are not stellar, it makes her staff appear out of touch, which does not bode well for those who would wonder if Granta books are as lame as the magazine's recommendations. Without book buyers, it is Ms. Rausing who loses money.

That she let Granta operate at a loss for the sake of producing fine literature is a testament to her love of words, but there are limits to how much anyone will spend on love. Or an expensive hobby.

The new policy of operating the book division at a profit has resulted in an exodus of talent, with many fearing their love of literature will have to be restricted. People like Philip Gwyn Jones found unemployment preferable to slogging under the same blockbuster mentality that infects the major publishers.

Editors and art directors are on their way out the door, leaving Granta magazine to Ms. Rausing's control. Writers are concerned, of course, that there will be no influx of similar talent to keep the magazine and book divisions operating at the same high level, and they see the end of one of the few remaining operations that considers the quality of the writing over the writing's ability to become the next best seller.

Love is an emotion and publishing is a business. When some of the love is unrequited, and the publishers loses money, you cannot expect a relationship to continue. Ms. Rausing is cutting costs by reducing staff and shuttering the New York office because there is a limit to how much she is willing to invest in a relationship that is largely one-sided.

Whether Granta will survive is unknown. There may be another editor out there who will take on the magazine and produce the same quality product at a lower cost. There may be someone in publishing right now who would jump at the chance to run Granta's book division, even if it means working harder for less money.

It's grand that Ms. Rausing has lots of love for literature. Now she has to find people to work for her publishing enterprise that have as much love. Which is to say, will work on the cheap.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shifting Deck Chairs But Is It Titanic

There was a time when investors truly believed that there was money to be made in educational publishing materials.

Barry O'Callaghan bought into the dream, all in. His minnow-sized educational materials publishing concern, Riverdeep, swallowed up some publishing whales in an attempt to create the biggest such entity in the publishing seas.

Like Captain Ahab, alas, he went down, a victim of the white whale he fashioned from an ocean of debt and an inability to predict an economic collapse.

Recently, Penguin and Random House merged, with Penguin leaving behind its Pearson educational publishing unit to find its way in the rough waters of print versus digital and declining textbook sales.

Now Pearson has rearranged its corporate leaders, but have they only rearranged the deck chairs on some Titanic-like industry, or will this strategy work? Have they found the best and the brightest, people bubbling with new ideas and strategies?

There is a flow chart of executives who are charged with boosting sales within their little fiefdoms, either by inventing cutting edge technologies or devising irresistible sales pitches. Naturally Pearson wants to become the company that educators think of first when they think about what textbooks or digital content they will purchase. It will be up to the new team to make that happen, but is a new organizational chart the way to do it?

Or is there still too much competition and too many other companies out there doing the same thing in the teeth of continued budget cuts and declining demand?

Past performance is not always a good indicator of future success, so it is impossible to determine if the changes Pearson has made at the top will prove effective. If, by some miracle, the global economy sails out of the doldrums, there will be an uptick in sales as those who did without find the means to do with and try to catch up. In that case, the new board will be rewarded and proclaimed brilliant. On the other hand, if things continue as they have, there will be no major improvements in the bottom line at Pearson and someone will order a rearrangement once again, after a few more employees are given the sack in an effort to reduce costs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The High Cost Of Bubbles

The boys called him Bubbles. Most of them avoided direct contact with the Jesuit priest, joking about not getting too close, but it's not that they went around the school warning other boys to keep a distance. They had a sense that the priest wasn't like the other Jesuit educators. Those teenage boys sent to the private Jesuit prep school for a classical education that would prepare them for a future in the upper echelons of society were intelligent, sharp-witted and observant.

His real name was Father McGuire and he has cost the Jesuit order $19.6 million.

It is the price that the Jesuits must pay for covering up Father McGuire's pedophilia for over forty years, for allowing him to abuse boys wherever he was sent. And he was sent all over.

They knew, the Jesuits. They knew Father McGuire was sexually abusing young boys he was supposed to be mentoring and teaching. It is yet another example of the Church protecting a criminal while letting Catholic children be destroyed.

In the philosophy of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits are to train young men to be of service to others. Father McGuire, however, was of service to himself, and his superiors did not stop him.

For that, the order must pay and pay dearly.

When Father McGuire's crimes came to the attention of the president of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, back in 1970, it was recommended that the pedophile be transferred to Loyola University in Chicago, as if he was fine as long as he was with university students rather than teenaged boys. Get him out of Loyola Academy, the president asked, because Father McGuire could not be cured of his perversion.

The Jesuits did not remove the priest from ministry or bring him to the local police to be arrested and tried in a court. Instead, they shifted him around so that he was able to abuse other boys at so-called spiritual retreats that he arranged in Wisconsin and then Alaska and Russia.

And what did the acting provincial do about it?

He wrote a letter to the priest. Probably used harsh language, firm words, and told Father McGuire to stop.

In time, Father McGuire was bounced around until he came back to Chicago, where he received a glowing recommendation from his superior. He kept abusing boys, and the Jesuits kept ignoring letters from parents complaining of the priest's conduct towards their sons.

For hiding the truth, for ignoring the facts out of fear that going public would damage the reputation of the Jesuits, the order must pay millions of dollars to the many victims of Father McGuire. The abused will never be made whole, of course. Money cannot fix what was done, it can only pay for therapy to help hold the pieces together.

They called him Bubbles, when he was a teacher at Loyola Academy in Wilmette. They called him Bubbles and they stayed away from him because they knew there was something a little off. His superiors knew what the problem was, but they chose to hide it and pray that it would all go away.

It came back. And they will pay the price, not only to cover the settlement of the lawsuit but in lost donations from alumni of Loyola Academy who are disgusted with the Jesuits for leaving them vulnerable to a pedophile.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Don't Complain About The Rules If You Wrote Them

Multinational companies find Ireland attractive because corporate taxes are low.

Ireland likes multinational companies because they pay taxes in Ireland and that's money that can be used to pay for social welfare, infrastructure, nationalized medicine, and all sorts of expensive things that Ireland didn't have before it revised its tax codes to attract those multinational companies. That's what fueled the Celtic Tiger.

So if you're an American politician making a great deal of noise about your America-based multinational firms not paying taxes and pointing a finger at Ireland, point it at yourself.

The Congress of the United States writes the rules for taxing their own people. When some of those people hire intelligent accountants and find ways to avoid paying taxes, whose fault is it? Congress' fault, of course.

Carl Levin to Ireland: Change your tax laws so I don't have to change mine
Politicians like Carl Levin, of the great state of Michigan (auto industry booming back home, Carl?) are incensed over the way Apple managed to not pay the stipulated 35% corporate rate. It's laughable, all that outrage. He's one of those who created tax laws that permit Apple to shift profits overseas, so to try to appear as an innocent party to the problem is nonsense.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is countering Mr. Levin's vitriol with the simple fact that Ireland's tax system is, in his word, transparent. It is what it is. There is a rate that was agreed to bring Apple to Ireland, and it is the rate that Apple pays or doesn't pay under that agreement. What they do in the U.S. is not Ireland's problem, nor is it Ireland's fault.
Eamon Gilmore to Carl Levin: Bollocks

In Ireland, 4,000 people are employed by Apple's operation, and it doesn't matter if they shuffle papers or iPod nanos. They are employed and paying taxes in Ireland, which needs the money to fund subsidies for the unemployed. Apple's strategy works for Ireland, so if Carl Levin doesn't like it, let him find his own way out of the tangle of laws he has helped create.

Mr. Levin, of course, wants to make it look as if Apple is one of those evil corporations cheating the American people, but that's only because he doesn't want his constituents asking how Apple gets away with it if it is, indeed, cheating which implies something illegal. There is nothing illegal in what Apple is doing. There is nothing illegal in what Ireland is doing.

Mr. Levin is free to create all sorts of bills and legislation to change the rules that he helped to create. He can talk about revamping the tax code instead of barking about tax havens. To do so, however, would open up the possibility that the party in opposition would change something about the tax code that he wants to keep, like soaking the rich. Better to cast aspersions on Apple and Ireland than accept blame for his own votes in Congress.

Monday, May 20, 2013

To Punish The Champion of Justice

Alan Shatter
When it came to investigating the Magdalene Laundries, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was not so quick to drop leaked information to the press. Why, he was so quiet about the probe into slave labor and Church-State collusion in confining women and forcing adoptions that you'd think he wasn't looking into the laundries at all.

Recently, however, Mr. Shatter did manage to let slip a piece of gossip he'd picked up from An Garda Siochana. A juicy tidbit about his nemesis in the Dail, Mick Wallace. A case that would surely turn the voters against their elected representative.

Mick Wallace
Maybe it's the locks that have the two at odds. Mr. Shatter is dark of hair and clean cut, while Mr. Wallace has gone grey and doesn't look to have seen a barber in some time. It can't be Mr. Wallace's predilection for pink polo shirts, can it?

It was Mr. Shatter attempting to act the champion for the Irish people when he proclaimed that Mick Wallace was the recipient of favors from a garda who let him go without penalizing the Wexford TD for mobile phone usage while driving.

Why does he get away with a crime, Mr. Shatter wanted to know, while the rest of the downtrodden Irish taxpayers get assessed penalty points against their otherwise pristine records?

Why indeed? Has Mr. Wallace not been vocal about gardai not using discretion but cracking down hard on banned mobile phone use?

Suddenly the question turned and Mr. Wallace wanted to know how Mr. Shatter came to know of the incident in which he was stopped for illegal phoning and then let go at the discretion of the garda. That sort of confidential information is not regularly shared with politicians. He had to have gone digging for it.

The party in opposition is now calling for Mr. Shatter's resignation, and Mr. Wallace plans to lodge a complaint with the Standards in Public Office Commission. Mr. Shatter's own colleagues are supporting him, to an extent. Not all, it turns out, are on board the hypocrisy train.

There are some who see Mr. Shatter's actions as that of a horse's arse, rather than a champion of justice. They see petulance and pettiness and an attempt to make something out of nothing, putting Fine Gael at risk of becoming the party of whingers.

Using confidential information to damage a political rival is something that requires finesse and skill, an action perfected by Chicago's Irish-American political machine. Mr. Shatter is, unfortunately, a rookie in a professional's game and he's learning that a champion of justice can stumble over his laurels when he overplays his hand.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Spire Rises From The Ashes

The building site is a hole in the ground and the property was taken back by the bank owed the money used to buy the parcel. The starchitect has sued for payment for his work in creating the plans for a spiraling tower.

Garrett Kelleher believes in himself. He believes he can resurrect The Spire from the ashes like a phoenix, breathe life into a default and put Chicago back on the map of ground-breaking architectural design.

How, you might ask, could a developer who went broke in the real estate crash find the financing to try this whole thing again?

There are rumours floating around banking circles that Mr. Kelleher would like to buy up his debt from the Irish governmental agency that acquired it after the banks went under, crushed by mortgage debt that had no chance of being repaid.

The National Asset Management Agency is looking for buyers of all the debt it currently owns, and has taken bids for the Chicago site. If, by some miracle, he has financing to back him, Mr. Kelleher has every right to place a bid and possibly regain what he lost, at a discount.

Whoever buys up the mortgage may or may not seek to construct the spiraling tower for which the above pictured hole was created. Originally envisioned as the tallest building on the planet (more or less), the developer who takes over the project might choose to scale down the building to something more affordable. The real estate market is still weak, and there is a glut of condominiums and office space available and unoccupied.

In any case, the city of Chicago will want to take another look at the revised plans. There is a new mayor in town these days, one more interested in bringing the arts and culture to the City of the Big Shoulders. Something unique, like a giant drill bit embedded in the bedrock, might have an easier journey through the planning process than an ordinary slab of glass and concrete.

Could it be possible that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for Garrett Kelleher's bid to be accepted? Maybe he's sending word to NAMA over in Dublin, that a new developer might not find the planning process quite as, shall we say, amenable to a different design. Campaign contributions, however, are always welcome and may sway the Mayor's heart.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Defining The Rift

You can see the division in the Gildea family, right there in the courtroom where they are fighting over ownership of a small farm.

Land is valuable. As they say, there's no more being made so it's a limited supply, and if you have a piece of ground to call your own you will always have someplace to live, even if you dwell in a tent. You'll always have a place to sow your spuds and you won't go hungry like they did in Black '47.

For the Irish, owning a corner of the earth has great psychological value. Keep in mind that there was a time when they weren't allowed to be landowners, under the decrees of the British who tried to drive the Irish out of their own country. It's ingrained, after all those centuries.

There's a larger rift in the family than is obvious in that Donegal courtroom, however. You can just barely see it, right there between the matriarch of the Gildea clan and her brother, the late owner of said farm.

Mrs. Gildea and her sons have taken up common cause against her daughter Nora. It was Nora who was left the farm by her uncle after he died in 2007. He passed over his own sister, ignored his nephews, and painted a bright line around the boundaries of family loyalty. Not as evident as Mrs. Gildea and sons on one side of the courtroom in Letterkenny, with daughter Nora on the other, but it's clear than William John Kennedy stood with his niece on her side of the rift.

Land is valuable, and Nora Kelly got something of value that sparked jealousy among those who were left out. Mother and brothers are contesting the will, seeking a piece of the property or the entire farm outright.

Mrs. Gildea doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. She claims that her brother had no right to the land in the first place, that the will that left it to him in the 1930's isn't valid.

A bit late to be contesting that version, isn't it?

Her sons claim that they have been using parts of the farm so it's theirs, but that tack comes from Italy where squatter's rights trump ownership. Mrs. Gildea thinks she should be entitled to the farm because she worked on it in her younger days, as if sweat equity has equal value to the euro.

She might have been better off asking her brother for wages, back when she was supposedly working the land while raising nine children. He didn't think much of her years of toil, if indeed she did any work on the farm, or he might have left her a little something by way of thanks. But as he didn't leave her the farm, he must not have been impressed with her skills in animal husbandry or horticulture.

The family rift is clear. It is up to a judge to decide which side is right and which side will be left out. In the end, however, the chasm that developed between a daughter and her extended family will be too large to cross. Then the neighbors will choose up sides and gossip behind Mrs. Gildea's back.

Mrs. Gildea will stew in her bitterness for the rest of her days, short though they may be. All for a small farm, twelve hectares tucked away in Donegal.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Public And Private And Empty

The convention business has been disappearing from Chicago, with competition from warm places like Orlando or Las Vegas siphoning off the dollars of free-spending business people. Naturally, the city would like that business back, along with the tax revenues that come with it.

The City Council could cut taxes on hotels, restaurants, taxi service, gasoline, etc. etc. so that those attending conventions would not feel like they are being robbed, and hope to attract the business folk again.

Not so easy to curtail union activity at the convention centers, unfortunately, where strict rules about who can do what drive up costs to set up displays for trade groups. Those same trade groups complain loudly, right before they make arrangement to open a show in Florida, but who wants to take on the unions?

Instead, the city would have you believe that they could win back the convention business if only the McCormick Place venue had a 12,000-seat stadium. There are religious groups who need large spaces like that and they'd flock to Chicago if only....

Stadium construction is an expensive proposition, so how about a public-private partnership to share the costs?

DePaul University has been making some noise about playing their basketball games in Chicago, closer to the actual university where the actual students might then be able to actually attend. The student body is largely absent from Allstate Arena, and the cavernous space echoes with the sounds of silence rather than rambunctious cheers. Not particularly appealing to a recruit looking to make his name and get noticed by the NBA scouts.

Something within walking distance of campus would be perfect, but land around campus is outrageously expensive, to say nothing of the cost of construction. A public-private partnership would be ideal for the university's plans.

In a miracle of synergy, the City of Chicago and DePaul University may be in line to join this wondrous partnership, with Chicago getting some help in paying for a new stadium and DePaul getting a new home court within the city limits.

A move to McCormick Place would ensure that even fewer current season ticket holders would continue to purchase tickets, with the new venue even more inconveniently located than Allstate Arena. The students would have to be dedicated power walkers to reach McCormick Place on foot, given the six mile distance. Most fans of DePaul basketball are scratching their heads, trying to figure out why the athletic department would think this would be of benefit to the program.

Chicago taxpayers are scratching their heads, wondering where the city is going to come up with millions of dollars to pay for the public portion of the partnership when the city is broke and can't keep its schools open or put enough policemen on the streets.

Not that the politicians pay them any mind. This is Chicago, after all, and it's how things are done.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hire An Author To Boost Tourism

The people of Florence (Fiorenze if you prefer) have seen tourism decline, following the downward trajectory of the global economy. Dependent on those visitors and their foreign cash influx, the local government would embrace anything that would reverse the trend and boost income.

The answer to the problem is rather simple.

Hire an author to write a book set in your city.

You could pick up a copy of THE KING OF THE IRISH and make your own walking tour of Chicago, but not everything mentioned in the novel, set in 1889, is still standing.

The courthouse where Dan Coughlin was tried for a murder he did not commit remains in place, but it is the location of his second trial. The original structure where he watched his American dream become a nightmare was razed years ago. The streets he walked are still there, as is the prison building in Joliet where he fought to survive and win a chance to prove his innocence.

The river is still where he explored it during a search for the body of Dr. Patrick Cronin, although not flowing in the same direction. As for the backdrop, the addition of skyscrapers over the years has completely altered the scenery.

Not so in Florence, a town that has remained unchanged, looking largely the same as it did when Dante Alighieri walked its cobbled streets and wrote his Inferno saga.

And so the latest literary walking tour enters the tourism trade, with Florentines hoping that the readers will come, clutching their copies of Dan Brown's latest conspiracy treatment.

Like his other two novels, the upcoming adventure of the fictional Robert Langdon will provide enough description to create a virtual map of the protagonist's movements as he tries to solve the latest mystery.

Home Insurance Building
Tourists doing the tour will pay for hotel, meals, souvenirs, and entrance fees for the very architectural treasures described in the pages of Dan Brown's novel. The people of Florence would very much like such a scenario to play out in their city. They need the money.

They could see what happened with tourism numbers at the Vatican after Angels and Demons generated buzz among readers. Everyone marvelled at the vast population of literary tourists who descended on Paris after The DaVinci Code became a blockbuster hit.

Is your local tourism board wondering how to boost visitors to the town? Why not suggest they hire Dan Brown to write a book about your place?

You'd have to be living in an interesting place, however. Some city that retained its ancient charm, unlike Chicago which gave the world its first skyscraper and then tore it down to put up something new.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In Memory Of The Dublin Lockout

One hundred years ago, the laborers of Dublin organized, after a fashion, and went on strike to protest working conditions. The tram drivers stopped driving their vehicles right where they were at the time called, and walked away, leaving Dublin commuters to walk...or find a ride with a friend who had an automobile. So the rich were not inconvenienced while the poor had a difficult time getting to work.

1913 was a time of socialism trumpeted as the cure for all of capitalism's evils, long ago before anyone actually tried out the theory. We all know how Russia ended up at the end of the great socialist experiment.

Here we are, one hundred years later, and now the bus drivers are feeling put upon by the government that controls their wages. It's the same government that's gone broke paying for social welfare programs when the income has declined but demand hasn't.

Bus Eirann is losing money and something must be done to cut the expenses, but the drivers don't want it to be them, or their wages and benefits.

It feels like the mirror image of one hundred years earlier, where the overworked and underpaid have been replaced by the pampered and petted. The pendulum has swung over to the other side after a century's journey. This time around, the boss is oppressed because there isn't enough coming in to feed everyone. Meanwhile, the workers cry poor and claim the government is lazy and shiftless.

Back in 1913, the bosses turned the tables on their striking workers and locked them all out, closed the doors on the poorest of the poor who earned a pittance, but a desperately needed pittance. The end result was that the strike was broken as the children of Dublin went hungry and fathers abandoned the action.

Will the government follow suit and lock out their employees?

Would it be as effective? The unemployed could just collect benefits from the government they are striking against, and no children will be left crying from hunger. Not exactly the threat it was in 1913, is it?

One hundred years after the Dublin Lockout, times are not quite what they were. And neither is the life of the bus driver.

What remains is the fact that the government has no money, and cannot take from one group to fund a unit that cannot turn a profit, let alone break even.

Then too, the unions are already organized and there's no replacement for Jim Larkin to stir the masses. And the well-to-do who once came out to feed the starving children of the striking workers aren't keen on paying more taxes when their own pockets are being pinched by a depressed economy.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Too Many Pieces Of Not Enough Pie

Romance is supposed to be the biggest selling category of fiction, but quantity isn't a guarantee of the biggest publishing profits.

Harlequin, a name synonymous with all types of romantic fiction, has reported a drop in 1st quarter revenues. They have been reporting declines for some time now, in part due to the economic squeeze that leaves its readers with less money to spend on books, and in part due to unfavorable exchange rates of dollars Canadian vs. dollars American.

This most recent filing, however, puts part of the blame on their authors, and the amount of royalties those writers are receiving.

Like all other publishers, Harlequin faces competition from the many places their print authors can go to publish electronically. For an author holding digital rights, she (rarely, he) can take a Word document to Amazon's Kindle publishing site and do it themselves. With equal ease, they can use Smashwords to crank out the digital version of their steamy novel and reach those with Sony, Apple or Nook devices.

Then the author sets the price, with an eye on the percentage of sales that comes back to them as royalties. The seller gets a cut, and there is no other publisher acting as middleman to claim their share of the publishing pie.

As Harlequin is discovering, there is not enough of that pie to slice up into enough pieces to cover everyone at the party.

To keep an author from going solo, Harlequin has been forced to increase the royalties they pay. They are still faced with the limits of public tolerance for high prices, and cannot significatnly raise the price of their e-books to compensate. That means they have to take a smaller piece, but that smaller piece has to be shared with all the employees at corporate headquarters, who aren't eager to see a cut in their wages.

And you know that whoever is the latest version of Fabio isn't going to accept a reduced fee for his cover art.

How to return to increased profitablity?

Cut the number of pieces of pie that have to be shared with employees who will have to do more work for the same sized serving. You can call it restructuring or realizing synergies, but it comes down to a shrinkage of the workforce.

Things were so much easier before, weren't they? The authors made the pie, and then got only the crumbs. Now they have other places to go if they want a more fair share from their own hard slogging. Competition doesn't grow the pie, but it sure alters its distribution.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Shopping An Idea Is Not Shopping A Book

Writers like to sell books because that's how they make a living.

To make a living at writing, they have to write books that people want to buy. For a sports writer, their tome must be timely, pertinent and reveal something new. No one buys old news, do they?

Over at Sports Illustrated, Franz Lidz broke a news story and got all sorts of coverage. The first openly gay professional athlete comes out of the closet, and it's all the national media can talk about. Mr. Lidz has written a couple of books before, which makes him a known commodity in the publishing world.

Great to be known, but having a solid platform isn't going to compensate for a topic that's gone stale, if it was ever in high demand at all.

There are rumors floating around that Jason Collins the openly gay athlete wants to pen his memoirs. Franz Lidz would, of course, be his ghostwriter.

Or not.

It depends on who you talk to.

Mr. Collins took to Twitter to deny the story.

His agent says he's gotten all sorts of offers on all sorts of deals, but Jason doesn't know if he wants to write a book.

Yet secret sources in publishing say that ICM literary agent Kristine Dahl is shopping a book, but as this is nonfiction, there is no manuscript. It's only an idea being pitched.

An idea, you see, is not an actual book. There are no words on a page just yet. It's a notion, a concept of a book, probably something with a quick turnaround to capture the buzz that's likely to fade.

The rumor mill has one publisher turning down the book. That would suggest that at least one publisher doesn't think the story will sell.

Either Mr. Collins got it all out in the Sports Illustrated article, or the book-buying public doesn't care about his life as a gay athlete hiding in the shadows, acting straight out of fear. So if the idea of a
memoir isn't generating enthusiasm, why would anyone admit they were shopping that book?

If the buzz generated by media outlets was only vibrating within the media outlets, the publishers worry that their target audience yawned or shrugged their shoulders at the announcement, and went back to watching the NBA playoffs that aren't featuring Mr. Collins because he's not a huge star in the basketball firmament.

Sure he's a professional athlete, but he's no LeBron James. Or even Dwayne Wade. Jason Collins simply isn't big enough to snag public interest in his journey of sexual discovery. A publisher isn't going to offer a sizable advance for someone not sizable in his field, who never was a big name with big stats making a big difference on the court.

So maybe Jason Collins isn't shopping a book. His agent might be shopping a treatment. Everyone is right, in their way. It's a matter of language, and the use of words that mean what the speaker wants them to mean.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Last Best Threat

How to strike fear in the hearts of the Catholic politicians?

How to block a change in Ireland's ban on abortion?

The Church hierarchy has reached back into the dustiest pages of the playbook to resurrect their best threat.

Vote in favor of the new abortion legislation currently being proposed, and you'll be...yes, it's EXCOMMUNICATION raising its ugly head.

The shame of it. You walk up to the Communion rail and the priest denies you, in front of the entire congregation. Right, that's if you went to Mass on Sunday which most people don't. Even if you did, who'd be there to witness your humiliation beyond a few old ladies who are half deaf anyway?

The Catholic Church is gearing up to fight proposed changes that would allow abortion in certain instances, in a country that has the strictest anti-abortion laws around.

The legislation is so tightly written that a woman would have a difficult time terminating a pregnancy. In large part, the new law is intended to avoid another avoidable maternal death, but the Church fears that some obstetrician might, just might, make a mistake and declare a pregnancy threatening to the mother's life. Or worse, some Protestant or atheist doctor might go ahead with a termination just because the woman asked for it and then make up a diagnosis to suit the legal requirements.

There will be preaching from the pulpit against the law, but there are few voters in the pews to hear the words.

All those words are being filtered through a very recent event that makes a mockery of the litany about "the sanctity of human life." After the death of Savita Halappanavar, the voters are well aware of what is at stake and how distant from reality the Catholic Church remains.

The priests can talk all they like about life as a precious gift to be preserved, but it's obvious that they don't respect the mother's life. It's been obvious for decades, the evidence resting in the stones of the Magdalene laundries that dot the island.

They have nothing left but their last, best threat. Somehow, excommunication doesn't sound as frightening as being turned out of office by an angry electorate.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

When Literary Agents Change Houses

An agent with a stable of prominent writers would be welcome to any literary agency. Such an agent would be akin to a rainmaker in legal circles, generating profits for the firm and a bigger payout for the partners.

An agent with a stable of big-sellers could also open up his own shop and be the sole proprietor, raking in all the profits for himself and not have to share with his wife's family.

When Samuel Pinkus left his father-in-law's digs at McIntosh & Otis, he would naturally have wanted to take some big names with him.

He did.

And now Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing him.

Ms. Lee was represented by Eugene Winick, whose failing health meant changes at his literary agency in 2002. His son-in-law took over the management of some writers, including such luminaries as Mary Higgins Clark and John Steinbeck.

Perhaps it was trouble at home. Perhaps Mr. Pinkus felt he was not getting the respect he deserved. He left McIntosh & Otis to create his own company.

In her suit, Ms. Lee claims that Mr. Pinkus tricked her, taking advantage of her declining health to inveigle her into signing away the rights to her one and only book. Mr. Pinkus ended up with a commission in perpetuity, getting a piece of every sale.

She also states that the literary agent she didn't actually hire mishandled requests for e-book rights and was not to be found when it was time to create buzz for the book's fiftieth anniversary.

That, and he cheated his father-in-law's agency out of royalties that should have been split, but it's all starting to sound like a very, very, very bitter divorce with a family business trapped in the middle of the feuding parties.

Ms. Lee wants her rights back, so she can go back to McIntosh & Otis if she wishes, to be represented by someone entrusted by Mr. Winick. Like his daughter, perhaps, who is an agent at the firm.

She also wants the royalties accrued since 2007 when the fraud took place.

What judge would not feel sympathy for an old lady being cheated by a fast talking con man? Mr. Pinkus would want to hire a good lawyer, an Atticus Finch sort of lawyer.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Zorro Was An Irishman

If you're sitting there wondering what to write about, why not write about Zorro?

Not the sanitized version presented by the Disney Company, famous for cartoon princesses who aren't genuine either. No, this is the real man who actually existed and buckled swash from Europe to the New World.

The people of Wexford will once again celebrate the life and legend of William Lamport. Zorrofest opens on Saturday, to commemorate an Irish revolutionary who brought the notion of freedom to the silver miners of Taxco.

He was born in Wexford and came of age during the Tudor conquest of Ireland, a time when the Catholic faith was under assault by those who created their own religion and sought to foist it on all. So right there you have the basis for a character trait, the rebel who had to flee after publishing a screed against the Protestant king James I.

Think of the possibilities his life presents for a piece of historical fiction.

He fled to the Irish exile colony in Spain and involved himself in a plan to take back his homeland with help from the Spanish who didn't like the Tudors, or the Stuarts in their time.

There's a woman in his history, an illegitimate pregnancy and another flight that leads to his capture by pirates, which in turn introduced him to piracy as a way to craft his leadership skills.

His actions in Mexico are yet another subplot filled with adventure as he devised a plan to liberate Mexico from Spanish rule. He became a champion of the poor and oppressed, dreaming of a New Spain in which he would rule with wisdom and concern for the littlest of his subjects.

The last years of his life are tragic, his demise heroic.

So attend Zorrofest if you're in Wexford this weekend. If you're unable to visit, why not sit down and start writing a novel of liberation and strife and one Irishman's attempts to outfox his adversaries?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Someone Needs To Invent A Rape Kit For Horses

To begin with, I don't know how the police could figure out that a horse had been raped.

Did the mare make a phone call or show up at the nearest veterinary clinic? Try to buy a morning after pill at the local pharmacy but was only three years old and not eligible?

Back in 2010, Esbin Cal-Orozco was arrested for having "sexual contact" with a horse at Arlington Park racetrack. He was seen leaving the stable where the assaulted horse was housed, riding off on a bicycle.

Stable hands aren't the highest paid, so you wouldn't expect him to flee in a Mercedes, let alone a battered pick-up truck.

Under questioning, the man was described as evasive by police. Maybe he was just afraid that his residency status was going to be questioned and he didn't much care to be deported. Mucking stables isn't a fun job, but it's a job, and when you come from a country without jobs, you're likely to do what you can to keep the one you have.

In cases of human rape, evidence is collected using a rape kit that has all the items needed to obtain physical material that can be used for DNA testing. Tie the DNA from the rape kit to the alleged perpetrator and it's pretty much a closed case.

The difficulty that the Arlington Park investigators ran into is the lack of a rape kit for horses.

They couldn't collect that precious DNA evidence to tie Mr. Cal-Orozco to the crime. All they had to go on was a half-hour interview and gut instinct, which doesn't get a policeman far in a court of law.

Mr. Cal-Orozco was arrested and then convicted. He served a few months but came out as a sex offender. It's a label designed to follow sexual deviants for all of their days, like an endless sentence.

The Illinois appelate court quashed the conviction, finding that there was no solid evidence against Mr. Cal-Orozco and he should not have been arrested.

The option for a re-trial is still out there but most will see it as a waste of taxpayer money.

There is no DNA evidence, after all, and the mare isn't likely to identify her attacker in court so it seems like a pointless exercise that would only bring further humiliation on Mr. Cal-Orzco.

Is he still working as a stable hand? And do his colleagues sneak up behind him and whinny?