Friday, June 28, 2013

And You Thought Father Ted Was Fiction

The money was only resting in Father Ted's account.

Monsignor Scarano's account, however, was not resting at all. Indeed not, it was a most active account there at the Vatican bank where he held a high position. Senior accountant, a man with influence and the ability to do things that a mere teller could not.

He's gotten himself into trouble, and there he was, only doing his Christian duty in helping others. The others, in this case, were weatlhy friends who needed assistance in bringing in millions of euro into Italy.

They, in turn, lended him a hand. It seems that the monsignor was holding a mortgage on a piece of property in Salerno, and he wanted to get that paid off so he could then sell it. The proceeds were to go towards the purchase of another property, which he needed so that he could open a home for the terminally ill.

For some reason, he didn't want anyone to know he was paying off that mortgage, so he took money out of his account at the Vatican Bank, just a few thousand euro at a time, and gave the money to his wealthy friends who then wrote him checks that were made to look like donations to a charity. That way, it wouldn't look like Father Scarano was the one funding the home, but his wealthy friends.

Who needed his help in moving money out of Switzerland.

In related news, the Pope has called for a top-to-bottom scrubbing of the Vatican Bank, which has long been suspected of less than legal transactions because the only authority watching over the bank would appear to be God Himself.

Not so unrelated after all?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

You'll Get Wages And Don't Ask For More

How can a government compensate women who were locked up on the whim of a parish priest or an irate parent?

That is the question that the Irish government faces today, as it seeks a solution to the issue of the Magdalene laundry inmates. For decades, Irish women were locked up in institutions that were akin
to workhouses, operated by the Catholic Church. They were made to do heavy work in an industrial laundry, given little food, forced into silence, forced into prayer, and abused to a degree that is nearly incomprehensible.

The women were slaves, held against their will, without due process in a court of law. If they managed to run away, the gardai hunted them down and dragged them back.

How can a figure be set that would make amends? All that can be done, of course, is to patch up damaged people. It is impossible to return their lost years to them. For those whose babies were taken and adopted out, it is close to impossible to reunite them with the children who were stolen.

How about 20,000 euro for that year of forced labor? And don't ask for a penny more.

That, in essence, is what Ireland considers a fair settlement. Back wages, and off you go. The Maggies are old anyway. How much more do they need to keep themselves in tea and Jacob's biscuits?

Is it any wonder that the survivors of the Magdalene laundries have said thanks but no thanks?

Typically, an injured party is entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, and the women endured much pain in their time behind the locked doors. For that reason, some are asking for a bottom line sum of 50,000 euro for each survivor, and then top it off with her lost wages.

For the many who were locked up for more than ten years, they would get a lump sum up front, and the remainder of the 100,000 euro maximum paid out annually. The ladies are all 65 years of age or more. They'll get a little at a time, like children receiving an allowance, rather than getting all the back wages at once and getting a chance to make their own choices about how to invest what they worked so hard to earn.

But they won't have to prove hardship or abuse says Minister of Justice Shatter. Brilliant. If a former Maggie has made a fortune, she can still get the payout. As for proof of abuse, was it not abusive to lock up women because some perverted priest feared her brothers might be tempted into incest by her beauty? What more proof of abuse would a woman need than the fact she was committed to a Magdalane laundry?

As you'd expect, the Irish government is trying to close out a horrendous chapter on the cheap. There are so many women entitled to compensation that even at the bargain rates proposed, the entire scheme could run to 58 million euro.

Mr. Shatter has told the nuns who profited from the venture that they'll be paying into the kitty. That would be the same orders of nuns who cried poor when it came time to compensate the countless victims of the industrial schools. And then didn't pay their share.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mobile Lawyer

Laughing at the peons
Maybe attorney Lee Smolen has a fetish for taxi cabs and is too ashamed to admit it. What other legitimate excuse would explain the considerable cab fare expenses that he submitted to Accounts Payable at Sidley Austin? Maybe he bought all those sports tickets on his expense account but couldn't make the games. The same with the country club dinners; he might have been on the hook for meals he planned to eat but had to cancel at the last minute.

Or he needed the extra money. Just a little.

$69,000 worth of cab rides over the course of five years isn't much, compared to what he must have been earning for honest (relatively speaking, he is a lawyer, after all) work.

Mr. Smolen was a high-placed lawyer in the politically connected firm, a partner hauling in a chunk of the profits. Could it be that the chunk shrank over the years, what with Mr. Smolen dealing in real estate law and the real estate market has not exactly been thriving of late.You get used to a certain level of income and when it drops, it isn't easy to adjust to hard times.

According to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Mr. Smolen stole from his employer by submitting fraudulent expense accounts, from cab rides he didn't take to Mother's Day brunch at the country club that had nothing to do with Sidley Austin business. The total came to around $119,000.

So egregious was the fraud that Mr. Smolen was promptly hired by DLA Piper, to work in their real estate law division.

As far as Sidley Austin's rival is concerned, Mr. Smolen is too good an attorney to let some minor expense account padding diminish his star. In law practices as enormous as DLA Piper and Sidley Austin, it isn't unheard of for a top level executive to think he isn't getting as much as he should so he cheats a little here and there. What's the big deal?

Not to say the DLA Piper won't keep a close eye on Mr. Smolen's expenses, but they aren't all that concerned. As long as he brings in more business and proves his worth, what's a little theft among thieves?

Sidley Austin is on the hook to the client from whose funds Mr. Smolen helped himself, and they've gone to the attorney disciplinary commission to wring a little blood out of the legal stone. It doesn't look good for an important law firm to be seen as condoning or permitting theft from clients. The clients tend to look elsewhere. But at least one client won't be turning to DLA Piper to manage their real estate litigation needs.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You Can Show Him The Door But He Won't Leave

Still Wants To Guarantee It
Can you blame George Zimmer for not leaving, even after he was shown the door?

The iconic pitchman and founder of men's clothing chain Men's Wearhouse was trying to step down at his own pace, ease himself out of the running of the company he created. What's the point of working yourself to death, right? A man needs to retire eventually and kick back, do some fishing, but after a lifetime of Type A, hard-charging drive, it doesn't come easy.

The board of directors took Mr. Zimmer at his word and figured he was going so they made plans and started doing things their way. But there was Mr. Zimmer, still directing, still putting in his opinions where they weren't supposed to be any more.

So they showed him the door and then kicked him out of it when he didn't get the hint.

Maybe it's cold out there. George Zimmer isn't going quietly. He wants back in. And he's talking to his lawyers to find him a key.

After his ouster, Mr. Zimmer kept a seat on the board, but he quit that post as part of a come-back plan. All he has to do is buy back the stock and get a controlling share. Then it'll be the board that canned him getting shown the door while he takes back his rightful place.

Retirement isn't all that, not for a man who can't take it easy. Have you ever seen him in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt? George doesn't do relaxation.

The plan sounds simple enough but it won't be easy. Finding partners with lots of ready cash to invest in men's clothing can be difficult. Tech start-ups are always sexier and draw more attention. A rack of men's suits isn't exactly intriguing and laced with potential for profit.

You're gonna like retirement, the board said, but Mr. Zimmer discovered that he didn't like sitting there letting other people make decisions he used to make. He didn't like not being the one in charge.

Men's Wearhouse has reached the transition stage, where the founder steps aside to let others nurture his baby. In his heart, he just doesn't trust a stranger to be as loving as he has been for all these years. For the board of directors, however, they can't go forward if Mr. Zimmer keeps dragging them back. Someone has to walk out the door. A corporation can only go in one direction if it isn't going to be pulled an ill-fitting suit with weak threads in the seams.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Too Big To Fail, Not Too Big To Bail Out

If Anglo Irish Bank's senior manager hadn't spoken openly on the phone, the Irish taxpayers would never have known he played them for fools.

There's something to be said for personal contact and private conversations, as John Bowe now realizes. Much to his dismay. The tapes of his conversations with senior manager Peter Fitzgerald have been made public, and the public is outraged.

Property markets all over the world were oversold and overpriced. One fine day in 2008, the real estate bubble burst and Mr. Bowe knew he had a balance sheet filled with property loans that were suddenly so much worthless paper. The money that Anglo Irish loaned out was not coming back in, so when account holders wanted to have some of their money back, say, to pay the mortgage, it wouldn't be there.

The government had money and Mr. Bowe figured out a way to get it to prop up his bank, using subterfuge and obfuscation and enough smoke to mask the true scope of the disaster. He discussed his plan with Mr. Fitzgerald, deciding to start small by asking for 7 billion, just to get his foot in the door of the Central Bank. That was just the beginning.

Once the Irish people were on the hook for the first installment, he would ask for more to protect that initial investment, knowing that there was no way in hell the loans from the government could ever be paid back. The money simply would never be there. But once he had the Irish taxpayers' "skin in the game", he believed they would go along like a gambler on a losing streak, throwing more money into the kitty because the next roll of the dice was sure to be a winner.

The bank went into negotiations with the government and claimed only a few billion were needed, a figure that was intended to put Anglo Irish in the "too big to fail" category. Mr. Bowe was fully aware that the bank required 70 billion euro to cover its losses, but that much of a loss could have shifted the bank into the "too big to bail out" category.

The bankers played the government and misled banking authorities, ultimately costing the Irish people 29 billion euro as Anglo Irish went back again and again for a little more and a little more, just one more time and we're good, another round, we're nearly there, a few billion here and a few billion there.

Mr. Fitzgerald has gone on record and stated that he was not in a position of authority in 2008 and had nothing to do with scamming the Central Bank. Mr. Bowe says he didn't engage in a practice to deceive, but he's stuck in that tangled web he wove with a telephone call that he never thought would be recorded and end up in the government's hands when it went about investigating how Anglo Irish Bank nearly brought Ireland to its knees.

Not popular before, Irish bankers have placed themselves in an entirely new category of public scorn. If only Mr. Bowe had walked over to Mr. Fitzgerald's office and had a friendly chat, face to face. Without a recording device between them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

When Your Sales Commission Isn't Enough

Publishers of educational materials will tell you that sales are down and they are struggling. It follows that the sales staff must be seeing a decline in revenue as well, if they can't sell as many copies as they once did.

What's a man to do if he finds his income isn't meeting his outflow any longer?

If you're Christopher Brock, you take a second job that very much resembles your usual occupation. He sold textbooks for Wiley, and he started to sell textbooks on the side.

Except that they were Wiley's textbooks he was selling for himself.

Wouldn't you know but his clever plan proved to be entirely illegal. He's been arrested in sunny Tampa, Florida, on charges of wire fraud. The legalese boils down to the operation of a shell game in which Mr. Brock shifted used textbooks around until his employer couldn't tell where they'd gone.

As a salesman, Mr. Brock was allowed to hand out free samples to potential clients, to show them what Wiley could do for them.

There is a limit, of course, to how many free samples a salesman can distribute before his bosses start asking questions. So Mr. Brock made up names of professors he claimed were potential clients, and then had the books shipped to him as if he had to deliver the thing personally. What a hands-on salesman he seemed.

Once he had the books in hand, he turned around and sold them, pocketing the cash.

At some point while the scheme was operating, someone at Wiley figured out that Mr. Brock's sales figures didn't line up with the quantity of free samples he was sending out. A quick check of staff listings at various universities and colleges would have been easy enough to conduct in this internet-connected age, and then there would be some explaining to do.

Wiley values the books at $2.8 million, although it's doubtful that Mr. Brock sold them for full price. Even so, he managed to pad his salary to a respectable degree, even at pennies on the dollar.

It is to be hoped that he saved a large portion of his ill-gotten gains, as he will be levied with a substantial fine. And he'll need something to retire on, after he gets out of prison. He's looking at twenty years, which would make him an old man of 64 when he gets out after serving his sentence. A gap like that in a resume isn't going to impress potential employers.

Fifty Shades Of Grey: The Trial

During voir dire, did anyone's attorney ask the potential jurors if they had read Fifty Shades of Grey? The trial of O'Brien vs. Anderson could have hinged on whether or not a juror believed the work of fiction could translate into real life.

The lawsuit that Kimberley O'Brien brought against her ex-husband Kevin Anderson alleged that he was into bondage and sadomasochism, as if he were the model on which E. L. James based her trilogy. Ms. O'Brien filed the suit seven years ago, long before Ms. James published her collection of mommy porn. Too bad Ms. O'Brien didn't think of it first, to write her memoir. She might have gotten more money out of a book than she was asking for in court.

Master And Commander
In the end, it was a typical "he said, she said" case in which accusations were lobbed across the
courtroom while the jury listened to some steamy testimony.

Ms. O'Brien sued for a cash settlement to compensate her for all the pain and suffering she endured as a sex slave during her marriage. She said her husband made her walk around the house in nothing but high heels, that he tied her up and sexually abused her, tortured her and pretty much lived the Fifty Shades lifestyle.

For his part, Mr. Anderson said it was all her idea, and he just went along. What guy wouldn't want to play the role of master, right? Could it be that the four men on the jury were so busy being envious of the man that they didn't listen very closely to Ms. O'Brien's side of it?

And what of the four women sitting in judgment, what might have gone through their minds as they were handed photographs taken by the couple? What kind of sick mind would do this, they might have asked. Or did they look at the divorced couple and wonder if Ms. O'Brien was just another gold-digger looking for a big payout.

That was Mr. Anderson's contention. He claimed that his ex-wife wanted to play the sex games and he was a willing participant. She, on the other hand, tried to convince eight of her peers that he manipulated her and used her and emotionally abused her until she was a broken down shell of a person.

The jury listened and the jury spoke. They didn't buy her story, for the simple fact that she never tried to call the cops and have her husband arrested for abuse. She never walked out the door with suitcase in hand, and she had plenty of opportunities to escape.

With the success of E.L. James' novel, it is too late for Ms. O'Brien to pen her own version of sadomasochism as an alternative lifestyle. Publishers don't want copies of blockbusters, they want originals. To make matters worse, she lost the case, and there will be no $60 million settlement.

Perhaps a new husband who is also in need of a sex slave? But get the money up front.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Clare Daly Is Not A Fan

So you thought Barack Obama was a socialist? The socialists don't think he's one of them, not at all, and Clare Daly's diatribe put paid to that argument.

Representing Dublin North, Ms. Daly is a genuine European styled socialist, and as far as she is concerned, the President of the United States is a war criminal. And the whole of Ireland is being prostituted for his amusement, lacking only a hefty dose of padderwhackery to complete the picture.

You could say she's not a fan of the charismatic black man with Irish roots on his mother's side, the side he doesn't promote because it is of too pale a hue.

She's not a great fan of Bono either, and once Bono was put into the same pub with Mrs. Obama and daughters for a much-publicized lunch, she found more fuel for her raging fire. Soak the rich being her philosophy, she deeply begrudges those whose hard work and talent have paid off and they want to distribute it to the needy as they see fit without Ms. Daly's input.

All the fawning by the media and the government has infuriated Ms. Daly, and she has spoken out against the nonsense.

Oddly enough, she'll have plenty of moral support among the right wingers, who aren't fans of Mr. Obama either. They're also disgusted with the adulation from the press and the wall-to-wall coverage of the Obama genealogy tour. They have been having great fun with the unsuppressed boredom of the Obama daughters, who have been seen looking completely bored. What teenager gives a toss about the Books of Kells?

By attacking the American president, Ms. Daly has guaranteed herself a bit of attention that she doesn't normally receive, existing as she does on the fringe of a movement that lacks popular support. There is a reason that the United Left Alliance does not hold many seats in government.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

If You Can't Reach Them In Church

The Catholic Church hierarchy in Ireland is trying its best to convince people that they should demand a 'no' vote on abortion legislation. They've run into a small snag, in that few people go to church and so there are few ears present on a Sunday monrning to listen to the sermon.

Attempts have been made to convince the legislators that they should vote no. The threat of excommunication has been dangled, with the only result being Enda Kenny stating that he is Catholic and Taoiseach but not a Catholic Taoiseach. The Catholic Church doesn't rule any longer, which must be a difficult concept to grasp after nearly one hundred years. Ah for the good old days, when the word of a bishop could snap the Dail into attention....

Where does the Church go to reach people if they aren't in church and the TDs are too busy watching the polls that indicate the Irish public is very much in favor of liberalizing the abortion laws?

Back to the source, of course. To the captive audience, the ones too young to know they are being used and manipulated.

The chairman of a Catholic primary school board in South Dublin just happens to have experience as a spokesman for retired Cardinal Desmond Connell, who would clearly be very much interested in getting the anti-abortion message to the voting public. Eddie Shaw used his knowledge of public relations and communications to solve the problem.

Imagine the shock of all those mothers who rifled through a child's backpack in search of important notes from the teacher, only to find a leaflet inviting them to attend the Vigil For Life.

Outrage would best describe the feeling of those parents. No one wants their child used like a pawn. Ireland had enough of that, back when the poor were locked away in industrial schools in an attempt to remake Irish society by remaking its most vulnerable children.

It turns out that not all the teachers went along with the marketing campaign, either refusing to insert the leaflets into backpacks or conveniently forgetting to do so.

Now Mr. Shaw is under fire by the parents, who are likely to start a campaign of their own. To get rid of Mr. Shaw. And then to get the Catholic Church out of the public school system in Ireland.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blame The Publishers Not The Apple

The Feds say Apple conspired to raise prices on e-books. Apple says they didn't do any such thing. In fact, says Apple's Eddy Cue, it was the publishers who set the prices. Apple just wanted to be able to work with them so there could be some books in the newly hatched iBookstore.

It wasn't me. It was them. Point those fingers the other way.

Once the publishers had their way, they raised prices. Of course they raised prices. Amazon, with 90% of the ebook market, was pricing ebooks below cost and the publishers were losing money. The difference had to be made up somewhere.

Why did Apple go to court on the charge of price-fixing, when all the publishers quietly settled? Maybe because Apple firmly believes it is not guilty of the crime, and it isn't going to let the Federal Government cast aspersions on Steve Jobs' legacy.

Mr. Cue's testimony is key because the Feds say he's the one who rigged the prices. It was all his handiwork, the agency model for ebook pricing. In court, he's saying he didn't do it. All Apple did was to let publishers set the price and then take a 30% cut. Where' s the price fixing conspiracy in that? If the publishers discussed among themselves, that isn't anything that Apple controlled.

The agency model caused ebook prices to rise, according to the government, but it has been pointed out that ebook prices actually fell overall. The publishers were able to increase prices on the hottest titles and then cut the price on the backlist or midlist titles. It's how they price print editions, and it's how they wanted to price ebooks until Amazon got involved.

And what about Amazon? The iBookstore cut into their share of the market, which would suggest that the agency model improved competition. If Amazon's books were so much cheaper, it wouldn't have lost a considerable chunk of market share to Apple. Consumers are not stupid, even if the Justice Department thinks they are.

It's been suggested that Amazon got the litigation ball rolling, using the courts to crush a competitor when that competitor was putting the squeeze on Amazon's total control of the ebook market.

Not that the Justice Department cares. They won't step in to curtail Amazon until all the competition is crushed. When it's too late.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Controversy For Bloomsday

What can you talk about as you wander Dublin with all the other James Joyce aficionados tomorrow? They've seen it before, done it before, eaten those breakfast kidneys before. The conversation would drag, but for a blessing from Ithys Press.

It turns out that James Joyce had various bits and pieces of his writing tucked away and thus unpublished. That oversight has now been corrected, in a limited edition titled Finn's Hotel. If you know Finnegan's Wake forward and backward, you'll recognize many of the characters. Like an artist paints studies that will be incorporated in a large work, so too did Mr. Joyce write studies. Or is that not the correct way to view the pieces?

The debate now rages over whether or not the studies are studies that led to a novel or if the writings are suitable for free-standing inclusion in the Joyce catalogue.

Official Joyce scholar Terence Killeen is in a small huff over the publication because the pieces are not some "narrative tableau" as the publisher claims, but are early drafts that the author used to create the final product. There was never an intention to publish the bits, any more than an author would seek to publish all the parts of a novel that get edited out.

As you wander through the world of Leopold Bloom, feel free to support Mr. Killeen's position or counter with that of the publisher, who notes that the short pieces he likes to call "epiclets" (a la Joyce) wrote the things long before the author ever thought about Finnegan's Wake.

Keep in mind, however, that the publisher is offering ten deluxe copies of Finn's Hotel for 2500 euro, and only 140 at the more affordable 350 euro. The publisher contends that Mr. Joyce wasn't thinking of Finnegan's Wake when he penned what sound like character studies, hence the justification to publish. It would seem that the publisher is fashioning a rather lame excuse to turn a profit.You might have a difficult time of rebutting the fact that writers scribble notes and ponder a certain plot twist in their heads for years, and Mr. Joyce might very well have been conceptualizing a novel before he knew he had a novel in him.

What the collection of vignettes or epiclets or whatever will demonstrate to those who want to learn how to write creatively is the process that one very notable author used. Take Finn's Hotel and compare it to Finnegan's Wake, and then discuss among yourselves the parts that worked for Mr. Joyce and the parts that did not.

It will make the time pass more quickly, especially when you've done it before and seen it before. At last, something new to debate after you've downed your order of fried kidneys and need to focus on something besides the tang of urine in your mouth.

Friday, June 14, 2013

We All Fall Short

But after we fall, we don't go and rob a bank.

Navahcia Edwards would like the court to be merciful when she is sentenced for her part in an armed bank robbery. In her defense, she insists that she is not the person she would seem to be, based on trial testimony. She's worked hard, all her life, and she fell short. Everyone falls short.

Her excuse for robbing the bank lies in her wretched childhood of abuse and negligence, because being left to care for your siblings at the age of five will naturally pre-dispose a girl towards bank robbery. Did that explain why she copied The Town when she organized the heist?

Not being nurtured, as her father believes, led her to think that what she and her boyfriend saw in a movie could be translated into real life. You might think that someone who posted a high GPA at Moraine Valley Community College would have enough education to realize that Ben Affleck was acting out a script that he wrote based entirely on his imagination. Writers get to write the ending they want. It has nothing to do with what would transpire in the real world.

She wanted to have a career in modeling but if a girl isn't unusually tall and thin as a rail, she isn't going to make it no matter how hard she works. Ms. Edwards drifted towards the less desirable projects available, the ones that involve nudity and pornography.

So she found a job working at a bank but there isn't much money in a career as a bank teller. With all that money around, she used her education to figure out how to embezzle some of it, but she wasn't smart enough to not get caught. It was her promise to pay the money back, and avoid jail time, that led to her plot to rob the bank where she once worked to get the money to reimburse the first theft.

The FBI didn't follow Ben Affleck's script and they soon arrested Ms. Edwards and her accomplice, who promptly turned on her and made her the brains of the operation. With the trial concluded, and facing a long sentence, Ms. Edwards asks the judge to be lenient. We all fall short, and she blames her dysfunctional upbringing for turning to crime.

She is that lost five-year-old child who was left alone, and she wasn't at the bank when it was robbed. Okay, sure, she helped in the planning, but that was it.

The prosecutor wants her put away for 10 to 12, which would give her plenty of time to complete a college degree. Filmmaking or creative writing would be good choices for someone who fell short by believing a piece of fiction was a documentary.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Technology Cleans Up A Dirty Habit

Now that the French are doing it, you know it's going to become a fashion statement that will sweep the world.

It's the electronic cigarette, a fancy device that delivers nicotine without the tar and the ash and the unpleasant smell.

It's not a cigarette, banned from television advertising. So you know you'll be seeing a lot of advertising, and soon. Which means it won't be long before your local politician will apply all the same tobacco taxes to it, to keep revenues up. If people start switching to e-cigs in droves, where will all the sin tax money come from?

Want to really aggravate some holier-than-thou anti-smoking campaigner? Suck on an e-cig in a bar or a restaurant where smoking is banned, and enjoy the frustration when they can't make you stop smoking in public where it's not allowed because you're not smoking.

There are the usual cries from the nannies among us who insist that e-cigs will encourage children to smoke and who knows what medical dangers lie within the nicotine vapor being inhaled. Movie stars will make it look glamorous, and now that the French are discovering the e-cig, it will be nearly impossible to stop the fashionistas from indulging.

The traditional manufacturers of tobacco cigarettes are getting into the field, recognizing the shift that is taking place. As their product is pushed towards extinction, the lure of nicotine addiction finds a new method of delivery and the old school corporations are not going to miss the vapor boat on this product. As long as people remain hooked on the nicotine, they'll want a way to get it, and that means profits.

It isn't exactly like smoking, but when you want a fix and you don't want to stand out in the cold to smoke, all you have to do is pull out the plastic stick shaped like a cigarette and enjoy the rush in comfort. Your doctor will applaud you for giving up tobacco and all its cancer risks.

Your local taxing body will thank you as well, as soon as they figure out how to make you pay for your habit that isn't dirty any more.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jury Selection And How It Evolved

The ordinary citizens who will decide if George Zimmerman is guilty or innocent face a battery of questions from the prosecution and the defense. Mr. Zimmerman, charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in a case that swings on a controversial self-defense law in Florida, will be judged by a jury of his peers. Those peers must demonstrate that they are neutral, have no set opinion about the highly publicized case, and swear to listen to the testimony before reaching a decision.

It's the system that has evolved, but there was a time when a defendant in a high-profile case was judged by a jury comprised of those determined to convict no matter what was said in court.

Go back to 1889, when Chicago police detective Daniel Coughlin was arrested on a charge of murder in a case that riveted the nation.

The prosecutors thought nothing of packing the jury with men whose minds were made up, their opinions based entirely on press coverage that provided a platform for Coughlin's enemies. It was the norm, and had been done previously to convict the Anarchists who dared to speak out for an eight-hour workday. The trial that followed the Haymarket Riot was seen as an achievement for justice, with four men hanged for killing policemen when they had nothing to do with the killing.

The jury was packed again when Daniel Coughlin stood trial for murder, but his Irish-American colleagues were also investing Chicago political circles, extending the reach of the Irish immigrant into the government of the State of Illinois. The method of choosing jurors came under fire when one of their own was on trial, and so they legislated fairness.

To read THE KING OF THE IRISH is to witness the evolution of the jury selection process, as a case of blatant injustice based on bigotry and fueled by political intrigue led to marked changes in the way that a jury is impanelled.

There was a time when a man could be sentenced to hang because his political beliefs did not match those of the prosecutor and the judge. Expect the potential jurors in Florida to be asked all about their attitudes towards guns, self-defense, and vigilantes. Almost 125 years after Daniel Coughlin's conviction, the system has evolved, to reinforce the concept of innocence before guilt is proven in a court of law.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

If Donald Murray Is Correct And All Writing Is Autobiography---

As a teacher of writing, Donald Murray takes the "write what you know" concept to another level, declaring that writers put themselves in their works. Hence his claim that all writing is autobiography. What you know is what you have experienced and those experiences color all of your prose.

In that case----is it any wonder that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter's once forgotten novel has been
resurrected for a second printing?

The plot involves some anonymous Teachta Dala engaging in an affair with his secretary. Granted, it was first published in 1989 when Mr. Shatter was a much younger man, but could it possibly be based on some actual experiences? Could someone interpret the literary obfuscations and masked identities to figure out who the secretary might have been?

For some reason, there is a new demand for the old book, so you know that someone must think there is truth to the whole autobiography possibility.

Consider what was labeled "steamy" in 1989 as compared to today. The prose is virtually tame by modern standards, so it isn't being read for fifty shades of sexual charades.

Of course there is always the possiblity that Mr. Shatter's political enemies will use the racier bits to try to embarrass him. It's not as if he wrote some action hero, political espionage and international intrigue work of fiction. He had to go and write what he knew, but how much did he actually know about a TD and secret trysts?

Although with the Magdalene laundry redress scandal running particularly hot these days, it's likely Mr. Shatter would welcome a change of subject, even it is potentially humiliating and a source of mockery.

An author needs a thick skin, after all, to deal with the critics. Not everyone will love your book.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Deadly Words

Journalists report on what is going on in the world so that the rest of us can make informed decisions. They are a necessary component of modern society, for without them we would be stumbling in the dark, unaware and lacking the interpersonal link that is news.

Sometimes that news, those words that are written to inform, are dangerous. Words on a sheet of paper can anger, and there are those who do not want words about them to be made public. Certainly the recent leak of classified information about United States government spying on its citizens has generated outrage and anger.The actions of Edward Snowden have been followed by exclamations of shock, threats of incarceration and jail sentences stretching out to infinity.

A journalist in Northern Ireland has run afoul of a more dangerous element than a democratically elected government, and the threats issued to her are deadly.

It is not the first time that a journalist's words have brought on intimidation from the group being written about. The Ulster loyalists have been known to mail bullets to journalists with whom they disagree, suggesting that another story will be the writer's last. Another exposure of the gang's secrets will be silenced.

Martin O'Hagan
The National Union of Journalists is calling on the dissident groups, both republican and unionist, to stop trying to scare their members into silence. The journalists need look no further than the case of Veronica Guerin, who dared to report on criminal gangs that were terrorizing Dublin until her words were silenced by her assassination.

In 2001, Martin O'Hagan was shot down because he dared to expose a paramilitary group, revealing the true nature of the organization that wanted the world to think it was just a bunch of freedom fighters. Journalists realize that they could be just as dead for daring to inform the public. They certainly are aware that Mr. O'Hagan's killers have never be found.

Writing stories should not be a dangerous profession, but in some places a reporter takes their life in their hands by daring to express the truth.

We owe them a debt of gratitude for being so brave, for not backing down when they are intimidated. A news story that reveals the truth that some would like hidden should not require an armed guard and living with fear that a string of words must be carefully chosen or completely erased to safeguard the writer's life.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Platform Of Lies Is Still A Platform

Non-ficiton writers must have credentials to be taken seriously by publishers. Not just anyone can write on a given topic and expect to get published unless they have some solid standing, a platform from which to display their expertise.

A history professor at a large university, for example, could write a book about some historical incident and publishers would consider how large that writer's position is in terms of platform. Does said professor speak outside of the classroom, yielding an opportunity to hawk the book? Is this writer well-known in the academic community, enough to entice buyers to lay down cash?

You could be incredibly intelligent, gifted in wordcraft, and have your manuscript utterly ignored if you do not have the sort of platform that publishers require.

As disgraced author Jonah Lehrer has demonstrated, you can build your platform of lies and plagiarism and still be taken seriously as an author.

After HMH pulled his biography of Bob Dylan under a cloud of accusations, Mr. Lehrer has now convinced Simon and Schuster that he's capable of making money for them. The plagiarist who cost HMH a bundle on printing and pulping costs has sold a book idea to some other sucker who is satisfied that his platform is strong enough to support a tarnished reputation.

There are suckers born every minute, as we all know, and the publishers know that too. S&S is banking on people who know nothing of the Jonah Lehrer plagiarism scandal to snap up his next offering. They are counting on the outraged public to buy the book just to see what is in it, even if it means blog posts and news articles that resurrect the plagiarism charges. Sure someone, or a few someones, will buy the book for the sake of culling it for examples of plagiarism to prove that Jonah Lehrer never should have been given another publishing contract.

The only thing that will influence publishers is money. It wasn't HMH buying up the manuscript about the power of love and something about redemption. Having been burned, they didn't go back to the flames. Let the book-buying public ignore Mr. Lehrer's newest offering, and as sales fail to meet expectations, the rest of the publishing industry will feel the heat as S&S gets singed.

At the base of every author platform is a financial footing. Should that foundation wash out, the platform tumbles and the author is left to find another profession, a pen name, or a small niche publisher who is satisfied with the smaller sales figures to be had in selling to those who are fans of the author and don't know a thing about plagiarism.

Friday, June 07, 2013

What Would Mr. Selfridge Say?

The jewelry department at Selfridges
You can just picture Jeremy Piven, in his Edwardian costume, standing in the middle of the store aisle with glass crunching under his polished shoe. This, however, is not the stage set for the PBS series Mr. Selfridge. It is the real Selfridges department store in London, where thieves executed a smash and grab shortly before the shop was due to close.

In a scene reminiscent of more modern movies, the criminals took sledgehammers to the glass cases that held valuable jewelry and watches. You've seen it many times before, with speed being of the essence and if the caper is really well planned, one of the raiders will be carefully monitoring the time so that they can all speed off before the police can arrive.

It's not a crime for the greedy who don't know when to stop.

What would Mr. Selfridge have said about the robbery? Would he have instituted some advertising campaign to bring in the paying public who would show up to gawk and go home with their wallets a little lighter?

What would he have said to the members of that paying public who saw two men fall off a moped as they were speeding away from the store they had just robbed? It isn't every day that you encounter a pair with a satchel stuffed full of high-end watches, in a desperate hurry to get away from the famous store. The would-be thieves might have seen how the smash and grab works in fiction, but in real life, ordinary people will hold suspicious characters for the police.

How many were involved is not yet known, but at least two of the gang are in custody.

What would Mr. Selfridge have said? Would he have taken to Twitter and announced that "everyone is safe and the police are investigating"? Would he have opened his tweet with "Hi"?

Not a chance. Jeremy Piven would never have played it so weak and so lacking in good marketing copy.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Agents Wearing Two Hats

Hats are not as popular as they once were, but there are still certain occupations requiring head gear to identify the wearer. The carabinieri of Italy are perhaps the most stylish of all law enforcement personnel when it comes to covering their heads, and you can always spot a North Korean officer by the enormous size of his hat.

Literary agents and publishers aren't known to walk around New York City in anything that sets them apart from the rest of the crowd, but if they did, perhaps their hat would look something like the one pictured here.

More and more, literary agents and publishers are joined together, with one side of the firm looking towards selling manuscripts and the other side creating e-books for the same clients.

The latest to jump on board is the Gersh Agency, which has announced a joint venture with Diversion Books. Gersh will have its own imprint for its authors and will offer both digital and hard copies of new titles or backlist re-issues.

No one seems to be talking much about the ethical conflict of interest in an agent also being a publisher, but then again, what might someone say? There has long been an assumption that an agent would not work hard to sell a manuscript to one of the major publishers when the same agent has the option of acting as publisher and possibly making more money.

The other side of that coin, or hat if you prefer, is that the agent has the option of getting an author's manuscript into the hands of the reading public, especially if that manuscript is a niche publication or something not likely to lead to millions of copies sold. Good books are not all best sellers, and agents who want to do all they can for their clients are looking at ways to bypass the traditional route rather than let quality writing gather dust in a drawer.

Gersh Agency can use their venture with Diversion Books to promote clients in a way that the major publishers no longer do, and thereby create reader interest. It is not unlike an internship for the author who needs experience on a resume to win a publishing contract. The literary agency, in this case Gersh, supplies the environment and the mentoring.

The publishing industry is changing because of new technology that makes it easy to publish electronically. Literary agents looking to best represent their clients have noticed that the slow-paced traditional publishers are not moving fast enough, so they are moving in. The ethical question has evolved from a concern over conflict of interest to a fear that an author would be ill-served by an agent who did not act as publisher.

Wearing one hat may be more of a detriment as the industry grapples with change. And it is certainly becoming more fashionable among literary agents as they copy the style of their pioneering colleagues who took the risk when others were not so sure it was an attractive option.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

France Discovers What The World Already Knew

They were too busy sitting at sidewalk cafes, sipping wine and nibbling on cheese, to notice what everyone else was saying about Amazon.

Aurelie Filippetti avec un livre
The destroyer of bookshops, the French culture minister has labeled Amazon. The online shopping behemoth is murdering French culture and the rest of the publishing world can only marvel at how long it took Aurelie Filippetti to notice what has long been a concern in publishing circles.

Amazon, it cuts le prix and offers free shipping, which a brick and mortar shop cannot do because they must deal with le overhead and all those taxes that France likes to pile on in an effort to bring le deficit in line with national GDP. Because Ms. Filippetti has figured out what it is that Amazon does that hurts French bookshops, she would like the government to make rules to stop it.

Sure it would make books more expensive in France and wouldn't boost sales because who has a sous to spare these days, but at least the government would be seen doing something. The socialists aren't all that popular these days as it is, so a little publicity would go a long way in boosting the image.

Let them eat cake, err, no, let them charge for shipping. And no more discounts on books. And all those other things that Apple is saying in the U.S. court to defend themselves against charges of fixing prices to counter Amazon's attempt to create a monopoly so Amazon can raise prices after the competition is dead.

In non-socialist countries, the books sellers have been forced to improve customer service, to work harder at providing a more unique experience for the customer. They have done what they can to set themselves apart from Amazon, which can only offer a lower price. You won't have a little electronic voice come on when you're surfing the website, to tell you about that novel that isn't in your hand or to recommend some other book if you're fond of whatever genre you're told the clerk you're looking for.

Part of French culture involves sitting in cafes, sipping wine. But there is that other part that involves strolling along l'avenue where the book sellers display their wares, both used and new, and you have to slow down to take a look and open the cover. Amazon can't replicate that, no matter how deeply their books are discounted.

To preserve this fragment of culture,the new legislation must include clauses to make it illegal for the French to follow human nature and seek the cheaper alternative when making a purchase. That would put Amazon out of business in no time. That's what their whole business model is based on.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Competition That Looks Like Price Fixing

Apple would like to convince Judge Denise Cote that they are not guilty of colluding with the major five publishers to fix prices on e-books. Even if she seems to have made up her mind that they are guilty as charged before the trial gets underway.

Pundits wondered why Apple went to trial at all in the price-fixing case brought by the U.S. Justice Department. The publishers settled out of court in an admisison of guilt, didn't they? So that means the case has merit and Apple is going to lose?

It could just mean that the publishers decided to cut their losses and take the settlement rather than pursue an expensive legal case. Apple, being the offspring of Steven Jobs, isn't all about caution.

Price fixing implies an intent to artificially raise prices and gouge the consumer, but Apple plans to demonstrate that its "agency model" for e-book pricing actually resulted in lower prices.

The Justice Department wants to prove that Apple got together with the publishers who were being battered by Amazon's attempt to create a monopoly (once Amazon succeeds, Justice will be all over it, but until then, it's all about Apple) and set the price of e-books.

That, the law says, is non-competitive and it's competition that forces prices lower and benefits the consumer. It benefits book sellers as well, assuming that readers buy books within the context of a book-buying budget and will buy until it is all spent.

Apple has claimed that the publishers came to them to work out some sort of deal that would rein in Amazon, which had already set a price on e-books at $9.99 whether the publishers liked that price or not. Because Amazon was the biggest seller of e-books at the time, the publishers felt helpless and so they turned to Apple to ride in on a competitive horse and save digital publishing.

Why is Apple tackling this trial rather than settling?

Could it be that they want to expose Amazon's business practices as monopolistic and more worthy of government intervention than the "agency model"?

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Report Is Half Full Or Half Empty

For many long years, the women who slaved in Ireland's Magdalene laundries were ignored as those whose lives were shattered by incarceration in the industrial school system were having their say and arranging compensation for their suffering.

It has only been in this past year that the Irish government apologized to the forgotten Maggies, seventeen years after the last laundry closed and bodies turned up in a laundry cemetery, the women unnamed and their deaths undocumented.

Those who sought justice for the Magdalenes had to go to the United Nations and plead their case because the Irish government would not listen. The UN demanded a full report from Ireland, and a report was prepared that led to Enda Kenny issuing an apology on behalf of the Irish State.

The report, however, is not exactly what the United Nations Committee Against Torture was looking for. A report that is half empty is not going to be accepted as a full and detailed reply to the many issues that were raised by the UN's investigation into the inhuman treatment doled out by the Sisters of Mercy or the Good Shepherd nuns.

And a report written by the government bodies being investigated for colluding with the Sisters to incarcerate women against their will is not what the UN asked for when it asked for a thorough review of what happened for decades behind the high walls and locked doors.

How did it come to be that a pregnant, unmarried woman could be locked up without trial and without a defined period of incarceration, to work for no wages and have her child taken from her whether she wanted to give it up or not? By what law was a pretty girl locked up because her parish priest thought her too tempting to the local boys? Who determined that the girls born to the Magdalene women would be sent to the laundry in their turn when they were too old to remain in the industrial schools?

Where, the UN Committee asked, is the testimony of the survivors? Where is the State's plan to pursue criminal charges in regard to the cases of abuse? What about a compensation plan? Will the funds go to the women who paid the price of a policy designed to contain females, or will the solicitors reap the benefits?

A report half empty is not as good as one that is half full. If the Irish government thought that the United Nations would be satisfied with it, they have learned that the UN is not such an optimistic group as the State might have hoped.