Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: The Ghost Bride

THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangzshe Choo was represented by Jenny Bent.
The book club has been coming up with some odd selections this year, but I can't tell if it's because that's all that is available at the local indie bookseller or if some of our members have different tastes in books.

At any rate, THE GHOST BRIDE is a work of some genre I don't normally read. Is it magical realism? Is it a historical fiction fantasy? What does one call a fairy tale?

Li Lan is the daughter of a once prosperous merchant, and her mother is dead. Aren't most of the Disney princesses cursed with dead mothers? The setting is Malaysia during British rule, a time when the old ways were still alive. The reader has a chance to discover an interesting culture, but if you aren't in the mood for frequent explanations you will grow weary of the lessons. Which is why I took to skimming, in search of the meat of the tale.

This being long ago times, Li Lan is most interested in securing a marriage contract but her opium-addicted father isn't up to the task. The best he can do is field a request that she marry a dead man and be a ghost bride. Again, the author is delving into old customs and the concept is well explained and rather fascinating.

After that, the story devolves into dreams and ghosts and a fanciful tale of the afterlife, as if Orpheus had become a Chinese girl but instead of searching for a lost love she is searching for the answers to a murder mystery.

So in a way the book is a whodunit, but told from the perspective of the dead.

Li Lan must undertake a perilous journey outside of her body and cross over to the other side, so to speak, where she must avoid capture by strange creatures while spying on some dead characters who are plotting a revolt in Hell. There's the dire consequences right there. If she fails, all Hell breaks loose on earth. And then there is her body still at home, and she must return before she reaches the point of no return, in which case she will be really dead and not just in between states.

There is a late developing romantic angle that ties up the loose ends but still falls a little flat, even though it keeps with the element of fantasy.

I can't say I really enjoyed the novel but that has more to do with my personal preferences. To me, the story was silly, like an updated retelling of children's stories that don't translate well into adult fiction. There are those who like to escape into fantasies, however, and they may find this novel to be entertaining.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

No Birds Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film

Location scouts searched the globe to find a place that was unusual and not well known to the general public. The next 'Star Wars' film had to be shot against the right backdrop, but where on earth was that other-worldly place to be found in this world?

Cameras and crew arrived at Skellig Michael, a piece of Irish rock that was so isolated the monks went there to escape the distractions of life. Out there in the Atlantic Ocean, all windswept and perfect for quiet contemplation and prayer.

After the monks left, the United Nations went in and declared the place a World Heritage site. It's that special and that important, to be preserved for all and not just the Irish. Sure there's plenty of other sites to go around, but the UN is after protecting each and every one just the same.

Which is why Unesco is pestering the Irish government about this 'Star Wars' business. It's a Unesco heritage site and no one asked the UN if it was acceptable to allow an entire movie crew, with all their equipment, to set up camp and use the island for commercial purposes.

Not that they had to. But, it would have been nice. Just in case, you know. In case the Irish are incapable of managing the place on their own.

Tourists are allowed to take boats to the island and tour the remains of the monastery, but we're talking about hundreds of tramping feet in regard to the film. Feet and generators to power the lights and the accomodations necessary to feed and house all those people who walk about on said feet. And who's minding the grips and best boys as they set up lights? What if stones get knocked down in the process? Who will guarantee that nothing is harmed, not only the structures but the flora and fauna?

 Birdwatch Ireland is concerned that birds might be harmed in the making of the picture. To have such a crowd milling about, and the birds accustomed to privacy, what if the birds are startled and leave their nesting sites? Might they then fly in circles until they drop into the ocean? This being the breeding season for several birds that call Skellig Michael home, some birders fear that the birds will not breed because their nesting area is overrun with actors in costume. The presence of Jar Jar Binks would annoy many a bird into skipping the egg laying if only to avoid the annoying character.

Filming is scheduled to wrap up soon, and after the work is done, the government body responsible for minding Skellig Michael will make a tour and complete a thorough assessment. The Irish Film Board has already assured Unesco that things were arranged so that no birds or other objects were harmed in the making of the film, so stop worrying over nothing. The specific locations used by the film crew were selected so as not to disturb the birds or damage the structures.

The government will prepare a report for Unesco and you just know that the report will present a glowing image of an undisturbed area, with happy birds flying to and fro, the females sitting happily on eggs in untouched nests.

Might we expect Unesco to alter their requirements for the use of these sites? They leave it up to the locals to determine if the area will be suitably protected and don't ask for advance notice, but now they're making noise about not being informed even though Ireland wasn't required to so inform.

There just aren't enough layers of bureaucracy, apparently.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Provoked To Murder, or, It's Always The Woman's Fault

Shahzad Hussain thought that his estranged wife was having an affair so he attacked her and the man he thought was her lover.

So it's her fault, right?

That's how Mr. Hussain's legal counsel wanted the jury to see the issue when Mr. Hussain was tried for murder and attempted murder. The judge, however, did not paint the proper picture for the jury and now the whole thing has to be re-adjudicated.
The cousin made him do it

During the initial trial, Mr. Hussain claimed that he suspected his wife was cheating on him. The scene is quite muddy, what with Mr. Hussain and his then wife living with the other man in the same apartment. If he really did think the missus was having an affair with the flatmate, why not give the flatmate the boot or go find another place to live?

The jury may have wondered the same, but that isn't the question that plagues Mr. Hussain.

The party of the third part was his wife's cousin, and somehow related to himself as well. You might think that a meeting with the aunts and uncles would be the proper venue to hash out these sorts of differences, what with the marriage having been arranged by the family. The relatives were still living back in Pakistan and how do you discuss scandalous behavior over the phone where who knows who else is listening and then the neighbors get wind of it and before you know it the whole village is gossiping about you behind your back. The shame. The infidelity just couldn't be treated with such a lack of privacy.

Given that level of distrust, it is no surprise that the marriage eventually failed and the aggrieved wife left in 2010. Mr. Hussain clearly did not leave the woman alone after she demonstrated quite clearly that she was finished with her spouse and his excessive jealousy that bordered on paranoia. Again, the jury might have felt that he had no business stabbing her and the cousin nearly a year later, but Mr. Hussain is riding the provocation horse because the law does allow for action taken as the result of being provoked. In which case it's manslaughter, not capital murder, and the sentence is less.

The Court of Criminal Appeal has determined that the jury did not receive proper instruction on the nuance of provocation because the trial judge failed to adequately explain things.

Mr. Hussain has been granted a new trial, in which he will again attempt to demonstrate that it was he was provoked by his ex-wife's behavior and that was why he tried to kill her and successfully murder her cousin because he thought she was having an affair. It was her own fault, and he believes he can make a jury believe that.

It's a tough sell, because the jury will still be considering the rest of the facts surrounding the trial. Little details, like Mr. Hussain disposing of the knife in a bin after the attack. And then not calling the emergency services when he saw that the two victims were seriously injured. And then getting rid of his phone and sim card. When the gardai finally caught up to him, he claimed that he didn't know how the woman got hurt and she must have fallen on the knife.

Not exactly the sort of thing a jury wants to hear from a man proclaiming his innocence becsause he was provoked.

And the provocation? That was the cousin, telling Mr. Hussain that they were in Ireland and not Pakistan and people could do what they liked.

Mr. Hussain may want to insist on a jury comprised entirely of men because women are absolutely not his peers, but he will then discover that he is, indeed, not in Pakistan but in Ireland.

Then again, he's in the nation that locked up women for the crime of being attractive to men. That provocation excuse just might find an accepting ear.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Running Out Of Children

How many shootings this weekend in Chicago? The newspapers are keeping a running tab. That's how bad things have gotten in certain parts of Chicago.

Children are being shot and sooner or later there won't be any children left to shoot. Then what will the gangbangers do?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a solution to the problem.

He will bring in more children. Maybe as many as 1,000 illegal immigrants who have been showing up at the southern border with an understanding that they will be allowed to stay.

Chicago, Tegucigalpa, it's all the same
Those who favor the importation of children from Central America like to point out that the unfortunates are fleeing drug gangs and violence. Clearly these kids have plenty of experience, then, and would fit right in to the environment in Englewood and Woodlawn. When they hear the guns going off in Austin, they'll know just what to do.
"While we have our own challenges at home, we cannot turn our backs on children that are fleeing dangerous conditions," the mayor said."

It's like on-the-job training for these future victims of gun violence. The children from Honduras will be more than comfortable in an atmosphere that duplicates the one they know from home. Random gunfire, ricochets, the chance that they could be shot while sitting in a friend's living room....the only difference could be in the language.

Rather than house all 1,000 bodies in a single location, the mayor plans to spread them out in existing residential sites. Again, there is an overabundance of abandoned residential sites in Englewood, Austin, or just about any other drug-infested neighborhood in Chicago. It's just a matter of pulling the boards off the windows, replacing the fixtures that were torn out and sold for scrap long ago, and there you have it. Authorities seeking such parcels are looking for places where the kids can be housed without attracting a great deal of attention (read protestors whose tax money is going to pay for the housing, food, clothing, education, medical care, etc.), and no one goes to the shooting galleries on Chicago's south and west sides unless they have no choice. No protestors would show up there.

1,000 fresh bodies to replace the over 1,000 young people who have been shot this year.

That's one way to re-populate Chicago.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The House Of Cards Wobbles

Why is Amazon so absolutely determined to wring further concessions out of Hachette Book Group?

The answer has arrived, as investors knew it would, as soon as Amazon released its quarterly reports. The figures tell the whole story, and for those who grumbled long ago about the irrational exuberance that drove up the behemoth's stock price, they are having their day.

Jeff Bezos has earned enough out of his brainchild to buy up the Washington Post, but overall the company is losing money. You could go into business for yourself and sell goods at a low cost, but if that low cost doesn't cover expenses, you aren't turning a profit. Not that you want to turn much of a profit anyway, because that is what gets taxed and if you are lucky enough to have a clever accountant you'll draw a nice salary for yourself but never pay any sort of share to the government.

At any rate, Amazon has posted a net loss in the second quarter, despite an increase in sales. Investors were expecting a loss, given the costs to expand offices and distribution centers that are actually investments in future growth. The loss, however, was much more than anticipated.

There is a limit to how low you can price goods. A time will come when investors won't want to take a chance on you because you aren't turning things around as you should. People who invest in your company, the stockholders, start to thinking that they might lose their investment if you run the company into the ground and go into receivership or if the debt has to be restructured or if the company itself has to be broken up into bits and sold off to appease the creditors.

If you sell low, you have to buy low, or the system collapses.

There are economies of scale, of course, and Mr. Bezos has structured Amazon to take advantage. Hence, the notion of an "everything" store where the consumer enters and leaves with everything. Maybe you only came for the deep discount on the e-book, but there are so many other items there and you won't have to get out of your pajamas to make the purchase and that free shipping, well, it's a bargain. For Amazon, there are plenty of goods to be sold at a higher profit margin and that higher profit margin can make up the difference on the loss leaders. Because Amazon buys in such large quantities, they can pocket a portion of the discount they receive from the supplier and pass along a much smaller discount to the consumer.

Amazon needs to pay less for books so it can maintain its level of discounting to the end consumer while increasing its profits on every book sold. If it does not, that loss per share figure is going to stay stubbornly high, and investors are not enamored of corporations in which the loss per share does not decline over time.

The investors start questioning corporate decisions, like adding a line of smartphones to compete with Apple when Apple has such an enormous head start. And when investors ask too many questions at annual meetings, the board of directors gets nervous because their jobs depend on the votes of the stockholders and it's just as easy to tick 'no' on the ballot as it is to vote 'yes' on the retention question.

Besides the unexpectedly high quarterly loss is the advice for the third quarter. The operating loss is predicted to be far, far higher than it was for the same quarter last year.

A boycott of Amazon, if it takes hold, could very well tumble the house of cards that is already wobbling. Yet to give in to Hachette's demands would lead to a decline in discounts granted by the other publishers, and then the cost of doing business would go up instead of down.

Where will Jeff Bezos find the glue to hold his cards together?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Please Shut Up

Jeff Bezos as a Hindu deity.
Wouldn't it be grand to go back to the day when Amazon was just trying to become the world's largest bookstore instead of these modern times when it has morphed into an unwieldy, oversized monstrosity? Before it turned into Godzilla...or perhaps Lord Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.

Companies must grow to survive. Not unlike rats that must continuously gnaw lest their teeth grow to fatal lengths.

So Amazon grew itself, bigger and bigger, but as it grew it also developed greater power over the book industry. The bookstore that Jeff Bezos started has grown to such an extent that it is able to dictate terms to its suppliers, who know that Amazon is their primary market and to lose that market would be to seriously damage the bottom line.

The conflict between Amazon and Hachette Book Group is part of that growth strategy, in which Amazon can squeeze a little more profit out of its dealings with publishers. The publishers are pushing back, however, and the authors published by those publishers are very vocal about their personal displeasure with Amazon's tactics.

To which Amazon says, Authors, please shut up.

Those unhappy authors have formed a group called Authors United to provide a unified front intended to protect the authors whose books are not being pre-sold or quickly shipped by Amazon in Amazon's bid to bring Hachette Book Group, and then all the rest, to heel.

To make those united authors nervous about their future sales, there are some solid statistics to show them how very powerful Amazon really is. The numbers are something to think over when considering the influence that best seller lists have on book buyers and how many copies an author might sell.

Amazon introduced a book-borrowing service called Kindle Unlimited which allows subscribers (paying Amazon for the privilege) to download an unlimited number of books to their Kindles. The author gets paid after 10% of the book gets read, but they don't get their $9.99 or $2.99 list price. They get some portion of a pot of money that Amazon controls. The pot is as big or small as Amazon makes it, and all the authors who participate in the program get a share. Which, again, is as much as Amazon wishes to give.

Not a great deal for authors, but what of the best seller list that drives more eyeballs to your book? It is clear that Amazon is merrily manipulating the figures so that the books available via the Kindle Unlimited scheme are suddenly shooting to the top of the league tables. Not only are those who sell their souls to Amazon made to look good, but those who do not are getting left behind. In a way, Amazon is promoting those who stand to benefit the corporation the most, while those titles from publishers large and small who do not participate in Kindle Unlimited will be left behind.

Still the authors are barking about Amazon's tactics that smell just a little like censorship and book banning. Not cowed by the Kindle Unlimited maneuver, the authors have not gone quietly and now Amazon has taken yet another stab at quieting the masses.

Douglas Preston, who started the Authors United project, has reported recent contact with one of Amazon's executives.

What if, the suit from the corner office posits, what if Amazon went back to stocking Hachette books just like before, and Amazon would go back to paying the e-book royalties like before? But, and it's a big but, the profits that Amazon would normally turn over to Hachette as e-book royalties would not go to Hachette. No, all that money would go to a literacy charity. Grand, so? Charity? Literacy? Isn't it a beautiful thing altogether?

That way, the authors get theirs and Hachette gets nothing, and it won't survive long without money coming in to pay the editors and the assistants and the publicists and the people who clean the offices. Then they'll have to do what Amazon wants them to do, and isn't that all to everyone's benefit.

Everyone being only Amazon, however, and the authors aren't quite so stupid that they don't see that.

Please shut up, authors, Amazon says, and we'll turn these stones into bread for you.

And the authors response? Begone, Amazon. For it is written, you shall worship your publisher who took a chance on you and got your book out there to be read, and the publisher only shall you serve."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Choose An Ending

Love many ways to begin. So many ways to end. Which ending would you choose for this one?

A rugby player heads out to a dance after a match. He's in a large group with his fellow players, battered and bruised, talking over a play or bemoaning a lost opportunity to score, when he sees a pretty girl without a partner. The dance hall is crowded on this lovely night in Dublin, yet this one girl stands out from all the rest.

He's feeling bold, our lad, and he dares to approach. He finds a few words to speak, something relatively coherent. Will she turn away? Will she mock him? Is he too muscular and large, too British?

None of it. She returns his opening remarks with words of her own, and before long they are having a real conversation. He learns her name. They dance, but not too close, this being Dublin in the 1950s when too much of that sort of thing could get a girl incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry for immoral conduct.

He must return to his home in London, but they exchange addresses and they write to each other. After a couple of years of that, he invites her to visit him in his home town, and she accepts. She buys a pair of tickets to the theatre, a treat to thank him for the invitation, and he plans to take her to dinner at some posh restaurant. He's working now, with the Metropolitan Police, and that's something a man can boast of when he's trying to win a girl's heart. A steady job, one that comes with a pension for the golden years, and he can afford some small luxuries for the woman he's courting.

Police business calls him away and there is no theatre date, no meal, no evening out on the town. That was the end of it, as abrupt as that. She never spoke to him again. Maybe he felt that she should have been more understanding, given his profession. Work comes first when a man has a position of authority and there is a heater case to be solved. What was she thinking, he wondered. Where did it go so wrong?

Michael Freer lost the love of his life and now, fifty years on, he is trying to find her.

He is searching Ireland for Bridie Fortune, with a hope of rekindling the old flame. He's a widower now, and maybe she's alone as well.

How does this story end? Will they be reunited, or will we see her chatting with her friends after Mass on a Sunday, rolling her eyes as she decries the cheek of the man, to think she'd ever want to see him again after the way he treated her, and she spent all that money for the ferry across and the tickets and then to go home with nothing? The humiliation, the shame, and now after fifty years he thinks it can all be forgotten? Not likely.

Or will this become a romance, with the couple reuniting at the same dance hall where they first met, but now the dance hall is a bingo parlor filled with geriatrics like themselves.

Maybe the story will become a tearjerker as Mr. Freet discovers that his lost love died years and years ago, a spinster perhaps. Or she's a nun, dedicating her life to God when she thought she was soundly rejected by man.

You write the story. You have the prompt. Take it where you want it to go.

Reality won't be anywhere near as entertaining as what you can concoct in your imagination.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Will This Generation's Steinbeck Please Stand Up

Sales are slumping at McDonald's. Those who were regular patrons of the fast food joint find themselves so stretched financially that even the items on the dollar menu are beyond their reach.

Those who are doing well in this current economic climate tend to have nice little stock portfolios, and they also tend to eat higher quality food than that which is to be found at McDonald's. The ones left behind on the lowest rung of the ladder are surviving on local food pantry offerings and food stamps, which McDonald's does not accept.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the poor were readily apparent. They stood in lines at soup kitchens. They crowded freight trains that crossed the country, searching for work of some kind. They fled from Dust Bowl farms in Oklahoma, their caravans visible to any photographer seeking an image of hardship and hard times.

They are not so visible these days, except in the coldness of a statistic. The so-called "long-term unemployed" are just the unemployed of the 1930s, but you won't find a body of literature being produced that documents their struggles. Where is this generation's John Steinbeck?

The blue collar demographic was hit the hardest in the 1930s, and their experiences instilled a near mania for education. It was the uneducated laborer that featured prominently in Steinbeck's works, but who is writing about these people now?

Scan the New York Times bestseller list and you'll find plenty of mysteries and thrillers. A novel about two children during the Second World War. A female protagonist dealing with substance abuse. Not a single novel about children whose parents can't find work and must subsist on wits and government handouts. No stories about a carpenter living in his car with his family, chasing across the country in search of any kind of work.

In this age of beancounters, an acquisitions editor at a major publishing house would turn down such books because there is no perceived appeal. Those who buy books can't relate to those who need every penny they can scrape together to put gas in the car to drive to another state in the hope that a job is at the end of the road. Hence, no sales. No sales, no profit. No thanks.

New York's literary agents are college educated and no doubt studied Steinbeck extensively as English majors, but they only want what sells and literary fiction just isn't moving.

Steinbeck documented a subset of Americana that continues to fascinate. Why else is an adaptation of his novel OF MICE AND MEN currently drawing a crowd on Broadway?

But the modern day Lennys and Georges? Not so much. There's unemployement benefits, aren't there? Government programs to help those sort of people get by?

Monday, July 21, 2014

History Lost In The Loss Of Letters

A letter written to a family member is a personal document, a record of events that are framed within the context of the family's collective memory. Such anecdotes are not to be found in online archives among newspaper articles or old photos scanned to a website.

People don't write letters to each other any more. So one hundred years from now, where will we go to uncover the stories that remind us of our humanity?

Jeremiah Hennessey Sr. was a British naval officer posted to Ireland during a very troubling time. Trade unionism was roiling the island, with the Dublin Lockout of 1913 still very fresh in the nervous minds of the colonial rulers. The natives were restless and forming their own small militias with an intent to topple to the government and break away from the British Empire. Mr. Hennessey was hard at work training sailors for the Royal Navy at the start of the First World War. Tensions at the time were high.

His son Jeremiah Junior was a member of the Irish Volunteers, the very group that was preparing to do battle against British might to win Ireland's freedom.

The Hennessey offspring were aware that their ancestors had a rift and stopped speaking to each other, but if not for a series of handwritten letters between father and son, the reason behind the split would have been lost to history. The letters are a lasting testament of a family divided by politics, far more than a scattering of e-mails that require a password to access and after the writer is gone, so too is the password and so the mail is lost as well.

The case of the Hennessey family is a small part of the history surrounding Ireland's Easter Rising of 1916, but history is told through a gathering of such stories. Historians will describe the actions of the leaders, but what do we know of the mindset of the followers without their words, which were once put down on paper.

The father sat at a table and took up a pen and stated in no uncertain terms to his son that the lad was not to return home after participating in a gun-running operation that was intended to level the field between the Irish Volunteers and the British-supplied loyalists who were determined to maintain their hold on Ireland. Father and son were unquestionably on opposite sides in the conflict, and in this case there was no reconciliation or an attempt by a father to understand his son or a son to ask forgiveness of his father.

The family has donated the items for a display that is part of a lead-up to the centennial of the Easter Rising. A part of history will be available for the public to read and perhaps gain a better understanding of who did the fighting that won them their freedom. It gives the citizens of Ireland a hint at the sacrifice involved, with young lads who tend to feel invincible doing something a bit mad as they chaffed at the restrictions of the Edwardian Era.

Without those letters, however, how would we know now what was actually happening then, and what the ordinary people thought about the tumult around them?

One hundred years from now, will our descendants have a way to be educated about the past so that they do not repeat our mistakes?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chopped: The Post-Natal Version

Sometimes you have an employee that you want to let go but it isn't in you to give someone the sack. So you hope they leave of their own accord. Maybe decide to become a stay-at-home parent.

What can you do when that person comes back to work after having a baby, despite your most fervent prayers?

The best you can do is build a case for the action you will soon take. Prepare documentary evidence and then announce, "You've been chopped!"

Sheree Young is accused of putting ketchup on a hamburger, in clear violation of the customer's order. For that, she was let go from her job at a takeaway in Letterkenny. It wasn't just that, of course. One small complaint isn't enough to warrant such an extreme reaction. The owner of the restaurant where she worked as a cook also claims that she was on the verge of poisoning half of Letterkenny. The owner, it would appear, has watched numerous episodes of Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares", where you'll hear that very expression repeatedly.

Ms. Young had just returned from maternity leave when Giles McGee began to document her ineptitude. If only she had stayed home to mind the baby, he never would have had to go to such lengths to get her out of his kitchen.

The sad affair began soon after Mr. McGee took over the restaurant. Ms. Young sauced an order that was to be served without the red stuff. The customer assured Mr. McGee that it wasn't the first time, and as the owner, Mr. McGee had to be concerned. If someone doesn't want ketchup, and they keep getting it even though they don't want it, they will simply take their business elsewhere.

So he wrote the complaint down and gave it to the cook, to put her on notice.

Ms. Young went off on maternity leave, had her baby and wanted to come back to work, a most unhappy occasion for Mr. McGee. He didn't want her back, and as far as he was concerned, he didn't have a place for her. But the law is the law, and he had to take her back. It didn't mean, however, that he had to keep her.

The log of errors began in earnest.

There was the case of the undercooked taco mince, with all its raw meatiness threatening disease to the consumer. There was the time Ms. Young heated garlic mayo in the microwave, thereby creating a delightfully warm environment for the various bacteria that are so fond of egg products. The chicken was cooked beyond recognition. All in all, she was proving herself more than incompetent. Indeed, she was a danger to the health and well-being of the greater Letterkenny area.

After two weeks of gathering evidence, Mr. McGee gave his cook the sack. He was ready for the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The case of unfair dismissal has begun, and Ms. Young's solicitor has duly noted that half of Letterkenny did not fall ill during the previous four years of Ms. Young's employment when she worked for the previous owner of Charley's Cafe. Hence, the claim of Mr. McGee is false. It could also mean that the previous owner of the cafe had lax standards which is why they got out of the restaurant business, but that may all come up later.  Or it could be that Ms. Young was angry at Mr. McGee for not wanting her back, and so she decided to get even by acting the part of incompetent cook. We may never know the truth in a case of he said, she said.

The initial phase of the hearing has concluded and the matter has been continued until later in the year. Perhaps that will give both sides time to find further evidence to prove their case, although it is clear that Mr. McGee has a leg up on that task. He has already written down all the things that his former employee did wrong, and about all she can do is say she didn't do what he says she did.

So what next? Do they have to bring in witnesses to affirm the charges and counter-charges? Or will the tribunal just fine Mr. McGee and let him go without forcing him to take back a cook he doesn't trust with the health and safety of his clients? A little something for everyone, so.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Inclusive But Exclusive

Ireland may not be as Catholic as it once was, but old habits don't disappear as people move away from the traditions of their youth. A person may not go to church every Sunday, or any Sunday for that matter, but they could still feel that the ethos of their nation is Catholic because that's just how it's always been.

For Irish schoolchildren, that has come to be a problem in the eyes of the United Nations.

Most of the schools are under the control of various religious organizations. The Christian Brothers still operate under the guidelines established by Edmund Rice. The Sisters of Mercy are instructing children just as they were instructing children one hundred years ago. Parishes have their schools that are tied to the parish and so heavily influenced by the local priest. Parents send their offspring to the same schools that they attended, and never consider the religious angle.

Not so the United Nations.

Immigration and the influx of foreign workers in the employ of the large multinational corporations that call Ireland home are using the schools for their children as well, and all it takes is one disgruntled parent to complain and the UN is on it. Not all these newcomers are Catholic, of course, and they didn't attend Catholic schools and they can't send their children to the same sort of school that they attended because those are not easily found in Ireland.

To begin with, the average Irish classroom has a crucifix displayed on the wall, and in a prominent location. If your child isn't Catholic, you might fear that the symbol would be enough to instill an urge to convert, to be like all the other kids in the room. Or maybe you just don't like the sense that your precious baby is made to feel different because the cross isn't part of your personal faith, or lack thereof.

Then there is the time alloted for religious instruction. Part of attending Catholic school is learning how to be a Catholic, but if you are a follower of Islam or any Protestant faith, that won't sit well.

So the UN has heard the complaints and is strongly urging Ireland to be more "inclusive" of others in their schools. And the Minister for Education has compiled a report with numerous suggestions on how best to achieve that.

Let those who wish to opt out of religion classes do so. That way, the child can be stared at as he or she leaves the room while everyone else gets to stay. Single out the non-Catholics by making them stand out from the crowd, and won't your child thank you. Grant them a bit of exclusivity in the name of inclusivity, and don't wonder why your son or daughter hates you for it.

And about those religion classes. Instead of daily instruction, make it once or twice a week. And then say that the kids being pulled out of the classroom are heading off for special education. You know, make it look like they need extra help. Learning disabled, that's always a safe label that won't harm the child's psyche when friends ask why the kid is getting hauled out while everyone else stays for lessons.

The crucifix will stay. Minister Ruairi Quinn wouldn't dare suggest otherwise. Practicing Catholic or not, the average Irish voter doesn't want outsiders coming in and changing things that have always been there because the newcomers want to inject their customs into Irish culture. But if some other religion has some symbol that is used for festivals or such, let the school set aside a little exhibit area so the non-Catholics can fee included. As long as other children don't make fun of the items, in which case a new set of instructions will have to be issued by the bureacracy.

We can't have this new inclusivity lead to further alienation. Just because children long to fit in doesn't mean that adults can allow that to happen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If Stephen King Were Irish He Would Live Here

Can a house drive its residents to kill? The very notion sounds like the plot of a Stephen King novel, where a normally inanimate object comes to life...or perhaps we should say death.

There is a house in Lixnaw, in the quiet countryside of Kerry, that has seen more than a reasonable amount of death in the short amount of time it has stood on the side of the road. Locals think the place was built in the 1950s, after another house was razed. Right there you've got to wonder what went on in that other house, to perhaps make the ground itself imbued with some sort of horror. Like a miasma, you can imagine the evil penetrating through the floor boards of the replacement structure and infecting the new house.

Most recently, Susan Dunne was murdered in the house by her eighteen-year-old autistic son. She was well known in the area, given her leadership of Kerry Autism Action, and she often spoke out in support of aid to those dealing with autistic family members. What better advocate than one who is dealing with the very issues another is struggling with, but in the end, Ms. Dunne dealt with the most difficult issue of all in the growing physical strength of a young man who was mentally incapable of controlling that strength.

One tragedy is not enough to result in a local demand that a home be knocked, however.

Before Ms. Dunne took up residence, another resident of the house was murdered while in Wales. Before that, a tenant was killed in a road accident. And before that? Tragic deaths struck two other families, for a total of five deaths.

The confluence of tragedy has left local residents with a sense that the house is tainted and should be removed, so that no other unsuspecting resident will suffer. Given the record of deaths associated with the place, no one in the area would ever consider moving in, and you can bet that anyone from outside the area who was looking for a new place on the edge of a bog would be thoroughly warned off by the neighbors. Superstition? Or is merely coincidence?

A motion was floated at the last council meeting, and it is highly likely that action will be taken to demolish the cursed structure and leave the home's history to be told as ghost stories. For now, Ms. Dunne's personal belongings remain in the house until her family can remove them, but they will need time to get over the shock and sorrow. So the house will sit, unoccupied, dark and cold, where children will run up to the front door on Halloween, meeting the challenge of a dare.

There is a story to be told, the skeleton of a plot residing in the timbers and plaster of an unassuming council house in the quiet countryside of County Kerry. What better writing prompt could you ask for, heading into a summer weekend?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Elder Abuse Next Door

The woman who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD does not do public appearances. She has not written another book since that first one, and doesn't grant interviews to talk about her book. When she does talk to a reporter, she doesn't have much to say about her personal life. She guards her privacy.

In short, Harper Lee has largely retreated from the world, and the world is that much more fascinated by the author who penned a novel so powerful that it is still read and discussed.

Given that level of fascination, it comes as no surprise that someone would figure out a way to probe that which is hidden behind the curtains of the home where Harper Lee lives with her elderly sister Alice. Go in through the back door if the front door is locked, in a way, and Marja Mills waltzed right in.

THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR is scheduled for release in a few days, and the book is being sold as a cooperative effort between Ms. Mills and the subject of her expose. Early reviewers chirp about the interesting anecdotes and isn't it all true because Ms. Harper Lee was behind Ms. Mills and granted her access and at last the veil is lifted.

Except Ms. Harper Lee begs to differ.

Through her lawyer, Ms. Lee has issued a letter in which she states very clearly that she did not cooperate in any way with Marja Mills. The only access that was granted came from Ms. Mills managing to rent a home next door to the Lee sisters. Isn't that convenient. And then Ms. Mills proceeded to make friends with Alice, who at 100 years of age was exhibiting the sort of neighborliness that you'd expect from someone who was raised in a more trusting time.

Sure if the neighbor stops by for tea you invite her in and have a chat. It would be rude to shut the door in her face, and who would expect that she was setting you up so that she could pump you for information about a famous sister and the childhood that shaped an author.

As far as Harper Lee is concerned, Ms. Mills took advantage of her sister and it wasn't long before Ms. Harper figured out what the new neighbor was about. The author managed to avoid the woman, which sounds like a bit of misery and inconvenience visited upon someone who just wants to be left alone.

There was no cooperation, but there was a purported neighbor being all friendly for nefarious purposes. Marja Mills crafted a statement for her publisher, in which Alice Lee acknowledged that her sister had cooperated with Ms. Mills in the writing of the biography, but there again Ms. Harper Lee sees elder abuse. 100-year-old Alice didn't write the statement, but she was convinced to sign it, and anyone who would move in next door to worm her way into an old woman's confidence wouldn't hesitate to talk that same old woman into signing a statement.

"The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills’s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle."(Penguin overview)

Penguin is touting the cooperation angle to sell the biography, but Harper Lee the subject of said biography has declared that she didn't cooperate at all and so, the publisher's marketing is false. Caveat emptor, in that case. You may think you're getting the inside story but you're getting nothing but the connivances of a clever manipulator who took advantage of an elderly woman who did not suspect the ulterior motives of her neighbor.

"It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a great friendship" according to Penguin, but when Marja Mills moved in next door, it was the begiinning of a clever bit of manipulation to get a story that is all but guaranteed to sell because the world is fascinated by Harper Lee.

Who did not cooperate in the making of THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR, despite what Penguin wants you to think. Could there be a lawsuit in the future?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Based On Fact, Written As Fiction

How much fact do you need in historical fiction?

Some, to be sure. Readers have at least a slight understanding of the time period you're writing about, and they are likely have a sense of what was happening in the world in, say, the Regency period or the First World War or the American revolution.

But isn't history dull and plodding?

Too much of it could be when you're writing a novel. Novels need a story at their core, a narrative arc that takes the reader from exposition through climax to close. Yet you want your novel to follow the facts of history so you don't end up with plot holes that make no sense because what you've written would have been impossible, or a certain character was dead by the time your novel opens. So you need history, but how much?

In today's Irish Times, a group of authors discuss their use of historical research in novel writing. They all have different styles, and make different uses of what they uncover, but the principle they follow is the same. When writing a novel, focus on the story. That is why the reader is with you. If they wanted all the history, they'd pick up some non-fiction and make a thorough study.

Depending on which author is offering an opinion, you would want to either conduct full research before writing, while writing, or after the first draft.

Whatever works for you is the essence of the advice. If you tend to get bogged down in details, you would probably do well to write the story first, to move the characters through your various machinations to create a good yarn, and then verify that what you have could have happened. You'll be asking a reader to suspend disbelief and you can't stretch them too far or they won't buy it and then, well, no one buys it and that's the end of selling through and good luck getting a second book published.

For some, the historical research is where they find their story, somewhere in some obscure incident that makes the author ask "What if?". You might be reading a treatise on the Dublin Lockout and wonder what if one of the women working at the soup kitchen was the daughter of a fierce loyalist and what if that fierce loyalist was really an old Fenian waiting for the right moment to spring a rebellion? A TERRIBLE BEAUTY is born.

There are, then, no hard and fast rules when writing historical fiction in regard to how to do the research. That research must be done is certain, but how it is done and how it is incorporated into the novel depends on the author and how the author works best.

The main requirement for writing historical fiction is the same as that for writing any sort of fiction. There has to be a story that the reader can get lost in, and the world that the writer creates for the reader has to be believable.

Friday, July 11, 2014

When Fiction Is Not An Option

Who wouldn't like free wi-fi?

We're all addicted to our little electronic devices that keep us in touch at every second. There is nothing that cannot be found when you have a smart device and a connection to the internet, and if you can get that connection for free, you won't hesitate to Google some question that must be answered at once.
Something for nothing? Now that's fiction

Of course, nothing is actually free. Someone has to pay, and if it isn't the end user, then it's got to be the advertiser.

Gowex entered the world of free wi-fi hot spots with all the enthusiasm that techies could muster. Founder Jenaro Garcia was quite the entrepreneur over there in Madrid, where he managed to convince enough money holders to give him the means to launch a new wi-fi network that would eventually grow big enough to be supported entirely by advertising revenue which would then pay for the system. He marketed an opportunity to reach countless eyeballs with the advertiser's message, every time a user went online using the Gowex system.

The pitch worked so well that Mr. Garcia was able to expand his network to other major cities. He needed investors to stretch out across the globe, and investors like to know that they can expect a return on their investment, so he switched careers and took to writing fiction.

Revenues? Sure, here's the perfect revenues in a perfect world and the investors suspended disbelief. They put their money behind Gowex, the great fiction work of 2014. The bubble has just been burst. Mr. Garcia was rumbled and his imaginary revenues have been exposed as false. This being the business world, his attempt to craft a piece of fiction has not been well received. It's all non-fiction, all the time, on Wall Street.

Gotham City Research LLC did some due diligence in regard to Gowex's financial statements, not unlike someone who reads a piece of historical fiction and then digs into the archives to see if certain events really did happen when the novel's author says they happened. Except in this case, there was real money involved, and someone at the research firm just wasn't buying the world that Mr. Garcia built.

As it turned out, he overstated revenues. He lied about the number of hotspots in the New York City network, exaggerating the number so that things looked good. He made up a figure for the amount that the city was paying Gowex for the wi-fi system, and then shrank the figure a little when Gotham City Research started asking questions, but even that was fiction.

The rosy projections and sales figures were pure fiction, and it did not take long for Gotham City Research to raze the imaginary world that Jenaro Garcia had created in his head and then put down on paper.

Gowex has filed for bankruptcy, the fiction so shot full of holes that no one would believe the story and if no one believes, the story won't sell.

Mr. Jenaro has been relieved of his duties as CEO while the company's remaining executives try to salvage what they can. The idea is still viable, but whether or not free wi-fi hotspots can really be provided without cost to the user remains to be seen. And since investors have been stung already, they may not be all that interested in putting even more into Gowex, with or without the firm's founder.

It's disappointing to a reader when the fiction world that an author has tried to build doesn't hold up throughout the novel. Especially when you've invested your money in the book and there are no refunds.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Most Important Concert Series In The Universe

So it went like this.

Garth Brooks hired a promoter to set up five concerts in Dublin which would serve as the launch of his tour. The man hasn't been on tour in something like fifty years so his fans are ecstatic. They buy up tickets for five consecutive nights at Croke Park; in the blink of an eye the tickets are gone.

Nothing much to worry about, except the planning process for concerts seems to run backwards in Ireland. The concerts were planned, promoted, sold out, and then the Dublin City Council said no to the five consecutive concerts because of an agreement signed back in Bertie Ahern's era that limited the number of concerts at Croke Park.
But maybe not to Dublin, without Divine Intervention

You'd think that the second coming of Christ had been upended, to judge by the uproar and the news coverage when the refusal was made public.

Residents of the area around Croke Park have protested the concerts and then protested the cancellation of the concerts, and through it all, Garth Brooks decided that he wouldn't bother making his first stop in Dublin after all. Far too much trouble getting kicked up, and it isn't worth the bother. Maybe they'll welcome him to London and he'll start off there, without the hassle. Europe's a big place. Some other country would host him. Italy has better food. The French have better wine. Who needs Dublin?

Now it's come to this. The Mexican ambassador to Ireland has offered to step in to help, like this is some sort of major international crisis. There are calls for An Taoiseach to do something, as if he were a concert dictator and could just declare that Croker would host the five performances and that's the end of it. Pro-Brooksites are calling on the President of the United States to intervene. The President. Of the United States. To intervene. For a singer to put on a couple of extra shows.

Why the madness?

In part, the flurry of words reflects Ireland's fear that it is being laughed at as a nation of incompetent yokels, a load of country bumpkins who can't manage even the simplest tasks. Not the best image to present the world when Ireland would very much like to be seen as a nation filled with highly-educated, computer-savvy workers who want you to relocate your business to their homeland. A savvy business exec would not feel entirely confident if he feared that the government overseeing the rules and regulations of his corporation couldn't even manage a license for a concert.

But that isn't the worst of it.

Because Garth Brooks has not toured for ages, his European fans planned to flock to Dublin for the show. The flock needs a place to stay, which means hotel taxes for the Exchequeur. It means tourists buying meals and souvenirs, thereby supporting local businesses that could use the boost. Tourism is critical to Ireland's financial well-being. The government wants, very much, those tourism euro.

Hotels that were once booked now have empty rooms, and in a display of goodwill, many are offering to cancel reservations with no penalties for those who were coming to see Garth Brooks. The hotel owners will lose money on the empty rooms, but maybe those same people who booked for a concert will some day go to Ireland for a vacation and remember the cead mile failte they encountered when they feared they were out of pocket on normally non-refundable fees.

Restaurants expecting an influx of customers in town to see Garth Brooks won't see that influx, and they aren't happy about the change. Those expecting five nights of work at Croke Park, taking tickets or working security or selling souvenirs, won't be working, and they aren't happy to lose five nights pay.

Why all the angst and wringing of hands about a cancelled concert series?

It's the lost revenue.

Ireland can't afford it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Battle Of The Assholes

Highly successful business people do not reach the corner office by being nice guys. If you've ever had to deal with one of them, you know they are assholes. Jerks. Demanding, petulant, mean, but they get things done and that's why they make the big money.

Highly successful assholes are waging war in the publishing industry and the masks have fallen in the heat of battle.

Amazon has been going at Hachette Book Group with all the ferocity of a determined asshole. Considering Amazon's financial picture, it's not such a surprise. The company sells a lot of stuff, but it hasn't been all that profitable. And Jeff Bezos has a high salary to maintain, so the money has to come from somewhere. How better to pad the bottom line than to squeeze a few more drops of money out of the vendors? Like Hachette Book Group.

The public, however, doesn't see books in the same light as they view luggage tags. Books have been banned for propagating dangerous thought. Books have been burned for the words they contain. You never hear of anyone calling on a luggage tag ban.

Amazon's fight against Hachette has resulted in a war of words that plays out in the op-ed pages of prestigious and well-read newspapers, which made the once private machinations a very public affair. The public, as it turns out, is leaning towards support for Hachette while Amazon gets the sharp end of the criticism stick. When Stephen Colbert uses his mighty platform of a popular television program to launch a boycott of your store, that's when you know you've gotten yourself into trouble.

Assholes lash out when they're losing because they don't like to lose, and Amazon has not failed to do something childish. Something that makes the corporation look petty, mean, and, well, like a bunch of assholes.

We'll go back to the way things were with Hachette, says the book selling behemoth, if Hachette's authors get all the royalties on the e-books. Hey, Hachette authors, isn't that a nice deal we're handing you? We'll buy your loyalty so you stop criticizing us in the press after we blocked pre-sales of your new books and made it harder to order anything from Hachette which punished you, okay, we get it now, sorry, here's a nice pile of money to make it all up to you.

To which Hachette's authors scratched their heads and mumbled, "What a bunch of assholes." Amazon is acting like an abusive husband trying to win back a battered wife.

Hachette pays their authors a royalty, unlike Amazon through its Kindle Direct Publishing program. To then suggest that Hachette give the authors even more, so that Hachette gets no profit at all from e-book sales, is more than ludicrous. It's the sound of a spoiled child acting out when it isn't getting its way and frustrated that the whole plan is going rapidly downhill.

The battle of the assholes will rage on because successful business people don't take no for an answer. They will do what they have to do to win, try one tactic and then regroup to try another if the first one fails.

A response from Amazon is to be expected shortly, as soon as the corner offices figure out how best to recover from a failed sortie.

Maybe someone will recall that old adage about not picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. All those authors not making sales, they're not happy, and they sure have a lot of words and places to spew them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Cost Of Cleaning House

It wasn't that long ago, when we watched banks tottering on the brink of insolvency. The real estate bubble had burst and there were all these loans out there, no longer worth the paper they were printed on.

Now comes word that the Vatican's bank suffered its own crisis as well, but it wasn't bad real estate investments that did it. No, this was all due to a thorough house cleaning.
The Vatican Bank - a veritable fortress

When the new Pope came in, he arrived with a broom to sweep out the dust of centuries. There was precious little God and a great deal of corruption in the bureaucracy that is the Holy See, and Pope Francis took to the bank with an intense desire to get to the very root of all evil that is money. Money of the ill-gotten gain sort.

First to go were small accounts that appeared to be dormant. Why keep things around that you haven't used in years? You know you'll never use it so chuck it in the bin and eliminate a little clutter. Then the bean counters looked carefully at each account holder, and it was apparent that the Pope intended to tackle the rumours of money-laundering and financial impropriety that tainted the bank. If the account was not being used in accordance with the bank's intended purpose, it was gone. The Vatican's bank exists to manage the Vatican's money, or to send money out to the far-flung missionaries doing God's work. It is not to be used by those who just like the convenience of having an account with the Church, especially when that convenience can be aided by a bribe paid here or there so that the clerk looks the other way.

The Vatican does not operate a bank so that fake donations can be washed clean of corruption on their way to a cleric's private funds. Nor does it exist to loan money to production companies whose heads are close friends to the Vatican's second in command. Because if it does, then a part of the Vatican is stained by sin, and if you add in the sin of clerical sex abuse, the entire institution of the Roman Catholic Church starts to collapse under the weight of hypocrisy.

Pope Francis cleaned up the bank as part of a process of renewing the Catholic Church, and with that, the Vatican bank's profit for 2013 was wiped out.

3000 accounts, terminated, and the bank suffered a financial hit.

It makes you wonder just what was going on at the bank, if prudent financial management stung the bottom line. Was the profit the result of corrupt practices? Did the bank do well for itself by allowing criminal acts to take place, while those in charge looked the other way or took part? Those shady investment deals that were wound down, was that what kept the bank in the black?

What kind of church are they running there in Vatican City, anyway?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Voice In Narrative: The Inexplicable

Novels have a voice, which you may have learned when an agent rejected your manuscript because they did not fall in love with the voice of your particular offering.

And off you go, to find out what is 'voice' and how can you fix it so that someone will take you on as a client.

What you will find is that voice is not easily defined, and so it it not easy to explain. If it's there, someone might say, I can hear it. Little good that does you if you're after repairing it.

In today's Irish Times, the ongoing series of articles on writing touches on voice, but the authors who are questioned don't really have a simple explanation of what the voice is. They know their novels have a voice, and they are aware of its presence. They can manipulate the voice to create the tone of the novel, but what is it, exactly?

The voice is what you hear in your head as you read. It is made up of the words that you write, of course, but the words will have a rhythm to them that is only apparent when you actually read them. The best way to understand voice is to read a great deal and listen to what you are reading instead of concentrating on the plot or character names or settings.

Read extensively and you'll come to see that characters are well-written when they don't all sound the same. People have different ways of talking, whether it is long passages or short answers. A teen speaking to an adult would largely grunt, for example, while the adult could ramble on and on trying to extract some slight fragment of information from said teen. Someone in the throes of depression would offer up a word or two but would keep the dialogue largely internal. Using real life experiences helps an author create the voice of the novel, if it's YA or a navel-gazer.

Read outside your preferred genre to get away from a captivating story that could distract you from your analysis. This is reading for study, like homework, and not reading for pleasure.

Voice is difficult to explain, but it is there in a manuscript. Struggling with voice? Read your manuscript out loud and listen to it. You'll hear the clunky bits, the sections that don't work. Maybe it's a case of you trying to write the story, when it's the characters who do the telling. The characters give the voice, and if you are writing, you have to let them do it their way.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Putting The Garth Before The Course

Planning permission must be allowed to run its course, but concert promoters in Ireland put Garth well out in front, before the detail work was done. The license was not in hand before the promoting began.

Garth Brooks has big plans, with a comeback tour due to launch in Dublin's storied Croke Park. It must have been very uplifting for the American country music star to learn that 160,000 tickets were sold out within days. His Irish fans were enthusiastically looking forward to hearing him sing.
As close as Garth Brooks may get to an appearance in Croke Park

The plan was for five shows on consecutive nights. The planning commission, unfortunately, didn't go along with the programme.

Even more unfortunate, the denial of permission to stage the concerts as originally conceived has come after the promoters did all the promoting. And the ticket selling.

People living around Croke Park got wind of the five night spectacular and promptly launched a protest. The noise, they cried, the crowds and the anti-social behavior among those taking an excess of drink. Croker is only for GAA events on a Sunday afternoon, or perhaps the occasional Saturday evening, but when we moved into the neighborhood we never expected the park to become a concert venue.

What was Dublin City Council to do?

Those most likely to vote in an election affecting them were stomping about out front, loudly complaining about the inconvenience that would be visited on them for five full nights. Bad enough that they had to endure the disruption that was three nights of One Direction earlier in the year.

But with Garth Brooks? So much worse, with an adult performer attracting fellow adults and adults like to drink and some of them get into fights or shouting matches and how is a voter to sleep?

So the council reached a Solomon-like decision and told the tour promoter that Mr. Brooks could pick three of the five nights. What was sauce for One Direction was good for Garth Brooks. Equal treatment. Now go pick which 64,000 fans will be disappointed.

To Mr. Brooks credit, he refuses to make the choice, which could do his reputation more harm than backing out completely.

His sets are too big and complex to tear down and rebuild at another venue in the amount of time his tour has for its Irish stop, so the suggested alternative of two nights at another site is made moot. The decision of the council, having been made, is not up for appeal and he has reiterated his decision as well. It's five nights, or none. He'll move on to the next stop and launch his tour from what would have been the second stop.

That means 160,000 tickets to be refunded and 160,000 fans not at all happy with the Dublin City Council or the residents of the Croke Park area who have denied them their evening's entertainment.

There is precious little time left to resolve the problem, with the concerts scheduled for the end of July. With planning permission taking ten weeks, it is impossible to move the Garth Brooks appearances to some other site in Ireland, where local residents would not be quite so inconvenienced.

Fans of Garth Brooks who live near Croker are organizing a counter-protest, demanding that the concerts be allowed as first planned. There is money to be made from the tourists with plans to come, and isn't the government desperate for any way to make a little extra money without squeezing the Irish taxpayer? Isn't it foolish to let who knows how many million euro be lost for the complaints of a few who probably don't like country music at all?

In future, if the concert promoter isn't bankrupted by the lawsuits filed by those with non-reimbursable expenses for plane tickets or hotel rooms, he may well be sure to have that license in hand before opening ticket sales. It's safest to have permission before inviting people to come, especially if there is a chance that the guests will find the doors closed when they arrive.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Amazon Knows What Is Best For You So Sit Down And Be Quiet

Amazon's new policy
You can usually tell when bad publicity is reaching its mark, and that is when the company on the receiving end of the criticism comes out with a statement that is supposed to fix things so the negatives stop flowing.

Amazon, which is under heavy attack for its Mafia-like squeeze on Hachette Book Group, has tried a counterpunch against a publishing industry that is not falling into line like the rest of the widget makers who sell via Amazon.

There is something about books, and the dissemination of knowledge that they represent, that has the reading public upset. After making itself the vendor of greatest convenience and thus greatest volume, Amazon is making it very difficult to purchase and pre-order Hachette's books. Smells a bit like censorship, but Amazon is only trying to strong-arm Hachette into taking a cut in profit so Amazon can make more money.

So maybe Jeff Bezos started out with an intention to put the customer first. To listen to the customer's needs and then find a way to fill that niche. That was then. He's a high roller now. And the customer isn't dictating to him any more.

He knows what you need. So go sit quietly in the corner with your electronic device and order what he lets you order.

Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti has spelled out the new policy. Rest assured, dear customers, he says. Amazon is taking Hachette down because we know it's best for you, the reader. You want cheap books, don't you? Of course you do. We want you to have cheap books. Don't question us. Stop talking about us in that unpleasant way.

The tactics worked before, to bring Macmillan to heel. It's all about getting the buyer the best price. Don't go considering how much more Amazon stands to make by extracting concessions from publishers. Don't think about the authors who will have to pay in the form of lower royalties and fewer opportunities. It's all about you. It's all about you.....

But readers don't have the same relationship with the provider of their reading material as they do with, say, the factory that makes the garden spade they're looking to buy. The provider of their entertainment and information is an author, a person whose photo appears on the cover of the book. A person whose biography is found in the same place. A person with a website, a person a reader can write to and often get a personal reply.

It is little surprise that author Douglas Preston is getting the attention he is for the letter he wrote, setting out the facts about Amazon's attempt to rein in Hachette. His books are not available for pre-order because he is published by Hachette and Amazon is trying to punish Hachette. But it is Mr. Preston who suffers because Amazon is a behemoth book seller and the biggest book seller isn't letting people buy his book. By clogging up the book selling system, the authors are being harmed.

Mr. Preston is gathering signatures from authors willing to sign on to his letter of protest, asking that Amazon stop holding books hostage and stop blocking book sales. By doing so, Amazon is falling away from its old promise to be entirely consumer-oriented, and Jeff Bezos needs to be reminded of his origins.

And Amazon has responded by letting the world know that it is not going to be consumer-oriented any more. Going forward, it will be just like any other business, entirely profit oriented, and if innocent authors are hurt in the process, it's not personal.

It's only business.

Thank you, Godfather. We'll just take the cannoli. And leave the gun. Hachette Book Group? Oh, you won't see them around no more.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The American Revolution From The Female Perspective

With the Fourth of July coming up, you'll hear a great deal of talk about the Founding Fathers, those men who gave birth to a nation conceived in liberty. What about the women?

Colonial America was not united in a desire to be free of England, but that level of conflict is often forgotten when speakers make grand pronouncements about the bravery of the men who fought and died so that their descendants could be self-governing and independent. What of the women living in a divided society, where friendship and family were strong bonds put to the test by politics?

Katie Hanrahan has used these questions as inspiration for her latest novel, THE LIBERTY FLOWER, and it is a must-read for all who would like a deeper understanding of how the United States came to be founded and what ordinary people had to give up in order to gain.

The novel is set in Charleston, South Carolina, where the Revolutionary War was focused in 1780. At the time, the northern colonies were largely lost to the rebels and King George III wanted to hold on to the wealth of the southern colonies. Charleston was one of the wealthiest port cities in the colonies, and the men who possessed much of that wealth wavered in their support. Through the character of Sarah Mahon, a sixteen-year-old with all the sense of invincibility of any teenager, the reader is brought into the unrest of the time, when it was not clear that the rebellion would succeed.

The narrative follows Sarah's life through the tumult of war, peace, economic war and political chaos, from the battlefield through the financial panics that followed. Through her eyes the reader will discover the stubborn determination of America's merchants to conduct business in the face of British interference, and find that government policies often did more harm than good. There is a strong link between the past and the present, and Katie Hanrahan does a superb job in showing the commonalities that any American can relate to in the current political climate.

With a love story playing out through the length of this piece of historical fiction, the novel has a heart as well as intelligence. Why not download a copy and re-discover American history from the view of an ordinary woman trying to survive trying times. You'll gain a better appreciation for those who fought with their wits and hoped for greater freedom at the end, only to find that their fight had to go on as the ladies were forgotten in the struggle to mold a country governed by its citizens instead of a distant king.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

There Is No Religion In France

On the heels of the decision by the US Supreme Court in regard to religious liberty comes a ruling from the EU Court of Human Rights, and it, too, deals with religion.

American culture is so pervasive that non-Americans can easily forget that they have no guarantee to be free to worship as they see fit. Because in some countries in Europe, you can't.

Especially in France. They really don't believe in religion. You can't fault them, of course. When they rebelled against their king, the Catholic Church was a powerful and wealthy organization that worked hand in glove with the ruling classes, keeping the hoi-polloi suppressed. With so little love of organized religion from the start, is it any wonder that modern France has essentially codified a "no religion" stance?

Muslim women residing in France brought their exceptionally conservative cultural practices with them from Algeria, among many African nations once part of the French empire. As the population of immigrants soared, so too did French discomfort with roaming, shapeless sacks with eyes. If one of them committed a crime there was no identifying her, and who knew what was hidden under that billowing robe? She presents a document but how do you know it's really her if you can't see her face and compare a picture on an ID card?

The all-encompassing burqa presented a problem, but it also represented religion on legs, and so the French wrote a law banning the public wearing of face veils in 2011. Secular is all the rage in France, and secularism is the only permitted religion. Women could not opt to wear a veil if they wanted to, whether it was at their own desire or a demand from a male family member. There could be no public displays of Islam because in France there are no public displays of religion.

One woman sued, insisting that she liked covering from head to toe. It was her right, was it not, to practice her faith in her way? It wasn't a burden. It was not a demand made upon her, thereby infringing on her rights as a French citizen.

The EU court has said no, she doesn't have that right.

France is within its rights as a sovereign nation, and one that is known around the world for its fashion, to ban the wearing of face veils in public. Wear it at home all you like. But in public, off it comes.

Why is that?

Because in the EU, everyone must live together. By dressing in a non-EU manner, the Muslim women are trying to live apart, and that is an issue that overrides a woman's right to cover her face. With her face covered, she retreats from a society in which facial recognition is the norm. The veil serves as a wall to cut off interaction, and that is not what the EU is all about.

Practice your religion in the privacy of your home, but it must stay there behind closed doors. On the streets, you are just another member of the European Union and there is no religion in a bureaucracy.