Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Farewell To The Glory Of Encased Meats

Soon to be gone but never forgotten
There are those who laugh at the aficionado of the encased meat product. They scoff at those who waited in line for up to twelve hours on one of the finest Saturdays Chicago will see for a long time. They simply cannot appreciate the taste of a tube of ground meat served on a steamed bun with a variety of tasty condiments.

Hot Doug's is closing in a few days and those who once made the pilgrimage to the tiny corner restaurant will have no place to go for duck sausage draped in a blanket of foie gras. No more shrimp and grits as an accompaniment to a gourmet weiner. No more julienned potatoes fried in duck fat.

The line stretched endlessly on Saturday, with some arriving at 2 a.m. to be sure of eating a gourmet sausage one last time.

Cities are dotted with countless emporia that serve hot dogs. Different towns proclaim the glory of their local speciality, be it the salad in a bun that is the Chicago dog or the Coney Island hot dog with its frills of sauerkraut. But only Hot Doug's could boast of a sausage with foie gras that was nothing less than a slap in the face to some idiotic Chicago aldermen who put through a ban on foie gras sales in all Chicago restaurants. The finest eateries flinched and changed their menus. Hot Doug's said they weren't selling it but giving it away with the purchase of a sausage. Doug Sohn took his lumps and paid the fine and his fans made such a mockery of the anti-foie gras ordinance that it was soon overturned.

Farewell to the encased meats of Hot Doug's. The restaurant's sausages brought fine cuisine to the common man who might have been too intimidated for Charlite Trotter's and too poor for Alinea. We are truly sad to see you go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Signed And Sealed With A Kiss As Per Agreement

Away from home and parental supervision, the children get up to all sorts of mischief at university. They learn about their chosen profession, of course, which is why you are spending all that money to educate them, but you know they are learning how to be adults at the same time. It's a transition phase, those four (usually more) years.

If you are so fortunate as to send your child to school in Georgia, the one in the States that is, they will learn how to sneak around to have a smoke. Uncover hidden reaches where they can light up without being caught by authorities. There will be no tobacco products allowed anywhere on any campus in the entire state, which never had much of a tobacco industry anyway so there's no lobbyists to complain.

Your child will not be exposed to second hand smoke in a dormitory room or while walking the leafy environs of the campus. The huddled masses will no longer be allowed to congregate near the entrance of a building, puffing away. But neither will anyone be allowed to use electronic cigarettes, with their harmless water vapor emissions. That's what the kids will learn to smoke without detection. There is no smell to give them away. The vapor released is just water, the sort of thing that would dissipate in the same way the clouds of steam dissipate from the communal showers.

Learning how to skirt laws is an important lesson for the child to master. They'll never get far in this world if they don't.

If smoking is the least of your worries, then steer your offspring to the vast school system in California. At least you know that your daughter won't be sexually assaulted, or your son accused of the same by some girl he hooked up with at a party. No indeed. No sex will take place on a California university campus without the express consent of the parties involved.

Students in California will be trained in the fine art of contract negotiation. Or they'll discover the character-building value of celibacy.

When you were a student, you just didn't really know what consent meant when you found yourself alone with someone you fancied. Women might be worrying about how far is too far and should I let him, while the men were not thinking with their heads at all, beyond a little voice that whispered something about offering encouragement if the lady seemed to waver in her commitment.

As a parent, you won't have to worry about your child going through that same torment. The couple, or however many are involved in sexual activity at any given time, must all agree. There must be a contract so that no one can later go to the authorities and claim sexual assault.

For now, all it takes is a yes. As in, let's fuck, and she says yes, let's. If she's drunk, well, a lad might think he heard a yes so he'll be needing to look for non-verbal clues, like her not resisting. Again, if she's had a big feed of drink, the muscles just don't respond to the brain's call for resisting, so what else can a man do to prove he's been given pre-approval?

There will be a need for contracts which the California university system can post online for easy downloading by students caught up in the flurry of raging hormones and human curiosity. It's just a matter of time until the state takes that next step, now that they've made it a law for all involved parties to express their consent to sexual activity.

The schools will likely be offering a class on how to consent, and what better time to explain the legalese of the new state-mandated sexual activity contract that must be signed and then duly notarized. Sure all that coupling before the law changed was spontaneous, and sure there would be less sex if people actually stopped for a minute to sign a contract and had a chance for their heads to clear. Many a young woman would reconsider in the hard light of sobriety, when she waited for her partner to read the fine print before inking his signature. She'd be thinking about waking up next to the wanker and what kind of good morning would that be?

All the problems of sexual discovery, solved by a law. As Charles Dickens wrote in OLIVER TWIST, "If the law supposes that...The law is a ass ---- a idiot."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Darkness In The Empty Cave

In August, publisher Ellora's Cave sent a letter to their authors to inform them that erotica wasn't selling like it used to. More specifically, the publisher notified the writers of a sharp drop in Amazon sales, where most e-books are sold.

Why was smut not selling? Who could say, but the sales drop was steep and the loss was hurting the bottom line. Changes had to be made to turn things around, and changes were dictated that many Ellora's Cave authors did not like. Editing and cover art was going to be done in-house in future, and if an author had a favorite editor they liked, it was too bad. The publisher wanted to exert more control over the product because how else could they discover where the problems were hiding in that sales decline?

In the event that the problem was with Amazon, known to manipulate sales to bring recalcitrant vendors to heel, the publisher also encouraged its authors to get their readers to buy direct from Ellora's Cave. At least all the royalty that would go to Amazon would then go to the publisher, so there was that little boost to the bottom line to consider.
Hairless? Really?

Authors were complaining before the letter arrived because they weren't getting their royalty checks in a timely manner. Clearly, the publisher was having cash flow problems and was doing what it could to turn the mighty ship of erotica around, but it's tough to balance the books on the backs of the employees, as it were. There were grumblings and suppositions and suggestions that Ellora's Cave was going under.

By mid-September of this year, industry watchdog Victoria Strauss was advising potential Ellora's Cave authors to be careful in submitting to the publisher, which seemed to be following a trajectory suggesting it was indeed going under. Several Ellora's Cave authors had asked for their rights back, complaining of unwieldy pricing policies and the difficulty in getting paid.

There was a post on a blog that laid out all sorts of issues about the publisher that strongly suggested the owner of Ellora's Cave was living the high life while the authors went without and employees lost their jobs. After reading that, who would have any confidence that the publisher would be around much longer? And given that, you'd be mad to submit to such a publisher.

There may be too much competition in erotic publishing these days, what with the many self-publishing options available. Authors could bypass Ellora's Cave, especially those who had established a following, and cut out the middle-man (unless writing about a menage a trois in which case a third party is essential). A blog post that states the publisher was not worthy of consideration would only harm the publisher's chances of recovery, since authors have other options. What could the publisher offer of value to an author besides a brand and strong marketing that were worth the author's investment? If the firm was soon to be unable to do that, a key component of a recovery plan would be ruined.

Ellora's Cave has struck back with a lawsuit against the writer who published the blog post alleging misbehavior and financial mismanagement. The court filing takes on the blog post points and states that they are not true, that there is no funny business at Ellora's Cave and the blog poster is just being malicious and causing further harm that would send Ellora's Cave into a death spiral.

Is Ellora's Cave failing?

We won't know until the case is heard in an Ohio court and a judge decides if Ellora's Cave's rebuttal to the blog post has merit.

In the meantime, potential erotica authors will think twice before submitting, not knowing where their smutty manuscript could end up, and their publication rights with it.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home: A Book Review

Authors will often tell a story from the point of view of a young character, one whose innocence precludes the need to delve too deeply into a sensitive subject. There are countless novels of the Holocaust told through a child's eyes, with the child blissfully unaware of the bigger picture.

In TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME, Carol Rifka Brunt opts to follow the formula. The novel is told by June, who also follows the other stereotype as the 'weird' sister of the family. That makes the girl an outsider and it is always the outsider who sees things more clearly because they're on the outside looking in on the more popular kids.

The novel is almost historical fiction, with a setting in the late 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was so new that no one really knew the cause or how the disease was transmitted. June's uncle dies of AIDS early in the story, and June must come to grips with losing her beloved uncle while fielding the harshness of her older, talented, prettier sister.

Isn't it always that way? What more do you need to establish some conflict than pit teenaged sisters against each other?

So there's June in mourning and there's her mother (distant, of course and too busy to pay the daughter much attention) who blames the dead man's lover for essentially murdering her brother. It comes as no surprise that June, the outsider, is drawn to the lover who is naturally another outsider because he's a gay man. It's a bit of forbidden fruit, with June sneaking around to meet the man whom her mother despises, all to learn more about her uncle's unknown private life.

While she does this sneaking, June's sister falls apart under Mammy's pressure to excel, and as the story progresses we see the conflict grow between sisters who cannot communicate because they are too young to know how. They can only express themselves to each other by painting on top of a portrait their famous uncle painted of them right before he died.

The narrative has a tendency to drag through long bouts of navel gazing and ruminations on the rather insignificant, but when your narrator is a child, there is no room to spread out within an insular world. I found myself skimming through long passages, in search of the story that got bogged down in the mundane.

In the end, June saves the day, and her family arrives at a place of greater understanding. The novel could be labelled a coming of age tale, with little June growing up as she discovers the truth about her mother's tense relationship with the uncle, a relationship that mirrors June's tense relationship with her sister. It's all a lot of jealousy and misunderstanding that is solved with the deaths of those who came between brother and sister and then sister and sister.

Though rather long for a YA novel, this one feels like a good fit for angst-ridden teen girls who seem to find drama in nearly everything and often feel as if they don't fit in with the rest of their age group. They will easily relate to June.

Friday, September 26, 2014

David Bowie As Art

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art is hoping that Americans are so enraptured with David Bowie that they will come in droves to see what is sold as an art exhibit.

Is "David Bowie Is" an art exhibit, or would the collection fit better with another museum? A museum that displays old artifacts and presents anthropology in a slightly dry and dusty manner, perhaps?
Where does David Bowie fit in with this?

Museums are stretching the meaning of their message these days as the exhibitors try to find something that will interest people who have more entertainment options than they can process. Modern art, in particular, is a tough sell because not everyone is appreciative of a large empty room containing a plastic sheet sprinkled with dirt. Finding the deeper meaning can often be too much for a casual Saturday stroll when you're tired from the work week and just want to rest your eyes on something soothing.

The David Bowie-approved collection of his paraphernalia opened in Chicago and the critics don't seem to know what to make of it, either. It's a trip down memory lane for those old enough to recall the musician in his prime, when he was cutting edge in both music and performance. The stage shows were works of art, in their way, but it wouldn't be much of an art museum draw to just play a tape of some old concert.

A coke spoon pays tribute to the performer's drug addled days, but is that art or just a sad testimony to a life of overindulgence, fear of falling into irrelevancy, and boredom?

Are his costumes works of art? The hair, the make-up, is that art or is it all part of a production number that is less art and more marketing of a musician? Does the collection become art because of the way that the museum curators arrange it, is that where the art is?

That David Bowie was once aiming for a career in advertising would suggest that he's done a fine job of promoting himself with many of the attention-grabbing ploys of the advertiser. Yet we treat old posters as art and hang them on walls, often in art museums. It isn't what is being sold, then, but how it is being sold.

In part, the exhibit is a retrospective of David Bowie's career, in which he tried different styles and images in a bid to stay relevant in a changing musical world. There is an art to achieving fame and then keeping it, but whether that's suitable for an art museum is something to discuss over drinks after touring the exhibit.

And as long as you're in Chicago to see the evolution of a musical performer presented as an art exhibit, why not stop by the finest museum in the world and see what most would consider to be true art? The Art Institute of Chicago houses a collection that runs the gamut from ancient to modern. Throw that into the mix and the discussion on what constitutes art would be a lively one indeed.

Turtle Smuggling For Profit, or, Do-It-Yourself Vasectomy

A question for the men:

How much would someone have to pay you to tape turtles to your body so that you could smuggle them out of the country? Not just anywhere on your body, guys. To your legs and your crotch. How much?

Customs officials in Detroit caught a Chinese man of Canadian citizenship trying to cross back into Canada with fifty-one turtles taped to his legs and groin. Either the man was large or the turtles were small, to fit that many onto his body.

Did Kai Xu flinch as he walked through a parking lot in full view of customs officers? Did he waddle like someone trying to keep a bunch of snapping turtles from snapping his balls off?
Are you sure this won't bite the old twig and berries?

The agents have only said that they saw the gentleman disappear behind a tractor-trailer and then reappear ten minutes later, his sweatpants bulging in an odd way. Maybe the turtles were chilled to keep them still and Kai Xu was struggling to maintain his composure with ice-cold invertebrates pressing against his privates. At any rate, he attempted to drive through the checkpoint and he was promptly stopped.

And searched.

It would not take much searching to determine that the man either had an acute onset of some very unusual disease or he was covered with turtles.

Chinese herbalists like certain species of American turtles for the medicinal properties they think the creatures contain. Then there's the lure of turtle soup, and Oriental chefs will pay top dollar to obtain the key ingredient. An ordinary pond turtle can be worth over $1,000 in the market, and if you multiply that by 51 you can see why Kai Xu let that many slimy, potentially dangerous critters so close to the family jewels.

Kai Xu was working with a friend who was also in the smuggling trade, moving American turtles to Shanghai via a far more conventional method. No squirming, snapping turtles resting on his gonads for Lihua Lin, however. He simply packed his haul in a couple of checked bags, knowing that the chill of the cargo hold would preserve his valuable goods. At least his lower half was warm and dry when he was arrested at Detroit's airport, charged with smuggling wildlife.

Rather than return home, the gentlemen will spend some time with American law enforcement.

For endangering his manhood, Kai Xu expected a hefty return. Instead, he risked his nuts for nothing.

Which just goes to show that crime doesn't pay. Especially when one's genitalia are put at risk.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Poor Choice Of Words

We are dog fanciers, Mr. Cameron
One does not say that the Queen of England "purrs". Elizabeth II is not some pampered house cat.

The word "purr" might have expressed the Queen's attitude when she learned that the Scottish independent vote had gone her way. She wanted to keep Scotland under the United Kingdom umbrella. Her kingdom is small enough already and did some considerable shrinking over the course of her reign, so we would not be surprised to hear that she was quite pleased at the good news.

But to purr, like a contented cat?

Hardly the right word to use in reference to a monarch. Come to think of it, you really wouldn't want to describe any female as purring if you know what's good for you.

Now David Cameron has to find some other words to express how sorry he is that he claimed Her Majesty purred when he told her that Scotland was still British. For the use of one small word he must compile a string of others, because words have meaning beyond the surface. Words have a context and can express a larger thought without excess verbiage. It's all about showing, and not telling, and purr certainly shows that David Cameron should have thought a little longer about how best to tell anyone that Her Majesty was happy. Pleased would have been a better word. Delighted, perhaps. Thankful for the peaceful process that was the election.

But purr?

No, Mr. Cameron. The Queen isn't purring. By all accounts she is fuming at the insult contained in that nasty little four letter word. The comment was expressed to New York's former mayor Michael Bloomberg but having been uttered in a public place, it was overheard and then summarily reported by members of the press. What should have been kept to himself became a matter of much discussion in British circles, where that which is said between Queen and Prime Minister is not to leave the room when he walks out.

Writers are constantly being told to show, rather than tell. Can there be any better lesson than that learned by David Cameron?

Why Wait?

The best of intentions can be lost to dithering. You want to enter the contest to win a free copy of THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION but if you put it off, you are likely to forget and then where are you? Missing out is where, on the outside looking in.

Go on. Click on the linkin the box below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Second War of Rebellion by Katie Hanrahan

The Second War of Rebellion

by Katie Hanrahan

Giveaway ends October 20, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
You say you're living in England or Ireland and the contest isn't open to your sort? Not to worry. Newcastlewest Books has a plan to post a second giveaway, with fewer books because it's expensive to ship those things around the world. Or you could go to the website and navigate over to the contact page, where you can ask if there are any books to spare sitting around the office. There might be. It won't hurt to ask. Why should the readers in the States and Canada have all the fun?

If you're a great one for the thrill of anticipation, you can pre-order a digital copy of the novel and have it suddenly appear in your library on the 25th of November when the book is officially launched. It's also available for pre-order via Smashwords if Amazon isn't to your liking.

Wherever you go you can find a short sample if you'd like to read the opening pages.

Go on, why are you waiting? Today is as good a day as any, and by tomorrow you might forget.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Diversity In Publishing And Lost Readers

This is not exactly news, but it could be an alarm, not for an industry, but for society.

Publishers Weekly reports that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white.  Those who work in this industry are already aware of that fact. Those who follow the industry are likely aware of the majority whiteness as well. Look at any photo snapped at any industry get-together, from a book signing to a launch party to Book Expo America, and the faces are uniformly pale. And female, but that's another issue.

Why don't non-white types not go into the publishing game?

At first glance, you might rely on stereotypes of Asians and conclude that they are too smart to join an industry that pays little for long hours. They go into medicine for the long hours, and get paid well for the effort, unlike publishing which returns little more than satisfaction in seeing a beloved manuscript turned into a book for others to enjoy. Asians prefer the rigor of engineering to the artistry of prose so they don't choose publishing as a career.

What about blacks? Why so few black people in the publishing industry? Are we to conclude that black people don't read?

What has industry insiders worried is that the lack of African-American influence in what gets published is having an effect on black readership. If literary agents and acquisitions editors are not falling in love with manuscripts that will resonate with blacks, then those manuscripts are not being printed. African-Americans who peruse the shelves at bookstores or libraries then don't find books they can get lost in because there isn't anything within the pages that they relate to.

Not everyone cares for Maya Angelou's prose, just as some don't see what is so great about F. Scott Fitzgerald or Stephen King. Richard Wright and James Baldwin are fine if you want literary fiction, but how about some sci-fi or fantasy or romance or historicals? Just ordinary books that entertain, but also touch on the African-American experience in rust belt cities or sleepy rural enclaves.

The lack of readers leads to a lack of writers, and so the industry ends up reinforcing the existing population within the industry. Publishing will continue to be majority white if black kids don't develop some interest in reading and then grow up to be English majors. Without the right kinds of books, they do not find much to enjoy and reading then loses out to video game playing as the favorite leisure activity.

Big cities host all night basketball tournaments to get kids off the streets. Will there ever by an all night readathon for the same purpose, or has publishing already lost another generation of potential readers?

America's Got (Writing) Talent, or, So You Think You Can Write

Amazon long ago launched a novel writing contest that was supposed to find talent. Like all those televised popularity contests that populate the small screen, there is some notion that if a lot of people vote in favor of a person, that person must be the most talented and thus destined for greatness.

Can you name a winner of Amazon's breakthrough novel award?

Did you read one of the novels? Buy one?

As it turned out, a lot of people might vote in favor of a certain novel and wish to see it published, but in the end, there are not crowds of people waiting to buy that novel when it is laid down. The author gets a little publicity, and a line to add to the resume, but the contest has not discovered a blockbuster writer because there is a difference between voting on a small list and selecting your reading material from the many possibilities that sit on a bookstore shelf.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Second War of Rebellion by Katie Hanrahan

The Second War of Rebellion

by Katie Hanrahan

Giveaway ends October 20, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Then there is the preliminary round of culling the talented from the ordinary. Amazon supplies the judges, or should we say editors, who determine if a manuscript is publishable. Their tastes may not match what most readers are looking for.

For some reason, Amazon is determined to make this thing work. It will soon launch a new contest that will see the winner published. This contest will end with a digital publication, however, which will save Amazon some money. Especially if sales match those of the Breakthrough Novel programme.

So you think you can write? Dance on over to Amazon once they open to entries and submit your manuscript. Then get all your friends to vote for your manuscript. And have them get their friends and relatives and co-workers to vote for your manuscript. With an advance of $1500.00 riding on this, you might consider hiring a handful of day laborers to sit in front of a computer and vote for your manuscript.

When you're trying to get somewhere with a crowdsourcing platform, you need a crowd.

Does that have anything to do with how good your manuscript actually is, or does it say more about your ability to market yourself? If you think you can write but you also are very extroverted, with a large coterie of friends and relations, you will do better in this new system than someone who has genuine talent but is far too introverted to go asking around among strangers in search of support.

But what do you get in this beauty contest if you do win? Besides the $1500.00 advance, you would earn half of any net profit, which could be just about nothing. E-books are inexpensive to produce and you'd have to sell to a very large crowd to reach the advance, let alone to surpass it. And how much could you get if you just went out and published your e-book on a platform like Smashwords, where you keep a much larger chunk of the proceeds? Besides keeping the rights, which Amazon wants for at least five years.

Amazon is looking to get into the publishing game, and has not enjoyed much success of late. Can this be anything other than another attempt to put a charge into the venture, using the authors to do the promoting?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Easy Money In Hard Times

The new iPhone is out and if you absolutely have to keep up with the latest, if you have a reputation to maintian, you will buy one.

Modern technology doesn't come cheap, but having some piece of it can be of great importance to a person who needs objects to be validated. You can't be someone if all your friends are showing off their new iPhone while last year's model is sitting in your pocket, no longer cutting edge. How can you get the old mojo back?

For Lennie and Arica Perry, getting the old mojo back required a very clever little scheme to bring in some easy money in these hard times.

Mr. Perry is employed, or should we say he was formerly employed, by the city of Chicago. A public sector job like that comes with perks that the average blue-collar worker can't imagine, with pensions and overtime and all the rest. You'd think it would be enough, with an annual salary of $70,000 on top of the benefits, but it wasn't. Mr. Perry just wasn't making enough in Streets and San, where he operated a tow truck.

He could look around and see firemen moonlighting, so why not a tow-truck driver? What a man does on his own time is his business, right?
Towing 'R Us

Except Mr. Perry mixed the personal with the professional and he was soon caught. It was, on the surface, a brilliant idea to go into business for himself towing cars. It was not so smart to a) use his city-issued truck to tow vehicles and b) to employ his wife in collecting fines from the owners of those vehicles.

When the city of Chicago tows your car, you have to pay well over $100 to get it back. Mr. Perry thought of all those hundreds going into the city coffers, to be wasted on corruption and the connected in their no-work positions. Where was his? Why was he busting his tail towing cars when he only got his regular salary and the city got all the profit?

He picked cars at random and moved them, then waited for the driver to return. Sitting in his official city tow truck, he was sure to have the driver ask if he had towed the car. Then it was just a matter of directing the driver to the car where his wife was waiting. For a reduced fee, he told his victims, paid to Mrs. Perry by the way, the driver could avoid the impound fee that would be due on top of the tow charge. A deal all around. People went for it because they thought they were making out and Mr. Perry was a good guy for helping them out.

The towing scam was working fairly well for a couple of months until Mr. Perry had the misfortune to pick a driver who called police immediately after she paid off Mrs. Perry and got her car back. She likely had a feeling that she hadn't been illegally parked after all, and even if the tow truck driver was using an official vehicle, this is Chicago. The driver gave the police enough information and they were able to locate Mrs. Perry, and from there it wasn't too hard to figure out who was driving the tow truck.

Mr. and Mrs. Perry have been arrested for their misguided attempt to boost their bottom lines. For Mr. Perry, it is unlikely that he will skate like he did the last time he was convicted of felony theft and was slapped on the wrist with a sentence of two years' probation.

So much for giving felons a second chance over at Streets and San. You'd think there would be a long line of law-abiding folks yearning to be employed and making a fat salary, people who would never think to pull off a scam to get even more. Was it really necessary to give felons jobs that paid so richly? Or was Mr. Perry more clouted than others?

If only Mr. and Mrs. Perry had chosen to live within their means, to be happy with an outdated iPhone or an old car or last year's wardrobe. They would not have their mugshots splashed across the Internet, and Mr. Perry would still have a job, which is saying something in this era of high unemployment.

Maybe someone looking for a first chance could submit an application?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Icon Turns 80

Sophia Loren turns 80 today. What better occasion for binge-watching her films and looking back at another era, when female film stars had curves instead of bony protrusions.

The list of films is long.

It could take a solid week of viewing to get through them all, from her early days as an ingenue in Anna through some fine Italian movies directed by artists of the craft.

Her career has been remarkable, and unlike so many of her era, she has outlasted them and continued to appear on screen with some regularity. Her staying power is nothing short of exceptional. Through it all, she radiated glamor and sophistication while fairly smoldering with suggested sexuality.

Who has come along to fill her shoes?

Can you think of a star who has aged well, without resorting to extensive plastic surgery to stave off the ravages of old age? Maybe if some of those stars had some meat on their bones to begin with they wouldn't be looking quite so haggard today. But styles change, unlike Sophia Loren who was always Sophia Loren, the hot-blooded Italian woman of passion and emotion.

So happy birthday, Sophia Loren born Sofia Scicolone to an unwed mother. She grew up in poverty, survived the Second World War as a child, and grew up to become an icon of the cinema. Tanti auguri.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Where They Didn't Care About Independence One Way Or The Other

Any journalist could have done his report on Scotland's vote for independence from the big cities. It would have been quite easy for RTE's Philip Boucher-Hayes to stand on a corner in Dundee, maybe in front of some polling station, and ask passersby what they were thinking or how they voted or what they thought it all meant.

Philip Boucher-Hayes is no ordinary journalist.
Now the voice of experience

He wanted to get to the heart of the matter. Into the belly of the beast. so to speak. So he went to an area where social welfare is the main source of income. He selected an area near Edinburgh that is known less for its fine single malt scotch and more for its crime statistics.

Mr. Boucher-Hayes knows crime. He co-hosts an entire programme on crime so he felt that he was capable of conducting interviews among those who weren't concerned with economies of scale and EU membership because they have other things to worry about, like where they'll get enough money to put shoes on a child's feet.

The reporter soon discovered that his press credentials offer little in the way of protection and the fact that he's a journalist makes no difference to those who earn their keep by stealing from others.

The man who reports on crime in Ireland became a victim of crime in Scotland.

We'll never know if the robber voted yes or no, or what he thinks of the whole independence thing. Mr. Boucher-Hayes' recording equipment was stolen. In a high-crime neighborhood outside of Edinburgh.

He was likely stunned after some strange Scotsman grabbed the goods, too shocked to fight back. Once the items were out of his possession, he would have stood little chance of getting them back unless he was swifter than the thief, or at least much bigger. A good pummeling of a smaller opponent and the interview could be pursued, but Mr. Boucher-Hayes isn't such a young man any more and a physical altercation might have been too risky.

There was the reporter with nothing to record the interviews he was intending to conduct, and there was a mugger with equipment that he would have a hard time fencing because it was so easily identifiable. He'd have to sit on it for weeks, and what good would that do if he needed cash immediately? A drug habit is a hungry beast. as is alcoholism or any other number of addictions that would keep someone from working.

The mugger was a quick study, however. He offered to sell the goods back to the original owner for a couple of hundred pounds.

What was Mr. Boucher-Hayes to do but pay the exorbitant fee? He was dead in the water without the tools of his trade.

Such irony. The man who fields calls about Irish crime was soon making his own call to the authorities, two hundred pounds lighter, but with his equipment in hand. In case he wanted to interview the police who responded to the mugging. Maybe ask them about the vote and how it might affect the average Scottish junkie.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Divided Kingdom?

By Saturday, there may not be much left of the United Kingdom. Such an historic event, this possible disruption after three hundred plus years, but there is no armed struggle or rebellion or outbreak of fighting. The Scots will just go to the polls and decide what they were not in a position to decide in 1700.

The race is too close to call, according to those who study these things. A survey of Scottish writers, however, shows that the literary set are all in favor of independence from England. Even Robert Burns would have voted yes, according to politician and Yes-enthusiast Alex Salmond.

Business types are doing a great deal of hand-wringing and teeth gnashing, while those who earn their keep from words are looking at Scottish independence as a most favorable outcome. Why, there's all that North Sea oil and without London telling Scotland what to do, there would be more money distributed to those in need like the poor and the elderly. And authors and playwrights and poets.
Voldemort with a Scottish burr

J.K. Rowling, who has earned far more from her writing than the average Scottish author, is soundly against the effort to decouple the union. She's gone so far as to compare some of the Yes set to Deatheaters, which would make Alex Salmond the equivalent of Lord Voldemort apparently.

Her fellow writers decry the dystopian future that the nay sayers predict, seeing only that which is rosy and positive. It makes you wonder about the mindset, with those who deal in fiction imagining good things while those who deal with cold facts picturing a more dismal scene of a country fallen into poverty.

The writers are not asking about pensions and what becomes of them if Scotland is no longer part of the United Kingdom. They aren't overly concerned with the monetary system and what happens if the British pound is no longer the currency and the EU says no to using the euro.

All is not gloom and doom, however, in the worst case scenario of Scottish independence.

Allan Massie is concerned about what will happen with the arts in Scotland if England and EU membership are lifted. The acclaimed writer does not believe that independence would provide more benefits for the poor, but would end up hurting them because tiny Scotland would not be an economic powerhouse and sharing the burden with England is better for all. The arts will suffer as well, despite the best intentions and aspirations of those who urge a Yes vote.

But it is not entirely grim, according to Mr. Massie.

Scotland would not end up like Ireland at the end of its split from England. Thank God for that. No priests and Catholic Church running things, and praise be to God there is no Eamonn de Valera in the offing, to brush aside all the dreams of the rebels as he formed a nation to his liking.

By Saturday, Scotland may be an independent nation, dangling off a precipice and unwanted in the European Union by Spain which has its own problems with independence-seeking Catalans. But it won't end up like Ireland, so at least there's that little nugget of relief in a time of uncertainty.

But would a Yes vote mean a new push from another corner of the United Kingdom? That part that never experienced life with Dev?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Be Careful Of The Like

You click on the 'like' icon on some Facebook post to let your friend know you saw the post. Or you click on the icon because you are expressing your approval of what's been said.

Be careful what you like. You could face an investigation into your Facebook likes.

Maybe you shouldn't like this

Some teachers at Hinsdale High School in Chicago's western suburbs indicated that they "liked" a post about contracts talks on their union's page. The teachers and their union are agitating for more money, as happens every few years when it's time to negotiate a new contract, and the administration of the school is particularly sensitive to public discussions.

As often happens with posts that are just links to posts found elsewhere, there was a little extraneous content that showed up on the page. Unfortunate for the liking teachers that the link included an image from another story on the source website. Extremely unfortunate that the other story dealt with a bizarre traffic accident in which a car ended up with an axe impaled in the windshield.

School board members, who represent the taxpayers in negotiations with the teacher's union, saw the post or were told about the post. Some of them assumed that the teachers who "liked" the post were actually approving of the image, which reminded them of a scene from some teen slasher movie. In other words, they jumped to the conclusion that the teacher's union was advocating violence and seventeen of Hinsdale's teachers were giving violence a thumb's up.

And what do people do when they presume others are threatening bodily harm? They launched a police investigation and filed complaints and promptly informed the seventeen teachers that they were under investigation.

And what happened at the school board meeting when the taxpayers heard the board's reasons for opening an investigation?

Laughter, as you'd expect.

The board members were largely ignorant of Facebook and how it works. They didn't know about links and likes or what any of it means, and their outrage was met with derision by parents who are very much aware of what Facebook is all about because their kids spend most of their time on Facebook.

Needless to say, the objects of ridicule didn't think it was so funny. In fact, board President Richard Skoda took umbrage at the audience, berating them for laughing at such threats of violence. He only made himself look that much more out of touch.

The school's superintendent has ended the investigation before it really got started, but quietly, to avoid further harm to an out-of-touch school board that wanted to appear tough but came off looking like a herd of dinosaurs stumbling through a landscape that is changing too fast for them to keep pace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Pets and various small animals should be removed from a room that is about to be fumigated. Anyone applying pesticides would know that just by reading the directions on the label.

So when Sammy Sabic went into an apartment to spray for bedbugs, he removed a resident guinea pig first. And for that, he was arrested.
Excuse me but what did I do wrong and why am I arrested please?

Mr. Sabic is originally from Bosnia where they do things differently than you'd find in Chicago. He was working as a handyman for his landlord, which is a big help to a man who doesn't have the language skills to land most other jobs. What is a Bosnian refugee going to do for work, anyway, considering the state of the economy and the unemployment rate among the unskilled. He had something of an occupation, and when his boss told him to go spray an apartment for bedbugs, Mr. Sabic wanted to do the best job ever to show that he was worth employing. He had a good work ethic, and nothing would deter him from completing his assigned task.

What caused him a bit of trouble was the tenant who had complained to the landlord about the bedbugs. The tenant would not let Mr. Sabic into the apartment when the handyman showed up to spray for bugs. How was he supposed to do his job if the tenant was blocking his way? It was the building's owner who was his boss, not the tenant, and the tenant was not going to give him orders that contradicted an order from the boss.

Mr. Sabic found a way to get into the apartment, using ingenuity to open a window. He was going to spray that apartment no matter what the tenant said. Once he got in he noticed that there was a little guinea pig in the apartment, and he would never spray deadly chemicals around without first safeguarding the rodent. So he removed it.

The tenant had Mr. Sabic arrested, and Mr. Sabic entered the twilight zone of bureaucracy and the Cook County legal swamp. Dig anyone listen to him when he said he was just doing his job? Of course not. He was a foreign man with a heavy accent and a resident claimed he was a burglar who stole a guinea pig after entering through a window like a thief.

Like the average person getting by on a hustle, Mr. Sabic had no hope of making bail, and so he sat in jail for 45 days, wondering what he had done that was so wrong, and wondering if he was ever going to get out. It was the most lonely time of his life, when he was friendless and confused and frightened.

His public defender argued in court that the charges were absurd, and they are indeed absurd. Mr. Sabic's landlord testified to the facts as Mr. Sabic detailed them in the first place, that he was working as a handyman who was told to debug an apartment and that's all that he did. He removed the guinea pig because it would have been pet murder to leave it in place.

Having already gone through the process of arrest and prosecution, the court could not just drop the case and admit that the system failed Mr. Sabic in a spectacularly idiotic way. Instead, the judge sentenced the man to eighteen months probation, just for show.

Mr. Sabic can go back to being a handyman for his landlord, but he will forever be hesitant to perform even the most simple task, out of fear that he might be doing something that someone would say was illegal and have him arrested again. He will spend the rest of his days looking over his shoulder, in search of the acclaimed American justice he heard so much about when he was trying to escape Bosnia.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers Write And Amazon Become Illiterate

Writers who write for a living tend to write quite well. Their prose is clear and concise. Those writing literary fiction pen prose that is maybe not so clear but it sounds nice. At any rate, those who use words to earn their keep are rather good at it.

Is this the face of literary suffocation?
Writers who are published by Hachette Book Group are feeling the pain of the ongoing dispute between Amazon and their publisher. Amazon wants to control the book selling world, and Hachette wants to stay in business while paying their authors the royalties promised. If Amazon can bring Hachette to its knees and extract the sort of financial concessions it wants, then Hachette won't be paying its authors as much because the cuts have to come from somewhere, don't they?

Amazon is making it difficult to buy Hachette books, which means Hachette's authors can't sell as many books and that means they can't earn as much as they did when Amazon and Hachette were getting on in an amicable way.

So what did they do, these injured authors? They wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos who runs Amazon and then they published their letter in the New York Times for all the world to see.

A lot of the world did indeed see it because these are authors with loyal readers who will read their favorite author's words wherever they appear.

Amazon responded in kind by appealing to its users of the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, but the marketing department at Amazon isn't made up of best-selling authors like Stephen King or Douglas Preston. The letter garnered more laughter than serious consideration, and it was largely ignored.

As for that letter the authors sent to Amazon? Nothing changed, so we can only conclude that Amazon developed an acute case of illiteracy.

Writers write, and so the writers have penned another letter, this one to the members of Amazon's board. They heap guilt onto the heads of the liberal-leaning directors who are more likely to feel the sting of shaming than some conservative corporate honcho who has thick skin and a heart of stone.

Do you want to be a part of book banning, the authors ask, and isn't that something with a very, very bad connotation. Not to mention the Nazis flat out, but, well, you get the point, don't you Judith McGrath of MTV? And you, Patricia Q. Stonesifer of the non-profit charity Martha's Table and the Gates Foundation, do you want your name linked to the attempted suppression of the written word?

The letter will end up in the New York Times, of course, and Amazon will be driven to respond, but what can they do beyond pretending not to be able to read the words that all those writers wrote? Their last rebuttal was laughed off the stage and there would be no point in trying the same thing again.

But then again, Amazon has the power to keep up the fight against Hachette no matter how many letters are sent to Jeff Bezos or the board of directors or the readers of a prominent newspaper.

They can feign illiteracy and continue to apply pressure to Hachette to accept what is offered and let Amazon boost its profit margin like it wants to. After all, a reader can always try another option to buy whatever book they like.

Is that why independent booksellers are doing better these days? Has anyone at Amazon wondered if the bad publicity could actually be hurting them a bit?

Ah go on. This is Amazon we're talking about.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Books In Need Of Homes

The box of books slated for the upcoming Goodreads giveaway are sitting in a box under the desk, just waiting. They'll be sitting around for the next month, until the giveaway is concluded and new owners identified.

There are always a few stray copies floating around the office, however, and we'll be giving those away as well as the launch for Katie Hanrahan's newest novel, THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION, is released.

Follow us on Twitter and watch for a tweet that asks for a re-tweet as a way of entering a contest to win a copy for yourself. Free of charge. A bargain at any price, of course, for the entertainment that is packed into the 300 pages of an intriguing story that you won't be able to put down until you reach the end.

Read the opening pages here. You can pre-order a digital edition if you like, but then you'd still have to wait for the e-book to be released.

THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION is the sequel to THE LIBERTY FLOWER, and continues the saga of a star-crossed couple who found themselves on opposite sides of the American revolution. The second installment is told by the daughter of Sarah Mahon, a sheltered child who must re-make her life when her safe and secure world crumbles around her.

The sequence of events parallels the action taking place on the world stage, where England was fighting Napoleon and using its power to bring all countries into line with British interests. The United States, only a few decades removed from its own successful rebellion, finds that it must face a second war of rebellion to assert its freedom, much like Madeleine must fight to regain the independence promised her before things changed between her and her stepfather.

It is a well-researched and beautifully executed piece of history in fiction form, but there is a strong love story at the heart of the novel that will keep youi entertained as you turn the pages to see if Madeleine can find victory from her position of relative weakness.

Why not give the retweeting bit a go? You've nothing to lose and a very enjoyable work of historical fiction to gain.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bittersweet - A Book Review

Poor girls longing to be like the rich tend to be fat and ugly in novels. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore does not disappoint.

In BITTERSWEET, our heroine from the wrong side of the tracks thinks she has won life's lottery when her very wealthy roommate invites her to the family cottage for the summer. Mabel Dagmar (she of the suitably pudgy name) enters the world of privilege but soon realizes that her hosts are a bit odd in an unpleasant sort of way.

Being very, very rich, the members of the Winslow clan are naturally very, very evil while the poor folk who work for them are good, honest people who are made to suffer by their overlords. That sort of cartoonish excess makes the book extremely slow to start, and I put the book down many times over the course of the three months that it sat around unread and ignored.

The book does not become interesting until the mid-point, when Mabel starts to uncover some of the deep dark secrets that the Winslow's wealth has kept covered. Her interactions at the family summer playground with various aunts and cousins form the trail she follows, in part at the behest of the addled spinster aunt who wants the family's secrets to be exposed. Her relationship with the college room mate suffers as Mabel discovers more about the people she envied, the room mate included.

Without giving the ending away, I can say that the family secrets are truly monstrous, but in keeping with the caricature of rich folk at play that the author paints, it fits into the narrative.

BITTERSWEET is a good book for a beach read, once the reader gets past the beginning and can dive into a faster paced narrative. Everything comes right in the end, loose ends are tied up, and the Ugly Duckling evolves into a swan after dropping a few pounds over the eventful summer.

No Longer The Cutting Edge Of Rock

You know you are old and insignificant when the very market you are trying to reach doesn't know who you are. And if you are of the same age, give or take a decade, of an old and insignificant rock band, you feel pretty damned old yourself.

Apple launched their new iPhone with a generous bonus for absolutely everyone who already has iTunes. That's a lot of people in this world, given the popularity of iPads and iPods and iPhones. But were the recipients grateful? Were they pleased?

The youngest of the technologically savvy are not happy.
iTunes users don't all want U2

Who is U2? They have no real idea. It's a band that hasn't released a new album in five years, which is almost half the lifespan of the younger set that is coming into the market for advanced devices. Why is this U2 music on my device, they are asking, and why are their songs popping up in my shuffle when I didn't ask for this?

Not exactly the welcome that U2 was expecting when it teamed up with Apple to reach as many ears as possible with its latest album, "Songs of Innocence".

The band was probably feeling fairly confident when they decided on the strategy. They are considered a powerhouse rock band, and their tours have generated millions in profits. What must Bono and the Edge be feeling now, with the kids they were trying to reach complaining that they are being forced to listen to this music that isn't hip hop or rap or the saccharine pop of the Katy Perry sort. U2 gave the album away for free to attract that very audience, the youngsters who don't know U2 but would like the music if they only opened their hearts and their ears.

The numbers are not great. Of all the millions who could download "Songs of Innocence" for free, only 200,000 have done so. Among the rest, there is annoyance that an entire album is sitting in their device, wasting space.

It doesn't matter that music critics laud the songs. It's a question of choice, and not being given any. A bunch of tunes from some old Irish dudes pops up in a list of purchases and every time you check that list it's there, waiting expectantly to be included with the rest of the music but you didn't invite it and it won't go away.

What about those of us who heard of the free giveaway and plan to download the album as soon as we get a minute to spare?

We are feeling like a bunch of pensioners who should be sitting on a bench in the sun, earbuds in place, enjoying the sounds of our long-gone youth. The kids don't know our music, nor do they care to listen to the sounds of the previous generation. How can a group of men with grown children possibly speak to them, they might wonder as they ignore the free download and Twitter away their complaints at the inconvenience and the intrusion.

Adults. Always making kids do what they don't want to do or forcing things down their throats.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas

Newly appointed supervisors tend to change things, if only to show that they have some fresh ideas that will justify their elevation to the loftier position. They may have come in with ideas percolating, or they may have come in with a notion that they have to leave their stamp on their department.

Spinebreakers suffers a quiet and slow death
With the merger of Penguin and Random House, you can imagine how very many employees were thrilled to bits to be given new posts where they could at last unleash their brilliance. Their job is to boost the bottom line of the Random Penguin House, and their ideas for innovation or strategy are at last being given free rein. Change away, they are told, do what you think needs doing so that PRH thrives. And justifies the expense of the merger, by the way.

Where to cut costs, then, to please the overlords? Someone in the merged PRH entity took a look at the online teen-oriented writing site Spinebreakers and decided that it could go. It's all about return on investment, and if the investment doesn't return as needed, it must be killed off.

The point of the website, which was the brainstorm of some other creative type prior to the merger, was intended to interest teens in writing. On the heels of the Harry Potter craze, it was discovered that kids could actually like reading, and once hooked on reading, they became teens who read and who pushed sales of serial novels like THE HUNGER GAMES. Publishers like blockbuster books and that takes buzz, which requires readers talking to each other and aren't all the kids today virtually speaking via forums on websites like Spinebreakers?

The person who was in charge of Spinebreakers lost their power after the merger, and the new suit took a look at statistics before decreeing the death of Spinebreakers. Not doing enough of what needed doing to fuel sales of YA titles. The time for change has come.

The new suit has a better idea, one that will do more for PRH than Spinebreakers did for Penguin. Maybe the new chief felt that Spinebreakers was too Britain-centric and it would be better to have something based in the States. Someone says they talked to young people to see what those young people really want, and so Spinebreakers has to change to meet the advice of a focus group, and if that focus group was largely American, you can expect that they'd have different opinions than their British equivalents.

Something else will replace Spinebreakers, something that the people putting it together will see as radically different, much improved and more effective than the old system. It will be up to the end users, the teens being targeted, to make that final assessment. If too many of them voice complaints about how the old way was better, there might be a tweak here or there, but there will never be a return to Spinebreakers as it currently exists (until the end of September when it will go dark).

The teen writing website is being given a long and slow death, to give users time to retrieve the writing they posted before it is gone forever.

Will they come back? Or have the current users outgrown the site? PRH may be trying to snag a fresh crop of young minds with a site purporting to be absolutely brand new, the latest trend in sharing your angsty prose. It might not be all that new, but if you've never seen something before, it's brand new to you, right?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Lure Of The 99 Cent Sale

What is the price point for a publisher looking to promote an e-book? If you guessed 99 cents, you win. Congratulations. You are obviously someone who likes to read digital editions and who is always on the lookout for a bargain.

What is the price point for the world's largest bookstore when it wants to promote that which is not an ebook because Amazon is fixated on the $9.99 figure and won't budge on that particular price?

Right you are. 99 cents.
Kids say the darndest things

You may have seen the advertisements lately, featuring a pair of sassy kids dressed in clothes you'd associate with your grandparents. Trying for cute, I guess, or pre-pubescent hipsters hanging out at the coffee shop. At any rate, the miniature adults are seen touting the wonders of Amazon's Fire phone to a couple of yuppsters who look like they've just moved out of the family home after finally landing a job out of college, and aren't those precocious youngsters just full of information about the glories of the Fire phone?

But how glorious is it, in reality, if Amazon is now all but giving the phone away for free?

A smartphone that comes with Amazon Prime discounted shipping for a full year? Whatever you buy at Amazon would arrive at no extra charge and in next to no time, but customers are passing it up in droves. What good is anything for free if you can't get the product you want, like a discounted Hachette title? Could it be that the smartphone buying public is somewhat aware of Amazon's attempt to strong arm Hachette into a very bad deal for the publisher? Maybe they've heard about the calls to boycott Amazon until Amazon stops punishing Hachette's authors by making it more difficult to buy their works?

Or maybe the Fire phone isn't such a great phone to begin with. There is competition out there in the technology world, and Apple has been in the phone business a lot longer than Amazon and Apple has some devoted fans who love the way their devices work. Who wants a cheap phone that doesn't boast of an easy-to-use iOS system? Free isn't always better when you're sending a text and you want a virtual keyboard that reacts quickly to your touch. Free doesn't overcome the potential aggravation of an unhappy user.

What about the added benefit of being able to stream movies or read books on a Fire phone?

Would you watch an entire movie on that tiny screen, and who has that much time to watch an entire movie? Maybe on your laptop or tablet, in a pinch, like when travelling, but it's hard enough to see things on a phone. There isn't much appeal in watching some miniature world play out for ninety minutes. The eye strain alone would put you off. If you want to read a book you can download any number of apps that give you access to ebooks, including those owned by your local public library. You don't a Fire phone to do that. You're already doing it without one.

And what about apps? iPhone comes pre-loaded with a few basic apps but there is an app store where you can find an app to do just about anything you might need done. Often for 99 cents. Or free. Amazon's Fire phone just doesn't have the selection, and it can boast of a growing app trove, but it's all about what you have now, not later.

Amazon is promoting its Fire phone because it isn't selling. All that Jeff Bezos knows about selling involves steep discounts to lure customers, but a steep discount works best when it is like versus like. We all know that the fake Prada purses are cheaper than the real ones because the copies are of lesser quality. Is the phone buying public thinking the same thing about the Fire phone?

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Witness To The Resurrection

The Spire may yet rise up from what is currently a large hole in Chicago.


Garrett Kelleher's grand vision, a structure that would be his mark on the world, was felled by bad timing and the collapse of the real estate market. Like your average stubborn Irishman, however, he did not let the dream die. Since the financing first fell through all those years ago, he kept at it, seeking new financing and another partner willing to take a great risk.

Alas, the property market that collapsed and took The Spire with it has not quite recovered. The resurrection has not yet been scheduled, apparently, because Mr. Kelleher is finding it difficult to get the money to pay off his old debts and get out of bankruptcy and then find more money to build the iconic building.
It might be. Some day

His current partner does not have what is needed to fund the massive effort. Or is unwilling to gamble that much on a project that requires a more robust real estate market to sell luxury condominiums at high prices. Sure the view is grand, but who has that many millions to invest in a place to live? There's more than enough choice available in Chicago, even though none of it was designed (down to the door knobs) by a famed starchitect.

So the case drags on.

Mr. Kelleher must get permission from the judge in bankruptcy court to go find others willing to invest, to cover what Atlas Holdings is not funding. As for the firm that currently holds the debt, it is willing to give Mr. Kelleher the time he requests to find other sources. If he manages to line up the investors, Related Midwest (which bought up the debt) gets paid in cash. If he does not, Related Midwest gets paid in land, which is at the moment an abandoned building site with a big hole in it. Who wouldn't prefer to take the money?

The deals and counter-deals would boggle the mind with the tangle of clauses and terms and who gets what if things go one way but then there's this if things go another.

The Spire is not yet dead. To follow along with the court case is to witness a resurrection, or at least a whole-hearted attempt to breathe new life into an idea that was declared as dead as the Celtic Tiger a few years ago.

What is helping the resurrection along is faith, a belief that the building would ultimately be of benefit to the city of Chicago which is known for its architecture, and a belief that if you build it people will buy because there is a unique cachet not to be found in the ordinary highrise. What is needed for the building to rise again is a belief by those who hold the money. A belief that the property market is going to be reborn as well.

And evidence of that event has yet to be spotted.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Second War Of Rebellion - A Review

The Second War of RebellionThe Second War of Rebellion by Katie Hanrahan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From an ARC copy:

The saga of Sarah Mahon Beauchamp Ashford continues through the life of her daughter, a headstrong girl who finds her way in a foreign land among strangers.

Paralleling the shifting of world powers after the American Revolution, the narrative follows Madeleine Beauchamp's struggle to maintain a little independence in the form of keeping her American-ness while under pressure to conform to British ideals. She takes her battle to her stepfather's door, only to find that the rebellion she starts has spun well out of her control.

The relationship that develops between Madeleine and Jack Ashford forms the heart of a touching story, but there are enough historical details in the novel to draw the reader into the past, when America was a gaggle of somewhat united states and England was ruling the waves. Along with the world economy.

Like England, Jack is accustomed to being obeyed while Madeleine was raised with her mother's sense of liberty, but it is only after Jack tries to bring her under his absolute control that she understands the concept of sacrifice. To keep the independence she won as an American daughter of patriots, she has to fight, but she will learn that a battle involves both gains and losses.

Fans of THE LIBERTY FLOWER will not be disappointed in this sequel to the earlier novel.Those who have yet to discover Katie Hanrahan will be glad they did after reading THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION.

The opening pages can be viewed here. Be sure to enter the free book giveaway that starts 20 Sept to win a copy.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 05, 2014

What Could Have Been At Croke Park

Garth Brooks wanted to open his comeback tour in Dublin. He had everything ready to go, in fact, except permission to hold the concerts in the manner in which he decreed.

So the Garth Brooks concerts were cancelled and tens of thousands of European fans were left to cry in the rain. Isn't it usually raining in those country songs?

He could have been singing in Dublin five weeks ago, but it was not to be.

Instead, he sang in Chicago last night to a much smaller crowd, around 20,000 fans as compared to Croker's capacity of over 80,000. He's performing more shows to make up for it.
Trisha Yearwood & Garth Brooks not in Dublin

More shows, Dublin. He wanted to do five but the council said no, that was too many, but he gets to do eleven performances in Chicago. So it's Chicago to get the tax dollars from ticket sales and drinks purchases and souvenir acquisitions, to say nothing of the revenue from hotel rooms booked by fans coming from near and far.

It could have been Dublin. But it was not.

Last night Garth Brooks sang for two hours and if he had sung in Dublin you might have heard him croon some of his old favorites and a few new numbers. Alas, your only hope was to be lucky enough to have family in the city so that you had free accomodations, if you could afford the price of the flight. 

And if you were so lucky as to have such things in place, you would have heard Trisha Yearwood sing a duet with her husband, the acclaimed Garth Brooks. They closed out the show together, voices combining in harmony. The crowd, by all accounts, was delighted with the music and delighted to see a favorite singer perform live once again, after a very long absence.

It could have been Croker.

Instead, it was Chicago, a city boasting a large population descended from Irish immigrants who took over the running of the town long ago and have yet to give it up. It seems fitting, that they should be the second choice for Garth Brooks when Ireland's authorities turned their backs on him.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Empty University Book Store

Gill & Macmillan anticipate a future in which university students do not need textbooks.

The books are expensive to buy, expensive to produce, and expensive to replace when new editions are published. For those struggling to meet the costs of third-level education, it would be a good thing if it were possible to do away with books and the costs that they represent.

Gill & Macmillan sees that day coming. It has become impossible for the publisher to compete with the development of e-books, which are lightweight, easy to carry and easy to update. E-books give professors more flexibility in course content by allowing them to put what the student needs to know online, to be downloaded to a laptop or tablet. No need to write copious notes to add to material already printed in a heavy book. And once everyone has grown accustomed to the convenience, they won't want to go back to the old days of the musty textbook.

Authors who wrote textbooks published by Gill & Macmillan have been informed that their publisher is out of the university textbook business.

It is a business decision, based on the lack of suitable return to the high investment costs of creating a textbook that students are increasingly shunning in favor of digital media.

But what of the professor, the career academic who must publish or perish? Where are they to go with their knowledge?

Some other publisher, perhaps, but the market is shrinking as demand declines. They can turn to e-books, of course, and accept a far lower royalty, so that all the effort put into writing a textbook does not yield the same economic benefits. It will become a labor of love for the Ph.D.s of the world. They'll go off on their sabbatical, armed with references sources and an idea, and return with a book that won't earn them much at all beyond the satisfaction of having done it.

Other publishers will step into the gap left by Gil & Macmillan, but the gap is not a large one and it is shrinking. Even though the population of third-level students has increased over the decades, the glory days of academic publishing are fading into the glow of a digital reader that can store an entire year's worth of books in a few kilobytes and leave plenty of room for photos and music.

A business that used to make money doesn't any longer. Will the time come when university book shops are empty of books?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Timing Could Have Been Better

So often we are focused on our own area of interest, to the exclusion of events in the wider world.

For Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, his eyes have long been on the prize of bringing Islamic values into Irish schools that are, by force of habit, entirely Christian in their ethos. Most schools in Ireland are under the thumb of the Catholic Church, as they have always been, and Dr. Selim would see that overturned because not everyone living in Ireland these days is Christian.

He has a book coming out on the subject, and of course there is the marketing to manage when a book is being promoted. He must sit for interviews and answer questions and say things that will generally promote his work.

Most unfortunate for him that his timing is so bad.

At the same time as he is touting his drive to force Irish schools to be more inclusive, today's Irish Times sports a splashy headline about the beheading of an American journalist by Islamists who are very keen to force their brand of Islam on the world. What are readers to think but that Dr. Selim is trying to do what the barbarians in Syria are already doing, but without quite so much bloodshed? His words might be well worth considering, but if only those words had been uttered within some different context.

As if that were not bad enough, he then preaches about the lack of opportunity for Muslim girls to be modest within the context of modern Irish society. They should have separate physical education classes, for example, with a female teacher. And they should have their own changing rooms where they can change in private, with individual cubicles paid for by the hard-pressed Irish taxpayer. And they must have a place to exercise where men cannot see them.

Poor Dr. Selim.

He is not familiar with the tall stone walls that once surrounded the Magdalene laundries, which were places to incarcerate women who went afoul of some equally restrictive sexual codes. Back in the day, it was forbidden for women to engage in pre-marital sex, and just like Dr. Selim's philosophy, it was the woman who was at fault if there was any sort of sexually charged contact, or even the production of sexual thoughts in a man's head.

Girls deemed too pretty, those who tempted men to sin, had to be locked away and made to slave for the nuns as a means to wash away their sin. They were held without trial, behind walls high enough to prevent their being seen by men. Or anyone else, for that matter.

The Irish public, however, is quite cognizant of that part of their past. There have been countless protests, demands for redress for the victims, and a general sense of horror at what Irish society did to women in the name of morality.

Islam is not seen in the best light these days, what with all that is going on in the Middle East. Couple that with a call for restrictions on women's freedom of expression and position in society and you're met with polite smiles that mask a growing refusal to listen further. He wants us to change for him, people grumble amongst themselves. After what we've been through, and what those of his kind are doing to Christians over there? Killing Christians who won't convert? And we're supposed to change ourselves over to suit the likes of them?

Book sales will not be brisk.

It's a matter of very bad timing, but what is an author to do? Books are scheduled for publication far in advance, and the Islamist thugs who make the news tend to be a bit more impetuous than the average publisher.

But who is the publisher? Does the book actually exist? You won't find it anywhere if you've a mind to pre-order. It's as elusive as the funds to cover back wages to the women who worked in the laundries for all those long years, behind the tall walls where men could not see them.