Monday, October 20, 2014

A Question Of Celibacy

Father "Do As I Say Not As I Do" Rosbotham
Two men dispute ownership of a holiday cottage. They both claim ownership rights.

Not a particularly earth-shattering revelation. People can be found in courts everywhere, arguing over who owns how much of what if they own a piece of it at all.

Such disagreements between two people in a relationship that does not have the legal framework provided by marriage are often contentious. What a wife might get in a divorce settlement is not what a lover can expect to automatically receive when the relationship ends. Then the courts have to wade in and calculate how much each party invested in the asset in question, and the feuding couple has to testify in court about various aspects of their personal life that would otherwise never become public knowledge.

For instance, there could be two men arguing, and the next thing you know, everyone is made aware that the lads are not just old friends or work colleagues but homosexual lovers.

And where did our subjects here work? They worked for the Roman Catholic Church. One used to be a Franciscan. The other is still a priest.

What of the vow of celibacy, gentlemen?

Parishioners in Kilmoremoy, in County Mayo, were a bit stunned, at least those who attended Mass on Sunday. Their bishop read a letter to them, which itself was a shock. You don't often see the bishop at a Mass at a small local parish. But there he was in all his majesty, letting the faithful know that their curate was being given a time-out to reflect on the things he preached about. Things like sin and fornication and the like. The things Father Gabriel Rosbotham was doing for years with his Franciscan lover.

Father Rosbotham makes no apologies for being gay, and in keeping with the Pope's call to not judge homosexuals, the Church hierarchy isn't saying anything about his sexual orientation. What has the Church upset is this latest example of hypocrisy, which is doing more to drive people away from the Church than the most boring series of sermons ever could.

Priests must be celibate, and let someone suggest that the celibacy issue is part of the madness of the institution and you'll be told it's tradition, a gift, a sacrifice, or whatever excuse will do to stop any mention of ordaining married men. Don't even get them started on the suggestion that women be allowed entry.

The sexual relationship between Father Rosbotham and Hugo Crawford was exposed in court when the two argued over a cottage in Donegal. Father Rosbotham ended up with a legally decreed 27% share, and the Catholic Church ended up with another fire to extinguish. A pair of clerics were getting up to all sorts of fun in a scenic section of Donegal for ten years, and their superiors knew nothing, or at any rate, Bishop Fleming says he knew nothing. Women can't preach from the pulpit but a hypocrite can because he's male?

A gay priest? Not shocking at all. But a priest who lives a lie? That's not shocking either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Star Spotting

What does Ireland have that can be used to generate jobs and tax income?

Not much in the way of precious gems, major manufacturing, lumber, gold, and the list goes on and on. What Ireland does have is beautiful scenery. And what does Hollywood want and need? Beautiful scenery that hasn't been used as backdrops so often that film-goers instantly recognize the actual location of the shooting.
Filming Star Wars 7 On Skellig Michael

Hollywood is also looking for discounts. The industry is facing a decline back home in California because it is too expensive to work there. Watch the credits of your average movie and you'll notice a lot of thanks going out to varioius foreign countries who provide some hefty tax incentives, along with a cheaper supply of labor.

The Double Irish is going away, but there's nothing to stop the State from modifying its tax credit scheme to draw in more Hollywood productions, which means more Hollywood A-listers arriving and more tourists following on their heels to get a glimpse of Brangelina and their menagerie or maybe George Clooney and is he escorting the missus or do they seem to be having a little spat there?

Scenery has its place, but to Hollywood's beancounters, it's all about the money.

Ireland will now make it about the money as well, if Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has her way.

Film crews can make use of a tax credit for the first 50 million they spend, but the major Hollywood blockbusters spend far more than that, and if you're competing with Prague for the business, you'll lose out to Prague. Ms. Humphreys would like Ireland to recognize the fact that the more desirable business is the more costly business, and the tax incentive should be upped to cover the first 100 million.

She throws in the usual bit about job creation because every tax scheme needs a job creation number to support it. That film production could generate 2,000 new jobs is most likely the absolute best case scenario that's more wishful thinking than hard numbers, but it is not easy to calculate the knock-on effect of star spotting as a new tourism draw.

After all, we speak English in Ireland, we have beer that we think is better than what you'll find in Prague, and we have all that cead mile failte to throw around.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'll See Your Double Irish And Double Down

The Double Irish tax scheme has been under fire from non-Irish countries, like the United States, that do not wish to lower their corporate tax rates and insist that Ireland raise its rate so corporations stop flocking to Ireland to save some money.

The grumbling has verged on extortion in America, where AbbVie has just decided to drop its acquisition of Shire Pharmaceuticals because new laws meant to punish Double Irish consumers would have made the deal less profitable. All to the good of Shire, which stands to gain a break-up fee of something around one billion dollars, which it will then use to buy another company so it can grow while AbbVie can go explain to its stockholders why things just didn't work out in the pending marriage.

Enticing foreign corporations to locate on Ireland's shores brought in so much money that the Celtic Tiger was born. There was no need to produce anything, and on an island without a lot of natural resources, that means a great deal. It was the tax inversion that brought prosperity to a poor country for the first time in its existence. Under pressure, Ireland has had to scrap the scheme.

At the same time, governmental types are well aware of the benefits of tax inversions, and just because they have caved in to the pressure on the Double Irish, they aren't going to not offer special deals and various bargains for foreign corporations willing to set up a small office in Dublin. And hire a couple of Irish nationals to shuffle the paperwork.

So the State will see your Double Irish rate of 12.5 percent and double down.

Have a patent, perhaps? Register it in Dublin and it's Irish intellectual property. Your tax rate? 6.25 percent.

It will be called "The Knowledge Box", as in computer technology knowledge that might be used by Amazon, Apple, Google, or Ebay. It's new drugs that might be developed by any of the big pharma companies that already have a presence in Ireland, and might therefore be enticed to stay.

Government is working with the very executives of these multinational firms affected by the death of the Double Irish, and together they will develop a policy that will save those multinationals some money. You don't see anyone in Government consulting with foreign heads of state on the new scheme, do you? It's being done to keep the tax inversion money flowing in, and what those foreign heads of state competing for the same pile of cash want is the opposite of what would be best for Ireland.

If the EU doesn't go for it, then there are other schemes in the works that can be modelled on similar tactics currently in force in other EU nations that were hoping to siphon off Ireland's tax exiles who would leave when the deal wasn't so good, and go looking for a more welcoming tax levy.

The Double Irish might be gone but the notion of attracting foreign investment via tax savings is still very much alive and well.

All that chatter out of Washington DC will not kill off what brought new life to a poor country. There is always a way around whatever barriers are erected, especially when money is involved and the Irish taxpayer is stretched to the limit and can't be asked for more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Small Press Publishing Is Another Word For Non-Profit

On the heels of his success as an author, Dave Eggers wanted to share more of his sort of writing with the world. After all, the average publisher was looking for sales, not artistry, and he wanted to bring more artistry to readers whose brains were not being stimulated by the likes of THE DA VINCI CODE or other such drivel. It was a diet of cake when a reader needed more substantial verbal nutrition.

He started McSweeney's, a small house publisher that provided an outlet for the writerly writers who crafted beautiful prose or had something to say that wasn't being heard.

Mr. Eggers discovered something along the way.

There is no money in publishing.

McSweeney's has just gone from being a small publisher to a small non-profit.

We here at Newcastlewest Books can sympathize.

We started our small publishing company because we weren't finding the kinds of books that we liked to read coming out of the major houses. Knowing that we were not alone, we organized around the realization that we would not make money in providing books for a small niche market. We did not go into the publishng game to turn a profit because it is next to impossible.

Operating a firm with volunteers has its limits, and McSweeney's grew too big to be operated by dedicated individuals working for love alone. You need a few editors if you're cranking out more than three books per year, and fair play to you if you find quality editors who will work for free. There are not all that many indepedently wealthy individuals in the world, and not enough to create a full staff.

Mr. Eggers had the added burden of additional staff to put out a quarterly journal. If you are familiar with literary rags, you know that they are generally published by universities who are offering students some practical experience in publishing and creative writing as part of a degree-granting program. The costs are met by the school, which does not have to turn a profit. Its mission is to turn out competent professionals, and that is a far different mission than anything Mr. Eggers set out to do when he launched McSweeney's.

He found that he was operating on a shoestring that was normally frayed. Meeting salaries can be a nightmare when sales are down, and with not enough spare change in the average reader's pocket to buy a book, sales are down these days. Digital publishing is less costly, to an extent, but then there is the marketing expense and a publisher just can't make ends meet.

Instead of relying on income from sales, McSweeney's will rely on donations from people who want to become members. Those who believe in what Mr. Eggers is doing can donate to the new non-profit McSweeney's, and he hopes to see the publisher's finances turn around so that he can complete some projects that are languishing for lack of funding.

Without the pressure to generate capital, Mr. Eggers can return to what he does best, and what he wants to do more than chase dollars. He can concentrate on his writing, instead of fretting about the empty cupboard and the employees expecting to get paid at the end of the week.

Some of us at Newcastlewest Books know exactly what he means. But we're not ready to turn into a non-profit. We know we're non-profit already, but sometimes it isn't about the money.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hi-Yo Silver! Get 'Em Up Scout!

Me write 'em novel. You vote me best. Me sell soul to Amazon
Crowdsourcing Platform just didn't have the ring that Amazon needed for its new crowdsourcing platform.

From this day forward, writers---Get 'em up, Scout!

The initial buzz has become a reality and Amazon is now providing information on a new strategy to get itself into publishing. You might think that Amazon is a bit behind the times, given the considerable decline in popularity of the popularity contests that made Simon Cowell wealthy. For a time, it was thought to be a good way to assess talent, by having people perform and then letting the audience choose their favorite. If the public had what they wanted, the reasoning went, surely they would then buy what the talent produced.

As things turned out, the public did not support what they elected. Winners of past televised competitions could fill an entire "Where Are They Now?" programme.

But Amazon is not deterred. Their new addition will take that popularity contest and apply it to the written word. It will be called Kindle Scout.

No one is going to spend money on printing books that may not sell. An e-book is the most economical means to test the system and see if a popularity contest can result in a best-seller.

The author has to come up with the costly items, like a book cover and back copy that will intrigue and captivate readers. The author has to do the spell-checking and the editing, or pay an editor to do it. The writer has to create a logline and a short synopsis, which means the author has to have some powerful marketing skills. An extremely talented writer without those skills will lose the contest even though their novel is far superior. That's why authors want literary agents to represent them to the Big Five publishing houses. So if marketing isn't your thing, there's another expense for you.

Did no one at Amazon notice that their Breakthrough Novel Award hasn't produced any blockbuster best-sellers yet? But still the mighty behemoth pushes ahead, to do the same thing with digital books.

As was already described, the Scout scheme has an author competing against fellow authors to make the cut. They then have to convince their friends and friends of friends ad infinitum to choose their novel as the best of the bunch. The winner than gets to have their book published by Amazon Kindle, which you could do for free without going through the work of the selection process but everyone loves a competition.

The winner then sells their soul to Amazon in the form of a five year deal in which Amazon holds the rights. Again, you could keep the rights yourself if you just went and published the book yourself, but there's a temptation tossed in. Amazon will give the winner an advance of $1500. Sell more books than are covered by the advance on royalties and you'll be raking in the money.  That will be a lot of e-books.

What an author gains is what publicity Amazon will deliver to promote the contest and make it appealing to more authors who in turn bring in more of the public to Amazon's digital world. All it takes is one best-seller to get things going for Amazon, which has not shown any sort of success in its publishing ventures.

So get 'em Scout!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Public Works Used To Be Heavy-Duty

Old school
Think back to the Days of Rage, when Chicago was hosting the Democratic National Convention and the war protest movement arrived to, well, protest. Some of the unwashed masses climbed the statue of Civil War general John Logan and did their protesting from an elevation. The statue didn't break, did it?

Of course not. Because back in the day, civic leaders ordered memorial statues that were built to last. The statue is still there, in fact, still standing proud and tall in Grant Park.

The new trend these days is to slap up a monument that isn't going to be permanent. Change them out every year or two, and then advertise like crazy to get the tourists in to see the new series of memorials. The statues aren't intended to last forever because tourists don't come back to see the same painted cows or furniture or even a giant Marilyn Monroe.

There is a slight problem with these temporary installations.

Tourists take pictures with them, in part to memorialize a trip to Chicago and in part to preserve an image of an object that's going to be taken off the street in a short period of time.

And when tourists take pictures, there's no security guard there to yell at them when they decide to pose themselves on the statue.

Not exactly Days of Rage posing, but isn't it cute to put little Junior on the back of that colorful horse statue that commemorates one of Chicago's fallen police officers?

Modern throw-away culture
And isn't it funny to mount up when you're drunk and have your friends snap your photo while you do your impression of the 1968 protesters climbing all over John Logan's horse?

When that equine objet d'art is made of fiberglass, you can bet that at some point things are going to get broken. And that is exactly what is
happening to Chicago's horses on parade.

A horse decorated to look like Pegasus lost its wings when a man at the age of foolishness (twenty-something is a dangerous time for the developing male brain) climbed up and sat on the horse. The wings, unfortunately, were right where a rider's legs would be, and, well, this isn't a bronze replica of a horse. The wings broke off and Darius Moss is looking at three felony counts of criminal damage to property. News reports don't say, but we all can assume the man was under the influence of intoxicating beverages at the time. Or he just thought it would be funny. Not that he's laughing now.

Then there was the horse that the cast of "Chicago PD" was good enough to sign. At the conclusion of the exhibit, the horses are going to be auctioned off for a charity benefitting the families of fallen police officers, and that horse was likely to bring in some big money. Someone saw all those signatures and thought the art would be improved with graffiti. Somewhere there's a cell phone with a picture of the art and the artist, If the photo finds its way to the police department, there'll be a second individual looking at a felony count or two.

There's the horse-tipping incident that resulted in some serious injury, to the statue. A family was doing what they were supposed to be doing, but who knew there was a load limit on the statue? Did the John Logan statue buckle under the weight of the hippies? No. But the horse statue went right over. What's next? Some prankster will find inspiration and decide to reproduce the horse head scene from THE GODFATHER, but with fiberglass. Halloween is coming. What could be more fun at the end of a night of binge drinking?

They don't make art like they used to. Nothing is made to last.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Clever Word Play Is Not Always Appropriate

Alex Lyons is not the first person to have problems with Ireland's health service. The man was so unfortunate as to fall ill in the first place, and then found himself in a tangle of bureaucracy that left him so frustrated he lashed out. It was the lashing out with his tongue that got him in trouble.

Mr. Lyons is a comedian who has written for radio artists. You may have heard some of his cleverly scripted banter on the radio, but you'd never know it of course because there are no credits rolling at the end of a radio programme.

The gardai who were given a performance at St. James Hospital had no idea they were dealing with a man who had a particular affinity for the spoken word. They clearly did not get the joke. Mr. Lyons got arrested.

The comedian-writer was upset at being discharged from hospital following treatment for a stroke, not because he was not properly treated, but because he was not properly sent off with the required paperwork that he needed to get financial assistance to tide him over until he was fully back on his feet and able to compose humorous sentences once again.

When you're not well, you don't have much of a sense of humour and when that's your bread and butter, you're in for a hard time.

Mr. Lyons was so worked up over the frustration of dealing with paper pushers that he thought he was having another stroke. He raced back to the hospital and jumped out of his car, only to be ordered to move the car by security personnel who did not like people parking where they shouldn't. The man wasn't stabbed or shot or otherwise bleeding profusely, so it wasn't much of a real emergency, was it?

Hilarity did not ensue, but the fight was on. Mr. Lyons had to be forcibly restrained, and the next thing he knew the gardai were called. He wanted to be seen by a doctor, but instead he was being given the boot. Is this how to treat a sick man?

Mr. Lyons reached the boiling point. He turned his fury on the garda and called the man a Nazi. Not just any sort of Nazi, but a cabbage, bacon and spud-munching culchie Nazi. The garda took great offense at being called a culchie. And a prick. The abusive language was just too much to let it roll off the officer's back.

If Mr. Lyons can scratch up 150 spare euro he can be cleared of all charges. The judge decided that the offense was not particularly serious and anyone who's dealt with the health service could understand the display of temper. As for Mr. Lyons, he's not rolling in dough. Few comedians make it in a tough industry. He'd just like the whole thing to be tossed out so he can go home and write some clever banter for Marty Whelan.

Maybe if the judge enforces the charitable donation deal there'll be some jokes written about jackeen judges that are none too complimentary....