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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brief Encounter (1945) Directed by David Lean.


Nick:
I once released an album with the Noel Coward quote "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is". It's amazing that Coward's words could still sound relevant in this day and age even when describing a scuzzy lo-fi album.

It's Noel Coward's script that keeps Brief Encounter so vital after all these years. That's not to say that Lean's direction isn't up to scratch, it's excellent.  Celia Johnson plays married, middle-aged Laura, the woman who recounts her chance meeting with a stranger that leads to illicit love. Alec is played by Trevor Howard, the Doctor with whom Laura has an affair with. Both actors have an unbelievable naturalness and charm that sucks us into the story.  A lot of tea is ordered at the refreshment room of the railway station, where a bulk of the action takes place.

Rachmaninov plays on the soundtrack, Lean gives us some powerful screen images, but Brief Encounter expresses sentiments of love, and especially forbidden love that very few pictures have ever touched upon.  Sure, there was a war on still and plenty of British stiff upper lip is on display. Of course, Brief Encounter is regarded as a classic, it is a famous film, perhaps not at the level of Casablanca or Gone With The Wind, but still this is an iconic picture. It perhaps displays more feeling and intelligence than it's more famous counterparts, it's that good. I say give into this, it's as perfect a romance as there has ever been in the cinema.

Astrid:
With lines on their faces and shadows under their eyes they fall for each other. Ordinary Thursdays in town turn into secretive lunches and movie dates, then into drives away from other people, kisses and desperation. The train station is at the center of this film. It is dark and sad, always aware of separation.

A friendship between a man and a woman is suspicious even when it is just about being friendly. Brief Encounter illustrates the internal and external trip from friendship to love, from doubt to knowing. The people in town are watching curiously and need to be lied to. The families at home have no idea of what is going on with these two strangers.

Celia Johnson's character narrates through out the film, to a point of exhaustion. Why does she talk us through gestures such as "he grabbed my arm" when we can see that? Maybe this is a flaw if there is one – at least it is something original in cinema.

There is a hat Johnson wears on most dates with her secret love, it is a mixture between a beret and a cap. She wears at least three other hats in this film, bu this is the one that signifies joy and the possibility for some radical outcome.

In its heart-wrenching emotional realism, this is genius.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New format

What do you think?

When I read that Blogger was introducing the possibility of wider columns, I jumped.  I liked the dignified look but couldn't keep it with the new design.

Does anyone care?

AHA!  Figured out how to change the width and keep the dignified look and previous colours. I had to say goodbye to the bolts in the background. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Natural ability scores every time

Letter 14

Ironically, I don't actually like football. But I can't let them get away with illogical arguments ...

From http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article7077859.ece

Sir, Patrick Coffey (letter, Mar 24) objects to Diego Maradona being placed above Pelé in the greatest football player rankings on the ground, among others, that Pelé played in more successful teams and scored more goals. With respect, that is a reflection of the quality of their respective team-mates rather than their individual talents. Without Maradona the Argentine sides of his era would have been a footnote; without Pelé it is unlikely that Brazil would have been anything less than a great side.

Certainly Pelé’s conduct both on and off the pitch has been more commendable; but there is the old saying that nice guys finish last. The likes of Mike Tyson, George Best and Alex Higgins, for example, indulged in a fair bit of questionable conduct over the years, but their sporting greatness has not been downgraded as a result. If anything, Maradona’s astonishing natural ability is highlighted by the fact that his lifestyle was less than conducive to international sport.

Thelma & Louise (1991) Directed By Ridley Scott

Astrid:
Without seeing Thelma & Louise for a good many years, it had attained a sort of classic status in my mind. I thought it was entertaining and empowering. I had watched it as a child and then as a teenager and a young adult, always thinking I related somehow. I guess it must have been the friendship between women, the beauty of them (with head scarfs and sunglasses and later with messed-up hair and double denim outfits) and their convertible, the life on the road and the unwillingness to back down that I admired. But were those things really in this film?

What happens to the women is a line of bad events and awful portrayals. Thelma has an abusive unappreciative husband, both women have experienced rape (Thelma on screen, Louise somewhere in Texas as we learn), Louise shoots the rapist, they do not go to the police because they are mistrustful of the system's helpfulness to women. Instead they go on the run and the rest of the men they meet are there to steal their money, rat on them, hurl abuse and so forth. Completely let down by and alienated from the male-dominated society these women have no choice, death is inevitable so they drive into theirs off a cliff in Grand Canyon.

So, women are doing what men have always been doing in road movies and Westerns. Except these ladies are often portrayed as stupid. Can you explain to me why they never think of changing their vehicle to something less shining when they are on the run? Why does Thelma need to be portrayed as stupid and out of control for the rape scene? Don't smart women get raped? And why on earth would they not choose the shortest route to Mexico when they are on the run? Is it really such typical feminine behavior to be illogical and refer to some emotional damage as a reason why you won't drive through Texas when you are wanted by the FBI?

I am offended by the script this movie is based on. I don't mind the ending, though. And after all the disappointment, I still hold a little place in my heart for the idea of Thelma & Louise, the monumental scenery they drive in (good photography and look all around), the internal movement towards feeling alive and free. But this is mostly a fiction, which does not appear in the actual film.

Nick :
It's unbelievable to me that such an average picture as Thelma & Louise  can cause such controversy. This movie has been accused/labeled as feminist, anti-men, genre inventing, groundbreaking, attitude changing, promoting gun use amongst women amongst other things. I have to also point out that European audiences were probably not so up in arms about this film as US audiences were, although I do remember having an argument at a party sometime in the early 90's about this picture.

An Arkansas waitress Louise (Susan Sarandon) and her married friend Thelma (Geena Davis) leave for a weekend in the country. At the first bar they stop at Thelma gets involved with a man who tries to rape her in the bar parking lot. Louise catches the would-be-rapist in the act and unable to control her emotions shoots the man dead. They flee the scene of the crime in Louise's '66 Thunderbird. What follows is the pairs attempt to reach Mexico and start a new life free of the clutches of the police.

In essence, Thelma & Louise is a buddy road movie. Yes it has two women as the main protagonists who shoot a lot of stuff up and act like men normally do in these genre movies, but so what?  The script is so poor in this film that initially you can't believe how dumb these women are, yet later we are suppose to suspend our belief and accept the enlightenment that descends on these characters. We never believe or understand how Thelma & Louise reach the point of no return, how these women suddenly attain depths of thought that have otherwise been absent for most of the film. Unfeasible plot twists and a weird mash-up of serious issues and broad humor add to the mess. Of course this looks great, Ridley Scott at least can still shoot a good looking picture, but does anyone agree that since Alien and Blade Runner, Scott has been disappointing?

You know you're in trouble watching a movie when Michael Madsen (Jimmy, Louise's boyfriend) is the only slightly sympathetic male character. The men in this movie all shit on the women at some point, just to emphasize the point that all men are bad. Bradd Pitt probably makes the biggest impression as a con-man cowboy (which again is saying something about the quality on show!) Harvey Keitel  is wasted as the cop who thinks he can help Thelma and Louise. One thing that deserves a special mention is the soundtrack to this film, has there been a worse soundtrack in living memory?

I'd be quite happy never to sit through this one dimensional, cliche ridden film ever again. It was worse than I remember it. Even as basic Hollywood entertainment this felt hollow. And if you want to see some kick ass action movie with ladies and guns, which doesn't attempt to patronize the audience with some obvious quasi feminist angle (actually the kind of thing that gives feminism a bad name), try Les Petroleuses for size.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) Directed by Richard Brooks


Nick :
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof's  origins are of the stage play variety, so it does not make this film very cinematic, the direction is pretty static. Tennessee Williams' obvious gay text has been toned down to make the film acceptable to 50's audiences. So the fact that Brick (Paul Newman) is obviously a gay man and they work their way around mentioning this in any other way they can without actually using the word gay is a fascinating subtext when watching this film.

One reason Brooks doesn't direct much is he trusts his actors, with Newman and Elizabeth Taylor both outstanding. So, this is a great film, a classic if you like where the performances are worth the admission price alone. Tied to Williams' great lines, this makes for very strong cinema.

Watching this again, I was amazed that the stunning Taylor is often blown off the screen in the good looks department by the totally brooding sexiness of Newman. Has there ever been such an amazing profile in cinema. Paul Newman is so hot in this movie, he is raw sex appeal.  His body language, anger, bitterness, glare are what gives this picture it's edge. Yummy!

Astrid:
It has taken me a long time in life to begin to appreciate the beauty of men. Especially blond blue-eyed men I have passed as boring orange-juice-and-omelette types. As a woman growing up under huge pressures to be beautiful and thin and always so impossibly something that was unattainable, I have had very little time to think of men. Until very recently, I have been watching the women in movies with much more precision. This all said, the aesthetics of masculinity have quite unexpectedly began to unravel in my eyes. So hello Paul Newman.

Newman steals Cat On A Hot Tin Roof from all others, even from Tennessee Williams (who probably purrs happily). He wears pajamas, crutches, sadness, anger and drunkenness as though they were the sexiest things states and feelings. He is implosive, high-strung, potentially dangerous, full of unexpressed emotion. Add to this list that Newman's character is married unhappily to the most perfect womanly woman possibly in the form of Elizabeth Taylor.

The play by Tennessee Williams is full of dazzling lines and dialogue. It's all mean snapping, cruelty and smart put downs. Williams truly knows how to portray the desperation of a marriage where one is hopelessly in love with her partner and the other is...well, clearly gay. But it's 1958 and this is a Hollywood production, so somehow the fact that Maggie (Liz) did not actually have sex with Brick's (Newman) best friend who commited suicide after Newman failed to be there for him (he married a woman you know) makes everything ok in the marriage that was on the rocks. During this film Brick is not only cured from homosexuality, but also his alcoholism vanishes.

It was impossible to make a film openly discussing homosexuality in 1958, although Cat On The Hot Tin Roof is not hiding the subject matter very much. But Paul Newman's Brick is a football-playing all American hunk. His character exudes the kind of rough-around-the-edges masculinity that still today, is not what we first think of when discussing the stereotypical gay man. Maybe it will be, though.

Quick & dirty - muslins

So I cut the Vogue 2770 top out of cotton muslin and have quickly stitched it together.  Based on the flat pattern measurements I decided to cut a size 8.  It fits, sort of.  But I will adjust the pattern pieces to do a better job of fitting me. 

The pattern has princess seams which do not pass over the bust point but rather to the sides, by approximately 5cm (2").  This means that there is no dart or seam shaping that aims directly at the point that most needs it, and it's a bit tight there.  At the same time, the V neck is too long for my frame which causes gapping in the upper chest area.  And there is too much width through the upper chest. 

I am going to take a wedge-shaped tuck through the upper front to take the length out of the V neck.  I am also going to figure out what kind of dart is needed to remove the width from the upper front, and I think I'm going to add a small amount of length over the bust, which I'll ease into the side front piece.

Before:




Hugely gappy neckline!  It's too long

At the back, there are little "wings" of fabric at the armscye. 













Here you can see the excess fabric at the princess seam line.  The CF piece is too wide.













After:


The excess length in the neckline is pinned out in a long wedge.  The excess at the seamline is pinned in a fisheye shape.

In the back, I've pinned out the little "wing".  I'll shorten the side back and take the extra length out of the shoulder seam in the CB piece.

Next task:  transfer these changes to the pattern.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Performance (1970) Directed by Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg

Astrid:
Sometimes it's simply not the right moment to watch something. This was the case with me and Performance. Mick Jagger annoyed me well before he appeared in the film with his spray painting and his wardrobe. And in the end he annoyed me a lot less than what happened before his face turned up. The whole hour-long drag about how this gangster man (James Fox) messes up his affairs was tedious. That's all. So what about the blue collar accents and the truths about English culture in the 1960s? I was bored.

Then we get to the hippie part. I just read a long Rolling Stones interview in the latest Uncut magazine. Anita was with Keith and they had a heroin habit. Who knows if Mick was any different, but he doesn't want to remember that stuff now. I guess he is loosing his memory. Apparently Keith was not so happy about Anita doing Performance (confirmed by Anita in a little making-of doc on the DVD). While watching the movie, I can see just why. The Rolling Stones are a scary machine of upper class rock'n'roll.

Surface is content. Surface is all there is and I love it. But in this second half of Performance I suddenly find myself bothered by this notion. The director injects some high-brow philosophy in there, Anita gets the needle in her bum and then there are the sex scenes and the mushrooms.
Being lost in the plenty. I was not entertained.

The best parts of this film are the naked scenes. Maybe I should have been watching porn instead.

Nick :
This film gained legendary status when I was growing up, mainly due to the fact that no one had ever seen it. Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, graphic violent sex, , drugs and 60's London. It sounds exciting, it was a movie I'd read much about. It wasn't on video and TV (I don't think the film aired on British TV till the 90's). So, the legend grew. Of course, it's counter culture vs the straight guys, where the boundaries blur. Identity is the riddle, who is who, what is happening and WOW! aren't they decadent and kinky.

James Fox (officially the most underrated British actor of the 60's), plays gangster Chas, a heavy, who sorts people out. When he goes a step too far and kills someone he shouldn't, he goes on the run from his organized crime buddies. He ends up renting a room in a run down mansion in Notting Hill which reclusive rock star Turner (Jagger) owns. Turner, suspicious that Chaz isn't the juggler he claims to be but is on the run and looking for refuge, engages in mind games with Chaz to find out who he really is.

Pallenberg plays Pherber who along with Lucy (Michele Breton) live in the house with Turner, his bed buddies and worshipers. Pallenberg's over sexed drug addict seriously pissed off boyfriend Keith Richards at the time, all those semi-naked scenes with Mick probably did the trick. Performance also boasts the greatest Mick Jagger solo song ( A Message From Turner) and the accompanying scene is great fun. Jagger is playing himself , he comes across as aloof and pretty. Roeg would use musicians to good effect in his later films (Man Who Fell To Earth, Bad Timing). Warner Bros. who financed the film were appalled. The film languished for two years without a release.

Performance is littered with fast cuts and secret messages and visual indicators as to what's going on, which only reveal themselves after repeated viewing. Even then it offers no easy explanations or conclusions. Controversial is often used to describe this film. I'm not so sure. It's very strange, nothing in cinema is like it. It looks great, Roeg's eye for detail is amazing. It's an original film, still shocking in it's casual attitude to violence and sex and very watchable. It's two films in one scenario causes confusion and could be off putting. Don't be, Performance is an antidote to all the free love hippy bollocks that was emanating out of America at this time. It's the dark side of the 60's, it' s a bad trip, dangerous and ultimately, the legend is deserved.

Friday, March 26, 2010

UKSC Blog

A further blog on the Supreme Court has been published here. The blog is reproduced below:

Prior to the Supreme Court being established, a seminar was conducted under Chatham House Rules to discuss how it should work. The notes of the seminar, published here, include the following:

a Law Lord said that in his experience there were two main areas of concern about the House of Lords. One was that the speeches in House of Lords cases were too long, there were too many of them in each case, and they were sometimes difficult to reconcile with each other.

The highly publicised “JFS” case (R (on the application of E) v Office of the Schools Adjudicator (Governing Body of JFS and others, interested parties) (British Humanist Association and another intervening) [2010] 1 All ER 319; [2009] UKSC 15) suggests that not much has changed from the days of the House of Lords. Five separate majority opinions were given. None was nominated as the leading judgment. Readers therefore had to read each one.

In such cases either the judgments are all consistent with each other, in which case five separate opinions are not necessary, or they are not, in which case the court would not have discharged its duty to clarify the law. (In the JFS case itself Lady Hale said as a passing remark that the majority judgments were essentially all the same).

The problem of multiple judgments is not of course confined to the Supreme Court or its predecessor: it is found throughout the common law world, and appears at every judicial tier involving more than one judge.

The reason why multiple judgments is a problem should be obvious. Points four and five of Lon Fuller’s classic eight requirements of the rule of law (as set out in his work The Morality of Law) are as follows:

4. Laws should be written with reasonable clarity to avoid unfair enforcement.

5. Law must avoid contradictions.

Where an appellate court produces multiple opinions of great complexity and minimal reference to each other, both of those requirements are potentially breached.

Lord Bingham, in an important public address in 2006, criticised modern common law judgments for their “length, complexity and sometimes prolixity”. He was not of the view that the solution would be for a single judgment along the lines of those issued by the Privy Council. Instead, he argued:

A single lapidary judgment buttressed by four brief concurrences can give rise to continuing problems of interpretation which would have been at least reduced if the other members had summarised, however briefly, their reasons for agreeing. And a well-constituted committee of five or more, can bring to bear a diversity of professional and jurisdictional experience which is valuable in shaping the law.

But I would add …. [that] whatever the diversity of opinion the judges should recognise a duty, not always observed, to try to ensure that there is a clear majority ratio.

Lord Bingham’s final comment is obviously correct. I do not agree, however, that a single judgment followed by brief concurrences would be more easily interpreted if the concurrences were longer; that would be the case only if the first judgment were unclear of itself. If so, then ideally it ought to be remedied before delivery, or at the least the concurring judgments should be confined to expressing reasons on the points they find unclear in the main judgment. It also depends in part on the nature of the appeal. If a case is concerned with interpreting a statute or standard form contract, for example, then one judgment is the most likely method of a clear, certain interpretation.

It should be emphasised that the first role of an appellate court is to explain to the parties who has won and lost and why. Its second role is to clarify the law. Both those roles are best done by way of a single majority judgment. All other judgments given by judges in the majority should either be short (that is, non-reasoned) concurrences, or state clearly that the judge wishes to add some obiter views. These might be that the statute or case law under review is unsatisfactory, or that something objectionable has occurred in the case which justifies strong condemnation in addition to the disposition of the appeal. All that would be necessary would be for the judgments to begin “I agree with the decision of Justice X for the reasons she gives. I wish to add some observations of my own on …”

Of course there would be no objection to the leading judgment being split between different judges on different issues, as sometimes happens when a case raises disparate issues and different judges wish to answer each point, so long as the majority decision on each point is expressly identifiable.

Dissenting judgments – whether dissenting on all points or not – do not add any confusion since they will be expressly stated not to be in agreement with the majority judgment.

I quite accept that separate opinions can be invaluable to many including Parliament, law reformers and academics. If a point of law has been thoroughly argued by counsel then it is of benefit to hear the views of all of the leading judges on the subject. Yet that benefit could be retained without any of the confusion caused by having multiple judgments by following the procedure recommended above. The Supreme Court has done so on numerous occasions, but not always, which leads one to conclude that they do not have an avowed intention to do so. One hopes they will do so in future.

Panama negotiates 4 Double Taxation Agreements


Panama is expected to sign a double taxation agreement (DTA) with Mexico in February 22, which will be the first of its kind, and will start in late January a diplomatic offensive in Europe to promote the signing of similar treaties. The deputy economy minister of Panama (MEF), Frank De Lima told reporters today that the agreement with Mexico, which is signed in the Mexican city of Cancun, does NOT imply a reform of the banking law, but does result in the tax reforms which the government intends to submit shortly to the legislature. According to the official, issues such as exchange of information and concepts as transfer pricing, which are not covered by existing legislation, will be included in the tax reform.
Panama negotiated since 2009 similar treaties with various countries, including Italy and Belgium, and is on track to do so with Spain.
Economy Minister Alberto Vallarino, will meet in Paris Jan. 25 with representatives of the OECD. The next day, Vallarino will meet with French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, to try to determine the date of start of negotiations to conclude a tax treaty with that country. The delegation will visit Spain to meet with the Spanish authorities of finance, who already expressed to Panama their interest to negotiate a treaty of this nature. "Panama has sent letters to 21 of the 30 OECD countries expressing interest in negotiating double taxation treaties, and the Foreign Ministry is making concrete steps to achieve final dates with said countries" the Minister added. He noted that out of the OECD lists, Panama must have twelve agreements signed, and it is on the verge of agreeing the second of those with Italy, a country with which it will hold a second round of talks, the 26th and 27th of this month in the Panamanian capital.
Jan 13, 2010 http://www.pa-digital.com.pa/periodico/edicion-actual/hoy-interna.php?story_id=875612#axzz0jFKXpON9

Panama concludes negotiation of double taxation agreements with Mexico, Italy and Belgium.
Jan 22, 2010 http://www.estudio1panama.com/?p=24316

France negotiates Double Taxation Agreement with Panama in Paris at the end of next May. Spain is expected to sign a treaty on April 26 in Madrid and another with Qatar on May 10. Notices were also sent to Israel, Great Britain and other countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). "We received news that Luxembourg will negotiate with Panama in June" said ViceMinister Frank De Lima. The deputy minister also spoke of progress with other OECD countries, among which he highlighted:
- Mexico: signing of a treaty on 22 February, which is awaiting ratification by the legislatures of both countries.
- Italy and Belgium: only hope to define the date for signing the agreement.
- Barbados: the negotiations will begin on Monday 8 March in Panama.
- Netherlands: it is planned to begin negotiations the first week of April in Panama.
Mar 5, 2010 https://www.mef.gob.pa/Portal/2010-comunicados/2010-FRANCIANEGOCIARaTRATADODEDOBLETRIBUTACIONCONPANAMa.html

Barbados became the 4th nation to conclude negotiations of a DTA with Panama, and joined Mexico (signed on 22 February) Italy and Belgium.
Other negotiations: Netherlands: negotiations begin the first week of April, Spain: Negotiations begin this 26th of April in Madrid, Qatar: Starting on 10 May, France: Starting on May 25, Luxembourg: begin in June. Letters have also been sent to Switzerland, Israel and England, among other countries which are not members of OECD.
Mar 10, 2010 https://www.mef.gob.pa/Portal/2010-comunicados/2010-PANAMaCONCLUYENEGOCIACIoNCONBARBADOS.html

Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino and Viceminister, Dulcidio De La Guardia, met this Monday in Mexico with finance authorities of Chile, Japan and France, with regards to DTAs in order to have Panama removed from the OECD grey list.
Mar 22, 2010 https://www.mef.gob.pa/Portal/2010-Comunicados/2010-Durantemisinoficialenelexterior.html




See also

Panama stays out of list of non-cooperative centers
http://lawyerfuture.blogspot.com/2009/04/panama-stays-out-of-list-of-non.html

Economist: The G20 and tax - Haven hypocrisy
http://lawyerfuture.blogspot.com/2009/04/economist-g20-and-tax-haven-hypocrisy.html

Panama currently has around 20 double taxation agreements for air and shipping transportation with countries such as U.S., U.K., Switzerland, Russia, Japan since the 1960s.
International Taxation of Low-Tax Transactions...


.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Musical coda: the Joyce Hatto saga

Coda to the previous internal blog:

Not every musical dispute ends in court. This extraordinary event in classical music raises some points about why we appreciate music in the first place. Joyce Hatto was a jobbing concert pianist in the 1960s and 70s. She performed regularly, to distinctly mixed reviews, until one point in 1976 when she collapsed on stage. Thereafter she was neither seen nor heard from in public until decades later, when her producer/arranger husband started to release piano recordings allegedly performed by her. They were of remarkable quality, and the classical music industry – record companies, retailers and critics – were enthralled. A virtuoso was clearly responsible.

It was all the more remarkable for two reasons: first, because Hatto was playing virtually the entire classical repertoire – Rachmananov, Chopin, whoever – which was usually beyond all but the most accomplished pianist; and secondly, because she was in her 70s and in frail health. It was as if a washed up journeyman county cricketer aged about 40 suddenly made a comeback and played to the level of a young Gary Sobers.

In other words, it seemed too good to be true. And so it was proved. Not by one of the learned music critics who had raved about Hatto’s efforts, but by a random Wall Street worker who had uploaded a Hatto CD on his Ipod. Unlike the gullible soi-dissant experts, the computer software could not be fooled, and had identified the actual performer. The story unravelled quickly and Hatto’s husband was found to have used old recordings of talented young performers, which he had manipulated slightly to fool the critics, such as changing the left and right channels, compressing the odd note and lengthening others, and so on.

He had obviously grown lazy over time and hadn’t changed one recording at all, hence the Itunes Gracenote software spotted it immediately. Hatto’s husband has never fully admitted what he was up to. Channel 4 interviewed him recently and elicited Nixonian levels of denial and self-pity.

Hatto herself died before the scandal broke and her husband has never faced legal action, either criminal for his acts of fraud or civil to recover wrongly-paid royalties. I suspect the reason is that he is fairly elderly and, apparently, made very little money from the adventure. Thus the Attorney General would most probably exercise his discretion not to bring a criminal prosecution and the affected record companies and shops wouldn’t consider a civil action worth powder and shot. Both illustrate the flexibility of the law in practice I suppose.

And yet there’s one point that doesn’t quite make sense. Hatto’s rather gullible expert victims were interviewed by Channel 4 and asked what they intended to do with all the Hatto CDs they still owned. All said they would either bin them, or keep them in an old hat box and never play them again. Before they discovered the true performer, however, they had unanimously acclaimed the recordings as sublime. Presumably they still are musically. So why deny oneself the enjoyment they obviously produce? If it is because the putative listeners are irked by the conduct of those responsible, I suggest they don’t put on a Wagner CD instead.

Prick Up Your Ears (1987) Directed by Stephen Frears

Nick:
I remember going to see Prick Up Your Ears in Islington very soon after its initial release. Islington was Joe Orton's neighborhood for many years up until his death. As me and a friend took our seats we noticed that it was a predominately male audience. Once the movie started we realized it was also a predominately gay audience as much whooping and hollering at the sex scenes in the film ensued (this was mixed with much heavy petting one could imagine!)

Even in 1987, Prick Up Your Ears, the bio-pic of Joe Orton, the famed English 60's playwright, caused a stir for it's frank depiction of a gay relationship in trouble. Joe Orton was one of the golden boys of the swinging 60's, who's star shone ever so briefly. He was important in moving British Theater forward and being open with his gay context.

Orton's fondness for picking up Rough Trade in mens urinals is well represented in the film. Being gay could land you in prison in the England of the late 50's, but Frears' film often shows us the thrill of the chase. In Prick Up Your Ears, gay sex is celebrated, not something you hide from everyone or never even talk about to your lover, as in Brokeback Mountain.

Reasons you should watch this excellent film:
Gary Oldman, an uncanny resemblance to the real Orton, heightens the mystery surrounding the playwright. We never really get to know him, yet he dominates the film. He'd already played Sid Vicious, his bio-pic oeuvre would resume with Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, not long after this. This was a time when Oldman was acting gold.

The great Alan Bennett's script injects a lot of wit into what is in essence a very sad love story. There are many laugh out loud moments.

Vanessa Redgrave
as the agent who discovers Orton adds a classy glamorous sheen to proceedings and likes playing with her very good looking legs.

Alfred Molina
steels the acting honors here. This was his breakthrough picture. We know how good Molina would become, but his portrayal of Kenneth Halliwell, Orton's depressed lover, is perfect. We see the jealousy and depression that drives Halliwell to tragedy, in a thankless role as Orton's moaning long term companion, Molina shines.

Prick Up Your Ears
has one of the greatest movie titles ever, think about it if you don't get it's innuendo. Stephen Frears directs with economy and pace, letting the script and performances do the work.

If you are interested in Orton after seeing this film, John Lahr's biography and Orton's often lewd diaries make great companions.

Astrid:
Today was my turn to have my review straight after the movie poster, but I know Nick has told his story of seeing Prick Up Your Ears in Islington when it first came out and it deserves to go first. So here is my ramble on mixing-up a love relationship and a passion for creative work:

If you stay in a relationship long enough, every internal position and power will have shifted multiple times. Joe Orton was the green, unsophisticated acting student who dated girls, when he first met Kenneth.

Kenneth was an elegant witty creative writer and unafraid of his sexuality as a gay man. He took Joe under his wing and together they loved and wrote for years. Both benefited from these early positions.

In time Joe became an artist of his own right, a successful playwright. He had separated himself from the creative union with Kenneth, who was unable to write alone. Joe had also developed a hunger for sex with other partners, his life turned more and more outward while Kenneth stayed home and worried.

Enter resentment. Obviously Kenneth had helped and formed Joe, supported him and taught him. Clearly, Joe had taken all the help but was then able to write better alone. A new dynamic set in: Kenneth suffering and resenting, Joe guilty and yet excited and adamant to enjoy life.

This comes to a very sad ending. Especially, when I remember that the film is based on real people's lives and diaries. Why is it that gay movies so often have to end with death and misery, asked The Guardian in a blog this week. I am asking why it is that a love between two creative people is also a competition where there will be winners and losers?

Patterns from my past ... continued

I'm tired tonight - apparently too tired to sew a Q&D muslin of Vogue 2770.  Again I find myself aimlessly trolling for vintage patterns.  Tonight I'm looking at MomsPatterns.  I like this site because it's well-organized, and the thumbnail photos are a decent size.  

I came across a pattern from the late 1960s or early 1970s with a little drop waisted skirt (either pleated or flared) and had an almost visceral memory of a dress made from some sort of sleazy nylon print of the type that was de rigeur when I was in high school, in cheery red, white & blue.  I'd swear I never actually owned the pattern that prompted this reaction but I'll work on the memory and see if it sharpens any.

Anyone who looks at these sites regularly knows that some patterns turn up over and over while others live on only in one's memory.  Obviously the common ones were big sellers in their day.  Some of my past patterns must have been relatively unpopular (perhaps I had off-beat taste) because they are still eluding me.  However, in the offerings for this month, there are two copies of this old chestnut, which I remember making.

Quick!  It's only $6.50 (size young junior teen, 11/12).  I made it when I was in grade 9, I think.  The future Sewing Lawyer chose to make the vest and simple, A-line skirt in a stunning coral-orange hi-lo corduroy.  I think I wore it until the pile came through to the wrong side, I loved it so much.  Who'd have thought that coral corduroy would be so versatile?  (Maybe it presaged my current orange kick...)



Another pattern that's frequently spotted on the vintage sites is Simplicity 6895.  Now this is one that never made it into my sewing room, but I'm still pining for its close contemporary that did - I'm pretty sure it was the same "Designer Fashion" run of patterns, and had the same model (wasn't she just gorgeous?).  Shown in teal, it was a wide-lapelled pantsuit with the waist drawn in through wide elastic sewn through 2 parallel channels.  Sigh...  I'd make it again in a flash, if only I could find it.





Finally for tonight, here's one I still have (thankfully, since like so many others of my past, it has never appeared to me on the vintage sites).  I think view B would be a good choice for a casual summer shirt in 2010 - do you agree?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Music and the law

Another internal company piece.

In its final batch of judgments before re-branding itself as the Supreme Court, the House of Lords allowed the appeal of Gary Fisher, the former lead singer of Procol Harum, who had claimed joint-authorship of the band’s best known song A Whiter Shade of Pale. Fisher claimed that it was he who was responsible for the organ heard in the song, which he said should render him a joint author. The trial judge agreed and although the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the defendant, that finding of fact was never challenged.

The decision was a pretty straightforward one on the facts. Mr Fisher had the idea for, and the execution of, the organ part, which is unquestionably an integral part of the famous version of the song, and therefore he was entitled to a share of the royalties.

It is, however, possible to think of rather more difficult examples. In considering the legal test for entitlement to royalties for records, we are of course dealing with the altogether more philosophical and esoteric question of what constitutes a song at all.

Ordinarily a song is considered to consist of lyrics and the melody, and whoever is responsible for those would be considered the composer or composers. Immediately one can single out A Whiter Shade of Pale as an exception, given that Mr Fisher had written neither. In some cases the riff would be seen as the signature of the tune, particularly in the genre of classic rock: Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, or Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love (familiar to anyone who remembers Top of the Pops at least), for example. In traditional Blues music many of the classic 12 bar arrangements tend to be generic and it would be impossible to agree on their origins (save for the certain point that even if the original composer or composers could be identified, they would have been dead for many decades and therefore their copyright would have expired years ago).

More difficult still is virtually the entire body of music that would fall under the rubric of jazz. In most live performances there is a significant degree of improvisation. For example, Duke Ellington, the received master of the art, revived his career in the late 1950s with a legendary performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. The climax of his set was a rendition of his Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. The most famous part (coincidentally my least favourite) is a saxophone solo by bandmember Paul Gonsalves which was virtually completely ad-libbed. Should he, rather than, or at the very least as well as, the Duke therefore be considered the composer of the piece? What of the fact that his intended solo was far shorter but the Duke waved him on throughout as he discerned the crowd’s reaction?

Nor is jazz improvisation confined to the music. Ella Fitzgerald forgot the words to Mac the Knife when performing in Berlin, yet she ad-libbed them anyway and the resultant performance is almost as well known as those by her contemporaries Louie Armstrong and Bobby Darin. Cab Calloway also forgot the words once when he was singing live and, lacking Ella’s ability to fashion an instant lyric, instead just improvised with harmonic sounds, in the process creating the new sub-genre of Scat by himself. (In the Blues Brothers film he appears singing Minnie the Moocher, a Scat classic.)

I suppose in each of the above examples the performer in question would have had a strong case for co-authorship with the original composer, though the CD details rarely acknowledge as such. Perhaps on the odd occasion at least this is down to modesty on the part of the improviser. Eric Clapton has played countless Robert Johnson songs, of which he never claims to be a composer or joint-composer. Yet in many of them, such as the live version of Crossroads when he was with Cream, the song really should be considered his and those parts borrowed from Johnson purely incidental. (That said, Johnson is often reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical gift, so perhaps Eric was erring on the side of caution by continuing to credit Johnson least he provoke an irate response from the true original composer.)

Once one reaches the 1980s and the era of sampling, then at once the issue becomes both more difficult and easier at the same time. If someone has lifted an entire part of an earlier recording then it is hard not to say that the original person should receive the credit: MC Hammer and Rick James, for one. Then again, one would have to judge how much the sampled part actually formed part of the later work. It is unlikely Richard Ashcroft’s view coincides with Mick Jagger’s - though in fairness to Mr Jagger the dispute over Bittersweet Symphony was nothing to do with him personally, it was the record company which brought the claim, yet the song is now credited to Jagger and Richards. Ashcroft later said that it was the best song that the Rolling Stones had written in 20 years (personally I disagree since the last worthwhile Stones album was probably Tattoo You in 1981).

I haven’t even mentioned the issue of producers either. George Martin wasn’t known as the Fifth Beatle for nothing; and a short comparison between Sgt Pepper and some of the early work will illustrate why. Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ went substantially towards creating a style of music familiar for decades afterwards. Nile Rodgers remains in my view an unheralded genius, and Blondie would have been an awful though long forgotten punk band had it not been for Mike Chapman (try the original cut of Heart of Glass). Equally of course the likes of Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell have a lot to answer for in respect of what has clogged the commercial airways for years. For better or worse, however, the producers should if truth be told be credited as composers in many instances rather than as a separate entity.

Back to the legal definition of song composition. The short answer is that in almost all instances the matter is resolved by contract before the recording is even made. Hence, of the millions of pop songs, only very few have provoked litigation. Occasionally some horsetrading over contractual rights occurs. Or someone gets irked by the finer details: revealing a source of dissatisfaction of similar vintage to Mr Fisher’s, Paul McCartney recently reversed the famous “Lennon/McCartney” attribution on some re-releases.

In those rare cases which do find themselves before the courts, the usual reified legal terms of ‘fact and degree’ together with ‘expert evidence’ and ‘the facts of each case’ are deployed, leaving one to conclude that it is only slightly less arbitrary than a ruling by the Cadi under the Middle Eastern Palm Tree or the foot of the Chancellor of centuries past.

There is, however, usually some entertainment to be had by musical litigation. Somebody really did want to be held partly responsible for a Phil Collins live CD. Someone else really did claim to have been a member of the teen band Busted. The judge rejected this; he described the unfortunate claimant as something of a ‘fantasist’. (In itself this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – as long as one lived in a happy fantasy world. It would presumably have been happier to have spent one’s days being, say, Mick Jagger, or Keith Richards, but then there’s no accounting for taste). The violin player who considered himself responsible for the intro to the Bluebells’ Young at Heart went to court to prove it. He took his violin with him, and played it too.

Not much humour was found in the Pink Floyd fallout in the 1980s, when former bassist, singer and songwriter Roger Waters tried to stop the remaining members of the group from using the name after he’d left. There was, however, a touch of irony: if the band was predominately identified with Waters by that stage then it had equally been Sid Barrett’s in 1970, and I doubt it had ever crossed Waters’ mind at the time that in fairness to Sid they should find a new name.

More recently of course an apparently united Pink Floyd won a case against EMI (which the spoof band Bad News once explained stands for "Every Mistake Imaginable") on the interpretation of their recording contract. Pink Floyd, rather precious about their concept albums, had a clause which prevented EMI from selling the tracks individually. This obviously posed a problem for EMI in the age of the download, so they argued that the terms did not extend to an MP3 format rather than a physical disc or record. One up for musical integrity as the court ruled in the Floyd's favour. Win some, lose some, as ever.

Mean Streets (1973) Directed by Martin Scorsese


Nick :
New York has become such a safe city. It's full of wealthy college kids and millionaires. It's somewhere where everyone from Finland can go for a visit and comment "it's so safe, it feels safer than Helsinki". Scorsese's energetic Mean Streets shows a time when New York was buzzing with danger. Small time crooks hustle for the mafia in Little Italy. In some sense this should have been the terrain Coppola covered in Godfather III, this shows how drugs became taking care of business. This is an unglamorous picture of New York and the mafia. People are racist, selfish, honest, real. Streets are dirty, dangerous, 24-hour-crazy and no-go.

Charlie and Michael are mafia hoods on the streets, selling drugs and collecting payola. After a day on the streets they usually convene at their friend Tony's bar where they get drunk and watch strippers. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) has taken interest in Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). Johnny Boy is a reckless young firecracker who owes everyone money in Little Italy, especially Michael (Richard Romanus). Charlie promises Michael that Johnny Boy will repay him his money, but Johnny Boy constantly misses the repayments, causing tension and violence among the group.

Scorsese gives us The Shirelles, The Ronnetes and The Rolling Stones and much more eclectic music on his best soundtrack use ever. The dialogue is over compressed, it's brash and loud. Catholic guilt, small time gangsters, sharp dressers, slick camera work, all the usual Scorsese attributes are on show in his first breakthrough picture. But still Mean Streets bristles with an excitement that Scorsese has lost over the years.

The camera work and editing have an edge that Scorsese over time has smoothed out and replaced with technical expertise. The friendship between De Niro and Keitel is natural, the affair that Keitel has with secret lover Teresa (Amy Robinson) is tender and touching. These are real people and the emotional involvement for the viewer is deep. Scorsese has misplaced this aspect from his film making, we can marvel nowadays at the bravura of his movies but we are rarely moved by them anymore.

But the reason you should watch this amazing film is Robert De Niro. Not only does he look like the coolest mod rock star throughout, this is one of the most exciting acting displays you'll ever see. He is mad and dangerous, funny, unpredictable – the legend starts here. Johnny Boy embodies the film's attitude and prevailing despair, the essence of the times when he says: "I fuck you right where you breathe, because I don't give two shits about you or anybody else."
If this has passed you by, if Mean Streets has not featured in your life, you're missing out. It's still essential, groundbreaking cinema.

Astrid:
This is a film about Italian-American criminal culture without the usual glamorizing. Maybe it is more about being lost as a young adult and Little Italy is just a backdrop.

Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) looks super cool in his hat and his various jackets, but he is volatile and placeless. He is pure energy with no respect for social convention, no direction and hardly any brain. He relies on other people's kindness and has nothing to offer in return.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) knows how to behave in his immediate surroundings, he plays by the rules and is thus advancing quickly in the Family. Within his bad-boy crust he is a life-pondering, god-fearing nerd. A lot of his time goes on sorting out Johnny Boy's messes and the rest on having an affair with another cousin of his, the beautiful epileptic Teresa.

Mean Streets describes the mafia as a bunch of average guys with a violent streak and not much savvy for business either. There are no fast routes to richness here. Ignorance prevails, for example epilepsy is thought to be a mental defect and everyone is very racist.

Young people are directionless and lost, this comes with the intense feeling of potential. Some die that way. To others this lostness slowly becomes a facet of who they once were. Something to look back on. This could be my favorite movie situated in the genre of mafia films. It looks effortlessly good and portrays New York as the cruel and narrow machine that it sometimes feels like.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How the U.S. Is a Tax Haven for Mexico's Wealthy


Federal Taxation
8/26/2009 11:37:34 AM EST

News Analysis: How the U.S. Is a Tax Haven for Mexico's Wealthy
By Robert Goulder, Editor-in-Chief - Tax Analysts International Publications
Posted by Tax Analysts Editorial Staff

As if Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner didn't have enough on his plate, there's one underappreciated problem his department now must address. This latest headache can be summarized in three words: U.S. bank secrecy.

The issue landed on Geithner's desk shortly after he accepted his current job, in the form of a February 9 letter from Mexican Secretary of Finance Agustin Carstens. At first glance, its polite language seemed innocuous. Geithner most likely read the letter, mumbled "ho-hum," and added it to the stack of low-priority items on the back burner.

But six months later, Carstens's letter ­ and how Treasury will respond to it ­ has the potential to become a lightning rod for controversy. That's because the IRS and the Justice Department, after decades of passive acquiescence, decided to pick a fight with Swiss banking giant UBS, the world's largest manager of private wealth.

...

What does the letter contain that's so shocking?

It asks the U.S. government to offer Mexico the same exchange of information terms the United States has with Canada. That's significant because Canada is a special case when it comes to cross-border tax enforcement. Despite possessing one of the world's most comprehensive tax treaty networks, the United States has meaningful information exchange with only one country: Canada.

Mexico has now put the U.S. government on notice: It wants in on what's previously been Canada's exclusive arrangement. Should that inclination spread to other governments across the hemisphere, it could have extraordinary consequences for the U.S. financial sector. Think of it as the fiscal equivalent of the H1N1 flu virus.

...

Just as the United States spent the last year demanding that Switzerland give ground on its bank secrecy regime, Mexico now wants the U.S. Treasury Department to yield on its own bank secrecy.

Fair is fair, the argument goes, lest Washington be accused of extraordinary hypocrisy.

By now you're probably thinking that something is wrong here; U.S. banks must be very different from Swiss banks. Guess again ­ they're not.

...

Mexican residents who hold an account with a U.S. bank ­ just like U.S. account holders at Swiss banks ­ are essentially on the honor system when it comes to declaring bank deposit income for tax purposes in their home countries. As students of the subject have learned, tax law enforcement using the honor system translates to rampant tax evasion.

...

To the neutral observer it might seem that America's opposition to bank secrecy is highly selective. Perhaps we object only when it's our tax base that's being eroded.

Geithner now must decide whether Treasury spoke with a forked tongue in the United States' showdown with the Swiss. Mexico City is awaiting a response.

http://law.lexisnexis.com/practiceareas/Practitioners-Corner/Federal-Taxation/News-Analysis-How-the-US-Is-a-Tax-Haven-for-Mexicos-Wealth

Interrupting the stream of sewing...

Here's an instant-gratification project.  It's nice to be able to take something from flat folds to finished garment in a few hours.  This is my second version of Jalie 2794, an all-round favorite on Pattern Review with (as of today) 58 reviews.  It was chosen as a "Best Pattern of 2008" and is in the "Hall of Fame 2009" (a prior year's "best of" with lots of continuing positive reviews). 

There's not much more to say.


Except, of course, that I made it to coordinate with my orange plaid jacket & black skirt.

Back to my muslins...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Next up ...

For years I have not had this problem - a gaping hole in my sewing calendar.  What on earth will I make next, I have been wondering more and more frantically.  Meanwhile, I've been marking sewing time by tracing patterns from a Burda magazine I stupidly did not buy but was able to borrow from DIGS, who clearly never has a hole in her sewing calendar.  (I'm finished with them now DIGS, what about that lunch date where I'll return them?)

I know what I want to make it out of, at least. 

I know, I previously announced to the blogosphere that the multi-yarned and slightly slubby black/camel/cream wool blend fabric wanted to be a double-breasted, stand collar jacket from Burda Magazine.  I've been wrestling with that idea for a week or so.  The clean lines work, but I worry that the double-breasted jacket will be less versatile, and that the high neck would mean I'd not want to wear it in spring and fall but only deepest winter.  I want a jacket I can wear right away. 

Also, I failed to convince my husband that the style was right for the fabric.  He doesn't always have (or at least express) an opinion. So I started to doubt my fabric's intentions, and the wisdom of that pattern for a jacket to be made in March. 

Naturally I have thousands (only a slight exaggeration) of jacket patterns, including an entire shelf of miscellaneous issues of Burda WOF (I have never subscribed but pick it up from time to time).  Nothing seemed right.  And then I lit on this Vogue Tamotsu pattern, now out of print but still available on the Vogue website.  AHA.  Clean lines, single breasted, interesting collar action, vaguely fits my husband's sense that the fabric might be happy in a Japanese-y style. 


I know, the lines are impossible to see (why do pattern companies do this?) so here are the line drawings for the jacket. 

I'll have to monkey with the sleeves since I'm pretty sure the shoulders will be too extended (this dates from 2003 and calls for 1/2" shoulder pads).  However, I bought the pattern for the neckline and it'll work really well with the fabric. 

Oh, it also has spousal approval. 

I also need plans for the 4 season camel Italian wool which I dug out of the stash.  Something to go with the jacket, but what?  I have 4 metres (lots).  Ideas anyone?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

U.S. Exporters Open Latin America Regional Office in Panama


Photos: Above: Gabriel Aguilar, Panama Canal Administrator Alberto Aleman Z., Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, USGC Regional Director Kurt Shultz, Jorge Lombardi. Aguilar and Lombardi are members of Lombardi Aguilar Group www.laglex.com, legal counsel for the Panama office. Below: USGC Board members during ribbon-cuttting ceremony at Ocean Business Plaza.


U.S. Grains Council Opens Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office
Contact Marri Carrow at 202-789-0789
Thursday, 18 March 2010 00:00

U.S. Grains Council Chairman Rick Fruth announced the official opening of the Council's newest international office in Panama City, Panama. The USGC Latin America and Caribbean Region office represents a key presence in the region as the Council continues its work of Developing Markets, Enabling Trade and Improving Lives.

"The failure of the United States to ratify pending free trade agreements in the area has caused a significant loss in grain business and trade. It also has had a consequential effect on the economic development of our friends and allies in the Latin American region," said Fruth. "By establishing an office in Latin America and the Caribbean region, the Council is strategically positioning itself to defend U.S. markets while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life of our trading partners."

Kurt Shultz was named the first director of the Panama City office. Shultz has worked for the Council since 1999 and previously served for seven years as USGC regional director for the Mediterranean and Africa before transitioning to his current post.


See full text in http://www.grains.org/news-events/2266-us-grains-council-opens-latin-america-and-caribbean-regional-office -



La embajada estadounidense presidida por Barbara Stephenson, realizó un coctel de bienvenida a miembros del Consejo de granos de Estados Unidos

En el Hotel Marriott se organizó un elegante coctel con motivo de la visita de miembros de los miembros del Consejo de granos estadounidenses, los cuales establecerán una oficina regional para América Latina y el Caribe en Panamá, con la finalidad de afianzar el comercio entre las Américas. "La posición geográfica clave y punto de comercio internacional hace de Panamá un lugar muy atractivo para abrir esta oficina regional y hacer negocios", dijo el dirigente empresarial Rick Fruth. "Uno de los propósitos de nuestra organización es lograr un acercamiento entre Estados Unidos, Latinoamérica y el Caribe, para mejorar y profundizar el comercio de granos", expresó.

http://www.laestrella.com.pa/mensual/2010/03/18/contenido/214801.asp



Consejo de Granos de los Estados Unidos abrió una oficina regional en Panamá

El Consejo de Granos de los Estados Unidos abrió una oficina regional en Panamá para cubrir sus actividades en Latinoamérica y el Caribe y por tal motivo, en conjunto con nuestra Embajadora ofreció una recepción para sus colaboradores y contactos en el área gubernamental y privada.

El Consejo de Granos de los Estados Unidos representa a productores y comercializadores de cebada, maíz, y sorgo de su país que exportan hacia el resto del mundo y en conjunto con el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos contribuye al desarrollo económico mundial y a la rentabilidad de la agricultura.

La Exportación de Granos representa el 17% del total de carga transportada por el Canal de Panamá y de ese porcentaje, un 90% son granos originarios de los Estados Unidos.

http://spanish.panama.usembassy.gov/fas.html

Friday, March 19, 2010

Press releases accompanying Supreme Court judgments

The following was excised from a longer piece being written for the UKSC blog, it rendered the piece too long and was on a slightly different point to the main issue being considered.

One innovation accompanying the introduction of the Supreme Court was press releases for each judgment. These I am told are authored by the judicial assistants. I am not convinced they are a welcome change.

The press releases read as a sort of hybrid between a headnote and a news summary. They lack the authority of the former or the general observation of the latter. They are expressly stated not to form part of the judgment. Of course they are of some assistance, but they do not seek to summarise the law in the way of a headnote. More importantly, they can do nothing to change any infelicities or inconsistencies between multiple judgments. They can merely draw attention to them. Judicial assistants are of great benefit to the judges (I should here declare that I was briefly in such a capacity in New Zealand, though discount my own contribution for the purposes of this discussion!). It is not thought necessary for the Court of Appeal, for example, to issue press releases.

I suggest that there is no need if one takes into account the primary target audience. Judgments of the Supreme Court will always appear in mainstream law reports (usually as a matter of priority), and it is these upon which lawyers will subsequently rely.

Of course the general public are also interested in the outcome of certain high profile cases, and the press releases may help journalists understand the judgments. They have never been thought necessary before. Admittedly fewer of the mainstream media have legally qualified staff anymore, and the papers are not always as rigorous as they might be in publishing corrections of erroneous reports of important cases. But is it the role of the court to do the hacks’ job for them? It might also be observed that the reasoning in favour of press releases for the Supreme Court applies equally to the lower courts (as I have argued before, most judge made law is made in the High Court and Court of Appeal) and no-one would suggest that there is anything like the resources to provide press releases for all of their judgments.

I would suggest, therefore, that the valuable time of the judicial assistants would be better spent if they were deployed solely to assist the preparation of judgments, including identifying any inconsistencies in draft judgments and drawing them to the judges’ attention.

The Go-Between (1970) Directed by Joseph Losey

Astrid:
Our English cinema fest continues here with another 1970s piece. Strangely, The Go-Between is also about a child's experience in the middle of an adult game. (See our review of The Singing Detective for more on childhood experience)

Set in the early-2oth-century upper class mansion, The Go-Between is a visual feast of stylishness and opulence. Julie Christie is the family's daughter soon to be married to a nice rich Lord. But underneath the white dresses and beneath the parasol, there is a woman secretly in love with a neighboring lonely farmer guy. Or maybe it is just sex.

Here is where a child's innocence can be exploited. Enter Leo, 12, a summer guest from a notably poorer background. He is eager to please, to feel a part in the extended family of his school friend's. He roams around the wonderful nature and gardens, he knows the backyard secrets.
He becomes a messenger between Marian (Julie Christie) and Ted (Alan Bates). You can probably guess what happens.

It is significant that the adults believe they can trust a child to hold their secret. They rely on his not understanding what sort of messages he is taking back and forth. Why is Leo up for this postman's role? He is very infatuated with the beautiful Marian who has deliberately been kind to him. For Leo it is fulfilling to have this special secret relationship with her and she exploits his childish love.

Again, sexuality becomes something mysterious and dangerous. Leo knows there is more to love then kissing, but no one is willing to tell him anything. He needs hard and fast facts, but the adults around him have branded sex a sin. As a result Marian is unhappy, Ted dies and Leo is still being exploited as an old man.


Nick:
I got interested in this film back in the day because I'd heard that my favorite band of the time (The Go-Betweens) had named themselves after it. I actually read the book by Hartley as well, which was a low rent, cheaper version of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Oh, fandom, it leads you down many stray paths.

Then, after I saw The Servant, I became obsessed by Losey and had to track down all his films and was surprised that this was one of them (not paying so much attention when I first saw it). Some basic themes from Losey's previous work are here. The difference between the Classes, forbidden love, a Harold Pinter script. It looks wonderful. It has a busy Michel Legrand piano signature that features one great chord progression. I'm sure this has influenced many an English costume drama. This is a picture of great scenes that doesn't quite stand up as a whole.

It's 1900, and 13 year old Leo (Dominic Guard) goes to spend the summer with his wealthy classmate Marcus in the Norfolk Countryside. He inadvertently becomes messenger for his friends' older sister Marian (Julie Christie) and her secret lover, local farmer Ted (Alan Bates, excellent). It's a coming of age yarn of how Leo loses his innocence as he witnesses the forbidden love between the classes. Stand out scenes include a cricket match (it's always great to see the great game up on the big screen!), Bates singing with Christie on the Piano during a village get together, and the only real evidence this is a Pinter script, Bates' farmer trying to explain what lovemaking is to the young boy.

It's slow and Losey's decision to cut to the future to a grown up Leo for abstract shots of Norwich seems pointless. Another mistake is viewing events from the boys perspective. We only get a couple of scenes of Bates and Christie together during the whole film and perhaps because of this the sexual tension is heightened, but the film lacks that presence overall. Julie Christie always seems to get the slutty woman roles. Subconsciously, that might be her real appeal to a lot of men, despite her being a fine actress.

So, an average Losey film. But that means, compared to other filmmakers, it's still interesting and worth a peek.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Singing Detective (1986) Directed by Jon Amiel

Nick:
Illness has been prelevant in the household this week. Stomach Flu for me, severe fever, coughing, more of the same for Astrid. To feel empathy or possibly not to feel as ill as the people on-screen, Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective has been keeping our concentration levels up. This isn't the awful Hollywood remake from a few years back (Hollywood always pisses on Potter) but the original 6 part TV series made for the BBC. In the Holy Grail of TV shows this is up there with Twin Peaks, The Prisoner and The Sopranos. Am I right, or am i right?

Philip Marlow (the brilliant Michael Gambon) is in a NHS Hospital ward suffering from a severe skin disorder (psoriasis) which renders him virtually paralyzed. He's a detective novel writer who relives his first novel whilst lying in bed, medication creating hallucinations and wild imaginations, mixing fictional events with his real childhood years. As the action in his mind shifts from the film noir world of his 40's spy novel (Marlow being the Singing Detective of the title) to the Forest Of Dean of his childhood, Marlow works out key incidents of his life in his head with a view to curing his illness and his own psychological hang-ups. All the characters burst into song at unexpected times, in various scenarios, typical of Potter's previous Pennies From Heaven and the earlier Blue Remembered Hills. You never know what's really happening, happened, or going to happen, or what's real or fiction. The influence of Raymond Chandler is never far, especially with the various deathly, dangerous women and twisting plot lines.

This is Potter in semi-autobiographical mode, raging at the world. He ruminates with rage on sex/death, the NHS, Guardian reading liberals, Thatcher, racism, Murdoch, alter ego's, politics, well everything actually. Marlow is an unpleasant, ranting, misogynist, yet our hero. Very great support comes from Alison Steadman as his mother, Joanne Whalley as the nurse and Patrick Malahide as arch nemesis Mark Binney.

I haven't seen this for over 20 years, so you're never sure how this would hold up. But Dennis Potter was always controversial, always writing for British TV, so therefore part of the culture of my growing up. He was a voice you listened to, with an opinion worth hearing, his work was intelligent. This is wildly original material for any medium, be it cinema or TV. The Singing Detective was his peak, and is still essential viewing, as potent today as ever. When I grow up, I'm going to be a Detective, I am, I bloody well am!

Astrid:
There has been a growing sense in me that what a child figures out and understands about the world by the time she is ten years old, is fundamental to her personality forever. This is a scary thought, because what it really means is that the misunderstanding and bafflement of experience had as a child forms us. The Singing Detective is a study of this claim. It is almost seven hours of
looking into the sediments of one man's mind as he heals from crippling psoriasis.

The mind moves in layers of past, present and future. Or it just moves in undefinable territory. This series depicts a writer, whose one layer is the creative, continually evolving imagined reality. I have never seen as good a visualization of how these element blend and become indistinguishable as this TV series. Philip Marlow's imagination is his tool, his curse and finally what sets him free (or is it the other way in the end?).

But there is a serious core here. Something very alarming. It relates to experiencing life through feeling, which is probably the only way to experience, thus to live.
The misunderstood or the mysterious can make us so unbalanced and distort our experiences so much that it makes living a hell. In the Singing Detective this is illustrated in Philip's relationship to his mother and later to any women in his life. Unfortunately, it seems that sexuality often becomes the corner of experience where this early bafflement manifests itself. The fact that parents forbid and deny it, and yet it exists like water and air between us.

This is a gem. The musical numbers are genius.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blow-Up (1966) Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Astrid:
For someone who's lived for so many years with someone who mentions Blow-up at least once a year and for someone who's watched so many 1970s New Hollywood films, it was high time to see the inspiration and instigator itself. I like long sentences, sorry.

I must say this was a lot more like reading Vogue than I expected. I could admire the swinging London of 1966, the promiscuous, beautiful girls – or should I say the liberated models. The latest fashion was there, and the beginnings of an exploitative youth culture. Everything is for sale, but we all know it and the transparency creates cynicism.

Blow-Up is about the man with the camera. It just so happens that today I watched an interview with David Bailey. Bailey said: 'you don't take pictures, you make them'. To some extent Blow-Up makes this claim too. The central (yet, somehow a bit boring) part about the film was that Thomas (David Hemmings) discovers he has accidentally captured a murder in his pictures.
I like the idea that while the photographer thinks he is being objective and in control, he is actually visualizing something outside of his consciousness. Why it has to be murder, I don't know.

The reason why Antonioni's film had such an impact on the young American directors of the 1970s must be that Blow-Up describes the world as it is at the time of the film's making. It refers to now. It indulges in moments, is not led by strict narrative, is daring and therefore breaks the mold. There are no conclusions. Importantly, its protagonist is a photographer, someone who watches and sees, and who thinks he is therefore in control. Seeing Blow-Up was like finishing my oatmeal in the world of movies. Now I can move onto lunch.

Nick :
The first time I watched Blow-Up many moons ago it was a massive disappointment. I'm not sure what I expected, but this? Every viewing since has left me with the feeling that not only was this groundbreaking cinema, but Antonioni was really playing with what we don't see, what's under the surface.

Yes, it's London in the swinging 60's and everyone does look like a hipster mod. Antonioni captures the change happening within the capital, from the swanky night club hang outs to the doss houses, colorful streets and the inner city reconstruction of modern architecture that was happening in London at this time. The camera is the star. I don't just mean that in the sense that David Hemmings photographer and obsession with picture taking is in some ways the focus of the film, but the cinematography is the thing to admire here. Blow Up is simply one of the best looking films ever made.

There is no real narrative in this film but through image Antonioni builds some kind of murder mystery. It's vacuous, no more so than Hemmings central character, you never warm to him. He does wear cool jeans and boots however. Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles have quite modest roles with some pretentious dialogue. There are some amazing looking women in this film and lots of naked frolicking and dope smoking. Yes, it's very 60's in that respect, but there is more underneath. I don't think Antonioni cared much for London in the swinging 60's, so detached is what's on screen. He is a voyeur.

But still, that's not the point, or maybe it is. The scene where Hemmings develops his pictures to reveal he unsuspectingly witnessed a murder is genius. But as a film that evolves with every viewing, as a comment on technique and really watching, in essence what cinema is all about, this is a masterpiece.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Supreme Court again

This blog has now been published here.

Courtesy of the UKSC Blog here is a link to an interview with the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips. In it he is asked about the reasons for the court's formation. He admits that there was no prior consultation with the judges. Although the idea had been knocking around for a while, and in particular the now retired Law Lord, Lord Bingham, had been in favour, it was essentially sprung on the judges without notice as part of a package of significant constitutional reforms. Despite the far-reaching consequences of those reforms, they were announced with all the fanfare of a 2p rise in tax on alcohol or any other mundane policy decision.

One of the other measures was the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor, a reform which in the event failed because no-one had taken the trouble to find out the full extent of what the Lord Chancellor actually did. The then-incumbent, Lord Irving, Tony Blair's fomer pupil master, was elbowed aside one way or another. Lord Falconer, Tony Blair's former flatmate, replaced him, though not at the same salary level. These days the post is held by Jack Straw, who still calls himself Mr Straw and sits in the House of Commons and obviously doesn't consider Lord Chancellor to be a full time job anymore.

Back to the Supreme Court. In the interview Phillips is pressed on the reasons for the Court's formation. He responds "I can't tell you why" but then offers "I can tell you the justification" and refers to the separation of powers. The interviewer asks perfectly reasonably whether the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords infringed that principle. Phillips says no, but that that might not have been obvious to a casual observer. The reason for the change, he then asserts, is to make the separation more transparent.

I would make three observations. First, that a body entirely the creation of an ordinary statute isn't necessarily independent, because there is always the suspicion that Parliament might pass another ordinary statute to alter or do away with it should it be displeased with the body's performance.

Secondly, if a lay observer had wondered whether the Appellate Committee was truly independent, he or she could have researched the situation and found the answer, as with any other legal issue. The creation of the court was a rather expensive way of pre-empting a question that wasn't evidently one troubling any sizeable section of the public or the media or anyone else.

Thirdly, despite the surprisingly cavalier nature, to say the least, of the reforms, Lord Phillips wasn’t sufficiently troubled to object, or if he was, to object with any conviction, unlike his former colleague Lord Neuberger.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Directed by George Cukor


Nick :
Good Romantic Comedies are in short supply. I actually can't remember the last one I saw that really made me laugh. Woody Allen hasn't made anything of note in recent years and the deluge of Jennifer Aniston/ Sandra Bullock drivel is enough to make you cry not laugh. That's why for me The Philadelphia Story is a must, almost a textbook exercise in the genre. So Richard Curtis, take note. This 70 year old picture is still razor sharp. It almost bites with it's cynicism, wit and intelligence.

A rich woman, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is to marry again, this time into new money. Her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) gatecrashes on the eve of the wedding with two gossip journalists from Spy magazine in tow. Haven uses the ruse of journalistic blackmail to try to win back his former wife. One of the journalists, poor author Macaulay Connor (James Stewart), once over his upper class prejudice, falls for Tracy on the eve of her wedding. They frolic, dance and swim after one too many drinks. Was there an indiscretion? How will Tracy's husband to be, working class business man George (John Howard) take it? How will Connor's journalist sidekick and girlfireind Liz (Ruth Hussey) react? As for Tracy's over rich family, what will they make of the stew? And will C.K. Dexter Haven win his ex back?

I've watched this many times in wonder at the richness of the dialogue, Cukor's pacey direction and the wonderful performances. This saved Hepburn's career (friend Howard Hughes bought her the script rights). It confirmed Grant as the distinguished leading man he was to become and James Stewart is just his usual brilliant self. Every other character is significant and completes the feeling of a great ensemble piece. They even manage to throw in discussions on the American class system. A timeless film that is still funny and romantic after all these years. Hollywood heaven.

Astrid:
The Philadelphia Story moves in the same classic genre of great entertainment as any Allen film for me. We watched it yesterday because we wanted to be certain of what we got. Super witty and straight-up acting and script from 1940. How come they talked so much more openly then about alcoholism and hangovers for example?

I relate to Katharine Hepburn. The Redhead. And she must have related to her role as Tracy Lord. It is ridiculous of course, to strongly identify with characters in a film, but if I cannot find anyone in a movie to identify with, it's not great for me. I want to personalize the magic. I like to think that somehow the film is a little bit about me as well.

Tracy Lord has set such high moral expectation towards herself and others that she and people close to her struggle to meet them. Therefore she is on a mission to cover up her failure (and her father's) by marriage because admitting weakness just won't do. Drinking and having extra marital affairs count as failures in this movie. To add to this psychological condition, other people see Tracy as a statue-like goddess of perfection. The expectation from all direction is to be something inhumanly beautiful.

Oh, the struggle to be a perfect woman, daughter and a wife. And to be in control and make once own choices. I cannot believe that someone wrote such a portrait of a woman in 1939. All the actors look astonishing in this film, their suits and dresses hang perfectly and in bright color (I'm certain even though it's in black and white). The only strange outfit is Tracy's wedding dress with a strange square of fabric fastened over her lungs and breast. Is it saying that a marriage is a lung-crusher? At least Katharine never got married in real life.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Black high-waisted pencil skirt & lined vent tutorial

Goodness me, I'm slow these days.  This is a fairly simple skirt, which I managed to complicate immensely.  It really is black although it (and my black tights) may appear dark blue in some of the pictures.  

This is based on skirt #112 from the January, 2009 issue of Burda WOF as it then was.  For some reason, even though the pattern is more than a year old, it didn't get reviewed a lot until very recently.  As of this moment, there are 7 reviews on PR (mine to come shortly) plus Christa's review of related skirt #113.  It's a winner!

However, I Frankenpatterned the skirt - only the waist pieces come from Burda - the rest is a version of my PMB (PatternMaster Boutique) princess seamed skirt.  My shape doesn't do well with a 2 seamed pencil skirt because there are 2 sizes difference between my waist and hip measurements, plus I have (ahem) "athletic" thighs.  Trust me - plain skirt patterns and my lower half do not play well together.  The princess seams, on the other hand, provide plenty of opportunities for subtle shaping including pegging the hem.  I think I'll be making some version or other of this skirt for the rest of my days.


My first step was to muslin the waistband pieces.  This has plenty of places for fit alterations too - since it comprises a total of 8 pieces.  I found it  fit at the waist, but was a little too exaggerated above the waist at the side seams and side-back seams, and a little too snug as it flared to go over the hip.  My goal was to have the waistband follow my shape and not be tight anywhere.  The needed adjustments were easy.

Once I had altered these pieces I did the necessary changes to my PMB pattern.  This mostly involved moving the princess seams so they would intersect the seams in the waistband.

Then I made a muslin of the skirt to check that the fit was as good as expected.  Imagine how chuffed I was to realize that my working out (with a personal trainer) since September is paying off - I had to take it in quite a bit.  The muslin also let me check the length.  This one is shorter than most of my other skirts, at 57cm (about 22.5") below the waist.  It hits me just above mid-knee. 

I already mentioned I was going to bone the waistband.  Actually, I decided to go all couture and create an inner structure or corset to hold the boning and give structure to the entire waistband, underline the skirt with silk organza, and fully line it with Bemberg, including a properly-finished back vent.

For the inner boned structure, I wanted a firm fabric that wouldn't be too bulky.  In my stash, I found this camo printed pantweight cotton.  Don't worry, it's inside the skirt and will never be seen.  I interfaced it (only inside the seam allowances) with a substantial woven fusible interfacing, as you can see in the next photo.

I had found really inexpensive packages of 4" lengths of spiral steel boning in a great store in Vancouver called Dressew.  This was my chance to use some of them. I used the seam allowances at side fronts and side backs to create a casing. 

This inner corset thingy was then basted to the constructed lining at the top and centre-back.  The lower edge hangs free.  If I ever decide that the boning is too much, I'll easily be able to remove it.

Below is a photo of the lining with corset attached.


Construction of the skirt itself was uneventful.  There are only a couple of things to note.  I used Italian black wool crepe (acquired for a song at the Fabric Flea Market, 2009).  I interfaced the waistband but with a light and lofty type of fusible.  This is more for cushioning the fairly thin wool crepe over the skirt innards than for actual structure.

The skirt pieces I underlined with silk organza.  I find this provides a little crispness to a wool crepe skirt.  It means the skirt will crease less and that creases will fall out faster.  Further, having underlining means you can sew a hem and vent which are truly invisible because all the stitches holding them in place are in the organza only and don't touch the fashion fabric. 

I used a long invisible zipper since  a standard skirt-length zip would have been too short given the high waist.  I left it a generous length (28cm or 11") and this makes such a huge difference in terms of ease of getting into and out of the skirt that I may always do it in skirts from now on. 

In attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist and zip, the lining/corset layer is treated as one (just as if it was only lining).

At the hem there is a vent at CB which I lined "properly".

Here's the vent, prior to lining.  Notice the navy blue silk organza underlining.  I hand-tacked the top of the vent to the underlining so it won't collapse - as noted already, this is entirely invisible from the outside.

Notice as well that I pressed back the edge of the vent underlap, and that the overlap is mitered at the hem. 



To prepare the lining for the overlap, you must cut off a piece corresponding to the vent but don't forget to leave seam allowances.  I marked the finished edge in chalk, and cut accordingly.





Then finish the edge and clip into the corner.  Here you can see the other side of the lining which will cover the underlap from the inside.







Fold the lining under at relevant seam lines and pin it in place.  Make sure that the lining is not too tight.  In addition to leaving a bit of horizontal ease, leave a little vertical slack in the lining before you sew it to the skirt so that it will be a little longer above the vent than the fashion fabric layer.  This ensures that the lining will never pull the CB of the skirt up. 

Then invisibly hand-sew the lining to the vent edges, and across the top of the vent. 





In the final picture you can see the little bubble of extra length, just above the top of the lined vent.  

And here are some more photos of the finished skirt:




And last but not least:  With the famous Orange Plaid Jacket!

This skirt should make a very versatile addition to The Sewing Lawyer's wardrobe - so far (judging by the fact I've been sitting in it while I wrote this blog entry) it's comfortable as well as (if I do say so myself) rather good-looking.