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Friday, December 31, 2010

Panama as Regional Business Hub

Because of the geographical position of Panama, located in the center of the American Continent, with access through land, sea and air, with a tropical year round climate, free of natural disasters. With an open service economy, capable human resources, dollarized economy, the international finance center, world class logistics platform and economic political and social stability, make Panama the ideal site for making businesses in the region.


Panama is a country with a service vocation, that possesses a privileged geographical location, that has allowed us to become one of the most important logistic centers of the Western Hemisphere for the storing and distribution of world cargo, a bridge for the mobilization of passengers to the entire American Continent and facilitator of efficient and modern communication services. As a commerce promoter, both nationally and internationally, Panama enjoys political, social and economic stability.

Panama has gone from being a bridge to becoming a logistic platform by air, sea and land, with the Panama Canal as main axis, transporting over 300 million of CPSUAB (Container, Bulk, etc.) presently serving more than 14,000 ships through 144 maritime routes and complementing with a system of container terminals in the Pacific and the Caribbean, that serve as cargo transship and redistribution, that recorded an annual movement of containerized cargo of 4.25 million TEU's, added to the inter-oceanic railroad that has a capacity 330,000 containers per year from one coast to anther. Panama also has the Colón Free Zone, the most important one in the Western hemisphere, with an annual trade exchange of over 19 thousand million dollars through its approximately 3,000 companies established in the Colón Free Zone. The development of the Panamá Pacífico Special Economic Area, in the former Howard Air Station, will serve as a space destined to the production of goods and high technology services.

We offer an efficient air service through the Tocumen International Airport, presently undergoing a remodeling process for offering a comfortable and safe atmosphere to all the travelers that visit our country and an expeditious and efficient attention to the transiting passengers, who do not go through customs or migration checks. From the airport the Copa Airline operates its Hub that offers more than 46 destinations to 25 countries in America and excellent connections, some of them with three daily flights to the most important cities of Latin America. In addition we account for with an excellent internal offer of direct flights to the principal cities of the interior of the country.

Panama has become the preferred center for the installation of five submarine optical fiber cables, turning into the ideal place for telecommunication companies and data centers since we have the advantage of offering great connectivity with North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, advantages that companies have learned to use effectively, such as MCI, Cable & Wireless and Movistar that offer cellular telephony services and first quality internet to the international market.

Our prestigious International banking Center, with over 93 internationally renowned banks, reflected for the first Quarter of 2010, assets in the order of US$ 65,000 millions.

Our medical and health services are well known internationally and they have the two best private hospitals of the Central American region; equipped with the most recent medical technology, and they are affiliated to world famous hospitals such as the Baptist Hospital in Miami, Florida and the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

Our tropical climate and varied tourist offer sets us among those preferred for the travelers that can find in our country picturesque indigenous and colonial communities, white sand beaches and coral reefs with indescribable beauty, mountains with fresh climates and tropical jungles with an exuberant vegetation, habitat of innumerable flora and fauna species. And with our excellent highway network and short distances the country can be toured in only six hours.

For these reasons, Panama has been chosen by important multinational companies such as Samsung Electronics, Inc., DHL, DELL, Hutchinson Port Holding Group, HSBC, BICSA, SCOTIABANK, Assicurazioni Generali, American Life Insurance Company and many more, as main offices for their regional operations. In addition, some of the most recognized International Organisms such as UNICEF, UNDP, OAS, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI, initials in Spanish), and the BLADEX [Latin American Export Bank] among others, have chosen Panama for establishing their operations.

Panama offers goods and services at reasonable prices as compared to its nearest neighbors, with Free Trade Treaties (TLC, for initials in Spanish) with Taiwan, El Salvador, Singapore and Chile. Furthermore, we are going through the final negotiations of a TLC with the United States and Central America and we are preparing our entrance in the G-3.


$2.6 billion in loan guarantees vs. 13,000 jobs

Right after the U.S.-Panama Tax Information Exchange Agreement was signed by Vice-President Juan Carlos Varela, he attended the signing of an agreement for the US $2.6 billion purchase by COPA airline (NYSE: CPA) of 32 Boeing (NYSE: BA) airplanes, with financing guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank http://www.exim.gov .

The same day that 13,000 jobs of the Panama financial center are put in jeopardy, a Panamanian multinational secures financing guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayer. Quid pro quo?

Copa and Boeing sign largest ever Panama-US business deal

Wednesday, 01 December 2010 17:35

Panama's principle airline Copa, and the Boeing aircraft company signed a $2.6 billion dollars agreement for the purchase of 32 aircraft onTuesday (November 30).

It was the largest ever business transaction between the U.S. and Panama

The ceremony took place at the U.S. Department of Commerce, soon after the signing of a tax disclosure agreement between the two countries.
Panamanian vice president and foreign minister, Juan Carlos Varela represented the government at the ceremony along with the chief executives of both companies: Pedro Heilbron of Copa Airlines, and Jim Albaugh of Boeing.

The 32 aircraft will be delivered between 2015 and 2018, and are part of the planned growth of the company, said Heilbron.

Copa Holding's president, Stanley Motta, and Vice President of Finance, Victor Vial, shared details of the funding for the deal, which was supported by a group of international banks such as Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, and Bank Exim.

Motta said the loan was agreed at very low rates for the guarantees provided by the Exim Bank.


Largest Ever Ex-Im Bank Transaction To This Country

The Export-Import Bank of the United States is providing a $113 million long-term guarantee to support the $132 million export by The Boeing Co., Seattle, WA, of four B737-700 aircraft plus two spare engines made by CFM International, Inc., Cincinnati, OH, to Compania Panamena de Aviacion, S.A. (COPA), Panama City. Each Boeing aircraft is also equipped with two CFM engines.

"This is the largest transaction ever authorized by Ex-Im Bank for a company in Panama," said Ex-Im Bank Chairman James A. Harmon. "We are delighted to finance US exports that support economic growth in this important Central American market while sustaining US jobs at thousands of Boeing subsuppliers at home."

Ex-Im Bank has supported Panamanian customers for over 50 years. This latest transaction is more than double the previous record-setter, a $60 million financing of a gas turbine export in fiscal 1994.
Justificar a ambos lados
Full text in http://www.exim.gov/pressrelease_print.cfm/070FCCF7-0A18-EFDE-9CA82347DE2AAF8B/


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Billy Liar (1963) Directed by John Schlesinger


Back from Christmas hibernation. And I'm back from suffering fever in bed after the Christmas stress got the best of me. Today I even ventured out for a walk and discovered the world pretty much the same as before. So here's one more review for the year 2010.

I don't think Billy Liar is Nick's favorite, although we are supposed to be reviewing the favorites still and this was his choice. This time is a special transition period between Christmas films (such as Home Alone 1 and 2), over-watching movies in general, and the new year with a return to routine. It's a strange time I have to add, somehow this roaming routineless makes me restless. I'm two paragraphs into this review and still have not mentioned Billy.

Well, I thought I was in for a light stylish fun time. What I got was a depression induced by Billy's lying, Julie Christie's annoyingly effortless beauty and edge, and the perfect duffel bag on the train table. The worst thing was that Billy was a very talented and creative person who was obviously never going to come to nothing because he was afraid to take any risks. Something in me feels too fragile to really analyze what made me so uncomfortable here, but I certainly wasn't in the mood.

Living in an alternative reality to the everyday humdrum existence we call life is something I often resort to. Yes, I'm a daydreamer, and a put-offer of doing things. But still,  I get round to the essential things in the end. What I don't do is create yarns about myself and others that don't pertain to reality, like Billy Fisher does as the main protagonist of Billy Liar.

Schlesinger's debut film looks amazing, and you certainly get a sense of the 'swinging 1960's' from some of the fish-eye shots and imaginative use of camera composition. Julie Christie's 'It Girl' stroll down the street is groovy and fab. Tom Courtney is smug and self involved enough as Billy, but his smart arsed demeanor leaves me with little sympathy for the boy who hasn't the courage to follow his dream of the big city lights. Keith Waterhouse's script still tickles the funny bone, it's just that's not enough to carry the movie.

England (West Bromwich to be exact)  looks marvelous in the 60's and it does leave pangs of nostalgia for a life that once was from this self exiled Brit. The scene with Billy at the breakfast table and the HP Sauce bottle in the foreground pulls the heartstrings. The British New wave of the 60's has aged badly. The lunges into seriousness towards the end of Billy Liar feels hollow. So, It's style over substance for Billy Liar. An enjoyable romp, just don't take the misplaced social commentary very seriously.

History of Real Estate Agents

December 28 in Panama is Innocents' Day which is similar to April's Fools Day and remembered with hoaxes. For the next time you are looking at properties in Panama with a real estate agent, here is a joke to share from Kelly's.com:

6 MILLION BC: God searches for a planet to establish life. Encounters real estate agent from "Lucifer's Planets & Gardens" who says "I've got a great deal on a fixer-upper just 90 million miles from the Sun."
5.9 MILLION BC: God buys the Earth and, after the closing, discovers it is a mass of molten goo. Angry, God confronts the agent and banishes him to spend eternity wearing polyester suits.
4 MILLION BC: God creates the ocean and the seas. By accident, a pool of pond scum transforms itself into the National Association of Realtors.
3.5 MILLION BC: God creates Florida.
3.49 MILLION BC: Thousands of real estate agents crawl out of the ocean to scout good condo locations. Market immediately crashes when agents realize that "snow birds" won't be invented for another 2 million years.
3 MILLION BC: A meteor crashes into Earth. The resulting crater creates a giant black hole filled with green ooze. The Multiple Listing Service is born.
2.45 MILLION BC: God makes Adam and Eve. However, delays in constructing Garden of Eden force Adam and Eve to live in an apartment eight months.
244 MILLION BC: Shopping for a move-up garden, Eve visits an Open Garden and encounters a fork-tongued real estate agent who tells her, "Garden, why would you want another one of those? I've got an entire apple orchard you can have real cheap."
243 MILLION BC: Adam and Eve become the first humans to truly understand what it means to buy from a real estate agent.
550 BC: Jealous of rising property values, real estate brokers in Greece devise a way to attack Troy by using a Trojan Horse.
42 BC: Cleopatra decides to build the Pyramids. Real estate agent and builder try to convince her that Squares would be much cheaper.
30 BC: Rome touted as "the hottest housing market in Europe" Thousands of buyers flock in to make deals with real estate agents.
29 BC: Rome real estate crashes. Julius Caesar calls a meeting of his advisors to see what can be done. Chief real estate broker Brutus suggests Caesar tours Rome to inspire consumer confidence. "Just lead the way," Brutus says, "I'll be right behind you."
500 AD: Middle ages bring major real estate slowdown. Agents are forced to take second jobs as undertakers. Scandal breaks out when agents are discovered to be removing gold fillings from dead people.
1308 AD: Real estate agent list a tower in Pisa, Italy as a "one of a kind property. Solid building guaranteed not to lean."
1492 AD: Christopher Columbus lands in America. However, he mistakenly believes he's in India, thanks to a bogus land survey provided by a Spanish real estate broker.
1620 AD: Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock. First colonial real estate agent promises Pilgrims that Massachusetts is "always sunny and warm. Never drops below 70 I swear."
1621 AD: Giant blizzard nearly wipes out Pilgrims. Real estate agent is banished to New Jersey.
1626 AD: Manhattan bought for 100 beads and trinkets from the Indians. The Indians' real estate agent takes 6 beads as a commission.

l803 AD: Napoleon shocks and angers French real estate agents when he sells Louisiana to United States without an agent. At 515 million, sets record for largest "FSBO" (for sale by owner) sale in history.
1867 AD: United States purchases Alaska from Russia for 2 an acre, after Russian Czar is given advice by real estate agent that Alaska is "utterly useless" land with no value at all.

One down, one to go

Holidays, that is.  As you know from my last post, I decided to sew some Christmas presents.  Some decision-making and present-sewing was still happening at the very last minute, i.e. the evening before we bundled ourselves, our luggage and provisions and our wrapped presents into the car for the long drive to the GTA.*

What you won't likely have picked up from my last post is that all the sewn gifts this year were repurposed and/or sewn from stash.  I'm not exactly sure how this happened, but it did.  Yay for stashes!

Of particular interest, the furry thing gracing my dress form is a fur blanket made from a great-quality fake fur coat which (luckily) was XL and quite long so it made a decent-sized rectangular piece.  It's lined with 100 weight fleece from stash.  I had a brainwave that my 20 yo son would love such a thing, and he does.  That's good, because it was a pain to make.  First, there are all the dust animals (bigger than bunnies) which are produced when you cut the fur.  Then, seaming the fur pieces so the seams were invisible, more or less, took a few tries since any unevenness is instantly visible as a texture change.  I did this by hand, from the back.  Last but not least, sewing on the fleece backing was a challenge since the fleece would not stay still on the fur - I swear I did not have to touch it for it to start creeping along the nap of the fur.  I laid the fur piece on the floor, fur side up (creating more animals), positioned the fleece on top so it was more-or-less even, pinned extensively, picked up the whole mess, and sewed one side.  I started with the top edge, i.e. with the fur nap running away from it.  Rinse and repeat, as they say, saving the bottom edge to last.

The boy says now that I've figured out sewing with fake fur, could I puhleeze make him a new zip-in lining for his leather Engineering jacket in something a little wild.  He'd have to come fabric shopping with me so it may not happen.

Next up?  I'm buoyed up by the success of the eyeglasses cases I made from leather to get back (finally) to my leather jacket.  Had you forgotten about it?  Well, I haven't.  Poor one-sleeved thing, it has been languishing in the sewing room in plain view for almost two whole months, and it is ABOUT TIME I finished it.  But it's stuck in the sewing queue behind a couple of active-wear items that I cut out in a burst of enthusiasm and leather-jacket-denial before the OMG-Christmas-is-coming moment.  I want to get these projects off the cutting table and into a drawer before I do the jacket, since I've got to free up the cutting table for the jacket lining (see, it does make sense).  I can't do all this before 2011, since I foolishly signed on to work the rest of this week, but I intend to at least make a good start by the end of next weekend.

After that I want to muslin Vogue 1083 and get serious about sewing a new outside for my inside-out fur coat.

No other retrospectives on 2010, predictions for 2011, or optimistic resolutions from the Sewing Lawyer will be served.  I'm eager to see how it all rolls out. Stay tuned!

* For those of you who don't know the term, the GTA is the Greater Toronto Area, also known as "the 905" (for its area code, to distinguish it from the 416 which is Toronto proper). I know that the GTA looks like a small town in comparison to many cities of the world (it's only the 45th biggest metropolitan area in the world, with 5.6 million people).  However, getting there and getting through it are a chore.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gone With The Wind (1939) Directed by Victor Fleming

I've lost my mojo. I mean this in the respect that here we are, watching some of our favorite films, and I have not been able to put much personal perspective in the reviews on this blog. So, Astrid's latest pick is the never ending Gone With The Wind. I don't have much personal connection with this picture. It used to be a Christmas staple on British TV. I actually remember the British TV premier, some time in the 1970's I think. That's it. No more connection to my soul for Gone With The Wind.

But wait a minute. What do I experience when I watch this picture? What hits me always is how well shot this movie is. From the opening scene with Scarlett on the veranda of family home Tara with the twin beaus who dote on her every word (it's almost 3D!), to the last act, splendid in its dark Gothic intensity. It's the main thing I take away with me here. Is there such a well composed old movie as this one? I also find it fascinating that such a celebrated piece of popular culture has such an unlikeable central character as Scarlett O'Hara. Gone With The Wind can be thanked for giving us such an empowered female lead, but every opportunity to feel empathy towards Vivien Leigh's character is taken away from us. Was this the film maker's attempt to give extra depth and meaning to Clark Gable's final utterance "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"?

So amongst all that happens in the gossipy lives and war torn extravaganza that is Gone With The Wind, it doesn't move my soul. So why do I enjoy this four hours of over-the-top soap opera so much? Is it really the fact that despite my punk attitude, despite my allusion that cinema should be artful and have meaning, Gone With The Wind satisfies me as top class entertainment and nothing more? Yes, and sometimes that's enough.

When I first watched Gone With The Wind I was under ten years old and I kept falling asleep. I did not understand much of the story but still the film had a magical influence. I was fascinated by the rudeness and the passionate feelings of Scarlett and Rhett. Also, the clothing and the look of the film spoke to my romantic heart. This was what I thought adult life is like – something to look forward to.

As a teenager I loved the film but found Scarlett O'Hara somewhat unsympathetic. I judged her capitalist greed, anger, cunning plotting and her love for Ashley as faults, which she could exorcise if she wanted to. I also found Rhett completely repulsive!

Life seems more complex the longer I live it. Now I have had to realize that Scarlett is the most realistic portrayal of a person here, while the perfect saintly Mel seems rather boring and uninteresting as a character. Scarlett enjoys a bit of sex after her arguments, she openly longs for a man while marrying others for financial benefit, she appears driven and self-protecting in public, she speaks her mind, shows her anger, drinks too much alcohol and gives the occasional slap on the face. She appears to go trough post-natal depression too, she kills a man to protect her land, she plays mind games with her husband and makes a lot of mistakes. But aren't these the factors that make her such a fascinating leading lady? Even in December 2010 these traits in a woman bring up the emotional question of femininity or the lack of it.

Gone With The Wind was filmed and finished in 1939, the same year as The Wizard of Oz. Cinema was a very new art form then (especially the use of color), yet, there haven't been many films since as full of movie magic as this one. Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer

I have spent time rummaging through my memory lately thinking of things that have happened to me and that I have done. But what about the things that have happened to me and I've done without having a memory or knowledge of them? Do those things matter? What about sleep, dreams, being a baby, too drunk to know, too scared to know? What about the subconscious, can I know on another level while not knowing at all in my usual daily consciousness?

The Manchurian Candidate claims that it does matter what we do and experience. It becomes dangerous to forget or to not connect to all sides of ourselves, because the fragmented consciousness can be used as a weapon. In the film this issue is presented with connection to war crimes, spying, and political assassinations, but the most disturbing aspect of this intra-personal disconnection is closer to home. A mother hypnotizing her son in order to use him as an assassin is an over-the-top example of the power family members have potentially towards each other.

Our common sense of self-identity is largely based on the ability to master a coherent image of the different levels of consciousness. The Manchurian Candidate shows how fragile and fluid the coherence actually is. It's one of those movies where I get a little bit bored watching it, but come away with a lot of ideas and inspiration.

The Manchurian Candidate is easily in my top 20 films of all time. I have a special relationship with this film. When I first got into films seriously (I was around 13),  The Manchurian Candidate was a film you couldn't see. I had read about it, it had legendary status. It was a Holy Grail kind of film that was not in circulation in any form. Just stills in some movie books.  Frank Sinatra owned the movie rights and after the John F Kennedy assassination of 1963 withdrew the film from circulation due to US government pressure. Turns out that this was pie in the sky and that distribution issues were at the root of the films disappearance. Of course, such speculation only added to the picture's legend in my mind. Anyway, a restored version was cinema re-released in 1988. This was when I finally saw the picture and fell in love with the film.

The Manchurian Candidate comes across like something that you may read about on Wiki Leaks in 2010. Son of prominent right wing family is brainwashed in the Korean war to become a post-war assassin for Communist sympathizers operating in the USA. The genuinely weird Laurence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the would be assassin. Frank Sinatra plays Major Marco, who fought with Raymond in Korea. Marco faces his own personal demons, which he thinks somehow relates to Raymond. Janet Leigh plays Rosie, who helps Marco get his confidence and focus back. The scene on a train where Leigh seduces and consoles Sinatra with small talk is very moving. Yet, Angela Lansbury, playing against type as Raymond's evil mother steals the film. Manipulation, murder and incest all come into her chilling orbit.

I'd make the claim that The Manchurian Candidate is the mother of all conspiracy thrillers. It's sophisticated film making with a pinpoint narrative, where it makes the audience think to get a true understanding. The Manchurian Candidate displayed a style that the film making that was to follow in the late 1960's picked up on and ran with. For me, this remains a found masterpiece and a true original.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Court tweets

A post for Halsbury's Law Exchange, published here

Open justice is one of the most fundamental tenets of English law. Lord Hewart CJ famously declared in R v Sussex Justices, ex parte McCarthy [1923] All ER Rep 233 that:

"... it is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental importance, that justice should both be done and be manifestly seen to be done."
Inevitably modern technology has given rise to new issues regarding the scope and application of the principle. Courts have yet to allow television broadcasting, photographing or electronic recording of proceedings; now they must deal with mobile communication devices and the internet, and in particular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

One suspects that the genie is out of the bottle, and it will therefore be a case of managing the developing technology rather than pretending it does not exist or seeking to exclude it in toto. To that end, the Lord Chief Justice has this morning issued interim guidelines on the use of electronic communications from court. They provide, among other things, that: 
  • subject to the necessary precondition that its use does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case, the use of an “unobtrusive, hand held, virtually silent piece of modern equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world as they unfold in court is generally unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice”.
  • an application (formally or otherwise) can now be made by an individual in court to activate an electronic device (phone, laptop or similar). The judge will consider the above precondition and then other factors such as the danger of inadmissible evidence being reported, or pressure on witnesses.
 As mentioned these are interim guidelines, and many more considerations will no doubt come into play in practice. These will include the possibility of anonymous and untraceable publication and indeed publication beyond the reach of national law.

That said, the underlying issues are essentially the same as for pre-internet publishing. In the context of criminal trials, certain things may not be disclosed, such as the identity of a sex abuse complainant, or evidence subject to national security concerns. Jurors must disregard anything they may have heard of the case outside the courtroom, and certainly cannot reveal any of their discussions from the jury room. Nor can the use of technology disturb the conduct of proceedings in court or the court’s own electronic recording facilities.

Restrictions on using electronic devices will therefore have to be imposed on occasion. To that end, the new guidelines seem sensible, and two existing safeguards should suffice to maintain the administration of justice whilst permitting blogging or tweeting from court in most cases.

The first is the wide ranging remedy of contempt of court - equally broad in the scope of its application and in the severity of the potential sanction. The risk of anonymous internet publication remains, but at least the mainstream internet media could be controlled in that fashion.

The second is (in criminal cases) the judge's directions to the jury. There is nothing new about the jury hearing tendentious material about cases - from newspapers, radio or television or even what used to be called the grapevine. Social networking and scurrilous gossip were not, of course, invented with the internet, although the internet has undeniably increased information publication and dissemination to a vast extent. The judge should therefore reiterate with specific reference to the internet the need for the jury to disregard anything said or written about the case outside the proceedings themselves.

The key point remains, however, the principle of open justice. Recently the Guardian reported the declining number of traditional court reporters (not to be confused with law reporters). For all of the potential problems with modern communications, they should generally be welcomed as a means to uphold that cardinal principle. If used responsibly, they should increase public awareness and debate of the legal system, which can only be beneficial.

Santa's workshop

I was hit by a sudden panic two weeks ago.  So I've been busy.  However, I'm now less stressed.

About the little pile of  zipped leather containers pictured above - some time ago one of my local sewing friends gave out a pattern for an ingenious case for eyeglasses.  Hers was made from fabric but I chose to use leather, most of which came from thrift store leather skirts.

The piece is 21.5" long by 2 5/8" (52 x 6.5 cm) wide, with round ends. Interface the piece with fusible.  Find a zipper of about 24" (60 cm) in length.

Sew the zipper to the leather, starting with the bottom end of the zipper at a point about 2.5" (6cm) from one end and continuing to a similar point at the other end.  Then repeat, going in the opposite direction.  You may have to rip and re-establish the stopping point to ensure that it zips up evenly (you will immediately see what I mean if you make one and it doesn't).  The further away from the end you start, the fatter and shorter the resulting case will be.  I thought 2.5" produced a case with a good length to width ratio.

When sewing the zipper around the round end, you will need to clip into the zipper tape to let it curve.

Then topstitch from the right side.

Next, you have to trim the open ends of your zipper and secure them inside with a couple of hand stitches.

To line, cut the same piece from thin (100 weight) polar fleece or similar fabric.  Remove about .25" (7mm) from the edges.

Coat the wrong side of the leather piece with rubber cement.  Let it dry a bit, then place your fleece piece on top, patting it down so it sticks to the glue.
Attach the lining to the zipper tape with hand stitches.

Start to zip ...

And you're done!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wild At Heart (1990) directed by David Lynch

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) passed away a couple of days ago. A very sad loss. Not just for some of the great records he made, but also for the attitude behind his music. No compromise, just inspiration. I see David Lynch as cinema's version of the Captain, always pushing the envelope, yet each frame of his films undeniably his work. Astrid's latest pick of her favorite films is Lynch's Wild At Heart, often overlooked nowadays when compared to say Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, Wild At Heart in some ways encapsulates all the aspects of Lynch's cinema, the good and the bad, all in one handy bundle.

Violence, sex, Rock 'n Roll, The Wizard of Oz and an obsession with the 1950's iconography run through Wild At Heart, the energy on screen is breathtaking. Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage (as Lula and Sailor) exude a certain empty chemistry that really works in the film's favor. Great support from Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton and Willem Dafoe means that Wild At Heart is one of the most character-built Lynch movies. Two thirds of this picture is so on the money, it's almost intensely faultless. At times it's very funny. It's also strong visually, with many stand-out shots and a great use of color. Crispin Glover's cameo and Sherilyn Fenn's car crash victim live long in the memory. Isabella Rossellini's face has never been so well captured. The soundtrack mixes Elvis and kung-fu style metal, invents Chris Isaak along with some great work from Angelo Badalamenti.

For me, Wild At Heart really falls down in the last third, when Sailor and Lula stop following the Yellow Brick Road and end up in Big Tuna.

Despite the introduction of Dafoe as the rotten toothed and slimy Bobby Peru, Lynch's abrupt end to the films road movie sequences zaps all the energy. It's a minor quibble of course, there's more than enough on display here to fill 100 movies. Plus, genuine weirdness abounds to satisfy Lynch die-hards. I prefer Blue Velvet if I was going to compare, where I think Lynch captured the essence of a 1950's utopia in a subversively sly, creepy and dark modern suburban surrounding. But Wild At Heart is Lynch in almost mainstream mode, and it's still exhilarating if ultimately flawed.

Once when walking in Beachwood on the Hollywood Hills I was stopped by an old man in a suit who wanted to say that I look like someone in a David Lynch film. He could not remember who, but I suggested it was Laura Dern and he did not deny it. I guess it doesn't take that much imagination there to make this arbitrary connection with Mulholland Drive close by, but it was a great LA moment for someone who loves Wild At Heart.

In my opinion, I don't much resemble Laura Dern, but I do admire her portrayal of Lula. Wild At Heart depicts the need to break free from entanglements, tormenting familial relationships, nightmares, and traumatic past events into a self-defined reality. It is a heart-wrenching mother-daughter story too. Being Lynch, it is stylized to the point of being like a fairytale. Funnily enough, Wild At Heart also references The Wizard of Oz, as did Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (the other movie I have chosen as my favorite so far).

Being on the road, driving away from something, running away – how ever you want to see it – I have experienced moments of exhilarating freedom in a moving car myself, and can therefore always relate to cinema that depicts this specific kind of disentanglement. It could be that I got this romantic notion from watching movies, but it certainly has come to good use on tour buses. On the last stretch of my latest tour, the bass player decided to play Love Me Tender maybe five times in a row on his DJ-turn. Watching Wild At Heart again now, I remembered why.

So I'm not the only one who gets romantic ideas about being on the road based on this film. Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) is a great characterization of a simple young man who gets into a lot of trouble for following his romantic notions of love, identity, individuality and freedom. I'm not a huge Nicholas Cage fan, but I'm a fan of Sailor and his snakeskin jacket.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Judgment Matters

This article, jointly written with Alexander Horne, has been published in the New Law Journal, (16 December 2010, Vol 160, Issue 7446, p 1735) 

An issue that has been debated since before the inception of the UK Supreme Court is the form in which judgments are delivered. Any such debate needs to consider two fundamental questions: first, the purpose of the judgment, and secondly, the intended audience. This article is mainly concerned with the former.

Appellate judgments serve two primary purposes:

(i) to tell the parties who has won and why; and

(ii) to clarify the law.

It is our contention that both objectives may be adversely affected in part by longer judgments, but more often—and more severely—by multiple judgments being issued with no clear ratio.

Individual judgments have lengthened at all levels in the past few decades, at least in courts of record, as the volumes of the law reports confirm. We suspect several factors are responsible.

First, the statute book has grown substantially in size and complexity in the past decade and a half, and one would expect the length of judgments dealing with statutes to correspond.

Second, from about the 1980s what judges occasionally refer to as the (self explanatory) “photocopying disease” took hold amongst counsel, later supplemented by its variant strain of the “cut-and-paste disease”.

Third, the growth of specialist report series made many more authorities available.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, from about the mid-1990s judgments started to become available on the internet. Previously, most unreported judgments effectively vanished. With the internet—coupled with the growing number of specialist series—almost every judgment is now freely available to counsel.

Citation matters

As a result counsel feel able, and often obliged, to cite multiple authorities and judges, in turn, feel compelled to deal with all of them. This is perhaps more acute in the lower courts where a judge might wish, out of caution, to deal with every authority lest failure to do so results in an appeal. In a Guardian Law Blog of 2 September, Adam Wagner lent towards blaming judges for too many authorities being cited and discussed, on the ground that they have the final say as to what appears in a judgment. In our view the blame ought to be shared more equally as between Bench and Bar, at least with regard to courts other than the Supreme Court. If a judgment may be appealed then a judge may feel compelled to deal with each and every argument and authority offered by counsel, although to an extent it may vary according to the degree of familiarity of the judge with the subject matter.

Plurality judgments

A view of significant authority has recently been presented by Baroness Hale, in an interview for the United Kingdom Supreme Court blog. She commented on “plurality judgments”, by which she was referring to single judgments with multiple authors, noting that “the idea of plurality judgments as the norm is very radical” and that while “some of us are sympathetic to it” others in the Supreme Court were not.

Many of the objections to the introduction of plurality judgments can appear self indulgent and miss the point that multiple concurring judgments can run counter to the two primary purposes of judgments identified above. Far from clarifying the law, multiple judgments can result in further confusion if they do not contain a clear and agreed ratio.

As Baroness Hale went on to suggest, on an appellate tribunal some judges will usually have greater experience in some areas than others. It is indeed important that each judge makes an effort to understand the issues rather than automatically deferring to the one with the most experience in the area under consideration, but it does not follow that each is therefore required to give a reasoned opinion. This was never the practice of the House of Lords and has not been the practice of the Supreme Court to date.

Baroness Hale gave as an example 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, a public law case, concerning the lawfulness of a school’s admissions policy. The legal question was a short one: whether the particular grounds for admission were racially or religiously defined (or as Baroness Hale put it, whether one can discriminate without meaning to). Despite the five different majority judgments the question was answered clearly enough.

This will not always be the case, however, particularly not in sophisticated commercial appeals, which might involve a multitude of issues on which judges might differ while agreeing on the result.

Generally, in the common law world, final courts of appeal have not as a uniform practice handed down a single judgment, one notable exception being the Privy Council. The approach adopted by the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights (delivering a single, composite, judgment reflecting an agreed position) may be one which the Supreme Court could follow. However, we would stress that the issue is not multiple judgments per se, but the lack of a single identifiable ratio.

One advantage of introducing plurality judgments is that it would ensure private debate between the judges hearing the case. The benefits of a round table discussion seem obvious, since, among other things, it would ensure that the judges had considered one another’s views on the case.


Baroness Hale has frequently been a champion of a more diverse judiciary, partly on the grounds that this might allow for different perspectives on cases and avoid the problem of “groupthink”. To achieve such a benefit, it is essential for the judges concerned to deliberate and discuss the case together; otherwise the conclusions reached by these new, diverse, appointees could easily be relegated to a lone dissent or ignored by the other members of the panel.

Baroness Hale went on to say that she hoped it would never become the case that dissents were not permitted, or that a judge would be prevented from describing the facts in a different way or otherwise expressing his own viewpoint. In this respect, dissenting judgments are a red herring. By definition they do not affect the majority decision and therefore have little adverse effect on certainty in the law.

It may be that judges are simply not able to agree (or not within a reasonable time) on all points of the case. In those circumstances, rather than issue multiple judgments which concur in the result but not all of the reasoning, and thus leave the law in a state of flux, it is incumbent on the presiding judge to insist upon a majority decision. This could be done by each judge stating that he agrees with the majority and then going on to give separate reasons in the form of obiter dicta indications as to what they would have preferred to have formed the reasoning for the decision. Of course, that would be an imperfect form of compromise but it would also indicate strongly to the legislature that the law under consideration requires review.

Baroness Hale’s final remark concerned the fact that different readers such as academics and leading practitioners might prefer diverse opinions. This is true, but the advantages of multiple judgments in the form of alternative viewpoints on the law could still be retained even when insisting on a majority ratio for the decision. Academics would then be able to assess what the law presently is against what the other judges would have preferred it to be. Practitioners would be able to extract arguments for subsequent cases, but would not have to charge clients fees for sifting through multiple judgments to determine what they think the law is while adding caveats that it might not be.

Our proposal would not require any radical step or reform, only an insistence that what is already a common practice for the form of judgments becomes a mandatory one.

A model example

The recent case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010] All ER (D) 186 (Oct) provides a model example. Seven judges endorse the leading judgment, Lord Mance adds a separate concurrence while Baroness Hale herself dissents. Practitioners therefore have an indisputable majority ratio, while academics and law reformers have the benefit of the differing views of Lord Mance and Baroness Hale.

Baroness Hale was undoubtedly correct that “the law can never be as clear as people think it is”, but it should aim to be as clear as is practicable to achieve.


Since the above was first drafted, Baroness Hale has returned to the subject in a speech for the First Anniversary Seminar of the Supreme Court. She argues

we should have a flexible approach in which each Justice is free to write but a climate of collegiality and co-operation in plurality judgments is encouraged. At the very least, however many judgments [there] are, there should never be any doubt about what has been decided and why”.

This accords precisely with what we have contended in this article.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jaws (1975) Directed by Steven Spielberg

Astrid:I did not swim in a lake for at least a whole summer as a kid because some boy in the daycare had mentioned the word killershark to me. As an 8-year-old I saw a couple of scenes from Jaws with my 18-year-old second cousin and was freaked out again. Then again, I used to be afraid of little fish too, not just sharks – I did not want to touch any fish skin. 

When ever I go on tour or somewhere, Nick watches Jaws – for him it's like Woody Allen for me, reliable and comfortable and you need the annual doses. But Jaws? Really darling?

What kind of a film maker spends the first half of the film developing tension with the main character's family in the picture but then chucks the whole story line and goes shark hunting? Are we supposed to experience a natural transition to the second half of the film through Richard Dreyfuss' shark expert? It's baffling. 

Whereas the part of Jaws that happens on the island at least has some entertaining 1970s New Hollywood appeal in the way it portrays people, once we are on the boat I am bored. I cannot get over the insulting way this picture does away with continuation in plot and replaces it with the shark.

Shark shark shark. A symbolic animal for the mindless garbage-eating monsters that Hollywood has churned out ever since.


I have a special relationship with Jaws. When I was 9 I went to the cinema with my sister to watch Jaws. It was PG (parental guidance) at the time. Well, the film scared me stiff, and I had nightmares for quite a few months after.  But as I grew up, I kept going back to the film to see why it had such a profound effect on me as a child. I never really found the reason why, other than I was probably too young to take in some of the nowadays pretty tame violence. But Jaws is a film I've revisited many times now as an adult, and it keeps getting better.

What fascinates me now about Jaws is how this picture became so huge. It smashed box office records at the time. The film debuted at a time when the realist New Hollywood was beginning to fade, and a more populist cinema was about to take over and influence modern cinema forever (Spielberg's buddy George Lucas was two years away with Star Wars). In reality, no one has ever forgiven Spielberg for this influence. Yet Jaws is definitely a New Hollywood picture with a budget and a  heavy debt to Hitchcock's Psycho.

Spielberg shows very little in the first hour, with John Williams now legendary stabbing theme (Psycho again) giving us advance warning of a pending shark attack.  But believable turns from Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and the excellent Richard Dreyfuss give credence to a lot of the dumb plot turns on screen which in essence lead us to a very poor looking mechanical rubber shark! The last hour of the film is a three men in a boat play, with some great dialogue and interplay.

Spielberg never gets much critical credit, seemingly portrayed as a maker of kids movies and over sentimental rubbish. Yet as director Spielberg has made quite a few gems: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of the Lost Ark, E.T., Empire Of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and more than a few other good films. Jaws was where his personal style came through for the first time. That style has been founded on solid storytelling and a remit to entertain. And cinema does not get much more entertaining than the mechanical rubber shark picture.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Manhattan (1979) Directed by Woody Allen

I know for Astrid, Woody Allen supplies the definitive spark of cinema excellence. She could easily pick ten Woody movies as some of her favorites. Manhattan represents Woody's most idealized portrait of New York, something that Astrid also relates to. Gershwin and that Skyline.

Sometimes, what we need and what's best for us is right under our noses. Things often look better than they really are from an observational vantage, yet intimate involvement can lead to disappointment. Isaac (Allen) has a good thing going with the young Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but his own doubts, narcissism and self indulgence leads him to get involved with the troubled Mary (Diane Keaton) and dump the supportive Tracy. It's no surprise that the 17-year-old Tracy is the most level headed, astute and mature character on display in Manhattan. The middle aged characters of Manhattan have all lost their way and breed cynicism.

Manhattan displays some of Allen's sharpest lines, it's a witty picture. But it is the look of the film, wonderfully photographed by Gordon Willis in chromatic black and white that improves this film with every viewing. It's easily Allen's most cinematic picture, some of the images here have seeped into popular culture (Allen and Keaton sitting on a bench by Queensborough Bridge for example). So amongst the pondering, broken relationships, the absolute sense of doing good by our friends, Manhattan adds the pleasure of letting us dream. That dream is a picture of New York that only exists in the director's head, and spending time in that dream is a joy.

I'm finding it difficult to have anything interesting to say about my favorite films. The problem is that when I love something it is such a non-verbal experience of emotions. Seriously though, I am more ambitions than simply exclaiming: it's just fantastic! I just love it! There has to be a reason why I relate to Manhattan, Allen and Keaton. I even spent ten years playing the clarinet – but never got to swing or ragtime (which is probably why I no longer play).

So here we go: I like depictions of neurotic people. I like quirks, fears, faults, awkwardness, messiness, particularity, inconsistency and the incredible human capacity to survive and make jokes.
Note that I like depictions of these things. In my everyday life I find myself often quite unsympathetic to the above human qualities.

Yet, there is something endlessly familiar in Allen's perspective to exploring the human condition. I relate to his concern and anger about death, his obsession with romantic love, and art as the content that makes life worth living.

I used to take life very seriously and humor tended to make me uncomfortable as it usually poked lightly at issues I deemed serious. Woody Allen's humor, though, I have learned to enjoy. Watching Manhattan I laughed out loud many times and felt safe in the laughter.

Manhattan portrays New York City more beautifully than many other iconic films located in the city. Here, the city is not only a set but a character. Allen is even able to further plot by showing us landscapes of the city while we hear the main characters talking to each other.

I'll end with the most personal point:
There are two male characters who act as points of comparison to any male that appears in my life in whatever role: Muumipappa (Moomin Papa) and Woody Allen. My grandfather, father, boyfriend and everyone else can score points by bringing to my mind either Muumipappa or Woody. I'm not sure how much they have scored over the years, if at all. It is just my projection of the ideal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Lord but not a Peer

Another blog for Halsbury's Law Exchange, published here.

This morning the Supreme Court made the following announcement:

"Her Majesty The Queen has signed a warrant declaring that every Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will in future be styled as ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’, to ensure that all Justices of the Court are described and addressed in a similar manner.

The announcement means that Sir John Dyson, the most recent appointment to the Supreme Court, who is not a Life Peer and was appointed from the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, will now be styled Lord Dyson.

Lord Phillips, President of the Supreme Court, said: “One of the hallmarks of the new Court is that, in order to ensure the complete separation of the Court from the legislature, new Justices are not made Life Peers, and that those who are already Life Peers are unable to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

“However, the appointment of colleagues who are not Life Peers has inevitably led to some confusion about the manner in which they should be described and addressed. This announcement is a welcome move to help us introduce consistency and avoid the complications of a variety of titles being employed.”

Today’s announcement means that the courtesy title will be conferred upon new Justices for life once they are sworn in at the Supreme Court. The wife of a Justice will be described as “Lady…”

One has to say that it is rather surprising that no-one seems to have thought of this potential confusion beforehand. I had assumed that they were simply going to allow the inconsistency to continue for such time as life peers remained on the bench, which given the mandatory retirement age would not have been more than a few years. The confusion presumably did not occur during actual hearings, since all judges in the High Court and above are referred to in court as “my Lord” or “my Lady”. Moreover, there are already judges with different titles throughout the various tiers, including County Court judges sitting as judges of the High Court, barristers sitting as Deputy High Court Judges, High Court judges sitting in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division and retired judges sitting as “Sir (name)”.

It should be recalled that, according to Lord Phillips, the reason for the Supreme Court’s creation was not that the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords was in fact insufficiently independent, but that it was perceived to be so. Creating Lords who are not peers in fact, but who will doubtless be perceived as such by many, seems inconsistent with that purpose.

A further, and unfortunate, perception to which the announcement may give rise is that insufficient planning went into the creation of the Court. The potential for confusion during the short number of years that Law Lords continued to sit on the Court was clearly foreseeable. To bring about an abrupt change some months after Sir John (now Lord) Dyson was appointed rather creates the impression of a work in progress than a carefully crafted new constitutional institution.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Here we go again: another Nick's favorite turns out to be an old film about a gentleman at war (yes, there is a bit of dueling too). The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a sort of 1940s English war effort support film. While watching it, I feel distinctly un-English – it is not my story in any way.

Yet, this is a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. There is the art of sets, photography, and detail to look at all through its epic length. Despite my initial boredom, the film holds some of the early movie magic (best experienced as a child); it looks better than most other films from any time, and it connects with its characters and feels genuine feelings. Martin Scorsese has lifted more than one scene and a way of shooting straight out of here.

Tragedy is often born out of dedication. Deborah Kerr plays almost all the women in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Powell and Pressburger must really suffer from the obsession here described as Colonel Blimp's obsession. They all love her ginger hair and the fast talk that seems to come with it. This one-girl craze is a tad scary in the film and in the work of Powell and Pressburger at large. But I guess it is also romantic – it is the kind of dedication rarely portrayed as admirable these days.


Sometimes you just want to savor the most special things. Rationing helps. I left England 12 years ago for Helsinki, Finland. My reasons for leaving were certainly personal mixed with a general weariness about the place. I miss certain aspects about England very much.  A certain kind of gentile behavior, humor, earnestness, naivety, that sense of goodness and reasonableness that is very British. The stiff upper lip mentality even. Ironically Finns often display the same attributes.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp displays this Englishness more so than any other film I can recall. It always reminds me of my youth when people who actually fought in the World Wars were still around, those attitudes were still the order of the day. Of course, that sense of fair play was lost years ago. But you can go back to it in this picture. Not only does The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp give us some notions of nationality, it's also one of the most artful and subversive films I've ever seen. Lets not forget, no one ever used color like Powell & Pressburger.

Powell & Pressburger  capture a certain English attitude in their cinema, but they also bought their amazing eye for detail and strong political conviction to bear. To think The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was supposed to raise moral during the Second World War, the message here is so anti-war, yet beautifully subtle in its execution. In any context or age, this is certainly a strange original ride. But let's not forget this is a love story. You can fall in love with Deborah Kerr as three amazing women over and over. The great Roger Livesey and Anton Walbrook show us the true meaning of the words noble and gentlemen.

Like I said at the start. I ration the amount of times I will watch this film, just to keep it special. No more to add, all life is here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

An innocent abroad: the non-trial of P G Wodehouse

This article has been published in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly,Vol. 174, 18 December 2010, p 791

Having recounted two famous cases of wartime treason last month, a few words might be appropriate about a famous case of non-treason from the last war.  It involved one of England’s greatest ever authors and is a lesson in overreaction, though ultimately a correct case of legal inaction.

In early 1940, as Panzer divisions smashed through the low countries and into France, it need hardly be said that most of Britain would have followed the news with close attention, anxiety and horror.  Not so, it would appear, a 58 year old Englishman living in the south of France, where he had resided for tax reasons since 1934.  PG Wodehouse paid such little heed to world events that not even news of the atrocious events unfolding a few hundred miles away in the same country prompted him to flee before occupying German troops arrived.  Shortly after the Vichy regime was formed, Wodehouse found himself interned along with all other British nationals in France. 

In 1941, realising how naive and harmless he was, the Nazis let him go shortly before he was due to be released in any event (upon reaching the age of 60), but at the same time co-opted his naivety for some light hearted radio broadcasts to America, which was still a neutral party at the time. Wodehouse accepted because he wanted to show some gratitude for the correspondence he had received from American fans during his internment. 

To a modern audience, the broadcasts come across as politically irrelevant as they were irreverent; no more than light hearted Wodehousian banter about barren towns, inept guards and the probable need to take a letter of introduction if he finally got to see his wife again. To a wartime audience in Britain, however, they were nothing of the sort. Instead they were sufficiently offensive to have Wodehouse debated as a possible traitor in the House of Commons, and to have him specifically likened to Lord Haw Haw. 

A number of public figures and institutions joined the attack, including the author AA Milne.  Others came to Wodehouse’s defence, including George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh.  Thus arose perhaps the most surreal literary showdown in English history: the genial and unworldly Winnie the Pooh taking shots at the equally genial and unworldly Bertie Wooster, with Lord Sebastian Flyte and Winston Smith appearing for the defence. 

One supposes Bertie Wooster might have gone pheasant shooting with Flyte in the Hundred Acre Wood, though Smith would have been denied any comparable pleasures in 1984. 

In the event, no charges were ever brought and a consensus emerged that Wodehouse was wholly innocent.  The affair had a terrible irony, however, given that just about the only overt political reference in any of Wodehouse’s pre-war works was the character Roderick Spode, a direct satire of Oswald Mosley.  It left a sad legacy too: Wodehouse never returned to England. 

The story is a salutary reminder that one can go too far in the most worthy of causes.  Obviously it was right that people did not want to give Nazi Germany a crumb of comfort in 1941.  But, properly understood, Wodehouse’s broadcasts gave no such crumb, or even a speck.  Nor does that conclusion require hindsight, still less any Orwellian rewrite of history.  Anyone familiar with Wodehouse’s works – as most educated Englishmen were at the time – and the man himself, would have seen the innocent naivety for what it was. 

One finds some mild parallels today, without drawing too long a bow.  One recalls Paul Chambers’ tweet in frustration at thwarted weekend plans that he would blow up an airport. It seems absurd that anyone would think his post a serious statement of terrorist intent.  And yet Chambers found himself fined under the Communications Act 2003.  It is telling that there were much more severe crimes with which Chambers could and should have been charged (but wasn’t) had anyone actually taken him seriously. 

A second recent incident concerned Councillor Gareth Compton, who was incensed by the columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s statement that Western politicians had no moral right to object to the stoning of a woman in Iran.  Mr Compton tweeted that he wished someone would stone Alibhai-Brown to death instead.  He was promptly arrested for his trouble.   

Compton was released without charge, but it beggars belief that anyone would think he was actually advocating the act rather than making an attempt at sardonic humour.

Neither tweeter was particularly funny, still less Wodehousean.  But nor should they have attracted the attention of the police, any more than Wodehouse should have been pillared in public. Combating terrorism and maintaining community harmony requires acute judgement on the authorities’ part, and the ability to recognise real threats.  Equally it requires the ability to recognise blatant non-threats.  Retaining a sense of humour wouldn’t hurt in that regard. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) directed by Martin Scorsese

We're choosing some of our favorite films leading up to the New Year. Today's pick is one of Astrid's.

I love the idea of misconception, when  people don't seem to be what they are, or they somehow refuse other people's conception of themselves as human being or artist. Martin Scorsese has often achieved this in the most subtle ways. We know him as the film maker who chronicles gangster lives so well. He has an instinctive feel for the murkier depths of the street, especially those of NewYork between the 60's to present day.

But if you scratch the surface of Scorsese a little, and clear away the bluster, and more importantly, the cinema he's known for, you'll find the real beating engine beneath the bonnet. It's when dealing with the idea of creativity that for me Scorsese makes his best and often more original work. The King Of Comedy, New York, New York, The Last Waltz and No Direction Home. Add Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore to that mix and you get a thoughtful and sensitive film maker that counter balances the recognized gangster spats.

So what makes Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore so special? Well there's the opening twisted spoof of Wizard of Oz. The underrated Ellen Burstyn's brilliant central role. The creepiest Harvey Keitel performance, the best Jodie Foster cameo ever, Alfred Lutter's stellar childish humor. Add Kris Kristofferson to the mix, reliable and steady as the love interest and Diane Ladd as a foul mouthed waitress. I love the way Kristofferson's beard has the same gray patches as my own. The usual excellent soundtrack features T Rex, Mott The Hoople, Elton John and other 70's delights.With Scorsese showing his flair for the visual for the first time, what you end up with is one of Scorsese's least celebrated pictures and romantic comedy gold. This is a genuinely funny, touching film.  Go see!

It was a revelation to me about a year back to discover that Martin Scorsese has directed a film such as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in the middle of his portrayals of violence and his dedication to male characters. This is a film about a woman.

As I am writing, it occurs to me that it is still rather rare to see movies about women in an empowering, empathic, yet unsentimental light. For example this year's 'women's film' Eat, Pray, Love (2010) is simply embarrassing and patronizing in comparison. Still, I must mention it here, because I believe that both films cater to the same need of making sense of what it is to be a heterosexual 35-year-old American woman in a particular time and place. What is liberation, sexual freedom, free will and what is responsibility? Erica Jong's bestseller Fear of Flying (a novel) from the 1970's also belongs to this same discussion. My point being that the question of women's identity sells each decade in slightly different packaging. But it sells a ton.

Now to the personal: I am a woman and I happen to be a piano playing singer too. So is Alice. And if it is rare to see a film about a strong woman, it is even rarer to see a movie about a woman with artistic aspirations, but not much success. Alice is flawed, tired and disillusioned, then she is let down by the men in her life and so she takes her son and gets on the road to return to her home town and to resume her musical career (which she left 15 years earlier). Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore describes a woman of the 1970's waking up to the notion that she does have the right to ask herself what she wants. What happens when she finally dares to ask? I won't tell you because you have to watch this film.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966) Directed by Sergio Leone

During December we have decided to watch and review our favorite films, which for a reason or another we have not yet discussed here. The first pick is Nick's.

My relationship to Leone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is comparable to my relationship to beetroot (the vegetable): after the initial heartfelt dislike and unease comes forcefeeding and through that a new voluntary relationship. Now I am full of wonder and curiosity when it comes to beetroot – and Leone.

It is annoying to have to admit that something so square and simplistic, so male-oriented and nostalgic can indeed be more than it appears at first glance. At first the use of landscape and photography win me over, then the beauty of Clint (so obviously in love with himself), then Ennio Morricone's score overwhelms me. Finally, in this particular movie, Eli Wallach adds some high-class acting to the soup.

A truly enjoyable Borsch is ready.

Yet, I cannot review this film without mentioning Leone's disregard for women. There it is as a matter of fact. How can we watch these movies in the 21st century as anything else than masterful caricatures of the ideal masculinities in the past-and-gone century? Is this why my boyfriend loves these films so? What is he nostalgic for, his childhood or something else?

When it comes to picking all time favorites, does over-familiarity breed contempt? Not in this instance. Whichever way I look at Leone's picture (and it is a film I've watched over 30 times), there are always new details to find and every viewing brings more to admire. I first saw this movie when I was 12 years old. At the time Leone and the Dollars Trilogy were not as iconic as they are now and these films did not have the critical favor that they now possess. Time and culture have given Leone's picture a rare standing of being both popularist  and critically loved.

Viewing The Good, The Bad & The Ugly this time round it was easy to acknowledge that Eastwood doesn't feature in this movie so much, yet he walks away with the candy. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is Leone's first picture to delve into the use of substantial character, Eli Wallach's Tuco steals the film from Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (the Good & The Bad respectively to Tuco's Ugly). Tuco is a character that Leone revisits to some extent in the later Duck, You Sucker with  Rod Steiger showing similar crudity as Juan Miranda. Eastwood drifts in and out of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly like a ghost, only assuming his Man With No Name  figure in the final reel when he don's the famous poncho.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ultimately blows me away with its vision, Morricone's score still surprises, and the humor works in not making me take this film so seriously. What followed from Leone had more depth and an even greater sense of what cinema could do, and I know I will revisit all those films over the course of my life. But let's just say that The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is a lot more fun.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not the usual Sewing Lawyer style

I'm a member of a group of local sewers (sewists, if you prefer).  We got together initially because we all owned PatternMaster Boutique (PMB) a pattern-drafting computer program.  We still do, and we even use it - but it turns out we're also somewhat omnivorous when it comes to patterns and all of us are on the lookout for good ideas most of the time.  So when one of our membership showed us a simple drapey jacket that she had made, and when we all - different ages, sizes and builds - tried it on and looked pretty good in it, we were intrigued.  We decided we should all purchase suitable fabric and, with our sergers, make our own.

Here's mine.

This jacket design was attributed by my friend to Carter Smith, an American fibre artist who specializes in shibori dying.  There's more about him here.

Shibori is a "Japanese term for several methods of dyeing cloth with a pattern by binding, stitching, folding, twisting, compressing it, or capping. Some of these methods are known in the West as tie-dye", to quote Wikipedia.

The jacket design takes advantage of the type of fabric Carter Smith tends to work with - drapey silk with beautiful pattern or surface design.  This is because it's made with only two (2) pieces, and each of them is just a big square.

After I was introduced to the idea of this jacket, the perfect fabric presented itself.  This was from Fabricland of all places - it's 85% silk and 15% metallic.  It has a lovely soft hand and is supremely drapey - the crinkles don't lessen much and if they do, a quick dunk in the sink brings them back with no ill effects, I discovered. Great stuff!  I bought the last of the bolt and it was the perfect amount for these two pieces.

The second piece is this top, which is essentially a tube (CB seam) with shoulder seams and simple slit arm openings.

So, do you want to know how to make the jacket?

First, you need 2 squares of your chosen fabric.  The small one's sides are half the length of the sides on the big square. My sample squares measure 12" and 6".      

Instructions for a bias garment like this jacket were published in issue no. 143 of Threads Magazine ("Get biased - create a bias topper from two squares of fabric").  However there is a serious error in the article as published.  It said to adjust the size of the smaller square according to your hip measurement - and that the diagonal measurement on the small square should be 1/2 your hip measurement.  In the next issue, after several people complained that this made a garment which was much too small, Threads acknowledged that each side of the small square should be 1/2 your hip measurement.  (Or, more straightforwardly, each side of the large square should be the same measurement as your hip circumference...)  My jacket squares are 40" and 20".

Place your small square on the big one, right sides together, with edges matching at one corner.  Sew the edges together using a narrow seam.  If you trust your fabric you can use a rolled hem on the serger to do this.  I used a 4 thread stitch on my serger but without  the stitch finger - the resulting seam is rolled, a bit wider than the rolled hem, but much stronger.

(If you click on the pictures, they should enlarge.)

The next step is to take the free corner of your small square, and pull it diagonally across so the edges match those of the opposite corner of the big square. Then, mark a point some distance away from the pointy ends of the resulting triangle.  For a full-size jacket, 10" is about right; at right my opening is about 3", and is marked with pins.

Sew the right angle of the triangle from one marked point to the other, i.e. leaving the pointy ends unsewn.

Take that pointy end and fold it down so the free corner is above the end of your stitching, and the unsewn edges are matching.  Sew the remaining open sides of that little square.

At this point you have a fully enclosed thing which is vaguely triangular with a square bottom.  To turn it into a wearable garment you have to cut openings at the bottom, sleeve ends, and neck.  A front opening is optional since you can make this as a pullover.

For the  bottom (hip) opening, you slit the small square diagonally.  In the photo at right, I've marked where the ends of the slit will be with little stickers.  It seems slightly counterintuitive to cut in this direction, but just do it - if you paid attention to your intuition at this point, there would be tears...

Do the same thing at the pointy ends of the triangle, which by now you may have guessed will be the sleeve openings.

This is a different sleeve finishing method than in the Threads article - they want you to just cut the pointy end off.  This method makes a neat little gusset instead - it fits better and I think looks better than a batwing shape ending right in the cuff.

Then find the neck point by folding your jacket in half.  Mark this point with a pin.

If you are making a jacket, cut open the CF up to the point marked by the pin at neck point.

Here's what the jacket looks like, in basic outline.  Try it on now to check that the neckline works.  You may need to cut it further into the back, and you may need to widen the opening.

Obviously, for a real garment you would, once satisfied, finish all the edges using a narrow rolled hem.

But my client insisted on trying her jacket on, right away!