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Monday, February 28, 2011

Mmmmmmink lined coat

I know I promised photos on location, but so far nobody I was travelling with has obliged and I did not have any on my own camera. I was temporarily stymied in uploading the few decent photos I do have by the discovery that I seem to have lost the cable to connect my go-to digital camera to my computer.  All together now:  AAAAARGHHH!  However I have a work around so you will not be completely deprived today, and I promise to share any additional pics I get from my colleagues.

Because they are the only ones I have of the completed coat, here are a few photos shot in my indoor "studio location".

Ahh, the mink inside. So cozy!  It did finally get a "real" workout in the north when the temperatures plummeted to about -30C, with a wind.  I'm pleased to report that it came through with flying colours!  No wind penetration, except below the bottom button of course.  If I had thought to wear my snow pants I would have been entirely toasty warm, if not so elegant.

I like how the mink peeks out from behind the outer coat at the front and collar edges.

The top button pulls a bit as you can see in the buttoned-up photo.  I think I probably sewed it on a bit too high, above the point where the collar starts to curve.  However, all things considered I am pleased with how the collar looks, since I had to adapt the pattern to match the front edge and collar of the fur.

I took a lot of the flare out of the hem at CB but still, the outer coat is more flared at the hem than the fur.  Because the fabric is thin and a little stiff (think a synthetic taffeta) I weighted it by sewing small metal washers into the hem.  I thought airport security might be puzzled, but no questions were asked.

The coat is hemmed a bit longer than Vogue called for.  This decision was motivated entirely by the need to control flare.  I thought the 3" hem Vogue wanted me to sew would have been unwieldy.

To the left is is the best picture showing the edges in more detail.  I sewed the outer and inner coats separately, finishing the edges of each.  The outer coat facings are topstitched at about 2cm (.75") using heavy duty thread on my Featherweight.  I then hand-sewed the coats together along the front edge.

I've already blogged about the construction of the edges on the coat.  Here are a couple more pictures.  First, to the right is the front edge, showing how the bias strip is hand-tacked to the interfacing/lambswool layer below.

At left you can see how the bias strip is attached by zig zag to the lower edge of the coat, and the lambswool strip is in place.  To the right, I have folded up the bias strip and mitered the corner in preparation for hand sewing it to the coat.

By the way, I used a small glovers needle with ordinary sewing thread to do all hand-sewing on the leather, even though an ordinary needle would have been able to pierce the soft leather.  Glovers needles have a triangular tip (think bayonet) that went through this leather very easily.

My souvenir hat:

Dark brown fox fur.  The crown is brown synthetic fabric, so ends up looking quite OK with the coat.  It has ear flaps that can be worn up or down.  They look kind of silly when down, but fox fur on the cheeks is divinely warm at -30 something with a wind chill.

So here's a few shots of the locale.  Can you feel the wind chill?

Bullock's Bistro.  I had the musk ox.  The place was hopping!
Yellowknife, old and new.  The Wildcat Café was closed for the season.

I was the most stylish passenger in this dog sled.  Notice how the dogs are all different colours and do not have bushy long fur.  I thought sled dogs would look like the ones in this Wikipedia article.  Instead, they are Alaskan Huskies, which apparently originated from the "Native Village dog" i.e. a miscellaneous domesticated canine which happens to live in the far north.  And loves to run.  These doggies were anxiously waiting to be hitched up (I think 10 of them pulled 4 of us).

And the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) were out, and were seen, but not photographed by me (due to inadequate camera + frozen digits).  Here's one taken by the pros at AuroraMAX, on one of my two late nights outside in Yellowknife.

Now I'm back at home, and looking for a simpler project!

Fur-lined coat - pattern adjustment

This is a post about the adjustment of Vogue 1083.  I had to alter the pattern for two reasons.  First, for fit, and second, to suit the fact I was lining it with an existing fur coat.

Let's look at the fit adjustments first.  There are only two reviews of this pattern on PR but they served as a warning to watch out for the shoulders.  As they predicted, I found that the sleeve cap has too much ease given that it's a dropped shoulder.  However, the bigger problem is that the shoulder seam is too straight (think T-shirt).  The result of these features was an unattractively pointy low shoulder which had to be changed.  

To fix the shoulder, I curved the shoulder seam downwards about 1cm (3/8") from just beyond my shoulder point to the armscye seam.  This took a total of 2cm out of the length of the armscye seam which (along with the too-much-ease) meant that the sleeve pattern needed to be reduced in length even more.  To the left is a snap of this modification (which was also made on the back yoke piece).

The second main fit alteration needed was to take width out of the front at the shoulder level.  My back is evidently wider than my front.  I've learned to trust the make-a-muslin-and-pin-out-the-extra-fabric method pictured below.

At the shoulder in the photo at right, you can see the pinched-out 2cm along the shoulder seam.  Below the shoulder is a more-or-less vertical dart which tapers to nothing at the shoulder, and at its widest is about 3cm (1.25").  This eliminates an unattractive fold that was forming, and which would have made the coat look far too big across the chest.

At left, you can see this vertical dart drawn on the pattern tissue.

The next step is to slash the pattern along the dart's edge, and literally overlap the tissue so the lines (more or less) line up.  You can see, in the photo at right, how I had to slash through the pattern at the armscye to get it to lie flat.

The style adjustments were needed to accommodate the existing line of the collar on the fur coat.  The original coat had a shawl collar.  I removed the upper collar which left a curved under collar (CB seam) that transitioned to a straight CF edge.  Vogue 1083 also had a curved collar (a shawl) and straight CF edge but they were different shapes.  The Vogue pattern's neckline was higher and tighter than Furla's.  Also, the curve of the collar was lower and more gradual.

Here are some pictures showing how the final pattern pieces differed from Vogue 1083.

Finally, here's a picture of the taken-apart fur coat, with the adjusted pattern pieces laid out on top.  In the end I did not use the pattern pieces to cut the fur.  I completely winged it!

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Directed by Stanley Kubrick

I am tickled by the idea that intelligent life form from another planet turns out to be a boring black obelisk resembling a tomb stone. It does not relate to our experience of the animate. Stone is inanimate, soulless, and expressionless here on earth. 2001 A Space Odyssey is full of such subtle but shattering moments of imagination. It has also become a kind of visual bible of how we are used to imagining the space out there.

Ultimately, this movie is trying to grapple the question where are we and what are we in relation to everything. That's a little too much to take on I fear – and yet, I'm glad some of us keep asking that question and acting to find answers. In the context of cinema, I am happy to witness an approach to narrative and plot, which still seems revolutionary and challenging. The lack of resolve and human interest in a 3-hour-piece makes me liken the film to a classical concert or possibly opera. The result was that I was often bored and willing to give up on it all.

The use of classical music and human voice in 2001 is astonishing. While I am staring into the vast emptiness of the space, I hear the disturbing mesh of a mixed choir and it acts as a connection to humanity – the audience. Much of the drama comes from music, while the visuals alone would not guide us to the same emotions. Of course, silence has an even greater part in the film. It is powerful and can stretch the experience of time. The whole movie speaks in the language of dissociation and hallucination. I will probably never feel like watching this one again.

Here we are in 2011, ten years after the events depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the ideas and progress shown in the picture have come to be true. An over-reliance on computers. Communication has reached the same level that 2001 imagined in 1968. Looking at the space ship interiors as featured here, the film's influence on design is still apparent now. But theories on evolution and our origins still divide most of the world. Although space stations  and various space programs exists, an ambition to discover and venture to other planets is sadly curtailed. This aspect of 2001 has not come to fruition. Our capacity for human error though, is a constant.

Stanley Kubrick makes claims, after Arthur C. Clarke whose book this is based on, that the evolution of man was prompted (or encouraged, perhaps) by some artificial artifact (a black obelisk). In my view, this is as credible as any other theory proffered about our evolution. The early scenes of primates territorial rights establishes a key behavioral pattern that still dominates the way we behave today. But once the picture moves into space, other than offering us a psychotic computer (Hal), the picture refuses to give any other great notions. It becomes a slow burning thriller, based on one's man's endless, lonely journey to Jupiter and beyond.

I'm not such a Kubrick fan. I admire more than love his films. 2001: A Space Odyssey represents the peak of Kubrick's fascination with cold surfaces, be they human or in space. This is as radical a picture as any mainstream director has offered. There is no reliance on narrative or performance for that matter. Here we can just marvel at what we see on screen, from the spaceship design to the barren earth, through to the colorful shards of light that dominate the screen in the latter part. I'm not sure this means anything. This picture didn't say anything to me. But the visual atmosphere created by Kubrick aligned with his use of music by the two Strauss' (Johan & Richard) creates a creepy intensity that is fascinating.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

24 Feb 2011: Panama - Where the World Meets

Thursday, February 24, 20118:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.Registration: 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.Presentation: 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Panama Marriott HotelSalon Campo AlegreCalle 52 y Ricardo AriasPanama City, PanamaMap of location

Panama is set to continue growing at one of the fastest paces in Latin America. For 2010, Panama’s growth is expected to be 7 percent, and the IMF and UN forecast the country will lead GDP growth in the region over the next five years thanks in part to its public investment plans, which is close to $20 billion for the 2009 to 2014 period. More than 40 multinational headquarters have moved their regional operations to Panama due to its economic and political stability and have taken advantage of its strategic position and government incentives to attract investment. By continued strengthening of its logistics sector, Panama may be well positioned to become the Singapore-style hub for Latin America, providing foreign investors with a high-standard regional platform to develop its products and services in order to reach other markets.
For the second consecutive year, AS/COA, together with the World Bank and the government of Panama, is organizing a conference to provide an in-depth analysis of these issues. This year, the conference will be focused on the country’s economic prospects and the efforts and challenges to improve its competitiveness in the logistics sector.
Please join us as we address these issues with a group of internationally recognized senior business executives, government officials, economists and investment analysts.
Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama
Demetrio Papadimitriu, Minister of the Presidency, Panama
Alberto Vallarino, Minister of Finance and Economy, Panama
Roberto Henríquez, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Panama
Alberto Alemán Zubieta, CEO, Panama Canal Authority
Edgar Blanco, Research Director, Center for Transportation and Logistics, MIT
Tanya Avellán, Director, Central America, Coca-Cola FEMSA
Frank Heemskerk, Member of the Board of Management, Royal Haskoning
Samuel Israel, CEO, Latin America, DHL Global Forwarding
Felipe Jaramillo, Central America Director, The World Bank
Sergio Luna, Vice President, Department of Economic and Sociopolitical Research, Citi Latin America
Rubén Ramírez, Representative Director, Panama, CAF
Don Ratliff, Executive Director, Georgia Tech Panama Logistics, Innovation & Research Center
Stefan J. Roehr, Director, Latin America Supply Chain, Sanofi-Aventis
Jordan Schwartz, Lead Infrastructure Economist, Latin America and the Caribbean, The World Bank
Peter V.A. Shaw, Regional Credit Officer for Latin America, Fitch Ratings
Carlos Urriola, General Manager Manzanillo International Terminal and Senior Vice President, Stevedoring Services of America
Philip Yeo, Chairman, SPRING Singapore, Special Adviser for Economic Development, Prime Minister’s Office (view a background presentation on Singapore’s economic development)
Susan Segal, President and CEO, Americas Society and Council of the Americas

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Religion and the criminal law: disregarding the faith

Published in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, Vol 175, 26 February 2011, p 124

Without question, religion and the law constitutes one of the most contentious issues in public debate in the present day. Criminal law is no exception, as illustrated by two high profile cases from 2010.

The first was that of Shamso Miah, who punched a member of the public over an argument as to their respective places in a bank queue. The victim suffered a fractured jaw, and Miah subsequently pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Miss Cherie Booth QC, sitting as a part-time judge, imposed a sentence of two years’ imprisonment, but proceeded to suspend the sentence on the basis that “[y]ou are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”

Miss Booth’s remarks were widely criticised at the time, and rightly so. They are illogical for a start: the fact that Miah knew his behaviour was wrong evidently did not stop him doing it. If anything, it should have been an aggravating factor, since it demonstrates he was able to assume full responsibility for his actions.

Moreover, belief in the concept of right and wrong is not the preserve of the religious. While the subject does not lend itself to brief summary, it can be observed that many great wrongs have been, and continue to be, committed in the name of religion. It is also true that many have been committed in the name of secular ideologies. The point is that making judgements about the relative merits of secular versus religious ideology or ethics is a philosophical minefield. It is no business of the courts, certainly not in straightforward criminal cases.

In any event, trying to adopt a religious exemption or mitigation for criminal conduct would be unworkable in a multi-faith (and perhaps predominately secular) society such as the United Kingdom. There are too many differing standards amongst too many faiths, never mind trying to define the concept of a religion to begin with.

It is true as a matter of historical observation that the common law and its values have a shared history with Christian ethics, and that the United Kingdom retains an established church. But the days of the common law being actively developed by religion have long passed, and the courts regularly reiterate (correctly) that they are a secular institution.

Judges should not, therefore, make any assumption about the character of defendants based on their apparent religious beliefs, and in the particular case Miah’s should have been of no mitigation or aggravation. The relevant factors were the same as any other defendant: prior convictions or absence thereof, and positive evidence of good or bad conduct.

Of course, good conduct may be motivated by religious belief, but that is neither here nor there. It is the conduct itself, not the informing belief, which constitutes the mitigating factor.

By the same reasoning, the religious beliefs of the victim are equally irrelevant, as should have been recognised in another highly publicised case, namely the attempted murder by Roshanara Choudhry of Stephen Timms MP.

According to the sentencing remarks, Choudhry had been indoctrinated into Islamic extremism, and stabbed Timms out of "revenge" for his having supported the Iraq War. The judge went on to contrast Choudhry's values unfavourably with Timms’ strong Christian values, and when describing the latter lauded the historical relationship between Christianity and the common law.

It was right to observe that Timms was an innocent victim and that Choudhry was acting out of wholly inexcusable motives. Yet the purpose of the sentencing exercise was only to ascertain two things: first, whether the victim contributed towards the offence, and secondly, what other aggravating or mitigating factors applied to the defendant. Having established that Timms did nothing to provoke the attack, his other characteristics should have fallen away. The law does not evaluate the worthiness of criminal victims: an attempted murder is just as objectionable whether the victim is a selfish non-contributor to society or a genial philanthropist.

As to Choudhry, her beliefs were correctly judged to have been of no exculpatory or mitigating value whatsoever. They were, however, a factor in determining future risk – if she had carried out the attack in pursuance of her ideology and had no remorse or regret, then she was presumably likely to do it again.

Occasionally it is suggested that the presence of many faiths in the United Kingdom should be reflected in public institutions and processes. On the contrary, a separation of church and state is the only way that all beliefs (including non-beliefs) can be treated the same. This poses no threat to the survival of religion – quite the opposite. It ensures that no particular faith gains the favour of the state. And in the context of the criminal law it ensures that everyone is protected – and prosecuted – equally.

True Grit (2010) Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

Prefab Sprout's "The Gunmen & Other Stories" is my least favorite album by the band. Paddy dipping his toes into Country & Western music was always going to be a bad idea. Even though the album contained a couple of gems, the Prefab's never convinced as Cowboys. When I found out the Coen Brothers were making a real Western, for a brief moment I thought: would they fall into a Prefab- sized trap and get lost on the prairie trail? Well not actually. One has only to look at the Coen Brothers filmography to realize they've been making Westerns all the time. Blood Simple, Raizing Arizona, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country For Old Men could have all been played out as Westerns.

True Grit has been greeted with the fanfare that greets any Western nowadays, so rare they are. It's a remake of a John Wayne picture from the late 1960's that is pretty decent itself if memory serves. The Coen Brothers claim not to have paid attention to the Wayne version from 1969, instead basing their film on the original novel written by Charles Portis in 1968. Several scenes in their remake really echo the earlier film, such as the grizzly US Marshall Rooster Cogburn all guns blazing on horse back in a one against four scenario.

The original scene is pretty iconic stuff, Clint Eastwood stole it for The Outlaw Josey Wales, and here it appears again. The Coens being such film geeks seem unable to resist a little nod to Wayne  the Icon. When Jeff Bridges (playing Cogburn) appears at the opening of a mine shaft, all silhouette, it's  a homage to Wayne in The Searchers and one of the most iconic shots in Cinema history.

But is True Grit  2010 any good? Yes, it's excellent. The film is not quite up there with Eastwood's Unforgiven as a postmodern Western (few films in any genre are), but it holds its own against pictures like Open Range, Deadwood the TV Series, and the movie it most feels like, Jim Jarmusch's wonky, revisionist Dead Man. There are a few typically eccentric Coen scenes, but mostly True Grit plays it straight, with a tight script and excellent cinematography. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and especially Hailee Steinfeild carry the film with solid performances. My only real grumble is the ending, which seems unnecessary (no spoiler here), when there seemed to be so much more story to tell. True Grit is the best Coen Brothers movie in a long while. I'm glad to have a new Western picture too. I'll be revisiting it again, I know.

They forgot to put Heilee Steinfeld's name on that poster. She is Mattie Ross, a daughter who wants to get revenge for her father's death. She is on screen more than anybody else in this film. If anyone has true grit here, it is her character.

It is too bad that the Coen brothers made their True Grit so explicitly violent, because now young girls cannot watch it. Without the violence, it would be a great story of empowerment for preteens and teenage girls. I know a nine-year-old who loves Calamity Jane and who would love Mattie Ross' narrative even more.

I congratulate the Coens for their portrayal of Mattie Ross. Forget the young girls I was talking about – I felt empowered by her story. In Mattie the Luise M. Alcott -style girl characters get put into the genre of the Western. And discounting a little spanking, Mattie gets through the two hours without the usual rape and other sexual violence scenes so mandatory with any women characters presented in the Westerns.

Of course the Coens have been very interested in what Mattie unleashes and reveals about the men in True Grit. Is the Dude just a nasty dude or a dude with heart? Is Matt Damon generally a little repulsive or is he actually a good actor?

And by the way, Heilee Steinfeld and Annette Bening should be up for the Best Actor Oscar. That's an opinion I hold. – yes, I know they are women.

Toasty Warm

That's the verdict on the fur-lined coat so far.  However, even though The Sewing Lawyer is now Way Up North the coat hasn't had a real test.  It was only -19 yesterday when I went for a long walk, and -21 just now walking back to the hotel from dinner.  (Edited to say, those numbers are degrees C, but getting down to those temperatures there's less and less difference between C and F.  In degrees F, -21C is -6, and at -40, it doesn't matter which letter you use.)

I'm still lacking for photos of the finished coat on me, but in the meantime I'll share some construction details.

Not knowing how a fur coat is built, I paid careful attention when disassembling Furla.  It was a big surprise to me to realize how much sewing there was in this coat.

First off, the "fabric" of the fur is carefully constructed to maximize its natural beauty.  The mink was "let-out" - which means that the raw pelts are sliced into thin strips, apparently diagonally, and the strips are offset and sewn back together so that the original piece is lengthened.

Here's a photo of the inside of the upper front of the coat, after I took out the lining and removed the upper collar and front facing.  You can see (click the photo to get more detail) the diagonal lines of stitching joining these strips of fur, as well as vertical lines where the lengthened skins are joined to each other.  Towards the bottom of the photo you can see little dashes forming connected Vs.  These seem to correspond to darker markings on the fur and must have guided the furrier who originally painstakingly transformed the raw pelts into the symmetrical fabric needed for the coat.

The sewing is done with very light thread and the seams are extremely flat.  There must be miles of thread in the average let-out coat.

The construction seams are a little different.  They look like a tiny serged seam and create a slight ridge.  In the photo you can see the seam joining the under collar to the body of the coat, at the shoulder and joining the front of the sleeve at the armscye.  Something vaguely similar can be accomplished on an ordinary zig-zag sewing machine using a universal needle.  Set the zig-zag for about 2.5mm in width and the same in length.  The trick is to align the edges of the skins, fur sides together and sew catching both layers in the left swing of the needle, with the right swing landing to the right of the cut edges for an extremely narrow seam.  So, for sewing fur you do not need to allow for a seam allowance.  All the while, you have to be pushing/poking all the fur inside and away from the edges to be sewn.  I found my seam ripper worked reasonably well for this, but I had to stop very frequently to readjust.  If you do catch some of the fur in the seam, it may well not show, and if it does, you can (carefully) pull the hair out of the seam from the right side.

Back to Furla.  Bias strips of a woven fabric were applied  to all edges of the garment pieces in the original coat, as well as horizontally at the waist level.  You can see it in the photo above.  The tape appears to have been attached with a blind hemming machine or similar - the stitch is a chain stitch and again, very light weight thread is used.  I am not sure what function the tape plays.  It wouldn't work really well to prevent stretching of the fur, since it is cut on the bias.  Second, it's only lightly attached in a single line down the centre of the tape (and sometimes not too neatly).  Third, it is inconsistently sewn along with the skins in the seams, so doesn't seem necessary to strengthen the seams.  If any furriers read this, please enlighten me - what's it for?

The skin of the mink is very soft and thin.  Once I had cut off the original facings and upper collar, the edges were very insubstantial.  However, I remade the edges as they were in the original coat.  All edges of the fur (i.e. where the lining attached) were finished with a bias strip of lining fabric (a substantial polyester) that was folded in half lengthwise.  The folded edge was attached to the fur.  I cut 5cm (2") bias strips of the outer coating, which is thin, folded them down the middle, and used a narrow zig zag stitch to attach them.  At left you can see an in-progress photo.  The seam ripper is just visible on the right - ready to poke those pesky hairs in and out of sight.

In addition, all edges (front, collar and hems) were originally padded with folded strips of lambswool interlining.  The collar and front edges were also reinforced with fairly rough-cut pieces of sew-in non-woven interfacing. Folding the bias strip over the lambswool produced a firm padded edge, very surprising in comparison with the un-reinforced fur.

To the left are the lambswool padding and interfacing removed from the collar of the original coat.  I decided to re-use this material.  I first pressed the interfacing, and then loosely basted the layers together.  To the right is a photo of this padding sandwich, in the process of being reinstalled.  You can see that I've pinned the bias edges over it.  This causes the fur to roll attractively at the very edge.

I was surprised to discover when taking Furla apart that there are little holes all over the coat.  Most of these are a byproduct of the sewing needed to let-out the fur.  There might be a little point missing or imperfectly sewn at the edge, so the edge of one strip isn't a perfectly straight line.  However I also spotted a couple of mistakes, which were roughly repaired with a couple of hand stitches.  You would never spot these from the furry side, and the little holes do not impair the warmth of the coat, apparently.  Unlike sewing with leather, sewing with fur conceals a multitude of errors and imperfections!

That's it for now; I've got to get ready to go out to watch the Aurora borealis tonight.  My fingers are crossed for a really good show.  Will try to get photos...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fur-lined coat - reporting in

I'm sure I had a clever title for this post, but it seems to have evaporated along with my energy.  I was gunning to have this coat finished today, and finished it is.  However I do not have pictures, yet.  You will have to watch this space.

I'm jetting off tomorrow morning at an ungodly hour for points north.  Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to be exact.  It is 62.3 degrees north, 400 km south of the Arctic circle and about 1,500 km north of Edmonton, Alberta, which at 53 degrees is the furthest north I have been in Canada to date.  I have been further north in the entire world, having in 2007 visited Iceland where one day we went to Hafsós which is at 65.9 degrees north, but that was in August.  This is February.  In Yellowknife (unlike Iceland which has an extraordinary and surprisingly moderate climate) it is frigidly cold at this time of year.  The forecast is not filling me with abject dread - the coldest is -34 -on Thursday (wind chill -42) but daytime highs will be around -18 or so.  This will give my fur-lined coat a good winter workout, without causing me to worry that my life will be at risk.

I am hoping to see glorious displays of the northern lights, or aurora borealis.  This astonishing photo was taken at Yellowknife on February 5:

The garden variety northern lights are green only.  But still...

I shall walk out onto the frozen surface of the lake near my hotel where it's dark, to see them better.  Wearing fur on the inside.

Things to know about sewing fur:

  • Little hairs will be everywhere, no matter what you do.  
  • You don't need seam or hem allowances.
  • Mink is very light weight and the leather is extremely soft.  However, you can give it incredible oomph with interfacing and lambswool padding.
  • Glovers needles don't differentiate between "leather" and "skin".  If you have bad hand-sewing habits, blood will be shed.  Ask me how I know. 
Once I'm in the NWT I'll get someone to take a picture of me in situ, and I'll post more info about sewing a fur coat.  

Widening of Panama Canal results in more spending elsewhere

The $5.25 billion being spent on widening of the Panama Canal is only the beginning of expenditures in the rush to accommodate giant container ships. Billions more dollars will be spent in the United States, as ports rush to expand facilities to receive the post-panamax ships passing through when the expansion is completed in 2014, one hundred years after it first opened.

Panama has been hosting delegations or port authorities and logistics experts from New York to Miami, including Savannah, and Atlanta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Jacksonville Florida.

The widening will lead to the biggest shift in the freight business since the 1950s, when ships first started using giant containers of equal size.

Some of the ships known as post-Panamax can carry three times as many containers as the largest ships currently making the 48 mile transit.

The widening will also allow the U.S. Navy to transit some of its super sized aircraft carriers that currently have to make the long haul around the cape.

The expansion will enable products made in Asia to be sent directly to the East Coast instead of being unloaded on the West Coast and then sent east by train or truck.

A result could be a shift in business worth billions of dollars to ports, and big savings for companies like Ikea, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, always on the hunt for more efficient ways to serve shoppers in the Eastern third of the United States, where a majority of the U.S. population lives.

To capture some of the new traffic, almost every large East Coast port and those along the Gulf of Mexico have projects under way. Some ports that are too small to handle the giant ships are improving railroads and truck routes, making them more efficient in anticipation of an overall increase in the number of containers coming to the East says the New York Times.

Others want to dig deeper channels and become the leading port in their regions for companies operating the big vessels.

Containers have become the name of the game in shipping says a lead article. Although cruise ships and imports and exports of cars, oil and bulk agricultural loads like cotton and fertilizer still make up a good portion of port traffic, most of the growth is in containers filled with products that Americans like to buy.

The newest, biggest ships can carry the equivalent of as many as 15,000 containers that are 20 feet long. But they are also heavier, wider and require deeper water. In Savannah, for example, the water is only 42 feet deep. That is enough, with tidal variations, to handle ships loaded with 5,500 containers.

The port at Norfolk, Va., is 50 feet deep, and is the only one on the East Coast that can handle the biggest, fully loaded container ships.

The navigation channel that feeds the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey is deep enough, but the Bayonne Bridge is not tall enough for the new container ships to pass under.

Officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are studying options. They might raise the bridge by 64 feet. A study estimated the cost at $1.3 billion.

As Savannah port officials are learning, digging up six feet of mud is not easy or cheap. Environmentalists are concerned that dredging will cause historic Savannah buildings along the shore to tumble into the water, suck sand from the shores of Tybee Island and ruin freshwater marshes.

The Corps of Engineers' environmental impact document, issued after a 14 yearstudy, suggested deepening but not widening the channel to protect the buildings along the shore and adding 3,000 acres of wildlife preservation land to help offset the impact on freshwater marshes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

SLAM's Federal Court Action: Summary and Comment on the Saga of the Mummy Mask

The St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) on February 15, 2011 filed a lawsuit against the United States seeking a declaratory judgment in the case of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask. It is helpful to explain both what this lawsuit is about and what missing information and discrepancies are starting to appear at this early stage of the court process.

Summary of SLAM’s Complaint and Legal Arguments

A declaratory judgment is a binding ruling by a court that decides a party’s rights in a dispute. It is a preventive action taken when a party believes that it will face impending legal action. In this case, SLAM filed a complaint in federal district court to prevent authorities from seizing the mummy mask in its possession. SLAM’s complaint suggests that federal authorities were preparing to seize the controversial mummy mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, excavated in 1952 in Egypt and purchased by the museum in 1998 from Phoenix Ancient Art, Geneva. The complaint alleges that “counsel for the Museum was contacted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis, to request a meeting regarding the Mask. On January 13, 2011, the U.S. Attorney's Office in St. Louis hosted a meeting regarding the Mask. In attendance were Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the St. Louis U.S. Attorney's Office and, telephonically, the Southern District of New York, and agents from DHS in St. Louis and, also telephonically, a DHS agent stationed in Cairo, Egypt. During this meeting, the Assistant U.S. Attorneys communicated their intention to seize and forfeit the Mask pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 1595a.” The museum responded by filing the current petition for declaratory judgment.

SLAM wants the federal district court in St. Louis to declare that the mummy mask cannot be seized by federal officials. The museum essentially argues that the US government cannot legally take the mask because the statute of limitations has run out and because there is no reason to believe that the mask is Egyptian property or that it was illegally stolen or smuggled into the United States.

The museum presumes that federal authorities wish to seize the mummy mask under a specific section of the US customs law, specifically 19 U.S.C. §1595a. There are other means to seize the mask under federal or state law, but SLAM assumes (not unreasonably) that this particular law would be used.

The museum first argues that the time has run out for the federal government to seize the mummy mask. SLAM’s lawyers point to the fact that the US government had, at most, five years to seize the mask from the time it had information that the mask was allegedly stolen. The museum cites several examples of how it believes federal officials possessed this knowledge as early as 1998, including that
- the US Department of Justice in February 1998, actually or constructively, received from INTERPOL the museum’s letter inquiring about whether the mask was stolen or illicit and

- the FBI in December 2005 and January 2006 knew or should have know about allegations that the mask was stolen because the founder of the Museum Security Network sent emails to the FBI Art Crimes Program asserting that the mask was probably stolen.

SLAM therefore argues that the United States cannot seize the mummy mask because the statute of limitations clock set by 19 U.S.C. §1621 now forbids it.

Second, the museum claims in its complaint that even if the statute of limitations clock has not run out, federal authorities still cannot seize the mummy mask because “[t]he Museum’s investigation revealed no evidence that the Mask was owned by Egypt under applicable Egyptian law at the time of excavation, that the Mask was stolen from Egypt, or that the Mask had unlawfully entered the United States.”

SLAM argues that federal agents cannot take the mask because the government cannot produce sufficient information to show that the mask was stolen or smuggled into the United States pursuant to 19 U.S.C. §1595a. The museum further points out that “Egyptian Law No. 215 on the Protection of Antiquities, the [cultural patrimony] law applicable at the time the Mask was discovered and excavated, allowed for personal and private ownership of Egyptian antiquities, provided that antiquities could be sold or gifted and, as such, did not establish ownership of the Mask by Egypt.” The museum’s lawyers conclude that “the United States lacks an evidentiary basis for asserting the Mask was stolen pursuant to Egyptian Law No. 215, or seizing and/or causing the forfeiture of the Mask pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a.”

Now that the complaint has been filed by SLAM, federal attorneys will file a response.

Emerging Missing Information and Discrepancies

SLAM’s complaint says that it purchased the mummy mask sometime in April 1998 from Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva, Switzerland. The museum acknowledges that Mohammed Zakaria Goneim excavated the mask near King Sekhemkhet’s unfinished pyramid in Saqqara sometime around 1952. SLAM’s reported history of the mask (the provenance) picks up in the early 1960s when the museum reports that “the Mask was a part of the Kaloterna (or Kaliterna) private collection, during which time it was purchased by Ms. Zuzi Jelinek ('Jelinek'), a Croatian collector in Switzerland. In or around 1995, Jelinek sold the Mask to Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. of Geneva ('Phoenix'). On or about April 3, 1998, the Museum purchased the Mask from Phoenix.”

Absent from the legal complaint are significant pieces of information that one hopes will be filled-in during the ensuing litigation. The court process can oftentimes shed light on murky or unknown facts, and supplemental information in this case can fill in important gaps and clear up lingering discrepancies. A few are described here.

For example, SLAM’s description of the mummy mask’s provenance in its legal complaint differs from the mummy mask’s chain of custody as reported by the Riverfront Times in 2006. That newspaper reviewed the provenance of the mask based on paperwork supplied by SLAM. The Riverfront Times reported that the mask went from excavation/Egypt - to an unknown Brussels dealer sometime around 1952 – to Kaloterna - to Jelinek – to Phoenix Ancient Art/Aboutaam brothers. SLAM’s legal complaint states that the mask went from excavation/Egypt - to the Kaloterna private collection – to Zuzi Jelinek – to Phoenix Ancient Art/Aboutaam brothers.

SLAM’s legal complaint omits a description of who exactly took possession of the mask after it was excavated by the Egyptians. Most importantly the complaint is silent about how an excavated and documented mummy mask legally exited Egypt in the first place. The court papers filed also ignore the fact that Goneim was an antiquities inspector in Egypt and was the archaeologist who discovered Sekhemket’s pyramid site. Goneim’s status as both a scientist and an Egyptian government official/employee are important facts since issues about what laws and regulations he and his Egyptian superiors followed during the 1950s and 1960s are likely to be significant to the question of whether the mask was stolen.

Curiously, the legal complaint also avoids any mention at all of the mask having been seen with a Brussels antiquities dealer. The Riverfront Times reported that SLAM received documents from Phoenix Ancient Art that included a 1997 note from Charly Mathez, an elusive Swiss man, which explained how he spotted the mask in 1952 in the hands of an unidentified antiquities dealer located in Brussels, Belgium. The absence of this information from the legal complaint raises questions.

In any case, the SLAM’s complaint also omits a description of how the mask made its way from the point of excavation to the Kaloterna private collection, or a description of who owned this collection. There is also no information about the date or the nature of the transfer from the Kaloterna private collection to Zuzi Jelinek in Switzerland. The hazy information currently supplied in the legal complaint should be described more fully as the case continues through the federal process.

Meanwhile, SLAM’s assertion that Jelinek sold the mask to Phoenix Ancient Art will likely be challenged by the federal government. The Riverfront Times described an unusual transaction between Zuzi Jelinek and Phoeniz Ancient Art, or perhaps the lack of a transaction at all. The newspaper explained:

“According to Swiss telephone listings, a Suzana Jelinek-Ronkuline lives at 84 Quai de Cologny in Geneva. Her telephone number is identical to the one on the letter Phoenix Ancient Art provided to the St. Louis museum. Reached by phone in Geneva, a man identifying himself as Jelinek's son, Ivo Jelinek, says his mother never owned the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. ‘This is completely false information. . . .’ Jelinek says his mother's name may be linked to the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask for another reason: the Aboutaam brothers, owners of Phoenix Ancient Art, rented another house she owns on Quai de Cologny. . . . Presented with this information, Hicham Aboutaam directed the Riverfront Timesto a woman identifying herself as Suzana Jelinek, of Zagreb, Croatia. ‘I bought the mask many many years ago, and I sold it many many years ago,’ says Suzana Jelinek when reached at her Zagreb home. ‘I have so many things in my collection that my children don't know what all I have.’”

Phoenix Ancient Art allegedly bought the mask in 1997 from Jelinek. The purchase price paid by Phoenix was not known, according to the Riverfront Times. But this price hopefully will be reported during the current federal litigation since an object’s fair market value or its undervalue is a piece of evidence used to determine whether property was legally or illegally transferred. It also goes without saying that evidence of a purchase and sale can certainly establish whether Jelinek engaged in a transaction involving the mask. That evidence can take many forms, including evidence of the parties’ bank statements for example, documenting the release of purchase money or the deposit of sale money.

Also of interest is the museum’s reported due diligence. One must always ask “What diligence is due?” The museum’s complaint certainly details a variety of concrete and laudible steps taken to verify the mummy mask’s provenance. However, several questions remain regarding the actual information learned through that diligence and how that information was accepted or rejected when deciding to purchase the mask.

Hopefully we will learn more as the case progresses.

THE ART MUSEUM SUBDISTRICT OF THE METROPOLITAN ZOOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF SAINT LOUIS AND THE COUNTY OF SAINT LOUIS v. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, SLAM’s complaint for Declaratory Judgment (February 15, 2011) (http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/16/MummyMask.pdf) (last visited February 19, 2011).

Malcolm Gay, “Out of Egypt: From a long-buried pyramid to the Saint Louis Art Museum: The mysterious voyage of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask,” Riverfront Times, Feb. 15, 2006 (http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2006-02-15/news/out-of-egypt/full) (last visited February 19, 2011).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Panamapundit logs off

Panamapundit is the username of Sam Taliaferro in his Panama Investor Blog postings until his unfortunate passing away. In his blog he provided updates about business developments in Panama not readily available in English, analyzed from a pro-business perspective and his experience developing a resort community in Panama. He will be missed....

Samuel Walker Taliaferro VII
June 10th, 1952 – February 17th, 2011

Sam Taliaferro, devoted father and husband, developer, entrepreneur and cherished friend to hundreds of people around the world, passed away early this morning after a two year battle with cancer.

Words like "pioneer" and "visionary" are used frequently to describe successful people but few truly deserve those titles as much as Sam.


An inventor by profession, Sam developed and patented numerous technologies used by fortune 100 companies throughout the world. He built a number of manufacturing operations to build these technologies, the last one in Costa Rica in 1995.

In 2000 he had an idea to create Valle Escondido, a residential resort community in the mountain highlands of Panama that would appeal to those looking for an exotic yet first world lifestyle. The small village where the project is located has become known throughout the world as a retirement/tourist hot spot due to his marketing efforts and the success of the development. It was rated the number one foreign retirement destination in the western hemisphere by the AARP in 2002 and one of the top five best lifestyle values in the world by Fortune Magazine in 2005. The success of the project lit the fuse that started the real estate boom (and bust) in Panama.

In 2005 Sam began writing the Panama Investor Blog which focuses on the country from an investors prospective and reaches people interested in Panama from all over the world. Current subscription is about 7000.

Sam and his wife Thalia also operate the Valle Escondido resort Golf & Spa located in the center of the residential project. The resort employs about 80 full time Panamanians and is one of the areas largest employers.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Need for Reliable Information From Egypt

The Egyptian people are to be lauded for their desire for liberty, which has borne significant fruit thus far. George Washington noted that "[l]iberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth." We must always be mindful, nevertheless, of Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that "[i]n a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end."

The welfare of the Egyptian people are to be considered first while we continue to monitor cultural property issues. One issue that requires attention is obtaining reliable information. The lack of credible information regarding the theft or looting of cultural objects in Egypt requires resolution, especially since many cultural organizations have called on law enforcement to remain alert. Authorities at the US border cannot be expected to be on heightened alert when there is conflicting information about the extent of looting at archaeological sites or thefts from museums.

Egytians involved with cultural heritage, aided by journalists on the ground, should investigate the extent of damage to cultural heritage in Egypt. Only then can American authorities provide appropriate assistance.

Les Biches (1968) Directed by Claude Chabrol

Have you noticed how cuteness has become something to aspire to? Being cute has been a quality reserved for children and baby animals, something denoting innocence, softness, child-like. But these days adult women are demanding their right to remain cute – or to use cuteness. There are new connotations for cuteness, which can now relate to a certain pink and fuzzy sexiness too. I have noticed and felt the pull of cute.

Before watching Les Biches I assumed the title meant The Bitches. Pardon my non-existent French.
After seeing the film I realized its English title is The Does. Does are female deer. Cute little cuddly things with hoofs. I must add that if I had to tell you what animal I would describe myself as, I would have to pick a deer/doe. But not Bambi.

Why the two women in Les Biches deserve to be aligned with such mystical animals as deer, I don't know. This is a movie about attraction to someone in such an extreme way that it isn't enough to love them, you must become them. There is much left unclear, much unexpressed emotion of hatred and passion. There is beauty to look at, and there is a lesbian love story to be read. There is also a battle between the cute and the regally adult forms of feminine sensuality. Go watch it on a vacuous spring evening!

I'm open to suggestions of vagueness. I'm open to empty thoughts and vacuous digressions. I'm into gestures that don't mean anything. I'm into space as art. I'm into nothing ever happening but still feeling special. I appreciate a statement of silence. It's all in the Mise-en-scène. I can dig you brother if you can spare me a dime?

Can you imagine going through life and always being referred to as some other countries Alfred Hitchcock? For Claude Chabrol this seems to be the case. It's even printed on the box that the 8 (!) movie collection of his work came with..."The French Hitchcock". Like the real master of suspense Hitchcock, it says here that Cabrol is also the master of suspense. How many can go round being masters of suspense? But Chabrol is in reality far harder to pin down. He fills Les Biches with atmosphere, raises tension and even suspense at times, but it's all topped off with a weary shrug of the shoulders. Elegance rarely appears like this on screen.

Lesbian lovers, betrayal and Jean-Luis Trintignant is enough to wet one's appetite. Looking forward to the other seven.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ryan's Daughter (1970) Directed by David Lean

Critical consensus in a positive light is something we all strive for in all walks of life. We all want our friends to appreciate us and our peers to accept us. It is churlish to think otherwise. Yet, at times we all encounter situations where our actions do not  meet the approval we would like. Working in the field of music all of my life, it's been interesting to see how the critical community works from different perspectives. In recent years, there seems to be a critical view that artists should take on board general critical responses to their work. I don't accept this. However much I appreciate some critical commentators, I don't need them informing my creativity at all. Yet, I think about this blog and often I can be found dishing out scathing commentary. I wonder if a unanimous rejection of someone's efforts can force them to stop all together? This certainly seems to be the case for David Lean and his film Ryan's Daughter.

The critical reaction to Ryan's Daughter at the time of its release seems to have been universal ridicule, which hurt Lean so much he went into a hiatus from making pictures for many years, actually only making one more film in the 1980's. Is Ryan's Daughter that bad? Ryan's Daughter is certainly a film out of time, its classical storytelling and slow pace, almost fantasy like imagery is in stark contrast to a more realist film making that was prevalent at the end of the 1960's and early 1970's. Yes, this film is old-fashioned. Historically, as in many of Lean's epic pictures of this time (Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia), any accuracy is pretty much forsaken. Set in a small Irish village just before the 1916 Easter Rising, this is a rather cliched picture of the fledgling IRA and the depiction of the Irish people  seems very patronizing. The British are crudely portrayed as imperialist swine. As The Troubles raged in 1970, Ryan's Daughter simplified version of these earlier events must have seemed very quaint.

But if you were to forgive these problems with the film, there is much to admire. Lean never lost his eye for a great scene or framed composition. Ireland has surely never looked this good on film, in fact, few films have looked this good. Period. You could just watch this with no audio and be blown away by what you see. Is this not the pure essence of cinema? But in silence, you'd be missing out on one of Maurice Jarre's best scores. Or, you would miss the subtlety of Robert Mitchum's performance. Very much cast against type, it is worth revisiting Ryan's Daughter alone for Mitchum's much maligned turn as Charles Shaughnessy. Throw in a sensual role for Sarah Miles as the sexually hungry Rosy Ryan, whose indiscretions are the real heart of this picture, and real substance appears. Trevor Howard is effortlessly great as the stern Catholic priest of the village. Ryan's Daughter is a much better film than Doctor Zhivago, and not far from the great heights of Lean's best picture Lawrence Of Arabia. David Lean still understood the power of cinema when he made this film. It was to take you somewhere you had never been before and show you something through his own vision. In this respect, Ryan's Daughter is ripe for re-discovery.

I used to be a Breaking The Waves -girl, as I mentioned in our review. Had I been born in another decade I might have been a Ryan's Daughter fan as devotedly. It is clear that Lars Von Trier has been immersed in the story of Ryan's Daughter and the film's aesthetic – so much of it Trier borrowed for Breaking The Waves.

I am learning to appreciate cinematography as a potent tool for narrating through the depiction of landscapes. Nature and its large and small features, weather conditions, light; these can add emotion to narrative. In fact they can be the emotion. Where people are reserved, nature seems to often act dramatic and over-powering. Ryan's Daughter portrays such a romantic Irish coastline full of nature's contradictions that I found myself wishing to live there.

Yet, the film depicts the small village as a place of control and of great suspicion towards newcomers.
The church rules over the population with one drunk priest. But where his eye does not see, there is hatred, jealousy, poverty and meanness.

As long as I am talking about something else than desire and pleasure here, I am derailing from what matters in Ryan's Daughter. It is a portrait of a young woman finding her sexual drive and need. Her quest is both socially accepted (in the form of marriage) and denied (her affair to an English soldier on a break from the front lines of the WWI). The contradiction is the crux.

Ignorance and innocence mixed with a desire for pleasure has long been a certified cocktail of trouble for women. It also makes for good movies.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Have and Have Not (1944) Directed by Howard Hawks

Today I am going to write about me, Bacall and my love relationships. Lets begin with fashion. My new clothes arrived from Paris today – yes, just before I ran out of money, I ordered skirts and pants through mail order and hoped for the best. The result: Perfect fit. This relates to the film under review, because I imagined Bacall's über-elegance to be of the French variety. It also relates because I made my choice for new garments with the hope of purchasing a little bit of sassiness. A boost of it.

Lauren Bacall is the queen of sassy. To Have and Have Not marks her entry into the world of cinema at the ripe age of 19, and what an impressive entry it is. She steals, barks, sings, and moves her hips to the music. She also smokes, lights matches and, importantly, delivers impeccable lines of abstract wit.
It is not surprising that Bogey acting opposite her, simply melted and fell in love (also in real life).

Bogart and Bacall had 16 years between them – it's the usual Hollywood age gap for a good healthy relationship! Having tested it myself, I can tell you it also works outside of Hollywood. Forget about Casablanca and the clean sweet mystery of Ingrid Bergman. Slim (Bacall) will talk dirty and still leave Martinique with you in the end.

Just so you can also be 'bitten by a dead bee': you need to watch and hear Hoagy Carmichael singing his song "Hong King Blues" in the middle of To Have and Have Not. Don't you think he adds yet another layer of cool to the film.
Anyway, here's my final word: I may be poor, but my French skirt fits.

What a woman Nancy 'Slim' Hawks (pictured below) must have been. An excellent article by David Thomson in this month's Sight and Sound tells us that Hawks' wife was the inspiration for Lauren Bacall's turn as ....you guessed it, Slim in To Have And Have Not. Not only this, but Bacall's clothes in the picture were like the real Slims' and some of the dialogue Bacall spoke came straight from Hawks' wife. Her marriage to Hawks sparked a new kind of woman character in Hawks' films: intelligent, independent and purring sexuality.

Based on Earnest Hemingway's book, To Have And Have Not radically changed for the screen with Bacall's Slim not even appearing in the original book. Hemingway must have felt pacified when he had a brief affair with the real Slim Hawks. But what still serves the film best is the interplay between Bacall, only 19 in her debut feature and the leading man Humphrey Bogart. The onscreen chemistry would lead to Bogart and Bacall becoming real life lovers. The verbals are sharp, witty and filthy and it's what separates and improves on what is basically a re-write of Bogart's previous Casablanca. The plot is not so important, the sexual foreplay is everything.

Hawks' reputation is as one of the great directors of his time who could try his hand at anything. Gangsters in Scarface, romantic comedy in Bringing Up Baby, Noir in The Big Sleep and The Western in Red River to name but a few. The Bogart-Bacall love in would reach even higher sexual tension with The Big Sleep. But as I close my eyes and listen to Hoagy Charmichael's songs, I recall Bacall asking Bogart if he can whistle, my own love affair with the cinema is brought into clarifying euphoria.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burda 7731 - back from the dead

The Sewing Lawyer hates UFOs and sewing failures.  So she has been stewing over Burda 7731 since January 1, 2010, the date on which she took it off life support, and told you about it.  It was so sad.  And so frustrating, since there ought to have been a warm, wind and waterproof winter coat in there somewhere.  But Burda 7731 languished, unfinished, in the Sewing Lawyer's sewing room, for the last 13 months.  It mocked her from its hanger.  It loomed over her.  And heck, she wanted a coat like that!  Recently, the Sewing Lawyer was even spotted trying on coats, in stores (!) that were kind of like Burda 7731, except shorter.

And so, an idea was born.

Really, there was little that remained to be done - just the hems and buttons.  So much easier after 34cm were lopped off the bottom (marked with a line of pins in the picture at left).

Now, the Sewing Lawyer likes to think that the rumpled and puffy synthetic taffeta looks sporty instead of sad.


In the stash were these interesting vintage plastic buttons, and some firm black round elastic.  It was a simple matter to poke the elastic through the seam attaching the facings to the coat front.  The ends of the elastic were first singed to prevent fraying of the synthetic outer coating, and knotted inside the coat before being stitched into place.

The lining is a poly satin (Fabricland).  Quite some time ago (October, 2009 if Flickr is to be believed), the Sewing Lawyer used the scraps left after cutting out the lining pieces for Burda 7731 for a top (left).

Truly, this coat has been a long time in the making.

Hallelujiah for Finished Objects!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reclaiming Trafficked Egyptian Cultural Objects: US Seizure Laws and How to Make a Report to Customs and Border Protection

The Egyptian people have displayed admirable concern for cultural heritage by protecting museums and archaeological sites while courageously expressing their hope for self-determination. It is a credit to the people that the intact Egyptian Museum remains a centerpiece of news images coming from Tahrir Square.

There are naturally reports of theft, vandalism, and looting during this time of upheaval, prompting calls to international law enforcement to remain on the lookout for Egyptian antiquities illegally trafficked from the country.

Some have asked how United States authorities can seize Egyptian antiquities spotted crossing the American border. Others have asked how to report suspected illegal activity. Some answers are briefly provided here.

CBP Officer Herbert Kercado stands near
an illegally imported Egyptian sarcophagus
he discovered in Miami, Florida.
Photo courtesy CBP, March 2010.
US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) of the Department of Homeland Security is the front-line agency primarily responsible for the initial detention of contraband that arrives on American soil. Its officers, and other agents of Homeland Security--such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officers--rely on federal rules that authorize the seizure of illegally imported cultural property. Some of these rules are described here.  Meanwhile, reports regarding import/export violations can be made to CPB as described below.

NSPA Seizure
Customs officers have authority to seize a stolen Egyptian antiquity under the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) when:
• it is valued at $5000 or more,
• is known to have been stolen,
• is covered by Egypt’s patrimony Law No. 117 of 1983, amended by Law No. 3 of 2010, and
• is transported over the American border.

Under this scenario, authorities would rely on Titles 19 and 18 of the federal code in conjunction with the McClain/Schultz doctrine. Title 19 is the portion of federal law that contains the customs statutes, in particular the Tariff Act of 1930, 19 U.S.C. §1595a(c)(1)(A). Title 18 contains the criminal code, which includes the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), 18 U.S.C. §2314. The McClain/Schultz doctrine, meanwhile, is a court defined rule that takes into account a foreign nation’s patrimony law. United States .v Schultz, 333 F.3d 393 (2nd Cir. 2003).

By way of explanation, the third element of the NSPA seizure rule depends on Egypt having a strong patrimony law. A federal court in the case of United States v. Schultz determined that Egyptian Law on the Protection of Antiquities (Law 117) is a patrimony law that asserts Egyptian public ownership of antiquities—as of 1983—and restricts private possession or ownership of cultural property. Law 117 was later strengthened by Law 3 in 2010, and this revision would not likely affect the Schultz court's conclusion.

There may also be a claim of forfeiture made under 18 U.S.C. § 981, applying to property “derived from proceeds traceable to a violation of” a statute such as the NSPA.

Stolen Egyptian artifacts may be seized by customs pursuant to an NSPA seizure, but artifacts can slip by. For example, an object that is extremely valuable to archaeologists as evidence of Egyptian’s history may be worth less than $5000, and determining whether an object is “stolen” can present a challenge.

CPIA Seizure
Other seizure authority may be found in Title 19’s Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The CPIA states that “[n]o article of cultural property documented as appertaining to the inventory of a museum or religious or secular public monument or similar institution . . . which is stolen from such institution [after April 12, 1983] . . . may be imported into the United States.” 19 U.S.C. §2607. Items that were inventoried and then stolen from Egyptian museums, churches, monuments, etc. may therefore be seized and forfeited by customs officials under a CPIA seizure. 19 U.S. C. §2609. (Note that there may be a legal argument against this reasoning, however.)

A CPIA seizure of this kind is different from an NSPA seizure. The customs officer does not have to worry about whether an object is valued at $5000, for instance. The CPIA’s focus is on whether a cultural object is stolen from an institution or monument, whether it is part of a documented inventory, and whether it is considered to be cultural property. Cultural property is broadly defined as “property which, on religious or secular grounds, is specifically designated by each State [Party to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970] as being of importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science . . . .” Cultural property can include anything described in Article 1 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, including rare fauna, paleontological artifacts, archaeological objects, dismembered historical monuments, and more. 19 U.S.C. §2601.

There are problems with CPIA seizures. For instance, cultural property that is freshly looted from the ground is not part of a documented inventory. Objects secretly dug up from Saqqara, Abusir, or other historic site in Egypt could slip through these seizure rules. Additionally, Egyptian government leaders might be reluctant to declare that thieves stole artifacts from their institutions or sites for political or security reasons, and US customs officials would not be expected enforce federal law under these circumstances.

ARPA Seizure
There is an argument to be made that seizure of Egyptian antiquities could also be made under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Under 16 U.S.C. §470ee(c) and criminal seizure rules, archaeological resources could be seized if they were trafficked in foreign commerce in violation of state or local law. But a seizure of Egyptian antiquities under this statute can be complicated and perhaps legally uncertain. Indeed, it should be noted that this type of seizure is not listed as an option in customs agents’ Seized Asset Management and Enforcement Procedures Handbook. But it has been used successfully in the past, and ARPA search warrant procedures are taught at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. §470ee(c) was once used to seize and forfeit Etruscan pottery in NY that violated NY’s receiving stolen property law, for example.

Complementary Legislation
Existing cultural property seizure rules may not be enough to secure all illicit Egyptian cultural artifacts potentially coming across the border. If there is critical concern that cultural objects from Egyptian museums or archaeological sites have been stolen or looted, and if there is further concern that these objects are being trafficked outside Egypt, then US lawmakers should seriously contemplate adopting additional measures of protection. The passage of an Emergency Protection of Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act, enacted pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 2603 of the CPIA, could prove useful to a determined effort designed to tackle the problem. Such a law could more clearly focus the attention of law enforcement and the public on Egyptian cultural heritage at risk. It could also provide due process requirements while permitting the seizure of Egyptian cultural objects regardless of whether they were known to have been stolen from a cultural institution, looted from the ground, or had any monetary value.

Reporting Illegal Egyptian Cultural Property Imports
If you suspect that a cultural object from Egypt has been looted, stolen, or trafficked you should report it to US Customs and Border Protection. It is easy over the internet. Just fill out the secure form at https://apps.cbp.gov/eallegations/. You can also make a report by telephone by calling 1-800-BE-ALERT.

Understanding Federal Law Enforcement's Heritage Protection Efforts
The Archaeoligical Institute of America in August 2010 posted a description of how federal law enforcement approaches heritage protection. It describes in greater detail the interaction between the various laws described here and the federal agencies that enforce them. Read it at http://www.archaeological.org/news/advocacy/2564.

ICOM Preliminary Report Regarding Cultural Property in Egypt

The International Council of Museums has released a working document that attempts to summarize the condition of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo as well as several other important museums and cultural sites throughout the country. ICOM's report can be located on the web at:


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Under the Volcano (1984) Directed by John Huston

Moving to Finland 12 years ago was quite a culture shock for me. Not in the sense that it was some culture free zone, but in respect to the culture of drinking. I come from England where heavy drinking from an early age or going to the pub every night is almost a birth right. Finnish drinking just operates at a different level. Social drinking was a ticket to get to know many people in a short time. I've always been a very slow drinker and not one to indulge too much in the art. But my first year in Finland was very much a drunken haze. I quickly moved on from this just to adapt to my new situation. Still, in my capacity as a record producer for a zillion young bands over the years, alcohol has been a constant accessory to many artists. A certain level of alcoholic incapacity is accepted in Finland, it's a normal part of the fabric of life. Or that's the way it seems to me.  I'm only telling this because Albert Finney's portrayal of alcoholic diplomat Geoffrey Firmin in Under The Volcano is behavior I've witnessed at various times over the years (and not exclusive to Finland I may add).

Finney's turn could be the best drunk on screen I've seen. John Huston was near the end of an amazing directorial career. His trademark slow pace, rich character and dry dialogue  are all present here.  There is some back story: Under The Volcano is set in one day in Southern Mexico just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Firmin lives with his half brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews in a very Dirk Bogarde like performance), slowly drinking himself to death. His wife Yvonne (stiffly played by Jacqueline Bisset) returns from America to save their marriage. The trio venture out for the day, Firmin increasing his alcohol intake as the trip progresses, raging at all and sundry, fading in and out of focus. He has no interest in saving his marriage (after an affair between Hugh and Yvonne), he cares not for the coming war, the local political unrest, he just wants to drown in self pity and the bottle.

Under The Volcano is grim, but Finney is electric. The last half an hour set in a remote Mexican whore house is disturbing and harrowing viewing. It twists the knife and is uncomfortable to watch. The Mexico of this time is viewed as surreal and nightmare like.  Finney is as brave as anyone for taking this role. Huston spells it out: You just can't help people if they don't want it, even if tragedy is apparent. The saddest thing? I've known people this fucked up by the juice.

It seems that movies are as in love with alcoholics as everyone else. Contradictions are forever fascinating and what condition would be better in illustrating the claim than a staggering diplomat alcoholic?

Under The Volcano is set in Mexico at the very Eve of the Second World War. Mexico acts as a strangely beautiful and rich backdrop to a complete descent into deadly depression. The political climate, or Firmin's (Albert Finney) post as a diplomat do not matter in the story actually. It is the portrayal of the alcoholism that ultimately makes the film claustrophobic and gives it its power. It's a close-up on a death wish.

Firmin drinks to get sober and to get drunk. He drinks bottles of liquor as if they were water. Sobriety has become a foreign state to him, much like his home country and his loved ones. He is well past hiding his drinking and his wife has left. The only one left is his half-brother (Anthony Andrews), who was having an affair with Yvonne, the wife, before she took off.

Despite these facts, Yvonne comes back to her husband. She believes in a new beginning, even if she doesn't believe her husband will be sober in it. These dreams are soon destroyed as the reality unveils in front of her hopeful eyes.

Is it the alcohol that kills them, or is it coincidence? I have rarely found such a realistic and unflattering depiction of alcoholism in films, where characters can usually down unfathomable amounts of booze without concern. Unlike in Leaving Las Vegas, there is no glamor or romance attached to Under The Volcano. Everything is lost. The ending is a little too abrupt still.