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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Sewing Lawyer has been on vacation

Which is why there have not been any posts for a little while.  So... what have I been doing?

Well, right after I made my second version of Vogue 1250 we departed for a week away, planned around an extended family celebration in the great urban agglomeration that vaguely surrounds the city of Toronto.

I'm happy to report that I survived the hottest July 21 on record in downtown Toronto - the actual temperature was 38C (just over 100F) and the humidex something like 51C (almost 124F).  It remained hot, but thankfully not that hot, while we attended the family event and during two days spent in the delightful tiny town of Jordan, which is in the heart of the main wine-producing region of Ontario.

Since this is a sewing blog you may not care much about The Sewing Lawyer's vacation, but let me just share with you one photo, which comes close to capturing how gorgeous this wine-producing part of the country is.  (What the photo misses is the country silence, the warm and pleasant breeze, and general feeling of goodwill instilled by being in good company in such a place.)

This was the view from up high on the Niagara escarpment at the lovely terrace of Vineland Estates Winery, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner.

OK, one more thing.

Excellent local wine.  Ahhhh.

Enough of that.

I did have some sewing-related touristical experiences.  In Toronto, I again visited Perfect Leather and bought some brick red lamb leather to make another jacket.

Toronto has realized that it ought to celebrate its different districts and there are a few pieces of public art in the area around Spadina and Queen, the heart of the garment district.

The thimble which sits on a pile of giant buttons at the corner of Richmond and Spadina is well-known.

A quick internet search informed me that this was created by Stephen Cruise, and was commissioned as a result of a City of Toronto juried public art selection process.  It dates to 1997 when street cars were reinstated on Spadina Avenue.

These two metal sculptures are located at a streetcar stop on Spadina in the heart of the "Fashion District".  

These are part of a series of sculptures at different intersections created by Randy & Berenicci.  According to the City of Toronto, the pieces "represent the people and events chronicled in existing public domain images that record the changes to the neighborhood throughout this century. The structures supporting the vignettes recreate the shape of the original Hydro poles, whose function to carry and transmit power and communications is maintained in a metaphorical sense, transmitting the history of the neighborhoods. Replacing the glass insulators of the original poles, overscale cast glass birds sit on various support struts, adding an element of three dimensionality and an air of whimsy."  Whew!  

The fact that Hamilton Ontario also has a little garment district is less well known.  It's on Ottawa Street, and I had a chance to visit en route to Jordan.  My semi-planned destination was Bra-Makers Supply, renowned purveyor of all things necessary for beautiful and supportive undergarments.  My visit was fast, since there was little on the premises that was of much interest to my husband.  Not having enough time to consider and reconsider what I was doing (my usual shopping pattern), I bought The Book (Beverley Johnson's Bra Maker's Manual), two patterns, a bra kit (all fabric and other materials needed for one bra), two additional findings kits, some spiral steel boning, and I forget what else.  Oh yeah, two pairs of foam cups.  I was fitted for these by Beverley herself, with 3 students taking the intensive 2-month course preparatory to opening their own custom bra businesses looking on.  Fastest fitting ever.

Fortunately for my husband, many of the more interesting stores on Ottawa Street seemed to be closed for vacation, but we discovered more garment/sewing themed art.

The artist is Daniel Davelaar and it's the result of another juried public art competition.  According to this site, the sculpture is 3m (10'-0") high and "draped in cloth in such a way as to recall classical Roman and Greek sculpture. It is ... carved from a single block of Mountain Rose Granite."  The dark parts are polished and the lighter drapery is left rougher so it looks completely different.  I love it!  

Back at home, I'm almost finished the jacket from Vogue 8718.  The only thing left to do is the front fastenings.  The pattern calls for 4 smallish snaps.  I don't like that idea - they would be kind of ugly if the jacket is not done up, and the size Vogue wants me to use (9mm or 3/8") seem all too likely to pop open at the slightest provocation.  I'm toying with the idea of using hooks on the overlap side and making thread loops (almost invisible) on the underside, but I haven't decided.  The overlap is very small (about 1.5" in total or 3cm) so buttons are really out of the question.  Anyone have other ideas?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Smuggling Arrest and the Law Governing African Elephant Ivory

Federal agents seized approximately one ton of elephant ivory smuggled over three years through JFK International Airport in New York. They arrested Philadelphia art dealer Victor Gordon for allegedly committing acts of conspiracy and smuggling and for violating the Lacey Act, which protects wildlife and other natural resources. He is charged with unlawfully importing and selling African elephant ivory. More details and photos of the extensive ivory haul can be found at http://www.blogger.com/www.justice.gov/usao/nye/pr/2011/2011jul26.html and cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/art-dealer-charged-with-smuggling-ivory-into-u-s/. Also see http://www.justice.gov/usao/nye/pr/2011/2011jul26.html.

The current charges remind us about the laws governing the trade and possession of African ivory. African ivory is a heavily regulated item because of the protections afforded the African elephant under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act.

The rules governing the possession and trade of African elephant ivory in the United States can be summarized as follows:

- It is illegal to own, sell, or export crafted ivory that was imported into the United States after 1989 and which was less than 100 years old when the crafted ivory came across the US border.

- It is illegal to own, sell, or export uncrafted ivory that was imported into the United States after 1989. The age of the ivory does not matter.

- It is legal to own, sell, or export crafted or uncrafted ivory that was imported into the United States before 1989.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Salem Alshdaifat and his company, Holyland Numismatics

Holyland Numismatics is owned and operated by Salem Alshdaifat, the recently indicted co-defendant charged by a federal grand jury in New York with crimes associated with antiquities smuggling.  Court records indicate that he is a Canadian and Jordanian citizen who holds a US green card.  An indictment is not a finding of guilt.

Alshdaifat’s cached Facebook page indicates that Alshdaifat is the founder and president of the company since 2006. But Holyland Numismatic’s company web site states that the company was “[f]ounded in 2004 in Ontario, Canada, and moved in Michigan 2009, USA.”

Holyland Numismatics is apparently a sole proprietorship run out of Alshdaifat’s residence in Orchard Lake, Michigan. That community, near Detroit, is less than an hour from the Canadian border and less than 5 hours from Toronto.

Oakland County, Michigan records show that Holyland Numismatics registered its assumed business name on July 22, 2009, but discontinued that registration on December 15, 2009. The business owner was listed as Alshdaifat’s spouse, not Alshdaifat himself. But new registration papers filed on December 15, 2009 show Salem Alshdaifat to be the owner of Holyland Numismatics.

Holyland Numismatics’s web site lists a location in West Bloomfield, MI as its mailing address. That address is a Goin’ Postal mailbox store according to an internet search. The business location given by county records is an Orchard Lake, Michigan address, which is Alshdaifat’s residence. This business location is not displayed on the company's web site. Public property records for the Orchard Lake address reveal that it is a home owned in the name of Alshdaifat’s wife. The property appears to have been placed for sale as of June 2, 2011, but criminal court orders require the removal of this property from the real estate market since the house serves as collateral for Alshdaifat’s bail.

Holyland Numismatics’ web site remains active, suggesting that the company is operational. Since Alshdaifat is confined to his home under the terms of his bail and since his home appears to be his place of business, one reasonably can conclude that the business will continue to function as the criminal case against Alshdaifat moves forward.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vance v Judas Priest, or (Not) Breaking the Law

Published in the New Law Journal, Vol 161, 15 July 2011, p 994

Much of my youth was mis-spent listening to heavy metal bands from the 1970s and 80s. Since then I have found it amusing watching the genre go from being called a prime factor behind the decline of Western Civilisation to its saviour.

The redemption has come from a realisation that the bands, or the better ones at least, were actually proper musicians who played according to traditional methods, as opposed to manufactured pop or the sort of unmusical noise which finds favour amongst my teenage neighbours. And yet it was once a common contention that all the imagery around swords, sorcery, devils and the undead one finds throughout the metal canon constituted unmitigated evil, or at the very least was not suitable for children.

In 1990 that argument reached its zenith – or nadir – when the veteran British band Judas Priest were sued in the United States by the parents of one James Vance. The action followed an attempted double suicide by Vance and his friend Raymond Belknap. Belknap died but Vance survived with serious injuries (though he died three years later). Both had consumed marijuana and alcohol immediately prior to the incident, and had generally led troubled lives for many years. Despite that history Vance’s parents formed the view that the suicide attempt had resulted from the pair listening to the Priest album Stained Class. They issued proceedings against the band seeking damages accordingly.

The first hurdle that the plaintiffs faced was the robust protection of freedom of expression provided in the US by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The strategy they adopted was to argue that there had been “subliminal messages” on the album, which should not qualify for First Amendment protection because the recipient would be unaware of them: there would be no exchange of information or other functioning of the marketplace of ideas, nor expression of personal autonomy, nor any of the other principles of free speech as understood in American jurisprudence. At a preliminary hearing, that argument was accepted - not without some controversy - and the case proceeded to trial.

The plaintiffs’ burden remained formidable nevertheless. They had to establish that the band had deliberately placed a message on the record, which was inaudible (but still identifiable) and thus “subliminal”, and that the message had a direct, causative link to the suicide attempts.

The band members, who can be forgiven for not taking the writ entirely seriously initially, attended trial in a solemn manner, with their usual S&M-looking garb replaced by sober suits, offset slightly by the expansive hairstyles common to all metal bands of the time. They denied that any subliminal messages had been placed on the album. It was pointed out that any number of apparent phrases could be “heard” by playing the record – or any other record – backwards, and that most such “phrases” were as innocent as they were nonsensical.

The particular message alleged to be present by the plaintiffs was “do it”, which immediately raised the unanswered question “do what?” The band remarked that if they had been going to insert any such message, it would have been along the lines of “buy seven copies of this album” and not a commercially-detrimental injunction for fans to kill themselves.

The judge ultimately held that the claim failed due to lack of causation: the tragic actions of Vance and Belknap could compellingly be ascribed to other factors.

Justice was therefore done, although the judge’s prior holdings remain disquieting. They include the statement “the ‘Do It’s’ on the record were subliminal because they were only discernible after their location had been identified and after the sounds were isolated and amplified”. But, as one of the defence witnesses subsequently wrote (Dr T. Moore, “Scientific Consensus and Expert Testimony: Lessons from the Judas Priest Trial”, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 20.6, Nov/Dec 1996), something not consciously discernible is not necessarily unconsciously discernible either.

Dr Moore also pointed out that there is “no evidence whatsoever that subliminal directives can compel compliance”.

By allowing the case to proceed to trial, rather than dismissing it summarily, the judge allowed the junk science on which the plaintiffs’ assertions were based to gain the veneer of plausibility, or at the least the oxygen of publicity. The proceedings also left the band incurring significant and unrecoverable legal costs.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers were just as much to blame for advising their clients to bring an absurd case. They may as well have fashioned an ecclesiastical action on an image of Christ seen on a piece of chapati bread.

Predictably the publicity had some effect. Fellow British metal legend Ozzy Osborne also found himself sued in America over his record Suicide Solution, but the case failed because there were no detectable subliminal messages and the overt exhortations in the lyrics qualified for First Amendment protection.

Attention was granted to the INXS song Suicide Blonde, but the tune was exculpated because it referred to hair colour - somewhat ironic in view of Michael Hutchence’s subsequent death. Presumably however radio stations stopped playing the Billie Holiday classic Gloomy Sunday or the theme to M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless) around the same time.

With original recordings now almost exclusively in the digital format one hopes we might now be spared “analysis” of supposedly hidden messages in tape distortion, feedback or “white noise”. But I suppose that would be to underestimate the human imagination ...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crazy Heart (2009) Directed by Scott Cooper

Nick :
If you will permit me to go back to 2007 and the SXSW music festival. Amy Winehouse has just broken big in the USA. She is playing at least one show everyday of the festival and on some days  two or three. It was my last time in Austin, and I have to say, it was nigh on impossible to catch Amy during the festival. She was either late for her shows, canceling shows, or, as we heard from one doorman, throwing up mid-song on stage.  It was the first time I realized there was something seriously wrong with Winehouse after her meteoric rise to fame. Winehouse's death this weekend was predictable but no less tragic. Yes, fame can be a monster to deal with I'm sure, but am I alone in finding it so cliché to succumb to such a predictable death? That record definitely is broken, move on, nothing to see here.

Crazy Heart suffers from the same dealing in cliché. It's a very sensitively made film, well acted and well written. It looks good, its striving for authenticity is most welcome in a music-related film, even if at times the film has a made-for-TV vibe. There's just the sense that this is second hand goods.  If we want to get specific, way back in 1983, Duvall starred in the excellent Tender Mercies, the story of a middle-aged country singer, who enters a new relationship and tries to reconnect with his long lost daughter and put his troubled life back together.  Replace the daughter with a son and I've just described the main thrust of Crazy Heart for you. Duvall, like Jeff Bridges does in Crazy Heart, performs the songs on screen very well (Duvall also performed his own songs for TM). Also, like Bridges did, Duvall won a best actor Oscar for playing an alcoholic country singer.

Duvall was one of the producers on Crazy Heart and he must have seen some worth in resurrecting this tale. My problem with a film that really is fine, is its dealing in that old rock n roll cliché of past it singers and life on the road. If we look at Winehouse's case, I guess those clichés still define a troubled artist's life. Bridges is great and offered good support from Gyllenhaal, who has  pretty much defined this role in her other movies. But ultimately Crazy Heart is entertaining lite fluff.  It offers no real insight into the reason why musicians get so led astray. Nothing deep here, so don't go looking for meaning. That could also be the reason, despite its many faults, why Crazy Heart ultimately works.

On the day that we heard Amy Winehouse had died, we ended up watching Crazy Heart – a film about an alcoholic musician – strangely timely. Amy's life story is a much sadder and more hopeless one, than the destiny of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) in the movie. Kind of unfashionably in these cynical times, in Crazy Heart a man is able to get help for his addiction, he turns his life around and there is hope in the end.

Musicians are very often portrayed as alcoholics in cinema, but I must admit from the many I know personally too many fit the description. I can too easily imagine the young ones 20 years down the line struggling just like Bad Blake. In the film the motivation for change comes from falling in love. I wonder why it is so often the case that it is easier to care for one self if it can be wrapped up as caring for another? Exceptionally, in Crazy Heart the love interest (Maggie Gyllenhaal) draws the line and leaves the man, when Blake loses her 4-year-old son in downtown Houston. It is still rare to find movies about addiction that do not end up promoting codependency as a byproduct.

Crazy Heart is a gentle movie about a serious subject. Jeff Bridges is great as a little but Dude-like Bad, who even at his worst still seems to enjoy the odd laugh in his life. The subject of his estranged son is thankfully left after the son says he does not want to see his father. This plot line and the general theme of the film resonated strongly with The Wrestler, but where that film was hopeless this one holds on to its optimism – people can change.

Disney makes it to Panama! - sort of...

Panama has become a regular port of call of the Disney cruise ships. Disney Magic holds the record for the highest regular toll paid for passage through the Panama Canal, at $331200


This is the closest we have yet to see a Disney operation being set up in Panama, despite the recurrent story that keeps coming up on the Internet about a Disney resort.

The story first came up in 2006 during the real estate boom. http://primapanama.blogs.com/_panama_residential_devel/2006/01/is_disney_comin.html The then Minister of Commerce Jose Paredes theorized it could be related to the purchase of Hacienda Santa Monica by a group of foreign investors. The Minister mistakenly said that the investors had made a deposit and no further payments, when in fact the investors have been precluded from paying the rest of the price when the seller Wilson Lucom died and the relatives stalled the probate case. And the buyers were not related to the Disney companies.

In 2009 an April 1 "news item" supposedly issued by a non-existent reporter AP called Rodrigo Campos mentioned a Disney park to be located on the Pan-American Highway near the entrance to the resort town of Coronado, the 350 acre park. http://www.panama-guide.com/article.php/20090401154924637

Even a BusinessWeek website http://bx.businessweek.com/foreign-direct-investment/walt-disney-coming-to-panama/6467937499164575937-2516e83dc8dc74e509c929cbbd984b74/ and the El Siglo newspaper were suckered into what was an April Fools joke http://www.panama-guide.com/article.php/20090401154924637

What has become an urban legend or a way of raising depressed real estate prices occasionally makes it back, as the original item remains stored in website cache memories, with some Internet users still believing it...





Disney resorts - unrelated to theme parks - do exist in the Caribbean and throughout the U.S.



This means that those wanting to visit Mickey will need a U.S. visa or travel to theme parks in Europe or Asia.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) Directed by David Fincher

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is really not curious at all. Predictable and condescending are words I would use to describe it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was disappointed. When I saw the trailer for this film years ago, it reminded me of Forrest Gump. Seeing the whole film now confirmed to me that this was supposed to be a new version of the 1990s sentimental classic. Benjamin Button just failed to be a touching character, like Forrest once was (I can still sing the opening melody and see the feather fall from the sky).

It was surprising actually, how The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button could tackle so many touching human issues (death, birth, deformity, lost love, romance, war, hurricane Katrina), but remain distant and unfeeling. In its long run the film also employed many narrative devices, but here their multiplicity seemed glued-on rather than being an enriching factor in telling a story. I'm afraid there lies the weakness: the story is not very interesting and engaging. The bottom line is: being born a baby and then growing old and dying is pretty tragic, isn't it? Is it any different if you go from old to young and end up dead? I sometimes have script ideas for films and maybe I should write them out next time, because I think they are better than this one.

Brad Pitt is still not a great actor by any means. I did write a song inspired by him once, but it was from a nasty angle rather than an admiring one. Luckily he won't care what I think of his acting or anything because he has made a lot of money from his kind of acting and he is married to Angelina.
I like Cate Blanchett generally, but even she appears miscast here. Her ballerina scenes make me feel embarrassed and her old dying mother scenes are impossible to understand without putting on the hard-for-hearing subtitles. Of course the successful conventional romance takes place when Brad and Cate look like their movie star selves. I did not like The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button much, yet one evening we'll probably revisit it. It's that kind of bland stuff that is sometimes all we can take.

How preconditioned have we become? Last night as the day was ending, horrific attacks were being carried out in Norway. First, bombs in Oslo then shootings on the small Island of Utøya. At first we were told through various news agencies this was a terrorist attack, perpetrated by some Norwegian Muslim group. I wake up this morning to find out it was a lone Norwegian, a possible Neo-Nazi supporting individual who was responsible for both tragedies. Was the media pandering to our preconditioned expectations? One thing for sure it demonstrated a still fond need to blame the outsider before admitting it could be one of our own responsible for such atrocious actions. I've just returned from England where the media furor surrounding News International's phone hacking had reached fever pitch. The media reacts in indignation at underhand reporting amongst its own fraternity, sensationalist analysis about how Rupert Murdoch handled his questioning by British MP's. Ladies and gentlemen, a rare insight into the kind of idiots who trawl the wings of high power which effects so much of our lives. Oh, and isn't Murdoch's wife feisty and ever so young, guffaws the media!

So, amongst all this real drama, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems so gentile. This film patronizes us in the same way that Forrest Gump left some of us so astounded all those years ago. You expect more from Fincher, whose pictures usually display a slight hint of disdain for all that Hollywood bullshit. Here he dives right into that pile. Cate Blanchett seems destined to become the one great impersonator of modern Hollywood. Amongst the CGI, she's a passable dancer who wants to ultimately wait for the ugly duckling of Benjamin to grow younger and become the shag-fest prince that is, wait for it... Brad Pitt. Fincher is the one director to have used Pitt intelligently in the past, but here he indulges in the worst aspects of the Pitt mythology. Pitt oozes the class of a hick from a Marlboro Man clothing catalog. Perhaps the adage of 'run Benjamin run' doesn't quite have the same ring about it.

Amongst the CGI trickery of making actors who are glamorous look younger or older than they really are, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button manages to seriously bore me. The emotional depth this film aims for never hits home, the characters on screen seem so unreal in constantly unreal settings. This film supposedly heralded Pitt as a serious actor. I mean, seriously? Vacuous and preposterous, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button panders to the worst aspects of Hollywood excess. Just stick some good looking superstars playing themselves on the screen and some serious special effects and that should be enough to pacify the masses. It's unfair to the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to be wrapped up in my most negative state of mind. On a day when I despair for human intelligence and compassion,  I just think we need more than this.

Bail Set, Lawyers File Appearances in Khouli Antiquities Smuggling Case

A multiple count felony indictment against Moussa "Morris" Khouli, Joseph A. Lewis II, Salem Alshdaifat, and Ayman Ramadan charges the defendants with antiquities smuggling crimes. Three defendants are now actively engaged in their cases that are before the federal court of the Eastern District of New York. Ramadan remains at large.

Khouli has been released on a $250,000 bond. Lewis has been released on a $250,000 personal recognizance bond. Meanwhile, the prosecution and the defense agreed to place Alshdaifat on a $500,000 bond along with conditions that include house arrest, electronic monitoring, and a waiver of extradition from Canada.

Lawyers for the three defendants have filed appearances, including attorney Gerald Shargel for Khouli, the firm of Mintz Levin for Lewis, and attorney Henry Mazurek for Alshdaifat. Khouli’s earlier attorneys have withdrawn from the case. Meanwhile, the United States is represented by Karin Orenstein and Claire Kedeshian.

A June 23 press release shows that this is the second major case Orenstein has been assigned recently. She also serves as the prosecutor in a ten person Oxycodone distribution case.

Panama exits the OECD Grey List

OECD Promotes Panama to List of Financially Transparent Countries

Leading Latin American Economy Reaches Major Transparency Standards Milestone

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Following the signing of a double taxation agreement with France on July 6, the Republic of Panama was placed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on its list of countries who have substantially implemented international standards for exchange of information, commonly known as the "White List."

"Panama has moved aggressively to align its tax systems with international standards established by the OECD," said Alberto Vallarino, Minister of Economy and Finance for the Republic of Panama. "We are pleased to have reached this historic milestone, which further assures international investors of the stability of the Panamanian economy."

Panama has signed DTAs with France and 10 other countries, including Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Qatar, Luxembourg, Korea, Singapore, Mexico, Barbados, and Portugal. Panama signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States in November of last year. These agreements enable the transparent exchange of tax information and prevent the facilitation of tax evasion. A country must sign at least 12 of these agreements in order to be included on the OECD's list, which is a compilation of countries willing to cooperate against tax fraud.

Panama leads Latin America economically. In 2010, the country led the region in foreign direct investment, as a percent of GDP, with investments exceeding $2.3 billion. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, Panama's economy grew 9.7 percent from the previous year. It was ranked the 2nd most competitive economy in Latin America by the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011, and the International Monetary Fund projects that Panama will become the fastest-growing economy in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2015.

Panama has requested that the OECD's Global Forum further review its laws and domestic policies to ensure the tax treaties it has signed remain operational.

"The Martinelli Administration's pro-growth economic policies and alignment with international standards continue to create prosperity for our country and opportunities for our citizens," Vallarino said.

Distributed by HDMK, LLC on behalf of the Republic of Panama. Additional information is on file at the Department of Justice, Washington DC.


SOURCE Republic of Panama

Tax: Panama meets target for international exchange of tax information

06/07/2011 - Panama today moved to the OECD’s list of jurisdictions considered to have substantially implemented the standard for exchange of information when it signed a tax information exchange agreement with France. This brings Panama’s total agreements to the critical 12 that meet the international standard.

Accordingly, Panama now moves into the substantially implemented category, becoming the 39th jurisdiction to do so since the progress report was first issued in April 2009.

Secretary General Angel Gurria said, “Panama has worked hard to achieve this milestone and has made remarkable strides toward complying with the international standards in a very short time. This is very welcome and shows the Global Forum is achieving its aims.” However, he cautioned that the Global Forum must still evaluate whether Panama’s domestic laws will allow for effective availability, access to and exchange of information. He said, “The government has introduced domestic changes so that the agreements can be effective. The Global Forum will follow up to make sure they work as intended. It is important that Panama continues to work to fully implement the standards.”

Following the Global Forum Phase 1 Peer Review of Panama (assessing the legal and regulatory framework), Panama has significantly amended its legislation to address some of the deficiencies identified by the Global Forum which resulted in Panama not moving forward to a Phase 2 review (assessment of the information exchange in practice). At the request of Panama, the Global Forum will soon undertake a further review of whether Panama’s domestic laws, including recent changes, will allow for effective exchange of information in practice.

More information about the Global Forum:

For further information, journalists should contact Jeffrey Owens, Director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, (tel. +33 1 45 24 91 08, e-mail: jeffrey.owens@oecd.org).

A progress report on the jurisdictions surveyed by the OECD Global Forum in implementing the internationally agreed tax standard (PDF regularly updated)

A progress report on the jurisdictions surveyed by the OECD Global Forum in implementing the internationally agreed tax standard on exchange of information for tax purposes.

The internationally agreed standard, developed by OECD and non-OECD countries in the context of the OECD’s Global Forum on Taxation and endorsed by G20 Finance Ministers in 2004 and by the UN Committee of Experts on International Co-operation in Tax Matters in October 2008, requires exchange of information on request in all tax matters for the administration and enforcement of domestic tax law without regard to a domestic tax interest requirement or bank secrecy for tax purposes. It also provides for extensive safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the information exchanged.

Panama Peer Review Report

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"... the greatest piece of judicial law reform in my time ..."

Published in the New Law Journal, Vol 161, 17 June 2011, p 854  lawbites
Lord Denning is perhaps the most famous twentieth century English judge. His fame derives from several sources: partly from the number of high profile cases on which he sat; partly from his preference for justice as he saw it over precedent; and partly due to his inquiry into the Profumo affair, which, he later recalled, produced his one and only best seller. (It was also known as the "raciest Blue Book ever", though presumably not in the face of much competition.)

Perhaps uniquely amongst common law judges, Denning is also famous because of his judgment-writing style. It certainly endeared him to generations of law students, though not all law teachers: a curmudgeonly sort at my alma mater used to sneer at Denning's "short sentences and simplistic reasoning".

Still, Denning's judgments could never be accused of lacking clarity, and his unarguably short sentences could be crafted with such skill that his judgments on occasion attained the status of works of literature, as any reader of Miller v Jackson [1977] 3 All ER 338 will attest.

Born in 1899, and a veteran of the Great War, Denning displayed the values of his generation more than once, but he could also be forward-looking, perhaps most notably when ruling on the right of a deserted wife to remain in the matrimonial home. His judgments in the fields of property and contract were less well known publicly, but equally controversial in the legal profession: another professor of mine once suggested Denning “never met a plaintiff he didn’t like” (presumably Mrs Miller excepted).

Somewhat surprisingly, however, what Denning called "the greatest piece of judicial law reform in my time" did not arise from casting aside the patriarchal shackles of outdated social mores. It did not even concern substantive law. Instead, it was the creation of the pre-trial remedy of the Mareva injunction, by which assets in the jurisdiction can be frozen before trial in order to prevent unscrupulous defendants from removing them and thereby rendering any litigation fruitless.

The origins of the remedy are found in Nippon Yusen Kaisha v Karageorgis and anor [1975] 3 All ER 282, a case heard a month before Mareva.

Recently Lord Neuberger complained, with some justification, about the length of modern judgments. He would certainly have had a point in comparison with the Nippon Yusen Kaisha case – the lead judgment was all of four paragraphs long. Denning observed that it “has never been the practice of the English courts to seize assets of a defendant in advance of judgment, or to restrain the disposal of them. ... We know, of course, that the practice on the continent of Europe is different.” He then opined that it was time to revise that practice, and went on to grant the order, pointing out that if the defendants had grounds to object they could always apply to discharge it.

It was considered afterwards that the judgment might be defective, since the court had not been referred to Lister v Stubbs [1886–90] All ER Rep 797, where it had been stated that there was no jurisdiction to grant such an injunction. Thus, on 23 June 1975, Mareva Compania Naviera SA applied for similar relief to Nippon Yusen Kaisha, and addressed the Lister v Stubbs point directly.

On that occasion the judgment ran to all of three pages. Denning dealt with the Lister point breezily. He referred to s 45 of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act 1925, which provided that an injunction could be granted “in all cases in which it shall appear to the Court to be just or convenient …”, and pointed out that its predecessor section had been given a very wide interpretation in Beddow v Beddow (1878) 9 Ch D 89. As it was just and reasonable to grant the injunction, Denning did so.

Roskill LJ agreed that the remedy was justified. As to the legal novelty, he pointed out that the charterers could always apply to the court to discharge the injunction, and referred almost sheepishly to the terms of the charter as providing a means of distinguishing Lister v Stubbs “if necessary”. Ormrod LJ concurred but declined to write a separate judgment as the application was ex parte.

It has to be said that the grounds for distinguishing Lister seem rather shaky. But the commercial justifications were unanswerable, and the point was never appealed further. Instead Mareva injunctions became standard practice, and a few years later Parliament codified the practice in the Supreme Court Act 1981 (see Paul Lowenstein QC “As if by a side-wind ...” in Cases that Changed Our Lives, Lexisnexis 2010). The jurisdiction was subsequently extended to include orders of worldwide application, and even cases where there is no substantive claim in England. Renamed “freezing order” in CPR newspeak, the remedy continues to form a substantial part of the business of the Commercial Court.

Denning, aged 75 at the time, took advantage of the absence of any mandatory retirement date and continued to sit until the early 1980s. He died in March 1999 aged 100.

Counsel for Mareva, Bernard Rix, is now Rix LJ and a resident of Denning’s old haunt of the Court of Appeal. One imagines that the number of times he has had occasion to recall that day in June 1975 over the course of a long and distinguished career in commercial litigation must be very considerable indeed.

Betcha can't make just ONE

Vogue 1250 comes in pairs.  Like everyone else, I could not quite stop at one.

I whipped this up today out of (as you can see) an outrageously large print.  It seemed perfect for a pattern with hardly any seams.

I stared at the print for a while before concluding it would not be useful to try to actually plan for any part of it to fall anywhere in particular.  And then I blithely folded the fabric and cut the big piece, not particularly paying attention to the print.

Oh serendipity!  Look at how the cowl is nestled in a V in the print!  Somehow my shoulders are both more or less red, and I think that the large motifs worked out well in the front.

Of course, I blithely cut out the big piece, without checking to see if I had a sufficiently big bit left for the smaller piece (upper back).  Um. No.

It has a CB seam, unlike the DKNY original.

At least I was able to more or less match the two halves through the large motif in the centre.

The CB seam in the skirt *almost* matches.  I take no credit.  The width of the dress is what it is.  Actually, I don't much care for how the print falls on my backside, but I don't really have to look at it, so I don't much care...

And I am really happy with how the print falls in the front.

Here is one more tidbit of information about this pattern.

As you can see in the picture above, the original has this rather low V under the arm.  It seemed unnecessary.  So in my new version, I filled it in a bit.  Below is my altered pattern piece.  The front did not get altered at all.  It's basically a smooth curved line from shoulder to waist.  The effect of this extra little wedge of fabric is just that the back attaches higher up.  It also pulls the shoulder down slightly to form more of a cap sleeve, which I like.

The other small change I made was to increase the depth of the cut-on facing for the cowl.  I felt it was at risk of flipping out as originally planned (a depth of about 7.5cm).  I added approximately double that again at CF, tapering to nothing where the facing attaches to the shoulder seam.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Closer Look at the Case Against Mousa “Morris” Khouli and the Greco-Roman Coffin

A multiple count indictment publicly released last week implicates Mousa “Morris” Khouli and three others (Joseph A. Lewis, II, Salem Alshdaifat, and Ayman Ramadan) in an antiquities smuggling ring. Khouli is charged with conspiracy to smuggle, conspiracy to commit money laundering, smuggling as well as fraudulent importation and transportation (5 counts), and making false statements (2 counts).  Keep in mind that an indictment is simply a process that brings a person before the court. The government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt before a person may be found guilty.

Those familiar with the case know by now that Khouli is a New York based antiquities and ancient coin dealer. Because he faces more charges than the other named co-conspirators—-nine criminal counts—-and because federal prosecutors looked to Khouli to provide information two years ago, his case bears some examination.

The 17 page federal grand jury indictment recites that Khouli operated a business called Windsor Antiquities (sic), selling items both from his physical location in Manhattan and on the internet. He is alleged to have illegally imported antiquities and to have sold them to a collector whose home is in Virginia. From the available court documents, the specific item that appears to have begun the investigative probe in to Khouli’s activities is a Greco-Roman coffin.

The recently released indictment and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press releases of July 14, 2011 describe that:

• Khouli sold Egyptian antiquities to Pharma Management Corp. CEO and Virginia collector Jospeh Lewis, II. The objects included the Greco-Roman coffin.

• Khouli bought the Egyptian antiquities from Michigan dealer Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics and Dubai dealer Ayman Ramadan of Nafertiti (sic) Eastern Sculptures Trading.

• Around October 30, 2008 Khouli made a bank transfer of $10,000 into Ramadan’s bank account in Dubai. Then Ramadan had the Greco-Roman coffin shipped by air from the United Arab Emirates to JFK International Airport in New York, arriving on November 20, 2008.

• The Greco-Roman coffin was seized from Joseph Lewis’ home by federal agents on July 14, 2011.

• HSI special agents seized almost $80,000 and more than 200 smuggled antiquities from Khouli worth approximately $2.5 million. Other seizures from Khouli's store included a variety of antiquities and thousands of ancient coins valued at $1 million.

Additional unsealed court documents shed further light on the facts alleged in the indictment. Writing in a September 4, 2009 affidavit in support of Mousa Khouli’s arrest, an ICE special agent explained how, around November 2008, he discovered that a particular shipment entered JFK airport in New York. The Customs database told the agent that the shipment was described as “Wood Panels, Antiques of Age Exceeding One Hundred Years.” The database also listed the country of origin as the United Arab Emirates. The agent’s suspicions were aroused because "it is extremely unlikely that antique wood panels would originate in the UAE. The soil is almost entirely sandy . . . ,” he wrote.

Based on this information, the special agent met with Khouli on February 10, 2009. “Khouli then showed me five old, painted wood panels. I asked Khouli where the panels were from and he said they were Egyptian. When asked whether he had any merchandise originating in the UAE, Khouli responded that he sometimes imports from the UAE, but that the UAE is not the country of origin for any of his merchandise.”

Khouli signed a statement for the ICE agent that said that the wood panels did not originate from the UAE; they were imported from the UAE. The special agent noted in the affidavit that Khouli violated the law, particularly where fifteen of twenty imports over a five year period were claimed to have originated from the UAE. The ICE agent recited familiar cultural property law, specifically that the entry of cultural property in the United States in contravention of a foreign cultural patrimony law is punishable by the National Stolen Property Act, referencing United States v. Schultz. The agent also stated that lying about the country of origin on customs documents constitutes a material false statement in violation of the federal criminal code, citing United States v. An Antique Platter of Gold.

The court sealed the government’s affidavit and complaint because the case remained under investigation. Even after authorities arrested Khouli on September 8, 2009 the case remained under seal. Khouli apparently appeared for arraignment on October 22, 2009 as “John Doe” at the request of the US Attorney’s Office, according to now publicly available court documents.

The government charged Khouli in 2009 with smuggling cultural property into the United States. But federal prosecutors wanted Khouli as an informant. A previously sealed prosecution letter to the court dated October 19, 2009 explains: “Khouli has expressed an interest in cooperating proactively against others who deal in stolen cultural property . . . . These crimes are difficult to detect and prove because they are committed by falsifying importation documents and provenances. Khouli’s cooperation is therefore of great value to the government and will not only contribute to the investigation of others who smuggle and deal in stolen cultural property, but will enable the United States government to seize and repatriate stolen cultural property to the countries that own the property under applicable treaties and patrimony laws.”

The prosecution on December 16, 2009 moved to dismiss the criminal case against Khouli, perhaps for the purpose of utilizing Khouli as a cooperating witness but this information is unknown for certain. In May 2011, however, Khouli and the three co-defendants were indicted. The indictment remained under seal until last week. And on July 14, 2011, Khouli posted a $250,000 secured appearance bond.

According to the records of the New York Department of State, Division of Corporations, Khouli’s business was actually known as Windsor Antiques, Inc. Created on September 28, 1995, the public records show that the business dissolved on December 27, 2010. Khouli was listed as the CEO, with an address in New York, NY and a principal office located in Brooklyn. A new company, Palmyra Heratige (sic), Inc., emerged on May 28, 2010 according to the corporation division’s records, listing an address located at the Manhattan Arts and Antiques Center. Khouli is associated with both Windsor Antiques and Palmyra Heratige (sic), Inc.

Although the Palmyra Heratige (sic) web site is down, a Yahoo! search revealed the following cached web autobiography as of July 11, 2011 (http://www.vcoins.com/palmyraheritage/store/info.asp?page=AboutUs):

“I am Morris Khouli. I moved to New York City in 1992 with my family and opened a gallery in New York City in 1995. My father had a gallery in Damascus for 35 Years, and he learned the business from my Grandfather who was in the business as well. I am the third generation in this business. Thanks to my dad, he taught me the business and I learned to love ancient coins and antiquities ever since I was a little boy.

Many collectors and dealers know me since I do a lot of shows in New York, California, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, and the ANA show, wherever it is since 1993. You may visit my gallery in the heart of Manhattan in the beautiful Manhattan Art and Antiques Center. We are open to the public Monday through Friday 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Located at 1050 Second Avenue between 55 and 56 streets Gallery Number 16 New York NY 10022 Tel 212-3191077 and fax 212-3191169.

We guarantee all of our items to be authentic and if for any reason you are not happy with the item, you can return it for a full refund. Try us--you will be happy.

Thank you,
Morris Khouli”

Palmyra Heratige (sic) apparently sold various types of antiquities. The Manhattan Art and Antique Center lists a web page for Palmyra Heritage at http://www.the-maac.com/Streamline?p=viewPage.jsp&id=61&gid=123. It displays two ancient coins, an Apulian amphora, a Roman bust, and an Illyrian bronze helmet.

As the case continues through the federal court system some important questions that perhaps may be answered include:

• how the Greco-Roman coffin was originally acquired and who facilitated its acquisition and transfer;

• who packed and transported the coffin to the UAE, how was it done, and which countries did the coffin pass through;

• which foreign government authorities failed to detect the movement of the coffin and why;

• how much money was paid for the coffin and how was the money transferred;

• whether the coffin was conserved or restored and who did the work if it was;

• how the coffin got from JFK airport to Lewis’ home, who packed it, and who transported it;

• why HSI waited two years to seize the Greco-Roman coffin (which is a good decision if it served to further HSI’s investigation, of course); and

• who are the unnamed co-conspirators in this case?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Antiquities Conspirators Charged

This week federal authorities publicly released a sealed indictment charging four men with antiquities trafficking. A federal grand jury in New York alleges that an antiquities trafficking ring conspired to smuggle ancient artifacts from Egypt, engaging in money laundering and false statements in the process.

The multiple count indictment charges
• collector Joseph A. Lewis, II, president and CEO of Pharma Management Corp. in Virginia.
• Mousa Khouli of Windsor Antiquities in New York,
• Michigan coin dealer Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics, and
• dealer Ayman Ramadan of Nefertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading from Dubai.

The indictment alleges, in part, that Lewis illicitly bought Egyptian antiquities, which were illegally imported into the United States through Dubai. The indictment also alleges that the four conspired together and with unidentified “others” in an antiquities smuggling operation.

ICE issued a July 14 press release stating that it "seized Egyptian antiquities to include but are not limited to a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a unique three-part coffin set belonging to Shesepamuntayesher from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, approximately 664-552 B.C. In addition to Egyptian antiquities, other Middle Eastern and Asian artifacts along with more than a thousand antique coins have been recovered.”

U.S customs agents executed a search warrant at Lewis' home on July 13 in Chesterfield, VA. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that they "recovered the Greco-Roman sarcophagus, the funerary boats and the limestone figures" there. The newspaper also reports that Lewis was convited of illegal importation of wildlife in 1991, a charge plea bargained down from a felony to a misdemeanor. He reportedly served 30 days in home confinement, paid a $7500 fine, was placed on probation for 5 years, and was sentenced to perform community service

Ramadan remains a fugitive as of this writing.

Meanwhile, no indictments have been handed up thus far that involve the coins or Asian goods.

It should be noted that an indictment is not a finding of guilt.  A criminal defendant is presumed innocent unless the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The Wrestler (2008) Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Nick :
My body has been changing shape in a manner I've still not come to terms with.  It really happened when I turned 40. I've always been very slim and it used to be the case that whatever I eat doesn't effect my weight. Not any more. I was first diagnosed as lactose intolerant, which meant if I drank fully pasteurized milk, I would initially pass out, fart and then my stomach would bloat out to double the size. I gained weight on my stomach. It's the spot where all the fat gathers. I have something approaching a pot belly. I'm fighting it, but feel I'm losing. Should it matter? I don't feel so unhealthy. Is my vanity about my public perception effecting me and actually stopping me being relaxed about my looks? I would have thought Mickey Rourke gave up caring what people thought of the way he looked a long time ago. For me, his plastic surgery face, long lion's mane of hair and hulking body make him look better now. It's a face that's lived.

The Wrestler is a Rourke tour de force.  Apart from a very good supporting turn from Marisa Tomei, the only reason to watch this is for Rourke as fading wrestling legend Randy 'The Ram' Robinson.  I'm sure Aronofsky would claim it tries to expose the truth behind pro-wrestling (the drugs, the fakery etc), but it really does not go far enough if it's trying to be an expose. No, Rourke gives us  a masterclass in playing himself and it's fascinating. This could be one of the greatest performances I've seen. Unfortunately, Aronofsky, after an assured beginning, throws in cliché after cliché to the story, that even Rourke struggles to deal with these possible knock out blows (ahem!) The family sub plot, chasing the stripper dream and The Ram's redemptive final actions could all have come from a Rocky movie.  It might be time for Aronofsky to tackle that comic book adaptation franchise, and leave the apparently serious film making to someone else.

 As for Rourke, when has he even come close to this? He was cute in Diner, more presence than anything else in Rumble Fish, OK in Angle Heart and do we even consider 9 ½ Weeks? Yes, it was his looks, not his acting that attracted us to start with, it's why we were bothered. When his looks changed, the public lost interest (as did Hollywood it seems).  That's the key to The Wrestler, Aronofsky delays showing us Rourke's face at the beginning, he's banking on our shock at his appearance as an audience. It's not enough to carry the film, but Rourke is magical here.

I'm beginning to dislike Darren Aronofsky's melodramatic directorial perspective. I fear I would not enjoy his latest film about the tormenting horror of the ballet world. Don't worry, I haven't made it there yet, as it's taken us three years to get to The Wrestler. It is not such as dramatic and over-stated film as it could be in the circumstances, yet it portrays Aronofsky's bleak outlook on life: people end up lonely, addicted and hopeless in life – change is a momentary illusion.

The Wrestler is a stage for Mickey Rourke. There are hardly any other characters with a story here. It would have been an interesting experience to watch Rourke play the washed-up wrestler Randy with even less contact with other meaningful characters. They could have chucked out the angry daughter and the girlfriend-to-be stripper without losing anything of the core drama.

Randy admires and aspires to a body aesthetic, which is very artificial and to my eyes very 1980s. It requires a lot of work. His body and image is what he finds most important in life. He is willing to risk his health with steroids and the sun bed, and of course extensive bodybuilding exercises and the wrestling fights. In fact, the film suggests that it is this obsession that has driven him to his loneliness.

In The Wrestler there is a sense that the relationship body builders and wrestlers have to their material bodies would be considered too feminine in other male contexts. Randy is at an intersection of macho masculinity and femininity. That's the interesting part of a film that's otherwise pretty forgettable.

Friday, July 15, 2011

R (on the application of Bashir) v Independent Adjudicator: religion in prison

Co-written with Anne-Marie Forker, and published in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, Vol 175, 18 June 2011, p 373

The relationship between religion and the law seems now to be a permanent feature of public life in the United Kingdom – to the point where it reminds one of the children’s story about the magic pudding which, no matter how often it is eaten, always reforms in order to be eaten again.

One recent serving of the pudding concerns the right to practice religion in prison, which was the subject of R (Bashir) v Independent Adjudicator [2011] EWHC 1108 (Admin).

The facts

The claimant was required to provide a urine sample for testing for the use of controlled drugs in accordance with the policy in relation to mandatory drug testing contained in Prison Service Order 3601. The basis for the test was a suspicion that he had taken controlled substances. He was offered water before providing the sample, but refused on the ground that he was a devout Muslim who was fasting prior to a court hearing, as part of his religious preparation for the event. As a result of refusing water he was unable to provide a sufficient sample. He was charged with failing to obey a lawful rule contrary to r 51(22) of the Prison Rules 1999. He was convicted by a prison adjudicator and a penalty of 14 days’ additional detention was imposed. The adjudicator held that the claimant was not fasting as part of either Ramadan or any other religious festival, and therefore requiring him to provide a sample had been “appropriate”. The claimant applied by way of judicial review to quash the adjudicator’s decision, contending that it breached his right to practice his religion under art 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The High Court

Judge Pelling found that the adjudicator’s approach to art 9 had been wrong; the correct approach required three questions: (i) whether the claimant’s rights under art 9 were engaged; (ii) if so, whether there had been an interference with those rights; and (iii) if so, whether the interference was one that was both prescribed by law or necessary in the interests of public order, health or morals, and proportionate to the end pursued.

There was no real dispute both that art 9 was engaged and that there had been an interference with those rights. Accordingly question (iii) formed the nub of the substantive challenge. Moreover, since the drug testing was prescribed by law and at least one of the other aspects of art 9, the only aspect of (iii) that was in issue was whether it was proportionate to the end pursued.

Judge Pelling concluded that there had been no evidence before the adjudicator to suggest that it was proportionate to require all Muslim prisoners engaged in personal fasting to break that fast as and when required for the purposes of providing a sample regardless of the circumstances. The decision therefore had to be quashed.


We have no dispute with the judge’s approach to art 9. Rather, our difference is with the conclusion that the drug policy could potentially be a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s rights. While the state is obliged to allow religious beliefs and practices, it is not obliged to make exceptions to the general law based on someone's religious beliefs – provided, of course, that the general law is not aimed at discriminating against or suppressing particular religions.

If it could have made no difference either to the state or to any private individual (including other prisoners), then we would have no objection to the state accommodating religious practices for prisoners. But making exceptions to the disciplinary regime – of which drug testing is at the core – is as unworkable as it is unfair. If one has an exception due to a fast, then why not some other activity? And, to ensure non-discrimination, non-religious beliefs of any particular prisoner would also have to be accommodated.

Religious exemptions are found elsewhere in the criminal law, such as s 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and ss 3 and 4 of the Offensive Weapons Act 1996, which allow Sikhs to carry the Kirpan on religious grounds. Is permitting this not increasing the likelihood of harm to others, something the criminal law aims to reduce? We are not suggesting for a moment that Sikhs are more likely than other groups to use knives in a criminal fashion, but rather that increasing the quantity of knives being carried by any section of society in the general public increases the risk of harm to others. Practicing religion should be subject to the same standards as non-religious activities (see also p 124 ante).

Contrary to the tabloid view that equality is somehow harmful to religion, we believe that excluding religion from public life is actually the best protection for religion, because it ensures all religions are treated equally.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I'm stuck

The AC works again, so on the weekend I got back to Vogue 8718.

The peplum, which you can see here, is self-lined.  This is because part of the underside of the peplum is visible at the lower edge, (though not in this picture, you can see it on the photo from the pattern envelope, and in the original Akris version, at this blog post).

Anyhow, I fretted over whether to interface or otherwise beef up the two layers of very thin wool that would make up the peplum.  I finally decided to use a firm silk organza underlining, attached to the right side pieces.

I KNEW that the organza was slightly off-grain and rippling but I deluded myself all through sewing the seams, sewing the layers together, pressing, and attaching the peplum to the jacket.


Was it going to stop rippling through sheer force of my will?  Of course not.

Am I going to wear it like this?  Of course not.

Luckily, I didn't trim or clip or do anything except turn and press.

Hello, seam ripper?  Where are you, my friend?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Directed by Robert Benton

Kramer vs. Kramer is full of questions about family, which became political in the atmosphere of the 1970s second wave feminism. The film takes sides, judges and argues for the father, while showing that the mother is not always the best and most natural parent just because she is the biological mother.
A lot of the content, or the way it is presented, looks pretty black&white from today's perspective, while at the same time I feel that at times of dispute we have not moved very far from the 1970s way of thinking.

The mother, played by Meryl Streep, leaves her son and husband after what she describes as years of not being heard or seen. She leaves her son behind because at that point she feels she is unfit to be a parent. She then remains away for 15 months, after which time she returns to claim sole custody of her son. What disturbs me, is that Meryl Streep tells on her making-of-interview that she considered her character to be mentally ill. Apparently that was the only explanation for her behavior she could think of, which would allow her to feel empathy for the absent mother...

Most of the film concentrates on the remaining father and son (Dustin Hoffman and the child actor Justin Henry). They go from a bad insensitive relationship to a very loving and trusting one. The father has to sacrifice his career, but he is glad to do it because of the bond he has established with his own child. The film is kind of saying to the 1970s and 1980s workaholic dads that they could find rewards if they took the time with their children. Still, Kramer vs. Kramer paints a very heroic and noble picture of the sacrificing father thus depicting him as an exception (created by an unfit mother).
These days we are closer to a time when a part-taking stay-at-home dad is becoming a true option and a necessity. You will not get special points from the society for much longer, but more and more men want to be there anyway. And the women? They still attract all the criticism of the world.

Kramer vs. Kramer deals with the practicalities of parenthood when one parent, the most present  (mother) leaves the roost to find herself, whilst leaving the breadwinner parent (father) compromised. The offshoot, in a trite Hollywood movie that just scratches the real issues involved, is that father, who's never been home to watch his son grow up because of work commitments, realizes his 7-year- old son is the greatest thing ever. When mother, after an 18 month absence comes barging back into the father/son bliss claiming custody of the son, a tense court case ensues.

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep play the parents, the very cute Justin Henry plays the son. Hoffman and Streep can walk through these roles, they are so good in front of camera. Reality, which the film strives for, is immediately dispelled of with such a perfect looking family. Benton, who directed the excellent Bad Company as well as writing Bonnie & Clyde and a host of other New Hollywood pictures could be a safe pair of hands as director and writer. Although sentimentality on the whole is avoided (despite the seriously cute kid), smugness is constant. This film was made with the Oscar academy in mind. The real issue the film tries to grapple with is a father's rites. Even though Streep abandons her child at the beginning of the movie to find herself in LA, and Hoffman was more than a neglectful father pre-split, you never feel any real venom or judgement aimed towards either parent.  To preserve the moral code, the mother makes up for her abandonment at the films end, the father seemingly still in love with his former wife to forgive her anything. One wonders what the kid thinks of all this back and forth.

So, Kramer vs. Kramer ends in some kind of happy, why-did-we-bother flux. Having been divorced twice, I can tell you it's never this easy. The incessant gossip from strangers and half-acquaintances, the morality that people amazingly find and throw in your face, the heartbreak, the financial hardship, the compromise and so forth. Yes, happy endings occur, I know, I've experienced it. In a film trying to deal with realities in the portrayal of family breakdown, the self-satisfied yuppies in Kramer vs. Kramer don't know the half of it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Free Speech: American and British perspectives

For Halsbury's Law Exchange

This Thursday Politeia is hosting an evening on the different approaches to Freedom of Speech in the United Kingdom and United States. It is a particularly topical subject, needless to say, in the year of the superinjunction. Here are a few thoughts on the differences between legal approaches in the two countries, on which I freely stand to be corrected if my knowledge of American law proves as deficient as I suspect.

Both the UK and the US have a strong – and interwoven – history of free speech. As a concept in political philosophy, arguments for free speech that are strikingly modern in content can be found in Milton’s Areopagitica, and later in the famous harm principle of Mill’s On Liberty. As a legal concept, however, free speech developed primarily in the United States in the twentieth century, pursuant to the explicit protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Nowadays, an equivalent jurisprudence is being developed by the European Court of Human Rights and the domestic courts of member states under art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). There is, however, a significant difference in the wording of the American and European constitutional documents. The First Amendment is in these apparently unqualified terms:

Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech ...

Even the Ten Commandments would struggle to compete with that lack of ambiguity. A moment’s reflection, however, shows that it would be impossible to comply with the First Amendment literally: “no law” abridging freedom of speech would mean no law preserving state secrets, no copyright protection and no confidentiality for medical records, for a start. Equally it would mean allowing the most outlandish libel and slander, wildly misleading advertising, and so on and so forth – to the point where no law abridging freedom of speech would effectively mean no law at all.

The American courts have therefore had to permit many an abridgement to free speech over the years. In doing so, they have attempted to fashion principled exceptions, whilst at least paying lip service to the uncompromising nature of the First Amendment. Often this involves reclassifying something as “not speech”, or conversely permitting something controversial such as pornography on the ground that it is “speech” even though for the most part no-one might be saying anything.

By contrast, art 10 of the Convention starts with a declaration of the right to free expression, but then adds that the exercise of that right may be subject to such restrictions as are:

prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society ...

Thus, while any form of speech automatically engages the protection of art 10, the protection might be withdrawn if the infringement under question meets the qualifying criteria – but only to the extent that it does.

In the UK additional weight is given by s 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides that special regard is to be had to the right of freedom of expression in any case where it is in issue, and the public interest in disclosure of material which has journalistic, literary or artistic merit is to be considered.

The different wording of the First Amendment and the Constitution is accordingly more apparent than real: the Convention effectively codifies the same approach that the US courts are compelled to take by the impossibility of literal First Amendment compliance: allowing restrictions, but only where lawful, necessary and proportionate.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that protection of speech has tended to be been stronger in the United States.

There are at least three interrelated reasons. First, since the American courts are effectively compelled to undertake a form of rhetorical trickery - or even intellectual dishonesty - to proscribe speech given the bluntness of the First Amendment, they tend to be very reluctant to do so.

Secondly, and much more importantly, the First Amendment has long been central to American political debate and American culture generally, in a fashion that does not really find any equivalent in Europe (save arguably for the Dutch culture of tolerance). Knowledge and indeed reverence of the First Amendment is far greater in the US than knowledge of art 10 in Europe.

Thirdly, under the Convention, European courts are required to balance art 10 with other Convention rights, such as the right to privacy. The Convention does not give priority to art 10 over those other rights; the courts are required to afford them equal weight. In America that argument would be much harder to advance.

One can see any number of recent manifestations of the different approaches, such as the respective cases on soldier’s funeral protests; Tiger Woods’ unremitting media coverage versus the British footballing superinjunctors; and the fortunes of Pastor Terry Jones.

It is difficult to summarise, let alone add to the daunting volume of philosophical works by American jurists who have considered the concept of free speech, from robust proponents such as Ronald Dworkin to the more sceptical such as Stanley Fish.

For my money one of the most compelling arguments in favour of the American approach is the analogy advanced by Judge Richard Posner with America’s cold war strategy. The front line against the USSR, he observes, was not the Potomac but the borders of Western and Eastern Europe. It was hoped that any conflict would be safely away from American soil, meaning ground could be ceded here and there without threatening their core interests.

Similarly, advocates of free speech argue for a wider protection than that strictly necessary to preserve values such as open and free political discussion, artistic freedom and personal fulfillment. They spend their time defending often violent, sadistic, sordid or nonsensical manifestations of speech, as with Hustler’s article or the funeral protests. By doing so they calculate that speech that is merely offensive, or indeed simply not finding favour with the political agenda of the government of the day, is never threatened.

When deciding what is or what is not a proportionate interference with art 10, the European Courts might consider a similar perspective.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hot weather sewing

I was making great progress with Vogue 8718 until I realized that our newly-installed central AC was not functioning as planned, and it is a hot weekend.  Erg.

The jacket needed a lot of steam.  So I switched gears.  Today, I made Vogue 1250 - the DKNY cowl neck dress everyone has been raving about.  There are already 17 reviews on PR and it has only been in the book for a month or so.  I can see why it's popular.  Three pattern pieces, and one of them is a little strip to finish the back neck.  This is, as I proved today, a dress that you can make in an afternoon.

However, its design makes it a bit tricky for someone, like The Sewing Lawyer, whose top and bottom are not the same size.  (FYI, the top is a pretty straight size 10 and the bottom is just a titch under size 16.)

This dress is snug at the hip, designed with about 3cm ease, just over 1".  And the skirt is a single piece with only one seam at CB.  Darts extend to hip level from the bodice side seam to provide shaping.  To the right is the schematic drawing of the pattern pieces.  I puzzled over how to add width  at the hip without completely changing the design (i.e. by adding a side seam).  My solution was to slice the pattern vertically through the hip dart, adding a 2cm wide strip.  This worked very well, I'm happy to report. Except that I don't actually think I have as much as 3cm ease.  Hmmm.  

My fabric is a mystery content, striped slinky-like fabric I picked up at Vogue Fabrics in Chicago (I do love the way that sounds :D).  I had purchased a generous amount for a top, which turned out to be the right amount for this dress, 1.2 metres.  It only needs one length, at least in my size range.

To ensure the stripes would match, I cut one side of the front, single layer, pinned through the CF line, then folded to match the stripes before cutting the second side.  At the point of cutting, I wasn't certain I would need all the 4cm I had added so had not yet cut out the hip dart.  I did need it.  All of it.

I sewed the dress using a tiny zig zag on my regular sewing machine (1.5 x 1.5 mm) which is narrow enough to press open, strong and stretchy.

So here's the finished dress.  It looks pretty drab, but has some nice blues and cream colours in the stripes.

I was worried that the knit might stretch and the dress grow, but it seems firmer once made than I expected.

The cowl is low, but not indecent.

The back.  Kind of plain.

Where's my spanx?

A succesful day at Immigration...

Applicants at Panama Immigration may spend up to 25 hours standing in line for pictures or submissions by the time certain types of residence visas are granted. Somehow there is always a new unwritten regulation used to justify ordering a application papers to be amended. Using an attorney or a legal assistant may cut down the number of hours spent. Having a clever assistant like this one is ... just priceless!