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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Directed by Wes Anderson

Family disagreements, forced silences, different perspectives; nothing brings as much turmoil and discomfort as families at war. I have always seen myself as the black sheep in my family, I seemed to embrace my adopted nation's cultural values much more than the rest of my family (England, compared to my parents' Italy.) I also lacked any moral allegiance to religious guidance. It's still like that really. I love my family dearly, but one has to acknowledge the difference. The Royal Tenenbaums does not impact on my own family in any way. It is however, one of my favorite films of recent times.

After Rushmore, it's fair to say that The Royal Tenenbaums was the movie where Wes Anderson not only cemented his reputation as being a visually stylish director but also a distinctive one. Nowadays you can see the influence of this film everywhere. It's in the color co-ordination of the sets and characters, the bloody great use of soundtrack (Elliot Smith, Nico, The Velvet Underground) that gives hints it's an Anderson movie. But as well as embracing Bill Murray in his movies, it's the fact that Anderson knows how to use the goddess that is Angelica Huston. He remembers that Huston was the daughter of John and the lover of Jack and affords her the true presence and authority of character that Angelica should always demand in her roles. The Royal Tenenbaums also acknowledges that Gene Hackman, when on form, is the equal to any actor out there. His lovable scoundrel Royal is the beating heart here, Hackman brings this one to life.

So, we get tragedy and laughs in equal measure, but neither seems out of place or uncomfortable in this context. The big issues, life and love and death are dealt with. I love this film. Nothing in mainstream American cinema really compares. Anderson may never make a movie as great as this again (though he's come close). Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson certainly won't. If this has somehow alluded you, go find it now. The Royal Tenenbaums is masterful entertainment.

The Royal Tenenbaums was a movie Nick and I watched in 2002. It was one of the early cinema experiences we shared – we even found a huge poster for the film and hung it on our kitchen wall for some years. Therefore the aesthetic of all subsequent Wes Anderson movies and their continual dealing with love and dysfunction have felt directly personal to me – or to us – in my interpretation. The film meant so much to me on so many levels that when my parents were divorcing in 2005, I gave my dad a copy of the film thinking he would appreciate it. He hated The Royal Tenenbaums.

It is a movie about an estranged father trying to make it back to his family after years of neglect and wrong doing. Yet, it is not only about the dad and his often failing attempts to get back the love he is missing. There are the children and their mother. The three adult children (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson) who one by one move back to the family home and suffer from various degrees of depression, are at the heart of the story. The mother (Angelica Houston), who is about to marry her longtime friend and accountant, is there too. The point is that they can all move on in their personal lives through the confrontation with the returning father/husband.

Wes Anderson knows how to make an intelligent and deeply-felt drama, while at the same time, showing the comic side of life. He wrote the script with Owen Wilson. The other thing that Anderson is a master at is the look of every frame in his pictures. Viewing his shots, as well as his moving scenes, as detailed portraits (almost like paintings) of characters is essential. There is thought to each detail, reason for each strayed hair. In a long relationship you sometimes question whether the partners involved have anything left from the selves they were at the beginning of things. It is hard to remember. The Royal Tenenbaums is our relationship ruler, by which we can measure how far then is from now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Atonement (2007) Directed by Joe Wright

 Astrid:We watched Atonement one Christmas Eve some years ago and were left with a hesitation about whether the film was any good. It took us until last night to feel like reviewing the movie. This time around, I was quite convinced by it. Atonement fulfilled similar cinema needs as The English Patient used to – until I watched it one too many times. There is the romance that is all the more romantic because the lovers are doomed to never make it to the boring repetitive everyday life together. There is the period setting, the first half of the 20th century, which is a much more aesthetic time than the present. There is the epic scale of the picture, and actually and surprisingly, a good and complex enough story line to carry us through.

I'm still not a huge fan of Keira Knightly – like I don't get Audry Hepburn, I just don't get the anorexic gazelle look – and I find it difficult to peer through her looks into the acting. But hey, at least this time I sympathized with her hopeless love story and believed her passion. I got passed the superstar into the narrative.

Atonement is of course a very popular novel by Ian McEwan and I must credit most of the film's success with me to the writer of the original fiction. The juiciest and most thought-provoking aspect of the story is not the cross-class-border romance, it is the story of the writer woman, who as a young girl of ten destroys the love, and eventually the lives, of her sister and the sister's lover by accusing him wrongly of rape. Then she grows into a well-read fiction writer and she exploits the two lost people even more by writing their (and her) story. The tragedy is that the whole misunderstanding and loss could have been avoided by providing sex education to young children and by getting rid of the rigid class system.


Toff. At one point in Atonement, Robbie (as played with Trevor Howard like intensity by James McAvoy) insists he is not a toff. Although his character, through association, aspires to move up the classes class distinction ultimately destroys his ambitions. So why does Atonement deserve to stand out from the overcrowded British upper class dwelling period drama? Do we need films with such plummy accented characters? I gave up reading Ian McEwan's celebrated book, bored by it. It's my second time watching Atonement and something struck me in a good way on the second viewing.

The faults of the picture are seemingly enough to give up on the whole exercise. Keira Knightley has yet to deliver in any significant way in any movie I've watched her in. Here she's on auto-pilot. McAvoy on the other hand, is bright. Unfortunately for me, he reminds me of a young David Cameron, so it's really difficult to initially feel any sympathy towards his character. The opening half an hour of the film flirts with tension and ultimately delivers us a sermon on coming-of-age sexual awakening mixed with tragedy, and the aforementioned class role playing. Director Wright's time framing of the film has a little of the art school project about it and can feel intrusive.

On the other hand, Wright's bravura French sea shore, one shot scene, which seems never ending, depicting the madness and sheer lunacy of the Second World War, is masterful. It lifts Atonement to a different level, that one piece of inspired film making.  It's still not enough to save Atonement from being pretentious. What improved the film so much this second viewing was my own mood. I was feeling sentimental, so I wanted to believe in the central love story between the McAvoy and Knightley characters. I survived Atonement this time, even it's twisted ending that seems zoomed in from a different picture. Yes, one has to admit, there are moments of brilliance here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Forthcoming Attractions


The Tree Of Life (released this week in Finland), directed by Hollywood's reclusive Terrence Malick interests me purely as it utilities the great Douglas Trumbull (of 2001 fame) in a tale that seems worryingly deeply religious. Brad Pitt stars which is enough to turn me off, but I'm interested in the creation of earth and the dinosaurs.

Dredd is due to open in 2012. It looks like this time round Judge Dredd will be treated with the respect that Danny Cannon's 1995 Sylvester Stallone starring vehicle obviously lacked. One of my all time favorite characters, I hope they get it right this time.

George Harrison: Living In The Material World sees Martin Scorsese back in documentary mode. Nowadays, it fair to say that this excites me more than his movies. After his Dylan masterclass, I wonder if Scorsese can shed any light on one of the most written about people ever? Out on DVD in October 2011.


Midnight In Paris continues Woody Allen's travels in Europe. I have been somewhat disappointed with the last couple of Allen films, almost getting tired of the things I used to love in his movies. Yet, this trailer has given me hope that Woody in Paris means Woody back in romantic and truly witty form. I'll report on this later.

Le Havre has fascinated me ever since I saw Aki Kaurismäki's interview in Cannes earlier this year. He spouts out in an unfashionable manner. He has the courage to do something ethically involved as well as light-hearted while dealing with a serious topic such as immigration and the EU's closed borders. At least that's how it seems, but I have not seen the film yet.

Larry Crowne is this summer's Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts movie. Despite not really enjoying Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love last year, I feel strangely ready for Julia with Hank. I guess I'm hoping it'll be something like Sleepless in Seattle...why? Well, every now and again I need my movies predicable, stereotypical, Hollywood-faced and safe in an almost boring manner. Larry Crowne seems to promise to be all those things.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Commentary on SLAM Mummy Mask Case - Proceeds Contraband and Statute of Limitations

The current civil litigation surrounding whether the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask is contraband is worth following given the current legal arguments in play.

The mask, located at the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM), is claimed by the federal government to be contraband, which is always unlawful to possess. SLAM, meanwhile, argues that the mask, if it is contraband, must be considered derivative contraband, compelling the government to prove that the mask was utilized in the commission of a crime.

It is open to discussion whether the mummy mask fits into the same category as contraband like illegal narcotics. It is also remarkable to think of the mummy mask as derivative contraband like a car used in illegal gun running. It may be that both legal theories are inexact.

The mummy mask might be categorized as proceeds or fruits instead.

Broadly speaking, criminal search and seizure law categorizes property as fruits, instrumentalities, or contraband. Fruits of a crime are the proceeds of a criminal transaction. These items are ones connected with a criminal act and may be seized. Instrumentalities are objects used to facilitate a crime, and these too may be seized. Contraband items are ones that are plainly unlawful to possess like counterfeit money, and these too may be seized.

In the realm of civil forfeiture of property, particularly dealing with items alleged to be connected to a crime, these criminal law concepts of fruits, instrumentalities, and contraband may be translated into three legal theories: proceeds forfeiture, instrumentalities forfeiture, and contraband forfeiture. If contraband forfeiture is the argument of the government, and instrumentalities forfeiture is the argument of the museum, will proceeds forfeiture be considered by the court? We shall see.

Meanwhile, SLAM’s assertion that the statute of limitations has expired in this case, preventing the government from pursuing its court action, is an argument worth watching closely. Statute of limitations is always an issue of importance when applied to cases of fine art and cultural heritage. In the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask case, it should be noted that the statute of limitations would not likely apply if the mummy mask is categorized as contraband per se. That is because it would be unlawful to possess the mask under any circumstance at any time. And that is perhaps one reason why the government hopes to characterize the mask as contraband, because it could potentially steer the case away from litigation over the statute of limitations altogether.

We look forward to further developments.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Herpes: Don't pass it on ...

Published in Halsbury's Law Exchange here.  I have not managed to find an appropriate picture.

Two things of perennial interest to the tabloids are crime and sex, jointly or separately. It is therefore no surprise to find a story involving both in the Daily Mail. One David Goulding pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm after knowingly giving a former girlfriend, Cara Scott, genital herpes. He had known he was infected but did not tell Miss Scott until just before the relationship ended, by which time she had already contracted the disease. He was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment.

In legal terms the matter was straightforward and uncontroversial: by Mr Goulding’s conscious action Miss Scott was exposed to the disease without her knowledge, and the eminently foreseeable consequence came to pass; hence the guilty plea. It is however worth responding to reported comments by spokespeople for what is called the Herpes Viruses Association. According to the Mail article:

Nigel Scott, spokesman for the Herpes Viruses Association, said Golding’s sentence was ‘outrageous’ and compared the case to prosecuting children for ‘giving their friends chicken pox’.

He added: ‘It is such a trivial infection that most people don’t notice it. It has exactly the same medical implications and consequences as an ordinary facial cold sore.’

Marian Nicholson, director of the HVA, added: ‘Many of those who are diagnosed are reluctant to disclose their status but this is because of the unnecessary stigma, not because it is serious ... emphatically it is not.’

There are two points. First, the intentional – or reckless – transmission of an infectious disease by the very specific act of sexual intercourse is not of a piece with the accidental transmission of chicken pox by virtue only of being in proximity to someone else. The former is eminently avoidable and properly described as intentional or knowingly reckless; the latter rather less so, unless I suppose one’s imagination contrived a situation where a person deliberately initiated as much contact as possible so as to render the transmission of something like chicken pox almost inevitable.

Secondly, there would or should be no stigma attached to the victim in the circumstances of Miss Scott, any more than any other innocent victim of a crime, but that has nothing to do with prosecuting the offender. No-one should look down on someone with a broken leg but they should certainly prosecute the person who inflicted it. In Mr Goulding’s case, however, any concern he might have had about his stigma ought to have been less important than his obligation to inform Miss Scott of his condition. The aforementioned association might think the condition trivial but I rather suspect most people would prefer not to contract it, and to be warned of any risk accordingly.

SLAM Disputes Government's "Contraband" Claim in Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mummy Mask Case

In the latest round of legal papers filed in the case of United States v. Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) says that its possession of the ancient Egyptian mummy mask cannot be likened to possession of cocaine as the US government's lawyers claim. (See July 31, 2011 blog post for background.)

SLAM's attorneys describe two kinds of contraband. They explain that there is contraband per se, which include items illegal to possess under any circumstance (author's note: think of counterfeit money) and which can be automatically confiscated by the government without a hearing. They also say that there is derivative contraband, which include lawful items that are forfeitable because they are connected with a crime (author's note: think of a car used in drug trafficking). SLAM argues that if the mask is in fact contraband, then it must be characterized as derivative contraband that is not automatically forfeitable. Because the mask is not automatically forfeitable contraband per se, SLAM argues that the government must present evidence that the object is forfeitable as an item that derives from a criminal act.

SLAM writes in its August 3, 2011 pleading (some citations omitted):
"The Government’s evolving positions with respect to the ownership issue seem to be at war with themselves. First, it admitted in its own pleadings that there are several bases under [Egypt’s patrimony] Law No. 215 which would provide for private ownership of artifacts such as the Mask. Now it argues that Egyptian Law No. 215 forecloses property rights in artifacts such as the Mask and renders them contraband per se, akin to cocaine or an illegal whiskey still. In fact, Egyptian Law No. 117, which was enacted in 1983, after Law No. 215, specifically acknowledges that artifacts such as the Mask could be privately owned. United States v. Schultz, 333 F.3d 393, 401-02 (2d Cir. 2003). In that seminal case, the Second Circuit went on to recognize that Law No. 117 was the first Egyptian law declaring illegal any private ownership of all antiquities found in Egypt after 1983. The Mask, therefore, clearly cannot be considered contraband per se in the way that such items as narcotics are intrinsically unlawful to possess."

By making the claim that the mummy mask arguably can be characterized contraband derived from a crime, SLAM tries to reinforce its assertion that the burden of proving the forfeiture is on the government.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that the issue of whether the statute of limitations forecloses the government's seizure action is an argument that SLAM continues to raise. SLAM's lawyers write:
"The Museum has consistently taken the position that the Government’s claim is barred from the outset by the statute of limitations and that its forfeiture claim must fail because the Government is unable to prove the Mask was stolen. In raising the arguments it does, the Government is attempting to delay or avoid the consideration of those questions by confusing the standard for constitutional standing and making the bizarre suggestion that the Court pretend that the Museum claims an interest 'not of a centuries old Egyptian mask, but rather a kilogram of cocaine.'"

The United States Attorney's Office counters SLAM's latest assertions in a pleading filed August 4, saying that SLAM failed to make arguments about the contraband issue when it was supposed to. The government’s lawyers contend that SLAM never before raised the distinction of contraband per se and derivative contraband, writing that the museum only now “disputes whether private ownership of the Mask is authorized under Egyptian law.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Limits of Control (2009) Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Our household has a lot less time to watch movies these days and unfortunately, there will not be any change in the situation any time soon. Therefore it was especially annoying that when we finally had time and space to share a film together, we picked something like The Limits of Control. Our intention was to watch something entertaining and good. In the shop Jim Jarmusch seemed like a quite safe bet for the both of us – and the guitar case a suited man is holding on the cover of the DVD, seemed like a promise to me.

The Limits of Control is extremely slow. It is also abstract, only occasionally attached to plot development, certain time and space. After half an hour we are ready to fall asleep. Aesthetically things are pleasing, but I cannot be cheated into thinking that I could figure something out here. Everything just IS. But we persist because we cannot begin a new habit of starting films and then never finishing them (this has happened a little recently and it's not good for blogging).

Half way through the film we have started to argue about where in Spain the film is located after each train ride. It's become more interesting to look for location clues and talk over the film than to concentrate on the protagonist's repetition of routines. I have never been to Spain and Nick has only visited Valencia some 20 years ago, so this made for a passionately ignorant argument. In the end I felt I had witnessed something that passed me by because the timing of the film and my personal timing was totally off. I don't want to say the film was bad, although I cannot recommend it either. Hopefully next time, Jarmusch will revisit his sense of humor.

We all want more from our culture. We want it to move us, make us think, transport us to new areas mentally and even physically. The need to experiment is essential in creating new experiences. But what happens when someone you admire, who's known for pushing the boundaries ends up losing the plot? Jim Jarmusch has taken risks before and come out on top or, at the very least, engaged us. The Limits Of Control however tests one's patience.

Where to start? Repetition when used to create a riff of images can be startling. In The Limits Of Control the repetitive use of image following the main protagonist, Lone Man ( Isaach De Bankolé) easily drifts into tedium. Sitting at a cafe drinking his espresso in two cups, the use of the matchbox with a secret message, his continual Tai Chi exercising in hotel rooms or the Lone Man's visit to the art gallery begin to grate when viewed with no context or meaning. Jarmusch would like to think he's deconstructing the gangster film, a post-modern hit movie with echoes of Jean-Pierre Melville. Unfortunately, the script brings a new level of pretension. When anyone does speak, it's Jarmusch's own thoughts rapping on movies or art or lame humor, usually delivered by the starry extras, who include Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Bill Murray.

What almost saves the day is the look of the film (shot by the ever reliable Christopher Doyle), coupled with the musical atmospherics of Japanese band Boris. This, sadly is not enough to salvage The Limits of Control from being terrible. The Limits Of Control could easily have been the existential thriller Jarmusch obviously thought he was making. But you need to create on-screen tension, character, context and meaning for that to work. The Limits Of Control tested my limits to stay awake all the way through.

Law and Libya again

Published on Halsbury's Law Exchange here and reproduced on Legal Week here

Now that the Libyan conflict seems to be drawing to the end, or at least the end of its present phase, it might be appropriate to consider the legal aspect of NATO’s involvement.

The first question involves the nature of the Western intervention. In this respect, imagine that a Predator drone, controlled by a foreign state, circles above the White House looking for President Obama. It fires a hellfire missile but misses the President and kills a couple of innocent civilians instead. The foreign state then issues a statement saying it is sorry about the civilians but Obama’s position is untenable and the drones will keep coming until he leaves office.

It is not difficult to imagine the response from the White House. President Obama would make a speech evoking the stirring rhetoric of President Roosevelt’s post-Pearl Harbour address, and the television news would soon be flooded with images of American forces setting off to unleash retribution.

Suppose further that the responsible state was not acting alone, but was receiving technical, material and intelligence assistance from another state. If so, that state would also find itself on the Pentagon’s target list.

The ensuing clash of arms might be called many things, but no-one could argue that it would appropriately be called a “war”.

I make that rather laboured point because of the startling position the White House took on Libya. In a detailed document prepared in June, the White House asserted that because the US forces involved were only playing a “supporting role”, they were not engaged in “hostilities”.

Accordingly, the argument ran, the definition of “hostilities” as described under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 had not been met. That resolution, part of the fallout over the Vietnam War, requires Congressional approval for any deployment of US forces in hostilities for more than 60 days. The White House said that its forces in Libya are not engaged in sustained fighting or “active exchanges of fire with hostile forces”.

With the caveat that I am not an American lawyer, that argument seems entirely fallacious. The governments responsible for the intervention made clear early on that Gaddafi’s regime could not continue.

NATO’s operations began after UN Resolution 1973, which was passed when it was thought a slaughter of citizens by Gaddafi’s troops was imminent, the sanctions and other measures brought in by Resolution 1970 having failed to prevent the civil war. Initially the intention was to establish a no-fly zone, then to use “all necessary measures” to defend civilians. In turn the coalition took it to mean that Gaddafi’s regime had to be removed.

We therefore went from attempting to prevent a massacre in a particular time and place to attempting to overthrow a sovereign government by the use of military force. The latter in anyone’s language is a war. The fact that our involvement has been limited to naval blockading and acting as the rebels’ air force is not relevant: we have been deploying armed forces in active operations. Rumour has it that we or our coalition partners have supplied weapons to the rebels as well and it seems a shade implausible that there have been no special forces operations in the area.

The only distinction that the White House offered was that there was no danger to American servicemen. That was a matter of good fortune for them, but to suggest that their operations were not thereby a “war” strains logic beyond breaking point. As I tried to show above it is an argument that would cut no ice in the other direction.

We have therefore been, pace President Obama, and continue to be, at war with the sovereign government of Libya. A number of serious questions then arise. For a start, even if the war is legal, what was the legal imperative for the UK’s involvement? What of all the other states who supported the resolution?

The second question concerns the moral justification. If on the balance of probabilities military intervention would save more lives than it would cost then it might well be justified. Needless to say that is difficult to judge, to say the least.

It is true that the fact that we are selective in our use of force by not intervening in, say, Syria, is not an argument against intervening in Libya: if I fail to save ten drowning people it would still be morally correct to save the eleventh, even though I am being inconsistent by doing so.

Apparently we intervened to stop a massacre of civilians by Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi. Apparently we succeeded. But it also seems that we have little clue as to what happens next. There was no doubt a hope that Gaddafi would flee once Western air power was deployed against him. That faded quickly, to no-one’s surprise: air power tends not to do that.

However, it now seems that Gaddafi is indeed about to fall. What then are our obligations in international law, having toppled him? What plan is in place for a substitute government? What if an Iraqi-style internecine civil war erupts? I have yet to read reassuring answers to any of those questions.

One can easily understand why our leaders support the notion of “liberal intervention”. It is their best chance of being remembered as a statesman rather than a jobbing politician. It is no doubt more professionally rewarding flying to Washington on a private jet and making speeches at the White House than trying to deal with more mundane matters such as the NHS budget, another bank failure or a school closure. But the executive should also consider that if international law is fraught with uncertainty, military action is too, and inevitably risks the most severe consequences in terms of blood and treasure. And if there is one lesson from Iraq, it is surely that removing dictators is only the very beginning of what might be a long and difficult story. Perhaps there will be a smooth transition from Gaddafi to a democratic government supporting human rights and the rule of law. Or perhaps there won’t be.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prosecutors Reveal Further Details in Khouli Case: Allege One Half Million Dollars Paid Abroad, Smuggled Antiquities Found in Garage, Ancient Artifacts Labeled 19th Century "English Glass Bottles"

The US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, brought an in rem action (Latin for “against the thing”) on June 14, 2011 to forfeit cultural property seized from Mousa “Morris” Khouli, an antiquities dealer who operated Windsor Antiques in New York. The objects sought to be forfeited are three Egyptian wood nesting coffins, two wooden horses, wood furniture, $80,488.99 in cash, thirty-seven Luristani bronzes, eighteen Iraqi glass vessels, twenty-one clay relief plaques, and sixty-five stone flat faces.

A grand jury in May indicted Khouli and three co-defendants on criminal charges stemming from their involvement in an alleged antiquities smuggling ring. Now the government’s civil complaint is unsealed, providing further details about the case.

A summary and timeline containing the latest information has been created below. All quotations come from the government’s thirty-seven page in rem complaint dated June 24, 2011. Moreover, the government’s assertions must be proven in court by prosecutors; they remain allegations at this stage of the proceedings.

Authorities say that Windsor Antiques listed many imported cultural objects to have originated from the United Arab Emirates. Federal prosecutors allege illegal entry of these goods by means of false statements and smuggling.The US Attorney’s Office charges that “[u]pon information and belief, Windsor [Antiques] has sold stolen Iraqi cultural property in violation of Iraqi patrimony laws and has imported Egyptian antiquities and other antiquities in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 542 and 545.”

“All the [cultural objects] were imported, sold, purchased, and/or are proceeds of an extensive scheme by Khouli, and others, to smuggle cultural property and launder money, by and through their respective entities, Windsor, and other entities.”

“Although Khouli and Windsor have been on notice [since 2003] of the need to accurately declare country of origin, Customs entry records for the past five years reveal that 75% of Windsor’s declared cultural property listed the United Arab Emirates (‘UAE’) as the country of origin.” “[F]ifteen out of twenty cultural property importations . . . by Windsor listed the UAE as the country of origin. Given Khouli’s February 10, 2009 representation [to authorities] that none of his merchandise originated in the UAE, all of these declarations were false and contrary to Title 18, United States Code, Section 542 and 545.”

(It should be noted that there is no mention by the government of Khouli’s spin-off company known as Palmyra Heratige (sic). As reported in this blog on July 18, 2011, Khouli’s sole-proprietorship, known as Windsor Antiques, Inc., was created on September 28, 1995 and dissolved on December 27, 2010, roughly one year after the government moved to dismiss initial criminal charges against Khouli. Palmyra Heratige (sic), Inc., Khouli’s newly formed company, emerged on May 28, 2010, about three and a half months after federal authorities searched Khouli and his business. That February 12, 2010 search, described below, netted several ancient Iraqi artifacts.)

On May 23, 2003 federal authorities seized four FedEx packages originating from the United Kingdom. Waybills described the export country and country of origin as English even though the majority of the objects were ancient Iraqi.“For example, two of the FedEx waybills included “English glass bottles circa 1860 A.D.” in their respective list of contents. However, experts in archeology and Iraqi antiquities determined that the glass bottles in these shipments were . . . dated from the third century B.C. to 8 century A.D.”

“Upon information and belief, Windsor/Khouli abandoned its claims to these glass bottles after they were seized by Customs/ICE, and they have since been repatriated to the Iraqi authorities.”

Between 2003-2005, Windsor Antiques offered an unusually high number of Luristani bronzes for sale, suggesting illegal excavation of the antiquities.“While a small percentage of an area’s artifacts can be expected to move to other regions during antiquity, the volume of Luristani bronzes offered for sale by Windsor—over 300 between 2003 and 2005—is consistent with illegal excavation from Iran and Iraq, rather than sporadic findings in other locations due to ancient movement. Indeed, Luristani bronzes are known to have been the subject of significant looting from excavations in the Luristan region.”

In October 2006, federal officials seized Luristani artifacts that were marked as originating from the United Arab Emirates.“Emirates Post, an international mail carrier, shipped to Windsor, using an informal entry, 19 copper daggers. The label on the package being shipped to Windsor described its contents as 19 copper daggers and handles valued at $350 whose country of origin was the UAE. Customs officers examined the contents and took photographs of the daggers. The photographs were identified by an expert on Iraqi antiquities as ‘Luristani bronzes’ originating from Luristan, a province in western Iran, with some pieces found in eastern Iraq near the Iraqi-Iranian boarder.”

Between January 2008 and February 2008, stone faces were smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates and into to the United States. They were described as made in India, originating in Yemen, being south Arabian, or as “other antiques.”“Correspondence between Khouli and the UAE between approximately January and February 2008, demonstrate that Khouli attempted to arrange and/or arranged for as many as 89 Stone Flat Face Antiquities to be smuggled out of the UAE and imported into the United States with false or fraudulent customs declarations, invoices, and countries of origin.”

“For example, as a result of these correspondences, a shipping invoice from an entity ‘Palace Arts’, in Dubai, UAE to Windsor in New York, dated January 29, 2008, was created and indicated ‘89 Decorative Stone Carved Heads;’ ‘Origan [sic] made in India;’ and with a unit price of $75 U.S. dollars, for a total price of $6,675 in U.S. currency.”

“Another shipping invoice, apparently from the same UAE entity to Windsor, New York, for this same shipment and also dated January 29, 2008, was also created and indicated ‘89 Decorative Stone Carved Heads;’ ‘All antque [sic] and over one hundred years old;’ ‘Country of Origan [sic] Yemen;’ and with a unit price of $140 U.S. dollars, for a total price of $12,460 in U.S. currency.”

“On February 6, 2008, upon entry into the United States to John F. Kennedy Airport via Emirates Sky Cargo, from the UAE, this shipment was declared to Customs as 465 kilograms of ‘other antiques over 100 Years Old.’”

“Upon information and belief, within a couple days after smuggling these Stone Flat Face Antiquities from the UAE into the United States with multiple invoices, containing different countries of origin and with different values, Khouli attempted to sell at least one of these items for approximately $700 describing it as ‘Limestone Yemen head’ circa 200 A.D.”

“Further, upon information and belief, on or about September 2008, Khouli sold one of these items for approximately $2,000 describing it as a ‘South Arabian limestone steale’ circa 1-2nd Century A.D.”

From December 2007 through May 2008 over one half million dollars was paid out by Khouli or his shop, contrasted with slightly more than $32,000 claimed by Windsor Antiques for all US imports taken in.“[A]n analysis of the WINDSOR ACCOUNT for the six month period of December 2007 through May 2008 indicates that Khouli/Windsor sent via wire transfer or otherwise, a minimum of approximately $527,620 in U.S. currency abroad, including to the UAE. Yet for the same six month period, U.S. Customs databases and invoices of declared imports by Windsor into the United States indicate that Windsor claimed imports valued worth only $32,360. This discrepancy suggests that Windsor has purchased significantly more cultural property using the WINDSOR ACCOUNT than it has declared on its imports into the United States.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted searches on September 8, 2009 that yielded seized cultural property and money. Khouli was placed under arrest.“On September 8, 2009, pursuant to a consent search of Khouli’s residence . . . various antiquities and items of cultural property, including but not limited to, the INNER EGYPTIAN WOOD SARCOPHAGUS . . . and 61 of the 65 STONE FLAT FACE ANTIQUITIES . . . were seized by ICE.”

The inner Egyptian wood coffin was “consensually seized from Khouli’s garage.”

“On September 8, 2009, pursuant to a court authorized search warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for Windsor, various antiquities and items of cultural property, including but not limited to, 3 of the 65 STONE FLAT FACE ANTIQUITIES . . . the 37 LURISTANI BRONZES . . . seized by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (‘ICE’).”

“Approximately Sixty-Five (65) of these smuggled Stone Flat Face Antiquities, have been located and seized by ICE: 61 were found in Khouli’s garage during the consent search on September 8, 2009; one was found, mounted on a stand, and seized at Windsor during the consent search on September 8, 2009 . . . .”

“In addition to Khouli’s history of importing from UAE and selling in the United States an unusually large volume of ‘Luristani’ bronzes . . . on September 8, 2009, during the execution of the search and seizure warrant at Windsor, agents found and seized approximately 37 additional ‘Luristani’ bronzes pieces which Khouli/Windsor had available for sale.”

“Upon information and belief, no certificates of origin or documentation exist to substantiate how the[se objects] entered the United States or their country of origin.”

“In addition, on or about September 8, 2009, pursuant to a court authorized seizure warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, all funds in the WINDSOR ACCOUNT . . . were seized by ICE. At the time of seizure, the WINDSOR ACCOUNT contained approximately $80,489.00 in U.S. currency.”

Between September 8, 2009 and November 4, 2009, Khouli arranged to deliver and sell illicit antiquities.“…Khouli sent and received numerous communications in order to arrange for: (a) portions of the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities to be delivered into the United States; (b) monies to be sent from the WINDSOR ACCOUNT . . . to accounts outside the United States in order to pay for the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities to be delivered into the United States; (c) invoices to be created in order to sell and/or attempt to sell the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities with false or improper provenance documentation; and (d) monies to be sent to bank accounts owned and/or controlled by Khouli/Windsor that were located in and outside the United States, including but not limited to the WINDSOR ACCOUNT, for the anticipated sale or attempt to sell the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities.”

Between October 2008 and November 2009, Khouli’s communications displayed efforts to engage in illegal antiquities trafficking.“Communications between Khouli and others between at least October 2008 and November 2009, further demonstrate that Khouli arranged for and/or caused to be wire transferred over $5,000 in U.S. currency from or through the WINDSOR ACCOUNT, to a place outside the United States in order to pay for portions of the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities.”

“Similarly, communications between Khouli and others between at least October 2008 and November 2009, further demonstrate that Khouli arranged for and/or caused to be wire transferred tens of thousands of dollars in U.S. currency into or thorough the WINDSOR ACCOUNT, as well as other accounts held by Windsor/Khouli located outside the United States, in order to buy, smuggle, sell or attempt to sell portions of the smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus set and other Egyptian antiquities with false or improper provenance documentation.”

On November 4, 2009, federal authorities seized Egyptian cultural objects in New Jersey that were bound for Khouli/Windsor Antiques.“On or about November 4, 2009, pursuant to a border search at the Port of Newark, New Jersey, the INNER EGYPTIAN WOOD SARCOPHAGUS AND OUTER SARCOPHAGUS LID . . . and the 2 WOOD HORSES AND MULTIPLE PIECES OF WOOD FURNITURE . . . were found in a shipment from the UAE to Windsor/Khouli. This shipment was detained and seized by Customs/ICE.”

“Furthermore, the import documents accompanying the shipment from UAE to Khouli/Windsor that arrived in the Port of Newark, New Jersey before November 4, 2009, included an invoice, packing list, and ‘Certificate of Origin,’ indicating that it: (a) came from “Amal Star Antiques” in Dubai, UAE; (b) was shipped to Windsor, New York, New York; (c) contained fifteen pieces of “artistic hand made furniture”; (d) all pieces were ‘wooden’; (e) the country of origin was ‘India;’ and (f) the total value of the shipment was $13,700 in U.S. dollars.”

“Amidst this shipment, [the EGYPTIAN WOOD INNER SARCOPHAGUS AND OUTER SARCOPHAGUS LID were] . . . undeclared and/or falsely declared and found tightly wrapped in heavy bubble wrapping, in contrast to the other pieces of the shipment, [specifically the horses].”

On December 16, 2009 the government filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charge against Khouli.

On February 12, 2010, federal agents seized several illicit Iraqi items from Khouli.“On February 12, 2010, pursuant to a second court authorized search warrant of Windsor issued by the Southern District of New York, various antiquities and pieces of cultural property including, the 18 PIECES OF IRAQI GLASS . . . ; and the 21 IRAQI CLAY PLAQUES . . . ; and 1 of the 65 STONE FLAT FACE ANTIQUITIES . . . seized by ICE.”

“… [A]nd three more, [Stone Flat Face Antiquities ] also mounted on stands, were found at Windsor during execution of the February 12, 2010 search warrant.” (Author’s note: Other paragraphs of the government’s complaint, like the one above, appear to indicate that only one stone face was seized on this date.)

“A review by an expert in ancient history and Mediterranean archeology of the 21 clay relief plaques seized from Windsor on or about February 12, 2010, indicated that they appear to be ancient and are of a type produced in central and southern Iraq (Babylonia) from around 2000-1600 B.C.”

“Upon information and belief, no certificates of origin nor any other documentation exists to substantiate how [the 21 clay relief plaques] entered the United States or their country of origin.”

On May 4, 2011 a federal grand jury handed up an indictment against the Khouli + 3 defendants, and on June 14, 2011 the government filed an in rem action to forfeit the antiquities and money seized from Khouli.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Snagged! Butterick 5992

This is one of the most elusive of the 1970s patterns The Sewing Lawyer has been trying to recover.  Woo Hoo!

I think I made it when I was in grade 12, from a light weight cotton which I remember having a very nice hand.  I have a mental image of the print but trying to pin the image down enough to write about it is difficult.  It had a smallish scale, I remember that, and the motifs were sort of irregularly round and irregularly concentric.  The colours were quite bright; a clear blue, red and white, in that order of prominence.  It sounds dreadful.  It probably was.

After all the lying in wait for this one, strangely I'm content to have its digital image preserved and to know the pattern number.  Even though I could buy it for only $3.  In a size that has never been my size.

I could have sworn this dress was made from a McCalls pattern.  But it was Butterick, my favorite brand of the day.

A few of my past favorites are still lost.  But I'm on their trail.

This is really boring

However, it seems necessary to document the completion of my brown canvas "boxes", since (surprisingly) so many of you expressed interest in this very utilitarian project.

Without further ado.

Box open and stocked with my white interfacing collection.  There's room for more!  (The sides are just propped open, they are not stiffened even slightly).

Box flaps closed over contents.

Boxes in situ.

They are squashier than you may have expected.  I decided against getting all fancy with closures and labels.  The flaps will stay down.  Gravity is my friend.  And decorating the flap with a small square of the type of stuff inside is quite a graphic reminder.

Sadly, I still need a plastic bag or two up there.

I could make more, but I am going to do something more interesting instead.  At least I won't be at risk of an interfacing avalanche when standing at my cutting table.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seized Cultural Property Identified in Khouli + 3 Case

A specific description of objects and papers in the possession of federal authorities is now available in the criminal case involving Mousa "Morris" Khouli, Joseph A. Lewis II, Salem Alshdaifat, and Ayman Ramadan. They are charged with participating in an alleged antiquities smuggling ring. (See this blog's July 16, 2011 post for background.)
Included are objects from ancient Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. Some of the descriptions are reprinted below, quoted from August 11, 2011 discovery letters issued by the United States Attorney, Eastern District of New York:

• set of three nesting Egyptian wood sarcophagi, bearing the name “Shesepamutayesher” and the title “Lady of the House,” circa 664-111 B.C., including: (a) one Egyptian wood inner sarcophagus seized on or about September 8, 2009 from defendant Khouli’s residence in Brooklyn, New York; (b) one Egyptian wood inner sarcophagus seized on or about November 4, 2009 at the Port of Newark, New Jersey; and (c) one Egyptian wood outer sarcophagus lid seized on or about November 4, 2009 at the Port of Newark, New Jersey;

• one Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus seized on or about July 13, 2011 from defendant Lewis’s residence in Chesterfield, Virginia;

• one set of Egyptian funerary boats seized on or about July 13, 2011 from defendant Lewis’s residence in Chesterfield, Virginia; and

• one set of limestone figures seized on or about July 13, 2011 from defendant Lewis’s residence in Chesterfield, Virginia.

• [T]wo wood horses and multiple pieces of wood furniture seized on or about November 4, 2009 at the Port of Newark, NJ;

• approximately thirty-seven (37) “Luristani bronze” objects seized on September 8, 2009;

• approximately eighteen (18) Iraqi glass vessels seized on February 12, 2010;

• approximately twenty-one (21) Iraqi clay relief plaques seized on February 12, 2010; and

• approximately sixty-five (65) stone flat face antiquities seized on September 8, 2009 and February 12, 2010.

• Photographs of a shipment of Luristani bronzes en route to Khouli in October 2006 (KHOULI 2094-2099);

• Trocadero.com printouts for the Windsor Antiquities storefront and sale of a terre-crue head (KHOULI 2100-03);

• Photographs of terre-crue head after excavation at Isin excavation site in May 2003 (KHOULI 2104-07).

Photos: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seizure of Mexican Figurine Prompts Question of CBP's Legal Authority

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced in a new(s) release on July 28, 2011 that it seized a Pre-Columbian artifact en route from Indiana to British Columbia. A buyer in Canada reportedly purchased the small orange Nayarit figure of a woman through an auction, and CBP agents intercepted the package in April during routine checks at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. CBP said that the shipment was "manifested as containing an artifact."

CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had the Chicago Field Museum examine the object, concluding it "to be an authentic Pre-Columbian artifact of West Mexico dating to the early first millennium AD." The Consulate General of Mexico, meanwhile, claimed that the object was unlawfully exported from that country.

CBP seized the four inch tall Nayarit figurine under Title 19, Chapter 14 of the customs laws. The statute is commonly referred to as the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), meant to implement the well-known 1970 UNESCO Convention that covers cultural property. Federal agents in Chicago took the ancient Mexican artifact into their possession under Section 2609 of the CPIA, which permits seizure of protected cultural artifacts covered by import regulations promulgated under section 2606 (as well as stolen objects that had been documented in the institutional collection of a state party to the convention). Import restrictions enacted under Section 2606 result when the United States enters into an agreement with another nation under the authority of the CPIA. Many readers of this blog are familiar with the CPIA process and know that several nations have bilateral agreements with the United States pursuant to CPIA. Mexico, however, is not one of those nations.

So how can CBP take away an ancient Mexican cultural object from its possessor by using the CPIA? I called CPB to find out. The agency's representatives were polite and responsive to calls, but the replies were not helpful. A CBP Associate Chief Counsel said that "we don't comment on anything like this," adding that "we limit any of our comments about the law and our interpretation on the law to our client itself, which is, of course, the agency." Such a closed response from a government agency that actively sought public attention to this seizure and freely declared the legal basis for the seizure is unsatisfactory. CBP issued a public press release announcing the taking of the Nayarit figurine and broadcasted that "[t]he artifact will be returned to the Mexican government in an upcoming CBP and ICE-HSI repatriation ceremony." And while the agency claims the matter is under investigation, CBP's desire to return potential evidence to Mexico, coupled with its early public release of information relevant to the case, does not signal a meaningful commitment to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

We are left to speculate about what CBP may have been thinking when it seized the object. Federal officials could not have seized the Mexican artifact under a legal theory involving the National Stolen Property Act because the NSPA requires an item to have a value of $5000 or more before it is considered stolen under that law. The Mexican artifact was purchased at auction for $550, far less than $5000. So CBP had to look for other legal authority to take the artifact into custody.

Perhaps they erringly looked to a treaty for legal authority? The United States and Mexico entered into a Treaty of Cooperation on March 24, 1971, which provides for the recovery and return of stolen archaeological, historical, and cultural properties. The treaty, which is in force today, permits the United States "to employ the legal means at its disposal to recover and return from its territory stolen archaeological, historical and cultural properties that are removed after the date of entry into force of the Treaty from the territory of the requesting Party." But this agreement was not enacted into law under the terms of the CPIA, meaning there are no import restrictions on Mexican cultural property that derive from Section 2606 of the CPIA to justify a Section 2609 seizure of the Nayarit figurine by CBP.

So what exactly was CPB's legal authority to seize the Nayarit figurine? We have no explanation about why a Section 2609 seizure was the proper legal basis to take away the ancient Mexican artifact.

Federal officials must take great care when using unexplained interpretations of the law to promote seizures of property. While CBP may be commended for taking action to detect trafficked cultural heritage, federal authorities should exercise their authority in a reasonable, intelligent, and open fashion. No citizen should be left guessing about how exactly he or she can comply with the law so as to avoid the loss of property. Clear and reasonable applications of the customs laws, and plain explanations to back them, can build public support for America's effort to protect and secure at-risk cultural property. By contrast, offering questionable or undisclosed legal positions in cases where property may be seized—particularly in cases involving potentially innocent possessors—does little to garner confidence in public authorities.

Photo: Chicago CBP

Monday, August 15, 2011

Paralyzed by clutter

This is one corner of The Sewing Lawyer's rather small sewing room.  It may explain the title:

Specifically, the problem is the bags up top.  They contain my stash of interfacing, silk organza, and batting.  There's also a bag each of biggish scraps of wool coating and fake fur up there.  Every time I need some (say) black fusible, I have to take down two or three bags before I figure out which bag hides the black fusible.  It seems every time I put them back, I cause a slippery plastic bag avalanche.  A bag full of interfacing that falls the metre or so distance from the top shelf to my cutting board is rather inclined simply to give up the ghost and split, spilling its contents everywhere.

Recently I've basically given up putting them away, which means they are on the cutting board, and on the floor.  Too much clutter makes it impossible to sew.  This is not good.

I've had it.  I have the equipment, the supplies and the ability to fix it.  Enter a bolt of sturdy brown canvas (Fabric Flea Market).

A design.  Rudimentary, but it should work.

Heavy canvas "boxes" will not slip and slide on each other.  I hope they sit nicely side by side up top.

They may need some kind of handle too.  I'll work it out as I make the first one.  I have five cut out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Judge Dismisses ACCG Challenge to Cultural Property Import Protections - Acknowledges President's Foreign Policy Role in MoU Process

Judge Catherine C. Blake of the United States District Court of Maryland yesterday dismissed the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s lawsuit against the federal government. The federal district court decision essentially declared that the ACCG failed to make out a sufficient case.

The ACCG set up a test case to challenge protective American import restrictions placed on Chinese and Cypriot ancient coins when the organization imported 23 from a London dealer in 2009, bringing them to Baltimore on a British Airways flight. The enactment of the import protections followed the president’s adoption of bilateral agreements with China and Cyprus under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The CPIA is the law that implements in the United States the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The court supplied a comprehensive 52 page memorandum outlining its reasons for dismissal. While many observations are worth noting, three are discussed here.

First, the ACCG’s challenge to the protective import restrictions failed to establish a meritorious legal claim on all counts. The court discharged the ACCG’s case in its entirety, even while assuming that the facts asserted by the organization in its legal complaint were true and construing any inferences in favor of the ACCG. The ACCG, naturally, may appeal but for now Judge Blake’s order stands: “[T]his case is dismissed; and . . . the Clerk shall CLOSE this case.”

Second, the court recognized that the negotiations and implementation of a bilateral agreement adopted under the CPIA involve the president’s broader role in foreign policymaking. A passage from Judge Blake’s memorandum is instructive:

“[W]hen those agencies [such as the State Department] act on behalf of the President, the separation of powers concerns ordinarily apply with full force—especially in an area as sensitive and complex as foreign affairs. As with respect to almost any international agreement, the decision whether to enter an Article 9 agreement [under the 1970 UNESCO Convention] with a particular country does not occur in a foreign policy vacuum. The decision necessarily will involve a variety of considerations beyond those set out in the CPIA, including the broader relationship between the United States and the requesting country and the potential impact of such an agreement on the United States’s relationships with other countries. Those considerations exist regardless of who ultimately negotiates and enters the agreement, the President or the Assistant Secretary [of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs] on the President’s behalf. Furthermore, by lodging primary responsibility for imposing cultural property import restrictions with the President, rather than with an agency, Congress likely recognized these separation-of-powers concerns. While the parties have not pointed to a conclusive explanation in the CPIA’s legislative history, Congress likely concluded that deference to the President was appropriate given the foreign policy considerations inherent in deciding whether to impose import restrictions.”

Finally, the court acknowledged the federal government’s authority to ban the importation of undocumented ancient coins. Judge Blake noted that the thrust of the CPIA is to mitigate the theft of cultural heritage. She intelligently observed that “[l]ooted objects are, presumably, extremely unlikely to carry documentation, or at least accurate documentation, of when and where they were discovered and when they were exported from the country in which they were discovered. Congress is therefore unlikely to have intended to limit import restrictions to objects with a documented find spot.” Judge Blake therefore concluded that “the import restrictions on Chinese and Cypriot coins, which have the effect of barring the importation of coins with unknown find spots, do not exceed the State Department’s authority under the CPIA.”

US ExIm Bank Chaiman visits Panama

Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred P. Hochberg Conducts Business Development Mission in Panama, August 7 - 8

PANAMA CITY, Aug. 8, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Fred P. Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), conducted a business-development mission in Panama on August 7 – 8, 2011, to promote Ex-Im Bank financing available to support sales of U.S. goods and services to private and public-sector buyers.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20110414/MM83673LOGO)

Panama is the fastest-growing country in Central America, with a GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2010 and strong growth anticipated through 2015. The government of Panama has set ambitious goals for the country's infrastructure investment that could total more than $10 billion in the next five years, including a $1.5 billion metro line.

As of June 30, 2011, Ex-Im Bank has over $1 billion in exposure in Panama. Ex-Im's support for Boeing aircraft sales to Copa Airlines, Panama's flag carrier, constitutes the majority of its financings in the country in recent years, and the Bank is seeking to expand its support beyond the aviation sector.

Hochberg met with Panamanian business leaders to discuss Ex-Im Bank financing available to encourage more companies in Panama to purchase U.S. goods and services. He is focused on expanding use of the Bank's products for infrastructure development, renewable-energy production, medical and transportation equipment, construction and other sectors.

"From financing U.S. construction equipment for the Pan-American Highway in the 1940s to supporting U.S. aircraft sales to Copa Airlines today, Ex-Im Bank has helped to expand business and tourism in Panama," said Chairman Hochberg. "The Bank is open for business in all of our programs in Panama. We provide an array of innovative financing tools and resources for Panamanian buyers to purchase U.S. goods and services."

Commenting on the pending U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, Hochberg noted, "Ex-Im Bank supports Panamanian companies as productive partners with U.S. exporters for the mutual benefit of our countries. The free trade agreement with Panama will allow the Bank to harness additional opportunities in infrastructure and other key sectors and improve U.S. access to Panama's $20 billion services market."

Hochberg's schedule included meetings with Copa Airlines officials, breakfast at the American Chamber of Commerce of Panama on Monday, August 8, followed by a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Panama Phyllis M. Powers and a visit to the Panama Canal.

Panamanian buyers interested in learning more about Ex-Im Bank's financing may contact Senior Commercial Officer Daniel Crocker at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City through email at Daniel.Crocker@trade.gov or by calling (507) 207-7388.

About Ex-Im Bank:

Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency that helps create and maintain U.S. jobs by filling gaps in private export financing at no cost to American taxpayers. The Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working capital guarantees, export-credit insurance and financing to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.

In FY 2011 through August 4, 2011, Ex-Im Bank has approved more than $24.5 billion in total authorizations – an all-time Ex-Im record. This total included 2,548 U.S. small-business transactions. The Bank's FY 2011 authorizations to date represent a 70 percent increase over its FY 2008 total of $14.4 billion.

Ex-Im Bank's authorizations through August 4 will support $31.5 billion in U.S. export sales and approximately 213,000 American jobs in communities across the country. For more information, visit the Bank's Web site at www.exim.gov.

SOURCE Export-Import Bank of the United States

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Directed by George Roy Hill

The concept of celebrity has been with us a long time. It may take different forms or shapes, some celebrities may be real or imagined. Celebrity goes hand in hand with myth making. Despite constant changes in fashion and thinking, celebrity still obsesses us. In Forbes' recent list of top earning film actors, the list displays that it's your fame/connection with the public that puts bums on seats more than your acting talent. But in many ways, it has always been like this. Hollywood has always worked on this type of demand quota. It's amazing that in 2011 we still buy into this shallow process. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid then, is a star vehicle from the old days. If they had cast the movie today (or remake it, though an improbable sequel is being made!), it would be Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up with the slightly older Johnny Depp, the love interest being supplied by Anne Hathaway (if she's not too tall for those guys!)

But then, similarities would cease. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was made in the climate of New Hollywood, so even in a commercial fair like this (despite being a Western), some risk taking has happened. The hazy, hippy photography of Conrad Hall, the wit and counter culture nodding of William Goldman's script (a Ménage à trois is heavily suggested throughout). Lets not forget the greatest thing about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Burt Bacharach soundtrack. Bacharach's soundtrack adds a depth and pathos to certain sections of the film that is often lacking. But what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lacks in grit and substance, it makes up for in chemistry. The superstar variety.

This brings us back to celebrity. The reason we entertain a picture like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the first place is the pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The chemistry and play between the two 'sexy' superstars (this was a fledgling pairing of superstars for Hollywood) is so easy on the eye, so effortless, so witty yet honest, it's pure entertainment. It saves this endeavor and makes you want to return again and again to the film (as I have done over the years). Actually, in many ways I love this film, even though I'm also secretly repulsed by it. Far greater than the very contrite and contrived pairing of Newman and Redford in The StingButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is some kind of classic. Yet the picture itself has a moralistic view towards robbery and outlaws, that ultimately, the picture is against its own heroes. This is a republican Western in many ways. One that lulls you in. It fooled its left-leaning stars of the day too.

As you may have guessed already, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are eye-candy for me. That's why I suggested we revisit this film. I like their suits and hats. 1969 was still a good year for suits and hats. Then there's the silly and quite unnecessary scene with Newman and Katherine Ross on a bicycle together, which was the other reason I wanted to see the film again. Somehow the innocent and ridiculous morning ride (accompanied by Bacharach's jolly song) had become very meaningful in my memory. On a second look the scene was so unrelated to the rest of the film that it was hardly the right reason to watch it again.

The rest of the film then: Well, there is a lot of horseback riding, getting away from the chasing parties and then running away some more. Oh yes, and robbing trains and banks (in a Hollywood way where everything is too easy and showman-like). Everything takes place in a great scenery and varying degrees of natural light and is filmed with gritty and often unfocused lens, which is refreshing after watching today's super clarity and CGI. The plot is just a bit boring for my hunger for intelligence, psychological complexity, or something else to throw me out of being sure of what's going to happen next.

Sundance Kid (Redford) has a girlfriend (Ross), but the relationship between the girlfriend and Butch Cassidy (Newman) seems almost hotter in the film. There is a feeling all along that she is being shared by both of them – just like the two buddies share everything else... I would have been interested in seeing a bit more than a suggestion to this direction. In fact there is a part in the middle of the film that describes the threesome's travels from the Wild West via New York to Bolivia and from the pretended home camera footage they could have made a whole different movie about the three-way love Butch, Sundance and the woman (whose name was not repeated enough for me to remember it) had. But somehow the director was more interested in gun fighting scenes and endless horse riding. That's where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lost me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Andrew Turner MP and the death penalty

For Halsbury's Law Exchange, published here

According to the BBC, Conservative MP Andrew Turner is attempting to resurrect the death penalty, if that is not a contradiction in terms. The BBC reports that Mr Turner has said that a full Parliamentary debate should take place about whether the death penalty should apply to those who kill children or police officers. He is endorsing an e-petition to that effect started by maverick blogger Guido Fawkes aka Paul Staines.

It is no great surprise to see something controversial from Staines, who takes pride in stirring up Westminster. It is however surprising to see a sitting MP run with something as tired and improbable as the death penalty, which I had assumed existed in Britain nowadays only as an Aunt Sally for jurisprudence tutorials.

Staines’s petition seeks a “review of all treaties and international commitments which may inhibit the ability of Parliament to restore capital punishment”. These alone would be a formidable obstacle given that in 2003 the UK acceded to the 13th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the death penalty under all circumstances.

There is always a certain level of public support for capital punishment, usually on the ground of retribution – as indeed seems to be Mr Turner’s motivation. Some even think a murderer should be killed by precisely the same means as they inflicted on their victim (raising two interesting questions: (i) who gets the job of carrying it out on behalf of the state; and (ii) what of serial killers?).

But I doubt a majority of the population remains in favour. Even if they were, I would hope that Parliament stands firm and resists reintroducing the death penalty. The whole concept of human rights is to provide a constraint on the power of the legislature; the majority rarely vote for their own oppression.

I say this because the arguments against the death penalty are legion and compelling. The first is the possibility of an innocent person being executed. Timothy Evans is the obvious example and indeed was an important factor in the abolition of the penalty. Mr Turner counters:

"Like many people I have concerns about the possibility of wrongful convictions, so perhaps we should consider whether before a death sentence could be passed, a higher standard of evidence would be needed than 'beyond reasonable doubt' which is used to secure a criminal conviction.

"Some people have suggested that there should be proof 'beyond the shadow of a doubt' before a death sentence ..."

Defining what would constitute “beyond the shadow of a doubt” as opposed to “beyond reasonable doubt” would be an interesting challenge for the most talented legislative drafters. It might simply mean that no-one would ever end up being executed anyway. Historically cases have shown that not even explicit confessions by the supposed killer guarantee certainty (they may have been forcibly extracted, or the confessor might be mentally disturbed in a way that is not immediately apparent). DNA evidence was thought to be the holy grail of criminal evidence when it was first developed, but it whether it would or would necessarily amount to removing the last “shadow” of doubt is questionable.

The second argument is that the death penalty is little deterrent to crimes that are committed in the heat of the moment, and in all cases is less important to any prospective murderer than the chances of getting caught. I am dubious about the various statistics that get bandied about supposedly in support of the argument that the death penalty leads to a reduction in the number of murders; there are so many factors involved in the commission of crimes rate that one has to say at least that the statistics are not compelling. They certainly would not meet Turner’s “beyond a shadow of doubt” standard.

The third and most important argument is that retribution as blunt as the death penalty does not really belong in a civilised society. There is no “humane” method of execution for a start. Moreover, it is highly questionable whether the death penalty is a greater punishment than life imprisonment (some might prefer death to squatting in a cell forever). For the sort of crimes Mr Turner has in mind whole life orders are a real possibility; indeed murderers generally receive much higher tariffs nowadays than two decades ago.

I was not a fan of rewriting history to overturn the verdict against Derek Bentley, for example, or the soldiers executed in the Great War (the former had his conviction posthumously quashed – though he would potentially have faced a retrial if still alive; and the latter received a sort of watered down pardon, with convictions intact, by Parliament in 2006). They were tried and punished in accordance with the standards of their time, and it seems wrong for any number of reasons for later generations to be expending public resources declaring that they know better.

But the point is that standards, attitudes and values have changed. We do not now clamour to attend public executions. We rightly deplore the standards of punishment in some extremist theocracies, as well as the standards of prisons in many countries. Hopefully therefore we can exact punishment without stooping to a murderer’s level.

Grey summer suit - it's about time, you say?

Well, for heaven's sake, I wonder what took The Sewing Lawyer so long?  It may have been the intervening allure of Vogue 1250.  Or her week away on holidays.  Perhaps she was slightly discouraged by that mid-project anxiety which often strikes during a longer-term more-complicated sewing project about whether it would fit, or suit her, or be easy enough to wear to be a go-to outfit on hurried weekday mornings.  Or maybe it was just the summer heat and doldrums, of which there has been plenty.  Whatever the cause, the delay has been overcome.

The Sewing Lawyer is pleased to present to you ... (drumroll) ... her grey summer suit.

Happily, it does fit.  And it seems comfortable enough.  The jury is out on whether it will be easy to wear.

The last jacket that The Sewing Lawyer made with a peplum was definitely NOT easy to wear.

It was her attempt to fix the Hot Patterns jacket pattern known as the Metropolitan Jacket.  You can read the whole long, sad saga here (if you are a paying member of PatternReview).  She sweated and swore at that thing for what seemed like months.  Come to think of it, it  really was months, And then she hardly ever wore it.  Too fussy.  Not The Sewing Lawyer's style.  Or something.

It (and its matching skirt and pants) have been donated.  I hope someone is enjoying them.  A lot.

Back to Vogue 8718.  I feel cautiously optimistic about it.  It isn't gathered.  I like its lines.  I still really like the sleeves, which are sort of puffed but not at all in the same way as the HP jacket.  I think with time I can get over the fact that the fabric (very thin, hard surfaced wool suiting with a slight sheen) is really hard to press, so there are apparent wrinkles and puckers everywhere if you look really closely.  This is one of those problems that may well disappear in the closet, if given enough time.  (You know, those sewing flaws visible only to the creator...)

So... what else to tell you about this?  How about some more photos?

The princess seams of the skirt (which is the same as many other skirts in The Sewing Lawyer's closet, a true TNT pattern) are more or less in the right place in the front to flow on from the pleated peplum.  I notice that in the back, they are too widely-spaced.  Oh well.  As I showed you before, the major seams are edgestitched and topstitched because double lines of heavy topstitching thread are an interesting contrast to the extremely smooth fabric.  I think that was a good call.

The pattern called for four medium-sized (3/8", or 9mm) snaps to close the jacket.  I disagreed.  Snaps would be bumpy, and very visible on the underlap side when the jacket is not closed.  Covering them to make them less obvious would have made them prone to opening spontaneously. The jacket did not need a closure below the peplum seam (which is slightly above the natural waist).  So I sewed on three hooks, on the overlap side, and made thread bars for the underlap.  Here are some photos.

I am very happy with how this solution works.  The thread bars are worked with a sort of button hole stitch, over about 4 foundation stitches.  I used the heavy topstitching thread which is a good colour match.  The hooks are ugly but they are under the overlap side so cannot be seen.

As you can see (or not) in the photo below.

Other construction notes.

I found the sleeve hem opening was much too wide.  I narrowed the under-sleeve seam by approximately .75" (2 cm) on each of the front and back sleeve for a total narrowing of double that amount on each sleeve.  This is perfectly fine, and I don't think my arms are unnaturally slender.

I am really happy that I used stout ribbons to pleat the sleeves instead of following the pattern instructions, which were to sew the lining pieces to the upper sleeve before pleating, and then fasten the outer sleeve to the sleeve lining to create the pleats.  I just do not think that lining fabric is strong enough to support the sleeve pleats.  Plus, using a ribbon allows you to get the pleating right before the jacket is totally lined.

The only dedicated lining pieces are for the sleeves.  Otherwise, Vogue instructs to cut the lower and upper CF pieces as facings out of the fashion fabric (as you can see above), and the rest of the body pieces out of lining fabric.  In retrospect, I wish I had thought to make a CB piece with a lining pleat, and to add a touch of length to the lining, for ease purposes. As it is, I sewed the lining with slightly smaller seam allowances, and hand-felled the lining at the waist with a seam allowance of maybe 1.2cm (1/2") to give a bit of ease in the length.  Using the same pieces for lining risks having a lining that is too short/tight and will pull on the fashion fabric, disturbing the line of the garment.

The other truly weird thing about the Vogue instructions relate to the collar.   This is TMI unless you are puzzling through the pattern instructions, but I mention it here in case anyone out there in blogland is sewing this jacket.  They say to sew the facing/lining layer to the jacket body before the collar is sewn on i.e. leaving an opening for the collar, and then to sew the collar on with the outer SA pressed up to the inside, and to hand-fell the collar to the jacket side.  I could not for the life of me figure out why...  Too complicated and risks a truly Becky-Home-Ecky and bulky look.  I sewed the collar, ignoring the instructions to press the lower SA up on the outer collar layer.  I first topstitched the collar, and then attached it to the jacket shell before attaching the lining.  I finally sewed the facing/lining to the jacket/collar at CF/neck from one peplum seam to the other in one pass, enclosing the collar seam (which had to be trimmed). Just ignore Vogue.  Sorry I took no pictures of this.  If you have questions, ask in the comments and I'll do my best to explain further.

One more thing - I used a fusible tape to snug in the CF edge by maybe 1cm (3/8").  Even though the lower CF piece is more or less on grain, and the upper piece is fully fused, and even though I was reasonably careful with the iron, I found this edge stretched out when I was pressing the seam attaching the facing/lining to the jacket.  This was a little in-progress retrofit.

I do like the sleeves.  Very much.