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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Change of Venue Motion Filed in US v. Khouli et al. Previews Possible Defenses in Alleged Antiquities Trafficking Case

Federal courthouse in Brooklyn, NY.
Photo by Jim Henderson.  CC
The latest pleading filed by Salem Alshdaifat’s attorney in the case of US v. Khouli et al. asks for a change of venue. The defense argues that personal and financial hardships faced by Alshdaifat, a Michigan resident, urge a transfer of the case from the federal district court in New York to Detroit.

The motion provides a possible preview into some of the defenses that may be available in the case, including:
  • a characterization of the charged conduct as “regulatory-based criminal charges,”
  • a claim that the objects that are the subject of the multi-count indictment are neither stolen nor contraband, and
  •  an argument that Alshdaifat was a middle man who did not possess criminal intent.
A federal grand jury charged Alshdaifat in May 2011 with conspiracy to smuggle, alleging that he directed Mousa Khouli to wire $20,000 to Ayman Ramadan’s UAE bank account and that Alshdaifat received an airway bill from Ramadan showing that “wooden panels” were being shipped by Ramadan’s company in the United Arab Emirates to JFK airport in New York.  Moreover, Alshdaifat is charged with money laundering conspiracy.  He is also charged with smuggling goods into the country as well as fraudulent importation and transportation of goods.  The indictment describes the goods as an Egyptian inner coffin, Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures, and a portion of an outer lid of a nesting Egyptian coffin set.  (A grand jury indictment is a mechanism that initiates a criminal case; it is not a finding of guilt.)

Writing in support of the motion for change of venue, Alshdaifat’s attorney previews the possible defenses in the case.  The following are excerpts from the Memorandum of Law dated November 21, 2011:
  • “The facts surrounding these charged criminal violations of the Customs laws arise out of the importation of rare Egyptian antiquities, including a three-piece set of sarcophagi and other funerary objects. These artifacts were allegedly shipped to the United States in several packages, variously by international air mail and by private air and sea carriers. The government does not claim that the Egyptian artifacts were stolen or were otherwise contraband when they entered the country. Instead, the government's charges rest on a theory that the alleged conspirators willfully falsely or vaguely declared these artifacts in entry documents into the United States because the importer purportedly had insufficient or incomplete documents of origin for the objects and this might have caused them to be detained at a United States port-of-entry if detected.” (emphasis in the original)
  •  “Mr. Alshdaifat was neither the U.S. importer nor the foreign exporter of the subject Egyptian artifacts. Based on the government's own claims, he is alleged to have been the “finder” or middleman that put the alleged foreign source of the artifacts (defendant [Ayman] Ramadan) in contact with the U.S. importer, or interested antiquities dealer (defendant [Mousa] Khouli). Despite being charged with a role that essentially ended prior to the importation process, Mr. Alshdaifat is charged with his co-defendants for knowingly participating in making false or intentionally incomplete statements on shipping labels on various shipments of these Egyptian antiquities.  The government's claims against Mr. Alshdaifat, therefore, rely on findings that he knew and intentionally joined a conspiracy to falsely declare the Egyptian artifacts in their shipment to the United States after his role in being a broker to the transactions was already completed.” (emphasis in the original)
  •  “In the Egyptian sarcophagi transactions, however, Mr. Alshdaifat only had a broker's interest and did not deal in the artifacts himself. Somehow, however, he now finds himself charged together with the principals of those transactions for allegedly violating technical Customs laws in the mailing and shipping of the merchandise, a process in which he did not participate.”
  • “The government’s position in support of criminal liability on the charged air mail shipments is based largely on the claim that Mr. Alshdaifat's co-defendants put these pieces in international mail or on an airplane as air cargo without completing more formal U.S. Customs paperwork with the specific intent to avoid Customs’ detection of these shipments and break U.S. Customs' law.  No lay witnesses exist to testify as to whether a defendant's act of putting these parcels in the mail or on an airplane constituted an intentional and clandestine conspiratorial effort to get the charged, legal merchandise into the United States.” (emphasis in the original and footnote omitted)
  •  “In any event, Mr. Alshdaifat is not even implicated in the government's discovery with doing anything – in New York or elsewhere – to assist in the importation of the merchandise. He is charged with putting the alleged source of the Egyptian coffins and artifacts (defendant [Ayman] Ramadan) in contact with the New York antiquities dealer who purchased them (defendant [Mousa] Khouli). The government must concede that Mr. Alshdaifat was neither the importer nor exporter of the charged shipments, and therefore had no role in the actual shipment of the merchandise, i.e., the packaging, labeling and placing of the merchandise in international mail.  As such, he never had any contacts with New York.”
  •  “The government does not charge that the Egyptian coffins and funerary objects were stolen property. The objects imported, therefore, are not contraband or unlawful to possess in the United States. The government's claims in this Indictment rest instead on the precarious theory that the method in which the artifacts were shipped into the United States was intentionally fraudulent even though the goods themselves were not banned or prohibited from entry. Indeed, the government does not even claim that the method of importation was intentionally fraudulent to avoid import duties, since antiquities are excluded from any import tax.” (emphasis in the original)
The defense contends that the government’s conduct materially affected Alshdaifat’s business.  Alshdaifat writes in a Declaration to the court dated November 21, 2011 that he started dealing in ancient coins in Canada, selling them primarily over the internet and at international trade shows.  He describes himself as a specialist in ancient Judean coins who gained admission to many coin auction houses and membership associations.  Alshdaifat adds that he was the moderator of the “Judean ancient coin section for the largest numismatic worldwide web community.”  Defense counsel’s Memorandum of Law explains:

“Mr. Alshdaifat's circumstances are particularly extraordinary. These include the fact that from his initial arrest, the government stacked the deck against him, making it untenable for him to get his fair day in court. On July 13, 2011, the government arrested Mr. Alshdaifat in his Michigan home and confiscated his entire business inventory of ancient coins, thereby effectively shutting his business down.  It did so despite the fact that the criminal charges in the Indictment had nothing to do with Mr. Alshdaifat's coin business. Subsequently, the government returned his coins but not until his business suffered a crushing, and possibly, fatal blow. Mr. Alshdaifat's reputation as an honest coin dealer has been battered; more importantly, he has been removed or suspended from all of the auction houses where he sold his coins. His business is in dire shape.” (emphasis in the original)

Information supplied to the court describes the relationship between Alshdaifat and co-defendant Ayman Ramadan.  Court papers remark that “Mr. Alshdaifat has purchased ancient coins before from defendant Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates ("U.A.E.") and has sold coins to defendant Khouli in New York. 
 That is how he knew two of the other parties charged in this Indictment.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

French minister causes suspension of contract

Panama's government has suspended a contract with French credit insurance giant Compagnie Francaise DAssurance Pour le Comerce Extérieur (Coface) to finance part of a project to build the first line of its subway, after French Minister Valérie Pécresse persisted in including Panama in France's list of tax havens, despite the signing of a double-taxation agreement by both countries.

The actions by the Minister prove that the entire "tax transparency" campaign by European countries is a scam that will only end until Caribbean financial centers are reduced to banana and sugar cane exporters as in the 18th century. No matter how many tax agreements are signed, or laws changed, there will always be some new "black list" that international financial centers (except those in Europe) are deemed to be included in.

The Comunique of the Panama Ministry of Foreign Relations states in its draft translation:

Posted on Sunday, November 27, 2011 in Information

Panama has made notable and recognized efforts to update the rules governing our financial sector, including the signing of 12 Double Taxation Treaties that have allowed us out of the OECD's gray list.

Statements French Minister of Budget and Public Accounts, Valérie Pécresse, just days after the interview between the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli and French President Nicolas Sarkozy contradict what was agreed between the two Presidents.

We call on France to ratify promptly the Double Taxation Agreement signed with Panama last June 30 which was ratified by Panama in October.

We are confident that when France ratifies this treaty, as promised by President Sarkozy to President Martinelli French animosity against Panama on this issue will disappear.

Panama's sovereign decision to refuse services COFACE the French company, is a measure backed by Panamanian Law 58 of 2002 adopting retaliatory measures in case of foreign discriminatory restrictions against the Republic of Panama.

We had already warned would take action against repeated verbal attacks on our financial system in international forums by countries whose companies, in parallel, seek to participate in the huge public investments in our country forward.

Earlier this month, Panama's Foreign Minister Roberto Henriquez had called the G20 hypocrites after including Panama again in their list of tax havens, despite having signed the 12 Double Taxation Agreements required by the OECD. http://www.telemetro.com/noticias/2011/11/07/84789/panama-califica-actitud-hipocrita-posicion-g20

According to La Estrella, Minister Pecresse made a Sunday call to the Panamanian Treasury Minister De Lima sayins that an emissary would fly into Panama to clarify matters. http://www.laestrella.com.pa/online/noticias/2011/11/28/francia_se_retracta_luego_de_acciones_de_panama_contra_coface.asp

COFACE Risque pays et études économiques > Panama

COFACE dans le monde

Monday, November 28, 2011

Egyptian Museum No Longer Accepting Cultural Object Inquiries (For Now)

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Source: Bs0u10e01, Creative Commons
According to an email by the General Director of The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the museum will not be in a position to respond to inquiries regarding any artifacts until June 2012. This information is important to anyone conducting provenance research relating to Egyptian cultural objects. The email appears below:

To whom it may concern,

Due to the current situation in Egypt, I regret to say that the
Registration, Collections Management and Documentation
Department (RCMDD) and the curatorial staff of the Egyptian
Museum, Cairo will not be accepting any new requests for
object information and images starting from 1 December, 2011
until 30 May, 2012. This is due to the huge backlog that was
created following the events of January 28th, as well as the
renovations that are currently happening in the Museum.
Information on objects from our collection can still be obtained by
accessing the intranet version of the Museum Database on the
computers dedicated to scholars in the RCMDD office, located in
the museum basement.  The department is open to scholars from
9:30 am until 2:00 pm, Sunday-Thursday.

Dr. Tarek El Awady
General Director,
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Source: Egyptologists' Electronic Forum, forwarded by Dr. Yasmin El Shazly.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Remember the pink zipper?  There is a tiny bit of method at work.  The Sewing Lawyer has a new pink top to match.  Actually, it makes the zipper look a little ... dull.

For anyone who was at PR Weekend Montreal, the pink fabric was purchased at Suzie Stretch.  It has a nice smooth jersey face and a loopy wrong side.  I'm hoping that makes it a little bit warmer than simple jersey.

But will somebody please remember to remind me to check the direction of most stretch BEFORE cutting?  This top (Jalie 2682) has a double layer upper front and it's straining a bit.  I think it would have been more comfortable cut on the crosswise grain.  Since I have two more vivid colours of this same fabric (turquoise and bright yellow!) there is a chance that I'll get to test this theory out.  I like this pattern a lot.

The jacket got retrofitted with a little underarm gusset to help with the mobility problem.

It went curling on Wednesday.

I'm pleased to report that the gusset works and the jacket was cozy warm.

I'll try it with the pink top this week.  Maybe the vivid colour will psyche out the opposition!

In the meantime, The Sewing Lawyer finished this lacy scarf and is itching to try a new knitting project.

What do you think of this sweater/jacket?  I love its texture and structure.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Boogie Nights (1997) Directed by P. T. Anderson

Boogie Nights and Magnolia are not only directed and scripted by the same guy, P. T. Anderson, they have mostly the same cast too. The two films are eternally linked in my mind. Like Magnolia, so Boogie Nights had a relatively huge impact on me growing up. Their shared and pessimistic outlook on life in general seemed real to me then. I did not see it as overly dramatic. Also, the fact that Boogie Nights deals with the beginnings of the porn industry as we know it, is important and was crucially overlooked by me in the past.

The way I remember the film and the way I experienced it now are two very separate perspectives: The porn film making content, the always naked women, the drugs and the eventual judgment the film appears to pass were all one big teaching video for the teenage-me. Instead of feeling uncomfortable and critical towards the way women were in Boogie Nights, I felt uncomfortable and as if this was a here's-how-to guide. It is baffling to realize how much a teenager watches a fictional piece of art and reads it as a lesson on Real Life, Real Sex and Real Relationships. I think I came out of seeing this one for the first time thinking something like: 'ok, cool women are available and enjoy sex with anyone at any time, they drown their sorrow into silence and always look good no matter what.'

This time around Boogie Nights seemed tame as well as overly dramatic, unnecessarily violent, shallow, pretentiously sad and mildly dated. I sensed no pressure from the film, it was not suggesting ways of being anymore. I felt also that Anderson was possibly playing with too simplistic stereotypes about porn. It may be that the director was being judgmental, looking down on people who make porn their occupation. He even mixed the issue of child porn and molestation with adult porn thus making the old-fashioned 'cigarettes lead to drug use and porn to crime' -claim. If I'm honest, this time I was a little bored and not very entertained.

Do you remember a time when people thought Fionna Apple was somehow the musical zeitgeist? It correlates with a time when P.T.Anderson was regarded as the savior of modern cinema. This feels oddly conservative to me. But I think it's true to say of most things that seem cutting edge at the time, when we look back, we realize it was just more of the same. Apple seems to have disappeared into some vacuum. With Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood Anderson seems to have passed his fan-boy period and shows signs of becoming that predicted savior. Bloody hell, the then approaching pre-Millenium 1990's, remember that time? One could be mistaken for thinking that Anderson as well as savior, perfectionist and friend of Aimee Mann was also the oracle, as demonstrated by the consciously "intelligent" Magnolia of 1999. Boogie Nights placed Anderson on the map and made him hot hot hot.

There is no way round this, but to not note the specific influence of Scorsese on Boogie Nights is to miss something crucial with the picture. From the use of long camera shots and fast editing to the constant 1970's soundtrack, Boogie Nights stylistically is the work of another director. It's second hand goods watching Boogie Nights (primarily Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino). Rather like the debt to Altman on display in Magnolia. It doesn't stop Boogie Nights being a blast at times. The first hour is a non stop disco ride of good looking men and women "getting it on" on the dance floor or in front of camera. The picture has energy. Excellent scene after scene is readily crafted here (especially the 1970's period), every detail shot to perfection. The ensemble cast (many would re-appear in Magnolia) is universally excellent. Burt Reynolds surprises with his smoothness and sometimes sensitivity. Still, you do have to wonder what Julian Moore has done to Anderson for him to always have her play such desperate characters in his pictures. But this brings us to another element which constantly raises it's head in Anderson's early films : depression.

The second half of Boogie Nights is depressingly drawn out. Characters we don't really connect with or know suddenly find themselves in life changing situations. Simultaneously, Anderson does not deal in any depth with the porn industry of the 1970's (a far more interesting movie awaits). So, Anderson digresses by having his main protagonist, exceptionally well endowed porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Whalberg) descend into a cliched portrayal of drug abuse. It made me yawn. Two excellent scenes come out of this malaise : Dirk Diggler's attempted early 1980's music career (after turning his back on the porn industry) and the later drug exchange with Alfred Molina's Rick Springfield obsessed druggie.
Moments like this make Boogie Nights worth it, just. It's a long movie that outstays it's welcome. Anderson decides in the end that everything really does turn out OK and hell, we all need some kind of family. So, this can be a frustrating film, which is also occasionally brilliant.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fair trials and the freedom of the press: when fundamental principles conflict

Published on Halsbury's Law Exchange here.

Two principles fundamental to English law are open justice and freedom of the press. The right of the public to know via the press who has been charged with what is one of the key features that distinguishes a free society from the sort of tyrannies where those deemed not to be on message politically disappear and are never heard from again.

Equally fundamental, however, is the right to a fair trial, which requires among other things that an accused is judged solely according to the evidence before the court, not the fevered imaginings of the more populist elements of the press.

One very recent manifestation of that inherent conflict concerned a blog by a well-known political commentator about the Stephen Lawrence murder trial. The blog has been referred to the Attorney-General for consideration for prosecution for contempt of court. As the trial is still in progress nothing more will be said about it.

A recent occasion on which the courts had to consider the same issue, however, was the case of HM Attorney-General v MGN Ltd and another [2011] All ER (D) 06 (Aug), which arose out of the murder of Joanna Yeats at the end of 2010.

Police attention was initiallyfocused on Miss Yeats’ landlord, who was arrested but released without charge. Before suspicion had been lifted however, some elements of the press printed all manner of lurid allegations about him. In the event those mattered not, since the real murderer did not dispute the fact of having killed Miss Yeats. It was held however that if the landlord had faced prosecution, he would have been able to raise a serious argument that he could not receive a fair trial because of this adverse publicity. Even though the argument would probably have failed, it would have been properly made and therefore would have incurred tangible costs and delays to the trial process, and a possible ground of appeal.

Accordingly, even the most robust defenders of freedom of speech would have to concede some limitations on the right of the press to influence an extant trial.

The Yeats decision raised some important points about the present state of the law, and points for reform. What it did not consider, however, was the possible influence – not for the good – of the internet. As I wrote in an article on the case for Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, one of the central planks of the publishers’ defence was that the articles would have faded from the jurors’ memories by the time of the trial. But articles would still have been readily obtainable online.

Moreover, no prosecution for contempt of court will be possible in the case of articles published overseas, although they may be readily accessible to British citizens. For the same reason I have always suspected that superinjunctions for privacy would be a flash in the pan, since anyone minded to do so could expose material which is the subject of an injunction with impunity if they were based outside the jurisdiction.

It can only be hoped that the fair trial process is not destroyed in that fashion. For all of the arguments in favour of free speech, one can find many instances of tabloid journalism grossly interfering with justice. One thinks of Hollywood circuses from the Fatty Arbuckle scandal of the 1920s (see New Law Journal [2011], vol 161, p 1150) to the OJ Simpson fiasco of more recent times: few would wish to see justice conducted – and corrupted – in the same manner in this country.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Status Conference Held in Case of US v. Khouli, Alshdaifat, Lewis

Egyptian coffin seized by ICE
in the case of US v. Khouli et al.
Photo: ICE
The US District Court for the Eastern District of New York held a status conference in the criminal matter of United States v. Khouli et al. on November 17, 2011.  The court waived all three of the defendants’ presence at the hearing.  The defendants include Mousa “Morris” Khouli, Salem Alshdaifat, and Joseph A. Lewis II.  Ayman Ramadan remains a fugitive.

By way of letter dated November 4, 2011 and written by his attorney, Khouli sought leave to attend a coin show in Baltimore, Maryland, reportedly scheduled for November 16 and 20.  The short letter explained: “As an antiquities dealer, Mr. Khouli’s livelihood depends on his ability to attend coin shows and other similar events.”  The court granted Khouli’s request and extended the ruling, waiving the appearance of the other co-defendants.

Internet records reveal that the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo was held during this time.  Palmyra Heritage, the name of the business owned and operated by Khouli, was listed as occupying booth #1107 while Holyland Numismatics, the name of the business owned and operated by Alshdaifat, was listed as occupying booth #1154 at the event that took place at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Salem Alshdaifat’s attorney filed documents soon after the November 17 status hearing requesting a change of venue in an effort to curtail any hardship to Alshdaifat, who lives in Michigan.  Submitted on November 21, the pleadings reveal more information about Alshdaifat’s background and his association with co-defendant Ayman Ramadan.  The pleadings also supply a preview of Alshdaifat’s possible legal defenses.  These topics are discussed here.

The next court status conference is scheduled for January 27, 2012.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


This is vaguely-a-test of the pattern provisionally earmarked for The Sewing Lawyer's next leather jacket project.  It's #107 from the famous September, 2010 edition.  It's in progress only (as you can see from the pins).

But this fabric bears NO resemblance to leather.  It's a quilted knit, quite stretchy (and annoying to sew).  It can't be pressed.  It won't lie flat.  The seams are all topstitched with one of the amusing utility stitches built into my Pfaff sewing machine.

I fear this jacket will not be long for the world.  The fiberfill between the two layers of this fabric occasionally pokes through.  I had been cutting the resulting wispies off but to my horror this led to at least one (found so far) little cut into the outer fabric.  Guess where?*

I'm only persevering with it because I have the feeling I will actually wear this curling and schlepping around the house.  It's kind of cosy.

Both the fabric and high-contrast zip were chosen for stash-reduction purposes.  Do I get extra points for using bulky space-consuming stuff?

I only noticed that the right front is about .25" longer than the left when I looked at this photo.  I am not going to fix it since this would require unpicking the topstitching and I fear making more little holes.  I am pretty sure the fashion police won't bother with me about it.

Dratted too-low armscye
I am going to make a Q&D muslin in a woven fabric to be sure before cutting the leather that this is too big and sloppy in the body, and too low in the armscye, and to find out what the collar will really look like.  For the armscye problem, I am going to (carefully) unpick the lower armscye and insert a gusset.

*  Centre front.  Nice one, Kay!  I'm under the perhaps-delusional impression that my fix will not be noticeable.

CPAC Public Session Wrap-Up: Requests by Bulgaria and Belize for Cultural Property MoUs Considered

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met between November 15 and 17, 2011, holding a public session on November 16. Professor Patty Gerstenblith, newly appointed chair and director of the Center for Art, Museum, & Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, presided over the meeting.

Bulgaria and Belize both petitioned the United States government for a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) seeking cultural property import protections pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (the UNESCO Convention). The requesting nations’ official public summaries appear here:  Bulgaria | Belize.  CPAC will ultimately provide advice about the adoption or rejection of these MoU requests.

CPAC received testimony to consider whether the countries’ requests satisfy the four determinations enumerated in the federal Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). They include:

1. Whether the cultural patrimony of the requesting nation is in jeopardy from pillage;

2. Whether the requesting nation has taken measures to protect the cultural patrimony;

3. Whether import protections would be of substantial benefit to deter serious pillage, and whether there are other less drastic remedies; and

4. Whether the implemtation of import protections is consistent with the global exchange of cultural property for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Roman ruins in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Author: Kyle Taylor
Creative Commons license.
CPAC received 503 online submissions prior to the public session, and seven people presented live testimony regarding the Bulgarian request. Those appearing in person before CPAC were:

• Kevin Clinton, President of the Board of Trustees of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS). See his prior written comments here.

• Brian Daniels of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.

• Nathan Elkins, a professor of Greek and Roman art and history at Baylor University who focuses on ancient coins.

• Stephen J. Knerly, an attorney who routinely appears before CPAC on behalf of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Read his previously submitted written statement here.

• Christina Luke Roosevelt, a lecturer and archaeologist at Boston University who appeared on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Cultural Policy Committee. Read her previously submitted written statement here.

• Peter Tompa, an attorney appearing on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists. He is an officer of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) but did not appear in this capacity. His previously submitted personal comments appear here.

• Kerry Wetterstrom, a governing officer of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.

Maya archaeological site in Caracol, Belize.
Author: Pgbk87. Creative Commons.
Public comments were also submitted discussing Belize’s MoU request. 153 online submissions were made, and five people appeared in Washington, DC to present live testimony. They were:

• Brian Daniels of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.

• Elizabeth Gilgan, an archaeologist who worked in Belize. She serves on the board of directors of Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE). Her previous written submission appears here.

• Stephen J. Knerly, an attorney appearing on behalf of AAMD. Read his previously submitted written statement here.

• Christina Luke Roosevelt, appearing on behalf of the AIA’s Cultural Policy Committee. Read her written statement here. You can also find AIA President Elizabeth Bartman’s online statement here.

• Patricia McAnany, appearing on behalf of the Society for American Archaeology and an archaeologist who has performed research in Belize.

Ghost World (2001) Directed by Terry Zwigoff.

Last weeks news of famous comics scribe Frank Miller, spewing right-wing dogma against the Occupy movement wasn't so surprising. His seminal and groundbreaking The Dark Knight, Daredevil and Sin City graphic novels re-imagined noir for a new generation with some added, subtly fascist undertones. Unfortunately, recent works have shown a drop in standards, followed by a drop in popularity. Controversial seems a surefire way to get attention, and maybe Miller can try to hide the fact that he had anything to do with directing The Spirit by spouting off some outrageous comments. It's fair to say that Miller is responsible (along with  a handful of other writers) for breathing life back into some legendary superhero franchises some 20 odd years ago with the graphic novels boom. Around this time another kind of writer emerged within the comics culture. Daniel Clowes, creator of Ghost World, ushered in a more literary approach to comics. As opposed to dealing with the superhero variety, Clowes creates worlds that are slightly twisted and surreal. Grotesques, 1960's pop-culture and the suburban slacker malaise feature in Clowes distinctive visions.

Zwigoff, working from a Clowes script, captures the essence of the comics whilst fashioning some great performances along the way. Not only this, Ghost World works as a slightly surreal love story. Thora Birch (who I'd completely forgotten about after American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson star as the two high school outsiders (Enid and Rebecca) who decide to move in together after graduating. In many ways, Ghost World does work as a rites of passage movie between two close friends as they make their way into the real world. But that does make the picture sound too simplistic, when what's on offer is never obvious.

Steve Buscemi playing the loser-in-love Seymour who is the subject of a practical joke from Enid and Rebecca ignites Ghost World. The endless walking the streets and checking the freaks turns (at least for Enid) into forbidden love. After the practical joke, Enid falls for Seymour, probably because there's nothing better to do. Twigoff (well know for some ace documentaries such as Crumb) strikes the right chord with Ghost World. Not only does he make you laugh, but he creates something original with the film, without cheapening Clowes initial inception. Birch is really good here (although the yet-to-be-star Johansson will probably be the reason why people find this now). Ghost World is for once a great graphic novel adaptation.

I watched  Ghost World with curiosity and dread. I wished the two young women would not be too hurt by what life had in store for them. At the same time, I was tickled by their daring and a little bit over-the-top manners, their sense of superiority in relation to their peers and their parents, their outfits full of expression and their growing difference in how they experienced life as well as what they expected from it.

I have been one of those girls. Maybe not just Enid or Rebecca, but a mixture of both. I have also been one half of a such close union of two girlfriends. Watching Ghost World reminded me of a time that was simultaneously very uncomfortable and very potent with a sense of becoming. Life was pure potential, all doors seemed open and I had complete trust in the world, even if I could make sarcastic remarks on its inevitable doom. This time was spent with great girlfriends, talking big dreams, planning to live together, borrowing each other's clothes and talking about men, the future, sex, the futility of education and a lot of important matters that completely escape my mind now.

Ghost World is not a very happy and funny movie. Yet, it is a kind of comedy and though it’s pretty realistic, there is something fairytale like in the movie. The film has a touching and serious side to it. Thankfully, it treats the two young women with respect instead of saying ’look at them they are freaks’. I’m amazed I haven’t seen this before. I would recommend this to a teenager, although am not sure how I would have responded to it at the ripe age of 16 or 17. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Awarded Top 25 International and Foreign Law Blog Honors

Thank you to the readers of Cultural Heritage Lawyer making it become one of the Top 25 international and foreign law blogs.  The award correspondence received today says:

"I am pleased to announce that your blog has been selected as one of the LexisNexis Top 25 International & Foreign Law Blogs of 2011!"

"The Top 25 group includes some of the best talent in the blogosphere and creates an invaluable content aggregate for all segments of the International & Foreign Law practice. Most good blogs provide frequent posts on timely topics, but the authors in this year’s collective take their blogs to a different level by providing insightful commentary that demonstrates how blogs can—and do—impact and influence the world of international and foreign law."

You can always click on the Top 25 image at the top right of this web page to make this blog #1!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unforgiven (1992) Directed by Clint Eastwood

Unforgiven, the word itself has multiple meanings and directions in Unforgiven. In fact forgiveness is something the characters in this story have very little of. The prostitute women in town will not forgive the man who mutilated one woman's body. The men of the town will not forgive the women for ordering the mutilator to be killed by an outside killer and the women of the town will not forgive the men for not killing the man themselves. There is no forgiveness, just appropriate degrees of revenge. It's a game of survival.

Clint Eastwood's elderly farmer has a dark past which he does not forgive himself. He does not forgive the village for their inability to protect their own women and no one forgives him. He has been a changed man for years, bringing up his children in poverty nearby his dear wife's grave, but to the outside world he is always the ruthless killer that scared everybody even if they just heard his name mentioned.

Unforgiven describes a world where justice does not get protected by the law or a sheriff, even though these institutions exist. People are guided by their individual morality, they are alone seeking for their rights to exist. Revenge is a a logical mechanism in a climate where forgiveness is a life-threatening utopia. Really, in this scenario to forgive would mean to surrender and to give up one's life rights.
Forgiveness was a luxury in the Wild West. But can we still claim that today?

People's perceptions of who you are rarely change, even when presenting evidence contrary to hard worn belief. It's a natural conclusion one can draw, it's especially relevant when discussing celebrity, we are after all lazy beings. Take Clint Eastwood. The perception people still have of Eastwood is the liberal conservative toting a big gun. He's popular (immensely) and his hard, iconic on-screen persona has betrayed his talent as one of the great mainstream film directors of the last 40 years. Of course, this perception has changed slightly over recent years (with Oscars comes respectability), but he'll always be remembered for  the "make my day" line. I could argue that prior to Unforgiven (the movie that made him welcomed by the movie establishment), Eastwood had directed some unfussy and occasionally brilliant movies. Personally, he's yet to better The Outlaw Josey Wales, in not just Western terms, but as a piece of cinema in any genre. It's one of my favorite films ever and the fact that I rate Unforgiven close to it, should give you advance to some of my feeling here. Unforgiven also has a bonus as being Eastwood's best on-screen turn.

I grew up in Staines, and I do recall going to see Unforgiven at the local cinema on release. That old cinema went years ago, a multiplex nowadays supplying the local public their celluloid thrills. I do remember that the cinema housed all my growing movie experiences. I remember going alone to see Unforgiven and some 3 other people being in the cinema with me. In isolation, Unforgiven was a majestic beast that validated those of us that knew Clint was the man. My opinion hasn't really changed. I've watched this film so many times. It's slow to unravel, intense, and occasionally reveals gentle mocking humor. Eastwood always uses natural light which means the look of the film has just got better over time. All the performances are standout, especially Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. But Clint waited to play this role, he knew he had to be the right age. Yes, there's echoes of Henry Fonda here, but it's The Man With No Name referencing his own past, specifically High Plains Drifter and the Preacher from Pale Rider, Eastwood's William Munny in Unforgiven could be these same charters a few years down the line.

So this is the deal. We get Eastwood debunking his own iconic screen persona of the previous 30 years for most of Unforgiven. He's trashing The Man With No Name and the callous violence of Dirty Harry and countless other cool shoot'em ups. Eastwood has pursued this theme for a lot of his post Unforgiven pictures (Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima), this was a turning point. Eastwood shows us the futility of taking someone's life, the key line in the movie, delivered by Eastwood's rejuvenated Munny being:"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have." But Eastwood can't leave it alone. The thrilling last 20 minutes of Unforgiven remains some of the most intense cinema I've seen. Eastwood's scraggly features redefine for us his screen persona and deliver the ultimate vengeful angel of death. It's hardness unparalleled combined with a laconic cool only Eastwood's iconic cowboy persona can deliver. It's the soul of Unforgiven and it's unmissable.

Cricketing convictions

Published on Halsbury's Law Exchange here

Recently three Pakistani test cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were convicted of conspiracy to cheat at gambling and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments, arising out of Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010.  They were sentenced to 30 months, 12 months and 6 months’ imprisonment respectively (Amir having pleaded guilty).  Butt has recently lodged an appeal against sentence. Regrettably, although it is the first such prosecution in the UK, only a delusional optimist would assume it will be the last. It therefore falls to be considered whether the sentences were justified.

The convictions arose out of a sting by the News of the World newspaper in August 2010.  Cricket, being amenable to extensive statistical analysis, perhaps more than any other sport, lends itself to “spot betting”.  Aside from betting solely on the outcome, any number of bets on the procedure of the game are possible – how many boundaries will be hit during the course of the day; who will be the highest or lowest scorer in each innings; how many extras will be bowled and by whom; and so on – in other words, all the minutiae which fills many pages in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack each year and considerable amounts of data on websites such as Cricinfo as well.

In turn the endless possibilities make it much easier for the unscrupulous bookmakers to try and rig bets.  It would be one thing – and hopefully a difficult one – to persuade an individual player to throw his wicket, still less an entire team to throw a match. Even if a team could be so persuaded, it would take some considerable effort to throw a match without arousing suspicion.  It would be much easier on the other hand to persuade someone not to score a boundary off a particular over in a test, which potentially can run to 450 overs, or to bowl a wide or no-ball off a particular delivery.  Such would usually – but not always, as we shall see – be inconsequential.

These possibilities gave rise to the three prosecutions.  The News of the World filmed a sports agent, Mazhar Majeed, counting bribe money and stating that Asif and Amir (both fast bowlers) would bowl no-balls at specified stages of the Lord’s test. In the event both did exactly as Majeed predicted.  They were not marginal no balls either: the television commentators expressed bewilderment at the extent to which Amir in particular had overstepped.

No balls are, of course, commonplace in cricket, particularly amongst fast bowlers, but the odds against predicting exactly when they will occur would be almost impossibly high.  Five hundred and forty balls will be delivered in the course of a normal day’s test cricket, and the only credible explanation of both players doing exactly as Majeed said they would is that they were indeed in his pocket.

It followed necessarily that Butt had colluded in the affair, because, as captain, he alone had the power to decide who would bowl and when. 

Initially cricket’s governing board, the ICC, conducted its own investigation, and went on to impose bans of ten years for Butt (of which five were suspended), seven years for Asif (of which two were suspended) and five years for Amir.  The criminal prosecution then followed.  (Majeed was also convicted after pleading guilty and received the longest sentence of all, but this article is confined to the cricketers themselves.)

The result of the ICC’s ban coupled with the sentences of imprisonment is likely to be the end of Butt’s career.  At the very least Asif’s will be seriously curtailed.  Only Amir, aged 19, seems likely to play again.
The question thus arises as to whether the offences justified penalties that are personally and professionally ruinous, along with the other consequences of imprisonment. 

The answer has to be a resounding yes, for two reasons.  The first is the recent history of corruption in cricket. The second is that despite some differing views, it seems to me unarguable that even the slightest spot fix seriously undermines the game. 

As to the first of those reasons, many cricketing correspondents have enjoyed displaying their historical knowledge by pointing out that cricket’s origins as an organised sport in something like its modern form lie in an excuse for gambling (see, for example, Reverend Pycroft’s The Cricketer’s Field, written in 1851). 
Corruption of the sort with which Pycroft was concerned had long died out by 1981 when inveterate horse racing fans Lillee and Marsh famously induced a frosty atmosphere into an already gloomy Australian dressing room by revealing a successful bet on England at 500-1 odds at Headingly.  That was properly seen as an innocent if very poorly judged act on the part of the two players.

Modern match fixing and spot-fixing began a few years after the surge in interest in cricket on the subcontinent which accompanied India’s victory in the limited overs World Cup in 1983. It reached world attention in the early 2000s when the-then South African captain, Hanse Cronje, was found to have accepted a string of payments for distorting matches.  Two senior Australian cricketers, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, were also found to have had some contact with a bookmaker in the 1990s – most ill advisedly suppressed at the time by the Australian cricket authorities – although it was not suggested they had agreed to alter matches, only that they provided useful information about conditions and players. But it was clear that the involvement of bookmakers with cricketers could not be dismissed as occasional skullduggery on the subcontinent which the rest of the cricketing world could pretend to ignore. 

The ICC’s response included an inquiry by a former senior British police officer, Sir Paul Congdon, but although the issue drifted from headlines only the most hopeless optimist would ever have assumed that the problem had gone away. The true extent can of course never be known. But we now have judicial confirmation that it still very much exists, and constitutes the first reason why the courts have to respond with stiff sentences as a deterrent. 

The second reason is that even apparently insignificant actions such as a no-ball here and there can have a strong influence on the outcome of a match.  Not all have seen it that way: in the immediate aftermath of the match at Lord’s, a former President of MCC, Field Marshall Lord Brammall, struggled to see what the fuss was about.  On 31 August he wrote to the Telegraph in these terms:

“It was most regrettable that this incident was alleged to have happened in the fourth Test … Let no one, however, try, as I am afraid some have tried to do, to consider this a significant part of the game itself, impinging on the historical reputation of this test match.

The delivery of the odd obvious no-ball would not and did not change the course of the match or the outcome.”

Lord Brammall seems to have forgotten many a famous no-ball of test matches past. To take just one example (a genuine no ball in a series which has never had any suggestion of wrongdoing): in the fourth test of the 2005 Ashes series, Michael Vaughan was bowled early on by a no-ball; he went on to score 166, the highest score of the match, and thus the fact of Glenn McGrath overstepping had a considerable significance. 

But the point is wider than that.  As the judge inferred, if the fact of the Pakistani fixing has not cast a pall over every future international fixture, it will at least cause a question, or suspicion, to be raised every time something extraordinary appears to take place; and of course a central part of the enjoyment when watching sports is witnessing extraordinary events – the tragic dropped catch, the farcical run-out, the ill-judged moment after a day’s solid concentration, and so forth.  In those circumstances substantial terms of imprisonment were, rightly, inevitable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Briefing Schedule Set in Appeal of Rubin v. Iran v. Boston MFA and Harvard

The case of Rubin et al. v. the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University et al. is in full swing at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.  The appeals court yesterday set a briefing schedule that calls for the appellant’s brief to be filed on December 27 and the appellee’s brief to be filed 30 days thereafter.  [Update 1/27/12: The court extended these deadlines.]

In September, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied a request by Jenny Rubin and others to gain title to artifacts held by Harvard, the Museum of Fine Arts, and other Boston area cultural institutions.  The Massachusetts federal district court ruled that it was presented with no proof that Iran owned the antiquities in the museums; therefore the plaintiffs were not entitled to the cultural property.  Rubin and the others soon appealed the decision to the circuit court in October.

The Rubin plaintiffs wish to acquire the artifacts in order to satisfy a multi-million dollar court judgment they won against Iran for that government's role in sponsoring a 1997 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. The suicide attack inflicted injury on the plaintiffs.

Photo credit: Nightryder84, detail of cup found at Marlik, Iran, Creative Commons.

Thanks Paco!

I was pretty excited to see that Paco Peralta was offering a free pattern for a draped top to anyone who ordered from him in November.  I placed an order at his Etsy store on November 1 and my package arrived today.

I ordered the cape and skirt set.

I received the draped top, as promised.

But to my surprise, the package also contained ...

The portefeuille skirt.

He wrote "It is my pleasure - I'm sure you will make a beautiful version of this skirt."  Paco, I hope I can live up to your expectations!

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Sculpture to Scrap: The Theft of America’s Copper Heritage

Bronze, a mixture of copper and tin,
is found in many statues and plaques,
which are vulnerable to copper thieves.
Frederic Remington, ''The Bronco Buster,"
given to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library.
Public domain image.

Copper theft continues to run rampant throughout the country. Museums, cultural institutions, churches, art galleries, universities, and more have been impacted by the great raid on copper and bronze sculpture and plaques. That is because the price of copper is high, largely driven up by rapid industrial development in China and India.

The recent press report of a sword swiped from a copper statue located at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb site in Springfield, Illinois has become common over the last several years. And thieves may be less interested in the art and more interested in the metal’s melted value.

Many states have laws that regulate scrap metal recyclers so that law enforcement can uncover scrap metal crimes. In New Hampshire, Chapter 322 of the Revised Statutes Annotated mandates junk and scrap metal dealers to be licensed, requires photo identification from person’s turning in metal for scrap, and permits law enforcement access to business records. Maine just announced its intention to stiffen regulations. Last week legislation moved forward in Augusta that would have scrap metal dealers check photo identification and vehicle information for anyone selling scrap metal, place a 72 hour delay on processing the metal, and have payments sent by check to a physical address. Penalties for noncompliance could include a license suspension for scrap metal processors.

Protecting outdoor statuary from copper theft may not be easy, but contacting a security consultant for a site assessment should be a first step for any cultural institution. Security options can then be considered in light of the actual risks and the institution’s budget.  Members of the nonprofit International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection may be able to help.

If a theft occurs, it should be reported to the local police immediately. Be sure to tell the police about Scrap Theft Alert, where law enforcement can report a theft to the membership of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

ER: Season 1 (1994)

So, this week: the environment is well and truly shafted, the Eurozone is well and truly shafted, the white & black rhinos are well and truly shafted and Republican candidate Rick Perry is well and truly shafted, but he probably doesn't remember why. It's not as if any of these things have impacted on my life – yet. As the days get stupidly short in Finland it feels like the news grows equally darker and more depressing. On top of this, we've been rattling through the first season of ER. Somehow I have managed to miss ER. I've caught a few episodes over the years, but Michael Crichton's celebrated Emergency Ward series is a mystery to me, especially these early one's with George Clooney.

ER is famous for taking the hospital drama into a more realistic direction than home audiences were used to (although M*A*S*H certainly didn't spare the blood or the political/social commentary in the 1970's). ER is mostly focused on the emergency ward of a Chicago County General Hospital and with the young resident surgeons and doctors who treat patients under the most trying circumstances and in never ending shifts. Scenes are gritty and technical yet over the course of Season 1 we get to know the key characters intimately. The main cast of Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Sherry Springfield and Eriq La Salle are all excellent. As the season moves on we get more personal with each central character and their lives away from the ER, but it's the hospital where ER excites and, at times, traumatizes.

Yes, ER can be a massive downer. It can also be sentimental and George Clooney can be the smarmiest arse. But this is minor. ER is top TV series fodder. It has been incredibly popular and holds all sorts of records. I've heard the standards of the first season were maintained throughout it's 15 (!!!) seasons. If so, it's deserved its success. I cant wait to tuck into Season 2.


When I was an exchange-student in Michigan in 1999, my mother based her idea of what my surroundings were like on ER. Sure, I went to Chicago once with a symphony orchestra of teenagers to play a show at a Hilton hotel downtown, but other than that my life was nothing like the characters' in ER and Chicago remained a stranger to me. I came to ER later, possibly when I returned back to Finland in 2000 and my mother was still watching the series because it was so good. I remember being surprised that my mother liked a show about a hospital emergency room with doctors and nurses as the main characters and with a lot of fast paced technical talk and blood.

ER ran on Thursdays in Finland. It went on for years and so when I had moved out from my parents' to live with Nick, I continued to watch it. Or actually that's when I began to really follow it. The characters became people I really cared for – I cried every Thursday on my own while watching ER, because Mark was dying and Carter was going to Africa and patients died and the women were often so unlucky in love...The important point is: I was always home alone on Thursdays when ER was on.

During the resent months my taste in entertainment has narrowed to accommodate the pregnant brain and emotional state. Yet, I was surprised to find myself needing to watch ER again. Surely it would be too gory and heavy...people dying and being born all the time...But I wanted to start from the beginning and share ER with Nick, who was always working on Thursdays back when we still had a TV.
ER: Season 1 did not disappoint. Even when the series is nearing its 20th birthday, it doesn't seem dated. I guess that's because it deals with such fundamental issues and everyone's wearing a white, green or pink doctor's coat, which don't seem to change in look ever. One of ER's best features is that it is easy to insert oneself into the series and therefore reflect on my own life. There's always something familiar there: some experience, fear, situation or a character to empathize or identify with. Still makes me tearful and wanting more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Making fabric takes a long time

Lace scarf in progress 
I wanted to see if I could do it.  Evidently I can.  (However, see if you can find the mistake.)

I'm on the fence about whether I want or need a yellow wool lace scarf.  However the yarn was in stash (and is a lovely colour) and the pattern is easy enough.  

And now ... back to my regularly scheduled craft.  Sewing.  I'm testing a pattern which I traced more than a year ago as a possible alternative to the Material Things Fearless Jacket pattern, when I was having so much trouble with it.  But then I persevered and this one got left behind.

I've got it cut out in a strange quilted knit which might (or might not) make an interesting jacket on the curling rink.

It might also tell me whether I want to commit to this pattern for my brick red lamb leather.

Stay tuned.