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Monday, January 30, 2012

Dr Jeffrey John: religious office and employment discrimination

Published on Halsbury's Law exchange here.

Religion, equality and the law has formed the subject of many blogs on this site in the past year or so. Once again the media have found a dispute which requires balancing the competing rights. It concerns Canon Jeffrey John, who has allegedly been passed over for promotion in the Church of England because of his homosexuality. According to the Guardian:

"Dr Jeffrey John … a celibate priest who is in a longstanding civil partnership with another cleric – was prevented from becoming the bishop of Southwark after the archbishops of Canterbury and York stepped in.

Reports on Sunday suggested John had become so exasperated at his treatment that he had hired… an employment and discrimination law specialist… to fight his case under equality law."

Although the competing considerations are many, the nub of the issue can be stated simply. As a starting point, everyone has the right to practice his or her religion. Everyone also has the right to do as they please with their own premises. Employers may choose whomsoever they wish for their staff.

As against that, everyone has the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation.

The question is how to balance those rights when they conflict. On one hand, if a religious employer wants all members of her or his staff to be practising members of the religion, one might say that no outsider has the right to object. If the religion in question has particular moral tenets (and all do, almost by definition), then its followers would be expected to conform with them.

On the other hand, no non-religious employer would be allowed to implement an unlawfully discriminatory employment policy on the ground of a secular moral code. For example, a law firm specialising in criminal law could not insist on recruiting only male solicitors because the crusty old partners took the view that criminal law was “not a job for ladies” (as I once heard an elderly Rumpolesque barrister opine, not so many years ago).

So does the Church’s right to run itself according to its own tenets and beliefs trump Dr John’s right not to be discriminated against in his employment?

First we need to deal with a red herring, namely whether or not Dr John is actually an “employee”. It is no answer to try and be slippery about whether church office amounts to “employment”. Recently it has been held in a different context that the relationship between priest and bishop might be akin to employment (JGE v English Province of Our Lady of Charity and another [2011] All ER (D) 50 (Nov)). Either way, there is no doubting that but for the religious context there could be no evading anti-discrimination laws by the institution in question declaring that its office holders are not employees, any more than an employee could avoid income tax by using the word “subcontractor” instead of “employee” if there was no change to the underlying contractual arrangement.

It therefore has to be decided whether there is a valid distinction between Dr John’s case and that of the hypothetical female solicitor. In the US, the distinction would run on the following grounds: there is no link between being a lawyer and being a man. On no objective ground could it be justifiable to prefer men to women for the role of a solicitor. By contrast, the male-only priesthood is a manifestation of religious belief. Thus the hypothetical law firm would be engaged in discrimination pure and simple, whereas the church’s discrimination would be a consequence of its (religious) belief that the all-male priesthood derived from Christ’s choice of the apostles.

Some argue that there is nothing in Christian sources which supports a bar on homosexuals holding high office in the church. But that is not the point. It is not for the state to decide what a religion entails. Freedom of religion means freedom for religious organisations to decide for themselves what their belief system means. Moreover, the principle of separation of church and state (and for present purposes we can discount the establishment position of the Church of England) precludes the state from deciding otherwise.

That would be the result I would expect the English courts to reach, within the framework of the right to freedom of religion under Art 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As mentioned, it is also what the American courts have long held.

It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. The advancement of equality legislation renders it more and more difficult in this country to find exemptions from the general law on the ground of religion, as illustrated by the well-know recent cases about registrars refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, employees wishing to display religious symbols, and fostering parents with strong religious views (though in a number of cases the tabloids predictably took the judgments to mean far more than they did in reality), on which I have written a number of blogs and articles in the past.

The reason I suspect equality legislation will not – and argue that it should not – be extended to the determination of the criteria of bishop or an equivalent post in other religions is that it would amount to the state rewriting religious tenets. In that scenario there would be very little left of religious freedom. It is true that the Supreme Court felt compelled to do something similar in respect of the well-known JFS case, in which it ended up effectively vetoing the Chief Rabbi’s definition of who was Jewish, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Canon John’s (presently hypothetical) case might produce a similar result.

But I suspect that the grey areas are likely to be confined to questions about what constitutes a religion, or which employees fall within the status of religious office holders and thus qualify for some sort of exemption from discrimination laws. (If the religion was some fringe cult, or the employee a support staff member not involved in dispensing any of the religious duties, then any religious exemption to discrimination law would be less defensible.) Neither would be in issue in any case brought by a CofE canon, since there is no dispute that a bishop is an ecclesiastical office in a recognised religion.

As ever, it is not a solution that will please everyone. But I very much doubt any solution will ...

Non-Invasive Testing Uncovers the Composition of Art and Artifacts

The January 2012 issue of Physics Today has an interesting article by Notre Dame physics professors Philippe Collon and Michael Wiescher.  Titled "Accelerated Ion Beams for Art Forensics," it discusses the use of non-invasive nuclear physics to detect forged art and more.  For example, the authors write about the ability of PIXE (Particle Induced X-Ray Emission) to analyze the make-up of an object:

"The scope of applications of PIXE in the art world has grown steadily. When applied to a work of art, as shown in the figure, PIXE helps to identify the composition of pigments or other materials; thus it has had a growing impact in the forensic analysis of suspected forgeries. The analysis of ancient coins provides information about the minting process and also leads to deeper insight into economic developments. For example, inflation during the Roman Empire is reflected in a continuous devaluation of the silver denarius coin, as silver was gradually replaced by less valuable metals. In collaboration with others at Notre Dame, we are investigating the unique black-and-white ceramics of the American Southwest to identify whether mineral or organic pigments have been used to generate the paint and to determine the provenance and distribution of the pottery material. We have also joined with our colleagues to explore the frequently shifting 18th-century colonial boundaries in the present US Midwest by studying the composition of regional Native American copper jewelry. With PIXE, copper mined locally in the upper lake region can be distinguished from British or French imported copper."

Read more about PIXE testing and the authors' discussion of accelerator mass spectrometry here.

You may also be interested in learning about the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Italy, which has used PIXE to analyze Galileo's manuscripts.

CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Red List Announced Covering At-Risk Egyptian Cultural Objects

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) today announced that it would soon release a Red List for Egypt.  [UPDATE 2/6/12: The Red List is now available].   Red Lists describe various types of cultural objects that are considered to be at-risk. Such lists have been created for cultural objects from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Africa, and seven other places.

Regarding Egypt, ICOM's December-January e-newsletter states:

"Following several months of preparation, ICOM is delighted to announce the official launch of a new Red List in the coming weeks. The Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk, the 11th publication in ICOM’s Red List series and its third Emergency Red List, is one of the tangible outcomes of ICOM’s involvement in the protection of Egyptian cultural heritage, following the events that shook the country in the past year. The List was drafted in close collaboration with members of ICOM’s International Committee for Egyptology (CIPEG), national and international experts in Egyptian art and antiquities, and the Ministry of Antiquities of Egypt."

"The Emergency Red List was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State."

"The official launch of the Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk will take place at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Cairo, Egypt, in the presence of ICOM Director General Julien Anfruns, members of the Egyptian government and local heritage institutions, national and international experts, police and customs officials, partners of the project and the media. The event will be followed by an awareness-raising and capacity-building workshop on the Red List series and its worldwide usage in fighting illicit traffic in cultural goods."

CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (2010) Directed by Joann Sfar

The musical icon biography rears its head once again. In this case, Serge Gainsbourg, one would hope a movie about his life could open his wonderful music up to a wider audience. That's not to say that Serge's music is obscure, it's just that most people know he's responsible for J'taime Moi Non Plus and  recognize little else of his work. Amongst the keener music enthusiast Gainsbourg's reputation as an artist of serious note has increased over the years. By the time of his death Gainsbourg had reached national hero status amongst the adoring French. Gainsbourg's passionate rebellion and casual sexism endeared him to a public who initially viewed him as a grotesque. This in itself is quite astonishing when discussing a popular writer of song, whom over a period of time, radically experimented with his sound and his idea of the conventional song. There was also the incessant smoking and then of course, there's the women.

Sfar, basing his biopic on his own graphic novel, uses some touches of surrealism throughout the movie. This mostly comes in the form of a huge puppet version of Gainsbourg (resembling The Count from Sesame Street) whom the real Gainsbourg (brilliantly portrayed by Eric Elmosnino) often converses with throughout the picture. One of the problems with Gainsbourg is the willful artiness associated with this technique, which Sfar persists on using. The first half of Gainsbourg pretty much whizzes by in a very entertaining fashion that shows Serge the artist finding his confidence as a boy in Nazi occupied France, before he gives up on painting. Choosing to peruse a career in the less credible pop world, Gainsbourg shows us how Serge, through reputation as an extraordinary writer of song, in essence becomes a 'babe magnet'. Juliette Greco, France Gall and Bridget Bardot all come into the Gainsbourg orbit. Then, he meets Jane Birkin, played by the late Lucy Gordon in her final role.

                                    Nothing in Sfar's film looks or sounds as good as this

It's at this point that I wanted more from Gainsbourg. From the late 1960's onwards Gainsbourg's music became more interesting, a fact which Sfar loses perspective of and pretty much ignores by focussing on the personal life, albiet in a fleeting manner. This isn't helped by Gainsbourg's music being reinterpreted in the movie by actors - often flatly compared to the originals. One has to ask why? Could this be the last time this happens? I cant imagine say, Kirk Douglas re-painting Van Gogh's masterpieces in Lust For Life. Why does Sfar give the privilege with Gainsbourg's songs to Elmosnino here? It could be argued that Sfar glosses over the most interesting parts of Gainsbourg's life, whilst never quite portraying the obnoxious shit that Gainsbourg could be. Yet, despite all this, Gainsbourg has much to like about it. Mainly the performances are good, the look of the movie exquisite and the film has a certain swing which makes it entertaining. Still, Gainsbourg feels like an opportunity missed.

Serge Gainsbourg has been one of this household's demi-gods for years now. His holy position entails high expectations towards anything Serge related, even this movie. We could not go and see it in the cinema in Finland, because of the subtitle problem for the English speaking, so we had to wait until now.
I loved the first half of the movie. The description of Serge growing up and finding his talent was eloquently and freely made. The film employed puppetry to visualize an internal development. The movie dared to stretch the heavy demands often made on biopics to be faithful to a Reported Reality.

Unfortunately, the second half of the film dealt with the most iconic things known about Gainsbourg and as if chained by the well known names and events, the movie became stiffer and less imaginative as a result. The amazing women (Bardot and Birkin) and the descent into alcoholism and illness were presented more out of duty rather than out of inspiration. The actors playing these people were very beautiful and even managed to look a little like BB, Birkin and Serge in their day, but still, what was the point of even trying to recreate these iconic looks? Or what was the use of cramming a whole person's life story into one film, rather than making an artistically valid and whole piece of cinema?

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life ended up suffering from many of the usual biopic problems. The thought of a real living person's life and death can become (and often do) a way too restricting approach to cinema. The question of what is Real being an impossible and boring one to answer anyhow. That is why I celebrate the first half's inventiveness and hope to see more of this in films about celebrated people in the future. Also, if I want to look at the iconic images of Serge and Jane, I can refer to the documentaries and image sources, a film should never try to compete with those because it cannot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lewis Defense Lawyers File Motion to Dismiss in US v. Khouli et al.

Even before trial begins and testimony is heard, the case against Joseph Lewis, II must be dismissed because the government cannot prove its case.  That is what defense lawyers argue in a motion filed today in the US District Court, Eastern District of New York in the case of US v. Khouli et al.  The lengthy memorandum of law contends that the government lacks sufficient evidence to proceed to trial based on the information supplied in discovery materials.

Evidence in US v. Khouli et al.
Source: ICE
A federal grand jury indicted Joseph Lewis, Moussa Khouli, and two others in July 2011 alleging, in part, that Lewis illicitly bought Egyptian antiquities that were illegally imported into the United States through Dubai. The indictment also alleges that the four conspired together and with unidentified “others” in a smuggling operation.  (A defendant is presumed innocent unless the government proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt).  The objects involved in the case include a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus and a three-part nesting coffin set. See here for background.

Despite being accused of wrongdoing related to the import of ancient Egyptian antiquities, defense lawyers contend that Lewis was not involved with the importation process at all.  In fact, the only co-defendant Lewis had contact with at any time was Moussa Khouli, and that contact was after any object was imported into the United States, according to attorneys.  This argument is buoyed by defense lawyers' statements asserting that Lewis had neither sent nor received any emails discussing importation of cultural artifacts with Khouli.  Therefore, Lewis' lawyers argue that Lewis had no participation in the import process. 

Lewis had every reason and motive to want the import process to be legal, the defense attorneys claim.  Email exchanges between Khouli and Lewis never hinted at any illegal activity, they say.  Lewis, in fact, never had any idea that any pieces were stolen, particularly after having been informed by Khouli in writing at least seven times that the Egyptian pieces were part of Khouli’s father’s collection in Israel during the 1960’s.

Moreover, defense counsel contends that prosecutors cannot prove that the items in questions were stolen.  They highlight that there has been no assertion by Egypt that the items are in fact stolen.  And if the prosecution argues that the incomplete provenance of the artifacts should have informed Lewis that the objects may have been stolen, defense lawyers cite journal articles to show that lack of provenance is common in the antiquities market and does not demonstrate that a cultural object is in fact stolen.

 Lewis’ lawyers conclude that the lack of evidence cannot sustain a conviction, warranting a dismissal of the government's criminal case.

Contact: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

Made with a sense of humour

My husband found this interesting jacket recently.  It purports to be a curling jacket.  It is made by a Dutch company called Scotch & Soda - Amsterdam Couture.

I think it's slightly ironic to actually wear it curling, which is how it's used around here.

I wouldn't blog about it at all except for the care labels.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pierrot le Fou (1965) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

As I have stated before in this blog, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard have an almost holy place in my cinematic heart. To see and experience life as Pierrot Le Fou is to really live – or so I have thought. That's been the innocent child-like view of mine. Cynically speaking, Godard's films from this period offer a vast visual resource pool for any young blogger wanting to tap into effortless cool. His films also offer an air of intellectualism, name dropping and they mix fairytale with essaying about art. This complexity is second nature to Godard. Who cares if anyone can follow a plot from beginning to end in some coherent linear way, at least you can congratulate yourself for recognizing at least ten names of film makers, philosophers and poets mentioned in any given Godard movie...

The reason why none of the snobbism gets to me in Pierrot Le Fou is Anna Karina with Jean-Paul Belmondo. Their acting looks like the most fun kind of playing, spontaneous and unexpected. Not only do they look amazing in their clothes and without their clothes, they have a sense of humor about themselves. Nothing is too serious. Not even this movie. This time around I didn't really care much for the plot of this film. I was bothering to try and understand what motivated the two characters, but did not come up with anything rewarding in the end. In my mind I had also mixed up a couple of other Godard films with this one and created my own story thus looking for scenes in Pierrot Le Fou that never take place.

A suspicion smoulders in my mind that maybe Godard is somewhat resentful towards his always stunning leading ladies. He seems to portray these women as cunning, deceitful, confusing, mysterious and deathly. It is always the women who drive the men to trouble bigger than they can cope with. And it is the women who stop loving the men first. Godard's attitude to women as dubious femme fatales is something I've never thought of before and now that I have started, this idea disturbs me a little.
Ultimately, I would like to remain a woman who can watch Pierrot Le Fou without too much analyzing, just for its visual impact and occasional emotional reward too.

In the annals of looking cool with a cigarette dangling from between your lips, there have been many wannabe champions of the art. In popular song, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Serge Gainsbourg have all tried to master this pose. Humphrey Bogart & Elliott Gould as a certain dick called Marlowe have improved the pose compared to their rockstar counterparts. Many others have tried this look, but the undisputed king is Jean-Paul Belmondo. Just watching the fat Gauloises hang from those luscious lips is enough to make you wanna strike one up. Yummy. Sexual. It's a shame I dont do that anymore.

Godard understands the power of "Chercher La Femme" and in Pierrot le Fou he realizes that Belmondo's love for Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina) like his own love for Karina is doomed. It's all over Pierrot le Fou and in the subsequent movies he directed Karina in. He's telling us you can dream about someone like that but you'll never have someone like that. Belmondo as Ferdinand, Pierrot or himself is as cool as screen males ever have been or ever will be. But he's no match for Karina. Pierrot le Fou has more ideas in it than most of popular culture combined and then some. It's still radical, sexy and pretentious. But as it gets older, Pierrot le Fou starts to resemble something even more classic in cinema. The look is spectacular in an oddly conventional way. The use of color and the cut-up soundtrack somehow recall a vintage quality.

If I were to compare this to an album I'd say it's a White Light/ White Heat or a Before Hollywood. Does that enlighten you much? A Scott 4 or New York Tendaberry perhaps? Can I make this easier for you? In these postmodern times I can suggest A River Ain't Too Much To Love or Wu-Tang Forever? Pierrot le Fou is not like these albums at all in any way. The film just leaves me with the same feeling, that's all. I'm just trying to say you should see this if you have not. Life's too short and Pierrot le Fou is one of its pleasures.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Federal Attorneys File Appellate Brief in Baltimore Coin Case

Attorneys for the United States have filed their brief in the matter of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Department of State; Assistant Secretary of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs. The United States’ brief rejects the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s (ACCG) interpretation and application of the Cultural Property Act (CPIA), writing that the ACCG “fundamentally misunderstands the CPIA’s statutory scheme.”

Last September the ACCG appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court after a federal district court judge dismissed its test case. The group initially filed the lawsuit hoping to challenge cultural heritage import protections enacted under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). According to the government’s brief, “[o]n April 15, 2009, [the ACCG] transported [Chinese and Cypriot] coins from London to Baltimore with the intention of testing the validity of existing import restrictions. The invoice accompanying the coins identified each by type and indicated that each was minted in China or Cyprus, but provided no indication of when the coins first arrived in London (or any other information regarding the history of the coins).” Customs seized the ancient coins. The district court then struck down the ACCG’s challenge to the seizure after concluding that the group failed to make out a sufficient case to show that the government acted outside its legal authority.

The ACCG filed an appellate brief with the federal circuit court on October 31, 2011, arguing that the enactment and application of the import controls by the State Department and/or Customs and Border Protection (CPB) was unlawful and should be reviewed under the standards of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).  (The APA is the law that instructs federal agencies about how they must establish administrative regulations.  The Act also outlines the procedures by which administrative decisions are reviewed by the courts.The ACCG also argued in its brief that the United States government could not issue cultural property import protections on certain ancient coins since China allegedly did not request the import restrictions.  The group further explained that the CPIA’s import controls require federal officials to prove an ancient coin’s find spot before it can be seized. The United States’appellate brief, filed on January 13, 2012, counters these claims.

Attorneys for the United States contend in their brief that its agencies followed the rules while the ACCG did not follow the process.  The government's lawyers write that the ACCG should have followed the forfeiture process established by Congress.  Instead, the ACCG filed a lawsuit. “The CPIA’s provisions regarding seizure and forfeiture, in concert with the pre-existing statutory scheme addressing forfeiture proceedings, set forth a process by which claimants may contest a threatened forfeiture,” the government argues. Federal lawyers state that the “APA authorizes judicial review of agency action only ‘for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court.’ The circumstances in which extra-statutory review is available are similarly limited.  Here, however, Congress has expressly provided for challenges to the seizure and forfeiture of materials under the CPIA through the established mechanism of administrative or judicial forfeiture proceedings.”

At the time of the attempted import of the coins in Baltimore, lawyers for the United States say that “Customs provided [the ACCG] with the opportunity to present a certification of lawful export or other evidence establishing a right to entry . . . . [but the ACCG] disclaimed any ability to present such evidence.  On July 20, 2009, Customs seized the coins, and explained that – in light of [the ACCG’s] representations – the items would be subject to summary forfeiture absent a request by plaintiff for judicial proceedings.”  Government lawyers say that even though the ACCG requested a judicial forfeiture proceeding in September 2009, “Plaintiff [ACCG] did not await the commencement of judicial forfeiture proceedings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Rather, on February 11, 2010 – five months after requesting such proceedings – plaintiff commenced this suit to challenge the seizure of its ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins.”  The government observes that “Plaintiff [ACCG] has invoked those procedures, but they have not occurred as this litigation has been ongoing. Plaintiff does not explain why its arguments should not be considered in the forum designated by Congress.”

Had the ACCG challenged the seizure of the coins through the congressionally prescribed forfeiture proceeding, it would have confronted a defined standard of proof requiring the ACCG to show that the coins were legal to import. The government’s brief describes the standard of proof that applies in a forfeiture proceeding: “the government must establish that the seized property is material that has been designated as restricted under [the CPIA].  After this initial showing, the burden shifts to the claimant [ACCG] to show that the property is not subject to forfeiture, or to establish an applicable affirmative defense.”

The United States rebukes the ACCG for short-circuiting the judicial forfeiture proceeding, avoiding its burden of proof, and claiming that the government acted beyond its authority (i.e. ultra vires).  The government contends that the “Plaintiff [ACCG] cannot properly circumvent the statutory scheme established by Congress by asking a district court to review this seizure under the APA and under the rubric of ultra vires review and . . . to further confound Congress’s intent by asking the court to disregard the burden of proof established by the CPIA.”

Attorneys for the United States further maintain that the ACCG has confused the meaning and requirements of the CPIA. They point out that “[t]o import the coins into the United States, plaintiff [ACCG] needed only to show that the coins had left Cyprus or China before the effective dates of the relevant Designated Lists.  Plaintiff declined to offer any declaration to that effect, claiming that it could not offer the evidence required by the statute because it did not know whether the coins had been ‘first found in the ground’ of either China or Cyprus. But the CPIA quite plainly does not require plaintiff to know where the coins were ‘first found in the ground’; all that was required was information as to the whereabouts of the Cypriot coins as of July 16, 2007 and of the Chinese coins as of January 16, 2009.”

The government's lawyers pointedly draw attention to the fact that the President exercises his foreign affairs powers when acting pursuant to the CPIA. The attorneys highlight that “[t]he provisions of the CPIA confirm that Congress recognized that these judgments are imbued with foreign policy concerns.” They describe how “[t]he CPIA provides the President with broad power to apply import restrictions pursuant to MOUs he enters into with foreign States in furtherance of the United States’s obligations under the Convention on Cultural Property and with the goal of ‘promoting U.S. leadership[] in the preservation of cultural treasures.’” The attorneys point out that “Congress recognized that allowing illicitly excavated and trafficked artifacts to enter into the United States, thereby permitting a market in such goods, threatened our relationships with other nations, and that this legislation was thus “‘important to our foreign relations.’” They also explain that “the issues raised by the import of cultural goods are ‘distinct from the normal concerns of the reciprocal trade agreements program or U.S. trade law.’”

The review of American foreign policy decisions by the courts essentially would be improper, suggests the brief, particularly where foreign policy considerations have other avenues of oversight.  “Rather than involve the courts in an inquiry into the conduct of foreign affairs, Congress provided for political review by requiring the CPAC [Cultural Property Advisory Committee] to share its reports with Congress, and requiring the President to report actions taken to Congress,” says the government’s brief.

Federal lawyers contend that even if there is court review of the government’s implementation of import restrictions enacted under the CPIA, government agencies acted properly. Their brief asserts that “[i]f the Court concludes that some form of judicial review is nevertheless appropriate in these proceedings, it should affirm the district court’s conclusion that plaintiff has not stated a viable claim.”

In support of this argument, attorneys for the United States point out that the ACCG’s “primary contention is that its 22 ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins were unlawfully seized based on their ‘type.’ Plaintiff urges that, although the coins appear on the Designated Lists of restricted materials published by Customs, the coins must be allowed entry to the United States unless the government can prove, on a coin by coin basis, that each was first unearthed in Cyprus or China. The district court correctly concluded that plaintiff’s proposed scheme lacks any basis in the statute.”  Therefore, the federal lawyers maintain that “[t]he Assistant Secretary [of State] exercised her judgment and discretion under the CPIA in determining that certain types of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins qualify as the ‘archaeological material of the State Party’ and applying import restrictions to them. As the district court concluded, plaintiff’s approach can not (sic) be reconciled with the plain terms of the Act, is unworkable, and ‘would undermine the core purpose of the CPIA.’”

Attorneys for the United States also address in their brief the ACCG’s request for information.  “[The ACCG’s] amended complaint alleged that ‘China never formally requested import restrictions on coins,’ and urged that the government’s restrictions on Chinese coins should thus be deemed invalid. This is unsurprising, since – as the government has previously noted – China’s request did, in fact, address ancient Chinese coins, as noted in the public summary of the request that is posted on the State Department’s website.”  That said, federal lawyers declare that “the district court correctly rejected plaintiff’s request for discovery with regard to the precise contents of China’s diplomatic note requesting that the United States impose import restrictions under Article 9 of the Convention on Cultural Property. The United States has met all of its statutory obligations, and is not required to make such information public."

Finally, the government addresses the constitutional issues raised by the ACCG: “Plaintiff asserts that the import restrictions at issue 'impinge on collectors’ access to information materials' in a 'grossly overbroad' manner and are thus 'constitutionally suspect under both the First and Fifth Amendments.' Contrary to plaintiff’s characterization, the CPIA does not ban the sale of ancient coins or prevent individuals from accessing the information they offer. Rather, the [CPIA] allows the importation of the designated coins when particular requirements, which are designed to prevent the illicit trafficking of ancient artifacts that are under threat from pillage or looting, are satisfied. It is contrary to no recognized constitutional interest."

[Note: All quotes are from the government's appellate brief.  Citations in the original have been omitted.]

Contact: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

Greenberg (2010) Directed by Noah Baumbach

I was in a band once that was signed to a major record label (actually, it's something that has happened to me a couple of times in my life). On this occasion it ended in tears when the promise of something better from the label led to compromise on my part against the wishes of my band members. I lost my band (I left) directly as a consequence of said compromise (the recording of two songs). I learnt many things from this experience. Trust your band members. I'm still not sure they were right, or that I agreed with their view on the songs. Compromise and the possibility of something immaterial are no substitute for the binds that tie. Friendships were damaged (I'd like to think not permanently) and a few years' work was wasted. This was the only way possible for me to relate the character Ben Stiller plays in Greenberg.

As the Greenberg of the title, Stiller gives a note perfect performance as a former musician turned carpenter, suffering from depression in a shallow-peopled LA. Self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, humorless and selfish Greenberg has gone through life thinking his own way is the only way. Away from his native NewYork and house sitting for his brother in LA, Greenberg tries to re-connect with his former friends (an excellent Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh). In doing so he reluctantly falls for his brother's personal assistant, the equally lost, low on self-esteem Florence (Greta Gerwig).

After a whole stream of very uncomfortable scenes, Greenberg finally offers us some redemption in the promise of love fulfilled. Baumbach handles Greenberg with an uneasy mix of comedy, seriousness and then ultimately embarrassment. A sharp, dryly witty script helps, as does James Murphy's unobtrusive soundtrack. But Stiller dominates. An awkward yet enjoyable romp.

I think I need to watch this film again in about six months, because I know I missed some things this time around that I would usually really appreciate. As I was watching Greenberg I was sitting on a birthing ball (a normal gym ball actually) trying quite desperately to get comfortable and failing all the time. This personal difficulty made me not focus perfectly and it added a touch too much un-comfortability to an already uncomfortable film.

The film's sense of discomfort was of course intentional and well-established. Ben Stiller's character Roger Greenberg was returning to LA from a period of hospitalization due to serious depression. He landed somewhere between what he knew of his old life and what he was about do discover. He seemed to be suffering from a catharsis of sorts – a change was taking place. A kind of mirror image of himself was reflected on the young assistant Florence (played by Greta Gerwig), who was equally lost in life, but much younger and a woman. This film played with a very genuine feeling of awkwardness all the way through, its events and shifts in characters and plot were subtle and therefore believable. Something kept me at a distance though, which might be my own fault, I know.

There was a great scene between Roger and his good friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) where they finally told each other how they felt and had been effected by the end of their band together about a decade earlier. I have never seen a scene in a movie getting so deep into how meaningful it can be for a person to have a band (even an unsuccessful and unknown one). Those relationships are immense and what happens between the people and to the dreams the members have is crucial in life. Bands are life. There, that was a nice acknowledgement from a film.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More about the Teal Triangle

In a comment, okie2thfairy asked if I could show in more detail what I was talking about when I mentioned "improving" the pattern for my Teal Jakku with triangle insets at the shoulder.

To remind you, here is the completed front shoulder.

Below is a picture of the pieces, before assembly, that were made according to the pattern.

The textured piece is knitted as a long curving rectangle (made with short rows so that the outer edge is longer than the inner edge).  After the piece is seamed, it forms a donut-shaped piece.  The short edge is then sewn to the lower edge of the upper back piece (so it forms the lower back), to the armscye of the sleeves, and then up towards the back neck edge where it forms the collar.

The back - I'm hoping that the slight ripples
relax when the sweater is washed...
The pattern, as written, instructed you to attach the piece along the front edge of the sleeve cap to the shoulder point, and then along the entire top edge of the upper back piece, which is a straight line that runs from shoulder point to shoulder point.

marked up with Skitch
a great free app for iPad
If  I had followed those instructions, the collar piece would have had to detour into a corner which would pull it out of shape.  In the picture to the right I show the corner and the direction in which the edge of the collar piece would have to be forced to fit.

In this photo of the front of this jacket on the Finnish pattern site, you can (I think) see the distorting effect on the upper front and collar.  The shawl collar is forced open sideways and the fronts have a harder time meeting in the centre.  I suspect that the jacket would be less comfortable to wear as that piece would be fighting to return to its knitted-in shape.

So I made two little triangular pieces to fill in the shoulder corner, and avoid distorting the collar.  The result is that the collar hugs my neck, is very cozy, and the whole sweater feels wonderfully comfortable.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quien Sabe? (1966) Directed by Damiano Damiani

It's nice to get presents that reflect the receiver and their state of being. It says plenty of good things about the giver, like that she is in tune with the person getting the gift. I gave Nick a box of rare Spaghetti Westerns for Christmas, because he always cries watching them... and because he asked for the box. OK, sometimes it's annoying how exactly he knows what he would like for a present. He doesn't go for the element of surprise, yet, he always thinks he knows what I want without asking me!

Anyway, I extended my niceness to include sitting through one of the films. Nick chose Quien Sabe? because it was supposedly less violent than the others in the box. The movie, like most of this genre I've seen, looked very good. It was a pleasure to watch just for the detail in costumes and the camera work. The story itself was pretty simple and offered no surprises or really deep thoughts or even great lines. Gian Maria Volonte played the leading Mexican outlaw whom Lou Castel's character came down to exploit in order to kill the leader of the revolution. A kind of loving relationship forms quickly between these two characters – the savage and the noble man – sort of a classic from Italian gay porn.

When Nick watches these films, he is right at home. He even looks a little like the characters onscreen when I gaze at his direction during an extra violent scene. He morphs into the action and his emotions are illustrated by the Morricone (was it really?) soundtrack. That's how much he is a Spaghetti-Western-kind-of-guy. Despite some effort, I'll never be a true fan of this genre. I have developed a respect for some aspects and enough knowledge to contextualize the genre in cinema history, but I have not found the pleasure of submission here.

It's always galling when having to tell someone what you would like for a gift. I always come across as some adolescent with Tourette's.  I was hoping for Judge Dredd Complete Case Files no.12, the first volume of the Mega City law enforcer's complete 2000AD adventures in full color. I was also interested in revisiting the Mad Max series in one handy box set. Atlas Sound's latest album on vinyl was a wish. I also had the Cult Spaghetti Westerns DVD box set on my list. Three gems from the genre (Quien Sabe?, Keoma, Django) I remember viewing many years ago when they first aired on BBC 2's  Moviedrome series, introduced by British film Director (and Spaghetti Western nut) Alex Cox. Well, I'm guessing you already realized what I unwrapped.

Quien Sabe? (known in English as A Bullet For the General) is a certain strain of Spaghetti Western from the mid 1960's which has a definite political bent. A few other pictures have delved into this area in the Western genre, Sam Peckinpah with The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone with Duck, You Sucker! I think both are far superior to Quien Sabe? in that they have more depth, are better acted and have sharper, less cliched scripts. Still, Quien Sabe? came first and has a visceral energy that the other two pictures never match. Although Leone's influence looms large over Quien Sabe? especially as regards the look, and the sound (the music was supervised by Ennio Morricone). The influence is no more apparent than the casting of the amazing Gian Maria Volonté. Volonté cut his spurs on the first two parts of the Leone Dollars trilogy.

Volonté plays Chucho, a mercenary whose main purpose is to steal arms and sell them to the leader of the Mexican Revolution. On the way his gang (including Klaus Kinski as his overtly religious brother El Santo) recruit American Bill Tate (whom the gang refer to as Nino). Unbeknown to Chucho and his gang is Tate's intention, as paid for by the Mexican government, to assassinate the leader of the  revolutionaries. In some ways, Quien Sabe? is a rite of passage tale of how Chucho becomes a revolutionary and rejects the lure of the capitalist dollar. Along the way, director Damiani displays a serious style in framing, costume and set pieces. Quien Sabe? is one cool looking movie. That it raises political and personal ideals along the way and has such style while doing so, I can only recommend Quien Sabe? Then again, I'm a soft touch when it comes to this kind of movie.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ancient Greek Coins From Italy Reportedly Seized in New York - Arrest Made

An article appearing in Coin World reports that law enforcement officials on January 3, 2012 seized two ancient Greek coins from Italy before they were sold at a New York International Numismatic Convention event held in Manhattan. The article states that the owner of the coins, Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, was detained.

New York Criminal Court records reveal that authorities on January 3, 2012 at 2:15 p.m. arrested and charged a man named Arnold Peter C. Weiss, born 1960, with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (CPSP) valued at over $50,000.  The court set bond in the amount of $200,000 and scheduled the next court date for March 21, 2012.

As of this writing, the NY County District Attorney's Office has not released any official statement confirming that this arrest and charge are related to the coin seizures reported by Coin World.  However, Chasing Aphrodite is reporting a connection.

A violation of the CPSP statue, New York Penal Law 165.52, is a class “C” felony punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in prison. The statute states: "A person is guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof, and when the value of the property exceeds fifty thousand dollars.” A person charged with a crime is innocent unless proven guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Assuming that New York state law is being used to prosecute a theft of ancient coins from Italy, such a prosecution would be new. At a conference in 2005 and then in a paper in 2007, I argued that state law could be employed in the same way as the federal National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) to tackle international cultural property crime. An excerpt from the 2007 paper, entitled International Antiquities Trafficking: Theft By Another Nameillustrates:

"District and county attorneys can rely on receiving stolen property statutes to target culpable receivers and sellers of antiquities .... Every state has enacted a receiving stolen property statute in some form. These laws prohibit a person from receiving property of another when the person knew the property was stolen. Many of these same statutes also criminalize situations where the person should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably stolen .... While state receiving stolen property laws are fundamentally similar to the federal NSPA, many provide distinct advantages to prosecutors.

First, several state statutes establish lower mental states. The NSPA requires proof that a person knew the received property was stolen, but several states only require proof that the actor should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably had been stolen. Thirty six states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws with a lesser mens rea.

Second, almost one quarter of the states possess some form of dealer provision, making it easier to prosecute antiquities traders. Where a dealer takes possession of an item and either (a) does not reasonably gather information about whether the item was lawfully sold or delivered to the dealer, (b) acquires the item for payment far below reasonable value, or (c) purchases or sells the item outside of the regular course of business, these statutes generally declare that the dealer is presumed to have known that the item was stolen. The New York Penal Law serves as an illustration of scenario “a”: 'A … person in the business of buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it (§ 165.55(2)).'

Third, state receiving stolen property statutes provide criminal penalties for defendants who possess property of most any value as compared with the NSPA’s $5,000 threshold.

The legal advantages of lower mental states, dealer presumptions, and decreased value thresholds make prosecuting antiquities trafficking under state law an appealing option, particularly when targeting receivers or sellers."

David Gill, Paul Barford, and the Chasing Aphrodite authors are acknowledged for bringing attention to this developing story.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Religion and the law in France

Hypocrite that I am, I renegged on my promise not to write to the Times anymore.  This letter was published on 9 January 2012

Mr Edward Carey (letter, 6 January) criticises France’s integration policy, and offers the burka ban as example of its flaws. It might be said that the problem in France is not the policy as such, but the failure to implement it. A glance at the ethnic ghettos in France and lack of minority representation amongst the French great and the good suggests that France might demand that immigrants become French but too often declines to treat them as such.

The burka ban was implemented not simply as part of a policy towards the immigrant community but rather the French concept of laïcité, or separation of church and state. I do not think the ban was a necessary consequence of laïcité, but nonetheless that concept if implemented consistently would apply equally to immigrants and indigenous alike, and would have avoided many of the disputes in Britain of the past few years about religious exemptions for minorities.

Two FKOs*

*Finished Knitted Object  (What did you think I meant?)

While the Teal Jakku pieces were blocking I seem to have knit a hat out of my leftover wool.  Please excuse my slightly stunned expression.  I think it's caused by the unexpectedly speedy pace of my production.

This is the Tundra Toque, designed by Carolyn Doe (available on Ravelry).  I love the asymmetrical shape.  I'm not completely fond of inside-out stockinette stitch, and the fact that you can see the increases and decreases between the lacy cables on the brim.  And I think the crown of the hat is too pointy.  (I am trying to block it out.)

Here's another shot that shows the shape of the brim better.  There are 5 cables that join in the centre of the crown.  It goes pretty well with the resurrected Burda 7731 coat.

The other piece, of course, is the Teal Jakku.  It took about 3 days for the pieces to dry, and another 3 to sew the thing together and weave in all the ends.  (Am I supposed to sew it together and then block, or block before sewing? Experienced knitters, please advise.)

It has no closure.  I've got this big silver pin that seems OK with it.

Thanks to the clearly explained knitting videos on KnittingHelp.com (also available as a $5 app for iPad - excellent value), the assembly of this project involved my first ever attempt at the Kitchener stitch, which is supposed to be completely invisible but in this case is merely not glaringly obvious.  It was moderately difficult because I was seaming the deeply textured lower edge/collar, so there is a bit of disruption in the pattern.  If you must know, it's mostly located under my left arm, but because of the angle of the pattern it isn't completely hidden by my arm.  This location was suggested on Ravelry but in retrospect, I think the seam would have been less jarring if I'd placed it at the CB.

KnittingHelp also supplied a great explanation of the mattress stitch which I used to sew all the other pieces together pretty much invisibly.

For those of you who think I've gone over to the dark side and are wondering when The Sewing Lawyer is going to resume producing more interesting projects, here are a few sewing-related thoughts on knitting design and construction.

According to some things I've read on the internet, some knitters will go to great lengths to avoid having to actually sew their knitted garments together.  They'll knit a piece entirely in the round from the bottom up or the top down, splitting off at the shoulders to form separate in-the-round tubes for the sleeves, including increases and decreases to build in shaping (where you'd sew darts), and cleverly finding ways to include hems, pockets, buttonholes, collars and all manner of details which are joined by picking up stitches and knitting new details directly onto a completed piece.  For example, the cloche hat brim is seamed at its narrowest point, but the crown is then knitted round and round, decreasing from 100 stitches picked up from one edge of the assembled brim.  It's a new world.

Sewing a knitted thing together with the same wool it's made from, and carefully picking up a row or stitch at a time at each edge of a seam means that even if the thing isn't knitted together, it looks like it was.  The perfectionist in me really likes this fact.

As Sherry pointed out in a comment to my last post, the fact that knitted pieces stretch means they can be forced to go together, but this isn't necessarily a good thing.  Understanding how flat shapes best fit the 3 dimensional human body without distortion (i.e. how sewing patterns work) seems immensely useful to me in knitting.  My decision that I should insert a little triangle at the front shoulder area, instead of forcing a smoothly curved piece to fill in a right angle corner was definitely the right one.  

I have a pair of badly needed black pants cut out; they'll look smashing with the jakku.

Botham and Lamb v Khan: Just not cricket

I will be published in this week's New Law Journal on the libel action brought by Ian Botham and Allan Lamb against Imran Khan. The citation will be NLJ vol 162, 13 January 2012, p 70. The article will become available on the NLJ website next week. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blue Valentine (2010) Directed by Derek Cianfrance

It's been an especially strange start to the New Year. We didn't celebrate as normal. We mainly hung around the house waiting for our baby to be born. We're still waiting, so in some ways the baby's arrival has overshadowed getting on with normal life. I made no New Year's resolutions, paid little heed to what was happening elsewhere, rarely went out. We've just been living in our little cocoon. I'm still stuck in the cocoon and in 2011. Reading the previous year's best or worst of whatever can keep you grounded in the year you're leaving. Retrospection can effect one's own sense of time and space. I got lost in it this year.

That withdrawn world can become overbearing for some people, it can obscure rational thought. To some degree Dean and Cindy, the main characters of Blue Valentine have created an isolationist environment that leaves little space for growth, in their respective relationship or outside lives. Possessive attention and the old ways just aren't doing it for Cindy anymore. Dean, whose days are increasingly spent with a bottle, can't see the distance his drinking creates. In some ways Blue Valentine's characters could be a modern update of the Richard Yates way of loving. However, in cinematic terms, Blue Valentine is a far better picture than the Yates-based Revolutionary Road, although both pictures share similar themes if not period.

Told in flashback, the story of how Dean and Cindy fell in love with each other touched familiar nerves.
Director Cianfrance imbues Blue Valentine with a fine sense of atmosphere, which leaves one with an almost eerie feeling that something awful is going to happen. Yes, Blue Valentine is intense, but there is humor here too. Essentially, the film works as a romance due to the extra yard the actors go, the performances are great. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling convince as the lovers here, there is a naturalness to their being which heightens the impact of the smallest details. This felt like a valediction, and in doing so Blue Valentine reveals some basic truths. This picture was close to perfect.

Very rarely nowadays do I come across a movie that speaks to me personally, a movie that comes into the living room from the screen and stays there even after the credits. Blue Valentine had such staying power and effect. I was a little afraid to watch it because for some reason I took it so personally from the first minutes onwards. For the first half an hour I was afraid someone will die and I didn't want to deal with that loss. No one died, but a relationship did. The descent from romance to gradual loss of connection was pictured very realistically – and this time I'm talking about an emotional reality, not a historical one.

Emotional honesty and rawness on this level is rare in movies. It's rare in books too. It's not easy to achieve a sense of the real experience between two people. Intimacy is difficult to picture. Somehow Blue Valentine managed to draw the viewer in by giving lots of detail and at the same time not trying to explain everything. Michelle Williams plays her part with the same fragility as she had in Brokeback Mountain. She might be my favorite actress of the moment. I have no passion for Ryan Gosling, but he is very believable as the romantic young lover and husband who battles with alcoholism among other things.

It continues to baffle me what romance means – what it means to me and what it means in general terms. Why are we still so obsessed with romance over a hundred years after Romanticism ended and Modernism and Post-modernism supposedly opened our eyes into seeing a reality?
I guess love itself is not possible without the acceptance of loss. Romance is somewhat married to this loss that looms in the shadows. Romance is made of all things romantic; falling madly in love, accepting the other one with their imperfections, rabbit sex, more sex, dramatic gestures, marriage vows, rings (that can be thrown in the bushes for emphasis in arguments), having kids, taking daring uncalculated leaps of faith... Romantic gestures may seem irrational and unnecessary when the result of surrendering oneself to love leads to inevitable loss, but I think it is precisely that awareness of loss that necessitates and justifies romance (and the silly gestures).

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Right to Stuff: Preserving Space Heritage

Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard left artifacts on
the lunar surface, including two golf balls
that he drove "miles and miles and miles."
The lunar lander, Antares, appears in the left shadow.
Astronaut Ed Mitchell's shadow is cast (center)
as he takes Shepard's photo. Courtesy NASA.
Materials relating to space heritage consist of natural astromaterials, man-made objects used in space-related activity, and tangible evidence of human activity such as Neil Armstrong’s first lunar boot print. They deserve to be preserved.

While some have begun this conversation already in the context of the Moon Treaty of 1979, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and other legal regimes, the time is ripe to more fully discuss space heritage in earnest as new groups venture beyond the earth's atmosphere. USA Today reports that China has just announced an ambitious plan to build a space station and to send astronauts to the Moon. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic hopes to shuttle space tourists soon. It is therefore best to get ahead of the issue of heritage protection now rather than to hurriedly catch up at a later date.

Already NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit report critical of the American space agency for not keeping current track of moon rocks, stardust, meteorites, and other astromaterials in the space agency's possession. The December 8, 2011 report makes the following conclusion:

“For over 40 years, NASA has loaned astromaterial samples to researchers and shared lunar and meteorite exhibits with educators and the public. However, the materials remain the property of the U.S. Government and may only be borrowed for approved research, educational pursuits, and public display. Additionally, while loan periods may range from days to years, these transfers are not intended to be permanent, and NASA retains the right to recall its samples and exhibits at any time. Because NASA does not have adequate controls in place, the Agency cannot be sure of the location and security of all of its loaned astromaterials and therefore is at risk of losing these unique and limited resources.”

Astronaut James Lovell.
Courtesy NASA.
It may be no surprise that NASA, perhaps motivated by the release of the OIG report, challenged the authority of an auction house to sell an Apollo program mission artifact. Days ago the Associated Press reported that “NASA is questioning whether Apollo 13 commander James Lovell has the right to sell a 70-page checklist from the flight that includes his handwritten calculations that were crucial in guiding the damaged spacecraft back to Earth. The document was sold by Heritage Auctions in November for more than $388,000....” The Associated Press added that “[a]fter the sale, NASA contacted Heritage to ask whether Lovell had title to the checklist. Greg Rohan, president of Dallas-based Heritage, said Thursday the sale has been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry,” noting that there is precedent for astronauts to have title to mission materials.

Lawmakers and stakeholders would be prudent to discuss and develop clearer policies now that specifically govern space heritage.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Congratulations to David Gill

The Archaeological Institute of America on Friday awarded David Gill the Outstanding Public Service Award.  His blog, Looting Matters, is an important read for anyone interested in cultural property ethics.  Congratulations to you, David!
Professor David Gill
Photo: AIA
CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

J. Edgar (2011) Directed by Clint Eastwood

Astrid:Surprisingly, the problem with going to cinema when you are nine months pregnant is not that you need to pee or that your back is aching too much, but that the 50-something couple next to you stinks of booze, sweat (the onion variation) and old-perfume-gone-bad. They also ate something smelly during the film that came from a noise making package and caused additional burping. I breathed through my mouth for nearly three hours and somehow managed to enjoy J. Edgar most of the time.

In many ways J. Edgar was a boring film with too much crammed in the nearly three hours. It was an attempt to really picture the life of a completely unsympathetic real historical person. The question remains, why do we have to keep thinking about this man? Why especially, do we need to try to understand him? There were other more interesting perspectives in the film though and they elevated the film to a high artistic level. First of all the movie looked refined and classic, Clint Eastwood's directing was reliable and his actors excellent. There was an easiness while at the same time the film oozed class rarely visible in cinema these days. So what if it was old-fashioned – cinema usually looks better that way.

Without making J. Edgar's sexual orientation the focus of the movie, the film's emotional core was the love relationship which Hoover (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) had for decades with his loyal assistant Clyde Tolson (played by Armie Hammer). Eastwood has become a master of making sentimental and touching films without over-playing the emotions. It's an admirable skill. Here the best scenes are the ones depicting how deep and real Edgar's love for Clyde was and what a personal tragedy it was for him that his relationship needed to remain secret and somewhat unrealized. For some reason the Finnish cinema audience often laughed when the gay references became explicit. I have no idea what was funny there. To the credit of the smelly lady next to me, at the end of the film she was in tears. Love is love and I'm glad that our loyal republican Clint E. is not afraid to make that statement one more time. Still, the poor closeted J. Edgar came up with a load of scary and hateful practices and there is very little reason to feel much for him in the end.  

It was trying sitting through J. Edgar at the cinema. Not only is the film wordy and slow paced, being flanked either side by noisy middle-aged alcoholics was an endurance test that did undermine my enjoyment of the picture somewhat. I think the premise of Eastwood's latest picture and its inherent interest to anybody hangs on how fascinating you find the life of J. Edgar Hoover. The bad-boy of recent American history has a poor reputation and no real legacy. Could the liberal-republican Eastwood be the perfect director to tell his story? As with Howard Hughes (recently tackled by Martin Scorsese and also portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio), so much mythology surrounds Hoover, distinguishing fact from fiction will always be hard.

For the first two hours of J. Edgar,  Eastwood concentrates on Hoover's recollections of his rise to the head of the FBI. The movie is narrated in flashback, Hoover addresses various secret service agents in the 1960's. We hear of Hoover's fight against communism (his obsession), his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930's, his fight against organized crime, his various meetings with the 8 US presidents he served under. We get the prescription drug addiction Hoover got in later life, the secret gay life and the mother (Judy Dench) who molded his insecurities and his obsessions. DiCaprio is again, amazing in an unflattering role. Naomi Watts on the other hand feels wasted as Hoover's loyal secretary Helen Gandy. Armie Hammer is exceptional as Hoover's right hand man in the FBI and life- long lover Clyde Tolson. Gradually, J. Edgar moves from being a picture about a man who collects secrets on others to a picture of a man who guards his own secrets and reputation.

And although it takes awhile, it's worth hanging around for the last half an hour when the picture moves up a gear. Eastwood's gift to Hoover is to humanize him enough so that we feel sympathy for him when his mother dies. Eastwood from then on brings an emotional heft to the picture when it becomes a gay romance, focusing increasingly on the secret relationship between Hoover and Tolson. In essence J. Edgar becomes a Federal Bureau version of Brokeback Mountain. And here lies the problem with J.Edgar. It's a credit to the picture that I felt that emotional thrust at the climax (ahem!), but J.Edgar would have benefited greatly from being a fully fledged love story and leaving Hoover's public (secret) history on the back burner. A good, engrossing movie, but not a great one.