The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'chutzpah'
Silvio Berlusconi's return to government suffered a setback yesterday when the former sultan of Italy was found guilty of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute and using his office to cover it up. The latter charge relates to an incident when the prostitute in question, Karima el-Mahroug or “Ruby the heart-stealer”, was arrested for theft, and Berlusconi called Milan's chief of police to get her off, saying that she was the daughter of the President of Egypt, and charging her with theft would have caused an international diplomatic incident. Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison (which he will not serve, as Italy does not jail those aged over 70) and banned for life from holding public office. Berlusconi maintains his innocence, claiming (a) that he gave el-Mahroug money out of the goodness of his heart to get her off the streets, (b) that he sincerely believed that she was Hosni Mubarak's daughter (presumably reduced to theft and prostitution on the streets of Milan for some reason), and (c) that the charges were the result of an ongoing Communist conspiracy to destroy him and Italy.
The typical thing for il cavaliere, as he is known, to do would have been to get his allies in parliament to table a law retroactively legalising bunga-bunga parties, dropping the age of consent for prostitutes and changing the technical definitions of corruption in a way that would not apply to acting prime ministers; his party, the right-wing-populist People Of Liberty (PdL), is part of the governing coalition, and could in theory threaten to bring down the government if such a bill is not passed. Now, though, that may be harder to pull off, as the other parties are vehemently opposed to Berlusconi and everything that he stands for, and the accompanying assumption of such a tactic—that after a snap election, PdL would be better poised to govern in its own right or choose more pliant coalition partners to share power and its benefits with—might not stand if its leader is a convicted criminal.
The worst may be yet to come for Berlusconi, though; by the end of the year, Italy's supreme court will issue the final ruling in a tax fraud case concerning him.
Life in the Galambosian age of intellectual-property maximalism: When Spanish octogenarian Cecilia Giménez took it upon herself to restore a crumbling fresco in a local chapel and, inadvertently made a monkey out of Jesus,the chapel was inundated with visitors who weren't leaving donations, and soon its owners, a hospital foundation, began charging an entry fee to see the newly famous work (dubbed “Ecce Mono”, or sometimes “Rhesus Christ”). Now, Giménez' family has lawyered up and are suing for royalties from her handiwork.
The Giménez family are not yet going after internet users reposting this meme for copyright infringement, but let's not give them any ideas.
What do you do if you're an oil company facing negative publicity over a controversial project like the Canadian tar sands? Well, you could always adopting the name of a much-loved company in another industry, as
Paramount Resources Pixar Petroleum Corp. has done.
This is, of course, not the first example by far of an unpopular company changing its name (there has been Cheney-era mercenary company Blackwater renaming itself after a popular exchange-rate website, and carcinogenic drug dealers Philip Morris adopting the name Altria, a name which goes so far in the direction of heavy-handedly calculated benignness that it comes out the other end sounding appositely creepy), though as far as chutzpah goes, it might well set some kind of record.
Two German engineers has found a way around the EU's ban on incandescent lightbulbs: by selling them as "heatballs", heating devices which just happen to emit light:
Rotthaeuser studied EU legislation and realised that because the inefficient old bulbs produce more warmth than light -- he calculated heat makes up 95 percent of their output, and light just 5 percent -- they could be sold legally as heaters.
On their website, the two engineers describe the heatballs as "action art" and as "resistance against legislation which is implemented without recourse to democratic and parliamentary processes."There is a market there; a small demographic of people who prefer incandescent lightbulbs and another one of people willing to spend money for the joy of spiting the leftists, greens and other politically-correct do-gooders.
Hasselt prison in Belgium, like most such institutions, requires all visitors (including lawyers) to pass through metal detectors, and remove any items of clothing that set it off. Interestingly enough, their metal detector is particularly sensitive to bra straps, with the sensitivity going up depending on the attractiveness of the visitor:
"The metal detection checks seem very difficult to carry out when a pretty, young lawyer or visitor reports to the prison gate. And then it becomes a little something to amuse the guards," he told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper.
Mr Rowies has told the prison authorities that he is receiving at least one complaint a month from furious female barristers. “It always strikes me that the younger, and the more babe-like, a lawyer is, the more difficult the device becomes,” he said.Belgium's prison authorities deny there being a problem, on the grounds of the metal detector not having malfunctioned in isolated tests or when a female visitor was accompanied by a senior prison service official.
In this economic downturn, spare a thought for the British royal family; the costs of heating all those palaces are becoming so burdensome that the Queen asked ministers for a handoud from the state poverty fund to heat them; a request which was, eventually, politely rebuffed:
Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to "adverse publicity" for the Queen and the Government.
Taxpayers already contribute £38m to pay for the Royal Family. Yet some of the buildings which would have benefited from the energy grant were occupied by minor royals living in grace and favour accommodation on the royal estates. Surprisingly the Government offered no resistance to the proposed application and cleared the way for the Queen to take advantage of the handout.Though to be fair, those palaces are appallingly inefficient to heat:
Last year thermal imaging technology, used to identify and measure energy waste, showed heat pouring through the closed curtained windows, the roof and cracks in the walls. A team of energy surveyors labelled the Palace "shocking and appalling", the biggest "central heating radiator" in the capital and gave it a score of 0 out of 10.You'd think that Prince Charles, that great ecologist, would take some time out from promoting homeopathy and waging war against nontraditional architecture to get some insulation installed, but alas, it doesn't seem to have happened.
Perhaps another argument for moving to a Dutch/Scandinavian-style "bicycle monarchy", in which the Royal Family earns its own keep? (A republic may be attractive to the more left-wing at heart, though it can be argued that the Royal Family is a cornerstone of British cultural "soft power", and its loss would weaken Britain's standing in the world. Having said that, one could say that the accession of Prince Charles may well end up doing that.) The Royal Family occupy that curious space between government institutions and popular entertainment; they have vestigial constitutional functions (mouthing whatever words the government of the day pens, opening Parliament), for which they are richly compensated, but the rest of their functions are providing fodder for celebrity gossip magazines and enticement for foreign tourists to visit these "quaint" isles. Perhaps if it was acknowledged that the Royal Family are part of the tourism and entertainment industries, they could be paid by these industries, in return for giving them more value for money than under the inefficient old system. Minor royals could become "tourism ambassadors", doing everything from international tours to viral video spots to get Japanese and Americans over here; a US-style surcharge on tourist visas to fund tourism promotion could help with the civil list. Meanwhile, one palace could be given over to a reality-TV company, with the royals spending a specified period of time in it, in front of the cameras, giving the paying public what they want; the revenue could be used to maintain and heat all their palaces.
Kevin Anderson, recently Digital Research Editor of the Guardian, on the old media's delusional iPad app pricing, in the hope that Steve Jobs' locked-down walled garden will usher in a new era of double-digit profit margins for content owners:
Looking at the iPad app rollout, you can easily separate the digital wheat from the chaff in the content industries, and you can see those who are developing digital businesses and those who are trying to protect print margins and who see the iPad as a vertical, closed model to control and monetise content.Examples of this include magazines like Time charging $4.99 a week (the price of a paper copy) for access to their iPad-formatted content. The price of a magazine, as Anderson points out, includes the costs of printing and distribution, whereas on the iPad it's almost pure profit. Of course, the customers get something for their shekel, namely "Unique interactivity including landscape and portrait mode, scroll navigation and customizable font size":
Oh, I’ve never seen that in a mobile web browser, I say with incalculable levels of sarcasm. That’s like morons in the 90s having Java animation that you actually couldn’t do anything with and calling that interactivity. You think that’s insane and delusional, just wait, it gets even better! No content sharing on the app, which I’m assuming means you can’t bookmark or Tweet your favourite stories, and You’ll have to buy and download the app every single week. There is also no indication that they will charge for their now free iPod app or their website.
Note to Time digital strategists: Sorry caching your site so I can take it with me when I’m on the move isn’t a feature worth your premium pricing. I do that now, and have done it for years, with an open-source app called Plucker and an aging Palm T3. I’m truly sorry. Do you actually use the internet or digital devices or do you just indulge your bosses’ angry fantasies about the good old days?And then there's Rupert Murdoch's inspired unilateral offensive against free news. News Corp. currently charges $2 per week for access to the Wall Street Journal, but aims to extract $17.29 a month from iPad users. Murdoch is also moving aggressively on the web, having announced that, in a few months, both The Times and The Sun will be behind a billgate. Perhaps if The Guardian, Telegraph and Independent go out of business and the BBC voluntarily dismantles its free news service in anticipation of a Tory government, Murdoch can enjoy a lucrative monopoly on the news, though otherwise, it looks like his gamble will fail and The Times, arguably News Corp.'s most prestigious broadsheet, will decline.
Not everybody misses the point, of course; The Financial Times (no relation) and NPR (i.e., the US donation-funded public radio network) apparently get it, and strove to experiment with new ways of engaging with their audience in the digital realm, rather than just seeing how much they can do them for.
In terms of who is positioning themselves for the future by delivering value to their audiences and experimenting with business models, it’s clear. If any company thinks that the iPad will allow them to rebuild the monopoly rent pricing structure of the 20th Century, then you’ve really fallen prey to the Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, and you’ve blown yet another chance to build a credible digital business. However, I’ve got a game you might want to check out, Final Fantasy.
As revelations of endemic child rape supported by the Catholic Church for decades (if not centuries) emerge, including claims that the current Pope was instrumental in protecting rapists, the Church has responded,
apologising profusely, handing suspects over to authorities and liquidating its assets to pay compensation, rubbishing the accusations as "petty gossip", blaming "gay culture" for child abuse and comparing criticism of the Church to anti-Semitism. Some are calling for the Pope to be dismissed, though, unfortunately, there is no way to sack a Pope, what with him being infallible and all that. Now, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has called for Pope Benedict XVI to be put on trial by the International Criminal Court; Robertson argues that the sovereign immunity of the Vatican is too flimsy to stand up, and even if not, heads of state who preside over atrocities can be stripped of it to face trial:
It hinges on the assumption that the Vatican, or its metaphysical emanation, the Holy See, is a state. But the papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with "sovereignty in the international field ... in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world". The notion that statehood can be created by another country's unilateral declaration is risible: Iran could make Qom a state overnight, or the UK could launch Canterbury on to the international stage.
This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
Alarmed by the potential impact of reduced oil consumption on their fortunes, the Saudis are pushing for oil consumers to pay producers compensation for lost revenue if they reduce their oil consumption to reduce global warming:
“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand.”It's hard to feel sympathy for the Saudis. While they try to sweeten their argument with a line about wishing to use the compensation money to "achieve economic diversification", they're not exactly short on cash; they can always build fewer palaces and flog off a few football teams and a gold-plated jumbo jet or three to make up whatever cash they need. Or they could have a word with the recording industry's lawyers; they're quite good at turning untenable monopolies from products of economic circumstance into legally enforced perpetual hegemonies.
All is not well in the Philippines; the country has been facing a shortage of imported books after corrupt customs officers decided to make some money by demanding extra import duties, in contravention of the Florence Agreement of 1952, an international treaty holding books to be duty free. The customs officials argue, with the chutzpah typical of corrupt petty officials across the world, that the Florence Agreement is invalid, applying either only to school textbooks or books used in book publishing, and that the rest of the world has been doing it wrong all along:
"For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?" she was asked.
"Yes," she told the stunned booksellers.
The writer David Torrey Peters, who once spent a year in Cameroon (which is even more corrupt than the Philippines), wrote of being pulled out of a taxi by a policeman who demanded that he produce his immunization card. David did this, but the cop told him that he was missing an AIDS vaccination. When David told the man that there was no such thing as an AIDS vaccine, the policeman was indignant.
"You think just because there isn't an AIDS vaccine I can't arrest you for not having one?"The booksellers caved in, paying the illegal levy, as well as inflated "storage fees" for the detained books, and the customs department congratulated itself on having cracked down on this unfettered and untaxed trade in books.
Britain's local councils and government departments have started to embrace web-based mapping technology, and using systems like Google Maps to display geographical information, from the locations of public toilets and recycling facilities to crime statistics. Of course, the Ordnance Survey, that troll under the bridge of UK geodata, doesn't like this one bit, and has started making threatening noises at local councils, warning them that they are prohibited from putting any data that has ever touched Ordnance Survey data on Google Maps. Of course, they might be willing to take a more agreeable line if the councils (and consequently, the taxpayers) paid them more to license the data (which was gathered using taxpayers' money, and subsequently privatised in line with Thatcherite-Blairite ideology) for web-based maps; in the meantime, they have offered the councils their own Google Maps substitute, which comes with its own poisonous licensing conditions:
The move also seems to block most of the winners of Cabinet Office's recently completed £80,000 Show Us A Better Way competition to find innovative ways to use government-held data. The winner of that competition, a site called Can I Recycle It?, would rely on locating local recycling centres - which OS could argue has been derived from its maps if a council keeps them with any sort of geographical referencing. The same would be true of another winner, Loofinder, which aims to make locations of public toilets available in a map online, just as described above.
Although OS issued a press release congratulating the competition winners and offering them "full access" to its Google Maps-like OpenSpace system - which has similar programmability - the OpenSpace licence limits the number of viewings allowed per day, and bans any use by business, central or local government. Furthermore, OS claims ownership of any data plotted on an OpenSpace-derived map. And the use of derived data would break its licence with authorities.However, this time this may have consequences the OS weren't anticipating; some councils are now making noises about buying a few GPS units and paying people to go around, collect coordinates of boundaries and facilities, and plug them into OpenStreetMap, essentially telling the Ordnance Survey to go jump.
And the award for chutzpah in music marketing goes to EMI for their "Independent Vol. 2" sampler CD:
This artefact was found at Rough Trade Records, in the area by the door where the free magazines and sampler CDs are left. Note the cover, with its semiotics screaming "keeping it real", with the photo of a lovingly tended independent record shop, and above all things, the blurb:
Independent Not depending upon the authority of another, not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, autonomous, free.Note the word "independent". Not "indie" (which, in today's popular parlance, means music by white boys with guitars, stylists and skinny jeans, and has long since lost any connection to the prickly, unmarketable socialist-contrarian aesthetics of its origins in the Thatcher era), but "independent". If that wasn't enough, the word's definition is given. When we say "independent", the cover seems to say, we mean it
Turning the disc over, however, we see an entirely different story:
It turns out that the record is not actually a compilation of independent artists or recordings from independent labels, but rather a sampler from major label EMI and its various imprints. Granted, some of them are more "alternative" or leftfield than others (veteran post-punk indie label Mute, acquired some years ago, New York mutant-disco imprint DFA, and indie-pop retirement home Heavenly, not to mention Regal, best known for the underground hip-hop of Lily Allen, Voice Of Da Streets). Though somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to fool anyone and slapped on the logos of establishment cornerstones like Capitol and Parlophone.
As for the content? Well, there are some interesting bits (Loney, Dear and Jakobinarina, representing Sweden and Iceland respectively), a few credible veterans (Dave Gahan, who appears to have bought a copy of Native Instruments Massive), and some truly dire Carling-indie (the Pete The Junky Show kicking off the record, doing exactly what you, I and The Sun would expect from them), with a fair amount of workmanlike garage rock. Being the sorts of acts that a major label would convince its accountants to pour money into, though, it's considerably more conservative in style and tone than what you'd expect from independent artists. Independent this ain't.
Five Americans who were injured in a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem are suing to seize ancient Persian clay tablets, on loan from Iran to Chicago University since 1939, to be sold for compensation for Iran's role:
The tablets were found in southern Iran in the 1930s by archaeologists from Chicago University. Many fear that the action will deter future loans of art to the United States, but David Strachman, the victims' lawyer, insists he is just collecting damages from Iran. He admitted he had "no idea" how much the tablets were worth.
The battle stems from an attack by three suicide bombers in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. The Iranian-backed Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility. Several Americans who were wounded in the bombing filed a suit against Iran and in 2003 a US judge awarded them $423.5 million (£246 million). Unable to make Iran pay up, five of the survivors went after Iranian art works and artefacts in the US.
Gil Stein, the director of Chicago University's Oriental Institute, said that the tablets were irreplaceable.Words fail me.
Budget airline Ryanair, known for flying to cheap airports hours away from the cities they nominally serve, has outdone itself. The airline ran ads in Norway offering flights to "London Prestwick" airport. Prestwick, on the outskirts of Glasgow, is 400 miles (and some 5 hours by train) from London, and technically not even in the same country; chances are that, if you're already at said airport, the quickest and cheapest way of getting to London would be to catch another flight.
In France, a bus company is suing a group of cleaning ladies for unfair competition for organising a car-pooling service which happens to run along its route. The company wants the women to be fined and their cars confiscated.
Galambosianism is alive and well in Illinois, where a man claims total ownership of all rights to several words including "stealth". He has successfully held off stealth-fighter maker Northrop-Grumman, won a few thousand dollars from joke site stealthdisco.com (which showed clips of employees dancing silently for a moment or two near the desks of unsuspecting colleagues), and even managed to shut down StealThisEmail.com because it contained "stealth", and is now in court against Sony's Columbia Pictures, who are about to release an action movie titled Stealth. Oh, and he also claims ownership over a number of other words, including "chutzpah".
In my spam filter today, I found a mail with the title "julian haight funds terrorists b alqoswmw l lgng", referring to the outfit that runs SpamCop, and outlining grievances against the email filtering service:
You are reciving this email because we are having some trouble with an infamous company (http://spamcop.net) who seem to be hell bent on destroying not only my business but many other legitimate website owners and email list operators.
The email (sent through spam software, as evidenced by the anti-Vipul's-Razor garbage in the subject line) goes on with allegations of SpamCop fraudulently forging spam complaints against "legitimate operators" of "opt-in mailing lists" (funny, I don't remember opting in to this guy's mailing list) and "taking away our freedom of speech" and causing "financial disruption to companys who have invested years of hard work" for calling on right-minded internet users to lobby their ISPs to use a spam filter which lets through anything with an unsubscribe link (as that must be legitimate "opt-in" mail, right?).
Then, if that wasn't enough to persuade you, the patriotic consumer, to abandon SpamCop, it drops this bombshell:
Julian haight spamcops CEO is rumoured to have conections with Al-Quada, one of the most disruptive terrorist orginisations on earth. hes specialty is cyber terrorism. which disperses highly needed homeland security funds by rendering multi million dollar industrys unprofitable.
haights main motive is the perversion of American free enterprise.
Gee, if that's the case I'd better stop using SpamCop. Not only am I foolishly cutting myself off from worlds of financial and anatomical opportunity, but I'm Helping The Terrorists Win. I didn't realise the penis-pill industry was such a champion of truth, justice and the American Way.
Good to see that SpamCop is pissing them off. Oh, and one word of advice: if starting a whispering campaign against an anti-spam service provider, sending spam is probably not the most credible way to begin.