Thursday, March 30, 2006

How to solve a family fued - by becoming infallible

Legislation is a powerful tool – just check the history of the American Constitution or the British Magna Carta.

But using it to outsmart your brother is unique – but effective if we look at Brunei (a small but rich country).
The Sultan of Brunei is fighting his younger brother Prince Jefri Bolkiah, in court.
The Sultan accuses his brother of embezzling around $ 12 billion during his 13 years as finance minister.
In 2000, the two brothers reached an out-of-court settlement that compelled Jefri to pay back $ 4.5 billion in assets, including properties in Paris, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Britain and the US.

It seems that the London-based Jefri never honored the agreement, while continuing his $ 400,000 a month lifestyle.

In the latest court ruling by Chief Justice Mohammad Saied, Prince Jefri has been ordered to sell his London mansion (St John's Lodge in Regent's Park), the five-star New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, a property at Place Vendome in Paris, a mansion in Singapore and an undisclosed quantity of cash and jewels.
To ensure this, the monarch changed the Brunei constitution and gave himself the same status as the Pope – he is infallible.

His Majesty the Sultan ... can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity.”
As a result, Prince Jefri has no legal options to appeal the latest ruling – unless he becomes Sultan.

To prevent Prince Jefri blabbing to the press, the following was degreed:
No person shall publish or reproduce in Brunei or elsewhere any part of proceedings ... that may have the effect of lowering or adversely affecting directly or indirectly the position, dignity, standing, honor, eminence or sovereignty of His Majesty the Sultan.”

What an elegant way to settle a score with your annoying sibling!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beware of "Chef" (especially if you are a clam)

You might not be a fan of the cartoon "South Park", but you must love the latest hoopla surrounding one of the characters.
"South Park" , known for making fun of everybody and everything (including religion), received notification that Isaac Hayes (who was well paid to lend his voice to the character "Chef"), resigned.
For those of you who are not familiar with this character, James "Chef" McElroy is a lusty school cafeteria cook who dishes out advice (as well as food) to the school children.
In one episode, the show made fun of Scientology, Mr. Hayes' religion
Mind you, Hayes never protested the mocking of Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism and Islam on the show.
It’s just the Cruise Cult (oops, I mean Hubbard’s cult) that cannot be satirized. Tssssssss.

In a reaction, the creators of the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, pointed out that they "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own."
Well, that’s religion for you.
By nature, all religions lack a sense of humor.
There might be happy reborn Christians (one even become President), but dealing with all those mortals sins and religious obligations is just no fun. (Unless you are the Pope and infallible).
And converting sinners is no laughing matter either – it involves a lot of sorrow, soul searching and revelations.
Obviously, Hayes and his 100,000 fellow space clam worshippers are on a higher level than the billions of Christian, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.
Funny, considering that those clam aliens reside on the bottom of our oceans.
May be they were kicked out of heaven?
Jumping up and down too many clouds and dishing out unsolicited advise?
Gives tempting the patience of a saint a whole new meaning….

But our Mr. Hayes made one big mistake - never mess around with comedians.
You see, they can get even without liability.
According to the network, the tenth season of "South Park" will start with a new episode titled "The Return of Chef!".
It marks the "triumphant homecoming" of our favorite "Chef" to the show, the network said in a statement.
So Mr. Hayes did not harm the show at all, but even gave it a lot of free publicity.
It also confirms what the public opinion: Scientology is a Religion for Dummies.
I don’t know what "The Return of the Chef!" episode entails, but if I were a writer on the show, I would commemorate the Chef’s triumphant return with a surprise visit of Oprah to the school cafeteria.
Our Chef is so taken with this, that he jumps up and down chairs, grabs Oprah repeatedly while yelling, "I am so happy!"
Feeding the hungry kids clam chowder in the mean time.
Makes sense to you?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conspiracy theories die hard

If you are a student of journalism or you want to be highly entertained, you should try to get a glimpse of the documentary “death of a princess: accident or assassination”.
It is one of the worse products of journalism ever.

Despite the fact that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed tragically lost their lives in a fatal car accident, the public doesn’t want to let go.
The father of Dodi, Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed, is still on a crusade to prove that his son was the victim of a conspiracy and was assassinated in cold blood.
In a recent television interview, he told the woman who interviewed him that Prince Philip was behind the two deaths.
Apart from being slanderous, it is also a ridiculous accusation.
Who ever heard of an undercover operation that involved a high-speed chase of uncertain outcome, executed in the busiest part of the globe (no less) with plenty of witnesses around? Well, James Bond might have been able to pull it off, but like in the movies, the idea that Diana and Dodi were the victims of an assassination is humbug.

I do sympathize with Mr. Al Fayed’s loss – it is horrendous to lose your child.
But harping on and firing off all kinds of wild theories, insulting bystanders in the process is not the answer.

The interview was not without its comical moments.
The interviewer was a middle-aged, artificially-blonde woman, who conducted the interview in broken English.
Since she was not able to formulate complete sentences and/or ask to-the-point questions, Al Fayed had lots of leeway to vent his colorful opinion of the British Royal Family.
In Al Fayed’s morality play, Dodi and Diana are the Angels, Prince Philip is the Prince of Darkness.
The Prince of Wales is referred to as “an idiot” his current wife as “a donkey” with “the smile of a crocodile”.
Apart from coming across as vengeful, the whole interview was also counter-productive.
It is hard to feel sympathy for a man who wants the Royal Family to be “sent back to Germany and Russia”, when he himself was accused of bribing people in order to get a British passport.

If ever a car accident has been investigated in depth, it’s the one of the late Princess of Wales and her friend.
In my opinion, it’s useless to keep on throwing mud in the hope it will stick.
Apart from anything else, Diana’s children should not have to deal with this constant resurrection of rumors and innuendos that victimize their own grandparents….

The only redeeming element in this interview was the fact that it was so bad that it became hilarious. It made the Oscars coverage looks like Art….enough said.
May be it will win a Razzie....

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Holloway case goes civil

The case of the missing American teenager Natalee Holloway has entered a new phase.
After being unsuccessful in finding their daughter and bringing the people they hold responsible to criminal justice, her parents have filed a civil lawsuit.

The wrongful-death lawsuit (filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court) seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The court papers present a partly speculative version of what happened after the young people left the casino and went to a bar called Carlos 'n' Charlies in the early hours of May 30, 2005.
The court papers claim that an intoxicated Holloway left at 1:30 am with Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers.
Several of Holloway's friends saw her in the car with the youths and asked her to get out, which she didn’t.
They further claim that Joran a) willfully caused personal injury to Natalee as a result of his sexual assault upon her b) wrongfully, unlawfully and intentionally detained and directly restrained Natalee Holloway c) deprived her of her personal liberty through force and/or threat of force d) abducted Natalee Holloway and prevented her from returning to the custody of her parents.
As a result of this imagined sexual assault, the last hours of her life were marked “by torment, terror and debasement.”

The lawsuit includes Joran’s father since he supposedly breached his duty to Natalee by failing to take steps to prevent Joran from sexually assaulting Natalee Holloway.
According to the court papers, Paulus van der Sloot enabled his son’s violent and anti-social lifestyle since he supposedly went on the night of the disappearance with his underage son to a casino to play poker. It was at that casino that the younger Van der Sloot met Holloway, again according to the filed lawsuit.

I find the whole lawsuit rather bizarre.
First off, I feel for the parents – it must be horrible to live with the uncertainty what happened to your child.
We all feel for Beth Twitty, who is on an ongoing crusade to find out what happened to her missing daughter.
But suing Dutch citizens (who have never been indicted for a supposed crime that could have taken place in Aruba) in a New York court in order to proceed with your fact-finding missing is too much.

Since the disappearance of her beloved daughter, Mrs. Twitty has lashed out at the Aruban and Dutch authorities.
Considering all the manpower they put in it (including flying three F-16 jets from the Netherlands to Aruba to scan the island and its surrounding waters and giving all civil servants a day-off to join the search party), she should realize that you cannot always get closure in life.
Harsh comments have been made by the Twitty camp, calling the governments that were trying to help them all kinds of names.
But look at it from the other side for a moment.
A partying American teenager goes missing.
The authorities are not too worried – so many of them reappear a few days later.
Her mother and stepfather waltz into the island with a posse, demanding instant success.
With a blatant disrespect to local customs, let alone the legal system, they go on a crusade to find the culprit and bring him to justice.
Enlisting the help of the US media, that flooded the island pre-hurricane Katrina, they meddled and probed in the legal proceedings and try to force police and public prosecutor to do it “their way.”
Newsflash: Aruba is not an American territory and is ruled by the Dutch legal system.
So forget about plea bargaining, jury, etc.
The Dutch and Aruban legal proceedings follow a strict system with build-in guarantees of fair trial as well as privacy.
Therefore, no policeman, judge, public prosecutor, or trial lawyer will go to the media and talk.
It is a pity the Twitty camp was too focused (to say it politely) to realize this.
Don’t forget, the Aruban authorities let the FBI in to assist.
Would this also fly in Alabama?
If it would have been an Alabaman boy and a Dutch female victim and the scene was Birmingham, Alabama, would the local sheriff department allow Dutch officials assist?
I don’t think so – the US media would be all over it claiming that the US has a wonderful legal system (just ask OJ!) and will handle it internally.
If they had been more patient and had worked with the authorities instead of antagonizing them, the result would quite likely be different.
Now that criminal procedures are at a dead end (unless Natalee or her body turns up and/or there will be a full and substantiated confession), the Twitty camp cannot let go. Understandable, for sure, but not productive.

The civil suit will quite likely been thrown out on the technicality of lack of jurisdiction.
The parents that filed the suit are in Alabama and Mississippi.
The Van der Sloots are Dutch and the disappearance happened on Aruba.
I am pretty sure that the overworked courts in New York have better things to do than dive into this high profile case.

Funny enough, the ones that were not sued by the Twittys were the school and supervisors. I find this very strange indeed – the girl went missing during her supervised senior class graduation trip of the Mountain Brook High School. Shouldn’t they have supervised better?
So what is the deal here?
May be it’s easier to sue a bunch of foreigners than people of your hometown?

The big winners in this case are the networks.
It’s a TV station’s dream: pretty, blue-eyed blonde ravished by a tall, dark (and Caucasian) foreigner on a tropical island.
Let’s face it – the average viewer doesn’t want to hear or see any of the numerous missing Afro-American and Hispanic teenagers (especially male ones!).
What sells for the networks are images of pretty Natalee wearing her cheerleader outfit and the circumstances that could be lifted from a cheap murder mystery.
Fox, NBC, CBS and Dr. Phil (who launched his own farfetched theory about what happened during an interview with Jay Leno) have all joined the media circus, milking the story to the hilt.
Will the truth ever been known?
Not likely, and the civil proceeding (sadly enough) will not change that as well.
In the mean time, the island of Aruba has been victimized.
As one fed up Aruban said (voicing the general Aruban and Dutch public opinion): “she was just not worth all the trouble.”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Doing it too Brown –a (legal) tale of biblical proportions

I wonder if there is anyone out there who didn’t read (or at least heard of) the religious thriller “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.

The book is a blend of historical conspiracy and murder mystery evolving around the theme that the bloodline from a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene married into the Merovingian line of French kings and survived by being protected by a secret society based in France.

Random House published the novel that was described by Salman Rushdie as "a book so bad it makes bad books look good."
Nonetheless, it sold 40 million copies in about 40 languages since 2003 and it’s being turned into a Hollywood blockbuster with Tom Hanks as the dashing lead.

So far, so good.
But our multi-millionaire author is now being sued for allegedly ripping off the work of two biblical sleuths in order to provide the basis for his bestseller.
Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent are (two of the three) authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” in which they construct the theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and left a traceable bloodline.
They therefore claim that Brown infringed copyright by lifting the central premise of their “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” epos and used it as the main plot for his “The Da Vinci Code”.

Although the legal proceedings are against Random House, Brown’s UK publisher, Hollywood is getting pretty nervous as well.
The movie is set to open in May 2006 and the whole PR machine is already in full force.
If the claim has merit, the opening of the movie would be threatened.
Random House is not amused.
They argued that “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”(2 million copies sold) was one of numerous sources consulted by Mr Brown and his, who is an art historian wife Blythe.

Jonathan Rayner James QC represents Leigh and Baigent. He makes a compelling case. He states that Brown had ripped off the very specific thesis of is clients’ work to save time and effort of independent research and to give “The Da Vinci Code” "plausibility.”

A closer look reveals the following:
  • The "central theme" of “The Da Vinci Code” - the bloodline from a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene survives today - is the key theory of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.”
  • The chief villain of Brown's book is Leigh Teabing. Mr Brown is accused of deliberately forming the name from an anagram of the surnames of the two authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.”
  • Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre found murdered in the “The Da Vinci Code”, has the same surname as Berenger Sauniere, a monk mentioned extensively in “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.”
  • The Da Vinci Code mentions specific historical events - the Council of Nicea, which "voted" on the status of Jesus as a deity, and the connection between Godfroi de Bouillon and the bloodline of Jesus - which allegedly appear only in “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.”

If successful, the claimants could be awarded a share of the profits from the four million copies of The Da Vinci Code sold in Britain and a proportion of future sales.
The case is expected to last two weeks.

It’s not the first time Mr. Brown has been accused of plagiarism.
In August 2005, Brown ended up in a New York City court, when Lewis Perdue claimed that Brown had used sections from two of his novels (“The Da Vinci Legacy” (1983) and “Daughter Of God” (2000).
Perdue sued for $150 million in damages as well as an injunction blocking further distribution of Brown's book and the forthcoming movie adaptation.
Judge George Daniels, presiding at New York District Court, ruled that any similarity between the works of fiction was based on unprotectable ideas, since a reasonable average lay observer would not conclude that The Da Vinci Code is substantially similar to Daughter of God. Furthermore, the court declared any slightly similar elements on the level of generalized or otherwise unprotectable ideas.

The UK proceedings are a lawyer’s dream come true.
If the court rules in favor of the authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”, it could open a floodgate of litigation for people who have had their ideas been lifted or stolen.
It would also force authors to be careful where they get their inspiration from and be meticulous in their research.

No matter what the outcome will be, it already has all the makings of a great courtroom thriller…