Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pecunia non imprimit

Remember when officials with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve touted the new dollar bills' sophisticated security features? They include a 3-D security strip and a color-shifting image of a bell, designed to foil counterfeiters. Amazing, non?

But lo and behold! At a time that the US government needs to responds to a economic downturn in a troublesome financial era, there has been a major hiccup. The new money is so high-tech that the presses can't handle the printing job.

Due to a problem with the presses, the federal government had to shut down production of the new $100 bills. It also had to quarantine more than 1 billion of those bills in a vault in Fort Worth, Texas. This amounts to $110 billion more or more than 10 percent of all existing U.S. cash (which is estimated at $930 billion).

"There is something drastically wrong here," one source told CNBC. "The frustration level is off the charts."

Up till now, more 1 billion unusable bills have been printed incorrectly. Some of the bills creased during production which created a blank space on the paper. Since correctly printed bills are mixed in with the flawed ones, it’s hard to sort the good from the bad. By hand, it would take between 20 to 30 years to weed out the faulty ones. Needless to say, the federal government is looking for a mechanized system to get the job done.

In case you wonder, the printing job itself cost around $120 million. It will (literally) go up in flames.

The moral of the story? It takes money to burn money....

Sunday, December 26, 2010

89-year old man returns library book after 76 years

Mark McKee kept his favorite library book for 76 years. before he finally plucked up the courage to send it back to the library. He also sent a letter along with it, in which he wrote: “My conscience took over. I was entranced by the book and kept it with my prized possessions, intending to return it forthwith.”

Mr. McKee borrowed “A Dog of Flanders” written by English author Marie Louise de la Ramee, when he was 13 years old from the public library in Mount Clemens, MI. When he sent back the book, he was convinced that he owed the library thousands of dollars in fines.
But the library director, Donald Worrell Jr., not only waived the late fee, but also sent Mr. McKee a new copy of the book stating “we figure the story is better than the money”.
This is certainly true – the story went viral after being picked up by the local media, giving the library a nice PR boost.

In case you wonder what captivated young master McKee for so many years, read on.

The story of “A Dog of Flanders” takes place in 19th century Belgium. Orphan Nello went to live with his grandfather in a small village near the city of Antwerp. One day, the boy found a dog (Patrasche) that was almost beaten to death. The two became close friends. Nello helped his grandfather selling milk with Patrasche shackled to a dogcart to get the milk into town each morning. Nello fell in love with Aloise, the daughter of a well-off man in the village. Nello entered a junior drawing contest in Antwerp in order to win first prize (200 francs annually). He lost and then his grandfather passed away. After being accused of arson, Nello went to the cathedral of Antwerp to see Rubens' The Elevation of the Cross, but he could not pay the entrance fee. On the night of Christmas Eve, he and Patrasche found the cathedral open and went in. The next morning, the boy and his dog are found frozen to death in front of the triptych.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marketing Ms. Middleton

The Royal family, aka The Firm, has just launched its latest potential bestseller: Ms. Middleton, the future Queen. Poised Kate has the face that launched a thousand Tweets – to the delight of the blogsphere.

The engagement was a typical British affair – the couple sat stiffly together without any physical contact delivering well-scripted lines. Ms. M. showed the rock on her finger – a second hand bauble that once graced the finger of iconic Diana.

The son of the heir to the throne explained the sentiment behind it – so no, it is not due to the bad economy or lack of personals funds that he sprung for a new one. Personally, I would be freaked out by it. Katie made sure that her dress was the same color as the rock – the girl has style. Her outfit was a far cry from the ill-fitting suit that her fiancé’s mother once wore.

The reaction of her future father-in-law was hilarious. He mumbled something along the lines of “it’s about time”. Well, he was a heck of a lot older when he reluctantly dragged himself to the altar. At least Wills didn’t inherit Chuck’s mumbling speech. TV stations had to subtitle the future king’s comments – o dear! John Cleese once set next to the Prince of Wales at dinner and desperately tried to figure out if he said “we just declared war on France” or “my mother broke her leg”.

The timing of the announcement is perfect – the economy in the dumps and the country loves nothing more than a royal fairytale wedding. Obviously, Elisabeth’s subjects are too star-struck to wondering if the bill will be footed by the government out of their paid taxes.

The engagement is kicking of mass production of memorabilia, bookies will take bets on the exact date of the marriage, en the fashion world is a buzz on what the wedding dress will look like.

I advise Middleton to hire a good lawyer to help her with the prenuptial contract that will quite likely have the size of the Gutenberg Bible. After the marriages of 3 of her 4 children disintegrated, I am sure that the Queen’s lawyers will try to protect the royal assets. (I am also pretty sure that the engagement ring must be returned if the marriage crumbles; which would make it a loan - ugh).

The royal marketing machine is in full swing. The new member must be carefully branded to ensure the future of The Firm. Middleton is no dummy and has ample business experience. She patiently (craftily?) waited years to land her prince – without putting one foot wrong for all those years.

The beta-phase of the future Princess of Wales-product already started with Kate quitting her job. Once groomed, the new and royalty will be launched and (hopefully) revitalize the House of Windsor. But careful what you wish for – I predict that Kate is another Queen Mother. But then, that’s just what the Windsors need.

(Cartoon courtesy of

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Paris Which Sleeps - amazing movie!

The other night, I watched “Paris Qui Dort” (literally “Paris Which Sleeps”, also known as “At 3:25” and “The Crazy Ray”). It is a 1925 French Sci-fi comedy short directed by René Clair.

The film is about a mad doctor who uses a magic ray on citizens which causes them to freeze in strange and often embarrassing positions. People who are unaffected by the ray begin to loot Paris. It provides a wonderful insight into daily life in the 1920s: air travel (way before 9/11), restaurants, cars, apartments, etc.

The plot reminded me of “FlashForward”, a great Sci-Fi series that never made it to the 2nd season (much to my chagrin). Funny how ideas resurface 80+ years later.....How will generations to come look at StarTrek, Babylon 5, and the like? Quirky like the Lucy Show? Or as a classic like Casablanca? Time will tell....

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Curious Case of Charlie Chaplin's Time Traveler

George Clarke, a film festival organizer in Belfast, claimed to found proof that time travel is possible. He discovered that a woman in the Charlie Chaplin movie “The Circus” (1928) seems to be talking on a cell phone.

The woman is passing in front of the camera holding her hand to the side of her face while talkin - similar to the way we talk into our cell phones. He therefore came to the conclusion that the woman is a time traveler. More sensible people came to a different conclusion: the woman is using her hearing aid (invented by Siemens in 1924).

It’s quite easy to understand why the woman cannot be a time traveler:
  • If she would be a bona fide time traveler, she would not be in a Charlie Chaplin movie using a high-tech device. The idea is to remain incognito.
  • Considering that you need cells and masts to get cell phone coverage - how was she able to get a connection? Or was she talking to the Indian helpdesk of Verizon?
  • More intriguingly, with whom did she talk? “Hi, it’s your Mum. I am an extra in a Charlie Chaplin movie. Don’t forget to brush your teeth before going to sleep.”

Well, unless you are traveling with Doctor Who in the Tardis, you cannot talk on you cell across time (or space).

Mr. Clarke and his "theory" did create a viral storm on Internet, so at least he had his nanosecond of fame. Not bad for an unknown filmmaker....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jane Austen was not the elegant writer we thought she was….

Jane Austin (1775-1817) is renowned for her precise, exquisite prose. She completed six novels in her lifetime, two (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) of which were published posthumously. She is widely celebrated as a supreme stylist - a writer of perfectly polished sentences. According to Austen's brother Henry: "everything came finished from her pen."

But according to research from Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, this seems to be a myth. Professor Sutherland, an Austen authority, studied Austin’s unpublished manuscripts that gave her "a more intimate appreciation" of the author's talents.

The manuscripts reveal that Austen was an experimental and innovative writer, constantly trying new things. But the 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished work also show that she broke most of the rules for writing good English. "In particular, the high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in 'Emma' and 'Persuasion' is simply not there," Sutherland said.

Letters from Austen's publisher reveal that editor William Gifford was heavily involved in editing Austen’s work.

Gifford was a poet and critic in his own right. He worked for Austen’s second publisher, John Murray. Gifford did not edit earlier books such as "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," that are much closer to Austen's manuscript style.

Jane Austen was obviously not great at spelling or correct use of punctuation. One of her grammatical errors was the inability to master the ‘i before e’ rule and her works were littered with distant ‘veiws’ and characters who ‘recieve’ guests. She also wrote in a ‘regional accent’: ‘tomatoes’ as ‘tomatas’ and ‘arraroot’ for ‘arrowroot’.

Austen's handwritten manuscripts can be found at

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The reality star that snagged a book deal

Many writers are struggling to get their novel published. Especially landing a deal with one of the major publishers is not easy – unless you are a uncouth reality starlet.

Jersey Shore” is one of the many reality shows of the “watching train wreck” variety. One of its starlets is a short, chubby, troll-like creature that goes by the nickname Snooki. The snookster admitted that she only read two books in her whole life:
Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" and Nicholas Sparks' "Dear John."

(Don’t let the picture fool you, it’s unlikely she is really reading "The 48 Laws of Power")

This poses the question what she was at school when the teacher introduced the class to American literature. (Pity Mark Twain is not around to comment)

Simon and Schuster's Gallery Books is going to publish her work of fictionA Shore Thing”. Well, that’s good news for her ghost writer/editor – they have their work cut out. According to a press release, the book will revolve around “a girl looking for love on the boardwalk (one full of big hair, dark tans, and fights galore).” Yawn.

Miss Snooki is not the first reality celeb to pen a book. Lauren Conrad appeared "The Hills" and "Laguna Beach", who penned two successful novels that made it to the New York Times Best-Sellers list.

The Snook-novel will hit stores in January 2011. The intriguing question: who will buy and read it? How many bookworms watch reality shows? My prediction? It will end up heavily discounted at Costco.

O tempora! O mores!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

France and the rise of the e-book

France has an interesting law that bars heavy discounting on books. The law passed in 1981, and prohibits the sale of books for less than 5% below the cover price. A publisher typically offers bookstores a profit margin of between 30% and 40%. The idea behind it is that shops will be able to compete with large chains. Booksellers now hope that it will also protect them from a new threat: the electronic book.

In the US, independent bookstores and small publishers are subjected to the market forces. The UK is the only large European economy that allows retailers to discount books freely, according to the Federation of European Publishers.

"France has long believed that a book is not just business," said lawmaker Hervé Gaymard, who has published research on France's fixed book prices. "It's a cultural identity."

But small French book businesses fear a repeat of the price war that erupted when e-books arrived in the U.S. for reading on computers, e-readers like Amazon's Kindle and, eventually, tablets like Apple's iPad. Trying to compete with e-books, big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target allowed shoppers to buy printed books at steep discounts. Prices at smaller bookstores, already struggling against big chains, were massively undercut. Publishers, meanwhile, worried that the low prices undervalued their books.

French Senator Jacques Legendre has proposed a new law that would allow publishers to set the retail price of e-books. His bill will be debated in Parliament next month. It will face criticism, since it’s difficult to determine what regulations apply to e-books. France's competition authority therefore recommends waiting two years to see how the market for e-books will evolve before implementing any laws.

E-books are fastest growing, but are still only less than 1% of the $2.2 billion book market in France (according to French Booksellers Union). Electronic readers are also not heavily promoted yet.

Hachette Livre, France's biggest publishing house, supports Mr. Legendre's proposed law - quite likely in an effort to have control of the pricing of their books and keeping a vast network of bookstores in operation is in their interest. Hachette Livre, a unit of Lagardère SCA, recently signed a deal to sell about 8,000 French books through Apple's store for e-books. Amazon doesn't yet sell French e-books.

French lawmaker Mr. Gaymard is proposing another law that would reduce the value-added tax on e-books. France currently taxes e-books at 19.6%, like most other consumer products, while printed works are taxed 5.5%. This proposal would partly offset the effects of Mr. Legendre's anti-discounting law.

Booksellers are afraid that an anti-discounting law isn't going to save them. Some independent bookstores are banding together to create their own website,, which is scheduled to start selling printed books and e-books at the end of next month.

No matter what, France will have to face the rise of the e-book.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Paris Hilton’s legal pickle becomes a public relations disaster

It all started when
Paris Hiltons black Cadillac Escalade was stopped by a motorcycle cop due to what the cop said was a strong marijuana smell.

The driver of the car was Paris Hilton's (now ex-)boyfriend
Cy Waits. Paris left the scene (not a smart move), leaving behind a Chanel purse that held cocaine, turning it into a felony possession and fled to the Wynn Resort where she was arrested.

When the
heiress was waiting in the Wynn Hotel security holding room for a female officer to arrive to take her to the bathroom, she said that she needed to put some lip balm on.

The officer handed her the purse from the table. As she began to open it, the officer saw a small bundle of what he believed to be cocaine in a clear baggy begin to fall from the purse and into his hand. The officer then took the purse away from Hilton and waited for backup to arrive before searching it with another officer as a witness.

After discovering the cocaine, the officer placed Hilton under arrest. Following her arrest, the officer claimed Hilton told him the purse was not hers and "she had borrowed it from a friend."

But our
Paris had posted a picture of the very similar bag on Twitter, happily tweeting, "Love My New Chanel Purse I Got Today :)." Oops!

Furthermore, when
asked about the cocaine, Party Barbie told LVMPD finest in a sublime dumb blond moment, that she thought the cocaine that they had found was "gum."

The Wynn was not amused and has distanced itself from the clueless heiress.
Wynn spokeswoman Jennifer Dunne told the Associated Press that Hilton (handbag included) and her boyfriends are banned from entering or staying at the Wynn Resort Hotels in Las Vegas. Paris' then-boyfriend, Cy Waits has been "separated" (nice word for being fired on the spot) from his job as managing partner of the Tryst Nightclub at Wynn and XS The Nightclub at Encore.

Quite correctly so - Waits worked as a nightclub executive and
Nevada gaming license requirements are very strict on the presence of drugs with casino honchos.

Party girl Paris will always have a roof over her hair weaved-head in Sin City - Las Vegas Hilton spokesman Ken Ciancimino told People: "She has been a guest here many, many times and we would always welcome her back. The history between Paris and this property is long, indeed... we here at the Hilton certainly wish Paris the best and hope that she gets through any and all of her difficult times."

She could face up to four years in a Nevada prison if convicted of the felony charge of possessing 0.8 grams of "powder cocaine", providing prosecutors can prove that it was Hilton's purse and that the marijuana smell came from her vehicle. If not, she would be sentenced to a diversion program.

No matter how it will work out for Ms. H, her pay-to-party days in Las Vegas are over. In Nevada, liquor licenses are closely watched by gambling regulators. Recently, the Gaming Control Board shut down a Las Vegas nightclub because of several infractions, including drugs allegedly being used on the premises.

In the case of P.H., what happens in Las Vegas, stays in cyberspace….

(image courtesy of lastreetsblog)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Marrying up and cheating down

According to a Pew Foundation report, more women today are marrying men with less education and less income than they themselves have. The New York Times article on the Pew report reads like a trend piece, which is quite disappointing. The women's blog Jezebel also found the article same old-same old "the single, high earning professional female who can't find a man."

But ladies, be careful what you wish for – men who marry up have a tendency to cheat down. Just look at Tiger Woods, who married a Swedish model and cheated with a slew of quite unattractive women who you can not take home to meet Mom. The most outspoken one of the gaggle, Joslyn James aka Veronica Siwik-Daniels is an adult movie actress.

And then there is Jesse James who shares his name with a famous outlaw and his body with a weird chick. This bike builder married up when he got hitched with Sandra Bullock. His paramour is a heavily tattooed stripper, who happily announced that she conducted the affair out of boredom. Funny, most of us read, watch TV, rent a movie or phone a friend when we are bored (or write a blog!). But then, what can one expect from a person that poses in Nazi gear and has the initials WP (White Power) tattooed on the back of the legs. Well, it fits in nicely with JJ’s own pic as shown on the cover of Us Weekly. BTW, whoever dubbed that chick “bombshell” McGee needs glasses (and better taste in women)

The trend of cheating down is not limited to the US only. In Sweden, Princess Madeleine (not exactly an eyesore) was cheated on by her lawyer fiancé Jonas Bergstrom. His one-night stand was an average looking student who obviously needs to visit her dentist for some serious dental work.

To complete the circle, let’s look at David Boreanaz of “Angel” and “Bones” fame. He is married to Playboy model Jaime Bergman for almost nine years and the couple has two kids. His mistresses included Rachel Uchitel, who also bedded Tiger Woods. Ah, the mind boggles!

Personally, I don’t get it. If these guys want to cheat, go to Las Vegas. We all know that what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. The easiest and honorable way, of course, is to stay faithful.

But in all this mess, one person is laughing all the way to the bank - Gloria Allred, who represents several mistresses of Woods and Boreanaz. Mmm, I obviously chose the wrong specialty in law school……

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Salinger 'Catcher' Case Returned to Federal Judge by US Appeals Court

J.D. Salinger published “Catcher in the Rye” in 1951. The coming-of-age novel was on the New York Times' best-seller list for more than seven months and has sold more than 35 million copies. Salinger, who died in January at 91, hadn't published since 1965.

Author Fredrik Colting penned under the name John David California the novel “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye”. It was published last year in England by Windupbird Publishing Ltd.

In July 2009, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts blocked Colting and is publisher from publishing the novel. The injunction prevented the book's scheduled U.S. release in September 2009, court papers state.

The plaintiffs in the case are Colleen Salinger, the author's widow, and Matthew Salinger, his son. Salinger claimed in the suit that there are "extensive similarities" between "Catcher" and "60 Years Later." Colting's novel features a 76-year-old character similar to Holden Caulfield, the fictional narrator of "Catcher," who meets the 90-year-old author who created him, according to court papers. He "never authorized any new narrative involving Holden or any work derivative of 'Catcher,'" according to court filings.

In appeal, a U.S. appeals court panel ordered federal judge Batts to revisit the legal basis for her decision. Sending the case back to her, the judges said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in EBay Inc.'s patent-infringement case against MercExchange LLC was the standard to be used.

The court in the Ebay case ruled, that a plaintiff had to show the likelihood of irreparable harm to get an injunction, not just the probability of succeeding on the question of infringement.

"Although we conclude that the district court properly determined that Salinger has a likelihood of success on the merits, we vacate the district court's order," Judges Guido Calabresi, Jose Alberto Cabranes and Peter Hall said in a filing in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. "EBay applies with equal force to preliminary injunctions that are issued for alleged copyright infringement," the court said.

Salinger’s lawyer, Marcia Beth Paul of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, reacted by stating: “We are heartened that the appellate court agrees that Mr. Salinger's literary trust is likely to prevail on the merits of his claim and that this book infringes his copyright. The damage that will be caused by publication of this unauthorized sequel cannot be made whole by money.”

Edward Rosenthal of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, representing Colting, said that he is confident that when the district court applies the legal standard required by the appeals court, the book will be permitted to be published.

The appeals case is Salinger v. Colting, Windupbird Publishing Ltd., 09-2878, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).

The lower-court case is Salinger v. Colting, 09- 5095, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The front fell off – the viral power of satire

My friend Sandra of ITPR sent me a hilarious clip of an Australian “Saturday Night Live” like Australian show. The clip is remarkable in various ways. For one, it’s brilliant, resembling Monty Python sketches. For another, it shows the worldwide exposure a clip gets once it goes viral.

The sketch is a mock interview between comedians John Clarke and Bryan Dawe.
It concerns an off-shore oil spill in 1991, when the Greek tanker Kirki lost its bow off the coast of Western Australia (WA). During the incident and the subsequent tow of the tanker to a safe haven some 17,280 tons of light crude oil was lost.

Clarke portrays Minister for Shipping Bob Collins, and makes repeated references to the ship whose "front fell off."

The sad thing is, that due to the way politicians worldwide handle crises like these, many thought that it was the real deal.

Still, there are some lessons we can learn from this interview.

  1. Tankers are not made from cardboard, paper or rubber, and are not held together with string or Sellotape. No news if duct tape could do the trick though or some serious stapling.
  2. There is something called “beyond the environment”. Before you pooh-pooh this, it’s a clever legal concept. Just think about it: how can you be liable or being sued if you operate in the fifth dimension? Just boldly go where no Greenpeace ship has gone before, I say!
  3. For all you environmental warriors: “ocean+fish+birds” does not equal “environment” when crude oil is added. Therefore, no protection is needed; just ask Sarah Palin if you don’t believe me. Hurray for off-shore drilling!
  4. A tanker has a crew of at least one person. If such a crew is French, this person will be a chef, and when Greek, he will be obviously clueless (re. Kirki).
  5. There is chance of 1 in a million that a wave hits a ship at sea. That must reassure all you landlubbers!

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Bling Ring Gang - rich brats gone bad

It reads like a Scott Fitzgerald novella – the antics of the Bling Ring Gang.

A group of teenagers has been burglarizing the homes of Hollywood celebrities. Victims included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, and Orlando Bloom. The loot included more than $3 million in designer clothing and jewelry, including shoes, handbags, makeup, perfume, and underwear from designer labels Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, and Yves Saint Laurent.

They made sure that their victims were not at home, using information from celebrity websites such as TMZ. The exact locations of the stars’ homes were found on Google Maps and

They were caught in November 2009 after CCTV footage from a break-in at Lindsay Lohan's home was made public. Police followed up on received information from someone who said she overheard Lee and Prugo bragging of their exploits at a party. Cops then used Facebook to ascertain that Lee and Prugo were indeed “friends” with each other. Hurray for social networks!

Their first victim was socialite Paris Hilton – according to gang member Nick Prugo because they considered her 'dumb'. They found that she left the front door key of her 7,000sq ft Hollywood Hills home under a doormat, so it seems that they were right on the money. Hilton didn't realize she had been robbed until two months later when another raid on the house netted the thieves close to $2 million worth of jewelry and other valuables stuffed in one of her Louis Vuitton tote bags.

In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Prugo also claimed that they found five grams of cocaine in the house which they also took. (Dawn Miller, a spokesperson for Paris Hilton promptly denied there were drugs in her home, stating “I don't know why anyone would listen to allegations made by a self-confessed thief.”)

According to prosecutors in Los Angeles, the gang was obsessed with the celebrities. Some of the stolen items were sold for cash, while other items were kept as trophies. Prugo blamed peer pressure for the raids during his appearance on U.S. TV show Good Morning America. The bad kid on the affluent block went on saying: 'There was a definite thrill to it. I don't think any of us realized how severe it was until we actually got caught. It didn't seem as bad as it was. Now that I look back I realize how serious it was. Looking back, it scares me to death.'
Mmmm, I think pretty boy realized what prison would do to him (if you get my drift).

Prugo is facing up to six years in jail on each of the burglary charges. He apologized to his victims while denying the charges. Obviously, the kid is no legal eagle in the making.

But in a delicious “cherchez la femme” twist, it seems that 18-year old Rachel Lee was the brains behind the heists, being obsessed with the fashion of the celebrities and wanting to wear what they wore. Other gang members were Courtney Ames and Alexis Neiers, both 18, Diana Tamayo, 19, and Roy Lopez Jr, a 27-year old nightclub bouncer. Their “fence” was Jonathan Ajar a.k.a. “Johnny Dangerous,” a thuggish ex-con and promoter at Les Deux who would allegedly get Prugo and his under-age friends into the club. The cast of characters couldn’t be more colorful. Courtney Ames is the girlfriend of Ajar. Her stepfather is famed welterweight Randy Shields. Alexis Neiers has her own reality show on E! entertainment. Diana Tamayo is an illegal Mexican immigrant as well as president of the class of 2008 at Indian Hills High School in Agoura Hills, California.

What made those rich brats turn to crime? Boredom? Since Scott Fitzgerald is not around to use them as inspiration, I am pretty sure that several TV movies will be made. Hopefully Ms. Neiers will serve some serious time and will not be able to act in one. Let's hope that being white and rich doesn't translate into a slap on the wrist. With prisons being overpopulated, these crime junkies will quite likely only spend a few months in jail....

Friday, January 22, 2010

PETA is at it again

PETA is not high on my list of favorites – I do not appreciate any individual or organization that enforces its principles by damaging or destroying property, persons and reputations. PETA, which does not stand for "People Eating Tasty Animals", used Mrs. Obama’s image in a new ad. PETA states that the first lady has committed to not wearing fur and "the world should know that in PETA's eyes that makes her pretty fabulous." The anti-fur poster features an image of the U.S. First Lady along with presenter Oprah Winfrey, singer Carrie Underwood and supermodel Tyra Banks, under the slogan 'fur-free and fabulous!' They used Mrs. Obama’s image from her first official White House portrait, taken in February last year.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, confirmed that PETA had not asked for Mrs. Obama's permission to use the portrait, since they knew the First Lady could not officially endorse an anti-fur campaign advert. PETA also insisted, that they used her image in its Washington advertising campaign based on White House confirmation that she does not wear fur. The new adverts featuring Mrs. Obama appeared in Washington's Metro stations, magazines and PETA's website.

PETA, so concerned with our furry friends, doesn’t care about infringing on copyright, using all images without permission.In the ad, Tyra Banks looks like the love child of a Bratz doll and a dolphin. Her armpit shot is unflattering to say the least. Since Tyra is known to be “fierce” and her voodoo dolls obviously work (considering Oprah quitting the TV host scene), I would be worried as a PETA employee/associate/member…..very worried!

You would think that PETA would contribute to the disaster that hit Haiti – if not for the poor people (going from being slaves, to being French, to becoming the latest victims of a devastating nature disaster – how cruel can life be?), at least of the wild life of the island. But no…PETA keeps quiet as a mouse, apart from awarding Cameron a certificate for Avatar (go figure!)

Maybe PETA should realize that humans are mammals too…

Monday, January 04, 2010

Google's Chinese Troubles

Google finds itself in hot water again – this time from a Chinese novelist. Mian Mian, a counterculture writer known for her lurid tales of sex, drugs and nightlife, has filed a lawsuit against Google for scanning her latest novel "Acid House" without permission and putting it in its online library. Mian Mian is quite a colorful character. Based in Shanghai, she shot to fame in 2000 when she published the novel "Candy," which caused a stir with its graphic depiction of heroin use. Most of her work is banned in China, though pirated copies are widely available. “Candy” is translated into English and widely available for purchase online.

At the court session, which consisted of a two-hour hearing, a Beijing judge told the two sides to hold talks on a settlement. Mian Mian is seeking damages of 61,000 yuan ($8,950) and a public apology.

A Google spokeswoman in Beijing, Marsha Wang, said the company removed Mian Mian's works from its library as soon as it learned of the lawsuit, adding that Google had no further comment on the suit or Tuesday's hearing. She added that Mian Mian's lawsuit was the first that she knew of in China over the scanning plan. Since Google removed Mian Mian's works, she sees the matter as closes.

Mian Mian’s lawyer stated that a negotiated settlement was a possibility and the court set no deadline, adding: "we think even if they remove Mian Mian's work, their previous behavior is a violation of her rights. We demand a public apology."

This is the latest snag in Google's efforts to crate an online library, where printed works are available online. Previously, Google was under attack from writers in the United States and Europe (among others). Google reportedly has already scanned more than 10 million books, many of them still under copyright. Google negotiated a $125 million settlement last year with American authors and publishers, and it trying to avoid potential copyright infringement in Europe by only books scanning books over 150 years old. The European Commission said in October 2009 that it might change copyright law to make it easier for companies such as Google to scan books and distribute copies over the Internet.

In China, the China Written Works Copyright Society (a government-affiliated group) is taking on Google and negotiating compensation for Chinese authors whose work is scanned into its library. Mian Mian however, doesn have any connection to the Chinese writers' group. Commenting on Mian Mian's lawsuit, the group called on Chinese writers to band together to negotiate terms with Google instead of suing. It said it is due to hold settlement talks with the company in January. According to the group, Google has scanned more than 80,000 works by Chinese authors into the library.

It will be interesting to see how the Google’s Chinese troubles will pan out….