This Is a … Oh, Never Mind

Apparently the robber’s conscience got the better of him.

Kids Thwart Robbery With Piggy Banks

An attempted robbery in the German state of Lower Saxony took an unexpected turn earlier this week when an armed burglar called off his own holdup, having been shamed by a pair of children.

At around 6:25 p.m. on Monday evening, an armed robber wearing a ski mask and a long black coat forced his way into a private home in the town of Schwanewede after a babysitter answered the door, police reported Wednesday.

Hearing the commotion, two small children in the house came downstairs — holding their piggy banks.

They approached the gunman, who had been holding his weapon under the babysitter’s nose, and offered him their life savings.

The man lowered his weapon and left without a word.

“We’re assuming that in the face of these small children holding out their piggy banks, he regretted his course of action and chose to retreat,” police spokesman Jürgen Menzel told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Though nothing was stolen, the would-be robber isn’t entirely off the hook. Authorities are now seeking a perpetrator assumed to be in his early twenties, about 185 centimeters (6 feet 2 inches) tall, for attempted robbery.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,798372,00.html

Con Artist Sentenced in ‘Hitler Diaries’ Art Fraud Case

Forgeries of a Forgerer’s Forgeries

Konrad Kujau holds up one of the volumes of the “Hitler Diaries,” which he had forged. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

A Dresden court has sentenced a woman for forging copies of masterpieces made by Konrad Kujau, famous as the author of the “Hitler Diaries.” Copies of his copies allegedly earned the convict 300,000 euros.

The story sounds like it could be made up, an elaborate hoax meant to fool Germany’s media and public alike. A woman claiming to be the great niece of Konrad Kujau, author of the mother of all forgeries, the “Hitler Diaries,” has been convicted of selling forged versions of paintings made by Kujau in his later years, themselves copies of famous masterpieces.

Even more suspicious, an in-depth piece on the trial recently appeared in the German newsmagazine Stern, the same publication which fell hard for the Hitler Diaries back in 1983. This time, though, the story is true.

On Thursday, following two years of legal proceedings, a Dresden court handed Petra Kujau a two-year suspended sentence and ordered her to perform 180 hours of community service for having obtained 300 falsified paintings, attaching Kujau’s signature to them, and selling them for a total of €300,000. Her partner received a suspended sentence of 20 months.

The falsifications in question were, absurdly, fakes of Konrad Kujau’s own copies of masterpieces from artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Franz Marc and Claude Monet. A talented artist, Kujau, who died in 2000, turned to producing fakes in the late 1980s following his four-year stint in prison for fraud stemming from the “Hitler Diaries” case. Though clearly marked as fakes, Kujau’s newfound fame meant that people were willing to pay up to €3,500 for his work. He also sold many of his own pieces.

Made in Asia

Dresden prosecutors say that Petra Kujau and her accomplice purchased fakes produced in Asia before attaching Konrad Kujau’s signature to them and selling them on. She was convicted and sentenced on the basis of the 40 counts she ultimately confessed to.

Excerpts from Kujau’s “Hitler Diaries” were published by Stern in April 1983 after a reporter for the magazine received the documents, which had allegedly been smuggled out of East Germany by a “Dr. Fischer.” The diaries were said to have been found in the wreckage of a plane that had crashed just before the end of the war. Stern paid 9.3 million deutschmarks (€4.7 million) for the 62 volumes. Soon after the magazine began publishing excerpts, a test performed on the diaries by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office revealed that the paper on which the diaries had been written was clearly a postwar product. The case generated headlines around the world.

Petra Kujau worked for Konrad Kujau for a time in the 1990s. Prosecutors on Thursday, however, expressed doubt that she was in fact related to the famous forger.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,716613,00.html

A loonie boondoggle

Ostentation in a time of austerity

FOR all his gifts as a political tactician, Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister, may have miscalculated how much Canadians want to pay to host the G8 and G20 summits from June 25th to 27th. As the government struggles to close a large budget deficit, it is spending C$1.2 billion ($1.2 billion) to host the world’s leaders—60% more than Japan, the previous record holder, coughed up for the G8 gathering in Okinawa in 2000.

Mr Harper points out that Canada is holding back-to-back summits—doubling the cost, he says. The government also notes that it can hardly be blamed for providing airtight security. It has built a steel fence around the woodland cottage resort at Muskoka that will receive the G8, and deployed special forces on overtime to lurk in the water and surrounding forest.

But critics counter that Mr Harper could have saved money by inviting the G20 to Muskoka as well, rather than receiving them separately in Toronto, 200 km (125 miles) to the south. Moreover, they note that much of the budget has gone on items of dubious utility and taste. The prime minister has become the butt of jokes for commissioning an artificial lake, complete with mock canoes and recordings of the call of the loon, for the G20 summit’s media centre—which sits just yards from the real Lake Ontario. In Muskoka taxpayers are on the hook for a refurbished steamboat that won’t even float until the summit is over, and new outdoor toilets 20km from the meeting site. So much for small government.

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Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/node/16377317?story_id=16377317&source=hptextfeature

Tintin in the Land of the Lawyers

Why hide a piece of Belgium’s colonial history?

“Baboons! Baby-snatchers! Bagpipers! Bald-headed budgerigar! Bandits! Bashi-bazouks! Bath-tub Admiral! Beast! Belemnite! Big-head!” -Captain Haddock, The Adventures of Tintin.

Georges Remi’s tales of Belgium’s best-loved Boy Reporter come with no shortage of insults for just about everyone. Their deft caricatures, and the vituperations regularly hurled by Tintin’s sidekicks, have kept both censors and free-speech advocates busy since Remi (pen-name “Hergé”) first unleashed his daring cowlicked hero in a Belgian newspaper in 1929.

Now, after a three-year effort, Congolese national Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo may succeed in getting Tintin’s second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo” (1930-1931), banned in Belgium. The local press reports that a Brussels court will rule this week on the Belgian resident’s case for yanking the book from shelves, or at least wrapping it in a label that warns of its “racist” content.

Congolese national, and Belgian resident, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo

Tintin is no stranger to controversy, having been called everything from a Nazi shill to an anti-American (neither is true). Hergé’s first epic, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,” delivered an early, lurid picture of the oppression and degradation of the Soviet Union. In 1942, Hergé’s publisher reportedly asked him to temper his buck-toothed renderings of Japanese people in his 1936 tale “The Blue Lotus.” No points for guessing the animal-rights line on Tintin, who in a long-altered scene once disposed of a rhinoceros by drilling a stick of dynamite into its hide. Just this February, Turkish authorities fined a TV station for airing a Tintin animation that included smoking, in violation of a Turkish ban against tobacco-use on air.

But it’s the depiction of Africans in “Tintin in the Congo” that strikes a particularly raw nerve. Hergé—who would come to lament the early work as the product of an ignorant youth who naively bought into the attitudes of the time—continually revised it until his death in 1983, though never to critics’ satisfaction. Today, the book may be sold in Britain only with a warning seal (which, predictably, has proven the best advertising that money can’t buy), and the Brooklyn Public Library keeps it under lock and key in a back room, available only by appointment.

More often than not, Tintin can be defended as the victim of hyperactive taste police. But Mr. Mondondo’s case about the Congo tale is different, at least on the surface. When “Tintin in the Congo” hit newstands, it had been just 22 years since King Leopold II’s barbarous personal rule over the Congo had given way to an only somewhat less-awful Belgian colonial system. Belgians—whose former leader had transformed the country into a forced-labor camp, taken hostages in lieu of paying wages as a way to incentivize rubber harvesting, and maimed and murdered many—seem to have no business laughing at the infantile Congolese depicted in Hergé’s pages.

Tintin himself was no brute—even in his early adventures, my girlhood idol remains a paragon of rectitude and virtue. All the same, his Congolese sojourn is deeply paternalistic, and while never hateful, woe to the polemicist who tries to deny that it’s also racist.

From Tintin’s faithful terrier Snowy being crowned king by the Africans, to a black woman bowing before the blond boy and declaring “White man very great. White mister is big juju man!” the relic toon reflects the colonial mindset that Africans were inferior. Why wouldn’t they be insulted that Belgians still delight in the tale?

Yet all this only bolsters the case for Tintin’s freedom. Silenced sages from South Park to Socrates remind us the only speech that needs defending is that which offends. Erasing Tintin might momentarily cheer some Congolese (though most have bigger problems), and our self-appointed czars of decorum would be thrilled. But that wouldn’t erase Belgian history in central Africa.

Miss Jolis is an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe.

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704302304575213960636815080.html

G-8 Chefs Baffled By Laura Bush’s ‘Poisoning’ Claims

‘Hey Man, Good Food’

 

Then-US President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at Heiligendamm in 2007: Laura Bush writes in her memoirs that they may have been poisoned.

In her new memoir, former first lady Laura Bush writes that she, her husband and the American delegation may have been poisoned at the 2007 G-8 summit hosted by Germany. German federal investigators as well as the kitchen staff at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm refute her account.

Steffen Duckhorn still remembers well the day Laura Bush thought she might die. He was feeling a bit worked up because he had heard that President George W. Bush, who was attending the G-8 summit in June 2007 in Heiligendamm, Germany, wasn’t feeling well. Duckhorn had cooked for the president, and Bush was now complaining he had a stomach ache.

“We immediately contacted the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation to find out if there was anything to it,” Duckhorn told SPIEGEL. “There was nothing.” During the summit, he said, toxicologists had been constantly present in the kitchen of the five-star hotel collecting samples in test tubes of every bit of food which had been prepared. “Before the meal, during the meal and after the meal,” he said.

Almost three years later, Bush’s stomach ache has somehow been recast as a possible murder attempt against close to a dozen US delegation members. In her memoir, which will land in bookstores this week, Laura Bush writes of a possible poisoning.

“In the past,” she writes, “there had been several high-profile poisonings, including one with suspected nuclear material, in and around Europe. The overriding fear was that terrorists had gotten control of a dangerous substance and planted it at the resort.”

The former first lady writes that she suddenly felt deathly ill one afternoon. She writes that other delegation members experienced the same.

‘Every Chef Has His Honor’

Duckhorn, 34, who has now become head chef at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, is irritated. “Every chef has his honor,” he says. Together with the hotel’s former head chef, who is now working in nearby Rostock, he has reconstructed the events of the summit.

He said that samples taken by toxicologists were tested in a laboratory set up directly at the site, and that there was never even the slightest reason for any suspicion. The cooks also claim that the kitchen only prepared meals for the presidents and prime ministers, as well as their spouses and close employees, but not for the rest of the delegations. “They brought their stuff with them,” Duckhorn said, adding that the Americans, for example, brought their own cola and M&Ms with the White House logo on them.

The chefs had arranged each course of the official meals together with Germany’s Foreign Ministry. They served upscale German cuisine, including dishes such as herring tartar, pike-perch with braised cucumbers, calf schnitzel with fresh asparagus and guinea fowl fricassee. The fresh ingredients all came from the area, and background checks had been carried out on suppliers and kitchen workers before the summit. Each delivery and worker was inspected on site by bomb-sniffing dogs and with metal detectors. Officers with Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) were always present at the doors to the kitchen. And even if something had happened, “then we would have been the first to drop,” Duckhorn said. “We do taste our things.”

‘No One Was Running Around’

Laura Bush writes in her memoir that the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the entire hotel for potential poisons. But Duckhorn disputes this. “No one was running around the courtyard anxiously,” he said. The Americans simply ordered a chicken broth from him for the president.

Sources at the BKA say they are unaware of any poisoning scare at the G-8 summit. Officials at the US Embassy in Berlin are also unaware of any such incident.

Bush writes that she doesn’t even know herself if any poison was discovered. She writes that the most concrete conclusion any doctors could reach is that “we contracted a virus that attacks a nerve near the inner ear and is prevalent in Heiligendamm.” She claims that one White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear and that another had trouble walking. The military aide’s “gait has never returned to normal,” she writes, “nor has our senior staffer regained hearing in that ear.”

“No, no, no,” Stefan Hummel says, trying to catch his breath after an outburst of laughter. Hummel, 59, is the chief pulmonary doctor at the Median Clinic, a medical facility located just behind the Grand Hotel. He finds it strange that one person had a gastro-intestinal problem while another supposedly had an ear problem and a third a walking problem. A highly infectious virus wouldn’t have remained contained within the delegation, he knows that much. And if many people had fallen ill, he says, he would have heard about it. He also said the climate at the resort was a “hostile one” to viruses.

And on the day after George W. Bush had his chicken broth, he was apparently already feeling much better. Steffen Duckhorn met the president, who was in what Duckhorn describes as good spirits, in the courtyard. Bush shook his hand and praised the cook for his meals. “Hey man, good food,” Duckhorn recalls him saying.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,692452,00.html

German Firm Wins Right to Make Beer Called ‘Fucking Hell’

A tourist scrutinizes the sign. The village is believed to be named after a 6th century man called Focko. The “Fucking Hell” trademark has been registered by German entrepreneurs Stefan Fellenberg and Florian Krause. Tittelconsulting, a marketing agency, said in a statement on Monday that the owners will use the trademark to manufacture a variety of products including clothing and beer. The new brew is likely to be presented in August or September, Tittelconsulting said. It remains unclear where the beer will be brewed.

The EU’s trademarks authority has permitted a German firm to brew beer and produce clothing under the name “Fucking Hell”. It may be an expletive in English, but in German it could refer to a light ale — Hell — from the Austrian town of Fucking. Whether it will be brewed there is another question.

The European Union trademarks authority has permitted a German firm to register the brand name “Fucking Hell” for a new beer, much to the irritation of the Austrian village of Fucking.

In English, the term “Fucking Hell” is just an expletive used to express irritation or surprise. In German, it could refer to a light ale from Fucking in Upper Austria, because “Hell” is a term for light ale in southern Germany and Austria.

The problem is that Fucking has no brewery, and the town’s mayor, Franz Meindl, is not aware of any plans to build one there, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported on its Web site.

The Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union said in a statement that it had rejected a complaint that the trade mark “Fucking Hell” was upsetting, accusatory and derogatory.

“The word combination claimed contains no semantic indication that could refer to a certain person or group of persons. Nor does it incite a particular act. It cannot even be understood as an instruction that the reader should go to hell,” the Office said in its statement.

EU Trademark Office Has No Problem with Name

“Fucking Hell” was an “an interjection used to express a deprecation, but it does not indicate against whom the deprecation is directed,” the Office added. “Nor can it be considered as reprehensible to use existing place names in a targeted manner (as a reference to the place), merely because this may have an ambiguous meaning in other languages.”

That is good news for German marketing executives Stefan Fellenberg and Florian Krause, who own the rights to the brand name, and who had referred to the town of Fucking in their application to register it.

Tittelconsulting, a marketing agency, said in a statement on Monday that the owners will use the trademark to manufacture a variety of products including clothing and beer. “It includes the marketing of a beer among other things,” Tittelconsulting said in a statement.

The new brew was likely to be presented in August or September, it added. Contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Fellenberg declined to give further comment, so it’s unclear where the beer will be brewed.

It is likely to heighten Fucking’s fame, which is something Meindl, the town’s mayor, isn’t happy about, given the trouble the name has caused it over the years. “Twelve or 13 town signs have been stolen. We’ve taken to fixing them with concrete, welding and rivets.”

The Bavarian towns of Kissing and Petting have the same problem, as does the eastern German town of Pissen. But so far, there are no plans to name a beer after them.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,686305,00.html

Seven Ideas to Beat the Crisis

Funny Business

Times are tough. But not so tough, as it turns out, that you can’t make a buck. From bovine meditation to organic bird buffets, SPIEGEL ONLINE brings you seven strange business ideas that should never have worked — but did. 

The German economy isn’t what it used to be. Just this week, it was announced that the economy didn’t grow at all during the fourth quarter of 2009, leading many to fear that the country might have to wait a while longer to recover from the economic downturn. 

Even worse, the European common currency, the euro, is in turmoil as speculators continue to try and profit from Greek budgetary woes. The currency has fallen substantially against the dollar in recent weeks and there are fears that it could continue to plummet. Indeed, things have gotten so bad that a Greek consumer group has called for a boycott of German products, as a result of criticism from Germany — most particularly in the form of a tasteless cover from the newsmagazine Focus — of Greece’s financial practices. 

But while many would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and wait out the crisis, there are those who prefer to confront uncertainty with ingenuity. If you’ve got the right idea, now might just be the time to start up your own business. Why not begin baking specialty products for pets? Or start a travel agency for stuffed animals? Meditation with farm animals is certainly also a good opportunity for instant profits. After all, a bit of time in the stall is sure to calm the nerves of today’s stressed out managers. 

For those who think they might have a good business idea, but are too shy to try, SPIEGEL ONLINE brings you some inspiration — in the form of seven business concepts that never should have found success, but did. 

Travelling Teddies 

Apparently there are around 1.2 billion cuddly toy animals in the world — and you can bet that most of them have never seen the city of Prague. Or indeed, many other prime European tourist destinations (unless it happens to be their home town, of course). Now a Czech company, The Czech Toy Traveling agency, aims to change all that. Send them your inanimate, furry friend and they will send you pictures back of your stuffed beast in front of various landmarks around Prague. 

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The concept for the toy travel agency was inspired by the French film “Amelie,” in which a character receives mysterious pictures of his stolen garden gnome posed in front of famous monuments around the world.

The idea received support after it appeared on the Czech version of reality television, investment show, Dragon’s Den.

A basic package tour for your teddy bear costs €90 and includes 30 photos on a disc, a certificate of proof that your bear was there, a profile created on your bear’s behalf on social networking sites and daily e-mail contact from your bear, or any other stuffed toy you care to send their way.

The most expensive package, which costs €150, includes a special travel box, with a pillow and blanket, so that the cuddly toy travels first class all the way back home.

Agency co-owner Tomio Okamura said that although the business only launched last week, “we already have dozens of orders, mostly from the US, Japan and Germany.”

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The concept, which was inspired by the French film “Amelie,” in which a character receives mysterious pictures of his stolen garden gnome posed in front of famous monuments around the world, received support after it appeared on the Czech version of the reality television investment show “Dragon’s Den.” In the Czech Republic, the show is called “Den D” (or D-Day). 

A basic package tour for your teddy bear costs €90 and includes 30 photos on a disc, a certificate of proof that your bear was there, a profile created on your bear’s behalf on social networking sites and daily e-mail contact from your bear, or any other stuffed toy you care to send their way. The most expensive package, which costs €150, includes a special travel box, with a pillow and blanket, so that the cuddly toy travels first class all the way back home. Owners can also specify whether their insensate sweeties are vegetarian or should be allowed a drink after dinner. “We are focusing on North American, Southeast Asia and the European markets,” agency co-owner Tomio Okamura told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “We launched our business last week and we already have dozens of orders, mostly from the US, Japan and Germany.” 

Okamura, who is one of the businessmen supporting the venture financially and also the vice president of the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic, explains that once a travel reservation has been made for a toy, and payment received, the fluffy friend can be posted to the company. Sightseeing in Prague will take between one and three days and the Toy Traveling Agency will also take stuffed animals to special events upon request. “We already have a request from Japan to take the toy to see a top-flight European football match,” Okamura says. 

Eventually the company’s founders also want to be able to offer toys travel opportunities to other European cities, including Berlin, Munich and Bratislava. 

First on the Dance Floor  

The party is great, the music is playing, your feet are tapping. But the dance floor is empty. Even though you are aching to get out there and shake your proverbial thing, you don’t dare to hit the dance floor all alone. And then all of a sudden, there they are: Two enthusiastic hoofers who don’t seem to care who sees them getting down. Relieved, you — and all the other bashful bootie shakers — migrate to the dance floor while the host stands by, satisfied and smiling broadly that this fest is such a success. 

Such success, as it turns out, can be bought. A Berlin company, called Be My Dancer, hires out people to break the dance floor ice. Most of the firm’s business involves the time honored profession of the “taxi dancer,” the name first given to the courteous men who hired themselves out as dancing partners after World War I where there weren’t enough masculine dancing partners around. The trade has survived primarily on cruise ships, providing elderly, single ladies with a waltz partner. But in Berlin, the modernized Be My Dancer provides male and female dance partners to suit any occasion, from one’s first cha cha session to themed swing nights and tango parties. 

The Be My Dancer crew can be rented solo or as a team and each dancer costs around €40 an hour. It is also possibly to hire the trained professionals as private dance teachers. Most often the company’s employees can be seen strutting their stuff at the Bohème Sauvage, themed 20s costume parties in historic locations. 

Meditating with Cows 

Forget staring at stones or focusing for hours on single blades of grass. A Dutch farmer, Corné de Regt, has come up with a whole new method for meditation. And it all takes place in his cow stalls on his property on the outskirts of Denekamp, near the German border. One of the services de Regt’s business, “Rode Wangen” (Red Cheeks) offers is a wellness retreat for stressed out businessmen. And when it comes time for a spot of meditation, de Regt and his clients head out onto the farm. Into the cow stalls, to be more exact — where they will sit on hay bales together and meditate. 

“Unfortunately the silence is often broken,” de Regt told German freelance journalist Helmut Hetzel. “When a cow drops something, or when the animals are unsettled. But all of that belongs to the meditation sessions. Some of my guests complain about the smell. But that too, is all part of it. Ultimately all of one’s senses are stimulated through meditating alongside the animals. It is a unique experience. And most of the managers that come here like it.” 

Besides finding metaphysical peace with our bovine friends, the stressed will also be able to relieve their anxieties through other farm-based activities. Excess energy is expended through a hearty round of testosterone-fuelled wood chopping, which can then be followed up with a skinny dip in a nearby stream. There’s also plenty of fresh farm food, historical walks and the enterprising de Regt also offers a selection of goods for sale, including wooden toys, baked goods, woolen hats and slippers and apple juice. 

“My concept for therapy counts upon the fact that the business men who come to me have red cheeks before they leave. They are ‘refueled’ — and not only with fresh country air but also with the unique experiences they have on the farm and in the cow stalls,” de Regt says. 

Breaking Up with the Help of the ‘Terminator’ 

So you want out but you just bear to tell your erstwhile loved one it’s all over? Call the professionals. As the Web site for Berlin-based firm, The Separation Agency, says: “We can end it — perfectly and forever. We will turn one unhappy couple into two satisfied singles. Either that, or your partner gets one last warning, as delivered by us.” 

The agency offers a variety of packages. If you just can’t face it, then for €29.95, the agency will conduct the split over the telephone and make sure you two stay on friendly terms. For a little more — €64.95 — they will conduct that conversation with your soon-to-be-ex in person. If you are literarily challenged, then they will help you write the most appropriate “dear John” letter. And if you have just, plain and simple, had enough and want them to go away and leave you alone, then the agency will let the lover-turned-stalker know that too. 

Along with all of the above, the agency guarantees “delivery of the unwelcome news, de-escalation of pent up emotions, guidance on the difficult talks” and, best of all, your stuff back. 

Since it was founded in 2006, the agency which is run by former insurance salesman Bernd Dressler, has been a success. The “Terminator”, as Dressler has come to be known, doesn’t do any jobs without money up front and most of his customers are women in their 20s. He has even written a book about his experiences. Dressler says he delivers the message in a style that it is in accordance with his customer’s wishes. As he told the British media: “I say to them: ‘Good day, my name is Bernd Dressler from the Separation Agency and I have been asked by your partner to inform you that he or she wishes to end your relationship.'” 

Table Football Fashion  

When it comes to sports in Germany, there is really only one game in town. Newspaper sport sections, to be sure, report copiously on handball, ping pong and luge — or on any other sport that a German athlete may excel at. But football is the undisputed national pastime. 

And for those without the hand-foot coordination to succeed on the pitch, there is table football — known to Americans as foosball. It is a serious pastime in Germany, accompanied with shouts of joy, groans of dismay and no small amount of perspiration. To the consternation (and distraction) of non-players, tables can be found in offices across the country. The best players can even get the static plastic figures to pass the ball to each other. 

Perhaps it comes as no surprise then, that a German company offers little jerseys for the little players. For just €15.90, you can outfit your entire team with the football shirt of your choice — the company, known as Kicker Trikot — has a number of national teams on offer along with a selection of German league teams. Recently, the company has even begun making custom jerseys to order — for €49.90 a set. 

The company, based in Hamburg, started in 2006 and has seen a steady rise in turnover since then. With the World Cup just around the corner, the company is no doubt hoping for another uptick in sales. North Korea anyone? 

Baking for the Birds 

Germans love organic food. Despite the economic downturn and ongoing uneasiness about the robustness of the recovery, people in Germany have continued to pay extra for the knowledge that their foodstuffs are free of pesticides and insecticides. 

“Fears that consumers would save on their purchases of organic products during the financial and economic crises have proven false,” said the market research group GfK in a statement earlier this month. 

With such an addiction to food purity, it is perhaps no surprise that a company near Bielefeld offers organic snacks for parrots. Called the Parrot Bakery, the company’s product line includes palm oil muffins, Eucalyptus snacks and nut balls for your favorite feathered friend. “Only the best for your parrots,” is the company’s motto. 

Products are available both in Marita Grabowski’s small shop as well as on the Internet. Grabowski started her company when, in 2007, her Gray Parrot “Charlie” fell ill and she had to make him crackers without seeds. Her company has since found substantial success, supplying pet food stores across Europe. She has even written a book: “The Cookbook for Parrots and Parakeets.” 

The Karaoke Cab 

“Turn it up, driver, I love this song.” It’s a common enough refrain, heard in taxis all over the world as they ferry a weekend’s worth of merry makers to their destinations. And although some cab drivers find this annoying, there is one clever chap in the German city of Münster, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is making a business out of those kinds of requests. 

Taxi driver Nizamettin Kilincli has installed a screen in the back of his eight-person taxi van, over which he can play karaoke tracks, or even movies. The reasons passengers like his service are as varied as the passengers themselves, Kilincli told the online city magazine Echo Münster

During the day Taxi Niza, as his business is known, drives around the city like any normal van-for-hire. The screen in the vehicle might be used for a family who wants to keep the kids quiet on the way out to the airport. But by night, it becomes a rolling fun palace, with party goers on the way to a club or a disco entertaining themselves by belting out a few numbers. 

Best of all, the service costs no more than any other cab ride. All of this has seen the clearly very tolerant Kilincli gain a regular clientele who prefer a ride in his taxi above all others. 

As for the kind of drunken, often tuneless, yodeling coming from the back seats, Kilincli does not mind it at all. He’s never been one for singing along, he told the Münster magazine, and anyway, he has to concentrate on the road. 

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,680604,00.html

Libya’s Gadhafi Declares Holy War Against Switzerland

Alpine Jihad

Gadhafi spoke behind bullet-proof glass in Benghazi, Libya.

The feud between Libya and Switzerland has been simmering for months. On Thursday, Moammar Gadhafi went on the offensive, calling for a jihad against the Alpine country.

In a rambling address on Thursday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called for holy war against Switzerland. The bizarre pronouncement belongs to a running feud between the two nations, but the Swiss Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

“Let us wage jihad against Switzerland, Zionism and foreign aggression,” Gadhafi suggested at a meeting in Libya to mark the birth of the prophet Muhammad. “Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against Muhammad, God and the Koran.”

The Swiss and Libyan governments have been at odds since 2008, when Swiss police arrested Ghadafi’s son Hannibal and Hannibal’s wife, the model Aline Skaf. The couple was charged with abusing servants in a luxury hotel. They were quickly released on bail, and officials soon dropped charges, but Libya responded by withdrawing billions of dollars from Swiss banks, cutting off oil supplies, denying visas and recalling diplomats.

‘Obscene State’

Last November, Swiss voters inflamed opinion around the Muslim world by approving a ban on minarets on mosques built in Switzerland. Gadhafi seemed to refer to this referendum on Thursday when he called Switzerland an “infidel, obscene state which is destroying mosques.”

He was speaking at an outdoor square to representatives of several dozen Muslim countries in the Libyan city of Benghazi. “The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing,” he added, “to all harbors and prevent any Swiss ships docking, inspect all shops and markets to stop any Swiss goods being sold.”

He also claimed he wasn’t calling for terrorism. Al-Qaida-style terrorism was a “kind of crime and a psychological disease,” he said, but insisted, “there is a big difference between terrorism and jihad, which is a right to armed struggle.”

Visa Irregularities

The diplomatic spat with Switzerland has warmed up in recent weeks. On Feb. 15, Libya announced it would deny visas to citizens of Europe’s visa-free travel area known as the Schengen bloc, to which Switzerland belongs. Tripoli said the move was in retaliation against a Swiss travel ban imposed last year on 200 Libyan citizens, including Gadhafi himself.

That ban blacklisted the Libyans from the whole Schengen area. It drew criticism this month from Italian officials, who said the Swiss had overreached.

On Feb. 23, Libyan police surrounded the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, where two Swiss businessmen had been sheltering since a few days after Hannibal’s 2008 arrest. Libya refused to let them go home, charging them with visa irregularities and violating business rules, but denied it came in retaliation for the Hannibal affair.

In early February verdicts on the two men were decided in absentia by a Libyan court, and one of them, Rachid Hamdani, was allowed to leave. Police brought the other, Max Goeldi, to a low-security prison, where he he’s expected to serve a four-month sentence.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,680525,00.html

Convict Digs Out of Prison With a Spoon

Tunnel Vision

 

No match for some cutlery and a bit of ingenuity.

A convict in the Netherlands has escaped from prison after tunneling out with a spoon. Her secret tunnel began in a cellar and was concealed by a removable hatch.

A convict in the Netherlands has succeeded in breaking out of prison with an escape worthy of the movies: She tunneled her way out — with a spoon.

The public prosecutor’s office confirmed Tuesday that the 35-year-old female prisoner had escaped through a tunnel from a prison in Breda in the southern Netherlands.

The spectacular prison break was made possible because the convict was no longer housed in a regular cell, but in a separate building on the grounds of the detention center where long-term inmates are prepared for their release and are given more freedoms.

The woman’s tunnel began in a cellar under the building’s kitchen, with its entrance concealed by a removable hatch. According to Dutch public broadcaster NOS, the police are assuming that the fugitive had at least one accomplice, who is believed to have loosened paving stones that were part of a sidewalk next to the detention center, allowing the prisoner to emerge from her tunnel.

The convict was serving time for murder and still had another 22 months of her sentence to go, according to NOS. She was reported to still be on the loose on Tuesday.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,679977,00.html

Man Indicted for Breaking Into Prison

Being in prison can seriously hamper a relationship.

Prison walls were no obstacle for a man in western Germany who was being separated from his love. But breaking into her cell every night turned out to be a very bad decision.

Ah, love. It drives us to do the craziest things: climb the highest mountains, run through the fields, scale city walls or walk for miles. Love even drove one man in the western German city of Bielefeld to break into prison. And not only once, but night after night — until he got caught.

The suspect, 33-year-old Daniele E., was arrested in November for scaling a steel fence to break into the prison where his girlfriend was serving time for drug-related offenses, according to the local daily Westfalen-Blatt. On Tuesday, the Bielefeld public prosecutor charged Daniele E. with trespassing and announced a trial date in March.

Lawyer Carsten Ernst, who is representing Daniele E., said he thought the charges were excessive. “Couldn’t we have just laughed this one off and cancelled the trial?” he commented.

Snitches Torpedo Love

According to the indictment, things got pretty hot in Cell 13 of Detention House C 7 — not to mention loud. As Friedhelm Sanker, the deputy head of the minimum-security prison, told the paper: “Some of the other women felt that their sleep was being disturbed, while others feared that the man might try to come and visit them, too.” In response to the complaints, prison officials installed a video surveillance camera.

Nov. 8 proved to be the fateful night for Daniele E. When prison officials noticed a man climb over the fence and enter the building where the woman was being held, they called the police. Using dogs, the police sniffed the unlucky lover out — in his girlfriend’s cell.

“I love her — we’re engaged!” Daniele E. reportedly pleaded with the arresting officers.

Lonely at Night

The nightly prison break-ins surprised and confounded prison officials. “The two of them could have visited each other during the day, seeing as the woman was in a minumum-security prison,” Sanker told the paper. “But they apparently felt very lonely at night.”

Since his arrest, things have only gone from bad to worse for Daniele E. He is now being held in prison on suspicion of having robbed a number of gas stations. In addition, his requests to be granted conjugal visits with his lover have been turned down.

Prison policy states that such visits will only be permitted when they concern “relationships deserving of support.” Unfortunately for Daniele E., his girlfriend gave the name of another man as her partner when she was first admitted to prison.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,678721,00.html

Revision to the bible of psychiatry, DSM, could introduce new mental disorders

Children who throw too many tantrums could be diagnosed with “temper dysregulation with dysphoria.” Teenagers who are particularly eccentric might be candidates for treatment for “psychosis risk syndrome.” Men who are just way too interested in sex face being labeled as suffering from “hypersexual disorder.”

These are among dozens of proposals being unveiled Wednesday by the American Psychiatric Association in the first complete revision since 1994 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or “DSM” — the massive tome that has served as the bible for modern psychiatry for more than half a century.

The product of more than a decade of work by hundreds of experts, the proposed revisions are designed to bring the best scientific evidence to bear on psychiatric diagnoses and could have far-reaching implications, including determining who gets diagnosed as mentally ill, who should get powerful psychotropic drugs, and whether and how much insurance companies will pay for care.

“It not only determines how mental disorders are diagnosed, it can impact how people see themselves and how we see each other,” said Alan Schatzberg, the association’s president. “It influences how research is conducted as well as what is researched. . . . It affects legal matters, industry and government programs.”

The proposals will be debated in an intense process over the next two years, with potentially billions of dollars at stake for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, government health plans, doctors, researchers and patient advocacy groups.

But perhaps more important, the outcome will help shape which emotions, behaviors, thoughts and personality traits society considers part of the natural spectrum of the human persona and which are considered pathological, requiring treatment and possibly even criminal punishment.

Even before being made public, the proposed changes have been the subject of sometimes bitter debate over whether the process was based on solid scientific evidence and was adequately shielded from influence by the pharmaceutical industry, and whether some critics were driven by financial interests in maintaining the old diagnostic criteria.

Supporters argue that the revisions would make diagnoses more accurate, creating more useful and precise definitions and sometimes reducing the number of psychiatric labels. For example, “autistic disorder” and “Asperger’s disorder” would be replaced with a new, single category called “autism spectrum disorders.” Critics, however, fear the new diagnoses could unnecessarily stigmatize many people and lead to the unnecessary use of psychiatric medications that can sometimes produce serious side effects.

“By massively pathologizing people under these categories, you tend to put them on an automatic path to medication, even if they are experiencing normal distress,” said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work and psychiatry at New York University.

After being posted on the Internet, which of the proposed changes become final will be determined by a public comment period that will last until April 20, studies to validate some of the changes, further review, and votes by the association’s Board of Trustees and Assembly. A final version is expected to be released by May 2013.

“We’re mindful of the concern that we don’t want to overdiagnose,” Schatzberg told reporters during a telephone briefing Tuesday. “We want to, in fact, get an accurate assessment of what the degree of psychopathology might be in the culture.”

Among the concerns are proposals to create “risk syndromes” in the hopes that early diagnosis and treatment will stave off the full-blown conditions. For example, the proposals would create a “psychosis risk syndrome” for people who have mild symptoms found in psychotic disorders, such as “excessive suspicion, delusions and disorganized speech or behavior.”

“There will be adolescents who are a little odd and have funny ideas, and this will label them as pre-psychotic,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the DSM revision process.

Similarly, a proposal to create a new condition for people at risk for dementia could cause unnecessary anxiety, treatment and other harms, critics said.

“These people will never get long-term-care insurance if they have that on their chart,” said Michael B. First, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.

William Carpenter of the University of Maryland, who chaired the working group that made the risk syndrome recommendation, acknowledged those concerns but said that experts decided that the potential benefits of early intervention warranted the move.

Others expressed concern about the proposals to create new conditions such as “temper dysregulation with dysphoria,” or TDD. Supporters say it is intended to counter a huge increase in the number children being treated for bipolar disorder by creating a more specific diagnosis, though critics argued that it would only compound the problem of overtreatment.

“They are close to treating the children like guinea pigs. I think that’s appalling and outrageous,” said Christopher Lane, author of “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.” “The APA should be moving to prevent such controversial practices, not encouraging them, as it is doing here.”

In addition to classifying the symptoms of grief that many people experience after the death of a loved one as “depression,” the proposals include adding “binge eating” and “gambling addiction” as bona fide psychiatric conditions; they also raise the possibility of making “Internet addiction” a future diagnosis. Some critics questioned the proposal to create a “hypersexual disorder.”

“How many people with just healthy sex drives will be given that label?” First said.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/10/AR2010021000009.html

Carlos the Brand

The Jackal has a brand to protect.

Life for terrorists is improving in the U.S., with the Detroit bomber enjoying his right to remain silent and negotiate a plea bargain, while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his Guantanamo mates head for a civilian trial. At least we can say America hasn’t gone as far as France to accommodate enemy combatants.

On Thursday, a court outside Paris will rule on a claim lodged by one Ilich Ramírez Sánchez. Better known as Carlos the Jackal, the 60-year-old Venezuelan was the Osama bin Laden of the 1970s and 1980s. On behalf of Palestinian and various Marxist-Leninist causes, Ramírez organized and carried out a series of notable terrorist attacks. The French finally nabbed him from a Sudanese hospital in 1994 and jailed him for life for the murder of two French policemen and a Lebanese informant. Carlos the Jackal now spends his time invoking his rights under the French constitution.

In the case before the court in Nanterre, he and long-time lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who also married him, are suing a French production company for the right to review and “correct and edit” a forthcoming made-for-TV film about him entitled “Carlos.” Ms. Coutant-Peyre alleges the filmmakers are out to “demolish Carlos.” Her client wants to protect the intellectual property rights to his name and “biographical image.” The court has taken this case seriously enough to hear it.

A lawyer for the film company, Film en Stock, asked the Libération daily in Paris, “How could we possibly tarnish the image of Carlos when he himself claims to have killed some 2,000 people?” There’s also the small matter of a right to free press and speech that should, one would assume, shield the filmmakers from a litigious terrorist.

Still, the compatriot who Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez last year hailed as “a revolutionary soldier” may be on to something. Carlos has an experienced nose for the zeitgeist. How long can it be before some American lawyer tries to safeguard KSM’s “biographical image”?

Editorial, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703906204575027264127967140.html

Just history

A Canadian misunderstanding

A magazine’s Scunthorpe problem

No, it’s not a pussy

CANADIANS have long been proud of the industrious beaver, an animal capable of cutting down 216 trees a year with its teeth and of surviving the long winter in a purpose-built lodge made of mud, twigs and bark. The largest rodent in North America is a national emblem. The first Canadian postage stamp, the 1851 Three-Penny Beaver, carried its image. And one of Canada’s oldest magazines carries its name.

But soon it will not. From April The Beaver will be renamed. A journal of popular history founded in 1920 by the Hudson Bay Company to celebrate its 250th anniversary, it is now owned by others. Its evocation of the fur that had made the trading company’s fortunes no longer struck the right note—especially since the word has become slang for female pubic hair.

The editors had known for some time that a name change was needed. Market research indicated that many women and people under the age of 45 said they would not subscribe solely because of the name. But it was the internet that struck the fatal blow.

The Beaver website was attracting (albeit briefly) readers who had little interest in Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe or what prairie settlers ate for breakfast. They lasted about eight seconds before moving on. E-mails to potential subscribers were blocked by internet obscenity filters. This is known online as the Scunthorpe problem, after the town in Britain whose residents were initially unable to register with AOL because its name contained an obscenity.

The Beaver Club, a classy dining room in Montreal, and the SS Beaver, a replica of an 1835 steamship operating in British Columbia, remain unperturbed by any ambiguity. As for The Beaver, it hopes to expand its 50,000 circulation as Canada’s History. Dull, yes, but at least it will do what it says on the tin.

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Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15330878&source=hptextfeature

Bob Menendez, Birther

“Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him,” Politico reports.

Menendez, who is from New Jersey, plans to “distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early–and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives”:

The memo urges Democratic candidates to force their opponents to answer a series of questions:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? . . .”

If a Republican candidate says no to any of the questions, the memo says Democrats should “make their primary opponent or conservative activists know it. This will cause them to take heat from their primary opponents and could likely provoke a flip-flop, as it already has several times with Mark Kirk in Illinois.”

If you want to read the rest of the questions, click through to the link atop this item (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/32003.html). We truncated the list because the first item is absolutely jaw-dropping. Are we given to understand that the Democrats intend to run for office by raising questions about Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president?

That has got to be the most brilliant campaign strategy since Michael Dukakis and Max Cleland raised questions about their own patriotism.

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703906204575027261881817330.html

FBI admits Photofit of Osama Bin Laden had Spanish features

The age-progression image of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden

Spanish politician Gaspar Llamazares

A MOCKED-UP image of how Osama Bin Laden may look today has been withdrawn by the US State Department after the FBI admitted it was partly based on a photograph of a Spanish MP taken from the internet.

The Photofit image of an older, greying Al-Qaeda leader bore a striking resemblance to the left-wing politician Gaspar Llamazares, a member of Spain’s Communist party and a critic of the US “war on terror”. It turned out Llamazares’s grey hair, jaw line and forehead had been simply cut and pasted from an old campaign photograph by an FBI technician.

The FBI originally claimed it used “cutting edge” technology to come up with new images of terrorist suspects for the State Department’s Rewards for Justice website.

However, Ken Hoffman, an FBI spokesman, admitted yesterday that the agency had used a picture of Llamazares taken from Google Images to update the Photofit.

He told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo: “The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the internet.”

The US government had previously been using a 1998 photo of Bin Laden, including on a wanted poster that offered a reward of up to $25m (now worth £15m) for information leading to his capture or killing.

Llamazares, former leader of the United Left party, was elected to Spain’s parliament in 2000. He said he would no longer feel safe travelling to the United States. “I was surprised and angered because it’s the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist,” he said.

“It’s almost like out of a comedy, if it didn’t deal with matters as serious as Bin Laden and citizens’ security.”

Llamazares intends to ask the US government for an explanation and is considering legal action. He said he has “no similarity, physically or ideologically, to Bin Laden”.

They do share one trait: they are both 52.

Bin Laden, who is wanted for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, is believed to be hiding in the lawless Pakistan frontier region bordering Afghanistan.

His exact whereabouts have been unknown since late 2001, when he and some bodyguards slipped out of the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan, evading airstrikes, special forces and Afghan militias.

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Full article and photos: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6991299.ece

Got Change For A Million Silver Dollars?

Easy Money

Two Germans were caught in an Austria mountain town with 500 million dollars in counterfeit banknotes. It’s one of the biggest hauls of counterfeit dollars in Europe. But the culprits say they thought the 1 million dollar bills were real. Early next year an Austrian court must decide their fate. 

He dreamed of living the life of a millionaire — with a villa in the woods and an Aston Martin V12, preferably in Quantum Silver, in the garage. Once a moderately successful provincial attorney, he had decided that he was no longer willing to simply look on while others made their fortunes with major business deals. 

But his dreams of that villa, that Aston Martin and all the other trappings of wealth have vanished into thin air. Ralf Hölzen, 46, a tall, slender man with graying hair is sitting in a café frequented by retirees in the town of Goch in western Germany. On his plates sits a slice of Black Forest cake and he is removing the canned cream from atop his coffee. Once again Hölzen is living with his parents, only two blocks from the café. 

At the end of January, Hölzen will face trial in a district court in Feldkirch, in Austria’s Vorarlberg region. Austrian prosecutors have filed charges against him and his accomplice, Dietmar B., 52, for attempted fraud and possession of counterfeit banknotes. 

Arrested Holding $202 Million in Counterfeit Bills 

Almost a year ago, Hölzen and B. were arrested in a bank in Austria’s Kleinwalsertal ski valley. The duo stands accused of having attempted to exchange $202 million in counterfeit bills. The police also found $291 million more in counterfeit bills in a black Samsonite suitcase the men were carrying. 

Technically speaking, it was one of the biggest successes that European police organizations have ever had in the fight against counterfeit US banknotes. But not even the Austrian police are willing to call it a coup. And that’s because the defendants lacked both a plan and any professionalism. 

Instead, the trial in Feldkirch is more likely to offer a cautionary tale about how, in greedy times, even ordinary people think there is a fast track to wealth. And about how they believed that they could get rich quick through a combination of cunning and a few printed piece of paper; And how they ruined their lives in the process. 

“The thing” — which is what Hölzen now calls the series of events during which he hoped to get rich quick — began with an unannounced visit in September 2008. Life was not going well for Hölzen at the time. His marriage had failed, and he had lost his license to practice law because of his chaotic financial circumstances. Hölzen owed tens of thousands of Euros in back taxes and he was keeping himself afloat by working as a consultant. 

Surprise Visitors Bring a Dodgy Deal 

Two men walked into his office one afternoon. One of them, Hendrik van den B., a tall, gaunt older man, was wearing a dark, expensive-looking suit and introduced himself as a Dutch businessman. He looks as though he has money, Hölzen said to himself. 

The other man, short and bald, was Dietmar B., from Essen in western Germany who looked much less imposing. According to Hölzen, what B. did not tell him was that he was a machinist, who had been unemployed for a long time and that he had already served prison time for attempted fraud and for his association with a criminal gang that was involved in grand larceny. 

The men told Hölzen that he had been recommended to them by a former client and that they wanted him to prepare a purchase agreement for some historic stocks, some of which were American silver certificates. They told him that these silver certificates, which closely resembled ordinary dollar bills, were never used as a conventional form of payment but were traded between banks in the past. And they remained extremely valuable. 

Hölzen, who dealt mainly with leases, tax law and traffic offences, had no experience with foreign currency transactions. His new clients may have seemed odd to him but he decided to put any misgivings aside. In the past, he had represented fraudulent investment advisors, the sort to use human greed to their own advantage. And eager to put an end to his own run of bad luck, Hölzen reasoned that what the two men were proposing could be his opportunity to earn a lot of money, and relatively easily. 

Hölzen Says all He is Guilty of is Being Naïve 

Which is why Hölzen told the men that he was interested in doing more for them than simply preparing legal documents. van den B., who saw Hölzen’s proposal as a potential opportunity, gave the former attorney a banknote to examine. Hölzen scanned the bill and e-mailed the image to various acquaintances. 

An employee with Julius Bär, a Swiss private bank, promptly replied that the pieces of paper were worthless. But Hölzen did not want to hear this. This deal of a lifetime couldn’t possibly be over before it had even begun, he thought. “This is my big chance,” he kept telling himself. 

That is Hölzen’s side of the story anyway. “I was naïve,” he admits — and that is all he will admit too. He continues to insist that he was not the main instigator of the crime with which he is now being charged. 

Just Add Six Zeros And You Have a Million Dollars 

The Austrian National Analysis Center (NAC) examined the 493 banknotes Hölzen and B. had in their possession. Of those notes, 295 were originally $1 bills. Counterfeiters increased the face value of the bills to $1 million, simply by adding six zeros. The counterfeiting was done “very expensively and professionally,” say the specialists. According to the NAC, the remaining $1 million bills that were in Hölzen’s possession were complete counterfeits. 

The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany’s federal police force, is all too familiar with the phenomenon of $1 million banknotes. Since 2003 they have been turning up in Germany more often. 

Most are presented to commercial banks for exchange, complete with forged certificates of authenticity. Last June, Italy’s financial police found US treasury bonds worth the staggering sum of $134 billion in the luggage of two Japanese nationals. The bonds were counterfeit but they were not well made. 

Meanwhile Hölzen claims that, right up until his arrest, he was convinced of the authenticity of the bills and that this conviction — that the bills were real — was the only reason he continued to become more involved with the two men. At the beginning of January in 2009, he and van den B. traveled to the Swiss town of Rohrschach. There they met with a Spanish businessman, Cristian C., who they hoped would turn the “certificates” into real money. In a café, the Dutchman handed the Spaniard an envelope containing 490 bills, each denominated at $1 million. Hölzen sat in on the meeting; He paid close attention and then obtained a receipt for the transaction. 

The Plan was to Make Handsome Profits for Everyone 

Investigators believe that Cristian C. wanted to have the bills examined by a bank so that he could then use them as security against a loan. Hölzen later told authorities that Cristian C. had planned to use the loan to speculate on a grand scale and rake in handsome profits for everyone involved. 

But the Spaniard failed to keep his alleged promise. He was unable to use the banknotes as security for a loan or exchange them for currency. He stopped calling the two men and answered their calls less and less frequently. Van den B. and Hölzen became nervous, fearing that C. was going to make off with the banknotes. 

On Jan. 21 Hölzen and B. drove to Switzerland a second time. They had an appointment to meet with Cristian C. in Rohrschach at 12:45 p.m. But the Spaniard left them waiting. 

Hölzen and B. were in a hurry. They had an appointment at the Volksbank Riezlern, a bank in the Kleinwalsertal area in Austria to keep that they had made days earlier. Riezlern is a popular tourist destination for skiers and hikers. But additionally because the valley is only accessible from Germany, used to have a special tax free status and because many Germans deposit their savings in Austrian bank accounts, it also boasts a thriving banking scene. 

‘This Stuff is Worthless’ 

Hölzen was familiar with Volksbank Riezlern from his days as an attorney and he planned to convert the certificates into cash there. He was determined not to share any of the proceeds with the German tax authorities. 

When Cristian C. finally appeared, more than an hour late, he handed the two Germans a large brown envelope that contained the banknotes. Hölzen signed a receipt but no one counted the bills. “This stuff is worthless,” C. claims to have said — even though Hölzen and B. refused to believe him. 

At the bank in Kleinwalsertal, the two Germans were met by one of the bank’s employees, Jutta B. The men were impatient and anxious to unload the supposedly historic bills. They wanted the bank to determine their current market value, then credit the amount to the accounts they intended to open in Riezlern that day. That was the plan anyway. 

The two men placed five $1 million banknotes on Jutta B.’s desk. “I had the feeling that they believed that the securities and the money were absolutely real,” Jutta B. later told the police. But because the notes on her desk were unfamiliar to her Jutta B. was hesitant. Noticing her reaction, Hölzen and B. pulled out more bills: two bundles, one containing 99 and the other containing 100 banknotes. The notes came to a total of $199 million. The rest remained in the suitcase. Jutta B. excused herself and left her office. She called the bank’s headquarters in Vienna where a colleague told her that he did not believe that $1 million bills existed. It was at that stage that someone also called the police. 

Did They Really Think the Money was Real? 

The eventual case, when it comes to court, will revolve around whether the two Germans believed that the banknotes were real or whether they were deliberately trying to unload counterfeit bills. The investigators claim that by the time they reached the bank in Riezlern, Hölzen and B. “had come to terms with the possibility that the banknotes could be counterfeit.” They also say that Hölzen and B. must have figured that the employees at Volksbank Riezlern would not detect the fraud and would “credit their accounts despite the fact that the bills were worthless.” 

Hölzen, and B., who is in detention awaiting trial, dispute the investigators’ claims. They insist that they are not dim-witted enough to have walked into a bank with half a billion dollars in counterfeit money. For this reason, the former attorney plans to tell the trial judge about what, in his opinion, are serious mistakes made during the investigation and why he thinks the case is tainted by legal contradictions. 

Hölzen cannot expect any support from van den B., the man who allegedly obtained the counterfeit bills from unknown sources in the first place. The 74-year-old Dutchman, who has avoided being charged because authorities have been unable to find enough evidence linking him to the crime, will appear as a witness for the prosecution. He claims that he had no knowledge whatsoever of Hölzen’s and B.’s excursion to Kleinwalsertal. 

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,669480,00.html

2009 legal review: wake up there – it’s the last of the naughties

A spectator in an Illinois courtroom was sent to prison for 21 days by Judge Daniel Rozak for yawning in a loud and disruptive manner during the sentencing of his cousin for a drugs offence. But there were many other events in courtrooms in 2009 through which it was impossible to sleep.

Judicial Enthusiast of the Year is Judge Zainal Abidin Kamarudin, of the Malaysian Sessions Court, whose decision personally to carry out the sentence of caning that he imposed on an offender was overruled by the Malaysian High Court, which substituted a sentence of community service.

Most Helpful Judicial Advice to Counsel came from Justice Scalia, of the United States Supreme Court. He told advocates that when they are asked to comment in court on a hypothetical example, it does not assist the judge for them to respond that it is “not this case”. As Scalia pointed out: “I know it’s not this case, you idiot.”

Most Unhelpful Judicial Advice to Counsel was given by Judge Ian Alexander, QC, presiding at the jury trial of a man accused of dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against conviction because the judge had passed to defence counsel a “wholly inappropriate note” suggesting that she should think about “The Six P’s: Prior Planning Prevents P***-Poor Performance”.

Judges Whose Performance was Found to be Worse than Poor included the Chief Justice of Gibraltar, Mr Justice Schofield. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decided (by 4-3) that he should be dismissed from office because his actions, and those of his wife, had rendered his position “untenable”. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, for the majority, said that the case had “aspects of a Greek tragedy”, in that Mrs Schofield had complained publicly, but mistakenly, that the Chief Minister was seeking to drive the judge from office, and the Chief Justice had brought a judicial review application publicly adopting those views.

Most Unfortunate Counsel of 2009 was the public defender Jeffrey Martin, representing Weusi McGowan on a robbery charge in San Diego. In court McGowan produced a plastic bag filed with human excrement, and smeared it on his lawyer’s hair and face, and then threw the rest at the jury. Mr McGowan was in deep doo-doo: he was sentenced to 31 years in prison for the robbery and for the assault on his lawyer.

The award for Cheesy Advocacy of the Year goes to Alan Jackson, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney. During the successful prosecution of the music producer, Phil Spector, for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a cocktail hostess and B-movie actress whom he shot after taking her to his home, Mr Jackson asked the jury to imagine the one thing they would say to Ms Clarkson before she climbed into Spector’s car on the night of her death. “You are all thinking the same thing,” he suggested. “Lana, whatever you do, don’t go.”

Wisest Advocate of the Year was Edward Genson, who withdrew from representing Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of Illinois who is accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became President. Genson told reporters: “I never require a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen.”

Most Obstinate Lawyer of the Year is H. Beatty Chadwick, 73, who was released from prison in Philadelphia after spending more than 14 years in jail for contempt for refusing to pay his ex-wife money awarded to her in their divorce proceedings.

Most Satisfied Client in 2009 was Debbie Purdy, suffering from multiple sclerosis, who said: “I’m ecstatic. It gives me my life back,” after the law lords (in their final judgment before the opening of the Supreme Court) decided that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, must publish guidelines setting out the criteria he will consider when deciding whether to prosecute for assisting a person to commit suicide.

Least Convincing Impersonation — of Keir Starmer, QC — was by Paul Bint, a confidence trickster who posed as the DPP and was convicted of various offences of theft and fraud.

Amy Winehouse was Most Compelling Witness in 2009. She was acquitted of assaulting a dancer at a charity ball after telling Judge Timothy Workman at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that she is only 5ft 2in tall, and showing him the shoes she was wearing on the night of the incident: “Look, they don’t even have a heel.” Winehouse added: “People are just rude or just mad these days.”

Silvio Berlusconi was this year’s Politician with Least Respect for the Independence of the Judiciary. The Italian Prime Minister responded to adverse court rulings by phoning a TV discussion programme to complain about “the communist magistrates and communist judges of Milan”.

A special award for Most Foolish Legal Statement of 2009 by a politician goes to the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, a QC. She said that the former boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin, “should not count” on keeping his large pension: “It might be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion.”

The Most Forceful Plea from a Judge to Politicians in 2009 was by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who asked the Government to stop producing so much new criminal legislation. He complained that such is the rate at which new criminal justice acts are being minted, and so piecemeal is their implementation, “I’m getting a little confused.”

The category of Hopeless Lawsuit of the Year is hotly contested each year. Special mentions for the libel claim, rejected by a Moscow court, by Joseph Stalin’s grandson against a newspaper which suggested that the Soviet leader had sent thousands of people to their deaths; and also the legal proceedings brought by a family in Saudi Arabia against an evil spirit which, they said, had invaded their home and stolen their mobile phones. The winner is the legal action by the Mayor of Batman, a city in Turkey, against Warner Brothers for using the city name in films without permission and causing “unsolved murders and a high female suicide rate” there.

The award for Best Use of Poetry in a Judgment goes to Lord Justice Wall. He concluded that a dispute in the Court of Appeal between separated parents who could not agree on residence arrangements for their child reminded him of the Philip Larkin poem which begins: “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.”

Mr Justice Hedley wins the prize for Judicial Anger Management of 2009 in response to the incompetence of a public authority. In his judgment criticising Orkney Island Council and Cambridgeshire County Council for their failures to give priority to the needs of a very vulnerable child, he revealed that he “found it necessary to adjourn the hearing briefly so as to ensure that no wholly improper judicial observations escaped my lips”, and he had not given his judgment immediately “because I did not trust myself to express my views in a temperate manner”.

In a personal injuries case in Philadelphia, counsel for the plaintiff filed a motion asking the judge to prohibit the defence counsel, Steven G. Leventhal, from performing any magic tricks for the jury and then suggesting that the evidence for the other side is not what it seems. The case was settled. But in 2010 courts will again be hearing and seeing incredible things, and good judgment and common sense will, on occasion, disappear.

The author, David Pannik, QC, is a practising barrister at Blackstone Chambers, a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords.

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Full article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article6959069.ece

Tourists enjoy White House breakfast

A Georgia couple who showed up at the White House a day early for a tour somehow wound up at an invitation-only breakfast with President Barack Obama and the first lady.

It wasn’t a state dinner, but it left the White House once again explaining how people who were not on an event guest list wound up being ushered into the presidential mansion anyway.

This time, White House officials say they were simply being hospitable.

The improbable adventure of Harvey and Paula Darden, Obama supporters from Hogansville, Ga., took place on Veterans Day, two weeks before Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi infamously crashed the Obamas’ state dinner for the prime minister of India.

The Dardens mistakenly showed up a day early for a tour scheduled through their congressman.

The White House and Secret Service both said the Dardens went through the appropriate security screenings and were allowed into the breakfast as a courtesy because there were no public tours the day they arrived.

That explanation was news to Harvey Darden, 67, a retired pharmacist, who said he and his wife thought they were starting their tour and weren’t told about the change — until they were ushered into the East Room, offered a buffet spread and told they’d be meeting the president.

“The further we got into the White House, the more surprised we were,” Darden told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “My wife looked at me and I looked at her, and I said, ‘You know, I don’t know if we’re in the right place.'”

They approached a White House aide with their concern that they had veered off course but were told to “just go with the flow,” Darden said.

“I felt kind of funny because I was the only man in the room that wasn’t dressed in a coat and tie,” he added. “I was just a plain tourist.”

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said agents performed the same screening procedures on the Dardens that were used for other breakfast guests: They checked the Dardens’ names and did a criminal background check — steps that were not taken for the Salahis at the Nov. 24 state dinner.

Because the Dardens were able to pass Secret Service vetting, they were allowed to attend the breakfast for veterans as a “nice gesture,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. He added that it’s not unusual for White House staff to take people who are cleared in for tours to other events if there is space, including Marine One arrivals, East Room events and Rose Garden ceremonies.

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Full article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091216/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_white_house_accidental_tourists

Tough Times for Big Law

Grads turn down offers of $80,000 not to work for a year.

If things are tough at the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, things are tough all over. Founded in 1819, Cravath is not really white shoe—too much rough-and-tumble—so much as it is black ink. Only the lean and mean machine that is Wachtell Lipton has higher per-partner profits than Cravath, which counts IBM and CBS among its loyal clientele.

When I witnessed the job-search drama as a student at Yale Law School, just about the most desirable placement was a spot at Cravath. It didn’t seem to matter that even summer associates at Cravath were expected to close Time Warner deals way past midnight. Nor did anyone seem to care that a new hire could regularly expect to have his viewing of Saturday Night Live disrupted by an emergency call from the office. Prestige whores will give it up for their choice currency, and Cravath carries that elite cachet.

Or at least it did. The class of associates that just joined Cravath was asked to defer their arrival for a year in exchange for a sweet deal: They would receive $80,000 to not work, plus they would get benefits and student-loan payments. This offer was optional.

Those who will be joining the firm next year are slightly, but only by a smidge, less lucky: They get $65,000 to put off employment for a year, with the same perquisites, and acceptance is mandatory. While other law firms are making similar overtures to their would-be and even current associates—top-notch names like Latham & Watkins and Skadden Arps among them—when trouble hits Cravath, economic swine flu has penetrated places that ought to be inoculated.

I’ll leave it to law bloggers and legal economists to ponder what it is about Cravath’s management that led it to this troubled place. But here’s something weirder: I’ve been told that none of the graduates of Yale Law School who were headed for Cravath accepted their offer of $80,000 to surf and sunbathe, or go forth and save the world. Since no one at either institution is willing to discuss this—and I don’t blame them, because I would be embarrassed too—I don’t know this for certain. But here’s what I’m sure of: Not everybody took Cravath up on this peachy keen opportunity to do anything for a year with pay and benefits. And that by itself is disturbing enough.

If even one person said no to $80,000 for bubkes, I’d question the sanity and intelligence of that sole holdout. Cravath recruits the best and the brightest kids from the most highly ranked law schools—and given $80,000 and a dream, all many of them could do was report to work on Monday.

This is cause for worry. I know it’s bad enough news when there is bad news in the Motor City and all of Michigan, and it breaks my heart that there’s never a good day if your livelihood is dependent on the fate of General Motors (coincidentally, another Cravath client). But New York City is not Detroit, Big Law is not the auto industry, and I dare say that even in this economy, life is still pretty swell at the top of Ivy shoots. The perception that institutions as venerable as Cravath might not be standing in a year’s time seems reasonable in an era when even Lehman Brothers, which survived the Civil War but not the Bush administration, came humpty-dumptying down not so long ago.

Or maybe Cravath’s fate isn’t the real issue. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said: “I worry that we are devoting too many of our very best minds to this enterprise.” Excuse me? These top-notch law grads, brilliant and bright as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when all the lights are turned on, may actually be idiots who lack imagination underneath it all. Maybe they just don’t have enough vision to know what to do with $80,000 worth of free time.

Not that sleeping and loafing around Park Slope for 12 months is so bad, by the way. It’s probably hard to plan a year off if your wits have been dulled by the Uniform Commercial Code and the Rule Against Perpetuities. Perhaps freedom so great is wasted on youth so stuck. These recent graduates were offered a generous gift in a time of great misfortune, and their response was to look at it askance.

That’s not what I would do now, in my 40s, but maybe I would have made the same mistake when I was 20-something. As a wise man once said: I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.

Miss Wurtzel, a lawyer in New York, is the author of “Prozac Nation” (Houghton Mifflin, 1994).

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704240504574586431109327544.html

Swedish man cleared of murder after evidence points to drunken elk

When Ingemar Westlund’s wife died in a mysterious woodland incident last year, he was arrested as a murder suspect. The Swedish pensioner was shunned by neighbours and treated like an outcast.

Sweden is the land of the cult detective novel, and its police officers have a reputation to live up to. Mr Westlund, it seemed, had the motive — persistent rows with his wife Agneta — and the opportunity. The 69-year-old was the first to find her body on the banks of a lake near Loftahammar, in southern Sweden, and, as far as the police were concerned, all the indications were that he had knocked her to the ground in a fury.

Now, to the embarrassment of the Swedish murder squad, the real culprit has been found: a drunken elk.

“What was first characterised as a murder, has now been shown to be a tragic accident,” said Cecilia Brick, a police spokeswoman.

Mr Westlund, who is now seeking compensation, is relieved but also furious: he was jailed for ten days after the incident, and although allowed to return home he remained a murder suspect for six months. When charges against him were dropped — the police neglected to tell him. As a result, he has spent the past 15 months living in his small southern Swedish community carrying the stigma of being a wife-killer, suffering frowns and odd glances in church.

Mrs Westlund, 63, took her dog for a walk in September 2008. It appears the dog disturbed an elk eating fermented apples — elks gobble up the fruit, which turns into alcohol in their stomachs, and makes for erratic behaviour.

Drunken elks attacked an old people’s home four years ago, and had to be driven back by police and hunters. With even a minimal amount of alcohol in their bloodstream, the normally placid creatures — often viewed by children as cuddly and benign — can turn into louts, charging into cars and causing more than 3,500 serious road accidents a year.

Typically weighing up to half a tonne, elk are best avoided when they are tipsy. They have entered department stores, got stuck in lifts, attacked skiers and barged into kitchens. If they see a parked motorist munching a sandwich, they have been known to knock on the window and demand a bite.

In the initial investigation, police did not take into account the possibility of a killer elk, assuming that the animal hairs on Mrs Westlund’s coat were from her dog. All the injuries to her head and body pointed to a human attack, they thought.

Detectives interviewed hundreds of people. One theory was that Mrs Westlund had been murdered elsewhere, and secretly carried to the lakeside.

The National Forensics Laboratory was called in to help. It was only when the police realised that Mr Westlund was probably not strong enough to cause such massive injuries to his wife that the National Criminal Investigation Department, the Swedish equivalent of Scotland Yard, set about profiling the killer.

Then laboratories at Umeå University decided to analyse the hairs on her coat, and the truth dawned. Saliva samples were also found to belong to an elk.

Göran Ericsson, an animal behaviour expert at the university, said that the failure of police to suspect an elk was understandable. They may be prone to drunkenness but they were not, on the whole, natural born killers. “We’re not aware of any similar case in the world,” he said.

“This has been a nightmare,” said Mr Westlund. “When I and my children bade farewell to Agneta at her funeral in front of 300 mourners, I was suspected of murdering her — can you imagine what that means?”

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Full article and photo: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6945251.ece

Prostitutes Offer Free Climate Summit Sex

Copenhagen Conference

Danish sex workers are offering free sex to COP15 in order to defend their industry

Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards to city hotels warning summit guests not to patronize Danish sex workers during the upcoming conference. Now, the prostitutes have struck back, offering free sex to anyone who produces one of the warnings.

Copenhagen’s city council in conjunction with Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards out to 160 Copenhagen hotels urging COP15 guests and delegates to ‘Be sustainable – don’t buy sex’.

“Dear hotel owner, we would like to urge you not to arrange contacts between hotel guests and prostitutes,” the approach to hotels says.

Now, Copenhagen prostitutes are up in arms, saying that the council has no business meddling in their affairs. They have now offered free sex to anyone who can produce one of the offending postcards and their COP15 identity card, according to the Web site avisen.dk.

Discrimination

According to the report, the move has been organized by the Sex Workers Interest Group (SIO).

“This is sheer discrimination. Ritt Bjerregaard is abusing her position as Lord Mayor in using her power to prevent us carrying out our perfectly legal job. I don’t understand how she can be allowed to contact people in this way,” SIO Spokeswoman Susanne Møller tells avisen.dk.

Møller adds that it is reprehensible and unfair that Copenhagen politicians have chosen to use the UN Climate Summit as a platform for a hetz against sex workers.

“But they’ve done it and we have to defend ourselves,” Møller says.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,665182,00.html

Giant Penis Sparks Bizarre Media War

Berlin’s History Res-Erected

Berlin newspaper the Taz has sparked a war with its rival Bild by displaying a risqué artwork on the outside of its building.

Four decades ago, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild did its best to squelch the 1968 student movement in Berlin. This year, the German capital has seen the conflict swell once again. And it has resulted in some rather stiff competition. 

The shimmering, gold-colored high-rise building that publisher Axel Springer had built in the 1960s is just a stone’s throw from the offices of Berlin’s legendary left-wing Tageszeitung newspaper, more commonly known simply as the “Taz.” But for someone looking from the 17th floor of the Springer building, where the main editorial offices of the influential tabloid newspaper Bild are located, a few trees block the view of the gray building that houses the editorial offices of the Taz, a publication that appears to believe even today that it has the right to dictate what it means to be left-wing in Germany. 

But what exactly does it mean to be “left-wing” these days? Is it left-wing to attach to the outside of the Taz building a sculpture of Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann showing him naked, wearing red glasses and cheap brown loafers and equipped with a penis that extends all the way up the front of the Taz building? Or is it just in poor taste? 

Diekmann, 45, is standing in front of the Taz building on Rudi Dutschke Street. He is wearing a gray pinstriped suit and brown brogues that look like they cost several hundred euros. He tilts his head back to take a look at his enormous pink doppelganger. “I came all the way down here to see it because there are trees blocking my view,” says Diekmann. “But I still haven’t quite figured out who the sculpture on the front of this building is supposed to depict.” 

Well, Diekmann himself, of course. 

At this moment, Diekmann looks a little like the American comic actor Buster Keaton, who always looked slightly sad. But there is also a trace of triumph and irony in his face. “It can’t be me,” he says. “The artist, Peter Lenk, expressly denied that it’s me.” 

‘A Six-Meter-Long Schlong’ 

An odd dispute has been the source of excitement in Berlin’s media community in recent weeks. On the one side of the dispute is Taz, published by a cooperative, constantly on the verge of bankruptcy and with a paid circulation of 65,000. On the other side is the editor-in-chief of Europe’s biggest newspaper, Bild, the cash cow of the Springer Group, with a circulation of more than 3 million. 

Lenk, 62, an artist from Lake Constance, attached his anti-Springer installation, “Peace Be With You,” to the façade of the building with the approval of Taz management. It didn’t take long before the installation had triggered anger and outrage — but not from the gold-colored high-rise nearby. In fact, the displeasure over Lenk’s piece came from the fifth floor of the Taz building, where Ines Pohl moved into an office four months ago as the publication’s new editor-in-chief. 

“I’m going to have to lock up my bike every morning under a six-meter-long schlong for the next two years,” says Ines Pohl, the recently appointed editor-in-chief of the Taz.

“If the artist Peter Lenk has his way, I’m going to have to lock up my bike every morning under a six-meter-long schlong for the next two years,” Pohl says. “What a pathetic provocation. How tedious. I’m just not interested in this inflated smugness that revolves around the sad, never-ending male rivalry over who has the longest penis.” She wants the sculpture removed. 

Diekmann can hardly believe his luck, now that his adversaries are turning their weapons on themselves. The satire that was intended to expose him has become a comedy about the Taz editors and their image of themselves. While chaos was erupting at the Taz, Diekmann began a game of self-deprecating jujitsu on his blog. 

In a blog entry titled “The Naked and the Reds,” Diekmann scoffs at his counterparts at the Taz, who have apparently “become so humorless and bitter recently that you have to ask yourself: Are these people truly brothers in spirit?” In another entry, entitled “How Much Dick Is Acceptable?”, he gleefully commiserates with his esteemed colleagues over at Taz: “I had a feeling this would happen. Now my Taz comrades are tearing each other apart over that naked monument.” 

Pranksters and Reactionaries 

The world has been turned upside-down on Rudi Dutschke Street. The team that likes to claim that its job is to stir things up in bourgeois society now finds itself with its back against a wall adorned by an art installation it approved. Meanwhile, the supposedly reactionary die-hards at Bild are using the tools of the modern prankster to stir things up at the Taz. The casual observer could be forgiven for being confused by the strange goings-on at the two papers. Who exactly are the revolutionaries here, and who is bourgeois? 

Kai Diekmann, at any rate, appears to derive a certain Mephistophelian glee from playing the Springer prankster. When he walks through the door of Sale e Tabacchi, an Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Taz building, he seems about as energetic and self-confident as if he owned the place. 

The restaurant was once a favorite of the editors at Taz, who had worked out a deal with Sale e Tabacchi whereby they could get lunch for a bargain €3.50 ($5.20). Germany’s poorest editorial staff once had the country’s best cafeteria. But then they began finding fault with the food. Nowadays Diekmann uses Sale e Tabacchi as a living room of sorts, and he even launched his book “Der grosse Selbstbetrug” (“The Great Self-Deception”), a critique of the German student protest movements of the late 1960s, at the restaurant. 

“Enemy territory? Not at all,” says Diekmann. For some time now, Taz employees have been eating lunch in their own cafeteria, where “Fennel au gratin with gorgonzola béchamel sauce, bulgur and vegetable pilaf” can be had for €5.95. 

A Long-Lasting Culture War 

It is quite possible that Berlin is now the scene of the last battle in a culture war that has lasted more than 40 years, a battle between the left-wing scene and Bild, which berated the protesters during the student unrest of the 1960s and sparked popular anger against people who were perceived to be deadbeats. The student activists held Bild and its headlines responsible for the death of student protester Benno Ohnesorg and the attempted assassination of the legendary student leader Rudi Dutschke. Even today, more than 40 years later, there is little reason to see these events differently. 

The journalistic heirs of Axel Springer are still wrestling with the past today, despite all efforts to modernize the group’s publications. Thomas Schmid, the editor-in-chief of Springer’s flagship conservative newspaper Die Welt, is a former confidant of the leftist politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the head of the Greens in the European Parliament. And Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner invited veteran German left-wing activists Christian Semler and Peter Schneider to attend a “Springer Tribunal” at the media conglomerate’s headquarters — although his offer was flatly rejected, because Semler and Schneider felt that they would be paraded around like trophies. 

There have always been, and still are, many unsettled accounts between Taz and Springer. Most of the time, Springer came away looking foolish because the writers and editors at Taz managed to expose their rivals with humor, impudence and chutzpah. For example, the Taz team, despite opposition from the Berlin branch of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the Springer Group, managed to have a section of Kochstrasse, the street where their offices are located, renamed Rudi Dutschke Street as a tribute to the left-wing hero. 

The Limits of Satire 

In recent years, Diekmann was usually their most prominent victim. They gave him unflattering nicknames and accused him of cozying up to the “brutal George W. in Washington” and “whispering ass-kissing words” to him. 

Diekmann takes a bite of his sandwich. “I’ve become more prudent and have matured in the last seven years,” he says. “I have allowed myself to be convinced that satire can be given a great deal of latitude. But that has to apply across the board, not just to the satire at Taz.” 

In 2002, Taz reported in its satire column that the Bild editor-in-chief had had his penis enlarged in Miami. “In the operation,” Taz wrote, “the veins, erectile tissue and flesh from the genitals of a male corpse were supposed to be implanted into his body, but the operation went badly, and it resulted in the castration of the patient.” 

Things only became worse for Diekmann when he sued for an injunction against Taz and demanded €30,000 ($44,700) in damages. The court ruled against him. Until then, it was only a few people in the leftist scene who had been laughing at him. Now one of the most powerful editors-in-chief in Germany was looking like a fool. 

The Anti-Phallus Contingent 

The day after Diekmann walked down to inspect his alleged likeness, a company meeting was held at Taz to discuss what to do about the art installation. A number of readers had expressed their irritation, and the pink monstrosity had become a source of embarrassment for many of the editors. But hardly anyone wanted to give Diekmann the satisfaction of seeing the sculpture being taken down. 

A decision to remove the installation was postponed. There are now two camps at Taz. On the one side are those who no longer want to be made fools of by their arch-nemesis and who berate the anti-phallus contingent as “neo-bourgeois and prudish.” On the other are people like editor-in-chief Ines Pohl who just want to see the thing removed. Almost all of them find the discussion embarrassing, but even after debating the issue for almost two-and-a-half hours, they haven’t come up with an effective response to Diekmann. 

After the meeting, Pohl is standing in the cafeteria. She is wearing a green parka and her eyes seem glazed over. She shrugs her shoulders. One staff member, she says, suggested installing a fountain into the tip of the penis, but that isn’t an option. For now, she says, the unwanted sculpture is staying where it is. 

It is Pohl’s first experience of what it’s like to be in charge at a publication where direct democracy rules. In other words, she doesn’t have much say at the paper. Pohl was brought in four months ago to shift Taz a little further to the left. Many editors complained that Pohl’s urbane predecessor, Bascha Mika, had become more interested in going on talk shows than in taking part in the fight against nuclear power. 

Pohl, on the other hand, is not so interested in the spotlight. She has attended anti-nuclear and peace rallies in Mutlangen, the former site of a US military base in southwest Germany, was the women’s affairs representative at the University of Göttingen and has worked for various regional newspapers. Pohl balks at the idea of promoting herself as a public figure, something that seems to form part of the job of an editor-in-chief today. She seems somewhat outclassed in the dispute with Diekmann. 

Sympathy for the Devil 

Diekmann, on the other hand, comes across as if he has been preparing for his job as Bild editor-in-chief his whole life. When he was only 14, he held a microphone up to the face of his idol, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Today Kohl is practically part of the family; Kohl was Diekmann’s best man at his wedding in 2002, and Diekmann returned the favor when Kohl married for a second time in 2008. 

By the age of 36, Diekmann had made it to the top at Bild. Since then he has assembled a small team around him. They run a blog together with Diekmann, where he also sells hot pants imprinted with the inscription “I Heart KD” and shoulder bags with the inscription “Sympathy for the Devil.” 

Six months ago, Diekmann — in complete seriousness, of course — joined the Taz cooperative, which owns the newspaper and currently has over 8,900 members. “We wanted to reach the target of 9,000 cooperative members by the end of the year,” Diekmann told SPIEGEL. “We are currently being forced to abandon this goal,” he said, adding, in a reference to the artist who created the penis sculpture, “I’m afraid the Lenk campaign is backfiring. That’s something we need to talk about.” 

In 2003, he was even guest editor for one issue of the Taz, which garnered record circulation figures. But now many at the Taz have the feeling that they made a pact with the devil at the time. 

Meanwhile, the sculpture will stay up for another two years — at least. Peter Lenk, the artist, has cited a verbal agreement with Kalle Ruch, the managing director of the Taz. “If anyone touches it before then,” says Lenk, “it’ll cost them €130,000 — and that would be a special price because we’re friends.” 

Folk Hero 

Lenk is sitting in the kitchen of his house on Lake Constance. He worked on the piece for one year, and at the end, when he had accumulated material costs of close to €28,000, he even hocked his sailboat. His bawdy satirical pieces have made Lenk a folk hero on Lake Constance. 

Last year, he installed a triptych depicting an orgy in front of the city hall in the southwestern city of Ludwigshafen. In the piece, a naked Chancellor Angela Merkel is grabbing former Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber’s genitals, while former Volkswagen works council member Klaus Volkert gropes Brazilian whores — a reference to a much-publicized scandal at the carmaker. The piece attracted such large crowds that the city administration collected €6,000 in fines for illegally parked cars in the first eight weeks alone. The city has since installed a small viewing area with benches in front of the sculpture. 

Lenk is an anarchically minded left-winger of the old school. He attended demonstrations in Stuttgart where he would shout obscene slogans. He was later fired from his job as a teacher because he was allowing his students to give themselves grades. Lenk has been a sculptor since then. 

With his populist art, Lenk is a kind of Kai Diekmann of the Lake Constance art scene. But this isn’t enough for him anymore. Now he wants to make his mark in Berlin. 

“The ball is on the penalty spot, ready to be kicked straight into the executive floor of the the Springer building,” says Lenk. “Right under the nose of those people who are obsessed with schadenfreude and tawdry sex.” 

Ines Pohl, says Lenk, wants to turn the Taz into a serious newspaper. “But me,” says Lenk defiantly, “I’m not serious.” 

Diekmann seems to believe that the outcome of the culture war has already been decided — in his favor, of course. For this reason, he has invited the Taz staff to attend a party to bury the hatchet, with free beer courtesy of Bild. 

The thought alone turns the stomach of Taz old hand and blog manager Mathias Bröckers. “We’ve always had better parties,” says Bröckers. “Now we’ve got this pecker hanging on the wall for the next two years.” After it comes down, he says, there will still be time to make up with the people at Bild. 

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,664926,00.html

Wheels of revolution

Venezuela’s anti-capitalist cars

An example of socialist production principles—but not a good one

SELDOM, since the day Adolf Hitler gave the order to produce the Volkswagen, has a car been given such an explicitly ideological mission. But the vehicles that roll, occasionally, off the production line at Venirauto’s factory, west of Caracas, will free Venezuelans from the “yoke of capitalism,” declares President Hugo Chávez. The factory was opened with great fanfare by the president three years ago. It is a joint venture between Iran and Venezuela, which Mr Chávez predicts will turn his country into a car exporter. It is also intended to be an example of socialist production principles, although its workers see things a little differently.

In December they downed tools over the company’s refusal to negotiate a collective contract. Their wages, even at the grossly overvalued official exchange rate, are worth around $25 a day. They complained of poor safety conditions and exploitative work practices. Their supposedly socialist employer refuses to recognise trade unions and has ignored the labour ministry’s order to reinstate sacked union activists.

The plant has a production capacity of 25,000 vehicles a year, but is struggling (even by official admission) to produce 10,000. There is no dealer network, and no credit facilities are offered—unless Mr Chávez personally orders a batch of cars for some favoured group of public employees.

Perhaps it is just as well that the 30,000 customers the government says are waiting for an anti-capitalist car should learn to do without one. When not praising the Turpial and the Centauro, Mr Chávez has been known to rail against the whole concept of car ownership. “The urge to get a car,” he told students on one occasion, “is poison to the human soul”. With that, he got into his limousine and rode off.

Venirauto’s cars are rehashes of clapped-out 1980s models from the imperialist West. The Turpial, a five-door hatchback, is based on the Ford Festiva, while the Centauro saloon is a clone of the Peugeot 405, though both are fitted with a conversion kit allowing them to run on natural gas. Their capitalist-busting claims are based on price: they undercut rival models by around 50%. If you can get one, that is.

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Full article: http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14969108&source=hptextfeature

Social climbing with a twist

White House gate-crashers in a long tradition

President Obama shakes hands with Michaele Salahi at Tuesday’s state dinner as her husband, Tareq Salahi, looks on.

Social climbing is an ancient art, one as old as society itself. The character of the high-society impostor — the fake aristocrat, the soi-disant marquis, the “professor” with no degree — has been known in every era, too. Both social climbers and charlatans have been described over and over in fiction. Think of the “King” and the “Duke” who swindle Huckleberry Finn, or of Madame Verdurin, who claws her way upward throughout the course of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Lost Time” — or of the Melanie Griffith character in “Working Girl.”

Over the centuries, some societies have been more susceptible to these sorts of swindles than others. Catherine the Great’s Russia, for example, was positively swarming with phony English duchesses and Italian princes: Imperial St. Petersburg was aspirational enough to want the company of “real” European aristocrats but far away enough from London or Naples to make it difficult to check their pedigrees. One also thinks of Edith Wharton’s New York, for similar reasons: Her characters are precisely the sort who would fall into a mésalliance with a dodgy Polish aristocrat, just off the boat, who invariably turns out not to be what he seems.

To that notable group of societies we can now add 21st-century Washington. Like 18th-century Russia, it is a world of neophytes, a society whose members have only recently “made it” into an elite magic circle and who don’t necessarily know the other members all that well. Like 19th-century New York, it is also a world where appearances matter: You get invited to the event — whether the White House Hanukkah party or the state dinner — not just because of who you are but because of what you represent, which costume you wear, which ethnic group you come from.

Above all, it is a world that seems to offer wealth and fame to those outsiders who manage to enter it. And it was in pursuit of both that Tareq and Michaele Salahi bamboozled their way into last week’s White House dinner for the Indian prime minister. Just like all charlatans and swindlers over the centuries, they managed it by looking and acting the part. He appears as if he could be South Asian, which seemed right; he also wore black tie and what looks, in the photographs, like a state decoration or medal. She is a striking, professionally coiffed blonde and wore a sari — a glamorous, red, expensive sari. Having managed to get previous meetings with Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey (Michaele even finagled her way into Redskinettes alumni parties), they knew how to behave around the contemporary aristocracy: Simply act as if you belong, don’t stare too hard at the celebrities, don’t eat or drink too much, and do engage your neighbors in light chit-chat about the Kashmir conflict and the Indian gross domestic product. Since hardly anyone knows anyone else at this kind of party, you can get away with it.

But there are differences between the Salahis and, say, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, a self-described “Spanish aristocrat” who set himself up as a glamorous “faith healer” in 1770s St. Petersburg, made his living by borrowing money from gullible courtiers (and possibly by renting out his wife, the “Princess di Santa Croce,” to Prince Potemkin).

The Salahis are hoping to cash in faster — a lot faster. It has been less than a week since they crashed the president’s party, and already they are demanding six figures for the exclusive television appearance in which they will either declare themselves to be be offended, on the grounds that they “thought” they were invited to the White House — or else will boast of having pulled off the social-climbing coup of the century.

They also have a lot more help than did the swindlers of yesteryear. Michaele had a television crew film her preparations for the party at a Georgetown beauty salon, so there is footage ready for whoever has the money to pay. A publicist has been booked and is prepared to negotiate. Plenty of “legitimate” news outlets are ready to play: According to The Post, a CBS reporter has already slipped a note under their door, offering an interview with Katie Couric. Next will come the book contract, the movie rights and — who knows? — maybe the television talk show. I can just see it: “Famous for Being Famous: At Home With the Salahis.”

Unless, of course, they meet the same fate as their many predecessors. The Spanish Count Cagliostro was eventually expelled from St. Petersburg, after the empress learned that he was neither Spanish nor a count. The “King” and “Duke” in “Huckleberry Finn” were tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

A century ago, the Salahis, too, would be shamed, embarrassed and finally banished from the elite world that they had contrived to enter. Even now, they ought to expect to be under arrest, for lying to the Secret Service, if nothing else — unless the rules of polite society have changed so much that there are no longer any rules at all.

Anne Applebaum, Washington Post

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Full article and photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/29/AR2009112902013.html

Conscious man ‘in coma’ for 23 years

A Belgian man diagnosed as being in a coma for 23 years was actually conscious the whole time.

Rom Houbens was simply paralysed and had no way to let doctors caring for him what he was suffering.

“I dreamt myself away,” says Houben, now 46, who was misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state after a car crash.

Doctors and nurses in Zolder deemed him a hopeless case whereby his consciousness was considered “extinct”.

The former martial arts enthusiast and engineering student was paralysed after a car crash in 1983. He was finally correctly diagnosed three years ago and his case has just come to light in a scientific paper released by the man who “saved” him.

Doctors treating him regularly examined him using the worldwide Glasgow Coma Scale which judges a patient according to eye, verbal and motor responses.

During every examination he was graded incorrectly. And so he suffered in silence, unable to communicate to his parents, his carers or the friends who came to his bedside that he was awake and aware at all times what was happening in his room.

Only the re-evaluation of his case at the University of Liege brought to light that Houben was only paralysed all these years. Hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.

Therapy has now enabled him to tap out messages on a computer screen and he has a special device above his bed enabling him to read books while lying down.

When he woke up after the accident he had lost control of his body, “I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,” he says.

“I became a witness to my own suffering as doctors and nurses tried to speak with me until they gave up all hope.

“I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth. All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.”

The neurologist Steven Laureys who led the re-examination of Houben, published a study two months ago claiming vegetative state diagnosed patients are often misdiagnosed.

“Anyone who bears the stamp of ‘unconscious’ just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again,” he said.

Laureys, who leads the Coma Science Group and Department of Neurology at Liege University Hospital, discovered how Houbens’ brain was still working using state-of-the-art imaging. He now intends to use the case of Houbens to highlight what he considers may be many more similar examples of misdiagnosis around the world.

He said: “In Germany alone each year some 100,000 people suffer from severe traumatic brain injury. About 20,000 are followed by a coma of three weeks or longer. Some of them die, others regain health. But an estimated 3000 to 5000 people a year, remain trapped in an intermediate stage: they go on living without ever come back again.”

Houbens remains in constant care at a facility near Brussels.

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Full article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/6632518/Conscious-man-in-coma-for-23-years.html

Libyan Leader Hands out Korans to Hundreds of Italian Beauties

Girls for Gadhafi

gaddhafi italy _____

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi doesn’t shy away from pomp.

Known for his quirkiness, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may have outdone himself this week. In Italy for a global hunger summit, the colonel requested hundreds of “beautiful girls from all of Italy,” saying he wanted to “exchange views.” They got a Koran for their trouble.

When it comes to quirkiness, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has set the bar high. Should he wish to grace the headlines, it is no longer enough for him to arrive on foreign visits with his gaggle of female bodyguards and his Bedouin tent.

But in his narcissism, Gadhafi is nothing if not inventive. In Rome for a United Nations summit on global hunger, Gadhafi has come up with an ingenious plan to liven up his evenings.

Last week, according to the Italian newswire Ansa, an Italian agency began looking for hundreds of “beautiful girls from all of Italy” at the behest of the Libyan dictator. According to the advertisement, they were to be “cute, between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 feet 7 inches) and well dressed. No mini-skirts or cleavage.” Gadhafi, the advertisement went on, wanted to “exchange views” with the young women and “honor them” the Libyan way. For their trouble, the women were to get €50 ($75) and a Koran.

Some Guy Who Looks Like Jesus

On Sunday night, however, it became clear just what Gadhafi meant by “exchanging views.” Ansa reports that 200 women — minus those weeded out for not having dressed appropriately — filed in to the Libyan Embassy before being subjected to a lecture from the Libyan leader about the benefits of Islam. After the lesson was over, he invited them to convert.

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is in Rome for the International Summit of Food Security. In preparation, he asked an Italian agency to find him hundreds of young women to “exchange views” with him in the evening.

According to an advertisement placed by the agency, the women were to be “cute, between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 feet 7 inches) and well dressed. No mini-skirts or cleavage.”

The women were to be paid 50 euros for their trouble and given a copy of the Koran.

On Sunday and Monday evenings, hundreds of women showed up. But instead of a discussion, they got a lecture — with Gadhafi holding forth on the glories of Islam. The women were also invited to convert.

In addition to the Koran, Gadhafi handed out copies of his “Green Book.” The book, first printed in 1975, outlines Gadhafi’s views on democracy and makes forays into political theory and economics.


According to one participant at the event, as quoted by the Italian newswire Ansa, Gadhafi said: “You believe that Jesus was crucified, but that didn’t happen. God took him to the heavens. They crucified some guy who looked like him.”

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According to participants quoted by Ansa, Gadhafi told his audience that “you believe that Jesus was crucified, but that didn’t happen. God took him to the heavens. They crucified some guy who looked like him.”

One participant, identified by Ansa only as L.M., said “I was expecting a party, not a lecture.” Her companion added, “I feel offended because of my religious faith.”

Gadhafi is one of 60 heads of state and government in Rome for the International Summit of Food Security. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference on Monday by highlighting the connection between world hunger — a problem faced by roughly a billion people around the globe — and climate change, the subject of another major international conference at the beginning of December in Copenhagen.

“The food crisis of today is a wakeup call for tomorrow,” Ban said. “By 2050 our planet may be the home of 9.1 billion people…. By 2050 we know we will need to grow 70 percent more food, yet weather is becoming more extreme and more unpredictable.”

Graffiti in the UN

Many were critical of the fact that, aside from host Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, no leaders from the world’s richest nations had bothered to attend the summit.

Gadhafi’s curious post-conference social activities are consistent with his reputation for being eccentric in the extreme. Shunning hotels, Gadhafi often prefers to stay in an extravagant “Bedouin” tent in a central city park during state visits. He has also been wont to bring along huge contingents of attractive female bodyguards on state visits.

Most recently, Gadhafi called attention to himself by ripping up the United Nations charter at UN headquarters in New York and scrawling graffiti on his seat in the assembly hall. During a visit to Rome in June of this year, Gadhafi requested a meeting with 700 Italian women from “politics, industry and culture.”

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,661561,00.html

‘Thatcher dead’ text sparks fears

Margaret Thatcher attends a memorial service on 11 November 2009

Not this Thatcher….

A misconstrued text message announcing the passing of a beloved pet has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity in Canada.

Transport Minister John Baird sent a message reading: “Thatcher has died”.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was soon informed that 84-year-old former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had passed away.

But it was actually Mr Baird’s beloved cat, named after his political heroine, who had died.

Alive and healthy

The confusion spread around a gala event in Toronto, where some 1,700 luminaries were gathered at a black tie event.

A tabby cat

….but a Thatcher very much like this one

Calls to puzzled officials in both 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace followed.

Embarrassed aide Dimitri Soudas had reportedly already started preparing an official statement mourning the passing of the Iron Lady.

He was told that Baroness Thatcher – who just a few days ago attended a Remembrance Day service at London’s Westminster Abbey – was alive and healthy.

“If the cat wasn’t dead, I’d have killed it by now,” Mr Soudas is reported to have said of the 16-year-old grey tabby.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8358544.stm

Burnt Offerings

There is an old, snooty church joke that goes something like this: Miss Smith approaches her pastor, incensed that he has replaced the King James Bible with the New International Version. “Pastor, bring back the King James,” she says. “If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

Last week the joke was ignited—literally, at the Halloween book burning sponsored by Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C. The church’s Web site declared the burning to be “a great success.” Works thrown into the flames included those by supposed heretics Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and emergent church guru Brian McLaren. “It was a success because God’s Word was glorified and uplifted,” according to the Web site. Claiming scriptural warrant for the burning, the site quoted Acts: “And many that believed, came and confessed and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”

Most disturbing, Scripture itself was burned—onto the pyre flew modern translations of the Bible like those that the woman in the joke deplored. Amazing Grace is a self-proclaimed King James Only church: “We believe that the King James Bible is the Word of God,” says the church’s Web site. “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally and plenary inspired Word of God. We believe that the KJV is inspired of God.”

In this, the church in Canton is part of a larger movement that claims the Authorized, or King James Version, of the Bible is the only reliable translation. Indeed, some have even claimed that it is inerrant—because it is based on a superior Greek text. The concerns that animate the King James Only movement have their source in late 19th- and early 20th-century anxieties about German higher criticism of Scripture: Does a text have to be inerrant in order to be reliable? (And within these conversations about which Bible to read are also whispers of another debate: Some fundamentalist co-religionists argue against reading the KJV, on the grounds that King James himself was supposedly gay.)

“Book burning” may call to mind the conflagrations in Nazi Germany or the Cultural Revolution. But fiery libricide has a long history in the church. As scholars including critic Haig Bosmajian have made clear, Christians have been burning books for centuries. (Perhaps the church learned this from early persecutions in which their own “inspired and sacred scriptures” were, as Eusebius recounts, “committed to the flames in the midst of the marketplace.”) Over and over, the church burned Jewish books: Christian crusaders and Spanish Inquisitors burned Jewish sacred books; in one instance, a Dominican priest took fire from a one of his monastery’s candlesticks and set a copy of Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed” aflame. And Christian books deemed heretical were destroyed, too. In the fourth century, Constantine ordered the heretical writings of Arius burned.

After the 1526 printing of the Tyndale Bible, the bishop of London ordered copies burned at St. Paul’s cathedral. (This prefigured the 1536 burning of Tyndale himself.) Across the Atlantic, Puritan authorities burned books belonging to Quaker women in Boston in 1656. More recently, in December 1948, Catholic students in Binghamton, N.Y., led a comic-book burning. As the books burned, they sang a rousing tune: “An Army of Youth flying the standard of truth. / We are fighting for Christ the Lord. / Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry, / And the cross our only sword.”

And remember in 2003, when a father-son pastor team in Michigan burned a Harry Potter novel outside church? Ironic, that burning: The very ritual of burning a book smacked of the supernaturalism and even magic that the pastors were ostensibly protesting. Spectators caught the spirit and started burning other books, as well, including, yes, a non-King James Bible. That’s what they call fanning the flames.

Ms. Winner is an assistant professor at Duke University’s divinity school.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013004574517453919024722.html

Bear kills militants in Kashmir

A Himalayan black bear strolls in Dachigam National Park, 25kms from Srinagar, on Oct 16, 2009

The bear population has grown in Kashmir in recent times

A bear killed two militants after discovering them in its den in Indian-administered Kashmir, police say.

Two other militants escaped, one of them badly wounded, after the attack in Kulgam district, south of Srinagar.

The militants were armed with AK-46s but were taken by surprise – police found the remains of pudding they had made to eat when the bear attacked.

It is thought to be the first such incident since Muslim separatists took up arms against Indian rule in 1989.

Bodies found

The militants had made their hideout in a cave which was actually the bear’s den, said police officer Farooq Ahmed.

The dead have been identified as Mohammad Amin alias Qaiser, and Bashir Ahmed alias Saifullah.

News of the attack emerged when their injured comrade went to a nearby village for treatment.

“Word spread in the village that Qaiser had been killed by the bear,” another police officer said.

A joint party of the police and army personnel went into the forest and collected the bodies of the two militants.

Police say they also recovered two AK-46 rifles and some ammunition from the hideout.

Animal attacks

Wildlife experts say the conflict in Kashmir has actually resulted in an increase in the population of bears and leopards.

Following the outbreak of the insurgency people had to hand in their weapons to police – which put a halt to poaching.

As a result, there has been a greater incidence of man-animal conflict, say experts.

There have been many reports of bears and leopards killing or mauling humans in different parts of the Kashmir valley in recent years.

Three years ago, residents of Mandora village near the southern town of Tral, beat a black bear to death which had strayed into the village.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8339549.stm

Lawyerese Goes Galactic as Contracts Try to Master the Universe

From Stage to Pickle Shop, These Terms Cover All Rights for All Time in All Worlds

Decked out in sequined black and gold dresses, Anne Harrison and the other women in her Bulgarian folk-singing group were lined up to try out for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” TV show when they noticed peculiar wording in the release papers they were asked to sign.

[Anne Harrison]

Anne Harrison

Any of their actions that day last February, the contract said, could be “edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity.”

She and the other singers, many of whom are librarians in the Washington, D.C., area, briefly contemplated whether they should give away the rights to hurtling their images and voices across the galaxies forever. Then, like thousands of other contestants, they signed their names.

Ms. Harrison figured the lawyers for the show were trying to hammer home the point that contestants have no rights to their performances, “but I think they’re just lazy and don’t want to write a real contract,” she says.

Lawyers for years have added language to some contracts that stretches beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. But more and more people are encountering such everywhere-and-forever language as entertainment companies tap into amateur talent and try to anticipate every possible future stream of revenue.

Experts in contract drafting say lawyers are trying to ensure that with the proliferation of new outlets — including mobile-phone screens, Twitter, online video sites and the like — they cover all possible venues from which their clients can derive income, even those in outer space. FremantleMedia, one of the producers of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” declined to comment on its contracts.

The terms of use listed on Starwars.com, where people can post to message boards among other things, tell users that they give up the rights to any content submissions “throughout the universe and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed.”

Lucasfilm Ltd., Star Wars creator George Lucas’s entertainment company that runs the site, said the language is standard in Hollywood.

“But, to be honest with you, we have had very few cases of people trying to exploit rights on other planets,” says Lynne Hale, a Lucasfilm spokeswoman.

In a May 15, 2008, “expedition agreement” between JWM Productions LLC, a film-production company, and Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., a shipwreck-exploration outfit, JWM seeks the rights to footage from an Odyssey expedition. The contract covers rights “in any media, whether now known or hereafter devised, or in any form whether now known or hereafter devised, an unlimited number of times throughout the universe and forever, including, but not limited to, interactive television, CD-ROMs, computer services and the Internet.”

Odyssey said the wording was standard entertainment-law contract language. Jason Williams, JWM’s president, said he feels a bit strange when his lawyers start using “cosmic language,” but it’s prudent.

“These days there is an enormous amount of concern about how rights get appropriated,” he said. “Paranoia is paramount.”

The space and time continuum has extended to other realms outside the arts, including pickles. A 189-word sentence in a September agreement between Denver-based Spicy Pickle Franchising Inc. and investment bank Midtown Partners & Co. — which has helped raise capital for the sandwich and pickle shops dotted across the region — unconditionally releases Spicy Pickle from all claims “from the beginning of time” until the date of the agreement. “We’re trying to figure out how to cover every possible base as quickly as possible,” says Marc Geman, chief executive officer of Spicy Pickle. “When you start at the beginning of time, that is pretty clear.”

As for the wordy language, he says, “the length of the paragraph is only limited by the creativity of the attorney.”

Midtown Partners CEO John Clarke didn’t realize the wording was in the contract until it was pointed out and said it “probably is a little extreme.” Had he drafted the contract, he says he may have suggesting substituting “dating back to the birth date of the oldest party involved.”

James O’Toole, politics editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recently signed a release form for WQED, a PBS TV station in Pittsburgh, before he appeared on a news talk show. The contract allows the TV station to make use of “any incidents” of his life and reproduce his image or voice “throughout the universe in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereinafter devised.”

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On the Dotted Line

I hereby agree to participate in the above multi-media project (“Project”) produced by Producer, and irrevocably grant my permission and authorize Producer to record, re-record and photograph my likeness, my name, my performance, my voice, interviews of me, and information relating to me, to portray or describe me as Producer may elect, and to make use of any incidents of my life in any and all editions of the Project, and in advertising, marketing, publicity and promotion related to the Project, and to reproduce and publish the same throughout the universe in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereinafter devised, including without limitation, all forms of television, home video, digital download, radio and print.

— Contract required for guests appearing on WQED, a PBS television station in Pittsburgh

If at our request you send certain specific submissions (e.g., postings to chats, surveys, message boards, contests, or similar items) or, despite our request that you not send us any other creative materials, you send us creative suggestions, ideas, notes, drawings, concepts, or other information (collectively the “Submissions\) shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Lucas in perpetuity. By making any Submission, the sender automatically grants, or warrants that the owner of such material expressly grants, Lucas the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, and distribute such material (in whole or in part) throughout the universe and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed, for the full term of any copyright, trademark or patent that may exist in such material for any purpose that Lucas chooses, whether internal, public, commercial, or otherwise, without any compensation, credit or notice to the sender whatsoever.

— Terms of use listed on Starwars.com, where people can post to message boards, among other things

As of the date first set forth above, the Midtown Holders, for themselves and their respective officers, directors, members, managers, heirs, successors, assigns, agents and representatives, hereby fully and forever unconditionally release and discharge the Company, and its subsidiaries, affiliates, employees, officers, directors, shareholders, members, managers, successors, assigns, agents and representatives (collectively referred to as “SPFI Affiliates”) from any and all claims, demands, obligations, actions, liabilities and damages of every kind and nature whatsoever, at law or in equity, whether known or unknown to any of them, which they may now have against the Company or the SPFI Affiliates or which may thereafter be discovered, in connection with, as a result of, or in any way arising from, any relationship or transaction with the Company or the SPFI Affiliates, however characterized or described, which relates in any way to the Placement Agent Agreement, the Old Warrants or  any other related agreements from the beginning of time until the date of this Agreement, except and unless such claim, demand, obligation, action, liability or damage arises from a breach or default in Company’s obligations to be fulfilled pursuant to this Agreement.

— A Sept. 14 agreement between Denver-based Spicy Pickle Franchising Inc. and investment bank Midtown Partners and Co., LLC, which has helped raise capital for the sandwich and pickle shops

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Mr. O’Toole, who says he didn’t bother to read the release before signing it, took the news calmly. “I’m very popular in some of the far reaches of the Milky Way,” he says. Even so, he says, “I don’t think I’ve missed out on a lot of potential income.”

Jacquelyn Thomas, general counsel for WQED, says the company has “never gotten any pushback” on this language.

“I don’t mean to sound like a science-fiction nut…but it’s not inconceivable that media will move beyond planet Earth,” Ms. Thomas says.

slavey

Members of the Washington, D.C.-area Bulgarian folk ensemble ‘Slaveya’ signed a contract before they tried out for ‘America’s Got Talent’ that said their work could be ‘edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity.’

Some legal experts rail against such language as imprecise and unnecessary. Ken Adams, a Garden City, N.Y., attorney and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who advocates for clarity in contract language, says references to outer space and the end time are silly.

That kind of language could even be a way of drumming up business, he says. “It adds an aura of magic — you’re dabbling in the occult and you of course need a lawyer to guide you through the mysteries.”

But Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law who specializes in intellectual-property and Internet law, says the language could be “a stroke of brilliant foresight.” Referring to geographical limits loosely can be dangerous, he says. For instance, “the United States is an ambiguous term…American Samoa, yes or no?”

“Throughout the world” would be one alternative, but that excludes possible future markets, he says. Some day, Mr. Goldman adds, people might ask, “What were they thinking? Why didn’t they get the Mars rights?”

Dionne Searcey, Wall Street Journal

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Full article and photos: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125658217507308619.html