Fourteen of the 18 jurors (12 plus six spares) judging Conrad Black et al are women. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Only four of the 18 are black. The white womenfolk jurors performing their democratic duty appear to be “working class” if that phrase means anything in this city of high unemployment.

They are paid US$40 a day to sit in their colourful home-made knits and watch what one of the world’s most expensive clothes horses is wearing each day. Which is probably why Lady Muckmouth doubled up with Monday’s ensemble on Tuesday.

Relative calm returned on day seven to the Chicago courtroom where The United States vs. Conrad Black et al continued to play to a packed house.

Earlier in the week, it looked like the Phil Spector celebrity murder trial – which was just kicking off in Los Angeles – might swamp the low key Trial Noir in the eyes of the fickle US media. Then the Black Narcissus threw her fabulous, foul-mouthed hissy fit and the attention of American reporters returned to the corporate show trial in Chicago.

Besides, the Spector trial is still bogged down in jury selection and they can watch it live on TV in the Chicago courthouse during the boring bits. There were plenty of those yesterday when opening statements continued.

“These are four trials,” said Ron Safer, the lawyer for Mark Kipnis, the former Hollinger International general counsel.

He called Kipnis an honest man who “did the best he could,” but who was, in reality, not one of the inner circle at Hollinger. Safer said Kipnis should not be put in the same category as Black or the other two accused who are on trial with him.

Kipnis is facing two counts of tax fraud and nine counts of mail and wire fraud in connection with the alleged illegal diversion of US$60 million in non-compete payments. His lawyer said his client did not get any of the millions of dollars at issue.

Gord Paris, the man who took over from Black as CEO of Hollinger International, is expected to be the first prosecution witness on Thursday. The trial continues.

Strong words from Alan Murray in the Wall Street Journal:

Black’s peerage and her décolletage aside, however, this trial will provide the most graphic illustration yet of why the 20th-century model of the public corporation broke down.

How the mighty have fallen. The business lives of the press barons always seem to be measured in dollar signs and column inches, rather than the passage of time.

Emphasising the Black Baron’s financial acumen yesterday, his lawyer Eddie Genson said his client had bought the Telegraph titles for US$30m and sold them a decade later for US$1.4 billion. “He almost drove Rupert Murdoch out of London,” he spuriously claimed.

The Black Baron’s rise to power and fall from grace was indeed a short trip in the long history of Fleet Street.

It was in 1992 that the Canadian Anglophile took control of the Daily Telegraph, pitting himself against Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Times, in a two-horse race to be the voice of Britain’s Conservative establishment. The Telegraph was bought by the Barclay Brothers in June 2004 for 660 million pounds.

We owe Conrad and Barbara gratitude. So writes Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph:

What a circus. What a show. What a wonderful way to cheer a bleak March morning. The English spring seems to have had a crisis of confidence and relapsed into winter. The English cricket team is collapsing – and yet all the way from Chicago there wafts a story to warm the cockles of the heart, a magnificent fable of pride and retribution, and we are indebted to one extraordinary couple for providing it…

That is the tragic cycle, and how amply Conrad and Barbara have fulfilled it. We needed them to puff themselves up; we needed the folie de grandeur and the dressing up as cardinals and queens; because if Conrad had not been so splendidly bombastic, and if Barbara had not been so full of magnificent hauteur as to call other journalists “vermin”, then the rest of humanity would not feel such pleasure, secret or open, in witnessing what would seem to be their imminent comeuppance.

The face of Black Narcissus. Jane Wheatley starts a catfight with Barbara Amiel in The Times:

She worked hard, attended Toronto University and thence to a glittering career in journalism, exceeded only by a parallel career as a kind of latterday courtesan in which she used s-x appeal as a form of direct action. “If she sits next to someone at dinner and she decides she wants to please, there’s no one more brilliant than her,” an admirer observed. “She fixes those great green eyes on you and the rest is history. It is an amazing performance.”

After a period as the first female editor of the Toronto Sun, where she was once spotted striding through the office in an open trenchcoat revealing a black bustier, garter belt and fishnet stockings, Amiel moved to England as a columnist for The Times and The Sunday Times purveying her trenchantly pro-Israel, pro-American, Eurosceptic views and her belief that homos-xuality was an abomination. She then moved to The Telegraph group, owned by her future husband.

Playing Prisoner’s Dilemma for keeps. Charlie Smith from Georgia Straight poses an interesting question:

For anyone familiar with a game called the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Radler’s actions (in pleading guilty) make a lot of sense. According to economist Paul Ormerod’s book Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics (Faber and Faber Limited, 2005), the game was invented by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950. In its simplest form, two “prisoners” face a dilemma after being caught by police after robbing a bank. “The action, as in most such cameos, takes place in the US, where the authorities have the power to make bargains with criminals in return for confessions,” Ormerod wrote. “You are each held in a separate cell, and a deal is put to you. As far as your partner is concerned, you are completely in the dark. You are wholly uncertain about anything that is being suggested to him or her, but you are compelled, for the purposes of this story, to decide on the spot what you will do.”

The choice is to confess or stay silent. If one person rats out the other, the silent one will likely serve a longer sentence. If both criminals cooperate with each other and remain silent, both will end up with the best position because it will become more difficult to prove they committed the crime.

Ormerod, a former head of the economic assessment unit at the Economist magazine, wrote that in the eyes of economists, the “optimal” strategy is for both parties to confess because both are uncertain of what the other party will do. “Whatever the other does, each is better off confessing than remaining silent,” Ormerod noted. “But the outcome obtained when both confess is worse for each than the outcome they would have obtained had both remained silent.”

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Peter Fray
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