Burma’s ruling military junta has severed its country’s internet connections to the outside world, a move aimed at preventing the flow of dramatic images of its forceful crackdown from reaching the rest of us.

After being riveted first by images of saffron-robed Buddhist monks leading massive pro-democracy protests and then by the regime’s bloody crackdown on the demonstrators, the world now can see only the smallest glimpses of the tense, superficial calm now prevailing in Rangoon.

But the junta’s heavy-handed efforts to impose a virtual black-out on events inside the country – and to win a victory in the propaganda war – appear to have claimed an unintended casualty: its own propaganda.

Normally, the regime’s English-language mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, is easily available on the web, offering a glimpse into the mindset and world-view of the ruling generals, and their take on events.

But international links to the web host for the state-run papers – the website of Burma’s state television channel – appear to have been cut off too. This has had the inadvertent effect of silencing the junta’s own internet voice, to say nothing of how the cut-off has affected Burma’s internet savvy – and presumably information-hungry – citizens.

Piracy in the bag

Ziploc bags aren’t just for travellers bringing liquid on to US-bound flights any more. Cinema attendants in Hong Kong are now employing them as the latest tool in the global war on film piracy.

Filmgoers attending a screening of Lust, Caution – the latest offering from Ang Lee, director of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – had their bags searched and any cameras found were zip-locked and taken into custody until the film had finished.

Cinema attendants also patrolled the aisles at regular intervals during the screening, on the look-out for anyone surreptitiously trying to film the film.

There is also a HK$30,000 reward out for whistle-blowers turning people in for making illegal copies.

This has got to be music to the ears of the suits at NBC Universal, whose Focus Features division produced the film.

A representative for Edko Films, the Hong Kong distributor, said extra security was implemented because there were “strong hints that several pirate syndicates had their sights set on this film”, which was generally released first in Hong Kong and Taiwan after showings at the Toronto and Venice film festivals.

The film is sexually explicit, which may help explain why the pirates are especially keen on this particular title.

“Touch wood, but we’ve been successful so far,” said the representative. Must be those Ziploc bags working their magic.


The US Securities and Exchange Commission has been fighting a noble war against the fraudulent use of e-mail spam to pump up stocks, and it has had some success – the regulator claims to have eliminated 35 scam stocks.

But Kathleen Casey, SEC commissioner, pointed out recently that there was one flaw in its approach: its code name.

The SEC promoted its crackdown with the name Operation Spamalot, which, of course, is also the name of a musical comedy based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

“It’s a catchy name, which was the point,” Casey says. “But it caught the attention of Monty Python’s Spamalot, who also thought it was a catchy name.”

The Python team “kindly” asked the SEC to try and come up with something else, Casey says, and the SEC obliged.

A news release issued by the SEC on Thursday mentioned the success of its “Anti-Spam Initiative”, which somehow is not quite as memorable. But it gets the point across.

One might think the comedians at Monty Python would let something like this pass, but it turns out they have to walk a pretty tight line on copyright issues too. At the bottom of the Spamalot website, there is evidence of the work of a thorough team of attorneys: “SPAM is a registered trademark of Hormel Foods Corporation.”

Jimmy calls time

Jimmy Cayne, Bear Stearns chief executive, is well-known for his habit of leaving the office most days by about 5pm, an unusual routine for a hard-charging Wall Street titan.

Even as Bear Stearns faced serious questions about its ability to weather the credit crisis that emerged this summer, Cayne has not gone out of his way to demonstrate that he was on the case 24/7. There was a now-famous moment this summer when Cayne stepped out of the room during a tense conference call about the credit mess.

Now it seems that the secret of his early departures is out: Jimmy likes to eat an early lunch. Bear Stearns held an analyst conference on Thursday in which it offered encouraging words about its businesses. The message: don’t worry – the worst of the summer credit squeeze appears to be over.

But at 12.20pm, as analysts were still firing away with questions about leveraged loan commitments and mortgage-backed securities, Cayne moved quickly to end the proceedings.

“We promised to get you out of here by lunch,” Cayne said, as most executives might have just started thinking of their midday meal. “And now it’s already after lunch.”

No word on whether Cayne, an avid golfer, had an early tee-time.


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