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Giles Slade Headshot

Conrad Black Wriggles Free

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Who cares right? There's much bigger jail news today. Lindsey Lohan's time is at last up.

But even if he is still largely unknown in the lower 48, Conrad Black is a public figure in Canada, that country north of Chicago that shelters a population equivalent to two very large America cities. For a decade or so, Black achieved the nineteenth century's version of the Canadian dream by leaving Canada - renouncing Canadian citizenship - for England where he joined the aristocracy. Lord Black became the head of the Queen of England's Honor Guard and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle - parties with Elton - albeit one supported by rifling the finances of his investors' companies.

Among Canadians, Conrad is a famous as a robber baron, a rapacious baby-eating capitalist trained to corporate theft in the company of the son's of bank presidents and mining executives at the nation's 'best' private school where he stole exams and sold them to his peers rating the price in inverse proportion to how useful their social and business contacts might later be.

He is to be respected and avoided. (Kowtowing is so essential to the Canadian social fabric). Black's mistake was to try to do business in this same arrogant way in the U.S. What Leona Helmsley was to hotels, Conrad became to newspaper publishing. People were irked and pointed him out to the Justice Department.

Such is his influence in Canada, that newspapers here did not even report the fact that Black was freed largely as a sidebar to a Supreme Court decision concerning Enron's jailed executives. The Canadian stories were entirely about Lord Black. Up there in the beauty and emptiness of the small pond, he is still a very big fish (although I wonder how long this will last now that his money is gone).

I have to confess over the past two years or so, I've grown - grudgingly - to admire the man. He is a gonif's gonif, and apparently his denial knows no limits. He simply will not take no for an answer, resembling no one so much as Robert Mugabe or - even better - Shakespeare's Barnadine, who faced with his own execution steadfastly refuses it: "I swear, I will not die today for any man's persuasion." Funny stuff.

Black has now succeeded in freeing himself, and more power to him. Several U.S. papers wonder where he will go now, and what he will do for money. Conditions of his bail will probably require him to remain stateside for some time. But he will be free for his 66th birthday on August 25th.

I think there is only place for the broke newspaper mogul to celebrate his double digits. He should leave the Chicago courtroom and board the Silver Streak to the boulevard of broken dreams: Los Angeles, California. With a little ingenuity he could lend his name to a ghostwritten screenplay or a murder mystery, and begin his comeback. He might take a leaf out of Martha Stewart's book and start a marketing line.

Even if he wants to continue writing those boring, purple biographies, Los Angeles is perfect. It's a little known fact that the city hosts some very good, and very snooty, libraries, like The Huntington, that'd fall all over themselves to welcome an infamous member of Britain's peerage. I can see the docents tittering in twinsets and pearls as they refer to him in memos as LS or Lord Steyne. In public, of course, they would fawn all over him as Canadians still do, and bring him cups of tea as he pours over the diaries of yet another dead American President, who he will then 'reinterpret' for the edification of the rest of the world in yet another heavy, unreadable book. Okay.

My advice: stay away from him.

There's an awful lot of poison and self-interest left in this old snake, and he'll be desperately trying to find new place to play his favorite game of sucker shakedown.