Sep 212012

Kate and William greeted by topless islanders

The effort to block the spread of nude photos of William and Kate’s vacation in France is doomed to fail, and frankly, the significance of nudity all depends on its context as the Duchess so easily saw on the remaining days of their tour. The topless photos of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, continue to spread with their publication by a gossip magazine in Denmark, Se och Hoer, following on the heels of their sister magazine in Sweden.

Legal Action

In France, the magazine Closer was fined and ordered to hand over all copies of the photos:

A French court ordered a magazine publisher to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge within 24 hours and blocked furtherpublication of what it called a “brutal display” of William and Kate’s private moments.

Under the ruling Tuesday, the publisher of the French gossip magazine Closer faces a daily fine of €10,000 ($13,100) if it fails to hand over the photos featured in Friday’s “world exclusive” issue of Prince William’s wife Kate. The photos were taken without authorization during the royals’ vacation at a private residence in southern France.

The court also handed out an injunction to stop Closer France from republishing the offending pictures — including on its website and its tablet app — as well as re-selling them.

A statement Tuesday from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they “welcome the judge’s ruling.” Maud Sobel, a lawyer for the royal couple, described it as “a wonderful decision.”

“We’ve been vindicated,” Sobel said.

Calling that “vindication” is a hollow victory.

Even if the Royal Family wants to continue legal action, it’s becoming impossible. First, there’s the obstacle of national borders – which the Internet simply ignores and courts simply have to abide by – and the laws in each country. In Italy, paparazzi can take photos as long as they’re standing on public property. The nude photos of Kate were taken from almost a half mile away(!) with a telephoto lens (nice lens, essential hardware for any paparazzi) , but the photographer wasn’t on the property of the chateau. And anyways, an injunction by a French court is not enforceable in other countries.

All Copies?

Secondly, no one knows the source of the photos in the Danish magazine. Possibly they were sent prior to the injunction. Perhaps after. Handing over “all copies” is near impossible unless everyone who had the digital copies cleaned out their computers along with the Sent box of their email accounts and the Temporary directory in their operating system.

And how would you enforce this? Send someone in to go through everyone’s computer at Closer? And how would that keep someone from passing it on through a USB key or similar portable storage?

Give me a break.

There are no originals photos here. As Walter Benjamin would appreciate, the image you view on your screen is already a copy. Everything is viral-like even at the most basic level of our operating systems.

UK Press Left Out Again

We’ve been here before. The Mirror notes that:

It is worth noting that the pictures remain unpublished by the UK press. As with the pictures of Prince Harry , where The Mirror and most other papers did not publish, William and Kate’s privacy is being respected.

Here in the UK, self-restraint is working more effectively than supposedly strong European privacy laws.

Restraint is more effective than privacy laws in the digital era, but the images are easily accessible online and the UK press is heading toward the same situation it was in with the Prince Harry images – they’ll be available everywhere but in the UK, driving more readers to pass on the papers and grab their “news” (such as this is) from online.

But in a way, the position of the UK press is admirable, even if there’s a bit of not wanting to anger the Royal Family or run up against UK regulations. If almost everything “public” (even at a half mile) can be recorded, it can be distributed and restraint becomes the last remaining drawbridge in the castle of privacy.

Chill Out

Calming down and letting it go may be the best advice. Trust me, the news cycle will soon move on to something else. Maybe even something with more substance and consequence for us all – such as Syria or a downward spiraling EU economy.

Tom Sykes in the Royalist on the Daily Beast has best comment on this entire affair:

In his editorial, editor Signorini argues that “instead of getting angry with the media, who are just exercising their right to report, the royal family should, in my humble opinion, run with the ball and react with typical Anglo-Saxon humour, saying ‘So what?’”.

The Royalist agrees.

Anything else is a waste of time in a deeply interconnected digital world.

Sep 172012
Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

As if there were not enough problems with the nude photos of William and Kate in the French magazine Closer, the Italian magazine Chi published 18 images over 19 pages on Monday of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. While it’s an issue for the Royal Family, there are more basic privacy issues that affect us all.

The Scandalous / Not Scandalous Photos

The defiant editor of Chi, Alfonso Signorini, has already tweeted that “not even a direct call from the Queen” will stop publication. Chi‘s Monday’s cover with three images of a topless princess was already available by Saturday in the Italian press and on TV.

And the headline from Monday’s edition? “Court Scandal: The Queen is Nude!’ This, of course, from an editor who also claimed that:

These pictures are not offensive or in poor taste, they are not morbid and they do not damage the dignity of anyone. (USA Trends)

Clearly some words – perhaps all – have no meaning. Or to put it differently, meaning here is as pixelated as the photos which really don’t reveal all that much.

Good Taste or Not, Royal Nudity is Viral

Obviously, there’s a difference in the latest scandal from the recent situation with Prince Harry in Las Vegas. Those images were not in good taste, there were major security concerns, and one had to wonder about Harry’s own lack of good judgment (Yes, one really had to wonder about the latter). The William and Kate images, already published by Closer and the Irish Daily Star, are just ordinary scenes from their vacation at the Chateau d’Autet, east of Avignon. Okay, most of us don’t stay in a Chateau, but we do the sunbathing part, and in Europe, often topless.

The Royal Family took legal action against the French publication and tried unsuccessfully to stop the Chi publication. But Chi is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, shall we say, is no friend of moderation. And now interest is coming from other magazines, including some in the United States.

Good taste or bad taste, if people want them, the images will go viral and have a life of their own.

Two Points – the Web and Privacy

Two points here that go beyond the issue of royalty revealing a little flesh.

The House of Windsor ‘s efforts to stop the publication of the photos – through public expressions of dismay and legal action – is essentially futile given that the images are coming online. Even if not directly posted on the tabloid websites, someone will scan them. And once online in the  highly distributed network of the Web, you might slow their distribution but it’s near impossible to stop. Once the images are out of the hands of the photographer, your leverage – both moral and legal – is gone.

Secondly, the episode with Harry in Las Vegas and now William and Kate in France is just further confirmation that we are entering a radically different era, one that will challenge our understanding of personal space and public personas. The blurry telephoto images of a Prince and Princess – however offensive to some sensibilities, however pointless to others – are just one more crack in the crumbling dam behind which is a deluge that marks the end of privacy as we know it.

Think this is a major issue?  Wait until Google Glass comes out. Are you photographing me? Am I videoing you? Is a corporation analyzing my every move? Our interaction with each other? For an overview of some of the challenges here, see the recent article in The Next Web, “Google’s Project Glass is Cool, But It Raises a Number of Privacy Concerns.”

And the recent news on webcam dating blackmail just adds to the opportunities where you may find yourself in a compromising position.

Celebrities tend to get impacted sooner as they are public figures but we all are stepping into this realm together, one that is remarkable for the reach and access that each of us have not withstanding our physical location, but one that simultaneously undermines the notion of physical space and the individual privacy embedded within it. Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg basically announced that privacy as a “social norm” is dead. It was a clarion call to a future that we may not like but seemingly cannot avoid.

The Duke and Duchess are fighting a minor skirmish that – as important as it is to them and others – I suspect will seem laughable a decade from now. So in the words of Prince Harry, it’s time to “keep calm and carry on” over this little kerfuffle, for it’s only the beginning.

Aug 192012

France in XXI Century Air Postman

French artists in 1900 trying to predict the future – what the world (well, France) would look like in the year 2000.  The images, done as a series of postcards, are fascinating and demonstrate how difficult it is to predict the future. Details and many more images from The Public Domain Review:

France in the Year 2000 (XXI century) – a series of futuristic pictures by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists issued in France in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1910. Originally in the form of paper cards enclosed in cigarette/cigar boxes and, later, as postcards, the images depicted the world as it was imagined to be like in the year 2000. There are at least 87 cards known that were authored by various French artists, the first series being produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. 

Some things they got right – the prevalence of air travel – but obviously our letter carriers are not flying around delivering mail. And of course there’s nothing to suggest there might be another way to deliver messages. A second card below tries to envision education a 100 years in the future. Fascinatingly, all the books just get mashed up in a large grinder – the teacher seems to do nothing more than dump them in the hopper.  In some respects it’s not unlike what the Web does. But then the books are force fed to students as if they are automatons. Granted, with standardized testing we may not be far off from this dynamic, but the interaction and collaboration that is so much part of the online environment is no where to be found here.

Nevertheless, priceless.

France in XXI Century School

May 072012
Pedestrians are reflected in a poster advertising the Greek national elections, on the day of voting in Athens.  -Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Pedestrians are reflected in a poster advertising the Greek national elections, on the day of voting in Athens. -Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The election of Socialist Party leader François Hollande and serious loses in the coalition parties (New Democracy and Pasok) in the current Greek government are sending shockwaves throughout  Europe. Whatever challenges the Euro has faced up to this point, they pale in comparison to what the future holds.

The Telegraph has a good initial take on the events:

The economic doctrine of austerity, to cut the burden of state spending to free up the economy, has ruled supreme with the support all of Europe’s leaders, the European Union and financial markets.

But political leaders were on Sunday night conceding the consensus had been shattered beyond repair.

With Europe’s economies plunging further into recession and as unemployment in the eurozone breaks record levels, voters demands for a new approach had finally become to great to ignore.

The popular backlash to EU imposed austerity to the centrist New Democracy and Socialist parties in Greece threatens the existence of the euro itself. 

Greece is potentially ungovernable as a minority government must try and pass a new raft of austerity measures next month which are a condition of an EU-IMF bailout and Greek membership of the euro.

In France, while Hollande, the Socialist President-elect is a centrist, he is sitting on a powder keg of resentment at measures that his government will have to pass if it is not spark a meltdown of financial markets.

He has refused to ratify the treaty unless the eurozone and EU also sign up to a “growth pact”.

And as a footnote, despite Chancellor’s Merkel’s popularity in Germany, it appears that her coalition government suffered a lose in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

France may muddle through - François Mitterrand came to power in 1981 and after a brief move to the left (inviting the Communist Party into his government) was forced by pressures from the international markets and domestic politics to move to the right. But Greece is in a fundamentally different situation with a negotiated $171 billion dollar agreement with the EU that ostensibly cannot be revoked by the new post-election government.

Problem is – the current coalition parties, New Democracy and Pasok, may have received no more than 34% of the total votes and Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left party – which is pushing for an end to the austerity measures – may get as much as 17%. Syriza is looking to form it’s own coalition based on an end to the austerity measures and if the current coalition collapses, the shockwaves will hit the global financial markets. As the Washington Post remarked:

The vote was a stunning repudiation of the two political parties that have ruled Greece since the end of dictatorship here nearly 40 years ago. The pro-business New Democracy Party and the Socialists have traded power for decades. Now, a cacophony of new, skeptical voices will crowd the halls of parliament — including a far-right party called Golden Dawn, whose supporters celebrated Sunday night with flaming torches and the Nazi salute.

Yes, you read that right – Nazi salutes. And Golden Dawn will enter Parliament for the first time.

Members of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party celebrate in Thessaloniki on Sunday.

Members of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party celebrate in Thessaloniki on Sunday.

A scary development, but in all honesty, while the press here – elsewhere – speaks of a “downturn” or a “recession” in Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc., the unemployment numbers and business statistics indicate that this is essentially an economic depression (in Greece, unemployment has reached 21 percent and GDP has declined by 20 percent in just two years). People are tired of sacrifice that seems to only call for more of the same, and the result will be a resurgence of radical parties on both the left and the right. With all the debate about bailout packages, deadlines and who should pay, the leaders at the center of the crisis have forgotten that people need hope. The austerity measures are clearly not providing it, which will lead people into the arms of those with much more radical solutions.

Greece has reached a breaking point. And the political decisions ahead may well reverberate throughout Europe.

Jan 132012

Except for the Mediterranean countries (who ironically are doing the worst economically) this is always a bleak time of the year in Europe. January brings snow in the north, gray skies and endless drizzle in the central areas, and a shortage of daylight that is enough to send anyone into the throes of an Existentialist depression. After a year of living in France, I thought the Paris spring fell woefully short of what its reputation promised; it was beautiful, joyful, romantic, largely because the winter had been so gray, so somber, so lacking in passion.

And now debt talks break down in Greece and Standard and Poor’s has added to the season’s woes, downgrading the credit ratings of nine countries and in particular, pulling France and Austria’s triple A rating. Only Germany was left standing intact. For now.

From Reuters:

Today’s rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone,” the U.S.-based ratings agency said in a statement.

In a potentially more ominous setback, negotiations on a debt swap by private creditors seen as crucial to avert a Greek default that would rock Europe and the world economy broke up without agreement in Athens, although officials said more talks are likely next week. . . .

S&P cut the ratings of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus by two notches and the standings of France, Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia by one notch each.

The move puts highly indebted Italy on the same BBB+ level as Kazakhstan and pushes Portugal into junk status.

The larger picture looks bleak and one has to wonder if the formation of the EU and the euro zone was an answer to a problem (the European economies of the 50′s and 60′s) that we no longer have. 2012 will a year in which they move closer together or go their separate ways. A real European spring, if you will.

Jul 272011

Back in 2009, France passed legislation to target and prevent illegal downloads. The basic idea – three strikes and you’re out (which should sound very familiar to Americans as a standard for mandatory jail time for felony convictions) – is that it empowers a body known as Hadopi to identify file sharers and disconnect them if they do not cease their illegal activity. Disconnection entails being added to a blacklist so that basically you are unable to get online through other providers in the country. Some 470,000 emails went out in the first round of notifications, followed by 20,000 snail mail warnings in round two. Now we’re at the third stage and ten individuals have been called before the body to explain their file sharing activities. After a hearing, a judge can fine them, cut off their Internet connection, or simply let them go.

According to an article in BBC News, the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net (“Squaring the Net”) feels that it will be difficult to convict anyone under the law since the only evidence will be an IP addresses. A spokeperson for the group, Jeremie Zimmermann, has said it is largely a strategy of intimidation with little prospect of actual jail time or loss of access. Nevertheless, it has generated outrage in France if only due to the fact that the body now tracking 18,000,000 IP addresses.

Big Brother anyone?

We’ll watch what happens at the hearings with interest, but most compelling at the moment are the images created in protest to hadopi. Some are reproduced below and it’s easy to google a number of others or find them at the wonderful, a visual feast of art protesting hadopi.

May 182011

From a luxury suite to a room at Rikers Island, Strauss-Kahn (or DSK) is now waiting for a Grand Jury to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial. And in France, more outrage against the American system of justice, with a pointed article in the Daily Beast by the noted philosopher and journalist, Bernard-Henri Levy, who is angry at French politicians who have abandoned him, angry at the “other young woman” who may now press charges, angry at commentators who are all over the story, angry at the New York press, and apparently, angry at a justice system that allows anyone to make an accusation:

Banksy Graffiti - Michael Summers Photograph

“I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed ‘accusatory,’ meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.”

A bit of a misunderstanding since the grand jury system simply weighs evidence and does not address the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Of course, Bernard-Henri has a point here, that DSK has been thrown to the dogs in that he’s been run through a perp-walk and pummeled the press – haggard and unshaven, throw in some handcuffs and court officers and one will look guilty-as-hell with nothing more than an accusation. But there’s more at play here in the sharply moralistic attitude of an American culture that comes down harshly – and publicly – on politicians who have their sexual escapades exposed (just ask Clinton, Spitzer, Ensign, Vitter, etc.). It’s not that this doesn’t happen in France, but “crimes of passion” do not have the same significance culturally as they do in the United States and the press is limited by law as to what ends up in the public arena (and yes, this can often come at the expense of the victims). Here the news results in a media circus; there, nothing more than a yawn, unless someone has done something incredibly stupid – and then the focus is not on the act itself, but on someone’s utter lack of discretion and sense of propriety.

But as I alluded to yesterday, the French media is no longer constrained by national culture – or laws – once the event happens elsewhere. The story plays out on the Web and Le Monde and other news outlets are forced to compete against the American (and global) press. Perhaps Levy should rethink his anger here; it’s not so much that the French (and Americans) are letting him down as it is that cultures are buffeted by their interactions with each other in an interconnected environment. If proven guilty, DSK confronts American morality which shut a door on what might be seen as customary and tolerated behavior; the French press on the other hand, found the doors and windows thrown wide open. Now they are forced to comment, react, pass judgment, or risk being drowned out by an American press (and other news sources) that speaks far beyond national borders.

On a less serious note, DSK’s current 11 x 14 foot room on Rikers runs a bit less than the Sofitel, around $168 a night. There’s no exact way to calculate this, but the entire facility cost the City about $860 million a year for 14,000 inmates, or $61,500 per person, per year. So on a nightly basis, it runs about what the Sofitel suite cost for an hour and 15 minutes. Hardly accurate I’m sure, but it’s somewhere in that area. And the IMF announced that they would not cover the bill for DSK’s stay at the Sofitel as he was here on personal business and it exceeds their maximum reimbursement rate of $368 per night. Not sure what you get for that in NYC – trust me, it won’t be luxury or a suite in any form other than your imagination.