Monday, 30 April 2012

Are you looking at my bird?

Police are arranging protests about cuts to the front line which they say will make their job impossible because they already have far too much to do.  Strange then that two uniformed persons - thought to be officers - were dispatched from Harrow police station for a word with a gallery owner.  (Note: contains an image some people may find shocking. Report: Evening Standard)

An officer happened to see a picture he disapproved of - apparently while he was on a bus - and was able to divert two of these furiously busy personnel from their normal work of catching murderers to argue about classics, or rather, to lean on the gallery owner to take down a picture of Leda and the Swan.  As it happens, they were packing up for a new exhibition anyway.

If the gallery manager, Jag Mehta, gives an accurate account, the visitors claimed that 'condoning bestiality' was illegal, which sounds more like a PCSO making something up on the spot. 

In general, you can condone what you like, providing you don't mind what people think of you. What you can't necessarily do is is carry it out (Sexual Offences Act 2003), distribute it (Obscene Publications Act 1959), or possess a depiction (Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) without the law imposing a penalty. 

The legislation is dotted about rather than consolidated, but luckily the Crown Prosecution Service has written a  useful guide to these offences.  However, there have been cases which alter the matter, which means their guidance cannot be a definitive. Also, the 8 page pdf the Ministry of Justice wrote has vanished, or at least the online copy has. [Update: having trouble with this link which worked for a while and now does not:  Here it is,  maybe it will come back.  Many thanks to the researchers at Backlash.]

The following relies on the CPS guidance on extreme pornography.  They know all about Leda and the Swan
The painting "Leda and the Swan", another example raised during debates in Parliament, would also not be caught by the new [2008] offence, because it would not meet the "explicit and realistic" test.
Established photographer Derrick Santini was sailing very close to the wind under this definition.  His portrayal of the myth may explain why somebody going past on a bus may have got all hot'n'bothered.
Santini’s use of the lenticular process involves photographing a sequence of still images, using live models, which are layered and printed using a special technique, under a ribbed plastic sheet acting as a lens.  This results in a hologram-like effect where the figure within the frame moves as the viewer passes, although not an actual hologram, it is a form of animation where an illusion of depth is created.
Makes a change from those old nudie cards where if you tilt the picture, the lady's clothes jump off.

I'm assuming that the swan and the woman were photographed separately otherwise the RSPCA might have something to say about it - and I'm guessing that what is depicted is impossible. You try training a swan to land in that space.  There isn't a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Models. It says something that given a picture of a naked lady and a migratory bird, apparently in the act of congress, the police are worried about the one with feathers.

If you want to see the full set of pictures, they are on page two of Santini's gallery under the heading "lenticular artworks".  The website is full of slow-loading animations.  It might not be easy to explain them if somebody were to ask so they shouldn't be regarded as safe for work, which is a different question from whether they fit within the definition of an offence.

There are plenty of legal disputes to be had here; for example can a theme such as Leda and the Swan come within the second CPS heading?
 That the image is extreme namely grossly offensive, disgusting, or otherwise of an obscene character;
A little offensive, yes, particularly if it is the rape version of the myth but in general the theme of humans and swans getting it on is common. But one of them is only disguised as a swan i.e. at various times in the past it is more acceptable to show a human and an animal rather than two humans.  There are always  people who worry about the sexual nature of the motif in showing any intimacy but only the ignorant have ever misunderstood that it is about sex with animals.  

Besides, it is neither reasonable nor possible to go back through the museums demanding that all the Leda and the Swan versions are hidden in the archives, trying to decide which ones are merely ecstatically affectionate. 

In addition, it was only in January 2012 that a conviction was denied by a jury in R v Peacock.  The material being supplied by Michael Peacock was nasty and fitted within the guidelines of what could be regarded as obscene, so the CPS brought the case under the Obscene Publications Act. The jury did not accept the prosecution case.  Since we can never see in to the jury room, we don't know exactly why, but we do know that this signals that the CPS are mistaken in what the public are prepared to regard as likely to deprave or corrupt.

However, Alex Antoniou of the City Law School points out that all this means is that the Obscene Publications Act may be undermined.  The CPS now uses the newer extreme pornography charges as these are about possession of an image rather its than publication:
prosecutions under the new sections introduced in January 2009 (ss 63-7 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) related to extreme pornographic images have dramatically increased in the last two years: according to the CPS, in 2009-10 prosecutions were brought in respect of 213 offences, whereas in 2010-11 the number of offences reached 995. It is noteworthy that these latest figures released relate only to possession of extreme pornographic images portraying bestiality.
A prosecution under s.63 requires the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  An officer could be in a great deal of paperwork if they didn't check first that the CPS wanted to use a classical theme as a test case - especially the exact one which was quoted in Parliament.  This artwork tests the boundaries of realism by using photography but on the other hand, a moment's thought about swans tells you that you can't be looking at something realistic.

It is reassuring to know that when the Home Secretary cuts the number of police officers, it won't matter because we can just get rid of the two spare ones who go round wrangling with art wallahs. Until then, don't tell them about Europa and The Bull.

Here is a Leda and the Swan pas de deux. There are two things to note: firstly that the male often holds his arm in a swan form. This is to signify that Leda sees a swan but we all know he's really supposed to be a god in disguise.  Secondly, that the bodies echo each other the way birds court.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Police State of Norfolk

A fracas has broken out over pictures of football strip which got out ahead of the PR gig, and the story is now running in the Daily Mail and on regional television. A fan found pictures of the new strip on an authorized website and re-tweeted them, 12 hours ahead of the official  launch.  The club noticed and was annoyed.  It called the police.

I can understand that the PR wallah who was arranging the jamboree was miffed at having their thunder stolen just before they hawked their wares, but what I can't understand is why the police thought that they had to involve themselves in a civil matter by trying to classify this as within the scope of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

The essence of our computing legislation is that, like much modern legislation, it is drawn widely because it is impossible to predict the situations in which it might be needed. The onus is on the police and then the CPS to not use it unless they've got a case which is in the public interest.

The wording was deliberately vague; the security services pushed for the Act in 1990 following the quashing of the Gold and Schifreen conviction, so that unauthorized access would be criminalized rather than the method for gaining that access.

The difficulty with this kind of 'no arguments sonny' legislation, though, is the unwritten deal that the state won't use it to get involved in private matters, to settle private or commercial scores or apply it trivially. We don't have a written constitution. Maybe it can't be adequately expressed in writing, but that's the deal and any reasonable grown up understands it. The difficulty is knowing when to refuse to become embroiled because it is just too trivial to be a criminal matter.

Why exactly did the police rush round to a fan's house? This was obviously a case where one is sympathetic then goes to talk to the lawyer before getting involved.   Possibly there was a matter of copyright infringement, but that's a civil matter, not for the police.

The allegation of a hack doesn't appear to have any substance; Norwich FC themselves put the pictures up via the intermediary promoter Emmerson Marketing, who didn't lock the pictures off properly and were amazed when the fanboi found them by looking at their HTML code and seeing the links there, although they were not yet revealed (reports El Reg in the comments).  Whoops.

As for any commercial implications; there aren't any. Norwich got some free advertising for a garment which nobody but its own fanbase cares about.  All the commercial damage came from the police trying to put the frighteners on a customer.

This was a case which was very low priority, and yet the police reacted because the h-word was waved around. Because they are police and not marketing managers it didn't occur to them that if you are planning the launch of a new home strip, in fact quite a lot of people have to know about it - particularly the sponsors, Aviva, who will have approval of everything, the t-shirt printers, the photographers, players and video artists making the promotional material, and the people building the marketing website who need the pictures ready to go.   The idea that a strip is 'secret' is charming nonsense,  a fairy-story which was told to the police, taking advantage of their relative ignorance.

Shirts don't happen by magic. They happen by contract - and contracts are not, in the first instance, a matter for the police.

Let's have a look at the time-line.

April 17 The fan posts pictures on Twitter
April 18 Norwich FC call the fan at 4.30am, then the police.
April 18 The police interview the fan
April 18 PR releases run by interested websites and papers - see below.
April 19 Daily Mail runs the story about the police interview.
April 19 Norwich FC official launch at Carrow  Road, which shows strip with a different style collar and new yellow streak on the shorts

The police seem unaware that Norwich gave the full story and a picture of their director, famous Twitterist Stephen Fry, posing with the shirt on April 18 to the insurance industry website Insurance Times and other websites such as strip suppliers. In order to set that exposure up, they may have given the material to websites on the 17th, who then package it for release on the 18th.

All that happened was a fanboi broke an embargo which didn't apply to him anyway.


Aviva extends sponsorship deal with Norwich City to 2016

Insurer will continue to feature on team’s shirts and sponsor Community Stand

Norwich City director Stephen Fry said: “We’re so thrilled Aviva are with us for another four years. A four years which we hope will see our beloved club consolidate its natural home in the Premier League. “The new kit fitted me like a…football shirt. I was so pleased to be able to launch it, even while 12,000 miles away. You’d be amazed how many Norwich fans there are in New Zealand.”


As Fry explains he is in New Zealand and posing with the shirt, we can safely assume they've been in production for some time, other wise he wouldn't have one and they wouldn't be available to go fresh on the shelves, would they?  This is not 'secret' - it's just that some advertising material was pointed  out to the target market a few hours before the pr launch was scheduled. It's no more than a sneak preview of a product, the soul of gossip.  Nothing whatever to do with the police, who misdirected themselves as to the nature of this complaint.  It's only a 'surprise', the way a new car or a birthday present is a surprise. Fanboi rudely spoilt the "surprise", which is hardly surprising because that's what fans do - they talk about the club.  Clubs generally encourage this because without fans they are nothing.

The Club initially tried to defend its stupidity, then realized it had got it wrong and embarrassed the sponsor, Aviva, who sponsors them to butter-up the customers, not antagonize them .  The very last thing you should do for someone who just paid you a pile of dosh to be associated with a global brand, is draw attention to a minor stuff-up at a PR launch. Norwich FC made their own patron saint Delia look like a cheap thug.  Given Fry's media sophistication and his own enthusiastic use of Twitter, it is most unlikely that he would have run screaming to the rozzers.

The Police State of Norfolk

Someone with clout at the club called the police - was it CEO David McNally? He would have had to be asked first.  Then somebody with clout in the police responded by sending a constable when they should have insisted on taking legal advice first .  Any lawyer worth their salt would have pointed out that a twelve-hour spoiler was not the end of the world and that the first thing to check - politely -  was how the leak happened. It's not necessarily a criminal matter at all.

The question is why did the police act so swiftly?  Was it an example of funny handshakes, the hospitality box and putting the apparatus of a police state at the disposal of a bezzie mate?

That the police mistakenly thought this might be a hack is just about credible.  However, since it took five minutes to explain that the club's promoter had left live links laying around, the correct response is "Sorry to have troubled you Sir, thank you for being so cooperative".  And then tell David McNally that they are satisfied there was no criminal offence and that they wouldn't be taking it any further.

Instead, Norfolk police have ham-fistedly continued to suggest that there might have been an offence if malice had been present, with the poor fanboi being marched around to say sorry as if he could be guilty of something criminal.  This was not a criminal offence at all.  If it was anything, it was for the civil lawyers and not the police.

Norfolk Constabulary are very bad at these matters. They have just spent months being suckered in to the Climate Change debacle, where people mashing up data to suit their agenda have used - or wasted - police time in trying to control and shut down academic dissent. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Titanic at the Minack Theatre

 Last week I achieved a lifetime's ambition and finally saw a full-scale production at the Minack Theatre.

The Minack is that most English of things which rooted and blossomed in the magical kingdom of Cornwall; a private obsession which chimed with others and called them to itself. Miss Rowena Cade, an amateur producer, offered the use of her garden to the local players for a production of The Tempest. They had done well with A Midsummer Night's dream in a nearby meadow.  The garden of Minack House, however, did not readily offer somewhere to seat the audience.  Cade looked in to what was then a gully above a rock used by fishermen and wondered if a stage could be built down there, where the sides suggested a natural amphitheatre.   Where better to place Prospero's island but on a rock jutting out over the Atlantic Ocean?

Miss Cade and her gardener set about sculpting the theatre and in 1932 The Tempest was performed - by moonlight.  The Times noted the event and a dream became flesh.

That dream was nearly wrecked by WWII, but Cade, who had by now lived through two wars, set about re-building the theatre. She did not know the meaning of  "Give up" but the phrase "The Show Must Go On" was written on her heart and, in most cases, her own wallet.

The theatre is open air - although Cade had some ideas late on for adding bad- weather covers - and that means that you take your chances. All tickets come with a warning to wear suitable clothes and that umbrellas are not to be put up in the auditorium as it intereferes with the view.  In extreme weather they might cancel but normal rain is ignored.

On Monday 9 April the pleasant Cornish spring weather scuttled off to be replaced with bluster and sudden showers of extra-wet rain.  Stopping to pick up a picnic, the lady in the bakery said her friend was a producer and he had called her to say the Minack was experiencing winds sweeping the drizzle down on to the upper terraces, where by coincidence I had a seat to see "Titanic - the musical".   I bobbed over to the sailing shop and explained the situation to the lady behind the counter. She sold me a showeproof suit  and a Frosty Fox snood in a piratical stripe to keep my hair out of my eyes.

Sitting on a rolled-up mat on the terrace, in my survival suit and wrapped up in a waterproof-blanket, I settled down to watch the matinee performance of a lifetime and got it buckets.

The musical has been performed frequently around the world since its slow start in 1997.  This production was by the local Atlantic Theatre Company.  Using an amateur cast emphasises the ordinary lives of many who died rather than the extraordinary lives of  passengers such as the campaigning editor and journalist W T Stead, who perished on the night he might have written his greatest scoop.

An ingenious stripped-down set had been developed to create the bridge of the doomed ship and to focus on the poignant performances.  History records that the night of the disaster was unusually calm; the water was oily flat as the air, although freezing, was static.

The Atlantic was not having this.  This was its big chance to be seen in daylight instead of gleaming in the velvet darkness, and it wanted to be in the performance so it gathered itself in to swollen rollers and flung spray up over the Minack rock below the stage.  The wind hummed loudly over the orchestra,  tugging at our hoods and bringing us a taste of salt.

At the interval the rain started, through which gulls plunged in to the waves, fishing as the incoming tide brought a shoal close to the Minack rock and within reach.   The gulls circle lazily until they see where dinner is, then fold their wings and dive in to the water with a tiny ring of white to mark where they vanish, clean as an arrow.

In the second half the weather threw itself at the performers who continued, cold, soaking wet,  the wind plastering their clothes to their bodies.  This was not historically accurate but it conveyed a sense of impending shipwreck; the sea and the sky produced spectacular special effects but at the cost to the cast of them being only a little warmer than they would have been had they been dunked in the sea that fateful night.

It has been dismissed as grief-porn, this picking over of a century-old civil disaster but that is to miss what even Goebbels - who later commissioned a film about it - realized. The disaster was capable of being read several ways and has been over the century. Jared Poley tells us that in 1912 the dominant theme was that of nature triumphing over man but by the 1940s Goebbels used it to amplify what was true; much British self-confidence had gone down with the ship.