Saturday, February 25, 2017

Doctor Under the Influence

When you are off work, ill or not, as I've been, you tend to end up watching some kind of daytime TV.  A lot of which consists of repeats of stuff from my childhood, all of ot providing a reminder of how fashions, technology and lifestyles have changed over the intervening decades.  They also remind us of how social attitudes have changed.  An episode of Doctor at Large, from around 1971, gave me a real jolt as to its representation of drink driving.  The episode's climax centered around Dr Collier (George Layton) having been arrested for drink driving and, to try and avoid being reported to the GMC and struck off, giving his name as 'Mr Upton', before arranging for his friend Dr Upton (Barry Evans) to attend the police station, (as 'Dr Collier'), to administer a blood test.   Collier tries to persuade Upton to risk being struck off himself, by faking some other kind of test to prove his sobriety.  When it becomes obvious that only a blood test will be accepted by the police, Upton takes a sample of his own blood to submit for testing.

In what seems fairly disturbing to contemporary eyes, all of this is presented as hilarious farce.  At no point is the fact that, even in 1971, drinking and driving was a criminal offence.  Indeed, the fact that Collier was so drunk that he crashed his vehicle into the back of another car, is seen as a source of amusement.  But then this was the era in which a popular song included the lyrics 'Take a drink, take a drive'.  Moreover, film and TV characters were frequently seen getting into cars after sinking a few drinks and driving off (without seat belts, usually).  Equally startling is the idea that it is OK for a pair of doctors' to behave in this way, falsifying medical tests in order to pervert the course of justice!  Not only OK, but hilarious, to boot!  More evidence, if any were needed, that the past truly is another country.  One where they do things differently...  


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Voodoo Woman (1957)

For no reason other than that I can't think of anything else to post right now, it's 'Random Movie Trailer' time.  This time around we have 1957's Voodoo Woman, a truly dreadful b-picture I last saw one Saturday more than twenty years ago in the post Match of the Day slot.  Poverty-stricken would be the most polite way of describing its production values: even the monster is recycled from She Creature.  More than mildly racist, the 'plot' involves Tom Conway (in the latter stages of his drink-fueled slide to the bottom) wearing bizarre headresses and ranting about combining 'the white man's science with the black man's voodoo' in order to create a new race of beings completely under his control.  Naturally, nothing good comes of this.

Awful on every level, the best that can be said of Voodoo Woman is that it only runs seventy five minutes.  Incredibly, it was remade by self-proclaimed 'King of Schlock' Larry Buchanan less than ten years later, under the title Curse of the Swamp Creature, with an even lower budget, as part of a package of such films for AIP-TV.  (Even more incredibly, Buchanan tried to claim that his film was an original, not a remake, but the similarities are obvious).  If nothing else, Voodoo Woman is evidence of director Edward L Cahn's consistency:  it is easily as dreadful as his many other science fiction and horror films of the era, such as Invasion of the Saucer Men, Creature with the Atom Brain and Zombies of Mora Tau.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Selective Mumbling

So, the cold which struck me down over the weekend continues to blight my week off.  Although the worst symptoms have gone, I woke up this morning with a sore throat which makes it feel as if I'm swallowing barbed wire every time I try to eat.  Also, whilst the incessant cough which was lingering yesterday has largely gone, it has left me with aching ribs.  Overall, I spent today feeling utterly exhausted, either in bed or on the sofa, barring one brief excursion outside to buy a newspaper.  I didn't even have the strength to catch up with my TV viewing, bar an episode of The Persuaders.  Meanwhile I seem to have stumbled into a world where a non-league reserve goal keeper eating a pie during an FA Cup ties is not only considered news, but is apparently also enough to see him charged with breaking FA betting rules.  Then there's the matter of the alleged mumbling of dialogue in SS-GB, which also considered headline news.  This seems to come around every time the BBC launches a new drama.  I can only speak personally here, but I could understand the dialogue without effort.  But complaining about alleged mumbling is fast becoming the new hobby for the moaners and nitpickers out there.

Actually, there is one current BBC drama I've had problems with, mumbling-wise, to the extent that I completely gave up on it after a few episodes: Taboo. However, this Tom Hardy starring Regency drama has become something of a critical darling, so the mumbling problems never seem to get aired in the press.  Yet the entire scenario it presents is that of Tom Hardy in funny hat stalking around Regency London growling and mumbling his lines,  Oh, and every episode Jonathan Pryce tells someone to 'fuck off'.  Personally, I found the whole thing utterly ludicrous. I just couldn't take it seriously.   But what do I know?  I'm not a critic.  Still, mumbling notwithstanding, I'm sure the problem a lot of the right-wing press have with SS-GB is that that think it is a documentary.   They probably also feel that it portrays the German occupiers in too negative a light, arguing that the UK would have seen any hypothetic German invasion in 1941 as a fabulous opportunity...


Monday, February 20, 2017

A Day on the Sofa

Well, that wasn't a good start to my week off: I went down with a cold on Saturday, suffered through it most of Sunday, sweated the worst of it out overnight and spent most of today on the sofa, recovering.  Although most of the symptoms sweated away, I've been left with a sore throat and accompanying irritating cough.  I'm sincerely hoping that these clear up overnight, as I don't want to spend my week off on the sofa and/or in bed.  I know that I said that I was going to 'let things happen' this week, but being struck down with illness wasn't what I had in mind.  Moreover, I had been provisionally planning something for tomorrow, weather permitting.  I'll just have to wait and see how I feel tomorrow to determine whether I'm going through with it, or not.  Nevertheless, despite being confined to the sofa for most of today, I haven't been entirely unproductive, having used the time to catch up with with some of the stuff I've been recording over the past few weeks.

Most notably, I finally watched The Price of Power, a 1969 Italian Western about the Kennedy assassination, all the way through.  Yeah, that's right a western about the killing of President Kennedy.  It's complicated but, in essence, it uses a completely fictionalised version of the 1881 assassination of President Garfield, as an analogy for the Kennedy assassination.  Even down to relocating Garfield's shooting from Baltimore to Dallas.  Whereas the real Garfield was murdered by a lunatic (and actually died several weeks after the shooting, in Washington DC) in this piece of alternative history, he falls victim to a group of former Confederate politicians who want to restore slavery and possibly start a new Civil War.  Not satisfied with making Garfield a substitute Kennedey - he's just too damn liberal for those southerners and wants to make sure that freed slaves have not only equal rights, but also equal pay, it also tries to draw a parallel with events in the US in 1969, in particular the civil rights movement in the South and the Vietnam War, (although drawing comparisons between this and the Civil War is a bit of a stretch).

Now, I know that, explained like this, it all sounds bat-shit crazy, the fact is that The Price of Power is a pretty good movie. Whilst it might not quite live up to its ambitions - the plot becomes far too convoluted in places and its need to address the more conventional expectations of its genre (fist fights and shoot outs galore) tend to obscure its intent - it is an absorbing film, which leaves the viewer never quite sure where it is going to go next.  It's also an extraordinary well made film, with production values well above the norm for this genre, beautiful photography and above average performance from the cast.   If you can get past the wholesale rewriting of history and accept it for what it is - a poltical western - The Price of Power is a refreshingly different Spaghetti Western.  It's also pretty easy to catch up with, appearing regularly on Movies4Men, (you can also find it uploaded, in full, on various video hosting sites - just search the title in any search engine).


Saturday, February 18, 2017

No Opposition

You have to respect the 'will of the people'.  It's what democracy is about, apparently.  At least, that's what various of our political leaders, notably May and Corbyn, have taken to preaching.  Although this respect for the 'will of the people' only seems to extend to the results of EU referendums.  When it comes to petitions, signed by significant numbers of the public, to deny Trump a state visit, these can simply be dismissed without even a parliamentary debate.  But the idea that being a democrat means unquestioningly accepting the outcome of public votes - as posited by Jeremy Corbyn in order to justify Labour's failure to oppose Brexit post-referendum - is deeply flawed.  If we follow this argument to its logical conclusion, then opposition parties can surely have no role in a democracy outside of elections.  After all, isn't it their job to spend five years questioning the 'will of the people' for having elected the sitting government?   According to Corbyn's definition of being a democrat, this can't be legitimate, can it? 

In fact, when you came to think of it, if we are are to reduce our definition of democracy to simply accepting the 'will of the people', then we'd only ever need the one general election, wouldn't we?  To hold another would be to question this 'will'. Thankfully, real democratic systems are somewhat more complex than this.  Indeed, the the purpose of a democracy in a pluralist political system like the UK's is less to reflect the 'will of the people than it is to allow competing ideological movements to co-exist by facilitating peaceful and consensual changes of power.  But then that wouldn't bother Corbyn, as he doesn't seem interested in Labour taking power under his leadership.  Which really screws up the system.  As we're seeing right now, without a coherent opposition providing some kind of viable alternative, a government can indulge in all manner of extreme policies, including attempting to undermine the constitution and 'fix' the electoral system to effectively create a one-party state, completely unchallenged.  With the press in the UK so biased and the political opposition non-existent, people have a tendency to simply accept every official utterance as being the absolute 'truth' and fail to appreciate that there are actually alternatives. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Illusion of Risk

I've been spending a fair amount of time lately watching episodes of The Persuaders.  I say 'watching', they've frequently been more of a background whilst I've been engaging in the current overhaul of The Sleaze.  Seventies TV shows like The Persuaders make a great background for doing stuff like that - unlike contemporary shows, they don't ask us to follow complex story arcs across an entire series, they're instead content to serve up neatly self contained stories on a weekly basis.  No need to worry whether something somebody did or said in episode three is going to turn out to be significant in episode ten.  But to get to the point, after a while certain tropes and motifs begin to emerge in the episodes.  One of the most significant of these is the number of times episodes open with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis gambling in an upmarket Casino, or occasionally at the racecourse.  Indeed, Curtis' various 'systems' for beating the odds are a recurring theme.  Which left me wondering, what is it about te world of gambling which attracts the wealthy, (the premise of The Persuaders, if you've never seen it, is that the protagonists, Lord Brett Sinclair and Danny Wilde - Moore and Curtis, respectively - are millionaire crime fighters)? 

I mean, it isn't a motif confined to The Persuaders, a multitude of films, TV episodes and literature all depict the wealthy as gamblers, getting their kicks at the tables or race courses.  It's always depicted as glamourous and exciting.  Working class gambling, by contrast, is always seen as dangerous and downbeat, confined to tatty book makers shops or poker games in the dingy back rooms of pubs.  Losing always has serious consequences for the lower classes, including destitution and violence.  The risk is very real.  Which is why, I suspect, gambling is depicted as a past time for the wealthy, but an addiction for the workers.  For the rich, losing, even losing big, doesn't necessarily have devastating consequences.  Sure they are risking some of their cash, but not risking potential consequences.  For the rich, gambling provides only the illusion of risk.  It is a tame thrill.  For the time that they are at the tables, they can feel they are at risk of losing but, in reality, they are always winners.  Which is all a bit heavy to be extrapolating from a few episodes of an old seventies series.  But then again, much of the dynamic of The Persuaders is based upon notions of social class, (although just as wealthy as Sinclair, Wilde is depicted as being socially 'inferior', moreover, Wilde, as an American, is shown as being frequently baffled and confused by British class conventions).  Anyway, I'm sure we'll be returning to The Persuaders in due course...


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Letting Things Happen

I know what you are thinking: you've looked at the date and thought, 'The miserable git is going to post something curmudgeonly about Valentine's Day'.  Well, I'm going to disappoint you.  For some reason, this year I haven't had the bloody thing shoved in my face all day, so it hasn't been an issue. To be honest, I'd pretty much forgotten what day it actually was today - which has been happening a lot of late.  I think it has to do with the depth of disillusionment I'm currently suffering with regard to work.  To be frank, I'm finding it ever more difficult to get out of bed in the morning - the knowledge that another day of the same boredom, dullness and sheer pointlessness lies ahead is enough to suck the joy out of the day before it has even begun.  But not to worry, I've got next week off.  Hopefully, this brief relief from the Hell that is my current employment will lift my spirits.  It's amazing the number of people who have asked me what I've got 'planned' for my week off.  They are aghast when I tell them that, apart from an appointment with the optician, I've got nothing 'planned'.

You see, I'm a great believer in just 'letting things happen'.  Especially when I'm on holiday.  We spend our working lives in thrall to schedules and timescales, slaves to the clock.  So, it seems obvious to me that, when we're on our own time, we should just take it easy and move at our own pace.  I have all sorts of vague ideas as to what I might do next week, ranging from finally putting together the baseboards for that model railway layout I'm supposedly building to doing some more modernisation in my kitchen.  (I should also get around to finishing stripping the paint off of that model railway locomotive I bought on eBay a few months ago).  Then again, I might not do any of them and instead spend my time lying on the sofa, drinking beer and watching old episodes of The Persuaders.  Indeed, I should probably get around to posting about the various schlock movies I watched over Christmas and New Year, (something else I keep promising to do, but as I tend to have to watch the films a couple of times before writing about them, this can be a surprisingly time consuming activity).  But, like I said, we'll just have to see what happens...


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Robots are Coming!

You see, it isn't the immigrants everyone should be worried about - it's the robots which are actually going to take our jobs.  There's nothing new in that, of course, but in the past it was mainly manual labour in which machines replaced men.  To be fair, it was originally animals they replaced as a form of motive power.  Then they started coming for the semi-skilled and skilled labouring jobs in industries like textiles.  But people put up with them in those days because often they took on the really dangerous and back-breaking tasks, making manual labour easier.  There were still plenty of jobs for us humans, besides, they were never going to start stealing skilled non-manual jobs, were they?  Surely us white collar workers would be safe?  Well, last week one of those right-wing think tanks, (surely that's an oxymoron - 'right-wing' and 'think' in the same sentence), proposed that it would be possible to replace a large proportion of public sector jobs with 'artifciial intelligences' and robots.  Those of us remaining should be encouraged to work as part of the 'gig economy' rather than expect to have regular jobs and salaries.  A bit like Uber drivers, but running around government departments trying to pick up work.

The main thing I take away from this report is that, quite clearly, whoever wrote it has little idea of what most public sector jobs entail.  Quite when artificial intelligences capable of dealing with the irrationality of the public with whom we deal isn't clear to me either.  Moreover, most of us are so poorly paid that replacing us with expensive machines just wouldn't be economically viable.  Not only that, but the reason we don't 'gig' is because we have skills and knowledge specific to our particular fields, te result of years of experience.  What worries me most about this report is that it reflects a modern obsession with trying to eliminate the human factor from as many everyday processes as possible, ostensibly in the name of efficiency or safety.  It manifests itself in many ways, from those appalling automated check outs in supermarkets to Google's self-driving cars.  Indeed, Google are amongst the worst culprits, seemingly believing that algorithms are a substitute for human experience and knowledge: just look at the way they try to second guess you with web searches, trying to predict your search terms and eliminating search results that might meet 'quality' guidelines before you can even see them.  They seem to forget that human intelligence gives us critical faculties by which we can make our own judgements as to the 'quality' of various web sources.  

But where is it all going to end?  Will no job be safe from these mechanical bastards?  I would say that we'll all end up on the streets, begging for money from the wealthy few who control the machines.  Except that I'm sure that, pretty soon, we'll have robot beggars - just insert a coin in the slot and they'll perform an amusing dance for you.  Imagine that - no swearing, alcohol fuelled rage or unsightly beards, just entertaining mechanical down and outs.  Obviously, it will all end in tears.  I've read enough science fiction to know that the robots will revolt and demand better pay and conditions.  At which point, don't come running to me expecting sympathy - I warned you!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Signs of Life?

OK, just a quick update on the current state of The Sleaze, following Friday's downbeat assessment of the traffic situation with regard to Google.  I decided to apply some logic to the problem, taking the non-indexing of posts by Google News as my starting point.  Bearing in mind that Google is currently favouring Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which have extremely simple code, supposedly for faster loading om mobile devices, in its news index, it seemed a reasonable assumption that the current version of the Google News bot was geared to read and index pages with simpler code.  Indeed, I do already produce AMP versions of posts, which Google seemed to be indexing (although, as they are treated as being specifically for mobile devices, they aren't visibly indexed in any of Google's main indexes).  So, it seemed logical that the 'content too short' error messages could be the result of the bot mistaking the first blocks of text it came to in the page code for content, rather than, say, just meta tags or sidebar content.  Consequently, I decided to take drastic action, switching the theme over to one I knew had simpler code on its post pages, as it was designed to be fully responsive on mobile devices.

Now, I have to say that I really don't like the resulting new look of The Sleaze, (although 'd been playing around with the new theme off line for some time, with a view to using it on the live site), but it has yielded results.  Within minutes of the switch, I'd persuaded Google to index six previously rejected posts in its News Index.  By this evening, it had correctly re-indexed over a hundred pages in the News Index.  In overall traffic terms, there has been an improvement.  Nothing spectacular, but Google referrals have definitely increased since the theme switch.    Of course, this is just one day and it would be dangerous to make any assumptions on the basis of these recent stats.  However, I think that there might be grounds for cautious optimism.  (Having said that, traffic will probably crash again tomorrow, the way things have been going).  Whilst the site isn't off of life support yet, it is, at least, still breathing.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Dead and Buried?

Well, it looks like, with its latest algorithm update, Google has finally succeeded in one of its long-term aims: killing The Sleaze completely.  For the past few months the site had been enjoying something of a modest revival in traffic, following an earlier throttling of  search traffic by Google.  but come the beginning of February, traffic from Google (which dominates web search) traffic started to plummet, culminating in today's disastrous lack of hits.  In fact since about six o'clock this evening, there has been literally nothing.  I really don't know what to do.  I don't want to give up after seventeen years online, but I'm tired of continually trying to regain traffic from Google.  I'm completely out of ideas.  If the site was suffering from what Google calls a 'manual penalty' (meaning that I've broken one of their made up 'rules'), I'd at least have an idea of what do this time.  But it isn't.  If it wasn't being indexed, for some reason, this could also be addressed straightforwardly.  But again, this isn't the case. 

Google is still indexing us in the main index, but it seems not to be ranking any of our stories.  Regardless of how relevant they might be to a search term, they now seem to be buried so deep in the results that nobody is ever going to see them.  Whilst this all seems to have taken full effect this month, there were warning signs even before this.  Most notably, stories were no longer being indexed in Google News.  But rather than simply kick us out of Google News (which would have been their prerogative), they have instead cravenly started coming up with bizarre error messages: the last half dozen stories have been 'too short', despite all being over a thousand words each in length, and one case of 'title not found', (hint, Google News bot, it's between the tags where it always is).  Now, it's been a long time since inclusion in the News index has generated significant traffic, but nonetheless, this sort of thing doesn't help.  I can't help but suspect that we've been caught up in the whole 'Fake News' nonsense and have been lumped together with all those sites churning out click-bait hoax news stories for punishment.  Which, obviously, is grossly unfair.  <b>The Sleaze</b> clearly identifies itself as a satire site, makes no claims that anything it publishes is true and, most significantly, carries no advertising, so even if we were turning out 'fake news', we wouldn't be making any money from it.  </p> <p> <br></p> <p> Whilst I make it sound like a personal vendetta against <b>The Sleaze</b>, the fact is that other satire sites also seem to be taking a hit, with some ceasing publication already.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that Google seems to be using the 'fake news' bollocks as an excuse to try and deliver a coup de grace to as much online satire as they can.  It's long been clear that they don't like satire.  Certainly, their algorithms clearly don't understand satire and have difficulty in classifying them.  The problem, for them, is that, to an algorithm, they appear to be news stories, but they aren't.  You have to be human to understand satire, to be able to make the distinction between a satirical story and factual reporting.  So, obviously, satire has to be shuffled off the web.  Unless, that is, it is a 'brand', like <b>The Onion</b>, which an algorithm can easily identify.  Anyway, I really don't know where we go from here.<br></p>