Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ancient Idiots?

I found myself watching one of those programmes about supposed 'ancient astronauts' the other day. Don't ask me why, it was just on and I couldn't be arsed to change channels - an increasingly frequent affliction I seem to be suffering from.  Anyway, they were going through the usual schtick of presenting examples of Mayan and Aztec art in order to 'prove' that these civilisations had been visited by aliens in the distant past, trying to convince the audience that various carvings could only represent men in spacesuits and the like, because these ancient peoples couldn't possibly have had imaginations, could they?  Which is where I always part company with these sorts of programmes.  Why do these 'experts' find it so difficult to accept that anyone who lived before the twentieth century were capable of creating artwork depicting stuff from their imaginations?  Moreover, why do they think that all are art is purely representative?  Surely the point of art is that one isn't supposed to take it literally?  Mind you, the kind of people who believe in the whole 'ancient astronaut' nonsense would doubtless tell me that they aren't interpreting this ancient art in literal terms - they are reinterpreting it in extra-terrestrial terms.

But you know, sometimes a picture of a snake with a man's head emerging from its mouth might actually represent a snake with a man's head emerging from its mouth, rather than a man in a spacesuit.  Besides, you need to see it in the context of their cultural beliefs, which includes a lot of stuff about snake gods, but nothing about spacemen.  Ultimately, though, what the 'ancient astronaut' brigade seem to ignore is the fact that the people who created a lot of this art were undoubtedly off of their faces.  Hallucinogenic substances played a big part in the lives of many ancient civilisations in South America.  For them, it was less a trip than a religious experience.  It was perfectly natural that their art should reflect what they'd seen whilst under the influence.  Stuff like snakes with human heads emerging from their mouths, for instance.  I'm guessing that spaceships and aliens in spacesuits would seem pretty tame to the Mayans or Aztecs, compared to the sort of stuff they saw whilst out of their boxes on local narcotics.  To return, more or less, to the original point, I'm always somewhat bemused to find the purveyors of crackpot theories assuming that our ancestors were all idiots, incapable of creating their own civilisations or excercising any form of abstract thought.  Just because their available technologies and terms of reference were more limited than ours, doesn't mean that the ancients were any less sophisticated culturally, intellectually or artistically.  The idea that they'd need the intervention of external forces like aliens to advance themselves is not just idiotic, but insulting too.  

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Own Goal

It was never going to end well, was it?  Sam Allardyce as England manager, obviously.   As he makes an ignominious exit after just one game in charge, victim of a newspaper 'sting', it's difficult not to feel some sympathy for him.  I know what it's like to lose a job because of a lapse in judgement.  It's a humiliating experience, the more so for Allardyce as it has all been conducted in public.  Moreover, this was his self-professed 'dream job' and he's blown it before it ever really started, with a spectacular own goal.  So, I can take little pleasure in Big Sam's demise, but at the same time, my sympathies are very, very limited.  After all, you'd have thought that landing your dream, very well paid, job would be enough for most people.  But apparently not, as he still felt the need to seek out other income sources.  OK, to be fair, Allardyce did keep emphasising to the undercover reporters that he'd have get the FA's approval before actually taking their money, but nonetheless, the very fact that he was willing to entertain the idea of providing some kind of paid 'consultancy' whilst still in post as England manager, reflects very poorly on him.  You'd think that someone who so coveted the England job would, once they attained it, conduct themselves with greater decorum.

But Big Sam's apparent greed is simply a reflection of a wider malaise in modern society where, just being paid to do your job isn't enough. No, everyone has to be potentially 'for hire', always looking for that opportunity, no matter how dubious, to use your 'expertise' to make a quick buck on the side.  We shouldn't just be satisfied with what we've achieved - even if that includes landing your dream job -  that sows a lack of ambition, this attitude seems to be saying.  And 'lacking ambition' in this way surely marks you out as a loser.  Unfortunately, this kind of ambition can, as Big Sam as found, can also make you a loser.  But, to get back to the point, the FA has to take its share of the blame for this latest managerial debacle, for appointing such a manifestly unsuitable candidate - Allardyce's obvious ego was always going to derail him.  I always thought his appointment as England football manager an act of desperation on the part of the FA, revealing their total lack of ambition and imagination.  Rather than launch a proper, in depth, search for the right man, they instead went with the popular sentiment of Allardyce's friends in the media.  The FA should, perhaps, be thankful that Allardyce has tripped himself up with his off field behaviour rather than through inevitable failure on the pitch.  Hopefully, they can now redeem themselves by actually appointing someone capable as England manager.  Their appointment of Gareth Southgate as caretaker manager, however, doesn't fill me full of confidence that they are capable of doing this.


Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965)

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters is one of those films I've long wanted to see and, over the weekend, I finally managed to watch it.  The film is actually three shorts featuring 'The Lemon Grove Kids' packaged together to make a feature length film.  The brainchild of legendary schlock director Ray Dennis Steckler, these homages to the old 'Bowery Boys' ,(or 'Dead End Kids', 'East Side Kids' or whatever else they were being called by whichever poverty row studio happened to employing them at the time), are really glorified home movies.  Steckler co-produced all three films, directed one and wrote another.  He also appears in all three, billed as 'Cash Flagg', playing Huntz Hall surrogate Gopher.  And, if you don't know who Huntz Hall was, well, along with Leo Gorcey, he formed the central duo of the 'Bowery Boys', around whom the various other members (who changed over time) orbited.  Hall's character ('Sach' in the 'Bowery Boys' series) was basically gormless looking and acting, the comic foil to Gorcey's 'Slip', a Brooklyn-accented hustler constantly trying to exploit Sach, (who, more often than not,temporarily acquired some kind of special power in each movie).

The three Lemon Grove Kids shorts embrace the spirit of the 'Bowery Boys', with Mike Kannon impersonating Leo Gorcey's 'Slip' as 'Slug' (complete with Gorcey's trademark malapropisms), constantly berating and exploiting Gopher.  It has to be said that these shorts, which Steckler happily admitted were primarily aimed at children, (indeed, his two young daughters feature heavily in the last two films), are really beyond any kind of cinematic analysis or criticism.  They are what they are.  If you've ever seen and enjoyed any of the 'Bowery Boys' series, then The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters will give you a nostalgic glow.  I have to say that I found them somewhat zanier and far more surreal than the 'Bowery Boys' films, (in some respects, they reminded me of the later Monkees TV series).   Of the three shorts, the first, The Lemon Grove Kids, probably comes closest to the original 'Bowery Boys' films, featuring the eponymous gang challenging their rivals - The East Lemon Grove Kids - to a foot race, after Gopher ventures into East Lemon Grove territory and has the sodas he is buying for the boys stolen.  Complicating things are a local would-be hoodlum who has promised to fix the race for a crooked bookie - to do this he hires 'The Saboteur', a cartoon-like character with a French accent, who proves utterly incompetent.  Thanks to this latter character's antics, the whole affair starts to turn into a live action version of a Warner Brothers' cartoon.  The episode takes a further surreal turn in its epilogue, where a badly off course Gopher encounters an ape, a mummy and even Rat Pfink, (from Steckler's cult classic Rat Pfink a Bobo).

The second short, The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space, is more obviously aimed at a juvenile audience and is even more cartoonish.  Hired to clear an old man's yard, Slug, Gopher and the rest of the gang encounter a flying saucer piloted by a grasshopper alien and nearly fall victim to the Vampire Lady, who has enslaved the house owner by drinking his blood and is busy kidnapping earth people to send back to her and the Green Grasshopper's planet.  Also involved are a group of witches and a couple of zombies.  The aliens are banished, but Gopher still ends up with a set of vampire fangs.  The final segment, The Lemon Grove Kids Go Hollywood, features only Gopher from the main gang, who teams up with guitar playing Don (Don Taylor) and three of the younger Lemon Grovers (including Steckler's daughters) to foil kidnappers trying to ransom a movie star (played by Steckler's then wife, Carolyn Brandt, (who had previously played the Vampire Lady and had had a brief cameo in the first short).

As mentioned earlier, these are really home movies, shot on or around the street Steckler was living on at the time ('Lemon Grove', naturally) and featuring his friends and family.  That said, despite their non-existent budgets, the three films are surprisingly well made, the only thing letting them down being the poor sound quality which bedevils many low budget productions.  Shot under beautiful blue California skies, they are good natured pieces of entertainment, made by people clearly consuned by the pure joy of film making.  To fully appreciate The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, I;m guessing that you would had to have seen it playing at a drive-in in the late sixties or early seventies, when viewings came complete with someone wrapped in bandages emerging into the audience as the mummy in The Lemon Grove Kids lurches toward the camera.   Ultimately, the film serves as a fun reminder of an age of cinema sadly gone by, when it was still possible to make movies on a shoe-string, completely outside of the studio system and independent of big distributors, and still get them onto cinema screens in front of paying audiences.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Another Word From Our Sponsors...

For no particular reason, here's a selection of TV commercials from Christmas 1979 that I found on You Tube.  Interestingly, these are actually from the ITV region I grew up with: Southern TV.  Their uninspiring logo (nobody could ever work out what it was meant to represent, every other ITV region seemed to have exciting idents like ships or knights or, at the very least, a dynamic sounding jungle), can be seen at the beginning.  I do remember most of these adverts, particularly the Bloo cistern block one voiced by Kenneth Williams.  Indeed, around this time, Williams' main TV presence seemed to be in the form of voice overs - it was easy work and undoubtedly paid well and, with the Carry On films pretty much over by the late seventies, they provided a useful alternative source of income for him.  The end voice over on the Bloo ad is, of course, the late John Junkin, who was something of a fixture on British TV in the seventies, in a variety of roles including comedian, actor, game shoe compere, chat show host and writer.  Now, sadly, he's largely forgotten.

The Polaroid advert with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers is another example of a commercial seeking to cash in on a popular TV series, in this case The Good Life, by featuring its stars, rather than its characters.   UK advertising standards prohibited the use of popular TV characters in advertising at the time, so ad agencies played the game of trying to get as close to the TV characterisations and settings as possible without provoking an reaction from the Advertising Standards Agency.  The ad for Summer holiday brochures represents something that always used to irritate me: the advertising of Summer holidays in the middle of Winter.  I understand the psychology behind it: what better time to persuade people to book holidays in the sun than when they are shivering in the midst of a dark Winter's evening?  But I always felt that such ads, showing blazing sunshine and beautiful beaches, simply made Winter feel even more miserable than it was, undermining any attempt to actually enjoy the season.  And yes, it is possible to enjoy the Winter, with its blazing log fires, the comfort of the pub lounge bar and the crispness of Winter mornings.  Nowadays, of course, it's the holiday itself, rather than just the brochures they advertise - and I've learned not to be irritated by them.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Outrageous Quotes

I'm afraid that mundane, real world, things have been occupying my attention for the past few days, leaving me unprepared to post here today.  The main thing preoccupying me has been the fact that my car insurance is up for renewal soon and my current insurer has given me the most outrageous quote.  It represents a massive hike that, quite frankly, I can't afford.  Quite how they think they can justify this increase, I don't know.  I'm well aware that the minor accident I had two years ago would affect my premium, but that was two years ago and I'd expect my renewal quotes to start coming down or, at the very least, stay the same, as I've made no other claims since then.  But the world of car insurance rarely makes any sense, with different providers rating different things as a risk.  I always find occupation to be a thorny issue with many potential insurers, as my precise job details aren't usually covered by any of their categories.  I usually end up having to simply put 'civil servant' (which is true, I am a civil servant employed directly by a government department) and then try to explain my precise specialism.  This some times results in the potential insurer virtually accusing me of attempting to defraud them, because they think that my specialised role makes me a higher risk.  I've tired of asking them what statistical evidence is based upon, as I can never get an answer.

Which shouldn't be surprising, as most insurers simply base their occupational risk assessments on assumptions, perceived wisdom, prejudice and anecdotal evidence.  Musicians are classified as 'high risk', for instance, because of their lifestyles - all that late night gigging, I assume - despite the fact that most musicians don't play in rock bands and don't indulge in excessive consumption of drinks and drugs.  Journalists are also, for obscure reasons, 'high risk' - apparently it is all to do with the fact that they might sometimes interview celebrities and end up giving them a lift, which is, of course, super risky.  The fact that most journalists don't work on national newspapers or broadcasters doesn't seem to come into it - sure, some reporters might end up following stories with some degree of risk involved, but that tends to be the exception, not the rule.  Moreover, I don't think that war correspondents drive their own cars in conflict zones.  Pub landlords are another 'high risk' group which makes very little sense.  The 'risk' element is that they work with alcohol and therefore get drunk and drive their car home in an inebriated state.  Except that most landlords live on the premises and therefore are much less likely to drink and drive, surely?   Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I'm in the midst of going through price comparison sites, trying to get ball-park quotes.  Interestingly, even my so far pretty cursory investigations have resulted in quotes more than £300 lower than my current insurer - even taking into account my supposedly 'high risk' occupation in the civil service.  Hopefully, I'll have it all done and dusted before the weekend is over.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fickle Followers

I'm shedding 'followers' like nobody's business, it seems.  I lost five from Twitter alone yesterday and two over the weekend.  Plus, I notice that I've lost half of my 'followers' from this blog.  OK, so I only had two, count 'em two, followers here in the first place, but what the Hell, half is half!  Not that I actually care.  I've mentioned before the fickleness of Twitter followers.  There are too many people using Twitter who seem to expect you to follow them back just because they've decided, for their own reasons, to follow you.  It's a mentality I've never really understood.  If I follow someone on Twitter it is because I think that they are tweeting interesting or entertaining stuff.  I don't necessarily expect them to feel the same way about my tweets and reciprocate the follow.  Following shouldn't be predicated upon the expectation of being followed back.  Not that I'm rigid about these rules - generally speaking, I'll always follow back fellow Humorfeed or Overnightscape Underground members who follow me - it's the courteous thing to do as these are the two main online communities I participate in: it should go without saying that their tweets are going to be of interest to me.

There's another sort of 'fickle follower' - the apparently automated accounts like, I don't know, 'John Travolta News', which aggregate tweets made about, in this case, John Travolta, and automatically follow the tweeting account in case it makes any more relevant tweets.  Sometimes their following is only for a couple of days, sometimes several weeks.  It is accounts of this type which made up most of my lost 'followers' over the past few days.  But they might come back.  I've had the situation where they unfollow you one week then, when you make a tweet on their subject again the next week, they follow you all over again.  They're a real pain in the arse, to be honest.  Then we come to the blog followers.  I've never understood this activity (which is facilitated by most blogging platforms these days).  If I'm interested in a blog, I'll just visit it whenever I've got time to see if it has been updated.  I don't need to 'follow' it.  I think that some blog followers expect some degree of interaction with the blogs they follow.  Well, I'm sorry, but that's something I'm just not into, replying to comments, for instance, is a chore as far as I'm concerned. Sure, I do respond to a handful of commenters, mainly fellow bloggers on specialist subjects. like exploitation movies.  But the fact is that I really don't want to be anyone's 'buddy' or 'pal' online.  I know it might seem strange for someone as anti-social as I am to be publishing stuff online, but the fact is that the web is the perfect platform on which to put your ideas out there without actually having to deal directly with people.  If you like what I write, great.  If you don't, that's fine, too.  But either way, there really is no need to tell me about it!    


Monday, September 19, 2016

Pipes of Terror

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was making light of terror attacks, but I found that whilst I was watching the news from New York over the weekend, whenever the term 'pipe bomb' was mentioned, I conjured up a mental picture of the smoking-type of pipe with its bowl packed full of explosive.  Could this be a new type of terror weapon, I mused.  Designed to wipe out infidel pipe smokers by blowing their heads off after a couple of puffs, perhaps.  Because, after all, pipe smoking is the sign of intellectualism, isn't it?  So a pipe bomb campaign could be part of a strategy by ISIS to, quite literally, decapitate the West's intellectual leadership.  Moreover, those Muslim fundamentalists don't approve of smoking, do they?  (Well, according to the likes of the Daily Mail, anyway).  Of course, the flaw in their nefarious scheme could lie in the fact that so few people smoke these days.  Especially pipes, it seems.  I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I saw a pipe smoker.  You certainly don't see them loitering outside office buildings with the cigarette smokers.

After going on about pipe bombs, the news coverage of the New York bombings then confused me by claiming that, far from involving pipes, one unexploded device discovered by the authorities was actually a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker with a mobile phone attached to it, to be precise. This was pretty devastating news: the terrorists were now turning our own kitchen implements against us.  Not satisfied with trying to wipe out our remaining pipe smokers, they clearly wanted to make our kitchens a 'no go' area - possibly with the aim of making us starve to death.  (I have no doubt that a pressure cooker could be a lethal weapon.  Even without explosives.  When I was a kid, I was always convinced that my mother's wheezing old pressure cooker was on the verge of exploding, as it bubbled, fizzed and rattled away on the cooker.  It was bloody terrifying).  Any minute now, I thought, the Daily Mail is going to launch a campaign to have the sale of pressure cookers banned.  But only to Muslims.  I had a terrifying vision of anyone vaguely Arab-looking being surrounded by armed police officers and dragged off to Belmarsh whenever they tried to buy a new pressure cooker in Argos.  Trust me, it could happen.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Forgotten Films: The Trygon Factor (1966)

Some time ago I was lamenting here over the fact that The Trygon Factor, a sixties movie I had fond, but vague, memories of, never turned up on TV anymore and didn't seem to be available on DVD.  (In English, at least).  Well, in response to that post, I was directed to a recently uploaded English language version of the film, reconstructed from multiple sources, (primarily a German DVD version).  Consequently, I've had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with The Trygon Factor.  From the off, I have to say that it is even barmier than I remembered.  It is also far more stylishly mounted than I recalled, boasting terrific production values, beautiful colour photography and a first rate cast.  All of which is quite surprising as the film is, in effect, a B movie. To be precise it is an attempt to produce a German 'Krimi' movie in the UK.  Whilst it is true that movies of this genre, (which is either based on or inspired by the works of Edgar Wallace, often featuring fog shrouded recreations of London through which prowl masked killers), had sometimes previously featured location shooting in the UK, these had been German productions, intended primarily for the domestic German market.

The Trygon Factor, by contrast, is an Anglo-German co-production, clearly aimed at the sort of international market enjoyed by the then new James Bond-type films.  As with most international co-productions, The Trygon Factor represents something of a collision of styles, with the typical murky monochrome world of the average 'Krimi' - complete with rain slicked roads and dimly lit noir-ish locations - is replaced by glossy, colourful and well lit locations, with a definite emphasis upon sub-Bondian glamour. In the midst of these slick production values a typically bizarre and convoluted 'Krimi'-style plot - including such traditional elements as a masked killer, bank robberies, faked deaths, spooky old buildings (a crypt and a British stately home, in this case), lots of murders and plenty of Scotland Yard detectives wandering around in homburgs and trilbys - unfolds.  Incredibly, this attempt at melding two apparently disparate styles actually succeeds.  The end result, interestingly closely resembles the look and feel of the colour episodes of The Avengers - a TV series which, at its peak, also specialised in combining outlandish plots with a striking visual style and very 'English' locations.

The plot involves Aston Martin driving Scotland Yard Superintendent Cooper-Smith, (played as a smoothy silver fox by Stewart Granger, who had already starred in a several German crime movies), who is investigating a series of violent robberies in London.  His suspicions fall upon an order of nuns working out of an English stately home who, of course, turn out to be a gang of international criminals, who are smuggling the jewels and bullion they rob out of the country concealed in the pottery they make.  For their next robbery, they need to smuggle a German expert into the country disguised as a corpse.  Said expert has a revolutionary multi-barrelled gun which can blast through the vault doors at the bank they are targeting.  Behind it all is the apparently harmless aristocratic old lady who owns the stately home.  Such a bare outline can't do true justice to the true insanity of the film, which includes a pair of murderous 'nuns' carrying out hits for the gang and a mysterious masked and black gloved killer with a penchant for drowning its victims. (Interestingly, this character prefigures by a few years the similar killers who would stalk the Italian 'Giallo' genre.  Even the way in which the drownings are filmed - from the bottom of the font the first victim meets their watery doom in, for instance - and the emphasis on the black leather gloved hands, are remarkably similar to equivalent sequences in later 'Giallo' movies).  Is the killer the old lady's simpleton son or her trendy photographer daughter (played by Susan Hampshire) who likes dressing in men's clothes?

As mentioned earlier, the cast is terrific, featuring not just the aforementioned Stewart Granger and Susan Hampshire, but also Robert Morley as the gang's increasingly uneasy respectable front man, his real life pal James Roberston Justice lends his weighty presence as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for a couple of scenes, the nuns are led by Brigitte Horney, whilst stalwart British character actors Allan Cuthbertson and Colin Douglas turn up as police detectives.  Granger, in the lead, puts in a marvelously tongue-in-cheek performance which strikes just the right note.  Improbably smooth and urbane, yet still dashing enough to drive a sports car and sweep young girls off of their feet , he is called upon to both fight off killer nuns and romance a hotel receptionist who is, quite clearly, young enough to be his daughter.  Granger's genial performance is off set nicely by some gruesomely staged and interestingly shot killings and a violent central robbery sequence in which the gang first fatally gas the staff of a bank, then dispose of the 'superfluous' gang members during the getaway.

If the film has a problem it is that, to UK audiences at least, it never seems to be able to decide what kind of movie it wants to be: it seems part gritty crime thriller, part robbery caper movie, part detective film, with horror elements like the masked killer and the futuristic high-tech multi-barrelled gun used in the robbery implying a science fiction element.  This might explain why the English-language version of the film has fallen into relative obscurity, despite once having been a popular fixture in ITV's afternoon and late night schedules.  It's simply too difficult to pigeonhole.  That said, unlike many films I remember from my childhood, which I've subsequently revisited decades after last seeing them, The Trygon Factor remains hugely enjoyable.  In fact, I think I enjoyed even more this time around.  Stewart Granger's performance, in particular, left me smiling.  His Cooper-Smith comes on like a slightly down-market version of Patrick MacNee's John Steed.  Whilst Steed might wine and dine a woman before charming her into bed, one gets the distinct impression that Cooper-Smith would have her bra unhitched before the second course was served.  I'd urge anyone who has ever enjoyed any of those old ITC action-oriented TV series or any continental crime films to watch The Trygon Factor - it's a terrifically entertaining B-movie, stylishly directed and well paced, it probably represents a career high for director Cyril Frankel, (who often directed episodes of things like The Avengers).  Besides, how could anyone resist a movie where Stewart Granger punches out not one, but two nuns?

Finally, thanks and kudos to filmboychris 1 Walker for putting together the version of the film I saw and alerting me to its presence online.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Phony War on Fake News

I see that the hoary old business about the evils of 'fake' news stories on the web has raised its ugly head again.  A fellow satire site owner has drawn my attention to a recent online article headed 'Facebook, Twitter Join Coalition to Defeat Fake News', the gist of the article being that the social media giants are joining up with other tech and news organisations to create a 'platform' where news stories can be 'verified' before they get disseminated across the web.  The article cites the usual nonsense about 'faux news' stories going viral to create fake terror alerts and false reports of celebrity deaths.  The problems with this are manifold.  For one thing, false death reports and fake terror alerts tend not, in my limited experience, to be the result of 'fake' news stories, rather they are a result of the way in which social media itself operates, where a single person with sufficient 'followers' or 'friends' can set something with no substance whatsoever trending.  The other big problem is how, exactly, do we define a 'fake' news story?  Just because something published online isn't true, doesn't mean that it has malicious intent.  Obviously, I have a vested interest here, as the owner/operator/writer of a satire site, (well, I like to think that The Sleaze is satirical, others might differ), nothing I publish is actually true.  But that doesn't make me guilty of peddling fake news.  The site makes clear on its masthead, which appears on every page and story, that it isn't true, that it is intended as satire and parody.

This, however, doesn't stop The Sleaze being lumped in with the so called 'fake' news sites on many of those web sites which purport to be able to tell people what they are reading is true or not.  The very fact that such web sites exist indicate where the problem with 'fake' news really lies: the lak of critical faculties amongst some users of the web.  I mean, really - if you can't make a judgement for yourself on the veracity of something you come across online, then I despair of the human race.  Sure, increasingly I find there's a problem when people whose first language isn't English read satire stories, the fact that what they are reading isn't meant to be taken literally, is sometimes lost in translation.  But, I'm afraid, gullibility is what lies at the source of this problem (if, indeed, it really is a problem, which I doubt).  I'm guessing that the very same people who allegedly believe these 'fake' news stories are also taken in by those emails from Nigerian generals and the like, who just need you to give them all your bank account details in order to make you rich.  

But to return to the point, online satire isn't targeted at such an audience.  It's aim isn't to bamboozle the gullible.  Indeed, the only people I've ever seemed to have 'fooled' with any of my stories are researchers working on TV programmes and journalists - people who really should know better.  Although, to be fair to them, I think that they are lazy rather than gullible, trying to find an easy story sourced from the web, without actually bothering to check out the origin of the information they've found in a Google search.  I am aware, though, that there are sites out there whose sole purpose seems to be to promulgate fake news stories, usually in order to generate 'click bait' via search engines and social media, which, they hope, will generate ad revenue from unwary visitors to their own sites.  More recently, we've seen the appearance of a number of right wing sites, some actually masquerading as satire sites, whose mission is to promote their pathetic, but still poisonous racist, homophobic and mysoginistic propaganda, trying to get it onto mainstream outlets via social media.  Of late, they've specialised in churning out outrageous nonsense about Hilary Clinton as part of their support for Donald Trump.  Ultimately, though, I can't help but feel that even if anyone does actually believe any of their fake stories, it will be a case of them preaching to the converted.

Of course, there's another, far more dangerous and prolific source of fake news: the mainstream media itself.  The very organisations which are apparently now committed to 'defeating' fake news on the web are, themselves, filling their pages with palpably false news stories, usually designed to push their own, highly dubious, agendas.  Just peruse the pages of any UK tabloid, from the Daily Mail to The Sun and you'll find all manner of screaming headlines about Muslims, benefits claimants, single mothers and immigrants, heading stories which, upon even the most cursory examination, prove to have no foundation in fact whatsoever.   Even worse are their 'science' articles, promising all sorts of medical breakthroufgs and holding out hope for the seriously ill and disabled, none of which are actually based upon any kind of reputable scientific research.  If the news media are serious about defeating fake news, then they need to start looking closer to home than the web.  Because, let's face it, few, if any, people are really going to believe any story originating from a site called The Sleaze, they might be inclined to believe it if it comes from a supposedly reputable and trusted mainstream news outlet.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Wind That Burns

Have you ever had the experience of letting rip a huge fart, smiling to yourself at the fantastic sound it made and feeling of relief that releasing it into the wild gave you and chuckling at the thought of how it would undoubtedly leave anyone unfortunate enough to be down wind of it gagging, then idiotically turned around and walked back into it?  It just happened to me.  I swear that it was so evil smelling that it left me gasping for breath and my eyes stinging.  Only seconds earlier I'd been proudly contemplating how it had reverberated around the kitchen as I'd let fly.  I mean, I was on my own in my own house, so I felt I had a right to let out a postern blast.  After all, if we can't break wind without inhibitions or regard for social convention in the privacy of our own homes, where can we?  It's one of the great secret pleasures of life, isn't it?  There's something, I don't know, therapeutic perhaps, about it.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who obsessively sniffs their own farts for pleasure.  You know the sort - they like nothing better than letting rip a huge fart in bed, then wafting the covers up and down so as to ensure getting a full nose full of their own stench.  No, I just enjoy the simple pleasure of being able to break wind without inhibition in private.

Anyway, this eye watering close encounter with my own fart left me, once I'd recovered, thinking nostalgically of previous fart-related incidents in my life.  Most spectacular, as I recall, was the fart-lighting craze which gripped many of my acquaintances in our teens.  It provided simple, yet highly amusing entertainment, requiring only a naked flame and a full gaseous load.  Obviously, it was important to only attempt lighting one's emissions through the fabric of trousers or underwear.  I'm sure that we've all heard the cautionary (and probably apocryphal) tales of those foolish enough to try bare arsed fart lighting, resulting in their bum hair or pubes bursting into flame, leaving them with serious - not to mention embarrassing to explain to the hospital - burns.  But, even filtered through trousers, a fart lighting session could produce some truly spectacular blue flames shooting out of one's backside.  Mind you, even with trousers on, there was a risk.  I once lit a fart whilst wearing a pair of trousers with a frayed and ragged hole in the crutch - the frayed material was left smouldering after one especially powerful rear end explosion was ignited. 

But, despite the thrills provided by fart lighting, perhaps my most satisfying fart-related memory is that of the time I used my effusions to defeat school bullies.  Said bullies - actually they were a pretty pathetic bunch who were semi-good at sports combined with a sense of social superiority engendered through having pretentious middle class parents - habitually loitered at the back of morning assembly and liked to demonstrate their 'superiority' by poking, kicking and hissing threats and abuse at those in front of them.  One morning in assembly, I had the pleasure of letting rip, for virtually the entire assembly, a series of 'Silent But Deadly' farts, which silenced them completely.  In fact, the farts were apparently so evil smelling that the bullying bastards were left gagging and incapable of carrying out any of their usual antics, Insisting on standing at the back, as they did, they found themselves trapped, unable to escape the horrific stench.  I'm sure the UN would have condemned me for use of chemical weapons in my war against bullying, but my faux mustard gas attack had a long lasting effect, with the little shits backing off from their bullying activities in morning assembly.     

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