Friday, May 29, 2009

Cleaning Out My Closet (Part Two)

Before leaving the subject of the chocolate nipples for good, I just thought that I'd provide some photographic evidence of their existence. I know the picture isn't the greatest quality, but it gives a pretty good idea of what hese infernal devices look like. These are two of the six survivors. I'm still undecided as to what to do with them. I certainly won't be eating them.

Whilst we're on the subject of the stuff I rediscovered in my closet, I thought that I'd also treat you to a picture of part of the 'explosives' cache I rediscovered there. (The yellow oblong box is part of the remote firing trigger for the rocket.) The fireworks are of the type you stick in the ground, and which then fire some kind of shrieking blue projectile into the air. If you angle them the right way, you can get them to hit people's rooftops (in theory, of course, as I'd obviously never commit such an act of vandalism).

Finally, I offer you a glimpse of my long lost porn stash. All pretty mundane stuff. Mind you, if you look closely at the uppermost cover, you'll see the origin of one of my favourite story titles I used in The Sleaze. As I mentioned earlier, I'm proud of the fact that I rescued all of these jazz mags from hedgerows and gutters, and nursed them back to health.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Picture Imperfect

For those of you who might have been worried - I survived the chocolate nipple poisoning. Indeed, I was so well recovered today that I visited the British Museum in London. You know what would really improve the British Museum? Banning bloody cameras and camera phones, that's what! My enjoyment of the exhibits was greatly marred by burks trying to take pictures of everything. Just go to the shop and buy some postcards, or a book. Trust me, the focus and lighting on those photos will be far better than anything you can achieve. I found the situation particularly frustrating in the Egyptian galleries, with hordes of tourists trying to have their pictures taken with the mummys. Show some respect for the dead - isn't it bad enough that the poor buggers have been dug up and taken halfway around the world to be gawped at by the great unwashed?

The Elgin marbles - sorry, Parthenon galleries as they like to call them now - were almost as bad. After spoiling a few tourists' pictures by refusing to move out of the way and walking across their field of view, I decided to seek out some of the less popular galleries. Mesopotamia and the ancient Levant didn't seem to be so popular with the snap-happy brigade. Which is their loss, as these exhibits give a fascinating glimpse at the dawn of civilisation. Africa, with its salutary tales of imperial exploitation also seemed relatively unpopular. Undeservedly so, as there is some fascinating stuff there. Even when I left the museum this afternoon I wasn't free from the idiots with cameras. Another place photography should be banned is on Hungerford Bridge (or Bridges, as these days there are two pedestrian walkways). I lost count of the number of times I had to negotiate obstructions caused by numpties posing for pictures there as I tried to get back to Waterloo. Lest anyone suspect that I didn't enjoy my trip today, I actually did. But there's no doubt that it would have been even more enjoyable if not for the proliferation of these idiots who seem to want to record and quantify every part of their existence by committing it to film (or digital memory). When did the human memory of experience stop being sufficient?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cleaning Out My Closet

Today, I decided to follow Eminem’s example and clean out my closet. The built-in wardrobe in my bedroom, to be exact. Over the years this has become a repository for all manner of junk and rubbish and I decided that something had to be done. I was quite surprised by what I found when I got dug in: my long-lost porn stash, for one thing. I really don’t know why I’ve kept – it isn’t as if there’s anything unusual about it, no copies of Janus, for instance, just a modest collection of regular adult jazz mags. Actually, there is something mildly interesting about the collection as a whole: I didn’t pay for a single one of those magazines. No, I didn’t shoplift them in my youth. I’m proud to say that I found them all abandoned in hedgerows and lay-bys. Yes folks, I can’t deny it any longer – I’m a Porn Hunter! However, a collection of tatty, dog-eared nudie magazines of dubious provenance weren’t all that I rediscovered lurking at the bottom of my closet.

I also stumbled across a long-forgotten cache of explosives dating back to my days as a revolutionary. Well OK, it was a load of old fireworks, well past their use-by dates and probably highly unstable. For a minute after finding them, I had visions of armed anti-terror police kicking in my door, evacuating my entire street and blowing up my house in a controlled explosion. But then it occurred to me that I’d been sleeping next to the bloody things for years, if they hadn’t gone off during all that time, it was unlikely to happen now. Besides, I didn’t notice any of the Roman candles ‘sweating’, (according to many westerns I’ve seen, this is a sure sign of instability in past their sell by date explosives). As I say, these dated back to the time when I fancied myself as a bit of an urban terrorist – OK then, vandal. Quite how firework rocket attacks on people’s garden sheds was going to bring the capitalist state to its knees, I’m not sure. But that was the plan. Also amongst the explosive ordnance was one of those bigger rockets you build from kits – as I recall, it failed its one and only flight test, thereby setting back my WMD scheme by years (a warhead containing dog shit, if you’re interested).

But most surprising amongst my closet finds was a box of chocolate nipples. Yes, nipples. They were labelled ‘After Dinner Nipples’ and, if memory serves me correctly were given to me as Christmas present at least fifteen years ago. Like many other dubious gifts, they ended up, forgotten, at the back of the closet. Except for some evidence of mice attempting to chew through the cardboard container, the contents seemed to be in good condition, still sealed in plastic. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to finally sample this pornographic confectionary. Obviously, after fifteen years, the chocolate had hardened and become a bit discoloured. However, apart from nearly damaging my fillings when I bit the first one, they seemed alright. Indeed, I found that if I sucked them to soften them up, they were quite enjoyable – they’ve got bits of that crunchy mint praline stuff embedded in them. Mind you, I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of having eaten four of them - it is probably just hypochondria, but my stomach has subsequently been feeling a bit unsettled – have I been poisoned by some chocolate nipples which came out of the closet? What a way to go!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Relegation to You...

Relegation to you, relegation to you, relegation dear Middlesbrough, relegation to you! I know that as a Spurs fan I should reserve all my ire for Arsenal, but for some reason, this season Middlesbrough really got my goat, and I found myself praying that they’d go down. And Lo! My prayers were answered! It’s hard to say exactly why ‘Boro evoked such dislike in me this season – perhaps it was the fact that they beat us on the opening day of the season, the start of a disastrous run which only ended with the sacking of Juande Ramos. Perhaps it was because they got so bloody cocky after a reasonable start to the season, implying that they were a bigger club than us when they refused to allow Downing to speak to us about a possible transfer (although why we ever wanted to sign such an average player, I really don’t know). Then again, maybe it all came down to their ‘manager’ Gareth Southgate, a man appointed despite having neither any experience of management, nor any coaching qualifications. I got so tired of seeing him in post-match interviews, with his pullover on under his suit jacket, clearly completely out of his depth and utterly clueless. His refusal to take responsibility for ‘Boro’s relegation and resign simply underlines his inability to grasp exactly what a manager’s role actually is. But Hell, what do I know? Early in the season the press were busily telling us how Southgate was one of the most promising of the younger English managers. Yeah, he has all the qualities: arrogant, self-delusional and he’s managed to get a Premiership side relegated. Southgate for England!

There’s a part of me that feels that I should feel some sympathy for Newcastle over their relegation. I was watching the live coverage from Villa Park yesterday, when it became clear that the ‘Toon’ were going down and the cameras focused on the fans, some of whom were in tears. In particular, they kept coming back to this fat bastard, who, in between stuffing his face with pie, was blubbing like a baby. It was a terrible sight – I felt sure that he was going to choke on his pie at any moment. Yet, even as I laughed at him, I felt a twinge of conscience. After all, only a few months ago, I was convinced that Spurs were going down – would I have been blubbing away if the tables had been turned? Most probably not. I certainly wouldn’t have been eating that bloody pie. Much as I love the Spurs, the fact is that football is only a game. Sure, I’d have been pissed off, but a part of me would also have acknowledged that (on the basis of our form in those first, awful, eight matches which left us at the bottom of the table), we deserved it. And that, I suppose, is why I don’t feel that much sympathy for Newcastle and its fans. They’ve always seemed to think that they had some kind of divine right to be in the Premiership. All they had to do was turn up. At least at Spurs we recognised that we could go down, that it was a very real threat. By contrast, the barcodes just didn’t seem to grasp how dire their position was until the season was nearly over. Even then, they still thought some miracle would save them. It didn’t. Enjoy life in the Championship, boys – I hear they have some damn good pies at places like Scunthorpe and Preston!


Friday, May 22, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures – there’s a term you often hear these days. It’s become quite fashionable for celebrities and the like to tell us mere mortals about their ‘guilty pleasures’. When I first encountered this phenomena I got quite excited – I had visions of Konnie Huq revealing all about her crack cocaine habit, Kate Winslet admitting that she regularly gargles with her own urine, or Keith Harris telling the readers of TV Quick about his extensive collection of animal porn. But sadly no – all I got was various Z-listers admitting to enjoying watching Adam Sandler films, or eating cucumbers dipped in vinegar, (now, if they were masturbating with the cucumber whilst watching Adam Sandler films, that might be considered something they should feel guilty about). Before going any further I should point out, for purely legal reasons, that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the aforementioned celebrities do crack cocaine (or any other drugs), own animal pornography or drink their own (or anyone else’s) urine. My problem with the way the term ‘guilty pleasures’ is commonly used in the media is that it trivialises the concept of guilt. If you feel guilty about enjoying something, it rather implies that something about the activity is shameful, or would be considered unacceptable, perhaps even illegal, by society at large.

Now, whilst listening to, say, Kajagoogoo or Wham, might mark you down as certifiably insane, it isn’t actually socially unacceptable or illegal. It isn’t something that anyone should really feel ashamed about, let alone guilty. Whilst their music might be criminal. Listening to those groups does not constitute a criminal act. What I would brand a truly guilty pleasure would be the thrill a paedophile gets from looking at child pornography, or the kick that CIA interrogators might get from torturing alleged terror suspects. Both are activities which anyone should feel guilty about as, in the eyes of any reasonable person, they are completely unacceptable and fundamentally wrong. Ironically, of course, the sort of people who do take pleasure from such activities are unlikely to actually feel guilty about them, as they don’t consider them wrong. It would be interesting to know what they’d consider to be their guilty pleasures. Voting for UKIP, perhaps? Guilt should be a big deal, but when you apply it to simply liking an unpopular film or group, it dilutes the whole concept. Is it any wonder that people who regularly commit anti-social behaviour, break the speed limit, drive recklessly or abuse their wives increasingly seem unrepentant about it? These are only ‘minor offences’, no worse than enjoying Jim Davison, apparently. So, next time you describe the 1976 remake of King Kong as a ‘guilty pleasure’, just stop and think – by doing so you are legitimising shop lifting! Reserve ‘guilt’ for crimes, not bad taste!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apprentice of Apocalypse?

There are some things I will never understand. The appeal of The Apprentice being one. Now, I know I'm biased here, being a Spurs fan it is a given that I hate and loathe Sir Alan Sugar, and therefore wouldn't watch any TV programme featuring him, but even if it wasn't him, I'd still have no interest in watching it. Where is the entertainment value in watching a bunch of thoroughly dislikeable people desperately scrabbling around trying to get a job being chief sycophant to some capitalist bastard? It really is the unacceptable face of capitalism - setting a group of greed-fuelled back-stabbing idiots against each other and calling it entertainment. Actually, the programme might have more credibility with me if it was anybody other than Alan Sugar presiding over it. Is he really the best the BBC could come up with to represent British entrepreneurship? He's hardly Donald Trump, is he? He presides over an empire producing set-top boxes for Sky - not really the cutting-edge of technological innovation, is it? With his track record of producing cheap, but crap, home computers and electrical appliances, I'd hope that Sugar wasn't a role model for budding British businessmen. His lack of vision and unwillingness to take risks, instead focusing on profits, are exactly the sort of attitudes which have held British business back over the past few decades.

Obviously, if they're going to make The Apprentice worthwhile viewing for people like me, the BBC are going to have to find someone a damn sight more exciting and dynamic than Alan Sugar to build it around. Personally, my choice would be Osama bin Laden. Instead of trying to land a job at Amstrad, contestants would be vying to become al Qeaeda's chief planner. Consequently, each week they'll be set terror-related tasks - blowing up London landmarks, kidnapping journalists, paralysing the banking system. The more innovative their scheme, the less likely they are to be fired. Those failing won't simply be fired - they'll be expected to take out a designated target as a suicide bomber. If that doesn't give them all an added incentive, nothing will. Trust me, this version of The Apprentice would blow Sugar's whiskers off - a guaranteed top ten hit! Who cares about selling lemons to transsexuals (or whatever the bloody tasks Sugar sets them involve), when there's the chance to witness mass destruction and carnage? I've no doubt as to what the public would prefer!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Representing the People...

Just when I thought the MPs' expenses scandal couldn't get any worse, Esther Rantzen declared that she was considering standing at the next general election. Yeah, that's just what we need to restore credibility to Parliament and the political process - celebrities invading the House. The last thing we need right now are yet more rampant egos hell-bent on showing us how wonderful and caring they are sitting in Parliament. Surely that was a major contributing factor to the present crisis - the fact that over the past few decades we've been electing more and more self-serving bastards who have forgotten that they are in Parliament to represent us, and instead have been attracted by the fame, the status the power and the money, that comes with the job. Pretty much the same things which motivate others to try and become celebrities. I sincerely hope that Rantzen's ludicrous bid for publicity doesn't spark a stampede of celebrities to try and get elected as independent 'anti-corruption' candidates. Rather than yet more preening egotists, what Parliament desperately needs is an influx of MPs with some concept of public service.

The question is, of course, would voters actually support a celebrity who stood against the main parties in their constituency? Are they that stupid? I hope not. Indeed, if anyone would be tempted to vote for such a novelty candidate, should the opportunity arise, I would strongly advise against it. Don't forget, that you are electing someone to represent your interests in Parliament. Independent candidates of any ilk are ill-equipped to be effective representatives. Like it or not, affiliation to one of the major parties gives an individual MP far more clout when trying to further his or her constituents' interests with either the government, or other bodies. No matter how tempting voting for the protest candidate might seem, just ask yourself whether it will really have any impact in the long run? After all, wasn't Martin Bell elected as an independent MP on an anti-corruption ticket more than a decade ago? He really cleaned up British politics, didn't he?

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Followers on Demand

Getting back to this business of Twitter and followers, I've finally decided upon a purpose for my rarely updated and unfollowed Twitter feed. Basically, I'm going to make it my mission to seek out other feeds with no followers and follow them. There's nothing more disheartening than having your Twitter feed ignored, (well, I assume there isn't, personally, I wear my 'No Followers' tag as a badge of honour, but I'm sure that there are other sensitive souls out there who feel emotionally crushed by the Twitter community's rejection of their feed), so I am to bring a little cheer into people's lives by following them. With luck, once other Twitterers see that someone as fascinating and groovy as me is following you, they too will start to follow. Before you know it, you'll be popular, (in as much as having a bunch of random Twitterati following your updates can be said to constitute popularity). Of course, once this happens, my work will have been done and I'll un-follow you, and seek out other poor follower-less souls to help out.

Now, whilst I'm not choosy about who I follow (just so long as they don't have any other followers, that is), there are some things I refuse to touch with a barge pole. Sex offenders, racists and other assorted extremists are excluded from my largess, as are general nutters and stalkers. People who fancy themselves as some kind of satirist or comedian are out as well - I don't want my feed cluttered up with their crap jokes. I'm sure I'll think of some other exceptions as I go along. Amazingly, my actions here are purely altruistic - I ask for nothing in return. You don't even have to reciprocate by following me, although if you do, don't send me any direct messages - just because I'm following you out of pity doesn't mean that I actually want to communicate with you. So, there you are - if you've got a Twitter feed that currently has no followers, let me know and I'll take a look. If you don't seem too offensive, or just plain geeky, I might just do you a favour and follow you!

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Laugh? I Thought I'd Never Start

It's been a while since I've taken a crack at other online 'satire' sites, largely because I've been lucky enough to have avoided any really shit sites for quite some time. However, it has been my recent misfortune to stumble across the site of a self-styled 'humourist' whose output - whilst prolific - is truly woeful in terms of quality. Now, I don't want to start one of those pathetic 'flame wars' which seem so beloved of some denizens of the web, so I'm not going to name the miscreant or his (I assume it's a he) site. Nevertheless, I will outline exactly why I think that his stuff is utter bollocks. Most fundamentally - it isn't funny. Simply stringing together a lot of expletives, interspersing it with 'characters' with 'hilarious' (and in the case of ethnic characters, often racist) names, spouting vitriol on some vaguely topical theme, isn't really satire. The thing I find most uncomfortable about these 'stories' (if, indeed, we can grace these 'narratives', which generally seem to consist of a list of loosely-linked 'gags', with such a term), is the racism (black people are regularly referred to as 'very sun-tanned', for instance) and knee-jerk reactionary attitudes which seem (to me) to pervade them. All of the 'stories' seem designed to confirm the narrow-minded prejudices of their audiences. Perhaps I've misunderstood it all these years, but surely the point of satire is to challenge established norms and conventional wisdom, thereby inviting readers to reassess their own views and prejudices? It certainly shouldn't be reinforcing the status quo.

Mind you, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on someone who is clearly a rank amateur. Supposed professionals are equally capable of writing utter crap and claiming that it is satire. Some of the weakest so-called 'satire' I've read over the past twelve months has come from a site which proudly proclaims that its authors are newspaper journalists, as if this somehow qualifies them to write satire. Sadly, they've taken the lazy route and, having seen a couple of episodes of The Thick of It, think that all you have to do to write cutting-edge satire is throw together some topical references, mention the names of a couple of politicians, smother it in expletives and adopt a tone of weary cynicism. Sadly,what they've forgotten to include is any wit, originality or imagination. Unfortunately, this site seems to get a fair amount of traffic and coverage in the wider media. It is a favourite for being referenced by pseudo-celebrity bloggers. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised as it is precisely the sort of 'satire' site which appeals to the mainstream - slick and non-threatening. Like the amateur I lambasted earlier, its stories never actually challenge the conventional world-view held by the majority of mainstream readers. They like it because, whilst the swearing makes it seem 'edgy', there's nothing in it which will make them feel uncomfortable. Best of all, from their point of view, it has 'credibility' because it is written by 'professionals', who surely must know what they're talking about, mustn't they? Well, not really. But if you like your satire bland and toothless, then it is definitely for you. Personally, I think I prefer to stick to producing my 'underground' satire site - we may be offensive, but we're never bland!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

No Follow

I was reading a piece in The Guardian by Seth Finkelstein the other week, in which he outlined the things which out him off of Twitter, principally the way in which it was all predicated upon promising some kind of micro-celebrity status to users, and the way in which it was inevitably dominated by a handful of high profile users. Whilst I broadly agreed with him on these points, it was his highlighting of the significance of the terms 'follower' and 'following' in the world of Twitter which really chimed with me. He's quite right that these terms (and the fact that each user's number of 'followers' and 'following' are publicly displayed), imply some kind of hierarchy. Worse, it introduces a highly competitive element, in which one's 'importance' is measured in 'followers' - to hell with the quality of content, just look at how many followers I have! Furthermore, the term 'follower' has something evangelical about it, making the most successful twitterers seem like cult leaders, striving to recruit acolytes to their nefarious causes. Surely it can only be a matter of time before twitter creates a 'Jim Jones' who, in his last post, commands his thousands of followers to drink poisoned Kool Aid.

But it isn't just Twitter which has become obsessed with 'followers' - it seems to be all the rage in blogs now, with blogger urging us all to install a widget which allows you to proudly display your blog's 'followers' for all to see! This trend really is threatening to turn the web into one big 'who's got the biggest dick' contest. I mean, really, why should I care who else is reading any given site I visit or, indeed, how many other people also read it? You might as well make you web stats public (some people do, I know). Personally, I've never seen the point. My web stats are of interest solely to me - they're there mainly to give some idea of the relative popularity of individual items and features on my site, what brings visitors to them and where they come from. All of which information, hopefully, I can use to tweak the site to improve it. Obsessing over traffic is very unhealthy - I know, I've done it. Ultimately, the reason you should be producing a personal site is that you enjoy it - how many visitors you get should be irrelevant. OK, if your site is a major source of income, then you should be concerned about traffic levels. However, for the majority of twitterers, bloggers and site owners, how many acolytes - sorry, followers - you have shouldn't even come into the equation.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"I've Been Such a Fool!"

"I've been such a fool!" People in 1940s films always seemed to be saying that. At least, they always seemed to be saying it in the old black and white films the BBC used to show on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid. It usually came near the denouement, as the hero or heroine realised that they'd spent the entire film chasing the wrong partner, and that their true love had been there right in front of them all the time, usually in the form of an impoverished school master, meek maid or the like. I always used to wonder if anybody had ever said such a thing in real life. I mean, it does seem a bit restrained, even by 1940s standards, to simply describe yourself as a fool when caught in a life-changing moment of romantic revelation. I'm guessing that even monochrome people would be a bit more animated when in throes of such emotional turmoil. Even I was moved to exclaim "Fuck!" very loudly upon seeing the sometime object of my affection holding hands with someone else some years ago - and I'm a pretty restrained and sophisticated fellow! The one thing I didn't think was that I'd been a fool.

However, a while ago I found myself quietly uttering those words to myself. I think it was something I was watching on TV which triggered it, but I'm still confused as to how exactly I thought I'd been a fool. Superficially, I thought that I'd been a fool because I'd elected not to fight for the affections of someone I cared about, instead just withdrawing quietly from the picture when it became obvious they were enamoured of someone else, (I think these thoughts were inspired by what was happening on TV at the time). But, the more I've pondered on the matter, the more I've questioned the true nature of my foolishness. In truth, wasn't I foolish in misreading friendship for something else and subsequently deluding myself that the relationship could be anything else? Then I had another thought - perhaps I was a fool for allowing myself to be drawn in by her (for the second time, as it happens)? Looking back, it occurred to me that the times when she seemed closest and keenest to see me, were when nobody else was available. Was I the perennial second choice, good enough to be stand in, but never likely to be the real thing? In which case, I really was a bloody fool. To accept this latter definition of my foolishness would require accepting a degree of manipulativeness I don't think my friend was capable of - so I choose instead to plump for the second explanation of why I was a fool, self delusion. If nothing else, it fits with my track record in affairs of the heart. It also absolves my friend - someone I still care for - from blame. The fact is that she never realised how I felt about her, and I was too foolish to spell it out. A fool indeed! But at least I'm not a monochrome fool! That has to count for something, surely?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

No Appetite for Fame?

Bloody celebrity do-gooders! I don't know about you, but frankly, Ive come to the end of my tether with their attempts to co-opt every form of protest and every humanitarian cause to their own self-glorification. OK, I know that I've never had much time for celebrities per se, let alone their charitable campaigning, but I've finally been pushed over the edge into total intolerance by Mia Farrow's bloody 'hunger strike' for Darfur refugees, (not, I'm sure, that any of them actually asked her to do it). If anything ever highlighted the way in which celebrities want all the kudos and self-satisfaction which accompany dramatic gestures for good causes, but don't actually want to endure the inconvenient and unpleasant consequences that such sacrifices entail, then this debacle does. To cut a long story short, Farrow has given up her 'hunger strike' because it made her ill. Well, no shit! Isn't that the point of hunger strikes - that in order to draw attention to a cause someone forces the rest of the world watch them become ill and, ultimately, die?

But not to worry, Britain's village idiot, Richard Branson, has come to the rescue, agreeing to take over where Mia Farrow left off. But only for three days. For fuck's sake! This farcical affair has to be the ultimate in celebrity dilettantism. Either take the concept of a hunger strike seriously, or don't bother. Really, if you don't feel strongly enough about your cause to give your life for it, then fuck off. How would it have been if Bobby Sands had decided that he was going to give up his hunger strike after a few days because he was feeling unwell? Does anybody believe that if the Indian government hadn't thought that Gandhi was serious in his intent to fast-until-death in 1947 they would have made any attempt to heal the sectarian rifts which had prompted his actions? Of course bloody not! But of course, that doesn't matter where celebrity campaigns are concerned. The whole point - as they see it - is that everyone should be overawed that someone as wealthy, famous and generally fabulous as them should even consider taking such drastic action. The authorities should be so shocked that they've driven the great and the good to not eat for three days that they automatically mend their ways! What next, I wonder? Perhaps Bono will threaten to immolate himself over third world debt, except that he'll douse himself in water, rather than petrol, as that's better environmentally. Besides, actually burning himself to crisp would increase his carbon footprint and contribute to global warming. Celebrities, eh? What a bunch of fuckwits.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Dangerously Close to the Truth

OK, I was in a bad mood yesterday. I had a headache, felt exhausted and had to deal with idiots all day. Hence my ill-tempered attack on the campaign to let Gurkhas settle in the UK. That said, I stand by my charges of hypocrisy and I still think Joanna Lumley is a shit actress and famous simply for being famous. She is not a 'National Treasure', (and if she is, we're culturally bankrupt). So, am I in a better mood today? Well, I still feel exhausted and I've had to deal with nutters most of the day, (is Friday the day they let them have a 10p piece for the payphone?). But I didn't have a headache. Anyway, in an attempt to be more positive, I'm going to heap praise on a film I saw on Wednesday evening - In The Loop. First up, I have to say that it took me a while to 'get' the TV series The Thick of It, which this film was derived from, and with which it shares several characters. It didn't help that I came into it with the first Christmas special a couple of years ago, not fully grasping the characters, their relationships or the situation. By the second special I began to appreciate it and found repeated viewings of the two specials rewarding, and I subsequently caught up with the original series on DVD.

Now, this isn't a film review blog, so I have no intention of going over the plot of the film, or in recounting individual scenes. What I will do is tell you why I liked it so much. Having, in a previous incarnation, worked in Whitehall as an intelligence analyst, I can honestly say that In The Loop comes dangerously close to the truth about what goes on there. Obviously, I never worked at a sufficiently high level to have ever encountered foul-mouthed spin doctors like Malcolm Tucker, but I certainly recognised many of the behind-the-scenes machinations portrayed in the film. I particularly liked the scene in which the US Under-Secretary of State sets about rewriting the minutes of a meeting to better reflect what the department wanted to have happened there. I myself have done the same sought of thing, (I hasten to add, of course, that none of the meetings I ever acted as secretary to could have contributed to starting a war), 'adapting' and rearranging the actual events of the meeting to better reflect what should have happened in an ideal world. The reinterpretation of intelligence analyses to suit the agenda of particular individuals or institutions was also very familiar. The Cabinet Office, particularly the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), was especially fond of completely ignoring reports which contradicted a conclusion it had already decided upon. The 'sexing up' of weak intelligence from dubious sources which happened to support the agenda was also fairly common. Mind you, I can't say I ever saw anything quite as extreme as simply rewording an American report, attributing it to a new, completely fictional, source, before presenting it back to them as new intelligence. Not that it isn't possible - nothing would surprise me. In the final analysis, the main reason I liked the movie was because, as well as being dangerously close to the truth, it didn't forget to be very funny - undoubtedly the best British political satire I can recall seeing.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

"I'm Joanna Lumley..."

I was labouring under the misapprehension that we lived in a democracy, where we elected a parliament which, in turn, effectively elected a government which then made decisions. Policies, I foolishly thought, were formulated by Ministers and approved by the Cabinet. Obviously, I've been mistaken for all these years as, today, it became apparent that policy is being made by celebrities, at least in the case of immigration policy this seems so. OK, I know that I'm stretching the definition of 'celebrity' somewhat to encompass Joanna Lumley (it is difficult to recall anything of real consequence she has done acting-wise), but if we're to believe the media, she is effectively dictating to a beleaguered government the way in which they should treat a particular group of foreign nationals. This whole furore over the rights of Gurkha ex-soldiers to settle in the UK has highlighted for me just about everything that is wrong with political reporting in this country.

The whole campaign is based upon sentimentality rather than rationality and, had it not been endorsed by a TV personality, it is doubtful that it would ever have garnered the disproportionate amount of attention that it has. What I find particularly ridiculous about it all is that many of those apparently endorsing the rights of Nepalese people to come and live in the UK are exactly the same people who can usually be found vehemently protesting against immigration. Yes, David Cameron, I'm thinking of you here. But it isn't just Cameron. A lot of the right-wing nutters now beating the drum for the Gurkhas would undoubtedly be manning the barricades if any of Nepalese people actually moved into their street, or wanted to marry their daughter. These were the very people urging the government to take ever more stringent anti-immigration measures. However, when these policies are applied to some group they have a rose-coloured perception of, guided by sentimentality and the hazy recollections of old soldiers, they suddenly don't like it. The 'wrong' foreigners are being excluded!

Now, I have nothing against the Nepalese and there's no doubt that they've done a fine job as soldiers in the service of the British Crown. However, to be contrary here, when the particular Gurkhas in question signed up, they knew the score - they were being employed solely as soldiers, there was no guarantee of UK citizenship or residency at the end of it. The idea that they have somehow been duped or mistreated is, arguably, pretty wide of the mark. They signed contacts and the UK has kept to its side of them. Ultimately, it isn't so much the stench of hypocrisy which hangs over his whole campaign which has got my back up, so much as the involvement of the aforementioned Joanna Lumley. I'm sorry, but I've never rated her. Like their Gurkhas, most people's view of her is based upon hazy recollections, mainly of the New Avengers. The sad fact is that the series was crap, a pale shadow of its predecessor. One of the main reasons for this crapness was Joanna Lumley. Not only was she a poor substitute for Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg or even Linda Thorson, but she was a piss-poor actress and not even remotely sexy. I know that I'm in the minority here, but I have never found Lumley even remotely attractive! Quite why she is held in such high regard by so many people (particularly in the media) is a complete mystery to me. She's just some posh bird on a personal crusade. If it was anyone but her leading this campaign, I'd have a lot more sympathy! Shallow of me, I know, but there you are!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Back with the Twatterati...

After being pretty disparaging about Twitter a while ago, I've decided to become all hypocritical and set up a new Twitter account (having deleted my original, experimental, attempt). I still haven't decided exactly what I'm going to use this new feed (which can be found here) for. For the time being I'm using it to post updates whenever a new story appears on The Sleaze, or I make a new post here. Quite who I'm posting them for, I have no idea, as I have no followers. Ah well, talking to myself is nothing new. As to why I've returned to Twitter, well, there are a variety of reasons, none of which I can be arsed to go into right now. Suffice to say, I'm back there and trying to find a use for the service. If you feel like following me, feel free. If not, I won't be offended.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Pig Brother

Swine Flu is in imminent danger of slipping out of the headlines. OK, I know that there were a load more UK cases confirmed today, along with a few school closures, but let's face it, these were only deemed newsworthy because it was a slow Bank Holiday Monday. What it needs is something more dramatic - a few fatalities in the UK would help. The fact that its symptoms are pretty tame doesn't help either - it's just like normal flu, whereas to be a truly frightening pandemic it should make its victims foam at the mouth, shit blood and burst out in huge weeping pustules. What's clear is that Swine Flu needs to engage some good PR if it wants to stay in the news - perhaps it should engage Max Clifford. Ideally, what's needed is a series of Swine Flu-related publicity stunts in order to keep the disease in the public eye. Maybe one of the newspapers could be persuaded to run an anti-Mexican campaign - on the basis that the disease originated there - warning people not to approach any Mexicans, particularly if they are sneezing or coughing, for fear of contracting Swine Flu. They could have a handy Mexican-recognition guide, advising readers to be on the look out for people wearing ponchos or sombreros or sporting long droopy moustaches.

With luck, the public will be whipped up into such an anti-Mexican fervour that mobs will be attacking Tex-Mex restaurants all over the country, driving Mexicans in the UK underground. In which case The Sun could run a campaign: 'Shop a Mexican and Win a Ford Mondeo'. As well as helping fight the spread of Swine Flu, such an initiative would also help stimulate the car industry. But perhaps the best publicity gimmick for Swine Flu would be to get it onto a reality TV show - 'Pig Brother', maybe. One of the contestants could be infected with the virus and the others have to work out who it is and nominate them for eviction before everyone else is infected. The TV company could up the ante by increasing the temperature in the 'Pig Brother' house so as to better incubate the virus. The participants could be forced to perform tasks - if they succeed they're given the choice: food, Tamiflu or cider? Every time tension and viewing figures flagged they could introduce a wild and possible infected herd of pigs into the house to terrorise the occupants. Something like that would be bound to keep Swine Flu at the top of the news agenda. Indeed, it could whip up sufficient panic for the Daily Mail to start demanding the government introduce 'Swine Alert Sirens', to be sounded whenever the threat of infected pigs was imminent, so that people would be able to run for their hermetically sealed 'Swine Shelters'. It's either that or suffer the ignominy of sharing Bird Flu's fate in becoming yesterday's panic story. Trust me, there are plenty more promising potential pandemics waiting in the wings for their opportunity to crack the big time.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Rank Stupidity

You know, I had a good ranting post planned for today, but an enforced round-trip to bloody Cardiff yesterday has left me completely knackered and uninspired. The gist of it was going to be about the utter inaccuracy of Alexa as a meaningful measure of web traffic to individual sites. For a couple of weeks now it has shown The Sleaze's traffic dropping like a stone when, in reality, it has been moving in the opposite direction (at least, according to every measure of web traffic I use). From there, I was going to going to point out that all Alexa actually does is tell you how the number of people using the Alexa toolbar visiting your site compares to the number of people using the Alexa toolbar visiting other people's sites. Then I was going to question exactly how representative of web users in general Alexa toolbar users are - how many people do you know who have that toolbar installed? (None, in my case). Then I was going to rant about how too many idiots still think that Alexa rankings mean something and try to judge the popularity and, by extension, the worth, of your site by them.

I was then going to ask whether there was any way an individual web owner could get their site removed from Alexa - I've searched, but have never found a way of doing this. My rationale for this was to be that by presenting misleading data about the supposed popularity of The Sleaze, it was damaging the site's reputation. I'd planned to round this rant off by going on about how shit many of these we applications and communities which purport to exist for the promotion of user's sites actually are, using as an example Blogcatalog, which rejected this blog on the basis that it couldn't find the site when it tried to verify it. This, despite the fact that there had been no outages at Blogger during this period. What utter shit - I was going to say, if they're that inefficient, they can go fuck themselves. However, I'm just too tired to bother. Oh, and Alexa's ranking for The Sleaze has mysteriously jumped back up, so I can't really complain about them now, can I?

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