Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween 2010 at The Sleaze

Well, with Halloween nearly upon us - and the BBC showing several films with 'Halloween' in the title this weekend to ram the point home - I'm happy to say that The Sleaze has completed its cycle of loosely horror-themed stories for October. Haunted House of Horticulture, a story with a title inspired by a late night TV encounter with the dreadful old Tigon movie Haunted House of Horror, and content inspired by my niece's conviction that my mother's house is haunted, despite only being built in 1967 - on the site of an old market garden - was posted on the site the other day. Sadly, so far it hasn't performed anywhere nearly as well as it's two immediate predecessors: That Old Black Magic and Hell's Kitchen. I must admit, that the popularity of the latter story took me by surprise - I had no idea that 'Hell's kitchen' and 'Heston Blumenthal' were such popular search terms. In addition to these new stories, an old seasonal favourite of mine - Hijab Halloween - appears to have resurrected itself, with a surge in traffic to the story over the past few days.

Getting back to Halloween itself, as I previously mentioned, the BBC is seizing the opportunity to stick a load of Halloween movies over the weekend. Unfortunately they're the really shit later ones - they showed the only good ones (and Halloween II) last year. Still. not to worry, I've got my own collection of horror DVDs I bought in Poundland a few weeks ago. I remember that a few years ago Poundland incredibly put out a load of 1970s and 1980s Italian shockers on DVD for Halloween, (including, I'm told, Lost Cannibal World, which I'm sure was once banned in the UK, sadly I was unable to obtain a copy from my branch), this year they've given us an eclectic collection of, mainly public domain, B-movies from the 1940s and 1950s. They include such treasures as The Killer Shrews, (but not, sadly, it's original co-feature, The Giant Gila Monster), and The Brain That Wouldn't Die. I also managed to obtain a copy of Bloodsuckers, the heavily cut down US release version of the demented Incense for the Damned, (although I'm assured that the notorious orgy sequence is included as an extra), from the same source. Anyway, I'll be sitting down to watch a few of these this weekend. So, happy Halloween to you all, and don't come knocking on my bloody door trick or treating - I've got the chainsaw ready for you bastards!

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Dead That Crap

"As if the cholera outbreak itself isn't bad enough, now the victims are rising from the dead as zombies - shitting zombies!" declares Jim Jubblyz, a relief worker in Haiti, where thousands have been stricken with cholera, in the wake of the earthquake which devastated the country earlier this year. "I don't know whether it's a voodoo curse, or what. All I know is that no sooner have the poor buggers expired, then they're on their feet again, attempting to eat people and emptying their bowels everywhere!" Jubblyz claims that the profusion of zombie crap is making the health situation even worse. "It's so bloody unhygienic - is it any wonder that more and more people are going down with cholera," he opines. "Still, I guess that it is just classic zombie tactics - if they don't zombify their victims by biting them, they do it by shitting on them!" Doubt has been cast on the relief worker's claims by both the Haitian government and international aid organisations. "This is just more racist stereotyping," says a spokesperson for the Red Cross. "You know, contrary to what most Italian horror films will have you believe, not everyone in Haiti practices Voodoo, and there is no evidence that the cholera outbreak has been spread by the shitting dead!"

Nevertheless, Jubblyz is sticking to his story. "I know what I've seen," he says. "Only yesterday I saw this freshly dead emaciated corpse rise up from its death bed, stagger over to an orderly, puke in his face, then tear his throat out whilst he was temporarily blinded by the vomit! Then he crapped all over the hospital floor before stumbling off." So bad has the zombie outbreak become, Jubblyz claims, that the military have been shooting the living dead by the score. "Last week a platoon of NBC-suited US Marines came racing into town in their Humvee, leaped out and mowed down a dozen or so zombies that were crapping in the street," he recalls. "Before leaving, they doused the bodies in petrol and set them ablaze. They told everyone who saw them not to say anything about it, for fear of spreading panic about the zombie outbreak!" Once again, Jubbylz version of events has been called into question. "Aren't these zombie rumours just being used as an excuse for trigger-happy foreign soldiers to commit murder?" asks the Red Cross spokesperson. "Labelling the local population as 'zombies' is surely just a way of de-humanising them so as to legitimise their ill-treatment?" The spokesperson also pointed out that people crapping in the street in a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed by a natural disaster is hardly evidence of a zombie invasion, merely a sign of extreme poverty.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abattoir 2

I'm not ready to let go of this horror franchise yet - I've had some new ideas for Part Two. Forget the health food store built on the site of the old abattoir. In fact, forget that abattoir altogether. In the new Part Two, there are a series of horrible murders (naturally), all performed in the manner of a slaughter house. You know the sort of thing - electrocuted, throat cut and blood drained out, captive bolt gun, smacked over the head with a sledge hammer, I'm sure there are more, but I'm not an expert on abattoirs, for God's sake! Anyway, the killings are all carried out by someone dressed as a slaughter man and, all of the victims are people involved in the meat trade: butchers, and, er, butchers.

The twist is that the perpetrator, far from being the demonic abattoir owner of Part One, is actually one of the surviving veggies from the first film, driven mad by their experiences and now exacting their revenge on the meat trade! Pretty neat, huh? This approach has the advantage of both being a direct sequel in that involves at least one of the original characters, and is thematically linked by developing the 'meat is murder' concept from the first. This avoids the problems besetting most horror sequels: either they are simply a re-run of the first film, but cheaper, or they are merely a sequel in name only, an arbitrarily re-titled direct-to-DVD release which is vaguely similar to the original. So, having cracked the sequel, all I have to do now is sort out number three. Maybe that health food store idea does have merit...

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Monday, October 25, 2010


So, with Halloween imminent, one's thoughts naturally turn toward horror films, wondering whether there will be any decent cinema releases in this traditional season of the witch? The answer is, of, course, a resounding 'no'. All we get offered, it seems, are yet more instalments of tired old franchises like Saw. And let's face it, they weren't much cop as horror flicks in the first place. Horror cinema these days seems to be obsessed with simply serving up gross-out shock sequences with no context, rather than giving audiences things like plot, suspense or characterisation. But what do I know, eh? I'm still stuck in the days of Hammer and Tigon. Nevertheless, I still think that I could come up with a better horror film franchise than most of the dross that passes for terror cinema these days. First of all, you need some kind of 'high concept' to underpin it all, mine is 'meat is murder', which, in turn, gives us the title: Abattoir!

The premise is simple - a block of luxury flats are built on the site of an old abattoir and, here's the first 'twist', the occupants are all vegetarians! Obviously, pretty soon the residents are experiencing weird shit - disembodied mooings in the night, the bleating of phantom sheep and the agonised squeals of pigs as they're slaughtered. Naturally, investigations show that strange things had gone on at the abattoir before it was demolished - animal cruelty, perhaps. Or, it could transpire that the villainous owner had been passing off regularly slaughtered meat to the local Muslim community as halal meat. Or, he could have been passing off non-Kosher meat as Kosher to the local Jewish community. Or, he could have been slaughtering local down and outs and selling the meat to local butchers.

Anyway, whatever the terrible dark secret turns out to be, the terror is then notched up a gear, with animal blood pouring out of taps and shower heads, nut cutlets mysteriously turning into real cutlets, sides of beef hanging in wardrobes, and herds of demonic pigs chasing people down corridors. Finally, the ghostly abattoir owner could turn up, (or maybe he isn't dead, he's just been hiding in the cellars, where he's set up a new secret slaughter house), and start hanging people from meat hooks before killing them with a captive bolt gun and slicing up their bodies.
It could all climax with him force feeding the surviving veggies with meat. But not just any meat, but the remains of their friends and neighbours! Finally, and just in the nick of time, the ghosts of his previous animal victims turn up and trample the slaughter man to death, or drag him back to Hell. Or something. All in all, I think this is a pretty good idea for a franchise. Certainly, it's no crapper than, say, the Saw or Hostel movies. I've even got an idea for a sequel lined up - with the flats demolished or burned down, or something, after the events of the first film, Abattoir 2 could open with a health food store having been built on the site. This stuff just writes itself! Now, where did I put Roger Corman's number?

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Third Best Satire Site on the Web?

Apparently The Sleaze is one of the top five political satire sites on the web. According to a hubpage entitled 'The Best Political Satire Websites', that is. Whilst it would be nice to be given this accolade by some august body, respected throughout the world for its expertise in satire, rather than from a page set up by an amateur enthusiast on a commercial platform, I'm quite happy to take such a compliment from any source. The fact is that, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, running a web site can be a very lonely business - it is surprising how little feedback from readers you get. You simply have to assume that they like what they read from the fact that some of them keep coming back. Moreover, why should we give more weight to accolades handed out by some (usually self-appointed) expert body, than to those awarded by enthusiastic amateurs? Indeed, that's always been my problem with the awards often handed out on the web - their criteria are usually obscure and the authority of the awarding body unclear. At least with individuals and amateurs these things are clear - they're giving the accolade because they're readers who like the recipient's work. What better reasons or greater authority can you ask for.

For what it's worth, I'm not entirely sure that the compiler of this particular top five is actually a reader of any of the sites listed. Indeed, the list, (in which The Sleaze comes in at number three), looks suspiciously like the first five results you might get by putting the search term 'political satire websites' into a search engine. But like I said before, I'm willing to take accolades from anywhere these days. I only wish that The Sleaze was getting the sort of traffic you'd expect the third best political satire site in the world to be getting. Actually, I've pretty much given up trying to work out what's going on traffic-wise. It's all over the place - some days (like today), both visitor numbers and page views are consistently high, others they plummet. I can't discern any real rhyme or reason behind these fluctuations, (other, obviously, from the fact that posting a new story usually produces a twenty four hour spike in visitors, sometimes longer, depending on the story). Anyway, I'm thinking of quoting this accolade on the site's masthead - "Rated as Third Best Satire Site on the Web", or something similar. After all, every other site I see seems to have some quote or other, allegedly from a newspaper or magazine, saying how wonderful it is, at last I could have something similar that I hadn't completely made up!

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fantasy Crime Prevention

I had another post planned for today, but I was left so astounded by something that happened to me earlier, that I decided I had to write about it. I received a letter today. Nothing unusual in that, I hear you say. True, but it isn't every day that I get a letter from my local police force. Apparently, they are running some kind of scheme to promote car security and thereby cut car crime. According to them, my car was seen by one of their patrols (I assume it was a 'patrol', they didn't specify), in a car park last Friday and, shock horror, there was a bag clearly visible on the back seat! That, allegedly, made my vehicle a target for criminals. All well and good, you might say, raising awareness of security risks, crime prevention, public service and all that. Except that, whilst my car was parked in a supermarket car park around the time they stated last Friday, there was no bag clearly visible on the back seat. Trust me, I know what's on the back seat of my car at all times.

Well, actually there was a bag of sorts - a clearly empty plastic shopping bag. Now, I know that I'm not au fait with the tactics of those who target cars for robberies, but somehow I don't think that empty Tesco bags are seen as a valuable prize, worth breaking into a vehicle for. Indeed, I doubt very much that even if it was full of groceries, it would represent much of a temptation. What a colossal waste of time! If this is the best the police can do with regard to 'crime prevention', then we really are all doomed! Quite apart from the fact that these tactics are intrusive and patronising, I'd like to think that police officers would have something better to do than go around peering into people's private, (and perfectly legal), vehicles, then sending them alarmist letters about what they've allegedly seen inside them. Instead of trying to frighten people about non-existent hypothetical crimes, (grand theft plastic bag theft), they'd surely be better employed investigating crimes which have actually happened. Their woeful clear up rates, (locally, at least), suggest that using their time in this way would probably be welcomed by victims of real crimes!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Captain Laser

Another glimpse into my private DVD collection - this time we look at a little known superhero classic, Laser Man:

The upsurge of superhero movies that really began with the success of Batman in 1989 proved that, despite the evidence of TV attempts like the Hulk and Generation X, live action superheroes didn't have to be gay. Although one might reasonably argue that this comes full-circle with the big gay joke that is Batman and Robin. Due to this new interest in the genre, by the mid 1990s any studio that could was optioning comic book heroes for film. This gave us some good films, such as X-Men and Spiderman, and some not so good ones such as Bug and Blue Sparrow, not to mention the terrible Black Scorpion. Studios such as Warner and Fox could buy up good stuff like Batman and Marvel respectively, so most others were stuck with trying to make do with utter rubbish at the lower end, or optioning small press and independent titles. Most adaptations had aspirations beyond their budget.

Enter Captain Laser, one of the few British superhero figures to make it to the screen. He started out in the 1940s as a wartime answer to such American titles as Batman and most notably Superman. Here we have a fine upstanding fellow of middle of the road imperial English values who, at an army test range, is hit by an experimental energy beam that gives him super laser powers. This was the main strip in Action Chronicle until the title’s demise in the 1960s, when Michael Moorcock took over the writing and editorial duties, and the whole thing became too spaced out and hippish. At least, that's what the extras on the DVD tell me, but this is just an ill considered attempt to cash in on the superhero rage that is so bad it is funny. It is painful that movies like this are still being made in the twenty first century.

This is a revisionist version of the story and updates it to the present, although the DVD says that an attempt was made in the early 90s to make this film as a 1940 period effort. Our hero Captain William Hardy is part of an elite unit who infiltrate the biotech company of some former East German scientist who turns out to be a damn commie in waiting, with a Nazi obsession to boot, as his father was an SS officer - just so you can tell he is evil. A laser in the site is used against our hero, before he is rescued. Consequently, he finds he has strange powers. It is the discovery of these powers that give actor Joseph Grains a chance to act intense and angst ridden, but this does at times make him look constipated. "He has some strange ability to harness the power of light and heat and direct it like a beam..." says one scientist,. Oh, and he can levitate, as can lasers one assumes, not being an expert, although I have never seen one flying in the air.

Needless to say, we also get a superpowered villain who gives himself more and more power, turning him even madder - but as he is played by Rutger Hauer, you know it must be low rent. The revisionist style is a major problem, as this is very much more taken with the angst and darkness of the 1980s rather than the fan boy lightness and fun of say, Spiderman, but it does at least tell us important facts such as prolonged exposure to laser beams will turn most normal men insane. Glad to be told what the boffins don't want us to hear. Be warned, they are threatening a film of the other Action Chronicle great, Lord Magnet. God preserve us.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

National Insecurity

So, we can ditch all our old-fashioned, not to mention expensive, weapons and defence systems, as the real threat to the UK lies in cyber-attacks. I must confess that I when I first heard that the government was now facing a cyber security threat, I thought that they meant that the Cybermen had finally eclipsed the Daleks as the main threat to our defences. Personally, I would have thought that the Sontarans were a more credible threat, bearing in mind that the Cybermen had been consigned to the void, but what do I know, eh? Obviously, some spotty faced hacker in Vladivostok is a greater threat to our security than, say, rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, or regional instability in the Middle East. His computer viruses will apparently bring the country to it's knees by disrupting our banking system, or something. (Actually, wasn't that the plot to a Bond film, and, more to the point, didn't the banks actually achieve that kind of financial meltdown themselves? Perhaps rogue bankers and their bonuses of mass greed should be classified as the greatest threat to UK security). Call me cynical, if you like, but I can't help but feel that the timing of this new security assessment makes this seem suspiciously like some kind of spurious justification for massive cuts in defence spending.

Whilst it's true that, for the foreseeable future, the UK isn't likely to see a threat to its security along the lines of that posed by the Warsaw Pact back in the Cold War, the reality is that threats requiring a conventional military response tend to come from out of left field, when you are least expecting them. Just ask Mrs Thatcher about the Falklands. Then there are all those international military commitments the Foreign Office likes to get us involved in, not to mention disaster relief, anti-terror security, the war on drugs, etc, which all require the presence of actual conventional forces. But hell, the likes of 'Gorgeous' George Osborne at the Treasury will tell you - most of these things are luxuries we can do without, so it doesn't really matter if we slash defence expenditures. As long as we've got our own geek with a broadband connected laptop, we'll be able to combat the real threat: cyber terrorism. But all this ignores the real threat: alien invasion. Just how does the coalition government propose we protect ourselves when the flying saucers start landing? Trust me, a firewall isn't going to be much use in the face of a Dalek invasion. And don't think we can rely on viruses (of the biological variety) to halt the aliens - they've cornered the market in anti-flu jabs. No, film after film has conclusively proven that overwhelming military force is essential to repelling extraterrestial threats. So, if you don't want to see your granny being chased around her retirement home by slavering Martians, start lobbying this irresponsible government now to hold back on any rash defence cuts. It isn't fewer tanks they need, but more laser cannons mounted on those tanks!

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Lacking Inspiration

I can't deny that this hasn't exactly been a vintage week, post-wise. I'm afraid that I just haven't been up to the job for a variety of reasons, chiefly the lingering after-effects of a cold. The bottom line, though, is that I've simply been lacking in inspiration - there hasn't been anything in the news that has piqued my interest this week and, even worse, nothing at all of interest has happened to me lately either. I've also been distracted by my attempts to write a new story for The Sleaze. It's another Hallowe'en piece, (it is October, after all), combining horror with cookery. This follows on from our first Hallowe'en horror-themed story, That Old Black Magic, which was a heavily re-written and re-worked version of a post from this blog. I think the new version is a considerable improvement on the original, with better structure and pacing and a far superior denouement.

Once the new story is completed, I'll be turning my attention to coming up with a new editorial, before focusing on the final story of our traditional Hallowe'en season. In other developments over at The Sleaze, our virtual newsreader, Suzie Sleaze, is finally up and running. At the moment, you can find her on the Total Bollocks page, reading the latest showbiz news headlines. When I get sufficient time, I'm hoping to giver her a dedicated page to herself. If I ever get around to finding time to carry out that complete overhaul and revamping of the site that I've been threatening for years now, she might get promoted to the front page. Well, that just about covers recent developments at The Sleaze. Hopefully, next week will find me inspired enough to come up with some decent posts for Sleaze Diary.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Of Human Interest

Apparently - if we're to believe The Guardian - the BBC has spent so much money covering the rescue of those miners in Chile, that it is going to have to cut back on some of its other political coverage this year. I have to confess, that it wouldn't surprise me if this story turned out to be true. Every time I saw a BBC report from Chile, it seemed to be fronted by a different reporter. They must have had so many journalists there that other stories were missing out. A suspicion which seemed to be confirmed last weekend, when I was trying to watch an edition of Click on the BBC News Channel. Now, I'd noticed the breaking news about the British hostage who had been killed during a rescue attempt in Afghanistan scrolling along the bottom of the screen, but, ten minutes or so before the end of the programme, we suddenly cut back to the news reader. Basically, she made it clear that the hostage story was so important that those of us trying to watch Click would just have to catch the repeat in three and half hours time. Fair enough, after all they are meant to be a news channel, but as the report we cut to couldn't actually add anything to the news flash which had been scrolling along the bottom of the screen, I didn't really see the point. To compound this, the next full news bulletin, a few minutes later, lead on the miners in Chile, clearly indicating that the BBC had invested so much in the Chile story, they felt obliged to push it at every opportunity.

This impression was compounded when I played back the recording of what I thought would be the repeat showing of Click. Instead of being able to watch the last ten minutes of a technology programme, I found that I had recorded yet more coverage from Chile. I was somewhat annoyed. I mean, if it had been the hostage story displacing the repeat, I could have understood. After all, it was breaking news and, after a few hours, I would have expected there to be more information available for the news to report. But no, once again the Chile story had been deemed more important, despite the fact that nothing at all seemed to be happening. But, the BBC had to justify the scale of its coverage, even if this resulted in the bizarre situation of a story not directly involving the UK or any of its citizens, apparently taking precedence over a developing story about a UK citizen. Don't misunderstand me, I do think that the events in Chile were significant, and that they should have been reported on. I just don't think that, for us in the UK, it was that important. But then again, it was a great human interest story, and journalists - particularly TV journalists - seem to like nothing better than such stories, from which they can milk every ounce of emotional trauma. Weeping, distraught relatives makes great television and allow wholesale manipulation of the audience's emotions by the reporters. But perhaps I'm just an old cynic.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Power of Sex?

Did the US military's top secret 'Sex Ops' programme - which aimed to create an elite cadre of 'Sex Assassins', trained to kill enemies by projecting their tantric sex energies - really draw its inspiration from a sect of Buddhist priests? This was just one of the investigative avenues explored by film maker Ronnie Johnson during the making of his documentary about the programme: The Men Who Stare at Porn. Working on the basis that, in peace time, the average GI spent approximately 70% of his time either masturbating, looking at pornography or simply thinking about sex, Johnson had already established that the programme had aimed to utilise this idle erotic energy as a weapon system. The only question was – how? "While I was in 'Nam, I kept hearing stories about a sect of Buddhist priests, sworn to celibacy, who nevertheless were able to take themselves to the highest levels of sexual ecstasy by just thinking about sex,” says retired Colonel Randy Spankler, a founder of the 'Sex Ops' programme, interviewed by Johnson in the film. “According to some of the Vietnamese I spoke to, these guys were rumoured to be able to use their sexual energies to boost their prowess at martial arts – using the power of the orgasm to kick down trees and leap over houses, they were said to be invincible killing machines, rendered impervious to pain by the power of the orgasm.” However, As the film makes clear, Johnson still wasn’t entirely convinced by Spankler’s claims. “Could tantric sex really be used to turn men into killing machines?” he muses, as he sets out to consult a leading ‘sex guru’. “It just seemed so far-fetched!”

Nevertheless, top sexologist Willie Wallace, whose Cracking the Nut instructional film was a bestseller on DVD, advises the journalist that Spankler’s claims might have some basis in fact. "It's true that by suppressing the act of ejaculation, non-penetrative tantric sex forces the energies released by orgasm to circulate around the body, helping to create a higher level of consciousness," he explains. "It is not inconceivable that a highly trained mind might be able to focus this energy and project it externally. Anyone hit by it would experience an orgasm so powerful, it would tear their internal organs apart." Indeed, Wallace reveals that the US 'Sex Ops' programme wasn't the first attempt to harness and channel sexual energies as a weapon using tantric techniques. "The whole thing grew out of the Nazis obsession with occultism and their belief in the existence of the psycho-kinetic energy known as ‘vril’,” he explains. "During a Nazi expedition to Tibet in 1939, the German explorer Ernst Schafer had apparently spent time with the Sex Cult, learning some of their techniques for remotely projecting sexual energies. Upon returning to Germany, he was able to convince high ranking Nazis, including Hitler and Himmler that these sexual energies and ‘vril’ were one and the same thing.” Whilst conceding that tantric techniques could be used to project sexual energy externally, Wallace believes that using them in this way could have serious consequences. "Trying to channel such enormous energies through the human body always results in severe injury,” he opines. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if these so-called 'Sex Assassins' suffered burst testicles and burned out penises. Indeed, it is rumoured that it was his own attempts to destroy the advancing Red Army through masturbation which finally drove Hitler over the edge in the bunker in 1945."


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Undeserving Poor?

So, it's all the fault of the poor that they're poor - they shouldn't have so many children that the state is forced to support. At least, that's the view of our government, as expressed by one of its Tory ministers. Good see this self-proclaimed 'progressive' government peddling such enlightened perspectives on poverty. Why not go the whole hog and introduce laws restricting the number of children you are allowed to have, based upon income? If they have too many, retrospective abortions could be applied by the government, with the most recently born being gassed in an 'incubator'. But seriously, I do find it extraordinary that a government which claims that it wants to roll back 'big government' in order to 'empower' the ordinary citizen should be attempting to tell citizens how many children they can have. Talk about the 'nanny state'. Of course, such pronouncements ignore the fact that one of the reasons the 'lower orders' have so many children is that it is the only way they can legitimately claim sufficient benefits to be able to live on.

Obviously, the Tories would tell you, that just shows how the benefits system encourages people not to work for a living. Which ignores the fact that the only alternative for most of those claiming extensive benefits are low-paid casual work, which offers no job security or prospect of a living wage. Indeed, one could argue that it is unscrupulous employers who are exploiting the benefits system, in order to get away with exploiting a work force who would otherwise fall below the breadline if they had to rely solely upon their meagre wages. Not that they're in any way ashamed, after all, aren't they just taking advantage of the UK's 'flexible labour market'? (Something which was as enthusiastically embraced by New Labour as it was the Tories). Getting back to the original point, (sort of), we really shouldn't be surprised by the Tories' enthusiastic misrepresentation of the facts. I can't deny that I rather admired David Cameron's bare faced nerve in trying to rewrite even the history of the past couple of years in his recent conference speech. According to him, the economic crisis was entirely the result of the previous Labour government's economic mismanagement. No mention of the role of the banks in precipitating the crisis, or the fact that the the government had been forced to spend billions baling them out. The self same banks which this government still refuses to regulate. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite, as Nick Robinson might say.


Friday, October 08, 2010

Finding a Voice

About a week ago I posted about the possibility of introducing an animated news reader character to The Sleaze. Well, things have moved pretty quickly since then, and not only have I created such a character, but I've pretty much finished trialling it off-line. Indeed, if I find time, I hope to deploy her some when in the next few days. Actually, creating the actual character was the - relatively - easy part. I used the Sitepal service. As a Bravenet user, I was able to create a free account with Sitepal, (I don't know if this offer is still valid - it's worth checking if you are interested in this sort of thing), and customise one of their existing animated avatars. You can change just about any aspect of these - eye colour, hair, skin tone, even age - to create a unique character. It didn't take me long to come up with a character I liked, the problem was coming up with a voice for her.

The only real catch with using Sitepal's free basic account is that the speech options are limited. The character can speak a standard, generic, message from the site's library, alternatively, you can record your own voice, (not really an option, as I'm male and the character is female). Whilst there is a text-to-speech (TTS) option on the control panel, (with a variety of voices), it turns out that this is only available on paid accounts. So, I only had one alternative - to record a script externally, and upload it as an mp3 file for the avatar to read. Now, whilst there are a number of free text-to-speech services available, (both online and and as downloads), most use the very outdated and robotic SAPI4 voices. Whilst there are plenty of the somewhat superior SAPI5 synthetic voices out there on the web, all are commercial and require licencing fees. Moreover, most of the UK accented voices are, frankly, terrible. Not their accents, but their pronunciations of many words is downright peculiar. The result, I assume of them having been developed by Americans who have some strange ideas about the way we Brits speak.

This left me with one realistic option - find a TTS converter that used my laptop's native SAPI5 voice: Microsoft Anna. Now, Anna has an American accent, pronounces some words oddly, and isn't quite as smooth as some of the commercially available voices, but she was available to me free. Which was important, as I was determined that this project wasn't going to cost me anything other than time. Anyway, I eventually found a piece of Russian TTS software called Balabolka, which not only used Anna as its default voice and produced mp3 files, but also allows the user to adjust the pauses between sentences and paragraphs so as to produce a more human-sounding speech rhythm. To cut a long story short, I've now managed to record an introductory script for my character and have successfully uploaded it. The result is actually not at all bad. Sure, the voice is still a bit metallic in places and some of her pronunciations are a little eccentric, but it is all clearly audible and the character lip-synchs to it quite effectively. So, you can expect to see Suzie Sleaze, (I used the name for the voice tests and it stuck), reading the showbiz news soon.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dopey Dealers

Just when I thought the press might have got fed up with them, legal highs raised their ugly heads again today. According a report on the radio, some drug users are turning to them in preference to the heavily cut cocaine which apparently dominates the street dealing these days. At risk of appearing cynical, this sounds like another attempt to demonise these legal highs - they must be evil if real drug users take them, mustn't they? A few months ago, they were being presented by the media as being some kind of new drugs epidemic, worse even than crack, apparently. All manner of sudden deaths amongst young people were being linked to them - in several cases inquests subsequently ruled them out as the cause of death, something the press weren't quite so quick to report. Now, don't misunderstand me - I hold no brief for those who make and sell legal highs, and I don't use them myself. Damn it, I'm someone who is so paranoid about the possible effects of drugs on my system that I agonise before taking an aspirin for a headache.

It's just that this whole furore has left me more than a little confused. Isn't the whole point of legal highs is that they are just that: legal? That, in itself, implies that they aren't considered harmful, doesn't it? However, my confusion has been increased by the fact that, according to many of the news reports, these things weren't actually being sold as legal highs. One was apparently being sold as plant food, another - linked with at least one sudden death - as bath salts. Now, I dare say that if I was to cook up some plant food I bought from my local garden centre and mainline it, I'd make myself pretty ill. Likewise, if I was to snort a couple of lines of Sainsbury's bath salts, I'd probably end up feeling more than slightly unwell. But, damn it, these things are still legally on sale on high streets up and down the country! Why doesn't the government ban them? So, with regard to these so-called legal highs, are they actually being sold as such, or are they simply being bought by people on the basis that they've been told that they can give you a high? I recall that when I was at school, there was a long-standing story that smoking rolled up fig leaves was just as good as a joint. Mind you, the main populariser of this theory, a vicar's son, did become a full on drug user. According to another unconfirmed rumour, he eventually attempted to cut off one of his hands whilst under the influence of LSD. Or maybe it was smoked cheese. I forget the details. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, I'm always highly mistrustful of these 'moral panics', which always seem to be long on outrage and short on facts.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pink Blues

With the Conservative Party conference in full swing, the recent allegations over Foreign Secretary William Hague's sexuality seem to have been laid to rest. Much to the relief of the party leadership. Anything other than two point four children, monogamous marriage, and heterosexual sex once a week in the missionary position, has always been hard to sell to the party faithful. Indeed, only this week, David Cameron has been attempting to shore up his popularity by hinting at tax breaks for married couples, (surely a swipe at Labour leader Ed Miliband, who is still 'living in sin' with his partner). However, Hague isn't the first senior Tory whose sexuality has caused consternation amongst the party's grass roots. Back in the late 1990s, then shadow chancellor Micheal Portillo's admission that, when still a student, he had had a 'gay experience', sent shockwaves through the party, calling into question his suitability as a possible leadership candidate. However,Portillo’s admissions came as no surprise to Professor Jerry Mire, visiting Chair of Politics and Sexuality at the Bangkok Institute of Economics. “When he lost his constituency to an openly gay Labour candidate in the 1997 election, I thought ‘I bet that’s not the first time he’s lost his seat to a young homosexual’”, Professor Mire said, adding that it was obvious that Portillo was an ambitious man who wouldn't let doubts about his sexual orientation handicap his drive for power. “I had no doubt that he couldn’t wait to get his hands on then Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown’s red box!”

Mire believes that, ultimately, it wasn't Portillo's youthful sexual dalliances which denied him the leadership of the Tory party, but rather his compassionate nature. "Despite Portillo's stern and serious public image, in private he is actually extremely kind and generous, exuding charm to his closest confidants," he explains. “In fact, he always reminded me of Rock Hudson - hard and brutally masculine on the outside, but with a sensitive and warm interior.” It was this fundamental niceness and decency, Mire contends, which proved unacceptable to the party at large. "The truth is that they prefer complete bastards, who treat the poor and disadvantaged like dirt, whilst showering the party faithful with tax breaks," he opines. "But sneering whilst they do it, of course." Indeed, Mire is somewhat surprised that another Tory front bencher accused of being gay around the same time as the Portillo revelations, didn't become leader. "I remember that when completely unfounded rumours that then senior Tory minister Peter Lilley was gay began to circulate, his wife quickly scotched them with the assertion that her husband was “the least homosexual” man she knew," recalls the Professor. "Which was absolutely true - he was a totally butch bastard. Exactly the sort of person the Tories usually like to be dominated by, but, for some reason, the suspicion lingered that being even slightly 'gay' could be equated with kindness and compassion." However, in today's new caring and sensitive Tory party, such suspicions would surely be an advantage, wouldn't they? "As Hague has found out, a leopard never changes its spots," Mire points out bitterly. "He's having to go around telling people that he only shared a room with that male aide so as to save money and thereby cut his departmental budget, in order to look hard, rather than gay. He's not fooling me, though!"

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Monday, October 04, 2010


Over the past few weeks I've been getting these e-mails to my Yahoo account, from complete strangers, wanting to 'connect' or some such thing, with me. Obviously, I just deleted them, thinking it was some new scam, or something. Eventually, I realised that it all had to do with the ever=changing nature of Yahoo accounts. To be precise, it was all to do with 'Yahoo Pulse', something I didn't even know that I'd signed up to. Now, I knew that I'd submitted The Sleaze's RSS feed to Yahoo, in much the same way I'd submitted it to Google - in the hope of getting some traffic from subscribers. What I didn't realise was that Yahoo now appears to publish your RSS feed, Twitter and Facebook posts, (I'm not even sure how they got details of those, they aren't part of my profile), and publish the whole lot as a feed in your public profile. It was this people were reading and trying to 'connect' with me over. Obviously, as soon as I found this out, I changed my profile settings, (a public feed is the default, apparently), to remove this information from public view.

Now, I know that it must appear a bit strange for someone who publishes a web site, blog, associated RSS feeds and Twitter account, to be getting so uptight over having a feed mashed together from these sources made public. However, it's a matter of principle. I've chosen to make all of the aforementioned things public, and have some control as to where they appear and who can read them. Effectively, I was inviting people to follow them. Just follow them, you note. Not actually contact me on an e-mail address I don't make public. By contrast, when I signed up to Yahoo Mail, I didn't expect to have all of these things exposed to other Yahoo users. I especially didn't expect to have every Tom, Dick and Harry contacting me on my private mail account wanting to befriend me - to be frank, I found it pretty creepy. It was a like being stalked. Anyway, I seem to have shaken off the stalkers by ensuring my account details are now private. Although I would have hoped that 'private' would have been the default setting...

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Here is the News...

I'm toying with the idea of incorporating animations into The Sleaze. This is a first attempt, using a free service from Speech Agents. The adverts are a bit distracting, (but a necessary evil to keep the service free), and the free version limits the amount of text the character can read. But, bearing in mind the restrictions, I'm quite pleased with the result. You never know, Suzie Sleaze might yet reappear.

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