Thursday, March 31, 2011

Praise Dave and Pass the Ammunition

"What the fuck do you think you are doing - are you completely fucking insane?" This is roughly my reaction to the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the so-called 'no-fly zone' in Libya. Apparently the UN resolution which made Our Glorious Leader's desire for a bit of overseas action to take the heat off of his domestic woes, can now be misinterpreted to allow those participating to actually supply arms to the Libyan rebels! Jesus! This fiasco is getting worse by the day. For one thing, supplying arms, (and we all know it won't end there, as the rebels are essentially an enthusiastic rabble, so 'military advisers' to train them will inevitably follow), can be a bloody dangerous game. Yesterdays 'Freedom Fighters' quickly become tomorrow's Taliban, Saddam or even Sicilian Mafia. And that's part of the problem in Libya - do we even really know who it is we're proposing to support? I know that, arguably, anyone is better than Gaddafi, the reality could be an Islamic fundamentalist regime, an authoritarian military dictatorship, or, worst of all, a chaotic power vacuum resulting in years of turbulence and violence, depending upon who does (or doesn't) emerge as the dominant force amongst the anti-Gaddafi factions.

That said, this Western military intervention is really about trying to 'manage' the revolution in Libya. You see, that's the trouble with popular uprisings - there's no guarantee that the resulting new regime will be favourable to the likes of the UK, US or France. I mean, Gaddafi could be replaced by, God forbid, a democratically elected socialist government, which decides that it's priority lies in redistributing all that oil wealth for the benefit of its citizens, rather than multinational oil companies. We all know how much the US, for instance, respects such regimes - just look at what happened to Allende in Chile and the way Venezuela's Chavez is demonised. No, what the western powers want to ensure is that a nice pro-capitalist 'democracy' which returns nice conservative governments that want to buy lots of arms from us, is the outcome of this uprising. By intervening in this way, by firstly using air strikes to try and destroy Libya's armed forces, then supplying arms to the rebels, the west is clearly hoping, at the very least, to influence the direction and complexion of the uprising. At best, they are hoping that they will feel obligated to those who put them in power. the last thing they want is a truly populist movement they can't influence taking power. Whichever way you look at it, it's all pretty grubby.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Italian Job (Part Three)

With the death of Farley Granger having been announced today, it seemed a fortuitous opportunity to look at a couple more of those sleazy Italian exploitation movies I like so much. Whilst Farley Granger is nowadays best remembered for his appearances in Hitchcock movies like Rope and Strangers on a Train in the 1950s, by the 1970s he was down to appearing in the likes of today's first offering - What Have They Done to Your Daughters. This marvellous slice of 1974 sleaze - which crosses the police procedural with the giallo movie - opens with the discovery of the body of a teenage girl, an apparent suicide. However, it quickly transpires that she has been murdered and had been part of a schoolgirl prostitution ring. Now, I know that this sounds pretty damn sordid, and it is, but the film is surprisingly restrained in its treatment of the subject matter. To be sure, it is chock full of sensationalism - a dismembered body, a hand being cut off and a character getting their head sliced open by a meat cleaver - but all of these are confined to the giallo elements of the film, rather than the underage prostitution storyline, which is portrayed as being thoroughly sad and sordid. Indeed, the only part of the teenage prostitution storyline which seems exploitative comes in a flashback sequence where we see the initial victim arguing with her mother, during which the girl is topless. Having established that the character is only fifteen, (I'm assuming the actress was older), this makes for uncomfortable viewing. Now, it could be that this is deliberate on the director's part, by inviting us to view this schoolgirl as a sex object, he is making us complicit in the fictional exploitation of the girls in the storyline, emphasising the way in which, even passively, men are prone to sexualising young women, regardless of age or circumstance. Then again, it might just be there to provide some bare knockers to get the dirty raincoat brigade into the cinema.

Anyway, the police investigation, (directed by the new lady local prosecutor), quickly finds that various leading citizens are implicated in the prostitution ring, those behind it respond by dispatching a black leather clad motorcycle riding hitman to get rid of as many witnesses as possible using a variety of meat cleavers and large knives - giallo-style. Eventually the investigators unearth evidence indicating that even members of the government could be involved. Obviously, this is the most far-fetched part of the plot - I mean, who could possibly believe that senior Italian political figures might be involved with underage prostitutes? Utterly ludicrous! Oh, and Farley Granger? He plays the initial victim's wealthy father. Ultimately, What Have They Done to Your Daughters is a highly enjoyable, and gory, thriller which, like most Italian exploitation movies of the period, simply wouldn't have been made anywhere else. Let's face it, there is no way mainstream Hollywood would ever have considered making a police thriller with teenage prostitution as its main plot mechanism in the 1970s. Not even Dirty Harry would have taken on a case like this - he stuck to psychopaths, vigilante cops and terrorists, taking them on in a fantasy world where tough, unconventional, but essentially decent, cops could still prevail over the corrupt system. In the Italian film, the cops find their investigations blocked and are prevented from pursuing the real miscreants. In fact, I doubt very much that Hollywood could handle this subject matter today. As for the British film industry, I shudder to think of the sort of bland patronising crap they would have made of this sort of thing in the 1970s.

Another film which I doubt very much would have been made anywhere other than Italy is The Frightened Woman. Made in 1969, this, like What Have They Done to Your Daughters, is very much of its era. Coming on like an especially pervy episode of The Avengers, this one concerns a wealthy philanthropist who spends his weekends kidnapping and torturing women, before having sex with them and killing them at the point of orgasm. Unfortunately for him, his latest victim - a new public relations officer at his institute - isn't all she seems and succeeds in turning the tables on him. After forcing him to admit that he hasn't actually killed anyone - he was simply enacting his fantasies with prostitutes - she seduces him, promising that she can help him overcome his misogyny which has warped his view of women and his relations with them. After continually arousing her captor, he inevitably dies of a heart attack just as they are about to finally consummate their relationship. At this point, it is revealed that the woman has orchestrated the whole thing - she paid off the prostitute the man was meant to be seeing that weekend, then arranged to be at his house that evening in order to tempt him into trying to carry out his fantasies on a real woman. It further transpires that she, like him, is some kind of wealthy predator, who has seduced and ruined and/or killed a whole series of victims.

Now, I have a nasty feeling that the makers of this film probably thought that, with this revelation, they were giving the movie some kind of feminist 'twist', with the 'heroine' symbolic of the empowerment of women, throwing off the shackles of male domination and sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, by portraying her as a sexual predator, they are actually reinforcing all of her captor's prejudices about women - apparently he was traumatised as a child by the sight of a female scorpion eating it's mate after mating. Setting aside its confused sexual politics, the film does contain some wonderful - and not very subtle - imagery. My favourite is a sequence where the man imagines himself entering a huge sculpture in the shape of a woman's splayed legs. As he walks into the vagina, as set of teeth snap shut behind him. A few seconds late they fly open again and spit out a skeleton. Marvellous stuff - you won't find that in Ken Loach film!


Monday, March 28, 2011

Mob Mentality

There are some forms of human behaviour I suspect that I'll never really understand. One is that 'mob mentality' which drives people to gather outside courts and prisons, jeering and threatening suspects and defendants in criminal cases. What do they hope to achieve? To somehow intimidate the accused? What's the point? By this stage, they're either facing justice in the form of a criminal trial, or the loss of their liberty as the result of having been found guilty already. I was reminded of my confusion over these behaviours when watching today's news reports of the main suspect in the recent murder in Swindon arriving at court for a remand hearing - there was the mob outside, surrounding the prison van and shouting threats at him. Apparently it didn't stop inside the court, with threats and abuse being shouted from the public gallery. Now, I'm lucky enough never to have lost someone close to me through violent crime, but I'm sure that if it did happen I'd be pretty upset, and probably angry. Consequently, I could, perhaps, understand if the people shouting the abuse were friends and relatives of the victim. But, it seems, they're not. The overwhelming majority, maybe even all of them, have never even met the victim in this case. Yet they take it upon themselves to act as some kind of shit would-be vigilante mob.

But does it really matter if these morons decide to act like a lynch mob? Well, yes, I think it does. It represents yet another erosion of the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty when they start barracking suspects before they've even been tried in a court of law. A fair trial and the presumption of innocence are two of our fundamental tights in this country, but clearly, the mob thinks differently. It doesn't help that the media in the UK seem to encourage these idiots in their belief that as soon as someone is arrested, they're guilty and are fair game for threats of violence. Just look at the pictures of the accused they always use - they seem to deliberately use one which makes them look like a psychopath, sex offender, weirdo, or all three. The Swindon case is no different, with a photo of the accused pictured shirtless, looking like some kind of macho serial killer being widely circulated. On yesterday's TV news they were also pretty much giving out his address, complete with footage of the house. Jesus! Is this for the benefit of the vigilante morons, so they know which property to burn down, or, at the very least, which letterbox they can shove dog shit through? But hey, should I really be surprised? After all, isn't this just more evidence of what I've been ranting about for years: the rise of the idiots? Despair everyone, for we are inevitably heading for a dictatorship of dunces.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Watching the Detectives

South east London's pensioners can apparently sleep safe in their beds again, as the notorious 'Night Stalker' burglar/rapist has finally been convicted and locked up. (I must admit, that I thought the 'Night Stalker' was a reporter who kept stumbling across monsters in Chicago, but perhaps I've watched too many ropey 1970s TV series). Never mind that it took the police nearly twenty years to catch him, and that, about halfway through his reign of terror, they actually had a chance to apprehend him. Apparently his car was spotted near the scene of one of the crimes and was traced to his address, but he wasn't in when two detectives called and they never bothered going back. Besides, they were busy trying to pin the crimes on somebody else at the time. In the aftermath of the conviction of the 'Night Stalker', I heard an academic on the radio pointing out that in most of the high-profile cases of the past forty years or so, the perpetrators were caught by accident, in spite of the police's investigations, rather than because of them. Indeed, the 'Night Stalker' immediately brought to mind the 'Yorkshire Ripper' who, likewise, the police had had an opportunity to apprehend part way through his killing spree. But they let him go, and he was eventually arrested for a motoring offence, which led to the discovery of evidence in his car linking him to the Ripper murders.

All of this comes as no surprise to me - many, many years ago I lived next door to a police detective. OK. I'll admit that we're not talking about one of the major metropolitan forces here, but rather a rural constabulary. Nevertheless, I would still have expected their CID officers to represent their keenest investigatory minds, rather than someone whose main investigatory technique seemed to consist of sitting in a dodgy pub, drinking several pints, before leaping up, pointing at some well known local small time crook and shouting: "It was him!" It was once alleged that he and the landlord of a local pub went on an out of town drinking spree, crashing the landlord's car on the way back. My neighbour reportedly leaped from the car, shouting "Let's get out of here before the filth arrive". They managed to make it back to down, on foot, in the dark, and reported the car as stolen. With investigators of this calibre, is it any wonder that British crime fiction has traditionally been dominated by amateur sleuths, from Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple? Still, these days the police have got an excuse for failing to actually solve any crimes - all their officers are far too busy working undercover, infiltrating legitimate protest groups. Thank God we can all sleep safe in our beds, knowing that we're safe from those bloody environmentalists.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Magic of Social Networking?

Exactly how do social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter come up with those 'people you might know/like to follow' lists? I always assumed, in the case of Facebook, at least, that they were derived, in part from the friends lists of people you've accepted friend requests from, cross-fertilised with information in your profile, to try and match up likes, locations and such like. In which case, why does Facebook keep trying to get me to befriend magicians and conjurers? It's not just the 'people you might know lists' - virtually all of the friend requests I get (and reject) are from magicians of one sort or another. Which means I must be showing up in their 'people you might know lists'.

I wouldn't mind, but I'm not a magician, I have never performed conjuring tricks and there is nothing in my profile to suggest that I'm an illusionist of any kind. I'll admit to having watched the likes of David Nixon and Paul Daniels on TV when I was a kid, but I've never been interested in emulating them. Oh, and I have watched Jonathan Creek, but I'm not sure if that counts, as he isn't actually a magician, he just designs the tricks, (when he isn't solving murders). So where is this obsession on Facebook's part coming from? It's quite disturbing. So please, Face book, stop. I am not a magician, I am not interested in magic and I don't want to meet any conjurers, for friendship or any thing else. OK?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unfair and Unbalanced

As a result of the various earthquakes, uprisings and no fly zones going on around the world this year, I've found myself spending quite a bit of time watching various news channels. Whilst the BBC News Channel is reassuringly dull and accurate, and SKY News is unspeakably sensationalist and irresponsible, I found myself more and more drawn to Russia Today. Watching Russia Today is a curious experience, a bit like watching an old Soviet-era propaganda channel. Whether Russia Today is state-financed, I don't know, but there's no doubt that it's main aim is to present a positive image both of Russia and it's government's policies, to the English speaking world. It's adherence to the party line results in it's reporting of major issues, such as the No Fly Zone in Libya, taking on a decidedly unusual slant. Best of all is its idea of what constitutes an 'expert commentator' - more often than not they end up interviewing some crank or other who hosts an internet radio show, and allows them to rant extensively on their favourite conspiracy theory. The concept of 'balance' seems to be entirely absent, as these 'commentators' are allowed to expound their crackpot views unchallenged. It's highly entertaining.

My favourite Russia Today commentator is undoubtedly Max Keiser. The best way to describe this guy is as being the anti-Glenn Beck. Whereas Fox News's Beck will rant on about liberal conspiracies to undermine American values and such like, Keiser spends his time telling us about the evils of the international banking system and 'rigged market capitalism'. Week in, week out, he denounces the financial sector - particularly Wall Street - warning us all of how they are ripping us off. He frequently urges us to take to the streets to protest at their economic mismanagement. The man is quite brilliant! Really, whether you agree with his tone and his often hyperbolic rhetoric, or not, it is so refreshing to hear such a radically different perspective on economics being aired. The best thing is that e actually is a former Wall Street broker, so presumably does have some financial expertise. It's notable that he did once present a show for BBC News, but it was quickly dropped. Anyway, I urge you to try and catch one of his broadcasts. If you can't get Russia Today, then take a look at his web site You won't be disappointed.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carry On Up Tobruk

Watching the news footage of the chaos in Libya following our Glorious Leader's 'intervention' over the weekend, there was one question left unanswered - what was with the underpants? You know what I mean, you must have seen the same sequence that I did, with that Libyan rebel standing on the hull of a knocked-out T-72 tank, proudly brandishing a pair of boxer shorts. They must have had some significance for him, the way he was grinning as he waved them at the camera. Was he proudly announcing the fact that he is so wealthy that he owns two pairs of pants? That, consequently, he doesn't have to 'go commando' when the pair he's currently wearing are in the wash? Were they a trophy of war, stripped from the body of a dead Libyan soldier? Perhaps, as in Carry On Up The Khyber, the Libyan government had been trying to frighten the rebels by spreading propaganda that Gaddafi's troops were so tough that they didn't even wear underpants. Maybe the rebel had given the lie to this through his capture of the boxer shorts, and was issuing a rallying call to his comrades, along the lines of there being nothing to fear, now that they knew Gaddafi's soldiers wore underwear like any mortal men.

The other question this whole farrago raised in my mind was whether William Hague had got his mojo back, now that he'd fired some huge phallic missiles at Libya? He's certainly been indulging in some more macho posturing than we have seen from him of late. Most notably, he's been strutting around, chest puffed out, telling us how, under the terms of the UN fig leaf, sorry, resolution, Gaddafi himself could be a legitimate target. Gad, it's amazing how a bit of bombing can get the testosterone flowing for some people! Of course, both UK and US military chiefs disagree with him, but he couldn't care less - the thought of unleashing all that military power against a Third World country have helped him get it up again - who needs viagra? Apart from providing an aphrodisiac for our previously wilting Foreign Secretary, I can't help but feel that the main motivation behind this latest military adventure has less to do with Cameron's moral convictions, than his desperation to divert attention from the woeful economic situation at home. Certainly, the justification for this military intervention is fuzzy, at best - basically that Gaddafi is killing his own people and they should be protected from his armed forces. So, are we now going to intervene in Syria, as an unarmed protester has died there after being set upon by security forces? Or how about Bahrain, or Yemen, where similar things are happening? What if the Saudi authorities were to use military force to crack down on dissenters there? Answers on a post card to Dave, c/o 10 Downing Street.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 18, 2011

More Friday Night Musings

You're probably expecting me to launch into a curmudgeonly denunciation of today's Comic Relief telethon, as I've done in previous years. However, whilst I still find all that in-your-face celebrity do-goodery largely unpalatable, this year I've decided to give the attacks on celebrity insincerity and hypocrisy a rest. Besides, it would have been a bit hypocritical on my part as, this year, I actually did contribute. Yes folks, one of those two and a half plus million pounds that Chris Moyles raised with his fifty two hour presenting marathon on Radio One was mine. So, next time you are tempted to slag off Moyles for being laddish or sexist, just stop and contemplate on the fact that he succeeded in getting this curmudgeonly old git to contribute to charity. Admittedly, it was late at night, I was drunk, and I used someone else's mobile to text the donation in. (Actually, I did use my own mobile, even I'm not that much of a bastard).

On a completely unrelated note, today I was saddened to learn of the death of one of my favourite actors - the great Michael Gough has died at the age of 94. Most people probably remember him for playing Alfred the butler in the Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney Batman films. He also had a distinguished career on stage, and as a character actor on both TV and films. However, I fondly remember him for giving some truly insane performances in some of the lowest rent, most threadbare British horror movies of the 1960s and 1970s. Everybody thinks of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as being the great British horror icons of that era, but Gough appeared in the films that even they wouldn't. Although, to be fair, one of his earliest genre roles was supporting Cushing and Lee in Hammer's excellent 1958 Dracula, and he also gave an entertaining performance in Hammer's 1962 Phantom of the Opera. But these roles in the relatively upmarket productions of Hammer were the exception, rather than the rule, for Gough- he was more likely to be found in the less illustrious (but often far nastier) productions of Anglo Amalgamated, Tigon or Merton Park Studios.

He specialised in playing quietly deranged intellectuals, like the murderous crime writer in Horrors of the Black Museum, or the loopy scientist in Konga. The latter is surely the worst King Kong rip-off ever, with Gough turning a chimp into a giant man in a gorilla suit, which then menaces a street in Croydon, whilst holding a Michael Gough doll in one hand. But possibly my favourite Gough films were Tigon's 1969 witchcraft thriller Curse of the Crimson Altar, (one of the best 'swinging sixties youth culture as envisaged by middle-aged film makers movies' ever made in the UK), and Norman J Warren's delirious micro-budgeted 1976 black magic thriller Satan's Slave. In the former, he gives possibly the most lunatic performance of his career as Christopher Lee's deranged butler. In a film full of eccentric performances, particularly Boris Karloff, Gough eclipses them all. In Satan's Slave he's back to playing one of his usual demented intellectuals, but sporting the most amazing ginger moustache and wig. This time he's the apparently kindly uncle who's actually the head of a Satanist Cult, (whose rituals seem mainly to serve as an excuse for getting Candace Glendenning to take her clothes off at regular intervals). It's another alarming performance in an alarming film. A great actor who really pulled out all the stops when he graced low-budget horror films, Gough always gave great value for money. He'll be sorely missed.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Walk Amongst the Tombstones

Another film. Sort of. It's actually a slide show of some photos I took with my new camera in a country graveyard. I know, it sounds a bit morbid, but I like graveyards. Not only are they very peaceful places, ideal for quiet contemplation, but they provide us with a sober reminder of our own mortality. Which is no bad thing - we all need reminding from time to time that our lives are finite, and that every moment should be treasured. But enough of the cod philosophy, on with the film:

The white cross that can be seen part way through carries the badge of the Royal Flying Corps. Sadly, the writing on the tombstone below it is badly eroded and illegible, so I have no idea who lies there, or when they died - whether they were a pilot who died in the First World War, or a former Flying Corps member who survived and died peacefully many years later. As with all such things, his story has long since passed from public memory - as will all of ours, eventually. The double grave, with the two tombstones set into a common stone base is also of interest - the tombstone of the right marks the last resting place of Lord Allenbrook. He was a famous World War Two general. Look him up. Even the mighty can also fade from living memory. Anyway, despite sounding a bit gloomy, it was actually a very pleasant walk!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Fly With Me

How David Cameron must have secretly rejoiced when civil war erupted in Libya, undoubtedly hoping that it would dominate the news headlines and divert attention away from his government's dismal domestic performance. Unfortunately for him, his William Hague was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they could be just as incompetent abroad as they are at home. How David Cameron must have rejoiced then, when the earthquake a tsunami hit Japan, doubtless hoping that it would dominate the headlines and divert attention away from his government's dismal international performance. But Libya just won't go away. This is, at least partly, Cameron's own fault - if he hadn't been such an enthusiastic proponent of a 'no fly zone' in the early stages of the crisis, then the issue wouldn't keep dogging him. The biggest problem is, of course, entirely practical. Thanks to Cameron's defence cuts, we don't really have the capacity to participate in a 'no fly zone', making all his rhetoric about it seem hollow. Without any aircraft carriers, any UK contribution would be forced to operate from bases in Malta, or even Italy. Even if these countries agreed to allow such operations, it would still represent quite a stretch.

But then there's a question of whether we should even be considering a 'no fly zone'. Bearing in mind that 'no fly zone' is, in practical terms, a euphemism for 'military intervention', which itself is a euphemism for 'war', I'm amazed at some of the people who have been supporting the idea. The self same people, in fact, who opposed the war in Iraq. Apparently whilst military intervention there was wrong, it's OK in Libya. Mind you, bearing in mind that a lot of these people abandoned Labour - ostensibly over the issue of Iraq - and endorsed the Lib Dems during the last election. Perhaps what they really mean to say is that military intervention is wrong when done by a Labour government, but good when it's done by the Tories (with their bleeding heart Lib Dem friends). Personally, I thought that military intervention in Iraq was wrong, and I think it would be wrong in Libya. At least I'm consistent. Which isn't something you could accuse these neo Lib Dem turncoats of being. One of the reasons I'm quite suspicious of a lot of these anti-cuts movements is that they seem to be packed full of people who voted Lib Dem, and are now looking for a way to assuage their consciences by pretending that they're now left-wing. Gits.


Monday, March 14, 2011

We're All Doomed...

I'm not usually one to panic over stuff like nuclear accidents on the other side of the world, but I have to say the state of those nuclear reactors in Japan is causing me some worry. I'd be less worried if the supposed nuclear 'experts' they keep trotting out on the news channels didn't seem so bloody complacent. According to them there's nothing at all to worry about, not even after the first explosion at the plant over the weekend - apparently that was of no importance. Now, I'm not an expert on nuclear physics, but I'm pretty sure that the standard operating procedures at nuclear power plants doesn't include the roof blowing off of the reactor housing. Not only that, but if there is no immediate danger, why does the Japanese government keep widening the exclusion zone around the plant?

My anxieties weren't allayed when one of our news channels showed an excerpt from one of their Japanese counterparts in which one of their 'experts' - with the aid of a diagram - attempted to explain the situation with the nuclear reactors. The problem was that his diagram of the reactor only succeeded in making it look like a huge cock and balls. How can we have faith in 'experts' who use phallic analogies to explain major disasters? Obviously that explosion was due to the core's exposure to too much hardcore pornography. The situation wasn't helped by my brother's observation that he was sure there was a Godzilla movie where the monster attacked the very nuclear plant currently causing all the problems. Apparently he tore the roof off and snorted the radioactive material inside to power himself up. Clearly that's what the Japanese authorities should be doing in order to avert disaster - looking for an eighty foot tall lizard with a raging uranium habit. Jesus, there really is no hope, is there?

Labels: ,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Made in Japan

It somehow doesn't seem to be appropriate to be jocular, or launch into some tirade about the government, or Google, or whatever else has irritated me today, in view of the events in Japan. It's strange how some things can suddenly touch you, I have no connection with Japan, I've never been there and have no Japanese friends. I can't say that I've ever been into anime, manga or Japanese films, but for some reason, I found the pictures of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami amongst the most upsetting things I've ever seen. I suppose that, in a way, it's quite reassuring that in age when TV brings pictures of airliners flying into skyscrapers, of famines in Africa and the carnage of the Iraq war, it is still possible to be shocked by something like this.

It's tempting to trivialise the whole thing by saying that it looked like something out of a Godzilla film, but in a way, that's an apt comparison. Japanese popular culture sometimes seems obsessed by images of the destruction of Japan, whether it be by monsters, aliens or natural disasters. It's often glibly said that this obsession is the result of Japan having suffered the two nuclear attacks at the end of World War Two. But today brought home the fact that it lies far deeper than that - the Japanese live with the ever-present threat of devastating earthquakes, and Godzilla and his ilk - gigantic creatures which strike out of the blue without apparent rhyme or reason - undoubtedly represent the embodiment of these otherwise faceless threats. The desire to attribute evil intent and intelligence to such things is natural - it's an attempt to make sense of the chaos.

It somehow seems to make such terrible events more understandable and, perhaps, bearable, if we tell ourselves that there is some purpose behind them, rather than them simply being the random consequences of impersonal natural forces. Indeed, despite priding myself for my rationality, when I watched the news footage of the tsunami engulfing buildings and vehicles, as it surged inland, I couldn't help but feel that it seemed like some living thing, some terrible primordial evil called from the depths, reaching up to sweep humanity, and all our endeavours, away. But, of course, it was just water, propelled by natural forces, rather than evil intent. Sadly, the effects of its incursion are the same, regardless of intent, or lack thereof.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

One of Those Weeks...

What a week! It's a miracle that I'm even able to make this post, having dropped my laptop on Monday evening. Amazingly, it survived intact, with no damage to the hard drive or loss of data. I say intact, but on the way down, the DVD tray flipped out and hit the edge of a chair, breaking off a corner (of the tray, not the chair). Incredibly, I managed to reassemble it, and it still plays DVDs. Tuesday wasn't any better, kicking off with a flat tire, which took ages to swap for the spare. More time was wasted replacing the spare tyre - just how much paperwork does it take to sell me a single bloody tyre? In the midst of all this chaos, I did finally manage to get a new story written and posted on The Sleaze. This was another of those instances where I started out with the intention of reworking some old material from this blog, but which ended up being 98% new material, (only a single line of dialogue ended up being retained from the original material). The story - The Madness of Charlie Sheen - has proven quite popular. Actually, that's an understatement. In its first hour, the story generated more traffic than I usually get in a day.

Obviously, I'm happy to get a day of high traffic, after so many months of being hammered by Google's algo changes, but I can't help but feel slightly depressed by the fact that a story about a celebrity's mental health problems is an instant hit, whereas good satirical pieces like The Tabloid Detective, have struggled to find an audience. That said, there's nothing new about this phenomenon - the web's general readership has always craved sensation and scandal above satire. A god tip for budding webmasters - if you want high traffic, just keep up with the latest celebrity gossip and turn out sensational stories based on that. Anyway, continuing the more positive news, I finally took delivery of my new camera yesterday, so film production should be able to resume as soon as I've figured out all of its features. I've shot some brief test footage, both in normal VGA mode and HD, and the quality of both is markedly superior to the old camera. My only gripe is that, despite the claims made by the manufacturer and various 'experts', the file type used by the new camera can't be read by Windows Movie Maker, (which I use for editing), without being converted to a compatible format. To be fair, they can be read by Windows Live Movie Maker, the vastly simplified and inferior video editor currently offered by Microsoft, and converted to another format that 'proper' Movie Maker can edit. Unnecessarily complex, but at least it makes for editable video files.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Political Cat-astrophe

"There's no doubt that Nick Clegg is bloody worried by the immediate impact Larry's had in Downing Street," a government insider has revealed. "He fears that cat could be a credible contender for his job." Larry the cat, ostensibly brought into Number Ten to combat a problem with rats, recently hit the headlines when he took control of the government whilst Prime Minister David Cameron was in the Middle East selling arms to local despots. "Nick made the mistake of picking that week to go on a skiing holiday," explains the insider. "I mean, it was an easy mistake to make when you are Deputy Prime Minister - forgetting that you are meant to be in charge when the Prime Minister's away. Sadly for him, the cat saw his opportunity and seized it." Four year old tabby Larry impressed ministers, civil servants and advisers with his decisiveness. "They were amazed at the number of major decisions he made in such a short time," says the insider. "All of them were about fish, but nonetheless, they were decisions. It was a real contrast with the times that Clegg has been left in the driving seat."

Clegg is reportedly especially worried by the fact that the cat is actually resident in Number Ten. "Whilst there's a connecting corridor between Nick's room in the Cabinet Office and Number Ten, it just isn't the same as the cat flap Larry has in the back door of the Prime Minister's house," says the insider. "Besides, David has got so fed up with him keep wandering in at all hours, he's jammed a chair under the handle of Nick's connecting door." Clegg has apparently tried to gain access to the Prime Minister via Larry's cat flap, but was foiled by the fact that he wasn't wearing a collar with a magnetic device to unlock the flap. "He's worried by the fact that Larry doesn't just have the Prime Minister's ear, but that he's also usurped Nick's place curled up at the foot of David's bed," the insider reveals. "He's tried everything to try and regain David's favour - the other week he even walked into a Cabinet meeting carrying a dead rat in his mouth, and dropped it at the Prime Minister's feet. The trouble was that Larry had already brought him three birds, two mice, a draft of a key note speech on immigration and a white paper on health care reform."

Labels: ,

Monday, March 07, 2011

Benghazi is Not Enough

"A serious misunderstanding", that's what William 'I've never shared any hotel rooms with young homosexuals' Hague says the recent debacle in Libya involving UK 'special forces' and 'diplomats', was. I think that when a group of supposedly crack soldiers get themselves 'arrested' by farmers after being secretly flown in by helicopter, it constitutes a bit more than a 'misunderstanding', serious or otherwise. Cock up, is one description which comes to mind. Actually, I doubt very much that any of the detained men were really from the SAS - I've seen Ultimate Force, and I never saw Ross Kemp surrender to a bunch of farmers. My money is on them being from the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), most likely Double O agents on a mission to whack Qaddafi. The giveaway was when they unloaded an Aston Martin from the back of the Chinook which landed them in Libya. That's probably the misunderstanding Hague was on about - the fact that the SIS still hasn't got the Aston Martin back. Even as we speak, some Libyan farmer is driving it around Benghazi with a couple of goats in the back, inadvertently blowing up cattle sheds with missiles every time he pressed what he thinks is the cigarette lighter.

Quite why they needed to send an entire team into Libya in the first place is a mystery to me, or, indeed, why the government than had to engage in all that humiliating 'diplomacy' to get them back. Unless the world of espionage cinema has lied to me, standard practice is to send in a single man, particularly for retrieval missions. Having watched Taken when it was on TV the other night, I'm left puzzled as to why Hague didn't just send a middle-aged Irishman into Libya to single-handedly beat the shit out of anyone getting in his way as he tried to locate the captured intelligence team. A slight digression here, I was very impressed by the way Liam Neeson never varied hos accent in that film, regardless of whether he was meant to be an former (presumably American) CIA agent, impersonating a French security official and later a French policeman. He played them all with a Northern Irish accent. All power to the man for refusing to do daft accents. Anyway, getting back to the point, I'm betting that the SIS were left wishing that they hadn't already pensioned their top man off as part of the latest round of government spending cuts. Even now, I can imagine their frenzied search for James Bond, formerly 007, in the hope that he'd agree to go into Libya on a one-off consultancy basis to try and retrieve the situation, eventually finding him comatose and trouser less on the floor of some seedy Soho strip bar, P45 clutched in hand, where he'd just blown his redundancy payout. As it turned out, of course, the situation ended up being resolved before they could sober him up.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 04, 2011

Inching Forward...

I haven't said much about my planned re-vamp of The Sleaze lately. This is mainly because it is going nowhere fast. A week of attempting to create a new HTML framework for some page templates that I could adapt to Wordpress taught me that I really don't have the patience to hand code any more. It also became obvious that things have moved on in the world of web design since I last coded web pages, and I just don't have the time or the patience to learn new tricks. Consequently, I decided to bite the bullet and use an existing theme. As I've undoubtedly mentioned before, I'm afraid that I have a fairly low opinion of most free Wordpress themes, both on grounds of aesthetics and functionality. So, I decided that I was prepared to buy a premium theme. The trouble is that most of these fall well short of my expectations in terms of what I expect in well-designed web site.

That said, I thought that I had finally found a suitable theme which, with some minor customization, could be what I was looking for - relatively simple, yet aesthetically pleasing and reasonably user-friendly in terms of ease of navigation. But - and there's always a but - I've now noticed that it truncates longer story titles on the front page, something that I really don't like. If I have a long title, it's for a reason, and I wan't people to see it. Because of this, I thought that it was going to be back to the drawing board. However, I think that there could be a solution - the theme allows for double-width posts on the front page, which should be able to avoid the shortening of longer titles. That said, I still haven't actually bought the theme, I'm still looking to see if there are any alternatives which do roughly the same thing, but will require less customization. Nevertheless, it remains the front-runner.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Going Local

One thing I always love about local TV news programmes is the way in which they manage to find (mainly spurious) links to national and international stories, in order to justify covering events occurring far outside of their catchment area. I can't say that I blame them. After all, there are only so many times you can report on the state of the drains in Brighton, or the plight of ducks in East Grinstead whose pond has run dry, before you can hear your viewers snoozing off. It must be soul destroying for the reporters, as well. All those years of training and paying your dues on local newspapers and the like, and you find yourself presenting stories about local villagers getting militant over council plans change the bin collection times. Getting back to the point, I think that my local news programme excelled itself last Sunday. First of all they managed to justify a report on the chaos in Libya, on the grounds that one of the British oil workers trying to get out of the country had relatives in Reading.

Astoundingly, they managed to top that paper-thin link with an even better one, reporting on the earthquake in New Zealand on the grounds that the most affected city was called Christchurch, and there's a Christchurch in Dorset. To be fair, the story was actually focusing on how the citizens of Christchurch, Dorset, were showing solidarity with their namesake city on the other side of the world. Apparently, they'd knocked the steeple off of their largest church and were in the process of wrecking a large proportion of their houses. The council was planning to bring in the bulldozers to level the main shopping centre on Monday. Only by being forced to sleep on the streets, with no facilities, could the citizens of Christchurch, Dorset fully appreciate the plight of their Kiwi cousins. Actually, they were just holding prayer meetings and organising some fund-raising, but I think my story is better, and certainly more exciting, than the one the local news ran. If you are going to try and run an international story on a local programme, you might as well make it as sensational as possible.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Twll dîn pob Cymry

So, have you been out celebrating St David's Day? I know you probably aren't Welsh, but that's no excuse. After all, we English have no qualms about celebrating St Patrick's Day, despite the fact that he's the patron Saint of Ireland. Which is why I've been disappointed by the lack of pubs filled with people wearing hats shaped like leeks and drinking red-coloured beer, whilst Max Boyce's greatest hits blare out of the juke box. Nor did I see anyone indulging in any traditional Welsh activities, like close harmony choral singing, bashing each other over the head with leeks or sticking daffodils up their arses. Why do we prefer to try and co-opt an Irish celebration rather than a Welsh one? Apart from the fact that the Irish are generally perceived as being more fun than the Welsh, and, of course, the Irish 'traditions' on their Saint's day, in reality, consist of nothing more than getting drunk on Guinness. Which, funnily enough, they do most days.

Whilst I haven't encountered any mobs of inebriated revellers drunkenly singing 'Land of My Fathers' as they stagger to the next pub today, there was a time when we English happily joined in with our Welsh cousins in their celebration of St David's Day. I say celebrate, it was more of a counter-celebration. According to Samuel Pepys, in Seventeenth Century London, residents would symbolically lynch life-size effigies of Welshmen. Presumably they knew they were effigies of the Welsh because they had daffodils up their arses. Sadly, even this tradition has died out - I haven't seen any Welshmen being hunted down by baying packs of Englishmen and beaten senseless with leeks, all to an accompaniment of Harry Secombe's rendition of 'If I Ruled the World'. Mind you, if we were to join the Welsh in celebrating St David's Day by getting blind drunk with them, it might help break down some cultural barriers and prejudices. After all, we all sound as if we're uttering their unspeakable language when we're inebriated. On that note of casual racism, I'll take my leave of you and head out to find somewhere serving leek soup...

Labels: ,