Friday, July 29, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line...

In between constructing the new version of The Sleaze, I finally managed to get another story written and posted on the existing version this week. Not the story I'd originally planned, but events rather overtook me - the planned story had a reference in it that, in the light of last weekend's events in Norway, might have seemed a little tasteless, even by my standards. As the site has a small, but loyal, readership in Norway, I decided I didn't want to risk alienating them. Consequently, Her Majesty Exposed was cobbled together at short notice. It's a bit of a bodge-up, but it's actually done pretty well in terms of traffic. Hopefully, the story it replaced will run later this year, in the all-new revamped Sleaze.

Speaking of the revamp, it's getting pretty close to going live. All of the stories, both current and archived, are now on the database, as are the editorials and about half the reviews. All that remains is to transfer the rest of the reviews, the Total Bollocks columns and to recreate departments like the letters column, links and staff profiles as static pages. After that, it's just a case of customising the theme slightly and setting up the mobile version, before testing the new version with some specially selected by-invitation-only visitors to iron out any kinks. What all of this means in practice is that I'm still on course to have the new site up and running some when in the latter half of August. I'm still in two minds as whether to continue publishing stories as normal, or to hold back August's planned stories until the switchover. I'll mull it over this weekend.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Carthago Delenda Est"

I'm still worried that victory in the war against the Murdoch press has been declared prematurely. There's far too much triumphalism being bandied about in TV documentaries and on the web. OK, they may have closed one of their titles, withdrawn their bid for the remainder of BSkyB, prostrated themselves in front of a Select Committee, and we've still got the inquiry into press conduct to come, but the Murdochs haven't been defeated yet. The reality is that until their empire has been completely destroyed, they will remain a threat to the very fabric of this country's political system. With enemies this dangerous, you simply can't afford to give any quarter. It's something the Romans understood. During the Third Punic War fought between 149BC and 146BC 'Carthago delenda est' - 'Carthage must be destroyed' - became a popular rallying call in Rome. The Roman Republic knew that the cycle of conflict between itself and its main rival for control of the Mediterranean - the city state of Carthage - could only be broken by the total defeat of one or the other of them. As long as Carthage existed, it would pose a threat, economic, political and military, to Rome. Consequently, in 146BC the Romans finally razed their rival to the ground and sold its surviving citizens into slavery. You can still see the ruins of the once mighty Carthage in Tunisia, whilst Rome remains resplendent.

Clearly, I'm not suggesting that we all go down to Canary Wharf and burn News International's offices to the ground and force their remaining journalists to work for nothing at The Guardian. However, we do need to seize this moment, when the bastards are, at least temporarily, on the back foot, in order to move to break up this evil empire. With parliament in recess, it looked like some of the urgency had gone out of the whole hacking debate, especially after it was eclipsed as a news story by the terrible events in Norway. But today the story came roaring back with allegations that the News of the World might have hacked the phone of Sara Payne, whose daughter was murdered by a paedophile. What makes this particular revelation especially repugnant is the fact that the mobile phone in question was apparently given to Payne by the paper, which had cosied up to her in the aftermath of her daughter's murder, championing her campaign for the so-called 'Sarah's Law'. But should we be surprised, yet alone shocked by this? Surely we all knew already that the Murdoch press is essentially amoral, it really doesn't care about right and wrong, or common decency - all it cares about is whether any issue it decides to champion can deliver increased sales. Whilst it must always be tempting to seek the backing of a high circulation tabloid when it offers its services, campaigners really need to think very carefully about who they are climbing into bed with. Whether it is Sara Payne or charities working for UK servicemen, this whole sordid business has highlighted the fact that the Murdoch press just doesn't give a toss about the morality of the issue it is supposedly backing - it's all about boosting circulation and profits. 'Carthago delenda est'!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Your Neighbour a Paedophile?

Here's something I found on the hard drive of my old steam-driven PC when I was searching for something else. It dates back about ten years and, to be honest, I have no recollection of writing, let alone publishing it. Certainly, it never got archived when I revamped The Sleaze in 2003. But what the hell, I thought I'd dust it off and publish it here...

Just when you thought the furore over paedophiles had died down, we here at The Sleaze aim to stir it up again! This time, in order to avoid the wrong people getting their houses torched or their pet cats hanged just because they share a name with someone named and shamed in the papers or look vaguely like one of the published photos (ie they have two arms and two legs), we offer a handy guide to recognising these disgraceful perverts. The key thing to remember is that most of the time they look and act just like us. Unlike regular Hollywood-type monsters and psychos, they don’t sleep in coffins and only come out at night or wear hockey masks and eat people’s livers. Oh no. They are far more subtle than that. When searching for your neighbourhood child molester there are a few basic things you should be looking for: the Inspector Clouseau hat, the moustache and the dirty raincoat. Remember though, any of these items alone do not necessarily indicate that someone is a paedophile - it is only when they are all seen together on a single individual that you need to start getting worried. Another accoutrement to look out for in combination with them are the old cotton gloves and, most damningly of all, the bag of sweets. If all of these are found together, lock up your kids and gather that lynch mob. The clincher will be if the suspect has been seen roaming around kiddies playgrounds saying “Want a sweetie little girl/boy?”

However, paedophiles are cunning and they often operate without their usual equipment - especially if they know that they are under suspicion. So, another way of finding out who the twisted perverts in our midst are, is to ask your local newsagent which of your neighbours has a standing order for “Teenage Hookers” or “100% Jailbait” magazines. Alternatively, find out from the local video store who has been renting out Lolita (especially the recent remake with Jeremy Irons - he always plays perverts). Other individuals to be suspicious of are Kylie Minogue fans. I mean, she’s always looked about fourteen, so you have to be suspicious of any grown man who admits to fancying her. Similarly, adult males who watch kids programmes like Grange Hill and Byker Grove have to be pretty suspect too. Finally, another type of person to be very wary of is the local retired or semi-retired 1970s glamrock star. Be very suspicious if they wear an obvious wig and outrageous glitter-covered costumes. They’re the worst.

So gentle readers, our challenge this month is to use our short guide here to track down your local paedophiles and drive them out of town. We’re offering prizes to those readers who expose the most paedophiles - but we want photographic evidence. We want to see the silly hats, moustaches and bags of sweets. There will be bonus prizes for those who send the perverts packing! Now, we here at “The Sleaze” would never advocate violence and mob rule - but the police are short of resources and over-stretched these days, so taking the law into your own hands would allow them to allocate their valuable time to fighting proper crimes. As at least one Tory activist is bound to tell his conference this year; mob rule is a good thing as it takes the pressure off of scarce public resources. Anyway, the results will probably not be published in the next issue. Happy hunting!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Behind the Headlines

Well, that was a pretty depressing weekend, wasn't it? I'd no sooner knocked off work on Friday and put my feet up in front of the telly when the news of the Oslo bombing broke, followed up by the shootings at the youth camp. Grim viewing. Made grimmer by the non-stop speculation indulged in by the TV news channels. Whilst I understand that this kind of story is exactly the sort of thing that twenty-four hour news channels were set up to cover, but I find myself increasingly uneasy over the way in which they simply go into overdrive, clearing their schedules and focusing entirely on the one story, regardless of whether they actually have any new developments to report on. Consequently, we end up being subjected to the same few pieces of footage repeated over and over, and an endless stream of supposed experts spouting utter bollocks. None of which enlightens the viewer. Just when it looked like they were exhausting their reserves of wild speculation, they were saved by the announcement of Amy Winehouse's demise early on Saturday evening. Cue yet more looped footage and alleged experts...

Frankly, the only people likely to have benefited from the blanket coverage of these stories over the weekend will have been New International - it may have been tragic and appalling, but at least it kept the phone hacking scandal out of the headlines. Indeed, there's a part of me that suspects that maybe they've got all these brainwashed people out there, just waiting to be activated. Like in that old Charles Bronson film Telefon. Except that instead of being Soviet sleeper agents, programmed to sabotage the US's infrastructure, they're programmed to create mayhem to boost tabloid circulation. Except that now it isn't flagging sales worrying their masters, it's the very survival of their media empire. So maybe that's what happened - a phone call to Oslo, the right codeword given and a right wing loony goes on a murderous rampage. Twenty four hours later and another phone call, and a well known singer takes an overdose. Crazy? Perhaps not - this conspiracy runs deeper than any of us suspected. The very fabric of our society could be at risk. Jesus, I'm beginning to sound like a Dan Brown novel. But maybe that's all part of the conspiracy too - all those books and movies about bizarre fictional conspiracies are designed to make us less likely to suspect that there's a real conspiracy going on out there. Where will it all end?

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Banana Republic

Now that we're officially a banana republic, where police and politicians can apparently be bought by unelected and unaccountable corporate entities, can I finally fulfil an ambition to drive around central London in an open-topped Jeep, wearing a bandolier and firing a gun in the air? Unless Hollywood has lied to me, this is what seems to happen on a daily basis in such places. Mind you, according to such films, these places don't much resemble London, or anywhere else in the UK, for that matter. Rather, they consist of dusty sun-baked streets lined with palm trees and white-painted buildings, and the wild Jeep driving usually takes place around the fountain in the town square. Sadly, the UK bears more resemblance to the other type of dictatorship depicted in US films and TV series: the European totalitarian regime, by implication Communist, but in its details more resembling Nazi Germany crossed with Ruritania. (I specifically refer you to old episodes of Mission Impossible, which seemed to alternate between the two. The banana republics all looked like southern California and tended to feature actors like Michael Ansara sporting a droopy moustache and wearing a khaki military uniform. By contrast, the European regimes all looked like a 1930s Frankenstein movie - mainly because they were shot on the same Universal back lot that had hosted the Frankenstein movies in the 1930s - and tended to feature the likes of Jeremy Kemp sporting a monocle and wearing what looks suspiciously like a 1940s Wehrmacht general's uniform.)

Anyway, getting back to the point, could the UK's realisation that it is a banana republic usher in a new era of efficiency - to get anything done, all you have to do is sort out a suitable bribe. Or is that Cameron's 'Big Society'? I get confused. I think the difference is that in the 'Big Society' it's simply about creating a system of public services where all that matters is your ability to pay for better services - it's all institutionalised. Under a true banana republic, it's about paying off individuals to actually subvert the existing system. It doesn't even have to be money that changes hands - I'm sure that the average copper could probably be persuaded to turn a blind eye to, say, a bit of indecent exposure, with a couple of bottles of Scotch and a packet of fags. If you want to build an extension on your house, a council planning officer would probably only cost you the fags. Getting better exam grades, well we're talking about buying teachers here, so a Big Mac would probably suffice. You might have to throw in the fries as well for the top grade. The bottom line is that at least there's a degree of honesty in a banana republic: everyone knows that it is corrupt, there's no attempt to dress it up as a 'Big Society', 'free market', or some other bollocks. Everything and everyone is for sale at the right price. And if we don't like it, we just put on that bandolier and drive around firing our guns in the air...

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reality Rewritten?

Well you've got to hand it to News Corp, they're certainly adept at manipulating the news agenda to get that inconvenient phone hacking scandal out of the headlines. And the lengths they're prepared to go to - organising those hospital murders, having a famine declared in Africa, is there no end to their power? Joking aside, the attempts to rewrite history have already started. Have you noticed how Cameron has widened the remit of the inquiry into media conduct to include the BBC and social media? It's all about balance, he'll undoubtedly say. The trouble is that it wasn't the BBC or Twitter who were illegally hacking people's phones, was it? However, both have been used to expose various scandals and broadcast information embarrassing to the government. But undoubtedly the public will be brainwashed into believing that News International are the injured party and that social media and the BBC require greater regulation. Just look at the way every government minister keeps repeating the mantra that the economic downturn is entirely the result of the previous government's spending - it doesn't matter what the question is, they always start their answer by parroting those 'facts'. Consequently, the role of the global banking community in destroying the world economy has been written out of history to the extent that public ire has switched from those fat banker bastard's obscene bonuses (which they're still awarding themselves), to the modest pensions of public sector workers.

Increasingly, I find myself entertaining the idea that we're all victims of some uber-conspiracy, of which the phone hacking scandal, the 'War on Terror', reality TV and celebrity culture are all part. The promotion of celebrity culture by the media had two purposes - to reinforce in the public mind the values of materialism and conspicuous consumption, and to establish that the concept of privacy was irrelevant, that it is perfectly normal to live your entire life in public with its intimate details laid bare for all to see. Clearly, the death of privacy - reinforced by things like Big Brother - normalised the harvesting of vast amounts of your personal data by corporations in order to better try and control your spending on their products. With the public softened up in this way, it made it easier for governments to sell the idea of restricting civil liberties in the name of 'security'. Just to make sure, if persuasion through celebrity culture didn't work, then they'd scare the shit out of you with the threat of terrorism. As for phone hacking, not only did it allow them to harvest more celebrity shit to brainwash us with, it actually helped legitimise the idea of super-injunctions. Whilst their use by celebrities to protect their dirty secrets might seem to run against the main thrust of the conspiracy, in reality, by legitimising super-injunctions, it meant that they remained available for multi-national corporations to use in order to hide their evil deeds from the public. As for the phone hacking enquiry, well, it's obviously designed to let us believe that we've finally uncovered the conspiracy, whereas, in reality, it will be used as a pretext to further muzzle the last vestiges of freedom of speech and a free press. It's obvious really, isn't it? But who are they, and what are their objectives? Who knows? Probably we'll never know - they won't allow it. In my most fevered moments I suspect that we're all being manipulated by vast alien forces, a giant reality TV show for the entertainment of the denizens of the real universe.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Don't Blame Me...

...I voted Conservative. Actually, I didn't (and never have - in fact I can't think of any circumstances under which I would). However, today I found myself stuck behind a car with a sticker in the back window proudly proclaiming "Don't blame me -I voted Conservative". Well, I do - I hold you entirely responsible for the mismanagement of the economy, the destruction of our social services and just about anything else I can think of that's shit right now. I mean, really, what kind of idiot goes around with something like that displayed in their car? You are just asking for it to be fire bombed. To make things worse, the idiot turned out to be a truly crap driver - after fifteen minutes of crawling along a winding country road behind them, I was regretting being polite and not cutting them up when I had the chance.

But this whole 'Don't blame me' attitude has become endemic in this country. It seems to be the main line of defence adopted by every government minister: 'Don't blame me for these massive spending cuts - it was all the fault of the last labour government's economic mismanagement'. (Nothing to do with the global banking crisis caused by the greed of your financier pals, then?) It's also been the defence of choice of just about every News Corp executive with regard to the phone hacking scandal: 'Don't blame me, I wasn't there at the time' or, 'Don't blame me, I can't be expected to know what everyone of my employees is up to at any one time. Oh, and they lied to me.' Possibly the best variation is 'Don't blame me - I was only the editor, how the hell was I to know what my journalists were doing, or how they got their stories?' Whatever happened to the good old days of the buck stopping here, eh?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Bad News

It just keeps getting better, doesn't it? I'm scared to move too far way from a TV or the radio, for fear of missing the next resignation caused by the phone hacking scandal. So far this monster has consumed an entire newspaper, at least of Murdoch's most senior executives and yesterday the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I thought that might be it for a while. But no, today the Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner followed his boss out of the door. Is it too much to hope that David Cameron could soon be engulfed by the crisis too? Sadly, it probably is - unless clear evidence emerges of Dave having taken backhanders from News International, deliberately blocking the original investigation or using hacked material for political gain, I suspect he'll survive. Which isn't to say that he hasn't been severely compromised by his close association with the Murdochs, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. If nothing else, his position, even within his own party, will have been weakened and his public standing irrevocably damaged.

Amazingly, barely more than a week ago, I was worried that, with the closure of the News of the World, the whole campaign against News International could be running out of steam. Instead, the whole thing seems to have taken on a life of its own - like a genie released from a bottle. Murdoch has been forced to throw more and more of his people to the wolves in a desperate attempt to protect his son, Mini-Roop, not to mention himself. But no matter how many sacrificial victims he offers up to this rampaging monster, it still won't go away. Nevertheless, my feelings remain the same - it would still be a mistake to declare victory prematurely. It's like General Patton always said: the best tactics are always to advance. Never dig in, never give up any ground. Right now, I think we should be widening the campaign beyond just the Murdoch empire. Let's not forget that the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express spit out a stream of bigoted right wing bile to middle England on a daily basis - unlike the Murdoch tabloids, with their fixation on celebrity gossip and scandal, these papers have a much clearer political agenda. They should be subjected to the same scrutiny as the Murdoch press - you can guarantee that they've got skeletons in their closets, too.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

More Funerals and a Wedding

My late father once told me that funerals were preferable to weddings because at least at a funeral you don't have to pretend to be enjoying yourself. Wise words and advice that I've followed ever since. Whilst I avoid weddings like the plague, I never miss a funeral if I can help it. Obviously, I don't just attend funerals at random, you understand. You won't find me scanning the deaths column of the local paper looking for likely funerals to attend. I only go to the ones where I actually have some connection to the deceased. Sadly, I'm at an age now where there seems to be no shortage of such occasions. Only today I was at a family funeral. It was a lovely sunny day at the crematorium - even funerals seem a bit more upbeat when the sun is out, I find. Anyway, a word of advice if you are attending a funeral at a crematorium in the near future - don't say "Good news from the Vatican" when you see smoke coming out of the chimney. Some people can get very upset at that sort of thing.

As I refuse to attend weddings, funerals are just about the only time I see some of the more obscure branches of my family these days. I'm never sure if that's a good thing or not. I find that you spend at least an hour at the after-funeral bash circling warily around each other, trying to work out who everyone is , how you are related and wondering if you've inadvertently turned up at the wrong funeral. Luckily, I was at the right one today. Although I'm still none the wiser as to half the other attendees were. Maybe they'd come to the wrong funeral. Who knows. It's certainly preferable to going to the wrong wedding - it's bad enough having to put up with people you know engaging in false jollity, let alone with a bunch of complete strangers. Oh, and another word of advice: if you do find yourself at the wrong wedding and, even worse, find yourself mistaken for the best man, don't toast the bride by cracking a bottle of champagne across her buttocks and saying "God Bless her and all who sail in her". Some people can get very upset at that sort of thing.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Travelling Well

Right now, the most irritating adverts on television have to be those in the new Expedia campaign. You know, the ones with all those bright young people in the Expedia office, all demonstrating how well travelled hey are, and all speaking in different languages, (which makes them ideal for international TV campaigns - no dubbing, they just change the sub-titles to whatever the local language is). Anyway, the most irritating of this irritating campaign is the one with the guy getting frantic over the apparent disappearance of his picture of Waikiki from the office's fridge door. There follows a cacophony of voices jabbering about 'Mikey's Waikiki' as the news spreads. But wait, it hasn't disappeared at all, it has just been moved to a different place on the door, much to the pillock's relief. Apart from the fact that it is utterly moronic, the thing which really irritates me about the ad is the way in which it is effectively trivialising the whole concept of international travel.

The sole reason that 'Mikey' went to Waikiki in the first place, the ad seems to imply, is simply so that he can get a photograph to put on that bloody fridge door, to compete with his colleagues' photos. Never mind any ideas about travelling there to experience the local culture, admire the scenery, broaden his mind, or even just enjoy himself in a new location. No, it's just so that he can say he's been there. 'Travelling' simply becomes an objective in itself, with no other purpose than to be able to say that you did it. Not that there's anything new in this. I remember, many years ago, whilst driving around Ireland with a friend, encountering a group of Americans doing something similar, except that their schedule seemed to consist of a list of landmarks they crossed off as they visited them. They barely had time at each of them to take a picture to prove they'd been there, before having to move on to the next one. Less a holiday than a checklist. By contrast, our idea was simply to drive around Eire in a clockwise direction, sticking as close to the coast as possible. If we saw an interesting looking sign, were told of something interesting to see by locals, or just liked the look of somewhere, or the sound of its name, we took a detour there. Consequently, we found lots of interesting stuff and events, way off the beaten track and met lots of interesting people, and ended up in a pretty mellow state. Oh, and we didn't take many photos - we just enjoyed the experience as it happened. That's proper travelling.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lust for Peace

Saturday was the day that I decided experiencing World War Two was preferable to being forced to listen to bad 'music'. Unable to tolerate the cacophony that is 'Crapchester Shite' - the local 'music' festival showcasing local 'musicians' that is held every year in the park across the road from my house - I decided to try and neutralise the sound by watching my DVD of Patton (or Patton: Lust For Glory if you saw it on its original UK release), at full volume. You know something - it worked. Three hours of George C Scott growling "You Goddamned sons of bitches" at General Montgomery, senior US commanders, his own men and, occasionally, the Germans, interspersed with extremely noisy tank battles, turned out to be far more melodic, and much kinder to my ears, than 'Crapchester Live'. Sadly, the row from across the road outlasted the movie by a couple of hours, but at least I managed to get some respite.

You know something else? I think I enjoyed Patton even more with the sound turned up to eleven than I do usually, (despite the movie's subject being a right wing reactionary US General, not to mention the whole thing being historically dubious, it rates as probably my favourite war film). Even the anachronistic tanks, (they're all post-war US built models), didn't trouble me at all this time around. (One day I'm going to set up a website where I chronicle all the military hardware inaccuracies in Hollywood war movies, especially with regard to tanks. It's a pet subject of mine, in case you hadn't realised). So there you have it, the irony of a war movie managing to bring me a degree of peace. Maybe next year I'll go one better and dress as General Patton before driving a real tank through 'Crapchester Shite' in my quest for peace and quiet.


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Worst is Yet to Come?

Apparently the reason why it was necessary to close down the News of the World will become clear in a year's time. According to Rebekah Brooks, that is, when she addressed the doomed newspaper's staff. Which begs the question, of course, just what does News International think will happen over the course of the next twelve months which will repulse the public even more than the current revelations of hacking murder victims' phones and bribing the police, (amongst other reprehensible behaviour)? But there's the rub - whilst we all like to throw up our hands and declare how revolted we are by the newspaper's behaviour, there's another part of us that secretly wants there to be even worse revelations to come. Revelations that will leave us aghast at their horribleness, and leave us feeling revolted and disgusted. A case of saying: "Oh God, that's disgusting. But please tell me more. In lurid detail." So, what do we think could be the most repulsive revelations?

How about if the News of the World's private detectives had not just hacked the phones of some female celebrities, but had secretly filmed them having sex. Not just any kind of sex, but full on hot lesbo action. Would that be sleazy enough to shock our jaded palates? No? Well, what if it was then revealed that these secret films weren't for publication, but for Rupert Murdoch to whack off over, (it's the only way he can get it up these days - allegedly)? Would that be sordid enough? OK, then try this on for size: not only did their detectives hack the phones of murder victims, but they obtained photographs of their horribly mutilated bodies. Photographs that some News International executive then whacked off over, (see how I'm being careful here, allegedly masturbating over lesbian porn is one thing, alleging, even satirically, necrophilia is something else altogether). Would that be sufficient to really repulse us?

The semi-serious point I'm groping blindly toward here is that the excesses of the News of the World were, in part, fuelled by the reading public's apparently insatiable appetite for shocking revelations about celebrities and sensational crime stories. Arguably, if people hadn't kept lapping up the sorts of stories that the paper's phone hacking turned up, then they wouldn't have kept on doing it. Obviously, the primary responsibility for the appalling behaviour of the paper lies with the individual journalists and editors who instigated it, and the News International executives who allowed it to carry on, anyone who has ever read a tabloid has to bear some responsibility.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Sound and Fury

It's a weekend in Summer, so there must be a music festival going on somewhere. Which means there's a fair chance that a dead Tory might turn up in the executive toilets. That said, this weekend it is T in the Park, in Scotland, and they don't have Tories there. Well, they do, they just don't dare call themselves Tories. Instead they usually call themselves Scottish Liberal Democrats. Whatever the nomenclature, I doubt we'll see a repetition of the Glastonbury incident. Unless, that is, there are more unpleasant revelations from News International, in which case Conservative Central Office could well send someone up to Glasgow with orders to crap themselves to death, in order to deflect media attention. If they don't want to stump up the train fare for Scotland, they could always send their sacrificial lamb to Crapchester's very own music festival. They'd certainly be welcome, as 'Crapchester Live' (or 'Crapchester Shite' as I prefer to call it), badly needs something to lend it credibility. A dead body in the kazi would certainly do that.

As I have the misfortune to live just across the road from the park where they persist in holding 'Crapshester Shite', every year my ears have to bear the brunt of its 'musical' assault. As it is meant to be a 'showcase' for the local music scene, I have to endure forty eight hours of utter shite. These are the same self-styled musicians who do their best to put various local pubs out of business by performing live in them. You know, I actually don't have a problem with these people deluding themselves that they're in 'the music business' and holding their annual festival. I just don't see why the rest of Crapchester should be subjected to their cacophony. A couple of years ago they had their sound system cranked up so high that my house was shaking.

But woe betide anyone foolhardy enough to criticise this annual ego-stroking session. I'm just a curmudgeonly old kill-joy it seems. I keep getting told that I should actually visit the festival before I criticise it. But surely that's the point - I'm not interested in it, yet I'm still subjected to it regardless. Let's face it, if it was a pub, say, putting out live music at these kinds of volumes, until past 11 o'clock at night, the council would undoubtedly suspend its licence for live music. However, if it's a council-approved 'festival', it seems that noise pollution is not just OK, but obligatory. Perhaps the most pathetic defence of this annual assault on my ears I've had is someone telling me that I should just put up with it because "It's only once a year, mate". To which my response is simple - if, every year, on the second weekend in July I broke into your house and bum-raped you for forty-eight hours, would that be OK? After all, it's only once a year, isn't it, mate?


Thursday, July 07, 2011

News of the Screws Screwed?

So, the News of the World is dead. Or will be, after this coming Sunday. But before all those people who organised advertising boycotts of the paper and the like start crowing about their 'victory', they should bear in mind that the organisation behind the whole phone hacking scandal is still very much alive. The closure of the News of the World is just another cynical tactical move by News International. It is quite obvious that they are hoping that by handing this apparent victory to their critics, it will bring the whole sorry business to a close and deflect attention from the real issue: the Murdoch empire's dominance of the British media. Before today's announcement, my fear was that, after a couple of weeks, all those advertisers and readers currently boycotting the News of the World, would simply drift back, having decided that they'd 'done their bit' with their symbolic protest, and it would be back to business as usual. Now, it seems, News International are hoping that this equally symbolic sacrifice will satisfy the baying hordes. And it might.

However, this whole story is about more than a group of 'rogue employees' at a single tabloid title - News International's current favoured narrative. Are we honestly supposed to believe that senior management at News International didn't know how one of their newspapers was getting its stories? At the very least, they created the environment in which journalists thought that it was OK to behave in this way - to Hell with ethics, just do whatever it takes to outsell the opposition and boost profits. The fact is that the evil continues. The closure of the News of the World is just a distraction. Now isn't the time for people to be congratulating themselves over this great 'victory'. Now is the time to be pressing on and taking the war to Murdoch. Trust me, the only way to defeat him is to stop buying his papers altogether - even that Sunday edition of the Sun which will inevitably replace the News of the World - and to cancel your Sky TV subscriptions. (I can be sanctimonious here, as I've never bought his papers or subscribed to Sky). Damn it, if we're really serious about cleaning up the press, we should form ourselves into an angry mob waving flaming torches, and storm 'Fortress Wapping', whilst shouting 'Kill the monster'. Sadly though, I'm sure that what will actually happen is that all those middle class revolutionaries who have been organising boycotts, will simply pat themselves on the back over their 'success', before going home and tuning in to Sky Movies or Sky Sports.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What the Papers Say...

Why isn't anyone making more of the fact that the News of the World apparently employed private detectives to 'find stories' for them? Surely that's what journalists are meant to do for themselves, isn't it? Find stories, I mean. Not hire private detectives. Obviously. I'm not sure what a private detective can do to 'find a story' that a journalist can't do for themselves. Unless Hollywood, cheap paperback novels and 1970s TV series have lied to me, newspaper hacks have networks of contacts who feed them bits of information, which then set them off on some great journalistic crusade which culminates in them uncovering some sinister conspiracy at the heart of government. If that fails, they can always 'doorstep' people, stalk them, sorry, put them under surveillance, or even illegally intercept their mail and phone calls. Just like a private eye. But probably cheaper. Still, in this age of 'outsourcing' everything, I guess it makes sense that tabloid journalists hire someone else to actually do their job for them. I'm only surprised that they don't sub lease the work to private investigators based in India.

Indeed, judging by my, admittedly limited, experience of real life British private detectives, they might as well get someone in Mumbai to investigate goings on in London. Part of my day job involves establishing whether certain individuals are actually living at certain addresses, and ascertaining the trading status of certain businesses. Now, I generally find this information by actually going out and visiting the addresses and businesses in person, knocking on doors and asking questions. Pretty straightforward. You'd be surprised at the number of times my reports are challenged by clients, claiming that they've had a private investigator establish that the individual definitely does live there, or that the business in question is still trading from a particular premises. In every one of these cases, a look at the investigator's report shows that they never actually left their own office - which is usually hundreds of miles from my patch in Crapchester. Instead, they've simply consulted online databases of dubious quality, or out-of-date telephone directories and electoral registers. Consequently, I'm amazed that the private detectives employed by the News of the World ever managed to find any stories for the paper, unless they stumbled across them on the web. To be frank, the News of the World's journalists would have been better off going back to basics and simply making up their stories. Just like they used to i the good old days.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

A Swarm of Shit

A while ago I watched a film - Final Analysis - for the first time since I'd seen it during it's original cinema release. I had quite fond memories of it, recalling it as a reasonably entertaining, glossily made, sub-Hitchcock thriller that was popular back in the 1990s. Sadly, the passage of nearly twenty years hadn't done it any favours: upon watching it again, I found it unbearably slow and plodding, with obvious plot mechanics and little suspense and tension. It's not the first time that I've revisited a film I half remember as being enjoyable, only to find it crap, but in the past it has usually involved movies I saw as a child. Not surprisingly, seen through adult eyes, what once seemed wondrous, simply seemed clunky and obvious. Scarily, though, I'd originally seen Final Analysis as an adult. Clearly, my critical faculties weren't as well developed as I'd thought back then.

Of course, it can work the other way around - you can come back to a movie you thought was crap when you first saw it, with the intention of reassessing it and giving it another chance, only to find that it was even worse than you remembered. That was the experience I had this weekend when I sat through most of The Swarm again. It probably didn't help that the first time I'd seen Irwin Allen's 1978 killer bee epic it had been the original 116 minute version that had been released to cinemas. This time I subjected myself to the extended 155 minute edit originally released on laser disc. The first thing that struck me about the movie was that, for a supposed big budget epic, it looked, well, shabby. The quality of the colour, the sets the editing - it all screamed: '1970s TV Movie'! It seems astounding that a film which could boast such a high profile cast, (Micheal Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, to name just four of the culprits), could have such poor production values. The whole thing is sloppily put together - to take an example, in one sequence, an ambulance crashes through a shop window, with the lighting changing from night, to day then back to night in less than ten seconds.

Then there's the pace - it's just deadly slow. Inordinate amounts of time are wasted on a love triangle involving three pensioners, which is abruptly cut short when they're all killed in a bee-inspired train crash. Actually, that train crash epitomises much that is wrong with the film - poorly staged with too obvious models and no attention to logic. Just why do those passenger cars explode and burn when they tumble down the mountainside? Why does the train accelerate when the fatally stung engineer clearly falls against the brake lever? That said, the set representing the locomotive's cab interior is so poorly realised, that brake lever might have been swapped with the regulator. The cab looks like it was put together from bits left over from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Lost in Space - trust me, diesel locomotive cabs are pretty spartan affairs, they most certainly don't have banks of flashing lights behind the drivers' positions.

As for the acting, well, Caine is as disinterested as you'd expect and quite unconvincing as a bee expert. Richard Widmark spits out his every line with utter contempt - as well he should when confronted with such an abominable script. His character's exchanges with Caine's are universally hilarious, shouting scientific facts and military strategies at each other. I daresay they only got Widmark to sign up on the basis that they'd already got Henry Fonda on board. Although why, by 1978, anyone would take that as a guarantee of quality, I really don't know. Old Hank might well have the status of a saint these days, but let's not forget that back in the 1970s he was a serial offender for appearing in this kind of shit, (he actually stooped even lower that The Swarm, he also appeared in the Italian giant octopus farrago, Tentacoli). He clearly needed the money. Badly needed the money.

I particularly liked the denouement - the military and scientific experts decide that the best way to destroy the killer bees is by burning down Houston (where they've settled). Now, I'm not an entomologist, but even I can see the flaw here: bees can fly, so will therefore be able to evade the flamethrowers and bugger off somewhere else. Now, just off the top of my head, I can think of at least two better strategies for dealing with bees than this: light a huge bonfire near their swarm, then blow the smoke toward them, making them drowsy and easier to kill. Alternatively, they could just have deposited a huge pile of sugar outside of Houston, to attract the bees - once they swarmed all over it, you could hit them with insecticide. However, when burning down Houston doesn't work, do they do either of these things? No. They instead manage to mimic the bees' mating call, and use this to attract them to the Gulf of Mexico, which they've covered in an oil slick, which Caine has ignited once the bees arrive, toasting them all. If only BP had thought of that as an excuse for their oil spillage - "Honestly, we were just protecting Texas from a swarm of deadly killer bees..."

The madness doesn't end there - the credits include the the bizarre disclaimer "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working, American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation." Were they worried that American honey bees might sue them for defamation? It's very fashionable to mock low budget films as being 'the worst movies ever made', but The Swarm is proof positive that it takes a major studio, A-list cast and big budget to make a real turkey. Let's face it, the likes of Ed Wood Jr, working with minuscule budgets and no talent, (either behind or in front of the camera), never stood a chance of making anything other than crap. However, cinema goers bile really should be reserved for the likes of The Swarm, which have no such excuses for their dreadfulness.


Friday, July 01, 2011

Nearly There...

Well, I'm almost within touching distance of completing the transfer of old stories to the database for the new version of The Sleaze. It's been quite an experience, re-encountering stories I haven't read in years. I surprised myself by actually laughing at some of them. One of the most time consuming aspects of the process has been sourcing pictures to accompany each story, (the Wordpress theme I intend using needs an image for each article or story in order to function properly). The long and the short of it is that I'm still on course for a relaunch of the site somewhen in August. Whether the revamp will help turn around traffic I don't know. To be honest, I'm at the stage where I don't care. The main thing the 'new' Sleaze will mean for me is ease of updating, meaning I'll have more time to concentrate on writing new material, rather than having to waste time on manual updates of pages, indexes and navigation links, let alone general site maintenance. It will also give the site a far more professional look than I could ever hope to achieve with my meagre coding skills. Hopefully, that alone might entice visitors to explore it a bit further. Who knows? Only time will tell!