Monday, June 30, 2014

Sacred and Profane

Our 'monthly movie' for June takes us back to a favourite type of location: a church yard.  This time I use it to try and explore how easily our perception of a location can be changed by a few simple factors.  A low camera angle, monochrome photography and creepy music turn it, at a stroke, into a Gothic horror movie, but colour, angles which look 'heavenward' and organ music transform it into a celebration of religious faith.

I'd originally planned to use at least two different locations for shooting.  However, time constraints due to work and decorating activities eventually forced me to use a single location instead.  Which, sort of, makes more sense.  The same constraints meant that I had to edit the whole thing in more of a hurry than I would have liked in order to get it finished for June.  Consequently, it's a bit rougher than I would have liked - in retrospect, for instance, some scenes needed a bit more trimming than they actually received.  Such reservations aside, I'm pretty pleased with this monthly movie.  Bring on July's!

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Friday, June 27, 2014

When Good Neighbours Become a Pain in the Arse

People just love pushing the idea of local communities, neighbourliness and social networks.  Just today I got an unsolicited piece of mail inviting me to join the 'online community for Crapchester'.  Apparently, and I quote, 'Streetlife is a free and simple website that connects you with people in your local area'.  Jesus Christ!  Why do they think that I want to get connected with other residents of Crapchester?  I spend enough time trying to avoid them in real life, why on earth would I want to deal with them online?  I mean, the web effectively gives me access to the entire world - I regularly have online dealings with people from across the UK, Europe, the US and many other far flung places - so why would I want to spend my web surfing time talking to people who live within yards of me?  I can just step out of my front door and throw a brick at them if I want to attract their attention.  But obviously I'm wrong, as they go on to tell me that their site 'makes it easy for neighbours to keep in touch'.  Bearing in mind that I live next door to my neighbours and we don't speak, I don't really see why it should be any different online.

Besides, neighbourliness is greatly overrated.  To be frank, most neighbours are a pain in the arse.  Especially the ones who think they are your buddy or pal, simply because they happen to live in close proximity to you.  Just for the record: I don't want to be your friend.  Just because, out of courtesy, I might acknowledge you if I see you in the street or in the pub, it doesn't mean that I want any kind of relationship with you.  And if you don't want me to be rude to you, then don't accost me in the pub when I'm trying to enjoy a quiet pint and a conversation with a fellow regular, about the state of my steps.  Here, I think, a little elaboration is required.  I live in a house on an elevated terrace, there are steps down to the pavement at either end.  Despite the fact that everyone uses them, these steps actually belong to the houses whose property they are on, in the case of one set, this is my house. I noticed the other day that on one step one of the bricks was a little loose and determined that, when I have time, I'd repair it. 

Fast forward back to the pub, and I have this idiot from the opposite end of the terrace (where he has a nearer set of steps) complaining to me that the brickwork on my steps  was loose and therefore a health and safety hazard.  Now, although I just wanted to tell him to 'fuck off', I didn't and confined myself to pointing out that there was a simple solution - he could stop using my steps and stay off of my property.  As I then elaborated, the last time this issue had occurred, my attempts to repair the steps had been continually frustrated by the refusal of my neighbours to stop using them until the new mortar was dry.  The problem, as I pointed out, somewhat forcefully, is that my neighbours all seem to want, no, expect, to enjoy the benefits of my property without actually making any contribution to their upkeep.  Do far, he hasn't raised the issue again.  Which is just as well for him as, when I checked the steps again, I found that he seems to have loosened several more bricks, making the repairs more complex.  Consequently, I'm likely to do him some damage if he comes whining to me again.     


Thursday, June 26, 2014

More False Claims

A while ago I chronicled my troubles with an outfit called 'The Orchard' who were making false copyright claims on the public domain music I was using on various of my videos over at YouTube.  No sooner had I successfully fought off one lot of their fraudulent claims, then they'd hit me with another batch, clearly hoping that if they could swamp me with their shit then I'd just give up and capitulate.  I didn't and they were forced to back down.  Everything went quiet then and I hoped that 'The Orchard' and their ilk had finally backed off.  Then, last week, I suddenly got another of these copyright claims.  This time it was on a single video and was from someone calling themselves 'CD Baby', claiming that I was using one of their artist's track.  Unusually, this lot had a website which not only listed their artists, but also allowed you to listen to their tracks!  Which revealed that this particular artist had sampled the same piece of public domain music I'd used on the track in question.  Once I'd filed my dispute with Google, 'CD Baby' withdrew their claim in record time.  All of which left me thinking that they might actually be legit.

Until, that is, they tried to pull the same stunt again a couple of days ago. You see, the video they originally targeted exists in two versions on YouTube, although edited differently, they share the same soundtrack.  Incredibly, 'CD Baby' had come back for a second bite of the cherry by making the same copyright claim against the same piece of public domain music on the second version!  Did they think I wouldn't notice?  Do they think I'm stupid?  Needless to say, I filed the same dispute as before and, once again, they were forced to back off, although this time they seemed more reluctant to drop the claim, as it took several days for it to be withdrawn.  Now, I'm sure that 'CD Baby' would claim that it was all a quirk of the Content ID system that Google allows various rights holders and agencies to use to try and detect copyright violations on YouTube.  They'd undoubtedly say that they fed their client's track into the system in good faith, not realising that he'd included a sample of public domain music in it.  Which would highlight a fundamental weakness of the Content ID system, in that it can't handle music sampling.  However, if it was simply a technical glitch, why weren't both the claims made simultaneously?  Why was there a gap of several days between them?   I don't know what I find more insulting - the attempts to make a fraudulent copyright claim on public domain materials, or the fact that they think I'm so stupid I won't notice that they are trying to make the same fraudulent claim twice.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Wrath of God

From 1972, this another of those films from that era which seems to have disappeared from sight, (I recall seeing it only the once on TV, in a late night slot on ITV in, I think, the early eighties).  Which is a real pity, as I remember it as being a well-made action film with an excellent cast and superbly staged set-pieces.  Set against the background of one of those Latin American revolutions so beloved of Hollywood and based on a pseudonymous novel by Jack Higgins, Wrath of God features the three main protagonists involved in a series of shifting relationships and crosses and double crosses, before finally coming together to defeat the main villain: a vicious dictator.  For once, the trailer doesn't lie: the film, as I recall, is that action packed.

Robert Mitchum is, as ever, excellent in his laid back way, as a Tommy gun toting con man posing a priest, his character echoing not just his own earlier roles in films like Villa Rides!, but also Humphrey Bogart in Left Hand of God.  The film also gives Victor Buono, now probably best remembered for playing King Tut in Batman, one of his best film roles as Jennings, 'The Fat Man', a slippery and flamboyant gun smuggler.  Perhaps most interesting is the casting of Scottish actor Ken Hutchinson as fugitive IRA man Keogh.  Hutchinson had previously played a key role in 1971's Straw Dogs but, despite giving another strong performance in Wrath of God, went back into British TV after this movie, frequently turning up as a guest villain in things like The Sweeney

The revolutionary background, the presence of an IRA man on the run and Mitchum's character's gradual conversion to the revolutionary cause is reminiscent of Leone's Fistful of Dynamite, released a year earlier, although Wrath of God lacks that movie's complex investigation of the politics of the revolution and its effects on the individual, opting, instead, for a more straightforward action-orientated approach.  Director Ralph Nelson, a veteran of several previous tough action westerns. (although now remembered more for Charly, his Oscar-winning adaptation of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon), moves it all along at a good pace.  Quite why the movie has vanished I don't know.  I have heard stories that, following an on-set accident suffered by Hutchinson, the insurance company effectively ended up owning the film.  It was certainly a film that seemed out of its time - by the early seventies this kind of big-budget studio-backed action film was becoming a rarity, which might have left distributors wondering what to do with it.  Whatever the reasons for its relative obscurity these days, it's high time it was revived.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Shifting Allegiances

OK, I'm done with trashing celebrities.  For now, at least, I'm happy to leave that to the sad bastards who spend their time ranting and raving about the evils of every comedy programme made since 1983.  After a weekend of beer, Italian exploitation movies, (including Hour X Suicide Patrol and Rangers Attack at Hour X, films whose titles were apparently created by randomly assembling key words from other war movie titles, and a pretty magnificent Italian Robin Hood movie), painting (my front door now has a first coat of 'signal red') and being snubbed by neighbours, (the new people a few doors down had a barbecue and invited everyone except me - not that I was interested, but it's a matter of principle), I had time to ponder the burning question of the moment: with England out of the World Cup, who should we root for instead?  Actually, before going any further, I'd like to point out that my claims that England always seem to lose vital matches when they are screened exclusively on ITV turns out to have some foundation.  Someone sadder than me has actually compiled the statistics which indeed show that ITV's match coverage is jinxed.  So, it isn't just me ranting.

But back to the vexed question of who should be our England surrogate for the rest of the current World Cup.  The answer, of course, is very much dependent upon our expectations: do want to follow someone with a realistic chance of reaching the latter stages of the tournament, or do we want to support someone we 'like' and can identify with?  Are the two mutually exclusive?  Obviously, as England 'fans', (I use the term advisedly as it is difficult to be a fan of the shambolic mess England have been since, well, Euro 96), we're not used to following obvious winners, who play with style and confidence, so supporting such a side might prove too disturbing.  Maybe we'd be happier with an underdog, albeit one which looks like it is actually capable of creating an upset.  Beyond these considerations, there are some teams you just can't support for a multitude of reasons:  Germany - the rivalry is just too deep seated; France - too French; Russia - Putin, the whole Ukraine business and they are managed by Fabio Capello; Uruguay - Luis Suarez; Portugal - Ronaldo, need I say more?  

So where does that leave us?  Well, the South and Central American teams just look too slick and naturally good at football for us to be comfortable supporting.  Whilst there's always at least one African team which looks good every World Cup, sadly they seem to fizzle out in the knockout phase.  The East Europeans could turn out to be war criminals at any moment and the Italians, well, they don't need our support.  All of which has left me looking seriously at the Netherlands - punching above their weight, but not a dead cert for the later stages.  The only thing I've got against them is their manager, Louis van Gaal, who turned down Spurs for Manchester United.  Consequently, I've increasingly been considering pledging my footballing allegiance to the USA.  They're managed by former Spurs legend Jurgen Klinsmann and one of their best players is Clint Dempsey, also late of Spurs.  Plus they are still a bit of an underdog (and not yet certain to get out of the group stage) despite some impressive results against Ghana and Portugal.   So, for the time being, it's 'Go USA!' from me.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Paxo Stuffed

So, Jeremy Paxman has finally stepped down from Newsnight.  About bloody time.  Paxman long ago ceased to be even remotely amusing in his bludgeoning of politicians and other interviewees on the BBC current affairs programme.  Continually browbeating politicians by asking them the same question over and over and conducting every interview with a smug sense of superiority does nothing to enlighten the viewing public.  Issues aren't explored, points aren't usefully debated.  Not that this seemed to be his aim.  Rather, it was to humiliate the great and the good, particularly politicians in order to boost his own ego. Or so it seemed to me.  I stopped watching Newsnight many years ago, when it became apparent that I wasn't going to actually learn anything from Paxman's regular confrontations, sorry, interviews, with ministers and their shadow equivalents, other than the fact that he clearly sees himself as utterly superior to any of them (and his viewers).  The only achievement of this style of 'interviewing' that I can see is to have contributed to the general vilification of politicians in this country.  The resulting ennui amongst the electorate towards political issues has been expressed in low turn-outs for elections and a the rise of single-issue 'populist' bigots like Nigel Farage.

As if his destruction of intelligent political debate on TV wasn't enough, in recent years Paxman has turned into an archetypical 'grumpy old man', clearly feeling that the world is badly in need of his wisdom on subjects such as popular music and literature.  Not surprisingly, these 'opinions' are the usual knee-jerk reactionary rantings of a middle aged, middle class man completely out of touch with modernity.  His outpourings on these subjects have generally taken the form of ill tempered harumphings  as to why the BBC needs to have radio stations which play popular music - surely the commercial sector can cater for such plebeian tastes?  (Which shows a complete ignorance of what Radios One and Two actually do with regard to popular music - giving opportunities to new talent and playing niche genres which commercial radio simply won't touch with a bargepole, preferring to play middle of the road pap all the time).  Or lamenting the state of British poetry.  (The bastards aren't writing about clouds and daffodils anymore).  All of which brings me o my biggest problem with Paxman: he is so establishment that he could never be effective in holding the powerful to account on behalf of the general public, instead resorting to his pantomime antics on Newsnight.  His establishment credentials were seen to worst effect in his lamentable recent attempts at TV history series, where he was unable to articulate any kind of coherent critique of either British imperialism or the UK's involvement in World War One.  One can only hope that this establishment dinosaur won't be troubling our TV screens again any time soon.

So there you go: Paxo stuffed!  And Adrian Chiles trashed yesterday!  Could it be that I'm turning into those sad middle aged bastards, frustrated by their unfulfilling lives and their failure to achieve even the most modest of their childhood ambitions, spend their time on line spewing barely coherent bile about celebrities?  Hopefully not.  But while I'm on a roll, I can't let pass the opportunity to say something about the late Rik Mayall.  Now, no disrespect to Rik and his family, but lets be honest here - wasn't the Young Ones actually shit?  Come on, you know as well as I do that it was just about the most overrated load of toss broadcast in the eighties.  It wasn't even very radical.  I actually was a student when it was first broadcast and could never understand why so many of my fellow students raved about what was essentially an incredibly conservative and establishment portrayal of us as all being a bunch of worthless layabouts taking taxpayers money to not study useless subjects.  The only notable thing about it was that it established Mayall's screen persona - he subsequently gave the same performance in everything else he ever did.  Harsh?  Maybe, but I'm sick of these aforementioned sad bastards trashing everything I ever liked, so why shouldn't I return the favour with regards to one of their heroes?

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

More World Cup Woes

According to Roy Hodgson, England are going to attack Uruguay tonight.  Consequently, when I took a quick look at the match just now, I was disappointed that Wayne Rooney wasn't going for Luis Suarez with a broken bottle and that rest of the team weren't laying siege to the opposition goal with knives, crowbars, broken chair legs, even planks with nails in them.  As you can gather, I'm currently not watching TV coverage of England's World Cup match.  Not because I can't stand the tension, but because I can't stand ITV's football coverage.  Quite apart from the fact that England always seem to lose crucial matches which ITV has exclusive coverage of, their presentation is anchored by the abominable Adrian Chiles.  A man who allegedly pocketed millions when ITV mystifyingly poached him from the BBC to present its flagship breakfast TV programme, and was continued to be paid handsomely even when the ratings for that subsequently fell through the floor, yet still appears to be the most miserable bastard on TV.  Yet large sections of the press still laud him, telling us how much better he is than Gary Lineker is on the BBC. 

To be honest, I've never understood why anybody has ever rated him as a presenter - he lacks any kind of charm, charisma or insight.  He was awful when he presented that business programme nobody watched on BBC2, then transferred his awfulness to prime time with the One Show.  The fact that this show has continued to be popular despite his departure shows how deluded ITV were in thinking Chiles was a vital ingredient to its success.  Yet the fact that he proved to be a complete turn-off to viewers of their breakfast programme doesn't seem to have dimmed ITV's faith in him.  As a sports anchor, at least.  Perhaps they think his fake 'matey-ness' and supposedly 'cheeky' presentation style, (although simply saying things like 'Call me a cheeky monkey, but..' when you interrupt an interviewee to ask an inane question, doesn't actually make you 'cheeky', 'populist' or even 'edgy', it shows that you are a twat), appeals to sports fans.  But it isn't just Chiles who turns me off of ITV's football coverage.  I was amazed that Phil Neville's commentary on the England-Italy match for the BBC received so much criticism for being 'boring' - haven't those moaning ever heard his ITV counterpart Andy Townsend?  Townsend is excrutiatingly poor as a commentator, stating the obvious over and over again, punctuated by the odd footballing cliché, usually poorly chosen.  He is dull beyond belief and, worse, downright wrong most of the time.  If his footballing career had every amounted to anything I might be able to understand why he's still employed by ITV.  As it is, he just sounds like some bloke from the pub droning on about football. 

Then there are ITV's studio pundits.  Don't get me started on them.  Really, don't.  The absolutely worst thing about ITV's coverage of England matches are the over-the-top reactions to defeats and poor performances in the studio afterward, with Chiles inevitably telling us that English football is in crisis and that end of the world is nigh.  If England lose to Uruguay then Chiles will be in full doom-laden wailing mode tonight.  Indeed, if they lose, then come next Tuesday's match against Costa Rica (which, depressingly, ITV also have the rights to), Chiles and co will probably be refusing to actually show the match live, instead opting for a three hour session of despair at the death of English football.   You know, the best thing about ITV losing the rights to Champion's League and Europa League football to BT and the FA Cup to the BBC is that maybe, just maybe, Adrian Chiles will finally be out of a job with ITV (and anyone else, with luck).


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Square of Slaughter

If they intend keeping this Lucy Beale murder plot going until next year on Eastenders, then the BBC is going to have to do something radical to keep up viewer interest.  At the very least, they could do it in the style of a giallo, maybe even getting Dario Argento in to direct some key episodes, where various characters find themselves stalked around Albert Square by a mysterious figure wearing clack leather gloves.  All accompanied by some wild Goblin tracks, obviously.  They should definitely throw in a few more murders.  Bizarre ones, with people being dragged to their deaths behind lorries, scalded to death in hot baths or by having their teeth smashed out on a mantelpiece.  The motive has to be unbelievably complex as well, rooted in the past and involving bricked up rooms and corpses in weird old houses (or maybe just Ian's cafe), with children's drawings and strange tunes as clues.  I know, I've seen Profondo Rosso too many times.  

Then again, perhaps they could go down the Agatha Christie route, with Dot Cotton doing a Miss Marple act and solving the crime through the medium of knitting.  It could all culminate with her gathering the suspects in the 'accusing room' of the Queen Vic, (a room hitherto completely unknown to landlord Mick), before revealing the murderer.  Who is bound to be the funeral director - he's been drumming up business since moving to the Square by knocking off a few locals.  Actually, an even better twist would be for Dot Cotton herself to be unmasked as the killer.  When I say 'unmasked', I mean literally - like in Scooby Doo.  Her rubber mask is pulled off to reveal the face of her son 'Nasty' Nick Cotton - he'd murdered the real Dot with the aid of his son Charlie after faking his own death: it was Dot's body in that coffin, not his.  Why did he murder Lucy?  Well, she obviously saw 'Dot' taking a piss standing up, or something, and deuced the truth, thereby signing her own death warrant.  Or, maybe Ian learns the identity of his daughter's murderer early on, kills them, disposes of their body, then commits several more murders himself, using the original killer's MO and DNA samples he took from the body, so as to fool the police.  Damn,  We're back in giallo territory - that's Tenebrae, isn't it?

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Italian Job: Suicide Commandos

Undoubtedly more representative of the 'Macaroni War' genre than Overrun, which we looked at the other week, this 1968 Italian/Spanish co-production is a typical 'men on a mission' entry in the oeuvre.  The token US 'star' is Aldo Ray, somewhat bizarrely cast as a Frenchman, despite his obvious American accent, clearly down on his luck at this point in his career and cheerfully refusing to take any of this nonsense seriously.  His tough commando sergeant is charged with recruiting a team of specialists to parachute behind German lines and destroy an air base which somehow threatens the D Day invasion. (Apparently it has something to do with the Messerchmitt Bf 109Ks based there).  Not having the Dirty Dozen's budget, Ray's team has only four members, (a fifth, an explosives expert, joins them on the plane flying to the mission, but is killed shortly after the parachute drop, having uttered only one line of dialogue).  They are, naturally, the usual bunch of misfits - a drunken Maltese soldier, an ex-officer with a death wish, a gypsy and, most bizarrely, a scoutmaster who is an expert at orienteering and tracking.  The latter character is played a lantern-jawed actor named Ugo Fangareggi (or Hugo Fangar-Smith in the English language credits), who, unfortunately, looks like a popular stereotype of a child molester, making his scenes with his scout troop look unfortunately creepy to contemporary eyes.

The recruitment and training process is - by contrast with the equivalent US/UK movies, where it frequently comprises at least half the running time - mercifully quick.  Indeed, the raining is glossed over with a couple of brief sequences - none of the gruelling, but repetitive and boring, ordeals you usually see the recruits subjected to in these films. Clearly preferring to get to the real action, after a cursory briefing from their comic relief British army Colonel, director Camillo Bazzoni has the team board their Dakota and set off on their mission well before the half-way point, inevitably forced to bail out prematurely after the aircraft is attacked by a Harvard trainer pretending to be a Focke Wulf Fw 190.  The consequent rapid elimination of the explosives expert and the capture of his supplies is revealed as plot device to force the commandos to change their plans.  There is a brief switch to an espionage type plot as Ray is forced to contact the local British agent to try and get more explosives.  As can be seen, the film is commendably fast-paced, almost to the point that it can disguise its various plot holes and implausibilities.   The cast, particularly Ray, are engaging and the characters, whilst broadly drawn, are reasonably well thought-out.  What lets it down is the low budget which, at the climax, undermines it all with some very poor model work, as what appear to be rows of plastic kit-built aircraft go up in flames and melt.  It almost redeems itself with a coda in which Ray takes out a German tank, armed only with a pistol and a hand grenade, which is hampering his team's retrieval by keep shooting down the Dakotas sent to pick them up, (not quite as crazy as it sounds, a tank shooting down planes, as many anti-tank guns in WW2 were based on anti-aircraft guns).

Far more entertaining than similar 'men on a mission' Italian war movies, (particularly Battle of the Damned, a film for which the term 'generic' might have been coined), Suicide Commandos boasts far more distinctive plot and characterisations than its rivals, not to mention some excellent location photography and pacey direction.  The fact that the script is apparently deliberately tongue in cheek for much of its length, with the cast playing it as such, helps immensely.  Indeed, it is sufficiently enjoyable that I could almost overlook the hilarious error when Ray - looking at the target airfield through his binoculars - mutters 'there are those damned Messerchmitts', when the planes he is looking at are clearly Ju 52s, a three engine transport, rather than a single engine fighter which could threaten D Day...


Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the Thirteenth

I have never really understood why people get so superstitious about Friday the Thirteenth.  I've had colleagues who'd take the day off and stay at home rather than risk the 'bad luck' the day allegedly brings.  I can't say that I've ever seen any evidence of increased incidences of bad luck on Fridays which happen to also be the thirteenth of any given month.  Unless you live in Crystal Lake, of course, in which case you apparently run an increased risk of being menaced by a machete wielding maniac in a hockey mask.  Those films really haven't helped the reputation of the day, (although, as I vaguely recall from the handful I've seen, most don't actually take place on a Friday the thirteenth), as a magnet for ill luck.  But why should a combination of Friday and thirteen be considered so unlucky? 

I mean, thirteen itself always seems to have been adjudged to be an unlucky number.  I've lost count of the number roads which don't have a house or building numbered thirteen.  They usually just skip from twelve to fourteen (or eleven to fifteen if they have odd and even numbers on opposite sides), but there's at least one road here in Crapchester which had a number thirteen which was subsequently changed to 11A, (presumably at the behest of superstitious occupants).  Back in my home town, the street I grew up on was disrupted when the original buyer of what was to have been number thirteen, (the road was still being built when we moved in and, when originally sold, the houses only had plot numbers, the actual numbering scheme being applied as the first houses were completed), objected and the numbers had to be adjusted accordingly.  Anyway, the reasons for thirteen being considered unlucky seem to have vanished into the mists of time - it could be because there were thirteen people at the Last Supper, or it could have something to do with a supressed lunar cult, but the truth is that nobody knows.

But why, when combined with a Friday, should it become even unluckier?  After all, Friday is, generally speaking, the last working day of the week.  Traditionally, it was the day when people were paid, (in the days of weekly pay packets).  Consequently, it is a day most people look forward to, rather than dread, (that's usually reserved for Mondays, when most of us return to work after the weekend - why isn't Monday the thirteenth considered unlucky?).  We can't even blame it on the Catholics - they don't associate thirteen with bad luck, but rather with St Anthony of Padua, (today was his feast day, in fact).  Indeed, in Italy, thirteen is considered to be a lucky number, so presumably today is seen as an especially lucky day: feast day, end of the week and a thirteen).   I have to say that nothing bad has happened to me today, (perhaps I have some Italian blood in me somewhere), so clearly the Italians' irrational belief in thirteen being lucky is more valid than our irrational belief that it is unlucky.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup Woes

Well, the World Cup is upon us at last.  (They're just kicking off as I type this).  Which means that for the next few weeks nobody will be reading anything I post here or at The Sleaze.  I know there's no logical reason why web traffic to non-World Cup related sites should fall so drastically when the event is on, but past precedent tells me that every time there's a major sporting event on during the Summer, my web traffic, (what's left of it these days), goes south.  Sure, when matches are being shown live, I'd expect traffic from the countries involved to dip significantly, but at the end of the day, just because there's a global sporting event in progress, there's no reason for people to stop searching for the stuff that brings them to non-sporting sites.  I suspect that it is all down to google adjusting their algorithm during such events to favour related sites regardless of their relevance to the search term.  They supposedly do something similar to 'seasonally adjust' their search results at Christmas.

Anyway, this inevitable lull in traffic give me the perfect excuse to slacken off the current pace of updates to The Sleaze.  We've been averaging a story a week since the New Year and I'm running out of steam.  I need a break.  There are other projects I want to work on, not only that, but it's Summer and I'd like to get out and enjoy the good weather.  I was planning to slow down , anyway.  The only reason I've kept up the current schedule of updates was to help out the reincarnated Humorfeed, but the new members there are turning out more than sufficient stories to keep it going and attract traffic.  So, I'm going to take it easy over the Summer months and cut back to three new stories a month (plus editorials and any other features I come up with) over at The Sleaze.  Then again, I might suddenly be struck with inspiration and start cranking out stuff at an even faster rate.  Who knows?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Lately I seem to acquired several more Twitter followers, all of them pretty random.  (I don't mean fellow Humorfeed members who have followed me - I'm glad to have them aboard and follow them back).  Over the weekend, for instance, I seemed to pick up a whole load of those feeds that just quote, well, quotes or, worse, song lyrics.  I really don't know why they've chosen to follow me, but I do know that they'll unfollow me pretty soon if I don't follow them in return.  Which I won't.  I've been through this quite a bit over the past few weeks, you see.  I've even had some random feed follow, then unfollow, me twice over the past couple of weekends. The fact is that unless another feed has some relevance to me, belongs to someone I know or just seems interesting, I'm unlikely to follow them, regardless of whether they follow me.  But such is the pernicious nature of social media, where people seem to think that their importance is measured in the number of 'friends' or 'followers' they have, regardless of whether they interact with them or are even interested in anything they post.

I can honestly say that I've never followed anyone on Twitter with the expectation of being followed in return.  That way lies only frustration, bitterness and probably madness.  I've also never followed anyone with the expectation that they will be so grateful that I'll do some favour for them.  Such 'favours' can be as simple as retweeting something for them.  However, I'm not into retweeting stuff I'm not really interested in on behalf of some internet campaign I'm not involved in - so don't bother following me if that's all you want me to do, it's not very flattering to be seen as some kind of relay station by random web users.  Other 'favours' people have seemed to have wanted are links to their sites from The Sleaze, or even for me to carry their content on my site.  Again, they all went away disappointed, abruptly unfollowing me in the process.  So, random Twitter users, follow me if you like, but don't expect anything in return, (unless you are interesting enough for me to follow back), because doing so really defeats the object of the exercise.

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Out of Touch With Reality TV

It really must be Summer - Channel Five are busy inflicting another series of Big Brother on us.  The words 'horse', 'dead' and 'flogging' come to mind.  There was a reason that the series was dropped by Channel Four - its time had passed and nobody was interested any more, but Five just had to buy it and put out its own even lower rent version.  The fact that nobody watches it just doesn't seem to bother them.  They really don't appear to grasp that the whole reality TV thing has moved on completely.  Back in the day, winning Big Brother was a passport to semi-celebrity status.  Even the also-rans could land contracts to endorse products and secured interviews in the papers, on the radio and on TV.  But can anyone actually name the winner of the last series, or the one before that?  Moreover, actual celebrities wanted to be associated with it, presenting the spin off programmes, or even just being guests on them.  Back in the Channel Four days, it did Russell Brand's career a power of good, but now, I suspect, he wouldn't be seen dead anywhere near anything Big Brother-related.  So it is that we now have the Channel Five version of the show presented by utterly anonymous non-entities.  They can't even get Brian Dowling ( a previous Big Brother winner himself) to present it

Personally, I was never a fan of Big Brother in any of its incarnations. As far as I'm concerned, it constitutes a complete waste of air time.  The idea that it, in any way, constitutes 'reality' TV is utterly ludicrous - placing a bunch of fame-hungry idiots (who are completely unrepresentative of the general public) in a completely artificial situation doesn't reflect 'reality'.  But I suppose that it represents relatively cheap TV, (which is why, I assume, that Channel Five continue to flog it), and appeals to the general public's voyeuristic urges.  It's all rather like spying on your neighbours, (actually, simply drilling a hole in the adjoining wall, or hiding in their attic and drilling holes in it so as to secretly watch your neighbours would be both cheaper and more entertaining).  But the fact is that 'reality' TV has moved on and mutated into those bloody staged things like Made in Chelsea or 'talent' shows like Britain's Got Talent.  Although, even these are beginning to slip in the ratings.  Increasingly it is those even more voyeuristic shows where parents spy on their offspring when they holiday in Ibiza or even just drive a car, which seem to be the favoured format, along with 'fly on the wall' workplace 'documentaries'.  Personally, I find them all equally dull and creepy.  Nonetheless, Channel Five still refuses to let go of Big Brother.  They've even stopped numbering the series now, presumably conceding viewer fatigue has set in, giving it a sub-title instead.  So, 'enjoy' Big Brother: Pile of Steaming Shit, viewer, whoever you are.


Friday, June 06, 2014

The Longest Anniversary

You know, we've had so many D-Day commemorations over the past twenty years that we're getting to the stage that the media will start having commemorations of the commemorations.  They'll be interviewing people like me to ask us about our memories of the fiftieth anniversary commemorations.  Don't get me wrong, I believe that D-Day is worth commemorating, but these days it seems like they are having some huge event every other year.  My memory might be faulty but, as I recall, for the first forty nine years after the event, the closest you ever got to a commemoration of D-Day was a screening of The Longest Day on or around 6 June.  Or, if you were unlucky, a showing of D-Day: Sixth of June, one of the most tedious war movies I've ever seen and, with its crass depiction of a Hollywood England in which the American 'hero' spent his time shagging his British counterpart's girlfriend whilst the poor guy was off fighting in the desert and Sicily, (when said 'hero' wasn't denigrating Britain's war effort, that is), must have set Anglo-US relations back more than the War of Independence. 

But with the fiftieth anniversary of the event, by when a lot of the poor buggers who had survived the invasion, were dead, they decided to make something of it. Which was fine.  It was all done on a huge scale, befitting the event it was commemorating, and was very tasteful and respectful. Indeed, many veterans' groups disbanded after the fiftieth anniversary, realising that their inevitably declining numbers meant that further large scale commemorations were unlikely. But then, ten years later, the powers that be decided to do it again, but on a smaller scale - it all seemed very half-hearted and forced.  Now we're at the seventieth anniversary and they are trying to ramp it up again, despite the fact that there are even fewer veterans left.  I can't help but feel that these subsequent commemorations are as much politically motivated as they are designed to acknowledge the contribution of the veterans to the eventual ending of World War Two.  This year, of course, many European leaders have a vested interest in evoking the spirit of co-operation which lay behind the victory in Europe.  For the likes of Cameron, there's value in invoking that wartime spirit of austerity and national pride to justify their economic policies and keep UKIP at bay. 

But then again, maybe I'm just a cynical bastard.  Hang on, David Dimbleby is here asking me what my memories of the D-Day fiftieth anniversary are - got to go.


Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Triumph of Mediocrity

Driverless cars and a YouTube based music streaming service - two apparently unconnected developments at Google which, for some commentators, serve to underline how disparate and incoherent the company's technology initiatives have become.  However, they are both indicative of the way Google views both the web and how human beings interact with it.  The music streaming initiative hit the headlines earlier this week with independent producers complaining about the poor terms and non-negotiable contracts Google was trying to force upon them, raising the possibility - if agreement isn't reached - that a large swathe of innovative music will not appear on the proposed service.  Now, Google bullying content providers in order to maximise their own profits from someone else's work is nothing new, but what people seem to be missing here is the fact that Google can afford to take this risk because it doesn't care whether or not these artists feature on their music streaming service.  They've already got the major labels signed up, with their rosters of mediocre, middle of the road but hugely popular artists.  Which is all that matters.  As far as Google is concerned, the majority of people who buy music in any form only want these tried and tested major music stars.  They aren't interested in the experimental or innovative.  Consequently, that's what Google will focus on serving up to users of its service.

This simply reflects its corporate view of the wider web and web search: most people just search for products and most of them just want to buy them from big name brands - so they focus their web results on returning Amazon, Ebay or Google-related brands for any given search.  Smaller sites are pushed down the rankings and starved of traffic - they are too niche for the masses, as far as Google is concerned, so tough, they'll have to take their chances with the crumbs of traffic left by the 'popular' sites.  It doesn't matter that they might offer better service, more expertise, more innovative products or original, challenging or offbeat content - as far as Google is concerned they aren't what people want, so they won't let people even see them and decide for themselves.  Even if they might be the most relevant results for a given search.  Basically, Google, via its near-monopoly on web search, is intent upon turning the web into the equivalent of our bland, brand-dominated, choice-free high streets.  As for the driverless car, this is another aspect of Google's obsession with removing the 'human factor' from technology.  We humans, you see, aren't perfectly logical and rational and therefore make the 'wrong' decisions.  By removing decision-making from us, they render the world a safer, (not to mention more Google-friendly) place.  We've already seen this in web search, where they are obsessed with trying to second guess what you are searching for through 'innovations' like auto-complete, and in removing 'spam' from the search results, (because we aren't capable of using our own critical faculties to decide on the quality and relevance of the sites returned in a search), which has simply led to many legitimate sites being wrongly penalised as Google keeps tweaking its search algorithm to try and identify the features which might signify 'spam'.

So, there you have it - as far as Google is concerned you are the problem with your human frailties: it's your fault that the search results are so shitty because you keep searching for the wrong things.  The sooner you are removed from the equation and just accept their recommendations through those AdSense ads which are becoming ever more prevalent on search results pages, the better.  The sad thing is that if Google didn't dominate web search as it does, this would just be a bad joke and utterly irrelevant.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Doublethink for Beginners

I'm confused.  But not as confused as our leaders, it seems.  With much fanfare, the Obama administration has swapped several Guantanamo Bay inmates for a US soldier who has been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for several years.  Said soldier is lauded as a returning hero.  However, and I might be doing him a disservice here, as I understand it, the soldier in question could be classified as a deserter.  He apparently deserted his post in Afghanistan, dropping his weapons and wandering off, abandoning his comrades.  Arguably, by doing so, he could have endangered the lives of other soldiers and, by extension, the security of the US.  At the same time, we have the US secretary of State, John Kerry, declaring that Edward Snowden, who leaked the information that the NSA was routinely spying on US citizens without due cause, should 'man up' and return to the US to face charges - of espionage or treason - for his betrayal of the US.  His actions, the Obama administration continues to claim, endangered he lives of US servicemen by exposing intelligence operations and have endangered the security of the US.  Spot the difference?

This ability to simultaneously hold two opposing view points isn't unique to the current US government.  Take the current situation in Syria, by way of an example.  Our own government here in UK has been pretty clear that in the current civil war raging in Syria, it sees the governing Assad regime as the villain of the piece and has been supportive of the rebels.  Indeed, it wasn't so long ago that they were spoiling for a fight, trying to get parliamentary approval for military action against the Syrian government after it was claimed that their forces had used chemical weapons against civilians.  (Subsequent investigations have found that the perpetrators of the attack might actually have been one of the rebel groups).  So, you'd think that they'd be cheering on anyone who went to help the rebel cause - after all, it wasn't so long ago that William Hague was keen on supplying them with weapons.  But no, it seems that any UK citizen who travels to Syria o join the rebels is an Islamic fundamentalist, jihadist terrorist bastard.  And if they weren't before, they certainly will be after consorting with those heavily bearded Al Qeaeda-supporting loons, is the gist of the government's stance.  The very same loons, of course, that they were trying to arm only a few months ago.  Hmmm.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Malaysian Triangle Man-Eating Zombie Savages

They should give up now.  The people searching for that missing hiker in Malaysia, I mean.  After all, the Malaysians have already lost an entire airliner full of people - if they can't locate something that big, what hoe have they of finding a single person?  It does make you wonder, what with all these disappearances around Malaysia, whether there's some kind of new 'Bermuda Triangle' there.  Well, not a 'Bermuda Triangle', obviously, but some sort of 'South East Asia Triangle', where ships, planes and people mysteriously vanish, just like they did in the 'Bermuda Triangle' before navigational aids to planes and shipping became more sophisticated.  Not that I'm saying that the 'Bermuda Triangle' was a load of bollocks, obviously.  But it's certainly yesterday's news - when was the last time that anything vanished there?  If the Malaysian government plays its cards right, it could be on to a new tourism attraction with these disappearances - they could really get those crackpot conspiracy theorists and their ilk flocking to the area.

Mind you, it's probably all down to the cannibals.  If 1970s and 80s Italian exploitation films haven't been lying to me all these years, that whole region is peppered with islands inhabited blood thirsty cannibals who prey on air crash victims, explorers, shipwreck survivors and the like.  They aren't just to be found on remote islands, either.  I seem to recall that in Umberto Lenzi's Deep River Savages, you only have to travel by train for a few miles outside of the main cities in Thailand to find villages full of man-eating primitive tribes.  Perhaps that's what has happened to the missing hiker in Malaysia.  Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that he's definitely been eaten by a tribe that preys on tourists - he could have gotten lucky and even now is being worshipped by them as a God.  The Italians had quite thing for cannibal movies during this period - only zombie movies rivalled them for popularity, although the two genres frequently crossed over with cannibalistic zombies and films featuring both zombies and cannibals.  I must admit that it did occur to me whilst watching that Terence Hill/Bud Spencer film the other day that they'd, surprisingly, never done either a knockabout zombie or cannibal comedy.  Which is a pity - it would have given them an excuse to film somewhere like Malaysia and it could have culminated in a huge fight in which Bud spencer either slapped the heads off of decaying zombies or ate the cannibals.  Ah, a man can dream about what might have been...

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