Thursday, February 28, 2019

Web of Evil

Another day, another internet hoax.  I've been watching this whole 'Momo' thing unfold over the past few weeks, with all the lurid tabloid articles speculating wildly, but offering nothing in the way of actual evidence.  All the stories seemed to be second or third hand, based upon hearsay rather than fact.  Not once could they come up with an actual first hand account from anyone who had actually participated in this supposed online 'challenge'.  All of which meant that today's media statements that it was a hoax didn't surprise me - although it might have surprised local schools here in Crapchester who, just as the hoax revelations were rolling out, were busy warning parents about the supposed 'Momo' threat to their children.  All the time that the unfounded tabloid stories were unfolding, I had this nagging feeling that we'd all been here before, with reports of children committing suicide as a result of some sinister internet craze.  And, indeed, we had been here before - quite recently, with the whole 'Blue Whale' thing, which involved very similar stories and was also exposed as a hoax with no foundation.

But why does the British press keep on perpetrating these hoaxes with this sort of utterly irresponsible reporting?  Sensationalism is the obvious answer - scare stories always sell newspapers.  But it is also part of a pattern of demonising the internet: hardly a week goes by without some new new story as to how something online is encouraging school girls to go on the game, meek husbands to murder their wives or teenage boys to burn down churches.  It is the modern day root of all evil - peddling lies, scamming old age pensioners and pushing pornography into children's bedrooms.  It radicalises Muslims, facilitates fascists and encourages bullying.  If your neighbour goes mad and embarks on a chainsaw rampage during which he decapitates the local vicar, it is probably all down to the internet.  It's fascinating how the web gets blamed for all manner of stuff that actually originated with the print press which condemns it: fake news is far more prevalent in the pages of the average tabloid (the 'Momo' business, for instance), and the right wing press spends a lot of its time facilitating fascists.  Then there's the pornography -before the web you only had to look at Page Three to get an eyeful of sexually objectified teenage girls getting their knockers out.  As for bullying - well that's always been the British tabloids' stock in trade, harassing anyone they don't like and encouraging their readers to hate them.  And when it comes to these supposedly harmful intenet memes targeting children, well, I think the tabloids' coverage of this fake 'Momo' thing has actually scared more children and their parents than any real meme ever has.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Calling Call my Bluff's Bluff

Was Call My Bluff actually part of an establishment conspiracy to subvert the English language, thereby dictating the way we think about certain issues?  It's a thought that occurred to me the other day when I saw one of the few surviving black and white episodes of the long-running and once popular BBC2 quiz show.  (To be honest, I never realised that there were black and white episodes made in the sixties - I only remember watching the colour episodes in the seventies.  Consequently, I had assumed that it had always been presented by Robert Robinson and that Frank Muir, Patrick Campbell and, later, Arthur Marshall had been the only permanent team captains.  (Obviously, I don't count the later BBC1 revival as this clearly wasn't the proper Call My Bluff).  So, I was surprised to learn that Frank Muir had been the only constant, with opposing team captains including the likes of Robert Morley and presenters including Robin Ray and Joe Melia).  Anyway, to return to the point, the whole business of the teams alternately offering three different definitions of  a word, with the other team trying to guess which one was true was surely designed to call into question the actual meaning of specific words - that no matte how convincing a definition might sound, the 'real' definition might be the complete opposite.

I'm sure that, in 1970, there were episodes where words like 'Labour Party' were featured, with the revelation that the true definition wasn't 'Left of centre social democratic party', but rather 'Bunch of dangerous communist revolutionaries Hell-bent on destroying the UK economy'.  Similarly, 'Harold Wilson' wasn't 'Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister' but instead 'Spawn of the Devil', while 'Ted Heath' wasn't 'Organ playing leader of the opposition', but 'Saviour of the British People'.  How else can we explain the Tories' unexpected General Election victory in 1970?  A subtle campaign of political 're-education' in the guise of an amusing quiz show.  It makes you wonder what other words and piecs of political terminology Call My Bluff subverted during its long sojourn on BBC2.  Was it the key to Mrs Thatcher's success by undermining the whole concept of public ownership?  Was 'Nationalisation' redefined as 'Economic drain' while 'Privatisation', had its correct definition of 'Theft of Public Assets' declared 'Bluff', with a false definition of 'Economic Freedom and Prosperity for All' instead declared 'True'?  I think we need to know whether Robert Robinson was actually an MI5 deep cover agent, acting to undermine the British political left.  We need to call the security services' bluff over this issue.


Monday, February 25, 2019

'I Ride With the Outboard Ravagers'

Today is one of those days when I just can't settle down to post anything in particular.  It isn't so much a lack of ideas as a lack of motivation.  Not only am I back at work after an extended four day weekend, but my stomach has been playing me up all day courtesy of my diabetes medication.  Plus, I've been distracted by my work on the first of three podcasts I'm currently preparing this week.  So, I thought I'd do a magazine equivalent of a 'Random Movie Trailer', by presenting the cover of a vintage US men's magazine from the late sixties.  This 1968 edition of Male is pretty representative of the 'sweat mags' of the era, with its emphasis on sex, violence and sensationalism.  In common with most men's magazines of this period, it sports a fabulous cover painting - these, with their depictions of scantily clad young women in peril, or enggaing in sadistic violence.  The most infamous of these types of cover were those showing such young women enduring various tortures at the hands of Nazis (and sometimes Communists).  By the late sixties, Hell's Angels were increasingly popular protagonists on these covers, along with surfer bums and modern day pirates.  This one enterprisingly combines Hell's Angels with boats, (I say Hell's Angels, but that coal scuttle helmet references not just bikers, but also Nazis, of course), and wild women.

In truth, of course, the contents of these magazines could never live up to the expectations generated by those magnificent covers.  But they gave it a good try with their salacious 'factual' features about the suppose sexual availability of newly divorced women or young widows, for example, and their entirely fictional 'true stories' of survival against the odds in the wild, or behind enemy lines or undercover behind the Iron Curtain.  The central theme of such stories was one of endurance of pain and deprivation, frequently treading the same sort of sado-masochistic ground made popular by films like A Man Called Horse, with white men being abused by their captors, be they primitive tribesmen, SS officers, Soviet interrogators or hell's Angels.  Another popular trope was that of the animal attack - 'Weasels Ripped my Flesh' being the best known of these stories - with the protagonist usually horrendously injured by anything from rampaging Rhinos to giant Otters, then being forced, once again, to survive against the odds until rescued or effecting an escape back to civilisation.  Clearly these were winning formulae, as they were repeated, over and over again.  That said, by the mid seventies men's magazines were in terminal decline, with proper 'adult' magazines offering something they couldn't: actual sex and nudity.  The fabulous painted covers had,  by this time, largely given way to photographic covers and the magazines' tales of world war two heroics and savage animal attacks seemed old hat to young readers.  It was the end of an era.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Stuck in the Middle

Yeah, I know: all sorts of things have been going on in the news this week, yet all I've been talking about here are the differing shades of green marketed as 'BR Standard Green', people attacking big cats and ignoring my birthday.  The thing is that I've just become so weary of the circus that politics, both in the UK and elsewhere, has become of late.  I'm tired of everyone being outraged at everything.  I'm tired of being shouted at all the time.  A retreat into the trivial has come as a welcome relief.  It's not as if I've abandoned politics entirely: there's been a straight run of six political stories over at The Sleaze.  Nevertheless, I feel that I should say something in relation to the so called 'Independent Group' of MPs which has emerged from a number of defections from the two main parties.  First up, no, they don't have to resign their seats and face by-elections.  Under our current electoral system, voters, strictly speaking, are voting to elect a representative, not of a political party, but of an individual who will represent them in the next parliament.  The political affiliation of said representative is, constitutionally speaking, irrelevant.

Equally irrelevant is the fact that instant opinion polls are supposedly showing that this group is attracting significant voter support.  Well, this tends to be the case with these breakaway, self-described 'centrist' political groupings.  In their initial stages, at least.  Right now, they have no actual policies, no ideology, (I know some would say that's a good thing, but, in reality a non-ideological political entity is an impossibility - without a coherent ideology to bind them together it will always be impossible for them to articulate any kind of meaningful policies), they are defined simply by what they are not.  So, at the moment, they can be all things to all voters.  Eventually, however, they will be forced to issue a manifesto in which they will have to articulate some kind of policies.  At which point they will start to alienate potential supporters.  Possibly in very large numbers.  Moreover, like all attempts to start 'new' political parties, they will find themselves frustrated by our first-past-the-post electoral system.  Let's not forget that, despite racking up not insignificant percentages of votes at the 2015 general election, UKIP couldn't translate that into any parliamentary seats at all, while the Greens could only muster a single seat.

Furthermore, unlike the SDP back in the eighties, this 'Independent Group' so far includes nobody inspirational.  It has no natural charismatic leaders, nor anybody who looks as if they can provide it  any intellectual underpinnings.  They are characterised by what they are against, rather than what they are for - other than a nostalgia for the economics of austerity.  Something, which the Tories discovered at the 2017 general election, has fallen out of favour with the wider electorate.  The ex-Tories in the group profess disgust and disillusionment at their former party's social policies - which they happily and uncritically supported at the time.  The ex-Labour members claim not to like the alleged anti-semitism in the party, its stance on Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.  Yet they were the one's who destroyed Ed Miliband's chances if becoming PM by insisting on an adherence to 'austerity-lite' economic policies in the 2015 manifesto, paving the way for Corbyn.  That said, the vindictiveness and vitriol of various Labour activists toward the breakaway MPs doesn't help the situation.  It simply appears to justify the reasons for them leaving.  Let's not forget that the right and centre of the party tolerated the left's (and particularly Corbyn's) obstructionism (on matters of 'principle') for decades, yet now the boot is on the other foot, Corbyn's supporters are proving to be completely intolerant of differing views.  Nowadays, anybody daring to criticise Corbyn is denounced as a 'Blairite', a 'Centrist' or simply some kind of right wing extremist.

But none of that really justifies the establishment of this breakaway group - they seem entirely self serving and, in the long run, all they will most likely do is ensure another Tory electoral victory by splitting the anti-Tory vote.  The situation might be different with a stronger Labour leader - Corbyn's acolytes really must accept that he is weak and ineffective.  It isn't the party's adoption of supposedly left wing policies which bother many of us, but rather a leadership which clearly incapable of translating them into electoral victory.  Something which Corbyn has in common with May is an inability to actually face and resolve problems by actually making tough decisions about them.  Instead, both seem to prefer to do nothing, hoping that either a resolution will present itself without their intervention, or the problem will simply go away.  It's all very reminiscent of Stanley Baldwin, one of this country's worst Prime Ministers, whose policy was seemingly to always do nothing as if he were to make a decision to do something, it might be the wrong decision.  Is it any wonder we are hurtling toward disaster?  I think I'll go back to the trivia now.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Birthday Musings

I didn't go into work today.  I thought that I'd trial a three day week by taking Thursday off as well as my now customary non-working Friday.  Actually, I took today off as it was my birthday.  Not that I ever do anything on my birthday - today I ended up watching some old westerns on TV and a favourite Jean-Paul Belmondo movie on DVD - but I just didn't want to spend the day doing all the usual shitty things I usually do at work.  I'm probably meeting a friend for a pint later on, but, in truth, we would both have been in the pub on a Thursday evening anyway.  It's funny how, when you are younger, birthdays seem to be the be all and end all of your year - they're like Christmas except that they are entirely about you.  At least, that's the way it feels when you are a kid.  But the novelty wears off as you get older - I remember that one of the things I got fed up with was that if you had a birthday party, you always ended up being forced by parents to invite various kids that you didn't actually like.  It also meant that you had to reciprocate by going to their birthday parties.  Being anti-social, even at a tender age, I quickly found this whole children's birthday party scene intolerable.

As an adult, I've found birthdays ever more unimportant.  Of course, there comes a point when we don't want to be reminded of the encroaching years.  I know that some people like to celebrate what they see as 'milestone' birthdays, like thirty, forty or fifty, but I've never bothered.  It has got to the stage where I simply don't tell people when my birthday is - nobody at work, for instance, knows why I took today off.  That said, I used to get mildly irritated by friends who didn't remember my birthday, especially if I'd remembered theirs, but now I'm relieved if they forget.  So far this year, outside of family, nobody has remembered.  Which means much less fuss and nonsense, the feeling that everyone is somehow obliged to meet up and mark the occasion somehow.  It also means that I won't feel guilty about not remembering their birthdays.  (I don't remember most of my siblings birthdays, let alone friends, to be frank.  I do remember my two eldest great nieces, the months of their birthdays at least - I have to be reminded of the exact days by my mother).  The curious thing is though, that there seems to come a point where people get old enough that they like to start celebrating having survived to great age.  I have an aunt, for instance, who will be marking her century next birthday.  Does the Queen still send centenarians telegrams?  Do telegrams still exist?  Will she get a text message instead?  Who knows. I do know, however, that I've managed to get trough another birthday with minimal fuss.  Thank goodness.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cat Killers

I saw a report the other day about firemen in the US having to rescue a Mountain Lion from a tree.  How it had come to be stuck there, nobody seemed to know.  Now, apart from the fact that cats are never really stuck up trees - they always find their way down of their own accord if you ignore their attention-seeking - it seems quite obvious to me as to what it was doing there.  Clearly, it was hiding from homicidal joggers who might decide to try and throttle it with their bare hands.  For that was the previous Mountain Lion related story dominating the press.  For days, everywhere I looked there were headlines about how this guy had variously bashed this cat over the head with rocks, then strangled it.  None of them seemed to make clear his motivation.  I was left thinking that perhaps that's just what this guy did: run around looking for Mountain Lions to murder.  Eventually, I found that his excuse was that the cat had attacked him and that he was merely defending himself.  Yeah.  The last time I ever heard of a Mountain Lion attacking a human was when a stuffed one mauled Robert Mitchum in Track of the Cat.

My suspicion that there were people going around picking fights with big cats (OK, I know that, technically, Mountain Lions - or cougars, or pumas, to give them some of their other names - aren't actually big cats, but in fact the biggest of the small cats, you know what I mean), was reinforced by hearing reports of a tiger at a UK wildlife park dying after a fight.  The use of the term 'a fight' conjured up visions of the beast being involved in some kind of bar room brawl which got out of hand.  I thought maybe it had slinked into the lounge bar, the way that the cats do, for a quick pint and unexpectedly found itself in a ruck where its claws turned out to be no match for a broken bottle.  Perhaps it was accused of spilling someone's pint.  Or eating their dog.  Or moulting its fur on someone's jacket.  Who knows.  All we know is that the end result was fatal.  Then, incredibly, there was a report of a second tiger going the same way!  Perhaps this one bought it in a street fight, I speculated.  During an attempted mugging, maybe.  All I knew was that it clearly wasn't safe for tigers to walk the streets of Britain.  Then it came to light that both cats had died in fights with other tigers at their respective wildlife parks.  Whether broken bottles or knives were involved wasn't clear.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Shades of Green

Well, on this turbulent day of MPs breaking away from the Labour Party and news of possible job losses as Honda considers closing its Swindon plant, I have some sage advice for everyone out there:  the Precision Paints version of British Railways Standard Green is far superior to the Railmatch equivalent. I've come to this conclusion following my attempts this past weekend to put a top coat on that Wrenn model railway locomotive I've bee restoring for the past couple of years.  Over previous weekends the body - finally stripped of the bloody awful and entirely fictitious blue and red livery it had been repainted in by a previous owner - had been given two coats of matt black. So, with the model suitably masked, I set about applying the correct green top coat to the appropriate areas.  From the moment the paint was on, it was clear that something wasn't quite right - it was far too dark.  More of a Brunswick green, in fact.  I hoped that it might lighten somewhat as it dried. But it didn't.  I tried to convince myself that it looked wrong because it hadn't yet had any lining applied.  I tried comparing it to my unrebuilt Hornby West Country, which I'd repainted many years ago, which was fully lined out.  It still looked too dark.

I then recalled that in repainting the West Country, I hadn't used the Railmatch paint, preferring another, unremembered, brand.  After some searching I found the old tin of Precision Paints Standard Green and, miraculously, discovered that there was still some paint in the tin.  So, I decided to try it out on the loco's tender, putting a coat directly over the Railmatch coat.  Even though it hasn't fully dried yet, the difference can clearly be seen.  I say clearly, in truth it is quite subtle, but there's no doubt that the Precision version of the green looks 'right'.  There isn't much in it, but it is definitely slightly lighter.  Certainly, it matches the green on the West Country.  When I've time later this week, I'll re-mask the loco body and apply the Precision green to it, (there's just about enough left in the tin to do the job).  Now, I may well be doing Railmatch a severe disservice here, as I've had the jar I tried using on the shelf, unopened, for more than ten years.  Perhaps, brand new, it is a similar shade of green to the Precision version.  Nevertheless, there's no escaping the fact that the Precision tin is even older, (I'd forgotten I even had it), yet it has retained its correct shade.  I'll have to get some more (the brand is still around, marketed by Phoenix Paints these days), as I've got another locomotive nearing completion which will need painting.  I know that none of this is terribly profound, but I still find it fascinating how such a subtle difference in the shade of paint can make such difference, not to mention how the human eye can perceive such a small difference and realise it is 'wrong'.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Downwardly Mobile

I was listening to Radio Four in the car the other day, (it is a sign of encroaching old age that I increasingly listen to Radio Four rather than Radio One when driving), and heard an interesting listener contribution to discussion about class and social mobility in the UK.  While the programme had looked into the various factors which led to perceptions of social class and affected upward social mobility,which included such things as occupation, education, and the acquisition of 'cultural capital', the correspondent noted that 'downward social mobility' was also possible, based upon these same factors.  They related how, despite possessing educational qualifications and 'cultural capital', (they were a regular consumer of what might be termed 'high culture'), because of their occupation, they frequently found themselves looked down upon, and sometimes entirely excluded from, various social circles.  As soon as they mentioned their occupation, conversation would stop dead and people would drift away from them.  Their experience struck a chord with me as it echoes my own - many years ago, in order to pay my mortgage and other bills, circumstances forced me to take a job which carries little or no prestige and is considered by many to be socially unacceptable.  Indeed, it requires none of the many academic qualifications I hold, (or much intellectual input, to be honest), and, consequently, I have found it hugely frustrating.

Worst of all, people who only know me through the job make assumptions about me: that I'm an idiot, a thug, dishonest or just a complete bastard.  I've been insulted to my face by those who consider themselves as 'socially superior' - they also generally treat me as if I'm something they've scraped off of their shoe.  I once became so exasperated with a solicitor who was trying to exert his social, educational and moral superiority over me that I felt moved to point out that if he wanted to engage in an intellectual pissing contest then he was bound to lose as I was pretty sure that the best he could muster would an LLB or maybe a BA in law, whereas I could trump him with a BA Hons and an MSc.  It's got to the stage where I feel it is pointless applying for other jobs more concomitant with my qualifications as all that prospective employers will see is my current job and write me off as a candidate without reading further, based upon their own prejudices concerning the job.  I do my best in social situations to not say what I do for a living, or try to gloss over it.  As I said before, it is all hugely frustrating - I have the education, I even have some 'cultural capital', (although I'm sure that my predilection for exploitation films and 1970s TV series would condemn me in many social circles).  Yet I'm still regarded as being beyond the pale by many sections of so called 'polite society'.  It's not that I even want to move in such social circles. I'd just like to be shown a bit of respect. and not judged on the basis of something I've been forced to do in order to survive.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Reading Matters

So, these are my latest acquisitions via eBay - five issues of the long defunct British short story magazine Argosy.  Now, this isn't to be confused with the US pulp magazine Argosy, of which this isn't a UK edition.  It is an entirely different entity, although both magazines had a similar focus of publishing popular short fiction.  Like its US namesake, this Argosy didn't specialise in any specific genre - the average issue could include anything from crime to science fiction, espionage to romance.  The main difference was that the US magazine focused more on the sensational even, in its later years, trying to get into the then popular UFO scene.  Both publications were long lived, both finally expiring in the early 1970s.

I must admit that I bought these on something of a whim - I'd missed out on a number of model railway related items on eBay auctions (the prices went ridiculously high) and hadn't been quick enough on a couple of 'Buy it now' listings.  But I still had that acquisitive urge.  You know how it is - you are so keyed up to buy something that, even when it falls through, the itch is still there and has to be scratched.  So I decided to look at other stuff I was interested in, but that I knew would be cheaper and there would be less competition over.  The fact is that many British magazines from the sixties and seventies can be obtained at pretty reasonable prices - they simply aren't considered 'collectible' yet.  (Pre war and forties and fifties magazines tend to be a bit pricier, but still generally affordable).  These five cost me well under  a tenner (including postage). 

Four of them date from 1967 and the other from 1964 and contain an eclectic collection of stories across various genres.  All are reprints and the authors range from established literary figures such as William Saroyan and Agatha Christie, to writers whose names have long since faded into obscurity.  I'm looking forward to reading these, which should provide me with some decent reading matter for the next few weeks.  I'm actually looking another one, from 1970, the auction for which is ending soon.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Worst Defence

Swarms of drones and driverless tanks - this is apparently what now passes for defence policy in the UK.  The idea of a drone swarm to overwhelm enemy air defences, or robot tanks, for that matter, sound like the sort of thing an eight year old might come up with after watching a Gerry Anderson series.  Sadly, however, they are ;ideas' recently touted by our alleged Defence Sceretary, Gavin Williamson, as part of his future UK defence concept.  Just when you thought this government and its ministers couldn't get any more embarrassing, Williamson opens his mouth again.  This is the man, let's not forget, who has also supposedly suggested fitting expensive guns' onto tractors and disguising missile launchers as Coca Cola lorries as part of his 'vision' to enhance the UK's defence capabilities.  According to Williamson's latest speech (if we can dignify his ramblings with such a description) Brexit represents a huge opportunity for the UK in defence terms, although I still don't understand how.  After all, an inevitable consequence of leaving the EU will be a further squeeze on public spending which, in turn, will mean further defence cuts.  But hey, since when did logic and Gavin Williamson go together?

But his recent ramblings reminded me of something: many, many years ago, when I worked for the Ministry of Defence, I recall a request being made for contributions to a departmental study of 'The Future of Warfare'.  A colleague and myself decided to submit some of our ideas - which, I recall, included propeller driven aircraft without wings which could be used to chase enemy soldiers along the ground.  We argued that they would be terrified of those whirling propellers.  Another suggetion was that future wars should be fought underwater by armies of frogmen - like in a James Bond film - as this would reduce the risks of collateral damage to the civilian population and infrastructure, (but not fish).  Unfortunately, as we quickly found, the great and the good of the department didn't have a sense of humour with regard to such things and really didn't like the hired help taking the piss out of their initiatives.  Hearing the reports of Williamson's recent speech, though, has left me wondering if he hadn't somehow stumbled over our suggestions and used them as inspiration for his 'initiative.'  Ah well, let's hope he isn't watching the repeats of Gerry Anderson's UFO currently running on Forces TV, otherwise his next speech will include calls for the contruction of a moonbase and a fleet of submarines which launch jet fighters...

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Tricky Dicky?

So, will Jeff Bezos' penis bring down Trump?  US politics truly is becoming more bizarre than anything I can make up for The Sleaze.  We now have tabloid The National Enquirer allegedly blackmailing Bezos, owner of Amazon and The Washington Post by threatening to publish compromising pictures of him (including, supposedly, a 'dick pic') it has 'obtained', if he doesn't cease an investigation into the tabloid, (which, amusingly, is owned by a man named Pecker).  This all follows the Trump-supporting tabloid's exposure of Bezos' alleged extra-marital affair in an attempt to discredit him and, by association the Post, which has been critical of Trump.  Bezos has called Pecker's bluff by publishing the Enquirer's emails and daring them to publish the pictures. The question now is whether any actual link can be established between the alleged attempted blackmail and Trump himself.  Which, in all honesty, is going to be next to impossible to establish. The Enquirer has a track record of trying to discredit those critical of Trump with no implication of any of its attacks actually having been at the direction or request of Trump.  It's what politically partisan newspapers all over the world do, I'm afraid.

Nonetheless, the thought that a billionaire sending a picture of his cock to his girlfriend could eventually result in the fall of an extreme right wing demagogue is quite wonderful.  Of course, the principle outcome of this saga so far is to make Jeff Bezos seem a more sympathetic character.  Now, regardless of the impact his whang might or might not have on the future of US politics, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Bezos himself is a rapacious capitalist, whose company Amazon is notorious for exploiting loopholes to avoid paying taxes in any of the countries it operates in and has a pretty dubious record when it comes to working conditions for its employees.  Moreover, while being cast as the victim in a politically motivated sex scandal and standing up to would be blackmailers undoubtedly makes Bezos seem more human and sympathetic, it can never quite obscure the fact that he's a bald headed billionaire controlling a shady global business empire.  While he isn't yet stroking a white cat and Amazon isn't yet organising giant space lasers to terrorise the world's governments, it can surely only be a matter of time before they take a leaf out of the Blofeld and SPECTRE playbook by stealing some nuclear warheads with which to hold the National Enquirer to ransom unless it publishes pictures of President Trump's penis.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Famous for Fifteen Seconds

As everyone knows, Andy Warhol once remarked that one day, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.  He severely overestimated fame's span in the internet age.  It's more like fifteen seconds now.  As I'm sure I've noted before, there seem to be more and more celebrities and generally famous people in the media these days.  Indeed, hardly a day goes by when the media confronts me with a 'story' about some alleged celebrity that I've never heard of before. 'Who are these people?' I increasingly hear myself asking.  Now, I'm well aware that, in part, this is a function of the ageing process.  As we get older, we start to lose touch with things, like 'celebrity culture', which are primarily the preserve of the young.  No matter how much I might like to claim that I'm still 'Down with the kids', listening to Radio One when I'm in the car really isn't the best way to stay in touch with 'youth culture', (most of the DJs are well over thirty).  Granted, some of my contemporaries do seem to be more up o whose these new celebrities are than I am, but that seems to be because they read the tabloids and celebrity magazines: sources I try to avoid.  Another reason, however, is that there are so many more routes to 'fame' these days, making it much more difficult to keep up with who's who in the celebrity world.  When I was a kid, people generally had to have actually 'done' something to be famous: invented something, cured something, written something, brought about peace somewhere, given acclaimed acting performances on stage or screen, had a string of number one hits, even.  Basically, getting to be famous was quite difficult and required some real effort. 

Nowadays, of course, there are so many more avenues to celebrity: 'reality' TV, TV 'talent' shows, the internet.  Especially the internet.  The web has made it possible for just about anyone to get access to an audience.  You Tube, in particular, has allowed anyone to become a 'TV star' of sorts.  When I was young, getting onto TV was considered the 'Holy Grail', a virtually unobtainable prize for anyone outside of the TV industry or regular channels of fame.  Now, staying off of TV seems to be more of a challenge, so prevalent 'reality' shoes, news vox pops and just ordinary people filming stuff on their phones to upload to You Tube and social media have become.  Perhaps most importantly, we currently live in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.  Back in the day, the limited routes to fame reflected the fact that media outlets themselves were limited: in the UK there were only three TV channels, two of them owned by the BBC, who also dominated radio broadcasting.  Outside of TV, people got most of their news, including celebrity news, from the newspapers.  All of which meant two things: to get exposure you had to 'crack' one or more of these outlets and, more importantly, if you could do that, your fame would be widespread.  If you could become famous in the UK or US, you would probably become world famous.  At the very least you could rely upon being famous in the English speaking world.  Everyone got their news and entertainment from the same sources, so everybody would know you if you get reported by those sources.

The fact is that, back in the day, everyone knew who, say, The Beatles or Elvis Presley were, regardless of age, background or location.  Whereas today, with our plethora of media outlets, ranging from the web to on digital TV and on demand steaming services, fame has become far more specialised.  More niche.  You can have hundreds of thousands of You Tube followers, for example, but be unknown to anybody who doesn't use You Tube, or who isn't interested in your specialist subject area.  Likewise, you could star in a TV series on a digital subscription channel with a cult following, yet be barely know to those who don't subscribe.  This fragmentation effectively lowers the threshold for fame and celebrity, in that you need far fewer dedicated fans to be famous in your niche than old-style celebrities needed.  Now, it's true that it has always been the case that there have been those considered 'stars' of particular film genres with cult followings, yet virtually unknown outside of that genre, (David Warbeck might be a star to me, but if you don't watch seventies Italian exploitation films, you'd be unlikely to recognise him, for instance), but we're getting to the stage now where all entertainment is 'cult'.  Non traditional TV, which not only doesn't use linear schedules but also delivers its content via laptops, tablets and smart  phones, seems able to bypass the need for the mass audiences of yore to financially sustain itself, instead tailoring itself more to niche viewers willing to pay subscriptions to see the sort of content they desire.  Which, in turn, means that everyone can be famous for fifteen seconds, even if it is only to a dedicated minority audience.


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Poor Journalism

The hypocrisy of the British press never fails to amaze me. Courtesy of my news aggregator, I see a fair number of tabloid headlines, (without having to buy the bloody things).  Of late I've noticed a lot of them have been highlighting the woes of people who find themselves on Universal Credit.  The focus always seems to be unfairness of the new benefits system and the unreasonable way in which it is administered.  Which is fair enough.  But what confuses me is the fact that many of these stories seem to be being run by 'The Sun' - a newspaper which has consistently supported the very Tory government which has been behind Universal Credit and the current benefits regime.  Moreover, in the past, I seem to recall, this same newspaper was one of the chief detractors of those on benefits, condemning 'benefits culture' and accusing claimants of being 'scroungers'.  Yet now we're supposed to believe that they are genuinely concerned about the plight of those unfortunate enough to be suffering under Universal Credit.  But, of course, it has nothing to do a 'Road to Damascus' conversion to decent human values on the part of the tabloid, rather than its need to avoid alienating its core readership - many of whom, (ironically considering the paper's right wing sympathies and contempt for the poor), are likely to be on low incomes and claiming benefits. 

As wages have stagnated and living standards declined under the Tories, so those claiming benefits have increased in numbers. At the same time, attitudes among the general public have begun to change, with more sympathy for the plight of benefits claimants, (after all, it could easily now be you forced onto benefits).  Hence, the shift in position on the part of some of the right-wing press.  Not that such a superficial shift will stop these papers from urging their readers to vote Tory next election, nor will it stop them from banging the drum for Brexit - something guaranteed to make the poor they are suddenly so concerned about even poorer.  But the press never like to take any responsibility for what they print.  They certainly don't want to acknowledge any possible causal link between what they print and events in the real world.  I'm always appalled when the tabloids lead with a story about women being raped and sexually abused, telling us how awful it is that any man could do such a thing and how appalled they are.  Yet they don't stop publishing all those celebrity trivia pieces featuring young female celebrities in their underwear or swimsuits.  They don't stop filling their pages with cleavage shots and 'nip slips'.  As if this objectification of women plays no part in the way some men end up viewing women.  But hey, it isn't the papers' fault, is it?  No, it never is.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968)

I did have something more serious lined up for today's post, but I'm still nursing the bruises from slipping over on Crapchester's icy pavements yesterday, (the council, as ever, couldn't be arsed to clear them properly) and I'm just not feeling focused.  My left shoulder is still especially painful, (which is probably why yesterday's post was so terse).  So, here's a quick 'Random Movie Trailer' instead.  Sweden: Heaven and Hell, is probably one of the best known Mondo titles from the late sixties.  If nothing else, everyone has probably heard part of the soundtrack: that 'Menah, Menah' song The Muppets used to perform originates here.  Director Luigi Scattini also gave us the occult based Mondo White Angel, Black Angel, and Sweden: Heaven and Hell is constructed along similar lines, with copious amounts of nudity and exposes, via supposedly real footage, of sensational 'rituals' and the like.

As this US trailer makes abundantly plain, the film is squarely aimed at the sort of supposedly respectable audiences who felt they were missing out on the 'permissive society', giving them a chance to enjoy some of it vicariously via a 'documentary'.  A 'documentary' about Sweden which, back in the late sixties, was a byword for permissiveness, with its liberal attitudes toward nudity, sex and pornography.  Of course, in order to get this sort of stuff past the censors, (not to mention allowing audiences to pretend that they were watching an 'educational' documentary), it has to present itself, in part, as an indictment of this so called 'permissive society' in its most extreme Swedish form.  Hence the emphasis, in the latter half, on the 'dark side' of Swedish society: the motorcycle gangs, the drugs, the ennui and the allegedly high suicide rates.  It's a formula still used by UK tabloids to this day: 'we have to show you all this filth that we condemn in order that you can see just how disgusting it is'. 


Monday, February 04, 2019

No Snow Brexit

Before leaving the subject of snow, (of which there is still far too much lying on the ground outside my house), I can't help but feel that the number of people who seemingly couldn't cope with some bad weather doesn't bode well for a potential 'no deal' Brexit.  Nor, for that matter, does the apparent inability of our public infrastructure to deal with something as straightforward as snow.  But, to get back to the point, there seemed to be a lot of people who, in the face of snowy roads, just gave up - the lack of people about in Crapchester over the weekend was testimony to this.  Hardly the 'Blitz spirit' the Brextremists are always trying to invoke to get us through a possible 'no deal' Brexit scenario.  (Not that any of the people spouting this tosh actually lived through the Blitz, or any war, for that matter).  I mean, if these people can't deal with snow (and I can guarantee these snow-allergic types all voted to leave, thinking that leaving the EU would mean we wouldn't get European weather any more) then how are they going to deal with the hardships and deprivations which will inevitably follow a 'no deal' Brexit, (or any version of Brexit, for that matter)?

But really, I'm getting sink of the Brextremists and their pals in the right wing press invoking all thses World War Two analogies when it comes to Brexit.  Apart from the fact that none of them actually participated in the liberation of 'ungrateful' Europe that they like to bang on about but, in point of fact, most of Europe wa actually liberated by US or Soviet forces.  (OK, those 'liberated' by the Soviets didn't stay liberated for long, but it's the principle of the thing).  What makes it worse is when they start going about how their fathers or grandfathers  were at D Day, etc, effectively trying to take credit for the achievements of long dead ancestors.  (My grandfather was at Dunkirk, does that mean I can take credit for getting all those soldiers off of the beach?  Or, indeed, can I take credit for winning the Battle of the Atlantic on account of my father having been in the Merchant Navy and sailing on Arctic convoys?  I think not).  The worst one for this has been that idiot Tory MP from the European Research Group.  Not Jacob Rees Mogg.  The other one.  That Mark Francois.  Who has the audacity to disparage Europe when he has a French bloody surname.  It even means 'French' in French!  The fucking traitor.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

Snowed Under

Because I'm British, I obviously like to talk about the weather.  Which means that today, well, there's no avoiding the topic of snow.  Here in Crapchester it has been steadily snowing for more than twenty four hours and, as ever, the local authorities seem to have been caught by surprise.  Again.  Roads are virtually impassable due to uncleared snow and public transport has ground to a halt.  Even where roads have been cleared, they have subsequently been blocked by abandoned or crashed vehicles.  To be fair, they did have the gritters and ploughs out this morning to clear the roads, but it didn't seem to occur to anyone that if it kept snowing, then the roads would quickly become covered in snow again, undoing all the earlier work.  The overall effect on Crapchester has been to bring everything to a halt: roads are gridlocked, car parks deserted because the entrances and exits are inaccessible due to snow (Plus everyone is stuck in traffic anyway) and half of the shops in the town centre closed early.

It's the same every time we have heavy snowfall: an apparent unpreparedness on the part of the authorities, regardless of the amount of warning they've received.  Of course, the usual response to such criticisms is that snowfall this heavy is a rare event in the south of England.  Except that, with global warming, it isn't.  Thanks to climate change, I can't remember the last time we had a winter without heavy snow, even if only for a few days.  Still, for the second year running, I haven't had to go out and try to work in the snow.  Last year, of course, I was on long-term sick leave.  This year, it fell on a Friday and, as I no longer work on Fridays, I was able to go back to bed and leave my car buried in snow in the car park.  Don't worry: the car can take it - it was designed to withstand Swedish winters, so a day in the snow won't do it any harm.  It will probably make it feel at home.  Still, with any luck the snow won't linger for long and should be gone completely by early next week.  Which is just as well, because, as ever, we just don't seem to be able cope with it.