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Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 3:08am in

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.

 

Black Artist Wants Her Statues Put Up on Colston’s Plinth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 10:13pm in

Since the statue of the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down from its plinth and thrown into the docks, there’s been a debate over what should replace him. Mike posted up a few Tweets from people giving their suggestions in his post about the statue’s forcible removal. One of these suggested that as the Ladies’ Abolitionist Society in Sheffield was the first to demand the emancipation of the slaves, a statue should be put up to them. I disagree, because although there should be a monument to them, it should be a matter for Sheffield to commemorate its great citizens, rather than Bristol. It’s for this same reason I got annoyed with a piece on Channel 4 News yesterday in which a Black sculptress spoke about how she would like her statues put up on Colston’s plinth.

She had created a series of sculptures of male and female slaves with the title We Have Made the World Richer. These depicted various figures from the history of slavery and the enslavement of Africans. The first two were of a man and woman, who had been newly enslaved. They had a slogan stating that they had been torn from their homes. Then there was a couple of plantation slaves, with the slogan ‘We Are Brave’. And there were more. I think there were something like six or eight statues in total. The statues had previously been exhibited in parliament, but had garnered little comment from the MP. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, interviewing her, asked her why this was. She felt it was because it was too raw and powerful for them. She described the fall of Colston’s statue as ‘cathartic’, and felt that the empty plinth should be taken up with one of hers. When Guru-Murthy asked her if Bristol knew she was coming, she laughed and said that she hoped they did now.

It would be entirely right for the plinth in Bristol to be occupied by a slave, representing one of Colston’s victims. But the statue and/or its artist should ideally be people, who actually had connections to the city. I wonder if there’s a local Black artist from somewhere like St. Paul’s or Stokes Croft that could create one. From the way the woman spoke, it was clear that she wasn’t a Bristolian and had absolutely no connection with it or its people. I wonder if she even knew where the city was or even that there was such a place before the events a week or so ago. It looked to me to be rather opportunistic. She was an outsider looking for a space for her art, and thought she’d found it in Bristol. There are also problems with the size of the plinth itself. It is only big enough to hold a statue of one person, not the many she created. Presumably one of the statues would have to be on the plinth itself while the others were arranged around it.

The vast majority of slaves traded by Bristol were taken to the West Indies, but there were some and free Blacks in the city. One of the villages just outside Bristol has the grave of Scipio, the enslaved servant of one of the local aristocracy. One of the bridges over Bristol’s docks, which is cantilevered with two, gigantic, trumpet-shaped horns, is called ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after another local slave. There is also a slave walk around the docks, and memorial plaque on one of the former warehouses by Bristol’s M Shed to the countless victims of Bristol’s trade in slaves. And the subjects of two existing sculptures in the city, John Wesley and Edmund Burke, were also opponents of the slavery and the slave trade. Burke, the city’s MP, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a foundational text for modern Conservatism, condemned slavery in an 18th century parliamentary debate. I believe Wesley also attacked in a sermon he gave at the Methodist New Room, now John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead in Bristol. I think that after 1745 Methodists were forbidden to own slaves.

I also wonder if figures from national history might make more suitable subjects for sculptures. Like Mary Prince, a West Indian slave from Bermuda, who was able to gain her freedom when her masters took her to London. The Mansfield judgement had officially ruled that slavery did not exist under English law, and so slaves brought to Britain were, in law, free. Prince got her freedom simply by walking away. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, and her account of her life as a slave, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, was published in London in 1831. Another British slave, who gave his voice to the abolitionist campaign was Louis Asa-Asa. Asa-Asa had been enslaved by the French, but gained his freedom when a ship carrying him put in at Cornwall. He was the author of a pamphlet, How Cruelly We Are Used, which was also published in 1831. I also suspect that there are other people in Bristol’s history, whether slaves or White abolitionists, who deserve to be commemorated but at the moment nobody knows about.

Without going into the murderous fear of outsiders of the League of Gentlemen’s Edward and Tubbs and their slogan ‘a local shop, for local people’, the vacant plinth should be occupied by a figure from Bristol’s history. Even if it is only someone, who simply visited the city as part of an abolitionist speaking tour. Many of Britain’s towns and cities had abolitionist societies, like those of Sheffield, and I’d be very surprised if Bristol didn’t have one. Even if the city did officially celebrate the failure of abolitionist bills before the eventual emancipation of 1837.

 

Channel 4 Programme Next Friday of People Defying Lockdown to Bonk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/06/2020 - 8:37pm in

This is a bit more fun, and should be some light relief after the grim events of the past few days. Mike’s put up several pieces about the attempts by the government and the fun police to stop people having sex in case it spreads the Coronavirus. Apparently, people of opposite sexes from different households may not spend the night together. And now Harvard scientists have said that if you’re having sex, you should wear masks to stop yourself from spreading the infection. It all reminds me of the Robin Williams’ joke about safe sex during the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. Soon nobody would be having sex at all, unless they were clad in complete decontamination suits. Then they’d simply push the semen through an airlock at their wives and girlfriends.

But people are defying the fun police, and next Friday Channel 4 is screening a show all about it, Sex in Lockdown: Keep Shagging and Carry On. The blurbs for this in Radio Times run

Anna Richardson delves into the ways sex in Britain has altered since we’ve been in lockdown. People from across the nation talk to her about their experiences as she gets to grips with all things love, sex and romance in these unique times, from a separated couple who created a replica penis, to a singleton breaking the rules to have sex outdoors.

And

Well, there’s a title to thwack you between the eyes. Most of us are coping with social distancing, but how does sexual distancing work in these restrictive times, if you don’t actually live with your lover? If you crave an outlet for your desires, but Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr have ground to a halt? If you’re just craving a bit of romance?

Anna Richardson, the writer, host of C4’s dating show Naked Attraction and partner of Sue Perkins, grapples with this topic – virtually, one hopes – and talks to Brits up and down the land, from a separated couple who created a replica penis to a singleton who flouted the rules to revel in sex outdoors.

The show’s on at 10 pm on Friday, 12th June.

When I was a lad in the 1980s, Channel 4 had a certain reputation for broadcasting the sexually explicit and risque. There was a curious dichotomy of tone – it broadcast very highbrow stuff, like a drama version of the Hindu national epic, The Mahabharata and opera. But to drag the viewers in and raise advertising revenue, it also showed quite explicit, and largely continental movies. One comedian joked recently that it was where teenagers when looking for porn before the arrival of the internet, and there’s more than a little truth in that. Channel 4’s gone more mainstream with time, but this, and shows like Naked Attraction, demonstrate that it’s never lost that aspect of its broadcasting. And so, despite the lockdown, it’s still broadcasting more rudery and naughtiness.

Have I Got News For You Totally Dominated by Dominic Cummings Scandal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 7:51pm in

Much of the news this week has been taken up with Dominic Cummings and his decision to leave London with his four-year old son to drive up to Durham thus breaking the lockdown rules. Cummings said that it was because his wife had the Coronavirus, and he was hoping that his parents or relatives up there would look after the child. They didn’t. While he was there, he drove thirty miles and back to Barnard Castle, in order to test his eyesight as he was worried it wasn’t good enough for him to drive back himself. He also appeared to have made at least two, and possible three trips in breach of the regulations. These journeys and his account of them flatly contradict what his wife was writing in his defence in the Spectator. And in the words of the irate newsreader in Broadcast News, people are ‘as mad as hell’ and ‘not taking it any more’.

To the vast majority of the population, Cummings’ behaviour and his boss’ refusal to sack him is a massive insult and display of flagrant hypocrisy and double standards. The British people have made great sacrifices in order to maintain the lockdown and prevent the spread of the disease. People haven’t been able to be present at the deaths of their loved ones, or attend their funerals because of the restrictions. And they have been very definitely prevented from driving anywhere as far as the 240 miles it is from London to Durham, except for the workers that haven’t been furloughed. It’s very definitely one law for the rich and politically connected, and another for the rest of us.

The result has been that Boris’ personal popularity has taken a nose dive. Last Tuesday, the same day that Britain booed the malignant buffoon, Zelo Street put up a piece about an article in the Independent. In the four days from the previous Friday to then, Boris had plunged in the polls from a rating of +19 to -1. It had dropped 35 points since the start of May, and 48 points from its peak on 8th April. Starmer’s ratings had fluctuated from +35 to +3. It was then at 12. And the government’s overall approval rating was at -2.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/boris-no-longer-popular.html

It’s a massive embarrassment to Boris, who is, like Trump, colossally vain. Boris wants to be loved and popular, like Winston Churchill (who certainly wasn’t as universally popular as the hagiographers try to make out). And so the Tories have been trying to redirect attention away from this affair through working up bogus stories in the press about the EU and Michel Barnier. Gove and the Attorney General Suella Braverman have been wheeled out to give their support to Cummings. In the case of Braverman, this has violated he duty to remain impartial, and is properly a matter for her resignation. Which, as a good Tory aiding her boss, she won’t do.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/brexiteers-wibble-at-barnier-letter.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/polecat-broke-rules-braverman-is-bust.html

And now Boris is doing his best to silence any questioning or criticism of the matter. Emily Maitlis was censured by the BBC for her absolutely reasonable comments about it on Newsnight after a complaint from Downing Street. She was then replaced the following day by Kate Razzall. It’s another clear breach of the Beeb’s duty of political impartiality in favour of the Tories, following so many cases of bias against Labour by other Beeb news people like Andrew Neil and the odious Laura Kuenssberg.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/bbcs-shameful-surrender.html

And at a press meeting Bozo stopped the media from asking the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, questions about Cummings’ conduct on the grounds that they were political, not medical or scientific. But they were medical and scientific, because Cummings had placed other people’s health and lives in jeopardy. He also stopped Laura Kuenssberg from asking a follow-up question about Cummings. As Zelo Street remarked, this is conduct worthy of a dictatorship like Kim Jong-il’s Korea.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/press-briefing-bozo-channels-kim.html

And that boiling popular anger all came out last night on Have I Got News For You. Nearly the entire programme was taken up with the issue. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, was particularly irritated. When asked by host Martin Clunes how his week had been, he replied that he’d been busy trying not to get too angry, and had been getting masses of letters from angry people, with whom he agreed. And the programme went on to tear gaping, bloody shreds off Polecat Dom and his tale. They asked how credible it was that Cummings could take a four year old child on a journey of that length without the lad wanting the toilet, as well as the obvious point that if you’re blind, you shouldn’t be driving. And they also brought up the Durham dialect term, ‘Barnard Castle’, as meaning a pathetic excuse. Given how swiftly the Beeb caved in to Boris’ complaints against Maitlis, this programme probably won’t have pleased Lord Hall-Hall. But I think it may well reflect how some Beeb programme makers and news crew feel about the scandal and the way Maitlis was treated, whatever she, Razzall and the producers may say to the contrary.

Everyone I know despises Cummings for this breach of the public’s trust, including Tories, who feel he’s let BoJob down. Well, there’s no danger of that, because BoJob’s standards are so low anyway only Britain’s few remaining miners and underground railway engineers can find them.

Cummings is making Johnson more unpopular by the day. And the longer it goes on, the worse it’ll get. Which is good news for Britain!

Trump Resigns From Presidency To Become Full-Time Writer For Sarah Cooper

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 2:55pm in

Tags 

Comedy

Donald Trump has resigned from his position as President to devote more time to creating material for comedian Sarah Cooper.

The comedy duo have enjoyed huge success in recent weeks with their quirky online videos about injecting disinfectant, taking hydroxychloroquine and not understanding the meaning of per-capita.

In one hilarious slapstick routine – written by Trump – there is confusion about the difference between the meaning of testing positive and testing negative for coronavirus.

“He’s clearly got a knack for comedy and he’s decided to take it on full time,” a spokesperson for Trump said. “They make a great team and Donald has decided that he wants to concentrate on making content for Sarah without the distraction of being President”.

But some fans say the material is too far fetched. “The scripts are just too ridiculous. I know it’s comedy, but it needs to have some grounding in reality to work,” one commentator said.

Did you know? Paying for investigative journalists to report from all corners of the country is expensive. Luckily we don’t do that. Still, things like website hosting and eating do cost money. So if you liked this article, consider chipping in. Donate.

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Gef the Talking Mongoose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 5:17am in

According to next week’s Radio Times for 30th May – 5th June 2020, Radio 4 next Tuesday, 2nd June, is broadcasting a programme on the bizarre affair of the Manx poltergeist, Gef the talking mongoose. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In the 1930s, a BBC employee who was interested in psychic phenomena investigated the story of Gef the Talking Mongoose – a supernatural creature with a foul mouth and disturbing habits, said to haunt a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man. Thinking to amuse the public in the silly season, he published an account of his findings, little knowing that Gef would cause a national scandal, prompt questions in the House, drag in Lord Reith himself, and provoke a front-page court case. Docudrama by Robin Brooks featuring Jasmine Nazina-Jones.

Gef the Talking Mongoose is supposed to be one of the poltergeist cases with the best supporting evidence. About a decade or so ago the Fortean Times, the magazine for connoisseurs du weird, published a long article about it. I leave it to you to decide for yourself what you think of it or the paranormal, but this could be an interesting programme. However, with docudramas you’re always left wondering how faithful they are to the facts, and how much is dramatic license.

Way back in the ’90s ghosts and ghost-hunting were all the rage, and Most Haunted and other shows like it were gathering sizable audiences for what were niche shows on the satellite and cable channels. It was lampooned on the Beeb comedy show, Dead Ringers, where Most Haunted’s star psychic at the time, Derek Acorah, received psychic impressions from a hibernating tortoise in a shed in a garden centre, before being possessed by the unquiet spirit of Desmond Decker. Slumping, ‘Acorah’ started singing ‘I don’t want to dance’.  The ghost hunting craze has passed, though there are still very many people up and down the country spending their weekends visiting haunted places in the hope of seeing or experiencing one. Most Haunted has come and gone, and Derek Acorah, I think, has sadly left us. But nevertheless, its fellows and competitors are still around on some channels.

I found the video below from Red Letter Media on YouTube. That channel specialises in film reviews, not always respectful, but always well informed and often hilariously funny. One of the hosts, Mike Stoklasa, here talks about his guilty pleasure. Which is watching one of these shows, Ghost Adventures. It’s clear that he doesn’t take it too seriously, but is very careful not to say that it’s all scripted, even when there’s abundant evidence in the clips he provides to show that it is.

In the edition he talks about, the ghost hunters visit a museum that contains a dybbuk box. A dybbuk is a type of Jewish demon. The show’s stars intend to open the box to see if it really does contain a demon. To make sure they are properly protected spiritually, they have on hand a rabbi. They ask the reverend gentleman if he knows how to deal with such a demonic object. He replies that he does, as he’s just looked it up that day. The ghost hunters seem a bit crestfallen, but ask him if he personally believes in demons. He tells them that he doesn’t, not in his personal religion, but he’s prepared to believe in them for the sake of the script. Oh dear! Stoklasa then helpfully explains that he thinks that what the rabbi meant was that he would, if the course of the programme required it, and that the show didn’t have a written script.

More proof that the show isn’t scripted comes from a video Ghost Adventures put on YouTube. One of the ghost hunters is talking to the viewer about some place he wishes to investigate in the locale they’re investigating. Then a door comes open. The presenter makes an exclamation of surprise, the sequence cuts, and then he is shown approaching the same location and giving the same speech. Stoklasa merely comments that it’s bad editing. Here’s Stoklasa and Jay talking about it.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal, and many of the people I’ve come across who take them seriously enough to investigate them, whether believer or sceptic, are by no means gullible fools or cynical debunkers. But, as with everything else on TV, not everything you see is objective reality and it’s a myth that the camera never lies.

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooray! Murdoch Papers Too Ashamed to Publish Pathetic Circulation Figures

Ho ho! Zelo Street yesterday published a very interesting and amusing article about the continuing decline of the lamestream press. Jim Waterson, a hack at the Guardian, posted a series of tweets about the latest circulation figures for British newspapers. And they aren’t encouraging. Zelo Street has said for the past couple of months that the press has been badly hit by the lockdown. People simply aren’t buying papers. It’s why the Murdoch rags, inter alia, have been pushing for the lockdown to be lifted and actually took to implore their readers and internet followers to #buyapaper. They’re not remotely interested in the welfare of the great British public. But they are worried about falling sales and what Murdoch and the other chief inmates of News International will do about them – like start laying people off.

Waterson tweeted that, although the newspaper sales figures were supposed to be out that day, the industry had insisted that they should no longer be published. The monthly ABC sales charts have also been permanently stopped because they give a ‘stimulus to write a negative narrative of circulation decline.’ Which in English, rather than the garbled version spouted Newslink’s yuppie manager in the comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey, means that it encourages people to write about how the press is in trouble. Nevertheless, most of the papers did publish their figures. The exceptions were the Times, Sunday Times, Torygraph and the Scum. And the paper with the highest circulation was the Daily Heil, with 944,981 copies sold.

Well, as the character, Gus, once said, I’ll just throw that into your intellectual wok and see if it stir fries.

Zelo Street points out that this is the first time no newspaper has sold less than a million a copies. It also suggests that this has happened to the Sun, which is why the super, soaraway Current Bun is not publishing its figures. It’s possibly been supplanted by the Heil for the first time in 40+ yearsThe Street also argues quite reasonably that both the Heil’s and Scum’s Sunday editions will have worse sales than the dailies. This means that the press is in terminal decline and we’re entering the endgame.

Novara Media’s excellent Aaron Bastiani put an additional boot into the Murdoch title’s shame. If newspapers won’t publish their sales figures, then the Beeb shouldn’t review their front pages every morning. Unless we know these papers’ reach, it’s just giving them free advertising.

Good point.

Zelo Street also states that the press is probably going to lose even more readers when they work out that the papers they support wanted the lockdown lifted for the sake of their own profits, not out of concern for the public’s wellbeing. A number of may well die from Coronavirus infections picked up when the papers told them that the disease was nothing to worry about. And their survivors will put two and two together and decide not to continue supporting them. Or even bringing a class lawsuit against them.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/press-heading-for-early-oblivion.html

My guess is that the reason the Torygraph and the Murdoch rags aren’t publishing their sales figures is partly economic. Apart from being embarrassed at how pathetically their mighty organs are doing, they’re also afraid of repercussions from advertisers. If they find out how low the newspapers are selling, they may well want the advertising rates reduced. This will mean a further drop in these newspaper’s income. Which means greater losses, and the threat of even more redundancies.

To many people it will come as absolutely no surprise that the Times and the Torygraph are in such a mess. Private Eye have covered many times their problems and falling circulation in its ‘Street of Shame’ column. In the case of the Torygraph, it’s problems are due to bad corporate management, including a devotion to internet gimmicks rather than solid news reporting and deliberately altering news content in their interests of the advertisers. This last policy so infuriated Peter Oborne that he left the paper and went instead to the Heil, making his own criticisms of it very public. There have already been redundancies and cutbacks, but these have failed to halt the paper’s continuing decline. The Eye has also said that the Times’ sales are now so low, that if it were any other paper it would either have been folded or put up for sale by its management years ago. But it’s the British paper of record, and so allows Murdoch to grab a place at the government table because of its prestige. Which means that if its circulation is so low that there’s no reason the Beeb, or anyone else, should take any notice of it, Murdoch’s ability to influence government decisions, even to act as kingmaker in his decision which party to support, is severely damaged.

Ditto with the Scum. It certainly didn’t have the Times‘ prestige or even its journalistic standards – indeed, it’s a matter of debate whether the scabrous rag had any standards at all. But it was Britain’s leading newspaper with a huge circulation, and more visibly influenced British politics through its shrill trumpeting of everything Thatcher and the Tories ever did, until Murdoch decided to flirt with New Labour. Now that’s also been seriously damaged.

Zelo Street is right in that these newspapers still have an influence beyond their print sales through their online presence, but there are problems here as well. Many of their articles are behind paywalls, which means that many casual readers won’t read them because they won’t want to pay or subscribe to the wretched rags. And if they are free, then it comes from money made from print sales. Which mean that when those go down, the paper’s ability to put up their articles free on the net also declines. The situation does not look good.

I’ve no sympathy for any of these foul rags. I suppose it’ll be a shame if the Times folds, after lasting for nearly 300 or so years. But as it, its Sunday counterpart and the Scum are just rightwing, Tory propaganda rags that lies, smear and libel decent people with absolutely no compunction, as far as I’m concerned it deserves to go under. Britain will be better off without them.

And while we’re on the subject, what about the sales figures for Private Eye? I know it’s a magazine rather than a newspaper, but much of it is news. My guess is that it’s circulation is also falling in line with the rest of the press. It’s hostility and snide remarks about left-wing news sites and internet organisations like The Canary and The Skwawkbox also seem to suggest that it’s afraid of their competition. Private Eye does publish some very good stuff, but it has also promoted the Blairites and the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn’s Labour party, as well as other material which is utterly wrong. So I have very mixed feelings about it.

As for the rest of the press, their mostly right-wing propaganda rags, and so absolutely nothing worthwhile will be lost if they go under as well.

 

 

Boris Isn’t Churchill, He’s Neville Chamberlain

Okay, it’s finally happened. I think people have been expecting this, but were hoping that somehow it wouldn’t come true. But it has. Mike today has put up a piece reporting that the death toll from the Coronavirus has hit 62,000. 51,000 people are known to have died, according to some of the people, whose tweets about this tragedy Mike has reproduced in his article. That’s more than those killed during the Blitz.

How do I feel about this? Absolutely furious and bitterly ashamed. Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, but we now have the second worst death rate from this foul disease in the world. And it can all be put down to our leaders’ incompetence, their doctrinaire pursuit of neoliberalism and private industry at the expense of the res publica, the commonweal, the public good. And their willingness to sacrifice the health, safety and lives of the great British people for the sake of their corporate profits and the narrow interests of their own class.

Mike, Zelo Street and a host of other left-wing bloggers and activists have published article after article minute describing the Tories’ culpable negligence. They were warned in advance by scientists and medical experts that a fresh pandemic was coming sometime. As you know, I despise New Labour, but Blair, Brown and the rest nevertheless took the threat seriously. They prepared for it, setting up appropriate government and NHS departments. What did the Tories do? Shelve all these plans, because they were committed to austerity and they didn’t think the money spent on these precautions were worth it. 2016 the government wargamed a flu pandemic, and this pointed out all the problems we’ve subsequently experienced with the Coronavirus. And what happened after that? Zilch. For the same reasons the plans were shelved and weren’t updated and the specialist departments closed down.

And the Tories’ commitment to austerity also meant they prevented the NHS from being adequately prepared for the outbreak. It had too few intensive care beds, the supplies of PPE were too small, and underlying it is the plain fact that the NHS has been criminally starved of proper funding for years. Because, for all that they’re praising it now, the Tories are desperate to sell it off and have a private healthcare system like the one that works in America. You know, the one country that now has a worse death toll than ours.

Austerity has also exacerbated the impact of the disease in another way. It hits the poor the hardest. Which is unsurprising – the poor often suffer worse from disease, because they don’t have such good diets, jobs, housing and living conditions as the rich. In this case, poorer people do jobs that bring them more into contact with others, which leaves them more exposed to infection. I really am not surprised, therefore, that Blacks and Asians are therefore far more likely than Whites to contract Covid-19. There are other factors involved, of course – ethnic minorities as a rule tend to live far more in multigenerational households than Whites, which increases the risk of infection. But Blacks and some ethnic groups also tend to do the worse, most poorly paid jobs and that’s also going to leave them vulnerable.

And Boris is personally responsible for this debacle. He was warned in November that the Coronavirus was a threat and January and February of this years the scientists were telling him to put the country into lockdown. But he didn’t. He was too preoccupied with ‘getting Brexit done’. He also didn’t want to put this country into lockdown, because it would harm the economy, which meant that the big businesses that donate to him and his scummy party would take a hit. And he and Dominic Cummings and certain others also subscribe to the Social Darwinist view that the disease should be allowed to take its toll on the weakest, because they were useless eaters holding back all the biologically superior rich businessmen the party idolizes. It was a simply just culling the herd, nothing to worry about. And apart from that, Boris was just personally too damn idle. He doesn’t like to read his briefs, he didn’t turn up to the first five meetings of Cobra, and rather than working shot off back home at the weekends. And he was also far too interested in pursuing his relationship with his latest partner.

Johnson fancies himself as Winston Churchill. A few years ago he published a book about the great War Leader, that was so execrable it was torn to shreds by John Newsinger over at Lobster. In this, the Blonde Buffoon resembles Jim Hacker from the Beeb’s comedy series, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Whenever Hacker had some grand idea that would raise him or his administration above mediocrity, he’d start posing and speaking like Churchill. Boris hasn’t quite done that, or at least, not in public. But he certainly shares Hacker’s vanity in this respect.

But he isn’t Churchill. He’s Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. Churchill hated Nazi Germany and was determined to destroy it. Chamberlain, on the other hand, wanted to avoid war. Hence he came back from Munich waving a worthless piece of paper, which he proclaimed as ‘peace in our time’. He was thus absolutely unprepared for Hitler’s invasion of Poland. But the Tories got rid of him, and replaced him with Churchill.

Johnson was unprepared for the Coronavirus. He should have been removed long ago and replaced with someone, who could do something about it. But that would mean replacing the entire Tory party, as none of the Prime Ministers since Brown have been serious about preparing for this threat.

And thanks to them, more people have now died than in the Blitz.

What an under, damnable disgrace!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/20/uk-coronavirus-deaths-hit-62000-no-wonder-johnson-only-appears-for-pmqs/

 

Radio 4 Tackles Bad Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 6:01am in

Ho ho! According to next week’s Radio Times for 23rd – 29th May 2020, next Saturday’s The Archive will be on the subject of Bad Culture. This is the type of music, art, literature, film, TV or whatever which is so bad that it’s entertaining. The blurb about it in the Radio Times reads

Steve Punt is joined by Grace Dent, Robin Ince and Laura Snapes to analyse why seemingly bad culture can be so enjoyable, looking at the films of Michael Winner, the songs of Astley and the poetry of Danielle Steele.

The programme’s Archive on 4: So Bad It’s Good?, and it’s on Radio 4, Saturday 23rd May, at 8.00 pm.

Robin Ince, who presents The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Brian Cox, wrote a book a few years ago, The Bad Book Club. This was about some of his favourite terrible books, one of which was the autobiography of John Major’s half-brother, Terry Major-Ball. But people have been particularly bad films for a very long time. I think that goes back to the ’70s at least, when Michael Medved, before he morphed into a right-wing pundit, published The Golden Turkey Awards about some of the worst movies ever made. Then in the early ’80s he presented Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood, which screened some of the classics of Bad cinema. These included Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, The Wild Women of Wonga and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Ed Wood was the stunningly bad director who also gave the world Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex, and Robot Monster. The costume for the latter creature was a gorilla suit with a diving helmet stuck on top. The guy who played it did so because he owned the gorilla suit. I think it’s also in Robot Monster that there’s a 2 minute segment of dinosaurs going on the rampage for no reason at all. It’s because Wood’s studio was right next to that of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was responsible for a string of SF/monster movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, as well as the sequence in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad where the Arab sailor fights an army of skeletons. Wood used to go round to Harryhausen and use any material that the other director had no use for after editing. That day Harryhausen had cut 200 feet of film out of a film about dinosaurs, and gave it to Wood when he asked him if there was anything he could use. Glen/Glenda is about a man struggling to come to terms with his transvestism. It’s a serious subject, which in the hands of a good director would no doubt be highly praised by critics. But this was made by Wood, so it’s abysmal. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it has Bela Lugosi in it. He plays God in a dream sequence in which he says ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’ This makes no sense at all. The film is, however, one of Alice Cooper’s favourites, or so he told Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s pop programme The Tube a long time ago. When she asked him ‘Why?’, he replied that it was because it made him wonder just what he had just watched because it was so weird. Her reply was classic: ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Yes, and he’s made a whole career out of it. Wood was himself a transvestite with a passion for cashmere sweaters, a fact not lost to the makers of the ’90s film biography of him.

Since The Worst of Hollywood has come Mystery Science Theatre 3000. This is an SF look at Bad Films, in which the crew of an orbiting satellite a thousand watch, and make rude remarks about, terrible movies. The SF author, Jack Womack, responsible for a series of books set in a violent, dystopian future Ambient, Random Acts of Mindless Violence, Heathern and Elvissey, is also an aficionado of weird and Bad books. He supplied a list of some of his favourites in his personal collection, with his comments on them, in an interview he gave in the ’90s to the Science Fiction magazine, SF Eye. They included Bottom’s Up with the Rear Admiral: Memoirs of a ProctologistThe Elvis Image, which is about a journalist crisscrossing the deep south in search of Elvis impersonators, and Behold! The Protong!!! by Stanislaw Szuchalski. Womack described this as ‘America’s greatest eccentric tells you why Communists are descended from the Yeti’. 

A few years an academic did a study of the type of people who deliberately went to see bad movies. He found that they tended to be of above average intelligence, and also watched transgressive cinema. You know, like the films of John Waters and some of the other cinematic horrors Jonathan Ross discussed in the ’80s in his Channel 4 series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show. They like those for the same reasons they enjoy terrible films, because both provide an experience that is outside the mainstream.

This could be a very funny, interesting programme about some truly awful cultural productions. But will it include any clips from Wood’s wretched oeuvre? 

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