Thursday, August 31, 2006


Cash on Delivery

Here in the UK we have this half-baked, government-run get rich quick scheme called 'child benefit'. To qualify for this handout you don't need to be homeless, destitute or disabled, only to be the guardian of a child under the age of 16, or a 'big kid' under the age of 19 who is in full time education. Your first-born sprog is worth £17.45 a week and any additional ones earn a bonus windfall of £11.70 a week, all tax free. Child benefit isn't means tested in any way so a billionaire duke - in the eyes of the law - is just as entitled to it as an unemployed, wheelchair-bound single mother. I'm sure some of their ilk must claim it too as statistics reveal that child benefit is taken up by nearly 100% of the eligible population.

Rewarding strangers for exacerbating Britain's overcrowding crisis will cost tax-payers an estimated £10.153 billion between 2006 and 2007 (according to the HM Revenue & Customs Spring 2006 Departmental Report). It makes me wonder what other luxury items it's possible to claim compensation for. For instance, is there a champagne allowance I'm not aware of? I hope so - why should I spend my own money when I could liberate some of yours?

A stick sharpened at both ends

For years experts and amateur observers alike have been debating what does and doesn't constitute art. Personally I don't understand why the issue is considered by so many fence-sitters to be unfathomable, so I'm going to lay the matter to rest right here and now.

A composition is definitely not art if putting it together requires no creative talent whatsoever. There, done, it's that simple. If the opposite was true anyone and everyone could be considered an artist and the word would immediately be expunged from the dictionary; 'human' already covers every member of the populace.

Quintessential to this pretentious, manufactured is-it-isn't-it tug of war is Kira O'Reilly's Inthewrongplaceness. Let's get real here: this work of whatever consists of a deranged naked women hugging a dead pig for four hours. No Kira, it's not about "pigginess, unexpected fantasies of emergence and interspecies metamorphoses", it's a larger-than-life warning against the perils of 'care in the community' programmes. Yes dear, the experience may have left you "making fiercely tender and ferocious identifications with the pig as stand-in, double, twin, doll and imaginary self", but that doesn't make what you're doing art, does it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The science faction of re-animation

At a loose end I found myself watching a schlocky gore-fest of a horror film called Re-Animator. It features a goofball scientist who capitulates to his unhealthy obsession with reviving the dead by injecting them with what looks like a radioactive magic serum. Of course this being a comedy-horror, his hapless subjects aren't returned to the land of the living in prime mental or physical condition; they are transformed into zombiefied, slathering imbeciles. They develop super-human strength and plunge headlong into murderous rampages - some even do so without their heads!

Aside from wishing I could have the 90 minutes I invested watching this trashy nonsense refunded, the film got me wondering if the events portrayed really are as far-fetched as they first appear. No, bear with me. We know doctors are able to defibrillate patients back to life shortly after their heart has stopped, so the real brain-teasers are:-

What is the shelf life of a human or animal corpse? If they're brought back after, say, 10 minutes, will they continue to function normally? What is the cutoff point?

Can internal organs be substituted for man-made contraptions in order to keep an organism alive? If so, which ones are viable?

Is it possible for a decapitated brain to retain consciousness? How long for, and under what conditions?

The following research aims to answer some of these questions:-

As far back as 1940 the Russians were killing and resurrecting dogs in the name of science. This video demonstrates the artificial sustenance of a heart and lung when isolated from the body, the mechanical resuscitation of a dog whose blood has been drained to bring about the cessation of heart, lung and brain activity, and the reactions to various stimuli of a dog's dismembered head! The ill-fated canines weren't the only sick puppies in this scenario! As a dog lover it turns my stomach just thinking about it. A Wikipedia article on the experiments can be found here.

More recently a US scientist claims to have yanked a three-hour-dead dog back from the other side. The procedure entailed draining the dog's blood thereby forcing the heart to shut down. A cold saline solution was then pumped into its blood vessels effectively lowering its metabolism to bring about a state of 'suspended animation'. After three hours had elapsed blood was pumped back into the dog and its heart was defibrillated.

Again in the US, a similar method has been used to save pigs from - artificially induced - certain death. The doctors are now seeking approval to trial the technique using human car crash and gunshot victims. Let's hope if they get the go-ahead they'll let their wounds occur naturally.

The freaky case of Mike the Headless Chicken goes some way towards explaining how the body of a bird adapts to life without a head.

For some truly disturbing human examples refer to this article.

You won't be laughing when your pickled undead head is languishing in a jar on the mantelpiece... [Dr Evil little finger to the corner of the mouth thing] or will you?

Friday, August 18, 2006


I won't tell you again!

Movies You Should See is a Podcast You Should Listen To - it's so side-splittingly funny you won't mind being told what to do in the least. In each zany, ad hoc episode Richard Smith, Allison Downing, Mike Dawson, Craig Bevan and Tristan Ofield attempt to make the case for why your life won't be complete until you've watched the elected movie of the week, assuming they can remember what it is.

Mostly though you shouldn't need much cajoling. Unless you've been living under a Wi-Fi Enabled Rock, you won't be tuning in for advice, you will have seen the plugged movies dozens of times and bought the accompanying lunch box and posing pouch. To be honest, if you're not familiar with the movie up for discussion you'll feel like an Alien in New Yorkshire. The crew do provide synopses though they're often quite scanty, so relying on the podcast as a celluloid divining rod isn't recommended.

A more appropriate title might be, 'If You Haven't Seen Star Wars Go Out & Buy It, Stick It In Your DVD Player, Thoroughly Digest It & Then Come Back & Listen to Our Podcast', but that wouldn't roll off the tongue quite so smoothly, and would only apply if they were pimping Star Wars, which they haven't yet. This is by no means a criticism, it's meant as a helpful tip to ensure you get the most out of the show.

Movies You Should See's meandering, ADHD-addled style is what makes it so compelling. It's like earwigging on a pub conversation, except the participants are still sober and know what they're talking about because they're in the biz themselves. The off-topic rants and did-you-know? tidbits are as entertaining as the planned-ish discussion points.

For instance, the recurring ITV-dialogue-mangling segment has me in stitches every time; to make movies more watershed-friendly the British network, Independent TeleVision, like to dub over any language they - in their dubious wisdom - consider offensive. Well, to be fair to them I think sometimes it's the case that they simply opt to broadcast official, alternative, TV-friendly versions of movies. Whatever the source of the edits they're trivia gems. One of my favourites comes from Caddy Shack: with a swish of the almighty Wand of Political Correctness the line, "hey everybody, let's all get laid" becomes, "hey everybody, let's go take a shower". Unsurprisingly expletive-littered gangster films are butchered to a greater extent. I don't care whose company they find themselves in, hardcore Mafia bosses do not use phrases like 'melon farmer', 'muddy funster', 'flip you', 'jeez Loueez' or 'forget you'.

It turns out that this meddling isn't restricted to audio; ITV/whoever even went so far as to edit the text on the sandwich board John McLane is coerced into wearing in Die Hard With a Vengeance to read "I hate everybody" rather than "I hate niggers". This fouls-up the significance of the entire scene because he was specifically made to stroll through Harlem - home of The Brothers - where he would inevitably find himself on the receiving end of a jolly thorough bottom spanking.

I've always been fascinated by the decision making process involved in cutting certain scenes from movies, and the way creative editing can radically alter the narrative and character development. All this is covered in depth, as is the reason director's cuts are sometimes little more than spurious marketing gimmicks concocted to sell you movies you already own.

MYSS is a refreshingly rough and ready blend of quick-witted banter, insightful observations and analysis and insider film production geekery (did you know the pioneering, pre-CGI arrow-eye-view shots in Prince of Thieves were created by simply attaching an arrow to the side of a camera mounted on a track, sliding the entire rig towards its target and then speeding the whole thing up?). There's nothing else quite like it.

If you want to sample MYSS without the 'commitment' of subscribing to the podcast I can highly recommend the Arnie-bashing special. It's hysterical from start to finish.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Nope, neither, it's a web page masquerading as a Word document. Work Friendly is a free web service that serves one purpose; to aid and abet surfing on the job. It operates by channelling a web site of your choice through an authentic-looking mock-up of an MS Word application window. Because any graphics are omitted and text is reformatted to look entirely business-like no-one would know you're not slogging your guts out for your employer.

It's pretty much foolproof, but it wouldn't hurt to err on the side of caution - if you bite your lower lip and appear sufficiently harassed and downtrodden your boss will assume it's just another typical day at the office and leave you to it.