If there’s one show I will never forgive the TV Gods for cancelling, it’s “Dark Skies”. Broadcast to a single season in 1996 as a challenge to “The X Files”, the show basically took every major conspiracy theory from Roswell onwards and put them into in a single alien conspiracy. Starring Eric Close and Megan Ward , the real star of the show was the legendary scenery chewing character actor J.T. Walsh, who played Captain Frank Bach, the head of the secretive Majestic 12 organisation tasked with fighting the aliens at whatever dubious moral cost it took. Later episodes saw a pre-Voyager Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) Play Juliet, their liaison with the Soviet version of Majestic.
What made the show work was the history twisting, and the populating of stories with real historical figures including Bobby Kennedy, George Bush senior, Truman, Kissinger, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Charles Manson and The Beatles to name a few. Key events in history from the Kennedy assassination (the aliens did it) to Vietnam (started to allow MJ12 access to a huge military budget) to the shooting down of Gary Power’s U2 (he was chasing a UFO) are all touched on.
The show was cancelled as it failed to get significant viewers, which is a terrible pity as the creators of the show Brent V. Friedman and Bryce Zabel had the whole plot sketched out right up to 1999, with takes on everything from Watergate to the moon landing. The show assumed that its viewers knew something about modern American history, and it didn’t have an over abundance of moody pouting teenagers. No wonder it got cancelled.
Definitely one for the sci-fi/history nerds, it’s available on DVD.
Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
If recent polls are to be believed, and they certainly should be taken as indicative, the next Dail will have a possible majority of populist TDs. Whilst they probably won’t want to agree on anything unpopular like passing a budget, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a majority could be found to abolish water charges relatively quickly.
If you read through our lovely constitution, you’ll discover that even a majority of Dail Eireann may not have the power to do so.
I refer learned colleagues to article 18: “Dáil Éireann shall not pass any vote or resolution, and no law shall be enacted, for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach.“
Sure that’s grand, says you. Sure Enda will be long gone anyway. Except he (or his successor) may not be, because until the Dail assembles a majority to elect a new Taoiseach, the sitting Taoiseach stays in office as acting Taoiseach, and, thanks to Dev, has a de facto veto over spending bills despite not having a majority.
On the other hand, having gotten hammered in the general election, do we really think Fine Gael will want to keep defending a policy for which, though right, has modest public support? Probably not.
But it does raise an interesting point: Enda can’t be voted out. A replacement, with the support quite possibly of both Shane Ross and Richard Boyd Barrett, has to be voted in, with a majority. That’ll be fun.
A harmless inoffensive new John A. Costello who seems to agree with everybody whilst keeping his own opinions to himself. Now, I know this fella from Drumcondra…
“We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties! It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”
The following is the transcript of a meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, by the Grand Council of the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terror, Revenge and Extortion.
Chairperson: …and with that in regard, let us turn to the December Proposal, prepared by our good friend Tony. We’ve all had time to digest it, and discuss it before this gathering. It is a radical departure from this organisation’s existing objectives. Yet I cannot deny that our friend has made a very cogent argument. Perhaps a short summary?
Tony: Thank you Ernst, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me today. To make a long story short, as my Irish friends would say, SPECTRE is about making money. The manipulation of power, law, politics and other extra-ordinary means to generate profit for this organisation and our shareholders. Now, what does an organisation need when it has all this money?
Mr. Stromberg: Henchmen? Underwater bases? Sharks?
Tony: Stability. The days of storing one’s wealth in gold or diamonds…
Mr. Goldfinger: (mutters)
Tony: …the days of storing one’s wealth in physical commodities or in cash or art are over. The sums of money are so vast as to make it an unviable proposition. Wealth is stored electronically, which makes it both safer but also more vulnerable. And not just hacking, but from terrorist threats to infrastructure too. After all, the Al Quaeda attack on our buildings in Manhattan seriously hurt our asset base.
Table: murmurs of approval.
Tony: The reality is that SPECTRE is now in the stability business. Our legitimate businesses generate more money than our off-the-book activities. Our late comrade Steve made us more money in five years than we had made in fifty. We need order. But what sort of order? The order that Putin brings in Russia, where your wealth can be confiscated by the whim of the FSB? China, where factions ignore the rule of law and confiscate private property? Then there is the threat of radical Islamic revolt, and the real threat of climate change which is endangering many of our prize real estate assets.
Dr. No: Please Tony, get to the point.
Tony: The point, my dear Dr. No, is that western democracy is the greatest defence available to us. You all saw what happened when we tried to rig the Russian elections. Putin rigged it better and confiscated every cent belonging to our allies. Xi is moving against our friends in Beijing. Only in the west…
Mr. Goldfinger: They’re trying to tax us!
Tony: Better taxes than dead, Auric. It’s an ugly world out there, and the west is our safe haven. That’s why I’m proposing that SPECTRE change its key objective from world domination to…
Mr. Stromberg: to what?
Tony: to defending western democracy. By improving our capacity to destroy the enemies of the west. The west’s enemies are now our enemies. We’ve started this already by taking over some key intelligence agencies.
Mr. Goldfinger: You’re not suggesting…
Mr. Stromberg: What are you talking about?
Tony: Your chairman Herr Blofeld knows that SPECTRE has been running British Intelligence since the late 1980s. Never you never wondered why MI6 hasn’t pursued SPECTRE since then?
Mr. Goldfinger: But that means..
Tony: Yes. Commander James Bond has been working for the people who murdered his wife Tracey for some years now, destroying our enemies, without ever knowing. James Bond is SPECTRE’s single greatest weapon.
There are those who love “the chase”, the pursuit and coy-eyes-across-a-room at a new lover. Indeed, some of them love the chase more than the actual relationship itself, getting bored after the initial high and finding themselves distracted by challenges new. There’s a many a book, movie and TV series about those people and their adventures. Many feature Sarah Jessica Parker.
Then there’s that lesser hailed creature: the person who wished they could just have their new partner arrive fully formed on their doorstep, and immediately launch into a life of box sets and Friday nights eating Marks & Spencer and maybe a browse in Avoca in Kilmacanogue for lunch on a bank holiday Sunday. Yes, they want an attractive partner and the sex but primarily they’re fed up with the stress of dating and Tinder. And your friends assuming that “Well, you’re single and have a pulse, and he’s single and has a pulse” so you’re both compatible. As he clears a six day old pizza box from his coffee table, or she recounts a detailed list of The Things She Won’t Put Up With.
Then there’s The Thing. The fact that someone is still single in their forties and hasn’t been married. For women it’s easier: they’ve just been working their way through Dublin’s Male Arsehole Carousel. And by arsehole, we mean not lacking Clooneyesque qualities but actually unpleasant at best and “Tonight, on Criminal Minds!” at worst. For men it’s the Something Wrong thing, that he must be gay or weird or “confirmed bachelor” which could be either of the former or “I’m caring for Mother”.
Ideally, some form of profiling and pre-vetting would suit. I mean, the FBI can work out who’s a serial killer. Why can’t they say “You should date her, and you him. You both love 1960s spy movies and share a predilection for spanking.” Is that so much to ask for?
Some years ago, a number of Irish politicians knowingly sentenced some their constituents to death. A report by experts pointed out that small local hospitals did not have the experience, capacity and technology to provide specialist care in the case of heart attacks. In effect, the report said that a person who had a heart attack on the steps of the local hospital stood a better chance of survival if they were flown by air ambulance to a regional hospital with a dedicated experienced unit who dealt with heart attacks every day.
A rational analysis of the report would have led to a debate about how to ensure that such an efficient air ambulance unit could be provided. Instead, in Ireland, the local deputies argued that every small local hospital should have such a cardiac unit, a proposal that was not only impractical but if attempted to be implemented would suck resources from other parts of the health service, thus resulting in unnecessary deaths from non-cardiac related illness.
Why did they do it? Why did these elected representatives knowingly campaign for a policy they knew would actually kill some of their constituents? Primarily, one would suggest, because their constituents demanded it, and in a democracy, the voter is always right. Even when he or she doesn’t read the report or just plain refuses to accept its findings because he or she simply don’t like them. The voter rules.
When the voter is then standing over the grave of his or her wife or husband who died on an operating table from a heart attack, in the local hospital, it’s not their fault. It’s the health service’s fault for not providing a world class cardiac unit in a tiny town. The local deputy will attend the funeral and agree that the wife or husband has been let down, despite having known this would happen from the expert report. And so on it goes.
In a democracy, the pointed finger beats rational fact every time.
Francois Hollande ran for the Presidency of France promising to reverse Sarkozy’s very modest pension reforms. How could any intelligent rational man looking at the demographic and life expectancy statistics conclude that people should be permitted to retire earlier? Pensions and increasing care for the elderly cost money, and so more people must work longer and pay taxes to fund those services. Is Hollande a fool, in the real sense? Probably not. But he knew that the voters didn’t care about the statistics. They stamped their foot in the Free Stuff From The Government aisle and had a tantrum, and would only leave with him if he promised them a young pension. Even though he must have known that it was the wrong thing for France’s long-term viability as a self sustaining nation.
It’s an issue we don’t want to confront: modern life, with modern expectations, is incredibly complicated. If you want to build a world class cardiac capacity, it takes years of planning, to bring and train the right people together, in the right place, with the right equipment. It takes long term planning. But democratic politics is becoming less and less tolerant of long term planning. It’s attracting candidates who are thinking more and more short term, sometimes just to Friday afternoon or the following days newspapers, candidates who aren’t interested in anything that they can’t wave at their voters before the next election.
That’s not to say we should scrap democracy, of course. China does long term planning very well, but it also uses tanks against its own people. Democracy is still the most effective bulwark against tyranny and for that alone must be maintained. But as a guarantee of good, rational government it is becoming less and less effective.
Camera pans an imposing star shaped building, revealing the odd broken window, and weeds growing up through the forecourt. A vandalised sign, missing letters, reads “ur ommission”. Camera pans to a handsome man in his early 40s. The accent is American.
“Ten years ago, this building, housing a body called the European Commission, was one of the most important places in Europe, possibly in the western world. It was here, in sleepy Belgium, now one of the world’s backwaters, that American, Japanese, German and even Chinese businessmen would pay attention to see what consumer protection regulations would have to be met to permit their products be sold to European citizens in Greece, Germany or Galway. It’s hard now to imagine the central committee in Beijing, or tycoons and industrialists in Mumbai caring what Europeans actually think about anything, but there was once a time when the tiny nations of Europe didn’t pander and grovel to China for economic scraps, but were in fact a mighty combined economic power in their own right.
Indeed, when one looks at Prime Minister Cameron having this week to welcome the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for fear of losing Chinese investment in Britain, it’s a sorry sign of how far Europe has fallen. So what happened? Read more…
In late 1988 the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a woman named Winifred Ann Bartowski, who worked in the Pentagon as a personal assistant to the Secretary of the Navy.
Bartowski had the second highest civilian security clearance available, and was arrested after a Soviet defector had revealed that the KGB had an extraordinarily well-placed source in the Navy Department. After months of surveillance, federal agents had determined that Bartowski had in fact been removing classified documents from her office and leaving them at a drop for Soviet agents.
Upon arrest, agents had been surprised to find that not only was Bartowski not upset at her arrest, but was in fact annoyed at the fact that the federal agents did not seem aware that she was operating under FBI instruction. She was even able to present a document purporting to be issued by the Justice Department authorizing her to break her security clearance and provide the secret information.
This was a common tactic of the KGB at the time, to convince ordinary patriotic Americans that they were not working for the Soviet Union but another branch of the US government which was itself testing the security of their department or organisation, or hunting another alleged spy.
Bartowski agreed to be polygraphed, and during her questioning not only convinced agents that she believed she had been working for her own government, but that she had visited a fully functioning FBI office operating in plain sight in Washington DC, where she had been given her mission and even spoken by phone with Vice President Bush who had assured her about spying on her cabinet officer boss and thanked her for her efforts.
This detail greatly alarmed the agents, because a number of them had recently worked on another counter-intelligence case where a suspect in the Department of Energy had given the exact same details. He too claimed that he had been taken to an FBI facility and tasked by federal agents.
On hearing of this, the Deputy Director of the FBI, Charles Farnsworth III, had requested that a special unit be set up to confirm the existence of this fake FBI operation (designated Red Office)and deal with it. Absolute secrecy was paramount, with the bureau being well aware that if the existence of Red Office became known in Washington circles, other agencies would immediately cease cooperation with the bureau on its investigations. Among the agents assigned to Red Office were Richard Anderson and James “Digger” Farroe, two counter-intelligence specialists. Farroe was the most junior agent assigned, straight out of Qunatico, and had been eager to make his mark. As the investigation begun, agents pored over the details given by Bartowski and Thomas Mellor, the Department of Energy employee who had told a similar story, trying to pinpoint from their evidence a possible location. Both had been blindfolded, and both said that they had driven for at least forty five minutes before entering through an underground car park. Both recalled seeing the Capitol from an office window. Agents spent hours poring over aerial shots of the city and searching buildings within line of sight of the Capitol without luck.
Late one night, Farroe decided to try a different track, and worked with Anderson to identify comedians and impressionists in the DC area who did impressions of the Vice President. Both men compiled a list, and proceeded, over the following days, to visit the list in the slim chance of finding the man who had spoken to Bartowski. On the second day, Anderson discovered a struggling part-time comedian named Johnny Seary who included the Vice President in his radio impressions, and who had died the previous day from a hit and run.
A search of Seary’s apartment revealed $4000 in cash hidden, with no clear identity as to its source.
The investigation had run out of ground when a second Department of Energy employee, Steven Parker, contacted the FBI. He produced a document similar to Bartowski’s and reported that he had, by chance, heard a radio station that had hosted Seary replay an old sketch in honour of his passing. Parker immediately recognised the voice, and suddenly had doubts about his secret FBI recruitment. Speaking to Farroe, his story was almost identical to the first too, save for one detail. On his blindfolded trip to the Red Office, he recalled the vehicle stopping and the loud cutting of an electric saw into wood. He also remembered flashing lights so bright that they penetrated his mask.
Farroe wondered as to whether this had indicated a tree that had fallen on a main road and was being removed by emergency services, and using the date given by Parker, proceeded to question both the DC Police and the Virginia State Police. The VSP came back quickly, confirming that a number of trees had been brought down on a road leading from Washington DC to Harrisonburg.
Farroe, not willing to wait for his partner, proceeded to visit the road, coming across a facility protected by unidentified security officers. On identifying himself as a federal agent, the security guards detained Farroe at gunpoint.
When Anderson, searching for his partner, visited the facility, he was shocked to find a large warehouse with an underground car park that housed a de facto movie set of an FBI office with false windows and lighting. Farroe was unconscious but unharmed, which the FBI later attributed to an unwritten rule that neither the US nor USSR kill each other’s operatives.
The FBI were never able to determine how long the Red Office operation had been active, nor how many agents it had recruited. The facility had been forensically cleaned, denying the FBI even the fingerprints of possible visitors.
Three weeks later, White House FBI liaison Paul Harris, who had been briefed by Farnsworth, resigned quietly, after he realised, studying photos of the facility, that he himself had been a Red Office operative, and had inadvertently tipped off the KGB to both the search for the Bush impressionist and Special Agent Farroe’s search of Virginia. Harris only revealed this fact on his death bed in 1994.
He also revealed that he had been ordered to direct the FBI towards a CIA operative named Brian Kelley who was believed to be a KGB spy but was in fact totally innocent. It later emerged that the Kelley operation had been created as a deliberate distraction to protect the KGB asset in the FBI Robert Hanssen, who was uncovered in 2001.
The Greatest American Hero ran for three seasons (1981-1983) and is mostly remembered for its theme tune and special effects which even at the time looked cheap. The concept was of a fairly wimpy do-gooding liberal school teacher (Ralph Hinkley, then Hanley after a guy named Hinkley shot President Reagan) played by William Katt who was given a special suit by aliens which gave him special powers.
He then went and lost the instruction book (Yeah. It even had “Instructions” on the front page in “spacey” writing) and so spent most episodes discovering new things the suit could do, much to the annoyance of his FBI agent mate Bill Maxwell (played by Robert Culp) and that stalwart of 1980s TV, Connie Sellecca. Sellecca, who interestingly was married to that other TV hero of the time, Gil Gerard of Buck Rogers fame, was one of the few women on telly who could give Erin Gray (Wilma in Buck Rogers, she of the shiny lycra) a serious run for her money in the dreams of teenaged boys of the day.
The show was only alright, although one episode set in a hunted house was genuinely creepy. Watching it once again reminds how bad TV actually was in the 1980s, with very dumb formulaic stories and the assumption that the audience couldn’t follow anything too complicated. Hill Street Blues, which debuted at the same time, was about to change all that.
The theme song sung by Joey Scarbury is very catchy though, and apparently Fox are looking to make a new series.