Cult TV: UFO.

British Sci-fi show “UFO” is all but forgotten today, save by its cult fans. But in 1969, when it was made by Gerry Anderson, creator of puppet smash hits “Thunderbirds” and “Stingray”, it was a big budget cutting edge spectacular. Anderson had been commissioned by TV mogul Lew Grade, on foot of his success with puppets, to create his first show using live actors, and the critics joke was that he preferred working with wooden puppets and so looked for those qualities in his actors. Some of the acting is woeful (in one scene, a lead actor actually punches his fist into his palm to show frustration) and the dialogue can be awfully clunky, yet it is curiously watchable.
Set in the then future of 1980, it’s great fun to watch the predictions and also the constant smoking and sexism, where the female operatives in particular are expected to dress like go-go dancers and the males are pretty much entitled to have a good oogle at passing backsides as a perk of the job. The special effects were very good for their time (compare them to the cardboard carryon of Dr. Who) with the one criticism, probably unfairly made from the age of boxsets, that there is a constant reuse throughout the series of the same no doubt expensive shots.
Having said all that, the plots could be quite good and almost adult. In one episode, the main character lets his own son die so that the organisation, SHADO, can get a chance at capturing a UFO. When it was cancelled after one season, it was then retooled as the technically excellent but curiously joyless “Space:1999”. Finally, “UFO”, it has to be said, boasts one of the funkiest opening credit scenes ever, and a theme song that sticks in your head for days.

The Case for a Liberal Empire? Niall Ferguson’s “Colossus”



Let’s be honest. To an Irishman, the word “Empire” is up there with “Paedophile”. We’re genetically hardwired to rail up against imperialism, and don’t even get us started on the British Empire unless you want a load of smashed Guinness bottles and broken pub furniture. It was with this mindset that I approched Niall Ferguson’s 2004 bestseller “Colossus: The rise and fall of the American Empire”.

Ferguson is Scottish, a Harvard professor and had given the left a good sandpapering with his previous (And very readable) book “Empire”, where he sets out the case that the British Empire did more good than harm. So it’s fair to say that he has a firm opinion on the issue, and isn’t afraid to show it.

“Colossus” sets out a certain argument, which is this:

” Unlike the majority of European writers who have written on this subject, I am fundamentally in favour of Empire. Indeed, I believe that empire is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before.” 

Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Actually, Ferguson isn’t some sort of old Tory golf club bore harking back to an imaginary golden age. Instead, he makes a compelling case that in a world where our technology allows for disease and terrorism to travel rapidly, many of the old systems of sovreign states just cannot respond adequately to these threats. He points out that the mismanagement of one country can effect another, maybe even geographically distant (Afghanistan as an Al Quaeda staging post for 9/11, for example.) and that the rest of the responsible global community has a right to act both in its own defence but also the defence of the people in those failed or rogue states.

” What is required is an agency capable of intervening in the affairs of such states (Where the writ of the International Community does not run.) to contain epidemics, depose tyrants, end local wars and eradicate terrorist organisations.”   Sounds like a job for Jack Bauer, if you ask me.

One of his core points is that the standard argument of the left, that this is all about building a neocon run American Empire is not actually true. Ferguson, who has advised John McCain on foriegn policy, regards this as a great failure in that if America was willing to take up that role, and be willing to pay the “Blood and treasure” to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places for 100 years or however long it took them to bring them around to western liberal values, the world would be a better place. Sadly, in his view, ordinary Americans, contrary to what the rest of the world thinks, absolutely balk at the idea of running the planet.  

It’s a book guarnteed to start a fight at a respectable liberal dinner party, but is thoughtfully put together and well worth the read.