Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Cult TV: Bergerac.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

bergeracFrom 1981 to 1991 mention the island of Jersey to anyone watching British television and they’ll almost certainly mention “Bergerac”. The detective show, set on the island, starred John Nettles as recovering alcoholic detective sergeant Jim Bergerac of the Bureau des Etrangers of the Jersey police, a special unit that dealt with tourists but more often with the many very wealthy foreigners who lived on the island.

By today’s standards, the Jersey of the 1980s all looks a bit naff, but at the time the wealth of the island, its sunny location and the French connection made it all seem very exotic and even glamorous indeed, and for ten years it was a Saturday teatime favourite.

As with many successful shows, Bergerac had a breakout character, Charlie Hungerford, played by veteran character actor Terence Alexander, who was a north of England bovver boy made good, a sort of Arthur Daley who had done very well for himself, thank you very much. One of the running jokes of the show was that Hungerford seemed to know absolutely everybody on the island, or at least was connected, often without his own knowledge, to every criminal enterprise on Jersey.

The show was a huge hit, and was responsible for boosting tourism to Jersey, with Nettles himself heading up the campaign.

Nettles went on to achieve a rare success for an actor in having played a household name for a decade as Jim Bergerac then went on to do it again for over a decade as Chief Inspector Barnaby in “Midsomer Murders”.

 
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Housing: time for socialism?

Posted by Jason O on Dec 22, 2015 in Irish Politics

Repost: Despite being on the centre-right on most issues, I’m not an ideologue. There are issues where the left are right, and one of those issues, I believe, is housing.

We have, and not just in Ireland, a fundamental problem with providing housing, and it’s this:

There are two types of housing. The first is the simple provision of a home, something which must surely be close to a human right in the modern age. Everybody needs a roof over their heads. The problem is that the supply and demand of that form of housing is being perverted by the second form of housing. That is, the use of a dwelling as a store of wealth and appreciable asset.

That’s the problem right there. Now, before readers get upset, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not against private property ownership nor the right to speculate on the value of that property.

However, I do believe that they are a separate activity from the provision of a home, and should be treated as such.

The truth is that we cannot rely on the market to provide enough high quality supply of housing if the end goals of wealth storage and housing provision are intertwined. The former is making the latter unaffordable by dragging prices up. We see in New York, San Francisco and London formerly affordable working class districts becoming no-go zones to all but the very wealthy.

This is not good, and undermines confidence in the capitalist system. There is a near endless supply of capital available to price the great majority of the population out of formerly affordable parts of our cities, because that capital is seeking a different objective than those pursuing mere housing on a limited budget.

So what’s my proposed solution? Rent control? No. It doesn’t work, and ultimately leads to a reduction in available rental property.

One possible solution is the “middle-classisation” of public housing. That is, the provision, by the taxpayer, of huge amounts of high quality and affordable housing to all classes based on a percentage of income. We need to firmly declare, as a society, that public housing provision is not just for the low income sectors in our society but for anyone who wishes to have it.

It will mean, of course, that society will have to deal with the disgraceful neglect that exists in current public housing provision, and in particular the failure to address anti-social behaviour by neighbours. It means anti-social behaviour contracts that will allow the speedy removal by force of anti-social neighbours. It will mean each housing cluster having a full-time live-in US style supervisor with the ability to enforce the social orders, with security support if necessary. It’ll also probably mean higher public spending and therefore taxes to pay for it.

It doesn’t mean, by the way, that there would be no room for private sector involvement. Whilst the housing stock would be owned by the taxpayer, there’s no reason why its management shouldn’t be regularly tendered out to competitive private bids. In fact, a rental holding on this scale would almost certainly attract professional landlord companies into the Irish market, as opposed to the thousands of tiny amateurs currently in place. Large private rental unit holders may even be willing to be bound by the state rental agencies rules (and prices) and could probably participate too.

The overall objective would be to allow citizens the widest possible choice. Those who wish to own private property could still do so, in a free market made up of solely of others who share their goals, and let the market decide.

But more importantly, those who wish merely to have a home will find that goal decided by a housing supply driven purely by a desire for housing as opposed to investing in an asset, and that is essentially a good thing, surely?

 
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Great TV you’re missing: Archer.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 22, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

archerIf you like spy shows, politically incorrect humour and sexual vulgarity, Fox’s cartoon show “Archer” is for you.

It’s based around brilliant but incredibly self-centred and over-sexed agent Sterling Archer, operative of ISIS (Yeah, they’ve since changed that. Ahem.), and his battles against the KGB, terrorists, his domineering nymphomaniac mother/boss (played by the brilliant Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” fame), his fellow agent/ex-lover Lana Kane, his dysfunctional/sociopathic/perverted co-workers and people who stole his Black Turtleneck Is Cool look.

Try it. But be warned. This is not one for the kiddies or the faint hearted. Think “The Man from UNCLE” but with a lot of dick jokes.

 
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The Empire vs. the Federation: a comparison.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 21, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction

death star 2Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.

Which works better? Depends on the question.

Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”Star Trek Enterprise Ship 1701 2

The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.

The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.

The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.

Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ‘em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.

Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.

The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.

So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.

If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.

In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.

Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.

 
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Cult TV: The Death of Ross and Rachel.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 20, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

Ross RachelRepost: The American chatshow host Conan O’Brien remarked last year that he had noticed a significant change in audiences who attended the recording of his show on TBS. He pointed out that in the 1990s a guest who was the star of a successful show could assume that the great majority of the studio audience not only knew who he/she actually was, but would get references to their character and the plotline of their show. Everybody knew who Ross and Rachel were.

O’Brien pointed out that now, going by audience reaction, it is now possible to be the star of what is deemed a successful show and yet still have a large proportion of the audience have only a vague if any knowledge of the actor or their show.

Consider two numbers: “Game of Thrones”, arguably the most popular TV show on the planet, gets around 7m viewers in the US for new episodes. Now consider that “Only Fools and Horses” used to get up to 14m viewers in the UK alone. Sure, don’t go all mad: I know, I’m not comparing like-with-like. GoT appears on a cable network, OFaH was free to view. But the fact is, the huge choice we have now has completely fragmented TV viewing. There are exceptions: in the US the Superbowl gets over 100m viewers, but even that has to be taken in the context of the time. Why? Well, here’s another wild figure. The finale of “MASH” in 1983 got nearly 106m viewers, in a country with nearly 100m less people than the Superbowl broadcasts to now.

The media lock onto shows like “The West Wing” or “The Sopranos” or “Madmen” or “The Wire” but the reality is that relatively small numbers of people actually watch these shows, in whatever format they watch (Cable, download, etc). The finale of “Friends” 10 years ago got stateside 52m viewers. Seinfeld got 76m. Today, the biggest drama show on American TV (both cable and terrestrial) is “NCIS”, which gets, in a country of 320m people, an audience of between 16 and 20 million. True, they were finale shows, with huge amounts of publicity surrounding them, but the figures are still stark.

So what’s my point? I suppose it’s that we now live in a “television” (I use the word loosely, given the impact of Netflix and downloads) age where a huge increase in quality and choice has almost shattered the shared experience. It’s true that people now watch “Doctor Who” or “Downton Abbey” with one eye on Twitter, and that is a shared community, but the reality is that most people are not watching the show you are watching. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But we all (of a certain vintage) remember Ross and Rachel’s first kiss. On the other hand, I’m afraid to write about Ned Stark out of fear that some of my readers don’t know who he is, or his destiny, because they haven’t experienced it yet.

 
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A possible Xmas stocking filler: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 16, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

I was in New York just before “Studio 60″ debuted in 2006, and it was a big deal. The major US TV networks had gotten into a major bidding war to secure Aaron Sorkin’s new show, based around a late night “Saturday Night Live” comedy show, and when NBC won the rights, they pumped huge money into advertising it, with billboards, magazines and bus stop ads. This was to be the biggest show on TV that season.

It bombed. In fact, it bombed so badly that hardly anybody saw the final few episodes as its viewing numbers dropped from 14 million to 4 million, and it was quietly cancelled after 22 episodes.

When I first saw it, I was quite underwhelmed. It had all the Sorkin stuff, and was jammers full of ex-West Wing alumni like Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Timothy Busfield, but overall, it was all a bit, well, “meh”.

Yet, watching it now, having bought it cheap on DVD, I ask myself: would I watch a second season? Surprisingly, the answer is Yes I would. With the benefit of hindsight I think I know what went wrong with the show. Firstly, it came after “The West Wing”, which reinvented political drama. There were huge expectations on this extremely expensive ($3m an episode cost to NBC) to produce show, which could never be met. After all, people discovered “The West Wing”, whereas they were waiting for this.

Secondly, it’s about a subject (effectively SNL) which is revered by comedians, writers and The New Yorker crowd but is just a funny TV show to everybody else. It is hard to make drama out of something that people do not regard as important. It’s like setting a show in the competitive world of show jumping. A big deal to some people, but…

Funnily enough, I could see it working as an HBO show now, especially with it’s angle about the politics of television. Wait, isn’t there a show on HBO about a TV show written by Aaron Sorkin? Oh well.

Give it a go, all the same. Whitford and Perry have genuine onscreen chemistry, and I’d like to see them in something together again. It’s also set during the paranoid days of the Bush administration, before that nice well-spoken young man from Hawaii rescued us all, and you can notice it.

One other thing: it was this show that finally made me try to write stuff professionally, and watching it reminded me of the very first cheque I ever got for writing, and thinking “Really, people are going to pay me for this?”

 
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Christmas gifts for the political anorak.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 15, 2015 in Politics

Either you’re the one, or you know one: the guy or girl who’s “into the politics”, and it means that this time of year buying gifts is deemed easy. “Sure isn’t he into the politics, won’t he love Eamonn Gilmore’s book?” Except, and here’s the thing, he probably won’t. He’ll have either read it already if he really wanted to, or has no interest in reading it, because just because it’s about politics doesn’t mean he wants to.

So, what to do? Well, fret not. Here’s a list of gifts for the political junkie in your life that they may not have. More importantly, some of these are old enough that you might even get them for very modest money in a second-hand bookshop. And yes, if it is the right book, they won’t mind it’s second-hand, something non-readers never seem to understand.

1. The Clann by Kevin Rafter. A short history of Clann na Poblachta, and with the election coming, a fascinating insight into a new party and what it takes.

2. Any Magill Election Guide from the 1980s. They’re harder to get these days, but are crammed full of the stats and pictures of aul fellas looking young pol-junkies love.

3. Making the difference? The Irish Labour Party 1912-2012. A collection of fascinating pieces on the history of Labour.

4. “Borgen” (DVD). Less people have seen this Danish political drama as it’s a bit pricey to buy. But it’s great. There’s also a Borgen companion book out now too.

5. Talking to a Brick Wall by Deborah Mattinson. Gordon Brown’s focus grouper, and a fascinating insight into modern political communication.

6. “Veep” (DVD). I have to admit to being a big fan of the HBO comedy series about the US Vice President. Again, not seen by many.

7. “Seven Days in May” (DVD): a thriller from the 1960s starring Kirk Douglas, about an attempted coup in the US. A great yarn.

8. “State of the Union” (DVD) A 1948 Frank Capra movie about Spencer Tracy’s millionaire industrialist running for President. Famous for his speech at the end.

9. “The Last Hurrah” (DVD) Another Spencer Tracy, this time about the old machine ward boss mayor of Boston running for re-election. You’ll see exactly what we did to US politics.

10. “City Hall” (DVD) Al Pacino as the mayor of New York. A cautionary tale about the compromises good men make in politics.

11. “The French Minister” (DVD) French comedy about a young advisor to France’s dynamic yet demented foreign minister during an international crisis.

12. “Salamander” (DVD) Belgian political thriller about a political conspiracy triggered by the robbing of an exclusive bank. Particularly entertaining for the dour middle aged police inspector hero who bizarrely has women flinging themselves at him.

 
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What if Ireland hadn’t been partitioned in 1921?

Posted by Jason O on Dec 11, 2015 in Fiction, Irish Politics
DEV: PROBABLY STILL END UP RUNNING THE PLACE.

DEV: PROBABLY STILL END UP RUNNING THE PLACE.

This is one of those counterfactuals that doesn’t hinge on a simple what-if-X-hadn’t-died. The truth is, it’s almost impossible to imagine Ireland not being partitioned without A) the British turning a blind eye (and that includes elements of the British Army which might have mutinied) and B) a civil war between, effectively, Catholic and Protestant that would have been far more vicious than the actual Irish Civil War of 1921-23. It would probably have ended with a mass exodus by thousands of Protestants from the north, pretty high loss of life (especially amongst areas with one group living amongst a predominantly larger one, such as Catholic areas in Belfast) and an historical legacy that we would be thoroughly ashamed of today.

Putting that aside, the question I ask is what sort of Ireland would have developed if the country had not been partitioned, nor fought a bloody and sectarian civil war?

Would we have still had the civil war we had? Given that the treaty did not bring about a republic in name and still required an oath of loyalty to the British monarch, it’s quite possible. But what if the unionist majority in the north (those who decided to stay) regarded the treaty as the best of a bad lot, and decided to fight to defend it given its recognition of their religious freedoms? We forget that the same elections that elected the second Dail in 1921 also elected 40 unionists who would presumably have taken their seats in the Dail, and so would have passed the treaty by an overwhelming majority.

Read more…

 
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Montana last US state to ban non-driverless cars.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 9, 2015 in Fiction, News from The Future!, Not quite serious., Science Fiction

News Future logoDateline: Helena, Montana, 2099

Tommy T. Thompson-Guiterrez (Libertarian), Governor of Montana, signed the Driverless Cars Act banning all non-automated cars from operating on the main roads and highways of the state in the state capitol this morning, making Montana the final state in the union to do so. The law itself is primarily symbolic, the governor said, given that 98.7% of all vehicles in the state are driverless anyway.

The bill was rushed through the state senate on Tuesday following an accident where a 103 year old pensioner driving a 2047 Buick caused a pile up on the interstate when he missed his turn, and killed four people. The State Road Agency has pointed out that all vehicle accidents reported in the last  22 years  have been caused by human drivers.

The act will allow driver required cars to be driven on private property, after intensive lobbying by the Vintage Automobile Association of America. A second amendment, sponsored by Hot Tubs On Wheels billionaire J. Stevenson, which would have permitted the provision of hot tubs and related “adult services” in commercial driverless vehicles was rejected. Stevenson pointed out that such a provision in Nevada provides employment for a large number of high school leavers and provides relaxation for tired consumers on their long drives home. The state police have reminded occupants that whilst legal sexual activity in driverless cars is legal, occupants are obliged to close blinds on their vehicles, following last year’s case between Montana Vs. Montana Bondage and S&M Community Annual Roadtrip Ltd.

McDonalds have confirmed that they will be expanding their short-haul “Big Mac Taxi” service to the state, allowing customers to order a McDonalds meal and eat it as they are driven to their destination. Over 45% of all McDonalds meals in the US are now consumed in Big Mac Taxis.

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The See-Nothing Party Man.

Envelope? What envelope?

Envelope? What envelope?

He’s not personally corrupt. Oh, he’s sat down with developers and followed up their queries with planners, but he does that for ordinary punters too. Nothing wrong with asking a legitimate question for a constituent, as long as you don’t try to get the planner to do anything wrong, and he doesn’t.

Elected to the council after the carry-on of the 1980s and 1990s, he doesn’t get approached for “favours”. He’s the new breed of the party’s councillor who wrinkles his nose at reading about yet another former party elected rep being done for corruption.

Yet don’t ask him to fight corruption. Don’t ask him to report anything he thinks is dodgy, and he sees enough of it, to the Guards or anyone else, because that’s just not done. He’s been known to turn on his heel walking into a toilet at the the council, when he sees a colleague receiving “papers” from a developer just before a vote.

In fact, that’s the thing. He actually spends time trying to avoid learning about corruption, because he can’t report what he doesn’t know.

“Trains to where, judge? Auschwitz? I just set the timetables. Couldn’t tell you what was in them. Was it strange that they were coming back empty? Do you know, I never thought to ask.”

Copyright © 2017 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.