A Curious DVD I watched: The Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse [DVD]I’m not really recommending this, as it was a bit slow and struggling to be profound, but worth mentioning because of  its curiousity value.

Basically, The Trojan Horse is a Canadian mini-series starring (And co-written by) Paul Gross, whom you may remember as the eccentric mountie Benton Fraser in the tv series “Due South” . It’s about a joint Canadian-EU plot to rig a US presidential election.

The series is actually a sequel to a series called “H20” where Gross played the Canadian prime minister dealing with a mysterious conspiracy.

The conclusion is unusual, and based on a real life event, but what is notable is a rant Gross gives during the movie about his vision of the world. Curiously, it is worded in such a way that would shock most Americans, yet as a European sounded quite reasonable!

Only available on region two with Dutch subtitles at the moment.

14 Rules of Irish Politics (Updated)

  1. With certain exceptions (in particular Sinn Fein), the personal vote of a candidate is more important to election victory than their party vote.

  2. Voters decide what matters in elections, not candidates or party activists.

  3. Voters are strongly in favour of new housing in theory. But there are always far more votes to be won opposing a specific proposal to build new housing in an area than supporting it.

  4. Being an Irish legislator is like being a brain surgeon who is employed to carry out brain surgery but whose employment review is decided on how well he maintains a public car park on the other side of the country.

  5. You cannot be lazy and be a successful Irish politician. You can be corrupt, deceitful or stupid but you cannot be lazy.

  6. Irish voters are perfectly happy holding two or more completely contradictory beliefs.

  7. There are no votes in proposing long-term solutions. In fact, there may well be votes lost supporting long-term solutions because some voters want that money spent now. There is a “F**K our children’s children” constituency. 

  8. There is a large number of people involved in Irish politics who have almost no interest in the shaping or direction of Irish society. To them it is simply a job. 

  9. It is possible to have a successful career in Irish politics and never ever have to make an unpopular decision.

  10. Being an Irish citizen gives you more rights than the citizens of any other nation on Earth. Especially in a country where you can cherry-pick the rights you like and have a good chance of brassnecking your way out of obligations you don’t like.

  11. Increased public spending is a religious ritual: there is very little political interest as to whether the money is spent well.

  12. A very substantial number of the Irish have the bizarre belief that American, continental and British taxpayers are eager to pay for public services we don’t wish to pay for ourselves.

  13. Many of the same people who oppose tax cuts nevertheless insist on public sector pay being calculated based on post-tax “take home pay”.

  14. Most Irish voters believe that voters in other constituencies should vote for nationally concerned politicians whilst they need a local champion.

Great movies you should see: The Spanish Prisoner.

Mmmm! Hitchcockian!David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner is one of those hidden gems that you stumble across and wonder why you’ve never heard of it. Written and directed by the same writer as Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s a slow burning mystery drama that entices you in, littering twists and red herrings all the way to the end.

Campbell Scott plays the brilliant inventor of an industrial process (A classic Hitchcock McGuffin if there ever was one.) that is set to make both him and the company he works for an obscene amount of money, until he starts to doubt whether he’s been treated fairly or not.

Steve Martin puts in a straight performance which will have you wondering why he doesn’t take more straight roles.

A great Saturday night in with a Chinese (Meal, partner, or both) movie.

Great books you should read: The Plot Against America

The Plot Against AmericaPhilip Roth’s The Plot Against America is most disturbing in it’s subtlety. Partly autobiographical, in that much of it is based on Roth’s experience of casual anti semitism growing up in New Jersey in the 1940s, it is essentially an alternate history novel.

What if All American Hero, Isolationist and effective anti semite Charles Lindbergh had defeated President Roosevelt in 1940?

It’s not a Nazi Germany by the Potomac story, but more about how an extremist idea can creep incrementally into the mainstream, gaining acceptance amongst people who would normally have opposed such a thing, even co-opting Jews into the project under the guise of anything for a quiet life.

The ending has been criticised, and it does read as if Roth suddenly frightened himself with how far he had progressed in making evil ideas seem banal.

Worth reading, nevertheless.

The politics of “Yellowstone”.

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Yellowstone: 5 things you didn't know about the hit Kevin Costner drama | HELLO!

If you haven’t been watching “Yellowstone” on Paramount Plus, which enters its fifth season, you’ve been missing a treat. A cross between “Sons of Anarchy” and “Falcon Crest”, the show features Kevin Costner (He of tongue in bottom lip fame) as John Dutton III, the patriarch of the vast 50,000 acre Yellowstone ranch in Montana his family founded and own since the 1880s. Created by Taylor Sheridan, the show has been labelled by some as a conservative or red state show, and superfically it could bear that label. The value of “keeping what’s ours” is one repeated by many characters throughout the series, and coupled with the constant resort to frontier justice, you can easily see why a certain type of conservative would like the show.

And yet, the politics of the show is much more blended with grey and subtlety.

Dutton is obviously a wealthy and politically powerful man in the state, practically handpicking certain state offices that matter to his business interests, including appointing himself state livestock commissioner, which allows him to have a de facto private police force. He uses a helicopter to both travel to the state capital but also to ranch. In one scene, whilst remonstrating with a Chinese tourist who complains about one man owning so much land, Dutton declares “This is America: we don’t share land.”

And yet, he’s not without money worries. It becomes apparent that whilst his land might be worth nearly half a billion dollars, his personal wealth is probably closer to $40m and he fears local development could sharply increase his property tax liabilities beyond his ability to pay.

Nor is he greedy: when he’s offered huge wealth in return for abandoning his family legacy he simply refuses, even though he knows he is fighting a losing battle against change. For him, legacy and family is everything, a value many Americans can see and respect very easily. He’s not without compassion either: intervening to help a widow deprive a bank of assets he feels her family needs more.

His various nemesis also have a political dimension: his ranch is bordered by a Native American reservation led by business savvy politician Thomas Rainwater (Gil Bermingham) who wants to retake the Yellowstone ranch because “for thousands of years our people hunted, fished and lived on that land: then John Dutton’s great grandfather built a house.” Rainwater supports development because it brings his tribe more revenue for public services. Yet he also shares, with Dutton, a desire for conservation and preserving as much of the valley they both share.

The show is also full of contradictions. Dutton sees the irony, in his family claiming the land in the 1880s from Native Americans, then having to face off against even more well-resourced developers who make the same point the Chinese tourist did, and marvel at the arrogance of one family blocking the creation of thousands of (low paying) jobs. Indeed, one developer, Dan Jenkins (Danny Houston) is genuinely outraged at Dutton’s belief that outsiders have no right to share in the beauty he owns except on his terms.

One other aspect of the show is the disparity in wealth on display: Dutton, Rainwater and the developers all live in relative opulence, whilst their employees and voters live in a world of precarious employment, threats of banks foreclosing, and the powerful pretty much deciding which candidates will be permitted even contest elections. Most of his employees live in a dormitory on the ranch. Many Europeans will look at Dutton paying for an employee’s medical expenses not as a sign of generosity but an indictment where vital medical treatment is only available on the whim of a wealthy employer. The occasional gun battle, normally led by Dutton’s ex-special forces (On USTV, there are no ex-military cooks or plumbers, only special forces) son Kayce in his guise as a Livestock Agent, tend to be against hired goons from developers muscling in on Dutton, or petty criminals trying to make a living in the hard scrabble society of modern-day America. And yet few complain: so inbred is that  “Keeping what’s ours” mentality that far fewer people in the show question the morality of a single man owning a vast part of a state than applaud his son and shake his hand for machine gunning a petty cattle rustler and leaving his daughter an orphan.

If it has a political bias, Yellowstone is culturally liberal (recognizing the great crimes committed against Native Americans) whilst just shrugging its shoulders at economic disparity as if it is some form of natural phenomenon, like a tornado. That’s probably a mainstream view in America today.

A Great Movie (and book): The Day of The Jackal.

Repost.

jackal bookFrederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel “The Day of the Jackal” has already secured its place in novel history. The concept, about right-wing French fanatics hiring a professional assassin to murder President de Gaulle in 1963 is daring for two reasons. The first is that it reads pretty much as a cold heavily detailed step by step almost journalistic expose of the plot rather than a thriller. The second is that we all know the outcome: President de Gaulle survived a number of assassination attempts, but died peacefully in an armchair in his home. In short, not as much a Who-Did-It as How-They-Did-It.

It shouldn’t work, yet it does, and brilliantly. So brilliantly in fact, that one finds oneself reading it again despite knowing the outcome and pretty much every twist in the story. Forsyth’s great success is his ability (honed as a foreign correspondent) to communicate great detail in a absolutely readable and enjoyable manner. For years later many believed it was a true story.

The book (and even more Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 masterpiece movie) also conveys nicely the Europe and France of its day. The shadow of the war still there, yet a continent on the verge of huge integration.

The movie is a stylish joy to watch. Cold and methodical, with minimal use of music, Edward Fox as the Jackal and Michel Lonsdale as the French police chief pursuing him steal the movie. A wealth of British TV stars of the 1970s fill the background.

Both the book and the movie are an absolute treat.

Great books you should read: Boss by Mike Royko.

Three cheers for the greatest Mayor in the world!Mike Royko’s Boss is the definitive book on understanding Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and how a man modern times sees as a thug and a racist won the genuine affections of thousands.

If you only read the opening chapter, Royko (Who was as much a character himself as Mayor Daley, and straight out of central casting as the hardbitten big city newsman.) paints a picture of a day in the life of Daley, and it is fascinating. Royko blamed Daley, by the way, for the 1968 debacle at the Democratic convention and Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election later that year.

Daley was the classic Democratic Big City Boss in a one party city where, in some elections, the Democratic machine handpicked the Republican opponent. Yet there is also the machine where political careers and places on the party slate are won or lost because someone happens to go for a piss at the wrong time.

You also get to see the city leader who knows that he has to deliver to the little guy (As long as he’s the right colour and ethnic background, of course.) and has guys on the city payroll manning automatic elevators. Why? Because as Mayor Daley said, elevators don’t vote.

A slim volume and an absolute classic, and not just a history of a time but a lesson in how raw politics works.

Great movies you should see: The Last Hurrah (1958)

Fianna Fail, Boston Cumann.

Yet another must for the Political Junkie’s DVD library, The Last Hurrah   has Spencer Tracy ( Now there’s an actor) at his finest as a charismatic old school Irish American mayor seeking re-election one last time.

If you want to know how the old Democratic machines locked up the cities, and indeed how Fianna Fail used to do it, this is textbook stuff. The party is everything, with loyalty, decency and just the faintest whiff of corruption keeping the whole thing together. Very watchable, especially the ensemble of yes men the mayor surrounds himself with.

Sadly, only available on Region 1 DVD, but really, isn’t it time you invested in a multi region DVD player. It’s not like they’re dear anymore.

Pay close attention for a reference to a certain Fianna Fail politician, by the way.

Great books you should read: Politics Lost

ImaPolitics for Grown Ups. gine a gang of  uppity, beer-swilling, womanizing early thirtysomething yahoos decided to get a political unknown elected President of the United States. They did.

Joe Klein is more famous for the Clintonist Roman a clef  “Primary Colours”, (He was Anonymous.) but he is primarily a US political reporter, and Politics Lost  (2006)  is a book covering his experiences, and more importantly, his disenchantment with the moronisation of modern US politics.

We slate the Americans on this side of the Atlantic, but Politics Lost is a fine example of what the Americans do best. Go into a bookstore in New York, and you’ll be swamped by short, entertaining books of both the right and left discussing politics and the way things should be. When was the last time an Irish politician dared actually tied himself to any but vacuous guff?

The book starts with a heartrending description of  Bobby Kennedy telling a crowd of black voters in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King Jnr.  had been shot and killed. Kennedy, whom the police chief refused to provide protection for, insisted on speaking in a black area, and gives an shocking unpolitically saavy but heartfelt speech to the crowd, and Klein points out that such a politician could not get elected today, as the media would crucify him for his unsanitized real feelings being voiced.

Klein then gives a fascinating picture of Patrick Cadell (Who later became a consultant on The West Wing.) who, along with Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, all in their late twenties/early thirties, got Jimmy Carter, an unknown one-term Georgia governor, elected President. Klein focusses on Cadell, very much the High Priest of modern in-depth political polling, and how his skills were able to help Carter et al completely sidestep the Democratic establishment and get an outsider elected.

Klein takes us right through to Clinton era to the 2004 election, deftly demonstrating how the perfecting of the election winning process is strangling the ability to actually run the country afterwards.

One of those books that’ll have political junkies reaching for the highlighter.

Great books you should read: Company

Read this, for God's sake!
I’m often accused by friends of forcing books onto them because I liked them, and therefore buy copies of them as unwanted gifts for said friends in other to encourage the writer in my own tiny way to write more stuff that I like. It’s true.
I can’t understand why Max Barry is not huge. In fact it seems that whilst he is published in his native Australia and indeed in the US, he’s only relatively recently been published in Britain or Ireland, which I regard as bizarre given his style of humour.
Company tells a story of Zephyr Holdings, an enormous company that no one quite seems to know what it actually does. A new employee starts poking around and discovers the truth, along the way giving a funny take on how large companies function. Or don’t.

I won’t ruin the book by revealing the plot or the funnier incidents in it, just to point you towards it as an entertaining and thoughtful take on corporate culture.