Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Nerdiness (Page 2 of 2)

In the Pale Moonlight

If there is one thing that Deep Space 9 has taught us, is that Deep Space 9 can teach us everything. For example, if one wishes to explain how short-form and long-form story telling can be present on one television show, then Deep Space 9 will provide an example of these forms and show how they interact within a series. Of course on TV, the terms episodic and story-arc, are used to describe the short and long term aims of a single dramatic piece. 

The episode which best demonstrates these two concepts, operating together, is ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ (Season6 Episode19). Generally thought of as among the very best that DS9 has to offer. 

In brief, our beloved United Federation of Planets is locked in a fight to the death with The Founders. The war is not going well. The denizens of DS9 are confronted with ever growing casualty lists. Friends and colleagues are appearing on these lists with growing frequency. Then Betazed falls. Commander Deanna Troi’s home planet falls to the enemy. Disaster. The Federation is out of friends and seemingly out of options.  

The Federation is forced to try something underhanded and morally dubious. Captain Sisko is expected to find a way to bring The Romulan Empire into the War, on the side of The Federation. To achieve this, Sisko plots with a Cardassian Master Spy, called Garak, to create evidence of a Founder plan to invade The Romulan Empire. Murder, assassination, espionage and various other unFederation actions ensue. Result being, The Romulan Empire is tricked into declaring war on The Founders.

That’s the entire episode, in 150 words. A plan is hatched, the plan succeeds, the end. Anyone not having watched Deep Space 9 before, or any of the Star Treks for that matter, will be able to follow the story. The episode stands as a discrete piece of drama. Little nods though, are given to the fans, like Betazed falling or more immediately, the now ironic rejection of realpolitik as the theme of the previous episode. But it can be understood by the uninitiated. This is an episode.

It is also exists as part of a larger story. Or more accurately, as part of a larger series of story arcs. The war with the Founders, Garak’s attempts to free his beloved Cardassia, the demands forced on Sisko by his duties to The Federation and to The Prophets and the larger implications for the geopolitical situation in the alpha-quadrant are all arcs which are served by this stand alone episode.

The strength of a series, especially in the pre-boxset and digital recoding eras, was the ability to entertain both the diehards and the occasional viewer. On could tune into an episode of Cheers and not know its provenance. but in the first ten seconds one would discern that Sam was a slut with a heart of gold. He has unresolved feelings towards the terminally uptight Diane. Norm is a barfly and Carla a harsh tongued independent woman.  

Back then there might be the occasional two-part episode and the second part would be preceded by a reminder of what was going on. If one was to try that with a demanding series like Homeland, the entire episode would be taken up with call-back. 

One now only sees the episode and the arc co-existing in soap-operas. One can dip in and out of ‘London Harpies and Their Wide Boys Being Shrill’ and have an idea what is going on. The devoted fan however, cannot afford to miss an episode. A particular arc may end, but it will spawn others. A series of true quality, will provide riveting episodes that both stand alone and continually move these arcs along. Deep Space 9 always did this, it was the Space Opera extraordinaire.  

Chief O’Brien on Comedy

(This is an article that the good people over on ramp.ie were kind enough to publish on their site)

If there is one thing that can be said about Chief Petty Officer, Miles O’Brien, is that he is not always Politically Correct. He may be able to make friends with an upper-class Arab, with an English Public School accent, but when it comes to Cardassians, it’s Cardie this and Cardie that. He really does not like them. He is not wholly above flirting with a pretty Cardassian (even if he maintains it was inadvertent), but generally, Cardassians cannot be trusted. He even killed a few of them, back on Setlik III.

Not very United Federation of Planets. Is it possible that this prejudice is such, that if Quark had a holosuite programme of Bernard Manning telling Cardassian jokes, Chief O’Brien would attend? Would he laugh? Would he take Keiko? Would he laugh as this holographic projection of Manning, inserts Cardassian into the place of black, paki, nigger, darkie, paddy and any other racial epitaph Manning delighted in, and grew rich in the use of?

Not likely. Chief O’Brien may not be always Politically Correct, but he is never hateful. He is also an engineer. He likes to work out how things tick. And he would recognise the genius of Manning. An excellent joke-smith, tapping into the latent (and not so latent) fears of his audience. There is a chance that the good Chief may titter a few times at the beginning of the routine, but he is an enlightened person. Soon he would be demanding his Latinum back from Quark. And if he was on the Enterprise, he would most likely book a session with Counsellor Troi.

What then would his response be to Quark selling him a Frankie Boyle holosuite experience? He would hear the same words used by Manning, but O’Brien would notice a qualitative difference. Boyle would make vicious jokes about Cardassians, but he would follow them with jokes about the religiously freakish, Bajorans. Even the fifty million or so Bajorans, killed during the Occupation would merit mention and mocking. O’Brien would be conflicted. Boyle would now be explaining that The Federation is so effete and liberal, that it would find some way to buy off the advances of The Founders, with sexual favours.

O’Brien would also hear the C-word used more often in that thirty minutes than he would have had all his life to that date, even having been born in Ireland. He is a soldier though, so he sensibilities would not be overwhelmed. He might even begin to laugh, understanding the fun there can be in undirected and scatological bile. Understanding how much stress relief there can be in laughing at things one shouldn’t laugh at. Then Boyle would tell a joke about Miles and Keiko losing their daughter, Molly, through an energy vortex. It would take weeks for the holosuite repairs to be completed.

And when repaired, Quark ever the trier, would take one last punt at finding a comedy programme O’Brien would enjoy. He would try Sarah Silverman. An understandably cautious O’Brien would not like what he was hearing. Again, many of the same words and phrases used by Manning and Boyle would litter Silverman’s routine. And O’Brien would be distracted by the sound of Jadzia Dax laughing so hard, she must lean on a grimacing Worf for support.

Why Silverman and not Manning or Boyle, he would be forced to ask? Silverman would tell the following joke; she imagined having to tell her parents she had married Worf. How would she tell them he was Klingon? It’s not that her parents are racist, they are, but why couldn’t she pick an alien from an honourable house? So she decides to emphasise his blackness instead, because he at least has a job.

Worf would storm out and Dax would be laughing too hard to follow him. It would only be then that it would dawn on O’Brien, why Silverman is a true genius and not someone peddling the reheated dregs of Manning’s imagination or the deliberately shocking humour of Boyle. O’Brien would see that Silverman takes on the persona of a cute, coquettish Manning, tells Manningesque jokes, but makes the real target, her persona.

Every racist, sectarian, sexist, homophobic joke she tells, has at its target, the type of person who misses Manning. Misses his ‘brave‘ attacks on the powerless. Misses being able to tall ‘paki‘ jokes without threat from the PC Brigade. Misses having Page Three girls plastered all over the walls at work. Misses being able to hate the ‘queers‘ openly and loudly. Silverman takes on the persona of a vacuous monster, because only a vacuous monster can hold to the views espoused by Manning and his knuckle dragging fans.

O’Brien would also have to appreciate that Silverman, provides the shocks that Boyle does, but in a context that is useful, rather than merely amusing. Yes she says terrible things that make one wonder if laughing is right, but the target is never a victim, the target is always a perpetrator of hatred. Boyle is not a racist, but he is a purveyor of empty calories.

O’Brien would appreciate this. He mightn’t enjoy it, but he wouldn’t ask for his Latinum back. He would however ask Quark to try getting him a John Bishop programme for the next time.


(This is an article that the good people over on ramp.ie were kind enough to publish on their site)

We love unique characters on our TVs, those quirky and singular and likely to be routinely beaten up in real life. Think Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel) from New Girl, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) from Friends, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) from The Big Bang Theory and Sue Heck (Eden Sher) from The Middle. All can be filed under ‘kooky’, a term our dictionary defines as ‘strange or eccentric’. In TV land, it is an archetype, usually female, and usually one which inspires strong feelings of either anger or devotion in the viewer.

That’s the thing about TV land; it can and does pigeonhole uniqueness. It doesn’t set out to undermine individuality. It’s just that in an industry which annually churns out many thousands of hours of product, every single character and characteristic has already been done. The fecundity of modern TV is not solely to blame; we have been inventing characters for thousands of years and let’s be honest, we’ve been repeating ourselves quite liberally for some time now.

One of the most enduring archetypes is a partnership rather than an individual character. A partnership of two contrasting, even conflicting personality types, who ,when combined, make a world-conquering team. It’s the archetype of the Warrior and the Intellect, and one which we would suggest began with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Star Trek.

It is an absorbing and enthralling relationship: the super-intellectual Spock and Kirk, the emotionally intelligent warrior. Time and again, death is defied and the universe is saved, as Kirk, with his über-manliness and all round awesome humanity, leads Spock, a character who seems to know more, but in reality only knows more facts, and not how to live and love. Influenced by Kirk’s emotional intelligence, Spock grows in humanity.

The attractiveness of this dynamic has led to its attempted replication in many other TV programmes. Even the Star Trek franchise had another pop at it; think Enterprise, with Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and T’Pol (Jolene Blalock).

There’s the relationship between Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Doctor Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan (Emily Deschanel) in Bones. Super geek and amateur human being, Brennan wishes to see the world outside of her laboratory. She is partnered with the emotionally intelligent warrior, Seeley Booth. They conquer the world and she becomes more human.

In Eureka, Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) plays the emotionally intelligent warrior to an entire town of slightly off-kilter egg-heads. He repeatedly saves this community of effeminate super scientists from disaster after disaster.

In Stargate SG1, there is a twist. There are two warriors and two brainiacs. The undoubted leader – the special one, the supreme warrior, the all-round, fully fledged human –  is Jack O’Neill. Even the Asgard recognised his specialness, and they stopped having sex thousands of years ago, so you know they have to be very focused on what they are doing and saying and thinking.

More recently, in Rizzoli and Isles, we have come full circle. Both character types are played by women: a tomboy warrior and her shoe-loving, brainy side-kick.

What’s remarkable about this archetypal partnership is that the warrior is always the more level-headed one, and the leader. In contrast, in the Sherlock Holmes tales, the eccentric genius is the leader. His many human failings do not disqualify him from leadership. He is clearly the more intelligent, thus is in charge. Doctor Watson, with his Military Service and his ability to interact with people, is relegated to a subservient role.

They toyed with this more old-fashioned value in the Star Trek movie in 2009. In this version, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is Kirk’s (Chris Pine) superior officer. This is treated as potentially disastrous. World-endingly bad, in fact. This inverted relationship, twisting the roles whilst essentially staying true to the archetype, is curious.

So to what can we attribute the enduring success of the Warrior/Intellect archetype? Is it an American value? Or is it more primal? Is it patriarchal? Is the archetype a somewhat peculiar view of the relationship between a husband and his wife, the solid and mature warrior and his book-smart, hysterical woman?

Perhaps we are doing this archetype a disservice by not describing the relationships as partnerships. But let’s be honest; Kirk does not play second fiddle to anyone. And it’s strange that even though there’s a fetishisation of technology in the genres in which we most often identify this archetype – science fiction, crime/forensics drama – the manly warriors are in charge an awful lot.

Fouling in Football

An article I wrote about Fouling in Football, which the good people over at balls.ie were kind enough to publish.

Not many people may be aware of this, but actuarially speaking, hurling is a safer game than football. Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But think about it for a bit. We assume that just because hurling involves sticks, it must mean more injuries are incurred. The thing is, the players are not allowed to hit each other with the sticks. It happens, but it is a rare thing indeed to see a player get a debilitating injury from a hurley.

Hurling might be a contact sport, but the object of the game i.e. possession of the sliotar, does not lend itself to the kind of full-on collisions, which are part and parcel of Gaelic Football. The rules of hurling are also clearer on what constitutes a legitimate tackle. Football unfortunately, has evolved to the point, where the game and the amazingly fit men and women who play it, have moved beyond the rules.

No longer the simple game of catch and kick, but a torrid 70 minute drag-fest, where every single blade of grass is covered and almost every attempt at self-expression is smothered, if not actively discouraged by one’s coach. Yes, I know you’re now asking; is this to be another lament by a Kerryman for a game, Kerry used to win, by just showing up? I’ll admit, there’s an element of that to this, but the deterioration I see in football is more than just a matter of self-centered aesthetics.

The problem you see, is that players are now fit enough to be as cynical as any professional player in any sport. We idolise sport, but we know that at the highest levels, team-games are amazingly cynical. Soccer, Rugby, Australian-Rules, American Football, Hurling and Gaelic Football, it doesn’t matter, the will and desire to win, far out-strips any of our quaint notions of Corinthian values, fairness and honour.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve noticed that when friends meet to play and there are no referees, the participants tend to police themselves and keep the cynicism to a minimum. In saying that, when I’ve played five-a-side with my friends, I will take that extra second to return a ball for a free, just to make sure I am in the correct position. And I do take a certain unfortunate delight, in ‘accidentally‘ obstructing an opposing player. We laugh about it of course, but we both know it’s a form of cheating.

If I wasn’t fat and old, I am certain I would not only have more opportunities to cheat, I would take a portion of those opportunities. Now imagine if I was playing for my County, there are thousands of baying fans, TV cameras and an All-Ireland at stake. Well you don’t have to imagine it. Just watch a Gaelic Football game from the last ten years. They’re a dreadful mess.

Again, this is not because we have suddenly become nasty people, no, we were always nasty. Look at the some of the old games on TG4. No, the difference is, the less skillful can now keep up with the skillful and foul them when necessary. A situation made worse by the fact that it is very difficult to get sent off in Gaelic Football and there are so many players to share the fouls between.

Taking substitutes into account, a team can commit up to 40 fouls (depending on the nature of the fouls of course) before a player need be sent off. 40 fouls! More than one foul every two minutes. That’s 40 fouls, by just one team!

Players are free to foul, players are fit enough to foul, the rules are ambiguous enough that sometimes a foul tackle is not a foul tackle, depending on the referee and most importantly, there is a belief that sending a player off is almost always too harsh. It spoils the game is the refrain. I assume this is cited as a defence, because the All-Ireland series, even with the innovation of the ‘back-door‘ is terribly short. Too few people seem to want to see players pay a high price for fouling, as there are so few important games.

This is destroying the game as a spectacle. Soccer is possibly the most obscenely cynical profession on the planet. Players kiss their badges in May and then happily move to a rival club in August. And they will chop a player down, dive, intimidate a ref, cheat and cheat and cheat, but the ruling body of Soccer knows that to attract people to the sport, it must be an attractive sport. So when a player brings down Messi, that player knows he is going to pay a price.

Attacking players are afforded as much protection as possible. Could a team as short in stature as Barcelona, have thrived in any other era? No chance, they would have been kicked from pillar to post and be expected to get on with it. Players get sent off more frequently and get suspended for longer. Is soccer now purer than Gaelic Football? No, but it does have a better idea of human nature. People will cheat, so let there be a price and make that price sufficiently high, that more often than not, cheating isn’t worth it. Sometimes you are gong to have to let Messi get by you, without trying to kick him.

In Gaelic Football it is almost always worth bringing down a player who is in a scoring position. Imagine a game of Gaelic Football with less than a dozen personal fouls committed over the 70 minutes. Imagine that type of football. Even Hurling would benefit from that change. The problem though, is that people like me are in a minority. It appears to me that most people are content with their 70 minute drag-fests, where fitness can overcome skill. It’s no wonder then I now wouldn’t cross the road to watch a game of football. Why would I when I can access so many more attractive alternatives?


An article I wrote about Hurling, which the good people over at balls.ie were good enough to publish.

One of my first sporting memories is tears. I cried like a baby in 1982. I was eight years old and I knew two things for certain; Kerry did not lose and the five-in-a-row was our destiny. Eight years old and I was already marked as one of those people who is emotionally involved with the actions of men in shorts, playing with balls. It is a sad life, caring so much about events over which one has no control. We can shout and roar, and wear our lucky underwear, but which way the ball flies, remains something over which we really have no control.

And when it comes to following a GAA side, we don’t even get a choice of which side to support. Worse, we don’t always even get to decide which sport. I’m from Lixnaw, County Kerry. My first love is hurling. My teams are Lixnaw and Kerry. There are less than ten senior hurling sides in Kerry and yet, in over a century, Lixnaw has won only seven County Championships. Kerry itself, hasn’t won the All Ireland in hurling, since 1891. And don’t think for a second we still don’t talk about that.

We don’t even have a football side in Lixnaw. We send our footballers to Finuge. And when I say our footballers, I mean our hurlers who like to play soccer, football and any sport that’s going i.e. normal young fellas. The difference of course, is that some of our hurlers, who go to play with Finuge, come back with All Ireland Medals. The be all and end all, of GAA competition, a Senior All Ireland Medal. We have gone so far as to give the Kerry footballers a manager, Eamon FitzMaurice. A hurler from Lixnaw.

The strange thing now, is that I support Lixnaw, Kerry and hurling. And as I get older, it is hurling, more than Kerry and Lixnaw that holds my loyalty. When the draw for the Munster Championship is held, my attention is to the hurling side. Before the boom ended, I would join my Old Man and his posse, in Munster wide journeys, the Gaelic Grounds, Semple and Páirc Uí Chaoimh were regularly visited. Circuitous, traffic avoiding routes chosen, sandwiches eaten and the last minute remembered pens, for the keeping track of who scored what, for the post-mortems.

Without computer graphic, without computational egg-head, the game and it’s statistics were parsed in ways I have yet to see matched on any TV. Just on the strength of ticks against names and a few centuries of experienced witness. It was analysis I could never hope to emulate. I was content to sit and listen, keeping my usually loose lips shut and my ears open.

And I learned that these neutrals, loved hurling above all else. No team, no player, no era, mattered more, than the hurling itself, than its long term future. It took me a while to realise that. I have invested a great deal of my affection for hurling in Kilkenny. I am near blinded by their greatness. I have even made the pilgrimage to Nowlan Park to watch them rehearse their battle plans. I count it a great privilege to live in this era, this Kilkenny Age.

It is an enthusiasm not shared by my Father and his friends. In fact, their joy in hurling is dimmed. Where I love Kilkenny’s dominance, they merely respect their prowess. For in their hearts they nurse a fear. A fear that the narrow base upon which hurling rests, will be further eroded by this Kilkenny tide.

I’m not sure I share their worry, but then I am not old enough to remember a time when the Kerry hurlers could beat Galway. Could compete in Munster without humiliation. I’m not old enough to remember someone, who’s father won that one Hurling All-Ireland over a century ago. Now Kerry, nor its clubs, play in any senior competitions in Munster, while our footballers bring back an All-Ireland every three years or so.

Does the brilliance of Kilkenny risk putting hurling in the shade? Is the culture of hurling, too shallow, to long endure a single dominant force? I don’t know. Dublin and Clare have come to the fore at underage level in the recent past. Galway and Tipperary have interrupted Kilkenny’s winning streak. And a county like Cork, does not take many years to build an All-Ireland winning side, even if from scratch.

I cannot however, dismiss concerns about hurling’s long-term future as paranoia. Hurling is just too damned important and peculiarly Irish, not to warrant constant concern and nurturing. But I’m still going to shout for Kilkenny next year and in twenty years from now, I hope to the gods, that I get to bore the arse off of some young fella, about the greatest team that ever played, the greatest game that ever was.


Deep Space 9

(This is an article that the good people over on ramp.ie were kind enough to publish on their site)

It ever been thus, that our species will divide on issues of fundamental import. Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars. Old Testament versus New. Side-parting versus centre-parting. Ryan Turbidy versus a punch in the genitals. None of these conflicts however, can compare to the flame war that breaks out among Trekkies, regarding Deep Space Nine.

On one side are those who think DS9 represents the apotheosis of boldly sainted Gene Roddenberry’s vision. A true frontier being explored. The worthwhile adventure of pushing the boundaries of Federation civilisation and values, so that they encompass and protect the ravaged planet of Bajor and it’s slowly recovering people. Not blundering around in the fucking dark, wondering what shit Q is up to now. Pitting the values of The Federation against the rapacious and recalcitrant Cardassians. Against the genocidal Founders. And most importantly, against the superstitions and atavism of the traumatised Bajoran people.

On the other side are the witless wrong.

Why does Deep Space Nine, resonate with those of us who are on the right side of this divide? The Good Trekkies for short. Ultimately it is all to do with Bajor. A world we first learn of through the character of Ensign Ro Laren. As a recurring character in Star Trek, The Next Generation, we discover that Bajor has been occupied by the Cardassians for decades and that this occupation has been brutal in the extreme. Costing millions of Bajoran lives. The bitterness engendered is so strong, that a women of strong convictions and loyalty, like Ensign Ro, will betray Captain Picard, her mentor, to continue her war with the Cardassians.

Ensign Ro, deserts the Enterprise to join The Maquis. A terrorist organisation, which was created as a plot-device, to facilitate a clash of cultures in Star Trek, Voyager, becomes a rather wonderful sub-plot, because, for the first time, we are introduced to an enemy of The Federation, which one could contemplate supporting. A comprehensive Peace Treaty, is signed between The Federation and The Cardassians Union. As part of this Treaty, several Federation worlds are ceded to the Cardassians.
The Federation citizens, on these planets, are offered resettlement, but many choose to instead, arm themselves. Choosing to fight the Cardassians, in defiance of The Federation. They were ‘sold out‘ by The Federation, for the common good after all. Difficult not to feel a certain sympathy.

So we meet Commander Benjamin Sisko. A man charged with running an abandoned Cardassian Space Station, as the Cardassians have left Bajor. A broken man, yet who fulfills Captain Picard’s one wish, he protected Bajor. Threading that razor sharp path, between Federation idealism tinged with pragmatism and Bajor’s brutalised spirituality. A task only made possible, by his relationship with Major Kira Nerys (my favourite of all the Star Trek characters). A Bajoran resistance-fighter who must attempt to make an accommodation between her desire to be a traditionalist and the reality of her seeing compromise and The Federation as Bajor’s best hope for a safe and secure future.

All the other characters add to this grand narrative-arc in their own way, while also telling compelling stories of their own.

In Doctor Julian Bashir, the callow idealist, we learn in Episode 1, that this is a frontier posting. Not, ‘Helm, Warp 6, engage.’ No, this is a Fort, built in hostile territory and designed to establish a presence and protect the locals. The good doctor is sharply rebuked for his gurning excitement by The Major. Reminding him, that this is also her home.

Then there is the enigmatic Odo. A Changeling, a Shapeshifter, a Founder. A Member of a species, so paranoid, so sociopathic, so xenophobic, that it feels no compunction about eliminating entire civilisations, just to make a point. In contrast, Odo is almost Cardassian in his moral rigidity, but is saved from the extremes of Cardassian and Founder morality, by his empathy. I was ‘shipping’ for him and Kira from early on. Their final scene together, made me cry. She had finally met some worthy of her…anyway moving on.

Of course there is Chief Miles O’Brien and the most profound bromance on TV, ever. The O’Brien/Bashir Show. For some, this relationship had a cheesy ‘look at the Brit and the Paddy getting along so well, if only we blew the populations of Ireland and the UK into space, all would be peace and loveliness,‘ feel to it. I didn’t get that. All I saw was that for a Kerry Man to find his equal, he must find someone who has been genetically engineered. A burden? Yes. But one that must be shouldered with grace and modesty.

Glamour was provided by bon vivant, dilettante, purveyor of bon-mots and shoulder spotted, Jadzia Dax. Referred to as “Old man’ by Sisko, due to her being the seventh host of the thinking worm, that resides within her. She is uniquely his mentor and his subordinate. And she is proof positive that Sisko is so evolved, that he does not see boobs, only age. She was a warrior scientist, the very epitome of Federation values.

And she conquered the heart of Worf, son of Mogh. In Jadzia, Worf finally found a mate that could help him overcome the identity crisis he had always suffered, was he of the Empire or The Federation. With Jadzia’s guidance, he learned to be both. Their bond was such that when the Host Jadzia was killed, Worf and the new Host, Ezri, ignored an enormous cultural taboo, to continue their relationship. Makes you wonder about the nature of the host-symbiont relationship doesn’t it? No really, doesn’t it?
Comic relief was provided by the über-capitalist Quark, of the Ferengi Alliance. A brutish looking individual with a brutish business philosophy. His relaxed attitude towards other people’s mores, brought him into constant conflict with Odo. Inevitably leading to mutual respect and friendship. We even witnessed a growing morality in Quark, despite his best efforts to resist the taming hold of The Federation.

As counter-point to Quark, was the Station’s resident enemy, Garak. This menacing tailer is a disgraced former Cardassian spy. And not some low-level watcher. He was a spy’s spy. And he represented that politically correct school of thought, that even a dangerous, possibly murderous person, is allowed feel pride in their culture, just so long as they try to keep the massacring down to a minimum.

There were then three major villains. Gul Dukat, a man so insane one just knew he was going to die screaming, falling into a pit of flames. Kai Winn, a religious leader of such conviction, that she found in herself all those qualities, she felt most represented the Gods she served. And finally the Founders, who engaged The Federation in an existential conflict, of such overwhelming destruction, that one could be forgiven for wondering why the Borg didn’t try their hand at this point.

Why this grand departure from the usual Star Trek format worked, was because it was part Western and part soap-opera. And it yanked hard on the fabric of Federation idealism. Fraying it, sometimes even ripping it, but never casually discarding it. The Federation supported Bajor, even if that meant remaining outside The Federation during a war. The Federation never once relaxed it’s campaign against The Maquis, despite individuals deserting, despite whatever sympathy one felt, despite, being on the same side as the Cardassians. And while they procured allies and advantage in their war against the Founders, in ways that compromised Federation values, a genocidal counter-strike was quickly discounted once a more civilised resolution became available.

Perhaps its greatest strength, was that in the story-arc of Bajor, who I maintain was the central character of this story, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. There was back-story and there was enough information to make an educated guess about the future. Bajor, a planet and people, that drew the special interest of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. A people the great Captain cared about. A people, let us not forget, that never once appeared in fucking Babylon fucking 5.

Anatomy of a Goal

This evening as I was watching Spain play themselves into the history books, I was taken by the epic scope and beauty of their first strike. At the time I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but it appeared to me that the goal scored by David Silva, originated deep in Spanish Territory. I had been taken by the raking cross-field pass by Xabi Alonso, which was a pivotal and eye-catching part of the build up, but I wasn’t sure where it had all started.

Fortunately I was able to look at a replay on the internet and discover the full story of this epoch defining goal. Yep, I said epoch defining. I won’t apologise, I admire this Spanish side that much.

If I wished to write a book on the subject of this goal, I could get altogether melodramatic and write an opening chapter on General Franco. If it were a thesis, I would most likely begin with Cruyff. An article, would begin with the pressure being exerted on this fine and only recently lauded Italian side. But this a blog post, written at 2am, on a school night, so I will start at the only beginning that really matters.

It begins with a rather aimless and uncharacteristic punt forward by the Italian defender, Leonardo Bonucci. He wasn’t being pressed particularly hard, but there weren’t many obvious options open to him. He was striding from his own box and possibly he could have found Andrea Pirlo to his left. Instead, he tried to hit a striker with a long ball.

His pass went directly to Iker Casillas, in the Spanish goal, or in the interests of accuracy, went directly to Casillas who was patrolling the edge of his box. The time elapsed was 12.45. He rolled the ball, to Sergio Ramos, about ten metres outside and slightly to the left of the box. Ramos, controlled the ball, turned and passed it to Xabi Alonso, a further 15 metres up the pitch. As Alonso was immediately pressed, he returned the ball directly to Ramos. He took one touch and then passed it further left, to Jordi Alba, who was just over half-way between his box and the half-way line, hugging the side-line.

Alba dribbled the ball to the half-way line, still hugging the side-line. Finding himself closed down, he turned and passed back to Alonso, who was more or less in the same position Alba had been when he had received the ball from Ramos.

Alonso, from his position close on the left side-line, hit a diagonal (approximately a 50 plus metres pass, I’m poor at judging such distances) pass to Alvaro Arbeloa, who was about half-way between the half-way line and the Italian box, ten metres in from the right side-line.

Arbeloa controlled the ball instantly, as is the Spanish way. At this point there were seven Italian outfield players in the Italian half. Of these, three were ahead of Arbeloa, who immediately passed infield to David Silva. Who again, almost immediately passed to Andres Iniesta, who was to his left. Iniesta with is first touch returned the ball to Silva and continued towards the Italian box.

At this point in the sequence, the ball is half way between the centre circle and the Italian box, more or less dead centre. The Italian back four are set and their middle four look like they are in the positions they should be in. This is a little deceptive, as the control being exerted by Spain in this passing movement and the pace of that control means they have a momentum, which we shall see later in the sequence, is irresistible.

Silva then passes out to Arbeloa on the right, who is now about ten metres closer to the corer of the Italian box, still near the side-line. Arbeloa then passes in-field to Xabi, who passes a few metres in front of him to Iniesta, who has doubled back on himself. Iniesta turns and spots that Cesc Fabregas is making a run into the box, to Iniesta’s right. Iniesta, when he passes is again half-way between the center circle and the Italian box. Fabregas receives the ball, in the Italian box, midway between the small and large squares, to the left of the Italian keeper.

The Italians are still in their two banks of four and look like they are set, but not once since Alonso’s pass into their half, have they gotten close enough to the ball to make a tackle. They are not even in a position to hurry whatever Spanish player is in possession.

Iniesta to Fabregas is the thirteenth pass in this movement. It has started in the Spanish box and is now with Fabregas, receiving the ball, on the run, in the Italian box. Here finally an Italian defender gets within shouting distance of the ball. Fabregas takes it to the end-line and cuts the ball back.

Here the Italian defense can possibly be criticized. I would contend however, that Iniesta’s pass and the speed at which Fabregas used the ball, meant that the Italian defenders were turned and chasing back, thus were unable to track the simple run of Silva. He, a rather small player, ran down the centre of the Italian box, between two Italian defenders, and met the crossed ball from Fabregas. He headed the ball from the line of the small box, to the far corner, his left. The ball having come from his right.

Nine different Spanish players touched the ball, in this sequence of fourteen passes. Silva’s goal was clocked at 13.21, 36 seconds after Casillas had gathered the ball in his own area. It is, to my mind a perfect goal. The only real Italian mistake was giving the ball away so cheaply and needlessly in the first place.

Once given away however, they were never allowed the opportunity to take it back and once Alonso had changed the point of attack so dramatically, the Italians, while appearing prepared, were never quiet in this game i.e. that game the Spanish were playing for those 36 seconds. A game where only a Spanish mistake could have prevented the Spanish from winning. A game which defines this Spanish side. A game of short and long passes, of incisive passes, of controlling passes, of good runs and of ball retention. Of domination and of finishing.

36 seconds of total football. It is epic.

Two and a Half Men

Deep down, I am an incredibly shallow person. I really am. I enjoy Two and a Half Men. It may not be my favourite sit-com, but I never miss an episode. To be honest, I rarely miss any episodes of any sit-coms, once it’s piqued my interest. But it isn’t liking Two and a Half Men alone that makes me shallow, it’s that I love sit-coms above all other art-forms. Worse than that, I think the Americans make the best ones.

The earliest sit-com that I can remember following (though how one followed anything before the the advent of those little magic boxes that ‘series link’ I just do not know) was Family Ties. It was a programme that annoyed me greatly, but I was almost immediately addicted to the format. The combination of the episodic, the story arc and laughter. A 20 to 25 minute peek into the lives of people, that if well written become part of one’s own life, combined with humour, is to my mind, an unbeatable experience.

The first sit-com I really loved was Roseanne. It was loud, brash, working class and remained very funny up to its jumping the shark moment i.e. the lottery win. I was able to watch people’s lives, married couples bickering, children growing, money problems, romantic problems and incisive humour. I also followed The Cosby Show at the same time and while enjoyable, it was a tad dull and middle class. The format however, did keep bringing me back to it.

Then I saw Fawlty Towers and I realised I had been setting my standards too low. Well, that’s what I thought for a while. No 12 episodes of any sit-com ever made, could stack up against Fawlty Towers. It is peerless. Yet there are 236 episodes of Friends. How does one compare 12 episodes of genius with 236 episodes of good to excellent? I’m sure there are some people reading this who are now experiencing rage that I have put Fawlty Towers and Friends in the same paragraph and not used the opportunity to pour scorn on Friends.

I understand that emotion. Fawlty Towers is a precious thing and the ubiquity of Friends has all but poisoned our memories to its better moments. But I cannot dismiss the disparity in the number of episodes produced/created; 236 versus 12? They are both sit-coms, it is not like differentiating between Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is not even comparing Star Wars with Star Trek. It’s Star Trek Voyager versus Battle Star Galactica (the newer series obviously)(though to be fair, in this scenario Voyager would have to be imagined as being much much better than it was and Galactica as only 12 episodes long). I think you get the picture. Apples and oranges, but apples being a citrus fruit.

It is through watching the career of John Cleese that I came to fully understand the difference between British and American sit-coms. As part of a relatively large team of writers, Monty Python, Cleese helped create the genius that is Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the equally genius films that followed. He was part of a team that produced 45 episodes, 5 films, numerous albums and books and that toured NorthAmerica like rock stars. He then wrote Fawlty Towers in partnership with Connie Booth. There was no one else. They filmed the series on a shoe string and that was it. I often ponder what would have happened if Cleese and Booth had been given American levels of support and resources. Cleese famously disliked working in teams and Friends had more writers than Monty Python, so I can’t help thinking he would have been fired by the end of Season2. He would have retained the credit ‘Created by’ but the series would have continued without him.

The disparity in resources available is not just a quirk of personality. The money generated by American sit-coms is phenomenal. Seinfeld has made billions of dollars. A successful sit-com is a cash cow, a money spinner par excellence and a goose that lays golden eggs. British sit-coms continue to be short run little gems. The pay-offs are simply not there to risk investing a great deal of money in a British sit-com. Instead there are occasional world beaters like The Office (UK Office = 2 writers. US Office = 17 writers) and the cheaper to produce, sketch show.

Back in the day when I presumed Americans did not get irony or self-deprecation, this would be a thing to be regretted. In this time of 30 RockModern Family and The Big Bang Bang Theory however (and there are others I have yet to see but have heard good things about) I know that I am living through a Golden Age of sit-coms. Just one of those mentioned, would fill me with glee, but there are three of them on together. It’s stunning.

So why Two and a Half Men? I’m currently watching Season9. I was curious to see if they could fit Ashton Kutcher into Charlie Sheen’s boots and they’ve done so quite successfully. I’ve watched every episode of every season and it took me two seasons (yep, my addiction is matched only by my slowness) to work out why this nasty piece of work, works? Season1 just screamed misogyny. Every female character is shrill, conniving, slutty, grasping and vile. I was continually stunned by just how unpleasant ‘all’ the female characters were. Even Berta, the outsider, the one I’d assumed would act as the show’s conscience, turned out to be repellant.

In Season2 however, it clicked. Two and a Half Men is not misogynist, it is misanthropic, it is downright un-American, it is subversive and it is dystopian. There is not a single attractive character in the entire show. Not one, male or female, child or adult. All are equally the villain of the piece. I am unaware of any sit-com which is so resolutely unheroic, unsympathetic and causes one to feel grubby if one identifies with any of the characters.

 In contrast, Modern Family is a conservative paean to the importance of the family in American society. It is in every way a positive and joyous celebration of family values. The addition of two Hispanic, two gay and an Asian character merely makes it appear more modern. It is so obvious yet its quality saves it from being hokey and cheesy. It is possibly the best written sit-com I’ver ever had the pleasure of laughing at. I look forward to Fridays, just because Modern Family will be on.

I do not have that same affection for Two and a Half Men (I’d worry about anyone who would) but I still won’t miss it. It’s subversiveness can be seen in the contrasting economic fortunes of Charlie and Alan. Charlie does little and is richly rewarded for that minimal effort. Alan works himself to distraction and is rewarded with poverty and scorn. But is there a moral to this? No! Charlie engages in consequence free hedonism and Alan disgusts one and all with his cheapness.

Even at the end of Season8, when life imitated art with Charlie Sheen being fired for his behaviour, he received a $25million pay-off and is expected to earn another $100million in syndication fees. Unless they start making coke out of gold, Sheen’s money will outlive his liver, heart and lungs.

That is what is so un-American, so subversive about Two and a Half Men and ultimately why I watch it, it shows only what is small in people. There is no idealism, no hope, no aspiration beyond the next act of self-indulgence. It is squalid and yet so few people realise that the bile on the surface merely disguises the true cesspool at its heart.

They are a dysfunctional family without any redeeming features (other than a beautiful house in a beautiful location), it is the anti-Simpsons. It is purist anarchy. It consistently avoids lecturing, avoids hectoring, avoids any teaching, any moralising, any hope and any attempt to inspire. It is in fact unique and it will prove impossible to emulate. It is so wrong, but I will continue to watch it, because if you’ve nothing to mix the vodka with, you’ll still just hold your nose and horse that harsh swill back.

Lord of the Rings (The Movies)

In an earlier post I embarrassed myself with my big love of the Lord of the Rings book. In this blog I will embarrass myself further with a description of my ten favourite scenes from the LOTR film trilogy.

If you are the type of person who hasn’t watched (or studied) the extended versions of each of these epoch altering films, then you may find this blog a tad tedious.

My only regret about these movies (other than that they are not much much longer) is that Peter Jackson’s achievements did not launch a raft of large scale adult fantasy films. Understanding this failure is difficult. Did Peter Jackson set the bar too high? Is the film industry too scared to trust the non-fantasy book reader to dip their toes again? Is the source material without peer? Has the world-wide recession just taken too much money out of the movie industry? Or in this golden age for television, would epic fantasy be better accommodated on the small screen?

Anyway, these are my ten favourite scenes.

10 – RETURN OF THE KING – Near the end of the film, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are having a drink in The Green Dragon. As they settle to their drinks, they share a look, as scenes of rustic oblivion carry on around them. In that look is shared an understanding that they will be forever apart from the others in the Shire. They know and accept that only their exclusive little group can understand what they experienced. It’s a quick look they share and it speaks volumes. It reminded me of those so many movies that showed the difficulty veterans had in adjusting to normal society after the heightened reality of war.

9 – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Gollum and Sméagol’s debate about how to react towards Frodo’s rapprochement is a stand out moment of acting, characterisation and CGI. We get to watch, what is essentially a glorified cartoon, play two dramatic roles which succeed in winning the viewers empathy. It is a near perfect piece of acting. Anyone who bemoans the advent of CGI should watch this and see how Andy Serkis, CGI and fine writing add immeasurably to the art of film making.

8 – TWO TOWERS – As the Urak-Hai approach Helm’s Deep, King Theoden orders all able bodied males, including boys and old men to be pressed into the defence of the Keep. We watch as mothers and old women cry as their sons and husbands are taken away and armed. It’s a short scene, without dialogue and with emotive music in the back ground. It succeeds completely in alerting the viewer that this battle is about the extermination of the Rohirrim not the mere elimination of an enemy fortress.

7 – RETURN OF THE KING – The relationship between Legolas and Gimli is one of my favourite parts of the LOTR book and while the film version of this relationship is perhaps a tad glib it is still thoroughly enjoyable. Though it may be argued that those of us who read the book first would have gotten more out of the film version than those who didn’t. What the film version hints at, but the books detail, is the ‘daggers drawn’ tension and dislike that exits between Elves and Dwarves. This is due to pre LOTR events, but be assured, they don’t like each other. They both however, provide a great deal of the comedy throughout the movies culminating in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Legolas and Gimli are keeping a kill count throughout the story and when Legolas brings down a mûmakil, with great aplomb, Gimli dismisses it still only counting as one.

6 – TWO TOWERS – Elrond attempts to convince his daughter, Arwen, to take a ship to Valinor. Arwen doesn’t want to go as she is in love with Aragorn and still has hope that he will survive the coming battles. There follows a very emotional and haunting scene where Elrond explains to Arwen her probable fate, even if Aragorn survives and thrives. He paints a picture of her watching him eventually die and her spending a near eternity withering away in grief. It’s quite beautiful and chilling.

5 – RETURN OF THE KING – Annie Lennox helped write and she sang ‘Into the West’ which is on the LOTR soundtrack. So good was this song that it won an Oscar. It is a beautiful song and even though it is the culminating piece of three epic films, it in quite melancholic. It tells of the passing of an Age and the loss of magic. Those who have read the book will recognise a quote from Legolas, about hearing the sea birds and will know the significance of this. It is a song that still has the power to bring a lump to my throat.

4 – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Boromir’s last stand against the Urak-Hai is as heroic as it is redemptive. Having failed to resist the lure of The Ring, Boromir sacrifices himself to protect Merry and Pippin. We get to see him at his warrior best, standing bravely against overwhelming odds. Better still, he recognises Aragorn as his King and receives absolution from him. His momentary aberration is washed away and he dies a warrior, his honour intact.

All my top three moments from The Trilogy, all feature King Theoden. I found this character interesting in the books, but no more than that. Bernard Hill however gave a wonderful performance and I think he managed to steal every scene he was in. Theoden is a torn man and a torn monarch. The time lost under the influence of Wormtongue are a source of shame for Theoden and eat away at his confidence as King. This Theoden is inspirational as he strives to be the King he thinks he should be while he leads his people through their darkest hour.

3 – TWO TOWERS – As the Urak-Hai approach Helm’s Deep, Theoden is helped to don his armour. As he does so, he asks his aid de camp if he trusts his King. Theoden doesn’t appear to expect to survive the coming battle and is stealing himself for it. There is so much self-doubt and yet so much determination in him as he recites a poem. They also slowed down the action, which ad to the atmosphere.

2 – RETURN OF THE KING – This was my favourite scene in all three films from the moment I saw it. Though at the time of writing this, it is my second favourite, but ask me in a week and it may have swopped places again with my present favourite. Theoden at the head of the Rohirrim crests a hill and looks down on a sea of Orcs covering Pelennor Fields. Even with his 6000 men, charging the massed ranks of Orc would be near suicidal. Despite this however, Theoden inspires his soldiers to make the charge anyway. He gets them so excited that they embrace their deaths. Then they charge and it has so much momentum that nothing and no one can stand against them.

1 – RETURN OF THE KING – King Theoden’s death is as near a perfect ending of a life as one could ever hope for. Theoden had the opportunity to restore his honour, the honour of this throne and the honour of his people and he seized that opportunity. His inspired charge broke the Orc lines, he charged the mûmakil and in the end it took a Nazgûl to bring him down. His parting words (again beautifully acted by Bernard hill) to Éowyn are I think Shakespearean, ‘I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company, I shall not now feel ashamed’. He doesn’t pass just then however, there is a moment of fear as he dies. A fitting end to a man and monarch worthy of respect.


LOTR Homage

Other than pontificating about how much better the World would be, if only everyone thought as I thought, I have also always wanted to blog about Lord of the Rings. I love this book, I really do. I have to be careful however not to claim this book as being one of the most important books of all time, just because it is so important to me.

I’m not suggesting that it is a brilliant book. I read a quote once that described it as a book about scenery. It is a book where the female characters are underwritten, there is little if any moral ambiguity and it is, in Tolkien’s words, too short. I must confess that when I reread it, I tend to skim over large sections, usually large chunks of the beginning and much of the Frodo and Sam narrative.

As a lifelong reader of epic fantasy I don’t think LOTR would even make my top five fantasy books. It remains however one of the most important books I have ever read. It remains the fantasy book that all others are judged by and none have yet surpassed. The reasons for this are; the term ‘epic’ and the mad genius of Tolkien.

Tolkien set out to create (or restore) an Anglo-Saxon mythology which did not survive the Norman conquest of the British Isles. Added to this insane desire was his in depth knowledge and passion for Norse languages. Thus he created an entire World, Middle-Earth and then told a little story about this World and called it the Lord of the Rings.

It is in this that LOTR has yet to be emulated. It is a book that appeals to the historian in us. References, hints, asides and allusions permeate the text and instead of being lazy back story, they all exist as historical facts that he has already written. Think on that. LOTR is but the tip of the creative iceberg. It is World War II or the Fall of the Roman Empire or the Renaissance. His World even has its creation myth, as detailed in The Silmarillion.

Erikson, Jordan and Martin write on impressive scales. Tolkienesque however remains the domain of just the man himself. Peter Jackson realised this and attempted to render this historicity on film, quite successfully in my opinion.

Scale alone however, does not explain the hold LOTR has over me. Timing is the vital second ingredient that makes LOTR so addictive. In this, one of its weaknesses becomes one of its strengths, namely the moral certainty. A modern novel without moral equivocations would be unreadable. I first read LOTR in my early teens.

It was in my early teens that I had begun to realise just how bleakly amoral the World really was. I had begun to see that black and white were really infinite shades of grey and it didn’t help that Spitting Image was showing me that an intellectually challenged Ronald Reagan had his shaky confused finger hovering over the nuclear button.

LOTR offered certainty, it offered heroism and it was moral. Granted it was an anti-feminist, xenophobic, violent and Christian ethic, but it was still something more worthy than what was being offered by reality.

That is why this ardent and strident atheist still returns to LOTR. I already know the truth about death but in LOTR I can find some truths about living, or at the very least, some stirring distractions.

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