29/06/03 Monday Night's TV
A new documentary series, called "Human Senses", starts tomorrow night on BBC1 at 830pm. Presented by zoologist Nigel Marven, the series covers similar ground to Lord Robert Winston's recent series on human nature. Marven goes in search of the biological roots of our senses to understand why we like the things we like. The answer will surely be "those things which it was in our interests to like around 100,000 years ago", as any reader of Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker or Matt Ridley would know. It's nice to see TV finally start to catch up with the discoveries of evolutionary psychology, but I wonder if the BBC knew the full philosophical implications of EP, would the politically-correct station be so keen to make documentaries about it?
Also on monday night, E4 broadcast the season finale of teen scifi hit "Smallville", BBC1 air the penultimate episode of slick spy show "Spooks", and TG4 have repeats of quirky series "The Fearing Mind", guest-starring Nicole de Boer of Star Trek DS9 fame.

28/06/03 Gettysburg
"In March 1997, a park ranger noticed bones protruding from an eroded rail bed - the remains of a soldier who died on the first day of fighting. 'No clothing or anything else that might have identified him as Union or Confederate could be found,' writes McPherson. Four months later, the soldier was buried in the national cemetery with full military honors. Two Civil War widows - the final two - attended. As teenagers in the 1920s, they had married old veterans. One of the ladies was white, from Alabama; the other was black, from Colorado."
James McPherson, author of the definitive single-volume account of the American Civil War, "Battle Cry of Freedom", has written a new book called "Hallowed Ground", which tells the story of that war's most famous battle - Gettysburg. Favourably reviewed in The National Review.

28/06/03 Contact
"Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it."
RTE-1 are showing "Contact" tonight, the film adaptation of the scifi book by the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan. The book is pretty good, but the film is nothing special. I found the opening scene to be quite affecting, however. It shows the television and radio broadcasts transmitted by us moving outwards from our planet through the rest of the galaxy. The film claims that the first television broadcast powerful enough to reach other star systems is Hitler's broadcast from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I'm not sure if this is 100% true, but if it is, it's food for thought.

27/06/03 Denis Thatcher RIP
The best anecdote about the late husband of Margaret Thatcher comes courtesy of Mark Steyn:
"Just before the train pulled out of Paddington Station, a group of patients from a mental hospital, homeward bound after a day trip to London, piled into Denis Thatcher's otherwise deserted carriage. The bossy lady in charge began a head count: ". . . eight, nine, ten . . ." Coming to Sir Denis, she paused. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Prime Minister's husband," he said. Without missing a beat, she counted him in - "11" - and continued.
Emily (on News-Portal) also has a poignant post about how Margaret Thatcher's response when the Grand Hotel in Brighton was bombed by the IRA showed her the true meaning of marriage.

26/06/03 A Charter for Atheists
How should athiests display their devotion to the absence of faith? Kingsley (over at Blog-City) has some interesting ideas. I especially like this one:
"Atheists need to make a pilgrimage to a 'scientific' convention of their choice every year. The government will permit a limited number of them, drawn by lottery to do so every year. The conventions are usually held in places like Copacobana, Malibu, Mauritius, Tahiti etc. Atheists have a keen interest in coastal marine fauna."

25/06/03 The Onion Horoscope for the Week
Capricorn: "You have been letting physical attraction overrule intellectual appeal. What are you, human or something? You don't have to date anyone who got beat with the ugly stick, but you might want to at least rule out anyone who can't name our president."

24/06/03 Bestsellers Watch
The current most popular book being read by commuters on Dublin's DART service is the latest Harry Potter book by JK Rowling. This takes over from Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men", which replaced last summer's number one, "The Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien.
(Results derived from highly scientific poll carried out by my being nosey en route to work)

23/06/03 The Weirdest Things...
...are discovered by the military. I just saw a documentary on Ireland's Network 2 about the discovery of the jet stream during the second world war. American bombers trying to hit Japan found themselves flying at incredible speeds and overshooting their targets. At first, their senior officers refused to believe the pilots, but there were too many incidents to discount. They had encountered the jet stream, high-speed pockets of air. The documentary claimed that this was one of the reasons why the US abandoned attempts at precision bombing over Japan and instead opted for low-level strategic bombing, which had devastating results on Japan's civil society. Bizarrely, the Japanese used the jet stream to propel balloons carrying explosives across the Pacific towards America's western seaboard, and in the only incident to cause casualties, killed several children on a sunday school trip in Oregon.

21/06/03 Public Information Notice
Colin Farrell is in town for the Special Olympics. Lock up your daughters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, valuables...

19/06/03 Paradise or Freedom?
Sky One aired the second-to-last Angel episode of the season, "Peace Out". I thought that it was far superior to the Buffy series finale shown last week, not just in terms of drama, but also the choices that the characters have to face. The only complaint I have about the show is that the paranormal "underworld" of vampires and demons which started off as lowkey and unknown to the outside world has thrown one of America's biggest cities into total chaos several times. I would like to see some attempt at an intervention by the authorities. Perhaps I think like that because I'm still hung up on Channel 4's brilliant series "Ultraviolet", which had a government-sponsored vampire hit squad.
Acting wise, Alexis Denisoff has turned Wesley from an english public school twit into one of the most torn and watchable characters on TV. Vincent Kartheiser was excellent as Angel's son Connor, portraying someone who clings to a lie that they know is untrue, because it offers them so much more than their own reality.
Bizarrely, the language used in the final confrontation between Angel and Jasmine reminded me of a book on 20th century history called "Modern Times", by Paul Johnson. In the 20th century, the political utopias of communism and fascism were offered to humanity, with terrible consequences - millions of deaths becoming statistics in the mission to bring about heaven on earth. Armed with the "will to power", they operated in a world without moral absolutes of any kind, because any kind of moral absolute would have prohibited the extermination of Jews, or those belonging to the "wrong" class. In religious imagination, can hell be any worse than a Nazi death camp or a Soviet gulag? The alternative, liberal democracy, does not offer paradise. It offers freedom, with all the challenges, risks and unhappiness that that can and does bring.
Angel: "Thousands of people are dead because of what you've done."
Jasmine: "And how many will die because of you? I could've stopped it, Angel. All of it. War, disease, poverty. How many precious, beautiful lives would've been saved in a handful of years? Yes, I murdered thousands to save billions. This world is doomed to drown in its own blood now."
Jasmine: "There are no absolutes. No right and wrong. Haven't you learned anything working for the Powers? There are only choices. I offered paradise. You chose this!"
Angel: "Because I could. Because that's what you took away from us. Choice."
Jasmine: "And look what free will has gotten you."
Angel: "Hey, I didn't say we were smart. I said it's our right. It's what makes us human."

18/06/03 The Onion Horoscope for the Week
Capricorn: "Things will slowly start returning to normal in your life, which is not really a good thing."

18/06/03 Not So Stupid White Men
In "The Times", Clive Davis takes us through the distortions that Michael Moore employed in his Oscar-winning hit documentary film, "Bowling For Columbine", and the controversy that it is generating.

17/06/03 Thought for the Day
"The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause... A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding, when it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business."
(Eric Hoffer, "Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements")

16/06/03 Democracy != Freedom
"There is more to freedom than free elections. Britain is defined not by the one day in five years that it goes to the polls but by the broader framework of which that vote is an expression. If you look at healthy nations, competitive electoral politics is often the final stage of their journey: property rights, the rule of law, enforceable contracts and many other things come first. The thug nations from Africa to Central Asia are developing the knack of holding elections while remaining, in all other respects, tyrannies." (Mark Steyn, "What Must Be Done in Iraq")
[for non computer programmers, '!=' and '<>' mean "does not equal" in different computer languages]

16/06/03 Saving Private Lynch
The Washington Post has gone to great lengths to determine what really happened - how she was captured, and the subsequent rescue mission. Money quote: "Lynch's story is far more complex and different than those initial reports. Much of the story remains shrouded in mystery, in large part because of official Army secrecy, concerns for Lynch's privacy and her limited memory."

14/06/03 28 Days Later
If you haven't seen this sci-fi thriller yet, I'd recommend you rent it. It's an at times terrifying edge-of-the-seat ride through a Britain that has been devastated by a virus. Society has crumbled, and the few survivors spend their time fleeing from the "infected", those poor unfortunates who contracted the virus and now are not much better than zombies. What's truly horrifying (and believe me, the "infected " are scary, this is not a film for the squeamish) is the effect the catastrophe has on some of the uninfected humans. It's a toss-up as to whether you'd want to encounter them or the "infected".
The main protagonist, Jim, is played by young Irish actor Cillian Murphy, and doesn't even attempt an English accent, though he's supposed to from London. I was waiting for him to come up with a rescue plan that involved making it back to Ireland. Alas, he didn't.

13/06/03 Iraq Updates
Missing Logic : A National Review editorial sums up (better than I could) the errors in logic (on both sides) with regard to the inability to find WMDs in Iraq.
Lost from the Baghdad museum - truth : In the Guardian, David Aaronovitch takes us through what really happened in the Baghdad museum. Just about everything that you have heard is wrong.

13/06/03 Media Watch Ireland
An Irish blog has come to my attention via Andrew Sullivan's site, called simply Blog Irish.
The blog has some interesting entries about the recent Media conference which is taking place in Dublin at the moment. The owner of the Daily Telegraph, Lord Conrad Black, took the opportunity to lash those anti-American elements in the European media whose stereotypical portrayal of Americans is one of "lumpen-proletariot firearm fanatics, with addictions to violent films and unhealthy food."

12/06/03 So what are we going to do now?
Sky One showed the last EVER episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer tonight. I felt the episode was a bit of a let-down, although it had some touching moments, as series finales tend to be. In particular the jack-in-the-box which came to the good guys aid seemed incredibly convenient. To be honest, I thought that the show was never the same once the Scooby-gang left high school and Angel departed for his spinoff show, though I'm probably in the minority, as it seemed to grow in popularity and critical acclaim after that.
Tonight also saw the last in the current season of the West Wing, and that episode just blew me away. I think I like the new guy more! I'm really looking forward to the new season, but I'm in for a long wait, January 2004 at the earliest before this side of the Atlantic gets new episodes of West Wing (along with Friends, ER, and the rest).
American TV staggers new episodes for its series over the course of a year (from September to May), whereas British & Irish TV likes to show them in one continuous run. Therefore, the earliest that they can start showing the episodes aired in the US in September is January.
In recent years, stations like E4 and Sky have started competing with each other to be the first to show these new episodes. This may be because the internet makes the wait harder (as you know what's going on), or because of more competition. I wonder if any British channel will take the plunge and start airing new episodes as they are made in America?

09/06/03 The Euro
Today, Britain's Chancellor Gordon Brown gave his (public) verdict on the Euro, which is that Britain is not ready to join... yet - because Britain is failing the key economic tests that he has set. Brown is concerned that joining the Euro will lead to inflation and instability in the property market, as the interest rates set by the European Central Bank may not be appropriate for the British economy, which is more susceptible to interest rate changes that other Eurozone countries. This leads me to question how much of Ireland's current inflation and house price problems are caused by the Euro. What's true for Britain is more than likely true for Ireland.
As an Irishman, I would like to see Britain join the Euro, as I think it would help Ireland. If I were English, I would oppose entry as I don't believe it's in Britain's interests.

06/06/03 The Real Greenhouse Effect
According to a new study (spotted in the Daily Telegraph) funded by NASA and the US Dept. of Energy the warmer climate has played a leading role in the increase in plant growth over the last 20 years. Longer growing seasons and more favourable conditions have allowed plants to flourish in regions as diverse as the Amazon and India.
Studies like these show that the climatic situation is far more complex than some environmentalists would have us believe (which equates to "we're all doomed because of global warming"), echoing the picture presented by Bjorn Lomborg is his influential book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist".

05/06/03 History Lessons
David Frum, in his National Review column, draws a historical comparison between the choice faced by new Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas in signing a deal with Israel and that faced by Michael Collins in 1921 when negotiating the treaty between Britain and Ireland. Collins signed the deal, which led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland, but was killed in the civil war which followed. Has Abbas the courage and patriotism to risk the same fate as Collins?
Frum was formerly a speechwriter for President Bush and coiner of the phrase 'axis of evil', his name is popping up more and more frequently in newspaper articles on this side of the Atlantic.

03/06/03 A Rabbitte chasing a Fox...
"Pat Fox has it on his hurley and is motoring well now. But here comes Joe Rabbitte hot on his tail. I've seen it all now - a Rabbitte chasing a Fox around Croke Park!"
Micheal O'Muircheartaigh has a uniquely personable style, it's almost as if you are sitting next to him in the commentary box and he's chatting away to you. I've added a few MoM classics to my sports quotes page.

01/06/03 Undergrads
"That little green drink inspired hallucination is right!" (Rocko)
Undergrads is an MTV cartoon following a group of four very different first-year students in America, and yes, the humour is pitched at undergrad level, but it's still pretty funny - although it only lasted one season. TG4, in their attempt to spread American culture to Ireland, aired the show in 2001, but I missed the first few episodes. I was pleasantly surprised to see it back in the schedules, tucked away at 1130 on Wednesday nights. However, TG4, in their attempt to spread the Irish language in Ireland have dubbed the show into Irish! They even changed some of the dialogue to contain Irish references (such as Jackie Healy-Rae). My TV very nearly didn't survive when I realised what had happened. I can't decide whether to watch the other episodes that I'd missed, it's a tough call.


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