Teilifís (Television)

Cultus Obscuram, Once Upon A Time… Space

 

Il était une fois… l'Espace - Once Upon a Time… Space

Il était une fois… l’Espace – Once Upon a Time… Space

Il était une fois… or “Once Upon a Time…” is an ongoing animated series produced by the multi-talented French television-maker Albert Barillé and his Procidis studio in Paris. Since the late 1970s the franchise has devoted itself to charting the broad evolution of humankind for a children’s audience with each series devoted to one particular theme: “Once Upon a Time… Man” (1978), “… Space” (1982), “… Life (1987), “… The Americas (1991), “… The Discoverers” (1994), “… The Explorers” (1997) and finally “… Planet Earth” (2008). However for Irish men and women of a certain age it is probably the episodes of the 1982 “science-fiction” season that have the most resonance. Broadcast in an irregular early evening time-slot on RTÉ 2 “Once Upon a Time… Space”  featured some fantastic-looking spacecraft, many designed by the legendary illustrator Philippe Bouchet (or Manchu) and very much reflecting French aesthetics – albeit through the filter of Eiken, the Japanese anime studio contracted to draw them.

Unlike the other more straightforwardly educational productions in the franchise this was very much a drama with a “space opera” feel, inspired somewhat by French comics like Valérian and Laureline. It featured some of the reoccurring characters from all seven seasons of the series including Professor Maestro, the white-bearded elder, Peter and Psi, the young officers, and their robotic companion Métro. Arrayed against them were the despotic General Pest and his loyal acolyte the Dwarf. Running to twenty-six episodes it was a slow-burn success in Europe though largely a failure in Japan. However it is fondly remembered in Ireland as a sort of early proto-anime for the teicógaigh, Irish fanboys and girls. I loved it as a child and it certainly converted me to both Japanese and European comics and graphic novels. Not sure I would purchase a DVD copy now but I’d definitely purchase an artbook if it included some of Philippe Bouchet’s fantastic designs.

 

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Cultus Obscuram – Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Sometimes looking back at Ireland in the 1970s and ‘80s I wonder if the entire nation was quite right in the head. It was a truly surreal time. Forget the war in the north-east against the British, the twin scourges of poverty and emigration, the political scandals and omnipresent corruption, the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, the emergence of illegal drugs and drug-related crime, the bus strikes and bin strikes and all sorts of strikes. As a child many of those passed me by (well, almost…). What truly made our island nation the whacked-out member of the European family was RTÉ’s programming for children. There was nothing quite like it before and certainly nothing quite like it since. While kids of the 1990s and 2000s were fed a steady diet of mainstream, wall-to-wall Anglo-American fare in the days of yore children were treated to a more eclectic mix culled from the arcana of world television (a fact not entirely unrelated to RTÉ’s minuscule acquisitions’ budget). All sorts of psychedelically insane shows were injected into our young and impressionable minds. I heard more Russian and Czech in my childhood than I did in my adulthood (the last ten years aside!). Oh yes we had our own home-grown versions of the post-hippy madness: Wanderly Wagon, Fortycoats & Co and Bosco (I hated Bosco). However nothing competed with those tripped-out cartoons from behind the not-so-opaque Iron Curtain or the obscure corners of US television.

From the latter came the jittery-coloured Mr. Rossi, an Americanised version of the original Senior Rossi produced in Italy by Bruno Bozzetto. Beginning in 1960 there were several short films, three feature length movies and an eleven-part TV series all of which seemed to have been broadcast on RTÉ at one time or another. I can honestly tell you very little about them except how odd they seemed even back then. Like ‘60s odd. I’m not sure I enjoyed them. I’m not sure how much I watched them. However I do remember the theme tune which has stayed with me like some form of subliminal brainwashing. It’s in there and I can’t get it out. So here, for your delight (or puzzlement), is the Signor Rossi original theme “Viva La Felicità” with a rather funked-up 2002 remix known as “Signor Rossi vs. De-Phazz – Viva La Felicita (Phazz-a-delic Radio Remix)“.

Is it bad that I have the latter as my ringtone?

Big Boost In Funding For Scottish Language Broadcasting

BBC Alba

BBC Alba, the Scottish language public service broadcaster jointly funded by the Scottish and British governments

Some more good news for the Scottish language (Scottish Gaelic) with the announcement by Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, that a further £2.1 million pounds (2.5 million euros) will be made available to MG Alba, the state-funded media organisation. The group funds Scottish language television and radio programmes in cooperation with the BBC and various independent production companies and the news came at the opening ceremony of MG Alba’s new headquarters in Stornoway on the western Isle of Lewis. The building will serve as a Gaelic media hub housing studios for BBC Alba and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal. There is more on the Stornoway Gazette and in an article carried by the Scotsman newspaper (where you get the fun of reading the puerile Comments by the usual crowd of Anglophone supremacists and bigots).

Culture Wars In Ireland And Britain

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

Hot on the heels of my post discussing the urgent need for the reform of public service broadcasting in Ireland comes news of a veritable revolt by journalists within RTÉ’s normally quiescent ranks as reported by the Irish Times:

“Almost 50 staff members in RTÉ have written to Director General, Mr. Noel Curran, to express their concern at the “lack of coverage” of Irish language issues in English-language news and current affairs programmes on RTÉ.

The correspondence specifically mentions the manner in which RTÉ News covered the resignation of Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Language Commissioner last December. Ó Cuirreáin, who announced he was stepping down from his role due to a failure to provide adequate services for Irish language speakers, became the first ombudsman since the foundation of the State to resign in protest against government policy.

On the day of his announcement before an Oireachtas committee, RTÉ’s main news bulletins on television covered the resignation with thirty seconds of pictures, accompanied by a voice over from the newsreader.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said the contents of the letter were still being considered by Mr. Curran but pointed to the Director General’s comments on the recent findings of an RTÉ working group on the Irish language which acknowledged the need to improve RTÉ’s services in Irish and set out several policy recommendations with regard to Irish-language broadcasting.”

Given the opaque internal workings of RTÉ (“the Donnybrook Kremlin”) this very public expression of unhappiness by its journalistic staff is surprising to say the least. So we have a choice before us. Either RTÉ becomes an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster leaving English language broadcasting to the private sector (as I argue here, negating the need for a separate TG4) or its assets and funding is split between it and TG4 into two new broadcasting entities. One operating entirely through the medium of English and one entirely through the medium of Irish (which of course is essentially what we have already). The present half-way house is no longer sustainable or justifiable. A rising population of Irish-speaking citizens have every right to demand the same services from the state as their English-speaker peers.

Or perhaps people here agree with the views expressed by the British tabloid TV presenter Noel Edmonds who recently attacked the BBC for providing programming to Scottish-speaking communities in Scotland and Welsh-speaking communities in Wales? From WalesOnline:

“Veteran broadcaster Noel Edmonds has criticised the BBC for spending too much money on the Welsh language.

In an interview, Edmonds said the BBC was “sleepwalking to destruction”, as he explained his hope to buy the corporation along with a consortium of wealthy investors.

He declined to disclose how the schedules might look if he got his way – but pointed to the sums presently spent on the World Service and Welsh-language programming.

“There are 50,000 people speaking Gaelic. Welsh language has been declining over 10 years and the BBC spends £48m on that.”

Edmonds argued only an injection of outside influence could make the broadcaster “relevant to the internet age” and admitted that he did not presently pay for it via the licence fee.”

Perhaps Noel Edmonds is unaware that the Scottish- and Welsh-speaking citizens of Britain also pay their taxes and TV licence fee and are therefore entitled to the same publicly-funded services as their English-speaking compatriots? Or perhaps he is simply of the view that the English language and culture is superior to the several others that share the island of Britain and should therefore take precedence over the rest? Unfortunately there are too many on this island nation who share Edmonds’ view in our own perennial “culture war”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sorley Domhnall and several others for the links]

Irish TV And Cinema? Some Hope

TG4 - Súil Eile

TG4 – Súil Eile

I was going through my collection of Blu-ray and DVD movies and box-sets over the weekend, not to mention several hundred hours of digital content on my main HTPC, and it suddenly struck me that less than 1% of the total was actually Irish-made. I have a huge catalogue of films and TV shows from (in descending order) the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, Korea, Australia, France, Denmark, Germany and Russia but the number of productions from Ireland is infinitesimal. Six documentaries or drama-docs from TG4 (including “1916 Seachtar na Casca” and “Bóthar na Saoirse”), two comedy-dramas from TG4 (“Rásaí na Gaillimhe 1” and “2”, plus “An Crisis”) and one comedy from RTÉ (the early 2000s’ “Paths to Freedom”). And that is pretty much it. Out of some three thousand hours of cinematic and television entertainment less than twenty hours are actually Irish-made productions for Irish audiences.

In part this is attributable to the availability of domestic productions for the home entertainment market in Ireland which is astonishingly low. Only a handful of the more popular shows are released on DVD and the vast majority of those are from RTÉ which gobbles up most of the licence fee to feed itself. Unsurprisingly they are usually at the lower end of the market, reflecting the culture of Irish television in general. TG4 releases hardly any of its far superior and more Irish-orientated shows on DVD no doubt due to costs. Though why it has not entered the digital market via downloads or streaming on the lines of Amazon or Netflicks is beyond me. It simply makes no sense – but then very little about public service broadcasting in Ireland does.

All of which leads me to the observation most commonly made by Continental visitors to our island nation: in terms of language and cultural references the Irish are indistinguishable from the Americans or British. In fact they seem little more than the mongrel off-spring of both. Given that Irish television and cinema has historically provided almost no output to balance that of the United States and Britain this is hardly surprising. If I were French, German or Spanish one would expect French, German or Spanish entertainment productions to dominate my home library. Even if one were to accept arguments about economies of scale there seems little doubt that the same would hold true if I were Danish, Swedish or Finnish, nations not dissimilar in size to Ireland.

The facts are this: public service broadcasting in Ireland as embodied by RTÉ has failed and failed miserably. It is simply a bad Irish joke. This is widely acknowledged throughout the country where, ironically, most people now recognise that the best TV output stems from TG4, the Irish language TV channel. Even militant hardcore Anglophones critics have agreed that it outperforms every one of its rivals, public or private, and is about the nearest Ireland has to an “Irish BBC”. Yet it receives less than 5% of the television licence fee and a nominal government grant (95% of the TV licence goes to RTÉ which is begrudgingly obligated to produces a handful of shows for TG4).

Funnily enough it seems that I am not the only one who was thinking along these lines. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“Could Irish language movies and songs ever compete in the global entertainment market? Some 70 per cent of Hollywood’s box office revenue now comes from dubbed and subtitled versions of its movies sold in international markets, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In pop music, Psy’s Gangnam Style represents the first wave of non-English international mega-hits that will sweep in as the commercial pop culture of countries such as Korea, India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to develop.

Currently, most Irish language films and pop songs are not making a major domestic, let alone international impact. So how about establishing a €2 million annual competition to select and film the best Irish language movie script, and to record the best Irish language pop song?

Imagine the film got €1.8 million, with the remaining €200,000 spent on recording and making a video for the song, and on the administration of the competition.

The competition could be open to international screenwriters and song-writers, with the proviso that all production money be spent in Ireland – meaning an annual investment of at least €1.8 million into the Irish media industry.

The Irish Film Board (IFB) used to maintain that it was unrealistic to try competing in Irish against major Hollywood films, but in an increasingly globalised world, things are changing. Ned Dowd, a Hollywood producer responsible for films such as The Wonder Boys and Last of the Mohicans , points to the success of his film Apocalypto , directed by Mel Gibson, which despite being in Mayan earned $121 million dollars (admittedly on a budget of $40 million). Gibson’s earlier film The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic and earned $611 million. “It’s all about story, universal themes,” Dowd has said. “The language is secondary.”

This whole notion is speculative and aspirational, but if it were to succeed even partially it could prove a key element in keeping the language vibrant for the next generation. Young people are now accustomed to cartoons and soap operas in Irish, but films and pop music are almost exclusively in English. Demand for Irish songs exists, witnessed by the viral success of the Coláiste Lurgan cover versions that emerge each summer.

It seems there’s also an appetite from abroad to help the language. Seven years after broadcasting the No Béarla TV programme, in which I travelled around the country speaking only Irish, I am still regularly approached by Irish-American cultural groups and impassioned individuals, keen to know how they can help the language.

…the benefits of targeted funding can be seen in the Danish media market. “In Denmark the public service broadcaster puts €1 million a year into feature-film production on top of the Danish Film Institute’s €60 million – and that’s a country the size of Ireland.””

The doling out of severely limited funds between RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the idiosyncratic Sound and Vision Fund (controlled by that quango par excellence, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) is beyond a scandal. Whether the monies are raised through the licence fee or general taxation millions upon millions of euros are being wasted on projects that are almost guaranteed to have little commercial or popular impact. Most simply appear and disappear without the general public being even aware of their existence. Millions more is going on duplicated staffing and administration expenses. Offices filled with paper-shufflers and seat-warmers. It is this scatter-gun approach to Irish television and film production that has made our nation a cultural vacuum.

If we intend to be serious about our language and our culture, if we intend to be serious about establishing a viable TV and cinema production industry for our domestic market, then it is time to close down the vanity projects and political patronage system of yesteryear. A start should be made by leaving English language broadcasting in Ireland to the private market with all the necessary (and presently missing!) statutory safeguards on quality, standards and ownership in place. Let TV3 and 3e, or the new “ITV Ireland” promised by UTV, provide English language television services along with the dozens of American, British and Canadian channels already available to Irish viewers via cable and satellite. RTÉ should become an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster (and restricted to Irish language advertising in order to level the playing field with its private rivals who survive on English language advertising and sponsorship). After all what is public service television and radio supposed to do but provide what private enterprise will not? TG4 should be rolled back into RTÉ which should be restricted to two TV and three radio channels, as well as internet services. Bord Scannán na hÉireann should be replaced by a cinema production arm of RTÉ, the equivalent of BBC Films or Film4 in Britain, with an obligation to produce a minimum of four Irish language cinematic release a year. Legislation should be introduced to facilitate the showing of these movies in cinemas across Ireland upon release, similar to regulations in force elsewhere in Europe. RTÉ should also take up the old role of Gael Linn, producing and fostering Irish language music for cultural or commercial purposes.

As for the TV licence fee or its replacement, scrap both and instead implement direct government funding via an independent oversight body appointed by the Oireachtas. Given the size of Ireland’s national economy, comparing overseas’ public service broadcasters and the country’s needs a new RTÉ budget of 400 million euros per annum is more than adequate (with 45 million earmarked for Scannáin RTÉ). And if you are wondering where that money is going to come from how much do you think the government already spends on direct funding for RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann and the Sound and Vision Fund under the BAI, not to mention the millions that goes to the likes of Gael Linn Records and other Irish language organisations? Believe me there is a mass of money dispersed throughout a dozen state-funded organisations and quangos that could be easily pooled to contribute towards the core budget of a new RTÉ.

More bang for your buck, the elimination of waste and duplication, removing corruption and patronage, introducing public oversight and accountability, levelling the playing field between public and private broadcasters, servicing Ireland’s indigenous language and culture and presenting it to the world, establishing a thriving domestic television and movie industry, employing tens of thousands of Irish people in Irish jobs, generating tax revenue through targeted government investment…? Ok, admittedly all of this is far too sensible. Which is why it will never happen.

To Phone Or Not To Phone

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Íomhá: CNET)

I’m normally one of those fevered device-swapping, early-adopting geeks eager to get his or her hands on the next tech device before the present one has barely accrued a layer of dust or a film of fingerprints. However my current mobile phone has served me an unprecedented 3 years simply because I selected a near future-proof model that promised to last more than an end of quarter, in this case the one-time flagship HTC Desire HD. Up to recently it provided everything that I needed from a smartphone, which is now 90% WiFi-related (email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, Wikipedia, various newspaper and magazine apps, etc.). I rarely use the phone as a phone these days, that is for voice calls or text messaging. In fact I’ve probably hit the Alarm button more often than I’ve hit the Call button in the last year. I suspect that for many users phones are now more about multi-media consumption and expression as well as practical utilization (clock, weather forecasts, calendar, etc.) than audio communication.

However my tech-venerable device is beginning to show its age. The Desire’s screen is really too small and too pixel-poor for comfortable web or video use, the processor struggles to cope with more demanding tasks, frozen-browsing or crashed apps are common and I think the time may have come to lay it to rest (or rather root it with a newer version of Android and pass it on to a younger sibling).

So I’m now researching for a new smartphone, one hopefully capable of lasting another two or three years. At the moment I’m leaning towards phablet territory, the boundary between phone and tablet, with both the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the smaller LG G2 looking good. However the Samsung is ridiculously overvalued (the price of a good laptop or even better desktop) and while the LG is somewhat cheaper without any noticeable lessening in quality it is still on the high side. Aside from the cost what puts me off both is the custom skins plastered by the respective makers over the base Android user interface. As most tech-savvy users know pure Android free of vendor dabbling is the preferred option since many phones with older flavours of Google’s operating system will be excluded from newer versions by the phone makers after one or two upgrades (hence the DIY industry of rooting or freeing up phones from proprietary systems).

However there may be some hope with Google’s own Nexus 5 smartphone on the horizon, a device that might well be a variation of the LG G2. Up to now I’ve been no fan of the Nexus range, the greatest value of which is the low prices they sell for. However if the Nexus 5 matched or surpassed the G2 (and it certainly will in relation to the UI) and it came at the same cheapish, bare-boned profit margin for Google, then I might be tempted.

There is a veritable internet swarm of websites and blogs out there dedicated to smartphones, particularly on the Android side of things, but I’d strongly recommend Android Beat which regularly does a nice collation of various reviews for particular devices.

Cultus Obscuram – Nightmare Cafe

Wes Craven's Nightmare Cafe, with Jack Coleman, Lindsay Frost and Robert Englund, 1992

Wes Craven’s Nightmare Cafe, with Jack Coleman, Lindsay Frost and Robert Englund, 1992

Another entry in the Cultus Obscuram and this time it is Wes Craven’s TV show “Nightmare Café“, a short-lived supernatural drama from the early 1990s played mainly for dark laughs. At the time the two lead actors, Jack Coleman and Lindsay Frost, were minor US television celebs though the headline billing went to co-star and Craven alumni Robert Englund. Yes, Freddy Krueger himself (not to mention that annoyingly sappy alien from the original incarnation of “V” or virtually every US horror convention since 1984). Each episode was given a sort of redemption of the week theme, like a feel-good “Twilight Zone”, but there is little of interest beyond that. The dialogue is so-so, the acting mixed (male lead Jack Coleman is particularity poor though he went on to bigger and better things as the character Noah Bennet in the 2000′s hit “Heroes“) and after a viewing one can understand why the whole thing lasted for just six episodes before being cancelled. Still, some people like the fairly mild black humour and the interaction between the three lead stars, Lindsay Frost is something of a Fanboy favourite (on that I’d tend to agree), and it could be argued that it has stood the test of time better than many of its contemporaries.

Irish TV? We Should Be So Lucky!

RTÉ vs. TG4

RTÉ vs. TG4

So, essentially a big fuck you to the Irish-speaking citizens and communities of Ireland from former Trotskyite rebel-without-a-cause Pat Rabbitte, the minister of communications, as he dismiss out of hand any rise in the tragic-comic budget of TG4, Ireland’s only Irish language television broadcaster. Meanwhile RTÉ, Ireland’s publicly-funded English language television broadcaster, will continue to turn out its increasingly hard to swallow diet of trashy British and American imports while its main independent rival, British-owned TV3/3e, will sink ever further into the stinking gutter of sewer-pipe television. All this of course on the back of news that the existing (and notoriously inefficient) TV licence fee is to be replaced by a mandatory Broadcasting Charge on all households which at least has the merit of not pissing away 20 million euros a year in paying off the “administration charges” imposed by An Post. Of course it seems the vast majority of the money will go into propping up that self-entitled palace of elitism in Donnybrook with perhaps a chunk carved off to feed the rapacious appetites of the hedge-fund managers in London that own much of tabloid channels TV3 and 3e.

Of course no one thought to ask the bleedin’ obvious question. Why the hell is the nation-state of Ireland funding a public broadcasting television and radio network in English when that is already amply provided for by the private sector both at home and from overseas? Surely a public broadcast service exists to provide what no one else will? In the case of Ireland, national television and radio channels in the indigenous language of the island-nation of Ireland.

The simple truth is that TG4 should not exist because RTÉ should already be what TG4 is!

You want cost savings, you want more bang for your buck, you want to provide home-grown public service broadcasting, you want to serve and enlarge the Irish-speaking population of the country? Then do the obvious thing, stop pissing about, and transform RTÉ from an English language broadcaster to an Irish language broadcaster.

Leave English language broadcasting to the private sector, make sure there are regulations in place to secure domestic ownership and levels of quality (which are virtually non-existent at the moment), and then let them get on with it.

Ah stop. I’m speaking too much sense so that will never happen. The so-called experts would never permit it. Sure where would we be without all those ancient BBC and ITV shows rebroadcast on RTÉ? Not to mention the television psychics of TV3?

Sometimes I really do despise this state I live in. The state we all live in.

No Second Troy

One of the last monolingual Irish-speakers in Ireland being interviewed by the British historian Michael Wood for his 1985 BBC documentary “In Search of the Trojan War”. Does he look like a member of an “affluent, Mercedes-driving, latté-sipping, urban, Gaelic-speaking elite”? Or the last survivor of a people driven to the point of near-extinction? A point, perhaps, for the next Anglophone supremacist bigot you encounter.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 – A Proper HTPC

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 Mini-PC and HTPC

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 Mini-PC and HTPC

While many consumers have bought into the commercial push for so-called Smart TVs the majority of the products on the Irish market are far from smart (yet). Very few have true internet browsers at the level of Chrome or Internet Explorer and most are limited to dedicated applications for specific services such as YouTube and Facebook which curtails their usability. Additionally some of the better known apps on Smart TVs supplied by manufactures for sale in Ireland can’t even be accessed from this country (the most prominent being the BBC’s iPlayer).

Anyone who has used a so-called Connected TV will know how lacklustre the performances can be and how many websites can confuse or crash the onboard browser (that’s when you can persuade the television to communicate with your wireless router in the first place). Even the addition via the TV’s USB port – if supplied – of one of a growing number of cheap Android dongles for “Google TV” (not actual but known off-handedly as such) adds little of value. In fact such an “upgrade” can cause a whole new set of problems of its own. In a similar vein connecting external devices, such as a portable hard drive, can be an onerous task whether by USB or HDMI cables. It is hardly surprising then that consumer research has proven that the majority of Smart TV purchasers do not have their televisions actually connected to the internet (which somewhat defeats the purpose of buying the sets in the first place).

A long-standing market solution to these issues (which actually pre-dates the development of Smart TV technology) is a Home Theatre Personal Computer or HTPC. Basically imagine a small computer connected to your TV with all the functionality of its bigger cousins but largely used for the purposes of multi-media entertainment. This is certainly the route I took when I decided to purchase a good off-the-shelf HTPC that combined a decent sized HDD (hard disc drive), an optical drive for playing DVDs/Blu-rays, a HDMI output to hook up to a Hi-Definition TV and a wireless internet connection for browsing. I say “off-the-shelf” since there is a considerable home market in people building their own from sourced parts though this can carry some pitfalls of its own. After much research I settled on the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190, choosing the 1TB HDD version with the rather low-powered Intel Core i3 processor, a DVD/Blu-ray combo drive and a wireless multimedia remote.

Stripped of all the jargon the Q190 is basically a mini-PC, roughly the size of fat hardback novel, that can sit horizontally on a shelf or vertically in a supplied stand (it also comes with a small metal bracket that can be fitted to the back of a TV or a wall, complete with screws, to hide it completely). The 1TB drive gives lots of space for video and image files though some of that space is taken up by the rather hoggish operating system, the infamous Windows 8. Otherwise extraneous software is kept to a minimum with not even the usual Microsoft sample pictures or videos to take up valuable memory (which of course is a good thing). A bundled trial version of Microsoft Office and a few other bits and pieces are added for those who intend to use the Q190 as a replacement desktop though these can can be easily deleted.

Techies might prefer to replace the Win8 OS with a somewhat more frugal version of Linux, XBMC or some other operating system to free up even more space. As it is Win8 takes some getting used to and I’m not sure it suits the intended purpose of the Q190 (but that is a general criticism of Win8 on all non-touch screen machines). That said the handheld remote is quite good once you get used to it. It combines a battery-operated, backlit, mini-mouse/keyboard and makes navigation around the machine fairly easy (AA batteries are supplied and the blue-coloured wireless dongle for the remote is safely housed in the battery-compartment – remove it and place in a free USB slot on the machine before switching on). However for long-term or detailed use a dedicated full-size wireless keyboard and mouse might be preferred by some. I should note that you will need some sort of keyboard and mouse to set up and use the machine. In all other respects it is still simply a PC. So purchasing the wireless remote with the Q190 is probably the best option for most users.

I was pleased to discover that the remote can be set up under the Windows’ Irish keyboard option meaning the síneadh fada can be employed whether you are using the English or Irish versions of Win8.

The actual set-up itself of the Q190 was rather easy: a standard HDMI cable from the PC to the TV followed by some 20 minutes of entering the usual location details, user profiles, passwords, updates and restarts (most of the Windows’ updates needed to be done manually). No big surprises so far though there was an issue with the Date/Time but that was an easy fix. Connecting to the internet was painless too though I’d recommend downloading Chrome to replace Internet Explorer if you purchase the machine. As some might have guessed with a Core i3 processor this is not the fastest device in the world. There is a slight delay in some tasks such as opening or starting programmes that might frustrate power-users.

As for usability the image and sound quality from video files on the machine is fine (including playing 1080 HD video files – I’ve downloaded MPC-HC x64, a good video/audio players). DVD/Blu-ray playback is good too. I might well be investing in a surround sound system to complement both. Attaching additional drives was hassle-free, with no problems reading from a 64GB flash drive and a 1TB external hard drive connected via the back and front USB ports (the latter hidden behind a door), and a 1GB memory card. Streaming from the internet was good too with no issues watching webplayers from TG4 or RTÉ. I haven’t installed TOR or similar yet but I doubt there will be any problems watching foreign web services like the BBC’s iPlayer.

My only criticism, Win8 aside (which might be a matter of personal preference for some), is the slightly noisy fan. I had hoped for quieter but it’s not too bad and in most conditions, watching a video file or Blu-ray, it’s ok. There are various 3rd-party programmes to alleviate the issue that I will probably check out.

All in all this is an excellent machine, a true space-saving mini-PC that works very well indeed as a means of providing an internet connection to my HDTV or providing video and audio playback from local files on its large hard drive or disc-player. The wireless remote is actually quite clever, once you get used to it, and is certainly adequate for casual use. I purchased my Q190 from Amazon where it is slightly cheaper than from Lenovo’s own webstore, though as always with Amazon the euro-conversion is far too high.

If you’re in the market for a HPTC or thinking of upgrading your old HD television to a Smart TV I’d certainly recommend the Q190.

RTÉ – Reform Or Die

RTÉ vs. TG4

RTÉ vs. TG4

Here’s an interesting snippet from the ever-vigilant NAMA Wine Lake. Guess which TV station was the only television broadcaster in Ireland to make a profit in 2011? Not the country’s official “national” broadcaster RTÉ, which ran up losses totalling some €70 million, despite broadcasting little beyond a diet of cheap overseas programming (with €351 million in revenue for 2011 one wonders where all that money went…? Actually one doesn’t since one know’s perfectly well where a large chunk of it went). And certainly not the British-owned tabloid channel TV3 whose dubious strategy for success has centred on becoming an über-trash “ITV Ireland“. It lost nearly €7 million euros in 2011, no doubt irritating quite a few hedge-fund managers back in London. In fact the only TV company to produce anything resembling a gain was none other than “minority” TV station, TG4, which generated €109,000 from an operating budget of €32 million.

Not much you say? Paltry, even? Perhaps. But it wasn’t a €70 million euro loss. A loss equal to one-third of a full year’s TV licence fee payments (or more than double TG4′s total annual budget).

One might argue that if it wasn’t for the vested interests in RTÉ and elsewhere the Irish state would have turned over English language broadcasting in the country to the private sector decades ago. And the politicians might even have done things right and established real regulations guaranteeing responsible ownership and quality of output for non-public broadcasters. We might then have allowed the “national” broadcaster to be what it should always have been – an Irish language broadcaster. This would have created the space for private broadcasters and overseas media providers to fulfil the market need for English language television and radio in Ireland while the public sector provided what the market wouldn’t – TV and radio programming in Irish.

An RTÉ network with two television channels and three radio stations and a state-funded (but independently administrated) budget of €300 million would not only be value for money but actually serve the purpose and spirit of public service broadcasting. Instead what we have now is a mess: a dog’s dinner of a mess that stinks to high heaven. A bloated whale of incestuous back-rubbing represented by RTÉ (which is increasingly indistinguishable from either the BBC or ITV in terms of actual shows broadcast), two foreign-owned, entirely-for-profit trash TV channels, TV3 and 3e, that pump out visual excrement with impunity, and TG4 which almost single-handedly is propping up indigenous television-production in Ireland, particularly in the independent sector, and actually attempting to fulfil its public service mandate.

Or is all this common sense way too radical for the conservative elites that lord it up in Television Centre and Leinster House?

Truth Is The First Casualty Of War

Cecil O'Donovan, age 18, and his brother Aidan, age 14, murdered by the Royal Irish Constabulary, 20.02.1921

Cecil O’Donovan, age 18, and his brother Aidan, age 14, murdered by the Royal Irish Constabulary, 20.02.1921

Last Monday I watched the second part of TV3’s drama-documentary series, “In the Name of the Republic”, where once again Eunan O’Halpin claimed to offer an analysis of the alleged actions of the Irish Republican Army during the Revolution of 1916-1923. Despite a few days of thinking it over and trying to see some historical value in the whole exercise it is hard to escape the impression that the programme (like the one before it) was anything other than some weirdly anachronistic anti-Irish Republican propaganda film. If fact it could have come straight from the film archives of the British Imperial War Museum, stamped 1921.

Stripped of the shallow pretence of balance it was obvious that the documentary makers had set out to “prove” that the men and women who fought to defend Irish democracy at the start of the 20th century were simply “terrorists” and “murderers” lacking in any sort of electoral mandate or support. In fact, going further, the programme all but justified British colonial rule in Ireland by taking the point of view of the country’s British paramilitary police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British judicial system, the British Occupation Forces and individual members of the Irish population who actively supported or collaborated with British rule.

I suppose if the Revisionist fringe of academia in the southern United States can produce books and movies to “prove” that the Confederacy was actually a paragon of democracy and morality with hundreds of thousands of happy-go-lucky slaves then why not a “reform” of Colonial Ireland? What is it that the Neo-Confederates in the United States now demand as the proper title of the internecine conflict that scarred the nation during the mid-1800s? It’s no longer the American Civil War, it’s now the War Between the States. Or should that be the War of Northern Aggression?

So what’s next for our own Irish Revisionist tendency? Will the Irish War of Independence become the War of Irish Aggression? Some Neo-Unionists in Ireland are already half-way there with their favoured meme of the moment: the Irish Terror. Not as in the Irish being terrorized by their then colonial rulers from Britain.  Oh no. It’s the other way around. The Irish terrorized the British – and the Irish terrorized the Irish. Or so they would have us believe. And sure, if the facts of history don’t fit that interpretation don’t worry, they will be ignored or replaced with some home-made ones of their own. It worked before. Just ask Peter Hart.

Perhaps I should leave it to others to offer a more studied opinion of the televised theatrics of the TV3 documentary? Professor John Borgonovo has his say in the Irish Examiner:

“In the first episode, viewers met an aged Co Laois man who related his boyhood encounter with a neighbouring farmer, who claimed he had dug up a body while ploughing his field, one of three corpses supposedly buried there by the IRA.

Series host Prof Eunan O’Halpin (of Trinity College Dublin) told the audience his research had uncovered two civilians abducted by the Tipperary IRA and “never seen again”. The rest of the episode attempted to prove his theory that they were interred in this Laois field.

At considerable expense, a team of forensic archaeologists dug up the fine pasture, before informing O’Halpin that no corpses could be located. Meanwhile, O’Halpin travelled to Dublin to request the release of Department of Justice files relating to his two missing men.

The episode concluded with O’Halpin opening the sealed files, only to learn that both had survived the conflict. They were never killed by the IRA, much less secretly buried in Laois. The obvious lesson here is: Finish your research before you rent the JCB.

Undeterred, in the second episode, O’Halpin moves to more fertile ground in Cork City and Knockraha, a village a few miles east of Cork. In recent years, the area has attracted considerable speculation about the killing of alleged informers, especially Protestants.

Much interest stems from Gerard Murphy’s 2011 book, The Year of Disappearances, which received overwhelmingly negative reviews from historians concerned by his over-reliance on folklore and supposition. Murphy’s unlikely theories of covert revolutionary activity in Cork included the IRA’s unrecorded killing of up to 30 Freemasons in the spring of 1922, and the drowning of Protestant schoolchildren by IRA intelligence agent Josephine Brown.

The absence of such dramatic events in contemporary and later records (civilian, military, governmental, and religious) leads me to conclude that they did not occur. I was surprised, therefore, by the sight of Murphy relating additional theories for In the Name of the Republic.”

Surprise is one way of putting it. But then birds of a feather an’ all that.

Meanwhile historian John Dorney, who’s truly excellent website The Irish Story has gone to great lengths to present a dispassionate and fair evaluation of the revolutionary period, examines the issue of the 200 “murders” Eunan O’Halpin alleges were carried out by the Irish Republican Army:

“Immediately this set alarm bells ringing. In 2012, O’Halpin published the first results of his and Daithí Ó Corráin’s research, which revealed that the IRA in the War of Independence, was responsible for 281 of the 898 civilian fatalities, with British forces being responsible for 381. A further 236 deaths could not be confidently attributed to any party (the IRA, loyalist, rioters, undercover Crown forces).

This brings up two questions – first of all, where did all the extra ‘disappeared’ victims come from? There was no effort made in the programme to verify this figure of 200 secret killings by the IRA. Secondly, given that state forces actually killed more civilians, why was this not given greater prominence in the programme?

Even worse was the programme quoting the Royal Irish Constabulary as an impartial witness to events. An RIC DI was quoted saying,  ‘People are afraid to be associated with the forces of the crown’, by an IRA – ‘system of universal terrorism’, and called for the ‘extermination of these bandits’. What else would a party to a counter insurgency campaign say?

In the second part, looking at County Cork, it was alleged that the IRA Cork Number 1 Brigade, which covered north Cork and the city, abducted and killed up to 90 victims and secretly buried them on the farm of one Martin Corry.

Corry claimed in his IRA pension that 27 bodies were buried on his farm and in a bog (now forest) called Knockraha. In recordings in the 1970s he claimed that there were ’60 even’. The problem with this testimony is that there does not seem to have been 60, 90 or even 30 victims missing that could fit into the alleged mass graves. Corry for instance told local historian Jim Fitzgerald that 17 ‘Camerons’ (of the Highland Cameron regiment) were buried there. In fact, John Borgonovo tells us, the regiment had only 3 men missing in its time in Cork.

I am informed that Jim Fitzgerald himself estimates that between Corry’s farm and Knockraha there may be 15 bodies buried. The figure of 90 secret deaths comes from Gerard Murphy, whose book, the Year of the Disappearances, was rightly savaged here on the Irish Story by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc for presenting supposition as evidence.

But there was no evidence presented for scores of disappeared civilians. Nor for tendentious talk about the Cork IRA’s campaign of ‘extortion’ and ‘torture’. The casual viewer would never have guessed that the IRA represented a political movement with overwhelming electoral support in the elections of 1918 and 1920.

…this was a bafflingly biased programme. It presented and inflated all the bad things the IRA did, shorn of context while proposing a thesis of hundreds of disappeared which was never even remotely proved.

So why the sensational anti-republican tone of ‘In the Name of the Republic’?

There is nothing to be gained by treating nationalist history as a sacred cow but nothing either by making radical claims unsupported by evidence.”

But that begs the question, is there nothing to be gained by the falsification of Irish history as it relates to the War of Independence? Or are there in fact real political gains to be made by inflicting untold damage on the Irish people’s understanding of their own history? Are we seeing in Ireland a larger “culture war”, as has been witnessed in the United States, over the nation’s past, present and future? A war played out in the pages of our national newspapers every week, and on our radios and TVs? The United States has Glenn Beck or Fox News. We have Kevin Myers or the Sunday Independent. In the struggle between Progressives and Regressives in Ireland the Irish Revolution represents the greatest loss of status and influence for the latter. Is it any wonder that they wish to contest it, even in retrospect?

And what about Ireland’s British-owned television channel TV3? Some more analysis and dramatic re-enactments of supposed events from world history in a series of exciting new TV programmes? Perhaps the “truth” about Anne Frank? Or a sympathetic examination of the Lost Cause? But after the farce of the last two weeks will anyone be watching?

In The Name Of History

Mutilated remains of Harry Loughnane Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army tortured to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary 1920

The mutilated remains of Harry Loughnane, age 22, Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, tortured to death alongside his older brother Patrick, age 29, by the Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC, Britain’s loathed colonial police force in Ireland, 1920

I’ve just finished watching a history-documentary (and I use that term advisedly) on Ireland’s British-owned private television channel, TV3, called “In The Name of the Republic”. Presented by Eunan O’Halpin it set out to investigate the alleged “disappearance” of some 200 Irish people during the Irish Revolution, supposedly executed by the Irish Republican Army as part of its struggle against the British Occupation Forces from 1918-1923. Beginning with an archaeological dig searching for the corpses of three men found shot dead in 1921/22 by a local “eccentric” farmer the program goes on in drama-documentary style to present a case for the mass and indiscriminate murder by the IRA during Ireland’s War of Independence of countless innocent civilians (who may or may not have been British spies or informers, officers of the feared British paramilitary police, the Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC, or soldiers of the British Army).

Of course the archaeological dig failed to uncover any evidence of any murdered men (spies or otherwise), despite the fact that the program makers offered us some identities for two of the three supposed victims, complete with dramatic reconstructions of their capture and deaths. However (and quite bizarrely) at the end of the program we were told that the two suggested victims actually survived the conflict completely unharmed.

Not only do we not have the bodies of the “murdered” we don’t even have any suggestions for who was “murdered”. In fact we don’t have any evidence that any “murders” happened in the first place! What we do have is a supposed drama-documentary from the Peter Hart school of Irish history, with a hefty dollop of Gerard Murphy (of which more here).

By the by, if any historians are looking for murder victims from the Irish Revolution with, you know, real actual identities and, hey, actually physical remains, here they are. The photographs above and below are of Patrick and Harry Loughnane, aged 29 and 22, both Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, detained, tortured and murdered by members of the RIC’s Auxiliary Division in November 1920. From Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc’s article that featured on The Irish Story in 2012:

“The Loughnane brothers were arrested in daylight at their family home at Shanaglish, Co. Galway on the 26th November 1920. Their partially burned and mutilated bodies were discovered in a pond near Ardrahan on 5th December that year. The two brothers had been tied to the back of an R.I.C. lorry and forced to run behind it until they collapsed from exhaustion and were dragged along the road. Both of Pat’s wrists, legs and arms were broken. His skull was fractured and there were diamond shaped wounds, resembling the cap badge worn by the RIC Auxiliaries, carved into his torso. Harry’s body was missing two fingers; his right arm was broken and nearly severed from his body. Nothing was left of Harry’s face except for his chin and lips. A doctor who examined the Loughnane’s bodies stated that the cause of death was “laceration of the skull and the brain.” The attached photographs of the brothers’ bodies at the time of their discovery show some of the horrific injuries they suffered. The same month that the Loughnane brothers were killed, members of the RIC in Galway also killed a pregnant woman and a Catholic priest.”

Mutilated body of Patrick Loughnane Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army tortured to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary 1920

The mutilated body of Patrick Loughnane, age 29, Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, tortured to death alongside his younger brother Harry, age 22, by the Royal Irish Constabulary, Britain’s feared colonial police force in Ireland, 1920

If I might also add, all that archive film shown in the “documentary” of supposed victims of violence by the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, including men, women and children made homeless sitting in ditches at the side of the road? They were actually from a contemporary newsreel showing Irish civilians hiding in the fields of north County Dublin following the Sack of Balbriggan. That is the burning of the small Irish coastal village of Balbriggan by the British Occupation Forces in 1920.

Irish refugees hiding in the countryside following the Sack of Balbriggan

Irish refugees hiding in the countryside following the Sack of Balbriggan, the destruction by the British Occupation Forces of the small village of Balbriggan during the War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

A column of Irish refugees fleeing the ruins of their homes following the Sack of Balbriggan

A column of Irish refugees fleeing the ruins of their homes following the Sack of Balbriggan by the British Occupation Forces during the Irish War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

Some Quick Posts

Scúp - TG4

Scúp – TG4

First up a review in the Irish Times of the new TG4/BBC co-production, the comedy-drama “Scúp”, penned by Irish author and screenwriter Colin Bateman (the man behind the mid-2000s BBC hit “Murphy’s Law”):

“From reporters having to beg for their salaries to the canny deployment of question marks in headlines to see off libel accusations, Scúp, TG4’s new drama about a Belfast Irish-language weekly paper, hits some amusingly accurate notes in its depiction of a local newsroom.

Given most television portrayals of journalists fall several broadsheets-in-a-row wide of the mark, it’s no surprise that Scúp is the creation of a former journalist.”

Second is a heads-up for Sibéal Davitt’s invitation to experience some Trip-nós at the Culture Box in Templebar, on the 14th of March. And if you’re wondering what Trip-nós is:

“Trip-nós – it’s disco but not as you know it. Experience a completely unique dance experiment mixing Ireland’s indigenous ‘sean-nós’ dance with contemporary disco-inspired moves. Trip-nós is a live performance / workshop mixing sean-nós and contemporary dance with electronic music.

How does it work? It’s simple. First the Trip-Nós gang do their thaaang and then participants must choose which style of dance they would like to ‘represent’. They will then learn four steps or more in their preferred style which will be categorised in numbers 1-4. Finally the two groups must battle it out in an 80’s themed dance-off and… hey presto… Trip-Nós is born! Expect some belters including the epic ‘Inspector Norse’ …yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ bout!

There’s only room for 30 people so register here.”

Tayto as Gaeilge - Cáis agus Oinniún

Tayto as Gaeilge – Cáis agus Oinniún

Now there’s a mashup! Talking of which the Oirish Sun, model Roz Lipsett, Tayto and An Ghaeilge:

“Yesterday Tayto crisps launched a limited edition 1980s-inspired pack ‘as Gaeilge’ to promote the language. Model and Gaeilgeoir ROZ LIPSETT, 27, showcased the retro package.

Here she talks about why her native tongue is so important to her.

I ABSOLUTELY love that I can speak Irish, it’s something I’m very proud of and something I’m very privileged to have.

I went to a regular English-speaking primary school but in sixth class my parents sent to me to Colaiste na Rinne in Waterford, which is a strict Irish-only school. At the time I was horrified at having to leave my friends and move from Dublin to Waterford as a boarder.

But now I know my family did me a huge favour and I’m still friends with loads of the guys I met in An Rinn.

Irish was always my best subject in school. My family are all Gaeilgeoirs so they always spoke Irish at home. They are from Mayo and they have a very proud Irish tradition.

By the time I was leaving An Rinn I was fluent. Now, any opportunity I get, I will start waffling on in Irish, it feels very natural to me and I just really enjoy speaking it”

A quick blast from IFTN:

“TG4’s ‘Lorg na gCos: Súil Siar ar Mise Éire’, which concerns the making of Irish masterpiece ‘Mise Éire’ (an examination of Irish society in the years surrounding the 1916 Rising) has been nominated for a Focal award recognising excellence in archive films.

The documentary, which translates as ‘Finding The Footprints – A Look Back At Mise Éire’ has been recognised in the category for ‘Best Use of Footage in an Arts Production’ at the 10th annual Focal International Awards, set to take place in London on 2 May.”

And a view of Irish from the United States.

TG4 Scoops It Rivals

Scúp - TG4

Scúp – TG4

Three quick posts on TG4, the real public service broadcaster in Ireland, all from IFTN (the Irish Film & Television Network). Colin Bateman is a well-known Irish novelist and dramatist behind such media hits as Divorcing Jack (the book and movie) and the long-running BBC television crime drama Murphy’s Law. He now has a new eight-part drama on TG4, Scúp, his first work produced in the Irish language which has stirred up a considerable media and on-line buzz. I missed the first episode due to work commitments (don’t ask!) but so far the reviewers are impressed. You can watch the opening episode here.

Promo below

In related news another TG4 drama series, An Bronntanas, is in pre-production and is scheduled to start shooting soon. What makes it stand out from the TG4 drama crowd is the starring role of American actor John Finn, who is probably better known as the lead character Lieutenant John Stillman in the hit US police procedural series Cold Case. Finn is a fluent Irish speaker having learned the language in the United States and appeared in a 2005 on-air-promo of the Cold Case series for TG4 that became an early online viral hit.

Finally a reminder that Ireland’s best television channel manages to produce an unrivalled range of domestic programming on a budget of just €32 million (roughly 20% of RTÉ’s annual budget).