Mad Men: Still TV’s Gold Standard

22 Apr

Mad Men returned to our screens last week for its final series, and after only two episodes it’s clear that it has lost none of its lustre. For seven years it’s been the gold standard in television. Its stars and writers have collected award after award and counts viewers all over the world who wait anxiously for every new episode as each one ends perfectly balanced on a precipice, with issues to be resolved and truths to be revealed.

But what is it exactly that makes Mad Men so great. What is it that has sustained it, and in many ways improved it over seven years. Is it that it so perfectly captures the social and political upheaval of the 1960’s with the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce acting as a microcosm of America. As American values and norms change so does SCDP. The overt sexism and racism of the first few series subsides by the seventh and even the Waspish Pete Campbell has developed some level of tolerance, although it’s not all positive, and as we near the end of the sixties we can also see the optimism of Kennedy’s America give way to the cynicism of Nixon’s.

It not just captures the changing values and norms of the 1960s but everything about the decade with the most exacting historical authenticity and continuity. Every rock song, news report, TV show down to the box of Ritz crackers that Don munches on this week’s episode are historically accurate. It’s enough to make any history junkie slap his wrist and beg for another hit.

Is it that despite its name and most of its main characters it’s a tome on feminism and the empowerment of women. Peggy Olsen has come a long way from being just another secretary for the men to ogle. In eight years she’s worked her way to being a senior copywriter, earning the respect, much of it begrudged, by the men of the office. If the change in SCDP represents change in America in the 1960s, then Peggy, and to an extent Joan, represent the changing roles of women.

Or is it less that what the Mad Men represent and more who they are that makes it so good. Mad Men has the most fascinating characters who are perfectly developed and full of complexity and contradiction (and most often inner-conflict), none more so than Don Draper. The Mad Man himself appears as if he were from an ad that he created, possibly one for Brylcreem, or Trilby hats. He is a figure to be admired for what he is and to be pitied for who he is. He is like so many men, an artifice waiting to be revealed for what he is, and to which he still seems to be as unsure to as the rest of us.

But maybe it’s more simple than that, maybe it’s just down to the aesthetics. Mad Men is an elegant world of Scandinavian furniture, British sports cars and Japanese electronics with men dressed in finely woven charcoal suits and women in pastel chiffron dresses. It’s not grimy or gritty, like great TV shows like The Wire and The Sopranos were, and like so many have been since, given that grime and grit seem to make a show more real, and real seems to be today in TV something that is good in itself. And yet Mad Men feels as real any of them.

It is for all these reasons and many more that Mad Men has come to be defined by its greatness. It’s easy to forget, given that we view it every week in our homes, that a TV show can be art. Mad Men is a work of art which is great whether you believe art should be appreciated for its style alone or also for its content. There are few works of art that tell such well-drawn stories, full of such well-developed characters as Mad Men, and few shows, if any, have recreated, and just as importantly, recorded a period like Mad Men has done for 1960s America. As for its content, it’s hard not to interpret something in almost everything, whether there is initial intent or not, such is the great subtlety and nuance we have become used to over seven years.

Mad Men like so many other shows of this golden age of TV, Breaking Bad in particular, doesn’t feel like a television show but rather a series of short films, and not just because of its production value but because of how new and unique every episode seems. The film critic Roger Ebert said that “every great film should seem new every time you see it,” which I think is as simple and as good a phrase as any to sum up why Mad Men is as great as it is.

Originally appeared on The Huffington Post


Christian Politicians on the Wrong Side of History

20 Apr


Church State

Some politicians in Ireland want Church and State to intersect

Why should the Irish people care that some Kerry councillors want to erect a crucifix on the wall of their chambers? Who does it really affect? After all, most other people in Ireland are Christian like them, although I assume that the Kerry councillors aren’t just Christian in the nominative sense and, unlike most other people in Ireland, actually make more than a few cursory visits to the pew every year.

But Irish people shouldn’t just care about what’s happening in Kerry, they should be angry about it too. For one reason it shows that ‘liberal’ Ireland still has to dust off some of the residue of its past. But for another and more important reason it shows that some Kerry councillors, whether aware of it or not, want to contravene the liberal democratic values of not just Ireland, but of all Western democracies that value religious freedom and equality, and that should make Irish people very angry indeed.

The church has no place in the state and it’s for its own benefit that it doesn’t. The fundamental truth, unknown by the councillors, is that a religiously neutral state is the chief guarantee of religious freedom and religious pluralism. The United States has one of the most religious societies in the Western world but its strict separation of church and state means that it’s also its most secular state. Thomas Jefferson said that “erecting a wall between church and state is essential in a free society”, and no state guarantees religious freedom and equality as much as The United States.

I assume that such an archaic action is a reaction to the weakening of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Indeed, it was reported that at least one councillor said that they were tired of apologising for their religion. Although I believe that in the near future, the Church will further apologise for its position on HIV/AIDs and its treatment of homosexuals (just as it has for mass rape, torture, murder, slavery and the persecution of other religions) such is its need to stay somewhat current with the rest of civilisation. The councillors may be tired still.

But I digress, regardless of how moral or immoral the Roman Catholic Church may be is not what’s most important. What is most important is that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor any other faith has a place in the state. And there should be no exception, not even if, as one of the Kerry councillors said to justify, “the vast majority are of Christian faith.” The appeal to majority is not just a fatuous one it is fascistic too. It is an appeal that theocrats in Islamic states make at the expense of Christians, Jews and other religious minorities who are pushed to the margins of society because they are not the majority.It is an appeal that betrays incredible ignorance.

At the end of the cold war the academic Francis Fukuyama declared the ‘End of History.’ What Fukuyama meant was the debate between liberal democracy and communism was over-liberal democracy won. The same is true of the debate on secular democracy and theocracy-secular democracy won. The Kerry councillors should be mindful that they, like the communists, are on the wrong side of history.


World News Today

17 Apr

Here are the biggest stories in the world today, 17th April 2014

Ukraine steps closer to the brink

Three pro-Russian separatists were killed yesterday as they attacked a base of the Ukrainian national guard. It is the most violent incident to date in a 10-day pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine. It has overshadowed emergency talks which are taking place between Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats in Geneva to try to resolve the conflict. The incident follows farcical scenes earlier in the week when Ukrainian soldiers, sent to restore order in the east, were confronted by pro-Russian crowds and forced to retreat and give up their weapons and equipment. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated that Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war. For more go to Reuters.

Korean ferry search hampered by conditions

Bad weather and strong currents are among the conditions hampering search efforts for 282 people reported missing after the South Korean ferry, The Sewol, capsized yesterday off the south coast of the country. Of the 475 people on board, 340 were students and teachers from a Seoul High School. So far 179 people have been rescued and 14 people have been confirmed dead although that figure is expected to rise as rescuers struggle to locate survivors. It has been reported that only two life rafts were successfully launched sparking suspicion of the conduct of the captain and crew. For more go to the BBC.

Abducted Nigerian students whereabouts unknown

The fate of 115 Nigerian schoolgirls reported to have been abducted by Islamist extremists on Tuesday has been thrown into doubt today after their principal denied the Nigerian military’s report that they had been freed. The military had reported that all but eight of the 129 students and teachers abducted by men posing as soldiers had been accounted for. The mass abduction coincided with an attack on a bus station outside the capital Abuja, which has also been blamed on Islamist extremists. For more go to The New York Times.

Also in the news today

Iran cuts uranium stock

Drones scan sea floor for MH370

China to rid internet of porn

World News Today

16 Apr

Here are the biggest stories in the world today, 16th April 2014

Hundreds feared drowned as ferry sinks

Nearly 300 people have been reported missing as a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea today. Survivors reported hearing a loud noise before the ferry began to list on its side. There were 459 people on board, 338 of them students and teachers from a Seoul high school. There has been confusion as to the number rescued and missing. Coastguard officials said 164 had been rescued so far while the Ministry of Security and Public Administration earlier reported that 368 people had been rescued, although this figure was later revised downward. Vessels from the South Korean Navy and Coastguard as well as a US Navy ship are conducting a rescue operation. For more go to Reuters. 

Ukraine stands on the brink

Tensions escalated in Ukraine today as pro-Russian separatists seized more public buildings in eastern Ukraine while many Ukrainian troops sent to restore order have reportedly defected to the separatists side. Tensions are tense in the eastern city of Slovyansk where this morning combat vehicles flying Russian flags rolled through. Ukrainian soldiers and combat vehicles were also blocked by a crowd of civilians on the outskirts of the city. The operation by Ukrainian forces to quell the restive east is now in its second day and has been described by acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov as “counter-terrorism.” Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Ukraine was on the verge “of a civil war.” For more go to The Washington Post.

Iran consider banning vasectomies

Iranian MPs are considering banning vasectomies and tightening abortion laws in efforts to increase Iran’s birthrate. The Islamic state initiated an effective birth control programme two decades ago in response to a rapid increase in birthrate following an eight-year war with Iraq. The programme includes subsidised sterilisation and the distribution of free condoms. The supreme leader, Ayatalloah Ali Khamenei, has criticised the programme, describing it as a western imitation, and has urged a U-turn to increase Iran’s population. For more go to the Guardian.

Also in the news today

Al Qaeda leader vows to attack America

Sub search for MH370 continues

Pistorius fired rapidly says expert


World News Today

15 Apr

Here are the biggest stories in the world today;

Obama presses Putin to stop separatists

US President Barack Obama yesterday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to make Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine stand down. Separatist groups continue to occupy public buildings in several cities despite threats from Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov to forcibly remove them. The groups occupying the buildings are demanding referendums on greater autonomy or an option to join the Russian Federation. A meeting with delegates from the US, Russia, EU and Ukraine is to convene in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. For more go to BBC.

China to start new space race

Chinese President Xi Jinping today told members of the Chinese military to increase their air and space defence capabilities. Speaking at Air Force headquarters in Beijing, Xi said to officers that they need to speed up air and space integration. China has shown increasing ambition to develop its military space programme. Fears of a space arms race between China and the US and others were raised after China used a ground missile to destroy one of its satellites in 2007. For more go to Reuters.

UN human rights chief condemns Syrian abuse

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has condemned the widespread torture committed by all sides in the Syrian conflict. The Office of the High Commissioner yesterday released a report identifying individual cases of torture committed in detention facilities in Syria. The report detailed the torture techniques of state authorities and said that torture by opposition groups was on the rise, particularly in the north of Syria. More than 100,000 people are believed to have died in the three-year conflict. For more go the LA Times.

Also in the news today

Underwater search for MH370 cut short

US-made rockets seen in Syria

Pistorious cross-examination concludes


World News Today

14 Apr

Here are the biggest stories in the world today, 14th April 2014.

Deadline passes as separatists ready for Ukrainian forces

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are bracing themselves for a conflict with Ukrainian security forces after they refused to meet Monday’s deadline to disarm and end their occupation of state buildings. Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchinov warned separatists on Sunday that they would face a full-scale security operation if they refused to meet the deadline. Turchinov has taken a more aggressive approach after a state security officer was killed in the city of Slaviansk. A crackdown on separatists could further escalate tensions with Russia who Ukraine and the US have accused of aiding the separatists in attempts to further annex Ukrainian territory and gain greater influence in the region. For more go to Reuters.

Dozens killed in Nigeria bus blasts

More than 70 people have been reported killed in two blasts at a crowded bus station just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja. The blasts happened this morning as commuters boarded the buses to take them to the capital. Nigerian officials have said that the death toll stands at 71 with more than 120 injured. Experts have speculated that the blasts may have been carried out by Boko Harem, an Islamic militant group. This year alone, Boko Harem have killed more than 1,500 civilians in north-east Nigeria, according to experts. For more go to BBC.

Abdullah leads the way in Afghan election

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has emerged as the early leader in the first partial results from Afghanistan’s presidential elections. An estimated 7 million Afghans took to the polls eight days ago in the first democratic transition of presidential power in Afghanistan’s history. The first results, though far from definitive, give Abdullah a four point lead over former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah has received 41.9 percent of the votes counted so far, although he will need more than 50 percent to be declared the outright winner and avoid a likely runoff with Ghani. For more go to The Washington Post.

Also in the news today.

Search for MH370 goes underwater

China refuses to talk human rights with UK

White supremacist kills three in Kansas


World News Today

10 Apr

Here are the biggest stories in the world today;

US and Japan talk trade

Trade negotiators said today that big gaps remain between the United States and Japan after two days of talks on a bilateral trade deal which is viewed as being of vital importance to greater regional co-operation. The deal would form a key part of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation partnership that would stretch across The Pacific. A deal between the US and Japan would follow that made between Australia and Japan earlier this week. The US wants Japan to open its rice, beef and pork, dairy and sugar sectors, while Japan wants US tariffs on imported motors vehicles reduced. Negotiators hope to have a deal ahead of US President Barack Obama state visit to Japan on 24-25 April. For more go to Reuters.

Indians vote in key states

Millions of Indians across 14 states are voting today on the biggest day of the general election so far. Voting is taking place for 91 seats including in the capital Delhi and key states such as Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. Voting began on Monday and will conclude on 12 May with the main opposition party the BJP expected to win the largest share of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. More than 800 million Indians are eligible to vote in the world’s largest general election. For more go to the BBC.

Russia declined to share info on Boston bomber

Russian authorities declined to share information on one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects according to a FBI report. In 2011 Russian authorities told the FBI that Chechen Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a “strong believer” of radical Islam. Following an initial investigation the FBI requested further information on Tsarnaev which Russian authorities denied them. Three people were killed and dozens injured when two improvised devices exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year. Tameralan Tsarnaev was killed while attempting to elude police while his brother and other suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev is awaiting trial before a federal court. For more go the New York Times.

Other stories in the news today

New ‘Pings’ detected in MH370 search

Amnesty offered to separatists

Venezuelan government to talk to protesters