Why It’s A Good Thing There Are Just 6 Episodes Of The New X-Files

- March 26th, 2015

x-files-2015-poster

Ignore what the poster says. It was probably done before all the deals were hammered out. There will be six — not eight — episodes in the new X-Files cycle.

 

I was never really an X-Files fan — in fact, I rarely watched it — but the headline on this piece isn’t at all sarcastic.

I mean it — a six-episode mini-season X-Files reboot is a Good Thing.

Why? Because limited television series, occasional television series, “event” television (as the new X-Files is labelled) are all good things — good for the quality of the production, good for the actors and writers and production crews, good for the audience, good for everyone concerned.

The old concept of 20-26 episodes per season for a normal North American TV series is just a killer grind that has the sole virtue of putting a labelled product on the schedule at the same time on the same night week after week for roughly half a year and then repeating itself.

A typical grind-’em-out TV series is thin-but-regular fare and dependable mediocrity, and that’s about it. Most shows — after their initial burst of creativity and enthusiasm (see Heroes as a prime example) — have all the excitement and flavour and emotional nourishment of a loaf of mass-produced chemical sponge-bread.

(The only shows I can think of that broke the pattern over the long haul are The Mary Tyler Moore Show decades ago and, more recently, The Big Bang Theory — largely due to Jim Parsons’ brilliance, the wonderful supporting ensemble and consistently terrific writing. But half-hour sitcoms — especially ones with a largish, emotionally complex cast — are easier to pull off on an ongoing basis than hour-long dramas.)

It’s not anyone’s fault, really, that meat-grinder TV quickly falls into ho-hum routine (except for the greed of everyone involved, I guess). It’s more a case of habit and expectation — “Tradition!” as Tevye would shout.

We’ve been seeing those old walls and conventions break down more and more over the past decade, of course.

It started in the 1990s when pay-TV cable channels like HBO began producing original programming such as Oz and The Sopranos in 13-episode season packages. With less-demanding production schedules and a higher commitment to quality, television viewing expectations began to change.

And, as The Sopranos became the cornerstone of HBO’s success, the show was even able to take off an entire year from time to time to let participants play catch-up, to recharge batteries, to take on other projects and to give the writing staff time and space to produce truly remarkable scripts.

Nowadays we have Game of Thrones, House of Cards and so on, all with the shorter 10-to-13-episode seasons.

Then, of course, came the tidal change of online, on-demand viewing with “the big dump” of entire Netflix  series seasons at one time — and the subsequent binge watching.

So it’s not really such a big deal that the resurrected X-Files would come in a smaller, more intensely crafted and more elite six-episode package.

I’m hoping all of this evolves even further into a format that’s been going great guns in Europe for decades — anthology series that are on air at the same time of the week year-round, but with constantly revolving (and evolving) components.

tatort

My favourite of these is the vastly popular German-language police procedural series called Tatort (“Crime Scene”) that’s been running on Germany’s public broadcasting network, ARD, since 1970.

Really, since 1970. And (for the most part) it’s as fresh and entertaining today as it would have been 45 years ago. Because it’s constantly evolving and because the casts and crews and writers and production companies (and locations, of course) are constantly changing and shifting, never being burned out and drained of creativity.

Each week, Tatort features a different team of police detectives solving crimes in a different city or region in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. One week it might be plain, dumpy Hauptkommissar Frank Thiel and haughty forensic doctor Prof. Karl-Friedrich Boerne in Münster; the following week it’s Frau Hauptkommissarin Klara Blum (looking and sounding a bit like Harvey Fierstein in drag at times) and hapless subordinate Kai Perlmann down on the shores of Lake Constance (the Bodensee, as it is known by Germans).

1_WDR_Tatort_Team_Muenster_

Above, the Münster team headed by Hauptkommissar Frank Thiel ( actor Axel Prahl, centre) and Prof. Karl-Friedrich Boerne (Jan Josef Liefers, right). Liefers, by the way, grows the goatee anew for each Tatort production, then shaves it off for everything else he does.

Below, Hauptkommissarin Klara Blum (Eva Mattes, centre) and Kai Perlmann (Sebastian Bezzel) at work on the streets of Konstanz. Mattes was one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s go-to actors in the ’70s and early ’80s. Later she was in a number of Werner Herzog films. Herzog is the father of her daughter, Hanna. Mattes has been playing Klara Blum since 2002.

1111_6_Tatort-Letzte-Tage-08-Kai-Perlmann-und-Klara-Blum-und-Mia-Hennig

Each of the nine regional public broadcasters in Germany plus the public broadcasters in Austria and Switzerland produces its own homegrown Tatort component (complete with regional accents, customs, culture, social conventions, cityscapes and countryside, foibles and  stereotypes) which are then slotted into the full Tatort schedule by the national ARD programmers.

Of course, some of the teams (both characters and production) are stronger — and more popular — than others. But there are enough really good teams that you never go more than a week or two without hitting the jackpot.

It’s almost as if every CSI and NCIS series that ever existed on North American TV were all combined in one 90-minute-per-episode time slot and each particular group’s cast, crew, writers and directors only had to turn out two or three really brilliant, well-developed, satisfying “event” episodes each year.

(Did I mention Tatort episodes are all 90 minutes, as is much German TV drama? That allows the writers and production teams — not under the killer pressure of a weekly schedule — to make much more complex, developed movie-like shows. In fact, many 90-minute European TV productions are marketed elsewhere as DVD movies.)

In the German-language Tatort series, no one investigative team is ever featured more than three or (at the very most) four times in a single season, but some of the teams have been part of the Tatort cycle for 15 or 20 years. These long-time television teams and their audience have grown up and (in some cases) grown old together — but their shows never grow stale.

Characters sometimes die (usually because the actor who’s played that role for years has actually died) or retire, children grow up, spouses leave or die or fall apart, hair grows greyer and thinner, bellies grow paunchier… and relationships become richer and deeper and often more surprising.

And all because the writers and casts and production units for each team are usually only doing one, two or three episodes of their particular Tatort each year.

Sometimes young actors become huge stars in the German-speaking world because they’ve joined a Tatort team. But very, very rarely does a star abandon the show that made him or her famous. Because they don’t have to: There’s plenty of time away from Tatort to make movies, do theatre work for two or three months at a stretch or otherwise expand their horizons and wallets. But their Tatort characters remain part of them and the writing is usually so good and complex and satisfying and the ensemble casts are usually of such high calibre that none of the stars would even consider letting go of that plum assignment.

schlechte-quoten-tatort-kiel

Axel Milberg with Sibel Kekilli, his crime-fighting partner on the Kiel Tatort team. You probably know Kekilli better as Shae, the character she played on Game of Thrones (before dying at the end of Season 4, of course).

Axel Milberg, one of Germany’s finest actors, for example, has been playing obsessive-compulsive Kiel detective Klaus Borowski once or twice a year since 2003 with no intention of stopping any time soon. And some big stars like Til Schweiger have only assumed an ongoing Tatort role after already becoming established as film headliners. They just want to be part of the Tatort experience.

LifeonMars

Life On Mars

There are a few long-running anthology shows like Tatort in Europe. And then there are the intentionally time-limited series that the BBC and other British broadcasters do so well, like Sherlock and Life On Mars and so on. Cast and crew sign up for a defined quality project, much like a film, not for the endlessly repeating rote and downward death spiral  that a successful, long-running North American television series can become.

X-Files

Above, the young Mulder and Scully. Below, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny nowadays.

Gillian-Anderson-and-David-Duchovny-by-Gavin-Bond1-600x803

So that’s why I’m very happy to see X-Files coming back as an six-episode “event” one-off.

The six episodes will have good story arc, the work will be of the highest quality, and everyone participating will have the satisfaction of working on something special, something in which it’s worth investing their time and effort — and ours.

Of course, there are more cynical explanations for why Fox is bankrolling this six-episode “event.” But I’m really not too concern by all that.

Sometimes good things happen for sketchy reasons. I Want To Believe that, at least.

Although maybe I should have said The Truth Is Out There.

Or even (shudder) Trust No One. We’ll see.

Water Versus Oil

- March 22nd, 2015

no-water

I’ve come to the conclusion that, at a certain point in time, fracking and oil-sands extraction will become financially unviable for the simple reason that the MILLIONS AND MILLIONS AND MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of litres and gallons and barrels of fresh water that are polluted, poisoned and wasted every single day in those extraction processes will finally be far more valuable than the oil that results.

The change won’t come because of any ethical, moral, humanitarian, environmental or aesthetic concerns. It will simply be because it doesn’t make financial sense to despoil and waste such a valuable, essential resource just to produce a fuel that is most definitely replaceable by less-destructive alternatives.

Of course, by that time, the oil extractors will have moved on to sew up all water-table extraction rights in North America. (They’re already well on their way in drought-stricken California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And making inroads in Canada, I might add.)

Will we be buying our drinking water at pumps then?

Don’t mind me. I’m just thinking out loud. Carry on with your supposedly water-abundant life.

I’m thinking about all this stuff because today (March 22) just happens to be World Water Day.

And that’s my particular thought for World Water Day.

I’ve inserted a few links throughout this brief musing to various articles on World Water Day as well as the current and future global water crisis. Just in case you want to think a little more deeply and broadly about the subject.

But, like I said before, don’t mind me. You do your own thinking.

 

Is The End Of The World Coming On March 20?

- March 14th, 2015

Solar-eclipse-France-1999-Luc-Viatour-www-lucnix-be

A photo of the 1999 solar eclipse taken by Belgian photographer Luc Viatour (www.lucnix.be)

 

UPDATE: Well, it seems like we survived …

 

Okay, maybe not the end of the world (although some cults are predicting cataclysmic occurrences and the European Union is bracing for power disruptions) — but there WILL be a total solar eclipse on that day.

And it just happens to coincide with the vernal equinox.

But we’ll probably survive okay — at least in North America. Let me explain …

As you can probably figure out, a “total” solar eclipse means the moon’s orbit temporarily puts it in such a position between Earth and the sun that all direct sunlight is blocked. Day becomes semi-night, more or less.

Now that doesn’t mean sunlight to the entire globe is completely blocked, just the small part that falls along the line where the moon happens to be in the right position. If you move a bit (we’re talking a few hundred kilometres here) one way or another, you’re going to be outside the moon’s total shade and get at least some direct sunlight. And most of the Earth will see no eclipse effect at all.

NASA-solar-eclipse-Google-map

Here’s a quickie Google map from NASA showing where the greatest band of eclipse will be in effect. Almost all of it will be over the North Atlantic, with the total “total eclipse” happening for just a few minutes — 2 minutes, 47 seconds, to be precise — off the east coast of Iceland near Denmark’s Faroe Islands and over Norway’s Svalbard Islands even further north.

So fewer than 60,000 people on the ground will actually get the full eclipse effect. A few thousand other people jetting across the sky over the North Atlantic or out on boats could also be totalled. There are actually cruise ships ready to sail filled with people who have paid $3,000-$5,000 to get up close and personal with the total eclipse. And Scotland’s Outer Hebrides are bracing for an influx of tourists.

 

eclipse-viewing

By the way, the only time the sun can be viewed directly by the unprotected eye without damage is in a total eclipse. However, unless you are absolutely sure you really are in a position of total eclipse, I simply wouldn’t take a chance on scorching my retinas. Ordinary sunglasses are not good enough protection. You must use special safety lenses and even then for only 15-20 seconds of direct viewing at a time.

 

But there are a lot more people who will get a partial eclipse experience. And, depending on weather conditions and cloud cover, that includes the eastern parts of Newfoundland and Labrador and a bit of Baffin Island for about five minutes or so shortly after dawn on Friday, March 20. It will only be a light shading on Canadian territory.

But all of Europe plus North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia will get a much greater dose of the eclipse — and for much longer. Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia are expected to have roughly 90% totality (98% for Scotland), while much of the rest of Northern Europe will be in the 80% eclipse range over a two-hour period.

Here’a another map from the experts in the British government who keep track of these things.

Brit-gov-eclipse-map

 

And that’s why the Europeans — who depend much more on solar power now than they did the last time a total solar eclipse hit Europe in 1999 — are sort of worried. (A total eclipse in 2009 tracked across the Pacific and Asia.)

As of 2012, solar power provided more than 3% of Europe’s power supply (more than 10% of renewable energy) and solar’s market share has increased substantially since then.

Here’s a link to a preparedness report released by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (who, one would hope, are better at predicting power fluctuations than they are at coming up with organizational names).

“The risk of incident cannot be completely ruled out. Solar eclipses have happened before but with the increase of installed photovoltaic energy generation, the risk of an incident could be serious without appropriate countermeasures,” according to the report.

Honestly, I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of it but, near as I can figure, the experts say solar power generation in Europe could drop by more than half on the morning of March 20 and then surge back up. It’s not the actual loss of power that seems to worry them as much as the rapid fluctuation and the effect that will have on throwing off the balance of the European power grid.

All in all, I don’t think they have too much to worry about. From my own ignorant perspective, I would be much more concerned about flying between North America and Europe on the morning of March 20 and the effect the total eclipse might have on the electronics of the plane carrying me.

On the other hand, there could be some pretty amazing last-minute flight deals that day. If you’re willing to take the chance.

And, of course, various space cadets have their own obsessions about the eclipse.

Just to be on the safe side, you might want to read this “Urgent message to ground crew” (that would be us human beings) about the eclipse from Anna Merkaba, the self-described “Distant Energy Healer, Channeler & Lightworker” who leads one particular cult.

urgent-message-to-ground-crew

 

For the record, I want to make it clear that I do not endorse Anna Merkaba’s cult or its members’ out-of-this-world beliefs. This is what Anna Merkaba says about herself: “I have come from the stars, and this is my first time incarnating as a human on earth. I have been here before but as a light being…” On the other hand, that assertion is no screwier than the founding myths of most other religions.

Also in fairness, I should point out that a few Bible-based wacky websites are warning that the real danger will come when a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse fall close together — and that’s not happening again until September 2016.

The Biblical doomsayers usually cite Revelations 6:12, to wit, “And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.”

On the plus side, we’ve had plenty of sun-moon eclipse combos — most recently in 2012 and 2013 — and we’re still here, listening to the zealots prophesize our impeding end. But one of these days …

Anna Merkaba tells her followers here that the March 20 solar eclipse is going to set off a chain of events “that will change the world as we know it” culminating in something really spectacular involving “galactic visitors” and pyramids happening round about September.

You have been warned. Now buckle up, adjust your tin-foil hat, put on your solar goggles and prepare for the ride.

As for the equinox, that occurs twice every year — around March 20 and Sept. 22 — when the sun is directly overhead at the equator. In other words, the spinning Earth doesn’t have either of its poles pointing toward the sun more than the other. Day and night end up being roughly the same duration. This year, the vernal equinox day is supposed to be 12 hours, eight minutes and 36 second long. Next year the day will be almost a minute shorter. It’s NOT the longest day of the year, which is called the summer solstice and which will be June 21 this year.

The Leafs — 15 Years Ago

- March 8th, 2015

Don’t ask me why I have a Toronto Maple Leafs 2001 dayplanner. I really don’t know.

Well, I know the dayplanner was a fundraising thing for the Hospital for Sick Children, and the Toronto Sun (of which I was a senior editor at the time) was somehow involved in promoting it.

Dayplanner-cover

And I remember getting autographs from Darcy Tucker and Tomas Kaberle — remember them? — on their particular photo pages when they were in the Sun building one day in late 2000.

But I can’t remember whether I bought the day planner or whether it was given to me by the nice people in the Sun promotions department. I was a pretty big Leafs fan then — everybody in Toronto was — but I never really went in for buying gotta-support-the-team stuff.

The Leafs in that turn-of-the-century period were a special bunch, even if we did sort of take their success for granted in the pre-salary-cap/post-Harold-Ballard era. It really surprised the heck out of us that they never made it to a Cup final.

Pat Quinn was GM and coach, of course, and perennial captain Mats Sundin, that ageless Viking, was the team’s points leader with 74 (although Gary Roberts was top scorer that year with 29 goals). Tie Domi led the team in penalty minutes with 214 for the season. And goalie Curtis Joseph had 33 wins with a 2.39 goals-against average.

The Leafs finished the season in third place in the Northeast Division (seventh overall in the East) with 90 points — a 10-point dip from the previous season and the following season. (Boston, Montreal and both New York teams missed the playoffs that year, I might add.) Leafs swept the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs (as usual) and were in turn knocked out in the next round by the New Jersey Devils in seven games (as usual).

All that seems so long ago and so much has changed since then. Playoffs? Ninety-point seasons (not to mention 100-point seasons)? Hometown hockey heroes?

The reason I’ve still got that dayplanner has nothing to do with the Leafs, however. That was a particularly eventful year in my life. My father died in December 2000, I turned 50 in January 2001, we bought a new house that summer and the world changed forever when the Twin Towers came crashing down on Sept. 11, 2001. Plus a lot of other stuff was going on in my life at the time. It’s all recorded in that 2001 dayplanner.

Which is why I still have it. And why I dug it out a couple of days ago to check a date.

But then I started leafing through it. There were photos in there of players I had forgotten — but it all came back in a rush.

The thing I found most startling about the photos was that players’ wives, girlfriends and children were included. This folksy touch was supposed to make us feel closer to the players and think of them on a more human level, I guess. Or maybe the kids were there as a tie-in to the Hospital for Sick Children.

I’m sure many of today’s Leafs would like to be thought of as human beings and not commodities too. But putting family and lovers on display is simply not done any more. At least officially. There are just too many privacy and security concerns these days.

But the photos provide an interesting trip down memory lane, so I’m going to share some of them from the 2001 Leafs day planner with you here.

Darcy-Tucker

We’ll start with Darcy Tucker, wife Shannon and kids Owynn and Cole since I have Darcy’s autograph on the photo. It was Darcy’s first full season with the Leafs. Sideshow Bob was always one of my favourite Leaf players. The Tuckers still live in the GTA and added another kid, Cain, to the clan after this photo.

Tomas-Kaberle

For the same reason, Tomas Kaberle is next with then-girlfriend Ilona Kvapilova (who became his wife from 2002 to 2010). Doesn’t Kaberle look young here? Now 37, he tried out with the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers at the beginning of the 2014-15 NHL season but didn’t stick with either team. (He’s not officially retired, however.) He still has a home in Toronto, I believe, as well as in his native Czech Republic.

Nik-Antropov

Nik Antropov and wife Lena. In this photo, she’s pregnant with the first of their two children. Today Nik is still playing hockey in the KHL where he is captain of Barys Astana in his native Kazakhstan (although he also became a Canadian citizen in 2007 while playing with the Leafs). On Sunday (March 8), Barys went up three games to two  against Avangard in their KHL conference quarterfinal playoff series. Game 6 goes Tuesday (March 10). I’ll update this if the messenger pigeon makes it through enemy lines.

Nik-Antropov-wedding

And here’s Nik and Lena’s wedding photo, which somehow ended up in the dayplanner gallery.

Mats-Sundin

Mats Sundin and longtime girlfriend Tina Fagerstrom, with whom he split in 2006. He married Josephine Johansson in 2009, the same year he retired from the NHL. The couple had a daughter, Bonnie, in 2012. Sundin lives in Sweden but is still in Toronto frequently. He has said several times he wishes he had retired as a Leaf instead of playing that final half-season for the Canucks.

Tie-Domi

Tie Domi with kids Carlin, Avery and Max. Yep, that little guy on the right in the Leafs cap grew up to be Max Domi, the  Phoenix Coyotes’ 2013 first-round draft pick and one of the stars of the gold-medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 World Juniors hockey championship.

Steve-Thomas

Speaking of multi-generational hockey families, here’s high-scoring Steve Thomas and wife Lori with kids Lauren and Christian. Son Christian was a second-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2010 but is now part of the Montreal Canadiens organization, splitting time between the Habs and the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. Steve and Christian are the only father and son combo to each score 50 goals or more in a single OHL season (Steve as a Marlie and Christian as an Oshawa General).

On a completely different tangent, you may remember that a much, much younger Steve Thomas had been famously towel-whipped by Patrick Swayze in the terrible 1986 hockey movie Youngblood (filmed primarily at Ted Reeve Arena). And then he was one of the team mates who held Rob Lowe down while Swayze shaved Lowe’s scrotum in a hazing ritual. Some things you can never live down, Stumpy.

Curtis-Joseph

Curtis and Nancy Joseph and their kids, Tristan, Taylor and Madison. Last I heard, CuJo and clan were still living in Oakville. The four-year, $24-million contract he signed with Toronto in 1998 — unbelievably huge at the time — set him up for life, although he kept playing until 2010. CuJo, by the way, has 454 career NHL wins — the most by any goalie who has never won a Stanley Cup.

Glenn-Healy

Hey, remember that guy — Glenn Healy? He was CuJo’s backup. Wonder whatever became of him? With Healy are wife Suzie and daughters Rachel and Meagan, the two oldest of the Healys’ three girls. I hear he plays a mean bagpipe. Maybe he got a gig as a musician after his pro hockey career ended.

Gary-Roberts

Gary Roberts with then-wife Tamra and daughter Jordan. The couple divorced a few years later and Roberts has two more kids with second wife Michelle. Since retiring as a player in 2009, Roberts has built an impressive high-performance training business in Toronto and is credited with having had a tremendous influence on the development of Tampa’s Steve Stamkos and other current NHL players.

Danny-Markov

Tough, crazy Danny Markov with wife Anna. Markov’s Leafs nickname was “Elvis” because of his Presley impersonations in the dressing room. In his time, Markov beat up another team’s mascot, shot a puck at a referee, and had a bad facial cut stitched up without anesthetic so he could get back on the ice faster, but he is probably best known for his repeated mocking salute of Jaromir Jagr after the Leafs knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs in 1999. It became known as the Markov Salute. (And I can’t believe I just wrote those words “Leafs knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs” … sends shivers up my spine.)

Igor-Korolev

This is a sad one — Igor Korolev with wife Vera and daughters Kristina and Anastasia. Igor was a Leaf from 1997 until being traded to Chicago in 2001. Later, Korolev returned to Russia to play hockey, but the family had become Canadian citizens in 2000 and made Toronto their permanent home. Korolev retired from the KHL as a player in 2010, becoming an assistant coach for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.  On Sept. 7, 2011, Korolev was killed with the entire Lokomotiv team when their plane crashed en route to Minsk to play the opening game of their season. Igor is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Wendel-Clark

Now here’s one I don’t understand, although it’s always nice to see the legendary Wendel Clark. Here he is with wife Denise and kids Kody, Kylie and Kassie on a little John Deere. As I said, it’s always good to see Wendel, but what’s he doing in a Leafs 2001 day planner? He retired at the end of the 1999-2000 season. Well, he did play for the Leafs for 13 seasons in three different go-rounds, so old habits can be hard to break … or maybe the Leafs figured he might come out of a retirement for one more season. Nowadays you can see Wendel and Denise at most Leaf home games.

And, to wrap up, here are a few more 2000-2001 Leafs who were a hell of a big deal in this town 15 years ago.

Alyn-McCauley

Bryan-McCabe

Gary-Valk

 

See what I mean about it being sort of weird to be looking at all these personal family photos and poking around private lives? Despite their on-ice stardom, it’s not as if these people were the Kardashians.

But none of this is nearly as invasive as some of the things being said about players and their loved ones today.

That 2000-2001 era really does seem better in so many ways. (Not quite as wonderful as the Dougie Gilmour era, from a fan’s point of view, but still pretty great.) If only one of those teams had won a Cup …

Vlad Putin Doesn’t Care What You Or I Think Of Him

- March 1st, 2015

Vlad-Putin

Let me be a little more blunt: Putin doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone in the West thinks of him.

That includes Barack Obama and the hand-wringers of the European Union as well as you and me. He knows none of us will do anything except squeal like little piggies.

The only opinion Vlad Putin cares about is that of the amorphous blob known as “the great Russian people.” And he has that opinion firmly in hand through his almost-complete control of Soviet (sorry, “Russian”) media outlets and the constant, repetitive, unwavering, unquestioning propaganda of his mouthpieces.

Voices of opposition like that of Boris Nemtsov have been silenced by harassment, arrest, prosecution, incarceration, exile and — in the most extreme cases, like that of Nemtsov — murder.

Internal Russian opposition to Putin’s kleptocracy reached its peak in 2012 in the run-up to the national elections that saw Putin returned to the presidency for the third (but certainly not last) time.

Since winning that election by a significant margin (through both fair and foul means), Putin has tightened his grip, extended his reach and struck out ruthlessly against those who stood against him.

The Russian opposition has been in shambles for more than a year now, broken and splintered, torn by internal divisions (many engineered by the Kremlin’s ferrets), a mere, mocking shadow of the democratic movement that drew hundreds of thousands of hurt, tired, cheated, angry Russians into the streets of Moscow to protest (futilely, as it turned out) against Vlad Putin’s relentless march to complete domination in 2012.

Western media reports tell of the “thousands massed” on Sunday for the memorial march in remembrance of the murdered Boris Nemtsov. But it was, in reality, a pathetically small turnout to mark an atrocity that truly shocked all of Russia by the very nakedness of its brutality. The hundreds of thousands of 2012 have now dwindled to a few thousand.

Of course, not all Russians buy into Putin’s party line. But fewer and fewer are willing — or able — to take a public stand against Putin’s increasingly absolute rule.

Part of the message to the Russian people sent by the Nemtsov murder was that anyone who stands against the Putin regime is targeted. So the thousands of 2015 (the brave survivors of the hundreds of thousands of 2012) will soon dwindle to mere hundreds, culled by fear and intimidation, by persecution and prosecution, by violence and death.

Nemtsov-Putin-2000

Nemtsov and Putin in 2000 shortly after Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president of Russia. Both were close advisers to Yeltsin and Nemtsov was seen as a possible successor until Putin outmanoeuvred him. Nemtsov initially backed Putin’s presidency (considering him a “progressive modernizer”) and only turned against him when it became apparent that Putin was set on a course of amassing personal power and personal wealth.

 

I’ve railed time and again about how we should look back at Adolf Hitler’s trajectory in the 1930s to learn valuable lessons about what we can expect from Vlad Putin as the current decade unfolds. Putin, obviously, is not an exact duplicate of Hitler, but he’s certainly used a lot of the same methodology to seize, hold and extend his power.

Key components of that methodology include fusing the projected identity of the leader with the manufactured identity of the great, anonymous, harnessed mass of the “people.”

And anyone who stands against — or even expresses reservations about — that hijacked national identity and purpose is branded a traitor, an enemy of the people, a tool of the nation’s foes. Or, as Vlad Putin likes to call his critics, “fifth columnists.”

That is what Putin labelled Boris Nemtsov and that is why Nemtsov knew it was not only possible but probable that Putin wanted him dead.

If you have any doubt in your mind that Vlad Putin approved the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, then you’re in for an unending series of unpleasant surprises over the next few weeks, months and years.

Of course Putin gave the go-ahead. No action that drastic and public would be undertaken in the heart of Moscow, within sight of the Kremlin, at the very centre of Vlad Putin’s powerdome, without the explicit okay of the supreme leader.

And, of course, Vlad Putin has taken a direct hand in overseeing the criminal investigation into the Nemtsov murder.

Also, of course, the idea that the murder could possibly have been commissioned and/or directed by anyone in the government is definitely NOT one of the five theories investigators are pursuing.

Instead, the marching orders for investigators say that the murder could have been:

1. Political provocation by external enemies or internal “fifth columnists” to destabilize Russia;

2. Somehow linked to shady business dealings in which Nemtsov was involved;

3. Personal, perhaps somehow involving the 23-year-old Ukrainian model who was with Nemtsov when he was shot;

4. Linked to “Ukrainian events” (again the model connection and, more so, Nemtsov’s vociferous opposition to Putin’s aggression in the neighbouring country’s troubles); or

5. An execution carried out by Islamic extremist — which is currently (conveniently) the Kremlin’s favourite theory.

In the end, perpetrators will be “identified,” people will be killed in a shootout and the whole incident will be tied up in a nice package and buried in an unmarked grave beside Nemtsov.

UPDATE: Five Chechens have now been arrested, two of whom are charged with carrying out the murder. They have ties to the regime of the warlord who is Putin’s hatchet man in Chechnya. We’ll see what happens.

 

Putin simply doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks about anything he does anymore. He completely cows and controls every branch of the media inside Russia now and what anyone says outside Russia is immaterial to his rule.

His internal “enemies” are defeated, destroyed. His external “enemies” are most useful as objects of hatred on which to focus blame for Russia’s fall from grace and thwarted desire to regain its deserved glory and power.

We’ve been down this path before. It’s not a good one.

Pity poor Russia. Pity poor Ukraine. Pity us all.