A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like this wise, old bird?
A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like this wise, old bird?
The Australian Financial Review claims to be one of the better newspapers in the country. But as is apparent from what follows, the paper lacks sub-editors who can spell or who have any knowledge of grammar.
Fairfax Media has an almighty big style guide, but the AFR seems to have thrown it out, along with any competent sub-editors.
All this is taken from a single article titled “Malcolm Turnbull wins support to water down race hate laws” on 21 March. Just imagine how many screw-ups there are in the entire paper. And the paper still complains it is losing readers. Guess why?
In “an” move? Surely that should be “in a move”?
“And the strengthen”? That “the” is dangling there like a limp dick in the breeze. Cut it off.
“Portrayed” is Mrs Malaprop at her brilliant best. The word is “betrayed”. And “ths” one takes it is “this” with the vowel dropped en route to the screen.
Pretense, not pretence. And yanked, not ranked.
Will? No, it should be would. Usage is always hypothetical and possible.
“The legislation” is singular. It cannot be later described as “they are”. The paragraph should read: “The legislation for the change will be introduced into the Senate first and has little prospect of passing because it is opposed by Labor, the Greens and NIck Xenophon.” And it’s Nick, not NIck.
Outbursts of anger. Not outburst. Plural as opposed to singular. Got it?
Not sure how Abetz is being described in the plural. Or did somebody include the obnoxious Cory Bernardi without naming him?
Shadow minister for citizenship and what??? And surely, one uses past tense in sentences like this – had not has?
Here, the word “to” seems to have gone AWOL.
I know Steve Ciobo is a dunce, but should one leave even his sentences dangling like this?
A comma in time saves nine. Just saying.
One of the many big-noters in India has announced her return to the literary scene with a novel about the uprising in Kashmir. Coming 20 years after her only other effort, Arundhati Roy’s 2017 publication has already received enough hype to make one puke.
Since her book The God of Small Things was surprisingly awarded the Man Booker Prize in 1997, Roy has been involved in activism, written essays and numerous articles. One has to be grateful that she did not attempt a second novel. Her first effort was terrible; author Carmen Callil, chair of the 1996 Booker jury, pronounced Roy’s work “execrable”, and said it should never have reached the shortlist.
I’m willing to bet that the second book will be an even greater success than the first; in this day and age frauds succeed much better than they did in 1997.
Below is the review I wrote at the time; it is no longer on the Internet as the site hosting it died an unnatural death.
An Indian writer has received an advance of half a million pounds for her first novel, The God of Small Things. Great stuff, one would say, it proves there is talent in the country. The hype that has necessarily accompanied this has obscured the novel to a large extent. There are reviews floating all over the Web, some of them written by people who have not even read the book. The very fact that an Indian author has received a six-figure advance for a first novel necessarily means that the book must be good – thus runs the logic. It makes for even better copy when the writer is a woman.
A number of Indian publications have gloated over the novel. The customary interviews have taken place with the writer and the usual pithy sayings have emerged. It is time to look a bit more closely at this publishing “feat”, the circumstances of the writer and the actual content of the book. One must remember first of all that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Indian independence; indeed, it is a nice time for a British publishing house to give an Indian author such an honour. Good timing to expiate some of the guilt surrounding the act of partition of the subcontinent.
The author, Arundhati Roy, is the daughter of one Mary Roy, a women who gained her own measure of notoriety by challenging the Christian inheritance law some years ago in Kerala. Mary won her case and thus became an icon for feminists in India. Mary Roy, however, was not the best of mothers; she kicked her daughter out at the age of 18 and the girl thus had to fend for herself. It is not, therefore, surprising that Arundhati has constantly tried to gain her mother’s attention by various means and show her parent that she can succeed on her own as well. A large number of so-called great works have come about because a man feels he has something to prove to his parents.
Arundhati has lived on the edge of the so-called intellectual circuit in Delhi, a city which is a ball of hot air. Her first marriage to an architect ended in divorce and she is now married to a photographer by whom she has two children. She has tried her own attention-getting tactics — berating Shekhar Kapoor over his film Bandit Queen was the latest gimmick — and has, to some extent, gained a fair measure of publicity. Now comes this novel, which, if we are to believe the writer, did not require a single correction (there is a silly line which she has used to explain this: “one does not re-breathe a breath”) and in the space of five years. In other words, this spontaneous creation took a fairly long period of time. Does sound a bit like constipated genius.
Now to the novel itself. It is the story of a family who hail from a village in Kerala, one which Roy chose to call Ayemenem. The story is told within an uncertain time-frame which winds itself back and forth and anyone searching for structure within this book will be disappointed; the writer has an excuse – it is like a work of architecture, she says, and the form develops in any direction. There is plenty of detail in the 350-odd pages; the English is stuffed stupid with a surfeit of similes, most of them very poor ones. There is a bid to copy Salman Rushdie but it does not work; the use of language is stilted and and some words are so obviously contrived that they are out of place when used. Roy would have one believe that this work is spontaneous but the truth is that it is contrived and rather badly at that. It is so obviously wrung out of herself that any claim that this novel was lying dormant within herself just waiting to be written must be taken with loads of salt.
The God of Small Things is seen from the perspective of seven-year-old Rahel. She and her twin brother, Estha, live with their mother, Ammu, who was married to a Bengali from whom she is divorced. Ammu and the twins live in the Ayemenem house with their grandmother, uncle and grand-aunt Baby. The family owns a pickle factory that comes into conflict with the Communists. The family is awaiting the arrival of Sophie Mol, the twins’ half-English cousin and the book drifts back and forth to the arrival and the aftermath of the death by drowning of Sophie Mol and an ill-fated love affair between Ammu and the untouchable Velutha. Rahel returns to Ayemenem as an an adult to a decimated household, a dysfunctional twin and a decaying house.
Were a Keralite to read this book, he or she would obviously understand the setting and a lot of social surroundings. An outsider may find it exotic but that is all. In this sense, the book is insular in the extreme; there are splashes of Malayalam here and there and despite the feeble attempt at translation, the real meaning of the phrase is often hidden. Roy obviously has a huge narcissistic streak and ensures that the reader will identify her as the girl Rahel; whether this is intended to tell the reader that everything, including the incestuous relationship Rahel has with her twin, was also part of Roy’s life is unclear. This is a totally unnecessary twist to the book.
The story line is quite predictable; the death of a child and the love affair between a woman of the higher caste and an untouchable are standard fare in many an Indian novel. The only difference here is that this affair is suddenly sprung on the reader and it cannot be logically deduced; indeed, logic is a major casualty in this novel. There is a process of development in any book but there seems to be none in this book and, in my opinion, it is highly over-rated. One thing which puzzles me no end is the fact that Penguin India did not publish it; David Davidar has been the face of Indian publishing in English and his laconical explanation, “it wasn’t offered to us,” does not answer the question. Davidar is one who has chased after any writer whom he feels has the slightest chance of being a success. Why he did not choose to do so with Roy is a mystery.
It is difficult to think that a company like Comedy Central, which has been so successful in commissioning comedy shows that satirise the news, could make a mistake like it did in 2015 when it let Jon Stewart go with an election around the corner.
It is impossible to believe that the company could not have persuaded Stewart to stick on and go after the November 8 voting took place this year. Perhaps it thought that its choice of replacement, South African Trevor Noah, would be able to find his groove after a few months.
In media outlets here and there, the reason advanced for bringing in a younger host is said to be the need to attract a younger audience; the argument made is that Stewart’s audience was mostly a 45+ demographic while Noah, just 31 at the time he took over, would pull in the crowd below 40, a group that the management deems to be a wealthier demographic and what it needs as it looks to the future.
But if that was the expectation, then it has not been realised. Audiences for The Daily Show, which Stewart nurtured into one of the top-rating shows in the US, have fallen by as much as 40 percent. Comedy Central says it is not worried because the profile of the audience has changed as it wanted. But Noah himself is proving to be a poor replacement as host.
It is true that practically anybody would look bad besides Stewart who, over the 19 years that he was the host, made the show into a vehicle for both satirising the news and also for often conducting more serious journalism during his half-an-hour than most TV anchors and interviewers manage in a month of Sundays.
His interviews with that serial spreader of falsehoods, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the great New York Times liar Judith Miller, the latter of Scooter Libby leak fame, are masterpieces which any TV journalist would be proud to own.
He also nurtured a whole band of talented artists: John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee all have their own shows now. Any of them would have been a better replacement for Stewart than Noah.
Noah’s shortcoming is just not that he is not an American. Oliver is British but has learnt more about American politics than many American hosts have. No, Noah’s talent lies in stand-up and not the more serious sort of comedy which The Daily Show made its own; he is the equivalent of Canadian Russell Peters who can provoke a good belly-laugh but does not make the viewer think.
At times, watching Noah on The Daily Show these days is a painful exercise. He struggles to move from one topic to another and tries various gimmicks to gain traction, all of which tend to fail. His interview skills are poor and he has the same lines in his opening every single night.
It would not surprise me if the election is Noah’s last stand and the management decides on a change after January 20 next year.
The moment a Western journalist is treated in the Middle East in a manner that is deemed to be different to that in his own country, the West does tend to get rather heavy on the moralising and judgemental pronouncements.
Peter Greste, a journalist for Al Jazeera, the TV network that has revolutionised coverage of the Arab world, was given a sentence of seven years jail on what seems to be trumped up charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood came to power in elections in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring had resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who, at one stage, looked like having a permanent mortgage on leading the country, either on his own or through his descendants.
Unfortunately, the Brotherhood began to do what all governments do – govern for themselves – and discontent grew among people who believed all the propaganda that had been spouted in the run-up to the elections. Finally, the military, sensing the mood and knowing that their intervention would be welcome, took over and installed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as the ruler. One thing has changed – the chief financier. In the days of Mubarak, it was the US; the Brotherhood had a money tap in Qatar and the military that toppled it owes its sustenance to Saudi Arabia which abhors the sight of an administration run by the Brotherhood. The Al Saud know that the day that fundamentalists take power in the Miuslim world, it will spell the end of their own reign and hence they do whatever they can to keep this brand of Islam in the cupboard as far as possible.
Greste has been caught up in the middle of this political snakepit. Egypt’s current administration wants to send a message to Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and that is what this is all about.
But in the midst of all the Western raving about the seven-year sentence meted out to Greste, one fact has not been mentioned: when Al Jazeera was doing some pretty robust reporting on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans had no hesitation about bombing the rooms in which the staff of the TV network were staying. One journalist was killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were in on this act.
Of course, this is not the first time, the US has attacked Al Jazeera.
That same US is now crying foul about the sentences meted out to Greste and two of his colleagues and claiming that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs! So who showed Egypt the way?
That the US has no influence in the Middle East has never been demonstrated in a starker manner. The secretary of state, John Kerry, did try to intervene, but was brushed aside. Why should Sisi listen to someone when he has a money spigot that leads to someone else? The Saudis have indicated that they will prop up any government that keeps the Islamists at bay and Sisi is perfectly happy to do just that.
THE explosion of online publishing has seen a breed that knows little or nothing about journalism assume posts as editors, writers, and so on.
But when one comes to such positions without understanding the finer points of the craft – as those who have either worked for, or been trained in, full-time publishing ventures do – the danger of overstepping one’s bounds is very real.
Writing is a tricky business: English is a highly ambiguous language. That is just the beginning of the area where one can sink.
There is also the area of where one draws the line – there are very real laws against defaming and libelling people. Even veterans of journalism sometimes go a mite over the line and face problems.
There are some writers who make a habit of pushing the envelope – here, their editors have to serve as the sluice gates and reduce the chances of a legal issue arising.
In other cases, the editor should decide what is relevant to the story and not invade other areas which do not impact on the topic under consideration.
Caleb Hannan, a writer for Grantland, an online website that concerns itself with sport, and is affiliated with the ESPN sports network, appears to have made a habit of going too far, with disastrous results.
Recently, Hannan wrote a piece about the development of a golf club – and ventured into the background of the person behind the club, discovering that it was a transgender individual. A few days after publication, the transgender person committed suicide.
The whole business is one that resembles a situation that would eventuate if a butcher was doing a tailor’s job: these people have little idea about journalism, they are just amateurs with great titles.
It’s a timely warning to all those who think they can publish and be damned.
CRIKEY is a digital publication from Melbourne in Australia which has pretensions aplenty. It often claims to be the last – and correct – word on things. But oft times, it shows its ignorance. It shows its insularity.
Crikey sends a daily email to its subscribers five days a week. Its content also goes on its website, though only subscribers can access it. And this is a site which preaches a lot about things like freedom.
When Nelson Mandela died, Crikey ran an article by Guy Rundle, a writer who has a tendency to be unduly verbose. He revels in literary masturbation, using multi-syllable words here and there. He can never say anything in 600 words, hence most of his essays are continued off the daily newsletter. But Rundle, who delights in correcting other people, can screw up himself. And when he does it, he goes big.
While the rest of the world was correctly referring to Mandela by his tribal name, Madiba, Crikey called him Mandiba in an article right on top of its website. The mistake – and that’s an understatement – was there in the daily newsletter on December 6. The website was corrected shortly thereafter.
But it took quite a while before this paragon of virtue decided to come clean.
On December 10, a full 96 hours after the screw-up, the staff at Crikey realised that someone may have seen this glorious screw-up before it was changed. And so, a small apology was added in the newsletter on December 10.
THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a government-funded entity which operates on the lines of the BBC. It provides some of the better media content in the country, but this is not surprising since the standards of the rest are abysmally low. Murdoch-owned media constitute about 70 per cent of the country’s industry – that should say it all.
Given that it lives off the taxpayer, the ABC has many rules and regulations that govern its operations. It is meant to be accountable. But, then politicians are also meant to be accountable. And both often get away with blue murder.
The ABC’s arrogance is visible on occasion, though for the most part it hides behind the weasel words that are so much a part of public life today. The following incident will illustrate the level of contempt the corporation – living off the public teat, in case one has forgotten – shows.
Continue reading Conflicted guests compromise the ABC’s standards
WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.
But that is often not the case.
Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.
Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.
The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.
But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.
In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.
The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.
Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.
Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.
Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.
As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.
He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.
Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.
AUSTRALIAN nationals do not require a visa to visit the United States as tourists. They merely have to fill in a form on a website, wait for approval and then carry a printout of the resultant permission when they travel.
But any Australian passport holder who visits the US to report on an event has to get a journalist’s visa, what is known as an I category visa.
Going through the process is illuminating because one discovers the level of incompetence in the American system, if nothing else.
In July, I received an invitation from SUSE Linux, a company based in Germany, to attend their 20th anniversary celebrations to be held in Orlando, Florida. As it would have been churlish to refuse, I indicated I would accept.
SUSE was once an independent company and was bought by Novell in 2003. Novell, at that time, was a public company and SUSE was run from the US, not exactly very successfully. In 2011, Novell was bought by Attachmate Corporation which decided to relocate SUSE in Germany and run it from there. Attachmate also took Novell private.
The US visa can be applied for online – but the form leaves much to be desired. Firstly, it is built using Microsoft technology and thus works best with Internet Explorer. Nobody tells you this – I found out by trial and error due to my technology background.
A form which is properly designed should take one from page to page, allowing for both negative and positive answers. If a particular question cannot be left vacant, then there should be an option to get past that spot.
But with the visa application form, this does not happen. For example, I was clearly not going to work for an American company during my stay in the US. But the logic (?) built into the form clearly decided that this was the case even though I had clearly indicated that I was applying for a visa for a foreign media representative. I could not progress from this page.
I had to contact the US State Department to find out what to do – and the way to contact them is not provided. No, I found out the email address by going to the website of the US consulate in Melbourne and emailing them. I got an automated reply, giving me the correct email address. What a bloody circuitous way to deliver information!
One has to upload a picture along with the application. And there are all kinds of inane questions to answer – have you ever been involved in terrorist acts? have you been involved in genocide? Sure, people who are inclined this way would genuflect and tell Uncle Sam that they are indeed so oriented. Who designs these forms?
After this, one needs to make an appointment at the nearest consulate or embassy. But the amazing thing was that when I did so, I could not select the category of visa which I had specified in my application. I was offered other choices. To get past the form, I chose the B1/B2 which is a business visa.
Came the day of the interview and I was witness to what technology guru Bruce Schneier calls “security theatre”. At the consulate, there are two solemn men in uniform who act as though everyone who comes through the door is a member of al-Qaeda. They would be comical if they did not take themselves so seriously. The process is drawn out as much as possible to make it seem as though the security is the best in the world.
Upstairs, again papers were checked. No bags allowed, no mobile phones either. One had to sit in an area where a TV was blaring American propaganda – the US is the land of innovation, the land of racial harmony (lots of footage of Muslims saying the US was a beautiful place to live), the land of education, the land of opportunity. No mention was made of the national debt which now stands at $US15 trillion.
After 20 minutes (my appointment was at 10am), I was called to the counter. I explained the problem about the visa category and was given a long list of things which I would have to do. I then asked, sarcastically why I had to be delayed because of an error in the US web form. Back came the reply, “I will speak to my officer”.
Back to the same counter after 15 minutes. Now the girl told me that I had filled in the form correctly, something I already knew. I was fingerprinted and then went back to wait.
After 40 minutes more of listening to the propaganda, I was called for an interview. No seat, it’s done standing up. There is no toilet available for use by visitors on that floor – though the staff obviously do have a place to do their jobs. Way to go, USA.
Routine questions were asked, some of them redundant. Are you travelling alone? (already indicated on the form). Have you been to the US before? (also indicated on same form). How long are you going to be there? (again, asked and answered on the form). Have you ever been arrested? I was about to say that I had been arrested 13 times but then held my tongue. Humour is not appreciated in the US these days.
I had already paid $A160 for the visa; now I was told that I would have to pay a further $A105. Maybe that’s how the US is managing its budget deficit these days, by charging such outrageous sums for visas.
Another wait to pay the fee. A total of 90 minutes in the consulate. I’ve seen things done far more expeditiously in the German and British consulates. And things done far faster in the Indian, Thai and Sri Lankan consulates too.
After three days my passport arrived in the mail with the visa duly stamped. Sad to see that the country which identifies itself with technological progress cannot even build a proper web form.