Category Archives: UK

French farce spoils great Test series in New Zealand

Referees or umpires can often put paid to an excellent game of any sport by making stupid decisions. When this happens — and it does so increasingly these days — the reaction of the sporting body concerned is to try and paper over the whole thing.

Additionally, teams and their coaches/managers are told not to criticise referees or umpires and to respect them. Hence a lot tends to be covered up.

But the fact is that referees and umpires are employees who are being paid well, especially when the sports they are officiating are high-profile. Do they not need to be competent in what they do?

And you can’t get much higher profile than a deciding rugby test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. A French referee, Romain Poite, screwed up the entire game in the last few minutes through a wrong decision.

Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks when a restart found one of the Lions players offside. He then changed his mind and awarded a scrum to the All Blacks instead, using mafia-like language, “we will make a deal about this” before he mentioned the change of decision.

When he noticed the infringement initially, Poite should have held off blowing his whistle and allowed New Zealand the advantage as one of their players had gained possession of the ball and was making inroads into Lions territory. But he did not.

He blew, almost as a reflex action, and stuck his arm up to signal a penalty to New Zealand. It was in a position which was relatively easy to convert and would have given New Zealand almost certain victory as the teams were level 15-all at that time. There were just two minutes left to play when this incident happened.

The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen tried to paper over things at his post-match press conference by saying that his team should have sewn up things much earlier — they squandered a couple of easy chances and also failed to kick a penalty and convert one of their two tries — and could not blame Poite for their defeat.

This kind of talk is diplomacy of the worst kind. It encourages incompetent referees.

One can cast one’s mind back to 2007 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup rugby tournament when England’s Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass and awarded France a try which gave them a 20-18 lead over New Zealand; ultimately the French won the game by this same score.

Barnes was never pulled into line and to this day he seems to be unable to spot a forward pass. He continues to referee international games and must be having quite powerful sponsors to continue.

Hansen did make one valid point though: that there should be consistency in decisions. And that did not happen either over the three tests. It is funny that referees use the same rulebook and interpret things differently depending on whether they are from the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere.

Is there no chief of referees to thrash out a common ruling for the officials? It makes rugby look very amateurish and spoils the game for the viewer.

Associations that run various sports are often heard complaining that people do not come to watch games. Put a couple more people like Poite to officiate and you will soon have empty stadiums.

Theresa May needs an election now. Else, she may lose even her own seat

After British Prime Minster Theresa May called a snap election on April 18, many journalists have been at pains to suck up to her and paint what is, in fact, a move born of desperation as some kind of astute political gambit.

This, despite the fact that this kind of sucking up to politicians has been, in the main, the reason why newspapers and magazines have gradually lost readership over the last two decades to other more rough-edged publications that speak the unvarnished truth.

The next British election is due in 2020. By then, Britain would have completed negotiations to leave the European Union, a decision the people voted for in a referendum in 2016. Even if things are not completely sewn up, the general points of the deal would be clear by then.

And given that the UK is bound to get the rough edge of the stick — what Australians call a shit sandwich — it is highly unlikely that May will be able to win any election after that.

Indeed, she would be lucky to retain her own seat.

After the talks begin on Britain’s exit, slowly the extent of what it has lost by leaving the EU will become apparent. Both France and Germany, the two major powers in the EU, are extremely annoyed about Brexit and seem determined to give the UK the worst deal they can.

As the conditions laid down by the remaining EU countries become clearer with the progress of negotiations, it will become more and more difficult for May to continue to put on a brave face and say that Britain will get a good deal from the EU.

She has called an election now to guarantee her survival. That is the plain and unvarnished truth.

But journalists are still willing to talk rubbish and write it too.

On the day that May acted, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Europe correspondent Lisa Millar claimed that winning an election would give May a “stronger hand” to negotiate the terms for the UK’s exit from the EU.

This is bunkum of a very high order; May holds a hand with no cards at all and winning the poll on June 8 will only ensure that she is in power for the next five years. It gives her no additional leverage with the rest of the EU.

She thought she could steal a march on the EU by traipsing across the Atlantic and cosying up to the new orange-haired occupant of the White House, but has found that Donald Trump is not overly sentimental about the so-called “special relationship” now that Britain is not part of a much bigger trading bloc.

The newspaper headline below says it much better:

Then we had the delusional Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, who wrote: “Despite May being ahead in the polls, this is the mother of all gambles.” (High-grade rubbish; if she cannot win a poll now, she might as well commit hara-kiri.)

He went on: “She has a stable if narrow parliamentary majority, and three years of the government’s term to run. She has gambled it all.” (Gambled? Sheridan appears to be hallucinating.)

And on: “But as pro-Tory newspaper The Sun put it in three declarative decks of heading the next day: ‘PM’s snap poll will kill off Labour; She’ll smash rebel Tories too; Bid for clear Brexit mandate’.” (When you have to quote from The Sun to back up an argument, that means you have no smoke in your stack.)

There are loads of Anglophiles who still think Britain, — sorry, Great Britain — is still a colonial power when all it is now is the US’s poodle. But then we all need our little delusions to live, don’t we?

When will people like Sheridan ever learn?

The time has arrived for a literary fraud to resurface

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.

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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.

After nine years, Wayne Barnes still cannot tell a forward pass

BRITISH rugby referee Wayne Barnes is well known as the man who helped France defeat the All Blacks in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup, failing to spot a blatant forward pass that led to a French try.

France won that game 20-18, a match that was remarkable also for the fact that Barnes did not find a single infringement by the French in the second half worthy of a penalty.

In the World Cup final of 2015, Barnes was a linesman and failed to see that a pass from New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to flanker Jerome Kaino was miles off the horizontal; New Zealand benefitted by three points as a result of a penalty shortly thereafter. And when Wales played South Africa in the pool games of that same World Cup, Barnes could not spot a conversion that would have given Wales victory.

On Saturday night, in Auckland, Barnes showed that he still does not know how to judge a forward pass.

Eight minutes from the close of the first New Zealand-Wales Test, with the hosts ahead 32-21, standoff Aaron Cruden threw a clever dummy, made his way through a few Welsh players and then passed to substitute scrum-half T.J. Perenara who ran in to score close to the posts.

Cruden’s pass was kosher; the International Rugby Board rules clearly say that if a player’s hands are pointed away from the horizontal, then the pass is fine, even if the ball does go forward. This rule is put in place because the ball may float forwards due to a wind factor.

Barnes asked the television match official to check a replay and see if the pass was forward. When the TMO, Australia’s George Ayoub, advised Barnes that the pass was fine, Barnes called for another viewing of the action on the big screen.

Ayoub than repeated his verdict: you can award the try. But Barnes chose to overrule Ayoub and disallowed the try, claiming that the pass from Cruden to Perenara was forward.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter because the All Blacks would have won anyway – even if they had not scored a last-minute try through substitute hooker Nathan Harris which made the final score 39-21.

It could have, however, caused some anxiety if a try by Welsh number eight Toby Faletau, soon after Barnes’ crazy decision, had been allowed. Faletau was rightly adjudged to be ahead of a kicker when he chased down the ball and scored. The try was, thus, disallowed.

The question that should be raised is: what is Barnes still doing officiating international rugby matches? He should be sacked right away.

Cheating is universal (not that this excuses Armstrong)

WHEN the Australia dollar shoots past the greenback, it enables people to buy goods that they previously avoided due to the cost.

On the internet, for the most part, the outlets keep to this rate, or at least stay close to it.

But on the ground, this does not always work out. In other words, exchange houses will not give you what you are supposed to get.

Recently I bought 500 American dollars at a Travelex outlet. That day the Australian dollar was buying $1.02 American dollars. Yet I had to pay $509 Australian to get those 500 US dollars.

Cheats?

Wait till you hear the next bit. While in the US in September, I went to a bank and asked them to change $500 Australian into US dollars. They directed me to the airport, saying that banks in that town, Columbus, Ohio, would not exchange currency.

At the Columbus airport, once again I encountered a Travelex outlet. There was no other exchange house. They gave me $440 US dollars for my $500 Australian. This was on a day when the Australian dollar was buying nearly $US1.03 according to the international exchange rates. Travelex also gave me an official receipt for the sale, which works out to 88 American cents for every Australian dollar.

Cheats again? Or this is part of the American make-up?

I travelled from Florida airport to the Caribe Royale hotel and paid $US55 for a cab. My return, from that hotel to the airport, cost $75.

Cheats all over again?

At Dallas Fort Worth airport I bought a SIM from an outlet. The salesman, an African-American named Joshua Jones, told me that it would be up and running within 15 minutes. I went off to catch my flight.

Nothing happened for the next 45 minutes – I couldn’t get a connection. As my flight was being delayed, I went back to Jones and asked him what had transpired. He gave me another SIM.

Both these SIMS were broken out of their cards. I should have been suspicious. My fault.

The second SIM worked. But it was supposed to provide me 100 free minutes. I had hardly used 30 when the SIm cut out and I could not use it any more without loading on more money.

Cheat?