All posts by sam

Words are like weapons. We use them every day, we know not the way they impact on others. We remain silent when we ought o speak out, we speak out when we should hold out peace. This is an attempt to get it right.

Hillary Clinton should disappear into the sunset

Two failed bids for the presidency notwithstanding, it looks very much like Hillary Clinton is intent on making a bid to be the Democrat candidate for president in 2020.

That is possibly the only reason why she continues to scour the world for opportunities to gain publicity, instead of accepting that she was beaten fair and square in the 2016 elections and retires from public life.

Clinton was on the Australian ABC TV channel on Monday night, getting a soft interview with the normally ferocious Sarah Ferguson which ran for all of 50 minutes.

(Here is a forensic account of the lies that Clinton told about WikiLeaks during the programme.)

The programme in question, Four Corners, is said to be devoted to investigative journalism. Well, on 16 October it was anything but.

There was no billing and cooing between Clinton and Ferguson but when one has said that, one has said it all.

Clinton wrote a book, titled What Happened, that came out in September, but she has been doing the interview circuit for some time now, with the first long face-to-face encounter being in June.

Every time, she trots out the same excuses for her loss: former FBI director James Comey, Russia, WikiLeaks, misogyny and sexism. Madame Clinton was never to blame.

Despite numerous bids to drive home the narrative that Russia was the villain behind Donald Trump’s ascendancy, nobody as yet has found conclusive proof that the men from Moscow had anything to do with the result of the election. As the US often does in elections around the globe, the Russians attempted to have a bit of a go. But they had no impact.

Clinton’s favourite word for a while has been “misogyny”. The word means a hatred of women. How she can argue that men who are married and have daughters of their own possess this trait is puzzling; if they did hate women, why would these men continue to live with them?

The one thing that Clinton refuses to even countenance is that she was not a fit candidate and ran a poor campaign. She was beaten to the candidature by a black man in 2008; that says a lot about her ability to carry even her own side of politics. The second time, in 2016, she was beaten by a man who was openly racist and sexist in his utterances. Despite this, she could not even win a majority of the vote among white women.

Comey was investigating Clinton’s use a private email server to manage her email during her stint as secretary of state; he said there was no case in July and then, shortly before election day, said he was reopening the case. Just before the election, she was exonerated. Clinton claims this was another reason she lost.

And then WikiLeaks: Clinton claims that the whistleblower website “stole” emails from the Democrat National Committee and released them just as a tape showing Trump in a terrible light had emerged. The truth is that WikiLeaks releases whatever it can, as soon as it can; that has been its method of operation since it was set up. And it does not steal; others leak material to it. Indeed, it had flagged for days that it was about to make a big disclosure before releasing the DNS email stash.

If WikiLeaks can be called a thief, then journalists qualify as thieves too. They regularly receive material which has been obtained by any Tom, Dick or Harry and report on it if it is in the public interest. Why even I used an email from WikiLeaks to write a story about how Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt drafted a detailed plan for Clinton’s re-election. So am I a thief? Hardly. This is just more bluster from Clinton.

Ferguson, who has a justified reputation for being a good journalist, was a sad shadow of herself when interviewing Clinton. She had not done her homework – the award-winning journalist Robert Parry has written article after article putting to paid the claims that Russia had anything to do with Clinton’s loss. But Ferguson seemed unaware that there was any creed in life apart from that which Clinton was pushing.

Clinton claimed that the DNC emails were exfiltrated by an outsider, despite plenty of evidence that they were copied by an insider and never transmitted over the Internet. Once again, Ferguson let this go through to the keeper.

Four Corners, which normally puts a decent investigative report to air, only served to boost the ego of a woman who is yesterday’s news, by someone who clearly thought that getting her mug into the picture would boost her image. In that, Ferguson made a bad call.

Did Clinton pay for the interview? Or was it my taxes and yours that were wasted in this useless exercise?

Venturing into the world of external hosting

This morning, for the first time in nearly 18 years, I did not run apt-get update on my server to look for any software updates. The reason is, I can’t. There is no server; it was decommissioned on Saturday, a decision that was forced on me. I have hosted my domains myself ever since I bought them.

Yes, the government forced me to do it. Pardon me while I take a rather circuitous route to explain.

Australia is in the laborious process of rolling out a broadband network across the nation; due to political wrangling, the rollout has been something like the Shakespearean drama The Comedy of Errors.

The original plan, envisaged by the Labor Party, one of the two main political factions in Australia, was to provide 93% of premises with fibre right up the home. The 7% who could not be provided with this technology due to geographical factors were to be served by fixed wireless or satellite.

The project got underway in 2009, with a government company, NBN Co, set up to handle the rollout. But in 2013, the other side of politics, the Coalition (a loose alliance between the Liberal and National Parties), took office and changed the technologies that would be used, claiming that this would hasten the rollout. (It has turned out be a big lie.)

In addition to fibre to the home, satellite and wireless, the Coalition added hybrid fibre coaxial using existing cable networks (one of the two cable networks had to be excluded later when it was found not to be fit for purpose) and fibre to the node. The latter means that the copper lead-in to a home will be anything from 400 metres to a couple of kilometres and the speed one gets will accordingly suffer.

The Coalition also added fibre to the building/basement where fibre is taken to the basement of an apartment complex and copper is used to provide the links in each apartment, and, very recently, something called fibre to the distribution point where the lead-in is by copper running less than 40 metres. The NBN Co has also been throwing around an American term, fibre to the curb, (kerb in proper English) which means that the last bit of copper runs for between 300 and 400 metres. Both these terms, FttDP and FttC, have been used interchangeably by the NBN Co, adding to the confusion that surrounds the project.

The NBN Co advises residents when their homes/businesses are ready to be hooked up and gives private residences 18 months and businesses double that time to switch over. Reports from those who have switched have, for the most part, been quite discouraging. Thus it does take an act of faith to make the plunge before one is forced to do so.

I decided to switch in September after hearing from a neighbour that he had done so and was getting good download and upload speeds. I work from home, and my wife also does so occasionally, so upload speeds are important. And on ADSL, those are less than a megabit.

After checking with my existing ISP and finding out that they were not offering any business packages on cable — which is the technology allocated to the area where I reside — I picked another ISP and ordered a connection. NBN Co obviously did not give a rat’s that there are many small businesses that use ADSL business connections to run their own services like web and mail.

It took a total of 14 days for the NBN Co staff to come out and connect me, pretty good considering that the ISP told me it would take 20 business days at the maximum to get me connected. The work began at 11.30am and was finished by 12.30pm on the day and I had to contact my ISP two hours later to find out why the connection was not working. At 5.30pm, I was told that it would take about three hours more to be activated. By the time I was able to check again, it was 11 hours since the guy who came to do the work had gone. By that time it was working.

The decision to get rid of my server was forced on me by the fact that no ISP is offering business packages on cable. I am not surprised, as the numbers being served by each ISP on this technology would be small and given the outrageous charges that ISPs have to pay the NBN Co for bandwidth, profits can only be made by them if volumes are large. Given that Australia has a very small population, 24 million all told, those numbers will always be a pipe dream considering how many ISPs are in the game and how many more are coming onboard to try and grab new customers.

Without a business connection (and a fixed IP which is part of the deal), one cannot run any services as I was – and hence I decided to host my websites and mail externally. A friend, Linux expert Russell Coker, very kindly offered to do the hosting.

Two days into using the NBN, things appear to be okay. But with cable the downside is always that the more people who connect, the slower the speeds become. It is like a water pipe; the more holes you punch in it, the less will be the force of each individual stream.

But then one has no choice in this matter. I have taken the fastest possible connection, 100Mbps/40Mbps, to mitigate problems, should they arise, for as long as possible. Cable is only a temporary solution; the government will have to upgrade everything to fibre to the home in the future whether it likes the idea or not.

Lions’ coach Ackermann asleep at the wheel again

Last year, Johan Ackermann, the coach of South Africa’s Lions super rugby team was literally asleep during the final against the Hurricanes. His team lost to the Hurricanes 3-20.

This year, he appeared to be dozing again as his team lost, only to a different New Zealand team, the Crusaders.

The Lions lost a player to a red card about a minute before half-time but given the inherent advantages they had — they were playing at home, at altitude which made the visitors prone to running out of gas, and in dry weather which has always suited them — they could still have won.

The Lions were trailing 3-15 at half-time and this being a game where the winner would end up taking all, they should have used the kickable penalties they were awarded in the second half to move closer on the scoreboard. But for some mysterious reason, they kept going for touch and aiming for a try instead. At least two kickable penalties were wasted in this manner; a score of 9-15 would have given the home team that much more fire in their bellies in the final run home.

The Lions lost loose forward Kwagga Smith a minute before half-time when he collided with Crusaders’ full-back David Havili who had gone up to take a high kick. Smith had no chance of taking the ball and did not go up in the air to contest it either, but just stood there like a water buffalo; it resulted in Havili’s tripping over him and taking a very dangerous toss. Referee Jaco Peyper had no option but to send Smith off.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note the difference in the way that referees react to the likelihood of head and neck injuries these days. I remember a Test match in 2003, when Australia’s Wendell Sailor tackled All Black Mils Muliaina while the latter was in the air. It was much more dangerous than what Smith did but Sailor only got a yellow card.)

The Lions failed to learn from their previous win, against the Waikato Chiefs in the semi-finals. In that game, the Chiefs were terribly tired towards the latter half of the game and, after leading by a big margin at half-time, were beaten 44-29. The trip from New Zealand to Johannesburg and playing at altitude really took its toll.

Thus Ackermann should have told his men to keep the gap between the two teams on the scoreboard as small as possible and go for broke in the last 10 minutes when the Crusaders would be feeling the effects of altitude and the long flight. But by the 62nd minute, when the Lions got their first try, the score had blown out to 3-25. It could well have been 9-25.

(It must be noted that the Crusaders’ coach Scott Robertson displayed a great deal of intelligence in his substitutions, bringing on players off the bench to ensure that those who took the field at the start were not exhausted before they were replaced.)

Given that the Lions also scored with about seven minutes left, taking those two kickable penalties would have put them within two points. And that would have no doubt given them additional energy to fight it out, especially in front of a vociferous home crowd that filled the stadium to its maximum.

Alas, poor instructions from Ackermann again played the Lions false. This is his last game as coach; maybe the man who replaces him will realise that a coach can do a great deal to help a team win.

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.

All your gods have feet of clay: even at 53, some people don’t know that

In a recent interview with Newsweek after the release of her film, Risk, the Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras asks “What is the motivation of the source?” as part of a reply to a question about a decision on what is newsworthy.

That should tell an observant reader one thing: Poitras may be 53, but she it still very naive. Every leak that ends up on the front or other pages of a publication, or on the TV screen, emanates from someone with an axe to grind. Perhaps one is looking for a business advantage and leaks some details about a rival. Or else, one may be from one political faction and looking to gain an advantage over a rival faction.

Or indeed it could be someone inside one political faction leaking against one’s own, in order to challenge for the leadership. Or it could be a person who has been jilted who is looking to gain revenge. But this is of no concern to a real journalist; the only point of debate for one in the journalism profession is whether it is newsworthy or not.

Poitras’ comment tells one that she is not really versed in the art of journalism, though her byline has appeared on some pretty big stories. She is uncertain about what makes up news.

It is this naivety that leads her to believe that people who are fighting for a cause have to be perfect. Which, in the main, accounts for the split that has arisen between her and WikiLeaks, after she violated the terms of an understanding under which she was allowed carte blanche to film Julian Assange and others who are part of WikiLeaks for the purpose of making a documentary.

(Poitras was involved with Jacob Appelbaum, a developer for the Tor project, and someone who has had a high profile in the security community. Appelbaum has been accused by multiple people of sexual harassment; whether Poitras was also harassed is unknown.)

But for someone who has any worldliness about them, it should be apparent that one cannot run an organisation like WikiLeaks and make it what has become, a thorn in the flesh of world powers, by being nice to all and sundry. One has to be mean, nasty, vicious and able to give as good as one gets. One has to be cunning, crafty, learned and willing to take risks. And one cannot be nice to everyone and still achieve as much as Assange has.

Poitras chose to release her final cut of Risk, the one that went to theatres in the US, as something that focuses on what she deems to be sexism in multiple communities: “It was important to me to look at not just allegations of abuse but the culture of sexism that exists not only within the hacker community but in other communities.”

She says, “I don’t see any incentive for any woman to make claims around abuse if they didn’t experience that”, without being aware that the two women who were pushed to make allegations about rape against Assange were not doing it of their own volition. It is a naive and emotional reaction to a situation where politics was the decisive factor.

There are some similarities to the situation that developed around Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel. Some women felt that he was too aggressive and abusive and tried to bring him down. They used similar arguments to that which Poitras has raised. Torvalds manages the kernel development team and is known for not beating around the bush when people screw up.

Poitras’ film has been released at a time when WikiLeaks is under great pressure. Now that the probe into Assange in Sweden has been dropped, he will be targeted by the US which is desperate to extradite him and try him for releasing footage of the Iraq war that showed exactly how barbaric US troops have been in Iraq.

Thus it is unlikely that Poitras will ever be allowed to film anything to do with Assange or WikiLeaks again. It also casts a shadow on her reputation as an unbiased observer.

They do things differently in China – and it seems to work

Towards the latter stages of his life, Charles Darwin noted that he could not read serious texts any more; the only thing that grabbed his attention was a book on romance. One of the greatest scientific minds we have known could only enjoy a book about the mating game.

One would not liken oneself to the great man, but over the last nine months one has been similarly drawn away from serious work to become a regular viewer of a Chinese dating show that goes by the name If You Are The One.

The show is a record-breaker; it has about 60 million tuning in for every episode and has been running for seven years. The presenter, Meng Fei, is a national celebrity.

There are many things about the show that grab the attention. First, it is based on an Australian show that flopped after just four episodes.

If this show had been running in any developed country, then the emphasis would have been on sex. All shows that bring men and women together with romance as the aim, always focus on that primeval force.

But the Chinese show could not be more different; while a successful outcome means that a male candidate would get a date with one of the 24 girls on the show, the focus is more on society’s need for such liaisons.

Four or five men appear on each episode and the women can indicate their interest or lack of it. Three videos are shown about the man in question and at any time the girls can indicate their lack of interest by turning off the light that is on the podium in front of them.

In what is considered a male-dominated society, the girls get the first chance to reject a man.

In recent years, a girl has been allowed to indicate her interest in a man by “blowing up her light”; this means she is there at the time when the man makes his choice.

Finally, after the three videos are screened, if two or more girls have their lights still on, the man gets to choose. He initially picks a favourite girl and she is also called up if her light is not on. Then he makes a choice – at times it could be to walk away with nobody.

There is a lot of social commentary that is woven in by the presenter and two guest commentators, both celebrities in different fields. It is entertaining and for one reason: it keep things simple.

The presenter is 40+ and that in itself is a peculiarity in a show that is matching up mostly 20-somethings with each other. The format is the same week after week, with the variety coming in catering to expatriate Chinese on some occasions.

But its success is remarkable. It must be raking in the money, else it would not be going on so long. It is one indication that they do things differently in China and that it works for them.

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 AFR has lost its dictionary. And its style guide. And its subs

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?

afr_one

In “an” move? Surely that should be “in a move”?

afr_two

“And the strengthen”? That “the” is dangling there like a limp dick in the breeze. Cut it off.

afr_three

“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.

afr_four

Pretense, not pretence. And yanked, not ranked.

afr_left_out

Will? No, it should be would. Usage is always hypothetical and possible.

afr_five

“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.

afr_six

Outbursts of anger. Not outburst. Plural as opposed to singular. Got it?

afr_abetz

Not sure how Abetz is being described in the plural. Or did somebody include the obnoxious Cory Bernardi without naming him?

afr_seven

Shadow minister for citizenship and what??? And surely, one uses past tense in sentences like this – had not has?

afr_eight

Here, the word “to” seems to have gone AWOL.

afr_nine

I know Steve Ciobo is a dunce, but should one leave even his sentences dangling like this?

afr_ten

A comma in time saves nine. Just saying.

Australia taking a big risk by playing Cummins

AUSTRALIA is likely to regret pushing Patrick Cummins into Test cricket before he has had a chance to play at least one season of matches in the Sheffield Shield to test out his body.

That Australia is not good at monitoring its players is evident from Mitchell Starc’s breaking down in India. Starc was ruled out of the India series after two Tests, with a stress fracture in his right foot.

As the cricket website espncricinfo has detailed, Starc is no stranger to injuries: he has been suffering from a spate of them right from December 2012.

If the Australian team doctors and physiotherapist could not monitor him enough to prevent his breaking down in what is billed as a series that is even more important than the Ashes, then what hope for Cummins?

Cummins made a spectacular debut in South Africa in 2011, but thereafter he has been hit by injuries one after the other. He made a good showing in the recent Big Bash League, but one has to bowl just four overs per game in that league.

He also played in the one-dayers against Pakistan, but again that is a matter of bowling a maximum of 10 overs.

And one must bear in mind that Cummins’ outings in T20 and ODIs have both been on Australian pitches which are firm and provide good support for fast bowlers as they pound their way up to the crease.

Indian pitches are a different kettle of fish. The soil is loose, and additionally the curators are dishing up spinning surfaces that will help the home team. Nothing wrong with that, every country does it.

But what needs to be noted is that loose soil does not give a fast bowler a good grip as he storms up to the crease. Sawdust does not help much either unless there is a firm foundation.

Cummins has looked good for some time now. But pitching him into the cauldron that is the Australia-India series, especially at this stage, does not seem to be a very sensible thing to do.

Cricket Australia may well like to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy but should it take a risk with Cummins who is an excellent long-term prospect?

Fingers crossed that one of the faster of today’s bowlers gets through the two remaining Tests in India without anything going wrong. But one has serious doubts on that score.