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Google gears up for congressional hearing with patriotic prepared remarks

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Google gears up for congressional hearing with patriotic prepared remarks

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google LLC, arrives to the White House for a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. 










Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google LLC, arrives to the White House for a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. 

CEO Sundar Pichai put an emphasis on Google‘s patriotism in his prepared remarks for a congressional hearing on Tuesday where he’ll likely face questions about a purported bias against conservative content on search and YouTube.

highlighting claims that Google’s “business practices may have been affected by political bias” in a statement.

Google has staunchly denied these accusations when they’ve come up in the past, and did so again in Pichai’s remarks.

“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai writes. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”

By underscoring Google’s patriotism Pichai’s comments may also attempt to address criticism around the company’s decision earlier this year not to renew a Pentagon contract for analyzing drone videos using artificial intelligence. Critics have contrasted this move with how Google has worked with China on controversial plans to launch a censored search engine there.

After employee blowback around its Department of Defense contract, Google posted a set of artificial intelligence ethics that stipulated that it would work with the government and military on cybersecurity and training, but would wouldn’t use its technology for weapons or surveillance that violates “internationally accepted norms.”

“I am proud to say we do work, and we will continue to work, with the government to keep our country safe and secure,” Pichai wrote Monday.

Here are Pichai’s full remarks:

Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Nadler, distinguished members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

I joined Google 15 years ago and have been privileged to serve as CEO for the past three years—though my love for information and technology began long before that. It’s been 25 years since I made the US my home. Growing up in India, I have distinct memories of when my family got its first phone and our first television. Each new technology made a profound difference in our lives. Getting the phone meant that I could call ahead to the hospital to check that the blood results were in before I traveled 2 hours by bus to get them. The television, well, it only had one channel, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled by its arrival! Those experiences made me a technology optimist, and I remain one today. Not only because I believe in technology, but because I believe in people and their ability to use technology to improve their lives. I’m incredibly proud of what Google does to empower people around the world, especially here in the US.

I’d like to take a moment to share a bit of background on that. 20 years ago, two students—one from Michigan and one from Maryland—came together at Stanford with a big idea: to provide users with access to the world’s information. That mission still drives everything we do, whether that’s saving you a few minutes on your morning commute or helping doctors detect disease and save lives. Today, Google is more than a search engine. We are a global company that is committed to 1 building products for everyone. That means working with many industries, from education and healthcare to manufacturing and entertainment.

Even as we expand into new markets we never forget our American roots. It’s no coincidence that a company dedicated to the free flow of information was founded right here in the US. As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users. I am proud to say we do work, and we will continue to work, with the government to keep our country safe and secure. Over the years our footprint has expanded far beyond California to states such as Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Alabama. Today in the US, we’re growing faster outside of the Bay Area than within it. I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country and see all the places that are powering our digital economy—from Clarksville, to Pittsburgh, to San Diego, where we recently launched a partnership with the USO to help veterans and military families. Along the way, I’ve met many people who depend on Google to learn new skills, find jobs, or build new businesses. Over the past year, we have supported more than 1.5 million American businesses. Over the past three, we have made direct contributions of $150 billion to the US economy, added more than 24,000 employees, and paid over $43 billion to US partners across Search, YouTube, and Android. These investments strengthen our communities and support thousands of American jobs.

They also allow us to provide great services to our users to help them through the day. It’s an honor to play this role in people’s lives, and it’s one we know comes with great responsibility. Protecting the privacy and security of our users has long been an essential part of our mission. We have invested an enormous amount of work over the years to bring choice, transparency, and control to our users. These values are built into every product we make.

We recognize the important role of governments, including this Committee, in setting rules for the development and use of technology. To that end, we support federal privacy legislation and proposed a legislative framework for privacy earlier this year.

Users also look to us to provide accurate, trusted information. We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we’ve put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards. I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions—and we have no shortage of them among our own employees. Some of our Googlers are former servicemen and women who have risked much in defense of our country. Some are civil libertarians who fiercely defend freedom of expression. Some are parents who worry about the role technology plays in our households. Some—like me—are immigrants to this country, profoundly grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it offers. Some of us are many of these things.

Let me close by saying that leading Google has been the greatest professional honor of my life. It’s a challenging moment for our industry, but I’m privileged to be here today. I greatly appreciate you letting me share the story of Google and our work to build products worthy of the trust users place in us.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to answering your questions.

WATCH: Google’s Larry Page has backed two flying-car start-ups — here’s a look inside one of them

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ASX set to rise, despite Wall Street turning lower and Brexit turmoil biting

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ASX set to rise, despite Wall Street turning lower and Brexit turmoil biting

Today’s Agenda

Local data: NAB business survey

Overseas data: Euro zone EU ZEW expectations December; UK ILO unemployment rate October; US NFIB small business optimism November, PPI final November.

Market Highlights

SPI futures up 32 points to 5584 at 7.45am AEDT.

AUD -0.2% to 71.88 US cents at 5.50am AEDT

On Wall St at 3.50pm in New York: Dow +0.3% S&P 500 +0.3% Nasdaq +0.8%

In Europe: Stoxx 50 -1.6% FTSE -0.8% CAC -1.5% DAX -1.5%

Gold -0.4% to $US1243.03 an ounce at 1.50pm in New York

Brent crude -1.6% to $US60.71 a barrel at 1.50pm in New York

Iron ore -0.6% to $US66.12 a tonne

LME aluminium -0.9% at $US1937 a tonne

LME copper -0.9% to $US6089 a tonne

10-year yield: US 2.69% Australia 2.44% Germany 0.24%

From Today’s Financial Review

Chanticleer: Sims lifts the veil on Google and Facebook: Using powers available to him under competition law, Rod Sims has finally lifted much of the veil of secrecy over the Australian operations of two of the world’s largest advertising platforms – Google and Facebook.

Banks hoodwinked interest-only customers: The big banks used the cover of regulation to lift rates in unison and gouge another billion in profit from unsuspecting home owners.

Coalition moves to end casual ‘double dipping’: New rules would also allow casual workers to convert to full-time or part-time jobs, provided there were no reasonable business grounds for an employer to refuse.

United States

Wall Street ended a three day losing streak on Monday as the S&P 500 rallied from an eight-month low to finish the session higher.

The S&P and Dow Industrials, which have already lost all their gains for the year in a 4.5 percent slide last week, came off their session lows. The bounce came as Apple’s shares sharply cut their losses, which also helped the Nasdaq reverse course and post slight gains.

Markets have been dogged by signs of cooling global growth, concerns over interest rates and worries that escalating tensions between the United States and China could scuttle a fragile trade truce.

“You have political tensions with China, the potential for slowing global growth, and other geopolitical tensions, that continue to weigh on the markets,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management in Minneapolis.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was delaying a planned vote in parliament on her Brexit deal as it was set to be rejected “by a significant margin”.

Europe

Investors took cover and ditched European shares on Monday as a burst of political risk with a key vote on Brexit being delayed and unrest over the weekend in France added to concerns over global growth and US-Chinese trade tensions.

Losses accelerated at the end of the session when Wall Street indexes also slid and the S&P 500 hit its lowest level since April. The pan-European STOXX 600 ended the session down 1.8 per cent at a new two-year low. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.8 per cent with the pound falling 1.5 per cent and providing an accounting boost to blue chips with revenues in foreign currencies.

The more domestically exposed FTSE 250 suffered over twice the losses with a 2 per cent decline. All European sharemarkets took strong hits with Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 down 1.5 per cent.

“France, Brexit UK, Italy, even Germany soon-under-new-leadership – there is no political visibility in Europe,” Kepler Cheuvreux strategist Christopher Potts wrote in a report published before the Brexit vote was postponed. “For international investors European equity has become virtually un-investable, unless and until it becomes extremely cheap.”

Adding to the gloom, oil stocks fell 2.4 per cent, erasing their 2018 gains. Oil had been the last sector holding on to gains in Europe, and all the STOXX 600 sector indices are now in the red.

Europe’s luxury stocks have also been on a downward slide. Shares of Moncler and Tod’s, among others, dropped as Societe Generale analysts flagged a succession of “negative signals” from high-spending consumers in that region, the Middle East, China and Japan that could trigger sales and profit downgrades.

Moncler was the worst-performing clothier on the Stoxx 600 Personal & Household Goods index, trading down 2.7 per cent at 3 pm in Milan, while Tod’s fell 4.1 per cent to its lowest level since August 2009, based on closing prices. Swatch Group lost 2.3 per cent in Zurich, while Kering, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Hermes International and Burberry were were down at least 1 per cent.

Asia

Most major Asian indexes plunged anywhere from 1-2 per cent. And the reasons aren’t new: concerns over growth and escalating frictions between two of the world’s superpowers. The sell-off in global equities deepened in Asia hours after Chinese economic data released over the weekend signalled a further weakening of both domestic and international demand in November.

To Nader Naeimi, a Sydney-based fund manager at AMP Capital, the recent market weakness has been “narrative based” as opposed to “fundamentally based”, and investors are in a “get-me-out-of-here mood”.

“Not just China, US and Japan, let’s add Europe and Australia to it as well. The data is very, very bad everywhere and this is not back-dated data,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA. “Sentiment is just bad for equities overall. I don’t see any silver lining. It’s going to be a lousy holiday season by the looks of it.”

With every single market in the red, Asia’s benchmark MSCI Asia Pacific Index erased November’s 2.7 per cent climb and is heading to its lowest level since end-October. China’s stocks dropped with the offshore yuan weakening for a fourth day. Japan’s Topix was down 1.9 per cent; the Nikkei 225 was down 2.1 per cent and the Shanghai Composite was down 0.8 per cent.

Hong Kong shares ended lower for a fourth consecutive session, weighed down by disappointing trade and inflation data from China. The Hang Seng Index went down 1.2 per cent.

Currencies

Sterling tumbled to its weakest since April 2017 after Prime Minister Theresa May pulled a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal with the European Union, panicking investors about deepening political uncertainty in Britain. The pound fell 1.6 per cent against the dollar to as low as $US1.2507, the majority of the losses coming after May confirmed she was delaying the vote.

Capital Economics’ John Higgins and Liam Peach said that “even if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, we would be surprised if sterling fell a long way below its level now of around $US1.25… Of course, the exchange rate would probably fall further than $US1.20 that if a ‘no deal’ Brexit were disorderly. But even then, it would not slump below $US1.10 in our view, given how far it has fallen already.”

Against the euro, the pound dropped 1.5 per cent to as weak as 90.875 pence, its lowest since August. Perceived safe-haven British government bonds rallied, with 10-year British government bond yields falling 7.5 basis points to 1.19 per cent, the lowest since mid-August. The pound has fallen for four consecutive weeks with traders struggling to comprehend the vote options and consequences. The euro hit a three-month peak against the pound before reversing its gains to go down 0.11 per cent.

The greenback enjoyed a mild recovery following its steepest weekly drop versus a basket of currencies in three months last week, as traders reduced their expectations that the Federal Reserve might pause its interest rate hikes sooner than previously thought.

The Japanese yen decreased 0.2 per cent to 112.9 per dollar.

India’s currency and stocks are set to slide, derivatives indicate, as the surprise resignation of the nation’s central bank Governor Urjit Patel sends a shockwave through the market. Rupee non-deliverable forwards weakened 1.7 per cent on the news, which came after the close of regular trading in Mumbai.

French government bond yields rose, pushing the gap over safer German peers to its widest since May, after more violent anti-government protests in France over the weekend. Heightened global trade tensions, Brexit uncertainty and caution before this week’s European Central Bank meeting are bolstering demand for top-rated German debt. The gap between 10-year bond yields in France and Germany widened to around 46 basis points, the biggest difference since late May, when a rout in Italian bonds rippled over into other euro zone bond markets except Germany.

Commodities

Oil slipped as disappointing economic data from China and continuing tension between Beijing and Washington undercut last week’s pact by top producers to cut crude supplies. Futures fell as much as 2.6 per cent in New York on the first trading day after Russia, Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC agreed on a reduction to stabilise prices.

In a market note, LPL Research said sharply lower WTI crude oil prices are also being cited by some as a sign of looming recession. “But oil’s weakness has been driven mostly by supply issues, including Iran sanctions, record levels of US production, and elevated domestic inventories. We think OPEC’s decision to cut 1.2 million barrels of production last week is a positive step and will help stabilise prices.”

Gold edged lower as the dollar firmed, but sharemarket volatility and chances of a slower pace of US interest rate hikes in 2019 kept bullion close to a five-month peak scaled earlier in the session. “Yields are correcting a bit higher in the front end and the dollar is drifting higher. So in the absence of significant buying, gold is coming off,” said Tai Wong, head of metals derivatives trading at BMO.

Spot silver slipped 0.3 per cent to $US14.57 per ounce, while palladium dipped 0.7 per cent at $US1216.50. Platinum fell 0.9 per cent to $US782.50 per ounce. Prices slipped to $US777 earlier, matching a low last seen on September 11.

Stocks of zinc in LME registered warehouses at 113,875 tonnes have halved since the middle of August to their lowest in more than 10 years. That combined with a large position holding between 80 and 89 per cent of warrants and cash contracts has created nervousness about nearby availability on the LME market.

This can be seen in the premium for the cash over the three-month contract rising to $US125 a tonne last week. It was last around $US94 a tonne. Three-month zinc fell 0.5 per cent at $US2575 a tonne. Aluminium fell 0.9 per cent at $US1937, lead slid 2.2 per cent to $US1950, tin ceded 0.3 per cent to $US18,950 and nickel lost 1.0 per cent to $US10,800 a tonne.

Australian sharemarket

Australian shares tumbled to a 23-month low on Monday on the back of broad selling as every sector in the market closed in the red.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 129 points, or 2.3 per cent, to 5552.5, closing within 20 points of a two-year low.

“Australian markets continue to be buffeted by global developments, in particular weakness in US equity markets,” said NAB chief economist, markets Ivan Colhoun on Monday. “This has seen a significant repricing of interest rate markets, with longer-dated yields rallying significantly and the market now not pricing any interest rate increase in Australia before 2020.”

Street Talk

Bankers pitch options to $1 billion tissue maker

NSW seeks advisers to drive Western Harbour Tunnel scoping study

Morgan Stanley steels for GFG Alliance float; banks pitch

with Reuters, Bloomberg, AAP

Comments? Questions? Let us know what you think of Before the Bell: natasha.rudra@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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This image of Spain is the first from an all-seeing satellite constellation by startup ICEYE

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This image of Spain is the first from an all-seeing satellite constellation by startup ICEYE

“X2 has proven successful … this is a 10 times better resolution than last time,” ICEYE CEO Rafal Modrzewski told CNBC.

After the successful debut of the X1 satellite in January, ICEYE incorporated more than 50 improvements into X2, Modrzewski said. The ICEYE-X2 satellite is much like the beta test of new software, Modrzewski explained. Once testing is complete, the company will began commercial operations with X2, making it the cornerstone of a constellation of SAR satellites.

ICEYE plans to have a network of 18 satellites by 2020, offering near-real time comparisons of changes on the ground. Modrzewski says the company will launch as many as eight in 2019, “depending on how fast we can purchase launches.”

Once ICEYE has six satellites in the constellation, Modrzewski says the company’s “first step in terms of the commercial service” will be to “provide global 24 hours repeat capability.” This means that ICEYE will be able to provide an image of a place on Earth in exactly the same position as an image taken 24 hours previously, showing even small changes.

“None of the current satellites or constellations can guarantee you 24 hours repeat service,” Modrzewski said.

That commercial service capability “is probably sufficient for the company to reach profitability,” Modrzewski said.

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Stranger Things Season 3 Episode Titles, Explained

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Stranger Things Season 3 Episode Titles, Explained

If you thought deciphering a possessed Will Byers’s erratic scribbles was difficult, then try decoding these newly released episode titles for Stranger Things Season 3.

Netflix dropped the title teaser on Sunday (December 9), and while the titles themselves are vague, that’s not stopping fans like us from jumping to somewhat logical, albeit totally speculative conclusions. (Just like the Duffer Brothers and producer Shawn Levy want us to do.) But before we dive into specifics, let’s address the obvious: There are eight episode titles total, which is one fewer than last season but the same as Season 1. Since the second season featured an Eleven-centric bottle episode that received unfavorable reviews from critics and fans alike, it’s no surprise that Stranger Things would revert back to its winning, eight-episode formula for its third season.

We also know that the season, dropping in 2019, will take place during the summer of 1985 — the summer before Mike, Will, Caleb, Dustin, Max, and presumably Jane/Eleven enter high school. The season will introduce new characters and a significant new location: the Starcourt Mall, the latest attraction in Hawkins, Indiana, and the location of Steve Harrington’s sweet summer job.

With all of that information in mind, let’s start theorizing what these episode titles might mean for Mike, Jane, and the rest of the Party:

  • “Suzie, Do You Copy?”

    Stranger Things has yet to introduce a Suzie, so the “Suzie” in this episode title is either referring to a new character who hasn’t been announced or a potential codename for an existing one. After all, “do you copy” is a reference to how Mike, Will, Caleb, and Dustin communicate over their radio channels — so whoever this “Suzie” is, she must have some ties to the group.

  • “The Mall Rats”

    The Starcourt Mall is going to be a major setting this season. After all, where else would a group of teens hang out all summer than the shiny, new mall in town? They can escape the Hawkins heat and annoy Steve while he’s on the clock working at the local Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop. Season 3 will also introduce Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve’s sharp-tongued coworker. She’s been described as an alternative girl who just wants a little excitement in her mundane life — and she reportedly gets more than she bargained for when she finds herself wrapped up in the middle of a dark Hawkins secret. Whether she’s connected to the Mind Flayer and the experiments at the now-defunct Hawkins National Laboratory is anyone’s guess.

  • “The Case of the Missing Life Guard”

    In addition to the mall, the town’s community pool will also be a significant location in Season 3 —and the site of a major incident. The “missing life guard” in this title is most likely referring to Heather (Francesca Reale), a popular lifeguard at the Hawkins pool. Presumably, Heather goes missing — not unlike Barb being snatched by the Demogorgon from Steve’s pool in Season 1 — and her disappearance has something to do with the creatures lurking in the Upside Down. (And it could also tie into Robin’s big mystery.)

    Eleven may have closed the Gate to the Upside Down at the end of Season 2, but now that the Mind Flayer is aware of her powers, it’s only a matter of time before that Gate is breached.

  • “The Sauna Test”

    There are two main characters who have undergone “tests” and observations due to their extended time in the Upside Down: Eleven and Will. In Season 1 of Stranger Things, Eleven is placed in a sensory deprivation tank in order to mentally teleport to the Upside Down. And in Season 2, Joyce and Jonathan essentially have to burn the Mind Flayer out of Will by turning the heat in Hopper’s cabin all the way up. Since we know the Mind Flayer likes it cold, could the “Sauna Test” be a way to ultimately defeat the otherworldly creature? As for who’s conducting said test, this could be the perfect opportunity for Dr. Sam Owens to revisit Hawkins.

  • “The Source”

    An extremely vague title, “The Source” could mean absolutely anything — but if we had to guess then it seems most likely that this might be referring to the source of the Mind Flayer’s power. Or even the source of its existence. After all, the show has yet to establish where the Upside Down came from and, more importantly, how something as powerful as the Mind Flayer was created. Of course, since the Mind Flayer and Eleven are connected, the episode could dive into the source of her power.

    Or it could be referring to extremist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), the private investigator whose conspiracy theories were ultimately confirmed by his sources, Nancy and Jonathan.

  • “The Birthday”

    Since Eleven has probably never experienced the joy of birthday cake before, Hooper will most likely want to give his adopted daughter a proper birthday party — and knowing Mike Wheeler, he’ll probably stress over what to buy her (at the mall, most likely). But since this is Hawkins, where a threat is always looming in another dimension, we wouldn’t be surprised if this birthday party ends in complete chaos.

  • “The Bite”

    The penultimate episode has to set up the stakes of the finale, so what happens when someone gets bit by a Demogorgon? We just might find out.

  • “The Battle of Starcourt”

    “Starcourt” obviously refers to the town mall, so we feel pretty confident that the season closer will give us a showdown with the Mind Flayer and its minions at the mall. Why the Starcourt Mall? Perhaps it has something to do with the “source” — what if the Starcourt Mall was actually built where the Hawkins Lab used to be? That would mean that the Gate to the Upside Down would now be under the Starcourt, making the mall the logical location for the big battle. Or it’s the real-world site of another important location in the Upside Down, like an energy source. Either way, prepare for something sprawling and epic.

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Raheem Sterling: Chelsea fans banned for alleged abuse of Manchester City forward

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Raheem Sterling: Chelsea fans banned for alleged abuse of Manchester City forward
Sterling was allegedly racially abused during Manchester City’s defeat at Chelsea

Chelsea have suspended four people from attending matches while an investigation into the alleged racial abuse of Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling takes place.

The incident involving the 24-year-old occurred during City’s 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Chelsea are “fully supporting” an ongoing police investigation.

A club statement said evidence of racist behaviour will result in “severe sanctions, including bans”.

“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behaviour abhorrent,” the statement continued, adding that the club “will also fully support any criminal prosecutions”.

Manchester City welcomed Chelsea’s decision to issue suspensions.

A club statement said: “The club and Raheem are fully engaged with Chelsea FC and the investigating authorities as they continue to examine the events in question.

“Manchester City and Raheem are committed to working with all relevant parties and organisations to support the objective of eradicating racism from the game.”

Social media users posted a video of an incident during which Sterling was shouted at as he collected the ball from behind the goal.

Sterling said he “had to laugh” when he heard the remarks because he expects “no better”.

A subsequent Instagram post from the England international saw him question the way the media portrays black players and has prompted debate between stakeholders in the game.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has said negative press coverage of Sterling “emboldens racist rhetoric”, adding the former Liverpool player is “often singled out”.

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The BBC’s Watership Down reboot simply isn’t scary enough

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The BBC’s Watership Down reboot simply isn’t scary enough

You can’t swing a rabbit for all the reboots and remakes popping up at the moment. So it was inevitable Richard Adams’s classic and infamously traumatising children’s novel about warring bunnies should be the latest childhood touchstone reimagined for a modern generation. 

Alas, and despite a glittering cast, the new Watership Down is spectacularly ho-hum – less tooth and claw than shrug and head-shake. The biggest issue with the four-part BBC-Netflix collaboration, which begins on 22 December, is that nobody involved seems to have paused to consider if, commercial imperative aside, there was a good reason for remaking Watership Down – already more than adequately served by Martin Rosen’s haunting 1978 movie.

So while the performances by James McAvoy, John Boyega, Gemma Arterton, Olivia Colman, Peter Capaldi and others, are top rank, what’s lacking is a willingness to wrestle with the themes explored in the novel – in particular Adams’s pessimistic view of animal (and by implication human) nature. 

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Because that’s the real problem with the new Watership Down: it simply isn’t scary enough. Which is a surprise considering director Noam Murro’s credits include 300: Rise of an Empire, proving he has no issue with screaming innocents being hacked and sliced to death.

Does the blame lie with Netflix? Where Rosen’s film was cobbled together on a shoe-string outside the studio system, this new version is very much a product for mass dissemination – and, thus by necessity, lacks the visceral knife-twisting of the earlier movie. 

A still from the BBC’s latest adaptation of ‘Watership Down’ (BBC)

It isn’t an utter disaster. Watership Down works best when abandoning any pretence of faithfulness to Adams and striking off for pastures of its own. Somehow, it does this while following the original story more or less beat for beat. We start in a seemingly bucolic corner of England, where psychic rabbit Fiver (Nicholas Hoult) is in the process of convincing his more sensible brother Hazel (McAvoy) to flee their peaceful warren and thus escape an imminent cataclysm. 

They are joined by captain Bigwig (Boyega) and a hodgepodge of furry friends, including a chatterbox bunny voiced by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya. What follows is a rough-and-tumble road movie. The interlopers encounter the zombified rabbit Cowslip and his fellow brain-washed bunnies, have a run-in with feral crows and meet a cranky seagull (Capaldi having the best time).  

It’s breezy and fast-paced and, no matter how hairy the predicament in which the rabbits find themselves, entirely without menace. Even big baddie General Woundwort (Ben Kingsley) is comparatively cuddly – closer to a traditional Disney villain such as Scar from The Lion King than an milky-eyed avatar of evil to stalk your nightmares. 

One glaring misstep is the cheap-looking CGI animation. Neither as realistic as Disney or Pixar – or even Netflix’s own recent Jungle Book remake Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – nor as spare and elegant as the 1978 film, the new Watership Down is drab with a vengeance. At moments – nighttime scenes especially – it is a full-blown evolutionary throwback, resembling a Playstation 2 cut-scene circa 1999. Which is extraordinary considering the rumoured £20 million budget. 

Nobody is suggesting the BBC should explicitly set out to unsettle unsuspecting viewers and no doubt there would be an outcry if Watership Down arrived slathered in buckets of blood. But without the darkness is Watership Down really Watership Down? And if you take away that malice and melancholy, what’s left? It’s a question the new adaptation never gets around to answering. 

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Under Armour reportedly ousts two executives close to CEO Kevin Plank

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Under Armour reportedly ousts two executives close to CEO Kevin Plank

Under Armour reportedly ousted two executives who are long-time associates of CEO Kevin Plank, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

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Liberals believe election still winnable, despite grim polls

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Liberals believe election still winnable, despite grim polls

This, the party believes is because some of the swing away from the government that is driving the headline 55-45 result is occurring in safe Labor and Liberal seats.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who won his seat of Dixon from Labor’s Cheryl Kernot in John Howard’s famous come-from-behind victory in 2001, said on Monday the election was not out of reach for the Morrison government.

He noted Scott Morrison was a much better campaigner than Mr Turnbull who, in 2016, called a long eight-week campaign and operated at a lacklustre pace.

“I’ve been in Parliament for 17 years. I’ve seen John Howard in a much worse position than what we are at the moment and he came back,” Mr Dutton said.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said a messy Parliament reflected on the government – Liberal or Labor – regardless of who was causing the chaos. “I’ve always seen Parliament as a disadvantage frankly for sitting governments.” Dan Peled

“And I believe that Scott Morrison has many of the attributes of John Howard. I think he has the ability to communicate very effectively. I think he will campaign in a way far more superior than we saw at the last election in 2016.”

Shorten’s unpopularity

Mr Dutton said the entrenched unpopularity of Labor leader Bill Shorten also gave the Coalition reason to hope.

“People have a real hesitation about Bill Shorten; they think there is something dodgy in his background and that is the case,” he said.

“There are reasons – I think tangible reasons – that we can turn this around.”

The latest Newspoll result came at the end of a messy parliamentary fortnight for the government, which culminated in it spending the final sitting day for the year staving off an attempt by Labor and the crossbench to pass a bill speeding up the medical transfer of asylum seekers. Had it passed, the government would have been the first to lose a vote on legislation in the lower house since 1929.

Mr Dutton said a messy Parliament reflected on the government – Liberal or Labor – regardless of who was causing the chaos.

“I’ve always seen Parliament as a disadvantage frankly for sitting governments. Whatever happens, however messy it looks, the tough decisions that need to be made are always sheeted home to the government of the day.”

Labor would make the same point during the Gillard years, when the Abbott-led opposition would deliberately disrupt Parliament.

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Aaron Rai and Shubhankar Sharma: ‘Rise of duo could have huge effect on golf’

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Aaron Rai and Shubhankar Sharma: ‘Rise of duo could have huge effect on golf’
Aaron Rai won his first European Tour title at last month’s Hong Kong Open and currently leads the Race to Dubai

Increasing participation in golf is the primary concern of all bodies running the game. Now those efforts could be significantly boosted by the emergence of two young talents of Indian descent.

Fresh from the victory of Wolverhampton’s Aaron Rai at the recent Hong Kong Open, Shubhankar Sharma became the youngest Indian to wrap up the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.

Both players are capable of stimulating interest in largely untapped markets of vast potential.

After playing all four majors and the full set of World Golf Championships in 2018, the 22-year-old Sharma has also been named Rookie of the Year on the European Tour.

“This year has been a huge learning curve for me,” Sharma said. “I’ve played in some of the biggest events I could ever imagine and learned a lot.

“I know I have the game to be among the best in the world and I just want to keep playing well and give my best shot.”

If Sharma comes close to fulfilling the promise he has shown in his fledgling career, the implications could be massive. “The effect will be absolutely mind blowing,” Jas Athwal, a Yorkshire-based campaigner, told BBC Sport.

“Especially in India, to have a major winner from that continent would be great. This young man seems to be fantastic and seems to have all his game together, just like Aaron.

“So you keep your fingers crossed and as long as he keeps working hard I’m sure he will be in with a shout.”

Athwal started the burgeoning Waterstone Park Golf Society and has run community programmes in the Yorkshire area to introduce golf to inner-city schoolchildren of Asian descent.

“It would be a big boost in the arm for Asian golf which we have been championing for 20 odd years,” he said. “To give us a role model for the kids to look up to would be fantastic.”

Immediately after last month’s victory in Hong Kong, which has made him the early leader of the Race to Dubai, the 24-year-old Rai told BBC Sport of Sharma’s potential impact. “An amazing player, a great symbol for India and already a superstar,” he said.

“Then you’ve got Julian Suri from America who also has Indian origins from his father’s side, and Jack Singh Brar, who is British Asian and has just had an incredible year on the Challenge Tour. He will have a great career ahead of him.”

India’s Shubhankar Sharma was named Rookie of the Year on the European Tour

But despite this, there are fears that golf’s administrators will fail to maximise the benefits of successes from this constituency of players.

“These guys might open up the doors because previously no one has ever listened to us with regard to promoting golf,” said Athwal, who was the UK’s first Sikh golf club captain.

“Nothing has changed for the last 30 odd years, there’s no involvement with the R and A or anybody else, so we just carry on with ourselves.”

Nevertheless, he has witnessed a significant increase in interest among British Asian golfers, bucking overall participation trends. “It’s grown immeasurably,” Athwal said.

“Up and down the country there are now hundreds of societies, people holding tournaments just like ours which started with us way back in the day.

“Where there was hardly anybody playing, now we have to turn people away from our events and likewise other events.

“This community has grown golf where golf has been [otherwise] stagnant in memberships and so on and so forth. They are trying to find innovative ways to make golf more sexy but the thing that’s in front of them and the community that’s growing it, they are ignoring.”

In the professional game there has been a steady stream of talent emerging from the Indian sub-continent; the likes of Jyoti Randhawa, SSP Chowrasia, Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri.

Now it feels as though there is real momentum and we can add the exciting Sharma and, from a UK perspective, Rai into the mix.

Their impact has the potential to stretch way further than that of most 20-somethings emerging on the scene.

Athwal would like to think they might prompt renewed interest in the sort of projects he has been running for the past two decades.

“Hopefully Aaron and people like that make people sit up think ‘ooh bloody hell – these guys have been doing it for 20 years, let’s find out what they’ve been doing and what their ideas are about golf,'” he said.

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Elizabeth Warren, other key Democratic senators investigate Fox News bonus payments to Trump aide Bill Shine

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Elizabeth Warren, other key Democratic senators investigate Fox News bonus payments to Trump aide Bill Shine

Four Democratic senators are requesting the White House counsel’s office to provide documents and answer detailed questions about whether Trump aide and former Fox News executive Bill Shine is breaking conflict of interest laws as he continues to get paid by 21st Century Fox.

Read the letter to the White House.

The move to initiate an investigation comes as ethics experts publicly question whether Shine broke any laws after CNBC first reported last month on his continuing payments from Fox.

Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted in November that Shine may have broken the “extraordinary payment regulation” which disallows federal employees to be paid in excess of $10,000 by a former employer, particularly if that company discovered an employee was being considered for a government position prior to their departure.

In their letter, the senators ask the White House whether Shine ever received the appropriate ethics waivers for not only these types of payments, but also his participation in meetings as it pertained to Fox News and 21st Century Fox.

The move to go after Shine also comes in the midst of Warren contemplating a run for president in 2020 and some within the Democratic Party questioning her decision to take a DNA test proving she had some form of Native American family origin. Warren took the test after Trump repeatedly mocked her as “Pocahontas” and questioned whether she had a Native American family background.

Jim Margolis, an advisor to former President Barack Obama during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns for president, told CNBC in an interview that he believes the timing of the test was ill advised because it coincided with the congressional midterm elections.

“I think her timing of doing it was really unfortunate,” Margolis said. “I thought it would come post 2018 and I don’t think it was helpful before the election. My guess is because it got so enmeshed in 2018 that she’s going to probably need to come back around to it,” he added.

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