Sydney to Hobart: Ragamuffin crew count on ‘lady luck’

Monday, 15. July 2019

World sailing champion Vanessa Dudley, who is competing in her 18th Sydney to Hobart. Photo: Sahlan HayesEven after 17 Sydney to Hobart Yacht races, Ragamuffin crewmember Vanessa Dudley, 55, still gets nervous on Christmas Day and has to watch what she eats to avoid seasickness.

Ms Dudley will be sailing alongside 86-year-old skipper, Syd Fischer, and over 20 other crewmembers in the annual Boxing Day race.

“[There’s] only one woman though, so this is lady luck for the Ragamuffin,” said NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads Ray Williams, pointing to world sailing champion Ms Dudley.

Having started sailing when she was nine years old at Manly Yacht Club, Ms Dudley has gone on to win the Laser Grand Masters world championship in Oman earlier this year.

“Sometimes you wonder why you put yourself in … not harms way but … I’m a bit of a chicken in real life. It’s a really cliché but you feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Ms Dudley is optimistic that the 100 foot Ragamuffin will complete the 628 nautical mile race quickly.

“They’re getting shorter because the boats are getting faster as years go by. I’ve done a Hobart race that’s taken six days and this one will take a couple of days,” said Ms Dudley.

Ragamuffin will be one of 94 yachts which will race out of Sydney’s heads after the starter’s cannon at 1pm on Thursday.

“We think we’ve probably been the underdogs a little bit because Wild Oats hass obviously got a fantastic record and there’s a big boat – ex-speed boat, now Loyal – which has had a lot of media coverage, so we’re really looking forward to getting in and mixing with them.”

There is a record number of international competitors this year with 22 overseas entries.

It’s expected the race will begin against a backdrop of cloud and possibly even rain, that could allow a speedy exit through the heads for the boats but a choppy day for spectators on the water, Ms Dudley said.

“The smaller spectator boats can get thrown around like crazy so it’s better for everyone if they take it easy,” she said.

The NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads Ray Williams warned racegoers on the water to respect exclusion zones, wear life jackets and drink responsibly this Boxing Day.

“When you’ve got a lot of smaller vessels, as we normally do see, we’re expecting some choppy conditions, especially in the harbour when we’ve got so many vessels that are out there – it makes the conditions just a little bit more awkward.”

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Australian batsmen vow to target Panesar

Monday, 15. July 2019

Monty Panesar signs autographs for fans at the MCG on Monday. Photo: Wayne TaylorAustralia’s batsmen have vowed to attack Monty Panesar as part of a ruthless plan to grind England’s pace bowlers into submission.

Having already landed what David Warner described as a “knockout blow” on Graeme Swann with their aggressive tactics, Australia will adopt the same approach against his replacement.

Panesar is no stranger to being targeted by Australia, famously conceding 24 runs in an over against a rampant Adam Gilchrist in the Perth Test of 2006.

His record of 13 wickets at 53 from five Tests would hardly have Australia’s line-up waking in a cold sweat though he does boast a five-wicket haul.

As a left-arm finger-spinner, Panesar turns the ball in the other direction to Swann which will force Australia’s batsmen to look for different scoring areas. But their modus operandi will not change.

“The best way we play spin as a batting unit is playing quite positively against it,” said Test No.5 Steve Smith.

“When he comes on to bowl I’m sure we’re going to be looking to keep scoring runs and putting the pressure back on him.

“He [Darren Lehmann] says that’s the way we should play our cricket against spin, especially on the wickets here in Australia which are pretty consistent and don’t have a great deal of spin you can go after it a bit easier. The way we’ve played Swann has been very good.”

The added benefit of playing Swann so well has been the extra pressure placed on England’s pacemen, who have not had the same impact in Australia as they have back home.

“If we can attack him [Swann], that was our mindset at the start of the series and make their quicks come back sooner than they would have liked to that was our plan at the start of the series,” Smith said.

Panesar blew hot and cold in his only appearance in this series, in Adelaide, with match figures of 2-198 from 54 overs.

Warner described Panesar, who has 166 Test wickets, as a world-class bowler who deserved respect but said that would not stop him from trying to hit the left-armer out of the attack.

“You see Monty in India, basically him and Swanny won the series for England over there,” Warner said.

“Coming to Boxing Day there might not be any turn there in the first innings but we’ve got to respect him as we did Swanny, but we have to come out and try to target them from ball one because you have to try and get on top of the bowlers. It doesn’t matter who that bowler is.”

Warner said he was surprised to hear of Swann’s sudden retirement but paid tribute to the 34-year-old, who leaves the game second on England’s all-time Test wicket-takers list for a spinner.

“From our point of view it was a bit of a shock to the system. He’s had a fantastic career, it’s been a privilege to play against him. I wish him all the best in his retirement,” Warner said.

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Reverend Bill Crews urges Premier to adopt ‘Newcastle solution’

Monday, 15. July 2019

It will be 50 years next month since Reverend Bill Crews answered a knock on the door of his Sydney home and was given the shattering news that his younger brother was dead.

Robert “Bob” Crews had been driving down a country road in northern NSW in January 1964 when, confronted with two oncoming cars, he crashed off the road into a ditch.

Reverend Crews, a Uniting Church Minister and founder of the Exodus Foundation, said the youths were drunk, and racing two vehicles towards his brother, leaving no room for his vehicle to pass.

“There’s not a day we don’t think of him. It took 30 years before my father could put my brother’s photograph up on the wall,” Reverend Crews said.

“Now, when I look at the families of the kids who have been king hit, or who are the victims of alcohol-fuelled violence, I see my father all over again. And I think it’s got to stop.”

Fed up with the scourge of alcohol-fuelled violence exploding on Sydney’s streets each weekend,he has penned an open letter to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrelldemanding that a state-wide trial of the so-called “Newcastle solution” be instituted.

The Newcastle solution consists of 1am lockouts and a ban on the sale of shots after 10pm, and has led to a steep reduction in violent assaults in Newcastle.

Reverend Crews said he had known Mr O’Farrell for many years, and loved him “like a brother”.

But it is the memory of his real brother, Bob, that prompted him to speak out against the Government’s unwillingness to extend the trial of the Newcastle solution to Sydney’s CBD.

That is despite the president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, calling on the government to do just that.

Reverend Crews said the youths were charged by police over his brother’s death in 1964, but eventually they were acquitted of his brother’s manslaughter.

Still, the effect on his family had been devastating, he said.

“It makes me feel enormously sad, really it does. If speaking out helps, then my brother’s death isn’t so useless, you know?” he said.

In his letter to Mr O’Farrell, Reverend Crews reflects on the almost weekly reports of people being injured in alcohol-fuelled violence in the city.

One of the latest attacks occurred in Bondi on December 14, when 23-year-old Michael McEwan was knocked unconscious in an attack that left him in a coma in hospital for a week.

“One more young person killed is one too many, but it’s a tragedy that is likely to happen unless you act,” Reverend Crews writes in his letter to Mr O’Farrell.

“I appeal to you as the good man I know you are to help stop this violence. Please introduce the Newcastle solution now. I don’t want any more fathers to have to lock away their son’s photographs for 30 years before they can bear to look at them again.”

Reverend Crews said alcohol was being promoted to the point where it was creating more violence than ever before.

“We know lockouts at Newcastle worked, we know that there was decreased violence, and I’m just a bit staggered that something as obvious as that isn’t being followed up,” he said.

“To me it shows the strength of the alcohol lobby, that it’s able to push onto society outcomes society doesn’t want but it’s powerful enough to almost paralyse governments.”

The government’s list of achievements in tackling booze-fuelled violence includes hundreds more police patrolling the streets, sobering-up centres and a “three strikes” policy for pubs and clubs where violence frequently occurs.

It will also extend a liquor licence freeze in the Oxford Street-Darlinghurst area until mid-2015, amid concerns about outlet density.

Barry O’Farrell’s office has been contacted for comment.

Call for action: Reverend Bill Crews. Photo: Anthony Johnson

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell: urged to adopt the ‘Newcastle solution’. Photo: Steven Siewert

Robert Crews: died after his car left the road. Photo: Supplied

How Duck Dynasty exposed a new Christmas culture war

Monday, 15. July 2019

Each year after the leaves fall and Congress ends its business and real news recedes the Christmas culture wars erupt in America.

Traditionally the right rails against the “war on Christmas”, chastising public officials and private companies who dare send “holiday greetings” rather than “Christmas cards.” This, we are told, is at best pandering to liberal-atheism, at worst actively engaging in it. In early December the usual standards were thrust into the usual turf. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, by some accounts the War-on-Christmas patent-holder, dedicated a section of his show to the issue.

Sarah Palin went on tour promoting her new book on the crisis, Good Tidings, Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas. “Thomas Jefferson today, he would recognise those who would want to try to ignore that Jesus is the reason for the season, those who would want to try to abort Christ from Christmas,” she told an audience at Liberty University.

This year though, rather than having to settle for the usual Christmas media pantomimes, America’s commentators found themselves in combat in a different battleground. A sudden proxy war broke out over a real issue – the rapid advancement of gay rights.

It began when GQ magazine published an interview with Phil Robertson, the paterfamilias of the family that is the focus of the most-watched reality show in America, the Duck Dynasty. Robertson and his family live on the bayous of Louisiana and run a successful business called the Duck Commander Company, which sells hunting gear and is named for Phil’s duck call, the Duck Commander.

While the 10 million-odd viewers appear to be drawn to the family’s earthiness – “redneck” culture has been all the rage over the past season or two on American cable television – many conservative commentators have celebrated the show for its depiction of the Robertson family’s values.  In no particular order, the Robertsons believe in God and guns and family.

So it should have been no surprise to A&E, the channel that produces the show, when during an interview with GQ magazine Phil Robertson likened homosexuality to alcoholism and terrorism.  “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” he said, reasonably enough. “We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Though Robertson had aired such views often in the past – you can find them on YouTube – he voiced them at a time when the show has become a genuine cultural phenomenon, and from a far more public stage.

A&E suspended Robertson from filming. “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” the network said in a statement last week.

And rather than dying off over the weekend the story has picked up steam, leaving those with a commercial interest in the program in the difficult position of trying to pick which constituency they can least afford to offend – conservative traditionalists or those who consider anti-gay bigotry as a peculiar relic. One example: on Friday the Tennessee-based restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, which has 625 locations in 42 states, announced it would cease selling Duck Dynasty merchandise. By Sunday it reversed its course.

“You told us we made a mistake,” the company said on its Facebook page. “And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.” While Cracker Barrel eventually came around to the Duck Dynasty’s view of the world, what is striking is that it was not there in the first place.

Gay rights have advanced in America at a pace that has left gay activists dizzy, and many in opposition utterly disoriented. On May 9 2012 Barack Obama became the first US president to back gay marriage. In June this year the US Supreme Court made two rulings effectively finding bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional. On Friday a federal judge in one of America’s most conservative states, Utah, struck down its ban on gay marriage, writing, “The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”

With the decision, which is being appealed, Utah became the 18th US state to legalise gay marriage, just one day after New Mexico became the 17th.

An ABC poll found at the beginning of the month that 58 per cent of Americans supported the right of gays to marry, a 17-point surge since 2004. The same poll found that 81 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 support the freedom to marry.

Much of the Duck Dynasty debate has focused on A&E’s alleged abuse of Phil Robertson’s constitutional right to free speech. This is nonsense. America’s first amendment protects Phil Robertson’s freedom of expression from the government, not from the A&E channel.

In fact this year’s Christmas culture war has revealed as much about how America has embraced the expansion of civil rights to gays as it has about Phil Robertson’s opinions about them.

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Festive favourites: the top 10 television Christmas specials

Monday, 15. July 2019

The Office Christmas specials were the perfect conclusion to the Ricky Gervais series. Photo: © BBC Memorable: the Community episode Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas. Photo: NBC

Christmas has arrived and the holiday season is in full swing. It’s not just a time for carols, barbeques and backyard cricket; it’s also the time of year when our favourite programs release their holiday-themed episodes.

Not all shows can pull off a holiday episode (A Breaking Bad Christmas probably wouldn’t work) and many have tried and fallen flat.

Here are my top ten Christmas specials:Seinfeld: The Strike

Seeing Kramer (dressed as Santa) being labelled a communist by a child in The Race is hilarious, but it’s impossible to go past the episode that introduced Festivus and giving a donation in your name to The Human Fund. Get the pole out of the garage, air your grievances with loved ones and get ready for the Feats of Strength.

It’s one thing for a TV show to help us appreciate the magic of Christmas, but to influence us enough that some people celebrate a different day (December 23, by the way)? That’s truly fantastic.The Simpsons: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

This was the first episode of The Simpsons to air, and an excellent precursor to what would arguably become the best television series of all time. Homer is denied a Christmas bonus at the power plant by Mr Burns (a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge if ever there was one) and after Marge’s rainy-day fund is spent on tattoo removal for Bart, it looks like the holidays are going to be ruined … until Santa’s Little Helper enters their lives.The Office (UK): The Christmas Specials

Technically two episodes, but you can’t have one without the other. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s brilliant mockumentary series wrapped up perfectly with two 45-minute helpings, stretched over two nights in 2003. Tim and Dawn live happily ever after and we see David Brent’s attempts to cash in on his 15 minutes of fame since the ‘documentary’ went to air.

Has there ever been a character more awkward to watch than Brent? His appearance in an Austin Powers costume on a dating game show still makes me cringe.Community: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas

The most memorable moments in Community seem to happen outside the confines of the classroom – Dungeons and Dragons, paintball and even an alternate universe. That’s the case again here, as a wonderfully claymated story plays out in the head of our favourite neurotic TV nerd, Abed.South Park: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo

South Park has had some cracking Christmas episodes, such as Red Sleigh Down and Woodland Critter Christmas, but the popularity of Mr. Hankey as a character 16 years later speaks volumes. A completely unique take on the holiday season, which, in addition to being hilarious, addressed the topic of non-Christians at this time of year. By far the most remarkable thing to come out of this episode was that Kenny didn’t die.The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever

Another fictional holiday on the list! Chrismukkah was the brainchild of Seth Cohen, who found the perfect way to appease both his Christian mother and Jewish father. The holiday was featured once in each of the four seasons of Josh Schwartz’ teen drama. Although not to the same degree as Festivus, it also started a fad that spawned a website, greeting cards and widespread interest. Adam Brody’s character describes the celebration as “eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents”. An idea I can certainly get behind.Futurama: Xmas Story

Matt Groening’s other excellent animated series was quirky and innovative in so many ways – and this unique spin on Christmas was no exception. Instead of a jolly man from the North Pole, Santa is a psychotic robot who was programmed poorly and assumes all humans are ‘naughty’, seeking to dole out violent retribution to all of Earth’s inhabitants.Friends: The One with the Holiday Armadillo

I’ve maintained that Ross is the best character on Friends. This opinion has sparked arguments with my friends before, but this episode has Ross at his awkward best. Despite being Jewish, Ross is ambitiously trying to find a Santa suit just two days before Christmas and ends up having to entertain his son, Ben, as the ‘Holiday Armadillo’. Just when he’s finally about to get Ben interested in Hanukkah, Santa Chandler and Superman Joey show up to make everything much more complicated.The Flintstones: A Flintstone Christmas

The plot itself is quite straightforward: Fred and Barney save Christmas by taking over Santa’s duties on Christmas Eve. I first remember watching this on VHS at a young age and loved it. This was such staple Christmas viewing for me that I eventually wore it out by shoving it into the VCR too many times.Mr. Bean: Merry Christmas Mr Bean

Rowan Atkinson only made 14 episodes of the fantastic Mr. Bean series but, as is often the case with superb British comedy, less is more. Bean runs wild in Harrods department store (with a cameo from a Dalek for all you Dr Who fans) before meeting up with his love interest, Irma, whose obvious hints for Bean to buy her a wedding ring hilariously go over his head. He then cheats in a guessing game to win a turkey before catching a pickpocket and conducting the Salvation Army band.

The episode ends with a Christmas cracker explosion, after Bean inserts several of the small explosive strips into one paper casing. Anyone that’s seen this would be lying if they said they’ve not tried that since.

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