Race without meaning

Can anyone tell me of a more pointless sporting contest than the America’s Cup?

Once upon a time it meant something. I remember it well. Forever and a day America had held the Auld Mug despite fierce competition from first the British, and then the Australians, with others coming and going in between. The contest was so lop-sided that it winning it became an obsession for a succession of Australian moguls – it’s very man a rich man’s sport. Despite years of toil and millions of dollars spent each and every occasion America retained the America’s Cup sailing offshore from Newport, Rhode Island.

It defeated Frank Packer, but then along came Alan Bond. He tried and failed, then he tried again. This time he came with a new boat with a revolutionary winged keel, designed by Ben Lexcen. Having defeated the challengers Australia III trailed Courageous 1-3 in the final, before it rallied. It levelled the series, and then in the decider crossed the line first. Cue widespread jubilation.

As I said, I remember it well. The nautical equivalent of Mt Everest had been conquered. It was front page news all over Australia. Bob Hawke famously proclaimed than any boss who fired some for not coming into work was a mug. The nation celebrated as one.

It had meaning then because it had never happened before. It was a contest between the starchy New York Yacht Club and, latterly, brash Australian entrepreneurs. Half the mystique was that clash of culture and entitlement, and the other half was the one sided nature of the contest till then. Once Australia took the cup from the American’s the mystique virtually disappeared.

It’s gone on since and changed hands several times – it’s hard to keep up and I couldn’t care less besides. They shifted from the graceful 12 metre yachts to rapid catamarans (losing a bit more of the cachet in the process). It’s been raced in parts all over the world. And to make a complete mockery of the contest though the yachts race under the flag of one nation they are crewed by peoples of all nations.

Yesterday the latest iteration of the event was won. This time the Kiwi’s won it, helmed by an Aussie, beating out the American’s who help the cup, also helmed by the same Aussie who won it for them last time.

This is a sport that has lost whatever tenuous connection it had with our world. It’s always been an elite, rich man’s sport, but that was leavened before by tradition, by the history of the contest, and lovely yachts themselves, like thoroughbreds. Back in the day it meant something to win it because it was an Australian team racing an Australian boat crewed by Australians. There was democracy in it.

Now it’s a profession, a mercenary contest limited to only the very wealthiest. Tradition has been lost, and history has become irrelevant. It has no heart.

Good on the Kiwis, good on their Aussie skipper (from Bendigo), and well played – but what in a sporting sense does it mean? I can’t think of a single thing.


What the people don’t want

It’s tempting to suggest the unlikely rise of Jeremy Corbyn is due to the political difference he represents. His gentler political philosophies are certainly widely appealing (unlike some of his more hard-line policies). After years of austere neo-liberalism being rammed down their throats Corbyn’s emphasis on traditional labour values and focus on the small, the under-privileged, the voiceless came as a welcome relief, and that’s very real. People are sick and tired of being overlooked in favour of big business and the top end of town, and to find in Corbyn someone who sincerely and authentically spoke for them was a breath of fresh air – and it’s a truth that would apply equally here in Oz, where much the same complaints – and resentments – exist.

While the folksy Jeremy Corbyn was genuinely appealing, it was more about what he wasn’t than what he was that led him to the verge of an unlikely victory. What he wasn’t – or at least, appeared not to be – was a member of the political machine. Scorned by his own party and rejected by much of the mainstream media he epitomised an authentic political character. In the world of 2017 there’s an instinctive appeal in that.

My view is this recent run of surprising election results is less to do with voting for something than it is about voting against something. What is being rejected are incumbent orthodoxies and stale vested interests. Corbyn’s success was less an endorsement of his politics and much more a rejection of political orthodoxy (and neo-liberalism) as embodied in the fumbling Theresa May.

Likewise when Trump got up what he represented was the anti-system, and by voting for him swathes of the American public were voting against the established political class of which Hilary Clinton was a leading member. For years they’d heard the same old slogans and formulas repeated ad nauseam, and to little effect. They were weary of pollsters and slick political machines and above all class of the perpetual, and bitter about the flawed system that spawned them.

Corbyn and Trump have very little in common. Their politics are polar opposites. Their styles couldn’t be more different. What they share is an outsider’s status. Trump came from business, outspoken, boastful and larger than life. He gave voice to many of the electorate made cynical by party machinations. He was over the top, perhaps unpleasant, but he might actually make a difference because he was different.

Corbyn came from the unfashionable socialist wing of the Labour party. Guys like him are bit like political duffers, they’re idealistic to a fault and speak in unrealistic riddles. They’re cardigan wearers that lend a bit of street cred to the Labour movement, but in an era of slick new-Labour, never meant to rule. Except by an extraordinary series of events he managed to get himself elected to Labour party leadership. Somehow he managed to retain his leadership in the face of challenges and criticism. Altogether he is an unlikely character and, like Trump, represents the anti-political establishment.

I write this from Australia where this phenomenon is yet to bite deeply, but there is a lesson there for anyone who cares to heed it.

There has certainly been a drift towards the minor parties on the edge in Australia, and for the same reasons as above – voters are jaded about mainstream politics. The independent parties have waxed and waned in popularity, but are well established now and seem to be accepted as a necessary evil by both Liberal and Labor.

The Libs are the incumbents, but barely competent. Labor leads in the polls, but only because the Libs are so riven and ineffective. In Bill Shorten Labor have an uninspiring and mediocre leader who is more concerned about plying political tricks than he is in advocating for the genuine benefit of Australians. He would rather exploit a tricky political angle for political advantage than he is in allowing for bipartisan reform. It’s all about the polls, all about winning.

This is what politics has become, but it’s now a stale formula. People see through that now. They’ve heard it all before and though they may have fallen for it the first half dozen times they’re now awake to it. This is the new political reality: the electorate is angry, and they’re through with being treated like fools. The shonky backroom deals and cynical compromises have been exposed.

I seriously doubt that Shorten and polling minions are oblivious to this. They live in a bubble, and there is an inherent arrogance that has them believe they know better – which is one of the central things the people have rejected.

Stop playing games. Speak to truth. Show what you believe in. Expose your values. Be vulnerable. Risk something. This is what people want now.

I don’t know that Shorten has that in him, but it’s what the electorate are clamouring for. Shorten is of the machine. He is created by it and has the mentality of it. It was a mistake when the party powerbrokers rejected the vote of the members and installed Shorten ahead of Albanese. Albo is tough and smart, but he’s earthy too, and real. He’s an old fashioned Labor idealist too – he believes in things (and was mentored by one of my all-time favourite politicians, Tom Uren – a great man).

Labor is ahead in the polls now, but no guarantee he will be when the next election comes. Albo would be ahead of Shorten if leader, and has the credibility and authenticity to carry it to election day. One sure thing, when that day comes there will be more surprises unless someone – Turnbull or Shorten – is prepared to make a difference.

The tale of the times

Dark City is a movie by Alex Proyas made back in the late 1990’s. His movies since have been disappointing, but Dark City was creative and different. I watched it again on the weekend and it struck me that it has thematic similarities to a couple of other big movies made around that time – The Truman Show and The Matrix. It’s not uncommon that we get a spate of similar movies being made. Trends seem to sweep through Hollywood. This year it’s volcanoes, last year it was space travel, next year is earthquakes, and so on.

These movies are different in that the plots are dissimilar and the moods vary. What they have in common are themes of manipulation, surveillance, and questions of authentic life experience.

For those who don’t know [spoiler alert] Dark City is a noirish tale set in an eternally dark world that has an edge of the fantastic. Unbeknownst to them the citizens of this city are science experiments, surveilled and experimented upon by a strange society of beings searching for the unique elements that make up mankind. Each night the city is rearranged. Buildings pop up where the night before there was nothing; other buildings retract. The citizens themselves go to sleep through this when the strange men come out and rearrange their history and identity. The man who goes to sleep as Stan the baker wakes up as John the policeman, and as far as he’s concerned he’s always been John, and always a copper.

Naturally – for this is a movie – there’s a renegade character who wakes up to this (literally) – John Murdoch. He is mystified naturally, before investigating further and discovering the dark secret, before ultimately tearing the façade down and, in a manner of speaking, liberating the citizens to a more authentic and pleasurable existence. The sun rises, and the story ends.

Compare this to The Matrix. Neo is living his conventional life before by accident he discovers its secret and is jolted into another reality. Like John Murdoch he comes to battle the strange controlling faction who use humankind as a power source for their world. In reality each citizen exists within a pod, but to enable control they are fed a simulated reality. This becomes one of the key concepts of the franchise – the blue pill represents the dumb, but superficial contentedness of the dreamlife; but take the red pill and choose to live life authentically, warts and all. Set aside the sci-fi rendering and it’s a choice for all of us every day (and a theme of my own writing): live easy, or live true.

Then there’s The Truman Show. This is not as outlandish as others, nor does it have an overt sci fi setting. It hasn’t got a hard edge either – this is The Matrix made into It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a great film though, and has similar themes – Truman himself a kind of science experiment, and exploited and manipulated on this occasion for entertainment value. He is the unwitting object of the most popular show on TV, oblivious to how every day of his life is broadcast to millions. All the while he dreams of another life, of a woman he once had a fleeting encounter with, and of faraway Fiji, a place he yearns to visit but can never get to. Ultimately the truth dawns upon him to, and like the others he rebels against the life dictated to him.

What interests me is what the genesis for this small genre of movies might be? How is it that a clump of disparate, but similarly themed movies came to be made around the same time? What does it say about that time, or that generation? And why is it that as a theme it seems to have fallen out of favour – or has it?

These are the things that fascinate me. It’s one of the reason I love the popular arts, because they tell the tale of our times. They reflect back to us what we thought and what we are.

*Another excellent example is the clutch of conspiracy/paranoia movies that came out in the early seventies in the wake of Watergate (The Conversation, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The Domino Principle, Capricorn One, etc). Suddenly everything we believed was undermined and open to question. Nothing could be trusted, and movies told the tale.

Dreams of bleak

I had a mixed weekend. On Friday I had JV over and we had pizza and a couple of bottles of red while we watched the footy. He’s a Swans supporter and it was a grand game until, after a stirring comeback, we contrived to lose a game that should have been unloseable. At that point I got a bit sweary. I’m not normally like that, but I did swear at the TV a few times. “Fuck you Luke Parker,” I said as the Swans player was interviewed post-match. “Fuck you Gary Rohan,” I said when the guy he sealed the match after the siren came on. Apologising to my mate I muted the Swans as they sang the song after the match.

Part of me was measured – it was a good performance and I’m confident that we’ll do some damage come the finals, and we were playing the in-form team on their own patch – but another part of me was gleefully feral.

To compound my general displeasure my phone shat itself as well. Vertical lines ran up and down the screen. I could hear messages being received, but couldn’t see or respond to them. I missed a brunch invitation Saturday because of it, and it was only after I fished out an old phone, charged it up and updated as necessary that I felt whole again.

The rest of the weekend was the usual, cooking and cleaning and writing and popping out for coffee with the Cheeses.

Last night I felt more weary than normal. I had a minor ear infection and maybe that took it out of me. I turned the light off earlier than normal and was soon to sleep.

I don’t know if it was the tribulations of the weekend but I found myself in the midst of vivid and quietly disturbing dreams. There was a bleak and depressing quality to them. As always I remember little but for a few frames. I am forlorn and lost. I wander the streets of my hometown with nothing to do and no money in my pocket. I come across a party of people I know at a bar, all dressed happy and in good spirits. They are family friends, people I have known for many years. Briefly I speak to them before moving on. Strangely, one of them is Paul Roos, the ex-footy player and coach.

A little later I come across them again, this time at a fancy restaurant. I am welcomed by Paul Roos. Without saying so he recognises that I am in dire straits. He is affable, encouraging me to join them, turning to the others there and with a quip enjoining their agreement. I know what they’re doing. They feel sorry for me. They know I have nothing. They are trying to get a good feed in me and for a few hours join them for agreeable company. They don’t admit to it but they pity me.

I resist. I always do. I don’t want charity. I don’t want any favours. I don’t want to be special in that way. Yet I know that I should. Paul Roos knows this. He knows how I am. Gently he encourages me to ignore my pride. No skin off their nose after all, and they like me – I may be down and out, but I’m still one of them. The dream ends with me wondering what to do.

The other dreams were all similar in nature. Taken as a whole they are disturbing.

Where does that come from? There was a moment on Sunday when I contemplated how the future might be – a sort of predictable purgatory, a world for me that never gets much worse than what it is now, but never any better. Year after year I eke out a basic existence without joy or indulgence. I scramble from week to week, month to month, year to year, just surviving. Then one day I die. It’s over, the water closes over me, I am forgotten.

That’s bleak too, and just about the worst possible thing I could envisage. Is this what led to the dreams?

For the record it will never be like that. I’d smash it all before going that way. In any case I’m confident that I can make things a lot better, I just get impatient sometimes for it to begin.


Why I blog

I get regular emails from strangers promising to enhance my blog readership and turn it into something I can make money from. They come every 3-4 days, and many are very persistent. Most I never respond too, not because I’m rude, but because I get a million emails a day it takes me a while to get around for them and, let’s face it, responding to unsolicited emails are the last of my priorities.

Occasionally I will respond to the more persistent. For a start I understand how tough it is to reach out to potential clients – it may be an annoyance to the recipients, but if you’re a business it is an vital and mostly uncomfortable necessity. It’s a tough road, and I acknowledge that.

I’ll then go on to explain the reason I write my blog. I’m not so precious as to suggest that having a readership is unimportant, but it certainly comes second to the act of writing. Let me put it this way – I don’t write to be read, I write to get the written word out of me. As this is a personal blog that is a very personal process. The feelings, thoughts, ideas, opinions, attitudes, reflections, observations pile up in me and intermingle, and some of them become notions which ultimately I choose to explore by writing them down.

I think a lot of writers do that – they seek to make sense of these things by expressing them. It’s rare that these posts come to me fully formed. I start in on a position and as I proceed the way ahead of me becomes more clear. A key part of understanding is expression, for me at least.

You can see then that for me blogging is a journey. It’s gratifying if others read and take something from what I write. I’m like anyone else, I’m chuffed when someone appreciates my work. It’s irrelevant to purpose though. If no-one read anything that I wrote I would still continue to write.

I try to explain this. I’m not interested in artificially inflating my following. Much as I could do with the dollars, I believe to commercialise this blog would be to corrupt and influence the philosophy that inspires it. In fact, for me, it feels fraudulent – but that’s because the whole process of writing this blog is personal.

Strange as it is, this is where my ego becomes subsumed. I have to write straight, and that’s my therapy.


To resist, or not to resist

A couple of nights ago, on his way home from work, one of the guys here was set upon by two muggers. There was no physical violence, it was all threat, but the threat was real and confronting. Both of the muggers wielded axes.

Their victim is a pleasant, gentle soul, much more a lover than a fighter and so he handed over his wallet and hurried home. With a young family he packed up and spent the night at his in-laws. Understandably shaken he didn’t come into work yesterday. I caught up with him this morning to venture my concern. He’s okay, though the encounter is undeniably disturbing, and has the potential to be disturbing for quite some town.

Crimes like this seem to be more common, though it may be we are more aware of them, or they are reported on more often. The general view is that these are the times we live in. Law and order, always a hot potato, is a big ticket item right now. I don’t agree with everything being said, or even much of it, but I understand the rhetoric.

On hearing of this encounter I was initially shocked. You know these things happen, but there is a distant between you and these events. Then it happens to someone you know and it becomes far more real.

After the initial shock I wondered how I would react if faced with the same situation. I know the sensible thing is to do what he did and be compliant and passive, handing over my valuables and walking away. That is, if you like, the rational, sensible approach. I pride myself on being rational at least, and in conversations around law and order would rather take a calm and unemotional approach to it. It’s easy to be outraged, but it only distorts the truth. The solution comes not from emotion, but reason.

I suspect that if I was in a similar situation all of that would be forgotten. I’m well known, even notorious, for being stubborn (surprisingly so). Much of that comes from a rational place. If something is true and worthy then I will stand up for it, but undeniably there is an aspect of ego to it.

I fear if faced by a couple of axe wielding muggers that I would dig my heels in. As soon as someone tries to compel me to anything is the moment I resist. On top of that I can taste the disdain I would feel for these men. They feel the need to threaten me with axes? How weak. I would find it hard to hide my utter contempt for then. I could not stomach the possibility of them prevailing. Quite irrationally I would fancy my chances with them. Even considering the distortions of an inflamed ego I would reckon I could outsmart them. I would like to think of myself as a lover, but I’m very certainly a fighter.

What then? Who knows.

This guy was mugged in Lalor; it’s very unlikely I would ever get approached in the civilised streets of Bayside, let alone threatened. I suspect also that they wouldn’t try it on with me. I have a bit of size and confidence on my side, not to mention attitude. I don’t swagger, but people pick their mark and I reckon they would assess me as too problematic. Even so.

I don’t want to be mugged, and I seriously don’t know how I would react. Part of me is glad of my obstinacy. I believe in it as something just when faced with injustice. You can’t give way to these things. But I’m smarter than that too. Sitting here at my desk while it’s still but a hypothetical I hope I would be humble enough to give way. Quite aside from the danger of resisting there’s the peril – and ultimate weakness – of letting my ego prevail. To be a true man I need to let that go. The ego is not about being rational, and is entirely selfish. I need to be better than what my ego demands, and that’s true in all aspects of life – but much easier saying than doing.


Larry vrs Magic: the great days

30 For 30 must be one of the best programs of its type ever. For those who don’t know, it’s an ESPN program, which basically are in-depth sporting documentaries. What makes it different is the qualities of these shows which often take a different angle to a well-known story or personality, or perhaps take a more intimate perspective. They’re well made, highly intelligent, and far beneath the surface. If you happen across a story you like you find yourself completely immersed in it – this is what happened to me last night.

I happened across last night’s shows. I was doing some random channel switching when it popped up: Celtics vrs Lakers.

I discovered the NBA back in the early eighties. It would be on TV here in Oz late at night and then only the finals. Sitting in a darkened lounge room in suburban Melbourne and watching the feats of unknown basketball stars started off as a novelty. It was strange and foreign and to the teenager I was then pretty dreamy. As the novelty wore off real appreciation grew. I came to know the players and the teams intimately, I found my favourites and cultivated my allegiance. I don’t how or why, but I became a Celtics fan.

Back then if you mentioned Celtics in the next breath would be the Lakers, and vice versa. I can only imagine now, but I reckon I favoured the Celtics because they were the earthy alternative to the flash and glamour of the LA Lakers. I could appreciate the show the Lakers put on, but the Celtics seemed more authentic to me. And, they had Larry Bird.

I loved Larry Bird. He’s probably my favourite basketball player of all time, just ahead of Michael Jordan. I loved him because he was a superstar, and because he was such a damn smart player, and probably loved most because he was so damned unlikely. Here was a tall, gangly, very pale skinned, red haired white guy without any particular athletic gifts who dominated in a league of flashy and explosive athleticism. What he had was his great smarts, an incredible passing game, a pretty good shooting hand, and an unsurpassed competitive edge. He was a leader.

Like the Celtics and Lakers, if you mentioned Larry Bird then Magic Johnson came next. He was Bird’s Laker’s counterpart, and epitomised the differences in the teams. Magic was immensely talented, a great athlete, a happy go lucky, larger than life motor mouth with a great ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck. You had to love Magic. He and Larry came into the game at the same time – a blessing to the sport – and then dominated it for the next 10 years.

The show last night was about that great rivalry, between Celtics and the Lakers, between Bird and Magic, between two different cultures and philosophies.

I loved it. I remembered so much watching it. I could recall moments sitting there watching clutch moments in the key finals series between the two teams. Sport is like that. We interact with it as a spectator and an aficionado, and in so doing it threads its way through the simple day to day of our life. We remember things by the sports we watch, and remember sporting moments by the things we did. They become enmeshed.

This is a two part show and last night I watched the first part before having to go to bed. Tonight I’ll watch the second part which will feature the epic battles between the two sides. Can’t wait to watch.