More to it than winning


For one reason or another it’s been a while since I’ve been interested in the Olympics. I became jaded by the almost perpetual reports of corruption and incompetence, each little bit taking the event further away from the purity of its founding principle. With that it became more corporate with every incarnation, which was reflected in the coverage – always heavy on advertising and promotion of sponsors, and in recent years, ridiculously and annoyingly partisan. (Seriously, I reckon most Aussies would much prefer an impartial coverage to the barracking so often provided as commentary).

In theory if I was over the Olympic games, then it’s poor relation the Commonwealth games didn’t factor at all. At least the Olympics could boast the very cream of the crop – what could the Commonwealth games offer?

It’s for that reason I wasn’t excited about the Gold Coast games just ended. It was poorly promoted to start with, and there was no sense of anticipation. I hoped we – Oz – went well, but in the first few nights I preferred to watch my own shows than switch to the coverage. Then something changed.

Australia traditionally does well in swimming, even at Olympic level, and some of that hype transmitted to me. I switched over a day or two in to watch the exploits of our Aussie swimmers, hoping to see them topple the Brits.

The swimming was great, but I kept watching when the second week began and other sports took over. A lot of it was familiar. Though there were exceptions, much of the commentary and coverage was mediocre. The Aussies were blitzing in general. We’ve had our ups and downs in recent years, but throughout my years of watching international sport it’s been pretty standard for Australia to do well. It’s nice, it’s a bonus, but it’s normal pretty much. It was nice this time, but what really got me was something different.

The whole ball tampering crisis in South Africa has reframed the whole notion of Australian sport. We always had an Australian way, but the bottom line is that we expected to win and would exert our every fibre to achieve that. It can be pure, but in recent times it’s taken on an unsavoury edge. All of us feel that, and all of us want something different. Winning isn’t everything.

That’s what captured me. There were many moments in these games that demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship. Across the board there appeared great respect between competitors, and between spectators and competitors. Overall it appeared a very friendly games. Everyone wanted to win, and the Aussie crowds were rowdy in their support for local athletes, but contest over there was appreciation for the effort.

More than many games I feel as if the stories of the competitors and competition were just as important as the results. Perhaps it is the nature of the Commonwealth games that the sense of community comes to the fore. There were world champions competing, and world class competitors sprinkled through the sports, but reality is that many who won medals wouldn’t have made an Olympic final. This is a second tier competition at best, but being that it emphasises the spirit of doing your best and having a go. It’s nice to win, but to be a part of this, to be in fellowship with fellow athletes and to enjoy the experience of a lifetime trying your best – well, that’s the true essence of it.

That was emphasised by the integration of disabled competitors into the program. This was a great success, and universally heartwarming. None of these competitors are objectively the greatest, but what they exemplify is hope and effort and belief. They define themselves by their determination to overcome the variety of physical handicaps they are faced with. Watching them you realise that there’s much more than coming first. The attempt to surpass your limits – to be better – is the ultimate challenge.

I know, that sounds unusually wet for me. I love competing. I love winning. I hate being second. It’s perspective though, too. Winning is a thrill. It’s an irreplaceable moment in time. The broader experience lasts a lifetime I reckon.

There’s no better example of this than Kurt Fearnley, the much loved, universally admired disabled athlete. He’s been a warrior since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a fierce competitor and a wonderful representative of Australia. He is a man who has overcome the handicap he was born with to become something much more than a man with a disability.

He won his last ever event yesterday, the wheelchair marathon. He spoke after of how when you wear the colours of Australia you have to be fierce, but competition done, to err on the side of kindness.

That, to me, should be the Australian sporting mantra going forward – fierce, but kind. We used to be that way naturally, but maybe the pendulum is now returning to that. It’s a philosophy that puts these games into perspective, and competition in general.

For me there are no better role models in Australian sport than Kurt Fearnley and Mick Fanning, legends both.

Advertisements

Much ado about something


The first test between South Africa and Australia played in Durban finished yesterday with a sensational Australian win. This series was billed as a showdown with the two best test teams in the world (settle down India). By bowling strength I figured Australia were slightly ahead, but I also had question marks. We flogged the Poms over the summer, but England were so poor it was hard to draw a line. The Australian team that knocked over the Saffies was the Australian team I remember – relentless, clinical, ruthless. They picked apart South Africa with immense pressure, and some brilliant cricket.

I sometimes think that the edge Australia has is it’s mentality. There have been some champion cricketers, and Starc in this test match was devastating, but it’s complemented by a mindset that never gives a sucker and even break, and never takes a backward step. It intimidates opposition and makes them work harder than they want to. A lot of them fail trying.

Unfortunately the spillover from this is often controversial, and this match was a classic example of that.

I don’t mind playing hard. I don’t mind giving a bit of lip. I don’t mind crowding the opposition and letting them know we’re coming for them. I don’t mind slipping the knife in or sinking the slipper. I believe in being ruthless: it’s called ‘test’ cricket for a reason.

In my mind there are limits to that. For a start, don’t get personal. That can be a grey line, but in my mind that means you don’t go the other persons personal life. Keep it on the field. That’s the other part of it – go hard on the field, take it easy off it. That appears to be a peculiarly Australian convention, and seems to confuse other cultures – how can you be going hammer and tongs at on me on the field, then buying me a beer off it? Because it’s not personal. It’s business, and the business is winning a game of sport.

There were a couple of things in this match that left me feeling ill at ease.

I’m not a big fan of Nathan Lyon. His bowling has improved out of sight the last couple of years with confidence, and by bowling a more attacking line. I think he’s a classless dick though. On the weekend AB de Villiers was run out for a duck, which was big news in the context of the match. Once the job is done I’m not a big one for send-offs, though I understand how emotions can carry you away. I think it’s cheap. Lyon didn’t give AB a send-off, but basically he dropped the ball on him as if to say, gotcha. Not a good look, and rightly sanctioned.

More complex is the kerfuffle between Warner and de Kock. We all know that Warner goes hard. I reckon he’s one of those guys who gets white line fever. He’s said and done some stupid things, but I suspect he’s not a bad bloke really, and he was excellent captaining the Australian to a T20 clean sweep recently.

This time he gave some lip, pretty much as normal I imagine. On this occasion though de Kock has seemingly responded with something about Warner’s wife, and he went ballistic. It continued off the field and Warner had to be restrained from taking on de Kock. Not a good look.

For a start I’m very disappointed Warner responded as he did because it shows he can be got to. There’s a bit of if you dish it out you have to take it too – though Warner would point out that de Kock went beyond the pale by getting personal. That’s what outraged him most I think, that de Kock wouldn’t play by the rules. Problem with that is you can’t expect everyone to play by the rules that you’ve made up. It may be Australian convention that personal attacks are a no-no, but it’s hardly universal, and certainly confusing to those who think the whole idea of rules about this as arbitrary.

I understand why Warner responded as he did, but can’t condone it. De Kock was clinical in taking that approach, and got full reward for it. Warner should have walked away. At the very least he could have pointed to the scoreboard.

End of the day as an Aussie I don’t like it. Go hard, but keep it classy.

How to sledge


It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.

Owning up


Woke up this morning to two shocking pieces of news.

First, the news from Texas and the church shooting there. New such as this is almost de rigueur these days, terrible as it is. It’s been going on way too long, and no matter the clamour it never seems to change – in fact, it appears attacks like this are becoming more common. Something has to be done – has to be – but you doubt that anything will. If Obama couldn’t change things then Trump has no willingness to, and the NRA will keep defending their turf. From the outside, it seems unsustainable, that something must give – otherwise anarchy beckons.

The other news was of a 13-year-old girl being struck by a car while riding her bike, here in Melbourne. She’s in a serious condition, but what is truly shocking is that the driver of the BMW that struck her stopped briefly, then drove away, leaving her near death.

I say it’s shocking, but this too has become almost routine. It’s not uncommon for pedestrians to be struck, but when I was growing up it was rare for a hit and run to be reported – these days it feels as if 90% are hit and runs. What has the world come to?

This time it’s too much. A girl, riding her bike, has been struck and left for dead. It’s more than deplorable, it’s unconscionable.

I understand the panic that must grip a driver when they hit another person, but that’s the test. Running from it is not only disgraceful, it’s ultimately futile – no-one gets away with it. And surely the first instinct should be to render assistance?

I hate to say it, but I think it’s a sign of the times, and the stats I reckon would back that up. Why is it that once upon a time we would stop and take responsibility when now we flee from it?

I see it in the increasing reports of cowards punches, and brawls in general (there was another last night in the city near where I work).

Bar fights are not new, and I’ve been in confrontations myself. Used to be though there was a code that you would never strike someone from behind, or when they weren’t looking. It probably sounds small beer, but it made a fundamental difference. For one, when you know a punch is coming you can prepare for it – a cowards punch (when the victim isn’t looking) is well named. There were many fewer serious injuries or fatalities once upon a time.

It’s telling from a psychological perspective to. Somewhere along the way we’ve crossed a line, when or why I don’t know. There’s no honour in hitting someone from behind. There’s only one aim in doing that, and that’s to inflict pain and injury. The old fights are nothing to be proud of, but what they boiled down to was macho posturing. You faced your opponent and took him on squarely. If you attempted anything underhand then you were a pariah, and your mates would let you know about it. These days, literally, the gloves are off.

It’s not dissimilar in the prevalence of hit and run accidents. We’ve become selfish and self-indulgent, with our first thoughts of ourselves. We don’t face up to things as we used to, and don’t take responsibility for our actions as we did. There’s a lot of moral cowards out there and I find it very disquieting.

The conversations I crave


This morning in bed I was reading a biography of Chekhov, and a history of tank warfare. Last night I watched a doco about the universe and many of its strange quirks. The other night I watched another on AI and nanobots. I have a couple of books waiting for me – a book of essays by Tony Judt, and a history of western culture. Not to mention a book of Ian Flemings correspondence, and sundry fiction (currently reading The Riddle of the Sands).

How much of this do you reckon I get to discuss? Practically nil. I have one friend with whom I’ll have sciencey conversations, but eventually we’ll verge off into discussion on comparative TV series. I don’t know that there’s anyone else much I have the type of conversations I’d like to have.

I indulge in these things because they rouse me in some way. I’m fascinated by the mystery, or seek to learn more. Last night watching the doco and observing some of the complex mathematics I wished some of my teachers had given such a contextual lesson – maths bored me then, but when applied it becomes eye-opening. These are the things that take my attention. In the past, I’ve pondered I might have become an architect or a doctor in another life, but equally given another go I might have chosen lecturer (literature or history), physicist, astrophysicist, cosmologist, archaeologist, or indeed, writer.

I don’t get that opportunity, but it’s unfortunate that for the most part I experience these things and have no-one to share them with. I crave that conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk about the footy all day, and even politics if anyone’s keen – but I’d really like to share these mind stretching subjects. I’d like to pass it on, but also I want that dialogue in order to push it into more interesting areas.

We live in a really remarkable world, and how you can’t be interested in that has got me stumped. If only I had someone I could explore that world with. Maybe next year.

They’re watching you…


The last few weeks I’ve been making a call to a community organisation that isn’t in my phone address book. The other day scrolling through recent calls there was the number recorded, and underneath it Probably…followed by the specific name of the individual I’d been talking to. I’d never seen that before.

I puzzled over this, Fair enough had it recorded the name of the organisation, they’re in the phone book after all. But in an organisation containing dozens of people how does it know the specific person I’ve been speaking to?

Like many, I’m very aware of my online presence and identity. The idea that I’m being watched, that every move I make is tracked, is abhorrent to me, and more so since the Australian government legislated that ISPs must retain the metadata of its customers. It’s a privacy issue, but I also see it as an infringement on my civil liberties.

In my book you’re crazy if you’re not connecting online through a VPN, but even so that only limits the damage, it doesn’t eliminate it.

I read the other day about how Google is extending its online reach, to the point that they will soon know every site you visit. Like most people, I have a Gmail account. Foolishly, as it turns out, I use my Google ID (and occasionally my Facebook) to login into different online accounts. It doesn’t matter if I’m VPN if that’s the case. The solution is to browse incognito through a VPN, and don’t accept cookies, but that’s hard work. And even still…

We’ve all experienced targeting marketing whereby an ad will flash up on screen relevant to a recent search or your browsing history. Once they have that on one source it spreads to other online sources – I get those ads now on my phone, and even at work.

I compound the issue by having location services switched on my phone, as most people do, I’m sure. That adds another very precise layer of tracking which I could easily turn off, except I track my steps, and of course, use navigation and search for nearby handy locations. We are seduced into being tracked by the convenience of the functionality it offers.

At this point I’ve made a compromise – basically, I’m allowing them to view a lot of my activity, but not all. I wonder at the wisdom of that.

But how does that explain my phone entry?

The only explanation I have is that it’s cross-referenced my email by my call history. I’ve sent and received emails from that person, and my phone has put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. That’s scary.

The question of porn


A couple of nights ago on ABC2 there was live discussion forum about porn. Among the participants there were commentators, health advocates, members of the general public, and porn performers.

These things can be pretty cheesy, and degenerate pretty quickly into a formless mess of people shouting over each other. This was pretty good. It was bold programming by the ABC, and ultimately quite fascinating.

There were different views put representing different perspectives – the devout Christian say (and ex porn addict) against the porn performer. The psychologist pitted against the conservative commentator. And so on. What was clear is that it’s not easy to have a true understanding of porn that is black and white. It’s multi-faceted, with both good and bad aspects.

I’ve long had pretty general views on porn. Like most I’ve seen my fair share of it. My tastes are pretty vanilla, but I still feel a little shameful whenever I partake in it. But hey, I like a naked female body. I would guess I’m a pretty average guy when it comes to porn.

In recent times I’ve been forced to think about it a lot more, for a very unexpected reason.

As you know, I’m writing a book. The idea behind the book has been in my head for 15 years, but when I came to write it I needed an engine to progress the story. I wanted something dark and mysterious, and ultimately porn (and prostitution) was that engine.

Sometimes I wonder how it came to this. It was not the plan. I’m a little disappointed actually, no matter that it fits the theme of the book very well. I have a couple of other book ideas in my head, one of which featured a very colourful character who becomes a ‘pornographer’. I think that’s where the idea came from. Unfortunately it now means I have to change that character if and when I ever write that book.

What I discovered as I wrote this story is that my views on the sex industry developed. I had only given it a passing consideration previously. My attitude was liberal, live and let live. If people want to do this, fine. I still have that attitude, but it’s more complex than that.

I focus on the dark aspects of the industry. There’s a bleak heart beating at the centre of this book. It’s more about prostitution than pornography, and specifically people trafficking for sexual purposes. That’s a real thing, and evil beyond an average Joe’s comprehension. Ultimately it’s about exploitation.

That’s an aspect of the sex trade I hadn’t considered much previously. It doesn’t always apply, but it certainly can, and often is – people being used (and abused) by unscrupulous characters for profit. They become dehumanised, a plaything for others and a tool for the pimps running them. It’s diabolical.

As I said, I had no real notion of just how dark this was until I began to write about it. It came naturally to that. I followed the story and it led to these terrible places. It was perfect for the story I was writing, but I realised that it was true as well. This isn’t altogether fiction.

Click on a link today. Sure, there are many entrepreneurial women out there sassily using their body to fashion a career. For others it’s no more than some cash on the side, and reasonably harmless as far as they’re concerned. But there’s the rest. How many of those women you see cavorting on screen are virtual prisoners of their ‘profession’. More than you would think I would guess.

I can see some positive benefits of porn, as were highlighted on the show. There was a couple who spoke of how it had transformed their relationship by sharing it. There were others who had never had a meaningful relationship for whom this was an outlet, and occasionally a means of expression. There is good porn and there is bad porn.

There’s many things to be wary about when it comes to pornography. Bad porn promotes unhealthy and often destructive attitudes towards women. It can easily become habitual and psychologically damaging (not to mention anti-social). And it’s often exploitative.

I’m not a crusader or moralist. I can see a place for good porn – or erotica, if you like. That’s porn that’s non-exploitative, and has nothing to do with violence or degradation. It’s a celebration of sex and desire by willing exponents of it. I can buy into that. Most can. I have a girl friend who loves classy porn. Good on her.

The problem is the bad porn. Porn that is exploitative, in every sense of it. Where the performers are used, without will or intent of their own. Where the porn contains violence, or plays upon themes of degradation and abuse. Industrialised porn. Criminalised porn.

Is it going to change? No. It’s such a massive industry that there are few means of controlling it. It’s beamed out through the interwebs, often from someone’s suburban bedroom. It’s not going to get any better, and I expect some of the things I’ve written about in my book will only become more common.