Sleepless on the sofa

Geez, mate. We’ve reached a pretty pass when a bloke can’t get some kip in front of the box watching the cricket, without the nippers scarpering and the cops getting involved. I reckon that’s why they invented T20. Between the hit-and-giggle gameplay and the yank-style ghetto-blasting between overs, a bloke wouldn’t get a wink.

Just playing

Saturday’s leading front page article should make us all nauseous. But it probably won’t. $310m of our taxes have been spent so that the fitter of our compatriots can play games on our behalf, and for our pleasure. And sports officials want more. Perhaps they might reflect a little longer on the Olympic Oath, with its dedication to “the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.” Medals don’t rate a mention there.

But then again, perhaps it’s unfair to single them out. They’re not the only ones playing games. Our politicians, also in our name, spend quite a bit playing games with the ecosystem and the lives of the poor and marginalised at home and abroad, while temperatures slowly rise, islands slowly disappear, desperate people drown, carers just survive, the homeless shiver, and the world’s poorest die of hunger.

Not a lot of difference, really. Guess we’ll just keep on going for gold. Simpler that way.

Stop medalling

So, the Aussie commentariat is obsessing over medals? Well honestly, is anyone truly surprised? We have this same discussion through letters, talkback and (more recently) social media, over every Olympics, every Commonwealth Games, and any international sports meet where any Australian participants or teams are either dominant or rising. We endure the nauseating jingoism screamed into microphones, the endless loop of compatriots crossing the line (at the front, of course), the collective drool over the state of the national psyche (colloquially, the comparative medal tally), the worship of heroes and the angst over also-rans, and then the Freudian analysis of our failures. Then we go back to life, until the next chance at tribal glory, when we do it all again.

Maybe one day, enough people will ask why. It’s too easy to scapegoat the popular media. Ultimately, in chasing ratings, they merely give us what they conclude we want. Governments, enslaved to 3-year electoral cycles and ubiquitous polls, do something similar. So in the end, its down to those on the lounge chair side of the screen. Do we want to be part of a nation that spends billions developing elite athletes, and pays them more than Prime Ministers? The tone of the commentary suggests we do. And unless the medal tally picks up, here’s to another fortnight of Pavlovian frenzy.

But don’t despair, Australia. There’s always the next Commonwealth Games, where we’ll be the big kids in the sandpit again. Because sport is life, isn’t it.

Oh by the way, that last rumble from deep in the ground. Maybe it wasn’t a seismological event after all. I fancy it may have been Baron de Coubertin sighing.


The lengthy coverage of the Australian team’s entrance meant the arrival of the Austrian team was overlooked. I’m a proud Australian, but as an ex-Austrian I feel short-changed.
Erich Goetz, Mornington 1

Take comfort, Mr Goetz. American know-how has surely redeemed your national pride. NBC News’ Olympics website identified Australia as “… located in central Europe, bordered to the north by Germany and the Czech Republic …” and “… primarily mountainous.”

Anyone for a truly secular long weekend?

Thanks to 2011’s happy confluence of the lunar cycle, a Christian festival and the Australian calendar, Australians have enjoyed the mother of all long weekends. If the current tsunami of secularist zeal achieves its utopian dream of a land free of any public religious expression, then let’s hope this was a good one.

Observant Jewish Australians have always been resigned to taking religious festivals out of their normal annual leave allocation. Do we want a land free of the alleged “discrimination” that favours Christians over other religionists? Well then, we’d better abolish public holidays associated with the Christian calendar.

Could be a worry though, this brave new world that beckons. Consider the impact on the retail industry if the great festivals of the jolly fat Santa and the chocolate-laying bunny had to come out of annual leave. (No discrimination, please. We’re secular.) Avvagoodweegend! (And do pray it’s not the last.)

Not in my back pocket

Perhaps it’s time to call a spade a spade on climate change action. Call me a pessimist, a simpleton or both. But here’s how it looks from my kitchen table …

There are really just two parties. Party ‘A’ – the parliamentarians; and Party ‘B’ – us voters. (The latter includes all sectors and interest groups.) Now for the analysis: Of party ‘A’, numbering 226, about half think action is vital in theory but electorally hazardous. The latter angst is fuelled by party ‘B’, numbering 18 million (aged 15+), about half of whom want action in theory, but not if it encroaches on our wallets or lifestyles. Not in my back pocket, thank you!

Likely outcome? Perpetual stalemate. Winner? Well certainly not the planet.

The End.

Has the free speech horse Bolted?

Whatever one’s personal opinion either of News Limited’s columnist Andrew Bolt as a person or, of the case now before the court — and it’s clear opinions vary widely on both, the unfolding story has occasioned much worthwhile and important debate on the subject of free speech in a democracy. Regardless of the immediate outcome of the case, and of whether a high court appeal follows, modern Australia needs the discussion to continue.’s Margaret Simons has today published a defence of an earlier blog post, arguing that Bolt’s loss in the case would be ‘obnoxious’ to us all. I tend to agree with her and other free speech defenders more than with exponents of the contrary view. However some careful nuancing will be needed throughout. Of the many qualifications that might be appended to the free speech argument, one which we hear a lot is incitement. The public expression of opinion, whether by prominent journalists or by local pub patrons, ought not to be hedged with fear of prosecution, provided that such expression does not have a fomenting effect on the kinds of extremism that threaten public safety.

It’s not a simple matter, of course. For who can predict which comment or which commentator will win the wrong kind of following, whatever their intent? Nevertheless the question of incitement must remain at the fulcrum of this essential discourse.

More than words

While waters have flooded Queensland, some Australians with less on their minds have flooded cinemas and other venues. And in a week when public leaders have been exposed to rather more scrutiny than normal on the small screen, it’s strangely timely that the new film “The King’s Speech” has made its mark on the big one. This is a film about public leadership in alarming times, about capturing the trust of a nation or community, about leaders overcoming their frailties or being overcome by them. But it’s also about human friendship, whether between person and person or even between leader and nation.

While some watched this gripping drama featuring first class British actors, the nation watched the same drama featuring real life Australian leaders. Both versions spoke the same message: Leadership is about relationship much more than words. We don’t really want perfect leaders; we wouldn’t trust them. We’ll allow them to be frail if we have just enough opportunities to see that frailty won’t paralyse them when it most matters. We’ll let them be tough-minded, so long as once in a while their hearts touch ours. If their humanity can capture our hearts, they may just have our minds as well

Such has been the Bligh-Gillard story in the dawn of 2011.

Sport-obsessed? … or something worse?

Now that the torch has been put to bed for another few years, how about some national reflection? Some letters to The Age, and several conversations I’ve shared, have indicated thinning interest in these Olympics, if not in sport more generally.

Triggers for this might include:

– Unanswered integrity questions surrounding drug cheating controversies.

– The soap opera like saga of Ian Thorpe and Craig Stevens, and other selection battles.

– Seven’s general inclination to televise Aussie victories ad nauseaum.

– The treatment meted out from many quarters to Sally Robbins, for daring to be mortal at an inconvenient time.

And that’s only the Olympics! Then there’s:

– The millions we invest toward sporting success.

– The dumping on Shane Warne for his admittedly foolish behaviour eighteen months ago.

What have I missed? Oh yes, the prospect of a home advantage in the Commonwealth Games in just nineteen months, with no Americans, Chinese or Russians to assail our gold-dependent national ego.

If only we were merely sport mad; that would be forgivable and even fun. But if sporting ascendancy has become integral to our identity, then something is seriously wrong. Innocence, honesty and fairness may then be the worst casualties. Just sport-crazy? I hope so.