29 December 2010

Lateralist Cricket - An Ashes Reflection

When I first started watching cricket as a boy, Australia were terrible. It was around 1986, and the Ashes were played in Australia. England's batting line-up included tweedles Gatting and Lamb, the mercurial David Gower and the inebriated Ian Bothan. And boy, did they and their team mates give Australia a pasting.

And now, it is without question that the Australian side has come to closely resemble the side of my youth. It's about bloody time.

To enjoy and value success, failure needs to be a living memory. Cricket might be taken awfully seriously by a great many adults, but to all but the most crazed of them, the real life-blood supporters of a nation's teams are its youth. To the ten year-olds of 2010, men like Peter Siddle are their heroes, and rightly so. Just because he is not a bowler of the calibre of Glen McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Craig McDermott (or even, God forbid, Merv Hughes) is hardly the point; youth worships primarily at the culture of now, not yesterday.

The greats of the past will live forever in the hallowed halls of statistics, and that's where they belong. But it's the players of today, who will toil, and fail, and toil some more that will etch their way into the mind of the next generation of cricket supporters. I want the youth of today to see players who, in spite of their lack of ability and success, just keep trying. Siddle may not (to me) be the most exciting cricketer to watch, but for a child watching the game, I have no problem at all in him being an object of admiration. After all, winning is a virtual formality when you're better than your opponents.

In time, people might come to see the failures in Adelaide and Melbourne as less important than the glorious victory in Perth. Because on those few days at the WACA, an inferior side outplayed a superior one. That's worth remembering.

So what does the future hold for our current crop of players? It means that for some, time is up. Ponting's career is almost over, and his Captaincy is surely at an end. That there is no stand-out player to replace him is to miss the point; the failures of 2011 need to belong to a player in his prime, not one in his twilight, even if the replacement is an inferior player. Call me a cynic, but you'd be desperately unlucky to annoint an inferior tactician.

That Ponting has tried his best is not in doubt. It's just that I don't think he's come to terms with being in a second-rate side, after more than a decade of playing in (by some distance) the best side in the world. The kind of arrogance needed to be that good just looks ridiculous when transplated into a lesser side. Imagine if Viv Richards sauntered around like he did in the 1980's as leader of the current West Indian side. He'd look like an absolute twat.

Plus, Ponting's departure, (and soon, Hussey's, Katich's, and then on form, Clarke's) will make it far, far easier for older fans to hope the Australian side can rebuild itself anew. Prolonged success breds contempt. Granted, failure doesn't taste that nice, but sometimes a team, and a nation needs to take its bitter medicine, and just keep its head down for a while.

I look forward to the time when Australia is a strong cricketing nation again. After a few years in the doldrums, I know they'll deserve it. But they're going to need to shed the arrogance of the great sides of the 1990's and 2000's, and replace it with tenacity. They'll need to lose the contempt, and summon some guile; ditch the sledging, and find some gamemanship. Players of Ponting's ilk, or Warne's, McGrath's or Hayden's aren't going to come along that often. And that's ok. We need to stop looking for them. Trust me, if one appears, I doubt they'll go unnoticed.

Until then, we need young players with guts and determination. No one over the age of 25 should be debut for the Australian side in the next few years. The selectors, if they had brains and balls, would be scouring the state sides for the young kids who'd go out to bat without a helmet, or even a bat (or box) come to think of it, just for a chance to play. They're the future; not some well-padded thirty-two year old making big scores against (or for) Tasmania.

We are a second rate cricketing nation right now, and we need to accept it. When we see ourselves as the underdog once more, the spark and spirit that made the success for Border, Boon and others taste so very sweet will return.

I for one look forward to it. So, to any Pommy bastards reading this; we're coming for you. In 2017....

12 December 2010

Wikileaks Pt II - The Revision of Perception

The other day I published a short and fairly glib response to the Julian Assange/Wikileaks situation. It was, to be honest with you, ill-thought-through. If you normally access this blog via facebook, then I encourage you to detour to the actual site, and read the response posted in comment on my blog by this site's co-founder. It's a brilliant piece of writing that deserves your attention. I for one am glad he posted it, and grateful that he was as forgiving of my rather pithy ramblings as he was.

In any event, he got me thinking a bit more deeply about what Assange has done, and what his (and the actions of Wikileaks) have revealed about the state of journalism in 2010. As the co-founder of this site pointed out, it does not make for comfortable thinking. In fact, it goes some way towards explaining - if not excusing - my rather limited perception of what Assange has achieved up to this point. I made the comment that what he'd released so far amounted to little more than banal gossip. As was pointed out to me, this is patently untrue. His site has revealed considerable events of the distortion and/or suppression of information - by Governments, Government Agencies and Corporations - on a worryingly grand scale. Whether the topic be global conflict or global warming, Assange's site has revealed that, unsurprisingly, I suppose, those with power and vested interests did not present pictures that cast them in unflattering lights. And that they have gone - and continue to go - to considerable and highly immoral lengths to achieve their ends.

I didn't realise this. I should have. Why? Because I was largely basing my assessment of what Assange had released on what I was encountering in traditional media. I really ought to have spotted the flaw in the logic of my actions sooner than I did. It stands to reason that established media organisations are likely to under-reprensent (or flagrantly misrepresent) the significance of Assange's achievements, as his site has really cast their efforts in an extremely poor light. Whether it be by design, incompetence, malaise or collusion, contemporary media outlets either not had access to - or simply chosen not to report the kinds of information that Assange has posted, because they have a vested interest in not doing so. So, naturally enough, I suppose, when acting as microphones for his (Assange's) work, they have tend to focus of sensational and salacious, rather than the significant and substantial, which sadly continues to portray them - including sites I value - as treating the pubic interest that many of those same media bodies purport to represent as utterly secondary to continuing to maintain for themselves the illusion of relevance. Assange has thrown all of their actions into disrepute, if you look closely enough. I'm ashamed to say that I did not. Until now.

This not to say that I still don't have concerns about Assange and his site; I still do. I worry that if Assange is given the chance to become an even more powerful figure, he, like so many who attain power, will lose his judgement and moral compass. I worry that other sites like his will arrise, and that they will not be so discerning in what they choose to publish. I worry that individuals will go to disturbing and illegal lengths - at grave risk to themselves and others - to find or access the information they believe necessary for Wikileaks to publish. But are these worries of a size or scope significant enough for me to hope Assange and his colleagues stop doing what they are doing? They certainly are not.

All organisations which eventually reach a point whereby their size and significant sews them into the societal fabric lose the essence of whatever it is they once were. From a journalistic point of view, this is far, far more troubling than it appears, and appears to be terrible. Consider the twin examples of Kerry O'Brien and Bill O'Reilly.

Kerry's wonderful career on the 7:30 Report has just come to an end. (A more fulsome tribute will appear in the coming days.) He has, in my humble opinion, exemplified the very best of what traditional journalism has to offer. O'Brien used his position and integrity to explore topics of considerable relevance to Australians, and to conduct probing and insightful interviews with whomever he spoke. From Barack Obama to Barry Humphries, all were worth hearing. I liked the man, I admired him, and most importantly, I trusted him.

Kerry makes a great case for the journalism that can exist from within traditional media. Bill O'Reilly does not. If you've never heard the incendiary ramblings of this right-wing lunatic, consider yourself fortunate, because his self-important and prejudicial lies are more damaging to the global environment than the introduction of lead to petrol. But his bullshit is an expeditious example to cite if one's goal is to challenge the veracity of corporate or institutionalised media.

Wikileaks bypasses this machine, and presents information to people. This is not to say it is indiscriminate with its material and that it bypasses journalism itself. The site has journalists, and it has good ones. In an interview with Tony Jones on Lateline, Assange proudly defended the fact that Wikileaks has a record of one hundred percent accuracy when it comes to publishes stories of substance. There is isn't another media outlet on the planet that comes close to this. Also, some media organisations (The Guardian, The New York Times) have actively worked with Assange and Wikileaks to present information. Exactly what kind of ground this puts these organisation on remains to be seen. Is it is validation of established media? It's too early to say.

As such, it is all more infuriating that Assange is being given the treatment that he his by politicians. Initially, I thought Julia Gillard's comments about the "illegality" of his actions were just plain stupid; now I think they are systemic of a much bigger problem. It really does seem as though the old age about the corruptive influence of power is utterly, utterly indiscrimiate. No matter who or what you are, you will use your power first and foremost to preserve yourself. To be honest, this flies in face of what I've always liked to believe about people, but there it is. I've admired Barack Obama for some time, but I find his recent comments about the "deplorable" actions of Assange and Wikileaks extremely disappointing. I expected that kind of reactionary rubbish from the penguin-brained Sarah Palin, but I expected more from Obama. There is time for sage politicians to wise up to the wind of change, but not much, I don't think. At least, I hope not.

Societies have always ebbed and flowed in terms of their internal balances of power, steered by the ethics of the few; powered by the ethics of the many. Assange's site has the potential to bring about considerable global change. But it also has the potential to change very little, other than our perceptions. All organisations are flawed, more flawed perhaps that we - the normal citizens - would like to believe, in our quest to go about our daily lives. I suppose there have always been horrific global injustices to which one must need turn a blind eye if one wishes to go about life untroubled. We've become remarkably adept at ignoring the suffering of others, at least once it's been presented to us in palatable chunks on the evening news, and sandwiched between stories about fashion and vandalism. And we've long told ourselves that our politicians have lied to us. I wonder if, as the proof of this begins to mount, if we're going to let them get away it. I also wonder if, in a world so riddled with corruptive forces, that there is actually a viable alternative. It'd be a terrible shame if, in the end, all Assange manages to achieve it to remove the veneer of civility and integrity from our perception of global events.

But how much have we a right to expect from our media and our journalists? I think Assange has pointed out that we have a right to expect more, but I think he's also reminded us that an active and engaged citizenry must expect more of itself. Assange has thrown down quite the challenge. I hope we have the stamina and stomach for it.

They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. I wonder. In any event, I think the world of journalism may very well be about to go supernova. That's an awful lot of disinfectant. But it's not a case of "let's see what happens next"; because we are a part of what happens next.

I for one won't be taking anything for granted.

09 December 2010

Lateralist Leaks - A Welsh Inquisition

Well, not that Welsh, although talk of leaks always stirs thoughts of Roland Rat for me. Ah, Roland, you were the most endearing of vermin.

Certainly more endearing than some of the rabid comments being tossed about in response to the actions of Julian Assange. I for one have taken some time to weigh up my thoughts about what he's done, and more importantly, its possible ramifications.

Whether or not Assange has broken any laws is for the Courts to decide. I'm not particularly interested in the rape allegations against him; not because I don't regard such allegations as serious, but because they ought to have no bearing on considering his wikileaks actions. Whether or not there is a link between the two is going to receive considerably more attention from conspiracy theorists than it is going to get from me.

Assange has certainly put a number of noses out of joint by revealing the information that he had. Red-Faced politicians and diplomats don't really concern me. And in truth, the sum total of Assange's recently published revelations amounts to little more than tabloid-level gossip. It is, of itself, really rather banal.

But the precedent he may have set could be something else entirely. It's one thing to reveal a US Diplomat's less than glowing characterisation of Kevin Rudd or Vladimir Putin. They'll get annoyed, and bluster a bit, but not much else. But it could be quite something else to reveal, for example, that the US Secretary of State has stated her belief that Kim Jong-Il is a fat pansy with Mother issues. Something like that might very well put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Up until now, Assange has either exercised some prudent restraint in what he's chosen to publish, or he's simply not had that much of substance to reveal. I think the real reason many Governments (but particularly the US Government) are so up in arms, is due to the fact that a failure to appear any less than extremely irked by what Assange has done might very well invite others to go one step further, and in the name of freedom of information, reveal all, and let the chips fall where they may.

Ironically, an unwarranted attack on Assange might such provoke the very reaction that the US would be wise to guard against; retribution. The US has a rather shameful history of trumpeting the freedom of speech, whilst exercising extremely careful (and utterly censorious) control of information. Information is power, and when a bloke like Assange publishes US Diplomatic cables, then US Diplomatic power is weakened. I honestly don't know whether this a good thing or a bad thing. I know that there are better things that an all-powerful nation that can control the affairs of other nations, but I also know that there are worse things, too. And actually, these documents have done quite an impressive job of revealing just how impotent US Diplomatic relations can be. Again, I'm not sure that this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

I do know that Assange needs to be tried if there is a case to be brought against him. I also know that he deserves the full support of the Australian Government, no matter what his fate. He is an Australian citizen, and Julia Gillard thoroughly deserves to be taken to task for her ridiculous allegations of illegality on his part. That she's back-tracked only reinforces a fairly negative - and increasingly negative - perception of her political acumen, in that when called upon to think or act without the act of an internal poll, she's about as sure of herself as an amnesiac.

Assange may very well have acted irresponsibly; many people do. But crime is a very different thing. It remains to be seen to what extent the US - and other nations - will attempt to re-draw the criminal boundaries in order to snag Assange, and deter others from following his lead.

They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. I wonder how a supernova compares. Because right now, the machinations and minutae of international diplomacy are under a very, very bright light. I'm not sure what's the worse case scenario; the revelation of something awful, or the revelation that there's nothing of substance there at all.

Either way, it remains to be seen.