Passing Bull 147 – Bull about freedom and religion

 

Israel Folau is a champion footballer.  He has played in three codes.  He has a Pacific Island background.  He also has Christian views of a fundamentalist kind.  He is, I think, a Mormon.  When asked on social media what were God’s plans for gays, Israel said that unless they repent their sins, their plan is hell.

Many people cannot tolerate the idea of a God who could subject people to eternal agony.  That happens to be my view.  Hell is simply not negotiable for me.  And it only gets worse if people say you might be blasted in eternal fires if you are born to people of the wrong faith or if you are gay.

It is one thing to say that being gay is a sin; it is another thing to say that you must go to hell for that sin – unless you repent, and do so according to the rites of the right faith.  For many people – including me – that proposition is a double dose of religious intolerance and cruelty.  It is a reminder of the savage dogma that saw people burnt at the stake, and which gives religion generally a bad name.  Rightly or wrongly, many people would strongly resent these views of Israel Folau.  His position could only cement their views on the dangers of religious intolerance.

Those running rugby here were put in a terrible position.  They cannot be seen to discriminate against any minority on a ground such as this.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for business to remain morally neutral.  The provisions in the contracts of most professional sports people will bear on their capacity to earn their livelihood if they are found to have acted in a way that brings their sport into disrepute.  For one footballer to discriminate publicly against another on the ground of race, religion or sexuality is, in Australia in 2018, likely to be found to have just that effect.  I am not aware of any law that trenches upon the freedom of parties to contract in those terms.  It follows that, depending on the terms of his contract, Israel may be found to have acted in breach of that contract, and therefore unlawfully, by saying what he did, and in denigrating gay people by so doing.  No sane person wants to go to hell.

It does not help that the CEO of the game’s major sponsor here is gay.  Nor does it help that the religious fervour of Israel apparently precludes him from backing down on public utterances on this subject.  The administrators are not seeking to compel Israel to do something against his faith – by, say, playing sport or earning a living on the Sabbath.  All they ask is that he freely abstains from a course of conduct that no one says is mandatory.  It escapes me how his faith could forbid him to elect to follow that course.  Is he not a free man?  Or is he saddled with all the lack of tact and savoir faire of a black, male Cordelia?

This kind of scrum is blood to a tiger for some on Sky or the Murdoch press.  They say that Israel’s freedom of speech is in issue.  That is silly.  No one is suggesting that Israel broke any law having the sanction of the general law.  But neither can anyone suggest that in speaking publicly on a matter of controversy, Israel should be free of the moral, social or political consequence of his actions.  I may or may not be legally free to say that Hitler didn’t go far enough with the Jews, or that Mormons are either fakes or dupes, or that Pacific Islanders are dangerous religious bigots, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to face the other consequences that flow from my choice of words and my decision to speak out.  Freedom of speech in this context means my right to say what I like without having to face the sanction of the general law.  It does not give me any immunity from consequences that are not imposed by the operation of the law.

Here are some extracts from Jennifer Oriel in The Australian, 23 April 2018, under the heading ‘Freedom of Speech Supports Israel Folau’s Love of God.’

Israel Folau is a Christian — not the PC kind. He is the embodiment of modern Christianity; young, black and evangelical. The furore over Folau’s decision to cite the Bible in response to a question about God reveals the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism. It raises the question of whether religious freedom is valued or even understood as a substantive right.

Does faith have a future in Australian life, or will Christians be resigned to the closet?

There is no freedom of religion unless there is freedom to exercise it.  The question put to Folau on Instagram was explicitly religious and demanded an answer from Biblical scripture….

Folau has been subjected to abuse, slander and threats of unemployment for paraphrasing scripture, despite the fact he was asked about it.

Some journalists have suggested that sponsors withdraw funding to punish his dissent. ….Others have emphasised a golden opportunity for Rugby Australia to enact vengeance; Folau’s contract is up for renewal. The most curious opinion is that Folau should not profess Christian beliefs on social media even when asked about Christian beliefs on social media.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, former rugby player Tim Horan offered support for Folau’s freedom of speech, but ‘not on social media’. Instead, he contended that such views are better confined to a backyard barbecue because: ‘You are paid for by Rugby Australia … via sponsors and I think you have an obligation to those sponsors.’  It is a flawed argument. The basis of free speech as a right and principle of Western civilisation is the exercise of speech to empower the flourishing of public reason…..

But some sponsors jumped on the PC bandwagon to condemn Folau. The worst of them hid behind a shield of anonymity while attacking him in the press — a coward’s punch…..

Criticisms of Folau as prejudiced or too outspoken fail the test of reason. He didn’t stop play and shout out ‘hell to gays’ in the middle of a match. He responded to an explicit question about the word of God on the question of homosexuality. And he responded by referring to the Bible. If you ask what God’s plan is, be prepared for the answer…..

Those who oppose Folau’s right to cite scripture are advocating censorship of the Bible.

It’s not quite as dramatic as book burning, but the principle is the same.

You might not believe in the Bible. You might not believe in God. …..Ask yourself whether the history of state atheism enforced by totalitarian regimes is the future you want for Australia.

I have dealt with the freedom of speech point.  Israel was free to speak as he did.  Others, including unhappy sponsors and administrators, were free to respond as they did.  The references to censorship and book burning are almost obligatory for people who share Ms Oriel’s views, and they are downright silly.  Mr Horan’s view looks very reasonable – no one is asking Israel to go against or even to forego his faith.  They merely ask that he abstain from any public expression of dogma – that is very far from being shared across the spectrum of Christianity – in a way that will bring difficulty and possible financial loss to those who pay his very, very large salary.  The dispute has nothing to do with ‘empowering the flourishing of public reason.’  The final sentence could most politely be described as hysterical.

There are two other points.  Ms Oriel suggests – she mentions it four times – that it is significant that Israel expressed his views in answer to a question.  On no view did Israel have to say anything.  What difference does it make if I praise Hitler in the course of my own discussion or in response to a question?  If I may refer to Scripture, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, but if ever I said that I had acted in response to what someone had said to me, the answer of my mum was : ‘If they had suggested that you put your head in the oven, would you have done that?’

Would it make any difference if I advocated Sharia Law, or said that it was ordained by Allah, in the course of a dissertation or in response to a question?  Would Ms Oriel’s commitment to freedom of speech and religion commit her to defending a Muslim whose views are as fundamentalist, and provocative, as those of Israel?  It is a simple non sequitur to argue that those who object to Israel’s views are trying to impede his religious freedom.  They are objecting to his seeking to ram his dogma down their throats, and as far as I know they may do so on the footing that his conduct may damage the social fabric, just as it may cause others commercial harm.  When Ms Oriel refers to ‘the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism’, she may be forgetting how much of her time is absorbed in blacking Islam and those who choose to follow that faith.  In the 50’s, people of Ms Oriel’s ilk found a Red under every bed.  Now, it’s a jihadi.  How can this sectarian loathing do anyone any good?

Finally, there is the mandatory reference to PC.  If being PC means being reluctant to show your love of God by smearing those who have a different view to you about religion or sexuality, then the more we see of it, the better we will be.  Even God may come out of it all smelling better.

Bloopers

At roughly the same time, Mr Hannity, on his radio show, said it was strange to see his name appearing on Fox News and wondered aloud if he should release a statement.

Just before 4 p.m., he posted a message on Twitter: ‘Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.’

In a follow-up tweet, Mr Hannity added, ‘I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.’

New York Times, 17 April, 2018

The phrase ‘I never retained him’ is a legal conclusion, but if it is right, Mr Cohen has claimed a privilege that is not there.

***

Morrison said Friday’s announcement on penalties ‘had a very long gestational period’ dating back to the financial services inquiry in the first term of government.

‘The fact that we can stand before you today and announce the outcome of this long period of work demonstrates that we have been working on this for a very long period of time, and working sequentially through the issues that need to be addressed,’ the treasurer said.

‘We have not moved into any area here lightly.’

He suggested the government had resisted calls for the royal commission before establishing one last year on the same rationale. ‘You must act carefully in this area.’

The Guardian, 23 April, 2018

In some circles the word ‘sorry’ does not exist.  Just more bullshit.

Here and there – Time’s up for sledging

 

Cricket was once said to be a game for gentlemen.  There are two parts to that proposition.  First, cricket is a game.  A game is something that you play.  The full OED definition is: ‘A diversion of the nature of a contest, played according to rules, and decided by superior skill, strength or good fortune.’  The relevant definition of ‘gentleman’ is quaint: ‘A man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings.’  It may be simpler to say what a gentleman is not – a cheat, or a bully, or a lout.

It is not surprising, then, that the Laws of Cricket – they are big on upper case – say that ‘The umpires shall act upon any unacceptable conduct’.

If you were playing a game of golf and your opponent sought to put you off your game by insulting you or trying to intimidate you, you might think you were playing with a cheat, or a bully, or a lout.  (And the hardest insult to survive is that you cheat at golf.)  You would certainly know that you were not playing against a gentleman – or a lady.  And you would also certainly have known that this conduct was unacceptable.

You might then be surprised to learn that at the highest levels of cricket, umpires do not think a player who seeks to put another player off his game by insulting or trying to intimidate him is engaging in unacceptable conduct.  That conduct is called ‘sledging’ and umpires have tolerated it.  So have I – but no longer.  I will just turn the cricket off if they start at it again.

Why?

Attitudes change, but all this looks to me now to be petty, childish, and vulgar – and entirely unacceptable under each heading.  To go back to where we started, cricket is hardly a game at the top level.  Hardly any sport is now at that level.  It is part of an entertainment industry that gets more vulgar by the day – as a matter of commercial policy. Those running cricket have deliberately sought to popularise it to raise more money.  The financial motivation of the entertainment industry has debased the game of cricket.  With that debasement has come an acceptance of what we should plainly see as misconduct.  My sense is that most people who care about cricket, or having people represent their country, have had enough of sledging.

Certainly, one thing that people are utterly sick of is this talk about ‘crossing the line.’  At least two propositions are entailed – first, that some criteria exist to allow the line to be defined; secondly, that players will be able to identify that line and avoid crossing it.

I have trouble with each of those propositions.  We are solemnly told that there is a line between, say, ‘You’re as weak as piss’ or ‘I can see the brown stain starting’ and ‘Your mother’s a tart’ or ‘Your wife has a colourful history.’  ‘You black bastard’ is on any view out of bounds.  I’m not sure where ‘You fucking sook’ or ‘We’ll break your fucking arm’ stands.  Neither, you may be sure, are the players.

Presumably, that line turns on something as nebulous as taste.  Courtesy can’t come into it because the exercise in all cases involves trying to put someone off their game by insulting them.  There is in truth no satisfactory intellectual or moral basis for drawing any such line.  Too many players are incapable of seeing or adhering to such a line.  If I am right on that, the only answer is a blanket ban on sledging.

May I mention three related points?

First, it’s about two generations since parents could tell their children to emulate their sporting heroes, but that is no reason to tolerate forms of misconduct that can only serve to mislead or coarsen our youth.

Secondly, the behaviour of some of our cricketers is getting uncomfortably close to the truly scandalous behaviour of our tennis players.  I got turned off tennis about thirty years ago.  McEnroe misbehaved to obtain an advantage.  That’s called cheating – or bullying.  Too many tennis players are what were called ‘bad sports.’  We can’t afford to let cricket go there.

Thirdly, and perhaps most worryingly, some people want to defend sledging as being in some way tied to the way Australians play cricket.  In its customarily anaemic style, Cricket Australia said: ‘Australia has always prided it itself on taking a highly competitive approach to international cricket.’  That’s obviously bullshit.  Aren’t the English, Indians or South Africans highly competitive?  But it’s worse than bullshit.  It’s an appeal to nationalist instincts in the context of an appeal to pride.  We are in the realm of the last refuge of the scoundrel.  In truth it’s worse than that.  We have relapsed into the era of the macho Marlboro man.  And as my old man said, the Marlboro man went out with hessian drawers.  It’s revolting to see grown men behaving like that now.  It’s as bad as Donald saying that his button is bigger than Kim’s.

One of the tragedies of our sport is that too many of us don’t get to follow our national team in footy.  I happen to follow an NRL club.  I take an interest in Origin games.  And I take a real interest when the Australian side gets an outing against New Zealand or England.  It’s not the same as a rugby union test, but it is a test match.  And when Cameron Smith and Jonathon Thurston come out in my colours they carry my pride and trust.  Boy, do they ever.  They, and other Kangaroos, doubtless indulge in what’s called gamesmanship, but I don’t see or hear of the coarseness that some of our cricketers show – and that’s in a sport that is as rough and tough and down-market as you can get.  The Australian cricketers no longer carry my pride or trust.  And if you know anything about footy here, that means our cricketers have a real problem.

Our coach has failed to set the right tone.  He should go.  The captain is weak; he needs to grow up and be firmly told that he is not a shop steward to represent the comrades, but the captain of a national team that wears our colours and purports to represent all of us.  The vice-captain has so much form that he should be fired from that position and be given some time to be at home with his Lamborghini.  The piddling penalties handed out suggest that the game is now being run by the players.  Cricket Australia is responsible for this.  They were utterly gutless in allowing Indian money and caste to run over them when the Indians thought it was OK to sledge one of our players of colour as a monkey.  Cricket Australia needs a new CEO.

The time may have passed when cricket was a game played by gentlemen, but at the rate we pay these spoiled brats, they could at least try to feign some manners.  Otherwise, our only remedy is to turn them off while they falsely wear our colours.  Cricket Australia can tart up and trivialise either form of the pyjama game as much as they like.  But in the only real game – test cricket – our players are claiming to represent us as a nation, and it’s time that they learned again how to do so decently.

Finally, can anyone imagine Victor Trumper being so crude?  Of course not – and Trumper was and is our hero and our idol.

Passing Bull 122 – All the President’s sportsmen

 

Most of the wording of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is downright silly.  The suggestion that ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave’ still makes many people nervous, but everyone knows of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’.  Sadly, the President of the United States gets angry when brave Americans use their freedom to seek to make their land a better home.

At major sporting events in the U S, it is customary for players and spectators to stand during the national anthem.  Some players have kneeled to protest against crimes allegedly committed by government agents against African Americans.  President Trump says that these people are not respecting the flag, the anthem, or the nation.  He goes further and he says – in typically coarse and disrespectful terms – that the protesters should be fired.  Trump’s supporters – who love these live TV shows – lapped it all up.  So, of course, did Trump.

Now, you don’t disrespect or insult a flag or an anthem –one’s a piece of cloth, and the other is a song.  A nation is a group of people.  You don’t disrespect or insult a whole group of people by failing to adhere to one of their customs of courtesy – unless those people are mightily sensitive.  What Mr Trump must be saying is that by making this gesture, these players are disrespecting or insulting what America stands for.  Turning your back, say, on the anthem may be like burning the flag.

What, then, does America stand for?  It is stated in terms engraved on many hearts, and not just in America.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The question then is: are these players showing disrespect or insulting what America stands for by exercising a constitutional right to protest against those in government in an effort to make America better for ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’?  The very idea is surely absurd.

That’s the first point.  The next point is that these players and their employers will be legally bound by contracts that are probably much longer than the U S Constitution.  Those contracts may or may not give rights of termination for some kinds of ‘conduct unbecoming.’

I don’t know, and I don’t know what prospect there would be of an American judge or jury holding that dropping a knee in protest during the national anthem constitutes a breach of contract.  And I don’t know if such a court might hold that such a breach might entitle the employer to terminate the contract and deprive the player of his livelihood.  I would be surprised, but I don’t know.  Nor does the President.

As matters stand, then, the President may well be guilty of attempting to induce a breach of contract.  Presidents shouldn’t do that.  And quite apart from the law, there may be a real question about how much football got to be played in the weeks after an employer fired one of these players for bending his knee.

Then, some nations make it an offence against the law to insult the nation.  Examples are Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia, or – God help us – North Korea.  They are not regimes that we admire.  Could the U S ever do this?  Never – America, you will recall, is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’.

Some of these difficulties were apparent in the weird White House scattergun defence of the President.  There is a First Amendment right of free speech, but the White House has said variously that the players can’t exercise it at a place of public entertainment, such as a football game, and that they can be fired for exercising that right.

Finally, we again see this President of the United States hell-bent on causing disunity among Americans.  For whatever reason, he is addicted to conflict, and, so sadly, to conflict with Americans that he manifestly regards as inferior to himself.  He is assisted in this course by his accomplices in the media who live of the earnings of conflict.  They couldn’t give a hoot about matters of principle.  They are just there for the dollar.  Trump couldn’t care less either, because he is just there for Trump.

The worrying thing is that as we go from outrage to outrage, and Trump keeps finding it impossible to do something positive, he looks more and more desperate – and more and more at home with his own desperation.  Have things ever been worse in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’?

This isn’t just bullshit.  It is venom.

Poet of the month: Emily Dickinson

How firm Eternity must look

To crumbling men like me

The only Adamant Estate In all Identity –

How mighty to the insecure

Thy Physiognomy

To whom not any Face cohere –

Unless concealed in thee.

Dogs, Swans, Storm boys and Grand Finals

 

This note is dedicated to my counsel, a true son of South.

It was soon after we moved to Rosedale Road, Glen Iris that I started following Melbourne.  I can’t recall where we lived before that, so I think that we moved there in about 1950.  (I can recall wanting to chisel a ‘D’ before the 24 etched into the concrete driveway: D 24 was the call sign for Police H Q, at least on radio programs.)

Neither Mac nor Norma then had any interest at all in football.  As best as I can recall, I selected Melbourne for the sound patriotic reason that it was the capital city.  My first Melbourne jumper had number 1 – Dennis Cordner, whose house in Ashburton a few of us walked around to one morning.  (Cordner was Demons royalty – even Mac looked up to him.)  Every other kid in the street, or in the school ground at Glen Iris State School, wore a Collingwood jumper or an Essendon jumper with number 10 on the back.

Some people spoke of Coleman with the same kind of soft awe as when they spoke of Bradman.  I can recall Norma taking me to the MCG to see the Lightning Premiership just so that I could see Coleman play.  (The alternative, I suppose, may have been the odd newsreel and Hopalong Cassidy at the flicks before the Saturday matinee.)  I can also recall both Mac and Norma taking me to the Southern Stand to see Typhoon Tyson run through an Australian side that I think included Keith Miller.  It was about then that I started to fret – was it worse for Australia to lose to England or for Melbourne to lose to Collingwood?  This was an agonising moral question.  It still troubles me occasionally.

My interest in Melbourne was for some time confined to listening to the games on the radio, or the wireless as we sometimes called it then.  You could hear the footy or the races on the radio as you walked past people edging their nature strips besides burning autumn leaves, the harbinger of footy – just as the longer and warmer days told you that the season was ending.  It was good to align rituals with seasons.

The footy was a lot more regular and homely then.  We got to know and respond to every ground – and, later, what pubs best serviced them.  And the games only ever started at one time.  Night footy was decades away; Sundays would be reserved for the irreligious VFA, and cast-offs from barbecues who tuned in to the VFA of the day for the fights.

Each ground had its charm – or lack of it.  The Lakeside oval at South Melbourne was a great venue – it was a place where people played footy, not a temple to Mammon and press barons.  You could confidently expect to hear the umpire addressed as ‘You bludger!’  (My mate George spent a match hearing the umpire addressed as ‘You Hitler bludger!)

Lakeside has a lot of memories, but now I only get to it for the Grand Prix.  During the height of our secular conflict in 1952, a Methodist preacher got heavy raspberries for addressing the crowd.  Well, it was after all Saturday, not Sunday.  He appealed to common decency.  ‘After all, we are all Christians.’  ‘What about the bloody umpire?’

I have a clear recollection of listening to radio talk shows on Saturday evening – as I recall, the London Stores Show and the Pelaco Inquest – and on Sunday morning – I think H V Varley, who made trousers.  Some of the commentators were, I think, Baron Ruthven, Skeeter Coghlan, Chicken Smallhorn, and Butch Gale.  I would listen to their discussion spellbound by the radio beside my bed.  Later I would acquire the habit of buying The Sporting Globe (‘the pink comic’) when the Demons won.  I think that the name the Redlegs was used as much as the name the Demons back then.  For forty or so years, the Sunday roast at East Brighton (and others would not let you drop the qualifier) would be dominated by World of Sport on Channel 7, a definitively Melbourne ritual.  Even Liza, Norma’s mum, took some interest, although of course the roast was had in the laminated kitchen, in a house that we pretended had not started life in the Housing Commission.

I can recall paying a game of school footy at Gardiner’s Creek, Glen Iris when Jim Cardwell, the secretary or manager of the MFC, came waddling down the slope and handed out membership tickets to those in Demons jumpers – including me.  I was then well and truly locked in.  I think this was about 1953.

Norma’s sister lived in Elsternwick on Williams Road opposite Rippon Lea, the last house before the railway bridge, squeezed in like a triangulated sardine can.  The whole place rattled whenever a train passed, and it always had a dank and off-putting odour for me.

My cousins John and Roger barracked for South Melbourne.  That seemed to me to go with the depressed condition of the house.  I can recall the respect that they held Smokey Clegg in, but the glory days of South were long behind them, while the Demons were about to come into their own time of glory when between 1955 and 1964 they won six premierships.

I felt very sorry for South and John and Roger – my instinct is still to refer to Sydney as ‘South’.  I also felt somehow guilty.  I can recall Melbourne beating them after they, the Demons, had been five goals behind at the start of time-on.  I would think back on that when Leo Barry took that mark to secure a flag for the Swans about five decades later.

I only saw two of those Melbourne premiership wins – 1956 and 1964 – but on a good day I could still now reel off the names of a few of the main players.  Of course that whole era was, at least for Melbourne supporters, dominated by Ron Barassi.  He was a wonderful specimen of humanity, a wicked enthusiast and a magical figure who just attracted all eyes whenever he got near the ball.  After he left Melbourne, I would have to wait for about 40 years till I saw someone playing for my team who had anything like the same magnetic power of attraction.  That would be Billy Slater playing for the Melbourne Storm.

I certainly did not see the 1954 grand final in which Footscray, the Bulldogs, comfortably beat Melbourne.  It was one of those games featuring Barassi and the great Ted Whitten.  I can barely recall listening to the game, but I can clearly recall being accused of spending some part of the afternoon throwing bricks at the chooks of the family next door.  (My bedroom window overlooked their outside dunny – from which young Betty, as I will call her, would look up and flash it.)  I can’t remember much about the game, except that people were excited that the Bulldogs had at last won their first flag.  And apparently, the chooks next door were not happy.  (I have since seen a homemade film of the game with a phantom call by Ted Whitten.)

They were very different times then.  Some years ago I heard a radio interview with the guy who played fullback for the Bulldogs that day.  I think his name was Herb Henderson.  He was an apprentice butcher and he duly put in his Saturday morning shift on Grand Final day.  He then went home to Thornbury to get his gear – and probably put it in one of those little TAA plastic bags – before driving to the MCG for the game.  When he got there, he found that he’d left his boots at home.  So he asked the man in the blue coat in the car park – do you remember the men in the blue coats? – to look after his spot while he went back to Thornbury to get his boots.  He said that he made it back just in time to hear the end of Charlie Sutton’s pre-match address.  Charlie was a robust captain coach who, I think, would now be called an on-baller.  One version of that address that I have heard has Charlie saying: ‘You fellas look after the ball; I’ll look after the other stuff.’  And Charlie bloody well did, with the consequences that I have referred to.  Well, we won’t see much of that this Saturday.  Some of us might regret that.

I can remember being at the 1956 Grand Final – at least I think it was 1956, the year that we had the Olympic Games.  The crowd was huge – they were on the roof, and I think in part over the fence.  The record shows the crowd was 115, 000, but there were ugly scenes as 20,000 got turned away.  I’ve forgotten who I was with, but I was in front of the old scoreboard, on the terrace.  I wanted to go to the dunny and I went down in front of that parapet – and I then got lifted up off my feet in the crush.  It was terrifying.  Mercifully, a bloke reached over the parapet and pulled me out of the crush and suggested that I go back to where I had come from and just sit on it – while standing up.  Well we won, and it was against Collingwood.

The Melbourne v Collingwood rivalry was a kind of class war that got more and more stupid as the Smokers got more and more plebeian and the Pies got more and more drenched in white collars.  But it took off one day when Bluey Adams came on as nineteenth man, spotted someone in black and white, made a bee-line for him, and cleaned him up.  A mate of mine swears that he can still hear the sweet crunching sound of Noel McMahon running through Bobby Rose, and watching him leave the ground on a stretcher before a quieter Collingwood crowd.  Their revenge came in 1958 when they denied the Demons their fourth consecutive flag.  Mac, who never saw a game, said that Hooker Harrison had got Barassi in.  That may not have been too hard, but what would Mac know?

I saw Melbourne beat Collingwood in 1964.  We had thrashed them in the semi-final and I was extremely nervous about the rematch.  I was to sit with my mother, but I went with my mate John Burns to see the two preliminary games.  We knocked over some tall boys to soothe our nerves.  (Do you remember those anodised aluminium drinking cups that came in pigskin pouches that were handed out at 21sts?)  We were standing right behind the Punt Road goal, and the seats for Norma and me were right behind that goal about six rows back.

I therefore had a perfect view of the two extraordinary goals of Ray Gabelich.  The first he just grabbed out of the air from, I think, a throw in and got his boot to it as he was being dragged to the ground; the second he ran for about 100 yards and kept fumbling the ball until he finally got to the goal square and put it through.  There was mass hysteria of Nuremberg proportions.  Then I think it was Hassa Mann who got the ball to Neil Crompton (the Frog), who had followed his rover down the field from the back pocket, and who lined up from about 45 yards and put it through.  I had a perfect view of that one too.  The crowd was even more insane, and Burns said that from where he was standing, he feared that I might levitate.  The Frog was a very good footballer and cricketer (for Victoria), but people only ever wanted to talk about that goal.

The next year the most insanely stupid administration in the history of sport sacked the most successful coach in the history of VFL football, Norm Smith, and the Demons came under a curse like that of the Boston Red Sox when they let Babe Ruth go.  Our first game after the sacking was at Coburg for some reason.  Phil Gibbs interviewed me for TV.  I said, sagely – ‘there is more to this than meets the eye.’  In truth, it was probably just the arrogance and inanity of Australian sports administrators.  Then Barassi went to Carlton, and we were left, like Cleopatra, with mere boys.  Then Melbourne spent a generation waiting for the return of the Man, and then we found that he was out of miracles for us.

I can recall the day that South (the Swans) made it to the finals for the first time in the living memory of my cousins.  I had to attend two weddings that afternoon, but out of deference to my cousins, I was determined to listen to the game via an earpiece from my little plastic transistor.  I just had to pray that the cord would not come out and impugn a sacred moment.

The first wedding was an Italian one in some indiscriminate suburb that I have forgotten.  A bearded priest in a suspicious looking white gown kept waving us forward.  We kept resisting.  But he kept waving us.  So we moved down near the front.  Then he said – and I can recall this precisely – ‘I will give some of the service in English for the benefit of the white people present.’  The word was ‘white’.  Well, Sport, you magical herald of multiculturalism, one of those bloody white people just wants to listen to the bloody footy.  White people are like that.

We scampered away to the second wedding.  It was a Greek wedding in, I think, East Melbourne, somewhere.  The game was still going, and I still had to fight to listen to it.  As I recall it, this service was rather more mobile, and I can’t recall what language it was given – my interest was elsewhere.

And now looking back, I can’t even recall who bloody well won, or whether Bobby Skilton was playing or not.

In the late 60’s, I went to the outer on a regular basis to watch the Demons take their medicine. I went with John Wardle.  He was doing medicine.  When it came time for him to study at St V’s, we used to look carefully at the three quarter time scores of other games.  If the Pies were getting done, it might get ugly at St V’s casualty that night.  (More than four decades later, I was instructed by Slaters in a big case.  The solicitor had been brought up in Port Adelaide.  He told me that if Port got done, the blinds at home would be pulled down, and the children sent to bed without dinner.)  A lot of that raw tribalism has been dulled by television and money, although you can still find pockets of it west of Broken Hill.

Early in the ‘70s I went with an Irish Mick Carlton mate to watch Carlton in a Grand Final.  (I see that it was 1972.)  We decided to do it in style and go to Vlado’s steakhouse for lunch, and not just some pub.  There were no prices on show.  Big Jack comfortably devoured his mountainous steak.  I got through about half of mine.  Then came the bill.  Disaster!  No credit cards.  We would be short of big cans to stand on at the game!  We stood right up at the back (so I would have a sporting chance of reaching the loo).  There were 112,000 there, and Carlton reversed an earlier result and won.  Big Jack came back to our place very tired and emotional.  It had after all been a big day.  Our hall moved when he did, and he burst into tears when I put on Verdi.  The crowd, he said, sang the Slaves’ Chorus at Verdi’s funeral.

Jack was wont to devour large slices of life, but I have seen other mates reduced to tears by Jussi Bjorling while we communed after yet another Demons’ disaster.  I would say that I have seen three losses for every Melbourne win – I hardly got to go in the glory days.  I can recall John Wardle asking me to put on music of great things beaten, and I can remember a former Olympic rower getting very teary over the great male duet Au fond du temple saint (especially as sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill).

After Barassi left Melbourne as its coach, the Demons made the Grand Final on two occasions.  As was utterly predictable, they were ritually slaughtered in each.  I had made a very smart tactical move before each of those games – for the first, I was at Iguazzu Falls; for the second, I was at Gallipoli.  In each case, the distance was both safe and mollifying.  (My middle name is McPherson, the maiden name of Mac’s mother.  The McPhersons too once made a very smart tactical move.  They were a day late for the battle of Culloden.  They may have forgotten that steam trains had not yet been invented.)

During the ‘80s I tried to ease the pain of Grand Final Day by going to the Old Boys’ breakfast, and then entertaining a select bunch of coudabeens and wannabes for lunch before watching the game live at home.  (Wedge got to the first, but he was immediately put under a life ban when he got home.  Just how he got home is the big question.)  Then we would go the Malvern Hotel.  Before the first of these challenges to decency and medical science, I had spent hours and days compiling a tape of great things beaten.  I still have it – a cassette.  It is a relic of schmalz and kitsch – but it was a good release for us withdrawn Anglo-Saxons.  As well as music, they got Richard Burton and John Gielgud.  The killer was the Maori farewell.  It slays drunks.

But then there was that magical day at the Western Oval in 1987.  If we won and Hawthorn beat Geelong, we would be in our first finals since 1964.  (That does seem a very short drought now.)  The Doggies broke free, and we prayed that they would put us to sleep mercifully.  Then Our Son – the most graceful footballer I’ve seen – rose again.  He did so twice!  We got ahead, Dunstall put Hawthorn in front, and grown men cried – all the way to Young & Jackson’s.  I took my girls to watch the boys in training, and they asked me why I was crying.  ‘Bloody long time between drinks, Girls.’

Then came the apocalypse at the misbegotten and frozen Waverley when an anal Baptist with whistle addiction called out Jimmy Stynes after the bell and then sweetly gave the ball to the only bastard on the ground that could make the distance, and I turned round and saw the faces of the GIs who had entered Belsen.  My mate, now a criminal silk, said he was prepared to do time.  I reflected on the education of my daughters on the subject of the blood feud and the vendetta.  Then I – or Freud, or God – threw a lever in my soul or psyche that ensured that no mere game would ever get so dangerously close to me again.  I think that day comes within the phrase ‘soul-destroying.’  Shit, it was a hard road back home from the end of the bloody earth.  (Imagine going to New Zealand to watch the Wallabies get yet another lacing!)

The Demons got so bad that when the Melbourne Storm was created, I was very glad to attend the first game.  I soon became attracted to the game for a number of reasons – when you followed the Demons, you did not go to see the football, but to enjoy a lunch beforehand, and the AFL, as it had then become, was not minded to give us too many bloody games at home on a Saturday afternoon.  Another reason for the attraction was the ferocious snobbery about League – even in Sydney.

So, I followed the Storm, and I patronised the Greeks in Swan Street before or after the game for that purpose.  My patronage of Salonas became an indispensable part of a civilised existence.  Most of the time I went to the Greeks and the footy on my own.  I took the late Jim Kennon one night.  He left at half time after perceptively noting that they were passing the ball backwards.  I took my mate George, a hopeless Pies addict from the Malvern Hotel.  We had a very good lunch.  The game was awful.  So we went back to the Greeks and had an even better dinner.  The ambulance, in the form of George’s wife, arrived to a scene of mild carnage.

Then there was the sheer bliss of our first flag.  I think this was 1999.  We were down and out at half time, but we came back and won with a penalty try.  And Little Johnnie Howard was there to share the pain, going through one of his preposterous little sportsman phases in a St George jumper.  You can have even money that that is still the only NRL game that Little Johnnie has ever been to.

I have been fortunate to watch players like Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.  Men have taken their sons to the Storm just so that they could say that they had seen Billy Slater.  In his own way, Smith impresses me now as much as Barassi did when I was a boy – he quite possibly has far more impact on the games he plays because of the nature of the role of captain in NRL footy, and because Smith in number 9 is pivotal in either attack or defence.  He is certainly the coolest player in any sport that I have seen since Steve Waugh.  (I would pair the two as captains.)

We have won four flags – you can put to one side that fascist nonsense from those bastards in Sydney who did not appreciate our version of double entry accounting – and the club has persistently rewarded its members and supporters as well as any of them could decently ask for.  My sense is that the only football club in Australia that could match it for coaching and leadership at the moment is Hawthorn.  (As it happens both clubs will lose their current leaders at about the same time.)

So, I will have a split of allegiance between the Bulldogs and South (the Swans) on Saturday.  I will just have to resolve that as best I can, but rather than put the kiss of death on my boys, I will stay silent about what might happen in the game at Sydney on the following day.  The Sharks will be as popular with the crowd as the Doggies will be, but we are used to that up there.  We do after all give Sydney so many reasons to be jealous.  Among other things, we invented the best code of footy on earth.

I will however say this.  The Storm boys are resolved.  The big question is whether I can steel myself to watch the game live, or if I should put on Verdi’s Rigoletto or La Traviata – or perhaps La Forza del Destino! – and sneak a peek at the scoreboard between scenes.  At my age, a man has to look after his heart – even with the benefit of the 1987 by-pass.

And yes, it is 52 years this Saturday since the Frog slotted the sealer; and yes, the Red Sox finally broke free of their curse for selling Babe Ruth; but I have it in my water that it took them a lot longer than 52 bloody years, at least to win a World Series; and yes, even the great Barassi might have to give right of way to the Babe.

Good luck to all who take part in either game.  These games are proper and decent national rites.  Am I still allowed to say that they are tests of manhood?

A salute to the Greatest

I wrote the following about Muhammad Ali some time ago in a history of the twentieth century.

Muhammad Ali (1942-)

As befits a nation of pioneers who put a premium on individual responsibility and community ideals, Americans go for sport in a big way.  It is their national tragedy that instead of rugby or football and cricket, they have their own sports of gridiron and baseball, so that their champions do not compete on an international stage.  That does not stop Americans following their sports with at least the passion and patriotic intensity of the Indians with cricket or African nations in football.  The games they play tell you a lot about Americans.

In June 1902, a guy who ran saloons in Pigtown, Baltimore took his seven year old kid on a trolley-car to a reform school and then left him there. The school was named St Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys.  The kid would stay there until 1914 when he was 19.  By the time he left, his mother was dead.

The kid got training to become a tailor, but he was big on baseball.  His nick-name was the unkind one of Nigger Lips.  Photos show a wide-eyed innocent with thick lips.  He was a fan of Brother Matthias, who gave instruction on baseball on Saturday evenings, and as a big raw-boned kid, he could play.  He could both pitch and hit – left-handed.  Jack Dunn, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, spotted the kid and offered him a contract at $250 a month – primarily for his pitching.  The kid left St Mary’s as the legal ward of two of the Brothers, and with Jack Dunn as his guardian – the abandonment by his own family was complete.

They took off for spring training.  The kid had never been on a train or seen a menu before – he had never seen a professional player, let alone a professional game.  He must have been the most untutored player ever to go up to the Majors.  Dunn’s babies were known as ‘babes’.  Since the kid had got to retain his surname if nothing else from his family, and that name was Ruth, the kid became Babe Ruth, unquestionably the most famous name in all baseball.

Over the next twenty-one years, the Babe changed the game of baseball.  Before him, the game was controlled by pitchers, and batters approached their task tactically, and they tended to hit a flat trajectory.  The Babe was altogether less prosaic.  He introduced the power game, big hitting right up into the crowd.  He saw his role not just in moving men along the bases, but in belting home runs off his own bat.  He took baseball to a whole new level of entertainment, not just with the power of his hitting, but with the power of his presence.

The kid went to the Red Sox but they came to the doom-laden view that they would have to sell the Babe.  They did so at huge expense – an unprecedented sum – to the Yankees.  Now, the Babe was not really a Boston type, but he and New York in the Twenties were just made for each other.  And the city of Boston would pay an appalling price for its failure to come to terms with the Babe.  In what became known as the curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox would not win another World Series that century.

The Yankees won four World Series and seven pennants in the period that the Babe was with them (1920 – 1935).  In his total career he hit 714 home runs, a proposition that would have been laughed at in 1914.  He was the first to break 60 in a season – which he did after apparently being trumped by Lindbergh.  He was called the Sultan of Swat, the Caliph of Clout, or the Wizard of Whack, but he still holds the tenth highest batting average of all time.

Jackie Robinson became an officer in the US Army during World War II.  What awaited him when he got back to the land of the free?  ‘Down the back of the bus with the other niggers.’  Rather than football, Jackie took on baseball as his professional sport.  He had the eye of a natural hitter; he had all the skills for a second base; he was deadly quick at stealing bases, and handy if a shirt-front were needed; and he was determined to win.  In short, he was just the kind of player to build a team around.  Except that in 1947, baseball was rigidly segregated – no formal agreement, just invincible history and unwritten understanding.  There were white leagues and black leagues, and that separatism was just as saluted in the north as in the south.

Jackie Robinson and a man named Branch Rickey cracked the monolith.  They both subscribed to the teaching of the Jewish carpenter, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  They would both be tested on the hard bit – turning the other cheek – in a way that is not asked of most of us.  Rickey was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He told Robinson that he would give him a go in the minors with a view to signing him for a full season with the Dodgers if he was good enough.  He said Robinson would be exposed to hate and abuse, sometimes from his own side, and that he would not be able to answer back.

Rickey had one large portrait in his office – the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.  Rickey was smart as well as brave.  He described his purpose:  ‘First, to win a pennant.  There’s some good coloured players.  The second reason is…it’s right.’

Robinson made the season with the minors satisfactorily.  (In his second at bat, he had rifled it into the crowd.)  When it came time for him to turn out for the Dodgers, every club but one said they were against it, and players in his own team took up a petition to have him excluded.  Other teams threatened to strike.  He was still subject to insult and abuse and death threats on the road, and venomous hate speech on the field.  He kept his part of the deal.  He copped it and he did not answer back.  He had a great season with the bat and a league-leading 29 stolen bases and a momentum – turning base-running style.  He was the first ever Rookie of the Year.  The Dodgers made it to the World Series and forced the Yankees to go to the seventh game.  This Yankee side, with DiMaggio and others, is one of the greatest teams ever, and is the main reason why the Dodgers do not have more to show from their ten years with Robinson.  He was not just a hero for black people, but for all Americans.

Well, what might happen if America got a champion black sportsman who played on the world stage, and who could appeal to coloured people all over the world, and who was prepared to stare down Uncle Sam – and who just happened to be the greatest of all time?

This is how Norman Mailer began his book The Fight:

There is always a shock in seeing him again.  Not live as in television, but standing before you, looking his best.  Then the World’s Greatest Athlete is in danger of being our most beautiful man, and the vocabulary of Camp is doomed to appear.  Women draw an audible breath.  Men look down.  They are reminded again of their lack of worth.  If Ali never opened his mouth to quiver the jellies of public opinion, he would still inspire love and hate.  For he is the Prince of Heaven – so says the silence around his body when he is luminous.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior was born on 17 January 1942 in Louis, Kentucky.  His father painted signs and his mother was a domestic.  They were African Americans descended from slaves.  The baby followed his father in being named after a famous abolitionist.  The former Cassius Clay was a most formidable man, a six-foot-six Kentucky farmer who had commanded troops in the Mexico War.  He inherited a plantation and he later freed his slaves.  For this he received death threats.  ‘For those who have respect for the laws of God, I have this argument.’  He produced a leather-bound bible.  ‘For those who believe in the laws of man, I have this argument.’  He produced the constitution.  ‘And for those who believe in neither the laws of God nor of man, I have this argument.’  He laid down a Bowie knife and two pistols.  Lincoln thought enough of him, or of the Russians, to send him to Russia on government business.  As David Remnick remarks, ‘He maintained his physical courage to the end.  When he was eighty-four, he married a fifteen year old girl.’

Clay grew up to win national Golden Gloves and then gold in the 1960 Olympics at Rome.  He turned pro and was undefeated, but he was not winning friends by his manner of belittling opponents.  He was light on his feet and he was unbelievably fast.  He had height and reach, and he could lean back and then hit his overcommitted opponent with a lethal right jab.  He won the right to challenge Sonny Liston, and the fight was set for 25 February 1964.

Sonny was born into the Mob – the underworld – and he could never get out of it.  He never had a chance.  He had no family to speak of and he knew the inside of the Workhouse.  He was an enforcer for the Mob.  Not many people gave lip to Sonny Liston and lived.  The Mob ran boxing.  A generation of Prohibition gangsters had promoted and fixed fights, charming people like Frenchy DeMange, Frankie Yale, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Boo Boo Hoff, Kid Dropper, Legs Diamond and Dutch Schulz.  You can ask why crooks were attracted to pugs, but they were both on the fringe.

Sonny’s manager was Paul John (‘Frankie’) Carbo, also known on the street as Frank Fortunato, Jimmie the Wop, and Dago Frank.  After being sent to Sing Sing for homicide, he lifted his game to become a hit man for the Brooklyn branch of Murder Inc.  David Remnick says that it took Cassius Clay, still on his way up, to break the grip of the Mob.  That young man found his protection in the Nation of Islam.  Many of his countrymen would have been more relaxed if he had stayed with the Mob – the devil they knew.

Sonny then would frighten the hell out of anyone.  The bookies had Clay at seven to one, which is insane in a two man event, and journalists were plotting the locations of the nearest hospitals.  Many thought that the kid would be killed.  The kid – the Louisville Lip – responded as was his wont now.  He taunted Liston, pulled up outside his house and asked him to step outside, and famously said that he would ‘dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’  He turned the weigh-in into a circus.

At the bell, Liston came out like an enraged bull, but Clay slipped away, and was scoring heavily by the end of the first round.  He buckled Sonny’s knees in the third, and he cut the champion for the first time.  He seemed to be blinded in the fifth, but he came back to belt Sonny in the sixth.  Sonny did not come out for the seventh.  It was a TKO and Clay shouted to the world that he was the greatest ever.  The rematch came after Clay had publicly, and amid great hostility, converted to Islam and changed his name.  It was a sad farce.  Liston copped what the press called the ‘phantom punch’, and the fight was over in less than two minutes.  It looked for all the world as if the fix had gone in and that Sonny had taken a dive.

Ali said that ‘Clay’ was his slave name.  He got offside with millions by taunting his opponents and then being cruel to them by prolonging their punishment.  He then courted more unpopularity by refusing to be drafted for the increasingly looked down on war in Vietnam.  He knew who his enemies were.  ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger.’  In the way of things, it would be this stand that would secure his position in the Pantheon – and in the U S, as well as the rest of the world.  He would later be courted by presidents.

Ali was stripped of his title and locked out of boxing until the Supreme Court eventually set aside his conviction on a fine point of law.  (The black Justice, Thurgood Marshall, did not sit.)  By then, the tide had turned completely on Vietnam and Ali was a living legend for more reasons than one.  But he had lost the best years of his boxing life.  He fought Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who was more in the Liston mould, and he lost his first professional fight.  He would later beat Frazier, but the highpoint of his return, and of his boxing career, came with the fight against George Foreman for the title at downtown Kinshasa, Zaire on 30 October 1974, the Rumble in the Jungle.

There was a book, Mailer’s The Fight, and an Academy Award film, Once Were Kings, made about this contest.  Ali was passed his prime.  And Foreman had a fearful reputation.  He was a frightfully heavy puncher.  He had knocked out both Frazier and Norton in the second round.  Ali responded with his normal verbal barrage and mind games, but in the film, Norman Mailer said that Ali never looked at Foreman’s heavy punching bag – it had been deformed.  No one ever got into the ring with George Foreman after watching him deform the heavy bag.  No one – or hardly anyone – though that Ali had any chance at all.  This was then like the first Liston fight that had taken place more than ten years ago.  Again, people in the know feared for the survival of the outmatched challenger.

This is how Norman Mailer describes their coming together in the ring to get instructions from the referee.

It was the time for each man to extort a measure of fear from the other.  Liston had done it to all his opponents until he met Ali who, when Cassius Clay at the age of twenty-two, glared back at him with all the imperative of his high-destiny guts.  Foreman, in turn, had done it Frazier and then to Norton.  A big look, heavy as death, oppressive as the closing of the door of one’s tomb.

Then something extraordinary happened, something almost unbelievable.  Ali came out in the first round and started to hit Foreman, and hit him hard – with his right hand!  It would be like a right-handed batter or golfer coming out and playing left-handed.  It was downright insulting.  Then as the fight settled down, Ali would just go back on the ropes, hunch up, and absorb flurries of punches.  At first some thought that the fight had been fixed.  But then they saw that most of Foreman’s punches directed at the body were not scoring, but were drowning the energy of the champion.  It was high drama – anyone of those missiles could have landed any other fighter back in the bleachers, but Ali just went back, took the blows, and then eased out and scored.  All the time he was taunting Foreman: ‘Is that all you’ve got?’  It then became apparent that Foreman was tiring.  His punches were either not landing or not hurting.  And Ali was starting to float about him and was pinning him with darts at will.  Then in the eighth, Ali moved in for the kill and it was all over, and the world title was his again.  There was delirium in the crowd, and in front of TV sets all around the world.  Sports fans who have seen the fight and the film many times still move to the front of their seats and hold their breath while they watch it yet again.  It is probably the most watched sporting event ever.

After that, there was The Thriller in Manila with Frazier again, but it was all downhill.  Ali was permitted to go on too long.  This is sadly common with boxers and other sportsmen.  He became a distressingly sad reflection of the wonderful athlete and fighting machine that he had been.  In his advanced age he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and he has had it now for a long time.

But even in that condition, he could move very greatly younger people who came into his presence.  Even in decline he had an aura – as Norman Mailer saw, he could be ‘luminous’ – in a way that could still move people by a curious alchemy, a kind of out of body experience.  Why is that?  Perhaps they just feel somehow that Muhammad Ali was in truth the greatest of all time.

It is a great story, the descendant of slaves beats off the mob, becomes world champion, beats off the government, and wins back his championship, each time against a frightening odds and a terrifying opponent.  For all of his faults and failings – which, for him, like most of us, were formidable – his story is a tribute to the human spirit.  This is why he is held in such awe right around the world.  This is why so many see him as the greatest ever, the greatest ever sportsman and the greatest ever entertainer, the promoters’ final dream, the ultimate crowd pleaser.  He embodies the truth that at least at the top now, professional sportsmen and women have almost nothing to do with sport, and almost everything to do with entertainment, business, and money.  If that means that we have gone from the amateur sportsmen of the Olympic Games of the ancient Greeks to the professional chariot races and gladiators of the decaying and decadent Romans, then that is a lookout for all our mums and dads and others.  Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali have between them consummated that transformation.  The man has been, if nothing else, a mover and a shaker.

Muhammad Ali has a lot in common with the late Maria Callas.  He was, like she was, an entertainer.  They are both seen by many as having been in their time the best ever entertainers of their kind – there is generally seen to have been blue sky between them and the rest.  By the force of their character as much as by the high reach of their technique, they both radically changed the way that the world saw their art – and we should not blush to use that word for Ali was well as for Callas.  And now, in his reflective time at peace, Muhammad Ali might agree with Maria Callas that: ‘There are no short cuts.  There is only discipline, technique, and Mut’.  As the professional coach said in Chariots of Fire, ‘You can’t put in what God left out.’  It is just that some make better use of what they get from God than others do.

Red cards

 

During an AFL game on the weekend, a Port Adelaide player struck a West Coast Eagles player to the rear of the head.  In the year of Our Lord 2016, it was sickening to watch.  A Fox commentator later said that it was a throwback to the 80s.  He was too young to know what happened in the 50s and 60s.  Then we used to smile about these things, but thank God things have changed in the last three generations, and we have grown up.

My views started to change firmly in the early 70s when I heard two coaches of two teams of public-school old boys calmly discussing whether or not they might have to ‘put to sleep’ a player destined for the VFL and one that neither could handle.  If this brutality was happening with amateurs, what might it be like if there was money on the table?  Not long after that, a Collingwood player called Greening suffered very serious injuries when he fell on his head.  The problem with these attacks is often not the original blow but the consequences in the resulting fall to the ground.

The blow on the weekend was struck with the elbow or forearm and it made contact with the back of the head of the victim – in about that area where Philip Hughes was struck and killed.  The victim was not, I think from the replays, in the air at the time of the impact, but he was quite off-balance, with his back turned, in the act of completing a mark, and I think with only one foot on the ground as he was falling toward the earth.  He was carried off in a neck brace with concussion.  It is not absurd to say that the effect of the blow, either immediately, or consequently on impact with the ground, could have been fatal.  There was of course strong reaction from the players, and what is called a melee.

The attack was late, deliberate, vicious, and cowardly.  It was the definitive foul – it was dangerous and as unsportsmanlike as you can get.  Under the laws of the game as they stand, the culprit played on – and, as it happens, his side got a run on – while the victim was carried off and his medical advisers considered having him taken to hospital.

That is a revolting consequence.  It puts the game to shame.  There is no doubt that under the rules of rugby as they are played and administered, at least at the top level, the culprit would have been given a red card and sent off for the match – and his team would not have been able to replace him for that match.

The AFL needs to get its act together on yellow and red cards.  Rugby was an English invention, from which our AFL derives, that was used to implant what was called character in boys and young men.  It is absurd to suggest that such a game, or any derivative of it, should in the year 2016 be a vehicle for this kind of brutality being inflicted without some form of immediate response from authority on the ground.  They have done it in rugby for as long as I can remember, in part, I think, because the game is better administered on issues of discipline at the top level, and more independently administered without having to suffer being importuned by the clubs, and in part because rugby justifiably has more confidence in its referees than the AFL or the NRL does.

We can presently put to one side yellow cards, and ten minutes in the sin bin for lesser offences or ‘cynical’ abuses of the rules, and just look at a terminal send-off under a red card.  In rugby, if the referee has any doubt he will look with other officials at the big screen replay and then make an immediate decision.  In a match in New Zealand about three weeks ago, one player flew very high and an opposing player came underneath him so that he fell very dangerously – he could have broken his neck.  In rugby, there is an absolute ban on tackling a man in the air, and although both the TV referee and the referee on the ground said that the tackle was not malicious, there was no doubt that the offender would be sent off for the match, and this was very early in the match, for what was a dangerous tackle.  His team played the whole of the rest of the match one down – there was no malice, but the safety of the player is paramount.

The AFL is not discharging its obligations to its players by failing to institute similar disciplinary responses.  The AFL is self-evidently not making the safety of the player paramount by adopting a tried and proven response used all around the world.

If the AFL needs it, there are market reasons why it should implement the red card.  Mums and dads watching this game and wondering what their kids might do, need assurance that the highest level the safety of players is the first concern of the authorities of all codes.  And they might find that it adds to the theatre of the game, and also that it might defuse some of the lunatics on the other side.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching the great Jonathan Thurston play in the NRL.  He was hit after he had passed the ball.  He was therefore in a similar position of unreadiness as the West Coast Eagle victim.  Thurston spends a great deal of his professional life facing thirteen bruisers who could, on a bad day, do him most serious injury.  But when he does so most of the time, he is braced and ready for them – and he wears a head-guard for the same purpose.  But, as the commentators pointed out, he is obviously not in that state of readiness after he has just passed the ball – he is open and vulnerable, and that is just what makes these attacks so cowardly and so dangerous.

It was the same on the weekend, and it is time that the AFL matured, and got respectable, and does what it has to in order to protect the players – who, as it happens, are just about the only asset of worth that the AFL has.  The AFL should know this – at least one other code does it better, and they already look down their noses at you.

And that is before we get to the sword of justice.

Passing Bull 40 – Bullshit in footy

 

When I was a kid, I tried to play Australian rules footy.  It is too hard a game for kids – either form of rugby or soccer is much easier for kids to play.  If you look at kids trying to play our footy, you will see about three of them who know where the ball is, and the others just make up the numbers.  I was one of the ‘others’.

But I could follow an instruction that people would move up one position from the forward pocket or the back pocket to the half forward flank or halfback flank who would then move to the wing depending on whether the ball had gone into attack or defence.  I could follow that; it seemed a good and simple plan; but it was probably academic for me because of what I have just mentioned about only three boys getting near where the action really was.

Is it pure arrogance on my part to think that other people may have difficulty in implementing more involved plans?  I don’t think so.  I wouldn’t try something more clever on with lawyers.  It has long seemed to me that commentators try to read far too much into games of our footy.  I have long suspected that all this talk about structures and game-plans and the like is mainly bullshit.  As are the convoluted stats.  They are as reliable as economists.

Although I spend at least as much time watching two of the other codes as I do watching the AFL, my suspicion about the role of bullshit in AFL footy has firmed up with the sharp decline of three or four sides in the games played so far this year.  I refer in particular to the collapse – because that is what it has been – of Fremantle and Port Adelaide, and particularly Fremantle.  I find it hard to understand what the Fremantle coach is saying at the best of times, but it did appear to me the other night that he was saying that he has devised a game-plan that his players are not capable of implementing.  I think that may well be true.

In my view, playing footy comes down to other things that we try in life, like being a chef, writing a book, or running a murder case.  You take a certain amount of ability for granted, and the rest is character.  When you look at a bunch of players that form a footy team, what matters is the way in which that given ability is brought out in each player and then encouraged as part of that team.  Students of war tell us that people don’t die for the flag or the nation but for those near them.  It is the same, I think, with footy players.  The object of those running the team is therefore to get the players to develop a warranted faith in each other and an assured endeavour to trust and look after each other.

You see that happen in clubs that have the right character or fibre in themselves.  For the last decade or so, those AFL clubs have been Hawthorn, Geelong, and Sydney.  You can just about see that character or fibre in the way their players come out on the field – and certainly in the way they carry themselves in the heat of battle.  The fibre is transmitted on field by established leaders who command both respect and subscription.  Our politicians have something to wonder at.  And the good clubs have a ruthless policy of ‘no dickheads’.  Something else for our politicians to consider.

What I suspect has happened at sides like Fremantle and Port Adelaide is that the clubs have forgotten the need to develop character in the players and in the club as a whole.  Instead of locking in the basics, they and their coaches have got carried away with stratagems.  They have lost the plot.  They have whipped the cream before baking the cake.  Footy was after all supposed to be a bloody game.

Of the three Melbourne teams I take an interest in, Melbourne Storm has shown fibre for years, and has the best leaders on the field in the competition; there is for the first time in about thirty years a chance that the Demons might find a warranted faith in each other, and that their club may recover some fibre; the Rebels do not look like it doing it yet.

As to the coaches, the main ingredient in character that is required is honesty.

If you want to know what fibre means in footy teams, compare a New Zealand rugby team to one of ours.

Poet of the month: Auden

Bird-Language

Trying to understand the words

Uttered on all sides by birds,

I recognize in what I hear

Noises that betoken fear.

 

Though some of them, I’m certain, must

Stand for rage, bravado, lust,

All other notes that birds employ

Sound like synonyms for joy.

The haughty arrogance of lawyers -Part 4-Grounds for holding a public inquiry

So far, I have sought to make good the following.

First, it does not matter what you or I or God think of what these Essendon players did.  I am concerned with whether they have been fairly treated.  Did they get due process?  Was justice done and seen to be done?  Did the players get a fair go?  You may be surprised to learn that those questions mean much the same in the eye of the law – and, I take it, for those outside the law.

In my view the answer to that question is no.  I set out a summary of my reasons for that conclusion in a previous note as follows.

They should never have had to face charges on these issues that did not call for proof of intent.  They should never have had to face fixed penalties.  They should never have been required to exculpate themselves on penalty once a finding on strict liability had been made.  They should never have been faced with a second prosecution after they succeeded on the first.  The prosecutors should not have been allowed to change their case.  The identical sentences for very different cases are demonstrably unjust and logically untenable.

Second, if you think that the players did not get a fair go, it does not matter if that unfairness derives from the provisions of the WADA Code or from the decisions and reasoning of the CAS Panel.  Both the Code and the decision are the work of foreign lawyers (at least a majority on the Panel), and it does not matter to the players which product of the lawyers was instrumental in their downfall and present suspension.  If any player is precluded by his personal agreement with WADA from complaining about what WADA or CAS have done to him, he should look to those responsible for his agreeing to any course that could have led to such a result.

Third, because the CAS Panel was precluded by the Code from judging each player on the merits of his own case, and because each player was subject to the same mandatory penalty regardless of his level of fault, then in my view it follows that justice has not been done to the individual players – again whether or not that injustice flows from the Code or the Panel decision or both.  The conclusion of injustice in my view follows from a proposition that I regard as axiomatic.  Each player is or should be entitled to have his case determined on the merits of his own case.  If you do not accept a proposition that I regard as axiomatic, there is no point in our continuing this discussion any further.

Our law deals with the rights of persons, not with the rights of groups of people.  At least, that is what it does for the most part.  When it departs from that principle, as some governments now do in dealing with ‘terrorists’, and as some did in dealing with ‘Gypsies’, then we know that those governments are chancing their arms.  The Great Charter of 1215 said that ‘no free man shall be… in any way ruined, nor will we go against him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.’

Fourth, if you do accept the decision and the findings of the CAS Panel, you need to remember just what it decided and just what it found.  The Panel did not make a finding of dishonesty or cheating, either by the criminal standard of proof, or at all.  The Panel made its findings on a standard of proof that is less in some unquantifiable way than the standard imposed for many hundreds of years – for longer than the white man has been in this country – by our criminal law of proof beyond reasonable doubt, but higher, in some equally unquantifiable way, from the standard of the balance of probabilities in civil proceedings.  The Panel found on the basis of circumstantial and expert evidence that its members were comfortably satisfied that the players had – and that every one of them had – taken some prohibited substance of a quantity that they could not specify, and with consequences that they did not attempt to make any finding upon.  Then they found that they were satisfied, to an unspecified level of comfort, that the players had not discharged the onus that the Code put upon them to prove that they had acted without relevant ‘fault’.  It is remarkable, indeed, that the Panel could make this finding against each one of the 34 accused without separately ruling on the evidence that related to each one of them.  Is it seriously contended that each of the 34 footballers was equally culpably uninquisitive about what was going into his body?  Is the Panel really saying that they were all equally dumb or naughty?

The Panel did not say that any Essendon footballer had sought to gain, or that he had gained, an unlawful competitive advantage.  So, whatever else the Panel found, it did not make any express finding of against any player of cheating.  The fact that the reasons of the Panel not only do not make this clear, but obscure it by muddying the waters with groundless speculation about the effects on the players of the alleged consumption of prohibited substances and by their finding that all accused had failed to prove that they were innocent, is another reason why I conclude that these people on the Panel were not up to this job.

Fifth, although for the most part neither WADA nor the CAS are concerned with what lawyers call the merits and with what other people called justice, the reasoning of the Panel on what may be called ‘the merits’ is sadly flawed.  The reasoning is in stilted legalese with no attempt to explain it to the losers, with no attempt to explain how limited their decision was, and with no attempt to acknowledge that the Code was driving them to a result that most Australians find odd and that a lot of them find revolting.  Some of the comments of the Panel on the conduct of the players are just silly.  The members of the original tribunal knew what they were doing and they were better placed to do justice to these footballers, and they did so.  The members of the CAS Panel did not know what they were doing, and it shows.

Sixth, I find it offensive, and I invite other Australians to find it offensive, to be told by people from outside Australia that we in Australia cannot be trusted to regulate our own professional sportsmen, but that we should hand over our responsibility to do so to foreigners, whom we do not know, and that we should leave those foreigners with the power to rule over our own citizens, with the power to cancel their right to work, and that we should put our trust in foreign bodies and foreign laws – if it matters, laws that are not made democratically – for our own good.  The coup de grâce is that those bodies that we are asked to trust derive from and still have links with bodies that are notorious all around the world for being utterly and irredeemably corrupt – the IOC and the IAAF.  (And you do have to wonder about WADA.  Its governance comes from governments and the Olympic movement.  From 2008 to 2013, its President was a failed New South Wales politician named John Fahey.  He was a member of the New South Wales political party that has been the staple diet of that state’s anti-corruption authority.)

Seventh, in the best tradition of Australian sports administrators – the ones that we used to call the Panama Hat Brigade – the AFL has been at best silly and at worst cruel.  Those responsible, including Fitzpatrick and McLachlan, should resign – but they won’t; they will adopt the Lord Coe gambit.

And now I may add that we have the absurd spectacle of Australian workers having to defend their right to work by hiring lawyers to address a Swiss court in French.  Which improvident clowns exposed the poor players to this indignity?

The first ground for holding a public inquiry

In an area of trade and commerce that is of interest to and which affects people across the Commonwealth of Australia, people in business, government, and the professions who are responsible for the conduct of that trade and commerce, have brought it into disrepute and have caused people to lose confidence in it.  The delay and ineptitude of almost all those involved have become matters of what is called a public scandal.  The sequence of actual past events and possible future events is as follows.

  • If you accept the findings of the CAS Panel,  Essendon lied to its players about what they are being injected with.
  • The AFL punishes all involved at Essendon for bringing the game into disrepute, although no dishonesty was alleged, and although no harm or undue advantage was proved.
  • ASADA is slow and puts its case in a way that loses and that it later gives up. Even though ASADA is very inept, it is very loud and entirely unprofessional.
  • Essendon loses or has squashed various court proceedings.
  • The WADA Code is finally enforced on appeal by a CAS Panel that makes no finding of dishonesty but which imposes a fixed penalty on all of the players irrespective of individual cases. The panel says that the players did not do enough to show that their employer was a crook.
  • The players go to Switzerland in search of justice.
  • The players then sue Essendon for the original lies and its failure to look after them.
  • The players or Essendon then sue the AFL for exposing the livelihood of the players to a process that denies them due process and by leaving those players in the hands of the body that people do not trust – WADA.
  • The damages that the players seek are compensation for the consequences of the penalty inflicted on them by WADA and the CAS panel – and possibly for the consequences of the penalty inflicted on Essendon as a whole by the AFL.

That pile-up is too big to ignore.  And a prime suspect is a Commonwealth statutory body.

The second ground for holding a public enquiry

It is for the courts to determine what is lawful, and for others to say what is right.  But experience suggests that the odds are that we will never get a ruling from the courts (apart from the watch makers), at least at a level that some of the concepts might call for.  It is therefore appropriate that the Parliament conduct an enquiry into these issues in the national interest.  Some of the issues are:

  • Was the AFL obliged to act in good faith and in the interests of the players? Did the AFL discharge those obligations?  The AFL throughout has appeared to act defensively in its own interests, that is, the interests of those who run it, rather than in the interests of those the AFL should look after – the players, members, patrons, and fans.  They have behaved like the directors of a takeover target or the hierarchy of a church charged with abuse and breach of trust.
  • Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights are still part of our (Victorian) law. We shall not have justice delayed, sold, or denied.  We shall not be subject to cruel and unusual punishments.  Justice for the players was plainly delayed.  It was equally plainly sold.  (Heaven knows how much these lawyers have trousered for this mess.)  Was justice denied?  Were the players subjected to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in breach of the Bill of Rights?  If so what are the juristic consequences of any such breaches of our law that are more deeply entrenched in it than any other parts of it?
  • Contracts that restrain trade are void under our law. Can that law be avoided by a contract between other parties?  Can our law of due process be avoided by contracts between parties?  Even if the parties whose trade is restrained or whose rights are denied are not parties to the contract?  Was it either lawful or proper for the AFL and for Essendon to enter into contracts to permit the restraint of the trade of the players without their agreement, and with a denial of due process that would have infected any termination at common law?

The third ground for holding a public enquiry

Truth in history is relative, but a Senate enquiry would have a much better prospect of reaching after it than anything that has gone before.  That may not be saying much, but should we as a nation decline to take the opportunity?

The haughty arrogance of lawyers Part III The foreign members of the CAS Panel – the two amigos

 

There is a movement to hold a Senate inquiry into the case of the Essendon footballers which I will comment on in a later post.  In the meantime, may I introduce you to our two guests from overseas who sat on the CAS panel and who therefore sat in judgment on the conduct of Essendon footballers?  They were Mr Michael Beloff, QC, and Mr Romano Subiotto, QC.

Mr Beloff was in the Chair of this Panel.  According to Wikipedia, he was born in 1942.  The son of Baron Beloff, he is by courtesy styled ‘the Honourable’.  He was educated at Eton and Oxford – well, where else?  He is a Fellow of All Souls, and was President of Trinity College, Oxford.  The debating society of Trinity College runs the Michael Beloff After-Dinner Speaking Competition.  He has also chaired the IAAF Ethics Commission (again according to Wikipedia) and was involved in investigating Papa Massata Diack, the son of the predecessor at the IAAF of Lord Coe.  These people all seem to move in ever-diminishing concentric circles.  Finally, Mr Beloff is said to be a friend of – you guessed it – Cherie and Tony, and he and his wife were guests at Chequers.

So much for Wikipedia.  How does Mick describe himself on the website of Blackstone Chambers?  Immodestly.  The phrase ‘Senior Statesman’ recurs.  Is it a term of art or just a boast?  Then there are the quoted endorsements.

·         Administrative & Public Law – Senior Statesman. ‘He is extremely articulate and engaging as an advocate.’ ‘He can grasp a completely new area of law incredibly quickly and then deliver a brilliant performance in court showing complete mastery of the subject matter and demolishing every argument the other side puts forward.’

·         Education – Senior Statesman.

·         European law – Senior Statesman. ‘Always a joy to work with. He wears his brilliant intellect lightly and is very easy to engage with.’

·         Professional Discipline – ‘He’s an excellent thinker and advocate.’ ‘He’s a big beast of the Bar.’

·         Sport ‘Michael Beloff more or less invented sports law’.

 

There was a time when this sort of arrant bullshit was thought to be bad form for a professional man.  Things must be very different in England.  It is unthinkable that a decent Australian silk would suffer this sort nonsense under his or her shingle.

But when it comes to blowing your own trumpet, Mick palls beside Mr Subiotto.  Here is how his firm demurely sets out his credentials.

Romano F. Subiotto QC is a partner based in the Brussels and London offices.

Mr. Subiotto joined the firm in 1988 and became a partner in 1997. He received his Diploma de Estudios Hispánicos from the University of Málaga, Spain in 1980; his LL.B., First Class Honours, from the University of London, King’s College, in 1984 (Harold Potter Prize in Property Law, Laws Exhibition, Second Maxwell Law Prize); his Maîtrise en Droit, Mention Bien, from the University of Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne, in the same year; and his LL.M. from Harvard Law School in 1986, where he was a John F. Kennedy Memorial Scholar. 

 Mr. Subiotto qualified as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales in 1988, and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2009. Mr. Subiotto is also a member of the Bar in Brussels. He is fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. 

 Mr. Subiotto advises companies on a wide range of issues under European and national antitrust law, and represents companies in arbitrations and before the European Commission, national antitrust authorities, the European Courts in Luxembourg and the High Court in London. Mr. Subiotto has spoken widely on EU law issues and published numerous articles. He is also distinguished as a leading Competition/Antitrust lawyer by Chambers and Partners Global – The World’s Leading Lawyers. Mr. Subiotto is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport as well as a member of the Advisory Council of Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law and Policy.

Mr. Subiotto also regularly advises companies on a wide range of industrial sectors, including diamonds (Alrosa), payment cards (American Express), pharmaceutical products (Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Debiopharm, Lundbeck, Merck & Co. Inc., Millenium Pharmaceuticals, PhRma, Sanofi), diagnostics (association of diagnostics manufacturers, Agilent Technologies), electronic measurement instruments (Agilent Technologies), air transport (British Airways, Lauda Air, TAT European Airlines), luxury products (Richemont, LVMH), telecommunications (Telefonica O2), cosmetics (Estée Lauder, Sephora), sports (FIFA Marketing, the IOC, the Grand Slam Committee), alcoholic beverages (LVMH), hospital beds (Hillenbrand), computer hardware (Logitech), animal health (Merial Intervet), plant protection (Bayer CropScience), radiopharmaceuticals (MSD Nordion), glass fibers (Owens Corning), rail transport (Russian Railways) security services (Securitas, Stanley Black & Decker), karting (Vega), offshore drilling (SeaDrill), Foreign Exchange (HSBC), EU financial regulation (European Central Bank), aquaculture (Marine Harvest).

Here is the description of itself offered by the firm Cleary Gottlieb. Steen and Hamilton LLP.

A leading international law firm with 16 offices located in major financial centers around the world, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP has helped shape the globalization of the legal profession for more than 65 years. Our worldwide practice has a proven track record for innovation and providing work of the highest quality to meet the needs of our domestic and international clients. In recognition of the firm’s strong global practice, its effectiveness in dealing with the different business cultures of the countries in which it operates, and its success in multiple jurisdictions, Cleary Gottlieb received Chambers & Partners’ inaugural International Law Firm of the Year award.

Organized and operated as a single, integrated global partnership (rather than a U.S. firm with a network of overseas offices), Cleary Gottlieb employs approximately 1,200 lawyers from more than 50 countries and diverse backgrounds who are admitted to practice in numerous jurisdictions around the world. Since the opening of our first European office in 1949, our legal staff has included European lawyers, most of whom have received a portion of their academic legal training in the United States and many of whom have worked as trainees in one of the firm’s U.S. offices. The firm was among the first international law firms to hire and promote non-U.S. lawyers as equal partners around the world.

Our clients include multinational corporations, international financial institutions, sovereign governments and their agencies, as well as domestic corporations and financial institutions in the countries where our offices are located. Although each of our 16 offices has its own practice, our “one firm” approach to the practice of law offers clients in any office the ability to access the full resources of all of our offices and lawyers worldwide to the extent their matters so require.

Now, I have been a partner in a large international law firm, and one thing is clear.  Neither the firm nor Mr Subiotto acts for the workers.  They are always on the other side, and at the biggest end of town you could ever imagine.  Mr Subiotto acts for corporates like Louis Vuitton and Richemont (Cartier, Mont Blanc and Purdey), and Merck, and for very repellent outfits like FIFA and the IOC.  The closest he gets to a working man in his professional life is when he collides with the janitor.  It would be about even money that he holds more university tickets than the 34 Essendon players put together.

The Australian, Jim Spigelman, was born in Poland and educated at Maroubra Public School (which here means the opposite of what it is in the UK) and Sydney Boys High before going to the University of Sydney and later becoming the 16th Chief Justice of New South Wales.

It is clear that the Australian model both at the original hearing, and in the Australian component on appeal, was far better placed to hear and determine this kind of case.  The original panel had two very sensible and practical former County Court judges and a lawyer who had played AFL footy.  The CAS panel was dominated at least in numbers by two apparently technically proficient lawyers from England and Europe who have no idea of how working people live generally, or of how Australians view the world, and who would be in the worst possible position to assess the conduct of Essendon footballers.  I doubt whether either of them knows what it is like to be subject to the power of the Boss.  The two amigos might be able to run rings around us with their imported juristic subtleties and fancy titles, but they had no idea of what was going on the ground at Essendon in 2012.  You might as well ask me for my insight on the sex life of the Eskimo.

There also you have the reason why the terms of the decision were so legalistic and so utterly unpersuasive.  A majority of the Panel was incapable of anything else.

And there also is a reason for an inquiry.  The more legally correct the decision is said to be, the more urgent becomes the need to work out how this wrong came to be inflicted upon us – because no one – no one – can maintain that at the end justice was done or seen to be done by handing out exactly the same penalties to each of all of the accused irrespective of the history and level of responsibility of each of them.

Each of us is entitled to be treated with our own individual dignity merely because we are human, and we need to find out how and why this Panel departed from this fundamental principle.  If the answer is that WADA and the Code dictated what I see as a violation of our rights, the case for an inquiry is so much stronger – but more on that later.

The point of this note is that it is just a cruel bloody joke to suggest that these imported lawyers may have been able to have done as good a job in this case as those Australian lawyers that we appointed.  If foreigners want to say that Australians cannot be trusted to manage their own footballers, my response – at least in its printable form – is that this case shows so clearly why we cannot trust anyone from outside to get any power at all over our own people.

And why should Australia as a nation even contemplating doing any such thing?  We may as a matter of history import our of head of state; we are told that that is merely a matter of form; importing a judicial body with real power to inflict damage on Australian people is an altogether different thing; and in this case it has worked out badly for all involved.

A Great Dane, a Confession, the Cataclysm, and a Bad Day

 

The Dane

But for Einstein, Niels Bohr may have been seen as the greatest scientific mind ever – but he still comes out of it much better than Salieri in Amadeus. Bohr won his Nobel Prize the year after Einstein.  As well as being a genius, this great Dane was, as they say in death notices, a devoted husband and father.  He was also a great teacher.  He told his students to treat every assertion that he made as a question.  Einstein says: ‘He utters his opinions like one perpetually groping and never like one who believes he is in possession of definite truth.’

There are obvious limits on our ability to understand the universe at either end – atoms and galaxies.  The major work of Niels Bohr was to work out the structure of the atom.  He said to Heisenberg, who discovered the principle of uncertainty, that:

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.

This is terribly important.  As explained by Jacob Bronowski, what Bohr was saying was that when it comes to atoms, our language is not describing facts but rather is creating images. What lies below the visible world must in some sense always be imaginary, ‘a play of images’.

There is no other way to talk about the invisible – in nature, in art, or in science. When we step through the gateway of the atom, we are in a world which our senses cannot experience.

Einstein said that he rarely thought in words. What we think that he meant was that in his work and at his level, he generally thought not in words but in mathematics. His job was to find the relevant laws of the universe. He was fond of saying that ‘God does not play dice.’ One day Bohr responded: ‘Stop telling God what to do.’

Even where we think that we understand the meaning of words describing events in the universe or in history, there is a separate question of the extent to which we come to grips with comprehending the scale of what is being spoken of.  Do we really have an understanding of how an atom is made up?  Do we really have an understanding of the size of a galaxy when as far as we know, it may have disappeared millions of years ago, but it is just that news of that disappearance is yet to reach us?  Are we able to come to grips with the brute fact that more than 20 million Russians died during World War II, or that more than six million people were murdered in what is called the Holocaust, or that some historians have given up trying to count how many millions died under Mao?  Can we come to grips with the economy of China, or the fact that China builds the equivalent of the city of Brisbane every day?

To go back to the world of physics, one mathematician said that ‘I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actually philosophy.’  New ideas in physics give us a different view of reality. What we are told now is that the world cannot be fully separated from our perception of it. Newton took God’s eye view of the world. Einstein took the view of each of us – the world is what we see and is relative to each of us. We cannot know what the world is like of itself – we can only compare what it looks like to each of us by talking about it. Jacob Bronowski summed it up as follows:

But what physics has now done is to show that that is the only method to knowledge. There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy.  All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally.

Some say that Gödel made illusory the notion of truth in mathematics.  These are humbling thoughts about the power of thought.  Bohr indeed was a philosopher, even if he said that they all talked nonsense.

A biography of Bohr I read after Christmas referred to a sometime priest called Steno as the only prominent scientist to be beatified who said (in Latin):

Beautiful are the things we see

More beautiful those we understand

Much the most beautiful those we do not comprehend.

Bohr wrestled a lot with his own relativity.  He understood, he thought, that whether an object behaves as a participle or a wave depends on how you look at it – what kind of experiment you use to assess it.  You may hardly be able to ‘see’ either.  He believed that you cannot always separate thought from emotion.  He used a difficult word ‘complementarity.’  He referred to old truths, such as ‘we are spectators as well as actors in the great drama of existence’ and ‘if we try to analyse our emotions, we hardly possess them any more.’  The relativity comes in when you try to try to draw the line between subject and object.

Bohr was like other great wrestlers like Michelangelo, Luther, Beethoven, or Ibsen.  And he was that most beautiful gift – a decent, modest hero.  And God bless him – he gave us a glimpse of mystery in science, at least as deep as the mystery of religion; and in so doing he stuck it right up those arrant God-deniers who want to abolish all magic – and who even claim to have the answer!

A Confession

If you promise not to tell anyone, I watched a bit of the new pyjama game final last night.  I wanted to see Jacques Kallis in what I think will be his last visit.  He is as tough as Steve Waugh.  I also wanted to see if KP is earning his money.  He is, and I have no doubt that he is enjoying his cricket and being part of a team for the first time in a very long time.  The young Australian Muslem was a revelation in correctness.  The bits I saw were therefore encouraging, but I turned it off before the end.  I am trying to acquire this technique with red.

The Cataclysm

We must brace ourselves for disaster in the U S.  On the Democrat side you have a moral disaster and a managerial trainwreck.  The other side is unspeakable.  Trump has done a deal with Palin.  I infer that there is a deal that Trump bought Palin’s endorsement with a ministry.  She chose environment.  She can stand on her Alaskan shoreline with an AK47 and see the visible disproof of global warming.  Good Republicans – and there are some – fear Cruz more than Trump.  Cruz has two things that Trump doesn’t – brains and an agenda.  In a nation that slaughters its children in the name of ideology, we are entitled to be terrified.  If this most decent nation thinks that it will be able to reel in one of these galahs – on either side – if elected, let them reflect on what happened to a people who thought that they could the same with a brutal clown that Trump so closely resembles.

Mussolini still needed their [the moderates’] help, for most of the liberal parliamentarians would look to them for a lead.  He also took careful note that chaos had been caused in Russia when representatives of the old order were defenestrated en masse during the revolution:  fascism could hardly have survived if the police, the magistrates, the army leaders and the civil service had not continued to work just as before, and the complicity of these older politicians was eagerly sought and helped to preserve the important illusion that nothing had changed.

The liberals failed to use the leverage afforded by his need for their approbation.  Most of them saw some good in fascism as a way of defending social order and thought Italians too intelligent and civilised to permit the establishment of a complete dictatorship.  Above all, there was the very persuasive argument that the only alternative was to return to the anarchy and parliamentary stalemate they remembered….Mussolini had convincingly proved that he was the most effective politician of them all: he alone could have asked parliament for full powers and been given what he asked; he alone provided a defence against, and an alternative to, socialism.  And of course the old parliamentarians still hoped to capture and absorb him into their own system in the long run; their optimism was encouraged by the fact that his fascist collaborators were so second-rate. 

Here is the myth of the strong man cleaning the stables.  Does that not seem to be word for word a correct rendition of how decent Germans probably reacted to Hitler?  Still today you will find Christian apologists for Franco, and not just in Spain, who say that his fascism was preferable to republican socialism.  Mussolini had the other advantage that for reasons we now regard as obvious, no one outside Italy could take Mussolini seriously.  As his biographer reminds us, Mussolini was, rather like Berlusconi, seen as an ‘absurd little man’, a ‘second-rate cinema actor and someone who could not continue in power for long’, a ‘Cesar de carnaval’, a ‘braggart and an actor’, and possibly ‘slightly off his head.’  There is Trump.  Churchill always took Hitler seriously; he could never do that with that Italian buffoon.

A Bad Day

If I say that of tomorrow, I will just sit back and wait for an Abbottism about what I might wear on my arm.  So I won’t.  From 2015, 26 January will be looked back on as the day when Tony Abbott came out.  It was on that day that the Prime Minister of Australia formally announced that he was crackers.

In the meantime, Australians like me are resigned to popping up daisies before this nation reaches the stage reached by the United States on 4 July 1776.