Sportmanship from a Sportsman?!

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What does it say about the state of sport that a display of sportsmanship from a sportsman provokes banner headlines around the world? I am referring – in case you’ve been living in a cave – to Nick Kyrgios’s advice to his opponent, Tomas Berdych, to challenge an “Out!” call made against him.  The word “amazing” was used in many of the headlines.

Kick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios

Wasn’t there once a time when it would have been amazing if a sportsman, professional or amateur, had not taken issue with an umpire’s decision that he considered wrong, irrespective of whether that decision  favoured his opponent or himself?  Or am I remembering a golden age that only ever existed in fairy tales?

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Jats

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I am stroppy as hell about the sabotaging of a canal supplying water to New Delhi by a caste that wants to be officially recognised as ‘backward’ in order to benefit from positive discrimination in matters of education and employment. There is a good account of it here at the BBC website. This photo is from the same source:

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I do understand the Jats’ problem.  They’re a farming caste and have been quite prosperous, but now they see better opportunities for their children in the cities.  And they see those opportunities being taken up by people who have historically been their social inferiors – people from lower castes who are given preferential access to universities and government jobs.  They want some of that preferential treatment for themselves, and if that means being branded ‘backward’, well, so be it.

But I’m inclined to brand them ‘criminal’, ‘sociopathic’, ‘violent’ and ‘reckless’. If it were up to me the only thing they’d be given would be long prison sentences – with hard labour, like repairing the canal.

Confess

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There is a ‘metal band’ in Iran called Confess (picture below). The context is music, and I assume that a metal band plays music on a spectrum that has heavy metal at one end.  It’s also referred to as a ‘thrash band’.  I know about Confess because its members are in prison, charged with a list of offences including blasphemy, which is a capital offence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  You can read the story here.

Confess

You can even hear the band playing at this same site. I think it’s god-awful music, but I wouldn’t condemn the perpetrators to death.

I’m stroppy because we are being drawn into something like an alliance with Iran, since the Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah and the Kurdish Peshmerga seem to be the only people with boots on the ground who are effectively opposing Daesh.

I’m sure the people of Iran, the great majority anyway, are decent sensible folk who take their religion with a pinch of salt and are interested in much the same things that we are. I don’t know if Fawlty Towers has been translated into Farsi, but if it has I’m sure it has a huge following.  (‘We’ means secular westerners like me, by the way.)

But let us never forget that Iran’s leaders are staunch theists who claim to be guardians of the only true interpretation of Islam; and therefore anything they do, no matter how cruel or loony, must be right.  I’m not saying they’re worse than the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia but I don’t think they’re significantly better.

George Pell and Tim Minchin

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You may know about Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior and most prominent Catholic.  He is suspected of having covered up cases of child abuse by priests – indeed, he has been accused of being an abuser himself – and has consequently been summoned to appear before Australia’s long-running Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  Unfortunately he is in Rome at the moment, helping to clean up the Vatican’s finances, and he is too ill to travel.

Some mean-spirited people think he’s only pretending to be ill, because that’s what most people do when they’re summoned to face serious charges in another country.  These mean-spirited people think Cardinal Pell is afraid to come back to Australia and face his accusers – and perhaps get arrested.  Me, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the case has inspired Tim Minchin to write and record a song.  Tim is a musical and comical genius and the video clip is worth seeing.  He’s quite rude about Cardinal Pell, which may turn out to be unfair, but it’s so clever, funny and musical that I think a little rudeness is forgivable.

In case the name is not familiar to you, Tim Minchin wrote and performs the brilliantly satirical song ‘Storm’ and wrote the musical ‘Matilda’, currently running in London, Sydney and perhaps elsewhere.

Here’s a link to a site where you can see and hear Tim singing ‘Come Home Cardinal Pell’, ‘Storm’ and other songs.

Academic Standards

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Australian universities apply high entry standards, especially for the most popular courses. Students sit their Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams and from their results are computed their Australian Tertiary Admission Scores (ATARs) on a scale 0-100.  To study medicine you need to score very close to 100.  If you want to study for a teaching degree, 60-70 is good enough.

At least, that’s how I thought it was. But there’s been a series of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) revealing that most universities are admitting people with ATAR scores well below the published thresholds, of ‘cut-off scores’.  Among the most egregious is Western Sydney University.  Here is a partial graph showing the proportion of students who were admitted with sub-cut-off scores:

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The next graph shows the average shortfall for the most affected courses at WSU:

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The New South Wale Minister of Education, Adrian Piccoli, has criticised this laxity and called for tighter public funding to reduce the supply of university places. He has now been criticised by none other than Greg Craven, the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, for “shameful etitism.”

Now, in the bad old days people got to university because their parents could afford it. The sieve of academic scores, combined with student loans and subsidies, is a way of levelling the playing field.  It is also supposed to ensure that people who go into tertiary education are well-equipped to benefit from it, and then to use their skill and knowledge to the benefit of society at large.  Now it’s “elitist” to demand that tertiary students have the basic mental and educational wherewithal.

No wonder I’m stroppy!

Rolf Harris

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Like many other people, especially in Australia and the UK, I was shocked and unbelieving when allegations started being made about sexual abuse by Rolf Harris.  In 2014 he was found guilty in a British court and is now serving a 6-year prison sentence. Now I read that he is to be charged with seven more counts of indecent assault, allegedly committed between 1971 and 2004.

I don’t condone any kind of sexual activity that is not 100% consensual. Nor do I believe that serious crimes should be subject to a statute of limitations. But I would point out two things that I don’t think have been taken fully into account in the Court of Public Opinion:

  • Back in the 1960s and 70s there was a broader understanding of what was normal and acceptable behaviour between men and women. A sly pat on the bum was not considered an assault and a suggestive remark was not harassment. And celebrities were cut a lot of slack: there weren’t so many of them in those days, so it didn’t matter so much.
  • Whatever crimes Rolf Harris may have committed, they do not extinguish his extraordinary achievements as an artist, song-writer and performer. I see nothing contradictory in condemning his morals while celebrating his talent.

As soon as Rolf was sentenced there was a sudden disappearance of his paintings from the walls of public buildings and of his recordings from the airwaves. To my mind this connotes either vindictiveness or cowardice or both.  I say ‘cowardice’ because many people, I think, feared seeming to be insufficiently outraged.  It reminds me – on a different scale – of show trials in the USSR and Nazi Germany, and the enthusiastic display of support for the verdicts by people who feared they might be next.