Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AFL lords it over League

Seed Newsvine
Are we all not truly sick to death of Rugby folk desperately trying to portray their chosen sport of throw-ball as being anything other than in the final throes of competing for no better than second tier sport status?

It's hard to know on what basis they will finally be willing to concede, but based on a quick round of all the rugby blogs recently, that day appears a long way off. Which only matters because once it ceases to be this pathetic north-versus-south rivalry, will Australia become unique among nations in having a full-time professional indigenous sport as its first-tier sporting code nationwide (Gaelic football is amateur, before anyone whinges too loud). Not merely that, but what must surely be the greatest spectator sport on earth can then safely, finally turn its energies to spreading its creed through the rest of the world, as is only fitting.

And of course rugby, and its traditions won't die. Nobody is asking them to. But I'm sick to the gullet of credible media institutions like the Sydney Morning Herald, courtesy of the obsessed Roy Masters, printing outright lies, such as claiming League outrates AFL on TV and deserves an equal deal for their rights the next time round. It's a complete lie, by any statistical measure. It outrates AFL on Pay-TV alone, because pay has a much higher penetration in Qld and NSW - pay having carried the majority of League games since the Super League debacle of count 'em 13 years ago. That if anything is an argument that Foxtel should throw a hell of a lot MORE than they threw at the last AFL rights deal.

The point is also made by that "when one takes into account the "reach" of the programs, a different story emerges. The reach measures the cumulative audience that watches a program (including when it was replayed at various times during the week) for any length of time. The reach of the average AFL home and away game on Foxtel was 562,000 to the NRL's 546,000."

AFL kills league on free to air, week-in, week-out.
This from ...
"Using the official Oztam readings, the average weekly audience for the AFL in 2009 was 2,956,000 per week, compared to the NRL's 1,548,000.

Over the entire season, the AFL was watched by a total of 65,023,000 and the NRL by 40,272,000. But what many fail to take into account is the three hour running time of an AFL telecast compared to the two hour running time of it's NRL rival. When this is taken into account, the AFL is viewed 2.4 times as often as the NRL on free-to-air according to Oztam figures. 195,069,000 cumulative hours were viewed for the AFL compared to 80,546,000 for the NRL."

Consider each code's grand final, the ultimate game of the year. The surefire measure of maximal interest in the sport. League plays their game (as the sport had all sense of real tradition ass-raped out of it by Rupert Murdoch during Super League) on a Sunday night. Absolute rolled-gold TV primetime. This year the League game featured a hugely-supported underdog team from Australia's most populous city, and a team finally gaining real media traction in its second most populous city, a team arguably in the process of creating one of the sport's true dynasties. The script could not have been better for the League gurus. The AFL product featured two Victorian teams who rank amongst the sport's smaller fan-bases - one from a city with a population of a few hundred thousand, and was played on Saturday afternoon, in deference to tradition - but in TV terms complete dead-air time. The result? AFL audience 3,848,813 - League audience 3,537,613. A difference of not far under 10%. If League couldn't beat the AFL in 2009, it is never going to happen, short of a Fremantle v Gold Coast final in 2011.

And just this week, we now have the results of the Sensis Consumer Report - a very detailed study by one of the country's premier suppliers of business data. And I hope the advertisers, sponsors and networks are paying heed;
Australia’s favourite sports:
1.    AFL (21 per cent)
2.    NRL (12 per cent)
3.    Cricket (11 per cent)
4.    Soccer (11 per cent)

Australia’s favourite teams:
1.    Australian Cricket Team
2.    Adelaide Crows
3.    Collingwood Magpies
4.    Brisbane Broncos
5.    West Coast Eagles
6.    Carlton Blues
7.    Essendon Bombers
8.    Sydney Swans
9.    Hawthorn Hawks
10.    Fremantle Dockers

Tally that against the most recent stats I've been able to obtain for attendances (2006), which this retarded blogger thing won't let me post with any sort of sensible formatting (if anyone wants to see the numbers, let me know - I have an excel spreadsheet). You will find only one NRL club (Brisbane) averages better crowds than even the lowest drawing AFL club (Port Adelaide). The top 11 clubs in the country are all AFL, then Brisbane, then the entire rest of the AFL comp. Then to add insult to injury comes the Perth-based Rugby UNION team, and the Melbourne Victory A-League side. Then come your NRL teams, most attracting half as many people or less than the average AFL crowd.  AFL averages 36,831. NRL averages 15,820. The Sydney Swans are the most popular team in Sydney by about 18,000 attendees.

So, bring on your new Commission-based structure. Keep ringing in the "innovations" the AFL was wise to twenty years ago. You'd have to be a little fearful what might happen without News Corp in there to give you so much puff and page space, or pay the $6m Melbourne Storm loses every season (after, it should be added  four consecutive years in the Grand Final - Sydney of course turned profits in its Grand Final years).

By any reasonable yardstick the game is up. If it weren't for the fact that media was so Sydney-centric, it would be all over completely. Which isn't to say Rugby doesn't have a place, or immense cultural value to those who love it. It always will. Nobody wants it to die, but there are plenty of people waiting for people to let go of the ridiculous cultural cringe, and let the world's greatest spectator sport be embraced for what it is - one of the country's greatest gifts to itself.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iran - some perspective, please!

OK, has it really been three months since I last blogged this place? Goddamn. I think I must rescind my original premise that posting in-depth newspaper-length articles on subjects was a realistic and much-needed addition to the blogosphere. For this commentator it's not feasible for now, so I shall continue with more humble aims perhaps. And I shall rely on others to carry more of the detail where needed.

Anyway, are we all tired of the ni(t-witted) commentary on the Iranian elections yet? In saying that, I should commence by saying that I don't have a huge amount of time for Ahmedinejad - he is on some fundamental level quite unhinged, and certain of his belief systems are truly potty, but let's be quite clear about a few things;
• Mousavi is not some kind of liberal reformist pro-western democrat. We should not be backing that particular horse with any expectation it would bolt in the direction we'd like to see the country run in. And irrespective, the position of President in Iran is just one of the many seats of power, and not even the most important amongst those.

• The likelihood is almost complete that Ahmedinejad legitimately won the election, albeit with a handful of irregularities. This from Robert Fisk's very earliest report on the election aftermath...
"An interval here for lunch with a true and faithful friend of the Islamic Republic, a man I have known for many years who has risked his life and been imprisoned for Iran and who has never lied to me. We dined in an all-Iranian-food restaurant, along with his wife. He has often criticised the regime. A man unafraid. But I must repeat what he said. "The election figures are correct, Robert. Whatever you saw in Tehran, in the cities and in thousands of towns outside, they voted overwhelmingly for Ahmadinejad. Tabriz voted 80 per cent for Ahmadinejad. It was he who opened university courses there for the Azeri people to learn and win degrees in Azeri. In Mashad, the second city of Iran, there was a huge majority for Ahmadinejad after the imam of the great mosque attacked Rafsanjani of the Expediency Council who had started to ally himself with Mousavi. They knew what that meant: they had to vote for Ahmadinejad."

My guest and I drank dookh, the cool Iranian drinking yoghurt so popular here. The streets of Tehran were a thousand miles away. "You know why so many poorer women voted for Ahmadinejad? There are three million of them who make carpets in their homes. They had no insurance. When Ahmadinejad realised this, he immediately brought in a law to give them full insurance. Ahmadinejad's supporters were very shrewd. They got the people out in huge numbers to vote – and then presented this into their vote for Ahmadinejad."

And for more cogent recent analysis I heartily recommend the following articles...
Ahmedinejad Won. Get Over It (Flint and Hillary Leverrett at
US Likely Source of Interference in Iran's Election

So, of course it is morally repugnant to see peaceful protest being so brutally and bloodily repressed. But it's perhaps worth reflecting for a moment on the moral culpability of Mousavi himself - a man who claimed victory in the election before the polls had even closed, and who has actively encouraged is supporters into the streets in a bid to foment what would by any rational analysis be a completely anti-democratic coup. In simple terms, he has asked people to go out and seek to install him as President in the face of a powerful and brutal state apparatus that knows who the real winner was, one that is backed by a barely regulated and highly lethal militia. Mousavi is basically asking people to go out and die, to spill blood for him in order to have himself undemocratically installed in the second most powerful post in the land. This is not the action of a great democrat, a great humanitarian, but of yet another great spoiled child - one who has somehow convinced himself of his own self-worth, of his patent entitlement to the post he seeks - or even worse, a man who knows he lost but thought he may have found an alternative means to snatch his entitlement at the inconsequential cost of the lives of his supporters.

None of this of course excuses any of the state or militia-sourced brutality, but God knows there's been enough of that type of statement written lately - and once again we have Fisk to thank for the best of the reportage. The stupidity of authoritarian regimes in the face of popular protest remains one of their most profound hallmarks. They never seem to learn that resort to batons, bullets and imprisonment is fuel to the flames of revolution. But the stupidity of those Western leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel pontificating on the situation as if they have some right to act as arbiters is as breathtaking in its arrogance, and they've dealt themselves out of any sort of constructive arrangement with Iran for the entirety of Ahmedinejad's next term, whilst simultaneously giving the regime the perfect pretext to decry internal protesters as acting as mere puppets of the West.

Obama on the other hand has been perfectly upstanding in not taking sides, maintaining the perfectly valid principle that no country has any right to interfere in another's electoral process (although that's of course laughable from an American President, if not this one in particular) whilst deploring the violence, etc. The difficulty for Obama will now come where those on the right and even worse the "Bomb Iran" hawks (and hasn't John McCain gone a long way towards showing us why it's a blessed thing he didn't get his hokey arse installed in the White House - he'd already be fueling the B-52s by now) will now use this whole thing as evidence for any sort of detente with Iran being misguided and amoral.

But that's tomorrow's story. You won't read about this on Twitter though, as it takes more than 144 characters to look at any situation with more nuance than pathetic sloganism.

Tweet on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I heart Andrew Bolt xxxox - What's wrong with the left, part one

I love Andrew Bolt as though he were my own father (he's not, by the way - in spite of several remarkable similarities). Yes, you heard right - love. Alan Jones too for that matter. Miranda, Imre come collectively to my open arms! Symbolically only of course - I'm pretty sure you're all disease bearing.

While I'm at it, I love the bedraggled flanellette sporting revolutionaries with their Green Left Weekly and their daily changing roster of petitions. State smashers, anarchists, seperatists and revolutionaries of every hue, you too are loved from the safest of distances (ie more than an outstretched arm and pamphlet away).

My point being that I've always conceived of political debate as a kind of rugby scrum contested by those at the fringes, with the midpoint of political debate represented by the placid, inert ovoid of inflated pigskin. This sits aptly in my inept metaphor representing the middle ground of society - the unblushingly apolitical who in our sad, uninflamed, self-absorbed two party democracies are the ones who perversely have the ultimate sway on seemingly every issue. Proper debate in these circumstances involves a massing of effective forces at either end, and the struggle will then be decided on strength and ability.

I love the extremes of any given debate, because they allow the median so much more scope to shift either way. They enable possibilities and solutions for the midpoint that wouldn't otherwise exist. I'm suggesting the extremes of political debate are necessary to shift the consensus position by anything more than a fractional degree. And if you're a believer in change, a dreamer of a radically better world, you have to accept those who deal in the extremes to give us a chance of moving beyond the mire of the present.

But we don't have proper debate, do we? Notice how those on the Right all have names, and those on the Left are generic charicatures. Surely the Left has some names of note that could be placed at fly half or some other starring position? (nb I know nothing whatsoever about rugby, and have probably just demonstrated it.) Think about it - sure we have John Pilger and Michael Moore, but you don't hear either of those prosetylising daily in our newspapers or on the airwaves on any and every topic of the day. The truth is that those leftist commentators that we do hear from are rolled out usually to discuss their own particular area of expertise - people like Waleed Aly or Antony Leowenstein (on whom more in a minute) are permitted to discuss issues in their capacity only as specialists on issues such as muslim culture or Israel-Palestine. In this country, where is the space given to the Leftist demagogues spitting forth fire and brimstone on the issues of the day? Philip Adams has his spot on Radio National, but his brief is really broader affairs of the mind rather than current affairs (and forgive me, journalism for saying this, but it IS only Radio National).

John Faine might come across as a leftie some of the time, but you're left with an overwhelming sense that the only ultimate cause he has any faith at all in is John Faine-ism.

So what about Michael Moore, then? I find the rise of this hairy behemoth fascinating. Let's face it, he is first and foremost an entertainer. The real distinctive merit in his films lies in my opinion mostly in their humour, and through their resultant popularity he plays an immensely valuable role as cheer squad leader for the left. He is no sort of journalist whatsoever, and only really half pretends to be. If you strip all the gags and stunts out of his films what you're basically left with is a thoroughly incoherent mess in journalistic terms.

But here I think we're getting close to the heart of the problem, for Moore appears to have understood instinctively what most right-wing commentators woke up to decades ago - that the easiest means to popularise political diatribe is to present it as entertainment.

The Independent
ran a fascinating article yesterday on the topic of American shock-jocks, in which they spoke with Dennis Prager, a syndicated conservative host based in Los Angeles. Prager put it quite succinctly in stating "there's really only one rule in talk radio, and that is that, whether you're on the left or the right, you can never be uninteresting. You can be an idiot. You can be a moral fool. You can be primitive. But you cannot be boring. Every sentence must hold the attention."

The Independent
have also put together a fascinating selection of videos of US right wing media cadres (mostly from Fox News), which illustrates this point perfectly, and is well worth a look. CLICK HERE
With their props and their stunts, their wacky overblown voices, their Letterman style asides to floor staff off camera, there's no disguising which business these people realise they are in.

So why does the left not embrace this culture? Why can't we at least give as good as we get? Why should I be hard pressed to look beyond Mike Moore or Al Franken in terms of leftists who have worked this out. Why, when you realise how spectacularly successful these two have become have other figures not rushed to crowd the marketplace?

I think this says a lot about both the culture of the left and the culture of the mediascape more broadly. Firstly, there is a distinct po-facedness and a snobbery ingrained in leftist culture, which sets up an artificial and in my view extremely unhelpful dialectic between a moral, community-minded, caring-for-fellow-beings left and an amoral, uncaring, selfish, indiviualist right. The left time and again cloaks itself in the trappings of moral superiority, as though that in and of itself should be enough to make the truth of its arguments self-evident or self-fulfilling. There is so much wrong with the way so many on the left present themselves - they come across as arrogant, presumptive and self-absorbed. They're often having a conversation with themselves in terms that are significant to them alone. They're not trying to sell their message in terms remotely relevant to the very people they want to adhere to it, and in doing so they're almost saying "I assume you will gravitate to me by force of my moral superiority", and when an audience develops a sense that you are making assumptions about them, their beliefs, attitudes, values and feelings they don't just become unreceptive to it, they become offended by it, they feel morally pushed around, they'll ultimately actually react AGAINST it.

But the left so frequently maintains this self-righteousness, this seriousness, this smugness, this aloofness. It modes and mores are still more rooted in the nineteenth century than the twentieth - street demonstrations, petitions and pamphleting are still prevalent modes of "action", yet it could be argued that those that have been the Left's most successful advocates have sought to develop a mastery of more twenty-first century media - bloggers, viral campaigners and entertainers to the fore.

Another problem is that the Left is a fractious beast, and there is this continuous desire (again rooted in a much older political tradition) to recruit, to convert people to their own vision of the grand narrative amongst the tribes of the Left that works so severely against the body of Leftism as a whole, which is almost entirely absent in Rightist politics. I recently attended a lecture by Antony Loewenstein at Melbourne University, hosted by the good folk at Australians for Palestine. In order to make my way into the lecture theatre I, and every other interested party had to make my way past no less than five stalls, staffed by pamphlet-waiving recruiters, trying to get me to attend "Marxism 2009", or to sign on to one or another various causes, only one of which directly concerned itself with Palestine. Can you imagine ever attending a lecture by, say, PJ O'Rourke and being asked to come along to a One Nation meeting afterwards? The Right is happy enough to be spreading the word, and making it easy for people to do so. The Left in contrast is ever on the lookout to recruit, recruit, convert - partly perhaps from a culture of internal competition with so many varied, almost tribal movements at the vanguard.

And the existence of those fractious tribes highlights a further problem the left has in terms of being able to act as a united movement and get behind a particular individual and cheer them, advocate on their behalf, propel them to prominence. The Left in my experience (and it may be clouded somewhat by excessive exposure to the student political arena) is perpetually on the lookout for heresies and heretics. The various tribes have their own unitary, almost biblical "truth" - a set of values that bind its adherents together and separate them from the other respective movements. There is a sense in which elements of the Left appear at times more in competition with one another, more disdainful of those whose vision seems like a perverted or heretical version of their own, and thus more distasteful to them than the diametrically opposed views of the Right.

I haven't read Charles Firth's book American Hoax, and I don't need to, having heard him talk about it in person. Whatever you may make of Firth, the experiment itself is an infinitely fascinating one, and goes to the heart of what the real problem is here. In it, Firth sets out to establish a number of fake characters for himself via the internet, with the aim of trying to get them all fame. The conclusion is that the right-wing pundit was by far the winner in the exercise, to the point where it led to a series of uncomfortable situations for Firth whereby he was basically needing to reproduce the character in the flesh. Firth's inescapable conclusion was that the Right invariably acted like a cheer-squad to his views, they were friendly and supportive and glad to have a like-minded soul amongst them.

The response from the Left to Firth's leftist character could not possibly have been starker. They were distrustful, suspicious, unwelcoming of this newcomer to their rarified world. Who was this person? What credentials did they have? What was their specific views on X,Y, or Z? And as soon as any remotely divergeent view was found on any topic, it became a reason to tear them down, to dismiss them as impure, heretical, not truly left, or at least not a particular enough version of leftism to get behind. Firth concluded that while the Right offered a real sense of an open community, the Left (and when you put it in these terms it really highlights the ideological inversion) had a much more gated community, much more suspicious and fractured.

I fear for the future of the left if it cannot find a way to move beyond the culture it's become mired in. I despaired during Antony Loewenstein's excellent lecture. The key point for me wat when he revealed from discussions he's had with very senior journalists that the pressure applied to them by the pro-Israel lobby does work, and that several journalists themselves as good as said as much. The sad reality, Loewenstein asserts, is that every time they write anything remotely critical of Israel, they are bombarded with up to 500 emails and letters decrying their "imbalance". When they do the same vis a vis the Palestinians, they may receive one or two bits of correspondence, or more usually none. This, Loewenstein says, leads to an inevitable and often subconscious culture of self-censorship amongst reporters. What is clearly needed is a sense of community amongst those opposed to Israel's actions. It requires the left end of the scrum pushing hard, together and with a sense of purpose.

Yet at this very same meeting, discussion became hijacked by ideologues. One woman in particular felt the need to remind the meeting of the primacy of direct actions and protests to build the "movement". She saw the need for an "activist" agenda to alert people to the tragedy of the Palestinian people.
Well, no, people actually do know quite a bit about the plight of the Palestinians. People do care and sympathise with them. There are plenty of opinion polls to show that. The problem is that they're put off doing anything actively about it by precisely the kind of thing that these people presenting - a politics that tries to pitch everything in terms of a "movement". A politics that asks participants in this cause to yoke themselves to something bigger, more over-arching, and ultimately almost not at all in keeping with a concern for the Palestinians themselves, who care by and large not one whit for Marx, for the role of class or imperialism or whatever broader discourses shape their plight. They'd sooner have 500 people poised, pens at the ready to counter the Israeli lobbyists, to ensure their story is told in a balanced way by the media, to tilt the playing field of public opinion back in their favour where it rightly belongs.

It breaks my heart the way leftist objectives are continually usurped by ideology, the way an opportunity to pursue a common good - a meeting which could have been talking about how we can start organising a grouping to petition the media with the fervour the Zionists so readily muster, gets bogged down in discussion of modes of political activity rather than practical concerns.

I can't really see how to move beyond this though. I started out by saying I love those on the fringes for the possibilities they enable, but the reality is that those on the Right have a mode of political engagement which at present enables the fulcrum to shift more readily to their end - as though the rugby field has a natural lean that way. As though the inevitable force of political gravity on pigskin has it seeing an easier and clearer route trundling their way of its own accord. The problems of the Left are so deeply ingrained, so cultural that it's impossible from where I sit to see a way forward - confront them directly and you just get shouted at, and the divisions get worse. To shut those voices out altogether is impossible and counter-productive. But so's tolerating them and the damage they do, so I guess my answer is to blog about it and hope. Blog, and hope, blog and ...

Next Week: Part Two, the problem with media culture - stay tuned (nb I now have an RSS link, get your fill of bloodied marsupial in a heartbeat!)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bully boy Israel has its way with OUR money

It's an age-old dilemma we're all acutely familiar with. Do you keep giving lunch money to the kid who always has it stolen?

Placing this question in another context - the world's leaders have just pledged US$4.48 billion dollars for the reconstruction of Gaza, more than double the targeted figure. Such generosity, such nobleness of spirit must surely be welcomed and praised? The suffering of the denizens of Gaza ameliorated to some extent at last.


Well, there's a large amount that troubles me about this. Firstly, most of the infrastructure in the Gaza strip that was destroyed by the Israeli offensive (and surely that word has never been more applicable to a military campaign) was financed in the first place by exactly this sort of foreign aid. Secondly, the Gaza strip is occupied territory annexed by Israel. Under international law the welfare and well-being of Gaza and its infrastructure is actually Israel's responsibility. With the rights of being an occupier comes a bundle of obligations - many of which are set out in the Geneva Convention, a large number of which Israel regularly flouts.

So we have a situation where from time to time, as it sees fit, Israel inflicts collective punishment on people supposedly within its protective remit by smashing their infrastructure, roads, schools and power plants. It allows its soldiers to shell, occupy, trash and often bulldoze people's houses, and these things are invariably nothing more than an exercise in projecting Israel's arbitrary tantrums on the Palestinian people - they are pure exercises in populist politics, playing to the Israeli public's periodic demands do "do something" about the fact that the Palestinians, after 60 years of Israeli occupation with still no homeland refuse to sit obediantly behind their fences and wait for it to happen.

You may pardon my cynicism about this, but it seems quite obvious that the objectives and behaviour of Israel in its occupied territories is always first and foremost governed by political concerns. In this case, somehow all of the supposedly clear objectives of Operation Cast Lead were magically achieved a handful of days before a new administration entered the White House, discounting for the fact that actually ... err ... precisely none of those objectives were achieved - Hamas is as strong as ever, the rockets still rain down on Sderot, and the smuggling tunnels are still operating. Oh yes, and 1300 people are dead. Take a guess how many of those were involved in firing the rockets in the first place, and then consider why you think the rockets are still falling. But that's a fair price to pay for the deaths of little more than a dozen Israeils over the past ten years, I guess. At least we now have a proper calculation for the relative worth of a Palestinian versus an Israeli life - approximately 1:100.

So, we saw it when Israel decided to smash Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah (built by western donor money), we've seen it in every previous military incursion anywhere in Gaza and the West Bank - where power plants have been deliberately bombed, homes, schools, police stations businesses, and orchards laid waste with absolute impugnity. Then when they decide they've had enough, Israel turns to the rest of the world and says "right, you can fix it now". The world then spends billions of dollars once more building up high value targets for Israel to pummel the next time it feels aggrieved.

And nobody says a word about it. Nobody tells the bully off. Nobody beats the bully up, hardly anyone has more than the most muted criticisms for the bully's actions. Instead they follow dutifully in the bully's wake, clearing up the mess that was made. The bully learns no lesson except his unbounded impugnity. And we know from that - don't we my readers, that means the bully will someday be back for more lunch money? Effectively ours.

PS: Oh yes, and a bunch of innocent people will die in the process. But that's just a byline here, right?

By way of an update - the UN statistics are 14,000 homes, 68 government buildings, and 31 offices of nongovernmental organizations destroyed during Operation Cast Lead.