• What Has Happened to Australian Sport?

    Australians love their sport and, as we all know, they are very good at it.  But, in recent times, the evidence is mounting that their proud record is being sullied by the unavoidable conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with Australian sport.

    The most recent evidence to support this thesis came in this month’s first cricket test between Australia and South Africa.  David Warner’s scuffle with a South African player, and Nathan Lyon’s bizarre and nasty action, having run out the South African A.B. de Villiers, in appearing to drop the ball on his face as he lay on the ground, came in the wake of a series of similarly unpleasant moments, many of them involving cricket.

    We do not need to go back far to recall the “underarm bowling” incident involving our own cricket team and it was, after all, the Australians who invented both the term and the practice of “sledging” – the use of constantly repeated nasty and personal remarks designed to unsettle one’s opponents.  This practice – which has now become something of an art form, and is defended as a legitimate element in Australia’s game-day strategy – is not restricted in Australian sport to cricket; indeed, it reached its high (or perhaps one should say low) point when Nick Kyrgios, the notoriously badly behaved Australian tennis player, remarked to an opponent as they crossed at the net in a close match, that he should know that his girlfriend had slept with another named player.

    What is disturbing about these incidents is that they are not just lapses on the part of wayward individuals but seem to be endemic in, and part and parcel, of the underlying attitude to sport in Australia.  So important has sporting success become to the Australian psyche, it seems, that “anything goes” as long as the victory is secured.

    Most Australians would dismiss any talk of “fair play” or of “the spirit of the game” or of “sportsmanship” as the talk of “losers” or, at best, hopelessly old-fashioned.  A deliberate aggressiveness is thought to be the key to success and, when victory is won, an excessive triumphalism is expected as the appropriate Australian response.  And, if a David Warner or Nick Kyrgios is criticised for bad behaviour, most Australians would defend them and their actions as long as they win – indeed, as with sledging, the bad behaviour is seen as an essential part of a winning strategy.

    None of this might matter if it were a purely sporting phenomenon.  But attitudes such as these, seen in sport, are (predictably enough, given the important place occupied by sport in Australian society) sadly reflective of the attitudes that increasingly imbue Australian society as a whole.

    Individual Australians can be the nicest people in the world, but I am sure I am not alone in having noticed an increasing intolerance of other views, an unwillingness to consider the interest of others, and a harder-edged nationalism in the voice and face that Australia now displays to the rest of the world, and not least to their friends.  It is as though the citizens of the “lucky country” can hardly believe their luck and are determined to make sure that they make that luck pay and that no one else tries to muscle in.  These trends seem to have been exacerbated by the growing realisation that Australia has the opportunity to play an increasingly important role in the region and in the world as a whole.

    The best friends are often those most prepared to speak frankly.  The risk in speaking frankly, though, is that offence is taken.  But the risk is worth it – and, in sporting matters, as long as the Bledisloe Cup continues to elude our Aussie friends, we are well-placed to put up with the odd bit of sledging when we point out the (sadly and increasingly) obvious.

    Bryan Gould

    7 March 2018

  • Where TECT Money Does the Most Good

    Some years ago, as Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, I found myself heading a fund-raising campaign to raise money for an Academy of Performing Arts at the University.  There is no tradition in New Zealand, as there is in America, of charitable giving on a large scale by wealthy individuals, and we quickly exhausted the possibilities of those generous souls who were able and prepared to help.

    I was beginning to despair that we would ever reach our $20 million plus target, when a local charitable trust, the Wel Energy Trust, came to the rescue.  The trustees of the Trust were constantly torn between, on the one hand, using their available funds to help consumers by funding discounts on electricity bills and, on the other, supporting worthwhile local projects.  It was our good fortune that they opted to support us – and the result?  A world-class facility that has brought great pleasure and prestige to both the University and its community.

    The Tauranga Energy Consumers Trust (TECT) – the Tauranga equivalent of the Wel Energy Trust – have faced a similar choice.  Their current practice is to use the greater part of their available funds (which are derived mainly from their large shareholding in Trustpower) to issue cheques to Trustpower consumers so as to reduce, seemingly, the burden of their electricity bills; and they make grants only with what is then left.

    They are now considering changing that practice so as to become a charitable trust, ready to support a wider range of local projects that might not otherwise get off the ground.  This will have the effect of reducing the amount of money that is sent out to consumers by way of regular cheques – and, not surprisingly, there is no shortage of objectors to such a change.

    For individual consumers, particularly those on low incomes, the non-arrival of the cheques (even though the blow is to be softened by the immediate payment of a substantial lump sum of $2500 to each customer and the continuation of a further five annual payments) will mean that an apparently significant boost to their budgets will be removed.  Everyone enjoys getting “something for nothing”, particularly when the “something” can be spent on whatever they like.  And one suspects that what many would miss is the thrill of receiving a cheque in the post.

    Trustpower, too, say that they oppose the change, for reasons that might seem obvious.  Competition in the electricity supply industry is hotting up, and consumers are increasingly likely to go to a website established for the purpose to check where they can get the best deal.  When consumers discover that their Trustpower bill is higher than they might have to pay elsewhere, it is very convenient for Trustpower to be able to point to the TECT cheques as reducing the net cost.

    There are many businesses of course, who would love to have a fairy godmother paying out cheques to their customers so as to allow them to go on charging above the going market rate for their product.  From the customer’s viewpoint, however, the budgetary benefit delivered by the cheques would be just as real if they were just charged lower prices instead.

    It is hard to see, in other words, the particular advantage to be gained for the customer from a convoluted process which allows Trustpower to go on charging more than they should and then being able to point to a cheque being paid out by a third party.  Wouldn’t it be simpler for the customer if Trustpower just reduced their charges? – something they won’t do, for as long as the cheques keep coming.

    The decision as to which course to take will be made by consumers.  In the end, the answer should depend on a clear-eyed analysis of the economics, and a clear answer to the question of who really benefits from the current practice.   Those answers should then be compared with the potential boost to the city from the ability to fund major projects that would otherwise never reach fruition.  As always, money delivers more when it is not spent in small amounts by individuals on their own purposes but is brought together into larger totals and invested in projects for the good of the community.

    Bryan Gould

    28 January 2018

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  • Abuse Can Happen Close to Home

    “Abuse” is a word that these days appears, sadly, all too frequently in the headlines.  It is, however, a word that covers a multitude of sins – the phenomenon it describes takes many different forms and arises in many different contexts.

     

    On one day, it will refer to instances such as the shocking treatment inflicted on no fewer than thirteen children who were found, ill and under-nourished and  shackled to beds in their parents’ home in the United States.  No one reading an account of the discovery of these children in these shocking circumstances would fail to recognise it as an archetypal example of abuse.

     

    On a succession of other days, “abuse” will refer to complaints made by brave women – usually actresses or models – about the treatment they were accorded by Harvey Weinstein and by other prominent men, usually in the entertainment industry, who demanded sexual favours in return for promoting their careers.  This scandal has engulfed a growing number of men and has destroyed a number of careers and reputations – though Donald Trump seems somehow to have avoided a similar fate as the penalty for his own admitted (and proudly proclaimed) offences.

     

    On yet other occasions, a different – and perhaps even more worrying – manifestation of abuse will hit the headlines.  An unfortunate baby or toddler will be found to have suffered fatal injuries at the hands of an adult carer, or a terrified woman will suffer physical violence at the hands of a bullying partner.

     

    Even these instances do not exhaust the catalogue of the forms that abuse can take.  Destructive criticisms levelled on account of the race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or physical or mental capacity of the victim is a form of abuse that can be so damaging both to individual victims and to large groups of our fellow citizens as to be treated as criminal offences – though, again, Donald Trump seems to enjoy some kind of imagined Presidential immunity.

     

    This recital of the forms of abuse with which we are familiar takes no account of yet other forms which attract less attention, not because they occur less frequently but because they are less easily recognised.  But the law is catching up with real life; the  law that outlaws physical or sexual violence has recently been extended to cover a further form of abuse that can occur in the domestic context.

     

    That form of abuse is described in the legislation as “psychological abuse”, but it is usually described in the expert literature as “coercive control”, a term that better captures the essence of what is peculiarly destructive behaviour arising in the context of a family relationship.

     

    The victims of “coercive control” are usually women (though they can be men) or children, living with a domineering adult (either male or female) , and finding that their ability to operate as independent human beings has been gradually eroded by the emotional, psychological and even financial pressure placed upon them by their abuser.  That pressure is usually designed to undermine their self-confidence, to isolate them by weakening their networks of social support, and to make them more and more dependent on the abuser.

     

    The problem in identifying psychological abuse is that “it leaves no bruises”.  It is usually not apparent to observers from outside the family because the abuser will be expert at concealing what is really happening, present an image of domestic harmony and play the role of devoted family member.

     

    These evidential issues mean that the courts have found it difficult to handle cases of alleged psychological abuse.  The danger then is that the abuser gets away with it, and may even be presented with further opportunities to control (or abuse) the victim.  A partner or child who alleges such abuse can often be directed to undergo counselling or some other form of mediation, which can then mean that the abuser has a further chance during the course of such conversations to exercise the control and domination that are the essence of “coercive control”.

     

    We should not, in other words, always look for bruises.  Abuse, in its many forms, can destroy lives without leaving an imprint, except on the happiness and ability to function of the victim.  We are fortunate to live in a society that at least makes the effort to protect its members from abuse that can be so destructive, even if less obvious, but more should be done.

     

    Bryan Gould

    21 January 2018

     

     

  • Mind Your Language

    A couple of weeks ago, I was watching TV One’s 6 o’clock news when I was stopped in my tracks.  Simon Dallow, the newsreader, was reading an item about a worrying decline in kea numbers and concluded by saying that there are now “less than 7000”, whereupon he stopped briefly and said, by way of correction, “fewer than 7000.”  I was both amazed and delighted that he had baulked at reading the text he had been given and had corrected an all-too-common error.

    The incident is worth remarking on because so many supposedly professional broadcasters repeat such solecisms, either because they know no better or are content to accept such injuries to our language on the ground that they have been legitimised because “everyone says that.”

    It is of course true that our language is a living thing and is constantly changing, and that changes are most often brought about by popular usage.  It is also argued that, as long as the meaning is clear, we need not concern ourselves with grammar or the true meaning of a particular word.

    But what are we to say of a change in usage which positively obscures the meaning we wish to convey?  Take, for example, another error repeatedly committed by leading broadcasters; in a recent instance, in an item on the re-opening of State Highway One north of Kaikoura, a broadcaster referred to an “alternate” route.  She presumably meant an “alternative “ route – that is, a route that offers another option, rather than one that should be taken on every second occasion that the journey is undertaken.

    Making the same error, Sky Sport insisted for some months on offering viewers an “alternate” commentary on rugby matches, instead of what was presumably an alternative commentary in Maori. And I was depressed to see a road sign over Christmas offering me and other drivers an “alternate route”.

    The confusion between “alternate” and “alternative”, and the use of one when the other is meant, are now well-entrenched in American English – and, sadly, the mere fact that the two words are now so often misused means that we have now, through sheer laziness and ignorance, ruined two perfectly good and useful words.

    Nor is this the only instance of such a corruption of our language.  What I take to be another Americanism – the use of “substantive” (referring to the substance of an issue or process, as opposed to the procedure or detail) as an up-to-date alternative to “substantial” (meaning of substance as opposed to slight or minimal) – is rapidly gaining ground.

    The Americans, of course, have, as they say, “form” in such matters.  They have for some time refused to use “lie” to mean recline, and use instead the transitive verb “lay” which means to place something (like an egg) down.

    The Americans are not of course responsible for every misuse of the language.  Take, for instance, a home-grown usage that is now constantly heard, particularly but no longer exclusively, in the mouths of young people.  People of whatever age who would never dream of saying “me went to town”, rather than “I went to town”, are apparently persuaded that by adding another subject to the sentence, the usual rule is supplanted, so that we constantly hear formulations such as “me and Tom went to town”.

    Does any of this matter?  I would argue that it does.  Those demonstrating a lack of regard for our language and careless as to its correct use tell everyone forced to listen that they are people who don’t care about getting it (or anything else) right.

    We enjoy the immense privilege of using our language, with all its richness and complexity, as our native tongue.  The rest of the world increasingly uses English as their preferred medium of communication, but we native speakers can enjoy not only its utility but its beauty as well.

    We should not only be aware of our good fortune but also understand the responsibility we have to the language.  To speak it carelessly or ignorantly, so as to confuse meanings and corrupt its functioning, is the equivalent of hitting bum notes when playing a great piece of music.  We all have the opportunity of striving to use it as well as we can – but those whose business is language, in that they speak it or write for a living, have a special responsibility – and congratulations to Simon Dallow for reminding us of that.

    Bryan Gould

    21  December 2017

     

     

  • Emergency Services and The Storm

    As we listened anxiously to the weather warnings on Thursday evening, my wife and I went through a familiar routine.  Living as we do on the Eastern Bay of Plenty coast, just above the beach, we are used to the dangers that attend those “exposed” areas that are especially vulnerable to high winds and heavy rain – both of which were promised us in spades by the weather forecasters.

    So, we moved all our outdoor furniture to positions that would ensure, we hoped, that even if they were picked up by the gale-force winds they would not be hurled through a window.  I cleared the drains in the hope that they would be adequate to divert the waterfall that would surge down our drive so that it would not flood our garage.  And I checked that my chainsaw was in working order and would be up to removing from our drive the tree trunks and branches brought down by the wind and threatening to block access to our property.

    Most importantly, we checked that we had matches, candles, torches and batteries in the event of a power cut – almost an inevitability in rough weather – and that we had enough bottled gas to fire up the barbecue so that we could cook – or at least make a cup of tea.

    But as we went through our check list, I remarked to my wife that the people I felt sorry for, as we and they waited for the storm to hit, were those emergency workers who would know for a certainty that their evening and night were going to be disrupted by call-outs, and that they would have to leave the comfort of the family hearth and go out into the foul weather.

    I was thinking of course of the firefighters who, by virtue of their expertise in using long ladders, seem to be the first port of call to resolve almost any problem – from a roof blowing off to a pet getting stranded.

    And then there are the electricity line workers, struggling to identify and then to rectify the problem that might have left thousands without light or heat or the ability to cook.  And spare a thought for the hard-pressed call staff, having to be polite as stressed callers insist on an explanation and a prediction as to when power will be restored, even when the technicians themselves are still searching for answers.

    And never forget the ambulance staff and the police whose normal workload is usually trebled by the manifold accidents that inevitably attend severe weather.  We, the public, are a demanding and often ungrateful lot (as will be certified by anyone who has ever had occasion to deal with “the public” at first hand) and most of those who undertake these difficult tasks get precious little by way of thanks in return.

    So, as I spend Friday morning clearing up the mess, looking in wonder at the mountainous seas that – driven by the super moon’s king tide – are obliterating our beach, and wondering what worse is yet to come, I am grateful that I, like many others, can rely on being able to call for help when it is needed.  It is good to live in a society that is sufficiently well-organised and caring to make provision for coming to our aid when our own efforts alone are not enough.

    These services cost money, of course, and probably more than is actually made available – and they are only the tip of the iceberg, since they have a higher profile and visibility than other services, by virtue of their importance in emergency situations.  Behind them, though, are many other public services that have a less high profile, but are equally important over a longer period of time, in helping us to overcome life’s problems.

    The resources needed to maintain these services have to come from somewhere.  A moment’s thought will tell us from where – from the bills and taxes we pay.  The next time we grumble about paying our taxes or our bills to public utilities, let us reflect that some of our fellow citizens are ready to go out on a cold, wet, miserable and dangerous night and will use the resources that we help to fund so as to help us through our difficulties.  Well done them!

    Bryan Gould

    5 January 2018