Thursday, 27 September 2012

Football Morality

It being Grand Final week, it's a good time to write that post about football morality that's been going around in my head for months.

I'm a regular watcher of Rugby League.  It's a good way to switch the brain off on Friday evenings.  Yet footballers often get bad press.  Whether it's off field incidents involving drugs, alcohol and violence towards women, or onfield violence towards each other, you would be forgiven for thinking sometimes that footballers are a bunch of amoral thugs.  This however, is a long way from the truth, at least for most. 

Our story begins in August 2011 and the notorious Round 25 clash between Melbourne and Manly.  This match is infamous for a vicious all-in brawl that erupted in the second half. A bit too much aggression in a tackle led to a few punches and a lot of pushing and shoving near the tryline.  The referees decided to cool things down by sending two of the main offenders, Manly's Glenn Stewart and Melbourne's Adam Blair, to the sin bin.

At such times the refs have a clear procedure.  They send the first player off (in this case Stewart), then wait until he's half way back to the grandstand before sending off the second.  This way the players are kept apart.  It usually works fine, but this time Stewart dawdled, Blair jogged and as they came together words, then punches were exchanged.  Players from both sides rushed over to get involved, the incident went on for a few minutes before both players were banished for the remainder of the match.  Subsequent inquiries led to long suspensions for both, a shorter one for Stewart's brother and Manly team-mate Brett, and fines for both clubs.

You might think this shows a level of hatred between the two teams, but another incident from the same match tells you differently.  It was drowned out by the brawl and a I can't even find it on Youtube.  Manly winger David Williams was diving for the tryline and Melbourne fullback Billy Slater slid in to get under him and prevent him grounding the ball.  The pair collided awkwardly and wound up with Williams' head resting in Slater's lap.

Slater sat very still, cradling Williams like a baby, as he and another team mate waved players away and signalled frantically for a trainer.   It turned out that Williams' neck had been injured in the collision and Slater, not wanting to risk further damage, held him still until the paramedics could immobilise his neck and get him onto a stretcher.

These incidents, like the fights, are actually quite common in Rugby League.  There was similar one in Round 4 but be warned, it shows a nasty injury in graphic detail.  Brisbane winger Jharal Yow Yeh and South Sydney winger Dylan Farrell leapt simultaneously for a high kick.  As they came down, Yow Yeh's leg was trapped beneath his body and his ankle snapped.  Players from both teams reacted swiftly. Souths fullback Greg Inglis  signalled to the sideline for help then stayed to check on progress, while Brisbane centre Justin Hodges and captain Sam Thaiday comforted Yow Yeh who was in obvious pain. 

I don't think its a coincidence that the players closest to Yow Yeh immediately after the injury - Inglis, Hodges and Thaiday - are all Indigenous men.  Thanks to the leadership of popular Gold Coast fullback Preston Campbell, in recent years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players across the League have developed a strong bond based on their common heritage.  Yet non-Indigenous players from both teams also appear in shot, saying a comforting word, touching Yow Yeh's head or squeezing his hand.

So why am I telling you this?  Well, I think these incidents point to the existence of a clear moral code amongst footballers.  It's not a Christian one, or one worked out in ethics classes.  It doesn't necessarily match the codes promoted by sponsors or club officials.  It's a cultural code, developed by generations of players, enforced by peer pressure, sometimes breached but more often honoured.  Here are its key elements.

1. Violence must be in proportion
Rugby League is a rough game, and players deliberately set out to hurt each other.  This is not only tolerated, it is expected.  Whether it be a shoulder charge, a back-slam or a face massage post-tackle, it's all part of the game.  Retaliation in the form of fisticuffs - as in the original fight in the Manly-Melbourne game - is also quite acceptable. 

However, violence should hurt, not maim.  Serious injuries like Williams' or Yow Yeh's are almost always the result of accidents.  It is quite acceptable to belt the wind out of someone with a shoulder charge, or give them a black eye in a punch-up, but it would definitely not be acceptable for Billy Slater to do anything which would put Williams in a wheelchair.  This is also the major part of Stewart's and Blair's sin - they just carried it on for too long.

2. You can break the rules but you must wear the punishment
Footballers recognise that the rules of the game are to be respected, but only when there is no other choice.  A little hand in the play-the-ball, an "accidental" bump on a chasing player, a slightly late hit on the halfback after he's kicked the ball, are all fair game.  It's even OK to complain and protest your innocence if you get caught.  However, extended tantrums, walk-offs, boycotts or other prima donna behaviour are not to be tolerated.  You have to be prepared to cop it sweet.  Here Stewart and Blair transgressed again - they had been punished and they should have been doing their time.

3. You must support your team-mates
This rule applies both on the field and off it.  You rarely see two players fighting without others rushing in.  They are not necessarily there to join in, although sometimes they are.  More often they are there to pull the players apart in order to make sure their team-mate doesn't get hurt.  But as often as not the first push, punch or verbal abuse comes not from the player who has been hit in the high tackle or roughed up on the ground, but from his team-mate who takes exception on his behalf. 

This is why the entire Melbourne and Manly teams were not suspended - rushing halfway across the field to defend a team-mate is only right and proper.  Even Brett Stewart, who arrived on the scene with a huge right forearm to the back of Blair's head, was only suspended for one week and got a lot of sympathy for his plea that "you'd do the same if it was your brother".  Well, maybe not.  Glenn is a big man, and doesn't really need protecting.  See point 5.

This rule, incidentally, is behind a lot of the off-field violence footballers get involved in.  Firstly, of course, if they are out drinking they often cop abuse from drunk rival supporters, and have to stick up for each other.  But also, there is the whole thing of being out drinking in the first place - because of course you have to stick by your mates.  A lot of the most unsavoury incidents of recent years have their origin in this kind of pack mentality.  Perhaps it's time for a change in this one.

4. You must defend the defenceless
If the change comes, perhaps it will be from this base.  Once it was clear Williams and Yow Yeh were in serious trouble, all thought of combat was forgotten.  Everyone's duty was now to help them.  This is nothing more or less than common compassion, but its practice is reinforced within almost every team, and they all have their coterie of kids with disabilities, cancer sufferers and such like who the team members have taken on as special friends.  Current challenge - extend this category to cover women, and embed it so deeply that it still applies when drunk.

5. Don't get too full of yourself
This is kind of an essential team thing, really.  Whereas boxers, runners and other individual sports stars are allowed to proclaim their own greatness and boast about what they will do, footballers are required to be publicly humble, talk up their opponents and ascribe their successes to luck and the hard work of their team-mates.

Along with this goes the notion that ultimately you shouldn't take yourself or what you are doing too seriously.  Speaking of which, one final video which shows a different kind of footballing brotherly love.  St George Illawarra and Canterbury are playing one another and identical twins Brett and Josh Morris are on opposing teams.  Josh gets involved in a bit of a fight along with a few other players, and Brett comes in to pull him away from it.  For a moment it seems that two are laying into each other - then they pull apart laughing.  Perhaps the Stewart boys should hang out with these two for a while...

Monday, 24 September 2012

Shoot Out The Lights

Speaking of love, a while ago I waxed lyrical about Richard and Linda Thompson at the height of their musical and life partnership, and their beautiful song A Heart Needs a Home.  Well lately I've been listening in a similar slightly obsessive fashion to the last album they made together, Shoot Out The Lights, released in 1982.

Their marriage was pretty much over by the time it was released, as the cover tells you plainly, yet they were contractually obliged to tour in support of it.  Audiences (not to mention the band) got to see the painful last rites live on stage as the couple struggled and bickered their way across Europe and North America before departing for what must have seemed by comparison the blessed relief of divorce. 

Shoot Out The Lights tells the death of their love in seven songs.  Gone are the wide open spaces, tranquil rythms and deep yearning of Dimming of the Day or A Heart Needs a Home.  In their place are insistent broken rhythms, jagged stuttering electric guitar lines and a world of pain and hurt.  Where in previous albums they often sang duets, here there is only one, right at the end. Before that the album is like a dialogue - Richard sings, Linda replies.  Of course we know Richard wrote all the songs, but the exchange of voices makes it sound as though they are having it out right there in the recording studio. 

Richard starts it conventionally enough with the plea, Don't Renege on Our Love.

Remember when we were hand in hand
Remember we sealed it with a golden band
Now your eyes don't meet mine, you've got a pulse like fever
Do I take you for a lover or just a deceiver?
Simple is simple and plain is plain
If you leave me now you won't come back again;
When the game is up don't renege on our love.

Well give me just an ounce of sympathy
Give me my chains of liberty
There's a rope that binds us and I don't want to break it
If love is a healing why should we forsake it?...

Such an appeal to the sanctity of marriage might sound persuasive, but it is powerless in the face of Linda's agonised reply.

I hand you my ball and chain
You just hand me that same old refrain
I'm walking on a wire, and I'm falling

I wish I could please you tonight
But my medicine just won't come right
I'm walking on a wire, and I'm falling

Too many steps to take
Too many spells to break
Too many nights awake
And no one else
This grindstone's wearing me
Your claws are tearing me
Don't use me endlessly
It's too long, too long to myself

Where's the justice and where's the sense?
When all the pain is on my side of the fence
I'm walking on a wire, and I'm falling.

What are sacred vows, promises made in happier times, in the face of this vertigo?  It is plain that the marriage is doomed, the vows will be dishonoured.  Richard decamps, and in the chorus of Man in Need, a bare four lines, we see the mix of bitterness and vulnerability that have become his trademark down the years.  The first three lines speak with the voice of every aggrieved, embittered male, every jaundiced exponent of anti-feminist backlash given airspace on talkback radio.

Well who's gonna shoe your feet?
Ah who's gonna pay your rent?
And who's gonna stand by you?

Then the bitterness drops away to reveal the deep need that lies beneath.

Who's gonna cure the heart of a man in need?

This peeling back continues, and the next two songs are pure, raw pain.  First of all there is the kind of numbness, perhaps drug-assisted, that comes when you have reached your limit and it feels as if you are at the bottom of the ocean, a world away from your own life.

Blown by a hundred winds, knocked down a hundred times
Rescued and carried along. Beaten and half-dead and gone
And it's only the pain that's keeping you sane
And gives you a mind to travel on

Oh the motion won't leave you, won't let you remain, don't worry
It's a restless wind and a sleepless rain, don't worry
'Cause under the ocean at the bottom of the sea
You can't hear the storm, it's as peaceful as can be
It's just the motion, it's just the motion

And then there's the title track, a masterful piece of downbeat rock'n'roll about the urge to curl up in a darkened room and shut out all the pain, with a bullet if nothing else will do it.

In the dark who can see his face?
In the dark who can reach him?
He hides like a child. He hides like a child.
Keeps his finger on the trigger
You know he can't stand the day
Shoot out the lights.

Keep the blind down on the window
Keep the pain on the inside
Just watching the dark. Just watching the dark
He might laugh but you won't see him
As he thunders through the night
Shoot out the lights.

Although ostensibly about something else - a murder mystery, if you will - the penultimate track, Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?, brings an appropriate symbolic end to to this tale of woe. 

She was there one minute and then she was gone the next
Lying in a pool of herself with a twisted neck

And although the woman is dead, cause uncertain, she inhabits the same emotional landscape Richard and Linda have just passed through.

She used to live life, she used to live life with a vengeance
And the chosen would dance, the chosen would dance in attendance...

Oh she used to have style, she used to have style and she used it
And they say it turned bad when the truth came `round and she refused it

They found some fingerprints right around her throat
They didn't find no killer and they didn't find no note
Did she jump or was she pushed?

Whether she jumped or was pushed, the outcome is the same.  The marriage is dead, and it will not live again in this world. 

In a sense this is the end of the tale.  Yet thirty years later, both Richard and Linda are still alive.  Both have remarried, and there exists between them that kind of truce which divorced couples reach when they share children, not to mention a body of work that continues to sell.  They have appeared occasionally on one another's recordings and in recent years have even done the odd live performance together.  The romance is dead, but so, it seems, is the enmity.

So was it all worth it?  The pain on display here might make you think not.  Yet Gottfried von Strassberg would disagree.

This sorrow is so full of joy, this ill is so inspiriting that, having once been heartened by it, no noble heart will forego it! 

So, I think, would Richard and Linda.  Why else would they have married again?  Even back in 1982, in the midst of the pain, they could close the album with a duet sung in the closest of close harmony.  Its theme is that familiar folk metaphor, life as a fairground; and if you are at a fairground, what would you want to do but go on the most thrilling, frightening and exhilarating ride available, over and over again?

You can go with the crazy people in the Crooked House
You can fly away on the Rocket or spin in the Mouse
The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you
Noah's Ark might confuse you
But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me
On the Wall Of Death it's the nearest to being free

Well you're going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you're strong but what's the good of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy. Beware of the bearded lady
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Oh let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tristan and Isolde

Anyhow, onto something really important - Love. 

If you've never heard the story of Tristan and Isolde, you've really missed out on something.  You could start by reading it in a children's version, perhaps one of the ones I read as a child.  Following Thomas Malory's 15th century lead, they wove it in between that more famous love triangle involving Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.  You could attempt to listen to Wagner's operatic treatment of it, if you understand German and can stand opera.  Or you could read this most beautiful version, written in the 13th century by the German poet Gottfried von Strassburg and translated into English prose by AT Hatto.

The heart of the story is simple and well-known.  Yes, there is a love potion, a dragon, a giant, a fairy dog and a magic lovers' cave, but these are just entertaining diversions from the all too recognisable humanity of the tale.  Tristan is commissioned by his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to travel to Ireland and negotiate a marriage with Isolde, daughter of the King of Ireland.  Tristan is successful in his mission and escorts Isolde back to Cornwall for her marriage.  The love potion, which Isolde's mother has instructed her companion Brangane to serve to the newlyweds on their wedding night, is accidentally served instead to Tristan and Isolde during the voyage.  They commence a steamy affair and although the marriage goes ahead as planned, the affair carries on under the nose of King Mark before being finally exposed.  Tristan is then banished, and both parties pine for one another until their tragic deaths.

In lesser hands this could be dull and depressing.  The version written by an otherwise unknown Thomas of Britain, which was Gottfried's main source and which Hatto uses to close Gottfried's unfinished epic, is a clumsy affair.  Yet in Gottfried's hands, even in translation, the story breathes life and passion. Out of a chivalric romance he creates an extended tribute to the agony and ecstasy of love.

It almost goes without saying the author of such a love-story must have known love himself, and Gottfried confirms this.  He concludes his description of the mystical lovers cave:

I know this well, for I have been there....But never have I had my repose in it....I have known that cave since I was eleven, yet I never set foot in Cornwall.

Gottfried's tale breathes all the suppressed passion of the frustrated lover.  His vision of the joy and sorrow of love, of the pain that gives pleasure and the pleasure that gives pain, transcends time and place. 

He lets you know what is to come in the tale of Tristan's parents which begins his story.  They meet, and fall in love.  Gottfried compares the event to a bird caught in a sticky trap.

...a lover's fancy acts like a free bird which, in the freedom it enjoys, perches on a lime-twig; and when it perceives the lime and lifts itself for flight stays clinging by the feet.  And so it spreads its wings and makes to get away, but, as it does so, cannot brush against the twig at any part, however lightly, without the twig's fettering it and making it a prisoner.  So now it strikes with all its might, here, there and everywhere, till at last, fighting itself, it overcomes itself and lies limed along the twig.  This is just how untamed fancy behaves.  When it falls into sad love-longing and love works its miracle of love-lorn sadness on him, the lover strives to regain his freedom: but love's clinging sweetness draws him down and he ensnares himself in it so deeply that, try as he may, he cannot get free of it.

This sense of love as a trap, as something which overcomes and masters us, something against which we are powerless, is sealed by the motif of the love potion which Tristan and Isolde accidentally drink.  Before the drinking, Isolde hates Tristan because he killed her uncle in battle.  Tristan's duty and his sole intent is to see her married to his uncle and patron.  Yet once they are served the drink, everything changes. 

Now when the maid and the man, Isolde and Tristan, had drunk the draught, in an instant that arch-disturber of tranquillity was there, Love, waylayer of all hearts, and she had stolen in!  Before they were aware of it she had planted her victorious standard in their two hearts and bowed them beneath her yoke.  They who were two and divided now became one and united....They shared a single heart.  Her anguish was his pain: his pain her anguish.  The two were one both in joy and in sorrow....

Well may Brangane lament:

Ah, Tristan and Isolde, this draught will be your death!

The potion is hardly necessary.  It is Love itself which is all powerful, which changes their destiny and ties them to the wheel of deceit.  There can be no question of cancelling the marriage, but nor can there be any question of them parting, or refraining.  The couple feel no remorse about deceiving their husband and patron.  The only pain they feel is the result of Love itself.

At times they were happy, at others out of humour, as is Love's custom with lovers; for in their hearts she brews pain beside pleasure, sorrow and distress as well as joy.  And distress for Tristan and his lady Isolde was when they could not contrive a love-meeting.

In such a tale it is easy to start to think of the young lovers as hero and heroine, and wish them all joy.  What of poor Mark?  Malory, in his heavy-handed way, gives in and makes Mark the villain, a cruel, cowardly ruler, and it seems a crime to sentence the lovely young Isolde to his bed.  Not so for Gottfried.  His Mark may be weak and indecisive but he is kind and generous, a faithful, noble ruler loved by his people.  For Gottfried, Love is the only villain, and Mark too is its victim - doubly so, for not only does he love Isolde deeply, but Tristan is his closest friend and confidante, and Love takes them both from him.

Mark, meanwhile, was burdened by a double sorrow....His friend Tristan, his joy Isolde - these two were his chief affliction.  They pressed sorely on him, heart and soul....He bore with this double pain after the common fashion and desert, for when he wished to have his pleasure with Isolde, suspicion thwarted him, and then he wished to investigate and track down the truth of the matter.  But since this was denied him, doubt racked him once more....

Much though they may try, Tristan and Isolde can't hide their love, can't refrain from showing it even in Mark's presence.

How right he was who said that however one guards against it, the eye longs for the heart, the finger longs for the pain.  The eyes, those lodestars of the heart, long to go raiding to where the heart is turned; the finger and the hand time and time again go towards the pain.  So it was with these lovers.  However great their fears, they had not the power to refrain from nourishing suspicion with many a tender look, often and all too often....Mark had found Love's balm in them, for he was always watching them.  His eye was always on them.  He secretly read the truth in her eyes many, many times, and indeed in nothing but her glance - it was so very lovely, so tender, and so wistful that it pierced him to the heart, and he conceived such anger....

This tragic triangle can't go on forever, especially when other courtiers begin to suspect, and spies begin to set traps of the lovers.  Despite Mark's willful blindness, and every trick and strategem Tristan, Isolde and the cunning Brangane can devise, eventually it all has to end and tragedy take its course.

You might find this depressing.  You might feel that if this is love, you would be better off avoiding it, staying single or perhaps settling for a conventional, companionable but passion-free marriage.  Gottfried has two answers for you.  The first is, of course, that you don't get to choose.  If love lays siege to your heart, it will fall.  The second is this:

...when we are deeply in love, however great the pain, our heart does not flinch.  The more a lover's passion burns in its furnace of desire, the more ardently will he love.  This sorrow is so full of joy, this ill is so inspiriting that, having once been heartened by it, no noble heart will forego it! 

May it always be so!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Climate Change Denial and Creationism

I have noticed that most, if not all, of my fundamentalist Christian acquaintances are also climate change deniers.  I've been wondering whether there is a connection and I've concluded that there is, and that it's young earth creationism.

Young earth creationism often goes under the name of Creation Science, but it's not science, it's apologetics.  Science is an open pursuit of knowledge - it seeks explanations for observed phenomena, and tests these against the evidence.  Its hypotheses may be proved or disproved - both proof and disproof are valid scientific outcomes.

Apologetics, on the other hand, is the task of defending a particular view or idea.  The truth is already known and the task of the apologist is to bolster belief in that truth by marshalling evidence in its defence.  In this case the faith position is the literal inerrancy of the Bible, and in particular the literal truth of the early chapters of Genesis which are understood to describe a seven-day creation roughly 6,000 years ago. 

Apologists are not required to prove their viewpoint, only to find a way to present it as rational and to question alternative viewpoints. Creationists have a number of strategies for achieving this. 

First of all, they hone in on weaknesses and gaps in the ideas of their opponents.  For creationists, these include the incredible complexity and statistical improbability of life, apparent gaps in the fossil record,  the variable results of radioactive dating methods, and so on.  These issues are exaggerated, and in many cases disorted, to cast doubt on the theory of evolution, while the huge amount of evidence in favour of evolution is downplayed or ignored.

Secondly, evidence is cited out of context or in a distorted way so that it appears to support the creationist view.  This often involves relying on outdated and discredited explanations for known phenomena.  A classic example of this is the citation of the presence of oceanic fossils on high ground as evidence of the Great Flood, an explanation long replaced by an understanding of the motion of oceans and continents over time.

Thirdly, scientific endeavour is recast as a field of conflict, a partisan exercise in which competing world views strive to win the day.  Creationists suggest that evolutionists are hiding and distorting evidence in order to ensure victory for evolution.  In its mild form, scientists are hapless victims of a kind of groupthink which favours orthodoxy.  In its extreme form this becomes full blown conspiracy theory, with scientists conspiring to promote their atheistic views out of a clear ideological agenda.

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I find young earth creationism both scientifically untenable and theologically unnecessary.  However, I do understand that a lot is at stake here.  Biblical inerrancy is a core idea in Christian fundamentalism, and giving that up means you have to give up lots of other things as well.  Many former fundamentalists, having abandoned inerrancy, find it impossible to sustain any other kind of faith.  It's little wonder they work hard to maintain it. 

Now to climate change.  Decades of research on this issue have led to a high level of consensus among scientists from a wide range of disciplines.  This consensus is best summed up by quoting key statements from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment report.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level ...

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG (i.e. greenhouse gas) concentrations. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming (i.e. warming caused by human activity) over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)....

Continued GHG emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

This position is explained by Tim Hall, adjunct professor at Columbia University, in Climate Change: Picturing the Science edited by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wood,

It is not possible in any field of natural science to absolutely prove that an explanation for a phenomenon is correct, only that one is incorrect or inadequate. Many explanations may be put forth to explain a series of observations or results from an experiment. The explanations, to be most useful, make distinct predictions about other observations. As additional observations become available, some explanations are shown to be incorrect, while others remain consistent with the data....

The theory of anthropogenic climate change has made predictions that have been borne out. Climate change theory has correctly predicted that sea levels should rise as ice melts and warmer seawater expands....that the stratosphere should cool in reponse to increasing levels of greenhouse gases....that warming in the Arctic would be enhanced due to ice melt and the subsequent energy absorption of exposed seawater....that heat content would rise in the ocean, and that the land would warm more rapidly....all of which have been observed.

....if a new theory of global warming were put forth, not only would it have to explain observed climate change over the industrial era, it would have to explain why the climate was not responding to greenhouse gases in a way consistent with the known physics. No-one has put forth any such theory to compete with anthropogenic influence.

Of course there is also a small group of scientists who dispute this view, and they have been getting a lot of air time.  Robert Manne's recent essay in The Monthly outlines how they operate, with financial support from key conservative think-tanks, to dispute this scientific consensus.  As I read articles by climate change deniers, and as I read Manne's critique of them, it sounds uncannily like the creation vs evolution debate in fundamentalism.  Climate deniers exaggerate flaws and uncertainties in climate science, stress discredited or irrelevant data and interpretations, and imply that climate scientists are conspiring to suppress contrary opinions and data for their own venal purposes.

There is nothing theologically at stake in global warming. In fact, it's far less theologically problematic to believe that fallen, hopelessly sinful humans are damaging the planet than to believe we are not. Global warming is exactly the type of thing that Christian theology predicts. Nor are climate change deniers necessarily motivated by faith. Ian Plimer, one of Australia's most prominent deniers, is also the author of a trenchant critique of creationism called Telling Lies for God.  Yet their approach to science is so similar to that of the creationists that it immediately resonates with people already convinced by the arguments of Creation Science.

Most of us lack the knowledge to genuinely assess the research on either question for ourselves and reach our own conclusions. We are highly reliant on the interpretations of experts.  We trust that their expertise, and the public, multi-national and multi-disciplinary nature of the process Hall describes, will ensure scientific explanations are as close to the truth as the evidence allows.

Yet for fundamentalists, creationism has broken this trust.  Science is seen as suspect and, more to the point, as the enemy of faith.  Critiques by outsiders, Christian or not, are more to be trusted than the general scientific consensus.  An apologetic method designed to protect their faith has been hijacked to promote a cause which, if anything, is at odds with Christianity.

Since I gave up on creationism myself in my early 20s, I have regarded it as a bit silly but essentially harmless.  After all, if you live by the gospel, what does it matter if you believe the earth is only 6,000 years old?  However, there is nothing harmless about climate change denial.  All of a sudden I feel a whole lot more sympathy for Richard Dawkins....

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Golden Boy

If you wanted an insight into the other side of the World Series Cricket saga, it would be hard to go past Christian Ryan's 2009 biography of Kim Hughes, Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian cricket.  Unlike many of his famous contemporaries, Hughes never wrote his own memoirs, and he didn't cooperate with this bio either.  Nonetheless it's a highly sympathetic account of his career.

In 1977 Hughes was a promising young player on the fringes of the Australian test team.  Hughes claims that he turned down an offer to join WSC, while key WSC figures claim no offer was ever made.  Either way, he ended up on the Australian Cricket Board side of the war and with the top players missing he moved instantly from fringe player to mainstay of the batting order.  By 1979, in his 11th test, he found himself captain of the struggling young Board team.

What happened from there on shows that the peace between the combatants in the dispute was hardly more than skin-deep.  There was little controversy in the captaincy returning to Greg Chappell once the WSC players returned to official test duty.   Yet when Chappell began to decline overseas tours a couple of years later it was as if the war had never gone away.  Veteran wicketkeeper Rod Marsh publicly campaigned for the job, with the support of senior WSC figures like Dennis Lillee, who was still playing, and Ian Chappell, newly installed in the Channel 9 commentary box.

When the role went to Hughes instead, the response from these senior figures was far from gracious.  Both Marsh and Lillee hesitated publicly before agreeing to tour under Hughes.  Once in the team, they did everything they could to undermine him.  Marsh sat in surly silence during team meetings, and then loudly disputed Hughes' field placements during the game.

Marsh's close mate Lillee was even worse.  Whenever Hughes entered the nets for batting practice, Lillee would switch to his net and pepper him with full pace bouncers.  Hughes bore it all patiently, trying to win them around with courtesy and respect, but these were not men inclined to forgive and forget.  Younger team-mates were appalled.

Nor did Hughes get a lot of support from elsewhere.  One of Ian Chappell's jobs during home tests was to interview the two captains on the field after the coin toss.  Questions normally revolved around the pitch and the weather, but Chappell's questioning of Hughes was so pointedly hostile that Hughes refused to speak to him.  Nor was Greg Chappell, drifting in and out of international matches before becoming a selector, any more help, trying on a number of occasions to talk Hughes into resigning.

In one way, the final retirement of Greg Chappell, Lillee and Marsh in 1984 should have taken the pressure off Hughes.  Yet with the removal of the players who were undermining his leadership came another problem - his team now lacked quality and experience.  Nor was he unscarred himself.  The pressure told on both his leadership and his batting.   By the end of 1984 Hughes had resigned the Test captaincy in a tear-soaked press conference, much to the horror of his deputy Alan Border who had to take the poison chalice from his hands. His career as a player only lasted two more tests, in which he scored a total of two runs.

A quick glance at Hughes' career record suggests he was a moderate performer with the bat and a terrible captain.   However, this is one case where statistics may just be lying to us.  International cricket teams had no coaches in those days, with the show being run by senior players.  With no coach to help fix things, and no support from senior players, faults in Hughes' batting technique grew and left him exposed.  He couldn't go home to Perth to sort out the problems because Lillee and Marsh were his team-mates there too.  It's hard to work on your batting technique when your net sessions are spent trying to stop the world's scariest fast bowler from knocking your head off.  It's hard to be a successful leader when your supposed followers are heading in a different direction.

Every war has its casualties.  Many young players suffered in Kerry Packer's War, none more so than Kim Hughes, the one time Golden Boy of Australian cricket.