Cultural Comment

Plunging into the NYE Reflection Pool

New Year’s Eve scares a lot of people because it has the effect of forcing people to reflect on their year. This process can be likened to a person looking into a clear pool. That pool has many depths and can distort what you see. Many, like Ben Pobjie, loathe what they see in that pond and want to apologise for it. That is a tempting position to take for most of us -many would have regrets and can see where we have contributed more weeds to the pond than were in there at the start of the year.

It is also a time when people take stock of “The Year” as an amorphous mass – hence we have endless lists of what is deemed important. Top 10 News Stories, Top 10 Tweets, Top 10 Blogs, etc, etc. They hold interest for about 2 minutes and are then followed by either a “oh, yeah” or a “no way”. I’m sure the political year in Australia will get a good wringing out by the people whose job it is to glean some kind of depth from that shallow cess pool.  Besides the parliamentary ALP failing to understand much about its own principles and Tony Abbott saying “no”, there isn’t much to see. I am glad I am not a journalist at those points, because their hard work being put into analysing the year just dissipates like mist.

I am much more interested in the reflections of people than I am in these lists that are churned out. Politics and “big events” in truth, have little impact on people’s everyday lives, especially in a relatively comfortably settled country like Australia. Where politics matters is where it can help people. I am not speaking here about improvements in terms of the economic imperative that rules the way politics is reported – everything reduced to the idea of “cost of living” – I am speaking about “quality of living”. People across Australia will have spent large amounts of money on party tickets, alcohol, the airconditioning in their house and so on. The question they might well avoid is “I have all these things, but am I any happier than I was without it?” If the answer is yes, then that is great – possessing what you want has had a positive effect. I hope that is the answer. I suspect, however, the answer may well be no for many. This is where NYE can act as a way of helping those who are unhappy to look at positives in their lives outside economic definitions.

While it is tempting to switch off the TV at 11pm, or drink a lot in a park with a group of strangers and avoid the reflection, the NYE pond is a necessary rite of renewal for all of us. It does give us a chance to see where we have stumbled as well as the good things we have achieved as people. This is why I am hoping that #nyeathome will be a success. Not in terms of trending numbers, more that it will give people a chance to meaningfully reflect on their year and give people a chance to engage with others about what is important to them. It will also give people a chance to discuss resolutions to change – if necessary – and how best they can actually achieve those changes. Chances are there are others out there who have tried and failed, or tried and succeeded with the same goals.

When it comes time for tomorrow night, have a look at the pond. Reflect. Then celebrate the end of one year and then whatever 2012 will bring.


Cultural Comment Sport

Cricket Memorabilia from The Preston Institute

A less serious blog post today – but this could be a discussion starter in preparation for #nyeathome.

I do love cricket. It has been a part of my life from a young age and remains my favourite sport – especially test cricket. I was lucky enough to be in the Members’ section of the MCG yesterday in order to see Sachin Tendulkar’s silky skills, even if it abruptly ended by a Siddle spell where he was getting reverse swing. It’s a pity that Siddle doesn’t seem as comfortable with a newer ball.

Part of my cricket adoration has been remembering obscure cricket moments. (I am suggesting, for example, that people could, during #nyeathome, have a #nyecricket discussion where people nominate the favourite cricket moment of 2011.) Hence, I am suggesting that if ever I had access to the memorabilia facilities commanded by Tony Grieg, I would make a set of shirts that gave prominence to cricketing moments that may have been forgotten by most. Shirts that would attract a nod and perhaps a wink from the true cricket fan.

I am therefore suggesting the following moments and concepts could be part of that range:
1. Shane Warne gets out for 99.
2. Gillespie scores 200 against Bangladesh
3. McDermott’s Helmet, Adelaide, 1993
4. Tavare spills the catch, Melbourne, 1982
5. Gatting’s Reverse Sweep, World Cup Final, 1987
6. The typical MacGill over as a suite of wines – Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and then the Spumante at the end.
7. The Eddie Cowan Leave.
8. Watson and Katich at the same end, Melbourne, 2009.
9. Mike Whitney holds out Hadlee.
10. Gatting reacts to being bowled by Hughes, 1993.
11. Lillee and Marsh make a bet, 1981
12. Katich Pins Clarke to the Wall.
13. Ponting meets Carlotta at the Bourbon and Beefsteak.
14. Mr. Haynes, meet Mr. Healy.
15. The Barmy Army sing The Johnson Family
16. Graffiti from 1989 – Thatcher Out – lbw Alderman
17. John Howard’s Pakistan Ball.
18. A List of all spin bowlers since Shane Warne.
19. McGrath Gets 61.
20. Andrew Symonds on a Fishing Boat.
21. Curtly is asked to remove his armbands.

Any further ideas? Please feel free to add to the range.

Cultural Comment

The Positive Power of Twitter and its Impact on Loneliness

It has been a most extraordinary past 48 hours, with #xmasathome and #nyeathome starting the process of keeping people connected during the Christmas – New Year period as well as receiving great media coverage. The peak of the surreal nature of the events was having test cricket debutant Ed Cowan tweet you, on the day of his debut, that your name has appeared in a newspaper. And then reading that newspaper and seeing that article next to one about Sachin Tendulkar. It is great for the initiative.

In one of the radio interviews I did (for the ABC), the point was raised about Twitter and the perception of the social networking tool in the community. It is true that it is largely seen in a negative light – as a way to trash people, or as a frivolous “look, we are at a bar / I’ve taken Liz Hurley to a shop” social hub. It doesn’t need to be that way. The #athome initiative is there to act as a positive way to use Twitter.

Twitter can be, to this era, be likened to a conference centre that also conducts multiple parties. You choose exactly where to go and what to do – who to meet, who to listen to and who you don’t really want to meet again. It was said best to me by Malcolm Farnsworth (@mfarnsworth) – it is all about filtering, who you follow. In this virtual building, hashtags work as a way to connecting people in that centre around a common theme. You read what others are saying about that theme and you find a whole lot of new people who might like to follow and chat with. For me, the hashtag that used to perform that role for me was #qanda, because it connected me with politically minded people. It’s not as useful as it used to be.

Another feature of hashtags and Twitter that doesn’t get discussed as much as it could be is that Twitter isn’t just a broadcasting and conversation tool. People like me are broadcasters on Twitter – broadcast my feelings and opinions. A lot. There are untold numbers of Twitter users who are audience – listeners, who don’t say a lot. A perfect example of that is my partner, @clairebbbear, who loves following Twitter streams and laughing at what is being said, or reflecting – and then turning to me and we chat about what is going on. A bit like watching a television show. For a number of people tuning into #xmasathome and #nyeathome, they are the audience, enjoying the show. That is a good thing.

What has happened during #xmasathome and, will happen during #nyeathome, is that people can be distracted from their loneliness and read the pixels on the screen and have a laugh, a cry, whatever happens as a result of being connected. However, what would be wonderful is if people start a meaningful connection with people as a result of a friendship sparked during the period – that people find others with common interests and feelings. That, in the days and months after the hashtags fade, that we have people building lasting relationships that help to dissipate their loneliness and move on to a happier life. A time long ago that happened to me – I met my partner on an internet forum that discussed TV and various things. Not that these connections need to be romantic ones. I treasure the meaningful relationships I have built with people on Twitter – I have an amazing group of friends that I know online and many of whom I have met in real life. I have especially delighted to know people who share my love for 20th Century classical music. Very hard to find those people where I live.

If #xmasathome and #nyeathome can bring to others what the internet has brought to me, it would be a good thing. People – and the media – can then see that Twitter is a force for social good, as as the other stuff. Ultimately, it is all about the filters and how users approach it.

P.S. In preparing for #nyeathome, I suspect I consumed a little too much outstanding Rutherglen wine in tasting and was violently ill for a couple of hours. Every so often, though, I would lift my head and ask “is Ed Cowan still in?” The level headed debut of the Renaissance Man of test cricket was a big highlight of the past 48 hours. Well done, Ed.

Cultural Comment

Christmas At Home – How Could It Work?

I have been absolutely blown away from the initial response to the idea of connecting people through the #xmasathome hashtag. It is concept that came from a discussion between @Doc_Samantha, @steph_philbrick and I.  It will be interesting to see how people connect through the tag – here are some ideas of how the actual day can work, in terms of how people can contribute to discussions around the hashtag.

There can be discussions of anything on Christmas, about Christmas, what people are doing on the day, what people are drinking. However, there can also discussions centred around various themes – just like at parties and Christmas lunches, where various things are discussed. These could be discussed around various side channels, where people can type a secondary hashtag – so people on #xmasathome can also do a second search about specific discussions. These tags could include:

#xmashomedrinks – where people talk about their favourite Christmas tipple

#xmashomefood – where food and be discussed, recipes shared

#xmashomehobbies – where people can discuss what kind of hobbies they like

#xmashometv – discussion of the awful TV that is usually plastered on the screens on the day. One of the best things about Twitter is its ability to take purely awful TV and more it awesome through tweeps bagging it communally. This tag could then pare down into discussions of individual shows.

#xmashomefilms – same principle as the TV, except people could get something out of their DVD collections if what is on the TV is just too painful for words

#xmashomemusic – where tweeps can share what music they are listening to, liking – maybe share clips on youtube

#xmashomesport – this could be a discussion of sport in general. This would probably pare down into individual sports – #xmashomecricket, for example.  People could then discuss things inside each sport – one idea related to cricket could be #boxingdaymemories – people’s memories of their favourite Boxing Day Test Match memory. Like mine, of Bruce Reid running through the English in 1990.

#xmashomeyear – Perhaps people could write about what they have liked about the year and what needs to be celebrated about that year. That’s important for the Christmas period. It is a time for celebration.

#xmashomereligion – People could discuss what Christmas means to them, in terms of religious beliefs. As with anything on Twitter, this isn’t compulsory, but it could be there for those who believe that Christmas is a great time to celebrate the Advent season.

That is a the general idea. People could even drop the initial #xmasathome tag if they wished to, once snuggled into a conversation around one of these side issues.

There could also be people who suggest lists at various times – where people list things they like about the year, food, and the like.

If people have other suggestions for hashtag ideas, or any other ideas of how the day’s sharing could occur, please leave a message here on the blog.

Merry #xmasathome.


Cultural Comment

Christmas at Home and New Year’s Eve at Home – Building a Twitter Community

Last year, whilst being in Melbourne, away from our home of Sydney, my partner and I were wondering about our New Year’s Eve options.  We hadn’t been given invites to any parties. We could have tried to go somewhere, take alcohol with us – but I wouldn’t be able to drink. Blah to that – we had a selection of fine drinks sourced from various wineries and breweries of Victoria. Plus, crowds aren’t particularly wonderful at NYE, or is post-NYE traffic or public transport. So we decided to stay at home.

I wasn’t about to just sit there and drink, however.  I remembered vividly the acute pain of being alone at NYE as a young, socially awkward adult who hadn’t been invited to any parties and watching a Pee Wee Herman movie. So, I had an idea and an iPad and thought of tweeting what we were up to, what we were drinking, what we were watching.  Gave it a hashtag – #nyeathome.  Tweeps who followed me started tweeting and retweeting and suddenly we had a community all sharing under the same tag. We started sharing youtube videos we liked, our favourite moments of the year, least favourite moments, resolutions for the year to come. Basically, it turned into a giant NYE party without the troubles inherent with getting places and getting home whilst drunk.

Most importantly, it made people who were at home for NYE a community they could have feared would not be there for them. People are at home for NYE for a variety of reasons and Twitter provided chance for these people to connect. And get a chance to do a collective eye roll at Richard Wilkins. The hardy souls of #nyeathome got that tag trending at No. 2 in Australia – ironically, battling with Richard Wilkins. That meant that a whole lot of people were connected and involved. It was a great night.

I am hoping this year that we can get something happening at Christmas for those who, for whatever reason, can’t get out at Christmas and are at home, needing a connection. That’s why it would be great if we could get #xmasathome happening as a Twitter party, sharing reflections, dreams, whatever.  That would be a lovely way to start the Christmas / New Year period. And then, we can get #nyeathome happening again.

Merry #xmasathome, tweeps, and a Happy #nyeathome


The Only Wedge at Christmas Should Be a Choc Wedge – The Nauru “Compromise”

It is silly season in Canberra politics – usually we see puff pieces about the DPM running around doing something. I remember when it was Gillard being the “first female PM”, even if it was just acting. However, now we have the constant threat style of journalism – this “24/7 News Cycle” (which is nothing of the sort – it’s mostly just repeats of the same one hour of news, 24 times, with added pontification from Paul Murray) – Chris Bowen pops up with his own style of silly season Christmas Cracker joke. The one where the ALP turn their back on their own policy platform and their history to suggest Nauru as a possible place for asylum seeker processing.

This is where we see the Australian, 2GB and the rest recant their “Bob Brown is the REAL Prime Minister of Australia”, isn’t it? Cause this ain’t a Green solution in any way. It’s a classic wedge formation. I don’t believe for a minute that Chris Bowen, factional operator of the right and man with a decent knowledge of media spin, is serious about processing asylum seekers in Nauru. He wants to suggest it as a “compromise”, in order for Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to repeat their answer of No. Albanese’s “Noalition” repeating its mantra.  To wedge them into a position whereby each sinking boat can be sheeted home to Abbott.   Abbott, of course, will speak of the LNP policies of temporary protection visas (TPVs) and towing the boats back to Indonesia in order to justify his no.

The difficulty for Abbott in this situation would arise if the Canberra press gallery were to pursue him on two main points about TPVs and the towing back of boats. They should research the history of TPVs and ask Abbott whether he was aware that TPVs were responsible in part for the increase of women and children on boats. Whether he knows that these risks were taken because of the nature of TPVs – that once asylum seekers gained a TPV, they couldn’t apply for family members to come to Australia as well. That this caused these asylum seekers to take the risk of bringing family members. This point is almost never made in the coverage of the asylum seeker issue.

The other main point is about Abbott’s “tow back” policy. In Howard’s day, the Indonesian government allowed that to occur. No-one seems to have asked whether the Indonesian government would be equally keen these days to accept responsibility for what is essentially our “problem”. In addition, the people smugglers in question have taken to deliberately sinking boats being towed back. Therefore, if journalists pursued this, they could find another hole in Abbott’s rhetoric. As with TPVs, I’m not holding my breath for any insightful questions along those lines. Instead we will get “what do you think…” “what would Kevin do…”, et cetera.

If those reasons were probed and analysed properly, they would logically collapse. This would leave Abbott, ironically, with the upper moral hand – that the Malaysia Solution is cruel and harsh. That the Coalition is softer and friendlier towards asylum seekers than those nasty Labor Party people. Not that you’d read it reported that way by Simon Benson and Gemma Jones in the Sydney Sun (otherwise known as the Telegraph). They would find some way of portraying Abbott as an Action Man.

The Left of the ALP have, quite curiously, been more silent on asylum seekers than they were on uranium sales to India. We can expect some colour and movement from Doug Cameron, but the main numbers people of the left will remain silent, as they always have. That seems to be because the parliamentary party seems to be desirous to call upon the expertise of DIAC and its head, Andrew Metcalfe, who argued for a scheme that would actively deter people smugglers. It could well be DIAC – along with DFAT – who came up with the Malaysia idea.  I can’t picture the member for McMahon waking up one night, Xerxes style, from a dream featuring Malaysian asylum seeker camps. There seems to be a great deal of support from DIAC behind the idea, with Metcalfe saying that the defeat of the Malaysia Solution has caused the increase of boats.  This is also why I think that Bowen isn’t serious about Nauru, considering that Metcalfe believes Nauru would make little difference to asylum seeker numbers.

The wedge has been suggested for a little while now, with Bowen reportedly suggesting such a “Nauru compromise” during one of the urgent cabinet meetings in the wake of the High Court’s rejection of the Malaysia solution.  That was laughed away at the time – but I suspect the recent tragedy in Indonesia has just provided Bowen with the extra ammunition for his suggestion.

Ultimately, this action by Bowen is pure politics, in service of a government department who appear to have offered a hard headed solution to what is a difficult situation. The moral perspective is another element altogether.  Adopting such a philosophy would be very expensive, financially and politically. If the government were at all serious about onshore processing and adopting the Greens platform of compassionate care for asylum seekers, DIAC would be expanded in order to process claims more quickly, as would ASIO in order to process security checks. Massively expanded. And imagine the backlash to that little move. Therefore, we have what we have. Bowen and his wedge. It is overly cynical politics to be playing in the lead up to Christmas. The only Canberra input we should have is a bottle of Black Rod Sparkling Shiraz from Capital Wines with the turkey, followed by a Boxing Day sitting by the television, choc wedges in hand, watching Ed Cowan’s test debut.

That is what I will be doing – sort of. I am taking a Christmas break in Marvellous Melbourne. In the meantime, the blog will be doing something borderline insane. I will be listing my favourite classical music works of the Twentieth Century, Number 100 to 1, over the ten days I will be gone. I hope you enjoy.


Crowd Numbers aren’t a Disaster for the Big Bash

Today we are starting to see the fallout from the poor crowd numbers at the first two Big Bash games at the SCG and MCG – 12,000 at the former, 23,000 at the latter. It would be disappointing for Cricket Australia to have such numbers, but it hardly means, as Greg Baum suggests, time for them to abandon the concept and go back to the drawing board. The Big Bash is hardly a failure for not having attracted people to pass over their cash at the gate as well as set aside some time in the week before Christmas.

Crowd numbers aren’t what they used to be for sporting organisations. This is especially the case for rugby league, where crowds of 10,000 – 15,000 at the ground are typical – and even home town derbies between Parramatta and Canterbury at the Olympic Stadium attract 25,000. Where it means it all for the NRL is the television rights and the numbers of viewers. Those viewer numbers are still strong in NSW and Queensland, as Roy Masters likes to point out in articles that continue his permanent anti-AFL crusade. If Masters compared NRL crowd numbers with AFL crowd numbers, he’d cry into his beer (bought, no doubt at a “fibro” area pub).

This is why the Big Bash crowd numbers don’t mean as much as Baum suggests. He also mentions the various stunts that have been done to promote the game – but again, advertising doesn’t necessarily equate to crowd numbers. Most have been designed for TV numbers. The advertising of the Big Bash series has, to my eyes, been relatively low key. A few posters, the occasional TV ad. To cricket watchers like Baum, it’s probably been huge, constant and possibly annoying – but to the general public, it’s been about the concept of the game, rather than “get to the game at this venue at this time”. This is especially the case in Sydney, where a significant proportion of a potential crowd for a Sixers game wouldn’t be able to get to the SCG by 7pm on a Friday night.

In addition, the price structure of the tickets for the Big Bash tell me that they aren’t serious about getting large crowds for the games. It’s a brand new competition in domestic cricket, yet they want people to shell out $40 for a reserved seat in a grandstand. That’s not a tempting price point. The message they should be sending out is that T20 truly is a game for the people and that there are no restrictions on the non-member areas of the grounds. Every seat $20, or if you have kids, a family pass for $40. Sit anywhere you like – except the Members’ areas. They did that for the first domestic T20 games at Homebush – but it seems they have reverted to the old model somewhat for this competition.

It’s a good concept, this competition, as I said yesterday. It is much better than 50 over cricket in its appeal. I think Baum and many cricket watchers are jumping the gun too quickly with their doomsaying.

Cultural Comment

Making Cricket into Footy – The Cricket Big Bash League

Last night I went to the first match in the new version of our domestic cricket T20 Big Bash competition – with the “Sydney Sixers” up against the “Brisbane Heat”, at the SCG – a ground that had not been utilised a great deal in previous T20 attempts. I don’t know if there has been a massive amount of chatter about the competition, outside talk about Warne – whether it is about his cooking skills or that Shaliz will be getting red carpet treatment whenever his “Melbourne Stars” have to travel interstate. It is, however, an attempt to make summer domestic cricket teams and their games more a regular part of a city’s life, like football clubs and their games. It is an interesting and positive idea.

One concern for Cricket Australia would have been the crowd numbers – it was a just over half full SCG.  T20 is more important to cricket than people may think.  It’s no longer the case that Australia is a sporty nation that had just one major sport over summer. Cricket competes more and more with other forms of entertainment for supporters and participants with children and Generation Y.  T20 is the main way to appeal to these audiences – Test cricket is not. That appeals to the rusted on supporters of the game.  This is why the marketing for the series has been planned meticulously in order to build this competition and have it lodge in the collective imaginations of the cities represented. The job for CA is to build the culture of T20 beyond its current occasional status (well covered, oddly enough, by the Mirror in London here) – as well as ignore the criticism of the timing of the competition from newspapers and from senior players.  What these critics need to understand is that T20 is to tests is the same as the relationship of pop classics like Pachelbel’s Canon is to Mahler Symphonies – it’s a way to introduce the idea of “cricket”.  And it is much better in that role than 50 over cricket.  And the summer school holiday break, when people aren’t as consumed with the working year, is the perfect time. There were good signs for the organisers, though.

It struck me turning up to the ground that it wasn’t unlike going to a Friday night football game at the MCG – people going to a game after work. There were plenty of middle class people in business clothes turning up and plenty heading to the Members’ Stand. This is why it is a good idea for the SCG to be utilised.  It is for this issue of game timing that T20 could really work as a widely enjoyed, regular sporting entertainment concept at the SCG, rather than just the giggle hit thing that many older cricketers believe it is.

It was also good that there were plenty of children about – including mine. My 9 year old daughter and 11 year old son with autism are very harsh judges when it comes to entertainment in public venues. They whinged bitterly when I insisted we were going to the game. They really don’t like it when I have a test match on the TV. “Cricket’s boring” came the cry in unison. This attitude melted somewhat after a number of good moments – the flying octocopter taking the match ball to the centre fascinated them, as did the fireworks and fiery jets at the start. Sitting square of the wicket near the action also meant that the screen was in full view, plus the fast cricket action and big shots kept them interested – for a time (the iPad is a marvellous backup). Sitting near the Sixers’ dugout on the ground also helped – my daughter, by the end, was craving more and more signatures on her new magenta hat. Though – there needed to be an explanation as to who each player was (when went along the lines of – watching Brett Lee’s backside kept your mother pleased during the summer of 99 – 00 when she was very heavily pregnant ; Stuart MacGill hosts a wine show and has a great range of angry facial expressions ; Moises Henriques is a young up and coming player ; Ed Cowan is a bloke your father knows through Twitter).

For the cricket fans in the crowd, it was a great night out at the cricket. Matthew Hayden, Lee and MacGill showed that class can be timeless, and that T20 gives veteran players a way of prolonging a career – with the outcomes of continuing to please knowledgeable cricket followers ; astounding the new ones, as well as acting as mentors for the younger players.  It was also a showcase for a lot of skills that we don’t see during a three hour period of a test match or one day game. The amount of skied balls, for example, tests out the catching ability of teams, and the throwing ability is tested with the increased number of suicidal singles. The players appear to have been well chosen and the game never really flagged – and good bowling did get its rewards.

I was less impressed with fact there were cheerleaders as well as the choice of male MC – Gus Worland.  Worland works for Triple M Sydney’s Breakfast show, The Grill Team. I used to listen to the Grill Team only when Stuart MacGill was on the show. To me, Worland was the dead weight of the show – turning the atmosphere awkward with his attempts at humour and downright repugnant with a number of deliberately incendiary comments. I frequently wondered how someone like MacGill could work with him. His schtick on the radio and last night can be best summarised as “look at me, an ordinary sport fan doing and saying these really cool things you aren’t doing and saying”.  It smacks of arrogance and comes across as humourless boasting.  I also squirmed when he was holding up various cheerleaders as they were doing one of their routines. It wasn’t a good look. It reminded me somewhat of the sexism you see whenever the ground announcer for the Penrith Panthers makes comments about their cheerleaders. That stuff may have been popular in the 80s, but we have moved on. The Swans ditched the Swanettes many years ago. The Sixers should not have gone there. In addition, the Sixers should have selected announcers who are quick and funny and are associated with less daggy radio stations – perhaps Fitzy and Wippa from Nova.  MMM people would be better to associate with the western Sydney team – the Thunder. Even then, Mark Geyer would be a better choice, due to his warmth and the esteem with which he is held in the west.

This brings me to the overall strategy of CA in the formulation of the teams.  The Sixers are being pitched to city workers as well as people from the east and north with the magenta uniforms and “celebrity” angle.  They are firmly pitched against the “hard working” western suburbs types who wear Ed Hardy, drink Bundy and Coke and listen to ACDC – the Thunder. I would expect temporary tattoos as a part of their merchandising effort.  It’s a canny move in Sydney, where geographical divides (caused partially by the inaccessibility of the road system) does help to define the cultural engagement of communities – as opposed to Melbourne, which is much more centralised.  On that, it’s good that Melbourne has a “Stars” team, linked to Crown Casino, Eddie McGuire and the establishment of the city and a “Renegade” team for the alternative thinkers. They are good moves, in that they show a good knowledge of the cities. What is not such a good move is the decision to make reserved tickets $40 each – it’s a big commitment to ask crowd members to make. This is partially the reason that – yet again – we saw an empty top deck of the Victor Trumper Stand. They should continue the practice from the early T20 games at Homebush – have no price tiers, just one general admission price for the non-member areas. That will boost the crowd numbers, which makes the game look much better on TV – which, really, is the main game for CA.

Overall, though, the new competition is a big improvement on the past one. You can see the culture being built – that there is a potential to build word of mouth promotion. The SCG should be part of the future of T20, as should the MCG. Giving each team a personality is also a positive. If the quality of cricket and entertainment was as good as last night’s, then I can see a viable future for it.


Spillard The Movie – Journalists Spinning the Reshuffle

“It has been done in part to try and counter any challenge from Kevin Rudd” came Barrie Cassidy’s spin of our latest cabinet reshuffle. “Future leadership challengers are promoted” came the spin from Samantha Maiden. An act of revenge, according to Simon Benson and Alison Rehn at the Telegraph. Gillard’s reshuffle places technology and innovation to the forefront, reports Computerworld. Hang on, a positive report on a government reshuffle? Surely not. Those folks down at Computerworld haven’t received the memo. The one that says “Everything this government does is about neutralising Kevin Rudd”. The mantra. The Narrative.

Sometimes all the press gallery need is Michael Bay to direct and Hans Zimmer do to the music of the film Spillard – Gillard and Rudd’s Battle for Power. They shoehorn pretty much everything to that narrative arc, including this latest scene. But what if part of this reshuffle had nothing to do with a partly confected fear about the “30” Rudd supporters Cassidy mentions. What if the people involved might actually be good at their new jobs – or perhaps there is a new focus on technology and innovation after all.

To me it makes sense to appoint a former head of a union as Industrial Relations Minister in a Labor Government. As much as the AWA doesn’t impress me as a union – Paul Howes comes to mind – Shorten has been impressive, from various accounts, in his portfolio and with his ability to deliver clear messages and cut through media and Liberal spin. The same applies to Combet, who has been a much better salesperson for carbon pricing than Penny Wong.  Anyone with an idea of Labor talent would have picked Combet as a candidate for a rapid rise in a government, along with Shorten. It also makes sense for the lawyer Nicola Roxon to be the Attorney-General and the excellent Tanya Plibersek as Health Minister.  Other promotions, such as giving one to the Mr. Smooth of the NSW Right, Jason Clare, makes sense.  He is definitely senior cabinet material – possibly even leadership some way down the track. I used to think that of Chris Bowen, but I do wonder whether Immigration may have damaged Bowen beyond repair.  The upshot is, though, that it seems the people promoted to their new positions are competent and will be good ministers.

What doesn’t make sense is that the Telegraph, in speaking of “revenge”, doesn’t really spell out why it’s actually revenge that is being wreaked on the likes of Bill Ludwig and Kim Carr – aside from a vague claim that Carr is now a Rudd backer – this is despite the presence of Carr in the same faction as Gillard.  It is also puzzling that the photo at the top of the page says Chris Bowen has been “spared”, while down below, it says that Bowen declined a promotion. Hardly being “spared”.  The reality is that the people who have been demoted aren’t much good at making themselves heard in the current media environment, which is a crucial part of any Minister’s role. Peter Garrett is one such person who should have been demoted. If it is true that Gillard wanted Garrett to resign a ministry, than that wouldn’t be revenge either. Garrett has no power base. (In addition, if his reported threat to leave parliament isn’t a trigger to get the good preselectors of Kingsford Smith to replace him with Kristina Keneally in 2013, then I don’t know what is.)

The absurdity of “the reshuffle is all about Rudd and the faceless men” is all because the Telegraph, like most of the media – no matter the owner – conduct their own spin campaign that is more deadly and ingrained than any government could dream of enacting. This is why they always go straight to Tony Abbott for comment, because he feeds the Narrative they have built around this government. Proof of this is the “Faceless Men” meme the media and Abbott frequently spruik. It is getting a little tired – Shorten is far from faceless, nor is Howes.  Shorten and Howes are about as faceless as Graham Richardson and Bill Kelty were in the Hawke Government days – every party has people who organise them. Nick Minchin was as much as “faceless man” (I remember him lurking behind the scenes when Abbott appeared on Q and A in Casula during the 2010 campaign), yet we didn’t see him referred to in that way.

The reshuffle is a positive step for a Government wanting to enact its agenda. The Ministers look like they will be (for the most part) good at their jobs. That should be the story, but it isn’t. It’s much less exciting than the narrative that media outlets like to spin.

Classical Music Cultural Comment

“There’s Nothing Like Being There…” Really?

The Classic 100 Countdown on ABC Classic FM demonstrated a great many things about our listening culture. One of them was, I think, a demonstration of the widening gap between liking of classical music and being an active participant in the live concert culture of our cities. A significant proportion of the Top 100 weren’t there because of their presence in concert halls of the major orchestras or Musica Viva concerts. They were there due to their presence on ABC Classic, or on commercials and television programs. One doesn’t hear the Elgar Cello Concerto overly much in concert halls, nor even the Carmina Burana or Rhapsody in Blue.  Mahler Symphonies, yes, La Valse, yes, Shostakovich symphonies, yes. The works on the second hundred seemed to me to have more works people hear in contemporary concert halls.

This comes as no major surprise to me, as a vast bulk of “classical” music is a popular form of accompaniment to people’s lives – as a pleasant soundtrack to people’s cleaning, backyard reading, car or train trips.  This is no bad thing, as it adds to the listening palate for our society. A vast proportion of the music on the Top 200 is in turn beautiful, beguiling, passionate, heart wrenching, heart breaking and everything in between. I would happily have the list as a playlist on my iPod. Indeed, I find myself wanting to fill the gaps of things I don’t have in my collection.

It does pose a question, however, of what classical music organisations can do with the music of the 20th Century, in order to continue to give it life via live performances. Performances of Elgar don’t sell that well in concert halls, whilst Mahler does, for example. It’s a tricky game of trying to sell tickets but also maintain a variety of sounds to attract a range of audiences.  It is a vital question, as music needs the concert hall performances to be financially viable. This is amongst a culture that, once again, finds itself being attracted to the home cultural enjoyment rather than the inconveniences of live performance.

It’s an issue that is not restricted to classical music. Sporting organisations face increasing difficulty in attracting paying supporters – some rugby league clubs in Sydney, such as Penrith, feel lucky if they attract 10,000 to some home games.  There are other problems, such as the one faced by South Sydney Rabbitohs members, who can only purchase sideline tickets in their home ground of the ANZ Stadium, rather than undercover stadium seats.  There has also been the recent test match played in Hobart between Australia and New Zealand, where crowd numbers declined during the weekend’s play, rather than rose, as used to be the case. Ticket prices are one such reason, with $75 being the rate for a grandstand seat.  This, however, is not as absurd as a grandstand seat in the Trumper Stand at the SCG, which is $115 – explaining why that stand is almost always half empty at every test match and even during one day games. That’s about the cost of a premium seat at a Sydney Symphony concert – though it can be argued pretty successfully that the concert hall seat is better value, in terms of what can be seen and experienced.  Orchestras, however, don’t have television rights deals and registered clubs to support them if they don’t get the numbers through the door.

The chasm between live performance and home recordings, as well as live sport and sport on TV widens as the inconvenience of getting to concerts and games becomes more fraught.  Parking rates have increased well beyond inflation, especially in Sydney. Melbourne is lucky to have multiple public transport options to their sporting venues, even if there are large queues after games. Not as bad, though, as the annoyingly slow bus trips between Moore Park and Central.  In addition, food options are limited – food contracts are usually signed by a multinational company. You can see why people would want to sit at home in front of the big screen or radio, loaded with whatever food, beer or wine they’d choose to have.

Personally, I like the live performance. It focuses my mind on what it happening. When I am at home, there are far too many distractions – Twitter, blogs, television programs. Mahler Symphonies, for example, just can’t hold me at home, or even in the car. In a concert hall, however, live music takes me places, bends my mind, my perceptions, makes me reflect on my life to that point.  This is why I cannot do without my subscription. If I didn’t have it, I’d probably say “meh, can’t be bothered driving there”. When I get into the concert hall, however, I don’t regret making the effort. Indeed, I love to be pleasantly surprised, taken places I didn’t predict. I have, for the first time, purchased a membership to a football club for 2012 – I look forward to focusing on the travails and development of the Giants through the next few years. I won’t be able to follow their travails outside Sydney, due to the presence of most of their games on Foxtel. I refuse to pay News Limited for anything, especially television.

So, live games and live performances it is.