August 12th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: In Vitro Fertilisation on demand?

Editorial: Will GST cut the black economy?

Canberra Observed: What’s behind the Carr for Canberra push?

Law: UN ruling used by local critics to hammer Howard Government

Economics: “Washington Consensus” risks derailment by grassroots opponents

The $7 Billion Minerals Grab: The fight for control of Australian mining

Family: Family-free family conference

Health: Health crisis obscured by ideology

Britain: Blair’s Britain: where discrimination is anything his wife says it is

Straws in the Wind

Bioethics: Gene therapy business: the tragic case of Jesse Gelsinger

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Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 12, 2000
They shoot horses, don’t they?

I was in Zagreb, staying with an old Croatian couple, fiercely anti-Tito, when the Yom Kippur War was raging. It was 1973, and Yugoslav airports were full of Soviet transport planes ferrying war materials to Egypt. Nixon had put US forces on full nuclear alert, and for a few days, until the Israelis regained control of the land campaigns, things were decidedly “iffy.”

My wife and I were calculating how we could slip into Austria if things worsened. None of these dangers could be gleaned from the local press, radio or television. Thank God for the BBC Overseas Service!

Instead, the first three pages of our dailies would be concerned with sport — soccer, bike racing, and how brilliant the Yugoslavs were at such pastimes.

Only in a small report on page four did you learn of the scrapping in the desert, and then very little, although everyone knew you couldn’t get a flight from some of the local airports.

I asked our hostesses whether this sports mania was the norm, and they said “Yes,” rather more just now, but, no, that was the main preoccupation. Being relics from Franz Joseph’s time, they’d seen it all. “It’s the people’s opium,” one old lady said. “You know your Marx?” Yes, I said, I did.

That kind of situation seems to have established itself here in Australia. I don’t have to detail the numbers of people complaining of the forced feeding of sport they are enduring; such that it seems that there is nothing else on the tellie, or in the papers, or in everyday conversation — and linked, always linked, with talk of money. Millions of dollars for this player or that. Tens of millions for this or that club; hundreds of millions for yet another sports complex while quite viable grounds remain unused.

Meantime, ordinary spectators are being robbed to pay for this conspicuous waste, or else are forced out. Let them watch it on tellie.

There are many advantages for the networks in this result. For one thing, statutory requirements that so much local Australian content be provided, can be turned into a nonsense. Such “sport” is Australian content, so no need to fund Australian programs — drama, documentaries, or whatever, while this stuff occupies the box and the radio. And the advertising returns are far greater than those from authentic, relatively serious, Australian productions.

The newspapers, part of the same system, happily collude. This may be dumbing down, but it is more than that. Given the sums of money washing around, one can expect rorts of every kind — so match fixing and doping of athletes follows as night follows day.

The Games is in part a war between various drug companies as to who can produce the largest number of undetectable drugs.

According to my informants, there are at the moment sixteen, so the poor devils who test positive just don’t know the right people; or have the money.

I really don’t think anyone need say much about the Games, except, perhaps, that if it is possible to have a bad memory of something that hasn’t yet occurred, then this is it. Most people, I suspect, will be secretly or not so secretly relieved when the whole joyless charade is over, and the hucksters have departed.

The main point, I gather, of the interminable journeyings of the flame — why hasn’t it been sent into space and brought back?... apart from filling the news programs and empty paddocks in the newspapers, is to make people feel the final happenings are really something, because different. By September a race between Cane Toads will be news.

Natural talents

It is in fact very sad, because all the features that make sport attractive — especially for the young — have been leached out, and not simply just from the Olympics.

Fair play; may the best man win; natural strength, or courage, or powers of endurance, and the joy and the unpredictability and excitement of people testing themselves against one another ... is gone.

We have been robbed, but most especially the young have been robbed of the joys which were natural bonuses of the human condition.

When I was a kid in the Depression my father, who, like so many, was out of work, pointed to the other men in the street and said:

“If there is ever a time for the workers to rise, it is now — but what are they thinking about? Phar Lap, Don Bradman and the footy. They’ve got the behind out of their trousers, but still have to have their bets, their smokes, their beer—- taking the bread from their children’s mouths. You, stick to your Jewish friends. They read books and want to make something of themselves, the others will finish like their fathers.”

He was right. The Jewish kids did, while my Aussie friends disappeared, somewhere.

So perhaps times haven’t changed so much — except that one could find friends who escaped into books, and reflection, and the teachers were all for it, and quite often impatient with the official world of the Philistines.

But no longer; that counter-culture has been trashed by the very people paid to defend it. So as of now, the Philistines are having it all their own way.

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