Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kangaroo scarer

Kangaroo warning sign Now we know what we should be lining the roads with to avoid the carnage of kangaroo collisions! Via ABC comes a report on a study that revealed kangaroos are repelled by dingo urine:
Dr Parsons says a chemical in the urine scares the kangaroos. "After trying a series of essential oils and scary sounds, optical illusions, we actually presented dingo urine to a group of 10 kangaroos and the response pretty well startled us because the owner of Roo Gully has hand-reared many of these joeys and she hasn't had a response like this in 10 years, so we thought 'well maybe we've serendipitously arrived at some conclusion'," he said.
I guess it's just the completely instinctive fear of Australia's alpha-carnivore by its alpha-herbivore, even though dingoes rarely prey on kangaroos.

On another note, I wonder if it would repel parking inspectors too? I'd gladly splash some on my car tyres.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Poor umpiring? Blame FIFA first!

Graham Poll with yellow and red card Following from my previous World Cup post... It's not just happening to Australia, but to many matches, even now in the second round of the Cup. Descriptions of the Portugal vs. Netherlands game this morning indicate Russian referee, Valentin Ivanov, lost control of what admittedly appears to have been quite a vicious match.

Nick Place, in today's Crikey sounds unsurprised that yet another referee in the cup is making headlines for poor umpiring and asks "Why doesn't soccer follow the lead of so many other international sports and install an international panel of professional referees to officiate all major events?" It turns out that FIFA simply chooses a bunch of the best-performing referees from existing football leagues a while before the Cup is due to start and trains them specially for the event. This is is stark contrast to other world sports. Place says:
Tennis and cricket are two sports that have a panel of full-time, professional officials touring the world. It means the athletes and officials know each other, enjoy mutual respect and (usually) ensures an un-biased and high-standard level of decision-making...

...The events of these Cup finals have shown that such a system [as the one currently used] is flawed. At the very least, how can you guarantee consistency in refereeing if one ref comes from South America and another from Germany? If the attraction of the World Cup is the coming together of the world's soccer nations, pitting the contrasting styles and on-field philosophies of African teams, South Americans, European formations and so on, the same cannot be said for refereeing...

...Teams need to know that the men with the whistle have a mutual understanding of what is and isn't legal. At the moment, that simply doesn't exist, and unprofessional officials are dragging games down to their level...
Given that Merk and Poll turn out not to be such isolated cases – and that even teams outside Group F are potential victims of bad umpiring – it's time we started complaining about FIFA's approach to officiating. Surely football of the soccer variety is one of the richest if not the richest sport in the world. Why can't FIFA maintain a permanent professional body of soccer officials, hiring them out to the smaller leagues in between World Cups? Not only would it mean the referees would have more consistent umpiring standards, but all the teams of the world would be able to get used to the permanent FIFA referees and be able to better concentrate on playing football – not how to best hide their fouls and handballs from the umpire.

Photograph credit: Oleg Popov
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Friday, June 23, 2006

Too Kewell

Kewell scores against Croatia Okay, I'm obsessed with the World Cup. I'll admit it. I have been since I saw Mark Schwarzer magnificently defend us into the cup against Uruguay last year. To me, Schwarzer became the real hero of the Socceroos, and I was hooked.

Early this morning though, as I watched the bizarre and amazing Croatia v Australia match, my heart sank when we were informed that Guus – another untainted hero up to this point – had decided to replace Schwarzer in the keeper position with another tall guy called Zeljko Kalac. It was the first stupid, frustrating thing about a bizzarre, yet elating match; elating because we did get the (thoroughly glorious 2-2) draw we needed to get past Croatia to round 2 in the end. But poor Schwarzer and Kalac... I don't know which I felt most sorry for – Kalac for letting through a goal with a fumble or Schwarzer having to watch, grey-faced, from the bench.

It just seems like this entire World Cup, Australia has had to contend with a stream of seriously bad umpiring, but so far the umpires have been very lucky that their bad decisions were counteracted by the Roos scoring another goal or – in the case of Brazil – by the opposition being ranked #1 in the world and producing a convincing enough lead to make us feel like Australia wouldn't have outdone them, had the umpiring been fair, anyway.

First it was that (fake) goal by Japan where Schwarzer was pushed over by the Japanese striker and unable to get near the ball. The Egyptian umpire, Abd El Fatah, later admitted he was wrong, which is admirable, since Merk and Poll, the next two umpires the Roos had to contend with, are yet to make any apology or admit to any mistakes. I thought this mistake would have to be the worst mistake possible, but not so...

Next, it was Markus Merk whose blatant favouritism towards the Brazillian team saw him award a disproportionate number of penalties in Brazil's favour. Kewell expressed his disgust and would have been banned for his backchat to Merk, except that Merk had embarrassed FIFA by personally threatening Kewell with a ban for the Croatia match. A positive attribute I normally associate with Germans is that they care about getting things right. Since Merk didn't possess this trait, it seems there's not much left to redeem him.

Finally, this morning it was a pommie tool, Graham Poll, who really screwed us over – not to mention Croatia. Tom Dart puts it well in the Times Online:
...The choice of Graham Poll as referee was surprising since he is familiar to the Australians who play in the Barclays Premiership. Mark Viduka was incandescent early on when the Englishman failed to give a penalty after the Middlesbrough striker was manhandled by Josip Simunic. Poll did point to the spot later in the half, though, when Stjepan Tomas crassly handled a cross...
The main one that riled me was the rugby tackle that Dart calls "manhandling" perpetrated by Josip Šimunić on Viduka. Viduka had every chance to score a goal in that moment but was prevented from kicking due to Šimunić's arms wrapped around his torso. Kalac may feel relief that Kewell scored the second goal of the match to equalise, but Poll should feel it more. Incidentally, video footage shows that Kewell's goal should have been discounted because at least one Aussie players was offside before he kicked. Bummer for Croatia, but, if not for Kalac's fumble – blame Guus – Croatia wouldn't have had the upper hand in the first place (i.e. the Roos were playing significantly better than Croatia).

Like practically everyone else who's following the cup here in Australia – which seems to be well over a quarter of nation, based on television viewing stats – I'm absolutely stoked that Australia got this far in the cup. But, more than this, I'm proud that they did it despite having to work so hard against inexcusably bad and partial umpiring. It's truly inspiring and that's why Viduka's crediting the Roos' "fighting spirit" resonates so strongly.

The Socceroos have earned it well and truly. So, FIFA, let next Tuesday's game between Italy and Australia be one where the umpire does the job properly and gives both the Roos and the Azzurri a fair go!

See also: Image credit: AP Photo/Christof Stache
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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Journalists without borders

Australian newspapers What is on the horizon for journalism and where might it intersect with the semi-professional blogger? In particular, what will stop the slow descent of Australian journalistic standards? The standards won't change, says Dr John Cokley, new journalists who apply old standards and perhaps some new ones will simply rise up to take over the role of those who we call journalists today!

Ripped wholesale from today's Crikey: (emphasis added by me)
Dr John Cokley, lecturer and researcher at the University of Queensland's School of Journalism & Communication and co-editor of the new book I, Journalist, writes:

Crikey laments that Australia's major TV networks and publishers are gutting their staff of journalists and that this will lead to weaker journalism and less journalistic scrutiny, debate and perspectives. Actually, the reverse is true and here's why.

We've all heard of Big Business, the Big End of Town and Big Pharma (the giant drug companies). We even have Big Tobacco ... all names created by journalists. What we never (or hardly ever) hear about from journalists in large news companies is Big Media – but Big Media is every bit as insidious as Big Pharma and Big Tobacco.

Crikey readers of all people should recognise as misinformed those people who continue to equate Big Media employers with "journalism", because it's Crikey and other start-ups like it which are continually sidelined by governments and Big Media, not in the interests of journalism, but of business.

The trouble with Australian journalism is precisely that Big Media continues to assert that it "is" journalism, hoping like hell people will believe this nonsense. We journalists for decades have defined ourselves through our employers: "the working journalist" is more important (it is held) if he or she works for a large metropolitan publisher. Audience numbers have been spuriously held up as equating with accuracy, importance and most of all, influence.

But now it's Big Media which is on the move. Just as Big Tobacco is moving out of the cigarette market under enormous commercial pressure, so too is Big Media moving out of the news market. Has been for years: witness the inexorable closure of newspapers, regional radio and TV newsrooms, and the consolidation of news services into fewer hands.

Where it's going is still up for grabs: reality TV, more game shows, sports extravaganzas, talk shows ... who knows. But it's clear that news and journalism no longer hold the commercial appeal they once did for these corporations. However, this leaves a vacuum for real journalism, real debate and real scrutiny. And this scrutiny is made possible by well-educated (some trained in journalism, others who mimic the skills) individuals who opt for the new ways of communicating such as websites, mobile phones, email and other narrowcasting media.

These individuals can be – and often are – more capable, more ethical and more watchful than the apprenticed journalists of the 20th century, and they are certainly more independent. They are also more determined to have their say, and have no qualms about offending Big Media, Big Government or any other Big Business.

So I urge you not to worry too much about the demise of the Laurie Oakes, Kerry O'Briens or Jana Wendts, or any of the other "senior journalists" who say they maintain the watch-dog role of journalism in our world ... the real watch dogs have actually got out into the yard and are already barking and making themselves heard in the neighbourhood.

Mostly they're young, upstarts, keen and willing to pry ... they make us uncomfortable and make us turn our heads. In fact ... they're doing journalism!
It's comforting to read this and realise that even the little one-person, amateur blogs can impact in terms of journalism. It makes me very conscious, however that not only do I blog infrequently but all too often I rely on quoting "big media" articles as reputable sources about the topic in question, to provide readers with a more satisfactory way of verifying facts. A very small number of my posts are actually journalistic in nature – as in original journalism. This could be because I don't consider my day-to-day life to be a research exercise and only bother to attempt an academic analysis of events I am faced with when they truly annoy me or appeal to my imagination – and this results more often in opinion posts than journalistic posts!

Laila El-Haddad's blog Despite the shortcomings of my own blogging style, I can really see the value in reading blogs to identify the facts of any given set of events. For example, if I want to find out what has been happening lately in Gaza I typically go and read what Laila El-Haddad, a trained journalist, is writing. As opinionated and biased-by-circumstances as her posts may be, I learn more about what really happens in Gaza than I would ever learn via mainstream (or "big") media.

Radwaste blog A less controversial examples is the running commentary provided by Geoff W on his Radwaste blog about the current political push to build more nuclear reactors to replace coal burning – among other topics related to radioactive waste. If you want a comprehensive analysis of the real issues surrounding this poltical push, read this, not the Advertiser or any similar crappy newspaper!

Here's my resolution to try and make this blog more useful and actually provide valuable journalistic posts on events and issues to which I'm exposed.

PS: I didn't completely invent the title of this post... It was inspired by the work of Reporters sans frontiéres, an interesting organisation to be aware of.

Title image by Philippa Elder, sourced from Decline of print?, an article published by RMIT, 18 October 2005.
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