• Where Did That Rule Come From?

    “We wuz robbed!” is the classic cry of the disappointed losers of a closely contested sporting contest – it is very much to the credit of the Black Caps that we heard no such sentiment from them following the stunning (and, for them, shattering) denouement of the Cricket World Cup final.

    No one can doubt that England won the match fair and square within the framework of the rules that were applied.

    Yes, the Black Caps had their share of bad luck, not least in respect of Ben Stokes’ boundary when the ball ricocheted off his bat as he was diving for the crease – but luck plays a part in most sporting contests.

    And there is little point in bemoaning the closeness of some of the calls – as when Martin Guptill attempted to complete a second run to win the match in the super-over. Close calls are always with us in top-level sport.

    And no Kiwi could complain that Trent Boult signalled that a six had been scored when he caught the ball on the boundary from an English bat, and trod on the rope – we expect nothing less from our Black Caps.

    But we might want to take a more critical look at the rule that was applied in order to decide the outcome of the match. Where did that rule come from?

    How was it that the criterion adopted was the number of boundaries scored by each side in the course of the match, especially when, on the face of it, a much more obvious and appropriate criterion was available.

    The common currency of scoring in cricket is runs and wickets. The point of the game is to score more runs than one’s opponents while, in order to do so, at the same time not losing wickets. In principle, one would have thought that if two teams score the same number of runs but one loses just eight wickets whereas the other is bowled out, the conclusion must be that the one with wickets still in hand has had the better of the game.

    Why was this obvious distinction between the two sides not adopted as the deciding factor? Indeed, I would go further and say that it should have been such a decisive factor as to render unnecessary any super-over or other such device.

    By opting instead for the number of boundaries scored, the rule-makers gave a double advantage to the England team, since the value of the boundaries they scored had already been taken into account in the total of runs they had accumulated.

    This is not a plea to re-adjudicate or re-litigate what was a wonderful match of which England were worthy winners. But I do suggest that the ICC (or any successor authority) should think more carefully about the rules they adopt when the two finalists finish in a tie.

    Let us at least hope for a rule that is based on some rationale in cricketing terms and is not just plucked out of the air. Here’s to another great final in 2023!

    Bryan Gould
    15 July 2019

  • Fast Food for the Fans?

    Have you ever noticed how little advertising there is on television for Mum’s home-cooking?

    And conversely, have you ever wondered why it is that the purveyors of fast food find it necessary to spend so much on advertising their wares?

    If their products are as good as they say they are, why do they need to buy so much expensive advertising time – very often using the time not so much to proclaim how good the products are for you, but trying to associate them with “fun” events like rugby matches, and placing their advertisements before and during such events.

    Their aim seems to be to persuade the public that an exciting and enjoyable sports event cannot be complete without a helping of their product. Sometimes, the effort to persuade us of this supposed truth reaches ludicrous proportions, as with the arrival by helicopter at a rugby ground of a make-believe “Colonel Sanders” who proceeds (apparently) to distribute lavish supplies of his product (for nothing, so its seems) “for the fans”.

    There are three literally fantastical elements to this pantomime. First, the implication that the arrival of the product is just what is needed to make the occasion complete, secondly, that it is something that happens accompanied by an aura of glamour, excitement and familiarity, and thirdly, that the product is in some sense or another cost-free. This latter representation is of course entirely false, since fast food is just about the most expensive way you can find to feed yourself and your family.

    Even the suggestion that a helping of the product will guarantee you a good time is misleading. The purchase of fast food is simply a retail transaction, as soulless as buying a pair of socks, notwithstanding the emotive catch phrase “I’m lovin’ it” that supports one such product. It is accompanied by none of the love and care that attends the preparation and consumption of food at home and in a family environment.

    Far from being an important element in an enjoyable social environment, research shows that buying and eating fast food is all too often an anti-social – often solitary – occupation.

    Chinese research shows that students who regularly rely on fast food are more likely than most to suffer from depression. This is not so much, one imagines, a consequence of the nutritional deficiencies of fast food, as of the fact that fast food is so often purchased by, and then consumed by, solitary individuals.

    And further research, closer to home, shows that one of the keys to a longer and healthier life is to avoid fast food.

    This suggests that the nutritional downsides of a diet heavy in fats, salt and sugar should not be overlooked. At a time when our medical and public health experts are increasingly concerned about the impact of fast foods on the health of young people, and particularly the role played by fast foods in the incidence of conditions like obesity and illnesses like diabetes, it is regrettable that some of those most vulnerable to the misleading images portrayed in television advertising are being exploited in this way.

    I am not suggesting that there is any case for regulating or outlawing such advertising. What I am seeking is that the advertisers themselves might be induced to change tack – perhaps a forlorn hope to expect that they might put aside their commercial interests for the sake of the general good. There is of course a legitimate case that could be made for occasionally buying fast food, especially when a hard-pressed Mum simply doesn’t have the time for the shopping and preparation that are needed to produce home-cooked meals.

    What I do hope is that, if the supposed glamour and feel-good aspect of fast foods can be stripped away, potential consumers will be able to see more clearly the ruthlessness with which they are being targeted by advertising of this kind and can see these products for what they are – an expensive short-cut to a quick and unhealthy meal, rather than a passport to a good time.

    Bryan Gould
    21 May 2019

  • Sharing With Our Feathered Friends

    My wife grew up in suburban London – not an environment that was conducive, one might think, to developing an interest in wild life. But her father was a bird lover and he helped her, too, to develop a love for the birds that inhabited their garden.

    When we moved (in my case, back) to New Zealand, it took her a little time to adjust to the absence of the robins and blue tits and other birds that were familiar inhabitants of an English garden. But, over time, she developed an equal interest in New Zealand bird life – and she taught me, too, to appreciate those wonderful creatures.

    I was led into this train of thought as, sitting on our deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean one morning, we watched the welcome swallows wheeling and dipping and soaring as they criss-crossed the sky in front of us – and I began to think about the important part that our birds play in our enjoyment of life in the natural world.

    We are truly fortunate in the variety of native birds which share our garden with us. We have come to know the majestic kereru as they strip the kowhai trees of their young leaves, and the ever-active tuis as they splash in our bird bath. And a walk around our property would not be complete without the accompaniment of the fantails, joining us – not for the pleasure of our company – but in the hope that we will disturb some of the insects on which they feed. And what a pleasure it is to catch a flash of iridescent blue as a kingfisher takes off from our ngaio tree.

    That is not to say that we are bereft of English imports. We enjoy the songs of the thrushes and blackbirds and chaffinches, and we are never far from a cheeky sparrow – though we are not impressed by one of the unlovelier of the sparrow’s habits – the way in which, having chased down a cicada and taken it to ground, their first move is to rip off its wings so that they can eat it at leisure.

    There are other foreigners – like the quails and pheasants and peacocks – that offer us the assurance that, in an emergency, we would not go hungry. Yet other imports, like magpies and mynahs, are less welcome; they seem to see it as their duty to challenge the tuis for pre-eminence – but, thankfully, the tuis seem able to hold their own – and then there are the harrier hawks, constantly wheeling high above us in the hope of detecting an unprotected quail chick.

    We love the smaller birds too – the wax-eyes who see it as a challenge to beat us to the ripening figs on our fig tree, and the little grey warblers whose cheerful trilling lifts our hearts, and the yellowhammers who search our lawn for insects, but who are often outnumbered by twenty or thirty goldfinches engaged in a similar pursuit.

    We have sometimes been blessed with the visits of less common birds. We enjoyed, for a time, nightly visits from a morepork (ruru) that would park itself, as dusk gathered, in the lower branches of our ngaio and venture out on little sorties in search of unwary insects.

    And we have even had a solitary visit from a falcon, resting no doubt from its supersonic exertions. Sadly, we were also favoured with a visit from a shining cuckoo which managed to knock itself out by flying into one of our windows, but which then was able to come to, and fly off, having allowed us to inspect the intricate patterns of its plumage and its elegant long tail.

    And all the time, the ancient pohutukawa tree behind us is alive with twittering and bird movement; it is like a village, complete in itself. It reminds us that there is another world beyond our own – that we are privileged to share our habitat with other creatures who have an equal claim to its riches.

    And, as we celebrated this month International DawnChorus Day, we reflected that this is a pleasure that is not delivered to us via a screen but is a slice of real life. Little wonder that British scientists have found that listening to birdsong brings us great psychological benefits.

    Bryan Gould
    4 May 2019

  • Folau’s Folly

    The strife that Israel Folau has found himself in, following his statement that homosexuals and others are destined for hell, and calling on them to “repent”, has many consequences and ramifications – and not just for him and those whom he has condemned.

    For rugby fans, the issue is whether the fullback – about to be disowned by Rugby Australia – will play for the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup. His absence would be a major blow to Australian hopes.

    And for English rugby, the question will be whether other players, like Billy Vunipola, will suffer any consequences for their online endorsement of Folau’s sentiments.

    For students of human rights, there will be issues of free speech. Shouldn’t, they might argue, Folau be allowed to think what he likes and say what he thinks without the “thought police” coming down on him?

    But this, of course, is where it gets complicated. Folau has, repeatedly, used the platform provided to him by his fame as a rugby player to give currency to his views in such a way as to compromise the sport to which he owes that fame. He cannot claim that he was unaware that his employers (and many of his rugby colleagues) were repelled by his views. And, having used rugby to extend the reach and impact of those views, he surely cannot now complain if rugby makes it clear that they do not share them – and, indeed, finds them objectionable – and that they wish to dissociate themselves from them.

    There is also a difference between just holding views and deciding to launch them into the public domain. Folau can think what he likes; it is only when he posts his private views in the social media that they have a wider and social impact – one that is not accidental, but intended – and they become a legitimate target for criticism and comment.

    It is not unusual to find that views like these will attract censure in a number of ways. The law, for example, provides that the public expression of certain kinds of views can attract legal consequences – either because they are seen to be harmful to the cohesion of our society, or because they treat unfairly and denigrate particular groups or individuals, so that their standing in the eyes of others will suffer or they will themselves suffer a loss of self-esteem.

    At this point, Folau’s case introduces a further complication. No one doubts that Folau’s online statements denigrated and traduced certain groups of people, and were intended to do so. But, his supporters argue, his statements reflect his religious beliefs. To preserve his own freedom of religious belief, they say, he must be free to broadcast, even to preach and seek support for, the message that he believes he has received from his God, whatever its detrimental effect on others.

    It is just too bad, they say, if those who do not share his religious beliefs feel offended or threatened by, or are harmed by, what he says. His freedom to proselytise on behalf of his religion should not be limited.

    But a blanket “free pass” for offensive and harmful views on the ground that they emanate from sincerely held religious beliefs could be exploited by almost anyone. A claim that a certain view is an expression of a particular religious belief rests, in any case, on nothing more than the claim of the person making it that his religion requires it of him. Whatever its provenance, it is still a statement made by that individual – and one for which personal responsibility must be accepted.

    It should still be judged by the same standards as are applied by our society to all statements and claims; investing a contentious view with some supposed divine authority on the say-so of the person making it should not render it immune to the judgment that would ordinarily be applied.

    Israel Folau was literally careless about the harm and distress he caused to many (sometimes vulnerable) people – the very antithesis, one might have thought, of a Christian attitude – and is apparently ready to pay the price for expounding his beliefs. We should take him at his word.

    Bryan Gould
    15 April 2019

  • What Role Should Celebrities Play in Our Lives?

    We live, like it or not, in the age of the celebrity. High achievers in entertainment or sport have always commanded attention and headlines, but the reach, in today’s society, of film and television, and particularly of the social media, has meant that the impact of the “rich and famous” is greater today than it has ever been.

    It is increasingly clear that this kind of celebrity can be used to exert great influence over the young in particular, but also to make a great deal of money through endorsements and the marketing of products bearing famous names. Millions of young women around the world choose clothes, make-up, social activities and other purchases, following the recommendations of those whose lifestyles are regarded as wonderfully glamorous and therefore to be emulated.

    There is a further curiosity about the modern concept of the “celebrity”. The actual achievements or talents of the modern celebrity may sometimes be rather difficult to identify. The Kardashians, for example, seem not to be particularly talented as individuals – but they are, as a family or “brand”, famous for being famous. What is undeniable is that they are very successful at promoting themselves, and providing models that many young women and girls try to copy.

    The Kardashians exemplify another common aspect of the celebrity cult – the tendency of one celebrity to team up with another. Kim Kardashian is the partner of the US rapper, Kanye West – and David and Victoria Beckham’s marriage brought together a top British footballer and a singer from the Spice Girls. In instances such as these, the celebrity impact seems to be more than doubled but is multiplied several times over – and children of the union themselves become celebrities and add to the overall impact.

    Recently, however, there seems to have been something of a backlash against the cult of the celebrity. A week or so ago, it was reported that the use of celebrities on websites in the UK to encourage gambling online for young people was coming under fire and that the big internet companies and websites had been persuaded to desist from that practice.

    I might add my own two cents’ worth. As a regular watcher of TVNZ’s quiz programme, The Chase, I politely observe that the weekend version, when so-called celebrities make up the team challenging the “chaser”, succeeds in reducing what is an excellent quiz show to a rather embarrassing parade of egos and self-promotion.

    That, however, is a minor point. The real case against the undue deference shown to “celebrities”
    Is that it can lead not only to young people being misdirected in their private lives as to what real happiness and success might look like, but also to the abandonment of normal standards and processes in the public domain.

    An early instance of this latter phenomenon was the treatment accorded in the US to Martha Stewart, a television star whose Martha Stewart Show presented her as a “domestic goddess” to an adoring viewership. She was, after several years of enjoying her celebrity, convicted of insider trading and obstructing justice, and served a prison sentence. She was then restored to her television show and resumed her place in the affections of the American public; it seemed that her celebrity protected her against any longer-term downside.

    More seriously, the same phenomenon of celebrity seems to have been a major factor in the election of – and continued support for – Donald Trump as President. The voters, despite the evidence before their own eyes and ears of his complete unfitness to exercise such responsibilities, seem to have been unwilling to trust their own judgment and to have been dazzled instead by the “star power” of a television celebrity. The price that the US – and the world – have had to pay is virtually incalculable.

    There is no obvious or immediate antidote to this phenomenon. We can but hope that those who are happy to reap the rewards – earned or otherwise – of their celebrity might increasingly recognise the responsibilities they have to ensure that people, especially the young and vulnerable, are not misled to their disadvantage by following them in directions that lead at best nowhere, but at worst to shattered dreams, disappointment and unhappiness.

    Bryan Gould
    19 February 2019