The rise and rise of blogs

THERE was a cartoon that was popular some years ago, one of a dog sitting on a chair and surfing the net. The caption read: “On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog.”

These days, everyone and his dog has a blog. There are so many of them that there is an aura of confusion over what a blog is, where the species came from and what it is meant for.

Seven years ago, there were hardly any websites which could be referred to as blogs. The traditional term meant a web log, some kind of a diary maintained by someone who was necessarily web-savvy since it meant using processes like FTP to transfer files and having a website of one’s own.

In 2002, things changed markedly, and one has to give one of the world’s great semi-literates credit. George W. Bush began a campaign to send American troops into Iraq and the falsehoods that he and his administration used to try and con the American people began to annoy those who were wise to this kind of deception.

The problem was compounded by the fact that American journalists appeared to have lost every ounce of courage and most backed the push for invading Iraq. They simply repeated the administration’s lies, functioning as cheerleaders and forgetting that they are not known as the Fourth Estate for nothing.

There were brave souls around though and some of them began to write about the lies spread by the administration on their own websites. The number of those indulging in this exercise grew by leaps and bounds, in direct proportion to the cowardly politicians and journalists who refused to condemn Bush and his cohorts.

The number of blogs mushroomed at this time. They were marked by being run by individuals, most of them politically aware and able to articulate their thoughts clearly.

By the time the Americans had got a number of countries on-side and invaded Iraq, there were a lot of websites that were opposing the war. The lack of uncensored information from Iraq led to a further explosion of such sites and this was crowned by the efforts of one Iraqi blogger who went under the name Salam Pax.

The trend continued. By 2004, many mainstream media organisations had noticed the phenomenon and some journalists had decided that this was an easier way of communicating with people. Blogs, which had until then rarely been used for breaking news, became sites where everything that some journalists produced was hosted.

Journalists went this route simply because a trend that has now become alarming – the fall of both ad revenue and circulation – was making itself evident. Newspapers were said to be serving a corporate agenda and hardly bothering about issues that concerned the people.

There were two occasions in the US in 2004 which are noteworthy – one when retiring American politician Strom Thurmond was exposed by bloggers as a racist; this came after there were suggestions that he would have been a worthy candidate for the presidency.

A second instance was when the well-known CBS news anchor Dan Rather was accused by bloggers of using documents about Bush that had not been properly authenticated. Rather finally apologised on air.

Mainstream online publications slowly began to add blogs to their sites. Over the next couple of years, it became trendy for a site that was mainstream to also have its own blogs. The meaning of the word – an individual’s diary – had changed by now.

Mainstream media blogs could contain news, views, or interviews. Some journalists choose to use their blogs more or less for everything they write. The same care that goes into editing is not present; a blog is raw and more immediate. That, many feel, tends to attract readers. Others differ and their blogs are subject to the same process of editing to which print journalism is subjected.

Lone bloggers often get confused when they encounter blogs which are part of mainstream media. They have one meaning for the word and cannot relate to the mainstream media blog. They get confused – they only know of one kind of blog, the type they own.

The development of blogging software like WordPress and MovableType and the free blogs on offer from web giants such as Google has given even more impetus to the growth of blogs – if any was needed. It is trivial to create and publish one’s own blog these days.

But as the number of blogs grows and the faddists drop out, blogs, like online media, are coming under as much scrutiny as mainstream media. There are many who blog who do not know what they can and cannot say; some even seem unaware of the reach of the internet.

The case of Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick who sued the journal Barrons for defamation in the Australian state of Victoria has changed the way people approach online media. Barrons contended that the case could only be tried in the US but was overruled and Gutnick won his case which was heard in Victoria.

This set down the precedent that, unlike a newspaper, the place where something is read can be used as the location for a defamation action. More recently, a Chinese games website has filed a case in Sydney, Australia, against a British blogger. Exactly how this will turn out remains to be seen, but the man will definitely be inconvenienced by having to travel all that distance. And any Australian verdict can be enforced in Britain.

As blogs come under more and more scrutiny, the trend will change. The growth will level off and it will slowly become something of a cottage industry. These days many bloggers make a little money off their blogs, at least enough to cover their bandwidth and hosting charges. Original material will be at a premium and, like all trends, it will level off to the point where only those who have something original to say will remain in business.


Tendulkar: the little genius

THERE have been occasions recently when one has often felt that it was time for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar to think about retirement. The man has been hesitant at the crease, often slow to react and caught off-guard by balls that he would have smashed to the boundary ten times out of ten a year or two ago.

But then he just blows you away with an innings which puts him on par with the late Don Bradman, Sir Gary Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, and the diminutive Brian Lara. It is a privilege to be able to watch one of these innings unfold, a chance to study a man who, despite having every reason to be puffed up and proud, is still very much a self-effacing character.

He played such an innings in Hyderabad a few days ago, an innings that almost took India to an incredible victory. He made half of his opponents’ total, in a manner that looked effortless and made the observer realise that, after 20 years of playing at the top level, he still has a few years of good cricket left in him.

The odds were very much against the Indians making anything like a good showing when, in the face of chasing down 351 for a win, they lost two wickets before 100 was on the board, and a further two by the time the score reached 162.

This meant that Tendulkar, who opened the innings, had just one specialist batsman left to play alongside him, and 189 runs more to get if the match was to be won. By the time the fourth wicket fell, he was six runs away from a hundred and had already indicated that he was at the top of his game.

Australia was aware that if he went, a win and a 3-2 lead in the seven-match series, was there for the taking.

The match was all Tendulkar It speaks volumes for his mastery, as his innings came after Shaun Marsh, son of the illustrious Geoff, had made his maiden hundred, and Shane Watson had contributed a well-made 93. That the man of the match award came to Tendulkar says a lot.

Tendulkar hasn’t been in the best of form in this series, and the one time when it looked like he was regaining a bit of touch, in the fourth game, he was the victim of an umpiring error. He made 32 in the third game without really looking anything like his best.

But Hyderabad was a different story. He watched as the flamboyant Virender Sehwag sprayed the ball all around the ground in a quickfire knock of 30 that kept the scoring rate high – India needed a trace over 7 an over to win after Australia made 350 – and kept his end up, taking no chances.

The bad balls were treated as they deserved but Tendulkar played as though he was planning to settle down at one end for the night. It almost turned out that way. It took until the seventh over for a masterly touch, when he played a classy pull shot and a flick off Doug Bollinger, both to the boundary.

He had to cope with the distraction of reaching 17,000 runs in one-day cricket early on in his innings and as there was a full house, there was quite a din when he achieved that mark.

But his concentration never flagged. It was in the 20th over that he began to look ominous when he went back and across to hit Watson over the mid-wicket boundary. There was control, class and domination writ large in that one stroke. At that point, anyone who has seen him play a long innings would have realised that he would be at the crease for a while.

In the same over, he drove home the message by hitting Watson to the cover boundary, dancing down the track and placing the ball very neatly just out of reach of a diving extra-cover fieldsman.

He treated Nathan Hauritz with contempt in the next over, hitting two sixes off successive balls. One went over long-off, the other over long-on. Hauritz saw the second one coming and dropped it short but Tendulkar adjusted in a trice and did not even bother to run.

After his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, left at 162, Tendulkar found an ally in young Suresh Raina, who played with panache. The pair went through the same routine time and time again – they played a couple of overs without taking a risk, and then got the run-rate back to a manageable level with some calculated big-hitting.

The big hits were never made in desperation; they were cricketing shots every time. Despite the big total, it was Australia that looked the worried team.

Raina was dropped twice but Tendulkar only offered one half-chance when he had crossed 130. It looked very much like India would get home with the little master there at the end.

But, sadly, it was not to be. Not that Australia deserved to lose; it was just that with a player like Tendulkar in such majestic form, he deserved to be on the winning side.

In the 48th over, he fell to debutant Clint McKay. A slower ball caused his demise as he failed to clear short fine-leg with an up-and-under. Hauritz took the catch and the game was over.

India had 19 runs to get off 17 balls but as usual the tailenders flattered to deceive and fell in quick succession to hand Australia victory by three runs.

The night belonged to one man, Tendulkar. He played down his contribution by characterising his 141-ball 175 as “one of my best. I was striking the ball very well…”

Then he went on to talk about the game and the rest of the team. Like Lara, he often plays great innings and ends up on the losing side. He hasn’t won as many games off his own blade as Lara did but the only word that fits for a knock like this is genius. There is no current player in the game who is his equal.


Indian-bashing: the latest Australian sport

EVER since the surge of interest in soccer in Australia after the national team made it to the World Cup finals in 2006 and the A-League was set up, the Australian Football League – the body that governs Australian rules football – has been looking over its shoulder, realising that it has another sport competing for audiences.

Until soccer reared its head as a contender, the AFL had the two rugby codes – league and union – to contend with.

But there is worse to come – the AFL will now have to contend with a sport that had its genesis right here in Melbourne, one that’s beginning to draw crowds on the weekends.

It’s the game called Indian bashing and it’s growing in popularity. Go online, search around a while, see how many people are there to defend it – and you’ll realise that AFL chief Andrew Demetriou certainly has something to fear.

The latest game, staged in Epping recently, drew 70 people in a small indoor venue while four Indians were beaten up.

Imagine what it could have been like if it had been staged at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an arena which can hold 90,000 people with ease. I can just see the ticket touts rubbing their hands in glee.

While the AFL is busy trying to tone down the biffo and has acted decisively against racism, the new sport has no such inhibitions. Indeed, in Epping the first racist taunt came from a woman.

And biffo? Man, the new game has landed plenty of Indian students in hospital. One guy died of head injuries. Australian Rules cannot compete.

What’s more, Indian-bashing has the support of the police and politicians too. Neither is willing to say a bad word about the sport.

The media is on-side too. With some notable exceptions, there is little negative comment on the issue – and the media manages to keep those truculent Indians from making a noise about it too.

A classic example of how to do this was illustrated on the ABC’s Lateline program a few months ago.

Two Australian citizens of ethnic backgrounds, Tanvir Ahmed and Waleed Aly, discussed the sport within the broader framework of racism. Ahmed inclined to the view that there was no racism at play while Aly said there was “low-level racism” involved.

It looked quite good – ethnic types discussing Indian-bashing. But looks are deceptive – both Ahmed and Aly, no slight on either, have spent nearly all of their lives in this country. Neither is of Indian extraction.

Presenter Leigh Sales just provided an Australian viewpoint all over again. Everyone nodded in approval. Them ethnic types had been given their say – who could fault the balanced ABC?

Demetriou hardly needs another distraction like Indian-bashing. The man has had to set up AFL teams in far-flung areas of the country to generate interest in places where rugby league and rugby union hold sway.

Now, he will have to look at staging AFL games in places like Epping and Fairfield, to pull the crowds.

Else, the AFL had better watch out. There are more than a billion Indians and loads of them are here.

You’ll soon have more Indian-bashing than the eight weekend games which the AFL stages. And remember – while Australian Rules is a winter game, Indian-bashing knows no seasons.