Sneaky Tuesday Sportsbet

Just a short note this morning to tip you into a little sportbet that I think is easy money for punters today. I am tipping the San Francisco Giants to beat the St Louis Cardinals in game 7 of the NLCS in San Francisco this morning. They have all the momentum after winning the last two games of the series to stay alive in this best of 7 championship and with their ace Matt Cain returning after a loss in game three I expect them to get the job done. The fact is that Cain does not loose two games in a row often.

Second leg this morning sees the Chicago Bears cover the lines against the Detroit Lions in NFL Monday night football. This is an NFC North battle between the leading Bears and the cellar dwelling Lions. The Bears possess a mix of league leading defence and the confidence of being on a 3 game winning streak so I don’t expect them to be bested here.

Put together this bet will pay $3.30ish. Good luck if you get on.

The Great Hamburger debate: where do you stand?

My timeline on twitter today has been more interesting than most days because I have been involved in a discussion with some jibberers (they know who they are and I use that term as a positive) about firstly what makes a BBQ and then secondly what are the essentials of a good hamburger.

The second issue, or the “Great Hamburger debate” as I have termed it, is a debate that has gone on, I have no doubt, since the beginning of time … or at least since someone (however that someone is) became the first person to place a meat patty between two pieces of bread with some condiments and ate it.

As a person whose mid section has undoubtedly benefited from a hamburger or 100 over time, I am surprised that I have not written about this topic already so with this post I will make up for the travesty of not having written about this issue sooner.

Before we get into the nitty gritty around the “Great Hamburger debate” there needs to be some very clear ground rules for the debate. They are:

1. Under no circumstances am I talking about a burger procured from McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, Burger King or any other self styled American “Hamburger Joint”. They are in a category all of their own which might become the topic of a following post.

2. A hamburger is not a steak burger or a chicken burger nor does it have on it ham as the name would suggest.

3. A hamburger is only delivered to you wrapped in a white paper wrapping or some such equivalent. A hamburger that is brought to you on a plate, is left open or that is served on a focaccia is an imposter for the purposes of the debate.

4. The hamburger patty needs to be of the style of a rissole made with minced beef and not something pre-processed and thawed from the supermarket.

Those parameters set it must be obvious to even the most casual reader that what I am talking about here is a hamburger that one would purchase from a local fish and chip shop or takeaway store or, in utopia, that one would take part in putting together at or around a hot BBQ plate in ones backyard.

Now if you have read this far I have no doubt you wondering: “how do I get the last 5 minutes of my life back after reading this dross?” but to that I challenge you to tell me that you are someone who has never had a discussion with a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or fellow customer about the contents of the perfect burger. If you have not had such a discussion then I, on the one hand, release you from reading further and, on the other hand, am sorry for you because you have missed out.

However if you have then you have already been part of the “Great Hamburger debate” … you just probably did not realise it!

Equally the question must be asked as to why is there even a debate: we are just talking about a piece of meat between two pieces of bread right? That is where most go wrong because the perfect hamburger is just as much about the condiments that are incorporated with the burger and this is where the bulk of the debate arises.

These are some of the usual issues that arise in any debate about the perfect hamburger:

1. Do you prefer tomato sauce or BBQ sauce?
2. Do you like beetroot on your burger or not?
3. For Australian readers, do you like pineapple on your burger?
4. Do you prefer your hamburger bun to be toasted?
5. Is the egg on your burger to be runny?
6. If you add bacon to your burger is it still a hamburger?

I can only answer those questions for myself and it is here that the principal point to this blog arises (thank goodness I hear you exclaim). The beauty of the perfect hamburger and, indeed, this whole debate is that whether a hamburger is perfect or not is solely the domain of individual taste. Much like some of the other (some would say very Australian) debates that rage around a BBQ hotplate, like Holden v Ford (Holden) and who was Australia’s best cricket captain (Waugh S), positions of the combatants to this debate are so entrenched that you will never change anyone’s view to your own but it sure is fun having the discussion.

So for the record here are the ingredients to my perfect hamburger:

Lightly toasted (no more than 30 seconds on the BBQ plate) plain white bread roll
Fried Onion
Egg (runny)
BBQ sauce

That to me is the perfect burger. Now I know that many will be pondering:

1. Where is the tomato?
2. Where is the pineapple?
3. Where is the beetroot?

The answer to those questions is simple: I don’t like them and I believe they overpower the taste of the burger so I do not have them on my burger. My views here have long been tested by family members, partners, friends and people in the hamburger shop who have heard me order a “Burger with the lot … no tomato, no beetroot and no pineapple” and I will never be moved from the fact that the foregoing is what I consider to be the perfect burger. And , that is where the fun of this debate has its nexus it is all about your personal choice!

So there it is: my 1000 odd words about the “Great Hamburger debate” … what do you think and what is your “perfect burger”? Indeed, as the title to this post posits: where do you stand?

Postscript: A big thank you to these fellow debaters from twitter for getting the creative juices flowing and making me hungry today: @RandomHammer @roysundborg and @franks_andbeans … get around them.

The alcohol conundrum: to ask or not ask

In the aftermath of World Mental Health Day and, a little longer ago, the RUOK campaign I have had a fairly consistent thought flowing through my brain: what other questions do I wish people had asked me sooner?

There is one such question in my own life that sticks out like a sore thumb: “do you have a problem with alcohol?”  As those of you are close to me (and I admit some of you who are not) will know the answer to that question is a resounding “YES”.  With that in mind I have been considering whether the focus that is now being put on mental health with campaigns like RUOK? day needs to be broadened to consider other societal problems and also whether dealing with issues with alcohol in a similar vein is one step to far for us as a society at present.

Now before you, as readers, start rolling your eyes and wondering “does this bloke ever get off the pulpit?” please do me the indulgence of reading on just a little longer before you click away from this blog.  I am not writing this blog to ask you to stop drinking or to make myself out to be martyr or with some new found evangelical fervour.  I write as someone who knows from first hand experience how difficult it is in our society to admit you have a problem and to deal with it and I would like to start a conversation with you, as a reader, about what we can do to help our loved ones, friends and colleagues with making such an admission.

Before we get back to considering the conundrum expressed in the title to this blog, it is important to understand what I mean by the phrase “having a problem with alcohol”.  I can only express what I know from personal experience and, whilst I am not proud of any of what follows and this pains me to write, I don’t think I can ask you to be honest with yourselves if I am not honest with you.  So here is my experience and problem with alcohol:

  • When I drank there was never enough alcohol in a bar to sate me: I would drink everything.
  • When I drank, if I stopped at 3 beers I would be ok: if I had a 4th drink again there was never enough alcohol to sate me.
  • When I drank, I drank quickly and often alone: even when I was with other people I would find myself buying rounds for only me because my drinking buddies were too slow.
  • When I drank, I paid for everyone.
  • When I drank, the next day I remembered nothing.
  • When I drank, I was doing it to numb the self doubt that crippled me and to have one moment of paused before the black dog started barking again.

Now whether the foregoing conduct make me an alcoholic I don’t know.  People who are helping with the journey I am on are divided and I am, in all honestly, not bothered whether that label fits or it does not.  What is clear is that I had a problem; and more to the point I had a problem that was costing me money, friends and reputation.

The problem with the “alcohol problem” seems to me in part that some of the conduct that befell me on occasion is conduct that many consider to be normal.  Indeed, if one were to look around any bar on a Friday night they would see numerous people in the various states I outlined above.  The fact is that we, as a society, are much more accepting of behaviour like the foregoing than we are of people who admit they have a problem and stop.  I know from experience that the fact that I could imbibe at a rapid and exhaustive rate and bought drinks for everyone was conduct that was lionised rather than shamed.  The badge of “good drinker” is one met with acclamation rather than negativity.

Therein lies the conundrum that rests at the beginning of this blog: in a society where being a “good drinker” is a badge of honour and where not drinking is met with, and I quote from a party I was at Friday night “would you like another glass of milk Nancy” is it just as courageous to ask a loved one, friend or colleague if they have a problem as it is for that person to admit to it?

Much like the RUOK? day message it strikes me that being prepared to ask a loved one, friend or colleague whether they have a problem with alcohol comes with it the responsibility of continuing to ask in the face of being rebuffed.  As I alluded to on twitter (@shumpty77) during the RUOK? program it is not enough to just ask once.  Much like with my depression and anxiety, I have no doubt that if I had have been asked the question about alcohol I would have declined to answer and probably would have declined to answer quite angrily.  Such a response and the ability to of those suffer to mask their pain or conduct means that the person making the enquiry needs to keep asking until they are satisfied that the response received is not simply a mask to put them off from the real underlying issue.

To me: there is no real conundrum as I noted at the start of this blog. My personal view is that we all owe it to each other to look after each other that means asking the question.  Unfortunately, whilst the quantum one imbibes is met with a badge of honour, I am not sure that society thinks the same thing. I, for one, hope that attitude changes sooner rather than later.

Postscript: I should point out here that I make no criticism of my family, friends and colleagues who tried to assist me during the darkest periods of my life.  The love and support I have received has nothing short of brilliant.  In living the way I was living for a long time I became an expert in hiding from everyone what I was going through and even when they did try to help me I was dismissive at best and abusive at worst.  

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … time for some shopping!

With the mercury rising in Brisbane to the low 30s and the sound of willow on cricket balls resonating around suburban parks, I am now prepared to declare that once again Christmas has snuck up on me and is, as it the time of writing, on 91 days away. That shock, principally the usual lament about “how fast the year has gone”, has now passed for yours truly but is met with another fact to furrow my brow: sooner or later I am going to have to Christmas shopping.

Let’s be direct here: I do not like Christmas shopping (not to be confused for shopping in general at which at certain points during the “black dog period” I could nearly have been considered an expert). Indeed my negativity towards this annual event is such that for many years I avoided the spectacle all together and, like any good bachelor, gave funds to my long suffering mother, Irene, to purchase the presents for the family. It is only in the last couple of years that this approach has been jettisoned.

It also needs to be pointed out that I do not buy presents for many people: I do not buy presents for my close male friends (we just never have) and I do not send Christmas cards (I actually have so few friends that I will generally see them or speak to them in the lead up to Christmas). So my list of persons that I buy for has historically been limited.

Of course now I have my nephews (and this year my niece) to shop for the need to shop at Christmas time has lifted to a whole new level. In this regard, I remain in awe of my mother who will have already purchased all of her presents and will now just need to wrap them. She is just unbelievable when it comes to this stuff: last year she was done by July and I am sure that this year was nothing different.

However, just because my mother is a black belt when it comes to Christmas shopping that does not mean that I am. Frankly, in part because I am lazy and in part because I am not generally all that “Christmassy” when I have been called on to purchase Christmas presents (since Irene restrained the use of “Mum’s shopping service”) I have done my shopping on the 23rd day of December.

Anyone who has shopped for Christmas presents on 23rd December knows that shopping on that particular day is a “shit fight” of epic proportions. Between the pre-pubescents loitering, the desperate husbands who have remembered at the last minute and guys like me who have been “just to busy” the shopping malls of Brisbane on 23rd December reek of the perspiration of desperation of those who know they are in the last chance saloon (unless they wish to buy there gifts at the local service station).

There is a definite art to shopping for Christmas presents so late in the game: you have to have low expectations and be prepared to purchase whatever you see first that might suit the person you are buying for. On 23 December there is no time for perusing the store to find the best gift because it is a battle of the fittest to get all of ones presents purchased.

That leaves me with this year: I know I have to purchase my gifts early to get them to Port Headland in time for Christmas Day and I have already made a list of what I need to buy so really I am ready to go now. How much do you want to bet me I will ignore my inner monologue reminding me to shop for Christmas under the 23rd day of December again? I reckon the odds of that are pretty short.

Cricket Umpiring: is it time to jettison “neutral umpires”?

This weekend brings the curtain down on the career of, for mine, the best umpire of my generation Simon Taufel. The statistics do not lie: he won five consecutive ICC Umpire of the Year awards. Since making his international debut in 1999, Taufel has stood in 74 tests, 174 one day internationals and 29 T20 internationals. Simply, he retires as one of the best in the game.

Why then has Simon Taufel’s retirement led me to put fingers to keyboard to write on the topic of umpiring and, more specifically, the issue of “neutral umpires”?

Well the answer is simple, because of the ICC’s slavish focus on the “neutrality” of umpires, Taufel has umpired only 2 of his 74 tests in his home country and, despite being the best umpire in the game in 2003 and 2007, was only able to stand in a World Cup final in 2011 when Australia did not make the final.

I, for one, think this situation is a travesty. The fact that the best umpire in the game has been restrained from umpiring in his home country and could not stand in a fixture that, aside from test match cricket, represents the pinnacle of the game of itself shows the silliness of the present approach to umpiring from the ICC.

For those who don’t follow the great game, since 2001 the ICC has decreed that for test matches and the matches in key tournaments such World Cups only umpires not from the countries of the combatants may stand. This situation arose out of a series of “controversies” relating to allegedly biased umpiring from “home” umpires.

Everyone who follows cricket will remember an example of umpiring that did not quite seem right. I recollect some of the umpiring of the Australian umpires of the 80s that at times was questionable at best. The Rana v Gatting incident brought to light systematically questionable umpiring in the subcontinent. I have read the story of Australia’s first prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton, and his umpiring in a New South Wales v MCC game in the late 1880s (he was the good umpire of two). One could come up with an example to suit any team that you follow.

In the face of ongoing questioning of umpires by the visiting teams, the press and fans of the game first the ICC moved to a system of having one home and one neutral umpire (hence Simon Taufel being able to stand in two home test matches at the start of his career) and then finally ruled that the only way to avoid controversy was to have two neutral umpires.

I have a deep seated dislike for the term “neutral” umpire: the fact is, and I paraphrase the great Harold Bird here, all umpires are neutral. If they are not neutral why are they umpires? I concede that this view means that I have never been a fan of “neutral” umpires being appointed for all test matches. I never saw the need and have always thought that players and press should simply just accept the decisions of the umpires on the field.

Equally I am a realist and thus have ultimately accepted that the appointment of neutral umpires is the way the game is going to be played. My acceptance of this position has changed on reflection since Simon Taufel’s early retirement for one very simple reason: technology.

Cricket today has available to it technology, except in Sri Lanka it is conceded, like it has never had before. The referral system has been put in place in most test matches (except where India plays) and all international tournaments of note to protect against the wrong decisions being allowed to be made.

With the referral system and, indeed, the minute level of scrutiny of each and every decision made by the umpires is it now the case that the ICC can be comfortable that “neutral” umpires are no longer necessary? Surely given the scrutiny of the decisions of our elite umpires the time is now to let those elite umpires stand in their home countries and to make it possible for umpires like Simon Taufel to stand in the finals of World Cups.

Forget that umpires by definition are not biased (naive as that view obviously is), any prospect of an umpire being openly biased (if it were to occur) has to be diminished to basically nil because the result of acting in a biased manner would now be the end of that umpires career.

Now some of you may suggest that my view here does not accord with my previously published views about the need for a DRS system in cricket and respecting the umpire’s decision. My views there are not changed. I still believe that DRS is unnecessary and the umpire is always right. Rather, what I see now is an opportunity to at least allow the best umpires in the world to stand at home by using the very technology that I dislike. That way someone like Simon Taufel would be able to spend his summers at home with his family and, one assumes, umpire for longer.

Of course all of the foregoing is never likely to happen, because the block of countries that run the game are led by a country that does not trust the referral system so I expect the imposition of “neutral” umpires to continue for some time to come. The real risk with that approach is that sooner or later the elite of cricket umpires will decline to stand in tests (example: Peter Willey) because of the time spent away from home: that is a scenario that can not be let happen.

To finish were I started: the international career of Simon Taufel comes to an end this weekend as he takes on the role of Umpire Performance and Training Manager. Our future umpiring stocks, no matter where they come from, are in very good hands.