Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Top Fifty Highlights From Our Trip Through Europe and Egypt - Part One

50. I picked up a pack of Fluxx cards at the markets in Greenwich. What is Fluxx, you ask? It's a game in which the rules and goal of the game change depending on which cards are played. With five or six players, it becomes a convoluted frenzy. With just the two of us for most of the trip, it served to pass the time.

49. The dodos haven't been wiped off the face of the earth - there are a couple on display at the Natural History Museum in London. And they look every bit as dumb as you have been led to believe.

48. The two sweetest words in the Italian language and 'quattro formaggi' (four cheeses). Probably the only thing stopping me from ordering it wherever I went was a concern about my long-term health.

47. The Chateau de Versailles was the house of the royals at the time of the French Revolution. While the place itself is imposing enough, what makes it really memorable is the enormous estate on which it is situated. In an effort to escape the grandeur, Marie-Antoinette had a house erected on the estate that was aimed to return her to the simple life. She failed.



46. Walking through the streets of Paris and London re-inspired me to absorb the entire canon of European literature... but I only ended up reading 'Tristram Shandy' instead. The back of the Penguin edition of 'Shandy' (not the one I bought) describes author Laurence Sterne as being 250 years ahead of his time. The postmodern tropes are there - the meshing of disparate texts, the problems of language and narration, the frequent reflexivity - but it can be tiring to read, with Shandy the narrator taking his sweet time to get anywhere. An entertaining book, but one for which I found it best to skip chapters judiciously.

45. Rough Trade West in Notting Hill, London, is a cool little record store, albeit one that completely baffled me with its layout. A vinyl collector would have a great time in there, given its eclectic catalogue. As it was, I picked up a New Order disc, a compilation of early US punk tunes, and the new Bon Iver album (Rough Trade's #1 record of 2008).

44. The highlight of the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, is the Great Hypostyle Hall, which contains a forest of large stone columns, each with its own particular carvings. (As you may already be able to tell, 'large' is a major advantage when it comes to cracking my highlights list.)



43. The introduction of the euro has made one of the hassles of travelling through Europe - changing currencies every several hundred kilometres - considerably more bearable. Now if only the UK could get with the program...

42. The Valley of the Kings in Luxor is a smorgasboard of pharoahs' tombs, although the standard entry ticket only allows you to pick three of them. Each of the tombs we saw was quite different in its layout and design. My favourite was the one in which the rooms are connected by narrow, slanting shafts, and the walls were decorated with what seemed to be the antecedent of the comic strip.



41. We went to the Musee d'Orsay on our first full day in Paris, so by this stage all that is left to me are only impressions. I do remember seeing the Renoir painting that is on my mother's coasters, as well as the green-skinned Van Gogh portrait and a bunch of Monets, Cezannes and Pisarros. Perhaps I will see a reproduction in a cafe or dining room somewhere and it will jog my memory. For now, it's mainly a blend of bright green trees, washed-out streets, and petal-faced Parisians.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favourite Paintings From Our Trip Through Europe

10. Michelangelo Buonarotti - Holy Family



Most of the paintings of the Madonna and child had the baby Jesus planted firmly on Mary's knee, often surrounded by adoring onlookers. Only Michelangelo's Virgin seemed to be saying 'Here, go and annoy someone else for a while.'

9. Joseph Wright - An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump



A chilling portrait of the conflict between reason and emotion, science and nature - the old man sagely explains to the two young girls why the cockatoo is about to have the life sucked out of it, while the expressions of the rest of the party are a mixture of curiosity, excitement, and horror.

8. Georges-Pierre Seurat - Bathers At Asnieres



If I was sitting on Seurat's beach, I'd be thinking, 'Yeah, that's the good stuff.'

7. Jacques-Louis David - The Coronation of Napoleon



David's painting is so huge and life-like that you almost feel as if you are there, witnessing Napoleon's ego in all its splendour. As Lauren pointed out, the pope looks mightily 'pissed off' that Napoleon has gone and crowned himself.

6. Raphael Sanzio - The School of Athens



In the days before fantasy sports, Raphael had to content himself with creating an all-star line-up of Greek intellectuals. And as a true fanboy, he even painted himself in the corner.

5. Eugene Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People



My favourite painting from possibly my favourite painter. After seeing it in the Louvre I wanted to smash the windows, spray-paint the ceiling, and start flogging masterpieces left and right.

4. Sandro Botticelli - La Primevera



'The Birth Of Venus' is simply pretty, 'La Primevera' is both pretty and utterly confounding. Why are those three chicks dancing? What is on the cheek of the girl that is being chased? What the hell is Mercury doing there? It's like the product of some sort of free-associating, partly deranged imagination.

3. Nicolai Abildgaard - The Wounded Philoctetes



This is one guy you do not want to mess with.

2. Roy Lichtenstein - Whaam!



Lichenstein took an otherwise innocuous comic book panel and made it a high-impact image of mid-air conflict. More paintings should have sound effects, don't you think?

1. Theodore Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa



Welcome to hell... The waves are crashing, the sky is burning, and the doomed sailors are reaching for salvation. I first saw this image on the cover of The Pogues' album, 'Rum, Sodomy & The Lash' - the original version, sans Pogues' faces, is awesome.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Top 25 Most Played Songs On My iPod for 2008

Category 1: Old Songs That I've Been Waiting To Download Off iTunes

1. Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) - Cockney Rebel & Steve Harley
2. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs
3. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) - James
4. Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan
5. Dani California - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
6. Summertime - The Sundays
7. In The Meantime - Spacehog
8. Umbrella - Rihanna
9. Wide Open Road - The Triffids (my most played song for 2008!)
10. Sister Surround - The Soundtrack Of Our Lives

Category 2: New Songs That I Downloaded Off iTunes

11. L.E.S. Artistes - Santogold

Category 3: CDs That I Bought/Had Copied For Me This Year

12. Rebellion (Lies) - The Arcade Fire
13. Neighborhood #2 (Laika) - The Arcade Fire
14. So Haunted - Cut Copy
15. Electric Feel - MGMT
16. Weekend Wars - MGMT
17. Lost! - Coldplay
18. Golden Skans - The Klaxons
19. Shark Fin Blues - The Drones
20. I'm Amazed - My Morning Jacket
21. Viva La Vida - Coldplay

Category 4: Songs On CDs That I Bought Long Ago That I Haven't Grown Sick Of Yet

22. Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
23. Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead

Category 5: I Like Rod Stewart's 'Every Picture Tells A Story' - Bite Me!

24. Maggie May - Rod Stewart
25. Mandolin Wind - Rod Stewart

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Finger Points Outwards - No.16

How did Barack Obama beat political heavyweights Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Well, maybe he should be thanking the writers of The West Wing.

Another view, also from the Telegraph.

And another view, from the Brooklyn Rail.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Poetry of Noel Gallagher

You need to find a way for what you want to say
Two of a kind we'll find a way
Let me be the one that shines with you and we can slide away.
Cause it's all just the same at the end of the day
We're throwing it all away
We're throwing it all away
We're throwing it all away at the end of the day
I dream of you - and all the things you say
Nobody ever mentions the weather can make or break your day
Nobody ever seems to remember life is a game we play
We live in the shadows and we had the chance and threw it away
You gotta say what you say
Don't let anybody get in your way
Today is gonna be the day
Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I hear you say
At least not today
You know that I gotta say time's slipping away
Some might say we will find a brighter day
Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say
Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay
Where angels fly you won't play
An extraordinary guy can never have an ordinary day
He might live a long goodbye but that is not for me to say
Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday
Said I would and I believe in one day
They only seem to come and go, away
D'you feel a little down today?
Bet you ain't got much to say?
If I may be so bold could I just say something come and make me my day
The clouds around your soul don't gather there for nothing but I can chase them all away
The fair's in town today
Tomorrow we'll be castaway
Cold and frosty morning there's not a lot to say
And as the day was dawning my plane flew away
So dont go away, say what you say
Say that you'll stay
Forever and a day
Damn my situation and the games I have to play
Damn my education I can't find the words to say
So take me away cos I just dont want to stay
Cos all the lies you make me say
Are getting deeper every day
You're gonna make a better day
You know it's gonna be okay
But I'll be back another day
And the way that you'd always say
While we're living the dreams we have as children fade away
They fade away, away, away
Fade away, away, away
Day by day
There's a man in a suit who's gonna make you pay
For the thoughts that you think and the words they won't let you say
One fine day
All my life I try to find another way
All my life I try to make a better day
So what do you say?
You can't give me the dreams that are mine anyway
You're half the world away
Half the world away
Half the world away
I hope you don't regret today
Take the time to make some sense of what you want to say
And cast your words away
Upon the waves bring them back with Acquiesce on a ship of hope today
It's up to us to make the best of all things that come our way
Life is precocious in a most peculiar way
Sister psychosis don't got a lot to say
Ready or not, come what may
The bets are going down for judgement day
Yer better get on yer knees and pray
Panic is on the way
As the sun goes down and it’s high time to pray
Cos all of the stars are fading away
Just try not to worry you’ll see them some day
Take what you need and be on your way
Away, away, away

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Wooden Finger AFL All-Australian Team 2008

I'm predicting that seven Cats will be named in the final team this year, but it wouldn't surprise me if all 10 that were nominated made it.

Backs: Darren Milburn, Matthew Scarlett, Dale Morris
Half-Backs: Luke Hodge, Nathan Bock, Tom Harley
Centres: Matthew Richardson, Jimmy Bartel, Adam Cooney
Half-Forwards: Ryan O'Keefe, Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt
Forwards: Brent Harvey, Lance Franklin, Steve Johnson
Rucks: Dean Cox, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett
Interchange: Aaron Sandilands, Simon Black, Sam Mitchell, Joel Corey

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Diary of an AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Days 6 and 7

Day 6, 11AM: Fremantle had a good win last night, so I thought that Sandilands may have racked up a big score. Alas, he saved his worst game of the season until last, scoring a mediocre 52 points. So much for the theory of bringing in the guy with the higher average. If I get myself into the same position next year, maybe I should put more weight on what players are likely to score rather than what they have scored. Is the Simmonds for Sandilands trade going to prove the move that brings me undone?

5PM: Brent Harvey scored 133 points, which is handy, but on the other hand Daniel Pratt scored 122 points for the opposition. Still no sign of Gary Ablett’s score and now I have to head out. May check the scores again when I get home.

Day 7, 9AM: I’m in deep trouble - I have players underperforming all over the park.

Jarrad Waite scored only 49 (I knew he was going to score badly trying to stop Lance Franklin), another player who saved his worst for last. To make matters worse, Cyril freakin’ Rioli scored over 100 points for the Ninjas. Given that I traded Waite for Rioli a few weeks ago, this means that I spent $200,000 in cash to buy a player who scored half as much when it matters most. And to think that I was so pleased that they would have to resort to Rioli. Someone somewhere is laughing at me.

Robert Murphy added another 111 for the opposition, so it looks like my forward line advantage has quickly evaporated.

McLeod and Johncock – two players that I badly needed to perform – had below par performances.

On the plus side, if I do go down, it won’t be through my captaincy choice. Gary Ablett outscored Lance Franklin 107 to 86, and when you double their scores this gives me an extra 42 points in advantage. (I wonder if Claire, a Hawthorn supporter, chose Franklin over David's better judgment. If so, their two-headedness would have come back to bite them. Heh heh heh.)

Re-calculated the two teams’ expected scores and (oh my god!) I still come out ahead. The midfield is the key: Power, Thompson and Cooney all had below par performances for them, while Harvey and Judd played well for me. But this is going to be a squeaker.

Interesting sideshow: apparently O’Keefe didn’t play, so we’ll have to resort to emergencies. Shouted ‘you little beauty!’, then realised they actually had an emergency forward. Damn! Don’t know much about this Maric guy. Is he playing today? Where are the teams? As long as he scores less than Hansen’s 59, I come out ahead in this department. .

11AM: Paul Chapman scored 40 points – thank God I didn’t pick him up.

2PM: Feel bad that I’m hoping that Troy Simmonds trips over and hurts his leg when he runs on to the field. (Well, Richmond is going to finish ninth anyway - what does it matter? We can win against Melbourne without him.)

Richo getting lots of the ball early – I knew it was a good idea to bring him in.

3PM: Simmonds getting too much of the ball for my liking. However, Deledio also playing well, and I haven’t spotted this Maric yet. Richo is having a dog of a day, not that it matters to the final score, only to the ‘what ifs’.

4PM: Deledio is killing them in the final quarter. I thought that I was cursed when he hit the post from 10 metres out, but he’s kicked three goals and picked up heaps of contested possessions. And I still have Nick Riewoldt to play. Oh yes, I’m starting to feel good about this now…

6PM: Rushed to the internet to find out the final scores, only to find that the last match of the season, St Kilda v Essendon, started at 4.40. But now I’m only 43 points down! Deledio had a ripper, scoring over 140. Simmonds scored only 52 – the exact same score as Sandilands – saving me years of therapy. Richo scored 20, which doesn’t mean too much to me, but must be galling to anyone that made him captain on the advice of the Herald-Sun this week. 43 points down, and it comes down to this: Riewoldt, Dal Santo and Stanton v Leigh Montagna (with Gram cancelling out on both sides). Unless Stanton manages to score minus five, I should have this in the bag.

Half time at the Saints-Bombers match: Riewoldt has three goals, Dal Santo 14 possessions, no mention of Gram, Stanton or Montagna. I think I have this.

7PM: Woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I win – 2037 to 1920! I’m the League Champion!

Riewoldt went supernova, scoring 168 points - I knew I should have had him as captain, but it doesn’t matter now!

Stanton tried his best to screw me up, scoring 32 points, but it doesn’t matter now!

I win! I win! The prizemoney is mine!

My forward line proved to be the winner after all. Really, Deledio and Riewoldt were my two best additions for the whole year. I picked up Deledio at the start of the year when no-one else in my league wanted him and he just kept on performing. I picked up Riewoldt in the middle of the year when he had reached his nadir and he gave me a huge boost over the second half of the season.

One thing to do before I go – I’ve waited five months for this:

Me: Woo-hoo! I'd like to dedicate my victory to Bombers 08, who won the first battle but was totally annihilated in the war. It’s been fun folks!

[Footnote: Bombers 08, the team that trash-talked me after beating me in April, finished second last.]

I win! I win!

I think I should retire now. Or maybe I’ll do a Brisbane Lions and go for three in a row next year. We’ll see.

It's all over! And what have we learnt? If there's a message to be taken from all of this it's that you need only concern yourself with what you can influence - you can control your choices; you can’t control how they turn out. But just keep calm, play the percentages, and you don’t have to look back in regret.

Thanks to my family and friends for hearing me rabbit on about this for twenty-two weeks. Thanks to anyone who managed to read through my obsessive ravings. And last of all, thanks to the players themselves. I’ve grown fond of each and every one of you. Yes, even Brent Stanton.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Day 5

Alright - Pavlich out, Richo in, Ablett captain... let the dice fall where they may.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Diary of an AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Day 4

OK, team release night and three decisions to make:

1) Should I trade tonight? But don’t I always trade on a Thursday? Well, yes, but I’m still kind of spooked by the ‘Jimmy Bartel appendicitis’ incident from last year. What happened was that I used my last trade to bring in Bartel on the Thursday night and then the next day it was revealed that he had been taken to hospital, most likely at the exact moment I put him in my team. I still won the Grand Final (regrettably no prize money was involved), but the result was probably somewhat closer than it would have been had I used my trade elsewhere. This year? Well, in most cases it won’t matter – say I trade Pavlich for a gun forward and then a player gets injured. In that case, I would have to use one of my emergencies. But if I wait until tomorrow and a player gets injured, I still have to use one of my emergencies (because Pavlich is out this week) – it’s just a matter then of whether I trade Pavlich or the other injured star. Follow so far? Now the only way it’s going to matter if one of my ruckmen is injured, since I can’t cover them if I use up my final trade. If it’s Cox, no big deal, because the Ginger Ninjas have him too. But if it’s Sandilands - I’m screwed.

(Incidentally, with Pavlich’s departure there will be only nine survivors from my initial starting 22: Martin Mattner, Nathan Bock, Jason Gram, Daniel Bradshaw, Nick Dal Santo, Nick Stevens, Brent Stanton, Dean Cox, and Brett Deledio. And I’d trade at least half those guys if I could.)

2) Who to trade for? I was leaning towards Paul Chapman, but Matthew Richardson is awfully tempting, particularly given that he is playing the Demons. That would also cancel out Richardson on my opponent’s team, leaving a forward line battle of Riewoldt, Deledio and Waite v Murphy, Akermanis and Rioli. Problem is Richo’s recent form hasn’t been great, while Chapman scored 130 points last week. But Chapman has been injured a bit recently. Then again, so has Richo. Hmm…

3) Who to make captain? Gary Ablett has been my go-to guy for most of the year, but he’s only had one stellar game since his return from injury. Nick Riewoldt has been in great form recently, but he doesn’t tend to have games where he goes supernova. Hmm again…

Verdict: I think I will break with tradition and wait until tomorrow afternoon to use my final trade; that will give me time to consider whether to bring in Chapman or Richo and I can see whether or not Sandilands survives the night. But I’m leaning towards Pavlich out, Richo in, Gary Ablett captain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Day 3

Matthew Pavlich is out for the season, according to the Herald-Sun injury list. Even though he is on my team, this actually improves my chances. Assuming the Ginger Ninjas do not have a trade left they will have to resort to using their current emergency Cyril Rioli (remember him?), while I can swap Pavlich for Paul Chapman and gain an extra 30 point advantage. The potential fly in the ointment is if I lose another of my players this week, in which case I’ll have to resort to my emergency Lachlan Hansen, and possibly lose my advantage on the forward line. If that happens, I may well rue the indulgence of my trade of Simmonds for Sandilands last week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Diary of an AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Day 2

Know thy enemy: the team that my Phantom Lunches is facing off against in the Big One this weekend is the Ginger Ninjas. They are an unusual opponent, although not a unique one, as I’ll get to later. The team is nominally coached by Claire, who sits in the chair diagonally across from me at work. But Claire is not a football obsessive, so she has been helped along the way by David, who sits diagonally over the partition from me. David came to help Claire because the person who set up the league invited too many people, so that David missed out on a spot. Apparently some deal was worked out about splitting the prize money if, God forbid, the Ginger Ninjas won the league. (Can I somehow use this arrangement to sow distrust among their ranks? Hmm, it may possibly be a little late for that…)

The upshot of all of this is that my opponent is not who it appears to be. For example, I probably could get the information out of Claire whether or not her team has a trade left. But David is a more inscrutable opponent: when I quizzed him on the subject (perhaps not the most covert approach), he answered that maybe he had a trade left, maybe he didn’t. (For what it’s worth, I think he’s bluffing – I reckon he used his last trade to try and win last week.) So far the scoreline is 1-1, with them winning the home-and-away season match-up, and me winning the first final.

So why is this not a unique opponent? Well, as it turns out the team that topped our league at the end of the home-and-away season was also a double act – the wife sits at the desk across from me, and the husband manages the team across the phone. That team was my main concern until the Ginger Ninjas helpfully put them out last week. It remains to be seen whether they actually did me a favour or not.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Grand Final Week: Day 1

I won my preliminary final quite easily (2195-1932), although perhaps not as easily as I should have given that the other team was missing three players. Sandilands got belted around the ground by Troy Simmonds on the weekend, which was great from the point of view that it helped Richmond win, but not so great for my SuperCoach team (and my mental health). Speaking of Richmond, with life, the universe, and everything conspiring towards the Tigers just missing the finals again (I’m not mentioning their position on the ladder), my whole focus for this week is going to be on getting my SuperCoach team over the line. So let’s start with the team-by-team comparisons:

Me:

Ablett 133.71
Cox 111.71
Riewoldt 111.25
Harvey 111.05
Pavlich 110.53
Judd 109.6
Franklin 108
O'Keefe 103.76
Brown 102.15
Dal Santo 101.05
Waite 100.8
Deledio 100.29
Mattner 97.57
Milburn 95.89
Stevens 95.33
Sandilands 95.24
Stanton 93.14
Bradshaw 92.58
Bock 91.95
McLeod 88.16
Johncock 87.42
Gram 86.76
Total 2227.94

Them:

Ablett 133.71
Cox 111.71
Pavlich 110.53
Cooney 109.1
Franklin 108
Power 106.14
O'Keefe 103.76
Thompson 103.52
Brown 102.15
Richardson 101.42
Pratt 97.84
Mattner 97.57
Montagna 96.86
Milburn 95.89
Stevens 95.33
Bradshaw 92.58
Bock 91.95
Murphy 91.8
Gram 86.76
Akermanis 85.24
Birchall 84.71
Simmonds 74.14
Total 2180.71

I’m ahead, but it’s a little too close for comfort. Let’s try that again with the common players taken out:

Me:

Riewoldt 111.25
Harvey 111.05
Judd 109.6
Dal Santo 101.05
Waite 100.8
Deledio 100.29
Sandilands 95.24
Stanton 93.14
McLeod 88.16
Johncock 87.42

Them:

Cooney 109.1
Power 106.14
Thompson 103.52
Richardson 101.42
Pratt 97.84
Montagna 96.86
Murphy 91.8
Akermanis 85.24
Birchall 84.71
Simmonds 74.14

So my main strengths are my forward line (Riewoldt, Deledio and Waite v Richardson, Murphy and Akermanis), and supposedly my ruck division, although last week’s results suggest otherwise. My backline is a little weaker (although it could be argued that McLeod, when in form, is at least on a par with Daniel Pratt), and the midfields are about even.

So who to trade? Graham Johncock has fallen so far in value that he is untradeable. McLeod and Gram are possibilities, although I’ll probably keep McLeod given his recent form. There’s a temptation to trade my weakest midfielder, Mr Brent Stanton, for Adam Cooney, therefore nullifying Cooney’s score. But Stanton has actually been in better form lately, and I don’t know if I could take the mental torture if he scored 150 next week.

In fact, my best hope for this weekend may be to hope that Matthew Pavlich’s injury puts him out for another week. I can trade him out; I’m not sure that my opponent could.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Diary of an AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 21

Monday:

Preliminary final week, and since it all could end this weekend it’s time to put in that extra bit of effort. First up: let’s check whether my team would actually be expected to win this week’s match-up. Looking at the average scores of my line-up relative to those of my opponent’s, the answer is: yes I would, and quite easily too.

Me:

Ablett 136.88
Harvey 112.65
Cox 112.4
Riewoldt 111.95
Pavlich 110.53
Franklin 109.3
Judd 108.05
O'Keefe 104.25
Brown 101.42
Dal Santo 101.37
Waite 100.63
Deledio 100.35
Milburn 98.94
Mattner 96.75
Stevens 95.1
Bradshaw 91.5
Bock 91.35
Stanton 90.9
Johncock 88
McLeod 86.22
Gram 85.75
Simmonds 72.1

Total 2206.39

Them:

Ablett 136.88
Cox 112.4
Pavlich 110.53
Franklin 109.3
Judd 108.05
Black 104.58
Brown 101.42
Hayes 101.11
Milburn 98.94
Mattner 96.75
Murphy 95.85
Murphy 92.05
Bock 91.35
Ladson 89.55
Medhurst 88.4
McLeod 86.22
Johnson 83.15
Griffen 80.11
Lade 75
Ellis 72.7
Selwood 53.86
Tippett 51.35

Total 2039.55

Of course, because we live in a world of randomness, it’s always good to improve your chances where you can, particularly if you have two trades left in the bank. The obvious player to drop is Troy Simmonds - I could trade him for Aaron Sandilands, who is averaging about 25 points a game more. We’ll see what happens when the teams are named, but that’s the way I’m leaning.

Wednesday:

Thought I saw the girl again that I saw the morning I was muttering the words ‘Graham Johncock’ over and over to myself… it’s fortunate that I did not see her yesterday when I was repeating my potential ruck division: ‘Cox, Sandilands, Cox, Sandilands…,’

Thursday:

And now my ruck division is ‘Cox, Sandilands’. I was a bit worried about the fact that Simmonds and Sandilands had scored about the same over the past six weeks, but I’m still justifying the trade on the grounds that Sandilands has had a lower amount of ‘shockers’ this year. Consistency is my friend at this stage of the season.

(I did ponder that I could get rid of Brent Stanton for Adam Cooney, but it’s hard to justify dropping a player who has just scored 119 points. Besides, there’s always next week.

Er, assuming there is a next week…)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 20

Sunday:

I won, I'm into the preliminary final in two weeks time, so I'm shutting up shop for the week!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 19

Tuesday:

I, like many other SuperCoaches throughout Australia this week, want to hit Heath Shaw with a crowbar. For those who don’t know, Shaw was caught driving while over the legal alcohol limit last Sunday night. He copped a huge fine, but appeared to escape suspension from the Magpies, since they need all the help they can get to make the finals. All good, at least from a SuperCoach point of view, until it emerges that he lied about the other passenger in his car, who was teammate Alan Didak. Now the pressure to suspend both Shaw and Didak becomes even more intense (although since Didak is not on my team I wouldn’t mind if the Collingwood hierarchy take him out the back of Victoria Park and shoot him).

Damn Shaw and damn him for putting me in this morally compromising position! He broke the law, what he did was dangerous, and he should be dumped from the team. But goddamn it, I need him to play this week, particularly with Darren Milburn being suspended for four matches, and Graham Johncock last spotted somewhere in the oil fields of Alaska. Honestly, I hope they play him. Goddamn…

Wednesday:

Well, now we know… Heath Shaw out for the rest of the season. The good news though is Darren Milburn has had his suspension reduced to one week, although this also makes things decidedly tricky. Do I keep Milburn or go for broke and try and get the week’s rest in the finals? I think keep him, and here’s why: if I’m aiming to win my league then, because of the way the finals system works, I have to win the last two matches of the finals regardless of whether I win or lose this week. That being the case, it would be better to have Milburn for those last two weeks then not to have him. Not only is he one of the better defenders going around, I can use the trade elsewhere.

So how to use the trades? Well, one will have to be used to ditch Heath Shaw. Unfortunately, Shaw’s value has gone down recently so to get a top defender will probably eat up some cash. I’m also thinking if I want to take out some insurance against Milburn’s absence, I can upgrade Cyril Rioli for a star forward. I was going to do this at some point anyway, so why not this week? That will give me an all-star line-up when Milburn returns, and still leave me two trades to cover injuries.

I’m liking this plan, but we’ll have to see what the teams are tomorrow night.

Thursday:

All going to plan – Johncock’s back, Ablett’s back… I traded Heath Shaw for another underperforming star, Andrew McLeod, and dumped Cyril Rioli for the consistent Jarrad Waite. Once Milburn returns, my team should be unstoppable! The other finalists are not going to know what hit them! That is, assuming I win the first final this weekend…

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Graphic Novels That You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - 'The Dark Knight Returns'

In 1986, when Frank Miller (of ‘Sin City’ and ‘300’ fame) was given the task of revamping comics’ most famous detective, Batman’s sales were as flat as a tack. The specter of the campy ‘60s TV show still hung overhead, and edgier, more modern heroes such as the X-Men had usurped the Caped Crusader’s place in terms of both relevance and popularity. It was up to Miller to take the Batman back to his chilling roots, and he did so, paradoxically, by taking the character forward in time, making the Batman even older than his readers and the enemies he faced. In the process, Miller created the most influential graphic novel of the past 30 years – one that, along with the similarly lauded ‘Watchmen’ (also appearing in ’86), inspired artists and filmmakers alike to tear away the baggage that surrounded their favourite heroes and rebuild them as they saw fit.



It has been ten years since the Batman retired, and Gotham has become overrun by vicious street gangs. They are, as Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne notes, a ‘purer breed’ of criminal than the man who killed his parents – unrepentant of their crimes, and only looking out for the next big rush. The continual stream of violence eventually forces Batman out of retirement, and he returns a darker, more brutal crimefighter than the one we are used to seeing, sweeping through Gotham’s underworld like a man possessed. We see far more disturbing sides to old enemies Two-Face and the Joker, and discover that the Batman-Superman rivalry is not anywhere near as friendly at it seems. And a new, 13 year-old female Robin pops up, a new soldier in the Batman’s war.

In contrast to ‘Watchmen’ which was meticulously planned down to the last panel, ‘DKR’ reads like a jumble of ideas that Miller is just skillful enough to keep from collapsing into a mess. The pacing of the story is relentless, with Miller making continual use of television screens to move events forward as well as to explore the milieu surrounding Batman. But Miller is careful to intersperse the action with full-page shots of both Batman and Superman, giving these icons the space they need to prevent them being swallowed up by the dystopia that he has created. Readers that are used to having all of the details set out before them may find Miller’s storytelling techniques a bit vague, but there is enough there to satisfy you if you’re willing to follow the clues.



As with the recent ‘Dark Knight’ movie, ‘DKR’ explores both the need for a Batman and the dangers of him. On one hand, it seems that Batman is simply adding to the violence in Gotham City. He has lost almost all compunction when it comes to his war on crime – he blasts his way through enemies with his modified Batmobile (now essentially a Bat-tank), he breaks their arms and legs with the object of striking fear into their fraternity, and in his final showdown with the Joker, he is unhesitant about putting a Bat-a-rang straight through the villain’s eye. A vigilante group – the Sons of Batman – spring up in his wake, using much the same methods and little of the judgment. Other crimes, rightly or wrongly, become attributed to the Batman’s return, the most spectacular being the Joker’s awakening from a catatonic state to go on a mass murder spree. However, Batman manages to encourage heroism as well, inspiring the new Robin to take up the cape and boots and acting as her mentor. And when the Russians begin to rain down bombs, it is Batman, not Superman, who has the preparedness to deal with it, and restore a semblance of order to Gotham.




Those who have only seen ‘The Dark Knight’ movie may think they have seen the best and the worst that Batman and the Joker have to offer. While that movie was a fine effort, in the end, it tones down the madness that is heaped upon Gotham, in the process doing much of Batman’s work for him. ‘DKR’ is a more complex, more intense achievement, and one that fans of ‘The Dark Knight’ movie, if they have the stomach for it, would be well advised to seek out. After reading it, you’re guaranteed never to think of Adam West as Batman again.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 18

Friday:

Why, when I’m away for a while, does it seem like my SuperCoach team is spiralling out of control? In fact, things are not as bad as I feel. Had my lowest score for the season last week, but I still won by heaps and am now assured of a top four position in my league. The reasons for the low score were the absences of Johncock, Milburn and Pavlich, leaving me with 20 scoring players. But even then I only dropped to 106 in the overall championship, so it seems like I’m not the only team having problems. And I still have five trades left.

Ah, the trades… with every week they seem more and more like my key to glory. I am playing the top team in my league this week, so the temptation is to use up two of them, particularly with Gary Ablett still sidelined. But there’s no advantage to finishing first rather than fourth, at least in a league as close as this, so I think the better strategy is to plan for the finals. With that in mind, I traded for cash, swapping David Myers for Eric Mackenzie, giving me 4 trades and over $220,000 in the bank for the finals next week. Then if Ablett and Johncock return next week, I can use that extra cash to dump Cyril Rioli and go into the finals with an all-star line-up (yes, even with Brent Stanton). If one or neither return I still have enough trades to bring in other star replacements. That’s provided there are no more absences.

(Crap! What if there are more absences?)

P.S. If nothing else, will put my opponent, who barracks for the Kangaroos, into some sort of conflict this week by picking Brent Harvey as my captain. With the finals coming up, it’s time to psychologically unsettle my opponents however I can.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Top Ten Highlights from the Lion City

1. The view from the City Space bar on the 70th story of the Swissotel. From the comfortable chairs beside the window you can see Singapore's city centre laid out before you. (My Rough Guide book told me you can actually see as far out as Indonesia and Malaysia, but I'll have to take its word for it.) More from good timing than good planning I arrived just in time for sunset, and sipped my martini until the city lights came on. In my opinion, if you see only one thing in Singapore this should be it.

2. Cycling around Pulau Ubin, a barely inhabited island between Malaysia and Singapore. The island is a bit of a labyrinth, and you could easily cycle around there all day if, you know, you're actually fit and all. A 12-passenger bumboat takes you to and from the island whenever the ferryman feels like it.

3. The cable car on the way to Sentosa (south of the city), which creaks along over the harbour, past the construction site of the proposed multi-million dollar entertainment complex, and then back up to Mount Faber on the return trip. The ride was even better once I worked out I should shift my weight to the center of the car.

4. Lying down at Palawan Beach, metres away from the southernmost point of continental Asia. You can get to that point either by water or narrow, rickety suspended rope bridge. The beach itself is nothing special, but hey, it's warmer than Melbourne at the moment.

5. The white tigers at the Singapore Zoo. One of the three tigers was prowling up and down the stone embankment, as if he working out how he could have one of us visitors for lunch. As I had walked up to the exhibit there had been a line on the ground showing how far tigers are able to jump, and it was a bit disconcerting to realise that 'gee, you know, that tiger's actually not that much further away... if he really wanted to...,'

6. Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin' as covered by Singaporean band Jive Talkin'. The singer had a good voice, and the passion and irony with which he belted out the tune made this version even better than the original. (By this logic, a karaoke version could be freaking unbelievable.) And having a middle-aged transvestite/transsexual/very manly woman on back-up vocals didn't hurt.

7. The Singapore Sling I had on the flight over, even though it was served in a plastic cup. Man, the guy at the drinks trolley must have got it just right. It was even better than the one I had at the Raffles Hotel (although that was pretty good as well).

8. Of the Chinatown Heritage Museum, the Rough Guide said that if you only see one museum in Singapore this should be it and I took it at its word (I saw it, and it was the only museum I saw). The CHM is hidden away amongst the shopfronts on Pagoda Street but worth seeking out. Visitors are guided along a windy route which culminates in a recreation of the cramped living quarters that the residents of Chinatown used to live in. You could describe them as shoeboxes, that is, if your feet were bound.

9. Is it wrong to be excited about the efficiency of the railway system?

10. The Dark Knight. Will Heath Ledger win a posthumous Oscar? Probably not, but he is still a standout in this rather disturbing re-imagining of the Batman mythos. The Joker is more terrorist than murderous prankster, while Batman becomes even more of an anti-hero. All in all, not a bad effort.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just So You Remember...

Diary of an AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 17

Monday:

Had easily my best round of the season, racking up 2,481 points. O’Keefe (an excellent pick-up indeed) scored 199, Pavlich scored 182 (or 364 given that he was my captain), Dean Cox scored 171, Stanton (my gawd!) scored 162, Dal Santo (my gawd again!) scored 158, Milburn (another excellent pick-up) scored 141, and Nick Riewoldt scored 139. At the other end of the scoreboard Heath Shaw was only marginally more useful than a wooden plank, scoring 40, Nick Stevens scored 46, Graham Johncock scored 49, and Trent Cotchin, filling in for the injured Gary Ablett, scored 51. Thought I might be in the running for the weekly prize, but could only manage position 42 in the end, which I’ll put down to Heath Shaw’s propensity to go missing in every second match. Did zoom up to No.71 in the overall standings though - the top 50 teams get their names on the front page of the teams list (but as Kelvin reminded me, no money); I might get there by season’s end.

Speaking of Kelvin, did manage to obliterate his squad to the tune of 463 points this week. To make things even better, my captain Pavlich outscored his captain, Dean Cox. No, even better was his comment that if I hadn’t picked up O’Keefe and Milburn this week he would have beaten me. I liked this comment for three reasons:

• I did pick up O’Keefe and Milburn, so it doesn’t really matter what would have happened if I hadn’t.
• But let’s say I didn’t pick up O’Keefe and Milburn. Well, then I would have picked up two different players and they would have scored points for me instead.
• Here’s the kicker: say O’Keefe and Milburn scored absolutely nothing this week instead of the combined 340 points they did score. Well, then I still would have won, and by over 100 points!

(Of course, I could have just let the comment go, but such is not the obsessive’s way. And I won’t mention the fact that Kelvin’s beaten me every time at chess…)

Wednesday:

Gary Ablett: to trade or not to trade? Once I would not have considered dumping the Football Jesus, but this is the second week in a row that he is scheduled to miss with his ankle injury. Let’s break this down further:

Pros:

• He’s worth so much that you can trade him for a star midfielder and still free up some cash.
• He is shaping up as an uncertain prospect from week-to-week, so it may just be better to make a clean break.
• Even if he does return, the injury may hamper him, reducing his stats and his trade value.
• He may kill off any small chance I have of being the nationwide SuperCoach winner.

Cons:

• I’m playing a weak team in my league this week, so in terms of winning my league I shouldn’t need to trade him just yet.
• If I trade him, then I actually have to think about who my captain is each week.
• He’s Gary freakin’ Ablett, and trading him could easily come back to bite me.

Verdict: I’ve got a good chance of winning my league, and only an outside chance of winning the entire comp. Keep him for this week, but if he doesn’t come back next week then drop him like a hot potato.

Thursday:

The good news is that O’Keefe is playing this week, despite his ankle injury, but the bad news is that Graham Johncock has been dropped. But good news!: my opponent has Johncock on his team as well. Considering that I scored over 2400 points last week and my opponent for this week only scored around 1400, even my cautious self can handle being one down. So no changes.

(Looking over Wednesday’s entry just reminded me that I was still in with some sort of chance of winning the overall comp. So I guess, by going one down, the choice has been made – win the league, screw the nationwide glory.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 16

Monday:

Was in Sydney this weekend, so not only did I not have much of an idea of which players had gone well but I didn’t even know who had won half the matches. Got back last night, but couldn’t check the results because of the distressing AC Adaptor Incident. Therefore, a little apprehensive when I logged in to see the results this morning, but I need not have worried. Everything has come up ‘Phantom Lunches’ this week. Let’s review:

• Scored 2,209 points, which was enough for a 400-point plus win.
• Moved from fifth to third on the league ladder, and from 359 to 206 (out of 223,335) in the nationwide standings.
• Scored 140 more points than anyone else in my league this week. This bodes well. This bodes very well indeed.
• Richmond won by 70 points last night. Doesn’t make much difference to my SuperCoach team, but it puts me in a better mood.
• Brent Stanton scored 133 points.
• Gary Ablett, Brett Burton and Jonathan Brown all got injured. Why is that good news? Well, even though I have all of those guys in my team, so do a lot of other people. But the difference between me and them is that I haven’t burnt up most of my trades yet. Have fun playing two or three short, fellas! Burton is the only long-term injury, and probably the only one I will need to trade out, but even that has a silver lining because, you see, it validates my decision not to trade Tippett or Rioli for O’Keefe last week. Now I can trade Burton for O’Keefe, and Tippett will become more of a focal point for Adelaide with Burton on the sidelines. See, even the setbacks are going my way.

Yes, things are going pretty well. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop any moment now…

Friday:

Completed the Burton for O’Keefe trade, but had to use up a second trade this week with Brett Jones also out for the season. After some consideration, went for Darren Milburn, who tends to play every week (yep, there goes his knee) and is a consistent performer. The two trades ate up some cash as well, but with five trades left and $70,000 in the bank I’m still in a good position.

Further upside of the Milburn trade was that it annoyed my opponent, Kelvin, who sits in the desk beside me. In SuperCoach, everyone has Franklin, Ablett, J. Brown, Judd, etc., it’s the rest of the players that determine whether you win or lose. By picking Milburn, he now has to rely on his lower-rung players beating my lower-rung players, which I don’t consider a likely prospect. Annoyed him even further by picking Matthew Pavlich as captain, after which he went off mumbling about he was going to change who his captain was now. I think I really need to win this match.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Finger Points Outwards - No.11

Chas from the Chaser has written an article on how to stop 'tanking' in the AFL. It's not only a funny read, but actually the most sensible suggestion I've ever read on the topic.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 15

Friday:

Feel strangely divorced from all things football this week, due to both the split round and me spending last weekend and this Wednesday in the somewhat less football-mad city of Canberra. Will this put me out of the loop or provide me with a measure of perspective? Have lost past two games even though my team has been scoring well, with my opponents waiting until I play them to rack up phone number scores. Last week’s result was a little more worrisome as there were quite a few teams in my league that outscored me. The thought that I have eight trades left comforts me, however – I have room to improve, while the rest of them probably do not.

Mild panic set in last night when the wires in my AC Adaptor busted, leaving me unable to connect to the internet. Have internet connection at work, so could fix my team today, but my temporary inability to make changes to my team left me a little anxious. I always make changes on the Thursday night, since that’s when the teams are released – there’s no advantage to making changes earlier. Except this – if one week your AC Adaptor busts on the Thursday night, and then you are struck down with a mystery virus which leaves you unable to get your work the next day, or you break your leg, or your computer at work breaks down, or you’re too busy, then you don’t have to worry about fifteen weeks of blood, sweat and tears going down the drain. But I’ve made my changes now, and all is OK.

I did end up trading for cash this week, kicking out forgotten man Tom Hawkins for young Kangaroos player Lachlan Hansen, which put $200,000 in the bank. Having lost the past two games I did consider whether to upgrade a mid-range player for a star, more specifically, Cyril Rioli for Ryan O’Keefe. But my opponent this week looks pretty weak, and I should be able to win without burning another trade. (On the other hand, he has had phenomenal luck so far, whereas my luck has gone to the crapper.) O’Keefe’s value should also drop next week, and I can trade Kurt Tippett for him instead. Or do something else… it’s good to have your options open…

(Does that feel right? Yes, but my instincts haven’t done me much good lately.)

P.S. Replaced Ryan Griffen with Brent Harvey last week, and Griffen proceeded to outscore his replacement. But Griffen is out this week due to family reasons. Is it wrong to get satisfaction from this? Maybe I should send him a card to allay my guilt.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 14

Friday:

Was muttering ‘John-cock’ to myself this morning as I was walking to the station (as in my team’s new addition, Graham Johncock). Not sure how audible it was since I had my headphones in, but the girl on the other side of street looked at me peculiarly. Then had to walk faster and overtake her before I crossed over just in case she thought I was a sex maniac. Should probably not mutter the names of my backline in public again.

Papers are making big deal out of Nick Dal Santo being dropped, which makes me feel better in that I now feel like the victim of some extraordinary event. Freakin’ Ross Lyon is being cagey on when Dal Santo will return though. Hopefully the Saints fans will man the Telstra Dome gates tonight with ‘WE WANT NICK!’ and ‘ROSS LYON SUCKS!’ placards. After all, it's in the public interest.

Sunday:

Half-time and no horrific Brent Stanton injury. In fact, judging from the highlights he seems to be getting plenty of the ball. Admittedly, all those highlights are taken from the centre square. Need him to get a lot of the ball as I’m down over the weekend, and my opponent does not have Stanton in his team. In fact, none of my opponents have Stanton in their teams. This always make me a little uneasy – as if they are all collectively laughing at me behind my back. May have to trade Stanton out. Will consider further.

Monday:

Ended up losing. I’m fine. I’m fine with that. I got done in by a team that happened to have a good week. It happens. Such is the way of chance in this universe. I’m fine.

(Should I have traded out Dal Santo and Bradshaw? No, it was unlikely to have made a difference. But it could’ve. But it probably wouldn’t have. Stay cool, let your opponents burn those trades like there’s no tomorrow…)

Tuesday:

Read an article in The Economist about the endowment effect, which is that the value that a person puts on something depends on whether or not a person actually owns it. (For example, a person who owns a coffee mug is reluctant to trade it for a bar of chocolate even if that person did not prefer coffee mugs to chocolate when given a straight choice between the two.) The article went on to conjecture that the explanation lies in evolutionary biology: once upon a time, it made good sense to clutch on to what you already had.

I wonder: am I a victim of this phenomenon? On one hand, a rational coach may have traded out underperformers like Nick Dal Santo, Jason Gram, Brent Stanton and Tom Hawkins weeks ago, yet I’ve sat still and watched their values drop for weeks on end. On the other hand, the rationale I use for keeping them is that their initial values are probably a good reflection of their overall ability and it is not worth trading them out after a few bad performances. Which is true? The latter view has helped me to maintain trades, but how does one measure the value of the trades that should have been made?

Thursday:

Reports are that Carlton captain Chris Judd may miss the match against Richmond this week. This is a prime example of where the best interests of my SuperCoach team and my AFL team collide. Judd is a key player in my midfield and his injury last week arguably cost me the win. However, his absence would enhance my wish to see us totally obliterate Carlton on the weekend. Your team always comes first, doesn’t it, but I have a far better chance of winning my SuperCoach league than Richmond does of winning the premiership. Yet maybe I can still win without Judd. Sometimes I think life would be easier if I didn’t have the faintest idea about probabilities.

Judd has been named, and Dal Santo and Bradshaw have returned, so I won’t be forced to make a trade this week. Did look at trading for some cash, but there were no interesting rookies on offer. Was content to abide by the maxim that sometimes the best move is to do nothing at all. But then I started to think about my midfield. I planned to upgrade the midfielders later on in the season, but maybe I could do it now by trading out Ryan Griffen for an undervalued superstar. After half an hour of consideration, traded Griffen for Brent Harvey. Harvey is in top 10 players in the league, which makes this trade feel right. But did I get twitchy because of one loss? Will burning this trade come back to haunt me? God, should I have traded out Brent Stanton?

(Does this feel right? Yes… but only just.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Graphic Novels That You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - 'High Society'

The term ‘graphic novel’ was coined before Dave Sim dropped ‘High Society’ on the world, but he was arguably the first to realize the full implications of it. Clocking in at over 500 pages, and fronted by a detailed wrap-around cover, ‘High Society’ is a comic book that is seeking to be taken seriously. It has been said of Sim that he is more dedicated to art than life, and he seemingly poured every ounce of himself into creating this story, from devising an entire electoral system to providing the rules of the card games his characters play.



‘Cerebus the Aardvark’ started out as a funny-animal parody of the Conan the Barbarian series, but soon evolved into Sim’s comment on almost everything. In an industry dominated by the twin behemoths of Marvel and DC, Sim managed to self-publish ‘Cerebus’ for around 30 years by being smarter and more dedicated than his rivals. Some of his views (most infamously those on women) were not entirely palatable, but many admire his achievement at least, particularly in such a marginal field.[1]

‘High Society’ was Cerebus’ first ongoing storyline, and revolves around Cerebus’ quest to become the Prime Minister of the city-state of Iest. It is essentially divided into three acts. The first act consists of a set of comic episodes, in which Cerebus, in his role as a diplomatic representative, has to deal with a stream of fawning businessmen and government officials. It is the second act though where the story (and arguably the series) hits its peak, as Cerebus hits the campaign trail. It includes an emotional meeting with his lady love Jaka (yes, he’s an aardvark, she’s a beautiful dancer, you just have to deal with it), an incisive parody of comic book and sci-fi conventions, and the rousing battle cry for the mortgage belt era: ‘lower interest rates or death!’ This all leads up to the excellent election night chapter, in which Cerebus and his supporters (and their opponents) alternately teeter on the edge of victory and defeat, with armed rebellion being a feasible option. Without giving the result away, the last act centers on Cerebus’ efforts to expand his influence, all the while desperately clinging on to whatever power he has. (This entire part is printed sideways, which doesn’t change the story that much, but does make it more akin to reading a comic strip.) During this part, Cerebus becomes even more greedy and overbearing, but it is to Sim’s credit that we are still able to retain a measure of sympathy for him.



More than any other ‘Cerebus’ storyline, Sim keeps things moving in ‘High Society’ through his eccentric cast of characters. The template for Cerebus seems to be a furry, beer-swilling, sword-wielding version of Daffy Duck, yet at times he does display an intelligence and a sensitivity that elevates him beyond a mere caricature. His campaign manager is Astoria, an imposing, statuesque young woman that doesn’t lack for ambition, both of the social and the personal kind. She’s not all that likable, but she fills the role of the straight woman well, and her reticence in revealing her background and motives adds an air of mystery to the tale. With Astoria’s consort, the ‘merely magnificent’ Moon Roach, Sim effectively skewers the superhero genre, and any attempts it has made to be considered as serious fiction. Character traits such as shifting identities that would be thought to add complexity to superhero comics are shown by Sim to border on the psychotic. Sim though retains enough affection for the books of his youth to have fun with the concept (as shown, for example, by the Roach’s catchphrase of ‘unorthodox economic revenge!’) Other characters include the Regency Hotel Elf, a short-skirted mischief maker who takes a shine to our hero, the dim-witted ruffians-turned-bodyguards Dirty Fleagle and Drew McGrew, the pathetic swordsman Elrod the Albino, and Sim’s homage to Groucho Marx, the ridiculous Lord Julius.[2] This being a political satire, other interest groups flitter through the halls of power, one of the more memorable being the Anarcho-Romantics, a movement of aesthetes whose bid for influence comes to an end when Cerebus proposes to put them on the front line of invasion troops.



As Sim says in his introduction, he started ‘High Society’ just before his twenty-fifth birthday and finished it shortly after his twenty-seventh birthday. To my mind, ‘High Society’ contains an exuberance that Sim was never able to fully recapture, which may have been partly due to the exhaustion of sticking to a monthly release schedule and partly because he started to become lost in his own importance. ‘Cerebus’’ visual inventiveness and razor-sharp dialogue would soon make way for sequences of full-page panels and vague religious musings.[3] But like the Regency Hotel on the cover, ‘High Society’ retains a magnificence and an elegance that still shines bright.

[1] I met Dave Sim at a convention over ten years ago. Passers-by were commenting on what a nice man he was, but he was very quiet and didn’t seem all that interested to be there. Still, he was nice enough to not only draw a Cerebus sketch for me (despite my not having read a single bit of his work at that point) but also to draw another sketch for a friend of mine, which is probably a infuriating request for a convention guest to get. Then, after he had finished the second drawing, he got up out of his chair, and left without a word.
[2] Other Sim homages in the ‘Cerebus’ series include Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Margaret Thatcher (hint: Sim isn’t a fan).
[3] Having said that, Sim is still literary enough to make these later installments worthwhile.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Top Five Digs At Economists In Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'The Black Swan'

5. Economists naively make the mistake of producing a lot of forecasts... which enables us to see whether some economists are better than others (there is no consequential difference) or if there are certain variables for which they are competent (alas, none that are meaningful). - p. 148.

4. Before the proliferation of empirically blind idiot savants, interesting work had been begun by true thinkers... all of whom were displaced because they moved economics away from the precision of second-rate physics. - p.185.

3. Economics is the most insular of fields; it is the one that quotes least from outside itself! Economics is perhaps the subject that currently has the highest number of philistine scholars... - p. 156.

2. Economists often invoke a strange argument by Milton Friedman that states that models do not have to have realistic assumptions to be acceptable - giving them licence to produce severely defective mathematical representations of reality. - p. 280.

1. The Nobel medal in Economics has not been good for society or knowledge... - p. 228

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Diary Of An AFL SuperCoach Obsessive - Week 13

Monday:

Finally, I am at the top of the ladder for my league, although only on percentage. My main rival at this stage just traded out Brendan Fevola prior to his eight-goal performance against Collingwood, so feeling good about my chances. Also, don’t think they are my main rival anymore.

The guy who trash-talked me after his lucky win against me in the first match is now twelfth, having lost five of his past six games. For reference, the conversation went like this:

Me: It's easy to talk tough in April.

Guy who is now dwelling in twelfth position: You should know, you sat on top for the first three weeks and when the real stuff kicks in you go down round one. You must be a carlton or collingwood supporter? A sore loser

Did not reply to that, figuring I would wait until I got a few games ahead of him and then rub his face in it. Should I do it this week? No, I think I will wait until he has been totally decimated.

Currently, I have ten trades left (one for each week of the season), and over $300,000 in the bank. My current plan for this week is to boost my forward line by trading in the highest-scoring forward, Ryan O’Keefe. With Brett Burton returning from suspension my forward line would look like this:

F: Franklin (*), Pavlich (*), Deledio (*), J. Brown (*), Riewoldt (*), Burton (*), O’Keefe (*).

* - denotes star player.

Could look for some extra cash by trading some value off my bench, but reluctant to stray from the one-for-one trade-to-weeks-left ratio. Will consider further.

Wednesday:

According to the injury list I have no major concerns – Daniel Bradshaw will be tested to see if he’s fit, but I should be able to cover him.

Thursday:

Dreamt last night that one of my midfielders, Brent Stanton, got injured in the first few minutes this week. This is the worst-case scenario for a Supercoach, because the player scores nothing, you can’t use an emergency to replace him (which you can if he doesn’t play at all), and you may have to trade the injured player out the next week. I guess that qualifies as a nightmare then. It made me feel a little unsettled.

(Why should I be concerned about a loss at this stage? After all, it would just be one week’s bad luck, my team would still be strong overall. Why should one loss put me in so much fear of future losses?)

WTF?! One of my * midfielders, Nick Dal Santo, is not playing! Has he been dropped? Yes, he has. It appears the St. Kilda coach is looking for a scapegoat. Why not freakin' Lenny Hayes then?! Surely Dal Santo should be back though (he’s played 114 consecutive games before this week’s dumping). I can cover him with Trent Cotchin for now - I’ll put him on the bench and see what happens next week.

Of more concern is that Daniel Bradshaw isn’t playing. Should be able to cover him with the Kangaroos’ Scott Thompson. Wait, no North Melbourne team yet….

Damn! Thompson has been dropped. I’ll be one defender short if I don’t trade for a new one. (Have to get O’Keefe in another week.) Could trade Bradshaw, but he’s a * player, and I’m reluctant to trade them out unless I have to. Should trade Thompson then – he’s probably reached his peak in value, and he’s in and out of the team. I'll upgrade Thompson for a * - will eat up cash, but I can trade for some cash next week.

Graham Johncock is the second-highest rated defender and looks to be at a bit below his fair value. The SuperCoach Form Guide highlights some star defenders who have dropped in value – Chad Cornes, Peter Burgoyne, Darren Milburn, Lindsay Gilbee. But they have all been so inconsistent this year that I don’t trust any of them. (Would go for the Chadster but too many injury concerns – broken finger, crook knee.) In contrast, Johncock has got plenty of three-figure scores and his price has dropped because of one bad week. Scott Thompson for Graham Johncock then.

(Does that feel right? Yes, it does.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Know Your Barry



1. He was born to a Kenyan father and American mother in Honolulu. As a child, he lived for four years in Jakarta with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles to study at Occidental College, and then transferred to Columbia University in New York City. He currently lives in Chicago. If elected as US President, he would be the first Hawaiian-Indonesian-Californian-New Yorker-Illinoiser to obtain the nation’s highest office.
2. In 1990, he was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
3. He met his wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, when he worked as a summer associate for the law firm Sidley Austin (where she was a full-time assocaite).
4. He taught constitutional law (part-time) at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 to 2004.
5. Is Barack Obama Muslim? No.
6. When Jay Leno asked him if he had smoked pot, he responded, ‘Not recently—that was in high school.’ ‘Did you inhale?’ asked Leno. ‘That was the point,’ Obama said.
7. Senator Obama has voted with a majority of his Democratic colleagues 96.7 per cent of the time during the current Congress.
8. During his Presidential campaign he has been endorsed by authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, comedian Larry David, actress Scarlett Johannson, wrestler Hulk Hogan, and former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. Oh, and Oprah too.
9. The current favourite to be his vice-presidential candidate is Junior Senator Jim Webb, followed by Senator Hillary Clinton.
10. At Pleasant Valley Lanes, Pennsylvania, he took seven frames to bowl a 37. His shoe size was a 13½.

Footnote: After publishing this post, I received this attachment in my inbox, with the invitation to use it as I wished.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

You know the drill, even if you have only imagined it. You’ve turned away, and you’re about to walk out the door, when suddenly you hear music behind you, and this voice telling you, begging you, to ‘stay’, possibly accompanied by kneeling and other theatrics. So what do you do? Well, it all depends on the song that’s being played – with over 700 songs entitled ‘Stay’ to choose from (at least!), the choice is crucial. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a quick guide to some of the more well-known variations. So let’s go (or don’t go, it’s your choice, right?)

Stay – Frankie Valli

Mr Valli set the standard for kneeling and pleading and other theatrics with this overwrought ditty. With each subsequent appeal to ‘stay, just a little bit longer’, his voice breaks through another sound barrier. In between, he tries to soothe his intended conquest with assurances that ‘your daddy won’t mind, and your mommy won’t mind’. Uh… yeah, right. That voice is impressive though, even if it did spawn thousands of bad imitations.

Action: Stay just that little bit longer, but only if he has back-up singers.

Stay (I Missed You) – Lisa Loeb

If this song was written by a man, it would be two lines long: ‘I stuffed up. Take me back (grunt).’ Since it’s written by a woman, and what is more, an intelligent one, it spirals off in five directions at once, not having the decency to stick to utilitarian constructs such as verses and choruses and guitar solos and so on. At least it can be said that anyone who goes to this much effort must be a keeper. Or is that someone you keep because you’re just too scared to lose? Heck, who knows? Grunting is so much easier.

Action: First, take her hand and calm her the hell down. Then look her in the eye and say ‘Er… so you want to move back in, dear?’

Stay – Shakespears Sister

Shakespears Sister may be best remembered as a pop band (if at all), but this is one dark and unsettling tune. The lead (Marcella Detroit) tells her beau that ‘I’ll go anywhere with you, just wrap me up in chains’ and that, in his dreams, he ‘must only think of me, there can be no in between’. Yes, the poor woman is a little devoted. The Cruella de Vil interlude sounds a tad camp nowadays, but its existence is validated by the absolutely spine-chilling scream that erupts at the end of it. A beautiful song, but my god, don’t play it if you’re alone and desperate.

Action: Hold her in your arms, let her cry herself to sleep, and then run like the wind.

Stay (Faraway, So Close!) – U2

Of all the songs about sticking around and whatnot, this one has the most appropriate structure, since it’s basically all leading up to a single moment. For the most part, the band just ambles along, and every so often build up a little… (is this it? No…) Bono narrates in his empathetic tone about a woman (I’m guessing) who is in far from the best of relationships. While his intentions seem pure enough, the earnest one gives the game away by saying that ‘if I could stay, then the night would give you up’. (This could be it… no, we have to wait another verse…) For good measure, he recites a list of cities that he could whisk her off to in his private jet: ‘Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast, and Berlin’. Wait, here it is… ‘stay… with the demons you drowned, stay… with the spirit I found…

STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!’

What a climax. I don’t think they heard you in the Andes, Bono.

Action: If you like being treated like a queen, you probably won’t get a better opportunity than this. Otherwise, make your exit and try and avoid the falling debris.

Sway – Bic Runga

Oops, it’s called ‘Sway’, not ‘Stay’. How could I make that mistake?

Action: Be careful. Someone is trying to fool you.

Stay – The Blue Nile

After the party, the comedown… For me, this song has a distinct early morning feel; tired, sad, a little numb, but oddly comfortable. ‘Stay, I will understand you’ goes the chorus, which is a very mature rejoinder to the ‘damn-it-all-let’s-make-love’ subtext of similar pop songs. (Of course, the singer may still be after sex, but he has a pretty way of hiding it.)

Action: Have that second cup of coffee, and chat until dawn.

Stay – Oingo Boingo

As befits their name, Oingo Boingo take an otherwise maudlin concept and infuse it with horns and an infectious beat. Eighties pop tragics will find it near impossible to resist the bouncy chorus (‘Go, don’t you go-oh-oh, won’t you stay with me one more daaa-aaay-ooh?), despite the fact that the song doesn’t make much sense. It’s not a party, it’s not a classroom, it’s not a funeral, so what is it? Either this is a truly unique relationship, or Oingo Boingo have been indulging in some ‘weird science’ again.

Action: Dance until midnight, then decide if you want to catch the last train home.

Stay – Eternal

When I was a young boy, I was seduced by the pretty harmonies and good-looking chicks. Over a decade later, I can now see it as pure pap. But let’s not be too harsh; it’s obviously a song delivered by teenagers for teenagers. There is even a knowing wink with the line ‘they say that love will come and go, but your love’s indispensable to me.’ Insert a rap verse and it could still be a hit.

Action: Stick around until the end of the school day, maybe tomorrow even.

Stay Away – Nirvana

‘Monkeyseemonkeydo, arrrrii! Grabametobacool, arrrrii! Henalihensarime, arrrrii! Hairsenoroneisblind, arrrii!’

Action: I’d do as he says.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We're Going On A Blog Hunt - Part Six

The following concludes my exploration of the 25 best blogs, as named by Time Magazine. Since we’re getting down to the blogs that caught my attention the least (with one notable exception), I’m only going to have a quick look at them and rely mainly on the Time commentary.

TechCrunch is dedicated to profile new Internet technologies and companies. If you want to learn about 8hands, Fandango, Jookster, and sodahead, this is the place.

In contrast, Web 2.0h really? proclaims itself to be ‘a skeptic’s guide to emerging web technologies’. One of the (reportedly) most popular posts on this blog argued that newspaper bylines should be done away with, in line with New Media thinking. I like the idea, although I can’t say I notice the bylines anyway.

Wired’s Threat Level deals with privacy and security issues. According to Time, the Senior Editor was a hacker in the 1980s that spent 51 months in jail for fraud charges. On Threat Level, he uncovered 744 registered sex offenders with MySpace accounts, leading to one arrest. Click on The Ridiculous to find out about the producer who got busted for selling adult content to adults, and the Egyptian government’s plans to obtain royalties for replicas of the pyramids.

It’s a pity I’ve run out of steam by this stage, because The Daily Dish looks like it could be a good find. Time reckon that the author has the rare quality of admitting his mistakes, for example, his support of the Iraq war (take note, Hillary!) And supposedly he supported Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. I’ll come back when I have a bit more time on my hands, say, when I’m at work or something.

And finally, there’s Freakonomics, the blog version of possibly the greatest non-fiction book in human history. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Freakonomics, it aims to uncover the hidden side of everything through innovative use of statistical techniques. It’s fair to say that I’ve basically been ripping it off for the past eighteen months. But this little exercise has confirmed for me that Freakonomics has what I think are all the best qualities in a blog. It has a small number of contributors that between them contribute a few quality posts a day. It has a clear theme and vision of what it wants to do, without becoming a one-trick pony. It treats all subjects as worthy of notice, as long as they are of interest and are likely to provoke discussion. And despite the big names that write for it, it is not a victim to the cult of celebrity.

That’s just like this blog, right? Wait, don’t answer that…

We're Going On A Blog Hunt - Part Five

For some inexplicable reason, I’m up early today, so let’s zip through some blogs.

Let’s wake up to The Huffington Post. HuffPo seems to more closely approximate a newspaper website than a blog, with scores of articles on politics, media, business and entertainment. But then the question is this: why should I be reading this rather than, say, the New York Times? I assume you would eventually work out which columnists you prefer reading, and which to avoid, but it could be tough going working out which is which. Time picked out a few ‘highlights’, such as Alec Baldwin writing on why Hillary Clinton would screw up the US dollar. I’ll file this one under ‘maybe’.

Metafilter is even more of a labyrinth than HuffPo, since basically anyone can post on it. I thought that looking at the most popular articles would be a good way to go, but that seems to be just as random as the home page (or the ‘random page’ – I got an article about 70 year-old performing triplets). I think the key phrase here is ‘community weblog’ – it probably works from a social standpoint. However, most of the posts appear to be of more interest than some person’s photos of their cat, so I might come back to this one as well.

Unlike Gigazine, Beppe Grillo’s blog has an English version, renewing my faith in the homogeny of the world wide web. Beppe appears to spend a lot of his time fuming about the crooks in the Italian Parliament, and probably rightly so. Type ‘psychodwarf’ into the search engine to get a good sample of the range of his concerns – I have no idea who he is talking about, but it’s an excellent image nonetheless.

Engadget is, of course, a blog for all the latest electronic toys. Since I still have minor heart palpitations every time I try to use my VCR, I’ll give this one a miss.

Ace of Spades is supposedly the right’s answer to the Daily Kos, and that looks to be true to the extent that Obama has as much hope of being complemented on the former as McCain does on the latter. But it doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously, which makes it the more entertaining read at least. And the Top 10 lists are great, such as the Top Ten Euphemisms for Self-Abuse in Star Wars (yeah, I know, I’m really fifteen), and the Top Ten Signs Paul Krugman Has Lost His Freakin’ Mind. Like listening to Eminem and watching South Park, I don’t care if I go to hell for liking this.

I’m not Jewish and never will be, so I don’t think The Velveteen Rabbi is meant for me. But that’s not to dismiss it, because it seems to do what it does pretty well. There are poems, recipes, and various musings about Judaism, and while I would rather watch the football, I admire the author’s dedication.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We're Going On A Blog Hunt - Part Four

Reading back over Part Three, I noticed that I said that the Daily Kos had more detailed arguments than your ‘average leftist blog’. What I really should have said was your average political blog, since the right can be just as reductive as the left can. Usually I would just take advantage of the edit function on Blogger to cover over my imperfect choice of words, but the post has been up for a few days now, so I guess I can’t pretend I never typed that. Anyway, let’s move on…

Gigazine sounds like it’s run by Family Guy’s Glen Quagmire (man, that would be a cool blog), but it’s actually a Japanese site about… er, I don’t know…

TROY: Lauren, how do you translate websites?!
LAUREN: Use Babelfish.
(Troy googles Babelfish, fiddles around with it for a couple of minutes, and…)
TROY: Cool, it worked.
LAUREN: It’s good, isn’t it?
TROY (after about twenty seconds, bursts out laughing): The English translation isn’t very good.
LAUREN: Is it in Engrish?
TROY: Yeah, you could say that.

Well, I’m sure this blog is a hit in Japan. According to Time, past features on the site have been David Beckham condoms from China, and a luxury sports car knitted from wool.

Lifehacker apparently has the answers to all of life’s little questions, which should, in theory, make it my new favourite site. A lot of the topics appear to be technology-related, which I neither have the patience or the nous to deal with. But some of the non-technobabble could come in useful. My advice would be to look at the subject headings in the archives and see what takes your fancy. I’ll definitely come back and explore further at a later date.

To show how sorry I am for my previous leftist swipe, I’ll head next to the Treehugger site. (No, wait, the right can be just as enviro-conscious as… ah, forget it…) Being the sort of person I am (i.e. male), the ‘How To Green Your Sex Life’ section immediately caught my eye. Some of the tips seem distinctly unsexy to me (e.g. eco-undies), but I’m sure they do something for someone. Still, credit this blog for trying to do something useful, and apparently it’s one of the most popular going around. I’ll file it under ‘blogs I should visit’ (but will I? We’ll see…)