Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Middle Finger Album: The 10 Most Diabolical Songs From The Deepest, Darkest Depths of Hell

Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? – Bryan Adams
18 Til I Die (1996)

A close call between this and the similarly soporific ‘Please Forgive Me’. But this gets the nod for trying to be sensual, with its pseudo-flamenco guitar, and ending up sounding like a man trying to serenade an elevator.

Father and Son – Boyzone
Said And Done (1995)

Er, boys… there is meant to be a father and a son. If your voices can’t convey that simple distinction, you probably shouldn’t be covering this song.

Axel F – Crazy Frog
Crazy Frog Presents Crazy Hits (2005)

To whoever bought or downloaded this song: it would be poetic justice if all of you were made to sit through a 3-hour concert of Kermit’s demented cousin. Does that sound like too long to be listening to what is essentially a ringtone? Now you know how the rest of us feel.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Deep Blue Something
Home (1995)

The name of the band says it all really, like they were trying to find a word with impact, but instead could only trail off in a mutter. The song itself is about trying to save a relationship by finding common ground, but it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that they’ll make it. The chorus, particularly the line ‘And I said, well, that’s the one thing we’ve got’, is so anti-climatic that it’s like the musical equivalent of brewer’s drip. Completely awful in its averageness.

Shout! – The Isley Brothers
Shout! (1959)

Whenever I hear the opening ‘Waaaaaaaiiiiii-lllll’ it sends shivers down my spine, for I know I’m about to be subjected to three minutes of mindless, repetitive chanting (eight minutes if it’s the finale to a variety show). This song passed its use-by date in 1965. Let us rest in peace.

Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Tragic Kingdom (1995)

After releasing the fine punk-pop singles ‘Just A Girl’ and ‘Spiderwebs’, No Doubt followed up with this clich├ęd, sentimental dirge. For years, I wondered if it was their idea of a joke. Then Gwen Stefani went solo and I realized it wasn’t.

Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes
Where Did Our Love Go? (1964)

Surely the song that made more people think their record player was busted than any other. Where does this song go? Nowhere. It’s just ‘baby baby… ooh-err… baby baby…’, bugging me like an itch that I can’t scratch. (Though I’ll admit that, like the Weather Girls, there’s probably a gender divide on the merits of this song.)

You Shit Me To Tears – The Tennants
Some record that disappeared without a trace (1998)

Anybody could have written a song whinging about the person who annoys them the most. However, most people have better things to do with their time.

I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) – Sandi Thom
Smile... It Confuses People (2006)

With this song, Sandi Thom completed the rare double of sounding both amateurish and inauthentic. The tune sounds like a teenager banging out their first guitar chords. The lyrics are loaded with nostalgia for an era that she seemingly only knows through stereotypes. One suspects that, if she really were born 30 years earlier, she’d be singing about how wonderful the time of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was.

It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
Success (1983)

As a heterosexual male, I can not sing, dance, listen to, or even think of this song without feeling more than a little awkward. I appreciate the fact that the songs that treat women as objects outnumber the songs that treat men as objects by five squillion to one. But surely there’s a more appealing image than being pelted on by heavy, hairy, smelly carbon-filled organisms?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And The Women?

Below are the adjusted Grand Slam victories for the top women players. As I suspected, since several women have won three or more of the Grand Slam tournaments, there’s not much difference to the unadjusted figures:

Adjusted Grand Slam victories (Unadjusted in parentheses): 1968-onwards

Steffi Graf - 25.50 (22)
Chris Evert – 19.58 (18)
Martina Navratilova – 18.34 (18)
Margaret Smith Court – 12.34 (11)
Billie Jean King – 9.37 (9)
Monica Seles – 9.37 (9)
Serena Williams – 8.94 (8)
Justine Henin – 6.62 (7)
Evonne Goolagong Cawley – 6.62 (7)
Venus Williams – 5.14 (6)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roger Federer - The Greatest Grand Slam Performer?

Swiss tennis superstar Roger Federer is only two Grand Slam victories away from equalling the record of 14 wins by American Pete Sampras. On the face of it then, it would seem that, for the moment, Sampras has been more successful than Federer when it comes to Grand Slam wins. However, there is an argument to be made that it is not only the number of Grand Slam wins that matter but also the variety of wins. For example, Gustavo Kuerten won three French Opens, but he was pretty average at the other Grand Slams, and only racked up three Grand Slam trophies by being very good on clay. To show how hard it is to win on more than one Grand Slam surface, consider the following table:

Percentage of Grand Slams Won At Player’s Most Successful Venue: 1968-onwards

1st most successful venue – 59.4 per cent.
2nd – 28.1 per cent
3rd and 4th – 12.5 per cent.

So, in the Open era, it has been about twice as hard for a player to win at a second Grand Slam venue as it has been at their most successful venue, and about five times as hard to win at a third or fourth venue. Taking these probabilities into account, we come up with the following list of top Grand Slam performers:

Adjusted Grand Slam victories (Unadjusted in parentheses): 1968-onwards

Roger Federer 15.54 (12)
Pete Sampras 15.18 (14)
Ivan Lendl 10.57 (8)
Andre Agassi 9.95 (8)
Bjorn Borg 9.29 (11)
Stefan Edberg 8.82 (6)
Mats Wilander 7.91 (7)
Jimmy Connors 7.84 (8)
Rod Laver 7.64 (5)
Boris Becker 6.72 (6)

*Adjusted Grand Slam victories = Grand Slams at most successful venue*0.561 + Grand Slams at 2nd most successful venues*1.185 + Grand Slams at 3rd and 4th most successful venues*2.667

Roger Federer now pushes slightly ahead of Pete Sampras, who won half his Grand Slams at Wimbledon and another five at the US Open. Ivan Lendl takes Bjorn Borg’s place at No.3, with the Swede not managing to capture either the Australian Open or the US Open crowns. Other big winners are Edberg and Laver (who would do even better if we counted victories before the Open era), while John McEnroe falls out of the top 10 altogether.

On this basis, it looks as if Federer is already the greatest of them all. If he wins another Australian Open, he will move well clear of Sampras on the adjusted score, having won at least 4 trophies at three separate Grand Slam venues. However, one suspects that, should he capture that elusive French crown in 2008, these debates will stop altogether.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thoughts on the Third Test (Australia v India)

1. The Indians can't complain about the umpiring in this Test.
2. The Indians won't complain about the umpiring in this Test.
3. Anyone who said the Indians should have boycotted the rest of the tour doesn't have the right to celebrate their victory. These people were adamant that the Third Test should never have taken place, and having taken the high ground, they have to stay there. Tough luck.
4. Since 2003, only two countries have beaten the Australians - India (three times) and England (twice)! Other countries would be interested to know how the Indians do it. The West Indies have not beaten Australia since 2003, South Africa since 2002, Sri Lanka since 1999, Pakistan since 1995, and New Zealand since 1993!
5. India is also the last team to beat Australia twice in a row, back in 2001. But I'm willing to bet they won't do it this time (and I won't edit this post if they do).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Atonement and American Gangster

Oscar season is upon us again, and with it come the releases of the films that the studios believe have the best chance of taking home the coveted statuettes. While Oscar-nominated films aren’t necessarily the best films in any given year, more often than not they are good ones. Two of the films that are expected to feature prominently in this year’s awards – ‘Atonement’ and ‘American Gangster’ – again prove the accuracy of this rule.

‘Atonement’, adapted from the Ian McEwan novel, recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and is essentially a well-written love story set against the backdrop of 1930s England and WWII-era France. It is difficult to say too much about the plot, as the twists and turns in the story is what gives it some of its impact. Suffice to say that it’s a warning call against the perils of creativity. I actually enjoyed the movie more than the book, as it seemed to make more of the audience’s time. In one particularly well-executed scene, the camera pans across the chaos of the evacuation at the Bray Dunes, capturing in a couple of minutes a mood it took McEwan eight pages to establish (and McEwan’s prose is not uneconomical itself). The events of the novel stayed on just the right side of believability, but both director and cast are committed to making it work. ‘Atonement’ is packed full of powerful scenes, and has an ending that puts ‘Titanic’ to shame. Make sure to bring along a box of tissues though, either for your partner or your self.

Ridley Scott’s ‘American Gangster’, based on a true story, aspires not only to be a top crime flick but a social document as well, covering topics such as drugs, exploitation, racism and police corruption. That may not always make it particularly thrilling to watch, but its impressive in the detail in which it re-creates a troubled era in American history. The film works both with and against the public image of its stars: Denzel Washington plays the slick, smooth kingpin of crime while Russell Crowe plays the ‘boy scout’ cop who is a bit rough around the edges. Their stories are told in parallel narratives, which have led some to compare it to Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’, but I also saw some similarities to Steven Spielberg’s (admittedly) more light-hearted ‘Catch Me If You Can’. Chances are it will not beat ‘Atonement’ for the Best Picture gong on Oscar night, still, I don’t think that will perturb the creators too much, as ‘American Gangster’ seems less like it was made with the Oscars in mind. It’s every bit as good as ‘Atonement’, but it’s not for the queasy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Great White Cricket Conspiracy

The fallout from the second Test between Australia and India has been substantial, with pundits the world over queuing up to lambaste the umpires, the ICC, and the Australian cricket team. In the barrage of brickbats, some of the criticisms have become tangled up, forming the picture that the entire Western world has somehow conspired to prevent the Indian cricket team from winning a match in Australia. But how legitimate are these grievances? Let’s break them down and see where the problems lie.

Did the umpires (Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson) have it in for India?

Unlikely. The contentious decisions were almost certainly due to human error, as strange as some of them may seem.

But India still got a raw deal from the umpires, didn’t they?

Sure, if we’re talking about the number of wrong decisions that disadvantaged India compared to the number that disadvantaged Australia. Bucknor giving Australian batsman Andrew Symonds not out when he was seemingly caught behind on 30 was particularly costly. But Bucknor didn’t bowl the balls that allowed Symonds to smash another 132 runs after that. Similarly, the Australians were responsible for Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar scoring a century after he seemingly got a life on 36, which could have proved fatal to their chances. Where an umpiring decision is wholly responsible for disadvantaging a team is when they erroneously give a batsman out, but India didn’t fare any worse than Australia in this regard.

Did ICC referee Mike Procter (who suspended Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh for three matches for being guilty of racial abuse towards Andrew Symonds) have it in for India then?

Hard to see why. Indian players, officials and supporters were disappointed that he chose to take the Australian players’ word over that of the Indian players, but if the decision had gone the other way the Australians would have been similarly disappointed. The Indian players have a chance to provide a more convincing case when it goes to appeal.

Should (Australian captain) Rick Ponting have reported the incident?

Under the rules he had to as long as his team thought that there had been a case of racial abuse. So the real question is: did this incident qualify?

Well, did it?

If Harbhajan did in fact make the comments he is alleged to have made, then he’s in trouble. Such comments are more likely to be forgivable if the Indian cricket team were ignorant of how offensive the word ‘monkey’ would be to Andrew Symonds. But, after the recent Australian visit to India, any Indian player would have to be living under a rock not to understand the full implications of the word.

But what about ‘sledging’? Isn’t that a form of abuse?

This is where the Ponting-bashers may have a point. There have been many reports that the Australians have no peer when it comes to hurling abuse at opponents, and it’s not hard to believe that they up the ante when the match becomes tight. Some may say that this is simply part of the game, but it’s not pleasant to turn up to work and be abused for five straight days. In the end though, it’s hard to make laws against being a tool.

Did the Australians cheat by claiming catches that weren’t there?

We can never know for sure, but probably not. Ponting appears to be committed to the ‘honour system’ for contentious catches, as shown earlier in the match when he did not appeal for what looked to be a possible catch. And in the end, it’s not the players that make the decision, it’s the umpires. If Mark Benson thought Sourav Ganguly was not out on the fifth day, all he had to do was turn the appeal down.

But what about the Australians claiming dismissals that are not there? And not ‘walking’ when they know they are out?

If the Indians had been chasing victory on the fifth day, it’s not hard to imagine them appealing even if there was only a slight chance that the batsman would be given out. Similarly, there are few batsmen that ‘walk’ when the umpire decides that they are not out. In any case, Ponting has made it fairly clear for years that he wants a ‘honour system’ for catches but that other decisions should be left up to the umpire, so one can hardly accuse him of suddenly developing double standards. If other teams want to expand the ‘honour system’ to other aspects of the game then they should bring it up with him.

What about Ponting reportedly throwing the bat in disgust after he was wrongly given out leg before wicket?

Not the most serene reaction, but so what? If Ponting had thrown the bat while still out on the field then we would have a different kettle of fish. But once he got to the dressing room he should be able to swear his head off, put his fist through the wall, and make a voodoo doll of Steve Bucknor if he wants to. Yuvraj Singh’s behaviour in Melbourne was more objectionable than Ponting’s was.

How about the Australians not shaking Anil Kumble’s hand after the win?

OK, it would have been nice, but again so what? It has been pointed out that English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff consoled Australian Brett Lee after England’s narrow victory at Edgbaston in 2005. True, but I seem to remember Michael Vaughn and the rest of the team whooping it up in a similar manner to the Aussies’ celebrations in Sydney. It would be good to see the Australians acknowledge their opponents, but it’s hardly a hanging offence.

So where to from here?

The Australians probably need to remember to tone down their on-field behaviour and the Indians to remember that the game needs officials.

Were the Australians lucky to keep their winning streak intact?

Yep, but to win 16 matches in a row you need a bit of luck.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

How Good Is Mike Hussey?

In his first 32 innings as a Test cricketer, Australian batsman Michael Hussey has notched up a batting average of 79.00. Of all the Test cricketers who have played at least the same number of innings, only Sir Donald Bradman had a higher average, and Hussey’s average is around 20 runs better than the No. 3 player, South Africa’s Graeme Pollock. So does this mean, the Don aside, Hussey is a 33 per cent better batsman than anyone else?

Well, maybe. But if we take the view that Hussey’s first 32 innings represent the peak of his Test career, then his record is not as unusual as it may first seem. Below are the best 32-inning stretches of other star Australian batsmen of recent times.




Adam Gilchrist





Matthew Hayden





Michael Hussey





Ricky Ponting





Steve Waugh





These numbers support the view that Hussey’s excellent record may be because we have only seen the peak of his career to date. All of these batsmen were of a similar age to Hussey when they hit their peak form – Ponting being the youngest at 27-29 years of age, and Hussey and Hayden being the oldest at 30-32 years of age. In any case, the batsmen listed above are not bad company to be in. If Hussey can continue to live up to their standards, he is well on the way to being considered one of the greatest batsmen in the history of Test cricket.