Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Wooden Finger Year in Music: Part Three

THE (IR)RELEVANCE OF MICHAEL JACKSON

To me, the statements following Michael Jackson’s death of his impact upon pop music seemed a little overblown given that his main impact over the past fifteen years has been to fill the gossip mags and serve as the easiest of punchlines. But it may be that I’m selling Jacko short. To help answer this, I decided to refresh my memory on exactly what hits he had post-‘Dangerous’. Turns out he had only three US Top 10 hits - ‘Scream’ (with sister Janet, who was still kinda relevant at that stage), ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘You Rock My World’ – with only the second of those reaching #1 (for one week). In the UK he had three #1s – ‘Earth Song’, ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Blood On The Dance Floor’. Internationally, ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ is really the only other song that had much of an impact. So it would seem that my initial impression that MJ had disappeared up his Neverland over this period was correct.

However, in this respect, Michael Jackson is hardly alone. Consider what his main rival of the early ‘80s – the artist who I think is currently known as Prince – has achieved over the same time. To his credit, unlike Jackson, Prince still regularly released records, but only ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ and ‘I Hate U’ could be considered hits, and they were released back in 1995. And I doubt that Prince has been making truckloads of albums-of-the-year lists during that time. So perhaps Michael Jackson’s decline is simply symptomatic of the fall in popularity that occurs with all musicians.

What about Madonna? She’s done considerably better, with ‘You’ll See’, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Music’, ‘Don’t Tell Me’, ‘Beautiful Stranger’, that god-awful ‘American Pie’ cover, ‘Me Against The Music’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘American Life’, ‘Hung Up’, and ‘4 Minutes’. But Madonna is something of a phenomenon – the biggest hit-maker this side of the Beatles. Bruce Springsteen’s had basically nothing since ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ (though his albums do consistently well), Sting basically nothing since he teamed up with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart for ‘All for Love’, and Billy Joel basically nothing since ‘The River of Dreams’. And so on. I guess you only really need to sell 100 million copies of something once in your lifetime and you’ve had an impact. RIP MJ. You still had more hits than me.

THE WOODEN FINGER GIG OF THE YEAR

It’s hard to forget the first five or so minutes of the Flaming Lips (at Festival Hall) – the big screen with the swirling, pulsating colours and the go-go girl in silhouette, her opening her legs up wide and each of the band members emerging on to the stage, Wayne Coyne making his appearance inside his Zorb-like ‘space bubble’, kids dressed up as green frogs and pink kitty cats dancing free-form at either end, large yellow balloons being bounced around by the crowd on the floor, Coyne rolling his ‘space bubble’ across our fingertips (did he reach us?), and bash! ‘Race For The Prize’ starts up like a military march for the irretrievably demented. Earlier that day I had lifted a particularly bothersome burden from my shoulders, and watching the balloons float around made me feel as if I myself were lighter than air. Best. Entrance. Ever. The set-list that followed was pretty fab – ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, ‘Yoshimi…’, ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’, ‘Do You Realise?’ – although I could have done without some of the Bush-bashing that went on (not that I have much sympathy for Bush, but I don’t think you should necessarily assume your whole audience agrees with you). I’m still not sure whether the Flaming Lips are simply a novelty act on an epic scale, but they packed more effort, fun and epilepsy-inducing images into their show than just about everyone else I saw put together.

THE WOODEN FINGER ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

5. The Horrors – Primary Colours: Sounds like it was recorded in a dark, giant tunnel in a coal mining town and all the tracks are pretty compulsive, but it drops a few spots because I actually don’t really listen to it that much.
4. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest: ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘Cheerleader’ are the perfect ‘wake-up-with-a-hangover-and-walk-down-the-street-feeling-the-cool-breeze-on-your-face’ type songs. Because, you know, you always need a couple of those…
3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself And Another: Crunching guitars and irreverent lyrics made it a welcome antidote to all the synthetic pop going around, and that includes the next two albums on this list…
2. La Roux – La Roux: The opening few tracks grate on me a bit, but the middle part of the album – ‘Bulletproof’, ‘I’m Not Your Toy’, ‘Cover My Eyes’, ‘As If By Magic’ and ‘Fascination’ – is such a perfect encapsulation of synth-pop that they may as well retire the genre.
1. Passion Pit – Manners: Yes, I still can’t believe he sings the entire album in that falsetto and I don’t want to smash my iPod to pieces. However, it contains three tracks that are addictive-as-Wii – ‘Little Secrets’, ‘The Reeling’, and the track that never ceases to amaze me how it’s not a complete mess ‘Sleepyhead’ – and in a year without a record that towered over the world like a monolith that’s enough to get it the top spot.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Wooden Finger Year in Music: Part Two

THE ‘MARCONI PLAYS THE MAMBA’ MEMORIAL MOST CRINGE-WORTHY LINE OF 2009

David Guetta/Akon’s ‘Sexy Bitch’ was a track that made me shiver in parts of my spine I didn’t know I had, and the line “I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful” almost caused a complete vertebral meltdown. Firstly, that’s way too many syllables to fit into one line. Secondly, unless you’re sixty years old or a spelling bee contestant the word ‘disrespectful’ is about as anti-climatic as it gets. Thirdly, when you spend the rest of the song using words like ‘bitch’, ‘hoe’ and ‘booty’, then one wonders whether you really know what ‘disrespectful’ means or if someone at your pool party happened to bring along a thesaurus (yeah, I know, it’s meant to be ironic – I think – but it doesn’t work). All of these problems could have been solved with one simple substitution, “I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl but I’m an asshole.” Now that’s a worldwide smash…   

FOUR WALLS AND WHAT FOR YOUR GIRLS?

Is that lyric in Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls’ ‘I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls’ or ‘four walls and adobe slats for my girls’? Either way – what the hell?! Who can help us out here?

“adobe slabs refers to building a home from the ground up like way back in the day. basically stating that as father he's going to work hard in providing for his children.” – tonyjames, SongMeanings

“I assume that “adobe slats/slabs” is a part of a home that’s protective but exists in contrast to the four walls. This suggests it’s a roof. But as far as I can make out, roofing in adobe architecture doesn’t involve slats or slabs made of adobe; rather, it involves a wood or metal frame onto which adobe bricks are placed, which are then in turn sealed with adobe mortar.

Conclusion: Animal Collective failed Indigenous American Architecture 101.” – Dickdogfood, Idolator

“adobe slats’, it would appear, are a form of roof tile used fairly commonly in Portugal.” – Tim Miller, God Is In The TV

You know we're in a conundrum when not even Uncle Wiki can help us out ('adobe slabs' is mentioned on a page about Fort Verde State Historical Park, 'adobe slats' gets you nowhere). For what it's worth, it sounds to me like he is saying 'slats' - I'll take that guy's word they're used in Portugal.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Top 25 Highlights From Our Trip Around the USA

25. Dinosaurs I have heard of at the American Museum of Natural History
24. Smelly sealions at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf
23. 826 Valencia – a tutorial centre run by McSweeney’s, fronted by a pirate store
22. Charlie the fluffy toy labrador from FAO Schwarz (and Joe the Pistons-supporting teddy from the NBA Store)
21. Football, baseball and Sam Adams at every bar
20. Finding t-shirts of a monkey with a magnum and a Star Wars Fab Four slogan (Luke & Leia & Han & Chewie) within two blocks of each other at the Haight
19. Finding a hat to fit my generously sized head at J.Crew near Rockefeller
18. Comedy at Gotham, two doors from our hotel in Chelsea
17. Reading SuperFreakonomics
16. Cheeseburger pizza (think a Big Mac, sliced-up and spread on a pizza base)
15. Central, Prospect and Golden Gate Parks
14. Getting to the top of the Empire State Building on a clear night without having to queue
13. Attending a Halloween party (and seeing somebody dressed as a Sudoku puzzle)
12. James Gandolfini shouting ‘F--- the hamster!’ in ‘God of Carnage’
11. Staying at the Hotel Chelsea
10. Reading Bill Simmons’ ‘The Book of Basketball’
9. The Day of the Dead parade in the Mission in SF
8. Dinner at Cafeteria on W17 St and Sixth Avenue – oddball menu but mind-blowingly awesome
7. The rollercoasters at Knott’s Berry Farm, particularly the Silver Bullet (high speed, lots of bends and loops, legs dangling), Montezuma’s Revenge (40 seconds, forwards and backwards around a large loop), and the Ghost Rider (terrifying wooden rickety death-trap)
6. Spending my birthday at the Blue Note listening to the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars
5. Carving the pumpkin from hell
4. The Museum of Modern Art – Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’, Warhol’s soup cans, Lichenstein’s ‘Drowning Girl’, Pollock’s ‘Full Fathom Five’, Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, and a couple of dozen Picassos.
3. New York Knicks v Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden (it was a pre-season match, but still…)
2. ‘The Beatles – Love’ by the Cirque du Soleil
1. The Golden Gate Bridge on a clear warm San Francisco afternoon

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The War on Tomatoes - Round One

According to Uncle Wiki, a common tomato disease is the ‘tobacco mosaic virus’, and ‘for this reason smoking or use of tobacco products are discouraged around tomatoes’. Thus, for my first strike against The Bright Red Menace, I decided to see how it would stand up to being skewered by a flaming, tobacco-filled cigar. Admittedly, the fact that I’d chosen a small, flimsy $3.50 cigar perhaps did not suggest that I had the level of commitment to the cause that I should have – however, not being a smoker I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get the thing lighted in the first place.

As it turned out, my main difficulty with the whole lighting-the-stoogie process was getting my cheapo Bic lighter to flame on – once I’d mastered that I was puffing away like a Cuban playboy. The tomato trembled, knowing that it was mere moments away from having a fiery stick poked up its rear. Mere moments, did I say? By gum, cigars take a long time to smoke! I suppose I could have just taken a couple of puffs and then let the tomato have what was coming to it, but I wanted to get most of my 350 cents worth here.



My first clue that my plan may not have been the Machiavellian scheme I imagined it to be came when, halfway through my cigar, I pressed it to the tomato’s pudgy exterior, and the end-third of it crumpled into ash. Perhaps if I spread the ash around, my red nemesis’ outer layers would wither away… but this too proved futile. Slightly perturbed, I determined to smoke my weapon of choice for a bit longer and then run it through that bastard like a needle through an eyeball. Alas, the tomato proved its capabilities of doubling as a red, round ashtray and my cigar crumpled faster than my car’s rear bumper bar.



As a last desperate measure I decided to stick the tomato in the crisper for a couple of days and hope that somehow the tobacco would erode it given time. No, it did not. When I took the tomato it was as healthy as ever, only with a sprinkling of well-preserved tobacco on the top to improve its flavour. Disgusted, I dumped the thing in its only rightful home – the garbage. This round was lost, but the result would be different next time…



Tomatoes: 1, Me: 0.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Wooden Finger Year in Music: Part One

HOWLING BELLS V THE TEMPER TRAP

Hometown

Howling Bells: Sydney, now based in London
The Temper Trap: Melbourne
Winner: The Temper Trap

Hit single

Howling Bells: ‘Into The Chaos’ – played on indie radio stations and nowhere else
The Temper Trap: ‘Sweet Disposition’ – played everywhere, including twice in the movie (500) Days of Summer
Winner: The Temper Trap

Lead singer

Howling Bells: The sexy, elfin-like Juanita Stein
The Temper Trap: The exotic but unpronounceable Dougy Mandagi
Winner: Howling Bells

Album title

Howling Bells: The awesome and enticing ‘Radio Wars’
The Temper Trap: The vague and underwhelming ‘Conditions’
Winner: Howling Bells

CD package

Howling Bells: Hardcover booklet with brightly coloured band shots
The Temper Trap: Flip-cover package with fuzzy shots of… what exactly?
Winner: Howling Bells

Festival presence in their homeland

Howling Bells: V Festival
The Temper Trap: V Festival, Falls Festival and Big Day Out – doesn’t get much bigger than that
Winner: The Temper Trap

Er... the music?

Howling Bells: Lush with a hint of brooding
The Temper Trap: Broody with a hint of lushness
Winner: Much of a muchness

Verdict: 3-all - it's a tie, folks!

THE VAMPIRE WEEKEND AWARD FOR THE ARTIST WHO I REALLY QUITE LIKE BUT WHO STILL SHITS ME IN SOME WAY

With her bright red hair and thin pale limbs, Florence Welch (title character of UK band Florence and the Machine) is hard to scrape your eyes off, particularly when she’s flailing about like some mystic earth nymph (see picture below). And no doubt the girl can sing and her debut album, ‘Lungs’, which won the Critics Choice award at the BRITS, is a pleasure to listen to. But (to riff on Mike Skinner) my god does she know she is one of the beautiful people. I’ve hardly seen a shot of her in which she isn’t striking some form of melodramatic pose, the liner notes to her album being a good example. Similarly, her songs feel a little overproduced – even top tracks such as ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ can not go two lines without the choral voices chiming in and trying to whisk us off to some enchanting fantasyland (where if Midas is king then I’m betting Florence is a regal personage of some sort). Yes, I would take her over the hordes of unimaginative pop strumpets any day of the week, but she’s young, she’s pretty, the indie media drool over her and she laps it up… damn her to hell…


THE TOP FIVE LINES FROM THE LATEST FUTURE OF THE LEFT ALBUM

5. if I eat what i fuck and i fuck what i eat am i worthy? (I AM CIVIL SERVICE)
4. slight bowel movements preceded the bloodless coup (THROWING BRICKS AT TRAINS)
3. call me anna, velociraptor, excuse my manner, I'm having such a bad day (YIN/POST-YIN).
2. lapsed catholics are the worst, it's part of who they were, and who they'll be again (LAPSED CATHOLICS)
1. yeah sure, satan rules, but that doesn't mean i can't be practical (YOU NEED SATAN MORE THAN HE NEEDS YOU)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Want To Be Offended

Ever had a case where your idea of what a band should be like is somewhat different from the reality? I think I'm experiencing that with Reading's electro-pop artists Does It Offend You, Yeah? I blame the album artwork... I saw the dripping letters on the cover and the song titles such as 'Dawn of the Dead' and 'Being Bad Feels Pretty Good' on the back (both awesome tracks by the way) and thought that this was something resembling a cult complete with mission statement ('Does it OFFEND YOU, YEAH?!!!') Actually, that impression was probably only fully formed when I heard the first two tracks ('Battle Royale' and 'With A Heavy Heart (I Regret To Inform You'), which brought to mind the image of a cavernous pit of a venue filled with jumping, sweating bodies raising their fists and middle fingers to the conventional world above.



I think my first source of disillusionment was when I found that the seemingly venomous band title was not anything like a mission statement at all, as synth player Dan Coop recalls:

Everybody thinks the name is some kind of statement but it's a quote from David Brent in an episode of The Office. "When me and James Rushent first started writing music together we decided to put it up on MySpace. We needed a name to put as our profile name so just put what was the first thing that was said on TV, we switched it on and Ricky Gervais said "Does it offend you, yeah? My drinking?" so we just went with that. No thought went into it whatsoever.

So much for the revolution... But I held high hopes for when they recently played in Melbourne - perhaps I would still have my cavernous pit of raised fists and middle fingers after all. This illusion quickly began to dissipate when I first turned up at the venue and it appeared that nobody else over the age of 20 liked this band (or wasn't willing to go out and see them on a 'school night'). And then there was the band itself - I don't know... the vocals didn't seem to have the same bite as they do on record (even during the poppy songs)... I mean they were probably really good, actually they were probably better than most bands I'll ever see, but I was after transcendence goddammit! Or at the least to feel somewhat dirty. All I got was "does it offend you, perhaps?" Which was not the band's fault at all - if anything, blame their album designers...

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Appreciation of Ringo

Last week I bought 'The Beatles: Rock Band' for Wii and have subsequently spent about as long as you can singing into a ditzy little microphone and noodling around on a plastic bass without the aid of serious drugs. For someone who thought he'd been singing along fine to the Beatles for years, the game has been a revelation: turns out that the part in 'Back in the USSR' about Moscow girls really knocking Paul out is a lot harder to sing correctly than I thought, and that there are lilting words all over their back catalogue.



But the impression that's died hardest over the past few days is the one I had that basically any clod could sing Ringo's songs. I first noticed it when I tried 'Yellow Submarine' - surely an easy kiddies' ditty - and ran into a few spots of bother. But my ineptitude was really hammered home when I confidently launched into my rendition of 'With a Little Help of My Friends' only to find that Ringo was singing so low that I struggled to hit every third note. After a couple of verses of frustration and bewilderment I was relieved to hear the others chime in with 'Do you neeeeeeed an-y-bo-dy?' only to completely falter with Ringo's response that he just needs somebody to love. And on it went until the end, because this was the easy level and the 'no-fail' mode, which prevents the song from stopping no matter how god-awful you are, was automatically on. I have since tried 'Boys' (from the Beatles' first album) and put in a vaguely passable effort. I'm too afraid to try 'Octopus's Garden' yet.

So I dip my pink hat to you, Mr Starkey. Obviously, despite all my impressions to the contrary, you brought something to the Beatles that was difficult to match.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Wooden Finger AFL All-Australian Team 2009

Not surprisingly, I predict that the team will be dominated by Saints and Cats this year, with those teams accounting for half the spots. Both of them won a hell of a lot of games, and as I showed in my very first post the selectors reward that.

If I'm right President Eddie should be reasonably happy as well, with three Magpies getting a guernsey, although I still think he will be spewing if Brownlow fancy Dane Swan misses the starting 18. For some reason, Swan is named as a forward in the preliminary squad, and while he may well end up on a half-forward flank I think he will actually end up as a victim of his own versatility and be relegated to the bench. Of the small forwards Chapman has to get in, and despite Johnson's recent injuries he should also have done enough, and I think that the selectors will be keen to reward Stephen Milne for his shift to a more defensive focus (i.e. being bothered to tackle) over the past year.

I've also left Fevola out of my forward line, even though he was the leading goalkicker. Frankly the guy only did anything every second or third game (I know - I had the misfortune of having him in my SuperCoach team). JB of Brisbane has been far more consistent and a more valuable presence for his team, and Goodes was awesome over the latter stretch of the year.

B: Sam Gilbert, Brian Lake, Nick Maxwell
HB: Brendon Goddard, Matthew Scarlett, Simon Goodwin
C: Leigh Montagna, Joel Selwood, Nick Dal Santo
HF: Paul Chapman, Nick Riewoldt (c), Steve Johnson
F: Adam Goodes, Jonathan Brown (vc), Stephen Milne
R: Aaron Sandilands, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett
I: Dane Swan, Matthew Boyd, Leon Davis, Mitch Clark

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Finger Points Outwards - No.21: Ten Great Marvel Covers

What? Another comics-related post? Bear with me.. as part of its 70th anniversary celebrations, Marvel Comics has compiled a list of its Top 70 covers, based on reader votes. You can view all 70 here:

Marvel's Top 70 covers ever!

Naturally I started thinking about which were my favourites. I'll spare you a little by only giving you my top 10, but hopefully you'll agree that these are all pretty damn cool (in a geeky sort of way).










Monday, August 17, 2009

Ode to Starbuck

I recently watched the final episodes of the very excellent sci-fi series 'Battlestar Galactica', and while I was a little disappointed by the identity of the final Cylon I thought the ending was pretty satisfying overall. Another thing I was initially a little disappointed about was the final fate of perhaps my favourite character in the series - the ever-unpredictable Starbuck. (I have since reminded myself that TV characters, if they are to seem true-to-life, can't always do what you want them to.) Nevertheless, I felt inspired to explain what it is that fascinated me about Galactica's 'trouble child' - and if that's not enough, I've done it in verse! Enjoy:



O Kara Thrace, I don’t know whether
You really are ‘best pilot ever’
But wait five drinks – I’ll believe you are
As your eyes glint over your cigar
You would bait a colonel just for fun
Do you think now you have at last won
Those fans who thought they would never see
Rough-and-tumble Starbuck jump for glee?
But I think perhaps I liked you best
When we saw how your pad was a mess
Random paintings on the landlord’s wall
(Then ‘destiny’ went and spoiled it all)
Some say you’re too liberal with yourself
I’d say you’re confused above all else
Lee’s for you, but fate gets in the way
And you love Sam too – he’ll always stay
And though nobody can read your head
And half the crew wish you’d just stay dead
And while it seems you don’t give a frak
Who else could bring the Fleet safely back?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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

Barry Windsor-Smith explained: “I was just fiddling around, trying to think of some character in the Marvel Universe who didn’t wholly offend me. I thought of Logan as a sort of Everyman type. He was closer to some kind of hero/anti-hero-type person for me, and I thought perhaps I could do something with this guy with spikes coming out of his hands.” [1]



The result was one of the most unusual, yet down-to-earth, of all Marvel epics – the one hundred and twenty page ‘origin’ of Wolverine, ‘Weapon X’. The story – if such a term applies here – recounts Logan’s unwilling participation in the Weapon X experiments. The first half deals with his captors’ attempts to strip away his humanity and transform him into the perfect killing machine. Then, in the second half, Logan breaks loose, and he’s not at all happy about what has been done to him.



What made ‘Weapon X’ stand out, however, was the manner in which it was told, which was very much unlike most Marvel comics of the time, although its techniques are more evident today. First, while ‘Weapon X’ is about Logan, he is hardly present in the narrative at all; instead, the narrative is given from the point of view of the three main technicians on the Weapon X project – the insidious megalomaniac known as the Professor, and his less willing conspirators Dr Cornelius and a young woman called Hines. The result is a tension between the narrators’ attempts to objectify our hero – essentially treating him as some strange type of fleshy material on which to conduct their experiments – and the knowledge that, underneath all the probes and hi-tech equipment, is a man who is having his soul ripped out. Second, what narrative exists is relatively sparse, leaving clues for the reader to follow but also requiring the reader to do much of their own interpretation. Third, the action, apart from an absence of capes and tights, is unusually bloody and brutal for a Marvel comic, with Logan and his new-found claws slicing and skewering whole teams of guards, before proceeding to hack off his creator’s limbs.



Despite the violence (or maybe in part because of it), ‘Weapon X’ is beautifully drawn, finding a sense of poetry in the primal yet efficient manner in which Logan dispatches his jailers. Windsor-Smith wrote, drew and coloured the entire story (including the wonderful covers), and the care and mastery with which he renders his tale makes me wish that we could see this approach in mainstream comics more often. It is close to the hippest thing that Marvel has ever produced; a story about a superhero that is almost completely removed from the superhero genre. But in the end it’s primarily about a man and his struggles, both physical and psychological, and if done right that can work in any genre.


[1] 'The Road To Rune', Wizard #28)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Finger Points Outwards - No.20

My final article for the Australian Fair Pay Commission - 'Labour market outcomes for low-skilled people in Australia' has been released in hard copy (although most of those copies are sitting in boxes a couple of rooms away from my office). The interim version, which is pretty close to the final version, can be found here - mine is the last article in the report.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Here Come The 'Wednesday Comics' (But For How Long?)

Last week saw the much-heralded release (at least in comic book circles) of DC’s new weekly series, ‘Wednesday Comics’. It has been a while since I have been this interested (OK, I’ll just admit it… geeked out) by a new series. The book is printed on newsprint and folds out to reveal 15 broadsheet-sized pages, each with a different story. And they are not just ‘inventory’ stories either, but new work by top creators such as Neil Gaiman (of ‘American Gods’ and ‘Sandman’ fame), Mike Allred, Paul Pope, Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Kyle Baker, Kurt Busiek, Dave Gibbons (the ‘Watchmen’ artist, though he’s writing here) and Joe Kubert. Being one of those kids who would go straight to the newspaper funnies each weekend, this is something I didn’t realise how much I wanted until somebody invented it.



Or do I? One of the frustrating things about the newspaper funnies was those strips that never told a complete story but that you would have to follow for weeks on end to understand what was going on. All of the strips in ‘Wednesday Comics’ are like that, which one reviewer likened to a cute date that disappears right before you can order your food. Not many of the writers seem to have adapted their styles to the new format, the twin ‘Flash’ and ‘Iris West’ strips being an exception. Still, just sitting on the couch staring at the art was my reading highlight of the week.

I suppose the question is how long the novelty will last. The buzz around most innovative new series fades away at around the 12 to 18-issue mark (examples off the top of my head: ‘American Flagg’, ‘Bone’, ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’, ‘The Authority’ and ‘Planetary’, all of Alan Moore’s ‘America’s Best Comics’ line, ‘Madman’, etc… watch out ‘Umbrella Academy’…). ‘Wednesday Comics’ is only scheduled to run 12 issues at this point, although surely given the success of its debut DC must already be thinking about another series. I hope it continues, as long as they can keep the quality of the stories high. And I don’t think it necessarily has to be big-name creators that make it a success, there may well be lesser lights whose special genius is writing and drawing a killer ‘newspaper strip’ (for those who understand cricket analogies, the graphic novel would be the Test match, the newspaper strip would be Twenty20). If DC can manage that, then ‘Wednesday Comics’ could soon be a staple of every comic reader’s week.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Boycott the Gold Coast!

In its efforts to expand its market, the Australian Football League plans to introduce a team on the Gold Coast in 2011, and a team in Western Sydney shortly thereafter. Given that these are not traditional AFL markets, the AFL has implemented a number of strategies to ensure that these teams are competitive from the start. For example, the Gold Coast is already up and running and playing matches in its efforts to resemble something akin to a football team by the time it enters the AFL in a couple of years time.

So far, so good. But the linchpin of the AFL's plan is to grant the Gold Coast team major concessions in the National drafts of 2009 and 2010. In summary, in 2009, the Gold Coast team can sign 12 17 year-olds born between January and April 1992, and then in 2010, they have not just pick 2, not just pick 3, but also picks 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15!

If the aim of the AFL is to make the Gold Coast competitive they will probably succeed. However, if they also want the team to be accepted by the football public, then I think there's a good chance they will fail miserably. Who can get behind a team that has the cards so heavily stacked in their favour? I reckon that, by the time Gold Coast enter the league, I will despise them even more than Collingwood. Yes, Collingwood! (And I just joined a Facebook group called 'who wants collingwood kicked out of the afl'.) At least the Pies have to play by similar rules to everyone else (you know, apart from that whole 'away jumper' thing).

And it doesn't matter to me if Gold Coast end up struggling or not. Even if they totally screw up the picks I'll still hate them; they should have been someone else's picks to screw up! (Preferably Richmond's, we can screw up picks more efficiently...) And when the Western Sydney team come in, I'll hate them just as much, if not more, because they come from Sydney and prevented a Tassie team from entering. This is a greater dose of charity than a hundred consecutive 50 metre penalties!

Come on football followers, let's all band together and boycott those freeloaders! Who's with me?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sir Arthur Eddington's Famous Cricket Puzzle: A Solution

Here's my solution to yesterday's puzzle:

-First, set up the bowling order: the only possible order is this - Pitchwell and Speedwell alternate for 6 overs each, then Tosswell and Pitchwell alternate overs, with Tosswell bowling 7 overs and Pitchwell bowling 6.1 overs.

-Tosswell bowls 5 maidens off his 7 overs, therefore his other 12 balls yield 31 runs. This means that there must be at least 7 fours off Tosswell’s overs.

-Since Tosswell only takes one wicket, the maximum amount of batsmen he can bowl to during those 12 balls is 5. Therefore, 2 batsmen must hit 2 fours each off Tosswell. The only two batsmen who could possibly do this are Bodkins and Perkins (no-one else scores more than 7 runs).

-So Bodkins must survive to face Tosswell, and he can not score in the first 12 overs.

-As Speedwell does not bowl a maiden this means that Bodkins can not face him at any point. Therefore, Speedwell must bowl 3 overs which yield 4 runs each, and 3 overs that yield 1 run each (any other possible combination means that Bodkins would have to score at least 1 run off him).

-We know that Pitchwell only bowls two maidens. Therefore, of the 3 overs that Speedwell bowls which yield 4 runs each, Bodkins must face Pitchwell after only 2 of those overs (and score nothing), and the other 4 runs must come off Speedwell’s last over.

-By the time that Speedwell finishes his last over, there must have been at least 19 runs scored - 15 off Speedwell, and at least 4 off Pitchwell (as he would have bowled 6 overs, with only 2 of them being maidens). Therefore, Atkins, Dawkins and Hawkins must all be out by this point (since Bodkins hasn’t scored), and Jenkins must have scored at least 1 run. But Jenkins can’t have scored only 1 run by this point, as we know that 4 runs are taken off Speedwell’s last over. Therefore, 23 runs have been scored from the first 12 overs.

-This means that the 5 batsmen who scored the 7 fours off Tosswell are Bodkins (2), Perkins (2), Larkins, Meakins and Simkins.

-It also means that a four was taken somewhere off Pitchwell’s first 6 overs, and no fours were taken off his last 6.1 overs (no other combination of scoring shots is possible). And this means Pitchwell’s last 6 full overs yield 1 run each (since 8 runs were taken off his first 6 overs, and there were no maidens in his last 6 full overs).

-Bodkins must be on strike for Tosswell’s first over as 4 runs were scored off Speedwell’s last over. Can it be a maiden? No, because a single has to be scored off Pitchwell’s next over, and none of Bodkins, Jenkins or Larkins (if Jenkins has gone out) can do that. Therefore, Bodkins must score 2 fours off Tosswell’s first over, and then go out, and then someone else must score a four, which can not be Jenkins. So Bodkins is Tosswell’s only wicket, and Jenkins is Speedwell’s only wicket. Fall of wickets so far: 1/6 (Atkins), 2/12 (Dawkins), 3/18 (Hawkins), 4/23 (Jenkins), 5/31 (Bodkins).

-Meakins replaces Bodkins, and he must score a four off Tosswell’s first over (as there are at least 3 fours in that over). Perkins and Simkins must score their fours in Tosswell’s second non-maiden over. What about Larkins? Since Tosswell has already taken his wicket, only two batsmen (Perkins and Simkins) can face him in his second non-maiden over. So Larkins must score his four in Tosswell’s first over, and Meakins must score a 1 to get him on strike. Therefore, 17 runs are scored off Tosswell’s first non-maiden over and 14 off his second one.

-The next few overs go as thus. Meakins scores a single off Pitchwell’s next over, Tosswell’s next over is a maiden (since Meakins doesn’t face Tosswell in his second non-maiden over), and then another single is scored off Pitchwell’s next over. It can’t be from Larkins, so he must be the next man out, at 6/41. Hence, the single comes from Perkins. Tosswell’s next over is a maiden (as Meakins is still in), and then Meakins scores his last single off Pitchwell’s next over, followed by another Tosswell maiden, and a Perkins single off Pitchwell. Then Tosswell bowls yet another maiden, and Meakins is dismissed by Pitchwell (since he can’t score another run), making it 7/44.

-Simkins comes in and scores a run off Pitchwell. Perkins and Simkins then plunder 14 off Tosswell, with Simkins hitting 5 of the runs, and Perkins 9. That takes Simkins up to 6 runs and Perkins to 11, meaning they can’t score anymore. In Pitchwell’s next over, he takes Perkins at 8/59, and then Tomkins at 9/59. Wilkins then comes in and scores the final single. Tosswell then bowls his final maiden over to Wilkins, and then Pitchwell comes back and takes Simkins with his first ball of the over (and last ball overall).

Final answers:

a) Tosswell dismissed Bodkins, Speedwell dismissed Jenkins, Pitchwell dismissed the rest.
b) Wilkins was left not out.
c) The fall of wickets: 6, 12, 18, 23, 31, 41, 44, 59, 59, 60.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sir Arthur Eddington's Famous Cricket Puzzle

This puzzle appears to be diabolical, but it can be solved - Don Bradman did it, and I did it (and that's where the similarities between me and the Don end).

THE PUZZLE

An Imaginary Scoreboard

Atkins 6
Bodkins 8
Dawkins 6
Hawkins 6
Jenkins 5
Larkins 4
Meakins 7
Perkins 11
Simkins 6
Tomkins 0
Willkins 1

Extras 0

Total 60

BOWLING

Pitchwell: 12.1-2-14-8
Speedwell: 6-0-15-1
Tosswell: 7-5-31-1

CLUES:

1. The Batsmen have scored only in singles and 4s.
2. All of them were clean bowled. No one was caught or run out. There were no no balls or 'short' runs.
3. Speedwell and Tosswell bowled 6 and 7 overs respectively at a stretch.
4. Pitchwell opened the bowling, with Speedwell coming in at the other end for the next over.
5. The overs were of 6 balls each.

QUESTIONS:

1. Which bowler dismissed which batsmen?
2. Who was not out?
3. What were the Fall of Wickets?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Music v Lyrics

One of my favourite tracks from the recently-released Temper Trap album, 'Down River', begins with this lyric:

Finally/ we have seen some things/ some awfully nice/ some dreadfully bad

Depending upon your view, such a lyric is either quite profound or equivalent to fourth-grade poetry. Does it distract from the song? A little... but I still think it's an excellent track - the beat is catchy and the harmonies are great. But it again raised the question for me about how important the lyrics actually are to a pop song? While bad is bad, I've found that many great acts can get by with lyrics that are barely adequate - Oasis being one of the best examples. Furthermore however, there are heaps of cases where I would choose the band with (what I think is) the better music over the band with the better lyrics - Oasis and the Verve over Pulp, the Beatles over the Stones, the Stone Roses over the Happy Mondays, the Vines over the Strokes, David Bowie over Bob Dylan, heaps of people over Leonard Cohen, and so on...

On the other hand, I still prefer some lyrics over none - I'll take Cut Copy and Passion Pit over the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk for example. But I also prefer songs with guitars and drums over those without. Which suggests to me that vocals are, primarily, just another instrument that I like. And it doesn't matter too much what the precise words are, just as long as they feel like part of the song.

(Of course, no doubt after posting this, I'll think of dozens of examples where the lyrics make the song, but I'll stick by these observations for now.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Finger Points Outwards - No.19

A report on the Manufacturing industry that I wrote for the Australian Fair Pay Commission has been released. You can find it here:

Manufacturing Industry Profile

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How The She-Hulk Made Me Accept My Mortality

This week I picked up the fourth issue of Marvel’s late-1980s-early-1990s comic book series, The Sensational She-Hulk, a comic I first read when I was not even nine years old. (I already owned a copy, but I found issues #1-7 as a block, and didn’t feel like I could separate them. It’s a tic…) In the issue, a character named the Blonde Phantom, who is a comic book heroine from the 1940s, attempts to become a supporting character in the She-Hulk’s title. Her motive for doing so is to prevent herself from further aging, given that comic book characters remain the same age (hell-oooo Tintin…) Her husband’s death, during the years in which they were waiting to be brought back into the funny pages, has highlighted to her the ‘fact’ of her mortality.



The Blonde Phantom’s dilemma made me fondle my own grey hairs, as I have increasingly come to the realization that, as I approach the age of 30, I am more often becoming older than the characters I read about. Writer/artist Frank Miller once had a similar realization with regard to the Batman – his solution was to age Bruce Wayne by twenty years for The Dark Knight Returns. But it is not just comic book characters; I recently re-read Catch-22 and was horrified to find that Yossarian, though a captain, was three years younger than I am, and he is one of the older characters in the novel. (Although the fact that so many young men are being sent to die may be part of the point.) I am nine years older than Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. And even real-life figures bring me no comfort – I’m older than almost all of the Beatles at the time they made their final album, Abbey Road, and older than Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison at the time of their deaths.

When I was not even nine years old, the adventures of my heroes seemed possible for me, something I could do if I only were old enough. Now, far more often, they seem to be the achievements of people younger than myself who have achieved so much more. How will I cope as I approach middle-age and these characters remain as young as ever? Is the point that you grow out of popular culture the one where you realize that the people you are following are young enough to be your children?

I sensed the specter of Father Time hanging over me… until I remembered the Blonde Phantom asking the She-Hulk how old she was. ‘Thirty-one,’ she replied. Thirty-one!! My not-even-nine-year-old self had always thought of the She-Hulk as a fun, hip and happening girl. To learn that she was still older than I am filled my heart with hope. Over a year still remains in which I will be younger than my green-skinned gal, and there will be another few years after that in which I will be within an acceptable age range. Hooray! My youth is not done with yet! And hopefully, by the time that I can no longer deny that I have passed my physical peak, such trivialities will have longed cease to matter…

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Wooden Finger Guide to the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest - Part Two

13. Moldova - My notes became markedly more drunken by this point, so the descriptions will, in general, become briefer. All I can make out is that this was the Eurovision's 258th attempt to 'blend the traditional with the modern', that there were 'nice legs and boots', and something about 'Cassock dancing'. Can that be right? Well, it must not have made much of an impression. Rating: 2.5 euros.

14. Malta - As I think Terry Wogan said once, Malta, unlike some of the larger Eurovision countries, always try hard. The singer was not quite what I expected, with the figure of an opera diva, and the voice of an R&B diva. Either way, it was one of the better voices in the competition. Rating: 3.5 euros.

15. Estonia - The artist's name, 'Urban Symphony', gave me hope that we would hear something approximating The Verve. Riichard Ashcroft though never looked this good. The lead singer, with her beautiful, long, dark hair, was simply stunning, and the cellists behind her broke my heart. It made me want to move to Estonia as soon as possible, although perhaps it was not wise to inform my wife of that fact. Song: 3 euros. Eye candy: 5 euros.

16. Denmark - Ronan Keating had a hand in writing this song, and one of his doppelgangers was chosen to sing it. The rock band was a bit misleading, as the song was as wimpy as most of Boyzone's catalogue. The unnecessary high five between two of the band members made it that little bit more nauseating. Rating: 2 euros.

17. Germany - The Germany had the best band name to this point: 'Alex Swings, Oscar Sings', and possibly the best song name too: 'Miss Kiss Kiss Bang'. The lead singer camped it up for all it was worth, and just when you thought it couldn't any more kitsch, out pops Dita Von Teese, with her waistline that defies imaginiation. The song itself was rubbish, but the production was amazing. Rating: 4 euros.

18. Turkey - Too much flesh for flesh's sake, and compared to Estonia, quite classless. Lauren noted that the guy looked like he had been tied up in a carseat. Rating: 1.5 euros.

19. Albania - The weirdest entry by far. It included a fairy, two midgets for her to stand on, and a green man with discoball sparkles on his face. I still don't get it. Rating: 2 euros.

20. Norway - Inexplicably the favourite to win the competition, the Norwegian entry featured an elf with a fiddle, complete with his own band of Pan-like followers. Not the worst entry, but apart from the twin blondes, nothing startling. Rating: 3 euros.

21. Ukraine - I was wrong - this had an even better song title than Germany: 'Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)'! It included mostly naked gladiators trapped like hamsters in turning wheels, and lights designed to induce an epilieptic seizure. Basically, it was the second weirdest entry. The singer gets extra points for her drum solo though. Rating: 2 euros.

22. Romania - Essentially a Dungeons 'n' Dragons wet dream, with a bunch of skinny women in reed-like dresses swaying before the dungeon master's throne. Otherwise, not particularly interesting. Rating: 2 euros.

23. United Kingdom - Boring, Lloyd-Webber rubbish. Rating: 1 euro.

24. Finland - Another top band name, 'Waldo's People', delivered an unusually upbeat song about homelessness. Really, only the burning rubbish bins give you a clue to this, otherwise it looks like a younger version of the Edge gone gangster. Rating: 1.5 euros.

25. Spain - I can't remember much about this entry. I do remember that I've forgotten my Spanish though. Rating: 2 euros.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Wooden Finger Guide to the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest - Part One

1. Lithuania - Since Eurovision voters generally have memory spans comparable to goldfish, it's always a difficult task to be the first act on stage. Lithuania didn't make it any easier on themselves by choosing a guy that appeared to be singing a love song to his hat. Furthermore, with the sparse arrangement on stage, too much was left to our piano-playing friend, who didn't have nearly enough charisma to pull it off. The most action he could muster was to light up a flame at the end... things would have been far more interesting if he had set fire to his hat instead. Rating: 1.5 euros (out of 5)

2. Israel - The Israelis made a peculiar choice by picking the Witches of Eastwick to represent them. Singing in three different languages was a nice postmodern touch, although it doesn't really help much if the tune sucks. At least the crowd went wild, waving their huge plastic hammers with the Star of David about. Rating: 2 euros

3. France - The best entry to this point, and as it turned out, the best entry of them all. Patricia Kaas, with her moonlight-coloured skin and high cheekbones in tow, delivered a typically late-night Parisian club tune. By the end of the song, she was gripping the microphone like her life depended on it, and you expected her to undergo the full transformation into a ghostly creature of the night. Stirring stuff. Rating: 4.5 euros

4. Sweden - This couldn't have been more Swedish if the performers had come out swinging Ikea stools. A blond, buxom woman dressed in white belted out a pop-operatic chorus, and by the end of it all the Kremlin was lying in a thousand pieces. Rating: 3 euros

5. Croatia - Europorn made its first appearance with the Crotian entry, featuring a lead singer who can't get over himself and an array of girls pleasuring themselves in the background. The wind machine was the real star though, certainly more than the girl in white, whose main contribution appeared to be to squeal every now and then. Rating: 2.5 euros 

6. Portugal - A lovely little entry, starring a rather earnest young lady, a backdrop covered with clouds and flowers, and the most enthusiastic drummer north of the Mediterrenean. You couldn't help but be filled with a warm, happy, cuddly feeling (this may be why my wife liked it so much). Rating: 4 euros

7. Iceland - This entry starred Yohanna, an 18 year-old who may now be the richest person in Iceland. The song ('Is It True?') is not bad in an '80s power ballad type of way, although it could have been improved if they had ditched the second-hand prom dresses. Rating: 3.5 euros

8. Greece - It was time for some nightclubbing, and who better to take us there than a hairless Greek man with his top few shirt buttons inexplicably undone? If that wasn't enough, there was also the flashing conveyor belt which he was busting his moves on. Every act should have a flashing conveyor belt. An absolute riot. Normal Eurovision service had been resumed. Rating: 3 euros Unintentional comedy value: 4.5 euros

9. Armenia - The Armenians trumped the Israelis by sending out a couple of gypsies, complete with jewelled headbands. You could almost smell the shisha on stage. It started in a promising way, with the best backbeat of the competition, but soon dissolved into cliched Euro-dance with the trademark key change at the finish. The garter belts were either a highlight or lowlight, depending on your sexual orientation. Rating: 3 euros

10. Russia - The hometown entry threw up a surprise by opting for a brunette, who was kind of pretty in an Anastasia Myskina-like way. The Russians finally justified the use of the big screens that had been floating around every performance, replaying film of the lead singer wailing along, and digitally aging her as the song progressed. Either that or her make-up wasn't built to last. Rating: 3.5 euros

11. Azerbaijan (Who?!) - Flexible dancers trying to distract you from an awfully pedestrian beat. Ho hum. Rating: 2.5 euros

12. Bosnia-Herzegovnia - With the array of military figures on stage, it was like something straight out of 'War and Peace'. Or 'Alice in Wonderland'. It was good to finally see some guitars on stage, unfortunately they didn't do much with them. Rating: 3 euros

Entries 13 to 25 to follow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Wisdom of Patrick Smith

In an article in today's Australian about the state of the Richmond Football Club, one of the most arrogant and least considerate football writers, Patrick Smith, claimed that 'The grip on reality at Punt Rd is hardly strengthened when cheerleaders in the media write that the Gary March-led board has nothing to feel awkward or disappointed about.'

What on earth could he be referring to? Well it's most likely Caroline Wilson's article in yesterday's Age. Let us go read that article again and see if Patrick's claims hold up.

'If president Gary March put his hand on his heart he would admit he had so far failed to fully rebuild the least successful AFL club in almost three decades.'

Hmm, I don't think that's nothing Patrick. But maybe you missed that sentence (possibly because you had disappeared up your own ego). Let's see if we can find anything else. Whoops, here we go:

'As bad as the playing group has been this season — and yes, they have been shocking'

Strike two, Patrick. Though I suppose that's really just talking about the playing group. Surely Caro is holding up her pom-poms for the place as a whole. But wait, what's this?

'No one is suggesting that all is well at Tigerland. Clearly the football malaise is infectious and as good as young Trent Cotchin might be, no cure is in sight.'

Ah well Patrick, you can't win them all. Maybe one day you will refer to an article without blatantly contradicting it. And that cannot be a bad thing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Pros and Cons of the ‘Watchmen’ Film



Pros:

• The Dr. Manhattan flashback sequences were well done. The Doc’s backstory is one of the most poignant parts of the book, and it is delivered with pretty much the right mix of feeling and detachment.
• Good performances by Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Rorschach and the Comedian. Both of them gave a very good idea of what their characters were all about.
• The movie did not tone down the violence of the book. In fact, if anything it turned it up, in some cases quite gratuitously.

Cons:

• A key facet of the ‘Watchmen’ comic was the juxtaposing of scenes and symbols to create a greater degree of depth in the meaning of the work. This is a technique that could have – at least in part – been translated to film, but it is mostly absent. As a result, in some scenes the pacing and dialogue of the film seem rather odd.
• The story is set in 1985, but apart from a few retro hairstyles, the look of the film hardly conveys this fact. That being the case, why not set it in the present day with the Americans having won the Iraq war and George W. Bush being elected President for a third term? Such changes would also have a similar resonance with modern-day filmgoers as having the Americans win in Vietnam and Nixon as President had on the original audience.
• In the book, the Nite-Owl and the Silk Spectre are relatively normal people dressed up in costumes, not the brutal fighting machines they are in the film. It is hard to see how they could be scared of anything given the way they tear into the Knot-top gang, despite having been several years in retirement.
• On that point, it is a shame that none of the ‘normal’ characters could have been fleshed out a bit. A major theme of the book was how they react to the super-heroes and threat of impending war; here their viewpoint is almost entirely absent.
• Ozymandias does not smirk. He may as well have written ‘I am up to something’ on his forehead.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

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

When Time Magazine named their 100 greatest novels of the 20th century, ‘Watchmen’ was the only graphic novel to make the list. If the list had been restricted to the 10 greatest novels it still should have made it. ‘Watchmen’ is the greatest comic book series there was, is and probably ever will be – both an uncompromising deconstruction of the superhero genre and an extensive realization of the possibilities of its medium. I first read it when I was seventeen, and I soon realized that all the comic books that I had read up to that point were exactly what everyone claimed them to be – kids stuff.



The actual premise and plot for ‘Watchmen’ are not overly complex, even if they were somewhat revolutionary at the time. The story is set in an alternate version of 1985 in which the US won the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon is still President, and the Americans and Soviets are locked in a nuclear arms race. Superheroes have been outlawed for almost a decade, following police protests that the masked vigilantes were making it impossible for them to do their jobs. The series begins with the bloody murder of one of these ‘heroes’ – namely the Comedian – and our cast of key characters are gradually introduced as we observe their reactions to their compatriot’s death. As the story unfolds, more and more of these characters come under threat, leading to the theory that somebody is planning to wipe out all of the remaining masks. The truth, however, is far stranger, as we learn to what lengths one hero is willing to go to in order to protect the world.



The plot itself really only takes up one half of the series, with the other half devoted to one-chapter portraits of the six main characters. The second chapter focuses on the Comedian, who has made himself into a violent, amoral reflection of our highly troubled times. Chapter four retells the story of Dr. Manhattan, a man-turned-god whose mind-boggling power is the linchpin of American’s defense system, despite his scant concern for political conflicts. Chapter six examines the psychology of the series’ narrator, Rorschach, whose hardnosed brand of justice makes the Dark Knight-era Batman look like a bleeding heart. Chapters seven and nine are about the second Nite-Owl and the second Silk Spectre, who are considered to be the most normal of the remaining heroes, although as their stories show it takes a special type of personality to dress up in a colourful costume and proclaim yourself a defender of the people. And chapter eleven is about Ozymandias, labeled the smartest man in the world, whose extraordinary intelligence is both an asset and a burden. Each chapter reveals something not only about the hero in question, but also about the human condition itself and how it is affected by the society that we find ourselves in.

However, by far the most startling aspect of all about ‘Watchmen’ is the multi-layered approach to storytelling that it takes, using the comic book form to juxtapose symbols and themes to create an incredibly dense piece of work. One of the most pervasive examples is the comic book being read by the kid at the newsstand, whose tale of a shipwrecked mariner desperate to save his hometown from murderous pirates mirrors both the chaos of the Watchmen’s world and the moral predicaments they face. But almost every page has something that is either intimately connected with another scene that is being laid out simultaneously or with another scene before it, with varying degrees of subtlety. Some may see some of the innovations – such as laying out chapter five in the form of a symmetrical Rorschach blot – as cleverness for cleverness’ sake, but it’s difficult not to admire the achievement at least, and it still provides the reader with the chance for a greater degree of reflection than 99 per cent of the works in popular culture. Even the creators – writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons – have rarely shown signs of replicating the series’ structure, probably knowing how hard it is to capture lightning in a bottle twice.



In the years following ‘Watchmen’ many other ‘realistic’ superhero works have appeared, often earning the moniker ‘the next Watchmen’ for their more mature approach to the superhero genre. However, ‘Watchmen’ itself is unrepeatable – it took the genre to its outermost limits, making all of the other series that came before or after seem like only a small part of it. Which is not to say that the superhero genre is dead; subsequent series have explored and built upon aspects of ‘Watchmen’ to great effect, such as the man-on-the-street viewpoint used in ‘Marvels’ and the stories of heroes meddling with international affairs in ‘The Authority’. But 1986 will always be year zero for superhero comics – the point where they finally stood up and demanded to be accepted as serious literature. Those strange men in the masks and tights would never be simply kids stuff again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Big Day Out 2009



If you’re looking for a comprehensive review of the Big Day Out for 2009, this isn’t one. For one thing, it’s impossible for one person to see even a sizable proportion of the acts on offer. For another, even for the acts you do see, your average punter doesn’t tend to know more than half the songs. Any review is therefore going to have gaps all over the place, nevertheless, this is how the day went…

The first thing that was notable about this year’s BDO at the Flemington Racecourse was that there was plenty of grass. The organizers had apparently spent about $1.6 million on making sure that the areas around the stages didn’t resemble the dustbowl conditions of last year’s event (not that I was there). This meant that we could spend a good deal of the day doing what you should be doing at any decent outdoor festival, i.e. lazing about.

The second thing that was notable was the sheer volume of red, white and blue that could be seen about. Personally, I’ve never felt the need to display my patriotism – even on Australia Day – indeed I’ve always felt it to be peculiarly un-Australian to be going about brandishing the flag. But apparently I’m part of the last generation to do so; no doubt we’re only a few years from some unsuspecting overseas artist stage diving into a giant replica of the Southern Cross, only to be swallowed up and never heard from again.

Anyway, we arrived around one and spent essentially the entire afternoon hanging around the Green Stage. First up were the Ting Tings, bringing a fair contingent of girly-boppers along with them. Their pop-rock sound is probably better suited to a smaller venue but they did an admirable job nonetheless, putting new spins on radio-friendly hits such as ‘Great DJ’. Their best effort, however, was set list closer ‘That’s Not My Name’ – a song I once considered laboured, but which, in the second half of the tune, turned into something of a freakout.

Somewhere in the middle of the Ting Tings’ set, a guy in a colourful wig jumped on top of the tent that was housing the sound equipment. Once there, he became the target for a bombardment of bottles, including one bottle of sunscreen, which for some reason he believed to be a good idea to open up and drink. Decent effort by the chap, even if his day did end at about 3 of the clock.

New Yorkers TV On The Radio sauntered onto stage next, and proceeded to prove that black guys can even out-indie us white folk. Their set list was somewhat confounding – who opens up with two songs that are not on your latest album? – but their energetic performance more than made up for it. Indeed, their sound was somewhat more aggressive than on their records; even a mellow song like ‘Shout Me Out’ was transformed into a veritable wall of sound. Best of all though was ‘Staring At The Sun’, which no longer sounded like sunspots, but more like a star gone supernova.

We were sitting over in the drinking area when My Morning Jacket appeared, and their laid-back brand of rock fitted perfectly with swigging down a Tooheys Extra Dry. ‘I’m Amazed’ confirmed that it was a song built for a field full of people, while the downright bizarre ‘Highly Suspicious’ actually made some sort of sense when accompanied by the sight of dudes bashing away on guitars. MMJ finished off with the eight-minute ‘Touch Me I’m Going To Scream’, which though excellent, gave a hint of the sound problems that were to plague the next act. That act turned out to be Melbourne’s own Cut Copy, who sounded like they were being transmitted through a faulty radio. A real disappointment given that they produced my favourite album from last year, but hopefully I’ll get to see them in a more sympathetic venue sometime soon.

It was then over to the main stage for UK superstars the Arctic Monkeys. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why I only like, as opposed to love, the Arctic Monkeys, but now I think I’ve hit upon the reason: Alex Turner’s voice. Well, that and the songs have no melody. Nevertheless, if you’re a Monkeys fan you would have been psyched by their performance, and I still tapped my foot along to their best songs like ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’. And I did appreciate the synchronicity of them playing ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ as the sun was setting. 

With it now dark it was time for the BDO’s headline act, Neil Young, to make his way onstage. Unless you own all of his 30 or so albums there’s going to be a lot that’s unfamiliar to you, but he’s still an outstanding performer and you still find yourself enthralled by his biggest hits no matter how many times you’ve heard them. Apparently he finished off with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’, but I can’t tell you anything about that since we were already gone, driven away by the chill that had descended. An incomplete end to an incomplete day, but I guess if you want completeness you’re better off having a Big Day In instead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tennis Australia Unveils Plan to Turn its Women Tennis Players Into Russians

Faced with mediocre results and budget cuts, Tennis Australia has unveiled its radical new plan to return to world supremacy by turning its top female players into Russians.

The scheme went into action during the week when the newly-rechristined Samantha Stosurova was seen warming up on the practice courts and sipping from a hip flask of vodka. There have also been reports of Casey Dellacquaova sporting shoes made by up-and-coming Russian manufacturers as she wanders Melbourne's streets.

One player that may be exempt from the makeover is Jelena Dokic, who has made it through to the quarter-finals of the women's draw. However, a loss tonight may result in her being housed in a babushka doll for the remainder of the week.

Tennis Australia hopes to have at least five blond-haired blue-eyed women in the top 20 by the end of next year. Rumours are also afoot that, if the plan is successful, the tennis authority may have similar plans to turn its professional male players into Frenchmen.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rod Laver Arena Devastated By Djokovic ‘Whoopee Cushion’ Prank

Half of Rod Laver Arena was today destroyed by a massive explosion, which was later revealed to have emanated from a giant ‘whoopee cushion’ left in the stadium by world no.3 Novak Djokovic.

Authorities were initially confused by the source of the blast, but the cause soon became apparent when Djokovic broke into guffaws at his press conference.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about…,” he began, before he could contain his snickering no longer, “ha ha ha I’m sorry… hee hee… I got you a good one, didn’t I? Did you see it? Kaboom!!!”

A reporter asked if he was concerned at all about the human casualties of his prank. Djokovic shrugged, ‘Well, I think that a lot of those people were barracking for that little French kid during last year’s final so I don’t feel too bad about it.’

The rest of the conference proceeded as normal until another huge explosion was heard outside the press room. All eyes turned to Djokovic, who was again engulfed in hysterics, “Ha ha ha I’m sorry,” he said, waving his hands in apology, “I think my little brother has just taken out Hisense.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ivanovic: Smashing Live Kittens the Key to Success

In a candid press conference, Serbian uber-babe Ana Ivanovic has revealed that she sometimes uses live kittens as tennis balls in her practice sessions.

‘Of course, I prefer using real tennis balls, but you can’t always find them and they’re quite expensive,’ said the world No.5, ‘In cases like those, you need another small bit of fluff to smash about.’

Ivanovic was sketchy about how long ago she adopted the unorthodox routine, but sources say that she would often whack small turtles around the disused swimming pool she used to train in as a junior.

Flashing her gorgeous smile, Ivanovic was all too happy to expand upon the aerodynamics of various felines. ‘I find the tabby cats are good for groundstrokes, but for developing sheer power nothing really beats an overhead smash with a siamese.’

Fellow Serb and current No.1 Jelena Jankovic was unsurprised when she was told of her rival’s technique, ‘How else do you win the French Open if you’re not willing to spill some kitten brains along the way? She had all of you fooled. Nobody can be that nice.’

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Roddick Stunned by First Round Exit in Wii Tennis Open

In a shock reversal of their Australian Open result, US tennis star Andy Roddick was bundled out of this year’s Australian Wii Tennis Open by Sweden’s Bjorn Rehnquist in a tough-fought five-gamer.

Rehnquist’s Mii character, Rehny, teamed up with a computer-chosen player to topple A-Rod and A-Rod: 0-Game, Game-30, 40-Game, Game-15, Game-40.

‘I’d been practising with a twin A-Rod attack throughout the break, but it just didn’t work for me today,’ said an understandably dismayed Roddick, ‘I’d like to blame the Wii sensor or the fact that there was a lamp standing waaaay too close to my remote, but the truth is, I didn’t bring my A-button game and I paid the price.’

Rehnquist gave a sly chuckle when quizzed about his victory. ‘I saw that the A-Rod at the net had a tendency to jump up and swing at fresh air, which didn’t give the A-Rod on the baseline enough time to get into position,’ he explained, ‘All Rehny needed to do was not try anything fancy and let the A-Rods beat themselves.’

Roddick was not consoled by his thrashing of Rehnquist in the first round of the Australian Open. ‘In the non-virtual Open, I have to run up against Federer or Nadal at some point,’ he sighed, ‘I feel like that this was my best chance to win a title. At least I always have Pong to return to.’

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tennis Stars Ask For Next Australian Open To Be Pushed Back to 2013

Recent reports that tennis' top players wanted the start date of the Australian Open pushed back a month have been proved false, when it was revealed that many of them were actually favouring changing the start date to 2013 to help them recover from their heavy workload.

'It's a long flight to Australia', said reigning men's champion Novak Djokovic, 'Delaying the start date for four years would give players a better chance of making the journey over'.

Three-time women's champion Serena Williams agreed. 'My schedule is pretty full up for the next three Januarys,' she explained, 'I expect the clothes sales will continue on until at least 2010, in 2011 I plan on take some minor roles in Broadway musicals, and then in 2012 Venus and I thought we might take our Dad back to visit his family on Mars'.

Russian player Marat Safin favoured that the Open be played every second year, to coincide with how often he brings his game to Melbourne Park.

Even players that would be expected to favour an earlier start date were surprisingly reluctant. Roger Federer, for whom winning the Australian Open would help in his quest to pass Pete Sampras' record for the most Grand Slam wins, said that, after gifting Nadal a Wimbledon title last year, he now expects to win there 'until at least the year 2018'. Meanwhile, local hero Lleyton Hewitt said that, given his current ranking, he thought the summer months may be better used to play kick-to-kick with the football.

'Injured' women's star Maria Sharapova, last seen in an Hawaiian beach resort, was not available for comment.

Tour organisers are considering the alternative of 40 matches of strip tennis between glamour couple Fernando Verdasco and Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic, a great fan of tennis in Australia, is reported to be supportive of the idea, but only if the telecast is exclusive to her website.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Troublesome Beauty of Bon Iver



As mentioned previously on this blog, Bon Iver was Rough Trade’s #1 album of 2008. The other sticker on my CD cover shows that Uncut and Mojo both gave it five stars and proclaimed it ‘Album of the month’, while the quote from the Guardian makes the quasi-religious claim that ‘every moment not spent listening to the Bon Iver record has seemed wasted’. In short, Bon Iver has received the kind of plaudits that music critics only hand out to new artists about, oh, every couple of months or so.

Bon Iver’s first album ('For Emma, Forever Ago') is essentially the work of one man, Justin Vernon, who recorded it in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin over the winter of 2006-07. There is no denying that his voice is beautiful, the kind of voice that you would happily give your right arm and Xbox 360 for. Iron and Wine’s Samuel Beam is, I think, the most apt comparison (based on, like, a review I read and the one song I’ve downloaded that is by him), but Vernon’s vocals are even richer and more varied. They drift and resound in a high-pitched whispered croon, lifting up at various moments (most notably on ‘The Wolves’) to create an air of spine-tingling wonder. For much of the record, Bon Iver seems less like the work of a man than of a community (or at the least, a band of very talented vocalists).

But therein lies the problem – that voice is so beautiful, so overwhelming, that it becomes hard to remember what is actually said. When trying to write about this album, the only lyrics that I could clearly recall were ‘I am my mother’s only one’ (‘Flume’), ‘my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my’ (‘Skinny Love’), ‘what might have been lost’ (‘The Wolves’) and ‘would you really rush out’ (Blindsided’). And I still had to look up the liner notes to double-check those. No doubt some will say that the songs reward effort, that instant satisfaction is the domain of mindless pop singles, that you need time to discover the meaning of albums like these, and so on. But I’m sure that the young uni student who watches the regular guitarist on Thursday nights at the local bar would make those claims as well. Devotion can make for some rewarding experiences - some of the best you will ever have - but you do need the inclination for it.

All of which is not to say that you shouldn’t buy the record; after all, it does sound beautiful, and I think it would be the near-perfect soundtrack for lying in the park, or contemplating a lake. It’s just that it’s a particular type of record - it presents rather than moves, creating and inhabiting its own little space. Like a cool breeze in the forest, it’s pleasurable for the forty or so minutes it takes to listen to it, but then it moves on, leaving you calmer and more contented than you were before, but also, in a way… untouched.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Economics of Change

One of our frustrations during our trip to Egypt was that very few people seemed to have the correct change. This was not just the case in tiny market stalls, but also in restaurants, hotels, and believe it or not, major tourist sites. The reason for this was something that has puzzled me ever since, so much so that, late last Friday night, I ended up asking a woman behind the bar if she had the answer (she didn't, but was polite enough to indulge my drunken ramblings until she spotted another customer). As far as I can work out, there are three explanations:

1) The locals were using a professed lack of change as an excuse to try and sell us something else. I can see that being the case for stalls and even restaurants, but I don't know that hotels and tourist sites would have much to gain from this strategy. And really, market sellers will try and get you to buy something else whether they have change or not.

2) The businesses are too small to have the correct change in a lot of situations. If you think about it, how often, in a transaction between two individuals (for example, between you and your friend) do the buyer and seller have the correct change? Maybe it's better to think of the Egyptian economy as predominantly consisting of a collection of individuals. Yet the businesses in China were often tiny as well, and we had few problems getting change there. Is there some critical mass of medium-sized businesses that you need to keep the change flowing?

3) Perhaps there exists some optimal relationship between the denominations of the notes and prices in the economy, and the Central Bank of Egypt has not found it. But this seems unlikely - sure the 200 pound note is a pest to break, but there seems to be plenty of 5 pound notes and 1 pound notes floating around, just rarely when you need them. (Admittedly, the half-pound and quarter-pound notes were harder to find.)

Verdict? I think number 2 is the most likely explanation, although I think number 1 may have a little to do with it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

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

10. Chocolate ├ęclairs from the patisseries in Paris. Words can not describe the awwwummmmahhhh!!!!



9. In a weight-for-weight matchup, the National Gallery in Britain would probably be outpunched by the Louvre, but in some ways it had the advantage – it has a good sample of works from each period and it gives the paintings it does have more space. (Plus, it’s free.) Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael all make an appearance, as do Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Constable, Turner, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

8. Probably the most remarkable thing about the Colosseum in Rome is that it is still standing, given the dilapidation of the Forum nearby. More impressive stadiums have been built since, but few (if any) will still be standing in two thousand years time. A clever feature of the restored stadium is the half-covered arena, which allows you to see both the surface on which the battles were staged, and the labyrinth of cells and passageways below.



7. Crystal Palace v Bristol City at Selhurst. There were six goals scored, including two absolute corkers in the first half, and we were two rows back from the fence. (Meanwhile Chelsea and Newcastle played out a scoreless draw.) Given the age of ground rationalization in the Australian leagues, this was a reminder of what suburban football is like.

6. The Pyramids of Giza would be a strange sight anywhere, let alone on the outskirts of a city with forty million people. Over the centuries the outer layers have been worn away, leaving row upon row of massive blocks as a testament to the thousands of man-hours that went into their construction. The main downside of the site is that there are camel riders and the like roaming around, continually disturbing your contemplation of these peculiar objects.



5. On our first night of Venice, we decided to join in the ‘shadowrounds’ – a Venetian tradition in which you hop around from bar to bar and sip a ‘shadow’ of wine at each of the places you visit (think a classier pub crawl). The shadows of wines soon turned into glasses, which soon turned into bottles and carafes, and then it all becomes a little hazy… Still, this was definitely a cultural tradition I could get behind. It would be number one on the list, but I don’t want to reveal how much of a drunk I am.



4. The Tower of London told me all that I needed to know about the history of the British royals, and a fair bit more besides. An enthusiastic yeoman warder (aka beefeater) took us on a quick tour around the site, after which we went to see the not-so-White Tower, and the torture instruments in the Bloody Tower. And there was Henry VIII’s codpiece – clearly a man who likes to leave room for his most precious parts.



3. Michelangelo’s David, which stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, makes most other works of art seem slapdash and insignificant in comparison. Even heterosexual males have to marvel at the grace of David’s expression and posture. How could anyone doubt this guy could take down a great hulking Philistine? Also of interest are Michelangelo’s unfinished slave sculptures that line the hallway leading up to Dave, which appear as if they are struggling to break free from the blocks of marble that encase them.

2. Essentially the whole of Egypt is based around the Nile River, and it was impressive regardless of where you viewed it from. In Cairo, boatloads of dancing people parade back and forth along the river banks. Further south, in Aswan, feluccas drift around in the afternoon sun. We spent one of those afternoons on a felucca ourselves, zig-zagging across the Nile’s wide expanse (the night with the makeshift toilet was not quite as serene). And floating upon the Nile was one place in Egypt where we could (almost) be sure that no-one would try to take our money from us.



1. While most art galleries are pleased with having a few well-known paintings in their collection, the Louvre in Paris has wall after wall of heavy hitters. ‘Mona Lisa’ is of course the most famous, but in truth Da Vinci’s masterpiece has been reduced to a site for tourists to gather and take pictures of themselves (me included). For someone who likes to sit down and contemplate their art there are several paintings that are far better to see, including David’s ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’, Gericault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, and Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’. All of these paintings are huge and dramatic, and therefore, in all of their cases seeing the reproduction is no substitute for seeing the real thing.

Who The Frak Is The Final Cylon?: Further Musings

Last night I dreamt that I had bought the final season of Battlestar Galactica, and for some masochistic reason I skipped through to the following two scenes:

1) Lee Adama is arguing with his father. 'You're king of the Cylons. Shouldn't you be with your people?' Turns out that the man we knew as Bill Adama is actually Peter Adama, and he raised Lee after his brother was killed in some mid-air crash or something.

2) In the midst of all the activity on the ship, Bill Adama hears music. He enters a secluded room to find some respite, and when he re-opens the door, he sees the rest of the Final Five standing outside. Tigh says: 'I'm glad it's you Bill'. 'What?' the Admiral asks, confused. Tyrol says: 'You're the final Cylon'.

OK, neither of those scenes really make sense - why would a Cylon have a brother, and why wouldn't Adama realise he was a Cylon when he heard the music, like the others did? Yet... the clues suggest that the final Cylon was not with the fleet when Three was 'unboxed'? That would point to Adama and Roslin as suspects.

But I'm also starting to warm to the theory that Zak Adama is the final Cylon. It does fit with the major clues I can think of:

1) Zak is not in the 'Last Supper' promotional photo posted yesterday. And Lee Adama appears to be pondering the absent space - thinking of his lost brother perhaps?

2) It doesn't contradict Leoben's claim that Adama is a Cylon.

3) Zak is not in the fleet when Three is unboxed, and Three would know that Zak wasn't in the fleet.

And revealing Zak to be the final Cylon would pack an emotional punch for at least three of the major characters. So my revised order of likelihood:

Zak Adama
Tom Zarek
Bill Adama
Laura Roslin

By the way, someone else has posted odds as to who the final Cylon is. Their assessment was someone different to mine.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Who The Frak Is The Final Cylon?



As Battlestar Galactica reaches its final season, eleven of the twelve Cylon models have been revealed. So who is number twelve? Here's a quick (and highly speculative) rundown of who is most likely to be humming 'All Along The Watchtower' this year.

Bill Adama

He's certainly a big enough fish to be the final Cylon, being the Admiral of the fleet. Suspicions were raised about him back in season one, with Leoben claiming that 'Adama's a Cylon'. On the other hand, the fact that Adama has managed to reproduce would seem to count him out, since Cylons have apparently only recently gained that ability. That is, if Lee Adama really is his son, which leads us to...

Odds: 6-1

Lee Adama

Perhaps the Adama that Leoben was referring to as being a Cylon was the younger one. Otherwise there is not much reason to suspect the new President relative to the other characters.

Odds: 12-1

Gaius Baltar

Baltar has been wrestling with the question of whether he is a Cylon or not ever since his beloved Six revealed that she experiences similar hallucinations. But apart from being too obvious, Baltar would probably be relieved to be a Cylon, and he doesn't tend to get what he wants. Also he is far more interesting as a human traitor than a Cylon conspirator.

Odds: 8-1

Laura Roslin

Hallucinations? Check. Big enough fish? Check. No children? None that I can remember. Religious zeal? Check. Add to that the fact that, due to her cancer, she is teetering on the brink of life and death - an important theme in Cylon lore - and you have a strong candidate for the Toaster Supreme.

Odds: 3-1

Kara Thrace

She is the child of destiny, and that destiny may be to lead the Cylons rather than the fleet. Kara being a Cylon would help to explain her reappearance after it looked like she had died in an explosion. But it would also be guaranteed to annoy a sizable portion of the fanbase (myself included) if the cigar-chomping Starbuck was a machine all along. Some chance, but not the most likely candidate.

Odds: 10-1

Gaeta/Dualla/Agathon/Zarek

All of these fleet members are a possibility. And most of them would fit with the theory going around the net that the final Cylon is not in the above picture. Still, for dramatic effect, it seems more likely that the final Cylon will come from the Big Five.

Odds: 20-1

God

Well, it would give new meaning to the phrase 'deus ex machina', wouldn't it?

Odds: 50-1