Saturday, January 25, 2014

BEER!![12] – Carlton Dry

Name:  Carlton Dry.

Brewery: Carlton & United Breweries.

Place Of Origin: Southbank, Vic.

Type: It’s a Carlton beer.

Alcohol Content: 4.5%

Why I Bought It: It was the only beer available at the Big Day Out this year. However, it was very available, with drink queues at the BDO moving faster than I can ever remember. You could slip in and out of the drink queue in the time that it took to change sets on the main stages.

Taste: Not that great really. After drinking one of them, I switched to pear cider for the rest of the day. I’m comfortable with my choice.

What I did while drinking it: It was early in the afternoon so I was waiting for Tame Impala to come on stage. The Naked and Famous were on stage, singing that song from the Strongbow drink ad.

What I did after drinking it: Stood and sat around the main stages and saw Tame Impala, Primus, the Hives, Beady Eye, the Arcade Fire, and Pearl Jam. The Hives were excellent as always, the Arcade Fire were superb, and Pearl Jam played a solid two hour set. For Primus and Beady Eye I sat in the drinking area with my pear cider (but they were both OK).

P.S. I forgot to take a picture of a crushed Carlton Dry can at the Big Day Out, so this is actually a reproduction of a crushed can in a field. And the local liquor store didn’t have a Carlton Dry can, so I had to instead use a Carlton Draught. The things I do for this blog…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Should Wolverine Be An Avenger? (No, He Should Not)

In mid-2013, Hugh Jackman raised the possibility of Wolverine, the most famous of the X-Men, being in the Avengers’ movies. In the ‘source material’ – the comics – Wolverine has been an Avenger for nine years (!) Yet that hasn’t stopped his membership in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes from being continuously questioned by long-time fans, with some of them adamant that Wolverine should not be on the team.

Wolverine was brought into the Avengers in 2005 along with Spider-Man when the series was relaunched in order to have the line-up contain more of Marvel’s star characters. Since then he has been a constant fixture on the team, often appearing in multiple Avengers books. That should make him definitely part of the team, right?

For me though, Wolverine has never really fitted into the Avengers. He was the first character brought into the team since the founding five members specifically for the reason that he was a ‘star’ character (though it wasn’t justified in the comics in that way) – before then Avengers’ members may have been ‘stars’, but they developed into them as part of the team. The fact that Wolverine was in the team when none of his fellow X-Men were (until recently in the ‘Uncanny Avengers’ book) just underlined the artificiality of his membership – he was the only X-Man who was in the Avengers line-up simply because he was the most popular one.

Wolverine is an X-Man. And the X-Men are outsiders. I’m fine with him being part of the ‘Uncanny Avengers’ line-up since the whole purpose of that book is to have mutants in the Avengers team, but once that series morphs into something else I’d boot him from the group. Get him back to doing what he does best – moping around in the shadows, ready to pop his claws at a moment’s notice. I promise the Avengers won’t even miss him.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Wooden Finger Five: January 2014 - The Ten Best Semi-Classic Albums Ever (Part One)

For some time, I’ve thought of doing an epic, multi-part series of blog posts talking about my favourite 100 albums ever. However, there have been a few things that have stopped me:

1)      That sounds like a lot of work.
2)      At the rate at which I’m listening to new albums post-Spotify, the list might be changing even as I’m writing it.
3)      And Spotify reminds me how many albums I haven’t listened to, and makes me despair about writing a definitive ‘best 100 albums’ list
4)      Who needs even more words written about ‘Revolver’ or ‘The Stone Roses’ or ‘OK Computer’ or even ‘Marquee Moon’ anyway?

So what I’ve decided to do is write a post (well, two posts) about what I think are the 10 best ‘semi-classic’ albums ever.  These are albums that would definitely make my ‘best 100 albums’ list. However, while all of them have generally been well-rated (though a few have come in for heavy doses of criticism as well) they are not albums that typically make articles about the 100 best albums, or 200 best albums, or 500 best albums, or whatever. This is evidenced by them being ranked down at around number 1000 or lower over at the BestEverAlbums site, which is a site that has ranked albums based on over 12,000 different greatest albums lists. And really, if I was to write a best 100 albums list, these are the albums that I’d most want to talk about anyway.


Best Ever Albums Rank: 1143

If critics liked getting stuck into Oasis for their derivate, retro sound, then they had an absolute field day with Ocean Colour Scene, who did not have the millions of record sales to back them up. The Scenesters’ best known album though, ‘Moseley Shoals’, is an absolute delight, being a grab-bag of catchy, bluesy late-‘60s inspired rock. Opening track ‘The Riverboat Song’ makes little sense, but with its bloody, Led-Zep filching riff (and lyric of ‘why does the river run red’) it could almost function as the soundtrack to a slightly watered-down version of ‘Apocalypse Now’. Next track ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ takes the quality up even a notch further, with a lovely variation of the ‘oh oh la la’ chorus, and an even more singable outro of ‘when you find that things are going wild don’t you need days like these?’ It is the most explicitly nostalgic track, but all the tunes that follow will bring back memories of trips along the ocean road with young girls and boys armed with guitars. The fact that Ocean Colour Scene was not the best and brightest of the Britpop groups should not make you overlook this album.

Best tracks: The Day We Caught The Train, The Circle, Policemen and Pirates, The Riverboat Song, One For The Road.


Best Ever Albums Rank: 2827

Yeasayer may have hailed from Brooklyn (naturally), but their sound on their first album ‘All Hour Cymbals’ was like world music from another planet. Personally, I imagine alien eggs hatching underneath a great red sun on opening track ‘Sunrise’, and rockets departing a waterlogged canyon on the futuristically-named ‘2080’ (when we’ll ‘surely be dead’). There is a sad tinge to it all, however Yeasayer underlay their weird, gaunt sounds with enough boisterous rhythms to keep it from becoming too depressive. Further, any feeling of the album being too ‘hippy dippy’ is blown away by the harsh penultimate track, ‘Wait for the Wintertime’, which effectively burns down the pine trees of the landscape they have created and chars the soil. Yeasayer would change their sound slightly for subsequent albums, but it is the quasi-tribal style on ‘All Hour Cymbals’ that remains their most interesting to date.       

Best tracks: 2080, Sunrise, Wait For The Summer, Wait for the Wintertime, Forgiveness.


Best Ever Albums Rank: 3598

I’ve already written a review of this album on this site, which you can read here (which in turn was a ‘reprint’ of a review I’d posted on the Guardian music website).

Best tracks: Message of Love, Day After Day, Jealous Dogs, Bad Boys Get Spanked.


Best Ever Albums Rank: 4494

The Jesus and Mary Chain are generally thought of as a mid-80s band, but they carried on into the early 1990s, and continued to inspire rock bands that followed them – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in particular almost owe their entire career to this album. Some see their fourth LP, ‘Honey’s Dead’, as marking a departure from their most acclaimed album, the Beach Boys/Velvet Underground melding debut ‘Psychocandy’, but it is not really – that departure came earlier, and the noise and feedback from ‘Psychocandy’ is still very much present here, even if it is not quite as blistering. ‘Teenage Lust’ turns that feedback dirty (‘little skinny girl, she’s doing it for the first time’), while ‘Far Out’ spreads it onto the widescreen, and ‘Sundown’ uses it to paint the biggest, darkest sunset on the horizon you can imagine. ‘Psychocandy’ may be The Jesus and Mary Chain album of choice for those who wished they could be in dark, dingy UK underground indie clubs in the ‘80s, but ‘Honey’s Dead’ is the Reid brothers album you can play for every other situation, once you return back to the natural light.
Best tracks: Teenage Lust, Sugar Ray, Far Out, Almost Gold, Sundown, Reverence.

6. SIREN – ROXY MUSIC (1975)

Best Ever Albums Rank: 2942

Lead-off track ‘Love Is The Drug’ gave Roxy Music their biggest hit to that point, but fortunately its MOR-ness (the car noise at the start aside) does not signal that the band had lost their adventurousness. Each of Roxy Music’s first five albums – the last three sans Brian Eno – has solid claims to being their best. ‘Siren’ though is the most pleasantly consistent of the bunch, with the band at full force throughout once ‘Love Is The Drug’ has crept off. ‘Sentimental Fool’ shows that, beneath the stylish suits, Bryan Ferry’s lyrics and voice could carry some real emotional clout: ‘I’ve seen what love can do,’ Ferry sighs, ‘And I don’t regret it.’ ‘She Sells’ is the greatest Roxy Music track of all – a hyped-up, jingling joint that two-thirds of the way through slows down suddenly but seamlessly into Ferry’s repeated wail of ‘Oh why/she sells/I need’.  ‘Whirlwind’ and ‘Both Ends Burning’ give the band their shots at rocking out without Eno’s abstractions, while the two final tracks – the exquisite ‘Nightingale’ and the afterparty comedown of ‘Just Another High’ – provide a fitting end to Roxy Music’s classic era.

Best tracks: She Sells, Nightingale, Just Another High, Sentimental Fool.

(Next instalment will appear either next month, or whenever I need a WFF slot to fill.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Greatest Rebounder in NBA History

Who is the greatest rebounder in NBA basketball history? One view might be that it is the player who collected the most total rebounds, which was Wilt Chamberlain.  Chamberlain would also be the choice if you based greatness purely on the most rebounds per game, although you could also say that he and Bill Russell were close enough to be 1 and 1A.
However, both Chamberlain and Russell played in an era when there were a lot of shots, and therefore a lot of missed shots, meaning there were more rebounds on offer. In my view, a better measure is what percentage of rebounds the player grabbed of all the rebounds there were to get during his time on the floor. As it would happen, others have thought this would be a good measure of rebounding prowess as well, and have called it total rebound percentage (TRB%).
Total rebound percentage has been calculated for every NBA player since the 1970-71 season. It can’t be calculated before then because there are no data on the amount of rebounds each team’s opponent grabbed… contrary to my thought that the lack of numbers might be due to either laziness or other number-crunchers lacking my genius…  By this measure, Dennis Rodman emerges as clearly the greatest rebounder of the past 40-odd years. Rodman finished his career with a TRB% of 23.44%, well above the current 2nd placed NBA player, Dwight Howard, at 20.80%.
How though would Rodman compare to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell? While total rebounding percentage cannot be computed before 1970-71, long after Chamberlain and Russell began their careers, one person has attempted to estimate these numbers based on the typical relationship between the team rebound shares of top players and their total rebounding percentages. On these estimates, even allowing for the worst possible errors in the estimates, Dennis Rodman grabbed a much higher percentage of the rebounds that were on offer to him than Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell ever did. While others may disagree, for me that’s enough to declare Rodman as the greatest rebounder in NBA history.   
Some analysts (including the person I mentioned earlier) have gone even further, and argued that Dennis Rodman was almost as valuable to his team as Michael Jordan (see here and here), the player with the most points per game, and the most popular choice for the greatest basketball player ever. This might seem laughable to some, but that could just be because of the ‘conventional view’ in basketball that it is harder, and more valuable, to be a good scorer than a good rebounder. But is it?
While I’m not going to answer that here, thinking of Rodman as being on the same level of Jordan does help to make more sense of the Bulls’ phenomenal success when they were on the same team. The Bulls broke the record for the most regular season wins in 1996 (Rodman’s first season on the team), and equalled the old record the next year. For all of Jordan’s ‘greatness’, some fans might have been baffled they could have achieved this with, as ‘support’ for Jordan, an excellent player in Scottie Pippen, an amazing rebounder but minor scorer in Dennis Rodman, a few other handy players in Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr, and not much else (sorry Luc Longley). But what if the Bulls effectively had two Jordans … but one of those wasn’t perceived as such because his main skill was rebounding rather than scoring (and he was a little bit crazy)? In that light, the Bulls’ near perfect record seems more explicable. Having said that, other analysts like Dean Oliver in his book Basketball on Paper, have been able to explain the Bulls’ success without attributing Jordan-esque value to Rodman, attributing that value to those ‘handy players’ instead.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

On Income Inequality in Australia

In their second Economic Roundup for 2013, the Australian Treasury released an article (by Michael Fletcher and Ben Guttman) on Income Inequality in Australia. The article looks at changes in income inequality in Australia over the past twenty years, and tries to explain those changes. Also, it asks, if income inequality is in fact increasing, how much should we care?

That question may seem a little callous at first – we’ll come back to it. First, there is the question of what has happened to income inequality in Australia. The answer to this in part depends upon how income inequality is measured. (As the definition of income, the authors use equivalised household disposable income, which to me at least seems fairly uncontroversial – this is the income the household receives, plus cash transfers provided by government, less direct taxes, and adjusted for the composition of the household.) Using the ‘Gini coefficient’ measure of income inequality, the income distribution in Australia has become more unequal over the past twenty years, and has done so for all states (more so for Western Australia). The ‘P90/P10’ measure – the income of a household in the 90th percentile (i.e. just at the top 10 per cent) compared to the income of a household in the 10th percentile (i.e. just at the bottom 10 per cent) – has also increased over this period. However, the ‘P80/P20’ and ‘P80/P50’ measures have been fairly steady.

Personally, I like the Gini coefficient measure, as it captures what is happening in the whole distribution, not just at particular points of it. (See the Wikipedia page for how the coefficient is calculated, as well as its limitations.) So income inequality is increasing, and the authors show that it has increased at a greater rate than other developed nations. What might be driving this? Labour earnings inequality has been decreasing (with employment amongst low-income households increasing), but this appears to have been offset by changes in investment income, at least up until the global financial crisis.

However, Australia’s sustained period of economic growth and other factors means that Australia’s low-income households have actually fared relatively well by international standards in terms of income growth, even if they have fallen further behind other households in Australia. Which brings us back to the question: how much should we care? If my income (after accounting for price changes) is increasing, why should I care if those of my fellow citizens are increasing by more? Well, many people do – studies have shown that people care if their relative income falls, even if their absolute income is rising. Even if we were all ‘psychologically well-adjusted’, there may be other reasons to care about inequality (for example, increasing ‘social cohesion’). Fletcher and Guttman claim that Australia allows for the greatest share of benefits to be targeted towards low income earners compared to any other developed nations, so implicitly it seems we care about inequality a lot. But while it looks like we should be mindful of our increasing income inequality, it doesn’t look like we should panic about it just yet.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Assessing Australia and England Following the 2013-14 Ashes

Before the 2013-14 ‘Ashes’ series I wrote that I thought Australia had a fair chance of winning the series. This was due to the English cricket team being only about ‘8 per cent’ better than Australia, based on the Reliance ICC Player Rankings, which I thought may well be overcome by Australia having the home ground advantage.

Well, as we now know, Australia not only won the series, but won it easily (‘five-nil! fivenil fivenil fivenil…). So what changed? Let’s have a look at the line-ups as the ICC Player Rankings now assesses them.

% Advantage of Eng over Aus
Batting Ratings - Batsmen
Batting Ratings - Bowlers
Bowling Ratings - Bowlers
Bowling Ratings - Batsmen
Total team rating

Team rating = Batting rating – Batsmen + Bowling rating – Bowlers + ¾ * Batting rating – Bowlers + ¼ * Bowling rating - Batsmen

In contrast to before the series started, Australia is now assessed as being superior in every aspect except for the batting ability of their bowlers (though even that seems debatable given the batting averages for the series). Before the series, England’s main advantage was assessed to be its batting. However, for the Australians, Warner, Haddin, Rogers, and Smith are now assessed to be much better than they were before the series, while Cook, Bell and Prior are now assessed to be somewhat worse. The English team is also assessed to have suffered from Trott’s departure after the first Test, when he was replaced by new boy Ben Stokes, although looking at the Ashes alone Stokes’ batting average stacked up relatively well to his countrymen.
On the bowling side, man of the series Mitchell Johnson was much, much better than his pre-series rating suggested, and Ryan Harris was also better, while the now-retired Graeme Swann and James Anderson took steps back. The net result is that, while England’s bowling was assessed to be slightly better pre-series, now it is Australia that are assessed to have the somewhat stronger bowling line-up.

Overall then, England’s ‘8 per cent’ advantage has now turned into an ‘8 per cent’ deficit. Add to that the fact that Australia was playing on their home turf, and the eventual result becomes more explicable. Still, even then one might not have expected Australia to win quite so easily - the rest of the margin then might be able to put down to nebulous concepts such as ‘form’, ‘luck’ … or maybe ‘overcoaching’.