Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 119

COMIC BOOKS: Why is the legacy of Stan Lee, co-creator of many of Marvel’s main characters, in question? [Vulture]
BOOKS: Famous novels and their different uses of punctuation. [Vox]
BASKETBALL: The Golden State Warriors’ chances of breaking the Bulls’ record for most wins in an NBA season. [FiveThirtyEight]
ECONOMICS: When interest rates cannot go much lower, some unfamiliar economic policies may be needed. [The Economist]
WORK/PSYCHOLOGY: How to feel less busy. [The Guardian]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

NBA All-Star Weekend 2016: Where the Sideshows Topped The Main Event

This year, for the first time, I purchased an NBA League Pass, which means I can watch any NBA game I like whenever I like. This is of less value if you have a full-time job or any life outside of watching basketball, but I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. I particularly like watching on the weekends and being able to flick between multiple games. After a few months of watching I have got to the point now where I instinctively know how long a time-out is, and know when to flick back.
Part of having full access is being able to watch the NBA All-Star Weekend. This is something I haven’t been able to do much over the years, so I was looking forward to it. While I couldn’t watch the actual All-Star Game live – due to having a job, you know – I could watch live some of the All-Star Saturday events.
All-Star Saturday was great. The Skills Challenge (the first event), which is generally considered the least of the events, was actually quite enjoyable. This was in part to dividing the draw into ‘guards’ and ‘bigs’, so that a ‘guard’ and ‘big’ played off in the final. The camaraderie among the groups was somewhat unexpected to me, with Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns being mobbed by his fellow bigs after unexpectedly hitting the winning shot.
The Three-Point Shootout was a bit long, with eight contestants and then a tie-breaker between three contestants to determine the last qualifier for the final, but was still fascinating to watch to find out which of Golden State’s ‘Splash Brothers’ would emerge victorious. Stephen Curry, the league’s best player and now often considered the greatest shooter ever, narrowly lost to Klay Thompson, who some consider the second-best shooter in the league. It was Thompson’s day though, and he shot beautifully to edge out his more heralded teammate. The Golden State Warriors, boosted by their two great shooters, entered the All-Star break with a record of 48 wins and just 4 losses.    
I didn’t see the Slam Dunk Contest live, as I had to go to a mothers’ group meeting (I was one of two fathers there). But I didn’t know the result when I watched it, other than that Aaron Gordon and reigning champion Zach Levine met in the final. I haven’t watched many Slam Dunk Contests but it was clear to me that there wouldn’t be many contests better than this. In the final Gordon and Levine had three dunks each with perfect scores before Gordon, running out of ideas, finally scored less than perfect on his fourth go. Some felt, like I did, that was a bit harsh on Gordon, who for me had the most memorable dunk of the night when he went through his legs over the Orlando mascot, but alas for him you can’t get higher than a 50. At the least I wish they had been made joint winners.
And then there was the All-Star Game itself, which I watched on replay. The introduction of the players at an All-Star Game, which I hadn’t seen before, was interesting for me to watch, but after a few minutes of tribute to retiring Laker Kobe Bryant I fast-forwarded to the tip-off. What followed was a bit of a disappointment, my knowing the result notwithstanding. There was essentially no defence – just a series of easy shots, and contrived alley-oops. I got to the point in the second quarter when Andre Drummond from my team the Pistons had played a few minutes, and then gave up. The highlights told me all I needed to know about that game.
Could they make the All-Star Game better? NBA commentators The Starters suggested that they have two captains that pick teams, with some stars having the ignominy of being picked late or last, hence adding to the players’ motivations. But I don’t know that the players would actually care that much about that. I like the intrigue around who gets picked as All-Stars each season, and the game has a long history, so I hope it sticks around. Maybe the games are more interesting when they are close.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – February 2016

I watched the second season of ‘True Detective’ on DVD recently, and the point where I got the most excited was when I first saw the opening credits for the season, with this track playing over a very moody film sequence. I didn’t pick it up at first, but the lyrics from the song that the credits use change with each episode. Red raw, disturbed, and white middle-class – fairly appropriate for the types of characters Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams play in this series.
Suede’s new album sounds like Suede. And this track is Suede at their Suede-iest.
(Actually, the new Animal Collective album too sounds like Animal Collective at their Animal Collective-iest. Or maybe that should be Animal Collective at their Panda Bear-iest.)
PJ Harvey’s new single ‘The Wheel’ may just be her best track ever. It wastes barely any time in hitting its full-rock stride, starting off with a barrage of saxophone and guitar that shoots the listener straight into its dim and heavy atmosphere. The rock intro may hark back to PJ’s early days, but the call-and-response chorus – with Mick Harvey returning on back-up vocals – makes it more of a continuation of the ‘many voices’ style of her most recent album ‘Let England Shake’. Like that album too the lyrics of ‘The Wheel’ attempt to give voice to the murdered; in this case, 28,000 children who have disappeared, although the number itself doesn’t seem to refer to any actual historical body count. If PJ’s new album does end up coming from pretty much the same place as her last one there are plenty of worse things to be.
2.Synthia: album – The Jezabels
Australia’s indie-rock darlings The Jezabels’ have returned with their best album yet and one that recaptures the twisting, writhing sound of their early EPs. ‘Synthia’ takes a lot of turns – on opening track ‘Stand And Deliver’ singer Hayley Mary sighs that ‘you can marry me/let me be your wife’, and then follows that up by proclaiming stridently on the next track that ‘My Love Is My Disease’. On ‘Smile’ she tells us that we can ‘call her sexy’ and ‘whistle at me on the street’, but she has ‘one rule – don’t tell me to smile’. Alas, the band has had to cancel their tour as keyboardist Heather Shannon receives treatment for ovarian cancer; hopefully they can get back on the road again soon and give this album the showcasing it deserves.

Foxes’ music, I think, can rightfully be called ‘indie-pop’ – Louisa Rose Allen writes her own songs, and her singles have never really got higher than the UK Top 20. It’s also really, really good. ‘Better Love’ doesn’t break much more lyrical ground than your average pop song – it’s about a relationship that’s not going too well, and that’s about it – but it takes the grandiose choir sound and uses it to stunning effect. And Allen sounds like she means what she sings, which helps. If you’re looking for a bit of pop to go with your guitar music I recommend this.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Super Bowl 50 From South-East Melbourne

One good thing about the Super Bowl this week is that it starts at 10.30am AEST, and I have the day off work. There was a tired few months’ worth of Monday mornings when I was getting up at 5 or 6am to watch the free-to-air coverage of the NFL before I went to work. I’d do some exercises while I was watching – it sometimes took 10 to 15 minutes to get the body to move, but then my routine for the first half would be something like:

·         5 minutes of jogging on the living room rug (or ‘shuffling’, as my wife calls it);
·         50 reps on my weight – I only have one – 25 on the right, and 25 on the left;
·         100 star-jumps;
·         air-cycling, about 50-60 cycles of the legs;
·         30 stomach crunches; and then
·         jog/shuffle until the quarter ends.
And then at the half-time break I’d shower, dress, and get my coffee. My memories of the NFL season are therefore full of dawns and tired, seldom-used muscles. And the 49ers being unable to score – we got a lot of coverage of the 49ers this year in Australia with Jarryd Hayne sitting on their bench. I’m a 49ers fan so I like seeing my team, but I would have preferred to watch them more two or three years ago.
I would prefer Denver to win, but I have no problem in Carolina doing so. It’s mainly because I want Denver quarterback Peyton Manning to win another Super Bowl before he retires and gather more support to his side of the Manning v Tom Brady debate. Sure it’s his teammates that are carrying him over the line, but it’s hard to get traction against the Brady boosters while he has three more championships. I like Manning more than I like Brady and the Patriots. Carolina quarterback Cameron Newton will have other seasons left, and therefore other opportunities to win the Super Bowl.
But that’s a bit unfair to Cam. There is a lot to like about Newton as well – he’s one of the most fun quarterbacks to watch, as shown by his flip touchdown earlier in the season.
And it’s pretty hard to get into the Super Bowl, so you never know, this may be Newton’s only chance. So if the Panthers roll over the Broncos like they have rolled over many teams this season that is OK with me as well.

Friday, February 5, 2016

That Family Is Not Like Us: The Vision

Marvel Comics have been advertising recently that they are ‘all-new’ and ‘all-different’; one of the series that actually delivers on this promise is ‘The Vision’. In my view, the first four issues of this series are some of the best Vision stories ever.[1] For this series, writer Tom King had the somewhat unusual idea of having the Vision try and settle down in the suburbs with a family of Vision-like synthezoids – wife Virginia, and children Vin and Viv. The Visions want to fit in, but not all of their neighbours are welcoming. And when the family comes under attack, things start to become even more complicated.
The Vision almost takes a backseat here to his heretofore unfamiliar family. Long-time Avengers readers will know that the Vision has tried to settle down for a quiet life in the suburbs with his family before, back when he was married to fellow Avenger the Scarlet Witch. So I did wonder a bit why they didn’t just use Wanda here, but created the new character of Virginia instead. The Scarlet Witch has shown a dark side in the past as well, so it seemed like one could just as well use her. But on further reflection, a difference is that, while we have seen an ‘evil’ Scarlet Witch before, readers probably feel like they know her limits by now. Virginia on the other hand is an unknown to us – we’re not sure yet what lengths she will go to.

Similarly for Vin and Viv. One of these characters suffers badly early on in the series, and it’s heartbreaking to watch. After that one isn’t sure quite how they will react to that incident, plus the difficulties they face fitting into their new school. They seem to vacillate between wanting to fit in, and being ticking time-bombs that will show those silly, narrow-minded humans what is what. In a country plagued by school shootings and violence, there is a not wholly unreasonable basis to their neighbours’ fears.

Distrust of a family that is different has been done before, but King keeps throwing curveballs into the plot that significantly change the story’s course. Four issues in then I still don’t have a strong view how the Visions’ attempts to fit in will end – in failure or success? This set-up though has made the Vision more interesting than he has been for years. Marvel has surprised me with this one.

Read here for Comic Book Resources’ interview with writer Tom King.

[1] The others: Roy Thomas’ ‘Behold The Vision’ and ‘Even An Android Can Cry’, which were the Vision’s first two appearances, and Bob Harras’ one-issue examination of the Vision in ‘Avengers’ #348.