Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Get Rid of ‘… a such-and-such … ’: Name Your Sportspeople!

Few people would hold sports up as a field that generally brings out the best in the English language, even if there are some very eloquent people within the industry. But one phrase that has really irked me over the years is the use of the phrase ‘… a such-and-such …’

I mean phrases like the following hypothetical example (which I have made up based on the Cricket World Cup being on at the moment):

‘… Australia needs someone like a Maxwell, or a Faulkner, or a Watson, to make some quick runs here …’

The example is hypothetical, but many sports followers have heard something like it before. Why use the ‘a’? Why not just say ‘Australia needs Maxwell, or Faulkner, or Watson, to make some quick runs here … ‘ I can think of two main reasons.

Not wanting to single someone out: This explanation seems more likely if the speaker is an actual sportsperson, given that the speaker may be reluctant to single out a player on his or her team. Still it’s almost always wrong. Sports figures: you generally don’t have more than one player with the same name on the team, and even if you do your comment probably only refers to one person. Show some ownership of your comments!

Verbal shorthand: What the speaker really means is people with ‘such-and-such’ general traits; in the example above ‘a’ is being used as shorthand for ‘powerful, middle-order batsman’. The usual problem with this though is that, in using the ‘a’ list, the speaker ends up naming all or almost all of the sportspeople that fit the criteria he or she is attempting to describe. So, again, why not just specifically name the people?

It irks me – maybe more than it should, but it does. Similarly I can’t stand it when sportspeople are referred to in the plural form, such as ‘the Maxwells, the Faulkners, and the Watsons’. For people who do this, you mean a particular person or persons: name them! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 101

Some links previewing the 2015 Australian Football League season, kicking off in a few weeks:

Top 10 AFL games to watch in 2015 by Michelangelo Rucci. Particularly if you barrack for Port Adelaide, Collingwood, Sydney, or Hawthorn.

The top 50 AFL players, as voted by the players themselves.

Which AFL teams will find it harder to overcome the difficulty of their fixture?

Each club’s expected best line-up as of the first round.

And another view of each club’s best line-up, as well as a prediction of where each club will finish.

Based on my ever-present power rankings, this is how I would rate each club’s chances. You may have had six months to think about it, but don’t overrate a team’s final performance or two in 2014.

Main contenders: Hawthorn, Sydney.
Good chance for finals: Port Adelaide, Adelaide, Fremantle, West Coast, North Melbourne.
Some chance for finals: Geelong, Richmond, Essendon.
More likely to miss finals: Carlton, Gold Coast, Collingwood.
Bottom teams: Western Bulldogs, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, St. Kilda.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Girl In A Band – Kim Gordon


How much is the content and tone of an autobiography determined by when you write it? Kim Gordon’s autobiography, ‘Girl In A Band’ comes just a few years after she split from her long-time husband and Sonic Youth band member Thurston Moore. In the book Moore comes across as a somewhat distant figure, or more distant than I would expect for someone who the author had spent over three decades with. Is that because he was a naturally distant person? It seems that may be part of it, but I wonder if Moore would be so marginal to Gordon’s story if this book had been written, say, fifteen years ago?

On the other hand, while Gordon was certainly hurt by Moore’s betrayal (he was seeing another woman, his current partner, for several years behind Gordon’s back), she still takes space to talk about his qualities as a musician, a father, and a person. It would be fascinating to read Moore’s account of their last years together as well. Did he really start to feel like he was moving away from Gordon as early as she suspects in hindsight? Did he really intend to break it off with the other woman whenever Gordon caught him out, or was it just a delaying tactic before an inevitable end?

Gordon’s and Moore’s separation forms the beginning and end of the book, but she covers pretty much every major aspect of her life. Smartly reasoning that a lot has been written about Sonic Youth over the years, Gordon focuses on the tracks and moments that had the most meaning to her, hence providing an account of their career that only she can provide. Her family life will probably not be the part that most people are picking up this book for, but she provides just enough background to get a sense of where she came from and how early life affected her. Other musicians of the era are discussed – she thinks about Kurt Cobain a lot, does not hold Courtney Love is much esteem, and has a huge regard for Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill.

Finally, perhaps in part because I am a new parent myself I found her accounts of raising a kid while remaining in a rock band interesting, although as she points out this is a far different prospect for a new mother than father. Gordon may not have the eloquence of other musicians whose autobiographies I have read in the past few years such as Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Morrissey, or even David Byrne, but those who love the ‘80s and ‘90s American alternative rock scene will likely enjoy what she has to observe and say.   

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Alan Moore v Grant Morrison


Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are for me, and many others, the two best comic book writers ever. They also have a long-running feud. Indeed, the distaste they seem to have for each other, particularly Moore of Morrison, is almost to the point where readers may feel they have to choose one writer’s work over the other.

I think it’s not unfair to say that for many years Moore was considered the better writer, and clearly so. His work in the mid-1980s, before Morrison gained much notice at all, seemed to establish him as the best comic book writer there had ever been, and would be for some time. At his peak from 1982 to 1987 Moore dropped on the world some of the greatest comic books there have even been, including Marvelman/Miracleman, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, Superman: Whatever Happened To The World of Tomorrow?, and the greatest comic series of them all, Watchmen.  Morrison, meanwhile, was just getting significant notice by the late ‘80s, first with Zenith in the UK, and then at DC Comics with Doom Patrol and Animal Man. Actually, if anyone was considered a writer to rival Moore during that era it was not Morrison but Batman, Daredevil and Sin City writer Frank Miller.

Morrison though may be said to have slowly clawed back the gap over the years. His Justice League of America books sold very well in the mid-‘90s, while Moore was ‘stuck’ trying to bring at least a slither of substance to Image Comics properties such as Supreme and WILDC.A.T.S (though he also produced the excellent From Hell during this period). Then at the turn of the century Moore was given free rein with the America’s Best Comics line, and came storming back with classic series such as Top 10, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Promethea, seemingly cementing his spot as the number one comics writer for good. Since then though he has been largely absent from comics, while Morrison has produced a steady stream of well-received work. With top artist Frank Quitely, Morrison had a fantastic run on X-Men, as well as creating We3, and possibly the greatest Superman story ever in All-Star Superman. He also released a bunch of good comic books with other artists, including an epic Batman run, The Filth, Seven Soldiers of Victory, and most recently The Multiversity.

Still even accounting for Morrison’s strong recent work, I think Moore outpoints Morrison as a writer, for what that is worth – his very best works are greater than Morrison’s best works. Not that it should really be a competition; to me both are great writers, and their works collectively form a large chunk of my graphic novel bookshelf.

However, as a person, I think I would enjoy Grant Morrison’s company more. Alan Moore seems to be bitter about almost every comic book relationship he has had, from his time at Marvel UK to his time at DC Comics. Granted, he probably had some good reasons, but other creators have run into problems at the two major companies as well and they haven’t vowed to damn the whole company regardless of who’s in them, nor the comics industry in general. I respect Moore for his principles, but he strikes me as if he would be a curmudgeonly person to spend time with.

When Moore decided to go postal on Grant Morrison a year back I thought Morrison handled it pretty well. His central point was a good one: why couldn’t Moore find something good to say about comics, and if he couldn’t find something good to say, why couldn’t he just shut up? With that reply, Morrison portrayed himself as someone who cared about, and thought positively about, both the comics industry and the creators in it, while Moore seemed to treat them like a turd he couldn’t wipe off completely from the bottom of his shoe.

Morrison has also taken the effort to engage with Moore’s work, while Moore has entirely dismissed Morrison’s. Moore of course is under no obligation to read or like Morrison’s work if he does not think it to be of merit or to his taste. But Moore’s criticisms of Morrison are more equivalent to what you would expect from an internet troll – albeit a highly witty one – than from one of comics’ most thoughtful and incisive creators. Morrison meanwhile has taken the effort to set out what he does and does not like in Moore’s work and the reasons why, even revising his opinion of some works such as Watchmen as he has considered them further. Again, Moore is under no obligation to engage with Morrison’s work, but that Morrison can at least talk about Moore’s without resorting to name-calling counts for him in my estimation.

Not that Morrison has always taken the high ground in this feud. In his book ‘Supergods’ Morrison admits that he played the part of the enfant terrible early in his career, and that reading interviews from that period – a period during which he dismissed works like Watchmen – now makes his ‘blood run cold’, though he seemed to me to still be somewhat proud of that early persona. But Morrison soon showed he was more than a ‘punk’ – his messages about animal rights on Animal Man for instance were, to me at least, more than just the work of a self-absorbed hipster.

So in summary, for me Alan Moore is the better writer, but Grant Morrison – of course keeping in mind that I have never met either man personally – comes across as the ‘better professional’. Not that Moore would give a toss. But against Moore’s wishes I’m going to continue to read and enjoy the work of both writers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It Is Not Unexpected That England – Or Some Team Like Them – Would Be Eliminated From The Cricket World Cup Early

England’s loss to Bangladesh in the Cricket World Cup yesterday means that they will not qualify for the quarter-finals. Given that, before the World Cup, there were only eight teams that were considered of ‘world-class’ standard – England, Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies – England’s early elimination is considered a ‘shock’.

However, there has been a bit of a history at the Cricket World Cup of at least one ‘established’ cricket nation being knocked out early. The above eight nations made it through to the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals. But India and Pakistan were eliminated in the group stages at the 2007 World Cup. Furthermore Kenya and Zimbabwe made it through to the next stage above more established nations at the 2003 World Cup (although Kenya made it through a walkover), and Zimbabwe beat out England into the next stage at the 1999 World Cup.

Why is England’s exit a ‘shock’ then? The reaction to England’s exit reminds me of the ‘birthday problem’. When asked how many people you need in a room for it to be more likely than not that two of them share the same birthday, most people dramatically overestimate the number. One explanation for this overestimation is that, because the chances that any two given people share the same birthday is small (1 in 365.25), people find it an amazing coincidence that any two people within the same room share the same birthday, even though the latter event is much more likely.

In the case of England’s elimination from the World Cup it was unlikely that England specifically would be eliminated from the World Cup in the group stages. But it was somewhat less unlikely that at least one of the established cricket nations would be eliminated early. As an Australian cricket supporter, I am just glad that it was the Poms this time and not us.     

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five – March 2015

5.California Nights – Best Coast

‘I stay high all the time/Just to get by/I climb into the sky/And my eyes, they cry’

‘I never wanna get so high/That I can’t come back down to real life’

‘Fading back and forth/I fly through my mind’

Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that if this was the mid-‘60s, this song would be banned from radio. (It’s almost a tribute to all those hazy, potentially drug-referencing tracks that did get banned.)


4.In The Heat Of The Moment – Noel Gallagher

Noel Gallagher has never been one to think too much about his words. On his recent appearance on ‘The Graham Norton Show’ he admitted that he came up with the title for his new album because the record company needed a title in an hour, and he just had a quick look through his lyric sheet. Nevertheless I still felt a sense of déjà vu when I heard the lyrics of ‘In The Heat Of The Moment’. ‘They tell me you’ve touched the face of God’? ‘I talk to him on the telephone’. Hmm, that phone lyric is pretty close to that ‘I’m tired of talking of my phone’ line from Oasis’ ‘Stand By Me’. And how many songs has Noel mentioned God in? ‘Little By Little’, ‘If I Had A Gun’, ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’ … Still this is not a bad track from Noel’s perfectly serviceable new album.

3.The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box – Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse return with a beat. This means that for once Modest Mouse and Isaac Brock don’t sound like they are going to dig a hole and bury themselves or whatever limp body is handy. It’s not their standard style but it works pretty well. Other tracks that have been released from their forthcoming album – due out this month – ‘Lampshades On Fire’ and ‘Coyotes’ sound pretty good too.


2.Go Out – Blur

Happily this sounds like Blur. It also possibly sounds like Damon Albarn in Gorillaz using the ‘Graham Coxon guitar post-The Great Escape’ app on his iPad. Regardless, it’s great to have them back.

1.What Kind Of Man – Florence And The Machine

On her last album ‘Ceremonials’ Florence Welsh pushed her lungs and her music about as far as they could go on almost every track. If ‘What Kind Of Man’ is any indication then dialing the sound down on her next album is not on the agenda. That may wear thin at some point but this is one of her better tracks. She could have dialed down the angst a touch in the video clip though.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The 15 Best Pearl Jam Songs

Pearl Jam ‘best of’ lists are typically weighted towards the front-end of the career. Certainly when I saw them at the Big Day Out last year the crowd reacted more strongly to their early stuff. To some extent this is a bit unfair on their later work, which is generally quite respectable. On the other hand if it wasn’t for ‘Ten’ and ‘Vs’ selling millions, would only a few people have cared about those later albums?

On re-listening to Pearl Jam’s work I gained a greater appreciation for two of their mid-‘90s albums that did not necessarily get the warmest reaction when they were first released – ‘Vitalogy’ and ‘No Code’. I remember these being considered by critics and fans as slightly disappointing after the mega-success of ‘Ten’ and ‘Vs’, and being less inclined when I was younger to question the prevailing opinion I only ever owned and really listened to those first two albums. ‘Vitalogy’ was considered too weird, and ‘No Code’ not anthemic enough. ‘Vitalogy’ now though stands to me revealed as probably the best Pearl Jam album, while ‘No Code’ stacks up well against their most famous work.

Having listened again to their catalogue, these would be my 15 favourites:   

1.      Corduroy – now held in a lot higher regard than being just the eighth track on ‘Vitalogy’
2.      Rearviewmirror – ‘Vs’ was the first CD I ever got, and I played this over and over
3.      Last Exit – fantastic opening to ‘Vitalogy’
4.      Black – ‘Black’, ‘Alive’, and ‘Jeremy’ have lost some lustre from repeated listens, but I can’t drop ‘Black’ lower than this
5.      Smile
6.      Alive
7.      I Got Id – oh yeah, I had forgotten about this one, as it is not on any of their albums proper; actually until a day ago I still thought it was called ‘Merkin Ball’
8.      Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town – the track buried near the end of ‘Vs’ that everyone collectively decided that they really liked
9.      Given To Fly
10.  Jeremy
11.  Oceans
12.  Go
13.  Betterman – oh I guess it is in the best 15
14.  Yellow Ledbetter
15.  Light Years
86. Last Kiss
Other lists of the best Pearl Jam songs:

Stereogum
Triple M
Crave Online

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Star Wars Comics by Marvel (Are Those The Nerdiest Words Ever Uttered?)

The ‘Star Wars’ mythology primarily relies on six movies, with a lot of backstory in between, such as the long-running animated series ‘The Clone Wars’. Marvel’s latest go at a ‘Star Wars’ comic book series – the first being in the 1970s – mines the period not long after ‘A New Hope’ for its stories. Do we really need another comic book series filling in the space between films? Fans have said yes – buying up a million copies of ‘Star Wars’ #1, making it the highest selling comic book for twenty years.

In any case, since Disney bought both Lucasfilm and Marvel Comics, new ‘Star Wars’ comics published by Marvel were a likely outcome. Actually, ‘Star Wars’ comics have never really gone away, with Dark Horse Comics having published comics that expanded on the Star Wars universe for over twenty years. Dark Horse’s continuity is, however, wiped out by Marvel’s latest offerings, giving Marvel the freedom to rewrite the stories between movies.

With writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassaday on the series Marvel’s ‘Star Wars’ is a bit slicker than a non-comics fan may expect. It is more akin to what one may expect the new J.J. Abrams films to be like rather than the somewhat dopey prequel movie episodes. It is not mind-blowing storytelling, but it is solid. The plot so far involves our main heroes – Luke, Han, Leia, and crew – infiltrating an empire base, only for Darth Vader to show up. Those who missed the camaraderie of the original characters should be happy to see their return here, but hairstyles aside the series does not feel like a retread of stories that have long since been told.

The other ‘Star Wars’-related book that Marvel has released so far is ‘Darth Vader’. The creative team on this series, as one may expect, is not quite as strong as the main title, but it is still quite readable. In it we get to see a bit more regarding the workings of the Empire other than Vader killing off another general. The main danger for the book which could eventually count against it is whether the story tries too many times to establish that Darth Vader is a heartless bastard. A new Princess Leia book comes out in March, and together the three titles should help build the anticipation for fans ahead of the new movie to be released late this year.