Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Mount Fuji: the most beautiful of sights

During my trip to Tōkyō, we went on one excursion outside the city to see Japan’s highest mountain, 3,700 metre high Mount Fuji. Despite the average temperature on the summit being well below freezing, it is sufficiently free of snow during the warm, wet summer that many people have always climbed it on foot without such gear as crampons and ice axes (which of course were not invented when the mountain was first climbed after the Meiji Restoration). It was regarded as a sacred mountain to many Japanese, which is why it was never climbed before the Meiji Restoration.

The trip from Tōkyō to the foot of Mount Fuji was a series of train journeys, some of which were on minor lines through extremely mountainous country. We saw very little of densely populated Tōkyō and the Kantō plain, instead seeing chiefly tiny plots that are uneconomic to farm in a country so land-scarce as Japan. In the winter, of course, there were rice plots that looked blond like the dry grass that is a familiar site in the same months all over Victoria. A notable and unexpected feature of the trip to see Fuji was the coloured train - something I did not expect from a country as hard-working and industrious as Japan is supposed to be.

When I. in a small town whose name I never bothered to remember, had a look at Fuji from a steep road in very cool to cold but quite clear weather, I was astonished at how spectacular a site I was seeing. Although I had seen something like the blue (pale blue) colour of the snow of Fuji before, it was only in Southeast Alaska’s glaciers which have liquid water underneath, and as I have said Mount Fuji does not have glaciers. (Indeed, apart from Kamchatka the maritime regions of Asia have no present-day glaciation whatsoever despite high rainfall and north of Tōkyō severe cold, probably because summer rainfall, which is extremely heavy at high altitudes, is very good at melting snow). The light reflected from the snow of a beautful, and massive volcano was something that I had never seen before.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tōkyō: a dense maze

On Boxing Day, after five days in Táiwān, I got up very early for a flight to Tōkyō. It is annoying to have to get up so early - in fact we were unable to have breakfast in the hotel because it did not open before we had to be at Táoyuán International Airport. The taxi ride was, like the few others I took in Táibèi, very, very cramped and we had to pack an extremely full bag into the rear seat.

When we got to Táoyuán International Airport, we had little trouble with the flight to Tōkyō and spent most of the time eating breakfast. The flight to Tōkyō, though not nearly so long as some flights to come on this holiday, was still distinctly tiring for me and I was sleeping for quite a bit of the time.

When we arrived at Tōkyō, I had a bad case of not being "with it": I went, despite the old Berlitz phrasebook which should have helped me to communicate in Japanese. I did not at any point walk through customs as I should, though the signs were in English as well as Japanese.

After going through the airport, we went on a special electric train to Tōkyō, reaching it well before dark. The hotel was quite comfortable though cramped. There was a Seven Eleven outside the hotel where I was able to get at the quite reasonable cost of ¥277 ($3.50) some extremely tasty ice-creams by Nörgen Våz. Seven Eleven also had some very good Japanese food, which I took to much better than I thought I would. This was especially true of sushi, which is not that hard to find in Australia and I regret that I have never looked for it when in Melbourne.

On the first night, we had a very unusual but very Japanese meal in a restaurant opposite our hotel. It used sticks to pick up the meat and vegetables, which were strongly flavoured but extremely tasty. The location of the restaurant in an underground shop was also attractive to me. The next night, we had out first look at what is commonly thought of as the world’s largest city, and it was amazing. The public transport puts Australia’s dreadful service to shame (no excuse!) but most of the time it seemed to take us in circles as we looked through the numerous sites in the next few days. There were the squatting toilets in most stations, which were cleaner than I am used if not nearly so clean as the Japanese are reputed to be.

The main focus during the trip to Tōkyō was on the royal palaces and gardens, which were remarkable in their ability to contrast so sharply with the dense housing (of which we actually saw rather little). The gardens were grand and, for a climate that is humid but very extreme, they were manicured very well: exactly like cricket pitches in the more moderate English climate. The buildings were ancient yet very beautiful and even in the more built-up parts of the city there were notably tall buildings such as the modernist architecture west of the Royal Gardens. The views from this over Tōkyō’s maze were exceptionally good.

It was a pity that some of the old buildings we had intended to see were closed for the New Year. Walking around the vast area of Tōkyō’s old palaces is such a great contrast, though, with the dense housing that it was very enjoyable.

I had expected to do a lot of shopping in Tōkyō, but as it turned out there was only one late night when we had time to look in the main record store. I found quite a lot of interest, but as it turned out I had only one major purchase: a CD by British composer Jonathan Harvey titled Body Mandala. Although I had little time to listen to it on the holiday, I was impressed with what I did hear.

The trouble I had with the Australia-type mobile phones which do not work in Japan made it very difficult for me to communicate, but I learned that it was best to stay with Mummy and my brother, and I saw enough that I did not mind.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A day shopping in Táibèi

After a long trip across Táiwān, my mother and brother decided that for our last day on the island we should aim to have a look at shopping in Táibèi before travelling to Tōkyō on a morning flight.

It was a little unfamiliar travelling around on Christmas Day, but of course East Asia was never Christian. Thus, all the shops were open as normal and we did not hesitate after my usual big breakfast of chocolate cereal, bread and fruit to go to the nearby Metro station.

I was looking for a black belt to supplement my brown one, which was naturally of the wrong colour for my black jeans. I was used to belts selling for something like $20, as I had bought my two current ones for at Victoria Market. However, in Táibèi I was in for a rude shock when I looked with my mother and brother for a new black belt and for a bag to replace the worn, cheap leather one I had bought for $35 several years ago. Almost every belt cost the equivalent of over $100, and my mother refused steadfastly to pay that amount.

However, there was a wonderful treat in store nonetheless! I was able to replace one of several poor-quality leather bags I had bought several years ago at the Victoria Market. My mother, upon seeing my old bag, promised me that she would give me such a Christmas present, but it took us a little looking in Táibèi's department stores before I was able to obtain the right bag. Although it is not wholly leather - in fact only the sides are - my mother said that this bag will provide me with a greatly superior quality to the bags I had bought at the market. Probably as a result of simply feeling high-quality shoes and bags given to me as gifts, I have grown very averse to shoddy goods and am afraid of my tendency to treat everything I encounter very roughly without care, which is seen terribly in the condition of many of my books - most especially a 1984 VFL yearbook that made the amazing error of saying Chris Mew first played in 1908!

After the shopping expedition, we had some lunch. The food in Táiwān was remarkably good all through, though I will admit I made a few choices that were bad for my mass like buying cream cakes instead of the abundant vegetables found in Táiwān. In the afternoon, I was, as was by now becoming normal, completely exhausted and I rested for the trip to Tōkyō tomorrow.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A trip across Táiwān and back

After two days exploring the Táiwānese capital Táibèi, we went over the past two days on a trip across the western coast of the island to Kěndīng at the southern tip of Táiwān, almost 400 kilimetres from Táibèi. We initially went on an extremely impressive electric train service that does shame to the ultra-slow train services and track alignment that Australia's government has allowed to persist through its obscene wastage of money on roads.

in the early part of the journey, all I could see was a continuation of the urban landscapes found within Táibèi. There was nothing remotely rural apart from a few very small farms in tiny areas of flat land, and most of the initial train journey took place over large tunnels where no view at all of Táiwān's countryside was possible. The air was never clear at any point on the journey up to Táizhōng, and when I reached Táizhōng I was so shocked at the pollution of the city that I asked my brother for the camera so I could take a photo!

Beyond Táizhōng, even as we moved into one of the most densely populated areas of the world, there began to be rather more authentic rural scenery amidst the cities of Táinán and Gāoxióng. The train finished at Gāoxióng and by the time we reached that city, the weather was uncomfortably hot, but we still had a very long way to go to reach Kěndīng at the southern tip of the island.

The bus ride, however, can best be described as horrible. The bus we had to ride in was terribly tight, but far worse than that it was really, really bumpy and hard in ride. The result was that by the time we reached Kěndīng I really was tired despite having got to sleep and up at an hour that would seem normal to people with a much better rhythm of life than I have ever possessed. The plus side of the bus ride was that I was able to see some authentic rural scenery for the first time in my three days in Táiwān. Although Táiwān is a wet place, it was the dry season and a wide variety of crops were being irrigated by some very unusual pumps with conical blades. There was rice of course, but also such fruit crops as bananas and citrus. It was so interesting it is a pity I have no photos because of the terrible bus ride.

For the rest of the day, we walked round the beaches of Kěndīng. They were quite interesting, and had some very decent coastal scenery. However, with the weather so hot I was very happy to be in a huge hotel for the night where I could take a long rest. I did have one problem: that without my brother's computer I had no way to charge my iPod and as a result I spent the night fiddling around thinking about what to do to have it charged for the trip back home. I went to the Internet cafe downstairs in order to try to have it charged, but the machine could not charge it and I had to ask my brother to have hotel staff do it - and even then only so that my use could be limited on our return journey to Táibèi.

During the morning, we had a look at Kěndīng that proved considerably more interesting that what I saw on the beach the previous day. There were tropical rainforests that looked quite dry but were still recognisable, and some very good views of the sea at the southermost point of Táiwān. In the hot weather, we climbed a hill near Kěndīng but were already very tired for the return journey to Táibèi, which was complicated by the problem that we had a reservation for a 19:00 train back to Gāoxióng. The bus ride was rough but not as bad as the previous day, however, when we reached Gāoxióng, we had to wait a long time and thus we had a look around the city.

Although Gāoxióng is the second-largest city in Táiwān, it is only half the size of Melbourne and in terms of range of products exceedingly poor. We could find very little of value in the city's shopping centres, and I was more taken by the terrible air pollution - worse than Táizhōng and far worse than Táibèi ever was. We did not have that much trouble reaching Gāoxióng station wiht enough time to catch the train back to Táibèi. In the spare time, we had a quite conventional (for Táiwān) dinner. Not unnaturally, however, by the time we reached Táibèi, all of us were very tired and we were pleased to be back in the hotel, though this time we had a room in the top level.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Thoughts on two days in Táibèi

On Sunday, after my family reunion discussed in the previous post, I travelled from Melbourne to the Táiwānese capital of Táibèi via Hong Kong. Though the flights were much shorter than on my only previous overseas trip, the combination of them with an arduous cycling and rail trip to Spencer Street and Castlemaine left me extremely tired by the time we settled in at the Fullarton Hotel in the southeastern part of central Táibèi.

My brother spent a year in Táibèi (which in Chinese loosely means "North Terrace" - which coincidentally is a street in Clifton Hill near where I lived from 1996 to 1998) over the summer of 2002/2003. As a result, upon settling in Táibèi we spent the afternoon walking round the campus of Táidà University, seeing the places my brother lived at during this period. On the whole, in comparison to my experiences at other universities, Táidà seemed rather run-down: some of the rooms were even grotty - though in densely-packed Táibèi a lack of cleanliness was something I always noted travelling on the Metro and even on the freeway from Táoyuán Airport. Táidà still had some interesting points, most significantly the cubic Periodic Table in the science department.

On the second day of our trip to Táibèi we travelled, after great difficulty finding an entry, up Táibèi 101, which at 382 metres is that tallest building in the world. It cost us a greta deal of time and money to get up the building, with the most direct entry completely closed to the public and actual entry being in a terribly crowded queue which required me to give my backpack to the desk at which I got tickets for around 14 dollars each for me, my mother and my brother. The view, however, of Táibèi's night skyline was stunning and definitely worth fourteen dollars. We could see the whole area of Táibèi proper, as well as the mountains to its west, which were a luxuriant green.

Another highlight was the National Museum, which we visited the morning before travelling to Táibèi 101. There was a remarkable number of old artifacts and paintings from pre-1911 China that I had never seen before. The paintings from this period were especially beautiful, and also noteworthy was the range of materials used for the very old objects. Apparently rhinos were present in China thousands of years ago, judging by the carved materials from rhino horn in the museum - a fact I never knew beforehand! (Sad to say, Táiwān remains the leading buyer of rhino horn in an age when rhinos are critically endangered).

The food has also been exceptional. although we have drunk coffee - a very Western thing - and also eaten Western breakfasts with irresistible sweet cereal, the Chinese food we have had has been wonderful. The noodles in particular have been exceptionally varied and tasty, and I have learned to use chopsticks to a degree I never anticipated beforehand.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Thoughts on a family reunion

When my brother began the holiday plan, he wanted to depart on the sixteenth of December, but I was insistent that I have a family reunion with my half-brother and half-sisters on the nineteenth in Castlemaine to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of my father's first wife. He agreed, but with conditions that were very difficult for me to meet and which affected other plans I had had for upgrading the house, such as putting in a desk I had bought as early as January this year.

On the nineteenth, I got up unusually early in order to reach Castlemaine merely by midday, when I knew my relatives would be waiting to see me. (They had hoped to see my brother, but he does not have so good a relationship with my half-sisters and half-brother as I do). The weather was a warm 22˚C but extremely pleasant owing to the breezes, and though I had trouble finding the right house after getting off the train, once I did find it I enjoyed it greatly. It did show how much knowledge I can lose that twice in succession, much to the disappointment of the host, I burst special balloons for the party. After that, I had a quiet time and blew the balloons up much less hard than before.

We then had a great time talking about memories of our hostess. Given what all my half-sisters, half-nephews and half-niece said, I find it a desperate pity that I was not able to make a serious contribution. (I imagien that in my recently-acquired if limited colleciton of poetry I would have found something fitting to her). I did enjoy the music and poetry in her praise, and had a few mostly very vague recollections of visiting her. The most notable was in July of 1990 when I watched Collingwood thrash St. Kilda in a most overwhelming manner that showed just how good they were that year. Other memories of her come from much earlier but are generally very good. There was also a musical performance with an acoustic guitar of some tunes, and a parody of Toni Basil's awful 1982 hit "Mickey" titled "Nicky" (often used as a nickname for my father's first wife) that sounded a little better than the original.

It was unfortunate that I had to tell the many people present that I could not stay long because of my imminent flight to Táibèi. They were disappointed but very accepting of this, and I even asked many of them whether they had ever been on a major holiday before - and what their thoughts on my doing so would be. I was a little surprised that in her ninety years my hostess had not travelled outside of Australia and New Zealand!

The return journey to Melbourne was far from difficult, though I had a slight trouble finding the right platform for the 17 o'clock train that I absolutely had to catch if I was to go to Táibèi. I caught it very easily, and had little trouble cycling home from Spencer Street, to the great delight of my mother and brother.

Now, however, a much bigger adventure will begin for me - one quite unlike any I have experienced before.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Why we needed and need an “Australian Treaty” or a boycott of Australian farming

This morning, I found the alarming news that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have soared by 82 percent since 1990. This is far above the appalling eight percent increase allowed under the Kyoto Protocol - let alone the 99 percent reduction without any reductions abroad that would have been required under a rational treaty.

Although it took me a very long time to realise how unsustainable farming Australia's Paleozoic-age soils actually is, the revelation that most of Australia’s greenhouse emissions come either from land clearing or bushfires shows that perhaps directing pressure totally at the car and fossil fuel industries is wrong. Instead, we need to pressure for a large-scale revegetation of Australia’s farmland and a really radical transformation of southern Australia’s economy from farming-based to ecotourism-based. Under the likely disappearance of the winter rainfall zone and drying of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, Australia would have the following alternatives:
  1. find another source of irrigation water, which could be either desalination or pipelines from the always well-watered and increasingly wet north of Australia.
  2. convert what was once relatively intensive farming to the type of low-intensity cattle rearing historically found in central and northern Australia
  3. do nothing and allow the area to become the same type of desert wasteland found in the interior of Western Australia
None of these would avoid the huge costs in species loss and carbon absorption that a poleward expansion of twenty degrees in the edge of the Hadley circulation (which marks the maximally arid latitude) would produce.

In contrast, a genuine effort to revegetate southern Australia’s farmland would at least reduce the extent of species loss and, judging by what the Age said today, do a great deal to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. In my opinion, there is no limit to the extent to which we should revegetate southern Australia’s farms. Being invariably on extremely old soils severely deficient in phosphorus, nitrogen and trace elements, and often toxic in salt, they are suitable for agriculture only with the development of advanced machinery and fertilisation. Moreover, Australia’s Paleozoic-era soils are a strictly non-renewable resource quite different from the very young soils of Eurasia, the Americas, New Zealand or even East Africa. This means that, even with strictly organic methods, farming in Australia is not as sustainable as in those regions, especially when one factors in the carbon storage of native flora adapted to the poor soils.

More than that, the extreme efficiency and cheapness of Australian farming causes a situation where traditional cultures elsewhere in the world cannot survive. The suicidally low fertility rates in Eurasia, most of the Americas, and New Zealand are a reflection of the way traditional farming communities, even if culturally often flawed, have dissipated and been replaced by crowded, noisy cities whose effect is to create a radically materialist and self-centred culture quite unlike Australia’s spacious suburbs where families can quietly grow. Were Australia’s farmland revegetated, there would be tremendous opportunities to reverse this process and in doing so save ecologically critical land, especially in southwestern Western Australia where winter rainfall has declined by 40 percent compared to 1885 to 1967 averages.

We should undoubtedly set a goal of all southern Australia’s farmland being revegetated merely as a precaution against likely rainfall declines. However, the problem is that the government, deprived of agricultural exports, may not have nearly enough money to pay by itself for such an immense long-term project - no matter how ecologically essential it is.

In this context, we have two choices:
  1. to campaign for an international “Australian Treaty” to make sure that Australia’s farmland is revegetated. Such a treaty is far more justifiable ecologically than the 1959 Antarctic Treaty (now celebrated as a landmark) which protected a continent whose immense ice cover makes any economic activity incredibly inefficient and whose absence of native biodiversity makes the actual cost thereof low. In theory, an "Australian Treaty" would be a very good idea, for it would preserve something immeasurably more necessary than the Antarctic Treaty and give economic opportunities to use the only natural resource of most Eurasian and North American nations. In practice, however, Australia's political power internationally and the difficulty of outsiders enforcing an "Australian Treaty" is overwhelming
  2. for people abroad to consciously avoid buying Australian farming products and recognising that, even if they are cheap, they are produced at an unacceptable ecological cost. This idea has been put forward (without knowing the best reason) by extreme conservatives, and they are to be credited for realising that local family agriculture is the only defence against demographic decline. If combined with a real understanding of how ecologically destructive farming in Australia is and efforts by parents to show how radically different soils in Australia are from those in other developed nations, such a boycott could serve to limit Australia’s farming exports and encourage innovation taken for granted overseas. The problem with this method is that it does not address Australia’s superabundant mineral resources and resultant overpopulation, and the dependence even of locally-centred people on these minerals. This could even encourage more overpopulation in Australia as its farms increasingly feed a local population.
Combining these two strategies is this a worthy goal, but a key is undoubtedly shutting down the fertilisers that allow for Australia’s super-cheap, but unsustainable, farming. This is itself problematic and needing more attention as an issue.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

How industry will redirect to Australia

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, eminent climate scientist Guy Pearse points how how China’s action on climate change is putting the Rudd Government to shame and that Rudd is being heavily influenced by the notion that Australia can burn coal more cheaply than any other nation. His point that China is
“closing down inefficient ones at the extraordinary rate of Victoria’s Loy Yang B power station every three weeks. Chinese coal-fired power generation is already cleaner than ours”
and that
“China is also investing in renewables at twice the rate we are per unit of GDP”
This is the most utter shame for a nation whose per capita carbon emissions should be set, even by fiat decree, at no more than one twentieth the world average and probably as little as one-hundredth.

In terms of climatic and ecological impact, Australia should merely to be a member of the international community rather than an absolute pariah state to have by far the best public transport in the world and utterly rigid laws against any private ownership of motorised transport or transformation of bushland to mining or farming uses.

The problem, which is still not grasped by anybody, is that in spite of the cheap labour costs of Asian nations today, this cheapness cannot last simply because they have relative to Australia a very limited supply of land for a very large population. If we exclude the areas under (mostly discontinuous) permafrost, China has about the same supply of land as Australia, but most of it is steep, so that it has fifty times the population on half as much or less usable land. India is worse, with the same population on probably half as much usable land as China.

Australia’s surfeit of land naturally pushes down the cost of farming and ultimately of living in general, with the result that at an “equal” level of development the dollar or other currency unit goes much further in Australia than anywhere else. As I have said many times, this eliminates the incentive to innovate, but that lack of incentive for innovation makes for much more favourable conditions for family development, which as has been noted tend to breed an extremely conservative culture. In the context of Australia’s need for extraordinarily high environmental standards, this problem of a pacified majority in spacious housing is made worse by a powerful car and fossil fuel lobby linked as a “greenhouse mafia” and able to dictate to politicians what they may do – which quite simply cannot correspond with the ecological need to be by far the smallest per capita energy comsumer in the world.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

"Not So Hottest 100"

Today, my brother introduced to me a list that musician Dave Graney had, following the leadership of The Australian, referred to as "the not-so-hottest 100" by ABC youth station Triple J.

The point that there were no female artists may be the less surprising when one considers that Australia's fragile, arid environment and (as I point out here) superabundant natural inorganic resources do not allow for the mystical, feminine, arty, nature-loving type of artist that has produced so much of the great music of the past forty years and which is very rarely done by anybody other than a woman. It is true that women trying to play rock and roll proper can be highly ineffective because they so often come across as posturers, but when women focus upon their own natural gifts and abilities they can be as good or better artists than men. This is as true of Edith Sitwell's poetry as the music of, say Laura Nyro or Kate Bush or Björk or the Cocteau Twins.

The claim, though, that it nonetheless was a "not-so-hottest 100" by Graney is rather silly when one sees that in fact he manages to praise quite a number of these songs, viz:
4. Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: Great song. Singer's death took it into Barbara Cartland territory forever.

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers: “Under The Bridge”: Therapy. Though their songs do stand a lot of continuous pounding on the airwaves and still sound fresh. Took until the 1000th involuntary hearing for me to rise to that opinion.

19. Metallica: “One”: These boys are deserving of any award.

22. Massive Attack: “Teardrop”: Don’t know this one. I like most of their stuff.

26. Michael Jackson: “Thriller”: Brilliant. And popular.

27. Powderfinger: “My Happiness”: I applaud any Australian act who has penetrated the mob skull this far.

30. Jimi Hendrix: “All Along the Watchtower”: Great performance and recording. Nobody could follow this guy in any area. Used to great effect in the film Withnail and I

31. Metallica: “Enter Sandman”: Of course. A great track.

32. New Order: “Blue Monday”: Late night student disco favourite. I always love to hear this.

41. Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean”: Classic. He must be getting lonely as there are so few brothers in the house.

43. The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”: Classic.

45. Queens of the Stone Age: “No One Knows”: I’d prefer something from Era Vulgaris Maybe “In The Hollow”. This is undeniably funky though.

48. Beastie Boys: “Sabotage”: Yes, innovators and crossers of boundaries. Loons. Icons.

55. Bob Dylan: “Like A Rolling Stone”: Yes, it's almost worth all the ******* talk about it.

61. Blur: “Song 2”: Why not?

62. Nine Inch Nails: “Closer”: Yeah, it’s nasty!

70. The Prodigy: “Breathe”: Yeah, they’re nasty too

71. The Smiths: “How Soon Is Now?”:Their best song. Great Bo Diddley grooves. Where's Bo?

76. The Stone Roses: “Fools Gold”: Yes. A real one-off classic.

79. David Bowie: “Life on Mars”: I would have had five or six Bowie tracks. Can’t argue with this. “All time”, remember?<

84. Bob Marley and The Wailers: “No Woman, No Cry”: A sentimental track, I would have gone for something more bouncy by The Wailers.

85. The Dandy Warhols: “Bohemian Like You”: Yeah, they’re groovers.

88. The Rolling Stones: “Gimme Shelter”: Great chord sequence. Great vibe.

90. Kings of Leon: “Sex on Fire”: Good subject and they look better since they dropped the fake beards.

93. Massive Attack: “Unfinished Sympathy”: Yes, a classic.

95. Stevie Wonder: “Superstition”: A stone-cold classic from the groove to the bass sound to the lyrics. Written for Jeff Beck, but so good Stevie had to do it himself.

98. Led Zeppelin: “Kashmir”: Great drums and the mellotron. Of course!
Given Graney's praise for these songs, it is just like any ordinary list with which one has major issues with. I have met so many of these lists that it becomes quite familiar to me - for example I certainly like some of the music that appears on Rolling Stone's lists of the best albums. The criticism that does occur, too, is often really aggressive and rude, at the same time lacking the skill Joe S. Harrington used to make such crude language palatable (I still keep a highly edited copy of Harrington's wonderful early-2000s best albums list for giving to people I meet).

Is it too early for a list?

Recent weeks have seen my e-mail filled with lists of the greatest albums of 2009. Although I have a genuine love for lists of the "best" or "worst" books or albums or even individual artists, I have been largely disappointed by these lists.

I will confess that I have had far more to think about musically than music of the last decade, especially as Piero Scaruffi, and by now my own listening experience, tell me that most supposedly innovative music takes clear and obvious cues from such artists as Can and the ISB. This is however ignored by people who, like I admit I was for a long time, merely contented with enjoyment of music rather than understanding it in a broader manner that allows one to see how music developed and even how it interacted with other art forms.

The recent lists, however, simply do not take this into account. For the most part, all one sees are lists that do not relate albums of the 2000s to their influences or the history of music. The recent list by Rolling Stone is an example, and even though the information upon which it was based is taken from is over half a decade old and I have never heard the music, I can agree with such omissions as Mastodon and Tool. Other lists by lower-profile publications are very similar in character.

The bone of the issue is that we cannot see clearly what recordings will last well beyond the ending decade. We will have to know what music has been genuinely trend-setting and/or has remained completely unique before we can think of a genuinely accurate list. This in fact takes much more than merely an immediate examination - in fact it is more likely to take decades.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Cricketers Who Missed Out: An Introduction

The 2008 issue of Wisden discusses several high-class cricketers who missed out on being a Cricketer of the Year, and profiles Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Jeff Thomson and Inzamam-ul-Haq. I myself am not certain about Thomson and Qadir, neither of whom did their best bowling in English conditions, and could have favoured Gundappa Viswanath on number of runs scored alone, Sarfraz Nawaz on the basis of his strength and his English record, or Trevor Goddard, who must have been unlucky not to be chosen in place of Frank Tyson in 1956. (Tyson's selection is an oddity being based on his doings in Australia as he was injured for half the English season).

Ever since I first read the article at the beginning of this year, I have wanted to have a look at another group of players (of whom one is mentioned in the linked text) who missed out on being a Cricketer of the Year for reasons quite different from the five players mentioned above. In the Wisdens of 1913, 1921 and 1926, there were no Cricketers of the Year. Instead, there were special portraits of Almanac founder John Wisden (1913), Pelham Warner (1921) and Jack Hobbs (1926, as a result of his record run-making in 1925.)

Ever since I first noted these omissions as a result of merely looking through Wisden's Births and Deaths of Cricketers, I have wondered who missed out as a result of these decisions. Recently I have tried to contact Wisden without success about this question, so it is clear to me I must work on this sadly neglected issue in cricket history myself. I thus plan to discuss likely and potential Cricketers of the Year for 1913, 1921 and 1926 in my next few posts.

I will point out here that at least in 1913 and 1926 there is considerable likelihood that some members of the most probably Five Cricketers of the Year were actually chosen at a later date. When I first looked at the issue of Cricketers of the Year missing because of the 1913, 1921 and 1926 special portraits, I entirely overlooked this. Now, however, I realise I must not only look at the likely choices who never did obtain another chance, but also at gaps the presence of Cricketers of the Year in 1913, 1921 and 1926 would have created from the actual choices of later Wisdens.

It is a pity I have obtained no photographs of most potential candidates, but I hope you will learn much nonetheless.