Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eddie Griffin at Tampa Improv, March 2009

I saw comedian Eddie Griffin at the Tampa Improv Saturday night. Although I think I hurt the experience by watching Eddie Murphy's Delirious the night before, Griffin is one funny dude.

A few of the subjects he covered:

- Why the founding fathers were coke heads
- The true meaning of library (bury lies), congress (cons digress), and constitution (con institution)
- Why loud women are loud and why they don't get men
- The art of cunnilingus (normally I am not a fan of sex humor - too easy and extremely overdone - but Griffin was funny)
- Why the stage at the Tampa Improv sucks
- Why Barack Obama is a "black man's black man" (of course he didn't say "black man" - use your imagination)
- Why President Obama did Bill Clinton a favor by making Hillary Clinton Secretary of State and giving her a job that requires her to be frequently out of the country
- Why he only smokes cigarettes made by Native Americans
- What Bernie Mac and Richard Pryor are currently up to in heaven

Like I said, after watching Delirious I could see Murphy's influence on Griffin. And when Griffin went into his discussion of Michael Jackson's voice and its lack of manliness, it was almost as if he was ripping Murphy off word for word. Then again, in defense of Griffin, making fun of Michael Jackson never gets old.

My only disappoint was after the show when Griffin took off and didn't spend any time with the fans. Although I wanted a pic with one of the most famous characters to don a 'fro, I was lucky in that one of the Improv staff hooked me up and got Griffin to sign my Undercover Brother DVD insert.

A Response to Virgil Griffiths' "Music That Makes You Dumb": Part 1

In the last week, several people have asked my opinion on a recent study proclaiming that Hip-Hop, among other music, “makes you dumb”. This is the first part of my two part response. Today, I will dissect the study itself and tomorrow I will defend hip-hop against those who would use the study to show it is an intellectually lesser form of music.

The study:

According to Virgil Griffith, a 26-year old student at Cal Tech, certain genres of music can be associated with the average entrance exam scores of college students.

To quote Mr. Griffith’s methodology

1. “Get a friend of yours to download, using Facebook, the ten most frequent "favorite music" at every college via that college's Network Statistics page on Facebook (manually -- as not to violate Facebook's ToS). These ten "favorite musics" are perhaps indicative of the overall intellectual milieu of that college.

2. Download the average SAT/ACT score (from CollegeBoard) for students attending every college.

3. Presto! We have a correlation between musical tastes and dumbitude (smartitude too)!

Music <=> Colleges <=> Average SAT Scores

4. Plot the average SAT of each "favorite music", discarding those with too few samples to have a reliable average.

5. Post the results on your website, pondering what the Internet will think of it.

Ok, so if this scale was made specifically from data from my alma mater (Florida State), and the average SAT/ACT score at Florida State was 1600, and the only music listed among Florida State Facebook users was “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans”, then “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would rate as a 1600. If another school’s students listed “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans”, but only received an average score of 800, then “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would drop to an average test score of 1200. Hence, “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would rank somewhere between Bob Dylan and U2.

(Actually, FSU ranked 265th out of 1352 colleges with an average test score of 1154 across 31,347 students with listening preferences of Jack Johnson, Sublime, Coldplay, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd, John Mayer, Weezer, and The Fray.)

Points of Contention:

As I explained, what Mr. Griffith listed was the listening preferences of the smart colleges versus the listening preferences of less academically prestigious colleges. First of all, he does not go into academic study. Of course, colleges specializing in classical study will have more kids who listen to Beethoven, the music linked to the “smartest scores”. On the flip side, colleges specializing in urban anthropology may have more students listing to Lil Wayne (889 average score) and Nas (1071 average score).

Second, looking at Mr. Griffith’s chart, I immediately noticed most of the music on the lower IQ side derives from African beats and influences. Of course, the most basic instinct would be to label this as yet another study supporting racism and minority intellectual inferiority. The website blasts Mr. Griffith along this assumption. However, TIRM fails to mention where or how Mr. Griffith got his information. They just proclaim he is a closet racist. I don’t think that is fair, nor is it a good way to do a counterpoint.

Where I do believe Mr. Griffith dropped the ball is in his title and its associated media blitz. In labeling his study “Music that makes you dumb”, he is opening himself up for comments and negative attention. The proper title of his study should have been “Music Preferences of Facebook-Using College Students Based on School Average SAT/ACT Scores”. But that wouldn’t have garnered him any attention.

Also of note is that several Historically Black Colleges are listed in the bottom quarter of Mr. Griffith’s school data along with their students’ music tastes. I have little doubt Mr. Griffith saw this trend emerging as he graphed his data. Here again I fault Mr. Griffith’s presentation of the data.

What does it say then about Historical Black Colleges that they score so low? Either HBCs are letting in students who are not stringent in their academic requirements or the students of HBCs are not as smart as students in the top schools. The latter theory can of course be countered by the idea that minority students (assuming they make up the majority of HBC student bodies) are not being prepared well enough to score well on college entrance exams. Some even go as far as to label the tests racist. So where does the bigger fault lie: in the music HBC students listen to or the school systems they come from?

The bottom line is that Mr. Griffith was irresponsible in releasing his findings in the manner that he did. He should have known the societal repercussions of his display. The fact that he attempts to cover up his naivety in the cloak of statistical impartiality does not hold water. And honestly, instead of playing with numbers and pinning music to test scores, he would have been better off trying to devise a statistical way for students to do better on their entrance exams.

By the way, as for Mr. Griffith and his personal music tastes, according to the FAQ he listens to Daft Punk (not on the list) Tool (1083), Radiohead (1220), and Metallica (1063). Averaging the available scores, and using his musical tastes as an indicator of his own intelligence, Mr. Griffith probably received an 1122 on his entrance exam. However, this would put him nearly 400 points below the average Cal Tech student, who received a 1520.

So either Mr. Griffith is far below the academic standard at his university or, if he did score among the average test taker, his musical preferences are not indicative of his intelligence. If he then is an outlier in his own study, why should we attach his system to any other test taker in any other school?

Saying we are supposed to correlate attributes to people when the creator of the attributes is such a drastic outlier is like saying a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, would want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks. It obviously does not not make sense.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The five albums that shaped my ear

Tim Niland of the blog Music and More listed the five albums that Shaped His Listening Habits. I always learn a lot from Tim's blog of mostly jazz and blues reviews, and this time he lists some absolute classics like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

In return, here is my personal list of five albums that molded my listening:

1) Soundgarden - Superunknown: This was my first rock album and set the tone for the type of rock I like. Between this and Pearl Jam's Ten, I developed my rock sensibility around the "grunge" sound.

2) Public Enemy - Apocalypse 91 ... The Enemy Strikes Black: This was among my first rap albums. When I first got into listening to rap I bought Heavy D and the Boyz, the Fresh Prince, and Public Enemy. Right off the bat I knew PE definitely had more to say than Will Smith and the Heavster. As I was just getting into politics, for some reason I gravitated to the realism of Chuck D. Not a bad decision for a 14-year old white kid from the suburbs who, embarrassingly enough, used to watch and read Rush Limbaugh regularly. (Then again, I was only 14. What did I know?)

3) Jimi Hendrix - Blues: This album got me into the blues. True story: way back in early 1996, I was on an overnight flight from Phoenix to Tampa. During one of the late night hours, I plugged my headphones into the armrest and started flipping through the airline music channels. On one of the channels I heard the DJ say something about Jimi Hendrix and Booker T and the MGs, then he plays Jimi's version of "Born Under a Bad Sign", which is still my favorite track on the CD. Needless to say, I made it my goal to find that song and this album. I still think it was a message from somewhere that at that particular moment I plugged in and that DJ introduced me to one of my favorite albums.

4) Clutch - Clutch: After a few years of listening mostly to gangsta rap (I went from PE to Ice Cube to Snoop and Dre), this album was one of two to get me back into rock (the other is number 5). Clutch's second album has a little bit of everything - catchy lyrics, stories of pirates, tales of aliens and conspiracies, and even one of the best stoner jams I have ever heard. It's heavy but not only coherent, but also intelligent.

5) Sublime - Sublime: I'll admit, this album has just about entered the realm of the overrated. I don't share the opinion that it is the absolute classic so many people suggest it is. The fact that every frat guitar player from Long Beach to Long Island has this in his repertoire definitely bugs the snot out of me. But Sublime, like Clutch, has a huge place in my musical history. It was the first album I heard that mixed rock and rap. Of course, the Beasties and Run DMC did it before Sublime, but something about the scratching and sampling in Sublime made me think that maybe I should check out some of that rock and roll stuff the kids were listening to.

Hopefully this list will get other people listing their most influential five albums.

(About the image: I don't know if it is from this article or not, but back in 2007, there was a Colombian guitar maker who was making guitars out of AK-47s. I'd like to hang one of those above the fireplace.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Forgiveness Poem to Bologna

So I was bored the other day and I wrote a poem. I hope you enjoy.

This poem may remind long-time readers of my stuff of a poem called "Happy Cows". For those who have only started following me in the last few years, I'll have to post that poem sometime.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Religious Leader Declares War Against Offensive Pro Wrestlers

Last week, the Islamic Republic of Iran announced its displeasure with Darren Aronofsky’s film “The Wrestler”. Iranian officials claimed Aronofsky’s character “The Ayatollah” was insulting to Iranian culture and portrayed the Iranian people in a negative light. Iranian response to the Wrestler was so negative, even members of Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's staff expressed their concerns.

In response to the Iranian government's reaction to “The Wrestler”, the Supreme Holy Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against all professional wrestlers who could be insulting or could have in any way insulted Persian, Arabic, Islamic, or Middle Eastern culture. Reports claim this fatwa will specifically by name target both active and former wrestlers and could possibly have the same effect that a previous fatwa had on author Salmon Rushdie, who ended up hiding out for decades.

According to a vague CIA translation of the fatwa, the numerous wrestlers mentioned by name include The Original Sheik, The Iron Sheik, General Adnan, Colonel Mustafa, The Sultan, Sabu, Sheik Abdul Bashir, and recent WWE Superstar Muhammad Hassan.

“They claim these performers have made a mockery of their people and their faith,” said one CIA worker. “Personally, however, we don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, Iron Sheik wore curled boots, spit on the American flag, spoke in jibberish, announced how great his country was, and badmouthed America. But don’t most Middle Easterners do that?”

Despite the threat of violence against their Middle Eastern-themed peers, many pro wrestlers are ambivalent or even supportive of the Iranian decree.

“Those un-American pukes never belonged here,” said wrestling legend Sgt Slaughter. “I spent my whole career trying to make the good ol’ US of A safe against pukes like the Iron Sheik. Good to know their own homeland doesn’t care much for them either. Maybe there is hope for those pukes over there after all.”

WWE CEO Vince McMahon was unavailable for comment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Florida Today does not like the Noles

I wasn't going to write about the NCAA sanctions at all. As a matter of fact, this post isn't really even about the sanctions. It is about how one local Florida newspaper decided to cover the NCAA's decision against Florida State in a very biased manner.

This past weekend I was out of town visiting family in Melbourne, Florida. Admittedly, Melbourne is more than slightly pro-Gator and quite a bit anti-Seminole. Always has been, probably always will be.

(Useless fact: Eau Gallie, a community now part of Melbourne, was an original proposed location for UF.)

Usually leading the charge in Melbourne for all things UF and against all things Florida State is the Florida Today, the local newspaper, and more specifically columnist Peter Kerasotis, an unapologetic Gator alumnus.

(Background on Kerasotis: Will Leitch of once wrote Kerasotis has an "obvious, pronounced man-crush on Steve Spurrier" and "a love for deconstructing college football offenses, which he does so poorly that even Pop Warner youth football players write in to tell him where he went wrong". Other bloggers have called him a "liar" and "the worst columnist in America" (by a Gator fan no less!). )

So of course, when I opened the paper Sunday morning, who had the only write-up on the NCAA sanctions? You guessed it, Kerasotis. And of course it wasn't an actual article, it was his column.

The print version of the Florida Today sports section contained no actual article on the sanctions (there is an article by Steve Ellis online). In print, there were no quotes from the FSU athletic department, no informing the reading public about the sanctions, and no attempt at an un-biased approach at one of the worst NCAA decisions Florida State has ever faced. Just a small blurb on the details of the punishment and good ol' Pete Kerasotis and his typical  sarcastic Nole bashing.

I thought the fourth estate was supposed to be unbiased in its coverage of the news.

No wonder the newspaper industry is dying. In the case of the Florida Today and Peter Kerasotis, the end can't come soon enough.

(Disclaimer: I have had my complaints with the Florida Today sports section before. It seems every time I visit Melbourne I find something else in that paper that tweaks my melon.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Asher Roth Gin and Juice for the 17-23 white boy demographic

Recently I saw a video for a song called "I Love College" from rapper Asher Roth. Here is the video:

Now I must be getting old, but my first impression was "Wow, can they really show those images and talk about people getting drunk and having sex on TV?". My next thought was "Hey, what about the great academic parts of college? Like the libraries and the science labs and the stimulating intellectual discussions?".

Just kidding.

Actually, Roth's video reminded me of another great drinking tune in Hip-Hop history: Young Black Teenagers' old-school classic "Tap The Bottle".

Again, I kid.

Here is what Roth's song really reminded me of:

See? They are nearly identical.

First, they both have catchy choruses.

Second, both endorse their favorite alcoholic beverage (Roth: Miller Lite - Snoop: Tangeray and some Seagram's Gin).

(Note: Isn't ironic that Roth, playing the role of the fraternity stereotype college student, asks people to "fill up his cup", while Snoop, the gangsta from the 'hood, denies his people his precious gin? There is a social-economic statement there, I think.)

- Both mention the use of condoms (hey, at least they are advocating safe sex).

- Both videos feature house parties.

- Both show people puking.

(Another side note: Why do Roth's people seem to think another's misfortune is funny? One of Snoop's boys looks like he is checking on his sick friend. Who would you rather hang out with if you had one too many?)

- And last, but definitely not least, both have half-naked women.

(Not sure who the advantage goes to here: Snoop has the ladies from Compton imported to serve him, while Roth makes out with a bevy of buxom barely-legal beauties.)

I have to give Asher Roth and his marketing people credit. Fifteen years or so after Snoop's "Gin and Juice", people are still milking the party niche. Although Roth's album won't be released for another few months, I'll go out on a limb and predict it will sell well, especially in the 17-23 demographic. And best of all for the college crowd, it has "coverability". I would bet hundreds, if not thousands, of college bands are currently learning how to incorporate "I Love College" into their sets. Especially those acoustic guitar players who do unplugged versions of various hip-hop songs (check out "What I Got", "Boyz in da Hood", and "Big Poppa", etc.).

Finally, on a personal note, although I was normally adverse to the typical frat songs (John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Dave Mathews, etc), had "I Love College" been released six years ago (egads, that long!) I'll admit I think I would have been all into Asher Roth.