Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Quest for the Pitch Calling Umpire

Over the last few days the sports blogosphere has been all sorts of abuzz over a quote in Sports Illustrated by former Mariners catcher Dave Valle. In an article on Randy Johnson, Valle is quoted as saying that an umpire called the pitches for Johnson during a 1993 game.

This shocking revelation was first brought to my attention by blogger OMDQ on the blog One More Dying Quail. OMDQ analyzed all of Johnson's '93 starts, found out who umpired, did a few hypothetical guesses and determined that the most logical candidates are either umpires Tim Welke or Ed Hickox. To OMDQ's credit, he is a huge baseball fan who I believe has even worked at the Hall of Fame.

The next day, the same revelation was blogged about on Deadspin. There, blogger Tommy Craggs found the same list of umpires as OMDQ, but came up with different logical conclusions. Craggs used umpire Jim McKean's background of calling no-hitters as evidence that perhaps he was the likely culprit.

So who is right? Is it the wisdom of the popular Deadspin? Or the insightful pondering of OMDQ? Or could Valle be taking the sports world for a ride?

Whatever the truth, I'll give Valle credit, he has created a new baseball myth. However, unlike the Babe's called shot or the antics of Leo Durocher or the exaggerated abilities of the Negro League legends, Valle's story does nothing but hurt the game. By associating an umpire with the direct actions of a player, Valle calls into question the credibility of those in authority of the national pastime. This isn't like an umpire duking it out with an annoying fan after the game or even throwing down with Ty Cobb after the Georgia Peach didn't like a few calls. This is an impartial arbitrator crossing the line and influencing the outcome of a game. And in the wake of crooked NBA ref Tim Donaghy and the still open scar of baseball's own steroid era, a baseball myth that calls into question the sanctity of the game is the last thing the sport needs.

So to Dave Valle and the unknown ump, thanks for nothing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Russian Hackers Take Over American Pro Wrestling Web Site

For those who thought the Cold War is over, think again.

According to super secret documents acquired by Bothan spies, a squad of select sex-selling Soviet sympathizers sabotaged Wrestling911.com, a site run by the Snowman, a friend of The Serious Tip.

In an exclusive interview conducted with The Serious Tip, the Snowman claimed several individuals broke into Wrestling911 headquarters by using the spare key he stashed in a plastic rock by the rear entrance.

"I thought I was safe," he proclaimed. "The box said the rock would deter intruders. Heck, I didn't even know where I hid the key sometimes. That rock was tricky."

Once inside Wrestling911 headquarters, the intruders hacked the mainframe, populated the pages with Russian sex product ads, and stole all the money out of the coffee fund.

"I guess these guys were really desperate," Snowman said. "Times must be tough when you have to steal our last four dollars and fourteen cents. That was for the Christmas party entertainment. We were going to get a dancer or two."

Although the Snowman insisted the site will be back to normal by sometime Tuesday, he has since redirected Wrestling911.com visitors to Youtube page.

Blackout 2 Method Man and Redman Review

There aren't too many times in music when one plus one is greater than two. It happens on those rare occasions when two people's combined talents make an album that is better than anything they could have individually put out. Think Miles and Coltrane, Muddy Waters and Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes (ok, those are a few of the ones I have - I am sure there are more).

I bring this up because in the last year, two of my favorite rap duos have put out albums. Heltah Skeltah (Rock and Ruck) reunited to release "Da Incredible Rap Team", their first album in 10 years, and Redman and Method Man released "Blackout! 2", their follow up to their 1998 Blackout!.

D.I.R.T. was one of my favorite albums of 2008. As I said in my review:

"Old-school, grimy hip-hop. Very New York and very lyrics based."

I wish I could say the same for Blackout! 2. Although others disagree, Blackout! 2 doesn't come anywhere near the original, nor is it in the same class as the Heltah Skeltah albums.

Don't get me wrong, the album has its high points (Seriously. One of the best songs is all about smoking weed.) but unfortunately it also has five glaring things wrong with it.

1) Chemistry - For two guys who have been in the game for at least 15 years each and have been working together for the last ten, I thought this project lacked chemistry. It lacked the bouncy cohesiveness seen in the first Blackout and in the Heltah Skeltah albums. There were far too instances of Method Man's rhymes feeding off Redman or Redman's lyrics feeding off Method Man. Maybe I was spoiled by Ruck and Rock's teamwork, but I just couldn't picture Meth and Red writing lyrics together or bouncing ideas of each other on this album. Their verses sound way too disjointed.

2) Production - The first Blackout! album had 19 songs, nine produced by Erick Sermon, three produced by Redman, two by the RZA, two by Mathematics, and the rest by other producers. There was a certain consistency to the album. On Blackout! 2 the consistency is gone. Thirteen different producers created the album's 15 songs, and only two producers (Erick Sermon and Rockwilder) are credited with more than one song. And the RZA is surprisingly absent.

The idea of multiple producers wouldn't be so bad if they all had similar visions. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are far too many wanna-be club hits, too many "southern" beats, and too many songs that don't seem to fit Redman and Method Man's rhyming style. Too many of the beats overpower the rhymes, drowning out two of best lyricists in hip-hop.

3) Auto-tune - This kinda falls under "Production" but I wanted to make its own topic. I hate auto-tune. It is the worst thing to happen to rap. Too many producers and artists rely on it and use it to create garbage-sounding vocal sounds. It's like a lazy plague on music that just won't die. Had I known it would rear its ugly head on Blackout! 2 I might have had second thoughts about buying the album.

4) Redman - I hate to say this because I have been a big Redman fan for nearly 15 years, but he has not grown as a lyricist at all. Back in 2001, Rolling Stone called Redman "music to watch Jackass to", and sadly that is still the case today. Red is like that family member who still talks about sneaking out to get beer in his 40s. Maybe I have outgrown Redman, but when Q-Tip, the aforementioned Heltah Skeltah, and even Method Man are writing rhymes that sound like they were written by someone over the age of 12, it might be time for Redman to grow up.

5) Length - Blackout! 2 is too damn long. It is 15 songs and two skits. First of all, skits suck. Unfortunately, they are a Redman staple (see 4). Had the production all been done by one producer (perhaps Erick Sermon?), it would probably be shorter. As it was, they tried to cram too much by too many people on to one album.

Although I might seem down on Blackout! 2, it is not a horrible album. Not at all. But it definitely is not as good as it should have been. I expected more from two of my favorite rappers. Unfortunately, for Blackout! 2, one plus one doesn't quite equal two.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

John has a long mustache and he is taking it to Alaska

This weekend, Anchorage, Alaska hosts the greatest event this side of the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup. On Saturday, May 23rd, the World Beard and Moustache Championship returns to the United States for the first time since 2003.

What in the world is the World Beard and Moustache Championship?

According to it's website, the Championship is a celebration of facial hair featuring "the world's bearded and moustached elite".

Not only is an exposition of the most flamboyant beards and moustaches around the world, but several men can even leave with the title of World's Greatest. According to the site:

"The championships feature competition in a variety of categories that include everything from the delicate Dali moustache to the outrageous full beard freestyle. The competitors appear before a panel of distinguished judges charged with the responsibility of awarding the coveted world titles to the best of the best."

Among the competitors are the famous Handlebar Club from London, the Australian Bushrangers, America's Beardteam USA, and the hometown South Central Alaska Beard and Moustache Club. Some of the more well-regarded competitors include Elmar Weisser and Willi Chevalier of Germany and American Jack Passion.

It's not too late to join the fun. The party begins tonight when the Beard Parade marches down the streets of Anchorage.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bat Boy: The Musical Review

This weekend I saw the last presentation of Bat Boy: The Musical at the Carrollwood Playhouse in Tampa, FL. Being an avid reader of Weekly World News, I've been a Bat Boy fan since he was "discovered" in 1992. Now, thanks to the performers at the Carrollwood Playhouse, I was able to learn the true story behind the life and times of the most famous half-bat, half-boy this side of Batman.

First, a bit of a disclaimer. Bat Boy: The Musical was my first ever musical. Correction, my first voluntarily-attended musical. I went on a school trip to see West Side Story in 7th grade. In all honestly, I didn't really know what to expect. But after reading a really good review by a fellow Tampa blogger, I figured I would take a chance and try something new.

It was a really good decision.

Although only generally influenced by the Weekly World News character, Bat Boy: The Musical follows the story of the Bat Boy from his discovery in a West Virginia cave to his "civilization" to his public revealing to his love, his loss, and then to his epic conflict in the final scene (sorry, no spoiler!). As the story unfolded, I saw a lot of different influences in the Bat Boy musical. The story was part Edward Scissorhands, part Tommy, part Romeo and Juliet, and part Frankenstein, with Simpsons-esque cultural commentary peppered throughout. As a fan of those influences, the Bat Boy story was right up my alley. It is definitely a story I would see again.

As for the performance itself, I thought everyone involved did an amazing job. The performers put on an excellent show and each scene and song was great and kept the story moving. The music, the lighting, and the background were also all well-done. When it was over, I hardly believed I was there for two hours.

Overall, I had a great time. There is no doubt if any of their other performances are anything like Bat Boy: The Musical, I am definitely making a return visit to the Carrollwood Playhouse.

For a review with pictures of the performance, go check out My Tampa Life.

Here is another in-depth review from a fellow Tampa writer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Toney Douglas's nickname and future destination

I don't know why I didn't think of this while he was at FSU, but I am starting a movement to give  Toney Douglas the nickname "Ghostface". For those aren't down with their hip-hop, here's why:  Back in 2004, Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah released an album called "The Pretty Toney Album".  Then, in 2007, Ghostface released a book called "The World According to Pretty Toney". And so because Toney Douglas's game at FSU was pretty, he is now "Ghostface" or the even shorter "Ghost". Feel free to follow along.

Now as for where our newly christened Ghostface Douglas will continue his basketball career, it's never too early to look at the mock drafts. Are we looking at another first rounder a la Al Thornton? Or will we be patiently waiting for over two hours to hear Douglas's name, like we did for Alexander Johnson?

So far,

NBADraft.net has Douglas going 40th to the Charlotte Bobcats.

DraftExpress.com has Douglas going 36th to the Detroit Pistons.

And of course, ESPN.com's mock draft is behind the Insider wall.

Eh, I thought it would be a little higher than that. Maybe he will climb as we get closer to the June draft.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Response to Virgil Griffiths' "Music That Makes You Dumb": Part 2

Ok, I apologize for not finishing this sooner. This is Part 2 of my defense of Hip-Hop in response of Virgil Griffith’s well-publicized “Music That Makes You Dumb” study. I know I said I would have this "tomorrow", but if you slept for two weeks, then today actually is closer to tomorrow. But I digress ...

(In case you forgot what this is all about, see Part 1 here.)

Before I go defending hip-hop and attacking Mr. Griffith's study yet again, I figured I should give a little background pertaining to my music tastes and my education level: I’ve been listening to hip-hop since 1990 or so and I have a Master’s Degree. The first hip-hop song I remember really liking was admittedly M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”. Through the years, I've credited hip-hop for instilling a hustle-like drive in me. Although I didn’t grow up anywhere near the ghetto, songs like Biggie Small’s “Juicy” and much of Nas’s “Illmatic” album influenced me to make more of myself and to leave the safe suburbs of Central Florida for more adventurous grounds.

Now I can’t say whether or not hip-hop affected my SAT scores, as Virgil Griffith’s well-publicized study would infer. I wasn't that great of student back in the day. To be honest, it probably was more due to my laziness than my musical tastes. And I sincerely doubt either of the two (my laziness and my music taste) were related in any sort of way. Looking back on my own academic history, I wonder if Mr. Griffith had performed his research 15 years ago, when I took my SATs and ACTs, would he have found Snoop Doggy Dogg and other chart-toppers of yesteryear as the music favorited by students with low test scores?

Today’s hip-hop, like that of the mid-90s, is unfortunately too easily dismissed as music for the ignorant. To quote Michael Eric Dyson, “Hip-hop’s critics make a valid point that the genre is full of problematic expressions. It reeks of materialism; it feeds on stereotypes and offensive language; it spoils with retrogressive views; it is rife with hedonism; and it surely doesn’t side with humanistic values”. (Dyson, 2007)

Dyson defends hip-hop, however, claiming it is “fundamentally an art form that traffics in hyperbole, parody, kitsch, poetic license, double entendre, signification, and other literary and artistic conventions to get its point across”. (Dyson, 2007)

Although I am far from the hip-hop scholar that Dyson is, my view on hip-hop definitely mirrors his. More specifically, I believe there are four elements of hip-hop that, when studied and analyzed, have the opposite effect on listeners that what Griffith claims and actually make people smarter.

Hip-hop as History

Hip-hop is the latest derivative of African-American music. The music that started with the old slave chants and drum rhythms morphed into the call and response of gospel and blues. From blues came early rock and roll and rhythm and blues. From there came soul and funk and from there disco and the earliest roots of rap. There is no doubt hip-hop is a window into the history of music.

Although none have, to my knowledge, reached out to perform with the music performers of yesteryear (as early British rockers did with the old Mississippi blues men in the late 1960s), there is at least a growing appreciation among veteran rappers for those who blazed the trail. Many rappers have in the last few years raised the profile of the history and the roots of hip-hop. Two examples of rappers exhibiting their musical roots include Chuck D’s presence and essays in Martin Scorese’s “Blues” and Nas’s song “Bridging The Gap” which while played with his father, blues singer Olu Dara, contained a sample of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”.

Personally, hip-hop taught me my musical background as well. Starting with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and the gangsta rap of the early ‘90s, I discovered George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. From George Clinton came James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. From Hendrix came Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and dozens of other blues legends. Rap and hip-hop spawned in me a great appreciation for American music. I think this has made me a smarter and more culturally appreciative music fan.

Hip-hop as Globalism

As well as being the next step in American music, hip-hop is also the most inclusive and racially tolerant of all American musical art forms. At its most basic, creators of hip-hop music have “dug through the crates” to find beats and sounds from all sorts of various musical pieces. Hip-hop DJs have sampled jazz, blues, rock, classical, cartoons, country, and even world music to create the melting pot that has become hip-hop music.

Hip-hop’s inclusiveness stretches beyond the barrier of beats, however. Hip-hop is celebrated around the world in a way that no other music has ever been. What originated in New York City is now popular in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Aspiring rappers worldwide are drawing influence from over 20 years of American hip-hop and creating their own sounds and trends. And these sounds, in turn, are making their way back to America to influence domestic artists. Hip-hop is creating a global musical community.

Although there was, and probably still remains, some geographical “beef” between east and west coast rappers, global appreciation for hip-hop has resulted in a more open-minded, accepting population. A population that is both smarter and more global connected.

Hip-hop as Verbal Expression

Granted, according to a Hip Hop Word Count, some (ok, most) rappers rate poorly in their use of complex, multi-syllabic word use and express themselves at basically an eighth grade or lower reading level. (Here is where we can get into socio-economic plight and its effect on education.) Despite the perception of an uneducated majority, hip-hop features many rappers who use the beat and their songs to express complex ideas on the world around them.

The most famous hip-hop group to educate the masses is probably Public Enemy. Front man Chuck D has made a living, as Bob Dylan put it, “talkin’ ‘bout the government” and rapping about what is going on in the African-American community. There is no way listening to Public Enemy makes someone dumb. Same with other “social conscious” rappers like Paris, The Coup, KRS-1, Dead Prez, Nas, or even to an extent 2Pac. Although many performers and listeners are using hip-hop as a celebration the “gangsta” lifestyle, there are those who use it as a method of communication or teaching. Those are the ones we should be listening to. The ones who are actually making us more aware of the world around us.

Hip-hop as brain music

I’ll admit these responses are a bit longwinded. I think I have probably written more in defense of hip-hop than Mr. Griffith wrote portraying it as the music for the uneducated. There is one thing to remember however, mainstream music will always be dumbed down to the lowest denominator. Corporate music will be sold to the person with an average IQ. Expecting to sell something the masses won't understand is a poor marketing plan.

My guess would be if Mr. Griffith had done this same study 20 years ago, he would have found Motley Crue, RATT, Poison, Bon Jovi, and maybe even Winger as the music listened to by those with the lowest test scores. Of course, had he done that and attacked the more traditional rock’n’roll, it is doubtful his study would have garnered the worldwide attention it did.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Making a Buck or Two off Swine Flu

Like clockwork, there never ceases to be people who try to make money on the misfortune of others. However despicable, no matter what the tragedy or how low class, there is always someone concocting a marketing ploy or two to capitalize on the pain and suffering of their common man. For example, who can forget Jenga: World Trade Center Edition (I can’t find the link, but you can see it played here) or the Caylee Anthony doll?

To date, however, I have yet to see anything taking advantage of the Swine Flu pandemic. No sick piggy plush dolls, no “I survived Swine Flu” or “Someone went to Mexico and all I got was Swine Flu” t-shirts, and no celebrity-endorsed breathing masks.

Being that Swine Flu supposedly originated in Mexico, this week's Cinco De Mayo holiday provides the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the Swine Flu fad. The possibilities are endless especially for the producers of fine Mexican adult beverages have. All the companies would have to do is claim their alcohol cures or makes consumers immune to Swine Flu. Sure, this campaign would be marketing to the uninformed as well as slightly (ok, completely) deceptive, but don’t most good ads get people to believe a product can do the extraordinary? If I wear Wrangler jeans, will I be half the man that Brett Favre is? Doubtful. If I drink Schmitt’s Gay, will I be ... wait, nevermind.

Convincing the masses that swine flu can be cured or mitigated by Mexican-produced alcoholic beverages would be a marketing coup. Cases of beer and tequila would fly off the shelves. There would be riots on the streets as people wouldn't think twice of beating their neighbors for sweet, precious drops of Mexican-made nectar. And if the marketing is done well enough, the incredible fortune made by Mexican spirit makers would easily pay off the public relations backlash that would ensue.

Here in the US, of course, it is be illegal to claim alcoholic products cure diseases (stupid "snake oil" laws). So as a free service to our alcohol-making and drinking brothers south of the border this Cinco De Mayo I came up with a few slogans to use here in America.

This Cinco De Mayo, catch a Mexican import that won’t make you sick. Grab a Corona.

Forget those headaches and those ache-ies, drink a Dos Equis.

Jose Cuervo – The cure for Mexican sickness for over 100 years.

No thanks needed. Enjoy your Cinco De Mayo and avoid the clap Swine Flu.