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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Doh of Homer; The Doh of Jimmy

Jimmy Finlayson,left, with America's exemplar of fatherhood
Thanks to the majesty of Homer Simpson, the interjection doh has become a phenomenon--even a cause célèbre. It is the cat's pajamas among interjections, which remain the poorest of poor relations among the parts of speech. Two weeks ago, with leverage from the web site Laughing Squid, a Simpsons enthusiast   launched an amusing, annoying YouTube compilation of nearly every  Homeric doh that aired during the first 20 years of The Simpsons. The post, which went viral within a week, currently has 617,000+ hits.

It is common knowledge that Homer was understudy to the Scottish comic actor Jimmy Finlayson, an often  cartoony foil in Laurel & Hardy classics. For your convenience, Wig & Pen offers a snippet of Homer's staccato dohs chased by Finlayson's more elastic, keening doh. The latter comes from the immortal soda scene in Laurel & Hardy's 1929 two-reeler, Men O' War. These examples aim to right a tragedy in comedy:  Homer and Finlayson have rarely been heard in tandem.

Doh made it into the Oxford English Dictionary  in 2001. Here's hoping that Homer's gift to the Queen's English will elevate the Simpson name to a better station in the UK. That remains a tall order in the 75-year wake of Wallis Simpson's seduction in 1930s of the Brit who would not be king.

From the OED:

             doh, int.

Pronunciation: Brit. /dəʊ/ , U.S. /doʊ/
Forms: 19– d'oh, 19– doh, 19– dooh.
Etymology: Imitative. Compare oh int., duh int.
... (Show More)
Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also (usu. mildly derogatory): implying that another person has said or done something foolish (cf. duh int.).

Coda: The Laurel & Hardy Soda Scene:


Friday, January 20, 2012

Bagel Mood Swings

When I chance upon a seductively kickable rock on a walk, it’s usually good for two or three kicks before it squibs away. Often, I blame my own ineptness rather than the rock’s idiosyncrasies. Which is why discovering (and launching) a bagel on the sidewalk during an evening stroll in December proved so therapeutic. With zero practice, I instantly achieved mastery over the bagel’s speed and trajectory. For the first time since marriage and parenthood, I had achieved total control—until I punted the bagel with so much spin that it flipped onto its side and scurried off  like a tire on the lam.

The bagel—a symmetric torus—distributes weight and force evenly, not unlike a hockey puck.  Also like a  puck, my bagel was largely frictionless. Temperatures that night were in the low thirties; that hardened the bagel and created a uniform glaze over much of its surface area. In other words, it slid like a puck.

It was the Jews who introduced the bagel to much of North America. As a reluctant Hebrew School student, I discovered my status as one of the Chosen People—the first monotheists; the special recipients of the Ten Commandments. Underwhelmed by it all, a friend in college assigned such self-importance to the excesses of Jewbris (no relation to the Jewish circumcision ritual). Fortunately, Jewbris was scarce in my own family, but there were exceptions.

My father, a dentist who handled sharp objects with glee, never tired of stories about non-Jews who had landed in hospital emergency rooms due to self-inflicted bagel-induced knife wounds. I had always thought these to be Jewish urban myths, until I read this data-rich post in The New York Times via the Freakonomics blog. Now I know better. According to bagel economist Paul Feldman, 1,979 bagel fanciers wound up in emergency rooms in 2008 (presumably no moels under age 90 among them). Unlike many social science screeds, the Freakonomics blog does more than document the problem; it offers prevention via an instructive Wall Street Journal video. View that one via the Freakonomics site or get a different take on the alternative video below.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Capital Steps

Built in the late 1960s in the collegiate "bunker" architecture of the Vietnam War Era, the administration building on my campus has weathered decades of anti-war and other student protests.  Inside the building, however, several of the original polymer-based staircases betray 50+ years of continuous footfalls. Notice that the "swayback" steps in the above photos are predominantly on the right side as you're looking down the staircase (on the left side as you're looking up). You keep to your right when descending or ascending. The disproportionate sway on one side, then, must reflect your greater foot impact on steps as you descend. The difference in impact is a factor of two, observes a professor of civil engineering at my university. (See the footnote below for his explanation, which I could not fathom.)*

Resilient scholastic bunker architecture

Staircase design is serious business. The height of risers and depth of treads are standardized in state and local building codes. Nothing jolts your hard-wired sensory-motor expectations like missing a step, or on the upside, encountering one that is unexpectedly high or diminutive. Thirty years ago, arriving in the dark from Canada at the two-story rental where my partner and I occupied the second floor, my suitcase and I went flying when my foot encountered an unexpected supersized first-step riser on the stoop of my building. While I was out of town a handyman had replaced the old stoop with a one-piece modular version. Unfortunately for me, he had failed to sufficiently sink the bottom riser, which was twice the height of the others, into the ground.

Stooping to be conquered?
Post haste I phoned my landlord--an aging curmudgeon--who questioned my sobriety and told me that he'd "look into it." The next morning, I glanced out my 2nd floor window to see the landlord pull up to the house, approach the stoop, and launch face-first over the stoop and onto the porch. He had been forewarned. No doubt, the stoop was his very own Invisible Gorilla.
*Descending, think of sudden loading: use a dynamic load factor of  two (on the  weight only independent of any  factors of safety,etc.). Ascending : first thought  is to consider  a ramp loading. However, since we might run up the stairs, think of sudden loading again and use DLF of 2 again.  So  I would use 2 times as the factor.


Monday, January 9, 2012

36 Views of North Korean Grieving

AP photo from The Wall Street Journal

Two weeks ago, while gazing at photos of North Koreans in mourning--including grown men chewing the scenery--I recalled head shots depicting emotional states in the books and training materials of Paul Ekman. What, I wondered, would Professor Ekman, our leading authority on "reading" emotions from facial expressions, make of that frenzy of facial contortions from the Hermit Kingdom? In its obit of Kim Jong Il, a.k.a. The Guiding Star of the 21st Century and 200 other nifty appellations, The Economist speculated:
Mr. Kim knew exactly how the [his] population lined up: loyal core, 5-25%; wavering, 50-75%; hostile, 8-27%. But those who dissented--even in a whisper, even by hanging his portrait askew--ended in prison camps, subjected to forced labor and starvation.

How might Dr. Ekman audit the “grief cred” of our North Korean subjects? He’d certainly have us look for any upward angling of the eyebrows’ inner corners. It’s a high-probability marker of grief, he writes, that few can turn on voluntarily. He might also recommend that we look for slight or partial expressions; they might reveal other emotions—especially, in this case, fear. (Tensed lower and raised upper eyelids together are a high-percentage signal of fear--whether it stems from totalitarian disapproval or leering clowns.)  And he might have us sleuth out micro expressions (1/5 a second or less in duration), which can reveal fleeting emotional “tells.”

But buyer beware--trained actors and some sociopaths can beat the system. And there’s also temporary emotional contagion in numbers. Whatever the underlying mechanism of collective mimicry—mirror neurons, an intensified, rhythmically repetitive activity level—the herd makes it easier to feel the love, feel the grief. Professional mourners, you should note, typically gig as an ensemble. Check out these Rajasthani pros below who have traveled south to Bangalore to collectively wail not for mahatmas lost but for the callous termination of trees.

Professional mourners from Rajasthan

▼ यवन ▼  | Myspace Video

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Man, A Woman, & Their Trophies

With my own marriage in the rear view mirror, I felt vicarious joy viewing recent photos of an old friend, now in his mid-sixties and his much younger wife. A naysayer might sniff: What unmitigated trophyism--even the enchantress has one to display.  I say, why spite an honest celebration of fitness (in a Darwinian sense)? After all, we're likely witnessing DNA that will keep on giving in the domains of  huntin', rappellin' or whatever for generations to come.

The blogger's genetic legacy:
 DNA for angling, DNA for taxidermy
My own genetic legacy might well involve angling. That, however, got off to a shaky start.  I remember when Dad and I (at age eight) tried our luck on shore from an unyielding bluff on the Cape. Two hours into it and without so much as a bite, I went for the fences with a mighty cast that disappeared into a swirl of wind. After my consummately bald father extracted the hook from his pate, we called it a day. He and I never again fished together, but I soldiered on over the years, hooking a variety of less complaining trophies. 

For 2012, then, Happy New Years from Wig & Pen and best wishes for the dissemination of DNA for huntin', fishin', and, of course, humorous self-deprecation.