Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An expectant father's defense of "motherese" (a.k.a., baby talk)

A recent post on the Slate Lexicon Valley blog (re-posted from elsewhere) questioned the use of "baby talk" (more academically called "motherese")—that is, the exaggerated speech employed by many when speaking to infants. The writer identified some ways in which it could be effective in distinguishing syllables to better allow the children to learn the different words, but he also took to task whether that really made much of a difference in the long run regarding the adult's eventual mastery of language. Babies certainly overhear adults speaking to each other in "regular" speech and it's a stretch to suggest babies aren't picking up on some of that. The only solid conclusion the writer could draw: To him, at least, it's definitely annoying.

Fair enough.

However, I think all of that misses the point of what "motherese" achieves.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Things to not say in front of the baby: Substitute swearing

On a recent episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour they discussed use of profanity in pop culture, and how it is only effective when dispensed judiciously. Cursing the proverbial blue streak deadens the impact of the vulgarity. Similarly, the substitution of similar-sounding words that are not considered obscene by the FCC (or mere common decency) either in lieu of bleeping or to eschew that for broadcast can be more distracting than the use of the forbidden term would have done.

It's all about striking the appropriate balance when dispensing these so-called swear words. They need to serve their purpose without becoming pointless; they are a spice of language, and like any good spice too much makes the whole dish tasteless. However, pale substitution spices leave an unsatisfactory aftertaste.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ron Burgundy + Dodge = surprising beneficiary

Dodge's series of ads featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy (such as the one above) have not compelled me to buy one of their cars (and we won't be seeing the promoted upcoming sequel in the theater because our baby is due just before its opening—although this level of cross-promotion does cause me to wonder whether the movie may not live up to its predecessor).

What the commercials have inspired me to do: download the 1970 song "Grazin' in the Grass" (by Friends of Distinction), as the horn riff from that is what is used at the end of the spots.

That group benefited from the ads not only in getting a tiny royalty from my purchase but also in reminding me that the track was not (as I vaguely thought beforehand) by the Fifth Dimension.

Double score.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The hidden sexism of preparing for babies

In preparation for the baby my wife and I have attended several classes. Last week we went to a class on breastfeeding. One commonality in all the classes was a couched (or overt) plea by the instructor to the expectant fathers to do more of the housework both toward the end of the pregnancy and after the baby has arrived in order to take that pressure off the mother (while she is finishing gestating and then is recovering and then is getting little sleep with feeding the newborn).

No duh.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

World Series... uh, yeah

Tonight the World Series commences with the Red Sox-Cardinals match-up I prophesized after watching the Tigers and Dodgers squander their excellent starting pitching with no ability to have the bullpen hold the lead or to get runners in scoring position across (it's not out of the question to imagine both having gone up 3 games to 0 rather than be down 2 to 1 after three, making their odds of continuing on much higher). It's arguable whether the victors played that much better than the losers in their respective series but that they merely did what they needed to do in order to win (which, really, is what winning teams do). So we have a rematch of the 2004 Series, where whichever team comes out on top will have its third title in the past decade.

And the question is: Which team is more worthy of rooting against?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Useless Rhetorical Rumination: The conundrum of 'Pre-existing'

When discussing the Affordable Care Act proponents tout how one can no longer be denied coverage by insurance companies for "pre-existing" conditions. While we have all accepted that through its repetition I still find it a fascinating construction.

Existence is a binary condition; either something exists or it doesn't. To "pre-exist" suggests there is a third state of existing before existence, which from a rhetorical standpoint seems impossible. Clearly something only exists when it exists, not before the initiation of that state, but when we hear "pre-existing" bandied about in this manner we don't pause and consider its inherent contradiction.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Those idiots in D.C. get paid, no matter what; no big shock

That our elected officials in Washington D.C. get their pay even if they fail to do their job of keeping the government from shutting down is not surprising; those who would have to implement such a rule that they don't get paid are the ones who would be affected, and who in their right mind would choose to forsake their pay?

Not that there's exactly a surfeit of right-mindedness in that town, but even a nigh moron would see the flaw in bringing up the topic to all of one's colleagues that everyone should not get paid if they cannot figure out a way to justify why they should get paid. Nobody on either side of the aisle would go for that (although some would give it lip service to make it seem like they aren't the same ol' politicos that everyone complains about).

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Life decisions: foreign languages

Not exactly inspired by Hispanic Heritage "Month" but...
There are moments when I think that if I could go back and advise my young self I'd recommend taking three years of high school Spanish rather than three years of French, knowing that a better understanding of Español would serve me more later in life, especially living where I do (Southern California, for those who don't already know).

Of course, given how little I recall of Français it remains a strong possible I'd be in a similar position regardless of which other language I took. Unless I spoke it regularly—which clearly I would not have done during the years after high school—it would have faded. The best that would have come of it would be to be able to utter a few sentences, undoubtedly to the amusement of the native speaker having to endure me brutalizing their tongue. Still, had I done that then these days I'd be coming at the situation when I have cause to attempt to say something in Spanish it would not be learning words or phrases but trying to recall what I'd already (presumably) learned.

Granted, if I had the ability to go back and tell pre-teen Doug something to be of more use for later life, I imagine learning a different language probably wouldn't make the top fifty things that I probably should say.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Important lessons from 'Breaking Bad'

If I've learned anything from Breaking Bad it's mostly that I was inadvertently prescient not to retain too much from high school chemistry (all those years ago), so if I ever got a terminal disease I would never have the skills (whether I had the inclination or not) to pursue cooking up decent meth.

Knowledge is power, but sometimes that power is more than it's cracked up to be.

And if I did attempt to get into the illegal drug game I'm certain I'd get myself killed within the first month.

Sometimes our smartest decisions are when we choose not to be too smart.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Unintended future parenting lessons from phone commercials

I'd like to salute the advertising firm behind this commercial for the Nokia Lumia phone, but not because they've interested me in the product.

Before I explain why, we need to back up a bit.

Last Monday night as we went to bed my wife and I detected the unmistakable smell of smoke coming from outside the open window. After the fire in the building next door last June we instantly on high alert. I went to the patio and saw smoke billowing into the air from the northwest, looking to be originating from across the street at the next corner. I went to do some reconnaissance, going down the back alley toward the street. Sure enough, it was the laundromat with flames shooting out of the roof. Many of the others in the neighborhood were already watching, and the fire department was arriving on scene.

And when I was down in the back alley, braving the thickening smoke, among the gathered crowd I overheard someone lament aloud that she hadn't brought her phone--not because she needed to call someone but because she couldn't take a picture.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Coming down with a case of... the Vapors (they weren't just turning Japanese)

Back in 1980 (at age 12) I was coming off liking the Village People and started listening to pop radio, and remember hearing and really liking some of the unusual hits that flittered on to the charts, in what I didn't realize at the time was New Wave.

A track that I enjoyed then and continued enjoying ever since was the Vapors' only hit, "Turning Japanese." The riff, the beat, the not entirely explicable chorus, that "Think so, think so, think so" part in the final run of the chorus: it was marvelous. And frankly, I have to say I still think so (think so, think so)—not out of nostalgia, but because it remains an excellent slice of power pop.

I never got their record nor even the single, but I listened with anticipation for when the radio station might spin it again. (Yes, kids, there was a time when everything was not immediately available on the internet.) Eventually it turned up on virtually every '80s hits CD that came out, so finding that band's one hit proved easy by the end of the decade.

And for the intervening decades, even as my musical horizons expanded, my relationship with the band remained unchanged. I honestly cannot say why.

Recently I finally came across the band's "best of" collection (another digital trip to rediscover a missed past) and heard other songs by them, only 33 years after the fact. After several listens I have enjoyed that rest of their (still available) material, such as what I have learned was the b-side of the "Turning Japanese" single, a dynamic six-and-a-half minute live track called "Here Comes the Judge."

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Not breaking the end of 'Breaking Bad' / How we'll meet the Mother

Tread lightly when guessing the ending.
On a recent Hollywood Prospectus podcast they touched on the inclination some demonstrate to speculate about the ending for Breaking Bad, with only a few episodes to go. It's not surprising that with a show that clearly is heading toward a specific resolution that there would be those who'd play that parlor game of concocting a theory. Perhaps it's a desire to have bragging rights if one happened to think of the same thing that the obviously clever creators did and, by inference, to have been equally clever (at least in one instance). Certainly that's understandable.

I don't know exactly what this suggests about me, and it does seem to defy my analytic side, but I have no motivation whatsoever to try to glean the show's narrative destination. I am more than content to sit back and let it unfold before me. I don't know where it's going, exactly, but I expect I'll enjoy it most by sitting back, both literally and mentally, and going along for the ride.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our hopeless, Affleck-ted species

I'm not saying that signing a petition to prevent Ben Affleck from portraying Batman is the best way to prove our species is undeserving of our intellect and ostensible role as dominant on the planet, but it probably does a pretty good job of suggesting it.

Come on, nerds--this is why you have blogs.

p.s. Youngsters:  It didn't work against Michael Keaton 24 years ago either.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A message for the future: Unique

A note to my children in the future: This may be difficult to believe with how language is by the time you read this, but there was a time when "unique" meant "one of a kind." One of your grandfather's pet peeves about contemporary English usage (of which there were many) was when people would preface that term with a modifier (for example: "the most unique") to suggest a spectrum along which something could be varying degrees of being one of a kind.

Obviously this usage stemmed from the application (some would say misapplication) of "unique" as a euphemism for "unusual" or "distinctive" or "uncommon" (or other such adjectives) where there is more of an implicit possibility of relative status where modifiers could be applicable, unlike the binary status the traditional definition of "unique" held.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Homophone trifecta

If there were a sous chef named Sue who was Sioux that would hit the homophone trifecta. But if Sue got sued that would be too much.

And if Sue were a male it would be mostly a Johnny Cash song.

(Surely this is sui generis. No other species must have such thoughts.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Non-simple simple decisions: When you don't find out the sex of your unborn child

When my wife and I found we were pregnant we decided we would not learn the sex of our baby until he or she emerged at birth. It wasn't that we wished to rebuke what modern medicine allows; we merely wanted to have that opportunity to be surprised. It seemed like a simple enough thing.

Now that we are halfway through the pregnancy, with several visits to the obstetrician and having announced the impending birth to family and friends, I realize that decision was anything but simple.

When we had the most recent ultrasound we had to make explicit mention that we did not wish to know the sex—which we reiterated not only to the technician but also to the doctor when each came in. During the procedure (where we could see the image on a screen on the wall) the technician told us when to close our eyes or look away to avoid potentially seeing something that would give it away.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Life skills

Perhaps the single-most important skill one can develop in life is the ability to put up with the idiocy of others.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Remembering Comic Con's Good Old Days (as happens every July)

As happens every year when Comic Con weekend rolls around I am reminded of attending the event back in the late '80s, before it was an event covered by the entirety of the media (and was more focused on the item from which the event draws its name).

Back then there weren't panels with A-list actors, and even the celebrities of the comic book world (the popular artists) that drew crowds weren't my thing. What I'd do was spend some time in Artists' Alley with some pieces of blank paper, talking to small press artists (both those whose work I read and some who, because they weren't big names, didn't have anyone talking to them) and getting autographs—which they would embellish with a sketch.

I recently came across those pages from the cons in 1987 through 1990; scans of those are featured below.

1987 page 1, including Scott Shaw!, Stan Sakai, Jim Bricker, Scott Saavedra, Lou Scarborough, Jeff Nicholsen, Kevin Eastman, Don Dougherty, and others.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rising on the Dark Knight

Recently I re-watched The Dark Knight Rises—it wasn't that I set out to do so; it merely was on HBO when I was looking for something to watch—and I must admit I thought it held up in being an entertaining film.

At least that was my perception at this juncture. I'm not here to argue whether it was by some empirical standard good or not; I'm here to identify that's better than what I thought before.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Why I'm not worried about same-sex marriage

With the recent Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8 the national conversation pivoted from possible NSA overreach to same-sex marriage. It was all over the Sunday shows last week, for example, and I'm sure it was beaten to death on the 24-hour cable news programs (not that I can bring myself to watch those).

My feelings on the subject have been well documented, and I won't get into them again. It's not that I haven't thought about them again, especially after watching last week's Meet the Press, but what I have accepted is it's another one of those topics where people who oppose it will always find some reason to oppose it. Even though the land's highest court has declared it is unfair for federal statutes to deny recognition the states have granted, and have dismissed that it damages those who have heterosexual unions (by saying those who brought the Prop. 8 case lacked cause), they have not accepted the issue as remotely close to resolved.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Digital Present Saves Music's Past

Hey, fellow old timers: Remember when you'd hear a song that really made you want to go out and get it? Remember how if it was late at night you'd have to wait until the record store opened? As much as we recall all that anticipation fondly, we have lived to see the new paradigm, and frankly it's got its benefits. Did you ever go to the store only to find they were sold out of that album you sought (perhaps because it wasn't the current "in" thing that had its own end cap display)? Yeah, much as we do have fond thoughts of record stores (and I certainly endorse people to support their local shops if so inclined), that part we choose to block.

To me the advantage online music outlets (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.) have these days is how they don't have space limitations like brick and mortar music stores do. The immediacy of downloading is a convenience, but the fact they don't seem to have to restrict what they carry because they lack room in the bins (although they do have restrictions based on contracts with the labels, but that's legal, not physical) is the advantage. Not only does this allow for the obscure to be included with the popular, the back catalog and works of artists who have faded from the spotlight can still be found.

It's not that being middle-aged makes me dislike the contemporary stuff being released these days (I quite like the recent Wax Idols album, for example), but I cannot claim that the current scene appeals to me like what was the current scene twenty years ago. So what I am getting these days includes a reasonable amount of the material that I missed before, perhaps because I was too young (or not even born) at the time to have been into it (and never went through a phase) or maybe because I was too distracted by what I fancied at the time. With age I have not lost that inclination to keep finding songs that are new, but now some of those are actually quite old and merely new to my ears.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Icona Pooped

Attention people who make commercials and promos: I don't care how much you love Icona Pop's "I Love It". No matter how catchy it is (and sure, it is), it ceased being effective BECAUSE YOU ALL USED IT.

(Samsung, Shoedazzle, the CW...)

Unless you were trying to turn me off about whatever your spot was promoting, in which case: Mission accomplished.


And if you thought it would be some way of getting me to link to the noted ads, you're really stupider than I thought.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Concert shirts

There are moments when I wish I could go back in time 25 years and tell my young adult self that when I go to concerts to buy two of the t-shirts—one for immediate wear and the other to pack away in a box to pull out 25 years later.

Oh, and make sure the second one is XL.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Skirting around the lip of the U.S. Open

Over the weekend we visited my dad. Some of the time was spent merely sitting in the living room, chatting while the U.S. Open was on the TV with the sound off. What is noteworthy about that was how despite the fact none of us in the room were players of golf, and I have at best a cursory knowledge of the rudiments of the game (with no interest in playing it), we still were drawn into the proceedings on the screen.

Without having any particular rooting interest we nonetheless winced as a Phil Michelson* putt skirted along the lip of the cup and then rolled away rather than dropping into the cup. This merely underscored what seems a basic human trait: empathy. Without any particular emotional investment we still felt for the disappointment of another in just missing while attempting a specific goal.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

No (superhero) justice for the ladies

While briefly online this morning I noticed on FB a bit of a rant by a friend where she lambasted the paltry appearance of Wonder Woman in the new Justice League merchandise at Target. (I presume she sought items with the Amazon princess for her daughter, but heck, her aim may have been for herself.)

On the site was the picture above of the JL featuring only Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash, leaving out WW altogether (but if one scrolls all the way over to the right one will find her, as shown below). My friend understood why (marketing towards boys), but still lamented that a strong female character couldn't be included with the other heroes. Would that really be so damaging to our nation's boys?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

"See" you later

When people on TV sign off by saying "See you tomorrow" (or "next week" or whatever time period applies), it makes me wonder if they understand how cameras work. Then I wonder if they have some ties with the NSA we haven't learned about yet.


Blink once for "yes," twice for "no"...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Arresting the Development of TV Binge-Watching

As the entire internet is duly aware, Netflix released new episodes of Arrested Development weekend before last. In quasi-preparation for that debut my wife and I spent many hours in the preceding weeks re-watching the first three seasons through that online provider, being reminded of how much we enjoyed it back when it first aired (even the uneven third season), getting through the original finale in the late afternoon on Memorial Day.

Between then and the next weekend we have watched... three of the new episodes. And without spoiling anything (as we've been trying that to avoid by not reading reviews yet), our impression is... it's okay, with its moments, but generally unimpressive.

I'm not sure if having binged on those first three seasons raised our expectations for the "fourth," or if we simply tried watching them at inopportune times (twice my wife and I have started to drowse during them, on a warm, sunny afternoon, after eating), or if it's still too soon for us to judge (without seeing all the new episodes yet), but I can already say it's not inspiring us to want to keep watching the way gorging on the episodes from roughly a decade ago did.

Perhaps we are watching them ten years too soon. Maybe then the single-characters-focused, overlapping narratives will seem like genius.

But not watching them all in one big viewing gulp.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Ginning up the nostalgia with supermarket muzak

Hearing the Gin Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy" in the supermarket recently I was reminded of seeing the band (with my friend Frank) at the former Long Beach-based club Bogart's before that song hit it big (about 20 years ago). Then I thought of the age of the track and grasped that in relative temporal terms hearing it now is the equivalent of hearing Loggins and Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" (a hit about 40 years ago) while strolling through the aisles back during the time when "Hey Jealousy" was in rotation.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Before 'After Earth'

Coming to a theater near you today, latest Fresh Prince of Bel Air blockbuster aspirant, After Earth.

Judging from the trailer the premise laid out in the short preview appears to be: Humanity fled the planet a millennium earlier—presumably due to having screwed it up to the point where it was nigh-uninhabitable—and now the elder and younger Smith men are on a space ship that crashes to our species' point of origin. The flora and fauna have flourished in our absence. Then we see the two humans battling CGI animals who understandably see them as prey,  interspersed between scene snippets with the tag line "Danger is real. Fear is a choice."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grading the 2012-13 TV season

With the TV season (to the extent there is still a "season") coming to its "official" close this past week, it's time for me to justify that time on the couch by presenting...
Doug's Second-Annual Useless TV Report Card!

(Really. I did this last year for the 2011-12 season.)

Bear in mind that the shows are not graded on a curve (some brief details can be read below); even though the list this year is arranged by grade first (with the highest at the top), the secondary sort is merely alphabetical by title, so the order is not suggesting a superiority of one show as compared to another.

Bob's Burgers
Sep. – May
A *
Breaking Bad
July – Sep.
Key and Peele
Sep. – Nov.
June – Sep.
New Girl
Sep. – May
Sep. – May
The Good Wife
Sep. – Apr.
30 Rock
Oct. – Jan.
Parks and Recreation
Sep. – May
Dec. – Mar.
Happy Endings
Oct. – May
Raising Hope
Oct. – Mar.
Sep. – Jan.
The Big Bang Theory
Sep. – May
The Mindy Project
Sep. – May
The Simpsons
Sep. – May
Jan. – Mar.
B *
Mad Men
Apr. –
Modern Family
Sep. – May
Oct. – Apr.
June – Feb.
Covert Affairs
July – Nov.
Once Upon a Time
Sep. – May
B- *
Feb. –
Saturday Night Live
Sep. – May
The League
Oct. – Dec.
White Collar
July – Mar.
B-/C+ *
May –
Feb. – May
Go On
Aug. – Apr.
The Office
Sep. – May
Ben and Kate
Sep. – Mar.
Burn Notice
June – Dec.
How I Met Your Mother
Sep. – May
Up All Night
Sep. – Dec.
Jan. – Apr.
Oct. – May
Totally Biased
Aug. –
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show

And with that, I direct you to the comments pane below to allow you to tell me how wrong I am.