Sunday, August 5, 2007

Gas Prices and Other Phenomena

gas pumpIf you want to know why gas prices keep rising and falling, it is because of me. My purchasing gas at the pump has had a dramatic effect on whether the price has gone up or down.

When I waited to buy gas because the price seemed high, the price went even higher. When I bought gas because I wanted to lock in the current price before it went upward, the price has quickly fallen. I did not fully accept the effect until after the last time I bought gas, which I did at at $3.17 a gallon. I bought it at that price because the media was reporting that the forecast for the price was $3.50 a gallon by that weekend.

Well, the price never got to $3.50 a gallon. Instead the price has fallen to $2.58. I see the lower price on all the gas station signs as I drive by them, burning my $3.17 a gallon load. My mind automatically calculates and recalculates the difference in price that I paid to fill my 15 gallon tank. I translate the difference into how many additional bags of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies I could have gotten out of the vending machine at work for that money.

While it may be irritating to me financially to have this power over local gas prices, I do take some consolation from knowing that my buy high/buy high involuntary strategy has helped a lot of other people in their pocketbook.

I know that this phenomenon is more than a fluke because of its consistent occurrence. The reasons that the oil companies and media have provided to explain shifts in prices have never seemed more plausible than my own determination, so I don't feel that my reasoning is contradicted by any other set of facts.

A somewhat related finding comes from a survey done by the Miller Brewing Company that showed that 25% of Americans believed that their presence at a sporting event had an effect on its outcome. I'm not sure if the effect was supposed to be from their cheering to encourage the players to play differently or a yet to be understood effect that their physical proximity had on the players' ability to perform. My effect on sporting events is that I cause teams I want to win to lose if I watch them play on TV. It is a pretty pronounced effect, so if you want me to affect a game, give me a reason to like your team and then I won't watch them. A $5 donation for the effort would be appreciated.

photo "Gas Pump" by Endless Studio. Some rights reserved.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The World Owes Me A Restroom

A woman in Logansport (Indiana) experienced severe diarrhea while shopping in a Jo-Ann Fabrics store and asked an employee if she could use the restroom. When she was told that she could not because the facilities were for employees only, she stayed in the store and argued with the assistant manager about the policy even as she began to ooze fluid. The assistant manager remained firm and the woman eventually went to the restroom in the store next door with her "pants stained, dripping and smelling badly."

You can read the letter she wrote to the company about her experience here.

I don't think there's a reasonable excuse ever for publishing your diarrhea experience for the world to read, but if the point of her story had been that it would be nice for stores to provide public restrooms, I could accept her point of view. Instead, she told the story to castigate the company, a seller of fabrics, for not being prepared to accommodate their customers' potential lower digestive tract problems.

She wrote about the humiliation she felt while arguing in Jo-Ann Fabrics and during the walk next door, but how much humiliation can a person feel who, after being told no the first time, stays in the store to argue while starting to excrete. I know if this had happened to me, I would have grabbed a shopping bag to protect my seat upholstery and went immediately to my car. I certainly would have too much dignity to walk through another store with stained clothing.

I hate being around people who make a scene asking for exceptions to the rules. I have been in unpleasant situations that I could have avoided if I could have just broken the rules, but that's not the way the world works.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Where The Neon Signs Are Pretty

The internet is the new downtown.

Neon LightPetula Clark sang about the place where you could go at anytime to find some entertainment or meet new friends. Her downtown still exists of course, but as with a number of things that once could only be done in the real world, people are finding it easier to stay at home and use the internet to forget all their troubles, forget all their cares.

“Don't hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows - downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close - downtown
Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You'll be dancing with him too before the night is over
Happy again”
Movies, video clips, music - all available from your computer at any hour, day or night. And if you want to share it with someone, the digital world is full of social networking sites where you can meet any kind of person you want to.
“And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to
Guide them along
So maybe I'll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown - don't wait a minute for
Downtown - everything's waiting for you”
As enticing and fun as the internet may be, it can't really replace the noise, the hurry, the music of the traffic in the city. This weekend, turn off the computer, put your Petula Clark CD in the car player and take a chance on a adventure in your downtown. I hope you find that you're going to be alright - now.

photo "Neon light" by Max Williams some rights reserved

Friday, July 13, 2007

Try Acting

Recently the actor Aaron Eckhart said in an interview with Men's Journal that he had to put a clothespin on his testicles so that he could "pretend" that they were hurting during a film scene. Without embarrassment or realization that he was commenting on his own acting ability, he stated, “Otherwise, you’re just learning your lines and saying them. There’s no art in that. People say, ‘Why do you want to put a clothespin on your nuts?’ You know why? Because that’s what I do for a living.”

I believe him when he says that without the sensation of actual pain he would only be able to memorize and recite his lines. However it should be made clear that he is only acknowledging his own perception of limited talent. Acting is making other people think that you are feeling something that you are not, and contrary to Eckhart's statement, for good actors there is a lot of art in that.

The "Method Acting" approach has probably helped some actors who needed it and probably didn't get in the way for some actors who didn't need it. I believe it was Cuba Gooding, Jr. who during the filming of Pearl Harbor needed to be stuck with a pin in order to display the proper response to the action that was occurring. For him, that was a probably a good thing. For Dustin Hoffman, when he ran to the point of being breathless or remained awake excessively during the filming of Marathon Man, I believe he was a good enough actor that he did not need to do these things to act out these physical feelings. According to legend, his co-star Laurence Olivier agreed and remarked to him that he should try acting instead because it was easier.

The point there is that Olivier understood that acting is about, well, acting. It is not filming something that is actually happening to someone. We have reality TV for that.

The greatest actors can go and out of character at will displaying the entire range of human emotion. I remember Russell Crowe talking about Richard Harris' performance in the film Gladiator. Crowe told about Harris doing a dramatic scene for the camera but as soon as the director yelled cut, Harris would immediately resume whatever humorous story he had been telling before the cameras started rolling. Now that's a hallmark of a great actor.

For me it is irritating when someone says that a sign of a great actor is when they force themselves to actually experience something or live in character for a period of time. I don't knock that it helps someone who needs it in order to "act", but let's keep the title of "great" for the actors who don't need it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Killing Captain America For Fame

The premeditated murder of Captain America by Marvel Comics is certainly a ploy to push product but it is also a case of killing someone famous to gain fame for the killer.

attribution image by Chris GarrettBoth of these strategies come from a realization by the "creative" team that they are not capable of creating a blockbuster story based on characters of their own creation or on inspired story lines that would last for generations. Marvel, of course, wanted to sell more units, but who thinks it would be possible for any of the current writers in the comic book world to write a must-read, keepsake story where Captain America, living, amazingly does something worth reading about. That just wasn't going to happen. Instead, the team settled on the quick and easy solution for anyone who's creativity has dried up (or never existed) and just bumped off the character. That's worth a many-fold increase in sales and the writers wouldn't even need to miss their early dinner reservations after their story pitch session.

For the writers and editors the death gives them the fantasy that killing a famous character may give them the kind of comic book immortality as Bob Kane, Joe Schuster, Jerry Siegel, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Wil Eisner and others. Apparently, comic book writers today can have the same sort of delusion as a Mark David Chapman or a John Hinckley, where killing someone famous will give them the type of fame that their own abilities will never earn for them. Actually, the delusion is even sadder in this case because thirty years from now, after Captain America's death is retconned into the wtf were they thinking trashbin, very few people will have awareness of the current Marvel staff while someone like Stan Lee, who worked on creating his own work and not destroying others, will still be remembered.

Here's an idea for anyone in the comic book industry: create your own characters and do anything you want to with them. If the corporation that writes your paycheck and owns the copyright to a character has assigned you for the time being to make the character do something several times a year, don't kid yourself that this will ever equate you with the great ones in comic book history. You need to show your greatness by creating something not seen before. So if you are facing a deadline for an issue or a marketing push and you are thinking about the cop out gimmick of killing a character, know that instead you will be showing everyone that you are just a copywriter that got lucky.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

U-Scan Hell

I suffered another descent into U-Scan Hell this evening at my local Meijer store. This condition exists when not one, not two, but all four U-Scan registers on your side of the store come to a standstill as their users each find a way to thwart the the intended efficiency of the process. Tonight there was one woman receiving hands-on assistance from the attendant, one man staring blankly at the screen, one man waiting for the attendant to take his personal check, and one woman watching her mathematically-challenged child counting and recounting groups of pennies and nickels laying on the counter. The actual amount of wait time was brief, but it seemed longer, with not my life flashing before my eyes but theirs, a quiet desperation of endless encounters with electronic devices flashing 12:00.

It occurred to me that the retail stores need to establish a "do not scan" list of known scanning problem perpetrators that would require that the people on the list be diverted to their own line. There associate Betty can freely engage each shopper in a long conversation about how the shopper's day has been, or associate Fred can take each item and carefully scrutinize the package to find the bar code, which he inevitably will slowly and methodically wave over the reader four or five times before he finds the sweet spot. Personally, I would be glad to pay a few cents extra to see such a protocol instituted.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Color “Choices”

For years I've told people about the Color Marketing Group and how they create self-fulfilling prophecies of what colors will be popular in two years time. Their color choices basically dictate which colors will be available to the general public in mass marketed clothing each season. This process certainly benefits the fabric dye manufacturers, who can make tons of a relatively small palette of colors rather than small batches of any and all colors that clothing manufacturers could dream up.

My complaint is that most blues since the beginning of the first President Bush's administration have been lousy. Blue is my favorite color and almost every item of clothing I own is a shade of blue, so I am very familiar with the subtle variations in hues.

My favorite blues were doing the Reagan era: bright, happy, optimistic blues. I think it reflected the period when anything seemed possible, including an eventual defeat of the Evil Empire. With Reagan in charge, there was no need to worry about big issues and people could just enjoy the go-go 80's. Later, the election of Bush the First heralded the introduction of subdued blues and then many more years of peculiar blues. If I had known the Reagan blues were going to disappear I would have gotten multiples of every shirt that I bought during that time. I want my electric blue!