Monday, July 28, 2008

Aisle please

Will someone please explain to me why it’s so desirable to sit in the exact center of a movie theater? I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there was a point in the history of cinema when center seating was desirable and the reasons for wanting to sit in the center were legit, but those days are long gone.

The advent of surround sound and stadium seating have eliminated the advantage of the center seat, no longer do you hear better or see better from the center of the theater, yet this weekend, when I went to the movies, sure enough, everyone and their 97 year old gimpy grandfather were jockeying for center seats.

I’m not arguing, mind you, I happen to know that my visual and auditory experience is not heightened by sitting in the center, and if anything, my comfort is increased with the aisle seat that I choose. In fact, I wish I could convince the people on airplanes that the center seat was so damn desirable!

The only valid reason I’ve been able to fathom for fighting over center seats in a theater is that there is less traffic scootching by in route to the concession stand and bathrooms, but I reject that as well. I can’t imagine any person is more or less affected by those people—and for the most part, it’s the luck of the draw. If you have little kids or the elderly in your row, there’s a better chance you’ll have to let someone slide by, if you don’t, who the heck is going to pay the outrageous ticket prices and then miss ten minutes of the movie? It just doesn’t happen.

I had to laugh, and take a quick stock for any potential offensive body odor problems I may have had this weekend, because the early crowd stuffed themselves into a stripe down the center of the theater, leaving people like me, alone on the aisles and outskirts.

After ascertaining that I did not, in fact, suffer from any type of odor problem, I marveled at the idiocy of these people. I stretched my legs out on either side of myself, I selfishly used all of the armrest on either side of me, I spread myself out for maximum comfort and enjoyment while those in the center, for an imagined better view, I suppose, sweated and banged elbows and rubbed shoulders.

In the end, I wound up with my own aisle seat and no one in the seat next to me in a theater that I would say was 95% full. Go me!

So, in that spirit, I take it all back! You’re right, I’m wrong. The center is better! By all means, discount the power of the human brain to visually center an image that is only off center by a small degree! For heavens sake, surround sound is a scam! Believe not that the acoustics of a theater in combination with sound development and technology can afford you the maximum auditory experience on the outskirts of the theater! Only in the center can you hear the movie the way it was meant to be heard!

Center is best! Only an idiot would go and pay all that money to see a movie, only to sit on the fringes. You’ve got it right! Keep up the good work, and I’m sorry if I’ve bothered you in the slightest!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dark Knight

So, I saw Dark Knight yesterday afternoon. I have to admit, I was really impressed. I suppose someone a little more steeped in Batman lore probably saw a lot of what happened coming, but as someone for whose entire knowledge of Batman is based on the cheesy previous movies and the old Adam West television show—not the actual comic book, I was continually impressed with how the tale turned.

Simply put, the action was great, the writing was crisp, the acting—aside from Christian Bale’s insistence on trying to use a tough guy voice which he clearly doesn’t possess, when he was the Dark Knight, was great.

My only protest is that the movie was too long, but that said, I’m not sure what they could have cut to make it shorter, so I can hardly complain. All in all, I was very impressed. I like this new, dark, psychological take on the comic book hero.

When you hear comic book people talk about comic books, they often talk about the psychology of the hero. They talk about some inner struggle that drives that hero. They talk about the great depth that these characters have.

Those of us on the outside see them as action heroes, and the original Batman movies were made to satisfy us. These movies seem to me, to be made to satisfy those who look at the comic book hero as a more multidimensional character, and in the process, win over, those of us, who never saw the comic book hero with such depth, mightily.

Dark Knight, like Batman Begins before it, is shot in a very gothic style and the architecture of my home city of Chicago is an apt backdrop for such a style. It sets the mood and makes for an amazing aesthetic backdrop.

Much talk has been made of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker and I found myself wondering about halfway through the movie what the fuss was all about. Don’t get me wrong, he makes Jack Nicholson look cartoonish and like a caricature by comparison, but nothing really jumped out at me in the first half of the movie. Then the second act begins and he really steps things up—and coincidentally, his on screen time does as well. He is dark and maniacal and soulless. Michael Caine sums up the Joker best when he says, “some men just like to watch the world burn.”

I often scratch my head when the awards nominations are announced and awarded, so I won’t enter the debate over whether or not he deserves one. I’ll leave such pursuits to those more pretentious than myself. I will say that he was very good though. I hope I’m not spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you that his character survives—although incarcerated—and whomever the actor may be that is charged with taking up his role in future installments of this franchise will have his some big shoes to fill.

I don’t know that he quite makes it to the pantheon of the greatest villains of all time, alongside Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter, but he comes close enough to be noted.

I find myself looking forward to the next one. Batman has always offered some of the greatest antagonists and with Scarecrow, Two-Face and Joker now used, I walked out wondering if perhaps it would be Cat Woman, Penguin or Riddler who we might see next—and more importantly, how these characters would be written to show them as dark and forbidding, instead of the cartoonish ways we’ve seen them portrayed to date?

Dark Knight was, very simply put, well done. It’s worth going to see on the big screen, with an overpriced popcorn and soft drink for company. I’m sure I’m probably one of the last to see it, but in case you haven’t already, consider it highly recommended.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My baloney has a middle name...

I just sent an email to a friend asking him to take me off his email list. He’s one of those people who sends out a lot of political emails, which is all fine and well, as I love a good political debate, but this particular guy is always sending emails that espouse ideas that to me, are very un-American.

The email started off nicely. It was a story that illustrated John McCain’s strong feelings about the pledge of allegiance. It talked about his time as a POW and what a friend of his endured so that those honorable men with him could pledge their allegiance and remind themselves why it was they were made to suffer.

It was a moving and poignant account. I really enjoyed it and I agreed with the message. The flag, as a symbol of our country, our Pledge, our Anthem, those things are sacred to us as Americans—or should be.

I’m on board with that. I’m all for it. Good story! Good send! Thanks for thinking of me and copying me on this buddy!

Then I read on.

Instead of just leaving off with a positive message about McCain, the originator of this email felt the need to sling propaganda and hate.

I got to read about Barrack “Hussein” Obama (YES!!! THAT’S REALLY HIS NAME!!!!!) and how he’d just as soon piss on the flag as salute it, how he refuses to wear a flag pin—blah, blah, blah.

It went on and on. It was all divisive. It was all geared toward an ignorant audience. It was all geared to induce hatred. It was narrow-minded. It wasn’t about the issues, it was about propagating stereotypes and mistrust based on a person’s heritage.

This isn’t the first email like this I’ve received from this guy. I asked him once before not to send me emails that included messages of hatred. I sent another one just now.

I have enough reasons to be sad for this country without the people in my life who I consider friends adding to that depression.

I don’t think the friend in question is a hateful person. I know he’s conservative in his politics and right wing in his affiliations. I know he’s voting for McCain. That’s fine. I think he sent this message to me because of the positive message, not the negative one, but that fact remains, when you forward a message like that, you are responsible for all of it—not just the parts you like or believe.

I’m not going to elect my next President based on that which some want me to fear. I’m not afraid of a man with the middle name of Hussein being the leader of this country. He had as much choice in his own middle name as I did. I’m sure if his parents had known he would be running for president some day, they’d have named him Barrack Ralph Obama.

I’m not afraid of man with brown skin being my president. I’m not afraid of a man who’s Muslim (which Obama is not) being my president. I’ll go ahead and measure the worth of a man by that man’s ideas and actions instead of the preconceived notions some may have about him.

There was a time when Irish-Americans were the most despised people in our country. That’s a part of my own heritage. We were mistrusted. We were ridiculed. We were treated like a lower class of people.

Time changed that perception. John F. Kennedy never would have been president if it hadn’t.

Stereotypes and ignorance aren’t new to this country. In fact, they are as ingrained as baseball and apple pie. We just keep changing the target. It’s easy to pick on the new guy, the minority, those not yet established.

And in today’s charged climate, it’s easy to pick on a guy for having a middle name that reminds us of an evil dictator. As if his name makes them alike, so I should pledge my allegiance to his opponent.

Ah, but we come full circle to that silly little pledge, the subject of all of this rhetoric in the first place, you see it promises, “liberty and justice for ALL.”

The originator of that email must think that means “all who are like himself.” I know better. I pledge allegiance to that flag based on the acceptance it symbolizes.

I bet those words really mean something to John McCain. I bet he really takes those words to heart, especially after reading the story of his harrowing time in a POW camp and what it meant to be able to say those words with his brothers-in-arms every day.

How sad that a hero should be so thoroughly disgraced by a supporter who obviously waves a flag and says the words, but never thought to measure his own hypocrisy against them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Can you place a price tag on convenience? Well guess what? It doesn’t matter if you can or not, because in this wonderful world in which we live, everything has a price, whether you realize it or not.

One axiom can almost always be trusted: Nothing, in life, is free.

Would you like to know a little bit about why rising gas prices are your own damn fault? Well, it’s my great pleasure to tell you. Points.

Points toward your dream vacation, points toward “free” gas, points that give you “cash” back, points that earn you miles, points that gain you anything you didn’t have before, points are the greatest scam perpetrated on chain of fools we like to call us in the history of free trade.

Nothing is free. Your points cost money. Your trip to Jamaica is going to be paid for by…(drum roll please)…you!

You silly fool! Did you really think that the cost to you was nothing? Well let’s try to think it through again, shall we?

Did you know that if there were no credit cards, that if everyone paid cash, gas prices would be, on average $0.10 - $0.25 less per gallon?

Oh, we’re quick to blame the big oil companies for the price at the pump, and let’s be clear here, they aren’t innocent little lambs in the equation, but they are not, alone, culpable for the drain on our hard earned money.

City and State taxes are included in the price, usually to the tune of more than a quarter a gallon, the oil companies need to make their own profit and aren’t taking a small share of the pie, I can assure you, the actual owners of the gas stations are being screwed—their margins are the lowest they have ever been, in many instances, operating at such a small margin that they are only breaking even.

And who’s taking the biggest piece of that pie? You guessed it, the credit card companies! They are paying for your vacation, your miles, your cash back bonus with the money you give them—at the pumps, in the stores, wherever you use your card.

Gas stations, stores, online merchants all have to account for the fee they are charged per transaction. In order to do this, they have to factor that fee into the price they charge you—for anything. It is illegal to charge more for items purchased with a credit card, or to pass the fee on to the purchaser, so a retailers only recourse is to add the fee, above and beyond the normal margin they might charge to the price of every product you buy.

Let me say that again. Whether you use a credit card to make a purchase or not, part of the price you pay on any item you purchase, carries with it an additional fee, above the margin the store hopes to make, to cover the cost levied by the credit card company in case you do choose to use a credit card for your purchase.

Everything is more expensive because credit cards exist.

If you were under the delusion that they only made their money when you didn’t pay on time, you were wrong. If you thought that your points were worth something, just think how much actual cold, hard cash you could have saved if the credit card companies weren’t taking their own cut from EVERYTHING!

Once again, your elected officials, who work for the credit card companies and big business, not you, do nothing to change this problem. Have you heard credit card reform listed on the platform of either of the presidential candidates?

No. Probably not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, for a change, our government went to work for us and did a few things to help us out, like allow retailers to charge a lower price for cash-paying customers? Like releasing gas stations and other retailers from their obligation to not charge more for credit card users?

What price do you place on convenience? Would you run to the cash station (and coincidentally, check cards are a small, flat fee, and not a part of this problem) to get cash in order to pay for your gas if it was $0.20 less per gallon? I would.

Or even easier, would you just use your check card instead of your credit card if it made the same difference? Of course you would.

We’re so easily fooled. Free. Heh! Free vacations, free miles, free cash back, these are figments of your imagination. They are a scam perpetrated as good marketing.

If there were someone, with whom you dealt, every single day, that you knew was cheating you and making your life more difficult, how would you handle that? Would you continue to work with that person, or would you find another way?

I know he’s supposed to be a Centurion, but I have to wonder if the guy on the front of the American Express card is really a Trojan soldier, waiting inside an innocent looking card, smirking as he rapes our wallets and purses.

Nothing in life is free. And the more free it seems, the more you’re really paying. We scream and we shout and we complain about the oil companies, as if all the blame lies at their doorstep. It’s easier that way. If only it were that simple. If only free was free and we weren’t all fools.

The price of convenience is going to drive us all into debt. So, we’ll have to start charging everything. Then give them more money when we can’t pay on time.

Isn’t free fun?!?!?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What a gas!

I’m paying over $4.00 a gallon at the gas pump. President Bush and Repubs want to drill off shore to help me out. But P-Bush and the Repubs are being rebuffed by those wiley Democrats (sorry, I’m sadly out of funky nicknames). The Dems think drilling offshore is a lousy idea and instead, they want to open up our oil reserves and to have oil companies drill in federally owned land that the oil companies currently lease.

I’m just your average, everyday sucker at the pump, so what do I know about which solution is better? In fact, they both sound pretty good to me. I fail to see the drawback of either plan. Good job Repubs! Good job Demmys!

Uh oh! We have a problem now!

Obviously, neither side can allow the other to save the day here! This isn’t a time to help the people (you know the people? As in “of the people, by the people, for the people” yeah, those people—the ones they are supposed to be representing, you may know them as you and I), this is a time to be right!

And what a beautiful thing it is to be right! It’s obviously much more important than doing good, or—and I realize this is a crazy notion—working for the people you represent!

Let me explain to you how this works. Instead of having a decision made, a plan accepted, an action undertaken, we get to debate about who’s right. And we’re just a bunch of ignorant fucktards—we’ll do our part to get caught up in it all. Those of us who hang to the right will, with righteous indignation tell anyone who will listen that offshore drilling is the only viable answer! Those of us who hang to the left will reproachfully admonish the very thought and tell anyone who will listen that it’s time to open the oil bank.

And true to our real name, we the people, of the United States of Sheep will do as we’ve been conditioned to do and take the argument to the streets, perpetuating the high gas prices, ruining our own economy, and making our own lives more difficult, all in the name of being right.

I won’t lie to you. I like being right. I’m even a little obsessed with it if you ask the people who know me. I understand the power that comes with being right. I understand the leverage that being right gives you.

But somehow, I don’t think our founding fathers imagined a country in which it’s citizens cared so little, where it’s government consisted of a specific class of citizen, a nobility if you will, that looked out for only themselves.

You see, these are the very things our founding fathers fought against. I think they assumed that the American people would never stand for a ruling aristocracy. I think they assumed that if things were bad, that we the people would and could unite against our elected officials and affect change.

They were wrong.

We’re a pawn in the game and nothing more. We aren’t a government of the people, by the people or for the people. We are pawns in an everlasting argument about who is right and therefore powerful. We live under the illusion that whichever party we support truly cares about our lives. What fools we are!

So take to the streets my fellow sheep! Argue your side of the debate ardently! Make your points! Take part in the process of being right! And enjoy the ever-rising price of gas, the strain on your wallet, and the endless cycle of an argument for the sake of being right—which may not help with our finances, but sure does give us something to do to make us feel like we’re a part of things, doesn’t it?