Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's the fluff that makes it special.

"Well, to be honest, it just didn't make it for me. It's just so much fluff."
Marlene to Jerry in "The Ex-Girlfriend"
It is fluff.
Anyone with a widescreen TV or widescreen computer monitor [raising hand] is getting "so much fluff" when they look at an image on the screen. That's the thought that occurred to me as I was watching the MLB Network yesterday. My mind wanders at times.
The image at the top is the widescreen version of The MLB Network. The one directly below it is the "regular def" version, formatted for square CRTs. Since most of the TV watching population still has the square TV screen, it wouldn't make sense for producers to format their shot for the widescreen TV. In this case, the young lady on the left and the man on the right would be either cut in half or eliminated altogether.
The same is true of the network shows you watch, like The Office or CSI Miami that are filmed in widescreen Hi-Def. Sure, it's widescreen, but the fluff on the sides is just that - fluff. They can't shoot those shows in true widescreen (like a movie) because large numbers of viewers would be left wondering who is talking at stage right.
So, that widescreen TV or computer monitor we bought is really only good for movies and other things that are made to be seen on the wide screen. We're ahead of the curve so far that the road hasn't even started to curve yet.
As for me, I'm feeling a little cheated by the fluff on the sides, since the money I paid for the TV is pretty much just allowing me to see scenery and not content. it's nice for movies, but I used to watch the letterbox version on the big square tube, so I'm really only seeing it about 6 inches wider and no higher. My 37-inch LCD TV is just about the same height as the old 32-inch CRT that I got rid of to upgrade to hi-def. OK, so it's hi-def. That's nice, but what am I getting? Clearer and sharper sides of the screen that contain ... nothing.
That's your thought to chew on for today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reading between the lines.

On a related note to yesterday's small rant over baseball's drug problem: Major League baseball has a list of banned performance-enhancing drugs that, if a player uses, will get him kicked out of the league. So, why would anyone take a supplement that isn't on the list? MLB is telling the players that the stuff they can take doesn't enhance their performance, so why would they waste their money? What's not on the banned list - vitamin B complex and bioflavinoids?
Take the steroids because that's obviously what works.
Meanwhile, when it comes to our mounting personal debt, it seems the blame is with us. Go figure:
Every penny of Americans' nearly $1 trillion in revolving debt started with someone - some individual person - whipping out a piece of plastic and making a decision to use it. We could consider that free will and just call it a day, but there's plenty of reason to believe the story isn't so simple. There are piles of evidence that people are bad decision makers when it comes to how they use credit cards.
Seriously, dude. Try this: "Hey, I'd like to go, but I can't afford it." I think there's some pride that takes over in situations where your friends are doing something that you can't afford, but want to do. The difference between want and need raises its ugly plastic head, and we all want what we don't need, and therein lies the conflict. It's the reason I didn't buy that Kindle I was looking at. I wanted it, but didn't need it.
More than a third of consumers pick one credit card over another based on which issuer has the lowest introductory interest rate. And yet people often do so in a way that leaves them with higher finance charges over time. In one study, University of Maryland economists Haiyan Shui and Lawrence Ausubel watched people pick a card with a teaser rate of 4.9% for six months over a card with a teaser rate of 7.9% for 12 months. That would make sense if the people then paid off their balances within six months. But many didn't - the average balance for the year was $2,500, with plenty of folks paying more in interest charges than they would have had they opted for the other card, considering the rates on each spiked to 16%.
So, you say, "Sure, let's do it," because all my friends have iPods and go to Europe on vacation. I'll go too, and pay for it later. How much later? Well, if you're into the card companies for 5-figures, count on it lasting until you're feet-up in the ground. The average credit card balance is around $10,000. Average. That means that, for every person who has zero there is someone who has $20,000. Try paying that off on those $40 a month payments at 10% interest.
Once we've got our card in hand, our behavior becomes riddled with irrationalities. In one experiment, Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that people were willing to pay twice as much for basketball tickets when they were using a credit card as opposed to paying cash. Credit-card spending just doesn't feel like real money. In another study, Nicholas Souleles of the University of Pennsylvania and David Gross of the consultancy Compass Lexecon calculated that the typical consumer unnecessarily spends $200 a year in interest payments by keeping a sizable stash of cash in savings or checking while at the same time carrying a credit-card balance. In our heads, the two don't line up.
Our lives are out of control, folks. Credit is too easily gotten. For too long, we've been living fat, dumb and happy until now, finally, it takes an act of Congress to keep the card companies from screwing us blind.
President Barack Obama invited credit card industry leaders to the White House and pushed for reform. He has told Congress he wants a bill before the Memorial Day break. Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn) said he has been trying to regulate the industry for about 20 years but now is the best chance for reform because people are angry about increases in fees and interest rates as they struggle to survive the recession.
Now, finally - we're angry. Why? Because it's costing us a fortune and we've come to the realization that the debt is too deep to wallow out of, so we turn to legislators - as a last resort - to help us fix a problem that we created. As if they don't have enough to do - fixing problems that they created.
Maybe, what we need is somebody to follow us around and keep track of all this junk that we're buying? Somebody to remind us of how much junk we clutter our lives with.
I'll do it for sixty dollars. Cash.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Selected short subjects

Remember that crazy, hairbrained scheme that the idiot son of our 41st President cooked up a couple of years ago to privatize the Social Security system and allow us to invest in the stock market to "bolster our savings?" How would that have worked-out for us, do ya think?
With Manny Ramirez being the latest superstar baseball player to fail a drug test, that puts about 10 of the most prominent big-leaguers of the past 10 years on the list of players that have either failed or are suspected to have taken drugs. The list includes Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmiero, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. Popular opinion says that they shouldn't be inducted into the Hall of Fame because they "cheated." Well, if so many great players have cheated, and we aren't supposed to let them in, who does that leave the writers to vote for? I'm guessing that, in five years the Hall will be filled with players like Melvin Mora and Jamie Moyer. Who? Exactly.
Supermarkets across America will be bereft of a beautiful woman to kiss hands and shake babies, as Miss USA Carrie Prejean is under scrutiny for her views on gay marriage and some photos of her in her underwear. In the meantime, California beauty czars have appointed the state pageant's runner-up, Tami Farrell, as a "Beauty of California Ambassador" to fulfill any duties the winner normally would handle. That's a relief. I'd hate to think of the sad state of affairs if California was to go without a beauty ambassador.
In his daily briefing Monday, Robert Gibbs distanced the president from comedian Wanda Sykes’ joke comparing Rush Limbaugh to a 9/11 hijacker at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
“I think there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection rather than comedy. I think there's no doubt 9/11 is part of that,” Gibbs continued. At the correspondents’ dinner, which Obama attended Saturday, Sykes blasted Limbaugh for saying he hoped Obama’s administration would fail, joking: “I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was just so strung out on Oxycontin he missed his flight.”

Obviously, the White House feels as though it's OK to fly Air Force One low over New York City, but jokes about terrorist attacks are out of the question.

And speaking of which, how do you "wish" an administration would fail? Are some people so twisted up in being right (pun) that they would hope for their nation's government to fail to further their career and political agenda? Apparently, yes. This is a transcript from Limbaugh's own web site:

My hope, and please understand me when I say this. I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, "Well, I hope he succeeds. We've got to give him a chance." Why? They didn't give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search-and-destroy mission had begun. I'm not talking about search-and-destroy, but I've been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed.

I hope he fails." [interruption] What are you laughing at? See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, "Oh, you can't do that." Why not? Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.

Well no, somebody doesn't "gotta say it" Rush. The really sad thing is that this guy has an audience. I could go on but I think his words speak volumes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

0.58 pounds per person.

I don't know who reads this stuff. I have an idea, but as for actual humans, I'm dumbfounded. Four comments in a week makes me think that more often than not, I'm talking to myself, which isn't all that odd a feeling.
So, in the interim, here's another new study from the center of new studies...
In the past few years, researchers have challenged the effectiveness of Prozac and other SSRIs in several studies. For instance, a review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in February attributed 68% of the benefit from antidepressants to the placebo effect. Likewise, a paper published in PLoS Medicine a year earlier suggested that widely used SSRIs, including Prozac, Effexor and Paxil, offer no clinically significant benefit over placebos for patients with moderate or severe depression. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies maintain that their research shows that SSRIs are powerful weapons against depression.
Go figure. Pills don't work. Maybe ... just maybe ... people are sad and depressed and a pill isn't going to make that big a dent. I'm just speculating because I'm not a doctor or a drug salesman. Actual medical studies show that the pills don't work, but the pharmaceutical companies say that they do. Whom to believe.
Then, there's this. A top five list of America's best paying jobs, from the gang at Forbes magazine:
1. Surgeons ($206,770) 2. Anesthesiologists ($197,570) 3. Orthodontists ($194,930)
4. Obstetrician and gynecologists ($192,780) 5. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons ($190,420).
Well, I hate to throw a wet blanket on these things, but from where I sit the minimum salary for a Major League baseball player is about 53% more than what a surgeon makes and twice what an oral and maxillofacial surgeon earns. Plus, I can tell you what a baseball player does, but I have no idea what a maxillofacial surgeon does. I suppose "baseball player" isn't a job. In fact, I'd place any of the four major sports, as well as tennis players, golfers and NASCAR drivers ahead of anybody on their list. Maybe Forbes doesn't want to encourage people to aim too high?
And, for the twelve people who stumble over here every day, I'll offer this: Rent, buy or otherwise see "Seven Pounds." That's just my little tip to you as an overall improvement of your entertainment experience and maybe ... just maybe ... something you'll enjoy. It's likely that you didn't see it in the theater, so make up for that minor indiscretion and see it at home.