Rag Doll Physics and You

What’s perhaps most disturbing about the 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s death was its familiarity.

When I first watched the video of 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s accident, I was struck—not by the gruesome or graphic nature of the clip—but by its familiarity. Like many gamers, I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Countless times:

Life doesn’t have a reset button. But, when videographers and reporters depict events in a similar fashion—showing only the incident and none of the aftermath—the mind tends to catalog the event in abstraction. Without the sense of finality or consequence, significance is lost.

Those sensitive to violence will have more trouble letting go of what they just saw: for them, the image shocks them and significance isn’t as likely lost. But, for others used to violence and realistic depictions of violence, it’s more likely to be stored as another datapoint for how a human body can crumble at speed.

In discussing this with my friend, Ben Edwards, he remarked how age groups have responded with stark contrast: on average, people tend to be increasingly upset in correlation with age. And it makes sense: the younger you are, the greater chance you’ve been exposed to abstracted violence. The older you are, the greater chance you’ve either experienced real violence or none at all.

I’m not claiming that familiarity with violence is the problem here; but, rather, in presenting violence in the same cut-away shot as a video game does reduces its meaning and impact. And, while I understand that the “money shot” is in those critical albeit violent moments, the media should take note to craft a story that does not shy away from the aftermath of the incident. The Huffington Post has an appropriate feature.

How we remember what we’ve seen is more important than what we’ve seen. And, in order to distinguish real events from virtual events, we need to be mindful: how we frame violence changes the way it’s absorbed. A viewer need not have to review or watch the aftermath of a violent event. But, it’s important that we frame the violence appropriately so we can make sense of it, remembering that the victim often doesn’t get a reset button. Or, if you’re not going to frame it properly, don’t show it at all.

When to ground your favorite airline and put them in a time-out.

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Those who know me know my affection for Continental Airlines… that was until a two days ago.

I flew Continental Airlines because of their no bullshit policy: a flight includes a seat, pillow, meals, and all the accouterment you’d expect from a high quality airline. Coupled with great customer service, smooth check-in, and fair prices, it all made sense.

Until today. Today, I checked in and was informed on the e-ticket check-in kiosk that there was a $15 charge per bag. I’ve heard of other airlines doing this, but not my dear Continental. I pay the $15 (I couldn’t carry on the bag if I wanted to due to TSA liquid regulations… but don’t get me started on that one) and walk through security.

Waiting for my flight, I call Continental for clarification on the change in policy. Mostly, I was concerned because nowhere within my normal routine of booking a flight on continental.com was any clear and obvious mention of a bag charge. The conversation went something like this:

“Hi. My name’s Michael Gruen and I have a question about your new bag checking charge. I don’t recall any mention of this when I purchased a ticket, nor in my frequent-flier mailings; I’m not happy about the change and I’d like to talk about it.”

“The website clearly states the baggage policy change. If you have a question about that, I can forward you on to our website technical team.”

“I don’t recall anything about that on the website while booking my ticket, nor do I think you’ve made an earnest (if any) effort to notify your frequent fliers and OnePass members of the fare change. Really, this is kind of bullshit.”

“Oh dear! I don’t have the patience to deal with swearing. Releasing call.” *click*

Oh, Continental, that was smart: hang up on audibly upset, albeit polite customer who’s willing to work with you. I call back.

“Hi. My name’s Michael Gruen and […] I’m not happy about the charge and I’d like to talk about it.”

“The charge went in to effect about a month ago. When did you book your ticket?”

…blah blah blah, and then the rep said…

“Yes, your ticket falls under our new baggage policy.”

“I’m sure it does. I’m saying I recall no mention of the change, nor any effort on your part to alert me to this charge between my purchasing the ticket and my showing up, with bag, at the airport. And I’d like to talk about what we can do here.”

“That’s a question for our website technical support team.”

“But, it’s not a techni—” *click-transfer-hold music*.

Seriously, Continental? You effectively hung up on me twice over a $15 charge on a $300 ticket to O’Hare from Newark on a Boeing 737-300. This isn’t a commuter flight, and I’ve flown Continental in nearly every month this year.

So, I immediately call American Express (a company I still strongly endorse) and, after a 5 minute discussion, they put in an inquiry on my behalf into the issue and will get back to me via e-mail. And, if they can’t work it out, they encourage me to dispute the charge.

In the end, I don’t mind paying $15 on top of my $300 ticket to check my bag. I just want the airline to be upfront about it and, if they’re charging for baggage, lower the ticket price accordingly.

So, congratulations Continental– you’ve earned your $15 bag checking charge (assuming American Express doesn’t nullify that) but lost a raving fan and customer. I encourage you to call your marketing department and learn how much it cost to earn my business in the first place.

Update: Continental just charged me $50 to fly standby.

Update #2: That “confirmed” window seat turned into a middle seat when I arrived at the gate. Then, they checked my carry-on bag because there was no more room.

Update #3: Ticketing agent blames me for delaying the plane by bringing a carry on. I am livid.

The Elusive Green-Backed Scapegoat (Careful! He has horns.)

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You are to blame for wallstreet’s problems, and you’re going to pay for it.

In the wake of a market meltdown, everyone’s talking about how bad it is. Silly thing, though, few people actually have any relevant domain knowledge. Even sillier, people respond in the worst possible way: they stop spending money.

Stock pricing often has little to do with a company’s balance sheet, the piece of paper that describes how good the company is at making money. In practice, most companies are over-priced based on speculation and emotion. (I love Apple! Their products are neat! Oo, Altria! What a cool name! I should buy some of it! [ed: Altria trades under MO, formally Philip Morris, the cancer-purveyors.])

But then the market starts heading south: people look at the balance sheets, start to have lukewarm feelings towards their beloved, and then — oh my god — it’s overvalued. Those golden parachute-loving bear fuckers! Sell! Sell! Sell!

I digress. Let’s talk about how this is your fault.

When the market has a correction, people flip out. With me-too attitudes, people sell their securities, move money in-between banks for FDIC protection (with a lot of hand-waving means that your deposits are protected up to $100,000 courtesy of the government), and then, worst of all, stop spending money.

In America, the vast majority are waged or salaried, and in most cases, regardless of how the market performs, take home the same pay every two weeks. While IRAs and 401ks might be going for a wild ride (which it will do through market cycles anyway), most people’s working budget remains somewhat steady. (Aren’t fixed-rate mortgages and rent contracts nice?)

However, fueled by media speculation and fear, consumers are completely reactionary. They hear “The Dow dropped 100 points on the day” (I wonder what percentage of Americans actually know what the Dow is) and think “OMG WTF the economy is hosed! I’m not going to have any money!”

Yes, you are. But, you’re not going to act like it and your not spending money is compounding the problem. When the markets’ revenues are down, it’s because companies aren’t making money. And they aren’t making money because you’re not spending money.

And as the economy crumbles, and we “need” billions — possibly trillions — of dollars in the form of a “bail out” (the terms somehow absolves certain responsible parties of responsibility) you know who pays for it? You. In the form of a loan, written by your country, to another.*

Stop trading and stop freaking out. Act as if nothing has happened; because to you, in the short term, nothing did.

*And don’t get me started on how I feel about the bailout. (more…)