Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravity Sucks

Saw Gravity on Saturday. My wife wanted to see it because it's getting such good reviews.

She changed he mind. I already knew that it was likely to be boring with little or no story, character development, or even plot, so I was not as disappointed as she.

This movie is a beautifully made hot mess.

Yes, the views are beautiful.

And ... we're done.

Spolier Alert ... but there is little to spoil.

There are two characters and one dies halfway through.  Makes dialog difficult.
There is more character development in Elton John's Rocket Man than in this movie...and a lot less time taken out of your life.

We are asked to believe there is the ISS, the Russian space station (Mir?) and a Chinese space station all in the same orbit, apparently ... and that Nasa resurrected the Shuttle ... with 1984 MMU's modified for speed or something. So we are in some alternate universe or timeline from the get go.

She's working on the Hubble Space Telescope ... which will be de-orbited soon and is not due for repair or modification...it's also in a different orbital inclination  from the ISS and about 90 miles higher. Why didn't they just call it a different kind of satellite? Maybe High Altitude Life Finder (HALF) or something, even?

The physics are very good ... momentum is conserved and things fly around and crash into other things believably at orbital speeds. But the cause, a Russian satellite 'shot down by the Russians, seems contrived. Not to mention orbitally inconceivable. We've had satellites blown up before and even had an Iridium struck by debris...nothing like this.

The 'action' scenes are so fast paced that you can't follow all the action. That may be realistic, but it's not pleasurable to watch.

She didn't think about loosing the parachute shroud lines before firing the rockets?

The parachute shroud lines can withstand the acceleration of an escape vehicle's rockets? (Actually, this could be accurate...I don't know how much it would take to pop those)? But Clooney's character lets go because he thinks they will pop from his and hers combined outward momentum? (Actually, I read that. My own take was that it was because he knew the lines were not very tight around her ankle and would slip free.)

There's something about a dead child? I read this somewhere, but I missed the line. One line to explain her entire character; see above re: Elton John.

I don't have a problem with her reading Russian or remembering the placement of the controls being that he tells her they are the same in the Chinese craft as they are in the Russian one...The Chinese bought Soyuz for their escape craft? That's quite believable.

The real issue I had was a lack of story. There is no real character development; she does 'grow' a bit, but we're not given a real epiphany moment. The conflict is between her, space, and her attitude...not that interesting. Like Castaway without the volleyball, or Robinson Crusoe without Friday.

Even if you don't want to have flashbacks, scene shifts to NASA, or anything to relieve the unrelenting character of space, She could have a bit more inner monologue, a happy moment recalled...hell, she had a dream about Clooney coming back, that could have been a recurring theme to help her grow out of herself.

A line or two of dialog would have gone a long way toward explaining some of the plot holes.  I read the produce/director/writer said it would take 26 pages of dialog to explain some things...I doubt it.

Aningaag, a Greenlandic Inuit ham radio operator doesn't know the term MayDay?

Some of the nit-picky things I've read don't bother me...tears floating free for instance. The debris coming in from the wrong direction is a biggy...they went to all the trouble of getting orbital timings right, just a couple more details would get the whole thing right.

And then there is the fire extinguisher scene. I will grant it some leeway given the homage to Wall-E, but come on!

It might be better without the dialog at all...a 21st century silent film about space...intriguing.

Although unrealistic, George Clooney's banter was the most enjoyable aspect.

She WHINES too much! ...She's still playing Angela Bennet or Annie Porter.

Gravity sucks! Thankfully, it was only 90 minutes long...imagine if it were 119 like a lot of $100 million movies.


Thoughts?








Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yahoo! Rudeness

Time for a rant.

Today on Yahoo! News there was a video story about a woman whose minivan was returned to her by an Edmonton repair shop with an additional 1400 km on the odometer.

Ok story, nothing major, the shop apologized and is sending her a check as recompense.

Why then did the reporter on the story feel compelled to make jokes about the fact that this Canadian woman found 1400 "kilometers" extra? The Yahoo! reporter (and presumably the producer too) had to stop and issue the very stupid remark, "can we get that in American?"

A bright title card appeared giving the measurement in miles. Later, the same reporter mentioned that the woman was expecting a check...but then felt necessary to say "or a cheque", mispronouncing the word, adding a 'kwe' ending and making it two syllables. Also putting the Canadian spelling up in a title card with the comment that it was a "weird spelling".

For some reason, this was a sufficiently final straw to me that I felt it necessary to deliver feedback to Yahoo! about this. Here is my comment to them:


WRT a recent story about a woman from Edmonton who had an issue with a repair shop and her minivan: Your Yahoo! video reporters tend to make fun of people using the metric system or spelling things differently than is done in the US. It is offensive. 
Making a comment about "can we get that in American?" when reporting something a Canadian said about distance in kilometers make Americans sound stupid, uneducated, bigoted, jingoistic, and unwashed. 
There is no such thing as 'American' units of measure. In the USA the outdated 'Imperial' system which originated in England in 1824 is mostly used (with some exceptions pre-dating that time). 
Most of the rest of the world (including Britain and the rest of the UK) understands and uses the metric system and your stories would do well to simply present the measurements in both systems without comment. The same is true for comments about the "weird spelling" of 'cheque'. A comment that was unnecessary and a deliberate mispronunciation that was rude. All your reporter does is embarrass the United States and its citizenry. 
There is nothing wrong with the USA using a system of measurements different from the rest of the world, aside from the occasional vastly expensive mistake (Mars Climate Orbiter, 1999). But making rude jokes about the majority of the rest of the world merely denigrates the US. 
The words 'check' and cheque' are pronounced the same. Making a joke about Canadians' "weird spelling" is like making a joke about the fact that in Thailand a 'boutique' is spelled 'butik'. Is that funny? Or racist?
The Mars Climate Orbiter I referenced, for those who do not recall this amazing gaffe, was a US$125 million spacecraft which was lost because one engineering group used the US system of units in miles rather than the Syst√®me International units of kilometers (the system understood to be used throughout the scientific community and in almost every other country in the world). 125 million US dollars lost because someone forgot to mention the need for a 1.6 conversion factor ... or to do it the way the rest of the world does it.

I don't really mind that the US continues to use a confusing and outdated system of measurement (how many cups in a gallon? how many yards in a furlong?), if that is what the US wants to do and the costly mistakes that it entails are not important to the US people and government, but to make jokes about other people's use of a sensible, easy to understand, and world wide system makes US look stupid.

To take pride in such ignorance is even worse. To feel resentment for the rest of the world not understanding OUR way is imperialistic.

To deliberately mention and then mispronounce the word 'cheque' (even though it is pronounced exactly as our own word 'check' should make any international viewers of Yahoo! News cringe. I know it did me.

Thoughts?


Monday, July 08, 2013

Metaphor - in Business Language

I recently ran across a posting about annoying business jargon.

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ekij45gdh/most-annoying-business-jargon/

The author felt these old cliched phrases, words, terms, and metaphors should be dropped.

I thought about this and specifically about the one I had googled originally to determine its origin

"open the kimono"

I was surprised to discover that there were many postings, articles, fora, etc where this phrase was considered both racist and sexist. And I thought, "how sad".

Metaphor in language adds color, flow, imagery, and beauty to our speech and writing, There are some, George Lackoff in particular,  who believe we only think in metaphor and that this ability is central to our ability to reason.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lakoff

Metaphors produce an image and connect it to an abstract idea. Consequently, they aid in both understanding and retention. If you have eve heard of a memory palace as a method for remembering rings, you know how this works for retention. For some reason our minds seem to retain spatial and disconcerting or humorous images better than just blunt words and phrases.

Without metaphor, we would have no Shakespeare...he would have had nothing much to say in any way that audiences wanted to hear it.

So let's return to the phrase "open the kimono". In a business context, it is typically used (or was in the 1980s-1990s) to refer to a vendor inviting a client or partner into a bit more intimate relationship wherein the vendor's future plans would be disclosed. I was first exposed to the phrase in the 1980 time frame when a vendor offered to have us visit their offices in San Antonio and they would "open the kimono" about future hardware plans. The company I was with at the time was a large customer in both the US and overseas.

The phrase came up again when an IBM salesman offered a similar opportunity in the 1990s as my own company was considering which computer to invest in.

It certainly never occurred to me that it was sexist or racist. It is a beautiful metaphor for showing someone that which most others do not get to see.

To deconstruct the phrase (although I typically HATE deconstruction), kimono, in Japanese, means 'clothing'. It is gender neutral as both men and women wear kimono. In American English, the word has more of a connotation of a woman's garment, since many women wear long, loose kimonos as dressing gowns or robes.  So I will grant that, to a general American speaker and listener, the image called up by "open the kimono" is probably that of a woman opening her dressing gown to show her body beneath.

If you know a bit of Japanese culture, the image might rather be of a man relaxing on a sofa with his kimono or robe unbelted, but fully clothed underneath. In Japan, the phrase is equivalent to "loosen your tie" meaning to get comfortable so we can talk plainly and directly.

However, here in the US it is mostly used to imply a degree of revelation of that which is secret. Certainly, the image of a woman with a slightly open kimono correlates with this notion of revelation and intimacy.

Is it racist because the Kimono is a Japanese garment? Of course not. The garment has been a staple of women's lingerie in the US since at least the 1920s. There is no implication of a specifically Japanese woman wearing the kimono that is opened, it could be anyone's kimono. This MAY be the image conjured in the listener's mind, but is an ethnic and cultural connection, not a racist one. That is like saying that use of the word pyjama is a racial slur against Indians...the word originated there.

Personally, when I hear the phrase, the image conjured in my mind is that of my American wife of English and German extraction since she wears kimono often both casual ones around the house and formal ones out in public. The casual ones are silk, bought in Tokyo. The formal ones are custom made from non-traditional materials like leather and latex to re-contextualize their meaning in the syntax of fashion. They are all beautiful works of art that can be worn and hang on our walls when not in use.

Is the phrase sexist? Well, I will admit that it is sexual in that it conjures up, in most American minds, the image of a woman opening or removing her robe. It is also used, as I said above, to describe an invitation to intimacy...a vendor revealing plans to a customer. Consequently, we can say that the phrase uses sexual imagery to communicate its meaning.

This does not mean it is sexist. It connects a very common event, that of the start of sexual enticement or intimacy, to the abstract concept of revealing secrets. By doing so it enforces understanding and retention. The phrase helps the hearer remember and understand that the speaker is offering something a bit secret, not generally released, and not to be bandied about or shouted from the rooftops (two more metaphors).

It does not, in any way, denigrate women...sexual imagery does not intrinsically do so. We are sexual beings and we are deeply connected mentally and psychologically to sexuality. The use of sexual imagery in metaphor is important to our understanding and retention of concepts in business, technology, architecture, and manufacturing, not to mention advertising, rhetoric, politics, and storytelling. If we were to expunge such language from our speech, we would be far the less for it.

Sexual imagery does not have to be sexist. The Calvin Klein men's underwear ad in Times Square many years ago was somewhat sexual, but not sexist. It did not denigrate men; indeed it presented them as art. Nude painting and photography may be sexist sometimes and is certainly sexual, but it does not HAVE to be sexist. It may be artistic, celebrating the form and the humanness of the subject.

I submit that anyone who is disturbed by the sexual imagery encoded in the phrase, "open the kimono" needs to examine their own feelings and reactions to a part of human nature that is intrinsic, encoded, and enlivening. And that metaphor in language which uses sexual imagery is an effective and impressive way to better communicate between people.

That said, I do think that some metaphors SHOULD be dropped, because they are sexist, racist, or hurtful. See the recent Paula Deen scandal for more information on THAT subject. But we should be careful about demanding the elimination of metaphors simply on the basis of their sexual or ethnic foundations.

With regard to the Forbes article linked at the top of this post, yes, some of the jargon listed is cliched, hackneyed, and over-used. but to simply replace these terms with others or with purely blunt words of one syllable or less would discolor language, lessen understanding, be more time-consuming, and sterilize the amazing beauty of our language (or rather languages, since many of these phrases have been taken into English).

Let me close with the notion that, as any writer must, I have, indeed opened the kimono with this post and with this blog. I have shared intimacies, thoughts, opinions, and insights which I might not have done if I did not have metaphors as a tool to use in communicating.





















Monday, February 25, 2013

An End to History?

I have recently been made aware of an intriguing phenomenon that occurs to us as we age. In discussions with others of my generation and in discussions with many people of later generations, including my own son, it has become clear to me that there is one very significant fact about our different points of view on the world.


What we recall as memory, they only know as history.



I never learned this as a younger person; no one ever mentioned it, perhaps because they never phrased it quite this way. It serves, in a subtle way, to define us as members of communities of experience. We, the older ones and they, the younger ones. It separates and segregates us in some ways, but it also brings home to us all that time passes, things change and yet remain so very much the same.

The most notable example of this from my youth is my point of view on the Great Depression versus that of my parents. Now, as I pass through the 6th decade of my life, I am finally able to understand why that event, that economic paroxysm, so affected their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The recalled it as memory, but I could only ever know it as history.

For me, the most defining event flipping this effect is the moon landing in 1969. I recall this as memory, but our young people, of course, only know it as history.

The odd thing is that these communities are fluid and fuzzy edged. My son and I certainly recall many things as memory such as 9/11 ... but there is already a new generation that does not...and so we are separated from them by a fuzzy edged wall of experience and recall.

History is not memory; the two are very different. And that may say more about our species than anything else.

How strange it would be (and what effect it might have) if every generation could recall 'history' as 'memory'.



Monday, December 17, 2012

It Wasn't Our World Anymore

              "It wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs"

When confronted with horrible events, many of us turn to quotes from literature, poetry, or other reading to help us express our reaction. The line above has been running through my mind since the events of Friday in Newtown.

The horror the responders must have found, 20 small bodies lying in blood, must have seemed like a scene from anther world; as if a pustule of hell had erupted in this school. The line is from Prophecy Girl, an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Willow has walked in on a scene of blood and death in a schoolroom where vampires have had fun and tries to explain it.

That scene is fiction, a metaphor, a writer's attempt to sum up the shock and horror a character might experience in such a situation. It is doubtful the writer ever expected to hear of a similar scene in real life; yet here it is.

Many people are struggling to understand this horror. I am here to say tat there is no understanding. There is no sense to be made. There may be things to be learned, perhaps deductions to be made, but there is no sense because there are no reasons.

There has been a lot of talk about gun control in this case. This is senseless. All the laws of one of the most restrictive states were followed. The shooter took the guns illegally from his mother who owned them legally. Perhaps she irresponsibly did not have them properly safeguarded, but we do not know the circumstances. We should not yet judge her actions as we simply do not know what transpired before her son killed her.

The person who said that evil came into this school issued the cheapest of shots, the least helpful of comments. This was not evil in any spiritual sense. This was sickness and rage. This was human and primate. This young man is to be pitied on one level even as we deplore the monster he became in the last days of his life. I do not defend him. Had he not taken his own life, he would have needed killing. But he is to be pitied as well. Something went very, very wrong in his life, in his brain, in his mind.

It is interesting to hear the clergy try to respond. They have no response, they have no answers, no rationale. Many have even said that now is not the time to try to understand the horror in a theological sense. This, it seems to me, is the truest evidence of the inadequacy of religion to cope with the madness of a random universe.

There are no reasons and no excuse for faith betrayed. I appreciate that faith and prayer may comfort these people. Their religions, I hope, help them cope. But the incredible inadequacy of religion to explain, to justify, to even comprehend such events is deeply ironic. People have to cope...God does not seem to bother.

I have lost two daughters, in infancy, not from violence but from illness. Nonetheless, I can confirm that there is NOTHING so unnatural as a parent burying a child. Nothing inverts the natural order of the universe more. We are not here to bury our children; we are here to raise them and to be buried by them.

The people bringing teddy bears and gifts and toys to the memorials are doing so much more to comfort people than the empty platitudes of the religious. While I appreciate that well meaning clergy are trying to find answers, I suspect the comfort dogs brought in by a volunteer organization are accomplishing more.

The most hopeful thing is the people coming together. Bringing presents, toys, flowers to the memorials, grave goods to provide symbolic toys and comforts for these children in an afterlife, is a custom that predates humanity. Neanderthals used them. As long as we have been human we have done so. These rituals bring more answers to the random senselessness of such unspeakable events than virtually anything else.

I found it interesting to hear the one father say that he isn't angry. He will be. It will come. And I hope he is talking to someone and working his way through it when it does. Anger is both natural and good in these cases. It is cathartic and it is stress relieving. But only if it is properly directed and channeled. All these people will need help to deal and more perhaps than if the shooter were still alive.

The lack of a perpetrator to confront, the inability for this community to take its vengeance or to gain its justice will make closure much more difficult. If everyone involved were not dead, it would be easier to come to terms with the horror. There would be someone to glare at, to confront, to punish. As it is, there is no one. There is no one left to punish, to confront, to demand explanation of. This will make it all but impossible for the horror to be put to rest.

School shootings are, of course, among the most startling and tragic of mass murders. W expect our schools to provide a safe haven. And, of course, they cannot be safe from such madness. Nowhere can.

For myself, school shootings in America dates back to 1979. There were others before then, but I became somehow personally aware when Brenda Spencer, 16, sat in her San Diego window picking off children in the schoolyard across the street with the rifle her father gave her for the previous christmas. Her reason? "I don't like Mondays."

The Boomtown Rats captured the unreal senselessness of this in a song written about the events by Bob Geldof. As he waited to be interviewed about the group's new album he watched news of the event come across a Telex wire in a radio station in Atlanta. As an Irishman, someone foreign to our shores it effected him deeply.

Later that year I moved to the UK and this senseless school shooting was one of the first things I was queried about by my staff. As the big Texan coming into their midst, they wanted to know my take on an event that had occurred 6 months before. While I had all but forgotten it, their abiding interest awakened my interest and I have never forgotten the event, the shooter, her statement, or the song since. Brenda is still in prison, denied parole regularly.

in 1998 two young boys stole their grandfather's rifles in Arkansas, staked out their school, triggered a fire alarm and shot students and teachers as they evacuated the school. The two boys were aged 13 and 11. They were released at age 21. The oldest is back in prison.

In1999 Harris and Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher before suiciding at Columbine High School. Again, there were many deductions made, much investigation, and lessons learned. But there was no one left to punish and closure has never been achieved for many of the wounded and the families of the dead. These two young men were outsiders, but nothing really indicates what brought them to such a pass as this.

There have been other shootings, mass killings, school massacres, both before and since. In 1966, Charles Whitman shot students at UT Austin. In February of 2012, T.J. Lane killed 3 and wounded 2 at a cafeteria table in Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

These events, and others like the Aurora Cinema massacre, have no reasons, have no rationale. Oh, they have causes. The have genesis, they have triggers, but the triggers and the reasons make no sense.

Gun control will not stop these. It is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But there are so many guns in this country that there is no way to stop a determined person gaining access to them. It does not matter whether assault rifles are banned or magazine sizes are limited. Soon you will be able to print a handgun or a rifle on your Three D printer in the comfort of your own home. This genie, like so many others, is out of the bottle and cannot be stuffed back inside.

The only hope I see is to get better at detecting the signs of impending explosions of violence in these young people. We have a lot of data, we know a great deal about what triggers eruptions of this sort, but we have little infrastructure to intervene and help these people.

And let us not forget that 34 million children go to school every day safely. Our teachers and principals protect them and provide safe, nurturing environments. School is one of the safest places fr children to be. That is why it is so horrible when that safety is compromised.

Let us not forget that the second amendment, which makes such a proliferation of weapons possible, was put in place to ensure the people were able to protect themselves from their government if necessary. And that for 600 years people in this country have worked to make it a safe enough place that the majority of people do not feel a need to be armed even when they can be legally.

I support the second amendment and I am comfortable with well trained, respectful gun owners having concealed carry permits. I feel no need to be such and have only fired a weapon three times, when my brother-in-law gave me a .22 rifle at age ten and took me hunting with him. I did not enjoy the noise, the smell, or the sight of a small bird I shot dropping from its perch. But I see no problem with well trained gun enthusiasts possessing firearms.

Statistics have shown that crime is down and it decreases rapidly in states with concealed carry permits. When anyone might be armed, everyone is a bit more polite.

 But we must find a way to keep the guns away from the crazies. Note that in many of these shootings the shooters gained illegal posession of legally owned weapons. The safeguarding of weapons by gun owners is, it seems, a weak spot. As is the familial blind spots about the mental states of young people in that very fragile, angsty time know as young adulthood.

We need to find ways to identify and intervene in these cases. Without compromising civil rights. This does not promise to be easy.

Children must be protected, but we must also remember that the vast majority are well kept and well protected. Most places we congregate are safe and we must ask ourselves how much safer we want to be. Each bit of incremental safety reduces our liberty, our privacy, our freedom.

Each child is anther chance to get it right. We need to do so. People want answers but there may be no answers.

You can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to die?









Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The World Has Changed

Time passes strangely when you are ill and things seem to fall together in memory. This little story just happened to me and illustrates both that principle and the fact that the world has truly changed.

I have had a non-working power washer sitting in my garage for at least a year. As I recall, it worked until labor day last year (2011) after being purchased in August, then simply stopped.

I called the Lowes service center about getting it repaired and they gave me some interesting details.

First, I had registered the purchase...good to know.
Second, I had purchased it in June of 2010 ... a year before my memory indicated. Their records indicated I first called on Labor day 2010, not 2011.

It was WAY out of warranty, but they suggested I take it to my local store to get a repair estimate

Now here is where it gets surprising

I took it to my local Lowes and told them the story of how I got it, what happened, and that I wanted to repair it or kill it...get rid of it.

They tried looking it up to see if they could help, but they don't carry it any longer and I did not have a recipe. Yet, they still kept looking for an 'item number' to log a transaction against.

The manager came over and told me that, if they could find an item number to refund against, they would give me a refund.  The customer service clerk was not very hopeful, though, because everything had rolled off their database it being so old.

Then suddenly, he said, "got it". They quickly gave me a full refund in the form of a store credit and the manager helped me pick out another power washer from a different brand.

So, the question is, how'd they find the item number?

Not in their databases

Google!

By googling a few choice keywords, the clerk had located a cached page with a record of my transaction. Including the item number needed for Lowes to issue a refund. He said Lowes had just exposed Google to the customer service centers.

Amazing! Here, in the cyber ether somewhere, was an inadvertent backup of my transaction. Now, yes, that may seem a little creepy.  Turns out, the search area was confined to Lowes document data bases, using Google as their in-house search engine.

The world has changed. All the carefully constructed queries, reports SQL statements, Indexes, etc that a business might build to store and retrieve its data were useless in the light of a simple, full powered search engine like Google.

I'm reading David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous right now and this truly brings it home. The key is not indexes, search words, or organization...the key is messiness and chaos...the inadvertent accumulation of data yet still in a form exposed to the power of a full text search engine.

A few years ago, this would have been outrageously difficult to do and Lowes would probably not even have contemplated it...search a 2 year old archive for a single transaction so a customer could get money back?

Now they can, and were willing to do so.

I was amazed and happily so.

Yes, I spent $50 more on the new power was he than I had on the original ... so they made out OK ... but I made out evn better from my point of view.

The world has changed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Dichotomy of Car Dealers

Bought a car last night. With my doctor moving further away and more traveling to be done for business, I wanted better mileage than I was getting. Also wanted a sedan, not another van. Wanted high odometer, several years old, good condition, Lexus ... yeah, I am addicted and I wanted another car like I got in Ireland years ago...really loved that right hand drive LS 430.

But, I KNOW I have to look around, search the web, compare prices, find models, and...oh hell...deal with a sales person of some type.

So the loins must be girded, the mind must be focused (fully oxygenated blood coupled with a high dose of anti-cancer steroids really was a plus!!!) Set my mental budget, went in admitting to no more than 2/3 of that and looked for a deal that was only 1/3 ... miracles do happen.

Also remind myself this is no trade in (we keep the van for real hauling and Linda likes it) and a cash sale, no note. I hope that gives me a bit of price leverage, but really, these days, they don't care much about that...I just do not want a car payment. Have not had one for several years now and have totally changed my perspective on such things.

I had a list of must haves and wanna haves...not a big list, but specific...older, around the 100K mile mark, auto climate control, power seats ... and memory seats were a big want to have. The car had to 'fit' both of us comfortably and be in good condition. Looking for a nice older car I can drive into the ground over a few years.

I ultimately searched the web for 2 weeks, and then went to 7 lots, both big dealers and small used car lots. And I ultimately found a deal I am pretty happy with.

2004 Lexus ES 330, a soft grey (millennium they call it) with just over 100K miles. New brakes and fully inspected...we made that a condition of sale to cover lots of mechanical bases. The Texas emission controls inspection can be a real pain.

Came in right at my 2/3 budget mark.

But the GAME, the GAME, the GAME.

Car sales people have no people skills! They do not know how to treat people with any respect. For instance:

After 2 hours of test driving a bunch of T's, I 'meet the manager' of course. First he looks like some wannabe mafia don...in Texas (maybe it's Cosa Nostra here...used to be)...ill fitting pin stripe suit when everyone else was in T-corp Khakis and he had this slicked back hair like it  is to impress me. Yuck!...nearly made me walk away just to shake his hand.

He spins a story of how his used car lot is being demolished on Monday and "ALL THE CARS HAVE TO GO" ... so he want to make me a good deal. I tell him I am pretty sold on a Camry, but I need an hour to think about it and he needs to come up with a firm out the door price.

I psyche myself up to buy the car while at dinner (and discussing it with Linda, of course) then call back in an hour as I promised and the sales person (lowest on the leader board, by the way) acts like he does not remember me, doesn't have the price figured out (any price) and says he'll call me in an hour.

That was 6pm Saturday night ... he calls me back on Thursday afternoon to see if I am still interested in his Camry. THURSDAY! And he seems miffed when I tell him I bought a Lexus on Wednesday!

T Used Cars are still there...have no fear...the lot is full of nice used overpriced cars.

So we keep looking. I was impressed by a 2010 Buick LaCrosse and came VERY close to a 2011 Ford Fusion, but they were both right at my budget limit and I was still leery of an American car...much burned in the 1980's and I have a long memory.

New cars like the Elantra, the Civic, and the Sonata, all right at the budget limit, but do not offer the features I want.

There is pressure to buy a new car. It would seem sensible to buy a new car if the price is only $2K over a 2 year old used model, but depreciation and insurance just make it a sick deal.

We test drive an Elantra (doesn't fit) and a Sonata hybrid ...very interested in the hybrids... but the sales person tells us he is specifically not a hybrid lover and does not like to sell them ... no real reason, he doesn't even know how the engine works, exactly (neither did the Toyota sales person). No, this guy just doesn't like them. Oddly, the T sales dude had a similar attitude about hybrids.

The Sonata is a good car and the hybrid was great...enough power and smooth transition ... just beyond my max number...we will wait.

 I tell the Lexus salesman I want a 6-8 year old sedan with near 100K miles and he says he doesn't have any and lets me drive a 2011 LS 460..Sure, If I had that kind of budget, nothing beats an LS ... I would take another over a Merc, a BMW, a Jag, or even a Bentley...they are just superb cars. (The Hyundai Equus looks very Lexus LS like too...and is valued so). But Lexus is best.

Today when I happen to see him at the Lexus dealership (having new keys made) I mention I bought an ES from another dealer and he switches off immediately...that's OK, I am no longer a prospect, I understand that...but then he tells me he had a 2004 LS with 30K miles for right at my 2/3 number...and that he sold it to a friend.

Now, why did he tell me this little story. It might be true, it might not be, but was he deliberately telling me that he chose NOT to contact me with the perfect car when it came in and that instead he 'sold it to his friend'? Was that just to sort of establish that I was NOT his friend, not even on his contact list? I found it weird behaviour.

After 6 other dealers, looking at N's cars (which NEVER fit me...my head hits the headliner in every model)...we had come across a 2004 Lexus ES 330 at just about the right price. Needs a brake job and some work to make it inspect-able...that's what we set as a contingent and agreed to pay a certain amount of overage if needed...of course it was.

But when we came to collect it, our sales rep was flitting about, not with other customers, but just running from his empty office to someplace else even as he told us the car was being brought 'round. Then, suddenly, his partner, mentor, super, whatever shows up, shakes my hand and says, let's go look at it and get it closed. OK...but this guy has not been involved in the sale at all.

We look at it, drive it a bit, with a new dealer plate on it, then adjourn to the cashier's office area to pay the final piece. I had paid several thousand via Amex as a deposit already to hold the car and get the work done, no problem, and then our new sales guy makes us wait at a table in the lobby, runs back with my credit card (whole car paid for via Amex ... gotta get the points!) and returns saying we're done.

He presents me with an Amex charge sheet where he charged the agreed overage. He's about to let me out the door with this car, signed and sealed (although no one EVER asked me to sign an Amex charge authorization) for several thousand dollars less than the agreed price. Like more than half the agreed price. I looked at the slip and thought, "what if I just drive off with all this documentation saying I've paid, everything is done?"

I presumed they would discover the problem, call me and/or call the cops ... but thoughts of taking advantage of this idiot who inserted himself for no reason of value to me into my sale did, indeed, flit through my mind.

I showed the credit card receipt to him and said, I think I owe you rather a lot more than that. He looked surprised, confessed he knew nothing about the prior sales process, deposit, payments or anything, then ran back to his 'Cashier' and showed up with a NEW bill for the residual.

But there is a wrinkle. He wants me to pay the 2% AMEX merchant charge in addition to the agreed residual amount for the car. Or I could write him a check.

I suddenly realized this was a scam to extract a little more money out of the deal. Just a little more, just a bit, just 2% of half. I told him that if he did that I would just go file a complaint with AMEX since it is against the rules in the US Merchant agreement to force your customer to pay the fee as a surcharge or to direct your customer away from using the card.

He sullenly said he didn't know about that and then thanked me and shook my hand.

Looking into the sales person's eyes, I knew what the problem was. His eyes were totally dead, devoid of emotion, reptilian or snake like. He's a sociopath. He's high functioning, and it may be a learned sociopathy, but he has no sense of community, his place as a member, empathy for fellows, or even a sense of people as person. He also has no social skills.

It has been said that most successful high end executives are high functioning psychopaths. I suspect that middle tier, barely making it car salesmen are on the sociopathy or ASPD scale.

This guy interrupted me three times as I was using my iPad to bind over my insurance for the car, then when I said, I was doing that, he gets startled and says,"Oh, I haven't given you my friend's card...he'll get you set up with insurance..." I just looked at him and said, "no", hit the button on my policy site and got the message that I was covered. It IS the 21st century, after all.

He thanked me and shook my hand again...in an hour he shook my hand four times and told me he would follow up with the missing paperwork the next day and wanted to "stay with me and the car" to be sure everything was right. I, of course, never heard from him again.

I went to the service folks today and collected the inspection report...the work order for the repairs was "not in the computer yet" ... we'll see if the title and plates show up without another visit. Probably have to go to the DMV myself.

The man is an IDIOT!!! He actually thought I would stop using my regular insurance company and switch to his 'friend'? He thought we were so stupid as to even WANT to do that?

What is wrong with these people? I don't mind the tactics, the good sales guy, bad sales guy routine, the  make you wait and sweat a deal out of you. But they have no subtlety in their con, no finesse, not even social engineering. When I first showed up alone, every sales person tried to play the macho man card..."you can make this decision, right? You don't have to ask anyone else?"

Of COURSE I have to consult with my life partner, wife, lover, best friend, and the saint who has seen me through more medical crap than you can shake a stick at. And, frankly, these guys could play THAT card more subtly than they do...some are so blatant (the T guys) that you could swat flies with their rhetoric!

These N guys are also amazingly blatant about bending or edging the law.  They put an inspection sticker on the car, but Texas law says they HAVE to give you the inspection report. I was very suspicious that they had not really inspected the car...after all I received the car with a new inspection sticker and the first thing the car did was report a dead tail light to me on the dash (good info system on this car)

We did encounter one sales rep who really did earn our business with a good, friendly, non-manipulative style. I wanted to do a deal with him, but we could not come to terms on the price. But he was not miffed, not dismissive, nor condescending when I said no. He was a pro. HOPE HE DOES WELL.

Which brings me to the dichotomy: Service

I went to Lexus this morning to have new keys cut ... old car, one key, held together with tape. This is non-trivial at Lexus as new keys are about $200 each  .. .they carry an immobilizing  security transponder and the remote control is in the key head. No master key, no car start...period.

I saw someone online asking if anyone knew where you could get such keys cheap...the best answer was, "you own a Lexus and can't afford a $100 key?" Good answer!

The service rep was polite, professional, helpful, not pushy about other services, which we did discuss. he was prompt with answers and did not try to hedge  amounts or mislead. When I declined something he did not become miffed or anti-social, nor did he keep coming back to something trying to sell it.

Two keys took an hour and I was made very comfortable with good espresso and plenty of TV.

He was NOT a sociopath, nor ASPD. He had people skills and he won my business and will win more with that attitude.

I went back to the N dealership, but straight to service and the service people were very concerned about why the light was out. They pulled the inspection report, then opened the light bulb compartment, but the light was not out...it was dead in their driveway and working in their garage. Loose connection apparently and they tightened that.

No upsell, no pressure, no resentment, serious concern and then a solution. No charge. And they said to watch it and bring it back if it happens again. Slick and pro and restored my faith. They DID do an inspection, the sales dudes (2 of them) had just not bothered to pull the report and give it to me.

So why is service attentive and sales repulsive?

Why is this so? Sure, they may make more money with a good service department and one reason I just acquired my 4th Lexus is the service..amen to that!

But a calmer, more attentive, more interested sales person would go further toward closing a sale at least with me. Oh yeah, car sales are just booming aren't they? Used cars are so in demand that the prices are almost as high as new.

But with deceptions, lies, misleadings, weird stories about closing the lot and all else, it would appear these tactics are not working.

But interested service with full disclosure and professional attitude, non-condescending rhetoric and punctual results pulls customers back...I wonder why?

Service at my local mechanic is much the same. He's helpful, punctual, doesn't try to oversell me, and is happy to help as he can. Of course, good service is his bread and butter...he has no cars to sell. But the tactics work and work better than the traditional sales tactics seem to.

I think that is because the sales people and their management and their management are sociopaths...the business seems to attract them. I don't really mean to criticize; sociopaths need work too. It is a character trait, a brain chemistry thing, probably augmented by social environment and then being able to find a culture where they can be anti-social as instinct dictates while still being part of a weird, competitive, dysfunctional community. And the weak do not last long. Low man on the leader board is probably gone quickly.

Service, on the other hand attracts people who like to solve problems, understand problems and enjoy interactions...or at least the dealerships seem to architect their departments this way. And it works; I WANT to go back and spend money with a good service department. If I could open a hole and have every sales rep sucked into the hell-mouth, I would.

Why does it perpetuate? Surely, with so much info online, so many comparisons to be done, so much intelligence to be garnered about the products, silly, manipulative stupid sales people must be at a disadvantage? Aren't they? Or are they perpetuating a tradition as a last dying scream since they will have little place to go if buyers reject the tactics and buy what they want, as they want, for a price they want, without the histrionics.

CARMAX is making a dent there, and I researched with them a lot, but most cars fell outside my budget because they were too new or they were too far away and the transport cost would add more to the cost. But the no haggle price (plus the no haggle fees they barely disclose) is a step in the right direction.

Someone needs to do a serious, perhaps longitudinal, study on the psychology of car dealerships and their business models, ethics, tactics, and style in both sales and service. I have been unable to find anything very much in-depth or academic...a few popular magazine articles, but not much more.

But I do like my new car...excellent condition, very smooth and drives like the bubble bath I enjoy. A bit smaller than the LS, but not so much I care.  Much better gas mileage. I'll get an LS hybrid when they become common in a few more years. If they ever do...yeah, they will.

Thoughts anyone? Am I just letting off steam after a memorable and not totally pleasant experience?

By the way, buying my LS 430 in Galway, Ireland was totally different...very pleasant, none of the manipulation...sales and service felt as one..of course, the dealership went bankrupt later...what does that say?


Bill