Kobe Bryant

The reaction to the tragic death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others in a helicopter crash on Friday has been amazing, and overwhelming.  The crash, and the reaction to the crash, has been the lead story on many news websites over the past few days, featured even over stories about the spread of coronavirus and coverage of the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.

https3a2f2fcdn.cnn_.com2fcnnnext2fdam2fassets2f160414010423-kobe-bryantI’m not an NBA fan, and I didn’t really follow Bryant’s career, so I would not have predicted the outpouring of often emotional responses to Bryant’s death.  The Los Angeles Times, for example, has a continuously updated page with links of dozens and dozens of articles giving multiple reactions to the tragedy and Bryant’s death from fans, celebrities, American athletes, international sports stars, cultural figures, politicians, and others, as well as coverage of the crash and stories about other aspects of Bryant’s life.   To give you an idea of the depth of the coverage, one of the Times articles posted on the page notes that the chaplain of the United States Senate spoke of the death of Bryant, his daughter, and others in his prayer before the start of yesterday’s impeachment trial proceedings.

Bryant’s legacy is complicated by his criminal case and the perception by some that he was a selfish player, but the reaction to his death shows that, for some people at least, he became a lot more than that.  His impact on basketball was undeniable — even now, playground players evidently call out “Kobe!” when a player makes a clutch or seemingly impossible shot — and he obviously was an inspirational figure to his fans.  His support for women’s basketball and the WNBA, his outreach and encouragement to fellow athletes in basketball and other sports, his sponsorship of a studio, and his other political and social activities broadened his impact still more.  He obviously touched many people in a special way, and the fact that he died young, and in a tragic accident, compounds the impact of his death.

As I read the articles about Kobe Bryant, I found myself wondering how many other sports figures, or cultural figures, or celebrities, would elicit that kind of response.  I’m guessing not many.

Ringing The (Taco) Bell

This year, Taco Bell is going to be experimenting with a new approach to recruiting qualified restaurant managers:  in certain labor markets, it has announced it is willing to pay an annual salary of $100,000 to managers of company-owned Taco Bell stores.

taco-bell-kiosks-digital-strategy-qsrThe Taco Bell initiative is a response to a very difficult labor market for employers.  With the current unemployment rate at historic lows — the product of a strong job market and lots of aging Baby Boomers moving into retirement, among other circumstances — there just aren’t many good candidates out there.  So Taco Bell is going to test, in certain markets in the Midwest and Northeast, whether paying a $100,000 salary brings in a better crop of candidates.  That represents a significant increase over the current starting salary for Taco Bell store managers, which ranges from $50,000 to $80,000.

The Taco Bell manager initiative isn’t the only evidence of a tight job market and wage pressure.  The article linked above notes that other companies operating in the fast-food restaurant market — typically the classic source of low-paying, entry-level jobs — are reporting wage pressure affecting their margins.  Just this week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the fourth quarter of 2019, “median weekly earnings of the nation’s 118.3 million full-time wage and salary workers were $936, an increase of 4.0 percent from a year earlier ($900).”  The BLS statistics show wage growth in 2019 above the rate of inflation (which was about 2 percent) in all age categories except workers between 55 and 64, with workers in the 25 to 34 age range showing especially strong wage increases.  And the BLS wage statistics indicate the labor market is particularly good for women, with median weekly earnings for women in 2019 up by 6.2 percent.

Imagine — making a six-figure income as the manager of a Taco Bell!  Your parents never would have thought it was possible.

Deploying The Digital Undead

Hollywood has made tremendous strides in marrying technology and film.  First it was in deploying high-end “special effects,” using miniatures and models, such as were found in 2001 and Star Wars, then it was in having computers generate images and entire scenes.  More recently, technology has been focused on the human actors, who’ve either been digitally recreated or, as in the recent film The Irishman, de-aged.

james-deanNow we’ve apparently reached a new frontier, where filmmakers believe they can literally raise an actor from the dead and, thanks to the miracle of modern computer, give the actor an entirely new career with new roles.  And the first actor to be targeted is one of Hollywood’s icons:  James Dean.

The moviemakers, acting with the full permission of the Dean family and estate, plan to feed TV footage and still photos of Dean into a computer to create a digital James Dean.  (The real James Dean died in 1955 at age 24, after making only three movies, and immediately rose to legend status, including being the subject of an Eagles song.)  The digital creation will then be moved from the computer to the movie screen with the help of stand-in actors moving through scenes using the motion-capture technology commonly used in CGI filmmaking, and another actor will supply the voice of the digital “James Dean.”

Digital JD is supposed to make his debut in a Vietnam War drama called “Finding Jack” — which seems like a very weird choice, given how closely the real James Dean is associated with the pre-Vietnam War, leather-jacketed bad boy ’50s.  The filmmakers say that they’re not aiming at a one-movie curiosity, but instead hope to give their digital creation an entirely new career that will revive interest in an actor who has been dead for more than 60 years.

Some people are rightly reacting with horror to this effort, which seems desperate and ghoulish.  But it may be the wave of the future in increasingly cash-conscious Hollywood.  Some studios may think:  why worry about developing and casting new acting talent if you can revive Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Lucille Ball, and other stars of the past, draw upon their established personas, and avoid dealing with real-life actors’ huge salaries and huge egos?

I’m not a fan of this effort, but I’m also not sure it will work.  James Dean may have been an iconic figure for a particular generation, but how many people under, say, 60 even know about him or have any interest in the films he actually made?  Fame is pretty fleeting in today’s Netflix world, and I’m not sure that the ghosts of stars of the past are going to fit in.

Car Colors

The other day I walked past this brightly painted car in a nearby parking lot.  I was struck by its color, which I thought made this 2020 Hyundai Kona look like a colossal insect, ready to skitter across the asphalt and disappear into the foliage.

Car manufacturers have come a long way since the days of Henry Ford — who supposedly said that car buyers “can have any color they want, so long as it is black.”  Now, the different makes and models always offer an interesting palette of color options to new car buyers, and usually the colors have very evocative names.  From a review of the Hyundai website, it looks like this particular hue is “lime twist,” and it is available only on certain Kona models.  Other options in the Kona rainbow include “chalk white,” “sonic silver,” “thunder gray,” “surf blue,” “sunset orange,” “pulse red,” and “ultra black.”  I guess you’d pick “lime twist” if you want to be reminded of the sultry tropics every time you get into your car, or perhaps because you work as an entomologist.  In any case, one obvious advantage of the color is that there’s not much chance that you’re going to struggle finding your car in a crowded parking lot.

I’ve always been leery about buying a brightly colored car.  I’ve always subscribed to the notion that yellows and oranges and reds are going to be magnets for police officers eager to hand out speeding tickets and are tough to keep clean, especially during the dreary, road salt-encrusted winter months.  The only new car I’ve ever bought with any kind of color was a 1988 Honda Accord that was “harvest gold,” which I figured wouldn’t show dirt too much.  Since then, I’ve stuck with basic black on every car I’ve purchased.  My brother-in-law in the car business thinks black is the most beautiful color for a car, so long as it is kept clean, and I tend to agree with him.  At this point, I’m not realty interested in attracting attention with my ride, whether from the highway patrol or otherwise.

Maybe Henry Ford was on to something.

 

Sherlock Holmes And The Ring Drop

There was some excitement on my flight to Houston last night, but it all ended well — thanks to Sherlock Holmes.

I was seated in the aisle seat in row 21.  Next to me was a friendly young woman who was traveling through Houston to catch a flight to Orange County.  As I did some work on the flight I heard a metallic clink, and then the young woman suddenly became frantic.  It turns out that she had been fiddling with a ring on her finger, and the ring dropped off and fell into the area between the seat and the window and plane’s fuselage.

sherlockholmesThat area of the plane promptly went into full search mode.  Led by the young woman and using our cellphone flashlights, we scoured the plane’s floor all the way back to the rear restrooms, looked under the seat cushions, and checked that the ring hadn’t gotten snagged on someone’s carry-on luggage.  Everyone in that section of the plane was cooperative and helpful during the search — which tells you that there are still a lot of nice people out there.  But after 15 minutes of fruitless searching, the ring was nowhere to be found.  The flight attendant said they would do a search after the plane landed and everyone had cleared out, and the young woman could fill out a form so that she would get the ring if it was found.

That was small consolation for the distraught and tearful young woman, however.  She explained that the ring that dropped was her sister’s wedding ring, and the young woman had been tasked with delivering the ring from a Columbus jeweler to her sister.  She was supposed to be the trusted messenger, and she was dreading the prospect of confessing to her sister that the ring was lost.

I wasn’t ready to give up, however.  “I don’t know if you’ve read any Sherlock Holmes,” I told her, “but in one of the original stories he explained that when you’re trying to solve a problem and you eliminate all of the possible outcomes, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the answer.  Since the ring isn’t on the floor of the plane or in the other places we’ve looked, I think it’s got to be somewhere in the slot between your armrest and the outer wall of the plane, — probably near a piece of metal since we heard a metallic sound when the ring dropped.  Let’s try again, just in that area.”

She looked dubious, but the logic of the suggestion seemed to persuade her.  She used her hand to grope around carefully in the nook, and sure enough the ring was there in the depths, next to an orphaned Lego piece.  She was overjoyed, and I was happy that I had helped her find her ring and avoid an unwelcome conversation with her sister.

“You know, you really should read the Sherlock Holmes stories,” I said.  “I will,” she promised.

The Lego piece can be retrieved through an inquiry to United Air Lines.

The Skincare Question

Recently Cosmopolitan interviewed Senator, and Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren.  Among many other questions that were asked, Cosmopolitan posed a question to the Senator from Massachusetts about . . . her “skincare routine.”  The exchange went like this:

Jessica Pels: You knew this was coming. What is your skincare routine?

Elizabeth Warren: Pond’s Moisturizer.

Elizabeth Warren: Every morning, every night. And I never wash my face.

Jessica Pels: Wow.

Elizabeth Warren: Nope, nope.

Jessica Pels: You’re one of those.

Elizabeth Warren: Yeah, I am.

Jessica Pels: That’s a very French thing.

2e9867e5-41c6-42ef-8e91-3ef0f7b23b73.jpg.w1920Weirdly, the Q&A on the Senator’s skincare habits has drawn as much attention as anything else in the interview, with some people expressing mystification at the fact that she evidently never washes her face.  I’m not really qualified to comment on somebody’s skincare routine, although I seem to remember seeing my mother and grandmothers dipping into a little jar of Pond’s cold cream now and then.

Apparently Cosmopolitan asks the skincare question to all of the candidates, male and female, and if you’re interested you can see the answers given so far here.  You’ll be stunned to learn that Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t do much in the skincare area.  (I would have thought he would need to apply a mild form of sandblasting to those leathery jowls, frankly.)  And Joe Biden hasn’t been quizzed on the skincare topic yet, so we don’t know whether, as I suspect, he regularly applies something to that porcelain visage to make sure that it doesn’t crack.

Seriously, though — do we need to ask political candidates these kinds of intrusive, personal questions?  I’m sure some would argue that it humanizes them, and I suppose the barrier was forever broken when some unduly curious person asked Bill Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs.  I, for one, don’t need to know about that, or skincare routines, or shaving techniques, or preferred deodorants.  I think we’d all be better off if we left a little respectful distance between ourselves and the everyday personal routines of the people seeking higher office.  Ask them about their positions, look into their backgrounds and public activities, and explore their voting records all you want — but can’t we leave a respectful zone of privacy in the skincare and personal hygiene areas?