Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Always Look on The Bright Side of Life

Lorenzo Gets "The Gas Face"
Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

original photo

Usually, I try my best to avoid reading the local papers or listening to 10-10 Wins, supposedly “the most listened to radio station in the nation.” Because, apart from the occasional political scandal, the news is almost always about accidental deaths and egregious murders: old lady gets moved over by commuter van at Brooklyn intersection, child falls out of apartment window in the Bronx, crane falls and kills construction workers in Manhattan, jealous paramour stalks and kills former lover in Long Island.

Hence, I do my best not to listen. Alas, I am only human and the prurient side of me still spurs me to listen on occasion, regardless of the predictability of what I am bound to hear or read.

Thus, lately, I’ve noticed that there is now another reason not to listen... all the bad news associated with rising fuel costs.

The combination of bad financial management (i.e. subprime mortgage crisis), the downturn in the economy (i.e. monkey making decisions in the White House), and the rise in gas prices has recently led to a spat of news about how we are all being adversely affected. I’ve collected just a few of the headlines from the last three days alone and I am presenting them here with excerpts of each story to make my point:

Transit can’t keep up: Agencies struggle to accommodate ridership hike due to gas prices. “It’s standing room only on many commuter buses from Washington’s suburbs. Rail systems from Boston to Los Angeles are begging passengers to shift their travel to non-peak hours. And some seats have been removed from San Francisco’s subway (BART) cars to allow more people to cram in. In the first three months of 2008, 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the U.S., a 3 percent increase over the first quarter of 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association.”

GM closing 4 truck, SUV plants: General Motors is closing four truck and SUV plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, affecting 10,000 workers, as surging fuel prices hasten a dramatic shift to smaller vehicles.

Airlines get desperate: With fuel costs almost tripling since 2000, now accounting for as much as 40 percent of operating expense at some carriers, according to the ATA, airlines are cutting costs and raising revenue in one-unthinkable ways. US Airways has eliminated snacks. Delta is charging $25 for phone reservations. American Airlines las month began charging $15 for one checked bag.

Cabbies push city for gas surcharge: The New York Taxi Workers Alliance proposed a fuel surcharge of $1 per trip when gas costs between $3 - $4 a gallon, $1.50 when gas is between $4 - $5, and $2 if gas ever climbs above $5. “Four years ago I put in $25 a day for gas. Now it’s like $60. If you turn the air conditioner on, forget it.” John Trapp, NYC cab driver

Latest AAA numbers—Even more motorists running out of gas: With gas prices hovering at $4 a gallon, AAA says motorists are gambling by putting less fuel in their tanks. All across the nation from Philadelphia to Dallas to Tennessee and Oregon, officials are reporting increasing numbers of stranded motorists in need of gas, in some cases distress calls have doubled between May 2007 and May 2008. AAA Mid-Atlantic alone, with nearly 4 million members in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia, reported a 15 percent year-over-year increase in calls from members with empty tanks. "When the pump hits a certain dollar amount now, you're seeing more customers stop," said Lenard, with the National Association of Convenience Stores. "They're purchasing fewer gallons.” And that means playing Russian roulette with the gas gauge.

So, that’s essentially the bad news. Higher gas prices means higher costs all around, leading to longer unemployment lines, shorter vacations, a lot of belt-tightening, and more short-cutting, more frustration, more cheating and more crime.


The good news is that attitude is everything.

"...the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances."
—Martha Washington—

Which means, although none of us may have a seat on the board of OPEC, we can determine how we are affected by this situation by changing our attitudes and perspectives on the matter.

Recently, I reloaded Enzo’s iPod with a new repertoire of songs and I included the finale from the from Monty Python’s movie The Life of Brian, where a horde of criminals are being crucified and begin whistling cheerfully and signing “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life.

Thus, taking a little inspiration from the song, following is a list of positive things one might garner despite the downturn in the economy, the rise in gas prices and our universal dire straits:

You woke up this morning. Likely most of this did so groggily and bleary –eyed, but hey! at least you’re heathy and alive, and have a job to go to as well. Unfortunately, not everyone has jobs these days and there is much greater suffering throughout the world. So be grateful for what you’ve got.

Higher gas prices discourage consumption and tend to reduce the production of oil, also reducing the threat of global warming. Everyone’s going green these days, so this can only help the cause.

In the long run, gas consumption may fall as consumers search for and demand substitutes (e.g. grain, solar, hydro, electric).

Although hyper-efficient compacts and innovative gas-electric hybrid cars have been around for years, a decrease in demand for less petroleum-guzzling vehicles will increase the demand for alternative fuel-based automobiles, which will spur the greening of the auto industry. Toyota, Ford, Lexus, Saab, and Saturn all showcased hybrid vehicles at the 2008 NY AutoShow in March.

“From the broad national standpoint, we should welcome high gasoline prices because it is in the national interest to reduce our consumption of gasoline, and high prices will do that, dramatically so in the long run when more substitution is possible. The burning of gasoline in vehicles creates pollution and emits carbon dioxide that contributes significantly to global warming; and curtailing driving in order to reduce the consumption of gasoline would alleviate traffic congestion. Furthermore, a large part of the world's oil supply comes from nations such as Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia that are actually or potentially unstable, hostile to the United States, or both, and it would be prudent to reduce our dependence on such suppliers.” (Richard Posner, The Gasoline Price Spike: Another Nonissue)

“…$4-a-gallon gasoline is really starting to impact driving behavior and buying behavior in way that $3-a-gallon gas did not. The first time we got such a strong price signal, after the 1973 oil shock, we responded as a country by demanding and producing more fuel-efficient cars. But as soon as oil prices started falling in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we let Detroit get us readdicted to gas guzzlers, and the price steadily crept back up to where it is today.” (Thomas L. Friedman, Truth or Consequences, NY Times ) Thus, higher gas prices, means less consumption, a decrease in the value of materialism, and hopefully a significant increase in the value of the immaterial—spending time with others (i.e. more conversations, less watching TV), greater intellectual pursuits (more studying and self-improvement), and more creativity (creative activity).


In sum, I believe that although a lot of us are feeling the pains of the gas-hike crunch, ultimately we are all better off for it because it will lead to a greater awareness about many of the things we overlook when we become too comfortable and bide time entertaining ourselves through frivolous consumption.

I’ll end this musing with the lyrics that inspired my personal media-vuelta, my turnabout, my motivation to look on the brighter side of life.


Cheer up, Brian
You know what they say

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best, hey

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse you're lips and whistle, that's the thing

And, always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it's your last chance of the hour

So, always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life's a piece o' shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke it's true
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Remember that the last laugh is on you

And, always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
Come on, Brian cheer up

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life

Worse things happen at sea, you know
Always look on the bright side of life
I mean, what do you have to lose
You come from nothing
You go back to nothing
What have you lost, nothing
Always look on the bright side of life

The Bright Side of Life, Monty Python

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