The secret-agent character K, played by Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, had it exactly right:
"A person is smart," he said. "People are dumb, panicky animals."
For proof, just check out the prices at a gas station near you.
Before Hurricane Ike had even made landfall Saturday, gasoline that already was stored in underground tanks at local gas stations magically increased in price until finally hovering in most places at around $5 per gallon.
Like sheep to the slaughter, motorists fearing shortages lined up to fill up whether they needed gas or not, self-fulfilling their own prophecies by draining some of those tanks dry.
Think just a bit about the psychology involved here: Thousands of people in the Houston area defied direct warnings about the danger of Hurricane Ike, refusing to evacuate. Some of them are dead or stranded as a result.
Yet all it took around here was the perception that a storm could disrupt gasoline refineries for a few days, and the panicked populace hit the streets for a tank top-off.
The herd mentality made the motorists easy targets for profiteers, who happily took their money in spite of finger-wagging threats from Georgia and South Carolina officials that they wouldn't tolerate price-gougers.
And please, all you folks in the gas business: Spare me the lessons on the economics of petroleum distribution in our supposed free market. I'll believe there's no wink-and-a-nod price collusion the day I see Coke and Pepsi products on sale at the same time in the same grocery store.
Meanwhile, I'm glad I already had half a tank in my truck before the panic hit - and an emergency backup of lawnmower gas just in case.
Speaking of panic, I didn't mean to incite one with local Republicans the other day by reporting on the scarcity of McCain-Palin campaign signs.
Party Chairwoman Deborah McCord says it isn't accurate to say, as I'd been told, that the party headquarters had plenty of the McCain yard signs but couldn't keep enough McCain-Palin signs in stock.
In fact, until she took a trip this weekend to Atlanta to pick up a small supply, neither the Columbia or Richmond County office had any McCain-Palin signs at all. The placards waved during the GOP convention weren't available yet, McCord says.
The Columbia County party office, on Washington Road across from Club Car, has some of the signs now, and McCord says they should be getting more McCain-Palin signs in about a week.
In a little more than two weeks, the third annual CSRA Wine Festival will be held at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, in conjunction with the Augusta Rose Society's 46th annual rose show.
As a sponsor of the event, we were invited to the Vineyard Wine Market in Evans Friday night to watch as six judges swirled, tasted and spit wine - 69 different bottles of it.
The small group of spectators were able to use the same judging sheets and sample the same varieties. I can't fathom how the judges do it. Not because of the alcohol; that isn't an issue when they're spitting it out. It's the taste. After 20, 30, 40 and so on, it pretty much runs together.
I've never been a big fan of wine anyway, even after a touristy trip through California's Sonoma Valley a few years ago.
Now? I think until the festival I'll stick to Coke or Pepsi, depending on which one is on sale.
For more information and tickets, go to www.csrawinefestival.com.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106.
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