31 August, 2011

Pleasant Surprise

I've been dreading this hydro bill.

Our "smart meter" was installed well over a year ago. Smart meters are supposed to encourage you to shift your electricity consumption to 'off-peak' hours and penalize you if you don't.
Weekends are off-peak year round, which suggests to me that homeowners are bearing a burden meant for factories, but whatever. I've got nothing against conservation.
Problem is, I've been hearing stories about people's hydro bills doubling or worse. We're told hydro prices are going to rise by something like fifty percent over the next five years. This strikes me as being monstrously unfair...but whatever.

As I've said before, this house has electric baseboard heating. That's one of the most expensive means of heating a house, though one advantage is you can shut off the heat to vast swathes of your home. We do this; we like it cold in here. My attitude is, if I'm cold I'm either not dressed properly or not working hard enough. We investigated ducting the place and recoiled at the price: somewhere between $7000 and $12000, and that was five or six years ago. Given that our hydro bill is, on average, about $30/month higher than yours if you live in a house like ours except with forced-air gas...it's not even close to worth it. The ducting would pay for itself, all things being equal, in twenty or thirty years.

So rather than duct, we've spent money leakproofing this place. All new windows, plus a brand new roof. Both made quite the difference in our bills. But time-of-use rates, so far as I could tell, threatened to financially undo all our effort, and worse.

The system finally went live two months ago and we just got our bill today. Here are the figures for June 8-August 9:

Off peak (7pm-7am, plus weekends) 1508.82 kWh @ 5.9 cents = $89.02
Mid-peak (7am-11am, 5pm-7pm, M-F) 331.51 kWh @ 8.9 cents = $29.50
On-peak (11am-5pm, M-F) 297.68 kWh @ 10.7 cents = $31.85
--------
$150.87

That's two months of usage. Not bad, says I.
Unfortunately, the bill didn't stop there. Behold:

"Delivery" $82.93

I can pretty much assure you it didn't cost Waterloo North Hydro anywhere NEAR this figure to transmit energy to my home. I'd be surprised if it cost them a hundredth of this figure, in fact

"Regulatory Charges" $14.40

0.63 cents/kWh to cover somebody else's costs (boy, there are a lot of fingers in my power pie!) and subsidize power delivery to rural and remote locations


"Debt Retirement Charge" $14.38

This one really rankles. It's anticipated we'll be paying it until 2026. Don't you love how massive debts always end up trickling downwards? Americans, take note.

Total Miscellaneous Hosedowns: $111.71

...or 74% of the consumption bill

giving me a subtotal of $262.08

This reminds me of nothing so much as the travel section of the newspaper. "Look here, honey, we can fly to Orlando for $99 each! Oh, wait, add this and that and the other fee and, forget it, $417."
Personally, I'd much rather pay higher rates and not see all this gobbledygook at the bottom of my bill telling me there's a 74% surcharge. Likewise, I'd prefer this magnanimous gesture be instead incorporated into my bill:

The Ontario Government has taken 10%
off the cost of your electricity bill to help
you with the costs of building a clean
energy future.
ON Clean Energy Benefit - 10% ($29.62)

Especially since you just KNOW they're going to turn around
and hit you with

Harmonized Sales Tax $34.07

(which, incidentally, never used to apply to electricity!)

Okay, so we've credited the homeowner, but we've made sure
to claw all that back and more. On consumption of
$150.87, the total owing is $266.53



I'm pleasantly surprised this isn't four or five hundred bucks. What does that tell you about my "tax me, I'm Canadian!" mentality?

28 August, 2011

The Green Thing

Posted direct from the mailbox. I LOVE this.


In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?


Goodbye, Jack, Part II

"We can do this, we can be a better people. We've seen how to try"
--Rev. Brent Hawkes

Reading what I wrote a few days back, I feel a little guilty. I feel like I wrote a standard eulogy for a standard man, not the standard bearer that Jack Layton actually was. I won't delete my prior effort--I don't do that, ever--but I'd like to refine it in the wake of watching his wake.

We're told Jack died listening to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" performed by k.d. lang.



I can think of few better songs to die to.

"Why do you want to watch this funeral?" my wife asked me. I struggled to answer. After all, I didn't know Jack, nor ever even meet him. It was hard to reconcile that with the profound sense of loss I have felt since he died. I feel, quite frankly, as if we have lost in Jack Layton a rare breed of person, let alone politician: an eternal optimist and a bottomless fount of compassion and caring.

Not everyone feels this way.

There has been a remarkable level of vitriol on display this past week, starting with Christie Blatchford's anti-elegy before the body was even cold. Christie was a paragon of civility compared to the vile spewings of any number of anonymous posters elsewhere. My jaw has dropped so often it's gone numb: the hatred is palpable. If Layton wasn't already dead, you get the distinct feeling some people would have been all too happy to kill him.

Whence came the hatred in Canadian political discourse? Has it always been here, and I've just been blind to it? Left or right, it makes no matter: there is little tolerance for opposing viewpoints and less for those who hold them. An honest debate very quickly degenerates into name-calling and worse. And saddest of all, it seems that for every person mourning Jack Layton, there is another glad he's dead and happy to say so.

Personally, I shared many of Jack's beliefs. I share his idealism, and on some level, his optimism. That so many Canadians obviously don't means that there remains a great deal of work to be done. It distresses me that so many have been hurt so badly they see no other way to heal themselves than to hurt others. That's certainly not what Jack was about, nor is it any way to build a better Canada.

Why, why now, or why Jack. Some of those questions...will have no answer.
The reality is not why, but what now?--Rev. Hawkes

That sermon was perhaps the best I've ever heard in my life. I'll freely admit to a need for occasional spiritual sustenance, and don't care if you think it a weakness. Rev. Hawkes' homily was a feast of uncommon richness. (Link to transcript here).

Few who ever met Jack. by all accounts, will ever forget him. I hope that his life's work continues now that his life is done. I hope I can help advance it in some small way.

I hope.



22 August, 2011

RIP to "One Of The Good Guys"

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we'll change the world." --John Gilbert "Jack" Layton, August 20, 2011

As recently as three years ago, I dismissed Jack Layton out of hand. There was something smarmy about him, I was convinced: he had the aura of a used-car salesman. His personality screamed politician. As in, he said all the right things, they way they all do...but without a trace of guile. Nobody's that idealistic, I thought. He's in this for himself, just like everybody else. He echoed many of my own beliefs, and I resented him for it.

LOVE IS BETTER THAN ANGER

Except Layton was that idealistic. He infamously suggested we negotiate with the Taliban, earning himself the nickname "Taliban Jack". Some of us laughed, derisively, knowing the Taliban for the terrorists they were and are. And yet...we've now pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving it--sorry to say--not overmuch better than we found it, and at the cost of 156 Canadian lives (our highest death toll since the Korean War). Would negotiation have lessened that grisly count? Quite possibly.

HOPE IS BETTER THAN FEAR

Jack beat prostate cancer once, and he did it in fine style. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson characterized Layton as "the happy warrior". I wrote about Jackmyself in 2008 without knowing, at the time, I was doing so. It's no coincidence Layton resonated so strongly with youth, the people who haven't had the hope beaten out of them.
I've little doubt Jack Layton felt fear. Probably a great deal of it. But he didn't choose to show it. Instead, he showed hope. Hope and determination. That carried him and his party a great distance in a relatively short period of time. And, tellingly, his final message to Canadians is laced with hope.

OPTIMISM IS BETTER THAN DESPAIR

Whatever your politics, you can't help but respect Jack for making politics itself interesting and, dare I say it, noble again. Unlike many politicians whose principles are for sale, Layton never deviated from his one iota. It took Canadians, myself included, some time to grasp this, but when we did we grasped it with a will. Layton was the first politician I have ever voted for without hesitation--not because of his party's policies, some of which I strongly disagreed with, but because Layton himself embodied the respect I yearned to see in a political leader. He pressed for electoral reform even though at the time it would have substantially eaten into his party's seat count. He welcomed Elizabeth May and her Green Party on the scene despite the prospect of her splitting the vote.
And now he leaves behind a party he uplifted to Official Opposition for the first time in its history. It's full of green MPs that have already made their share of public gaffes. Many have already written them off. I'm not so sure that's a good idea. Not if they take Jack's message about optimism seriously:

SO LET US BE LOVING, HOPEFUL, AND OPTIMISTIC. AND WE'LL CHANGE THE WORLD.

10 August, 2011

Poetry Break: It Only Rains Outside!

The world is not a happy place
For those with an ideal
It's beastly hard work to replace
Your dream with what is real.

And when you do, you're apt to find
The colour's been bleached out:
The sounds of life within your mind
Are whisper-quiet without.

Nothing holds your interest now.
No wonder, when it's all
So drab and dull and silent. How
Can you see through the pall?

Is life worth living? Maybe so--
But is this living life
If all inside has ceased to grow
And all outside is strife?

And people say "feel better, chum!"
As if it were a game...
"Snap out of it", they say, "ho-hum!"--
Do they not know your name?

I do. And I can understand
The hell you're going through.
I know the layout of its land
For me, it's nothing new.

I could just say "this too shall pass"
And shrug away your pain...
That's not in me to do, alas:
I can't but share the rain.

Remember who you really are.
You're more than what you see.
Much more. In fact, I'd go so far
As to insist you be

An angel. "Oh, no" you'll say,
And tell me you don't feel
angelic--even human!--Nay,
you're nothing 'til you heal.

But that's not true. I know it's not,
Because you've got it turned around.
It's what's outside that's gone to rot:
The inner you's still solid ground.

It may not seem so. It may seem
As if you're in a mental quake.
That's when the walls twixt life and dream
Can tumble down. And it might take

That tumble 'til you finally see
The nightmare you were in
For what it was. Believe you me,
That once you do, you will begin

To understand that there is naught
You have to do now. You are free
No need to refight wars you fought,
To build anew. You'll only see

What I've seen all along: that you're
Above all that on wings of gold.
You'll be awake, and living for
Yourself, inside, safe from the cold.















09 August, 2011

Enjoying the ride?

Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is just that...a force. The roller coaster is 310' tall, propels riders at speeds up to 93 mph, and will cause the faint of heart to stain their underwear.

Kind of like the stock market, lately. Let's ride it together, shall we?



This coaster is different from others in several ways. The lift hill starts the instant you leave the station, and it's unnaturally steep. Intamin uses a cable lift system to pull the car up at a 45-degree angle (and believe you me, you'd swear it's closer to 65 degrees...at fifteen miles an hour.
Fifteen miles an hour may seem sluggish. It isn't. You're over three hundred feet in the air in twenty five seconds flat. By comparison, the Magnum XL-200 at the same park, using a traditional chain lift system, requires over twice as long to pull the train up 205 feet.

Millennium Force's relatively speedy ascent can only be accomplished with technological help: in this case, a cable that is much lighter than the usual chain used on most coasters. Likewise, the ascent of the stock market since 2008 could have only been accomplished with the infusion of vast sums of something I'll call "mun".

"Mun" is different from "money" in that it is, in effect, lighter. It's printed out of thin air, usually in quantities too large to be grasped by most imaginations. It's backed by nothing other than a promise...something that may not be overly comforting when you're dangling 310' in the air overlooking the relative stability in Canada (which, incidentally, you can actually see from the top of Millennium's lift hill).

Standard and Poor's is the first to question the validity of that promise, and they surely won't be the last. Canada lost its AAA rating in 1992 and it took ten years of diligent governance to regain it. "Diligent governance" does not exactly describe the current state of U.S. affairs. In fact, I get the feeling that if guns were permitted in Congress there'd be a bloodbath.

Pulled up by all that mun, we find ourselves at the peak, 310 feet in the air, or 12,876 stock points. Notice how while we were climbing, it was very easy to maintain the illusion we'd climb forever. But as we crest the hill (a titch slower now, without the mun to buoy us) we're buffeted by wind and holy shit it's a long way down.

The descent is precipitous: 80 degrees, or over a thousand points in the last seven sessions. Looking ahead we can see an overbanked turn some wag has nicknamed the "Dead Cat Bounce"; beyond that, we'll only know when we get there. But, this being a roller-coaster of historical proportions, we can expect a few things.

1) Airtime. On coaster tracks, this is the sensation of weightlessness, of being pulled out of your seat by zero or negative g-forces. It can cause you to lose your lunch. In the U.S. right now, airtime is what's being consumed by both parties in a frantic effort to affix blame, rather than fixing the problem. The air here is almost all of the "hot" variety. This, too, can cause you to lose your lunch.

2) Dark tunnels. On coasters, people like to scream in these. Ditto in stock markets.

3) The most certain thing we can assume is that we will finish this roller coaster ride at a considerably lower altitude than we were at its peak. Some people will undoubtedly lose wallets or portfolios.

Most of us will disembark this bugger shaken up. Some will vow never to ride again. Others will get off and head to some other, putatively tamer coaster, say blue chip Blue Streak. Let's just hope that we can learn to sort out money from its lighter counterpart. Because if the speed gets too high, we'll fly right off the track.

Keep your head back, your arms and legs inside the train at all times, and enjoy the ride...



07 August, 2011

A Paean to a Personal Panacea

KB was weaned on KD.

For my American friends, KD is Kraft Dinner, what you call, with typical American literalist panache, "Kraft Macaroni and Cheese". (The most popular food in America for many years was the tuna fish, as opposed to tuna chicken and tuna cow.)
Kraft Dinner has been the most popular meal in Canada for at least a generation. Pundit Rex Murphy has said that "Kraft Dinner revolves in that all-but-unobtainable orbit of the Tim Horton's donut and the A&W Teen Burger. It is one of that great trinity of quick digestibles that have been enrolled as genuine Canadian cultural icons." Maybe it's because the founder of Kraft was born in Ontario. Maybe it's because, as Douglas Coupland notes, it "so precisely laser-targets the favoured Canadian food groups: fat, sugar, starch and salt." Or maybe Canadians are just favourably attracted to florescent orange. That might explain the NDP's surge in popularity, too.

My love of Kraft Dinner has been truly lifelong. KD was my mom's pregnancy craving, and I can only assume that's because I was demanding the cheesy pasta shapes in utero. Everyone has that one meal they could live indefinitely off of: KD is mine. '

As such, each bowl provides a heaping helping of memories and proto-memories. I was too young to recall my father hurting himself quite badly preparing this dead-simple dish, but the tale has been told often enough that I can vividly imagine it. Dad was doing just fine boiling the macaroni: when it came time to drain it, he inexplicably held the colander in one hand as he poured the boiling water from the pot with the other.
(This tale is proof positive, if any is ever needed, that I am my father's son. I have never done this myself, but it's something I might do in the same sort of daze that has me come downstairs of a morning with my shirt on backwards. Or inside out. Or both. One time I arrived at breakfast in a dress shirt I had put on inside out and buttoned up. Try that some time, I dare you.)

Then there was the time, many years later, when I almost burned Macdonald House at Wilfrid Laurier University down preparing...you guessed it...Kraft Dinner.

I can count on the fingers of one thumb the number of meals I prepared in that residence kitchen, despite being there for eight months. Part of it was profligacy: I arrived university flush with cash but with no idea of its value. Years of discipline evaporated in a heartbeat: eating damn near every meal out was the biggest reason I finished first year flat broke.
I have no defence, except to note my peers were just as free with their money. OSAP, the Ontario Student Assistance Program, was at the time better known as the Ontario Stereo Acquisition Program and many of my dorm mates seemed to be majoring in beer-soaked frat parties.
The residence common kitchen was a pigsty. On second thought, scratch that: pigs wouldn't choose to live in it. Dishes mouldered for days on end. The microwave broadcast the cloying odour of synthetic butter far and wide, as popcorn was about the only thing ever prepared in it. At the end of the year, several households worth of pots, pans, and assorted kitchen paraphernalia went unclaimed. Short-sighted, every one of us.
One night I got that telltale rumbling of the tummy that only a box of KD would cure. Kraft Dinner being one of those things not generally available on restaurant menus, I ventured across the street to Forwell's Super Variety and procured a box and some margarine. Fifteen minutes later, I set a pot of water to boil, and retreated to my residence room to find the perfect book for the cooking occasion.
(That last probably sounds weird if you're not me. If I'm going to be alone and forced to stare at nothing for a period of time, there simply must be a book to fill the mental space. What sort of book? I'll know it when I find it. Unless I don't, in which case I'm apt to soil myself looking for bathroom reading. Luckily, there are Bathroom Readers to fill the voiding void.)
I was still looking for that elusive Perfect Book To Accompany The Cooking Of Macaroni Noodles when my reverie was abruptly interrupted by my residence don, Craig, shouting 'BREADNER!' in exactly the same tone of voice that Fred Flintstone shouts 'WILMA!' That was accompanied by an odd kind of scurry-stomp as he hustled down the hall.
Craig was built like a fire hydrant. I had already by that point seen him pick up a guy who had six inches on him and throw him across a room. Hearing my name shouted out like that did not exactly fill me with warm creamy noodles.
I gingerly poked my head out my doorway only to be snatched and dragged back the way Craig had come. Finding my feet, I ran ahead of him, did a one-eighty into the floor lounge...

...and found the stove element merrily belching flames.

I am not generally the person who keeps their head in a crisis. My head is usually off and rolling all over the room at the first sign of trouble. This time, I'm happy to report, I managed to reach round the little campfire I had going, turn the element off, and then grab a fire extinguisher and discharge it...the first time I ever used one of those, and the last, knock on something that isn't flammable.
Disaster averted...but I never did get my Kraft Dinner that night. It turned out somebody had spilled some oil down into the element well and hadn't bothered to clean it up until I came along to burn it off. This is, of course, the sort of thing that only happens to people named Ken Breadner,

The prospect of a bowl of Kraft Dinner fills me with a warm glow. It's comfort food, a link to my childhood, and something I can make myself without too much trouble (unless I'm setting a kitchen on fire...) Many people add all sorts of things to their macaroni and cheese: wieners and ketchup being the most popular. My mom likes to put pepper on hers; I've also consumed it with hamburger and peas. But I'll always prefer mine plain, prepared exactly as the directions on the box indicate, save perhaps for the addition of a wee bit more margarine than is called for.

Kraft Dinner: another way I'm quintessentially Canadian.


06 August, 2011

The Rise Of American Fascism

"If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide." -Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address 1838

Prescient, that man Lincoln.
A tiny downgrade in one's credit rating from the highest possible score to the second-highest can not, in and of itself, be proof positive that a country is failing. But when that credit rating has stood since 1917, and when one reflects on the political crapfest that precipitated that credit downgrade, one certainly can't help but wonder if America understands the perils of the road it is travelling.

I, for one, think not.

The vitriol spewing out of various Fox-holes...well, Lincoln would have recognized it for the variation on mob rule it seeks to foment. There is a long and storied tradition in America of populist leaders emerging out of relative obscurity, urging the population to rise up in revolt against elitist, statist masters. McCarthy. Malcolm X. Michele Bachmann. For that matter, President Obama himself has repeatedly used the highest pedestal in the land to incite class warfare; his elites are the rich corpocrats. He is either frightfully naive or willfully ignorant: corporations have running Skyscraper America from its lobby for decades now.

The Left and the Right used to be two parts of the same body politic. In America in the second decade of the twenty first century they can't be said to inhabit the same reality. Twenty years ago I thought David Frum leaned so far right he was in danger of toppling; today he sounds almost like a Democrat. Believe me, it's not because Frum has mellowed. Rather, the United States started running into right field a few years back and is now so far out there it can't even see home plate anymore.

I don't see how this is correctable. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, we will see the rise of American fascism.
Sinclair Lewis, the first American to be honoured with the Nobel Prize for Literature, once said that "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." We see in the Tea Party a patriotism that borders on the fanatical (and which, of course, comes with its attendant branding of anyone not of the Faith as "un-American"); the cross surely need not be explained.
This article, originally written in 2009 as the Tea Party was gaining in popularity, argues the U.S. is already pulling into the parking lot of Fascists 'R' Us. It's not tinfoil-hat territory: truly, it's worth the read. It defines facism thus:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Here are what it posits as the three signs of fascism in formation:

1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?
2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?
3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

The recent debt ceiling debacle illustrates point 1) perfectly. America now has two parties: Democrat and Tea. The Tea Party, while not explicitly fascist, certainly fits the definition above in that it faults liberals and liberals alone for the decline of America and seeks by means increasingly foul to restore order both fiscal and social. That they portray themselves as innocent VICTIMS is telling.

The answer to 2) is an emphatic yes. The Democrats have historically disagreed with Republicans on just about everything, but at least they used to be able to make themselves understood and occasionally listened to. Today, the political system is all but paralyzed. So is the economy. It's only in the last ten days or so that the stock markets seemingly have deigned to recognize there is an economy outside their bubble, and that bubble is in the process of going pop.

And as to 3)...let the economy fester much longer, as it probably will, and we'll just see what unholy alliances those traditional elites cook up to maintain their grip on power.

For nearly ten years now I have worried that America would get around to posing a Muslim question in the manner that Germany once posed a "Jewish question". I am still worried about this. The United States persists in overstating the strength of al-Qaeda for political ends, and Muslims are thus widely distrusted; it would not take overmuch to reach a tipping point. But now I'm starting to wonder if the scope of my worry is too narrow. It seems to me that the Tea Party has a very strong opinion on what it means to be American, and an even stronger opinion on who doesn't qualify. They have a real bee in their bonnet over "illegals"; ironically enough, people who escaped utter misery in Mexico for what they imagined to be a better life in los estados unidos. The Tea Partiers like to lump them in with the "bleeding heart liberals" who, they imagine, are conspiring to destroy "their" America.

The truth is that America's rightward drift is what is destroying America. Impoverish the middle class and keep the lower class down in the name of LOW LOW TAXES and eventually that lower class, not to mention much of what used to be the middle, will get desperate enough to listen to anyone with a solution. In normal times, Michele Bachman's proposal to eliminate the minimum wage would cue fits of hysterical laughter, as would her assertion that her having run mental health clinics qualifies her for the Presidency of the United States of America. (Those mental health clinics, by the way, have been accused of performing 'conversion therapy'--seeking to change homosexuals into heterosexuals...which would also be funny if it wasn't so scary.)

Michele Bachmann has a decent shot at being the next President. If that happens, the Tea Party's apt to get...raucous.





03 August, 2011

Tales From Aisle Ten (V)

"Why Juice Boxes Are 10% Smaller But Still Cost The Same"

Article here.

Because us grocery clerks love to screw you over, that's why. We cackle with glee each and every time one of our esteemed customers chooses to assume we and we alone are responsible for shrinking the cereal boxes and juice cartons and...well, hell, everything. The groceries we shrink at night, using dark retail sorcery. Then we shrink your wallets by day. It's soooo much fun, especially since we don't buy groceries ourselves. Did you really think we need to eat? Pshaw.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Grocery stores don't generally gouge their customers. I know you have no proof of this--until the world finally gets around to putting costs as well as retails on price tags, anyway--but trust me. There are exceptions (the produce department has some *huge* margins), but on many items in dry grocery, we make pennies; on sale items we almost always lose money, sometimes quite a bit of it. Somebody may well be rolling in it, but it ain't us.

Crop failures obviously drive price increases. Just two days ago, the retail on a kilogram of McCain red bag fries went from $1.99 to $3.67 in one leap. This actually didn't surprise me overmuch, because I've been told potatoes of any quality at all are somewhat hard to find right now. The same thing happened with grapefruit juice a few years back when Florida was temporarily a hurricane playpen. For over two months we had no grapefruit juice at all. We *could* have offered it, but we chose not to: our cost was something like nine bucks a carton. Then, when grapefruits started to show up, so did the juice...at substantially higher retails than people were accustomed to paying. It took over a year for the price to fall, and it didn't fall by much.

Milk just went up, too. We're at $4.67 right now for a 4L bag of 2%, 1% or skim. That's subject to change at any moment, depending on what the competition does or doesn't do. But, as I tell everyone who complains about milk prices, they've gone up by fifteen percent in fifteen years. That's *well* under the rate of inflation. Plus, we lose money on every bag of milk we sell.

As for the shrinkage...it's happening everywhere. As the linked article above states, people would rather pay the same for less quantity than pay more for the same quantity. It's not a trick: it's market research in action.
Do bear in mind, too, that most people, yours truly definitely included, eat too much food. Here's an experiment to try: one day, eat only the "suggested serving" of whatever you consume. Good luck with that. I freely admit I can't do it: when I'm hungry, I want to EAT, damnit. None of this "quarter of a box of Kraft dinner" or "eleven potato chips" or even "a quarter sized piece of meat." If you're just going to tease me like that, let me starve already.
That all said, maybe, just maybe, smaller packages are good for you. It sure beats the trend we had in the eighties and nineties, to super size the hell out of everything.


I agree, some of the packaging reductions are kind of insane. When I started in May, 2001, a 2L tub of Nestle Confectionery ice cream--Rolo, Smarties and the like---went for $4.99. The package has shrunk three times since then and the price continues to rise: it's now a 1.5L tub and it's $6.99. Little wonder nobody buys it unless it's on sale.

That's an annoying thing from our perspective: nobody buys ANYTHING unless it's on sale. That's maybe a bit of an exaggeration...but not as much of one as you'd think. When you have twelve different grocery chains to choose from, everything is on sale somewhere. So if you're ever wondering why it's the last day of the ad and we have no sale product, it's because anything we're stuck with at the end of the ad, we're STUCK with. I still have frozen vegetables from the first ad we ran as a FreshCo, week ending April 28. Good thing they don't expire until late next year.