RSSCategory: Consumerism

Messing with the phone company

May 31, 2010 | By | 9 Replies More
Messing with the phone company

My phone company has utterly and repeatedly lied to me about my bill. It’s infuriating. I call them up and ask them to justify my bill. They “apologize” and insist that it will cost exactly $X every month in the future. Then the bills show up and they are $X plus an extra $15. What do you do, go to small claims court over $15? I’m saving up my bills and I actually might do that someday. In the meantime, I do wonder how many other people are having the same experience, and I assume that there are plenty of you out there. Unfortunately, these do not make good class actions because they usually involve oral misrepresentations over the phone. In order to prove that a large group of people were lied to, you’d need to call every customer into court to testify. Courts usually reject these as class actions. Therefore, anyone with this situation is likely in the same boat I’m in. Small damages also combine with clever arbitration clauses to amount to telephone company immunity.

I’m telling you this little story as a prelude to showing you this image. I do understand this person’s frustration. Bravo!

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The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

May 26, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

Manufacturers and retailers are great at solving problems we didn’t know that we had. Sometimes, our “problem” is lack of social prestige.

Check out this high tech “Air Multiplier” I recently spotted at Target. Here’s what it offers. No blades. No “buffeting.” No “choppy air.” Silly me. I thought that fans were supposed to buffet the air and make it choppy. Now I know, however, that the fans I already own are defective and that I need to fix this problem by purchasing several of these $300 Dyson “Air Multipliers.”

Image by Erich Vieth

Why would someone buy such an expensive contraption when you can easily buy a decent fan for $15 and a great fan for $75? Geoffrey Miller explains this phenomenon in an incredibly well-written and well-researched book titled Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. I could write 100 posts commenting on the various sections of Spent; Miller’s book is that good. I’m well on my way. See here, for example, and here.

Out of curiosity, I visited the Dyson website to see whether this “Air Multiplier” is more energy efficient that a traditional fan. Information about energy usage is conspicuous by its absence on Dyson’s site, however. I know enough about marketing that if the Air Multiplier were more energy efficient than traditional fans, this information would be prominently displayed on Dyson’s packaging. Along the same lines, note that the Dyson Air Multiplier is “safe,” even though all modern fans come with grill designed to keep fingers away from the blades. I they are going spin their product’s qualities wildly (no pun intended), they would certainly make sure that we were informed about the Air Multiplier’s ability to save energy–if only that were true.

[For comparison, I have inserted a few old-fashioned “fans” that you can buy at Target, a few feet down from the throne of the Air Multiplier. As you can see, these fans are considerably cheaper. In fact, for the price of one Air Multiplier, you could buy eighteen $16 fans. ]img_0006

Chapter 7 of Spent is titled “Conspicuous Waste, Precision, and Reputation. In this chapter, Miller convincingly argues that we don’t buy to merely have; rather, many of our purchases are for the purpose of displaying qualities to others. We are very much like peacocks, it turns out. We like to conspicuously waste resources (this is an expensive and thus reliable signal that we have enough resources to waste). We also engage in conspicuous precision, spending lots of money to display that we have not only resources, but also an appreciation of technology that goes far beyond the mental capabilities of those people are willing to settle for those damned buffeting fans.

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Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

May 12, 2010 | By | 16 Replies More
Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

The perky woman on this Grist video (“Umbra”) has convinced me to make my own shampoo and conditioner. Not only will this save me money, but it will put end my practice of covering my scalp with numerous chemicals that contain known-harmful ingredients–many shampoos and conditions are laden with harmful and potentially harmful ingredients (I found this video at Huffpo). I should also mention that I have become extra-motivated to try this experiment based on this recent post by Brynn Jacobs. First, the fast-paced video featuring “Umbra”:

Now a short detour to the Environmental Working Group website, where you can determine all of the nasty chemicals in your shampoos, conditioners and other products. The EWG “Cosmetics” database is here.

I went to straight to my bathroom and dug out various bottles each of shampoo and conditioner. My Pantene “Full and Thick” shampoo contains all of the following (among other chemicals): METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE) NITROSAMINES) COCAMIDE MEA, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE. Various of these chemicals are associated with the following things: Neurotoxicity, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive) Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).

I checked out a bottle of Suave Professionals Sleek Shampoo and it contained a comparably ominous list. The Revlon Aqua Marine Moisturizing Shampoo was even worse in that it contained four chemicals associated with cancer.

Then I looked up two bottles of hair conditioner. The Garnier Fructis Fortifying Conditioner – Sleek & Shine has a comparably nasty list of chemicals –Umbra urges that these chemicals are totally unnecessary for washing one’s hair. I couldn’t find the Citre Shine Daily Revitalize Conditioner with Shine-Infusing Citrus Extracts on the EWG website, but I carefully read the fine print on the back label and plugged four of those chemicals into the EWG site; they all came up as bad, despite the front label’s suggestion that this product contains “healthy” ingredients. I suppose the theory is to balance out each industrial chemical with a whiff of something healthy-sounding like “citrus extract.”

BTW, isn’t it ironic to read all of those the benign-sounding names of these products and then compare those names to the long lists of chemicals within?

What is Umbra’s solution to this apparently unhealthy situation? She is encouraging us to make our own shampoo and conditioner (this is the same advice offered by Colin Beavan). For shampoo, she recommends that we mix a tablespoon of baking soda with each cup of water. Shake it each time before using it. For conditioner, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with each cup of water. She says that the vinegar smell goes away after you rinse.

As soon as I publish this post, I’m going to the kitchen to mix up a batch of each. I’m appearing in court tomorrow, and my hair and scalp, for the first time ever, will not be drenched in potentially harmful chemicals.

I promise to report on the experience after I use these home-made hair products for a few days.

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Super-shovel: It slices, it dices

April 28, 2010 | By | Reply More
Super-shovel: It slices, it dices

I thought the music was a bit dramatic until I got half-way through this shovel advertisement. Maybe I should start carrying a shovel in my briefcase, in case I need to climb a mountain or chop potatoes.

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The fake problems of infomercials

April 24, 2010 | By | Reply More
The fake problems of infomercials

I caught this video on the Daily Dish. It is a compilation of excerpts from numerous infomercials. This excellent editing of a string of disasters that suggests the need for one more infomercial offering this bit of free advice: Slow down; quit being such materialists; simplify your life and quit acting so recklessly. Excellent humor and anthropology, “kickintheheadcomic“!

I suspect we’ll soon be hearing a new soundtrack on this clever video, unless the creator has his use rights to the Beatle’s “Help” nailed down . . .

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People Are Idiots. A Cynical Observation

April 15, 2010 | By | 36 Replies More
People Are Idiots.  A Cynical Observation

The video below from TED is chilling in many ways. Michael Specter touches on observations about the resistance people have toward anything that seems to threaten their hobbit-hole view of the world. A little of this, as he rightly points out, is fine, even agreeable, but when it burgeons into matters that threaten lives and seek to derail all that has made this present era as wonderful as it is—and it must be stressed, in the face of overwhelming negative press, that we are living in a magnificent period of history—then it loses whatever quaint appeal it might otherwise have. We respect the Amish, but they don’t tell the rest of us how to live and try their level best to be apart from the world they disapprove. When you see people filing lawsuits with the intent to halt necessary, beneficial progress because they have bought into some bogeyman horror movie view of science or politics or morality, it behooves us to come to terms with a fundamental reality with which we live today.

First, though, the video. Watch this, then read on.

Okay, what reality? That many people are just idiots. I cannot think of a more tasteful way to phrase it. But when you consider the list, justifications and rationalizations fade.

The Tea Party. The Anti-vaccine Movement. The Birthers. Young Earth Creationists. Medjugorje. Deepak Chopra. PETA. Free Market Capitalism. Global Warming Deniers. Holocaust Deniers. Abstinence-Only. Just Say No. The Shroud of Turin. Astrology. Texas Board of Education. Evolution Deniers. Frankenfood Protesters. Homeopaths. Herbalists. Psychics. Scientology.

I could go on.

[more . . . ]

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About good hair

March 5, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
About good hair

Tonight, the parents of my children’s school were given a chance to view and discuss the 2009 Chris Rock movie: “Good Hair.” As you can see from the following YouTube trailer, the film is characterized as a “comedy,” and there were certainly many lighthearted moments throughout the film. On the other hand, the subject of the film is also tragic, in that it is the story of millions of African-American women who have been convinced that their natural hair is not beautiful. Chris Rock documents the extreme lengths that many African-American women go to to cover up their African-American hair.

The story starts when one of Rock’s young daughters asked him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”

What can an African-American woman do when she wants to have “good hair”? The options include the use of highly caustic sodium hydroxide for straightening the hair (with its potential for painfully scalding the skin). I knew about that particular practice, but I had no idea that so many African-American women have actually covered up their own hair with “weaves,” straight dark human hair grown by women from other cultures. Rock traces some of the most sought-after weave hair to India. Many Indian women periodically give up their hair (having their heads shaved completely bald) in religious ceremonies called “tonsure.” From those temple rituals, that hair somehow ends up in the United States, where it is purchased by African-American women at prices ranging from $1,000 on up. It’s even more amazing to consider that so many women of modest means work so hard to cover up their hair with weaves. Several of the women stated that an African-American woman simply cannot succeed in the business world without hair that has been straightened or covered with a weave. Many of the women featured in the film indicated that taking care of a weave is extraordinarily difficult–no swimming for these women, and many of them wouldn’t dream of ever letting a man touch their delicate fake hair, even their lover.

I had no idea that so many women would go to such extraordinary lengths to have “proper” hair, or that so many women consider it to be more “natural” to display hair that is not their own natural hair.

Watching this film was a wonderful anthropological journey for me; this story is thoroughly about people and in the lengths to which they will go to display themselves in what they see to be culturally appropriate ways; it’s not just about hair. I truly enjoyed viewing the delightful interviews of the many people Chris Rock artfully stirred into his vivid mosaic.

The broader lesson is not about hair, or even about African-Americans. It seems to be about consumerism and the deep need of humans to display their traits to each other in expensive ways.

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Building lifeboats

March 3, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Building lifeboats

I know that my past few posts have been bleak (see here and here), but now I must temper that sense of despair with some hope. Things are bad, and will probably get worse, but that’s not to say that they will not get better.

But here’s the trick: we all have to stop relying upon someone else for solutions. Forgive me if I sound like a politician for just a moment: we must “be the change” we want to see in the world. I cannot tell you how to solve the peak oil problem, or the unfolding economic collapse, or climate change, or the corruption which has become endemic in our political system– you have to figure it out for yourself. I’m not selling a prepackaged kit which contains all of the answers, and I would probably distrust anyone who was.

But that’s precisely why I still have hope. If we are going to make it through the challenges facing us, we must learn to pull together again as a community and actually attempt to create our own solutions. There can be no more delegation to those in Washington. We cannot afford to wait for decades as they attempt to muster the political will to combat the flood of money which has so damaged our electoral and political processes. We simply don’t have time to fix the system that’s been damaged beyond repair.

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It’s always a good time to appreciate good things

February 23, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
It’s always a good time to appreciate good things

I had to work late tonight, and as I got into my car I was a bit frustrated that I was not able to get home earlier, so I could spend more time with my daughters. Poor me.

As I put the key in the ignition, however, it occurred to me that I was fortunate that when I turned a little key in the ignition, my cars engine fired up. I was lucky to be able to drive quickly home in a car that actually worked on a cold winter night. Not only does it work, it has a radio. As I drove through the streets of the city of St. Louis, I appreciated that there were well marked streets and that the people driving home around me were doing so carefully. I passed a Walgreens on the way home, and it occurred to me that I am lucky to live in a society where you can get quick relief for many medical ailments. Many people in the world have no access to aspirin when they get headaches. I shouldn’t ever take that for granted.

When I got home and saw my beautiful children, it occurred to me that I should always consciously appreciate how lucky I am when I get home and I find that my children are safe. When I see them smile I should give thanks for that too, because there are many people who don’t have a safe place to spend time with their smiling children. I could go on and on, of course. I live in a wealthy society where I can turn on lights with the flick of a switch, and where the interiors of our houses are usually comfortable. I live in a society where a magic Internet gives me easy access to more information from more diverse groups of people than I could have ever imagined. I live a life of luxuries that could make a King jealous.

As I dictate this short post, I am eating a delicious bowl of soup, sitting in a comfortable chair, knowing that my children (and now my wife) are safe and healthy and sleeping soundly upstairs. I am free to walk out of my front porch and stare up at the sky. I can somehow see one big round object that is a quarter million miles away, and I can see hundreds and thousands of stars. Because of the scientific work of many who have come before me, I know I live on a huge orb and that underneath my feet, way down past the Earth itself, there are billions more stars.

I am awestruck by the thought that several trillions of cells have somehow become highly coordinated to an extent that “I.” exist. The body is so complex that I don’t wonder why it sometimes doesn’t work–rather, I revel in the fact that it works at all. How is it that 10 billion of those cells have become self-aware? Indeed, how is it that this 3 pound brain is capable of generating endless representations of the real world inside of my own head? How is it that I am able to think about conversations I had it work while I sit home alone at home? this is all too amazing to understand.

Yes, we live in a world where many things could be better than they are, but I try to remember (though not often enough) that I am an extremely fortunate person living among extremely fortunate people, and that there should not be any whining in a place like this. And just after I had reminded myself about how wonderfully mysterious life is, I stumbled upon this YouTube video featuring Louis C.K., who passionately summed up what I I have been feeling tonight.

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