Shrinking packaging

September 22, 2008

Here’s the text of an e-mail I just sent to the Unilever Corporation:

I recently bought a jar of your Hellman’s Mayonnaise product, and noticed that the contents had been reduced to 30 oz from 32.  If you needed to increase your price, I wish you would have been honest and just done so, rather than insult me by trying the oldest trick in the book.  Now I’m going to have to watch the label to see if you start switching to inferior ingredients.  When I tried to send this message through the Hellmans web site, it would not let me unless I disclosed my date of birth, which I believe would subject me to exposure to identity theft.  I know you want that info for marketing purposes, but you should not require it if someone doesn’t want to give it.

If I receive a response, I’ll share it with you.

Read this . . .

September 21, 2008

New York Times article.  I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years, and thought I saw it all in terms of scams and sweetheart deals, orchestrated by both unions and individuals.  The terms of the LIRR labor contract are astonishing, and cannot be excused by management’s claim that it had to give in or face strikes.  The Railroad Retirement Board appears either totally inept or crooked.   But the biggest problem the story points out may have been lost amid the more spectacular ones — the fact that public employee pensions are based on an average of the three or five highest earnings years.  Not base salary, but actual earnings, which causes employees to scramble to accrue as much overtime as they can toward the end of their careers, since they know it will be reflected in higher pension payments for the rest of their lives.  Their bosses often all too willingly comply, whether the overtime is truly necessary or not.  I haven’t seen any figures on this, but I am willing to bet that revising the pension laws so that pension amounts are calculated on the base salary only of the highest earning years would save state and local governments tens of millions of dollars in overtime and pension costs, without a discernible decrease in the level of services rendered to the public.

I recently revisited this story, and read several of the hundreds of readers’ comments.  The majority were of the tone “why are you concerning yourselves with this, given the overcompensation of corporate executives?”  Because this is the flip side of the same problem — unmitigated greed by those who can get away with it.

The best of the reader comments I came across was (to paraphrase):  “Who would have guessed that the highest paid person on the car I ride to work every day is the guy who punches our tickets?” 

I certainly support fair pay for labor, and I abhor the way many corporations treat their employees.  But labor tarnishes its nobility when it emulates the very worst of management.  And in both cases, the public pays.

US Airways/CNN torture

September 20, 2008

   A few months ago, while flying a leading US airline, delays stranded me in Philadelphia for eight hours.  I like to catch up on my reading while traveling, and I’m always looking for a quiet place to sit down with a book or magazine.  Alas, on that day, it was not to be.  Although I sat as far away from the CNN-blaring TV as I could, the sound track was being broadcast from ceiling speakers throughout the passenger seating area, in direct conflict with the background music being piped through the same speakers.  After moving to about five different seats, and almost crawling out of my skin, I finally went up to a ticket agent and asked if there were anywhere I could go to escape the CNN sound track.  He replied, “not only is there no escape, the TVs have sensors on them that automatically raise the volume as the sound level in the area rises.”  He added that US Airways had a contract with CNN that allowed it to inflict this torture on its customers, for a fee, of course.

  I have gotten used to the ubiquity of TV sets in public places.  I realize that quiet is not a commodity in great demand in our overstimulated society.  But I also realized, as I sat and tried to read while being distracted by the cacaphony around me, that the last thing airlines need to do in their current operating environment is to affirmatively add to customer fatigue, frustration and anger, even subliminally.  It was not until I had a long time to sort out what was bugging me that day that I realized why I always have found air travel so enervating.   I have a suggestion for US Airways — modify the CNN contract to kill the sound beyond viewing range of the TV sets, and make up for the lost revenue by cutting the salary of the overpaid MBA who came up with the idea in the first place.

And furthermore . . .

September 19, 2008

although it was not my intent that all the content of this blog be related to gambling, thinking about the victimization of the horse player by way of increased takeout reminded me that racino VLT patrons — at least those who think they’ve found well-paying video poker machines — are being had by these establishments and their partner in deception, the State Lottery.  Any video poker aficionado knows that a 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machine returns, on average, about 99.5% of the money wagered through it, assuming proper play (which is not hard to learn).  Because of the laws governing gambling in New York, such a machine cannot legally be offered here.  However, offering what appears in every way to be such a machine, but what in actuality is a game that returns 92%, regardless of the player’s skill, is not illegal.  The Government Law Center of Albany Law School explains the scam.  It is shameful that an agency of our government participates in such deception.

9/6 Jacks or Better Video Poker Machine

9/6 Jacks or Better Video Poker Machine

Bad day for thoroughbred racing in New York

September 18, 2008

     The New York Post  and Daily News  each recently had a small item noting that the takeout (monies wagered that the track keeps, as opposed to returning to bettors holding winning tickets) at NYRA tracks has gone up by one per cent.  While the casual fan might not miss the small reduction in the winning payout when he or she is lucky enough to cash a ticket, the regular horse player — the type of customer racing needs to retain to survive — may find that extra one per cent the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  If you don’t believe me, look in the paper for results from Hialeah Park, in Florida.  You won’t find them, because that track, once thriving (and one of the most beautiful venues for horse racing in the country) is out of business.  Yes, public interest in horse racing has been declining, but three other thoroughbred tracks survive in Florida, and Hialeah, immediately before its demise, had the highest takeout by far.  In any business, giving the customer less value seldom increases patronage.  When the reduction in value comes from a rise in price, which is transparent, it is, when justified, usually tolerated.  When it comes from some hidden action, such as a reduction in contents or, as here, increase in takeout, the customer who discovers the ruse often feels cheated and resentful.  Shame on our government for perpetrating this one.

Hello world!

September 18, 2008

Welcome to my blog.  Although it’s located in the Albany, NY area, it’s not limited to politics.  I’ll be commenting on anything I feel like, and welcome feedback, especially respectful, lively discussion.