There’s A Sucker Shoed Every Minute

Payless Shoe Stores, a low-cost shoe outlet found in many American cities, recently conducted an interesting social experiment testing the utter gullibility of American consumers.  In an effort to see just how much people would pay for its shoes, Payless created a new website and Instagram account and opened a pop-up store called Palessi — get it? — in a Los Angeles mall.  It then invited “influencers” to attend a grand opening of the store in exchange for receipt of a small stipend.

screen-shot-2018-11-29-at-11-36-09-amOf course, there really was no new store called “Palessi,” and the shoes being sold at the pop-up were just standard Payless shoes.  But guess what?  The “influencers” were suckers who apparently fell for the ruse and were willing to spend many multiples above the standard prices charged by Payless for its footwear.  One woman said she would pay $400 or $500 for tennis shoes that retail for $19.99.  Another sap paid $640 — 1800% above the normal cost — for a pair of boots.  Apparently, if you want to up the price of shoes you just create an Italianized name, throw in some glitz, and make the sales clerks wear black, and some hapless “influencer” will fall for it and presumably get others to do so, too.  Payless will use the experiment to advertise the fact that its shoes are fashionable and are valued by some people at far above their actual price.

I’m not surprised that Americans are willing to overpay for shoes, but what the article linked above doesn’t say is who the “influencers” were, or how they were selected.  If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting book The Tipping Point you know that there are people who are at ground zero of the creation of trends — by, for example, starting to wear Hush Puppies shoes — and there are others who introduce the new trends to a wider audience, and then finally the mass of followers who start buying Hush Puppies after the creators have already moved on to the next trend.  I’m sure there are many people who consciously strive to be “influencers,” and it would be nice to know how Payless identified the credulous group who were willing to grossly overpay just to be the first in the area to wear “Palessi” shoes.

For the rest of us, the Palessi experiment should teach a valuable lesson.  Who, exactly, are the “influencers” who are starting and promoting the stupid trends that often sweep America, and how easily duped are they?  Why should anyone pay attention to them or their “influence”?  I’m no trendsetter, but I’m reasonably confident I’ll never pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of sneakers, either.

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Avoiding Fudge Failure

Yesterday a friend sent me a message saying that she wanted to make some peanut butter fudge for the holidays and asking if I had a recipe she could use.  She explained that she’s tried two recipes and encountered embarrassing “fudge failure” each time, with one effort coming out hard as a brick and the other a soupy mess.

219I don’t have a recipe for peanut butter fudge — if one of the readers of this blog has one they’d like to share, I’d be happy to hear about it, by the way — but I do have a recipe for “fantasy fudge” that I first published on the blog in 2009.  I’ve made the fudge as part of my Christmas cookie baking in a number of years since then, and I can say with complete confidence that it’s pretty much failure-proof, as long as you keep stirring, both as the sugar, margarine, and milk is boiling and later when the chocolate is added.  Your arm will get a workout, I can assure you!

Fantasy Fudge

Ingredients:  3 cups sugar; 3/4 cup margarine; 2/3 cup evaporated milk; 1 12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips; 1 7 oz. jar of Kraft Marshmallow creme; 1 cup chopped nuts; 1 tablespoon vanilla.

Combine sugar, margarine, and milk in heavy 2 1/2 quart saucepan.  Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Continue boiling for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted.  Add marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla and beat until blended.  Pour into greased 13″ x 9″ baking pan.  Let cool and cut into 1-inch squares.

Fudge failure is no fun!  Fantasy fudge will make your holidays more flavorful and festive.  And speaking of flavorful, we’ll start our annual Christmas cookie discussion next week.

Soup Canned

Household food staples of the 1960s have had a tough time of it lately.  Production of the glorious Twinkie was halted for a while a few years ago when its maker went through bankruptcy, and now comes news that the Campbell Soup Company — a brand so iconic and associated with American meals that its soup cans were painted by Andy Warhol — is struggling, too.

w1siziisijmxodi0mijdlfsiccisimnvbnzlcnqilcitcmvzaxplidiwmdb4mjawmfx1mdazzsjdxqAccording to a report in the New York Times, Campbell’s earnings fell 50 percent last quarter, sales of its soups have been declining, and expensive acquisitions have left the company dealing with significant debt without providing any help in the sales department.  The company’s stock price trails the rest of the stock market and has lost a third of its value, and the company’s chief executive, Denise Morrison, stepped down under pressure earlier this year.  And now the company’s Board of Directors is facing a challenge that pits a hedge fund and dissidents who want the business to be sold or restructured against the heirs of John Dorrance, the chemist who invented condensed soups more than a century ago.  The Dorrance descendants own 40 percent of Campbell’s stock, have lived lifestyles of great wealth as a result of their descendants’ creation, and want to make sure that any changes that occur happen on their terms.

Why is Campbell’s struggling?   The Times notes that the company is “fighting headwinds like declining consumer interest in packaged food and a preference for fresh ingredients over highly processed soup from a can.”  Some people believe that the company has lost its focus with its acquisitions and needs to return to a soup-centric model, and analyst contend that the company hasn’t adequately responded to marketplace changes.  The article points out that “Campbell Soup cans, for example, have barely changed since 1900, and the top sellers remain tomato, chicken noodle and cream of mushroom.”

Of course, for many of us, those three soup options were familiar ingredients of meals when we were growing up.  In the Webner household, Campbell’s tomato soup (made with milk, not water) and grilled cheese was a highly popular dinner, countless casseroles were made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup was the inevitable lunch if you were home sick from school with a cold.

I hope Campbell’s can figure out its problems.  Although I haven’t had a lot of Campbell’s soup lately, there’s something comforting about seeing those familiar red and white cans on the grocery store shelves, and I still think tomato soup and grilled cheese is something to be relished on a cold winter’s day.

Aftermath Of The GM Bailout

General Motors — the company that American taxpayers bailed out less than a decade ago, rescuing the company from near-certain bankruptcy after years of mismanagement — continues to struggle, and the dominoes that were toppled by the bailout decision continue to fall.

636198172298775780-lsjbrd-04-17-2016-gli-1-a001-2016-04-14-img-gm-shutdown-jpg-1-1-fhe0e7gq-l792930015-img-gm-shutdown-jpg-1-1-fhe0e7gqYesterday the company announced that it is engaging in a massive restructuring that will close assembly plants in Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, eliminate thousands of jobs, and end some car lines.  One of the vehicles  being discontinued is the Chevy Volt, the electric hybrid GM rolled out to great fanfare.  The company said that “GM is continuing to take proactive steps to improve overall business performance, including the reorganization of its global product development staffs, the realignment of its manufacturing capacity and a reduction of salaried workforce.”  GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, said “GM wants to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences for its long-term success.”  One of the “changing market conditions” is the declining public demand for passenger cars like the Volt and the Chevy Impala, which also is being discontinued.

President Trump and the United Auto Workers are both unhappy at the GM move.  Trump said he didn’t like GM’s decision and reports that he told Barra “You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That’s Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.”  The UAW, which will see the loss of lots of blue collar jobs held by its members, said:  “This callous decision by GM to reduce or cease operations in American plants, while opening or increasing production in Mexico and China plants for sales to American consumers, is, in its implementation, profoundly damaging to our American workforce.”  The UAW news release added that “GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days.”

GM’s decision will no doubt be devastating to those employees who lose their jobs and the communities where the plants will close.  But it also makes me wonder how even the advocates for the taxpayer bailout of GM less than 10 years ago feel about their decision to prop up GM now.  The underlying question raised by the UAW and President Trump is legitimate:  Was the bailout worth it, in view of these kinds of decisions?  GM remains a public company, and it gets to make decisions that it considers to be in its own competitive interest.  And if changing market conditions really do require GM to cut thousands of jobs that the bailout advocates expected would continue indefinitely, that may just tells you something about the wisdom of taxpayer bailouts generally.

The Sleepless Years

Here’s a conclusion from a scientific study that will shock anyone who has ever been a parent:  most babies don’t sleep through the night.  And the study also reaches another, equally startling determination:  most parents pay a lot of attention to trying to get their infants to sleep through the night.

Thank goodness we’ve got scientists around to confirm the obvious!

newborn baby cryingThe study found that 38 percent of babies that were six months old were not getting even six uninterrupted hours of sleep at night, and more than half weren’t sleeping for eight hours straight.  One-year-olds were only marginally better, on average, with 28 percent not yet sleeping for six hours and 43 percent not sleeping for a solid 8 hours at night.  The study also found that many parents worry about their baby’s sleeping habits, with mothers reporting feeling tense and depressed about trying to get their child to sleep through the night.   The researchers offered this reassurance for anxious parents, however:  after following babies from birth until the age of three, they found no material developmental difference between kids who slept through the night at a young age and those who took longer.

The study’s authors seem to attribute parental focus on their new baby’s sleep habits solely to developmental concerns.  I’m sure that some of the attention to infant sleep is attributable to reading the “baby books” about what is normal and what isn’t, but my personal experience teaches that at least some of it is naked parental self-interest.  When our boys got to the point of getting a good night’s sleep — which incidentally meant that Kish and I got a good night’s sleep, too — we felt like we had crossed the Rubicon and should be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.  When a baby finally starts eating simple solid food (if you can call baby food “solid”) and falls into a sound sleep with a full belly, the mood around the house takes a decided turn for the better.

What’s up next for the scientific researchers trying to confirm what every parent knows?  A careful examination of the joys of changing baby diapers?

 

British Swear Words

Do our polite and refined friends from across the pond curse?  I know they use words like “bloody” when they want to up the emphasis a notch and demonstrate that they are really miffed, but do they ever actually swear?

Apparently they do!  Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s communications regulator — who even knew they had one! — interviewed more than 200 people to determine how they reacted to an array of rude and offensive terms and swear words, and then ranked them in order of offensiveness.  In order to be sure that they covered every form of communication, they threw in a few well-known hand gestures, too.  Words in the mild category include “bloody,” “bugger,” “damn” and “arse,” as well as “crap.”  (It’s hard to imagine someone with a British accent ever saying “crap,” isn’t it?)  “Ginger” and “minger” — which means an unpleasant or unattractive person — were also placed in the mild category.

The medium category then includes words like “bitch,” “bollocks” (which Americans of my age know because of the Sex Pistols) and “pissed,” as well as words I’ve never heard used, like “munter” (an ugly or excessively drunk person) and “feck” (a milder substitute for you-know-what).  From there we move up to the strong category, which curiously has “bastard” in it — suggesting that the Brits find “bastard” a lot more offensive than we do, perhaps of the connotations of the word in a land that still has royalty and nobility — and “fanny,” which seems pretty mild to me.  The strong category also includes a bunch of British slang I’ve not heard of before.  From there, the list moves up to the strongest category, where the queen mother of curses sits, as expected, atop the swear list pyramid.

The list apparently is to be used by the Brits in their communications, with words rated as mild considered to be okay to use around children, whereas most people thought the “medium” and “strong” words shouldn’t be used until after 9 p.m.  The study also found, encouragingly, that the Brits are increasingly offended by words involving race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

I’m still finding it hard to believe that the Brits ever say “crap.”

Where Can I Get A Recording Of The Game?

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I’m not saying my decision not to record The Game was outcome-determinative, but . . . well, c’mon, you know it was!

What a performance by the Buckeyes, their coaches, their much maligned defense, and their equally maligned offensive line!  Beating That Team Up North never gets old.  And this win is made all the sweeter by the fact that Michigan came in expecting to win.

Seriously — where can I get a recording of The Game, 2018?