Saturday, October 31, 2009

Falling Into Fall: Home Edition

So, to not make my blog all drudgery about economics (I realize what a complete GEEK it makes me to have looked up the REPORT on Walmart's website!), here are some little home changes I've made for fall. Tonight is one of my favorite nights--extra sleep! :)

I've changed the arrangement of my stuff around the house. I like little doo dads, but I often tend to not want to clutter up with them. Part of this is not really knowing what to do with them. My friend, and frequent blog commenter, Kim is an excellent creator of cute vignettes with the vintage items she collects. I tried to take some inspiration from her in these arrangements!


Here's my coffee table. I tried to put together some fall things and wrapped the hurricane in orange yarn and put some black river rocks in the bottom.  The gourds I got in Pennsylvania this year (along with a boat load of Honey Crisp apples at Peters Orchards) were super cute. I like the little gnomey one in the forefront.


I'm kind of pleased with this. I mostly just added some of the objects in the front. Still deciding exactly how I want it. But, I'm happy with the spacing of things...


 Here's more of my fall bounty from my PA trip!


To the right of my dining table is actually a SUBTRACTION. I sold my Ikea bookcase on Craigslist Friday for $10. Nice to have the extra space! (And, the reason for the awkwardly placed picture.)


This photo is a two-for I recently added a sheepskin to my ole Ikea chair--a nice cozy addition. You will also notice testing patches for paint. I am planning on painting sometime soon...and now that I've done these tests, I have to. (Though, neither is quite the right color).

So, that's the wrap up. Little things can make a big difference! Now I'm getting ready to go on a Capitol Hill ghost tour with Angela for Halloween. Boo!

Walmart's Shady Economics

One of Walmart's current commercials boldly states that it saves the average American household $3,100, regardless of where they shop. If they had just said that they saved from a price comparison basis, I wouldn't have paid attention, but the "anywhere" part had my brain perked up.

As an economics practicioner, I'm no dummy when it comes to the vagaries of methodology. Sorry, in English: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. I know better than many that you can make numbers say almost anything you want them to say; it's the analyst's responsibility to both balance the influence their own prejudices are placing on the analysis AND to clearly state the way they're going about the analysis with all of the caveats and cautions (that would be that "methodology" word).

So, let me state my caveats up front. I hate Walmart. I think it's evil and the epitome of a corporation growing at any cost. I understand why people shop there, and I feel fortunate that I can choose not to.  I would seriously rather spend twice as much on paper towels than give them a dime of my money. Some people don't have this luxury.

The claims Walmart makes in its commercial come from this document (Download 2008_Global_Insight_Price_Impa) from their web site. The report looks at how the consumer price index changed in response to there being a Walmart in the metro area. Without getting too much into this, because I don't think most of my readers care for reading my analysis of this, and because my whole point of this is not the structure of the study so much as the point that's being made by it. I think this quotation sums it up nicely:

"Wal-Mart is likely to have had a significant impact on price inflation across the MSAs largely for three main reasons. First, its sophisticated logistics and distribution innovations have increased total factor productivity, lowering its overall cost structure and allowing Wal-Mart to provide its goods at lower prices. Second, Wal-Mart's integrated purchasing system and its sheer size has led its suppliers to offer significant volume discounts, which Wal-Mart in turn has passed along to its consumers. And third, its lower prices have pressured its competitors to adopt more efficient processes and to lower their prices."

Number one goes without saying. Walmart's supply chain is one of its greatest strengths.  

Let me translate number two for you: Walmart has its suppliers by the balls. Selling to Walmart is much like selling your soul to the devil. You become beholden to them. It's obvious why someone would want their stuff sold at Walmart. Uh, about sales! But, what is seldom thought about is that once Walmart gets your product on their shelves, they're going to push you to reduce prices. A lot. And, by this point, so much of your bottom line is dependent upon the quantitiy of sales you get at Walmart, that you have no choice but to continue and do what they say. This is not just the little guys. This is Proctor and Gamble, and other big companies.

Okay, on to number three: this is where the shit hits the fan. What is not covered in this document is the spinoff effect, of how a Walmart drives other companies out of business because of their inability to compete. This is the key data not factored into this "saving households" concept. It doesn't take into account the impact of local businesses going belly up and the spinoff effect on the economy. In short, small, local businesses' typically keep a greater percentage of their expenditures around the same area by buying from other local businesses. 

I just felt the need to point this out because essentially, Walmart is bragging out their ability to bully the rest of the business world. That is what "saving the average household $3,100" means. It's just such a joke and it makes me angry because obviously, not everyone seeing that ad knows economics.  

This $3,100 number leaves so much else out: such as how much induced spending occurs by Walmart shoppers (i.e. someone sees something there that they wouldn't have elsewhere and because the price is so good, decides to buy it...and spends more than originally intended. We've all been there!). Anyway, the point is that you can't trust advertising. And, numbers can lie. But you all knew that!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mobile thoughts: clothes shopping

I really should have chosen a career that either allowed me to wear scrubs or jeans everyday. They don't mention how annoying shopping for career clothes can be. I'm sure Stacy London & Clinton Kelly would have problems with that, but hey, it's hard work finding clothes. I went shopping yesterday and bought a few things but they'll probably go back. I already have a pair of pants from Filene's Basement in my work bag going back. I realized on Friday when I had to dress for a client meeting that I don't have a fall/winter suit that I like. I dont have many suits period and even fewer that I actually like. You'd think that a black suit would be easy. It's not. I like to think it's because I wear a 18 w but I'm sure it would be a problem even at another size. All I want are a few comfortable outfits that make me feel good and a few pairs of comfy cute shoes. Is that too much to ask? I'll tell you what...I normally pay anywhere from $40 to $100 for pants and about the same for shoes. I'd easily be willing to pay 2-3 times that if I knew I was getting quality and fit. Problem is that half the time you're buying walmart quality made in China crap where you're paying for branding. And who knows how they'll actually fit once you start wearing them. SO frustrating!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fat Phobia Sweeps the Nation! Story at 11!

Yeah, so it's no secret I'm obese. My BMI is above the "obese" mark. America would put a big red "O" on my dress if it weren't for the fact that conveniently, everyone already knows already. My doctor sure knows. He can barely keep it together enough to tell me anything else other than the importance of diet and exercise. I don't disagree, but what I do disagree with is the assumption that all fat people are walking time bombs and all thin people are naturally healthier. It was this assumption that led an endocrinologist I saw to suggest weight loss surgery within a few seconds of meeting me. Can you say "kickbacks"?

It is also this assumption that is leading a new trend (reported on this week) for companies to charge a higher insurance premium to its obese and overweight employees. (To be fair, they added smokers to it too...and the irony of the State of North Carolina being at the forefront of this is too good to pass up. But that is easier to hide, isn't it.) This is ridiculous for so many reasons. Why not charge people with more problems? Despite what "scientific" studies tell us (as reported by the media who we all know love nothing more than talking about how bad fat people are), not all fat people are unhealthy. Do you charge former smokers? Former fat people? People who eat fast food regularly but are not fat? Do you charge African Americans differently because they have a higher propensity for certain diseases? Or those from Mediterranean backgrounds? Or Asian? See what I mean? So MANY factors play into a complete health risk picture.

But YOU can help it, you say. To a degree, yes. If people are honest with you, though, they'd tell you they don't fully understand why certain people are fat and certain people aren't. There's no doubt that if I were absolutely "perfect" with my diet--ate 1,500 calories a day and worked out every day, I'd be smaller. I would probably NEVER be able to maintain what the CDC considers "healthy" though. I find sticking to a 1,500 calorie diet difficult even when I try really hard. Why? Because the world (and by the world, I mean the U.S.) makes it so easy to NOT do that. Foods are calorie dense and everywhere. You have to really plan to get low cal foods prepared, and if you work late or the kids are sick or whatever other reason you can't, you have some difficult choices to make. Anyone faced with food choices at, say, a hotel snack bar in the middle of a rural area can attest to that (may I recommend the peanuts?).

The short argument is this, everyone is dealt a set of cards--genetic, social, mental, emotional, and othewise. And you make the best play you can with what you've got. Some people, like in populations living in poverty-stricken areas, can't go to Whole Foods to get their organic skim milk for $4 a half gallon. They walk to the Checkers to get the 2 for 1. I am fortunate to not be in this category. But, for the "system" to pick on a category of people, in this case "the fat," without treating the underlying causes, that is just discrimination.

What is particularly awful to me is that things to cause obesity (like subsidized corn--got high fructose corn syrup anyone?--and other food industry atrocities, suburbanized development patterns that prevent walking, etc) have been institutionalized, and now the same institutions are trying to do an about face and pushing the cost to those affected by the policies.

I really didn't mean for this to be a tirade, but I guess it turned out that way. What I REALLY intended to share was this GREAT blog I found devoted to exposing some of the hype in the media about medical issues, and one of those is obesity. (  In general, I don't trust much of the "establishment" to tell me anything about anything. More often than not, there is a profit motive. Follow the money. If that makes me a radical, well, braid my hair and call me Moon Flower!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Busted Blenders


I don't use blenders very often. And I have two, a Kitchen Aid full size blender and a Cuisinart stick blender. And as of a few weeks ago, neither were working. Pffffft. The less than one year old stick blender has been out of commission for awhile now. At first, I thought it was just the chopper (it comes with a chopper attachment). It is not the chopper, though unfortunately, which I found out after my run in with blender number one.

I have had this monster Kitchen Aid blender now for about 10 years. It was a gift one Christmas when I decided I NEEDED a blender and it NEEDED to be a Kitchen Aid (I couldn't just, say, get the blender thing out of my system with a $10 Kmart blender. To put this in perspective, I can count on one hand the number of times I use my $100+ Kitchen Aid blender each year. However, the $7 toaster from Target? I use that about every day.) I remember the chain of friend Terry got me loving homemade smoothies when I visited her, and then Daisy told me she got a Kitchen Aid blender for her wedding, and that it was great at ice. Well,, despite not really using it, I have hauled it around because, you know, it's expensive.

Don't get me wrong, I've used it. It put on a good "Smoothie night" for my floor when I was a Graduate Assistant in the dorms in grad school. I make my "famous" Butternut Squash soup with it a few times a year. But, on a "per square inch" basis, it's probably not earning its keep.

The other week, I was craving a nice smoothie. I had berries and yogurt I wasn't eating, so I thought "Why not DRINK them?" I made a nice frosty smoothie, and when I returned to the kitchen to clean up the mess, I noticed the rubber thingy on the motor had come off. Not come off, crumbled off and all over the blade assembly. Sigh. Of course, it's not under warranty at this point, though I can either send it in or take it to a certified Kitchen Aid repair place, which as far as I can tell, don't exist. Ugh. So, I'm deciding if that's worth it.

In the meantime, I try to make a smoothie the next day with my handheld. As it turns out, this too is kaput. The whole thing doesn't work. I ended up trying to hand make a smoothie with a spoon, a knife, and some shaking. Not. Advised.

If the past interaction with Cuisinart is any indication, I'm sure they'll replace it to my satisfaction, but it's just such a pain. So, what would YOU do about the blender? I would like both companies to know that I'm watching their responses very carefully...because I'm considering a food processor sometime in the future!

p.s. I know I've been a crappy blogger. All I can say is sorry...I've been bummed about my job, thinking of buying a condo (that's a whole other post I could write), and generally just running around doing life's little errands.