Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Look, Same Great Uncertainty for Pepsi's Customers

by Benjo

I've been hearing quite a bit from readers recently about the new Pepsi bottle. Here's a picture, for those who haven't seen it:
What's remarkable is not what you see on the bottle, of course, but what you don't see. A representative first-sighting story, from reader Mobius, happened on New Year's Day:
I had this truly epic hangover. So I went to 7-Eleven for a two-liter of Pepsi, as a pick-me-up. I get to the fridge, and there's this swoopy logo that kinda looks like the Obama thing. I'm like, "Okay, fine. New look. Same great taste too though, right?" Wrong. Looked the bottle up and down like a gift horse, looking for that New Look, Same Great Taste logo--nothing. Pretty shitty way to start off a year.
Reader ShirlGirl was also thrown off by Pepsi's new logo, but in a different way:
I don't consider myself very visually inclined. So I didn't even realize there was a new look--those New Look, Same Great Taste logos are usually the only way I know that a logo has changed. I got to the register, and the cashier asked me what I thought of the new look. Well, I nearly had a heart attack!
Another reader contrasted his experience with Doritos' makeover earlier in the decade:
I saw the Nacho Cheesier bag from afar and freaked out! I mean, the new look must mean that the taste is much worse, right? But I looked closer, and there's the logo, telling me that it's the same great taste. Kind of crazy--a completely new look, and yet the taste hasn't changed, not even a bit? That's a pretty unbelievable thing, that they're even able to do that.
These emails, and dozens of others just like them, made it clear to me that, without proper labels, consumers have no way of knowing what they're buying. But just how deep is the problem? I mean, if the logo for a food or drink product changes, do you assume the taste has changed too? For more on this, I contacted Jerry Dinkins, who is a well-respected soft-drink enthusiast. His comment:
If the look changes, it's almost obvious that the taste changes too, unless they explicitly tell you otherwise. I mean, just look at the different forms a Pepsi can take. You got the can; the glass bottle; the big plastic bottle. Do all of them taste alike? Of course not. Everyone knows the glass bottle is the tastiest.
If all this is true, though, how does Pepsi get away with such a blatant lack of transparency with their customers? For some insight, I contacted Pepsi representative Darren Lane. Lane conceded that the absence of a logo leaves the taste of the soft drink a mystery. But he fiercely disputed the notion that this mysteriousness hurts customers.
It's preposterous. People love mystery--Agatha Christie proved that long ago. It's part of the beauty of our product that you don't know exactly what's inside the bottle, and we take great pride in that. Fine, a few people are put off by the lack of Same Great Taste logo, and they don't buy the drink. Well I've got some news for you: the only one that's hurt by those lost sales is us. So let us worry about that. You worry about what your kids are doing. You know? People should be worrying about what their kids are doing.
However, I spoke with societal psychologist Diane Timlin, and she believes that Lane is missing the point.
Flavors and tastes are a fundamental component of the set of stimuli that shape our reality. If you see an unfamiliar-looking Pepsi bottle with no indication of the status of the taste, you question that reality. Now, when you question, you lose touch. And when you lose touch with reality, you lose your identity; you become, for all intents and purposes, insane. Now when you start to think about the sheer number of people who see this new Pepsi bottle, you're talking about insanity on a mass scale. That's just the simple scientific truth.
Consumer-rights advocates have been trumpeting the degradation of civic life that's brought about by incomplete labels for years. Many hope that, with a Democrat in the White House and a strong majority in Congress, their goals will finally be codified in law. Vince Roberts, of Soda Citizen USA, better known as SCUSA, mentioned a bill that has been circulating in Washington for years. The bill, known as the Same Great Taste Act, would require companies to post prominent logos on any product on which the look has changed, informing the customer that the taste is the same.

But Roberts says that ShirlGirl's case proves that reforms need to go farther than just that bill:
If the look hasn't changed, but the taste has, companies need to let you know. If they've both changed, same thing. And if nothing's changed? Well, you need a "Same Look, Same Taste" icon there, too. Because frankly, the customer needs to know.
Stay tuned to see what kind of legislation gets passed. Until then, I'll be sticking with the classic:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Double-President Obama

by Benjo

My earlier decision not to recognize Obama due to the oath-bungling was misguided. Perfect or imperfect, the oath made him President.

Congratulations, President Obama.

Update (5:55 PM): This statement from White House Counsel Greg Craig just came in:
...because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.
If I'm going to give someone the title President when he takes a flubbed oath, I'd better give him the same title when he takes a nailed one.

Congratulations, Double-President Obama.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Liveblog

by Benjo

11:07 AM: Update: Looks like Roberts was actually the epic flubsmith. Either way, the important point remains: the Constitution has been all but set aside over the last eight years, and I will not stand to see it suffer the same fate for the next four. Therefore, I am not recognizing Obama as my president until they do it over.

9:10 AM: I want to be optimistic, but the first task every president faces is the simplest: say what the Chief Justice just said. And dude failed it miserably.

9:07 AM: NOT!!!!

9:06 AM: I miss Bush already.

9:05 AM: Feinstein: "Everyone please stand." Except Cheney. Heh.

9:04 AM: This inauguration ceremony is proof that there's a fine line between the truly touching and the boring as fuck.

8:59 AM: Marshall: "I think there are some moments for which the only fitting commentary is silence." Dude, the Marxist state you've worked so long to bring about is literally moments away from starting, and you can't think of anything to say about it? What a hack.

8:55 AM: Josh Marshall calls images of Cheney in a wheelchair "iconic." The MSNBC commentators expressed a similar idea--I think their word was "symbolic." But there was a report on Fox News earlier that debunked this notion: it turns out it simply is what it is. Someone needs to communicate this to the liberal media.

8:51 AM: J'ada says "The era of misunderestimation is over." Or is it just beginning?

8:43 AM: Twenty minutes before Obama takes the oath, Kevin Drum blogs about Jeffrey Goldberg blogging about bloggers who blog about minorities that won't soon rise to power in other countries. I keep thinking, at some point, maybe you want to stop doing this third-degree blogging and just absorb this moment. I don't know, is it just me or is Drum being kind of ridiculous?

8:39 AM: Chris Matthews reacts to the look on Barack Obama's face as he emerges from the Capitol building: "He knows they're here for him." Right on, future Senator. Right on.

8:35 AM: The Yglesias liveblog begins. His thoughts on the transfer of power are overshadowed by his decision, on this important day, not to seek the limelight, but instead to capitulate to stereotype: he is blogging from the couch.

8:32 AM: Not to dwell on the Caucus, but it should be noted that they are doing almost as remarkable a job at noting who has arrived as CNN is at showing it. Kudos for the service you are doing, NYT.

8:23 AM: The Caucus posts a picture of the outgoing and incoming first couples. I zoomed in to isolate the new presidential dance move that Michelle seems to be debuting for the Bushes:
8:07 AM: Ambinder speaks. Um, we're inaugurating the first black president, and all you can talk about is security? Stop avoiding the issues, Ambinder.

8:00 AM: Ambinder is speechless: two straight posts with a picture and no words. We can see the images on MSNBC, Ambinder, but none of the channels are broadcasting what's in your head. What's in your head, Ambinder?

Good morning, readers. It is January 20, 2009, and news is literally being made. As soon as other livebloggers start having thoughts about it, I'll give you my reactions to them.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Liveblog Alert

by Benjo

Apologies for the lack of recent posts; I'd pledged to finish knitting a scarf from my dog's fur, using the recipe listed here, so that I could wear it to the inauguration ceremonies. Unfortunately, chihuahuas turn out not to be very scarfable. As a casual scholar of the first President Harrison, I was not about to brave the inauguration scarfless, so I will be consuming the inauguration televisually.

Lucky for the public, so will thousands of members of the liveblogosphere, and I will be liveblogging their liveblogs tomorrow. So the moment that there is second-hand, reactive news, you can read about it right here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

News Year 2009 Resolution

by Szabe

This year I make a News Year resolution. I make it out of 3 shoots of vodka and some cranberry's juice!

That is joking. But really, people say to me, Szabe, do you resolute anything for News Year 2009, and do you keep it? I am sadful to say, it is January 8, and I already break my resolution!

What did I resolute? I wanted to resolute only one thing, and something that break a bad habit. One of my most bad habits is breaking News Year resolutions! So my only resolution for this year is to go one month without breaking a resolution. I make it almost one week with no trouble, but finally yesterday the urge get too hard. It always do!

What did all of you resolute? And do you do anything fun for New's Year Eve? And if yes, why not you invited me? Just jokes!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Something Stinks.

by Benjo

A reader sent me a story that ran in Saturday's Times about the dangers of so-called "third-hand smoke." Sensing a suspicious familiarity, I walked down the hall to Edward's office. He was out, but a cursory glance at his desk revealed exactly what I'd suspected: he had submitted an almost identical story to the Times earlier in the week. They'd swapped one of their columnists' names for Edward's and printed it, verbatim--almost. The full, shocking tale is below.

The NYT story begins:
Parents who smoke often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air for their children, but experts now have identified a related threat to children’s health that isn’t as easy to get rid of: third-hand smoke.
Now compare that to Edward's:
Parents with bad gas often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air for their children, but experts now have identified a related threat to children’s health that isn’t as easy to get rid of: third-hand fart.
NYT continues:
“When their kids are out of the house, they might smoke. Or they smoke in the car. Or they strap the kid in the car seat in the back and crack the window and smoke, and they think it’s okay because the second-hand smoke isn’t getting to their kids,” Dr. Winickoff continued. “We needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that aren’t visible.”
Whereas Edward writes:
"When their kids are out of the house, they might fart. Or they honk the backdoor horn in the car, so to speak. Or they strap the kid in the car seat in the back and crack the window and polish off a bit of the ol' stainless stool, and they think it's okay because the second-hand fart isn't getting to their kids," Dr. Winickoff continued. "We need a term to describe these flatulatory toxins that aren't visible."
Invisible farts aside, there is a very serious threat underlying Edward's article. And here we see the gravest of NYT's crimes. While the article is liberal with alarming language--"threat"; "toxic"; "highly carcinogenic"--it is far less so with evidence. The few statistics it mentions deal with parents' perceptions of the risks of third-hand smoke, while omitting information about the number of children who actually got sick or died because of these perceptions.

Edward's reporting is far more robust in this respect:
A new study in Science finds a 50% greater risk that later in life, pre-teens who have previously been exposed to third-hand fart will exhibit behavioral disorders. These include weird snoring; excessive buffalo wing eating; and burial of hands in the sweatpants, with what the scientists call "a little too much hand movement."
* * *
I have to admit: I was torn about whether to post this. I loyally read and greatly respect the Times. But I was finally swayed when I read a couple sentences at the end of Edward's piece that drove home the gravity of this issue:
Scientists cite another consequence of fart residue: imitative behavior. Children who are exposed to third-hand fart are almost guaranteed someday to become farters themselves.
NYT, do the right thing. Publish the original story. The world needs to know.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

If Friends Were Flowers: A New Year's Poem

by Edward J. Albenstein

A poem to express my gratefulness for your readership, and my wishes for a warm, loving year.

If Friends Were Flowers
by Edward J. Albenstein

If friends were flowers, I'd pick you.

If friends were chapters, you'd be #1 in my book.

If friends were weights, I'd lift you to grow stronger.

If friends were health food, I'd want you inside me.

If friends were muffins, I'd eat your bottom.

If friends were groceries, you'd be at the top of my list.

If friends were nets, you'd be a full one, because you're always able to give me butterflies.

If friends were friends' senses of humor, you'd be my favorite thing about you.

If friends were friends' bands' demos, I'd give you a listen, for sure. But let's be honest here--it's not because I'm expecting to like you. Because odds are, I won't. Odds are, I'll think you're an asshole. I'm doing it because you're my friend's band's demo. And when you get down to it, friends' bands' demos are friends, which means you listen to them. Even if they are assholes.

If friends were water, I'd keep you around even though you're pretty bland.

If friends were video games, I'd be reaching the point where I have to get straight with myself about you. Yes, I was happy when you came into my life. And we had lots of great times. I mean, your graphics are fucking sick. But I don't know, man. After so many years of you burning my eyes, not to mention my brain cells, I feel like it's time to grow up and acknowledge that, with every day I sit on the couch with you, I become one day fatter, one day dumber, and have one additional day's worth of hot chicks that are now out of my league.

If friends were the garbage, I'd dump your ass, because you fucking stink.

If friends were toilets, I'd sit on you and begin farting immediately.

If friends were keys on a keyboard, you'd be a new kind of key that deletes the last few lines. And I'd use you right now, because that was a little harsh.

If friends were the truth, this is what you'd be:

If friends were fly balls, you'd be an amazing catch.

If friends were birthdays, I'd celebrate you every time you came around.

If friends were flowers, I'd pick you.

New Year's Eyewear Company Folds

by Benjo

The new year is not happy for everyone. We forget this simple fact all too easily. Case in point: the company that makes those 200x New Year's Eve glasses went out of business this morning. Story follows.
COOKEVILLE, TN – Derek Bulworth lifted his glittery blue 2009 glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. “Thus ends an era,” he said, turning his key one last time in the door to the factory he helped build. At 12:01 AM on the morning of January 1st, Bulworth's company, New Year's Eyes, which has made millions of pairs of New Year's Eve glasses over the past decade, announced plans to cease operations by March.

Bulworth went into business with his partner, Frank Bart, in 1998. Success did not come immediately.

“My idea was to have the glasses say 'NYE', which is an acronym not only for New Year's Eve, but also New Year's Eyes, our company name. The stem of the Y would align precisely with the bridge of the nose, and the branches of the Y extended upward, following the curvature of the eyebrow. It was perfect.” The rest of the acronym, however, proved less ideal. “We had 100,000 of these things made, and we learned, based on customer feedback, that N- and E-shaped lenses are not conducive to vision, which is a key part of the glasses-wearing experience.”

Bulworth and Bart retooled over the following year, and they released their first numerical lenses in time for the new millennum. “The zeroes worked perfectly,” Bulworth said. “You look through the middle zeroes, you can see; you look through the last two zeroes, and you can still see—it's almost crazy. We had an embarrassment of zeroes that year.” Shaking his head, Bulworth continued, “God, what I wouldn't give for one of those extra zeroes now.”

This winter, after a decade of success, Bulworth made the difficult decision to close shop when the majority of his retailers informed him that they would be significantly scaling down their 2010 orders.

Asked to explain their cutbacks, Bulworth said, “it's simple. The number of orders we got for next year is exactly the same as the number of one-eyed people out there. Nobody but them will tolerate a 1-shaped lens.”

Bulworth considered completing the limited number of orders, but it was not worth the overhead of keeping the factory open. “We were offered a generous bridge loan by a pirates' trade group, but it just wasn't enough.”

Still, Bulworth remains determined.

“We're not done yet,” he says. “This company will be back stronger than ever when the year is optic-ready again. Whether it's me running the company or my grandkids, you can bet that this market will be ours for the taking in the 2990s and 3000s.”