Welcome to Tuesday, the Cruelest Day: it’s, September 26, 2023, and National Key Lime Pie Day. Don’t be fooled by pies made with “regular” (i.e., Persian) limes, for Key limes are a different fruit with a different flavor, and better for pies. Here’s the size difference, but there’s a flavor difference, too. If you see “Key Lime Pie” on the menus, ask if it’s made from real Key limes.
It’s also National Better Breakfast Day, Shamu the Whale Day, Johnny Appleseed Day (his birthday in 1774), National Dumpling Day, European Day of Languages, National Good Neighbor Day, Dominion Day in New Zealand and Lumberjack Day, which recalls this:
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 26 Wikipedia page.
*My 2022 post on “The ice cream scams” proved to be the most viewed post I’ve ever done on this site, probably because the shrinkage of not just ice cream, but many products, struck home with many consumers. Now the BBC has a related post on “shrinkflation” showing that it’s not only irreversible, but ubiquitous. (h/t N0rm)
Shrinkflation’ – reducing a product’s size or quantity while keeping its price stable – is rampant. As the global economy grapples with issues including rising raw material costs, supply chain backlogs and higher post-pandemic labourer wages, consumers are bearing the brunt of spiking production expenses.
Whether it’s toilet roll or a bag of crisps, the practice, which mostly happens during times of inflation, is showing up in shops around the world. Last week, French supermarket Carrefour put stickers on products to warn consumers when a packet’s contents have gotten smaller without a corresponding price decrease.
ALL supermarkets should do this!
Consumers are taking note of the shift to smaller packaging and – and, naturally, they aren’t happy, especially as their purchasing power is already falling amid inflation. Yet as uncomfortable as the sticker shock is now, a longer-term problem looms large: past manifestations of the phenomenon show the story of shrinkflation doesn’t end when inflation does.
In terms of consumer frustrations, “they notice price increases more than they notice size decreases”, says US-based Mark Stiving, the chief pricing educator at Impact Pricing, an organisation that educates companies on pricing. As a result, he says, companies use shrinkflation to raise prices “less painfully”.
. . .Consumers do not always see the changes right away; often, they are incremental. For instance, a favourite drink that may have come in a 12oz (340g) bottle a year earlier may now be offered for the same price, yet downsized to 10oz (283g) now.
And experts say that once the new sizes are on the shelf, they are likely to stay that way. Phil Lempert, food industry analyst and editor of SupermarketGuru adds that, since shoppers don’t have a choice, they have to adapt to the changes.
. . . et even as shrinkflation largely corresponds with inflation, Crolic says consumers usually don’t see product sizes rebound even after economic challenges abate. There are rare exceptions, but companies generally seize the opportunity to use less product and make the same amount – or more.
Instead, a new phenomenon often takes hold. “After products are repeatedly reduced in size, the manufacturer will come out with a new, larger version of it – sometimes with a fanciful new name,” agrees Edgar Dworsky, a former US consumer rights lawyer and founder of resource guide Consumer World. And with it, shoppers pay a higher cost for the upgrade.
Toilet paper and potato chips are particularly subject to this name change. But I have to say that the entire phenomenon was anticipated by none other than Stephen Jay Gould in one of his great essays, “Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars.” (Read it!)
*A NYT op-ed by Brian Beutler is called “The Democratic Party has an old problem and won’t admit it.” The problem is in the double-entendre “old”: Democrats are unwilling to lean on the older members of their party to retire when it’s time, and not doing that can create big problems. Some examples:
The party’s leaders seem to believe implicitly in the inalienable right of their aging icons to remain in positions of high power unquestioned, long after it becomes reasonable to ask whether they’re risking intolerable harm.
The party has come to operate more like a machine, in which lengthy, loyal service must be rewarded with deference. It is why Mr. Biden has not drawn a credible primary challenger, when polling and reporting alike suggest that Democrats are deeply anxious about his ability to mount a vigorous campaign and serve another full term.
. . .If defeating Republicans is a matter of existential urgency for the country, why is the Democratic Party so blasé about elevating leaders who are oblivious to the views of the young people who stand to inherit it?
I peg the beginning of this recurring nightmare to the year 2009, when Senator Ted Kennedy’s death nearly derailed President Obama’s signature health care reform and ultimately deprived Democrats of their Senate supermajority, which they might have used to pass more sweeping legislation than they did. Eleven years later, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also died in office. Her death was a hinge point where history turned and swept much of her substantive legacy into the dustbin; worse, it left living Americans to toil indefinitely under the legacy that replaced hers.
There were gentle behind-the-scenes efforts and a robust public persuasion campaign meant to convince Justice Ginsburg to retire when Democrats still controlled the Senate and President Obama could have appointed her replacement, but there were plenty of liberals urging her to stick it out. Christine Pelosi, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who was then the House minority leader, cheered Justice Ginsburg for ignoring the calls for her to step down. “You Go Ginsburg! Resist that sexist Ageism,” she wrote.
Despite all of this terrible history, we face a similar challenge today: an aging party, and a Democratic establishment not just unwilling to take decisive action to stave off disaster but also reluctant to even acknowledge the problem.
Dianne Feinstein, 90, is another example. But the GOP does better, despite the “freezing” episodes of Mitch McConnell:
Although the Republican base is older, it does a better job insulating itself from gerontocracy than Democrats do. Republicans are obviously far from perfect champions of their own self-interest. Their penchant for personality cults has wedded them to Donald Trump, who also happens to be old, but they are vulnerable to charlatans of all ages. That’s in part because they take steps to reduce the risk that they lose power by the attrition of elderly leaders. Justice Anthony Kennedy timed his retirement so a Republican president could replace him; the House G.O.P. has cycled through several leaders over the past decade and a half, none of them terribly old. When Kentucky’s Democratic governor Andy Beshear defeated the Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, encouraged his allies in the Kentucky Legislature to circumscribe Mr. Beshear’s appointment power — to ensure partisan continuity in Washington, should a Senate seat become vacant. So although Mr. McConnell seems committed to serving out his term, he has a succession plan.
It looks as if Biden will run, and of course I’ll vote for him over any Republican I know, but it’s really time for him to step down. His speeches become more incoherent, and he’s started using the shorter stairs on Air Force One (there are two sets) so he won’t trip as much. And if he dies in office, what do we have? President Kamala Harris. The mind boggles. I offer up Peter Buttigieg, young, vigorous, and smart. But he doesn’t stand a chance—not next year.
*Speaking of aging Democrats, Max Boot in the WaPo would prefer a Democrat younger than Biden (Boot despises Trump), but it ain’t gonna happen. And he muses how we can stop Trump from winning given that he’s running neck and neck with Biden in the polls and may have an electoral-college advantage. Well, the VP is not a solution, even though there are better candidates:
So how do we stop Trump? Biden is a feeble vessel at best, but he’s the only realistic option we have. It’s true that he is 80 years old (and would be 82 at the start of a new term), and he often stumbles rhetorically and sometimes physically. But his successful performance in office belies his doddering image.
He has managed to pass big, bipartisan bills, including infrastructure legislation that Trump only talked about. He has been even more impressive internationally, assembling a large coalition to oppose Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and another coalition in East Asia to deter China from aggression of its own. The economy — the ultimate barometer of a president’s performance — has been doing much better than expected, with low unemployment, declining inflation and no recession in sight. That’s a record any president can be proud of. Yet the polls haven’t been giving Biden the credit he is due, possibly because perceptions of the economy still lag the reality.
In an ideal world, Biden would head off to a well-deserved retirement and a younger, more vigorous successor — someone such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — would run in his place.
But we don’t live in that ideal world. In the world as it is, we’re just a few months before the start of the primaries, so if Biden were to step down now, the almost certain Democratic nominee would be Vice President Harris. (The last sitting vice president who sought but failed to secure a party’s presidential nomination was Alben Barkley in 1952.) And I have yet to meet a Democrat who has any confidence in Harris’s ability to beat Trump.
Harris has a poor track record in national politics. She exited the 2020 Democratic race before a single vote was cast and has done little to elevate herself as vice president (admittedly a difficult task in a low-profile post with few fixed responsibilities). Moreover, unfair as it is, there is good cause to worry that Trump would run a sexist and racist campaign that could hurt Harris among working-class White voters in industrial states. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows that, while Trump is beating Biden by just 0.5 points, he leads Harris by 4 points — and that’s before he has begun to focus his fire and fury on her.
. . . At the same time, any move to challenge Biden in the primaries or to replace Harris on the ticket would lead to Democratic fratricide which would likely ease Trump’s path back to power. Anyone who believes in preserving American democracy and the U.S.-led world order, therefore, has no choice but to back Biden in 2024, however uninspiring that might be.
Yes, as long as Joe wants to be President, nobody is going to challenge him, but I don’t get the fealty to Harris. Why should it alienate Democrats to replace her her with someone who could actually be a good President should Biden die or be debilitated? Is it because she’s a woman? Or a person of color (half Indian, half African-American)? I don’t quite get this, but Whitmer, Buttigieg, and other Democrats should be our VP insurance policy should Biden die, not Harris, a politician for whom I have little respect.
*LiveScience reports that the world’s oldest aquarium fish, a lungfish, is likely to be older than previously thought. Maybe even a century!
The world’s oldest aquarium fish, a lungfish named Methuselah, may actually be decades older than researchers originally thought and may even be over 100 years old, a new study finds.
Methuselah is a female Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) that resides at Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, California. She first arrived at the aquarium in 1938 after being sent to the U.S. along with more than 200 other fish from Fiji and Australia.
Aquarium staff have never been sure how old Methuselah is, but until now the best guess was that she is 84 years old, which makes her the oldest known fish in captivity. (In the Bible, Methuselah was a man who reputedly lived to be 969 years old.)
The elderly fish, who loves belly rubs and is hand-fed figs by her doting keepers, shows no signs of slowing down, which has added to the confusion about her age. So researchers decided to work out exactly how old she is using a “DNA age clock.”
In the study, researchers compared Methuselah’s DNA to the genetic material of other Australian lungfish to work out how much wear and tear her DNA had accumulated. The results suggest that she is most likely age 92, but the level of uncertainty with this type of experiment means she could be up to 101 years old. The study will be published later this year.
I didn’t know that “wear and tear on DNA” studies could be this accurate, but what do I know. Here’s how they do it:
The researchers compared the DNA of 30 Australian lungfish from captivity and the wild, including two other lungfish at the Steinhart Aquarium. The team analyzed the amount of methylation in the fishes’ genetic material. Methylation is a biological process by which methyl groups —a carbon atom bound to three hydrogen atoms — are added to the DNA molecule. From this, they were able to work out how long it would have taken for Methuselah to build up the number of methyl groups found in her DNA.
At any rate, here’s Methuselah:
HOWEVER, Wikipedia mentions Hanako, a captive koi in Japan that died at what seems to be age 225. This is, however, disputed.
*Lettie Teague, the WSJ’s wine columnist, is pretty good, and her column this week is called “Is this the best time ever to be drinking wine? 4 compelling reasons?” Yes, it is a pretty good time, though I fondly recall the cheap ’82 Bordeaux, whose quality/price ratio hasn’t been matched since, or the absurdly inexpensive high-quality German wines of the mid to late eighties; you won’t see those prices again. However, here are Teague’s reasons that now is the BEST time to be drinking wine? (I don’t necessarily agree, but she has some points.
1.) Ciao to corked bottles (more good wines are dispensing with corks).
Although I’ve uncorked plenty of corked bottles over the years, happily, I rarely encounter one these days. And I’m hardly alone. Katja Scharnagl, beverage director of Koloman restaurant in New York, and Caroline Styne, co-owner and wine director of the Los Angeles-based Lucques restaurant group, both told me they are coming across far fewer corked bottles tableside, and both cited increased use of cork alternatives as a factor.
2.) Screw caps ascendant (not really different from #1):
Today, screw caps are employed by winemakers all over the world. And why shouldn’t they be? Screw-capped bottles reliably deliver wine that is fresh and contaminant-free (see cork taint, above). They are also easy to open and close. And in my experience, an open bottle of wine outfitted with a screw cap will stay fresh a bit longer than one closed with a cork.
Indeed, I’d be hard pressed today to find a forward-thinking winemaker—or, for that matter, wine drinker—who thinks there’s anything cheap or less than incredibly handy about a bottle closed with an easy-to-open, (practically) airtight metal cap.
She’s right here. I’ve dealt with too many crumbling corks in old wines to disagree with her.
3.) Embrace the unfamiliar.
Certain grapes have long dominated the wine world. But while Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and other international superstars remain widely planted, well-known and very popular among wine drinkers, these varieties are far from the only game in town.
Today, I see open-minded wine drinkers—many of them younger and perhaps less fettered by convention—embracing grapes whose names they might be unsure how to pronounce. They are crazy for Carricante from the Etna region of Sicily and Alvarinho from Portugal’s far western edge; for Mencia, that fragrant red grape from Galicia, or Torrontes, the quixotic white grape grown in the same high-elevation vineyards of Argentina that produce that country’s more-famous red grape, Malbec.
Again, she’s right. If there’s one problem with wine lovers, it’s that they often hesitate to try wines that either aren’t made from wel known grapes or are otherwise obscure. Try the little-known reds of Southern France or Spanish whites!
4.) High regard for low alcohol.
More and more of the emails I get from WSJ readers about a wine I’ve mentioned in my column ask: “What’s the alcohol content?” The wines these readers are looking for are those with low numbers—by which I mean somewhere between 11 and 13% alcohol.
These readers are over the bombastically big Cabernets and Zins and over-oaked Chardonnays whose alcohol content hovers between 15 and 16%. While these alcohol bombs were once hotly pursued by wine lovers and won high critical scores, they have lost some of their luster.
Perhaps it’s because wine drinkers are exhausted by their efforts to pair high-alcohol wines with food—always a challenge. When the alcohol is high, it becomes the dominant feature of the wine, like a loud talker dominating an otherwise silent room.
I don’t fully agree. Those high-alcohol fruit bombs can be great either with the right food or on their own. I suspect many of these people are just assuming that low alcohol wines are healthier, or perhaps they don’t want to get tipsy. There’s a time and place for wines of all alcohol levels, including those lovely vintage ports that are 19% alcohol or more!
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is fantasizing about clouds:
Hili: A lion?A: Where?Hili: In the cloud, it is riding on a skateboard.
From Laurie Ann:
From Masih, another protestor harassed in Iran (sound up):
Iranian singer Parastoo Ahmadi's home raided by regime agents, her laptop and phone confiscated. Her powerful protest songs had gone viral. The world’s most anti-woman regime fears women above all, but it will crumble under the force of #WomenLifeFreedom. pic.twitter.com/wgsYF7lU0c
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 24, 2023
If this beautiful choreography doesn’t get us back into the EU, nothing will… pic.twitter.com/Bo6MlPfvQo
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) September 23, 2023
When he realized red is the good part of the watermelon.. 😅 pic.twitter.com/LJ6nDFdIb6
— place where cat shouldn't be (@catshouldnt) September 25, 2023
Good news from Simon: Larry is okay! There were rumors that he was very ill.
I’m healthy, but you try being happy after living with five Tory Prime Ministers https://t.co/njuuKV4B9v
— Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) September 25, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial, a post that I retweeted:
Anne Frank and her family were one of many Dutch Jews, including children, murdered in Auschwitz, including the six-year-old on the right (along with her two siblings). https://t.co/WrmNSkT9g1
— Jerry Coyne (@Evolutionistrue) September 26, 2023
From Dr. Cobb, a lion who wants to drink alone:
“Stop drinking my house” 😂 pic.twitter.com/e4CoOKMdey
— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) September 25, 2023
Matthew said, “You know this one but still . . ” But no, I didn’t:
The Mississippi River and its tributaries pic.twitter.com/HQhoU1Oupq
— Epic Maps 🗺️ (@Locati0ns) September 24, 2023
Dylan plays three days ago!
Quick clip from Bob Dylan's surprise guest appearance with The Heartbreakers at Farm Aid tonight. "Maggie's Farm" — first time he's played it in over a decade: pic.twitter.com/ck3LVqw0gj
— Ray Padgett (@rayfp) September 24, 2023