Archive for consumerism

Clutter as personalization

Posted in simple living with tags , on 02/09/2015 by Fox

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.
~Paul McCartney

I’ve been following Apartment Therapy for a while now. There are some good ideas for updating old spaces and making do with small homes. It can also be incredibly frustrating…especially when their more generous ideas of “budget” (a $50 planter, really?) and mine don’t line up.

Something I have noticed on AT is the tendency for some people to equate a lack of clutter with a lack of personality. Considering even these spaces can be “junky” by my standards, these people would HATE my house.

I think it’s a reaction to their own home, though. They want to see other homes with junk because their house has junk. I’ve been told that people over time just amass junk, and there’s nothing I can do and I should just embrace it. Some people don’t understand how someone could live in a house without clutter. I don’t know how they live with it (or how I did, for that matter).

It may also be a defense mechanism. Rather than deal with the junk, they embrace it as adding personality. “Without it, my house would be sterile and lifeless.” Sure, but I don’t want to dust around a bunch of crap, I hate dusting. It’s much harder to get rid of the clutter or not buy it than it is to keep it around and keep adding to it.

Different strokes for different folks, of course, but I do wonder how many of these people would rather live without the stuff they have? Do they fantasize about their house burning down so they can start fresh? Or do they genuinely love all the bullshit they’ve got?

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Humana/Cigna scams customers with “admin fees” and monthly payments

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 12/16/2014 by Fox

I think anyone who’s ever gone through adolescence and wanted something from their parents knows the basic tenets of a con.
~Matt Bomer

I’m not allowed to pay my health insurance in six-month chunks anymore. According to my insurer, this is because Obamacare. As best I can figure, the Act (you know which one) has gotten rid of the old year-long system of health insurance in favor of month-to-month coverage.

Unfortunately, this drives prices up because customers are theoretically less stable. You sign a year-long contract, they’ve got you for the year. This is why long-term leases on apartments, etc, are a thing. You commit yourself long-term, you get a discount. That’s not a thing with health insurance anymore.

Two, it means I can’t pay for my insurance the way I want to. I liked paying my insurance six months in advance. Pay it and forget it.

Three, it means I will pay an extra $100 a year in “admin fees.” Why? Because I get paper bills, and according to Humana/Cigna, paper bills cost $10 a month. I call bullshit.

Sure, they’ll wave that fee…if I get my bill charged to a credit card (NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE) or allow them to draw the money straight out of my account.

Does this smell fishy to any of you?

It does to me, but maybe that’s because I spent an hour today on the phone trying to figure out what kind of sorcery happened to my insurance payments. Somehow their computer system randomly moved me from bi-annual payments to quarterly payments and then I was forced onto monthly payments. My only warning was a letter I got a year ago that stated I would be forced to move to monthly payments, no date given as to when, and no hint that some bizarre quarterly payment thing would happen.

This is why you shouldn’t do automatic withdrawals, people. If I hadn’t been getting paper statements, I would never have known that I was suddenly getting charged a monthly payment.

Humana/Cigna wants me to trust them enough to give them access to my bank account, but at the same time, they make themselves completely untrustworthy. The bills I get have no worthwhile information on them, the two employees I spoke with today could barely understand my question, nevermind sort out what the hell was going on. And they have the gall to request unfettered access to my checking account.

This reeks. It smells like a scam. Of course, my other options are to find a new provider (and have the same fucking problem) or drop health insurance and pay the fucking fine. The older I get the riskier going without insurance gets, and the fine is probably more than the fucking fees.

You can’t win this game. No one cares about you. The guy on the phone doesn’t care about you. The guy at the top doesn’t care about you. The guy in Washington doesn’t care about you. So just bend over. Here comes Humana/Cigna.

I bought local garbage bags

Posted in green living with tags , on 12/02/2014 by Fox

You can take the girl out of Texas but not the Texas out of the girl and ultimately not the girl out of Texas.
~Janine Turner

It seems the regional grocery chain HEB has obtained Go Texan certification for some of their products. I saw it on some tortilla chips, which was cool, and then I bought a box of garbage bags with the logo on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that logo on anything that wasn’t edible in some way.

It was kind of surreal. We’re at a point in society where I can buy locally made garbage bags. Of course, HEB is the same company that put out the funny-because-it’s-true Texas Myths commercial. They seem to have the same sort of deranged pride in Texas that I myself suffer from. (The trash bags are “Texas Tough,” by the way.)

I started shopping at HEB because it wasn’t Wal-Mart. I continue because their store brand is excellent, and the employees seem well-treated and decently paid. The fact that said store brand appears to be sourced, when possible, from within the state is a huge plus to me.

It’s honestly unexpected. I’m sure the amount of automation in a garbage bag factory is high, and thus domestic production is affordable. But it’s still a little thrill to still see an occasional “Made in the USA” or Go Texan logo on a product…even if it’s followed by the dubious “from international parts.” And there are probably enough deranged, prideful Texans out there that gaining the Go Texan certification was a good move. Although who knows, the execs at HEB may just be pridefully deranged enough to do it just for the hell of it.

Your stuff is worthless

Posted in simple living with tags , on 11/17/2014 by Fox

When you look at it that way, you can see how absurd it is that we individualize ourselves with our fences and hoarded possessions.
~Morrie Schwartz

Since my house has two bedrooms, my mother foisted on me my grandmother’s old bedroom set that she’d bought when she got married. It’s over sixty years old. It’s also (as far as I’m concerned) ugly. But it was free, and I wanted a bed for the guest bedroom.

Too bad my mother had hung on to the set like it was her own personal albatross and it has spent many years in garages and storage units. The wood has split in places, the veneer is ruined in others, and warping has rendered many of the drawers barely functional.

She told me she was tired of moving it, and when I no longer want it, that I should “sell it on Ebay.”

Except no one will buy it, because aside from being damaged, the set itself is not notable in any way and may fetch between $0-$100 a piece on Craigslist, including the bed. It’s worthless.

I’ve seen people hang on to things, giving them attention and value far beyond what anyone else would give them. They paid good money for it, once upon a time. Or it has sentimental value. Or it has some property that equates to value in their mind. But to everyone else, it’s barely worth picking up off the curb.

All the knick-knacks, souvenirs, photographs, jewelry, coveted bits of this and that. It’s all junk to someone else. Just so much useless garbage to be hauled off and rid of when you are no longer a part of this world.

How to buy legit vacation souvenirs

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 11/03/2014 by Fox

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’
~Daniel J. Boorstin

I am recently returned from a trip to the Big Bend region of Texas. I’ve been many times, and I will hopefully go back many more. Don’t let people tell you Big Bend is boring. It’s hot and harsh and unforgiving, but it can also be an amazing and beautiful place. This trip found butterflies in abundance…big ones, small ones, yellow ones, black ones. I also learned that there are, I shit you not, beavers living in the Rio Grande. I saw one, and had their existence confirmed by a park ranger. Fucking beavers in the Rio Grande. Learn something new every day.

But Big Bend is a terrible place to shop for souvenirs. There are few towns of any size (really, the nearest HEB is in Odessa, I think) and the desolate and isolated nature of the park makes for an unusual tourist demographic. The national park stores have little to offer, and the state park’s store even less. But I had a cat-sitting friend I wanted to repay with a local gift, so here’s some advice when shopping for legit vacation souvenirs. Note that this is geared for souvenir shopping in America…my experiences souvenir shopping in Japan were completely different.

Know how to spot “name-drop” merchandise. “Name-drop” merch is generic items, usually t-shirts, magnets, stickers, mugs, etc, that has simply had the town, park, or destination’s name placed on it. If you’ve ever bought a pretty t-shirt with a horse on it that says Silverton, CO, and then later found the exact same shirt for sale with Cheyenne, WY instead, you’re a name-drop victim. Once you realize they exist, they’re easy to spot. Buying a name-drop isn’t a sin…often they’re the only things available if you’re looking for bumper stickers or mugs. But I’d prefer to stay away if possible.

How to ditch the ‘drop: Look for souvenirs that feature imagery specific to the location. A t-shirt that says “Just Hike It” and “Big Bend Ranch State Park” is probably a name-drop, but a shirt featuring Santa Elena canyon is definitely not. Look for small shops selling original designs on shirts, these will often net you a unique and far more authentic souvenir.

Find out where it’s made. I spent most of my souvenir shopping time in Big Bend examining objects for their “Made in…” stickers. Most of what I saw was made in China, Peru, Taiwan, Turkey…including the “Navajo” rugs. Sure, the Oaxacan wood carvings were damn cool, but they’re from Oaxaca, not Santa Elena, or Boquillas, or the other nearby Mexican towns. Unfortunately, local art is often far more expensive than the imported crap, so judge on an individual basis.

How to judge if something’s worth it: Again, make sure what you’re buying is indicative of the location, and not something you can pick up on Ebay. If you’re in Oaxaca, buy up those awesome carvings. If not, find something a little more locally-flavored, even if it’s not locally made.

Watch out for “label-drop” foods. Much like name-drop merch, but much harder to spot. There are companies that produce local-looking canned fruits or vegetables, jams, jellies, pickled foods, or honey that will slap a local label on the product to make it look not mass-produced.

How to tell it’s a fake? Pay attention to the wording. “Manufactured/Produced for…” or variations thereof is a good indicator that someone slapped a local label on a non-local product. “Made in…” is what you want to see.

Avoid anything Native American. Unless you’re very familiar with the traditional crafts of the local tribes, you’re better off just avoiding anything Indian. Even reservation gift shops can be a confusing morass of Made in China bullshit, Kokopelli crap, and “Navajo” rugs. Never buy a damn dreamcatcher, unless it’s handmade by someone of the Ojibwe. I saw those for sale in Big Bend, too, despite the fact that dreamcatchers are not associated with the Chisos, Apaches, or Comanches.

How to buy Indian: Do your research beforehand, and expect to shell out. The real stuff ain’t cheap, and you won’t find it in a two-bit souvenir shop.

In short, know something about where you are. You may not know that the “Made in Dripping Springs” jelly you’re buying is from the Texas Hill Country and you’re hours away in the Chihuahuan desert, but you should know better than to buy the evil eye pendants or the Buddha statues, even if you don’t know about the name-drop shirts or the fact that Kokopelli was associated with tribes far west of your location.

In the end, I found some raw honey made in Alpine, a nearby town (in West Texas terms), which was both local and reminiscent of the massive swarms of pollinators we saw on the trip. Fuck yeah honey.

Are human rights and environmentalism mutually exclusive?

Posted in green living with tags , , on 11/02/2011 by Fox

In America everybody is of opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards. ~Bertrand Russell

So I missed the last two posts on account of the Texas Renaissance Festival and my sister popping out her second (and likely last) offspring a month early. For some reason it’s absolutely necessary that I personally have visual confirmation of the thing’s existence. As you can probably imagine, I was less than thrilled.

Anyway.

So I posted the Hans Rosling video a week ago. And like many things I post here, it got me thinking.

Specifically, I was amused by the irony of the Occupy Wall Street protests in light of the fact that even the poorest here in America are better off than much of the world. Many would consider my existence, even now that I’m debt-free, to be pretty miserable. If we go by Rosling’s cut-off of $80 a day, I live off of slightly more than half that. So I’m not even in the top seventh when it comes to money. And yet I have a computer, and central air and heat, and video game consoles, and access to a washing machine, yes. My life is on the poorer end of normal compared to my peers in America, and yet I live like a king compared to the other five-sevenths of the world.

The other thing that got me thinking was the bit where he talks about the higher population of the have-nots vs. the higher consumption of the haves. I’ve touched briefly on this before, but I want to talk about it in the context of the washing machine and the environmentalist movement.

According to environmentalism, not everyone can have their washing machine, video game console, and computer. But the haves don’t want to give theirs up and the have-nots at least want the washing machine. Is it fair that according to the supposed tenets of environmentalism that some people should go without, involuntarily? Is it possible to balance everyone at least having access to these things with what the planet can support? I think so.

Look at the washing machine, and the computer, too, which are different beasts than the refrigerator and air conditioner. Washing machines and computers can be shared. In fact, we’ve already got a system set up for sharing washing machines. They’re called laundromats. Amazing, I know.

I know very few people who need their washing machine daily. In fact, I can think of no one person who does. I do laundry every two weeks, myself. A washing machine is needed often, but not so often that it’s absolutely necessary for people to have one of their very own. Just like carpet shampooers, their very nature makes them perfect for sharing. A few washing machines can easily be shared between many people. And it’s not like owning a washing machine makes laundry free. Aside from the initial cost of purchasing said washing machine, there’s the added cost of water and electricity. I’d rather use the laundromat, myself.

So this is the perfect way to make everyone happy. Or mostly happy, anyway. The haves share their washing machines between themselves and allow the have-nots to have some to share amongst themselves. In theory, anyway. And yes, I know that it’s a person’s right to have a washing machine of their very own, but I’m trying to make a point here, dammit.

So why doesn’t the environmentalist movement start pushing for more usage of laundromats? I think the argument is pretty cut and dried, if I do say so myself. One washing machine split amongst five (or more) people is more eco-friendly than five washing machines.

The problem is that the environmentalist movement has been hijacked by consumerism. It’s popular, it’s something that people can feel good about, so they market products to be “environmentally friendly.” The dumbasses get on board with this because they’re, well, dumbasses and don’t stop to think about things. So instead of “Hey, let’s all use laundromats!” it’s “Hey, buy this brand-new high-efficiency washing machine that saves water but ultimately loses out against all those washing machines in the laundromat being used by entire apartment complexes!” It’s like playing telephone with someone who has a serious agenda involving the word “penis.” The message gets fucked up somewhere along the line…on purpose.

Best Buy ranks zero in customer satisfaction among foxes

Posted in simple living with tags , on 10/15/2011 by Fox

Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.
~Mark Cuban

Best Buy is shit. I don’t mean the shit, I mean shit. Crap. Crud. Waste. Poop. Feces. Every time I go in I become a raving anti-consumerist neo-Luddite within five minutes. No joke. They don’t sell what I want, they don’t sell it cheap, and in the meantime they keep trying to sell me shit I don’t want. And their Geek Squad uses people’s computers to look at softcore porn. I didn’t know Best Buy back in the day when they were a computer store, so I’ve had all of one neutral-to-fair experience there, against a slew of “WHAT THE HELL NO I DON’T WANT A MONSTER CABLE OR A MAC AND WHY DON’T ANY OF THE MICE HAVE CORDS?”

Unfortunately, there’s not much option in a town that lacks a dedicated computer parts store. It’s Best Buy or Office Depot unless I locate a friend willing to give/loan/sell me the part in question. Otherwise it’s driving to Houston for Fry’s or Microcenter, or just going with NewEgg. It’s usually NewEgg, as driving to Houston tacks on quite a bit when you take gas money into consideration.

My cable modem fried. Totally my fault. I knew I needed a power strip for the aquarium, but I never got one, and thus the modem was plugged straight into the wall and not into the surge protector.

I figured I’d give Best Buy a call to get a price on new cable modems just in case. I knew I’d probably go for another refurb from the internet provider, but it doesn’t hurt to just call and ask, right?

Wrong. Apparently the local Best Buy cannot answer their phone. After two minutes of the same fifteen second country and western ditty interspersed with ads for the Geek Squad and the new iTurd 7, my roommate gave me her typical look as I screamed expletives into the phone.

All I wanted was a human being whom I could ask to check on prices for me. Hell, I’d have been happy with “Thank you for calling Best Buy, this is So-and-so, could you hold, please?”

After debating on whether or not to bicycle down there and yell at their manager, I instead called up Office Depot. I needed a larger sample size.

“Thank you for calling Office Depot, how can we get work done today?” (however it went…) I asked if they sold cable modems and was placed on hold to wait for an employee who would know. About what I expected.

I called Fry’s in Houston. I got a machine saying that if I wished to know their hours I could hit one, or directions, hit two, or stay on the line for a rep. I got the rep and she answered my question. (With a computer, no less, which was nice considering how long it would have taken her to find the cable modems, walk over there, price them, and then walk back. Fry’s are not small stores.)

I attempted Microcenter, too, but then my phone decided it wasn’t going to get service out of my apartment anymore and I didn’t feel like standing around in the parking lot looking for it.

I don’t know a single person who likes dealing with computer menus aside from very very basic questions like hours or directions. And while I expect to wait on hold for several minutes calling a corporate line, I’ve never had that “service” from a local store. Certainly not during a time at which NO ONE in town is doing much shopping. The town is dead right now due to a football game. Best Buy is probably quite empty, just like every other place that isn’t a sports bar. So why the shitty service?

So instead I’ll just get a refurb from the provider. I’m not going to even bother with Best Buy. If they can’t be bothered to answer their damn phone, fuck ’em. I don’t want to wait on shipping from NewEgg and I don’t have a good reason to spend the gas money driving to Houston.