Monday, October 28, 2013

Sweat of his brow, lift of her face

I get an email of Groupons every day. I very rarely buy anything from them, but it's worth opening up the daily email to see what advice the grumpy cat has in the Daily Engagement Module.

A lot of their offers are tangible enough - a meal, a boat trip - but many are the evanescent phantasmagoria of "beauty products". Today I got one for a "non-surgical facelift" which is a code phrase for "a bunch of creams and stuff". This Groupon reduced the price from $525 to $75, which is a bargain.

But what does it actually do, and how does it do it? I looked at the details. Among other things, it said:
Though Dr. [redacted]'s signature treatments use special technologies, much of her skincare approach is rooted in tradition. She's committed to using natural and safe ingredients, such as organic and chemical free skin care, instead of harmful chemicals such as the bottled sweat of one of pro wrestling's most-loathed villains.
I honestly can't parse that. I think there's a glaring punctuation error in it, but it's perfectly possible, I suppose, that the bottled sweat of one of wrestling's most-loathed villains is a harmful chemical. Even putting the comma in the other spot, do I really want my face "lifted" by the sweat of a wrestling villain, however loathed he may be? What is it going to achieve? Should we just assume the relevant clinical studies have been done, perhaps pitting the sweat of wrestlers' stage-girlfriends as a placebo against hero wrestlers'sweat and that of loathed wrestlers in a four-year double-blind study?

Yes, let's assume the latter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Lou Reed dead at 71.

It's hard to believe that someone I listened to so much back in the day could be gone. Not that I ever met him in the flesh, but having a living connection to the music makes it seem more...editable. Unfinished, still flexible. Now it's just a bunch of catalog numbers.

But exceptionally influential, rocking catalog numbers.

Lou playing with the Raconteurs at the VMAs in 2006.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nest o'shrooms

I found this cluster of mushrooms growing in my yard today. It had just sprung up, as they do, in a section of what we call "badger damage" - one of the many holes dug by the motherlovin' raccoons as they search for grubs around the roots of plants in late summer. (I'm glad I'm not a raccoon.) I put some sort of kill-o-zap powder on the lawn to stop the grubs developing and prevent the kind of damage we had last year, but it didn't occur to me to put it around the shrubbery and the raccoons are handily digging up all the bare areas. All in all, it's probably doing the garden some good.

The earth in that area was topped-up a few months ago with commercial compost, but none of it has grown a mushroom anywhere else in the yard. I assume the mechanical damage of the little vermin's claws is similar to 'casing' commercial mushrooms, where you break up the mycelium and give it a bit of fresh substrate to induce pin (baby mushroom) formation.

I don't know what it is, so I'm not going to eat it. At least one moth larva appears to be tackling it with gusto but that doesn't mean it's non-poisonous.

I once grew oyster mushrooms and blogged about it a couple of years ago. I didn't eat them either. Nasty things, fungi.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

IKEA or Death

Is it a piece of IKEA furniture or a Death Metal Band?

I scored 15/20.

Congrats you are...

You know that Furkantig means “square” in Swedish to describe the candles that you have on your altar. And above it? The raddest picture of Euronymous ever. Seriously, you scare children and their parents alike, all while wowing them with your design sense. Please check out our agency site. We’d be honored.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


I just followed a recipe which called for 2 cups of flour, 2 ounces of butter, 1/2 cup cheese, 1 pinch of something, 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 cup some other liquid. Cut butter into flour using two knives (what? I'll just cut it and rub it as usual), add other stuff...and then drop the dough on a greased cookie sheet in one ounce portions.

But I don't know how much the dough weighs! We've just used a combination of the weirdest measures known to man. And if I did calculate the weight it would probably be in pounds/feet or kilowatts or Imperial Gallons. The US weights and measures system is a complete mess.

Wikipedia gives the "cup" style table. 

Liquid volume
Most common measures shown in italic font
Exact conversions in bold font
UnitDivisionsSI Equivalent
minim (min)~1 drop or 0.95 grain of water61.611519921875 μL
US fluid dram (fl dr)60 min3.6966911953125 mL
teaspoon (tsp)80 min4.92892159375 mL
tablespoon (Tbsp)3 tsp or 4 fl dr14.78676478125 mL
US fluid ounce (fl oz)2 Tbsp or 1.0408 oz av of water29.5735295625 mL
US shot (jig)3 Tbsp44.36029434375 mL
US gill (gi)4 fl oz118.29411825 mL
US cup (cp)2 gi or 8 fl oz236.5882365 mL
1 (liquid) US pint (pt)2 cp or 16.65 oz av of water473.176473 mL
1 (liquid) US quart (qt)2 pt0.946352946 L
1 (liquid) US gallon (gal)4 qt or 231 cu in3.785411784 L
1 (liquid) barrel (bbl)31.5 gal or 12 hogshead119.240471196 L
1 oil barrel (bbl)42 gal or 23 hogshead158.987294928 L
hogshead63 gal or 8.421875 cu ft
or 524.7 lb of water
238.480942392 L
The "cooking" table has another set of them.

Most of the rest of the world gets along with things that work in multiples of ten, and are based on each other so that calculations are much easier. It's not surprising that the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed
due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed.
Pound-seconds? In an interplanetary vehicle. I think it's really time to get with the SI program. Bite the bullet, USA.

England did, officially going from the arcane LSD monetary system (20 shillings in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling, 21 shillings in a guinea, 2.5 shillings in a half crown) to a nice clean 100 pence in a pound.

It wasn't easy.

Since then, I gather from remarks British people make, that the rest of the SI system has more or less arrived (kilograms, liters etc.) with the traditional hold-out of the "mile" (which is 80 chains, or 8 furlongs, or 5280 feet or 1760 yards).

Mind you, a country which has to teach its kids how many drams in a hogshead instead of how many milliliters in a liter might explain the education gap in my last post.

Edited: typo

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Yay, I'm number one! Or number 3 when I'm being British.

Kids ain't doin' so well, though.

What the hell happened to you, USA? (And UK?)

The OECD Education study looked at literacy, numeracy and problem solving in 16-24 year olds and contrasted them with 55-65 year olds to see if countries are improving their education and fitting themselves for the future.  The US and the UK aren't. The rest of the report is just as grim for us - and it isn't speaking English that's doing it, as Australia and Canada are doing okay.

The Beeb's take on this: The grandchildren have many more qualifications, but fewer actual skills.

I can't help thinking that this dumbing-down is purposeful. I realize I'm degenerating into a conspiracy theorist, but the anti-facts, anti-science astroturfing brigade do seem to be aimed towards keeping the youth down on the farm.

The full OECD reports and interactive graphs are here.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Where thoughts go to die

Yesterday, in Hard Cases Make Bad Law, I wrote about the comments sections of the interwebs. I do read comments a lot, and there are comment sections out there that make YouTube look like a temple of higher education. And these are the ones that are nominally "on my side". I truly hate to think what the opposition's comments sections look like. (The Wall Street Journal is enough for me.)

Another example of a hard case almost deliberately designed to make bad law came up a few days ago, and got a predictable work out through the internet. It's a letter from a granddad to his daughter, saying goodbye to her for disowning his grandson - for being gay.

Dear Christine: I’m disappointed in you as a daughter. You’re correct that we have a “shame in the family,” but mistaken about what it is.
Kicking Chad out of your home simply because he told you he was gay is the real “abomination” here. A parent disowning her child is what goes “against nature.”
The only intelligent thing I heard you saying in all this was that “you didn’t raise your son to be gay”. Of course you didn’t. He was born this way and didn’t chase it any more than he being left-handed. You however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So, while we are in the business of disowning our children, I think I’ll take this moment to say goodbye to you. I now have a fabulous (as the gays put it) grandson to raise, and I don’t have time for heart-less B-word of a daughter.
If you find your heart, give us a call

Not entirely fluffy rainbows, as saying that the worst thing a parent can do is disown a child, while you're disowning a child, is slightly problematic, but it's all in the cause of anti-bigotry, and it's been settled for some time (on my side at least; still puzzles some on the right) that lack of tolerance for intolerance is not, in itself, intolerance.

The letter was initially presented as a heart-warming story. But port this letter and its message over to Freethought blogs, the home of  one (or more!) of the biggest comment sewers in the world, and it magically becomes a hate-screed written by a screaming misogynist.  See, he used the "b word", a gendered slur. Well, he didn't, he actually used the circumlocution "B-word" but that's enough, it kicks him right out of the human race.

I'm not going to link to the "discussion" as I'm sure you could find it if you needed it. There are 168 comments about this letter before the blog owner shut down comments. We get eight comments of mild "assuming this is genuine, good for you granpa" stuff and then comment nine harps on the "b word". Discussion begins. Isn't saying "B-word" specifically avoiding the misogynist slur? Doesn't "b word" mean "bastard' (non-gendered) in your family? But soon the digging in starts and anyone who is on the "good for you granpa" side is obviously a deeply doubleplusungood pusher of crimethink, abusing the oppressed female masses by their whole-hearted support of this evil woman-hating misogynist. Within a very short time, the commenters are metaphorically at one another's throats, complete with swearing. Rules of debate are flourished, and broken. Someone pretends to be a mod when he or she isn't. There is a reference to a scholarly journal on morality. There are regrets that grandfather is not here at the blog so he can be told why he is wrong. Flounces are performed, in one case repeatedly, which rather ruins the effect. Another is advised to walk away and think about it for a while.

When I first came to the states, I thought it was funny that people didn't swear. Living in London, everyone, including myself, swore like sailors. The Americans, not so much. I read a couple of people last week who were shocked at how sweary the American Youth Of Today has become, and various cesspool blog comments sections seem to bear this out. And they are swearing at their peers and allies as well, in a free-for-all fight that routinely stops to check the forum rules and discuss the logical fallacies of the arguments before carrying on with the fuck fuck fuckity fucks.

One wonders what these vicious anklebiters do for a living. I assume they are in college, mostly, ones which do plenty of gender studies courses but don't assign any actual work. Or maybe they are at work, doing this *during* lectures, iPhoning comments filled with peer-chastising vitriol while ignoring the grad student giving the lecture as the nominal prof phones venture capitalists about his start up back at his apartment. In hot pursuit of an ideological purity few initiates can attain, this modern-day Junior Anti-Sex League chases its own lagging members down a PC hellhole.

Or maybe it's like professional wrestling. Fake but glittery enough that you can pretend to be invested in one side or another, and reliably switch without cognitive dissonance when a plot twist makes the good guy the bad guy. Just something to while away the day with.

But these kids(?) scare me, even though I'm nominally on their side.

Marc Bolan - The Final Word (Video 2007)

Not sure why I hadn't heard of this before, but thanks to BP Fallon's twitter, I now have:

A 2007 BBC Documentary on the life of Marc Bolan called The Final Word. Remarkably, it's on YouTube apparently unmolested by copyright takedowns.

This is a show that appears to have been put together with genuine love for its subject. Narrated by Suzi Quatro, it starts, as they inevitably do, with Marc The Mod, but unlike most goes deeper into fashion further on, beginning with the odd factoid that Marc read a book about Beau Brummell as a child. Beau Brummell being, of course, the first dandy in the underworld. The program then illustrates Marc's influence on clothes and appearance. Zandra Rhodes talks about the clothes of her line that he wore.  There's a short history of glitter make-up and the rather sad detail that his brother Harry has a little vial of his glitter to remember him by. It's interesting to see again the fashions of that time - there's a sort of pastel, monotone quality to seventies clothes that I don't think you can duplicate nowadays. Whether it was the use of natural dyes (or more likely in the seventies, completely unnatural dyes that are now banned because they were poisonous) or a trick of the TV cameras, I don't know.

After Marc the Mod, we get to hear friends', musicians' and Marc's brother Harry's thoughts on Bolan accompanied by clips of many songs. (One thing I dislike about most documentaries is the use of clips instead of full songs. I assume that it is a cost issue, but playing the introduction and first chorus of a catchy song and then cutting away from it is just teasing.) In particular I must track down the sensationally heavy version of 20th Century Boy from an appearance on Germany's Musikladen, the preservator of many, many great seventies performances.

George Underwood, the artist responsible for several of his covers, gives away the secret of the crowded, fulminating cover of My People Were Fair - he ripped off figures from the Gustave Doré bible, and now, armed with this link, so can you! Tony Visconti says that Marc asked him to read Lord of the Rings in order to understand him, and Visconti believes that Marc really did see LOTR as somehow true, and himself as a sort of reincarnated bard from the days when elves walked the earth.

My People Were Fair cover

One of Doré's illustrations

The phrases "selling out" and "went electric" feature prominently as Marc switches from pleasing the hippies to pleasing the pre-teens, which was the bridge he built for me from my brother's music (my brother's back at home with his Beatles and his Stones, we never got it off on that revolution stuff) to music for my generation, which my brother can't stand and will probably be along to say so in comments shortly.  (It's a mystery to me why the world calls us both Baby Boomers, given the fundamental split between coming of age in the sixties versus the seventies.)

BP Fallon talks about the word T.Rextasy appearing to him in a flaming font floating just within reach of his outstretched left hand, a new word shrewdly summing up the zeitgeist.  Several speak of Ringo Starr's film Born to Boogie, the Beatlemane passing the baton to the Rexstatic. There's the split with June Child, the musical and life partnership with Gloria Jones, the Godfather of Punk thing and of course Supersonic, and Marc falling off stage to David Bowie's wide grin on his show Marc.

Marc on Supersonic. The interviewees are not kind about this performance.

And then of course Marc meets a tree, and it's all over, except the memories. Which this brought back in droves - not just seeing T. Rex at Bradford St. George's Hall, but the clothes (and their tones, see above), the Three Day Weeks, the Rolling Blackouts (not, alas, a band), the hot summers, the fairground rides to T. Rex songs.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Hard cases make bad law

There's a saying, "hard cases make bad law", which means that an extreme example is not the best thing to react to - it is better to consider moderate examples, because the consideration will cover so many more instances.

On the internet, the hard cases make angered click bait. There is an infinity of issues that don't have a mathematical, provable solution. The big ones include abortion, whether welfare is a moral hazard or a necessary safeguard for the temporarily inconvenienced, and whether quantitative easing will lead to a recovery or to hyperinflation.

Apart from these major arguments (and the perennial evolution vs. creation, which is obviously well settled and totally over, but is refought on a daily basis), there are a million minor arguments with no right answer. On boing boing yesterday, for instance, a post on Miley Cyrus' response to an open letter from Sinead O'Connor dived into circularity within a few comments. At issue, such fundamental concepts as defining saying "Don't be a prostitute" as slut-shaming and individual viewpoints as data points, such as whether Miley Cyrus is being cynically exploited by others for money, or whether she is expressing her young and apparently thrush-tongued sexuality. Now we are 163 comments in and there's no sign of agreement.

For what it's worth, my own opinion is that Miley Cyrus is an operative of the media, and wiggling her arse and sticking her tongue out are not protected speech, because they are not either "an expression of her sexuality" (which is, according to the posters on the boing boing thread, inviolate, at least to feminists) or an artistic expression (which has freedom under the Constitution), they are advertisements for a product, which are regulated as commerce and also subject to the usual common decency rules. (And the "if you don't like it, don't watch it" rule, which applies to me, but less so to minors, who are not considered capable of making some decisions.) As such, asking her to consider not being a prostitute is not "slut-shaming" - and since when was a slut a prostitute anyway? - it's the modern equivalent of appeal to the hippy concept of "not selling out", man.  Although authenticity is a loose and slippery concept, the opposite, the antonym, is generally "doing something for the money" and it appears that O'Connor is asking Cyrus to stop selling out.

I'm a big reader of comments. I sometimes reply in comments, too, and then wonder why. Obviously no one will ever read it, with the possible, but not guaranteed, exception of the person I'm replying to, and after years of comment-reading experience I know that minds are rarely ever changed. Blogs/Papers that carry them use them as either free-content providers or as a source of repeat eyeballs for advertising.  More serious outlets like  Popular Science are against them because fighting in the comments section leads to polarization; which is to say, the angrier and more abusive the comments get, the more people's minds stay made up, and the less learning and understanding takes place.

Comments sections are where thoughts go to die. I read them because occasionally a couple of self-aware people have an exchange, but that's becoming more and more rare. YouTube is considering requiring real names on comments. Might make a difference. Doesn't on Facebook.

And I think I read them because I grew up on Usenet, where all posts were technically comments. One gigantic world-spanning mega-thread of comments, most of which were actually relevant in those far-off pre-astroturfing days.  Obviously, part of me wants to get back to the Golden Age when everyone who wrote into a thread about load carrying capacities of German WWII planes was an expert, not someone who wanted to remark that it was Obama's fault, or that Ron Paul was the solution or that they made $36 an hour following this one weird trick.

As the monument of these arguments, carved and modeled into consensus reality, Wikipedia is the Old Usenet set in stone. It's offspring are the toxic whims of the perpetually peeved.

History of twerking part 95

At this moment, if you type just the word "what" into Google, "what is twerking" is the first suggestion.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

David Bowie's reading list

According to Open Book Toronto, this is a list of David Bowie's Top 100 must read books as discussed with the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Let's see how I'm doing with the list.  If I read it, it's in bold, if it's on my reading list it's light, and if I have no interest, it's in strikethrough.

David Bowie's Top 100 Must Read Books:

The Age of American UnreasonSusan Jacoby, 2008
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoJunot Diaz, 2007
The Coast of Utopia (trilogy)Tom Stoppard, 2007
Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage, 2007
FingersmithSarah Waters, 2002
The Trial of Henry KissingerChristopher Hitchens, 2001
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of WonderLawrence Weschler, 1997
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924Orlando Figes, 1997
The InsultRupert Thomson, 1996
Wonder BoysMichael Chabon, 1995
The Bird ArtistHoward Norman, 1994
Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village MemoirAnatole Broyard, 1993
Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical PerspectiveArthur C. Danto, 1992
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily DickinsonCamille Paglia, 1990
David BombergRichard Cork, 1988
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of FreedomPeter Guralnick, 1986
The SonglinesBruce Chatwin, 1986
HawksmoorPeter Ackroyd, 1985
Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul MusicGerri Hirshey, 1984
Nights at the CircusAngela Carter, 1984
MoneyMartin Amis, 1984
White NoiseDon DeLillo, 1984
Flaubert’s ParrotJulian Barnes, 1984
The Life and Times of Little RichardCharles White, 1984
A People’s History of the United StatesHoward Zinn, 1980
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980
Interviews with Francis BaconDavid Sylvester, 1980
Darkness at NoonArthur Koestler, 1980
Earthly PowersAnthony Burgess, 1980
Raw (a ‘graphix magazine’) 1980-91
Viz (magazine) 1979 –
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, 1979
Metropolitan LifeFran Lebowitz, 1978
In Between the SheetsIan McEwan, 1978
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed. Malcolm Cowley, 1977
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, 1976
Tales of Beatnik GloryEd Saunders, 1975
Mystery Train, Greil Marcus, 1975
Selected PoemsFrank O’Hara, 1974
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920sOtto Friedrich, 1972
In Bluebeard’s Castle : Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of CultureGeorge Steiner, 1971
Octobriana and the Russian UndergroundPeter Sadecky, 1971
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillete, 1970
The Quest For Christa TChrista Wolf, 1968
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn, 1968
The Master and MargaritaMikhail Bulgakov, 1967
Journey into the WhirlwindEugenia Ginzburg, 1967
Last Exit to BrooklynHubert Selby Jr. , 1966
In Cold BloodTruman Capote, 1965
City of Night, John Rechy, 1965
HerzogSaul Bellow, 1964
Puckoon, Spike Milligan, 1963
The American Way of DeathJessica Mitford, 1963
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The SeaYukio Mishima, 1963
The Fire Next TimeJames Baldwin, 1963
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962
Inside the Whale and Other EssaysGeorge Orwell, 1962
The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieMuriel Spark, 1961
Private Eye (magazine) 1961 –
On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the ObviousDouglas Harding, 1961
Silence: Lectures and WritingJohn Cage, 1961
Strange PeopleFrank Edwards, 1961
The Divided SelfR. D. Laing, 1960
All The Emperor’s HorsesDavid Kidd,1960
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse, 1959
The LeopardGiuseppe Di Lampedusa, 1958
On The RoadJack Kerouac, 1957
The Hidden PersuadersVance Packard, 1957
Room at the TopJohn Braine, 1957
A Grave for a DolphinAlberto Denti di Pirajno, 1956
The OutsiderColin Wilson, 1956
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 1948
The StreetAnn Petry, 1946
Black BoyRichard Wright, 1945
The Portable Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker, 1944
The Outsider, Albert Camus, 1942
The Day of the LocustNathanael West, 1939
The Beano, (comic) 1938 –
The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell, 1937
Mr. Norris Changes TrainsChristopher Isherwood, 1935
English JourneyJ.B. Priestley, 1934
Infants of the SpringWallace Thurman, 1932
The BridgeHart Crane, 1930
Vile BodiesEvelyn Waugh, 1930
As I lay DyingWilliam Faulkner, 1930
The 42nd ParallelJohn Dos Passos, 1930
Berlin AlexanderplatzAlfred Döblin, 1929
PassingNella Larsen, 1929
Lady Chatterley’s LoverD.H. Lawrence, 1928
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
The Waste LandT.S. Eliot, 1922
BLAST, ed. Wyndham Lewis, 1914-15
McTeagueFrank Norris, 1899
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and RitualEliphas Lévi, 1896
Les Chants de Maldoror, Lautréamont, 1869
Madame BovaryGustave Flaubert, 1856
ZanoniEdward Bulwer-Lytton, 1842
Inferno, from the Divine ComedyDante Alighieri, about 1308-1321
The Iliad, Homer, about 800 BC

Not doing very well, am I? The article says it proves David Bowie is a genius, so I guess I'm not one. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Don't know the price of a loaf? Don't ask the Prime Minister, or for that matter anyone

Three weeks ago, in "Not satisfactorily under control" I said,  

I'm always struck by the way prices are displayed in supermarkets, for instance. They are on little tickets stuck either above or below the item on sale, and are changed often. Although there are many labeling laws (state and federal), such as a requirement to put the price-per-ounce on the little ticket, so you're not fooled by larger packages with smaller contents, there doesn't seem to be any law as to what 'on sale' or 'special' means. Goods go 'on sale' every three weeks, and the little ticket is changed to say so, and quotes a 'regular' price that the sale price beats out. But since the little ticket doesn't actually have a list of historical prices, there's no way to check if it was actually offered at that price before. And there most certainly is no requirement for the good itself to have a price affixed, so there's no historical data at home. Was a can of beans $1.25 last week? Or $1.50 or $0.85? Who knows? 
Today, in the Guardian, there is an article on the subject of supermarket pricing. The Graun is British, of course, where the laws are slightly different, but the pricing strategies are similar. The article by Felicity Lawrence, called Don't Worry David Cameron There's No Such Thing As The Price Of Bread, looks at the recent revelation that the Prime Minister does not know the price of bread in a supermarket. The article goes on to say,

I hate to say this, because it is always fun to enjoy the discomfiture of politicians, but it is not just the prime minster who does not know the price of bread. [...] 
Most of us don't know, because there is no such thing as the price of bread any more. Rapidly changing prices on hundreds of products do not help consumers but instead confuse them. And what they give with one hand, supermarkets can take back, or have already taken back, with the other. In the lead-up to Christmas 2010, Asda cut nearly 800 prices but also increased 850 prices; Tesco cut 930 prices but increased just under 1,000. With so much volatility it is impossible for the average shopper to work out where best value really is.[...]  
We appear to have been bamboozled by this clever piece of retail psychology, however. Prof Paul Dobson of Norwich Business School, who has studied supermarket pricing for more than 10 years, reckons that more than 40% of what we buy in supermarkets is on special offer. He also calculates that the most common price cut among the big four supermarkets over a period of five years has been 1p. Cutting thousands of prices by tiny amounts, or making prices yo-yo, has been used to mask serious price increases on a smaller number of lines – with a big net effect on bills.

Worth a read, if only to help inoculate yourself against it.


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