March 12, 2008
Newer, safer, and worser!
While I love and defend the free market system, one of the things I most hate about it is that because of the constantly changing nature and range of products for sale, there's no way to evaluate what you're buying until after you've bought it, and worst of all, there's no guarantee that something you like will continue to be available. No sooner do I find a favorite product than I get this sense of impending fear that I will lose it. I used to love Pentel Rolling Writer pens, but one day they disappeared without explanation from the shelves of Staples and Office Depot. There were plenty of "new" choices, and I bought a box of "gel" pens, which I stuck on the shelf, eventually to discover (long after I'd lost the receipt) that they are worthless. They don't write. Maddening.
The Pentel Rolling Writer is still made by Pentel, and it is still available at Amazon.com, where it has drawn rave reviews. So why was it removed from the mega stores? Marketing? Advertising? What have these things to do with quality or functionality?
What really fries me is when I can't buy just a plain old standard, no-frills, no-fuss item. Ever try to find, for example, plain yogurt in a supermarket? Sometimes it's impossible, as there are dozens of new flavors and brands, all crowding the shelves, and no room for the plain (which is of course treated as only one flavor among the dozens). Add to that the fact that there are many crackpots like me who only want the plain, and it will sell out first, leaving only the dozens of new flavors and brands. A little like trying to buy a men's size small sweater. Corporate bureaucrats in the Midwest somewhere decide that there should be only so many smalls to make room for the medium, large, extra large, and extra extra large. But in many cities, there are more small men than ever before. Asians and Latino men are generally smaller than white or black men, so in a city like San Francisco with a large Asian and Latino population, this guarantees that there aren't enough. Plus, women who buy men's sweaters usually buy size small. So do boys. I'll never forget the time I was laughed at by a clerk in a San Francisco Macy's, simply because I asked where to find the men's small sweaters.
"Oh, they always sell out the same day we get them!" he giggled (a little too gleefully, I thought).
Of course it wasn't his fault, just as it wasn't the fault of the people who decided to have Harvard Business School MBAs with no experience in the real world make inventory decisions that violate basic common sense.
Such is life in corporate America.
The other night I needed mouse traps, so I went to the same supermarket where I've always bought them, in search of plain snapping mouse traps.
This kind of trap -- the kind invented in the 1890s -- which not only catch mice, but dispatch them in a generally humane manner.
There were none to be found. There were several poisons from which to select. No good, as what's toxic to mice is toxic to dogs. There were also glue traps, which strike me as a pretty cruel way to dispatch a mouse. Not that I'm hung up on being kind to disease-spreading varmints which don't belong in my house and are fouling my food, but they're only doing what mice do to survive, and I don't believe it should be necessary to torture them to death for that. An animal rights nut I am not, but I won't buy the glue traps.
Now, I realize that most people would think of that as the most "humane" sort of trap. But is it really? Wild animals are not like dogs or cats; their instinct is to do anything possible to escape. Trapped animals will chew off a limb to get free from leghold traps, and it doesn't take much imagination to realize that a mouse trapped in a tiny plastic box would go totally nuts and exhaust itself trying to get out. They need water and food, and there wouldn't be any, which means unless you're anally retentive about checking the traps constantly, the "humane" trap would become a torture chamber for the mouse. Not as bad as a glue trap, perhaps, but almost. Plus, even if you're right there, what the hell do you do with the mouse? Let it loose outside? That's where it came from in the first place, and like most wild animals, they are territorial, and could thus be expected to find their way back to your kitchen.
Which would mean you'd have to take the thing to the car and drive it somewhere, and then let it go in a totally alien environment. More than likely, this would result in a death sentence for the mouse, which would have no familiar burrow, shelter, or customary food supply. If it was lucky, it would get picked off by a cat or a hawk.
No; I just want these little invaders dead, and as quickly as humanely possible.
Eventually, I did find what appears to be the latest "new and improved" version of the 1890s snaptrap.
At $5.99 for two, it was more money than I'd have paid for the old-fashioned kind of snapping traps, but it was late at night and the extra buck or so I might save didn't seem worth the time. I thought to ask a clerk whether they still had the old style traps and he said if they weren't there, they didn't have it. (Impeccable logic, I admit. Now why didn't I think of that?)
So I brought them home, baited one with peanut butter (which has never failed me as mouse bait) and set it up in the trouble zone. It didn't take more than a couple of hours for a commotion report to reach my ears. I went in there, and sure enough, a mouse had been nailed!
"Finally!" I thought. Picking up the trap, I walked over to the trash can to spring the jaws and drop the "dead" mouse inside. No sooner did I do that than the mouse instantly leapt from the trap with a kangaroo kick from hell, and started running around on the floor, looking not much the worse for its ordeal!
"Those bastards!" I thought. Not only have they made an inferior mousetrap that doesn't kill mice, but they've made it more expensive to boot! But my thoughts quickly turned to the poor mouse, which I did not want to leave alive and rattled. I grabbed the broom and persuaded it to go into the corner behind one side of the trashcan, then readied my foot on the other for the moment of truth. Another nudge with the broom caused the mouse to come dashing from the corner towards my waiting foot, and then SPLUT! It was over. No, I am not quite morbid enough to take blood and guts pictures for the blog (this is not Peligro! or Alarma!), but trust me, it was gross, and I don't think I should have been forced into the role of brutal mouse butcherer just before bedtime.
Why does it say "KILLS MICE" in large letters?
The spring in this stupid thing is weaker than a binder clip. Or, for that matter, a clothespin. To test it, I stuck my finger into the trap, and it shut with all the power of a rubber band. No pain at all; it was about as painful as it would be to close a book on my hand.
To the company's credit, the box does say "Safer Around Children and Pets." I'll say. I don't have kids, but Coco would probably wag her tail in amusement if this thing snapped on her nose. It should say "Safer Around Mice!" and maybe "KILLS MICE (if you leave them stuck in the trap for at least 24 hours; otherwise it merely makes them hysterical)."
Who would come up with such an inane design for a mousetrap? I'm thinking that maybe it resulted from lawsuits, but what kind of person would sue over a mousetrap injury? The most you'd expect from a normal snaptrap would be a bruised finger, unless you let your two year old play with it, and what kind of moron parent allows children to play with set mousetraps? If it has come to that -- if lawsuits have generated mousetraps that are "safer around children" but won't kill mice -- it's another example of how "safety" is ruining the quality of life, and ultimately threatening health and safety. In this instance I don't think the culprits are the safety Nazis, but more likely the trial lawyers, who believe in making things better by making them worse so they can make more money.
Out of irritation as well as curiosity, I decided to conduct a search for mousetrap lawsuits. The first one I found was a man who sued because he was dumb enough to stick his penis in a mousetrap. Sorry, but that does not merit a product redesign, and more than would a penis/vacuum cleaner mishap.
Mousetraps were not broken, and did not have to be fixed.
While I couldn't find any cases, in product liability law, there does seem to be a "safer mousetrap" theory, and the idea is that the tort system provides a manufacturer with an incentive to come up with a safer design:
Fortunately, by making manufacturers liable to the people they have injured, the once-revered common law tort system creates an incentive for the manufacturer to build a safer mousetrap.But if a safer mousetrap doesn't kill mice (and instead only tortures them), what's the point?
To illustrate, I made the following video in which I demonstrated how safe the mousetrap is:
I wouldn't want to do that with a traditional mousetrap, as it might affect my ability to blog about life in modern corporate America.
posted by Eric on 03.12.08 at 04:31 PM
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