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, 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.

Mouse Trap.jpg

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.

They also had live mouse traps for sale which looked like this:


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.

One question.

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


You crack me up!

Well capitalism isn't perfect, but no one ever said that it was - like Democracy it just happens to be better than the alternatives - probably has something to do with the silly notion of individual liberty and that old Declaration of Independence.

They say perfect is the enemy of good, and so it is; because under communism, which we all know is a perfect economic system where everyone is equal - that is equally poor, well, almost everyone is equally poor, you just have to overlook those in the government who watch over you from the top of the heap - you would stand in a long line for many hours to buy a single government brand of bread from a government bread store - if they didn't run out of government bread that is.

So, three cheers for that crappy mousetrap and for the creative people who designed it. I think they'll keep trying.

Ronald   ·  March 12, 2008 5:53 PM

The old Victor mousetrap is still the most efficient mouse eradication device this side of an underfed cat.

I live in an old dirt floor cellar house. Mice are a fact of life. My brace of cats takes care of most of the issues; those mice sly enough to avoid the cats run into the basic Victor trap baited with peanut butter (agreed, best mouse bait ever).

Most of the modern traps are designed so that the trapper never need see the dead mouse and can dispose of the trap & mouse as a unit. Me, I want repeated production from my 79 cent investment. I've got traps that have killed so many mice that "kill notches" would have eliminated all the wood.

Captain Ned   ·  March 12, 2008 6:48 PM

Go to Family Dollar or Dollar General et al.
4 old fashion mouse traps for $1.00.

dre   ·  March 12, 2008 6:49 PM

Actually, terriers are more effective than cats. Cats may play with their food, but they kill to eat. Terriers kill for fun.

Byna   ·  March 12, 2008 6:50 PM


Yep, and it greatly eases the disposal problem. Both cats are kind enough to hurl out the hairballs outdoors.

Captain Ned   ·  March 12, 2008 8:15 PM

Most every hardware store I've gone into has the Victor or the equivalent in stock. Agway has the rat sizes, too. Good for red squirrels, chipmunks, terriers, etc. ;-)

And there's nothing better than peanut butter. I put a little in a scrap of paper towel so the mouse has to tug at it and ... snap! Some old fashioned Quaker Oats make a good attractant bait also. But it PB in the trap.

joated   ·  March 12, 2008 9:23 PM

Yes, the cruelty of kindness to animals.

We get into this foolishness because we anthropomorphize non-sentient creatures. Raised on Berenstain Bears and a thousand other talking animals, we grow up believing that Billy Bass and Sammy Squirrel have rich, fulfilling family and social lives and think like us, only smaller, and with odd voices. Thus we make traps that we think would bother us less if we were the mouse. It's worse for the mouse.

No worries, though, as the mouse was never the point for the animal-identifiers. They get to feel good about themselves as kindly human beings and Friends of Nature.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  March 13, 2008 8:41 AM

Good point on the yogurt. I use it only in recipes--and none of my recipes call for the dizzying array of artificial flavors touted in the TV ads. Will no one here speak up for the animal rights of those little yogurt cultures? Don't they gag on the raspberries?

I can't get past the idea that "shelf space" marketing agreements have a lot to do with what is available in stores. Perhaps it's just that chain marketers no longer care to compete with the internet, but every time I venture into a grocery (or the few remaining department stores) it's more like GUM: one premium brand, one special-purchase this week only, and the store brand. I can recall stores stocking every line of goods just to show off how much was available. Those days are gone and it's very depressing. I once toured the abandoned Sears Homart shipping center (at Homes & Arthington), and by God they really did have everything.

It may have something to do with the uniformity of taste in my "I'm-diverse-too" generation, or the very tight inventory control by computerized "corporate" (that's what the Kroger managers say when I complain). But it looks all third-world to me, and I have to order my important stuff on line.

The mouse trap was invented by Hiram Maxim. For that and the one other thing, the world really did beat a pathway to his door.

comatus   ·  March 13, 2008 12:11 PM

I agree with you 100% about mousetraps.

Recently I too bought those Tomcat mousetraps. I also agree that they are too weak to kill mice. It's ridiculous.

There's also a version of the original mouse trap that you have to watch out for. This version of the wooden mouse trap has been "improved" with plastic cheese. The latch on trap has been replaced with a square piece of plastic cheese. They did this because it's easier to set up.

The problem is the plastic is so soft that the end of the latching bar can dig into the plastic which makes the trap hard to trip.


Andy   ·  March 13, 2008 1:20 PM

I have a great way to tell when a new product will fail: I will like it.

It is a test that has been without fail for a few decades, which makes me then use old, staid products. Of course the moment I do that it becomes 'New and Improved!' and here I am liking 'Old and Indifferent!'. Some of this 'change' is pernicious, such as the reformulation of soaps, detergents, or such minor things as deodorants or the type of jeans I wear.

The original Levi's relaxed fit jeans, that were actually quite sturdy enough for rock climbing? Gone in a couple of years.

Nike Oceania II's? Gone and done in two years (and, yes, I still have an old pair re-soled that are going on over 20 years old and now, finally, coming apart).

Saccharine Pepsi Light? Sorry, Nutrasweet replaced it, and my body hates the stuff.

The original 'buckling spring' IBM keyboard I can *still* buy from UNICOMP and they will outlast civilization or a decade of hard coding... I was bereft when my first one died in the mid-1990's but glad to find them barely made to this day.

Cloverine salve? I missed that for decades and now I can find it with the era of the 'net! Amazing! Of course it was first manufactured in 1862, so misses the rule...

Breath 'O Pine? Still made, just not distributed anywhere near me and shipping costs are through the nose. I will break down and pay for that one day... it also misses the rule, having started production in the 1930's if memory serves...

Cheer detergent went through a single 'New and Improved' and I could not stand the smell of clothes nor how they felt in that formula.

Ditto Tide detergent.

The huge Kleenex facial tissues, that one could actually sneeze into and have space left for a second sneeze into fresh tissue? Dead as the Dodo from what I can see.

Old Spice nearly killed itself for me, down to one single stick because of a 'New and Improved' cycle, but *LO!* they dropped it and went back to 'Old and Indifferent'.

Hot mustard sauce for McNuggets (not the junk that claimed that name later, but the original)? Zip.

Neutrogena facial creme (that stuff does work for 24 hours and needs little of it)? It is dying right now, with prices going through the roof and supply limited.

Denquel? *Poof* gone one fine day back in the '80s.

Orange sweetened Nestea? Heh. I liked it, in a year it was gone.

This list goes on and on, time and again I find I am using something not quite as good or actually far worse than a previous product or formulation of same. The idea of expanding market share is to ensure your entrenched market is still served and then add variants to get new folks in to use products. The moment you change an established product, you are letting that customer base know: Nice knowing you, it is worth losing you to get *new* customers. Ones that may never show up or, like New Coke, actually shift their drinking habits to something else.

Now, if I like a product, I buy as much as will keep and store... for I know there will be a day when it will not be there as I like it...

ajacksonian   ·  March 13, 2008 1:51 PM

By the way, you can reuse those traps, so really they're cheaper in the long run.

Montjoie   ·  March 14, 2008 7:43 PM

We found a new Victor model at Home Depot that works great. I like it better than the old one.

It's plastic, but it's a lot easier to set up without having it accidently snap, and the large pressure plate that the mouse has to step on to get to the bait ensures that even a very dainty mouse won't get the bait without tripping the trap. It's easier to release a dead rodent into a bag for disposal, too. The one time it didn't kill instantly was when a large rat got caught, but the trap snapped on him between his nose and his eyes. There was a pool of blood and struggled a bit, and apparently died of suffocation. I felt bad, that was a bad way to go, but even that's better than poison or dehydration.

Larry   ·  March 15, 2008 11:35 AM

The livetraps aren't for everyone, but I love 'em. Ten years back, when I was a nocturnal teenager, I bought a couple to clear the mice out of my folks' basement. I grew to enjoy the telltale click of the traps as I sat playing video games through the night. I didn't drive the beasties anywhere, I just walked a block and released them in an empty lot, but I never had problems with re-entry. I trapped about a dozen over the course of a week, and I haven't seen a mouse in that house to this day.

Lawful Neutral   ·  March 21, 2008 4:42 AM

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