Consider the Peanut Butter Jar

In an age when product containers can easily and almost costlessly be shaped at the whim of their issuers, why does peanut butter continue to come in tall jars rather than squat tubs?

A corporate PR department would surely assert that it’s because that’s what people are used to and expect.

That, of course, is 99% horse feathers.

The real reason is salable waste, aka planned osolescence.

Tall, narrow containers make it needlessly difficult to use all the sticky, amorphous gels residing in them. This structural difficulty, in turn, leads to a small but meaningful amount of the peanut butter being throw away, rather than used. It means, on average, people buy the next jar of peanut butter a day earlier than they would if the stuff came in a short, wide tub that permitted easy access to the last portions.

If you have been around big-brand peanut butter lately, you’ll know that this point stands double. Nationally advertised peanut butter jars are not just tall cylinders, but, within that form, are fairly riddled with flanges and recesses that heighten the difficulty of using the last spoonfuls. Why?

Again, there’s only one plausible answer — the obvious one: Corporate capitalist product planners want us to throw away some of what they know we want and need.

Interestingly, this very example was apparently central to the career of Brooks Stevens, the industrial designer who first publicly enunciated/acknowledged the concept of “planned obsolescence.” Here is how Stevens, near the end of his life, explained his early entry into a field in which he eventually became a superstar:

Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches inspired one of Brooks Stevens’s simplest and most ubiquitous designs.

“I loved peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mr. Stevens says. But the jars the peanut butter came in were tall with small caps. “I could never get the peanut butter out of the shoulders of the jar.”

“So I squared up the jar,” he recalls. “And then I made the opening the full diameter of the width of the jar, so that it was a big circle and had a big cap. Then you could get it all out of there.”

The obvious question for Stevens was why he stopped there. Why not go from jar to tub?

The answer was inherent in the job description of the modern corporate capitalist product engineer:

[The industrial designer] has to be a salesman, an engineer, a manufacturer — in the sense of knowledgeable about process and materials — and an artist, and in that order.

-Brooks Stevens to The Chroncile of Higher Education, September 16, 1992

It bears repeating, and remembering: Salesman, then engineer…in that order.

Fusion and Fission

The next phase of the “electric vehicles” haloware operation is apparently going to lead to a big build-out of charging stations.

Unsurprisingly, the stations are being planned as nodes for further communicating to “shoppers at retail and essential business locations– seconds before they select a brand.” As interfaces for big business marketing operations (including advertising and data scraping), that is.

The image above, from one of the aspiring installers, is fascinating at several levels. Where, for starters, are the actual automobiles? There’s one way across the scene, curiously NOT being charged.

More fundamentally, this depiction shows a society whose cultural planners have no intention of offering up anything but more of the same, come Hell and/or high water.

Shop til you drop, babies!

Frederick Douglass in Your Kitchen

“Power concedes nothing.” So observed Frederick Douglass in an 1857 speech, 30 years before Lord Acton’s famous riff on the point.

The point applies at all levels of applied power, too.

Very probably, we presently live in the early stages of a world-historic ecological crisis requiring a collective acknowledgement that the teenage fantasy of endless wealth accumulation can’t work. I order to save civilization, we will have to make huge changes in our main institutional priorities. The way we design and make products will have to be very seriously altered.

Soon. Like yesterday.

Meanwhile, despite this, per Douglass, power concedes nothing:

Behold Lasso, the (supposedly) forthcoming kitchen appliance for sorting and packaging your recycling!

Here is how Engadget describes this dishwasher-sized machine’s ideal operation:

The still-in-development Lasso will have a vertical slot or tray for depositing items. A series of cameras and sensors will then analyse the packaging and decide if it’s recyclable. No good? Then the object will be returned to you, rather like a vending machine spitting out change. Otherwise, the material will be steam-cleaned to remove leftover food, grease, dirt and labels. Finally, it will be ground down and placed in a dedicated compartment at the bottom of the Lasso. When one or all of these boxes are full, you’ll use a smartphone app to organize a kerbside collection. A driver can then pick it up…

Yes, nothing could possibly break in that chain, could it?

Meanwhile, the entire scam here presumes continuing purchaser ignorance about the severe limitations of recycling.

As social order that permits its runaway elite to continue to pursue endless commercialism and commodification is not long for this planet. Yet, here we see it — redoubling, as always.

Power, remember, concedes nothing.

Prevagen is Fraud-in-a-Bottle

Prevagen, modern-day snake oil sold by Quincy Bioscience, was sued for being the fraud that it is, but remains as heavily marketed as ever.

Quincy sells Prevagen by saying it is the “#1 Pharmacist Recommended Brand,” based on a survey of pharmacists that is as crooked as Prevagen itself.

Here, meanwhile, is some of what the American Pharmacists Association says about Prevagen:

A calcium binding protein originally derived from jellyfish, apoaequorin (Prevagen—Quincy Bioscience) is widely advertised for memory enhancement. Although several animal studies on its safety have been published, human data on its efficacy are limited to published abstracts or studies posted on the company’s website.3 Of note, as a protein, apoaequorin is unlikely to be absorbed to a significant degree; instead it degrades into amino acids.


What to tell patients


Memory problems are a concern for many older adults. Pharmacists should educate patients that normal cognitive aging occurs and is not a disease. Regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, social engagement and lifelong learning, as well as the avoidance of inappropriate medications, are essential and likely possess additional health benefits. 


Although supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids have been promoted for improving memory, trial results have been mixed. No benefit was shown in a major rigorous study, even with omega-3 fatty acids.7 Human data on apoaequorin are limited to small, company-sponsored trials that do not meet expected scientific standards.


The chancers at Quincy Bioscience ought to be jailed and deprived, down to the last penny, of all monies they’ve stolen over the years.

Meanwhile, such is still the stuff of mass media sponsorship in the United States.

Robert Heilbroner lies, as ever, a-spinning in his grave.

Ann Druyan Gets Her Hicksie

Ann Druyan, widow and proprietor of the estate of Carl Sagan, is the newest recipient of the much-uncoveted Golden Hicksie Award, which TCT distributes to dishonor especially egregious sell-outs.

Sagan, of course, remains one of the most famous and forceful expositors of scientific worry over our social order’s continuing destruction of its own ecological basis.

Which makes it especially galling that his life-partner and executor is now licensing his image and words to sell Jeeps.

Druyan seems to have been wooed into this disgusting pratfall by the perhaps debonnair and certainly oh-so-French chief of marketing at Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, le monsieur Olivier Francois.

Here is how Druyan described her Hicksie-worthy blunder to Automotive Age:

“He said, Annie, we built you a car. And I was so flattered and delighted,” says Druyan, a longtime writer and producer and founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios, a maker of science-based entertainment.

The “car for her” in question is, of course, an available “electric” option on your new Jeep!

This unexamined, brazenly unscientific (yet heavily sponsored) presumption — that “electric” automobiles are somehow meaningfully better for Earth than small gasoline cars — is about to become a platform plank in a certain kind of deeply dangerous liberal practicality. It is, among other things, now an official selling point for California’s power elite.

Meanwhile, ponder the manifold uber-Orwellian dimensions of the marketing campaign Druyan has allowed FCA to promulgate:

“To explore and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.” That, friends, is one of the taglines.

We could conduct a week-long workshop on the multiple perversities of just this single sentence.

So to Ann Druyan, TCT says it: For shame! You have managed to make turds fall out of Carl Sagan’s mouth.