Thursday, January 29, 2009

R.I.P. Baltimore Examiner

Another paper bites the dust
as freebie not-quite-daily folds

The Baltimore Examiner announced its death today, effective with its edition of Sunday, Feb. 15, bringing an end to a local experiment in daily journalism: Give it away for free.

It was a money-losing proposition from the get-go, but owner Clarity Media Group said it had banked on revenue growth through eventual synergy with its sister Washington Examiner some 40 miles down the highway.

Didn’t happen. The company blamed the economy, which indisputably has cut deeply into advertising revenue through the newspaper industry. But when it’s hard enough to make money giving news away for free online, you have to question the model of giving it away for free in print.

To my view, the Baltimore Examiner was a noble experiment in that it brought a little competition to a monopoly news organization, The Baltimore Sun – my longtime employer. Unfortunately, the economy conspired there, too, so instead of improving the product, The Sun has gradually downsized itself.

The Examiner was launched in April 2006, a little more than a year before I retired – so I had a good view about how it was regarded by The Sun: Not highly. The new paper, a tabloid, initially seemed helter-skelter in its presentation of the news, and the stories were of necessity brief. A lot of little stories and, for awhile, swimming in ample space that served to scatter them.

At first determined not to be beaten/embarrassed by the Examiner on breaking news, the novelty soon wore off, and The Sun focused less on the little competitor and more on its strengths in news coverage and newspaper design. And for the most part, Sun readers wanted that paper – after all, they were paying for it.

The Examiner’s delivery brought annoyance from many who professed not to want it, but found it on their lawn on driveway or sidewalk each day. That’s a problem when, at first, you declare a daily circulation of a quarter-million and start throwing it around willy-nilly. Its target was upscale neighborhoods that advertisers would want to reach, but the audience had more sophistication than the Examiner’s overall content.

And some who wanted the newspaper found they could not count on its arrival. In my suburban neighborhood, the Examiner was there for a while, then vanished, then would show up sometimes, then disappear again. (In its delivery heyday locally, I could walk along a neighboring street late at night and find that morning’s Examiner lying untouched on half of the driveways.)

Recently, the Examiner opted to change its model to home delivery only on Thursdays and Sundays. But I never saw one on my lawn or driveway, or even in the gutter. On rare occasions I’d spot it on a driveway along a nearby street, usually having been left lying on the concrete for days in its thin plastic bag.

Always, there was the newspaper’s Web site – every bit as free as the print edition. And when the Examiner cut back home delivery (keeping a smaller daily in-town distribution through vending boxes), it promoted the daily Web edition as an alternative.

There were readers – or professed readers – who were outspoken in their belief that The Sun was a blatantly left-leaning newspaper, and favored the Examiner’s conservative voice. (The Examiner endorsed McCain/Palin in the presidential election, and its editorials and some opinion articles leaned well to the right of Maryland’s and Baltimore’s largely Democratic bent.)

To add local voice, the Examiner hired conservative black columnist Gregory Kane, who took a buyout in leaving The Sun for what, sadly, turned out not to be a long-term gig. It also brought aboard Michael Olesker, a liberal-leaning columnist who had written for Hearst’s long-gone Baltimore News American before putting in two decades at The Sun (his career there sadly ending amid complaints of plagiarism, which could just as well have been due to profound carelessness or laziness on his part).

They both were friends of mine at The Sun and, like me, are graduates of Baltimore City College (third-oldest public high school in the nation). Olesker and I were in the same 10th-grade homeroom. So I greatly grieved his exit from The Sun, and was glad to see him surface at the Examiner.

Another old Sun friend, Gary Gately, came aboard at the Examiner for a year as an assistant managing editor – until the newspaper decided it had too many assistant managing editors and bid him bye-bye. But during his tenure, for the few months I worked two blocks away editing at the weekly Baltimore Business Journal, I’d wander past the Pratt Street office tower housing his newspaper and usually find him on a cigarette break with colleagues. So I got to meet quite a few of the Examiner’s reporters and editors.

A casual conversation with Gately and sports editor Jon Gallo led to a freelance venture writing stories on new Baltimore Orioles baseball players, providing me with press credentials for spring training in Florida last year. I’d always wanted to write baseball stories, and the Examiner bought and published seven from me. I worked a little harder than one might imagine during a nearly two-week stint in Florida, but got to see plenty of baseball – and in the end managed to keep my expenses low enough so that they pretty much matched the income. (Tax bite: Zero.)

The Sun had three folks covering spring training, while the Examiner was relying on the Associated Press. It left an opening for my freelance opportunity – one that I wasn’t going to have anywhere else. For that, thanks, Examiner! (And if any other news organization around town is looking for some freelance coverage this year, I’m very available….)

It also provided a regular check for my friend Rafael Alvarez who, after taking his buyout from The Sun, tried his hand at television writing (The Wire series on HBO, and the first season of Life on NBC before being fired after the writers’ strike) and then expanded his newspaper freelancing.

So the Examiner has been good to some of my friends, and a place for news folks to hang a hat and ply their trade for the benefit of however many folks actually read the newspaper.

I hope a lot of folks were reading it, and that they’ll miss it.

Good or bad, depending on your view, it was a real newspaper. And its death further diminishes an ailing industry.

Locally, there’s still The Sun – although a much smaller newspaper than the one I worked at for 40 years. Its daily business and metro news sections have been incorporated into the main news section, its foreign bureaus are gone, its once-vaunted national reporting minimized. Sports and features sections are smaller.

Hardly a wonder people are looking elsewhere for news these days.

The Fourth Estate is simply a mess.

Today’s fortune cookie message

All your hard work will soon be paid off.

Daily number: 018

Friday, January 23, 2009

Your turn: Emails, we get emails...

Malware, grocery surprises,
word clouds are among topics
drawing amusing responses

I've been accumulating reader comment, thinking it would make for a lazy-day blog -- then spent a lot of lazy days neither posting fresh stuff nor putting out your messages.

True, your comments can already be found under the relevant postings, but how many folks actually read the comments? Hard enough getting folks just to read my blog!

And this way, I not only get to put your thoughts front and center, but to make my own, hopefully entertaining, comments on your comments. So here goes, in reverse chronological order, time to open the email/comment in-box.

The Muck account of Edgar Allan Poe’s bicentennial celebration, and the mystery surrounding his death in 1849 brought this offering from a reader identified only as “Jupiter”:

FYI - A novel entitled "Imp: Being the Lost Notebooks of Rufus Wilmot Griswold in the Matter of the Death of Edgar Allan Poe," relates the last mysterious week of the tortured soul's life. It draws on many of Poe's short stories and portrays the poet himself as "The Imp of the Perverse," and reveals his fate to be much the same as Mr. V. Unfortunately it seems to be unavailable though it won a British literary award from the London Crime Writers Association.

Well, Jupiter, the important thing to know about Griswold is that his account of Poe’s demise was quickly discredited – and that he tried to cash in on Poe’s death by marketing his literary works for his own benefit. Griswold, alas, was a lying scumbag.

The posting on Barack Obama’s speech as a “word cloud” and its link to the fuller version in the Journeys blog of Muck-in-Chief’s s wife/art director Bonnie Schupp, brought this from our friend Rosemary the Journalism Professor:

Pretty interesting. I may just switch to reading her blog, David.

No comment.

“When less is more,” the rant on deceptive shrinking of the contents of consumer goods sold in supermarkets, brought this from the Muck-in-Chief’s second ex-wife Kathleen:

I remember you joyously picking up extra copies of the newspaper on coupon day, trying to get Maxwell House 3 oz coffee for free, and just having a great time digging up bargains. Thanks for the memory.

Well, I’ve always been cheap. The only thing better than getting it free is making a profit in purchasing an item. But as far as I can tell, even the self-checkout register won’t ring up a minus-total and spill out money like a slot machine. Damn.

And “anonymous” wrote:

Yogurt. No more 8oz containers -- now it's in 6oz micro-mini-buckets. Same price ... a 33% increase on a per-oz basis. I shop at the food outlet now, and the supposedly middle-class folks there are in about equal numbers with the obvious poor. The upscale supermarket owners can go jump in a lake.

But mostly it’s not the supermarkets shrinking the goods – it’s the manufacturers. Supermarkets supposedly have operated for years on profit margins as low as 1 percent. I suspect that figure is bogus, however, since major chains also make out on their own custom-brand products. But competition is fierce, and keeps prices from getting out of hand in areas where consumers have the widest choices of where to spend their money. I feel sorry for folks living in areas where there’s little or no competition, however.

Mitchell, adding his thought to the issue of shrinking rolls of toilet tissue:

My ass may be the same size; it's hard to look behind you, and my wife knows better than to give an honest opinion. However the issue with toilet paper is not the size of the ass as much as the size of the... output.

That’s a lot of crap.

And Rosemary observes:

As to your conclusion here -- actually our asses might be getting smaller. Simply by eating the same as usual -- you've shown we are eating less -- so the shrinkage could transfer.

On what to do with that extra second added on New Year’s Eve to 2008 on the planet’s official atomic clock, I was saddened to find that it was ticked off earlier in the evening than I supposed – not at the stroke of midnight. So I probably wasted it. Mitchell had a good idea for his second, however – in fact, you may have noticed that Mitchell has a good idea (or at least a funny idea) on any subject:

I used the extra second to feel sympathetic toward George W. Bush. Seemed like the longest second of my life. Get out of town, Dubya!

He did.

And another “anonymous,” who on this comment signed off as my regular reader and old pal Barry, seconded this way:

I'm starting my 25 volume life history, oops the second is over. Well maybe next time. Back to my eggnog.

Ellroon left a laudatory comment on Bonnie’s ‘Blogistic” guest posting here, on her successful battle to purge her computer of malware:

My daughter wants to know what kind of scented candle you like so she can light it in your honor. I have just reformatted my computer because of the Vundo and Virtumonde viruses and she had just gotten a new motherboard and freshing reloaded XP and found to her horror her computer already was infected. We used Malwarebytes and it cleaned her computer right up! Thanks for raging against the idiots who love to create these things. They need to be blindfolded and bound in a room full of angry mothers with red hot kitchen utensils...

Bonnie’s computer has been humming along since then. Alas, her workhorse Epson Stylus Photo 1270 printer (which we used for everything except Bonnie’s quality photo printing) seems to be fried. All the warning lights blink, and nothing happens – a problem that arose this week, a short time after an ink canister was replaced. It printed normally for a few pages, then decided it was not going to function anymore. Blink, blink, blink... guess that’s what designers consider a cute way of saying the machine is on the blink. Anyone need a very large paperweight?

The malware posting is the most-visited in this blog, and Ellroon was just one of several readers who credited Bonnie and Malwarebytes with solving identical problems.

On my blog introduction early last month of fortune cookie messages, Mitchell offers a trip down memory lane:

Here's a fortune cookie story you might not remember: My girlfriend (Garnetta?) and I met you for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Glen Burnie. As a gag gift, we brought you a box of MISFortune Cookies, guaranteed to have a buzz-kill of a message in each cookie. Just then a young female colleague of yours showed up, fresh from a vacation to somewhere in South America. As she stood there and described in glorious detail the young stud she hooked up with while she was there, you silently handed her one of the aforementioned MISFortune Cookies. She opened it, read the fortune, and her face turned deathly pale. You picked up the slip of paper, read it, and handed it to me; on it was printed a single word: "FERTILITY."

I remember it well, except the restaurant was a few miles south, in Severna Park. It is long closed, and for the young lady in question, who met the guy at Machu Picchu, the fortune could just as well have read “DIVORCE.”

Happily, the young lady went on to a fine career as a foreign correspondent for another newspaper – one that still has a strong commitment to international reporting.

And now, what you've all been waiting for:

Today's fortune cookie message

You have an unusually magnetic personality.
(As long as it don't erase the hard drive....)

Daily number: 754

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama speech as 'Word Cloud'

(By Bonnie Schupp)
Obama "Wordle": Word size shows frequency of use.

Compare their speeches:
Obama, Lincoln, FDR, King

Bonnie Schupp's blog Journeys offers "Wordle" depictions of Barack Obama's inaugural address, as well as those of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural, FDR's "The only thing we have to fear...." and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream."

For the comparison, visit Bonnie's blog for an explanation of how it works and to click on the image there to see larger views.

And her observation for today: Great day for gardening! We pulled up a Bush and sowed seeds of hope!

Inauguration Day

America awakens to hope,
promise as long national
nightmare ends

Well, maybe that’s premature. You hope the nightmare is at least beginning to end. For the mess that Barack Obama inherited just past noon today is not going to disappear anytime soon.

But as Obama observed in his inaugural speech before a crowd that could have been the largest ever assembled on the planet, the ground underfoot surely has shifted. You could sense, if not literally feel, the earth move.

Watching George W. Bush & Co. stride down the back steps of the Capitol to the waiting helicopter, and the Strangelovian image of Dick Cheney in a wheelchair – putting a large glove on his hand to complete the picture – in their departure from the world stage was stunning.

For all the joy experienced by the uncountable hundreds of thousands who endured the cold to watch the inauguration from the packed National Mall facing the elevated stage below the Capitol, my living room was a great place to witness history, too, on a wide-screen, high-def TV.

It’s a tradition, if a far cry from the tiny black-and-white TV on which I watched the first inauguration I can sort of remember – that of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. I recall we were sent home early from school for the occasion; I was in second grade then, at Baltimore’s old Louisa May Alcott School No. 59. I can’t really remember Eisenhower taking the oath, but I at least have the dim memory of watching the parade.

How much, after all, does one remember from being a 7-year-old sitting on the floor in front of a fuzzy, low-def, small-screen TV. But there’s just enough there to make the pomp and pageantry seem familiar and comforting, and now all the more powerful emotionally when the inauguration represents so clearly a fork in the road of history.

America is continuing its journey. A fork is not a right turn, or a left. It is a bearing of direction, a shift.

But this fork seems wider than others.

There’s no map, no way to see ahead – only hope that we’re finally on the right path.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A little Poesy

Eddie's grave in Baltimore (Photo by Bonnie Schupp)

A shame that he’s long gone:
He might have liked the party

Today is my old friend Eddie’s birthday. I once was obsessed with Eddie, back in the days when I wrote sappy poetry. (Not that I’ve written many poems that weren’t sappy, although I never wrote one for him!)

Eddie’s brief life was full of woe – between the women and the booze, rejection by relatives, deceit from supposed friends, he was troubled. Haunted even. I suspect there was never a woman he loved, unrequited or otherwise, whom he didn’t imagine locked away in a sepulchre. Preferably one at the seaside.

And then there was the bird. The poor man is probably better remembered for his bird than his larger body of published work.

You’ve doubtless guessed by now, given the photo above , that my old “friend” is Edgar Allan Poe, who would have been 200 years old today – had he lived. (I stole that last turn of phrase from my pal Rafael Alvarez, who once used it for a Baltimore Sun story on George Washington’s birthday... writing something to the effect of “...Washington, who would have been 258 yesterday had he lived.”)

Poe died and was twice buried in Baltimore. (There’s a fate: Being buried twice in Baltimore, and sharing his later plot with both his cousin/bride and aunt/mother-in-law.)

Different plots, same cemetery, at the southeast corner of Fayette and Greene streets. What once was the Westminster Presbyterian Church, built over part of the cemetery, was acquired by the University of Maryland School of Law and now is overseen by a trust. It is used for lectures and special events that this weekend included the first of several Poe Bicentennial celebrations planned this year.

There’s several cities laying claim to Poe: Richmond, Va., where he was raised; and Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, where he variously lived and wrote his enormous legacy of poems and tales which include the roots of detective stories and science fiction.

Poe residences survive in the latter three cities, the oldest of them in Baltimore where he lived for a time with his eventual bride Virginia, who was just 13 when they wed, and his aunt (her mother) Maria Clemm.

Psychiatrists would have had a field day with Poe, who lost his mother as a young child and saw his wife withering away from “consumption” in her early 20s. But his obsession with the likes of death and premature burial, and his elegiac poems to lost loves, are rooted in his suffering. He remains an archetype of the pained artist.

When Poe died in Baltimore in October 1849, a few days after being found incoherent, it only figures that the demise of the 40-year-old writer of the macabre would itself become a mystery. One of many theories was that he was plied with alcohol and “cooped” to vote at various polling places for an election, then cast out into the damp weather. A few years ago, in an annual meeting of forensic experts at which a celebrated death is examined, the assembled doctors suggested he died of rabies.

That’s scary! Maybe I should stop feeding the squirrels on my back porch....

Baltimore doesn’t get a lot of respect, so holding onto the Poe legacy is locally important. When folks in Philadelphia recently suggested moving Poe’s remains there, it created an amusing but meaningless media flap – after all, nobody is about to dig him up. But the publicity hardly hurts whatever tourism Poe generates.

The annual birthday celebration is orchestrated by Jeff Jerome, longtime curator of the Poe House and Museum a few blocks to the west where Eddie resided in the early 1830s – more than a century before public housing was constructed adjoining the now end-of-row building, and eventual community decay made the neighborhood scarier than Poe’s stories. (It is an adventure driving past drug corners to reach the landmark in the 200 block of N. Amity St.)

For the bicentennial program Saturday and Sunday, actors and puppeteers staged Poe’s “Hop Frog” and “The Tell Tale Heart,” and John Astin (Gomez on TV’s “The Addams Family,” now teaching theater at Johns Hopkins University, and noted for his one-man show portraying Poe) delivered a heartfelt tribute with readings of some notable PoeMs including “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven,” and the creepy tale “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”

In the latter, the narrator relates his experiment in “mesmerizing” an elderly man on the verge of death, and how afterward he lingered in a state of seeming suspended consciousness that astounded attending doctors. Fantastic?

“In London,” Astin noted afterward to chuckles, “they believed it actually happened.”

There was a free raffe for a birthday cake created by "The Ace of Cakes" in the likeness of Poe's landmark tombstone, with a raven atop it, and an unveiling, of sorts, for the Poe commemorative stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service (after its official unveiling a day earlier in Richmond).
Poe birthday cake, and commemorative stamps

I bought a couple of sheets of stamps to use on the rare occasions that snail-mail is necessary these days.
Bonnie and I attended the sold-out Saturday night presentation, and sometime over the weekend – in the wee hours – there was the expectation that a mystery visitor would make his annual appearance at the grave marker, leaving three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac. (As a newshound, I always suspected the visit was being arranged by curator Jerome, but whatever – any stunt that keeps Poe before the public, I readily forgive.)

Another two performances are scheduled for Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

But any time you’re visiting Baltimore, don’t miss Poe’s grave – the cemetery is open weekdays during daylight hours, and there are tours offered in warmer months that include the creepy catacombs of graves beneath the former church. Poe House, operated by the city Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation, is open Wednesday through Saturday afternoons (the safest hours, one suspects) from April to December.

And for any of you who may never have indulged in Poe, herewith, courtesy of “The Literature Network” online compilation of his works, is Eddie's "Annabel Lee" at his bathos best:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love -
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me -
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud one night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we -
Of many far wiser than we -
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea -
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Alas, at the corner of Fayette and Greene, it’s just traffic whizzing past and Baltimore’s cacophony of police car, ambulance and fire engine sirens.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When less is more

In American supermarkets,
size matters more than ever

I grew up working in supermarkets – in my high school and college days, back before scanners and UPC barcodes. Every item had to be rung up on a cash register. Dollars, cents, grocery, meat, deli, drug, taxable, enter.

There was a rhythm to it all: Reach out with the left hand for the item on the conveyor belt, glance at the price, and hit the register keys with the right hand as you push it back toward the bagger guy (if you were so lucky to have a bagger guy).

Eventually, the fast cashier (me) hardly had to look at the item or the price. You could feel what it was, and had memorized the prices of hundreds of products and the weekly specials.

Daresay, I was faster than the kids using scanners these days. And I didn’t need the register to tell me how much change to hand over from the customer’s 20-dollar bill.

I offer this not to boast, but simply to lay out my credentials as an expert on supermarkets. In this household, I do most of the shopping, and I remember products, prices and sizes of all sorts. It’s a hobby, getting the most bang (or beef) for the buck.

And in the canned meats aisle of my local Giant Food supermarket the other day, I had a tunafish epiphany.

The can felt funny. It was shallow, and stated the content weight as five ounces.

That’s an ounce shy of the six that standard tuna cans have held, seemingly for decades.

Take that, you recipe books – all those dishes expecting a six-ounce dose are going to fall short. Tuna noodle casseroles are going to be heavy on the noodle. God save us!

Me? I was merely offended. Shouldn’t there by a sign posted over the tuna shelf announcing to the world that it is being shorted an ounce of fish?

The price didn’t drop. Only the tuna.

I knew it’s been going on – I saw a dramatic example in another chain store some months ago when 12-roll packs of toilet paper were being dispatched at clearance prices, and replaced by an adjacent stack of 12-packs with fewer sheets per roll.

Squeeze the customer, not the Charmin! (Actually, it was Cottonelle, and I stocked up on the cheaper, bigger rolls. In this wicked world, you can never have too much toilet paper.)

So, I thought after the tuna trick, it was time to look around my local Giant Food store and see what’s been happening lately.

Frankly, it was shocking: Ice cream, orange juice, cereal, margarine, potato chips, bottled water, cat food – all shrinking in content and, in some cases, to a less-noticeable degree in packaging.

Most deceptively offensive: Sunshine Cheez-its. The “Duoz” two-flavor box was reduced in content from 14.5 ounces to 13.7. Both packages were still on the shelf, priced at $3.99, identical in height but one of them almost imperceptibly thinner.

Likewise, the 16-ounce box of original Cheez-it crackers stood side by side with its 13.7-ounce “twin” replacement – the lesser version, though, more noticeably thinner in girth.

When did the 16-ounce can of fruit become 15?

Potato chips once 13 ounces dropped to 12, then 11 and 10.5 – a gradual shrinkage that does not seem matched by the size of the bag. (Ah, the air must be free!)

The gallon jug of bottled water has become three liters, despite American abhorrence of the metric system. (Oddly, there was a nine-tenths-ounce gain in the switch years ago from pint to half-liter bottles, but that’s a rare exception.)

The pound of soft I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter that used to cost a little more than a buck nowweighs 15 ounces. The “everyday” price on the shelf tag: $2.99.

I Can’t Believe It’s More Expensive Than Store-Brand Butter!

Watch out for mayonnaise. It’s going down! Hellmann’s and the Giant brand, both 30-ounce, sat a shelf away from the still-32-ounce Kraft’s. Bet the farm: The 30-ounce Kraft and other brands of mayo and “salad dressing” are coming soon to a store near you, and your wallet is going to take a Miracle Whipping.

Cookies are confusing, particularly Pepperidge Farm – the Milano cookies variously weighing in at 6 ounces, 7 ounces, 7.5 ounces. One could change and you’d never know it. Watch these guys like a hawk!

Friskies canned cat food? Six ounces is now 5.5. But your fat cat probably needed to go on a diet.

Every aisle seems to have its own little outrage.

Orange juice jugs – three-quart is evolving into a fancier “easy-pour” version, and seven ounces lighter. That’s part of what makes it easy, I guess. And a half-gallon laminate-paper container sits side-by-side with the 59-ounce plastic carafe.

Post Selects cereals: The 15.2-ounce banana nut crunch sits next to a 13-ounce cranberry almond crunch. And Post Honey Bunches of Oats ($3.99) weighs in at 14.5 ounces, sitting next to the exact-same-dimension box of Giant brand “HoneyCrunchin’ Oats” that holds 15 ounces and costs a dollar less. The nutritional values are nearly identical, so there’s clearly not much difference between Bunchin’ and Crunchin’ other than price and, for now, weight.

Ice cream? That half-gallon package has shrunk to 1.5 quarts, after an intermediary stop at 1.75 quarts. (The Giant brand is still 1.75, but for how long?)

It all makes you wonder how so many brands shrink together to new size standards. It seems as if the corporate folks who are barred by law from price-fixing are engaged in an activity every bit as conspiratorial: Size-fixing.

Next up? Toilet paper.

The sheet size is shrinking. Really.

And our asses aren’t getting any smaller.

Today's fortune cookie message

Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.

Daily number: 538

Note to my readers

I'm sorry -- I've gotten lazy, and this is my first posting of the new year. I hope you've missed me, and haven't given up on The Real Muck. There's more to come. Please visit again soon.