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Sep 15 2005

Hatred, Compulsion, and Insanity

Mailbasket

Behold the quaint wicker basket. Whenever I look at it I am consumed with the icy purgatorial fires of hatred. Some previous occupant of my house nailed it up so that the US Postal Service can stop by every day and drop off 759 mail-order catalogs.

Every day I dump the entire contents of this mail basket (consistently depressing results have caused me to give up even looking through it) directly into one of the paper grocery bags I am forced to accumulate specifically for this purpose. The paper bag sits on the floor of my kitchen, where it attracts dog hair. There is room for only one paper bag of mail-order catalogs at a time in my cubicle-sized kitchen, so when the bag fills up, I remove it to my front porch, where it attracts venomous spiders. Then I start another bag. I must remember, on Monday nights, to drag my impressive collection of paper bags full of dog hair and spiders and mail-order catalogs–they are imposingly heavy– to the curb, lest I miss the recycling truck on Tuesday morning. If I’m not on my A-game, recycling-truck-wise, my front porch will fill up in no time flat with paper bags full of mail-order catalogs.

One time I missed the recycling truck two weeks in a row. My front porch swiftly became a swollen chaos of paper (see photo below). I had to call in a disaster recovery team. They found the rotting corpse of a neighbor boy under all the bags. I pretended to feel sad about this, but it turned out to be the same kid who once chucked unshelled pecans at my new car, so inwardly I danced a little jig.

Collyerbros

I realize there’s no way to keep the catalog companies from inundating me with paper that I immediately throw away. Whether their behavior stems from a murderous hatred of trees or from a compulsion to spread far and wide low-quality images of cheap crap from China, I know not, but there can be little doubt that it is a kind of insanity.

And believe me, ordinarily I am the last person to be unsympathetic toward uncontrollable hatred or compulsions or insanity. Ask anyone down at Spinster Aunt HQ, and they’ll tell you that Twisty Faster is equanimity itself. A model of forbearance, you might say. Yet there are limits.

I am beginning to lose patience with this catalogial inundation.

An identical effect, from both the forests’ and the catalog companies’ perspective, would obtain if they simply cut down the trees and shipped them directly to the landfill, leaving me the fuck out of it. I have, in fact, suggested this cunning scheme to several of the mail-order catalog companies. In response they sent more catalogs.

I then attempted to persuade my letter-carrier to deposit my mail directly into the wheeled garbage receptacle I put out on the porch. "Mail box, garbage can–what’s the diff?" I said reasonably. But apparently there is a diff, albeit one visible only to the trained eye of a dour civil servant. She was all, "no way, Jose."

All I’m sayin is, it is seriously NUTS that I am expected to maintain disposal facilities for the convenience of tree-hating capitalist entities that exist exclusively for the purpose of sending me bags of garbage.

45 comments

1 ping

  1. AndiF

    As a little sidenote to a consulting job I was doing for mega-publisher RR Donnelly, I got a tour of their catalog process. Among the very unhappy things I learned was that in order to have sufficient numbers for bulk mailing to a specific zipcode, they borrowed addresses from their vast database to pad things out, thus solving the mystery of why I sometimes get strange catalogs* or two or three copies of the same catalog.

    * OTOH, this does mean that every now and again, we get to play that very fun game “what’s the most idiotic item in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog?”

  2. Mistress

    Watch Penn & Teller’s RECYCLING episode of Bullshit. It’s on season 2. They say it better, but it costs more & is worse for the environment to recycle paper & plastic. And there are more trees now than there ever were before because the paper companies grow them to make paper. So, yeah.

    It still sucks to get bags full of garbage in the mail, though.

  3. Chris Clarke

    They say it better, but it costs more & is worse for the environment to recycle paper & plastic. And there are more trees now than there ever were before because the paper companies grow them to make paper. So, yeah.

    Penn and Teller are the kind of skeptics that uncritically swallow corporate bullshit when it matches their rich-guy libertarian ideologies.

    There are not “more trees now than there ever were before” in most of the places where there were ever trees. Period. That’s Limbaughese crap.

  4. Twisty

    Penn & Teller creep me out.

    Even if they didn’t creep me out, it is my policy never to take environmental advice from guys who live in Vegas, one of the most environmentally hostile (and stupidest) cities on the planet.

  5. Finn

    >Penn & Teller creep me out.<

    I take it you didn’t like The Aristocrats?

  6. CafeSiren

    BEsides magazines, I am also powerless to stop the floods of advertising circulars from local merchants. Mostly grocery stores, but, since I live in Southern California, I occasionally get glossy 5×7 cards offering to burn my face with acid or inject paralytic toxins into the area around my eyes. I, of course, am expected to pay for the privilege.

    I can’t just throw them in the recycling without looking, because occasionally something like a power bill is hidden between the grocery ads and the offers to steam-clean my non-existent carpet, but I often wonder if anyone actually sits down and reads the Albertson’s ad from front to back. And how this can possibly make financial sense to the companies doing it.

  7. norbizness

    Remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer tried to return the catalogs to the Pottery Barn store? Yeah, I thought it was ruined by the horsefaced, unfunny, eponymous jerkoff as well. God I hate Jerry Seinfeld.

  8. Sophie

    Is there a postage-paid return envelope with the catalog ?
    We usually have these, so I sometimes stuff as much as I can in the enveloppe, and send it back to the annoying company at their expense. They stop sending me things.

    As for unaddressed catalogs, we have stickers (from the equivalent of EPA) on the letterboxes that tell the postperson we don’t want them, and it works.

    I would get crazy if I had all this in my mailbox.

  9. Finn

    >As for unaddressed catalogs, we have stickers (from the equivalent of EPA) on the letterboxes that tell the postperson we don’t want them, and it works.<

    How did you get those? Care to share?

    I’d put it on my mailbox if I knew how to do it.

  10. miz_geek

    If I admit that I actually don’t receive much in the way of catalogs, will the catalog gods hear it (or read it) and suddenly dispense piles and piles of them into my mailbox?

    Maybe I shouldn’t chance it.

  11. Laura Shapiro

    I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while, Twisty, but I finally have a good reason to comment (apart from the ever-popular reason of telling you that you rock, and your brain is huge and thinky, and you have mad photography skillz).

    I loathe junk mail, and I finally did something about it a couple of years ago. You can easily opt out of 90% of junk mail by sending letters to the three top credit bureaus, preventing them from sharing your personal information with anybody. With another letter, you can get yourself off most direct mail lists for five years.

    You will, unfortunately, still receive catalogs from anyone you’ve bought things from, but you should stop getting unsolicited catalogs, credit card offers, and the like. If you really don’t want to keep getting the Pottery Barn catalog just because you bought that lamp one time, you can contact them directly.

    I did this two years ago and it’s still going strong. I get a fraction of the junk mail I used to get, and I’m happy to think of all the trees that are still standing as a result.

  12. deja pseu

    I often wonder if anyone actually sits down and reads the Albertson’s ad from front to back

    My ex-MIL used to do this, and then make up her shopping lists based on what was “on special.” I have to hand it to her, that woman could get six cents out of every nickel.

  13. Stephanie

    Much as I despise junk mail, I was amused when a friend with a wood-burning stove told me that she and her husband had bought a little gadget that rolls anything paper-newspaper, catalogues, etc., into tight little logs. They heated their house for most of a winter on the junk mail they had saved up over the year, and when they got a little low, she sent a dollar to the Christian Coalition or something similarly vile. That did the trick for the rest of the cold season. I wouldn’t recommend it, because that stuff does not burn cleanly, but it was funny.

  14. Rana

    This might be helpful, as will calling the catalogs. It won’t get rid of local circulars though, unfortunately.

  15. TimT

    I don’t see why where Pen and Teller come from should invalidate what they are saying. Recycling is a complicated process, and it has to take up a certain amount of space, time, and energy. So it’s certainly worthwhile asking how bad for the environment recycling can be.

    P.J. O’Rourke trashed the ‘recycling’ concept pretty convincingly in Eat the Rich. Maybe recycling technology has moved on from then. Maybe not. Certainly, most of the people I run into don’t know one way or the other – but they just sort of assume that recycling is good and proper.

  16. Sophie

    Re : Stickers on letter boxes

    Sorry I didn’t share because I thought it was irrelevant : this is, I’m sorry to have to mention it, a French thing, originating from the French equivalent of EPA and Energy Management Agency.
    http://www.ademe.fr/stoppub/default.htm

    They have worked with the bigger catalog dispatchers to ensure this will work.

  17. Alpaca Rider

    As for “More trees”, I’m looking out my window at a city called Columbus. It used to be all trees. Now it’s a city. My question is, where is the Columbus-sized paper tree farm and, if it exists, why would anyone think it did shit for the environment since it’d have to be comprised of fast-growing softwoods that get cut down biannually and never serve as a habitat for animals nor as a carbon sink for C02? But I’m still skeptical that a Columbus-sized tree farm exists, much less that plus a Roanoak-sized tree farm AND a Williamsburg-sized tree farm AND a Richmond-sized tree farm AND a Pittsburgh-sized tree farm AND…

    Oh, and:
    /We usually have these, so I sometimes stuff as much as I can in the enveloppe, and send it back to the annoying company at their expense. They stop sending me things./

    HALOGEN LIGHT BULBS.
    Individually, halogen light bulbs are fine to have. But if enough people use those return envelopes to mail halogen light bulbs to a single place, well… in larger quantities, halogen light bulbs become HAZMAT.

    Yay hazmat.

  18. Sophie

    About the big forest just hidden somewhere and growing, have a look at what the satellites see in Canada.
    It seems worms are eating the big growing forest :
    http://www.mezzoblue.com/archives/2005/04/07/google_maps_/index.php

  19. Sylvanite

    Yeah, recycling is all about the energy costs involved in doing the recycling. Trees are renewable resources, the petroleum used to fuel the recycling effort is not. The primary reason to recycle paper is to keep it out of landfills. Roughly 50% of what goes into landfills is paper. Consequently, landfills fill up faster, then I have to go through a new application for a landfill expansion from Waste Management, Inc. I currently have an application for a brand-new landfill occupying a large portion of the floor of my cubicle.

    As to the number of trees, well, please remember that the entire eastern portion of the U.S. was mostly denuded of trees after the Europeans came; all those trees you see travelling across Pennsylvania are replacements for all the trees that had been cut down.

    The best thing to recycle is aluminum. Aluminum is very energy-intensive to process from its ore – so much so that the ore is shipped from the tropics to the Pacific Northwest to take advantage of cheap hydroelectric power. It only takes 50% of the original processing energy to recycle aluminum.

  20. Twisty

    Look, I don’t know from recycling. I’m just sayin’, quit cutting down the fucking trees for no reason.

  21. Sylvanite

    Well, yes, obviously it is VERY irritating to get tons of stupid, pointless catalogs. That is indeed a waste of perfectly good trees, which have done us no harm and don’t deserve such an ignominious fate. Not to mention all the clay that is wasted on making the pages glossy that could have been used to make something useful, like dinner plates and coffee mugs! :)

  22. Ron Sullivan

    Sylvanite, your point might be stronger than you think. There’s plenty of petroleum involved in logging and milling and pulping and otherwise processing and transporting those trees — which don’t grow in a vacuum. And a tree farm is not a forest any more than a lawn is a meadow.

    But you knew that.

  23. Sylvanite

    Yes, there are tremendous energy costs associated with processing trees for paper. It’s also very polluting, and consumes enormous amounts of water. Also, a tree farm is not natural, just as lawns or other cultivated lands are not. Twisty is justified in being irritated at the waste involved in making tons (literally!) of unwanted, unsolicited catalogs.

    Frankly, I’ve heard hemp would be a better source of paper. However, I’m not very knowledgable about paper-making with non-tree fiber sources, though I have seen cotton rag paper being made. :)

  24. Ledasmom

    Whenever I visit my mother in the state of Washington and we are driving along to our usual godforsaken camping spot (the big event on the way in is stopping at the last pit toilet), I always have to look twice at the sign for the, no kidding, Chief Joseph Tree Farm. Which is not a good idea, because it’s up on what looks to me, a person from the eroded-mountain part of the country, like a highish piece of land.

  25. ae

    Sylvanite, you beat me to it. It takes 75 chemicals to process pulp into paper. Hemp requires none of that. It’s renewable, non-toxic, blah-di-blah, and I was all for it until I learned about kenaf!

    The arguments against recycling, such as they are, tend still to benefit industries that have no (economic) interest in sustainability (or accountability), so screw ‘em and Penn and Teller, too. Every little bit less in the landfills and in the water table helps, and until the corps get religion on this matter, I say recycle. (One could agitate for more efficient recycling processes in the meantime, of course.)

    Twisty, this is one of my fave things you’ve written. There cannot possibly be more paper in our house, and I swear to dog we’re going to end up like this guy even after protracted battles against the Paper Industrial Complex.

    One note: beware of warranty cards and charitable contributions as major culprits in the rampant name-exchange. Oh, and be sure to tell J. Crew to stop supporting their entire enterprise on your back, for the love of all that is holy and just! Maybe that last one is just me. =)

  26. Sylvanite

    That kenaf sounds interesting. I wonder how durable the paper is. Another disadvantage of wood-pulp paper is its acidity, which makes it yellow and brittle as it ages, as I know everyone has experienced. When I printed my thesis, I had to do it on 50% cotton rag paper, which is much more durable. AE, do you know if kenaf paper is available in the U.S. yet?

  27. Kelley

    I, for one, am appalled at the number of tress that must die so that Victoria’s Secret can continue to send me 3-4 catalogues a month that I promptly throw into the garbage. Even if I wanted to order their flimsy products produced in Mexican sweatshops by exploited women who will never be able to afford those ragsI would do it from the website (which i won’t).

    Here’s a thought…Twisty, just for fun, let sneak up to Columbus and torch the distribution point for the crap VS “produces”. It’ll be road trip, and everyone’s invited. Hell, you can even bring the puppy…he’ll love all the attention.

  28. Kelley

    Oops…that should have been, the number of trees that must die…damn typos.

  29. TimT

    Isn’t it, like, a tradition among the Republican Presidents to chop down trees? Wasn’t it one of the pastimes of Lincoln and Reagan?

  30. Christopher

    Well, people tend to think that recycling is better because this is the intuitive position. Making non-recyclable paper involves cutting down a tree. It’s difficult to imagine that byproducts from recycling also kill as many trees. It’s just not obvious to the casual observer.
    Not to mention that landfills don’t get filled up as fast.

  31. Ron Sullivan

    Yeah, there’s that thing about “landfills” too. Landfills my fine fat ass. I’ve been places and et in hotels…

    I been all around Cape Girardeau
    And parts of Arkansas…

    Not to mention deserts and mountains and the prairies and the oceans white with foam

    and I’ve never seen empty land. Not once. Not even all those sand dunes in the Southwest.

  32. Lil

    The tree killing thing truly pains me, and I often just take the time to contact each company by phone or email to tell them to take me OFF their mailing list.

    I also do this with charities. It seems each time I give money to a charity I receive solicitations for more money from a dozen similar organizations, mailings that ultimately cost more than the amount I originally gave. I do my best to tell the charity I donate to NOT to share my name/address, but that often doesn’t work. So I contact the charities that subsequently send me solicitations and tell them to take me off their list.

  33. Chris Clarke

    The thing about where Penn and Teller are from was snark.
    The thing about where Penn and Teller are coming from, however, is apropos.

    I do know from recycling, and P.J. O’Rourke is about the furthest thing from a credible source on the topic. As is the case with Penn and Teller, a skepticism that targets researchers for “having an agenda” while taking at face value the pronouncements of corporations who stand to lose money if the researchers’ work is taken seriously is not skepticism.

    There is a more common description of the kind of “debunking” Penn, Teller, and O’Rourke do in this instance, but I hesitate to use said description out of a reluctance to denigrate the fine and wholesome practice of fellatio.

  34. StealthBadger

    “Look, I don’t know from recycling. I’m just sayin’, quit cutting down the fucking trees for no reason.”

    *CHEERS*

    Yes, recycling can be less efficient than making things from scratch. That’s because of how long we’ve been making things from scratch. The more recycling we’ve done, the more we’ve learned about how to do it, and how to do it efficiently enough to make money (which is unfortunately the primary measure of anything in this country). But seriously, any process in its infacy is going to be woefully inefficient at first (unless it’s something bajeezus ungodly expensive like smelting aluminum from ore, as stated above).

    Third… Don’t have so many problems with catalogs in my neighborhood, though the weekly junk-mail pile is pretty large. The maddening thing in my neighborhood is the number of AOL cds received per week… -_-

  35. TimT

    Chris, you obviously haven’t read the O’Rourke book in question. I don’t remember him saying a word about researchers ‘having an agenda’.

    Stealthbadger, fair point, but what if recycling products such as paper, metal, etc never becomes more efficient than making products from scratch, despite continued research? How, then, could we use the justification that recycling is ‘good for the environment’ if in terms of energy used, etc, it is demonstrably worse for the environment?

    This is a real issue for the modern environmental movement; they face similar problems with wind farming, solar energy, and water desalination plants.

    Word on the chopping down trees thing for no reason, though. Junk mail is a scourge of this modern age.

  36. Sylvanite

    Recycling metal is VERY efficient. As I noted in one of my above comments, aluminum recycling reduces energy usage for processing by 50%, though recycling is cost-effective/actively profitable with any metals I can think of. Many metals are currently being mined from less rich ores, since the best ores have been depleted (copper comes to mind), so metals recycling is a very good idea even from a resource conservation perspective.

  37. Chris Clarke

    Chris, you obviously haven’t read the O’Rourke book in question. I don’t remember him saying a word about researchers ‘having an agenda’.

    I have – I spent a few years being the public information officer for a recycling program, and got a lot of questions about the book – and it’s the theme of the entire piece, whether or not he actually uses the word “agenda”.

    How, then, could we use the justification that recycling is ‘good for the environment’ if in terms of energy used, etc, it is demonstrably worse for the environment?

    This is only the case if you ignore what are referred to as “externalities.” How much energy does it take to rebuild the houses that are destroyed by mudslides when forests are clearcut for paper pulp? What is the cost to society of losing water quality because whole watersheds are clearcut, and papermills must remove lignins and such from raw wood pulp before they can make paper?

    There are plenty of problems with recycling that people like Penn and O’Rourke could focus on to the btterment of the world. Plastic recycling, for instance, is a bunch of hooey. Markets for recycled material are volatile, and when there’s a glut of – say – paper, some of it will get landfilled. The boys could usefully have pointed out that “recycling” doesn’t mean putting the stuff in the blue bin: it means making sure the stuff actually gets used.

    But their arguments in this particular realm are sloppy, comparing of malus and citrus, and I’m saying that as someone who essentially likes Penn, who’s a close friend of a pal of mine.

    This is a real issue for the modern environmental movement; they face similar problems with wind farming, solar energy, and water desalination plants.

    As a guy who just published an exposé on the dangers of wind farming, I have to say you’re right. Still, wind and solar have far fewer externalities involved – it’s unlikely Bush would send kids to war for other countries’ valuable wind deposits.

    Desalination, of course, is a symptom of too many people in the wrong place. The really damaging technology there is not the desal plant so much as it is the stroller.

    Yikes, I do go on. Sorry for clogging up the thread, Twisty.

  38. Kyra

    “Is there a postage-paid return envelope with the catalog? . . . I sometimes stuff as much as I can in the enveloppe, and send it back to the annoying company at their expense. They stop sending me things.

    Or, if you’re *really* pissed, get a big sturdy cardboard box, fill it with some heavy rocks and maybe some sand, and tape the envelope to it–the envelope will be used as postage for the entire box. They will probably think it is a return or something.

  39. ae

    Chris Clarke, after that last post, I would definitely make out w/ you.

  40. Twisty

    What! Wind farming? No good? Well, that’s it!

  41. Chris Clarke

    Oh, it’s good. It’s just not good in raptor migration corridors like the one thirty miles east of Zeke’s house.

    Also, apparently, it’s no good in areas where the windmills pollute the yuppie viewshed. Being the sort that actually puts windmills up as decoration, however, I am less than moved by that argument.

  42. TimT

    Being the sort that actually puts windmills up as decoration, however, I am less than moved by that argument.

    Right with you on that one, Chris.

    Also, I must sheepishly admit, the O’Rourke book I was referring to wasn’t “Eat the Rich”, it was “All the Trouble in the World”. Hmmm…

  43. alphabitch

    Somebody or another told me once they taped the postage paid reply cards to bricks sent them back. I asked my sister the mailman whether this was an effective strategy or merely a big pain in the ass to mailmen everywhere. She of course couldn’t officially condone the practice, but she couldn’t stop laughing either. The return postage is indeed calculated by weight, so it does cost the offender a little money. She said that, in general, mailmen everywhere are happy to pick up packages, though, and not to be shy about sending them.

  44. Jonathan

    An identical effect, from both the forests’ and the catalog companies’ perspective, would obtain if they simply cut down the trees and shipped them directly to the landfill, leaving me the fuck out of it. I have, in fact, suggested this cunning scheme to several of the mail-order catalog companies. In response they sent more catalogs.

    Wow! You had me and my S.O. in full righteous laughter! If we didn’t live in an awful Patriarchy, you’d be the one of the best stand-up comedians in the country.

  45. Helen

    But definitely the best sit-down one, all the same, Jonathon.

  1. Patagonia to Women Rock Climbers: ‘A Delicate Pointelle Weave Offers a Touch of Femininity’ at I Blame The Patriarchy

    [...] Each new weekday that dawns on the Twisty Bungalow brings with it a fresh bombardment of mail order catalogs. I did not ask to be inundated with mail order catalogs, but you know how it is. Some achieve garbage, others have garbage thrust upon them. [...]

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