Monday, February 28, 2011

"Tear Down This Wall," Media One tells obituary site

Brent Low, CEO of Media One Utah, has vowed to force to remove the paywall it has erected on its obituary site, and "if they don't, we'll find another vendor." As my earlier post noted, -- which gets 7 million hits per month -- not only charges for access after an initial 30-day period. It also claims comprehensive rights and privileges with respect to the obituaries themselves "in perpetuity."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Daddy Died, I Cried and Cried

    Please say it isn't lupus. Couldn't it just be a side-effect
of sobbing, or an overdose of collard greens? Will I look like a
this forever? The saga of so-called modern medicine is contained in the Lupus tab at the top of this page. It is a melodrama filled with colorful characters, like in "The Bonfire of the Vanities," except without the bonfire.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The case of the shrinking toilet paper: Let's get to the bottom of it

This post also includes a colorful look at how other cultures and
 other eras have avoided tree slaughter and still maintained excellent hygiene.
The Rorschach ink-butt test
    Over the past several years, our noble capitalist system has been downsizing everything in the grocery store while upsizing the prices. This they generally do in a deliberately deceptive way, keeping the packaging size the same, but cutting back on the amount of product.
    For some reason (I guess Freud would know), the thing that really kicked me in the behind was the toilet paper. I recently bought a couple of 36-roll packs at a case-lot sale, and when I took out a few rolls to put in the bathroom cabinet, I was stunned. They were about 20 percent smaller and cost 20 percent more than the last ones I bought, several of which were still in there. What makes this especially shitty is that the industry is already "flush" with profits.  

Obama's targeting YOU, Edward Jones

    (Feb. 23, 2015)  President Obana is unveiling a plan to impose a standard known as a fiduciary duty on financial-services brokers, which will crack down on “backdoor payments and hidden fees,” according to a fact sheet issued by the White House.
    That's bad news for Edward Jones, which has infamously made its fortune by steering clueless investors into its "preferred family" of high-fee mutual funds. Those funds return the favor by paying Edward Jones tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks. It has been sued and fined repeatedly for defrauding its customers, but the pain hasn't been sufficient for it to change its devious ways.
    Obama's plan would require brokers to act in a customer’s best interest, a change that could limit the earnings of financial advisers in the handling of Americans’ $11 trillion of retirement savings, according to Bloomberg News.
    It's called "fiduciary duty," which seems like an obvious foundation for a financial adviser, but Edward Jones has always run like hell from this concept. The firm would lose a big chunk of its fat profits, but investors would finally (theoretically) be getting valid, unbiased advice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Silken deception: No pumpkin, no spice

'Raise a glass to a wholesome, healthy
holiday with delectable seasonal
flavors from Silk. Silk Pumpkin Spice
is delicious chilled or warm.
  • Dairy-free
  • Lactose-free
  • Cholesterol-free
  • Worry-free'

Memo to Mama: You need to read the label, even if it's a "health food." The ingredients in this product are soy milk, cane juice, flavorings and a thickener. No pumpkin, no spice -- and none of the color, flavor or nutritional benefits you understandably expected.  I've written to the manufacturer, White Wave, but they don't seem to care.

Rancor over Ratings

   For three months, area media were inundated with ads proclaiming that the University of Utah Medical Center had been named best academic medical center in the nation by the University HealthSystem Consortium. The rousing news that the U. had “catapulted” over 49 previously higher-ranked institutions and was now superior “even to the prestigious Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medical Center” was puzzling, to say the least, although both Salt Lake newspapers reported this very questionable news unquestioningly.
   One clue that should have aroused a bit of investigative fervor (does that exist anymore?) is the fact that the U. med center
is not included AT ALL in any of the several established rankings of best hospitals -- it's not even in the top 100. So how did it capture the Consortium's heart?
   And what is the Consortium, anyway? From whence did this rather ominously named beast emerge? It is a tale involving "complex algorithms," lots of tentacles, "suites" for the suite, billions of dollars, federal investigations, “The Threat of Incrementalism,” and a telling code of silence. Just click on the Consortium tab above and prepare to be flabbergasted. 

An Afternoon With the Ladies

They were true gentlemen.

     (4/23/12) Have you ever had a chivalrous young inmate in a crisp waiter's uniform slip you a lavender-blue note, along with your fruit plate, as you dined with the prison's top "brass"? Rikers Island's House of Detention for Men was always a hotbed of intrigue, especially since my job there was essentially to spy on the administration and advocate for prisoners, but this mysterious missive suggested that a new adventure was about to fall into my lap.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Edward Jones saga

    My 5-part investigative series on financial services firm Edward Jones can be found behind the tab at the top of the page:

Obituary web site buries your loved one a second time

   My father died on May 10, 2010. A couple of days later I submitted his obituary and paid over $800 for it to be published for one day in the Salt Lake Tribune, and to be posted on the web site.
    I was shocked and hurt several weeks later, when I went to "visit" my dad, to see that Legacy had shunted the obit behind a paywall. I was only permitted to see his picture and read the first two lines of a long obituary unless I paid Legacy for the privilege of having access to my own writing and my own father.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I'm not happy, but I'm gay, Putin will reveal at Olympics closing ceremony

The Russian president enjoys reeling 'em in.

    (Feb. 20. 2014) Sources characterized as "intimates" of Russian President Vladimir Putin have notified Kronstantinople that he will disclose his homosexuality in a "personal but not overly emotional fashion" during closing ceremonies for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games on Sunday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Half-Hearted Valentine to the Chauvinist Pigs of the Past

Why I (finally) stopped manipulating men
    (2/14/12) What I remember most about my Valentine's dinner with The Colonel, at New York's venerable Luchow's Restaurant, is not that he ordered my six-course dinner for me, without seeking my permission or knowing anything about my preferences. It is that I was strangely, startlingly thrilled. How outrageous of him! How condescending! He took charge, just like that! It was done in a debonair, understated fashion.  The rush of pleasure I experienced was very confusing.

Thrift Shop: It's not just a song -- it's a multinational scandal

SAVERS STORES: Tricking donors, treating themselves, screwing charities
Cloaked in fuzzy deception, and leaping all the way to the bank, the multimillion-dollar
Savers operation claims to benefit Big Brothers. It does: with a $1,500 donation.

     PRELUDE: When you telephone any of the eight vast, bustling Savers stores in Utah, the phone is answered with a cheery, "Savers Thrift Stores: Supporting our local Big Brothers/Big Sisters!"
    Being a cynic is a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Otherwise, we'd never find out the truth about anything. 
    I have learned that of the millions of dollars these eight stores take in each year, ONLY $1,000 TO $1,500 GOES TO THE HIGHLY REGARDED CHARITY. THE REST IS PROFIT.  Savers is at the bottom of Big Brothers' long list of donors on its web site, many of which gave more than $20,000.
    Big Brothers/Big Sisters (and various other charities in other states) allow themselves to be used as lures to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in donations in exchange for a shockingly paltry return.
    I was skeptical the moment I heard a public service announcement in early 2014 about the new Savers thrift shop in our area, which described itself as a "compassionate" operation, "dedicated to helping one of the most deserving charities in the state."
    "Go shopping, and help underprivileged children at the same time!" a radio ad said enticingly.
    "Give your gently used items to Savers and help those in desperate need," another commercial implored. 
    "Proceeds go to Big Brothers Big Sisters!" a jaunty TV commercial claimed, tugging at those proverbial heartstrings. What a wonderful rationale for a buying spree!
    But it is pure hype, and blatantly misleading.
    My first question was: Is Savers itself a nonprofit? The answer is NO. It is "a U.S.-based multinational profit-making conglomerate" with more than 350 stores in three countries.
     My second question was: How much of its $1.5 billion annual net goes to the charities it claims to benefit? The answer is: None of your business.  Savers has always refused to  disclose its outlays to the nonprofits whose names it uses to attract both donors and shoppers (and the charities flatly refuse to discuss the matter as well). I found estimates ranging from one percent to 10 percent. Savers earns more in one year than it donates every 10 years, according to documents regarding its second recapitalization.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Move over, Doritos. E-cigarette enters Super Bowl ad frenzy

Looks like a mighty fine smoke to me, you electronic Marlboro Man.
     (2/1/2014) NJOY, one of the most successful e-cigarette marketers, is broadcasting a controversial ad during Super Bowl tomorrow. For some reason, it's only being shown in in Miami, Denver, San Antonio, and Nashville, but you can check it out here:
    It's nothing like the sexy and luxurious promotional materials we've seen to date, particularly in print. It's wacky and high-spirited, waiting until the end to raise the issue of smoking. When it does, it portrays NJOYs as something you should urge your friends to try, as a much safer option than tobacco.
    NJOYs aren't designed to be cute, hip high-tech fashion accessories or inhalable, calorie-free candy. Plain and menthol are your only choices. The packaging is generic. The aim is not to be enticing.
    "We’re committed to ending this health epidemic by getting people to no longer need cigarettes. Our mission is to make tobacco cigarettes obsolete," says CEO Craig Weiss
    But some  are fuming at the return of smoking ads to TV, whether tobacco combustion is involved or not.

E-cigarette safety: A particle of doubt leaves us in a fragrant vapor of confusion

Now you can "pimp your vape" to create cooler flavors and a cloudier cloud!

Buy a special e-cig for every outfit and mood, in yummy lollipop flavors!
    (UPDATE: Dec. 20, 2013) In "The E-Cigarette Seduction -- Are We Blowing It?" (, I described this exuberant, colorful, delicious and diabolical new industry.
    In some respects, it has displayed entrepreneurialism at its best: A scramble of creative fervor, technological innovation and marketing genius.
    I expressed my concern, as have many in the public-health sector, about the possible downside of these yummy products, and urged rigorous study.
    Now I have found distressing new research that says e-cigarettes may expose smokers and those around them to PARTICULATE POLLUTION, possibly containing heavy metals. Please be wrong, you guys!