Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bogus Burgers: Fast Food False Advertising

How often have you bought a fast-food item only to notice that not only does it look nothing like the picture on the menu (or in their ads), but there's no way you could rearrange the ingredients so that it would?

There's a few guys taking them to task, and this compilation on Geekologie has the scoop.

From Geekologie:

This is a series of photos comparing fast food company's advertising shots to meals actually received in real life. SURPRISE!: they look nothing alike. Of course if you actually went to Burger King expecting to get something resembling the burger in the picture you obviously have a problem being honest with yourself. Like when you buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's at the grocery store and tell yourself you're only gonna eat half of it tonight. You always eat the whole thing, don't you? "No." DON'T YOU? "Yes." And? "And nothing." AND? "And a Snicker's Ice Cream Bar." AHAHAHAHAHA, I didn't actually know that but I'm not surprised.
Hit the jump for a whole bunch more including some tacos but it's mostly McDonald's and Burger King (SPOILER: The king is a LIAR).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everything You Need to Know about SOPA and PIPA

The Consumerist is devoting an entire day to the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) legislation currently being debated by Congress. 

They've got a host of links to articles about this threat to the Internet and your experience there.  I encourage you to visit, as well as sign petitions against both SOPA and PIPA.  Links to petitions are everywhere - including Google's home page - if you click on the black box.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods

Frankenfoods scare the bejeezus out of me.  Companies like Monsanto are rushing all sorts of genetically-modified foods to market, and they appear in nearly every product in the supermarket.  The effects of these products is not well known due to insufficient testing, and I do not buy their claims that the foods are safe.  The worst part?  By the time the dangers are proven, it'll be too late.

From The Atlantic:

New research shows that when we eat we're consuming more than just vitamins and protein. Our bodies are absorbing information, or microRNA.
Chinese researchers have found small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. The Nanjing University-based team showed that this genetic material will bind to proteins in human liver cells and influence the uptake of cholesterol from the blood.
The type of RNA in question is called microRNA, due to its small size. MicroRNAs have been studied extensively since their discovery ten years ago, and have been linked to human diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. The Chinese research provides the first example of ingested plant microRNA surviving digestion and influencing human cell function.
Should the research survive scientific scrutiny, it could prove a game changer in many fields. It would mean that we're eating not just vitamins, protein, and fuel, but information as well.
The Chinese RNA study threatens to blast a major hole in Monsanto's claim. It means that DNA can code for microRNA, which can, in fact, be hazardous.
That knowledge could deepen our understanding of cross-species communication, co-evolution, and predator-prey relationships. It could illuminate new mechanisms for some metabolic disorders and perhaps explain how some herbal medicines function. And it reveals a pathway by which genetically modified (GM) foods might influence human health.
Monsanto's website states, "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans." This viewpoint, while good for business, is built on an understanding of genetics circa 1950. It follows what's called the "Central Dogma" (PDF) of genetics, which postulates a one-way chain of command between DNA and the cells DNA governs.
The Central Dogma resembles the process of ordering a pizza. The DNA knows what kind of pizza it wants, and orders it. The RNA is the order slip, which communicates the specifics of the pizza to the cook. The finished and delivered pizza is analogous to the protein that DNA codes for.
We've known for years that the Central Dogma, though basically correct, is overly simplistic. For example: Pieces of microRNA that don't code for anything, pizza or otherwise, can travel among cells and influence their activities in many other ways. So while the DNA is ordering pizza, it's also bombarding the pizzeria with unrelated RNA messages that can cancel a cheese delivery, pay the dishwasher nine million dollars, or email the secret sauce recipe to WikiLeaks.
Monsanto's claim that human toxicology tests are unwarranted is based on the doctrine of "substantial equivalence." This term is used around the world as the basis of regulations designed to facilitate the rapid commercialization of genetically engineered foods, by sparing them from extensive safety testing.
According to substantial equivalence, comparisons between GM and non-GM crops need only investigate the end products of DNA translation: the pizza, as it were. "There is no need to test the safety of DNA introduced into GM crops. DNA (and resulting RNA) is present in almost all foods," Monsanto's website reads. "DNA is non-toxic and the presence of DNA, in and of itself, presents no hazard."
The Chinese RNA study threatens to blast a major hole in that claim. It means that DNA can code for microRNA, which can, in fact, be hazardous.
"So long as the introduced protein is determined to be safe, food from GM crops determined to be substantially equivalent is not expected to pose any health risks," Monsanto's website goes on. In other words, as long as the pizza is OK, the introduced DNA doesn't pose a problem.
Chen-Yu Zhang, the lead researcher on the Chinese RNA study, has made no comment regarding the implications of his work for the debate over the safety of GM food. Nonetheless, his discoveries give shape to concerns about substantial equivalence that have been raised for years.
In 1999, a group of scientists wrote a now-landmark letter titled "Beyond Substantial Equivalence" to the prestigious journal Nature. In the letter, Erik Millstone et. al. called substantial equivalence "a pseudo-scientific concept" that is "inherently anti-scientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests."
To these charges, Monsanto responded: "The concept of substantial equivalence was elaborated by international scientific and regulatory experts convened by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1991, well before any biotechnology products were ready for market.
This response is less a rebuttal than a testimonial to Monsanto's marketing prowess. Establishing the concept of substantial equivalence worldwide was a prerequisite to the global commercialization of GM crops. It created a legal framework for selling GM foods anywhere in the world that substantial equivalence was accepted. By the time substantial equivalence was adopted, Monsanto had already developed numerous GM crops and was actively grooming them for market.
The OECD's 34 member nations could be described as largely rich, white, developed, and sympathetic to big business. The group's current mission is to spread economic development to the rest of the world. And while that mission has yet to be accomplished, OECD has helped Monsanto spread substantial equivalence to the rest of the world, selling a lot of GM seed along the way.
The news that we're ingesting information as well as physical material should force the biotech industry to confront the possibility that new DNA can have dangerous implications far beyond the products it codes for. Can we count on the biotech industry to accept the notion that more testing is necessary? Not if such action is perceived as a threat to the bottom line.

How to Solve Any Customer Service Challenge

It's been my experience that the best way is to avoid any expression of anger.  Play the frustrated victim appealing to the Customer Service Rep for help.  Always document your calls (names, dates, verbal agreements, etc.).  When you talk to them later, if you're able to show a history, they're more likely to see things your way.  For most companies, they really want you to go away happy (there are still some that just want you to go away).

From US News:

Jon Yates wants to help you. As the official problem solver at the Chicago Tribune, he specializes in getting companies—and government bureaucracies—to do what customers want. Whether you’ve been over-charged by a credit card company or are still missing a tax refund from last year, Yates can probably help.
[50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2012]
Not surprisingly, Yates is inundated by requests and can’t solve all consumer crises on his own. That’s why he wrote his new book, What’s Your Problem? Cut Through Red Tape, Challenge the System, and Get Your Money Back, which is designed to help frustrated consumers fix their own problems. With dozens of strategies to overcome even the most stubborn customer service representatives, Yates argues that we can often win the fights we have with companies, as long as we’re persistent—and willing to take our business elsewhere, if necessary. U.S. News asked Yates about his top tips and how he applies them to his own life. Excerpts:
How have you applied your problem solving techniques to your own life?
People ask me all the time if I can simply call a company that has wronged me and tell them who I am— the Problem Solver for the Chicago Tribune. I wish I could. It would make my life a lot easier. But the newspaper's ethics policy strictly prohibits me from using my position for personal gain, so when a company or corporation treats me badly, I use the techniques I've outlined in my book without mentioning my job. And make no mistake, they work.
Recently, my AT&T modem broke, and the telecommunications company wanted to charge me $83 for a replacement. I told the customer service agent that unless they removed the charge, I would take my business to a competitor. When they realized I was willing to cancel service on the spot, they caved, and gave me a credit for $100 to buy a replacement modem of my choice.
It's my cardinal rule of problem solving: always threaten to take your business elsewhere, and follow through if the company doesn't respond. As consumers, we should never reward bad customer service or uncaring corporations. In the book, I relate several other personal consumer triumphs, including one with a local plumber and another with my former health insurance company, which unfairly tried to bill me $14,000 after my daughter was born. It took months to win that battle, but I didn't have to pay a dime.
Have you ever utterly failed at getting the response you want from a company, even after trying your hardest?
Unfortunately, I have failed from time to time. My success rate as the Problem Solver is well over 90 percent, but there are times when a company or contractor simply is not persuaded by the threat of bad publicity. The most frequent example is with companies that have gone out of business. Sometimes, they simply don't have the money to refund customers, or they're knee-deep in litigation that prevents them from issuing a refund.
[How to Complain to Companies (and Get Results)]
What are your top tips or strategies for someone who feels like they are really not making progress with a customer service rep?
If you're not making progress, I always suggest hanging up and calling back. Almost always, you will get another customer service rep, hopefully one who is more understanding and willing to help. I've spent time in a customer call center, and the reality is not all customer service representatives are created equally. Some are really good at what they do, others simply aren't. If you call enough times, you'll eventually get a good one.
If you don't, my advice is to skip the customer call center altogether and go straight to the top. Find a number online for the company's corporate headquarters and call there directly. Ask to speak to the chief executive. If you can't get through, write the chief executive a letter. It works way more often than you'd think. Often, a company's leaders have no idea that customers are being treated poorly, and are so appalled by a disgruntled consumer's letter that they help almost immediately.
What are some common mistakes people make when dealing with companies?
The most common mistake people make is giving up too soon. Often, I talk to people who get frustrated after one or two fruitless calls. Persistence pays off—and so does being a pain the rear. You have to make it clear that you won't stop fighting for yourself, and that not helping you will cost the company more in the long run. I think people often get intimidated and think they can't fight a big corporation, or city hall, or whatever entity they're fighting. It's simply not true. If you have the truth on your side and a willingness to battle, you can almost always win.
Do companies respond quickly to you because you are a reporter, or could the average person without a platform also get those results by applying your strategies?
I definitely have an advantage when I call as a reporter. Companies absolutely hate bad publicity. But you don't have to be a reporter for a major newspaper to get results. The average person who applies good consumer strategies can and will win their battles, if they're prepared, persistent, and willing to do the required work. Besides, you don't need to be a reporter to wield the power of the press. Often, all you have to do is threaten to go to the media, and a company will do the right thing. I get letters all the time from people who say they dropped my name and an erroneous bill was immediately fixed. The power of the press works, even for non-journalists.
[Why Customer Service Has Gotten So Bad]
What's your favorite problem solver story?
My favorite story was one I worked on several years ago, about two individuals—one from India, the other from Poland—who had written me separately saying their applications to become U.S. citizens had become gummed up in the federal immigration office. They had both passed their naturalization tests, and had been told they would be sworn in as citizens within months.
Instead, they had waited years to clear the final hurdle, which was a seemingly innocuous FBI name check. Both were extremely hard-working and patriotic. They wanted nothing more than to become Americans. I called the federal immigration office, and within weeks, the logjam was cleared. Turns out, both has simply become "stuck" in the system, a spokeswoman for the federal government told me. Both were scheduled to become naturalized on the same day, and I attended the ceremony.
It was truly inspiring and humbling. It's the type of problem I like tackling the most—the problems that have deep impacts in people's lives, and also shed light on needless corporate or governmental bureaucracy that needs to be corrected.
You write that you only help people who first tried to help themselves. What do you do differently than they did on their own that makes that difference?
People sometimes become frustrated too quickly and give up before the battle is truly over. As a consumer advocate, once I take on a "problem," I'm like a pit bull. It's not in my nature, but I've learned that such an attitude is often what it takes. I think we could all use a little more pit bull in us.