Thursday, December 27, 2007

Beaver-Butt Juice, Crushed Beetles, Calf Tongues in Our Food, Oh My!

As creative as some people think I am, I really do not make this stuff up.

An excellent article in the November/December 2007 issue of VegNews magazine ("Code Red: Deciphering the Discombobulating Language of Food Labels") discusses crap that is in our food that the government permits without us being notified.

Vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters alike should be horrified that certain ingredients are not specifically spelled out for us on our food labels.

According to the article, the Code of Federal Regulations "permits food manufacturers to list a gaggle of ingredients as 'natural' flavors, so long as they are derived from 'nature' without undergoing excessive physical processing conditions during development, such as extreme temperatures or pressures."

WARNING: Don't read the following while (or shortly after) eating!

One such ingredient the federal code covers is castoreum, which is literally extracted from a beaver's anal glands. According to VegNews, the pungent, creamy substance has been used for more than 80 years in baked goods, condiments, and candies. Can you say "gross," boys and girls!

The article goes on to discuss other crap that might be in our food without us knowing it, such as carmine or cochineal, which is the ground-up carcasses of beetles. The additive is said to be used as a coloring in processed foods.

Consumers should be revolting about the practice of food manufacturers not informing us about what is really in our food. Not sure if letters to our representatives or FDA would do any good in changing the law, but feel free to spread the word (instead of a beaver's butt) about this topic to others.

Be sure to order a back issue of the November/December 2007 VegNews magazine to read the in-depth article which gives a detailed list of what is what.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bumhole of the Month: Diamond Valley Middle School (for suspending student with blue hair)

(Hemet, CA) With all the very serious things taking place at public schools throughout the nation these days, it amazes me that administrators at one California school have the colour of a student's hair as top priority!

These morons, who probably all have one or more college degrees and had to have a full body cavity search prior to being hired, actually SUSPENDED 13-year-old student Leona Searan because a portion of her hair was coloured midnight blue.

According to a recent article in The Press-Enterprise newspaper (Riverside, CA): "The Diamond Valley Middle School student was sent home for violating the school dress code rule prohibiting 'purple, green, blue or other unnatural color' in hair. She returned, still with blue hair, and was suspended for a day. She can't go back unless the coloring is rinsed out or covered. Unwilling to immediately do so, she is on home study until Jan. 11 with permission of the school."

The student's mother, a hairdresser, told the newspaper she wasn't aware that the school had a rule regarding hair colour and was shocked to find her daughter suspended. The mother and father are considering legal action against the school district, according to the newspaper article.

Sadly enough, several local residents sent letters to the editor of The Press-Enterprise chastising the student for considering legal action and said that the student should learn to follow the rules.

Hello? This is the US of A, long may she wave, the land of liberty, of thee I sing, unless, of course, I'm a teenager who wants to be different and express myself by colouring my hair!

Shame on the Hemet school and all the so-called educators and administrators involved in this dispute. I hope they get a much needed education from the 13-year-old student and her parents about civil liberties and freedom of expression, which do NOT necessarily (or at least should not) stop at the schoolhouse door.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Whole Foods CEO is Corrupt and Should Resign!

Because of my sometimes very busy proofreading business, I only recently learned what a slimeball Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is. As a result, I will never spend one dime at Whole Foods or their newly acquired Wild Oats companies. Furthermore, I have written Mr. Mackey directly and asked that he resign as CEO of the company immediately.

Thanks to the December 2007 issue of VegNews
magazine, I became educated very quickly about how Mackey manipulated information and outright lied to the public regarding Wild Oats in order for him and and Whole Foods to benefit financially.

According to the article (originating from The Wall Street Journal), the Federal Trade Commission revealed that Mackey posted more than 1,100 messages over an eight-year period on Yahoo! Finance stock forums under a false identity, trashing rival natural foods grocer Wild Oats before trying to buy the company out. Mackey, according to the article, is asking everyone to forgive him, which is grand of him, but he should still resign his post.

I urge all concerned consumers to join me in demanding the immediate resignation of Mackey. Please send him a letter directly at:

John Mackey, CEO

Whole Foods Market, Inc
550 Bowie Street
Austin, TX 78703

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fuck Censorship!

This isn't the first and won't be the last time I write a column with this heading. I am sick and tired of other people judging me and trying to control what I read, listen to, watch, eat, and so on. Is anyone else as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?

When I read the latest assault on free speech, the first thing that came to mind was Saturday Night Live's character from the "old days," Roseanne Rosannadanna, who used to say, "I thought I was going to puke!"

Back in November of this year, some holier-than-thous went on the rampage about rap lyrics. According to United Press International, New York's public advocate (Betsy Gotbaum) sent letters protesting revenue generated through the use of degrading lyrics and racial slurs.

According to the article, the New York City retirement fund holds $5 billion in entertainment and broadcast stocks. The article, which originated from the New York Daily News, went on to state that her criticism comes on the heels of a surge of attacks against offensive lyrics prevalent in rap and hip-hip music.

Just when I thought I was feeling sick enough, I read further on in the article how the Rev. Al Sharpton has rallied in Times Square protesting offensive lyrics and music producer Russel Simmons called for voluntary bans on degrading slang.

At that point, I was literally forced to stop reading the article and guzzle the entire contents of a bottle of Emetrol!

Tipper Gore went crazy with music lyrics decades ago. More recently, I believe the U.S. Congress held hearings about rap lyrics when Eminem became popular, and Senator Joe Lieberman had his day in the sun with that. Lynne Cheney, if I am correct, was involved in all the hoopla too. What's up with vice presidents' wives and censorship anyway?

As far as I am concerned, folks like bad boy rapper Eminem and sex mogul Larry Flynt have done more for upholding freedoms in American than any politician or wife of a politician.

Anyone interesting in reading a "fair and balanced" article about rap lyrics and how they affect (or don't affect) society, please read my 2001 article, EMINEM'S LYRICS: Is Society Rewarding Hate? (2001).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sex Education Saves Lives

By accident, thanks to the Internet, I happened to catch a recent letter to the editor of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel newspaper in Wisconsin. I have no clue how old the writer of the letter is, but it is an important commentary (but sad one) on the status of sex education in many parts of the nation.

I am providing a copy of the letter here, followed by a link to a similar letter to a newspaper I wrote about the subject in 1979, when I was about 18.

Here's the recent Wisconsin letter:

Your Opinions
From Journal Sentinel readers (Wisconsin)
Posted: Dec. 10, 2007

Youth need open, thorough discussion

I was appalled by the Elmbrook School District task force's discussion to shy away from proper sexual education ("Task force debates sex ed lesson timing," Dec. 6). I am thankful I was taught in Brookfield's public school system in a comprehensive manner about sex and disease prevention. To deprive children of that in a culture laced with provocative media and sexual innuendo is both a contradiction and a disservice.

Children should learn about sex not only for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies but for the fact that more than half of all sexually active people in the United States will have a sexually transmitted disease at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Depriving children of education about sexual behavior when they reach the age of curiosity is damaging to them and to society. Young teens should feel comfortable discussing the matter of sexual health with their doctor and their sexual history with their partner. The rising statistics of diseases show the need to be rid of stigmas associated with sexual behavior.

Teaching teens to be ashamed and embarrassed to talk about sexual behavior by beating around the bush with abstinence-only education is asking for ignorance and an increase in diseases among the young population. I encourage the district to reconsider.

Katherine Groth

Click here to read a 1979 letter I wrote to a newspaper on the very same topic in California when I was about 18.
Click here to read a 1979 news article regarding the school board voting against sex ed!

Thursday, November 22, 2007 (prepaid debit card)

This company really sucks. That strong opinion is based on my 6+ months of experience trying to do business with these folks. WiredPlastic offers a prepaid Visa debit card (issued by BankFirst in South Dakota). They really have no clue how to treat their customers and prey on people who have little or no credit history.

I started out with an excellent prepaid debit card (STASH) which Virgin Mobile provided as a service to its customers. They offered a Bill-Pay-type feature that I really liked and the customer service was excellent. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and for whatever reason Virgin Mobile abruptly stopped providing the STASH card to their customers.

That was when I discovered WiredPlastic. From the get-go, it was a nightmare for me when one of their online third-party affiliates captured ALL of my personal information that was submitted on the application form and I started receiving 50 spam e-mails every few hours to my Gmail account. My persistent phone calls and even complaint letters didn't result in one response from WiredPlastic or BankFirst or anyone connected with these companies. I was greatly inconvenienced by having to start a new Gmail account because of the spams that they wouldn't put a stop to.

The reason I signed up with WiredPlastic was to take advantage of the benefits that STASH had offered, which included a Bill-Pay-type feature so I could pay a collection agency for an old debt without using my real bank account (something you definitely want to keep secret from ANY collection agency).

Recently, I scheduled payment to the collection agency in advance using the WiredPlastic Click-N-Pay feature (just 95 cents per check issued). Soon after, my dental insurance carrier notified me that if I didn't pay my dental premium right away, they were canceling my insurance. The only place I had money at the time was on my WiredPlastic card, but only if I were to cancel the Click-N-Pay previously scheduled for the collection agency.

I tried everything I could on the WiredPlastic web site, but there was no option whatsoever to cancel a scheduled Click-N-Pay on their web site. After numerous calls to the WiredPlastic customer support (which I later learned I was charged 95 cents for, per call), I was informed the only way to cancel a prescheduled Click-N-Pay was to delete the collection agency altogether. I immediately did that and the next day confirmed I had enough of a balance on my WiredPlastic debit card to pay my dental insurance premium.

Unfortunately, for technical reasons no one has yet explained why the balance showing on the WiredPlastic web page was negative, as was the balance given to me using the free automated telephone number. For weeks, the only way to find out my true balance was to pay 95 cents per call and ask a live person what it was. Needless to say, I was really pissed off that I had to pay for something that was their fault, and although they did not reverse all of the 95-cent charges, some were eventually reversed. I even had to pay 95 cents when speaking with supervisors to request that previous charges be removed, and that just isn't right!

Countless calls and e-mails to WiredPlastic customer service reps, managers, and even two calls to BankFirst in South Dakota resulted in NO resolution to the ongoing problem with my negative balance showing when I utilized the web site features. Numerous times, I threatened to file complaints against them with the
Federal Trade Commission and Ralph Nader at Public Citizen, but still received no resolution to the problems.

Then out of the blue, I received a call from BankFirst and presumed that someone was finally listening. Guess what? They weren't responding to my numerous complaints; they wanted a copy of my California Driver License and Social Security Card under The Patriot Act to prove that my full legal name is Crusader. I was told that until I provided said documentation, my WiredPlastic account was "being placed on hold" and couldn't be used.

I was told by BankFirst that they call people at random, but I am convinced that they were harassing me because of my threats to take action against them. Since my balance was at zero dollars and zero cents, I told them just to cancel the card, and informed them I was going to write an article about them so others can be educated to stay far away from The BankFirst employee could care less when I told her that.

Hopefully others will also care less about doing business with these jerks!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


GrandCentral (easy-to-use phone management)

Now, here is a "telephone management" service that actually works! Another Google "invention," this service is free during the beta phase. One can go to GrandCentral to request to be a masterbeta tester, just like me.

The best part about their service, which I quote directly from their FAQ: "We've tapped into VoIP technology to build our service, but GrandCentral works with cell phones, desk phones, VoIP lines, and everything in between. There's nothing to download, upload, or install. And you don't have to make or take calls using a computer."

In less than 30 minutes, I signed up for a "virtual phone number" in my area (Palm Springs, CA), and was able to diddle with a few of the settings and place several "test calls" to ensure that the features actually worked as described.

My situation involves always forwarding my business cell and personal cell to my GrandCentral number; that way, I can manage all my cell phones (3 total) from one phone.

I programmed GrandCentral to forward all of those calls (plus any calls directly made to my GrandCentral number) directly to my unlisted private cell number. When I make a call from the GrandCentral web page (or via their site on my MOTO RAZR V3xx web browser), the caller sees my GrandCentral number in their Caller ID, not any of my other phone numbers, which is sweet.

The features that GrandCentral offer are too numerous to mention here, but include audio Caller ID (for when visual Caller ID just isn't enough or the caller is Unknown); listening in while someone is leaving a voice mail message and then pushing a button on the keypad to retrieve the call while the caller is leaving the message; customized voice mail messages specific to callers in your GrandCentral address book; a variety of phone rings (or humorous voice announcements) the caller hears when they contact you at GrandCentral (customizable for each address book contact); compatibility with some cell phones to access some GrandCentral features via a mobile web browser. (Be sure you have a flat rate data or web package with your phone carrier if you plan on using this feature often.)

It's important to note that not all features of the mobile access work on all cell phones. Case in point, on my MOTO RAZR V3xx, I cannot play the voicemail messages because of how my phone defines those particular MP3 files. I thought the workaround for this would be to install the Opera Mini browser application (which GrandCentral recommends); however that did not resolve the issue. I sent some feedback to GrandCentral to find out if they have any suggestions.

On a positive note, since downloading the Opera Mini browser application on my phone, I have to say that it is 1,000 times better than the Opera 8.0 browser that MOTO (or AT&T) preinstalls with this model phone. In fact, it's definitely the best browser I've used on any cell phone.

From a business standpoint, GrandCentral really helps me because I am able to place a WebCall button on my proofreading web site (several styles to choose from) for potential clients to call me. All they have to do is click on the button and enter their telephone number. GrandCentral then calls me and connects me seamlessly to the potential new client. I also put a GrandCentral button on my activism web site and this blog to make it easy for folks to reach me.

Tired of annoying sales calls? calls from ex-significant others? calls from pesky collection agencies? Simply add the person or company to your address book and program that caller to 1) Always go to voice mail; 2) Always go to SPAM voice mail; 3) Play a recording such as "The number you have reached is no longer in service." If you select No. 3 above, you'll never get the call, but GrandCentral will keep track of the attempted call in your phone log, which is nice in case you want to be aware of who tried to contact you.

These are some of the features that paid services such as TalkPlus supposedly offer; however as mentioned in a previous post on this blog, many of the TalkPlus features failed more often than not. A similar outfit, RingCentral (which offers even more features than TalkPlus), has failed to return my inquiry to them after more than 24 hours, which is surprising as their web site is rather impressive.

Apparently, from my recent experience, GrandCentral should take off like wildfire and put any competition to shame. Many thanks again to Google for providing me (and others) with tools to stay informed and organized.

Click here to see the skinny on how GrandCentral works.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


TalkPlus (manage all your telephone numbers from one phone)

This would be a great service if only it worked. TalkPlus claims to offer all types of really cool features to manage several telephones (cell or land line phones) from one phone number.

In my situation, I have three cell phones. TalkPlus was supposed to make it convenient and possible for me to receive and make calls from one number, and program their system so that my call could be "mirrored" from either my business line or personal line. The outgoing call features appear to work; however, their incoming call features have failed repeatedly!

From the very start, it is extremely complicated to program the features the consumer or business owner wants to use with TalkPlus. Worse yet, once everything is programmed properly, the features do not work as advertised. Since the entire reason for paying for their service is to make telecommuting easier for business owners and consumers, that is what I expect TalkPlus to deliver. Unfortunately, they have failed miserably in that regard.

I have been paying about $30.00 per month for two "mirrored numbers" and two "virtual numbers" with 200 minutes. The minutes are only used when I accept a call on my "native phone" that is forwarded by TalkPlus OR when I make a call from my "native phone" (in this case, my private cell phone) and route it through TalkPlus to make it look like the call is coming from my personal OR business line. An application from TalkPlus needs to be installed on the "native phone" to use the outgoing call features.

After using the service for about five weeks, every time I attempt to add a telephone number to the Call Screening feature (which programs a call from a specific number to go directly to voice mail or replicate a busy signal), I receive an error message that I must input a valid numeric telephone number.

Other issues involve the fact that even though I have programmed the TalkPlus service to send all UNKNOWN callers directly to voice mail, that feature usually does not work, and the calls are routed to what TalkPlus calls my "native phone," the one

I am supposed to be able to manage all my phone numbers from. Anotherfeature that does not work consistently is when I have programmed a number in my Call Screening profile to replicate a busy signal, those calls sometimes come through on my main number, which isn't supposed to happen.

Finally, repeated phone calls and e-mails to TalkPlus about their glitches remain unanswered. In fact, I notice that during the past several days, it is impossible to reach a live person at their customer service number.

If TalkPlus expects to be a serious contender in their field, they need to fix their glitches and provide improved customer service, which right now is a big fat zero!

Note: Just a little update that on Tuesday, November 26, a live person finally called me from TalkPlus after my 10+ business days of trying to reach them via e-mail, online feedback forms, and telephone. They promised to cancel my account and refund me the equivalent of one month's service. I gave the employee and earful about their customer disservice AND technical problems, which they were happy to hear about. For now, I recommend that people pass on TalkPlus and (still hasn't returned my inquiry after FIVE business days), and try out, a free service that actually WORKS!