Overinvolved in consumer issues

‘Pretty Woman’ is an ugly movie and needs to die


She’s the one in charge, because she’s holding his tie. And she stole his heart! We mustn’t forget how powerful that move is.

I can’t believe there are articles popping up telling me to celebrate the 25th anniversary one of the biggest piece of sh%$ movies of the ’90s, “Pretty Woman.”

It’s a Cinderella story of a prostitute who finds value in herself because some sleazy businessman who needs to pay for it decides he loves her. He gives her flowers. The End.

And no, the absurd dialogue about Julia Roberts rescuing him back does not make it OK. Just more painful, because we’re seeing a twisted, more sexualized version of the same old Disney crap and being lulled into some sort of sense that we’re being progressive.

People have let little girls watch this trash for 25 years, and wonder why there’s a whole new generation of girls who won’t identify themselves as feminists. (Duh, people. It’s about rights for females, not female supremacy. If you don’t want equal rights guaranteed, then you can go troll that fictionalized Hollywood Boulevard for rich beady-eyed gentlemen like Richard Gere, too.)

I consider myself lucky that I’m old enough that I was already 18 and quite surly when I saw this tripe for the first time. “Oh, look, the hooker is giggling so enchantingly when the jewelry box closes! I’m so happy. Yes, she’s still just there to decorate the room and warm men’s hearts, but she’s so empowered because she’s … uh, wearing a red dress, I think? Or because she looks a little cleaner?”

Now that it’s made it to 25, can we kill this movie, please? Do not let your kids watch this.

It does in fact threaten the morals of boys and girls. They’re much better off not knowing about businessmen who go looking to pay for sex but find love, which they then buy with flowers.

And they’ll benefit from never wanting to be like that pretty lady who stops selling her body and starts selling her big, toothy smile and goofy charm instead. Eek. And she does this so she can live happily ever after with the guy who really has no problem with buying a woman for a week.

He’s not exactly a champion of stopping human trafficking. She’s not exactly a paragon of self-worth and ethics, either. True love doesn’t make this all OK.

This is not something I want my sons seeing, and I don’t think anyone’s daughters should see it, either.

The End.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section.


Plaything of the damned

Every parent has that one toy in the house that they’d put a mob hit on.

For me, it’s called Alphabet Pal. And it’s purple. And chirpy. And a caterpillar. And vile.

For one, it tries to wake up the kids, even when we don’t know it’s on. And it’s been doing this for five years. Why do I let it live with me? I’m not really sure.


But every once in a while, it senses a human walking near it and shrieks, “HI! I’M ALPHABET PAL! WANT TO PUNCH ME IN THE FACE?” Well, no, it doesn’t really say that, but that doesn’t mean I really refrain from doing that, either.

The irony — or rather lack of irony — is that we received this gift on The Elder’s first birthday with a note from my father-in-law, instructing the darling child, “Drive your dad nuts with this.”

But, in fact, it drives us both over the edge. And the batteries just don’t run out.

Someday, both kids will be done with it, and we’ll throw it away. Or recycle it. Or something. We’ll probably never be rid of it, since interpreting Seattle rules for throwing molded plastic detritus out requires at least a master’s degree in waste management.

So the mob hit may be our only recourse in the end.

What toy in your house would you most like to kill? I’d love to hear about it. 

This post is a throwback to 2012, and was first printed at The Two Boys Club (http://twoboysclub.com).


Too chicken to say what they really feed the poultry

“Raised without antibiotics” is a nice label to see on a package of chicken.

As of yesterday, even McDonald’s is joining the pack and pledging to phase out the use of human antibiotics in chicken — gradually — over the next two years. Yes, they won’t use any more HUMAN antibiotics . So that really tells us nothing of the other antibiotics, for OTHER ANIMALS, that they might see fit to continue to pump into their flocks. Feeding chickens fistfuls of chicken antibiotics would still be fair play under the terms they stated in their announcement, of course.

I would like to know why I don’t ever see packages of chicken, or chicken listed on menus, that announces that the poultry has been “Raised WITH antibiotics.” You know, since it’s believed to be an OK practice and healthful and all, let’s just have that info out there for all of us to see.

Like me, for instance. Since I’m allergic to penicillin and sulfa drugs, I would really appreciate that information. Since I’m able to find out lots of fun facts about peanuts and tree nuts in food on FDA-mandated packaging, I’d like to know if penicillin is in the bird I’m going to eat, just in case there’s potential for, say, a life-threatening penicillin reaction with those nuggets.

As well as the potential for destroying the effectiveness of antibiotics in general and thereby hastening the demise of humanity as we know it. But since the industry likes to keep the use of antibiotics in chicken very, very quiet, that’s pretty unlikely to happen any time soon.

One might also wonder why the chickens were so sick in the first place. What have they been using these antibiotics for? Did they all have sinus infections? Bronchitis? Chicken syphilis?

No, it turns out that livestock farmers figured out years ago that animals would gain 3 percent more weight per year if they got pumped full of the drugs that finally gave humanity some mastery over tuberculosis, gonorrhea, diphtheria and other merciless killers. In other words, industry thought it was OK to squander potential life-saving drugs in the food supply, wantonly, to make some chickens fat. (There are other ways to do that, too — namely, feeding the chickens more food. But that would be more expensive, and it’s not like the public or politicians or regulators were trying to stop them from drugging the fat chickens.)

As the FDA points out on its website, “Antibiotics are added to the animal feed or drinking water of cattle, hogs, poultry and other food-producing animals to help them gain weight faster or use less food to gain weight.” Right. So the producers spend less on food, and you get more traces of antibiotics.

The FDA introduced a voluntary plan in December 2013 to phase out key human antibiotics in livestock. The deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine Flynn said that the participation was voluntary because it was a more efficient way to change manufacturers’ approach.

But I beg to differ. I think industry might volunteer to get the drugs out of the food animals faster if they all got nice little mandatory stickers advertising what was really in the meat. “Fed with antibiotic water.” “Now with even more pharmaceutical feed.”

If they label the antibiotic-tainted meats with their real origins, the companies will see what the market will bear pretty darn fast.

People might not be excited to shell out extra money for organic poultry, but most families are not willing to spend a dime on drumsticks if they’re reminded they have extra pharmaceuticals.

Am I in a tizzy over nothing? How do you feel about drugs being fed to livestock you will eat later so that companies can save money on feed?



Are smartphones a dumb move for grade-schoolers?

My eight-year-old thinks he should have a smartphone so he can play Minecraft whenever he wants. I think that he shouldn’t have a smartphone because then he will play Minecraft whenever he wants.

Back in my day, a kid that age would call his friends on tin can “phones” attached by a string. (OK, maybe that wasn’t my day, but I sure did see that on reruns from the ’60s a lot.)

And back in my day, it was character building to sit and wait in a panic, with no phone in sight, when a parent was late picking you up from the bus.

Nonetheless, it seems I am way out of step with trendsetters in the children’s fashion world, who find it not only desirable but essential that my five-year-old’s winter coat have a cellphone pocket. (What five-year-old doesn’t have a need for a cellphone? It leaves me to wonder where he’s going to store his car keys and his cigarettes when he’s out on the slopes.)

But seriously, I do resent being nudged toward completely immersing my kids in the world of iPhones, Androids, iPads and Nintendo 3DSes before they’ve even formed a proper sense of what intersection they live near. They barely understand how to talk into a phone when it isn’t in speaker mode, which other parents tell me is now a grave epidemic among today’s under-10 set. The last thing we need is autocomplete messing with their newfound spelling ability.

But the products keep coming. There are little gloves for four-year-olds with touch-screen-friendly fingers — just in case your child wants to play Minion Rush while out in a blizzard. A tiny coat pocket is tagged with a picture of a phone so your preschooler knows, before he can read, that you are depriving him of valuable technology that he could be carrying on his person at this very instant, even though he is struggling with the concept of having to carry his very own nearly empty backpack to school each day.

My question is whether parents are really doing this: Are adults buying kids as young as grade-schoolers their own phones now? And are people actually buying young children smartphones? (And requiring pockets for them?)

Sure, the kids can call you when you mess up and accidentally forget to pick them up at school. The down side is that they might be surfing porn and watching bomb-making videos when you get there.

What are your thoughts on smartphones for kids? Are they too much, too soon, or just right?

So you need to use the booster AND the seat belt?

Most parents are good about getting their kids to stay in car booster seats at least until state laws tell them they can do otherwise. But there’s no accounting for HOW they put the children in those seats.

Or for the common sense of photographers and other professionals on the set of car rental company photo shoots.

It’s great that an ad campaign on Alamo car rental buses is letting us know that the company can give us access to child safety seats (usually at a cost per day above the price of outright purchasing a seat from a store, that is). But then they advertise that convenience service for a kids’ safety device with this photo:


Why not make the seat belt extra comfy and loose? What harm could come of that?

Why not make the seat belt extra comfy and loose? What harm could come of that?

Whoa, there. That seat belt is looking might nice and comfortable. And unsafe. You’d think someone at the company might have noticed that this is not the best way to tout safety to American parents — reinforcing images of a highly ejectable child sitting lounging with a slack seat belt, ready for optimal toss-around.

He also looks like he’s on the younger side for sitting in a belted booster.

Yes, you could say I have a few issues with this stuff. It’s not rocket science, but 93 percent of parents bring home newborn infants either incorrectly strapped into car seats or in safety seats that were installed flat-out wrong, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And this photo campaign is reinforcing an image that says it’s all right to keep the belts loose, when all usage rules indicate that the strap needs to be pulled close to the body in order to work in a crash.

It seems we could use a little more guidance on this stuff, and clearer instructions all around. For everyone.

Sure, there are a lot of dumb Americans breeding, but the idea that a full 93 percent could be idiots is a little ungenerous.

The instructions in the manuals just aren’t sticking with the general public, and this needs to be fixed.

This is how the Graco booster manuals say to belt your kid.

This is how the Graco booster manuals say to belt your kid.

I have made my share of mistakes with safety seats over the last few years. What mistakes have you made? Have you noticed others putting kids in wrong? 

The real reason kids’ pajamas are ridiculously tight

Every parent learns that you have to buy kids’ cotton pajamas two sizes too big. We’re not supposed to, according to the yellow hang tags from an unidentified authority, but that is how it’s done in reality.

Otherwise, kids look and feel like they’re wearing too-tight body stockings, and no one wants to sleep that way. (What if you get an itch? You’d then need to completely undress, sliding off that clingy cotton peel just to scratch your thigh.)

If the pajamas you buy in your kid’s size fit more reasonably, it’s because they are made of synthetic fibers (which may or may not have been chemically treated long before the fabric became pajamas) or have been made thoroughly coated in flame retardants that must make it through at least 50 washes in all their chemical goodness.

How did these pajama rules come about? And how many kids in loose cotton jammies were truly in danger before these regulations first came into effect in the 1970s? (And couldn’t that risk have a lot to do with the vastly greater numbers of parents who had cigarettes dangling from their lips in 1975?)

The tight fit is considered protective because no loose fabric means less of a chance that a sleeve or pant leg will be set ablaze.

And the rule change in the 1970s did result in a significant reduction in fire injuries to children. That was back when the manufacturers were using a few flame retardants that were so obviously hazardous to health that they were swiftly banned in 1977.

Today, I can safely say I seldom hold my children over an open flame. Particularly not when they are wearing pajamas. But then again, mine hardly ever wear pajamas anymore since they’re are so darned uncomfortable. The synthetic fibers are too heavy, and the cotton versions are too clingy. I like fire safety, but I also like having kids who will fall asleep at night.

But these fire-safe jammie laws mean nothing if everyone buys a bigger size or ditches the clothes for loose T-shirts and shorts. It’s common sense to avoid clothes that smell like chemicals. It’s common sense to buy clothes that fit. And it’s common sense to keep the kids away from things that make fire.

Until recently I was under the impression that these laws existed to protect kids who woke up in burning homes, but I was wrong. In 2000, a memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that children should only wear cotton pajamas when they are snug because loose garments catch fire fast. The press release notes, “Children are most at risk from burn injuries that result from playing with fire (matches, lighters, candles, burners on stoves) just before bedtime and just after rising in the morning.”

It sounds to me that rather than changing the clothes, fire prevention experts need to work on looking into households where kids routinely play with fire before bedtime. Limiting access to matches and lighters and teaching kids not to turn on the stove might be, say, a whole lot more effective. Guards that prevent young children from being able to turn on the stove would be a good move, too.

And maybe the parents could just make sure they occasionally look in on the kids. (Sadly, I know, that’s sometimes too much to ask.) I’d have to say that tight cotton pajamas and chemical-coated polyester blends certainly do seem to be a Band-Aid here.

They aren’t really doing the job, either, if most people avoid buying the products. It’s a little like banning brown wooly coats so children don’t get shot by hunters. It’s the free-ranging gun that’s the problem! Just like it’s the free-ranging fire sources that prompted these rules.

Let’s start a movement instead to get the lighters and matches away from kids, and outfit every home with a stove guard.

Do you break the fire safety regulations, too, or do you follow every last rule to the letter? Let’s discuss that in the comments.

Bathe yourself in divine lighting

There are some new mirrors on the market that make you look like you’re well, Jesus Christ. And, much like him (according to some reports), they are everywhere at once.

At first, I was excited to see these frames that evoke a medieval or renaissance look. They’re in pretty much every store that sells anything vaguely decorative.

“Gee, that sacred mirror would look swell in my dining room!”

But then it dawned on me that it looked like any user would look like, well, an aspiring deity. (As far as I know, even Kim Kardashian has not made it to that level yet.)

According to Wikipedia, halos reportedly went out of fashion by the 19th century in Western art, but they’re back, baby. It’s the ultimate DIY project, and just perfect for the Internet:

“How to look divine in two easy steps.”

“You won’t believe this new saint life-hack!”

“I went to Crate and Barrel, and you won’t believe how holy I look now.”

So, despite the kooky “Game of Thrones” vibe they might give to an otherwise drab dining room or ungodly bathroom, I passed on getting a mirror.

I don’t need my already confident kids to get heads that big.

It’s probably somewhere in the kid manual that they not view themselves with halos at all times.

Merry whatever — here’s your card from my delightful family

It’s December, so it’s time to put together some sort of stock greeting card with pictures of my kids on it so people don’t think we don’t love them anymore. The kids, that is.



Frozen yogurt: This just got real

Nothing sets off my inner copy editor like a cheerful, brightly colored sign full of advertising nonsense.

And grammatical errors. (Oh, how I love to find those grammatical errors.)

“We use REAL ingredients because it’s better for you.”

(First off, is Menchie’s trying to tell us that its ingredients are better for us? In that case, the subject it was looking for is “they.” The ingredients are a “they,” not an “it.” Of course, this presumes that Menchie’s was not simply using an unclear antecedent in the signs that were posted at stores this fall.)

And I am glad to hear that the ingredients are real, and thus do in fact exist. I do hate when I buy food that is a figment of my imagination.

The company clearly wants to tell us that it uses “real ingredients.” Real ingredients as opposed to fake ingredients, I suppose. One could assume that if the ingredients are fake, that they do not in fact exist. Saying that an ingredient is “real” doesn’t give us a whole lot of evidence about what kind of ingredient it is. Just merely that it’s in there, and that it has, um, matter.

Most people will be excited by that and assume that this unregulated and meaningless term “REAL” means that the ingredients are “pure ” (another term meaning nothing), or from organic milk, or more healthful than other kinds of frozen yogurt.

You see, Menchie’s never actually does make that claim, in a legal sense. But the company’s chest-pounding about realness sure does make you feel like you must be doing something healthy as you eat your candy-covered frozen dessert.

But any ingredient that is present in any concoction, anywhere, is “real.”

Even, if it’s, say, artificial flavors. Yup, they are in there. Up near the top of the list for the flavor cinnayumm bun. “Natural & artificial flavors” are on there, right next to modified food starch — perhaps another favorite of the crowd looking for real, healthful ingredients?

These are listed before the third last ingredient, which is … artificial flavor. Apparently, Menchie’s stuff is so real they had to put in artificial flavors twice, in two separate listings.

But I have to give the chain a break, because the company wasn’t making a claim that really goes against any laws. Menchie’s was simply stretching the boundaries of language, and praising the virtues of a product that does, in fact, exist.

Unless, that is, the company wants to make us believe that frozen yogurt flavors full of artificial flavors and covered in commercially produced candy are in fact, from nature (you know, REAL ingredients).

Now that might be misleading.

After all, Menchie’s only said it uses real ingredients. Not that all of its ingredients are real.

Did you read that sign wrong?

Comments welcome.


Cinnayumm bun ingredients:


Here are ingredients for the flavor pineapple cake, which bears an impressive badge telling us it contains “real pineapple cake batter.” The ingredients also list the very real “natural & artificial flavors” and later, “natural & artificial flavor,” as well as Yellow Lake 6 and Yellow Lake 5. All real. (On another day, I will discuss how natural flavor is no guarantee of anything close to nature, either.)


The flavor harvest pumpkin boasts natural & artificial flavors, as well as the very real food colorings Yellow 5, Red 40 and Yellow 6:


Trick-or-cheaters: It’s chocolate, now with less chocolate!

Halloween is a time when we let go of long-held standards such as “no candy bars for breakfast” and “no slasher-movie imagery for 18-month-olds.”

And most parents look the other way when another parent steals all of a child’s Almond Joys and pilfers a Twix or two.

But you might want to think twice before sharing in your kids’ take, or letting the kids eat it, because this stuff isn’t entirely made of food anymore.

Some major chocolate brands have taken out the cocoa butter and replaced it with … well, the derivative of a product that sometimes serves as a laxative (like those times Mussolini used it as a way to torture, embarrass and occasionally kill prisoners) or an outright poison, like when it’s used to make ricin, Walter White’s poison of choice on “Breaking Bad.”

Do you want food that comes in close proximity to it? It is made from the very useful castor bean plant, which is widely considered one of the most dangerous plants in the world, and also makes really nifty biodiesel and lubricates machines and engines well. This exciting ingredient is called PGPR, Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate. (See? It even has ricin in the name.)

The FDA knows about it, and deems it all OK. PGPR didn’t kill any rats or give them cancer in the 1950s and 1960s. (And we know how advanced detection of rat cancer must have been in the 1950s and 1960s.) It also helps manufacturers use more soy lecithin. If we eat more of this filler, candy companies can have a better bottom line, and we’ll get less … cocoa butter. I love when companies remove a major component of an item and sell it to me with less of it. Don’t you?

That’s OK, right? You may enjoy eating a viscous, yellow product you would never even touch as a raw ingredient so the company can alter the candy’s thickness for less. And then they can leave out those pesky ingredients that occur naturally in chocolate production, like cocoa butter, that are just so expensive and gooey and hard to use for the beleaguered chocolate company. Wouldn’t you rather they got some extra money by selling off that ingredient to cosmetic companies for other products, rather than giving you the stuff you think you’re already paying for and eating?

On its Web site, Hershey’s explains that it uses PGPR “to improve processing characteristics of chocolate.” It also helps in molding chocolate. Right. Because we know that there were such difficulties with that before 2006, when Hershey’s altered the formula by giving us less cocoa product — and more chemicals that had to be studied in many labs so companies would know how much they could safely feed to us.

It makes you think. How did Hershey’s ever manage to mold chocolate for the 106 years before that? It couldn’t have been that difficult.

It’s merely more expensive.

Hey, chocolate makers: How about you not add products that are fantastic for greasing engines to your products without checking with us first, OK? Maybe you could add a little tag that says “Now, with even more emulsifiers!” or “Rich in ricin derivatives.”

I suppose it is reassuring that the FDA has labeled PGPR as GRAS, Generally Regarded as Safe. An even better idea might be to lobby to change that label to “Generally Regarded as Chocolate.” You know, generally. Or “Now! Even more like chocolate!”

That might be a good distinction to make, since studies that say that chocolate has great health-enhancing qualities all count on it being, you know, made from actual chocolate and actual cocoa butter, and not just the FDA legal minimum of each, along with a substance created in a lab.

As usual, my mother was horrified to hear the news about this quiet switcheroo. “Why are theyputting that in there?”

As usual, the answer was not uplifting. “Because it’s cheaper,” I told her. “Because they can.”

And, finally, they can do this because only a few buyers are reading ingredient labels and asking questions. If you see an acronym, look it up. You may not like what you find.

Some products that do contain PGPR:
Hershey’s with Almonds
Mr. Goodbar
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Cadbury Fruit & Nut
Cadbury Dairy Milk

Some products that don’t contain PGPR:
Nestle Crunch
Hershey’s Kisses
3 Musketeers
Theo chocolates
Newman’s Own

Previously posted on my consumer protection blog, The Old Shoe (oldshoemag.com)

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