My American (Express) Journey (Nightmare)

My American (Express) journey (nightmare) continues. Remember the famous one-cent credit that existed on my AMEX Gold card after I canceled the account? How AMEX kept sending me statements every month, listing the credit, until I finally phoned them and said they could keep the goddam cent?

That was quite the silly story. It ended (or so I thought) with them sending me a cheque for one cent.

Well, ever the customer service experts, AMEX has sent me my (hopefully final) Year-End Summary. That’s pretty weird given that I canceled the card in 2008. But the one cent credit kept the account “active” into 2009, so it must have triggered the automatic Year-End Summary robot.

And here, dear readers, is the relevant page (one of four, plus a four page front-and-back cover) showing a summary of my AMEX activity for 2009:

thanks for the summary!

Thank you and good bye. No, really. Good-bye!

Ho for the holidays (part 3)

Back in 2003 I blogged a little screed against Bratz dolls, titled “Ho for the holidays.” A year later I brought you “Ho for the holidays, (part 2),” in which I linked to someone else’s “Ho for the Holidays” post where he complains about the tartenization (my term) of Tinkerbell.

Well, it’s 2009 and the holidays are a ho-ey as ever. This CBC report (from 2006) sayst those ho-like Bratz dolls are made in China (hey, these days what isn’t?) by workers toiling up to 94 hours a week. They are (or at least were) paid about 17¢ per doll, which retail for about $16 US.

So there you go. Not only can you buy your kids a whore for Christmas, you can buy them a cheap whore!

Sxy Jns, Google, and Me

Quick, what’s the connection between my trip to Italy in 2006, the promotion for “Sxy Jns” currently on in Mexico City, and my mixed feelings for Google?

web site

store window

The answer begins with this blog post.

Let me explain. A few years ago I tried running Google ads on the Blork Blog. After about a year I had accumulated about $95 in revenue, which isn’t much, so I was thinking about removing the ads.

Part of the Google Adsense terms of service is this:

You are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads or bring excessive attention to ad units.

Regardless, soon after starting to run the ads I did exactly that, one time, and ironically. It was in a post where I was lamenting the commercialization of “alternative” journalism. I concluded with the joke “Alternative journalism at its finest. Now please click on one of my Google ads…” Given my (then) 1400 or so blog posts that never mentioned ads, I did not think that was bringing “excessive attention to ad units.”

Google spotted that while I was on vacation in Italy, a year after I made the post. They sent me an email demanding I remove the post within 72 hours or they would withhold my revenue.

What?

It was one ironic line in a blog that at that time had over 400,000 published words not mentioning the ads. Can Google not differentiate between persistent click solicitation and a one-time joke? Of course they could if they wanted to, but our friend Google, whom everyone knows and loves, showed its real self that day. When it comes to money and service agreements, Google is as short sighted and greedy as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and all the other technology “heroes” of our day.

Bah!

Fortunately I had stopped into an Internet cafe in Rome and had read the email. So I had to log into my account and change the post – all the while paying extortionate usage fees to the cafe. I was severely pissed off. A few weeks later I hit the $100 mark (the threshold below which Google will make no payments). I cashed in and immediately removed the Google ads from my blog. Incidentally, I also restored the offending post to its original state.

But what does that have to do with Sxy Jns? (“Sexy Jeans,” for the uninitiated.) A year after the Google fiasco I made a blog post in which I presented a nice photo of a bunch of wet mint leaves; a photo I had taken in my back yard. I thought it would make a nice background for something, such as a desktop wallpaper, so I decided to share it. I joked that there was no need to thank me, to just click on an ad (followed by “oh wait, I no longer have ads”). Thus is the connection between these minty leaves, my trip to Italy, and Google. But where does Sxy Jns fit in?

In that blog post with the wet leaves photo I also suggested that if you want to use the photo as your wallpaper you could toss me a nickel next time you see me. Little did I know that a year and a half later someone at an advertising agency in Mexico would be scouring Google Images looking for a nice photo of fresh spring leaves to use as the background for a spring promotion of Sxy Jns. The rest of the story is self evident; he found my image and requested a high resolution version that could be used in the campaign. And he didn’t just toss me a nickel; we agreed on a reasonable price (that was, incidentally, more than I got from Google for a whole year’s worth of ads).

It is interesting that Google plays a role in all chapters of this story. I remain severely pissed off at Google although I am grateful for its service – which I use on an hourly basis and have even made money from (this is not the first time I’ve sold usage rights to an image that someone found on Google).

When I was running the Google ads, I respected the terms of use, but allowed one minor exception, which I thought would be OK because it was clearly a joke and was not excessive. What pissed me off was Google’s Draconian response. Not only did they come down on me hard for that one reference, they gave me very little time to respond.

In the end, I feel a bit like one of those captive trophy wives; someone who is grateful for the lifestyle but really hates the source of it.

Come on, Google, grow the Hell up and use some of that awesome power you have to put a reasonable threshold on usage terms before you call in the storm troopers!

Earth Day Message: Beware of Greenwashing

“Greenwashing” occurs when a company puts a lot of marketing and public relations effort into delivering a message that they’re very “green” when in fact they are not. An example would be an oil company that takes out ads in influencial magazines touting their wind and solar power research when in fact that represents only 1% of their R&D budget (the rest goes into fossil fuels exploitation).

We frequently hear about those big cases of greenwashing, but it happens on all levels. On this Earth Day I urge you all to read the labels on products before you buy them, and to be wary of green claims. Don’t allow yourself to be wooed.

It can be subtle, especially when the green message is only by association. Some brands imply greenness simply because of the brand; they don’t even have to be explicit. Yet there is no guarantee that the item has any actual “green” value.

Here’s an example: Whole Foods Market claims it is the “world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.” Their web site and stores are filled with messages of green ecology and of wastelessness. When you finish eating at their cafeteria, you have to sort your waste by paper, plastic, and compostables.

With billing like that, you’d probably assume that anything you buy at Whole Foods will have been vetted by the company for it’s environmental impact. However, I was in the Whole Foods store in Soho, New York, a few days ago, and I happened upon a stack of packages of cedar planks near the fish department. “Planking” is a method of cooking fish in which you place the fish (usually salmon) on top of a cedar plank and then put it on the grill. The heated wood imparts a nice flavor on the food.

I’ve always thought that planking was very wasteful. After all, you’re only supposed to use the plank once; that’s a lot of wood to use for the sake of flavoring one piece of fish. At Whole Foods I decided to turn the package of three planks over and read the label. Here’s what I discovered:

  • The wood was from Canada.
  • The wood was processed in China,
  • The processed wood was packaged in the United States.

That’s a lot of international travel for a few pieces of wood, and it’s hardly ecological. It’s bad enough that you’re using a whole chunk of cedar for one piece of fish, but the fact that it was shipped to China and back just to be sawed into rough planks is too much (particularly since Canadian sawmills are desperate for work). All that so you can pay a dollar less for your three planks.

I was very disappointed, particularly since I really like Whole Foods; they have marvelous stores with really nice and interesting products. However, the lesson, as always, is to read the label, and to be aware that branding is 80% bullshit.