Monday, May 18, 2015

Consumer Reports: "Don't suffer in silence"


   To be a responsible citizen, you ought to vote in each election, raise your children, and subscribe to Consumer Reports.
     Though not in that order.
     If I had to lose one of the three, I'd say skip voting and stick with the magazine. Every month Consumer Reports examines our vast, sprawling, shifting culture of consumption and asks not the standard question we ask ourselves — What should I buy next? — but tougher questions such as "Is this any good? Will it harm you? How can I push back against it?"
     I was reading the June issue.
     And you tend to really read Consumer Reports. Not a lot of skimming, because it tends to be so interesting, even focusing on stuff you never wondered about before, such as this issue's "Special Report: How Safe is Your Shrimp?"
     Like you, my entire thought process about shrimp can be summarized as: Oh there's shrimp? Gimme shrimp. Am I taking too much shrimp? Can I have more shrimp? It never crossed my mind that there might be more to the subject. And I'm a curious guy.
     Seven pages on "choosing the healthiest, tastiest, and most responsibly sourced shrimp." It leaps out of the box with interesting facts about American's love affair with shrimp — four pounds a year per person, three times what we ate 35 years ago.
     I had no idea where shrimp came from. The sea, I assumed. (Wrong: Most is farmed in huge industrial tanks and football-field size artificial ponds.) It never dawned on me that there are different types of shrimp (beyond size, that is, tiny to jumbo). Four thousand varieties, the top six profiled in the magazine.
     By the time I was done reading the article, I felt like an idiot, shrimp-wise, with my snout stuck in a bowl of prawns, never pausing to wonder, Geez, could this stuff be treated with harmful chemicals or silly with disease? (CR: You betcha!)
     And I hadn't even gotten to the cover story, on the gathering peril of the "Internet of Things," as your refrigerator and your thermostat start spying on you and sharing your data with potentially everybody.
     It's cool that your car can talk to your house and tell it to kick in the air conditioning as you near home. But "that convenience comes with a trade-off. The devices can also send a steady flood of personal data to corporate servers, where it's saved and shared, and can be used in ways you can't control." Not only loss of privacy, but exposure to hackers. In Britain, cruel pranksters took over baby monitors to scream at sleeping infants.
     Something for society to look forward to. While it might be too early to truly worry that your Crock-Pot slow cooker is informing on you, it isn't too early to be aware of it.
     There's more. Bicycle helmets. Getting the most out of your used car. And, as always, my favorite part, the back page snickering at the stupidest marketing blunders of the month. Consumer Reports not only takes citizenship seriously, but encourages readers to do the same, with a section, "Actions You can Take In June" ("Ask Congress for safer detergent pods" since thousands of children find them, think they're candy, and eat them). There's a call to arms against inaccurate, illegible unit pricing. "Don't suffer in silence. Tell a store manager."
     And that's just June, with sunscreen and mosquito repellents and more on deck for July.
     Consumer Reports spent nearly a half million dollars testing shrimp. Yet the magazine has no advertisements — itself incredible, in our ever-more-branded world. The government can't get by without selling out to corporations. But Consumer Reports manages. That's why it's important to not just read it, but to subscribe — it's only $29 a year, the cost of a couple pounds of dubious shrimp. It's something that should be supported. I almost called Consumer Reports a fifth branch of government, but then I realized that the press is the fourth branch, and CR is the press, though its gimlet eyed, let's-buy-every-model-and-test-them mentality is so out of keeping with mainstream journalism, and its general, tongue-lolling, seal-clapping applause for whatever junk is being flung at consumers, that it might deserve a category of its own.    

     I don't like focusing on other publications — professional pride. But Consumer Reports is an exception, and if you don't subscribe, you should. And not just for your own good. It's a civic duty.

29 comments:

  1. Alternatively, read it online from your public library, and then contribute to Consumers' Union. [I'm never going to buy a car. I resent paying subscription price & then getting so many pages about motor vehicles.]

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  2. I'd like know where Consumer Reports get the idea, that detergent pods are poisonous. I eat them all the time and I'm perfectly normal.

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  3. I've subscribed to Consumer Reports for 20+ years, The subscription pays for itself easily, if not many times over, each year with the informed purchase decisions it helps me make. Add in the health and safety advice and other aspects of the magazine and online subscription, and it can be invaluable.

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  4. As someone who very rarely buys new things (I'm just cheap, not virtuous), consumer reports is like a message from The Future... uture... ᵘᵗᵘʳᵉ⋅⋅⋅

    -- MrJM

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  5. What the heck is that picture?

    It's certainly not a shrimp.

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    1. It's a water main clamp. It was the best photo I had that has that static, we're-judging-this sense that CR brings to devices.

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  6. Love it - because we know Consumer Reports didn't pay you to write this. :)

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  7. Gee, thanks. Now I feel guilty because I canceled my subscription the other day. (I subscribed for a month because I had two major purchases to make, a dishwasher and a central air conditioner.)

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  8. One can find the same info online.

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  9. This isn't your father's or grandfather's Consumer Reports.
    Maybe 20 years ago, they told people they didn't need a TV bigger than 19" or a car with power windows or power door locks.
    They once did a comparison of frozen chicken pot pies. They take about 35 minutes to cook in a regular oven. Then they said their recipe was better & took the same time. What the elitists that they had working there then forgot was that you popped the frozen one in the oven & went to do something else you needed to do, while theirs forced you to stand over a hot stove for 25 minutes & then went into the oven for 10 minutes.
    Times have changed & so have they, thankfully.

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  10. Do you have a pal who works there, Neil?

    Surely, your editors should give you something more imp't to write about.

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    1. Yeah, Neil, if there's one thing that's clear to anybody who reads you regularly, it's what a toady and shill you are! And where ARE your freaking editors, for crying out loud? You write like you're a columnist or something! Why are you not putting some news, like the police blotter, maybe, in YOUR column, instead of writing about things that matter to you? Sheesh! ; )

      "Like you, my entire thought process about shrimp can be summarized as: Oh there's shrimp? Gimme shrimp. Am I taking too much shrimp? Can I have more shrimp?" LOL. Why, that IS like me...

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    2. @Anonymous. No, no pal who works there. It must be sad to lead such a listless life that you are unable to imagine enthusiasm as the result of anything but self-interest. And this is not the place to read about important things. Toilet paper last week, remember? Tomorrow is opera. So if you are looking for important, the trouble is your own, as you are in the wrong place, and need to cease your bitching and move on.

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    3. point taken, NS but it's nice to read your take on things

      but Jakash, don't be such a brown noser

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    4. no, not a matter of self interest

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    5. but Mr. S. you do write important columns as well, most of the time

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    6. News to me. I don't consider any of this "important." And leave Jakash be. Everyone likes a few kind words now and then. It's not like I'm floating in a pond of praise.

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  11. Robbie the RobotMay 18, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    I do not buy stuff. I do not eat shrimp. I can't even date hookers.

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    1. But are you part of the "internet of things", spying and reporting on us?

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  12. I've been getting the magazine for 40 years. When I worked at Circuit City, I had to whisper to custmoers not to buy certain products. I learned more from CR than I did in the superficial morning meetings.

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    1. Which perhaps explains why CC is no longer in business.

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  13. Mary Mitchell is a columnist, not reporter and yet always writes about more controversial or impt matters. Excuse the reader who wants your opinion on matters, NS.

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  14. opera? oh dear

    well some NS writing on any matter is better than none at all

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  15. From the pic at the top, I thought ns was reporting on the housewares show.

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  16. good no anon not anon today, he argues just for the sake of it and fault finds on anything

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  17. The reader feedback in the paper today, mentions our esteemed host and also how the wealthy should be paying more for the pensions, with a few suggestions like online stock trade tax, etc.

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  18. Regarding the jerks who take advantage of others over the web such as the baby monitor pranksters, I recall an old story in which society had solved this problem. Miscreants who did this were "treated" so that they were unable cognitively to do anything involving computers. Never again would they troll the web or rob banks electronically. And since society in this story had gotten to the point of computerizing practically everything, they had to rely upon the kindness of strangers and even kids since they couldn't order anything through the food replicators or use cars or watch tv.

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  19. What's scary is that now planes can be moved from someone right in the plane with hacking-see paper and the United story.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.