Ma Bell's ill communication

The Dallas Observer exposes telecommunications madness; rumors of carcinogenic tampons may be greatly exaggerated.

By Jenn Shreve

Published May 21, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Dallas Observer, May 20-26

"Ring Ma Bell" by Stuart Eskenazi

If you are still searching for a new enemy in these post-Cold War times, may I suggest you look no further than your latest phone bill. Open it up, take out a highlighter and mark every charge that doesn't make sense to you. For example, each month I pay a one-dollar "Number Portability Svc Charge." A coworker recently called to find out just what this money went toward. Here's what he was told: If I, consumer, decide to change phone companies, I can take my phone number with me! Considering that there is no other *&%$#@! phone company, this is about as useful to me as a second belly button. I also pay approximately $6 a month for Caller ID, even though I've never received a working Caller ID box. I've been hung up on by "customer service representatives" and transferred more times than a second-rate major league pitcher. But every time I consider wheeling a guillotine over to Pacific Bell headquarters, I realize that throwing away a few bucks is easier than starting a revolution. Where's Ralph Nader when you need him?

Your phone bill is confusing because the laws governing telecommunications are sloppily written, poorly executed and more numerous than exemptions on a Schedule C form. Stuart Eskenazi of the Dallas Observer is to be commended for trying to make sense of his local brand of evil phone company hell. His tale of Southwestern Bell's greedy efforts to secure legislation enabling it to raise prices, equally Machiavellian strategies by AT&T and the stupidity of eager-to-please legislators who pass bills they don't even understand may make your eyes glaze over now and then. But Eskenazi makes more sense than most reporters of the morass of laws, regulations, paperwork and politics. The bottom line is clear: Consumers are getting screwed. It is also significant to note that a story like Eskenazi's isn't likely to appear in the major dailies, many of whom receive heaping sums of advertising revenue from Ma Bell and AT&T's coffers.

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Philadelphia City Paper, May 20-26

"Seeing Red" by Margit Detweiler

What turns me off to most activism (aside from the fact that I am lazy and apathetic) is that it is so often A) reactionary and B) misdirected. Take the typical reaction to Karen Houppert's recent exposi on the tampon industry, "The Curse": "And when I read her chapter on the tampon-dioxin connection, Houppert had me so alarmed that I ran to the bathroom and yanked out my o.b. tampon, probably forever," writes Margit Detweiler in her interview with the author. Dioxin is a potentially carcinogenic byproduct of chlorine bleaching of paper products, and women should be concerned about its presence in tampons. However, sending womankind back to the dark ages of belted diapers with one collective, bloody thwack isn't the best answer. And shame on Detweiler for waiting until the end of her piece to bring up more rational approaches: tampon alternatives and the Tampon Safety and Research Act, currently making its way through Congress.

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Austin Chronicle, May 19-25

"It All Goes Down at Prom" by Sarah Hepola

Loser of the day numero uno: 25-year-old woman goes undercover to the prom and gets really worked up about it. Even goes on SlimFast diet to get in shape for her big night. Writes endless angst-ridden paragraphs about her experience. Carrie, where are you?

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Salt Lake City Weekly, May 20-26

"Doom and the Millennium Bug" by Kevin Cantera

Having been raised in a church where the biggest point of contention was whether we, the truest of believers, would be resurrected before or after the antichrist-initiated apocalypse, I'm gratified to see that the rest of the world is now spending its valuable time worrying about the end of the world. Yes, as 1999 rapidly speeds toward conclusion, I don't think I've read enough articles about all the theories about how humanity will suffer, according to various quacks, scholars, computer programmers and ancient peoples. Have you? This one, written by Kevin Cantera, reads like a semi-articulate Religion 101 term paper. Hmmm, I think I'll go brand "666" into my buttocks now. Sizzle sizzle.

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The Village Voice, May 19-25

"Shape shifter" by William Bastone

Speaking of booty, former cleaning lady Blasina Rodriguez-Luna was recently busted for illegally injecting silicone into women's behinds. Apparently her clients hoped to emulate the curvaceous quality of Jennifer Lopez's most-praised asset. William Bastone's report on the case is fairly straightforward and dry, which is fine because the topic itself is amply entertaining. Yet something in my weary female soul yearns for more: Why would any woman pay $600 and risk her health and dignity in order to imitate some flash-in-the-pan? As Bastone alludes to in his lead, why are actresses with grossly misshapen body parts so highly praised in our culture? And when will America find someone better than Naomi Wolf to write about such matters?

"Steal this stage" by Alisa Solomon

Alisa Solomon takes a smart and critical look at the absence of women in American theater -- mandatory Village Voice swipe at Mayor Rudy Giuliani included!

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Feed Magazine, May 13

"The Collectable Unconscious" by Erik Davis

This is the most intelligent piece on "Star Wars"/"The Phantom Menace"/George Lucas I've read to date -- and I've read a lot, considering every weekly from Maine to Los Angeles ran not one, but two reviews of the movie. (It was good! No, it was bad! Heh heh. Hey, Beavis, take a look at my journalism degree! Moving along ...) Erik Davis, author of "Techgnosis," unravels the mystery behind "Star Wars'" near-universal cultural popularity by explaining the film in terms of Joseph Campbell's "Hero With a Thousand Faces." Davis has an impressive understanding of myth and religion, evident throughout this piece and his other writing. It's a refreshing antidote to the abundance of simplistic takes on the film, the hype, the phenomenon.

Frolic Zine No. 5 ($2, e-mail for information on obtaining a copy)

For the fifth issue of his zine of "First-person tales of everyday living," Chris Baty had several friends condense their love-lives into resumi form. Aside from being a hilarious read, I suspect this exercise is highly therapeutic. Some choice selections:

  • Freelancer February 1997-August 1997

    Period of satisfying self-employment interspersed with occasional temporary work assignments. Memorable contracts included a man I met in a bar whose name I never knew, and a 19-year-old surfer.

  • One time assignment with a close friend.
    Duties included letting him down gently and enduring guilt for the remainder of my college years.

  • Ineffable Productions, Supervisor: Kristinha M.

    Title: Jouissance Administrator

    Primary function was to ensure that life remained a beautiful fiction for my employer. Engaged in intriguing conversations, entertained nightly, lent emotional support and stimulated and fulfilled fantasy for my employer. Conflicts resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner.
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    New City Chicago,
    "I Lost on 'Jeopardy'" by Carl Kozlowski

    Loser numero dos: Journalist goes on "Jeopardy." Embarrasses self by answering "What is oil?" to the clue "This is thicker than water" in the Familiar Phrases category. Feels compelled to divulge the details of his humiliation in predictable prose.

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    Willamette Week (Portland), May 19-25

    Beervana and vinotopia by Willamette Week staff

    Apparently the staff at the Willamette Week have been taking swigs from the same editorial bucket as Seattle's The Stranger. Like their neighbors to the north, Portland's alternative weekly presents a springtime special section on drinking, only this one's about hops and vines instead of the hard stuff, and it's more a guide to drinking in the area -- including a list of bars for old drunks, hipsters and yuppies -- than a tribute to emptied shot-glasses past. So if you're going to Portland and have it in for your liver, print this out and spill booze all over it. Otherwise, I recommend Liz Brown's outstanding article questioning the tired premise: "Beer before liquor, never sicker; liquor before beer, you're in the clear" and this vocabulary list for oenophiles-in-training.

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    New York Observer, May 24

    "This Man is Worth $200 Million ... on Paper" by Nick Paumgarten and Gabriel Snyder

    Nick Paumgarten and Gabriel Snyder illustrate the absurdity of the new economy and over-inflated technology stocks in this sharp, humorous piece. As a cynic grown weary of reading uncritical plaudits of ever-ascending tech stock prices, I am refreshed, jubilant, nay thrilled as a spared turkey on Thanksgiving to read such a cynical, dark take.

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    Orlando Weekly, May 13-19

    "Watered-down Celebration" by Theresa Everline

    In the town of Celebration, a Florida suburb created by Disney to serve as suburbtopia-on-earth, residents who miss a badly designed (not in our town!) turn in the road plunge into a retention pond that has so far claimed more than seven vehicles, one life and possibly three missing tourists. While I do not wish death-by-drowning on anyone, you have to admit that the image of SUVs driven by Stepford wives and husbands being consumed by a pond in the land of manicured lawns and punitive zoning laws does restore a sense of divine justice. To her credit, Theresa Everline does not give in to such gloating in her report on the car-sucking pond. I, however, can't help it.


    Women who inject their butts with silicon. Women who are excluded from theater. Women who eat SlimFast to attend prom seven years too late. Women poisoned by tampons. Evil, soul-sucking phone companies. And I didn't even get to Barbie's 40th anniversary... Let us pause a moment and meditate on some zines that have nice things to say when they talk about women, shall we?

    Bust Uncynical, exuberant boasting about the joys of being female, with a generous dollop of sex-positive dirty talk to cut through the self-love fest.

    Hipmama Fun, snarky and highly unusual essays on motherhood.

    Maxi Co-founded and co-edited by Salon's own Janelle Brown, Maxi proves that being a woman in no way means being weak.

    Disgruntled Housewife A celebration of female snarkiness.

    Chick Click The portal, if you will, to all the best Web sites for women.

    Jenn Shreve

    Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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