2009 - %3, October

Fiji Water Filters Into Fox, Cousteau

| Tue Oct. 20, 2009 4:45 PM EDT

Our September/October 2009 Fiji Water expose had a big impact, and it's still going strong. Today the story was tweeted by Fox News anchor Julie Banderas... and by Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of filmmaker Jacques Cousteau and daughter of oceanic explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau. Celine Cousteau travels the world on expeditions, and her family owns the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, an "Eco Friendly Resort" on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. I'm not sure if the Cousteau resort stocks Fiji Water, but it's good to see the story strike close to Fiji Water's home.

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

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Cookie Puss Shrugged: Investing With Ayn Rand

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

A few months ago, Ayn Rand fans made a big stink about "going Galt"—threatening to bring down the federal government (i.e., Obama) by taking their productive genius and going home (i.e., working less and paying less taxes). In another sign that the screw-the-feds fad never really went anywhere, some objectivists with deep pockets have emerged from hiding to funnel more money to the moochers and looters. On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the Roark Capital Group, a $1.5-billion, Goldman Sachs-backed private-equity firm, is making record investments after a couple of slow years. Roark, which owns Carvel Ice Cream and Cinnabon, may be the nation's only investment firm that openly claims Ayn Rand as its inspiration. As it website explains, it's named after Howard Roark, the architect protagonist of The Fountainhead, who dynamites one of his own projects because it doesn't meet his exacting standards.

It's not news that Rand has plenty of acolytes among traders, fund managers, and former heads of the Fed. But as Wall Street Journal columnist and Randian Evan Newmark explains, walking the objectivist walk on Wall Street is easier said than done, even at capitalist bastions like Goldman Sachs—which features a corporate "culture that might have been dreamt up by Karl Marx if he had been more interested in profits than the proletariat."

So how well has Roark Capital followed its namesake's vision? A quick glance at the Carvel website suggests that Howard Roark's violent fastidiousness has not trickled down to the rank-and-file. In fact, company "spokescake" Cookie Puss, with his "tendency to melt under extreme pressure" and "friendliness and constant state of happiness" seems like just the kind of spineless loser Rand detested. His colleague, the "very laid back, nature-loving" Fudgie the Whale sounds no better. I hope that Roark Capital will wake up to this Goldman Sachs-style collectivism and restore Tom Carvel's exacting standards of architectural precision in frozen cake-making. The ice-cream fountainhead awaits!   


Another Ralph Lauren Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

Does Polo Ralph Lauren find its models in a prison camp? Nope, it just alters them to look that way. (See the "before" version here.) Maybe uproar over this practice will prompt the company to express futher regrets. Geez! When supermodel Filippa Hamilton, who was fired in April for being "overweight," said that the clothier owes all women an apology, she wasn't kidding. (For the full story, read the Related Stories posts below, top to bottom.) And a hat tip to Photoshop Disasters for posting the ad.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Ralph Lauren Model Fired: Too Fat

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Holy haute couture! Ralph Lauren really doesn't get it. First the clothier sicced its lawyers on Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular blogs, after a Boing Boing writer reproduced an ad photoshopped by the company's graphic artists to make its model look bizarrely skinny. An indignant Boing Boing declared a culture war against the attempted censorship, and the company eventually admitted that it had done a regrettable job on the ad.

Now, just when you thought this couldn't get worse, it comes out that Polo Ralph Lauren had terminated its contract with the model, Filippa Hamilton, back in April because she was too fat. (Hamilton is 5-foot-10 and weighs 120 pounds.) "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore," she told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. (See Hamilton's photo on the Daily News website to see what Ralph Lauren considers "overweight.")

According to the report, the 23-year-old model has worked for Lauren since 2002 and was distraught at being fired by an employer she'd come to see as "a second family." When the altered ad blew up online, she was surprised—and not pleasantly so—to see how her image had been distorted. "I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology," she told the paper. "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy."

 Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Become a Fan of Auschwitz

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 3:38 PM EDT

UPDATE: The Guardian is reporting that the Facebook page has been taken down! No explanation has yet been offered as to why, just days after it debuted, the Auschwitz Memorial fan page has suddenly disappeared. Those 2000 fans will be sorely disappointed. 

There is really no good way to get young people hyped about remembering the Holocaust. Faced with the extremely advanced age of remaining survivors, the increasing vehemence and prominence of Holocaust deniers, and the pervasive fear of collective amnesia, Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, did something drastic.  They created a Facebook page. 

You too can join the more than 300 "fans" of the Auschwitz Memorial, though some users may be put off by having "Fan of Auschwitz" appear at the bottom of their profile. Others may have a hard time finding the "official" Auschwitz page among a surprising number of unrelated groups also dedicated to never forgetting.  The Polish authorities charged with running the site have issued a response to those who worry that Facebook trivializes the more than one million people, mostly Jews, who died in the camp:

Auschwitz Memorial is experimenting with new ways of reaching and educating people - such as Facebook. There are many contemporary issues connected with historical memory and there are contemporary problems that we must solve now, after 65 years. The question is - should Auschwitz Memorial, as an institution, be closed for such new possibilities as Facebook with millions of people?

The camp has also launched a YouTube channel dedicated to education and memorial.

To be fair, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are a much bigger deal outside of America, and quite notably in Poland. A Polish-Jewish friend likened fighting anti-Semitism there to cleaning muck from a sewer.

Everyone Loves Ugly Betty

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 1:10 PM EDT

ABC may be looking to wash its hands of Ugly Betty (returning to TV this Friday with a two-hour premiere), but the formula that provided America Ferrera with perpetual braces and Salma Hayek with a small screen career is not about to give up that easily. Adapted from the insanely successful Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, Ugly Betty has spawned a small army of imitators, from the Philippines to China, Brazil to Germany. 

Despite the telenovela's relative obscurity in the English-speaking US, they have a long history of international success. Adapted for Indian TV in the 1980s, the Latin American soaps have enjoyed significant popularity in parts of Africa and the former Soviet Union. But none has been as well-received (or as frequently copied) as the story of Beatriz Aurora Pinzon Solano, the original Betty protagonist of the 1999 Colombian serial. In anticipation of Ugly Betty's Friday premiere, here are a few of the best adaptations of Betty: 

Israel: "Ugly Esti"

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SF Chron's Polanski Apologist Gets Mad

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 7:15 PM EDT

San Francisco Chronicle movie critic Mick LaSalle is getting hot under the collar. The Polanski-supporter published a scathing op-ed just before 10am PST on Sunday, October 11. But by early morning October 12, the article had been taken down. The reason? LaSalle got into a flamewar with his commenters and huffily announced that he was "leaving this post up for exactly five more minutes, and then I'm taking it down because I can't keep up with... the stupidity. Five more minutes, maybe I'll put it back up later..."

To be fair, the commenters were ruthless, and they had a lot of material to work with. I've read a LOT of Polanski apologism, and this was still a jaw-dropper. LaSalle wrote "celebrities get a raw deal from the law and the courts." While admitting Polanski "did a bad thing," LaSalle argues that Polanski's early trauma should "earn him some human sympathy. Just some. So why none? Why no human sympathy?" LaSalle thinks many people hate Polanski because they're jealous of his talent and pretty wife: LaSalle's readers vociferously disagreed. So he unpublished ALL their comments AND the article.

Femimint Hygiene: Vagina Mints

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 12:22 PM EDT

I recently got a press release from the makers of Linger, an "internal feminine flavoring" that promises to keep your vagina in mint condition. Think of it as an Altoid for your lady parts or, as its website explains, "A small, naturally sweetened flavoring, free of artificial dyes, which was created to flavor the secretions of a woman when she is sexually aroused." What...the...?!

So where did the idea for this curiously wrong mint come from? Linger's website (a little NSFW) offers up a wondrous, romantic tale about the supposed discoverer of femimint hygiene, an unnamed woman who was seduced in India by a man with skin "the color of caramel." He quelled her fears of tasting bad "down there" with a mysterious, Eastern mint. "When I returned to the States, I brought the tingly sweet tasting mint with me," she writes. I've requested an interview with this mysterious entrepreneur, but have yet to speak with her. However, Linger's PR guy did send me a sample—made in exotic New Jersey. But that was just my first taste of disappointment.

Music Monday: Flaming Lips' Latest Is Moody and Masterful

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 7:18 PM EDT

Flaming Lips
Warner Bros.

Confession: I don't know much about The Flaming Lips. Sure, I've heard a few of their big songs, like "She Don't Use Jelly" and my favorite, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." But it was from a mostly neophyte perspective that I listened to their latest release, Embryonic.

Verdict: Why have I been missing out on these guys? From the opening strains of "Convinced Of The Hex" to the closing growl of "Watching The Planets," the Lips create a hypnotic, moody world reminiscent of Pink Floyd's epic "Dark Side of the Moon."

Sherman Alexie TONIGHT in SF

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 1:16 PM EDT

Sherman Alexie, everybody's favorite Native American author/poet/YA revolutionary and banned book super-star, not to mention this issue's MoJo interview subject  will be reading from his new short story collection War Dances at the Women's Building in San Francisco. After hearing him speak at last year's New Yorker Festival, I can't recommend this reading highly enough. If you're within 100 miles and still on the fence, I'd invite you to reread the excellent title story which ran in the New Yorker this August. Still not sold? What if I told you that tickets were just $8?

That's a heck of a lot less than it costs to buy on Amazon (though, apparently on his insistence, it's not even available for the Kindle). Not in SF? Check out Alexie in your city