Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, November 06, 2009

Shop Your Way to a Greener World

Environmentally-friendly practices usually coincide with sensible economics. Curio City reuses every possible shipping carton primarily because a virgin box costs $0.50 or more. I reuse 90% of the packing material that comes my way, and I wad up the Braintree Forum when I need more. Most of the little trash that I do generate goes to curbside recycling, so virtually nothing ever reaches the SEMASS trash-to-energy plant. I use USPS carrier pickup not just to save me a trip, but also to avoid standing in line with international shipments. Two of the three light bulbs in my “warehouse” are CFLs. (I keep whacking my head and breaking the third one, so I went back to a cheaper incandescent there.) I turn off the lights and my computer at night not out of altruism, but to cut the electric bill. It’s sensible and easy for a tiny home business to be “green”.

Mega-conglomerates have a tougher row to hoe in their quest to appear green.

My bank, RBS Citizens, has the Greensense program. In exchange for accepting electronic statements instead of paper, I get a debit card with a picture of a tree on it. The core of the card is made from cornstarch instead of plastic (the skin is obviously still plastic, and corn is an environmentally destructive crop, but let’s not dig too far beneath that nice tree). They pay me 10 cents every time I use my debit card if I make the minimum 10 monthly transactions (I usually don’t). I don’t understand how swiping my debit card is “greener” than using cash money or my credit card, but I suppose I must be spending my way to a better world. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a tree on my card, would there?

Now UPS is “Introducing a greener way to ship!”. Well, that’s nice. UPS's enormous fleet of trucks and airplanes is probably among the biggest carbon emitters on the planet. They must be using alternative fuels or electric vehicles, right?

Uh, no. They are voluntarily buying carbon offsets before cap-and-trade legislation compels them do to so, because “shipping your packages produces emissions that many believe contribute to global climate change.” (Notice the care not to offend global warming deniers). Cap’n Trade is the dubious practice of paying companies that don’t pollute for the right to do so yourself, on the theory that the overall cap will reduce aggregate emissions. To be fair, UPS didn’t invent that questionable scheme. Arguably, they deserve congratulations for doing it before they’re legally compelled.

Here’s the fun part: For “as little as” 5 cents per package, anyone can “ship carbon-neutral”. That’s right: They’re asking their customers to pick up the cost of the carbon offsets. If I tick a box to pay their premium, UPS will add a logo to my customers’ tracking emails showing them what swell companies we are. And, for a limited time only, UPS will match the first $1 million in contributions that their shippers make. That’s right: They will graciously chip in toward their own offsets. Gosh, what a great company!

What’s really sad is that I’m actually tempted to pay for their emblem. Consumers are easily hoodwinked into thinking that they can shop their way to a brighter future. And so we have this week’s new reason to hate UPS. Here’s their page if you want to see their side of the story, complete with hummingbirds and rainbows.


Remember a few weeks ago I said that all of my medical bills are paid in full and the bill collectors have all been caged? It started with a colonoscopy in November 2008. Before I scheduled the procedure Blue Cross assured us that as long as I’m over 50 and my doc recommended it, it’s 100% covered. Unfortunately, the clinic entered my insurance number wrong. Just as a paperwork mishap in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil led Mr Archibald Buttle to suffer for the sins of arch-terrorist Archibald Tuttle, we’ve been fighting the system ever since.

To date, I’ve paid $489.36 to four separate companies for assorted deductibles and copays. Today I got a new bill for $105 for “unpaid copays”. None of these bills ever come with itemized explanations, of course, so each new bill requires another call to Blue Cross – an ordeal in itself. I wonder if they can explain how our supposed $20 copay got to $105.

So the insurance struggle resumes. I swear two things: First, I will die before I ever consent to another diagnostic procedure of any kind. And second, the conservatives who oppose health care reform are gibbering idiots. I want to see the insurance companies dissolved and all their executives hanged.


  1. Clearly you've never seen the 'non-insured' vs. 'insured' price of a procedure.

  2. Au contraire, I know that prices are much higher for the uninsured. They don't get the negotiated discounts.

  3. I just got a bill for $6,860.25 because my wife's chest hurt. I can only imagine what it would look life if insurance companies were dissolved.

  4. Ah, I see what you're getting at. I should clarify: I don't advocate abolishing insurance, just insurance *companies*. The profit motive contributes no value to the payment process; on the contrary, it creates a strong incentive to deny coverage while increasing total health care costs by vastly complicating the payment system. I would sweep that away and replace it with a nonprofit single payer who's biased for the patient.

    Oh, and I'm willing to forego the gallows as well. :)


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