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April - June 2009

Best Foot Backwards

Self-Orienting Maps, et al.

Shamans' Gallery

The "Fairness" Dogma

Jicarilla Point Petroglyphs

Beck for Prez?

The Crystal Forest Caves

Qwest + ESBI = Bull

Saturday, April 25, 2009

   Best Foot Backwards - This past March, I was able to start a fantastic spring break hike through the Grand Canyon, accompanied by hiking buddies John Eastwood, Bill Ferris and Chris Forsyth.  Although I had some hope that we could cover the intended route in eight days, there was an extra day built into the schedule to account for the fact that we were hiking on the north side of the canyon, off trail for all but one day, and, except for a couple of river parties we saw, alone.  Early on the eighth day, as we were climbing up a ravine upstream from 94 Mile canyon, I fell and sprained my foot.  Although in quite a bit of pain, I continued to hike up and out of the ravine, where we decided to make an emergency 911 call and my hike came to an end.  I wrote a story about this incident for the local paper

Click on any photo to see a larger image. 

The pick up along the Tonto
Plateau, below the Tower of Set.  Photo courtesy of Bill Ferris. 

At the South Rim helipad with
the SAR crew - Bryce, Brandon & Jessica. 

At home after the trip to the
hospital with my new boot
and walking sticks. 


and it ran on Thursday, April 2.  If you follow the link, you can read the on-line version, which, for some odd reason, is identified as being published on Friday, April 3), which is reprinted below, with my original title:

A Grand Canyon Adventure in 8 Days and 4 Minutes
by Dennis Foster

     Hiking off-trail in the Grand Canyon isn’t necessarily fraught with peril, but it is a challenge.  From picking the right routes, reading maps well, following previously written accounts, and taking care in hiking through steep terrain, you expect to get bumps, bruises, scratches, aches and pains.  In over thirty years of hiking in the Grand Canyon, I have had many accidents, but never one that required any external help.  That was about to change.

     It was the eighth day of a sweeping nine day hike through wild and remote sections of the Grand Canyon, north of the Colorado River and west of the popular South Rim Village.  Accompanying me were John Eastwood, Bill Ferris and Chris Forsyth.  That morning, we had made an early start up a thousand foot ravine that would take us from a beach at 94 Mile Canyon to the broad and expansive Tonto Plateau.  I entered the ravine healthy and in good spirits, but exited with a debilitating injury that would end my hike.

     My accident occurred in an unassuming spot – no worse than a hundred others we had been scampering up and down for more than a week.  I had tried to lift and push myself up past two big boulders, but I didn’t have enough lift.  I rose briefly and then fell back.  I could feel I was going to fall back into a six foot deep slickrock trough, head first.  Somehow, I was able to whip my left leg down behind me, using my left foot to brake my momentum.  It worked.  I recall an instant of clarity when I was amazed that my boot could bend so much, pushing toe to heel.  Then, I stopped and dropped to the ground in agonizing pain.  No apparent broken bones in my foot, but it hurt badly and was beginning to swell.

     I knew that I couldn’t stay in the ravine even if my hike was over.  John and Chris took possession of my pack and we continued climbing some 700 feet to reach the top.  While this climb should have taken less than an hour, it took me three, as I used my good foot, my hands, my rear end and an occasional pivot on my left heel.  Along the way, I would drop to my knees in pain if that foot rolled a little bit to either the left or the right.

     Once out of the ravine, it took about a half hour to reach a small saddle on the Tonto.  Here, we decided it was time to access the 911 emergency service on our SPOT satellite personal tracker.  Two hours later, a Park Service SAR helicopter arrived.  The crew – Bryce, Jessica and Brandon – were professional and came prepared to help in any way they could, including ample water for my companions who, because of the hours lost due to my plight, were now racing against the clock to get to a water source in Trinity Creek before exhausting their own supplies.

     Once suited up and strapped into my seat, I waved to my hiking buddies.  We were nearing the end of our hike.  They would reach the South Rim in the early evening the next day.  I would reach the South Rim in four minutes.  The flight was quite a surreal experience, as the landscape dropped away below me and the temples and buttes that we had spent hours walking around flashed by in an instant.  The SAR crew had expressed concern that the bumpy ride might cause me to become nauseous.  However, I found that I was more than overwhelmed by the bittersweet nature of the moment.

     In the late afternoon, I was having X-rays taken at the Flagstaff Medical Center.  I was lucky, as nothing was broken in my badly swollen foot.  Still, I am using crutches and my recovery time will likely be ten days to two weeks.

     On my map of the Grand Canyon, showing all of my hikes, there is a small gap keeping me from having a complete route on the north side of the canyon, east to west between Nankoweap Canyon and Kanab Creek.  I tried to close this gap in 1984 and again in 1991.  Both times, I turned back from a steep climbing route I found to be too risky for me to attempt.  The hike I had just finished was meant to bypass that climbing route.  The gap remains.

Dennis Foster has been on over 250 separate hikes in the Grand Canyon since 1977, ranging from a few hours to ten days, and has spent over 300 nights camped in its backcountry.


     There are some details here that couldn't work their way into the newspaper story, which I can raise here.  First, as a matter of some improbability, I just happened to take a photo of the spot where I was about to fall.  Chris had climbed up through these rocks, and Bill was just about to do so.  I was about twenty feet behind, and had a nice view looking up the ravine, so I snapped the picture to the right.  If you click on the photo, you can see a larger view, with the annotations.  Or, click here to just see the photo.  As you can probably see, it isn't really much of a spot.  We had been hiking for about thirty minutes, so were very fresh and a bit warmed up.  We were carrying a lot of water, but we were doing that every morning for the last few days.  The reason for my calamity was that I overreached for a small protruding rock surface with my left foot.  It was just a bit too high, so that when I pushed off with my right foot, there wasn't enough lift left in my leg.

     I didn't hike too far from this spot before giving up on carrying my pack.  Chris had offered to continue on and drop his pack at the top of the ravine and return to carry my pack up.  In fact, he and Bill hiked up quite a ways and then Bill shuttled their two packs the rest of the way to the Tonto level.  Meanwhile, John decided to shuttle his and my packs until Chris returned.  But, he changed his mind on this score and decided to carry both packs at the same time - mine strapped to the front of him, as you can see by the photo.  When we got to the top of the ravine, we were all resting together and talked over the situation.  Our best hope was that, while sore, I would be able to continue hiking, even if only slowly.  We would hope to make the water in Trinity, and, with a full night's rest, perhaps my foot would have improved significantly.  I was not hopeful on this score.  I have hiked on sprained ankles before, but this situation was quite a bit worse.  As I noted in the story, it took us about a half hour to reach a nearby saddle, where we revisited the situation and decided on the 911 call.  Altogether, it had been about four hours after my accident, so I think we gave it enough time to be sure.  Still, as long as I wasn't walking, I wasn't in any pain.  I could sit and rest and relax and feel just like normal.

     When the helicopter arrived, we learned that they had gotten the 911 message about 20 minutes after we sent it out - the signal goes to a facility in Texas and they have to track down the appropriate emergency responders.  Then, the folks at the Park Service had to do some investigating on who we were and what circumstances we were likely facing before sending out the copter.  The pilot, Bryce, was from Flagstaff and knew my colleague Doug Brown, and Doug's son, who was a student of mine some years ago and with whom I have been on a couple of hikes.  Jessica was the flight operations manager and Brandon was the EMT.  Only later did someone point out to me that we were not visited by the usual Park Service helicopter.  Where was that one?  In another twist of irony, it was sitting on the tarmac at an air show down in Phoenix, where Cara Lynn and Eric were for the day!  The NPS called her up, since she was listed as an emergency contact on my permit.  When I talked to her a short time later, she took the photo to the left, of the NPS bird down in Phoenix.

     Once on the ground at the South Rim, the NPS dispatcher, Della, gave me a ride to the Maswik lodge, where I would wait for my sister, Sue, and her significant other, Tom, to come and pick me up and drive me back to Flagstaff.  Just to provide full disclosure, I have included a photo of my foot, comparing it to my good one.  This was taken the next evening, and significant swelling would continue for some many days.

     Although I thought I would be back to normal in a couple of weeks, it has taken longer.  For the first two days, I stayed at home and needed to use both crutches to get anywhere around the house.  Then, for about five more days, I needed them only in the morning when I got up.  After moving around a bit, I found I was able to use just one crutch to get around the rest of the day.  I did that for about five days, and then switched to just using my hiking pole for light support and to keep from falling over while walking.  About two weeks after the accident, I stopped using the hiking pole, but I still walked slowly and with a noticeable limp.  It has now been just over one month and I am walking at about 95% of my normal speed and don't exhibit too much of a limp.  But, I can still feel soreness on the top of my foot, and won't try any jogging or hiking for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

   Self-Orienting Maps, et al. - This past Memorial Day weekend, Cara Lynn and I took a day trip to see Shaman's Gallery (or, is it Shamans? or Shamans'? or, call it Gordon's Panel).  Anyway, on the road we were listening to the radio and some commentator on NPR was whining about the demise of newspapers and how they would miss the tactile sense of holding the news in their hands, while sipping on their latte.  Give me a break!  That got us to talking about how innovations are, by and large, improvements.  So, while I am not inclined to sit down with my cup 'o joe and a Kindle, I can imagine that innovations will continue apace and we will have a suitable substitute for the "newspaper experience."  Some years ago, I had heard of paper thin LCD screens that would allow for downloaded material into a book that you could read as a book.  [And, when you were done, you can just clear the pages.]  The technology goes by the name of "electronic ink," or "electronic paper."

     So, with our thinking caps on, we developed how this would work to supplant newspapers.  First, pick the newspaper size that suits you.  Then, hook up to the internet (hmm . . . can this be done wirelessly?) and download whatever paper you want.  Or, some combination of papers.  And, you can tailor the paper as you see fit - sports first, or national news, maybe with a cartoon at the bottom of each page, instead of all on one page.  You can read it as four pages, and hit scrolling buttons to advance to later pages.  Or, you can jump to the rest of the story you are reading directly.  At first, I doubt that this faux newspaper will really feel like a newspaper, but over time, it may well resemble the real deal.

     And, that led us to another innovation:  self-orienting maps.  As we were traveling along dirt roads, mostly unmarked, I was armed with a topo map and estimating our position by noting when we would meet up with intersecting roads.  Remarkably effective, although there are more side roads than are shown on the old map!  Well, the dilemma here is that maps are oriented with north at the top and we were driving south.  I have almost always kept the map in its printed orientation and made mental notes that roads on "map left" were going to show up on my right, and vice versa.  Yeah, that gets confusing.  But, on my recent spring break hike, I noticed that Bill Ferris always held his map oriented to his direction of travel.  Then, he just needed to read labels and numbers sideways and upside down.  After a while, I decided I liked this approach.  So, on our drive to Shamans Gallery, I decided to orient the map with south at the top.  That worked great, but we still had to contend with reading information upside down.

     But, we got to thinking about the newspaper idea and decided this technology would also work for maps.  First, it would be cool to just download your map onto a standard sized sheet (bigger than 8.5 x 11, I would think).  And (a drum roll, please), as you turned the map to orient it in the direction you are traveling, the labels and numbers would rotate with you!  Sign me up.  And, if you could write electronic notes on your map (with a stylus), you can then download it to your PC when you get home.  Probably there are plenty of other accessories that people would want on these maps.  Perhaps, I'll solicit ideas from the folks at the Yahoo Grand Canyon group.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

   Shamans' Gallery - For some years, I have been thinking about a return to Shamans' Gallery, so that I can take some digital photos.  After my first (and only) visit in 1996, I thought that this could be done as part of a really long day trip from Flagstaff.  Cara Lynn was interested in going, so off we went on the Sunday before Memorial Day, 2009.

 
For the full story:
Tuckup Trail to Shamans' Gallery
in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

   The "Fairness" Dogma - When I am teaching, I try to impart this little nugget to my students - "I cannot treat you fairly; I strive to treat you equally."  As an example, I will sometimes talk about a student whose car breaks down in Phoenix, meaning that they are unable to return to school in time for an exam.  Should I give them a make-up test?  What about the student who decided not to push their luck, who also went to Phoenix, but returned to school a day earlier, so that if their car broke down, they'd still have time to get back to school?  Or, what about a student that decided to forgo a trip to Phoenix the weekend before a major exam?  How would giving a make-up exam be fair to the other students that took proactive steps to insure that they were here?  Well, there is the rub.  The student that missed the exam argues that it is "unfair" that they are penalized for missing a test for reasons "beyond their control."  Of course, the point is that we do have control over our actions, and we must accept the costs of our decisions, even though we have an incentive to try and shift those costs to someone else.

     I do take into consideration serious medical conditions, but even here it is a bit problematic.  Some years ago, a student missed an exam due to an auto accident that sent him to the hospital with a fractured skull.  Sounds like an easy decision on my part.  But, later I found out that the accident was his fault - he was driving drunk at the time.  So, I wish I could have changed my decision on that one, but so it goes.  Consequently, my policy on missed exams is pretty simple and straightforward - no make-ups are offered.  Period.  And, as a result, attendance for exams in my classes is pretty much about 98%.  So, the point here that I try to make to my students is that I treat them all equally, which is not fair.  I am not sure that they really get it, but there are plenty of examples of how government policy changes the rules of the game and, in the name of "fairness" in fact is an exercise in the opposite.

Grand Canyon Hiking Permits.  I was up at the canyon on Sunday, May 31 to stop by the Backcountry office and pick up a number for a place in line for the next day, June 1.  That is the first day that permits can be obtained for overnight hikes this coming October, which, of course, is an excellent time to hike in the canyon.  I was at the office at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, an hour and a half after they opened.  Nobody was in the lobby, so I got to see a ranger right away, and I got number 71.  So, there must have been quite a few people there at 8:00 a.m.

     On Monday, June 1, I was up there again, this time to actually get a permit for October.  I showed up at 9:30 a.m. and the three rangers manning the office were up to number 30.  I got served at 11:00 a.m. and got all the permits I wanted.  Which is why people show up in person.  The alternative is to send a request to the office.  If you go through the mail, the postmark cannot be any earlier than June 1, even though it takes days to arrive at the office.  Or, you can fax a request in, starting at 12:00 midnight, which is what a lot of avid hikers tend to do.  Of course, they suffer from two problems.  First, they don't get served ahead of those actually present and in the line.  [In fact, a couple of years ago, I was there on November 4th, to get permits for March, and they still hadn't been able to go through all the faxed requests.]  The other problem is that you can't tweak your written request like you can do in person.  For example, on the Sunday I went up to pick up a number, I also got a permit for September.  Since the window for that month had been open for 31 days, I couldn't get my first 25 choices!  [Well, it was 25 variations on a simple plan, but there was always some bottleneck in making each option work.]  So, while I got my 26th choice, you can't get this kind of flexibility with a fax.

     So, on Monday, I was sitting next to a woman holding number 77.  She made a comment about how next year all permit requests will have to come in by fax, so that there is no advantage to those who are there in person.  Consequently, she deemed that this new system would be "fair."  I politely disagreed and commented that 20 years ago I made a lifestyle choice to live in Flagstaff so that I could maximize my ability to hike in the Grand Canyon.  I could have sought out other places to live, where I might maximize my income, but that isn't what I wanted to maximize.  So, I live in Flagstaff, where costs are higher than average with a job that pays less than average.  Indeed, it took years of working part-time just to get into a full-time teaching job.  So, if the system changes so that everyone who participates is given the same chance to get a permit, that change disadvantages me.  From my perspective it is "unfair."  I don't think that the park service will be compensating me for 20 years of sacrificed income.

     So, what is "fair?"  It is not the equalization of the chance to get a hiking permit.  Equal is equal, and not likely to also be "fair."  Who will argue that this is "fair?"  Clearly, it will be those that are advantaged by this change.  And, will anyone look at such a biased perspective and see it for what it is?  I don't think so.  And, what would be "fair?"  I have no idea, and I don't think anyone else does either.  [Well, to the woman next to me, and the man across the table from me, I suggested an auction for permits, which they both thought was unfair!!]  What I do know, is that the government makes the rules and we have an incentive to adapt our behavior based on these rules.  When the rules change, it negates the choices we have made, and that is certainly unfair.

     Some other examples of this process:

Canyon Forest Village.  When the Forest Service considered a land swap along the border of the Grand Canyon, the decisions made by a host of private economic agents (e.g., to build a hotel in Flagstaff, Williams or Tusayan) were negated and they faced the prospect of having their livelihoods  ruined as a consequence.  Canyon Forest Village would be built on land that no others could bid on, favorably located next to the park.  In reports I helped author, we argued that this was patently unfair.  While we all know the risks associated with market dynamics - someone could decide to build another hotel in these cities and compete away business from existing firms.  But, to now factor in the notion that the government can step in and make arbitrary changes that ruin your business is practically impossible to factor into rational decision-making.

Holders of Chrysler and GM bonds.  As I write this, some Chrysler bondholders have protested the government's plan for Fiat to buy up a bankrupt Chrysler, because they get less back on their investment than those that should be further back in the creditor's line.  The Supreme Court will take a closer look at this deal.  This arbitrary rearrangement of the economic landscape will come at a severe price - who will make long term investments in these firms if their rights can be unilaterally disposed of by the government?

Parties using Gold Clause Contracts.  In the 1930s, the Congress prohibited gold clauses in contracts.  These were popular when a lender was afraid that the currency was being devalued.  So, instead of being paid back in currency terms, the resolution of the loan was stated in terms of the value of some amount of gold.  Essentially, this is an inflation hedge.  In one of the worst decisions ever made by the Supreme Court, the Congressional Act was upheld.

  The problem with the government changing its policies and rules, predicated on "fairness," is that they undo countless rational decisions made by all of us.  We respond to our environment.  We mold our behavior based on the incentives that we face.  "Fairness" is un likely to have anything to do with the political pressure for change exerted by special interests.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

   Jicarilla Point Petroglyphs - I had been to see the cool petroglyph panels below Jicarilla Point three times - twice in 1981 and once in 1991.  I haven't been able to track down any photos from my 1981 trips, and I only have a scant dozen that I took on the trip ten years later.  In this digital age, I have been doing a lot of repeat visits to special places like this, partly with an eye to compiling a much fuller photographic record.


For the full story:
Jicarilla Point Petroglyphs
in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal

Saturday, June 20, 2009

   Beck for Prez? - As far as I can tell, Glenn Beck is on a huge upswing in popularity.  I might entertain the notion that it is just me.  That is, because he is more popular with me, does that mean he is more popular in general?  Well, maybe.  But, if he's getting dumped on by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the harpies at The View, he must be pushing somebody's buttons.

     I first saw Glenn Beck when he had his show on CNN.  When he showed up on Fox this spring, I was more dogged about catching his show, and loving just about every minute of it.  He is funny, articulate and appropriately outraged by the nonsense that goes on in our government.

     He is quite the multi-faceted entertainer, and doesn't really seem to miss a beat in selling himself to his audience.  In early June, he put together a tour covering six cities, including nearby Phoenix.  So, Cara Lynn, Eric and I headed down to the desert on June 2 for his "Common Sense Comedy Tour."  As a comedy performer, I'd give him a B, but his content makes him a unique and singular entertainer.  And, he is funny.

     So, the event was held at the Dodge Theater, where there is a giant board that displays messages you can send via text.  I tried to do so, but the learning curve was too long for me to get on before the show started.  Still, a couple of the comments were some variation on the theme, "Glenn Beck for President."  That got me to thinking . . . 

     One thing that distinguishes conservatives from liberals is that the former are likely to distain political office.  If you want a smaller government that does less, you probably don't really want to expend time, energy and effort to be a part of it.  I mean, wouldn't a libertarian basically run on a platform of, "I don't want to do anything?"  On the other hand, if you want government to be bigger and do more, you might feel compelled to jump into the fray so that you can help transform society into the image you'd like.

     I think that Glenn Beck might make an excellent president, but his message belies any such ambition.  He extols the virtues of individualism, freedom and liberty.  These tenets tend to work against the notion that we need a leader to follow.  And, it is difficult to use this tack if you want to build yourself up to be a leader.  It just doesn't work.

     Alternatively, consider a liberal.  Like President Obama.  He tells us that he can fix the struggling economy.  He can create (or, save) jobs.  He can transition us to a green economy.  He can stop global warming.  He can stop pollution.  He can solve our health care system.  He can . . . well, he can do everything!  That would seem to be the perfect criteria for "leader."

     In another vein, I decided to send a short note to Beck.  To wit:

Dear Mr. Beck,

My family and I recently had the pleasure of seeing your Common Sense performance in Phoenix, although the 300 miles we drove, round trip from Flagstaff, meant we returned home in the early a.m. hours Wednesday!  Great stuff!

You have made much of the curtailing of our economic freedoms, and I couldn’t agree with you more.  But, there is the obvious (or, is it?) fallout from these restrictions, perhaps best summarized by Milton Friedman in his classic, “Capitalism and Freedom:”

"On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself.  In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom."  [Chapter 1, page 8, 1982 University of Chicago edition]

When I first read this, many years ago, I was bowled over.  While economic freedom cannot guarantee political freedom, you cannot have the latter without the former.  Isn’t this a point that you should also be making?  Too many people fail to see the power of Friedman’s argument.  For example, if the government mandates pay levels for private sector employees, they automatically constrain how well these individuals can operationalize their rights to free speech.  Or, consider a different example - if the government decides I cannot get enough gasoline to drive to Phoenix, then I can’t participate in a Tea Party and my voice is made the weaker, as a matter of government policy.  This insidious result should frighten us out of our wits!

Indeed, Friedman pulls no punches in this book, as he begins by critiquing the famous quote from JFK’s inaugural, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Writes Friedman:

"Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society."  [Introduction, page 1, 1982 University of Chicago edition]

Perhaps it is time to introduce a new generation of Americans to the insights of Milton Friedman.

Keep up the good work!

Sincerely,

Dennis Foster

    
     While Milton Friedman passed away in 2006, many have started to make special arrangements to remember the famed economist on his birthday.  Mark your calendars - the date is July 31.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

   The Crystal Forest Caves - Off the west side of Horseshoe Mesa, about four miles down the Grandview Trail, is a well-traveled route to the "Cave of the Domes."  I don't know where this name comes from, aside from the obvious description of features in the cave that are small domed rooms . . .  While this cave is no longer on park maps, it is still relatively well-known by regular canyon hikers.  But, not too far from here is a group of caves, called Crystal Forest, which are not well-known even by canyon regulars.  There are three caves here, and I don't know if each one is named, so I just refer to all three as the "Crystal Forest Caves."

 For the full story:
The Crystal Forest Caves of Grandview
in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

   Qwest + ESBI = Bull - Most of my bills are paid off automatically - through my credit card, or with an EFT from my bank.  Consequently, I don't pay real close attention to my bill on a monthly basis.  But, I do sort through them periodically.  Recently, I was going through my phone bills over the last six months.  The charge for local service and internet service runs about $60 a month.  So, I was ticking off the months - $60, $60, $60 - and I got to June's bill - $75.  Hmm.  I looked over the bill, and found this on page 3:  "Other Companies  ESBI ETS   Total Charges $14.95," and a reference to page 5.  So, I turned to page 5 and it shows ESBI as the letterhead instead of Qwest.  Here is what is printed on this page:

The charges on this portion of your bill are for non-telecommunications services and products ... This portion of your bill is provided as a service to ESBI."

     I was puzzled, to say the least.  I had just signed up for DirecTV, and wondered whether the phone hookup was related to this charge.  It seemed unlikely that they wouldn't bill me directly for all of their services.  The charges specified on my bill were for "Intelicom Messaging."  So, I got on-line and did a search on ESBI (Enhanced Services Billing, Inc., although you wouldn't know that from the bill nor from their web site!).  I was deluged by web sites complaining about this "service."  I found nothing good.  Nothing.  I did find a couple of newspaper stories that were superficial in this regard.  But, not one single positive comment about this company nor about their "non-telecommunications" charges.  FYI, here are some of these sites:

     It was too late to talk with a real person at Qwest, so I sent them an e-mail (for which, I didn't get a reply for seven days!!).  Then, based on comments I read, I called the 800 number for ESBI that was on the phone bill.  The operator claimed that my stepson authorized the charges.  Of course, he didn't have any idea what this was all about - based on the web complaints, I thought that was probably the case.

     The next day, I did call Qwest and told them of my complaint.  The operator there tried to inform me that they are required to pass along bills like this and that mostly they are on the up and up.  I think she was just reading through a script and had no idea about any of this.  But, she was persistent about asking me if ESBI was going to credit my account.  I said I wasn't sure, but assumed so.  The Qwest operator decided the prudent thing to do was to credit me directly.  So, three cheers for her.  With some urging on my part, a block was placed on my line for "third party billing" so this episode should be over.  But, here are some observations:

Third party charges are obsolete.  The Qwest rep tried to pass this off on the deregulation of AT&T back in the day.  Maybe.  Her comment was that this provided customers a conduit for choosing a different long distance service, and having this charge showing up on their regular phone bill.  I pointed out that I have a separate long distance service and they charge me directly.  Well, that's the way it is these days.  Besides, nobody can foist third party charges onto my electric bill, nor my gas bill.  So, the "regulated utility" argument for these charges is silly.

Qwest must benefit.  While the rep claimed that Qwest had no choice in the matter, it does say on the bill that it is "provided as a service to ESBI."  And, I bet that ESBI pays for that service.  So, Qwest makes money here, without lifting a finger, and they can always claim to be innocent in this scam.

Qwest does benefit.  When I told the rep that I didn't want this to happen again - I have had this phone line for 20 years and this is the first time a third party charge has been made - she was reluctant to follow-through with an offer to block these charges.  She said that she "could see if a block can be placed on this line."  See what?  If Qwest was serious about the integrity of its customer service, they should be willing to put blocks on these charges at the drop of a hat.

Qwest inconsistent on customer service.  When I logged into my Qwest account, I was informed that I needed to get a security code, because "Qwest values the privacy of customer account information."  [It arrived two days ago, before the e-mail reply to my original complaint!]  Odd that they act so concerned about the security of my account, but turn the other way on these bogus ESBI charges.  Which is it?

ESBI is a sham.  Although the Qwest rep claimed that these charges are usually on the up and up, and somewhere I saw the claim that ESBI was one of the larger players in this market, just take a look at their web site to convince yourself that it is nothing but a sham.  Three pages - home, FAQ and customer service.  No contact information.  No history.  Only two questions on the FAQ page and one of them directs the reader to the customer service page, which is just a form to fill in.  Warning!!  Don't even think about filling in the form, unless you want to be snared by their scam. 

ESBI really is a sham.  When I talked to their operator, I was told that my stepson had "authorized" this charge.  But, the Qwest rep said that I was the only authorized user of the line.  So, how did ESBI conclude that charging me was legit?  Well, I don't think legitimacy has anything to do with it, so they couldn't care less about proper authorization.  Conceivably, anyone who doesn't like me could have signed me up for dozens of these phony-baloney services, even going so far as to claim to be me.

How can ESBI make money?  It isn't difficult to see how ESBI can profit from this scheme.  Even if they refund and rebate angered customers, I think that only solves their legal liability.  But, they still make money in two ways - first, from those that don't catch on, and second, from the temporary holding of money that will be later refunded.  Consider how easily this works . . . 
     Suppose that ESBI signs up about 65,000 people a month to bogus services, at $15 a pop.  [Actually, it is some other "company" that is doing the signing up; i.e., in my case it was "Intelicom Messaging."]  That will rake in about $10 million.  A month passes, and everyone is refunded.  Meanwhile, ESBI gets to keep $10 million a month.  If this rolls over every month, then this is a perpetual holding.  At an annual interest rate of, say, 5%, they'd make $500,000 per year just from the temporary holding of this money.  If it usually takes two months to detect this fraud and get a refund, their annual rake comes to double this amount, $1 million.  If it takes four months, on average, then they get $2 million.  I doubt that ESBI has very high operating cost - after all, look at their web page!  ESBI probably hires out operators from India to deal with the refund issue, and may well be pocketing 80%, or more, of this income.

     The notion that ESBI is just a scam operation seems clear to me.  With a prompt refund policy, they may be able to keep their heads above water, legally.  But, it is still a scam.  Florida Governor Charlie Crist, when he was the state's Attorney General, filed a motion against Intelicom Messaging, and others, for fraudulent practices.  I don't know what became of that.  On the other hand, the FCC has ruled in favor of ESBI in a complaint lodged against their billing practices.  I don't see how that is possible when, as I noted earlier, doing a web search on ESBI will yield nothing but negative comments.

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