Bracketology, trailer park heroes & ghosts

Bracketology, trailer park heroes & ghosts March 17, 2011

I’ve got my brackets filled in. Here’s my Final Four: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, BP, UnitedHealth.

I’ve got BofA edging out BP in the final, but this is a really strong tournament field with lots of great contenders, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of March Madness, it’s that anything can happen.

No, I’m not talking about the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m talking about Consumerist’s annual March Madness contest for Worst Company in America.

For the sixth year in a row, we asked Consumerist readers to send us their nominations for our Worst Company In America tournament.

And this year’s response was the greatest by far.

The 32 companies listed in the above bracket are the result of thousands of nominations. Once again, the two most represented fields are telecom — including reigning champ Comcast — and banking/credit, each taking up six slots.

Earlier from Consumerist: “Clergy Perform Exorcism on Chase Bank

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This next story is from Loren Berlin, writing for The New York Times, so hurry up and read it before their new online subscription charges or fees or whatever kick in: “At More Mobile-Home Parks, a Greater Sense of Security.”

“It scares the daylights out of me that some big corporation is going to come in and raise the rent until I can’t pay for it anymore,” [Alice Sadoski] said as she folded a just-completed blue plaid coverup. “I’m on a very limited income, and I don’t know where else I would go.” It is not the mobile home that Mrs. Sadoski rents; she and her husband bought the trailer, vintage 1962, for $29,900. But, like 25 percent of the roughly 18 million Americans living in one of the nation’s 50,000 mobile-home parks, she rents the underlying land, and is thus as vulnerable as any tenant to rent increases or even eviction, if a landlord sells to a developer with other plans for the property. Many of these residences, also called manufactured homes, are fairly large, and to move them might cost several thousand dollars.

To avoid these risks, Mrs. Sadoski and her neighbors set out in 2009 to create a cooperative and purchase the park’s land themselves. After a rival buyer bowed out, and after a price drop by the park owner, the residents are now nearing success. They have secured a mortgage, and are scheduled to close the deal in May.

Such purchases are not new. In a few states where property values have historically been high, like California and Florida, mobile-home residents began to form for-profit cooperatives in the 1960s. In New Hampshire in the mid-’80s, a nonprofit model emerged that aims to keep shares inexpensive enough so every resident can join and to reinvest any profits in the property. That model soon spread to Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

But now the movement is expanding. …

Berlin offers a bit more big-picture background, including some quotes from Paul Bradley of ROC-USA, but most of the story is stories — the stories of people like Alice Sadoski and Pat Scheidegger who have gone from fear, insecurity and dependence to confidence, security and pride. Good stories.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For St. Patrick’s Day, a story of Irish immigrants from just up the road in Malvern, Pa., at a place called “Duffy’s Cut.”

In June, 1832, a group of 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry arrived in Philadelphia. They were brought to Chester County by a fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy as laborers for the construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, Pennsylvania’s pioneering railroad. Within six weeks, all were dead of cholera and possibly violence, and were buried anonymously in a ditch outside of Malvern.

This is a fascinating story and the research at Duffy’s Cut is teaching us a lot about local history — about industrial growth, economics, immigration, ethnic tensions and violence and the way all those things came together here in Chester County in the early 19th Century.

Oh, and it’s also a ghost story.

(With it’s combination of forensic research and paranormal “research,” this story is tailor-made to blow up all over cable television. It seems like every third-tier cable channel has at least two shows apiece about criminal forensics labs and ghost hunters, so it’s kind of surprising that SyFy and the History Channel, the Travel Channel, Tru TV and Animal Planet haven’t yet all descended on Immaculata College. So far it’s just been the Smithsonian Channel.)

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  • Froborr

    I hate those ghost hunter shows. I want to see one with a real sceptic who goes around shredding the claims of idiots. Played right, it could be hilarious, like that one documentary with the martial arts teacher who claimed to be able to knock people out without touching them, and the untrained skinny chemist who just stood there, totally unaffected and unimpressed by all his arm-waving. Anyone know the video I’m talking about?

  • I’ve not seen that one, Froborr, but I’d love to. I have seen James Randi vs Uri Geller, which was rather fun.


  • Lori

    Oh, if only an exorcism was all that was needed to fix what’s wrong at Chase Bank. At this point the only thing Chase can really say for itself is that there’s no way they’ll beat out BofA in the Worst Company tourney. I agree with Fred that they’re the one to beat. Wikileaks really gave them the edge this year.

    And I also hate those ghost hunter shows, for the same reason Froborr does.

  • Really, not Comcast? Because Comcast is … well, they won last year for a reason!

  • Anonymous

    It’s kind of frightening to me how many of the Worst Company in America contenders are major employers here in San Antonio. Particularly Toyota, which is where pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to in the lower income brackets longs to work.

    Also, am I still in the first 10 commenters? I was fourth when I started posting this.

  • That sounds pretty hilarious, Froborr. It reminds me of this

    I looked at the brackets and noticed some…problems. Namely that some of the companies listed are subsidiary companies (GameStop is owned by Barnes & Noble, for instance). Anyways, BofA has the Leftwards Conference dominated. They’re going to the finals, easily. There’s much stronger competition in the Rightwards Conference. Picking who I think is the worst is different than who I think most people will consider the worst though.

    I guess I’d pick BofA, BP, [Insurance company; I don’t know enough about them to pick one, so eeny-meeny], and I’ll put a bit of money on a long-shot with AT&T (as this is a negative popularity contest, AT&T has a much stronger chance than if it were a direct measure of unethical practices). I agree though, BofA is the one to beat.

  • Lori

    Comcast has horrible customer service and outrageous prices. BofA has both of those, plus they’ve been breaking the law to rip people off and they’ve been throwing people out of their homes at a staggering pace, all while executives roll around naked in their big piles of money. If Comcast wins again it’ll only be because people understand what they do well enough to be really outraged by it, but BofA hides it’s evil a bit better. That’s why I think the Wikileaks revelations have given BofA the edge this year.

  • Don’t forget Comcast’s whole net neutrality thing. Yeah They would be a personal pick for me, but I wouldn’t pick them as a general winner here.

  • I once saw a suggestion for a reality show based around messing with ghost hunters. One camera crew follows the paranormal investigators as they jump in excitement at strange noises, while another crew follows the hoaxers outside thumping on the walls and giggling.

  • cyllan
  • Froborr

    As for the brackets, my final four are Wal-Mart, BP, BoA, and it doesn’t really matter who else because no-one in the lower right comes remotely near the evil of BP. Wal-Mart vs BoA is BoA, so that leaves BoA vs. BP and honestly, I can’t decide.

    Also, why isn’t Haliburton on there? We’re still fighting two wars to make them richer, AND they helped BP poison the Gulf. They’d be in my top 4 easily if they were an option.

  • I’d be more interested in the “worst company” brackets if the standings were determined by some form of actual “badness” rather than by popular (infamous?) vote.

  • Froborr

    What would that loo like? I can’t imagine it would be anything other than one person’s opinion of why these companies are bad, which you can find lots of for each of them. I don’t know why that would particularly carry more weight than the voting, which at least has some entertainment value and an opportunity for “Oh, why are so many people voting for that company? Maybe I missed some news, I should look it up.”

  • Walmart was my fourth, but I switched it out for my longshot of AT&T. Comcast was another strong choice for me (I haven’t looked up previous years results, so I didn’t know they won last year), mainly because of Net Neutrality and the related issue which caused them to clash with the government.
    For anyone not familiar with Comcast’s practices, as a customer of theirs you are guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth. However, your neighborhood has a a specific amount of bandwidth allotted to it in the form of cable infrastructure. In the bandwidth amount given, they figure that most people in the neighborhood won’t use most of their bandwidth, so they only put in a tiny fraction of the actual amount required. People have started bumping up against the neighborhood limit before their own personal limit. As a result, Comcast is pushing to have websites, or customers, pay extra to have their traffic go through in a timely manner, so that they get extra money without having to shoulder the burden of updating their infrastructure to actually fulfill the requirements of the contract they sign with customers.

  • Lou’s iPad

    There’s a Smithsonian channel?

  • Lou’s iPad

    Also W00T! P&G is not on the Consumerist list, my wife and sole provider will be so proud!

  • Michael P

    Since my folks live in Houston, I’m rooting for BP to win it all. (They were actually responsible for a lot of money flowing into my dad’s pocket last year.)

  • Froborr

    I think it is The best part is the karate fraud’s attempt to explain why the skeptic was mysteriously immune to his powers: he had his toe curled.

  • Anonymous

    Froborr: Also, why isn’t Haliburton on there? We’re still fighting two wars to make them richer, AND they helped BP poison the Gulf. They’d be in my top 4 easily if they were an option.
    It looks like the website, being a consumerism site, tilts toward companies that provide consumer goods/services. But I’m with you. I’m more inclined to attribute badness to the corporations that either benefit from corporate welfare (Monsanto, ConAgra) or are beneficiaries of so-called privatization (Halliburton, Corrections Corp of America, White Hat Management.)

    If a company gives me lousy service, I just stop patronizing it. But a company that is able to suck up my tax money and make the world a worse place is a much higher level of awful.

  • All mysticism aside, a technique that can be countered by your opponent curling his toes seems pretty useless.

  • Mark Z.

    Hey, he’s gotta uncurl them some time. And that’s when you make your move.

  • Dmasdm
  • Anonymous

    I loves me a good ghost story. I notice this one uses Electronic Voice Phenomena. I can’t resist sharing a link to Brian Dunning’s discussion of this and the messages from playing recordings backwards in this segment. To fully appreciate what is happening, you should follow the links to the recorded material, especially the “sine wave speech” in paragraph 6.

    “No … abyss” is an easy thing to hear in background noise anyway, and I don’t for a moment believe a tough young Irishman would answer that way. I’d expect, “NO WE’RE NOT IN [FLIPPIN’] HEAVEN, YOU IDJIT! WE’RE IN [FLIPPIN’] HELL!! NOW GO GET FATHER O’DONNELL TO GET US OUT OF HERE!!!”

  • Detroitmechworks

    Personally I’d want to see Manpower and Labor Ready up there… because if ANYBODY exploits, it’s those folks. (Hate the fact that they treat their employees like morons, then when the employee gets a REAL job, even if they had NOTHING to do with it, they garnish the wages, by claiming that the employee still has to work for them…)

  • Anonymous

    that one documentary with the martial arts teacher who claimed to be able to knock people out without touching them, and the untrained skinny chemist who just stood there, totally unaffected and unimpressed by all his arm-waving. Anyone know the video I’m talking about?

    I’ve seen video of an Indian mystic attempting to kill an Indian skeptic without touching him. Unless the plan was to kill the skeptic by making him giggle himself to death, it was a bunch of bootless armwaving.

    I don’t watch the SciFiSyFy Channel much anymore, largely because I can stream all the Stargate I want off of Netflix, but I kept wondering if Ghost Hunters wasn’t going to turn out to be some kind of deep-cover fiction in the vein of Blair Witch — that there was a script, that everyone was in on it, that the cat would be let out of the bag at some point.

    As it stands I gotta conclude that Ghost Hunters is one great big prank on the poor folks they’ve got on camera. Which seems kind of jerkish.

  • Anonymous

    I am ashamed when I remember that my high-speed internet provider is Comcast.

    Just to compound their Evil, they have moved all of their cartoon channels off of basic cable. :(