Thursday, December 29, 2005

double true

Rather than recap and catalogue the endless riches of "Lazy Sunday," I just wanted to note that, inspired by Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell, my sister and I invented a slang term for the five dollar bill.

From now on, the five is called a "slider."

As in, "We can't do the paid parking - I dropped that last slider on shallots at Whole Foods," or "I have a slider, I'll cover the tip."

Got that?


P.S. You can get "Lazy Sunday" on the iTunes Music Store, or at If they had an annual red-carpet sketch comedy award, this thing would win for 2005. And the award would be a gold-plated statuette of a cowbell.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How Do You Sleep?

Three recent articles deal with the hotel industry’s Cold War-style amenities escalation. Two from fairly reputable papers, the SF Chronicle and the Washington Post, and a more sympathetic but rambling account in the East Bay Express.

For folks who don’t know about this, here’s the gist from the Chronicle.

Travelers are raving about the enormous, fluffy new beds that the nation's biggest hotel chains are spending millions on as they one-up each other in an escalating mattress war...The same beds that are so kind to travelers' backs are wreaking havoc on hotel housekeepers who wrestle with the behemoths -- not to mention the amazing array of pillows, duvet covers, down comforters, 300-thread-count sheets, shams, bed skirts, bolsters and bed scarves that need daily tending...Federal statistics show it's a real problem, and a study published in July by UCSF researchers found 3 out of 4 hotel housekeepers experience "very severe" pain...The problem, according to union representatives, doctors and those charged with keeping those beds made, is housekeepers are being forced to clean the same number of rooms per shift even as the beds grow ever bigger and more elaborate, requiring more time to change. The housekeepers are hurting themselves trying to keep up.

In upscale hotels, this problem has been obscured for so long that chronic injury and medical complications, as well as frequent over-reliance on pain medication have become the status quo in hotel housekeeping. And it’s not limited to housekeepers. According to the BLS, hotel workers suffer an on-the-job injury rate second only to healthcare workers.

The hotel industry, as it struggles to make amenities more and more luxurious, is literally breaking down the bodies of the women and men (it’s overwhelmingly women, and low-income, immigrant women at that) it employs.

I brought all this up not because if its relationship to my job, but because I think it’s worth probing the concept of luxury, and its “unseen” cost. Luxury is the next frontier, or rather the only remaining frontier, for American companies looking to beat out their foreign competitors (assuming they aren’t interested in challenging the various norms of the market). It’s critical that we recognize both the visible and obscured cost of luxury, in whatever segment of the economy. We have a tendency to equate the cost of luxury with its price, when of course the relationship is much more complicated. This holds true whether we’re talking about sprawl, household appliances, hotel amenities, technological development, or whatever luxury offers consumers something above and beyond their expectation. Paying for the luxury somehow seems to both justify it and distance consumers from its consequences.

To me, UNITE HERE’s rhetoric and framing of housekeeping workloads effectively closes that gap, and thus offers an ideal example for how to approach this kind of problem. It confronts consumers with the less savory side of their own satisfaction. It forces them to recognize not just the impact of their thirst for luxury, but also their basic identity as consumers. Their comfort relies on underpaid, backbreaking physical labor, and their money makes them partially responsible for the welfare of those who serve them.

Lots of implications for the Wal-mart campaign as well, but that’s another thing.

Friday, December 23, 2005


I saw this movie with Camille last week. I don’t know if you were aware, but “Syriana” is actually Farsi for “Traffik.” Seriously, the critics’ comparisons between Steven Gaghan’s script for Traffic (the American adaptation) and his script for this new film have completely understated the case.

All the same elements are there:

- insulated American family torn apart by exposure to the seamy underbelly – with disastrous consequences.

- brown person, acting as a humanizing counterpoint, struggles on the other side against the effects of white bureaucrat’s policy and power struggles – with disastrous consequences.

- investigator(s)drawn deeper into the puzzle through personal involvement – with disastrous consequences.

- wistful/subtle human moments, thrown in at random to remind us that all the characters are alive, and have concerns we’re supposed to remember.

- absurdly intricate political, legal, financial maneuvering.

- every character pre-equipped with personal dimension and professional objectives, tailor-made for dramatic conflict.

But the first movie was much better. Good enough to give the original BBC mini-series a decent run for its money. Syriana, though entertaining and beautiful to watch, and really well acted by everyone, still gave off the overpowering impression that there was one, maybe even two better movies buried in it somewhere.

The hinge, the emotional hook for a film like this ought to be the relationship between macro-economic/political/cultural forces and the personal motivations of those affected by them. The movie tries repeatedly to get this right, but for me it kept falling flat.

The main problem is believability. I have no qualms with the suggestion that energy companies dictate foreign policy, or that we kill our enemies to promote our interests, or that regulatory bodies are in bed whoever they’re supposed to regulate, or that economic hardship and tantalizing French fries can combine to create a recruitable terrorist. But if you’re going to put these suggestions forth, it should be done credibly and compellingly, in a way that fleshes out the underlying motives rather than reducing them to caricature. The Manchurian Candidate remake suffered from the same problem.

One last question: Steven Soderbergh was (obviously, to anyone who’s seen it) associated with this film.

Is his name pronounced Soderbergh like how someone from Providence would say “soda pop,” or Soderbergh as in the soldering iron of justice?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    the skinny

    Here are the top ten important developments in my life, presented in descending order of importance.

    1) I am engaged to be married.

    2) I am currently running the hotel boycott for UNITE HERE Local 2 in San Francisco.

    3) I am applying to law school.

    4) I have officially been exercising at a gym for the last whole, entire year. There is no visible change. Except it hasn't prevented me from losing a little more hair.

    5)...which brings me to number five. I am losing my hair, slowly. Folks who've known me for a long time probably won't notice the difference. I could give a fuck, frankly. Just like to get it out in the open.

    6) Having achieved some vague proficiency on the guitar, I'm now learning the mandolin. If necessary, go ahead and read that sentence again.

    7) After you've prepared the various ingredients of an egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich, you can't just slap them together and eat it. You have to give the sandwich ingredients some time to get to know each other. The whole thing has to pull together and accept that it's a sandwich, and not separate breakfast (or in my case, dinner) ingredients. I can't stress this enough. In fact, if I was making this list again, I'd put this one higher. Dammit.

    8) Achewood. Achewood Achewood Achewood. Achewood.

    9) There's a lot more fake meat in my diet now. Between Morningstar Farms, which makes eerily believable bacon and sausage, and Golden Era on O'Farrell St., this has been a banner year for suspended disbelief. Of course, I have no clue how close in taste and texture this stuff really is, since it's been so long since I ate the real thing. It'd be like if someone gave me a fake Squeeze-It (TM) and asked me to compare it to the real thing. It's just been too long, man.

    10) Our cat has developed into a bloodthirsty biting machine. Compare and contrast the following:

    Scene from 998 Divisadero, #201, ca. 12/04:

    Alek: Hey, furball. You look like you wanna wrestle. Huh? (waves arms in cat's face) Wanna wrestle? Oh, you're getting in some good chomps now. Yeah, you're chomping good now. (to fiance) Hey, check out Chompsky over here.

    Camille: (silence)

    Alek: She's manufacturing some serious consent! (beat) Chompsky!!

    Camille: (sighs)

    Scene from 998 Divisadero, #201, ca. 12/05:

    Alek: Okay, I'm going to get up and take a shower...


    ...Ow! Oowww!!!! Stop attacking my calves! Get, off! Ow, fuck!! That hurt, goddamnit!

    Camille: What's going on?

    Alek: Nothing, just -- (dull thud) -- Son of a BITCH!

    Camille: ... are you OK?

    Alek: I hit my head on the door.


    Alek: Stop biting me!

    it wouldn't be newplastic...

    ...without periods of total inactivity punctuated by spasmodic appearances of content.


    Update to follow.