Thursday, May 25, 2006

riding to work two days ago...

Alek: "So, do you think we need to do that today?"
Camille: "No, it's not necessary."


Camille: "It's unecessary."


Camille: [quoting] "It's so necessary."
Alek: "..."
Camille: "Did you know I'm Jay-Z?"

[then, in the most surreal moment of my marriage to date...]

Camille: "But you can call me Hova."

Monday, May 22, 2006

AFL-C ya later

That pun in the title belongs to my sister, who's one of the flying purple people eaters.

Anyway, the Laborers (LIUNA) have broken from the AFL-CIO, which means 700,000 fewer members. They had been straddling, retaining membership in both the AFL and the Change to Win coalition, but no longer.

Now, this is good for a number of reasons. It diminishes the degree to which service sector unions dominate Change to Win, by adding construction workers to the farmworkers (UFW), truckdrivers (Teamsters), and carpenters that had already joined.

By freeing the LIUNA from AFL-CIO per capita dues, it allows the Laborers to fully make good on their commitment to prioritize organizing. They've been moving in that direction for a while, and growing fast, so now they will have a chance to put more ambitious programs into place.

Finally, it shows that the AFL-CIO's scare tactics don't work. Earlier this year, after the United Farm Workers disassociated, AFL president John Sweeney formally barred UFW locals from participation in labor councils. Apart from being bizarre, unfair, and possibly racist, a lot of folks speculated that the AFL was trying to send a message to other unions (particularly the Laborers and others in the building trades) about the consequences of disassociating. So much for that.

Quick Note: As part of the AFL/CtW agreement on political cooperation, the UFW was allowed back into the labor maybe that had something to do with this, but I doubt it. The LIUNA has been making noise about leaving for a while, and even set up their own building trades council separate from the AFL. Maybe they were waiting to see if the two federations would sort out their differences on the 06 election cycle, or maybe they just finally got it together.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Being the last person alive without cable television...

...I won't be able to watch Sorkin's new show when it debuts this fall.

But they did just release an extended 6 min. trailer on youtube.

I am wetting my pants.

I hope our new place has cable.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Normally I don't just comment on press pieces, but this one hit pretty close to home. Since Camille & I are right smack in the middle of buying our first place, the headline "My Broker, My Therapist" naturally attracted my attention.

The article's definitely accurate in its contention that buying a home brings out the absolute worst in everyone involved. Anything that can be dredged up, will be. But, that said, a few quick things:

1) What kind of person (and especially what kind of spouse) complains, when her husband is buying a $3 million summer home for the family, "I wish you had a good job so we didn't have to live like this"? What would a "good job" be, exactly? And when you say "like this," what horrible circumstances, the result of your husband's sucky job, are you struggling to conceal? This doesn't seem like an instance of real estate offering a quick glimpse into someone's dark side -- this woman is suffering from compulsive greed and I doubt real estate has anything to do with it. Unless, of course, she was being sarcastic, which would be pretty funny.

2) What kind of person chooses an open house to reveal that she's pregnant? And who would do it in such an oblique way? It's one thing to keep it a secret for good reasons, but why decide, on the spur of the moment, to insist that you need a bigger apartment and then rub your belly in a significant way while saying nothing, like Charades? That's bizarre.

3) Somewhere in this article, it should have been mentioned that these people need actual therapy.

In other news, the Georgia Supreme Court is fine with you being a bigot, but you need to parse your bigoted arguments with a little more subtlety. What they really need to pass in Georgia is a statute that allows voters to hold utterly hypocritical views, thereby avoiding this "single-rule" nuisance.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I cleaned up and updated the links bar, so there's more & better stuff available.

Friday, May 12, 2006

alternate title: once upon a mattress

Following up on this rant, more news from the world of luxury bedding. UNITE HERE published a report last month on hotel housekeepers, their workload, and the amenities arms race currently being conducted by luxury hotel chains. It gathers data from recent surveys and publications, and also presents information from a multi-city survey conducted by the union itself.

Here’s the link to the report, and an accompanying summary of facts and figures which documents all the findings, and provides extra details on the industry as a whole.

I think this report does an excellent job of clearly and accurately presenting what’s at stake for hotel workers’ health and safety, without exaggeration or (too much) melodrama. The anecdotal testimony from housekeepers makes abundantly clear the need for workload reduction, but even more persuasive is the list of tasks per room that a hotel housekeeper is expected to perform:

Bedroom Tasks

Remove all room-service items from room
Strip bed(s) of all sheets, blankets and duvets
Place bottom sheet on each bed and tuck 4-8 times
Place top sheets and blanket on each bed and tuck 4-8 times
Spread duvet on bed
Remove 4-8 pillowcases per bed and stuff pillows into fresh cases
Dust all nightstands and desk
Carefully restock and arrange pens, papers and other written materials (i.e. room service menus) on desk
Dust armoire or dresser, including behind the TV
Clean TV screen
Retrieve TV remote and rearrange TV channel guides
Pick up trash and empty bedroom’s wastebasket
Wash and dry ice bucket and rearrange on counter
Collect, wash and dry dirty glasses
Dust vents
Put away all ironing boards and other equipment
Vacuum all floors

Bathroom Tasks

Pick up soiled towels and place on cart
Replace soiled towels
Clean and disinfect toilet bowl
Wipe down top and side of toilet
Restock toilet paper
Wipe down counter tops
Clean sink(s) and polish faucets
Replace and arrange toiletries (i.e. shampoo, soaps)
Clean bathroom mirror
Wash and dry coffeepot and cups and rearrange on counter
Scrub inside of bathtub
Clean/replace shower curtain or scrub shower door
Clean bath and shower walls
Pick up trash and empty bathroom wastebasket
Mop floor
Dust vents

A few things to keep in mind. Many rooms have more than one bed, doubling some of the bedroom tasks. Some housekeepers are expected to clean 20 of these rooms a day, giving them about half an hour to complete a room. Inspectors visit their rooms regularly, and any incomplete task from the list above is grounds for discipline. Obviously these conditions improve markedly in union shops, but the workload issues still persist. In particular, all tasks that require maneuvering bedding become much more difficult – and dangerous – when the hotels upgrade amenities.

This issue has gotten a lot of press recently, and for good reason. The industry is posting record profits due to the amenities arms race, and in the process, literally breaking apart the bodies of the women who do the actual work.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tom Hanks knows how to fake-piss

I just saw The Green Mile last night, and without doubt Tom Hanks' finest moment in the film is the tight shot of blissful relief spreading over his face during his first piss after John Coffey heals the urinary infection.

It reminded me of his endless pissing scene in A League of Their Own, which, until I saw The Green Mile, I considered his finest on-screen performance.

So, is this, like, his hidden specialty? I didn't see Philadelphia -- does he piss in that?

Monday, May 08, 2006

favela rising

Just a quick plug for Favela Rising, which Camille & I saw at the SF International Film Festival last week.

It's playing a lot around the country -- worth going to see, without question. Great material for people interested in music, community organizing, urban policing, etc. etc.

One disclaimer, though: It's not a particularly balanced or intellectually rigorous documentary, nor was it intended to be, I'd imagine. Just a good thing to keep in mind, especially if you don't know much about the subject matter.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

U-M can finally eat food

Yesterday, UNICCO workers at the University of Miami won the freedom to choose a union through a variant of card-check neutrality. This will, I hope, continue to inspire other student groups to pursue campaigns like this on their campuses. It’s especially critical that these type of student-labor alliances flourish on Southern campuses, where neither the unions nor progressive students can rely on a union infrastructure. This just rocks so hard.

On a related note: I’ve heard educational institutions described as a “soft target,” for any of the following reasons:

  • Their “product’s” value relies largely on the kind of prestige susceptible to public pressure.
  • If public, they are funded directly by taxpayer dollars, if private, indirectly through grants.
  • They are not perceived as profit-seeking enterprises, nor as vital engines for economic growth, so the imperative to reduce labor costs, especially at the expense of service to students, appears unseemly.
  • They are expected to operate in an ethical manner and set that same example for students.

One theory goes that it’s not always good to focus on soft targets, since changing them has little effect on the “regular” targets that drive down standards and control industry. This argument holds water in some situations – like efforts to organize public employers while ignoring the vast private sector labor market. But in the case of universities, the “soft target” label doesn’t fit very well. For one thing, they often sub-contract with the largest operators in the service industry (like Sodexho and Aramark in food service), and universities may offer an opening foothold in unionizing these companies wholesale as opposed to contract by contract. For another – and this argument is as older than the hills round these parts – universities are grounded capital, growing in urban areas, and expanding services and jobs. So, in many cases, they can set local or regional standards in places where no other employer (or industry) could do so. They're increasingly emerging as the economic backbone of cities abandoned by other, more mobile industries. Finally, there’s all the ancillary benefits of having a unionized campus: training new activists, affecting the course of knowledge-production and research, etc. etc. etc. Those arguments take a lot of rhetorical energy to put together, and since I’m not organizing students I don’t have to make them anymore, thank fancy Moses. Go here for more.

Anyway, congratulations to the U-M workers, SEIU, and the students who fought so hard throughout for this precedent-setting win.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Go! Team

Great American Music Hall

I saw The Go! Team last week, the night after Sekou Sundiata. But I decided, instead of reviewing the show, to just develop a list of all the relevant terms, ideas, comparisons that have accumulated over the last 2 years of unrelenting hype for this band. Originally I was gonna list them at the beginning of a longer review, to get them out of the way, but once done with the list I realized that I didn’t have much else to say. Feel free to explore these at your own leisure – Pitchfork, RS, VH1, et al have all covered the group.

70s cop show soundtracks
Mixing issues (album & live)
Crowd participation
Original vs. US release
Record vs. live lineup
Why do they use sampled horns?
Ninja works the crowd
Two drummers
Buzz Band
Fatboy Slim/Public Enemy/Motown/etc./etc.

The show was a total rave-up, and the crowd was more into the band than any I’ve seen since the 2001 Okayplayer tour. So that was great. But intentional or not, mixing was pretty horrible. Based on the arrangements, I'd assume the density is intentional, but that's all the more reason for a good mix. It did help cover Ninja’s lame lyrics, but I thought the lame lyrics were sort of the point.

Swedish psychedelic rockers Dungen co-headlined. They look like they just left the Shire and grew 14 feet, and they play a weird, Scandinavian breed of hairy, stompfoot Viking rock. I think Jethro Tull would be the closest analogue, but that might just be the flute solo talking. The bassist, who we could barely see through the hobbit-fro, had the line of the night:

“Excuse me. We sing in Swedish, so if you do not understand…

...then that is the reason.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sekou Sundiata

Sekou Sundiata is basically a poet, of the spoken word variety as opposed to the Edna St. Vincent Millay variety, though in the last few years he’s transformed into more of a performance artist. I went down to Stanford last week to see the world premier of his new performance piece, The 51st (Dream) State, which he’s been developing during a residence. As the title suggests, it’s sort of a dreamy rumination on American identity. The performance set-up for this new piece fairly resembles that of his critically-lauded blessing the boats: a full band on stages, vocalists, and Sundiata moving about speaking poetry and prose with musical backing. They had also erected a series of screens at the rear of the stage, which projected dancing, photo collage, and interview footage.

I can’t speak for the music in the last one, but The 51st (Dream) State ran the gamut from jazz to gospel to raga and back again. I find this kind of hodge-podge wonderful to enjoy in the moment, and less memorable as time goes on. Programmatic music needs a pervading musical sensibility -- not necessary a strict genre, just a style and tone -- in order to communicate and sustain whatever themes it's intended to accompany. The Hindustani improvisation over Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was jarring and beautiful at the time, but its disturbing effect fades in memory and the cavalcade of other musical styles that preceded and followed it effectively prevent listeners from gaining an understanding of its function within the whole. That's a major problem, and an easy way to make your audience into a bunch of glassy-eyed trout.

The same problem extended to the poetic content, unfortunately. When poetry is presented well (not that I’m much of a judge, but I have some experience due to my parents’ occupation and my own early aspirations), an audience over the course of an evening gains a sense of how the poet interacts with the world, and what he/she would like to reveal to you about it. Sundiata’s poetry, at times transcendent, at times aimless, did not accomplish this, at least not for me. He prefers to inundate you with words, imagery, and rhetoric, which may entertain you but will only communicate something substantive if he's exercised discipline in putting them together. I loved his trenchant re-vamping of the tired cliché “Everyone’s a nigga if you look at it right," and so did the rest of the crowd. Meanwhile, his first-person narrative of the confusion and horror immediately following a terrorist attack left the audience (included me) shocked and clammy – his character describes recognizing brain tissue, amongst the carnage, because it’s “ticking like a watch.” You don’t hear that everyday. Even the juxtaposition of taped interviews with a Japanese internment survivor and a post-9/11 Arab-American, heavy-handed as it was, did a good job bringing our struggle with American identity into relief.

Sundiata's weaker material simply rambled through a variety of clichés about facing up to our own injustice, greed, etc. I hate to say this of a respected poetry professor, but he sometimes kind of sounded like a sophomore AmStud major doing a book report on Notes of a Native Son. Which isn’t to say that the sentiments aren’t appropriate for the times, given the current, volatile conflict over what is and isn’t American. This was just a classic situation of trying to address much more than anyone could cover in two hours -- especially through the medium of song and poetry. Camille described it well when she said, leaving the theater, "I just wanted them to follow up something."

One last thing I’ll say: one thing I admired about The 51st (Dream) State was that, of all the art I’ve seen in the last six years, I think it was the most comfortably situated in the 21st century. It made no effort to be timeless, or to explore history separately from its relation to the present. It avoided various dated paradigms of race, gender, colonialism, etc., while confronting head-on violent acceleration of culture, commerce, and empire that has characterized the last decade. With more focus, any of these topics could have made for a challenging (and memorable) theme.

As it was, all I can say is that I saw Sekou Sundiata perform last week. I’m not too sure what he did.