Monday, February 25, 2013

Me at the Oscars: Fabulous or Fizzle, 60 years and counting

When the first televised Academy Awards ceremony took place on March 19, 1953, I, a bedazzled 15-year-old movie fan, sat in front of our black and white TV set, riveted and no doubt pledging to never forget that moment as long as I lived.   Since then I have never (and I mean NEVER) missed a telecast.

It was the 25th such award ceremony but the first one televised. (“The Greatest Show on Earth” won over “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man”.  Go figure.) Bob Hope was the first TV host and of course we all thought he was just funny enough and perfect for the part.  But year after year he was the host, and, as you might expect, even the great Bob Hope lost his edge.  But I watched.  Every year.  No matter how long into the night they went on, I watched.

They began televising the awards in color in 1966 but we still had a black and white TV, so I missed seeing it in all its glory until much later. But since movies were still mostly in black and white it wasn’t like we knew what those stars looked like in color, anyway.

Off the top of my head, here are my highlights over the years:  (I’m doing this without looking anything up; I just want to see what’s still in my memory bank.)

eva marie saintEva Marie Saint blurting “Oh, shit” into the microphone when she won for “On the Waterfront”.  Big news in the day, that cussing.  Especially coming from a woman and a PG one at that. (Pregnant, but nobody said the word out loud then.  It was always PG.  Or, in certain circles, knocked up.)

John Huston drunk as a skunk accepting a special award for something.

The actress in the indian costume un-accepting the award the Academy gave Marlon Brando for some movie.

A streaker running across the stage, stealing David Niven’s thunder for a second until Niven recovered and commented on the guy’s physique.  I remember it was Niven and not the streaker who got the standing ovation.

Laurence Olivier giving a speech that made me and almost everyone in the audience cry.  It was splendid.  Jon Voight’s reaction, caught by the camera, is etched into my mind. (I don’t know what happened to that Jon Voight.)

Sammy Davis Jr.’s last appearance on that stage when everybody, including him, knew he was dying.

Elizabeth Taylor talking about aids when nobody was talking about it.

The year “Gandhi” swept the awards, winning almost all the big categories, and Ben Kingley’s speech.  I don’t remember a word of his speech, of course, but watching him up there accepting a most deserved award gave me chills.

Billy Crystal’s opening bit where he was wheeled on stage wrapped in restraints and hidden behind a Hannibal Lecter mask.  Brilliant.

Madonna’s astonishing stage fright night, where she sang shakily and off-key and danced as if she’d just had knee surgery.  I almost felt sorry for her.

Michael Moore talking against the Iraq war.

Rob Lowe “singing” with Snow White.

The little Italian actor who leaped over the seats to get to his Oscar.  (See?  I remember that but can’t remember his name.  So much for Oscar antics.)

I know there are many more if I really thought about it, but that brings me to last night, when Seth McFarlane hosted the 85th Academy Awards ceremony. I watched the entire thing, from the red carpet to the sign-off, and there are a few moments that stand out for me.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s irreverent and funny acceptance speech,  Michelle Obama’s opening of the envelope and announcement of best picture (Argo), Ben Affleck’s not-so-subtle smack at the Academy for snubbing him in the Best Director category.

The opening bit was–oh, my GOD–so, so, long.  And bad.  Really bad.  Even Captain Kirk couldn’t save it.   It made James Franco’s performance as host in 2011 look just okay, which is, I hate to say, some feat.

The “We Saw Your Boobs” song might have been funny in a shortened version, but, as with everything in the McFarlane script, it went on into the realm of the interminable.

The musical performances are what saved the night for me.  Adele, Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Hudson, Barbra Streisand–sublime, those ladies.

(Notice I’ve left out the last song–the duet between McFarlane  and Kristin Chenowith.  Yes, well. . .)
But speaking of Franco.  (We were, weren’t we?) this is what I wrote about Franco’s stab at hosting on the morning after that event two years ago:
If I could have timed my naps to James Franco’s appearances, I would have been almost as happy as I was when “The King’s Speech” won best picture.  I like the guy and I hate to add to the pile-ups on whatever the heck he thought he was doing up there, but man, he was dreadful.  (Anne Hathaway clearly saw she was in the middle of a train wreck and was trying not to panic, but there were moments when I thought she was going to tear off one of her many dresses and run screaming out of the theater.)
But for Franco, it wasn’t over even when it was over.  He got into a Tweet war with a 20-year-old fellow Yalie (He’s working on a Doctorate in English at Yale), and she posted this about him in her blog:  “Combined with his Oscars hosting performance and in accordance with the opinion of commenter’s [sic] on my last blog, I’m becoming convinced that James Franco’s whole life is a form of postmodern performance art. In that context, his Twitter fits right in.“    Oh, ouch.  That’s harsh.
Okay, maybe the hardest job in the world is hosting the Oscars.  It shouldn’t be, but considering the fails over the years with talent that should have been talented, I will cut those hosts some slack.  Because I love the Oscars, even when they’re bad.  There is nothing else like them at all.

I do love the Golden Globes and they’re my second best, as long as Ricky Gervais is nowhere in sight. (I know, I know–you like him; I just find his attempts at out-ickying himself feeble and far from funny.)  I love that everybody can drink at the tables, so that by the end of the night anything can happen.


But this is about the Oscars. Any  thoughts about the Oscars?  I’m all ears.  As you can tell, I can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.  I’ve been at this for 60 years.  I can’t quit now.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Panera Bread artisans Knead a union

In March, 2012, just six months after their franchise had been bought up by Bread of Life, a company owned by Manna Development, a former McDonald's franchisee, 18 bakers at six Panera Bakery and Cafes along the I-94 corridor in Southwestern Michigan decided to join a union.

The bakers take the midnight shift, working raw dough into the artisan breads Panera has grown famous for.  Their training is extensive--a seven-week "boot camp" with exams and skill demonstrations, a 90-day assessment period, and sometimes as much as a year's worth of kitchen work before the comfort level reaches "artisan" stage.

For their efforts, they earn in the neighborhood of $10 to $11 an hour.  Many of them have no insurance benefits at all, and those who do find their premiums biting a huge chunk out of their already low pay.  The bakers thought they deserved better.

They approached  the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union through their website, and the union took them on, apparently finding nothing odd about such a small contingent--only 18 workers--attempting to form a union.  

Small as the group is, their move toward labor representation was unprecedented in a couple of ways:  They're the first Panera workers in the country to attempt to organize (a move the new owners found "embarrassing") but more than that, their method of organizing took on new dimensions that would have been impossible even a few years ago.   They organized through social networking.
"This group was ready. They did all the work themselves," said [John Price, the bakers' union rep], who added that the Labor Board will issue certification to the I-94 corridor workers on Friday. The Panera workers will be represented by Local 70 out of Grand Rapids. "This is a really intelligent group. They really impressed me. For the most part, they are under 30. They used social media to contact one another." The bakers' use of Facebook and other social media tools are modern twists in the history of collective bargaining -- ones that may prove especially effective in the future, experts say.

"You see a lot of this happening on Facebook and emails. It is very hard for an employer to counter," said Satish Deshpande, associate dean at the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University. Deshpande pointed out that no one has to hand out pamphlets or meet in hotel rooms anymore. And while employers can bar union organizers from the workplace, they can't bar them from Facebook.

"Thanks to social media, union organizers can very easily access these people directly at their homes. ... You can control your employees at the workplace, but once they leave the workplace, it's impossible," Deshpande said.
But then the real fun began. This, according to a March, 2012 article on the BCTGM website:
When the 18 bakers, who are employed by the Bread of Life Franchise which owns all Panera locations along the I-94 corridor of Southwest Michigan, decided they had enough of being improperly compensated as skilled bakers, they reached out to Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) through the union’s website, The Panera bakers were concerned with inadequate medical insurance, insufficient time off, unsafe working conditions and improvements to the bakeries that were being ignored by management. When 90 percent of the Panera bakers signed union cards, they approached management and requested recognition as a union.
Rather than honoring their skilled bakers by recognizing them as a union, the owners of the Michigan Panera franchise hired a law-firm to delay a union vote by claiming the I-94 Division was not an appropriate unit. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled these bakers were indeed an appropriate unit and directed a secret ballot election be held on Thursday, March 22, 2012.
Bread of Life/Panera Bread also hired one of the largest known Union Busting Consulting firms to fight its own employees. “I felt like we were Prisoners of Panera, rather than Bakers of Panera,” one of the Panera bakers told BCTGM International Representative John Price. “They would work us all night and then force us to attend mandatory captive audience meetings in the morning.”  Another Panera baker recalls, “They would keep us sleep deprived, hungry and then cram us with anti-union Panera propaganda.”
The workers held together through eight weeks of threats, intimidation and other tactics used by management in an attempt to pressure the workers to vote against the union.

Following the NLRB election on Thursday morning, which had voting at each of the six Panera café locations in Southwestern Michigan, the NLRB Agents counted the ballots and announced the bakers had won by a two-to-one margin to be represented by the BCTGM.
By September, nearly six months later, the company still refused to recognize the union.
Contacted by The Herald-Palladium, the company issued the following written statement regarding the dispute: "There is a process in place to deal with the issues that remain concerning the union vote. The union and the company are both aware of the process and have agreed to see it to conclusion. These are not processes that move quickly. As the process moves forward we're continuing to work closely with our bakers and run our business to serve our guests daily the best we can."
John Price, BCTGM representative for the Panera Bread bakers, said in a phone interview Friday that the company failed to address workers' concerns before they sought to join a union and have failed to do so since. He said that following the bakers' vote March 23 to join the union the company filed an unfair labor practice charge objecting to the election.

The workers also filed unfair labor practice charges, listing 43 complaints about the company's treatment of them, Price said. He said that after an investigation of several weeks, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed the company's charges against the workers but found merit to the union's charges against the company and scheduled a federal hearing before an administrative law judge. Before the scheduled hearing the company decided to settle the complaint, Price said.
But, he said, the company has not lived up to terms of the settlement, which was to include withdrawing all objections to the union vote and back pay to the bakers to resolve a failure to bargain. He said the workers are still without a contract.
Now jump to February 16, 2013 (last week) when Dave Jamieson at HuffPo picks up the story:
Eventually, 90 percent of the Panera bakers signed cards authorizing a union election. But according to a complaint filed last year by a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces labor law, Bread of Life managers allegedly violated labor law in trying to dissuade workers from joining the union. [Paul] Saber was personally responsible for many of the violations, the complaint stated. Bread of Life has since settled the complaint without admitting any wrongdoing.
Among the allegations in the complaint, in the weeks leading up to the election Bread of Life told employees not to sign union authorization cards; asked employees who'd signed them to retract them; launched a website designed "to discourage support" for the union; promised workers better employee benefits if they declined to unionize; and threatened employees with "loss of benefits" if they did unionize.
The effort also included at least two required meetings with management and a consultant, who outlined the reasons why the employees didn't need a union. The bakers say the meetings were held at hotels in Kalamazoo, Mich., just before the union election, and started in the morning, right after they'd finished their overnight shifts, and lasted several hours.
According to the NLRB complaint, Saber promised workers promotions if they didn't unionize and told them he would fight the union "until his dying breath." He also said it would be "futile" for them to unionize because "he would delay the certification ... as long as possible no matter the cost."
According to bakers who attended the meetings, the pressure from Saber also included religious appeals. Well-known as a Christian, Saber has been a board member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the name Bread of Life (like another Saber holding, Manna Development) has obvious religious connotations. (The website for the Graham organization tells the story of Saber once proselytizing a friend as the pair drove together in a Ferrari during a Ronald McDonald House Charities fundraiser.)
According to the bakers, Saber said workers shouldn't unionize in part because Bread of Life is a Christian company that looks after its own.
"We had to hear about how he was a good Christian who'd take care of us so we needed to stop this union nonsense," said [Kathleen] VonEitzen, whose version of events was corroborated by Jared Miller, another baker in attendance. "They asked us to delay the vote.
"I read the Bible regularly," VonEitzen added. "We don’t have the same Bible."
So there it stands.  Add to their plight the fact that, thanks to Michigan's Republican governor and Republican legislature, our once-great state is now a Right-to-Work state, which means further restrictions on union organizing, moving the effort from "almost impossible" to "damned impossible".

So we wait and see.

But one more thing:  This is not an indictment of all Panera stores.  This is one small franchise, remember.  The Panera mother company, in fact, does some admirable work in the inner cities and low income areas with their Panera Cares Community Cafes. Anyone can come into the community cafes and get a hot meal for whatever they can afford to pay.  And if they can't pay, they can volunteer an hour of their time working in the cafe.  Their motto is, "We're not offering a hand out, we're offering a hand up."

I'm impressed, honestly.

Now if they could just train a certain Bread of Life franchisee to follow Panera's "Live Consciously" model.  

I'm pretty sure there's something about that, even in Paul Saber's Bible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Piece on Writing Opinion Pieces. Imagine that!

I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Anne Wayman's great website, "About Freelance Writing" and it was published today.  My blog--this one right here--concerns itself mainly with political opinion, which means I tend to dive right into controversies on purpose--and often for fun.  So when Anne asked me to do a piece on writing about controversial subjects--well, of course I dove right in.

I called it "How to Survive Writing Opinion Pieces" and started it like this:
When I began writing a weekly column for a small chain of suburban newspapers, I was thrilled that I could write about anything as long as it fit the space (600-800 words). I had happened upon a lazy editor hungry for content (and eager to pay me as little as possible) and he gave me a chance, even though my newspaper experience was just north of nil.
Ronald Reagan was president then and I was a flaming liberal feminist, so what started out being a column about kids and cats and lovely Liz Taylor’s appearance on General Hospital turned into an ongoing rant against the establishment.
I lived near Detroit at the time and the auto industry was dying. People were losing their jobs right and left. Food banks were emptying out as fast as they were filled, and the churches serving the poor couldn’t keep up. I began to attend emergency meetings on poverty and reported strenuously on the suffering I found.
I wrote about women’s issues, about religion, about civil rights, about the still-strong feelings over Vietnam. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the letters to the editor began to take on a surly note, most of them directed at me. But I was. I was surprised. They hurt!

***So I would really love it if you would go over to "About Freelancing" to read the rest.  And don't forget to comment.  If you feel like it, that is.  Either here or there.  We both love visitors.

And we both thank you.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

VDAY. Ending Violence Toward Women and Girls

Join us here.  We can get this done!

This Valentine's Day I'll be foregoing jewels and candies and pink teddy bears with red hearts on their tummies (Ha! As if!) and I'll be going, instead, for dancing. Some of you who have seen me dance might find that cause for concern but never fear--it's not me dancing, it's them:

Did you notice when you got here that my walls are now pink? You should know that normally I'm not a "Pink" person, but in this case I will wallow in pink if it means this message is getting out:  Unbelievable numbers of women and girls are being viciously abused minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and we must be the catalyst that brings these horrors to an end.  No one else will do it.  It's up to us.

One in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, often more than once.  If we haven't been victims ourselves, we know someone who has been.  We can't have lived this long and not know that women and girls all over the world spend their days in fear because of what men have already done to them or will do to them.  They are not safe from men--either the men in their lives or complete strangers--who see them as sexual or domestic chattel, of no use except as a belonging or a conquest.

Please, please, go here (or click on the logos above) and join the crowds of men and women rising up to let their voices be heard. Watch the videos, grab the links and spread the word.  Let them know we're in this together.  Send a message to the abusers that we're out to protect women and girls from them and we won't stop until we've done our jobs.

And dance.  Let's all dance.  Because womanhood is meant to be a joy and not a burden.

We'll show them how it's done. On Valentine's Day.

NOTE:  The walls are back to brown.  Pink was yesterday and the day before.  Your eyes are okay.  Feel better?)


Friday, February 8, 2013

Remember Transvaginal Ultrasounds? They're baaack.

You have to hand it to those Republican legislators in Michigan, my beautiful, besieged state.  I swear, they must stay awake nights trying to think up ways to protect our wicked womanly bodies from the fools who happen to own them.  (That would be us, ladies.)  In late December, Gov. Snyder (R) signed a bill handed down by the Republicans setting strict limits on clinics providing abortions, in hopes they couldn't comply and would have to shut their doors.  In that same bill, doctors would now have to have a conversation with the patient, asking needless questions of mostly mentally competent women about whether or not they had been coerced. 

These same Michigan Republicans, having already thrown their weight around, passing an unpopular, unprecedented Right-to-Work law in the state where labor successes made it the birthplace of the middle class, and then going against the voters to reinstate the hated emergency manager law, have again turned their sights on that old standby attention-getter, the fertile womb.

You would think they might have other, better things to think about, considering it's the year 2013 and they haven't quite scaled all the walls of the castle yet, but here they are, socking it to us one more time with a new anti-abortion bill that includes forced ultrasounds, forced heartbeat recordings, forced lectures, forced permission slips, forced 24-hour cooling off periods--all in the interest of taking care of the little women who obviously can't even begin to fathom what's about to happen to them.

Yes, on Tuesday, February 5, 18 Republican men and three Republican women put their signatures to House Bill 4187, wherein they take on the thankful task of coming as close to banning abortion as is politically possible in this, the early part of the 18th 21st century.   

In the very first paragraph they let us know right off that whatever the hell the Federal government agreed to in Roe v. Wade, here in the the great state of Michigan, all bets are off:
Sec. 17014. The legislature recognizes that under federal constitutional law, a state is permitted to enact persuasive measures that favor childbirth over abortion, even if those measures do not further a health interest.
And that's just the beginning.  Let me grab one more section here--the highlight of the entire bill.  The ultrasound part:
(iii) The performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus at least 2 hours before an abortion is performed with the woman given the option to view the active ultrasound image of the fetus, hear the fetal heartbeat, receive a physical picture of the ultrasound image of the fetus, and hear an explanation of the ultrasound image of the fetus. The performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus, now a standard practice at abortion facilities, protects the health of the woman seeking an abortion by verifying an intrauterine pregnancy, as undiagnosed ectopic pregnancies can result in potentially fatal complications and infertility.

The performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus further protects the interests of the woman seeking an abortion by assessing the viability of the fetus and confirming the approximate gestational age of the fetus, as this information is necessary in order to determine appropriate medical care for the woman seeking an abortion.

(All caps and bold was their idea.  I had nothing to do with it.)

Well, I could be picking out juicy parts all over the place but I'll leave it to you to read the rest of the BS, while I get to the (seemingly) good part.

Something (seemingly) big happened yesterday (Thursday, Feb 7, 2013).  Something that could potentially change everything.  Speaker of the House Jase Bolger came out and said there would be no bill from the House that would require invasive, transvaginal ultrasounds.

And cheers were heard for miles around.  I mean!  The Republican Speaker of the House!  Said no Transvaginal Ultrasounds under his watch!  Lordamighty!

But wait. . .

House Bill 4187 doesn't use the word "transvaginal".  It's not anywhere in there.  So what is Speaker Bolger talking about when he says so carefully, "While I want to be sure women have access to the best technology available, I have absolutely no interest in forcing a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound."

That's what he said.  So why, in the heat of this glorious first, a moment when a Republican leader-man in Michigan actually comes out in defense of women. . .why am I so, so suspicious?

Because it's Michigan and it's the House, and they're Republicans and we're talking about abortion.  Speaker Bolger didn't say he had absolutely no interest in forcing a woman to have an ultrasound.  No, he said, very specifically, a transvaginal ultrasound.

 So now we wait.  The shoe will drop from that other foot.  Mark my words.