Which is Worse, Tyrants or Tycoons?

Yesterday, I read a couple of articles about the Occupy Wall Street movement (#occupywallstreet) that is underway in the Western world. One article, titled “This is what democracy looks like” was for the Globe and Mail, co-written by an assistant professor of my program (Media, Information, and Technoculture at the University of Western Ontario), Amanda Grzyb:

"This is What Democracy Looks Like..."

The other was for the New York Times, written by opinion columnist Mark Bittman:

"Finally Making Sense on Wall Street"
Both authors are sympathetic to the cause, and Bittman even says the movement is “being embraced by the Democratic leadership.” This movement is clearly different: it is resonating with hundreds of thousands of people world-wide.

Occupy Wall Street began 26 days ago with a call to action from a culture-jamming group known as Adbusters. People responded to their call for a horizontally-structured (as opposed to vertically-structured and therefore bureaucratic in nature) movement demanding change. Participants then began to camp on Wall Street (and the streets of other cities’ financial districts, including Toronto’s Bay Street starting this Saturday), and present themselves as the “99 percent” that struggles while the remaining 1 percent enjoys the majority of the wealth of the west.

Their inspiration? The Arab Spring, a massive ongoing series of uprisings that have caused civil wars and unrest in several Middle Eastern and North African countries, not to mention the deaths of thousands upon thousands of oppressed citizens who have had enough of autocracy and persecution.

Adbusters: Occupy Wall Street

Ironic, isn’t it, that thousands die to obtain democracy while our friends and neighbours suffer because of democratic deceitfulness and capitalist crookedness?

As Bittman says, the desire to protest the status quo isn’t new: perhaps one of the reasons this movement resonates so deeply for so many people is that almost every generation has faced some injustice that required standing up and standing out. Think the Vietnam War, or even the French Revolution.

Our generation has it the worst of any other yet, though, according to Bittman. If this movement does not result in substantial change, will our children get hit even worse? Is it even possible to bring about the change that we so desperately need?

~~~~~~~~~

I wonder which is worse, tyrants or tycoons?

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Hey Bad Tipper: You’re Breakin’ my Heart! You’re Shakin’ my Confidence, Baby!

Five years of experience might not make me an expert, but it does make me experienced.

Those five years have taught me that I’m a better server than some, and, provided my attitude doesn’t get in the way, often deserving of a good tip. Those same five years have opened my eyes to a glaring fact that surprises me less these days, but continues to rile me: people are CLUELESS!

Okay, so maybe not in general, but in tipping, I guarantee you that the majority of people I serve have no idea what they should be doing. They have no idea that their ten-percent-before-taxes is breaking my heart, one table at a time. They have no idea that my Waitress Face is hiding my profound disappointment. We laughed, we cried, it was better than cats… until they got up to the counter and slapped me in the face with their loonie. WHAAA–?!

Clueless. That’s all. They’re not having a bad time. They enjoyed their food. They dug the music. They wanted my silver spoon handle ring. They encouraged me in my future career. They offered to send my children to school… And then they broke my heart.

I have thought a lot about what might be done to illuminate the unwritten rules of the service industries of the world. I really am no closer to a solution, other than to do what I do best and rant about it on my blog (I’ve also thought about writing something more substantial. An essay? A compilation? A booklet on how to be a good customer? … Thoughts welcomed).

So. For those NOT in the know, here are the basics:

  • An average (think: minimum) tip these days in Canada is 15%. Yup. FIFTEEN, not ten.
  • In recognition of good service (defined below), tip 20% or thereabouts.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: 10% is an insult. A letdown. A farce.

Fun fact: did you know that the minimum wage for servers is less than for everyone else because it is assumed that tips will provide the rest?

Yes, someone decided to give YOU the power to pay part of my wages! Why you gotta let me down?! Can you believe there are actually people out there who think: “I worked hard for my money: why should I give any to you?” Hi. This is me, working hard for my money. Which used to be your money. If you didn’t want to pay for the whole restaurant experience, why did you leave your own kitchen?

Okay. Good service. The twenty-percent qualifying round. These are things a good server does (watch for them!):

  • Greet you in a friendly manner
  • Get to you as soon as they can (sometimes that means they’ll get to you to tell you they’ll get to you as soon as they can)
  • Keep you in the loop (specials, soups, what the kitchen is out of, any delays, where the bathroom is, etc.)
  • Explain the menu, if it’s not self-explanatory
  • Ensure your drinks and food arrive in a timely manner, or, if there’s nothing that can be done, keep you in the loop about it and give you updates about what’s happening
  • Double-check to make sure that you got what you ordered and that everything is as it should be, you have the condiments, utensils, drinks, napkins, etc. that you need.
  • Check on you after you start eating to ask if everything is okay, or if there’s anything you need
  • Keep your water glass more full than empty
  • Notice when your drink is low and ask if you would like another
  • Clear your plates in a timely manner (the best servers often wait until everyone is done: it’s more polite that way)
  • Offer you apres-dinner items (drinks, dessert, etc.)
  • Make sure you are good and done before speaking of/presenting the bill
  • Process your bill in a timely, professional manner
  • Try to avoid mentioning anything about a tip. That’s just tacky!

My Condensed Idiot’s Guide to Being a Good Customer will have to wait for now. I have papers to write. Meanwhile, don’t forget: you are part of your restaurant experience. If you are being annoying, chances are your server will be less inclined to give you good service. Are you doing it just so that you’ll have an excuse to give him or her a lower tip? Hmmm.

You know that adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Think of your server as Mama, and life gets better for everyone.

 

Interrupting This Study Session to Bring you… Aurora Borealis

I am studying for an exam on Sunday. The course is called The Meaning of Technology, and this study session has me trying to dig deeply into topics like cyberspace and nanotechnology and what it means to be a cyborg–fascinating yet somewhat frightening topics.

As I study, TweetDeck brings me a steady stream of tweets about Canadian news, Canadian politics, American politics, what Ellen DeGeneres is up to, Kanye West‘s latest whacky thought, and the once-in-a-lifetime award my school (University of Western Ontario) has just received: we are fourth on Playboy’s list of top ten party schools in North America. Wa-freakin’-hoo.

My eyes stray back and forth from my notes to the TweetDeck notifications, hoping for something juicy, funny, thought-provoking, some worthy distraction (who are we kidding–they’re ALL worthy distractions when you’re studying!). Then, one Huffington Post tweet catches my eye, and my interest.

It’s a “Green” blog article, one of the few HuffPost pages I don’t follow… yet. The blog post isn’t so much a blog post as a collection of videos of the amazing natural phenomenon Aurora Borealis, also called the Northern Lights.

The video wouldn’t show on Firefox, and, so fascinated was I about the prospect of seeing a video of the famed but elusive Northern Lights, that I even lowered myself to opening Safari, which, of course, complied with my command to “Play!” the video.

Sometimes, nature is worth checking out of “reality” for. Sometimes, sacrificing some time from all of our responsibilities and duties and busyness to marvel at how these phenomena come to be is worth it.

Presenting: Aurora Borealis (turn up the volume)

(and you’ll need a browser other than Firefox, it seems. sorry. :s)

To see the rest of the Huffington Post’s choices: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/13/aurora-borealis-2011-northern-lights-video_n_848638.html#s264018

Barbara Frum, a witty wordsmith. Who knew?

Barbara Frum

For a research paper on the CBC radio show As It Happens, I’m skimming former (now late) host Barbara Frum‘s book As It Happened, and I’m falling in love with her tongue-in-cheek snark:

“Thank goodness for sociology–it fills in so many of the blanks. It tells you that people in elevators get squirmy if you stare at them, that ugly people make more grateful marriage partners, that short people aren’t as tall as tall people, that Italians and Jews are inclined to holler when they’re in pain, and that people read in the bathroom to kid themselves about what they’re doing there. Were tax dollars not paying for it, I don’t think I’d mind so much. If sociologists find it stimulating to observe the obvious and the useless, who am I to quibble?”

Bottled Water: Why are we so lazy?

I have to apologize ahead of time, because I haven’t officially started my research yet, but I am starting to work on a short research paper about water, specifically drinking water that gets stored, transported, and sold in plastic bottles.

I have realized that we are lazy. Yeah, that’s the truth of it. We’re damn lazy! We are so used to having the convenience of everything we want, anytime, anywhere, and we often don’t have a clue about how we will end up paying for it with our bodies and our environment, let alone wasting our money on it now.

Bottled water. Why are we so obsessed? We want clean and safe water, yeah, I get it… but why do we (here in most of Canada and the US) distrust our (treated and safe) tap water so much?

The argument about bottled water tasting better might be a good one… if there wasn’t such a thing as a water filter that you can attach to your tap while filling your glass or reusable hard plastic (BPA-free, etc.) or stainless steel bottle. I completely get the issue of the taste of the water–I am a self-declared water snob, after all.

However, when you dig a little deeper into the issue, you will discover that, a) bottled water is simply glorified tap water; b) it takes SO much fuel to transport water around, when almost everyone has perfectly good water coming out of their tap; c) bottled water is basically a money-making gimmick, a commodity invented not with the goal of getting clean water where there is none, but with the goal of making a profit; d) the plastic bottles leech chemicals (BPA, antimony and others) into your drinking water, making it less healthy for you than your tap water. Really. True, some companies have eliminated tap water from their individual-sized bottles, but not from their big ones (the big blue ones that you refill and use with a dispenser at home or in the office); e) not only does it take a lot of fuel to truck bottles of water everywhere, but you know those little plastic bottles? They’re made with oil! That’s right, they’re a petroleum product–there goes even MORE of our non-renewable resources!

I am on a bit of a mission to educate myself and in turn rant and rave a bit to those who will listen that it pays to buy a bottle, one reusable bottle (okay, maybe more than one), and refill it. Plan ahead. You can do it, I believe in you! It pays in many ways: your wallet will be heavier, your body will be healthier, and the environment will benefit from having less plastic products tossed into its backyard and be able to hold onto more of one of its essential fluids, oil.

If you MUST buy a bottle of water (let’s face it, every now and then, you’re desperate and you forgot to bring a bottle and you don’t trust that homeless guy’s cup), FOR GOD’S SAKE RECYCLE IT!!

mitZine article: MIT Makes Music Part Two–David Hayes

This is one of my most recently published articles, written for my program’s ‘zine, about a fellow second-year student of mine who is also a mashup artist. I went in knowing very little about mashup. I came out with an album called Bangers and Mash…

Check out my article on page 9 of the ‘zine. (And maybe consider subscribing for future enlightenment!)

Remix: Crossing the Property Line

(Sarah Koopmans, MIT 2371, Prof. Jennifer Martin, March 9, 2011

Glamparella

Glamping. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it. It’s all the rage among the fashion-forward, upwardly-mobile, and comfort-inclined, ie; Me.

For the ignorant:

Glamping: (n.) Glamorous Camping. (adj.) A form of camping in which the participants enjoy amenities usually associated with five-star accommodations.

Having decided that I should become a Glamper, I did a little preliminary research, and was not disappointed. I found that Glamping, despite it’s very “now” moniker, is actually a throw-back to those African safari camps of the early 1920’s.

Picture large white canvas tents with wide awnings, Persian carpets, king-size beds, dressing and wash rooms, antique furniture, china dishes, oil lanterns casting a warm glow everywhere, and perhaps a tame tiger cub on a fluffy mat in the corner.

Now add colour to the tent, electrical outlets to supply those “oil” lanterns (not to mention our espresso makers, margarita blenders, flat-irons, and iPod docks), and trade the tiger cub for a mini-bar, and you’ve got modern Glamping!

Some people are Glam-purists: they refuse to take any electronics with them, and instead plan to observe the beauty of nature from their comfortable oases. Others consider their Glamp-site to be a Four Seasons without walls and expect every possible convenience, including spa treatments, baby- and dog-sitting services, and gourmet chefs. I’d consider myself in the first group, with the addition of a FEW electronics, namely an espresso maker, a coffee-grinder, a cell-phone charger (I’d keep it on vibrate and in my tent), and my laptop on which to write and maybe watch movies.

It seems that the rich and famous have a natural head start on us regular folk, but I hope to find some fellow Glamparellas who are willing to pay a little more for equipment, haul a little more weight to the site, and scorn, just a tiny bit, the tradition of “hard-core” camping (read: canned food, instant coffee, damp bedding, flimsy mattresses that allow you to get familiar with every bump and crevice of the forest floor, etc.) in favour of comfort, good food, a bottle of wine or two, and hours spent with our feet up with a good book, in the open air and sunshine.

Tell me that doesn’t sound heavenly!

A Transparent Truth

The more observant of my readers may have noticed that all of my recent posts (notice I didn’t use the words frequent or regular), recent being over the last year or so, have been either about grief, ranting, or something superficial.

The reason? Fear, mostly. Fear of what others may think of me, of how those who have known me as The Good Little Missionary Girl might regard me if I delve back into the topic of faith, or get as truly

How Freakin’ Fabulous Am I? (rhetorical question)

There are a few things I’d like to say:

1. I suck for having procrastinated from writing for ever so long. You may not care, but I know the truth: I officially suck for not taking the time to record all of the freakin’ fabulous thoughts I’ve had over the last several months. Some of the blame can be laid on the following inconsequential pastimes: work, two bands plus other music projects, and being there for my family.

2. While I initially anticipated the arrival of winter with fear and trepidation, now that it has been asserting its climatic domination of my area for weeks, I’ve mostly gotten used to it. I had some noteworthy help from a few contributors: the Fionas (my amazing knee-high, sexy black leather boots), elbow-length black leather gloves, snow tires, and CAA, with an honourable mention to hemp hearts and espresso.

3. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I have a new bible that has very little to do with spirituality but everything to do with great taste. As happens with many great things, I stumbled upon this book in a local store that I hadn’t set foot in for a long while, and I can’t get enough of it. My new bible is written by What Not To Wear‘s Clinton Kelly, and it’s called: Freakin’ Fabulous: How to Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate, and Generally be Better Than Everyone Else.

Clinton’s approach is very humourous, but truly, truly fabulous. These pages are chock-full of common-sensical advice, from how to match patterns to how-to recipes for great appetizers to good manners. I love it, and possibly not platonically! I’ve been accused of being too proper, caring too much about grammar, and being picky about lighting, and now I find myself vindicated by Mr. Kelly. Alleluia!

I simply can’t leave it at that, I’m sorry. This book will likely stay on my coffee table for decades to come, and all of you who care will be able to leaf through it and glean its wisdom for yourself. Honestly, where else can you find all of this basic good advice in one very fun, well-published, entertaining format?

This is the book that I’ve been waiting to discover for all of my adult life. Or, at least since I discovered how fabulous one can be and my true potential for achieving it.

A great paragraph:

When throwing a party, you must sanitize and guest-proof your bathroom. If the bathroom that will be used by your guests is not absolutely spotless, you will quickly get a reputation as a dirty birdy. And then, nobody will eat the food you’ve made because they’re afraid of catching hepatitis.

Just sayin’: great writing, right?

Here’s another tidbit:

If chopping onions makes you cry, hold a few unlit matches in your mouth. The sulfur is supposed to absorb some of the onion fumes. You can also hold a slice of white bread in your mouth. Either way, you’ll look like an idiot. Also, try throwing the onion in the freezer for a bit before you chop it. The colder the onion, the less fumes. Personally, I don’t mind a good cry. In fact, if I cry while chopping the onions, I’ll run to the bathroom mirror and recite one of my favorite lines from Poltergeist: “Don’t you touch my babies!!!” It’s the part where the kids are being sucked into the bedroom closet for the second time and JoBeth Wiliams is at HER WIT’S END! It’s very dramatic. (Hi, JoBeth, if you’re reading this!!!)

I mean, come on! Mixing great advice with self-deprecating humour and pop-culture references? What could be better in a self-help book?

4. I have to go now. I have some more reading to do before I’ll be ready to host any freakin’ fabulous Christmas parties. Ta Ta.