Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ikea Syndrome

It all started with a good idea. Why pay for someone to build you a wardrobe when you can go get it at a warehouse, build it yourself and save some euros in the process? So there we were, screwing and hammering around, blissfully happy to be building our first furniture items with our own hands, almost as proud as a kid playing Lego.

It was a good concept that could be exported to other areas, right?

You wish.

I've spent all summer trapped in a sort of Ikea-ish nightmare. It's been a WTF moment after another. It all started with the hard head scratching of buying a Ryanair ticket, which is Byzantine to say the least ( how much do they weight? do I want insurance? am I paying with a credit card? will I carry oversize luggage? a bicycle? where do I leave? how many bags do I want to check in? why do I need to give all those details at least six hours before I go to the airport? what do they need the issue date of my passport for?). Another much better one was flying to Nice and finding out that I have to print the stickers for my suitcase myself on an automated machine, this time for Iberia --which is not, repeat, not, a low cost airline.Seriously far from it.

But the Best of Them All has been being sent to this sorry excuse of a student residence in Nice where not only they expected moi to clean the room before I leave it to the next unsuspecting student, but ALSO, and this is where it gets bizarre, the pillow (not, mind you, the pillow cover, but the pillow itself), AND the mattress cover (paying, bien sûr, for the laundry costs myself). And all of this, by the way, before 9.30 AM. Oh, and incidentally, the lady was not pleased with my cleaning so she decided to charge me 48 Euros for the cleaning I had already done, anyway.

And all of this while treating me as one of her employees (and believe me I feel terrible for her employees), and, on top of it, arguing that she was doing it to KEEP THE COSTS OF THE RESIDENCE DOWN!!!!!! (lie: there are cheaper residences in Nice, who actually hire professionals to do the cleaning). Humorously enough, she also mentioned that the only people that complained about this ingenious arrangement where Spanish, which also put her in the category of a racist biotch in my book, but never mind.

(Aside rant: The name of this lovely place is France Riviera (on Nice, Rue de France) and I would reccomend it with all my heart if you enjoy sleeping on a sofa bed with a mattress so old that is split in half, and sharing your neighborhood with the créme of Nice's prostitutes at night. And being yelled at for various things, e.g. making too much noise with your flipflops on the stairs, talking too loud or effing turning your lights on in your own room: "il faut économiser", she said, to the poor suffering soul).

But bear with me. The gist of this is, she made a huge effort to explain to me that she was treating me more condescendingly than any boss I've ever had (and heck I've been a waitress!), to KEEP THE COSTS OF THE RESIDENCE DOWN.
This philosophy, as you might have gathered from above, is spreading with the whole crisis spirit. With the excuse of making things cheaper, companies of all sorts are actually turning their customers into employees. You might have noticed how some supermarkets already have this nifty machines that allow you to work as a cashier for them (well, they give you a discount... oh, wait, no, they do not), or how hard it is to find someone to put gasoline on your car lately. I wouldn't be surprised if soon enough we'll find ourselves carrying our luggage to the plane or paying to use the capuccino machines at your corner coffee house.

The problem is, first, I can never be as good at doing all these things as a professional. Second, someone has probably lost his or her job because suddenly every customer is giving 10 minutes or their time to that company, and usually, and
that's the terrifying part, for free. Now think about all the money that those companies are saving on salaries, and all the time of your life you are giving them. Terrifying, huh? Well, I suggest we demand our employee discounts next time these guys ask us to do their work for them. Otherwise, my humble suggestion is 1) boycott 2) complaint and 3) do the 50s husband thing, i.e. mess it all up so badly that they give up on us, because we're too stupid.

(Related to my frustration are the article IKEA is as bad as Wal-Mart at Salon.com, and the book that inspires the article, Cheap, the High Cost of Discount Culture. They're more about why cheap is not necessarily better, and surely explain all this much more eloquently than I do)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Brains, not bombs.

This week there has been two terrorist attacks in Spain, from the "separatist" group, ETA. They want an independent Basque country, and instead of using their BRAINS to try to convince the Spaniards that their motives are worthwile , they've used BOMBS. The first attack, in Burgos (bit far away from the Basque country, by the way), has left hundreds of people homeless, as they targeted a building where the civil guards (a sort of police) live with their families, destroying the front of the building completely. The second one killed two young men (also civil guards) in Majorca, even further away from the Basque country. Their only crime was, apparently, to be protecting the thousands of people that live in Majorca or come there to spend two weeks in the sun.

I'm not going to enter the discussion of whether the Basque country should be independent or not. But for the first time in the Spanish democracy, they have a non-nationalist government, democratically elected, and, if nothing else, that is a good thermometer of how a good part of
Basques feel about nationalism. Most nationalists definitely do not support ETA either. As for me, I'm not Basque, but I'm from Madrid. However, I've had my fair share of attacks here (including the death of a professor from my university). I'm really tired of this. This blog is part of a virtual demonstration against ETA and its methods.

Ps. I'm moderating comments for this one, I don't want to get flooded with political comments from either the nationalist or the non-nationalist side, as I won't be able to monitor this in the next few weeks and I won't allow any insults to be posted here. The way I see it, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion, whatever it is, until you use violence to make your case.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Unreality TV

I love Susan Boyle. I love her in the way I love Ugly Betty in all her international versions, and, clearly, Hugo. Oh, and Spiderman. It's always nice to have the underdog suddenly getting karmic revenge and becoming the hero, for a day, for a minute or for three increasingly bad movies. The problem is, Susan is pretty real. She's a flesh and blood woman with a splendid voice, and since I heard her audition video for the first time something seemed slightly manufactured over there. I mean, how flabbergasted could the jury be when the camera has been following her around?
Well, apparently they had very good reason to follow her around, as there had been talent scouts looking for her for the program (they explain it better at Susan Boyle and Paul Potts: Not Quite Out of Nowhere - TIME). Well, good for her, and good for the program, but I just wish they had been just this bit honest about it and save us the "oh dear so surprised really" speeches, because, people, Cinderella stories depend on fairy godmothers and hard work.

Now, this was Susan in 1999. She deserved it big time, already, ten years ago:

Too often on television we are sent these messages that your life can change suddenly, and for the better, and we don't hear the stories of tough luck, frustration, dusting off and starting again. That's the fun fact of reality TV --it seems so indistinguishable from reality itself that unless we keep a cynical eye open at all times we overlook the constructions, the editings, the half lies and the make up. Or did you think that dress suddenly happened on poor Susan? Two scenarios: someone told her to wear it, or nobody told her not to wear it. In any case, my guess is people in the public would have laughed a lot less if she had come in different clothes. And yep, that's what I call manufacturing.

Serendipically, today I've also encountered the news that Elle Magazine, French edition, has decided to run an issue on stars without make-up, or photoshop , i.e. to Susan Boyle them a little.

...but just a little. Real beauté comes

with an electric fan and tweezers.

And damn good genes.

This is something that happens quite regularly on glossy magazines, like, once in approximately every five years. The lesson seems to be something like "hey, you can be beautiful without make up, but not so much, so, hey, feel good about yourself, but duh, you better get some products, it's totally worth it. Oh, and did you notice how pro-women issues we are?." Well, thanks. No, really. These issues have to appear every five years or so, so that the new generations stop and think for a second about something schools don't usually make them think about, i.e. reality in the media is ma-nu-fac-tu-red. Make up and hairdressers are nice, photoshop and surgery, ok, not so much, but in any case I do hope that Susan gets some in the near future because, damnit, she deserves it (certainly that's what google seems to be implying by having "makeover" featuring so prominently when you search her name in it). But please don't come and tell me later she woke up one morning and her hair was suddenly longer and straighter please.

And the best of luck, really, on the media jungle she's just gotten into.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The holiness of the multiplication table

...didn't know this film existed! I definitely have to get a copy :)

Inherit the Wind

Monday, January 5, 2009

The joy of torturing telemarketers

Call: 13.28

Me: (pick up the phone) .......
Telemarketer: Hell-ooooowwww goood morniiiing ♫ (really)
Telemarketer: good mooorniiing?
Telemarketer: Hell-ooooowwww goood morniiiing ♫
Telemarketer: good mooorniiing?
Telemarketer: (hangs up)

Call: 13:32

Me: (pick up the phone) .......
Telemarketer: Hell-ooooowwww goood morniiiing ♫ (really)
Telemarketer: good mooorniiing?
Telemarketer: Hell-ooooowwww goood morniiiing ♫
Telemarketer: good mooorniiing?
Telemarketer: (hangs up)

Aaah... I've got a new hobby.

I must be a bad person. About a year ago, I made a huge discovery. I had been getting recurrent phonecalls from a health insurance company, which I kept politely rejecting because, well, I'm a very polite person. However, one of these calls had to be made at 9.00 AM, in July. Let me tell you something about myself. I'm Insomniac. Ca-pi-ta-lized. I have serious problems sleeping, and heck, when it is the summer time and I finally can catch up with my sleep and sleeping late, waking me up for a stupid promotion is like feeding a Gremlin after 12. A Very Bad Idea.

So when I picked up the phone and I got the usual telemarketer yapping about their usual healthcare insurance thing, I just hanged up on her. No more "sorry, not interested", no more "sorry, I have to go", no more "sorry, could you please delete me from your list", no more "sorry, I asked you FIVE TIMES to delete me from your list". I just hanged up on her. And, hey, it felt GREAT.

Enter Telefónica, the Company We Love to Hate. This company has a very peculiar notion of public relations which includes systematically pestering cellphone owners of all sorts using a very scientific method, i.e. calling, randomly, all six-digit numbers starting by 6 and checking if there is a person on the other side of the line. Then they ask you for your name, and then they spam you with whichever stupendous new offer they have concocted on their evil dome.

The weekly meeting of the marketing section.

Enter 1485. I've been getting some calls (which, given my experience, I never answer) from these guys and I decided to do a little research to find out what they've been up to lately. Turns out, there might not even be a person behind the calls, but a sort of calling machine to more effectively pester cellphone users. The fun really begins when you pick up the phone and... no one is there. They're just checking if you might be so that next time a real person all-suffering telemarketer can call.

Well. Turns out I haven't enjoyed a dumb telephone call so much since those long lost summer days of making collect calls to foreign country switchboards.

Looking forward to the next one XD.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Hitler Channel

The Boy in Striped Pijamas (2008)

(...) Loss of urgency, loss of documentary conviction, and loss of recognition, offset by a net gain in jokes about the Hitler Channel: these are the outcomes we may expect as the pace of Holocaust film production continues. These will be the consequences of an end-of-the-year schedule that brings Defiance, Valkyrie, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader, Adam Resurrected, and Good—because only the most determined optimist would expect all these movies to aspire to the condition of Yad Vashem.
Nextbook: Lest We Remember , by Stuart Klawans

Reading the article above, I couldn't help but wish someone in Spain wrote something about our very own Franco channel. It seems to me that all nations have their own traumas/phobias, and if the American one is the Holocaust/Hitler, the Spanish one is the Civil War/Franco. As the author goes about a moratory on Holocaust pictures, I also wish there was a moratory in Spain about the historical period of 1936-1975. Of course that would do away with half of my country's filmography. IMDB lists 119 titles, and even though some of them are not Spanish, and even though a few Spanish films have not been listed, it gives you an idea of how exasperatingly exhausting the whole thing is.

Los Girasoles Ciegos (2008)

It has nothing to do with serious historical documentation and research (I have absolutely nothing again our Law of Historical Memory,explained here), not even with doing serious documentaries (although there isn't exactly a lack of those, either). I'm not even saying that all these movies aren't worth watching. Some of them are even good. But as Richard Corliss argues in Defiance: Beyond Holo-kitsch (through which I got the link to Lest We Remember), very often these movies don't make us remember these events and think about the consequences of the Holocaust/Spanish Civil War [/insert historical trauma here], but they merely become a suitable background to guilt-trip the audience and the critics, thus distracting them from how much some of these movies...er... actually suck. And I quote(because I love sounding academic)

It has become not just a topic but a genre, one that, at its most reductive, exploits the awful melodrama of that chapter in history to badger viewers, intimidate critics, elicit easy tears, and serve as a back-patting machine for serioso directors.

Defiance: Beyond Holo-kitsch,by Richard Corliss

Defiance (2009)

Ok, so maybe not all these films are even bad, and probably not every director means all this harm consciously, but it sems that that overflow of Holocaust and Spanish Civil War films makes us miss the forest for the trees. They become the artistic equivalent of Godwin's Law, i.e.:

Godwin's Law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an adage formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states:

"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

Godwin's Law,by the Almighty Wikipedia.

Similarly, we can probably calculate artistic stagnation by merely looking at how many Trauma movies are opening this weekend. Tragedy should not be yawn-not-another-one-please. Maybe we could restrict ourselves as audiences (we've got the power!) to one Holocaust and one Civil War movie a year?