Monthly Archives: May, 2011

It’s a Job, and a Tough One

For years after, I had dreams that I was pushing a cleaning cart down a long exterior walkway– and was way behind on doing the rooms.

I worked as a maid in some motels by the Green Airport in the 70’s. I couldn’t afford a car, and I was living with my parents, and the public transit was nonexistent. So I would commute to work by biking up Occupatuxet Road, now known as Airport Road. We had not invented bike lanes then, so it was an adventure. The work was physically taxing but generally the people were nice. I mean my fellow-workers.

The motel guests were mostly not around. You can sit at home for free. If you rent a motel room you are likely either going out to do something or hanging a ‘Do Not Disturb’ on the door handle. Our busy time, late morning to early afternoon, was vacant room time at the motels.

Thirty years later, this New York Times account of the workplace rings true, and the job has not changed much.

The following matches how we did it in 1974, and not much is different whether upscale or no-tell…

Housekeepers, by the way, usually have no idea who is occupying a particular room or suite. Each morning they are presented with “boards,” or room lists, that indicate whether their assigned rooms are to be fully “flipped” (for a new arriving guest) or cleaned as an occupied room (for a guest staying on for the evening). The guest’s name — never mind what position he or she might occupy in the larger world — is rarely listed on the sheet.

It has been reported that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s defense might be that any encounter was consensual — that, in effect, “she asked for it.” During my time managing, the only thing a housekeeper ever asked me for was to leave early, or have Christmas off (both of which I had to deny — as I said, the housekeeper’s is the hardest job in the hotel).

Some people are alleging that the maid at the Sofitel was part of a conspiracy. Much more likely she had no idea of who was staying in the rooms she cleaned, and was expecting that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was gone, as his room would have been marked for a full cleaning.

Just to mention, also, that my fellow motel maids were not easily categorized. What we had in common was needing a job and having the physical stamina to clean rooms for six hours at minimum wage. Honest work is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no excuse for disrespecting workers.

UPDATE: A New York legislator has proposed mandating panic buttons for maids similar to the medical alert buttons worn by the elderly. Sounds like a good idea.

We’re All Kin Here

Maybe, just possibly, I might be distantly related to the President of the United States. My mother’s family came over at the turn of the last century, and where is Monygall anyway? I’ll have to ask my aunts, they keep track of these things.

Thief in the Night

There’s those that will knock you over to get your wallet, and those who con you into throwing away your life’s savings…

The sky turned dark Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t a sign of the world’s impending doom – just passing rain.
Welcome to the No-pacalypse – a disappointing finish to what doomsday believer Robert Fitzpatrick thought would be the End of Days.

“I don’t understand why nothing has happened,” a deflated Fitzpatrick said in Times Square just after 6 p.m. “I did what I had to do. I did what the Bible said.”

“I obviously haven’t understood it properly, because we’re still here,” added Fitzpatrick, 60, surrounded by a phalanx of reporters and skeptical onlookers.

The retired MTA worker from Staten Island bought $140,000 worth of advertising, proclaiming that the end was near. He and followers of California televangelist Harold Camping thought a global earthquake would strike the East Coast just before 6 p.m.

I think Harold Camping is worse than the ordinary mugger. Some time ago I was listening to interviews on NPR with victims Bernie Madoff, the pyramid king. They felt so betrayed, and self-blaming. It’s really nasty to win someone’s trust and do that to them. Fitzpatrick sounds like a vulnerable man who had the bad luck to be cleaned out by a con man.

According to CNN Money Harold Camping has millions– more than enough to restore Robert Fitzpatrick’s life savings and whoever else he has particularly screwed over. He also holds enough FCC broadcasting licenses to make him a media baron. That’s really scary.

We need to re-think this religious tax exemption thing. I’m all for giving tax breaks to charitable and religious organizations that serve the community, but we shouldn’t let every con man who comes along build a tax-free empire. Even Jesus paid taxes. It’s in the Bible.

I truly feel sorry for Robert Fitzpatrick and all the others who gave money to this crook. But then again, Mr. Fitzpatrick looked forward to my imminent torment and death in the Great Tribulation. Even so, he’ll have the benefit of secular programs like Social Security and Medicare. The people who help him will be accountable in a way that failed prophets are not.

Timeline of the Alleged Crime

Daily Beast has a source who has described what happened in the hour after the alledged assault of a hotel maid by Dominique Strauss-Kahn…

The luxury-hotel maid who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn was found by a supervisor in a hallway where she hid after escaping from the former International Monetary Fund director’s room. Hotel workers described her as traumatized, having difficulty speaking, and immediately concerned about pressing charges and losing her job, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

She had to tell her story to 4 different people, 2 housecleaning supervisors and 2 from security. It took an hour to call the police. That seems like a long time, but actually is a quick response. Too many organizations delay and cover up. The Sofitel had nothing to gain but bad publicity, and the maid could possibly been persuaded not to press charges if she thought it would get her fired. The staff did the right thing.

If, as alleged, this maid is a loose woman who agreed to sex and then changed her mind, she must also be a talented actress. If she was a plant from DSK’s political enemies she must have been a master manipulator to arrange events so perfectly.

If she is somehow going to profit from this incident it looks like nothing but loss so far. She’s in hiding, unemployed and most likely her daughter is out of school. I hope that the lawyer who is prosecuting her case will help her find safe temporary housing and work. The trial will not be for six months, and she has to live her life.

UPDATE: according to AlterNet, one reason the maid didn’t have to worry about losing her job is that the Sofitel is a union shop. From what I can see, the management took a crime against an employee very seriously and reacted quickly. Institutional cover-up is so common that it’s really exemplary that the staff there called the police in time for them to catch the suspect. I had suspected that the Sofitel had a work culture of respect for their workers, and this backs it up.

Two Visions of the Apocalypse

Today when I got out of work the weather had taken a turn to sunny and warm. I have a brand new sun dress, and anyway, the world is due to end today. So I’m wearing it.

Strangely enough, I think I heard the end of the world prophet, Harold Camping, on Family Radio about a month ago while driving through the Bershires on my way to a conference organized by a witch named Starhawk. I was scanning stations, and tuned into an elderly man preaching on the Rapture. I listened for a while before finding NPR.

Today Family Radio is silent, perhaps the staff was Raptured…

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – With no sign his forecast of Judgment Day arriving on Saturday has come true, the 89-year-old California evangelical broadcaster and former civil engineer behind the pronouncement seemed to have gone silent.

Family Radio, the Christian stations network headed by Harold Camping which had spread his message of an approaching doomsday, was on Saturday playing recorded church music and devotional messages unrelated to the apocalypse

Oh well.

When I got to the conference, Starhawk was running classes on permaculture, a philosophy of building local, sustainable systems. She wrote a novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, that deals with a society in the ruins of ecological collapse. Here is an excerpt from an address she gave after doing volunteer work in New Orleans…

There’s a Native American proverb that goes, “If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to end up where we’re headed.” Where we’re headed, without a major, fast, global shift in our technology, our means of food production, our economics and our values, is a world of multiple Katrinas, intensified storms, rising seas, drowned coastal cities, drought, famine and the wars that come in their wake.

We still have a small window of time to avoid that fate, and we have the knowledge we need to do it. I believe we bear a special responsibility, those of us who love the Goddess, who honor the sacredness of life, who draw our sense of renewal and our vitality from contact with the elements and the natural world. We belong in the forefront of the movement to heal our damaged earth, to learn the skills and tools for doing so, and to agitate for the public policies to put those skills to work. There’s no more vital work we can do at this moment in history.

This week, author Junot Diaz was interviewed on NPR. He spoke compassionately about the popularity of end of the world beliefs– about a general uneasiness about the changes we see and the fear of what lies ahead…

Apocalyptic catastrophes don’t just raze cities and drown coastlines; these events, in David Brooks’s words, “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” And, equally important, they allow us insight into the conditions that led to the catastrophe, whether we are talking about Haiti or Japan. (I do believe the tsunami-earthquake that ravaged Sendai this past March will eventually reveal much about our irresponsible reliance on nuclear power and the sinister collusion between local and international actors that led to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.)

If, as Roethke writes, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” apocalypse is a darkness that gives us light.

But this is not an easy thing to do, this peering into darkness, this ruin-reading. It requires nuance, practice, and no small amount of heart. I cannot, however, endorse it enough. Given the state of our world—in which the very forces that place us in harm’s way often take advantage of the confusion brought by apocalyptic events to extend their power and in the process increase our vulnerability—becoming a ruin-reader might not be so bad a thing. It could in fact save your life.

As easy as it is to mock a failed Rapture, I have some words of comfort for all those Left Behind. We’re in interesting times, and nothing is certain. But we will face them together, and the more we hold to our best principles of putting right before selfishness, the better we will survive the coming storms.

One Conspiracy Theory Debunked

Standard question in victim-blaming is ‘what was she doing there alone?’ It’s made me kind of crazy to see that applied to a maid whose job it is to go into rooms and clean them. When I first heard this awful crime story– and my sense is that it’s a crime that happens to be so politically entangled that smart people can’t think straight– I noticed the time it was reported.

A hotel or motel around noon can be pretty quiet. I don’t know the checkout and arrival times at the Sofitel, but usually guests follow the rules so they don’t get charged an extra day, and staff does most of the maintenance around mid-day. People don’t book a hotel room to sit around in it. They’re tourists, or working, or on their way somewhere.

One question I have is what the suite looks like. Writer Wendy Kaminer answers that basic question, and debunks some of the dumber statements going around…

Bernard-Henri Levy asks “how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” Ben Stein can’t understand how an unarmed man might “force” a woman to have oral sex, adding that Strauss-Kahn was “in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly.”

Well, the Sofitel is a good hotel but not quite a grand one (it’s not the Four Seasons or the Mandarin) and, as a regular guest there, I can attest that it is not common practice to send a “cleaning brigade” into the room (although fortunately, I am not among the “most-watched figures on the planet.”) Having spent a night in the same suite or a similar one occupied by Strauss-Kahn (it was complimentary, the hotel was overbooked), I can also attest that people are not “passing by constantly.” In fact, virtually no one passes by. The suite is at the end of a hall, and it is expansive, with a foyer, large living room, bedroom, and a long hallway between bedroom and master bath. A maid might easily knock loudly without being heard, enter in the belief that no one was home, and find herself trapped.

It helps to have some facts. Another fact is that the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit that is used in the state of Rhode Island includes a set of swabs to be used for oral DNA collection. If this kind of assault was so implausible, why is there a written procedure for evidence collection?

I appreciate Wendy Kaminer’s post, though I think she under-estimates the personal cost the victim is suffering for her testimony. She has had to leave her job and apartment and go into hiding with her teenage daughter. Any friendships and connections she has made since coming to the US are disrupted, her daughter can’t safely go to school. She is already been named and accused of being foolhardy, a prostitute and other things. She will have to face the best lawyers money can buy. She has been described as a shy, devout woman who came to the US as a refugee.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, if innocent, has been terribly wronged. But I think the facts will work against him. I’m grateful that Wendy Kaminer has applied some firsthand reporting and cleared away some of the nonsense and speculation.

Where Did She Find the Courage?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proved guilty. This long post will take the perspective of victim’s advocate in discussing the issues raised by that case, but ultimately the jury will decide. That being said, I think he’s guilty as hell.

A lot of nonsense is flowing through the internets about the victim’s allegations. Posts dismissing the claims of other women speaking out about past attempted rapes and assaults. It’s a common occurrence that a serial abuser goes unchallenged for decades, and then when the abuser is exposed, witnesses come forward. They are criticized for not speaking out sooner, and sometimes blamed for not helping to stop the abuse. Ignorant people brag about ‘what they would have done’, tough talk being easier than action. This dynamic exists in the politics of bullying and deception, even when sex is not the issue.

Bernie Madoff was beyond reproach, until he was mobbed by betrayed investors. But there were plenty of warning signs, and trusted institutions failed to provide oversight.

A code of silence has traditionally protected politicians who can’t control their sexual impulses. It’s not always a man imposing on a woman.

Conservative writer David Brooks, while talking about dignity in politics disclosed that he had tolerated inappropriate touching from a male politician…

[Brooks] shared an interesting anecdote with Norah O’Donnell and John Harwood.

“You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ‘Ehh, get me out of here.'”

When O’Donnell inquired about Brooks’ dinner companion, the columnist replied, “I’m not telling you; I’m not telling you.”

I find David Brooks annoying, but I don’t judge him for not outing Mr. Friendly. Brooks had a lot to lose if he made a fuss, and more trouble if he made an enemy of a man he needed to deal with in Washington. Maybe Brooks should out him, though. Guys like that often find someone they can really abuse, and they need to be stopped.

This month a church worker lost a court case contesting her firing when she reported a priest she considered a danger to children…

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the archdiocese of Louisville.

The lawsuit filed by Gary and Margie Weiter, of Louisville, alleged the archdiocese violated its own policies on responding to sexual abuse.

Margie Weiter contended a priest who had allegedly been sexually abusive was moving about at the St. Therese Catholic Church in Germantown unsupervised and circulating among children and that she was fired when she complained.

The Weiters also claimed a convicted sex offender, Bruce Ewing, was active in a parish council.

The judge deemed this a Church internal matter, the Weiters may appeal.

Senator Scott Brown disclosed in his recent book that as a child he was sexually abused by a camp counselor. He didn’t name names, but it soon came out that Camp Good News, a religious camp, had problems going back decades. A counselor committed suicide after being accused of abuse.

“There were red flags,” [Mitchell Garabedian, the accuser's attorney] said. “The questions remain: What did the supervisors know? When did they know? And what did they do it about it?”
A former camp employee, Charles Lewis, told ABC that he notified camp administrators in the late 1990s that Devita had child pornography on his computer, but they did nothing about it. He said he then contacted the police in 2002 and told them the same story, but is unclear what became of the allegations.

Journalist, Tristane Banon, says she fought off an attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2002 when she was 21 years old, and is being harshly criticized for not pressing charges at the time, though she did discuss the attack in an interview in 2007…

Banon consulted a lawyer, but did not press charges. “I didn’t want to be known to the end of my days as the girl who had a problem with the politician.”

Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, told journalists on Sunday night she had dissuaded her daughter from legal action because she believed Strauss-Kahn’s behaviour had been out of character and because of close links with his family. “Today I am sorry to have discouraged my daughter from complaining. I bear a heavy responsibility,” she said.

She said Strauss-Kahn was “an otherwise warm, sympathetic and extremely talented man”, but the attack left her daughter depressed and traumatised. “My daughter, despite the passing years, is still shocked by these facts. Her life was completely upset by this affair and she was depressed for a long time.” She added that it was clear Strauss-Kahn had “difficulty controlling his urges”. She said: “I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist, but there is something violent in this predatory move.”

More from Businessinsider.com

Banon further alleges that the story was covered up in the media. She decided not to press charges. Her publisher took out the chapter on Strauss-Kahn from the book for which she had tried to interview him. A segment on another talk show where she mentioned the incident was cut out during editing.

She alleges that another talk show host was pressured to cancel an invitation for her to appear, because the show is live.

Agora Vox quotes Banon, explaining why she decided to not press charges and move on (emphasis ours):

Who is to say half the people I’ll meet won’t believe me? So I told myself I had to live with it. And what would I gain? Money? I don’t want his money. … And there is the fact that I live alone in Paris. … He doesn’t have the most refined methods. … I don’t think he would have had me killed, but possibly roughed up.

She was the god-daughter of his second wife, and he had been physically violent enough to justify her fear.

Arnold Schwartzenegger is in the news, with headlines claiming his reputation has been ruined by the revelation that he impregnated his housekeeper ten years ago. Anyone not suffering from amnesia will ask, ‘what reputation’? The Gropinator’s sense of entitlement with women who were in a subordinate position, his bullying manner– that was part of his charm. The women he grabbed and pushed around just had to live with it. From the L.A. Times..

Four of the six women told their stories on condition that they not be named. Three work in Hollywood and said they were worried that, if they were identified, their careers would be in jeopardy for speaking out against Schwarzenegger, the onetime bodybuilding champion and box-office star who is now the front-runner in the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election.
The other unnamed woman said she feared public ridicule and possible damage to her husband’s business.
In the four cases in which the women would not let their names be published, friends or relatives said that the women had told them about the incidents long before Schwarzenegger’s run for governor.
None of the six women who gave their accounts to The Times filed any legal action against him.

ProPublica has more on what happened to women who spoke to a reporter about Schwartzenegger’s gross behavior…

Election Day arrived and Schwarzenegger was elected by a wide margin. The Los Angeles Times was castigated for smearing Schwarzenegger close to the election. Ten thousand readers canceled their subscriptions. I received a string of vicious calls and emails. The women were branded as liars desperate for a share of fame.

One of the women called me in tears. I’d cajoled her into revealing her humiliations — and here was yet another. The voters, like Hollywood, ignored the star’s troubling behavior. I was devastated and angry, too — and guilty for wasting their courage.

Speaking out has a cost. We’re only a few decades past the time when victims of sexual assault carried the secret their whole lives, because no one wanted to be damaged goods. It is the result of years of advocacy that we have better police work, better laws. All the people mentioned above had far more social status than the maid who was assaulted this week.

Where did she find the courage to come forward, when so many others were unable despite having more social power?

My guess is that she came to the US as a refugee from violence, and had few illusions about her place in the world. The only security she had was earned with her own work– the patronage of important people did not figure in to this situation.

Perhaps her attacker would have used some social pressure, charm and deception if she had seemed connected to anyone who could defend her, but she was a black woman from a poor part of the world, so he tried to terrorize her into submission. She fought him off and escaped.

Very important– she was able to go to her supervisor for help, and the supervisor quickly called the police. Look at the above examples and see how rare it is that institutions and the people in them do the right thing. The hotel had established a hotline to report abuse. That suggests that abuse was a problem, but also that there was a policy to protect employees. If she had not found immediate aid, and a fast and competent response from the police, she would have been without recourse like so many others. But now the law is on her side.

If Dominique Strauss-Kahn is found guilty, it will be because of the courage of a quiet and almost invisible woman, who fought her attacker and sought justice, when so many others let crime go unchallenged.

CONSEQUENCES: The press is already outing the victim as a woman living with HIV, in the process of publicizing where she lives. She is not staying in her apartment, and I hope that when this is over she will be able to find a safe place to live and work.

Real Reporting

Thanks the gods for NPR. They’re the only news source so far that has bothered to talk to hotel workers. Pundits and talking heads can spout nonsense about the normal routine of workers who are invisible to them, except to serve. NPR opened the phone lines and just asked the workers directly…

Although most people’s ideas of a hotel housekeeper might come from the movies like the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan, the reality is a lot more grueling. Most hotels in New York are unionized and housekeepers make between $15 and $20 an hour. But according to Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, it’s a very physical job. Housekeepers might do 14 to 18 rooms a day, spending about 25 minutes per room.

“Typically,” she says, “the sheets the housekeepers are dealing with are not fitted sheets, so they have to pick up the mattress, and tuck them under, and tuck blankets. Those king size mattress are heavy; the queen size mattresses are heavy; they are vacuuming every room; they are scrubbing tubs, toilets, cleaning the bathroom floor.”

When McCarthy would interview applicants, she would tell them the job was pretty much the equivalent of working a construction job.

McCarthy believes sexual harassment is much less prevalent than most people suspect.

Sexual harassment is the sexy issue of course. Most news outlets don’t waste much time on work, and worker’s opinions. It’s worth saying that motel cleaning is not a job where you are supposed to assume you will be disrespected– it’s not in the job description.

A lot of foolishness has been spread around by opinionators, and commenters who are blaming the victim for not taking an escort, or maybe a guard dog, when she went into the room to clean it. She will tell her story to a Grand Jury, and a decision is expected by Friday. Lawyers for the prosecution say they have a case.

Comfort and Good Care


This small study might ease some fears.

By Frederik Joelving – Tue May 17, 3:28 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Terminally ill patients who opt to receive hospice care won’t die any faster as a result of that choice, according to Korean researchers.

Their findings add to a recent U.S. debate over hospices, which some fear might accelerate the decline of very sick people.

Hospice care focuses on easing the pain and distress of people whose doctors have ruled out any chance of recovery, instead of offering aggressive medical treatment, which often comes with side effects.

In the U.S., most people receive hospice care at home. The major goal is to make patients comfortable as the end of life nears, using techniques that are not available from other medical specialties.

I think some people live longer on Hospice, with the extra care and attention to comfort.

Nope

AP has a headline today, ‘Revelations Could Tarnish Schwartzenegger’s Legacy’.

Now he’s revealed to be the father of an out-of-wedlock child, a secret he kept during two gubernatorial terms.

No matter his accomplishments in office, Schwarzenegger may be best remembered as yet another philandering politician who got caught.

Let us not forget history. California elected a actor nicknamed, ‘The Gropinator’. Schwartzenegger had a reputation as a man who liked to bully and humiliate women. Now his wife is paying the price for turning a blind eye to what was there all along, but the voters did not choose him for his decency– they wanted a bully.

His legacy will be his actions as Governor. The tough guy didn’t deliver as promised. That’s the betrayal the voters won’t forgive.

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