The SBIFF Axiom or Why Are They Treating Me So Badly?

Life recently took me to Santa Barbara. Actually, wife took me to Santa Barbara, but it comes to the same thing. While there I was forced to notice how you can tell what really matters to any business, institution or endeavor. And I have dubbed the answer the SBIFF Axiom: those who matter are those who get treated well and vice versa.

SBIFF is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and it happened to be going on during our visit which seemed cool. Pay $125 for a pass good for 10 movies. A bit pricey on a per film basis, but new movies, foreign movies, auteur films, oddball films, documentaries not likely to show up in Podunk or on Netflix.

Of course there were gold-plated plans starting at $350 for access to all movies with some rising as high as thousands of dollars for the chance hobnob with (or at least be in the same room with) Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford , Leo and Scorcese, Bruce Dern or Oprah.

But we were content just to mosey in and sample some movies. Then came the surprise. Those without the pricier all-access passes had to show up an hour before each screening and stand in line to get a numbered card.

Then 20 minutes before the film they had to return and stand in line again in numerical order and wait for the VIPs to be seated. If there were 50 seats left, numbers 1 through 50 would be seated and the poor saps at the end of the breadline would be told to come back, stand in line for a different movie and try again.

I have been to other film festivals that simply sell a pass which you can swap for tickets, first come first served for each showing. Show up, get ticket, see movie. At first I thought SBIFF was just incredibly ill-managed, a Rube Goldberg film fest, abusive to its patrons.

But then it dawned on me that this was a Santa Barbara film festival and it made sense. The city is a bastion of the one percent where dozens of wealthy celebrities have one of their many homes – Michael Douglas, Eddie Vedder, Oprah again, Cheryl Tiegs, Ryan Reynolds, several Beach Boys, Stevie Nicks, Jeff Bridges, Sue Grafton. You get the idea.

So of course the festival is designed to give priority to the platinum members and to treat the average Joe like a coach passenger flying stand-by. It is designed for people willing to pay thousands to dress up and see and be seen at opening and closing ceremonies and other red carpet gala events, not for people who just want to see 10 movies in 5 days and answer “Costco” to the question “Who are you wearing?”

Thus the SBIFF Axiom: You can figure out what really matters to a company, charity, political party or film festival by seeing who they treat really well and who they treat really badly.

Lagniappe: When we couldn’t get a seat at a film, we did find out where to get really well fed. Beautifully prepared and presented French at Petit Valentien. For a particularly good deal, the four course Sunday Prix Fixe dinner. Fantastic Italian at Trattoria Grappolo in the Sideways wine country of Santa Ynez where the bread and olive oil alone are worth the price of admission. Try the sole, the pizza, the pounded pork with prosciutto and brie. Great Mexican all over town, try breakfast at Rose Cafe, tacos at Cuernavaca and the entire menu at Los Agaves. And for perfectly nice Middle Eastern with a nifty visual experience, dine outdoors at the flaming tables of Zaytoon. And on your way back to Podunk, stop in at the Zaca Mesa winery for Rhone varietal blends. They’ll be happy to ship you a case or you can check it and throw your luggage away. Bon appétit.

Ask Your Doctor If Poizona Is Right for You

It’s probably a demographic thing, but I seem to watch the kind of TV show only people over 80 watch, judging by the commercials they air. None are aimed at young people under, say, fifty, hoping to sell them hip-hop fashions, murderous video games, strange flavored beer or coffee, earphones, gadgets you can tweet with.

No, on my programs I get incessant ads for grab bars in the bathroom, hospital style beds, jewelry that can summon the ambulance, home break-in surveillance services and, of course, ads damming candidates for threatening to raise taxes or cut my Social Security, Medicare, and prescription drug subsidy.

But the number one category of ad is for those pills themselves. And no matter what they purport to cure or palliate, the ads are all as identical as political attack ads.

Video: The most beautiful and fit 40-year-olds in the world are pretending to be 70 or older. He is ruggedly handsome in an outdoor shirt of the sort candidates don to show they are manly men. She is drop dead gorgeous, incredibly shapely with bedroom eyes, but a hint of upscale mom, accentuated by casual fashions suitable for a stroll around Martha Stewart’s herb garden. They walk hand in hand.

Audio: (in soothing, trustworthy tones) You’ve been side by side in all kinds of weather practically forever. But lately she’s no longer the insatiable tigress you remember and you’re not exactly standing tall in the saddle, if you get my drift. Also, every muscle and joint in your body aches and you can’t remember your children’s’ names or where you live.

You could simply be getting a little older but it might be UH, unsightly hangnails caused by skin as dry as the Kalahari. Ask your doctor if Poizona is right for you. One little deeply-tanned tablet a day and you could be moist again.

Video: They loll in a hammock-for-two, overlooking a beach unpolluted by another soul. They stand by their tent gazing into a soft-focus Denali or Yosemite paradise also blissfully free of other life forms.

Audio: (speaking really fast) Like all pills ever invented, Poizona will probably damage your liver. Tell your doctor if you are an alcoholic, IV drug user, have ever had a prescription for anything or eat food grown with the aid of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer, dirt or water. Poizona users have reported thoughts of suicide, homicide, matricide and alien abduction. Some people have experienced mild symptoms of headache, nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the eyes, cancer, sudden heart stoppage and strokes so severe they sit in a chair and drool for the rest of their lives.

Video: He may do something macho like cast a rod while she demurely picks up seashells until a look passes between them and we cut to crashing waves like those that accompanied Burt and Deborah consummating their forbidden passion in “From Here to Eternity.”

Audio: If you think you might have UH, tell your doctor about Poizona and start living life to the fullest. With Poizona, you and old what’s-her-name, can be as close again as she claims you once were. Bring back the days of wine and roses. Well, okay, the days of Ensure and hypoallergenic lichen.

What’s Up with WhatsApp?

It’s missing an apostrophe for one thing, but who’s counting?

Warning! Some math will be involved in the following paragraphs. Or numbers anyway. Large numbers with dollar signs fore and lots of zeroes aft.

By now you’ve heard that a five year old company with 55 employees named WhatsApp  has been bought by Facebook for $19 billion.

Wow, that’s amazing. Who knew Facebook had $19 billion. For what? Letting people share pictures of their vacation or the fact that their dog has got the mange? So what does WhatsApp do that’s worth $19 billion? Cure cancer? Stop climate change? Eliminate poverty?

No, apparently it lets people send text and videos and pictures of their mangy dog to others who have subscribed to WhatsApp for 99 cents a year. But get this! It hasn’t got ads getting in the way of your shared narcissism.  A breakthrough.

The valuation of $19 billion (roughly the same as the market cap of Macys, Michelin, Chipotle, Autozone, Kellogg, Kroger or Sherwin-Williams) means each of the 55 employees is worth $345 million – equal to four Bill Clinton’s or one Beyonce. (By way of comparison, the net worth of the average American is $38,000) Not that the dough will be shared equally by all WhatsApp employees. This isn’t a communist country, you know. It’s more like Russia where a few oligarchs control all the wealth. Except here they are cyberarchs.

The WSJ quotes another Valley Boy cyberarch who has devised a way to store data online (you know, so tweets about your dog’s mange or pictures of it can be preserved forever). On hearing of the deal, he was crestfallen since he is about to go public for a puny $2 billion. “It makes you depressed if you’re not selling at $20 billion.”

Whoa! If that’s depression, what should minimum wage workers who Wal-Mart and Republican congressmen are teaming up to stiff  be feeling? Or 15 or 20 million un- and underemployed people? I’d tell you, but I don’t want Mark Zuckerberg’s mother to wash my mouth out with imported French-milled soap. Besides, Kurt Vonnegut described our present dystopia in 1952’s “Player Piano” complete with techno haves and everybody else. Check it out.

Not that I’m a Luddite. Yet. I believe technology has the power to create a utopia for all of us. Just as soon as the 1000 gigawatt brains of the cyberarchs are devoted to something more useful than Candy Crush, Facebook, or WhatsApp. Like eliminating cancer, poverty, climate change or even the dog’s mange.