Complaining complainers who complain.

positivity

I have been working at a new location for a while where on the whole, I am incredibly happy, though there have been some recent changes implemented in the way we have to do our paperwork.  It’s more annoying, more time consuming and results in us taking work home more often/staying late to complete paperwork.  Yes, this is bad, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  The organization’s sentiment is shut up and do it or go somewhere else.  The general feeling among employees is that they wouldn’t mind quite as much if there were regular raises but payroll has been stagnant across the board for at least the past four years.  Not cool.  What I’d like to know is if pay has been held across the board or if the higher-ups have seen any increases.  As it’s a non-profit, the IRS 990 information on their budget, income and some payroll information are public record.  As far as I can tell, no one working for the organization is making six figures, which is comforting to know considering it’s basically charity work.  Honestly though, who goes to work at a non-profit expecting the pay to go up and up and up?  Just not realistic.

 

sarah williams

This brings me to my point: yes things are getting worse for us, but have you seen the job market?  There’s no way to rebel when you have nowhere to go and that’s the sad truth of it.  And yes, you really should stop complaining so much while you’re on the job.   As I often quote from the movie Labyrinth when people say “It’s not fair!”  “No it isn’t, but that’s the way it is.”  And additionally, “You say that so often.  I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”  The fact is, job responsibilities aren’t static, and in our situation the changes being implemented are because of what our government is handing down to us.  Don’t like?  Get more involved in national and local elections.  Write editorials.  Blog about it.  Just don’t sit around at work and force everyone to wallow in your daily gripe-fest because it makes everyone feel even worse about the situation and there still isn’t a solution.  Whenever I find myself trapped in a group of people venting, I do my best to be the subject-changer or person to point out something that can be done.  It helps shut down the negativity or at least gives them an idea of how to make a positive impact in some way.   And don’t think it’s easy because by my nature, I am fairly pessimistic and at times border on existential nihilism (i.e. I don’t believe that life has any inherent meaning.)  Most of the time, shit just happens with no rhyme or reason.  Which for me, equates to the idea that life only has the meaning in it that one creates for oneself.  No matter where you work, you are quite likely to have to deal with some sort of fuckery or another.  If you find you truly can’t stand the current bullshit you’re being dealt, good luck finding another place whose nonsense you can stand.  Truly.  Just don’t make things more miserable than they have to be.  Find solutions for things you can, and find ways to support each other and be thankful you can still cover your bills.  I think I’ll bring in some cinnamon rolls next week to lighten the mood.  Wish me luck friends.

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Bad boss.

shitty boss

I had the recent misfortune to work at a place that was not a good fit.  What at first seemed like growing pains and discomfort while adjusting to a new routine revealed itself to be a sisyphian nightmare where no matter the progress and changes I made, I was given no credit, recognition or respect.  I have no problem taking constructive criticism.  I want to know how to be better.  I know I am not done learning and growing at any time in this life.   What I can’t take is when I am getting demonstrably better and still told I’m failing.  She would critique my performance and make comments about what I had done wrong.  When shown irrefutable proof that I had, indeed, done it the exact way she had asked, the response I received was, “Oh, okay.  Whatever.  But what about when you…”  Never was there a time when the word “sorry” passed her lips.  I dawned on me that she had an opinion of me and my abilities and that nothing I did would change the way she saw me.  Every once in a while she would catch herself on her negative rampage and throw me a little crumb of positive criticism, which at our exit interview she said she later regretted because she worried it had given me the impression that I was doing well there and getting better.  Wow.

Needless to say, it was an untenable situation which has thankfully ended, yet it really shook me to my core to have such an experience at this stage in my career and my life in general.  At our parting, my supervisor admitted that she had been unduly harsh in the delivery of many of her comments to me.  Though she has likely forgotten the incident by now, never in my life have I had someone question a letter of recommendation, which she did three months in to my time there.  Saying something like that implies that a) the letter is a forgery, b) the person who wrote it was lying, and/or c) I am unworthy of recommendation.  Even if a person feels that way about an employee, it is one of the most insulting and insensitive things a boss can say.  It took every ounce of my composure and dignity not to react to that statement and keep working there.  This trick even went so far as to make a snide insult/”joke” about me during her annual holiday dinner toast as she went around the table “honoring” each employee for the work they’d done.

In spite of this treatment, I don’t hate her.  I understand that our philosophies and understandings differed and she didn’t value my particular skill set.  I don’t think she’s terrible at her job.  On the contrary, she is very good and that’s precisely why I value the time I spent there and the things I learned in spite of the abuse.  I just think she’s an impatient and unforgiving instructor who wanted me to be her clone, which was simply impossible.  It also gave me a lesson in what type of supervisor I never want to be.

Italy.

I wanted to share with you a little bit about a trip I took to Italy last spring.   The sights, experiences and musings of an all too brief vacation in three parts, the first of which concerns…

Rome:

Umbrella PinesGosh how I loved those umbrella pines!

Busy, beautiful, very open (geographically).  I didn’t feel hemmed in here at all as I do in some major cities, and as I did in Florence and Venice.  Crossing streets is really for the fearless or suicidal–you must follow the locals and see when they cross and stick closely behind them!  The art and the ancient architecture are of course impressive and beautiful but I was filled with such a sense of sadness and horror while visiting the Colosseum.  It feels like visiting a Holocaust museum.  So many people love these beautiful old ruins but it’s hard to forget the savagery they were witness to.  The food was good, but surprisingly, I’ve had much better at home, and with infinitely better customer service.  I hate to say it, but in general, Italy was very rude to me.  The nicest, most helpful and friendliest people hands down were other tourists.

Florence:  Oh lord, it was such an adventure coming into town in the middle of the night.  I had a map but it was nearly useless as the city maps in Italy don’t correspond exactly to the streets’ locations and names.  In general, street names and addresses aren’t well marked.  Best to have a hand-held GPS if you aren’t great at map reading and don’t have an innate sense of direction.  Once daylight came, I was fine as I could read markings and got my compass bearings with the sun and learned landmarks.  The art and architecture, again, will blow your mind.  One of the highlights of my time in Italy was when I ventured outside the city for a Tuscan wine tour.  The chiantis and olive oils we had were amazing and the lunch break in the middle of our trip at a small family owned restaurant was the best food I ate my entire time in Italy.  I (unknowingly) had cow tongue and really enjoyed it.  Again, I met a lovely couple of Americans on the tour and they recommended coming back to Italy and just spending some time away from the cities in the coastal villages of Cinque Terre.  Well, more ideas for the next trip.

Venice: Again, got into town in the middle of the night and this time with no map at all.  Just an address and a weird sort of description of how to find the tiny hotel I was staying in taken from a fellow traveler on TripAdvisor.  I met some charming French and French Canadian tourists who helped me find the right Vaporetto line to get to Rialto Bridge.  From there, I followed the directions as best I could and wandered a bit for about 20 minutes.  During my peregrinations, I was struck by how eerily quiet it was.  After turning along several streets and cutting across lots of little squares, I heard the welcome and unmistakable noises of the only bar open in that section of town.  They, unfortunately, had no idea how to direct me to my hotel.  I miraculously found a few more little signs and landmarks and made it down a suffocatingly small alley which ran past the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.   Never have I experienced a city with streets so incredibly narrow.  I could put out my arms and touch the buildings on either side.  Again, rude ass bitches will not move aside even though you have baggage to carry.  In addition, you will kick yourself with wet feet if you forget your wellies and raincoat!  Be sure to change into them before you have to walk around town.  Just expect there to be flooding and know that you will get wet.  There was some deeper flooding down a few of the streets and platform walkways were erected on metal frames with plywood.  The wonderful thing about Venice was that it was easy to wander and get lost, then keep walking to find myself back where I started or at least where I had been before.  When daylight hit, I wandered about 5-10 minutes and found myself smack in the Piazza San Marco.  Easy as pie.

If you’re into walking tours, download the Rick Steves audio tours.  They are pretty well-paced, comprehensive, and well-recorded, in addition to being completely free.  On that note, budget a lot more than you think you’ll need for food and shopping.  In general, you are going to spend serious bank.  Probably more than locals due to some shady business practices, and also just because, and I hate to say it, the cities seem to be “money grubbing” in general.  Consumer goods are waaaaay over priced in many places, and restaurant food costs significantly more if you want to sit at a table versus standing to eat at a counter (so awkward and uncomfortable, especially for a klutz like myself).  There are also some additional charges such as a “table cloth” charge if you are sitting at a table.  In Rome, I was charged 20 euro (about $27) to sit and eat a gelato and drink a coffee.  I was exhausted from walking so there was no way I was going to stand any longer but jeez, that’s really a bit much.  Even New York City and London aren’t that bad.  Another warning: don’t go too photo crazy.  Just look.  I mean really look.  Soak it in and experience the locations.   And seriously, don’t be the doofus with your iPad in front of your face photographing/video recording the whole trip.  Take a few pics for memories, but there are so many beautiful, professional photos taken of any landmark or art that you’re better off downloading/buying those prints and making an album or scrapbook than trying to capture everything.

Now a list of some of the key sites and activities I really enjoyed:

Rome – Palatine Hill, Forum, and Colosseum (in that order).  Get your tickets online beforehand or up at the Palatine Hill so you don’t have to wait on lines at the Colosseum.  Capitoline Hill, Piazza Venezia, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City and Sistine Chapel (we got up late and caught the tail end of the new Pope’s Easter benediction.  The crowds were quite a sight.), Pantheon, Piazza Navona,  Piazza della Minerva, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, The Keats-Shelley House (right by the Spanish Steps), Piazza del Popolo, the Villa Borghese gardens and Zoological gardens (didn’t get in to see the Borghese Gallery), National Museum of Rome, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (which even has a room entitled “Is it art?”).

CIMG1344

Really, who makes a floor out of mirrors?  That’s just asking for trouble.

Florence – Uffizi Gallery, Gallery of the Academy (really, it’s nothing you haven’t already seen at the Uffizi, but you’re only going there for David, who is hands down the most impressive sculpture I’ve ever seen.  I will say though that the room containing unfinished sculptures is also a fascinating insight into his artistic process), Museo Galileo (for the science and math buffs among us), Palazzo Medici Riccardi which had an exhibit called “The Dalí Universe in Florence,” Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo), Ponte Vecchio, and the Piazza dell Mercato.

Venice – just wander all over.  You will be surprised and impressed.  I enjoyed listening to the Interpreti Veneziani doing the works of Vivaldi.  Also, as expensive as shopping abroad was, I found the best stuff at the best prices in Venice.  Kinda opposite to what every travel guide said.  This was the only place I didn’t feel like I got totally fleeced.  Of course, don’t eat or drink anything at a location along the Piazza San Marco before you know the price.  You are asking for it.

A bit of an aside: I always found it funny that there are alternative names for geographical locations.  There’s a name for it made up by every other language and then there’s the name that the residents of said country call it themselves.  Why make up new names for countries and their cities? By the way, Chinese don’t call it China. They call it something like “zhong guo-ah ” meaning “Middle Kingdom.”  I’d be interested to do an etymological research study on how we got to calling it China.

The Learning Process.

To-be-outstanding-get-comfortable-with-being-uncomfortable.

I am learning a better, more effective way of working in my field and when done correctly, it yields some astonishing results.  It is more creative, enjoyable and exciting than what I have been doing up to now.

I have started a new job and I am miserable.  I knew that I would be.  It was part of the plan.  It is such an entirely different way of thinking and doing that it will take a while for me to reprogram and “unlearn” my old style.  Growing older and being in the world of work has made it clear that only when we are truly uncomfortable are we making rapid, significant growth.  It just really blows to be in the beginning part of that process.

A Sad Day for Sesame Street

I am so torn up about Kevin Clash stepping down.  While I find Elmo annoying, I recognize that he is a key character that really speaks to very young children in a way that no other current Sesame Street character does.  Elmo is a combination of lovable, silly, disarming, imaginative, plus sickeningly cute topped off with pure warmth and joy.  He is a kid show’s MVP, a toy marketer’s wet dream, and an ultimate figure of comfort to many children all over the world.
The allegations against Kevin are very serious, and there may be truth to them, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is a case of people trying to grab their 15 minutes of fame and a payout at the cost of someone’s livelihood and reputation.  Even if it’s disproved the stain of the accusation will never leave him.   Kevin’s first accuser apparently has a history of check fraud and robbery at knifepoint (charges were dropped inexplicably on that one).  His second accuser claims he only realized this very year that the relationship with Kevin over fifteen years ago was psychologically damaging to him.  How convenient that it became traumatizing immediately after someone else received a six-figure cash settlement.

If the story is true, it poses a troubling moral question: should consensual sex with a minor always and without exception be considered a criminal act?  What is so magical about the number eighteen that makes a clear moral distinction depending on which side of that age you are?  One could be seventeen and 364 days, it’s wrong.  Plus 24 hours, it’s all good in the ‘hood.  This strikes me as completely arbitrary and bizarre.  There are people in their twenties and older who aren’t mature enough to handle a sexual relationship.  If you think about it, an 18 year old who has sex with a 17 year old boyfriend/girlfriend can be charged with statutory rape and end up on the sex offender list for hooking up with his/her significant other.  A very scary thought that something as natural and healthy as sexual exploration can generate a permanent criminal record.

It is reported that Kevin’s second accuser met him via a gay phone chat line, presumably where people talk and arrange for “romantic” encounters.  Clearly if the guy was using that service, he was using it with that purpose in mind.  Why is this against the law when actor Doug Hutchison can date and marry a seventeen year old and it’s perfectly legal?  Yes, many denounce that as creepy and disgusting, but Doug is in no danger of jail time.  Nevertheless, if the two accusers are telling the truth, Kevin demonstrated very poor judgement and he should be held accountable according to law.

Things that are no longer: punk, bad-ass, or rebellious.

Tattoos:

Not only are there two reality shows about ink shops, there’s now one dedicated to people who have had horrible work done and are a) living with it, b) getting it lasered off, or c) getting it covered with another (usually much bigger and sometimes worse) tattoo.  What looks cool when you’re twenty almost never looks cool to you when you’re thirty.  And I can’t tell you how many forty and fifty year olds I’ve seen with faded, blurry messes left of their former glory.  It’s with you forever but it doesn’t look fresh or cool forever.  My advice?  Design it yourself or have a favorite artist design it and hold on to the design for an entire year before getting it done.  If you wake up and go to sleep every single day of that year with intense anticipation of getting that tattoo, go ahead.  If there is even a single moment during that year when your desire wavers in the slightest, put it aside.  If you can’t maintain that intensity for a year, you won’t really want it on your body forever.

Piercings:

Piercing is an intensely painful process that can lead to disfigurement if it doesn’t heal properly.  I saw a girl with super-weird looking three-inch long keloid-type scar tissue hanging from both her earlobes.  People often tell me they get “addicted” to piercing.  How does one get addicted to punching holes in one’s body?  This smacks of self-loathing to me.  Piercing is really a form of socially-acceptable mutilation and anyone who gets addicted to self-harm needs to stand back and look at that for a moment.  Same thing with the tattoo advice: wait at least a year and wear a clip-on or some sort of temporary jewelry there if possible to get a feel for it.  When I was younger, I didn’t go by this rule.  Now I’m left with three piercing holes I’m happy with and two I’m not.

Extreme hair colors and styles:

I love purple and blue hair.  I used to have it.  I helped many friends to create all sorts of rainbow effects on their heads.  I envied my friend’s cheetah-print foot-tall mohawk.  Unfortunately, very few people will take you seriously at first glance with extreme hair.  It’ll be very hard to get a lucrative job unless you work in a more creative, artistic or unconventional field where these things are appreciated or at least accepted.  But seriously, when I see 5 year olds with mohawks and green highlights, there is clearly nothing outsider about it anymore.  It’s more like a costume now, and costumes are for parties and Halloween.

While I completely understand the desire to assert individuality in our society and (if you are a child) to emotionally separate somewhat from your parents/caregivers as you move toward adulthood, there are, in my mind, better ways of achieving this.  More often than not, I find that some people like to create extreme and elaborate looks to gain acceptance into a social sub-group or community other than the one they are born into.

I’ve got a different approach.  Work on yourself.  Expand your field of interests and knowledge base.  Make decisions not out of spite against parents or societal norms, but out of a desire to grow as a human being and be better than what you see the average is.  Move out of your comfort zone and associate with people different from yourself; people who are involved in things which are new and that seem exciting to you.  Befriend people from different social strata and age groups, both older and younger.  Set life goals and push yourself to meet them and then accomplish more.  Acquire new skill sets.  This kind of change is what will give fulfillment and makes you truly an individual.  Surface changes are just that–surface.

What is going on in Colorado??

 

I read a news piece last night about some poor girl in Colorado who was struck with BUBONIC PLAGUE.  She likely caught it from fleas off a dead squirrel in a campground where she was staying with her family.  Fortunately, she survived, but really, I think Colorado has been through enough lately.  Can it please get a break already?

 

By the way, do a thorough rodent search if you are staying in tents, cabins and outbuildings provided by a campground.  These animals carry plague, hantavirus, Lyme disease,  rat-bite fever and Typhus, to name just a tasty few.

 

Stay safe my fellow campers!

 

PS – Warm wishes of love, health and happiness to my two favorite Colorado residents J & G on their recent marriage!

A close look at federal income tax rates.

While filling out some financial paperwork today, I was asked to state my federal tax bracket.  I found a handy dandy little tool from Bankrate.com (though there are many others available as well, so no specific endorsement here).

I did a little work with this calculator to find out how much, on average, people at different income levels are (in theory) paying in taxes.  I know that there are differences based on itemized deductions, dependents, etc.  For arguments sake and keeping it “apples to apples” we’ll ignore that for now.

If you are a single person with no dependents making $50,000 (a decent salary in many areas of our country), your tax rate  is 12.5%, and with the standard deduction you will pay $6,250 in federal taxes.
At this income level, if you are married and file jointly, your tax rate drops 4.9 points to 7.6%, making your taxes $3,800.  By the way, I think it’s inappropriate for the government to financially incentivize marriage and procreation, but that’s another topic.
To give more comparisons:

Annual Income

Tax Rate

Tax Rate

Income Taxes Paid

single

MFJ

single

MFJ

30,000

8.83%

3.67%

$2,650

$1,100

100,000

18.96

12.5%

$18,975

$12,500

500,000

29.8%

27.64%

$148,989

$138,222

1,000,000

32.4%

31.32%

$323,989

$313,222

10,000,000

34.74%

34.63%

$3,473,989

$3,463,222

If you’ll notice, the income tax rates begin rather high and ratchet up quickly until you get to the seven-figure mark where they level off.  Now, I know that for many Americans, $30,000 is not a particularly low or uncommon a salary, but it also is pretty hard to live on that amount of money in many of the most desirable cities.  I don’t live in a big city and I sure as shit couldn’t pay rent, utilities, and still afford to eat on that salary.  Where I am, $1,400 a month isn’t a crazy amount for rent.  Assuming I would pay $2,650 in income taxes, that would leave me with a little less than $900 a month for everything else (state income taxes, healthcare, bills, food, auto, savings, etc.).

Now, when you look at how much people making over a million pay in taxes, it’s not a small amount of money by any stretch.  I know that many wealthy Americans view a high income tax rate as incredibly unfair; as if they were being punished for being financially successful.

I would argue that while it may feel like an unfair burden to the top 5% earners of the nation to have to pay more in taxes, they are the only ones who can afford to keep this country running, and because of their abilities and good fortune,  it’s their civic duty to do so.  When America is operating with enough money to fund free, high-quality preK through college education, free or low-cost high-quality healthcare, and enough money to maintain, improve and build new infrastructure, they, their employees, their customers and ultimately their businesses will benefit as the entire nation is healthier, better educated, and has more disposable income to spend.  It will give America back its competitive edge in the world market, bring back jobs and manufacturing to American soil, and put our country back on top.

The fact is, even when someone making $10 million “loses” $3.5 million to federal taxes, they’re still taking home $6,536,778.  That’s more than enough to cover the bills and live like a king.  The sad truth is that when you make that much, you can afford to pay a team of lawyers and accountants to help find ways to create deductions and losses to lower your effective tax rate and pay less than your share.  Aside from that, most of the ultra-rich make a good portion of their income from capital gains which isn’t taxed the way that wages/salaries are (there are also online calculators to show tax rates for capital gains).  At that level, you also have the political power to change tax laws in your favor to keep more money in your pockets.

But the wealthy aren’t the only ones with political power.  When people get together in large numbers with a common goal, it becomes a movement that is very hard for government to ignore.  America needs to take a good mathematical look at our current tax rates and work to make them more equitable.  Check out Berkeley’s Robert Reich in his video about the topic of wealth inequality, made back in 2005:

How Unequal Can America Get?

http://www.senate.gov/reference/common/faq/How_to_contact_senators.htm

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

A glutton for punishment.

I must be one because I still want to fix up my old, rundown house.  Structurally, it’s sound, but there are oh-so-many problems that will equal a lifetime of repairing and maintaining.  And no, my home is not as bad as this one pictured, but sometimes I feel as if it were.

 

I was convinced that the red squirrels were back in my ceiling as I could hear a constant chewing sound all through the day.  The pest control people said no, no squirrels are inside.  The chewing got worse as the week wore on.  Yesterday, I pressed my ear to the wall near the ceiling to see if I could ascertain where exactly the sound was located.  I tapped and knocked on the wall and ceiling.  Then, the ceiling opened up with a small flap and a swarm of close to 100 yellow jackets flew out and flooded my living room.

Apparently, whoever built this house used some sort of paper-based pressboard which is a wonderful material for chewing up and turning into a yellow jacket nest.  After a thundershower of Raid (which said on the package that it was fine for indoor use but I still think I’m getting cancer) and taping up the hole, the room was wasp-free, and I managed to escape un-stung.  I spent today washing curtains and cleaning every surface and item in here for fear of poisoning my cat, my family and any guests who deign to enter.  Tonight I will put more chemicals up in my attic to ensure that the hive is destroyed.

If you are in the market for an older house (circa 1940 or earlier) be prepared for all sorts of shenanigans and fix-ups for things that weren’t done right.  Then again, I don’t trust modern contractors either.  While codes are better, I think a lot of new construction is just shiny stuff that looks nice but will crack and crumble piece by piece in 20 years or less.  The glazing on those double and triple-paned windows will not last more than 20 years and will require an entirely new window.  I have to reglaze many of my old wood windows, but with that maintenance, their expected lifespan is 200 years.   That laminate flooring won’t hold up like true wood or natural linoleum flooring.  And if you think you can breathe new life into your vinyl siding with a coat of paint, think again.  It doesn’t like to hold paint at all and you will be replacing that as well in 20 years.  Spend more money on long-living natural or better engineered materials.  It’s healthier for you, more economical in the long-run, and environmentally sound.

I know someone who bought in to a brand new, gorgeous and expensive condo development.  The place is gracious, spacious and clean but before even moving in, the contractors were called back to fix the crooked sheetrock in the living room and repair the shoddy flooring work they did on the stairs.  Just recently there was a problem with the dishwasher leaking into the ceiling and causing damage in the finished basement. I don’t think the place is even 5 years old.

I would be super-angry if I bought new and had to deal with that nonsense.   Maybe I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but at least I know what I’m getting and I know to expect certain problems.  In a world where everything is made to be disposal and single-use, it does give me some gratification to know that when I’m done with it, this house will be better than even its former glory.