Monday, March 28, 2011

for the record

I had a really nice day today and I felt like I should record it.

I got up early (which no, is not very nice), and went to the office for awhile. Have I mentioned that it's really sweet being part-time and having so much flexibility? Plus working with awesome and funny people? It's pretty awesome. I'm hoping to talk to them about going full-time. Which would cut down on the sleeping in, but would help my bank account actually grow, instead of lose money, like it has for the past three months. And the work itself is pretty fun.

The transportation gods were smiling on me today too--all four trains I took today arrived within a minute.

The perk of going in so early was that I did a lot of work and still had lots of afternoon daylight left. So I went to the nearby park for some pictures, which were a bit chilly at times, but jumping always warms me up a little.

Other random good news--my knees have been backing off lately, though my feet show no signs of stopping their aches. This makes for a much better jumping experience! On the way back to the train, I swear that I felt a few moments of almost warmth, when the wind wasn't blowing.

Anyway, I still got home before 4, and at 5 I went to the gym! Two days after my last trip! And it felt great! Other than a few knee twinges on the elliptical, my muscles were feeling the burn and feeling strong. I love that slight bit of soreness after a workout, just enough to feel them and know that you pushed them.

After an hour at the gym, and running an errand I've been meaning to take care of for a few days, I still had plenty of time for some snacks and some television. I made some weekend plans, and just now we *finally* got the last of our honeymoon arrangements made! Well, the ones we'll do from here, at any rate.

So again, it's been a good day. I hope you've had a good Monday. For you teachers, only a few weeks til spring break!!


maybe someday it will finish--I sure am ready! :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

for something completely different

Last week, Dooce posted a few examples of fabulous mash-ups.
"...this one is beyond brilliant and I wish I could favorite it sixteen hundred times, "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J remixed with "Come on Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners."

Here are some others that I enjoyed, courtesy of her commenters:

Fleet Foxes and Beyonce:
This is strangely gorgeous.

Michael Jackson and Queen:

Adele and The Rolling Stones:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

spring, etc

At the beginning of the month, I wanted to make some cupcakes. I agonized over which recipes to use, settling on this sour cream recipe from smitten kitchen for the cupcakes, and this easy chocolate frosting recipe from Martha Stewart.

With this baking attempt, I learned the hard way that creaming butter and sugar does *not* mean beating them together, so the cupcakes were a little grainy. I don't like sour cream, and I've never made anything with it before, so I was a little skeptical. But I hoped that it would make it creamy and moist, and I do want to try new things. Unfortunately, the taste to me was a little weird, though other people seemed to like them okay.

The frosting, though! Oh, that frosting...I may or may not have eaten a few bites straight from a spoon. It's super simple, mostly butter, which explains why it's so freaking delicious. This is now my go-to frosting. I dipped apples in it, I dipped banana in it. It would be gorgeous on strawberries. Or cookies or ice cream or anything you want. YUM.

Last weekend I decided I needed to make something. Since I bought a Giant Bag of Chocolate Chips at Costco, it was time for another batch of Nestle Tollhouse cookies. Thankfully, mine and the husband's colleagues ate most of the cookies so I didn't have to. (Of course, I had plenty of dough while getting ready to bake...)

Last night I really wanted something cakey, but I didn't want to bake an entire thing. So instead I heated up a treat I've been saving in the freezer for awhile: Trader Joe's Chocolate Lava Cake. Diviiiiiiine.

In weather news, check it out:

The weather is slowly but surely improving; Friday was absolutely glorious! Today, the first day of spring (!), is in the 40s. But the overall trend is definitely going the right way.

I went for a bike ride to book club! Can't wait for real biking weather!

Did you see last night's "Supermoon"?

I've done three photo shoots within the past week. I still have some editing/processing to do for two of them. I love being out and about trying to take good portraits. I really want to do more!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Look what I saw today!

I can't believe it! The winter is actually on its way out!!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

This gives me some hope for the government!

Have a listen to these awesome lady-senators fighting back against what they rightly call a war on women, children and families!

These two conservative Wyoming state reps are also fighting the good fight on their own terms:

Here's a brief written synopsis with more detail from the reps about the bills.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

You can't be serious?

(edited to have the good stuff up top!)
Please read this brief article summing up American inequality:

In this ridiculous country, it’s “class warfare” when working people would like a fair wage and health insurance, but it’s “Morning in America” when the top 1% have harvested nearly every dollar of financial gain in this country for the past 30 years. Corporate taxes have dropped as quickly as CEO salaries and bonuses have risen, and we’re all supposed to “take one for the team” while Wall Street criminals make up new ways to earn billion-dollar bonuses while you get to spend a couple of months arguing with your insurance company (if you’re “lucky enough” to have health care coverage) over whether your kid’s concussion or dad’s cancer is something that might be covered."

It's talking about this set of data showing exactly who has what in this country.

Jon Stewart put together an incredible segment on Monday's episode.
Part 1:

Those talking heads make me see red.

Part 2:

Last week I got into a very long facebook thread about unions...

Person 1:
"That doesn't change the fact that public employees are paid less, as compared to their education level, than private employees. They are underpaid and yet the target of budget cuts. When we complain about America losing in science, medicine, education, etc. it is in no small part due to the fact that our teachers are underpaid, that they don't have the resources necessary to be successful, and that they are subject to ridiculous standardized testing that doesn't actually test what students know."

Person 2: "
Whether or not teachers are underpaid is debatable. Some are much better compensated than others, and teacher pay in low-income communities certainly outstrips the average pay of taxpayers in the locale." ...

Me: I think everyone who understands what teachers actually DO (ie, a lot more than 9-3 or whatever) along with the importance of their work would say that teachers are vastly underpaid. think of doctors and lawyers, who are held in high regard... for doing good and necessary work, and have the salary to match. police and firefighters, who do public good, get overtime. if you paid teachers for all the time they were working, plus perhaps hazard pay for the noise, threats, lack of break time, etc, salaries would skyrocket (justifiably).

Administrators (good ones, at least!) do a lot of work, and get a lot more shit (from board/superintendent/etc, as well as from teachers, as well as from students/parents/community), so I'm okay with them getting paid more. it's relative though--should an admin make twice as much as a teacher? no way. a certain percentage more? sure.

Person 3: "
Government employees (including teachers) are NOT underpaid relative to their peers in the private sector. At low and mid range positions, they are significantly overpaid. This is not opinion, but the conclusion of numerous studies conducted over the past 30 years." ...

i'll go back to the teacher issue--there are some districts/states where teachers earn a decent STARTING salary (there are at least as many where the starting salary is just barely above a living wage), but the advancement does not match private sector salaries. i'm a perfect example: at 25, when i started teaching, the NYC starting teacher salary was $43,000 (now it's $49,000)[keeping in mind there are both state and city taxes, so the take-home is not nearly what you'd think]. after six years of teaching, at 30, i was making about $56,000, with a master's degree. my friend worked for the city for four years, without a master's degree, and got up to about $65k, and now after a little more than a year in the private sector she's making more than $80k. she's 28. if i continued teaching, i wouldn't earn $80k until i was 48.

for me to get to $100k, i'd have to teach for 22 more years *and* get 30 more credits (which of course cost money). i'd be 52. and freaking exhausted.

Can you think of any private sector professions whose employees can earn $100 before they're in their fifties? YES. Many without an advanced degree, even. My friend will earn $100k before she's 35.

Now, NYC pays its teachers "relatively" well. In many states, there's simply no way for a teacher to earn anywhere near $100k--EVER. *and* they're required to keep taking (ie, paying for) coursework and pay for certifications/tests.

(Do you have to pay for another year of college to earn your raise?)

So yes, teachers ARE underpaid relative to their private sector peers.

Unions have a tough job. Teachers' interests need to be protected, but then you get into bad teachers vs good and who needs to be protected "more." I don't have an answer or solution to that. I know that teachers work their asses off for not enough money and no recognition, and in fact get all kinds of shit from people who don't know better about getting summers off. Teachers deserve the teensy tiny raises that unions have managed to secure (many of which are now gone), and teachers don't deserve to lose their pensions that unions may have bargained away or that states frittered away. Teachers don't deserve to have huge classes because of budget cuts.

I also know that there are really bad teachers who don't do anything all day but still collect a paycheck. Does it make me angry that they still have jobs when there are many qualified, eager teachers who don't have jobs? Damn straight. (Do I also know that there are many, many idiots out there collecting paychecks for not doing anything in other fields? Yes indeedy.)

Anyway, the Wisconsin governor appears to believe that he can just invalidate unions or pretend they don't exist. Like them or not, you just can't do that.

Person 2:
I don't agree that you are comparing peers. My wife is a teacher and we love it, but her "full-time" teaching job is only 0.7% full-time employment. Divide your pay by 0.7 and you would be making $70k per year if you worked the same schedule as the rest of us. Our state pay schedule is lower than yours, but the pattern of increase is basically the same. On the receiving end, I'd love higher teacher pay. On the accountability side, I'd like to see pay that wasn't based on how long you've been on the job."


your wife is a teacher and you still think her job is only quote-unquote full-time?

Same schedule as the rest of you? You can't be serious.

Hours spent in front of children are only part of the equation. Our friend S is at school for nearly twelve hours a day as a public school teacher, and I did the same as a charter school teacher for two years, which meant that I was with kids for eight hours a day instead of six.

Can you actually take a lunch break for more than 15 minutes? Can you come back from lunch and it doesn't really matter because there aren't thirty short people waiting for you in your cubicle? Can you go to the bathroom whenever you want? Does your boss require you to decorate your cubicle with certain amounts of meaningless paperwork every few weeks? Do the parents of your colleagues question your methods and motives? Do any of your colleagues or 'underlings' actively try to prevent you from doing your work, by yelling at other people, throwing things, disrupting everyone else? Are you required to submit all the work you're going to do for the next week, in detail, with the reasoning behind every piece, to your boss a week or more in advance? Are you allowed to have a personal life as a human being without worrying if it will be acceptable to the general public? Does your boss evaluate you (and can they fire you) after only seeing you work once a year, or never?

[More that I thought of later] If you manage others, do your employees talk back, refuse to do their work, call you and the other employees names or threaten you?
Does your office have a functioning air-conditioner?
Do you have a working copier??? Do you get to use it at will without knowing that within a few months, your entire office will run out of paper and can't afford to buy more?
Do you have a supply closet??!!!
Or do your colleagues break all of their and your writing utensils, pencil sharpeners, file holders, calculators, etc? And then refuse to work unless more magically appear, from money out of your own pocket?

There are a lot of difficult jobs out there. Almost none of them are as difficult as teaching.

Person 2:
Wow. "Almost none of them as difficult as teaching" is a pretty bold statement. Yes, there are many kinds of challenges from all kinds of jobs. I think we can also agree that you cannot be fired due to one bad observation by your pri...ncipal. Due process requires much more than that. Nor, for that matter, can you be fired for churning out kids who've learned nothing during their time spent in your classroom. My father-in-law is the HR Director for another school district and has published a book on HR administration in education. I'm not anti-teacher, I'm against the holier-than-thou attitude of many educators who claim they work endless days when it simply is not true.

Twelve hour days are brutal. I know from often working them myself. I, and you, also know that it is far from the norm in teaching."


My statement above is indeed a bold one, and I stand by it.

Hearing about your wife's experience, I'm sure, then, that you understand that for most teachers, there's almost no time during the day to do the daily work of teaching--grading an...d preparing for the next day/lesson. That has to be done on one's own time, whether it's at home or at school. Some teachers leave school right away and work for hours at home. I never took work home, myself.

Regardless of the number of hours worked, the intensity of the time in-classroom is insane (you have to be "on" every second, with your eyes in every corner). The work that is done inside a classroom is almost unrivaled--a teacher is also a parent, a nurse, a psychologist, a mediator, a data analyst, a behavior therapist, a battle strategist (seating charts! line spots!), etc etc. Teachers have to teach kids how to be people, so to speak, not just how to multiply.

This is why teachers are underpaid compared to their peers.

Here in NYC, your supervisor gives you a rating at the end of the year, based on observations. In many schools, administrators are too busy or incompetent to do those or do them correctly (with pre- and post- meetings with individual teachers). In my fourth year of teaching, my principal never once set foot in my classroom. My AP, who was awesome, observed formally and informally a couple times.

If a teacher gets an unsatisfactory rating, that can be the start of the process to get them out. If you're in your first few years, a U could allow the admin to deny your tenure.

This is why unions have such a tricky job--some teachers really do deserve those U ratings and need to be fired. But because of union politics and bureaucracy, it's become almost impossible to get rid of a teacher. Other U-rated teachers are the victims of admin bullying and need union protection. Ratings can be really subjective or can be recorded without any actual evidence to back it up (see again busy or incompetent administrators).

Again, I don't have the answers for how to protect schools from bad teachers and teachers from bad administrators. But I do believe that unions have to exist (and hope to whatever-deity-you-want that somehow things improve) so that kids get the kind of teaching they need in order to--oh right--earn more money than teachers in professional jobs as adults.

Person 1:
"Mr. President, in the year 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23 1/2 percent of all income. The top 1 percent earned... 23 1/2 percent of all income--more than the entire bottom 50 percent. That is apparently not enough. The percentage of income going to the top 1 percent has nearly tripled since the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, the top 1 percent earned about 8 percent of all income. In the 1980s, that figure jumped to 14 percent. In the late 1990s, that 1 percent earned about 19 percent. And today, as the middle class collapses, the top 1 percent earns 23 1/2 percent of all income--more than the bottom 50 percent. Today, if you can believe it, the top one-tenth of 1 percent earns about 12 cents of every dollar earned in America."

Do the richest 1% pay 12% of the US tax revenue?

"If you can believe this, since between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top 1 percent--80 percent of all new income. That is why people are wondering and asking: What is going on in my life? How come I am working longer hours for lower wages? How come I am worrying about whether my kids will have as good a standard of living as I had? From 1980 until 2005, 80 percent of all income went to the top 1 percent."

In that period did the richest 1% pay 80% of the US tax revenue?

The answers, of course, are both "no." Because we all know, whether we'd like to admit it, that the tax burden in America is on the poor, not the wealthy. Who make their millions on the backs of those paying the lions share of the US tax revenue."

Person 3:
"The speech is nice, [Person 1], but his conclusion is flat wrong. And so is yours. The working poor hardly pay income taxes in this country. It's not trickery or loopholes that does this. It's the tax code.

The tax burden has steadily shifted over the last couple decades to being more heavily born by high earners, not the working poor. Don't trust political speeches to provide facts. Check it out for yourself at the source - the IRS."

Person 4:
Lol. Of course the rich pay more in taxes in pure dollars. But they most definitely do not as a percentage of their income. Tax rates are currently at an all time low. But people still whine. For the wealthy they have never been lower. But ...maybe if we give them more then things will get better. Right? There's a reason Bush sr. called it voodoo economics.

The ultimate result of conservative fiscal policy is a feudal state with no middle class. It is wealth redistribution to the top. It has worked quite well with inflation adjusted income going nowhere in thirty years for most Americans. Meanwhile a fraction of the upper crust enjoys meteoric income growth.

This action in Wisconsin is just the next step on that road."

Person 3:
[Person 5], the percentage is precisely the issue. The percentage is absolutely higher for high earners. Check the IRS stats. This is not a matter of opinion." ....

yes, of course the rate is higher, but does that mean that those wealthy people are actually paying those rates? perhaps a better way to look at is the effective amount they pay. there are so many ways that rich people (and corporations) get out of paying those taxes, since their income isn't all necessarily a paycheck that gets taxed a standard rate (inheritances, stock revenue, real estate, etc).

This is an old example, and seems to be cited often. but it's effective:
"Buffett cited himself, the third-richest person in the world, as an example. Last year, Buffett said, he was taxed at 17.7 percent on his taxable income of more than ...$46 million. His receptionist was taxed at about 30 percent.

Buffett said that was despite the fact that he was not trying to avoid paying higher taxes. "I don't have a tax shelter," he said. And he challenged Congress and his audience to see what the people who "clean our offices" are taxed.

The rich can take advantage of tax loopholes, including one that allows those managers to pay the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent instead of the ordinary top income tax rate of 35 percent."

Person 6 then goes on to talk about why a flat tax is a good idea and that trickle-down economics is real...

Another person pointed out the flaw in flat tax but that it's not such a bad idea.

This thread had gotten really long and it finally petered out.