Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's So Bad About Double-Dipping?

This comes up in conversation every now and then…usually because of a newspaper article about someone doing it. But when it came up a few weeks ago in a conversation at work, I decided that it was time for me to write about it…double-dipping.

Now, for those of you who’ve never heard the term before, we’re not talking about getting a two-scoop cone from Applegate Farm or Friendly’s. No, what we’re talking about is a person retires from one government job, and goes to work for another government agency…while collecting their pension from the first job.

“Unfair!” cry the masses.

“Not so!” say I.

The masses, who don’t understand how the system works think it’s unfair because they’re paying this person twice. But they’re not. This person put in the time needed to earn that pension, and is getting that pension without any more being paid in toward it. In fact, one could argue that the person who is double-dipping costs the taxpayers less, because we don’t have to pay into their pension plan.

But there’s still this emotional response that it’s unfair that you can officially retire from a job on Friday, get your retirement benefits, and come back to work for another…or even the same…government agency on Monday, bringing home more money than you did before, because of the combination of the pension and salary. And this emotional response is probably based on jealousy that they couldn’t get such a sweet deal. So let’s take a look at this by breaking it up a little differently.

I had a Gym teacher in high school, who I’ll call Mr W. Mr W had been in the military for what they call “20 years and a wake-up,” at which point he was eligible to retire with a military pension. And I don’t care what any of the rest of you say, he earned that pension. Anytime you stay in a job for 20 years where you know there’s a likelihood of your being killed, you have earned that pension in my book.

If he went in at age 18, he was a relatively young 38 when he retired. He was young enough to start a new career, which he did…in teaching. Was it double-dipping for him to retire from the military, collect their pension, and then start working for the East Orange Board of Education? Should it matter that because of his military pension he brings home more than the average teacher? I don’t think so.

And then when he retires from teaching 20-odd years later, is there a problems with him collecting pensions from both the military and the East Orange Board of Education? I don’t see one. He earned both of them fair and square.

And in the world of regular business, Donald Keogh retired from the presidency of Coca-Cola, where he was in charge of the “New Coke” disaster, in 1993, and became chairman of the investment bank of Allen & Company the very next day…while probably still drawing his Coca-Cola pension. Do we see a problem here? Is he double-dipping?

So then why is it a problem for someone to retire after 30 or 40 years in a public service job on Friday, and come back part or even full-time on Monday? Why does this elicit cries of “double-dipping”? Especially when that “double-dipping” is saving the taxpayers money.

As I said earlier, I think it’s jealousy, pure and simple. I think that the people who complain about it being unfair are jealous of a deal that they couldn’t get from their current employers…but would gladly take if it were offered.

At least that’s the way I see it…and maybe I’ll be one of those “double-dippers” in a few years.

And I think I’ll have some ice cream while I’m at it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Slow Down Your Email

I’m doing a couple of things differently in my digital life this year. You already know that one of them is to unfollow all of my Debbie Downer friends on Facebook, and I have to say that that has improved my quality of life immensely. But there’s another thing I’m doing, that I think should benefit not just me, but the people I interact with also.

I’m slowing down my personal email.

What do I mean by this? Well, I mean that unless it absolutely requires an immediate response, I’m slowing down my response time to personal email.

Remember back in the old days of letter-writing, with envelopes and stamps, that once you wrote the letter, it would take about two days for it to get to the person, then they’d read it and spend another day or two writing a response, and then it would take another two days after that for the response to get back to you? It was a nice, leisurely six-day cycle that gave you time to do other things between letters.

But nowadays [and would someone please tell my 12-year-old daughter that it’s nowadays, and not nowendays?] we’re so accustomed to the ability to get an almost instantaneous response from someone, that we get all bent out of shape if we don’t hear back from them in the next hour. And if we haven’t heard from them by the end of the day, they’ve forgotten all about us, and we’ll never hear from them again. And the pressure’s on us too, to respond in a timely manner…where “timely” means “right now,” and without really taking the time to think about what we’re saying.

And to this, I say “Stop!”

It started with a conversation on Facebook that I had decided was taking up too much of my time and effort, as I tried to respond to every post by this one person the moment it appeared. So instead, I deliberately sat and wrote my response in Microsoft Word, went back to edit it a few times, and then posted it at midnight. He got one response from me a day, and suddenly, my life seemed to be back under control. I wasn’t responding to his posts every 20 or 30 minutes. Instead, I’d take a look at what he had written all through the day, write a one-page response in Word later on, go back and look it over a few times, and then post it. It slowed the pace of the interaction down, especially since it gave me time to look things up; and I got what felt like a large portion of my life back.

And so I decided to do this with my personal email too. But here there were two reasons. The first was to slow down the pace so that neither one of us felt under pressure to respond immediately (and poorly). The second is so that we’d each have email to look forward to on another day. You know…sort of like waiting to get a letter?

It’s funny…people say that the art of letter writing has died with the advent of email. They obviously haven’t read some of the messages I send to my friends. Yes, it’s true that many of them are really the electronic equivalent of postcards…just bringing you up to date in 25 words or less…but many of them are full-fledged letters that rival anything from the old quill pen days. The difference is that now I have copies of both the letter I sent as well as the one I received.

And…I don’t have to hunt down an envelope and stamp when I’m ready to send it

But, in any event, unless it’s something that needs an immediate reply, and some things do, I’m giving myself two days to reply.

And maybe we all should.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Does It Always Have to be About Winning?

It was the regular argument over whether or not Cheryl was too sick to go to work. You see, for me, there are two things going on here. The first is the fact that nurses and teachers are the worst two groups for admitting that they’re sick and calling in. I know from my 19 years as a teacher that it’s often easier to be wheeled in on a gurney and teach than to write stand-up for someone else…especially in a class that’s largely personality-driven, and has no textbook. With nurses it’s always the knowledge that they’re understaffed to begin with, and not wanting to “let the team down” by calling in with the plague.

The second is Jim Henson. I remember very well that Jim Henson “wasn’t all that sick” and didn’t want to put anyone out of their way when he died at age 53. I live in constant terror of Cheryl being “not all that sick.” I’ve told her that if she dies from not being willing to admit that she’s sick, I’m gonna be soooo pissed. Jim Henson was a general tragedy. Cheryl would be specific and extremely personal.

But then she said something that made me change my mind about her going in to work when she obviously wasn’t well:

I work in a hospital. If I’m that sick, that’s the best place to be, because I’m already there.


Excellent point.

I hadn’t thought of that before.

And then I said the three words that are the reason that I’m writing this:

OK. You win.

I wasn’t expecting what came next. I was expecting her to graciously accept the fact that I had conceded defeat on that point. Instead, she said, “Why does it always have to be about winning and losing for you?”

Whoa! Wait a minute. My sister asks me the same thing. Thing is, though, that it’s not always about winning and losing. Many things, in fact, probably most things are simply differences of opinion where it doesn’t matter either way. Can you really win or lose over whether Applebee’s or Chili’s is the better restaurant? It all depends on your personal taste; although, you can win or lose the coin toss over which one to eat at that night. However, in the things where it is a matter of winning and losing for me, they notice, and think that I’m that way about everything.

But I’m not. This one seemed like a very simple case of someone being right and someone being wrong. She was right about the hospital being the better place to be if you’re sick in the first place, so she won. Makes sense to me. Had we been talking about going to work in a salt mine when you’re sick, I’d be right, and I’d win. Or at least I should win.

As I said, not everything in my life is a matter of winning and losing, but the things that are, clearly are. What are some other examples?

How about when you’ve been emotionally abused, stabbed in the back, had your heart ripped out and stomped on, been thrown under the bus by people you trusted; or any combination of these…leading you to be left as metaphorical roadkill…and then not only merely survive, but thrive? To me, that comeback, that being able to say, “Ha! You thought I was down for the count, but now I’m doing better than ever!” is a definite, and much-needed win. I’ve had my share of those, and I suspect that it’s my talking about those wins that make some people think that for me it’s always about winning or losing.

But they’re wrong.

And if I can convince you to agree with me about this, then I’ve won.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Starting the New Year Right

I made a very simple resolution to myself about 2015. It didn’t involve eating more healthily, getting more exercise, reading more poetry, or any of those other lofty things that many of us aspire to at the change of the year, but never really quite pull off. It did, however, involve something that was very beneficial to my mental health.

I unfollowed some people on Facebook.

Now, please pay careful attention to what I said. I didn’t say that I unfriended them. These people are still my friends, I’ll still see posts that they specifically tag me in; what I’ve done is simply to unfollow them so that I don’t see the general stuff they post on a day by day basis.

Why? Well, there are three types of people I’ve decided that I needed to unfollow. The first consists of those who insist on bringing the all too abundant drama in their lives into everyone else’s. There is no problem in their lives that they don’t feel the need to share with the rest of the Internet. They’re like the “all drama, all the time” station.

So I’ve unfollowed them. But in the process, I’ve examined and reexamined how much of my own personal drama I share with the rest of you; and I’d like to think that unless I feel that you can help me find a solution, I don’t use my Facebook feed to vent endlessly about whatever problems I may have.

The second is those who constantly post extreme political or religious opinions (some of those political opinions being held with an almost religious fervor), who can’t or won’t listen to a voice of reason; and who see any intelligent, evidence-based argument against their belief as a sign that you’re part of the conspiracy too.

I have a policy of only discussing something with an idiot three times before just quietly walking away. But I’ve had my three times with some of these people more than three times three times three times, and enough is enough.

Buh bye. I’ll see them if they tag me, but otherwise, I’m spared.

The third is those who seem to be “Johnny One-Notes” about what’s wrong with the world. It seems that 99% of their posts that make it through to me, seem to be about all the pain, misery, corruption, evil, and stupidity in the world. There is no tragedy in the world too small, or too remote for them to post about. And I’m certain that if they had a way to see halfway across the galaxy, to a civilization that no one else had known existed until now, they’d feel it was their moral obligation to post about how the Trids were being mistreated by the monster on the mountain.

As. If. We. Could. Do. Anything. About. It.

They may think that by shining a bright light on all the dark corners of the universe, they’ll rally you to try to do something about it…all of it…but they don’t realize that a steady diet of bad news is paralyzing to the point where you don’t bother trying to fix anything anymore, because it all seems so hopeless.

And so I’ve unfollowed them. But in the process, I’ve also made a conscious effort to repost and share stories that tell of the good that’s happened in the world, rather than harping on the bad.

Removing these three toxins from my news feed already seems to be working, and I highly recommend that you do the same…

…and have a wonderful 2015 without them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dating "Fat Girls"

A few months ago, a piece from Jezebel.com about comedian Louis C K’s bit on dating fat girls came to my attention. And after I read the piece and watched the video clip, I reached one very important conclusion:

It’s more complicated than this...on so many levels.

First of all, what do you do about a really nice person who you just aren’t attracted to? A person who you like as a friend, but just don’t find attractive “in that way” for whatever reason...weight, height, hair color, face, any number of “superficial things” that really do matter to us as simple matters of personal taste? Do we ignore them and force ourselves to date someone we find unattractive because it’s “the right thing to do?”

Second, how do you avoid “dating fat girls” because (and the insensitive thing I’m about to say will make sense shortly) because “you can't do any better” and you want someone who “can’t turn you down?”

Let me explain this one here before you all start stoning me. When I was in my teens I had an extreme dry spell. I couldn’t get a date to save my life. But there was this one girl I knew who had a body that could stop traffic...and a face that could stop a clock. I decided to ask her out, figuring that no one else was asking her, so it would be a sure thing.

Boy, was I surprised when she said no. Surprised and furious. How could she turn me down...as if she was getting any better offers?

And then it hit me. Then I realized what I had just done. I had used her. I didn’t really care about her, I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted a girlfriend so badly that I'd ask out just about anyone who wore a skirt, no matter how unattractive they were to me. And I was disgusted with myself. I realized that because of the way I acted, I deserved to be turned down by her, and that she deserved to be asked out by someone much nicer than me.

So what does this have to do with dating fat girls? A lot.

I resolved from then on never to intentionally “aim low” just because my social life sucked. I resolved to never treat someone who I didn't actually find attractive as a potential date just so I could say that I had one. I resolved to be very careful in how I interacted with the “fat girls” and others who I might not immediately find attractive, because I didn’t want to use them. And there were a couple of girls who liked me since then who were “fat girls,” but I didn’t want to go there because I was afraid of doing what I had attempted years earlier. If I wasn’t initially attracted to them, I wasn’t going to go there, when I found out that they liked me. And actually, I followed this same rule with a number of “thin girls” too, who were willing to throw themselves at me, but that I just wasn’t attracted to. But still, the question would always have to be “Do I like her because I actually like her, or am I just settling because I can't get anyone else? And if it’s the second, is that really fair to her?”

That all having been said, with age comes wisdom. What you think of as fat when you're 17 is zaftig at 57; and at 57, zaftig ain’t bad. With age comes the ability to not be embarrassed by what the rest of your friends might say about your “fat” or “unattractive” girlfriend. With age also comes their not being juvenile toward you about it either.

Moreover, while the “babe” may get your attention first, and seem to have the advantage, sometimes the “fat girl,” or some other woman that you really hadn’t thought of as someone you’d pursue sneaks up from behind you and smacks you upside the head with the 2x4 of her personality, and you suddenly find yourself saying, “Oh...yeah...her!”

I know because this has happened to me a number of times. Now, I can’t pursue any of these women, because I’m happily married to someone I was attracted to almost immediately when I first met her 28 years ago; but having been smacked upside the head with the 2x4 of their personalities, I would definitely consider them under different circumstances.

Knowing that I wasn’t settling.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Life in an Institution

They should never have gotten married. And fortunately, they didn’t. When they broke up and eventually found other people better suited to each of them, congratulatory telegrams came in from all over the world.

Well…not quite. However, their friends and family members did finally express the opinions that they had kept mum about during the years that the two of them had been seeing each other. You know…“He seemed like a nice enough person, but not quite right for you.” Or, “I didn’t say anything because you seemed happy at the time, but really, this new person is sooo much better for you than she was.” And of course, there were the friends who saw the problems from the start and tried to warn one or both of them, only to have their warnings fall upon deaf ears…these people who have worked hard not to say “I told you so,” but have waited for the people involved to come back and admit that they should’ve listened, but were blinded by love…or hormones…or both.

But what if they had gotten married? What would life had been like then?

Well, my money is on them both realizing that they’d made a horrible mistake within five years. However, while my money is on them realizing that they’d made a mistake, my money is not necessarily on them getting a divorce. Nah…my money’s on them staying together for the long haul out of spite.

Now when I say this, I don’t mean that they’d stay married out of sheer spite for each other. I mean that they’d stay married out of spite for all the people who thought that their marriage was a bad idea in the first place. They’d stay married just to prove that they could do it. One of them might even say that they’d stay married in principle, “out of respect for the institution.”

Notice that at no time did I suggest that they were staying married because they cared that much for each other and thought that they could and should work things out for each other’s sake. No…it’s not about the other person involved, it’s about the institution; and I believe it was Groucho Marx who said that marriage is a wonderful institution…if you want to live in an institution.

Now despite what Jesus may have said to the two Pharisees when he was asked about divorce in the Gospel of Mark (which may not have been the answer to the question we tend to think it was) [1], ancient Jewish law was quite understanding about the fact that sometimes things don’t work out between people as they had hoped, and this is reflected in the tradition that said that the empty shell of a marriage should not be allowed…or forced…to continue. In fact, quite the contrary from other cultures, the Jews believed that marriage was not something to be endured, but to be enjoyed. It was to be a gift, a blessing, to both parties. But when that blessing turned into a curse, they believed that dissolving the marriage was the lesser of two evils.

Did you hear that? Dissolving the marriage…for the sake of the other person…was the lesser of two evils. This implies that the person is more important than the institution. Or to paraphrase something else Jesus once said, the institution was made for the people, and not people for the institution.

So what does this say about my friends who mercifully didn’t get married?

It says that their refusal to consider divorce after they realized that they’d made a terrible mistake would’ve been more about their own pride of being able to say that they stuck it out in the rotting shell of a dead marriage, than about caring for each other by doing the kindest thing for everyone, and dissolving it.

And yes, I realize that there are those whose religious convictions maintain that they must endure…but I maintain that those same convictions wrongly put the institution ahead of the two people trapped in it.

We all know people like this…who put Herculean effort into trying to keep together something that is dying or dead, for the sake of “the institution” rather than the other person, and it’s extremely painful to be around these people, lurching around in this rotting carcass that they can’t bring themselves to bury.

But sometimes you do have to bury it. Sometimes you do have to admit that it’s dead. And sometimes the kindest thing is to walk away, rather than to stubbornly try to give CPR to a rock.

Yes…marriage can be a wonderful institution, but when it’s not, we need to put the people in it ahead of the institution.