Posts Tagged ‘money’

Money Talks

18 February 2011

Dear J-

The Wisconsin State Senate is composed of 33 members, at the moment 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats. With the Republican majority in place, a bill has been introduced requirng that non-safety public unionized employees (make that teachers and government workers excluding firefighters and police officers) will be required to pay a higher proportion of their benefit costs. Based on the majority vote it would pass on a straight party-line basis except that the Democrats have done the only thing available to them: they have denied the quorum by going into hiding. There is a separate rule that states a minimum of 20 Senators must vote, so though I’m sure this is more grand politicking (wouldn’t an abstention also count as a no-vote?) I’m heartened by the tactics.

I honestly don’t understand voter discontent in this country, but perhaps that because I’m tone-deaf to one end of the political spectrum. I have seen my taxes go up, but that’s because I’m making more this year than last, and the year before too. I happen to think that health care costs grow at a fearsome rate but that’s just based on strict percentages — where my office copay was $7 when I started at my current job five years ago it’s now up to $15. Somehow we’ve decided that initroducing government money into health care is bad, while crop subsidies and bringinig home pork projects is good? When did social services get such a bad rap?

There’s a disconnect between perception and reality that we feed with a few selected facts now and again. Obama’s not even American-born, and a Muslim to boot. Bush really thought we were going after Iraq’s nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Iran-Contra. Global Warming. Gun control. We hear the parts we want to hear and disregard the rest as extraneous evidence that we just don’t know is really true or not. Yeah, those Wisconsin Senators walked out on their job. How else can they send a message through all the chaff that’s floating around? Is it fair to balance the budget on the backs of teachers? Which services do you cut instead? Or do you raise taxes? It is the politically weak who suffer, and in this country that almost always means those without money. Who contributes against health care reform? Health Insurance companies. Who is loudest against EPA regulations? Big industry polluters, including oil compnaies. Those equations are remarkably simple but dig back into who’s sent the money and you’re on your way.

Mike

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Battle Money

19 January 2010

Dear J-

Every so often I go through and clean out the camera that usually sits in the bottom of my purse satchel. I’ve been carrying it around for at least three years now and I’ve managed to take only a handful of pictures with it, really; the same thing happened with the Olympus 35RC I carried around in my old backpack; I managed to run maybe one or two rolls of film through before I got sidetracked into a video game habit. I tend to overcollect; there are games on the shelf that haven’t been collected, just as there are cameras and lenses which haven’t imaged scenes for years now (I’m looking at you, Nikkor-NC 35/1.4).

I suppose I feel a need to prepare for the unexpected, no matter how unlikely. I spent the last couple of weeks mulling over various portable photographic options, convinced that I had enough room to throw together a flat-topped SLR, like a Pen or GF1 hasn’t got my name on it in the eventual future. Throughout elementary school I saved bandage tins (when they came in tins) and armed with a basic knowledge and my usual pack-rat habits, would squirrel away random bits of aluminum foil, matchbooks, stale candy, and analgesics as a survival kit. After all, you never knew when it would come in handy, and wouldn’t that be a feather in my cap, to have that on hand?

The mind tends to invent the need for things you don’t need; I’ve been throwing around different lenses in my head because of a perceived need for missing focal lengths, for instance, or that I may run out of things to watch or play. When it comes down to it I can’t predict the future, and I sure can’t ensure that I’ll always have the right tool or survival kit at hand. Right now it’s not hard to drive those feelings down by asking the easy question of how often I’m actually going to use it, but I can’t count on it forever; the paean to materialism isn’t the most uplifting message, but understanding it is half the battle, really.

Mike

Debit Credit

9 July 2009

Dear J-

I spent a lot of money today — on plastic — and so I got to hear the query “debit or credit?” a lot.  The question dogged me from dentist (I love my dentist, but she has a disconcerting habit of talking about me as though I’m some sort of cretin [“Michael is a bleeder … and a mouth-breather, so that doesn’t help.”] while I’m in the chair, mutely protesting with two hands in my mouth) to doctor (more tests) to smog check (hooray, finally passed!) to tune-up (oil, radiator, transmission, and differential fluid all changed) to bookstore (more on this later), I flash the plastic and get that same challenge.  Debit or credit.  It makes me think of a check register, where you write down the innumerable debits paid to various businesses for items both needed and not, and sprinkled in here and there, the chocolate chips of credits:  paychecks, grandma’s birthday money, gifts from folks who’ve given up on guessing preferences.  I understand that the credit in credit card implies “I Owe You” but damn if it wouldn’t feel better to have the positive credits of a check register.

I like used books in general, and the Book-Off near our house in particular; it’s staffed by folks who don’t look askance at you for taking your time browsing through various titles trying to decide, and the shelves are unusually tidy — while I’m all for the occasional treasure hunt, it’s hard to buy books you can’t find.  Despite never quite knowing what it is I want as I arrive, I always seem to walk out with more than I had counted on (today, catching up on Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and the earlier Mail — now that episode in KCDS volume 4 makes sense).  I started in on used textbooks in college because they were cheaper, but I stayed around because the previous owner(s)’ underlining and highlighting were interesting — occasionally helpful, but each one was a mystery story:  why that phrase or equation?  I wonder about the folks giving up personalized books; it’s not in the same category as re-gifting, and it’s impossible to keep everything you’re ever gifted, but something inside me is always sad to open a used book to see some personal inscription inside.

Willie Keats 4261 -sm

It’s the end of the day and as part of the traditional taking inventory, I get to recount the things I did; between morning errands and lunch, I didn’t get home until roughly 2:30.  I still had time to break open the books and blaze through Ed Lin’s first novel (Waylaid; now need to dig up the movie somewhere; I believe Netflix is going to start calling before long), but caught myself whistling as I stepped out to walk the dogs later this afternoon.  That’s when it hit me — not only had I managed to successfully run all the errands on my menu (and therefore had a productive day), I’d managed to also steal a day from work as well.  No spinning my wheels trying to gain traction on the intractable issues; debit or credit?

Mike

Dire Consultant

12 May 2009

Dear J-

Spend the money for consultants and you expect results; however, the report card on consutants can’t come from the people they report to, it has to come from how aware the site is of their impact.  At work, we keep getting innumerable surveys and in my effort to drive them off, I’ve started giving honest, scathing answers.  It’s almost as if, when asking leading questions hoping to justify your existence, the answers you get validate none of it.  Let me explain.

Do it all, do it now, do it right.  We’re told that the expectation is to instead set realistic due dates, but woe to those who underestimate the work.  Oh, and don’t forget that the person on the phone, the person at your desk, the paper in your inbox, e-mail, instant message, pager — that’s your highest priority.  It’s still not clear to me, even though we mockingly exclaim “that’s why they pay us the big bux,” whether or not that means swallowing everything they fling at you in an effort to find what sticks.

We keep shifting focus without cease; last week’s initiatives are overtaken by this week’s hot topics, and it’s easy to drop the baton when trying to express the right priority.  Today I noticed a new stop sign that popped up on-site; instead of the four simple letters S-T-O-P there’s two sentences of dense text that are nearly worthy of a flowchart on their own; we overcomplicate things in an effort to be correct in all occasions, leaving none actually happy.

Mike

Developing Issues

22 December 2008

Dear J-

I’m not convinced that developers pay their fair share of costs; the Union-Tribune talks about the brave developers who are gamely plunging forward with building new houses in the uncertain housing market, but I don’t believe that brave is the right adjective for it.  What if the city wasn’t there to fast-track permits and provide infrastructure?  How can banks lend money to them and not extend relief to homeowners?  I know, the answers are not as simple as I make them out to be.

Why is it a lesson to be learned in overextending yourself when it happens to a person, but warrants government intervention when companies are teetering on the brink?  I’ve mentioned before how I’m starting to understand the WTO protests — in this world where money is power, buying protection and access, it stands to follow that the moneyholders also hold the strings; it’ll buy better lawyers, it’ll buy favorable laws.  How are we, as individuals, expected to compete?

This is why brand loyalty amuses me, even as I find myself a vapid, rapid consumer of goods; companies appreciate your business, but your love goes unrequited.  You may buy (or avoid) anything with an Apple, Microsoft, Canon, Sony, Nikon, etc. logo on it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to love you back by making sure that, for instance, you have a job to pay for your consumer habits.  Cost-cutting is rampant; even as we scale back on consumer spending, so too do companies chase the dollars down by cuttng payrolls and moving production.  Thus with developers — yes, they make homes, but to put those on a market already hypersaturated doesn’t make any sense.  The laws and regulations they seek to streamline are set in place not to protect bureaucracy, but to protect citizens.  I sometimes decry government as too big and too complex, but I still wonder if it does enough to regulate consumer protection, given that purse strings turn into puppet strings with time.

Mike

German Glass

25 June 2008

Dear J-

Several electrons have been spilled here regarding the use of German lenses and whether or not the premium they demand is justified or not.  You have to realize, of course, that no nationality has a corner on optical design; certain lenses will perform better than others at different stops (apertures) and focus distances, and not every lens is a consistent performer.  But I’ll stand by my original assertion that for 90% of the world’s photographers, it’s technique and not equipment that hold back wonderful images.

Still, there are those (and I begin to count myself amongst those, even though I know the current equipment is perfectly adequate) who’ll willingly pay a premium when the lens bears that Zeiss or Leica name.  Part of the reason I bought into the 4/3rds system was the ability to play with German lenses — the original intent, after spending multiple luminous moments with the Zeiss gem that comes on the Sony DSC-V1 and -V3 (and, reputedly, on the Casio EX-P600 and -P700) was to get a Contax/Yashica mount adapter as a supplement to a Nikon adapter, but a good deal came up on a Leica R adapter.  I know, rationally, that my photographs aren’t incredibly better just because of the brand of lens I put in front of the camera — and the results seem to bear it out, there’s nothing extraordinary about the Nikon/E-1 combo in relation to the Leica/E-1, at least to my untrained eye.  But there is something else at play here, whether it’s the tactile rock-solid feel of the Leica R lenses, or the way they balance, or the fact that, since most of my photos all year were taken with the Panasonic DMC-LC1 prior to shifting over to the E-1, I’ve become accustomed to the Leica direction of operation.

Funny thing is that I was that same guy who sneered at folks overpaying for that red dot — why, if the Leica R lenses were so much more expensive and slower than the Nikon exotica, would anyone pay the difference?  I can’t say that I’ve found some magic justification, either.  All I really know is that I’ve been shooting a lot more frames lately; whether that’s the camera or the lens, it’s having a decided effect on the proportion of keepers, or rather, displayers.  You can’t approach photography as an investment hobby, which is unfortunately the direction that rangefinder photography has drifted into; that’s like telling an auto mechanic to take good care of their wrenches as they’ll have collector’s value in the future.  Undeniably, there will be historical value; unfortunately, they make such good tools that you’re compelled to use them, wrenches or lenses.

The two Leica R lenses I do own were cheap because of their cosmetic condition; they duplicate focal lengths and abilities I’ve already got in Nikon mount so truthfully, I have no business owning them.  It’s strange that they already feel far more natural — reproducing the scene as-I-saw-it and not interfering with the process — than anything I’ve used before.  I may be compelled to make it a trio or more, especially as several of those lovely Telyt 400 f/6.8’s have materialized at reasonable prices … I could always use a bit more hand-held reach.

Mike

Play Money

23 June 2008

Dear J-

Tomorrow I get to try again with this jury service; I promise to avoid an excessively large hamburger for lunch, which is not to preclude the consumption of multiple smaller patties of ground meat.  The NHL Entry Draft has come and gone, with three Chiefs being named (Tokarski went on the second day, while Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans, the other stellar WHL ‘tender this year went in the first round:  such is the power of having watched Carey Price in your formative years).  The draft ran as expected, with the exception of Justin Azevedo slipping down further than I would have expected merely on the basis of his size.  Then again, what would I be doing here ranting aimlessly if I had any sort of demonstrated ability to pick players?

I find myself carelessly, casually bleeding money as though it came in the mail safely ensconced amongst the preapproved credit flyers.  We go out nowadays and expect to drop $25 a meal, including tip; it starts to add up when much of your weekend entertainment revolves around new flavor frontiers.  The pain isn’t as apparent when you flash your plastic everywhere — even the burger places are happy to accept your credit cards now — but it leads to an unrealistic sense of how much you’re actually spending.  Figure that half my check gets consumed in taxes, retirement accounts, healthcare, and other necessities, and suddenly $25 isn’t looking like a thin slice, it’s a significant, measurable amount of my time.

One of my friends loaned her son her ATM card to go pick up some cereal and milk.  He comes back, puts the groceries away, and hands the receipt and card back — $100 later.  The cashier had made a mistake, charging him for eight boxes of chocolate-covered strawberries he swore he never bought (I would need to know more about his social life to verify the veracity of his tale, but his mom swears it was believable), but rather than question the bill’s magnitude, he just covered it with the ATM card and went home.  We lose perspective on prices without the exchange of (now brightly-colored) bits of paper and metal.

Mike

A-Teamsters

24 November 2006

Dear J-

How in the world did the A-Team ever make any money? By the time the episode ends, they’ve returned grandma’s pension money, less straight expenses (uh, light bulb — sorry, that’ll be 25 cents), with a smile. No wonder B.A. had a bad attitude.

And what’s the deal with the female member of the Team? To be eight again, and the biggest worries whether or not BA would bump off Murdock halfway through the episode …

Mike