March 27, 2009


Up until about two years ago, I was an hourly employee for my entire life. It's a pretty simple setup: you agree to work at a specific pay rate, you work for an hour and you get paid your rate.* And then I entered the mystical land of "salaried exempt employee." What does 'exempt' mean? Exempt from overtime and other various protections, basically.

See, in these here United States, courtesy of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, there is a category of employee whose pay is tied to the job that he does rather than the hours he works on said job. It sounds great, if you realize that as long as you do the job you're told to do, you could work 25 hours and get paid the same as some other guy working 55, if you're more efficient. Of course, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Here in reality-land, "Salaried Exempt" is usually a fancy term for "professionals who do work that is expensive and would cost a lot of money if paid for hourly with overtime." I'm really not sure who had the great idea first, but the general premise in most companies is that 40 hours is the minimum and then "good employees" work above and beyond 40, in exchange for "good reviews" ... or something.

From where I sit, it basically amounts to doing my job and doing it well. Sure, sometimes that takes more than 40 hours, but I agreed to be salaried and exempt and so when it takes 45, I'm ok with that. After all, it's my job and I take pride in doing it well. From where I sit, the problem arises when that job balloons into a 60-hour week (which it hasn't for me, but it has for friends of mine.) Also, note that I'm not working 45-50 every week, just some weeks. I know guys who are on mandatory 45 and 50 hour weeks for months at a time, and in my books, that's also problematic.

After all, it's one thing if you work 45 to meet an urgent deadline and even moreso if you're doing it because you should have been able to do 40 but screwed something up and had to stay late. On the other hand, 5 to 10 hours every week amounts to hundreds of hours over the course of a year that you're essentially giving away ... because it's not like you're getting paid any more than you were at 40.

Obviously, there are going to be jobs (like executive management) where the pay is predicated on a scenario of more than 40 hours a week. And as long as those expectations are clear on both sides of the line, nobody can really complain when the average work week looks a lot more like 60 than 40. But the point is that I've had friends who are hired under the clear expectation of a 40 hour week and find themselves grinding out 50s for months at a time with naught but the "oh, it's only 10 extra hours and we need it for the good of the company" as their reward.

Of course, in the end, all employment is voluntary. In a down economy, sometimes extra work has to be done because the funds simply aren't there to find extra help in some smaller companies and even big companies are feeling the pinch to the bottom line. So really, the moment of truth is going to be when the economy rectifies and seeing who really gets rewarded.

And to me, that's the real irony. See, I'm not sure about a lot of other places, but I know that in the Defense Industry, the best way to get the best raise is to go work for another company. And that's pretty much anecdotally universal from every person in the field I've ever talked to. Which is odd, because sure, there's some inertia that needs to be overcome to get someone to move and switch companies, but it just seems bizarre to me that the company typically willing to pay an employee the most money isn't the company who's just benefited from that employee's skillset and effort (and who's invested the most in that employee), but a competitor. That just seems kinda counterintuitive.**

To those inclined to try to read between the lines, I'm not advocating leaving my current job, nor am I trawling for job offers. I'm just sort of puzzled. I know that large companies tend to suffer inverse economies of scale as far as things like worrying about individual employees and efficiency are concerned, not to mention that the Defense Industry is full of large economies and has an extra layer of logic insulation imposed on it by having to deal with the US Government every day. It just seems that this is all strangely counterintuitive enough that I would have seen more about fighting this sort of thing on a systematic level throughout the Defense Industry than I have.

*Less social security, tax withholdings and premiums. So really, you work an hour and get paid half of your rate, but you get the point.

** Unless, of course, that employee really wasn't worth it and the company he's leaving knows it. But then, they're usually pretty happy to see said employee hired away.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:19 PM | TrackBack

March 23, 2009

No Sympathy

So Chris Hansen published this "special" last night, which someone did the (dis?)service of sending to me.

Here, let me just give you some snippets:

Take the case of Paula Taylor, a personal trainer, who said she grew up poor near Boston and was one of the first in her family able to buy her own home. In 2006, she said she was virtually homeless, living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the sofas of family members and friends.

She was looking to rent an apartment, but then a realtor showed her a condominium for sale in a renovated house in Roxbury, Mass.

She was put in touch with a loan officer at Countrywide Financial who took her information. She knew she might have a hard time qualifying, but said she did not really understand a lot about the mortgage process. “I knew that you give them your information. And they run the numbers, and they tell you whether or not you can afford it.”

At the time, her income was somewhat erratic and amounted to less than $20,000 a year, she said. But somehow her loan application listed her income as $7,300 a month – $87,600 a year, more than four times her real income.

Countrywide issued her two mortgages to cover the full purchase price: $259,900. The first mortgage was for $194,925 with an initial interest rate of 8.625 percent, fixed for two years, then adjustable. The second mortgage, in the amount of $64,975, had a much higher interest rate: 11 percent.

The combined monthly payment for both loans was more than $2,100, well above her average monthly income of $1,600.

Pressed as to how the loan application could include inaccurate and inflated income information, Taylor acknowledged she didn’t really look closely at the loan documents and said she never noticed the amount until NBC News pointed it out to her. She denied knowingly submitting false information and pointed the finger at Countrywide: “It had to be them in order to finagle the numbers to say that I could afford this property.”

Here's another gem:

David Carbajal was not as fortunate. A gardener in Orange County, Calif., Carbajal had taken on a $600,000 mortgage, with payments adding up to more than $60,000 a year, substantially more than the $50,000 a year he said he earns. He had no real explanation as to why he never did the math to figure out that the house was beyond his means, though he was able to afford for a time because he rented a room to a friend. Not surprisingly, Carbajal ended up in foreclosure. Recently, he and his family were forced to move out.

The article goes on to contrast these two to a woman who appears to have knowingly defrauded companies of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad loans and a series of bankruptcies as if to say "look, these are the good guys who were just screwed by the system."

Do you know how much it costs to get a real estate attorney to read a mortgage? $300 in most states. And this is if you're not smart enough to say "Oh look, this mortgage has me making monthly payments that ARE MORE MONEY THAN I EARN." We're not talking 25% of your income, we're not even talking the 39% that the government will restructure your loan down to if you're past that. We're talking over 100% of your income.

What do I have to say that?

Foreclose the house.

Evict the occupants.

Imprison the borrower.

Honestly, I'd like to meet the person who thinks these morons were somehow wronged. Mostly, I'd like to meet this mythical person so I can point and laugh.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:30 PM | TrackBack

March 21, 2009

The Lemonade Stand

note: Sharpton had a response to my AIG post that prompted me to write this. I was having so much fun that I decided it deserved a post of its own.

Let's say you have a lemonade stand. It operates on the corner of your street and a some-what busy street, and it used to make you $10 an hour. For a little kid, even after expenses, that's good money. But then two people come to you and tell you that something has to change.

The first is President Barack Obama. He tells you that due to these harsh economic times, your lemonade stand needs a stimulus package. Further, if you can write a 320-page proposal complete with shovel-ready projects and plans to hire unemployed lemonade salesmen, there's no reason that you can't leverage a $40 million economic relief check. Of course, with this relief check, your Chief Lemonade Executive cannot make more than $300,000 a year and you must submit detailed plans for your new Lemonade Stand to 16 different federal agencies and your construction must have passed through a carefully-vetted process which guarantees fair and competitive bidding on supplying, constructing and operating your new lemonade stand. Oh, and you also have to agree to pay for expanded unemployment insurance and it is strongly suggested that you voluntarily pay above and beyond the Federal Minimum Wage Act requirements in order to maintain your status as a Lemonade Stand in Good Standing.

The second is AIG CEO Edward Liddy. He tells you that your first problem is that your company is not diversified enough nor is it doing enough for its top executives in order to properly stimulate the creativity that these difficult times need. He hands you a 750-page business plan outlining the keys to your success as a Lemonade Stand. The first step is to leverage all of the lemons that your company is receiving in a careful fashion so that through a series of subsidiaries, you're actually paying 14 times for the same lemon, but your customers are paying for it 23 times, in addition to allowing you to hold the money that they're buying your lemonade with for a period of 21 days before returning the change. In such time, you will take the money they gave you and use it to purchase additional lemons and sell the rights to the lemon no less than 12 times, while not ever actually relinquishing control of said lemon. Upon properly capitalizing, you will proceed to diversify your company into related fields such as lemon farming and orange juice sales along with such diverse interests as fruit futures trading, real estate in various Banana Republics where lemons are grown, and in companies that produce the buses and clothing used by the migrant workers who pick lemons. Also, you would be well-advised to purchase stock in various arms-dealing companies that sell guns of questionable legality to revolutionaries in the aforementioned Banana Republics. Once you've done all this and your company is well beyond the scope that you can manage and is filled with subsidiaries that have nothing to do with each other, you should go on a $440 million retreat after advising the government that if your company isn't saved, fruit and fruit juice as we know it will cease to exist. Oh, and then you get to tell the government that you can no longer manage such a poorly-integrated mess and that you need their help in selling off pieces of your company, including the two 500-story lemon-shaped skyscrapers in Guatemala City and East Timor that you just finished building that nobody wants.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:30 AM | TrackBack

March 18, 2009


See, unlike most of the incensed public and the politicians, I can see both sides of this issue. But before we get to all of that, for every time you hear a politician say "this is so terrible", tell him (or her) to shut up. Why are the politicians wringing their hands? Because you're angry.* Oh, and they don't want you to remember that they're the morons who took money from AIG to void the very laws that prevented the INSANELY, UNIMAGINABLY, IRREVOCABLY STUPID practices that left AIG in this mess right now.

So, after you tell your worthless shill of a politician to shut his fat pie-hole, what then? Well, first off, you should probably not send death threats to AIG, as much as you might like to emulate Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley in suggesting that the current crop of AIG execs kill themselves.**

Second, think about the actual employees at AIG, not the managers. And think about people like me, who were given a sheet of paper telling them "this is the money you're going to make next year" and then had it ripped from their hands and told "yeah, that was a lie." Do you really want to be encouraging a situation where the government can excuse employers from paying contractually agreed-upon raises, bonuses and other financial rewards. "But it's millions of dollars paid to a select few people," you say. It's the principle that's the thing, you twit. Because somewhere at AIG, some dumb schmuck is having $2000 ripped out of his hands to make happy some now-insane potential voter who's been watching 24-hour news since he got laid off three months ago.*** And that guy should get his raise, because he's the one who actually made the profitable divisions worth having and he's not gotten a damned bit of credit.

*And justifiably so... I find it rather peculiar that the employees whose decisions rendered AIG into its current model as a prosaic beacon of idiocy merit millions of dollars in retention policies. Had I any say in the matter at all, those people would be fired before they had a chance to contemplate negotiatating being retained. I should figure out a way to negotiate a retention contract for myself.

**And if you don't, what in the world are you doing reading my blog? Seriously,before you even began reading this, you knew good and well that's the sort of sentiment I would espouse. In fact, had I the money, I'd send some ceremonial suicide swords to AIG's Executive Offices and careful instructions on how to kill one's self with maximum face-saving effectiveness.

***Was he insane before-hand? Who knows. All I know is that if he's been watching 24-hour Cable News round-the-clock for the last three months, he's go the IQ of a rabid chipmunk coming down off an all-day bender of huffing paint-thinner

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:12 PM | TrackBack

March 15, 2009

Best Elmo Ever

I can't say that I've ever disliked Sesame Street... I was a big fan when I was younger. But when "Tickle Me Elmo" came along, I became somewhat anti-Elmo. Not anymore:

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 12:07 AM | TrackBack

March 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Train-Wreck

So, for those of you who haven't heard of Joaquin Phoenix, he's kind of a big deal in modern American movies. Not a huge deal, but well, he played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, he played Commodus in Gladiator and has played a number of major and minor roles in significant films over the last decade.

Anyways, he's stated that he's retiring from film to go into the music industry as a rapper.

But really, to understand this, you need to watch the Letterman bit:

And after that, there was the appearance last night at the LIV night club in Miami. Apparently, first he kept the crowd waiting for hours and then when he finally went on stage, this happened shortly after:

Some people argue that this whole scene is a joke, others assert that the man is the next Andy Kaufman. Me? I think he's INSANE. And I think it's hilarious. This guy makes Gene Ray look like a rational and well-reasoned professor of advanced science.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

March 08, 2009

Failure to Suspend Disbelief

One of the curses of getting older, wiser, more mature and better educated (well, hopefully I'm doing at least most of these things) should be the outgrowth of one's critical thinking skills. This is all well and good, and a laudable outcome... but it presents one with certain problems. The largest of these, at least in this time in civilization, is the inability to watch major motion pictures.

Movie producers and writers are cheap and lazy. They are, for instance, unwilling to go to any sort of effort to maintain internal consistency within a movie because that's hard, expensive and represents time and cost that, frankly, would be wasted most of their viewing audience. And this isn't even going after complying with the known laws of physics and principles of "How The World Works."

One could nit-pick just about any movie on the minutia of adherence to laws of physics, realistic nature of explosions and internal consistency on minute things like inexplicable maintenance of the Female Lead's flawless hair through numerous explosions, but we'll leave that alone for a minute. I'm talking real inconsistencies that cause plot turns that have no explanation to the point that it jars my immersion.

For instance, take the movie Wanted. Yes, I know, not a great choice, but it happens to have the benefit of being the movie that I watched to drive this discussion. So Morgan Freeman happens to be a "prophet" of sorts with a "magical loom" which tells him who needs to die to keep the universe in balance by virtue of kicking out mystical scarfs or something that signify who needs to die. The protagonist discovers he's abandoned the magical loom's direction which has guided the Society of Assasin Weavers (not making this up, I promise) for thousands of years and has turned the Society into a kill-for-hire outfit as opposed to what essentially amounts to Fate's Pruning Shears that they are intended to be. That's right, Morgan Freeman is making his own scarves (or something) to thwart the will of Fate via this magical loom, and we're not even to the inconsistent part yet.

Anyways, by a series of twists and turns, Freeman gives out assignments (with the interpreted magical counterfeit sweater attached) which are of his own determining rather than those dictated by the Omniscient Loom. Things eventually come to a head when the protagonist somehow comes by a quilted kill order kicked out by the Loom that indicates that Morgan Freeman must die (incidentally, Morgan Freeman plays a surprisingly good villain; much better than you'd expect.) And yeah, we're just now getting to where things get hinky. I think it's a tribute to my willingness to play along that we're 90 minutes in and I'm still watching. And to think, sometimes people accuse me of not being a good sport.

Anyways, so the protagonist (James McAvoy) storms the Quilting Bee where all of these assassins live and confronts Freeman with the Sweater of Justice that says Freeman must die. At this point Freeman pulls out quilts and doilies and crochet pillows that say that the Loom has damned all of the rest of the assassins to death and that he's saving them. And at this point, Angelina Jolie, ignoring the fact that Freeman has been forging sweaters this whole time, kills herself and all of the other assassins on the say-so of these suspect sweaters.

Yeah, I know, it's all screwed up. But my point is, if Freeman is suspect and has already demonstrably forged the kill orders in the past, why are you killing yourself on his say-so? Actually, there are a whole lot of other questions that come to mind, but at least from where I sit, I'm not killing myself regardless of who says so, especially not if it's some freaking throw-rug.

Also, for a little bit of a rant, this is why the viewing public hates the Oscars. Because if this pile of crap made $341 million and Milk made $36 million and can't even get showings in many markets. If the viewing public would rather spend more money on Wanted than several Oscar best picture nominees combined, well, that pretty well sums up the problem.

Apparently critical thinking is a bigger problem than I thought it was.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 04:10 PM | TrackBack

March 05, 2009

Gene Ray Explains Time Cube

For those who haven't seen the site:

Full disclaimer, Gene Ray is an idiot, a dumb hick and a homophobe. He is a racist moron who demonstrates everything that is wrong and nothing that is right with rural America and the South. He's also the human equivalent of a train wreck... you'd love to look away but you just can't.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:38 PM | TrackBack

March 04, 2009

Hey You, Get Off of My Side

A co-worker of mine once sent an email to the CEO of the (rather large) company that I worked for (and CC-ed it to half of the rest of the company), complaining about working conditions that were unsafe and could potentially harm employees, not to mention costing the company millions of dollars in legal fees, workers' compensation issues and other expenses. The problem was that the email was written in such a manner that there was one spelling or grammatical error for every four words. The worst part was that I agreed with this co-worker: these were issues that needed to be addressed, but now they would be relegated to the inane demands of a drunkard, all because the argumentation was poorly presented and riddled with errors.

As a fiscally conservative individual beset by a socialist administration, I feel much the same way. I am deeply troubled by the problem of attempting to spend trillions of dollars to jump-start the economy, not to mention an unwillingness on the part of the Obama administration to address the problems attendant in the banking industry for fear of upsetting the stock market. And yet, what is my alternative? Rush Limbaugh?! A Republican party that alternately embraces President Bush's spending policies, ridicules those of Obama and refuses to stand up to its own pundits? And what's worse, the current Republican party seems willing to allow itself to play Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly and make ridiculous and inane statements in an effort to "consolidate the base."

As a Christian conservative, this will hardly be the first time that a stalwart attempts to defend the ground upon which I stand and does it so poorly, unconvincingly and with such reprehensible tactics that I am forced to side with opposition in addressing my would-be ally before I can resume my own defense. And this troubles me... after all, while I would argue that I am at least a slightly above-average representative of mental acuity, I'm not that far above the median... and I would like to think that I'm defending an intelligent position. So why is it, then, that I am beset by idiots who occupy my positions? Or is it that there is an equal distribution of idiots and simply that I'm that much more sensitive to the issue because the position they defend is my own?

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:21 PM | TrackBack