AIG and bonuses

So you may have heard that pitchfork-wielding mobs are heading AIG’s way over “retention bonuses”. It’s gotten a little time on the news and in Congress lately.

Here’s the problem: when I (or most people) hear the word “bonus”, we think back to the definition of the term:

something in addition to what is expected or strictly due: as a: money or an equivalent given in addition to an employee’s usual compensation

Now I understand that people not in the credit-default-swap department of douchebaggery at AIG might have been doing amazing jobs. I know that some of them were working for a buck plus this “bonus” that’s about to be taxed by 90%. But really, if this had been called “salary” or “compensation”, this wouldn’t have resonated like it has.

The idea that a bonus can be contractually obligated to be paid is horseflop. If there’s a contractual obligation to pay it, it’s guaranteed compensation, and if it’s guaranteed compensation, don’t call it a bonus or people who understand the term as it’s actually defined might get pissed off.

I’m sick and tired of five-oh running up on my block

Have you noticed an increase in police activity lately? I don’t mean serving and protecting… I mean the type of activity that doesn’t really accomplish anything to improve law and order. I’m getting the feeling that the tight local and state budgets are translating into the government asking the cops to shake-down their citizens. Pasadena’s finest have been staking out the Fish Taco District lately, pulling people over for rolling stops and jay-walking.

A few weeks ago I parked my car at the airport for a few days and came back to a $25 expired tags ticket. No biggie – I hadn’t got around to taking the plate frame off so I could get the tag on. I was surprised to get ticketed in a parking garage, but I guess the city owns those lots. I remember expired tags being a fix-it ticket, but there were no instructions on the ticket for how to get it corrected, so I figured I’d wait for the version that comes in the mail. I got that three weeks later as a “notice of delinquency” and a notice that if it wasn’t paid in another two weeks the fine would go up to $66 – that’s an increase of 164% if I don’t pay within two weeks of receiving the official notice in the mail! There are no instructions for getting it corrected, and a perusal of the Parking Violations Bureau website turns up nothing about fix-it tickets.

Seriously, what the heck? This kind of thing bugs me a lot more than a straight tax increase because it’s a) intellectually dishonest and b) it’s actually a form of regressive tax. People who can’t afford to pay immediately pay two-and-a-half times as much!

If there are any law enforcement types that frequent this blog, I’d be interested to hear whether the city pressures the police to increase their revenue-activities in times of economic stress.

The Metaphor Gap

Obama has signaled a willingness to speak directly with Iran about its nuclear program and hostility toward Israel, a key U.S. ally. At his inauguration last month, the president said his administration would reach out to rival states, declaring “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

“They say we have stretched a hand toward Iran. … If a hand is stretched covered with a velvet glove but it is cast iron inside, that makes no sense,” Khamenei said.

Obama responded “The cast iron inside our velvet gloved outstretched hand is necessary to reinforce our foundered flesh, which was singed by the fires of many past intolerances between our peoples. If the Iranian people would only unclench their fist and uncap the restorative balm of friendship, we’re sure that that would help rejuvenate our flesh to the extent that medical science (tempered always by the wise restraint of universally held religious principles) would allow us to remove the cast iron inside our velvet glove, leaving us with with only a velvet glove over mostly healed cyborg outstretched hand of reborn mutual understanding, albeit with a loose bandage of cautious prudence, to be changed daily through the liberal application of continued diplomacy. I ask the Iranian people: what about that does not make sense? What about that is unappealing to your people?”

(via The Huffpo, sort of)

The Perilous Quest for Attention

I don’t want to dwell on this since the entire episode is catty and ridiculous, but I found myself thinking that it’s sort of weird that I had never heard of alleged conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham before she called Meghan McCain “the flavor of the month in left-wing media land because [she is] a Republican bashing the GOP”.

I mean, I’m just saying…

(via The HuffPo)

Old Spice Swagger “LL Cool J”

There are a lot of really bad commercials for men’s hygiene products. Most of the ads that come to mind for that demographic are either of the retarded-CG-animation-with-chiseled-metrosexual or athletes-playing-grabass varieties. I mean, listen Gillette, I have considered carefully and I’m 100% goddamn sure that I am not interested in the extra two blades that are available on the Fusion – treating me like an idiot and constantly reiterating the five-blade thing doesn’t really help anybody. If you want to spend your time on doing something constructive, why don’t you have your R & D geniuses revolutionize the comb? Make a comb that flexes or vibrates or shoots lasers or something. Then we’ll talk. But the razor ship? It has sailed.

Don’t even get me started on the Gillette Fusion Power Gamer. Seriously, just stop it.

Despite my misgivings with the segment, Old Spice has been doing some really good work lately. I continue to enjoy their excellent centaur commercials (that centaur guy is two things: awe- and a really great actor), but I think that their finest recent work has been with their Swagger campaign, starring LL Cool J and some brute named Brian Urlacher.

Everything about the conception and execution of these commercials is awesome. The flashback scenarios are ridiculous (notice that Brian Urlacher the Dungeons and Dragons loser is being laughed at by a gang of different Dungeons and Dragons losers that have turned on one of their own kind – truly one of the harshest phenomena in nature) and both of the celebrities do a great job delivering the actual pitch (LL Cool J’s big jackass grin is much appreciated). I think the part I enjoy most is that Old Spice aren’t merely saying that these celebrities endorse the product, they’re saying that without the body spray, the celebrities expressly would not exist. It’s a funny, ridiculous message, but it’s also sort of subversive. The Swagger commercials are basically parodies – the kind of commercials that you might make if you desperately hated making commercials and wanted to explode the entire industry.

Anyway, Old Spice has had a terrific run lately and I hope they can keep it going, even if it seems like they might not actually want to.

=== BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!1! ===

While we’re all here together, here is a special bonus commercial that I don’t think I’ve actually seen on TV before. It’s a minute long Old Spice spot with Bruce Campbell, that has some of the same “Oh, God please make us stop having to make commercials” quality as the Swagger spots.

Orkin “Broken Down”

Not many people know this, but I am something of a connoisseur of commercials (to the extent that I was at one point considering trying to implement a PVR sort of arrangement, with the commercial-skipping feature modified to exclude all shows and only record commercials. Maybe one day…). There’s something very pure about the exercise of distilling a message down to 30 seconds that I am drawn to. It’s a beautiful thing when it’s done well, and among life’s greatest disappointments when it’s not.

The best commercials defy their limited timeslots and low art underpinnings to create real moments of drama. An excellent example of this quality can be found in these two gems from Orkin – “Broken Down” and its less-frequently seen counterpart “Pizza Delivery”, where smooth-talking bug confidence men try to socially engineer their way into attacking your wainscoting. I think that these commercials strike a chord with me because I’m pretty sure that I would actually let the bugs into my home to wreak havoc. I am a victim, and Orkin knows it.

The genius moment of both commercials is the scene at the end where the bugs drive by really slowly in their cars and then speed away. Beautiful. The dialogue in both commercials is also excellent. Details like the termite wanting to call his brother-in-law and the cockroach suggesting he “just place the pizza on the table” are really disconcerting.

I have to say that between the two, I prefer “Broken Down” because I find the big termite to be more sinister and charismatic than the big cockroach. Both commercials are really good though.

High Seas Hijinks

I have been following the blog gCaptain.com for a few months now. The site’s main contributer is a USCG licensed Master Mariner of Unlimited Tonnage (sort of like the ship captain version of a License to Kill), and he writes exhaustively about the current state of all things nautical. I don’t understand most of the junk that he talks about, but every once in a while he covers something that’s really interesting. For instance, today he has considerable coverage of the following oddball story that I guess happened yesterday:

Yesterday, five Chinese vessels “shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity” to the U.S. Navy ocean surveillance ship, USNS Impeccable, as it conducted routine operations in international waters in the South China Sea. According to reports, two of the Chinese vessels closed to within 50 feet (15 meters) of the USNS Impeccable, waving Chinese flags and telling the U.S. ship to leave the area. The Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the boats in order to protect itself. It is also being reported that one of the crew of one of the Chinese vessels stripped to their underwear and continued closing within 25 feet.

(via gCaptain)

So obviously this appears to be among the most mundane international incidents ever (if you change the players from Navy warships to teenagers in canoes, you basically get a lost Gidget episode), but the site follows up that post with a helpful video explaining what the hell everybody is actually up to.

(via gCaptain)

The short version? The U.S. Navy has gotten a teensy bit antsy about the increased numbers of Chinese nuclear submarine patrols, especially since the November 2007 episode where a Chinese submarine surfaced within torpedo range of a US aircraft carrier (in the middle of a carrier battle group) apparently without having been detected by anybody, so they are aggressively using these surveillance ships to keep tabs on Chinese submarines. And I guess the Chinese don’t necessarily like the increased scrutiny.

Full disclosure: they never really explain the part about the Chinese Navy stripping to their underwear.

This particular water balloon fight probably isn’t all that significant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s cool to see that there are people out there who are actively tracking this sort of thing when it happens.