Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wrong target

This is exactly what I was concerned about in my last blog post about the AIG bonuses and why I thought our collective rage was not going to suit us well. In our haste to punish somebody for the inequities we all despise (including myself), we are not thinking and as a result are punishing the wrong people. The link is to a letter from an AIG exec to Liddy, and it is his resignation (it was published on the NY Times Op Ed page Tuesday). You really should read it. Seriously. Here it is again.
Here are a couple of quotes:
"I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage."

"As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house."

And from the WSJ opinion journal:

"There is not a shred of justice in the hysteria that followed. As AIG chief Ed Liddy explained on the Hill last week, the people receiving retention bonuses were not the same people who launched AIG's unhedged housing bets that brought the company down. Those people were gone. Their pay is already being clawed back.

Those who remained had been asked a year ago to stay and work themselves out of a job. In accepting the terms offered to them, they committed no offense (say, failing to pay taxes). Their only crime was possessing marketable knowledge -- all the more marketable because of the opportunity for hedge funds and other counterparties to profit from AIG's distress. Had the company submitted to Chapter 11 rather than a government takeover, a bankruptcy judge might well have authorized identical incentives to minimize losses and maximize recovery for legitimate stakeholders."

The people we are are trying to punish are not the people who caused the mess. The people whose children are being threatened, who are being urged to commit suicide, who are being stalked by an entire country? Oops - wrong guys, folks. We are behaving irrationally. And no, I don't really feel sorry for this guy - his salary is likely more than I make over several years. However, so are the salaries of most professional athletes. Inequities are everywhere. Picking one example of an inequity to crush into oblivion does absolutely nothing to fix the problem and is simply unjustifiable. Having the employees who have been working to get us OUT of the AIG mess leave the company ultimately does nothing but hurt AIG AND the U.S.

That deep breath and a step back are still in order. Lynchmob mentality is a scary thing.

Friday, March 20, 2009


This current blowup over AIG - I'm having a hard time getting het up about it. Seems as if I'm one of the few that aren't jumping on the popular righteous anger bandwagon.

First off.
The amount of these bonuses relative to the bailout money received by AIG is ($165,000,000/$180,000,000,000) = .0009166. Speaking in percentage terms, this is .09166%, less than 1/10 of 1 percent. Let's round up to one tenth of a percent. Say you make $50,000 per year salary. One tenth of 1% of this amount is fifty bucks. If you make on the order of $100,000 per year, we're talking one-hundred bucks. No, you don't seek out to toss $50 or $100 out the window. You *might* haggle over it during a car buy, but speaking for myself, I'd be willing to let if go if I was tired and wouldn't lose a wink of sleep over that decision. Let's talk kids. Say we give them $20.00 for their birthday money. Say they lose 2 cents of it. I wouldn't hang mine by their toenails, refuse to ever give them money EVER AGAIN and ground them for life because of the poor choices that caused them to lose 2 cents.

Perspective, people. Bad choices? Yes. A tragedy of epic proportions? I don't see that.

Retention bonuses are a commonly used practice by companies to keep important employees during times of crisis. I'd say AIG fits the bill for being in current crisis. People - like it or not, the US taxpayers now own 80% of this company. We do not want it to fail at this point. Really. There's something to be said for keeping employees there who know enough about the business to unravel the mess that AIG and the US public is entangled in. Tell me what talented financier on earth would go to work for AIG now? I imagine the resumes aren't exactly pouring in. You don't want to lose any quality employees at this point. We WANT AIG to pull itself out of this mess. This will take people who know what they are doing. They need a reason to continue to work for AIG.
Connie Reeve in an article from CBC News, Canada:
"As you can imagine, in businesses where the intellectual capital is the essence of the business, losing your best and brightest because people fear what is going to happen in the future is a bad thing," she said. "Retention bonuses have a place because they serve a legitimate corporate purpose."

(click to see the full article).
The use of retention bonuses is not exactly an unusual move.
Distasteful? Perhaps. Well, a hearty YES.

Worthy of gnashing of teeth and threats? Mmmmmm, no.

These bonuses frustrate me. They do not, however, signal the end of civilization as we wished it were, however. I don't know it all, but I am willing to open myself up enough to acknowledge that there may be legitimate reasons for paying out bonuses. I think we are at a place in history right now where more than ever, intellect needs to trump emotional knee-jerk reactions. Before threatening to massacre those receiving bonuses with piano string, before we allow Congress to hastily pass an excessive and ill-thought-out tax on a small group of individuals, we need to take a collective deep breath, regain perspective and attempt to make judgments and decisions based on facts and not emotions. Hold on - slow down and think this out.

A bit of frustration is fine, and I join with you all in that. This collective outpouring of abject hatred is pretty frightening to me, on the other hand.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Yesterday was a lovely day. We've had a week of cold rain, and yesterday was bright and sunny and in the 70s. Yesterday, I took the day off from work to get my hair colored and cut, and to finally get to the doctor for my annual physical. It was a slow day, and spring was in the air.

Yesterday was a lovely day. Yesterday, my colleague and friend took the day off from work to kill herself.

She was almost exactly my age, and was born in Japan. I've worked with her for nearly a decade. She was one of the most private people I've ever met. That doesn't mean she wasn't friendly - she was warm and interested in everyone she met. She just didn't share anything about her personal life. She was exceedingly athletic and worked hard to stay in shape. She routinely crushed my office mate in badminton. In fact, she would travel up and down the east coast playing in badminton tournaments, and would win. Her research was highly respected. She was beginning to make a splash. She modeled impacts of aerosols on the atmosphere, which is a crucial part of climate change. She was working with satellite groups and global modeling groups to study this, and everyone enjoyed working with her. She got her green card just last week, and colleagues gathered in her office for cake to celebrate. She'd been trying to get her green card for about 8 years. Seems like things were falling into place for her.

We locals always thought of her and were concerned to make sure she wasn't lonely. She lived alone and was in infrequent contact with her parents in Japan. She was always invited to holidays with someone from work. She occasionally came to my house for Thanksgiving, and would bring sushi. She would always bring presents for my children - often with a Japanese twist, and they loved her. She would sit and talk with them and would LISTEN to what they told her. She was very cared about. I have been at home receiving emails and making phone calls all evening. "Shocked" is an understatement.

Being at work today was surreal. I work with a bunch of scientists. Pocket protectors and glasses held together with tape are realities. Most of us wear jeans and t-shirts to work, and there is a passionate love for science - for discovering the truth. As such, no one has much time for frivolity. As you might expect, people are very logical. Today, however, our clumsy and soft innards were exposed. Managers were wandering the halls, trying to make sure "everyone was ok" in an obvious attempt to find a way to stay busy. We ended up going out to lunch together. It took no less than one hour for us to organize ourselves and decide where to go. None of us were capable of making a decision. After spending the morning in stupors, all we wanted was community. We needed to talk about her and talk about our children and reconfirm our connections. I made phone calls tonight that were hard to make. I've seen very strong friends dissolve into tears. Phone calls and emails have come in all day today from colleagues across the country as the word spread. Ours is a smallish, tight-knit community.

As I learn more, circumstances surrounding her suicide are complicated and painful. There is the stuff for soap operas here. There are some people at work that I am very worried about; some highly respected and competent scientists. Life for some people has been shifted to an entirely new phase. Things will never be the same. Most of us have been at work for 15-20 years. I think back to decade(s) ago and the innocence of what is to come for we new green wannabies makes me weep. If I could hit rewind and if we could redo, could anything really be different? Is there anything we could have done to stop it? One very intuitive colleague tried. She contacted as many professionals as she could think of and willingly let herself be seen as the hysterical worry-wart. It didn't help. My friend is still gone.

I have so many thoughts about today, but for now grief is all I can see. I don't know why this happened. The caring was there, the compassion was there. We were not blind. We were not stupid. There are times, I believe, where all the human intelligence and compassion and intuition is not enough. And that sucks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


What do the following have in common?

Edamame (both fresh and frozen)
Fresh blackberries
Goat's milk
Fontina cheese
Tuscan bread
Apricot preserves

These are all impulse buys that I found in my shopping cart when I stopped by Trader Joe's today to buy veggies and something for dinner (TJs cheese enchiladas). I swear, my eyes popped out of my head as I unloaded the shopping bags.

Oh, and fresh cut flowers.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

not my finest moment

Wow. I am such bitch. Seriously. And I am so glad I didn't have me for a mother.

Q was asked to be in both the 7th grade and the 8th grade bands this year. He's a good little clarinet player; he's 1st chair in the 7th grade band and plays 1st part in the 8th grade one. The 8th graders had a competition today (identical to the UIL competitions I went to in Texas). They prepared 3 pieces for their concert performance and then had a sight-reading portion right afterward. Q has been so excited about being in the 8th grade band. He came home this fall and found a recording of one of their songs on the internet so I could hear it. He hums their songs all the time. And *I* have been so excited about going to this. It takes one second of being in the hallway outside a school auditorium, sounds of bands coming from all around, seeing band directors racing through the halls and parents filing in and out of the auditorium to bring back a flood of memories. The palpable tension in the warm-up room with the band director trying to hide his own nervousness while calming the rest of the group down...the SMELL of the building...the quiet click click click of shoes tiptoeing up and down the hallway and the hushed whispers, trying not to disturb the judging...

So anyway this morning, Q had an early baseball practice for 2 hours, then had an hour to come home and shower and get back up to the band hall to catch the band bus. He had a good practice at BB but somewhere within the hour at home, he started to feel sick. I persisted in getting him out of the house and into the van and drove him to the school. By that point, he was miserable, so I went to tell the band director that he was feeling ill and that I would drive him down to the contest so he wouldn't have to ride in a school bus.

I stopped at a pharmacy on the way and pumped him full of Tylenol cold medicine and bought him a sprite. We drove 45 minutes down to the site of the contest. Q slept most of the way. When we got there, he started complaining to me that he couldn't do it - he just couldn't go through with it. Being the loving mother that I am, I told him I wanted him to please give it a try and that if he didn't think he could participate, he would need to tell his band director himself. I'm pretty sure I didn't think he was faking it - Q doesn't do faking well, and plus, his sister has spent the last 24 hours throwing up. So it was no real surprise that he would have been getting sick.

The rest of the band arrived and Q and I found Mr. Hodges.
"Hey buddy, you gonna make it?" Mr. Hodges asked. Q shook his head and started mumbling "I can't do it, I can't do it." I looked up at Mr. Hodges in a panic, wanting him to plead with Q to please try. I'm the boy's mother, so I'm supposed to be the empathic one, right? It was Mr. Hodge's job to be the one pushing him. Mr. H was clearly not thrilled at losing one of his players 1 hour before competition, but he told Quinton to go home. "Thanks for trying buddy - just go home and get better."

I walked Q back to the van and drove straight home without saying a word to him. Q apologized several times, but I did not want to say the wrong thing, so I remained silent. Quite honestly, I was *upset* with the boy. Some things are bigger than we are. Some things are worth giving more of yourself to than you dreamed was possible. A sign of true character would be pushing through the pain - putting the group ahead of yourself - pushing yourself beyond limits that you thought were there. He should have gone with the band and played through the competition. Then I could have bragged to everyone about how selfless he is and how dedicated and determined. You are not supposed to only excel, but you are to excel well beyond expectations. Right?

Good god, I suck.

In my defense, I KNEW that if I were to start talking to him, I would be unable to NOT vocalize disappointment in him, and despite my being smack in the middle of a massively heartless Mommy Dearest moment, I DID realize deep down somewhere just how awful I was being. I tried to protect him the only way possible at the time. Of course my silence did come across to him as disappointment, but I figured it was the lesser of two evils. Of COURSE I know I should have been comforting him and rubbing his shoulders and simply being a mother to him. That's what normal mothers would have done.

We got home and Q immediately fell into his bed and fell asleep. I did remove his shoes for him and straightened his covers. I also leaned over and whispered to him that I was never upset with him - that I was disappointed in the situation and sad for him that he had to miss the contest but I was not upset with him. He kind of grunted so I think he heard me.

How my children will survive me, I do not know.

Friday, March 06, 2009

more sundry yet again

Here are some random thoughts/things I've had or heard over the last few weeks that have either tickled me or touched me, or both.

My son Q made the baseball team at his middle school. Despite the HEAVY load for practices (every single school day until 6 pm and also on Saturdays for the love of Pete), I am simply ecstatic for him. He is ultra shy and reserved - and more than a bit of a geek. I thought that making the team would be a much needed boost for his confidence, especially since he's only a 7th grader. There are only about five 7th graders that were selected. Plus, I figure the label of "jock" can't hurt in the geek label department. Not that there's anything wrong with being a geek (spoken from vast experience). But still. The additional label of "athlete", as long as we're labeling, is a good thing, IMO. He is, in fact, very happy and has been doing well. But, back to the geek department, he is addicted to wearing this blue fleece jacket...which he buttons ALL THE WAY up. It drives me absolutely crazy. It's slightly too small for him so it barely hits his hips and stretches up to his nose, thanks to the excessive buttoning. Here's his chance to move into the "cool guy" department and he's walking around with no neck. On the way home one day, I asked him "Q - why on earth do you wear your jacket buttoned up like that?" He rolled his eyes and told me that it was a "reflection of his personality"... that he's a closed and private person and his jacket tells the world that about him. OK then. Can't argue with that.

My house is apparently smack in the middle of a major migration route for noisy black birds. It warmed up enough today that I turned off the heat, opened the windows in the sunroom and laid back on my comfy couch with my favorite soap opera on the TV. Unfortunately, I couldn't HEAR it because of the extremely loud birds. It was like I was in the middle of the Amazon. I am not exaggerating, I swear. I looked out into the woods behind our house and could see literally thousands of birds, all perched in the trees directly surrounding my house. They were being extraordinarily loud, too. I've no idea what it was they were so worked up about but they were certainly busy telling each other about it. I knocked on the window, opened and shut the door, let Roxy bark, and yelled loudly at them. Other than flicking the proverbial bird at me, I was totally ignored. I had to satisfy myself with calling my neighbor Mary and cursing them out to her. At least she understood.

WRT the cafeteria at work - it has gotten to the point where the cafeteria workers no longer even want to joke with me about how much of a rut I am in. I get the same sandwich every day (veggie sub on wheat, no mayo, extra hot peppers) and a diet Dr. Pepper. Used to be that the ladies making the subs and the ladies working the registers would smile at me and say things like "Hmmm, so what might YOU be getting today? Ha haha ha ha ha." Lately, they just make my sub and ring me up and send me on my way. I'm in so much of a rut within my rut that it's not even fodder for jokes anymore. In fact, I'm afraid to get anything different now. The spotlight on me would be too much to take. (Refer to my first story of my introverted son Q. NO IDEA where he gets it. No idea.)

I've been spending way too much time looking through blogs of global warming deniers lately. I've been doing a lot of thinking and psychoanalysis about why these people are so angry and so hateful, and so loathe to listen to "expert" opinion. I have several theories, all of which are kind of depressing. Global warming/climate change is a really big weight on my heart. It sure would be a lot more simple if I didn't love my children so much, you know?

For those interested in my daily activities: daughter E has been unable to eat anything solid for about 24 hours now. High fever, vomiting and other assorted illness symptoms abound. It is just so sad to look at her pale, pathetic face. I certainly hope this bug moves on quickly so I can get my sassy daughter back. My sweet puppy is also under the weather with an ear infection. Medicine bottles and measuring spoons and thermometers decorate my kitchen cabinets. Q goes to district band contest tomorrow. Sniff. You'd better believe I'll be there with my ear pressed to the door during sight-reading. I sure miss those days.

By the way. Q got his Toano Baseball sweatshirt today. I think it may have replaced the hated fleece jacket. I was thrilled. Until he pulled the hood up. "NO!!!!" I cried. "No, Q! You don't actually wear the hood over your head!!!!"
He looked at me calmly and said "I do if I'm cold...."