News

Getting the Paper

The daily paper The Oregonian sent reader Ken Bilderback a note thanking him for being a loyal subscriber. The reader forwarded the note to Jim Romenesko, drily pointing out that loyalty comes at a cost: “Another reason newspapers are failing. We subscribe to The Oregonian. The good news is that we will get the Thanksgiving and Christmas papers we’re paying for. The bad news is that our subscription will be shortened because of it.”

That’s because the “special” holiday editions of the paper cost more, being chock full of good stuff / unnecessary junk like “money-saving coupons.” The conversation continues on Romenesko’s FB page:

Do you invest in your local paper, and if so, do these pricing shenanigans bother you? My local paper is the NYT, and I do subscribe; my loyalty is boundless and my enjoyment — which encompasses the ability to mock without mercy – is priceless.

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Kickstarter’s New Motto: Kaveat Emptor

Anonabox, the Washington Post reports, may not just be a silly name for a product; it might have the distinction of being a Kickstarter cautionary tale.

But the Anonabox, which has raised more than $600,000 from 9,000 people since going online four days ago, is a curious case. Most Kickstarter controversies erupt after the fact, when a project has been funded and the creator fails to deliver. (Earlier this year, in fact, Washington’s attorney general sued a Tennessee-based project that did just that.) But funders began to notice problems with the Anonabox — a tiny, affordable Internet router that anonymizes your online activity — long before that point. There were glaring discrepancies, they noted, between creator August Germar’s original description of the Anonabox and actual pictures of the device online. Germar claimed that he had designed the hardware from scratch, when, in fact, the primary components were bought almost off-the-shelf from China.

Haha oops! And backers are not happy.

Since 9 a.m. today, donors have withdrawn roughly $14,000 in pledges, or 2 percent of the project’s earnings to that point. (Under Kickstarter policy, backers can change or cancel their donations at any time before a project closes, with some exceptions if they cancel in the last 24 hours.) According to Anonabox’s Kickstarter page, more than 200 people have contributed at least $250 to the project, and a handful have donated considerably more.

Funny that Kickstarter refuses to get involved in a case of fraud and misrepresentation, whereas GoFundMe was quick on the draw when it discovered that a woman was trying to raise money for a lawful abortion. But the bigger lesson is, of course, caveat emptor, everyone.

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Should Economic Equality Have Come Before Marriage Equality?

At the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg reflects on the new movie Prideusing it as a launching pad to discuss whether the LGBTQI[infinity symbol] rights movement made a mistake by putting marriage first, as a goal, instead of economic equality. After all, she writes,

According to a Williams Institute analysis of data from the American Community Survey, lesbian couples in the United States are more likely to live in poverty than married heterosexual couples, and gay African American couples “have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans … Almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1 percent of children living with married different-sex couples. African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type.”

Marriage, she argues, only helps those who are partnered for the long-term. Passing a national Non-Discrimination Act would help more broadly. Especially because lots of people in the community are poor. The Williams Institute reports, “We find clear evidence that poverty is at least as common in the LGB population as among heterosexual people and their families.”

Yet many folks — up to and including one of the nation’s most powerful short-sighted bigots men, Justice Antonin Scalia — harbor the misconception that to be gay is to be rich. In an opinion in the 90s, Scalia wrote of the queer community’s “high disposable income” and its concurrent “disproportionate political power.” Presumably Scalia watched an episode of “Will and Grace” and another of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and drew conclusions. But he’s not alone, here or abroad. The Atlantic calls the widespread notion that gays have influence and cash “the Myth of Gay Affluence.”

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Advice for Retirement: Invest in a Metal Detector

There’s gold in them thar hills — at least, the hills of Scotland, as a retiree with a metal detector recently discovered:

Amongst the objects is a solid silver cross thought to date from the 9th or 10th century, a silver pot of west European origin, which is likely to have already been 100 years old when it was buried and several gold objects. “Experts have begun to examine the finds, but it is already clear that this is one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland,” Scotland’s Treasure Trove unit said in a statement.

The Viking hoard is McLennan’s second significant contribution to Scotland’s understanding of its past. Last year, he and a friend unearthed around 300 medieval coins in the same area of Scotland. … The latest find, also containing a rare silver cup engraved with animals which dates from the Holy Roman Empire, and a gold bird pin, is the largest to be found in Scotland since 1891 and could be worth a six-figure sum, the BBC said.

(If, like me, you’re reading the Outlander books, about a WWII nurse who accidentally time-travels back 200 years to the Scottish highlands, this news is particularly apropos and entertaining.) Vikings, man! They came to rape and pillage and they did a lot of burying treasure in Scotland and England too, which means there’s probably more to find.

But even if you can’t fly out to the UK and start marauding, you can still find money just by looking down when you walk: I’ve collected easily $50 over the years that way, as well as a really pretty tiny diamond ring. One morning, when I was a kid, I found $100 in an unmarked envelope hidden in my dresser. No idea what the story was but for a while there I lived like a king.

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What Your Sex Life Has to do with Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg

His estimate for how much money he has spent on first dates in the past six months was $1,000. “That’s approximating $15 per, because a first date is one drink: I take her to a bar and then I get a beer, and following suit she usually gets a beer too, even if she leaves half of it, so it’s not too bad.”

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Being a good girl did not work for Lilly Ledbetter. It will not work for you.

If your boss believes that your superpower includes 1) doing A+ work, and 2) having no needs — being serene in your knowledge that, however unfair it may be that you earn 75% of what the guy next to you takes in, everything will come out in the wash eventually — then of course you’re going to be hesitant about approaching him for more money. His good opinion of you is tied to his assumption that you are non-threatening.

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Who’s a Real Artist? Ask the IRS

The New York Times reports felicitous news for working artists with day jobs: they can deduct the expenses associated with creating their art from their taxes, even if those expenses exceed the profits derived from the art. This is good news in the most limited of ways, because it lays bare just how difficult it is to make art profitably, and presents a victory that only a small minority of artists will likely benefit from, but still, the existence of tax benefits for fine artists takes a bit of the sting out of the usual news about tax loopholes.

In a case involving Susan Crile, a tenured studio art professor at Hunter College, the IRS asserted that her art activities were merely ancillary to her teaching, and couldn’t be treated as an independent money-making venture. (“[The IRS] agrees,” the tax court ruling reports, “that petitioner has been a successful, though rarely a profitable, artist.” Thanks, IRS!) The tax court disagreed, affirming that in fact, Crile is a real-life artist, even if only three of her 40 years as an artist were profitable.

But! This does not mean that I can start deducting the costs of cooking rice and beans and buying beer for a twenty-person band rehearsal every week.

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To Pay Back Loans Faster, Go West, Young Man

Nearly three-quarters of college students borrow funds to pay for school these days and, as we know, it is not always easy — or possible — to pay those loans back. Well, it turns out one thing you might be able to do to help yourself succeed is move. Specifically, move west.

According to schools.com, four of the top five states for student loan repayment are on the Pacific side of things: Utah, Wyoming, Washington, and Nevada. (The fifth is Virginia so the Atlantic gets a brief nod.) California and Colorado also place in the top 10. But stop short of Cali: San Francisco is a luxury ghost town these days. (“On average, 39 percent of condos built since 2000 have absentee owners, and for newer buildings like One Rincon Hill, that number is 50 percent or above.”) Also there’s no water.

Why is the West such fertile ground for loan repayment? Low unemployment rates, low cost-of-living, and high incomes boost Utah and Wyoming. Washington State, Wyoming, and Nevada make things easier on residents by not charging income tax. Wait, what?

FYI, there are only seven states that don’t charge income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.  I can understand the small and the oil-rich not needing to profit off individuals but how on earth do huge states with significant populations of poors and olds like Texas and Florida get away with that? Texas makes up the difference via property taxes, “some of the highest in the nation.” New Jersey and New Hampshire are also expensive places to own property. And Florida … is there anything good to say about Florida?

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Today, in Treating Our Workers Badly

Workers who subsist on tips have to deal with an unacceptable level of sexual harassment in order to get those pennies. This is the kind of thing we don’t need a study to tell us but hey, here’s a study anyway! Also, some intriguing facts about the part uniforms play:

servers appear to report significantly more harassment (and a greater willingness to tolerate sexual harassment) in the 43 states using a tipped sub-minimum wage than in the seven states that don’t have one. While employees are (slightly) more likely to experience harassment from co-workers than from customers, in those instances, they also reported feeling more like they were able to tell the offending party to stop. This confirms what we’ve heard from overwhelming anecdotal evidence for quite a while: servers are far more likely to tolerate intolerable behavior if their ability to pay the rent is on the line.

The study also goes into the way uniforms contribute to sexual harassment. Thirty percent of workers reported that male and female employees are required to wear different uniforms. The study’s findings seem to indicate* that workers were twice as likely to report suffering sexual harassment if the uniforms were different than if they were the same. Women in states with a tipped minimum wage also reported that they were three times more likely to be told to “dress sexy” by management in order to get better tips.

Not angry enough? Read this: Wal-Mart has decided to cut benefits for PT workers, even though the Wal-Mart empire has produced so much money that individual Waltons take up four spots on the list of Top 10 Richest People in America. Christy Walton is the 6th richest American with a fortune of $38 billion, Jim is 7th with a fortune of $36 billion, Alice is 9th with $34.9B, and S. Robert is 10th with $34.8. Come on guys. You’ll never make it onto our list of Our Favorite Rich People, or into heaven, if you don’t get it together.

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How to Make Buying Things More Like Having Experiences

DON’T buy on impulse. DO wear a funny hat.

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Job of the Day: Stuntman, Best Boy, Gaffer, Grip

Asking you ever wanted to know about what film industry jobs pay, or don’t pay, as the case may be, you can find out in this fascinating Hollywood Reporter dissection of salaries. For instance, Jonah Hill only got paid $60K for his Oscar-nominated role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Leo, by contrast, made more than $25 million.

Lest you harbor any fantasies that it’s a meritocracy over there in Tinseltown, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson made a mind-boggling $52 million this past year, and “Crystal the monkey earned $108,000 in 2012 for appearing in nine episodes of NBC’s Animal Practice.” Well, at least she earned it. 

Entertainment lawyers easily make $2m – $5m a year. Extras make $148 a day and more if have to abase themselves by wearing a hairpiece. The white dudes in charge of late night are doing fine. Did you know Colbert makes $15m at Comedy Central and is set to make even more when he moves to network TV? But that’s still chump change compared to some: “The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart remains the top earner at $25 million to $30 million a year.” 

Producers do quite nicely. Publicists, not so much. And as for stunt men, well, that’s basically a labor of love:

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