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Intern Deluxe: The Rise of New Media Fellowships

My first unpaid media internship was in the summer of 2010. Like most college students, previous semesters spent whiffing on applications made landing one feel like a reward, regardless of pay—I’d move to New York and even have the chance to write (mostly) professionally. The “unpaid” part always loomed, but my friends and I made it work through varying levels of cost-cutting and couch-crashing. Besides, we were all believers in that age-old internship axiom: As stressful as working for free was, we’d be getting the experience and exposure needed to compete for real, paid jobs. The problem with “climbing up to minimum wage” as an employment strategy never really crossed our minds.

Unpaid internships, long a due-paying rite of passage for college students, became entrenched as a stopgap solution for employers with spots to fill but without the money to properly fill them.  This was (and is) very bad. In cases where full-time work was carried out under the auspices of internship programs, it was also illegal. And, as the ways that many unpaid internships violated labor laws became common knowledge, former interns began taking their employers to court.  The earliest lawsuits, filed around late 2011, challenged the argument that interns weren’t technically employees and didn’t qualify for protections like minimum wage because they were getting educational or professional benefits by being in the office.  After a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures was illegally using unpaid interns on the movie Black Swan in June 2013—the first major ruling against unpaid internships—a wave of lawsuits followed against media companies like Conde Nast, NBC Universal and Gawker Media. (A similar case against the Hearst Corporation, filed in 2012, is currently under appeal.)

The media industry adapted swiftly: Slate began paying its interns in December 2013; Conde Nast shuttered its intern program entirely; and the Times ended its sub-minimum wage internships in March. But other high-profile employers have turned to a new way to temporarily employ students or recent grads: fellowships.

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How to Play the Airline Miles Game

Originally published April 30, 2012.

I am a 30-year-old woman with an arts degree and some geographic commitment issues, so for much of my adult life, I’ve been in situations where I’ve earned unimpressive amounts of money, but have needed (or wanted) to fly to places semi-regularly. As a result, I’ve become a sort of unabashed, salivating fangirl for airline miles, and something of an expert when it comes to accumulating them. I offer here a primer on how you might join me in this rewarding hobby.

Not to be a scold right off the bat, but this method involves credit cards, so it may not be for everyone. You’ll need to have good credit, and pretty high levels of self-discipline for it to work right. If you’re the type who sees access to credit as an invitation to spend recklessly, I’m sorry, but this is not for you. You know that show on TLC about “Extreme Couponing” that is both inspiring and repulsive and you don’t know whether to pity the couponers or to cheer them on? This advice is going to be kind of like that, but for airline miles, so if you’re squeamish, don’t read any further. 

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Ghosts Of My Youth

The first ghost story I ever heard was from my mother. She described how once, while sleeping in an upstairs bedroom in her sister’s house, she woke to the feeling of twin icicles curling around her ankles. They were hands, but she didn’t see a body, exactly. More like an abstract interpretation of a body, female, crouched at the foot of the bed. It yanked once, hard, and she opened her pink teenaged mouth and screamed, causing it to let go and vanish. The details shift uneasily when she retells this story—sometimes there is a horrible, unseasonal rainstorm beating the roof, sometimes she is 15, or 17. But these two details remain the same: The bed belonged a dead woman and she never went into that portion of the house again.

There’s a lot of paranormal activity in my family. Whether it is more than most other families is hard to say, but we seem to have more than most. During holidays and family events, after the adults wander into the kitchen to drink coffee or head off to bed, us cousins gather in some remote part of the house and talk about the things that go bump in the night. These are our heirlooms, a series of signals and omens that help us make sense of each other and our shared family history, which is by turns strange, mysterious and murky. These stories open up a portal to the parts of life that don’t seem to make much sense but as still just as real as the rest of it. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that sometimes a ghost isn’t always a ghost. Sometimes, telling a ghost story is a way to talk about something else present in the air, taking up space beside you. It can also be a manifestation of intuition, or something you’ve known in your bones but haven’t yet been able to accept. But sometimes a ghost is exactly what it is—a seriously fucking scary spirit.

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How Amazon Solved the Problem of Work

On Wednesday, October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk. The case pits warehouse workers Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro against their former employer. The issue at hand is time: Should minutes spent waiting to be screened at the end of the workday—Integrity manages warehouses that fulfill online shopping orders—be counted as work? If so, then shouldn’t workers be paid?

Supreme Court cases that feel ethically simple are often legally complicated; similarly, cases that make it that far and yet appear legally tidy are often ethically difficult. This case seems to fall into the former category: you have decades of opaque labor legislation through which the definition of work must be read and in the shadow of which it must be revised; you also have a specific situation in which workers reach the end of their shifts and are then effectively detained at their workplaces for up to 25 minutes, without pay, in order to be checked for stolen merchandise.

One way to understand this post-work/pre-departure limbo is in terms of incentives: If this time counted as work, it would cost Integrity Staffing Solutions a lot of money, so Integrity Staffing Solutions would be motivated to minimize it. But if this extra time doesn’t count as work, there is no direct incentive to fix anything. In that situation, Integrity’s objectives are to make sure workers aren’t stealing merchandise, and to do so at the minimum possible cost. It does not need to worry about workers’ time, because that time, which is valuable to Integrity’s efforts to prevent theft, costs them virtually nothing. Meanwhile, the value of this time to the employees has not changed. They’re not home. They’re not at their other jobs. They’re not seeing friends. They are, as far as everyone else in their lives is concerned, still at work.

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The Subtle Brilliance of Jill Soloway’s ‘Transparent’

Transparent, Amazon’s foray into the Netflix-infested waters of quality internet binge watching, is deservedly the most critically-lauded show of this Fall television season (and was just renewed for a second season). Created by writer/director Jill Soloway (writer/producer Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara, writer/director Afternoon Delight, which won a directing award at Sundance in 2013), the show centers around the Pfefferman family, an affluent Jewish LA clan whose patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as transgender and begins to live as Maura in her late 60s.

Directed mostly by Soloway herself, (with the exception of three, credited to Nisha Ganatra), the direction in the show is strong and incredibly consistent, marked by what Emily Nussbaum refers to in her piece on the show in The New Yorker as “mildly funky pacing” of the current era of indie film/TV direction stylistic crossovers we are seeing particularly in comedy, with shows like Girls and Louie. However, a key difference between Transparent and those other shows is that Soloway is not a character, neither in physical or representational form. Rather, Soloway knows all of her characters extremely well, she knows them like family, and in the way one knows family, she allows them to speak for themselves and expose their own flaws. She is not at all precious about her characters and at times early in the series she can be downright misanthropic, allowing the whole ensemble (minus the consistently heartbreaking, inspiring, astonishing Maura) to tread deeper and deeper toward the brink of unlikability.

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The New York City Tourism Association Thanks You for Visiting the Apple Store

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, Slate Assistant Editor Miriam Krule tells us more about intergenerational information transfer at the Apple store in Grand Central Terminal.

Working from Apple store in Grand Central where a teen is teaching old ladies how to use a comp. Tourist just walked by and took photos.

— Miriam Krule (@miriamkrule) October 8, 2014

Miriam! So what happened here?

I was heading to Connecticut to celebrate the festival of huts out in the wilderness. My ride had fallen through, so I was taking the train, but the only one that worked for various boring logistical reasons was essentially midday. My parents live in New Jersey, so even though I grew up in New York, I’ve spent very little time in Grand Central Station and didn’t exactly think things through, figuring I could work from there in the morning. I found a nice quiet corner, only to realize that there’s no magical train station Wi-Fi (coincidentally this was as news of “Wi-Fi is a human right” was blowing up). Just as I was about to cave and pay for it (aka, look for a Starbucks), I saw an Apple Wi-Fi option and basically searched for a strong connection and ended up in the Apple Store, which I had no idea existed. (For future reference, it’s on this majestic balcony overlooking the main floor. Also, it’s impossible to miss.)

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Do Not Roast the Squash

Trends and memes may be on the side of fall and winter squash—I dare you to find a single vendor without some variety of pumpkin foodstuff between September and December—but I rue the transition from light, delicate, and fresh summer squash, like zucchini, to heavy, sugary, and starchy winter squash, like acorn, pumpkin, delicata, butternut, and, of course, pumpkin. The most common way to eat winter squash, the one I see at potlucks and on restaurant menus alike, is actually the worst: a simple PC&R (peel, cube, and roast).

This is a very good way to cook almost any vegetable, but a bad way to cook winter squash. Summer squashes are typically eaten young, while the seeds and skins are still soft and edible—even raw—while winter squashes have been allowed to grow to a mature stage, so they are hardier; their flesh is dense and sweet and their skin tough and sometimes warty. This makes them very resistant to winter temperatures, but their texture makes people think they can be treated like potatoes or sweet potatoes, with a PC&R. Nope.

I have tried every possible way to PC&R winter squash: I have par-boiled; I have sous-vided; I have covered in aluminum foil; I have experimented with every possible temperature and timing and size and shape and amount of oil. My final conclusion is that there is no good way to PC&R a butternut squash or pumpkin. The pleasure of a roasted starchy vegetable is in the crispy exterior and pillowy interior, but this does not happen to winter squash—the only thing it does well in the oven is turn to mush.

This is all not to say that there are no good ways to eat winter squashes. That very tendency to turn to mush can be embraced. The squash is mush. Let it be mush. This means transforming it into soups, sauces, and purees, where the winter squash’s mushiness and heaviness become creaminess and richness. Here’s how to cook them properly.

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Dick and Jane Both Work Hard, But Jane Pays the Bills

Originally published July 9, 2013.

FROM: Jane TO: Dick SUBJECT: Money So I’m suspending my Y membership even though swimming is the only thing I’ve ever loved doing because I can’t afford to pay it. I only have $300 until I’m paid in 2 1/2 weeks to buy groceries, etc. and only have $500 left in my overdraft account so you have to start on [Commission B] seriously after [Commission A].

FROM: Dick TO: Jane SUBJECT: Re: Money you should keep the Y membership if it costs less to renew than start over. I have to do the [Commission C] too. I told them it would be this week, I can finish it by the weekend. pay your membership with [Commission A]’s money. how much is it?

FROM: Jane TO: Dick SUBJECT: Money The membership is $63.28/ month. There’s a $45 cancellation fee, but no joiner fee to start back up. [Commission A]’s money will help of course but if you’re not paying rent on a month-to-month basis there is no way I can afford to keep my membership long-term. I can barely afford our rent and groceries right now.

FROM: Dick TO: Jane SUBJECT: Money wow that’s a lot per month, it seems very high, is there anywhere cheaper to swim besides public pool? 

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Hotels Are People Too

It’s increasingly hard to escape the sensation that the primary proprietors of the so-called sharing economy don’t so much share as take—from their users, from their contracted workers, from the localities in which they operate, by utilizing infrastructure that they do not contribute toward. It’s everybody else who shares.

The New York State Attorney General’s initial report on Airbnb in New York City, which analyzed full-apartment bookings (crucially, not room shares) with the service from 2010 until this past June, feels fairly conclusive in this regard. Even if you absolutely do not care at all that, according to the attorney general, seventy-two percent of the private bookings on Airbnb are technically illegal, or that real hotel operators are losing out hundreds of millions of dollars in bookings, or even maybe that the city has lost tens of millions of dollars in taxes the city has lost to Airbnb and its hosts, it’s frankly easy, as a renter in New York City (I mean, Jesus) to feel supremely agitated that last year, more than four-and-a-half thousand apartments listed on Airbnb were booked for short-term rentals for three months of the year or more, and of those, nearly half were booked by half the year or more—meaning apartments that could and should have been on the market were being largely used as hotels. (These apartments accounted for thirty-eight percent of the revenue to Airbnb and its hosts from units booked as private short-term rentals, according to the attorney general.)

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Why My Baby Doesn’t Eat Animals

Having a child means that you, as a parent, wield incredible power. You can dress your baby exclusively in green, or never let her hear Simon & Garfunkel (as if) or Iggy Azalea (oops, I wish). Arguably the greatest power arrives with the introduction of “solid food” into your baby’s mouth, around the time they are six months old. I thought for a very long time, even talking it over with friends, about what Zelda’s first food should be. I was told by my doctor to start with something naturally mushy. I settled on a daily vacillation between the avocado and the banana.

Zelda didn’t want to wait until she was six months old. By the time she was four-and-a-half months old, she was trying to grab food from my hands, or off of my plate. So, one afternoon, in a less momentous fashion than I had imagined, I mashed up both an avocado and a banana and offered them to her, minutes apart. She took the spoon from me and hoisted it into her mouth herself. She made a face, but she was also “chewing” as she handed the spoon back to me for a refill. A lot of what I gave her on the spoon fell out of her mouth and onto the floor, where the dog was anxiously waiting. But Zelda clearly understood the ritual: The next day, when I fed her sweet potato which I had peeled, steamed, and pureed, more went in—and stayed in. In less than a week, she’d been introduced to green beans, peas, carrots, and leeks (which I steamed with a small piece of potato and pureed for her).

Now, at eight months old, with just two teeth, Zelda can chomp down anything you hand over, in smallish chunks. She likes her food pureed or not, warm or not. Toast, strawberries, steamed broccoli, pasta noodles. She eats a lot, usually feeding herself, and often sharing with the dog. The one thing Zelda has never tasted, however, is an animal.

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Our Eyebrows, Our Selves

I’m not sure when I decided that my eyebrows—thick, dark, and joined—weren’t considered attractive, but I was a preteen when I realized that I would have to do something about it. When I was 12, I begged my mother to let me get the offending patch waxed. Getting my eyebrows “fixed” was Step One of the makeover process that I just knew was necessary if I was going to be a pretty teenager. In teen magazines and on The O.C. (everyone’s favourite show in 2003), I saw smallness and whiteness celebrated in bodies, in clothes, and in upturned noses. Even Kristin Kreuk, the only image of non-white beauty I remember from that time, was hairless and thin.

I always wondered if my eyebrows could be a little better—a little more arch, a little less thick, a little further apart. Maybe, by some miracle, my eyebrows would make the rest of me seemed smaller, small enough to fit into a white, blonde, hairless ideal that seemed to be attractive to everyone around me. I understood that to be small, to not offend, was to be feminine, which seemed instrumental to achieving all the milestones of successful teenagehood—parties, boys, Marissa Cooper’s hipbones.

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