Taxes aren’t boring—they’re just supremely difficult to write about in a compelling way. These three stories stand out because they illustrate the far-reaching consequences of different countries’ tax policies through a few very influential people.
Today at Longreads (where I am also an editor), Atossa Abrahamian writes about her three favorite stories about taxes this year, highlighting pieces from The Washington Post, Vanit Fair, and Bloomberg. Add these to your never-ending reading lists!
Photo: Images of Money
Until recently I had a really great morning routine going, which isn’t much to brag about as its singular ambition was “get to the library by 11 a.m.” but nevertheless, the routine was mine and I cherished it. I woke up around 9, laid in bed reading the internet on my phone for way too long, had breakfast probably also in bed reading the internet on my phone, then took a shower, got ready, meditated (thank you, Oprah), and walked four blocks to the library. On the way to the library I would go to the same deli every day and pay $2.50 for a bottle of tea that is allegedly harvested in the Amazon and bottled in Brooklyn. PERRRFECT. As much as a small part of me suspects this tea might actually be poison, it is very energizing (90mg of caffeine per bottle), sugar free, and makes me feel good about my free radicals.
After about Day Two of buying this tea, the young guy that works at the deli said something like, “Hello my beautiful baby! So you really like this tea?”
He walked out from behind the counter and over to the refrigerator where my beloved Amazonian teas were lined up. We both peered in, quiet. READ MORE
Two months after Roseanne Cash was born, her dad released his very first single with Sun Records. But before that, Johnny Cash was a refrigerator salesman:
During my mother’s pregnancy, my dad made half-hearted attempts to work as a salesman for the Home Equipment Company on Summer Avenue in Memphis. He was also studying to be a disc jockey. My parents lived in a tiny, bare apartment within walking distance of Dad’s workplace. His lackluster performance as a salesman may have had something to do with his reluctance to cajole or manipulate a sale. He once even talked a potential customer named Pat Isom out of buying a refrigerator in the store because it was “too expensive” and didn’t carry a good warranty. Pat was so impressed with Dad’s honesty that she engaged him in conversation and found out that he and his pregnant wife, Vivian, needed a new apartment that didn’t have stairs. Dad was afraid my mom might fall in her delicate condition, so Pat offered my parents half of her duplex at 2553 Tutwiler Street in mid-Memphis. It was also a short walk from the Home Equipment Company and about five miles from Sun Records, though at that time Dad didn’t know how large Sun would figure into the next few years of his life.
I love stories like this, mostly because I like to imagine my child waxing romantically one day about how I used to blog from bed without pants on, having NO IDEA HOW FAMOUS I WOULD SOON BE.
In all seriousness, Rosanne Cash’s essay about growing up in Tennessee, and leaving, and coming back, and leaving again is really lovely.
Last night, I attended a fundraiser to raise money for a children’s literacy program that was organized by a friend. It’s the season of charitible giving, and there are a ton of these kinds events and programs going on.
One program I especially like and have participated in previous years is “Operation Santa.” The U.S. Post Office has already received more than 100,000 letters to Santa from children, and postal employees open and sort the “needy” letters, redact personal information, and then place them in a public adoption area, where anyone can come and pick up a letter and fulfill a child’s request, which the post office then mails to the child from Santa. Details can be found at the USPS site. You get to read the letters before you choose one (or 10!) to fulfill, and they are sweet and sometimes heartbreaking.
Another program I like involves shipping care packages to our women and men in uniform, and I wrote all about that here last year.
Got a favorite program, let us know in the comments!
Photo: Kate Terhaar
Richard Lawson is starting his new job as an entertainment columnist for Vanity Fair today, and he wrote a lovely piece on his blog about joining the workforce after college, about his first job in New York City working in sales for Broadway shows, and about the role our jobs have in helping form a part of our identities. Here he is talking about leaving that sales job and moving onto something new:
It was such a giddy, thrilling, sad, scary little moment there in the elevator, me amazed and awed with the bittersweet recognition that I was leaving behind the role, the accepted obligation, that had brought me here. That I was saying to it, and myself, that I existed for more than one reason, that I could make choices, could be independent, sovereign in the life I’d decided to start living.
Work is important in that way, I guess. It can be, on its best and oddest days, a reminder that, if we’re lucky, we can have some control over our lives, our own little stories, that we can be willful and brave and self-possessed. I still wish, of course, that I could be lazy and shiftless, independently wealthy and obliged to no one’s clock but my own. But as a way of measuring time and experience, work is useful, alternately heartening and frustrating.
And isn’t that true.
Photo: David Orban
When I worked in an office and was having a bad day, I coped by keeping to myself at my desk, and taking breaks to go outside and breathe. If something was bothering me, I tried to not let it show on my face. NPR’s The Salt asked some waiters how they cope with having a bad day while having to interact with customers and provide service with a smile:
“I’ve had plenty of bad days. I’ve had deaths in the family,” says Emily Nevius, a waitress at Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis. “But it’s work and you put your work face on.”
Similarly, Laura Abusager, who has waited tables in Bloomington, Ill., for the past five years, says she tries to put on a “poker face” when she’s dealing with issues in the rest of her life. She feels like her work doesn’t suffer, but she says her coworkers can always tell when things are going wrong at home or in relationships.
The customers, too. “I feel like I get better tips when I’m in a good mood,” Abusager says, “and when I’m in a bad mood, it’s like they can sense it.”
Restaurant owners and managers know servers who can be fun and flirty or at least chatty and attentive not only get better tips, but add to the quality of the dining out experience in a way that’s crucial to the bottom line.
The Salt ends with some advice from author Ann Patchett, who worked as a waitress in Nashville for some time:
“Even if you make mistakes — you forget to put in their orders or your put in the wrong order or you drop their drinks on their heads, which I did once — you can tell them it’s your first day. Even if you’ve been doing it a long time, if you tell them it’s your first day, they’ll give you a 50 percent tip.”
Kathleen McLaughlin’s “AIDS Granny in Exile,” profiles the incredible gynecologist and activist Gao Yaojie. The piece offers some devastating background into how HIV spread through blood transfusions in 1990s rural China which Gao has dedicated her life to shedding light on:
Though the donors of Henan got a pittance for their blood, middlemen grew relatively wealthy on what was believed to be a pure, untainted plasma supply. Plasma traders worked to convince Chinese people traditionally opposed to giving blood — thought to be the essence of life — to sell it. Villages were festooned with red sloganeering banners: “Stick out an arm, show a vein, open your hand and make a fist, 50 kuai” (at the time, about $6), “If you want a comfortable standard of living, go sell your plasma,” and “To give plasma is an honor.”
Local officials in some places went on television, telling farmers that selling plasma would maintain healthy blood pressure. (It doesn’t.) Traders pressured families, especially women. Since females bleed every month, the cracked reasoning went, they could spare a few pints for extra income.
The system became a perfect delivery vehicle for HIV. Thousands upon thousands of the farmers who sold plasma to supplement meager earnings left with a viral bomb that developed into AIDS. In the years before education and life-extending antiretroviral drugs, it was a death sentence.
Gao has written 27 books chronicling the lives of these victims, and currently lives in exile in New York City, supporting herself on about $35,000/year in private donations.
When I started writing on the internet, I found it so liberating: I could master WordPress; I could figure out how to post and promote, I was in control. Whenever even one more person happened onto my blog, I felt like the work I was doing was somehow worthwhile. When I moved from writing on my own blog to writing Scandals of Classic Hollywood (and, later, for other sites), the production changed, but so did the size of the audience. The gratification levels exploded accordingly.
But I was struck by how many readers assumed that I was just riffing on vast stores of pre-existing knowledge—like I sat down, typed for a few hours, and it naturally flowed onto the page. HAIRPINNERS, I WISH. It takes a lot of work, and it’s all “second shift” work—a term used to describe the domestic “shift” that women (and men) take on when they arrive home from their “first” shift at the workplace.
I have a full-time professor gig. I teach, I prep, I grade, and then I turn to my other job. It’s amazing and endlessly gratifying, but like the traditional “second shift” labor of cooking, cleaning, and parenting, it’s often discounted. And the more easy and nonchalant I make it seem, the more that labor effaces itself.
This interview series thus aims to make the “invisible labor” of web production visible. Over the next few months, I’ll be talking with a wide variety of content producers, exploring the dynamics of their own form of web production, how they mix that production with their “real” lives, and the various forms of gratification they receive from the work that they do. In short: how do you do what you do, and why do you do it? Talking about the realities of labor isn’t narcissistic. It’s political, it’s progressive, it’s feminist. It’s also totally fascinating. READ MORE
According to Frey, the audio sweet spot is 2/3 back and in the middle. That’s where audio engineers sit to balance the sound, and where you’ll get the full effect of the chopper buzzing by or the building exploding.
Apparently, I’m on the “which seat is best” beat today, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the best seats in a movie theater are two-thirds away from the screen and in the center. It’s because of the acoustics, but also because you’re not craning your necks like you would if you sat in the front.
The AMC theater in my neighborhood recently went through renovations and all the seats are assigned now—which means you get to pick where you want to sit before entering the theater. Also, the seats are leather recliners, which makes it easier for you to take a $15 nap.
Kat Aaron at the American Prospect has a fascinating/devastating profile of Detroit’s 36th District Court, one of many civil courts in Detroit, and across the country, that are underfunded and failing their citizens. Civil court, as Aaron puts it, “is where the problems of income inequality and unaffordable housing and low wages and unemployment and poor education play out.”
The 36th has the same taut feeling I’ve experienced in prisons or welfare offices: a mix of boredom, anxiety, anger, power, powerlessness, and indifference. It’s as if all the exhalations and sighs of all the litigants who have passed through the building are trapped in the cinderblock halls.
Stuart Heritage at the Guardian tried doing just that and does not recommend it:
The thrill of watching something being created from nothing had been replaced by annoyance at the six noisy hours it took to make something that I could have realistically paid less than a pound for. I tried to make a few more things – a sort of Christmas tree thing, a malformed Smurf whose leg snapped off – but my heart wasn’t in it. Nor was the printer’s. By the end I couldn’t even convince it to acknowledge the existence of plastic. It would freeze up without warning, or play dumb and bleep whenever I tried to do anything. I unplugged it and plugged it in again. It was no use. We had reached an embittered impasse. Not that I was too fussed. I’m sure the Sistine Chapel was knocked off in less time than it took me to make that poxy Smurf.
I tried my best, but I failed. I made nine things, tops, with a £1,600 printer. For Christmas this year, everyone I know is getting a trinket that looks like I bought it in a panic at a jumble sale for 10p. That’s £177 per trinket. They’d better be grateful.
I know 3D printing is exciting and the future and all that but at this point I am with Stuart Heritage. It’s like, Cool, you made a tiny plastic skull. Great, put it on the shelf next to your tiny plastic dog and your plastic coaster and your plastic flower and your plastic cube. Now run your hand along the shelf and sweep everything on that shelf into the trash can. Perfect.
Photo: Creative Tools