Can You Be Too Rich (Or Too Thin) To Run For President?

Conventional wisdom has it that you can never be too rich or too thin, and that’s true if your goal is to leave such a beautiful corpse that you make people jealous even at your opulent open-casket funeral. When it comes to running for president of the United States, though, the rules are often different. The Wall Street Journal famously dinged candidate Barack Obama for being skinny (“Obama might find low body fat a drawback“) and now Vanity Fair is asking whether Jeb Bush might find himself weighed down by all the cash in his pockets.

How much cash, exactly? I’m glad you asked: READ MORE


The Work of Opera Singing

For her excellent Times column “The Working Life,” Rachel Swarns talks to Jean Braham, a real life opera singer who has been working for The Met for 15 years. As the Met struggles to stay afloat financially, they’re debating ways to cut ‘labor costs’ and raising the old question of who gets paid to make art and why, and how much. I do love that question.

Jean Braham, for her part, is living the union-backed dream:

She loves the work. But it is work.

Rehearsals often begin at the end of July and performances run from September through mid-May. During the season, singers typically work six days a week.

During busy days, singers often have two rehearsals — one at 10:30 a.m. and one from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. — followed by a 7 p.m. call for an evening performance, which can amount to a 12-hour day. The choristers say their work rules — which the Met would like to change — discourage management from overscheduling them.

Under the rules, the base salary, which ranges from about $62,000 to $125,000 annually, based on seniority, accounts for only about half of the singers’ pay. The rest comes from extra money they receive for working more than four rehearsals a week, working more than seven and a half hours a day and changing costumes during breaks, among other things.



Mad Men: When Pretending Is Your Job

Watching Mad Men feels a bit like refinishing a wooden chair, sometimes. You’re methodically working away with sandpaper at the arms and legs of this thing, which has been this way for as long as you can remember, and you’re up close and it seems like work, but it’s also strangely soothing, and suddenly you step back after an hour and the whole chair has a different appearance.

At least, that’s how I felt about it last night. Not all that much seemed to happen, because after all, it’s Mad Men; with some surprises the pacing tends to be slow and steady. Yet, by the end of the episode everyone looked a bit different from how they started. We also got a return of Sally Draper (can I please have Kiernan Shipka’s eyebrows?), who’s at boarding school and grown up enough to attend the funerals of her friend’s mothers. And there was plenty of juicy intraoffice politics at Sterling Cooper Draper.



A Proposal for Two Years of Free Tuition for All Students in Wisconsin

There has been a ton of data out there showing how terrible and predatory for-profit colleges are, and two educational policy studies professors at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are putting together a paper that will show how reallocating financial aid money given to for-profit colleges and putting it back into the public sector could benefit all students by making the first two years of public university free:

“Its not right for the University of Phoenix to charge students $25,000 a year and pay for it all with financial aid that came from taxpayers,” she said. “So we take all that money and simply redistribute it in the public system, and it turns out we have more than enough money.”

According to Goldrick-Rab, students considered lower-class would no longer be favored for financial aid over middle-class students under the plan.

“We really were struck by the fact that a lot of people act like the only people who need financial aid are the really, really poor people,” Goldrick-Rab said. “And if you look at the data it’s actually pretty clear that even the middle class is having a hard time.”

The plan would not be limited to in-state students and out-of-state students would be able to attend the first two years of any public university in the country for free as well, Goldrick-Rab said.

Giving students two years of college for free is feasible. As Meaghan wrote last week, Tennessee is already implementing a plan that would give all high school graduates free in-state tuition at two-year colleges in the state.

Photo: Phil Roeder


Aging Out of the Foster Care System and Figuring Out How to Build a Life

Kyo, not his real name, is a young black man in his mid-20s currently living in transitional housing for the homeless in Northern New Jersey. I have known him since he was 18. I had met Kyo during my former job as a reporter with The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper.

Kyo was placed in the foster care system as a toddler. His mother was dead of a drug overdose, and his father was a long-time drug addict until he became clean several years ago. Kyo does not have a close relationship with his father, but has kept regular contact with his siblings, one younger brother and two older sisters.

In the system, he had stayed at several places including a good orphanage, where he felt taken care of, and the home of an abusive couple who would make him and their other charges stand for hours on end as a form of punishment. He had bounced between several schools over the years as well, but he did manage to graduate with a high school diploma.



Freeman Dyson DGAF About Grad School

Quanta Magazine has a fun Q&A with Freeman Dyson, theoretical physicist and mathematician. Remember the Dyson Sphere? Yeah, that was him. Also: great ears.

Rather than wade further out of my depth, I will share this highlight:

You became a professor at Cornell without ever having received a Ph.D. You seem almost proud of that fact.

Oh, yes. I’m very proud of not having a Ph.D. I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination. It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions. It’s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it’s being a professor or other things, and it’s quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they’re not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they’re qualified, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all.

How is it that you were able to escape that requirement?

I was lucky because I got educated in World War II and everything was screwed up so that I could get through without a Ph.D. and finish up as a professor. Now that’s quite impossible. So, I’m very proud that I don’t have a Ph.D. and I raised six children and none of them has a Ph.D., so that’s my contribution.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons


A Female-Owned & Operated Marijuana Delivery Service

Alexi steers her silver Honda into the traffic of L.A.’s Glendale Boulevard. (“Welcome to my office!” she’d joked when I climbed in.) Alexi is a slim 25-year-old with ombré brunette hair and a flawless, long white manicure. In a typical workday, she spends eight hours driving around greater L.A. delivering medical-grade marijuana.

Over at The Cut, Allison Davis rides around with Alexi [not her real name], doing deliveries for Dope Girls LA, a female-owned and operated marijuana delivery service “made up of pretty ladies who are also weed experts.”

If anyone is aspiring to a similar lifestyle, here is how she climbed this particular corporate ladder (trellis?): READ MORE


The Best Places to Raise a Family (Or Not)

If you have only yourself to consider, choosing where to live can be a walk in the park, or down the shore, or under an arch, or through some tar pits – whatever suits your fancy. If you shackle yourself, lovingly of course, to another human being, and the two of you with clear eyes and full hearts bring forth new life into the world, well, choosing where to live becomes more fraught. Values shift. Priorities adjust. Apartments that seemed cozy start to feel like “the hole” in The Shawshank Redemption.



Get That Job Or Raise By Role-Playing Important Conversations

“Why do you want to leave your current job?” my interviewer asked.

I froze. It wasn’t a strange question, but I was 22, at my first proper interview for a job in the marketing department of a weekly magazine, and I had not prepared adequately. I bumbled my way through a terrible answer about how my current boss was difficult to get along with. That was true, but it was the wrong reason to give. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized my error. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

I always think of this incident when I’m anticipating an important work conversation. It reminds me why I practice for these conversations, whether it’s an interview, a review, or even just a tricky situation with a coworker. Now I like to role-play my main points and ideas out loud, with a friend or partner. This is the best way to prepare, both to hone your messages and to anticipate your boss or coworker’s response.

Here are some of my recommendations for how to role-play a job conversation:



Our Dollar Bills Are So Disgusting

From The Wall Street Journal, a report from New York University’s Dirty Money Project, which found thousands of different types of bacteria on our $1 bills—many of which causes acne:

By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope. Even so, they could identify only about 20% of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven’t yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.

Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.

I’m good about washing my hands (riding public transit on daily basis gets you in the habit), but will do it more after handling cash.

Or maybe I’ll just rely on my debit card whenever possible.

Photo: S. Mirk


Monday Check-in

Good morning! Let’s check in.

I went out to lunch with some new colleagues on Friday, which they generously paid for, followed by dinner at M. Wells Steakhouse in Queens. We ordered a bunch of things to share, among them poutine, foie gras gnocchi, skirt steak, a stack of pork chops, a lobster roll, a wedge salad, some sparkling wine, plus a few other things ($104, including tip)—highly recommended. I also bought some swim trunks at J. Crew (on sale for $55), and picked these Rice Krispie Treat/ice cream pops for Easter supper dessert with friends ($15). My estimate was $150, and I went $24 over at $174.

How were your weekends?


The Week We Began Weighing the Beans

Mike: Meaghan, I think I’ve become one of those coffee people.

Meaghan: Like a coffee snob?

Mike: I just made a cup of coffee by weighing a specific number of coffee beans and grinding them in a fancy grinder. And then before putting the grounds in the filter, I ran hot water through the paper filter first so I could get the “paper taste” out of it. This process took me about 10 minutes. I was taught by Matt Buchanan, who is now editing over at The Awl and wrote this guide to buying coffee products.

Meaghan: WOW. Okay, you lost me at rinsing the paper taste out of the filter.