The Grand Larceny of Accu-Weather

We’ve seen plenty of bold and brazen corporate thievery in recent years. “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli upped the price of life-saving medicine 5000% because he could; he’s now serving years in the pen for securities fraud. There was the Enron bunch, led by Jeff Skilling, who created blackouts in San Francisco and the west coast in the early 2000s by manipulating the temporarily de-regulated California electric market. The traders were caught on tape laughing about stealing money from the “poor grandmothers.” Such a grand level of avarice is hard to stomach, but one that tops them all must be Barry Myers. Because Myers has been trying to steal the weather.

There’s a backstory, of course. A grain of legitimacy, a swirl of political intrigue, a schadenfreude twist of fate, and a who-knows-what-happens-next part to this tale. The most important question to me is exactly which circle of hell Myers will end up in, the one where his shade is bitten by snakes or the one where he is thrown into the lake of boiling pitch?

Thieves in Dante's Hell
Gustave Dore depiction of the section of Dante’s Malbolge circle of Hell specifically for Thieves
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War Over the Thermostat

As hundreds of tornadoes blasted across the midwest this past week, the impact of climate change popped up in a more mundane but perhaps significant way in two New York Times articles about room temperature. A recent study found that energy consumption increases as you get older, especially quite old, meaning a lot older than I am right now. Another study showed clearly that women and men perform cognitively very differently depending on the temperature. Both of these studies suggest our battles over the up and down arrows on the thermostat are just beginning.

Over 70? Never Be Without a Snuggie

A study published in Energy Research and Social Science looked at the use of energy stratified by age, including impact from variables of income and housing size. The data from 1987 to 2009 used pseudo-cohorts, a sciency way of saying that the study was designed to look at age groups that changed over time. In other words, they looked at energy consumption by age, and they followed those age groups for about twenty years.

From “Age matters: Ageing and household energy demand in the United States” in Energy Research and Social Science, September 2019

Apparently young people don’t use as much household energy, most likely because they run around and live in small rooms, like dorm rooms. Multi-person families buy bigger houses, so that the entire family uses relatively more energy, which seems to pick near age 50. Energy use then decreases, but starts to drive upward again after age 70.

When the researchers added income to the model, the upward slope tipped even higher, meaning that having more income when you’re older magnified the impact. This wasn’t true for those under age 30, though. Whether income was included or not, people in their twenties don’t use as much energy, whether they can afford it or not. A lot of the increase in use as people get older was due to housing size, though not all of it.

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Free Tax Advice (Well, Not Really)

Photo from McClatchy

Sophia Loren and Spiro Agnew have it in common. Al Capone, Leona Helmsley, and Wesley Snipes are also all linked, but in a different way. And Martha Stewart and Lindsey Vonn make the list, even though their situations were completely different. What’s the common thread? Tax problems, a fitting subject for a blog five days before April 15th.

It seemed like a great time to pontificate about tax rules and hand out some free tax advice, for today is the last day I will be helping out with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. As a reminder, this program partners with the IRS and United Way to allow volunteers to file taxes for free for those whose income falls below a threshold. If your income is low, and you didn’t take advantage this year, mark your calendars next February to find out where the nearest VITA site is near you! As I tell clients, your taxes are done for free, which means you get what you pay for. Same with today’s blog. But here are a few tidbits of tax advice, both frivolous and useful.

The 861 Tax Protest Argument

Wesley Snipes tried to use what is called the “861 argument” to avoid paying taxes, which points to section 861 of the IRS code that defines income sources. Snipes and others argued that the IRS code doesn’t explicitly list all possible ways you can earn income, and therefore any income-generating activity not on the list is not taxable. Multiple tax protesters using this logic have been taken to court in the last thirty years, and none have won.

No tax protester has successfully argued that you can legally avoid paying taxes.

Snipes followed the advice of two fraudsters, Tom Clayton and Larkin Rose, who called themselves the American Rights Litigators, and then later renamed their group the Guiding Light of God Ministries. Much later, they were renamed federal prison inmates # 357-551 and #AX7-832. Not only did Snipes refuse to pay millions owed for money made as a film star, but he attempted to amend previous year filings and request millions in refunds. At one point after he was indicted for tax evasion, he tried to enter South Africa on a false passport. (He also wanted his trial venue to be moved out of Florida because Ocala is racist. The judge disagreed.)

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Give Love and Attention, the Kids Will Be Fine

I’m fuming a little today over an article I read in the New York Times yesterday on “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting.” The essay purports to explain how parenting has become increasingly difficult due to the increasing cost of child-raising and the demands on parents time, yet I couldn’t help feel throughout that the author kept undercutting her own argument. The graphs and underlying data didn’t necessarily make the points intended, the expert quotes didn’t arise out of the studies cited, and the underlying premise itself seemed misguided. In short, the argument was like a caricature of itself, and, like many articles that seem to sympathize with modern readers, did more to stoke the flames of anxiety than to soothe them.

Whose Kids Are We Talking About, Anyway?

The gist of the article by Claire Cain Miller can be summed up in the header quote:

Raising children has become significantly more time-consuming and expensive, amid a sense that opportunity has grown more elusive.
–“The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” NYT 12/25/2018

This is illustrated by a graph that shows annual spending on children childcare, education,&c). For those in the top income quintile, spending has almost doubled in the last 35 years. Obviously, spending on children has become prohibitively expensive–practically unaffordable–and the ROI for this top fifth of households is apparently insufficient. They’re spending so much more money and not having enough to show for it! Continue reading “Give Love and Attention, the Kids Will Be Fine”

The Metrics of Scrooge

pictures of "A Christmas Carol"
The many versions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

What a favor I have done you, my gentle readers and Dickens lovers! I have taken it upon myself, in keeping with the situation, to evaluate the universe of versions of “A Christmas Carol.”

This was no easy task. There are four or five widely known versions of this holiday classic, but the off-versions, the non-Scrooge versions–the American, Scottish, musical, Rankin-Bass, Disney, Pixar, pop star, African-American, Canadian, mobster, Susan Lucci, British, and trailer trash versions have become plentiful, indeed!

Since the Seymour Hicks first non-silent ACC (“A Christmas Carol”) film debuted in 1935, another 43 film and television-based versions of Scrooge’s story have been produced, not counting several live once-on-TV teleplays done in the 1950s and also not including every single skit or sitcom-inspired takeoffs ever done.  (Ref. see Alex P. Keaton and French & Saunders).  My universe included anything recognized on IMDB (or Rotten Tomatoes) or on a Scrooge ten best list. Interestingly, at least five sites purported to have the complete list, but none did. Even Wikipedia under the heading “Adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’ only listed 25 of these 43 adaptations of “A Christmas Carol.”

Meanwhile, I have cracked my ol’ Excel Ninja knuckles and settled down to pivot table away to provide some Fascinating Analysis ™of these versions. Continue reading “The Metrics of Scrooge”