Just Wondering

It's a beautiful thing to spend some time away from media and information. But it hits you immediately upon return, thanks to the banks and banks of televisions that are bolted to airport walls these days.

A little distance from the tele always causes me to laugh for a little while upon being re-exposed. So here's what I'm wondering:

Who's grand idea was it to resurrect a former Spice Girl to hawk spaghetti sauce? This concept should have been dead in the water before it even hit the pitch table, yet somehow this dog actually got funded, created, and beamed into living rooms across the nation.

Before the advent of Ebay, where did game show contestants dump all of the schlocky "prizes" that they were sent home with? I mean, they're not exactly the type of things that one could effectively offload at a yard sale... did folks come home from their exciting trips to Hollywood and then place ads in their local paper seeking buyers for the custom-made harmonicas, light oak tables and lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat? Did pawn shops pick up the slack?

Which leads me to thinking about another technological revolution. Last night a twenty-some-odd year old rerun of Family Ties was playing, and the fam was having a disagreement that required fact-checking.

My brain was blinking "Google it!" until I realized they would need another ten years, conservatively, for any such mechanism. From that point on, watching the show was like watching cave men. I kept thinking about all of the items these characters didn't even know existed---they didn't even have those super-giant cell phones yet!

Damn! I completely left off the main topic of this post, which kept coming back to me as I tried to fall asleep last night. WTF is wrong with the media in this whole "Vegan Parents Murder Child" case?!?! WTF does their being vegan have fuck-all to do with them being child killers?!?!

I mean, either they starved the kid or not. There are questions here that the media should be asking, and answering, such as "was there an autopsy?" "was any sustenance found in the baby's body to support the parents claim that they were feeding it soy milk (which specifically says on the carton should NOT be substituted for infant formula) and apple juice?"

And while vegans tend to be a little wacky in their lifestyles--the woman apparently gave birth in the bathtub, for chrissake--what I really want to know is, did they not breastfeed the kid because the milk would be, technically, coming from an animal?

These are serious questions, folks. Yet every fucking news story I've seen leads with "Vegan Parents." I don't care if you're a gay left-handed box-cutter practitioner of santeria...the appropriate topic here is child murder. No other descriptor trumps that. Let's stay on target, people.


flailing forward said...

It's true. At that point Michael J. couldn't even go back to the future yet.

Aspeth said...

We still don't have any cool hovercrafts yet. Or the ability to run our cars off of garbage. That would rock.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I remember from a newspaper article ages back... that the majority of those "game show" prizes went unclaimed. A car... sure. But a $10,000 engraved china hutch? Nope.

The reason is taxes. You have to pay your income tax at the time you claim the prize - like about 1/3 the "value." So now your $10K china hutch costs about three grand.

I remember when Oprah gave away new cars to the entire audience. And the HOWLS from those who were suddenly faced with coming up with $5K to claim their prize. "It's NOT a free car!" they screamed.

Oh well.

Aspeth said...

thanks for clearing that up, badgerjim. I always wondered specifically about the combo of shitty "prizes" and taxes.

I thought the oprah thing was really shite. I mean, the woman hands out brand-new cars to people who desperately needed them, and then they piss and moan about paying the tax on them. What fucking more can we do for you, people? Should oprah come to your home, hand you the keys to a new one, with a bazillion dollar cheque that ensures you should never work another day? Then pay for your lifetime of therapy because you're still unhappy?

No wonder the woman is focused on Africa...

Sprezzatura said...

aspeth -- if you cannot afford a car, you probably don't have the disposable income to pay taxes on a gifted car.

In addition, adding the value of the car to total income pushed some of the recipients into a higher tax bracket, meaning that they automatically owed more tax on everything they earned, not just the car. Again, not a good situation to be in if you're hurting for cash.

Aspeth said...

Fair enough, Sprezzie. My assumption was always to take the $28k (???) car, immediately sell it, buy a decent used car, pay the taxes, and still probably come out ahead.

Sprezzatura said...

I looked into it a bit, and you're right, but frankly I think the point of a gift is to make the recipient happy, not to stress them out and put them through a complicated financial transaction in order to not take a financial hit.

Quick, rough back of the envelope: Check out the tax rate chart here. Say you're single and making 30K a year, just enough to stay within the 15% bracket. Getting a 28K car almost doubles your income and pushes you into the 25% bracket with no time to adjust your witholdings. So, if I am calculating correctly, that's roughly a $10.5K tax bill (25% of the amount of income over 30,650 plus some of that $4,220 baseline). Then you sell the $28k car for .... $22K, maybe? After you pay off the taxes, that gives you roughly $11.5K left to buy a new car. You can definitely get a decent used car for that amount. But like I said, it's nowhere near as much fun as just getting a gift and then being able to enjoy it.

Ultimately, it might have been better to just give each person a 10K check, which they would not have to pay taxes on, and tell them to buy a good used car with it instead.

Anonymous said...

As for the vegan thing, how much interest would there be in America if they said
"Bunch of morons forget to feed their kid, child dies, they were too busy drinking, smoking pot, doing drugs or out partying."

That happens multiple times on a daily basis, so how is it news really?
I'm sure there is some couple watching TV while using there new baby as a footstool who exclaim
"those fucking VEGANS!! They didn't geed the kid!!"
"Honey watch your ashes, they're getting on the baby"

Anonymous said...

As for Oprah and the car thing. That's why (and CAsey has proven this point repeatedly) just handing out money to people is never going to work. Since they didn't really earn it, they won't get any satisfaction out of it, and they will never be happy. give em a buck and they'll want two. give em two and they'll want 10..then the feeling of entitlement rolls in. Someone is giving them money..they must DESERVE it.

Anonymous said...

Another problem with giving people $10K is that I don't believe it would be tax free. Harpo Productions is going to write off these costs as a business expense and issue 1099s to the recipients. Sure, Harpo (I think) can give them $10K as gifts, but I'm not sure they're going to take, say, $2.7M hit for this, if there are around 270 recipients. The cars weren't gifts, in the sense of the IRS thinks of things, after all.

Cash grants are more economically efficient, but they may not satisfy the giver's moral goals. The giver obviously wants to satisfy particular desires, or to constrain behavior. Giving cash is more efficient than providing food stamps, but we want to think in terms of providing food to people, not funds for booze and cigs. If it some discounted value of those food stamps winds up as booze and cigs, hey, at least we tried.

There's an economic idea that touches on this:

Econtalk podcast notes

The people setting up foodstamps, or Oprah setting up the car giveaway are the "Baptists" in this framework, and are more interested in the moral intentions of any particular action, rather than the actual outcomes. Hey, they're idea people!

Sprez, I'm not sure if the marginal tax thing will affect the recipients. If they're making $30K already, they're not going to make any more that will be taxed at the higher marginal rate. It's only the "income" of the car value that will be taxed at the higher marginal rate.