The Sunday Post for October 20, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

The Turbotax trap

I’ve always thought of Turbotax sort of like those individually wrapped slices of “cheese product” — I know slicing my own cheese isn’t hard; I know it’d improve lunch if I did. But, in the everyday calculus of time and attention … well.

Despite those annual moments of Turboweakness, I had no idea until this episode of the fabulous Reply All that the “free” software was born out of an agreement with Intuit (and other, less successful companies) that effectively restricts the US government from offering free electronic tax filing to its citizens. Well!

With its monopoly on “free” filing successfully established, Intuit has used every trick in the book, and invented several new ones, to obscure the path to free tax filing for its users. It’s insane to think how much actual productive positive change they could have made in the world with the money and energy that have gone into bilking people who are, in many cases, already scraping the bottom of their bank accounts.

Propublica has been reporting on this story for some time; you can find a slew of links at the bottom of the Reply All link above.

Every fall before tax season, the company puts every aspect of the TurboTax homepage and filing process through rigorous user testing. Design decisions down to color, word choice and other features are picked to maximize how many customers pay, regardless if they are eligible for the free product. “Dark patterns are something that are spoken of with pride and encouraged in design all hands” meetings, said one former designer.
We need to talk about The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree is one of the most gruesomely off-key books a child could read. It’s a claustrophobic morality play in which one character engages in escalating degrees of self-mutilation in hopes of winning the other’s attention and affection. The happy ending? The survivor sits, haggard and bent with age, and rests on the corpse of his lifelong worshipper.

This take is a little too mild for my tastes, but it carries the weight of appearing in the NYT’s Parenting column, where hopefully it will save some children nightmares — and a lifetime of bad relationship decisions.

We don’t know what motivated Shel Silverstein to write “The Giving Tree.” In a rare interview, he said it was about “a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes.” But we think it’s best read as a cautionary tale about love. Although the tree seems to take joy in giving to the boy, their relationship is entirely one-sided. The tree is perfectly happy to destroy herself under the guise of “love” for the boy. That’s not love; it’s abuse. Even an editor of the book, Phyllis Fogelman, felt that way. “I have had qualms about my part in the publication of ‘The Giving Tree,’ which conveys a message with which I don’t agree,” she said in an interview. “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”
A survey of my right arm

Ge Gao’s writing arm betrays her, first with pain, then with uselessness. This essay, which explores her loss from both personal and philosophical perspectives, is charmingly self-aware — who would not feel self-pity, robbed of their right hand? And yet who, knowing themselves self-pitying, could help it?

I started wondering whether the pain disabled me from writing and creating work, or whether my illness covered up the parts that had already been disabled — that were not capable of producing enough substantial matters in life to satisfy my body and mind. A broken arm could be a visible excuse. It made more sense than a malfunctioning mind. It had gained more sympathy from friends and strangers, too.