Good Reads: From animals in films, to Wikipedia’s slump, to the cost of making a T-shirt

This week's roundup of Good Reads includes animal safety on movie sets, the story behind the original 'welfare queen,' Wikipedia's hopes for survival, Asian 'words of the year,' and how much it costs to make a $25 T-shirt.

20th Century Fox/AP
The film ‘Life of Pi’ mostly relied on a computer-generated tiger.

HBO made headlines in 2012 when four horses died on the set of “Luck,” a drama that revolved around a racetrack. The American Humane Association stepped in to investigate, prompting HBO to cancel the show the next day. For 136 years, the AHA has watched over the welfare of animals in show business. But according to Gary Baum of The Hollywood Reporter, the AHA has repeatedly overlooked or failed to report serious accidents and animal cruelty.

“In fact, the AHA has awarded its ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production,” he writes. “It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren’t intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren’t rolling.”

The exposé describes several instances of dubious supervision, including when dozens of dead fish and squid washed ashore after a special-effects explosion during “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and a near drowning of King, the real tiger used in a few scenes in “Life of Pi.”

The legend of the ‘welfare queen’

On the campaign trail, Ronald Reagan regaled audiences with stories about a woman who “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

This “welfare queen” became a symbol of a government system rife with fraud, much to the chagrin of some on the left, who considered the tale racist malarkey.
But Mr. Reagan spoke of a real woman. Her name was Linda Taylor, and, as Josh Levin reports in Slate, her crimes reached far deeper than welfare fraud. The con artist was accused of kidnapping, baby trafficking, regularly bilking government services, successfully posing as multiple races (she was white), impersonating a heart surgeon, and possible homicide.

Will Wikipedia survive?

Wikipedia relies on volunteers. They write the encyclopedia entries, add new information, fight off vandals, squash hoaxes, and enforce quality standards. But Wikipedia is in trouble, writes Tom Simonite of MIT Technology Review. Its volunteer workforce has dwindled by more than a third since 2007 and continues to shrink.

As the number of participants diminishes, the community’s problems become more obvious. For example, “its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy,” writes Mr. Simonite. “The main source of those problems is not mysterious. The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.”

Now, the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit group behind Wikipedia, has sprung into action, hoping to expand its base before the whole experiment curdles.

Sobering words of the year

The Oxford Dictionaries chose as its 2013 word of the year “selfie,” a photograph that one takes of oneself and often posts online. (Michigan’s Lake Superior State University voted it as one of the year’s most annoying words.) Asian countries, on the other hand, chose much more somber words of the year.
In a compilation on Quartz, Herman Wong notes that China picked fang (house). Chinese cultural centers chose the character because of the country’s runaway housing market. The Beijing Evening News reports that after three years of surging home prices, some Chinese feel as if owning a home has drifted out of reach.

Readers of Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper voted for mai (haze), after the country’s record pollution. Japan selected a more hopeful word: wa (circle). “This character was chosen to represent how the Japanese people worked together to win the right to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games,” writes Mr. Wong, “and how they endured the natural calamities that have struck the country.”

The cost of a simple T-shirt

How much does it cost to make a T-shirt? NPR’s Planet Money extended a simple offer: Buy a $25 T-shirt and its team of reporters will follow the creation of that shirt from the cotton fields to the sewing factories to customers’ mailboxes.

Planet Money’s 24,470 shirts cost $12.42 each. About $2.25 of that went to Kickstarter and Amazon for processing customers’ money. Each shirt has 60 cents’ worth of cotton. Yarn spinning cost 40 cents. Knitting, dyeing, and sewing came to $1. Shipping the shirts from Bangladesh to the United States turned out to be the cheapest step, adding on only 10 cents. American tariffs slapped on an extra 33 cents. The artist who designed the graphic received 12 cents per shirt. Printing that image took 90 cents. Planet Money teamed up with clothing giant Jockey to make the shirts, so $2.67 went toward the company’s overhead.

Finally, the highest expense: ensuring that each shirt arrives safely at people’s homes. That cost $4.05.

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