The Dish Subscription Surge

One last note before the New Year begins. When I was asked a little less than a year ago what our ambition was for revenue in 2013, I grabbed a number out of the air. It was our combined editorial budget at the Beast in 2012, which was $900K. Maybe it was unreasonable to think we could make the same salaries independent as we did under a corporate umbrella; maybe I should have made the goal higher – because we also had to find staff and time and resources in 2013 to do all the administrative, business and technical work that the Beast had done for us; maybe I should have set the goal considerably higher if we were able to corrall enough resources to start commissioning and publishing more long-form pieces. But, hey, I didn’t know what to expect, and $900K seemed fair enough if I had to pick.

Well, we kinda did it. As the hours tick down on 2013, here’s a graph of our new subscriber revenue month by month, after the initial massive wave:

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That’s what you call a strong finish. We end the calendar year with gross subscription revenue of $851K. We have no debt. We have almost 34,000 subscribers. Almost 9,000 of them are now on auto-renew, and if our 25,000 original supporters renew next year in numbers comparable with the very beginning, then we’ll finally have a solid basis for a ongoing, entirely-online blogazine with no sponsored content and (so far) no advertizing.

To coin a very 2012 phrase: you built that. And we’re incredibly grateful to live in it.

Thank you. And a very Happy New Year from all of us – me, Patrick, Chris, Jessie, Matt, Alice, Chas, Brian, Brendan, Jonah and Tracy – to every single one of you.

To Resolve Or Not To Resolve

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro points out that it may be wise to skip New Year’s resolutions this year:

The statistics are bleak: only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions stick to them, and those who don’t usually abandon them after just one week. Unrealistic resolutions are fated to fail. And it is unrealistic to think that you can immediately overcome a habit you have spent years establishing. But is this necessarily harmful? There’s a good chance that it is. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat less, but you have no plan in place — or even if you do have a plan and you fail — you will do damage to your sense of self-worth. If you already have a complicated relationship with food, your likely coping mechanism for failure is eating more food. Thus the New Year’s resolution to eat less can actually result in your eating more. Ditto drinking, drug use, smoking, finding a mate, exercising, etc.

But all hope is not lost:

Naturally, if you set more realistic goals, you are more likely to succeed.

In a study that looked at the role of expectations in exercise, the psychologist Fiona Jones and her colleagues found that people with more modest expectations were far likelier to complete a twelve-week-long exercise course. And once we’ve set goals, we’re most likely to reach them by creating a firm plan. The theory of implementation intentions, a term coined by the psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, maintains that we have a better chance of sticking to a goal if we think about contingencies in advance and devise a direct, automatic response to each of them. (If feel too tired to go to the gym, I’ll have some coffee or eat an apple before heading out.) “It’s harder to break a specific commitment then a nonspecific one,” [psychologist Katherine] Milkman said.

Sunstein gives more advice:

It’s easy to resolve to be more altruistic, to exercise greater self-control, to be more patient, or to enhance one’s life, but it’s costly to do these things. Suppose that you aren’t always as generous and kind as you would like to be, or that you have trouble resisting temptation, or that you don’t give yourself enough time off. If so, it’s probably because it’s costly to do those things, and it’s hard to anticipate those costs and burdens in advance.

The best remedy is to find ways to reduce such costs and burdens. If you want to be more altruistic, you might set up automatic monthly gifts to your favorite charity. If you want to increase your self-control, you might alter your environment so that you run into temptations less often — for example, by keeping less food in your refrigerator. If you want to have an adventure or two, you might accompany your New Year’s resolution with a purchase, today or tomorrow, of a plane ticket.

A New Year’s Moment


The start of a new year prompts Stefany Anne Golberg to meditate on Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Woman before the Rising Sun,” which she says she would like to retitle “New Year’s Moment”:

A woman in a long dark dress stands facing a sunrise that bursts up from behind a mountain. The rays of sun blaze and illuminate the rocky landscape, turning the sky a fiery orange. The woman is quite far from the sunrise but Friedrich positioned her in such a way that the rays seem to be shooting out of her whole body. And even so, she is not contorted in ecstasy before the new day. She’s not grasping at the sunrise either, trying to gather the sun into herself. She simply stands there, waiting, her arms turned slightly open.

Interestingly, this painting is sometimes called “Woman before the Setting Sun.” Caspar David Friedrich … often mixed up time in his paintings. Now something is rising, now something is passing, now something is dying, now something reborn — nature and time always infinite, and mysterious, happenings to stand before in mute awe. Friedrich once said of his paintings (in other words, his life), “I shall leave it to time to show what will come of it: a brilliant butterfly or maggot.” This is exactly what the woman in “Woman before the Rising Sun (Woman before the Setting Sun)” is doing. She opens her hands a little bit toward to the coming sun and invites the new day to arrive. She welcomes her spring as the winter passes, leaving time to show what will come of it.

For Adam Gopnik the new year brings to mind the stories of the Titanic and its more successful twin ship, the Olympic:

You have certainly heard of the Titanic; you have probably never heard of the Olympic. We have a fatal attraction to fatality. We don’t have one movie called “Titanic,” starring Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, about a tragic love and a doomed adventure, and another called “Olympic,” a musical comedy starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, about a happy voyage over. We have only one movie, and remember only one sad tale. …

Two boats set sail in those prewar years a century ago: the boat that sailed on and the boat that sank. Olympic or Titanic? Which is ours? It is, perhaps, essential to life to think that we know where we’re going when we set out—our politics and plans alike depend on the illusion that someone knows where we’re going. The cold-water truth that the past provides, though, may be that we can’t. To be a passenger in history is to be unsure until we get to port—or the lifeboats—and, looking back at the prow of our ship, discover the name, invisible to our deck-bound eyes, that it possessed all along.

(Image of Woman before the Rising Sun (Woman before the Setting Sun) by Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1820, via Wikimedia Commons)

Legalization Eve

Tomorrow, legal marijuana goes on sale in Colorado:

At 12:00 a.m. MST this Wednesday, the first legal sales of marijuana will occur in Colorado. Other sales will follow shortly in Washington state. How will this actually work? Colorado has been scrambling to come up with a legal architecture for this new industry, and the results look more modest than many expected (e.g.: There will be a very limited number of distributors, it can only be used at home rather than in cafes or large parties, etc.), but there are some creative entrepreneurs at work already. But what will this look like in a few months? Will marijuana lose some of its stigma? Will it lose some of its caché? Will usage actually increase substantially, or are the people who would use it already finding ways of getting it? And, perhaps most importantly, will Colorado’s and Washington’s experiences end up serving as an example or a warning to other states?

John Hudak states the obvious:

If the movement will continue to succeed, it must be actively committed to making implementation work and work well.

If the experience of the Affordable Care Act in 2013 has shown us anything, it is that implementation matters. Botched rollouts, unforeseen bumps in the road and other challenges hurt advocates and embolden opponents.

Sullum expects demand to outstrip supply:

Denver Relief, one of Colorado’s best-known dispensaries, plans to focus on serving current customers, allocating only about a fifth of its plants, producing 10 pounds or so a month, to the recreational side. Co-owner Kayvan Khalatbari says new customers probably will be limited to “family and friends, referrals from people who already come in.” Khalatbari predicts that outlets open to the general public will have a hard time meeting demand. “People who come here on January 1 are going to be sorely disappointed by the lack of marijuana,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a huge drought. People are going to be able to sell eighths for 60, 70, 80 bucks for the first few months.”

If the price gets too steep, there is another option for those who planned ahead or have friends who did. Since last December, Coloradans have been allowed to grow up to six plants at home and share the produce, up to an ounce at a time, “without remuneration.” Those provisions could give rise to an alternative distribution system, although how far cannabis cooperatives can go without breaking the law is a matter of dispute. At what point does compensation for expenses become remuneration? “This is a difficult area of law that I anticipate will receive a lot more attention from state and local elected officials,” Elliott says.

Incandescent Lights Out


The US will stop making and importing 40- and 60-watt incandescent lightbulbs starting tomorrow:

This follows the recently completed transitions from the old 100- and 75-watt incandescent bulbs over the past two years, a process that unfolded very smoothly because there are so many better-performing options available. Consumers now have three major types of bulbs to choose from: new and improved incandescents that use 28% less energy, and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that provide energy savings of at least 75% and last a lot longer. …

To be clear, incandescents are not disappearing at the first of the year — they’re just getting more efficient. And technological advances — like the GE 43W bulb below that replaces the 60-watt incandescent — have already saved homeowners and businesses billions of dollars on their energy bills. The new standards eventually will save as much electricity as is generated by 30 large coal-burning power plants – and the associated pollution that harms our health and contributes to climate change – every single year.

Benen discusses the politics of the phaseout:

In 2007, Congress tackled a pretty important energy bill, which included light-bulb provisions that weren’t considered controversial in the slightest. At the time, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and congressional Democrats worked together on the larger legislative package, which included advanced light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency. The provision was approved with bipartisan support – the radicalization of the Republican Party has intensified quickly in recent years – and the larger bill was easily passed and signed by President George W. Bush.

What’s more, the policy has been quite successful, working exactly as intended, and producing the kind of energy innovation proponents hoped to see. It was, by any fair measure, a bipartisan success story. We’ll still occasionally hear Republicans describe the Bush/Cheney-backed energy bill as an authoritarian scourge intended to literally keep Americans in the dark, but the transition to a smarter energy policy has actually progressed nicely and efficiently.

If you absolutely must have your incandescent light, Larry Birnbaum found a loophole in the law that lets him manufacture “rough service” bulbs and sell them to the general public:

The law has a variety of exceptions, though, for “for specialty lighting, including bulbs with unusual bases, others meant for special display purposes, and rough service bulbs.” Birnbaum described a “rough service” bulb as one that “can take a beating, one meant for industrial purposes — imagine a lightbulb on a subway car, built to survive the jostling and vibrations of  the daily commute.” He said that they work like normal bulbs and, as Fox News noted, “consumers can buy them and screw them into any ordinary lamp socket.” Birnbaum applied for a permit to build the bulbs in 2010 and, after a tedious and bureaucratic process, he finally got approval to make his “Newcandescents” bulbs, which “began shipping in 2010 — made in America, at a plant outside of Indianapolis by around two dozen employees.” Birnbaum said that he received over $100,000 worth of orders after an appearance on the Rush Limbaugh show in 2012.

On The Ball

Tonight, over a billion people will tune in to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Latif Nasser traces the history of the New York tradition:

In 1877, Western Union installed a time ball on its Manhattan headquarters, at Broadway and Dey Street. … After Adolph Ochs became the publisher of the Times, in 1896, he decided to move it to 2014 New Year's Eve Philips Ball Testthe former site of the Pabst Hotel, at the intersection of Forty-second Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue. The Times’ new terra cotta and pink granite building was the second tallest in Manhattan. By 1904, Ochs had convinced Mayor George McClellan to rename the square after the paper. That same year, Ochs planned a New Year’s Eve party, promising fireworks at midnight, to lure New Yorkers away from the city’s traditional gathering, on Wall Street, where people listened to the bells of Trinity Church. It worked. Three years later, though, Ochs couldn’t get a permit for the fireworks. Instead, he installed a seven-hundred-pound sphere of iron and wood, covered it in a hundred twenty-five-watt light bulbs, and had it lowered from the flagpole at midnight.

The Times moved in 1913, but the Times Square ball drop continued, interrupted only by wartime blackouts in 1942 and 1943. Until 1995, the ball was lowered much as older time balls once were: by “six guys with ropes and a stopwatch.” Today, the drop is initiated by a laser-cooled atomic clock in Colorado, the primary time standard for the United States. It continues to be our most spectacular display of public time-keeping.

Two years ago, Jen Glantz joined a crowd of a million to watch the ball drop in person:

By 8:30 pm, I wanted to call it quits.

I could no longer feel my itty-bitty toes and my bladder was starting to hit that 3/4 full mark. I was sandwiched between the pushy elbows of someone from Turkey and the unnecessary baggage of someone from Idaho. I was fully immersed in it all. Smells of food, people peeing in their pants, babies in a state of misery I desperately wish I could get away with at this age, rowdy crowds of hungry and antsy human beings.

But instead of giving up, I gave in. Dancing beside a family of 5 to keep busy, to keep sane, and most importantly to keep warm. Exchanging life stories, told to me in broken English juxtaposed with beautiful accents. Learning about people, their places and their things has the ability to make 9pm flirtatiously flow into 10pm…. If I wanted to get through spending New Years Eve in Times Square, an occasion half of the people I know batted their eyelashes at me and told me I was crazy for attempting, I had to let myself go. And if you, my friends, want to make it through a New Year, a new list of resolutions, changes, discoveries you want to make, I suggest you do the same.

(Photo: The 2014 New Year’s Eve Waterford Crystal ball during a test at One Times Square on December 30, 2013. By Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

The Deadliest Assignment

Twenty-nine reporters were killed in Syria this year, making it the most dangerous country for journalists in 2013. That’s nearly three times as many reporters who died in the world’s second-most-dangerous country, Egypt. Catherine Traywick explains why Syria is exceptionally dangerous:

First, from a baseline of relative safety, the security situation for journalists deteriorated rapidly once the conflict began. (In the two decades before the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, CPJ [the Committee to Protect Journalists] had not documented a single journalist death in the country; the following year, it ranked No. 1 in journalist deaths).

Second, both sides of the conflict have specifically singled journalists out for violence. Assad’s regime – already notorious for suppressing media freedom – was the first to target journalists reporting on the civil war. In the early days of the uprising, Syrian authorities began arresting local reporters covering the anti-government protests. Then, in 2012, when Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a rocket attack carried out by the Syrian army, the Telegraph reported that the Syrian Army may have specifically targeted the journalists after tracking their satellite phone signals to a particular building. Soon after, CPJ confirmed that satellite phone tracking was being widely used by military and security forces …

Journalist abductions are also increasingly a problem in Syria. According to CPJ, 60 journalists have been kidnapped since the start of war – most likely taken by opposition groups – with 30 still missing. In most cases, the kidnappers don’t ask for ransom, but are looking to mete out their version of “justice.”