Oops! Moon's Pointed Wrong Way

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. recently ran an ad in Newsweek magazine to illustrate how hard working their agents are when it comes to serving customers. The drawing shows a briefcase, an agent sitting at his desk working into the night, lamp burning, and the crescent moon high in the night sky.

One sharp-eyed reader, Shirley Harrison, a professor of physical sciences at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., wrote the Milwaukee-based insurer to point out that the "man in the moon" was looking the wrong way.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the astronomy professor observed, the horns of a crescent moon point to the east or left, not to the right as illustrated. As the moon travels west, it does point the other way by early morning. The opposite is true when the moon is seen from the Southern Hemisphere, she noted, wondering whether "the poor agent has been out all night" or had been dispatched to South America to sell insurance.

Northwest was a bit embarrassed by its astronomical goof because on April 14-18, the company will be a major sponsor of a CBS-TV miniseries based on the James Michener novel, "Space."

Picnics Are Still Tax Free

Cries are being raised about Uncle Sam tightening fringe-benefit provisions in the federal tax laws. Many goodies that escaped Internal Revenue Service scrutiny in the past are now considered part of an employee's gross income and are subject to tax.

The most notable item probably is the use of a company car to commute, which now is considered a taxable fringe benefit.

But Deloitte Haskins & Sells, one of the Big Eight public accounting firms, has sifted through tax regulations to discover whether any nontaxable fringe benefits still exist. The pickings are slim, but there are some.

For example, you can still attend the company picnic without being taxed on the value of the hot dogs, beer and the rest. And you can still park your car free in a company parking lot if the boss gives you that privilege.

Companies also are allowed to offer employees so-called "no additional cost service" benefits. For instance, if you work for a department store, the company can still give you an employee discount on items you buy at the store. Or, if you work for an airline, the carrier can give you free plane travel.

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