Free Things

DWYL, Year 2: Starting in the Red

The 8th floor of a huge, high-ceiling building just north of Houston Street in Manhattan is a good place to work. My little chunk of it, a sizable room, comes with air conditioning, comfy chairs, a sofa, a whiteboard, a large mirror, an Apple device charging station, a yoga mat, several industrial-chic lamps, a coat hook, two windows that are each taller than I am, three unobtrusive plants, a magazine rack, and a conference table that can seat six. Ordinarily, the space costs $30/hr but it’s free to me from 1:00 to 3:00 PM via Breather, the room-for-rent service.

A psychiatrist I once saw operated in this very building. I dubbed him Dr. Worthless because I am uncharitable that way, especially after a break up. He tried to get me on a strong psychoactive medication and I resisted because my mother had been prescribed that very medication and reacted badly to it. He kept forgetting that I had said no, or kept pushing it on me anyway, and finally I lost my temper. “What, do they pay you or something?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, without blinking.

He also told me I wouldn’t need the pills he did give me because the placebo effect of my carrying them around will suffice to keep my anxiety attacks at bay. The poets sing of placebos: Oh, a good placebo, who can find it? Its worth is above rubies. What would the copay be on an effective placebo? I’d pay rubies, sure.

Month 1 of DWYL: Year 2, is almost over. Year 2 is going to be even more scary interesting than Year 1 was, because Ben, my life partner and co-parent, has joined me in the quest of tying personal satisfaction to professional fulfillment. He has traded one FT, well-paying if soul-sucking job for a combination of two PT jobs, one of which is in what he thinks is his chosen field. I am still freelance. No benefits, no stability. This is, patently, crazy. 

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The “Give Everyone a Goalie” Kind of Sex Ed

Sex ed is a hot button issue in America because certain folks believe it’s not a good idea for public schools to acknowledge that unmarried humans also have genitals, so we have an alarmingly high teen birth rate compared to other developed nations. That costs everyone money. What if instead of arguing about whether it’s acceptable to have high schoolers roll condoms onto bananas, we gave every lady a goalie instead, i.e., went straight to funding long-term, reversible birth control?

Between 2007 and 2012, Colorado saw the highest percentage drop in birth rates among teens 15 to 19 in the country, according to a report released today by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. During that time, its teen birth rates dropped 39 percent compared to 29 percent nationwide. Abortion rates in the state among teens fell 35 percent between 2009 and 2012 and are falling nationally, as well.

The CDC’s report comes on the heels of Colorado’s own study, which reported a 40 percent decline in births among teens 15 to 19 from 2009 to 2013. The stunning decline in teen birth rates is significant not just for its size, but for its explanation. State public health officials are crediting a sustained, focused effort to offer low-income women free or low-cost long-acting reversible contraception, that is, intrauterine devices or implants. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, supported by a $23 million anonymous donation, provided more than 30,000 IUDs or implants to women served by the state’s 68 family-planning clinics. The state’s analysis suggests the initiative was responsible for three-quarters of the decline in the state’s teen birth rates. … The state also saw a 50 percent drop in repeat pregnancies among teens. With a second child, the already-high odds are ratcheted up that a low-income mother will not finish high school, remain trapped at the low-paying end of the economic ladder and reliant upon public assistance. (You, taxpayer, may read this as ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.)

Women who elected to go with condoms, the pill, or the patch instead were twenty times more likely to get pregnancy accidentally than those who got the implant/insertion. Shifting more of them to the long-term methods saved taxpayers $12 billion just in 2010. TWELVE BILLION!@!#!! Several other states are following suit, expanding Medicaid to cover the costs of long-term devices for postpartum women.

God, I hope this is something we can all get behind.

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What Fields Medal Prize Money Will Buy You in 2014

A woman has, at last, won the highest prize in Mathematics, the Fields Medal, the name of which might ring a faint bell because it’s mentioned in Good Will Hunting, the movie we keep talking about this week for various reasons.* The winner is Maryam Mirzakhani, and one day maybe her name will ring a bell too, the way Marie Curie’s does.

Meanwhile, what will the cash associated with the super-prestigious “Nobel of Math” buy her on the open market? Not much:

The prize, worth 15,000 Canadian dollars (£8,000), is awarded to exceptional talents under the age of 40 once every four years by the International Mathematical Union. Between two and four prizes are announced each time.

15,000 Canadian dollars = about $13,700, which is more than a Pulitzer, but still not a life-changing amount of money. It could buy her:

+ A Kia Spectra

+ This 2 carat round diamond solitaire ring in 14k white gold

+ One super-ultra-beyond first class ticket to Singapore – or, as Buzzfeed points out, “you could fly to Vegas every four days for an entire year

Do these prizes keep up with inflation or were they vastly more significant at one time?

*NOTE: Re-watch it! There’s lots in it about money and class and there might be a quiz on Friday.

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The Beach: A Bargain or A Bummer?

In this weekend’s New York Times, Roxane Gay gives a litany of reasons to hate the beach.

In Haiti, beach bodies are simply bodies, and beach reads are simply books, because the beach is all around you. … But for the rest of us, the beach exerts a different kind of gravitational pull. Sixty-one percent of Americans don’t live anywhere near a beach. We spend a surprising amount of time hearing about this place we will hardly ever see. We watch commercials, TV shows and movies in which nubile young women and their strapping male counterparts frolic on sand, their hair golden and sun-streaked. Long walks on the beach are the supposed holy grail of a romantic evening. The beach becomes a kind of utopia — the place where all our dreams come true.

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Tear Down This Paywall: The New Yorker Opens Its Archives

Yesterday, in addition to launching a redesign of the New Yorker “Web site” — that’s how they say website in exalted magazine-speak – the famed, august, taste-making institution also threw open the gates to its archives. Well, sort of, and for a limited time:

the New Yorker announced plans to massively overhaul its website and to significantly alter its digital model, at a time when the Guardian and the New York Times are also implementing changes to their online presence. The prestige magazine, owned by Condé Nast, will move to a metered paywall system. It is is also making all of its articles since 2007* available for free for a three-month period, in a bid to entice new subscribers. After that, a limited number of articles will be available for free, before readers are required to subscribe. The current print circulation for the magazine is about 1 million, with 12 million unique visitors to its website.

In a “letter to readers” introducing the new website, the New Yorker joked that “editorial and tech teams have been sardined into a boiler room, subsisting only on stale cheese sandwiches and a rationed supply of tap water” in a bid to get the new site up and running.

Gather your rosebuds while ye may! This profile of Janet Yellen from the most recent issue is available in full for free. So are lots of features by two of my favorite contributors, Elif Batuman and Burkhard Bilger, as well as others. Before you know it, the new metered paywall will descend and we’ll all have to figure out whether or how to pay for our fix. My method, as I’ve mentioned, is to subscribe to public radio at the $120/year level and get a subscription as my thank you gift. But everyone has their ways.

The article originally said the archives went back to 1997, but that was a mistake on their part, and we have both now corrected it. 

Image via the New Yorker and Beyond The Times

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New “Harry Potter” Content Released, Free

The good news is, as of today you can read a new short story about Harry Potter on Pottermore, the obsessive fan fiction site. The bad news is, you have to jump through a series of hoops as long as a Quidditch field to get there. (Sign up required.) The good news is, it’s free! The bad news is, the story is written in the voice of Rita Skeeter. Here’s a snippet from the Vulture write-up:

… [Harry] Potter took his young songs James and Albus to visit the players’ compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: ‘We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.’

I never bought that Harry would name one of his sons “Albus Severus,” if only because it sounds godawful, and I wished Hermione would have stayed single, become some kind of holy terror of a lawyer and brought lots of suits against the Ministry of Magic while having hot sex with Victor Krum and maybe also Ginny on the side. But I am a bit skeptical about this story, even as I dive into it. From Scarlet to Cosette, these kinds of things have a foul track record, though at least this extension was written by the brilliant, kindhearted quadrillionaire JK Rowling herself, who could have charged money for even a little wispy bit of whatever thrown to her masses of fans and didn’t. Bless her heart.

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Let Google Send You To Tech School, Because Otherwise You’ll Starve

Noting a paucity of women and POC among their engineers, Uncle Google has decided to give us a boost.

Google is paying for three free months for any women and minorities interested in tech to expand their skills. While Google is also offering the same vouchers to the women in attendance at its annual I/O developers conference this week, the search giant has released an online application that’s available to women everywhere. Google says its available vouchers for women number in the “thousands.”

So, better odds than the #AmtrakResidency! Go ahead, ‘folders, apply and let us know what happens. Goodness knows, if you’re a woman or a POC, you’ll do better studying #STEM than moving to NYC to try to be an artist, according to the rabid attention paid to writers like Emily Gould, who have the temerity to publish books, and this sad, sobering analysis in HyperAllergic.

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Measure Your Life in Birth Control

My life divides neatly into AD — years of delightful innocence about the realities of life — and BC — when I had to dedicate a part of brain to thinking about obtaining, using, and paying for birth control so that my womb wouldn’t get any ideas about its outsized importance of my life and start throwing its weight around, dictating terms. Here is my life in birth control.

At first I used condoms, and though I bought them occasionally at less than $10 a box, my male partner almost always came prepared. (ba dum CHING!) Soon, though, I realized I wanted to own the control part of birth control. Besides, I hated the way latex smelled. I might have gotten the pill from my doctor at home, but when I tentatively broached the subject of sex with him, he told him dismissively that I was too young and ended the conversation. So I talked through my options with the thankfully less judgmental gyno at the college health center.

First I paid about $10/month for a subsidized patch. Its adhesive sides collected masses of fuzz from my flannel sheets, which meant what should have been a subtle flesh-toned square swiftly turned a garish violet. Then I got sick. Very sick. After a dizzying week, I ended up in the clinic overnight for Valentine’s Day with a fever of 103.5 and had to get an extension for my seminar paper on the American steel industry. I hate not being on time.

Finally, tired of trying to tough out the patch, I ripped it off. The college gyno next tried me on the ring, also sold subsidized at $10/month. It gave me staggering headaches from the hormone shifts and the opportunity to come to grips with myself — specifically my cervix — twice a month. The ring didn’t kill me within the week or render me invisible to all but Sauron, so I dealt with the side effects for the next decade.

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The Burrower, Part II

With your sleeping bag, travel-sized pillow and airplane blankets, you now have a bedroom that can be assembled in less than five minutes and stored away in your bottom desk drawer.

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The Cost of Things: Supporting Podcasts, Radio, & Friends

Mike: “I don’t want your money! Keep your money!” Ester. I can’t get that song out of my head—it’s stuck. It’s from 21 Chump Street, from the This American Life musical that just went up earlier this week.

Ester: That’s hilarious, MD. I haven’t listened to it yet but I’m highly susceptible to earworms so I’m sure that once I do I too will suffer from your malady.

Mike: So, it’s from their live show, and they have a video you can download if you want, and yes, I wanted it. The cost of it was $5, but they said that since the show was so expensive to make it’d be great if you could pay more. So I paid $20.

Ester: That’s great of you! Did you consider waiting to see how much you enjoyed the content before deciding how much to give them in exchange for it? I just signed up for Slate Plus, where you pay the site $50 a year or $5 a month to get upgraded content — podcasts without ads, for example — but that was after years and years of reading and listening to Slate content gratis. Their value had already been demonstrated.

Mike: I decided that $20 was a fair price to pay for something I listen to on a weekly basis and want to continue to support, so I paid it without waiting to see if I liked the video itself.

Ester: Right, that makes sense. You’re not paying for the video, after all; you’re rewarding them for their track record. I have done that too for TAL specifically. (I’m a radio dork.) But do you have other podcasts that you listen to and like and haven’t contributed to, even though they’ve asked? What’s your criteria for deciding which listening experiences to support?

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