Free Things

MacArthur Day is the Best Day! Joy Money Recognition Joy

Around these parts, we like to poke fun sometimes at prestigious prizes that come with very little money attached. Because, like, thanks for that Pulitzer but I still gotta eat, you know? Maybe Pawn Stars will give me something for it. Gee, a Fields Medal, huh? Greaaaat. If only I could afford childcare so I could get back to the lab.

The MacArthur Foundation understands. Its “genius grants,” which it gives out once a year, are actual, substantial, maybe life-changing amounts of money ($625,000!). Best of all, they are a SURPRISE. No one applies to be a genius. They work hard and do their thing and get by and then one day someone shows up with a giant check.

Pamela Long, 71, an independent scholar based in Washington, works from home and almost never answers her phone. So when she received an e-mail from the MacArthur Foundation asking her to call, she thought it was for an interview about someone else who had been nominated. Then she was told she had won. In the days that followed, her initial reaction — shock — slowly gave way to relief.

As a historian not affiliated with a university, she never knows how she will afford to do her work — research on the science and technology of 15th- and 16th-century Europe — from year to year. So far she has supported herself through grants. “But I don’t think you can get a grant every year for the rest of your entire life,” she said on a video call from Rome, where she is studying archival material for a book tentatively titled “Engineering the Eternal City.”

SNIFF. Read about all the happily surprised winners here, including my favorite, “Genius to Watch Out For”* Alison Bechdel. Yay Alison!

Thanks for that, Bec

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Our Money Daydreams: Befriending Elderly Millionaires & Finding Bags of Gold

Constanza S. writes:

Sometimes I dream that I’ll meet a really wealthy old person who is ignored by their whole family and we’ll become friends and she/he will leave me all their money. I’m thinking we’ll go out to have pizza and ice cream a couple of times and old people usually LOVE ME so that’s probably all it would take.

Then they die and I’m RICH FOREVER. (and sad about losing my friend who I kind of just met but we had a really special connection)

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Canadian Health Care Awesomeness: Is It As Awesome As It Seems?

We’re all jealous of the Canadian health care system, unless we’re Canadian ourselves, in which case we spend our time eating poutine and watching hockey and politely marveling at the idiocy of Americans. But is the universal, public, accessible, single-payer health care that folks north of the border enjoy REALLY as great as it seems? Jacobin investigates:

The two largest holes in Canada’s health care system are the lack of universal coverage for dental care and the inadequate defraying of optical and prescription drug costs. As of 2012, an estimated one in five Canadians — disproportionately women, the unemployed, and freelancers — did not have the supplementary private health insurance that foots the bill for these services.

Uh. 20% of Canadians might have to pay for some dental and vision out of pocket, and these are your biggest problems? Here is the world’s tiniest violin, and here is me smashing it with a hammer made out of solidified resentment.

Universal health care is not just being eroded via underfunding. The federal government has been unwilling to enforce the Canada Health Act, which makes funding contingent on meeting certain standards. The lax regulatory environment has led to a proliferation of private clinics across Canada and inequitable access to some medical services.

OK now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe. It’s still hard for me to get worked up over the kinks in what seems like, overall, still a vastly preferable system to the one we’re stuck with down here, but pain is relative. And it does suck that abortions are hard to come by on Prince Edward Island.

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Link Roundup!: Popcorn Secrets; Theme Weddings; Return of the King (Bloomberg)

+ All you need to make air-popped popcorn: a microwave; some kernels; a brown paper bag. Cheap and delicious.

+ Theme weddings! Pro or con? The wedding my little family went to this past wedding was at a camp, and the theme of all camp weddings is “let’s pretend we’re kids again, or at least young 20-somethings, and don’t mind cold outdoor showers.” Other themes are more elaborate and, potentially, controversial. But how could anyone argue against Mexican “Star Trek”?

Up until two years ago, I, myself, had never had the privilege of attending any wedding with a theme other than “whoops, she’s pregnant” or “might as well.” Besides going to a lot of weddings, I’ve also been married twice. My first wedding was to a nice dude I met at 21 and married at 22. The wedding was themed “let’s get married.” In August of 2012, I planned on marrying for the second time. This time around I was 30 years old and marrying my partner of the previous five years. After the proposal, it took us maybe 20 minutes to decide on what sort of party to plan. We agreed upon the one thing that always brought us together as a couple, gave us great joy and happiness through the years, and defined us both as human beings. No, it wasn’t a Bruno Mars song or a certain kind of flower. It was Star Trek. We both love THE FUCK out of Star Trek. And since I am from a Mexican family and there is no way I could get married without the inclusion of mariachi music and Mexican food, we decided to have a Mexican Star Trek wedding and call the theme “Trek Mex.” …

Star Trek-themed attire was suggested, but absolutely not required. The only rules were have a good time and if you are white and choose to come as a Klingon DO NOT DO SO IN BLACK FACE. More people than expected showed up in all sorts of costumes. My dad wore a Worf mask that he refused to take off for all of our family photos. 

+ Michael Bloomberg is back in at Bloomberg LP. Yay?

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The Best Things in Life Are Free (Food)

It isn’t until I am actually standing in front of the dumpster that I begin to understand what we’re doing.

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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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