Monthly Archives: May 2013

From the Mouths of Babes

I’ve been on food stamps since August of last year to help me feed myself while I interned  at a theatre in Louisville, KY. My internship paid me $1000 for 8 months, that’s roughly $30 a week, and it kept me working for over full time (sometimes hitting 60 hours a week). Food stamps helped me make ends meet on top of a $600/mo. apartment plus utilities of $30-80/mo. and phone bills of $80/mo., etc. I got $200/mo. from food stamps which helped out enormously. I view it as the government investing in my future because I’ve paid taxes since I was 15 and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have parents that paid out of pocket for my college education so that I wasn’t saddled with any debt. But, that also means that they don’t have much more left to help me survive now. So, what do you think? Am I part of the entitled poor that are sucking up tax-payers money? – Claire E Jones






Published: May 30, 2013

“Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 31, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: From The Mouths Of Babes.”

Leave a comment

May 31, 2013 · 7:44 pm

For strong daughters, stop with the sex stereotypes

By David M. Perry, Special to CNN
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
Decades after the feminist movement, our culture still emphasizes girls' appearances, David M. Perry says.
Decades after the feminist movement, our culture still emphasizes girls’ appearances, David M. Perry says.

“Editor’s note: David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. His blog is How Did We Get Into This Mess. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) — When the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March, The New York Times celebrated her as the maker of a “mean beef stroganoff” and “the world’s best mother.” When my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, a wildly creative and interesting girl, finished a year of preschool last week, her teachers gave her an award for being the best dressed.

A few years ago at my son’s preschool camp award ceremony, I sat silently as well-meaning counselors called each child forward. Girls: best hair, best clothes, best friend, best helper and best artist. Boys: best runner, best climber, best builder and best thrower. My son won best soccer player. In general, girls received awards for their personalities and appearance and boys for their actions and physical attributes.

It was similar at my daughter’s ceremony, where the teacher told us that all the children were so excited to see what award they would receive; it had obviously been built up as a big deal. The gender disparity was subtle but present.

A boy received best engineer. A girl got best friend. Another girl was the best helper, and another most compassionate. A boy received best break dancer. A girl was named most athletic, and the teacher told us how when all the class raced around the track this girl “beat everyone! Even the boys!” And then my daughter got her certificate, showing her in a funky orange sweater, tight pants, and holding a bowling ball. Her award — best dressed.

Many decades after the feminist movement of the 1960s, why are we still stuck in this gender-norming rut?

The truth is that my daughter may well be the best dressed in her class. She has a terrific sense of style. One day she put on a hand-me-down Disney princess outfit, looked in the mirror and said, “OK Dad, I’m ready to dig for worms!” Another day, she went to school in a pink dress, green rain boots and a viking helmet. I frequently come home to find her in a pirate costume. She’s practical and became outraged when she discovered that her “girl jeans” turned out to have fake pockets. “Daddy,” she said, “Where am I going to put my pine cones?” If she’s the best dressed, it’s because of her creativity.

Sometimes, I find the prospect of raising a girl to be terrifying. The forces of patriarchy conspire to render girls weak, subordinate and sexually objectified. When we respond to infants by gendering our speech, strong for boys and lilting for girls, we immediately start to shape their interactions with the world.

I would once have said nothing was worse than the conspicuous consumption mantras of Barbie or thefemale-subjugation messaging of Disney, but then I encountered the hyper-sexualized elementary-school girls called Bratz. And then there’s underwear. Boys mostly get superheroes and girls get hearts and flowers, but at least Dora is an explorer. All too soon Ellie will encounter the world of Justin Bieber nightgowns and Victoria’s Secret underwear for tweens.

The teenage years with the new dangers of sex, alcohol, eating disorders and more will arrive before we know it. I can’t save her from all of this, and anyway we buy into purity culture (the notion that only a father’s constant surveillance can save our daughters) at our peril and the peril of our daughters. Our daughters need to be strong, not closeted and coddled. We have to arm them with the tools to question, resist and change our patriarchal culture.

Ellie’s teacher is the kind of smart and strong young woman I want as a role model for my daughter (she’s also a really snappy dresser), and I know she was only trying to make the transition moment special for each student. She absolutely intended to celebrate the way Ellie expresses her creativity through clothes. But gender stereotypes are, by their very nature, pernicious. They creep into our minds, shaping our perceptions of the world on a subconscious level, tricking us into betraying our values.

Our culture constantly projects the message that only appearances matter, and this message is aimed squarely at our children. We can fight this only by working against the grain, resisting gendered language and emphasizing the internal over the external.

If my daughter’s creativity shines through in her choice of clothing, then celebrate both that creativity and the critical thinking that lies at the heart of all creative acts with a most creative award. Or we could just let Ellie tell us what she wants us to celebrate. When she picked up her award, she beamed at the picture of herself holding the bowling ball so proudly. “Daddy!” she said, “I won best bowler!”

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David M. Perry.”

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 8:45 pm

Masterworks for One and All

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” (1642) on display in the Rijksmuseum.


Published: May 28, 2013

“AMSTERDAM — Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.

The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available through Rijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview. “‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.

Until recently, museums had been highly protective of good-quality digital versions of their artworks, making them available only upon request to members of the press or to art historians and scholars, with restrictions on how they could be used. The reasons are manifold: protecting copyrights, maintaining control over potentially lucrative museum revenues from posters or souvenirs and preventing thieves or forgers from making convincing copies.

There is also the fear, as described by the critic Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” that a piece can lose its aura, or authenticity, when it is reproduced so often that it becomes too familiar — cheapening the “Mona Lisa,” for instance.

In recent years, though, as the Google Art Project has begun to amass a global archive of images with the cooperation of museums and the Internet has made it impossible to stem the tide of low-quality reproductions, institutions are rethinking their strategy.

“We’ve gotten over that hurdle,” said Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery of Art in Washington. “I don’t think anyone thinks we’ve cheapened the image of the ‘Mona Lisa.’ People have gotten past that, and they still want to go to the Louvre to see the real thing. It’s a new, 21st-century way of respecting images.”

The National Gallery has so far uploaded about 25,000 works to share with the public. “Basically, this is the wave of the future for museums in the age of digital communications,” Ms. Ziska said. “Sharing is what museums need to learn to do.”

The Rijksmuseum has been able to put its works online more quickly because much of its collection predates Dutch copyright laws and its staff had an opportunity to digitize the collection when museum was closed for renovations. (It reopened last month after a 10-year makeover.) The digitization project was financed by a million-euro ($1.29 million) grant from the national BankGiro lottery, which provides money for the arts and cultural groups.

“The old masters were born and died before we even had copyright law in the Netherlands,” said Paul Keller, a copyright adviser for the Amsterdam-based instituteKennisland, who advised the Rijksmuseum on the plan. “For modern art museums, what they’re doing would be largely impossible.”

Rijksstudio has logged more than 2.17 million visitors since its service went online in October, and around 200,000 people have downloaded images. As a result, the Rijksmuseum won three international “Best of the Web” awards last month in Portland, Ore., at the annual international conference known as Museums and the Web. The prizes are based on peer evaluations by museum professionals.

Rijksstudio is unusual among digital museum projects in that it provides online tools for manipulating, changing or clipping the images, said Jennifer Trant, a co-founder of Museums on the Web. The online studio asks people to refrain from commercial uses and sells images of an even higher resolution that are more suitable for that purpose.

Museum policies on the downloading of images vary from institution to institution.

At the National Gallery in London, the collection of 2,500 artworks has been digitized and made available for academic purposes, but the museum has not provided free downloads. “Everyone understands that open access is the way to go, but organizations are in different places, and we’re facing a conflicting set of challenges,” said Charlotte Sexton, the head of digital media at the museum. “On the one hand, museums are still making money from the sale of images. That income, though, has been decreasing. You have that commercial concern butting up against this desire to go for free access.”

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has 137 million works in its coffers and has chosen 14 million of those for digitization, said a spokeswoman, Linda St. Thomas. It has made about 860,500 images, video clips, sound files, electronic journals and other resources available online, but the images of artworks are all low resolution — again, to discourage commercial use.

For the most part, Mr. Keller and Ms. Trant said, museums still tend to view their online collections as a kind of virtual catalog for the visitor rather than a bank of images that can be put to other uses.

But Mr. Dibbits of the Rijksmuseum maintains that letting the public take control of the images is crucial to encouraging people to commune with the collection. “The action of actually working with an image, clipping it out and paying attention to the very small details makes you remember it,” he said.

To inspire users, the Rijksmuseum invited the Dutch design cooperative Droog to create products based on its artworks. Its designers used part of a 17th-century flower still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem as a template for a tattoo, for example; it used a 3-D printer to create a white plastic replica of an ornate 16th-century centerpiece designed by the German silversmith Wenzel Jamnitzer and to adorn it with magnetic miniatures of items from the Rijksmuseum’s collection. .

Are there limits to how the Rijksmuseum’s masterpieces can be adapted? Not many, Mr. Dibbits suggested.

“If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction,” he said.


A version of this article appeared in print on May 29, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Masterworks for One and All.”

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 8:39 pm

A Pollock Restored, a Mystery Revealed

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

James Coddington, left, chief conservator of the Museum of Modern Art, gained a new perspective on Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950” at the museum’s conservation lab. 


Published: May 27, 2013

Jackson Pollock’s unconventional working methods — spreading a piece of unstretched, unprimed canvas on the floor of his Long Island studio and then pouring, splattering and literally flinging industrial paints across its surface — have long been part of his myth, performance art executed without an audience.

“On the floor I am more at ease,” he once wrote. “I feel nearer, more part of the painting since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”

During his lifetime Pollock was famously photographed creating these seminal works, known as drip or action paintings. His process and his canvases have been so extensively studied that it would seem there could be nothing else to learn. Yet a 10-month examination and restoration of his “One: Number 31, 1950,” by conservators at the Museum of Modern Art, have produced new insights about how the artist worked. The conservators also revealed a mysterious missing chapter in the painting’s history.

Restoring “One” has been on MoMA’s to-do list since 1998 when the work — often called a masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism — was featured in a retrospective. Seen in the context of paintings from the same period, “One” showed its age, with its canvas yellowing and years of dirt and dust in its crevices.

But it wasn’t until last July that work finally started. And almost a year later, on Tuesday, “One” will be rehung in its place on the museum’s fourth floor, considerably cleaner and its conservators a bit wiser.

The process began, as most restorations do, with a feather dusting. From there, James Coddington, chief conservator, and Jennifer Hickey, project assistant conservator, began to tackle the decades of grime covering the large painting, which is 9 feet high by 17 ½ feet across. They used sponges, moist erasers and cotton-tipped swabs soaked in water and a gentle, pH-adjusted solution.

Pollock’s drip paintings are complex, highly textured compositions with multiple coats of dripped and poured paint. In some areas paint is applied so thinly it seems to just stain the canvas. In others the paint is denser, with colors blending, swirling and bleeding together. There are also places where the paint has a smooth, glossy surface, and places where Pollock applied paint so thickly that it dried like curdled milk, with a puckered, wrinkled surface.

But when the conservators started to study these layers with X-rays and ultraviolet lights, certain portions of the canvas didn’t resemble Pollock’s style of painting at all. The texture was different, suggesting repetitive brush strokes not seen elsewhere in his work.

Another kind of paint was used in these areas too, one that “didn’t have the typical characteristics of poured house paint that we know Pollock used,” Mr. Coddington explained. The style of painting, he said, had a kind of “fussiness that has nothing to do with the way Pollock applied paint.”

He and Ms. Hickey then took microscopic paint samples from various parts of the canvas. They found household enamel paint known to have been used by Pollock, but they also discovered a synthetic resin that Pollock was not known to have used.

How had it gotten there? Records showed that nobody at the museum had touched the painting since it entered MoMA’s collection in 1968. And there was no evidence that it had been restored before coming to MoMA.

Museum officials did know that “One” had once belonged to Ben Heller, a dealer and a close friend of Pollock’s. The painting had also been in a traveling exhibition in the early 1960s. When they began researching that show they unearthed crucial evidence: a photograph taken in 1962 by a scholar in Portland, Ore., revealed that the painting had none of the questionable, uncharacteristic areas they had discovered.

“That meant they were added after 1962,” Mr. Coddington said. “And since Pollock died in 1956, those photographs confirmed they were put there after his death.” It is still unclear, however, who added them and why.

“We presumed it was to cover up some damage, but we didn’t know how extensive it was,” he said. Studying these areas with an ultraviolet light, the conservator saw small cracks below the surface of the paint. Presumably the later painting was an attempt to cover the cracks, perhaps to make the painting more salable.

That wasn’t the only surprise. When examining the painting with scholars and curators it became clear that some of the brown drips in the center and bottom of the canvas could not have been painted while “One” was on the floor. “They’re vertical drips,” Mr. Coddington said of the downward trickles of paint.

They then examined photographs of Pollock in his studio taken by Hans Namuth, who photographed many artists, and these showed how Pollock hung paintings toward the end of their creation. “They’re like final edits applied late in the game,” Mr. Coddington said of the downward drips. “They showed that the artist was not just looking at these paintings as the big gestural achievements that they appeared to be.”

To Mr. Coddington this indicated that these canvases “were really carefully conceived compositions.” Pollock he said, “looked at these paintings with a level of detail that was so great even we can’t understand it.”

Once they felt confident about Pollock’s original intentions, Mr. Coddington and Ms. Hickey painstakingly removed the paint that was applied after Pollock’s death. But they also made sure to preserve certain quirks in the painting, like a fly, still intact, stuck in the right-hand corner and tiny blobs of pink paint that they believe landed on the canvas by accident; there is no pink anywhere else in the composition.

When the cleaning was complete and the extra paint removed, the white and black underneath suddenly became visibly sharper, and fine, spiderlike skeins of paint appeared “like strands of silk,” Ms. Hickey said. So did more pronounced areas that almost look marbleized.

Toward the end of the restoration there was one final step: the conservator wanted to put the painting flat on the floor to “see it as Pollock did,” Mr. Coddington explained.

On an early May afternoon, three art handlers, two curators and the two conservators gathered as the giant painting was taken off the wall of the conservation studio and gently placed on the floor.

Not only did the canvas suddenly appear smaller, more human in scale, but Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, pointed out that when looking at the canvas on the floor, it was possible to see the rhythm Pollock created with areas of bare canvas where the eye could rest before taking in the complex, layered ribbons of paint. “Now that it’s been cleaned, the white and the black are far more pronounced,” she said. “There’s more electricity.”

Only when it was on the floor did Mr. Coddington discover what he described as “toasty” areas, darker portions deep in the middle of the canvas that still need to be cleaned. “We have to see how it looks upright first,” he said. “That’s how it’s seen.”

He added, “The point is to bring it back as close as we can to how it was when it left the studio.”


A version of this article appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Pollock Restored, a Mystery Revealed.”

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 8:34 pm

For Medicare, Immigrants Offer Surplus, Study Finds


Published: May 29, 2013

“Immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare in recent years than the program has paid out on their behalf, according to a new study, a pattern that goes against the notion that immigrants are a drain on federal health care spending.

The study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, measured immigrants’ contributions to the part of Medicare that pays for hospital care, a trust fund that accounts for nearly half of the federal program’s revenue. It found that immigrants generated surpluses totaling $115 billion from 2002 to 2009. In comparison, the American-born population incurred a deficit of $28 billion over the same period.

The findings shed light on what demographers have long known: Immigrants are crucial in balancing the age structure of American society, providing an infusion of young, working-age adults who support the country’s aging population and help cover the costs of Medicare and Social Security. And with the largest generation in the United States, the baby boomers, now starting to retire, the financial help from immigrants has never been more needed, experts said.

Individual immigrant contributions were roughly the same as those of American citizens, the study found, but immigrants as a group received less than they paid in, largely because they were younger on average than the American-born population and fewer of them were old enough to be eligible for benefits. The median age of Hispanics, whose foreign-born contingent is by far the largest immigrant group, is 27, according to the Brookings Institution. The median age of non-Hispanic whites in the United States is 42.

The study drew on two nationally representative federal surveys, from the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers included the contributions of legal residents who were not citizens, a group that is eligible for Medicare if certain requirements are met; unauthorized immigrants; and citizens who were born abroad.

It was not clear how much of the surplus was made up of earnings by immigrants in the country illegally, who are ineligible for most government programs.

The Census Bureau, whose data was used for the contributions portion of the study, says it attempts to count all immigrants, including those in the country illegally.

The finding “pokes a hole in the widespread assumption that immigrants drain U.S. health care spending dollars,” said Leah Zallman, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study.

The study, which was published on the Web site of the journal Health Affairs on Wednesday, comes as Congress considers legislation that would eventually give legal status to the country’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants. The legislation has sparked a vigorous debate about whether immigrants ultimately contribute more than they receive from the federal budget. One of the sticking points has been whether immigrants should be eligible for government programs, including health benefits, before they qualify for citizenship, but while they are on the path to getting it.

The study was concerned only with Medicare, the federal program that accounts for about a fifth of all American health care expenditures. Experts said that the study’s findings served as a useful reminder that immigrants, at least for now, are extending the life of the beleaguered program, not hastening its demise.

“There’s this strong belief that immigrants are takers,” said Leighton Ku, the director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University. “This shows they are contributing hugely. Without immigrants, the Medicare trust fund would be in trouble sooner.” The belief prevails, for example, among some opponents of immigration reform.

The study did not grapple with the health care costs of immigrants over their full lifetimes, a calculation that economists say is critical to understanding their long-term impact on the federal budget.

“It’s just a snapshot of a point in time,” said Paul Van de Water, a visiting fellow at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Similar calculations have been made for Social Security. The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, Stephen C. Goss, estimated that immigrants in the country illegally, some of whom assume fake Social Security numbers to provide cover for employers and themselves, among other reasons, generated a surplus of about $12 billion for the Social Security Trust Fund in 2010.

But that equation would change if unauthorized immigrants were to gain legal status under a new law and eventually began collecting Social Security once they were of retirement age. One major policy question is how much that might cost, experts said.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative institute, estimated that the legislation’s changes, if implemented, could cost taxpayers more than $6 trillion. Critics of that calculation said it did not take into account the economic benefits that would arise from taking millions of people out of the shadow economy.

Mr. Goss, in a letter this month to Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said that the legislation’s effect on the health of Social Security would be positive in the long term.

Gordon Hanson, a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, who has worked on migration issues for 20 years, said there was still no comprehensive nonpartisan analysis of the fiscal consequences of putting illegal immigrants on the books.

Federal coffers tend to benefit from immigrants in the country illegally, he said, with contributions to programs like Social Security and Medicare that those immigrants cannot draw on later. State and local governments, on the other hand, have to absorb more of the costs, like education for their children and emergency room visits.

Immigrants tend to be healthier than American-born citizens, and have lower mortality rates, research has found. Dr. Ku said there was evidence that individual immigrants also use less health care than native-born Americans. He has calculated, for example, that immigrants’ medical costs were 14 percent to 20 percent less than those of native-born Americans, even after controlling for other factors like emergency room visits and insurance coverage, which fewer immigrants have.

The study found that average costs to Medicare for immigrant enrollees in 2009 were $3,923, lower than the average $5,388 expenditure for the American-born. The difference, however, was just shy of statistical significance, because of wide variations in medical expenditures and the small numbers of immigrant enrollees, which made the study’s margin of error wide.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who was an author of the institute’s report this month, said that looking at Medicare alone was not very useful, as it was just one slice of the entire entitlement pie. And the large immigrant youth population, which the study spends most of its time on, is familiar, he said.

“It’s a yawner of a study,” he said. “Young people don’t get Medicare. We don’t need several Ph.D.’s to tell us that.”

Others defended the findings, saying that they showed immigrants were helping prop up the country’s retirement funds at the critical point when baby boomers were starting to retire.

“They’ll be paying into the system at the very time it is most strained,” said Patrick Oakford, a researcher on economic and immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning institute. He estimated that the average undocumented immigrant was 34 and therefore would not retire until 2046.


A version of this article appeared in print on May 30, 2013, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: For Medicare, Immigrants Offer Surplus, Study Finds.”

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 8:29 pm

Gay in America: A Photographic Tapestry of Faceted Humanity


“A cultural leap forward, or what Alaskan fishermen, Oregonian fathers, and NYC artists have in common.

From Molly Landredth’s tender vintage portraits of modern queer life to 19-year-old Iowan Zach Wahl’s brave message for marriage equality to Dan Savage’s paradigm-changing It Gets Better project, it’s a time of heartening change for the mainstream’s growing awareness of just how faceted and diverse LGBTQ culture is. It is precisely this faceted humanity that photographer Scott Pasfield, a gay man himself, sought to capture in Gay in America, traveling 54,000 miles across 50 states in 3 years to weave a powerful, profoundly human tapestry of 140 fathers, brothers, sons, and friends from all walks of life, religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds, who happen to be homosexual males. From lawyers to artists to teachers to farmers, his perceptive, deeply personal portraits paint a layered picture of contemporary gay (male) life, the first-ever large-scale photographic survey of gay men in America.

People always tell you to shoot what you love, and that objective led me to this project. I knew I wanted to photograph a subject that I cared deeply about, and to create a body of work that would make a positive difference in people’s lives… I decided that I would find and meet a gay man from every state, listen to their stories, and photograph them in the hope that I could turn that material into a book that would change people’s opinions and educate — the book that I wish had existed when I was a lad. I wanted to produce a profound collection of ordinary, proud, out gay men who would otherwise never find the spotlight.” ~ Scott Pasfield

Alongside each portrait is the subject’s first-hand story — sometimes joyful, sometimes solemn, always earnest.

Alex, Seward, Alaska


Josh & Joseph, Eugene, Oregon


Mudhillin, Newark, Delaware


Michael & Allen, Delta Junction, Alaska


For Pasfield, the project was as much a public service as it was a personal journey. He writes in the preface:

A year before my father’s death [from lung cancer], I started going to a regular group-therapy session for gay men in New York City. That is where I met my partner, Nick. When I was struggling through my father’s illness, he was there for me, calling me in Florida, making sure I was okay. When I came back to New York, we both realized we had fallen in love over the past months and we couldn’t ignore it anymore. The hard part was, Nick was with someone else, and he still wasn’t out to his family. He had two major hurdles to jump before our relationship could begin, and he did so, with grace and with courage. This year we celebrate our thirteenth anniversary together.”

Dallas Voice has a fantastic interview with Pasfield, in which he reflects on the role the Internet played in painting a truly dimensional portrait of gay culture.

The Internet played a big part in how I found people. It would have been much more difficult to find them [10 or 20 years ago]. The thing that surprised me the most is the regularness of all these guys. I think most outspoken gay men and all facets of the LGBT community are those people who defined themselves very much by being gay and they have that issue that they really want to share with the world. They’re very outspoken. I think the type of men I was looking for aren’t as outspoken as a lot of those advocates are. That difficulty in finding them was made so much easier by the Internet. Ten, maybe 20 years ago, I’m not quite sure how I would have found the same men because they’re not going to gay community centers, most of them. They’re not out at a lot of gay bars or clubs in urban areas. I think that that’s one of the major differences doing it now. That I was really able to connect with a lot of gay men that are for the most part under the radar and what most see of the gay community.”

Thoughtful and perspective-shifting, Gay in America reveals the dimensions of humanity well past sexuality, a powerful step towards a culture that no longer conflates sexual orientation with human identity and a worthy addition to the best photography books of 2011.

Images courtesy of Scott Pasfield

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 8:06 pm

The Questions People Get Asked About Their Race


May 29, 2013 4:47 PM

How do you respond to questions about your culture or race?

Ariel Skelley/Corbis

“Since Code Switch launched, friends and people on Twitter have been sharing examples of questions they’ve been asked about their race or culture that they’ve found interesting, awkward or just plain offensive.

We were intrigued when we saw this question posted on AskReddit: “What’s one question you’ve been dying to ask another race but never do because of the impending ‘THAT’S RACIST’ aftermath?”

So we turned the question around. We asked folks on Twitter to share some of the questions they’ve been asked, using the hashtag #theyasked. And really. The responses were plentiful.

We thought we’d round up some of the common themes. You can scroll through them using this slideshow. Feel free to use your arrow keys to navigate. (And if you’re using a smart phone right now, click here to check out the tweets.)

But outside the eye-rolls and laughter that these questions drew, there’s something also a little tricky at play.


Eric Deggans, a friend of Code Switch, has a good point. It’s easy to punish well-intentioned folks who really just are curious about different cultures. But part of our aim was to create some dialogue about how we deal with questions that could quickly go awry.

So we’re curious. What’s the most constructive way to respond to questions that could be potentially offensive? (This video, by the way, makes us want to practice our accents.) And on the flip side, how do you satisfy your curiosity about other cultures, and what are your tips for folks who want to try?”

Leave a comment

May 30, 2013 · 5:29 pm

‘Fat Talk’ Compels but Carries a Cost


MAY 27, 2013, 1:15 PM

“Over winter break, Carolyn Bates, a college senior, and a friend each picked out five pairs of jeans at a Gap store in Indianapolis and eagerly tried them on. But the growing silence in their separate fitting rooms was telling. At last, one friend called out, “Dang it, these fit everywhere but my thighs! I wish my legs weren’t so huge.” The response: “My pair is way too long. I need to be taller or skinnier!”

The young women slumped out of the store, feeling lousy.

This exchange is what psychological researchers call “fat talk,” the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women. It’s a bonding ritual they describe as “contagious,” aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders. Some researchers have found that fat talk is so embedded among women that it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it.

And while research shows that most women neither enjoy nor admire fat talk, it compels them. In one study, 93 percent of college women admitted to engaging in it.

Alexandra F. Corning, a research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame, wondered whether a woman’s size would affect her likability when she engaged in fat talk. As an online experiment, Dr. Corning showed 139 undergraduates photos of two thin and two overweight women, each making either a positive or negative remark about her body.

Because of the stigma against heavier people, Dr. Corning expected that the most popular option would be a thin woman who made positive comments about her body. But she found that wasn’t the case.

The most likable woman chosen by the students was overweight and quoted as saying: “I know I’m not perfect, but I love the way I look. I know how to work with what I’ve got, and that’s all that matters.”

The results were heartening, Dr. Corning said, a glimmer that nearly two decades of positive body-image campaigns may be taking hold.

But, she acknowledged, her experiment had limitations. “Are the students really liking these women the most? Or are they saying it because they think they should?” said Dr. Corning. “They might like them more, but would they really want to hang out with them?”

Renee Engeln, who directs the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University, cautioned that “we have complicated reactions to confident women in general, and particularly to women who are confident about their bodies. Women sometimes see them as arrogant.”

Fat talk has insinuated itself among men, too, Dr. Engeln added, though it is far less frequent than with women. In addition, men are more likely toplace emphasis on different issues, like muscular bulk or being too thin, something women rarely fret about, she said.

But putting a stop to fat talk is difficult. Dr. Corning said, in part because it feels airless and scripted and seems to offer the responder no avenue to change the dynamic without threatening the relationship. She gave an example:

First friend: “I can’t believe I ate that brownie. I am so fat!”

Second friend: “You must be joking — you are so not fat. Just look at my thighs.”

The second friend’s reply, an “empathetic” self-deprecating retort to maintain the friendship on equal standing, includes reflexive praise of the first friend’s body, supposedly feeding the first friend’s hungry cry for affirmation, Dr. Corning said. But to do so, the second friend has eviscerated herself, a toxic tear-down by comparison.

Dr. Corning said that to break the cycle, a person shouldn’t engage. But particularly for younger women, it’s hard to say something like, “Hey, no negative self-talk!” or “Why do we put ourselves down?”

Instead, for adolescents, she suggested, “Keep it light; it’s not a moment for major social activism. Teenagers can change the topic. They do it all the time.”

Ms. Bates, who recently graduated from Notre Dame, pointed out that “when you focus on clothes and make it about your body, you’ve put your friend in a position where she can’t say anything right. She can’t be honest, because it could come off as hurtful.”

That winter day, as she and her friend drove away from the Gap feeling so deflated, her friend said, “We always get good clothes from that store, but their new pants just don’t ‘get’ us!”

It wasn’t that their bodies didn’t fit the clothes; the clothes didn’t fit their bodies.

Ever since, said Ms. Bates, when the friends try on clothes that don’t fit, their go-to remark has become, “This doesn’t get me!” And, taking a cue from the positive-image primer, they leave it at that.

A version of this article appeared in print on 05/28/2013, on page D4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: ‘Fat Talk’ Carries a Cost.”

Leave a comment

May 29, 2013 · 4:45 pm

Personalized Coca-Colas, But Not If Your Name Is Mohammed Or Maria


May 29, 201310:49 AM
Share a Coke with ... (enter name here).

Share a Coke with … (enter name here).

Darren Foreman (left), Elliott Brown (middle), teigan (top right), ☼zlady (bottom left) via Flickr


“Remember the disappointment you felt as a kid at the souvenir shop when that personalized key chain wasn’t available in your name? For me, it was never finding “Allison” with two “ls.” My colleague Maria says she was always stuck with “Mary” as her only option.

Facebook fans of Coca-Cola’s new “Share A Coke” campaign are having similar frustrations. As part of its new campaign, which recently launched in Europe, the soda giant is printing popular first names on labels of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero.

“What about my name?” writes Cinnamon Francis-Burnett on Facebook. And Melanie Price-Morgan asks, “Will you be having a Melanie bottle out soon please?”

The campaign, presumably, is aimed at getting consumers to “connect” with the brand in a more personal way. But already, there’s a bit of a backlash.

In Israel, there’s a brouhaha over the exclusion of Arabic names such as Mohammed. And according to this Washington Post article, one Arab-Israeli citizen has raised legal concerns, calling the campaign discriminatory.

And in Sweden, where Mohammed is not an uncommon male name, members of the Muslim community have asked that the name not appear as part of the personalized bottle campaign,according to this article in the trade publication Food & Drink Europe.

The Muslim community’s “feedback to us was they’d rather not see the name on commercial products,” Peter Bodor of Coca-Cola Enterprises Sweden told Food & Drink Europe.

So, if Coke were to introduce the “Share A Coke” campaign here in the United States, what would the top names be?

Earlier this month, the Social Security Administration released its list of top baby names for infants born in the U.S. during 2012. Jacob, Mason, Ethan and Noah are the leading boys’ names. For girls, Sophia, Emma, Isabella and Olivia top the list.

Mohammed (regardless of whether it’s spelled Mohamed or Muhammad) comes nowhere near the top 100 baby names on the agency’s list. And Maria? No personalized Coke Zero for her, either. That name barely misses the top 100 —coming in at no. 101!

Interestingly, the girl’s name that has leaped the furthest on the list is Arya, according to this CNNpost. Sound familiar? It happens to be the name of a popular character on the HBO hit Game of Thrones, based on the Song of Ice and Fire series of books.

Now, assuming that Coke wants to appeal to millennials, it would probably go for the most popular names of 20-year-olds. So, here you have it — the top baby names from 1993:

Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Tyler, Brandon, Daniel, Nicholas, Jacob, Andrew.

Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Sarah, Samantha, Emily, Brittany, Taylor, Amanda, Elizabeth, Stephanie.”

Leave a comment

May 29, 2013 · 4:39 pm

A Salvadoran at Risk Tests Abortion Law

Ulises Rodriguez/Reuters

“Women in body paint gathered in San Salvador in support of a woman seeking an abortion.”


Published: May 28, 2013

“MEXICO CITY — Beatriz spends her days in a hospital room, anxiously watching her belly grow.

Her doctors say she is inching along a high-risk pregnancy that could ultimately kill her, fraught with risks caused by lupus and other complications. The fetus itself has such a severe birth defect that it has almost no chance of surviving, they say, urging an end to the pregnancy to protect Beatriz’s health before it gets worse. But in El Salvador, where she lives, abortion is illegal under any circumstances.

Now she is waiting for the Salvadoran Supreme Court to rule on her case, which has quickly become a focal point in a broad battle over abortion in Latin America, a largely conservative region where the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable sway.

Long home to some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws, the region has begun experiencing a shift in recent years, with some nations loosening restrictions or even legalizing the procedure. Now Beatriz’s case is testing the limits of El Salvador’s law, one of the more ironclad bans the region still has, by challenging whether abortion should remain off limits even when the mother is at risk and the baby has little hope of survival.

“I don’t want to die,” Beatriz, 22, said in a telephone interview, explaining her reason for seeking an abortion. “I want to be with my boy, taking care of him.”

Advocates have adopted her cause to intensify a regional push to change abortion laws, arguing that her rights under international law are being violated: the fetus is not viable, the danger of serious illness or death is increasing as her pregnancy progresses, and she already has an infant child to care for. A group of United Nations human rights experts called on El Salvador’s government to grant “exceptions to its general prohibition, especially in cases of therapeutic abortion.”

The Salvadoran church, by contrast, has argued that the baby’s malformation should not be met with a death sentence.

“This case should not be used to legislate against human life,” read a statement from the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador.

Several Latin American nations have softened their stances against abortion in recent years. Uruguay’s Senate approved a bill last year allowing women to have abortionsduring the first trimester for any reason, after an earlier move to legalize the procedure in Mexico City. Courts in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have also loosened restrictions on some abortions, allowing them in certain cases like rape or when the fetus is expected to die.

But a total ban on the procedure remains in El Salvador, Chile and Nicaragua. Doctors who perform abortions and mothers who request them can be sentenced to long prison terms. Under Salvadoran law, Beatriz, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity, and her doctors could face up to eight years in prison if one is performed.

A group of doctors at the National Maternity Hospital, where she is being treated, determined that Beatriz’s risk of serious illness or death increased as the pregnancy continued, and that the fetus would die. They suggested terminating the pregnancy. “We agree in what proceeds,” the doctors wrote in a report, “but we are all subject to the laws of this country.”

In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court last month, Health Minister María Isabel Rodríguez described Beatriz’s situation as “grave maternal illness with a high probability of deterioration or maternal death.” Given the fatal prognosis of the fetus, “it is necessary to undertake a medical-legal approach urgently,” Ms. Rodríguez wrote.

But the case has its medical detractors as well. José Miguel Fortín Magaña, director of the Institute of Legal Medicine, which evaluates medical issues for the Supreme Court, acknowledged Beatriz’s medical problems but said that her health was currently under control and that she was not in danger at the moment.

“If someone has appendicitis, we have to remove the appendix, but we can’t say, ‘We’ll remove it now because maybe in the future there’ll be a problem,’ ” he said, arguing that when a mother was in more immediate peril, doctors would be allowed to induce a premature birth, possibly saving both the woman and the baby.

Other nations have wrestled with the question of whether to prioritize the health of the mother or the fetus. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered chemotherapy or radiation to protect the life of a Nicaraguan woman with metastatic cancer who was being denied treatment because she was pregnant.

Last year in the Dominican Republic, a pregnant 16-year-old with cancer was denied chemotherapy for several weeks while doctors deliberated whether the drugs amounted to an induced abortion. The girl lost the baby and died herself after beginning treatment.

Last month, the inter-American commission told the Salvadoran government to protect Beatriz’s life by following the doctor’s recommendations for an abortion, but the government has been waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter.

Beatriz is well aware that there is an international frenzy swirling around her, but it seems far from her mind — an abstraction compared with the palpable yearning to touch the young son she left behind in her rural village, three hours away.

She says she believes abortions are almost always wrong, acceptable only when the mother is at risk.

Her first pregnancy, in 2012, was fraught with complications, especially after the sixth month. Pre-existing lupus, an autoimmune disease, coupled with severe preeclampsia, a serious condition that leads to high blood pressure, forced her doctors to perform a premature Caesarean section. The baby remained in the hospital for over a month.

Medical records show that, following her doctor’s advice, Beatriz had a sterilization procedure scheduled shortly after the birth. She did not show up.

Then Beatriz found out she was pregnant again. Doctors told her the fetus had anencephaly, a birth defect in which the baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all anencephalic babies die soon after birth.

Beatriz testified at a two-day oral Supreme Court hearing two weeks ago, the first of its kind in the country’s history. During a cross-examination, Víctor Hugo Mata, Beatriz’s lawyer, asked her to remove her shawl. Standing in front of the judges, she uncovered her arms, chest and back to reveal lupus-related sores. Her lupus is under control now.

Overwhelmed, she had to leave the chamber. The judges announced they would make a decision within 15 business days.

Mr. Mata said that no matter what the Supreme Court ruled, doctors would probably have to remove the fetus as Beatriz enters her third — and riskiest — trimester. Several American hospitals have offered to perform an abortion, but Mr. Mata said this was an opportunity for El Salvador to modify its law.

In a video posted on Vimeo this month, Beatriz asks that her doctors not be imprisoned “for what they may do to me.” The camera remains closed in on her small, spotted hands fidgeting on her thighs. Her burgeoning belly is covered with a red shirt.”

Leave a comment

May 29, 2013 · 4:35 pm