Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Not Legal Not Leaving

Not Legal Not Leaving

Not Legal Not Leaving

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 10:44 AM PDT

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UPDATE: Shortly after Jose Antonio Vargas’ story on the issue of the undocumented was published in TIME, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it would no longer deport young undocumented residents who qualify for the DREAM act. Those eligible will receive work permits.

‘Why haven’t you gotten deported?’

That’s usually the first thing people ask me when they learn I’m an undocumented immigrant or, put more rudely, an “illegal.” Some ask it with anger or frustration, others with genuine bafflement. At a restaurant in Birmingham, not far from the University of Alabama, an inebriated young white man challenged me: “You got your papers?” I told him I didn’t. “Well, you should get your ass home, then.” In California, a middle-aged white woman threw up her arms and wanted to know: “Why hasn’t Obama dealt with you?” At least once a day, I get that question, or a variation of it, via e-mail, tweet or Facebook message. Why, indeed, am I still here?

It’s a fair question, and it’s been hanging over me every day for the past year, ever since I publicly revealed my undocumented status. There are an estimated 11.5 million people like me in this country, human beings with stories as varied as America itself yet lacking a legal claim to exist here. Like many others, I kept my status a secret, passing myself off as a U.S. citizen — right down to cultivating a homegrown accent. I went to college and became a journalist, earning a staff job at the Washington Post. But the deception weighed on me. When I eventually decided to admit the truth, I chose to come out publicly — very publicly — in the form of an essay for the New York Times last June. Several immigration lawyers counseled against doing this. (“It’s legal suicide,” warned one.) Broadcasting my status to millions seemed tantamount to an invitation to the immigration cops: Here I am. Come pick me up.

So I waited. And waited some more. As the months passed, there were no knocks on my door, no papers served, no calls or letters from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which deported a record 396,906 people in fiscal 2011. Before I came out, the question always at the top of my mind was, What will happen if people find out? Afterward, the question changed to What happens now? It seemed I had traded a largely hidden undocumented life in limbo for an openly undocumented life that’s still in limbo.

But as I’ve crisscrossed the U.S. — participating in more than 60 events in nearly 20 states and learning all I can about this debate that divides our country (yes, it’s my country too) — I’ve realized that the most important questions are the ones other people ask me. I am now a walking conversation that most people are uncomfortable having. And once that conversation starts, it’s clear why a consensus on solving our immigration dilemma is so elusive. The questions I hear indicate the things people don’t know, the things they think they know but have been misinformed about and the views they hold but do not ordinarily voice.

I’ve also been witness to a shift I believe will be a game changer for the debate: more people coming out. While closely associated with the modern gay-rights movement, in recent years the term coming out and the act itself have been embraced by the country’s young undocumented population. At least 2,000 undocumented immigrants — most of them under 30 — have contacted me and outed themselves in the past year. Others are coming out over social media or in person to their friends, their fellow students, their colleagues. It’s true, these individuals — many brought to the U.S. by family when they were too young to understand what it means to be “illegal” — are a fraction of the millions living hidden lives. But each becomes another walking conversation. We love this country. We contribute to it. This is our home. What happens when even more of us step forward? How will the U.S. government and American citizens react then?

The contradictions of our immigration debate are inescapable. Polls show substantial support for creating a path to citizenship for some undocumenteds — yet 52% of Americans support allowing police to stop and question anyone they suspect of being “illegal.” Democrats are viewed as being more welcoming to immigrants, but the Obama Administration has sharply ramped up deportations. The probusiness GOP waves a KEEP OUT flag at the Mexican border and a HELP WANTED sign 100 yards in, since so many industries depend on cheap labor.

Election-year politics is further confusing things, as both parties scramble to attract Latinos without scaring off other constituencies. President Obama has as much as a 3-to-1 lead over Mitt Romney among Latino voters, but his deportation push is dampening their enthusiasm. Romney has a crucial ally in Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, but is burdened by the sharp anti-immigrant rhetoric he unleashed in the primary-election battle. This month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law. A decision either way could galvanize reform supporters and opponents alike.

But the real political flash point is the proposed Dream Act, a decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for young people educated in this country. The bill never passed, but it focused attention on these youths, who call themselves the Dreamers. Both the President and Rubio have placed Dreamers at the center of their reform efforts — but with sharply differing views on how to address them.

ICE, the division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged with enforcing immigration laws, is its own contradiction, a tangled bureaucracy saddled with conflicting goals. As the weeks passed after my public confession, the fears of my lawyers and friends began to seem faintly ridiculous. Coming out didn’t endanger me; it had protected me. A Philippine-born, college-educated, outspoken mainstream journalist is not the face the government wants to put on its deportation program. Even so, who flies under the radar, and who becomes one of those unfortunate 396,906? Who stays, who goes, and who decides? Eventually I confronted ICE about its plans for me, and I came away with even more questions.

I am not without contradictions either. I am 31 and have been a working journalist for a decade. I know I can no longer claim to be a detached, objective reporter, at least in the traditional sense. I am part of this evolving story and growing movement. It is personal. Though I have worked hard to approach this issue like any other, I’ve also found myself drawn to the activists, driven to help tell their story.

This is the time to tell it.

‘Why don’t you become legal?’

asked 79-year-old William Oglesby of Iowa City, Iowa. It was early December, a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses, and I was attending a Mitt Romney town hall at an animal-feed maker. Romney had just fielded questions from a group of voters, including Oglesby and his wife Sharon, both Republicans. Addressing immigration, Romney said, “For those who have come here illegally, they might have a transition time to allow them to set their affairs in order and then go back home and get in line with everybody else.”

“I haven’t become legal,” I told William, “because there’s no way for me to become legal, sir.”

Sharon jumped in. “You can’t get a green card?”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “There’s no process for me.” Of all the questions I’ve been asked in the past year, “Why don’t you become legal?” is probably the most exasperating. But it speaks to how unfamiliar most Americans are with how the immigration process works.

As Angela M. Kelley, an immigration advocate in Washington, told me, “If you think the American tax code is outdated and complicated, try understanding America’s immigration code.” The easiest way to become a U.S. citizen is to be born here — doesn’t matter who your parents are; you’re in. (The main exception is for children of foreign diplomatic officials.) If you were born outside the U.S. and want to come here, the golden ticket is the so-called green card, a document signifying that the U.S. government has granted you permanent-resident status, meaning you’re able to live and, more important, work here. Once you have a green card, you’re on your way to eventual citizenship — in as little as three years if you marry a U.S. citizen — as long as you don’t break the law and you meet other requirements such as paying a fee and passing a civics test.

Obtaining a green card means navigating one of the two principal ways of getting permanent legal status in the U.S.: family or specialized work. To apply for a green card on the basis of family, you need to be a spouse, parent, child or sibling of a citizen. (Green-card holders can petition only for their spouses or unmarried children.) Then it’s time to get in line. For green-card seekers, the U.S. has a quota of about 25,000 green cards per country each year. That means Moldova (population: 3.5 million) gets the same number of green cards as Mexico (population: 112 million). The wait time depends on demand. If you’re in Mexico, India, the Philippines or another nation with many applicants, expect a wait of years or even decades. (Right now, for example, the U.S. is considering Filipino siblings who applied in January 1989.)

Taking the employment route to a green card means clearing a pretty high bar if you have an employer who’s willing to hire you. There are different levels of priority, with preference given to people with job skills considered crucial, such as specialized medical professionals, advanced-degree holders and executives of multinational companies. There’s no waiting list for those. If you don’t qualify for a green card, you may be able to secure one of the few kinds of temporary work visas — including the now famous H1-B visas that are common in Silicon Valley. For those already in the U.S. without documentation — those who have sneaked across a border or overstayed a temporary visa — it’s even more complicated. Options are extremely limited. One route is to marry a U.S. citizen, but it’s not as easy as the movies would have you think. The process can take years, especially if a sham marriage is suspected. I couldn’t marry my way into citizenship even if I wanted to. I’m gay. Same-sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government — explicitly so, ever since Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. From the government’s perspective, for me to pursue a path to legalization now, I would have to leave the U.S., return to the Philippines and hope to qualify via employment, since I don’t have any qualifying family members here. But because I have admitted to being in the U.S. illegally, I would be subject to a 10-year bar before any application would be considered.

The long-stalled Dream Act is the best hope for many young people. The original 2001 version would have created a path to legal status — effectively a green card — for undocumented people age 21 and under who had graduated from high school and resided in the U.S. for five years. As the bill stalled in Congress and Dreamers got older, the age requirement went up, getting as high as 35. Rubio is expected to introduce his own variation, granting nonimmigrant visas so Dreamers could legally stay in the U.S., go to school and work. Its prospects are dim in a gridlocked Congress. Obama, meanwhile, is said to be weighing an Executive Order that would halt deportation of Dream Act — eligible youth and provide them with work permits. Under both Rubio’s bill (details of which are not yet confirmed) and Obama’s Executive Order (which is being studied), Dreamers could become legal residents. However, both proposals are only the first steps of a longer journey to citizenship.

‘Why did you get your driver’s license when you knew it wasn’t legal?

Do you think you belong to a special class of people who can break any laws they please?”

These were the questions of a polite, mild-mannered man named Konrad Sosnow, who I later learned was a lawyer. In late March, Sosnow and I participated in what was billed as a “civility roundtable” on immigration in my adopted hometown of Mountain View, Calif. About 120 people attended. Sosnow had read my coming-out story and wanted to know why I had such disregard for laws.

“I don’t think I belong to a special class of people — not at all,” I remember telling Sosnow. “I didn’t get the license to spite you or disrespect you or because I think I’m better than you. I got the license because, like you, I needed to go to work. People like me get licenses because we need to drop kids off at school and because we need to pick up groceries. I am sorry for what I did, but I did it because I had to live and survive.” Sosnow nodded, not exactly in agreement but at least with some understanding. We shook hands as the evening drew to a close. Months later, Sosnow told me he’s written e-mails to the President and other elected officials, asking for immigration reform.

Everyday life for an undocumented American means a constant search for loopholes and back doors. Take air travel, for instance. Everyone knows that in the post-9/11 era, you can’t fly without a government-issued ID. The easiest option for most people is their driver’s license. Most states will not issue a license without proof of legal residency or citizenship. But a few grant licenses to undocumented immigrants, New Mexico and Washington State among them. Like many others, I had falsely posed as a Washington State resident in order to get a license. Weeks after my coming-out essay was published last year, Washington revoked the license — not because I’m undocumented but because I don’t actually live in Washington.

For those who don’t have a driver’s license — that includes me now — a passport from our native country can serve as ID. But it makes every flight a gamble. My passport, which I got through the Philippine embassy, lacks a visa. If airport security agents turn the pages and discover this, they can contact Customs and Border Protection, which in turn can detain me. But for domestic flights, security usually checks just the name, photo and expiration date, not for the visa.

We may be nonpeople to the TSA but not to the IRS. Undocumented workers pay taxes. I’ve paid income taxes, state and federal, since I started working at 18. The IRS doesn’t care if I’m here legally; it cares about its money. Some undocumented people, of course, circumvent the system, just like some citizens. But according to the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, households headed by undocumented workers collectively paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 — $1.2 billion in income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes (because undocumented immigrants do own property) and $8.4 billion in consumption taxes. We also pay into Social Security. Even as many of us contribute, we cannot avail ourselves of a great deal of the services those tax dollars pay for.

When you lack legal status, the threat of deportation is a constant concern. In three years, Obama has deported 1.2 million; it took President George W. Bush eight years to deport 1.6 million. “Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, we have reversed ourselves as a nation of immigrants,” Bill Ong Hing, a veteran immigration lawyer, told me. (Indeed, nations like Canada now have higher percentages of immigrants than the “melting pot” of the U.S.)

A big driver of the deportation numbers is ICE’s Secure Communities program, which was meant to target terrorists and serious criminals but also winds up snaring those whose only crimes are civil violations connected to being undocumented (like driving without a license). Students and mothers have been detained and deported alongside murderers and rapists.

Depending on how the politics plays to the local electorate, many states wind up writing their own immigration laws. Two years ago, Arizona passed SB 1070 — its “Show me your papers” bill — then the strictest immigration law in the country. It embodies an attrition-through-enforcement doctrine: the state will so threaten the livelihood of its undocumented population that they will just give up and self-deport. Among the bill’s most controversial provisions, currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court, is one giving law-enforcement officials the power to stop anyone whom they suspect to be “illegal.” Arizona’s law inspired copycat bills across the country.

For all the roadblocks, though, many of us get by thanks to our fellow Americans. We rely on a growing network of citizens — Good Samaritans, our pastors, our co-workers, our teachers who protect and look after us. As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve seen how members of this underground railroad are coming out about their support for us too.

‘So you’re not Mexican?’

an elderly white woman named Ann (she declined to give her last name) asked me when I told her about my undocumented status last October. We stood in front of a Kohl’s department store in Alabama, which last year outdid Arizona by passing HB 56, the country’s most draconian immigration law. HB 56 requires public schools to collect the immigration status of new students and their parents and makes it a felony for anyone to transport or house an undocumented immigrant. Both provisions are currently blocked by federal courts pending a ruling.

Ann, a registered Republican, was born and raised in the South, where immigration is introducing a new variable into the old racial divide. Alabama’s immigrant population, though still relatively small, has nearly doubled in the past decade. The state’s Latino population alone grew from 1.7% of the overall population in 2000 to nearly 4% in 2010 — about 180,000 people, according to Census figures. But when I told Ann I am Filipino, she scrunched her forehead. “My border,” I explained, “was the Pacific Ocean.”

Though roughly 59% of the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico, the rest are not. About 1 million come from Asia and the Pacific Islands, about 800,000 from South America and about 300,000 from Europe. Others come from Nigeria, Israel, pretty much everywhere. In the case of countries that don’t share a border with the U.S., these are almost always people who entered the country legally — as vacationers or on temporary visas — and overstayed the time permitted.

But perception has become reality. What’s cemented in people’s consciousness is the television reel of Mexicans jumping a fence. Reality check: illegal border crossings are at their lowest level since the Nixon era, in part because of the continued economic slump and stepped-up enforcement. According to the Office of Immigration Statistics at DHS, 86% of undocumented immigrants have been living in the U.S. for seven years or longer.

Still, for many, immigration is synonymous with Mexicans and the border. In several instances, white conservatives I spoke to moved from discussing “illegals” in particular to talking about Mexicans in general — about Spanish being overheard at Walmart, about the onslaught of new kids at schools and new neighbors at churches, about the “other” people. The immigration debate, at its core, is impossible to separate from America’s unprecedented and culture-shifting demographic makeover. Whites represent a shrinking share of the total U.S. population. Recently the U.S. Census reported that for the first time, children born to racial- and ethnic-minority parents represent a majority of all new births.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are also at least 17 million people who are legally living in the U.S. but whose families have at least one undocumented immigrant. About 4.5 million U.S.-citizen kids have at least one undocumented parent. Immigration experts call these mixed-status families, and I grew up in one. I come from a large Filipino clan in which, among dozens of cousins and uncles and aunties and many American-born nieces and nephews, I’m the only one who doesn’t have papers. My mother sent me to live with my grandparents in the U.S. when I was 12. When I was 16 and applied for a driver’s permit, I found out that my green card — my main form of legal identification — was fake. My grandparents, both naturalized citizens, hadn’t told me. It was disorienting, first discovering my precarious status, then realizing that when I had been pledging allegiance to the flag, the republic for which it stands didn’t have room for me.

‘Why did you come out?’

asked 20-year-old Gustavo Madrigal, who attended a talk I gave at the University of Georgia in late April. Like many Dreamers I’ve met, Madrigal is active in his community. Since he grew up in Georgia, he’s needed to be. A series of measures have made it increasingly tough for undocumented students there to attend state universities.

“Why did you come out?” I asked him in turn.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Madrigal replied.

“I also reached a point,” I told him, “when there was no other choice but to come out.” And it is true for so many others. We are living in the golden age of coming out. There are no overall numbers on this, but each day I encounter at least five more openly undocumented people. As a group and as individuals, we are putting faces and names and stories on an issue that is often treated as an abstraction.

Technology, especially social media, has played a big role. Online, people are telling their stories and coming out, asking others to consider life from their perspective and testing everyone’s empathy quotient. Some realize the risks of being so public; others, like me, think publicity offers protection. Most see the value of connecting with others and sharing experiences — by liking the page of United We Dream on Facebook, for example, or watching the Undocumented and Awkward video series on YouTube.

This movement has its roots in the massive immigrant-rights rallies of 2006, which were held in protest of HR 4437, a Republican-backed House bill that would have classified undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them enter and remain in the U.S. as felons. Though the bill died, it awakened activism in this young generation. Through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, I encountered youths who were bravely facing their truths.

“For many people, coming out is a way of saying you’re not alone,” says Gaby Pacheco of United We Dream. Her parents came from Ecuador and brought her to the U.S. in 1993, when she was 7. Immigration officials raided her home in 2006, and her family has been fighting deportation since. Now 27, she has three education degrees and wants to be a special-education teacher. But her life remains on hold while she watches documented friends land jobs and plan their futures. Says Pacheco: “In our movement, you come out for yourself, and you come out for other people.”

The movement, as its young members call it, does not have a single leader. News travels by tweet and Facebook update, as it did when we heard that Joaquin Luna, an undocumented 18-year-old from Texas, killed himself the night after Thanksgiving and, though this is unproved, we instantly connected his death to the stresses of living as a Dreamer. Some Dreamers, contemplating coming out, ask me whether they should pretend to be legal to get by. “Should I just do what you did? You know, check the citizenship box [on a government form] and try to get the job?” a few have asked me. Often I don’t know how to respond. I’d like to tell them to be open and honest, but I know I owe my career to my silence for all those years. Sometimes all I can manage to say is “You have to say yes to yourself when the world says no.”

‘What next?’

is the question I ask myself now. It’s a question that haunts every undocumented person in the U.S. The problem is, immigration has become a third-rail issue in Washington, D.C. — more controversial even than health care because it deals with issues of race and class, of entitlement and privilege, that America has struggled with since its founding. As much as we talk about the problem, we rarely focus on coming up with an actual solution — an equitable process to fix the system.

Maybe Obama will evolve on immigrant rights, just as he’s evolved on gay rights, and use his executive powers to stop the deportations of undocumented youths and allow us to stay, go to school and work, if only with a temporary reprieve. The Republican Party can go one of two ways. It will either make room for its moderate voices to craft a compromise; after all, John McCain, to name just one, was a supporter of the Dream Act. Or the party will pursue a hard-line approach, further isolating not just Latinos, the largest minority group in the U.S., but also a growing multiethnic America that’s adapting to the inevitable demographic and cultural shifts. In 21st century politics, diversity is destiny.

As for me, what happens next isn’t just a philosophical question. I spend every day wondering what, if anything, the government plans to do with me. After months of waiting for something to happen, I decided that I would confront immigration officials myself. Since I live in New York City, I called the local ICE office. The phone operators I first reached were taken aback when I explained the reason for my call. Finally I was connected to an ICE officer.

“Are you planning on deporting me?” I asked.

I quickly found out that even though I publicly came out about my undocumented status, I still do not exist in the eyes of ICE. Like most undocumented immigrants, I’ve never been arrested. Therefore, I’ve never been in contact with ICE.

“After checking the appropriate ICE databases, the agency has no records of ever encountering Mr. Vargas,” Luis Martinez, a spokesman for the ICE office in New York, wrote me in an e-mail.

I then contacted the ICE headquarters in Washington. I hoped to get some insight into my status and that of all the others who are coming out. How does ICE view these cases? Can publicly revealing undocumented status trigger deportation proceedings, and if so, how is that decided? Is ICE planning to seek my deportation?

“We do not comment on specific cases,” is all I was told.

I am still here. Still in limbo. So are nearly 12 million others like me — enough to populate Ohio. We are working with you, going to school with you, paying taxes with you, worrying about our bills with you. What exactly do you want to do with us? More important, when will you realize that we are one of you?


This 4-Year-Old Girl Went Around City Hall Asking Brides If She Could Be a Flower Girl

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 10:43 AM PDT

A four-year-old Brooklyn girl wanted to be a flower girl so badly that she walked around the Manhattan City Clerk’s Office at City Hall asking couples if she could participate in their weddings, NBC News reports.

Decked out in a floral dress and white gloves, Annabelle Earl carried a dozen pink and purple roses purchased at a bodega and held up a green poster that said “Can I Be Your Flower Girl.”

Finally, one bride said “yes.” When the moment finally came, the youngster was briefly overcome with stage fright, but got through the rest of the ceremony without a hitch. Afterwards, her mother Kim bought her “wedding cake” at a nearby bakery.

No word on whether the Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio will invite her to be a flower girl at the weddings he officiates.


Police: First Israeli Citizen Killed by Gaza Fire

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 10:15 AM PDT

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli police say a man in his 30s has been killed by fire from the Gaza Strip, the first Israeli death in more than a week of fighting.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that Israeli man was delivering food to soldiers Tuesday at the Erez Crossing with Gaza when he was struck by a mortar.

Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in strikes in Gaza since Israel launched the campaign over a week ago to stop rocket fire at its citizens.

Gaza militants have fired more than 1,100 rockets toward Israel in the fighting. Mostly thanks to its “Iron Dome” defense system, no Israelis were killed till Tuesday.

Rosenfeld said at least 15 Israelis, including several children, have been injured by the Palestinian rocket fire since the fighting began.

Not Just Penguins: Many Animals Partner With Same Sex

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 10:06 AM PDT

A homosexual penguin couple from New York’s Central Park Zoo are back in the news now that a book about their relationship has been banned in Singapore. Keith Wagstaff looks at the core question about homosexual behavior in animals.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

LeapFrog’s Latest Idea Is LeapTV, a Wii-Like Video Game System for Kids

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 10:00 AM PDT

LeapFrog, the company you may know for its popular line of computerized children’s toys like My Pal Scout or the Leapster handheld game system, says it’s getting into the video game space in a big way later this year with a new set-top box it’s calling LeapTV.

In short, LeapFrog’s pitching LeapTV as a video game console designed specifically for post-toddlers and pre-tweens.

No, not another musclebound device engineered to spar with the likes of Sony’s PlayStation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, but something nearer Nintendo’s Wii, power-wise, with a similar focus on motion controls.

When I spoke with LeapFrog about LeapTV last week during an online-guided presentation, the spokesperson described LeapTV as an education-oriented games system, where the games adapt to your child’s play abilities. It’s designed to offer reasonably advanced graphics for the age group it’s targeting — 3- to 8-year-olds — while punching financially somewhere between a light and middleweight entertainment box: LeapTV systems will run $150 when they go on sale this holiday.

The idea behind LeapTV sounds simple enough and maybe even a little head-scratchingly obvious: If you’re the parent of young children, aged somewhere between post-toddlerhood and pre-tween, and they’re clamoring to play video games, what do you give them?


Chances are you hand them a tablet or smartphone today. Maybe you curate the content on your own “grownup” game systems (PC, console). Or perhaps you simply hand them a Nintendo 3DS — arguably the de facto child-angled handheld gaming portal at the moment.

But LeapFrog sees a deficit between today’s all-encompassing game systems (including the 3DS) and the sort of kid-friendly, kids-only gaming frontier it views as yet-to-be conquered. Ergo LeapTV, a device it boldly calls “the best first video game experience for children.”

Why introduce a set-top console for kids in 2014? It sounds counterintuitive, given expectations about mobile device growth (tablets are expected to outsell PCs by next year). Besides, LeapFrog already sells a handheld gaming system (Leapster) as well as a tablet (the LeapPad Explorer). Why not double down on those devices?

LeapFrog’s answer is Nintendo-like: because tablets and phones can’t provide the kind of large scale, full-body, fully active experiences living room game systems cater to. Furthermore, the company wants to control the vertical as well as the horizontal: Nintendo builds its own game hardware and software in part because it views gaming as a holistic endeavor. If you want to craft novel experiences soup to nuts, you need to be both the delivery mechanism and the thing it’s delivering.

Take LeapTV’s unusual Bluetooth controller. You wouldn’t mistake it for a Wii Remote or a traditional gamepad, though it harbors DNA from both, supplemented by its own innovative wrinkle: The handlebars are movable, allowing you to transform it from a boomerang-like gamepad you hold with both hands, into a sword-like pointer you swing with one. The intent, says LeapFrog, is to give kids a range of ways to interact with the system’s games while keeping the interface as simple and compact as possible (no dangling Wii Nunchuk cables, in other words). There’s even a Kinect-like angle: LeapTV employs a motion-sensing camera that supports full body tracking with multiple players, too.

When I asked Leap if LeapTV ran Android — the presumptive partner for so many set-top startups these days — the spokesperson told me the operating system is proprietary to LeapFrog. Whether that means proprietary from the ground up or a custom roll of something already extant wasn’t clear, but what is clear is that Leap wants LeapTV to be perceived as a LeapFrog-concocted product, not another adjunct of someone else’s ecosystem.

The device itself is physically unimposing: a squat, frisbee-like gray and neon-green cylinder — it almost looks like a pint-sized UFO — that sits vertically in a small stand and weighs just over a pound. Under the hood, it’s packing a 1GHz processor (manufacturer unidentified), 1 GB of DDR3 memory, 16GB of flash storage, 1 USB port for the 640-by-480 color camera, Ethernet and HDMI ports (it’ll output up to 720p), and 802.11n Wi-Fi. The $150 asking price includes the camera (with an adjustable TV mount), a 6-foot HDMI cable, the controller (it requires AA batteries, and LeapFrog claims 25 hours per cycle) and one downloadable game — something called Pet Play World — that you get after registering the device.

My question, as the parent of a toddler — and doubtless one early childhood researchers are going to have — is how do we know the content on a device like LeapTV meets educational standards? When LeapTV ships, LeapFrog says it’ll offer access to a library of more than 100 game cartridges, game downloads and videos. Questions of quality aside, how are parents supposed to know any of that content’s genuinely educational?

When I asked LeapFrog about this, the spokesperson told me the company has a team of early childhood experts involved from the get-go with every piece of content created for LeapTV. It’s calling all of those apps “educator-approved” and describes LeapTV’s library as a “best‐in‐class educational curriculum.”


That, of course, could mean any number of things. There’s no ESRB-like ratings system for video games in LeapFrog’s 3-to-8 childhood range (the ESRB lumps everything 10-and-under into a generic “Early Childhood” category). You’re essentially taking LeapFrog’s word, and it’s a word even LeapFrog can only give with so much certainty. Longitudinal research into early childhood interaction with video games, much less ones devised for educational purposes, is still in its infancy. As this 2012 Pearson study on gaming in education puts it, “Although there is much theoretical support for the benefits of digital games in learning and education, there is mixed empirical support.” A device like LeapTV, whatever its merits, is setting sail in largely uncharted waters.

On paper, LeapTV sounds alluring: a device that draws upon thousands of skills in subjects like reading, math and science, and where its apps unfold based on your child’s age, then scale their challenges dynamically based on your child’s abilities. And in theory, it could fill a significant, highly specific games-related gap no one’s really tried to yet. The question is how apt LeapFrog’s approach ends up being, and for the answer to that, only time and further research will do.

Immigration Activist Jose Vargas Detained at Texas Border Town

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 09:51 AM PDT

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who became an immigration activist after openly admitting his undocumented status, was detained by border patrol agents at a Texas airport on Tuesday as he attempted to fly to Los Angeles.

A border patrol spokesperson confirmed to the AP that Vargas is being held after being arrested at the airport in McAllen, Tex., but had no other details.

Vargas, who has a valid Philippine passport but not a U.S. employment visa, announced his undocumented status in a 2011 story in the New York Times Magazine and wrote a cover story for TIME a year later about his experience.

He now travels the country as an activist working to change U.S. immigration laws. On July 10 that work brought him to McAllen, which he visited with a camera crew from his advocacy organization, Define American, to document the shelters housing thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled the escalating violence in their Central American hometowns. Vargas was apparently unaware that the U.S. Border Patrol has a checkpoint set up about 45 minutes outside of the South Texas town.

"I feel stupid. I've been traveling around the country, visiting 43 states in like 3 years, and I've been flying using my Philippine passport,” Vargas reportedly wrote in a text message sent over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter. “But I've never been to the Texas border area. I just figured I could use the passport. But apparently I can't because border patrol agents check foreign passports."

Shortly before his arrest Tuesday, Vargas tweeted that he was attempting to pass through security with a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and his Philippine passport as his only documentation:


The Strangest Beast on the First Americans’ Menu

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 09:46 AM PDT

There were a lot of things on the menu for early Americans—deer, antelope, buffalo. But if you really wanted to eat well, and you were an especially early early American, there was nothing quite like a good haunch of gomphothere. That, it turns out, may have been one of the staples of the prehistoric Clovis culture, and while plenty of people never heard of this particular predator or its prey, the fact that they crossed paths is very big news.

The Clovis people are believed to be the earliest occupants of North America, arriving in the southwestern part of the continent somewhere between 13,000 and 13,500 years ago. Gomphotheres, a faintly freakish, four-tusked ancestor of the elephant, had the humans beat by a lot, first appearing on the scene as far back as 33 million years ago. The scientific wisdom had always been that the two species never co-existed, but the scientific wisdom hadn’t reckoned with a site called El Fin del Mundo (the end of the world) in northwestern Mexico.

Researchers from the University of Arizona, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and elsewhere began exploring the site in 2007, after a local rancher reported finding animal remains. They continued digging until 2012, and in a paper just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), revealed conclusive proof that the gomphotheres thundered and the Clovis people hunted at the same time and in the same place—and the Clovis got the better of the deal.

The first discoveries at the site were a few complete Clovis spear points, along with bones that appeared to be from a large bison. That made it a nice find, but hardly a remarkable one. The following year, however, the investigators unearthed a mandible that was not remotely bison-like, but was entirely gomphothere-like, and that changed everything.

Further digging revealed the complete remains of two gomphotheres—one 13 to 24 years old and the other a comparative juvenile at 10-12 years old. Mingled in with the bones were more spear points and though weathering on the bones made it hard to look for the cut marks and gouges that usually indicate butchering, the signs of a hunt were unmistakable. For one thing, animals that die natural deaths leave bones arranged in more or less the proper skeletal configuration. In this case, however, the remains were stacked in two distinct, non-anatomical piles.

The fact that some of the spear points the investigators unearthed were mingled in with the bones suggests that the Clovis hunters either simply tossed them there after they were done with the remains, or that the points were somehow lost in the flesh of the carcass and too hard to retrieve. The condition of the points suggests they may indeed have been well-embedded. “Three of the four points are complete,” the researchers wrote, “but the fourth is missing its base due to an impact-related snap.”

History was not kind to either the gomphothere or the Clovis culture. The proto-elephants eventually died off and were replaced by the modern, two-tusked model. And the Clovis culture eventually dispersed and settled into different sub-cultures, each adapting to the conditions on its own part of the continent. Some archaeologists think that the gomphothere might have had the last laugh, since the end of the Clovis line could have been caused by the disappearance of it and other such “megafauna” to hunt. The prey went down, but it may have taken the predator culture with it.

U.S. Military Takes Robotic Mule Out for a Stroll

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 09:46 AM PDT

Meet Legged Squat Support System (LS3), a robotic mule capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of cargo for 20 miles without refueling.

The U.S. Marine Corps showed off LS3—nicknamed Cujo—on Saturday at Hawaii’s Kahuku Training Area during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment portion of RIMPAC 2014, a biennial multinational maritime exercise, according to a statement. Cujo can traverse rocky terrain with its lifelike gallup, and is programmed to follow an operator and detect surrounding objects with its swiveling head of sensors. Marines demonstrated Cujo’s tricks by using it to conduct resupply missions across terrain difficult to traverse by normal vehicles.

The RIMPAC demonstration is the latest effort in LS3′s platform-refinement testing, which began in July 2012, after 5 years of LS3′s concept development by Boston Dynamics under DARPA. Recent tests have afforded the $2 million robotic mule a tour of military bases in California and Massachusetts, and of course, much pampering and TLC after intense combat simulations on difficult terrain wore it down.

"I was surprised how well it works," said Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, who watched YouTube clips of LS3 before joining the infantry and being randomly selected to operate the robot during RIMPAC. "I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it's actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills."

Indeed, like all pets, Cujo has a few issues. It makes loud noises while moving, currently limiting the robot to logistical uses like resupply missions and cargo carrying, instead of tactical maneuvers. Cujo also can successfully cross only 70-80% of all terrain traversable by Marines. It has no set date for deployment, as engineers continue to improve the robot.

But the lack of an official timeline isn’t something the Marines are too worried about, as commanding LS3 “feels like playing Call of Duty.” Even better, to them, Cujo has become “like a dog.”

U.S. Census Bureau Finds 1.6% of Adults Identify as Gay

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 09:37 AM PDT

For the first time in 57 years the U.S. Census Bureau has surveyed adults on their sexual orientation, and the results published Tuesday show that 1.6% of adults aged 18 or over identified as gay, while another 0.7% identified as bisexual.

The figures, released by the Center for Disease Control, were slightly lower than the findings from previous surveys, which had estimated that the LGBT population comprised 3.4 to 4% of the population.

An additional 1.1% of respondents identified as ''something else,'' stated ''I don't know the answer,'' or refused to provide an answer.

The CDC said its statistics would help researchers to identify and address health disparities between gay and straight adults. The report identified elevated levels of smoking and drinking among respondents who identified as gay, as well as a higher likelihood of meeting federal fitness guidelines.

David Byrne and Jonathan Demme on The Making of Stop Making Sense

Posted: 15 Jul 2014 09:19 AM PDT

It's been 30 years since the release of Stop Making Sense, the Jonathan Demme-directed Talking Heads concert pic that’s widely recognized as one of the greatest live music films of all time.

Stop Making Sense paired Demme — years before he won Best Director for Silence of the Lambs — with the band Talking Heads, just as the New York-based art rock group were becoming musical icons.

The film begins with the band’s frontman and impresario, David Byrne, walking on stage barefoot, a boombox in hand. He sets it down, turns it on and starts to sing along with the Talking Heads' song "Psycho Killer." He is soon joined by bassist Tina Weymouth while stagehands build a drum platform for Chris Frantz. Backup singers and horn players appear and the show goes on, building into a frenzy, complete with a choir and bongo players while Byrne throws himself around the stage like a possessed version of Mick Jagger. That energy carries throughout the film, fusing Demme's sweeping cinematographic style with Byrne's eye for stagecraft and the art of the show.

To mark the occasion, the film is being made available digitally for the first time ever by Palm Pictures, along with a limited theatrical engagement this summer and fall. When asked why it took so long for a film that used some of the most modern equipment and techniques of its age — it was the first rock movie made using entirely digital audio techniques — to become available digitally, Demme shrugged: “I guess we just weren’t paying attention?”

TIME talked to both Demme and Byrne as they reflected on making Stop Making Sense and the lasting legacy of the film:

Demme: "In early 1983, Gary Goetzman and I went to see my favorite band, the Talking Heads, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The show was like seeing a movie just waiting to be filmed. We tracked David Byrne down and pitched him on the idea of teaming up to make the picture."

Byrne: "I realized the show was 'cinematic' and that it sort of had a narrative arc. It might work on film, or so I believed."

Demme: "David really saw this movie in his own head long before we came and pitched him on letting us shoot it."

The two connected through a mutual friend, Nadia Ghaleb (according to Byrne), but they already shared a mutual appreciation of each others’ work.

Byrne: "I knew Jonathan’s work. I loved Melvin and Howard."

Demme: "I was a Talking Heads fan from the very beginning."

To make the film, the band turned to the parent company of their record label, Sire, for funding.

Byrne: "Our manager, the late Gary Kurfirst, went to Warner Records for a 'loan.' They got paid back and sold some live albums too.

With financing secured, the filming could begin.

Byrne: "Jonathan followed us on tour for about a week or so prior to filming, so he knew the show pretty well."

Demme: "The big suit, the lighting, the staging, the choreography, the song line-up — everything was there in the show before the filmmakers showed up."

The so-called big suit became one of the most iconic images of the show, the band and the film:

Demme: “It was all part of David Byrne’s original concept for the staged show, from the beginning.”

Byrne: "I was in Japan in between tours and I was checking out traditional Japanese theater — Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku — and I was wondering what to wear on our upcoming tour. A fashion designer friend (Jurgen Lehl) said in his typically droll manner, 'Well David, everything is bigger on stage.' He was referring to gestures and all that, but I applied the idea to a businessman’s suit."

Filming took place over four nights at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, while the Talking Heads were on tour following the release of their album, Speaking in Tongues:

Demme: "Those four nights of filming were four of the most thrilling shoots of my life. Everything went flying by so fast it was just one ecstatic blur for me."

Byrne: "During the shoot every day was spent re-balancing the lights so that the show would look to the camera as it did to the eye, as well as blocking out camera moves."

Demme: "It was wonderful that our Director of Photography was the late/great Jordan Cronenweth, because Jordan was able to help David achieve on screen what was never completely possible with the lighting scheme in those big live arena shows, because there’s so much ambient light in those rooms that it blows out the starkness of true graphic black and white lighting design."

Byrne had an attention to detail and an eye for design that was vast in scope:

Byrne: "Edna Holt, one of the incredible singers (see 20 Feet from Stardom) changed her hair the day before we started shooting! I freaked out — hair whipping was a big part of the show —so I paid for her to get a weave immediately. It took her many, many hours, poor girl, but it worked."

Courtesy Palm Pictures

Stop Making Sense was a true collaboration between the two men, with each contributing their own aesthetic ideas about music, cinematography and stagecraft into a cohesive whole of avant-garde rock-and-roll theater. Both Demme and Byrne were eager to credit their collaboration and each other for the end result:

Demme: "Most of these dynamics arose from David Byrne’s original vision, but it was a highly collaborative experience."

Byrne: "Jonathan saw things in the show that I didn’t realize where there or didn’t realize how important they were."

Demme: "We shot it together, cut and mixed it together, and we all went running off to the festival circuit together as soon as we had our first print."

Byrne: "[Demme] saw the interaction of the personalities on stage, how it was an 'ensemble piece' if it were viewed as one would a scripted film. He also realized that to suck the viewer into that ensemble, there would be no interviews and no shots of the audience until almost the very end."

Demme: "In the cutting room we quickly discovered that there was always something far more interesting going on on stage than in the 'best' of our audience footage. This led to the realization that if we pulled back from showing the live audience, it made our film feel that much more specially created for our movie audience!"

The film also used a number of long camera shots to capture all the on-stage action in beautiful sweeping shots. It’s something Demme would replicate in future music documentaries like Storefront Hitchcock and Neil Young: Heart of Gold.

Demme: "The use of extended shots instead of quick cuts is a result of my belief that there is great power available by holding on any extended terrific moment and letting the viewer become more deeply involved in the performance at hand, instead of constantly interrupting the flow with un-needed cuts. Too much cutting usually speaks to a lack of editorial confidence in the players and the music."

Courtesy Palm Pictures

While Byrne tends to be the film’s focal point — and he is rarely off-camera throughout — the real star of the show is the music: the exuberant, funk-influenced rock that pushed the Talking Heads from the New York underground, where they opened for the Ramones at CBGB, to hitting the Billboard charts. The film captures their energy perfectly, building in tempo and attempting to force even the most reluctant audience members from their seats:

Byrne: "There were many screenings, film festivals and all that — many of which featured dancing in the aisles."

Demme: "I adore film and I adore music. I often find myself feeling that filming music is somehow the purest form of filmmaking. This crazed collision of sound and images, the intense collaboration, these incredibly cinematic performances. And for the nights you’re filming, a non-player like me gets to feel somehow part of the band."

Byrne: "I think the film and the show showed that a pop concert could be a kind of theater — not in the pretentious sense, but in the sense that it could be visually and even sort of dramatically sophisticated and yet you could still dance to it."

Demme: "I knew that we had captured the magic of an extraordinary band at just the right moment, but didn’t imagine it would still be so around and feeling so fresh 30 years later. Makes sense now, though."

Demme: “I love this film passionately with all my heart.”

You can purchase Stop Making Sense on iTunes here.

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