RBOC

  • We feel unloved by inside higher ed.  Our last few academia posts have been completely ignored.  *snif*
  • Once the rising costs of benefits are taken into account, my raise this year is less than $200/paycheck additional.  Still, it’s nice to have any raise– without a raise my salary would actually be going down in real terms.
  • In positive money news:  For the second time since we got the Civic Hybrid, the expensive electronic battery went wonky.  But… it was still under warranty!  YAY!!!  $2,600 that we didn’t have to pay!
  • DH won’t let me send this email:  “We will be unable to ‘volunteer’.  We pay for daycare because we have to work.”  (In reply to: “Our fall festival is coming up Friday [date]. We need help starting around 9am (for set up) until 1:00pm. Usually we ask parents to work in two shifts. 9-11:00 and 11:00-1pm. Please look at your schedules, see which time will work best for you and sign up for the different booths.”)  Oh well, chances are DC2 will have been kicked out for biting by then anyway.  Probably while DH is away on business near the end of October and I have a p/t meeting and an exam I can’t miss or bring a rambunctious toddler to.  They’ll have to find someone else to bring chips.  (Thank goodness we didn’t get assigned to bring 12 sandwiches like some people were.  What a hassle!)
  • All those h8rs on the internet who say that people who complain about being busy suck?  They suck.  Sometimes a person complains about being busy because they’re @#$#@ing busy [often because of other @#$ers dropping the ball on things they said they'd do].  It’s not like I LIKE being this kind of busy.  I like being generally busy but without the time pressure; then I don’t complain about it– I enjoy it!
  • DC2 just sight-read hir first sight word.  It is, “oops”.  DC1’s first sight word was “zebra.”
  • In case you’re wondering whether pure white countertops in the kitchen and bathroom are a good idea:  They’re not.

Can’t vs. Won’t: A deliberately controversial post

One of Laura Vanderkam’s hobby horses is this idea that you should never say you “can’t” do something, just that you don’t want to make those trade-offs.

Of course, usually people are using “can’t” as a short-hand for “could but I’d have to do all these other things I either don’t want to do or I don’t want to tell you about possibly because it’s none of your business.”

The basic idea makes some sense, the idea being that it gives you agency.  It isn’t that you can’t quit your job, you just don’t want to give up the income from your job and downsize your home etc.  From one perspective you can’t, because you can’t without giving up things you don’t want to give up, but from another perspective you’re not really trapped.  Maybe “won’t” instead of “can’t” will help you think about alternative things that will get you want you want.  In my world view you’ve already thought these things through, but I’m not a self-help guru… I assume people are already at their optimum unless they’ve told me otherwise.  Any changes I force on people are going to knock them off their optimum path.  (Though in some cases society may prosper with the change because of externalities, spillovers, and so on.)

But is agency always a good thing?

There’s a couple of books that summarize literature than includes research on the benefits of limiting choices.  Framing something as “can’t” rather than “won’t” means you don’t have to think about re-optimizing every time you’re faced with a choice.  For example, when I had borderline gestational diabetes, I said that I couldn’t have sugars or refined calories.  Now, of course, I *could* (heck someone with celiac can have wheat so long as ze is willing to face the extremely dire consequences), but I didn’t want to hurt the baby, have a c-section (because of my irrational fear of anesthesiologists among other more rational reasons), or whatever.  If I’d said, “I choose not to” (but could make another choice) or “I won’t” (but am susceptible to cajoling) that would have made it much more difficult to resist the temptation I was resisting every time I was offered something that would spike my insulin.  Now that the only negative consequence to eating refined carbs is me getting fat (and some longer-term unproven potential health consequences), it is much more difficult to mentally frame the choice as “truly can’t.”  So I eat more refined carbs, even though I know I probably shouldn’t and in time t-1 would choose to not be offered the potato chips in time t if I could.  Allowing the choice makes it much harder for me to say no when the opportunity presents itself.  Many other reasons how and why arbitrarily limiting choices can help willpower and happiness can be found in the book Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney.

The Paradox of Choice is another great book that talks about the benefits of limiting choice (or rather, the problems with not limiting it). We’re often happier when we’ve made an irrevocable decision and don’t have to think about it anymore, and what is “can’t” other than a signal that we’ve made the decision not to and we’re sticking to it.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of sociology literature on how people react to “decisions” other people have made.  It turns out that people have much more sympathy towards people when they don’t think a choice has been made and a lot more blame when they think the person made an active choice.  For example, is homosexuality a choice?  Under LV’s definition it is– if only the homosexual person had a different utility function or budget constraint, he or she would be heterosexual!  When experimental participants are primed to think that homosexuality is a choice, they are more likely to think badly of homosexuals and homosexual causes (e.g. gay marriage) than when they are primed to think it is not a choice.  An enormous literature covers this finding across many different areas from obesity to welfare receipt.  Saying can’t instead of won’t is a way that we attempt to protect ourselves from the judgment of others.  So much the better if we can’t because our circumstances are different.  Changing to “won’t” in common parlance may hurt our interactions with other people.

On top of all that (or perhaps negating all that!), the idea that language changes culture is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and you can read up on how it has been well and thoroughly discredited.  Everybody knows that “can’t” only actually means “absolutely can’t” in certain situations (“I can’t have children [because I am infertile]“) and has the addendum “given reasons I’d rather not go into detail about or are obvious” in most situations (“I can’t have breakable china until my kids are older”).  Most people are pretty good at context and know when they’re using the short-hand “can’t” rather than the absolute “can’t”.  Because the word “can’t” already encompasses a vast spectrum of meanings, only in rare cases could using won’t or don’t instead of can’t actually affect anything, in theory.

And in practice, it’s far more likely that even those rare cases are really reverse causality– a person has a defeatist attitude or just hasn’t thought of all the possibilities and unhappily says “can’t” because of that, not the other way around.  In those cases, the response should not be to use different language, but to think of why the person thinks it’s impossible.  The attack should be on the thinking, not on the words.  That’s not to say that positive restructuring from cognitive behavioral therapy doesn’t work– it does and there’s a large literature on it working.  In situations for which CBT is recommended, anxiety, depression, etc. then changing “can’t” to “won’t” or even “will” may be appropriate and effective, but that also comes with the introspection of what changes can be made.  It isn’t solely the change in wording, but a complete change in mental framing.

Obviously, not having pretty china is not a cause of anxiety or depression for most people.  When someone says they can’t have breakable china because they have small children, it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest that they reframe that, unless the person is really really unhappy about not having breakable china.  And if they are really unhappy about Corelle, they probably actually already do have breakable china or carpeting in the kitchen or what have you.  Because what problem is reframing “can’t have breakable china” as “choose not to have breakable (even though I want it)” solving?  Oh gee, now I have the agency to make different choices about my china than the choices I’ve already made, even though I already knew I was making those choices when I used the short-hand “can’t” rather than “won’t.”

Update:  There were many interesting and thought-provoking comments on LV’s post expanding on her complaints about wording choice but my favorite has to be this one from The Frugal Girl:

I think sometimes these discussions can be like when someone points out to you that a tomato isn’t a vegetable.
Ok, this is technically true, but no one’s going to put it into a fruit salad anyway, so what is the point?

So, bottom-line.  It’s ok to say you can’t do something even if what you mean is you’ve “chosen not to given your utility functions and your budget constraint”.  Only in cases in which you are really unhappy about the choices you’ve made or feel that you’ve been forced into should you go back and think more about how you can change them.  And don’t go lecturing people about their choice to use “can’t” instead of “won’t” unless changing that language is actually going to make them happier.  I can assure you that I derive no additional happiness from being told that I could have pretty breakable china if I just wanted it enough.  And the title, “Things I want but can’t have until my children are older” is much more fun than, “Things I may get if I still want them in the future when my children are older,” even if the latter is framed positively.   Seriously, this blog is called GRUMPY RUMBLINGS.  We have to rumble grumpily sometimes or we lose street cred.+

+Ignore the fact that from a cognitive restructuring standpoint, both phrases are actually positively framed indicating that I can have these things later even if I can’t have them now.  (Willpower also talks about the positive effect of noting you can have stuff later.)  We still rumble with the grumps.

Ok Grumpeteers!  Go!

Our justice system is f*ed up for victims of sexual violence (triggers)

Just did another stint with jury duty.  Third time being called since September.  This time it was for ongoing sexual abuse of a child.

I didn’t get selected.  Because I said I was biased because forget getting to the indictment stage, just coming forward about sexual abuse is so rare that even getting to the kid actually telling someone means it’s pretty likely that it actually happened.  The defense stopped asking me questions at that point, just skipped over me.

I hate the jury selection procedures.  The prosecution and the defense throw out enough “hypotheticals” that by the end of it you know not only what the (alleged) crime is, but you know how the two sides are going to proceed.

In this case, the prosecution was going to allege that this dude repeatedly assaulted a young girl in his family, and that she didn’t come forward right away because she was scared to tell anyone.

The defense is going to paint said child as a malicious liar who is being manipulated by an older sibling into making a false accusation.

This is just so @#$@#ed up.  No wonder nobody ever comes forward when being abused.  No wonder nobody is willing to go through the trial.  No wonder false accusations are such a small statistically unlikely occurrence.

And of course the other prospective jurors just ate it up, especially the former teachers.  Kids lie all the time.  They’re malicious awful creatures.

Hell, the defense attorney wasn’t any better.  When asking us a hypothetical about the punishment, he made a comment about girls who were 13 going on 30, and if a 13 year old who looked like an adult was dating and having sex with a 17 year old for a six month period, then surely that would be not that big a deal (the defendant was obviously a middle-aged man).  WTF?  A 13 year old is still a child even if she has breasts.  Especially if she has breasts.   Seventeen year olds should be damn careful that they’re not having sex with middle-schoolers.  And if they are, that is in no way the 13 year old’s fault.

I don’t know what would be a better system.  I’d like to imagine that having these cases be decided judicially would be better for the victims, but judges are probably no better than normal people for being influenced by the patriarchy.  Just look at the supreme court.

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

Escheatment

Escheatment is another fun (not really) term that I learned this tax season.  #2 didn’t even know this term!

Did you know that if you have a stock that is on a dividend reinvestment program and you don’t login to the webpage or call them or write to them (because it’s changed companies so you need to re-register and they send you a nice quarterly report and tax forms so there’s no reason to login), that after “some amount of time” the company has to, by law (depending on your state), declare your account dormant (even if you have ANOTHER stock from the exact same company with the exact same contact info that isn’t dormant because its dividends are going to your bank account, even if the reinvested dividends from the dormant account are buying shares in the non-dormant account).  Then they have to notify you 3 times to contact them.  The third time requires signatures from everyone on the account and you can no longer just login or call them to stop the dormancy.  The first two times can apparently be a one line suggestion that you login to their webpage to avoid dormancy hidden in the middle of a statement full of words and numbers.  So the third time with the signatures comes as a surprise.

What happens if you don’t get the signatures to the PO box across the country in time?  (Supposedly 30 days, but for some reason it takes a lot longer for the letter to get to you and then you don’t really pay attention to it until you start doing your taxes and go what is this OMG, I have 2 days.)  According to the internet, your entire dormant account is given to the state.  Then the state sells it (and you can’t sell it before that happens because your account is dormant so you can look but you can’t touch online).  If you want the money back, you have to go through the state’s lost money thing.

Of course, it isn’t clear from that third notice which state is going to get your money.  So good luck with that.

Update:  Escheatement averted.  And a reminder that I have to contact them at least once every 3 years in order to avoid escheatment, which can include logging into the account.  Maybe something to do at tax time.

So more fun with investing.  Seriously guys, Vanguard index funds.  Or target-date funds.  Maybe TIAA-Cref if that’s what your employer uses.

I hate dogs

That’s not even really true.  I hate people who own dogs.  It’s not the dogs’ fault.  I feel about dog owners the way Kate feels about fellows…

“I loathe people who keep dogs.  They are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves.”  –August Strindberg

People should not be allowed to have any dogs without a vigorous approval process.    Leash laws should be ENFORCED in my neighborhood, thank you!  When I run over your dog because it’s in the street, that’s your fault.  [no dogs have been run over.]

Every place I live, there is always some stupid idiot dog who barks for 3 – 7 hours IN A ROW on MULTIPLE days.  That is not ok.  One day I will snap and murder someone.

I envision a magnificent future where, every time someone gets a dog from WHATEVER source, the dog EITHER comes surgically debarked, or the new owners have a binding obligation to teach it not to bark.  If they want a watchdog, they must legally commit to teaching the dog NOT to bark unless there is ACTUALLY a burglar… not their next-door neighbors walking around their OWN yard.  If there is any complaint about the dog barking… fines that increase each time, until the barking stops.  The money will be used to fund no-kill shelters.  What, you say surgically de-barking dogs is cruel surgery and makes them more aggressive?  Then you better be ready to deal with the consequences!  Only people who are able to devote the time and energy to training their dogs should be allowed to have them, PERIOD.

If someone wants to train their dog but can’t afford lessons or a class, then my magical program will pay for that.  But if they don’t have TIME to train their dog, the dog gets taken away or surgically silenced.  I think if you don’t have time to train it then you shouldn’t have it, because it won’t be a happy dog, but that’s your lookout.

Animals are fantastic companions, and a well-trained dog is a useful and wonderful addition to the family.  People are complete asshats.

Alternately, who wants to buy me this?  I’m totally serious here, folks.  So serious.

On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow

The media has it out for Gwyneth Paltrow.  They’ve got a thing going where she’s out of touch and too-perfect and privileged and whatever.  She doesn’t help it with the things she posts on her blog.  After reading this post by Family Building with a Twist, I had to see what the latest thing was.  Turns out she’s suggested hundred dollar hostess gifts and stocking stuffers (cynically, I would not be surprised if some of the items on that list were sponsored or put down as favors for someone invested in their sale).  Useless over-priced crap that rich people give to each other even though they don’t need more stuff.  Because they can.

It actually reminded me of this recent CNN article on the huge amounts being spent on art and jewelry.  Money that is definitely not “trickling down” to the little people.

This is what wealth inequality does.  It makes useless luxury items more expensive and it moves wealth around amongst the wealthy.  It doesn’t feed kids.

But that doesn’t make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow.   Infinitely worse are people like the Koch brothers or Roger Ailes and other extremely wealthy people who are against higher marginal taxes for the 1% or for cutting food-stamps.  If Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t realize that not everybody can afford organic foods, personal trainers, or $200 hostess gifts, then she should be educated on that.  Maybe a little mingling with the hoi poloi could spark some social activism on her part, though she doesn’t have to become an activist.  Pretension isn’t worth worrying about unless it harms others.  She’s not actually doing real harm, just providing media fodder for fun little let’s hate the privileged rich girl stories.  (Now that Paris Hilton has dropped out of the public eye.)

And why do we have the privileged little rich girl stories instead of stories about people who are actually doing harm?  Well, Gwyenth Paltrow is harmless.  She’s a side-show.  She can’t harm us.  She can’t harm a media organization.  She’s probably even well-intentioned.  And she’s female.

People love to put down “perfect” women.  Paltrow is thin, pretty, rich, and self-confident.  Crabs in a bucket like to pull people like that down.  It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.  It is her very irrelevance that makes her the perfect sacrifice.   Attack the perfect woman and we’ll feel better about ourselves and we’ll be less likely to riot in the streets.  We’ve dealt our blows to the system by making fun of an actress who doesn’t know any better.   And that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.  It’s just sending yet another signal that women shouldn’t get too uppity or other women will hate them.  That’s a stupid signal.

The patriarchy is insidious in its divide and conquer strategies.  It’s great at distracting us from real problems, because those real problems are caused by people we can’t be catty about.  Those people are dangerous and powerful.  They’re not writing up silly over-priced gift lists on their blogs.  Much easier to channel that ire against women.   The patriarchy is good at this stuff.  It’s had lots of practice.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 241 other followers