Link Love

Lots of links to love this week!

Super Nova Condensate talks about how science is awesome for everyone, even girls.

Kitchen Table Math discusses how wealthy school districts are less likely to be flexible and lean more on parents to solve school problems than other districts.  We’ve certainly found that to be the case to our surprise in our area.  The lower SES district is MUCH more flexible and has a lot more programs to help kids who are different on both sides of the scale.  She’s got some interesting follow-up articles this week so check those out as well.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Graduate living talks about keeping the cost of graduate school down.

Making Sense of Cents has a nice primer with 401K vs. Roth IRA.

See debt run asks if your friends are smart with money.  Ours are (mostly… now…)!  Relatives, otoh…

We are respectable negroes talks about North Carolina voting down compensation for forced sterilization victims.  If something makes IRB training, the victims should be compensated.

Where’s my trust fund talks about what life might be like with a trust fund (and can you build your own?)

Min Hus is back with the next installment of YMoYL!  Read it!  (Also eagerly awaiting oil and garlic’s return!)

Check out the comments for a compelling discussion of advantage vs. privilege in this ferule and fescue post.

Trickle down feminism from racialicious.  Feminisms for all!

Frontline with a compelling documentary on dentists and poverty and dollars.  I will be showing this one in class next year.  If you’ve read Scalzi’s “Being Poor” column, you know that teeth are a big issue for people of lower socioeconomic status, and we see this with family members.

And you can’t chillax without cat pics, thank you academic cog!  If only our felines would write for us…

Google Questions Answered

Q:  does folding kids sock inside each other stretch them out?

A:  Yes, but not enough to matter unless you’re planning on using socks through multiple kids.

Q:  what role do ethics play in market efficiency

A:  None.

Q:  is a mortgage a wadte

A:  No.  As best as we can tell wadte is a Dakota conjugation of the verb “to love.”  Most of us do not love our mortgages.

Q:  Should I prepay mortgage with 457?

A:  Probably not.  Retirement saving is important, and paying penalties to access retirement funds is seldom a good idea.  But it depends on the circumstances.  If you’re old enough to be drawing down retirement accounts without penalty, go ahead.  If you’re in a situation in which you are leaving state employment, you can tap into those 457 funds without penalty.  Whether or not you should depends on how on-track you are for retirement and why you want to prepay the mortgage.  For example, if you’ve lost your job, have decent other retirement savings, and your house is underwater but you can refinance to a much lower rate with some prepayment (and are not planning on foreclosing ever), then pulling from your 457 might be a reasonable thing to do.

Q:  house paid off so another morgage?

A:  Why?

Q:  what did i instead of going to graduate school

A:  If you’re like our friends, you moved to the Bay Area, got involved in a Start-up, and made tonnes of money so now you’re financially independent and living the good life.  We’re not bitter, no.

Q:  why association has more authority after my house if paid off

A:  Because you no longer have a big bank to protect you from them.

Q:  can professors teach summer classes for extra salary

A:  Often, yes they can.

Q:  how to cut down nasty comments on

A:  With the loving mallet of correction a la Scalzi?  (Or you know, just deleting them or not fishing them out of the spam filter.)

Q:  pay off mortgage or buy another house

A:  If you have to ask this question, then go for paying off the mortgage.  Only buy another house if you have a really good reason to and know what you’re getting into.

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Equifax sucks: A Rant


Chat with a Customer Care Agent

Status: Disconnected
Misty: Hi, my name is Misty. How may I help you?
Me: I recently was contacted by Etrade because they had changed my date of birth to the date given to them by Equifax.  The date of birth they had was incorrect.
Misty: I would be more than happy to address this concern for you.
Misty: I do apologize. We can only report what is being reported to us by creditors. If the personal information is not correct, you will have to send in documents to have it corrected.
Me:  From where does Equifax get date of birth information, and why did it change?
Misty: I do apologize. We can only report what is being reported to us by creditors. If the personal information is not correct, you will have to send in documents to have it corrected.
Me: That is not a helpful response.
Misty: You need to contact all your lenders and creditors to make sure they have the correct information on your account with them. To update any personal information, such has your name or address, it requires information be sent to us. You will need a cover sheet with your name, address, date of birth, email address, phone number, and a brief description of the changes you need made. This is the information you will need to send:1. Copy of your Drivers License or State ID (with current address)
2. Copy of Social Security Card or W2 Form
3. Copy of a utility bill, bank statement, or rental/mortgage agreement in your name.
4. A Cover letter stating what you need verified with an email and telephone number.You may fax to 1-888-729-0083, email to, or you may mail it to:Equifax
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374 Me: All of the above or one of the above?
Misty: We can only report what is being reported to us by the creditors. If the information is reported, then by law we must place it on your report. You will have to send all the information provided above.
Me: From where do you get this information?
Me: And what do you do when the information from different creditors contradicts itself?
Me: Because I was not born in 1970.
Misty: We get the information from your creditors. So, one of them may have reported the information incorrectly.
Me: ok, well, this was somewhat helpful
Misty: I do also want to let you know you can monitor your reports so you can keep an eye on any key changes.
Misty: We do have the Equifax Complete Premier Plan.
Misty: You can purchase Equifax Complete Premier Plan for 19.95 per month. With Equifax Complete Premier Plan, you get one 3-n-1 report with scores per 12 months, you get unlimited access to your Equifax Credit Report and Score, and monitoring of all three reports and your Equifax Credit Score. You will receive alerts every 24 hours if there are any key changes to your credit reports or score. You also get automatic Fraud Alerts, with the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax Credit Report. That way you control who and when someone looks at your credit report. You get one million dollars of identity theft insurance per incident. To purchase Equifax Complete Premier Plan for 19.95 per month you need to go to
Me: unhelpful
Misty: Are there any other questions or concerns that I can assist you with today?
Me: Looks like the other two credit agencies have my correct information.  That’s something at least.
Me: No.
Misty: Thank you for contacting Equifax.
Please disconnect or close the chat window to end this chat session.
Misty has disconnected.
So, dear readers, I contacted all of my creditors and not one of them had the incorrect date of birth.  I would also like to note that of the three credit agencies, Equifax had the scammiest page that tried hardest to get people from annualcreditreport to accidentally give them money.  Also they still think I have a capital one card open even though they have no information from Capital one since it was closed.  (Again, the other two agencies had everything correct.)  I hate them, yes I do.  Have I send in all that paperwork yet?  No… I’m hoping a creditor will send my correct information in and then “by law they’ll have to change it.”  Hopefully that will happen before they convince the world that I was born in 1970.  Because I wasn’t.
Do you have any general ranty complaints to share?  We will shake our tiny fists on your behalf.

Motherhood Online: A book review

We  were sent Motherhood Online by the editor, Michelle Moravec.

This book is a scholarly academic tome, but even given that, there are only two articles in it that I would call inaccessible to non-academic readers.  (And those two articles are both short and probably inaccessible to most academic readers as well.)  Non-academic readers will find the first section just as amusing and the second and third sections just as interesting as this academic reader.

The book starts out with case studies that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a pregnancy or mothering forum.  It does seem that if you’ve been on one of these forums, you’ve really been on all of the forums, for all the differences we perceive between the mothering.coms and the babycenters of the world, the dynamics are not that much different, even across forums from different countries.  Oddly, this section is titled “Theoretical perspectives” but is, for the most part, a-theoretical and, for the most part, focuses on each author’s own experiences with an online parenting community.

The second section… titled, “Case studies” includes articles with a broader theory base, more formal qualitative methods, and comparisons across different cases.  This second section focuses on communities that many of us have had less experience with, but are interesting in their own rights.  I especially enjoyed the studies of teenage mothers, autistic parents, port-wine stain, stay-at-home dads, and really most of the articles in this section.  I felt like I learned something reading many of these articles.

The last section focuses on blogs and community, with the stand-out piece being one on the community of people from developed countries who use (employ?) Indian women as surrogate mothers.

Although the introduction focuses on the positives to these online communities, the articles themselves are even-handed with both the positives (community building, information sharing, support) and the negatives (conflict, incorrect information, rationalization, etc.)  The authors come from a number of different disciplines, including communication, sociology, public health, anthropology, history and others.  These different disciplinary paths and perspectives come across in the methodology and writing.  Obviously we feel more comfortable with the social scientist methodologies, but other disciplines provide for entertaining reading and discussion.

Is this worth reading?  Sure!  Especially if you’re into non-fiction and would like to think a bit about they dynamics of online communities.  The book includes a nice collection of articles that, should, for the most part, be as easy to read as a Malcolm Gladwell book, but with perhaps a few more citations included.

Kids and money and class and ramblings about allowances

There’s been a resurgence recently in discussions on how to teach kids about money.  We can, of course, point you to our version of, “The Allowance Post,” from a couple of years ago.  DC mainly uses hir allowance to buy Christmas or Birthday gifts for DH (I am too lazy to nudge hir into crafts like DH does for my presents from DC), though ze did save up for a $15 lego game last fall.

Ze gets a pretty small allowance, 20 cents per year of age, which means $1/week.  We have no restrictions on how that money is used.  My allowance was 10 cents per year of age, again with no restrictions.  For the most part, I spent my entire allowance on candy every single week.

Growing up we did not have a lot of money.  We talked about money and trade-offs all the time and did not have a whole lot of things.  (Instead of stuff, the priority was our education.)  Very early on I learned that money is really important, that it can be a source of stress, that having it can make things a lot easier.  I learned how to shop for the best priced item (like looking at price per unit at the grocery store) because we had to.  DH’s childhood protected him more from monetary troubles, but when I was living in urban apartments, he was living in a rural trailer and his parents were working and going to school.

DH and I are firmly ensconced in upper-middle-classdom.  I LOVE it.  I never ever want to go back, and that’s probably why we’ve saved a bunch.  I love my a/c and my dryer and my dishwasher and not having to make choices between fancy cheese and daycamp.  Not having to completely freak out about the possibility of DH losing his job.

At the same time, there’s a worry that because we don’t have to make a whole lot of trade-offs, that DC may not be learning about money.  What do you do when you’re born upper-middle-class and don’t face the same kind of monetary trade-offs as a child that might be needed later as an adult just starting out?

But really, I’m not worried.  Ze seems to be picking up money lessons here and there anyway, and not just because, “Mommy studies money.”

For one thing, ze’s at a private school that has had money issues this past year.  Additionally, the teachers only make 23K/year.  So at school ze’s learning to be worried about money.  Ze came home one day almost in tears because hir textbook had been lost and it was *very expensive*.  I explained that that’s why I make the big bucks, so that we can replace things like textbooks without worrying about them.  (They found the textbook the next day– someone else had put it up on a high shelf.)

At the same time, we have long conversations at the grocery store about value.  Ze knows how to look for what’s the cheapest per unit, just like my father taught me, but ze gets an additional explanation when we don’t buy the cheapest item.  Why do we like it better, how is it better quality?  It’s important to know how to live frugally, because that gives options, but it’s also nice to be able to live an upper-middle-class lifestyle and to understand when trade-offs are worth it when you have enough money.  That’s a good reason to make money, I think.

We’re also planning on paying our kids’ full college tuition and board at the school of their choice.  More on that in our next deliberately controversial post, if I ever get around to writing it.

I think it’ll be ok.  We emphasize learning and education and understanding and hard work.  Ze seems to have picked up on those lessons.  It’s nice that ze can focus on these more intrinsic kinds of things– what ze wants to do to make his mark in the world, rather than omg I never want to have to worry about money.  That’s a luxury but it seems to be one that hasn’t hurt most of the folks I rub shoulders with who are second or third or more generation upper-middle-class.  Sure, there are some folks who never learned money lessons and are complete disasters, especially if their parents stop bailing them out… but for the most part being brought up upper-middle-class doesn’t seem to directly mean that a kid is going to spend more than they earn.  And it doesn’t seem to hurt in terms of getting opportunities that can lead to higher earning power later on.  Things my parents made huge sacrifices for, but we can just give our children while still eating fancy cheese on a regular basis.

Side note: When a colleague of mine, after reading the Slaughter article, said she didn’t have it all because even though she doesn’t have a spouse and kids taking up her time, she felt like she didn’t have time for everything she wanted to do, my response was that I have SO much more than my parents did.  I have to make so many fewer compromises than my mother did and so many fewer sacrifices than my parents, that I feel blessed and lucky and like I have more than I ever dreamed (not that I don’t think I should be getting a bigger salary!).  My colleague grew up in a higher SES, still middle class, but on the other side of it.  Will my children feel ennui more keenly because their childhoods (at least up to this point) are more charmed?

Did money lessons come through necessity when you were a child or did you have to learn them separately?  If you have kids, are you worried about how to teach them about money?  

Link love

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Tenth medieval for the illegible bachelor pun

A huffington post article on the UVA scandal.  Related, an insightful post from Roxie’s World about bad management.

Speaking of bullying and the war on women, CNN with a post on the politics of saying the word vagina.

Bloomberg with an awesome article that someone at GRS linked to about the value of a liberal arts education and how majoring in something “in demand” today might be useless 20 years from now.  But the ability to think and to learn new things will always be in demand.  Or if it isn’t, what we majored in might be the least of our worries.

Lots of stuff on the overdone mama wars piece, most of it truly great commentary (I would say better than the original article, but, um, it was too long for me to read).  A couple that stood out for various reasons:  This salon piece and this photo piece.  Apparently there’s also a new thing out trying to attract girls to science by demeaning women, *sigh*.  Stupid patriarchy.  Don’t they realize it’s too hot to be obnoxious?

Wandering scientist had good stuff this week.  Just check out her blog if you’re not already a regular reader.

#2 wanted to share some cephalopod porn, but apparently not enough to link it on the blog given she’s off to yet another wedding.  So without further ado… whoa kinky: (not really), man i09 getting freaky over there.  Not as bad as the article with the woman who ate squid and got attacked by the dead squid’s spiky sperm.

Ask the Grumpies: Handy Mnemonic Devices

Focavista asks:

What mnemonic tricks do we know? (Somehow I have been fascinated by this recently.) For example, in chemistry I learned – “LEO the Lion says ‘GER’”. I learned “Chief SOH CAH TOA” in geometry. There is one for the planets (pre-Pluto’s downgrade) [#2 notes:  My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas], and biology has one for the classification categories (kingdom, phylum, class, etc) in biology [#2 notes:  kings play chess on fine green silk; #1 notes: King Philip came over from great Spain]. Even I invented one for my students to learn irregular verbs for a verbal tense in Spanish. I am curious about other disciplines.

Here we will list the ones we use on a regular basis or can recall off the tops of our heads.  There are some fun websites if you want to learn more.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is order of operations (parens & exponents; multiply & divide; add & subtract).  Oddly, I remembered it as PEMDAS but had to think to remember Sally’s name.  Also can’t forget FOIL, first outside inside last… though I suppose kids these days are doing lattice multiplication instead.

Sadly many of the mnemonics I know are NSFW. For example, the one for colors on resisters. BBROYGBVGW… My first boyfriend knew a lot of these.

My favorite is “All students take calculus” which is for determining which trig things are positive in which quadrants (remembering that quadrants go counter-clockwise).  All are positive in the first quadrant, sin in the second, tan in the third, and cos in the fourth.

Kingdom, phylum, etc.:  Keep Putting Condoms On For Great Sex.  See, there, you learned two things at once!

Which reminds #2 of how compact sets are like a month’s set of birth control pills in a compact case.  Every open cover has a finite sub-cover.  She no longer remembers what that phrase actually means in terms of set theory, but will never forget the phrase.

Biologists / pre-med have the dirtiest ones.   [#2 disagrees– she argues that EE/CS has the dirtiest because they’re both dirty and misogynistic– their mnemonics neither use condoms nor necessarily ask for consent.]  Anatomy is hard and requires lots of brute-force memorization, where mnemonics come in very useful.

Scared Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle are the bones in the forearm.

There are many from music.  FACE, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (re-written by my proto-feminist childhood self as Ernie’s Green Brains Didn’t Function).

To remember German prepositions, I have some songs and dances.

The ones that take accusative you sing to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (durch, fuer, gegen, ohne, um; ohne, um, ohne um; durch, fuer, gegen, ohne, um, nehmen akusative!) and the ones that take dative you sing to “The Blue Danube” (aus, ausser, bei, mit… NACH, ZEIT!  VON, ZU!).  (for the sticklers out there, these songs aren’t complete, but they are good enough for most uses)

I should remember righty-tightey, lefty-loosey when mounting towel racks.  It works much better that way.

Things to remember about horseback riding:  rise and fall with the leg on the wall (posting on the correct diagonal).  A Fat Bay Mare Can Hardly Ever Kick is the order of letters around the dressage ring, widdershins.  Wikipedia tells me that there is one that goes around clockwise as well, but that’s not the one we use.

Personality traits are OCEAN.  Great Lakes are HOMES.  I can’t remember what I made up for PV = nRT but it is pronounced like “pervnert”.

My students made up one to figure out what is valid and invalid in the propositional calculus.  Affirm Antecedent == always awesome!  Deny Antecedent == dead on arrival.  Affirm Consequent == awful choice!  Deny Consequent == definitely correct.

What are your favorite handy mnemonic devices?

Things that are not wars.

1.  Cupcakes.

2.  Restaurants.

3.  Pawn shops.

4.  football.

5.  Scrabble.

6.  junkyards.

7.  sororities, blogs, 6th grade, cliques.

8.  Parking your car.

9.  any sort of food, really.

10.  Decorating your house.

This meme has gotten really old and it bugs me.  War sucks.  Cupcakes do not suck.  Even losing a competition does not suck as much as war.  Grr.

(Still acceptable is Iron Chef‘s use of “battle” to refer to their secret ingredient.  Because it’s awesome, that’s why.)

#2:  I think I saw a Daily Show riff on this recently…  Ah yes, how Fox News was making the argument that the war on women is overblown and not really a war… and yet…

Grumpy readers:  what is the stupidest kind of “war” you have seen lately?

Good vs. bad research

Just because some research says X is good and some says X is bad, doesn’t mean we don’t know if X is good or bad.

Research quality is also important.

Correlation is easy to measure.  When X and Y are related, there are many methods we can use to figure out how much they’re related, how much they covary.  Causation is not so easy.   Is it X causing Y, Y causing X or some third factor Z that causes both?

The gold standard of getting at causation is the randomized controlled experiment.  When done well, randomized controlled experiments are internally valid.  In the setting tested, we can say that X causes Y if when X is varied, Y varies as well.

Randomized controlled experiments may not be externally valid.  The subject pool may not act the same as all people who aren’t undergraduate psychology majors.  The general equilibrium effects may be different if adding money for one intervention takes away money from another intervention, rather than leaving everything else the same.  Additionally, an intervention may work great on a small set of people but may flounder with a much larger set (ex.  training out of work people to be welders– great when it’s a small number or people, not so good when every unemployed person can now weld).

We can’t always do a randomized controlled experiment.  Sometimes the interventions would be illegal, unethical, inappropriate for a lab, or just too expensive.  Social scientists have a number of ways to get at causality when that’s the case.  Notably, economists use “natural experiments” — exogenous shocks to the treatment that, with some fancy math, can be used to isolate the causal mechanism from what is correlational but not causal.  Popular methods include something called “differences-in-differences” which is a way to subtract out bias by using two (or more) imperfect treatments (changing state laws over time are popular), and “instrumental variables” in which you use a Z variable that is related to your X variable but is only related to your Y variable through X, so you know that the Z part of X is causally affecting Y.  There are other techniques that can be used such as regression discontinuity design or propensity score matching that have various positives and drawbacks.

It doesn’t matter if 20 published education papers find that X and Y are related and then make the claim that X causes Y.  That doesn’t mean that X causes Y.  Standards of publication for causal claims are different in different fields.  But if the same claim is published in a high quality psychology journal, then you can be pretty sure that they did a randomized controlled experiment to figure out causation, and they probably got it right, at least from an internal validity standpoint.

If the same claim is published in a high quality economics journal, then they may not have done a randomized controlled experiment, but they probably did the best that can be done with a high quality quasi-experiment or natural experiment.  (Ignoring the subset of theory papers that can prove anything and are still published in high quality journals…)  These economics findings may be more likely to be externally valid than the psychology findings, but it will depend on what kind of natural experiment the authors exploited.  If they only studied teen moms, then the findings may not be relevant to single men over the age of 50.

So just because research is mixed on a topic doesn’t mean we don’t actually know the answer.  If some of the research is crap, and some of it is good, then you can ignore the crap part and just focus on what is good.  How can you tell what is good?  Well, that’s a bit harder, but keeping in mind that correlation is not causation and looking hard for what the authors are actually measuring is a good first step.

Do you get frustrated when reporters report on research without having any idea about the quality of the research?  How do you winnow out the wheat from the chaff?

Why do you give to charity?

House of peanut notes in her recent review of All the money in the world that her reasons for giving to charity are different than the ones in Vanderkam’s book.

Vanderkam, she says, talks about the “selfish joy” that giving gives to people.  However, house of peanut “couldn’t relate to the idea of getting personal satisfaction or pleasure out of giving to charity.”

Instead, house of peanut says she gives to charity because it is the “right thing to do.”

Economists have many theories for why people give to charity.  From my reading of the Vanderkam chapter, she subscribes to the “warm glow” theory of charitable giving.  In this theory, people give to charity because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy to do so.

Another theory is altruism– that people want a specific level of public goods to be provided, and if they government isn’t providing, then they step up.  (Under this theory, people would *prefer* taxes to charitable giving, because charitable goods are under-provided because of the free-rider problem, but in reality, they don’t tend to prefer taxes.)

Prestige is another theory– people give because they want people to know that they give because it makes them feel superior.  Related to this idea is one of social cohesion– you give because it provides a sense of community with other people interested in that cause.  Giving greases social wheels, so to speak.

Yet another theory is one in which people give because they expect something back.  This idea is part of “social insurance”.  The idea is that if you give to your church when times are good, they will give back to you when times are bad.

And, of course, there’s giving because it provides power and helps you shape agendas.  You can see a lot of that this year with the SuperPACs funding campaign ads and controlling local elections from a national scale.

There are many many other theories of charitable giving, not just from economics but from other social science disciplines.  We haven’t nailed this one down yet, though there is ample evidence for the “warm glow” theory and not so much for pure altruism.  But in reality the reasons are probably multi-faceted.

I give to charity for several reasons:
1. I’m a soft touch when it comes to stories about hungry kids or kids not getting education or kitties not having homes. Giving money helps the crying stop (is that feeling warm glow?)
2. Sometimes our donations actually make a difference (see local private school)
3. Sometimes donating is in our best selfish interest (see: donating to alma mater to get USNews rating up, donating to DC’s class to get extra activities)

Update:  eemusings with her reasons.

If you give, why do you give?