Link Love

Nobody is showing up to office hours today.  :(  But I can do the link love while I sit here since I don’t wanna do real work.

How the trump administration is actively sabotaging the affordable care act  Here’s more.

EPA and Bristol Bay

The art of avoiding a-holes

Surprising nobody

Why they took a knee

This pic is not sensitive material

Woo Illinois!

Pictures of Southside Chicago.

Check out these amazing before/after remodel pics from Jiraffe

How to save for college with multiple children

College savings vs. retirement savings

An incriptid short story

This is true.

Horizontal space

#9 is actually correct

Universe cat

These make me giggle

Feel it still

Ask the grumpies: How to deal with a needy friend

Taylor asks:

I have a long-time friend/acquaintance with a lot of social anxiety. Sometimes it comes out in small ways like saying of herself “I’m so stupid”, constantly seeking affirmation, projecting her desires onto me because she is feeling insecure about them. Sometimes it comes out in big ways like breaking down randomly in the middle of a conversation because she’s feeling socially isolated.

I am fine comforting her once and a while, but I don’t want to be her counselor. And sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to decode what she is saying vs. meaning, even in casual conversation. Is there a tactful way to signal I don’t want to be a pillar of emotional support? Or that I need a break without further exasperating her anxiety?

Captain Awkward says you can restate your boundaries.  Or you can try somewhat ghosting.  The somewhat ghosting may exasperate her anxiety, but as Captain Awkward would probably note, that’s kind of on her.  If you look up “African Violet” in the CA archives you’ll get all her ending friendship posts.  Not that you want to end the friendship, you just want it to be less needy.

With me, I’ve been in that situation I think three times… and the first two times the needy friend ended up breaking it off with me after they’d fixed themselves up a bit and I guess no longer needed me (the third time we had moved away and I kind of ghosted on email because I had had a baby and just couldn’t anymore).  Nowadays I see the red flags and avoid without getting involved instead of trying to help, because, as you say, I don’t have the spoons.  And I’m not sure I ever was much help, but who knows.  It’s amazing how nice it is not to have people around who are always emotionally draining.  (Note:  it’s different with people who are there for me too– there’s a big difference between people who are always taking and those who are actual friends.)

So I dunno, I mean, I would recommend counseling to her because her problems are more than you can handle and then back off.  (Note, friend #2 broke it off with me because her counselor told her to.  I was, apparently, causing her too much stress.  And after I got over the initial sadness of losing a friend I’d cared about… I realized I no longer had all that stress she was causing me.)

If it’s just stuff like “I’m so stupid”, we recommend the negativity jar.  But it sounds like there’s a lot more going on that simple tricks like that aren’t going to be able to fix.

Disclaimer:  We are NOT counselors of any kind, and even if we were, we would not feel comfortable giving armchair advice.  Talk to professionals and introspect before making important emotional decisions.

Ok, grumpy nation, who has better advice for Taylor?

A homemade language arts plan for school

One of the irritating things about being in a backwards part of the country is that the Language Arts classes in the public schools are pretty much garbage.*  We thought last year that it was just that DC1 wasn’t in advanced language arts, but no, it’s a thing.  K-4 was at a private school and they used standard texts and read novels and it seemed pretty much like what we had growing up in the midwest.  5th grade we did in Paradise and while it wasn’t as hard-core as 5th grade would have been in the Midwest it wasn’t so bad.  We have no idea what DC1 did in language arts last year, but they didn’t read any books as a class.

This year, in 7th grade, most of their assignments, which are done in class, are just drawing pictures and doing crafts, but it’s not like an art class where they’re getting instruction on arts and crafts, they’re just asked to do them.  At the first open house, the teacher spent her entire time talking about the rules of the course (no talking for the first 10 min when doing the bellwork, then talking with a neighbor for the next 15, etc. etc. etc.) but did not talk about the curriculum at all.  DH asked what books they’d be reading as a class.  She said they wouldn’t be reading anything as a class but they would be picking out books that they could bring from home or check out from the school library to read individually.

Later we found out that the 2#$23ing reading log is back.  We had a lot of trouble with the @#$@3ing reading log back in 5th grade.  It is @#$23ing hard for a reader who loves reading to track every minute read.

This time there are additional wrinkles.  They have to finish one book that they have chosen for this purpose each month.  That book has to be the one that they read in class during their reading time.  But they also have to read this book for at least 20 min per day, and they don’t get a full 20 min in class to read it.  So that means that they need to take the book home and definitely not leave it at home next to the bed where they’ve fallen asleep reading it.  It has to be a book they’ve never read and it has to be one that wasn’t meant for kids in 4th grade or below.  The first month, DC1 picked The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.

It boggles my mind that they don’t read a Shakespeare play each year starting now.  That their junior year is the first year they start reading books together as a class AND it’s the same @$#@43ing terrible list of whiny male protagonists that we had back 25+ years ago when we were FRESHMEN (I guess at least they’re reading Fahrenheit 451?).  Their senior year is a subset of what our school’s sophomore list changed to being after I complained about the lack of women.  There has been no change in their reading lists in 2+ decades, and they’re two years behind what we had back at our small middle-income midwestern farming towns.

Anyhow, it came to me that although we can’t add to the experience of reading a book as a class and learning way too much about symbolism and foreshadowing and plot and character development and all those other things we spent so long on, maybe we could get DC1 to read some important books that we would probably never have read if they hadn’t been part of the curriculum.

We’re going to start with October and DC1 will be reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which was part of our language arts curriculum in 5th grade, but an important book.  November we’re going to do As You Like It (I’m getting hir the Folger version that comes with explanations on every page) which we read as our first Shakespeare play in 7th grade.  At the very least, DC will have to figure out what’s going on in order to draw illustrations for their class assignments.  I’ll have to decide if we add books that I didn’t personally like but might(?) be important like The Pearl (8th grade) or The Red Badge of Courage (8th grade).

What other recommendations do you have for must-read middle school reading lists that are important but aren’t as fun as what a kid would generally choose on hir own?  Note that it has to be something finishable in a month, so Tree Grows in Brooklyn isn’t going to make the list even though I spent most of my 6th grade “super sustained silent reading” time on it.  What are kids in blue states reading in school these days?

*#notallbackwards But they certainly do want to minimize parent complaints from crazy racist religious zealots as well as parents who aren’t crazy racist religious zealots.  That’s my best guess of why there’s so little humanities learning.  There’s no problem with the math curriculum!

A small rant about bad retirement options

It all started when we asked SIL if she could open a 529 account for her second child so we could contribute to it as we’d been contributing to that of her first child.

She told us that her financial advisor at work had told her not to open a second 529 plan.  I wondered at the quality of that advice as we’d recently done an ask-the-grumpies post on that very topic.

DH asked who her advisor was.  Turns out it’s some company named AXA.  If I say too much that’s terrible about AXA, their lawyers will likely contact us, just like they did the owner of the finance for teachers site.  AXA features (along with a similar company named Legend) in the  NYTimes article(s) below about 403(b) plans that are a terrible deal for teachers because of their high fees and lock-in periods.

It makes me so mad that we’re doing this to our teachers!  Especially since teachers from my parents’ generations have great defined benefit pensions, while those starting out now are, like the rest of us, largely dependent on putting money from our take-home pay into defined contribution plans.  It is terrible that for many of them, their only 403(b) options are eating away at their retirement savings with high fees and bad advising that pushes them into higher fee funds.  K-12 teachers (especially those who aren’t high school math teachers and maybe should know better) should be able to trust that their employer is going to pick out a good plan so all they have to do is save money for retirement.  Why can’t TIAA-Cref manage more K-12 403(b) plans?

I mean, it’s bad enough that my FIL’s company uses Edward Jones.  (This summer upon retirement, he informed me that he would be saving 10K/year rolling over his retirement assets to Vanguard on retirement.  My MIL noted that’s equivalent to 4-5 online classes she does not have to teach.  Made that generous $200 donation his EJ broker gave each year to his local hunting club fundraiser seem pretty negligible.)  I am so glad we got him that Bogleheads book on investing after his nth email asking us about some risky single stock his EJ broker was pushing on him.

Do you have decent 401(K)/403(b) retirement options at work?  How big are the fees on your plan?

Maybe we should start calling it Saturday afternoon link love

Or else I should ask #2 to do it more often– she was on time last week!

So... keep calling your senators about not killing the Affordable Care Act with the Graham-Cassidy bill.  Also, when you have them on the phone or the voicemail, ask them what the hell is up with shutting down the ACA website for 12 hours every weekend (when many people are getting helped after church).  Also, if you could ask them to stop lying about what is in the bill, that would be great.  Strangling the affordable care act is not cool.  Though if it gets bad enough, we might end up with single payer healthcare after healthcare in the US melts down and a lot of people die and even more go bankrupt.  So…

EPA head met with a mining CEO and then pushed forward a controversial mining project that will hurt salmon fisheries.  They’re not even trying to hide their corruption.

Karma isn’t usually this fast.

We should live in a society where all kids can trust on the second marshmallows.

A happy ending to a kitty tale.

And now I have to go to another conference.  There were some more health care links in the comments on previous posts.  It’s definitely worthwhile watching Jimmy Kimmel’s videos on the topic– they are clear and understandable and important.

Ask the grumpies: Saving concurrently vs. consecutively for big financial goals

Sandy L asks

Opinion. Pros and cons of saving concurrently vs consecutively for big financial goals.

Wow, this is a really intriguing question that I hadn’t really thought about before.  We talk a lot about this in terms of debt repayment– should you pay off debts concurrently vs. consecutively, and if consecutively, in what order, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this one addressed on the PF blogosphere in terms of savings.  I guess Dave Ramsey is like, get your emergency fund in order first, but after that… huh.

Because money is fungible, maybe in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.  If you’ve been saving up for a vacation and your car gets totaled, you can take money from the vacation fund (and the emergency fund) and put it towards the car.

Some money isn’t fungible though.  Should you save for retirement first and then 529s for the kids, or should you do both at the same time?  What about vacations?  What about houses?

I think really you have to do a bit of both, or if not both, then break up your savings goals into pieces and save them consecutively that way.  What I mean by this is, for example:

  1. Get some form of transportation to work and some form of housing.
  2. Save up an emergency fund of $X.
  3. Put enough in your retirement that you get the match.
  4. Save in an HSA
  5. Put some money in for a down payment (YMMV depending on your housing situation, income, etc.)
  6. Put more money in your retirement fund to what you “should” be saving given your years to retirement and income
  7. Save for a bigger emergency fund
  8. Max out retirement
  9. Finish saving for a down payment (YMMV) and buy a house
  10. Vacation fund (most people will put this earlier– I think of it as more of a luxury than 1-8, but some people are willing to make trade-offs)
  11. Start saving in a 529 for the kids
  12. Save for a new car
  13. Prepay the mortgage

and so on… [As always, YMMV and you should do your own research and/or talk with a professional prior to making major decisions]

Some of these will be maxed out each year (ex. retirement), but some are much more lumpy (ex. new car).  So you probably can’t do a lifetime of retirement savings before saving for other things unless you are extremely high income and low spending, but you may be able to max out your tax-advantaged funds each year.

Some people get really motivated for saving for vacations or cars or houses.  It’s possible that saving for these might work better in a savings snowball, one at a time.  On the other hand, cars and housing are generally more necessary than vacations, but vacations cost less than cars and houses and you might have to wait 10 or more years before going on a vacation if you put off saving until you have a downpayment.  If you save for the vacation first, you might end up going on too many vacations or you might take vacations too soon.  (Still, money is fungible and there’s nothing really preventing you from taking vacation money out of the house fund…)

Some saving needs to be automated because it just isn’t easy to save for otherwise.  It’s easy to do automated saving concurrently because it all happens without you paying attention.  In addition, changing up the automation requires attention, which means that you might not get around to saving for the next item on your list if you try to do automated saving consecutively.

[Update:  See some discussion in the  comments about diversifying risk vs. return for saving/investing goals.]

What do you think, Grumpy Nation?  What are the pros and cons of saving consecutively vs. concurrently?  What do you do?

What does statistical significance mean?

One of my students sent me this article because we spend some time in class covering Type 1 and Type 2 errors.

All the .05 threshold means is that you have a false positive 1/20 times.  A .005 threshold would say you’re getting a false positive 1/200 times.  So by moving to a .005 threshold, you’re less likely to get a false positive.  That’s good, right?  In common parlance, we’d be less likely to send an innocent person to jail.

Well, that depends.  At the .005 threshold, we’re more likely to get a false negative than you would at the .05 level.  That means we’d be more likely to get a guilty person go free.  (Indeed, the only guaranteed way to send no innocent people to jail would be to send nobody to jail.  I, for one, am happy that folks like Charles Manson are behind bars.)

It isn’t as easy as saying, oh we should just switch to .005.  When you adjust the p-value you’re making trade-offs between type 1 and type 2 error.  With a lower p-value threshold you’re going to be getting a lot more false negatives even with fewer false positives.  What we always need to be cognizant of when we’re doing policy is that significance isn’t everything– we also have to think about what the damage is if this information turns out to be incorrect.  For example, doctors recommend that pregnant women should heat up cold cuts if they’re worried about listeria, which is a very low probability event but if it happens it’s horrible.  It’s pretty easy to avoid room temperature cold-cuts for 9 months, so unless there’s some other difficulties attached to diet, women will probably follow this recommendation.  (And if one accidentally eats room temperature coldcuts while pregnant, one shouldn’t freak out because the probability of getting listeria is very low!)  But if we’re talking about something like doing chemotherapy or surgery, that’s a much more onerous action and we might want to be more sure we need it before going ahead with it.

Another thing to note is that the article talks about how physics and genetics have already made this switch, while most social sciences haven’t.  One big difference between the fields that have made the switch and the fields that have not is how easy it is to get large samples.  A larger sample size will make it so your sample behaves more and more like the population that you’re trying to study.  We can reduce both Type 1 and Type 2 errors simply by increasing the sample size.  So why don’t we do that?  Well, it turns out that increasing the sample size can be very very expensive when you’re dealing with people and behavior.  Sometimes doing the study with a large enough sample to get 80% power and an alpha of .005 might be more expensive than just throwing that same money at the intervention you’re trying to decide about, whether or not it actually works.  There probably is some resistance because people in these fields want to be able to publish their 5% results, but that’s not the main or only reason we haven’t yet made the switch.  Research is complicated and expensive and we have to make trade-offs.

The context for these really does matter, and you shouldn’t necessarily put off making policy choices just because your sample size is too small to get significance (or to make policy changes just because you have significance).  You always have to be aware of the costs and the benefits.


(Incidentally, in case he comes across this, Hi Dan!  I’m assuming that the reporter greatly simplified your arguments here because I know you must know this stuff.)

IRA advice

Disclaimer:  We are not professional financial advisors.  Talk with a certified fee-only financial planner who has fiduciary responsibility or do your own research before making important financial decisions.

Next week I’ll post a rant about SIL’s truly awful retirement options at her workplace and how mad it makes me that a non-negligible number of school teachers are getting scammed.  This week I’m instead posting the advice we gave them to put money in an IRA outside their work rather than the unmatched and worse-than-edward-jones 403(b) option that she has at work.

If the couple makes less than 99K, they can each contribute up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA (or $11K) each year.  This would mean that they would get a discount on their taxes this year but would have to pay taxes on the earnings in retirement.

If they make less than 186K, they can each contribute up to $5,500 to a ROTH IRA (or $11K).  This would mean that they wouldn’t get a tax break on what they contribute this year, but they wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the earnings in the future.

In terms of which is better– generally if you think you’re going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, you should pick the IRA Roth, if you think you’re going to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, you should pick the Traditional.  It’s hard to say what the tax situation is going to be like in 40 years.  Personally we do about 50% because on the one hand we’ll be making less money in retirement, but on the other hand at some point they’re going to have to raise taxes in the US to pay down the debt and tax rates are historically low right now.  If you want lower taxes now, pick Traditional, if you want lower taxes later, pick Roth.

The best place to invest for an IRA is in Vanguard because they have the lowest fees in the industry.  One potential problem is that they make you start with $1000, and if you don’t have $1000 to invest right away your options are to either save up until you do have $1000 (you have until tax day of the next year) or to go with another provider.  Etrade is a good choice if you don’t have $1000.  Fidelity is another possibility.  Vanguard is definitely the easiest to work with.  I’m pretty sure that you can set-up a monthly auto-deduction from your savings account for these (but you may have to hit the minimum for Vanguard first), but it might make more sense to save up in a separate account and make the purchase all at once each year (so there are lower purchase costs).

The best investment choice is a low fee broad-based index fund or exchange-traded fund.  These are basically mutual funds where instead of paying a manager to pick out funds, just try to match the market for a broad-based set of stocks and sometimes bonds.  These will generally match the market that they’re paid into or mimicking.  If you want to do some active management, you can pick out a Vanguard stock fund and a Vanguard bond fund and get the percentages based on your retirement and then rebalance each year when you add new money.  What matters when choosing funds is not their “Returns since inception” or even the returns at all (since they don’t predict future returns and can be manipulated in ways that make the same funds look higher or lower earning based on when they start counting) but the fees.  You want low fees and broad diversification.

A much easier thing to do is to pick your date of retirement and buy a Vanguard Target-date fund.  A Target-date fund is a mix of broad-based index funds for stocks and bonds that becomes less risky as you get closer to retirement.  (You can do this even if you’re using etrade or fidelity– fidelity has their own target date funds, but they have higher hidden fees than do Vanguard’s.)  These are great because you pick one number– the year you think you’re going to retire– and it takes care of rebalancing and changing your mix of stocks and bonds for you.  Most of our retirement money is invested in Vanguard Target-date funds. It costs a little bit more than just buying the funds it uses, but a small enough amount more (~1/10 of 1%) that we’re willing to pay for the convenience.


If you make under 186K jointly, you can buy up to two $5,500 Roths (no tax break now, tax break later).  Under 99K you could instead get traditional IRAs (tax break now, taxes later).
If you have at least 1K to invest, then buy a target date fund from Vanguard to put in the IRA with the date of your expected retirement.

Link Love: The Wrong Things Are On Fire

Gentlefriends, some things are on fire that should not be (e.g., Montana) and some things are not on fire that should be (e.g., racism).  Let’s read some links about why we can’t have nice things.

Jeez, #2 sure has sent me a million tweets this week.  I’ll be serving as your personal TweetDeck.  Here we go:

Did your identifying info get pwned in the Equifax clusterfreak?  This page is for you.

Sexism is not on fire enough, for my taste.  Burn it to the ground.  Burn it all down.  Can we have nice things yet?  Probably not.  Sigh.

Hey, peep this lady’s awesome mathy accomplishments!

Double-checking… no, we can’t have nice things.  Definitely not.

I guess everyone but me cares real hard about Russia.  I care only a little, due to outrage fatigue.  Especially outrage-over-Russia fatigue.  Texas continues to be an awful pit.  (Topped only by Facebook, Reddit, etc. etc.)

Pseudo-CSA works for this blogger.  Reset your wardrobe and possibly your mind.

Questlove loves SCIENCE!
So does this guy.

If we had time enough

The world’s gonna know your name!

#1 here again.  This is completely me this week (and kind of the past 10 months).  It me.  I’m that.

Is it you, too, Grumpeteers?


Ask the grumpies: Baths vs. showers?

Leah asks:

what are your opinions on baths versus showers?

#1:  I love both, but one thing I do not understand is how OCD germaphobe John Green can wax so poetically about baths and so stridently against showers.  Does he not realize that you are wallowing in germs when you take a bath?  Plus if the bath hasn’t just been cleaned and you’re not careful about drains and things, some of those germs might belong to other people.  These concerns don’t generally bother me (well, I don’t do hotel Jacuzzis), but I totally would have guessed the opposite for John Green’s preferences.  Er hem, back to the original question.  I love a good soaking bath, but I usually take showers because they’re faster, our bathtub is so big I feel guilty using it except when I really need a hot soak, and because I’m allergic to the water in our town and we’ve got a shower filter set up but not a bath filter (we could and should probably get a whole house filter now, but previously we couldn’t afford it– the shower and kitchen sink filters combined are an order of magnitude cheaper).

#2:  I like baths but they must be in a separate tub that nobody showers in.