Link Love

The demoralizing reality of life under Trump (I totally feel like this)

The judge agreed that this asylum seeker would be killed if he was deported… and he was.  We must do better.

How to block Nazis, Russians, and other trolls on twitter as they gear up for the 2020 election season.

Wondering what companies are supporting Trump or Mitch McConnell etc.?  Open Secrets has got you covered, though be careful what is employees donating and what is the company itself donating.  (Also, Darden restaurants possibly funding Trump, something they deny, isn’t the only reason you might want to boycott Olive Garden– they’re trying to get away with being less healthy and treat their workers more poorly as well, according to this 2016 article.  You can see their lobbying efforts here.)

I’ve been getting some scam emails purportedly from journals saying I wanted to reset my password.  Super creepy.

What am I Missing with ‘A Separate Peace”?

We also need better publicly provided therapy for learning disabled students.   In this heart-warming story that is actually an indictment of our social safety net, this speech language pathologist on a plane provided a service that allowed a child with non-verbal autism to communicate.

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Ask the grumpies: Getting started with money

Mel asks:

What books do you recommend for someone who is looking to understand the basics of investing for retirement and how much money a person should hold in their savings account for emergencies? Or to that end, also understanding which comes first: having savings you can reach for at a moment’s notice or putting money into a retirement plan? I’m looking for that sort of information in a book form.

I have a fairly (I think?) healthy relationship with money, carry no debt beyond the mortgage, and feel the word that best describes me is “careful.” So I don’t really need to understand budgeting or how to pay off debt, but I do want to make sure that we’ve saved enough for retirement, saved enough for college (and aren’t going to be locked out of applying for certain loans because we have too much in a savings account vs. moved over into a retirement account — is that even a thing?), and saved enough for emergencies.

I’m looking for big picture books to understand how the various plans work as well as books to avoid because they contain terrible advice.

A good primer on all things personal finance is JD Roth’s book, Your Money:  The Missing Manual.  The numbers will be out of date (you can now save $19K annually in a 401k and 6K annually in an IRA), and we now know that you can legally do a Backdoor Roth, but it is really good at explaining the basics.  Like the difference between an investment (ex. a specific stock fund) and the bucket you save an investment in (ex. a 401k).  It also summarizes many of the best ideas from the best personal finance books.

How much a person should hold in their savings account for emergencies isn’t something there’s 100% agreement on.  In general, most people agree that you should have at minimum around 1K (give or take, probably more given inflation) to cover small emergencies.  After that people tend to think in terms of months of expenses– you need 1 month of regular expenses in case your work has a billing mistake.  You need 3 months of expenses to cover things like car problems or a short-layoff.  You need 6 months of expenses to cover a lengthier spell of unemployment.  Some people will argue a year of expenses, but that’s a luxury.  Other factors are also important like how stable your industry is– if there’s more uncertainty, you need a larger emergency fund, if you are hard to fire then you need a smaller emergency fund.  If you have dual incomes and a spouse can increase hours or cover expenses you might need less.  If you own rental properties you might need more to cover tenant absences or large repairs.  Some people will keep part of their emergency fund in something safe like savings, but keep the bulk of it in an investment that could be tapped in an emergency without penalty, for example the contribution part of an IRA Roth or taxable accounts (or a 457 plan for government employees).  All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren (yes, that Elizabeth Warren) and Amelia Warren Tyagi does an excellent job helping you think through what your monthly expenses are and how emergencies might affect them.

All Your Worth also does a great job in providing heuristics about how much you really can afford to spend given your income.  It provides great guidelines for what percent to put in required spending vs. optional spending vs. savings to provide stability in when there are emergencies.  It’s a really great read and a smart book.  As a note– one thing people often get wrong about her balanced money formula is that they think that they *must* spend what she says to spend and save only what she says to save, which isn’t true– if you read carefully, the spending amount is an upper bound and the savings amount is a lower bound.  She does note that if you are unhappy with your spending and you are saving the recommended amount then you can loosen up, but you don’t have to, especially if you’re considering early retirement.

Once you understand these big picture ideas, you can do one of two things.  You can read the Bogleheads Guide to Investing, or you can just figure out the cheapest target-date fund that your savings provider provides (ex. my work provides Fidelity so I use that for my 403b, outside of work the cheapest is usually Vanguard which I use for my backdoor Roth and taxable investments).  With the target date fund you can just pick a single date (when you plan to retire) and set and forget and it will take care of all the rebalancing and diversification and so on for you.  Easy peasy AND it matches the market, unlike the majority of active managers (who get out-performed by the market).

Here’s a couple of advanced posts on diversification of your overall personal portfolio (not just your retirement investments).  Here’s an ordering strategy of how you could choose to use your money.

In terms of college savings and financial aid, you definitely want to read this series of posts from Forbes Magazine.  Here’s one of our many posts discussing retirement vs college savings.  The short version is that depending on what schools your kids are considering and how much money you make (say, under 300K/year) then you are likely to want to shove as much money into retirement vehicles as possible.  (If I had to go back, I’d funnel some of our 529 money into 403b and 457 accounts, but I didn’t know we’d be as high income as we are now and I didn’t know that financial aid at fancy schools went so high up the income distribution.)

In email conversation you also mentioned that as a freelancer you wanted to know more about ways for self-employed people to save for retirement.  If anybody has book recommendations, that would be great.  I found a couple useful web articles on the topic.   You also mentioned you’d be interested in finding out more about how to tap into retirement money without penalty before age 59.5.  For that there’s something called substantially equal payments that you can use in some cases.  You can also always take money out with the 10% penalty.  Or take the principal out of a Roth (or 457 if you leave that employer).

In terms of what books to avoid:  Dave Ramsey is awesome for debt payment, but he is absolute garbage for investing.  Do not follow his advice for investing.

Grumpy Nation– What books do you and don’t you recommend for Mel?  Any web resources?  How should she get started?  Any advice specific to freelancers?

Replacing a misogynistic mnemonic

It is easy to get backwards when doing t-tests, especially when you’ve first started.  You have to remember that big t and small p-values mean to reject.  Of course, if you’re a little dyslexic (undiagnosed) like me, when you get confused, you can go back and re-figure out that you want small amounts in the tails and the t-slice to be far away from the mean making it large etc., but that is really time consuming, especially if you’re in the middle of a lengthy problem set or a timed exam.

Many years ago, one of my students shared a dirty misogynistic mnemonic.  When p is low, she said, reject the ho.  This is clever and funny because p is both probability and slang for penis.  Ho is both how a null hypothesis is written and a derogatory term for female prostitute.  When one’s penis is at low mast, it makes sense that said penis-holder might not be purchasing the services of a prostitute.  And it rhymes.

But it’s both dirty (I got into trouble for saying “prick” meaning “jerk” early in my classroom career) and one should not be using derogatory terms for prostitutes or women anywhere, much less in an institution of higher learning.

More recently, I was explaining my conundrum in office hours and one of my sunshiny students came up with a much better mnemonic.  It isn’t quite as clever, but it’s just as memorable and it still rhymes.  “When p is lo, reject H-O!”  Like a cheerleading chant (aich – oh).

It makes me much happier.

What are some good non-racist, non-misogynist, non-ablist, non-patriarchy mnemonics that you know?

Grocery shopping fresh produce and bags

After reading either a post or a tweet by wandering scientist (my googling is coming up blank), I decided to add these produce bags to my Christmas wish list.  But Christmas is a long way away, so that got me thinking…

Despite reusable shopping bags and totes heavily cutting down on our plastic grocery bag horde, we still have a ton of the thin plastic bags that one puts produce in at the grocery store.  I try to not use a bag when I’m only buying one item, but each week we buy a bag of apples, and most weeks we buy other assorted groups of produce.  So our plastic bags drawer is full of these thin bags.

I use some of them to take my lunch to work, but they still pile up in the drawer until DH decides the drawer is too full and takes them to the grocery store to recycle.

Then it came to me… we could just reuse these bags for their intended purpose.  Because they only had clean fresh produce in them, they’re still clean.  So I stuck a couple of handfuls in our bag of grocery bags.  We’ll use them like this until they get gross or destroyed.  And come Christmas time, we’ll add the reusable produce bags to our rotation.

In theory, the plastic produce bags could become repositories for bacteria upon reuse, but they’re so fragile they will likely get destroyed before that comes close to being an issue.  And, we of course wash our produce before using it.  Even apples.  I’m a little paranoid about this, having grown up in the jack in the box e coli days.  I would feel uncomfortable eating produce from a reused bag without washing the produce… though I also feel uncomfortable eating produce from a new bag without washing the produce first.  (Another one of my paranoias is that the organic produce we usually buy is lying about pesticides.)

This change should hopefully limit our plastic-bag intake to the bulk aisle at the grocery.  (And our local grocery uses ziploc bags for bulk rather than the thin kind, which we reuse for scooped cat refuse.)

Now, I definitely don’t think that any one person’s behavior change is as important as getting laws changed, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of plastic bags to create ugly and potentially dangerous litter.  And this cuts down on having to remember to deal with the plastic bag drawer issue every few months.

Link love

Migrant children molested in US funded foster care

This week in fascism Also this week in Fascism.

Don’t give yourself a null license plate 

A plastic-free month

the comments on this one are so true!

Ask the Grumpies: How to handle maternity leave for a mid-semester baby?

anonymous in the midwest asks:

I am a faculty member at a small SLAC. I am newly (spontaneously!) pregnant with my second child, and likely due at the beginning of week 13 of the 16-week spring semester (it’s so early that I haven’t had my first prenatal appointment yet). My first child was an IVF baby and due the day after the end of my academic-year contract, so I didn’t take maternity leave. In that pregnancy, I developed a complication that, if it recurs (and it has a 50-90% recurrence rate) would mean I would deliver at 37 weeks. My fellow female faculty members have managed to have an astonishing number of May babies – since I’ve been here and in at least the two years previous, no female faculty member has given birth during any other month.

The college’s maternity leave policy for faculty offers 6 weeks at full pay or a full semester at half pay. How have mothers at your institutions handled babies due mid-to-most of the way through a semester? I would love to hear experiences and ideas from the grumpy nation!

Congratulations!

My sister and were each born the first day of spring break. For me, my mother paid for her substitute out of pocket for the week after Spring break and then went back to work (she left that institution after it became clear that having a baby meant she would not get tenure).*  For my sister, the university where she was working paid for her substitute for that week. Your SLAC sounds much more humane!

I was lucky enough to have an end of winter break baby– actually this was only lucky because there was a freak snowstorm the first week of class so I got two weeks before going back to work (I had no maternity leave)– and an end of summer break baby which lead into “alternative work duties” (that is, not teaching) for the semester.  Most of my female colleagues have also had summer or sabbatical babies.  My colleague who was due in late April bought out her core course and front-loaded her elective and had a guest lecturer lined up, had them video tape their presentations for her to grade, and then cancelled her last couple of May classes.

I know a woman at a 1/1 school who team taught two courses the semester she was due (grad and undergrad versions of the same elective) and taught both the first half of that semester, then took the next semester off.  Come to think of it, that’s what one of my friends at a 0/1 medical school did as well– team taught the first half of the teaching semester, bought out the rest.

So, other than in situations in which there was no maternity leave, I don’t know how women with regular teaching loads generally handle mid-semester babies.  Men, of course, take a week or two off during the semester their wife (always a SAHM in my department) gives birth and then take the full maternity leave in the next semester.

Grumpy Nation, What have you seen academic women do when facing a mid-semester pregnancy due date? 

* For those not familiar, it takes about 2 weeks to stop bleeding and to be able to sit down in something other than a warm water bath after an easy natural childbirth.

What we’re trying with the terrible 7s

DC1 always gets phases late and DC2 seems to get them early.

Luckily when DC1 hit this phase, Wandering Scientist told me it was a normal age and stage (I think her pediatrician’s office had an ages and stages graphic) and the internet strongly agreed with that assessment.

With DC1 it meant sullenness and occasional bouts of tears and ramped up perfectionism, IIRC.  There was also some acting up at school.  And lots of silence when questioned.  Fortunately it was short, although we did get several emails from one of hir teachers who couldn’t handle it because zie was used to teaching college students, not elementary schoolers.  (Another more experienced teacher, when questioned, said there was no problem and her son had gone through the same thing a year prior and she knew it was normal.)

DC2 has become very emotional.  Meltdowns, temper tantrums, not wanting to do things, being scared of everything (ex. being unable to sleep because zie was afraid of Ancient Egypt), feeling stupid for not reaching hir own impossible standards.  It’s very much like a repeat of the terrible twos, except DC2 is less easily distracted from bad behavior and is more self-aware.

First up:  unlike the toddler years, DC2’s refusals to do things seems to be responding well to threats of punishment.  Taking away privileges has gotten hir to stop tantrumming and to do whatever it is zie needs to do.  Giving a 5 min or 1 min or count to five warning about having to stop screaming and put on hir clothes or play piano or go into the gymnasium for camp on pain of losing screen time privileges or not getting to eat out at hir favorite restaurant has been effective.  I suspect bribery may also be effective, but I don’t want to incentivize bad behavior.  I guess technically we already have rewards in place for things, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to take them away as privileges.  Adding on beyond that in the face of bad behavior may not be a great idea.

The next thing we’re trying to do is to add more attention and more quiet time and make sure zie has eaten and all those things we did when zie was a toddler and seemed to need more attention or less stimulation.  DC2 at age 7 wants to talk about hir feelings and hir fears a lot more than zie did at 2.

And finally, we’ve gotten some books about elementary schooler anxiety and have been working through them with hir.  The best of these for hir level has been What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner.  It’s basically cognitive behavioral therapy at an elementary school level.  It also relates worries to tomatoes, and DC2 hates tomatoes, so it resonates.  After going through the book once, DH was able to get DC2 through the Metropolitan Museum of Art (even the Egyptian room that DC1 wanted to see) even though zie had refused to set foot in the Museum of Fine Arts a week or two prior.

Things seem to have settled down a bit with the start of school.  Hopefully the phase is winding down and DC2 will be back to hir normal self.

Have you gone through the terrible 7s?  Have there been other ages with these kinds of stages?