Ask the grumpies: Should universities take Koch or Epstein money?

SLAC prof asks:

Is taking money from Jeffrey Epstein worse than taking money from the Koch foundation?  Which is worse?  Clearly we shouldn’t take money from the KKK.  Is it ok to take anyone’s money if there aren’t strings, or is there a line?  Who gets to decide the line?  Does Koch money ever truly have no strings?  Should personal morals be irrelevant when an institution takes money?

Oh wow, this is a hard one.  We’re really not ethicists and don’t have enough expertise to have an opinion on non-obvious cases.  That said… here are some thoughts.

First off, personally I think it’s fine to take money that doesn’t have strings attached (including naming rights!!) from the estate of someone who is dead.  So if you’re an institution that has a morally horrific but extremely wealthy graduate and he just gives you a couple million in his will but it’s completely unrestricted, go ahead and take it without advertising it.  Put it towards something completely antithetical to what he would have wanted (sexual assault prevention training for freshmen with a focus on how not to assualt) or spend it on something boring (utility bills) freeing up that fungible money for other things.  If he says you have to name something after him or hire someone specific etc., then don’t take the money (and advertise you didn’t take it).

If the bad person or group is still alive, don’t take money with strings attached.  No naming rights.  No final approval of tenure track hires.

When there aren’t strings it gets much more complicated.  Yes, one shouldn’t take KKK money (unless it’s used for training frats how not to do blackface or to pay for programs etc. that benefit black students and faculty– I’m a big fan of F-U uses of bad guys’ money).  But if Koch money is offered for something that isn’t evil (no strings scholarships)?  And they do fund things that aren’t evil along with their massive funding of evil… I’m not sure.  I mean, I’d like to encourage them to spend more money on not-evil and less money on evil.  But I don’t want them to get credit for the not-evil stuff as if it makes up for the evil stuff because it really doesn’t.

This is hard.

What do you think, Grumpy Nation?  Should institutes of higher education accept money from bad people and bad organizations?  Under what circumstances?

Advertisements

You need both: How to change (#notall) bad guys’ minds: A deliberately controversial post

Important notice:  today is a national call about saying no to the wall and yes to end the shutdown day.  We need phones to ring or our senators of every hue will think that the only people who care are the Fox News viewers who have been telling them to build the wall.  Here is the 5calls script https://5calls.org/issue/end-the-government-shutdown-with-no-strings-attached- and here is the indivisible script and explainer  https://indivisible.org/resource/trumps-latest-temper-tantrum-and-showdown-over-wall .

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogpost.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s better to punch Nazis/shun Trump supporters, or whether it is better to listen and gently try to change them.  It’s always presented as an either/or.  The NY Times and other publications write article upon article about how the left needs to be more tolerant.  (Narrator:  It doesn’t.)

Here’s my no-research-done opinion.  We need the majority of people out there shunning Nazis/Trumpists and a much smaller number of selfless souls willing to be the “good cop” to gently listen to their feefees and to explain to them how to make their way back into society as non-racists.  We need people yelling at politicians in restaurants and throwing pies in Nazi faces and dis-inviting racist uncles from dinner and we need a lot more of them than we need that one empathetic person that picks up the pieces later.

At a recent faculty retreat, one of the professors made the point that our students don’t realize their writing is bad until they get bad grades on it.  Only then do they start listening to how to improve it.  Gently correcting comments are ignored if there’s an A on the front of the first page.  In the same way, we need a strong front of letting people know what is unacceptable in society, and then a little bit of gentle direction on how to fix it.  But not everybody has to be the teacher.  In fact, it isn’t any good if there are no social consequences and everybody accommodates the missing stair.

So go out there and be intolerant of racists!  Do it without guilt!  If you see one that has reached the bottom and wants a hand up, go ahead and listen (#DeliciousNaziTears) if you want to, but don’t feel obligated.  And certainly don’t feel the need to be nice to one who isn’t already questioning.  It’s not your job to be the Nazi Whisperer.  These people don’t deserve more time than the people that they are hurting.

Book recommendation: So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo.  Give it to everyone you know.  Then resume yelling at racists and telling them to get on up out of here with their wack opinions.

Grumpeteers, what do you think?

Should you buy the best? Should you look at ratings?: A deliberately controversial post

This post suggests that not trying to buy the best will decrease your stress.

It is true that we on the blog are big proponents of satisficing.  The paradox of choice is awesome. (Here’s our book review.)  For many things we’re happy to just buy what’s good enough rather than trying to optimize.

However, sometimes spending a little extra effort and money to get quality is worth it in terms of happiness and decreased stress in the long run.  Unlike the author of the original post, I get a lot of pleasure out of using a high quality pot or pan. We’ve had the target knock off Le Crueset and we’ve had the genuine Le Crueset, and after a couple of years there’s a big difference between the two. Sometimes spending the extra money and research is worth it.  (And maybe we are still technically satisficing with a high bar.)

Our method of satisficing is usually to go on Amazon and look for the highest rated item in our price range and just buy that.  (#2 does that sometimes when the method below fails; I trust Amazon reviews far, far less than #1 does.  #1 notes that the important Amazon reviews are the negative ones, not the positive ones, so it is important to check out the one and two star reviews before committing.)  We used to use Consumer Search but then they stopped updating as frequently so we don’t use it as much.

#2 says:  my answer to what to buy is usually on either Sweet Home or the Wire Cutter, depending on the item.

Do you try to buy the best?  How do you feel about optimizing vs. satisficing?  Does it vary by the decision you’re trying to make?  How so?

Saving isn’t necessarily “easier” for people who save more: A deliberately controversial rant

One of those bloggers who makes a ton and spends a ton and is always complaining about debt/bragging about purchases/letting other people buy hir necessities often talks about how it’s just *easier* for other people to not spend money on luxuries and trips.  Other people just don’t enjoy such things as much as zie does.  Other people aren’t *really* sacrificing.  Other people don’t know what it’s like, having friends who like to go out and spend money, wanting to go on trips, wanting to buy nice things.

Every time I read something like this, I want to say @#$#@ you.  I mean seriously.  You are not a special snowflake.  @#$@# you.  Sacrifice is NOT fun.

It isn’t easier for me to not have things I want.  I don’t get my kicks from saving instead of spending.  I would *love* to take vacations and eat out all the time and live someplace amazing and buy all sorts of fancy stuff.  But I don’t.

Why don’t I?  Two main reasons:

First:  That feeling you’re always complaining about?  The one where your budget comes up short and you don’t know where the missing money is going to come from?  The one where you’re getting lots of sympathy from your blog followers?  That one.  I HATE that feeling.  I hate it so much that I have something called an emergency fund.  I hate it so much that I set my fixed expenses low enough that there’s some extra every month.  So much that we’ve never had consumer debt and we paid off our loans ages ago.

Second:  You know how your family bails you out when you don’t have money for a broken appliance or the kids’ tuition or a whatever the latest emergency is?  Yeah, I don’t want my parents, my parents who make less money than I do, to be bailing me out as an adult.  I don’t want them to @#$3ing sacrifice their wants because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my own.  Emergencies happen on a pretty regular basis and you should plan for them.  If you can’t, then you can’t really afford those trips with friends.

So yeah, @#$@ you.  Sacrifice sucks for everybody.  That’s why it’s called sacrifice.

And maybe it’s easy to spend less for people like Mr. Money Moustache or Frugal Woods, but you don’t have to be an early retirement extreme junkie to be responsible with your finances.  And even with MMM and FW, it may just be that their values for the environment or for early retirement are stronger than their desire to spend.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to spend, just that there’s something more important to them than spending.

It’s not easier for other people to not spend.  It’s easier for you to let people bail you out or to have those regular feelings of panic than it is for the rest of us.

Are posts that are “raw” and dramatic more honest than posts that are happy or emotionally even?: A deliberately controversial post

Not necessarily.

Just like the accusations that (some? all?) people are making up their happy perfect lives, there’s also no doubt bloggers who are either dramatizing or possibly even making up their own drama so that they have something to write about.  Some people who seem as if their lives are trainwrecks seem that way not because they necessarily have horrible things happening to them, but because, like the (possibly fictional) “perfect” bloggers, they want attention.  They love being thanked for their “honest” and “raw” posts.

So they talk about fighting with their horrible lazy awful partners.  They talk about their horrible children.  They talk about their problems with money that they have created by taking on too much debt.  Some (that you will occasionally read news stories about) go so far as to make up diseases and put up crowd-funding.

It is true that there are people stuck in horrible relationships, or whose children have real psychological problems.  There are people who, through no fault of their own have money problems.  There are people who have life-threatening and chronic diseases.  And some folks with real problems do blog about them.

However, the Venn diagram of having a real problem and blogging about drama is not an “honest” and “raw” single circle.  There’s overlap, but it is far from complete.

Drama posts can be just as fictional as “perfect” posts.  And just as likely, some “perfect” bloggers are not lying about things going well for them.  Honest writing and happy writing may be completely uncorrelated.

Your turn, Grumpeteers.

Should people exchange gifts at all at traditional gift giving holidays such as Birthdays or Christmas?: A deliberately controversial post

I know we just had a deliberately controversial post, but Mel’s comment got us thinking.  Specifically the parts where she writes:

I guess I don’t really see the point of gifts for adults. Either you have the money to buy yourself something when you want it (or the ability to save to get it), or you don’t but there is the expectation that someone else should spend their money on you for something you want.

Later she adds this about kids:

Our kids are saving all of their money for a big trip when they’re in high school, as Josh and I did when we were starting high school. I want them to have that experience of travel, so I feel okay purchasing toys and such now. Again, I rarely do it on their birthday. It’s more that they express that they want X, and if I think it’s a sound purchase, I get them X. In that way, they are never disappointed.

So that’s actually two potentially deliberately controversial statements there if we add them up.

First:  Should we give gifts to adults at all?

This one is a hard one.  Over the years the number of adults we exchange gifts with has gotten smaller.  We have stuff.  They have stuff.  We’ve moved, they’ve moved, we’ve met a lot of other people with whom we are at the same level of intimacy and we couldn’t possibly give gifts to all of them.  And so on.

DH and I don’t really exchange gifts, but #2 and her DH do.  This partly matches our different financial situations — DH and I share finances and #2 and her DH have more separate finances.  Except DH will often do something for me for Christmas and my birthday– like he’ll do some icky chore we’ve both been putting off, or he’ll buy me something I’ve been wanting out of his allowance (often sleepwear), or he’ll do something that makes me cry like turning my name into a poem to hang on the wall.  I suck at reciprocating.  We also bake cakes for each other on our birthdays.  And it is true that we could do these things at any point during the year, but it really does take one of these standard gift deadlines to, for example, clean out the shower grout.

I would be perfectly fine stopping gift exchanging with DH’s family, though I would have to come up with some other way of delaying purchases given that they have pretty well learned just to buy things off my Amazon list (though DH’s brother always ends up getting me duplicates because he doesn’t buy them directly off my wishlist, and my SIL is especially good at picking things off my list that say “lowest” priority or, the one time nothing is labeled “lowest,” giving me a generic item that isn’t on the list and gets given directly to charity*).  I would also be fine stopping gift exchanging with my sister who refuses to use my amazon wishlist because it is too impersonal and then demands to know what I want instead.

#2 and I have exchanged gifts for many years.  There are three reasons for the gift exchange over the years.  1.  Back when we started we were both poor and I, at least, had a guilt thing about buying myself stuff I really wanted.  So near the end of the holiday season, we would both sweep in and buy books on each other’s wishlists that said “highest”– maxing at just enough to get free shipping.  2.  At other points one or the other of us will be making real money while the other is still in school/unemployed/on leave/etc.  In those cases, the rich one would sweep through the amazon list and the poor one would send thoughtfully curated used books (like Ex Libris or a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers).  3.  Imposing our preferences on the other person.  You will own this book because I say you will.  Mwahahaha.

I like giving gifts.  I like giving gifts that make people happy.  Mainly though, if I’m being honest, I like imposing my preferences on the people I love (or at least who I like).  Gift giving is a time that I can indulge in that whim in a socially appropriate way.  There’s also a small element of charity with some of our gift giving– holidays are a time that we can write a check to badly off family members and they can give us something nominal in exchange (like fudge).

Receiving gifts is a bit bittersweet.  I love getting stuff off my amazon list from #2 or from my family or DH’s parents.  I love getting thoughtful stuff from DH and the kids.  But… we’re doing a lot better off financially than DH’s siblings and I’d rather they kept their money, especially if we can’t give more than we receive in terms of dollar amount.  I just do not understand the large amount of gift-giving that their family does each year.

So I guess bottom-line here is that I don’t know.  Among people who know each other and can afford it, these special times work as a nice way to be nudged into thinking about doing some gift giving.  Some people prefer no gifts at all or prefer to give “whenever” gifts.  But “whenever” gifts can be uncomfortable if they’re extravagant because the reciprocity aspect can be confusing.  So who knows.  With adults, you do you and be gracious about others doing what they do.

#2 says, for me it’s really just fun to give and get gifts.  I have money to buy my own books, but it’s a nice treat when someone buys them for me.  I like finding a gift that fits the person I’m giving it to, something I think they’ll enjoy that they haven’t thought of.  I also find it sweet and wonderful when people donate to charity in my name, particularly charities I support such as kitty ones or child’s play.

Second:

Should we batch up children’s gifts for standard gift-giving holidays (birthdays etc.) or should we give them throughout the year when requested by the child?

This probably depends on the family, but I like batching up the gifts so they’re only given at Christmas, birthdays, and to a small extent Easter.  (Though my MIL does send small presents somewhat randomly throughout the year.)   In the same way that my amazon wishlist keeps me from spending throughout the year, the hope is that getting presents later at specified times will teach them patience and give them the ability to delay their wants when they are older as well.  Anything that they want sooner, they will need to use their allowances on, possibly saving up to buy.

I realize this is an empirical question and I have read precisely zero research on the topic, so who knows.

So there, that’s our second deliberately controversial post about gifts.

*Every year I fight the suspicion that my SIL doesn’t like me and convince myself that it’s just that we have really different tastes.  Every year it is a fight.

What do you think?  Should we get rid of adult gift giving entirely?  Should children get gifts throughout the year or only at specified times?

Secret Santas and White Elephant Games Aren’t Frugal: A deliberately controversial post

One of the common suggestions for how to get holiday expenditures down is to suggest a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange at the office or family gathering.

For those who aren’t in the know, the Secret Santa is where you put everybody’s name in a hat, and then each person pulls out a name.  You are only shopping for one person.

The White Elephant is a gift exchange in which you bring in one gift, usually something humorous that nobody would want, wrapped in a package.  Then a game is generally played in which each person picks a package from the pile or exchanges a package with someone who has already picked a package.  (This is involves a lot of crying/screaming when it’s played at children’s parties.)

Jimmy Fallon mentions the problems with Secret Santa in this clip.  Even when there’s a spending limit, these never seem to work out well.  If you don’t know the person, you’re likely giving them something they don’t want.   Chances are pretty good that in any pairing, either someone who doesn’t know you will get you or you will get someone you don’t know.  So you’ll end up with junk you don’t want or you’ll give someone junk they don’t want.

The White Elephant is even worse– you have to buy something that is actually already junk and bring it in.  Sometimes the rules state you bring something from  home that you already own but don’t want, but if you own it and don’t want it, then why do you still have it?  On top of that, sometimes the junk is truly junk, and sometimes the junk is actually something nice.  More often though, some number of people bring actual gag gifts that get a laugh and then take up space, and some people bring things that are pretty nice, making others (who didn’t get the nice gift) feel jealous or (who followed the rules) uncomfortable.  In the end, most people end up buying crap nobody would want and taking home crap they don’t want.  It’s a very American sort of game.

I seriously dislike both these games and would rather not participate.  I don’t see the point in anonymous reciprocal gifts.  I don’t like being forced to give things to people who I don’t know very well who don’t need stuff.  I’d rather keep my money and buy my own junk (or not buy it, as the case may be).

What suggestions do we have?  We suggest that offices not have these kinds of games, and that if they do choose to have them that they be voluntary and neither explicitly nor socially mandatory.  As for families, we really think it’s better that if someone is worried about money that adults not exchange presents at all rather than having one of these silly exchanges.  But that’s just us.  We still exchange presents with everybody.  Maybe the joy some families get from having different senses of humor than we have outweighs the annoyance of crap being exchanged.  Maybe it’s worth it to some families.

But it still isn’t frugal.  At least, not as frugal as not participating would be.  Still, if this is the only option for not having a full gift exchange, it’s better than nothing.

What are your thoughts on these kinds of gift exchanges?  Do you participate?  Have you participated?  What’s your philosophy on anonymous gift exchanges?