Who are your favorite authors of color?

Excelsior Bev recently asked her students who their favorite African American authors were, and we thought that was a fun question, but that we’d broaden it a bit.

#1:  Alexandre Dumas (Jr) hands down– though I didn’t know he was black until recently!   He’s not so great with his female characters (who are either paper dolls or evil villains), but his books are so much fun that I forgive him.

After that I know there are a lot of worthy POC authors who write amazing award winning serious fiction (and I did like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Their Eyes Were Watching God, but as worthy books, not fun books), but I really like popcorn books.  I really do.   So that means people like Lisa Yee and Justina Chen.  I also love almost all of A. Lee Martinez’s books.

Scalzi had a post the other month talking about the “read just women and people of color” challenge someone was doing, and I asked for recommendations for fun light stuff, but the only person who replied has a very different definition of “light” than I do (pro-tip:  Stephen King is not light).  That post also indicated to me that romance novelist Courtney Milan is a POC, which I didn’t know (I like her stuff!).  Recommendations for light stuff welcome in the comments!  (I did read some Marta Acosta light vampire stuff, and it was ok, but not worth owning.) (#2 owns the first but not the second book.)

#2 ZOMG, N. K. Jemisin all day long.  Saladin Ahmed.  Justina Chen Headley (again).  Y. S. Lee.  Nnedi Okorafor.  Dia Reeves.  Michelle Sagara (her stuff sometimes makes #1 cry on airplanes).  Gene Luen Yang.  I recently read Sofia Samatar’s award-winning novel and liked it.

And, as everybody should already know, Octavia E. Butler is objectively one of the best science fiction authors of all time.  (But not light!)

Start there!

Of course, we’re of a couple of minds about these segregated lists.  Well, not really.  It’s just a nuanced stand.  We hate the need for these separate lists and we wish that people would be included on the regular lists of “best of” because many *belong* there.  However, society isn’t there yet, so these lists are a way for people to broaden their horizons so that they can come into contact with amazing authors they wouldn’t normally read.  Being on one of these segregated lists should in no way preclude someone from going on the more general lists of “best of” and we should think really hard when we make a general “best of” list about composition to make sure we’re not running into implicit biases.  A standard procedure is to think about the best POC or female etc. author not on the general list and to compare him or her to the worst person on the general list (iterating to the next underrepresented person etc.).  More often than should be the case, that person really belongs on the general list too and was not included because of subconscious biases.  Eventually, thinking about people from underrepresented groups while making the list rather than after the list is made becomes more automatic.

One place where there are plenty of authors of color is the banned books list.  Boo.

Got anyone else we should read?  Spend your tax refund on books!  Or save it and use your library.

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compound interest

One of the things Dave Ramsey is infamous for is making the claim that the stock market returns 12%/year.  Lately he’s been saying well, his money market funds return that.  (Uh huh.)  Then he goes through an exercise showing how much money you’ll make if you put away X, assuming an interest rate of 12%/year.  It’s a lot.  Because of the magic of compounding.

And obviously that 12% number is garbage.  (Reality is probably closer to 7%.)  However, after he makes this claim, he’ll often say, “Even if I’m half wrong…that’s still a lot of money.”

The implication being, if the interest rate is closer to 6% you’ll end up with half of that huge number he just calculated, which is still a huge number.

Of course you don’t.

Because compound interest doesn’t work that way.  As time goes on tiny differences are magnified with each compound, so that 6% difference starts out as half as big, but ends up compounding over time to something much larger than half as big.

Here’s a calculator because that’s more fun than doing the math by hand.  (Or at least it’s more fun than either typing out the formula or typing out the derivation of the formula.)

Take a Principal of 100,000.  Don’t add anything to it.  Assume a 12% interest rate that compounds once per year for 30 years.  You get $2,995,992.21 .  Or almost 3 million dollars.

Now let’s assume it’s actually half of 12%, or 6%.  If you’re thinking, I could totally live on 1.5 million dollars… you probably could.  But a 6% interest rate over 30 years only gives you $574,349.12, or half a million dollars.  Not chump change, but not enough to live through retirement on, even assuming these are real interest rates (putting things in today’s dollars instead of tomorrow’s inflationed dollars) and not nominal (if you assume 2% inflation, the real interest rate is 2 points lower than the nominal rate).

Half the interest rate compounded doesn’t result in half the earnings, but instead far less than that.

Losing just 1%, for a rate of 11% gives $2,289,229.66, which is a loss of about 700K!

The truth is that compound interest is magical, and the longer your time horizon, the less you need to put in to get big numbers out the other end.  However, it’s not quite as magical as a 12% interest rate would have you believe.  If Dave Ramsey is 50% wrong, you’re much worse than 50% worse off.

Is prepaying a debt saving or spending?

Planting Our Pennies mentioned this on her blog the other day.

I argue that pre-paying a debt is saving, not spending.  But there’s also an argument for thinking about the regular mortgage payment, even the part that goes into principal in terms of spending.  These can both be true at the same time depending on whether you’re thinking about the stock or the flow.

Ok, so what are stocks and flows?

The text-book example is to think of a bathtub.  The water in the bathtub is the stock of water.  Turning on the faucet (or opening the drain) provides the flow.  Your net-worth is a stock.  Saving is a flow, and spending is a flow.  Since we’re allowed to borrow, the analogy breaks down a little bit unless you can fill the tub with anti-water.

So given that your net worth is a stock, anything that increases your net-worth is saving, and anything that decreases your net-worth is spending.  If you have debt [defined here as your debts>assets], then your net worth is negative.  Prepaying that mortgage is increasing your net worth.  It’s the same as saving.  Putting that money in a safe investment is also increasing your net worth.  It’s saving.

If, in this framework, you think of mortgage pre-payment as spending rather than saving, then you’re saying it decreases your net worth and it’s equivalent to going on fancy vacations or buying super expensive meals etc.  It isn’t.  Pre-paying your mortgage increases your net worth, spending money decreases your net worth.

In terms of your regular mortgage payment in this scenario, the part that goes to principal is savings, because it increases your net worth by removing debt, and the part going to interest is spending because it just sort of disapparates.   (It’s true that if you didn’t pay the interest, your net worth would become even more negative, but if you paid off all your debt at once, there would be no more interest on it going forward– the interest is the variable cost of renting the money.)

However, if what you’re concerned about is your month-to-month expenditures, you are focusing only on the flow.  In this sense, it may make sense to think about your mortgage prepayment as spending, and it certainly makes sense to think about the principal (in addition to the interest) portion of your mortgage payment as spending.  Here you’re not thinking about the stock of your net worth, you’re only measuring the flow of the money (or water flowing in or out in our tub analogy).  You have some amount of income to spend each month, and you have various places to put it.  You have to put the regular mortgage payment money towards the mortgage– it is a fixed obligation.  You have to pay it no matter what.  As you’re trying to figure out where to put the rest of the money in your budget, you can only put it one place at a time.  So you can put it towards true spending, or you can put it towards retirement, or the stock market, or you can put it towards your mortgage principal.  A place for every dollar, and then you’re done for the month.  From your check-book’s standpoint you had inflow and you had out-go and it doesn’t really matter where you put the money short-term so long as you fulfilled all your obligations.  Where it matters is next quarter or next year or 30 or 50 years from now– those are net worth (or stock) concerns.

So from a year’s reconciliation standpoint, no, I don’t think you should count mortgage prepayment as if it’s a bad thing.  In terms of whether or not PoP over-spent given that size mortgage prepayment, it’s probably just an accounting thing– if they’d planned that exact amount of prepayment then they could just say that they meant to spend $spending – $mortgage_prepayment instead of $spending, and they’d still feel like they’d over-spent.  (As DC1 has been learning, X + Y -Y is just X all over again.) If, instead, they diverted additional money they hadn’t been planning on spending to the mortgage, then I don’t think they should be beating themselves up about not making their spending goals.  (Where else was that money going to go, and why didn’t they put it there instead?)

What about you?  Do you think of your mortgage prepayment (or other loan prepayment) as saving or spending?  And over what term?

Dear bloggers [a point of grammar],

There’s an easy way to figure out if you’re supposed to say “person and I” vs. “person and me.”

Say the sentence to yourself without the “person and” part.  We know you get it right when you’re starting a sentence with just “I” or using “me” appropriately later on.  There’s large swaths of the country that start sentences with “Me and him” but we know you wouldn’t do that.

“What works for DH and I” or “What works for DH and me”?  Think to yourself “What works for I” or “What works for me”?  Hopefully doing that has caused you to choose “What works for DH and me.”

Similarly when you’re labeling photos– “My BFF and I” would be appropriate if you finish the sentence “My BFF and I are eating ice cream” but is inappropriate if that’s all you’re labeling the picture with.  Do you label pictures just “I”, or do you label them “me”?  Therefore, the picture is labeled “My BFF and me.”

This has been a public service announcement from the grumpy grammarians.

Stupid “opinions” on gifted kids

A lot of people seem to think that they are entitled to spew their opinions on gifted kids, parents of gifted kids, and gifted education without having read *any* of the research or without even ever spending time with gifted children.

Here are some of the things you should stop saying on the internet, behind people’s backs, or to their faces:

1.  Why do gifted kids need to be challenged anyway?  Why can’t we let kids be kids?  What’s the rush?

Gifted kids who are not challenged are at a greater risk of dropping out than normal kids.  They’re also more likely to have bad behavior than gifted kids who are sufficiently challenged.  And, if they’re not challenged early on, they can flame out spectacularly when challenged later as young adults.  (All of the previous statements are verifiable from pretty much any research-based book on gifted children.)

On top of that, most children find learning to be fun and to be part of childhood.  It is only adults who seem to feel the need to make learning not fun.  Fight that.

2.  It’s so important for kids to be with their same-aged peers.  It may not be important in elementary school, but just wait until they’re old enough to drive/go to prom/go to college.  Then you’ll see.

Gifted kids are often out-of-synch with their same-aged peers.  It would be great for them to hang around other gifted kids their same age, but many populations don’t have a large enough population to support gifted classes, and tracking is not currently in vogue.   A Nation Deceived makes a clear and convincing case that gifted kids actually do *better* socially on average when accelerated than when with same-aged peers in a normal classroom.  As for driving and prom… those are not the end-all and be-all.  Not all kids go to prom.  Many freshmen go to prom with seniors.  If a freshman hangs out with juniors, hir friends will be driving anyway even though ze can’t, and not all kids have cars or get licenses at 16 anyway.  In terms of college, there are many possibilities not limited to going early, taking a gap year, taking courses at the local college or community college, and so on.  There’s an exciting world of possibilities that may be even better than the status quo.

3.  I knew a kid who skipped grades and ze was totally messed up.

Correlation is not causation.  Gifted kids are often odd and out of synch compared to other kids.  Chances are they’ll seem messed up in the view of some subset of the population whether or not they’re accelerated.  Compared to gifted kids who are not accelerated, those who are accelerated do better academically AND socially, according to A Nation Deceived.

4.  Being bored/miserable/picked on/the only person doing work on a group project is a part of adult life.  Kids need to learn to get used to it in school.

When you’re gifted and do well in school, you can often sort yourself into a profession in which you’re more likely to be surrounded by other competent hard workers doing interesting things.  Being picked on is not normal as an adult.

5.  I’m so sick of hearing X complain about the problems she’s having with her so-called gifted kid, if the kid is actually gifted, which I have my doubts.  Gifted kids don’t need special treatment, not like real special needs kids.  She should just shut up.

It is not easy being the parent of a gifted child.  Gifted children are often intense.  They often do not sleep much, are energetic, are sensitive, act out, get depressed, can be crippled by perfectionism, and many other things, particularly if their needs are not being met.  And society is not set up to help meet their needs in many places.  Additionally, parents of gifted kids often do suffer from isolation.  They often cannot talk about their kids to other parents.  It is wonderful being a parent of gifted children, but there are also challenges.

6.  Kids aren’t really gifted, they’re just hot-housed by over-achieving parents.

We don’t believe there is a such thing as over-achievement (that’s an opinion).  However, gifted kids often achieve quite a bit without the least bit of hot-housing (that’s a fact).  Parents do often provide more academic enrichment for gifted kids because that is what the child needs to help behavior and happiness, but there are generally no flashcards or pressure involved.  Gifted kids often teach themselves to read.  And reading is fun!  All kids are sponges, and gifted kids seem very eager to soak things up.

Remember, opinions and facts are not the same thing, and sometimes incorrect opinions that are not based on actual facts can do real damage.  Do you really want to be one of those people who hurts an entire group?  Well, we know that none of *our* readers would, but occasionally people find their way to us via google.  If you’re in that situation and you say stuff like this, knock it off.

What are incorrect “opinions” that you find annoying, gifted-related or other?

Never do the following out loud

1.  Assume anyone is pregnant unless she has told you herself.

2.  Assume that the person is the nanny.

3.  Assume that the person is the grandmother.

4.  Assume that a person wants kids.

5.  Assume that a person wants to discuss his or her fertility plans with you.

6.  Assume that you have any right to comment on anyone’s fertility decisions.

7.  Assume that everyone has equal access to fertility control and decision-making.

8.  Say, “I’m not defending rapists, but–”

I think that about covers it for now.

Language is important: A feminist primer

Dr. #2 is going to have to help me out on this post since she’s the feminist scholar.  (Everything I learned about feminism I’ve been learning from her and academic blogs!)  But I’m beginning to know subtle sexism when I see it.

Language is a tricky thing.  We can say one thing overtly but use language that implicitly says something quite the opposite.  How we say something can be more important than what we actually say.

Woman as child

There is so much infantilizing of women.  When’s the last time you called a woman over age 18 a girl for any reason?  Please, check yourself.  If you get together with a group of women, are they girlfriends?  Who gets called baby?

[disclaimer:  I think this song is MAD CATCHY!]

Pronouns matter

Much of this information comes from the work of Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues. 

Much research shows that when people read, say, or hear “he” or “him” as generic pronouns, they almost always think of male examples.  In one study, participants read a sentence about “the average student” at a university, and that student was referred to as either  his, their, or his or her.  Then participants had to make up stories about this fictional student.  When “the average student” got the his pronoun, 65% of the stories were about men.  Using their resulted in 54% of stories being about men.  Using his or her, 44% were about men.  There are a lot of studies that replicate this finding.

That study was from 1978 with adults, so Hyde wanted to look at children and how they developed these ideas. She gave children a sentence such as:  When a kid goes to school, ____ often feels excited on the first day.  She filled the blank with either he, they, or he or she.  When the word was he, not a single boy in all of elementary school (through fifth grade) made up a story about a girl.  In fact, most children, girls and boys, did not even know about he being (supposedly) gender-neutral.  However, despite not being aware of the rule, most children thought of “human” as equivalent to “male”.  In another sentence, Hyde had children fill in the blank: If a kid likes candy, ____ might eat too much.  Overwhelmingly, the children filled in “he” to represent a random kid.  Even the girls.

This is true in English, which does not have genders on all our nouns, and also in other languages, like German and Spanish, which do.

Finally, Janet Shibley Hyde gave elementary school children a paragraph describing the fictional occupation of wudgemaker.  She varied the pronouns, and then asked children how well a woman could do the job, and how well a man could do it.  When rating men, pronoun had no effect on what children thought of them as wudgemakers.  They answered that a man could do the job pretty well whether the pronoun described wudgemakers as he, they, she, or he-or-she.  However, when figuring out how well a woman could do the job, pronouns mattered.  Children who heard the pronoun he to describe a typical wudgemaker rated a woman as being “just ok” at that job.  Children who heard she rated a woman as being very good at the job.  The other two pronouns were in the middle.

Sexist language can even lower females’ ability to remember content from a passage of reading.

Media and sexual abuse

Rape

And don’t get us started on language used in rape cases.  Well, I guess it’s too late.

Problems include passive language“Every year thousands of women are raped.  How can this problem be stopped?”  Hello.  Every year thousands of men rape women!

In another study of sexual assault coverage, most of the quotes used were from the perpetrator or his lawyer (eww).  Who gets to tell their story?

Child Abuse

It gets worse with child sexual abuse in the media.

The media often use “it” to describe a child (most victims of sexual abuse are girls), and even when the media identify the gender they will later revert to using it, in something called Gender Slippage.  Language is of critical importance in influencing societal views.  When they do this, the article becomes more neutral and reduces the reader’s emotional involvement.  It also reduces the perceived seriousness of the problem.  Do we want to do that?

When adults abuse children, the media often frames the situation as a consensual relationship.  Media sometimes use the word “affair” between a 60-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.  That is not an affair.  That is abuse.  “Jailed teacher afraid lover boy will dump her”  (O’Mahony, 1998) is one example.  Again, ewww.

Domestic Violence

Johnson (1994) did an incredible study of San Francisco newspapers’ coverage of domestic violence (DV) cases involving death of the victim.  Professional DV experts were quoted in only 25% of articles; the main source of quotes was perpetrator’s family.  Who has voice?

The term “domestic violence” was used repeatedly for non-white couples but rarely for white couples.  White perpetrators were usually described as nice, normal, sweet, and loving; minority perpetrators were described negatively.  In the articles, violence was seen as aberration in white communities but expected in minority communities.

Bullock and Cubert (2002) studied over 200 Seattle newspaper accounts of domestic violence.  They find that many many articles shifted blame from attacker onto victim or circumstances (“the divorce was hard on him”).  EWww!  One possible mechanism for how this happens is DARVO.  There was also a misconception that abusers should be readily identifiable (i.e., not the rich white people-next-door).

But wait, you also get…

We’ve already covered stereotype threat.  Yes, words really can hurt.

You get to choose what you consume in the media.  What will you tolerate?  Do you write letters to the editor?