Tuesday open thread

We have an open thread today.

For a starter topic, we usually like talking about popular baby names:

2020’s most popular baby names certainly look familiar

Henry joined the top 10 list of boy names at the No. 9 spot for the first time in over a century. According to SSA, the name has been steadily rising in popularity and last appeared on SSA’s top ten list in 1910.

Most Popular Baby Names Today Versus 50 Years Ago

Simon and Schuster

by Fred

WSJ April 26, 2021
Simon & Schuster Employees Submit Petition Demanding No Deals With Trump Administration Authors

An employee petition at Simon & Schuster demanding that the company stop publishing authors associated with the Trump administration collected 216 internal signatures and several thousand outside supporters, including well-known Black writers.

The employees submitted the petition Monday to senior executives at the publishing house, according to the company and a person involved in the employee effort. The petition demands that the company refrain from publishing a memoir by former Vice President Mike Pence. The letter asks Simon & Schuster not to treat “the Trump administration as a ‘normal’ chapter in American history.”

Simon & Schuster Chief Executive Jonathan Karp sent an internal letter last week rejecting the employee demands, when the company was aware the petition was circulating. It has now been formally submitted. A spokesman for Simon & Schuster on Monday declined to comment. The petition and letter were sent to Mr. Karp and Dana Canedy, publisher of Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint.

The 216 employees who signed the petition represent about 14% of Simon & Schuster’s workforce. Among the more than 3,500 outside supporters, according to a letter accompanying the petition, were writers of color including Jesmyn Ward, a two-time winner of the National Book Award for fiction. A representative for Ms. Ward confirmed that she signed the petition.

The petition accused Mr. Pence of advocating for policies that were racist, sexist and discriminatory toward LGBT people, among other criticisms of his tenure as a public official. The petition also calls on Simon & Schuster to cut off a distribution relationship with Post Hill Press, a publisher of conservative books as well as business and pop culture titles. A spokesman for Mr. Pence declined to comment. Post Hill Press publisher Anthony Ziccardi said, “We’re proud of our publishing program, that’s what we’re focused on.”

In rejecting the group’s demands, Mr. Karp last week said in his internal letter that Simon & Schuster’s core mission includes publishing “a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

The letter from Simon & Schuster employees on Monday said, “When S&S chose to sign Mike Pence, we broke the public’s trust in our editorial process, and blatantly contradicted previous public claims in support of Black and other lives made vulnerable by structural oppression.”

Bertelsmann SE has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. for almost $2.18 billion. The deal is expected to close later this year, pending regulatory approval.

I’m with Simon and Schuster on this. They have a business to run. And, honestly, what are the 216 employees going to do if their petition gets ignored? Are they all going to walk?

Subscription Fatigue?

by Houston

We subscribe to Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney + and Paramount. It feels like too much sometimes, but it is unlikely that we will cut any of these entertainment options out in the next 12 months. Kids subscribe to Spotify. I have friends who subscribe to Audible and monthly boxes such as Fab Fit Fun.

What subscriptions do you have? Meal kits? Patreon? Substack? Online yoga? Is it too much, too little, or just enough?

How subscriptions took over our lives
On platforms like Substack and Patreon, subscriptions can be emotional purchases. But others, like Amazon Prime, feel more like utilities.

Holistic admissions

by MooshiMooshi

This article, which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, expresses exactly my thoughts on holistic admissions, and says it far better than I could. Holistic admissions, which stresses “opening one’s soul up” and “authenticity”, is not just unfair to kids who don’t come from privilged backgrounds, but it is a process that is intrusive, and painful for many kids who don’t particularly want to bare their souls to admissions committees at various universities but who are afraid if they don’t, they will seem too superficial. I know because my younger son, who has a lot of baggage in his life, really struggled wth the feeling that he had to reveal too much of himself on the applications. And at the same time, he was afraid that “faking it” would look too fake. It will be a problem for my daughter too, if she applies to schools with holistic admissions, because she does not like to reveal ANYTHING about herself. My oldest had less trouble because he was applying to the kinds of schools that were interested in test scores and AP science courses. He just wrote about his research project and teaching programming at a tech camp for his essay and that was fine. Although he did feel he had to throw in a bit about teaching non-neurotypical and nonbinary kids so he could get something social-justice-y in.

The author proposes something that I have heard proposed on this site: Uber-selective schools should just use a lottery – and I agree. Any ideas for doing things differently?

The Abiding Scandal of College Admissions

The article link is at

Friday Advice Column

by Lemon Tree

Is It OK to Use Money Raised for a Child’s Cancer Care on a Car?

My grandchild is being treated for leukemia. A friend of the child’s parents set up a GoFundMe page for them. They’re both well loved and have siblings who know a ton of people. So the goal was surpassed in three hours, and donations totaled more than double that amount. They plan to donate anything over and above direct hospital-related expenses to leukemia research organizations.

This couple have some needs that aren’t strictly related to the child’s care, like a new car. Am I rationalizing by saying they need to drive the child to the hospital and should use some of this money for a dependable car? Is there a strict line you would not cross? And is it germane that they’re not extravagant and extremely honest? Name Withheld

Parents today

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

From the Atlantic:

Parents Are Sacrificing Their Social Lives on the Altar of Intensive Parenting

Inequality has seemingly caused many American parents to jettison friendships and activities in order to invest more resources in their kids.

The article goes on to talk about the things that we old people have described — kids who ran out to play in the mornings and didn’t come home til lunch time, Moms who went to play mah jongg or take tap dancing lessons (okay, that one was my mom), Dads who belonged to clubs and played golf. The author argues that

“The financial and emotional burden on families has grown in ways that were almost unimaginable just a half-century ago,” writes the University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg. Parents’ anxiety about financial security and the world that awaits their kids pushed American households into a frenzy of work and parenting, seemingly causing many to jettison friendships and activities in order to create more time to supervise and advance their kids.


Overnight millionaire

by lauren

The anonymous millionaire author of this article shares some interesting insights, but I don’t agree with some of the author’s feelings about how the money was earned. Also, I am happy to introduce the author to an excellent financial advisor as the author didn’t seem to put much effort into finding an experienced advisor.

What do you think you would do with this type of windfall and how would you feel about it?

Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire “I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money?

Liars and cheaters

by Kim

How college students learned new ways to cheat during pandemic remote schooling

  • Students say that working remotely makes it easier to use phones and notes during exams, and cite constraints in online learning as reasons to explain their behavior.
  • A study from Imperial College London found a near-200% increase in questions and answers posted to Chegg’s homework help section between April and August 2020.
  • Experts say the empirical data on Covid cheating is slim, but many students are doing it because during the pandemic remote learning shift they think no one is watching.

It can be easy to justify cheating under our current particularly stressful conditions, especially when you know the majority of your classmates are cheating.  One parent of teens who is well-connected in her community said that many high school students wanted to stay with remote learning because it was easier to cheat.  What are your thoughts?  Has cheating significantly increased over the last year?

West Point is taking action.

West Point to End Policy of Leniency for Cadets After Covid-19 Pandemic Cheating Scandal
Dozens at academy were punished in worst honor code breach in at least four decades but avoided expulsion

The policy, known as the “willful admission process,” can protect a cadet who admits to wrongdoing from being thrown out. It was put in place in 2015 to increase self-reporting without fear of removal and to encourage cadets to confront peers about honor violations without having them kicked out of school.

The policy, however, didn’t achieve the desired intent, said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the academy, in an interview. “It’s clear to me, it has to go.”

What about cheating on business taxes?

The withholding system remains the cornerstone of income taxation, effectively preventing Americans from lying about wage income. Employers submit an annual W-2 report on the wages paid to each worker, making it hard to fudge the numbers.

But the burden of taxation is increasingly warped because the government has no comparable system for verifying income from businesses. The result is that most wage earners pay their fair share while many business owners engage in blatant fraud at public expense.

In a remarkable 2019 analysis, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that Americans report on their taxes less than half of all income that is not subject to some form of third-party verification like a W-2. Billions of dollars in business profits, rent and royalties are hidden from the government each year. By contrast, more than 95 percent of wage income is reported.

Unreported income is the single largest reason that unpaid federal income taxes may amount to more than $600 billion this year, and more than $7.5 trillion over the next decade. It is a truly staggering sum — more than half of the projected federal deficit over the same period.

Teaching financial literacy

by Houston

DS2 is going to college in the fall, so we’ve had several conversations with him about managing money, budgeting, investing, etc. I mentioned in a prior post that I helped him set up his own Vanguard account.

How are you teaching your children to be financially literate?

The 1% threshold

by Finn

RMS recently posted a link to the Knight-Frank Wealth Report. https://drive.google.com/file/d/10asn6jrZgogsKLWuNp8jFVSxhVf9kSGe/view

As I skimmed through it, one datum in one graph jumped out at me. The graph shows the net wealth thresholds, by country, to join the top 1%. The datum is the US threshold of US$4.4M.

What’s your initial reaction to that datum?

It grabbed my attention because my initial reaction was that it seemed low.

The accompanying article does not mention what’s included in net wealth, but very early in the report, thresholds for Ultra-high-net-worth individual (UHNWI) at US$30M including primary residence, and High-net-worth individual (HNWI) at US$1M, including primary residence, are defined.

I’m assuming they’re being consistent, and the $4.4M threshold includes primary residence, which buttressed my initial reaction.

In discussions here, one definition of ‘rich’ that had received a lot of support was having enough wealth to comfortably support an UMC lifestyle without a job.

Is $4.4M enough wealth to make you feel comfortable quitting your job?

Keeping in mind the $4.4M includes primary residence, that only would leave somewhere around $3M to invest after subtracting the value of a comfortable residence and some rainy day cash. Investing in bonds with 2% to 3% yields would provide $60k to $90k in income, and if you weren’t working, that would have to cover medical insurance.

The article did compare the 1% thresholds to their UHNWI threshold, which suggests that the 1% threshold is for individuals, not couples or families.

So my second reaction was that $4.4M is an individual threshold, so for a couple it would be somewhere around $8.8M, although the part about including primary residence clouds things a bit since many couples share a primary residence.

With $8.8M between us, I could perhaps see DW and me being able to quit our jobs and still live comfortable UMC lives, once we structured our assets to generate income as well as appreciate. We’d have somewhere approaching $7M to invest to generate income, and even in safe bonds at about 2% that would give us $140k in income, and I’m pretty sure we could live comfortably on that, but that still doesn’t compare favorably to a lot of totebaggers’ earned incomes.

But I’d have thought that people at the 1% level would be wealthy to the point of their wealth generating a lot more income than that, or at least being able to (I suspect many of the 1% have a lot of investments targeted at growth rather than income). Perhaps in my dreams, I’m not aggressive enough with my investing.

Your thoughts?

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Small-Town Natives Are Moving Back Home (WSJ)
For many young people, returning to struggling communities means exchanging prosperity for a more rooted life.

… Over the past few years, a growing number of Americans have been moving back to the small towns and rural communities they were once encouraged to leave. Thanks in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, 52% of adults age 18 to 29 lived with their parents in 2020, the largest share since the Great Depression, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data indicate that large metro areas have seen declining growth and in some instances population losses since 2010.

Many people move home to help out with family businesses, support aging loved ones or share the joys of small-town life with their kids. I left Fruitland, Idaho, for college on the East Coast in 2009 and now live in northern Virginia. While writing a book about the farm community where I grew up, however, I discovered many people who have chosen to move back home as part of a larger mission. They are fighting rural poverty, restoring broken food economies and bringing health back to neglected soil. Their vision of success has less to do with financial prosperity or personal comfort than with the more demanding values of stewardship, investment and care.

Returning home isn’t just beneficial to environmental renewal or civic health. It’s good for the returners, too. As the philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” We grow roots, she added, through “real, active and natural participation in the life of a community.”

The hardships of 2020 have reminded me how much I miss being close to family and how much I want to invest in the land and community that raised me. The farmer, poet and essayist Wendell Berry got it right: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.”

Do you agree with this top comment?

Feel good, statistically insignificant anecdotal reporting.

In any case, would you consider moving back to your hometown, whether it’s a small town or a big city?  If circumstances somehow found you living back where you grew up, what would your life be like?

Allergy season

by Kerri

As a Spring time allergy sufferer, this was welcome news to me. Maybe I’ll get to enjoy this year’s Cherry Blossom festival without being doped up on Zyrtec and coffee. Any other suggestions on how to get through allergy season?

Exercise routines

by Kim

(This poll may or may not work.)



Do you yearn to return to the gym?  Some of us preferred exercising at home even before the pandemic.

Tom Brady adheres to an extreme fitness routine.  No caffeine, gluten, or nightshade vegetables that could cause inflammation.  And this is interesting:

As the quarterback has aged, he works out less with weights, which could leave him prone to muscle tears. Now it’s all about planks, lunges and squats, followed by more pliability exercises, such as doing crunches with a vibrating roller beneath his back.

More here:

Everything we know about Tom Brady’s extreme diet and fitness routines

What are your extreme or non-extreme fitness routines?  Do you “swear” by anything?

Wednesday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Finn gave us a conversation starter:

Rise of the Robocall

What do you do when you get robocalled? Do you try to increase the cost to the robocaller?

My employer has a policy that we answer calls to our desk phones when we’re at our desks, so I’ve answered a bunch of robocalls. At first I’d just hang up as soon as I realized a call was a robocall. But shortly afterward, I started just putting the receiver down on my desk, then checking a couple minutes later and hanging up if the call had ended. Then I started pressing buttons to get a real person, then putting down the receiver.

Easter Monday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:

At 10:04 p.m. on Christmas Day, then–Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris tweeted a holiday reminder we don’t often hear from politicians: “Check in on your single friends.”

Do you have a single friend or relative that you regularly check on?

Carrying on

by Anonymous

We are preparing to travel again, and I’ve forgotten how! Specifically, I want to be comfortable on longer flights. This is what I’m planning to take on the plane

Hand sanitizer/disinfectant
Refillable water bottles
Phones (with reading material)
Battery packs & charging cables
Headphones/earbuds with cases
Allergy meds/nasal spray
Hair ties
Bar Castile soap
Chewing gum

I’m also thinking of taking sheet masks to use on long flights. What types have you used & would recommend using (or avoiding)?

What do you take on your flights? Do you see anything we are missing?

The Totebag Has Taught Me….

by Houston

What are the lessons, tricks, tips, etc. that you’ve learned from The Totebag?

I’ve learned so many lessons, great and small, from the community here. I love the recipes, book recommendations, trip reviews, and encouragement to relax and not be so damned Totebaggy!

Have you turned into your parents?

by Finn

Are you turning, or have you turned, into your parents? Are your kids turning into you?


Ashley Fetters
March 16, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. HST
Where were you when you first got Dr. Ricked?

I was on my couch, chuckling blissfully along at the Progressive insurance commercial where a millennial-aged homeowner tries to “coach” an annoyed plumber fixing a pipe under the sink. That’s when Dr. Rick, an older, mustachioed mentor on the scene, gently pulls the homeowner away and reminds him that plumber is the expert here: “You hired him.” (Dads do love doing that, I thought.)

Then, the ad pivoted to Dr. Rick advising a young woman. If there are so many throw pillows on your couch that you aren’t sure where to sit, he told her, you have too many. And you’ve turned into your mom.

“Oh, no,” I said to the two chevron-print pillows and the squishy yellow “You Are My Sunshine!” cushion I had just neatly stacked off to the side of the sofa before I sat down.

For nearly a year now, Progressive’s Dr. Rick ad campaign — in which a tough-love Dr. Phil type helps millennials and Gen Xers avoid taking on their parents’ behaviors when they buy (and insure) their first homes — have been delighting audiences and then, often to their further delight, sucker-punching them with the cold truth about themselves.

Not only have the Dr. Rick spots managed to stand out in TV’s strange, highly competitive world of humorous insurance ads (packed as it is with Progressive’s Flo and her colleagues, State Farm’s Jake, Liberty Mutual’s LiMu Emu, Geico’s pun-happy new homeowners and President Palmer from “24” forever selling Allstate), these ads have carved out a space for themselves in the cultural lexicon of the moment that’s rare for an ad campaign: “You need Dr. Rick” has become an affectionate shorthand for “You’ve become everything that irritated you about your dad.” Fans of the commercials (fans of the commercials!) tweet at the insurance company almost daily.

It doesn’t hurt that when Progressive introduced the Dr. Rick ads in April 2020, they quickly became a warm, sunny island of gentle observational humor in a vast sea of grim commercials murmuring about “these uncertain times.” Or that they’re performed by a cast of veteran improv actors recruited from the Groundlings and Second City. (In one roundly beloved bit, two of Dr. Rick’s patients struggle not to stare at a stranger with blue hair. “We all see it,” Dr. Rick tells them under his breath, as they continue to gape. “We all-l-l see it.” That bit was largely improvised.)

And certainly some credit belongs to Bill Glass, the 49-year-old veteran improv actor with a self-described “resting goofy face” that only gets goofier when he puts on Dr. Rick’s stage mustache (nicknamed “the Beast”).

But what’s most unusual about the Dr. Rick ads is their appeal across generations that, in the “OK boomer” skirmishes of late, don’t always get along. The ads apply both a gimlet eye and a big heart to an instantly familiar but little-explored phenomenon.

Introjection — the phenomenon of humans absorbing the attitudes, values or traits of the people they spend the most time with — has never been one of the sexier psychoanalysis terms. Lacking the titillating mythological wink of the Oedipal complex or the sharp weaponization potential of passive-aggression, introjection never seeped into the popular consciousness. But in 2015, Progressive’s chief marketing officer, Jeff Charney, was hunting for a novel insight about the stages of life around which to build a new ad campaign. He stumbled across the concept of parental introjection — the absorption of the traits of the adults we’re around first and most frequently.

Talking to behavioral scientists and psychology researchers, “We found that there was a ‘grown-up switch’ that everybody has, and nobody had really mined when that switch turned on,” Charney said. The lurch into self-identified adulthood seemed to be precisely when people started becoming their parents.“We [initially] thought it was when people had kids,” he said. “But we found out it was when they buy homes.”

Soon, homeownership-induced parental introjection was recast by Progressive as “parentamorphosis”; that campaign’s first ads debuted in 2016. Eventually, the ad series would evolve to focus on the don’t-become-your-parents evangelism of Glass’s Dr. Rick.

On an advertising level, the Dr. Rick ads are textbook examples of good sales strategy. Barbara Mellers, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, points out that they’re both simple in concept and surprising in content, which is a winning combination for a memorable ad.

Plus, advertisers are always going for relatability: “The more similar a person in an ad is to you, the easier it is for you to imagine yourself in that person’s place,” Mellers said. Adults of any age might recognize themselves in Progressive’s Dr. Rick spots, in the adult child being subtly roasted for becoming their parent, or in the parent — off-screen, but a palpable presence — being razzed for their distinctly parental ways.

That cross-generational appeal is unusual in its own right. For part of this past winter, my partner and I lived with my parents in Minnesota, where we spent weeknights doing one of the few things people can during a Minnesota winter and a pandemic: sitting on the couch watching TV together. Laughter usually had a 50 percent participation rate; whatever made two of us laugh usually made the other two roll their eyes or cluck their tongues.

Dr. Rick was the rare exception. I had always privately chuckled at my parents’ insistence on using their iPhones with their index fingers rather than their thumbs; now, here they were laughing at it too.

As Mellers pointed out, though, what may be making the Progressive ads stick so well in the public imagination is that they point out a phenomenon that’s familiar but hasn’t been parodied to the point of being a trope. “I think we all experience it, but I don’t know how much has been written on it or how broad a topic it is in the general conversation of life,” Mellers said. When she first watched a Dr. Rick ad, “I started remembering funny things about sounding like my mother.”

Charney, too, has thought a lot about his own parents — and his own parentamorphosis — over the course of developing and shooting the Dr. Rick ads. Certainly, he’s thought about the parental habits that irked him; his childhood friend’s mother had a “No cussin’, no fussin’, and no backtalkin’ ”-style mantra framed in her home for years, and the alarming fervor with which Dr. Rick throws a similar framed poster in a garbage can, Charney said, is in her honor.

More often, though, he thinks about how he’s developed the same impulse as his own dad to chase down drivers who speed past his home while his kids are riding their bikes — an impulse he’s grown to understand rather than resent. At the end of the day, the Dr. Rick ads are “an ode to our parents,” Charney said.

And although Bill Glass’s face is now the one many probably see in their nightmares about transforming into their parents, even Glass himself has experienced the stomach-dropping Dr. Rick moment. “I’ve caught myself running around the house turning off lights, going, ‘Do we have to have all the lights on?’” he said. “I’ve had a couple of, ‘The laundry’s not going to fold itself!’ And I’m talking to no one. There’s no one around,” Glass added with a laugh.

But for Glass — and probably for many — the Dr. Rick ads have helped illustrate that while he may be turning into his father, he’s far from alone in doing so.

“I love my dad, and I’m in no hurry to turn into him,” Glass said. “But maybe Dr. Rick has helped me lighten up a little bit on some of that stuff.”

Pointless business travel

by MooshiMooshi

Long before the pandemic, I was of the opinion that most business travel is pointless, an exercise in showing how “incredibly busy our company/our employees are” without accomplishing much. It is the most extreme form of butt-in-seatism. I saw the costs in terms of money and people’s time, but had not thought as much about the impact on climate change. This opinion piece makes the case far better than I can, that we should not return to mindless business travel ever again. Do you think companies will return to their bad old practices, or will business travel never pick up again?

Do You Really Need to Fly?
Videoconferencing is good enough to replace a lot of pointless business travel.

by Farhad Manjoo

March 10 2021
I once flew round-trip from San Francisco to London to participate in an hourlong discussion about a book. Another time it was San Francisco-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-Singapore and back again for two lunch meetings, each more lunch than meeting. I went to Atlanta once to interview an official who flaked out at the last minute. And there was that time in Miami: three days, 5,000 miles, hotel, rental car — and on the way back a sinking realization that the person I’d gone to profile was too dull for a profile.

I confess to this partial history of gratuitous business travel knowing that I’ll be screenshot and virally mocked: Check out the New York Times columnist whining about all the fabulous trips he’s had to endure!

But I’ll accept the flagellation, for I see now how I’ve sinned. We are a year into a pandemic that has kept much of the world grounded. Yet in many sectors that once relied on in-person sessions, big deals are still getting done, sales are still being closed and networkers can’t quit networking.

Face-to-face interactions were said to justify the $1.4 trillion spent globally on business travel in 2019. In 2020, business travel was slashed in half, our faces were stuck in screens, and yet many of the companies used to spending boatloads on travel are doing just fine.

Hence my regret for past ramblings. After a year of videoconferencing and suffering little for it, I look back on the profligacy of my prepandemic air travel with embarrassment. I think about my lost productivity and personal time, my boss’s money and the pollution spewing from my plane as it jetted to that very important event in Key West.

OK, I don’t really think about my boss’s money. Still: Mexico City, Austin, Hyderabad, D.C. How many of those trips would have been unnecessary if I’d only Zoomed?

My estimate runs somewhere between most and all. Aviation is a modern miracle; it is also expensive, annoying and environmentally costly. Now that videoconferencing has been shown to be an acceptable way to get work done, there’s no reason to quit it when the virus is gone. We can all afford to be much more judicious about traveling for work, even if Zoom isn’t perfect.

I say “we” because the airports and hotels on my less-than-necessary trips weren’t empty. Americans took more than 400 million trips for work in 2019. A lot of my fellow travelers were likely wondering, as I was, whether the benefits of each particular jaunt justified the expense and inconvenience.

I spoke to several erstwhile road warriors — mainly salespeople — who told me they were often of two minds about their nomadic ways. On the one hand, flying was terrible. A round-trip cross-country flight takes up most of two days just getting there. Then there’s the unhealthy eating, the poor sleep, the drinking.

But what choice was there? For years, it has been a truism that face-to-face meetings are far better than videoconferencing, for obvious reasons. They foster deeper relationships and perhaps better group decision-making.

“I grew up in a sales culture that said, ‘You want to close a deal, you go get in front of the client,’” said Darren Marble, an entrepreneur based in Los Angeles who used to travel to New York every other week. When the pandemic hit, he didn’t know how he’d do business. “Working at home was antagonistic to everything I’d learned over my career,” he said.

But in the Zoom era, everything worked out. In fact, Marble told me, 2020 was a “breakout year”; his firm, Crush Capital, recently raised more than $3 million from over 30 investors, all through Zoom. “Rapport is overrated,” Marble said.

That sounded glib, but several other former frequent fliers said something similar. Jack Duhamel, a software salesman who moved to a Connecticut fishing town during the lockdown, told me about a sale he’d made to a company based in Eastern Europe. The deal started cold; Duhamel had no prior relationship with the company. But over a series of more than a dozen Zoom meetings over four months, a big sale came together.

“In years past, we would have had to fly there and make a whole thing of it,” he said.

I’ve felt something similar with video calls. They’re obviously not as intimate as face-to-face meetings, but they’re not that much worse. And the virtual era has its own advantages. It’s faster, it’s cheaper and you’re not stuck in a middle seat for five hours.

Then there’s climate change, an inescapable cost of flying. Aviation accounts for just about 2.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, but for complex reasons airplane emissions actually contribute more to warming the planet than their carbon output would suggest. Another problem is the per-use cost of flying; just one long round-trip flight can produce more carbon, per passenger, than the average person in many countries produces in a year. One round-trip trans-Atlantic flight is almost enough to wipe out the gains you might get from living car-free for a year, according to one estimate.

Suzanne Neufang, the C.E.O. of the Global Business Travel Association, said airlines are working on ways to make their flights carbon neutral. Her group predicts business travel will return to 2019 levels by 2025, but when it does, she says, it may have much less environmental impact. “It doesn’t have to necessarily come back in the same way,” she told me.

But I’m skeptical. It will likely be decades before the aviation industry becomes carbon neutral, if it ever does. In the meantime, we’ve found a perfectly reasonable alternative to meeting up in person. Log in, and fly less.

Your ‘weird’ upbringing

by Lemon Tree

A friend posted this article, and the discussion that followed was interesting about how diverse our upbringings are – both regionally and internationally, and did we continue on with our own children.

Is the Western way of raising kids weird?

The article mainly focuses on the Western world’s instances about co-sleeping and infant sleep habits. I’ll admit that baby did not sleep in our room, and our goal was to sleep through the night by month three. Why? Because DH only had a week off from work, and I was going back to work full time after 12 months. I was also terrified of SIDS and all the warnings of “never share a bed with baby”.

But let’s not make this all about sleeping. Is there anything that stands out as “weird” about your upbringing? Are there any unique parenting traits you inherited from your parents?

‘The Boredom Economy’

by Mémé

Investing as a way of coping with pandemic boredom has also fueled an amateur day-trading boom more broadly. New accounts at online brokers like E-Trade, Charles Schwab and Robinhood exploded.

Like all emotions, boredom provides us not just with information to act on; it also works through anticipation. With boredom, which is generally considered a bad feeling, we may be making certain decisions during the pandemic — about what we buy or do, for instance — in the hopes of staving it off.

Early in the pandemic, bread-making fervor prompted stores across the country to sell out of yeast. Puzzle sales have skyrocketed. Gardening has taken off as a hobby. Scotts Miracle-Gro sales increased more than 30 percent for the fiscal year that ended in September, to a record $4.13 billion. The newfound interest in lockdown gardening spurred the company to run its first Super Bowl commercial.

Home improvement, too, has boomed. According to the NPD Group, 81 percent of consumers in the United States purchased home improvement products in the six months than ended in November. Sherwin-Williams said it had record sales in the fourth quarter and for the year, in part because of strong performances in its do-it-yourself and residential repaint businesses. Pandemic boredom evidently has nothing on watching paint dry.

There has also been an increase in sales of things like video games to keep us occupied, as well as things to help relieve the stress of the pandemic (and, perhaps, boredom from being at home), including self-help books, candles and massaging appliances. Sales of loaf pans jumped nearly 60 percent last year.

Boredom may be driving people to more self-destructive behavior as well, though even that has economic implications. A study in September by American Addiction Centers, “Booze vs. Boredom,” reported that one-third of those surveyed said boredom during the pandemic had prompted them to drink more. Alcohol sales have soared.

Research has shown that mind-wandering, an activity that can happen during periods of boredom, can result in greater productivity. But during the pandemic, some of the best opportunities for mind-wandering, like the daily commute to work, have been lost for the millions of people now working from home.

Pandemic boredom, however, could be reorienting the economy.

Sandi Mann, a psychologist who has written a book called “The Science of Boredom,” said boredom could lead people and businesses to become more creative.

“That’s what downtime and boredom does,” she said. “It forces us to think differently because that’s what we do when we have time to think.”

People Don’t Quit Enough

by Denver Dad

University of Chicago economics professor and co-author of Freaknomics Steven Levitt is a big believer in quitting when the going gets rough. Sticking with things until the end is considered a big virtue, and people also fall for the sunk-cost fallacy. Levitt says people need to be much more open to quitting when the going gets rough:

“One of my great skills as an economist has been to recognize the need to fail quickly and the willingness to jettison a project as soon as I realize it’s likely to fail.”

“I try to talk my grad students into quitting all the time….Quitting grad school, yeah. A lot of people — you make choices without a lot of information and then you get new information. And quitting is often the right thing to do. I try to talk my kids into quitting soccer, baseball if they’re not good at it. I mean, I’ve never had any shame in quitting. I’ve quit economic theory, I quit macroeconomics. I’ve pretty much quit everything that I’m bad at.”

Totebaggers, where do you fall along the quitting/finishing spectrum?

The Upside of Quitting (and Why You Should Do It More Often)

The Upside of Quitting (Ep. 42 Rebroadcast): Full Transcript

Will University RAs go the way of the dinosaur?

by Flyover

From The Chronicle of Higher Education (may be behind paywall; complete article text at the bottom)

George Washington University recently announced that professional, live-in staff members will take on the first-responder role that RAs have filled in the past. Instead of the 140 RAs it had last year, George Washington will hire around 200 students for hourly, part-time work like mediating peer conflicts, manning front desks in residence halls, helping students move in and out, and communicating through emails and social media. The university hopes to serve as a model for other colleges looking to alleviate the pressures on RAs.

Since George Washington’s program overhaul has been largely kept under wraps until [the announcement], it’s unclear how those who were hoping to become RAs, with the accompanying room-and-board perks, will respond.

What’s your experience with Resident Assistants? There’s no doubt that the job they’ve been asked to do has grown in scope and complexity since we were in college. To the extent that they act as peer advisors, it’s probably better for them to not also be enforcers. But given how many students rely on the free room and board, this decision could have a big impact. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year (or more), and if other schools move to a similar model.

Too Much for Students to Handle? Why One University Decided to Do Away With RAs
By Katherine Mangan

During his first semester as a resident adviser at George Washington University, Drew Amstutz comforted foreign students struggling with culture shock, reassured freshmen panicking over failing grades, wrote some students up for underage drinking, and found a referral for another who thought she’d been slipped a date-rape drug at a party.

Keeping students masked and six feet apart might have been added to his duties, had the university not paused its RA program this year.

An RA was expected to be “a jack-of-all-trades,” Amstutz said. “You had to be everything to everyone, from counselor to academic adviser” to social director and rules enforcer. “Absolutely no one can meet all of those demands and be excellent in all of them.”

Since Covid-19 broke out, the stresses of the RA job have hit a breaking point at campuses across the country. The role, which traditionally comes with free room and board, had already grown to include responding to crises, from sexual assault to mental breakdowns, at all hours of the day and night. Now, in a deadly pandemic, George Washington decided it was time to pull the plug.

The university announced on Thursday that professional, live-in staff members will take on the first-responder role that RAs have filled in the past. Instead of the 140 RAs it had last year, George Washington will hire around 200 students for hourly, part-time work like mediating peer conflicts, manning front desks in residence halls, helping students move in and out, and communicating through emails and social media. The university hopes to serve as a model for other colleges looking to alleviate the pressures on RAs.

“There’s a lot of stuff students are packing and bringing to college that I don’t think 18- to 19-year-olds are prepared to unpack,” said M.L. (Cissy) Petty, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Covid was a wake-up call.”

Last fall, with only three of the campus’s 26 residence halls housing about 500 students, “we had time to think about what this role had turned into and what we wanted to change.” The university assigned a dozen paid staff members to the six dorms that had opened by spring, an approach that it will expand in the fall.

Petty said the decision to eliminate the all-encompassing role of an RA reflects “a philosophical shift to a more robust professional staffing model.”

Each dormitory will have at least one professional staff person living there to be the first point of contact for students. Because of their training, education, and experience, these staff members will be better suited, the university concluded, to handle parts of the job like safety compliance and behavioral intervention that many RAs found challenging and unfulfilling.

Charlotte McLoud-Whitaker, director of residential education, lives with her husband in a campus residence hall and is looking forward to having more professional staff joining her.
As the senior administrator on call in her building, she helped oversee some of the communication and planning during a tumultuous year upended by Covid-19 and racist attacks on the Capitol. When armed National Guard troops and military-style vehicles were stationed just outside the campus, in the heart of the Washington, D.C., her staff helped communicate with worried parents and students, letting them know where to get groceries and how to stay safe. The shift in residential-hall staffing, she said, “will allow the staff to build closer personal relationships with students” and make sure their needs are met.

Peter Galloway, president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said he’s not aware of any other campuses doing what George Washington is planning, but he’s heard of others that are looking at ways to take some of the responsibilities off resident advisers’ plates.

Galloway, who is also assistant dean of students at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, said more students are coming to campus with mental-health challenges, worries about sexual harassment or assault, and parents who call their RAs to check up on their well-being.
“The magnitude of issues they have to deal with has increased significantly,” Galloway said. “Depending on the institution, it could get to the point where it’s too much for a trained but still undergraduate student to handle.”

He said some campuses are delegating the enforcement part of the job to professional staff members who patrol the halls, checking for students who are violating drinking or other rules. When RAs are also expected to be enforcers, “it makes their position difficult because they’re trying to create community, but the next day, they could be documenting a student for some kind of inappropriate behavior,” Galloway said.

Since George Washington’s program overhaul has been largely kept under wraps until Thursday, it’s unclear how those who were hoping to become RAs, with the accompanying room-and-board perks, will respond. Over the past few years, some of the university’s RAs objected to a university decision to overhaul their responsibilities, requiring them to walk the halls to check for parties and misconduct.

The goal was to make it easier for RAs to check in with their students, but some complained that it strained those relationships. The demands of the job have caused relationships between RAs and the administration to be strained as well.

With cellphones and social media providing nonstop connectivity, the role of an RA has become a 24/7 job, said Stewart Robinette, an assistant student dean at George Washington who focuses on campus living and residential education. “It was getting to the point where it was pervading all aspects of students’ lives.”

As mandatory reporters in Title IX cases, RAs are required to report concerns about sexual abuse, putting them in uncomfortable positions when one of their residents wants to confide in them but isn’t ready to report. Campus safety became a troubling worry after the 2007 shooting deaths of 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech. And with Covid-19, on-duty RAs faced threats to their own health.

“The only good thing to come out of the pandemic is that it has put the world on pause and allowed us to re-evaluate the way we’re doing things,’ said Amstutz, the George Washington student and former RA.

Amstutz is looking forward to applying for a new role — possibly in program planning or social media — for this fall. He likes that he’d be able to clock in and out, focusing on what he’s most excited about. “I was good at events with residents and used to really enjoy Thursday-night dinners, pre-Covid of course, in my room. All of the paperwork and reporting I didn’t find as much fun.”

If he’s hired in a more targeted role, “I’ll be able to go all in on planning programs,” he said, “knowing that someone else will handle Title IX issues” and answer the middle-of-the-night calls.
Manvitha Kapireddy, a senior who serves as president of the university’s Residence Hall Association, said she understands that not everyone will immediately buy in to the changes.
“This is uncharted territory,” she said. “When you think of college, RAs are a staple of that experience. What’s going to happen to the sense of community when you remove them?”

But she believes that having 200 students involved in roles, including peer mediators, that are more carefully tailored to their interests and strengths should help alleviate that worry. It could also, she said, help avoid student burnout. “With an hourly student position, you can clock in and out with a predetermined set of hours. It’s a good way to prevent students from being overly burdened with issues that are above their pay grade.”

Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts, student success, and job training, as well as free speech and other topics in daily news. Follow her on Twitter @KatherineMangan, or email her at katherine.mangan@chronicle.com.

Unusual investments?

by Rhett

I have written before about my own fantasy for consumer securities regulation, which would solve all of these problems but which would probably face some political hurdles in getting enacted. It goes roughly like this:

1. Anyone can invest all they want in a diversified portfolio of approved investments (non-penny-stock public companies, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds with modest fees, insured bank accounts, etc.).

2. Anyone can also invest in any other dumb investment; you just have to go to the local office of the SEC and get a Certificate of Dumb Investment. (Anyone who sells dumb non-approved investments without requiring this certificate from buyers goes to prison.)

3. To get that certificate, you sign a form. The form is one page with a lot of white space. It says in very large letters: “I want to buy a dumb investment. I understand that the person selling it will almost certainly steal all my money, and that I would almost certainly be better off just buying index funds, but I want to do this dumb thing anyway. I agree that I will never, under any circumstances, complain to anyone when this investment inevitably goes wrong. I understand that violating this agreement is a felony.”

4.Then you take the form to an SEC employee, who slaps you hard across the face and says “really???” And if you reply “yes really” then she gives you the certificate.

5. Then you bring the certificate to the seller and you can buy whatever dumb thing he is selling.

6. If an article ever appears in the Wall Street Journal in which you (or your lawyer) are quoted saying that you were just a simple dentist, didn’t understand what you were buying and were swindled by the seller’s flashy sales pitch, then you go to prison.

With our past data it seems certain that many totebagers qualify as accredited investors. Do any of you invest in anything unusual? Do you have any investment tips or concerns?

Earning the Right to Get Swindled

Breakthrough technologies

by MooshiMooshi

MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2021! Fun for all!

The article is not behind a paywall – I could open it without a subscription

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2021

The synopsis
MessengerRNA vaccines (of course)
GPT-3 (new natural language processing model)
TikTok recommendation algorithm
lithium metal batteries
data trusts
green hydrogen
digital contact tracing (another pandemic technology)
hyper accurate positioning (I was not aware of this. Besides its advantages, it also has even scarier implications for data collected from our phones)
remote everything (yep,more pandemic tech)
multi-skilled AI

Are you guys familiar with any of these technologies? What do you think, hype or promise?

WTF, young fathers?

by Not Even a Little Bit Anonymous, Really

Through young relatives, I have become acquainted (from a distance) with some families with very young children. In all families, both parents work and are working remotely.

In all three of these acquaintance families, the young father does exactly jack with regard to childcare and housework. The moms of the infants and toddlers are losing their minds. One mom is going to move to her mother’s house in a different state for at least a month, and probably more, because her mother will help with the baby and the young mom can continue to work. In the second family, the young mom with a toddler and an infant is simply going quietly insane. There is some reason to be pretty concerned about her. The third family is just fighting nonstop. My young relatives seem to be doing much better but probably not perfectly in this regard; the mom is at least not officially working for pay.

So my question is: WTF, men? When I were a lass, decades ago, we were already telling men to step up and help. All these decades later, they still don’t. I don’t know if WTF? is an actual conversation topic, but it’s what I’m left with.


by Rhett

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, rumination is defined as “obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning.”

I have a problem with rumination. I didn’t think it was a big problem until I read that some people don’t ruminate. I would have been less surprised learning that some people don’t poop.

Does anyone else ruminate? Have you found anything that helps?

Your Morning Routine and its Impact on your Day

by Fred

A little guide:

7 Morning Habits That Can Affect Your Entire Day

I think she’s rather strong worded at the beginning “You line everything up for success, but one false move can cause it all to come tumbling down” and some things are definitely ‘duh’ for us (plan your day the night before) but maybe something fun to talk about. At least I might learn something from you all. What are your guilty of? Any “secrets” you want to share that might help others?

In order to set the right tone for the rest of your day, experts say you should adjust the following seven habits.
1. Hitting the Snooze Button. “Hitting snooze has a negative impact on your physical and emotional well-being”. Solution: get out of bed right away

2. Checking Your Phone. “Doing this first thing in the morning stimulates self-criticism and judgments in your mind”. Solution: charge your phone in another room.

3. Planning Your Day. “If you wake up and have no idea what’s on your schedule…your day is already off to a frantic start.” Solution: organize your day the night before.

4. Drinking Water. “what your body really needs is a glass of water.”

5. …and Coffee. “reach for the coffee pot after you’ve had your water.”

6. Skipping Breakfast. (bad for you)

7. Rising Early. A study found that early risers are happier and more successful. Both B. Franklin and the early bird were right.

Me? I’m sometimes guilty of #1, but not very often. Now that it’s getting light earlier, I find I’m pretty consistently waking before the alarm. #6: usually I’ll have a little, like 5 raspberries first thing, then (now that I’m wfh) a better breakfast a couple of hours later with more fruit, some instant oatmeal, more coffee.

How about you?

Tuesday open thread

We have an open thread today.

Topics coming up:

Wednesday — Your Morning Routine and its Impact on your Day
Thursday —  Rumination
Friday — Advice Column Friday
Sunday — Politics open thread
Monday — WTF, young fathers?

Dear Younger Me / Future Self

by minca

Have we done an “advice to my younger self” topic recently? Could also be “things I hope I remember 10 years from now.” I’ve learned a lot from everyone here over the years and am grateful as it has definitely expanded my general POV and improved my parenting style, but I’m sure some of the most needed words of wisdom will go out the window when faced with the reality of a 16-year-old (vs my current sweet kindergartener). What approaches to life do you want to hold on to? What would you advise younger you to have done (consistently or differently)?

And Rocky Mountain Stepmom adds this:

This might be something to combine with Minca’s suggestion at 12:49. The title is “The Algebra of Wealth”, but it’s really Galloway’s reflections on how to live and how to choose your path in life, with special emphasis on how to be rich(er).

Successful people often unwittingly head fake young people with the humblebrags of ‘follow your passion’ and ‘don’t think about money.’ This is (mostly) bullshit. Achieving economic security requires hard work, talent, and a tremendous amount of focus on . . . money. Yes, some people’s genius will be a tsunami that overwhelms a lack of focus and discipline. Assume you are not that person.

The Algebra of Wealth

What are you learning?

by S&M

The phrase “life long learner” can make me roll my eyes, but given the fondness for the calculus track, desire to stay mentally fit as we age, and enjoyment of learning, that phrase likely applies to this group.

I’ve complained for years about not being able to find my recorder at my parents’ house. When I saw a wooden one for €15, I decided Santa needed to place it under our tree (actually a Christmas cactus). It probably isn’t much better than the plastic ones at dollar stores. I want to get good enough at it to start taking lessons for real and eventually join a group playing Medieval/Renaissance music, maybe switching to alto recorder.

How about you? What are you learning this year?

Predicting the Stock Market is Hard

by WCE

Last year at this time I published my prediction for what the stock market might return in 2020: it would likely be up but it was possible that it would be down. I made this prediction based on historical data that the market is up about two-thirds of the time no matter what happened the prior year.

My prediction for what the market will return in 2021 is the same as my 2020 prediction: it will probably be up, but it might be down.

What Will The Stock Market Return In 2021?

Email sign off etiquette

by Lemon Tree

I recently went down the rabbit hole of a Tweet about how to sign off an email. Many people indicated that “Regards”, “Best”, and “Best Wishes” are rude and “Thanks” is passive aggressive. There was a difference between Americans and British, with the tweets from England agreeing that “Sincerely” is most definitely rude and should not be used. One Canadian shared that he uses Sincerely to mean “please read what I wrote VERY carefully and have a think”.

Some suggestions to use were: Be Well; Stay Healthy; Til Then; Cheers;

I admit that 90% of the time I use “Thanks!”. The rest of the time I use “Cheers!”. Early in the pandemic I would use “Stay Healthy” but I rarely do that anymore. What do you use? What do you think is rude or passive aggressive?

Thursday Open Thread


Next week she will resume active administration of The ToteBag. Please fill up the Suggest Topics page for her. Friday Advice Column items are especially welcome.

As a conversation starter, but feel free to digress, Finn asked the following:

Most of us invest in indexes. Mutual funds or ETFs? What are the pros and cons of each? Which do you use?

Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset

by Minca

I have an enduring scarcity mentality, which I have to actively fight against. I’m generally happier when I maintain an abundance mindset (I can be more generous, decisive, and less caught up in optimally managing “stuff” if I have faith that the resources needed will be there in future and I can “spend out”/don’t need to “hoard” them now—because I’m still saving and am confident in my own resourcefulness if things hit the fan). But I still worry that this attitude is environmentally and economic irresponsible. Temporally, I can be a procrastinator—which may be consistent: time is scarce, so delay and (theoretically) compress the unpleasant tasks (assuming you can still enjoy leisure with to-dos hanging over your head). Are you naturally more “abundance” or “scarcity” oriented and how does it impact your decisions?

College Demographics

by MooshiMooshi

Since we all love to talk about college issues, here is an article from Inside Higher Ed on the “dirty little secrets of higher education”. Most of these are not secrets at all to anyone who is following higher education. But they all make good discussion starter points, so have fun with them. Some of my faves
4-year institutions are graduating a third more women than men; community colleges, 50 percent more.

Over a quarter of students at 4-year institutions live with their parents

Less than 20 percent of colleges and universities admit less than 50 percent of applicants – and just 46 admit less than 20 percent.

Do any of these seem surprising to you, or is it all old news?

Moving and Remote Work

Several articles have discussed trends magnified by the pandemic


Statistically speaking, Idaho is one of America’s greatest economic success stories. The state has low unemployment and high income growth. It has expanded education spending while managing to shore up budget reserves. Brad Little, the state’s Republican governor, has attributed this run of prosperity to the mix of low taxes and minimal regulation that conservatives call “the business climate.”

But there is another factor at play: Californians, fleeing high home prices, are moving to Idaho in droves. For the past several years, Idaho has been one of the fastest-growing states, with the largest share of new residents coming from California. This fact can be illustrated with census data, moving vans — or resentment.

Home prices rose 20 percent in 2020, according to Zillow, and in Boise, “Go Back to California” graffiti has been sprayed along the highways. The last election cycle was a referendum on growth and housing, and included a fringe mayoral candidate who campaigned on a promise to keep Californians out. The dichotomy between growth and its discontents has fused the city’s politics and collective consciousness with a question that city leaders around the country were asking even before the pandemic and remote work trends accelerated relocation: Is it possible to import California’s growth without also importing its housing problems?

“I can’t point to a city that has done it right,” said Lauren McLean, Boise’s Democratic mayor.

From Louise


SAN FRANCISCO — The Bay Area struck a hard bargain with its tech workers.

Rent was astronomical. Taxes were high. Your neighbors didn’t like you. If you lived in San Francisco, you might have commuted an hour south to your job at Apple or Google or Facebook. Or if your office was in the city, maybe it was in a neighborhood with too much street crime, open drug use and $5 coffees.

But it was worth it. Living in the epicenter of a boom that was changing the world was what mattered. The city gave its workers a choice of interesting jobs and a chance at the brass ring.

That is, until the pandemic. Remote work offered a chance at residing for a few months in towns where life felt easier. Tech workers and their bosses realized they might not need all the perks and after-work schmooze events. But maybe they needed elbow room and a yard for the new puppy. A place to put the Peloton. A top public school.

They fled. They fled to tropical beach towns. They fled to more affordable places like Georgia. They fled to states without income taxes like Texas and Florida.

That’s where the story of the Bay Area’s latest tech era is ending for a growing crowd of tech workers and their companies. They have suddenly movable jobs and money in the bank — money that will go plenty further somewhere else.

What have you seen in your areas ? People moving in or out ? What trends do you forecast ?

Family Matching

by S&M

Who in your family looks like who? What do you think is nature, and what’s likely nurture? 

People have remarked since my son was little that he looks like me, particularly in the way he moves. Now that he’s full-sized and near final form, we see that his legs are built very much like mine, with strong quads and calves. His stance is often similar to my dad’s, and to my sister’s son. We move in very similar ways and have similar facial expressions. He has his father’s eye sockets and “allergic circles” under his eyes from my side of the family, poor kid!

When I was growing up, strangers occasionally asked me “are you Dr X’s little girl?” Yes, I was, spit & image. My older sister looked like our mom. The youngest didn’t look like anyone, but these days she looks like our mother. My sisters, parents and I all have pale blue eyes with freckles on the irises; the next generation all has brown eyes.

What about you and your family?

Editorial addition:

Since a fairly large number of Totebaggers have immediate family groups related by law, custom, or adoption, as well as by blood, please also reflect on family traits that are shared despite a lack of genetic connection.

When is the Last Time You Danced?

by MooshiMooshi

Note: This article is behind the WaPo paywall, and has a lot of graphics so I don’t know if it would work well in text format. See what you think

The Decline of Social Dancing.

I read this fun article on our various President’s social dancing skills (or lack thereof). Reading this article, it is clear that men were expected to know how to dance, and that it was for a long time a type of social grease. In my own family, men in the older generation still danced. Both of my grandfathers could dance, in particular my maternal grandfather, who could cut quite a figure on the dance floor, as could my grandmother. My father in law was also a great dancer and loved weddings so he could show off. When he and his wife socialized, polkas and waltzes were always a part of parties, combined with cards and booze. By my parent’s era, though, old school couples dancing was uncool, and at their parties everyone did those 60’s go-go dances, and later, disco moves. However, people still danced at parties back then.
I realized when I read this article that outside of weddings, proms and organized dorm dances, I haven’t been to a party than involved dancing since my parent’s time. In particular, I don’t think I have been to a party in a house with dancing. Teens have their own dance moves, as they always have, but once they hit adulthood, how many of them dance at parties? I think that the era of adults needing to be able to dance as a form of social grease is long gone.
Ah, but then I remembered…. TikTok. Perhaps the social grease function of dancing has simply moved, like everything else, to social media.

Anyway, here is the link to the article on Presidential dancing skills. It is quite fun. I had no idea that Betty Ford was such a good dancer, or that LBJ was taught to dance by his mother, who taught square dancing in the Texas hill country to kids.


Two Totebaggers mentioned Sleep as an issue

From North of Boston

I am finding that sleep can be hard to come by these days, with pandemic-related stresses piled on top of regular life stresses. Totebaggers, how are you sleeping? What are your best tips for getting to sleep, staying asleep, and getting back to sleep if you wake up during the night?

From AustinMom

Can we talk sleep and blursdays? Pre-pandemic, I was a fairly typical early to bed (10-10:30 pm) and early to rise (5:30-6:00 am) though not all nights were restful. Weeks had a pattern to them; I knew what day of the week and date it was every day.

College students coming home shifted us all to later bedtimes, some much later than others. With one back on campus, we are slowly shifting a bit earlier, but I am really struggling to get into a routine. In the past month or so, I am having more blursdays where I find myself checking the calendar not just for the date, but the day of the week.

Last week for the first time in a while seemed more focused and productive along with being more oriented to the day of the week. This week is starting out a bit of a blursday. 

Are others facing this challenge? How are you dealing with it?

2021 in Sports

by Mémé

Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, what are you looking forward to this year in Sports, both spectator and participatory? For yourself, your family members, your community.

I still have my Red Sox season tickets. Since I can roll over the paid up balance from one year to the next, and I doubt there will be fan seating before mid summer, I have decided to keep them through 2022, which I expect will be the first full season with crowds. Sunk cost and all that, even though I have a right to a refund of cancelled dates.

Advice Column Friday – The Horror

by Ada

This Ethicist column has been a long-standing inside joke between my husband and I. Whenever we discuss some difficult decision or hear about someone grappling with and ethical dilemma, we say, “But at least it’s not as bad as bedbugs in the chateau!”

Last summer, I visited friends at their chateau in France — good company, excellent food, but a lumpy mattress full of bedbugs. Badly bitten, I said nothing, but I know I’ll be invited back. How can I politely tell them about their infestation? Or more politely, must I remain silent and simply decline the invitation? — JS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla

You’re waiting until now to tell them that their house is infested? What would you do if the chateau were on fire, mention it demurely in a few months? If this situation involved only your own comfort, you could keep silent, but because other people are at risk, you must speak up. Here’s how you tell them: You tell them — on the telephone, using a fake accent and a false name. No, no — openly, honestly, calmly. I can understand your desire not to embarrass your friends or imperil your relationship, but I hope they will value your candor and realize that having bedbugs is not a moral failing. 

This was during a dark period for the NYT Ethicist. They seemed to have forgotten that ethical dilemmas are complicated and instead published a bunch of letters that were really just “awkward problems” or “should I do what’s right or what’s easy?” problems. They have emerged from that now and occasionally quote a philosopher or two and tackle some complicated things. 

But for fun today, or maybe “fun” – let’s talk about the awkward horrors of travel with friends! I’ll start. You may recall we have a very tiny trailer (that came across an ocean to be with us.). It’s basically a queen bed in a 5x6ft box, though my claustrophobic mother and 6ft husband have both slept comfortably in it (after some initial reluctance). I think (somewhat irrationally, it appears), that it makes a very great guest room. We have now had a 6’6” friend stay, who feigned appreciation. A couple who required us to shuffle kids around and couldn’t sleep in the trailer because he needed a place to plug in the CPAP. A parent who worried that it was unsafe for our daughters to be unattended overnight in the backyard (though the girls found it magic). At this point, I should start renting it out on AirBnb so I can let the disappointments and hilarious awkwardness pile up!


Thursday Open Thread

by Mémé

Thanks to all the Totebaggers for articles and topics posted on Suggest Topics page. I am working through what is there, but more are always welcome, especially the fun ones I am less likely to find on my own.

We always have a lot of finance, and food. So I am going to dole those out one per week, or combine two into one. So if your submission is not posted right away, I am not ignoring it.

Tomorrow we will have an Advice Column post.

The biggest technology failures of 2020

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

I think this is not paywalled, but if it is, I’ll post a copy.

From the MIT Technology Review

Details for each item in the list are in the article.

1. Covid tests
2. Unregulated facial recognition
3. Quibi’s quick collapse
4. Mystery microwave weapon
5. #zoomdick
6. Light pollution from satellite megaconstellations
7. The vaccine that make you test positive for HIV
8. Cyberpunk 2077
9. Hydroxychloroquine, the covid drug that never worked 


Introverts vs Extroverts Stuck at Home

by Houston

For introverts: How do you keep from become too introvert-ish? It is so easy during these times to just sink into yourself. How do you care for the extroverts in your life?

For extroverts: How do you care for yourself and your introvert? How do you get enough social interaction during COVID quarantine?

Childhood Foods

by L

What are the foods you remember from your childhood? What were your favorites? Least favorites?

My best food memories from childhood usually involve some kind of sweet and unusual flavors, probably because both were restricted in my household! Strawberry and grape soda (Welch’s) with a bacon cheeseburger were a special treat when we went camping (before the camp house was built) and got lunch at the general store nearby. I also remember oatmeal creme pies after my first (and last) Girl Scout overnight – my troop leaders washed cookie sheets for our food in the stream with detergent, so our English muffin pizzas tasted like Dawn!

My least favorite dish was “milk chicken” – chicken parts with flour over the top, not enough salt and pepper, dotted with infinitesimal bits of margarine, then baked with about 1/2″ of skim milk in the pan until the milk evaporated and the chicken was *well* overcooked! Second were lima beans (plain, boiled). I still don’t like lima beans.


by Houston

Please share your updates on things/situations you’ve mentioned on the Totebag. Did you ask the Hive Mind a question? Did you try a recipe that someone posted? Did you make a purchase based on a recommendation? We want to know how things worked out.

Here’s mine: I asked if anyone used the Costco Car Buying Service. Several people came back with mildly positive reviews. Well, we just purchased a Subaru Crosstrek using the program and I highly recommend it. The experience was very pleasant, and the discount was fairly substantial. Also, the program asks dealer to share their invoice prices, which took a lot of stress out of the purchase for me. Two thumbs up!

Caring for aging Parents

by Allie

I’m curious about what people have done to financially care for parents when there are multiple siblings of various financial abilities and life stages (DINKS, married with young kids, single), most geographically separate from the parents.

How do you best structure financial and practical assistance to your parents when there are financial and geographical issues affecting all options?

My siblings and I (4 of us!) have expected financially assist our mother in the future and/or have her live with one or more than one of us. However, after multiple falls, bone breaks, and other health challenges and a lack of ability to maintain a single family residence, it’s obvious something has to change sooner, even though she is only 62. The question is how? Obviously the focus is on keeping mom safe, healthy and happy, but I’m sure there are ways to set up this process for the least friction between siblings.

AARP and other places have checklists for this process, but they focus on getting the senior into long term care, not general at home care that might include living with adult children or similar. They also seem to focus on documentation, and I am interested in the more practical day to day realities, as well as later implications for financial assistance structures set up in the moment.

Click to access prepare-to-care-guide-english-aarp.pdf

What steps of this process are going to be the biggest surprise or roadblock that is not mentioned in these cheery checklists? If the assistance requires help with a property purchase, like a condo with elevators and an HOA for outdoor maintenance, how best should that be structured?

Forgotten Words to Use in 2021

By Blythe

From Inside Higher Ed:

At Wayne State University, the Word Warriors release annually a list of words “worthy of retrieval from the linguistic cellar.”  Check out their very fitting list for 2021:

Anagapesis — Loss of feelings for someone who was formerly loved.
Blatteroon — A senseless babbler or boaster.
Brontide — A low, muffled sound like distant thunder heard in certain seismic regions, especially along seacoasts and over lakes and thought to be caused by feeble earth tremors.
Dysania — The state of finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
Footle — Engage in fruitless activity; mess about.
Maleolent — Foul-smelling, odorous.
Paralian — Someone who lives by the sea.
Snollygoster — A shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician.
Sophronize — To imbue with moral principles or self-control.
Ultracrepidarian — Expressing opinions on matters outside the scope of one’s knowledge or expertise.

How many of these words can you use in a sentence? Do you have a favorite forgotten word to nominate for the list?

You can find the archives at wordwarriors.wayne.edu. New entries are posted there — as well as on Facebook — weekly.

Politics Open Thread, Jan 24 – 30

All topics welcome. WCE provided this starter.

Great essay from Andrew Sullivan on the potential triumphs and excesses of the Biden administration for the Politics Page.

“If Biden’s team meaningfully accelerates the pace of vaccination, he will be rewarded handily, as he should be. (He’s already lowering expectations, to maximize any political pay-off.) If he’s capable of passing an economic stimulus that can mitigate some of the extreme social and economic inequality this teetering republic labors under, rescue and grow the economy and help innovate and expand non-carbon energy sources, ditto. These are clear, measurable tasks that most non-ideologues can heartily support. So too would be a fuller extension of universal access to healthcare, via an Obamacare public option, if they can squeak that through the evenly divided Senate.

These are sane, sensible, center-left policies with majority support. He should make his explanations of these policies simple and clear. If he wins some of these battles this year, he would move the country lastingly leftward. Stick to them, and the politics takes care of itself. 

But Joe Biden has also shown this week that his other ambitions are much more radical. On immigration, he is way to Obama’s left, proposing a mass amnesty of millions of illegal immigrants, a complete moratorium on deportations, and immediate revocation of the bogus emergency order that allowed Trump to bypass Congress and spend money building his wall. Fine, I guess. But without very significant addition of border controls as a deterrent, this sends a signal to tens of millions in Central to South America to get here as soon as possible. Biden could find, very quickly, that the “unity” he preaches will not survive such an effectively open-borders policy, or another huge crisis at the border. He is doubling down on the very policies that made a Trump presidency possible. In every major democracy, mass immigration has empowered the far right. Instead of easing white panic about changing demographics, Biden just intensified it.”


Bucket List Update

by Rhode

I’m hitting a milestone year soon… and thinking of creating a list of things to do ahead of that birthday.

What are some of your bucket list items? Did you create a “50 things to do before 50” list? What did you put on it?

Following the Recipe

By Ivy

Recently the NY Times printed a column about following recipes exactly as a way to experience new tastes and even cultures. I know that as I’ve gotten more experienced in the kitchen, I am less likely to follow recipes to the letter. But the thought intrigued me, especially as I would like to get more variety into our menus. This is especially true for meals and foods from cultures where I have little to no first-hand experience.

What is your cooking style? And – how did you learn how to cook foods from origins very different from your own? Am I the only one who has stood in H Mart or other “ethnic” stores frantically googling ingredients on my phone? Any cookbook, blog or other recipe sources to recommend?

(I can pull a PDF article of this article if needed!)

Inauguration Day open Thread

by Mémé

I grew up in the District of Columbia and my mother worked on Constitution Avenue near the Capitol. It was a city holiday. Schools were closed. I used to go in with her to experience the pomp and circumstance and grandeur of the transition of power.

Time Sinks

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

We’ve discussed some other blogs, and some advice columns, but another entertaining time sink is the Money Diaries section of Refinery 29. Young women (it’s almost all young women) post a week’s worth of spending and then the commenters tear them apart. You might feel sympathy towards the poster, but getting torn apart is the whole point. N.b: I have Chrome set up with enough ad blockers and whatnot that the comments don’t show up. I have to use a different browser to see them. 


What other time sinks have you found lately?