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

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?

Year End Financial Clean Up

By Ivy

This recently came up on the open thread. What kind of year-end financial clean up do you do or plan to do? One poster said that she spends an hour going through monthly charges and negotiating discounts and cancelling unused subscriptions. Is it rebalancing your portfolio? Doing a health check on your accounts? Making year-end charitable contributions? Resetting your tax plan for the following year?

DH & I sit down each holiday break and go through our budget to make sure we are still aligned. We go through our accounts and auto transactions to agree on any changes (e.g., decreasing the 529 savings and upping the mortgage prepayment). We also think about big spending items for the year – vacations, large house projects, etc and talk through priorities. This year I want to add going through negotiating discounts on any monthly charges past their teaser rates and trying to negotiate or cancel. (WSJ – I’m looking at you.)

Here’s an article with a few thoughts about cutting the monthly spend.

New Year’s Day open thread

Usually New Year’s Day is an occasion to discuss New Year’s resolutions, humorous and/or serious. But if we have learned anything from last year, it is that external events can derail even the best laid and best intentioned plans. So let’s share wishes for the return of experiences we miss, or few new things we want to try out as soon as they are available.

Words of the year

by AustinMom

What do you think of the Words of the Year? Do you have a favorite? Is one missing?
My personal word of the year is flexibility. It is the trait I have had to stretch the most these past 9 months. While I am definitely a planner, I am also flexible in a number of ways. However, the inability to plan for things like when DD#2 will return for her Spring college semester 8 weeks out, does make me anxious.

See the Words of the Year here – The OED and then the NYT list.

** It may be behind a paywall, if so, LMK and I will copy and paste the word lists.

Adult Peer Groups

by Denver Dad

The impact of peer group on kids has been occasionally mentioned here, but what about the impact of adult peer groups? The No Stupid Questions podcast (an off-shoot of Freakanomics) discussed this idea recently, and it seems like a good topic for this group. Here’s a link to the podcast, there’s no transcript unfortunately.

How Much Do Your Friends Affect Your Future? (NSQ Ep. 31)

The other half of the podcast is a discussion of satisfaction levels from various jobs, and that’s also pretty interesting. The survey they talk about is from 2007 so maybe a little dated, but here are the most and least satisfying jobs.

Most satisfying:
Physical Therapists
Education Administrators
Painter, Sculptors, Related
Special Education Teachers
Operating Engineers
Office Supervisors
Security & Financial Services Salespersons

Least satisfying
Laborers, Except Construction
Hand Packers and Packagers
Freight, Stock, & Material Handlers
Apparel Clothing Salespersons
Food Preparers, Misc.
Butchers & Meat Cutters
Furniture/Home Furnishing Salespersons

Click to access

Changing Covid coping

by S&M

We are nearly a year into the pandemic. Jokes and observations about how things are different now fall flat, because it’s been like this for a long time. Or has it? The following are some ways our methods of coping might be changing.

* on a different site, someone wrote “we’ve gone back to doing curbside pickup for things like groceries and Target runs, too. I’d rather spend my risk budget on other things!” A “risk budget” is a useful concept. Is yours large or small, and what do you spend it on?

* several people here commented recently on exercise routines taken up since shut-downs (of whatever sort) began. This is a strong contrast to “the Covid 19” pounds people joked about/were afraid of a few months ago. How are your exercise routines and fitness levels?

* also here, a few people commented that online learning is going well for their kids. My son’s school is meeting in person, with no shuttle service, sports, or clubs. They ventilate rooms frequently, wear masks all day, and take other safety measures. How is school settling out for your kids?

* how about work routines?

* clothing choices are supposedly also bouncing back. After a few months of sweats and yoga pants, it’s supposedly fancier stuff that’s moving off shelves now. Are you putting your big girl (or boy) pants on again, or still lounging about?

What other changes in your adjustments have you made?

Christmas open thread

We have an open thread today and tomorrow.

A Homebound Nation Goes All Out With Lavish Christmas Decorations
Americans have been putting up an abundance of lights, Santas and even flamingos to create some extra holiday cheer this year

Have you decorated more lavishly this year?  You can share your holiday decoration photos in the comments anonymously by using imgur.

Did you get any new ornaments this year?



The good parts of 2020

by TCM

What are you grateful for? What were the highlights of 2020 for you?

I’m grateful for The Totebag and all of you, my anonymous internet friends. I’m grateful that my life is still pretty great despite Covid. I’m grateful that my kids are best friends. I’m grateful that I have a job that allows me to WFH.

The Art of Stepping Back

by Louise

In the past months, there has been a lot of heated debate about politics, the virus and all sorts of issues. Being in the house with family and reading social media posts has resulted in heated back and forth both in person and in some forums. Also, unfortunately the back and forth sometimes spirals out of control into ugliness with ancient history dredged up.

I decided to step back. Not abandon reading but abandon heated arguments and back and forth discussions. I didn’t quit any groups and stalk away angry virtually but I told people that I would stop engaging, if I see things spiraling out of control.
It has helped me be in a more cheerful and positive frame of mind.

What are your strategies for dealing with conflict and disagreement both in person and online ?

What do you want?

by S&M

Holidays are coming; many of us are trying to figure out gifts to give. A way to help each other out might be to share our wishes. Not the big things from your spouse; what would you like to get from your siblings or others with whom you normally exchange gifts? What are the usual parameters for presents in your set: are there areas to be avoided, a usual price range, or other expectations?

Politics open thread, December 6-12

Your place to discuss politics is here.

From WCE:

Thanks to the pandemic, the shift from coal to natural gas to generate electricity, and falling renewable energy prices, U.S. emissions fell at about the same rate during the four years of the Trump administration as the prior eight years of the Obama administration. Biden’s election likely means that the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement that aims to strengthen the global response to climate change. He will overturn some executive actions undertaken by the Trump administration, and reinstate others undertaken in the Obama years. But, like the Obama administration, Biden’s is likely to find its ambitions hamstrung by a range of long-standing political, economic and technological constraints….

In the weeks since the election, prominent philanthropists, activists and scholars have insisted that climate voters have given the Biden administration a “mandate,” that low-income communities of color are the strongest proponents of climate action, and that, contradictorily, more resources need to be invested in communications and organizing within those communities to convince them of the necessity of climate action.

In reality, the preconditions for politically viable and sustainable climate action have always pointed in the opposite direction. The balance of power in American politics is held by rural and industrial states with energy intensive and resource-based economies. Those states tend to be culturally hostile and economically vulnerable to the regulatory and pricing agenda that the environmental community remains doggedly committed to, and Democrats can’t win or sustain governing majorities without them.

As such, there is no path to significant U.S. climate action that is predicated upon routing these areas politically, and thereby moving the nation away from fossil fuels via brute-force regulations, mandates and taxation. This has been the case since climate issues first emerged in the late 1980s, and it remains so today.

A more pragmatic environmental movement would have long ago come to terms with these realities….

Hitching the future of the climate to the political fortunes of one party—particularly one increasingly centered around Americans who work in the knowledge economy, live in coastal cities, and won’t bear the lion’s share of the costs associated with cutting emissions—was never a good idea.

To Fight Climate Change, Get Real
Activists want the Democrats to transform America. That isn’t happening.

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

A conversation starter:

Today’s older people are increasingly offended that they can’t find themselves in the ads. Instead when they turn on their TV or laptop, they see a lot of young people using that new software or having fun at that resort, or driving cool cars. As an older woman or man, you don’t see yourself, and you realize that you have been erased, and that is surely not a way to win over a customer. Enough is enough.

Hmm.  I see older people in ads.  May be due to what I’m watching or reading online.

Navigating the Holidays in a Pandemic

by Louise

I am thinking about this as I have two sets of seniors to consider and kids who are attending school in person.
My thought is to have the kids do remote school for a week and half (is that enough ?), so we make a sort of a bubble to enclose our family. I am not going to bubble for Thanksgiving, just make sure I visit my parents the day of and take them food. I’ll muddle through somehow and hope that I have taken enough precautions to come out of the holidays safely.
What are your plans for the holidays ? Is it going to be better or worse than years past ? DD has already given me her Christmas list !

Thanksgiving in a Pandemic Means Smaller Birds, Fewer Leftovers
Holiday season brings new challenges to grocers and food makers

The Hottest Ticket in Town This Year Is Your Family’s Covid-Constrained Thanksgiving
Cities and states around the country have capped gatherings at 10, creating angst for holiday hosts


Favorite shops

by sunshine

Many of us have mentioned paying our cleaners, tipping extra-generously and supporting our local shops. Which of those shops are hidden gems that rise to the level that even people from other places would adore? Give them a shout-out on here, perhaps even with sharing with us what your favorite things are from the shop. Many of these shops have worked hard to figure out an online platform….maybe we can find some unique treats or gifts and show some totebag love to these businesses.

If there’s a special backstory for your love of the shop or how you discovered it, please tell us about that too.

Follow-up Friday

by Finn

Many of us have consulted with The Totebag for thoughts and advice on various situations, or mentioned new things in their lives. What did you end up doing, and how did that work out? What would you advise fellow Totebaggers who might find themselves in similar situations?

Sky, how’s your DS’ math program? Allie, how’s your motorcycle? Minca, how’s the wine making? Mooshi, what sort of window treatment did you buy for your bedroom window? What headphones did you end up getting? Did you ever figure out how to play CDs through speakers? DD, how’s your volunteer gig as a college coach? Meme, how’s the Cam Newton signing working out?

Black Friday in a Pandemic

by Finn

The pandemic is obviously going to mean a much different Black Friday shopping season in in recent years. What are your shopping plans? Anything in particular you’re shopping for? Any good deals you want to share with your fellow Totebaggers?

These two articles recently were reprinted side by side in my local paper:

The first article suggests a possible “shipaggedon” during the holidays, and the second suggests an alternative.

The death of undergraduate teaching degrees

by MooshiMooshi

Enrollment is way down in undergraduate education programs, and some schools are closing their programs now. Most likely, many of us see this as a good thing. I myself have long advocated that teachers, especially at the high school level, should major in an academic subject and then take some teaching courses and then enter a teaching apprenticeship program.

But the reality is that undergraduate education degrees are being replaced by “alternative certification pathways” that may be far worse than the undergraduate programs they are replacing. I first realized this a few years ago when a friend of mine, who had an undergrad general business degree and who had worked as an office manager for 10 years, was able to get certified as an advanced mathematics teacher at the HS level after only 6 months of online classes! I happen to know she barely made it through business calculus back in college.

‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’
Teacher education programs were facing major problems even before the pandemic, but are they dying of natural causes or being killed off? Either way, what’s lost when they go away for good?

This article details what is going on. Here is a quote on the alternative certification programs
“The first programs focused on getting “content-proficient” adults with backgrounds in science, math and other fields into secondary classrooms without making them earn another degree. But alternative paths to teaching have since proliferated. The national council, in its 2014 study of 85 alternative programs, gave the majority D or F grades. In general, they all ask the teacher candidate to serve simultaneously as the “teacher of record” and an “intern” prior to obtaining certification. Learning happens first and foremost on the job.

Failing grades mean the programs have no required grade point average for applicants, or a minimum GPA of 2.5. There is generally no standardized test or teaching audition required. Required fieldwork prior to teaching amounts to a week or less, and there is no clinical practice. Teachers within these program are observed infrequently.”

I suspect most Totebaggers would prefer that our kids have teachers who have passed a test, have a good GPA, and have spent more than a week learning how to teach. I know that I would not want my friend the former office manager teaching pre-calc to my kids. These alternative certification programs sound more like a way of getting warm bodies in front of classes, preferably at low pay, than a way of attracting good candidates with STEM backgrounds. While I think that a serious reform of teacher education programs is long overdue, I do not think this is the right way.

OK, opinions?

2020 Year-End Giving

by Fred

Many of us have actually saved money/are better off financially than we might have otherwise been because of Covid…no/limited commute costs, eliminated/reduced housekeeping costs, less clothes buying/dry cleaning, little restaurant dining, no real vacation spending. Perhaps offset by wants or needs brought on by the pandemic to make our nests more comfortable. If you find yourself in this situation, and I realize at least a couple of regulars’ spouses have lost their jobs so I know it’s not universal among us, are you stepping up your charitable giving as we approach the Holiday season, especially to social services agencies like food banks, or adding (more of) them to your list? Or have you been doing more all through 2020?


by Louise

What things about food did you discover during the pandemic. It could cover anything from supply chain, growing season to how easy or difficult it was to make certain things. Did you miss any specific restaurant food ? Do you want to share any new food shows or cook books ?

Friday open thread

We have an open thread today.

stretch jeans now make up 23% of the men’s jeans market, compared to 19% a year ago: “There’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Really?  I thought it might be higher.

Men’s Jeans Are Back, So Suck in Those Guts
During lockdown, men cast stiff jeans aside, relying on looser, lazier sweats and gym shorts. This fall, denim—tweaked to be more comfortable—is worth reaching for again.

Coping strategies

by Kim

How are you coping with stress these days?

Usually I don’t find these types of articles to be very helpful, but all these recommendations are ones that actually make a difference for me.

Mindfulness coach: 5 mental shifts that will instantly enhance your life

1. Adopt a ‘can do’ mindset.
2. Embrace the uncomfortable things.
3. Develop a desire to help others.
4. Avoid social disconnectedness.
5. Be present.

Embracing discomfort or uncertainty is the hardest for me.  What helps you cope, especially in dealing with everything that’s going on these days?  What about exercise, music, or an occasional cocktail?

This article combines #s 2 and 5 from the list as a way to handle stress:

What ultimately helps is being present, even if that means sitting with uncertainty, sadness and, yes, a certain amount of worry — approached intentionally…

Basically, accept and even “schedule” your worries, but try to be fully mindful and present at other times.

Small Triumphs

by WCE

After a few years of saving the plastic twist ties from the bread products, because my sons often broke them when attempting to replace twist ties on the bread products, it appears that everyone over 10 in my house can now use a twist tie successfully. What small triumphs have occurred at your house lately?