School Segregation part 2b

26 Mar

I hang out on Twitter a lot, and I saw Courtney Gibbons wrote this great tweet:

Inspired by her, I wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer after reading an article about how Charlotte Mecklenberg schools are segregated.  I don’t think they published it, but I was so wound up that I wrote an entire op-ed piece about matching PTA donations.  Which was also not published!  So I’m putting it here!  And then today I read a longer, better piece about the same thing in the Washington Post.

[I]t released a report about parental contributions to school finances that noted that PTO revenue had reached more than $425 million in 2010 but was concentrated in affluent schools. This resulted in “considerable advantages for a small portion of already advantaged students,” the report said.

So here’s my take on this!

Opt In to Charlotte

Last week, I attended a silent auction fundraiser for our three year old’s preschool.  I bought two paintings and movie tickets and some ice cream gift cards, which cost $300.  But actually it set us back $600, because we pledged that for every dollar we donated to our school, we would donate a dollar to The Learning Collaborative, which provides tuition free preschool with hot food and transportation to low-income, single caregiver toddlers from at-risk neighborhoods.  It’s our small way of investing in Charlotte and fighting inequity.

According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school’s “Breaking the Link” report, which was mentioned in the article reporting Charlotte-Mecklenberg as the most segregated in North Carolina, in 2013 Charlotte ranked 50th in economic mobility out of the 50 most populous cities in the US.  In terms of opportunity and the American dream, we place dead last.  If parents, community members, and government leaders want our rank to rise, we all need to invest in public schools, which are the greatest incubator for social change.

School choice is a personal family decision, and I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t choose private schools.  But they should consider public schools, instead of immediately dismissing them, as I have heard many parents do when the high-income Dilworth and lower-income Sedgefield zones merged.  Joining a higher-income with a lower-income school is one way to more equitably distribute resources.

Of course, merging schools is up to CMS, and it’s difficult–Those zones are right next to each other, while other high income schools are surrounded by other high income zones.  We parents can pair higher income and lower income schools in another way, without government intervention—via the Parent Teacher Associations.

Families in both private and public schools invest further in their children’s educations by donating to their PTAs.  We can opt in to Charlotte by matching our PTA donations—for every dollar we spend on our child’s school, we can donate an equal dollar to a higher need school.  We can do this on an individual basis or civic-minded higher-income PTAs can set an example of community building and investment by pairing up with lower-income schools.

PTAs are direct lines to the needs of a community.  They pay for books, playground or sports equipment, classroom upgrades, or whatever else a particular school needs.  Through the PTA, we can invest in Charlotte by investing in the city’s children.

Since high income families donate to high income schools, our PTA donations exacerbate inequity.  “In some instances, equity means giving those with less more,” the report says.  But PTA money does the exact opposite, giving more to those kids who already have more.  Donating to other PTAs can help give more to those with less.

Matching PTA donations is not a viable long-term strategy to fight structural inequity. One public high school student told me that half of his freshman year teachers had left his school by senior year, and he had had four guidance counselors in as many years—some had fled to South Carolina for better pay.  CMS needs to pay teachers and guidance counselors more.  Donating PTA money won’t solve inequity, but it is a concrete and easy action we can take while waiting for them to find solutions.

There’s one other concrete thing parents can do: advocate for mixed-income and affordable housing.  Charlotte’s lauded goal of building 5000 affordable housing units within three years is great, but those units need to go somewhere in the city.  Many fret about property values if affordable housing units moves into the neighborhood.  We can rise above that and say, if not here, where?  If not now, when?  And if not us, who will help make Charlotte a place where every child has the opportunities they deserve?

 

 

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The cost of fairness in location-based ads

13 Mar

Hi!  Below is the article that I submitted as part of my application for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship.  My friend Chris Riederer helpfully sent me a short paper that he’d written with his adviser, and I very lightly dive into it.  I’ll write a quick summary of the paper first.

They apply an algorithm that other people had proved exists (which guarantees individual fairness) to real-world data to figure out what the costs are of maximizing revenue.  Here the costs are to group fairness.  Individual fairness means that similar users see similar ads.  They use probability distributions to represent the likelihood that users will see certain ads – so if two users are similar, their probability distributions will also be similar.  Group fairness means that the expectation of two random users from your two groups will be very close. In both individual and group fairness, we’ve implicitly been using a choice of metric.  The theoretical algorithm guarantees that this choice of metric is equal to the earth mover’s metric.

Jeremy Kun just blogged a nice explanation of earthmover distance.  Once they had that, and a ton of data that they trawled from Instagram, they compared fairness between groups depending on how precisely they’d recorded locations.  For instance, my current latitude and longitude is (35.212294, -80.817132).  If they looked at users at those coordinates, they’d see the 11 other people in this coffeeshop with me.  But if they truncate the coordinates to (35.21, -80.81), they’d see the millions of people around Charlotte, NC.  If they targeted ads for this coffeeshop just to the 11 of us, we’d definitely click on those ads.  It’s a coincidence that the people here right now are reasonably diverse between gender and race.  But if we were all white women, you’d see a difference between the people you didn’t target (everyone outside the shop, which includes non-white people and non-women) and the people you did target.  You generally don’t want to be discriminatory in your ads, but you also want to be effective–this coffeeshop doesn’t want to spend money advertising to users in South Carolina.

OK here’s the article!  The first news-like article I’ve written since high school.  Also, I interviewed Janice Tsai, a privacy expert at Mozilla, and I really appreciated her generosity of time with me as I stumbled through asking her questions.

Sample News Story

When you post on social media, companies can save your location data with different levels of precision, like by venue, by neighborhood, or by zip code. They personalize ads so that people who go the same places will see the same ads, which increases advertisers’ revenue.  But according to researchers from Columbia University, these location-based ads can lead to racial and gender disparities in how often they appear.

Computer scientists Christopher Riederer and Augustin Chaintreau studied the cost of enforcing fairness in location-based ads.  They applied an algorithm to Instagram data that guarantees that two similar users will see similar ads, and found differences in how often ads were targeted to white and minority users, and to women and men.

“When you do this binning of locations, people who look similar to a human eye will look pretty different,” said Riederer.  “It leaves more room for unfairness.”

Using face recognition software to detect race and a Social Security database to predict gender based on first names, the researchers saved hashtags, location data, and URLS of Instagram photos from over 40,000 users, with 1753 labeled by race and around 20,000 labeled by gender.

They sorted whether users visited locations to different levels of precision using the latitude and longitude of the posts.  Then they used the sorted data to identify users who were more likely to include certain hashtags: #fashion, #travel, and #health.

They fed this data to a model advertiser who targeted these users with an ad that resulted in $2 of revenue, versus a generic ad which raised $1 of revenue.  The most precise locations made more money: for instance, $1021 for #fashion users over a baseline of $902.

“This is where marketers say targeting is beneficial because it increases engagement rates,” privacy expert Janice Tsai said. “The question is, what happens next? For the normal person, does that mean lost opportunity, or more ads?”

More precise locations resulted in disparities between racial and gender groups.  Using one decimal place of precision, whites saw an ad 20% more often than minorities, while at four decimal places, that difference jumped to over 80%.  It’s unclear how significant this is- grouping the users into two random groups also resulted in an almost 80% difference.  The race difference was higher than the random difference, which Riederer said shows evidence that a disparity can arise from applying theoretical algorithms to the real world.  Further research is needed to find the size of that disparity.

“Some papers define fairness and show that you can use an algorithm,” Riederer said. “We want to inspire other people to take these solutions and apply them to real data sets.”

As algorithms have become more sophisticated, more instances of inadvertent discrimination have arisen.  In 2017, Facebook accepted “Jew-haters” as an advertising category and Stanford researchers claimed to create an artificially intelligent “gaydar”.  In 2015, Google showed an ad for an executive job position 1816 times to male profiles and only 311 times to female profiles.

“The question comes back to fairness,” Tsai said.  “Maybe the women would’ve clicked if they had a chance to see this ad more.”

While the study weighs the costs and benefits of enforcing fairness for advertisers, the public must also consider the price of location based advertising.

“People want to use the internet and use these things that don’t cost them any dollars, and in return their information is collected,” Riederer said.  “It seems like a reasonable tradeoff, but what is the cost of that going to be? If there’s something out there that scrapes data about me, and now I can’t get a loan, or health care, or bail, that’s a bigger concern.”

Understanding how bias creeps into algorithms, like through levels of precision in location data, is key to preventing it.  There are no regulations that require ads must be shown equally to different groups of people.  Only the threat of bad publicity encourages companies to fight bias.

“The shame or people being mad at things used to last much longer,” Tsai said.  “Our attention span is so short now that companies realize if they wait two days, something else will sweep the nation.”

Tsai suggests that companies proactively fight bias, which will give them positive publicity and perhaps keep them ahead of regulators.

“The best thing to do is to have some allocation for random ads,” Tsai said. “So you might see an ad for being a blacksmith or a CEO even if it’s not optimal for your job search.”

Nanny taxes 2018, for NC specifically

21 Feb

Good thing I told you I would write this blog post!  I knew that the tax code had changed for 2018, but didn’t think that would change how I pay my nanny.  Obviously it did, so I may as well walk you through how to employ and pay a nanny.  I’m also adding exclamation marks to everything because this is really not very exciting stuff.  I’ve spent hours doing all this so I hope it saves you some time, or you can just pay one of those payroll services that specialize in nannies to do it.  I’m stubborn and heck, I’m a mathematician! and hence doing it myself, but I would not recommend it.

Before nanny starts:

  1. Get a federal employment identification number at this website: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/apply-for-an-employer-identification-number-ein-online.  You need your name, address, social security number.  This takes a few minutes.  They’ll email you and mail you a paper copy of your EIN.  You’re a household employer with domestic workers.
  2. Get a state employment identification number at your state’s website.  For North Carolina that’s here: https://www.ncdor.gov/taxes/business-registration/online-business-registration.
  3. Send your nanny an I-9 form along with their contract, to bring on day one- they need to fill out the first page, then you fill out the second page.  They also need to bring a passport (easier) or a driver’s license and birth certificate/SS card/ other stuff listed on this form: https://www.uscis.gov/system/files_force/files/form/i-9-paper-version.pdf.
  4. Assuming you want to withhold taxes instead of them paying a big sum to government in April, have them fill out a W-4 and give it to you too: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf
  5. If they’re not single or have more than zero allowances, they’ll want to fill out a state withholding form too.  Here’s the one for North Carolina: http://www.northeastern.edu/hrm/pdfs/hr-payroll/NC_4.pdf.  My nanny didn’t fill this out because I’m just doing the standard deduction for her.
  6. Tell your state that you hired a new person.  For NC that site is here: http://www.ncchildsupport.com/employers.jsp.

Paying the nanny!

  1. Each pay period you need to generate a pay stub for your nanny and print it out or email it to her.  I googled “nanny pay stub” and picked a template; it looks like this.paystub
  2. So to calculate all this, the hours and rate part is easy, just keep track of that.  You’ll need to make a big old spreadsheet.  The gross pay with hours*rate + gas (in our case we give a flat amount; if you want to keep track of mileage the IRS mileage rate is 54.5 cents per mile) is what medicare and social security are based off of.  Social security is 6.2% of the gross pay, and medicare is 1.45%.  You withhold this from your nanny, and will match it and pay it to the government once a quarter or year.
  3. For federal income tax, the standard deduction in 2018 is now $12,000.  That means your nanny gets $12,000 of untaxed income: if you pay them once a week, you subtract $230.77 from their gross income to calculate federal income tax.  If like us you do every two weeks, you subtract $461.54 to calculate federal income tax.
    1. Here’s the tax brackets page.  Our nanny lies in the 12% bracket, which means that for her taxes, we do $952.5 plus 12% of anything she makes over $9,525.  As we pay her biweekly, her federal income tax is $36.63 + 12% of (her gross pay – $461.54 – $36.63).
  4. For state income tax, your state might have DIFFERENT standard deductions from the federal rate.  For North Carolina, it’s $8,750.  So again, you subtract from the gross income to figure out how to calculate the state income tax.  North Carolina has a handy chart on page 15 of this book to calculate the state income tax.
    1. State income taxes change per state.  For NC it’s 5.75%, so we have 5.75% of (gross pay – $336.54).
  5. Summary: Pay your nanny hours*rate+gas money (or other taxable money you pay them), subtracting social security and medicare (step 2), federal income tax (3), and state income tax (4), and adding health insurance money (untaxed) and parking money or other untaxed stuff (bicycling is untaxed!).  Our nanny spends about $100 a month on health insurance, so each pay period we tack on $50 of untaxed money.
  6. Bonus: we also do overtime (1.5 times the pay) for any work on holidays (as stipulated in our contract), anything over 40 hours a week, and anything over 10 hours a day.  And we also do paid holidays.  You might consider setting aside a little money each month in case of pregnancy or other short term leave- this isn’t required federally or statewide, but is a good thing to do and if you don’t set aside money you won’t be able to offer paid leave.  Check out http://faircarepledge.com/ for more.

Taxes and paperwork for the nanny!

  1. Make sure you send them a pay stub for each pay period.  Also, we tried a lot of ways for payment (paypal, cash app, checks) and ended up using direct transfer between bank accounts since we have the same bank.  Up to you!
  2. To create a W-2 form for them (by January 31), you can pay money to someone online (you can also do that to do all of this), or use the government website at Business Services Online .  After you register you’ll have to fax the EIN form in, from step 1 of before the nanny started.  Then once they receive the fax, they’ll call you (so answer the phone from strange numbers a few days after you send in the fax) and tell you that you can use the services.  Plug in all the numbers you made, and it’ll generate a W-2 to give to your nanny.  The pro of using the government website: it automatically makes and sends a W-3 for you.

Paying the government!

  1. To pay your taxes at April tax time, you need to fill out a Schedule H and file it with your taxes.  Schedule H has all the info in it for you to calculate stuff.  Your nanny’s federal income tax, social security/medicare, and FUTA is paid with your income tax and 1040 in April (but you can/should do estimated quarterly tax payments so you don’t have to pay all of it at once).
    1. To pay quarterly payments, go to the online payment website by the 15th of January, April, June, and September and file the 1040-ES.  That’s where you’ll pay the FUTA, federal income tax, social security, and medicare each quarter.  As usual you need your EIN.
  2. You’ll pay Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA).  Unless you’re in California for the Virgin Islands, FUTA is 0.6% of wages up to $7000 per year.  (It’s more in CA and VI).  So it’s $42 per employee per year that you send in at this website, still using that federal ID number.  It’s due January 31 for the previous year.
  3. You’ll also pay State Unemployment Taxes (SUTA). For NC it’s 1% for the first $23,500 of gross pay.  So that’s just $235 a year to send to the state via this website.
  4. To pay your State Income Taxes that we withheld earlier, go to the state’s Department of Revenue site and send it in there.

 

That’s it!  Easy-peasy!  Not really.  This calendar on Care.com is pretty helpful for staying organized.

Good luck if you have a nanny; this is complicated but ultimately it’s better for everyone if you pay them as a real employee with taxes instead of under the table.

Poetry for mourners

12 Feb

I went to a party of millenials last weekend, which made me think of the last time I went to a party of people my age- a friend’s wedding.  Weddings make me think of funerals and vice-versa, as the only times in your life when everyone who loves you comes together to think of you.  I guess you can only enjoy one of them.  Anyway, this isn’t the people at the center of attention of these events, but about the attendees.

For the past eight years or so, whenever a close friend of mine loses someone dear to them, I send them some poems.  After my dad died in 2010 I joined a grief poetry group, and I saved a bunch of those poems as they were a comfort to me, and they continue to offer comfort, sometimes, to others.  So I thought I’d share them with you, in hopes that they comfort you or someone you love.

I’ll also stand on my soapbox here and say if someone you know is grieving, please send them a note or a text or a phone call. Use google and your heart and say anything.  Someone peripherally close to my husband lost her spouse a few years ago, and my husband waffled on whether to send an email, since he didn’t know the spouse.  I very passionately implored him to send something, and not expect a response.  It’s not about the person at the center of attention, it’s about the attendees and the mourners- acknowledge grief!  It sucks to feel like everything is going on without you and no one noticed the giant aching hole that appeared in the world when your person left it.  Look, I’m even giving you something to send!

I still feel so grateful and warm about the friends who appeared at my doorstep when my dad died and sat with me, and the ones who called or emailed or texted.  It’s an overstatement to say I never forgave the ones who didn’t acknowledge my grief, or hung out with me and forgot about it- that implies I still hold a grudge, but it’s more like my fondness and friendship has faded to indifference.  Because that’s how it feels when a friend doesn’t acknowledge a major life event- that they are indifferent to you.  Ouch.  Don’t be indifferent, be loving!  Send a poem or three!  The last of these is my favorite poem but doesn’t really belong on this list.

“Greatest hits”-these are great shortly after a death, but also anytime grief hits.

  • The Bustle in a House – Dickinson
    The bustle in a house
    The morning after death
    Is solemnest of industries
    Enacted upon earth, –

    The sweeping up the heart,
    And putting love away
    We shall not want to use again
    Until eternity.

     

  • PUSHING THROUGH

    It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
    in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
    I am such a long way in I see no way through,
    and no space: everything is close to my face,
    and everything close to my face is stone.
    I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
    so this massive darkness makes me small.
    You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
    then your great transforming will happen to me,
    and my great grief cry will happen to you.
    Rainer Maria Rilke

“Anger”- personally, I was into these after a week or so and the shock had died down.  These poems are a bit angrier and darker than the others, and not everyone resonates with them.

  • Funeral Blues
    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
    Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

    He was my North, my South, my East and West.
    My working week and my Sunday rest,
    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
    I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

    The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
    For nothing now can ever come to any good.

    – W. H. Auden

  • Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
    Do not go gentle into that good night
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked not lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night
    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay ,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Dylan Thomas
    1914-53

“Abstract”-this quiet poem talks about how everything must die someday.  I love it.

  • When a thing is placed
    A shadow of autumn
    Appears there.
    Kyoshi Takahama 

“Acceptance”-these two really resonate with people after a few weeks or months.  I still love them and it’s been years.

  • MY FATHER
    I think I am letting him go.
    It is not that my love is diminished
    or that I miss him less.
    It is only that the sun is up
    and there is no milk
    in the refrigerator
    and the bunny got out
    of the cage
    and is eating my red geraniums.
    I think I am letting him go.
    But sometimes at night
    before I go to sleep
    I feel the tears
    fill up my eyes
    and run down my cheeks.
    I do not think I will ever
    let him go.
    But he is gone.
  • Remember me when I am gone away,
    Gone far away into the silent land;
    When you can no more hold me by the hand,
    Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
    Remember me when no more day by day
    You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
    Only remember me; you understand
    It will be late to counsel then or pray.
    Yet if you should forget me for a while
    And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
    For if the darkness and corruption leave
    A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
    Better by far you should forget and smile
    Than that you should remember and be sad.

    – Christina Rossetti

“Love”- these are wonderful warm poems not directly about grief, but great when applied to grief.

  • Love-Czeslaw Milosz
    Love means to learn to look at yourself
    The way one looks at distant things
    For you are only one thing among many.
    And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
    Without knowing it, from various ills
    A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
    Then he wants to use himself and things
    So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
    It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
    Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
  • Love Does That-Meister Eckhart

    All day long a little burro labors,

    sometimes with heavy loads on her back and sometimes
    just with worries

    about things that bother only
    burros.

    And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
    than physical labor.

    Once in a while a kind monk comes
    to her stable and brings

    a pear, but more
    than that,

    he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears

    and for a few seconds the burro is free
    and even seems to laugh,

    because love does that.

    Love frees.

    Czeslaw Milos

On potential failure, and welcome, AAAS MMF judges!

17 Jan

I recently submitted my application for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship– the deadline was two days ago, so if you’re a graduate student keep this in your mind for future years.  So if you’re coming to my blog from that, here are some of my favorite posts:

On math: Apollonian circle packings, Aaron Fenyes’ research (with GIFs!) and part II, open problem in combinatorics

On news: review of Yale situation, what is a “trigger warning?”, algebra and the NYT

On life: being sexist, being racist, the job search

The rest of this post is for normal readers/not AAAS MMF judges (though you’re welcome to read on as well).

A few weeks ago I posted a wrap-up of 2017 on Facebook and received some kind comments on it, and then a friend who visited me told me that she finds me inspiring.  (Not a humblebrag, a straight up brag-I believe in bragging!)

But I’m concerned that these stories we tell of strings of success and people we admire can be de-motivational and contribute to imposter syndrome.  Here’s the inner monologue I’m imagining:

Oh look at Sandra Dee, she got a fancy fellowship and a great job and has a perfect family; she works so hard and is so smart.  There’s no way I could be like her.  I don’t deserve what I have and I am a lazy pants who played Candy Crush for half an hour today and I can’t do my toddler’s puzzle.  Why should I even try.  Boo me.

When we have idols and heroes, we aspire to be like them, but know that we’ll never actually be like them–they’re too good and have never had anything bad happen.  I don’t believe that every time a door closes, a window opens, because then your house would be really cold, but I do think that opportunities present themselves to those who seek them out.  And that the key to success is lots, and lots, and lots of failures (hello, math research!)

That’s why I’m telling you that I’m applying for this extremely competitive fellowship. If I get it, that’s great, and if I don’t (91% chance!), then you will know that I tried, and I failed, and that door closed.  It’s important to try, it’s important to fail. 

I can already see in our toddler the fear of failure, that he second-guesses himself and won’t enter an answer he’s not 100% sure of into his play laptop even though nothing bad happens- it just prompts him to try again.  I don’t know how to convince him that failure is good and okay- I’ll just keep trying things, and showing him that I fail at things and I’m still okay.  I want you to know that I’ll keep trying things, and I’ll keep failing at them, and I’ll still be okay, and you will be too.  Yay failures!

Here’s a run-on sentence of a failure anecdote that I think about sometimes.  I tried to fight for the editor in chief of my high school newspaper, who was forced to resign after writing an article about kids coming out/being gay in high school.  I wrote a petition with a friend and circulated it.  It got confiscated by our journalism adviser (I had left it in my open backpack) and everything went bad- I got mildly kicked off the paper (immediately reinstated, both in a 1-on-1 conversation with the vice principal), we had to sign a piece of paper saying we wouldn’t ever badmouth our paper or editors or adviser (remember we were idealistic journalism students at the time so this hurt), our adviser left (rumor was she went to Colombia for a while) and we got a new one, we had to get parent permission slips signed for every interview, and we generally had much less leeway.  I was perhaps in the running for editor in chief for the next year, but definitely that did not happen after that fiasco.  If this anecdote was mysterious and didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it DEFINITELY didn’t make sense to me as it was happening.  I had many teachers take me aside and try to give me wisdom via metaphors that I didn’t understand then and still don’t.

I’ve had plenty of failures, but I don’t dwell on them- even that high school paper one, which bothers me, doesn’t eat at me.  Probably because I tried, and maybe there were other things I could’ve tried, but I know I did something.  This line of reasoning and blog post are now going nowhere, I am very tired, but I said what I wanted to say – that I’m applying for a fellowship with small chance of winning, but I put a LOT of time and effort into it because I believe in trying.  And failing, and telling the stories of our failures.

Favorite easy recipes

1 Jan

Personal update: we have moved into our own house!  I’ve been busy watching two kids and setting up the house and holidays, and this blog will be updated only occasionally until further notice (if I do end up getting an academic job I’ll go back to biweekly posting, but for now we’ll go with bimonthly-ish).

That said I have two things I want to share with you: how to do payroll for a nanny yourself so you don’t have to pay a payroll company nor spend 5 hours looking up IRS publications etc. like I did (and *still* mess up and owe the nanny $100 more than expected and the government less than expected), and my favorite memorized recipes.  I’ll do the nanny post separately, here are some recipes off the top of my head that are always hits.

  • French Toast Souffle, blog post here. 425 degrees, 1 stick of butter in pan. Whisk 3 eggs, 1.5 c milk, 1/4 c flour, 6 TB sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, pour on bubbling butter. 30 minutes
  • Biscuits and gravy, blog post here. Make biscuits. 1 lb sausage, cook. 2 TB flour, toss. 3 C milk, stir until gravy.  Lots and lots of black pepper.
  • Banana cinnamon rolls, blog post here. 350-375 degrees, 2 TB butter in pan. Crescent roll dough, butter, banana, cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle brown sugar on bubbling butter. Roll up dough, cut into cinnamon rolls, put on brown sugar butter, bake 10-15 minutes.
  • Bacon clam sauce. Cook bacon (2-6 strips, chopped), add garlic (2-6 cloves), add canned tomatoes (1-2 cans), simmer. Eventually, add can of clams with juice, cook briefly.  Serve on spaghetti, stir in parsley if desired.

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    I’m making this while IRONing out the details of this post.  Tonight’s foreCAST: delicious pasta!

  • Shakshouka. Cook onion, garlic, jalapenos. Add canned tomatoes, lots of cumin, simmer. Make room for eggs, poach in tomato sauce.  Serve with pita and hummus.
  • BLT.  After cooking bacon, toast your thick bread IN THE BACON FAT.  Then the best tomatoes, mayo, lots of lettuce, avocado.
  • Grilled cheese. Spread mayo on both sides of both pieces of bread before grilling.  This will change your grilled cheeses.
  • Pork with mushroom sauce, this is from the Campbell’s soup label.  Salt pork chops, brown in oil.  Take out, cook onions, garlic, mushrooms.  Add can of cream of mushroom soup some milk, and pork chops back, simmer until done.  Serve with rice.
  • Salsa chicken. 1 jar of salsa, pour on chicken pieces (frozen is ok).  Cook in crock pot.  Serve on rice or in tacos, or in quesadillas, etc.
  • Root vegetable soup. Onion, celery/carrot if you have them, garlic/ginger if you want in oil.  Add your root vegetable (butternut squash is great, carrots are also great) and enough stock (chicken, veggie, or water) to just cover.  Simmer.  Puree.  Add: curry, ginger, pepper, cardamom, some kind of spice. Serve with yogurt or sour cream.
  • Kale or collard greens or rau muong, blog post here for rau muong. Garlic, olive oil. Kale, 1/4 c water, cover, 5 minutes. Add balsamic or apple cider vinegar, plenty.
  • Ga kho, blog post here.  Onion, garlic, ginger in oil.  Cut up chicken pieces. Fish sauce, coconut water or soda. Braise.
  • Three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, blog post here.  1 c peanut butter, 1 c sugar, 1 egg.  Make into cookies, bake until done.
  • Strawberries, sour cream, brown sugar. Dip.

Thank you for reading my blog and being part of my e-life for the past several years!  And if this is your first time, thanks for stopping by!  This blog has been a lot of fun and a great source of pride for me.  On days when I burned the cookies and forgot what a determinant was, I could still point to this blog and say look, I did something!

Here’s a treat for you, a picture of my baby.

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School segregation, pt 2: mitigating the effects/what we can do

20 Oct

The hardest post of this series will be part 3, delving into the problems that I ran into when thinking about where to buy a house without perpetuating systemic inequality by focusing on “good” schools, and also the problem of “safe” as a coded word to mean “predominantly white” when describing neighborhoods.  But this is part 2, which are small solutions to the as-yet-undefined problems.

Income disparities and property taxes mean unequal funding for schools.  I can live in a less-desired neighborhood (which I won’t do, because I want my short commute times and walkability and access to grocery stores etc. and I am unwilling to sacrifice those things for my ideals), or I can advocate for mixed-income housing on a local level, and be a YIMBY (yes! In my backyard!)  Especially in Charlotte, where the city has agreed to add 5000 affordable housing units within the next few years- but where?  We were looking at Cherry, a historically black neighborhood (literally where the black servants of the rich white people lived)- the builders there are building some number of subsidized houses along with the expensive fancy houses (as in this program).  What’s nice is that it’s the same builder, so you can’t really tell from outside who has the fancy expensive house and who has the subsidized house across the street (and everyone gets new houses!).  So we can be like the neighbors there and advocate for mixed-income housing, or we can be NIMBYs like in this story and say that affordable houses will “hurt our property values.”  If you find yourself saying “I’m worried that X will hurt my property values,” you may be part of the problem.

PTA “dark money” keeps “good” public schools “good” when state budgets are cut.  Rich people who do opt to send their kids to public school often give lots of money to the PTA- there’s some amazing examples in this Atlantic article (Taylor Swift ticket auction vs. bake sale?!) Of course you aren’t going to stop giving money to your kids’ schools so they can have better playground equipment or science equipment or books etc.  So one thing that we can do is match our PTA donations- for every $1 we spend at our local school, we can send $1 to the PTA of a needier school in the city.  It’s a small, band-aid solution, but when you’re not a policy-maker you do the best you can.

Shouldn’t these problems be addressed at the policy level?  What can I do as an individual?  Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose NYT magazine piece really started my spouse and I on this journey, stated it well in an NPR interview:

“It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If you’re a podcast listener, Hannah-Jones also appears on this episode of This American Life talking about the same issue.  (She also just won the Macarthur so she is no lightweight).  So do the things I list in this post!

School rankings on real estate sites mostly show you how rich and white a school is. They use Greatschools.org info, which relies on standardized test scores.  So if you’re like my spouse and filter your real estate search by school scores, you’re just filtering for the white neighborhoods.  From this Washington Post article:

As research has found, school factors explain only about 20 percent of achievement scores — about a third of what student and family background characteristics explain. Consequently, test scores often tell us much more about demography than about schools.

Instead of relying only on a number, try visiting the schools and talking to the people there about your own kids’ needs.  My kids are very young, but based on the evidence we have we’ll want a school with some gifted and talented programs, and light on homework, and a lot of emphasis on social learning/getting along with others (I have a shy guy toddler).  So a high-power, worksheet and results focused school is probably not for us.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.  Corollary: naming a problem can make you feel defensive, like these Seattle white progressive parents .  Try not go be like them.  As I noted in a previous post, people don’t like being called racist- people didn’t even like it when I called myself racist!  Let’s try to quell our knee-jerk reactions to the problem of school segregation and think about what we can do.  To be clear, I am writing from a huge position of privilege.  You know what correlates strongly with kids’ academic achievement?  Their mothers’ education level.  My kids are maxed out on that.  So I can talk about these issues and freely decide what schools to send my kids to, and they’ll be fine pretty much anywhere they go.  Other people don’t have such advantages.  Here’s an anonymous quote that I loved about this topic, to finish off the post:

We have to balance many variables in making our choices. But there are others too–and they concern not only who we want our child to be, but the society we want our child to live in.

If you want to read more about the topic of school segregation, I suggest googling Nikole Hannah-Jones and checking out this great Facebook page (LA-centric), Integrated Schools.

 

 

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