alt

It has been more than 40 years since the U.S. military draft ended, and I believe many who did not live through it are in danger of not understanding how cruel it was. If not, why have I begun hearing calls for it to be reinstated?  Military personnel are public servants in the fullest sense, and there's a world of difference between a servant and a slave. Military service is an honorable calling; who would want it defaced by the coercion of those who recognize neither the calling nor the honor?

When "mandatory volunteerism" came to our high schools, I was less than impressed. I know the Swiss require military training (or alternative service) of all their young men, but that's not one of the many aspects of Swiss life I'd like to adopt. Besides, if we were to try it in the U.S., I greatly fear the pressure to include women in the draft would be irresistible, and I see too many disastrous (if unintended) consequences to be at all comfortable with that.

Hooray for the all-volunteer military!  May it stand until all wars cease.

But whether their deaths came in circumstances of chosen service or of forced servitude, it is fitting to remember and honor all who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 30, 2016 at 7:50 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 372 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I've gotten accustomed to my phone popping up menus of the restaurant at which I've just taken a seat, and reviews of the attraction I'm visiting. It reminds me if I've missed a DuoLingo workout, and if I'm behind in my Bible reading plan. I'm no longer shocked when I'm in Switzerland and search results start coming back to me in German.

Mostly I find all that helpful.  Sometimes I think my devices know too much about me.

But they don't know everything.  This afternoon I was using my phone when it rang a loud notification alarm, which turned out to be from my Kindle app, which pleaded, "Please come back; we've missed you."

And from what work did that notification distract me?  Reading a book.  A Kindle book.  On my phone's Kindle app.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 321 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

The headline of this article from the Orlando Sentinel sounds positive: Poor students faring better in Orlando than most cities.

Then you begin to wonder, what does that mean, faring better?  Are poor students in Orlando doing better than they once were?  Or has the achievement of poor students in the other cities declined at a faster rate than in Orlando?

The subheadline doesn't help: Gap between low-income and wealthier students is narrowing in Orlando.

This, it turns out, is the main thrust of the article, the reason the school system is patting itself on the back.

A new measure called the "education equality index," compares the performance of low-income and more affluent students on state standardized tests in cities and states across the country. ... Of the 100 cities included in the study, Orlando had the 16th smallest gap.

Oh, joy.

What is missing, entirely, from the article is any misgivings about how, exactly, this gap-narrowing has been achieved. Was it truly by raising the achievement levels of students from impoverished backgrounds, or have the other students slipped?  The latter is much more easily accomplished, and in all my research on the subject—schools in the North and the South, public and private, at every level—most administrators are far less concerned about actual achievement than they are that there should be equality of outcome in all their demesne. 

  • The principal who told a friend, who was concerned about her daughter's lack of progress, "Your daughter is smart, lives with both her parents, and has breakfast every morning. I don't have time to worry about anyone who has such advantages."
  • The administrator who announced, "The purpose of kindergarten is to get everyone to the same level."
  • Those in a large school district who strove to dismantle one school's highly successful Advanced Placement program, because it made the other schools in the district look bad.
  • Story after story of teachers who reached out to students others had given up on, and brought them to the highest levels of achievement, only meet obstruction at every step of the way from those who preferred an easy mediocrity.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Orlando's students are all achieving at increasingly high levels. But my experience leads me to be doubtful. And even more concerned about the reporter's own easy acceptance of this as good news.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 422 times | Comments (0)
Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I just read an interesting article entitled, "I Didn’t Let My Kids Snack for a Week. Here’s What Happened."  It reminded me again of my puzzlement over how we got to the point of believing that children can't go a few hours without food. I've always seen that attitude as a problem. A First World problem, to be sure, but still a strange and annoying problem.

It's true that my childhood was in the dim past, but I'm certain that snacks were few and far between. Yes, there was sometimes a glass of milk and cookies when I came home from school (really!), while my mother crafted dinner and we talked about my day. But generally we reserved eating for mealtime: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating between meals was frowned upon for many reasons: expense, mess to clean up, and above all, it would "spoil your dinner." Kids were expected to be hungry when they came to the table; it made us less likely to complain about the food.

When our own children came along, we pretty much continued the policy, but already society was starting to change. Soon you couldn't have an outside activity—from sports practices to Sunday school classes—without snacks. Parents began to feel abusive if they didn't offer food every time their children whined, "I'm h-u-n-g-r-y!" I don't think the increase in the number of children who are picky eaters is coincidental.

Spoiler Alert: So what happened when the author restricted snacking?  Win-win-win.

I’m definitely going to continue feeding my family in this way. They ate a great variety of foods, and our time at the table together was actually enjoyable.

I didn’t spend it nagging, and they didn’t spend it whining. They arrived to the table hungry, and they ate. My house is cleaner, my kids are happier, and I feel way more in control.

My children have less [sic] meltdowns because they are better nourished. And I have fewer meltdowns because there are fewer demands on me.

I'm not against all snacking. I like snacks myself. Too much. But when it deprives children of the right to be hungry enough to appreciate good food, eaten at the table with family—there's a problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 384 times | Comments (0)
Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Food: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Today is Trinity Sunday.  It's an important feast day in the church.

This means, among other things, that we sang St. Patrick's Breastplate in this morning.  That always makes me happy.

Did I mention it's a feast day?

What better day for eating the incredible Publix Chocolate Trinity ice cream?

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 407 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

As I walked into a ladies' room at Animal Kingdom recently, I overheard a woman speaking to a small boy.

"No, don't go in there," she called, as he headed for the men's room.  "You'll have to come in here because you're with Grandma."

As they entered the ladies' room she admonished, "You'll have to pee like a big boy instead of sitting down, because we're not at home.  You'll have to stand like a big boy."

But there's more to peeing like a big boy than just standing up.  Soon I heard the grandmother's voice at a somewhat higher pitch from inside the stall:

"Point it down.  POINT IT DOWN!" 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 401 times | Comments (0)
Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.

We've known Rebecca since before she was born.  Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.

A few other people have been impressed by the video:  last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.

I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.

Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 413 times | Comments (0)
Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

alt

I still wonder why it's called snobbery to believe that language should have standards. But more so I wonder how I became a grammar snob, given that my own education in the subject was so bad. One year we learned about nouns and verbs, the next about Class 1 and Class 2 words, then something else, as educational fashions changed—and then I think the teachers just gave up. So nearly all I know about grammar came from French class, from reading good books, and from listening to my parents, who spoke well themselves. I still can't explain why something is right, but for the most part I know it when I hear it.

Come to think of it, maybe that's actually why I care about good grammar: if what we read and what we hear can no longer be counted on to help us intuit the rules of a language, what is to become of those whose schools fail them?

And on the point of the comic, school failed us almost at once. I can't imagine that "on accident" was actively taught, but I do know that Heather had not been in a school environment very long before the phrase became cemented in her vocabulary, so I doubt much effort was put into correcting it. Then again, maybe the teachers tried—but peer influence is so terribly strong. Certainly I tried. But as I said, I may (usually) know what's right when it comes to the English language, but I still lack the tools to be persuasive about it.

Anyway, this comic made me smile, because it gibes both ways.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:22 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 466 times | Comments (5)
Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

As if the breathtaking views from Janet's house weren't enough, a very short walk took me through these bucolic scenes of the hay harvest here in the Lucerne area.  Large-scale agriculture and huge machines have their place, but I love this more human scale of farming, satisfying to both engineers and lovers of nature.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 9, 2016 at 7:18 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 490 times | Comments (1)
Category Travels: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I have no degree in economics or finance, and certainly don't have the answers to our complex employment problems. But here are some observations that I think raise important questions.

  • In Switzerland, wages are high and even so-called menial jobs are respected. HOWEVER, there is a high level of automation. The Swiss shake their heads in bemusement that we would pay someone to collect highway tolls or parking lot fees. They can't afford to pay good wages for low-skilled jobs.
  • In Switzerland, college tuition is low and heavily subsidized. HOWEVER, only a small percentage of the population attends college. The educational system also includes an excellent vocational program in cooperation with the business community.
  • It makes no sense to push for imitation of another country's system ("We should make college free and guarantee everyone a living wage!") without considering what makes the good thing possible ("Are we willing to completely restructure our educational system, drastically restrict who can attend college, and eliminate low-skill jobs? If not, how can we, in practice, make it work?").
  • I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that education is valuable in and of itself, irrespective of the economic value it can confer.  But how can we in good conscience encourage young people to take on boatloads of debt to acquire college degrees for which there are few or no jobs that will enable them to pay off that debt? 
  • Unemployment is very high in The Gambia. Since long before the current refugee crisis, young Gambian men have been taking the "back door" into Europe, entering illegally and hoping to establish themselves, undetected, because they see no hope at home. The Gambia doesn't need more direct aid nearly so much as it needs an economy and a culture that support entrepreneurship, ambition, and job-creation.
  • Low-skill, low-wage jobs in the United States, like working at McDonald's, used to be a way for teenagers to get some work experience and earn a little pocket-money. Apparently, they are now increasingly being held by people who are trying to make a living and perhaps even support a family. No wonder they want more money!  But how did we get into this situation—where responsible adults are taking unskilled, part-time, teen-age jobs—and how do we get out of it? Certainly not by flooding the workforce with more unskilled labor, which brings me to...
  • I'm frequently told that we need a large supply of foreign workers to take on jobs "that Americans don't want to do." My immediate reaction is that if Americans don't want to do the jobs, then the wages are too low. Raise the pay, and Americans will find the jobs more attractive. But as long as there continues to be a good supply of people eager to take the low-salaried jobs, the pay will stay at unattractive levels.
  • I'm also told that paying a decent wage to workers, instead of relying on what amounts to a slave-labor force, will drive food prices sky-high, with, say, tomatoes costing $40/pound. First of all, I'm pretty sure that's nonsense:  As mentioned above, the Swiss all enjoy good wages, and yes, the cost of living is high, but nothing like that scale. And second, isn't it better to pay more for our goods than to enjoy a discount based on slave labor? The American South tried the "our economy will fall apart without slaves" argument before the Civil War, and look how well it worked out for them.
  • One reason it is so difficult for the Gambian economy to grow is that there is no culture of saving or investment. If you have money that you don't need immediately, right now, in this moment, you are expected to give it to members of your family. Even distant relatives, from the truly needy to the plainly indolent, have a claim on you. There is little appreciation of the value of accumulating money for the purpose of acquiring the equipment or supplies needed to start a business, or for getting a better price by purchasing in bulk, or of pouring money back into a business to help it grow. If you have money now, you spend it now, or someone else will spend it for you.
  • I worry that this "spend it all now" attitude has infected America, from the poorest welfare recipient to the largest corporations. The poor man who refuses to sacrifice today for the sake of his children and his future cheats himself and his family, but the corporate managers and stockholders who prize short-term gain over long-term stability and growth have the power to cheat millions of families—and maybe destroy a nation.  And those in between cheat on both ends, by depriving their own families and by not investing wisely in economic growth.

As promised: no answers.  But questions worth considering.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 8:27 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 416 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
Go to page: