Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Locking in Gravy

This story is interesting:
Budget problems in school districts and the state's new collective-bargaining law, which limits the power of public employee unions, are driving the dramatic shift in the timing and terms of contracts, both school and union officials say.

Contracts reached by July 1 won't be affected by the new collective-bargaining law, regardless of whether there is a referendum to repeal it [doesn't pass, I think they mean], said Renee Fambro, deputy director of labor relations for the school boards association. Unions want to lock in deals before the law limits what they can negotiate, while districts may want financial stability or may use the threat of the law to gain concessions.
About 80 percent of the new deals freeze employees' base pay for a year. More than half freeze the base pay for at least two years.
I have to question what the real acceptable pay level is for these positions if while the unions still have a bit of leverage they are settling for two year pay freezes.  I also have to question what administrator is signing away their bargaining power given that the unions are so 'desperate to sell'.

Monday, June 20, 2011

So my world travelers snap the following shot in China of a tshirt being sold there:

Kid Sandmich: "Ha ha, they're making fun of Obama"
Sally: "No they're not"
Mrs. Sandmich to Kid Sandmich: "shush"

Although, it appears that the Chinese authorities believe Kid Sandmich.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Exchange Student Notes: Addendum

(We had the pleasure of hosting an International student from China for the past two school years. Sally is her fake American name. Previous editions are here, here, herehere, and here)

I must now admit dear reader that I've come to realize some things, things that generally can only be experienced and though difficult to explain, I'm going to try.

Sally and I are pretty different, but we had something significant in common: we both left home to go to high school. I'll admit that my school was much closer than Sally's (I've made longer trips for a pizza). I became pretty badly homesick, which improved over several months; but it came at a price. Returning to my parents' home after two years of boarding school for my senior year of high school, I never 'came home'. My mom and dad are great and I love my brothers and sisters to death, but I felt like the teeth on my gears no longer fit snugly into household machine; maybe ‘too adult’ to be in a house full of kids. ‘Too adult’ to be told to clean the toilet. ‘Too adult’ to be told to go to bed by a certain time.

I got married fairly young (because I found a great woman, not because I needed an excuse to move). I didn't however become homesick; which, retrospectively, is rather unfortunate.

Parents sometimes warn “just you wait”, and unexpectedly for the past two years I lived a 'mirrored version' of my own experience. Some father in China, apparently desperate for his daughter to get a good education, sent her to live with relative strangers in a country that they were unfamiliar with. Not too long after her arrival I remarked that her dad must be quite worried because I know that I would be, especially since I would never send a daughter of mine away to live with total strangers to attend the local high school (I don't even send my own son there!). However, now that she has lived with us for two full school years, and has graduated with honors and will be attending college next year, the reflection of the experience has given me an understanding of certain simple realities.

I realize that her parents gave to me and my family, two years of their daughters life. Sure they could talk to her, e-mail her, IM her, etc., but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as making brownies together. It’s not the same as helping her with her homework. It’s not the same as eating dinner together, or watching TV together. All of that is to say nothing of the myriad of little things, the ’gears’ if you would, upon which our lives turned. As an example, on her final night in the U.S. I was out on the deck with our dogs when I glanced up at Sally’s window which was open as usual (typically even in the winter). “Who”, I thought, “ would open Sally’s window now?”

Thinking of the things I was missing naturally led to somewhat sorrowful recall of the things that I missed; things I should have done.

I should have spent more time with her helping her with her school work instead of exercising.

I should have gone with her to the mall sometimes instead of leaving it all to Mrs. that I'd have more video game time.

I should have let her help with the cooking more often instead of working late and rushing a meal.

I should have....

Try as I might, I find myself frustrated to tears that I cannot reach back in time and place some of those experiences into the past. What was completely opaque while it was occurring is now crystal clear as I look back over Sally’s time with us. My memory may be bad, but apparently not when it comes to regret: I can see every time when I should have been there as the caring parent, instead of a disconnected patriarch. It’s always a fine line between being a good parent and being an overbearing nag, and unfortunately in hindsight I find that there was plenty of room left to be a good parent, and not be parental tyrant (or worse, the creepy parent buddy).

In my mind it now all comes together like the rivers merging with a lake. There’s the regret of missed opportunities, there’s the emotional drain of the departure of someone we love who was part of our daily lives, but there’s now also questions, questions which are only apparent from the mirrored experience. Is this how my parents felt, giving up part of the childhood of their oldest? How did Sally’s parents feel about giving the final formative years of their child over to a stranger? Do either of them realize the magnitude of the gift that was given and the fact that it could never be repaid to them? Why were these things not more readily apparent to me? Why are the most important lessons only learned after the fact?

It’s not all gloom of course. My melancholy is tempered by the fact that we played a part in her recent success in life. My coworker also lightly chided me for the fact that it’s not as if she’s gone from our lives. As fate would have it, the only college that sent her an acceptance letter is a state school located about fifty minutes away. We will be helping her move in later this year and it is our hope that our home will serve as a refuge from the campus from time to time. However, I know; I KNOW, it’s not the same. She has grown up. Not completely, but more than enough so that her ‘gear’ will no longer fit quite right ever again.

Graffiti that Sally left on my whiteboard with her real, though romanticized, name. We never called her by her fake name.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Blogger Template

I finally sucked it up and switched over to the new template tech that Google uses ('new' being relative since it's been bugging me about it for years).  I have to say that A) the new format is much easier to use and B) Is a hollow, empty shell compared to Wordpress.

Update: They do now allow 'gifs' for image profile pictures, but I had to do a force reload in IE (ctrl+F5) to get my image to show (I guess clearing your cache will work too, or you can just wait for the cached image to time out in a couple years).

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exchange Student Notes: Final Edition

(We had the pleasure of hosting an International student for the past two school years. Sally is her fake American name. Previous editions are here, here, here, and here)

  • Sally has a pretty nifty phone that had a very adept translator on it. During her first week with us she had that phone out all the time punching stuff into it. I don't think I saw her use it as much her whole second year combined as that first week, so improved was her English (and whenever she did use the translator it was on rather horrid words with multiple meanings. "Circumcised" comes to mind, yeah that was fun to explain).
  • Sally is looking at going to a U.S. college next year and she seems to mostly be looking at schools in the Midwest. What's interesting is that international students have to pay the 'rack rate' for college tuition, in other words, they have to cover all the tax subsidies themselves. Now the ROI on higher end four year schools in general is fading away, and that's at the tuition rates citizens (and illegal aliens) pay. Imagine if you would, paying $40,000 a year to go to a state school in Ohio. I've told her on more than occasion that money may well be gone, never to be seen again. My analysis is highly dependent on what field she goes into and how well she does. My guess would be though that, since she is pretty bright, she would make just as much money in her career with a $5,000 associates degree in computer programming from the local community college as she would if she blew upwards of $150,000 to get a degree in the fields that she's looking at.
  • Sally has taken to watching one of two shows that we watch with dinner (bad form I know, perhaps our table will be cleaned off one day). One show is the British Top Gear and the other is Bizarre Foods. On more than one occasion Sally's two dimensional English abilities have let her down when those shows inevitably bring up awkward terms. It's not very comfortable being put in the place of having to explain what 'rooster ball soup' or a 'wedding vegetable basket' is.
  • So last year she went to a public high school and this year she went to a private high school. This year she heard some of her classmates debating about where to get their prom dresses and she inquired to Mrs. Sandmich why they didn't have a used prom dress sale like they did at her school last year. I'm guessing that the Chinese commies have been lax in relating tales of horror of the bourgeoisie versus the proletariat.
  • Speaking of lax education, before staying with us Sally didn't know that a number of her countrymen spoke a language (or dialect) other than her own (her's being Mandarin). Likewise, every time I bring up the geography local to China, she seems not to believe me (like how Kazakhstan is close to China, etc). I'm guessing Chinese schools teach music and math lessons, then lightly touch on physical fitness and leave the rest up to chance. On a semi-related note, I was further aggravated when I asked her what they do in China on someone's birthday: "I dunno". Being the smartasss that I am I then related that, since she was from China, I kind’a depended on her to know stuff about her country. The actual answer was, that apparently birthdays aren't that big of a deal over there.
  • We're in the third year of gardening and in the last two years only one person in the house has come out to help me....
  • For the past two years I'd made it a point to buy snacks and unhealthy treats in an effort to put a pound or two onto that girl. Alas the effort has failed as a weigh-in at the mall put her twenty pounds under the target weight for her height (as for the other members of the Sandmich household...).
  • I never watched Sponge Bob until Sally stayed with us, and I must admit that somehow I didn't watch it with her the first year that she stayed with us. I caught myself watching some episodes this year though and have decided that if Sponge Bob is on, it's highly doubtful that there's anything better on. Likewise, I could not fully appreciate the movie Final Fantasy: Spirit's Within until I watched it with a teenage Asian girl. And no I'm not kidding, the finer moments of the film escaped my attention when last I saw it a decade ago (she was quite amazed when I told her it was a box office bust in the U.S. and instead of being a mainstream hit, was relegated to the anime shelves at Best Buy).
  • There was a dark moment earlier in the year when Sally's parents were supposed to visit the New York over Chinese New Year. Although they were taking a 'canned' tour, our hope was that some sort of meeting could be arranged. What followed next brought to light something that puzzled me from the "exchange student get-go". Whenever Sally was in China and needed to come to the States, there was always a coordination of paperwork between Mrs. Sandmich, Sally, and...the Chinese Embassy. "Odd" I thought, "what would the Chinese embassy care about legal entry into the U.S.". I figured it was some sort of crossed wire and that she was getting her passport or such from the Chinese Embassy while going to the American Embassy to make sure that her papers were in order. Her parents case cleared that confusion up for me, for when the goons that run the country found out that both their daughters, a sister, and niece were all in America, their exit visas were denied to them as they were deemed a flight risk. Sally was distraught on two fronts, the first obviously being that she wouldn't get to see her parents, but the second feeling some level of shame and anger towards the homeland that she is rather proud of. As John Derbyshire has noted, national pride is a natural and respectable feeling, and I often reinforced some of the positive points of her homeland, while playing down some of the negative (she was more than aware of negatives than I, and thus found it not worth playing up). The level of helplessness was copious on all sides, and I have to say that I hope that the jackbooted thuggery that's currently tearing across the U.S. is squelched and that the prison planet doesn't make a full, ugly debut here as well.

And that's enough of that. If I think of anything else, I'll throw it in the comments!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lamest Hits

In the process of ripping music for a long trip of Mrs. Sandmich's, I popped in the greatest hits disk from the band ELO (the band that dreamt it could be Boston) and discovered that clap trap factory thought that they had 20 songs that registered as greatest hits! In the meantime, I caught a greatest hits MP3 album on sale at Amazon from Ladytron and they didn't even have room for all their great tunes, including the one below which is far better than anything on that ELO album:

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Missing Disks

I was cleaning up around my office, sorting through my never used stack of disks. The audio disks in particularly abused, having all been ripped 10 or so years ago, never again to see the inside of an optical drive. I've misplaced many of them apparently, one to the extent that I found two copies of it because I apparently lost it once:

I, of course, do not have a disk for either case (and the front cover for only one).

Actually now that I recall, my original copy got scratched to the point of being inoperable and I had to buy another (a bit of a 'disc crime' there no? Shouldn't my 'license' have entitled me to a backup/replacement? Bite me RIAA!). As another note, for as much as they charged for CDs, couldn't the record companies have put them into a plastic case that didn't self-destruct upon being opened?