Saturday, January 31, 2009

An odd sugar situation

Guyana produces sugar, but their sugar harvest is a little short right now. Almost all the sugar Guyana produces this year is already set to be exported abroad at favorable prices to Europe and the Carribean. But that won't leave any sugar for Guyana to consume! Their answer is to import about 14 tons of sugar from Guatemala. Even with the transportation costs, this appears to be a good deal for Guyana (or else they wouldn't be doing it, right?) So, doesn't that mean that Guatemala can undersell Guyana in sugar by a significant amount? If I were some of those Carribean buyers, I think I would be looking at Guatemala as a source for sugar next year.

The Internet as a Facilitator of Neighborliness

Several months ago, my husband signed up with Freecycle to find out about things that are being given away for free. We've received free items and given them away via craigslist and Freecycle, and we really appreciate the generosity and generally friendly attitudes of the people we deal with. The buyers and sellers we meet through craigslist have also been quite nice and fair.

Tonight, my husband received about 90 CDs through Freecycle. About 30 are ones we're genuinely pleased to get! We got Yanni, classical, Morrissey, Erasure, Harry Connick, Jr., and some other great stuff! Many thanks to the generous giver!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Who would take money to do such a thing?

A single mother of six was given fertility treatments to have more children? And not just drugs to release extra eggs, but actual insertion of fertilized embryos? At least eight of them?

Apparently, all those years of medical school left someone lacking in common sense and possibly desperate to pay off school debts. I have a hard time imagining what kind of rational person would help a woman have higher-order multiples when she is already raising a fairly large family with only her parents to help.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tutor v. Teacher

I tutor a sweet, easily distracted eight-year-old boy in reading. It drives me crazy having to try to undo the idiotic teaching methods that have been inflicted on him. He guesses all the time, even using "context clues" (his own words!) which he interprets to mean pictures! What's this poor boy going to do when he's past picture book age? He knows the sounds of the letters, but he hasn't been taught (and then drilled) to put the sounds together in the same order so as to get the proper word. Over and over, he says that "saw" is "was"! That is an absurd thing to do for any reader with an understanding of the correlation between letters and sounds. He already has glasses, so this is not a case of an untreated vision condition. He doesn't seem to have problems telling the "b" from the "d", so it's not an inability to distinguish left from right. When forced to it by me, he can sound words out properly and get the correct word. It appears that instead of being taught to sound words out routinely, he is being told to guess based on what letters are in the word (regardless of the order of the letters) and context clues, including pictures on the page.

I'm sorry, I know some of the arguments for balanced literacy and I can see its appeal, but right now I HATE it. What I see is a basically bright boy being mistaught and set on a course for failure for the next ten years (assuming he makes it through high school). He needs weeks, if not months, of reading with no pictures or other context clues until phonetic reading becomes automatic for him.

Any ideas out there on how to break him from these horrible habits that are holding him back? I wish I could just homeschool him for a while to keep him away from what they're teaching him to do at school, but since I'm not his mom....

Update: I just talked to his mom and found out that his teacher last year was most likely the problem. That teacher tried to have the class writing essays and did other things that the mom fought against. I'm glad that I'm not having to feel like I'm fighting his current teacher, but I'm sad that he was stuck with the previous teacher for a whole year. I love it that my mom transferred us out of classes when the need arose. :) Thanks, Mom.

Ecuador: The Newest Stop On the Snake

Illegal immigration from China to the USA has a history as long as U.S. immigration law. Having worked as a consular officer in Ecuador until 2007, I was intrigued to see that a recent change in Ecuadorean visa law has hugely affected the number of Chinese using Ecuador as an entry point to the Americas, with the ultimate goal illegal immigration to the USA.

Chinese organized crime is the first to take advantage of this open door to South America. Since the Ecuadorian government dropped visa requirements, authorities have registered a 500 percent increase in "Chinese tourism" from 2007 to 2008.

According to statistics from Ecuadorian police, some 2,875 Chinese tourists arrived in the country between January and June 2008. During the first three months after the removal of the visa restrictions, some 7,837 Chinese entered the country, shifting the daily entry average from 13 in 2007 to 78 by the end of 2008.

With the already well-established illegal immigration routes from Ecuador into the USA, is it any surprise that Chinese Snakeheads would jump on the chance to bring their clients to Ecuador visa-free? I'm quite sure these new "tourists" aren't buying the stuffed llamas and leather jackets. No, they're working in chifas (Chinese food restaurants) for free until they can be shipped off on some foundering vessel to Panama or Guatemala.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Present Congress

I had a book once called Cvltvre Made Stvpid. It was quite a funny book, and I always liked the part where they discussed the U.S. government system. They shortened the First Amendment to simply read "Congress shall make no law." As I reflect on the volumes and volumes of existing federal laws and regulations that even lawyers would rather not parse, I think I would support an immediate cessation by Congress of any lawmaking. At least for a while, until they could figure out which laws are actually worthwhile and being properly enforced and/or obeyed.

Do we really need a law that is going to make it so thrift stores avoid selling items for children? Do we really need people writing tax laws that they're not able/willing to follow themselves? With a recession and rising unemployment, do we really need to go even further into debt to rehabilitate the National Mall, update technology at the State Department (last I saw, State was doing OK in the technology area - what was really needed, at least abroad, was simply more U.S. citizen employees), and expand Medicaid family planning services (not that I'm against family planning, but people can get what they need from a Walmart shelf!)?

Here is one current bill I can get behind. ;)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Water in the Desert

Having lived in the Phoenix area and having attempted to grow fruits and vegetables in a couple of arid mountain West states, can I say how unsurprised I am to find that they have found ancient canals in Mesa, Arizona? Who could survive that climate without some form of water management?

As to that "Waveyard" project...sounds like a fun idea, but they are going to lose a fortune in evaporation to that Arizona sun!

Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

It can be found here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jello powder's versatility

My four-year-old pulled some leftover Jello powder out of the refrigerator today and scattered some on the kitchen table so she could draw in it with her fingers. Once I saw what she was doing, I got her a cookie sheet (with a rim) and poured out more powder for her. She's been drawing paths, people and shapes, letters, and even a couple of words. She and I have red index fingers now from licking them. So much fun!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why Backhoe Operators Should Pay Attention

The U.S. Embassy in Manila is very well-guarded. However, all the Marines in the Marine House couldn't have stopped an explosion on the Embassy compound if the backhoe had set these old bombs off. Good job, construction workers, for knowing when to quit.

Please vaccinate your children

This article explains why. I know the arguments against vaccines. But a hazy, possible harm (such as autism) is insignificant compared to the proven lethality of many childhood diseases. Wouldn't you rather risk a treatable developmental disorder than losing your baby to a disease that could have been easily prevented?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pizza Rolls

I have a new recipe that's quite popular with all who try it (most importantly, my little ones will eat it).
Using my usual dinner roll recipe (but without as much butter or sugar), I roll out a huge rectangle of dough (after it has risen once and been punched down). Then I put on spaghetti sauce, some mozzarella cheese and other pizza toppings. I roll the rectangle up into a big cylinder and then cut off disks just as though I were making cinnamon rolls. I put the pizza rolls on a greased pan, and then I put some mozzarella cheese on top of each roll. I let the rolls rise again. Then I cook them for about 15 minutes at 375F.
The rolls are like pizza, but they do not require as much cheese as traditional flat pizza, and it is much easier for my little ones to eat them because there is no hard crust. They also make great snacks because they taste good and are easy to carry around.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Applying the Principles of the Declaration of Independence to Education

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend raising his three children in Washington state commented the following:
Silly me, I thought that in our country parents had a right to be involved in the education of their children and thus have a right to know how we are using instructional time--that whole governments draw their power from the consent of the governed and parents have the responsibility to raise their children thing--and alas I found out that, to some, is crazy wacko talk, because parents don't have licenses. Go figure.
I have two responses to this:

1) A study looking at differences in a math teachers' effectiveness as compared to alternatively-certified and non-certified teachers found that there was hardly any difference at all.

2) Fundamental to the founding of our country was the idea
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
The Declaration of Independence follows this statement with words that justify altering or abolishing a destructive form of government:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
A school, especially a public school, is a form of government. My mother, a teacher by training, consistently demonstrated the applicability of the words above to our schooling. Over the course of our school years, she worked hard to ensure that we received the best education possible for our circumstances. She has operated her own private school, sent us to private schools and alternative public schools, and taught us at home; public schools were the default option for her, and she only trusted them with her children as long as they qualified for that trust.

Public school is the default option for most simply because it is paid for by taxes and is what we're used to. As an institution, it won't disappear tomorrow just because it acts in a tyrannical fashion:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
However, educators who refuse to account to parents for how educational time is spent are pushing them past the point of "sufferable" "evils". Public school administrators who wish to keep as students the children of motivated parents should heed the lesson the American colonies gave to England in 1776. If they persist in not recognizing the rights of parents, those parents will eventually turn to charters, vouchers, homeschool, online school, or another school or school district. All the unresponsive administrators will have left to reign over will be the children of parents who don't care how their children do in school and the unfortunate teachers stuck with manning detention centers that were formerly known as schools.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Do we count yet?

According to a number of recent articles, there are between 1.5 and 2 million children being homeschooled in the United States now. I have planned for a while to homeschool our children for their first few grade levels, and recently I have found myself wondering if our oldest child already counts as one of those homeschooled children.

Daughter #1 is four and will turn five just before the cutoff date to start kindergarten next fall. Under Colorado law, we're not required to "school" her until she is seven years old. However, she has been doing workbooks and for over a year, and I've been teaching her to read with a McGuffey's primer I found online and any other resources that happen to catch her or my interest. She has been sounding out simple words for nearly a month (she's enjoying the Bob Books), she grasps the fundamentals of addition and subtraction, and I've begun introducing her to ballet steps and musical notes.

If she were kindergarten age already, I'd clearly be able to call her a homeschooled child. What do I call her right now? A "preschooler with a mother who likes to teach her stuff"? I can't see that our lives will change all that much between now and this coming August. So, is it my daughter's age that makes a difference? Or can I call myself "a homeschooler" yet?

Ignorance Breeding Misery

Have you ever seen miles of shanty towns full of garbage and squatters? or mothers living with their children on sidewalks, carefully packing up their cardboard pieces during the day and bathing their children with buckets of water in front of everyone driving by at the snail's rate dictated by the traffic congestion? or street children aggressively begging in groups, playing in the street naked, or taking up glue-sniffing? or the ocean floating with garbage at a beach resort? Do you know any engineers with three young children whose salary can only afford a tiny cement dwelling where the water goes out for months at a time?

I've seen all this in the Philippines. Tuberculosis and various unpleasant tropical ailments are extremely common there. The poverty is such that many mothers give their children cola to drink instead of milk because it costs less (and the water would just make them ill); as a result, their children's smiles are full of triangular-shaped teeth due to tooth decay. Woman with unwanted pregnancies often turn to questionable black-market pharmaceuticals to try to end the pregnancies themselves.

There is a law being drafted right now in the Philippines that won't force anyone to use family planning, but it will facilitate the spread of correct information on the subject and making family planning materials available. Is it really in anyone's interest for a squatter mother to give birth to ten* closely-spaced, unhealthy children just because she has no access to information and means for safe birth control? Children who will die early or go on to live in squalor and neglect and most likely turn to crime and prostitution when the government handouts of rice no longer suffice?

According to a recent article, there is large--82%--public support in the Philippines for the subject of the family planning law. I hope that means the law will pass.

* Lest the reader think I'm against people having many children, I'm from a family of ten children myself. My mother was able to space us in a healthy way, so she and we are still alive. In fact, we are all now college graduates or will be within a year and contribute much to society.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I really wish Ecuador had agreed to the new FTA with the USA

From the World Bank's Global Economic Prospects 2009: World Trade:
"On average, currencies of developing countries have fallen by 15 percent against the dollar, but high-income-country currencies (save Japan’s), have also depreciated. In general the competitiveness of the United States, Japan, China (whose currency has held steady versus the dollar), and those countries whose currencies have been pegged to the dollar will have been reduced; competitiveness for countries whose currencies have depreciated will be improved in these markets."
This looks bad for Ecuador. They rely on oil (now under $37/barrel), they use the dollar, in 2006 they destroyed their chances of entering into a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S.A. (leading export market - 42% in 2007) anytime in the near future, and on December 31, 2008, the trade benefits they received under the U.S. Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act expired.

Ecuador's Economy Minister may be denying that plans are in the works to un-dollarize Ecuador in favor of a new domestic currency, but I'm not buying his denial. I think the Sacagawea dollars are headed home to the U.S.A. by 2012.

Free book online

Recently I started reading books by Sherwood Smith. I thoroughly enjoyed Crown Duel and Court Duel, so I read the Wren series. Sadly, the fourth book in the Wren series has yet to be published. Yesterday, to my delight, I discovered the author had put the fourth book, Wren Journeymage, online. I just finished reading it. A very nice ending to a great little fantasy series. Thank you, Ms. Smith!

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Company to Avoid

We are a one-income family, living as inexpensively as possible so that it is possible for me to care for our children at a time when we believe they most need their mother's nurturing hand. We cut corners wherever we can: in a country where even people on government assistance have cell phones, we have basic local landline service and the lowest internet speed available from Qwest. My husband uses pay-as-you-go cards for the cell phone he needs for work.
Last fall we received a flyer in the mail from Qwest with an offer to receive a 12-month free upgrade of our internet service. Who would turn down such a thing? So, we called and requested the free upgrade. November's bill came, and Qwest charged us for the upgrade. My husband called and asked them to correct the bill, which they did. December's bill came on a Friday just before we left town for the holidays, and Qwest had charged us $20.00 for the upgrade. We just checked online, and January's bill shows Qwest charging us $20.00 for the upgrade yet again.
I spent three hours on the telephone this morning trying to straighten things out with Qwest. We were passed from office to office, and the upshot of it is, they will not fix our December or January bill and they will charge us $9.99 for changing our service back to the lower original level. Apparently, the flyer we received was from another office, and since we no longer have the flyer (we kept the order confirmation letter, but that wasn't enough), the several different offices I spoke to at Qwest have no knowledge of this promotion and will not honor it.
So, basically, we're out $50.00 for three months of increased internet speed that we didn't need in the first place. As soon as I can decide on a better option, I'm getting away from Qwest. There are systemic problems with its organization that I don't want to deal with again. Maybe we'll be one of those families with no land line after all.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wanderlust inducing website

I just discovered earth album last night. Who knew that the world had so many beautiful places. Especially with the help of HDR.

Phonics Rules, or Why American Kids Are Handicapped in Learning Foreign Languages

In the "reading wars", many point to the English words that aren't strictly phonetic for justification of the use of "balanced literacy" (to include sight words, context clues, word shape identification). However, English has so many irregularly-spelled words due to its unique history. If a person learns some German and becomes familiar with French, Greek, Latin, and the concept of vowel shifting over time, English spelling loses its mystery. As a whole, English as written in letters reflects English as spoken. Teaching children to "read" words by sight recognition is training their plastic minds to deal with English as an ideographic language, which it definitely is not.
We are raising our children bilingually at least, and ideally trilingually. The other languages--Spanish and German--they are learning in our home are much more regular in their spelling than English. One of the most important things I can do for them to facilitate become fluent readers in these other languages is to teach them the alphabet of each language and how it represents the phonemes, i.e., phonics instruction. It appears to me that shortcutting this process by teaching them any sight word recognition (explicitly, at least - I can't help it if they memorize a word's appearance on their own) would handicap them in developing literacy in all of the languages they will be learning.
Do U.S. schools handicap children who might want to learn a phonetic foreign language later by using balanced literacy instead of pure phonetics? Is Chinese our future anyway (thanks, Joss Whedon), so we might as well train young minds to read in an ideographic fashion? Any ESL teacher or other language teachers out there with anecdotes or studies (preferably the latter) to share on this subject?

A new blog

Because you know the Internet doesn't have enough blogs already.
For those wondering about the name, I don't actually have a petticoat nor do I intend to govern the world. The title of the blog is the title of one of my favorite novels by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, author of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels (yes, there are more than one!). The novel was released under the name "Petticoat Rule" in the USA. Its heroine is strong, intelligent, and slow to realize her poor taste in men. It also provides a fun look at the French court under Louis XV.