Monday, February 25, 2008

Digging Holes For Fun And Profit

I've had this on my bulletin board for quite some time, meaning to publish it. It is a schematic diagram drawn by Sonshine, showing his plan to make money.

In the upper left hand corner you can see the hole he is digging in the backyard. He plans to dig it 4 feet deep. In the lower left hand corner is him selling admission to the hole at a nearby table, thereby earning $100 (bottom center). After that he intends to go to the mall (depicted just above as a rectangle containing the word "mall") and buying something nice for himself (lower right hand corner).

There actually is a hole in our backyard. It's not anywhere near four feet deep, more like 18 inches. It's a real eyesore. But I let it stay because digging in the hole in the summertime is the only thing my children will all do at the same time without fighting. Oddly enough, all their friends want to come over and dig in it too, although as far as I know no admission has yet been charged.

My Position On Change

Many candidates are promoting change. I am in favor of change. In fact I've taught my children to make change. One time FH and I dipped into our change jar to pay our rent. Nowadays I just put my change in my piggy bank. But I'm still very much in favor of change.

Disability Interaction Day

Today, as just about every day in our house, is Disability Interaction Day-- where we watch the show unfold wherein everyone's disabilities get in the way of everyone else's disabilities. Fun ensues!

Knuckles has an appointment today to arrange for speech therapy to see if we can get him to say something more than "truck" [any wheeled vehicle] and "B" [all letters, bread, and Sunbutter]. I am trying to clean up the living room for this appointment while Sonshine is throwing up on the carpet. Sonshine is throwing up because he has had a simple cold for the last few days, which is about to develop into a sinus infection (if it hasn't already) because he has refused to take any and all medication which does not come in a swallowable pill. Since swallowable pills don't generally come in children's dosages, this means he's refused all medication and now mucus drips down the back of his throat over his gag spot. I finally sweet-talked him into trying some liquid medicine mixed into juice, something we'd tried unsuccessfully when he was younger. This time it worked though.

While I scrub the carpet, Bagel is interrogating me. He doesn't even wait for me to finish the answer to his first question before he asks the second, and then he gets upset when I don't immediately and simultaneously answer both questions to his satisfaction. He seems to have abandoned repeated shouting of the word "coconut" and he's back to his made-up word "podo". None of us really know what a "podo" is, and Bagel himself has never been able to put forth any comprehensible definition. But he fully expects us to be able to ascertain whether certain things are a "podo" or not.

I saw a doctor on Friday about my problem and he put me on a med, and I haven't slept since for more than a half hour stretch. I've gotten a total of about 6 hours of sleep in the last 72 hours, most of that on Saturday because I was sick with the same cold Sonshine has had. I'm tired as hell but I cannot sleep at all. And I'm still getting winded going up the stairs. After climbing one flight of stairs, my legs ache and turn to jelly like I've just run a marathon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

All Aboard the Potty Train

Bagel, age 3 1/2, started potty training in December. I got a book on potty training kids with developmental disabilities, and it has helped a lot. We've had to lower our expectations and really take it slow.

We knew he would potty train late because of his Asperger's, but what we didn't anticipate is that Knuckles (who will be 2 on Saturday) is also potty training simultaneously-- and doing better than Bagel. Already Knuckles has shown more interest in the potty than Bagel, and despite not having an age-appropriate vocabulary has managed a few times to express when he needs to use the potty, and used it instead of wetting his diaper. In addition, Knuckles will urinate a normal amount in (or sometimes just near) the potty, while Bagel has been holding it in so that he can squirt out a drop at potty time and get his star on the chart.

We originally had the rule that Bagel gets a star for any urine at all and mere praise for just sitting on the potty, because at first he wouldn't even sit on the potty. At first we had made him sit morning and night at diaper changes, and it took about a month to get him to sit voluntarily. Now he sits with almost every diaper change. We would praise him for even a drop, and soon he was squirting out a drop at each sitting. But he started completely soaking through his night diaper without any change in his fluid consumption, indicating that he was holding it in all day and only squeezing out a drop on demand. So we changed the rules; he now has to make "a pond" or "a lake" or "a stream" before he can get a star. He's not too keen on that, but he seems to be going along with it, especially since the rule is the same for Knuckles, who has no problem making a stream and has even done it standing up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

10 Facts on Immigration

My mom wrote this wonderful essay, and I received her permission to publish it on my blog.


Lately, I’ve been reading the papers and feeling very confused listening to the debate on the illegal immigration issue. I heard a lot of rhetoric and anger and not a lot of facts. So I decided to do my own research. What I found in one evening on my computer surprised me. I thought I would share what I learned with others.

Fact Number 1

Any person who is not born in the United States and comes in to the country from outside is called an alien. There are two kinds of aliens immigrant and non-immigrant. It is not hard to get a visa to enter the US as a temporary visitor or non-immigrant. Such holders are considered nonimmigrant aliens. There are business, employment, tourist, and student visas. Almost six million total non-immigrant visas were issued in 2006. What is much harder to get is immigrant status; the coveted permanent resident alien designation and its accompanying “green card” which grants permission to work legally in the US. Incidentally the card is not “green” but used to be many years ago. This green card status can be the first step to becoming a naturalized US citizen.

Fact Number 2

For most of its history the US allowed unrestricted immigration. Beginning in 1924 the Johnson-Reed Act began a quota system that allowed people into the US in the same proportion to the percentage of that nationality in the 1890 US population. It was an obvious attempt to limit immigration of certain ethnic groups. Because of this law many people trying to get away from the Nazis could not immigrate before they were forced to death camps. Even the Von Trapp Family, of Sound of Music fame, had to live with their large family in cheap rooms around Europe after escaping from the Nazis for several years waiting for a chance to immigrate to the US. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 added a preference system to the quota system.

Fact Number 3

The Hart-Cellar Act in 1965 got rid of the immigrant country quota system and changed it entirely into a preference system. If a person was a refugee, had special skills or was related to a US citizen they had a better chance to get in. The current system continues this preference system but also allows for a Visa lottery for persons who do not fit into the preference system. 50,000 people a year are allowed in using the lottery. Five million applications have been received for 2008. In 2006, 44,349 people “got lucky” and won a permanent resident status with the lottery.

About 100,000 immigrants are granted refugee status or asylum each year. Up to 625,000 visas are granted for spouses and families of US citizens or permanent residents but only 225,000 were issued last year. Marriages are carefully examined for evidence of fraud in case people
have entered into a sham marriage to obtain legal immigrant status. Applicants also undergo FBI criminal background checks and are screened for health problems and deviant behaviors. The wait might be anywhere from one year to twelve years or more.

Fact Number 4

Just under one million persons get their coveted permanent residence status or “green card” each year and are considered legal immigrants. About 600,000 of that one million are already in the US and changed their status to permanent residents. The other 40% apply from outside the country. Demographers tell us the US does not face the crisis of aging population and low birthrate that currently is threatening the economic health of European countries because of the influx of young immigrants. In other words, hard working immigrants are not a drain on society because their taxes help fund education and Social Security.

Fact Number 5

Not surprisingly many more people want to immigrate than this system allows. The number of people who immigrate to the US is greater than immigration to all other countries in the world combined. Undocumented immigrants (this is the correct term) were allowed to apply to the US amnesty program through the Simpson-Rodino Bill of 1986. President Ronald Reagan signed this bill. About one million undocumented immigrants came forward and became legal. The respected Pew Hispanic Center states that 57% of illegal aliens are of Mexican origin and 24% are of non-Mexican Latin American origin ( 81% Latinos ). They also report that while the number of legal immigrants arriving has not varied substantially since the 1980s, the number of illegal aliens has increased dramatically and, since the mid 1990s, has surpassed the number of legal immigrants. Clearly, we need a more robust system to handle the large number of those desiring legal immigration.

Fact Number 6

Few people understand the immigration laws in this country and even experts struggle to understand all the details, regulations, etc. The INS is woefully backlogged with applications, change of status requests, etc. Many lawyers are kept busy trying to navigate this tangle for people who want to live and work in this country. The simple system that existed before 1924 no longer exists. A person used to be able to come to the US, clear the Immigration service health and criminal check and then stop by the post office every January to update their information and work toward naturalization and citizenship.

Fact Number 7

Many come to the US on a temporary visa which is valid for six months because it is easier to get a tourist, business or student visa than a permanent resident (immigrant) visa. Overstay on a temporary visa is common as it takes a lot longer than six months to get a change of status. One source said that 6 out of 10 undocumented aliens become such because they overstay a temporary visa. A strange Catch 22 exists for those who might come to the US on a temporary visa and later apply for permanent resident status. When they apply for temporary visas they have to swear that they intend to return to their native country.

Fact Number 8

The US deports nearly 600,000 undocumented aliens every year . In 2006 ICE spent $70 million dollars to fly 221, 600 aliens to the border. This does not count the cost of those shipped by bus or other transportation. It is impossible to find out how many of them were deported for serious crimes. Immigration can be criminal because of a visa overstay or because of false statements about immigration status to obtain employment.

Fact Number 9

The Internal Revenue service taxes anyone, regardless of visa status who resides in the US more than 180 days a year. Yes, immigrants pay taxes and yes, it would be good if the undocumented were allowed to work here and pay taxes along with everyone else. I looked but could not find the answer to this question, “What happens to all the money paid into the Social Security System by employers and employees to fake SS numbers?” Maybe someone else can find out.

Fact Number 10

All the 9-11 conspirators were here legally on visas. They were not undocumented immigrants. It has been estimated that undocumented immigrants constitute only 1% of the US population.

After learning all this I am grateful that my grandfathers immigrated to the US before 1924 so I am not illiterate in a poor country. Instead, my grandfathers’ descendants are tax paying US citizens who are dedicated educators, lawyers, architects, builders, college professors, business owners, VP of a international chemical corporation, and web designers. And I find myself wondering “Is there no way our lawmakers could come up with sensible solutions to the immigration law tangle in this country?” What is more American than giving other families the chance mine enjoys? I have confidence that if we all put our heads together, we could come up with sensible solutions to the immigration tangle in this country!

UPDATE: My mom writes:

I did find the answer to my question about SSA and IRS $. Here it is
According to the IRS the majority of undocumented pay income tax using
Individual Taxpayer ID Numbers.while most employers withhold federal,
state and local taxes from undocumented. SSA estimates that about half
of all undocumented pay SS taxes, with SSA holding $420 billion from
these immigrants who are not in a position to claim them. This amount
keeps accumulating generating approximately $6 to $7 million in FICA and
$1.5 billion in Medicare taxes. Undocumented are NOT eligible for SS or
welfare programs except emergency services and public health and safety
(for obvious reasons)
from Paul Morrell Morrell family charities Coalition for Tolerance and
Respect. printed in the Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, Utah
February 18, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rude Students

It's nice to know that it's not just me who's been noticing an increasing lack of civility in our college students.

While none of my students have ever gotten violent, I've had to deal with some pretty egotistical people. Like the student athlete who insisted that I must be failing him because he was on the football team, even though I had just gotten through talking to him and he agreed that he could not do the problems on the quizzes; the pre-med student who came into my office to argue that his B+ should be an A because he's a pre-med and pre-meds are pre-meds because they get A's; the student who flunked every midterm and still made a stink with the assistant department head because I gave him an F in the class (he was reincarnated several times as both men and women); the student who in front of the whole class told me what I was saying was "bull$#!^" (that's a direct quote) when I tried to explain to him that he'd gotten a poor score on his quiz because he was doing the chain rule incorrectly; the kid who flunked my class because (by his own admission) he was too arrogant to do homework, then enrolled in it a second time and heckled me from the back till he quit doing his homework and flunked out a second time; the student who complained that he couldn't possibly have flunked his midterm because he thought he had done well... do I need to go on? because I can. And I've only been teaching part-time for, oh, about 10 years. I'm sure that I got a nice representative sample, so if I'd been teaching full-time I'd have more examples.

Oh, I know these characters have been around for ages, probably since the founding of the first universities. But over the 10 years I've been teaching, I've noticed a distinct uptick in the proportion of these losers. There are at least one or two in every dozen now, and that's not counting the students who don't bother to come mouth off to the professor but instead slander her behind her back.

Here's what they have in common:
  • They are absolutely convinced that they poop roses. There's nothing you can say to them that will convince them that it is possible that they might be wrong. Of course they're right-- 13 years of public schooling has taught them that! Often it takes a good flunking to teach them that they can be wrong.
  • They don't think anything of being verbally abusive. It is their God-given right to call you whatever the hell they want. They have no manners and treat professors like servants.
  • They have no sense of classroom decorum. If they have a dispute with you, even a tiny one like you forgot a point on their 100 point test, they want to take it up in the middle of the lecture in front of everyone, instead of after class in your office.
  • There's a distinct sense of entitlement to a passing grade. They honestly believe their grade should be in direct proportion to the temperature of their chair.
Folks, this is the work of Your Tax Dollars. These kids spend 12 years being told that whatever they do is good enough. At some point, all people have to discover that life isn't fair and that there are some things you aren't prepared to do. By putting off this discovery until kids are 18, parents and teachers are doing them an extreme disservice, not to mention a disservice to people like me who have to be the ones to deal the blow the parents and especially the teachers were too cowardly to administer.

Math-free Engineering?

I can't remember precisely which Horseman of the Apocalypse came bearing this, but it is the inevitable development of our current school system's utter lack of mathematics in classes called "mathematics": Engineering, now with less actual math, trying to "stress its social relevance"!

I keep saying it and I'll say it again: for the last 20 or so years, the actual math content of the average high school education has been diminishing, and we are now at the point where there is so little actual math going around that the people teaching it don't know that they don't know math. People nowadays actually think math is about being trained to be a graphing calculator monkey. Nevertheless, technology still depends on mathematical principles. Therefore there will be even fewer people in the future who actually understand enough math to develop new technology.

Barring massive changes to our immigration laws to allow in much larger quantities of educated people from all over the world, I predict complete technological implosion in 20-40 years. We are already having to import teachers from other countries at the state university level because we lack "local talent". Watch for imports of high school teachers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Like This Please

I really dislike those school anti-drug and anti-drinking campaigns. They're so... I dunno, like they were written by 8th graders forced to do so as part of their poetry assignment. They aren't funny, they aren't catchy, and they just generally all-around suck.

Not this though:

Funny, catchy, and even though the video's production values are very very low, it manages to pull it off well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Introducing the Vortex 3000

Everything comes in threes, right?

We finally gave up on our puddle-maker fridge and decided to buy a new one. The old one was literally freezing inside, but if I turned it down it had no coldness whatsoever. The freezer would try to defrost and the water would freeze inside the pipe, causing it to back up into the fridge and make a very unattractive waterfall that splashed onto every shelf and into every drawer, where before it froze it would rot vegetables, stick containers to shelves, etc. We finally got fed up with frostbitten celery and ice-covered leftovers, and so we ordered a new side-by-side fridge from Home Depot. It was bigger than our old fridge, and was black instead of white (see? we're not prejudiced!) but it had one thing our old fridge did not, which was a water and ice dispenser.

Now for those who are not familiar with fridge features, a water and ice dispenser requires that the fridge be hooked up to some sort of water source. This requires pipes, and pipes require a plumber, at least if like FH you're not particularly handy with pipes.

So the fridge arrived Saturday, and on Monday came the plumber to put the water line in. When I was taking all the stuff out from under the kitchen sink, I noticed that there was a not-so-thin layer of, well, crud all over everything. Just nondescript, brownish, gooey crud. The plumber took a quick look around while he was under there hooking up the fridge water line, and he said one of our drain pipes was cracked. It seemed like it'd be pretty easy to replace, so I told FH about it and he said he'd handle it.

Well, FH cut the little flange off the end of the pipe when he was shortening it, and after he got done trying to fix all that, he discovered the source of the crud: the garbage disposal had a big old crack in it. It had been sounding a little funny lately, but I'd never had time to investigate it, because the kitchen during daylight hours is always full of kids eating. They eat breakfast, followed by second breakfast, morning snack, elevensies, lunch, after-lunch snack, afternoon snack, pre-dinner snack, dinner, dessert, second dessert (if they can con the other parent into believing they haven't had dessert yet), and pre-bedtime snack. This is the natural consequence of having boys. And the other natural consequence of having curious boys is that if you open up the Forbidden Cupboard far enough to allow them a glimpse of the wondrous chemicals and poisons stored therein, they will all crowd around you so tightly that any work will be impossible.

So now after getting a new fridge and having the water line installed, here comes a new garbage disposal. FH got up early this morning and went back to Home Depot to get the parts he needed, and installed a new Badger 3/4 horsepower garbage disposal, to replace the 1/3 horsepower one that had cracked. I tried it out today, and this thing sucks. Literally. It sucked the potato soup down into it, right from the sink. I don't think I've ever had a garbage disposal that would do that before. I've always had to push the food down into it. It's nice!

So now I dub the new garbage disposal the Vortex 3000. If you want a garbage disposal that literally sucks, get one!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Recipe: Nana's Famous Portuguese Sweet Bread

Hawaiian sweet bread is well-known and even mass-marketed, but what you may not know is how sweet bread became Hawaiian: it was brought there by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores, who of course did it much better. Here is the authentic recipe that my Portuguese grandparents used to make. I am copying it off my index card that is in my grandmother's handwriting, so it also contains my grandmother's tips and hints (I've corrected for spelling and grammar). My grandparents used to make the dough in the afternoon in a big "panala" (very large metal pan) and wake periodically during the night to knock it down, then bake it in the morning. It was a lot of work, but oh, it was sooooooooo good! The crust was so tender and sweet that it was the best part of the bread and we would fight over who got the "cauda" (end of the bread). We especially loved the Easter breads. My grandmother would bake them in the shape of a basket, with a hardboiled egg hidden in the center. That was the best!

This is a very, very large recipe; it makes a whole bunch of loaves. Trust me, you will need them all.

Portuguese Sweet Bread
5 lbs. flour
4 c. sugar + 1 c. Sweet & Low
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 lb. butter
1/2 c. shortening
12 eggs
4 yeast cakes
3 c. milk

Dissolve yeast cakes in 1/2 c. warm water (110 degrees). Place in bowl with 2 Tbsp. sugar to activate yeast cake. Melt butter and shortening; add milk. Heat to 110 degrees. Slowly add sugar and salt to mixture. Slightly beat eggs that have been at room temperature for several hours. Mixture should be at 110 degrees. Eggs cannot be brought to that temperature but I place them in a bowl and set it in hot water to help warm them up but not cook them. What a disaster that was for me!

Add to flour liquid mixture, eggs, yeast cakes, mix and knead till smooth. Cover, let rise till double. Knock down twice. Put in greased and floured pans. Let rise about 1 hr. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately 50-60 minutes depending on size of pan. Brush tops with melted butter. Enjoy.