Christmas Stamp

I was a bit irritated to find today that the USPS produces a stamp in their Holiday Celebrations Series that celebrates two Muslim holidays.
This address from Snopes.com has more information on the stamp.
Yes, I’m prejudiced. I understand that this could be considered an olive branch to Muslims, and I understand that we should willing to allow the celebration of every religion within our borders. But….why the heck are we honoring a religion that wants to wipe the United States off the face of the Earth?
It seems to me that we are hurting ourselves by trying to be politically correct.

Responsibilities

Every now and then I’ll hear something on the news that makes me want to take to my soap box. Tonight, I heard about a young man who finished a four year degree in physics and math at the University of Virginia in just one year. That’s an amazing feat. Even when you take into consideration that he finished half his requirements through Advanced Placement courses in high school, he still completed approximately 60 semester hours in one year. The maximum course load when I was in school (way back in the dark ages), was 21 semester hours a semester, with a lighter load of 10-12 hours in the summer.
This young man is of Asian heritage. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many Asian students are the best students in their schools. I believe that Asian families teach their children that doing the absolute best they can in the class room is their responsibility.
I think we have made an error in letting our young people believe that socializing and extracurricular activities are the reason for attending school. Somewhere along the line in the past few decades, we have slipped away from the idea of serious study being our child’s job. Instead, we spoon feed them in the class room, and try to find ways to “motivate” them to learn, and hope that they will take the bait. It’s not happening. Tests used to measure the success of our teaching across the nation show the students are mastering less material every year, and I’m very concerned about the trend toward “dumbing down” subject matter.
Perhaps a decade ago, in a Chicago school, the principal announced that if the 8th graders could not pass 70% of the material on a final test in the school year, they would not be promoted to high school. There was a HUGE hue and cry. The principal was reviled, but she held her ground. Those students who were not able to pass the test arranged for summer school and retested. Oddly, they managed to learn 70% of what they had been taught over the previous 8 years, in just 8 weeks of summer school, when they buckled down and applied themselves. Most of them were allowed to pass on to high school that fall.
Some parents will cite the number of pages of homework their children bring home, and will complain about the difficulty of the subject matter for kids in third, fourth and fifth grade. I suspect that the schools are hoping to teach them as much as possible before socializing interrupts their education.
There are several ways we could change the situation. We could ditch the idea of co-ed classrooms. Separate schools for boys and for girls might be a partial solution. Or, we could give a final test for each school year. To pass to then next grade, you’d have to master 70% of the material. Or, we could ban participation in any extracurricular activity if your grades dip below a “C” or 80% of the material.
But more than that, we need to work with students at home. We need to have them sit with us at the dinner table and talk about their day at school. We need to establish study times, and study places. We need to create daily habits for them to follow: feed the dog, pick up the toys, finish today’s homework. We need to give our children “jobs,” and establish penalties when the jobs are not done right, or well. Not every child is going to be a genius, but every child should know from the start that they are expected to do the absolute best they can do.
There’s one other thing we can do. We can limit their use of electronic toys. We can establish early on that there will only be (for example) one hour of Nintendo, or TV or DVD or telephone a day, and those things will only be allowed after homework is completed. Two days in a row of poor showing on homework, and those toys will be set aside until grades rise once more.
It’s a shame that these values are considered old-fashioned. It’s too bad that so many parents today have lost control of their children, and don’t understand that THEY are responsible for teaching good habits, morals and ethics to their children. Schools are no longer allowed to teach ethics, morals or religion, so parents need to step up the plate, and resume their responsibilities.

Diversity?

I was listening to the radio this afternoon, and learned that to celebrate Mexican independence, more than twenty buildings in Chicago will be lighted with red, white and green lights.
I think I’m missing something. Did I miss a celebration for all the Germans to settled here? I know that we have nearly as many Polish people as the city of Warsaw, Poland, but I can’t remember ever seeing the City light the buildings for them.
We have a large population of Chinese in Chicago, and they have interesting celebrations in Chinatown, but I’ve never seen the entire City decorated for the Chinese.
So, why are we celebrating Mexican Independence in Chicago? We don’t celebrate for any other ethnic group. Yes, we dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s a bit different. Chicago’s St. Paddy’s celebration is really a Chicago political activity. If we were celebrating Irish Independence, I’d be asking the same question.
We used to talk about “diversity” in a way that indicated we were proud to be a melting pot. Most of us who live here are not Native Americans. Most of us are here because an ancestor thought there was a better life to be had here. They left their native country behind and emigrated to America, and most of them became American citizens.
Now there seems to be a trend toward diversity, with no intent to melt into one nationality. We’re seeing people come to the United States who want the freedom and benefits, and opportunity to change their economic status, but they have no allegiance to the country, and frequently choose to ignore our laws.
In the nineteenth century, and the first half of the twentieth century, people who emigrated to the US most often settled at first in a neighborhood where people spoke their native language. They followed relatives who would help them settle in and find a job. Wisconsin is famous for its German population, and the western side of the state was the home to Cornish miners. New York City is famous for it’s ethnic neighborhoods. Families encouraged their children to get an education, and to learn to speak English. Frequently, it was the children who drew the adults into life in America.
I don’t have the sense that our Mexican immigrants wish to blend themselves into the culture of the United States.
I’ve re-written this section of my entry half a dozen times, trying to find a less incendiary way to phrase my concerns, and it still sounds harsh. The truth is, I feel the same about anyone who emigrates to my country. I’m concerned that the “melting pot” aspect of our country is part of what makes it strong. I’m worried that if we become a group of people who more strongly identify with previous nationalities, that we will ultimately fragment, and loose the strength for which we are known.
If you come to the United States for the good life, then you have some obligations. First, learn to speak English! Secondly, learn our laws. Third, be prepared to vote when you don’t like those laws. Don’t assume that you can come to us illegally and then demand a driver’s license, or health care. Don’t be surprised when we ask you to leave, if you’ve come to us illegally.
Okay….I’m going to step down now. Am I a bigot? I don’t think so. Am I prejudiced? I hope not. I hope that I’m just a concerned American citizen who knows how much we have to offer those who want to be a part of our nation.

Ticked off

Today I had appointments with the dentist and the neurologist. The dental appointment went fine. I was in and out in a flash, and on my way to the second appointment.
I was 20 minutes early for the visit, so I resigned myself to a wait. I could see the doc conversing with one of his assistants, so at least I knew that he was at the facility. While I waited, the appointments secretary called me to the window. She is an overwhelming woman, larger than life, and simply large, and she has this faintly false pleasant demeanor that forces you to smile back and be nice.
I have to tell you, I ended up not being nice.
I was asked to read and sign and date two pages of information. One of the pages listed all the new charges that had been instituted. If you cancel your visit 24 hours or less prior to the visit, or miss a visit, they charge $50. If you call to have a prescription renewed over the phone, they charge $25.00. Completion of any type of form (insurance, letters to school or employer, etc.) cost $100.00, and Insurance company authorization calls by the doctor (for tests, admissions, etc) are $100.00 per call.
Only 58% of his patients paid their bills last year, so now, if you wish to see the doctor, you pay a set fee up front, BEFORE you see the doctor. They no longer accept personal checks, and requested a credit card. I offered them one, and they said they didn’t take it. I offered another, and asked what happened when a patient didn’t have a credit card. I was told that those who wanted to see the doctor managed to “discover that they had a card.”
I was incredibly insulted. Because my doctor doesn’t know how to run a business, he is treating me as though I am out to bilk him out of his fees.
The doctor kept me waiting. He didn’t take my blood pressure or my temperature. He asked me what drugs I was taking, and whether the one he prescribed working for me. We spent less than five minutes on my health care. He then spent 20 minutes of my time trying to explain why he has had to make the changes.
I told him that he was likely to loose patient this way. I have always paid in full at every visit, and my checks never bounce. I told him that the quality of MY health care shouldn’t suffer because others are not paying their bills.
The bottom line is, I spent $125.00 for five minutes of health care and a one year prescription for the drug I need for pain control, and wasted 40 more minutes of my time. The doctor is in so deep, and is so defensive, that he can’t hear what you say to him any longer.
Needless to say, I’ll have to look for someone else to help me with this part of my health care.
To be fair, I know that the health system needs a major overhaul. I know that insurance has had a hand in ruining many a practice, and it seems that the economy is now helping others to crash. We need improved guidelines that give both the doctor and the patient what each needs.
We need a miracle.

Give Us A Break!

I know we’re all unhappy about the rise in gas prices. It seems to me there is a simple way that the state of Illinois could give it’s citizens a break, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t already been enacted.
The American Petroleum Industry gathered information in January on the gas rate per gallon in each state, and what additional taxes are levied on each gallon of gas. Illinois charges 19 cents per gallon, PLUS 6.25% sales tax AND a .3% tax for the underground storage tank fund.
It would be simple to pass a bill that changed the structure from a percentage of the sale to a specific amount per gallon.
At 6.25% per gallon, this is the tax you pay, depending on the cost of gas:
$1.75 gal. = 11 cents
$2.00 gal. = 12.5 cents
$2.50 gal. = 15.6 cents
$3.00 gal. = 18.75 cents
Rather than pointing the finger at the oil industry and crying “Gouging!” perhaps the state needs to consider an amendment that would give us a bit of relief. I’m sure that they figure there will be less driving, therefore there will be less gas sold, and less tax gathered. I know they want to keep their coffers filled.
But, cutting back six or seven (or more) cents per gallon would certainly help those who have to travel to work, and might encourage the rest of us to travel a bit more.
The Federal rate is 18.4 cents per gallon, a straight rate. I think Illinois should go to the straight rate as well…..and definitely one that is twelve cents or less per gallon!

I’m Disgruntled

Actually, I’m really TICKED!! ( And that’s putting it politely!)
I’ve been away from my blog for some time, caring for my mother, who has developed shingles. For those of you who don’t know much about this problem, it’s related to chicken pox. If you had chicken pox as a child, your body sequestered the virus in your spine. As you age, if your immune system weakens, some of that virus may seep out, and the result is patches that look like hives, followed by blisters. While you have the blisters you are contagious. The other symptom that identifies shingles is severe pain, which can run from one to six months.

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Packaging

We had Chicken Dijon on Friday night. It turned out to be a wonderful recipe. Some clever cook decided to brush chicken breasts with Dijon mustard before coating them with breadcrumbs seasoned with Italian seasoning, Parmesan and black pepper. They were pan fried, but I think they could have been baked, and would have been just as juicy.
At any rate….we come to what I’ve been pondering this morning. Why do grocers package three half chicken breasts to a package? Doesn’t that number seem odd to you?
We have four people who might be eating dinner, definitely three, with a possible fourth. So, when I buy chicken breasts, I have to buy two packages and then I have a whole chicken breast left over.
Yes, I COULD freeze that chicken for the next time I have to buy it, but it ticks me off that someone has decided that three is the magic number. I’m sure that there’s a marketing principal at work, and I mind that I have no choice in the matter.
Why couldn’t they package them in pairs as well as in threes? I know, I know…they’re making more money selling them that way, but it really ticks me off. I’m tempted to go to the kind of market where I can buy them individually!
Wake up, grocers of America! Pay attention here! We want more control over the number of chicken breasts per package!!

Banned Books

I find it difficult to believe that in this day and age, books might be banned at the library. Last week, as I was traveling, I heard a discussion on the subject of banned books. Today is the last day of “Banned Book Week,” so evidently there are still people out there who fear the printed word.
I visited the American Library Association site that lists the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books and checked out the list of books which have been banned from schools, school libraries and public libraries from 1990-2000. I found the names of famous authors on this list: Sendak, L’Engle, Auel, Dahl, Morrison, Blume, Twain, Angelou, Rowling, Atwood and more.
It appears there are trends in the subject matter of the challenged books. Anything having to do with sex, in any form, is frequently challenged. “Where’s Waldo?” was challenged because in the Beach Scene, one mean little kid is about to throw a bucket of water on a sunbathing woman who has untied the top of her bikini. Books having anything to do with witchcraft or the occult have been challenged, most notably those by J.K. Rowling.

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Neighbors

I’m totally ticked with my neighbors! We used to live in lovely isolation, until the farmer who sold us our land decamped with his family to Idaho. He sold the rest of his land to a developer and now we have six houses along our western lot line. Unfortunately, neighbor number three has nothing to do all day but look out their window at the very old willow that is falling apart bit by bit on OUR land.

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A Letter of Complaint

I’m really ticked!
We have been shopping at the same Jewel Food store for about fifteen years. The employees there have been incredibly kind to my mother, so we return that kindness by shopping there.
Albertson’s, the owner of the Jewel chain, is making it’s presence known, and there has been a recent shift in the management of this store. There’s a new employee who is absolutely grating on us. This person’s job is to oversee the checkers. She keeps track of who should be on break, who is collecting carts, who is checking, and who is bagging.

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