Tag Archives: America

The Wisdom of the Waitstaff

Apparently, the popular TV show, “Big Bang Theory” was on to something when it  placed one of its characters, Bernadette Rostenkowski, on the payroll at the Cheesecake Factory.  Bernadette waits tables at the casual dining chain restaurant as she defends her doctoral thesis in microbiology.  Life indeed does imitate art, as Plato said.  A week ago, we had a lovely family dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and now I’m wondering if the chain seeks out only the bright candidates for its waitstaff.

Our server was a lovely young gentleman from England.  He was cheerful and polite.  When he found out we were celebrating SuzyQ’s return home from college, he revealed that he is a graduate student at the nearby university.  He told us that he also teaches some courses there.  I don’t know how long he has been in this country, but he proved beyond a doubt he knows Americans.

  • Many American college students are as dumb as a pile of rocks.  Our server expounded on the sad state of higher education with searing clarity.  Most of his students have no business sitting in a college classroom.  According to him, they spend the whole class texting or playing games or internet surfing on their laptops instead of paying attention to the lecture.
  • The American university, in our server’s experience, is essentially equivalent to British high school.  He explained that the first year classes most students take in college are covered in secondary school in Britain so that by the time a student reaches university, he is prepared for advanced study.  In other words, Americans waste a whole lot of money on so-called “college” while the rest of the world laughs about it.
  • Our server was quick to confirm that the United States used to be recognized as the world leader in education, but now, well…
  • The best insight of the evening, however, concerned the lack of sincerity among Americans.  According to our server, Americans are quick to say how much they like you or even “love” you.  In his estimation, however, Americans rarely mean what they say.  After all, “When someone says he loves you, he should be willing to take a bullet for you.”  Amen, brother!  We quickly echoed that point to SuzyQ: “When a guy says he loves you, he had better be ready to take a bullet for you!”

So there you have it.  Powerful words from a Cheesecake factory waiter.  Americans, get over yourselves!

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A Rant about the 9-11 Anniversary

Is it possible that I am so uncommon?  That I’m the only one in America who thinks that this country has completely lost its mind about how to remember the 9-11 attacks?  In case you haven’t heard, September 11th is officially known as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.  Our Dear Ruler signed this declaration in 2009, calling the day “an opportunity to salute the heroes of 9/11, recapture the spirit of unity and compassion that inspired our Nation following the attacks, and rededicate ourselves to sustained service to our communities.”

Will someone please explain how we could have allowed the memory of the worst attack on our country since 1941 to turn into some kind of love-fest about compassion, unity, and service??  Hey, I’m all for compassion and service.  But those ideals have absolutely nothing to do with the September 11th attacks.  Where is the connection between the acts of hatred perpetrated upon our country resulting in nearly 3000 lives lost and service projects such as the following recommended in teaching materials on 9-11 at Scholastic:

  • Organize a pet adoption drive.
  • Plant trees.
  • Teach others how to recycle.
  • Collect sports donations for a local youth group.
  • Help register voters.

Oh, wait!  Did you catch that last one–about registering voters??  Nothing suspicious at all about the President, who is the head of his political party, calling on school children to drum up voters.

More to the point, though, where is the mention of paying tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks?  What about educating students about the bravery of those who fought back against the attackers on Flight 93?  How about paying tribute to firefighters and police officers everywhere, who routinely sacrifice their lives to protect others?  For older students, what about discussing events that led to these attacks, the warning signs we missed, the painful lesson of complacency?

Instead the lessons will focus on the “spirit of unity,” multiculturalism, and community-building.  Heaven forbid our delicate American youth learn that there are those around the world who hate us and who wish to do us great harm simply because of who we are and what we have achieved.  Perish the thought that school children discover that we have enemies who will act without hesitation to take the lives of non-combatants, innocents.

My children have very hazy, if any, memories of 9-11.  You can be sure, though, that they will not grow up learning that we observe the day as a chance to go out into the community and pick up trash.

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Independence Day Wrap-Up

Boy, the posts are getting few and far-between around here!  The sad truth is, we’re still finishing up school work.  Yes, we’re homeschool slackers.  (That’s sarcasm, people.)  These online courses that require several essays a week instead of the multiple choice, year-round-preparation-for-state-standards-of-learning-tests assignments that dominate public school curricula can really kick your butt if you don’t stay on top of them.  Anyway.  Couple that with our imminent college visit whirlwind tour, and I will be checking in here only sporadically over the next couple of weeks.

image by Shashibellamkonda

Today, I emerged from the “July 4th” holiday weekend wondering how it got to be July already.  A few observations:

The holiday is Independence Day, folks!  Every time I hear someone say, “Happy 4th of July!” it grates on my last nerve.  No one wishes me a “Merry December 25th” or a “Happy January 1st.”  I know “independence” is a big word, but it’s not that hard to pronounce.  If you sound it out, it’s not even that hard to spell, until you get to the end, I guess.  It’s no wonder the average American has no idea what the Declaration of Independence says or for that matter why, how, or when the Revolutionary War was fought.  Apparently, all we are celebrating is a summer day on the calendar.

Animals hate this holiday.  As soon as darkness fell over the past 4 evenings, the Uncommon Greyhound started his pacing, panting, and shaking routine.  Between the thunderstorms that popped up, as they will this time of year, and the neighborhood fireworks displays, he spent the weekend as a large quivering mass of dog.

Which brings me to this: when you read an announcement in the newspaper stating that fireworks are prohibited in your locality, that means they are illegal.  Maybe this is another problem with big words.  Maybe that’s why so many people ignore the ban and launch their own display of fireworks.  I’m not a fireworks Grinch.  I enjoy them.  But I also have a respect for the law.  And I know what kind of idiots are out there looking for fun with no regard for drought conditions, other people’s property, or the fact that some people have to get up early for work the next morning.  And if you are going to be a scofflaw over this, who’s to say you won’t decide to ignore a stop sign or a law against theft or something more serious.  Slippery slope.

Independence Day brings out some interesting fashion choices.  I was watching the PBS broadcast of “A Capitol Fourth,” which I enjoy every year, and I saw everything from the common Old Navy  holiday T-shirts to red, white, and blue wigs.  Some of VIPs had holiday-appropriate neckties and fancy hats.  What I want to know is why Josh Groban couldn’t find anything better to wear than jeans for his performance in the show.  Come on.  This is the West Lawn of the US Capitol.  The women perform in evening gowns and cocktail dresses, but he can’t manage a suit or at least some dress slacks??  Terribly disappointing.

So now, we are hitting the books (the end of them) and hitting the road. The uncommon summer is just getting underway.

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The President’s Reading Level?

Today had the potential to go south even before the sun was fully up.  That’s what happens when you schedule dental work for 8 a.m.  So after I got home and saw this article about the reading level of the State of the Union address, I had a good chuckle, and things started looking up for the day.  It seems that Mr. Harvard Law Review enthralled the nation with a speech that only managed an 8.5 grade level.  That places him nearly 2 full grade levels behind George W. Bush and Reagan.  He’s not even close to Kennedy (grade 12), Eisenhower (11.9), or Roosevelt (11.4).

The evaluation comes from the Flesch-Kincaide readability formula, which looks at number of words sentences contain and number of syllables in each word.  Here’s the formula:

FKRA = (0.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59

Where,

FKRA = Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age

ASL = Average Sentence Length (i.e., the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = Average number of Syllable per Word (i.e., the number of syllables divided by the number of words)

Pretty cool, isn’t it?  Especially if you are word freak like me.  Now, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, the average adult reading level is 8th grade, but about a quarter of American adults read at or below a 5th grade level.  So I guess the president was on a par with most of his audience that night.  Here’s a question, though.  If the president is going to give his speeches at a level of comprehension equal to the average American, why do we need all of the talking heads in the news media to interpret the speeches for us?  Why do these folks devote hours of air time telling us what we actually heard from the president?

I find all of this rather embarrassing.  The leader of the United States, the only Superpower, addresses the Congress and the nation once a year.  This is the Big One: THE speech.  The best he can come up with is, “We do big things”?  Whatever happened to something like this:

Let us so conduct ourselves that two centuries from now, another Congress and another President, meeting in this Chamber as we are meeting, will speak of us with pride, saying that we met the test and preserved for them in their day the sacred flame of liberty — this last, best hope of man on Earth. (Pres. Ronald Reagon, January 26, 1982, State of the Union Address)

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Hard Times

My reading material of choice is historical fiction.  I enjoy reading across most periods, but lately my favorite has been World War II era.  The stories of the “Greatest Generation” have so much to teach us, and certainly memoirs and biography would be the most accurate way to learn those stories.  But sometimes it’s just too hard to hear the accounts of what befell real people during those perilous years.

About a year ago, I picked up a novel called The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy at my local library.  That book led me to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Then came The Bronze Horseman and its two sequels, followed by City of Thieves, and The Madonnas of Leningrad.  And the list goes on, with the most recent entry called Purge  by Sofi Oksanen.  A common theme in all of these novels is survival.  World War II brought the ultimate in hard times, particularly for those living in Europe.  (I’m specifically not writing about Holocaust survivors and victims.  It’s offensive to call what they experienced  merely “hard times.”)

Imagine living each day with the threat of invasion of your country and then the fall of your country to the enemy.  Random nightly bombings in your city.  Neighbors disappearing or being taken away right in front of you.  Sharing one slice of bread with your family as your only meal of the day–and the bread is made from sawdust.  There’s no gasoline, electricity, or heating oil.  Can any of us in America imagine such things?  Certainly,  America was hard hit by the Great Depression, but World War II actually rescued us from it.  And I would argue that our hard times during the Great Depression don’t hold a candle to those of people who lived in the war zones of World War II.

I realize we are in the middle of a long and deep economic crisis right now.  Unemployment touches so many families, including my own.  But I believe Americans in general have yet to really experience hardship.  We are not fighting every day for our survival.  We still have our air conditioning, cable TV, mobile phones, and gas in our multiple cars.  Our kids can still go to school instead of scrounging for firewood.  Even our pets are well-fed instead of in danger of ending up as someone’s meal.  And we can spend the next few months deciding on candidates we like in our next free elections.

I read so much in the news about what we don’t have: free health care, more unemployment benefits, pension bailout, etc.  I think it’s important to take stock of what we have from time to time.  We still have (for now) the freedom to save or spend as we wish, take a job that pays the bills or sit around collecting unemployment, volunteer to defend our country in the military or let someone else bear that burden.  Those who lived to tell about the siege of Leningrad, the Blitz in London, or the Soviet-German-Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe could rightly ask, “What does America have to complain about?”

In other words: check your attitude and count your blessings.

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