Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday, October 14th

Today was, I think, a rather typical day. I'm typing this from the Language Center- my work responsibilities here are to prepare lesson plans for the upcoming classes, and they're all prepared. Consequently, work is s-l-o-w right now. It'll speed up tomorrow, when I have more classes to teach.
Our working hours are structured so that our 37.5 working hours are spread over six days, with the idea that even though the work-week will be longer, the individual days will be shorter. I'm not sure that it's playing out precisely in that way, but that's the theory.
Shannon had a class this morning at a Guang Chang Primary school, so she had to be out the door at 8:35. We got up a bit earlier this morning, so we were able to have coffee/tea together and have devotions before she left.
My plan for the morning was to go grocery shopping and fix lunch- this is not unusual, as Shannon has more mornings working than I do. We haven't quite figured out what groceries to buy in advance yet, so we frequently end up going grocery shopping for one meal at a time. Fortunately, the grocery store is only about a two-minute walk from the entrance of our building.
Jessica came up to fix breakfast, so before I went out she and Jeremiah and I were able to have breakfast together. It's really nice that we're all very close to each other- even after we're all in our own apartments, it's easy to see each other.
The grocery store is one block immediately to the east of us- it has everything we need on an ongoing basis- with the exception of popcorn, cheese, butter, ice cream, and most spices. When we eat "chinese food," we buy eggs, cup noodles (ramen in a cup), onions, green peppers, garlic, and sometimes ginger and mushrooms. Rice is cheap enough to keep a big bag on hand, as is soy sauce and frying oil. Eggs are cheap protien- about 6 RMB for a dozen. Chicken is inexpensive, about 20 RMB for a kilogram, and beef is a bit high, at 48 RMB per kilo. Most non-prepacked grocery store things (fruits, vegetables, etc.) are priced and sold by the half-kilo, so customers bag up however much they want, then get it weighed, priced, and stickered.
I was trying to make sweetish/sourish Chicken Cashew stirfry over rice for lunch, so I needed to buy chicken, red pepper, green pepper, cashews, and lemon juice. To this would be added onion, garlic, ginger, and sugar, which we already had. For the sake of posterity, the chicken was 5.1, the cashews were 10.3, one lemon was 4.2, a jar a pickeled red pepper was 4.2, and the green pepper was approx. 1. Onions, garlic and ginger are all very cheap- probably about 1 for the onion, and .1 for the garlic, and .0-something for the ginger. The topping probably cost about 22 RMB altogether, with maybe 3 RMB for the rice. It served the four of us one serving each, so it would be a good sized meal for three.
Shannon got back fromschool at noon, and the four of us had lunch together at 12:45.
Jeremiah, Jessica and I started work at 2:00 this afternoon (our normal work time). Shannon's schedule is a bit more fragmented than ours, so she didn't have to be at the language center until 3:00. She didn't miss much today- there was a meeting for the Chinese TA's that Jessica attended, and a meeting for the Foreign Teachers that the rest of us attended.

(Back at home now, Wednesday morning)

Work was slow. I had two 40-minute classes at the Primary School last night, at 6:20 and 7:20, and the lesson consists of assigning English names to each of the students and giving them a Cambridge curriculum book. It takes a lot longer then you'd think, so with 18-23 students per class, we really have to be moving quickly to get to everybody in the time we have.

I took dinner break 15 minutes early, from 4:45 to 5:45, then left for the school at 5:50. The school is about one kilometer from the office, so we usually use a taxi/tricycle to get there, and walk back.

Class went as planned. The students are from 1st grade, class 3. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the standard class size in China public schools is 45- the classes tonight were for one class, split in two segments for manageability. The split was VERY necessary. The students are young, are apparently used to getting their own way, have a short attention span, and don't understand enough English to stay focused on any particular bit of English instruction. Consequently, they make a lot of noise and don't sit still.

My TA and I got back to the language center at 8:20, and I was on my way home at 8:25.

We had a short evening at home, and went to bed sometime in the vicinity of 10:00.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Chinese Lesson #1

This afternoon we will have our first Chinese Language lesson!
We are at the language center, going over our lesson plans for tonight and tomorrow. Since I don't have any classes tonight or tomorrow, I can send in a quick blog post!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Well-Worded pork summary

A well-worded summary of the pork-barrel provisions of H.R. 1424 can be found here, on the OpenCongress blog.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1424, a.k.a. the "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008," a.k.a. "The Bailout Bill."

According to Wikipedia, H.R. 1424 was introduced in March 2008 as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, prohibiting insurance companies (and private employers) from discriminating against healthy individuals solely on the basis of a genetic predisposition to future ailments. It was selected on September 30 to be the vehicle by which the Senate could introduce it's own version of the failed House Measure intended to accomplish the same objective. [1]

The provisions of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, as summarized by Wikipedia, are as follows:
  • A temporary increase in FDIC deposit insurance limit from $100,000 to $250,000 until December 2009
  • Tax breaks for businesses
  • Tax credits for the use of alternative energy
  • Tax credits for research and development
  • Expansion of the child tax credit
  • Protection from the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Tax reductions for victims of severe weather (e.g. tornadoes, floods, hurricanes)
  • Extension of unemployment insurance
  • A USD $1,000 tax credit for low income homeowners
  • Tax breaks and credit extensions for the following:
    • "Certain wooden arrows designed for use by children" (Sec 503)
    • Wool research (Sec. 325)
    • Film and television productions (Sec. 502)
    • Litigants in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill (Sec. 504)
    • Virgin Island and Puerto Rican rum (Section 308)
    • American Samoa (Sec. 309)
    • Mine rescue teams (Sec. 310)
    • Mine safety equipment (Sec. 311)
    • Domestic production activities in Puerto Rico (Sec. 312)
    • Indian tribes (Sec. 314, 315)
    • Railroads (Sec. 316)
    • Auto racing tracks (317)
    • District of Columbia (Sec. 322)
Wooden Arrows? Rum Imports? Mine Safety Equipement? Film and television productions? Litigants from an oil spill 19 years ago? Wool Research? What do these have to do with a "Economic De-stabilization" brought about by bad lending practices?

Oh- here it is, from the New York Times "live blog" of the bill's passage:

9:43 a.m. | Earmark criticisms: Representative Steve LaTourette, a Republican from Ohio, chastises lawmakers for "larding up" the bill with earmarks, specifically mocking the wooden arrows subsidy in the bill.

11:20 a.m. | Democratic convert: Representative Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey, also says he's changing his vote from a nay to a yea. "I know that the enemy of the good is the perfect," he says. He says the bill has improved since Monday, and that while there is "some junk in this bill," there's junk in almost every bill.

11:50 a.m. | Auto industry: Representative John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, asks Barney Frank whether the bill will help the automotive industry in his state. Mr. Frank responds with an enthusiastic yes.

11:53 a.m. | And farmers?: Now other representatives are asking Mr. Frank about the impact of the bailout package on their own constituents' industries. Representative Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, wants to know how the bill will affect farmers.

12:07 p.m. | Twenty traitors: Representative Steven LaTourette, a Republican from Ohio, berated "20 Republicans" for their votes on a recent procedural rule that he says prevented the House from removing pork from the bailout bill. (He also noted that a $192 million subsidy for rum had thankfully ensured politicians "the pirate vote" for November.)

12:27 p.m. | Save Mom: Representative Dan Lungren, a Republican from California, says Congress should pass the bailout bill to save his 91-year-old mother's finances. "She has no pension; she has what my dad left her," he says, and essentially he wants to protect her investments from market volatility.

1:03 p.m. | Praising gravy: While other representatives who have spoken so far have criticized the bits of unrelated legislation added onto this bailout bill, Representative Pelosi is praising some relatively unrelated legislation she's proud of — language affecting energy policy and health insurance for the mentally ill, for example.

Pork. This bill owes its passage not to a specific national crisis, but to the personal pork-barral projects of our Congressmen-- projects which, it appears, wouldn't pass without being attached to a high-profile issue relatively certain to fly through the process.

It's worth noting that H.R. 1424 contained more than one act- in addition to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, it also contained the Energy Improvement and Extension Act with renewable energy tax breaks and conbon dioxide sequestration credits, credits for new qualified plug-in electric vehicles, transportation fringe benefits for bicycle commuters; the Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act with (among other things) a provision for accellerated depreciation for business property located on Indian Reservations; the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, requiring that insurance payments for mental health and drug addictions treatments not be more restrictive than payments for other health issues; the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program; the Heartland Disaster Tax Relief Act to provide "temporary tax relief for areas damaged by 2008 midwestern severe storms, tornados, and flooding"; and finally, tax relief for "Losses attributable to Federally-declared disasters."

Without going in to the legitimacy of the other "Acts of 2008" contained in H.R. 1424, why are they all lumped together? Why wasn't the House able (or willing) to separate them out into separate bills? Why isn't anyone being called on the carpet about the COMPLETE lack of germane-ness of the titles in this bill?

Apparently, sometimes pigs CAN fly.

Is this sort of grouping and lumping of topics into one pass/fail bill unusual and nobody's commenting on it, or am I just seeing it with an unaccustomed perspective?

[1]  The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was passed as H.R. 493 in April 2008, but H.R. 1424 lived on, as a House Resolution passed to the Senate, I think. The Senate Majority and Minority Leaders chose the (slightly defunct) formal body of H.R. 1424 to propose its own version of the Bailout Bill after the House failed to pass its version on September 29. Article 1, Section 7, of the U.S. Constitution states that "All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills." Because the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is a revenue-raising measure, the Senate is not able to introduce a bill in order to effectuate it directly. However, they are by the letter-of-the-law able to propose an amendment to an existing bill to carry out the same thing. Some States' legislatures have a requirement that any amendment to a bill be germane to the title of the bill-- The U.S. House has such a rule, but the U.S. Senate does not. Consequently, the resurrection of the defunct Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 1424) as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was techinically valid.