Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Abandoned Baby

This is for my friend, Mrm, or Mirim the Mirim, a blogger friend with a fiendish eye for the sublime and the ridiculous. She hasn’t blogged for a while and I am concerned about her absence. I am hoping this photo, dedicated to her, will lure her back into the blogging world.

Actually, AdventureMan spotted the baby sitting on a garbage bin, but it was I who whipped the camera out and shot a photo.

Who would abandon this beautiful baby?


May 9, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Humor, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Photos | 17 Comments

Who Will Tell the People?

This was the #5 e-mailed article from this week’s New York Times. It is a hard-hitting warning to Americans in an election year, and it has some analogies to election time in Kuwait.

Published: May 4, 2008
Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore … have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues | | 4 Comments

Top Colleges Dig Deeper in Wait Lists for Students

Is this a sign of economic times? A demographic portent of things to come? Dipping into the waiting lists is significant enough to show up in The New York Times: Education Good news for the not-quite-first-pick students.

Published: May 9, 2008

In what may be a happy surprise for thousands of high school seniors, Harvard plans to offer admission to 150 to 175 students on its waiting list, and Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania each expect to take 90, creating ripples that will send other highly selective colleges deeper into their waiting lists as well.

“This year has been less predictable than any recent year,” said Eric J. Kaplan, interim dean of admissions at Penn, adding that when one college in the top tier goes deep into its wait list, others are affected. “We all need to fill our classes and replace students who have been taken off wait lists at other institutions. The wait-list activity could extend for a significant time.”

Although colleges turn to wait lists to fill out their classes, it is unusual for the most selective to go so deep, college officials say.

For high-school students graduating in an unusually large class and for colleges trying to shape a freshman class, this has been an unusually challenging year, with the changes in early-admissions programs and the broad expansion of financial aid at many elite universities.

Right up until the May 1 deadline for students to respond to admissions offers, colleges have been unsure what to expect.

“Our class is coming in exactly the way we wanted it to, fitting into the plan we had to get to a class of 1,240,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, which, like Harvard and the University of Virginia, eliminated early admissions this year.

Ms. Rapelye said that with such a big change in policy, it was difficult to predict results, so “we deliberately aimed to have a slightly smaller group.”

Harvard would not confirm its plans for its wait list. In an e-mail message sent on Thursday to colleagues at dozens of other institutions and passed on to The New York Times, William Fitzsimmons, the Harvard College dean of admissions, said, “Harvard will admit somewhere in the range of 150 to 175 from the waiting list, possibly more depending on late May 1 returns and other waiting list activity.”

AHarvard spokesman said the college had accepted fewer students this year to avoid overcrowding the freshman class.

The Yale dean of admissions, Jeffrey Brenzel, said there would be about 45 wait-list offers this week and probably another round later this month.

Even colleges that had more than filled their freshman classes were wondering how many students would melt away if admitted off waiting lists elsewhere.

“We’re over target right now, so we’re in good shape,” said Rick Shaw, the Stanford dean of admissions. “But I’m keeping a small group on the wait list, because I think there’ll be some impact of wait-list activity at other schools.”

At Dartmouth, Maria Laskaris, the dean of admissions, said although Dartmouth had more than enough accepted students committing, she was “in a holding pattern, because it depends on what other schools do.”

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Community, Education, Family Issues, Living Conditions, News, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Reading Signs for the Future

This article from The Washington Post caught my eye for a couple of reasons. While I like Harry Potter, and am delighted to see children reading just about anything, I wondered if some of the oldies but goodies were still being read – and this study says that they are.

What is the number one factor that encourages children to read? Living in a family where books and magazines are everywhere, where parents take their kids to libraries and bookstores. Computer use also encourages good reading – and writing – skills.

What Do Children Read? Hint: Harry Potter’s Not No. 1

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008; 2:32 PM

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States revealed today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.

Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling’s Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result.

“I find it reassuring . . . that students are still reading the classics I read as a child,” said Roy Truby, a senior vice president for Wisconsin-based Renaissance Learning. But Truby said he would have preferred to see more meaty and varied fare, such as “historical novels and biographical works so integral to understanding our past and contemporary books that help us understand our world.”

Michelle F. Bayuk, marketing director for the New York-based Children’s Book Council, agreed. “What’s missing from the list are all the wonderful nonfiction, informational, humorous and novelty books as well as graphic novels that kids read and enjoy both inside and outside the classroom.”

Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader software for monitoring reading progress online was the source of the survey. Twenty-two years ago, Judi Paul invented on her kitchen table a quizzing system to motivate her children to read. With her husband, Terry Paul, she turned it into a big business. Truby, a former executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the leading federal reading test, said the company’s learning programs are used in more than 63,000 U.S. schools.

Students read books, some assigned but many chosen on their own, and then take computer quizzes, either online or with company software, to see whether they understood what they read. Students compile points based on the average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level and total words in each book, and they sometimes get prizes from their schools. Some critics have questioned giving many more points for a sprawling Tom Clancy thriller than a tightly written classic such as Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage,” but many educators and parents have praised the system for motivating children to read.

In response to the survey data, some Washington area English teachers said they were bothered by the relatively few books read by each student, particularly in the upper grades. Seventh-graders averaged 7.1 books in 2007, which steadily declined to 4.5 books for 12th-graders. “I wish more schools did what we do and treated independent reading as vital to the curriculum, especially for boys, who seem to be sharing very few books,” said Lelac Almagor, a seventh-grade teacher at the KIPP DC: AIM Academy, a public charter school in Southeast Washington.

Although some experts thought children needed more reality, the fifth-most-popular book among high school students, “A Child Called ‘It’ ” by Dave Pelzer, was too real for Rachel Sadauskas, who teaches English at Yorktown High School in Arlington County. “The true story is based on a brutal case of child abuse,” she said. “A friend who is a social worker recommended it to me, but I could not finish it because it was so emotionally difficult to read.”

Teachers and book editors were pleased at the resilience of Lee’s 48-year-old novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” No. 1 for ninth- through 12th-graders, although Mary Lee Donovan, an executive editor at Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass., said she thought it owed much of its success to the fact that “teachers make it part of the curriculum.” Rafe Esquith, teacher and author of best-selling books about teaching, makes it required reading in his Los Angeles fifth-grade class. He said he thought older students preferred it to Harry Potter because it fits with their growing realization that “life is not a fairy tale” and because of the moral fiber of its hero, lawyer Atticus Finch.

Yorktown High 11th-grader Ashley Samay said the Lee book “taught me to see things from others’ points of view.” Yorktown 12th-grader Matthew Bloch said, “It speaks to small-town ideals and racism, which are very important topics.”

The survey, at, breaks down results by gender and section of the country. Overall, Dr. Seuss’s madly rhyming “Green Eggs and Ham” was the most popular first-grade book. Second-graders preferred Numeroff’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” which Donovan praised for its humorous take on cause and effect. White’s timeless tale of a girl, a pig and a spider, “Charlotte’s Web,” was the third-grade favorite. Blume, not surprisingly, won over fourth-graders with her “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” the first of several books about Peter Warren Hatcher and his younger brother, Farley, who prefers to be called “Fudge.”

Fifth-graders read most often Paterson’s story of two children and a magical forest kingdom, “Bridge to Terabithia.” Sixth-graders preferred “Hatchet,” about a boy stranded in the wilderness, by Paulsen, whom Donovan called “Jack London for kids.” The most-read book among seventh- and eighth-graders was “The Outsiders,” a story of rival gangs in Tulsa published in 1967 when its author, Hinton, was 18 years old.

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Books, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Language, Living Conditions, Words | 6 Comments