Archive for November 21st, 2004

A Turkey Tale

2

We
must confess, the Dowbrigade is a sucker for a good coupon. A few years
ago, when we were trying to feed two hungry teenagers
on a teacher’s salary, we assiduously clipped coupons for our weekly
trip to the super. The thrill we got from a "triple hit" (doubled manufacturer’s
coupon plus store coupon discount) rivaled the thrills we had gotten
years earlier from other kinds of "triple hits".

Although we are no longer obsessive about our coupons, we couldn’t resist
the offer at our local Star Market of a FREE TURKEY! All we had to do
was collect 20 "coins", which were stamps on the coupon representing
$25 spent at Star (excluding liquor, cigarettes, cash back, money orders,
paper products, hardware and drugs)! The check-out lady explained that
we didn’t have to bring in the coupon every time, just save all our receipts
and bring them in when we claimed the turkey. And we had a full four
weeks to do it in. Piece of cake.

So over the past month we have carefully saved every last Star receipt,
even when we just popped in to the salad bar or sushi counter for a quick lunch between
classes. In order to make sure we reached the critical level, we stocked
up on staples. Norma Yvonne did wonder where we would store a gross of
italian crushed tomatoes and a year’s supply of Polish dill pickles.
  We also felt empowered to purchase a number of items we have long
longed to try, but were unable to justify the expense of, like apricot chutney
and Extra Sacrificial Virgin Olive Oil.

Today we gathered all our receipts together, some crumpled, some stained, but all legible, over $600 worth by Norma’s count,
and took them in to claim our prize. The lady at the customer service
counter who took our request looked like the Bride of Frankenstein on
a bad hair day. She was further frazzled by having just had to hassle
with a legally blind woman who was trying to rent a floor polisher (who
knew?) but didn’t have the requisite driver’s licence to show as security
because she was, well, legally blind.

When we finally got to the counter and presented our receipts, Mrs. Frankenstein
snatched them from our hand, ogled them with a jaundiced eyes and intoned
in an infinitely bored voice, "You’ll have to wait..  This
may take a while."

We settled in for a long wait, but she started right in on
them. Actually, she started ripping off and discarding a good number
of them, mumbling, "This one’s no good.  This one doesn’t count.  Can’t
use this one.."

"Wait one gosh darn minute," we cried, "What’s wrong with all of those?"

"Anything less than $25 doesn’t count.  The coupon clearly
says that you must spend at least $25 dollars ON EACH PURCHASE."

We looked at our coupon.  Damned if it didn’t say that, in tiny
print, on the back.  Furthermore, if we spent $48, say, we would
only get credit for one $25 "coin". We could earn this currency, it seemed,
only in $25 increments.

We protested that the checkout lady who gave us the coupon had mentioned
nothing of these catches.  To no avail. There it was, in green and
white, on the back of the coupon.

Finally, she finished her work, looked up from her adding machine with
a triumphant smile and pronounced, "$475.  You’re one coin
short.  Sorry."

"Well, well, wait here a minute, we’ll go buy some more staples or exotic
oils, and get that last coin! You sell Krispy Kreme Donuts now! We’ll take 4 dozen!"

"Sorry, the promotion ended yesterday, receipts from today don’t count."

We were stymied, flummoxed and frustrated.  We demanded a recount.  As
a last resort, we demanded to speak to a manager.  By this point
we were a bit agitated, in fact had worked ourselves into something
of an indignant dither. Frankenstein or no, challenging our primacy
as a food forager for our family had awakened deep ancestral survival
instincts, and the clerk seemed to recognize that there could be an element
of personal danger in he situation.  She went to fetch the manager.

They were couched in whispered conversation for several long minutes.  Then,
finally, a beaming assistant manager stepped quickly to the counter and
handed us our Free Turkey Coupon. "Thanks for shopping at Star," she
stammered.

We can’t wait to tell the story as we carve the fat, free fowl on Thursday.  But,
just to be on the safe side, we have decided to cash in the coupon and
select the Turkey from a different branch of the Star Market chain.

Welcome to the Village

4

Since 9/11, recruiting the raw material on which the
Dowbrigade’s day job depends has become increasingly difficult. We are
talking about foreigners who come to this country to participate in and
contribute to the finest and most extensive university system on the
planet.

These young men and women come, not to take jobs from Americans, but
to acquire training and tools which will make them more competitive in
the job markets back home, and allow them to contribute to the development
and modernization of their local environments. 

For over a hundred years, foreign graduates of our colleges and universities
have acted as ambassadors of the American social, political and cultural
norms which have become the basis of the emerging global culture.  Of
course, there nothing near consensus on this new global culture.  Entire
areas of the world have rejected it and in many more educated elites
participate in it while the masses are still excluded.

But its spread to the far corners of the earth is primarily due to the
convergence of two factors; media, primarily TV and film, and graduates
of American higher education. These individuals literally conform the
ruling class in many countries of the world. They own the biggest companies,
run the biggest law firms, control the armies and central banks. An untold
number of Presidents and Prime Ministers have degrees from American universities.

With the exception of a short list of countries (England, France, Germany)
no one really has a University system that can compare to ours. In many
countries, the wealthy and powerful families would NEVER send their kids
to local colleges. Anyone who is anybody has a degree from an American
or European school. A lot of these kids who ended up in the US have passed
through the Dowbrigade’s classroom over the years.

Well, they aren’t coming anymore, at least not in the numbers they were
a few years ago, and despite the fact that the anemic dollar makes an
American education a bigger bargain than it has been for decades. In
part, it is because the Department of Homeland Security, in taking over
the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has made it much more difficult
to get a student visa, and in part because they are coming to see America
as a hostile,and dangerous place.

Instead, they are going to Canada, to Australia, or to England to study
English, business, engineering, medicine, law, government, and communication.
Increasingly, they are taking English courses over the internet, although
this is nowhere near as efficient as immersion in an English language
environment.

It could be argued that the Internet is, or can be, an English-language
environment. One can imagine a regimen integrating canned classes,
live language interactions, English language movies, web-based tasks and readings, podcasts, TV shows and games, 8 or 10 or 16 hours a day,
all delivered over the Internet, which would provide an authentic and
varied English immersion experience, but as of yet no one has put something
like this together.  Another project for a rainy day.

However, it appears that the highly wired South Koreans have come up
with another innovation which is destined to dry up one of our last pools
of human capital.  Isolated, independent English-language villages
are sprouting up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

An article
in today’s Boston Globe
, describes one of them as a
"novel, government-funded language complex on a small island 40 miles
southwest
of Seoul. "Welcome
to English Village. Enjoy your stay."

First developed by officials in Kyonggi, a prosperous province of 10
million people south of Seoul, five more English villages are sprouting
up across South Korea, including an $85 million town under construction
32 miles north of Ansan, which will boast a main street with Western-style
storefronts and a small live-in population of native English speakers.

As tougher immigration laws make it increasingly harder for foreign students
to learn English in the United States, immersion villages, according
to specialists, have promise beyond South Korea. The Japanese, for instance,
have visited this English village and may implement the idea.

It all reminds us of other self-contained artificial environments, like
the biosphere or the Village in the Prisoner. And didn’t the Soviet Union
set up scenes like this to train their spies and infiltrators? Lacking
empirical data we can only assume that the model works, and that there
are hundreds of graduates of these institutions, sleeper agents deeply
ensconced in towns and cities across America, waiting for the call which
will never
come.

We find ourselves wondering what life must be like for the native speaker
teachers who populate these fairy lands. Surely some of them will be
bloggers. Stay tuned….

article from the Boston Globe