Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Refugee Stuff: Running a furniture program --defining the mission.

Basic overview.

I've decided to use the blog to share some of the experiences and lessons learned while running the refugee center furniture program. This will allow me to conveniently share the information with people who might wish it.


First, what does a refugee center (or other charity) furniture donation program do?

It finds people who have more stuff than they need. It then encourages these people to give the stuff away and not only to give it away for nothing but to do so in such a manner that they feel so good about it they tell all their friends what a wonderful experience this was and encourage them to do the same thing.

Then it takes this stuff and gives it to people who need it in working condition when they need it.


Memorize this grass-hopper. It's a very important concept and few people grasp it right away.

Remember! Take for nothing and make people happy about it so that you may give to people who have nothing!

Asia Stuff: Southeast Asian History

Greetings!

I am still reading "In Search of Southeast Asia --A Modern History and enjoying it greatly. The map on page 98, alone, entitled "Centers of Power in Southeast Asia at the End of the Eighteenth Century" explains so much, if one has the background to understand it. I just spent an hour searching on-line for a copy to share, but, alas, it seems no one has prepared it for electronic distribution.

A couple excerpts with comments.

First from page 61, in the chapter entitled "The Buddhist Kings," we have this description of the style of leadership favored by the early modern monarchs in the regions where Theravada Buddhism dominated. These areas, by the way, included Burma.

"By portraying his subjects as 'dust under the royal feet' or 'slaves of the lord,' court language and its accompanying etiquette kept the ruler at a distance from others. Physically concealed behind the walls of his palace, the Buddhist monarch often found his capacity to influence events outside his entourage limited; in many cases, the historical records, composed at court, exaggerate the king's effectiveness and importance. Inside the palace, his actions were regulated by Brahman advisers, and his opinions were formed from conversations with favorites. Constricted by a costume that, in Burma, weighed more than fifty pounds, acting on information that was always secondhand and frequently false, and stifled by protocol, astrology and precedent, the Buddhist monarch of eighteenth-century Southeast Asia was frequently a prisoner of his situation. Since the population often viewed the monarch as godlike, an imminent Buddha, Buddhist monarchs occasionally proclaimed themselves gods. Twice in eighteenth century Siam and Burma monarchs were deposed for proclaiming this delusion." (Page 61)

There you have it. Arrogant and out-of-touch. The pattern continues.

Personally I find it interesting to not only compare this with the modern Burmese government, the obvious and immediate comparison, but to also compare it to various patterns in Chinese history where rulers also made odd decisions based on second hand information received in isolation.

Also of interest is the information that Burma, even the central region, has historically been linguistically diverse. For instance, we see.:

"From the collapse of the Empire of Pagan in 1289 to the sixteenth century, the region now called Burma was divided among several contending political centers, each representing a variation of the Buddhist state form created at Pagan but expressing itself in a different language. The Mon speakers in the south, linguistically akin to the Cambodians or Khmer, centered on Pegu. The rulers of this state resisted incorporation into any greater state centered in the north until the middle of the sixteenth century. For three hundred years after the fall of Pagan, northern Burma was dominated by petty Tai-speaking princes from the contiguous Shan plateau who were never able to overcome local forces until Tabinshwehti, the Burmese ruler of Toungoo, conquered both the north and the south between 1539 and 1555." (Page 62.)

This paragraph jumped out at me as it indicates some possible reasons for both the insecurity of the current Burmese government and also the underlying linguistic complexity of the country. I've made some (admittedly clumsy) attempts to learn Burmese since working with refugees and one thing I've soon noticed is that they do not speak the same way when speaking Burmese, a language that for most of them is a second language at best. As the current regime does seem intent on imposing the Burmese language on all citizens, its interesting to see that the Burmese language was not necessarily that of all of Burma throughout all of its history.

Finally, one thing that many Burmese refugees have shared with me is stories about friction and hostility from the Thais after fleeing into Thailand.

This paragraph offers some insight into that area.:

"From the sixteenth century on, the Siamese and Burmese courts were preoccupied with each other's affairs. They were bitter competitors and mortal enemies in a war that, with some silences, lasted over three centuries. Each king was jealous of his own prestige and mindful of the importance of repute in holding together an extensive empire. An event, act or gesture at court that could be interpreted as a sign of weakness might lead to the defection of enough provinces and tributary vassals to bring about the downfall of an empire. The kings solicited vassals, promising them protection from other powers. In return, they demanded loyalty and assistance, as well as regular and substantial tokens of submission, such as the gold and silver ornamental trees regularly received in Ayudha from the Malay sultanates of the peninsula and the northern and eastern Lao states. To the rulers of such second-level states, it was a complex world indeed. They had to measure carefully the strength of all their neighbors, taking the greatest care to avoid offending dangerous enemies and useful friends. It was not unusual to find in the Lao and Shan world of the north, on the Malay Peninsula, or in Cambodia what the Thai called a 'two-headed bird' looking in two directions at once, paying tribute to both its neighbors." (Page 65.)

I'm not yet advanced enough to truly understand what this means in terms of, for instance, understanding the situation of the modern Karen people who straddle the Thai-Burma border, but my instincts tell me this could be quite valuable information.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Refugee stuff

I hate being cynical. And I get tired of being angry. Therefore I'm going to post this without further comment.

See: http://refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/albany-ny-uscri-office-maxed-out/

The article includes a link to the actual story.

On the other hand, I've offered them several suggestions on how to fix several areas of their organization and they were rebuffed. Not only that, I've offered them several volunteers and furniture as well. The truth is that they cannot handle the donations or offers they receive now. It's a very badly run organization.

Op-ed column: Sharing the costs would let Empire State Games continue

This ran a couple months ago, Why is it, I wonder, that the most commented piece I've written upon in the past year is UFOs?

Things that make you go hmmmmmm . . .


From the Daily Gazette: http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2009/jan/25/0125_huston/

Peter Huston

Because of the economic crisis, the Empire State Games, a statewide athletic competition run by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, is facing budget cuts. Details are undetermined, but the plans are disturbing to supporters of the Games, and sledding sports in particular. As a former participant in an apparently cut event, naturally I have strong feelings.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced earlier this month that state funding for the Games was cut, and that most athletes, save for those participating in events for the physically challenged, will have to pay a fee to compete.

Summer Games athletes would pay $285, which includes room and board during the Games. The Winter Games fee is undetermined, but could be $100 per athlete. (Winter Game athletes do not receive room or board.) Some events will be eliminated from competition completely. This year, all sledding events — bobsled, luge and skeleton — will be cut.

As a former skeleton sledder who twice proudly participated in the Games, this saddens me.

Which brings me to two issues: First, the fate of the Games themselves; and the second, lesser issue, sledding sports in the Games.

The Empire State Games are one of the nicer things about living in New York. Not only do they allow New York athletes to show pride by representing themselves but through a diverse range of competition, the Games show our state at its finest. The program encourages physical fitness and offers attainable, achievable honors for state residents who reach a high level.
Accessible to all

The Empire State Games, in my opinion, should be supported and structured in such a way that it is accessible to all qualified persons in the state, regardless of income and ability to pay fees.

Nevertheless, money is tight. The state government must be cut.

I propose that if the state cannot afford to fund the Games, it adopt a “pay by the piece” fee structure. Divide the costs of participation: room and board, athletes’ sweatsuits, the opening ceremonies, the officiating, track use, etc. Determine the approximate costs per athlete for each aspect of participation. Decide what can be funded, through taxes or outside assistance, then allow athletes to select what they wish from the Games.

For instance, both years I participated in the Games, I was given an Empire State Games sweatshirt, sweatpants and hat. Today, these are among my proudest possessions and I would have been quite willing to pay a reasonable fee to cover their costs. On the other hand, the opening ceremonies just held no interest for me and I skipped it twice.

Although I expect my days as a Games athlete are past, should the opportunity present itself again, why should I be required to pay for something I don’t use or want?

Same for the room and board for the Summer Games. By making this fee optional, persons who only wish to arrive for their event, or who live nearby or who can find cheaper housing or camp, could do so.

Budgeting often means learning to do without or make do with what one has, instead of merely charging a fee for unnecessary services. The park’s spokesman told me such a structure was not considered, although he was unable to say why. It should be considered.

Athletes and volunteers are already encouraged to buy additional Games items, like emblazoned sweatshirts and gym bags.
Sledding sports

As for the inclusion of sledding sports in the Games, these have always held an odd position. On one hand, bobsled, skeleton and luge are not commonly practiced consumer sports. Aside from the junior children’s bob and luge programs, there really is no easy way for a person of moderate athletic ability to enter these sports and participate in a regular but casual manner. (My participation 10 years ago took nerve, stubbornness and a lot of question-asking, personal traits that far surpass my athletic ability.)

However, high-speed sledding sports are exciting and exotic, and represent an important part of New York’s athletic heritage. Until the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the only place for these sports in the entire hemisphere was here in New York, a state that many do not realize hosted the Winter Olympics twice, once in 1980 and earlier in 1932. Today, our track in Lake Placid is still just one of three on this continent.

Some sources argue that the real reason for the event cuts is that the world championships for bobsled, luge and skeleton are in Lake Placid, site of the Empire State Winter Games, the same weekend. (The park’s spokesman told me that the decision to cut sledding was a “combination” of these two things.)

Let’s all hope the Games strive to be affordable to as many qualified people as possible. And I want to see them include New York’s full athletic heritage. This means high-speed sleds flying in Lake Placid, two-time home of the Olympic Games.

Peter Huston lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Asia stuff: SE Asian thoughts on politics

It's been a while since I've contributed to the blog. I've been busy lately with several things, among them helping refugees, primarily members of the various ethnic groups from Burma. This has been a major activity in my life lately and it's now time to add to the first hand contact with some academic study.

Therefore I broke out the book, "In Search of Southeast Asia --A Modern History," 1971, 1985, 1987, Edited by David Joel Steinberg, University of Hawaii Press.

I'm only forty five pages into the work but enjoying it.

Here's a couple quotes, quotes that I hope will help share some of the whys of how I fell in love with this field over the years.:

"As the Emperor Gia-long [of Vietnam] put it in 1811, 'He who loves his ox first drives away its flies; he who loves his people first punishes the sub-bureaucrats. This is a well-established theory of government.'" (From page 32.)

Or,

"A nineteenth century Cambodian treatise on the interpretation of dreams stated that if one dreamed of a person without arms or legs, one was destined to become a governor. Such limbless creatures could do nothing but eat, and in the eighteenth century there was no shortage of appetite or food." (From page 36.)

The work also contains an interesting chapter on the role of "non-state peoples" in South East Asia, much of which applies to the southern half of China as well, which only makes sense as these are in many cases the same peoples. Quite interesting and insightful, it offered me some new perspectives on the Burmese minorities who have come here to make their new homes.