Friday, June 26, 2009

Quick notes on some refugee stuff

FYI, these days I have just joined facebook and begun using google analytics to follow readership on this blog, I am momentarily obsessed with these things, the so-called "new media" and trying to learn how to use them best. For the last couple days or so I've been feeling "jacked-in" like some sort of cyberpunk character from a William Gibson novel from the '80s. Took a break, forced myself to go to the gym and offered a refugee-friend a ride to the supermarket to prepare for a visit from an out-of-town relative. They brought another friend, a Karen.

Random thoughts and observations.

More lightbulb problems. This refugee apartment had about half the sockets in working order. Turned out the husband knew how to change lightbulbs but had not bothered to. In fact, he had taken the three lightbulb sockets over the sink and inserted a bulb into one and stuffed the other two sockets, live electrical sockets, with dry toilet paper. He and I changed them together after I bought lightbulbs. (I have a policy of not spending money on refugees, instead offering time and advice. Sometimes I break it, like when lightbulbs are 77 cents for four at Walmart and I fear a fire hazard.)

So, if they knew how to change lightbulbs, why didn't they? I don't know. I didn't have time to ask and felt that if I did it could be taken as accusatory. My guess, probably the same reason I don't have twitter. I've been living without for years and am perfectly happy. And it's widely noted that there are certain obsessive behaviors that come into effect among humans when they become accustomed to technology, behaviors having to do with trying to get things perfect, like changing all the lightbulbs, instead of just "good enough," like having enough working lights to make sure you can see what you are doing. Perhaps they had no idea where to buy lightbulbs and had never seen it as a priority.

Burmese tribal people love frozen pizza.

I have seen both Chin and Karen refugees eagerly gobbling up frozen pizza on more than one occasion. Frozen pizza is high in both fat and salt. This Karen woman had put four frozen pizzas in her cart. Burmese also love potato chips, including the sour cream and onion ones. Now my cousin's husband, the professional chef, once told me that one possible key to gourmet cooking is to remember that people like to eat salt and fat. If you add extra salt and fat, the food tastes better and this is one secret as to why restaurant food often tastes better than homemade stuff. The restaurant unashamedely adds unhealthy amounts of salt and fat to everything, making the patrons go "yum! yum! how do they get it to taste so good?" (The secret: salts, fats and oils.)

FYI, the refugee center does offer all incoming refugees a nutrition course. I have not taken it and cannot offer comment. None of the refugees I know have shared their opinions on it with me, although I will say that they seem to have a very positive opinion on the center's effective communication class. Quite honestly, when I first became involved with refugees my immediate reaction was that it was a bit ethnocentric to teach nutrition to people who have been eating food for a long time. Actually, I was dead wrong. It makes a lot of sense. In this new land, Burmese refugees are exposed to a thousand new temptations that did not exist back in the old country. Among these temptations, alas, are frozen pizzas and sour cream and onion potato chips. Alas! They'd be better off if they stayed with the curry, a staple of the Burmese/ Karen diet.

Secondly, why frozen pizza? Why not make your own? As we roamed the aisle I lectured on the ease and economy of making one's own pizzas, using store bought dough, cheese and sauce and a three dollar tray. (For those interested, I make pizza a lot. I went through a phase where I was making everything but the cheese from scratch but backed off.) I'm not sure the poor woman believed it was quite as easy as I claimed. She also claimed that despite an obvious love of frozen pizza, she did not like cheese. Which is not surprising as few Asians like cheese, but in this context was absurd, until I sort of grasped the fact that frozen pizza cheese is probably not very much like real cheese at all, instead being some high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar, non-dairy concoction that would be much more palatable to such consumers as greasy American teenagers and Burmese tribal peoples who have not yet developed a palate that appreciates the subtleties of good cheese.

But I pushed. In the end, the only way I could get her to seriously consider trying it was to refer her to a neighbor, another refugee, who had been enrolled in a church-run job-training, kitchen-help program where I know they learned how to make pizza.

Finally, the WIC program is really something. WIC is "Women, Infants and Children" and is a program designed to get low-income women and young children healthy food for free. This is a good idea. Healthy immigrant children are more likely to become successful and earn a good living. When they become successful then the government can tax them and use the money to support old people like me who will surely need it. Unhealthy immigrant children go no place, and then we have to support them for life. However, as almost every social service program gets abused in some way, this one is unwieldly in its definitions of healthy foods.

WIC recipients receive coupons for different kinds of food. When they go grocery shopping they are supposed to select food that meets the guidelines on the coupon from the shelf. If they select the food correctly, then they get it for free. If not then they are sent back to the proper supermarket aisle to try again, often accompanied by a stressed out supermarket worker to make sure the job is done right.

I am a native English speaker. I hold a master's degree from a prestigious school. (Yes, I am very proud of that. I earned it. It was probably the toughest achievement of my life.) I have taught English to foreigners and am studying to obtain certification in that field. I have been widely published (and, yes, I fully admit that much on my blog is clunky and ridden with typos and such. Very unprofessional. I am, alas, usually writing quickly.)

Nevertheless, I confess, I cannot make complete sense of the WIC guidelines. I have no idea how a Burmese refugee who does not speak English could possibly use these coupons. (The refugees I was with both spoke some English, one quite well. Still time was limited so I got sent off to use the WIC coupons. Since my English was the best, this struck me as efficient and I had no objections.)

Still, I tried and got 90% of the stuff correct, although it was my second attempt to use WIC coupons. The first time I think we only had about 80% of the stuff selected properly.

Some of these items are quite specific. For instance, you need to select a one pound, no larger, loaf of whole wheat bread. In two different supermarkets we found only one kind of bread that fit these guidelines, most loaves of bread being over a pound, that being Pepperridge Farms Whole Wheat, an expensive brand that I normally would never select. However, that is the only loaf of bread in the entire store, neigh, in two entire stores, that fits the WIC guidelines.

Also there are no escalators in the highlands of Burma or in the refugee camps of Thailand, apparently. What a shame. Perhaps someone should hire Haliburton to put some in. This resulted in an incident with two of us getting on an escalator while the third stood behind scared and then I had to run halfway back up the down escalator, being told not to do so by an employee enroute, and then teaching the person how safely use an escalator.

All in all, it was a more interesting way to spend an afternoon than sitting at home, watching TV would have been.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Refugees in Indiana. Article and my comments.

First, a couple posts below, I commented on refugees and light bulbs. With the assistance of the landlord, who did not let me get near his fuse box and insisted on removing the broken lightbulbs himself, the situation was easily corrected. (In fact, the hardest part of the process was explaining the situation to the landlord, especially as he regularly asked his tenants how things were and had no idea that their wall lamps had this problem. My impression was that he takes great pride in his buildings.) The tenants have now been shown how to change lightbulbs although one says they still find the process scary. The other, when asked why they hadn't noted the problem before, shrugged it off, with a grin and "I'm not an electrical expert." Oddly enough, they are both pretty ambitious, intelligent people who in my opinion are on schedule for adjusting to life in the United States, but, I suppose, if you've been through hell and back, what's so bad about sitting in an apartment in Albany where only half the lights work? It's hardly worth risking angering the landlord over, right?

In the meantime, below is an article about Burmese refugee immigration from a TV station in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I've copied it in its entirety, and included all comments. Although I've not seen things in Fort Wayne first hand, it'll be interesting to compare the article with what I've seen.

I've also included the comments, many of which are extremely anti-Burmese refugee. Although, as near as I can tell, there is not much prejudice against Burmese refugees here in Albany, I fear that as their numbers increase, and they are increasing, prejudice will increase. Although it's a fact that many people will adjust to a new challenge, such as refugees arriving in a new, very different country, a certain number will fail at a new challenge. They will then suffer whatever fate meets people who fail, be it jail, welfare, or even death. Appropriate assistance will reduce this rate of failure. Hopefully such programs save money, as jails, welfare, even funeral costs, are all surprising expensive. (In fact, although I have no statistics, I strongly suspect the government saves money by tossing a few hundred dollars per refugee at the local centers and letting young, over-stressed idealists try to cope with the results, instead of just tossing refugees on the street, like was done in the 19th Century. If we still did this, then the cops and social services would need to clean up the mess.) It is my hope that they will get the services and assistance many of them need to make a smooth transition into being a productive part of Capital District society, before notable prejudice arises locally.

Okay comments on the article (in fact, you might want to jump down and read it before you read my thoughts so that they have a context.) The article includes an estimate that for every Burmese refugee placed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, two more arrive. The phenomena is undoubtedly real, although that also implies that a large number of refugees are leaving other places and thereby lightening the load on other placement agencies.

Let's look at this. Refugees, by definition, spend a great deal of time, perhaps years, in a refugee camp. Although refugee camps are terrible places, and within them people post lookouts on their houses each night to protect themselves from threats including Burmese military intelligence agents, Thai police and Thai bigots seeking to rape or brutalize refugees, or other refugees who might enter their house to rape or rob them, most people in a refugee camp do know each other. In fact, since there is very little to do within a refugee camp, one of the primary activities that refugees engage in is to gossip about each other. I once, for instance, heard a very funny story about some refugees I know who loved to gossip and still do (even in the Capital District) gossip constantly. They were in a refugee camp in Thailand, a country where somehow I have never been but they tell me cellphone coverage is dirt-cheap and affordable to even beggars and refugees, and one day had somehow put five different cell phones in a circle so that they could better gossip about their neighbors with as much high-tech efficiency as possible. (It's also worth pointing out that in Burma the news sources are so bad and government controlled that gossip is often a better alternative.)

So you have all these folks sitting in the refugee camp together, it being basically a sort of "small-town-from-hell" where everyone knows each other and their primary focus is to figure out how to get out of there and go live someplace else where life is better. Meanwhile representatives from various NGOs, UN agencies, and foreign governments stop by and set up interviews to see who is lucky enough to get a visa to emigrate to the United States or one of the other nations that takes in refugees. When the process is completed and the papers are approved, they are assigned to a resettlement agency and given appropriate paperwork. In the absence of a relative in the United States (or other destination country) who is willing to assist them, the choice of placement and resettlement site is (as near as I or the refugees can tell) random, although, from what I understand, families are kept together as often as possible. (I'm not sure if the State Department and the local cultures always use the same definition of family though.)

So one person gets a letter giving him the good news that he or she is going to Tuscon, Arizona and another gets a letter stating that they are going to Fort Wayne, Indiana and a third gets a letter stating that they are going to Albany, New York. Soon they are given an airplane ticket, asked to sign papers promising to repay the cost of the ticket over the new few years and sent on a one way trip to a place they've never been and know nothing about, save that it's probably better than where they are because where they are is pretty bad.

[In fact, one real problem with the system is that the refugees know where they are going long before the placement agencies know they will get them. When I worked at USCRI-Albany it was a bit like being involved with a fire department that never seemed able to remember where they had put their hoses. The refugees get notice about a month ahead of time. When they have relatives they would then call these relatives and then tell them they were coming. The relatives would sometimes contact the refugee center and say their relatives were coming. The refugee center would not do anything with this information as it did not come from an official source. The information would then go through the state department, to USCRI national office and eventually make its way to Albany usually less than a week before the refugees would arrive. At this point, people would panic and scream and drop what they were doing and act surprised and start counting tables, chairs and beds and dialing landlords to find the incoming refugees an apartment. This always happened. And the management always acted like it was an unavoidable emergency. It was ridiculous.]

Soon after arrival, most refugees make it a priority to purchase a cell phone. Then they start comparing notes with the refugees they know in other places. (They tend to stay in close touch with the people they knew and often plaster pictures of them all over their walls, so a Burmese refugees apartment is often decorated with pictures of other refugees in locations all over the United States, as well as Thailand and other destination countries all over the world. In fact, I'm proud to say that on at least one of these walls, I am or was the only White person.)

They constantly compare notes on each other's experiences and the procedures of the local refugee center. (My favorite least politically correct statement from a refugee, in reference to the local refugee center and its largely former refugee caseworker staff: "Why don't they replace all the caseworkers with White people? My friend in Minnesota has a White caseworker and he has none of my problems." No comment. Alas, Western humanist notions of multi-culturalism have not yet filtered down to the refugee population in our country, make of that what you will.)

If conditions seem to warrant it, and they can get together the travel expenses, they relocate, particularly if they can be near family. So, after refugees arrive, there is a secondary, reshuffling until they find a place where they wish to settle down and feel comfortable.

The article talks about refugees requiring special assistance. This is indeed the case. And, let me suggest, that such assistance often pays for itself in the long run. Take a person, teach them how to hold a job and use the bus to get to work, and guess what, you can eventually get them off welfare and then tax them instead. Such assistance needs to be appropriate and it needs to be done carefully. Remember there are very intelligent, very ambitious refugees who not only do not know how to change a light bulb but will not think of telling you that they do not know how to change a light bulb. (Hopefully someday I will write about this. In the meantime, there's already a lot here on refugees. Skim the last few months' posts if you want something to read.)

So let's look at the comments on the article. It's a lively debate.

First, healthcare benefits. As I understand it, refugees are eligible for Medicaid and all other benefits a legal resident of the United States is entitled to. Of course, if they didn't have healthcare benefits then people would complain as they would probably not be paying their hospital bills. (Incidentally, I've heard of cases where the local caseworkers have not been as responsive as they should be in assuring that refugees get their healthcare benefits. Some of the local caseworkers are lunkheads.) Incidentally, many refugees are a bit confused on what they receive because they are poor and what they receive simply by benefit of living in the United States. People in this country do, of course, receive many things that are not customary in the third world where refugees come from.

One, for instance, asked me about "my food stamps." When I told him I did not receive food stamps, he asked why not. He was surprised when I told him that not everyone received them and that the idea was that he should receive them for a short time until he found a job and could buy his own food.

Personally I'm irritated by some provisions in the social service benefits that actually discourage people from acquiring any work they can for fear of losing essential benefits, but that's a societal problem that refugees cannot be blamed for.

They do sometimes get pregnant, probably at a rate comparable to in Burma or in the refugee camps. It's a sad fact of life, poor people get pregnant a lot regardless of ethnic background. No comment. After years of griping about this, I can see no good options.

Job training. People are complaining about job training for refugees. Most refugees require training in some extremely basic skills before they can find and keep a job. Among these are how to schedule appointments and what to do when two people wish you to be there at the same time; or how to read a bus schedule; or how to dress for a job.

Are refugees stealing our jobs? Well, let's think about it. All other things being equal, it's probably much easier to hire a worker with whom, unlike refugees, you share a common language and culture. People usually hire refugees with poor English skills, knowing there may be complications due to culture and language gaps, because they cannot find someone with good English skills to take the job at the rate they wish to pay. Most refugees I know have a job. Most them work, however, at jobs or at pay rates where I would not want their job. (I am, for instance, amazed that there actually are not only manufacturing jobs in this area, tucked away here and there, but that some of these jobs pay only about $9.00 an hour or so.) Cleaning, kitchen help, Wal-Mart, etc. are common. Highest paying job I know of a refugee holding is off the books cleaning houses at about 20$ an hour. And, "everyone knows," if you wish someone to clean your house hire an "ethnic," or so they say. Let's face it, the United States economy is now and always has been based in part on low-paid immigrant labor. And since about Day One, there has been someone who has screamed about the immigrants "stealing our jobs." Don't believe me? Go see the film, "Gangs of New York," with its depiction of 1860s anti-Irish immigrant violence.

Now here's a great comment:
"Why take in so many at one time? There's an apartment complex on the southside of town is 99.7% is Burmese and our housing addition property value is certainly going down,if you could see how they live,all you would say is WOW! they need major teaching on living in the city and in a hurry.There's constantly a request to help the Burmese,if they need so much help why are they constantly getting drunk,driving their cars fast and wrecking them,and this happens within the complex."

The writer is basically saying that the refugees clearly need help, but should not be given any because they behave as if they need help.

For the record, I have not seen drinking at a higher rate among the refugees than among other people. I will write more about their driving later. The way they live, yes, there are things that should be addressed. Again some other time. (Meanwhile check out the last few months posts if you want to know more.) They do take things out of the garbage, when there are good looking things in the garbage. I do this too. Sometimes people throw away surprisingly useful things. On the other hand, Burmese refugees tend to have more difficulty in recognizing useful things (like usable television and computers, as compared to junk ones), and therefore often wind up with junk that they are then confused about how to dispose of. It is not uncommon to find a refugee living in an apartment with two broken television sitting in the backyard.

Oh well, my post, my comments in summary, let me share the following. The last comment on the article: "
ngo · 1 day ago
but you have to understand why immigrant country become powerful. and strong."

Undoubtedly came from an Asian, probably a Burmese refugee trying to defend his situation and defuse hostility, and doing so outside of the correct cultural framework. Some assume that having seen war first hand, the Burmese refugees might be left leaning pacifist types. In fact, they wish to live in a strong, powerful country where they will be protected. A surprising number are interested in military enlistment, although the ASVAB (armed services vocational aptitude test) English score is beyond them and many could use coaching on standard test taking strategies.

My two cents or more,

Burmese refugees adjust
to new life
500 more expected this year

Updated: Tuesday, 23 Jun 2009, 6:20 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 23 Jun 2009, 12:29 AM EDT

* Aishah Hasnie

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - The Burmese refugee population continues to rise in Fort Wayne, but city leaders believe they have the experience to handle it.

Over the years, refugees have always trickled into Fort Wayne, but recently the city has seen a dramatic jump in the population. In 2007, nearly 600 Burmese refugees resettled to Fort Wayne. Catholic Charities and Friends of Burma provided aid as the city turned into the Burmese refugee capital of the U.S.

"We weren't ready at that time, to be honest with you," says Cherise Dixie, the City's Southeast side advocate. "But I think since that time, we've done a great job of assessing what is available in the community."

The Burmese community is one that rapidly continues to grow. For every Burmese person that comes here straight from a refugee camp, two others arrive from within the U.S. There are about 6,000 living in Fort Wayne now. And it's expected, 500 more will arrive this year.

"They tend to follow where their families are," says Dixie. "So we have second migrants."

When it comes to adjusting to life in America, city leaders say the refugees are making progress; better progress than when they first started coming to Fort Wayne years ago. That's largely because the city now has some experience under its belt. So much so, other cities in the same boat are calling Fort Wayne to ask how it handled the sudden influx.

But there are still huge challenges ahead. For example, many can't speak English, aren't educated about basic activities like using the bus system, and have a hard time finding work without any special skills.

"They were farmers, villagers, more of a third world existence," says Meg Distler, Executive Director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation. "So the transition into our economy is a really big step."

It's why the Community Resource Center for Refugees on South Calhoun St. opened its doors in December, 2008. With 11 different programs to choose from, refugees can get medical check ups, work on their English, and learn skills like sewing. Distler believes it is providing hope for those who arrived here with nothing.

If you would like to help the Burmese refugee community, you can find out how by calling the Burmese Advocacy Center at (260) 456-8969.

Comments (25)

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FW Health Care's avatar

FW Health Care · 2 days ago
They are too taxing to the healthcare system. Welfare enrollments are already taxed trying to care for our own, and we should not have the burdens discussed in this article.
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The Dude's avatar

The Dude · 1 day ago
Exactly what health care benefits do you think they are receiving? They get nothing except help from a non-profit organization that is privately funded and churches. They are also not eligible for welfare. The way Fort Wayne helps the Burmese immigrant population is one of the reasons we won the "All American City" award. The words written at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty "Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free" apply to Fort Wayne just as much as it applies to the rest of the country. If you view these people as a burden the something is wrong with your outlook on life. Someone from some far away land manages to make their way here to flee war and civil violence, and the first thing you think of is money? Grow up and stop confusing money with humanity.
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FW Health Care's avatar

FW Health Care · 1 day ago
The Dude, please check your facts, as they are eligible for Medicaid, they are birthing children in a society where we are ablidged to care for the children, which I support, but what I don't support is not holding them responsible for there actions. They need to gather employment, and be held accountable for there family members that they bring here financially. If you can't feed em, don't breed em.
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The Dude's avatar

The Dude · 1 day ago
I don't think you should breed them either- ignorance might be genetic.

Medicaid is not welfare.

It takes a sick and self centered individual to worry about money when the well being of another person is on the line. These people are escaping war- 12 year old kids are carrying around machine guns and leading their own army's. Anyone who is fortunate enough to get out of there doesn't need grief from a penny pincher cheapskate like you.

Whats money when it comes to the survival of people in danger? Did you complain when bush spent $3 Trillion on the Iraq war to "Liberate" them? I'd rather spend that money on people that have made their way here to the United States and are now part of our society.
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FW Health Care's avatar

FW Health Care · 1 day ago
That's you're problem, you spend your time watching Obama promise Change, instead of listening to the Congressional hearings currently going on referring to health care reform. Our system is broke, are you paying into support it?, well I am as a tax payer who is taxed for the more I make, I will not put up with continuing to work harder, just so others can continue to get free healthcare, and other amentities that I can't afford because I am responsible in supplying for my family. Welfare is government assistance, and Medicaid is our socialized health care system that has and is continuing to fail. I have no problem paying into a Medicare system, as these individuals worked for a living and payed into a system to insure there health support later in life.
This is not really specific to the Burmese, as they are coming to the country through the proper channels, legally, this should be opened up on a discusion of illegal immigrants, as they are the more taxing to our current system.
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The Dude's avatar

The Dude · 1 day ago
Really....still all you care about is money? Your concern is how much $$$ its costing the government? Either you are broke as a joke or you are so worried about counting pennies that you decided to count the governments pennies also? The money is going to get spent reguardless.... it might as well help people in need instead of paying for make believe war games in Iraq.
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An American's avatar

An American · 1 day ago
Here! Here! Good words, to be sure! I also agree that as long as the immigration is orderly and legal process is followed, then I'm glad that Fort Wayne is opening its doors to these folks. The city is leading with the spirit that made us a great nation to begin with...this country wasn't founded and built for W-A-S-Ps only! We only solidfy our position as the most generous nation on the planet when we reach out to the rest of the needy world.
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U.S. Citizen · 1 day ago
But the statue doesn't say to take homes from those who were here first or jobs or give them disability when they haven't paid any taxes before getting it or taking away the rights of others here. Send them home, we can't afford them.
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The Dude's avatar

The Dude · 1 day ago
Who do you know that's being left out in the cold because of a Burmese refuge?
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Mary's avatar

Mary · 18 hours ago
What about the whites, blacks and hispanic that don't work? They surely are not paying taxes and we are taking care of them. Burmese refugees are very hard workers and when they get the communication skills I'm sure they will put some of the americans to shame because they are not afraid of labor. The children are hard workers in school and very intelligent. So "U.S. Citizen" support them now and they will show you they are better then the whites and blacks and hispanics living on welfare, because the want to work. Our people have come to find welfare and even disability as a way of life. So many Americans have learned the system and they know that they can get away with not working. We have VERY LAZY Americans, let the Burmese teach our people what work is all about don't be afraid of them they could teach you a few things maybe even compassion!!! Lord nows you need it.
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0041's avatar

0041 · 2 days ago
I say welcome, as long as they immigrated legally. Sure, it will be a slow start at first trying to integrate into American society. . . but they'll learn English and valuable work skills and, over time, become very productive citizens, just like most of our ancestors who immigrated here. And with the Community Resource Center for Refugees, that will help move the process along faster.
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Jim · 2 days ago
I am married to an immigrant and I had to provide financial responsibility prior to her being let into the United States. I am wondering why the new immigrants are not required to use their sponsors for health care and welfare, as My wife was. The generosity of the sponsors, for whatever reason, includes the responsibility to provide for Federal immigration laws. It makes one wonder why laws are selectively enforced.
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An American's avatar

An American · 1 day ago
I am married to an immigrant as well, and have had to go through the same hassle you describe. I'd submit, though, that we as the EXTREMELY blessed nation we are, bear some responsibility for helping those in need. We can't help everyone, and our own family's shouldn't suffer in the name of charity. Note my comment below to Christine, though...we might whine and complain about the $1500 - $2000 for the Green Card process, we can at least wake up without worrying that we'll be killed for our beliefs and/or watch our children suffer under cruel and corrupt governments.

To those who much is given, much is required.
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Gab · 2 days ago
Ridiculous state of wonder we are all going bust!
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Christine's avatar

Christine · 1 day ago
I don't undestand why we are educating and training others for jobs before our own. So many people are out of work now a days. We pay through the wefare and healthcare I know people (americans) who can't even get free healthcare through our government but these people can. What happened to taking care of your own first then worrrying about someone else. Our own are suffering more than the refugees.
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An American's avatar

An American · 1 day ago
You need to see how the other 95% of the world lives. We, as Americans, don't know what real pain, suffering, and poverty is. Yeah, jobs are tough and the economy is taking its toll. Still, we don't have our children dying of hunger and an armed militia going around to our tents putting guns to our heads or raping women or young girls. No matter how bad it gets, our "suffering" can't compare to what many people in the world live in every single day.
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Open-hearted's avatar

Open-hearted · 1 day ago
My church has sponsored a Burmese family, and was assisted by Catholic Charities in bringing them to Fort Wayne. The church has picked up the bulk of the family's living expenses, including housing, utilities and food. Church members take care of transporting them to and from church, and make arrangements to take them shopping for essentials, such as food and clothing. Many of these immigrant families arrive with little more than the clothing on their backs and hope that they can live a less fearful life.

To say that 'our own are suffering more than the refugees' is ignorant. If these families were not allowed to immigrate, they would be facing war, death, rape, and starvation. I don't see many Americans facing the same issues under the same set of circumstances. We are called to minister to everyone, not just Americans. And why can't the Burmese (and any other refugees for that matter) be 'our own'? If other, more able, families moved to Fort Wayne, they would then be considered ours. Why can't the less fortunate be considered ours, too? After all, we are all human beings...
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Southside homeowner · 1 day ago
Why take in so many at one time? There's an apartment complex on the southside of town is 99.7% is Burmese and our housing addition property value is certainly going down,if you could see how they live,all you would say is WOW! they need major teaching on living in the city and in a hurry.There's constantly a request to help the Burmese,if they need so much help why are they constantly getting drunk,driving their cars fast and wrecking them,and this happens within the complex.
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An American's avatar

An American · 1 day ago
I understand cultural differences. Though my wife's from China, you'd be surprised how she even views urban/suburban living here in the US. Much of its education and adapting to a new culture and our "way" of doing things. If the Burmese are doing illegal things, damaging property, whatever, then they bear responsibility. Like one of the other posters said, though, it will take time.

I, too, live on the sout side of Fort Wayne. My home has lost value and I'm not near an apartment complex of any kind. Our fellow Americans can take credit for trashing this part of town and making it look like a minature ghetto in places. Like Dude said, either way, Obama and our government will ensure we pay for subsidizing those who don't have what those of us who work hard and pay taxes do have; it's not conjecture - he stated his intention to "redistribute wealth". That's not the issue...what is the issue, though, is that if we're going to be forced into "helping", I'm going to do it on my own terms and help those who DESERVE it, and will truly benefit.
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Mary · 18 hours ago
99.7%? That is a very high number and I am pretty sure that is way to high! I have been over there and there are several whites, blacks and even hispanic. The burmese moving into those apartments are not what is bringing your property value down. It is the area in general that is not being taken care of. The shootings, the fights many things go on in that complex and it is not Burmese related. Sorry you need to open your eyes and look around you and not at the Burmese they are not the problem. Do you think they want to live in those type of conditions? I think not. Give them time and they will move up in the world. I have great faith that they will teach many of us Americans more than we will teach them.
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SE homeowner · 1 day ago
I agree! I also live on the south side and the apartments they have moved them into are a mess now. Trash everywhere, kids running and playing in the roads, etc. Why not move some into the SW community or North? Because it doesn't matter if those of us who live on the SE side lose more of our property value but those in the "better" communities would not have it. I am all for helping but it appears to me they bring them here, drop them off and leave. Where is someone to teach them the way to live and be respectful of your community? The only thing I see is them walking across Anthony or driving recklessly to get to CVS to buy some alcohol.
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Jack · 1 day ago
I work with several of them and have for over a year now and very few of them can still speak English or won't.
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FELICIA · 1 day ago
Why are they coming to Fort Wayne especially on the south side of town? I used to lived in the Anthony apartments. I have seen the Burmese children climb in the dumpsters to get out of furniture people don't want anymore. The children have to take the ISTEP testing even though they don't know any English. Their scores are represent with are children schools.
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ngo · 1 day ago
the same thing south side is more cheaper than north side. that is since before they come . why is that?
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ngo · 1 day ago
but you have to understand why immigrant country become powerful. and strong.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More corpse brides in China

Teenage girl dug up to be 'corpse bride'

As readers may know, this blog was started about a year ago in response to a chance I had to appear on a national television show called "Manswers." For some time, I'd been toying with the idea of resurrecting my writing career, a career that I had sort of placed on the backburner in response to graduate studies and the achievement of other priorities.

The topic I was to speak on was the sale of dead bodies. As my Master's thesis had to do with paleontology and I have an unfinished novel started that involves in part a false accusation of grave robbing, not to mention a widespread, eclectic knowledge of oddball things, this was a topic that I knew a surprising amount about.

Therefore, I decided to put a great deal of content on the blog that would interest viewers of this show and people who might wish to know more about the subject that I spoke on. Alas, as I was later to discover, few Manswers viewers actually read books so the effort was probably moot. Still, there's a lot there and I hope someone somewhere enjoys it. There's a lot of weirdness on these pages.

Still, there's weirdness and there's supreme, high weirdness. When I stumbled across the concept of Chinese corpse brides my mind was boggled and I did not readily believe it. I did, however, verify that the claim was real on the H-Asia e-mail list, a resource for Asian history scholars, and through personal communication with folks in Macao at the university there.

Still, reports on this sort of thing creep me out.
Five people have been arrested in China for digging up the corpse of a young woman to be a "ghost bride" for a man killed in a car crash.

Published: 1:26PM BST 15 Jun 2009

The suspects included a grieving father who allegedly paid his four accomplices around £2,700 pounds to find a female to be his son's companion in the afterlife.

The men were caught after unearthing the remains of a teenage girl who had poisoned herself after failing her university entrance exams last year, a newspaper in Xianyang in China's Shaanxi province reported.

In rural China, superstitious villagers have for centuries sought out the bodies of recently deceased woman to be ghost brides for young men who die single.

Marriage ceremonies are conducted for the two corpses, and the bride is placed in the same grave as her husband.

Under Chairman Mao's rule, officials made strenuous efforts to stamp out the ghoulish practice but it has since resurfaced in some rural areas.

Last year, a gang in southern China was arrested for strangling young women to sell as ghost brides when the supply of female corpses in their area ran short.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Light bulbs and refugees

First, no more of the large headers. There are, after all, labels on the bottom of the page that should help you find the things you need.

Second, I've mentioned before that although I found the management of the local refugee center unresponsive (at best), I enjoyed working with the refugees themselves and therefore continue to do so even though I am no longer paid to do so. One issue I had with the refugee center management is that they would often send me out to on fool's errands or to do work that couldn't be done or send me out to walk into situations that required immediate attention and then have nobody around available to provide me with that information that I desperately needed when I called.

By the time I left the center, for instance, I told them I would not go to anymore apartments without first being given the landlord's contact information.

Why? Reasons such as broken lightbulbs.

What? Okay, many, perhaps most, of the refugee camps in the world do not have electricity. Therefore should you choose to become involved in the care, feeding and housing of recently arrived refugees you need to understand that you are dealing with people who do not have much experience with several items that most of us in the developed world consider to be common place, every day items.

One of these is light bulbs.

Without electricity you don't have electric lamps. Without electric lamps you don't have light bulbs. Therefore many refugees do not know how to properly use a lamp or light bulbs. Therefore when you enter their apartments you will often find that these items have been broken through misuse. (The agency I worked for had a book on how to use lamps and such. This was allegedly to be given to refugees but I only heard about because our overwhelmed, under-trained leader was showing it off to church groups claiming that it was used for such, although I never saw it. In fact, I only heard about it from the church ladies who hovered around the refugee center.)

One common problem is that refugees sometimes do not know that you remove a light bulb by screwing it in the counter clockwise direction.

Instead they sometimes just yank.

Light bulbs are not designed to be yanked on.

Being made of brittle glass they tend to break and do so in such a way so that the metal part of the bulb remains behind. Attempts by an unskilled person to remove this metal tends to result in a worse mess as the filament gets removed.

(I also suspect that sometimes recently arrived refugees do not realize that it's okay to leave a lightbulb in the lamp when not in use. For the same reason, lack of familiarity, I've heard of cases where they only plug in lamps before use and unplug them from the wall after use and do not leave them plugged in. For this reason, lack of familiarity and not realizing that light bulbs can remain the lamp, I suspect they therefore sometimes pull out working light bulbs when there is no need to do so.)

On more than one occasion (the last being today) I have entered refugees apartments and found pieces of light bulbs stuck in sockets in such a way that they are extremely difficult to remove.

For the record, should this happen with a light that is built into the wall and cannot be unplugged, the safe way to do this is to find the fusebox, turn off the electricity and then remove the metal part of the broken light bulb from the socket. Normally this should be done, whenever possible, with the landlord's awareness and possible assistance. In fact, some landlord's lock up their fusebox so that people cannot have access to it without their permission.

(I have, for the record, heard of a way to remove these metal pieces by inserting an allegedly non-conducting item into the socket such as a potato or carrot or something, pushing and then twisting, but have never tried it and hope never to try it. My opinion is that if the item contains water, as these do, then it probably conducts electricity. My opinion, just find the fusebox.)

In the meantime, try not to let people who don't understand electricity around the socket. Who knows what they will do? I once saw an eighteen year old refugee try to put his finger in an electrified light bulb socket which held a broken light bulb stub. I screamed at him in such a way that he jumped back quickly, which is pretty impressive, as we had not common language. (Ever seen all those movies where the hero yells "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" as flames explode? I did a pretty good imitation of that cliched response, only before the disaster struck.)

Meanwhile, yup, it's hard to believe for most of us. There are people out there who do not know how to change a light bulb. And a lot of them speak four languages.

So . . . get the landlord's phone number before you enter the refugee's apartments. It might save time and prevent disaster because who knows what you will find when you enter a refugee's apartment.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Salt Lake Tribune: Today's Refugees face harsher adjustment

I saw this and thought it was worth sharing. This fits in with what I have seen.

Like a lot of things, refugee resettlement is not done in a terribly well-thought out, systematic manner. I've decided just to insert the article as is. Should people wish to follow the non-working links, and I hope they do, I suggest they use my link to the main article and then follow the links from within the Salt Lake Tribune website. There's a lot there and the articles present a well balanced picture of the situation.

Today's refugees face harsher adjustment as program funding, flexibility lag
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 06/12/2009 05:32:38 PM MDT

Tan Ly and his wife Beverly pose for a photo inside Kim Long restaurant in Layton. Tan Ly was one of the boat people refugees from Vietnam in 1979 who resettled in Utah. (Scott Sommerdorf /The Salt Lake Tribune)
Tan Ly was just 19 in May 1979, when, late one night, he squeezed onto a 28-foot boat with 453 other people fleeing Vietnam.
For five days, he sat shoulder to shoulder with other refugees as the boat rolled over the South China Sea toward Malaysia. There was no food, no bathroom. Thai pirates stopped the boat twice, stripping Ly and other passengers of everything but their underwear.
Ly and his father, Hoang Tuoi Ly, lived for months in a jungle island refugee camp in Malaysia before heading for the U.S. When they finally arrived on a winter morning at Salt Lake City International Airport, Ly wore camp-issued flip-flops, a woman's blouse and slacks.
"We would do anything
Where the system fails:
# THE SAFETY NET: Where is it failing?
# THE PAST: More federal funding, services made life easier
# NEW ARRIVALS: An Iraqi family's first six months
# HOUSING: The biggest financial burden
# CASEWORKERS: Too few to manage enormous need
# EDUCATION: Schools pick up the pieces
# TEENAGERS: Two siblings survive differently
# DIAPERS: Refugee moms can't afford them
# HSER NER MOO: Moving forward after her murder
# EMPLOYMENT: LDS Church provides jobs, training
Learn more about refugees:
# How can you help?
# Where do Utah's refugees come from?
# Multimedia: A Burundi family at home
# Multimedia: The Hasan Family
# Refugee housing shortage report (.pdf)
# Tribune Editor Nancy Conway: My journey to Uganda
for freedom," says Ly, now a chief engineer at Hill Air Force Base who, by all measures, has achieved the American dream.
His experience, though, is not shared by many of today's refugees. More and more, they fail to attain even a shadow of the American dream. Ill-equipped for the United States' tough-love approach that expects quick assimilation, many live in poverty. Hope for a better life soon turns to despair.
"Most of the refugees from Burma are saying, ... 'We want to go back,' " says Zaw Htike of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, who works with fellow Burmese.

Refugee challenge
That sentiment is alien to Ly, one of the "boat people" who came to the United States just before refugee resettlement became a formal governmental program.
"I will live and die for this country any day," says Ly, who just 13 years after his arrival had worked his way through college, secured a job on base, built a home on Layton's east bench and met and married another Vietnamese refugee, Beverly Quy.
Driven by a sense of responsibility and pushed by necessity as refugees fled
Per capita refugees in the United States. (PDF)
a Southeast Asia destabilized in our failed effort to stop the march of Communism, Congress passed the Refuge Resettlement Act of 1980. The act, which replaced an ad hoc welcome mat that had grown increasingly threadbare, has since allowed 2.4 million refugees to settle in the U.S., with 207,000 refugees arriving in the peak year, 1980, and 27,119 in the year after Sept.11, 2001. This year, about 60,000 are expected. Nearly 1,000 refugees arrived in Utah the past fiscal year.
Refugees who fail today do so for assorted reasons, but much of the problem boils down to this: The 28-year-old program is simply inadequate, structurally and financially, to the task of assimilating today's diverse refugees who range from
illiterate Africans to educated Iraqis to Burmese who have spent generations in refugee camps.
The resettlement program, once guided by just a couple pages of rules, is now bound by regulations 4 inches deep. There's little flexibility just when it is needed most for the resettlement agency caseworkers, who encounter refugees speaking dozens of languages and needing all varieties of help.
"When there were more resources in the program as a whole, we could tailor the program," says Lavinia Limon who has worked in refugee resettlement for 30 years, including a stint as head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She is president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, one of voluntary agencies (volags) that get federal money to settle refugees.
While a Burundian family might benefit most from "adoption" for a year by a family or church that could teach and reinforce life skills, an Iraqi family might need money for first month's rent plus help finding a job.
"The one-size-fits-all thing doesn't work," says Elizabeth Campbell, director of The Refugee Council, a coalition of nonprofits.
Norman Nakamura of the Utah Department of Workforce Services says that during the 1980s and 1990s, resettlement agencies needed caseworkers proficient in just five or six languages. The 338 refugees who arrived in Utah through August this year came from 13 countries.
"The worker you have hired today might not be the right language or culture for the people coming in tomorrow," Nakamura says. "That puts a tremendous stress on the system."
Moreover, funding to help refugees gain a toehold has dropped dramatically, considering inflation. "We are simply not serving people the way we were," Limon says.
Years ago, each refugee got $500 at the outset for rent, food, clothes and utilities, in addition to other noncash aid. Adjusted for inflation, the amount would be $3,500 today. Instead, each refugee today gets $425. "This is pathetic," Limon says.
The two agencies bringing refugees to Utah -- Catholic Community Services and International Rescue Committee -- keep another $425 to pay caseworkers' salaries and other overhead.

Limited support
Some reforms undertaken over the years, including a push toward self-sufficiency through the 1990s that forced refugees off welfare and into jobs quicker, have had mixed results.
Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, says that while some groups have had more trouble than others, "By and large, it's been successful."
A gentler approach didn't do people any favors, she says. "The longer you left people out of the labor market, the more difficult it became to enter it ... to come to grips with life in laissez-faire United States."
Nakamura says the change, though, has been especially hard on refugees such as the Burmese, who have been "warehoused" for two decades in refugee camps and make up more than a third of Utah's refugees this year. It takes them longer to be ready for work, he says.
Moreover, Congress doesn't give the states all the money needed to provide even the shortened duration of welfare, he says. "It's never enough to meet the needs," he says.
The refugee program has been neglected for a number of reasons, Limon says. Support from the American public, while still strong, has eroded.
"People are more anti-foreign," she says. "When we were in the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were and anyone fleeing Communism was alright by us."
It's harder to articulate who we want to rescue these days.
While there is no national effort pushing reform, critics say fundamental change is needed.
Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, says resettlement agencies are a "refugee industry," more about making money than helping refugees get settled.
"They are federal contractors. They are not charities," he says.
In some cities, fraudulent subagencies suck up refugees' rent subsidies, he says. And he points to federal figures showing that for their first five years in this country, a higher proportion of refugees are on welfare than are Americans born here.
"The biggest flaw is the lack of responsibility and accountability," Barnett says.
Barnett favors a return to a time when refugees were sponsored by families, churches or other organizations -- and were not funded by the federal government.
That was the essentially the system Ly and his father entered when they arrived in Salt Lake City in February 1980.
A resettlement agency put them up for two days at a motel, then they moved in with a Layton family. Within a week, the family helped them move into an apartment, get jobs at a nursery, learn to ride the bus and enroll in English classes.
Limon, the longtime refugee advocate, bristles at suggestions that resettlement agencies' work should be funded entirely by charity.
"If America as a nation has decided that bringing refugees to our shores is good, why would we expect it all to be done without any taxpayer money?" she asks.

Troubled resettlement
Some critics of refugee resettlement are those who have witnessed turmoil in their communities.
Ann Corcoran lives near Hagerstown, Md., which stopped accepting refugees after residents put up a fuss. She now writes a blog critical of refugee resettlement.
"It's out of hand," says Corcoran, who contends that, increasingly, refugees are resettled without any notice in smaller towns. She suggests assessments similar to environmental impact statements should be required before refugees move in.
When clashes erupt, as they have in Emporia, Kan., Waterbury, Conn., and Shelbyville, Tenn., it's often because longtime residents resent being left out of the loop -- and seeing jobs go to people willing to work for less, she says.
Corcoran also objects to the number of Muslim refugees who have resettled in the United States in recent years because she worries about cultural clashes on the scale of those seen in Europe.
Refugee advocates say the religious beliefs of the refugees makes no difference.
"Our entire society is built on an immigrant history," Campbell says.
Newland, at the Migration Institute, says polls consistently show support for refugee resettlement.
Most Americans "like the idea of us as a nation of refuge," she says. "As long as people feel the system is not gamed or taken advantage of, they've been supportive."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Asia Stuff: Death of David Carradine

Recently David Carradine, the star of many films as well as the classic TV show "Kung Fu," passed away recently under ugly circumstances. Although the evidence points to suicide or an accident involving auto-erotoasphyxiation, his survivors have been spreading the idea that the death was neither of these. Instead, they claim, it could have been the work of a mysterious, kung fu, secret society that Carradine was trying to infiltrate.

As the author of a book on Chinese secret societies, etc., a regular reader and occasional small contributor to "The Journal of Asian Martial Arts," a scholarly magazine devoted to the subject, holder of an MA in Asian Studies from Cornell, who has lived in Taiwan for four years and traveled in much of Asia, and am also someone who has done extensive reading, dabbling, and study of the martial arts, I am afraid that the "He was killed by a martial arts secret society" explanation makes no sense to me. I wish I had better news for his family and fans. (And truth be told, how could I not be considered a fan of the man who played the role of racer Frankinstein in the classic film, "Deathrace 2000," a film I consider to be the ultimate b-movie of all time.)

Instead I have a series of questions I'd like answered before I am able to take this claim seriously. Question one would be "What sort of 'kung fu secret society' was he trying to uncover? Why were they secret? What were the benefits gained by this secrecy? What was the economic focus of the society's activities? Are we referring to gangsters of some kind or a religious sect or something else? What are the benefits that members gain from joining?"

There are many very fundamental questions that need to be asked for this to be considered as a plausible theory. Of course, it makes good fiction and an exciting story. And it does fit in with the mystique that kung fu and martial arts in general had in the 1970s when Carradine's classic show was at its peak, new and exciting and taking America by storm with its combination of side kicks and philosophical musings.

Paralells to Bruce Lee's unexpected, early, still not completely solved death and the sensationalized claims surounding it are, of course, to be expected. But I'm also reminded of Frank Dux ( ) and his claims. [Dux was the man whose alleged "true story" formed the basis for the Jean Claude Van Damme film "Bloodsport" which dealt with an underground full-contact martial arts tournament in which the best martial artists in the world compete. Although I love this film and have seen it several times, I consider it fiction, although well done, action, martial arts movie fiction. Apparently Dux is the only person anywhere who has heard of the tournament, which may explain why he won, or at least claims to have won.)

All in all, I wish I had better news for Carradine's fans, and I sympathize with his family and mourn the loss of a man who provided entertainment and new horizons to so many people.
It's curious to wonder what the state of martial arts in America today would be without the unsophisticated portrayals of the arts that Carradine and others gave us in the 1970s. Although these often seem almost laughable today, without them there may never have been enough interest in the arts to develop the more sophisticated, mature view of the arts that many today have developed.

Unfortunately I cannot endorse this theory surrounding Carradine's death.


For those interested, the image above came from The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu cover gallery website.

Refugee/ Asia Stuff: S'qaw Karen, Mon, Shan language script and encoding.

At the risk of objectifying large swathes of human beings, one of the reasons that I drifted into Asian studies years ago was that other cultures are like puzzles. There's pieces, and the pieces fit together if one only understands them well enough to understand how, and there's constant questions and riddles. And with contact with another culture, one finds new riddles and new questions.

[In fact, truth be known, several of the refugees I know have questioned things like why I am reading books about their home country and dabbling in learning its language. It just doesn't make complete sense to them. Which, come to think of it, is the response many Americans gave me when I began seriously studying about China. Alas, we are who we are.]

Which brings me to the issue of the Karen script. If one spends time around Karen refugees, one will soon see the S'qaw Karen script. It will be on such things as posters, t-shirts and photographs, many of which have a distinct political slant. There are multiple, distinctly different dialects of Karen. The one most spoken, in my experience, by refugees is called S'qaw Karen (pronounced "Squaw Kar-in" with the emphasis on the second syllable). It is worth mentioning that the S'qaw Karen had a higher rate of conversion to Christianity than other Karen and under the British Karen Christian militias, were involved in frequent conflict with the Burmese.

It is also worth noting that just for the record there is no connection between the Karen and Korea or Koreans, although some Americans who have never heard of the Karen, or for that matter probably don't know much about Korea either, occasionally mix them up upon first meeting someone who self-identifies as a Karen. (And since Karen have a long history of problems with the Burmese, Karen often don't like being referred to as Burmese. Occasionally, as many who come here have spent years in Thailand, often in a refugee camp, they will tell people they "come from Thailand" instead of Burma where they were born.)

The Burmese script is an unusual script noted for its circular letters. It is an awkward script to learn and the best introduction to it is probably John Okell's, "Burmese: An Introduction to the Script, Book 3." (Books one and two in the series, deal with the spoken language. Book four deals with the literary script.) [See footnote 1 for details.]

According to the on-line Museum of Karen History and Culture the S'qaw Karen script was first invented by Dr Jonathan Wade in the 1830's with Rev. Brayton. They also created a script for Pwo Karen, a different dialect of Karen, ten years later. Both scripts were developed using the Burmese alphabet as a base.

If you would like to read some of Dr. Johnathan Wade's writings, you may click here. Others of his materials, as well as more S-qaw Karen script material and resources, are available here.

[In a future post, perhaps I will explain who Dr. Johnathan Wade was. --see how there's always another riddle? However, at this time, alas, I confess I actually don't know. Based on the time, place and activities he was involved in, it stands to reason that he was a missionary from an English or American Protestant mission. If so this ties in interesting with some of the stuff below on Chin and Hmong. --See how there's always different pieces that tie together once you look deeply enough and see the shapes?]

Which brings me to the following; a document intended to offer ways in which to present the S'qaw Karen script using Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set.

See PDF file.

The document states that there are four characters used in S'qaw Karen that are not used in Burmese.

"Additions for S’gaw Karen.
Four characters used in S’gaw Karen are not used in Burmese: · LETTER SGAW KAREN SHA contrasts with Burmese õæ rha (which is õ LETTER RA + the @æ CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL HA proposed in N3043); @‚ VOWEL SIGN SGAW KAREN EU serves as a vowel [P] and (with the @∫ SIGN ASAT proposed in N3043) as a tone mark @‚∫; @„ SIGN SGAW KAREN HATHI and @‰ SIGN SGAW KAREN KE PHO are tone marks. The former only occurs with the @∫ SIGN ASAT, thus @„∫. It should also be noted that in S’gaw Karen the @´ VOWEL SIGN TALL AA proposed in N3043 is used as a vowel (in all contexts following all consonants), and @¨ VOWEL SIGN AA is used as a tone mark, only occurring with the @∫ SIGN ASAT, thus @¨∫. (Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.)"

The same document also offers materials on representing the Mon script, another language of Burma, for the same system.

Again, see here for details.

A second document also offers procedures on converting two other languages of Burma, Shan which is a Tai-Kadai language, and Rumai-Palaung, which is a member of the Mon-Khmer group of languages.


Footnote 1:
Burmese: An Introduction to the Script, Book 3 . by John Okell

# Paperback: 428 pages
# Publisher: Southeast Asia Publications, Northern Illinois University; Pap/Cas edition (September 1, 1994)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1877979430
# ISBN-13: 978-1877979439
# Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.4 x 2.3 inches
# Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds

Music I am listening to: Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Arrested Development, Angelique Kidjo (see? Isn't that what cool people put on their blog posts? Am I a cool person or what?)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Asia/Refugee Stuff: Can't tell the players without a score card. --PART ONE

Burma, according to some sources, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Asia. And once one begins studying, quite frankly, it can bey very confusing trying to sort out who's who.

This represents an initial attempt.


According to the on-line CIA fact book for Burma, the population of Burma is composed of the following ethnic groups:

Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%

A few notes are in order:

First, Burmans (also known as Burmese) are the majority population of Burma. Most refugees from Burma, in my experience, are not Burmese and some get offended when one implies or states that they are. From their point of view, this makes sense because often their ethnic identity is one of the reasons they were forced to flee Burma and become refugees anyway. (In fact, as I write, just yesterday I was taken to task for pointing out some people I saw on the street as "Burmese" when in fact they were not just Karens, but one was wearing a distinctively Karen hand-woven shirt. The Karen with me took offense, although not too much. Then again, I probably should know better.)

Chinese would include both Chinese who came under the British seeking economic benefit who arrived mostly in Rangoon, as well as those descended from the Kuo Min Tang troops of Chiang Kai-shek who fled China across the border into northern Burma.

Indians would also include Bangladeshis and Nepalis. The majority of these came to Burma under the British seeking economic benefit, often taking laboring jobs, as well as some descended from the Indian troops who served throughout the British Empire. The Nepali-Burmese include some descended at least in part from Gurkhas, the elite Nepali troops of the British and considered by many to be the best mercenary soldiers in the world. (The British sicked the Gurkhas on the Chin when their slave raiding got out of hand.) The role of Indians in Burma is extremely contentious. One reason the British conquered Burma was to defend the eastern frontier of their Indian colony, which, in the eighteenth century was being threatened by Burmese expansionism. Therefore after the British conquered Burma, they classified it as part of India, a classification that has never been used before or since. During that time many, many Indians came to Burma and some Burmese do not believe that they belong in Burma today.

Many Indo-Burmese do not have citizenship. Not only do many not have citizenship in Burma, but some do not have any citizenship anywhere in the world, being essentially stateless people.

Burmese citizenship laws are confusing to all concerned, including those who live in Burma, and therefore not properly enforced. Of course, widespread corruption does not help the implementation of laws either, nor does the fact that the citizenship laws have been radically rechanged at least once since independence. However, the laws do include different sorts of citizenship for different kinds of people depending on whether or not one belongs to an ethnic group that the government considers to be "real Burmese" as opposed to something else, like Indian.
(This issue is discussed in Charney's "A History of Modern Burma" on pages 142-143.)

The Mon are a people who live in Burma who were conquered by the Burmese in the eighteenth century. They took on many Burmese ways, including increasing use of the Burmese language. They are not to be confused with the Hmong, a people originally from the Guizhou region of China who were driven south into Thailand and Laos while still remaining in China (where they are referred to as the Miao or Meo. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Hmong living within Burma, although I might be wrong.)
Nevertheless, at times when Burmese refer to the Mon it does sound like they are saying Mong.


Asia Stuff:: Sexual violence in 19th C. Burma and the military today.

This is one of those awkward posts to write. Let's begin with a blanket statement: sexual violence is bad. However there does seem to be a lot of it when one begins reading about Burma and the hazards that many refugees face or have faced in the past.

For instance, I've just finished reading "A History of Modern Burma," by Michael Charney (2009, Oxford University Press) and found it quite interesting and worthwhile although at places unpleasant reading. Not only does it contain several instances of sexual violence, but it also continuously offers a depiction of a corrupt and brutal government without ideology and a high level of general incompetence.

For instance, in chapter eight of this book we learn of the widespread student demonstrations of 1988. Beginning with a small incident that grew, in this year Burma was rocked by widespread student demonstrations, demonstrations that the government forces tried to brutally yet inefficiently put down. On page 149 we learn that in one incident not only did the government beat 200 protesting students to death but that some female students who demonstrated were dragged off by troops and gang raped.

This boggles my mind on several levels. First, it's terrible, truly terrible. And it implies much, none good, about the Burmese military. Such actions surely hint at complicity or even approval by way too many people to make them excusable as the actions of just a small number of people.

Secondly, at the risk of belittling the horror and evil of gang rape (or any rape or other sexual violence for that matter) it's grossly inefficient. Some personal background here. Although I've never actually been involved in riot suppression, I've ten years of large event and concert security experience, undergone US Army National Guard Riot training and read several books on riot control and large event security procedures. One key to successfully controlling a large group of people is to use the people you have to control them in an efficient manner choosing assignments carefully and ensuring that those involved in monitoring, controlling or suppressing the riot or demonstration are used to their fullest.

People cannot just be abandoning their assignments, whether it be to smoke cigarettes, go the bathroom, or to gang-rape people. They should, after all, have a job to do. And for a military commander, even a sociopathic military commander who doesn't care one way or the other about atrocities, to forget this is just plain stupid and inefficient. --which is just one more hint that there are several reasons why the government of Burma can't do hardly anything right.

Which brings me to a couple of personal views.

First, I try not to spend too much time reading about atrocities. When I do, I inevitably get depressed, this lowers my efficiency and energy levels and then I cannot spend as much time personally working to combat the atrocities that need to be combated.

Secondly, being, as much as anything, a historian, it's my personal view that ultimately, perhaps, the roots of everything that's going on now lie in the nineteenth century or thereabouts. At least, when one starts checking, that's where you will see many hints of such, if you go and look for them. Besides, it's my personal view that if one is going to read about atrocities, it's somehow less emotionally draining to read about atrocities that occurred long ago and from which one can distance oneself.

Which brings me to an interesting aspect of the nineteenth century and earlier Burmese military --hostage wives!

According to the book, "Armies of the Nineteenth Century -Asia, Vol. 4: Burma and Indo-China," by Ian Heath (2003, Foundry Books, Nottingham, England.) the pre-British conquest Burmese army had a rather ugly institution that, as far as I know, was unique. They held the wives of the soldiers as hostages. Should the soldiers, particularly the conscripted troops, desert or behave in an otherwise unacceptable manner then their wives would be punished up to and including being killed in a terrible fashion.

On page 17 of Heath's book we learn that unlike many armies, the Burmese preferred to conscript married men with families, instead of single, unattached males.

He quotes Father Vincentius Sangermano who wrote early in the 19th Century as writing, "Those are always preferred who have wives and children to serve as sureties and hostages." He also offers a quote offering that disobedience was "severely punished in the person's family or relations; who, for his misconduct, are spoiled of their goods, sold or even put to death."

In 1805 Father Sangermano witnessed the execution of perhaps a thousand women and children after the desertion of their husbands and kinsmen. Those executed were killed by being tied up, shut into bamboo buildings and then burned alive.

Nevertheless, it is worth reporting that Heath also concludes that historical records from this time show that desertion was fairly common among conscripted Burmese soldiers anyway.

On page 24 of this book, Heath relates an odd story about five British Indian troops, who in the 1850s had deserted from a British cavalry regiment and become artillery instructors in nearby Burma. (where the Burmese, who were apparently gullible, were much more anxious to recruit artillery instructors than cavalry instructors.) Upon being hired, the new recruits were given 150 rupees each and a Burmese wife, apparently so that the unfortunate lady could be punished should they desert.

On page 20 we learn that the standing army of Burma of the time also consisted largely of conscripts. When these conscripts were chosen, whenever possible, married men were chosen and their wives were required to accompany them to the capital, where the army was based, so that they could serve as hostages for their husband's potential misbehaviors. In some cases, women, women who Heath describes as "desperate or daring," could be hired to pretend to be the soldier's wife and thus shield the actual wife from the consequences of her husband's actions.

All in all, the system of 19th Century hostage wives in the Burmese military of the time, strikes me as both terrible and inefficient, as well as implying that the soldiers had little real interest in actually supporting the state (although elsewhere in the book, he also states that the soldiers of the time seemed to have been quite brave in battle, at least according to the British reports of how they fought). My guess is that if the system had worked well as a motivator, it would have occurred in other countries as well, and I have never heard of it used elsewhere.

Skeptic stuff: Paul Kurtz steps down.

For several years I was involved in organized skepticism and contributed to publications such as The Skeptical Inquirer.

Although I consider my involvement in skepticism to be an important part of my intellectual development, after several years I became badly burned out, in large part due to the actions of the parent organization which published the magazine.

Therefore it was with great interest that I read this blog post when it was shared on the skeptics list. My comments follow:

First thanks to the two people who posted this. I doubt very much if I would have heard of it otherwise.

Very interesting, particularly the blog post R. Joseph Hoffman. Although I am not familiar with Mr. Hoffman, he essentially states many things that fit my (occasionally unprovable) views on Kurtz. (And for the record, I've never met Kurtz either. By the time he actually came to this area to speak, I had been involved in skepticism and the local group so long and hard that I wanted nothing to do with him and just skipped the talk without comment.)

It implies:

1) Kurtz founded and tried to guide both magazines, the center and the publishing company, something that really is not a big deal but that they all somehow seemed quite anxious to hide from prying eyes.

2) His primary concern with these organizations was to combat Christianity and religion in general. Again, no big thing but when I became interested in skepticism I thought it was intended to promote truth and science, with there often being a strong overlap between the two. (Not always of course, but there is somewhat of an overlap.) I know that this was also a bit confusing or just plain missed by some who thought his organization was intended in large part to combat health fraud. (Which it did, but I'm aware of one case where a humanistic Christian MD oncologist donated to the center to support its work in skepticism and allegedly money put in the open fund was marked as being intended for promoting secular humanism.)

This really bothered me and increasingly so as I worked on the local group back in the '90s. There was this feeling on my part that the national organization with which we were somehow affiliated/yet not affiliated with had recruited us under false pretences and was intent on using us for something that I had no interest in supporting and never had signed up to be involved with. (As time went on I found CSICOP more of an embarrassment than anything else.)

3) He occasionally acted unethically (see second to last paragraph of Hoffman.) Of course, we all occasionally act unethically but this always really bothered me because his organization claimed to be advocating ethics and fighing for truth and ethics

4) There are hints of grandiosity and messianism, something I've suspected since he often gave things names and doctrines and invented "secular humanist ceremonies" of various kinds. (Again, this just plain struck me as strange. Personally, although undoubtedly many people are atheists -duh!-- I think most people just somehow cannot pull of being atheists for very long and then begin creating an odd sort of atheistic-religiosity, such as Kurtz was doing or the Communists did in China in the late '60s, early '70s.)

Again, very interesting and thank you for sharing.

Peter Huston