Friday, July 16, 2010

Refugees and Higher Education --part six

First, a reminder. If you wish to read this entire series go to the labels down on the lower right hand side of the space under this article and click on the one that says "Getting refugees into college." This should show you the entire series.

Secondly, a correction/ clarification. In an earlier post I indicated that people with a GED do not have high school pre-requisites should they be required for a community college program. This is, at best, only usually true. If one has studied in high school, but dropped out, one does indeed have a transcript, indicating the classes one took. There's no reason this transcript cannot include high level classes that may be relevant for higher education. This was pointed out to me by an American woman who dropped out of high school in her senior year due to pregnancy, later earned her GED and then went on to higher education and used her high school classes as pre-requisites for admission to a higher level education program. Thank you! Thank you!

Thirdly, someone recently was asking "Can adult refugees get into college in the USA?" Well, let's put it this way. "Can adult people get into college in the USA?" Yes, they can, although it sometimes isn't easy. Children, job, social expectations, and several other things often present difficulties for the adult learner. What's a refugee? A refugee is "a people" --a person, like any other, save for a background that's different from most of us. (I wrote an earlier essay on this blog entitled
"Understanding refugees --four principles" that might help offer some understanding on what refugees are like.) So, the answer to the question is yes, and if you wish details please read this series.

Fourth, let me offer a disclaimer of sorts. Every college has different admission procedures. Check with the institute of higher education for exact details.

Which brings us to our next category of potential students and what it requires to get them into college.

Some refugees:
4) Finished high school and has the diploma but no transcripts.
5) Finished high school and has the diploma and acceptable, proper transcripts.

At most colleges if a student has earned a high school diploma overseas, it is necessary to give them some assessment test before admitting them. These can include, for instance, the TOEFL test (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). The TOEFL test is designed to assess one's ability to understand spoken and written English.

In some cases something called a "Compass test" is required. (See for information on the compass test. ) At at least one college, if one does not do well on the compass test you will have trouble getting student loans from New York State, as they belief is that if you lack the English language ability to pass the test, you also lack the English language ability to pass your classes.

Like most students one should check and see if they need to take the ACTs or the SATs.

If a refugee has finished high school, has a diploma, but no transcripts, and cannot get transcripts (apparently refugee camp high schools cannot supply transcripts to overseas schools) then it is, from my understanding, up to the college as to whether or not they wish to recognize the diploma. The one time I ran across this situation, the college chose not to recognize the degree and offered the potential student remedial class (which included much needed ESL classes). In fairness, the refugee camp diploma, although undoubtedly legitimate in this case, looked quite simple to forge.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Refugees and Higher Education, part five

In the previous two essays, I discussed what to do to get a refugee who has never finished high school into college. I hope it was useful. In this essay I discuss other kinds of refugees.

For instance, a refugee who:
2) Never finished high school but claims they did but says the documents have been lost.
3) Finished high school and the documents have been lost.

There are refugees will tell you that they have gone to high school but lost the papers and therefore cannot prove it. In some cases, this really happened. In others they are lying. Unless you are psychic, and I do not believe in psychics, you may have trouble differentiating the two. In other cases, you may begin to suspect the truth as time goes on and you get to know the person.

Regardless, my advice is as follows. Tell them they have two choices basically. Get those papers or else tell them to begin work on a GED or other means to get new educational certificates.

My limited experience has been that the ones who really went to high school will be much more willing to do this than the ones who were lying because the ones who were lying stand a good chance of being exposed when it comes out that they do not have the knowledge a high school graduate usually has. In one case, when I was younger and more naive than I am now, i.e. last year, a refugee convinced me to spend a great deal of time and effort helping him research how to get a job as a plumber while lying to me the whole time about his educational background. (The local Nepali-Burmese community is such a pain in the ass. On the other hand, other Burmese have assured me that there actually are many good Nepali-Burmese people. It's just that they don't live here.)

Therefore my opinion is that one should not spend time trying to get a refugee into college until *AFTER* you have agreed with him or her on how they are going to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent certificate and see that they are actually following through and working on this plan.

Don't put the cart before the horse.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Refugees and higer education -part four

In this essay, I will talk briefly about the non-academic preparation that is required to prepare some refugees for college in the United States or similiar countries. I am consciously choosing to place it in the section on getting refugees a GED. My assumption is that if a refugee has acquired a high school degree or even college elsewhere then he is much more likely than otherwise to be prepared in other ways too for study at higher levels in the USA.

Of course, this is not always the case.

For instance, I have been told that the refugee camp schools that Karen and other refugees from Burma study in in Thailand are much better than the educational resources in Burma, particularly in the Karen state. This does not mean however that one can take a Karen refugee who has spent a considerable portion of his life in a refugee camp and drop him or her into a college in the USA and not expect some interesting complications to take place. The culture and experience gap is huge between a 21 year old Karen refugee and a 19 year old American classmate even if they are placed side by side in the same classroom.

So what needs to be considered:
1. Language

Schools in the USA are generally taught in English. Students need to have a high level of English to do well. Many schools do offer ESL courses of various kinds, but the students still need to be highly skilled in English before they can do regular coursework. Additionally it needs to be understood that most ESL professionals divide English proficiency into two levels, social proficiency and academic proficiency. Just because someone's English is good enough for them to hold a job, make friends and hang out does not mean that their English is good enough for them to be able to read biology textbooks and write footnoted history papers. They need ESL training or other opportunities to improve their English and lots of them.

You need to encourage them to read and read in English. Some will do this easily. Others need prodding. Use your imagination in getting them to read. In one case, I actually helped a refugee fill out and subscribe to Playboy magazine simply because I thought it would get him reading. I made him promise to actually read the articles and I know he did in at least some cases. Many refugees are Christians and read the Bible. In such cases, I would suggest strongly that they be given or helped to acquire a copy of the Bible that is in modern English similiar to that they will encounter. (At least one local fundamentalist church popular with refugees insists on using the King James Version. Personally, I think this is stupid.)

There are tools to assess a person's English language ability. The TOEFL exam is one such tool. There are TOEFL study guides in your library.

2. Culture

This should go without saying. Refugees need to have some idea of how to live and function in a college setting if one plans to place them in it. They need some training in socialization and how to meet and greet and carry on small talk conversations in our culture. They also need some instructions on how to deal with problems. Try to teach them how to handle disputes and problems. They may occur and it is in everyone's best interest to have them able to handle serious conflicts in a societally approved manner should they occur.

Make them aware of resources and how to utilize them and choose among them.

BTW, should anyone wonder, what's the strangest thing I've seen a refugee in a classroom setting do?

Take his shirt off in the middle of an ESL class. It was hot, he was tired, he'd been working hard and the next thing people knew he started to take his shirt off and was soon sitting there, barechested, in the middle of his ESL classroom with people looking at him. Be prepared. Try to teach them how to act in the settings they will be in.

Clearly some refugee cultures will have a greater cultural difference than others in terms of adaptation to Western college life.

It also needs to be mentioned that many refugees, including many members of the Burmese hill-tribes, are basically indigenous people. Until relatively recently in terms of global history, their societies were illiterate, tradition-based, subsistence farming and hunting and gathering cultures marked by clan feuds and a relatively low level of government. This means that when it comes time for them to adjust to the expectations of the college environment they may have considerable difficulty.

Think in terms of indigenous people. Use such things as the situation and experiences of peoples like Australian aboriginals, Taiwanese indigenous peoples and the Native American Indian peoples of the United States, Canada and elsewhere to seek lessons and predict problems. [For statistics on Australian aboriginal education see: 4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2010 EDUCATION: EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT. For Native American Education in the United States see: Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008

These people have a much lower than average rate of educational success. Societal prejudice can, at best, provide only a partial explanation for this. A fuller understanding of this problem must take into account that many indigineous people have very different attitudes to many things than the mainstream industrialized cultures that they often live among and must interact with and whose expectations must be met in order to succeed at obtaining a degree in a higher institution.

For instance, such groups often tend to have difficulty with time managment and financial management. They often have a variety of interpersonal obligations and expectations which can cause problems, particularly if their peers do not appreciate the goals that they have set for themselves and are trying to meet through school.

If one is seriously considering enrolling a Burmese hill-tribe person in a community college you have my blessings but please make sure the basic foundation of time management skills is there when you do. Also please note that although I am refering to certain ethnic groups as "indigenous," and say they tend to have certain traits, these traits are culturally and environmentally based, not genetic. Many Karen, for instance, do not share these traits. On the other hand, many of these Karen who do not share these traits, tend to be from major cities like Rangoon and often have trouble speaking Karen language. They are sort of like a Native American Indian who grew up in Brooklyn or Oakland, California, and therefore much more adapted to the "modern" world (for lack of a better term) than many other members of their ethnic group. By contrast, when I went to high school with Navajos I had classmates who divided money into two categories. "enough" and "not enough," with everything else being an unnecessary distinction. Time was divided into "now" and "some day if it has to be done." For these people "rodeo" was a great activity and a cow basically a punching bag with legs. Aside from the interest in rodeo, I've seen some of this same style of thinking among many Karen (which perhaps explains why I like them). Industrial-era living requires a while different style of thought than indigenous living and school requires the former.

Then again, by the time most of these folks get their English to a level where it seems realistic to enroll them in a higher education facility, they should have much of the required cognitive needs down too.

Refugees and Higher Education, part three.

Just to recap, --how to use this blog. I began writing about refugee concerns on this blog in order to try and improve the treatment of refugees in this country and perhaps elsewhere. This was done largely in response to an event where the management of the local refugee center, USCRI-Albany, announced they were "maxed out" and desperately in need of help such as volunteers and furniture donation. I'd worked for the organization and the first place they needed help was in training of the managment as they weren't using their resources properly and were not handling offers of volunteers and donations properly either. It was the most inefficient place I'd ever worked in my life and the refugees were suffering because of it.
Therefore I began writing "how-to" articles on this blog. Like "how to handle furniture donations" or "how to teach refugees to drive." These were written as a series of pieces and to gain a better knowledge of the subject it's best to find the entire series of posts on the subject and read them all. This can be done using the topic labels at the bottom of the page.

At this point I continue to help refugees informally and my current activity in this area is to try and get a few into college. This is the third article on this topic and it will make more sense if you read them in order, starting with the first two.

In the last post I said that before one can determine a refugee's eligibility for college, you need to assess their previous education. I divided them into seven categories.

1) Never finished high school anywhere and admits it.
2) Never finished high school but claims they did but says the documents have been lost.
3) Finished high school and the documents have been lost.
4) Finished high school and has the diploma but no transcripts.
5) Finished high school and has the diploman and acceptable, proper transcripts.
6) Attended college but denies it due to an identity change.
7) Attended college and has the documents to prove it.

Let's begin looking at these, starting with the first.

Many people around the world have not had the chance to finish high school. This is generally not a sign of low intelligence, but a sign of lack of opportunities. The world is not a fair place and resources are not distributed fairly. Since most refugees have, by definition, had their lives disrupted by war, they are especially prone to not having finished high school.

If a refugee does not have a high school degree, and you and they wish them to be prepared to go to college, they must work on two things. The first is a high school diploman or GED (General Equivalency Degree) and the second is to develop the traits, abilities and capabilities required to go to college.

Let's look at the first one. If a refugee can enroll in a high school then everything is on its way. Just keep an eye on them and see what happens. I don't know much about this but I bet that someone at your local high school can answer the questions much more fully and accurately than I can.

If they cannot enroll in a high school, then they will need a GED. A GED. is a test that if passed gives its bearer a certificate that is equivalent to a high school diploma. This is a wonderful thing, and, in my opinion, one of the things that makes America great. We are a land of second chances and hope. Its bearers should be proud and in some circles a GED is actually more impressive than an actual high school diploma because it indicates motivation and actual achievement on the part of those who have earned it. Contrast that with some public schools.

The GED can be taken in English, Spanish and French, but to the best of my knowledge these are the only languages available. Of course, should someone wish to attend classes that are taught in the English language, then they should probably take the GED in English as well.

The GED is a specialized test and it is well worth familiarizing oneself with it before taking it. Several different study guides are available in bookstores and libraries. In some cases, the variety of study guides is confusing to refugees. They might ask which one is "official" or which one is the best or even if they need to read all of them to take the GED. It is important to remember that that USA is a large and very literate country with many publishing companies each of which wants a piece of the study guide market. By contrast some nations, such as Burma/ Myanmar, are much smaller, poorer and have a much more tightly controlled educational system as well as publishing industry. If they have tests for positions, there is often only one official guide that tells people exactly what to do, know and think in order to pass the test and obtain that position. Therefore, just taking a refugee, even a very intelligent refugee, and pointing them at a shelf of books and saying "There's the study guides. Have fun!" often will confuse them and not produce the desired results.

Should a student wish formal assistance in preparing for a GED, something I think is a good idea for many reasons (including the fact that it causes them to go outside their community and make one more contact with the greater American society) then resources are available.

Another option is organizations like "Job Corp" in some cases help people, and in some cases refugees are eligible for their services, to obtain a better life (where they pay more taxes and stay out of jail, thus saving tax payers money) and their progrems usually include helping people to earn a GED among other services.

To find and access these resources, some places to look are local community colleges, the Literacy Volunteer organization (which often provides tutors for the GED) and the local public library. In New York, the Department of Labors One Stop Job Centers can help people access this information although they tend in my experience to not be "refugee-friendly" --not hostile exactly, just stupid, doing things like handing refugees who clearly speak broken English lengthy forms in English and refusing to talk to them until after they are properly filled out. By contacting these organizations, one should be able to tap into the network of resources that are available to help people earn their GED.

Of course, not all refugees who wish a GED are ready to earn or study for one, and that's a subject I will try to discuss more in my next post.

It also needs to be stated that in order for a person to enroll in many college programs, they need not just a high school diploma but also to have taken certain classes in high school. For instance, to attend a college nursing program an applicant might be required to have their high school diploma and to also have taken biology, chemistry and certain kinds of math in high school. Although a person with a GED has the equivalent of a high school diploma, they generally do not have the equivalent of such required classes. I will try to write a bit more about this later, but, again, for more details on what this means, one might do well to contact the college or other institution into which the refugee is thinking of enrolling. For instance, should someone wish to study nursing at a local community college, it is not a bad idea to contact them as soon as possible and learn about the requirements to enroll in that program particularly if the person has a GED. They may have to not just earn their GED but also enroll in some prerequisite classes before even being able to apply. The sooner people know this, the better.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NY Madam arrested for sex slavery

Not the sort of stuff I usually share here, but seems relevant.

NY Madam Arrested For Terrorizing Sex Slaves
Updated: Tuesday, 29 Jun 2010, 4:40 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 29 Jun 2010, 4:40 PM EDT

(NewsCore) - A sex slave madam who lives in a million-dollar New York City mansion has been arrested for allegedly terrorizing sex slaves in two Long Island locations disguised as nail salons, authorities said Tuesday.

One, inside a storefront, advertised a "Stimulus Plan" on the front window and offered sex acts for prices ranging from $60 up to $120.

Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota said Jin Hua Cui, 44, of Queens, lived a life of luxury in her cash-filled home at the expense of her victims and is facing up to 25 years behind bars if convicted.

Spota said Cui admitted to investigators that she got into the business of prostitution to make a lot of money.

"I think that you can see, looking at the photograph of her house that, while she was a success, her success came at a price to the women that she enslaved," said Spota.

The DA said the women came to America in search of the American dream, but ended up ensnared in the nightmare of prostitution.

"Sex trafficking is degrading, it’s demoralizing, and rips at the very fabric of our beliefs as a society. We in Suffolk County are just not going to tolerate that," said Spota.

Spota said as many as eight women were forced into a life of prostitution by Cui after they answered employment ads in a Korean language newspaper offering fake nail salon attendant jobs.

"When the women would respond, thinking they were going to be working at a nail salon, she then forced them into prostitution with threats of violence, intimidation and embarrassment," said Spota.

Inside her Tudor-style home, investigators found numerous wallets stuffed with $20,000 in cash. Detectives also seized more than 1,000 condoms, massage oils, lingerie and other items in raids on the places of alleged prostitution.

Cui was arraigned on the charges and is being held in lieu of $10,000 cash bail.

Read more: New York Post

(This article is provided by NewsCore, which aggregates news from around News Corporation.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Refugees and higher education, Part Two.

To continue from below, many refugees wish to go to school.

To do this one must first assess their educational level.

This can be surprisingly difficult. Refugees, virtually by definition, have had complicated and interesting lives marked by instability. Secondly, sometimes they lie a lot. (Shhh! Save the PC rebuttals. They will be ignored.) Sometimes refugees lie to ensure the safety of loved ones at home or protect themselves from persecution. Other times they lie for personal advantage. I won't go into the motivations here. Just please understand that often what is claimed as educational background is not necesarily what actually exists.

Therefore let's just sort of divide refugees into general eduational categories:

1) Never finished high school anywhere and admits it.
2) Never finished high school but claims they did but says the documents have been lost.
3) Finished high school and the documents have been lost.
4) Finished high school and has the diploma but no transcripts.
5) Finished high school and has the diploman and acceptable, proper transcripts.
6) Attended college but denies it due to an identity change.
7) Attended college and has the documents to prove it.

Although in theory it is possible to obtain an American-quality GED at some places abroad, this is only rarely done. (Curiously it can be done in Thailand and is sometimes done by citizens of Burma who arrive in Thailand to attend college but who have not finished Burmese high school. My understanding is that this is normally done by Burmese from the higher levels of society and not by refugees. Still, it is possible.) Therefore this article will assume that we are speaking of refugees who have not earned an American GED or finished attending an American high school.

I've ignored any issues involving forged educational documents. Probably it has happened but I haven't seen it. (Although in the '80s, a surprising number of the Americans I knew teaching English in Asia were using forged documents, I don't think it happens too much with the refugees I know.)

In my next installment, I will dicuss the implications of these categories and how to use the information to get these people into school and get their lives moving ahead the way people wish them to.

Who's who in Southeast Asia.

As stated elsewhere on this blog, Burma (Myanmar) is a very complex country. It has over a hundred languages and multiple ethnic groups.

Many of these ethnic groups overlap with those of bordering countries. Due to their obscurity, these groups often have multiple names. In fact, defining the ethnicity of some groups in this region is surprisingly complex and to many of the people who we outsiders with an interest in the region consider to be linked or similiar do not see one another as terribly connected. Karen nationalism, for instance, did not exist prior to contact with the Western world and probably grew largely out of this interaction.

However, it is indisputable that some of thse groups have representatives on both sides of the border between China and Burma.

Therefore here's a quick guide


Wa = Wa
Kachin = Jin Po
Shan = Dai
Chin = Yi (Lolo)
Karen = Zheng

Source: Personal communication from a Cornell Anthropology Graduate Student who, honestly, was speaking without consulting their books or sources.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Entrepeneurialism and Burmese refugees

Recently I crossed paths with some Burmese refugees I know. [For those who try to eep track of such things, they were ethnically Burmese Muslims, but from what I've seen pretty mellow Muslims and I've enjoyed my contact with them.] They were quite excited as they were in the process of opening a small grocery store, sort of a mom and pop urban corner grocery, but specializing in goods either imported from Thailand, where they had spent time in a refugee camp, or else the sort of products that Burmese refugees wish to buy for their cooking. (i.e. fish sauce, shallots, ginger root, the sorts of things one often needs to go to a specialty store to purchase at the best price and quality.)
Of course, I was curious and anxious to see this, but it took me a few weeks to get around to visiting the store, which was located on an obscure side street in Albany, and checking it out.
Sadly when I got there, the store had been closed down by the authorities. There were two "Cease and desist" notices on the door from the city authorities stating that the store had to be closed down because it had violated a city ordinance on "banner signs" and also construction had been taking place without a building permit. Inside, however, were all the goods awaiting sale.
I tried to find the owners and talk to them but I was not able to do so. I did find their apartment, but they were out. I have no idea what the plan at this point is but it should be interesting to see.
Alas! Although we like to see America as the land of freedom and opportunity, compared with much of Asia and the third world it is more difficult to start a business here without running afoul of the authorities. Our freedom, although important, manifests itself largely in areas directly stated in the constitution and perceived as being linked to keeping our democratic processes alive. For instance, and I say this with no judgement, our right to criticize the authorities, publish what we wish and own firearms, all of which are arguably linked towards the need to keep an eye on the authorities, are substantially greater than that of most nations. However, if you wish to start a business in the United States, particularly New York state, it is not a bad idea to consult with an attorney first to check which laws one might run afoul of.
It is very difficult for someone arriving from a less developed nation with a more open system of market economy to quite grasp what is expected here.
I have mentioned elsewhere that one problem within the Burmese refugee community is driving without drivers licenses. --and I say this as someone who has put life, car and time on the line to try to teach many of them to drive. Not terribly long ago, I had a driving student who was unable to pass the road test (he was not able to grasp certain concepts like choice of lane and used to freeze up and panic when faced with the road test. Being an educator, I consulted another educator on the best way to build up his confidence and reduce his panic and we agreed that the solution would involve comparing his past accomplishments with his desired goals, showing how if he could do the first set of things, he should be able to do the second. Alas! We ultimately learned that many of the accomplishments he claimed were actually lies that had never happened and that by stressing them we were eroding his self confidence. Oh well, and that's why telling the truth is ultimately important and not doing so is often it's own punishment.)
One day he asked me if he drove "only to work and back" without a license and the police stopped him would they punish him. I assured him they would. Nevertheless, he had soon purchased a van (much larger than anything he had driven before), and began driving it on the highway (where he was distinctly unqualified to drive) and charging his co-workers, Burmese refugees from another, less entrepenurial ethnic group, money for rides to work. Fortunately, no one was killed and last time I checked the van had died, perhaps because he never quite understood what all those fluids were that one was supposed to check and replace. (Of course, after I heard about this I not only dumped him as a driving student, chewed him out royally and then called the police on him, but, sadly, unlicensed driving, even with passengers, is not very high on the list of infractions that the police choose to focus on.)
One activity I do note is a frequent flurry of Burmese refugees from several ethnic groups roaming the streets on garbage night seeking cans for the five cent deposit. The energy and desire to work is there. An actual focus on how to efficiently channel this energy does not seem to be there. Perhaps it will come. Time will tell.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Refugees and Higher Education

Life flows along like a river. And after a year and a half of interacting with refugees, I'm beginning to see more and more of them settling in, adjusting to America and entering paths that look as if they are headed for a productive and fulfilling life where they will help not only themselves, but also their people, the members of their ethnic group, as well as our society and their new homeland.

It's not easy and, of course, there are many obstacles, but many refugees who come to the United States seek an education. In fact, some, when asked directly as to why they chose to leave the refugee camps in Thailand or elsewhere, say the primary reason they chose to come here was to seek an education.

Which begs the question, how does a refugee get into college?

Speaking in general terms, as persons with a United States refugee visa are legal residents of the United States, they are entitled to use the programs intended for legal residents of the United States, including those aimed at educational assistance. For you conservatives out there, lest you ask "What do we taxpayers get out of this?" if all works out well, then we will eventually get a productive, educated, skilled member of society who will pay taxes at a higher rate and be less prone to such expensive use of tax dollars as jail or public assistance. Therefore, in theory at least, educational assistance to refugees should be a "win-win" situation for all concerned.

In fact, when I've taken refugees to the local community college for assistance with admission, the big question has often been not about their citizenship or green card status but how long they have been residents of either New York State and/or the county which hosts the community college. Residents of a county, in other words people who have lived there for six months or longer, be they refugee or native born, pay at a lower rate.

For many purposes, refugees count sort of as half foreign and half American and interestingly, when it comes to education at some institutions, they often seem to get the best halves of each. In other words, many community colleges have an international student office that assists international students, and often this office will assist refugees as well. (International students can bring in surprising amounts of money to a college, including a community college.) On the other hand, if they meet residency requirements, refugees are often eligible for loans and other forms of aid as in-state residents. (And why not? They are residents. They do hold jobs, pay taxes or else receive public assistance.)

One obstacle to this is the basic requirement of a high school degree or equivalent (G.E.D.) and/or minimal requirements for English as well as basic study skills. I'll try to write more on this later.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Census and Burmese refugees

Just a quick note as to another sign of local inefficiency in the refugee center, recently the local office of the US census, noting the increasing Burmese population, began efforts to recruit a few bilingual Burmese/English speakers to assist local Burmese-speakers. The census has also prepared its forms in many languages, ranging from Navajo to Italian, and included Burmese in the mix. See

In fact, because of a personal contact, the census asked me to assist with finding people for the position and I made a call to the Burmese Buddhist Monastery in Rensselaer as well as to a Christian church attended by many refugees, and a few personal contacts. (although most English speak Burmese have full time jobs.)

In response, apparently USCRI-Albany did not notice these efforts, despite the fact that the census asked if they could place the bilingual Burmese-English speakers in their office as it is a place known to many refugees, or either did not consider it worth sharing with their volunteers or perhaps had no means to communicate openly and efficiently with their volunteers.

For whatever reason, its volunteers did not know of these efforts, and were used inefficiently once again. For proof see this recruiting pitch to find more volunteers.

From a USCRI-Albany volunteer recruitment pitch:


Local Volunteer Helps Refugees Become Active Members of Their New Community

Karenni refugee Lee Meh (right) named her daughter Debbie Meh (center) after USCRI Albany volunteer Debbie Taylor (left).

Every week, Debbie Taylor and her husband, Kevin, drive to downtown Albany to volunteer at the home of a newly arrived Karenni refugee family from Burma. But a recent visit did not consist of the usual reading session with the little ones, helping the school-age children with their homework, or teaching the parents about money and the banking system.

Instead, upon entering the family’s second-floor apartment on Grand Street, the Taylors were surprised to find a group of Burmese refugees, each carefully holding official-looking letters.

It did not take the two volunteers for the Albany Field Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) long to recognize the forms in their hands: the 2010 U.S. Census. All too familiar to most Americans, the quick and easy census forms are anything but for the mostly non-English-speaking Burmese refugees. So the volunteer couple popped a squat on the floor and spent the next hour helping the refugees check the right boxes and correctly fill in blanks.

“We try to encourage all refugees to be involved in the census. They need to be counted,” said Debbie Taylor. “The Karenni group needs to be recognized as well.”

Last year, USCRI Albany helped resettle about 100 refugees from Burma, many of whom are members of the Karenni ethnic group. An additional 100 Burmese refugees will resettle in the area this year.

Read the full story:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Understanding refugees: Four principles

In the last year, I entered and completed a program to earn a master's degree in "TESOL" or "Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages." (what's sometimes known as "ESL") As part of this, some of the TESOL grad students were asked to volunteer to assist with a program that trained undergraduate students at the university to help refugees with their English. I agreed to do this.

During their training, I was given ten minutes to introduce myself and explain something useful about refugees. Ten minutes to explain the lives of refugees? For better or worse, that's the sort of challenge that I enjoy.

Here's what I did.

First, I went to the board and wrote the word "refugees," then I began to talk. "What are refugees like?" I said. "Refugees are people. They are good people and bad people. Some are short. Some are tall. Some are smart, some are not. If you spend time with them some will make you laugh and giggle for hours, others will just drain the life out of you as they are so depressing. But there are some things about them that are very different. What are some things that make their lives different from ours?"

And then I wrote these four words on the board.



"Loss of Control"


I then described each one.

"Trauma. Refugees have a lot of trauma in their lives. They deal with it in different ways." Then I mentioned an Iraqi woman I'd met one day who had been in tears because a friend of mine had come to help me with English class wearing a camouflage jacket. The poor woman had thought he must have been a soldier and wanted to know if he'd killed many Iraqi people. What makes this almost amusing is that the man in question (the Reverend Tim) is actually one of the biggest peace activist, war-protesters I know, having been singled out personally for abuse by a local talk show host for his activities, but the jacket was enough to bring back traumatic memories and cause tears in this poor woman. By contrast what can be equally unnerving is when your speaking to a refugee and they just sort of casually mention traumatic events in passing as if they were the most ordinary things. This is often the case with young Karen who grew up in a warzone, a warzone that has been active off and on since 1949. One was once mentioning to me about how as a teenager he'd leave the refugee camp in Thailand each summer and go home to see his parents in Burma and when he got home he and his dad would cut down trees and run a small lumber yard together. (We were trying to make him a resume.) It sounded idyllic and like no image of refugee life I'd ever heard. I asked him about how exactly was it that refugees could leave the camp and travel home. "Oh we'd have to sneak through the woods and stay off the roads," he said. "If the Thai soldiers saw us crossing the border they'd think we were guerrillas and shoot us." Which sounds pretty unnerving to most of us but it was the most ordinary thing in the world to him. And the mundaneness with which he told the story was more unnerving than the story itself. This was his life. This was normal to him.

"Poverty" was the next word that I mentioned. I described a little bit about just how overwhelming the poverty level was that some refugees lived or had lived under was. How excited they sometimes became over the chance to own objects that had been cast away by Americans and donated to the refugee center. Even silly things like old tennis rackets and coffee makers will excite a newly arrived refugee. (There was one day when I worked at the refugee center I just started giving away coffee makers as we had built up a stockpile of donated coffee makers as they had been coming in from time to time and never going out. This is the way the refugee center was run. Unfortunately, I found that after giving away about 8 coffee makers to whoever happened to be around and wished one, I received countless requests later for coffee makers when people saw me.)

But then I dug a little deeper. I mentioned that refugees are often quite excited by the chance to drive and even own a car after they come here. I mentioned that a couple weeks before I'd stopped at a traffic accident in Schenectady County to assist someone who was hurt and that a car had been wrecked and an elderly woman taken to the hospital. Afterwards, I overheard a bystander say that it wasn't important that a car was wrecked. What was important were the people. Cars could be replaced, he'd said. People couldn't. As I heard him speak, the thought went through my mind that that sort of thinking was absolutely foreign to a lot of people in the world today, particularly in Asia or the third world. (Of course, I said nothing to the man as it was just not the time, place or context for such a discussion.) So, I told these students, I had begun to wonder about the relative cash value for human beings as compared to cars in different places in the world.

I asked them if they were aware that human trafficking and people being sold into sexual slavery still existed in many countries. They said they were. (Actually it still goes on in this country, but that's another issue and I didn't get into it.) Therefore, I said, as I'd prepared my talk I'd begun to wonder if a Burmese refugee woman who was sold into sexual slavery to a brothel in Thailand sold for more or less than a car did. I fully admitted it was a very sick question, but pointed out that it did fit the topic under discussion. Having researched the question (I believe the source I used was A Modern Form of Slavery -Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand, a Human Rights Watch report from 1993, a bit dated but good enough for this sort of project) I discovered that when women and girls were sold into sexual slavery in Thailand they generally sold for about one tenth or less of the cost of a car. Then I asked them to just think a little bit about what it would be like to know that there were people out there who wished to take you and put you through one of the worst hells imaginable and wanted to do so for no reason except money and that to them the actual cash value on your life and your well being was less than that of a car.

"Loss of control" was my next topic. I spoke of how when I taught English at the refugee center, one day I asked the students why they had come to Albany instead of elsewhere. The universal answer was "Because that's what the papers said." A surprsing amount of the decisions in the lives of most refugees have been determined by forces outside their control. Most refugees have had astonishingly little control over their own destiny.

"Instability" --Refugees, especially newly arrived, non-English speaking refugees, live very unstable lives. They often do not understand bus schedules and their jobs come and go. When they move, and they move frequently during the first year, they often leave furniture behind. Their schedules are often determined by forces and agencies outside their control, demanding appointments at times that they did not choose, sometimes for reasons they just do not understand. And to make it worse, many come from cultures that do not emphasize time management and the refugee camp experience is one where the question is more of "what does one do with one's time?" than "how does one use one's time efficiently?" If you deal with refugees, particularly newly arrived, non-English speaking refugees, do not expect them to be prompt at meeting appointments. Be aware that sometimes they will not show up as promised for reasons that came out of nowhere. If you choose to involve yourself with such people, no matter how wonderful your intentions or plans, this is part of the game and you should expect this. Screaming about how "Dealing with these people is like herding cats," might be satisfying at times, but it's not gonna make a bit of difference. It's just the way their lives are.

Understanding these four principles,
Lack of Control

Rambo, popular film among Burmese and Karen refugees

Sometime ago, I wrote about how the film "Rambo," AKA "Rambo 4" was an extremely popular film among the refugees from Burma that I knew. The plot of the film deals with Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, entering the Karen territory of Burma to rescue some American missionaries. The American missionaries were bringing bibles and medicine to the Karen people. However when Burmese soldies attack the Karen village, the missionaries are captured by the Burmese soldiers.
It is, according to many refugees from the Burmese police state, a criminal offense publishable by two to four years in prison to watch or possess this movie in Burma.
It's a very simple movie, thematically, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
The Burmese army is bad. Rambo kills them.
But, nevertheless, I confess that four minutes in the movie my eyes began to water as sadness and pent-up emotions began to come out.
The film begins with a brief description of Burma and its brutal government and the atrocities it commits on its Burmese and ethnic minority citizens. It's all true (Aside from the strange fact that they indicated that it was only the ethnic minorities in the east who are rising up against the government. The truth is the minorities on all sides are rising up. This government is bad, very bad and there's not much that can be done to state otherwise.)
This is followed by some scenes of Burmese soldiers driving prisoners across a minefield and then commiting atrocities on the remaining prisoners.
It's brutal. In another context, I would dismiss this as gratuitous violence. Yet it is exactly what has happened and is continuing to happen in this part of the world.
The strange fact is that I have refugee friends who I know have been exposed to this sort of thing in various ways. What's terrible is when your talking to a good hearted college age guy who you've know for a while and he starts talking matter of factly about doing wood cutting at his parents' house in Burma. And you ask him to clarify because you thought he was in Thailand at that time. His explanation is that he visited them. When asked if that was possible, he explained, with no emotion except for a shrug, that it was but you had to sneak through the woods and stay off the roads or you'd be shot on sight by soldiers who might mistake you for a guerilla or rebel.
I'm not surprised by the response the film received from Karen and Burmese refugees.
The violence, the brutality, the injustice they have suffered is great.
And not just the horror of it all, but the obscurity of the issue in the minds of most people you meet, is incredible.
I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend most of my life suffering persecution and attempted genocide because of my ethnic background and then finding myself in a room full of people who had never heard of my ethnic group.
And yet this is exactly what happens whenever a Karen refugee from Burma tries to interact with Americans or most non-refugee groups such as, for instance, a college course of English as a Second Language.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Andrew Vachss' "Another Life."

Quick review. I just finished reading Andrew Vachss's latest novel, "Another Life." This gritty crime novel is presented as the end of the Burke series, a series that I have read in its entirety but that I also feel wore thin some time ago.

In "real life" Vachss is an attorney who focuses on child abuse and child protection. His novels deal with child abuse and sex crimes, and do so in a dark, unrelenting, very informed (at times some would say overly informed) manner. This one is no exception.

The plot is a good vehicle for us to see Burke, the hero of the series, in action doing what he does best, trying to get track down someone who has done something seemingly incomprehensible to a normal person, something evil and something involving a child. [Warning: the plot is not pleasant and neither is this review.] The baby of a Saudi sultan has been kidnapped out of his car after the sultan was drugged. No one knows who did it, but the method clearly shows a well-drilled, well-trained team. The Sultan had a disturbing fetish involving this infant. He would hire women to perform sexual acts on him while the infant watched, then dismiss the ladies calling them "Holes." A shadowy government figure, Pryce, who has appeared intermittently in previous books, approaches Burke for assistance in solving the crime. After all, Burke is the man who is known for his ability to understand and track down and punish "freaks." As one of Burke's loved ones, a member of his adoptive family is in need of serious hospitalization after being shot in the previous book in the series, and this is not easy considering that the person has warrants out for his arrest and thus should not be placed in a regular hospital, Burke readily agrees to take on the case. In classic Burke fashion, although he starts out interested primarily in the money he continues obsessively seeking to destroy whoever would do such a thing.

I liked this book much better than the last one. The author seems much more focused on his work. The plot is a much better vehicle for Burke. In the absence of strong clues, we see Burke seek out the criminals through seeking out the places where someone who might kidnap a baby could be found. It's a strange, unpleasant Burke-like journey as he visits fetishists, purveyors of hard-core pornography, dominatrixes, serial killer enthusiasts and therapists seeking clues. As in the previous book in the series, there were points in the plot where I was very confused as to why Burke was going to different places and why exactly he was seeking out the people he was seeking out. (And, yes, I do blame the author for this confusion, although I know fully well some might prefer to blame me.) However, it was not nearly as confusing as the last book and even when I did confused I could follow along just for the dramatic effect (minor spoilers: Burke, a discarded infant now grown, needs to look into his own past, something he avoids doing, in order to gain insight into what has happened to this kidnapped infant.)

As always Vachss includes his unique asides and uses his characters to voice his own opinions on multiple subjects, including, for instance, blues music, a subject Vachss loves and his characters discuss endlessly (but to fans approval. At one point, Vachss released a blues compilation album to go with one of his novels and it's not a bad album at all. One particularly interesting aside was when a character expressed approval of Marc MacYoung's self defense books. This seemed to come from no where and took me out of the story for a moment, but then again MacYoung's books are well worth reading (I've read pretty much all of them too) and when I thought it through I realized that it was MacYoung, back in the day, who threw in a recommendation to read the Burke series in one of his books and set me down this long strange path of reading Vachss.

In the past I've criticized Vachss for representing forms of child abuse in his book that are controversial or disproven as well as distorting and misrepresenting the motives and beliefs of people who defend those who defend people who are falsely accused of child abuse of various kinds. (Child abuse is a horrible thing. Unfortunately it is also a crime that is surprisingly easy to be falsely accused of.) I did not find these tendencies to be as strong in this work as in some of his others. (Ironically, the worst offender in this category is the novel "False Accusations," where Vachss pledged and then reneged to address this issue head on, instead using this novel to attack and distort the views of his critics.)

In conclusion, "Another Life" was an interesting book, not perfect, but interesting and I enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I get Pepper Sprayed --

Here's a newspaper story I wrote back in the year 2000. I volunteered to experience pepper spraying as part of getting a news story. It was an interesting experience. The photos seem to be gone, lost to history perhaps.


Pepper spray: A little dab'll do 'ya

Mitch Wojnarowicz/The Recorder

Corrections officer Phil Spencer Jr. helps Recorder reporter Peter Huston after he experienced a shot of pepper spray.

Mitch Wojnarowicz/The Recorder

Montgomery County Corrections officer Don Gardner explains the different types of pepper spray and spray neutralizers.


Recorder News Staff

TOWN OF GLEN - It's been less than an hour and the details of my pepper spraying are already starting to fade and blur.

We stand in a garage at the Montgomery County Jail. Three corrections officers, a nurse, Mitch Wojnarowicz, The Recorder photographer, and myself.

I do as instructed, stand in the middle of the garage. Don Gardner, a state certified pepper spray instructor and Montgomery County Corrections Officer, pulls out a spray canister of the debilitating gas. He points it at my face from about 12 feet away.

I try to do as told and he begins to count to three.


I do nothing.


I try to hold my breath. Nervous, I begin to wonder if I'm really holding my breath or not.


He sprays and I close my eyes involuntarily despite being told it will do no good.

It hits me, the spray, ending my confusion. A pain washes over me, becoming all encompassing, but doesn't quite hurt. At least there's not a feeling of pain. That comes later, and in large doses. Instead, there's more of an involuntary freezing up as your body struggles to adjust to this sudden sensory overload.

My eyes shut tightly and the burning begins. I feel hands on my arms and realize that the corrections officers are guiding me over to the eyewash station. I let them. Trying to find my bearings, never quite doing so. I'm starting to hurt.

My eyes are burning and my chest is starting to hurt.

I'm being led like a baby. I need their help to find the eye wash station. I am in pain, burning eyes, burning flushed skin, respiratory problems.

If this was a real struggle, if I were fighting these people instead of being helped by them, they'd win easily. Perhaps I could thrash around, but not effectively, and I can't see. And I'm dependent on them to get to the eyewash station.

If this were a real struggle, if I were the subject of a law enforcement pepper spraying, there would be no nearby eyewash station.

There would also have been two bursts of spray to the eyes, not one.

One is the normal amount for guard training.

Instead I would soon find myself rolling on the ground, perhaps handcuffed, perhaps thrown in the back of a police car. Wondering when the pain would go away and if there would be permanent effects.

They tell me to step up.

I find myself at the eye station. I open my eyes and begin rinsing. The pain has grown worse however.

My chest gets tight. I struggle to breath. I wheeze. I wonder if I will continue to breath. Will I stop breathing? If I do will I become resuscitated? Will I die?

I struggle for breath.

The breathing becomes easier.

Okay, I'll live.

The pain in my eyes has become worse.

I rinse.

It becomes better.

I feel flushed burning pain on my forehead and my neck. Fortunately, I'd skipped shaving that morning. They said if I had the pain would be worse as the hot pepper juice soaked into my pores.

We wash my eyes in the eye wash station. I love the eye wash station. It is a wonderful thing.

Periodically, I try to get up and leave the eye wash station. When I do, the pain returns, coming back, burning worse, I wash my eyes, my chin, my forehead, trying to get the juice off of my body. I don't like the way it's burning me. I cannot control myself.

I keep having to return to the eye wash station.

I blow my nose several times into a paper towel. I wipe myself several times with a towel.

One question they ask people in pepper spray training is to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I don't think it hurts that much. The problem is it doesn't go away.

I wash in the eye wash station. It reduces. The pain becomes a three. I feel better. I try to walk around the garage so that people will see I am in control of myself. So that I will see I am in control of myself.

It doesn't work. The pain, once a three, soon becomes a four, then a five. I return to the friendly eyewash station because I don't want to experience a six.

The pattern repeats. I burn. I hurt. I hold my eyelids open and put my precious eyes into the stream of lovely flowing easing water.

I am happy and feel better.

The pain is now a three. Then it starts to climb back up.

I wash my eyes again, feeling lucky that I was pepper sprayed in a garage and not a jail cell or street corner.

Officers Eric Schnackenberg, Don Gardner, and Phil Spencer attended my pain, assisting me as necessary. They, like most corrections officers, have experienced the same pain, the same loss of control, the same fear and uncertainty about one's future that I have.

Gardner, the instructor, said he's been sprayed four times.

This is the world of pepper sprays and modern law enforcement.

According to the book, "Pepper Sprays -Practical Self Defense for Anyone, Anywhere," by Doug Lamb (1994, Paladin Press, Boulder CO), although pepper spray weapons have been in existence for over 35 years, their common deployment and usage has only happened in the last 15 to 20 years. The work says that the reason behind the rapid rise in usage, both among law enforcement and civilians, is due to the widespread need to have a non-lethal method of self defense that works regardless of any differences in strength or fighting ability between two combatants.

Compared to such lethal or potentially lethal devices as firearms or batons, the advantage to pepper spray is obvious.

Unlike tear gas, the sprays are directed and do not blow around unnecessarily

Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato said that his department began using pepper spray for jail guards in 1996 and within a year was using it for the road patrol deputies. He said he has never been pepper sprayed himself.

"If I buy a new gun do I need to shoot myself?" he explained, laughing.

Pepper sprays, as the name implies, are made to spray gas made by hot peppers. The intensity of hot peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU's), named after Wilbur Scoville who invented the scale in 1902.

For comparisons, Bell Peppers have a Scoville rating of 0.0, Jalapenos have a 2.5 to a 5.0 thousand , Cayenne's have a 30 to 50 thousand, and Habanero's have a rating of 100-300 thousand SHU's. Most defensive sprays contain a liquid that contains a 5 or 10 percent concentrate of a liquid that is measured at 2 million SHU's. Sometimes the liquid is in the form of a foam. According to Lamb, one manufacturer considered manufacturing a spray with a strength of 3 million SHU's but was advised not to as such a strength could cause tissue damage.

Nevertheless, the sprays do have critics. According to the spring 1996 issue of Covert Action Quarterly, a magazine that frequently criticizes law enforcement practices, the sprays have been involved in 60 deaths since 1990.

Although proponents of the sprays argue that such cases either involved using the sprays on persons who were on stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, the article charges that their use is unsafe on persons who have asthma or other severe respiratory conditions.

In the correctional facility, where medical records on inmates are known, it is not permitted to pepper spray asthmatic or other inmates with respiratory problems under any circumstances, according to Eric Schnackenberg.

The same article charges that in some cases of police brutality the sprays have been used to inflict pain for its own sake on prisoners, including hand cuffed prisoners. According to the article, some citizens groups an the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned the use of the sprays.

For these reasons it is common practice to recommend to law enforcement personnel being trained in the use of pepper spray techniques and tactics that they actually experience its use first hand.

Amato said that he has not heard of any problems with the use of the sprays and that he expects the department to keep using them for some time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wow! I'm a racist!!! Cool, huh?

Proper English’ op-ed revealed author’s racism

What an interesting Opinion piece by Peter Huston in the Jan. 24 Gazette (“White-black speech differences is a subject that we ignore”). When I say interesting, of course, what I mean is amazingly racist.
Now I’m sure Mr. Huston feels he has his bases covered by pointing out that we would all love to live next door to Bill Cosby, and that we have Mr. Obama for our president; so of course he can’t be racist, as he recognizes these prominent black people. Well, Huston, we have a problem.
Sadly, he is under the belief that the inability to speak “proper English” belongs solely to the blacks of America. Apparently Mr. Huston, who goes on to call this speech everything from ebonics to ghetto-speak, has never actually been to the “ghetto.”
Allow me to educate him on the defi - nition of ghetto. The ghetto was originally a quarter of a city in which Jews were forced to live, an idea originating in Italy. It has since come to mean any area of the city where a minority lives. Mr. Huston, please note the lack of any of the following words: black, Negro, African-American, colored person, or any of the other colorful terms in your piece. If you’d actually been to a ghetto, you’d see they are not merely populated by blacks — you might even take off the race-colored glasses long enough to notice the white people there!
In addition to Mr. Huston’s selective vision, he apparently suffers from selective hearing, as he has apparently never heard the number of white people who cannot properly use the English language.
If Mr. Huston would like to know the solution to the “speech difference” problem, I would suggest he take a hard look in the mirror, and he may recognize that his own racist assertions are quite an affront to the English language, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Troublesome Bookstore / Bookbuyer




One of the activites I am involved in is selling books second hand through the mail. Should you do this watch out.

I've been doing this for over a year now and so far have had two complaints of books not arriving. They both came from this man. The first time he dropped the complaint. We'll see what he does this time. Should anyone really care, aside from that I have a 4.9 out of five star rating based on the fourteen folks who left feedback on my services. (I do try and do a good job.)

So here's the man who says I did not send him books (twice). He is the only man anywhere who has ever claimed I did not send him books. I do not know why he orders books and then claims he does not receive them. Fortunately, however, this a problem that seems to be unique to him.

Bruce Sardinia, age 51 or 52

He is involved with a company called
Southern Book Services

or Southern Book Warehouse

or Book Warehouse

The orders use this address.

4360 NW 135TH ST

This is his phone number:
(305) 681-3424

This is his e-mail address: (although he used a different one last time.)

[NOTE ADDED ON MORNING OF 1-26-10: I admit when I put this up I wondered if it was an over-reaction. However, since then this blog has started getting hits on this bookstore and its address at about a rate of one search every two days. It's a shame.]

Well gee, look what I found here. At least I know, I'm not over-reacting :



* Report: #425923

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Reported By: (SAN DIEGO California) This is a Ripoff Company! OPA-LOCKA Florida
... How come you dont respond to emails on Amazon?????
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What's This?

Are you an owner, employee or ex-employee with either negative or positive information about the company or individual, or can you provide "insider information" on this company?
Victim of this person/company? What's This?
What's This?

Are you also a victim of the same company or individual? Want Justice? File a Rip-off Report, help other consumers to be educated and don't let them get away with it!
4360 NW 135 ST
OPA-LOCKA Florida 33054
Phone: 305-502-5110
Web Address:

Category: Attorney Generals

Submitted: Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Last posting: Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I have the same experience. He "Dave" uses the same wording. Here is my postings...

02/18/09 Not Delivered: When will it arrive? Edit
No it has not! Okay! Feb 12th was 6 days ago! Okay! If is was shipped on Jan 12th (30 days ago) it would have gotten here by now. Okay! So give me my refund! Okay! You need to contact the USPS and have them track it. What am I supposed to do? Wait til President Obama is running for re-election? If it does show up (I doubt it) I will return it unopened.

02/18/09 (Customer Support Reply)
Sorry for this delay in delivery.
Please notice the ship date in red above. This is 100% accurate.
The shipping label was printed as:
Jerry Hutchins
P.O. BOX 84899
SAN DIEGO, CA, 92138, United States

Please take another look for this, as it should have arrived by now.
If not, please allow a little more time as most mail - even lost mail - eventually arrives.
If its returned to us for any reason, we will immediatly let you know.
Sorry again for this delay in delivery, but I assure you that the above shipping data is correct.
Please keep in mind that you will get delivery or get a refund - that is our guarantee and promise!
Thank you for working with us and sorry again for this problem,
Thanks, Dave

02/16/09 Not Delivered: When will it arrive? Edit
You can't do that! You say that it will get here on the 12th it is not here! So I want a refund! If someday it gets here I will send it back. I have purchased many books from Amazon vendors and this is the worst experience. I am neve buying anythng fro you ever!

02/15/09 (Customer Support Reply)
You may return anything at any time. We will post a refund within a day of receiving it, but the mail can be very slow, so please allow lots of time for the slow mail to arrive, and then we will post the refund.
If its being returned due to no fault of ours then we have to deduct the postage charges that we already used.
So we refund the full amount less the shipping/handling fees charged by AmazonUS.
This is the return address:
Book sales, 18520 NW 67th Ave, Suite #140 Miami, Fl 33015.
Thanks for you understanding that we cant refund till it arrives, and the mail can be quite slow.
Thanks, Dave

02/13/09 Not Delivered: When will it arrive? Edit
Well it is the 12th and no product. So I would like a refund on this order. I would like it to get it refunded back to my Amazon account since I bought it using a coupon. I will notify Amazon that I want a refund because I never got the product.

02/09/09 (Customer Support Reply)
Sorry for any slowness in delivery by the USPS. The mail can be slow, but we do everyting we can to hurry along your order.
Please notice the red text above as it does give accurate shipping and ETA details.
Please also notice the shipping address above as its what was printed on the shipping lable.
Please keep in mind that you will get delivery or get a refund - that is our guarantee and promise!
Thank you for working with us and sorry again for this problem,
Thanks, Dave

02/07/09 Not Delivered: When will it arrive? Edit
It is the 6th and I still have not received it. I think you should either send another one or refund my money throught Let me know so that I can notifiy myself.


02/02/09 (Customer Support Reply)
Please notice the red text above to see estimated delivery dates.
It was mailed via the USPS, from Miami FL, to:
Jerry Hutchins
P.O. BOX 84899
SAN DIEGO, CA, 92138, United States

Sorry if the mail seems slow. We shipped as quickly as possible, but when the mail is slow, it is out of our control.
Please allow the ETA time frames shown in red, and I am sure you package will arrive soon.

If it does not arrive by the ETA dates above, you will be fully refunded - but please first allow the full ETA time frames shown in red.
Thank you for your understanding and patience,

02/01/09 Not Delivered: When will it arrive? Edit
I have not received this order. I also emailed you two times via Now I see that it shipped on January 12th. Well it has not arrived.

01/10/09 (Event) Email Sent: Confirming order details and offering to edit address (IF) not correct

I also filed a claim with also for your pleasure I posted the domain registration below. Feel free to call or contact the DA in Flordia.

Whois Record


4360 NW 135 ST

OPA-LOCKA, Florida 33054

United States


Created on: 08-Mar-07

Expires on: 08-Mar-09

Last Updated on: 08-Mar-08

Administrative Contact:


4360 NW 135 ST

OPA-LOCKA, Florida 33054

United States

(305) 502-5110

Technical Contact:


4360 NW 135 ST

OPA-LOCKA, Florida 33054

United States

(305) 502-5110

Domain servers in listed order:



SAN DIEGO, California

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More like Teen spirit

Changes in this Blog

Having considered the matter, some changes in this blog are coming. This blog was originally intended to showcase and promote my writing projects. Then, when I made a decision to set the serious writing aside for a year and focus on other things, I began posting roughly once a week on refugee issues, Burmese refugee concerns and issues related to Burma (Myanmar), and events in that tragic nation.

My thought was that since refugees need a great deal of help, and many who work with them do not really know how to provide this help effectively, I could make a difference by providing a forum where people could find such information. I had, after all been working and volunteering with refugees and had seen many things that were done in a very poor and inefficient manner.

I'd still like to see this. I'd love to see this become a forum where such issues are actively discussed. However, few take the time to actually read the "how to run a furniture program" or "how to teach driving to refugee" articles. But again, and I genuninely mean this, should someone out there have a question on how to work with refugees that they think I can answer or share an opinion on, I'd love to help. Please write me. And if you think there's something along those lines that you'd like to share here, e-mail me and we'll talk. I'm open in principal to putting writings by others up here.

In the meantime, however, I'm getting a sense that blogs on refugees fall into roughly two categories. The first are the "anti-immigrant"/ "don't let them come here" blogs. Ideologically, they and I are generally not on the same page although I do think they serve a valid purpose because some refugee agencies, quite frankly, are poorly run and they don't police themselves. Whether it's through well-intended incompetence or just lack of experience, these places often are indeed a mess.

The other group of blogs are the "We must help the refugees" blogs. Most of these I've seen are the common sort of political blogs where someone comments on the newspaper. Some who follow this blog might recall an incident some months ago, where a young woman, a former refugee center volunteer, assured me there was no problem with domestic violence among refugees, at least none greater than anyone else, and then let it slip that she and her colleagues at that center had dismissed a former refugee from his volunteer position for stating that members of his own ethnic group had a serious problem with domestic violence. This was stupid, but it shows the sort of mentality that sometimes permeates refugee centers and leads to unrealistic programs. Personally, I was quite embarrassed when this incident made the pages of a couple of the right wing, anti-immigrant blogs.

I don't really have any interest in writing that sort of blog. There's doers and there's commentators and I try to be a doer.

These days I do a lot to help some refugees, a small number who I know personally and whose company I enjoy, and often the same ones who I convinced, cajoled and roped into volunteering to help me on the furniture van at the refugee center. They're usually young and often have no family here and lack experience in many bureaucratic and personal affairs. However, these matters are often proceeding in directions that are more a matter of individual problems and not the sorts of problems that people in other areas can generalize from.

I mean, do you really want to hear about me filling out motor vehicle department forms for someone who is young and new in this country and can't quite do it themselves? I don't think so, and even if you do, I don't think you're going to gain any new insights on the lives of refugees from reading about it, not to mention privacy issues as things slip from general sorts of common problems to more specific individual problems. Let's just say the folks who could not use an appointment book or change a light bulb last year, are now struggling through more complex bureaucratic and societal hassles as they adapt to life on this side of the world.

I also assist refugees through my activities teaching English as a second or other language and intend to continue doing that.

As for writing about general Burmese history and cultural affairs, I'd like to do that. However, time and other obligations generally preclude me from doing so. These obligations include not just school but other writing projects. And if I do decide to write about these issues, I must ask if there might not be a better forum to do it in.

In the meantime, I expect to keep this blog going. I expect to also use it to discuss more issues aside from refugees although refugee concerns will still be here. These will probably include my Peking Man digs history project, thoughts on skepticism (I am the author of two books on skepticism and strange claims) and other oddball issues that strike my fancy. Again, however, if there is something relating to issues that someone thinks I should cover, shoot me an e-mail and we'll discuss it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Celebrities for Burma

New Burma Human Rights Campaign

I just don't know what to make of this, but if it works, well, more power to it.
If sex-crazed, muppet-faced midgets will help, then Tia Tequila has the right idea.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Greetings! Where's the blog been?

Greetings people. I have been working hard on the Peking Man book. In the last month I've churned out 31,951 words on the project passing 100 pages (using 12 point Arial font, I could make more pages if I switched to courier.)

Between that, the academic program, trying to live a life or at least work towards living a balanced life, and actually helping out and hanging out with a few refugees here and there, there really hasn't been much done as far as writing about them or other subjects on the blog. We'll see what happens.

All the best, should you not see something on a refugee related topic that you think should be here, drop me a line and we'll see if I'm able to help. In the meantime, expect some things soon relating to the history of paleontology in Asia.