Sunday, December 25, 2016

Controversy and Censorship -- Meet the Flockers --Part Two


This is part two of a two part piece. To read part one, follow this link: http://peterhuston.blogspot.com/2016/12/controversy-and-censorship-meet.html

As detailed last week on this blog a hip hop rap called "Meet the Flockers" was released in March of 2014 as part of an album called "My Crazy Life." The song detailed how to rob a home and specifically advised people to target homes in Chinese neighborhoods as Chinese have traditionally kept larger amounts of cash and valuables around the home than many ethnic groups.



Not surprisingly the song offended many Chinese Americans. This controversy grew after, as detailed on last week's blog post, a Chinese woman in Georgia shot some African Americans who were attempting to rob her house.

In this blog, I will discuss the politics of the song, the response from the Chinese community in the USA, and the the response to the response. Then I will discuss the legalities and free speech issues surrounding the song.
Responses to the song included protests outside of YG's shows as well as a petition to the White House asking that the song be banned.

It said:
"The song "Meet the Flockers" by YG encourages violence and crimes to a specific ethnic group. As one of this group in North America, I feel seriously offended and threatened. Please ban the song from public media and investigate legal responsibilities of the writer." 

The petition was signed by over 100,000 people, and therefore under the rules of the "We the people" forum the White House was required to give a response.   


The response was as follows:
"Thanks for taking the time to sign this petition on the We the People platform.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech in the United States. The White House doesn't make decisions about whether particular songs are available publicly. Individual platforms determine their choice of content and the rules of participation and conduct for their sites.
We encourage you to use the We the People platform to petition the Administration to take action on the policy issues you care about, and appreciate your interest in using the platform to make your voices heard.
-- We the People Team" 

In other words, a form response, citing first amendment and freedom of speech concerns and a lack of authority by the White House to ban such a song.

At what point does a song, film, book, or other piece of media that discusses methods of committing crimes cross the line and lose its first amendment protection? This is an issue I've discussed before when I wrote about the Paladin Press "Hitman" book and its lawsuit for "Gauntlet" magazine's 13th issue.


   

[NOTE: I  am not a lawyer., I am a freelance journalist. Please do not take the following as legal advice.]

Discussing the commission of crimes in generally, including the best ways to commit crimes, is considered protected speech under the first amendment. This includes general discussions of how a criminal could or should target victims and which sorts of people make the best victims for specific categories of crimes. Such discussions can be legally made but only in a general sense. 

The rapper says the best way to rob a house is to find one where the people who live there do not use bank accounts. This is a general statement. To prohibit it might lead to accidental restrictions on advising people not to keep large sums of money in their house. 

However, if you were to specify a specific target such as me or you by name then it would cross the line from free speech into advocacy of a crime. In other words if you say "It is best to rob Chinese people" that is legal protected speech, as offensive as it may be, as "Chinese people" is a large category and type of people and you are speaking in general terms. It could perhaps even be argued that by making such a statement, the speaker might be better enabling the targetted group, in this case "Chinese people" to protect themselves from such crimes. 

If, however, you advocate a specific individual as someone who should be targetted for a crime then you have slipped over an important legal line and are now advocating the commission of a crime.  

In other words, if you state, for example, that Mr, John Chang of 123 First Street, in Anytown USA is a good person to rob because his house contains many valuables and suggest that people do so, then you have just crossed an important line and advocated the commission of a specific crime with a specific victim. This is illegal and not protected under the first amendment. The first amendment does not cover any right to advocate the commission of specific crimes.   

Therefore the US government does not have a right to ban songs that offend people except in certain carefully defined circumstances. But you can write a song in response. 

In fact, this has been done. (The song even references the shooting in Atlanta, among other things.)




Then again, some would say it's best to argue these things. It's tought to day. Freedom of speech is not always pretty or safe but it's an important part of the American system. And, yes, I did look up the song and it is offensive to Chinese people.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Controversy and Censorship: Meet the Flockers, Part One

Greetings. Some time ago, I decided to blog more. Alas! The last few weeks other life obligations have gotten in the way, but here's another try.

Recently on facebook, one of my Chinese friends posted an angry post concerning a controversial hip-hop song called "Meet the Flockers," outrage over the song among the Chinese American community, and  a petition to the White House to ban the son, as well as the official White House response to the petition, a response that led to further frustration among many of those who had signed the petition as the White House, citing the first amendment's freedom of speech provisions, declined to ban the song. Hear I give the background to the controversy and the song. Next time I shall describe the response.

Having a background in censorship issues and being a former contributor to the 1990s publication, Gauntlet, a publication that dealt with censorship issues in a balanced and interesting way, such issues fascinate me. Let's begin with some of the issues surrounding this controversy a bit first.

If you'd like more information on the controversy, sources include this NBC news story -  





The song, "Meet the Flockers," discusses how to break into a house and rob it, setting out a plan in detail in the first verse. Here's the lyrics. 

First, you find a house and scope it out
Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don't believe in bank accounts
Second, you find a crew and a driver, someone ring the doorbell
And someone that ain't scared to do what it do
Third, you pull up at the spotPark, watch, ring the doorbell and knock
Four, make sure nobody is home
They gone, okay it's on
Don't be scared, nigga, you're in now
If the police come you gonna find out who your friends now
That ain't them talking, that's your mind playing tricks on you
You're conscious cause you know you got nines with two clips on you
But fuck that, motherfuck that plasma
And fuck that laptop, go and get that jewelry box
You tryna get paid?
Go take that jewelry box to the Slauson they'll give you cash back

It's easy to see how such a song could cause a controversy. But of particular controversy was the line "Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don't believe in bank accounts." Although there actually is some truth to the idea that many Asians keep larger quantities of cash and valuables in their house than some other ethnic groups, the specific targeting of Chinese and Chinese Americans did provoke outrage among those groups, at least once they became aware of the song two years after it was released. ( For those interested, in my book, Tongs, Gangs, and Triads --Chinese Crime Groups in North America I do discuss this briefly. Although not all Chinese do this it is particularly common among groups that come from countries where the banks are not as insured as here, or among those with refugee experiences who had to grab their valuables and flee such as many of the Chinese of southeast Asia. )

The controversy around the song was made worse following a shooting in Gwinnet County Georgia USA when a 36 year old woman named Chen Fengzhu shot three African-Americans in her residence after they had entered with the intent of robbing them. Chen and her husband had closed circuit cameras inside their house and the incident was filmed. After authorities in Georgia made the film public in the hopes of catching the surviving intruders it went viral and became quite popular viewing in China apparently.



Not surprisingly the incident got media coverage, both in the USA and China.



For one source of information on the shooting and controversy,  see http://shanghaiist.com/2016/09/27/chinese_american_shopkeeper_shoots_intruder.php 
Next time, the reaction to the song from the Chinese-American community, the response from the US government, and a discussions of legalities and the first amendment issues surrounding the song


This is part one of Two.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Judging the refugee center


Note: this was originally written over seven years ago. I took it down for a while but decided to put it back up. The refugee center in Albany is much better run now and it appears that the director, Jill Peckinpaugh, was chosen because she has management skills. By contrast when this was written the director was chosen because she was a skilled photographer with good public relations skills. (???)

----


Within this blog I have made some pretty harsh condemnations of USCRI-Albany, the local refugee center, and the way it operates. Quite frankly, I don't really enjoy writing these things, then again in the last two weeks I've run into a couple people who know the center. They agree that the place is extremely disorganized and just rolled their eyes when it was mentioned. And interestingly enough, these were both people who had no idea how I felt about the center or that I had any real connection with it or even had a connection with refugees. (I spend a lot of time at events and activities that involve other cultures and so do many people who are interested in refugee concerns.)

Surely some who read this disagree or want to check for themselves.

Here's some thoughts on how to do that.

1) Check the newspaper or read blogs. Do google searches on the name of the organization. See what people are saying about it.

2) Check the rate of turn over among employees and volunteers. One way to do this is by noting the rate at which they seek volunteers. This is done through several sources, one is idealist.org , a website and e-mail service that advertises volunteer and paid positions for organizations that strive to make the world a better place. Just last week someone, a third person, noted that based on its postings in idealist.org the organization seemed to be searching constantly for volunteers of all kinds and often for the same positions. They saw this as a sign of a problem and, quite frankly, it is. Volunteers tend to burn out quickly due to the confusion within the organization. Others find they can do the same things they enjoyed doing at the center but with less hassles without the center getting in the way. (I started out teaching English there. If I understand correctly, they have gone through three different volunteer directors of their English program in the last year.)

3) Check with the agencies it works with and their volunteers. Ask for instance, their landlord, the people who rent them property and house the refugees, AAA Used Furniture, the local health clinics, the churches they work with, and the local literacy volunteer program. Ask them what they think of USCRI-Albany. Who knows? They might say something good.

4) Check with the government agencies that do business with it. These are easy enough to find. Just google "USCRI-Albany." What should soon stick out is that many of these agencies have both the address of USCRI-Albany and the name of the director wrong on their referral lists. I have toyed with the idea of making such a list of misdirected referals but it's just not something I wish to do.

5) Ask former refugees and immigrants from the ethnic groups whose members are served by the local refugee center. When I do this, even casually, it's not uncommon for people to start screaming.

6) Check with the Better Business Bureau. If you'd like their report is here. You'll note that the CEO of the national organization makes approximately $200,000 a year, which was equal to two thirds of their Albany office budget in 2006. Not very encouraging, I'm afraid. Why, I wonder, does the CEO make so much when the director of the local office has no management credentials and whose primary background with refugees prior to assuming office was to take pictures of them?

Again, don't listen to me. Please don't listen to former interns. Just do your own homework. Then make your own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living Episode 9: Wayne Whitney's Wondrous Yard


Alas! Although I'd planned to write an intelligent, well thought out piece on freedom of expression, the first amendment, censorship, and Chinese-American rage over a controversial rap song called "Meet the Flockers" I became distracted this week, while still trying to sort out past issues that came back to haunt me.

Therefore I churn out another photo heavy piece on that disgusting but always worth a look piece-of-shit Wayne Whitney, a man in Albany who does not like being called "a slumlord."

If you get the chance to explore the hallways of 16 Benson Street, you will find this amazing letter. You will notice a few things quickly. First, Wayne Whitney does not have a good command of the written English language or the rules of English grammar. Oh well, like I said, he is a moron, so what you do you expect?

Second, you will notice that he wishes to keep the yard to himself. It is his treasure for his use only. He is lord and master of this yard and it is not for the use of his tenants who are beneath him. I mentioned previously that a friend, a friend who has since apologized, recommended I rent this place. He recently said "But Wayne means well. He has a good heart." I said, "No, he doesn't. He is a bully who wishes to lord it over other people. The only reason he is nice to you is that he looks up to you." (And Wayne Whitney is not just a bully, he's also stupid and dishonest.)

Third, yes, that is his real phone number. The place is for rent now as far as I know. You can call him if it interests you. And, no, he's not paying me for this great advertising, and, yes, he does assure me "There is nothing wrong with this apartment." --so how can he possible object if I send potential tenants to him this way?


Alas, if one has the experience of living at 16 Benson Street what you will soon see is that Wayne often exhibits the unthinking and unhesitating selfishness of a small child or rodent. He not only keeps the yard to himself, but also keeps the entire basement and attic to himself. Most apartments come with some sort of storage space for the tenants to use. Not 16 Benson Street. Wayne is hogging it all for himself. 

So let's look at this awesome yard. For better or worse, these are photos of the place on a good day. It had recently been cleaned. 
The yard is partially blacktopped, and the blacktop poorly maintained.
Well, i don't know about you, but when I see something like this my first thought is
let's get some kids, and a blanket, and some fried chicken and potato salad and have a picnic.
Nothing I'd rather do than picnic on uneven black top. 



The backyard tree.
Now I know you wish to sit under this tree next to the broken garbage cans and take a second picnic, but, HA! --you can't. They are Wayne's -Wayne B. Whitney's and for his use only.
They are, in his mind, too good for people like you and me.  


Wayne's garbage cans. Like everything in this place, damaged and in disrepair. I mean what is the purpose of a garbage can lid anyway if it has a six inch diameter hole in it? 





It's such a shame I cannot go and play in this yard. 
It makes me so sad that Wayne Whitney, a man who does not like when he is referred to as a "slumlord," would not let me because I was merely a tenant who paid him rent. 



The walkway to the street 


Another view of the walkway to the street. 









Sunday, November 27, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living: Episode 8 --I did not know you could do that with paint



Although I have now moved out of Wayne B. Whitney's 16 Benson Street, Second Floor apartment in Albany,New York, and live elsewhere, there's yet more to share about this sad experience. 

Although there were countless things that were just plain wrong with the place, none quite stand out so much as the paint. This man could do things with paint that few knew were humanly possible. Alas! He did them all be accident, but nevertheless he somehow did them and he did them in a spectacular fashion.  



For example, will someone please tell me what the heck is this? It was on the bathroom wall. 



Two more shots of, well, whatever it is, was, and is going to be. 


Just to -provide some context. 

And here we have a shot of the shower ring splashed with some long dried excess paint. 

This is the bathroom window frame. Can someone please tell me how one gets paint to do this?
It must take a lot of work. 

Another photo of the same bathroom window frame,
More details should someone wish to reproduce the effect elsewhere perhaps.

The bathroom light, lovingly decorated with paint and rust. 

And what bathroom wall is not complete without a rusty nail sticking out?

Yet another shot of another part of the same window frame.

Yet another window frame in the same bathroom. 

Alas, as stated, I have moved out of this shit-hole and I sorely hope yet somehow doubt that the place will be much improved before it is rented again. Sadly, however, I suspect that the ability to even see any of this as a problem lies outside the capabilities of Wayne B. Whitney, an Albany landlord who bristles and complains and really does not like it when people refer to him as a "slumlord." much more so the ability to fix it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living: Episode Seven:The walls



Apartment Repair Fails: or My Idiot Landlord
Adventures in Slum Living
Turning the 
Episode Number Seven: The Walls 


I went to a social event today and someone asked me about this fine series. Alas, it'd be nice to say I moved on, but sadly Wayne B. Whitney, the landlord at 16 Benson Street in Albany is still out there, still renting property and still maintaining it badly. Someone please stop this man before he rents again. 

As mentioned I moved into this place I was in a situation where I needed and apartment, needed it fast, and the landlord, Wayne B. Whitney, had assured me he had a nice apartment. 

I should have left and run away when I looked at the walls, said, "What are you going to do about these?" and he responded by becoming offended and saying "What do you mean?" 

(Which, of course, led to our verbal agreement where he'd provide paint so I could fix the walls myself, an agreement he then rescinded.) So without further ado, a few pictures of walls.


A secction of wall, note the miscolored spots, the thick splotchy pain, the odd hue (which I have been told comes from putting gloss paint over flat paint --does Wayne Whitney know the difference between flat paint and gloss paint one must wonder?)  Details will come later.


A such loving care to detail on his property, Thank you, Wayne B. Whitney. Your tenants love you. 


This just irritates me. Notice the bad cauling job at the joint, the splotchy paint, the poorly attached trim, the hardware that is, well, jsut there with no rhyme or reason to it. 
This just should not be.




The light switch cover. Notice how it doesn't quite fit the paint underneath. A little bit of sanding and TLC would have made a big difference.


A bare nail hole and an unattended to paint bubble. Thank you, Wayne B. Whitney. 




Such a lovely wall. Thank you, Wayne. 

This is what I exposed to when I said "And what do you plan to do about this wall?"

And Wayne said, "What do you mean? What's wrong with this wall? Why are you insulting my apartment?" 

Yes, Wayne, there is nothing wrong with your apartment. In fact,  I am merely sharing these pictures so everyone can see what a nice place it is that you have provided your tenants.  



Details of a wall. 
If you think this looks nice, please see Wayne B. Whitney. He is often seeking tenants.


More details of a badly painted wall in need of some prep-work and priming. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Muslim Fundamentalists, Terrorism, and the ESL Classroom -don't over react but some good things to know




In my last post, I wrote about the few but documented links between terrorism and refugees. As I stated there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Of these approximately 3.3 million live in the USA. Since 2002, until 2016, the USA has resettled an estimated over 250,000 Muslim refugees. (See: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/05/u-s-admits-record-number-of-muslim-refugees-in-2016/ and http://www.pewresearch.org/ft_16-10-03_muslimrefugees/ Although the US Government agency the U.S. Refugee Processing Center ( https://www.wrapsnet.org/HomeContacts/tabid/52/Default.aspx ) does keep much more detailed information, this information is indeed difficult to sort through and make sense of.  (According to their website, “The Refugee Processing Center (RPC) is operated by the U.S Department of State (DOS) Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).”)

Clearly, not all these people are dangerous. In fact, few are. And although Islamic Jihadi terrorism is frightening, hence the word “terror” in “terrorism,” and thus catches the attention of the public and the media quickly, it is actually quite rare, at least in the USA. But it does happen. But it’s important to remember that it does not involve most mainstream, ordinary Muslims who have no more desire to place a bomb in a public place or shoot up the office Christmas party than you or I do.  In fact, reliable sources show a low approval rating for terrorism among Muslims in general. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/ )

Yet these things happen. So, here’s the million dollar question, if most Muslims are not likely to be involved with terrorist activity, then what sort of Muslim is likely to be involved with terrorist activity? We hear the term “radicalized” a lot, but what does that mean? “Radicalized” into what?
And why in the world should an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher care?
Because fundamentalist Muslims reach out to newly arrived refugees seeking converts to their doctrines and school of thought.

Although I can find little documentation of this in the USA, it is document to happen in Europe and Germany in particular. And in today’s globalized internationalized society, what one faction of a group does on one side of the world is likely to be copied on this side of the world as well.
For instance, we have this Reuters article:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-germany-mosques-insig-idUSKCN12S0HE
The key paragraph is:
“Germany's domestic intelligence agency has recorded more than 320 attempts by Salafist Muslims to contact refugees last year, often by offering food, clothes, free copies of the Koran and help with German to asylum seekers living in shelters.”

We also have this article from the National Review, admittedly a conservative, right wing publication but generally quite respected even by many of the critics of its ideology. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/427738/europe-muslim-refugees-recruited-radical-islam-andrew-c-mccarthy

Additionally, there is this article from the Wall Street Journal which discusses how in Germany, on one hand, occasionally Jihadists and wannabe Jihadists reach out to the local Muslim refugee community, on the other hand, the Muslim refugee community, often quite weary of violence, often turn these people into the authorities. http://www.wsj.com/articles/germany-grapples-with-refugee-tips-in-terror-probes-1478079001

Recently I had a pair of student enter the classroom whose behavior struck me as quite strange. Basically, they were cold, stand-offish, did not appear to be trying to learn English, often did not participate in class activities with the other students, and wished to bring unregistered relatives to the class to sit in. This was not allowed in my program so I could not let them in and did not.
The whole thing was quite strange and disconcerting and a little difficult to explain.

I could not shake the feeling that they were pretending not to know English.

Of course, I reported the problem to my boss who responded in a manner I consider unprofessional and will not detail here. I began to feel a bit like William Shatner in the classic Twilight Zone episode with the monster on the airplane wing (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightmare_at_20,000_Feet   )  

It was admittedly bizarre-sounding claim. Why would anyone pretend to not know English and enter a basic ESL class?

The motive is seeking contacts who are at an unstable point in their life in order to seek converts. The link below explains this. Please note it says that most such people are harmless, although they are religious fanatics who might look down and be hostile to people who do not share their views. (People such as ESL teachers.) As stated in the above Reuters article, many such fundamentalist fanatics believe that the entire world of mundane worldly affairs is beneath their notice and not worthy of much attention and instead prefer to focus their lives and attention on spiritual affairs. Some however are indeed potential Jihadists.

Many of these people are devotees of a school or doctrine within Islam known as Wahhabism or Salafism. Although I am not qualified to write of this doctrine and its controversies in detail, many sources, including PBS’ Frontline documentary (PBS not exactly being the world’s most right wing media outlet by the way) credit as the ideological source of much of Jihadi terrorist thought.  ( See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/wahhabism.html ) although others question this view. ( see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/opinion/dont-blame-wahhabism-for-terrorism.html?_r=0 )

How can an ESL teacher recognize such Fundamentalists?
First, don’t expect them to identify themselves. It’s a bit like asking a Fundamentalist Christian if he or she is a Fundamentalist Christian. In such a case, you’re likely to get some answer like “Oh no, I just believe in the Bible and Jesus” or “I’m just a Christian who follows Jesus” or “I just believe in the Bible and follow Christ and its teachings.” It’s the same thing here.

According to Maher Hathout, a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Southern California, as quoted at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/wahhabism.html

Well, the word "creed" is important because the creed of Islam is the same: the belief in one God, the belief in the oneness of his message, the oneness of the human family. And the devotion to God should be expressed in human rights, good manners, and mercy, peace, justice, and freedom. No two Muslims will argue about this creed. It is documented in the Koran as the highest authority, modeled by the authentic teaching of the prophet, and the authenticity has always been subject of study and debate.

So the creed is crystal clear. But the interpretation or the way you approach life, which should be a dynamic thing, should change from time to time. When you freeze it at a certain period or at a certain interpretation, problems happen. I know that people called it Wahhabism; I don't subscribe to the term. [Muhammed bin Abd al-Wahhab] at his time was considered a progressive person.

If you freeze things at his time -- which was the eighteenth century, or the late part of the seventeenth century, I don't remember the dates exactly -- it becomes very stagnant and very literalist. And a very straitjacketed puritan approach that does not cater to the changeables and the dynamics of life. People call this Wahhabism.

Saudis, by the way, never say, "We are Wahhabis." They say, "We are just Muslims." But they follow the teachings, and the major booklets taught in all schools are the books of Muhammed bin Abd al-Wahhab. Anyone who's subscribing to someone else is not very much welcomed.”

Although Maher Hathout refers to Saudis here, I think the same would apply to most Muslims regardless of nationality.

So, if you can’t ask and get a useful answer, what are some tips on how to recognize Fundamentalist Muslims who might be worth keeping an eye on. (More on this later.)

I don’t have any cut and dried answers, but a couple tips.

First, while most Muslims pray five times a day and do so while bowing towards Mecca, they tend to do this on a loosely defined, flexible schedule. If you have a classroom break, and a Muslim prays, don’t be alarmed. That’s something Muslims do, it makes them happy, and it hurts no one anywhere. It might even help a few people.

However, Salafist Muslims, like the students in my classroom, pray on an exact schedule. (http://www.salafitalk.net/st/viewmessages.cfm?Forum=10&Topic=7538  or  https://www.salaficentre.com/2016/06/prayer-schedules-important-rulings-guideline-cautions/  ) By contrast these students will ask for a break at a specific time and then ask you to accommodate them. They may, like these students, set their smart phones so that a call to prayer goes off during your class, disrupting it.

Obviously, this is not desirable in the classroom, but because a religious issue is involved, handle it with discretion.

Two other tips. Although not always, a large number of such people will have a connection to the Saudi Arabian Peninsula and the nations there. These nations include  Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as parts of southern Iraq and Jordan. Note that few of these countries, with the possible exception of Iraq, are likely to produce refugees so such folks will probably not be refugees.

Secondly, it should go without saying that these folks will probably be dressed in  conservative Muslim dress. This might include burkas but does not always.

So, what do you do if you see Fundamentalist Muslims in your classroom?  Well, first thing is relax. Take a deep breath. Fundamentalist Muslims, and for that matter Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and even Scientologists, all have a right to learn English. And most members of these groups, yes, all four groups, are not bad people. And, perhaps, getting them out among the general public (and I consider ESL students to be the general public) and away from their little insular communities could help them broaden their horizons and expand their outlook a little. Stranger things have happened.


On the other hand, if there’s something really suspicious, what should you do? Well, based on my experiences one option is to go to your supervisor. On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning that your supervisor probably does not know much about these issues and you may find yourself accused of “Islamophobia,” “racism,” “paranoid thinking,” and worse.  Therefore I would recommend that you consider going to the authorities if you have a strong suspicion concerning the behaviors of some Fundamentalist Muslim students. Most large police forces have someone with an interest in homeland security issues, several federal agencies take an interest in such matters, and here in New York State we have our own Homeland Security agency that keeps tabs on these things. Once you tap into that network, they’ll help guide you to the right people if you have a reasonable basis for suspicion and explain yourself well. Before you do, collect your facts, think about why, exactly, what you saw bothered you, and you’ll make the process smoother for all concerned including yourself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thoughts on Trump's Victory

I think to some extent this election could be summarized as "business as usual" (Hillary) VS "great, unpredictable changes" (Trump).

So now we see what happens and we see how the system, the US people, and ourselves as individuals will respond to it. I think in the next four years, the USA will learn a lot about itself and the world will learn a lot about the character of the USA. l hope we make them proud. Not because we follow our new president, not because we resist our new president, but because we accept our new president as our new president, and work within the system to shape and guide and define his role in our lives, our government, and the world and work with him, within the system, when we should and work to limit his affect, within the system, we should do that as well.

The president is not a king or a dictator, and American Democracy is sometimes called "the great experiment." It is still evolving.

A shake up might not be a bad thing. OTOH, there are things that worry me about Trump. For instance, the xenophobia (or what looks to me as xenophobia) and his lack of respect for press freedoms. But I think our system has mechanisms in place to counter balance these things, and if we, as Americans, do the right thing, there will be changes but hopefully history will make us proud.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Refugees and Islamic Terrorism --a weak link but it does exist


Today I depart from the usual teaching stuff. I am a teacher of English as a Second Language. I have a great deal of experience with refugees, many of them Muslim.  From time to time, friends and acquaintances ask me about the issue of Islam, refugees, and terrorism. I probably get these questions more than most ESL teachers because, I travel in different circles. (In addition to being an EMT, licensed security guard with large event and concert experience, and martial arts and self-defense enthusiast, I am also a Paladin Press author with some wonderful cyber-contacts in these fields.)   
It’s kind of an elephant in the living room issue in English as a Second Language teaching with few wishing to talk about it. These days, many, many ESL students are Muslims and if one cannot work with Muslims, you probably should not be working the field. (Should one wonder, I can work with Muslims. In fact, when I applied for my job teaching ESL to refugees, I used a Muslim refugee as a reference.)  


Claims of a connection between a terrorist threat from Islamic refugees are much exaggerated, in my assessment. I have tried to keep abreast of the issue and if forced, I could offer less than a handful of examples where there is a very loose, often tangential link between Islamic refugees and terrorism in the USA. Much of the issue hinges on definitions. For instance, see:   https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/11/19/the-viral-claim-that-not-one-refugee-resettled-since-911-has-been-arrested-on-domestic-terrorism-charges/

A Washington Post article on the issue.
This article from the Brookings Institute offers further valuable insights.:

However, there were problems.

The system has been overhauled and had some problems as detailed in this LA Times article: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/18/nation/la-na-refugee-terror-20110719

This was in response to the arrest and conviction of two Iraqis, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, who are reported to have entered as refugees and were found to have extensive histories of terrorist and insurgent activities.
These can be detailed here:
However, when I read the articles I was left a bit confused as to whether or not the pair had entered on refugee or asylum visas, a quibbling, unimportant distinction perhaps but one that crops up again and again when looking at this issue.   (For instance, the Tsaernev brothers, the Boston bombers, entered on asylum visas as teenagers, but were at times described as “refugees” in some reports.)

However, there is this case:
Dahir Adin, a 23 year old who entered the USA on a refugee visa while one year old, did commit a mass stabbing at a mall in Minnesota before being shot by an off duty police officer. In other words, he was a refugee, but a baby at the time with little memory of what it was like to come here.

So what should an ESL teacher do? Well, honestly, nothing at all is usually an appropriate response. Most refugees are ordinary people and most Muslims are ordinary people too. It is important to remember that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Of these, an estimated 3.3 million live in the USA. If they were inherently violent and dangerous, at the very least, the world would look quite different.
On the other hand, if you do see something quite strange or that raises your suspicions it is probably best to quietly report it to the authorities. That way you won’t have to worry about charges of “islamophobia” from your supervisor. Also the authorities are more qualified to judge the seriousness of what you’ve seen than a typical ESL school administrators. The authorities often come at the state, local, and federal level and ideally interact with each other. Often a local police officer should have some idea of where to go to report a terrorism related concern should you see one.


I hope to write a second post soon on how to recognize fundamentalist Muslims and distinguish them from ordinary, mainstream Muslims.     

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living -Episode 6: The Strange, Defective Middle Wall at 16 Benson Street, Albany NY





Apartment Repair Fails: or My Idiot Landlord
Adventures in Slum Living
Turning the 
Episode Number Six: The Strange, defective, Middle Wall at 16 Benson Street


Curiously from the outside the apartment doesn't look that bad. And the general neighborhood is not that bad either although Benson Street is not the nicest street in Albany. As a relative remarked, "why is it that all of the streets around you look better than yours?" And apartments in Albany are usually not bad size. 

However, this apartment is actually cut in half down the middle with a strange, dividing door and wall built in the middle. Of course, like everything else in the building it's defective and badly installed.

Here's the before picture of what the door locking mechanism looked like. I'd started to do some repairs at this point, you can see some spackling compound, but I really had not done much.



Here's the after picture. I'd done a lot of repairs and filled in the strange, gaping, ugly hole in the door, but I had not sanded the filler and made it look nice and finished the painting. I also had not cleaned up the hardware, nor started on the strange chip over the bolt. (which will be shown later.) 




You will note that there are two bolt locks and one sliding blot that are attached to the door designed to keep it locked and prevent people from entering one half of the floor from the other half. 





As mentioned, there was one day when the girlfriend thought someone was trying to enter through this door and called the landlord. (It does sound that way when the people on the other side use one of their closets. We can also hear them having sex, which is quite noisy and would be comical, except it's not, As well as when they argue, which is pretty much the same way. At some point I'm going to have to write a separate post on them.) 

As mentioned the landlord's response was to send me an e-mail saying he could not understand her because she had an accent. Therefore he ignored it. The landlord, Wayne B. Whitney, is a moron and a fucking, childish asshole. (He will, in time, get his own post.) 

So inspected the door carefully, discovered that one of the bolts was not aligned properly and would not lock or shut. I called the landlord and told him that it was not properly installed. 

"Yes, it is," he said. 
"No, it's not," I said. 
"Yes, it is," he said. 
"No, it's not. You can come and check yourself," I said. 
"I bought it that way." said Wayne B. Whitney in one of the most childish statements I've heard in years. 

So here we have shots of the poorly installed bolts.
 
This is the top bolt. 







This is the second, lower bolt.





 

You will notice that the ruler goes in much deeper on the upper bolt than on the lower bolt. This is because the upper bolt fixture is misaligned and will not lock properly.

As described above, the issue was mentioned to the landlord and you saw his response.






As mentioned the wood frame on the lower bolt was damaged. I did have some thoughts on how to fix that, but, well, why bother?





Here's a close up of the chipped wooden door frame and the lower bolt, the only one that works, by the way.




This is a shot of the lower sliding bolt, notice the same shitty Wayne B. Whitney paint job.


And, finally, some poor quality door knob painting.




Thursday, October 27, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living --Episode 5 -- Turning the Heat Up on the Thermostat Box ---Wayne B Whitney's 16 Benson Street, Albany, New York Apartment



Apartment Repair Fails: or My Idiot Landlord
Adventures in Slum Living
Turning the 
Episode Number Five: Turning the Heat Up on the Thermostat Box



My landord, Wayne B. Whitney, has assured me that "there is nothing wrong with the apartment" at 16 Benson Street in Albany. Therefore I cannot imagine that he would mind if I share some pictures of it with the general public. 

Here we have several photos of the thermostats. As people will recall, I had a verbal agreement with Wayne Whitney where I would fix up his apartment in return for supplies. He rescinded on that agreement and refused to pay for supplies. Now, when I lived there with my girlfriend, I continued to do repairs nevertheless, so that she and I would be living in a nice  less awful place until we found something better. Alas, she moved out, I stayed a bit longer (although I am now moving out), and found myself arguing with the landlord about not just desirable repairs but essential repairs. --all of which he refused to do while making calls to one of my relatives with childish and unrealistic threats of evicting me. 

So here we have several photos of the bathroom thermostat. Enjoy!
 








Paint splashed over everything. As you can see, Wayne Whitney apparently has never heard of the use of masking tape prior to painting, nor has he grasped the concept of either using a rag to wipe paint clean before it dries or else, less desirable, of using a scraping tool to clean off paint from some surfaces after it dries. 


+++++++++++

These are some random shots of the kitchen thermostat (I think) --same silly paint jobs.










++++++++++++


Now I don't claim to be the world's greatest handyman, but I know something about it and am willing to learn more. Therefore I offer these two photos of the living room thermostat, the one that I cleaned up while painting one of my living room walls. 

Please remember THESE ARE THE ONES I FIXED AND CLEANED. The photos above are the BEFORE picture. The photos below are the AFTER photos which show the work I did to make the living room thermostat look better.



Here's the same thermostat box before I went to work on it. 





See, no splashed, ugly paint.




Not the best, but considering what I started with and a desire not to damage the underlying mechanism, not too horrible.