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: and Although the US Government agency the U.S. Refugee Processing Center ( ) 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. ( )

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:
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.

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.

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 (,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: ) although others question this view. ( see: )

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:

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. (  or  ) 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:

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:

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.