Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"What, you want services for your taxes?"

Vantaa is having problems with its budget.

Juhani Paajanen, the mayor of Vantaa, promises to take care of the children, the sick and the elderly. In the same article he says "people are now richer than before and pay a thousand euros for a trip for Thailand, but at home they are not ready to pay for their own health, and demand services from the city".

Here in one sentence is what is very often the problem with socialized services: as soon as the people have decided to pay for some service together and the Powers That Be have collected that money in taxes, the Powers That Be start imagining that the money belongs to them, and that anything they give back to the citizenry is largesse for which the citizens should be properly grateful, and which the citizens are certainly not entitled to.

Explaining slowly for Juhani Paajanen and the other differently intelligent politicians: these people who you are talking about have already invested quite a lot of money in their health, before they have ever paid for that trip to Thailand. It's called taxes. It happens to be 18.5% on their income in Vantaa. It should be in your budget, ready to be used for providing health care to the people. If it's not in your budget, you need to explain some things, you need to be explained some things, and the city probably needs another mayor. Preferably one who owns a calculator.

In principle I don't mind a system where private insurance provides coverage to everyone who will pay, and public health care only picks up those who cannot afford buying insurance. The people of Finland, however, for better or for worse, have chosen the public coverage for everyone, and complaining about the fact that they would also like to get it is not gonna win you any votes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Protect our children from predators!

When I was a child, a lot of adults used to say things like "please don't hurry to grow up, it's so wonderful to be a child!"

I didn't quite understand what's so wonderful about it, and wondered whether the view of childhood as a wonderful time is some thing that only opens to you from the adult perspective, or a result of some severe long-term memory fault, such as old-age dementia.

I am 36 now, which is way older than many of those people were at the time, and I much say that the whole "childhood is wonderful" thing still hasn't opened to me. I mean, who wants to be small, weak, short, poor, ignorant and in most cases rather stupid, and have other people make all important and most unimportant decisions for them? (Oh well, I've known a few adults who did like others to make some decisions for them, but we've always used a safeword for that.)

My attempts to find out what exactly was so wonderful about childhood could be reduced to "don't have to think about anything", "don't have to do anything", "can sleep all you want" and "can play as much as you want". The first is very obviously untrue, a child is a very new person and has to think about all kinds of things all the time. Don't have to do anything? People keep telling you to do something all the time. Believe me, I would have noticed if this were not the case - the only reason I am not a world champion in laziness is that I was too lazy to show up for the contest. "Can sleep all you want?" When you are a child, they drag you to the daycare and to school in the middle of the fucking night. Proper sleep comes only after you get to choose your own classes and jobs, and is a poor substitute for coffee anyway. "Can play as much as you want?" Rrright. I can play as much as I want now, when I can afford nice toys, don't have homework, and don't have anyone telling me to go clean my room or to go get some of that sleep that children allegedly get anytime they want, and apparently anytime they don't want, too. Also, I can't fail to notice that the last line was mostly used in my childhood by the exact same people who have been loudly complaining about my playing since ever I was about 14.

Since most of those people are not in fact demented, I can only suppose that they want children to be children for a while longer because they find children cute and entertaining and are annoyed when they turn into adults with opinions, careers, sex lives, and god knows what else. This is an understandable feeling, but I don't think it should be encouraged in people. I really enjoy looking at cute male college freshmen in handcuffs, but I would feel a bit stupid writing in, say, HS forums that all cute college freshmen should be wearing them.

Anyway, childhood sucks and is full of various busybodies who keep telling you how to live your life. Not, mind you, that I really think that children should be allowed to do whatever they want. They are, after all, ignorant and stupid, and need to be taken care of to some extent, sometimes against their will.

Taking care of children against their will is, IMO, a necessary evil. I really don't think it should be a sport. And I have a very strong impression that it is indeed a sport, both for the kind of people who don't like to see children grow up, and the kind of people who just like to tell people how to live, get told to bugger off by all the adults on whom they try it, and then switch to children. The way I see it, children really are vulnerable to all kinds of assholes who enjoy telling others how to live, and it is our responsibility as adults to protect them from the moralizing dumbfucks who prey on them.

HS has an article about 10-12-year-olds waxing their bikini lines. Everyone is horrified, horrified!

Of what, pray tell? I could understand being horrified about parents forcing girls that age to undergo said procedure, but what can be possibly bad about the girls wanting it? Will their pussies fall off, maybe? Will the hair fail to grow back? (Believe me, it takes many, many rounds of diatermia to achieve that.) Will they change their mind and regret it before it grows back and want a proper full bush? (I suppose very few people have pubic hair long enough for that to be a long-term problem, and wouldn't this be a very good reason to forbid people with long hear hair from cutting it much shorter, at least if they happen to be children?) Will their friends laugh at them if their pubic hair doesn't stick out of their underwear?

The way I see it, the horrified citizens belong to the following three groups: the people who are horrified by the fact that a 10-12-year-old girl can think about things like that, as opposed to teddy bears; the people who are horrified that a 10-12-year-old girl can grow pubic hair to begin with (good luck with that crusade, folks); and the people who dislike the whole pubic hair removal thing to begin with, but failed to talk any adults out of it.

"Let children be children!" sounds the war cry, and almost always, like in this case, it means "force the children to be children, no matter how much they kick and scream and resist!". A 10-year-old is way too young to think about such things! She should be a child, and think of teddy bears or whatever. Right. I am sure that a 10-year-old with her pubic hair sticking out of her swimsuit because adults deemed her to young to remove it is totally thinking of teddy bears. I can even imagine in very vivid color where exactly she wants to shove them. After putting some spikes on them first.

The issue is quite familiar to me, in a way. In my childhood the girls in Russia did not use female swimsuits until they actually got some breasts. I got mine fairly young, and for some reason my family deemed me too young to have breasts or to use an adult swimsuit until the point when said breasts were a good size C. Spending quite a bit of time as a topless girl with tits at what were not, in fact, topless beaches, was quite an educational experience. The lessons I learned were a nose twist, a testicle twist, a chop to the base of the nose with the rib of your hand and the same to the base of the neck. If that's what you'd like to teach your innocent little girls, sensei Vera is at your service.

(I don't wax my own pussy, but keep it more or less shaved; anybody making a serious attempt to interfere with this process, either by demanding that it should be waxed of by demanding that it should be left unshaved, and trying to force the point, will be summarily raped to death with a shovel. And now that you've read this, remember that I wasn't any nicer when I was 10.)

Refugee admissions, Finland and the USA

Checked out Finland's state budget for the 2009, or at least the refugee part of it. It has numbers for the previous years; I think I'd better talk about 2007, because it has already happened and the numbers are real, not estimated.

In 2007 Finland has admitted 1793 refugees: 657 quota refugees, 373 family members of previously arrived refugees, and 763 asylum seekers who actually got the residence permit.

Finland has also received 1505 asylum seekers. (Those 763 are part of that number, but in fact it's sort of complicated, because some of them have surely arrived the previous year.) The cost of the asylum seeker admission was 30 816 087€, about 20476€ per person. More specifically, 15 168€ per person living in a refugee reception center (1209 people), 42 692€ per lone child (96 people), 58 586€ per locked-up person (36 people) and 5 970 per person living somewhere privately (774 people).

Refugee admission cost 40 111 000€. It's about 22 371€ per person if we count the asylum seekers, and 38 943€ if we don't. In general, the input was 65 256 545 euros and the output was 1793 refugees plus, I assume, 742 unsuccessful asylum seekers. That's 36395 euros per refugee.

It's hard to find any up-to-date data on refugee unemployment, but the only one I found talks about the refugees that moved to Finland in 1991-1994 and their unemployment rates in 1995-2000. The unemployment rate went down steadily, and in 2000 varied between about 40% for Bosnians and Vietnamese and about 60% for Iraqis.

The US keeps a lot more detailed statistics in the Office of Refugee Resettlement's reports to Congress

The latest one is from 2005. In fiscal year 2005 the US admitted 53 937 refugees, plus 15 061 Cuban and 8 Haitian entrants, for a total of 69 006 arrivals. It has received $484.7 million to resettle the whole bunch. That's $7024 per person, and that's the total money the federal government used on refugees.

Refugee unemployment rate, as calculated for the refugees who've been in the US for less than 5 years, was 6.8%. That in spite of the fact that 60% spoke no English on arrival.

I recommend that people who are really interested in refugee admissions problems read these statistics by themselves, but here are a few tidbits:

- In the US refugees are currently eligible for federal assistance for 8 months. States and private organizations may provide more, or not. The aged and disabled are naturally supported forever.

- The support for unaccompanied alien children cost $53 771 000. There were 627 of those, $85759 per child.

- ORR used quite a lot of partnerships with private agencies. There are so-called Matching Grant programs, where ORR provides 2/3 of the money, a private agency provides 1/3, and some goal is set for how big a percentage of the refugees should be self-sufficient in 120 days after arrival.

For example the HIAS Grant Matching Program, whose services we have used when we arrived to the US, has received $2 208 000 in 2005 to serve 1104 clients. It ultimately served 1136, and under the Grant Matching Program had to add $1 104 000 of its own private contribution. That's $2915 per person, with 57% of refugees being self-sufficient within 120 days of arrival. (Damn, I feel cheap now.)

- Unemployment rate for all refugees was 6.8% in 2005, in comparison with 5.1% for all the US population. For the ones who arrived in 2005 the unemployment rate in 2005 was 20%. Employment rate was 58% for refugees, 62.7% for the US population.

- Out of the refugees not looking for work, the most common reason (41%) was school. Only a couple percent believed they have no chance to find work. Of the people who have worked at all, 17% found a job in the first month, 42% within the first 3 months, 63% within six months, 81% within a year.

- 20.9% of refugees who came to the US in 2005 had never been to any school. 11.5% had a university degree. 26.2% had attended a university. 59.8% spoke no English. 13.3% were fluent in English.

- Of the total sample (all refugees who arrived in the previous 5 years). 20.2% owned a home, 78.4% rented a home, 68.5% lived on earnings, 9.0% lived on public assistance, and 17.9% lived on both. I have no idea what the remaining 4.6% lived on.

There are a lot of reasons for the price tag differences in the Finnish and the US refugee programs, most notably the fact that the Finnish program continues to support the refugees for the next three years, and also the fact that smaller programs tend to use more per person than bigger ones. Still, isn't it time to send some Finnish refugee officials to learn something from their US colleagues?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The superpower

The events of the last few weeks reminded me of a moment in my school years in Russia.

Our geography teacher gave us a following speech:

"Many people complain that we don't have enough trousers. Trousers, however, are not important. They, like all the other textiles, are light industry. What's really important is the heavy industry, like iron and coal, so that we can produce enough tanks and win in Afghanistan."

This was, in fact, a bit surprising, because although the Powers That Be wholeheartedly shared this attitude to the heavy and light industry, open militarism was somewhat frowned up in The Most Peaceful Superpower. Not to mention all the talk about "winning" the event those official name was along the lines of "friendly help to the people of Afghanistan".

"I think trousers are a lot more useful than Afghanistan," said one kid who didn't have much sense of self-preservation. "Why did we invade Afghanistan anyway? Do they," he added hopefully, "maybe have trousers?"

The teacher resorted to yelling and didn't answer the question, of course. But later I realized that the war-ravaged Afghanistan of the Eighties most probably did have more trousers than our mighty superpower.

I hope it came in peace

A UFO has landed in my kitchen. It growls, it drinks water and eats coffee beans and farts into milk, and it teaches me to press buttons in a particular orders.

When I learn properly, it rewards me with a cappuccino. When I don't, it says "pshh".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Something wrong in the refugee policies

The conversation about evil communities who don't want to take poor little refugees, I mean hardworking young refugees, continues in Aamulehti.

Very often, when I start writing about my own time as a refugee, I start sounding like a grumpy old lady who is talking about how she used to go to school very day, 50 km in the snow, uphill both ways. I don't mean to, I really don't. The thing is, even though our treatment as refugees was certainly not up to the Finnish standards, we did have it much easier. One can talk all one wants about the evils of not having an official integration program of one's own, and the horrors of not having the taxpayers support the refugees forever, but nine months after coming to the US as refugees my parents bought their very own townhouse. Those people who are waiting for years in Finland in refugees centers for a municipal apartment in some community that doesn't want them, what have they got?

I know that the USA tends to select refugees more carefully than Finland, and that they send back the really antisocial element, but I don't believe that the quality of the refugee material is all there is to it.

The pervasive attitude here, both among the people who are for taking refugees, people who are against taking refugees, and everyone in between, is that refugees shouldn't be expected to work. People tend to view them as temporary visitors despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and as entitled to support rather than responsible to support themselves. (Let's leave the senior citizens outside the scope of this posting.)

Imagine that you are twenty, maybe without any useful skills. Imagine that you have left the war behind in Iraq, come to a rich foreign country and gotten the residence permit. Yeah, the people there are weird and speak a weird language, yeah, most prospective employers want you to speak it too, yeah, everyone is a bit suspicious of you. Still, nobody is shooting at you, nobody is kicking you out of the country, and there is free education if you want to learn something useful and make yourself more employable. Would you like to a) have a real job and a place of your own, or b) study something and have a room in the student housing, or c) do nothing at all and live with several other guys in a room in a refugee center, waiting for a municipal apartment that might or might not come? There certainly are people who would answer 'c' all by themselves, but I strongly suspect that behind at least 3/4 of them there is a social worker who says "don't worry about anything, we'll take care of you".

When we came to the US, we saw a social worker once. She gave us a booklet about life in Boston, told us where to apply for the benefits for the elderly and health insurance, told us that the rest of us would be fed for 4 months by the refugee organization, in which time it would be nice to find a job, and for 18 months more by the state, in which time it would be necessary to find a job, gave us the address of the college that arranges free English courses, told us where the jobs are advertised, and wished us a nice life and welcome to America. Yes, the people who write about the plight of refugees for Turun Sanomat would have a heart attack and all flowers would fall off their hats (now that I think of it I should have warned them in the beginning of this entry), but the jobs were promptly found. And they were reasonably good jobs, too. And it was a recession at the time.

And no, we were not the coolest refugees ever. Everybody found jobs: engineers, manicurists, teachers, gas station attendants, doctors, an Afghani woman working in a kosher bakery, you name it. The flower-hat aunts might have a heart attack upon hearing about the harsh fate of refugees in the US, but the numbers talk for themselves: the refugees who came to Finland in the early nineties had the unemployment rates from 40% to 60% in 2000, but in the US refugees had an unemployment rate of 3.4% in 2000. The unemployment rate (in 2000) was 5.4% among those refugees who arrived in 2000.

Ogogondia

"Ogogondia was a huge, widely-sprawled state and was not considered a Great Dictatorship only for two reasons: 1) the political disorder in Ogogondia was directly proportional to its geographical size, whereas 2) the international prestige of Ogogondia was inversely proportional to it."

("Огогондия была огромным, широко раскинувшимся государством и Великой Диктаторией не считалась только по двум причинам: 1) Политический разброд в Огогондии был прямо пропорционален ее географическим размерам, в то время как 2) Международный престиж Огогондии был этим размерам обратно пропорционален.")


This is a quote from Vladlen Bahnov's book How the Sun Went Out, or the History of Thousand-Year Dictatorship of Ogogondia, Which Existed for 13 Years, 5 Months and 7 Days. (in Russian). For some reason this quote has come to my mind often lately.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Why don't you take proper care of these useful citizens?"

Turun Sanomat has lately published a few articles (here is one) about how the towns around Turku are not doing their share in admitting and taking care of refugees, and see them as a burden.

Some refugees even live in a refugee center for years before getting a place in some community.

We are talking about refugees here, not about asylum seekers who are waiting to have their applications processed. Turun Sanomat does not go into details of their status, as in refugee vs. residence permit for humanitarian reason, but unless either I or Turun Sanomat or both don't understand something, we are talking about the people who have already received some legal right to reside in Finland, and are free to move around as they please, like any other Finnish resident.

Jaana Väyrynen, a social worker in SPR's Turku refugee center, says that most of the refugees waiting for a place in some town are active people and speak Finnish, who don't need any special care, normal people with normal individual needs.

Just regular folks, people. Not any kind of burden on the community.

Maybe I don't understand something here, but if they are just regular folks who are not any kind of burden on the community, why are they waiting for those communities to provide them with a place to live? As opposed to, say, renting or buying an apartment like the rest of us do? You know, they rent apartments to people who have the money to pay the rent.

Not that I think refugees should never be any burden on their community. Some of them, for example, happen to be elderly, some happen to be handicapped, some happen to be very newly arrived, etc. But it does sound a bit silly when communities are pressured to resettle them there because they are allegedly not a burden to the community.

I have met a lot of refugees, both in the US and in Finland, who were just regular folks who placed no burden on their community whatsoever and could take care of themselves. I don't need to be convinced that they exist, I know it. I am just pretty sure that they are not among the people who are waiting for a placement in some community around Turku. Because people who can take care of themselves do not by definition need such a placement.

Mind you, some of those folks might be useful citizens in the future, and deserve our support, etc., etc. It's just weird to ask for support by claiming that these are the people who don't really need it.

The Iraqi guy whom they mentioned in one of the articles is a particularly unfortunate example. 24 years old, of which 3.5 have been spent in the refugee center. Maybe there is something to this story that either the guy himself or Turun Sanomat do not mention, but otherwise, WTF? During this time he could have either used his valuable skills (assuming he had any) to find a job and rent an apartment, or applied to some educational institution, and gotten himself a room in student apartment.

I knew an Iraqi refugee once. Unlike the guy in the example, he was in his late fifties. OK, it helped that he was in the US, and that he already spoke English, but within a couple of months of arriving into the country he did get himself a job in a supermarket. Somehow, I suspect that a 24-year-old who could not manage the same in 3.5 years is not very likely to become a productive citizen in a near future.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Disproportionate response

Two years ago Putin accused Israel of disproportional response to Hezbollah's abduction of its citizens. I wonder now whether by disproportional he meant "out of proportion to Israel's size"?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What do the following organizations have in common?

Arabikansojen ystävyysseura, Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, Helsingin Sadankomitea, Helsingin yliopiston Sitoutumaton vasemmisto, Irakilaisten pakolaisten kv-federaation Suomen osasto, Irakin naisten yhdistys Suomessa, Irakin ja Iranin työväen kommunistisen puolueen Suomen osasto, Kommunistinen nuorisoliitto, Loviisan rauhanfoorumi, Lääkärin sosiaalinen vastuu, Maan ystävät, Naiset rauhan puolesta, Naisten kansainvälinen rauhan ja vapauden liitto - Suomen osasto, Pand - Taiteilijat rauhan puolesta, SKP, Sosialidemokraattiset nuoret, Sosialistiliitto, Suomen demokraattiset lakimiehet - DEMLA, Suomen kristillinen rauhanliike, Suomen rauhanliitto - YK-yhdistys ry, Suomen rauhanpuolustajat, Vasemmistonuoret, Vihreät nuoret ja opiskelijat.

I think that you can guess the answer to my question, but in case you haven't: these are the groups that have organized the big demonstration against the war in Iraq in Helsinki on 15.2.2003.

Today I have attended a demonstration against the war in Georgia. The groups that organized it were Suomi-Georgia Seura and Kokoomusnuoret. Every single group mentioned in the first paragraph of this post was absent.

I can totally understand the organization of Iraqi refugees not giving a shit about Georgia, but I have just looked through the webpages of all the organizations who have the word "peace" (rauha) in their names, and of all of them only Suomen rauhanpuolustajat even mention the Georgian war at all, in a rather ridiculous article.

Singing

In all my Russian schools, and AFAIK in at least most of the Finnish schools of my friends, there were obligatory music lessons where people were allegedly taught to sing. Except that they weren't. People were ordered to sing, and given good grades if they could and bad grades if they couldn't, but I don't remember anyone actually teaching us to sing at any point, in the sense of explaining to us how to do it. Either you could do it, or you couldn't. I was an adult before I realized that singing is in principle teachable.

Now that I think about it it's quite weird. I started wondering whether the same was the case with any other subject, and it wasn't. In any subject there were people who could just naturally do it without any input from the school, but the point was to teach stuff to the ones who couldn't. The people who were not gifted in math were taught at least some math, the people who couldn't spell well were taught the proper spelling, the people who had absolutely no talent or experience in drawing were taught to draw at least somehow, but the people who did not know how to sing were just ordered to demonstrate this fact and given bad grades. In every single school that I'd been to.

I wonder why. I also wonder whether there is any place who teaches singing to adult people who don't have any talent and aren't planning to do anything with this particular skill except maybe singing some drinking songs at some party.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brink of war

"Russia and Georgia are on the brink of war", said a number of Internet news sources. Personally, I think that by the time one side is shooting the other's airplanes down, and the other has crossed the border in tanks, the brink has been left behind, but let it be.

It's not that I think Georgia should have sovereignity in South Ossetia now and forever. South Ossetians clearly don't want to be a part of Georgia, and in general multiethnic states don't seem to work very well in the Caucasus. For all I care all those little ethnic areas in the Causacus can start their own countries.

As long as South Ossetia is a part of Georgia, however, and is not recognized by anyone, including Russia, Georgia does have sovereignity there. Coming there across the border in 150 tanks might be considered a little act of war, even if it's to protect one's own citizens.

Hitler-card is a bit overused, but the parallel does come to mind. Hitler's troops entered Czechoslovakia ostensibly to protect the ethnic German minority there. We all know how that ended.

Russians are a lot more practical, though. Protecting one's own disgruntled ethnic minority abroad requires having an actual disgruntled ethnic minority to protect, which in turns involves putting that minority there if it isn't there yet, and making it reasonably disgruntled if it isn't. Russians, on the other hand, protect Russian citizens abroad, which is a lot easier, because it's much easier to find an already-disgruntled group (pretty much every group in the Caucasus is already disgruntled) and make them Russian citizens than to find actual Russians and piss them off at whatever country they live in.

The Russian ethnic minority in Georgia is, incidentally, only 1.5% of the population. But that's no problem - let's offer the Russian citizenship to all the people of South Ossetia, all the people of Abkhazia, etc. And voila - you instantly have your very own people in the neighboring country, to protect with your very own tanks. Nice.

Finalnd's Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has declared that he is for peace. He did not say whose peace, but he is expected to apologize for the war real soon now.

Sosialistiliitto, our own tireless fighter for peace, is apparently all on summer vacation, because it failed to demand peace (anyone's), stage a protest, organize a demonstration, or indeed mention the whole thing. Since the last entry on their "against the war"-page is from July 13, 2006 and refers to the war between Israel and Lebanon, the vacation has clearly been very long.

Friday, August 08, 2008

I ain't dead

Lots of stuff to do at work, intense social life, Ropecon, you get the idea.

I should probably go home and sleep but I forgot how to.