Refugees, Immigrants, and ‘Murrican Values

by Daniel J. Durand

A friend of mine reached out to me on Facebook, and asked what my take is on the idea of refugees receiving welfare.

Refugees are a touchy subject, especially in Idaho; the College of Southern Idaho acts as a refugee center, taking people in from all over the world and helping them find homes and jobs. Many decide to settle permanently in Boise or Twin Falls, and I’ve known and worked with many refugees and their families.

In my experience, most Idahoans are indifferent or even happy about refugees living in their community. Some people, though, aren’t so thrilled, or can even be hostile to the idea, and this creates tension—there are now groups in Idaho that have formed to “watch” refugees and keep track of their activities.

Big Brother is Average Joe, but “Average” isn’t a Compliment

Recently, one of these “watcher” groups posted an article on its blog about a young girl in Twin Falls who was raped by the son of a refugee family. The article suggested not only that the boy was congratulated by his family, but also claimed that the response to the situation by the police and prosecutors hinted at a greater scheme.

Details are still emerging, but information released by the authorities involved in the case and the media suggests that there were three boys involved, one committing the crime while the others egged him on. The police responded, the boys were apprehended, the legal system is processing. As of writing this, it doesn’t look like any of the boys were refugees, either.

A young girl was sexually assaulted—but clearly, the incident was not exactly how the blog made it appear.

Keep in mind, the people running these blogs are regular people like you and me. Question is, do you trust the guy next door enough that you’d be comfortable with him watching your activities?

Is it hard to believe that in a city where refugees are common, and people are on edge, some of the details these “concerned citizens” produced were fuzzy, or even made up?

The story made the rounds in the media, and the Idaho Statesman, the Washington Post, local KPVI, and Snopes thoroughly debunked it.

Unfortunately, this was after the conservative, anti-refugee crowd got all hopped up on freedom juice—YouTube is full of videos right now linking the incident to media cover-ups and a conspiracy by Obama to strategically place Muslim refugees across the United States.

I’m not going to link to any of those videos, because I refuse to give them web traffic. If you really want to go to the freak show, just search “twin falls refugee” on YouTube. Sadly, you won’t find the media reports or credible sources, because the news agencies are using their own video players, not YouTube.

In this day and age, information is spread rapidly, but it’s the information that is the easiest to pass around that actually gets passed around, not necessarily the best information. You almost can’t fault people for buying into the bullshit when it’s so abundant and easy to find.

Almost.

Refugees on the Dole

Regardless of where you stand on this, it’s a huge can of worms to talk about refugees right now, and so I decided to take some time to gather my thoughts before answering my friend’s question, and this article is for him.

To put it simply, I am in favor of refugees receiving welfare. By “welfare,” I mean access to food stamps, housing, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, etc. Refugees have virtually the same access to welfare programs as legal immigrants and United States citizens, and in my mind, this is fair.

If you think about it, their entire status as refugees is a form of welfare—we recognize that refugees are without a country, without a home, without a life, and we strive to take care of them until they can get back on their feet. Why would you bring in refugees, and then not give them access to food, housing, medicine, and financial aid?

Refugees are your neighbor who has a house fire and has to stay in your living room. Yes, we one day want our living room back. But we understand that our neighbor didn’t choose to have their house burn down.

Ideally, refugees will return to their countries of origin when the war, natural disaster, or political climate that caused them to be refugees has subsided, or they could become citizens, and fully integrate themselves into American society. If either of those outcomes are to be realized, someone has to make sure these people—and they are people, above all else—are cared for.

How can you expect a person to survive, or to want to naturalize, when you remove all access to the systems they need to do so? Remember, refugees have nothing—no job, no money, no social security number, nothing. If you don’t give them a way out of that situation, they won’t get out.

I think this goes against what a lot of Americans believe right now, this pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that suggests if you just grit your teeth and struggle hard enough, you’ll make it. It’s got a simple sort of beauty to it, I suppose. No matter what else, you can always count on yourself, and pull yourself up, without pity or charity, or, heaven forbid, the government.

How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you have no boots?

That’s really what we’re dealing with—a group of people who have nothing, and can only depend on others, a plight that is so much the antithesis to our national mindset that the people who suffer from it may as well not exist.

But there was a second part of my friend’s question; specifically, what are my thoughts on refugees receiving welfare, when other immigrants don’t have access.

Getting Ours First

Here are some other questions you may have heard people ask when talking about refugees, or about immigration:

  • “How can we let in refugees when we have homeless veterans?”
  • “Why should we ease immigration restrictions when there are no jobs for Americans?”
  • “Why can’t they just fix their own country before ruining ours?”

All I hear is, “I want mine before they get theirs.”

Not that I’m accusing my friend of harboring that notion. But I do think the second part of his question sounds awfully familiar. So, here’s a new riddle: A Syrian refugee, a homeless veteran, and an illegal immigrant who just crossed the border walk into a soup kitchen. Who’s hungriest?

We live in a world where sometimes, people need to rely on help from others. Call it charity, call it welfare—poverty knows no nation, creed, color, or language, and the helpless will always need help. I don’t think you can assign a pecking order to the tired, the poor, or the hungry, and short of Batman, bigger soup kitchens are probably the best way to help the most people.

What disappoints me is that instead of planning to build more soup kitchens, we plan to build walls. We believe rumors a little too willingly, and care too little about the truth.

Americans believe in working hard and building a prosperous life—the American dream, alive and shining.

The second part of that ideal, the part we seem to be forgetting lately, is that once you realize the dream, once you pull yourself up by your bootstraps… you reach back down to the people below you, and pull them up.

Sometimes, reaching back means risking a bite on the hand, but we do it anyway, because that’s the kind of people we are.

 

Daniel Durand is sick of Facebook debates. He can be reached at ddurand.specialrojects@gmail.com

French Fries and Jesus

by Daniel J. Durand

A couple of weeks ago, I met a woman named Bess.

I was in Barnes & Noble, soaking up air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, thinking of ideas for articles. I’ve been doing a lot of research on green technology and have become fascinated by home solar panels and trying to make individual homes more efficient, so I thought I’d try to write an article about what I’d learned.

I was making good progress, too, but after a while of getting redirected to websites for doomsday preppers, and also learning that a “carbon scrubber” is apparently a device used in growing marijuana, not just helping the environment, I decided to call it a day.

My stomach was growling as I stepped out onto the street. French fries sounded good, maybe with some vinegar. I adjusted the strap on my laptop bag and started toward my car.

“Excuse me, can you help?”

The question had come from a woman, who was about 20 feet away from me in the parking lot. I stopped and turned, not sure if I’d even heard her. She quickly closed the gap.

“Can you help, sir?”

She had a small bag on her shoulder, a duffel bag grasped in one hand, and a taped-together picture frame in the other. She wore socks with sandals and a faded dress, and a floppy sunhat with the plastic brim falling off. She smelled vaguely of what I thought was patchouli.

This was Bess, and she was homeless.

In and of itself, I was not shocked to meet a homeless person. Boise, like many cities, has a pretty serious homeless problem.

Also like many cities, local government has been slow to acknowledge it. Barely six months ago, the police had broken up a tent city downtown, and I regularly see homeless people on the streets on my way to work.

I asked what was wrong, and Bess introduced herself. She said she didn’t want to offend me, and she didn’t want to take my time or cause me any problems. She said she had been hoping and praying for help, and wondered if there was anything I could do, and that she would understand if I didn’t want to or couldn’t be bothered.

I was about to say she had my attention, and that I would help if I could, but before I could say anything, she sped through a rundown of her faith and how her present circumstances are a test to bring her closer to God. She had clearly given this speech before, and I guessed she was probably used to people walking away or being more defensive.

“That’s why I carry a guardian angel on my arm,” said Bess, showing me the picture frame she was holding. In it was a portrait of an angel, with a serene look and clasped hands, and a background of clouds, surrounded by a glowing aura.

Bess assured me that she didn’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs. I hadn’t asked, but the reassurance was nice. Truth be told, I’ve seen enough druggies and drunks to know she was probably telling the truth, and based on her age, it seemed more likely to me she was homeless from lack of access to drugs, not misuse.

About five minutes after she approached me, I finally got a word in. I explained that I didn’t carry cash, but I was willing to come back if she’d be in the area for a while. I figured since I was going to get a bite to eat anyway, I could get her something, too, and maybe throw in a few bucks.

“Actually,” said Bess, “If you don’t mind or if you’re not comfortable giving me cash, I need medicine and I need to raise money for that.”

I asked what kind of medicine.

“I don’t like to use pharmaceuticals or manufactured medicine,” she said. “The vitamin shop is just up the street, and I need barberry tincture; it helps the gallbladder.”

I looked at my watch, and then at her face. She seemed innocent enough; her eyes reminded me of farm animals back home. She was older, but her skin seemed wrinkled more from sun than from age. I imagined she had been quite pretty when she was young. I imagined she had liked to laugh.

What the hell, I had French fries on my schedule, not a meeting with the Pope.

I threw my laptop in the trunk of my car, and we started walking to get her barberry. I thought about driving us there, but I’ve heard enough horror stories of people getting mugged or having guns pulled on them by hitchhikers to be cautious. Besides, it was only a few blocks.

Bess asked me about myself. I said that my name is Dan, and I’m almost 24. She asked how long I’ve been in Boise, and I said about a year, that I’d moved here a few months after I got out of school. She asked what I went to school for, and I said journalism.

She made an “Ah” sound, one I’d heard a lot since going to school, usually followed by comments about how bad things are with the media or that I wasted my time and should have picked another major. Her reaction wasn’t quite that extreme, though, and I decided to take the opportunity to ask about her.

Bess, it turns out, had been a night security guard for a number of years before an accident in 2012 threw her life into chaos; while crossing the street one day at a busy intersection, she was hit by a car and tossed onto the pavement, resulting in several broken bones and brain damage.

She showed me the ring on her finger, which had several spaces in it where stones had been set. The force of the impact had knocked the stones out of her ring.

While she was able to recover, she was not able to return to work. She said she had family that took care of her for a while, but they had all died, and since she never married or had children of her own, she was alone. She soon became homeless, and then decided to wander.

A few friends Bess made after getting out of the hospital scraped some money together to buy her a bus ticket to Montana. Originally from northern California, Bess didn’t tell me why she was headed to Montana, but she got off the bus in Boise because it seemed like a good place to live.

“There’s no drugs here, and it’s a very wholesome family atmosphere, and what drugs there are are illegal,” she said. “I wanted to be somewhere like that, where I could just focus on my spiritual learning and connecting with God.”

Bess continued on about her faith, how it was really what was holding her together. Her whole life had been changed in a day, and everything she thought was important was cast aside; she said without her faith, she wouldn’t have survived.

I felt funny, then. It had occurred to me that I was walking to buy homeopathic medicine that I doubted would be effective, for a woman whom I knew next to nothing about, as we talked about a god I don’t believe in.

As if on cue, she said she was very grateful that I was helping her, and that most people wouldn’t go to this much trouble.

“It’s no worries,” I said. “At the very least, you get your medicine and I get some exercise.”

We made it to the vitamin shop and I stopped to let her catch her breath. We stood there for a few minutes while she talked about a man she had met about my age from Seattle, who had gone to school to study computers and spent about a year looking for jobs and losing hope before landing a position with Micron.

“That time he spent searching was for him to learn, just like it is for me,” said Bess. “And just like I’m sure it is for you, this up-in-the-air time you have now, to learn and to go to Jesus and ask for help.”

I held the door for her and we went into the store. If I’d had any doubts about her authenticity up to this point, they vanished when she made a beeline to the barberry tincture, the store clerk recognizing her face and greeting her with a small nod. Bess had obviously been here before. I paid for the tincture and we started walking back to my car.

On the walk back, Bess said that she didn’t mean to impose anything with her religious beliefs. She only meant to share, and that the last thing she wanted was to give me unsolicited advice after all the mistakes she had made in her own life.

“When people tell me I should go to the church, or get help, or go to a nonprofit, they’re not understanding, they’re not helping,” she said. “We all have to find our own way.”

I did end up giving her a short ride a few streets over; it was getting dark and I figured if she were going to brutally murder me, she would have done it by now, so it would probably be okay to help her get on her way home, even if I couldn’t take her all the way. I dropped her off and went to get my belated dinner, thinking about our conversation.

While I waited for my order to be made, I kept thinking. When I got my greasy brown bag of fries, I kept thinking. When I got home and ate alone in my room, I kept thinking.

I’m angry.

Not because of the religious conversation, or that she talked about Jesus so much. No, that was part of who she is, what’s keeping her strong, what makes her human in a life that would make most people forget they aren’t animals.

I’m angry because Bess isn’t the first person I’ve met in the last year driven to poverty, to have their life ruined by circumstance or to be left with nothing but their faith. I’m angry because I know people who are just one step away from being Bess, from needing tinctures and angles to get through the day. I’m angry because no matter what else, these people are still people, and I feel like society has let them fall through the cracks.

Why do we let people get sick and not take care of them? Why do we let the elderly live on the streets? Why do we give people so little that when they need help most, they must depend on the intangible?

I’m angry because I don’t have answers to these questions, and because frankly, I don’t think any answer would satisfy me anymore.

But at least I got my damn French fries…

 

Daniel is a writer and editor based in Boise, Idaho. He likes detective stories and probably drinks too much coffee. Reach him at ddurand.specialprojects@gmail.com

That’s so Ratchet (and Clank)

by Mitchell Bonds

Hollywood has a problem with video-game-to-movie adaptations.

In early May I watched the animated feature “Ratchet and Clank,” based on a video game series of the same name by Insomniac games. It got pummeled by critics and the box office — to the point where Insomniac might not break even on production costs — and I think that’s a shame.

The film deserves some of its lumps due to poor execution, the worst of it is because it’s a Herculean task to make a good game-to-movie adaptation. Much like book-to-film adaptations, they lose a lot in the transition. The more you liked the original, the more you’re likely to face disappointment.

One for the fans

Tell me if this sounds familiar: A pint-sized nobody from a boring job on the backside of planet nowhere dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers, but fails until an unlikely sidekick joins him to fight a planet-destroying megalomaniac. Along the way they learn to do the right thing for the right reasons, and learn the value of friendship and teamwork.

Ugh. Generic city, population: Me.

I was introduced to the goofy run-and-gunny-rooty-tooty-point-and-shooty comedy platformer “Ratchet and Clank” by one of my best friends nearly 14 years ago. The two of us played the heck out of it together, staying up way past when his parents said we should be asleep. We’d hang a blanket near the bottom of the staircase to block the light from the TV so we wouldn’t get in trouble as we combed the desert level at 2 a.m. for the elusive Platinum Bolts.

It was even better once a sequel added multiplayer duels. He may have been the one who owned the system and the games, but if I ever picked up the Lava Cannon (which shot a stream of gold-orange lava at its target and we affectionately named “the Pisser”) during a match, he was literally and metaphorically toast.

We’ve both followed and played every game in the franchise, occasionally comparing notes. So I really, REALLY wanted to like this movie.

Failure to acquire target audience

To a longtime fan, this movie is mediocre. The game’s writers occasionally shine through with the snappy dialogue for which the franchise is known, and the over-the-top heroes and villains feel comfortably familiar. And, unlike some other ‘family features,’ it doesn’t feature butt and fart and boobies-on-guys jokes, so it’s pretty clean.

When I saw the movie, the theater was nearly vacant. Maybe the poor reviews turned others off, but I can’t have been alone in seeing this. Kids who were old enough to play “Ratchet and Clank” when it first came out are now old enough to have kids old enough to bring to this movie.

My friend who loves the series couldn’t join me because he was running a 104 degree fever, but his sister who’s only a few years older than him has a son who’s about as old as we were when WE first got into the series.

So where were the theatergoers? I suspect they stayed home, knowing the biggest downside to movies based on video games has always been how far they stray from their source material. Making the transition from 6-10 hours of gameplay to 1.5 hours of screen time is hard, harder still when trying to keep the elements that interested fans in the first place.

In “Ratchet and Clank,” The plot is a watered-down and condensed version of plot points from three of the games, and pretends the plot holes created by doing that don’t exist.

As for shoutouts to the game’s fans, the film shows off many, MANY of the franchise’s iconic weapons and gizmos — and adds a few well-placed lines of dialogue that explain how and why some of the game’s mechanics make it into the film, such as the menus from the game being an interface in Ratchet’s armor — but none of them get enough screen time to really emphasize how fun they were.

Case in point: The RYNO, the fan-favorite “Rip You a New One” ultimate weapon, gets a dramatic introduction but never even gets properly fired. In the games, I loved the RYNO in all its various incarnations, from the behemoth pepperbox that rapid-fired missiles, to the satellite laser platform to my personal favorite: The RYNO V, the machinegun-shotgun-bazooka that played “The 1812 Overture” while spraying the whole map with hot death in a variety of exciting flavors. I was disappointed by its brief and impotent introduction.

This fanboy complains: A few things were missing that could have been chuckleworthy. It would have been nice to lampshade how “bolts,” the galactic economy’s coin of the realm, are literally threaded construction nuts and bolts. Some of the other fun toys like the grind-rail boots and helicopter pack might have been a nice change from the constant use of his “Swingshot” magnetic grappling hook from the game.

Indeed, any number of tiny additions and nods would have been well and good but still wouldn’t have solved the real problem: The story.

Think of the children

Children aren’t idiots. I say this having been a 5-year-old who managed to get pizza in his hair on a regular basis, but really, kids these days are pretty savvy. They pay attention, they notice things adults don’t, and they’re capable of following a more complex plot than most give them credit for. Introduce a more complex reason to despise a villain other than “he’s a funny color, talks with an accent and looks weird,” and they’ll probably comprehend it (giving kids an advantage over the average “Call of Duty” player).

In Ratchet’s case, the villain is destroying entire planets with a Death-Star-esque space station called The Deplanetizer (strong) but the movie goes out of its way to explain they’re uninhabited planets (weak) except now he’s targeting a galactic capital planet with millions of inhabitants (strong) so they evacuate first (weak).

In the game, Chairman Drek and his corporation murder millions and destroy a half-dozen planetary ecosystems for profit: he is a villain most foul. In the movie… I don’t know, he’s making too many asteroid fields? Softening the evil of a villain can be done correctly (see the continuing story of Gul Dukat in Star Trek), but having him pull his punches because it’s a kids movie is the wrong way to go about it. Kids can understand a remorseless, greedy monster as a villain if you give them the opportunity.

But therein lies the problem. If a movie panders to fans of a game, it needs to contain more of what makes the game good. If it’s just a kids movie and needs to not be too dark, do that. But don’t split the difference. It’s why the “Resident Evil” zombie franchise has done fairly well for itself, while the 1993 “Super Mario Bros” tanked horribly.

It brings to mind a quote by “Parks and Recreation” character Ron Swanson: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

 

Mitchell Bonds edits for a local newspaper as his day job, and elsewise spends too much time playing video games and writing about dragons. Beware of contacting him at fouryearquest@yahoo.com.