Category: Refugees

Jean Carlin, M.D.

A few days ago, my husband’s great aunt died; she was the only of my in-laws who I called by a familial name (Aunt Jean instead of Jean) – as did the rest of *my* family. Ciro says she was difficult to get along with, but I guess I met her late enough in her life that it was less true (and I didn’t need to depend on her, so I could enjoy her company for what it was). She was incredibly kind to me, and I was in awe of her. The day we met, a large rare flower in her garden bloomed. I’ll miss her very much.

Ciro writes:

Two days ago, one of the pioneers of refugee and cross-cultural psychiatry, Dr. Jean Carlin, MD, PhD, died in her sleep at her home in Seal Beach, CA. She was 86 years old. She took with her a lifetime of experience and wisdom that inform our understanding of the human cost of war to this day, and during Vietnam in particular informed U.S. refugee policy. More than anything she felt called to her work because she saw clearly into the abyss and cared very deeply about people. She spent her life trying to help them.

I said she was 86 years old. She was born in 1930. That means she moved into her teen years during World War II, and that when she was entering medical school, it was in 1950s America. She was one of three women in her class. It was routine for students who weren’t making the cut to be informed via a terse postcard in their mailbox, with no explanation. She was a woman from a poor single-parent household, surrounded by privileged men, aware that she could be dismissed at any time for any reason, in an era when female doctors in America were so rare that people frequently thought she was joking.

She spent two tours in Vietnam at a village children’s hospital, treating victims of war and its attendant horror with inadequate supplies and no electricity (candles at the foot of the bed). Children burned, children maimed, children with cholera. Viet Cong attacks in the area were frequent. She recalled one night-time alert that came while she was trying to save the life of a dying baby girl. The attack forced her to carry the girl through a field of knee-deep mud and weeds in total darkness, compressing the tiny body rhythmically against her own chest to respirate her, until she could reach an emergency ward. The baby did survive, as did many others in her care.

She returned later to work in the refugee camps, and her time there lead to a senior consultancy on the relocation efforts of the U.S. government. I haven’t been able to find a complete count of citations of her work in research literature, but it’s over 100. I think about it a lot when I read about Syria, about profound trauma combining with dislocation and total loss of culture and identity, about it following the survivors through generations. It haunts me to see it so completely, as it must have haunted her.

After the war she moved into forensic psychiatry, working for courts and mental hospitals and social services, with survivors and casualties of a different kind. Budget cuts and political resistance meant this work was frequently unpaid, underpaid, or paid very late, but she continued to do it, for the same reason she went willingly into war zones.

She was also my great aunt, and she loved me like her own child, of which she had none, nor did she ever marry. The truth is she wasn’t easy to be around, and that made her perpetually lonely.

Which isn’t fair. It’s not fair that with a human compassion so fierce, with courage so great, with such a complete willingness to sacrifice, that she should ever have wanted for love of her own. I can’t get past how sad it makes me. I hope I was a comfort to her. I will miss her very much.

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Refugees Are My Neighbors

Refugees aren’t strangers walking off a plane — not permanently. One of my mentors was a North African refugee 30 or 40 years before we met, and now cooks spaghetti and hassles me about whether I’m living up to my potential. A college dormmate of mine was part of a family granted asylum after persecution in the USSR; she teased me for watching Twin Peaks seven years after eveyone else. A lost boy of Sudan is a member of my church. I’ve known him for maybe a decade. He’s getting a law degree now. These are my neighbors. This is my America.

Horseshoe Theory

So far, horseshoe theory has about the same track record as looking for your keys under the streetlight when you dropped them somewhere else. When the far-left fringe kills us, it’s going to be due to weakened antivax herd immunity and/or the rejection of essential food sources as “toxins.”

There is a third scenario in which I decide I’d rather stop breathing than listen to one more word about chemtrails, but I like to think none of you would do that to me.


Mark says: The actual antivax people I know in my life are all libertarian, so I sometimes think progressives get fingered unfairly for that. But the food issue: absolutely. Enjoy that GMO-free mass starvation.

Romie: By all means, Not All Progressives (or even most). Mainly, I don’t think there’s evidence that “the far left” is just as dangerous as “the far right” when it comes to domestic terrorism, even though earnest lefties keep warning that “it could be us next.” Kind of a waste of energy. There is a lunatic left, but it doesn’t much resemble a paramilitary.

Jacob: Well. The left believes in gun laws. ‘Cause we fear guns. So…that may be a small part of that. And our strength/weakness is our “I’m ok you’re ok” Cat Stevens mentality of our community.

Romie: It’s not just guns. The far left (and the right that’s not batshit) don’t do this:

Far right raises £50,000 to target boats on refugee rescue missions in Mediterranean” (Mark Townsend, The Guardian)

I keep running into variations of “both extremes are awful, the middle is good” where one extreme is whiny about pronouns and the other extreme fundraises in order to murder tens of thousands of fleeing civilians, predominantly women and children. I thought we’d figured out this “treat both sides equally” thing didn’t work when we allowed climate change denial to go mainstream, and then I thought we’d figured it out AGAIN after “Hillary and Trump are both bad, just in different ways,” but apparently no.


Nic says: When I was younger and first saw the (not particularly great) film Sphere, I was so infuriated at the end when they decide to forget everything because humans aren’t ready for the power. “No!” I shouted at the TV “Just think what you could do with it! Stupid Hollywood pat cop-out endings!” Then a few years ago I was on the internet and it suddenly struck me that I felt about the internet in the exact same way. It’s an amazing power that technology has bestowed on us and much as I’d love us to be, we’re just not ready for it. Wishing it away though is just a Hollywood fantasy, it turns out.

I just mention it here because I feel these kind of ‘theories’ would never reach any kind of critical mass without the internet linking vulnerable and impressionable people together in the absence of any kind of critical intermediary (add to this every ‘alt-right-read-fascist’ echo chamber message board and conspiracy hysteria). The internet has allowed amazing growths of expression and given voice to people who have been genuinely empowered in a way that benefits us all. But I wish we were able to handle the darker side of that power.

Got To Look Out For Our Own

Really good to see all those “keep the refugees out and save those resources so we can help the poor and sick people who are already here” folks mobilizing hard to make sure endangered American citizens receive healthcare and other humanitarian aid like food and safe housing.

Great “band together and protect our own” hustle, everyone!

P.S. The taxes that have been funding expanded medical coverage are mostly on capital gains – on money people make by owning stock, not by doing anything. Stock market is doing just fine despite this 3.8% surcharge – doing historically wonderfully, making stockholders loads of money. Investment has not been constrained. But, sure, we need to protect those investors from the pain of passively accumulating free money that could be slightly more free money if it weren’t for those darned asthmatic kids.

Why We Talk About Russia in Connection with Anti-Gay Violence in Chechnya

In stories about brutal anti-gay crackdowns in Chechnya, maybe you’ve noticed Russia tends to get mentioned in the headline – “Russia says,” “Putin says” – even though the alleged atrocities are in Chechnya, not Russia, plus it’s not like we trust the honesty of Putin when it comes to government crackdowns or gay rights. There are three reasons this is being reported as a Russia story: Russia is the political pressure point, it’s where reporters can talk to people, and it’s the bigger fish.

Russia is very, very involved in keeping the current leader of Chechnya in power. They’re the go-between with Chechnya and the rest of the international community – the China to Chechnya’s North Korea.

Chechnya isn’t exactly an independent country – although it’s not exactly NOT an independent country. It’s an autonomous region that’s part of the Russian federation. Think about Scotland or Northern Ireland – they’re part of another country, Great Britain. Chechnya is like that, but moreso. It has its own constitution and government, but is also supposed to follow Russian federal law. But Russia often looks the other way unless Chechen seperatists are openly secessionist (which they often are, bloodily). Basically, how autonomous Chechnya is remains an open question, including within Russia. The current leader is firmly pro-Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia is where most gay Chechen men are fleeing, aided by Russian gay-rights ally groups like the Russian chapters of Human Rights Group and International Crisis Group and the Russian LGBT Network, who are collecting most of our information and providing lines of escape. The story about the torture sessions was broken by Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper. Almost any interview you see in a U.S. or British newspaper is with somebody who is in Russia – who either is Russian or fled to Russia. Chechnya doesn’t really have a free press.

Finally, arguably the escalation of persecution in Chechnya was triggered by a Russian group called GayRussia applying for permits to stage a pride march near Chechnya (in Kabardino-Balkaria), even though the permit was not granted. So gay rights groups in Russia aren’t sure whether there will be a similar Russian crackdown and/or whether Chechnya is acting with the approval/encouragement of the Russian government, as a way to put more pressure on Russian gay rights groups – because there has also been a ramp up of anti-gay governance in Russia. Not to the same extent as the violence in Chechnya, but is that a soft pilot? Or is this the moment when Russia is embarassed by the extra attention and steps back?

But yeah, it can sometimes feel like “wait, aren’t we supposed to be talking about Chechnya?” – to which the answer is yes.

Eva Bartlett debunk

Hokay, looks like recuts of that appalling video of “independent Canadian journalist” Eva Bartlett are making the rounds again. Her name is never mentioned, but you may recognize the picture:

It’s propaganda; she’s paid by Russia and Syria, not a newspaper, and her claims are verifiably untrue. Suggest you read Snopes prophylactically and then bookmark it in case you find you need to inoculate someone else.

Or if someone hates Snopes, you have other options:

Channel 4

BuzzFeed

Pulse Media

The amount of desire you have to have, to think that video of aerial bombardments and children in ambulances is easy to fake, but a closeup of one white person in front of a paper background must be honest, even though you’ve never heard her name and she’s “independent” of press credentials…