Thursday, August 31, 2017

that time i was accidentally a skinhead (throwback thursday)

One night, (after watching the movie Tank Girl) I was inspired to cut my hair. At first, I was trying to use scissors to give myself the most bizarre hair do of all time. When that didn't work, I used my father's hair clippers. What I ended up with was this.

Not my best move.

The next day at school, I found out it was crazy hair day and picture day. People were like, "Did you do that on purpose? That is so hardcore!" and because I was advanced in sarcasm I'd say, "Sure, why not".

It was about a year later, in Chicago (when my hair was all one length) that I met my first female skinhead. I didn't know that is what she was. I just liked her style and informed her that I was growing out the same hair she had. She was, less than impressed. She informed me that she was a skinhead and that it was called a chelsea cut.

London Skinhead Girls in the 1980's
Photo Courtesy:

I must admit that I was both embarrassed and a little grossed out that I was appreciating someone from a group that is connected to so much hate. What I later learned was that was not always the case.

During the 1950s and 1960s the popular culture was mod. We know this style by the numerous characterizations of it in movies. However, there were subcultures to this movement. 

The mods we know of were called peacock mods or smooth mods. This group was known for their wealth, their fashion, and their music. There was another group at the time known as hard mods. They were from the working class and didn't have money to spend. Their fashion was utilitarian as were their haircuts which were shaved close to the head for  practicality at work. By the late 1960s skinhead was the common term for this group. 

They were known to hang out in dance halls and listen to rocksteady, ska, and reggae. In the beginning the group was not racist or political. In fact, they embraced the culture of rude boys out of Jamaica which can be seen by the skinheads musical interest. It wasn't until the 1970s that everything changed and skinheads began politicizing. From there it was a slippery slope into a blending of white only, far-right, and neo-nazi ideals.

In a way, I am both proud and embarrassed by my accidental foray into being a skinhead. I too was like those hard mods; financially broke and following the beat of a different drummer. But I wonder how many people thought I was a racist asshole? I wonder how many people looked at me and thought I was all about white power? 

*To be clear, I am not a skinhead and I hope for a day when no one sees race as a separator or a reason to hate.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

who is mike pence

I don't want this blog to become a place where I focus on politics. Unfortunately, I am somewhat bound by the current political landscape and the radicalization of the United States party system. 

Before the election, I wrote this blog post about Trump and then another blog post about the great economic risk that is the Trump administration. Both do not shed a good light on what Trump and his people mean for America. Interestingly, there has been one outlier that I haven't known much about and that is our vice president Mike Pence. Before doing the research I have known three things about him.
  1. He is a staunchly conservative Christian 
  2. He is anti-gay and pro-life. 
  3. He was the fiscally inept Governor of Indiana. 
Here is a deeper look into what I found about him.

Mike Pence was elected as the governor of Indiana in 2012 after being in the House of Representatives for a number of years. His reign in these political positions had a number of controversies long before Trump announced that Pence would be his running mate for potus.

As a congressmen Pence did not have an exceptional track record. The New York Times reported that during his twelve years in congress none of his proposed bills became law. Washington corespondent Carl Huse said, “His [Pence’s] interest was more in preventing things from happening — spending, taxing, expanding liberal social policy,” That is a statement on the kind of political representative Pence is. He has a track record of only holding strong positions on topics that are important to him, such as religious protections and anti-abortion regulations.

What was incriminating was the nearly $13,000 Pence took from his congressional campaign funds to pay for an assortment of personal expenses. These expenses ranged from paying his mortgage to covering his wife's car prepayment. It cost him an election race, but that did not deter him. Pence invested his money and time in saturating Indiana media with apologies and remorse as a way to "reinvent himself". Obviously, this worked as he became the poster boy for naive remorse and made his way to becoming Governor of the same state that he betrayed.

In 2016 Trump introduced Indiana’s Mike pence with the words, “Governor Pence enacted the largest income tax cut in the state’s history.” Which was a misleading boast for the state's stagnant tax legislation. Which went from the 3.4% (that had been in place since the 1980’s) to a .1% change of 3.3% under Pence. That would mean a whole $85 of yearly savings in tax expenditure for the average Indiana resident. Obviously this cut did not improve the states finances and in some cases affected the economic growth negatively.

His misunderstanding of socioeconmics continued when Pence signed the 2015 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of Indiana. Previous to the bill being signed two groups of organizations were publicly against the bill: the majority of Indiana's business sector and the LGBTQ community. The business sector included; Anthem, Cummins, Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly and Company, Emmis Communications, IU Health, Roche Diagnostics and Salesforce Marketing. 

Pence furthered controversy around the RFRA during a famous interview with George Stephanopoulos where Pence refused to respond to the same direct question a number of times. In this interview, Stephanopoulos asked Pence on six separate occasions whether the RFRA would allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. The question went unanswered which caused an uproar and a slew of Indiana businesses dropping contracts with the state. There was so much pressure on Pence to correct this mistake that he was forced to add a protection for the LGBTQ community in regards to the RFRA. But the damage was done and the state lost millions in business cash flow.

The LGBTQ community was criticized at the time by conservative groups for being alarmists. Unfortunately. Pence had already shown himself to be a supporter of "conversion therapy" which is a Christian backed idea that mental health therapy can cure someone of their sexual preferences. There were plenty of falsehoods being thrown by liberal supporters like, “Pence forced gay children to be treated with electroshock therapy to cure their gay”. This was not factual and fueled the conservative platform of the LGBTQ being misinformed. What Pence did support was government funding for --  and I quote, "[people] seeking to change their sexual behavior" which indirectly included electroshock therapy as an option for any age group.

Unfortunately, the science is clear that conversion therapy is a pipe dream. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, has repeatedly stated that, “the view that homosexuality is a disorder has been rejected by all the major mental health professions”. It is disheartening to think that Pence's misunderstanding of science would lend himself (and government funding) to such a wasteful political move.

This is not the only clash between his good Christian intentions and the understanding of social sciences. Pence put a number of laws into place that would force a large number of the Indiana's Planned Parenthood to close. Dependent on your political views it is debatable whether Planned Parenthood should be allowed to provide services like abortion. However, it is well known that Planned Parenthood provides a number of other services at low cost in places where other health services are not available. More importantly there is proof that mass closings of Planned Parenthood cause a measurable influx of health risks. Pence would soon to see such influxes when there was an immediate HIV breakout of 190 cases within the state that could be directly linked to the loss of the state's Planned Parenthood. 

In this case, there needed to a preventive offset. Meaning, Pence (and his people) should have understood the risks involved with such closings and created a program that encouraged low cost "non-abortion" clinics to provide temporary service support until a more permanent solution could be put in place. That is just simple social risk assessment.

I'm not sure what kind of vice president he will be. His record, although tenured, does not have the kind of activity to show us how he approaches anything outside of his partisan agenda. Because of his personal Christian values, I can strongly predict that he will have a strong anti-LGBTQ and pro-life focus. And although he presents himself as someone that wants fiscal and economic conservation, he doesn't seem to understand how socioeconomics impact the broader margins.

For many, that might not be a point to quibble. But, for me the deeper understanding of socioeconomics is the number two aspect of a good political representative. The number one aspect being ethical behavior, which Pence, a man with a respected law degree, proved himself questionable when he stole $13,000 from his own campaign.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

the city of the dawn

In a previous post about Whittier, Alaska, I mentioned that I have a soft spot for unusual places. One of these places happens to be a lifelong source of fascination to me.

Back in the sixties, 1968 to be exact, a group of 5,000 like minded individuals broke ground on a social experiment that still continues today. With the support of 124 nations, they created a community in Puducherry, India that seems like it might be a cult -- except for one thing that is essential cults everywhere -- they have no leader.

Auroville (also known as The City of the Dawn) was at one time the magical brainchild of the late Sri Aurobindo and his counterpart the late Mirra Alfassa. During Sri Aurobindo's life, he established an ashram that surrounded his practice of integral yoga. Mirra Alfassa (also known as The Mother) took the ashram one step further by buying up land to create a functional city of total acceptance.

As state on their website,  there goal was simple; 
“The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity – in diversity. Today Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with - and practically researching into - sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.”
Auroville is a bizarre place, with structures that remind me of the city models used in Logan's Run or Star Wars. There at dome houses, curling layouts, and geodesic structures with weird plotting that rejects the usual grid structured city.

Within Auroville, there are citizens from all over the world that come from all walks of life -- regardless, of religion, culture, language, profession, race, or age.

There seems to be mysterious application process to be accepted as a permanent resident in Auroville. This involves many interviews, a two year period where you live and work (for free) in Auroville, other process I'm not entirely sure I understand, then you donate money in exchange for housing (or the ability to sustainably build housing).

Technically, there is no money or government in Auroville. The donation in exchange for something called an Aurocard is supposed to resolve exchanges within the city. However, not many follow this rule and still ask for cash donation exchanges or bartering. And even though there is "no government" there are many councils and groups of people jumbled together to make decisions or for fill tasks. 

The largest blight on the life of Auroville is the crime that bleeds in from outside villages into Auroville. The city has to contend with people from places like Kuilapalayam harassing woman or even attacking. But, lets face it much of India is dangerous and stricken with poverty. Most of the peace obsessed denizens (and visitors) are easy targets for the maligned.

Besides the fact that Auroville seems to be a unique mix of maverick spiritualists and solar powered retreats, they also are trying to do something more. That "more" is valuing acceptance and "progressive harmony". Is it radical? Yes. But, I can respect anything that is based on a creed like this;
  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.