A year ago today…

I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.

I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.

I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.

Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.

I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.

Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.

I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.

 

Herd politics

Let’s clear up a few things.

So there are a lot of generalised assumptions and fear tactics by media and fake media out there. There has also been pressure on populist political leaders to begin taking scientific advice seriously. There is often more than one scientific advice, based on different modelling approaches. An acquaintance’s COVID-19 modelling presentation has been misrepresented by the news and slaughtered as if it was political advice. Let’s get this right, political decisions are not made by science researchers. Researchers, do exactly this, they research and present their findings. Politicians then, in theory, should compare it with other researchers’ advice, compare it under socio-economic contexts and implications, and make policy decisions. Scientists and boards can make ethical decisions on research pieces involving directly the community, more often than not, in clinical settings. As the COVID-19 virus is not a domestic issue, but one that requires international cooperation, I quote the World Health Organisation’s principles on the ethics of bioethics. The most commonly identified
principles are:
1) individual autonomy (the ability to make decisions for oneself);
2) beneficence (the obligation to “do good” for others);
3) nonmaleficence (the obligation to avoid causing harm to others);
and
4) justice (the value of distributing benefits and burdens fairly).

Now I won’t go into much detail on how elastic these can become in domestic policy context, but I refer to them as a signpost of considerate practice.

So going back to the politics. Assuming the politicians understand the principles, they have been called to make political decisions and introduce relevant policies. Policies are drawn on the elites’ understanding of the value of social investments. Social investments are education, health, livelihoods, self-determination/individual voices aka sustainable communities. To date, we have seen the third market crash was no longer dependant on corporations, and that the corporate market may not be salvaged by cash injections alone. Corporations are always dependent on the people that work for them. When people can’t go to work, or refuse to, and corporations can not replace them by informal or imported or illegal labour due to travel restrictions, the value of the local labour offer increases. Thus the involuntary small cash injections from populist governments to the people’s hands.

Their objective remains the same: feeding the corporate machine to jump-start the economy. The value of sustaining a trained workforce, on basic income streams, state-funded, is worth investing so a) corporations don’t fold, and continue funding the political elites and their parties and b) subduing existing breadline populations from rioting against corporations or striking. I believe as long as corporations keep running, things will go back to normal at the end of this pandemic.

Interestingly enough in Germany, the policy decision, after a consistent containment of the virus and early-on testing, smaller businesses will open for business next week. Germany’s policy decision tells us two things: a) they have backed up their scientific modelling with clinical and community-based research and b) the independence of small and medium-sized business owners is the bedrock of healthy and thriving communities. In British conservatism, this would translate into a lesser dependency on state-cash injections directly to the individuals when they are out of work.

In summary, get people safe, provide them the assurances they need to return to work and the community aka let the economy trickle-sustain with prioritising average Joe, because average Joe is doing all the hard work of keeping the fine balances on a local level. Without the local level of support sustaining economic reproduction, there will be no feeding loop.

Interestingly enough populist politicians are looking at Germany for guidance yet without having invested in social care protections in their own domestic policy decisions. They are suggesting opening businesses as usual however ie USA’s and UK’s economic systems are structured entirely differently to that of Germany. A German factory worker is directly linked in value to the German stock exchange. The US or British worker is owned by the corporation they work for, who calls the price of their labour, hence less worker rights and so on. Now the outcome of this means, it is in Germany’s interests to keep this worker secure, and import more workers that can be developed to this capacity, vs the model of disposable workforces in UK and the US (Windrush in the UK, abandoned industries in the US, minorities leading the populist moment against other minorities/xenophobic sentiments).

Furthermore, many of the populist politicians are coming up to election time or will be soon enough. We know, the lax policy adoption of herd immunity without the social investment, is economic suicide for corporations and corporate funded political systems. We also know those very political elites will be left unscathed, unless the corporations pull the rag from under their feet. We also know those corporations will move on to the next guy that will have them, and will sponsor the next guy’s campaigns instead.

So how do those populist politicians intend to close the gap between the average local Joe in the UK and the US and a sustainable community, when we know the cash injections are in fact an insult of a gesture when social-care infrastructure has been disassembled bit by bit (Obama care, NHS and so on).

The supporters of populist ideologies, aka no or limited state investment, may have not realised that without state-funded infrastructure, there is no monitoring, no data (ie lack of health free healthcare services), no statistics from the community (no outreach healthcare services) that can serve the interests of the community.

So scientists can model all they want, but without data, modelling is pretty useless. To put it plainly, these people in the communities don’t exist, or have any chance of benefitting from designs that could be made for their benefit. They will not account towards any losses other than some economic by their corporate employers, who might find/informalise/eventually import a replacement or may not depending on the level of loss and risks to corporate business.

Bio-scientists, then can get together with vaccinologists and jump hoops and do their uttermost best (privately or state invested – doesn’t really matter right now, beggars can’t be choosers).

Even when they come up with the ‘solution’, politicians will still need to drought in the social care investment of distribution, prioritisation and access. And we also know populist politicians have interests in specific balances. And these balances are clearly becoming more about patterns, not who is the perceived winner ie who markets themselves as being the top dog, but perhaps a multilateral consensus about who sustains their position better and leaves average Joe the least unscathed.

Then, for the sake of managing a global issue, there’s a call for serious investment in international knowledge-sharing, energized by today’s very real post-Westphalian conditions.

American man

I grew up thinking of America as this homogenically superficial space fuelled by ignorance and ultra-arrogance imposed by the sound of mad dogs and gun shots in the background. A war within itself.


In the politics and economics of the past thirty years, the trajectory of individualism is a response to the controversy of sharing all, in post anti communism, Cold War era.

This skewed anti reality brewed the covering of the reduction of basic human rights, presented as anti-terror securities to the average folk, and messed up the minds and values of many alike. This was easily absorbed by a weak societal structure in the US that without free access to health, education or meaningful work opportunities, beyond the concept of self-sale, left people scraping by for the ‘mana’. The lack of cultural references, families or friendships providing emotional support systems can not be bought by insurance companies.

In adulthood, we are all paving our way on our own but the multilayered toxicity of American neoliberalism has easily spread a virus with the language of non sense – what people can’t understand conceptually, can’t analyse and therefore are open to manipulation, misinterpretation, abhorrent expressions – they don’t even make sense to those that speak of them.

Today, this translates into the extremist mini-anti-cultures surviving by a bashing each others’ existence in perpetuation.

Jamali Maddix got a few of them covered for Vice.

Bunches of incoherent folks at each other’s throats, caricaturing a very simple and singular dimension as a version of society. We can critique the social movements for not establishing fundamental change but they are not ripping cultures apart or marginalising what holds as a resource of existence to the average folk.

For many on the outside of US, the scene is hopeless and bleak. For many on the outside, we can’t help but romantisize for a mind shift by the immense phoenix like male figures that despite the union’s level of absence in communal conscience, they have held a string light for long enough to beam their connection with and faith in humanity and in hope for a realignment of the American dream. They have the knowledge that one’s resources are equally owned and interconnected by everyone on the planet. Physical and emotional cultural references matter, the intangible connections energise the common pool.

Ultimately, isolationists are believing that by fighting everyone off to protect their patch of land, they will not end up finding out they are fighting against themselves, which they know its not only unsustainable, but plain self destructive and stupid. Sum it up in the simple lesson of the flowers and the bees.

My gratitude goes out to the two American men that know too well where the concept of the American dream really can stem from and what it could really translate into in the daily routes of American self identification. It is a work that will take a generation or two, and these men hold the tortch for the way there.

Respect to Neil Young

Respect for Bernie Sanders

Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.

Discussing healthcare in the US through graffiti

So you know Portland is the weird and quirky side of the western coast of the US for being alternative and out there. Well, it is for American standards, but… There are some things so ingrained in the American culture that even Portland can’t shy.

I’ve been visiting the Portland State University library for a while, getting some quiet time to write for hours.

I don’t get to talk to folks when here much. A new friend who studied linguistics mentioned she was considering a PhD study on the linguistics of indoor graffiti to research the public debates drawn out on loo doors, library spaces, lecture theatre desks, cantines and classes amongst others.

Reading the voices in public yet privately defined spaces gives you an idea of what people really want to say. That is usually expressed in a doodle, a few words, at the end of an emotion or thought.

I saw this one in the quiet study area of Portland State University.

dsc_40943787611335575273161.jpg

What shook me was that I was in a relatively trendy and well off part of the world where people are seen as Liberal and progressive. Without assuming the voices on this graffiti represent all American voices, they do sum it up in a nutshell.

Bernie Sanders can shout as much as he wants about healthcare for all. Some may know what universal income is too. How does a population within an economy as such get to the point of believing free healthcare is brainwash? Is that an indication the writer thinks it’s impossible? Or is it inappropriate?

Will the benefits that we have not had the opportunity to experience never materialize? How does fit it in the big American dream?

I now understand that we can’t rely on the young to fight for things they don’t understand. But what happened to them that got them to a place of not believing in the state’s capability of delivering on its social contract. Was it the Republicans, or Democrats before them, the Tories or Blair before them or the disconnected wababee socialist Corbyn? They are all part of the same system, right? Taking their quick and short chances (cause that’s all they’ll ever get nowadays) in power trips and little business for their buddies whilst citizens lose the will to live, and are devalued for their contribution to society and beyond their filling the gaps in the pockets of those near and dear.

Yet the broken system is showing that’s all around us. Segmentations of data that forgot how they came to be.

To be called brainwashed is to have a compliment. A recognition of the presence of a brain that’s been open to dialogue and will continue to do so.

Don’t tell me who I am, tell me who I want to be.

 

Reno International Dance Expo 2019

Tim Weinzirl, June 2019


The Reno International Dance Expo made its inaugural debut at 
the Grand Sierra 
Resort in Reno, 
Nevada, USA 
over May 10-12.  
The event was 
hosted by the 
world-famous 
Rodney "Rodchata" 
Acquino (http://www.rodchata.com/).  
This was primarily 
a bachata festival, 
though salsa, kizomba, 
and zouk were also featured.

rdxposter

The weekend opened 
with a preparty 
on May 9.  
Early arrivals 
were able to 
mingle 
with each other 
and 
the instructors.

From Friday to 
Sunday, there 
were daily workshops taught 
by 40+ instructors 
from four continents. 
Attendees of the 
preparty met the instructors early 
and 
could better 
navigate 
the multiple 
parallel 
workshop tracks.

My favorite instructor 
was Marcela Cardenas 
of Sweden.  
Her Saturday class 
was about how to 
be a better leader 
in bachata.  
She likened the 
hand-hold 
connection 
between the leader 
and 
follower to a 
joystick in a 
video game; the 
position of 
the arm tells 
the 
follower 
what to do.  
This is useful 
for steering 
the follower 
forward or backward, 
as shown in the 
figure below.

marcela-forward-backmarcela-forward-back

Marcela also 
emphasized 
the importance 
of the leader's 
firm connection 
with the follower's shoulder blade, 
such as in circular movements.

marcela-around

One of the most 
popular classes 
was the Saturday 
bachata session 
by Alex and Desiree. 
Below is a photo 
from the class.

classes-alex-des

The pool party 
happened on 
Saturday afternoon 
at the Grand Sierra's 
large outdoor pool. 
Below are some pool 
party photos.

pool-montage

On Friday and 
Saturday night 
were performances 
by amateur 
and world-renowned professionals. 
Below are snapshots 
from my favorite performances.

perf-montage

Photo above: In clockwise order, the performers are Anthony & Carla of Spain(dancing bachata), Alex & Desiree of New York (dancing bachata), Alejandro & Erica of Los Angeles (dancing bachata), Marcela Cardenas of Sweden (dancing bachata), Alex & Kim of San Francisco (dancing salsa).

Finally, and most

importantly, social

dancing took place in
four separate rooms

(salsa, bachata,

kizomba, zouk) until

6am.
The guest instructors

did a great job dancing

and interacting
the social dancers

throughout the night.

social-montage

Photo above: A sample of the social dancing.
Bottom left: Alex and Desiree leading a late night line dance.
Bottom middle: Alejandro and Erica dancing.
Bottom right: Marcela Cardenas is dancing with a lucky guy.

Based on

crowd reaction,

this event was

a huge success.

The party resumes

next year, May 15-18, 2020.
Passes are already

on sale at http://www.RenoDanceExpo.com.

Within 48 hours of

passes for next year

going on sale,
over 20% of the attendees rebooked for next year.

Seattle, chief Seattle

So I will not start from the beginning, why should I, after all, I will start from the point writing this blog post, became urgent. And that wasn’t until I got inspired.
So you know how much I love Camden Town, right? I suppose in many ways it’s the alternativeness I have come to love for decades, even if it is being polished gradually, the edginess is still here.
So what’s up Seattle?
Up University Way and I got blown away. Now this is a quiet Camden, clothes’ exchanges galore, vintage shops with vintage clothes you can actually wear i.e. check out Red Light Vintage http://www.redlightvintage.com/, Korean food that smells beyond tasting good, unintrusive cafes like Cafe Solstice https://www.cafesolsticeseattle.com/ and a second-hand multi-lingo book shop check out Magus Books https://www.magusbooksseattle.com/, all packed on and off a high street where people don’t need to prove they are cool – they kind of are and don’t know it. I loved the dress down punk 90s understated fashion on the street.
Elaborative discussions on how the homeless are better looked after in Seattle than in Portland are complimentary. 90’s vibes. A time before all that uber-conservative shit in politics took off. Where Blur and Bjork are cool to mix with all sorts and cafes don’t mind shitloads of unpretentious laptops.
Now rewind a few days.
The airport; you land in Seattle, you be sure to listen to grunge and rock on the airport speakers. Telling what the city is made off. Even the light rail is called ‘sound’.
Then off to Highline, you could call it a disgruntled neighborhood on the margins, one that will certainly change, because the people may be poorer than average, but have tolerance and are friendly. For Londoners, think of Hackney before the money moved in. In Highline, money is not here yet but I think it won’t show in the same ugly British ways, because the money in the US goes to more affluent areas, whereas money into poorer areas in Seattle means it came from poorer people yet. So you get the picture.
Next off; Gasworks Park, or rewind a few blocks up the hill behind down Sunnyside Avenue North. Probably one of the most beautiful areas in Seattle. Streets manicured pretty green and friendly unpretentious, just the houses are bigger on well thought designed picturesque bliss, but no grandeur here either please, just simply gorgeous. So back down the hill to the Gasworks park and by the Lake Union waterfront – oh my days. My waterways days chucked into the bin, deep deep into the trash bin. The chaos of sup paddleboarding, rowing, kayaking, commercial traffic, houseboats, sailing boats, and water airplanes all using the same water was like watching carnival for the first time. All it felt like, was kind of Greek chaos, only with the confidence. It was fun to watch – put a big smile on my face and gave me another good reason to add to the reasons why I am in this part of the world: it doesn’t make much sense, but it works fine.
A little later, into Fremont, oh my days you have to go, it is so cool and pretty, like an understated really green lightly academic bohemian neighborhood that reminds me of somewhere I would have loved to go before.
So yeah, go Pike Street Market, Alki Beach, the Space Needle (if you must), Westlake Shopping, check out the Fremont Troll and the gum wall (I didn’t – couldn’t bear the thought), look out the wheel from the seafront and maybe jump on the ferry to Bremerton for more really cool views. Pop in at the University of Washington grounds – huge trees bigger spaces to feel academically inspired ;-p and if you are a Harry Potter fan the Library Suzzalo and Allen Libraries is the kind of grandeur that Oxbridge would love to have (I thought my School of Oriental and African Studies university library was big haha). Out of the library look out to the incredible view of the snow-capped Mount Rainier. Whatever you do though, if you are my sort of gang, go up University Way, go down Sunnyside Avenue.

 

Back in education

I am back at the university studying full time twenty years after the last time I was in formal education.

There are some things that have changed since. I’m not lacking of confidence. And I have work experience on the subject. Did I think I would be an alien, at least a decade older than the majority of the students? Yes. And I can see some twenty years old students talk the theory but weak in joining the dots. Then there are exceptions, the smart ones. That put the hours in and build coherence across perspectives and layers. And the professors the Bank of knowledge of recalculations across parallel universes, the poets that make you laugh, worry, question, empower.

Do the 20 something year olds see what I see?

I’m emerged, taken, absorbed.

The weight of information is frying my brains, I can feel the heat emitting. I feel like a Nick Cave song. Poverty, testosterone, rebirth, death, crisis, grouping, introspection, self and sense check.
I can see again and with that I came to find a purpose for the frame I hold in my hands as I type.

Here are the shots from the first month in uni. After 20 years. Just as my memories from the first time, fading away in the distance, this somehow has poured new colours on to it.

I learnt a new word today, Decarceration

Decarceration means more than getting individuals out of prison. It means healing trauma, restoring civil rights, and ending the suffering this system has imposed on American families and communities.

The U.S. puts more people in prison than any other nation in the world.

Today we have over 2 million behind bars, 10–14 million arrests every year, and 70 million Americans with a criminal record. Not included in these numbers are all of the families, who have committed no crime at all yet suffer greatly from the separation of loved ones.

Read more at Decarceration.org
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Our overly punitive system only increases the threat that individuals pose when they are released back into their community. Even for people who have committed serious and violent crimes, it is time to offer effective rehabilitation based on high quality mental health services.

Of course, with over two million still behind bars, our first priority is to release those prisoners who represent little or no threat to public safety. But releasing people isn’t enough, because the taint of punishment has a debilitating effect on the millions who return. We need to confront our own social stigmas and the long shadow cast by mass incarceration. To be successful, we need a paradigm shift.

Our systems must move from punishment to public health.

We need new social institutions to replace our prisons– places of healing and reconciliation. We must build local resources of peer and family support. We must provide meaningful support, not just supervision, for people after release. Over 5 million prison survivors already live in our communities as convicted felons, and their life prospects are severely limited by the restrictions that our legal system imposes on them. We must restore their civil rights.

Our politicians must now confront the devastation that mass incarceration has wreaked on poor and minority communities in America, and to take responsibility for treating the wounds of a racist and brutal institution. The primary goal of decarceration is one of healing, and I am launching this website with the hope it will become a useful tool in this newly energized struggle.

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About the author

Ernest Drucker, PhD, is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in NY State and conducts research in AIDS, drug policy, prisons and criminal justice policies, and is active in global public health and human rights efforts in the US and abroad. Ernest is a Research Professor in Criminal Justice and Anthropology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He founded Decarceration.org in 2015.