Friday, June 22, 2018

PINK ELEPHANTS PODCASTS #15 - RON SOODALTER: THE BATTLE OF BLAIR MOUNTAIN

Sept 1, 1921 Washington Times headline on the Battle of Blair Mountain. (PHOTO: The Clio)

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Ron Soodalter.
As far as energy resources go here in the United States, coal is a dying breed. The coal industry has been in a downward spiral for years, as alternative sources of energy like wind, solar, and natural gas continue to offer cleaner, safer, and cheaper means of meeting the country’s energy needs.

While decreasing our reliance on coal may certainly not be a bad thing, what threatens to disappear along with the coal industry is the history of the very people it was built upon: the miners. Coal country is the center of some of the most violent battles of America’s labor movement, including the Battle Of Blair Mountain, West Virginia, is America’s largest armed uprising outside of the Civil War, and one of the bloodiest battles in our nation’s history.

For four days in 1921, miners clashed with law enforcement, hired security, and local vigilante groups along the Logan county line, trying in vain to free hundreds of their brothers and sisters who had been imprisoned throughout the region under a recent declaration of martial law. The conflict left dozens of miners dead and hundreds more arrested once the National Guard was called in, and all but completely sealed the demise of the fledgling United Mine Worker’s Union.

Ron Soodalter is a freelance journalist, historian, and the author of two books: Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, and The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. He’s also somewhat of an authority on the Battle Of Blair Mountain both past and present, and he sat down with me recently to discuss why the history of Blair Mountain matters so much today.

By the way, my apologies for the intermittent static that you’ll hear throughout the episode; Ron and I had some connectivity issues that just couldn’t be resolved. I promise we’ll do better next time.

MUSIC:
Pandaemoneon – Chalice And Blades
The Roughies – Troy Davis Blues
LoFi Satellites – Feet To The Fire

REFERENCES:

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

LIFE IN THE TRENCHES

(PHOTO: First World War Centenary)

If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that the blogosphere just ain’t what it used to be. I’m surprised by just how many of the old vanguard from the early aughts are still in the trenches, flogging the sociopolitical horse race for every last bit of its worth; I’ll never stop believing in people like Digby, Tengrain, or Driftglass, who do the Lord’s work every single day, so to speak. But it’s impossible to mistake the impression of the consensus that the days where the “vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers of the Left,” are not only long gone, but they’re never, ever coming back. The most any of us can hope for these days is a robust comments section.

Of course, it was pretty much like that when I got here back in the fall of 2011, during the heady days of Occupy Wall Street. Suddenly the general public seemed have a voice again, and places like Facebook and Twitter became these titanic battlegrounds of savage political discourse that the media simply couldn’t ignore. Suddenly, we the people were the story again, first as a curiosity, then as a part of the daily digest.

I got swept up in a wave of righteous indignation along with rest, spilling thousands and thousands of words in comment threads, on bulletin boards, and then in the blogosphere itself, when I started my first blog Soapbox in the summer of 2012. We really felt like we were all a part of something, and that our war of words was really making a difference.

Boy, were we wrong.

For all of our collective efforts, left and right, the public square has been reduced to an endless variety of ideological corners that are more recalcitrant than ever, coming to view any nearly any breach of orthodoxy as irredeemable within moments of the transgression. Social media has made us paranoid, a nation of virtue signallers, incurious and hostile to anything that deviates from our worldview. Both sides can argue, quite justifiably, that many of the behaviors they exhibit are perfectly justifiable given the behaviors of their opposition, but if we spend too much time arguing over who shot first we tend to forget that there’s a bloody corpse on the ground, which in this case would be the United Fucking States of America.

All of this is to say that it has been incredibly easy to retreat from the front lines of the blogosphere, especially since the ascension of President Stupid (thanks Driftglass!). The goat rodeo that has ensued on Capitol Hill ever since is something nobody was prepared for, certainly not me. After a point I just had to look away for a while. My stomach just couldn’t take it anymore. Literally.

These days, I’m perfectly content to put out my podcast every couple of weeks, and scribble out the occasional blog post. I’ve pontificated enough, for the most part. We’re living in a historical moment of which not a single living soul has a legitimate claim upon the outcome, and I feel neither qualified nor compelled to constantly dissect the maneuvers of a party machine whose sole purpose, knowingly or not, is to rend the very fabric of society to shreds, leaving us all competing for the scraps. Getting rid of them is all that matters now. But I digress.

As you can probably imagine by what you’ve read so far, I miss writing in general, and blogging in particular. There was a time where I was churning out eight-hundred to thousand-word articles nearly every single day, and it felt damned good to do it. My narrative voice had become incredibly strong and consistent, along with my knowledge of the issues and my ability to derive context from them. But doing so was exhausting. And tedious. And boring.

I want to continue writing, and I want to continue writing about issues that matter, but I also want to use my writing as something more than just a tool for sounding off whenever some Facebook link gets my blood boiling.

Community and interdependency are values that I hold dear, but toiling for years under the yoke of depression have made it extremely difficult for me to embody them. But after my recent medical debacle, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that I can no longer isolate myself from the world at large and expect to survive for much longer than I have. Depression made it all too easy for me to isolate myself from the world at large over the years, and I have suffered greatly for it. It’s simply too dangerous for me to continue suffering in silence.

My biggest fear in merging the political with the personal has been that of judgment, even reprisal, from friends, loved ones, or the community at large. There’s a real challenge in managing life’s confrontations while asserting your right to exist as you truly are, and it’s one that I’ve not been able to rise to all that well over the years. But I’ve slowly begun to build a bigger, better support system, one that will hopefully rise to the challenges that lie ahead. And I want you, Dear Reader, to be a part of it.

Like I said, the most any of us bloggers (or podcasters) can really hope for anymore these days in terms of success is a robust comments section. That’s where you come in. I want to hear from you, for Chrissake. I know you’re out there, and I know you’re listening. My podcast is all about creating a space for people to be heard, and I want my blog to be the same. Tell me your stories, tell me what lifts you up or brings you down. We have so much to learn from each other, you and I. Leave me a comment, send me a message. Be more than just a statistic on my dashboard. Be a part of something with me, something fun and weird and interesting and spectacular, warts and all.

As the Internet slowly continues to merge with the public consciousness, the more important our digital connections become, like it or not. Insofar, our connections have been dispassionate, and arbitrary. Let’s make them matter again, even if it’s just for a little while.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

PINK ELEPHANTS PODCAST #14 - ALL HAIL THE DONUT KING

Ted Ngoy, The Donut King of California. (PHOTO: Orange Coast Magazine)

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There are few pastries more quintessentially American than the donut. Nearly 200 million Americans ate at least one of these beloved confections in 2017, making them one of our nation’s most popular desserts.

And there’s one man more responsible than any other for elevating the donut from its humble origins to  the celebrity status it enjoys today: Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who forged an empire of independent donut shops throughout the state of California to rival that of major chains like Winchell’s and Dunkin.

In his new book, The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World, Ted recounts an incredible tale of a young man risking everything to come here with nothing, and finding a pathway to prosperity that few could only dream of. Along the way, he helped hundreds of his fellow Cambodian citizens follow that same path, opening thousands of donut shops with their help all along the Western seaboard.

I recently had the privilege to speak with Ted about his life and work, and the entrepreneurial legacy he left behind. He’s got one incredible story to tell.

MUSIC:
Blonde Toledo – The King’s Lunch
Mari Mack – Sometime
Relapse – Confetti

Pink Elephants is produced by Randle Aubrey with with additional support from Echoplex Media. Subscribe to the show on Stitcher Radio, iTunes, or Google Play by clicking the buttons below.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

NOW SEEKING SILICON VALLEY SPOKEN WORD POETS FOR PODCAST GLORY


Never is poetry so powerful as when it is spoken aloud. And with your help, slam poets of Silicon Valley, I’d like to do my part to take your voice even further.

Pink Elephants seeks to produce a quarterly poetry podcast, showcasing the work of various spoken word poets from throughout the Silicon Valley. You’ll join me in the studio to record your selections,  and we’ll set them along with others to music around a theme or two. If that’s something you’d be interested in, send us an e-mail at 100proofpink@gmail.com, and be sure to include the following:
  • Written and/or audio samples of your work (link submissions are acceptable)
  • Your online contact information (website, social media, etc)
Thank you so much for your interest, and your time. I do look forward to working with all of you.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH

(PHOTO: Canal & River Trust)
In the very first episode of my podcast – the trailer, to be precise – I (badly) paraphrased a quote from David Bowie where he compared his creative process to swimming, saying something to the effect of when your feet are just barely out of reach from the floor below you is when you’re on the verge of being able to do something very exciting.

Of course, he never mentioned how fucking terrifying that is either, and how much it can feel like you’re about to drown at any given moment. But I guess that’s only part of the fun, right? All the more motivation to just keep kicking until you manage to stay afloat.

There is a whole lot of shit happening at Pink Elephants HQ right now. Out of necessity and otherwise, things have not slowed down one bit since my release from the hospital in late March, despite how much they may have needed to. The nine centimeter abscess doctors discovered in my abdomen has fully healed, and while I’m still on blood thinners to contend with the free-flowing blood clots I developed while in the hospital, at this point the pills are largely just a formality.

But like it or not, I’ve had something akin to a near-death experience, and it’s forced me once again to confront a lot of assumptions about my life and how I live it. For as much as I’ve learned about myself over the last several years, I feel like there’s still so much of me that I just don’t know. And now, more than ever, I can’t stop wanting to make up for what feels like so much lost time.

One of the toughest things I’ve been forced to confront in light of what happened is the spectre of mental illness that has hung over me for so many years now, and the impact that it has had upon my physical health. I spent the majority of my thirties living out my twenties, inventing myself as an independent man in the wake of my divorce. It’s been a decade of dizzy heights and staggering lows, and the psychic damage I’ve accrued along the way has been tremendous, having a drastic impact both on my mental state and ability to participate as a member of society.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as with a generalized anxiety disorder. The discovery was incredibly illuminating, and did help me put a great deal of things in perspective at the time. However, I cannot honestly say it was something that I began to take seriously until roughly two years ago, when I began seriously attending therapy for the first time. Rather, it became something for me to hide behind, a way for me to fatalistically excuse all manner of aberrant behaviors. The knowledge of my illness didn’t empower me in any in any way. It merely confirmed my incorrigibility.

Much of that feeling went away as I began to develop a deeper relationship with my therapist. He was able to help me strip away many a great many layers of negative self-perception, and to begin forgiving myself for what in many ways still feels like an endless series of horrible transgressions. Things even began to take a turn for the positive after a time. There were setbacks, to be sure. But I was able to bounce back from them in ways that I couldn’t have dreamed of before starting therapy. I didn’t feel invincible, but I certainly began to feel more resilient.

Things got even better when I was able to start taking medication for my condition, thanks to having a job that offered quality health insurance. Between medication and therapy, I started to feel an even greater sense of balance. Still, that balance didn’t bring with it any real sense of empowerment, something I knew deep down but could not bring myself to admit.

Of course, failing to do so came with consequences. My aforementioned job vanished from underneath me, due to layoff I knew was coming but did little to prepare for. I caught a lucky break by landing another job just a few weeks later, but it didn’t last for long. Saying the wrong things to the wrong people got me fired after just five months, and I ended up in the hospital just a few days later, my abscess having ruptured, causing by body to turn septic.

It’s not comfortable for me to admit that I’ve been fired from six jobs over the last five years, mostly due to my inability (some would say refusal) to keep my personal and professional life from bleeding into one another. Neither is it comfortable for me to finally admit that my failure to successfully manage my mental health has been the primary contributor to the decline in my physical health over the last several years. While I could acknowledge that the ravages of my experience were taking a toll on my psyche, connecting that to my advancing age and what both implied for my health – particularly for my digestive system, which has been a stress-related disaster for years – was simply not something that I was prepared to face.

And for that, I almost died.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve never been able to truly admit to myself not just that I have a mental illness, but that it’s something I have the power to manage. So much of my life in recent years has felt like it’s been happening to someone else, and that I’ve simply been along for the ride, a prisoner in my own body. But spending a week in a coma put me face to face with my own mortality, reinforcing the idea that I don’t just have this body, I am this body. I alone am responsible for how it functions, and how I choose to make it function. When it is gone, so am I. So it’s time to start taking better care of all of it.

One of the biggest obstacles to acknowledging my mental illness has been my fear that doing so would not bring with it any meaningful support, either from friends, family, employers, or the state. The social stigma surrounding conditions like mine is something I am all too painfully aware of. I didn’t want it to be the thing that everybody saw. But I no longer wish to suffer in silence. I wish for the condition that I and many others struggle with to be recognized as no different or worse than any other medical condition for which occasional accommodations must be made.

To that end, I’ve taken a few measures that, with any luck, will allow for just that. First, I’ve filed a new state disability claim with the cooperation of my psychiatrist, citing mental health reasons in the wake of my medical emergency. I still feel so very fragile after everything that happened, and I need more time to put the pieces back together.

Second, I’ve begun applying for federal Social Security insurance, also citing mental health reasons, to help subsidize my income while I get back on my feet over the next several months. While I’m not sure either of my petitions to our government will be successful, it’s important to me that I at least try and get the state to recognize my condition; for every person like me that is successful in doing so, it paves the way for others who need support to do so, as well.

People like you, Dear Reader, or someone you know. Mental illness is a global problem, one that touches nearly everyone in some way over the course of their lives. Hence my desire to be so very candid with you today; I want you to think about mental illness and how it impacts your life, and by doing so find the courage to talk about it. Once enough of us start doing so, none of us will feel so damned crazy anymore.

My project of reinvention is not merely limited to the pursuit of mental health solutions, but also to other, more material concerns. I’ve spent a great deal of my life pursuing a variety of vocations with incredible fervor, yet never truly focusing on any one of them. Not doing so in the place I live, where specialization and the education that attends it are the norm, has cost me dearly. I’m about to turn forty in just a few short months, and I have no college degree nor set of trade skills that will allow me to survive much longer in this economy without increasing hardship. So I’ve gone back to school.

About a month ago, I began training for Google’s IT Support Professional Certification, a ten month program that will prepare me for entry-level work in the IT industry. I’ve played around with computers a bit in the past, and I know just about enough to get myself into trouble, but not so much how to get me out. I figure that’s about as good of a place as any to begin my education.

It’s not exactly the thing I most want to be doing right now, but all the same, it’s useful to stuff to learn as the digital world continues to gain primacy over our lives. I may not be able to get ahead of the curve, but I can at least try and make my ride a little less bumpy. Hence the SSDI petition; after my state disability expires, those benefits will allow me to work part-time and still be able to support myself while maintaining my coursework and a fucking podcast all without losing my mind.

Speaking of my podcast, I’ve had the privilege of working with some extraordinary people as of late, I can’t wait to share with you these next few episodes. They’re going to be fantastic. I’ve also got one or two long-term projects that have just begun to bear fruit, along with a couple of other little surprises. Keep your eyes and ears on the feed; the best of me has yet to come.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

PINK ELEPHANTS PODCAST #13 - SEAN DICKERSON & THE 100 BLACK MEN OF SILICON VALLEY

Volunteers and organizers from 100 Black Men Of America - Silicon Valley's recent
Youth Leadership Academy event. (PHOTO: Sean Dickerson)

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When attempting to conjure up images of the African-American experience, the Silicon Valley is not generally a place that comes to mind. Black people make up a tiny segment of the population here – less than three percent – yet the obstacles they face, and the hopes and dreams they hold dear, mirror those of their brethren in cities all across the country.

Sean Dickerson is the president of the Silicon Valley chapter of 100 Black Men Of America, an organization dedicated to developing today’s black youth into tomorrow’s leaders. He joined me recently to talk about how the organization aspires to help young people see themselves as something greater than a sum of society’s failed expectations.


REFERENCES:
100 Black Men Of America – Offical Website
100 Black Men Of Silicon Valley


If you're an independent musician or band and you'd like to have your music featured on the program, click here for more information.

Pink Elephants is produced by Randle Aubrey with with additional support from Echoplex Media. Subscribe to the show on Stitcher Radio, iTunes, or Google Play by clicking the buttons below.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

PINK ELEPHANTS PODCAST #12 - SILICON VALLEY DE-BUG: CROWDSOURCING JUSTICE

Volunteers at Silicon Valley De-Bug. (PHOTO: Silicon Valley De-Bug)
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In 2010, aspiring criminal defense attorney and longtime volunteer at Bay Area social justice non-profit Silicon Valley De-Bug Albert Cobarrubias was gunned down by a local gang member Michael Frausto in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

To honor Albert’s legacy, De-Bug launched the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, dedicated to following his work in reducing incarceration rates among communities of color by helping defendants and their families better navigate the complexities of the legal system.

By 2014, “participatory defense” as it had come to be known, knocked nearly 2,000 years worth of prison time off for hundreds of offenders, many of whom were convicted of low-level offenses and were victims of oversentencing. And that number has only gone up from there.

I recently sat down with Benee Vejar, a volunteer at De-Bug and spokesperson for the project, to talk about how participatory defense works, and the kind of impact it’s been having as of late.

MUSIC:
Screw Jack – A Certain Kind Of Strange
Europa – Can You Believe
Relapse – Don’t Wake Up
Rebelskamp – Spiritual Almighty

REFERENCES:
Silicon Valley De-Bug
Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project
San Jose Homicide Leaves Deluge of Grief – NBC Bay Area
Murder trial begins in killing of aspiring South Bay defense lawyer – San Jose Mercury News
Justice Project Celebrates 1,862 Years in Time Saved – San Jose Inside



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Pink Elephants is produced by Randle Aubrey with with additional support from Echoplex Media. Subscribe to the show on Stitcher Radio, iTunes, or Google Play by clicking the buttons below.

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