All posts by AL Aunio

About AL Aunio

Born in Boston and raised in working-class New Jersey, Anna-Liisa Aunio was awarded the Jon Bon Jovi “Dare to Dream” scholarship in 1992. She was 18. She had big hair. And it was the high point of her life. Been downhill ever since. But seriously, Anna-Liisa restlessly fled the lawns and picket fences of her youth first chance she got. Initially to New York City, where she traded on Wall Street (by day), whilst living like Carrie Bradshaw (by night); then to Baltimore, where she managed a national drop-out prevention program (by day), whilst living like Rick James (by night); and, most recently, to Montreal, where she teaches sociology at Dawson College (by day), whilst living like Claire Dunphy (by night). Along the way, she's picked up a few degrees—a BA from Rutgers, an MA from Johns Hopkins, a PhD from McGill—and a husband. But she'd prefer to talk about her kids.


downloadIt was 2006. I was in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya and on my way to or way home from (I can’t remember at this point) two weeks at the UNFCCC negotiations for research. I remember missing the boys—it was my first long trip away from them. But I especially and will always remember being pulled out of that place into another orbit entirely as a vivacious and beautiful woman in her 70s (I later found out) started to gush to me about going on three weeks of safari for the first time in her life. Casual conversation about all the places she was going and how she was getting there (a helicopter in some cases) quickly turned to her sharing part of her life story of how she got there.

“You see,” she said, “you know what changed my life? I’ll tell you. I was on track to live my life as a housewife in 1954—the standard thing that was expected of me, from a good family, with good prospects for a husband, etc. I was working (in Texas, I think) when Playboy started. Hugh ‘found’ me and asked me to be on the cover. I was playmate of the month.” She went on to say that it was such a crazy thing, in the 1950s, to pose nude, but that Playboy managed to cut this difficult path through the center of the culture at the time by choosing ‘girl next door’ types from obscurity. And she talked about the restrictions, about how you were supposed to act because you were a bunny. But she talked more about all of the ways it changed her, the places she went, and, most importantly, the female friends she made. She described that world as being part of a family and, more importantly, part of a sisterhood with respect to being Playmate of the Month and a Playboy bunny as you were part of the fold. It took her out of the anticipated and expected life she was on track for and changed everything. She lived a life, now in her 70s, long after her centerfold days, that, based on that one risk, led to a life that she could say was fully lived on her own terms.

What amazed me about her description of the experience were two things: first, that the women who participated in the Playboy (magazine) world were like sisters who supported one another, and not just for the moment. For life. They were there for one another as they got married, or pursued careers, and showed up when things went sideways. And second, that Hugh Hefner was at the center of a lot of it. If he found out you couldn’t pay your mortgage, it would suddenly get paid, and then some. Long after you were no longer centerfold material.

I knew about Hefner’s conflicted legacy, about his role in the sexual ethics of his day which were (again) contradictory. And I knew that there were huge issues with the magazine and the mansion along the way, particularly as it related to the difference between working at one of the clubs and being in the magazine. But I never heard this side of things: that they acted as family to one another, as a bulwark against the constricted (in the 1950s) norms of the day, and as a *sisterhood*—words that would later only come to be associated with the sexual revolution and feminism. But there she was, in the Nairobi airport, a real Playmate of the Month—one of the first—singing the praises of how it changed her life and singing Hugh Hefner’s praises for still being there for her in her 70s. On her way to a three-week safari. And glowing with the vivaciousness of a life well-constructed, empowered, and well lived.

Suffice it to say that I will always remember that momentary connection turned hour-long conversation while our lives crossed in an airport waiting area. Haven’t thought about it in a long while–in fact, until Hefner’s passing and the multitude of Facebook posts one one side or another of that coin that was his life. We are all, each of us, contradictory, aren’t we? We are never all of one thing or another. It’s important to remember this in the line of making sense of things, including ourselves.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

Anatomy of a Kellyanne Conway Interview

alternative-factsConfused about the breathless turns and twists that leave you wondering which way is up when reporters try to ask Kellyanne Conway critical (any) questions about Trump?  We’re here to help.  Consider this your guide to the Conway spin machine:

Interviewer:  Welcome, congratulations, you are something amazing/gender related and unprecedented.

Kellyanne (smiling): Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here BUT more importantly to be part of something so awesome related to how awesome Trump is and how unprecedented/history-defining he is.

Interviewer:  Yes, well let’s get to that since you mentioned it.  Today, Trump tweeted this outrageous/untrue thing that clearly contradicts the real world, as proven by these facts [insert inauguration crowd size and other popularity related threats or payment for the wall and other policy promise threats here].  Is this shit real?

Kellyanne:  Yes, let’s talk about that.  And yes, he’s our President, his shit is real.  But let me tell what it really signifies and what’s really going on here and why it’s so annoying that you are asking me that question……..Obama!   And Hillary!   And the Democrats!  And did I mention how he is so popular….

Interviewer:  Yes, but….

Kellyanne:  No, no, no….because this is what we need to talk about—how popular he is and how everyone loves him and how everyone hates the Democrats and Obama and all the terrible things they did…..

Interviewer:  AHEM, yes but that’s not what I asked.  That’s got nothing to do with it—that’s not what I asked, what I want to know is….

Kellyanne:  Of course it is!  It’s exactly what this is all about.   It’s all about how unfair you [the press] have been to him…

Interviewer:  But he said….

Kellyanne:  Yes, I know he said, but what he means is something glorious and wonderful for the American people.  All of the American people.  He is going to make America [insert good feeling adjective here] again.  But YOU don’t want to talk about what’s in his heart or what he really meant when he said untrue/outrageous thing and you don’t want to tell the REAL story of that because you are all biased against him.  The real problem here is the media and your obsession with the facts. Why do you keep asking about them when you can just tell the story of how awesome he is?

Interviewer:  Well, you still haven’t answered….

Kellyanne:  Yes, yes, I have, you just keep wanted to dwell on it, when YOU (the media) have said this untrue thing/this inaccurate thing and reported on this unflattering thing when you should be talking about this other issue with these other facts and this other issue with these other facts and this other issue with these other facts and how you didn’t cover this thing and this other thing and how you didn’t even ask the Democrats or Chuck Schumer about this—who are, by the way, being really unfair to Trump.  The media have been so unfair and should be better about respecting how popular and awesome and amazing he is; I mean, you should all just get out of the way and show more deference to him, considering how much he gets the people and how much you are all a bunch of elite snobs who are so obsessed with truth and facts and this and that and latest outrageous thing he has said instead of covering ALLLLLLL of the issues I mentioned, plus…….

Interviewer: Okay, well I did cover that and we did talk about that and we did report on this issue you mentioned….

Kellyanne:  Yeah?  No, I didn’t hear about it.  You are all just so biased and are out to get him and this obsession with fact-checking and this and that twitter feud/thing he said and asking about this issue when he says “believe me”, like you want details or something.  The details will come—you should just shut up and believe him.  Because did I mention yet how you were all wrong about Hillary?  And, Obama!  And the Democrats! Why don’t you ask the Democrats who suck and are so unfair too and are getting in the way, why don’t you talk to them and ask them why they won’t let him get his way on absolutely everything?

Interviewer:  Well, I am going to talk to [insert Democrat here] later and ask them that question, but let’s get back to….

Kellyanne:  Well, good.  Maybe you can ask about how they suck in this way and how they are to blame for everything bad in the world which now Trump is going to fix.  You know, what you don’t want to admit is that this election wasn’t about facts–people don’t care about the facts of what he said and whether their true and what promises he made or about the details, like how that wall is going to get paid for.  They care about how he’s going to make everything great for them again, like their tax returns and their safety and their jobs and everything and he’s already done that in his first week.  Don’t you see how busy he is and how may orders he’s signed and how many pens he’s given away?

Interviewer:  Well, there have been massive protests and the President of Mexico cancelled his trip…

Kellyanne:  No, no, so much just isn’t true because you covered it this way and didn’t cover these other awesome events and you didn’t pay attention to twitter, so he’s just not getting the benefit the doubt with the people because of you which is, you know, demoralizing and making it difficult for him to enjoy signing all of those executive orders and being President and…

Interviewer:  Well, I guess we are out of time and will have to leave it there.  Thanks, Kellyanne.

Kellyanne (smiling):  Why, thank you.  See you next time.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

How Unpopular Can a Candidate Who Wins the Popular Vote Be?

“HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE! The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College.”—Michael Moore

1dw1f3So, at the end of the day in this election, it looks like Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College (Trump: 59,690,923 vs. Clinton: 59,916,416). The last time this happened was in 2000, when Al Gore lost to W. And before that? 1888. Please tell me, all chattering classes, how this is good for democracy? And please tell me, as well, how the overriding narrative of this election is supposed to be about Hillary not being to ‘rally’ women / minorities / millennials / (insert other category here)—perhaps because she’s a ‘nasty woman’—rather than the historically unprecedented interference on the part of James Comey, Russian hacking of the Democratic party’s emails and timed Wikileaks releases of selected batches of emails in order to, in Assange’s words, influence the U.S. election (not to mention the polls that indicated she was strongly favored before election day, thus possibly affecting both turnout and protest/third part voting). Or tell me how the narrative is supposed to be about Trump somehow pulling off unprecedented / new voting blocks and turnout for Republican votes when, in fact, the numbers were comparable / the same as in the past several elections. So, the upshot is that Republicans turned in comparable numbers to previous years, but Democrats turned in far lower numbers—a depressed Democratic turnout—which, of course, members of both parties decried as the most likely and problematic consequence of Comey’s unprecedented move on October 28th.

Of course, I’m sure this was because Hillary was just not likable enough to win, right? Oh, but wait, she is winning and is clearly forecast to win the popular vote, meaning that more people in the country on election day will have voted for her over Donald Trump, even with a depressed (by a substantial margin) Democratic turnout. Anything you or I would like to presume to know, in this election, is not what we expected. What haunts me most right now, however, is the thought that if the tables were turned—that is, if Donald Trump won the popular vote but lost the election in the electoral college, or if his party’s emails had been hacked and details of his activities / correspondence / emails been leaked by someone who clearly said that they were doing so to keep him out of office (as just one example)—would he have accepted the results? Would he have called for unity, as HRC did? Or would he have talked about it as evidence that the system was rigged against him and all the more reason to tear that system down? But please, let’s all just talk about how this election was a referendum on elitism in American politics, which resulted in the revolutionary election of a billionaire elite insider to the White House.

The idea that Trump somehow won the White House based on the fact that people just don’t ‘like’ Hillary Clinton, and Trump is upending all politics and conventions because he won the Presidency, is manifestly problematic because she won more votes overall from the people who voted in the election. Like it or not, more people who registered and showed up to vote in the U.S. voted for her. In 2000 (Gore/Bush), this was ‘unprecedented’ in recent history (1888 was the last time it happened). All kinds of calls for electoral reform ensued, largely because people fundamentally thought it strange / unfair and a function of an antiquated system (for all kinds of reasons) to render the office of the Presidency to someone who won less votes; ultimately Florida overshadowed all of this. But it is interesting to consider that everyone who is saying that ‘democracy has spoken’ or that these results are emblematic of some fundamental statement about Trump’s worthiness and, correspondingly, Hillary’s failure, would perhaps be articulating very different positions if Trump won the popular vote. I daresay we would be having a conversation about democratic reform. Why? Because isn’t the value that the person who stands for election and wins the most votes should win the election? And yes, I get the whole logic of the electoral system and the ‘fairness’ of it even though it has become increasingly unfair in actually representing the democratic vote because of internal migration. Let’s just pause for a moment in all of this to appreciate the fact that people voted for the President yesterday and, even though most who went to the polls voted for Hillary Clinton, Trump will be our next President. Let’s dwell, for a minute, on what that says about our democracy. And let’s be clear about what we call rigged when speaking about democracy.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

The Real Legacy of Rudy Giuliani


Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Rudy Giuliani, he has been all over the news media of late as the go-to Trump surrogate on terrorism.  Perhaps he is hoping to cement his legacy as the sympathetic New York City mayor touring the destruction at Ground Zero turned proponent of the ‘tough-on-terrorism’ stance of the Trump campaign.  Perhaps he envisions that appointment to the Director of Homeland Security in a Trump White House.  And perhaps even if you disagree with his defense of the Trump campaign, you might buy into this version of Giuliani as terrorist/security politician legacy.  But if it’s a legacy predicated on the risk of violence and death to American citizens on American soil upon which Giuliani’s credentials and hopes are pinned, that legacy has already been firmly established.  And it has nothing to do with radical Islamic terrorism.

If you want to see Giuliani’s real legacy on full display, simply read the recent Justice department’s report on the Baltimore Police department’s pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, and excessive use of force perpetrated against the black community in Baltimore City.  It is born of and popularized by the ‘tough-on-crime’ mayor Rudy Giuliani from the mid-90s that shaped the lives of a entire generation of police training and policy across the United States based on ‘zero-tolerance’.  Zero tolerance normalized aggressive policing.  It also normalized police brutality.

Continue reading The Real Legacy of Rudy Giuliani

Fellow Americans: No Representation Without Participation

Remember your history class and the rallying cry of the American Revolution: ‘No taxation without representation’?  We obviously need a new revolution, and not of the Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders sort, whose rallying cry is ‘no representation without participation’.

Thanks so much to the New York Times for laying it out so clearly–only 9 percent of the U.S. population voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.  Only 60 million votes were cast overall in the primaries.  Are you a disaffected voter in this election?  Are you unhappy with both candidates?

But wait….did you vote in the primaries?

Or do you just sit on the sidelines and complain? Maybe it’s time to stop substituting the word ‘disaffected’ for complacent.


Enough said.

On Voting in America

338143_10150513817942683_457116294_oWhen I was in high school, I was selected as a representative to Girls’ State, a week-long summer program which teaches young women about the political system by guiding them through simulated local, municipal, state, and federal elections. In short, we learn about politics by running for office. I ended up running as a candidate for Senator to Girls Nation, inspired by the then radical idea of improving democratic participation through motor-voter registration (which, as an aside, I lost to another young woman who boasted the far more exciting platform of multicultural education). Over the next decade, states implemented, to varying degrees, their own policies to accord with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (signed by Bill Clinton) that required states to adopt motor-voter registration. While it wasn’t particularly exciting politically, the simple logic of increasing voter participation by easing access—by registering someone to vote automatically when they registered for a license–became an agreed upon standard for registration and proxy for voter participation across the U.S. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this in the past week, as the federal appeals court struck down parts of North Carolina’s 2013 voting law which required, among other provisions, residents to present a valid photo ID at their polling station in order to vote—of which, a valid driver’s license was the most commonly accepted ID.

While the appeals court provided evidence that the law was racially-motivated and discriminatory, the language and provisions limiting early voting, out of precinct voting, same day registration and, in particular, a valid photo ID, on the face of it seemed (especially to Republicans) altogether reasonable. How difficult, after all, is it to get a photo ID, to register before election day, or show up to the right precinct to vote? These seem reasonable to ensure the sanctity of the democratic process, right? Not really, as it turns out. And the truth is that, even in the process of liberalizing registration laws to make registration easier for many—like motor-voter registration—we have increasingly taken voting rights for granted at the same time that we fail to recognize privilege and inequality in our ability to freely exercise our vote.

Continue reading On Voting in America

We’re Getting Better at Communication

15nbi5Canada Revenue Agency: You owe us money.
Me: Why?
Canada Revenue Agency: [Looking at records] Well, it looks like you didn’t pay what you owed in 2010.
Me: Really? that long ago? that’s a surprise—can you tell me what it’s from?
Canada Revenue Agency: [after much ado and a few blind alleys of questions] We reassessed your medical amount and you owe us.
Me: Why?
Canada Revenue Agency: Because we wanted proof of your medical expenses in 2010 and you didn’t send them to us [including, as it turns out, expenses as part of employer insurance clearly ‘proven’ on the T4].
Me: Okay, if I send you that, will that work?
Canada Revenue Agency: Sure.
Me: Good. But, here’s a little catch—I’m not sure if I can get copies of a lot of additional expenses from that far back. Just for my information, can you tell me why it took so long to ask me about this stuff?
Canada Revenue Agency: Yeah. We just updated our computer system. We’re getting better about communicating with people.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

Be Patient

xuy85Nick Robinson: “So your message really to those non-white actors is:  be patient, it’ll come…”

Michael Caine: “Yeah, be patient…of course, of course it’ll come.  I mean, it took me years to get an Oscar.”

—Interview between Nick Robinson from BBC Today and Michael Caine, in response to the boycott of the Oscar’s for the continued lack of diversity in Hollywood and nominations in the awards (2016)

“Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)

Dear Cynic

Dear Cynic:

aw-Alan-20Cumming_20120118111628316010-420x0You write pithy aphorisms which show us, via your use of rich vocabulary, witty insight, and rhythm in word choice just how smart you are. I am particularly impressed with your ability to dissect the nuance and latitude of the human condition in 10 words or less. Many thanks for your most recent quote of the day.

And yet, as amused as I am by your general aptitude for prudence in cutting through our most recent collective bent towards embracing all manner of bullshit, I must say I am also worried about you. And yes, in case you are wondering, worry is actually a meaningful category of emotional distress that can, at times, point in the direction of insight. I worry because I care. And I worry that you do not.

Dr-Gregory-House-dr-gregory-house-31945344-1918-2560Why? Because all manner of cynicism is a worry, I suppose. It is, after all, a rejection of the human condition in our collective desire or ability to do better. But it’s also because your brand of cynicism, with all of its smart edges and brand sensibility, seems so devoid of the messiness and beauty of affirmation without qualification.

You have so much potential, dear brother—why play it so safe? I know what you find boring, and silly, and stultifying, but what excites you? What do you say ‘yes’ to, even if you end up being wrong? Or are you so afraid of being wrong, or saying you made a mistake, of taking a giant leap forward only to possibly take a step back, that cute insight seems the only intelligent path to take?

Please, I implore you, reconsider your next 10 words. Direct them to something slightly more bright, incomplete, partial, and perhaps less frugal in their estimation of things. I implore you for your benefit, and mine. It’s a sad sight, after all, to see so much ability bent toward dissection. But, more importantly, what we need now, more than ever, is people like you trending toward innovation, construction, and compromise if we are ever going to get out of our immediate and long-term mess. For God’s sake, stop selling us short.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

The Strange Case of Rod Covlin

“Upper West Side Wife-Killer Tried to Pay a Mexican Man to Marry His 13-Year-Old Daughter”—Eric Levitz, New York Magazine (November 10, 2015)

covlin12n-3-webI worked with Rod Covlin at his first job out of college (and mine)—both of us were in an incoming cohort of new traders trained at the same time at a NASDAQ company at the height of the internet bubble. I traded for two years before leaving for graduate school and hung out with a lot of the group I came in with.

Rod was part of all this; he came to more than one party at my place and dated my roommate. He got so drunk one night that he threw up all over himself on our couch in our NYC apartment and we were momentarily worried that if his head hadn’t been tilted to the side, he would have easily choked on his vomit. He also, in the tryst with my roommate, tried to get the two of us to ‘hook up’ for him (didn’t happen) while at the same time extolling the virtues of jdate for his future plans for more committed relationships.

And finally, he was one of the first to leave in a poaching effort by a new company that took on the tones and dimensions of a cult-like ‘industrial espionage’ drama at our work. Strangely, we all wondered, “Rod? Really? He’s a terrible trader. Why did they want him?” A short while after that, I got a dodgy call from him at home asking (opaquely) about my interest in defecting to the new company. And no, I didn’t; I left the job altogether for graduate school.

Sometimes people ask me why I don’t trade anymore. There are lots of people I still keep in touch with and who are good, kind, and even amazing human beings—just like the kind you meet in any other profession. Then there were people like Rod—always looking out for the next sneaky deal to get ahead (often at the expense of everyone else and often because cheating was the only way they could get ahead), obsessed with money and financial largess as the only indicator of success, and filled with an almost superhuman sense of entitlement that drove an insatiable desire for more. Working on Wall Street in a bull market at the height of the internet bubble, combined with the winner-take-all, no questions asked ethic on the job so neatly justified then amplified all of nastiest habits and tendencies that attracted people like him to the job.

No one that I worked with has come close to going as far down this scary road as him (though there has been a tabloid number of financial crimes, settlements, and record fines). However, I couldn’t say that it altogether surprises me that, with his continued failures combined with that outsized sense of entitlement, that he ended up down a road like this.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio