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Masculinity, written and directed by women (The Rider, Leave No Trace)

As a female filmmaker this past year of #metoo has held mixed emotions. What started out as a frenzied campaign to uncover abuse and sexism in the entertainment industry has mellowed into a more sustained quest to raise female voices in all career fields.

I have been mostly quiet, just listening and taking in all view points. Sure, I’ve had a few inappropriate comments thrown at me by men, but overall I have been extremely fortunate in my life and never experienced any violence. Most women can’t say that. My responsibility as a white female creator in the age of #metoo is to listen and pay attention. Pay attention to the ratio of male and female creators. Pay attention to the roles and characters given to women. Pay attention to race and minorities, make sure their representation and portrayal don’t veer into caricature. Make sure there is an emotional truth to all my own characters.

These are rather big asks. It’s much more difficult being a creator now than it was a year ago. If I’m honest, I feel bogged under the pressure of it. And with that frustration came annoyance, too. Annoyance at all the male creators who write female characters without a second thought. For every one movie I can think of where a women created a renowned male character, there are a hundred examples of men creating famous roles for women. I became almost militant thinking about it – fuck every male director making films about women until we reach 50% female directors at the box office. Only when the female perspective is as pervasive as men’s can we stop caring about gender. I know feminism is everybody’s least favorite topic but that is the essence of what it means to live in a patriarchy – women’s stories are channeled to the mainstream by men and then becomes the de facto experience of what it means to be a women in the world. Women become participants, not creators.

I was over it.

Until I watched two little indie movies that are probably the best films of the year. Both written and directed by women, and both exploring masculinity and male vulnerability. So, don’t I have egg on my face, but I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

chloe-zhao-the-rider

Chloé Zhao is a young Chinese-American filmmaker who received universal praise for The Rider, a stunning film about a young native American cowboy who loses everything when a head injury leaves him unable to ride anymore. I only learned after the movie was over that all the main characters are played by the same people who the story belongs to, re-enacting their lives, giving it an almost documentary-like style, but much more cinematic. It’s the finest portrayal on screen, probably ever, of the cost of traditional American masculinity, and the almost soul-crushing search for an alternative.

The part that really tore my heart out was the relationship between horse and cowboy, unspoken but absolute, mercilessly severed when the cowboy can no longer pay his way by risking his life. Love and intention count for nothing in the relentless face of culture, capitalism, and colonization. It’s a masterpiece.

leave_no_trace_granik

So is Leave No Trace by Debra Granik. A veteran and his daughter live deep in the Oregon woods. Only in the evergreens can his demons be kept at bay. But the daughter is growing up and soon the two find themselves, unwillingly, back in civilization. They are placed on a Christmas tree farm and the veteran, who was able to find peace in nature, has to spend his days butchering innocent firs in scenes that are filmed completely ordinary, but somehow manages to look utterly barbaric.

Brutality against nature is a running theme. The film makes you realize that it is impossible to live in our society and not commit crimes against nature, one way or the other, every single day. Even farm animals have to pay their way, somehow. Only by living in a tent in the woods can you avoid this violence, but life in a tent comes with its own brutality. There is no escaping man vs nature, and that’s a hard truth for gentle, wounded people.

Eventually, the pair find a tribe much like themselves but for some people the pain of being part of society, a society that wage war and brutality against all living things, is too much to bear, and the idea of loneliness and isolation is the only thing that can spark a will to stay alive.

I couldn’t stop crying when the credit rolled. I’ve never so acutely felt the pain and alienation that many veterans have to live with. This film tapped into emotions I have never felt myself, yet they were in me, somehow. The pain of causing harm and having to live with the consequences. I would go into the woods, too.

Films are so powerful, and how delightful that two of the year’s finest deal with a different sort of masculinity, written and directed by women.

Creators, men and women, I’m honored to be among you.

Island life

Greetings from balmy Hawaii.

It’s been almost a year since I logged into this blog. It’s amazing to see that, while I was gone, honeythatsok lived on and averaged 30 views a day. It’s almost like a ghost story – past versions of my thoughts taking a stroll through other people’s present brain.

I think that’s why I never got around to publishing a book. I suffer from commitment phobia. I can’t stand the idea of permanence, especially within myself. A book is forever and it will be flawed, like me.

I played with the idea of writing a memoir. I wanted to call it ‘Untethered; life in the age of extinction’. I still might. It’s just pretentious enough for me, while also at the same time kind of sounding like a Transformers movie.

This is a very imperfect blog. I started it after I had earned my master’s degree in sustainability but before I really knew anything about what sustainability means. My terms and labels are all over the place. There are unfinished ideas and vague concepts; I was always trying to grasp at something just outside my reach.

I think that also describes our culture perfectly. Our terms and labels are always behind, unable to define what is actually going on until we can look back in hindsight and say it was so obvious all along.

It’s obvious to me that this blog was a bridge between who I was and who I have become. I know my terms and labels now. I know where I’ve been and where I am going.

I wasn’t able to document the journey I took. I regret that now, but it was very painful, feeling so lost for so long. Years. I shone in my 20’s only to have the light go out so hard in my 30’s, I thought it would never end. But it makes sense. Maybe we are supposed to construct new versions of ourselves every ten years or so, but I didn’t know that.

But here’s the crazy thing. I also wouldn’t change any of it.

It was clear my path was going to be environmentalism. That’s the hardware. I care, so deeply, about climate science, climate politics and climate economy, which is really just human politics and human economy, re-imagined. But I also care about mental health. That’s the software. I care about mental health in the age of extinction. I don’t know a whole lot of other people that do. I can’t name them off the top of my head. So that would be what they call a competitive advantage. I can be a mental health counselor for climate change trauma to prevent people to be stuck like me.

Which means I’m back in school, community college this time. I love it. I feel stressed but alive. I feel slightly more tethered, and able to write again.

After the bombshell IPCC report that came out last week I can’t seem to stop writing. We have 12 years to fundamentally transform the way humans live on this planet.

So, game on. Put me in, coach. I’m ready.

On being uncomfortable

Summer is slowly passing. In Hawaii the humidity is still like a blanket and we all beg for the Trade Winds to return. As a Norwegian my body is incapable of dealing with any sort of humidity and the last few months have been like an exercise in mind over matter. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That’s pretty much the mantra for this year, isn’t it, and for any foreseeable future. I am so goddamn uncomfortable right now, in this climate, literally and figuratively.

Literally, the world is burning up. Each year and each month is hotter than the one before. Images of forest fires haunt me and I’ve been having nightmares, waking up with the smell of smoke in my nose. Politically, I’ve never been more discouraged with the direction the world is heading.

There was a parliamentary election in Norway this week and I mailed in my Green Party ballot, after hunting down the only consulate representative on the island. I still take voting very seriously, it feels like doing my part. But to no use. The rightwing (comparatively in Scandinavian terms) capitalist parties are still in power for another four years. The Green Party (a relatively new party in Norway) got 3%. The main issues were, as it is everywhere, taxes and immigrants. The center-capital-socialist parties ran on a platform that Norwegian society is becoming colder, another term for inequality, I suppose, and to reverse the trend. The voters disagreed. In Norway, like most educated countries, the concept of climate change is widely accepted and climate deniers like Trump are widely mocked. But if you make any political moves to actually enforce policies that address climate change, other than prestigious international agreements that make one look good, the vitriol is unlike anything I’ve seen in modern politics. Go to any Green Party Facebook page and marvel at the two completely different realities presented in the comments by ordinary people.

This anger towards environmentalists and, let’s face it, the true conservatives who promote preserving our natural resources at the cost of business and capital (unlike the pro-business conservatives in the US, Norway, and elsewhere) is exhausting to me.

Norway is the 7th largest oil industry in the world, yet we hardly use any of it ourselves. We use hydro (water) power which is very clean so we like to think of ourselves as an exceptionally environmentally friendly country to the point of hubris. We even think our oil industry is somehow “cleaner” than the rest of the world so of course Norway should not only continue but ramp up production. The oil industry is nationalized in Norway so all profits go into a communal ‘savings account’ that currently stand at around $800 billion. More than enough to transition Norway into a clean energy pioneer project, but not with the current government. Instead, the ones in power and their supporters argue that we should open up vulnerable areas in the northern parts (Lofoten) of the country to oil exploration and in the process damage (there is no ‘potentially damage’ when it comes to the oil industry, there are always leaks and environmental destruction.) These gorgeous and unique vistas that have been around for millions of years and are global heritage sites. But it could all be wrecked for another $60 billion in the bank. Norwegian greed knows no bound.

We are only 40 years into the neoliberal experiment and the concept of the individual having to sacrifice anything for the common good is rapidly becoming a four letter word to the majority of the employed, still hanging in there, dwindling middle class. Not even appealing to the future of their own children and grand children can sway them away from their right to luxury cars and tropical vacations. Instead we prefer to argue the science, the logic, the physics, the images in front of our eyes. We are literally going to be arguing ourselves into extinction.

This is a paradigm-shattering video so I’m not sure if I recommend it but Guy McPherson is a biologist who is looking at climate change from the standpoint of a biologist and what happens to a species when you add up everything that is threatening their habitat. The math is terrifying which is also why he spends the last half of this presentation talking about becoming comfortable with death. And why we won’t even begin to tackle climate change before we as a culture starts embracing the fact that we will die. Maybe soon.

“Enlightenment is not for the faint of heart. It’s the destruction of everything you thought to be true.”

And you know what, I’m okay with that now. I wish I wasn’t, but there it is. Neoliberalism has turned fighting climate change into personal responsibility, or worse, a personal contest. Unless you are a vegan who never purchase plastic nor travel outside your bike radius, you are a hypocrite and can shut up about climate science. But that’s absurd. Since when is our society that militant about anything? We even accept priests that sexually abuse children (look, they just don’t have access to women) before we tolerate an environmentalist who owns a car.

So I let all that toxin seep in. Slowly, but surely. I’ve followed the Trump palace intrigues minute to minute and all my brain can process at this point is that money and power can withstand any amount of corruption and untruth. In fact, 2017 saw the death of truth as Trump’s biggest triumph and lasting legacy (aside from naming Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobile, secretary of state – talk about on the nose!) will be the mainstreaming of ‘fake news’. People who can’t follow quality reporting minute to minute and people who didn’t get an education in critical thinking are sitting ducks for this latest capitalist invention – weaponing the news. It’s always been going on to some extent, but the rise of the billionaire class and the internet created a perfect storm of brainwashing tools, complete with social media; your very own, curated 24/7 news channel. I can’t really think of any intervention large enough to break a spell of this magnitude.

On my news channel the headlines are screaming; the wealthiest companies in the world are stashing $20 billion into offshore tax havens EACH MONTH. Permanently out of reach for the public. EACH MONTH. That’s enough to cover universal basic income AND healthcare for both US and Europe. We subsidize the oil industry $10 million A MINUTE! $5 trillion a year. In January 2017, the richest 8 men in the world had the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3,5 billion people. Less than 6 months later that number was only 5 men had the equivalently wealth. That’s how fast their fortunes grow. That’s how poor the rest of us are!

I find myself censoring myself a lot this year. Everything I say come out so negative. I don’t want to be a negative person. Maybe I’m depressed? When you’re depressed your mind plays tricks on you to back up all your negative thoughts. But I don’t feel depressed. In fact, in the quiet moments, I’m actually quite happy. I feel in control of my little insignificant future road for the first time in a long time. I feel, dare I say, optimistic about my projects I’m spending a significant chunk of my life pursuing. So, maybe not depressed. And all my negative thoughts are backed up by science so… I’m just uncomfortable being me right now.

I’ve always been a weird little introvert. A thinker, a writer. I’ve been depressed, I’ve been restless. But I’ve never not liked myself. That’s a different feeling than all of the above. Normally I would freak out. Oh my God, I feel this way now so I will feel this way forever. But I’m choosing to look at it differently this time. Being uncomfortable is where growth happens. So if not liking myself right now means that I will be a better person/artist in the future soon, I’ll take it.

As for the world… I can only control the little part of it which I occupy. I can create stories to impact the spaces around me beyond my touch. So that’s what I’m doing. I like that. I’m excited about that. And I hope to share them with you all soon.

Lana Del Rey’s ‘Lust for Life’ makes you feel all your feelings

lately i’ve been thinking it’s just someone else’s job to care

who am i to sympathize when no one gave a damn?

i’ve been thinking it’s just someone else’s job to care

’cause who am i to wanna try?

but

change is a powerful thing, people are powerful beings

there’s a change gonna come

i don’t know where or when

but whenever it does we’ll be here for it

Lana Del Rey – Change

Most readers of this blog know my profound love for Lana Del Rey. She’s more than a pop star or even musician these days. An actual artist whose life is her art and vise versa. Like a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, her work can be analyzed endlessly and mean different things to different people and that’s ok. No rules, just an open door into your imagination where life can be more than the sum of its parts. She rightfully has a cult following of wayward teenage and millennial fans; some have even gone as far as breaking into her house just for a chance to sit and talk to her (that’s gonna cause some sleepless nights for sure!)

Her aesthetic is vintage Hollywood movie star, a heartbroken Jackie Kennedy, 60’s flower child, 70’s vixen, Janis and Jim Morrison all at once. That doesn’t change. The tragic love songs are still there, but her fourth studio album titled ‘Lust for Life’ is a departure from personal tragedies and the arrival into the 21st century. Lana looked up and saw her fans – the thousands of little disciples that pour all their love into her because she is something real in a wholly artificial 2017 world. So she wrote them the first single and opening track ‘Love’ – a love song for kids growing up today. She mixed hip-hop, like she loves to do, with her ballads on ‘Summer Bummer’ and ‘Groupie Love’, and has duets with Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon. All very fitting. That’s what the critics are talking about.

But I want to talk about the other songs. For an artist, a young woman, who has been in the spotlight for just under six years, Lana has been remarkably apolitical. Most interviews with her are vulnerable, heavy with mood, and mostly concerned with Americana aesthetics. Her troubled romances, her underdog past, drugs, what it means to be an artist, her sunny California life in the Hollywood hills and at the Chateau Marmont. Two years ago she famously dismissed even the idea of feminism because her life was just fine. So it comes as a little bit of a surprise when you play ‘God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women In It’ and hear the line ‘/God bless America /and all the beautiful women in it /may you stand proud and strong /like Lady Liberty shining all night long.‘ In our current Trump dystopia it’s impossible not to draw political parallels. It’s surprisingly moving. I teared up. And it wouldn’t be the last time either.

‘When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing’ and ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’ are nothing less than anti-war anthems for our times. A meditation on how to keep living normally, doing the things that make you happy, when a potential world war 3 could break out at any moment. When she breathlessly asks ‘is it the end of America?‘ there is genuinely nothing gimmicky about it.

In the middle of all this social upheaval she manages to slip in a little ‘mini trilogy’ of undying love songs that are the biggest callback to her first, and most popular, record ‘Born to Die (2012).’ They are ’13 Beaches’, ‘Cherry’, and ‘White Mustang.’ They are gorgeous. Perfect. There is nothing else to add other than you should experience them.

Which brings me to the finale. Thanks for sticking with me, I know there is a lot of gushing here. Just when you think an artist can’t possibly grow this much in less two years, she tackles what may be interpreted as climate change in a way it has never been done before in ‘Change’. I had tears streaming down my face before I even knew what was going on.

It’s a prayer. For the times when I feel like giving up. Feel stupid for caring so much. It hurts too much to love all the trees, the oceans, and animals, and see them killed, cut down and polluted, and be powerless to stop any of it. It hurts to care about the endangered snow leopards in the Himalayas that are being hunted into extinction by lack of territory and people closing in, so I shut myself off and go cuddle my little snow white bunnies because they are the only living creatures I was able to save and give a good life. But I can be more useful than that. I can’t save the world but I can participate, if I dare to try.

change is a powerful thing / people are powerful beings / trying to find the power in me

The final song on ‘Lust for Life’ is literally about choosing life, coming from the artist who introduced herself with ‘Born to Die’. Shake off your depression. Remove the gun from your head. Step into the world. A masterpiece like this was gifted to us on a Friday in July. I feel inspired. Lana created her own world and still remains attached to this one. The yin and yang of being an artist. It’s all here.

this is my commitment, my modern manifesto
i’m doing it for all of us who never got the chance

sometimes it feels like i’ve got a war in my mind
i want to get off, but i keep riding the ride
i never really noticed that i had to decide
to play someone’s game or live my own life
and now i do
i wanna move
out of the black (out of the black)
into the blue (into the blue)

Lana Del Rey – Get Free

Get the album in every possible format here.

Book giveaway ‘Utopia for Realists’ and updates in these dark days

Hi everyone – long time, no write. How are you all holding up in this year of the Lord 2017? It’s a daily struggle to maintain some sort of sanity in this post-truth world.

On one hand, not much has changed. The same players are waging wars and murdering poor people in the same regions. War is still the planet’s number one business. There are more refugees than ever, escaping violence or poverty, or both.

On the other, politics is officially now a reality show with hourly updates to keep us occupied and bemused. Getting your snarky observation of the day to go viral on Twitter for 8 hours seems to be the most anyone is capable of doing about that. I know that because checking in with the global progressive hive mind has become my safe space.

There is no escaping this presidency. You can’t ignore it. You can’t even look away. So here we are, the planet’s best and brightest, hopelessly riveted by the follies of a 70 year old grandpa with creeping dementia and casual racism.

Everyone who is capable is documenting it, of course. Everybody has an opinion. There is more or less a global consensus that this is a joke, but serious. A serious joke. We take comfort in the daily affirmations of smart people that our feelings are more or less true. Some mornings I start playing a political podcast on my phone before I even go into the bathroom(!) I am absolutely addicted to feeling sane, informed, and part of the solution. It’s like every morning my mind is erased and I have to build up my understanding of the world all over again. It’s exhausting. It’s unproductive. I need a new game plan.

MakeObsoleteFuller

I keep coming back to this quote by Buckminister Fuller, inventor, architect, and systems theorist, who worked across multiple fields to broaden his understanding of the world. While it is vital to work to document injustice, corruption, and the shortcomings of the current hierarchies, that is the job of journalists. As citizens it is our duty to stay informed and process the information in order to do better in our daily lives. That’s how progress come about. But I feel like we are on a dead end street. We can move forward but the wall is there and we are going to hit it. The only way to avoid impact is to change lanes entirely.

Climate change is our canary in the coal mine. If we continue to live the way we do today, we will raise the temperature 2 degrees and over. With that change comes permanent droughts, food shortages, mass migration from the equator regions. There will be storms and floods, sea level rise. Half the world is still desperately poor. 8 men own the combined wealth of the 3,5 billion poorest people across Africa, Asia and South America. If every person on the planet lived like the average American we would need 5 planets worth of resources to fuel it all. Earth Overshoot Day, the day on which we have spent our yearly allotment of resources to keep us alive, comes earlier and earlier each year. In 2016 it was on August 8. Automation is already displacing workers, and as high as 50% of the workforce will be unemployable by as early as 2050. 9 billion human beings, the low estimate, will be seeking shelter and looking for food in a world not designed for us to thrive. It’s not going to be a good time.

But ok, this may be the most apocalyptic version. Maybe human ingenuity will prevail. Maybe we will beat our addiction to oil which forces us to be buddies with extremist regimes. Maybe we will invent large-scale biodegradable plastics. Maybe we will stop relying on war as the premiere business model for elites. Maybe we will find a gentle way out of late-stage capitalism. Maybe. So we’ve gotta try.

Look, even Mark Zuckerberg, one of the 8 individuals mentioned above, is trying to visualize a world beyond what we have now. Sure, it’s a pretty meaningless gesture on his behalf and all the wealth flaunting he does (What’s up, Kauai?) and it doesn’t help that he looks like an android while doing it, but the idea still matters.

Universal Basic Income is not a new idea. It’s almost 500 years old. It allows you to be a shareholder of planet earth. A handful of humans take land and natural resources to transform them into habitats and useful items for humanity at large. Most other humans are employed in the chain of transformation. The surplus profit that is created from this chain is currently going to the very top – those owners* of nature and all resources. The rest get pittance. The majority get less than $5 a day.

*Whether or not people should be allowed to privately own vast natural resources is a discussion for another day.

Universal Basic Income is the tax that those people would pay to us, every one of us, shareholders of earth. It would allow the general population the freedom to choose their work more carefully, and hopefully the bullshit jobs would go away all together. It would eliminate the need to invent jobs for the sake of “the economy”. It’s a guaranteed, minimum, survival paycheck for being an alive human being. Food and shelter, no more, no less.

It’s an idea worth being fired up about. And that, at least, is something productive we can do. Let’s talk about it. Learn about it. Spread it. Make it trend on social media. Force media people and politicians to take a stand, an actual for-the-people stand. To help get the conversation going, and to thank everyone still reading my sporadic updates, I am hosting a giveaway of this year’s most revolutionary book – Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bergman. I have two Kindle ebook copies up for grabs so click this link or the image below to enter.

UtopiaforRealistsCover

Contest ends June 9, 2017. Participants must be over 18 and live in the US. Sorry to all my international readers – I’ll figure out another way to host it next time. Even if you can’t enter, or don’t win, I really recommend this book – easy to read and wildly inspirational in these dark days.

Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bergman

UtopiaforRealistsPovertyEradicated

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I am more active on Twitter these days so that’s the best place to find me if you’d like to chat @honeythatsok Until next time, stay sane.

Shittown: The value of a life

Spoiler alert: Do not read if you haven’t started/finished the podcast S-Town – a seven episodes, six hours long glimpse into one man’s life by the best podcast team in the world. Originally teased as a murder mystery in the South, it quickly becomes something much more. An audio odyssey that ‘reads’ like a Southern Gothic novel, except it’s all true. It’s something that didn’t exist a week ago. It’s something brand new. I loved it.

Read More

How to combat “fake news” and “alternative facts”

The past few months, ever since Trump’s election victory, have felt like a relentless shock and awe attack on the senses. Every day there are more outrageous and offensive “news” to take in. Our ability to sustain a constructive defiance to monied interests is becoming dulled by the constant onslaught of new “breaking news” in the 24/7 media. This is really dangerous.

It’s dangerous because even intelligent and educated people are losing their ability to stay objective in the face of so much tabloid garbage, designed to attract eyeballs through clickbait headlines.

Yes, politics in the US, and parts of Europe, have jumped the shark. It’s a reality show. Yes, Trump is a historically bad choice for president. He’s going to make historically bad decisions, due to both his personality disorder and the people behind the scenes manipulating him. We should protest this. We are protesting this. But we also need to keep in mind the system which brought us here.

Money in politics is so bad in the US that most politicians are up for sale, and fundamentalist Christian groups in rural America have a lot of money, due to their tax-free status. Politicians now have to tailor themselves to appeal to this large voting demographic, and we get fundamentalist politicians. Their policies have drained the educational funding for 30 years so we are left with an abnormally uneducated population for a first world country. These people easily fall victim to wealthy and powerful organizations that prefer to stay wealthy and powerful in any way they can, and historically, religion has proven a very effective mean to that end.

But politicians come and go. They are the shiny new apps on your iPhone’s interface. There is a deeper operating system behind the screen that actually make the phone work. We don’t see it, so we don’t realize it is there most of the time. The state works very much in the same way. We call it the deep state. The invisible, yet powerful, people who work there have been around for decades. It’s their career and life’s work. Whatever influences them is kept out of the media. It’s off limits. But we know it’s there because we can see the public trail of it in the continuous policy in presidency after presidency. Regan’s neoliberalism and free trade. Clinton’s NAFTA and revoking Glass-Steagall. Bush paved the road for perpetual war in the Middle East, and Obama rendered those wars invisible with the use of drones instead of soldiers on the ground. Apparently drones need not follow the Geneva convention and the law of war, and can freely bomb and kill people indiscriminately in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Countries that, last time I checked, the US is not legally at war with. Now they are Trump’s drones.

But none of this matters now because we live in the age of “alternative facts.” It’s the natural successor of “fake news.” We have always had fake news, it is called tabloids. It was when tabloids and the mainstream media merged during the dot-com revolution, when news stopped being sexy unless it was filled with scandal, that our troubles really began. This has been a long time coming. It peaked with Trump, naturally, because he is a natural-born showman who took early advantage of “reality” television. This is the one thing he is good at – to play the media, make them hang on to his every word, and distort reality.

The press in the US and other parts of the west have been embarrassing for the past 20 years. While posing as “independent” the major networks and newspaper have become little more than stenographers for the state. This is the opposite of what the press is supposed to be. If the state wants to go to war, which states tend to do because it is profitable, reporters are supposed to be asking “why?” and report from all sides of the issues – not merely stoking the fears of the public the way it is currently doing. A truly independent press is the cornerstone of democracy. There are plenty of brave reporters out there asking difficult questions and presenting alternate realities than the ones that advertisers on TV want us to see. Unfortunately, they are under attack right now being labelled as “fake news.” We all lose if the reality being presented by monied interests is the only one we are allowed to speak of. That’s tyranny. That’s the dark ages.

We got played. There is no way around it. We got played when we decided the press could fend for itself and left them at the mercy of advertisers. The best paid journalists today read from a teleprompter, while investigative journalists try to piece together a salary from crowdfunding on the internet. Please, please take note that all the recent Russia hacking news and hysteria about “fake news” serve a deeper and more nefarious purpose. Sure, to delegitimize the independent press and reporters is one, but we also need to be asking ourselves why would the deep state apparatus, over 30 of the alphabet soup agencies, so desperately want to demonize Russia and reinstate the Cold War?

Chris Hedges is a great reporter to look into if you want a crash course in alternative narratives. A Pulitzer Prize winning wordsmith, with over 20 years as a war correspondent and investigative journalist, he traces misuse of power back to its source and fights for the destitute populations left behind by the narrow neoliberal worldview presented by the establishment. Check out this short and current interview with Hedges (YouTube) for a brisk reality check! Abby Martin is a kickass millennial journalist who has been very outspoken about this issue since the beginning of her career, and champions media literacy above all.

Offering a different perspective than the state is not “fake news.” We don’t need dangerous laws against a free and open press, which this hysteria seems to be aiming for. But we do sorely need more media literacy to navigate the choppy waters ahead.

 

For those interested, here are some of the journalists and publications I follow because they seem most rooted in the reality I can decipher (see how tricky this all gets?)

Truthdig | Democracy Now! | The Intercept | The Empire Files | George Monbiot at The Guardian

truthdiglogodemocracynowlogo
theinterceptlogotheempirefilesabbymartinthe-guardian-logo

 

 

 

 

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8 billionaires to rule us all

Oxfam’s annual inequality report is here and it is jaw dropping. Last year the organization concluded that 62 billionaires own more wealth than the poorest 50% of humanity. That was a shocking report. This year, 365 days later, the number of billionaires dropped to only 8 individuals that control the same amount of money as the poorest 3.6 billion people on this planet. The reason for this massive jump is that poverty in rural India and China has not improved and the combined resources of impoverished people is less than assumed last year, requiring less billionaires to match their number. The other 54 billionaires from last year, I assume, are still billionaires.

There is no other word for this than grotesque. 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry. Have you tried going to bed hungry? I did last night, in solidarity. I couldn’t sleep so I got up at 2am to make a bowl of cereal. It’s hard going to sleep hungry and it’s hard going to sleep angry.

The cost to end world hungry is estimated around $30bn a year. The US military spend that in a week. This group of billionaire men, led by Bill Gates who is allegedly the richest man in the world, is worth $426bn. They could single-handedly end world hunger for over a decade without seeing any decline of their personal comfort. Our fascination with, and celebration, of billionaires seem to me a malware in our thinking. Who do we celebrate hoarding of resources that condemn others to death and misery?

Billionaires become billionaires by avoiding taxes and then starting charitable foundations. This gives them more tax write-offs and the ability to control what causes their massive wealth should support. As if they know better than an entire country where resources are most needed; resources that through progressive corporate taxes used to be distributed by governments on health care, education and culture for all. These days we are lucky if we get a polio vaccine from the Gates and a mosquito net from the Clintons. Same difference, right?

This report, at the end of the day, is a criticism of capitalism. Some say this is simply capitalism’s endgame playing itself out, like monopoly; a handful of winners and starved, impoverished slaves the rest of us. Some claim, and I find this incredible, that monetary wealth is infinite and if you happen to be poor you simply need to become an entrepreneur and create money out of thin air. It’s all there ripe for the taking, and, I suppose in this reality, the endgame is that we are all billionaire entrepreneurs, all 9 billions of us, in the year 2050. And if you’re not it’s because you are lazy.

Wealth is tied to real estate and exploitation of natural resources. One could argue that these should be common heritage for all people. The current global economy demands that humanity use twice as many resources as the earth can replenish each year. In this new century we are learning at warp-speed how truly interconnected this world is. Financial equality will not automatically lead to a sustainable future but it is the first issue we have to address if we will have any chance of surviving as a species. Don’t just take my word for it. Stephen Hawking said so, too.

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Desensationalizing news and questioning reality

I’m really struggling with this whole “blame Russia” hysteria. I’m troubled by DT winning the election and it seems like a cosmic joke. I’m horrified by the people appointed to be in charge of departments that are supposedly for the common good, when they have all built their careers on enriching private individuals at the cost of social good. Secretary of education that sells private education. Secretary of state that runs the world’s largest oil company. Not that any of it is surprising. If you have been paying any attention behind the the scenes for even just a few years you know that the USA has been functioning as a private enterprise for the very rich for the past 30 years. Private prisons. Private healthcare. Private schools. Private mercenary squads in faraway deserts and during peaceful protests at home. Oil lobbyists setting the foreign agenda. The media faithfully reporting on it all, as though it was business as usual. Normalizing neoliberalism became their modus operandi. So there was press and it was free, but it did not speak truth to power.

The media likes to harp that the USA is not just a democracy, but the GREATEST democracy in the world. Well, that’s just silly. The US is huge. It is a very, very hard body to govern even when things are going well. Small countries can have good democracy. Population 10 millions or less. The US should be grateful if it has any semblance of democracy at all. So I think that is the notion we have to challenge first. The US is not a democracy. Stop saying that. It’s just not part of the equation and we can’t diagnose the problem unless we are operating within reality. In fact, Princeton University proposed that the US is an oligarchy just three years ago. It’s a sovereign state operated by a wealthy elite. The only difference is now everyone can see it.

Reality. I keep coming back to this word. It’s everywhere right now. This election, this alternate universe we find us in, Westworld on HBO.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

westworld-doloresThat’s the opening line from the show. It’s a good one, because once you start to question what is real you’ll never get any sense of security back. What if our reality is just a computer simulation? The Matrix (1999) is one of the best movies ever made. Did we invent machines or did machines invent us so we could create the machines? Questioning reality has a long tradition in science fiction because it’s one of the most unsettling things to do.

So I’m struggling with the idea that the world’s only current empire, with over 900 military bases across the world, a bloated $700 billion military, and a global intelligence gathering system, is blaming another old world oligarchy of tampering with their elections. The same empire which has a 60+ years history of interfering with elections, down to assassinations, all over the planet; that less than 3 years ago was proven to be tapping the phones of world leaders everywhere.

The kettle here is pitch black.

Let’s remind ourselves again how empires thrive. Perpetual war. That’s how the elite gets rich. But the only way to maintain perpetual war is to keep the population in a state of constant fear. Once the fear lets go, the peasants will be less willing to send their able sons and daughters into perpetual war. Fear requires an “other”; a serial killer stalking in the night, or, when dealing with a country, a population seen as less than human. Russia was an awesome other. Strong, iron-willed, savage. Even though Russia essentially won WW2 with their loss of over 20 million citizens and was our ally they quickly became the enemy. For over 50 years the fear of the USSR kept feeding the war machine of the west. Pockets grew fat. Then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. For the first time in history we dared to utter the words “world peace”. But then the Towers fell in 2001. The Middle East became the other. An entire religion became the other. But it must not be working so well since we are back nipping at Russia’s feet. (Not saying Russia hasn’t done awful shit, but this century it limits itself to mainly doing awful shit to its own population.)

In science you start with a hypothesis of how things may work, then you set out to test it. If it tests well, you form a theory and send that theory into the world to be proven wrong by other brilliant minds. Most theories are wrong. That’s why science is slow. The theories that can stand up to the scrutiny are usually small and kind of basic. Because that’s the level that humans are at right now. We are small and kind of basic and we make a lot of mistakes.

I heard an interview with a cognitive psychologist with a background in artificial intelligence last week on the fantastic You Are Not So Smart podcast. It blew my mind. You should really go listen to it because I will probably butcher his brilliance with my interpretation. Donald Hoffman said that humans are probably not equipped to understand what’s outside our reality because one’s reality is deeply connected with one’s biology. Through millions of years we have evolved to hone specific skills for dealing with our impression of reality, skills that it benefits us here. That makes sense. Our tail evolved away – we didn’t need it anymore. So understanding the reality outside our reality is probably not possible; our biology won’t allow it.

He likened reality to a computer desktop. If you want to compose an email you don’t need to understand what is happening inside the machine. In fact, that would probably just confuse most of us. Instead, we need a shiny icon on the desktop that says ‘email’ that we can click on. Our reality is the desktop. We don’t look under the hood because it makes no sense, it even impairs our ability to perform the task of sending emails. So we don’t question our reality because it won’t make it easier to live in it. It will probably make it harder, no, definitely harder.

But he has a theory. It’s a whopper. When thinking about reality we like to hold certain things as constant. Maybe it’s all a computer simulation but certain things are real, right? Things like atoms and molecules. Time and space. Quantum physics. That was definitely my assumption when I think about these things. Maybe we are just one endless universe among endless other endless universes but atoms were a thing. Part of the machine to construct reality. So he asked the very simple question no one else had before; what if they were not? What if all those things were just another part of the desktop that allows us to experience reality, not the machine itself.

Whoa, right? Strip an assumption down to its bare bones.

Then he did some super brilliant math and came up with an equation to test his theory. He sent it out into the physics world. Most thought he was nuts. But no one has been able to dispute his theory yet. So it still stands. It’s on the internet. You can take a crack at it if you like, cos that’s how science works.

My point with all this is don’t settle for the knowledge you have. I understand this whole “fake news” sensation that is sweeping the country can seem a bit scary. It’s scary not to know what to trust in. It’s scary to learn that what you held as truth may, in fact, be not. But as a child of the internet with a reasonably good education I don’t think it’s too hard to spot fake news. I ask myself: is this a tabloid story (personality-based)? Then it’s not news. Is this grounded in conventional science? Climate change is, but chem trails are not. Logic then dictates that I should be more worried about climate change than some unproven internet theory that no real scientist has taken an interest in. Is this information directly coming from the government? If it is, proceed with caution. Mainstream media these days tend to parrot the government with little critical comment. Most things the government does is benign but when it comes to conflicts and contracts there will always be corruption. One of the best advice ever given when it comes to investigative journalism and discerning reality is follow the money.

Don’t settle for information coming from just one source or outlet. Be skeptical of anything that is sensational. Reality is rarely sensational. This reality, our reality, it follows patterns of human logic which is essentially “how can I manipulate this situation to benefit me?” That might be trite and boring but, hey, that’s what evolution told us to do. Study history. Study history from multiple angles. With one foot firmly planted in history it will be hard to pull one over you.

the-beginning-is-near

People power killed the TPP – not politicians

Progressives, liberals, left-wing, independents. I don’t care what we call ourselves. Those are just labels for easy consumption. Humans are endlessly more complicated than that.

This election week has been something else.

I’ve never seen such outpouring of grief and fear on my Facebook feed and the media in general. It should not be dismissed. But I’ve also seen otherwise calm and rational individuals react with superiority and indignation, which, up until Tuesday, was reserved for the “other” side. Those religious-based conservatives who just don’t “get it”, no matter how much we liberal-splain it. This is a mess, but at least we have finally established that trying to force the moral upper hand is rarely effective and tend to just deepen the divide.

But I’m not here to talk about that. The internet is drowning in articles trying to understand what the hell happened this past week. I’m here to remind us of our environmental, anti-war, and freedom of speech victories that people on both side of the aisle accomplished despite corporate corruption of government and career politicians.

I’ve been an activist for about five years. As I was pursuing my masters degree in sustainability, which I chose because I enjoy nature and I wanted to learn about the true state of the world, I quickly realized that the most important concept in sustainability is systems thinking, or thinking about the world in terms of systems. And each system is deeply interconnected and there is no way to tear them apart, except in the human mind. If I want to save the environment so that forests will thrive and snow leopards can roam, I need to understand everything about the global economy, which is only possible through intense study of history and how we maneuvered the industrial revolution and beyond. If I want to influence the economy to better support the environment, I need to understand and participate in politics. It’s been a long fall through the rabbit’s hole, to say the least, and I’m still tumbling.

In 2013 president Obama gave a speech that was essentially a green light for a boots-on-the-ground war in Syria, claiming the Assad regime had crossed the ever-important “red line” on use of chemical weapons. The media reported this with little editorial input. The internet buckled. Protests sprung up locally all over the country. The pressure on congress and senate grew so strong, through online and grassroots movements, their office phones and email accounts blew up. In less than a week the ‘war’ was called off. Drone strikes and secret missions continue to this day but a new American war was averted.

In 2015 we were fighting for the future of the internet and free speech. All (corporate) systems were a-go to pass a two-tier, pay-to-play internet law. It would mean that all commercial and corporate owned internet sites would get priority access and lightening fast speed, and all non-profit, independent and activist sites would be slowed way down unless they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for fast access. It would have been the biggest restriction of free speech in modern age. And it would have been permanent, with some ironclad intellectual property rights thrown in for good measure. Post a picture of Mickey Mouse on your website or Facebook profile? Disney could easily sue. It was so close to pass. But we beat it – with relentless petition signings, emails and telephone calls, marches in the streets. We didn’t get a lot of media attention (all the major media conglomerates wanted the bill to pass) but as it turns out, badgering your elected representatives does actually work. They are just people. Your vote got them their cushy position. They don’t want you to hate them. The internet is still an even playground, but don’t get too comfy. The next battle on net neutrality is sure to come.

And finally, the TPP. The Trans-Pacific Partnership. The latest and greatest in trade deals that would ensure total corporate control over the pacific region (US and Asia minus China) and 42% of world trade. It’s been called NAFTA on steroids. It has been negotiated in secret by 12 states and the world’s 600 largest corporations. It included 24 charters in which only 6 deals with trade. The rest has to do with intellectual property (again, ironclad, which not only disrupts your Facebook profile and online presence, but also would set scientific research back decades.) The scariest part of the TPP allows for a supernational corporate court which would, funded by billion-dollar corporations, allow them to hire the best lawyers on the planet who would then sue anyone that came in the way of those corporations ability to profit. If Coca-Cola wanted to drain your small town of its drinking water to make more coke there would be nothing, legally, that could stop them. Your local government would never be able to fight Coca-Cola in court and now, they would even own the court that decide the outcome. Forget about stopping climate change.

But guess what? Global mass protests and constant civic pressure has convinced politicians from both parties in both congress and senate that the people do not want more corrupt insider deals, and now the Obama administration is officially declaring the TPP dead, today, days after the 2016 election.

Dead! Can you imagine the millions of dollars spent on meetings all over the world for eight years trying to patch this thing together? The thousands of hours spent by some of the smartest people on the planet? Even Obama, who seems to care about the climate, has been peddling this for years. And now it’s just dead. Because the people are waking up and realizing what truly matters.

just-as-the-constant-increase-of-entropy-is-the-basic-law-of-the-universe-so-it-is-the-basic-law-of-quote-1It doesn’t matter who is president. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself. Progress tends to triumph, but the road there is long and bumpy. I find it helpful to remember that the natural state of the universe is entropy. That means as time, as we know it, progresses the universe goes from order to disorder. Everything from molecules to galaxies start out stable and good, then come apart. Except human progress. We are the exception that proves the rule. We have empathy and we can visualize the kind of future we want. This is real power.

 

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