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Outdated politics in a time of global crisis

Even with degrees in political science and sustainable development I still get overwhelmed when discussing politics. I think every existing political philosophy has merit. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, social democrat, anarchy. I think if you slavishly subscribe to only one that you are pretty uninformed. Each political philosophy, while claiming to be all-encompassing, is a pretty thin slice of reality. They have each evolved throughout the centuries, and have inevitably become twisted by powerful individuals seeking to turn an entire ideology to their selfish benefit.

As a Norwegian by birth and American resident by choice, I am often horrified by the social barbarism that is American social policy. Americans pay almost as much in taxes as Norwegians and they get less than nothing in return. Limited to no healthcare, sub-par public schooling and no higher education, low general wages, a laughable minimum wage, and crumbling infrastructure. Nearly 60% of the national budget goes to fund the military industrial complex because having over 900 bases spread across the world isn’t cheap. Understandably, most Americans I come across in my daily life are horrified by these facts, too. But it took me a while to understand the underlying American culture that is responsible for this climate to exist at all.

The frontier spirit of the 1800’s is alive and well in America. It manifests most noticeable on the right-wing side of the current political spectrum; in conservatives, republicans and libertarians, but I also notice it in many left-leaning Americans. This notion, this absolute belief, that you are responsible for your own circumstances. Never mind that we are living in extreme times, of wealth inequality, global capitalism, neo-liberal imperialism, 50 million refugees and displaced people, of massive consumption and resource extraction the world has never seen before. Less than 300 years ago, back in frontier days, America was an untouched oasis. Native Americans left little to no footprint on the planet at all. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine a time when you could just get on a horse and ride west, and when you found untouched land, you could claim it and be the rightful owner. Not only that, you were praised for your bravery of attempting such a journey. Sure, many perished and died in search of paradise but overall, America was pretty easily conquered. And now that land was in your possession, you could defend it by killing anyone who ventured onto it. For a brief moment in time, you were solely responsible for your life and circumstance. If crops failed, you died. If you got ill, you died. I don’t know about you, but I say luckily, we don’t live in those times anymore. We live in a complex society in which everything we do to survive is deeply connected with those around us, and now in the global age, deeply connected to workers all over the world whom we will never see or speak to. Unnamed, unseen workers feed and clothe us. Any service or help you need is only a phone call away. If your house catches fire, the fire truck comes blazing without you having to do anything.

Complex societies require complex politics, which again require a highly educated public. We have neither. We have simpleton politicians, half of which claim to hate government, and a corporate media news circus that breaks everything down to the lowest common denominator. America is officially an oligarchy – ruled by the richest to extract every ounce of wealth from a rapidly declining planet. Climate change is real, say 98% of the world’s scientists. Let’s debate climate change some more, say the world’s politicians. By 2016 1% of the world’s population will control 51% of the planet’s wealth. Football fields of rainforest disappear, cropped down and burned, every second. Some scientists estimate that we are losing dozens of species every single day, some not even discovered and could hold future cures for disease. One sailor even went as far as saying “the ocean is dead” because of the lack of life he saw sailing across the Pacific. Fish as a dietary staple may be gone as soon as 2040. It’s the main source of protein for over 1 billion people. As the oil wars burn themselves out, the water wars are just getting started.

We live in extreme times. We are surveilled, over-worked, undernourished. Those of us not caught in violence and poverty, are traumatized by images and wrecked with guilt. Depression is running rampant among those of us who are fortunate enough to have the time and security to feel it. Despite billions of years of evolution and fighting to stay alive, members of the most advanced species on the planet are now choosing to end their own life through lack of purpose. We live in pretty insane times, and the politics are not mirroring that at all.

Why should you care about politics? It doesn’t seem to do much. I’m always astonished when I run across people who act as though caring about politics is optional. As if it somehow doesn’t affect them. As if it’s just someone’s hobby.

The way I see it most of the above problems, as bleak as they seem, are pretty solvable. Through politics and an evolved consciousness. First we have to accept that we no longer live in frontier times. The world is full and we are all in this together. If consumption is what’s destroying this planet, the only one we’ve got, we have to question the motive for it. In the past 50 years the human race have been granted various rights through global organizations, such as right to life, liberty, security, and freedom from cruel treatment. But I find it very strange that the two most basic things needed to live within such rights, food and a home, are still not a right. To have a safe place to sleep and food to eat is the foundation of all life. And that still costs money, which is created and hoarded by a tiny elite, in effect making all other rights void because people have to submit to all kinds of cruel and undignified ways to make enough money to simply stay alive.

So it all comes down to money. The hippies and the Marxists got it right. Freedom costs money, and money is now more concentrated than ever. One of the most enlightening article I’ve read all year states that it will take 100 years for the poorest people to earn $1.25 a day. That is just about the most sobering thing I have read about the state of the world and global capitalism – the one that promised to lift us all out of poverty. If we keep going the way we do, there won’t be a planet left in 100 years for those people to be earning $1.25. The way we live is so unsustainable it borders on madness. Radical change is needed, fast.

For me, universal basic income is that radical change. Make money a human right. A small sum deposited each month into every person’s bank account – enough to pay for a small apartment and healthy food. Automate whatever menial jobs can be automated, get rid of unnecessary jobs, and raise the wages on the ones that are left for those who wish to make additional money. Those satisfied with a small space can venusprojspend their days creating art and inventions, raise children, talk philosophy or relax. Growing food can be a community service – each member working 4 hours a week. It might not be perfect but it’s a heck of a lot better than what we have going on now. Eventually the goal would be to phase out currency completely, something along the line of Resource Based Economy from The Zeitgeist Movement and The Venus Project.

And what will eventually happen to wealthy people? Seriously, who cares. A study concluded that the financial ‘happiness’ level is $75,000 a year. With that sum you can live in a nice house, in a nice place and eat good food and have hobbies. Everything over that amount does not increase your happiness. In fact, when you earn much more than that your unhappiness grows because of all the responsibility that comes with owning and maintaining so much stuff.

Eventually private property rights is something that must be discussed because it is absurd to live on a planet where wealthy people can claim so much space as their own and poor people will never feel secure. While I believe it is our animal instinct to want to claim territory, much like our animal friends in the wild, there must be a fair way to do so. Maybe it should be a human right to own land? But then who would decide who gets the best parts? Can we evolve beyond the need to claim territory? These should be the political questions in our time of crisis.

These are some thoughts I have been having lately. They align closely with the world’s various green parties, which I am thrilled to see are rapidly growing (no pun intended) all over Europe and even as a third party in the US. Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a utopia where one day all human beings will get along and share the same opinions, but right now, with our planet at stake, that should be enough to unify us and come up with a better path for the future.

Dear reader, I would love to hear your opinions on these issues – I’m sure I will learn something new :)

Why I, privileged white female, need feminism

I’d been doing chores all day, running around, working up a sweat. I needed to shower but first I looked outside and saw that the apartment pool was empty. Blue, cool and shaded, seriously tempting. The afternoon sun dips behind the building around three so the pool sees little traffic after that. I threw on my old white-grey bikini, nearly destroyed by years of chlorine, but why wreck a new one when this one still holds up. I hurried down the stairs and dove in. It was glorious.

After a few laps I noticed in the corner of my eye that our new neighbor, a big burly guy, was hanging over the railing watching me from above. It made me a little uncomfortable but he hangs out there a lot, seemingly watching everyone. Our apartments are on the same floor connected by an outdoor hallway and he is staying in the first apartment so every time I leave my house I have to pass his window.

Now I have two choices. Continue to ignore him and hope he goes away, or acknowledge that I see him. If I do that, and he doesn’t feel awkward getting caught peeping and leaves, then whatever I do next will be as putting on a show for him. Which he may or may not already think I am doing since he seems perfectly comfortable intruding on my solo swim.

I swim more laps and then I float for a while in the middle of the pool. Completely weightless and the water shutting off the world around me. This is my meditation. I hope he leaves soon, but no.

I get out of the pool, wrap a towel around me, and go check the mail. I take the back stairs to our floor. As I turn the corner he is there, grinning at me. “You look totally different in the pool,” he says.

What is that even supposed to mean? Different as opposed to what? Why is it so necessary for him to interrupt my exercise and alone time with his opinion on my body? Does he like to tell men they look different in their trunks, too? I’ve already made a mental pact with myself to not smile and encourage this behavior so I just walk past him without looking, sternly saying to the air in front of me, “Yeah, the pool is nice.” Then I unlock my door and step inside.

Now, again, I guess I had two choices there. I can go against everything polite society has taught us and just completely ignore him every time. That is actually harder done than said because smiling and being polite is something every little girl learns early. It defuses most situations. Or I can confront him, sternly, and tell him that his behavior is unacceptable. There are girls that do that. I don’t know where they find that kind of guts. Confronting strangers has two outcomes – they either apologize or things get violent, verbally or physical. I have never confronted a stranger in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to. I certainly don’t want to get into some kind of violent argument with a man more than twice my size that lives two doors down and can watch from his window every time my husband leaves the house and I am alone.

So now maybe you want to say, jeez, Joey, you’re completely overreacting. He was just trying to be nice. No, there is nothing nice about this. A threatening, uncomfortable situation doesn’t stop being a threatening, uncomfortable situation just because you personally don’t think so. That’s pretty much the concept of privilege: thinking something isn’t a problem just because it’s not a problem to you.

I know most men aren’t rapists. I hope most men have never laid a hand on a woman. But there is no way to know these things so you always have to err on the side of caution. And that is fucking exhausting. It is so exhausting to always expect the worst. To have to plan out your day in such a way that at no point will you find yourself alone in a vulnerable position. To triple check locks when you are home alone late at night.

Only men can change this behavior. Women have been screaming into the wind for over 40 years. Men who treat women this way only respect other men. Only a man can tell them to stop. And why wouldn’t they want to? It must suck for the majority of nice guys out there to always be treated with suspicion by women because of this asshole minority of men.

We need feminism until women everywhere can step out of their homes and go about their business without constantly being graded by men. “Nice ass.” “Smile! You look prettier when you smile.” “She’s a slut.” Her nose is busted.” “She’s got dick-sucking lips.” You get the picture. I know tons of people on the internet have tried over the past year, through videos and blogs, but it’s actually impossible to imagine a world where men face the same sort of scrutiny for simply existing.

Sometimes girls make an effort before leaving the house. They dress up and they put on make up. By all means, tell her she looks nice if you think so. Tell her you like her dress (she probably bought it hoping to get compliments.) But don’t treat her as a contestant on a reality show. She didn’t come here to have her nose/boobs/ass graded on a scale. And sometimes we leave the house without giving a fuck. Didn’t dress up, didn’t comb our hair. That’s not against the law and you don’t need to comment on it.

There is a difference. Until we learn it, we need feminism and we need men who give a shit.

Station Eleven and other books like turquoise blue seas

How do you choose what worlds to get emerged in? I finished a book last week and I’m having a hard time moving on. My book selections are pretty random, but afterward I usually see the beautiful symmetry of adding this particular world to the thousands of worlds I already hold within. A Facebook link led me to a Buzz-whatever like list of books that “contain horror in completely ordinary settings” and I am so down with that. Of Station Eleven: A novel they said, “that moment of genuine terror when the internet goes out forever in this post-apocalyptic world.”

StationElevenCoverFor all my talk of wanting to usher in a new evolution of consciousness more aligned with the planet we live on, I’m not really into dystopian, post-apocalyptic books. They are too bleak and lack the beauty I crave in my worlds. I devoured The Hunger Games, and moved on. I’m happy that the movies are somehow better. But it’s not somewhere I want to live. I went into Station Eleven blind and found something I did not expect: a love letter to the times we live in.

Maybe post-apocalyptic books are boring to me because I know I won’t be around to see it. I would, without a doubt, be one of those to perish within the first few awful days of the collapse. If the world is going to absolute shit, hunger and mayhem, I would be running towards the blast just to get it over with. So reading about survivors in their terrible limited circumstances, with violent death and hunger the main driving forces, that’s just not worth sticking around for to me. Maybe it’s my suicidal tendencies speaking, who knows. But here author Emily St. John Mandel lifts a beautiful quote from Star Trek to guide her survivors – survival is insufficient. In Station Eleven’s world the surviving artists create a traveling acting troupe that preforms Shakespeare plays in the American wilderness after the collapse, and that is beauty in breakdown.

The book is a series of snapshots, tying the past and the present together. At the center of it all is an aging actor who collapses on stage while performing King Lear, and within a day the world collapses, too, from a deadly virus that sweeps the planet in matter of days. Mandel’s writing is beautiful and engaging, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow until the character of Miranda was introduced. She was the aging actor’s first wife, some 20 years ago, and all of a sudden the book takes on a tabloid insider’s perspective, with a young, small-town girl trying to make a home in Hollywood with a famous husband. Station Eleven is her creation, a graphic novel within the novel, about a post-apocalyptic society surviving in outer space. Her marriage only lasts three years, but Miranda spends 20 years working on the world of Station Eleven. She shows it to no one. To me, Station Eleven is a book about artists. It’s about finding your place in the world, and losing it, then finding it again. It’s about taking the world, this world, for granted. Throughout the book, you mourn the passing of civilization. You are reminded, with awe, how amazing running hot water is, how fantastic the grocery store is, and how fortunate we are to be able to care about tiny, insignificant things. You become nostalgic about things still available to you. Then endlessly grateful when you look up from the page.

That’s quite an accomplishment, using only words. It also made me doubt myself as a writer. I don’t know if I have the power to evoke all of these things using just my words. It’s hard sometimes, to know in the marrows of your bones that you are an artist, but then so often feeling so impotent to express it. If you do not create, are you truly an artist? Or just a wannabe.

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whiteorleandertattooquoteI didn’t know what to read afterward, so I went back to the books I’ve been meaning to pick back up for a while. The books that shaped me as a writer, when I was still too young to worry about such things. I was a library kid from a very early age. When I was 9 or 10, in fourth grade, my class took a field trip five minutes down the street to our local small-town library and signed everyone up for their very own library card. I think I was the only one who used mine regularly. A few times a month I would spend an hour after school just browsing the isles by myself. I found Elfquest that way. I discovered Anne Rice and her vampires. And eventually I found find Francesca Lia Block, and suddenly all my unfinished ideas about a faraway land called Los Angeles and Hollywood would snap into focus and light up in technicolor. Block writes, or wrote, modern day fairy-tales set in Los Angeles, very teenage angst-y, sometimes supernatural, sometimes just weird, but always beautiful and enchanting. white_oleanderIt became my holy site and I spent my 20’s making pilgrimage trips to an overpopulated desert wasteland. Her style of writing seeped into my blood, but there is one book that does Block-esque writing even better than Block herself: the first 25 pages of White Oleander by Janet Fitch. It’s literally everything I have ever aspired to write. An artist goddess in white silk kimonos and blue gauze dresses, who floats through the art scene of Los Angeles in complete control, ruled only by the Santa Anas winds and the poisonous desert flowers in bloom. It’s the ghost of most things I have written. And I tried to re-visit it with an adult mind, but I’m still swept away, still want to live in this particular world.

These days I’m trying to find beauty in the unfinished journey. As long as you strive, you are still an artist. The finished work may or may not come. May or may not find an audience to inspire, but in this fleeting life you attempted to make thoughts into something real, something tangible.

A conversation with Edward Snowden in Hawaii (February 14, 2015)

IMG_2149-0On an unusual gloomy Saturday morning in Honolulu I was lucky to attend a (video) conference with Edward Snowden who called in from Moscow. The event was hosted by ACLU Hawaii and all 800 seats sold out in advance. The demographic was mainly older (60+) but with a handful of younger curious onlookers, activists and journalists. The moderator Aviam Soifer joked that he knew that some homeland security and other intelligence agents were in attendance but that they had to pay their $5 cover like everyone else and sit idly by while their most wanted man spoke to us in (virtual) person. It’s the kind of humor that flies really well in Hawaii – equality, absurdity and aloha. It’s a fine mix.

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The event opened by showing the academy award nominated documentary CitizenFour so that everyone who hasn’t followed the Snowden story obsessively could be on the same page. It’s a really great documentary – emotional and human with the urgency of an international spy thriller. Snowden especially comes across as composed, a man on a mission, but infused with plenty of humanity. He never wavers in his values. And he still doesn’t, according to the thoughts he later shared with us.

Here is the conversation as it was broadcasted live on Hawaiian TV and a nice Civil Beat/Twitter recap.

Snowden is getting pretty used to these web dialogues (they actually used Google Hangout, for those interested in nerdy details like that.) The whole set up is a propagandist’s wet dream, with Ed’s face looming over everyone magnified x100, but to be fair that is the only way to conduct these talks. But the Wizard of Oz feeling doesn’t disappear – his words take on enormous importance, even when I thought his legal adviser Ben Wizner made his points more succinctly.

In my opinion, the most relevant observation Snowden made was about activists vs the state. That’s really what this whole thing boils down to – if the government is running rampant, ignoring the constitution completely, then activists have no other choice than to operate outside the law to promote true democracy. It shouldn’t be the activists’ burden to protect themselves against the government that spy on their citizens. Activists have to tirelessly work to CHANGE government – not work hard to always stay one step ahead using encryption, which is an exercise in futility, considering the government agencies budgets and technology. He also called out private corporations here, which he feels share some of the responsibility to protect their customers against invasive governments. But like we have seen here in the US, corporations like Google and Apple have only been happy to bend over backwards to give government agencies full access to their customers. This is a multifaceted problem, and Snowden is absolutely right when he says the burden of changing the entire system cannot fall on individual activists and consumers alone. They are the least powerful in this situation, but if the majority of them come together there can be enough pressure on organizations to change.

Because that’s the thing. Even after all the bullshit Snowden has witness and gone through, he is still, if I can reclaim this word from the right-wing lunatics for a moment, a genuine patriot at heart. He believes in democracy and the constitution. He is not a radical by any stretch of the imagination. He still believes that the system can reform itself. His act of civil disobedience came from a deep love of the country he was born into and served to the best of his ability. It was only when he realized that the rules had changed internally, while still giving lip service to the public about freedom and democracy, he felt a moral obligation to act. I don’t personally agree with his hope for true democracy, I believe this capitalistic system has run its course and if we don’t switch to something new fast it will devour itself and destroy the whole world, but I admire this man and his will to act on his moral convictions in a responsible, non-violent way. I admire him very much for risking everything for the truth.

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They also talked about how there is no fair trial for Snowden in the current US justice system. The people who call for him to “come home and face the charges” should know that in reality what they are asking for is for Snowden to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement (classified as torture by the UN.) The law under which he is charged is an eroded and archaic law from 1918 called the Espionage act, aimed to prosecute government spies who reveal government secret to foreign governments. Snowden is a citizen who took vital information to responsible journalists under the first amendment. He could have just dumped and released all the information online to total chaos but he wanted the information vetted through professional journalists to remove any bias he may have had as an information analyst.

“There is civil good in law breaking. If people did not break the law, the American revolution would have never happened. If people did not break the law, slavery would still be in place. Lawbreaking is one of the most important means of progress.” – Edward Snowden

Snowden talks a lot about government and IMG_2214surveillance. Balancing the government’s desires against the needs of citizens . As a systems thinker I get very frustrated when such important issues are being handled in a vacuum. He never talks about banks or corporate interests that supersede national borders, trash the environment and keep entire countries in absolute poverty. He is an expert on one thing, and after some soul searching I have to admit I like that. If he had opinions on everything under the sun, he would be taken less seriously and he can’t afford that in his position. He is a fascinating and complicated man who reveals very little about himself, and in this tabloid existence that can be frustrating, but he stands tall in his convictions. When asked if he had any regrets he said that he only regretted taking so long to stand up. He is part of history now, and these are historic times. It doesn’t feel like that on a day to day basis, but did it ever, to anyone?

“We need to seize the truth. Take it out of the darkness and bring it to the light. The government broke the law. No matter how many governments there are… we can say that there are more of us than them. We can win.”

His final words were met with thundering applause that made his computer back in Russia shake.

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Art at the Hawaii Convention Center: For the adventurers; not to be mistaken for travelers for travelers know where they are going. Adventurers go into the unknown.

Top 3 films of 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I’ve been mentally drafting this entry since I saw this film back in April. It’s technically a 2013 movie but it was released so late and hit most theaters in 2014. It’s an art film, for sure. It had a limited release. It’s by Jim Jarmusch, who’s has had one of those careers I can only envy. I don’t think I’ve had such a visceral attachment to a film since David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2004). I think I would have loved it regardless of who was cast as the two vampires Adam and Eve, but Tilda Swinton is just such an otherworldly and beautiful creature that you don’t doubt for a second that she is an actual vampire. This is a strange film. I don’t really care about the story, or the mythology of vampires in this universe. It’s not about that. It’s a true film about the human condition, told through the eyes of a pair of vampires who consider themselves above humanity. And that’s the only way to analyze humanity these days. Short of being a satellite circling the Earth, it’s only cold, immortal creatures who can ultimately pass judgement on what the fuck is going on. Like all classic vampire films, it touches on the beauty and pain of being alive. I saw this movie as a matinee with my husband on some random weekday we both had off, disappearing into the cool dark theater while the world was buzzing outside. We both had the same experience in that empty auditorium, separately. When the credits rolled and the lights came on, he turned to me and said, yeah. And we walked wordlessly, hand in hand, into the hot Hawaiian sunshine.

Begin Again (2014)

SONG 01400.nefI have a bias. I love Keira Knightley. I love her so much, I almost want to see her fail because it’s not fair that someone is this beautiful and talented. In this movie she is supposed to sing. I thought that was awesome because she’d probably be bad at it. She is not. She is, in fact, great. I now love her even more because I have accepted that she is perfect. I think I went into this movie blind. I didn’t even see the trailer. It’s about a British girl finding herself in New York because her musician boyfriend got a record deal (he is Adam Lavine but try not to hold that against him.) The success changes him. The movie is also, and maybe more, about an aging, idealistic record producer who just wants music to sound good again. Played by Mark Ruffalo, who is great, but you almost don’t notice because he’s great in most things in that way that he is still an actor and less a movie star. I do love this premise for a movie, and it’s really well executed. The emotional journey of the characters ring true, and it’s just cheesy enough to make you feel good. My favorite part is probably the soundtrack and the lyrics. I don’t know if I would like them as much if they weren’t attached to this movie and I’ll never know, but I like the songs a lot. I like the struggle for art to have more meaning and personality, and less commercialism. I don’t think this movie is on a lot of top 3 lists for 2014 but it’s on mine because it just stuck with me. I want to watch it again now.

Boyhood (2014)

boyhoodlinklaterI put off watching Boyhood for months because I thought I would like it just fine and that I would appreciate it for what it was – a 13 year long film journey and that’s different and new and deserves to be recognized. It’s all of that. I liked the first half hour. I really like the kid who plays Mason (the boy). I like watching him grow. I appreciate the less than perfect family dynamic. About an hour and thirty minutes in, my husband calls and I complain to him that it’s just so long. It somehow feels a lot longer than its 2:30 running time. I prepare myself to leave a not glowing review, but I’m still engaged in this story. Then Mason becomes a sullen teenager and I almost embarrassingly hear too much of myself in his voice and views of the world. I prepare to disregard all of this. It’s just a stupid film, it doesn’t mean my views are childish just because they are coming from a fictional teenager, etc. Then I think this filmmaker, Richard Linklater, has been doing these films for over 20 years. And I start to feel really good. Because that means, and I already knew this, that there are brilliant people and artists out there who feel exactly like I do. And one day, that might change the world, but in the mean time it is giving us great stories to connect us all. And then the last chapter of Mason’s journey begins, and although it is a happy one, I begin bawling and I keep doing that until the credits. Because life, man. Because life.

This has been such a good year for film. In between all the super heroes and remakes (that are good in their own way) there is some serious storytelling being told. I loved The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne for Oscar!) Luc Besson’s Lucy (Scarlett!) and Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, and although I’ve yet to see some of the huge award contestants (Birdman, The Imitation Game) I feel pretty confident about my list as it is. Interstellar broke the mold on cinematography and special effects (that worm hole! Just leave me in it. That’s where I want to be.) The Hunger Games franchise is also quickly becoming my favorite dystopian tale, even better than the books. Jennifer Lawrence is magnetic and has all the qualities of a true movie star. I think the film world might be ok after all.

True currency is time and love

You know that old bullshit saying ‘time is money’? Uh, no. This is a rather short addition to the 10 Steps, but it might be one of the most important. Realize that the only true currency is time and love. Money is an illusion but it can get you in some deep trouble so live within your means. You have build thick skin in order to resist advertising and focus mostly on needs, and only the occasional wants.

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Human beings are the only species that have to pay in order to live on this planet. The powers to be figured this out long before the rest of us and found the perfect system of control – money. If we don’t play by their rules we go to prison, which robs of us the only two things of true value in this life – time and being close to those we love.

Imagining a world without money is actually a really hard mental exercise, but very rewarding. You immediately run into the most obvious downsides – anarchy, chaos, violence – but keep at it. Will a one world order ever work without massive, total control? isn’t it better to have autonomous communities of like-minded individuals but global guidelines that prohibit violence against another tribe? Who would enforce that? Nobody has the answers to these questions yet but if we keep on having these dialogues at every opportunity, I think we will eventually figure something out.

Lately, there has been some focus on the psychology of poverty, which I think is incredibly important. Oxfam recently released a study that concluded by 2016 (next year!!) 51% of all wealth on the planet will be owned by the 1%. I’ve noticed some people refute this by saying, “oh, that’s silly, if you make more than $34,000 a year, you belong to the 1%” but I think that only makes that study even more insane! That means that nestled in there with the world’s 500 billionaires and thousands of millionaires, only a handful of people are making a decent salary anymore. 40% of Americans are now living under the poverty line. 2/3 are living paycheck to paycheck with no safety net. 1 in 5 children go hungry to bed. These are crazy, crazy numbers and the policies of austerity and “welfare for the rich, free market for everyone else” in the US and Europe are only going to escalate these mind-boggling statistics. No banker has yet to go to prison for their crimes and the banks still consider themselves too big to jail, or even investigate. Clearly, in a society such as this, money is a complete joke. It has no basis in reality. But it still dictates the way we live our life. The stress and worry about making ends meet is sending us all to an early grave.

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Angelina

I was 17 when I became infatuated with Angelina Jolie. It was 2001 and Tomb Raider was about to come out. Hollywood, the media, tabloids, everything seemed a little different back then. It wasn’t so immediate around the clock. There was less internet and no social media. An half hour interview with the celebrity you liked still had to be scheduled on MTV and taped on VHS. Magazine clippings actually mattered. And I settled in to watch MTV At the Movies: Tomb Raider, and I met my spiritual soul mate. I did tape it, and I watched it over and over. It wasn’t just how beautiful she was, or the things she got to experience while filming Tomb Raider in Iceland and Cambodia; it was the tone of her voice when she got excited. It was how she talked about love and her husband Billy Bob Thornton. It was that, for some reason or the other, she had managed to carve out a life for herself in which she was absolutely free, and I had never met anyone like that before.

angelina-1999-2500-wallpaperI’ve always been searching for female role models. I come from a small family and I’m the oldest girl in my generation, so I guess, subconsciously, I’ve been looking for a big sister. The first was Buffy, at 13. But as I got older I needed someone more real. And the universe, in its infinite wisdom, tends to deliver what you don’t know you need just when you need it. Angelina only had a couple of tattoos at the time. One was of a window from the inside looking out, and the other was a Tennessee Williams quote: ‘A prayer for the Wild at Heart kept in cages’. That more than resonated with a girl who used to spend most of the long summer evenings sitting in her bedroom window looking down into a peaceful valley in southern Norway where nothing ever happened, dreaming of being anywhere but here, dreaming of adventure. Angelina had just turned 26. She had loved and learned. She had been married twice. She had won an Oscar. She had a fantastic versatile acting career. She was beautiful, introspective and fun. She was open about darkness and overcoming it, stepping into the light. She was only 7 years older than me. How was it possible to cram so much life into such short time?

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Painting the snowflakes red: The insanity of capitalism in 500 words

Alice in Wonderland strikes again. Over the past 65 years, millions of children have marveled at the absurdity of the Red Queen making her minions paint the white roses red, or lose their heads. Unfortunately, the same children grew up and became mindless consumers of plastic junk, not giving a second thought as to who made their peculiar trinkets.

But this Christmas, a stunning article by Oliver Wainwright at The Guardian made it impossible to ignore. No art director in the world could come up with more unforgettable images of Santa’s workshop from hell. Wainwright writes: “Wai is 19. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day. In the process, the two of them end up dusted from head to toe in fine crimson powder. His dad wears a Santa hat (not for the festive spirit, he says, but to stop his hair from turning red) and they both get through at least 10 face masks a day, trying not to breathe in the dust.”

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And this is just one among countless displays of the insanity of blind capitalism we are subjected to every year. When is it going to truly sink in?

There is not a single person on this planet who can claim that red Styrofoam snowflakes so greatly improve their quality of life, to the point that young, faceless men and women have to sacrifice their health and lives to produce them. I mean, sure, you could claim that, but then you also have to admit to being a terrible human being with no empathy or compassion for others.

Because this is what it comes down to. Most of us actually don’t know the true cost of the things we buy. If we did, we would buy less and pay more.

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Humanity is pretty good at arguing about pretty much everything. But there are some infallible truths. 1) we need this planet to survive. 2) we need other people to survive. 3) we need a fair system in which to distribute goods and services.

So when designing such a system those are things to consider, in that order. Planet. People. Profit.

My article Why ‘voting with your dollars’ doesn’t work received a lot of attention. Some people agreed that we need to change our values before what we purchase really matters, and others disagreed vehemently, saying that voting with our dollars is all we can do and that the power lies with the consumer. I respectfully disagree. The power lies within the system itself, and who can manipulate it the most. But change is possible.

Consumers have a responsibility to demand ethically produced goods. Companies have a responsibility to produce goods within standards set by society at large. Lawmakers have a responsibility to pass laws that benefit, and ideally, improve the planet and people’s quality of life. Currently, we have a handful of consumers who work tirelessly to advocate and implement change in their communities. The rest are perhaps just trying to get by. We have a handful of small companies that are local, sustainable and ethical. We have massive, global corporations that are above the law, trash the planet, abuse workers, and destroy communities to make a sale. And we have a bunch of puppet politicians who allow it all to happen.

Sustainability starts with changing your values. Until then, everything else is business as usual.

Review: The Goddess of 1967 (2000)

Picking a movie to watch is sort of like going on a blind date; you’re never complete sure what you’re going to get. I’m not a film snob or a very harsh critic – I usually give most movies a passing grade just for effort – but I do ask to be taken on a journey to somewhere I’ve never been before. It’s just usually never as literal as The Goddess of 1967.

goddessof1967posterMy movie picking process occasionally goes something like this. [insert actor] is really cute. I like her. I’m going to see what other movies she has on Netflix. In this particular case it was Rose Byrne. At the time she had three movies. One was called The Goddess of 1967 and had a gorgeous cover of a pink sky and a pink car with a couple inside. My brain snaps to judgement: ok, so it’s about a guy who meets an amazing girl in the year 1967 but it looks kinda indie so maybe it will be an insightful and pretty road trip movie. Oh wait, it’s from 2001. Rose Byrne must have been very young then. It’s Australian? I thought she was English. Hmm, IMDB says she’s Australian. I feel like I should have known that. I’ll put it in my queue.

And then it sits in the queue until Netflix says it’s going to remove it the very next day so I’m forced to watch it.

It opens with a man living a very strange and lonely life in a blue-toned Tokyo. This is not at all what I expected. I get a little bored. Then I kinda get into it. I find myself consciously taking pride in being a person who truthfully enjoys indie movies and celebrate the moments when I connect fully with someone’s unusual attempt to tell a story. But most of the time my brain shifts into tech mode and I’m just breaking down the elements, imagining the script, imagining the set, and what choices I would have made. Very quickly I gather that the movie is not set in 1967 and that the Goddess is, in fact, a car. Now I really have no idea what I’m in for so I silently congratulate the filmmaker (who is a woman!) and settle in for the ride.

I won’t be giving away any of the story elements in this review because that would be opening the present for you. You should go in with absolutely no expectations, even the ones I’m going to build up. It is a road trip movie, in the present and into the past of a girl (played by Rose Byrne who gives a stellar performance.) It deals with difficult subjects like abuse and helplessness. Every single character is broken in some way. But it is the rare type of movie where the sum is greater than its parts. The director infuses the film with the very intangible element that is movie magic that can only happen because film is art in 3-D. It’s unlike anything else. It uses moving pictures and sound to create an experience that can last forever. The Australian outback becomes a character. It’s vast, lonely, hard and beautiful. The Goddess becomes a character.

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It’s a brave movie. It is the kind of movie that only this particular director could make. I pause halfway through the film because I have to know who Clara Law is. At the time of the making of this movie she was in her 40’s. She is a filmmaker born in Macau, China, with a degree in English literature and now she lives in Australia. Her husband is a writer and they co-wrote the film together. Well, that sounds absolutely lovely. I’m jealous, and impressed.

There is a dance scene about halfway through the movie and it actually gave me goosebumps. In the context of the story, the music and Rose’s courage and lack of inhibition elevate the film to art and it’s able to sear itself into your emotional history. This film is now part of how you define human emotions.

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The whole film is dream-like, really. Characters enter and exit without explanation, but it doesn’t bother you the way it would with a less skilled director. They are all just pieces to tell the story, the same way not every single person that means something to you stay with you your whole life, but that doesn’t make their presence any less important in your story. I’ve only ever experienced the same dream-like state while watching David Lynch movies, especially Mulholland Drive, which is one of my very favorite movies and the reason I thought I belonged in film in the first place. I saw it when I was 18 in a near empty theater, I felt it on so many levels, and it finally clicked with me that I can’t do exactly this, but I can do something like this. It occurs to me now that I feel The Goddess From 1967 is the female counterpart to Mulholland Drive. The disturbing essence found in many Lynch movies is there, stirring under the surface, but it is softer, comes packaged in pink clouds, whereas Lynch’s horror sometimes peaks out from around the corner and shows its face.

It’s been over a week and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not saying everyone will have the exact same experience as me, but I definitely recommend you give it a try. The movie is not on Netflix US anymore but you might be able to find it in some other regions. You might be able to find it on YouTube, I saw a copy subtitled in French, but it’s really a movie that deserves a high definition than YT’s 480p.

Old Hollywood on the page

A well-written biography is the intersection between life, story and truth – my three absolute favorite things. To follow someone’s journey through their whole life, their highs and lows, regrets and lessons learned, is a very intimate thing. And unlike fictional stories, it feels more intimate because it is all true. Sure, they can’t all be gems, and it’s up for debate whether the fault lies with writer or subject, but the really good ones – oh gosh. It really is like gaining a friend. You come to know this person. You laugh with them at their silly stories, you read the poignant moments over and over, marvel at their perfection, and ultimately, you cry when they die, no matter how rich and wonderful a life. Mainly, because it was so rich and wonderful.

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In October I went to Hollywood for a few days to hang out with my favorite girls – Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney – and I took a tour of the Warner Bros lot to get the feel of a historic film studio. The tour was fun but it focused mainly on current sitcoms, which I don’t really watch. I’m in full-on research mode for my next project and I’m devouring old Hollywood biographies like they were oxygen. The amount of love found in the writing of these books is astonishing. It’s radiating off the page. I’ve never come across more richly crafted characters. I find myself not wanting to finish the books because I don’t want to say goodbye. I dread it because I know I won’t find another book with these characters – because they’re not characters at all, just a bunch of artists who lived in a crazy place called Hollywood 60-to-90 years ago.

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