The Smartest Man on the Planet

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Nick Hanauer is possibly the smartest man on the planet. Not because he was one of the first investors in Amazon, not because he has billions of dollars and his own plane, not because he has given TED talks and been in documentaries, but because he wrote THIS:

Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government.

I’ve read Nick’s article at topinfopost three times now.  And I’m going to read it again.  Because I’ve been listening for years now as my fellow humans devour one another over partisan politics, obfuscate core issues with symptomatic issues, and generally miss the forest for the trees. You don’t have to be a billionaire to see the wisdom and beauty of Nick’s treatise (and of course he didn’t intend you to have to be); while his letter is addressed to the “filthy rich” like him, it’s truly a letter for all of us. Because there are solutions to the sprawling, systemic problems we face in America. And they start with logic.

Many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter.

Yes, Nick. Yes, yes, and yes.

Sadly, though, there is still part of me that doubts this message will be as clear to certain others. Namely, people that abuse capitalism so that it serves their baser selves; greed and the hunger for power; the restless pursuit of immortality in the face of indomitable mortality. People that hide behind a perverted idea that capitalism needs an unrestrained, unregulated, laissez-faire monetary system in order to work. People too blind or too in denial to see that the very practice of this unbridled capitalism has fomented the bloated government invading and micromanaging our everyday lives. The kind of capitalism that makes corporations people, that insulates the wealthy from empathy and compassion, that puts *stuff* above human lives.

But, it’s worth a shot, dammit. So preach it, Nick. And Happy Fourth.

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Michael Ruppert Dies at 63

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I first learned who Michael C. Ruppert was, probably like most people, through the 2009 documentary film, Collapse.

In that film, Ruppert covers a range of topics, from fiat currency and fractional reserve banking to climate change and alternative energy. The cohesion of Ruppert’s knowledge is impressive; the discovery of oil led to the population boom – the unfettered, exponential explosion we have experienced in the last century – and is an unsustainable phenomenon at the root of our myriad issues on Earth. Ruppert asserts that in the natural world, such population explosions are followed by a devastating collapse.

mike_ruppertSome people could, and probably do hoot Ruppert down as a nut job. He began as a narcotics cop in Los Angeles, whose discovery and challenge of the CIA bringing drugs into the country put him on the world stage as a whistleblower in the 1990s. He later wrote books and traveled and gave speeches. Most recently, he left his home in Northern California and joined a group in the San Luis Valley who share Lakota traditions and pray for humankind and the well-being of the Earth.

It’s a logical trajectory, when you think about it. The very unfortunate part is that it ends with Ruppert taking his life.

Perhaps he had reached the point where he felt he had said all that he could.  Or, that his last days were spent in Calistoga, away from the San Luis community, could suggest some painful parting of ways.  Regardless of any interpretation, the self-described “faithful scout” says in the 2013 documentary Apocalypse, Man (bottom of page) that the scout’s blade is sharp on both edges.  And that the scout walks alone.  For me, his work and efforts can be summed up in his passionate belief that the world is in such great need of an evolution of consciousness, and that he saw this consciousness rising, catalyzed by movements like Occupy.

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In his San Luis days, the Scout was most concerned with climate collapse and Fukushima as the two paramount issues sure to foment global human extinction.  But there’s no point in my condensing or distilling any more of Ruppert’s contributions. I view Michael Ruppert as something of a doorkeeper, and I walked through in 2009 and have never looked back.  I would invite any others, who have not yet, to do the same.

While I feel I have tempered my life to the extent that it is possible to live with the knowledge I have and still retain joy and hope, some, like Ruppert, may struggle with finding balance.  Or, it’s possible his ending was something he entered into with the belief that he had accomplished what he had set out to do and now wanted to join the “spirit world.”  But now I’m just conjecturing again.

Perhaps the best way to honor Ruppert and his contributions is to see him as the empathic man that he was.  To stay focused and articulate in our own journeys.  To keep sane in an insane world.

There are many so-called “revolutionary” groups on the planet today, challenging the money-market system, the plutocracy, and hoping to turn around the destruction of the natural world. I think we can brace ourselves for the coming years without resorting to too much extremism; e.g. I don’t believe the Illuminati is responsible for anything.

We can embrace historical knowledge, such as what we find in the wisdom of the Kali Yuga, and we can see the forecasts of this time in the New Testament of the Bible. We’re smart, collectively; we have a divinity that transcends time and space and so we contain the knowledge innately – and we had great and unimpeded access to this wisdom before times so rife with industry and technology. But we should be wary to spout conspiracy theories, to call out the monopoly media as creating false flag events or talk about “mind control” with vehement language.  That kind of stuff just turns people off who might otherwise listen.

Ruppert had facts. He had data. He was passionate and could be emotional, but he was rational and reasonable, too. Well-spoken, blessed with a great vocabulary, an ability to contain so much information, decipher it and relay it topically and articulately. He was gifted, and he will be missed.

 

(The following documentary, in 10 parts on YouTube from VICE, is really Ruppert’s crown jewel. Raw, terrifying, and filled with Ruppert’s encyclopedic knowledge, no-nonsense attitude, emotion, expletives, and astonishing insights every person on the planet should hear.)

 

Why Arguing and Fighting is Exactly What They Want

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Perhaps the signature characteristic of our time is our political polarization. Right and Left have always argued, but the radical views and vehemence of late may indicate something else, something deeper at work. Something that can actually unify us, if we stop letting it fracture us.

It’s seems that these days, everybody’s yelling about something. In the echo chamber of social media, we hear grievances again and again. In the din, it’s possible to lose the sense of what it means to be conservative, or what it means to be liberal. And, maybe we should. Especially when it comes to our freedoms.

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There is an objective, non-partisan reality that we are living under the weight of an increasingly bloated government. And that massive, complex governments characterize the end of empires, historically. But the more we squabble, the more the government grows complex, as filigrees of judicia sprout over alternative solutions, like dendrites in the brain, requiring more laws and more enforcement and more courtroom battles.

We need to keep sight of the big picture.

In Florida right now, for instance, it is illegal to live off the grid. Living off the grid means self-sufficiency, supplying oneself the power or water or both to survive without being connected to systems under the “International Property Maintenance Code.”

And last year, in Texas, members of a sustainable community were handcuffed at gunpoint by SWAT teams threatening to shut them down.

You read that right. Handcuffed at gunpoint for living sustainably through alternative resources.

Controlling someone to not live self-sufficiently is fascist, Orwellian, and downright terrifying. It’s everything counter-intuitive to living in a free country. Running people out of an off-grid neighborhood with SWAT teams, that’s an idea people usually roll their eyes at and chalk up to conspiracy theory, or attribute to some “backwards foreign country.” But it’s happening, it’s happening now, and it’s happening here.

So, who are the folks actually building these homes and communities on their own steam? Are these people unstaunched liberal renegades, out there doing the alternative lifestyle-thing with green, renewable energy, or are they the hardened, doomsday-prepping conservatives who say, “Look pal, you can’t tell me how I should or shouldn’t live my life…”?

Hmmm.

We’ll hear all sorts of justifications for these unreasonable laws and brutal enforcements. We’ll hear about how it’s for our safety. Or, at the very least, it’s for accurate census-taking. But far worse than the rhetoric, we’ll hear the conservatives in the media spouting about how this latest instance of invasive government is just more from the bleeding hearts and their liberal agenda, or we’ll hear the liberals complaining that it’s the ignorant conservatives who don’t believe in climate change or resource depletion or the benefits of alternative energy sources.

But the reason why Florida and Texas are working to make it impossible to live off the grid has nothing to do with political ideology.

It’s about money.

That’s it.

It’s control exerted by the monied interests. And those interests, as they permeate government, skewer and make stick-puppets of both sides of the aisle.

It’s about greed, and the means to power. It’s not a nefarious scheme, it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s not the Illuminati, it’s human nature. Without reasonable, enforceable restrictions on the corporate lobbying industry, or on the size and shape corporations are allowed to take, we inherit a plutocracy, an oligarchic government that is the farthest thing from a popular democracy. It is not for the people or by the people. It’s for the ruthless and unsympathetic, the “Imma get mine” addicts out there competing to be the richest man or woman in the grave.  People who often justify their position through a perversion of the capitalist theory that pure self-interest will be the best for everyone.

Our government has grown complex, and we have become an over-regulated society, precisely because of the deregulation and championed, selfish individualism which preceded this period. While it’s easy to conflate the development of a large government with a liberal agenda, it’s just as easy to make the case that unfettered capitalism and neoclassical economics are what dragged us here. The allowance of plundering, the absence of maximum salaries or a reasonable ceiling for wealth and capital, the co-opting and tailoring of maxims from our predecessors – from Darwin to Jefferson to Adam Smith. Greed and nearsightedness characterize the legacy of post-war America.

So, if you’re not in favor of big government inhibiting our basic freedoms, but can realize that it’s our current version of capitalism (since, at least, the formation of the Fed, and then spanked into hyper-drive in the 70s and 80s) which got us here — then one what side of the aisle does that plant you?

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No, labels shouldn’t matter much. And they don’t. It’s the de facto dismissal – or even outright hatred – based on party presumptions, which plagues our society. So it’s not so much the labeling that needs to be addressed, but the root of our division, the culprits fanning the flames to overblow our differences of opinion and personality into something much more than they need to be.

Everywhere I look lately, I see problems that are affecting all of us (none the least of which is mandatory, on-the-grid, police-enforced living), but we’re so at odds about how these problems came into being, or what to do about them.

The thing is, this sort of confusion, squabbling, and derision are what an impinging plutocracy of monied interests want from us. We serve them best when we’re quibbling over political trivia. Arguing party dogma, picking fights over symptomatic issues. Distracted, consuming, and misinformed, this is today’s ideal citizen. One who doesn’t question from where their food, energy, or currency comes. One who focuses on party ideology and makes an enemy out of their brother or sister.

What we need to do is stop fighting and to stop giving them what they want.  We need to come together.

There are people out there who care. You’re one of them. And there are legislators who are trying to do the right thing. There is good in the world, tucked away in places. But right now, the big, pasty, bald-headed, red-faced, puff-adder white bastards are winning. And they each have more resources than ten thousand of us, and their greatest resource is their ability to manipulate popular opinion – to essentially manufacture that opinion in a culture industry with which the hydra-like tentacles are roping around the megabytes in your computer as we speak.

In fact, just yesterday, The Supreme Court overturned four decades years of national policy and judicial precedent when the Court decided to allow federal officeholders to solicit and individual donors to pour as much as $3.6 million directly into federal campaigns every election cycle – “buying unparalleled personal influence in Washington and drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.” (Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor)

This is not good.

We need to begin remaking the world by quitting the quibbling. We work to make the adjustments we can in our own lives – and, at every step of the way, we question, we learn, and we have real conversations with one another. Not snarky banter about left versus right, but a dialog that looks deep into the mystic. Not fighting one another, but fighting the monied interests that have influenced our food supply, our children’s schooling, our air, our water, our land – every aspect of our lives. We do this by finding our center, by learning to balance ourselves in preparation for the long haul and the uphill battle – to take joy in what we can, in our families, in our friends, in life’s small pleasures. We derive strength and love from these things, and then we stand together to put an end to the cycle of empires.

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The Wolf of Wall Street – a review of reviews

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The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a mercurial stock broker who rose in the 1990s to become a ridiculously wealthy, drug-addled mogul of Long Island.

Wolf lays it all out in one of the first scenes, when a younger Belfort is being schooled by a reptilian, almost goofball version of Satan played by Matthew McConaughey.  They’re sitting there, on top of the world, and McConaughy explains the rules of the game:  They don’t care about making their clients any money, they only care about making themselves money.  And there is a lack of culpability, because what they’re doing, what they do for a living, it’s not really real.

Stockbroking is about speculation; a realm of phantoms.  Projecting how well a business will do, hiking up shares for that company, this epitomizes a dark failure of our money-market system.  Empires are made, lives are shattered.  McConaughey says, “The stocks go up, the stocks go down,” and none of it comes from anything real, anything of value.  It’s taking from one person to give to someone else – in this case, yourself.

Like so much else in our modern world, reactions to the film have been polarized.  The Financial Times considers the film too late-in-the-game to be poignant, saying “Been there, done that, got the Enron prison shirts.”  Meanwhile, the UK’s Daily Telegraph hails it as “Scorsese’s Best Film in 20 Years.”

Some of the films detractors say that it doesn’t take time to show us the ruined lives of the victims.  Others cite that there is not enough punishment for Belfort – the denouement is too brief and he gets off too easy.  After a long, hyper-real ride through his sordid, spectacular life, he gets a slap on the wrist.

Yet this is faithful to the book adapted for the film, written by Belfort, and told from his perspective.  And it is faithful to the realities of white collar crimes.  We may boo and hiss at the CEOs who parachute away from danger when their fraudulent behavior cripples lives, but we remain either unwittingly trapped by or fiercely loyal to our financial system and the ideology of the free marketplace which created these men in the first place.

Without question, Wolf is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in years, full of everything that makes cinema great, and easily considerable as a master work for Scorsese.  There were a couple of times I felt a slight drag (perhaps one too many self-aggrandizing speeches from Belfort), but the editing, the cinematography, the score – just manna from Scorsese heaven.

The film does not paint its moral message across the sky.  As the Telegraph observes, Scorsese grants his audience the intelligence to draw their own conclusions: “…Glamorizing without endorsing, treating the audience like adults, trusting that our moral sense will compensate for his characters’ lack of one.”

Viewers unhappy with the film consider experiencing three hours of debauchery “for nothing.”  Perhaps the hyperactivity and decadence has left them feeling a bit as though they’d gone on one of Belfort’s benders themselves.  And perhaps this is the message, or, at least, the reaction Scorsese might be looking for: That this kind of shit is wild, it’s crazy, some parts are even attractive, but it’s like working for the devil – in the end, if it doesn’t kill you, it will leave you empty.

The movie is possibly harder to take for female viewers.  Women are relentlessly objectified in Wolf.  They’re either giving blow jobs, or stripping, or sweet and understanding (like Belfort’s first wife), then dumped for the newer, younger, more gold-plated model.  I watched it with my wife, and while I roared at the scenes like Belfort pantomiming that he’s physically “giving it” to a client while he suckers him in over the phone, her reaction was a bit more subdued.  It’s a real frat party, and while I can laugh at their antics from this safe distance, enjoy an actor’s performance and a filmmaker’s skills, in real life I would probably hate these stockbroker guys, or at least want to have nothing to with them.

Yet…I can’t…look…away…

In the riveting climactic scene where Belfort’s personal life finally comes crashing down around him, the blows he gives to his wife signal us that the party is over.  He’s no longer just riding out there on the edge, he’s past it now, he’s lost in the abyss, fully in the clutches of hell.  This ramification for his life of the devil’s work is deserved.  Yet beyond this, he does little-to-no penance, since his money stretches through the bars of the jail cell, and he goes on to write a book, and then, yeah, have a movie made about him.  In some ways, he doesn’t get the punishment we’d like to think he deserves – instead he’s cashing in.

Despite dissatisfaction with either the length of the film, the bombardment to the senses, or of justice ill-fitted to financial crimes, The Wolf of Wall Street is a powerhouse movie.  It’s a cinematic gem from Scorsese.  It’s why movies are made – to take us into another experience, to provide for us a collective dream, a spectacle, to strike a nerve within us.  Wolf is a breathtaking glimpse of the imperious, ultimately joyless and carnal side to the American dream.

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SeaWorld: Animal Prison or Nature Conservatory?

blackfishposterThere’s been a bit of hoopla lately about the amusement park SeaWorld, particularly since Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film, Blackfish, arrived on Netflix.  Blackfish is a documentary that assembles decades of captive killer whale attacks along with tearful testimonies from former trainers about the money and bureaucracy behind the park.

Without a doubt, SeaWorld pours millions of dollars into their state-of-the-art fish tanks, with skilled trainers who genuinely love the animals, and choreographed shows.   In various statements intended to defend its reputation, SeaWorld cites the positives of their aquatic endeavors – they claim that the existence of their park benefits the research and conservation of killer whales, and that they have rescued “ill, orphaned, and injured” animals in the wild.

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This is probably all true.  And there are doubtless hundreds of trainers and employees of SeaWorld who earnestly love what they do, believing that they are increasing awareness of the animal kingdom and the need to protect species like killer whales.  Moreover, there are scores of people who visit the park, come away enchanted, warmed, perhaps even educated.

But this is not SeaWorld’s main objective.  This may be the objective of certain individuals who work within the company and subscribe to an ideology about man’s place to help the animals of the planet, to provide enlightening entertainment to the masses, and so on, but for the company itself, the goal is to make money.

SeaWorld is a business.  It is not a non-profit research foundation or grant-funded group of marine biologists.  SeaWorld is incorporated, has shareholders, and is required by law to make money for those shareholders.  Formerly Busch Entertainment, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch (they make beer, among other things), SeaWorld Entertainment is now owned by the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest multinational, investment banking and private equity firms.  In December of 2012, SeaWorld filed for an initial public offering of stock, with a lion’s share of the proceeds going to the Blackstone, which retains a controlling interest.   (Trading on the New York Stock Exchange began in April, 2013.)

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Still, spotlighting the corporate interest behind the scenes doesn’t hold much water as an indictment of  SeaWorld; there are surely people who will say that capitalism is how things work – without it there would be no incentive.

So, calling attention to the money aspect of the controversy may seem immaterial, but perhaps it raises some important questions:  If there was no money being made, would SeaWorld exist?  Are animals like the killer whales truly better off in captivity?  Do the purported benefits of research and conservation outweigh any negative impacts?  Or, is it sort of six of one, half a dozen of the other?

Blackfish provides some statistical information, including the drastically shortened life span of captive whales.  However, SeaWorld maintains that the whales live a lifespan comparable to that in the wild.  Blackfish demonstrates some deplorable living conditions for many of the whales, but SeaWorld asserts that the animals are treated like royalty.  Like the animals in the pool, the argument goes around and around.

Fortunately, I can answer for myself, without needing an abundance of trivial data:  My thought is that in no way, shape, or form are animals better off in captivity.  Period.  Even if the water in the tank is filled with Goldschlager and sprinkled with cocaine purer than the driven snow, even if getting masturbated by a trainer feels twice as good as natural in-the-sea hootenanny, even if a captured whale is sick, or injured, or orphaned, it is never the case that an animal is better off in captivity – it is never better for the ecosystem; that is, the animals, their natural habitat, their relationship to one another and to all the other species they interact with.   This is just my unprofessional, armchair-scientist’s opinion.

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But let me better explain.  I may or may not be a “conservationist,” but I think the term that suits my thinking better might be “naturalist.”  Man has no dominion over the animals of the world.  I don’t feel it is our place to manage them or manipulate them for profit (animal husbandry) or for science (testing on animals for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, etc.) or for entertainment (zoos, amusement parks).  I’m even skeptical of efforts to re-stabilize populations thwarted by industry and man’s overpopulation; I feel like we need to retract our meddling, busy-body hands and stop molesting the animal kingdom all together.

Woah, right?

Look, many well-meaning people with big hearts seem to get caught up in this idea that we can “make a difference” by removing an animal out of the bliss of its natural environment and putting it in a tank with other animals in order to study it, or provide some sort of educational entertainment for the masses.

But the argument that animals in captivity benefit marine biology research is tenuous.  On a purely biological level, scientists can poke around in the guts of the fish and learn better what goes where and how it all fits together.  But examining captive animals provides zero insight into the ways they exist in the wild.

Still of killer whales from the documentary Blackfish

The most compelling aspect about the documentary Blackfish, for me, was not about the trainer attacks, but when a marine biologist spoke about the complex language of killer whales in the wild, and the developing neuroscience that killer whales have a highly developed region of the brain thought to administer emotion – deep, profound emotion, beyond even human capacity.

These animals live in families.  They are matriarchal, with the mothers and their children remaining together throughout the duration of the mother’s life – which may be as much as eighty or a hundred years.  Each family is thought to have its own specific language, like a tribe.  They move through the ocean like nomads, or hunter-gathers.  They are sacred.  Not just because they are big animals, or whether they are endangered or not, but because they are of a design and realm of being far beyond our ability to fully grasp.

Let’s say that killer whales in the wild remain in what David Abram’s called “The Spell of the Sensuous.”  This realm is a place of instinct, emotion, bountiful sensory input; an unconscious romp through a perpetual present, a life in balance with nature.  Our own spell of the sensuous is probably beyond our reach now, shrunken in the rear view mirror to a homo heidelbergenis waving in the distance.  Perhaps this is something the eager, earnest, whale-loving trainers, the droves of amusement park visitors, are trying to recover, whether they know it or not.  Perhaps SeaWorld is an attempt to once again be a part of something, to be close to something that we lost along the way.

We all recognize the way in which a child is compelled to touch something, and how that touch can inadvertently lead to breakage.  There is a tendency within us to destroy what we love.  We are hardly different from children when we allow our compulsions to override a conscientious understanding – that we change what we observe.

Surely, the way to communion with nature is not to put it behind bars, or in a tank, to ogle at it when it is stripped of its natural context and institutionalized by its surrounding.  Even if it is “healthy” and appears to be functioning normally under the conditions of captivity, to witness such creatures in this environment is to experience a mere fraction of their complexity and grandeur, because we are missing the bigger picture.

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I may sound like a curmudgeon, telling my fellow humans to stop tapping on the glass like children.  I recognize and can understand the desire in other people to explore the world around them, to see something they would never get to see.  But there are less invasive ways to do this.  And, perhaps more importantly, there is a major missing component to the experience of animals when they are in captivity – or, if the component is there, it doesn’t mix well with the experience.  Empathy.

Empathy is not just a condition, or an emotion.  Empathy and compassion are tools with which we can explore the world around us.  Compassion, and perhaps a sense of romance, can extend us beyond our trappings to consider the depth of sensual experience in the wild life of a killer whale, and all other species.  We can observe, in a minimally invasive way, by bringing ourselves into the experience of animals.  Rather than shape the animals to our bidding, we can reach out, we can glimpse the glacial waters, we can hear the intricate language of a killer whale family, we can see them coursing through all of that darkness.

Recently I was invited to join “Boycott SeaWorld” on Facebook.  I didn’t join, because I don’t need to; I’ve never been to SeaWorld, and I never will.  And this is not because I have an agenda, as some detractors claim is behind the Blackfish film.  The reason I don’t go to SeaWorld because I feel I have no right to – I don’t feel the slightest bit entitled to watch an animal taken from the wild or born in captivity perform tricks for me.

I’d rather watch the movie Blackfish and then be an old stinkpot and write a blog like this.

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