Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.

As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.

Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I was filled with joy, satisfaction and security. Yes, it is possible for those sets of emotions to exist simultaneously in a single mind.

My large-scale feelings were driven by the result of the presidential election, and the way it fit into my views about the centrality of white supremacy in our country. I saw the election of Trump as a dramatic, horrifying and sudden turn in the trajectory of our country. This view was driven primarily by the news, and I was spending a ton of time reading the news. The more I followed the "Russiagate scandal," the rise of the alt-right, and a seeming descent into madness (ZOMG, the Nazi's are coming!), the more I felt the urgent need to read more. And the more I read, my large-scale, negative emotions flared up and started to regularly take central stage. Since there was so much to read, I was spending less and less time on small scales, where my wife, children and friends reside. That felt really shitty, so I made a radical move: I stopped reading the news.

Once I disconnected, I felt so. Much. Better. There I was, suddenly in a world that looked just as it did on November 7, 2016. Now, granted, the world back then was an absolute mess. But I was able to find a real comfort in returning to that mess, because it was a world in which the history I have spent the past five years learning about fully explained. Within that framework, I was able to go back to logical thinking; back to figuring things out; back to seeing solutions and finding hope.

As I sat in the ear-ringing silence I found myself in after shutting off the news, I was able to critically interrogate my thoughts and beliefs. Guided by key input from and strong challenges by one of my good friends (co-conspirator), along with the fearless writing at the BAR, Jacobin and of Caitlin Johnstone I discovered several glaring inconsistencies. On the one hand, I believed/knew that:
• At no point in history has my country undergone a process of truth and reconciliation about it's racist past. As a result, there is no point in history where white supremacy was exorcized from the fabric of our society. It has simply morphed from one form to another: from slavery to Jim Crow, and then from Jim Crow to mass incarceration.
• Our country's society is based on a class structure. Viewed broadly (for scientists: viewed at low spatial frequencies), there is a large working class (lower and middle class), and a much smaller and vastly more wealthy ruling class. Most of American history is driven by the conflict between these two classes, and is recognized by some historians as “the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world.”
• Viewed more finely (high spatial frequencies), the lower class is divided along racial lines, with white people advantaged economically and politically over people of color. This division can be found along other axes, including gender, disability, sexuality and religion. The division along racial lines is what I refer to as white supremacy.
• The end product of white supremacy is not the supremacy of white people. The end product is the preservation and increase of the power of the ruling class by eliminating solidarity among everyone else. Whiteness, and privilege along other axes, is a payment made to the vast majority of people in this country to keep them from collective revolt against the elite. Racism is "the poor man's best Government...Among us the poor white laborer...does not belong to the menial class...The negro is in no sense his equal. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men." Or to put it more crassly, there's the old Southern aphorism: "I might be poor, but at least I ain't a nigger."
• The modern form of the ruling class is a corporatocracy, comprising the ultra-wealthy owners of large corporations. The interests of these corporations drive domestic politics, through the financing of the campaigns of politicians, as well as the foreign policies of our country. These interests are pursued and maintained by any means necessary, most often through coercion (IMF loans) and violence (war and regime change).
As of ~June this year, I also believed the following:
• The Democratic political party of our country has some flaws, but is mostly on the side of justice at home and reasonable policies abroad.
• The mass media (CNN, Washington Post, et al.) has some flaws (racial bias, the pursuit of "balance"), but can mostly be trusted to reflect the current state of affairs both domestically and internationally.
Do you see the conflict and inconsistency in my thinking? Given that our country is a corporatocracy, and given that the mainstream media is controlled by six large corporations, how could CNN/WaPo possibly report truthfully on matters that impact me, as someone who is not a member of the ruling elite? And given that we live in a capitalist society in which money = power; given that corporations have the most money/power; given that our Supreme Court has ruled that money = speech, and speech is protected, so political financial contributions from and actions by independent entities are unlimited and unregulated; how is it that the Democratic party is not influenced by the corporatocracy?

Regarding these two important questions, I have recently concluded: It can't, and it can't. Well, actually, more like: it won't and it won't. My beliefs in those last two bullet points above have been modified to
• The Democratic party is simply one political arm of the corporatocracy. It is one arm attached to the same body as the Republican arm. This can be seen in the simple fact that Obama pursued the same foreign and domestic policies as Bush (we didn't leave Iraq or Afghanistan, did we? Bank bailouts.), who pursued the same policies as Bill Clinton (yup, he was all up in Iraq before Bush was; Welfare "reform"). Namely, the reduction of the welfare state and the increase of wealth inequality at home to the detriment of (primarily but not solely) people of color, and the pursuit of corporate interests abroad using violence in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Venezuela, to the detriment of  (primarily but not solely) people of color.  These actions are known as neoliberalism and neoconservatism, respectively (you can also Google the terms yourself if you find those links lacking).
• The mass media is run by the corporatocracy, and as a result it promotes their interests. It therefore serves as the propaganda arm of the ruling class, and is used to garner consent of the lower class for their actions. In a corporate society, corporate media is the same as state media. Indeed, a state-run media outlet is not necessary or even practical in our society!
This modification was only possible after I turned off the noise machine that is CNN/WaPo/NYTimes. This key action stemmed the flow of propaganda that was screwing up my thought processes.

Are you, like I was, someone who is fighting for social justice, but are currently experiencing confusion, fear, anger, sadness and helplessness? It might be due to the cognitive dissonance that thoughtful people feel when they've been propagandized. The first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. My recognition came after carefully interrogating my beliefs, which uncovered some massive, embarrassing contradictions. Step two is taking action to address the problem. I turned off the f*cking news. I deleted all of the bookmarks in my News folder. I now look underneath the hood of any news I do receive and see who owns the source. I've found new trusted sources of information. And I started processing that information for myself again.
 Image credit: kidsatthought.com

Now, I'm trying to reach out to my friends and family who are suffering from the same problem. I'll conclude this post with some simple suggestions/requests: Turn off the news, bask in the silence, spend some quality time with your loved ones, interrogate your thinking, fix inconsistencies, and join the new media war.

Oh, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself with that last suggestion. I'll write about that more later. But since I said it, I'll add this: the way to get our democracy back create an actual democracy, and to end our country's otherwise ceaseless project of violence at home and abroad, we must push back against the propaganda arm of the ruling elite. Does this make me sound a bit like a socialist? If cogently examining the structure of our society and explicitly calling out the actions of those in charge makes me sound as such, then so be it. Does it make me sound like a conspiracy theorist? Look, the power that the wealthiest people in this country have is real, documented and demonstrated on a regular basis. When it's out in the open and displayed regularly, it cannot be a conspiracy. It's just how things work. But things only work this way when the citizenry give their tacit consent.

But I digress. If you do nothing else, turn off the news. You'll be happier for it.

On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…