I Can’t Get Adam Curtis Out of My Head

Could it be that this entire multi-thousand post blog, with all those canning, bread making, gardening, squirrel complaining ramblings are just an excuse for those few times I get to implore readers to watch the latest Adam Curtis documentary?

Methinks yes and so I must note that a new Curtis just dropped on the BBC yesterday. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is Curtis at his most sprawling and complex. We watched the first episode last night which covers, among other topics, British colonialism in Kenya, the Discoridian connection to the Kennedy assassination, anti-immigrant movements, artificial intelligence, a messy celebrity divorce and . . . the Bavarian Illuminati.

I can think of only a handful of other thoughtstylists who have helped guide me through these confusing times (Mark Fisher, Cornel West and Slavoj Žižek come to mind). More than any other period in my 55 years, at this particular point I think it’s important to look at the ideologies that change the way we perceive things. Curtis is a master at revealing what’s hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps the hidden message of all the posts on this blog is summed up in a quote from the late David Graeber that Curtis uses at the beginning of episode 1, “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make. And could just as easily make differently.”

Can’t Get You Out of My Head is streaming for free on the BBC. To watch it you’ll need to live in the U.K. or use a VPN to get around the regional blocking. You can also search on YouTube. Curtisheads post episodes which appear for awhile before the BBC takes them down. Just Google and you’ll find it. Here’s the last: Hypernormalization.

A Beautiful Evening

Many thanks to Silver Lake comrade Brother Lee for tipping me off to one of his busy neighbors, saxophonist Pat Posey. I’m posting Posey’s improvisational version of Debussy’s Beau Soir because it deserves way more views. The visuals also perfectly sum up a typical evening in Los Angeles under the rat infested palms and circling police helicopters.

Earlier in the pandemic Posey used seven different saxophones ranging from the baritone to a sopranino to record Ravel’s Bolero all by himself. Let that sink in.

In spite of my comfortable and privileged position during this pandemic I’ve found it hard to access the muses. I’m okay with that but I really respect the creativity of people like Posey who have made the best of a bad situation.

I’m Vaccinated

Early pandemic meme from March of 2020.

I heard a joke that the biggest side effect of being in a COVID vaccine clinical trial is the inability to stop talking about being in a COVID vaccine clinical trail. Last week I got a call from the Kaiser clinical trial folks letting me know that the shots I got back in September were a placebo. They offered to give me the vaccine this Monday and I took them up on the offer.

By Monday evening I had a sore arm and the next day I had moderate flu-like symptoms that lasted around 12 hours. Around noon on Tuesday I just needed to lay down and watch dumb TV for the rest of the day. I woke up on Wednesday feeling back to normal if a little tired. The discomfort was a small price to pay, in my opinion, for helping stop the spread of COVID.

When I got the call last week I went through a few phases of emotion. First was a sense of hope that this pandemic will end someday. Then I had worries that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to leave the house and see people. Then I realized that the fatiguing risk management that we all do on a daily basis isn’t over yet. Having had open heart surgery not all that long ago, Kelly is vulnerable to COVID and we have no idea when she’ll be able to get the vaccine. I can’t resume normal activities until more people are vaccinated. Vaccines are a we not me thing.

I’m still in the clinical trial. They will continue to monitor my blood for antibodies for the next two years and I check in every week via an app to report any possible COVID symptoms. Lastly, I want to thank the nurses and doctors who run the vaccine trial at Kaiser for their work, dedication and kindness.

Conspirituality

I’ve set aside part of my evenings the past few weeks practicing ink drawing mostly in an attempt to regain the patience I used to possess before my brain got fried by too much internet. While I draw (slow, poorly and painfully) I listen to old Art Bell shows from the 90s through the aughts from a large mp3 data dump. If you don’t know who Art Bell is he was a talk show host who devoted several hours every night, broadcasting solo from a desert compound in Pahrump, Nevada. His topics were a grab bag of the paranormal, everything from aliens, to Bigfoot to ghosts to bottomless pits.

I’ve been struck by just how innocent Art’s show now seems. It was just good fun, like the newspapers of the 19th century that could mix the news of the day with a few stories about flying bat people or underground lizard men. As a listener to Art’s show you knew that you weren’t supposed to take it too seriously, rather, you should just let Art’s voice lull you into a dreamland where the humdrum laws of the universe didn’t apply. Art’s show only makes sense in the deep, irrational darkness of night.

But this same paranormal and parapolitical material no longer seems so innocent in the age of Alex Jones and QAnon. This month I’ve witnessed someone fall deep into a QAnon hole as well as a homesteader on YouTube go full Militia LARP. What once could be appreciated as a paranoid if creative imaginarium now has real world consequences. People have been shot and bombs have detonated. Art had a brush with real world consequences when the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide after listening to a segment of his show but that’s a long way from January 6th’s Q-Shamannacht.

Silicon Valley’s predatory capitalism, with its feedback loops and addictive algorithms have led many down the Q Shaman’s bottomless pit in recent years including, unfortunately, many members of the “wellness” community. This is especially worrisome at a time when we need people to get vaccinated to stop this horrible pandemic. Here in Los Angeles there’s been so many Covid deaths that they’ve suspended air quality rules so they can deal with the cremation backlog.

But do you lead people out of conspiratorial, anti-vax movements? Successful rhetoric, in my opinion, doesn’t involve belittling people or telling them they’re stupid. This is one of the reasons I find most “skeptic” type science popularizers unhelpful. They’re just preaching to the choir at a time when we need to find ways to talk to people we have differences with.

The Conspirituality Podcast offers an thoughtful alternative to snarky skepticism. It’s hosted by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski and Julian Walker who describe themselves as, “a journalist, a cult researcher, and a philosophical skeptic” who get together to, “discuss the stories, cognitive dissonances, and cultic dynamics tearing through the yoga, wellness, and new spirituality worlds.” What I like about the show is that it’s done in a compassionate and civil way that, I think, has the potential to speak to people who might be heading down a self-destructive path. It respects the positive parts of the wellness movement while taking a critical look at the unhelpful parts.

They are much better at this sort of communication than I am. Early in the pandemic I got triggered by Charles Eisenstein’s promotion of some dubious ideas about vaccinations. Rather than get angry, the hosts of Conspirituality had Eisenstein on their show to model both civil discourse and to challenge his post-modern relativism. Their long two part discussion (part 1, part 2) is well worth listening to as both a model for productive dialog and if you have doubts about the vaccine.

If any of you listen to this show I’d love to hear your opinions, specifically if you think it speaks outside the choir.

Let’s Pedal Together in this New Year

“The end of history is the nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” – Mark Fisher

The older I get the less I tend to observe any New Years rituals. The boundaries between years seem more about human concerns than any effect of the sun’s course in the heavens. As proof I offer 2021, which kicked off with some crazy 2020 vibes. I’ll defer the hot takes on yesterday to people smarter than myself. Let’s just say I spent way too much time doomscrolling (coupscrolling?) over the past 24 hours.

When I finally went downstairs to the woodshop around 3 pm yesterday and turned on my makeshift mp3 player, the random shuffle served up weirdo Morrissey’s song “Spent the day in bed” which has the chorus, “Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you.” As if yesterday wasn’t frightening enough, we got news this morning that a close relative has tested positive for COVID.

In the past week my great desire was to get back to my urban homesteading/appropriate technology lane. A journalist called me on Tuesday to interview me for an article on urban homesteading in a pandemic. She asked me what I thought of as the most important activity in the homesteading tool basket. I said that it’s not growing vegetables or canning things it’s getting to know your neighbors and forming communities of mutual support.

I am very thankful that our neighbor Jennie, several years ago, started a monthly neighborhood happy hour. When we can all safely gather together again I strongly suggest you consider starting a regular neighborhood gathering as well. Drop an invite in your neighbor’s mailboxes and throw a potluck. Not everyone will come but, hopefully, enough will to form a network. Focus on just having a good time. Don’t worry about organizing something formal. Just hang out and have fun. If you live in an apartment get everyone in the building together. If you don’t feel like hosting all the time have the gathering rotate.

Post-pandemic we transitioned our happy hour to a once every other week Zoom meeting and an email and text thread. On the email thread a neighbor a block over said that it really means a lot to him to know that he has neighbors who care and support each other. I completely agree. We’re not just neighbors, we’re friends and I take great comfort when I go asleep at night knowing that I’m surrounded by people who know and care about each other.

Post pandemic we aren’t going to return to the old normal. I’m hoping that the new normal will be that we wake up from the nightmare of separation and work together. That work begins over cocktails and food by simply enjoying each other’s company.

In the meantime let’s all stay safe. The next few months will likely be challenging.