Let’s All Take a YouTube Break

Here’s a work song for finishing Harris tweed in the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland. Filmed by Jack Cardiff of Powell & Pressburger in 1940/ 41

Behold this catchy musical sequence from Dil Se (“From the Heart”), a 1998 Bollywood romantic thriller. I haven’t seen the whole movie but if you’re interested it’s in Netflix.

And for readers who suffered through the Texas power crisis, Friend of the blog Eric of Garden Fork has a helpful playlist on how to use a generator safely.

A Pandemic Anniversary

Final scene of Tout Va Bien.

I suspect I’m not alone in reflecting back on the year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve been looking at the photos on my phone from February and March of 2020 and even went so far as to dig through credit card records to see where I ate out for the last time (Taix, at it turns out).

In February 2020 I was knocking on doors for Bernie and the last large public gathering I attended was the Bernie/Public Enemy rally on March 2nd. Alas, that brighter future that seemed possible was not to be, but I kept phone banking until the bitter end of the campaign. The triumph of business-as-usual combined with the untimely death of Michael Brooks were a source of considerable melancholy in the last half of 2020.

In mid-March the church secretary and I, on very short notice, helped put the Episcopal Cathedral’s services online when we could no longer meet in person.

In late spring through the summer of 2020 the one thing keeping me sane and occupied was rehabbing Kelly’s office shed. I redid the floor and ceiling and built a desk, bookcase and cabinets. Once we found out that Kelly had to go in for another round of risky open heart surgery, the remodeled shed gave her something to look forward to and something for me to work on.

While I was working on the shed, Slavoj Žižek’s managed to put out two books on the Pandemic that I read and enjoyed over the summer. Two observations from these  books stick with me. First, that we should remember that there are places in the world (such as Syria and Yemen) where things are so bad that COVID-19 is just a minor annoyance. Another point is that we need international solidarity, cooperation and mobilization to face crises like pandemics and climate change.

A lack of solidarity triggers, in me, moments of old testament prophet rage and foot stomping around the house. As Adam Curtis put it, we’re all just squealing individualist little piggies and that individualism isn’t working out well. I’ve lost the big-tent-homesteading ethos that led me to tolerate those who still cling to me-first ideology such as preppers, social media CEOs, corporate politicians of both parties, COVID denying wellness influencers and the local evangelical mega-church that decided to keep meeting during the worst of the pandemic.

At the same time I recognize that I was raised in the same culture and am susceptible to the same narcissism. I’m a squealing piggy with a blog after all. But let’s remember that this crisis has fallen disproportionately on poor and vulnerable people. We can’t forget the structures that perpetuated inequality and worsened the pandemic. Over 500,000 people needlessly went to an early grave in the U.S. and many of the people that cared for them are scarred for life while I sat comfortably at home.

I’ve also thought a lot about what works and what doesn’t during a crisis. A Buddhist friend taught me to observe my thoughts and emotions and that trick has been extraordinarily useful. Most of the time I noticed low level anxiety and fatigue caused by the constant risk management we all had to do. Sometimes I had COVID dreams and outburst of hypochondria. Observing these feelings helped to not get attached to them and kept them from spiraling out of control. I also came to the conclusion that it’s perfectly okay not to be productive all the time and recognize that the muses can be fickle in a crisis. Looking back I actually did a lot of construction work and beekeeping just not writing and podcasting.

I’m incredibly grateful to be financially secure, to have a roof over my head and to be fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, I’ve also eaten a lot of junk food and haven’t exercised like I used to. I took my first trip to the market in almost a year yesterday and am feeling optimistic and less anxious. But like Žižek, I hope that we don’t go back to the old normal but work towards a better, new normal.

What was the last year like for you?

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.