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  • Ken Ilgunas

What I’m consuming #1

If I can find the self-discipline, I’m hoping this will become a regular blog series that’ll give me a place to record, reflect on, and digest the various media I’m consuming, whether it be in the form of podcasts, TV, film, or reading material. Listening

This American Life: It’s my party and I’ll try if I want to – Fine show that shows the rift between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, and that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of modern politics.

Joe Rogan Podcast: Interview with Adam Frank – In a talk largely about climate change, one of Frank’s most fascinating reminders is that things that we commonly deem “unnatural” — cities, fossil fuel emissions, trash — is in fact the biosphere. From his recent NYT column: “What, for example is nature? From the biosphere’s perspective, a city is fundamentally no different from a forest. Both are the result of life’s endless evolutionary experiments. And forests, like grasslands, insects and oxygen-producing microbes, were once a evolutionary innovation. In that sense we, and our project of civilization, are not a plague on the planet. We are just what the biosphere is doing now.”

Bundyville – I’m currently on episode six (of seven) of Bundyville, a podcast about the Bundy family, who are known for their occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016. I wrote about the Bundys in my book This Land Is Our Land, and I feared that an in-depth portrait of their family might provoke me to reverse my opinion of people for whom I have a strong and long-established dislike. (Enlightenment is never a bad thing, but no one likes to undergo the emotional gymnastics of softening a firm opinion.) Will I feel a measure of sympathy for the Bundys? Might there be something legitimate behind their views to seize public land?

The town of Bunkerville, Nevada — where Cliven Bundy grew up — received fallout from a nearby atomic bomb test, causing widespread illness for the townspeople. That’s certainly good reason to be upset with the government. Also, Cliven and his sons are Mormon, and perhaps some anti-government mistrust is baked into the fringes of that religion, which can be expected since the Mormons were so ill treated in the early stages of the religion. These helped me understand where Bundy’s anti-government ideology came from — and I might have followed a similar ideological path if the government had given me a radiation shower — but my sympathy ends there. Cliven and his family seem corrupted by rotten religion, harebrained ideologies, and asinine conspiracy theories. The Bundys recruit angry riff-raff by telling cherry-picked sob stories about how the government is ruining their lives, giving their recruits grand “hero’s journey” narratives to live out, where they get to slay oppressors or sacrifice themselves as martyrs for a cause that would benefit no one apart from a few ranchers who want unrestricted use of sensitive and mostly unproductive land.

Host Leah Sottile approaches her subject with an open mind, but she fact-checks the Bundys and doesn’t hold back from delivering clear-eyed, pull-no-punches denunciations when they’re needed. This is exactly the approach we need from journalists when subjects think their version of the truth is good enough.

Long Now Seminar: “Has the West Lost It? Can Asia Save It?: – Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean diplomat and author, is a marvelous speaker who looks at Western values from an easterner’s perspective. He speaks mostly glowingly about the West’s impact on the rest of the world, but worries we’ve begun to screw it all up. Watching

The Staircase, a 13-part Netflix murder mystery documentary series – (Spoilers) I basically went from 1). Michael definitely did it because he’s kind of a creep (and so are his lawyers). 2). I sort of like him and his lawyers, but I still think he’s guilty. 3). Whoa, lots of malfeasance on the part of the prosecutors—maybe he didn’t do it? 4). Michael’s actually a really likable guy—the show ends. 5). I google for conspiracy theories, read about the “owl theory,” and everything makes sense. The owl did it.

Showtime: Just Another Immigrant – Very funny show. Romesh Ranganathan reminds me of Karl Pilkington from Idiot Abroad. Like Karl, Romesh is a grumpy, insightful, and deeply funny guy. My only criticism might be that some of the scenarios seem a bit too set up for a “documentary” (like the Navy Seal training or the graffiti scenes), but I’m willing to suspend disbelief. Reading

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work – One of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. I thought this was merely a call to reclaim the manual arts, but it was so much more: a polemic against consumerist culture, against planned obsolesce and the need for “esoteric screwdrivers,” and against how office work creates “vague feelings of unreality, diminished autonomy, and a fragmented sense of self that [are] especially acute among the professional classes.”

Into the Woods blog – My friend David’s blog is the only blog I regularly read. His last three are a good taste of his style and typical content: one a prose-poem of a browsing deer, another a review of a book about the Scottish Enlightenment, and another with some lovely philosophy on the topic of purity and chaos.


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