A Journal of the Plague Year Day 14

Tuesday March 31st 2020

The house got a deep clean today. All furniture polished, floors stripped, fabric waterboarded and rugs publicly whipped. The recycling bins are now twice as full as they can take, tottering like Stonehenge due to imaginary collection days -First World problems again, ah how we’ve missed you.

Although a little disconcerting. Are we ever going to see binmen again? Is it a sign of things to come? It starts with a lack of attention to recycling categories and ends in shooting crazed Mad Max grannies from the roof of a local mall.

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The govt issued a missive quickly mentioning something about power outages mid-cough, and that we should maybe expect them [/cough]. The minute the internet goes down there’ll be rioting I’m sure. People running into Dixons and trying to grab all router shaped boxes, fusilli phone cords, then eyeing up radios and satellite dishes. Like an 80’s disaster movie when they need a looting scene (smashed plate glass, carnival atmosphere, Black dude with shades nodding to a ghetto blaster).

28 Days Later (2003) Directed by Danny Boyle Shown: Cillian Murphy

People are getting fed up of queueing to get into the supermarkets, like exclusive clubs for tracksuited, standoffish couch potatoes, leaning on their trolleys. No one bothers dressing up anymore, which is unlike London, where putting on the lippy to take the rubbish out is a thing in certain circles. And once inside, the exclusivity demands attention -make sure to browse leisurely, maybe take a few selfies with the bogroll, smell every brand of air freshener and try on all the XXL cardies. While the people outside are now heckling NHS staff who get to skip the lines, as was done in Liverpool to a crying nurse after her 13 hr shift. They’re also liable to share fake news that kids will be banned from Asda (dear heaven of God), and that early hour for the aged is game for anyone sporting a sudden limp, or Jim Carrey style impersonation of a chimpanzee. One week in and people are starting to lose their shit.

Business Leaders Converge In Sun Valley, Idaho For Allen And Company Annual Meeting

So the news is Europe has a new dictatorship a la Hungary, approving Viktor Orban’s new emergency grip over power worse than the Communist dictatorship, but in a much more Far Right kinda way, including 8 years prison for being an upstart, and hot on the heels of his previous gem making it an offence to help undocumented migrants. Meanwhile India (the new name for the country is Meanwhile India, it’s reached that stage of geopolitical power where you can’t keep ignoring it, despite most of the people in the world being them) has seen its online youth organise mass food and cash handouts to the millions of migrant workers, many trapped between states and attempting treks of hundreds of km. Although the govt offers free food, shelter and cash, it’s harder to come by on the road.

In the US things are hitting the part of the curve that climbs exponentially, infections in line with the politicking, which is reaching ear screeching levels between left and right as hospitals take the strain, and the long-suffering populace battles through the confusion, pistols at the ready. An aircraft carrier, now stranded in Guam is radio’ing for help as its 4,000 sailors get cosy with corona.

Over 900 died in Spain today, beating Italy for the first time, as it did China’s amount of infected. East Asia is now locking down the air routes, and closing all borders as reinfection stalks the recovery, several provinces in China, reentering lockdown. While the US is offering Venezuela a lifting of sanctions so it can get access to the lifesaving meds and equipment it could easily afford – just so long as they get rid of Maduro hold new elections, and thus give US access to the world’s largest oil reserves, which sounds suspiciously like a mega ransom to me, and a country using death threats as an opportunity. Shocker! People are already massing at the Colombian border, now closed.

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Oh and the stock markets have fared their worst since 1987 in this quarter, the Dow Jones down by 23% and FTSE 100 by 25%. Meanwhile, India is attempting a herculean task: to trace tens of thousands of people at risk of infection from a ‘super-carrier’, a 70 y.o. preacher returning from Italy, now deceased who flouted govt advice and attended a local festival back before they were banned. 550 came into direct contact with him, which has led to 40,000 people in 21 villages now quarantined. I mean seriously, one righteous fucker in the mix and the entire district now feeds through hamster nozzles.

A 13 year old boy in Brixton with no underlying conditions has just died, making him the youngest in the country, but not unheard of. Apparently 1 in 30,000 infections in his age group will succumb. The kid was born in 2007 for Chrissakes. He would have been a 5 year old, just starting to learn football by the time of the 2012 Olympics in his home city.

He started showing symptoms on Thursday, and was rushed to hospital for breathing problems. By Friday he was on a ventilator, then an induced coma, and died in the early hours of Monday morning, just 4 days after his first symptoms. So contagious is C-19 his family weren’t allowed to be with him in his final moments. His name was Ismail Abdulwahab.

A 19 year old died on the same day, once again with no underlying health conditions and ‘very healthy’ succumbing just 30 minutes after being taken to hospital -once again after a few days of symptoms, and only a few hours after his condition worsened. Post mortem was fulminant (meaning sudden, explosive and severe) pneumonia. His name was Luca di Nicola.

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According to data from China the young may be more protected normally because of differences in immune systems -newer, fresher, more likely to overcompensate perhaps (although this shouldn’t really change things with this infection). Older people, who’ve had more experience with other coronaviruses react with a time-worn attack plan, but this version is different from the others, and may be affecting the reaction negatively, making the immune system attack the body alongside.

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Oh, and facemasks. All that official, widely spread malarkey about them being ineffective was meant to be a salve to reserve them for essential workers, but those absolute gems of community who choose to stockpile everything then sell them off eBay got them anyway. While China had been telling people to wear them from the start as precaution, arguing it was airborne back from Feb 8th (something quite hard to prove but that a Shanghai team were convinced). Infection rates can be up to halved using them appropriately. Ah well, shucks. It didn’t help either that when accepting Chinese masks (and test kits) up to 70% of them were ineffective, thanks to some eminently dodgy new companies in Shenzhen, which are now under investigation, not just for jeopardising foreign contingency plans, but China’s too.

People, govts are inept and predatory, and society burns far too quickly. Design by committee, so endemic among democracies and First world individualism -stage villain for wrongly signposted ways, diabolical bureaucracy, stolen misallocated funds, confusing media campaigns and bad graphic design -is now proving deadly.

This I’m sure will be the Autumn/Winter look by next year, or possibly Friday.

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On the home front, it’s been everyone in the house. Strumming from room to room and scrolling, then the cleaning blitz before more of the same. An occasional Netflix session, a phone call here and there, and endless tappety on the laptop. I mean the internet is hard to compete with. Tell a time traveler from the 1950s about this day and age, and the most confusing thing will be the fact you have a rectangle in your pocket that holds all the information in the world, but you use to look at kittens.

I mean just look at the options, for the uninitiated, the unmotivated, the un-arsed. The ones who don’t wake up in a ray of light, bursting with energy (seriously who TF does that?). Who don’t have a home gym/ yoga session to throw themselves into with Joe Wicks. Who don’t cook well, recipe books n everything. Who don’t have gurning, sun flared children for countless hours of fun and board games and reading re-mortgaging leaflets.

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Choosing the Perfect Family Home

Life has become smaller, noticing the littler eddies in this leaking tap of existence. The new toothpaste is leaving bright blue detritus in the sink, like tiny, stubborn anemones. J has put a battery into one of his antique clocks in the living room, and it ticks infernally (every half second) like a time bomb. A sleeps with his earphones now, and iPhone hugged, like a warm, fascist teddy bear. I’ve stopped changing T-shirts, day and night for about 2 days a pop, and stopped caring. I need to cut my toenails. It’s all starting to drift; I’m going to have to unplug. With nothing to report but the reports. Horror films or award winning docudramas are becoming daytime TV, and Oscar worthy screen matinees are background to the sucking glow of the internet. That’s literally it for life right now, internet and films, food in between (baked beans on rice, nuff’ said).

Things I saw today (read: sat through): Mercy Black (banal, cliché-ridden, unscary), that Rome docuseries (Caligula the Utter Cvnt and his licentious siblings), Tiger King (Florida Man strikes again, a sign of what happens when you lack history and culture in your life), and 1917, which I did perk my head up and watch. Heartstopping and heartrending in equal measure, shot in one glorious take -you can see why it was Oscar nominated, though a little harsh on Jerry, who is as likely to murder you as look at you, even when you save him from burning plane wrecks.

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My good friend in Germany is facing trouble in a lockdown, and dreading time with the kid who’ll drive her barmy (14 y.o, that age). She still works in social services, although unreasonably so, providing leisure and sporty options to refugees, which no one really feels is frontline nor essential anymore, including the refugees. She’s also asking about any conspiracy theories I’ve heard (none so far other than a fudging of infection stats) but I do wonder. As of yesterday the UK govt started counting the people who’d died outside hospitals and the tally jumped by a quarter. In Germany they only test the living, which may account for why their survival rates are seemingly the highest in the world.

Sweden meanwhile marches on apparently oblivious, throwing caution to the wind as cinemas (though Indy films only, given the dearth of blockbusters, now delayed), schools, shop, cafés and bars still go strong, with citizens picnicking and BBQing on the beaches, parks and beauty spots, dazzling smiles unsheathed. Public gatherings are limited to 50 (down from 500 on Friday), and those over 70 advised to avoid social contact. There is an uneasy sitting between public trust in the experts, and the unfolding horror everywhere else, even just across the Oresund link where Denmark has been in lockdown for nearly a month. It’s the biggest gamble the country’s taken since WWII, back when they were twiddling over whether to let the Nazis through on one side and the fleeing Jews on the other -or why not both at the same time? Sweden is attempting once again, to have its cake and eat it. In a lovely Drottninggatan bistrot with beer and some pals.

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Does life go on if the disaster unfolding, with thousands of dead, goes unseen? Is it normal? What impact on a complicit society will it have -and should ignoring the fate of others ever become cultural? Is it even a new normal? as that has long been the M.O. for much of the Western world in regards to the indentured billions of the Global South supporting our lifestyles the past few hundred years.

Sweden may be the one experiment that all our governments have wondered about.

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Likewise Trump, like a stuck record on his daily Old Tyme Medicine Show introduced a pillow company CEO (who will now start making masks) at the daily press briefing, who then went on to beseech the nation to read the Bible, as well as castigate it for taking the good book out of the curriculum.

“God gave us grace on Nov. 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” ( referring to the day Trump was elected). “God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned its back on God.”

Indeed, God help us all.

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Does March ever fucking end?

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Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 3

Sunday 29th March 2020

March being in Spring is a myth, certainly in the UK. Okay there’s a little more light, and the flowers, uninformed, may start to bloom (the stupid varieties like the tree outside, sporadically attempting blossom since January). But dearie me it’s cold still, and grey, and windy, a constant noise that sings of contagion outside. If anything March is the coldest month, as you look outside and think it warm and Spring-like, then freeze in wind and shadow, wishing you’d packed the furs. As opposed to when it’s an ice storm and you sensibly don more than a tank top. In reality ‘winter is coming’ should be taken up in September, and only relinquished in May, 8-9 months later. Tomorrow they’re changing the clocks, for mainland Europe it’ll be the last time, for Britain we will as always attempt to go it alone, miserably.

Things cannot possibly be more windswept.

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Today has been one of learning, somewhat. A has been watching the free ballets from the Bolshoi, now streamed live at 7pm Moscow time -this week’s offering being Sleeping Beauty. The way he sold it was the world’s bestest dancers for 2 and a half hrs, who trained and competed every muscle and sinew all their lives, to culminate in a show that’s spent thousands of manhours to prepare and would cost hundreds of squid a head -the least we could do was watch. And sure enough, the exquisite finesse, uplifting music, extravagant costumes and stage were breathtaking. But could we? A lasted about 20 mins, I for 20 seconds. Sorry.

I’m sure if I’d paid the ticket and was there in person I’d be edge-of-the-seat-rapt, my little eyeglasses swivelling like the Neighbourhood Watch in Windsor. But in this day and age of the half-second attention span, the scroll that never stops, the swipe like a tennis game, it’s a lot to ask for. No explosions, dinosaurs, likes or whooping. Culture appears wasted on us.

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J and I lunched through the bite-sized 15 min segs (far more consumer-friendly) of the Netflix Explained series, taking in subjects such as diamonds (totally not their worth), billionaires (off with their heads!), animal intelligence (a human-imposed hierarchy whereby we believe they don’t have souls so we get to eat them), and the latest bestseller, pandemics, complete with worldwide authority on the subject, Bill Gates (China, not again). The Guardian has run an article pinpointing the correlation of our recent pandemics and scares with the rise of industrial scaled farming, whereby pigs in Mexico, fowl in China, cows in the UK, and camels in the Middle East, brought up in vast numbers in close proximity are now infecting cross-species, notably us. The 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 100 million came from a pig infected with bird flu and human flu simultaneously, as DNA has sternly pointed out a century later. And not only has modern farming priced out the smaller landholders, it’s also forced them into wildlife hunting (or farming) as seen in China and Africa, where the last homestead on the left, just outside the jungle, is baiting what comes out of it. This is especially worrisome in the Global South due to the higher temperatures, which make them deadlier to humans. One of the main reasons bats are such a vector is that the newly transferable viruses are especially resilient to surviving the cooking of a human fever, thanks to the high body temperatures of a furry, flying, madly flapping mouse that covers hundreds of sq km of microbial gardening each night. We really shouldn’t get near the fuckers.

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I’ve also been reading, today my usual collection of Lonely Planet/ Rough Guide travel books from the comfort of an armchair. These guides provide a convenient summarisation of all the best of a given country, culture and cuisine can offer, though of course now they can be shelved under the SF and Fantasy sections, possibly Mythology. India is the current tome, reading up on the carved lakehouses of Srinagar, rife with touts and scams, though studded with ornateness straight out of a storybook -the closest to an Alpine city you’ll get. The 1.5 million inhabitants share convergent evolution of architecture similar to fairytale Europe – multi-storeyed, decorated wooden houses with steep sided rooves to slide off the snow, plus a plethora of the aforementioned houseboats. These are graded between the floating palaces replete with chandeliers and centuries old chintz to the cobbled-together pirate ships redolent of sleaze. Oh and I remember from a friend who spent a time out there on his way into Pakistan, that weed grows everywhere like, well a weed.

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A is now looking up on the birth of the Renaissance on his tablet, alongside what I glimpsed as the wiki page on Kandinsky, J making notes on the tax breaks in Jersey, alongside the science of the unseen worth of an object. I think we’ve reached that episode of Groundhog Day where we start to improve ourselves for wont of anything to do. We may want to write a treatise on nihilism soon, after that arthouse Italian flick. It’s an ode to Nietsche’s genealogy of morality, with an edge-of-seat climax of a rape victim eating a meal of nails, or the bit where the guy wanks off with a severed hand. There really is a whole genre of horror arthouse in the 1970s I had no idea about, a bit like Swan Lake’s little-known Human Centipede seg, if you’d stayed awake. It’s called Salo, 120 Days of Sodom btw, if you fancy something to watch over tea, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom Maria Callas was so inspired by she became his stalker, trying desperately to convert him from 15 year old boys.

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This morning I’d gotten a pretty miserable start, scrolling through the news and getting into arguments, as everyone knows bickering over say, Britain’s shocking roles in the 1907 Constitutional Revolution of Iran plus a sideshow on your ‘horrible pathogens and pangolin stews’ will set you up grand for the rest of the day. They say when you argue with idiots noone can tell you apart. I’ll need that tattooed on my hands as reminder, helpful before I type, punch or press the trigger. Why are right wingers just so toxic, and frankly underhandedly supremacist, in the racist-we-hate-darkies-and-Jewslims-T-shirt-wearing kind of way, in the you-deserve-to-die-because-you-can’t-afford-healthcare-kinda-way?

Why does a side so conspiratorially side with every issue presented? Why do hundreds of millions of female Trump voters denounce the right of choice, or their whole aged demographic wake up one day and feel free healthcare an assault on their freedom, and those outdoorsy voters in rural communities think saving the planet a sudden traitorous conspiracy, ready to shoot Pee Pee the Panda in her face as it’s her fault she can’t shag? Does political chauvinism so overshadow personal choice? How can democracy be proud of ignorance, and believe it equal to knowledge, usurping even the act of learning /enlightenment itself? Once again, arguing with such superstition makes you as ridiculous.

 

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I can see The Right issuing a new edict on say, the colour orange, or say, the act of stapling an envelope being a sign of tree huggin’, lefty, Commie-courting, gun-hatin’, minority-lovin feminazism, and that gold (especially the General Motors variety) and saliva (specifically the C-19 impervious variety) is of the great and good.

Imagine the Great Orange Dolphin that is POTUS, quietly closing the Press Room doors then leaping (backflip) into a bubbling jacuzzi-vat of poppers. He knew from the start evil Orange was the new Black. Yes. He’s never had that colour touch him. No. Tweeting vids of himself licking jiffy bags suggestively, to a chorus of congratulatory shares and an army of forum posting, flag waving, sign posting supporters. Hundreds of millions of them, claiming how orange was written in the Bible as the colour of the damned, how staplers were spotted trying to kill a Bald Eagle, and were first invented in Eye-ran.

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I fell asleep again after a few hours of that, awoke again nearly at 3pm. Lunch at 7. Says it all, when losing track of time is losing grasp of society, when obsession isn’t countered nor measured against. J has fallen asleep on the sofa for most of the afternoon; his spirit animal being the panda for sleeping so much, and his room rumoured to be an armoire of the stuffed variety. Just as mine is currently the sloth, if sloths were antsy (covered in ants perhaps). I feel animals are getting their own back, unintentionally. Or Mother Nature’s real; I imagine like Queen Latifah with lightning.

 

In another world, and one that glowers outside there is a global disaster unfolding. My daily reminder, that is becoming a cliché in this diary. I honestly feel guilty, and callous if I don’t mention the fact, like people taking selfies on a vista as others go over the edge. The world is becoming small again, from the confines of the flat, the four walls that face off that there is anything remotely relevant outside, and so winningly concrete in their obliteration. For a while now it had been the opposite -a haphazard existence of inside looking out. As if the small box rooms are extensions of the self -similar to driving, when the car becomes a body navigating on a broader perspective. But this time on a vast global exterior, projected into our tiny living rooms of live feeds, climbing counters and horrifying headlines from further and further afield, yet closer and closer to home. We’ve not opened the windows today, the only reminder being the howl from outside.

Perhaps we are as blind as those Trump voters, sticking our heads in the sands against personal stance (and which us lefties are just as guilty), and hoping for the best while the target marks on our arse start to glow. What exactly happened to my community spirit a few days before, ebullient in giving, that’s now decayed into a bed-tied existence with more scrolling? Perhaps for another day, for another to care about.

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In South Africa the flagrant disregard for the quarantine in some parts is seeing the army enter Jo’burg townships, where the poor would effectively be imprisoned in single room shacks for months, and why so many ignore the curfews. Where desperation and situation make a breeding ground for social unrest as well as infection. We, who have a choice of rooms, of outlets and viewpoints, yet blinkered in our existence are not that different after all, even if we are staying inside. Try sitting in your bathroom for two months and see if your stance changes, if your extensions of concern pervade beyond the walls or your body does the talking (and walking). Anyhoo, I’d choose the bedroom, chained as I am right now. Can’t even be arsed to make dinner.

Sometimes there’s nothing more to say, things are as is. It’s cold, it’s remedial, and people outside are dying, as they’ve always done.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 11

Saturday, 28th March

 

Another Bad one.

Wind blowing, grey skies, disaster.

  1. Burnt the lunch, smoke billowing, flat stinking. Pan a write off.
  2. Opened the windows, the blinds came out of socket and the frame collapsed.
  3. Cannot write, stuck on the book that I’ve rewritten into a corner with. Never, ever, ever turn round and try and change tense. Easier if you start from scratch again. I’m just 80,000 words too late.
  4. Lost my wallet. Searched the whole house, emptied every drawer, bag and pocket, stripped the sofa, wardrobe and bed, then did it again. Canceled cards.
  5. Went shopping with borrowed cash, took some pics. New phone won’t synch them no matter what.

In other news, thousands of people are dying outside. Italy has surpassed the 10,000 mark in deaths, over 3x that of China, while Spain is now at 5,700, tombstones whose shadows still loom. Some are saying Italy’s high rate is due to the skewing in the demographics, with one of the world’s most aged societies, while others posit the country’s high end healthcare has artificially kept the populace alive beyond their natural end. And now overrun the disease is all it takes to finish the job. Other sources point toward the testing regimen, or lack of one, and that many, many more are unknowingly infected. Thus the death toll -currently at 10% -seems higher than it is. That virulence is docile.

Coupled with the horror is increasing public unrest, where people holed up too long and out of pocket (3 weeks and counting) are now breaking into shops for goods. China too witnessed a riot, where hundreds of Hubeians massed at the border with Jiangxi were delayed as both sides argued over who was to do the checkpoint testing (China operates an automated health app for every citizen phone), till police cars were being set upon and overturned. China averages about 200,000 ‘mass incidents’ annually, or about 550 per day as a norm (down from 5x that number in 2007). Either way, it looks like two months is approaching the limit for an authoritarian state, and half that for a libertine one. It remains to be seen what plays out in a US lockdown.

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In India the world’s largest, most encompassing lockdown is now threatened by millions of migrant workers. Although shelter is being provided in the stations and public buildings, alongside free food, a large percentage are still desperate to return home, some embarking on foot for journeys of hundreds of miles. The need of home, of food, of employment, money and semblances of normality is something humanity shares as the world starts to fracture without commercial life. We’ve designed all our societies around this.

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Outside I witnessed my first major queues -Asda looked like a 40 minute ordeal, snaking around the car park, while the giant Boots warehouse was either overtly spreading out its custom, or there were far too many of the sick ransacking it for medication. Even Whole Foods had ten people waiting outside, while Lidl operated no outside queueing, and was moderately busy once in. The streets were the same gunslinging noons, the few pedestrians silhouetted into blankness in the sun. The former shops appeared surreal as reminders of a bygone era.

 

 

The day was tough, harried by self doubt and technicalities, plus the usual burden of tasks and worries. Worries for others, for the outside world, for the endless bureaucracy of the 21st century. From composing claims from multiple email channels, to synching devices and wifi coverage, from aligning margins to uploading data on a compromised OS. Bypassing card payments to future-proofing replacement deliveries, via securitised codes. I see visions of a different time, when people spent time, slow time with each other, talking without devices, looking without lenses. When was the last time a sitting room was used for two people to just sit?

Attempted to watch Hitchcock’s The Birds, a vision of pastel suspense and porcelain beauty so far removed, where all of that was evident. In the way people talked and interacted, smoking in the sun or across from coffee tables, chatting at communal bars or intimating at counter tops. All so civic, and civilised, before the impending doom. I would have enjoyed more the growing, brooding skies as the feathered furies began to roost menacingly, but the streaming kept pausing, probably due to the high traffic. I do wonder without streaming services what our society would do -mass incarceration leading to meditative insight, or bag of bats madness. I imagine the latter. It’s practically a public service, a lifeline involving frontline staffing and emergency powers. Thank god we don’t have guns.

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The Birds was preceded by Michael Moores new docudrama, Fahrenheit 11/9 (not to be confused with 9/11), on the rise of Trumpist demagogues and the complicit failures of the Democrat demigods, notably a jawdropping skit of an Obama speech, in which he drinks the toxic tapwater from Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown poisoned by lead, as befitting of their corrupt senator), to the horror of the townsfolk. How the scales fall from our eyes.

Film tonight ended with Groundhog Day. Nuff said.

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