Published June 2nd, 2018
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Welcome to THIS IS NOT A TEST, your monthly dose of fanciful tomfoolery disguised as entertainment. I am your humble and formidable host, Michael Phillips. Forgive the unusual sound of my voice, but I’ve been having throat issues. I believe they were brought on by my increased use of liquid helium as a recreational drug. I don’t advise or recommend it, but the high is something like mixing grain alcohol and intravenous psychosis medication. At least that’s what I’m told, and I always believe everything I’m told. Don’t you?
I do, I do. Just don’t believe everything you hear. Take a chainsaw to your preconceptions and forget everything you’ve learned, because it all comes down to this, and as you know, it’s not a test. Not sure what it is, but it’s not a test. I’m glad we could clear that up with a completely unclear and confounding wave of the royal hand. Speaking of the royal hand, there was some marriage over there recently, and once again I’m baffled, befuddled and beside myself that anyone in America gives a shit. Or anyone in Great Britain for that matter. But oh Jesus, the tsunami of “press.” Though I will admit to enjoying one in depth article about the various large and ridiculous hats that women wore to the ceremony. I’m not made of stone.
But as for royalty and the royal family, whichever royal family you’ve got to deal with, I really don’t understand. It’s such an outmoded, dusty, moldy thing, royalty. And they don’t even really run the country, do they? I don’t know, maybe they do. The only thing I care about less than British royalty is the British political system, so I’m not one to comment or complain. But come on, man. Royalty. In 2018. Princes and princesses, kings and queens. Aristocracy, knights, sirs, fellows, footmen, galley slaves, indentured servants – ah, the good old days. The sun never sets on the British Empire. Well, the sun doesn’t set very much north of the Arctic Circle either, but I don’t want to live there. And I don’t care about the queen of the North Pole. Well – if there was a queen of the North Pole she’d probably be a lot more interesting than the British one.
Speaking of kingdoms, have you ever heard of the Kingdom of Nye? Nye is an 18,000 square mile patch of dust in Nevada, west of Las Vegas, and at the southern tip of Nye county, near the Nevada/California border, is a town called Pahrump. Which is more of a description of a noise or a sound than a town name, but there it is. Well, Pahrump and the Kingdom of Nye were home to radio guy Art Bell. Have you heard of Art Bell? Well, he died recently, which got me to thinking about him. He had a call-in radio talk show called “Coast to Coast AM” which was populated by anti-government fear-mongers and no shortage of genuine lunatics, discussing things like UFOs, area 51, crop circles, government cover-ups, chupacabras, reverse-speech, remote viewing, and every other kind of pudding-headed nonsense to be found under the “paranormal” umbrella.
Not really my thing, my cup of Earl Grey tea, you know, but in the early 1990s I was living in a 400 square foot cabin out in the remote high desert town of Joshua Tree, in a place that was right on the border of the 1,200 square mile Joshua Tree National Park. And the entertainment options out there, especially behind the mountain of boulders I was living next to, were limited to no TV and a handful of local radio stations. The radio stations played country music or what’s considered “classic” rock or oldies. I think there was an easy listening station too, if you were in an easy frame of mind. Since I wasn’t working a regular job when I was out there, I became sort of nocturnal, which happens to me when I don’t have to get out of bed in the morning to be somewhere. Well, one day at 2 or 3 in the morning I gave the radio dial a spin and came across Bell’s show.
I was riveted to the thing. It was fascinating in its utterly unapologetic weirdness and stupidity. I listened until it went off the air, then made a point to find it the next night. Just to see if what I’d heard was an aberration or an ongoing exercise in goofiness. It wasn’t an aberration, it was the same every night: one outlandish thing after another, each theory, story or “fact” more ridiculous than the next. Bell broadcast the show from his home, which was, at the time, a trailer in Pahrump. I think it’s safe to say that he never met a wild, improbable story that he didn’t like. When a caller would question whether he actually believed the crap on his show, Bell would say that he was no more than an impartial conduit for the theories and beliefs of the screwballs, but it was pretty obvious that he was a believer in just about everything on the show.
My fascination with the show probably wouldn’t have taken hold if I’d come across it in the city. I think it was heightened by the isolation I was in out in those remote desert surroundings. Shit gets spooky out there at night, no joke. 1,200 square miles of desert is kind of a different world, and when you sit out there at night when there’s no moon you hear a lot of things, and some of the sounds maybe you’ve never heard before, and they make you wonder what the hell is out there. Mountain lions used to walk casually past the house. Rattlesnakes were everywhere, tarantulas, all manner of dangerous poisonous creeping things, and being stuck in the middle of all that puts you in a different frame of mind after a while. But whatever the reason, I latched onto “Coast to Coast AM,” and it became my nightly entertainment.
It wasn’t just the topics that were entertaining, Bell was entertaining all on his own. He was kind of naive – I guess he’d have to be – but it always seemed like he was very close to some ridiculous, self-inflicted disaster. One night he signed off for a normal commercial break and never came back. The next day he explained that he had stepped out the door of the trailer and forgotten that the deck wasn’t there – it had been torn out and was being replaced or something – and he stepped out the door and tumbled into the darkness. But maybe better than that was the time – also during a commercial break – he always seemed to get in trouble during breaks – that he accidentally crazy-glued his lips together. Now, honestly, tell me you wouldn’t listen to a radio broadcaster who might glue his own mouth shut at any given moment. Of course you would.
There was no TV and very little radio out there in the desert, but I did have a computer, a phone line and a USRobotics 28.8k Sportster modem, so I had a connection to the Internet and the recently-born world wide web. That connection was about 3,500 times slower than a typical 100 megabit connection today, but that wasn’t a problem back then, since so much of the Internet was text based, like usenet. usenet was a collection of a bunch of topics – thousands of them, really – called newsgroups, and you carried on conversations in the newsgroups, in threaded messages, not unlike you’d do these days in a forum or on a social media post or wherever you carry on your online conversations. Well maybe not too surprisingly, there was a usenet group called alt.fan.art-bell, which was just what it sounds like, a place for fans of Art Bell’s show to communicate with each other.
But you know, “fan” is a funny word, because you can be a fan of something that you think is ridiculous, and a lot of the weirdos on alt.fan.art-bell, like myself, fell into that category. So it was what you might call a “contentious” place a lot of the time, with the fans of Bell’s goofiness and the absurdity of the topics talked about on his show sort of going head to head with the true believers. Near the end of 1995 I thought the group could use an injection of humor, or what passed for humor on usenet, so I started to post messages in the newsgroup where I claimed to be reporting from an old Airstream trailer located in Art Bell’s “compound.” They were not finely crafted, well written satire, just a bunch of dumb goofing around that portrayed Bell as a clueless, clumsy hillbilly, which he wasn’t, but like I said, he was most definitely naive and goofy. So the stories are just a wild exaggeration of the kind of unintentional entertainment and chaos that was Bell’s show.
Reading them now, the stories are dated and full of inside references that may not make sense anymore. Well, they never did make sense if you didn’t listen to the show. Anyway, in light of Art’s demise in April, I thought I’d dig the stories up and make them available again, as a kind of idiot tribute to an original character. And if he was nothing else, Bell was an original character. It’s always a drag to lose an original character, because they aren’t usually replaced. If you remember Art Bell and want to revisit the Airstream Chronicles, you can just Google “Michael Phillips airstream,” or go to fromtheair.stream. If you don’t know who the hell I’m talking about, there’s nothing for you there, so we should probably talk about something else.
I’m still looking for work, a process that can make you question all kinds of things about yourself, like, do I still have my mojo? Am I still scrappy? I don’t know the answer to either question, but I thought I did. The silence from the perspective employers would seem to indicate that I don’t have anything, mojo, scrap, desirability – though I know that to be false. A fallacy, a falsehood, and untruth of the most untruthiest kind. I know I can do all of the jobs I’m submitting myself for, and I’m pretty sure I can do them in ways that no one else can. That could be arrogance or it could be just a healthy recognition of who I am and what I bring to the proverbial table. And you do submit yourself, don’t you. As in submission. Hat in hand you present yourself to a flock of unimaginative wonky paper shufflers who wouldn’t know an original idea if it walked in waving one of those useless business degrees.
Actually that’s the only way they might recognize it, because they don’t have any creative vision. Which isn’t surprising, or shouldn’t be, since I spent the past 20 years in “tech,” and lived in a field that seems to run screaming from creativity, anxious to get in line behind everyone else, to follow and replicate and catch pennies – or billions if they follow the right thing. But few people in that industry know what the right thing is. They’re terrified and empty and looking for a savior to steer their ships to the promised land. Well, like I think I may have said before, I’m tired of selling, and at its core that’s what tech is. You thought it was all about inventing shit, didn’t you. It used to be, a long time ago. Now it’s all about selling variations of the same two or three tools.
So I have no idea where I’m going to land, or when I’m going to land, but I suspect it will be selling something for someone who’s selling something that 50 or 500 other joints are selling. But I suppose that’s all that’s left in a country that doesn’t make anything anymore, that hasn’t experienced any innovation or a creative cultural upheaval in many decades. We’re just a fat and lazy cover band now, reminiscing about the days when we used to be top of the pops. The wig is getting old and the knees are shot, we’ve got nothing left to offer, but then again, who does? I don’t see anything of any use or interest going on anywhere. I remember reading about the fall of the Roman Empire when I was a kid, but I never thought I’d be living in the same fall myself one day.
Well, here’s something else that may or may not have anything to do with crumbling empires or umpires: Colin Kaepernick. He was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, an American football team, and in 2016 he started to kneel during the traditional playing of the national anthem that happens before the start of football games. Every professional sport plays that song before their games – football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and probably other sports I’ve never heard of. I never understood why they did that, but what do I know.
I don’t know how “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is basically a song about defeating, crushing and demoralizing your enemy, whoever it happens to be at the moment, became our “national anthem,” but it was first played before a baseball game 100 years ago, so its tie to sports is very old. I also don’t know exactly why they played it at that game 100 years ago, but World War I, or the ending of World War I probably had everything to do with it. It isn’t surprising to hear a song celebrating war victory immediately after a war victory. But why it was wrapped up with sports and continues to be wrapped up with sports has nothing to do with righteous war victory, and more to do with the cynical political desire to wrap everything in phony patriotism.
If you don’t think political patriotism is phony, you haven’t been keeping up with the story of this country for the past, oh, 240 years or so. Politicians have always been about personal enrichment, and the enrichment of their families and cronies. Period, full stop, the end. Always. It’s become almost mind-bogglingly brazen and unapologetic in the past couple of years, since that orange mound of diseased pig flesh has been president. They talk patriotism, but they don’t care about patriotism. They talk religion and prayer, but they don’t care about religion. Not caring about patriotism or religion is fine and logical, but not caring about it while saying that you do, and using it as a tool of oppression, is hypocritical and vile. As all politicians are, I know, but we’re talking about phony patriotism at the moment, so I’ll try to keep it to that.
So yeah, sports. Well, Colin Kaepernick kneeled because he wanted to protest the murder of black folks by police. Which is also nothing new, but has also become more brazen and unapologetic in the past few years. Well, more than a few years, but it’s so bad now that black people are saying that they’ve had enough of it. That things need to change. Immediately. Of course black people have saying that for decades, and the establishment has ignored them for decades, which is why the establishment fights so hard against high-profile people who come out and say that things have to change. And you don’t get any more high-profile in this jock-obsessed country than an NFL quarterback.
The NFL owners are some sneaky cunts though, so they didn’t just fire Kaepernick when he started to rock their boat, instead, they just got together and agreed not to hire him, which is effectively the same thing as firing him. Or worse, since the owner of the San Francisco 49ers could have fired him, but another could have, and probably would have, hired him. But if everyone gets together and agrees to block you from employment in a business where there are only 32 companies, you’re fucked, aren’t you. And they didn’t just blackball Kaepernick, they blackballed other players that supported him and kneeled with him.
The United States is a country that was formed in protest, formed from protest, formed to escape oppression and kings and queens and their ransoms. But somewhere along the line, protest become distasteful in this country. Not only distasteful, but “unpatriotic,” which, among some people, is the lowest of insults. Disagreement with the status quo became cause to silence or just outright destroy or kill people. Whether it’s Malcolm X or some kids on a college campus protesting a war, it became open season on dissent. Which should trouble anyone who enjoys freedom or freedom of speech and expression, but somehow it doesn’t trouble the loudest proponents of quote unquote “freedom.” Doesn’t trouble them in the least. Love it or leave it, right? What a load of shit.
The people, and there are a lot of them, who watch professional football are split on the issue of kneeling in protest during a patriotic song, just like people are split on everything else. The side that doesn’t dig it so much propose firing professional athletes who refuse to stand during the song, or, as the president suggested, sending them back to Africa. Okay, he didn’t say that, but he said, “maybe [they] shouldn’t be in this country,” which is the same thing. I’m sure that seems logical to them, but think about that. Stripping someone of their job – or deporting them – because they won’t stand in reverent worship of a god damned song. Does that sound like democracy to you? Does that sound like the land of the free? The protesters aren’t pissing on the flag or poisoning grandma’s apple pie. They’re saying, “Hey, this song and the country it represents are up to some shit that isn’t right. How about we take a look at that.” But that message is made irrelevant when you make the issue out to be a “love it or leave it” kind of scenario.
Anyway, the reason I’m talking about this is because it’s fucked up, yes, but really because Amnesty International recently gave Colin Kaepernick something called the “Ambassador of Conscience Award.” Imagine you’re a company, which the NFL is, and Amnesty International is giving awards to the people who you are trying to get rid of. Amnesty International, a pro-human rights organization. Well, the NFL is as idiotic as the government, so they doubled down and passed a policy a few days ago requiring players to stand for the national anthem. The rule requires them to stand or stay in the locker room while the song is playing. To be hidden away so they can’t use their position to protest. I don’t think the NFL is too hip to how PR works these days.
Now if you were Colin Kaepernick, you’d probably be pretty mad these days, wouldn’t you. Justifiably. Which is what makes the speech he gave when he accepted the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award in April so great. He repeats “love is at the root of our resistance” a few times, and mentions love about dozen times. He quotes Malcolm X and James Baldwin, and basically tells the NFL, the government and everyone else, that he and everyone else protesting the current state of affairs won’t be silenced, that they aren’t going anywhere. It’s a great speech, so I want to play it for you. Listen to the whole thing it’s only about five minutes, you have time.
I don’t give a shit about football, but I love this guy. It takes an incredible amount of bravery and nerve to stand in defiance to any establishment, large or small, but what it takes to stand up against one of the most powerful ones in the world – well, I’m in awe of everyone out there standing up and saying they’re not going to take their country’s bullshit anymore. And it is their country, not just yours. Try to remember that the next time a politician tries to bait you into a position of hate using the American flag as a smokescreen and a cynical tool.
Colin Kaepernick’s speech at Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award, April 21, 2018
It is only fitting that I have the honor of Eric Reid introducing me for this award. In many ways, my recognition would not be possible without our brotherhood. I truly consider him to be more than a friend – Eric, his wife, his children – they are all a part of my family. Not only did he kneel by my side during the national anthem throughout the entire 2016 NFL season, but Eric continued to use his platform as a professional football player to protest systemic oppression, specifically police brutality against Black and brown people.
Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy. But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee, and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of Black and brown people in America, has also led to his ostracization from the NFL when he is widely recognized as one of the best competitors in the game and in the prime of his career. People sometimes forget that love is at the root of our resistance.
My love for Eric has continually grown over the course of our ongoing journey. His brotherhood, resilience, and faith have shined brightly in moments of darkness. My love for my people serves as the fuel that fortifies my mission. And it is the people’s unbroken love for themselves that motivates me, even when faced with the dehumanizing norms of a system that can lead to the loss of one’s life over simply being Black.
History has proven that there has never been a period in the history of America where anti-Blackness has not been an ever-present terror. Racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation–the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of Black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of Black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex. While America bills itself as the land of the free, the receipts show that the U.S. has incarcerated approximately 2.2 million people, the largest prison population in the history of humankind.
As police officers continue to terrorize Black and brown communities, abusing their power, and then hiding behind their blue wall of silence, and laws that allow for them to kill us with virtual impunity, I have realized that our love, that sometimes manifests as Black-rage, is a beautiful form of defiance against a system that seeks to suppress our humanity – a system that wants us to hate ourselves.
I remind you that love is at the root of our resistance. It is our love for 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was gunned down by the police in less than two seconds that will not allow us to bury our anger. It is our love for Philando Castille, who was executed in front of his partner and his daughter, that keeps the people fighting back. It is our love for Stephon Clark, who was lynched in his grandma’s backyard that will not allow us to stop until we achieve liberation for our people.
Our love is not an individualized love – it is a collective love. A collective love that is constantly combating collective forms of racialized hate. Chattel slavery, Jim Crow, New Jim Crow, massive plantations, mass incarcerations, slave patrols, police patrols, we as a collective, since the colonization of the Americas have been combating collective forms of systemic racialized hate and oppression. But I am hopeful. I am inspired. This is why we have to protest. This is why we are so passionate. We protest because we love ourselves, and our people.
It was James Baldwin who said, to be Black in America, “and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” My question is, why aren’t all people? How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates, “freedom and justice for all,” that is so unjust to so many of the people living there? How can you not be in rage when you know that you are always at risk of death in the streets or enslavement in the prison system? How can you willingly be blind to the truth of systemic racialized injustice? When Malcolm X said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” I took that to heart.
While taking a knee is a physical display that challenges the merits of who is excluded from the notion of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, the protest is also rooted in a convergence of my moralistic beliefs, and my love for the people.
Seeking the truth, finding the truth, telling the truth and living the truth has been, and always will be what guides my actions. For as long as I have a beating heart, I will continue to work on this path, working on behalf of the people. Again…Love is at the root of our resistance.
Last but certainly not least; I would like to thank Amnesty International for The Ambassador of Conscience Award. But in truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force. To again quote Malcolm X, when he said, “I will join in with anyone – I don’t care what color you are – as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth,” I am here to join with you all in this battle against police violence.