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WesRecs

Vol. #76 - April 23, 2021

Hello hello hello! I hope you're surviving and thriving after another mad week in America. I've been busy, the country's been busy, I'm tired, we're all tired. But we forge on! While I have zero confidence in the present state of the American criminal punishment system I am a bit relieved that the nation is not literally burning at this moment...so there's that. The weather is slowly getting downright summery, vaccines are getting in arms, and gradually life is opening up here and there. Some bad, some good, some wtf, some awesomeness. Anyway, short intro this week after last week's marathon post-vax debrief. Plenty of cool finds this time around, I do hope you enjoy them and thanks for being here!

As ever:
If you're newer to WesRecs thanks for being here. As I've often said: this is a compendium of the stuff I've come across (or remembered) in the last week that I think you might dig. It's long. I recommend perusing here and there, spending time with what interests you at a given point and maybe saving or coming back to what you might be interested in down the road. Some of it’s really serious, some of it’s fun & dumb. Go with what you feel, subscribe if it's something you like, and thanks again. I love you all. 
My mom sent me this blast from the past. The author's blurb from a "book" I wrote in 3rd grade if I remember correctly.

Steak AND lobster??? Who the hell did I think I was back in '92.

I always have liked the finer things though...

Seriously considering using this as my bio in future dating profiles and seeing how I fare.
WesRecs is the weekly newsletter where I (comedian/storyteller/TV Host) Wes Hazard recommend a bunch of cool content (recs) to YOU (the person reading this). There's no particular reason for this other than the fact that I love curating stuff and I'm always excited to share items that I personally have found worthwhile, exciting, or necessary. If you like what you see please be sure to subscribe to get each week's edition delivered straight to your inbox and if you know someone else who might be into it definitely share with them. You can check out all past issues HERE.

THE BEE'S KNEES

As this newsletter's title would indicate, I recommend everything you'll find below. It's all stuff which I've personally found rewarding this week and I think you will too! But for the benefit of all you skimmers out there here are links to a few items that I'm happy to briefly highlight for you. You can find more detailed commentary/context below:

Understand
a mind blowing hard sci-fi short fiction masterpiece

The best lightweight title bout you'll see all year
a boxing match

The Gift of Death
we make too much useless crap and it's killing us

WES Around the WEB

F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K
F O L L O W on T W I T T E R F O L L O W on T W I T T E R
F O L L O W on I N S T A G R A M F O L L O W on I N S T A G R A M
VISIT my WEBSITE VISIT my WEBSITE

Race & Policing

Towards The Reduction Of Harm

Some most excellent advice & alternatives for our society's most common knee-jerk reaction when there seems to be "trouble".

Very rarely is any tense/difficult/confrontational situation improved by introducing armed agents of the state with a license to kill, whose only allegiance is to property and who have a demonstrated disregard for the lives of the poor, mentally ill, or non-white.
Aching for Abolition - The Cut (2020)

CW: Sexual Abuse

If you introduce an American to the notion of prison/police abolition for the first time there is an extremely good chance that they will find it ludicrous, impractical and irresponsible. You really can't expect otherwise from someone born and raised in a culture awash in COPS, Law & Order, Police Academy, & McGruff the Crime Dog since before they were born. And there's a very good chance that they hit you with the "what about the rapists and murderers???" question too. It's all understandable and people advocating for abolition need to expect it, accept it, and have responses available. One of those responses is that our current system doesn't actually do very well for the victims and families of those who commit murder or rape. Here's a touching piece by a sexual assault survivor talking about her own experience and her own journey to the abolition movement. An excellent read.
 
The problem with our criminal-justice system isn’t just that it lacks a regenerative intent — it also lacks a restorative intent. It has no interest in providing healing to the victim or the person causing harm. It is not interested in understanding or mitigating individual harm but in criminalizing harm and capitalizing on the fiscal benefits of punishment. It presents as retribution for the victim, but it returns nothing to the individual. The system feeds itself, and feeds off of the existence of harm — and so, by design, it can have no vested interest in reducing it.


If we wanted to protect rape victims and serve survivors, our systems would attack harm and its causes at the root. It would center its solutions in harm reduction, in transformative justice, in restorative processes of accountability, and move away from punitive solutions that do nothing to stop assault from happening. A commitment to ending harm is a commitment to providing housing, food, employment, free education, extensive, trauma-informed mental-health care. We would choose comprehensive gun reform instead of hyperpolicing our schools and streets and places of worship. Punishment does little to deter “crime.” What would have deterred my cousin from harming me is community. What would have deterred him was to have his mother alive and not killed by drug addiction. What would have deterred him was to never have experienced his own assault as a child. What would have deterred him was stability. What would have deterred him was care.

...

For years, I hid from publicly announcing my belief in prison abolition because I felt like I had insufficient answers to my own questions. It wasn’t until this winter, when I gingerly asked an abolitionist friend, “What do you think replaces the criminal-justice system?” and she said, “Nothing replaces it,” that I said out loud, with my own mouth, “Nothing replaces it.” It’s not the answer that is inadequate but the question itself.

Things Read

Worthwhile Words

I cannot stop thinking about a short story/novelette that I read earlier this week, Understand by Ted Chiang.

The week before last I was on a long walk and needed a podcast. I dropped into the recent episodes of the ever reliable Ezra Klein Show to see what what dope new interviews with deeply interesting people happened to be available, and came across this one with Ted Chiang, the much lauded sci-fi author who I'd not only never read but had never even heard of. My bad there because I've found his work to pretty incredible in the time since (he wrote the short story that 2016 Hollywood movie Arrival is based on btw). The interview covered how far away humans are from developing AI, what outr inital iterations of it might look like, how bad we're likely to treat sentient artificial intelligence if we ever do develop it (based on our less than compassionate treatment of animals), how actual superheroes would almost have to be tyrants, and why our fears of AI takeover are actually rooted in our fears of capitalism. It was a great conversation in its own right and I absolutely recommend checking it out. No prior knowledge of Chiang's work is necessary but you'll probably be intrigued. I for one made an immediate detour on that very walk to head to a bookstore and picked up his 2002 short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others. I'm not finished it with it yet but it's batting a thousand so far and like I said one piece in the collection has already blown my mind.

I won't link to the Wikipedia page for Understand here because if you're interested in it I wouldn't want you to know much about it at all before reading it. Instead if you're inclined just enjoy the discovery. But to give an extremely basic overview it calls to mind both Flowers For Algernon and Limitless in that it's a story about a man who through experimental medical intervention suddenly develops super intelligence making him more or less the smartest person on the planet. The government wants him as a lab rat, he doesn't want that, conflict ensues.

The story is told entirely in his mind and what the writing does so well (aside from teasing out the realistic implications of what would happen if you suddenly became so smart as to regard the thought of Aristotle and Einstein as limited and juvenile) is to change subtly in style as the character's mental capability starts to outstrip the limits of the human, becoming more compact, making greater/ faster leaps between ideas, and giving you a very real sense of just how far and fast he's evolving.

It's hard to describe but the story is interesting as all hell and the writing is perfect for it, and I've been thinking about it every day and this was like the 2nd story in the book so I'm pretty damned excited about what's next.

I haven't been able to find copy of the story in print online, but def grab the book if you're interested. Alternatively there's a dramatic audiobook style reading of it available in four parts here which I think will work just as well (especially since the story consists entirely of one person's thoughts).
 
Of course, I actually experience for fewer emotions that I could; my development is limited by the intelligence of those around me, and the scant intercourse I permit myself with them. I'm reminded of the Confucian concept of ren: inadequately conveyed by ""benevolence," that quality which is quintessentially human, which can only be cultivated to interaction with others, and which a solitary person cannot manifest. It's one of many such qualities. And here am I, with people, people everywhere, yet not a one to interact with. I'm only a fraction of what a complete individual with my intelligence could be.

I don't delude myself with either self-pity or conceit: I can evaluate my own psychological state with the utmost objectivity and consistency. I know precisely which emotional resources I have and which I lack, and how much value I place on each. I have no regrets.

[Art by Diego Cadena Bejarano]
The Gift of Death - The Guardian (2012)

The global capitalist economy is by nature dedicated to growth. New markets, new products, new parts of nature to extract from, new cheap labor to devour. That's bad enough, but what's worse is that so much of that expansive rapaciousness is devoted to the production of...crap. Mass produced trinkets and baubles that are bought, "enjoyed" (or just laughed at) for a day or a week and then forgetten about and discarded. Go into any drawer or closet in your house, you will almost certainly find something that you haven't even thought about or looked at in a year, but once upon a time it was shiny and new, either a gift or an an impulse buy or a curiosity that ultimately has had no real purpose in your life. We all have a lot of those things. One day we'll be buried under them.
 
Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).

But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

...

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

...

World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.
The Girl in the Kent State Photo - The Washington Post Magazine

Wow. I first learned about the 1970 Kent State Massacre (wherein 4 students were shot dead by Ohio National Guard troops during a peace rally in opposition to the Vietnam War) when I was in 8th grade social studies class. It was presented as a horrible and senseless tragedy that helped galvanize the nation against a horrible endless war that had grown out of control. I think Ms. Reichhgott even played a a part of the CSNY response song Ohio. So, in my mind, from day one, the events at Kent State were a tragedy perpetrated by, at best overly zealous and at worst utterly callous, agents of the state against peaceful kids protesting an unjust war. I had thought that was the mainstream national consensus from day one as well.

Not so. Because remember: America is always going to be America.

This article enlightened me to the fact that A LOT of people immediately thought that the murdered students were the instigators, that they deserved what they got, that they were at fault for making the brave national guard troops carry out an awful duty, etc. (Sounds chillingly familiar, no?)

This is the story of the young woman (only 14 at the time) who is seen in the iconic photo of that event and of it kind of ruined her life for a long time afterward, and of the photographer who made his career and earned a Pulitzer from it, def worth read.
 
John Filo was a senior at Kent State in May 1970, a student photographer who almost missed out on covering the protests because he’d been in the woods taking pictures of teaberry leaves for his senior thesis that weekend. All the other photographers on the student paper had assignments from out-of-town papers, so John, 21, was working in the newspaper office to help process their pictures. On his lunch break, he grabbed a camera and stepped outside. He went straight toward the action, where a student in the no man’s land between soldiers and students waved a black flag. John snapped a photo thinking, “Okay, I’ve got my picture.” A moment later, the soldiers formed a rifle line. “I put my camera to my eye and trained it on one of the soldiers,” he says. “He aimed toward me, and then his gun goes off. The next thing I know, a bullet hits a tree next to me and a chunk of bark flew off.”

...

Back in Kent, Ohio, local business owners ran an ad thanking the National Guard. Mail poured in to the mayor’s office, blaming “dirty hippies,” “longhairs” and “outside agitators” for the violence. Some Kent residents raised four fingers when they passed each other in the street, a silent signal that meant, “At least we got four of them.” Nixon issued a statement saying that the students’ actions had invited the tragedy. Privately, he called them “bums.” And a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their own deaths; only 11 percent blamed the National Guard.

The FBI also questioned John. They demanded his film, he says, and when he refused, he remembers them tailing him for nearly a week. He says his phone rang nonstop with crank callers insisting that the photo was fake. He got hate mail, including a letter that, as he recalls, read, “I had a friend die in Vietnam. You’re next.”
...

Back in Opa-locka, Mary Ann couldn’t go to Royal Castle for a burger without reporters and hecklers following her. Death threats filled the Vecchio family mailbox. “It’s too bad it wasn’t you that was shot.” “What you need is a good beating until you bleed red.” “I hope you enjoyed sleeping with all those Negroes and dope fiends.” “The deaths of the Kent State four lies on the conscience of yourself.” At 14, she was a human flashpoint, her face on magazine covers, posters and handbills. The humor magazine National Lampoon ran a fake ad for a Kent State playset, complete with toy soldiers, protesters and “1 kneeling student.” And not that long ago, the Onion ran a satiric news story calling a loss by the Kent State basketball team a “massacre.” Mary Ann’s face is photoshopped onto the body of a cheerleader, kneeling over a fallen basketball player.

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

What The Hell Are Livestock Auctioneers Actually Saying? - Vice News

Problematic as it is, I eat and enjoy beef. That does not mean that I have much interest in the world of bovine husbandry or cattle sales. But performative and competitive talking??? Well that, quite frankly, is my absolute jam and will watch pretty much anything on pretty much any facet of it and that brings me to the fast-paced and mildly exciting work of livestock auctioneering competition.

We've all seen enough clips of this in movies and TV shows to have a stock idea of what these guys (and it's all guys that I've seen) do and sound like. They talk really fast, in an almost sing-song lilt, punctuated by numbers, as they try to drive up the bids from a group of assembled farmers for whatever cow they're talking about.

You don't understand 9 out of every 10 words but the buyers do and those hands go up and eventually a gavel comes down with a "SOLD to the gentleman in the black hat" or whatever. It's a definite talent to be able to do that effectively. All eyes and ears are on you, you're dealing with people's money, you're trying to sell something, and these sales happen very infrequently (the cattle sale documented here happens exactly once a year, so a there are pretty high stakes).

This was helpful in getting a better sense of what these guys are actually saying (it's really just prices and a few repeated filler words based on the personal preference of the auctioneer). The auctioneer competition includes an interview section so these guys, beyond being salesmen, need to actually know a lot about the state of the cattle business. Guys with deep voices tend to fare better. Cowboy hats seem to be a must. This world is, from this video at this competition, exclusively white. Interesting stuff.
Vasily Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez. Full Fight HD.

I'm a more than casual / less than fanatic fight fan and in the past few years, with some exceptions, I've generally found boxing to relatively moribund relative to MMA. Premier bouts of actual interest and championship importance are rare, the best people in each division who the fans most want to see face each other can frequently go years without the match being made, if it happens at all (we're still waiting on Anthony Joshua Vs. Deontay Wilder, meanwhile Mayweather vs. Pacquiao happened years after each fighter was in their prime), and the biggest news as of late has been a YouTube star beating up on 2nd tier UFC fighters and former NBA players. That's certainly not to say there's nothing happening in boxing, it's just very very far removed from its stature when I saw my first fights as a kid in the 80s and 90s.

This however, is an exceptional match. It's from last October and features 2 lightweight champions squaring off for an undisputed 4 belt title. That's already great but the fighters themselves are such a great pairing to watch. Teofimo Lopez, the American 23 year old, with consistenyly proven knockout power* and a huge frame for the lightweight division, pressing the attack from note one and totally dominating the first part of the bout vs the Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko a smaller and more careful with some of the best movement I've ever seen who weathers the onslaught and then turns it on in the back end. I won't spoil the ending for you but it's so dope to see them both adapt, and erupt when they really need to, and to see how big the stakes are for both. If you haven't watched boxing in a while you can do a lot worse than this.

*Speaking of that knockout power: I hadn't really heard of either of these fighters before last night but I found this compilation video of Teofimo Lopez knockouts and just....damn. This dude is an undertaker, which is insane given that he's in the 135lb weight class. I'd say don't watch this if you're squeamish about dudes getting absolutely leveled by head punches but it's amazing to watch this dude work. He's great, he knows it, and his is exuberant (with a guaranteed backflip) in victory. Pay special attention to the focus and intensity of his eyes at about 2:21 when he's about to land the 2nd punch in a thunderous KO combination.
Sailor Rations - Stockfish Aboard Ship

Right up top: this video is probably of marginal interest to most people but if you're interested in 18th century food preservation techniques for long-haul ocean voyages and you like cod, this just might be for you. I've included videos by the historical YouTube personality Townsends here in WesRecs before. The man loves the 1700s and cooking and sharing knowledge and I'm so happy for him for having apparently discovered his true calling in life with these videos. He does the research, he wars the clothes, he uses the period tools and he always looks thrilled to be sharing with his audience.

In this video he discusses and prepares a typical 18th century sailor's meal which is basically a stew of dried fish, potatoes, dried bread, salt and pepper. It looks better than that description might indicate. It's crazy to see the ingenuity of people who needed to feed a giant crew of sailors on a boat that might be on the open water for 3 or 4 months straight, it's a logistical and culinary marvel and I would def try this stew if offered.
The Bright Sessions (podcast)
S1 E3
PATIENT #13-A-3 (CHLOE)

Oh boy. This. But instead of a choir of "angels" it's just one guy...who is really just a much more intense version of your own self.

My My My.
Random Viewing

Things Made

By My Own Hand

I wrote another historical factoid piece for the newsletter of the Black led Brooklyn food co-op that I joined this year and once again I'm sharing it with you here.

-------

It's always interesting to look back and see the ways in which white American power structures in the food space have both relied upon the Black labor citizens while also limiting opportunity. Here we have a poster from 1918 seeking "patriotic colored men and women" in North Carolina to join "Uncle Sam's Saturday Service League", an effort by the land-grant universities of North Carolina & the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to boost food output in support of the war effort during WWI.

The document here speaks to the economic and production power of Black North Carolinians (flatly laying out statistics for how their donation of a Saturday afternoon of agricultural work could ensure a wartime food surplus for the state). However the poster fails to address the various ways in which the Black population that was being asked to give its sweat and time was simultaneously being denied opportunity by the very institutions making the request. (Not to mention the irony of a state where about 1/3 of the population had consisted of enslaved Black people working on farms and plantations before the Civil War asking the descendants of those slaves to work for free in support of a different war 60 years later....)

For context: In 1914 the federal Smith-Lever Act was passed creating a number of cooperative extension services across the country. In these programs the USDA, the state government, and local governments would work together with land grant universities in order to educate state populations (especially rural ones) about trends in agriculture and related fields. Extension agents and agricultural specialists would travel to farms and homes in order to offer training and consultation in topics such as increasing crop yields, starting home vegetable gardens, canning & preservation, equipment maintenance, etc.

In North Carolina the Extension program did serve both Black and white populations but was of course segregated with white agents sent to white areas and Black agents sent to Black areas of the state. As Black people in North Carolina were prohibited from attending all but one of the public agricultural colleges there was a frequent under-supply of specialists to assist them. Of the two universities named on this poster the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (today's NC State) did not admit Black students until being forced to do so in 1956 in light of the Brown Vs. Board of Education ruling. The other one, North Carolina A&T State University (originally Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race) had been founded specifically so that white North Carolinians could prevent Black students from enrolling at NC State. And of course, any Black men who wanted to aid the war effort even more by actually enlisting found themselves the victims of discrimination and segregation in the armed forces of the time.

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

jusqu'au bout, adv
[ JUICE - ko -boo ]

Meaning: To the end, to completion; spec. (of a conflict) to the bitter end; until a conclusive victory has been gained or all of one's aims achieved. Chiefly with reference to the First World War (1914–18)

Origin: A borrowing from French jusqu'au bout (1640 in †aller jusques au bout ) < jusque (preposition) up to (a limit), as far as (late 10th cent. in Old French as jusche ; < classical Latin usquam ) + au to the + bout end

Fun Facts

Trivia To Bend Your Brain

  • In the Spanish dub of Terminator II Ahnuld says "sayonara baby" instead of "hasta la vista baby".
  • The first speeding ticket in the U.S. was issued in 1899 to a NYC cab driver for going 12mph in an 8mph zone.
  • On 4/11/13 "Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead" from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack topped the iTunes music charts. It's suspected this was due to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's death 3 days earlier.
  • The letter "a" does not appear in the spelling of any whole number written in English until "one Thousand" (1000)
  • The world clownfish population decreased slightly after the release of the animated film Finding Nemo as many people were buying them as pets thus reducing the reproducing population in the wild.
Copyright © 2021 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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