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WesRecs

Vol. #41 - August 14, 2020

Well Hello! If this is your first WesRecs: Hi! I'm Wes, these are my recs, I hope you enjoy them. If you're returning: first, thank you. And second, you probably notice that things look a bit different this week? I hope you like the facelift. I set out to make this week's the best WR yet, and part of that included a little visual spiffing up. We are ever evolving and I'm not sure how long I'll stick with this aesthetic but I do believe it's an upgrade. If you disagree (and especially if you find anything difficult to read) please don't hesitate to reply and LMK, I am always open to suggestion.

It's been a full week over here. In addition to trying to elevate literally every facet of ye olde newsletter I have also been working on my digital publishing skills, reading my first Octavia Butler novel (Parable of the Sower), getting back into analog collage (which has been a whole process), looking for remote part time work, and continuing to develop my charcoal grilling game. The chicken below was meant to have been roasted over a fire in the great outdoors (my landlord's back patio) but the weather didn't happen to agree that evening so it ended up in the oven. It was tasty but I missed the flames and that smoky flavor.
I have tended to, very randomly, give TV viewing updates in this space during the last few weeks, so in continuance I'll say that I'm still experiencing a viewing hangover from The OA (so much to think about and discuss!) but I've also managed to delve a bit into another Netflix sci-fi/fantasy fav of mine: the 2nd season of The Umbrella Academy. I don't think this is a great show, but it is very watchable and its music director deserves all the awards (seriously 1/6 of every episode is basically music videos with a semi-obscure-but-not-too-obscure forgotten hit being played over a montage of a knife fight or something). The first season had me entertained, if not overly emotionally invested, the second season is throwing down some feels for sure (seriously Robert Sheehhan deserves an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy for his work in ep 7 alone, and 5's threat to Diego??? chilling). Additionally PBS really threw down with their American Masters episode about Edgar Allan Poe. It's a nice lil hybrid of documentary, reenactment, voice over, talking heads etc. It was driving me crazy who one of the narrators was and it ended up being Kathleen Turner. Weird but I'll take it, and Poe is *perfectly* cast.

Viewing plans for the next few days include the 1993 drama Poetic Justice starring Janet Jackson AND Tupac Shakur. I remember this movie being on a lot around me when I was a kid but I had no interest then because...a romance movie for adults. That said I do remember the USPS and one of its trucks being an important plot element and as that hallowed organization is much threatened these days (see below) my interest has been kindled.

OK that's about it. catch you next week. As always, be kind to eachh other, I love you all.

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:

An empathetic look at our entaglement with fossil fuels

An utterly one-of-a-kind homage to bees

Vladimir Putin Speaking English is...weird
 

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

The Prez, The Post Office, and Election...Month?

Towards preserving American Democracy

Yo, we've speculated on it since 2016, we've dreaded the thought and dismissed it, we've told ourselves the Constitution, and hundreds of years of norms, and popular opinion, and basic human decency and political wisdom would save us, but nope, here we are. Donald Trump is straight up making (very public and self-acknowledged) moves to steal the 2020 presidential election. If you think this is hyperbole or a conspiracy theory or left wing fear mongering you are sorely mistaken. All the past cozying up to dictators, maligning the free press, ignorance of and disrespect for The Constitution, jokes about serving for life, getting away with brazen lies and crimes, etc have brought us here.

The president is publicly acknowledging that the USPS needs additional funding in order to cope with the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots expected to be required this year due to people declining to vote in person due to COVID-19 fears but that he is seeking to block this funding specifically because he does not want people to vote in this way....except in places where such voting is likely to favor republican candidates.

Trump blurts out his true motive on mail-in voting - The Washington Post

Folks, this is impeachable in itself (not that that that tyrant-nullifying tool is even useful in a situation such as ours where 1/3 of the government (or one half of one third more accurately) has completely abdicated its responsibility to check an executive with pretensions to absolute ruler status.

“Now they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he said. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

If you don't think the Post Office is being nakedly & intentionally stripped of its funds and effectiveness at this critical moment, it definitely is: And if you're somehow able to convince yourself that this kneecapping of the USPS (a Constitutionally mandated national resource) is not part of a plot to swing the U.S. election then at least spare a thought for all of the eBay/Etsy merchants with delayed outgoing packages, senior citizens waiting on medications, and workers/contractors waiting on paychecks that this is royally screwing over.

Again, the postal service is essential to more people and services in this country than you may ever realize. It needs to be funded and to work on time. It is not currently doing that due to very specific moves made by this administration, and they are making those moves primarily to prevent a huge number of citizens from voting. That is it, plain an simple. This cannot be allowed to stand, and if he should win due to this we need to be out in the streets. No questions.


 
Trump's postmaster general is playing with political fire - The Hill

GGG
 
"What the president cares about is a type of voting skewed to help him. In a recent interview with Axios' Jonathan Swan — the best Trump interview I've seen — the president appeared clueless that voting by mail (which he says is bad) and absentee voting (which he says is good) use the same vehicle: mail. Later he encouraged mail-in voting in Florida, after Republicans warned that his diatribes were backfiring in that state, while declaring it was bad in Nevada. When asked about the disparity, Trump emphasized that Florida has a Republican governor.

Go figure.

The charge by Trump and his attorney general that mail voting risks massive fraud is a canard. Spencer Cox, the conservative Republican Lt. Gov of Utah, who oversees voting in one of five states that exclusively votes by mail, says it's a "tremendous success" with little fraud."


What If Trump Won't Leave? - The Intercept

Great piece diagnosing the rightward swing of the Democratic party for the last 3 decades, the extremely high probability that Trump will not leave office should he lose the election, and what needs to happen if that ends up being the case.
 
"What must we be prepared to do if Trump questions the legitimacy of the electoral results and won’t concede defeat? We can learn what not to do from the disastrous 2000 election in which George W. Bush lost Florida and therefore the election to Al Gore but ended up taking the White House anyway. Republicans famously mobilized a “Brooks Brothers riot” of young white male campaign staffers, many flown in from D.C., to protest the recount and create an atmosphere of intimidation and chaos. Democrats dithered, mobilized no one, and played by Marquess of Queensberry rules. They naively relied on the courts and local election officials to validate Gore’s victory. The ultimate result of this pathetic Democratic strategy was not only a Bush victory but the Iraq War, the racist and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, and trillions of dollars of tax cuts for the rich."

...

"Politically, the Democratic Party has, for 30 years, triangulated, dodged, and capitulated to its ruthless opponents, and since its leaders are from that earlier generation schooled to cower, they will not adapt quickly now. The liberal establishment inside the Beltway will argue for sober analysis, moderate messages, following procedures, and, above all … for waiting. We must prepare to defy those milquetoast nostrums just as much as we prepare for Trump’s planned theft of the election. Overcoming complacency, rampant incredulity that “it could happen here,” and misplaced faith in norms, courts and elites may be our biggest challenges."

...


"So we should prepare now to respond — psychologically and strategically — to something akin to a coup. These are dark but plausible scenarios, and we’d be better off facing than avoiding them. The worst of all possible outcomes would be for a broad united front of anti-Trump forces to be caught flatfooted in the 72 hours after Election Day, stunned by his brazenness and gathering its wits. We must lay the groundwork now for the kind of mass action that defends democracy and evicts this despicable, racist, wannabe authoritarian from the White House. In so doing, we will remind ourselves that American democracy is not a set of institutions or rules or an event that happens once every four years; it is what everyday people do to participate in and shape the life of our country."

Race/Policing/Justice

Towards the Reduction of Harm

A Better World Is Not a Place, But a Practice: A Conversation with Judith Levine and Erica R. Meiners - LA Review of Books

People sometimes do horrible things and cause genuine harm to befall others. The current criminal punishment system does almost nothing to heal that harm or prevent future harm (to either the victim or the perpetrator). In fact the current system only perpetuates misery for victims, perpetrators, the families of both, and society at large. We can do better. We must do better.
 
"Q: Going against a social order based on domination, employing transformative possibilities to eliminate the “cops in our heads and our hearts” (as Paula Rojas put it in her 2007 book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded), and increasing the self-determination and autonomy of individuals and communities — all these important goals connect up to a major, overarching issue: the status of the state (carceral or not) as the ultimate power structure. Is working with the state and its formations an option for you or not?

A: MEINERS: As I write with the current privilege of employment at a public university, I see my work — for now — as the both/and. Both working inside some of the worst institutions in the carceral state (including prisons), and actively supporting and funneling resources to movements, networks, and organizations that are trying to organize and build “outside” the carceral state. We can’t yet cede the terrain of these punitive public institutions — prisons, jails, schools — in part because so many of our people are contained within them and don’t have the luxury to leave! In the prison — with many to keep us in check and accountable — we try to be in it but not of it. All of this work is by necessity collective, and while community brings new opportunities for some joy and for the transformative possibilities of mutual aid, collectivity is essential to engender rigor in the negotiation of any tricky inside/outside work. Institutions are seductive and they co-opt and absorb all of our radical collective demands! While this is my pathway — partially shaped by where I am grounded now and the movements and communities I am accountable to — this is not a universal prescription. Right now, we need people working across all sites — insurgents and builders, transformative justice practitioners, and people who can siphon resources and free others!"

 
60 enslaved people once toiled for a rich landowner in Medford. Kyera Singleton wants you to know who they were - The Boston Globe

(Img: Kyera Singleton, the new executive director of the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, sat on the staircase in the slave quarters.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

I lived in Medford, MA for a few years not that long ago and I spent my entire life in New England until fairly recently. It is very easy to grow up there and never learn about the area's slaveholding history. You get plenty of Plymouth Rock, and the Boston Tea Party, and a decent amount of the 54th Regiment but not so much about Massachusetts being a slave state until 1783. I myself didn't realize I'd been living not too far from former slave quarters until after I left Medford but thankfully it looks like this historic forgetfulness might be changing due to the efforts of the newest director of a museum focused on the house and history of one of the area's largest slave owners.
 
"At least 60 enslaved people lived here for years, working in the opulent mansion and on the more than 500 acres known as Ten Hills Farm.

Isaac Royall Jr. lived on the sprawling estate with his wife and children before fleeing to Nova Scotia on the eve of the Revolutionary War. He later set himself up in London and asked a friend to sell some of the enslaved people he counted as property. Royall left part of his fortune to Harvard, which led to the establishment of the Royall Chair, the school’s first endowed law professorship. His family crest was used as an element of the Harvard Law School seal until 2016, when it was finally abandoned amid protests by students and faculty."

...

“When we think about Northern slavery and we think about Massachusetts, people think about abolitionist history, and that’s true, but it’s both. There’s a history of slavery here.

...

The focus of the museum has not always been on these intertwined stories of wealth and servitude. For decades, the Royall House and the history of the family, headed by Isaac Royall Sr. and then by Isaac Jr., were the draw for visitors. Tours showed off the architecture, art, and furnishings with almost no mention of the enslaved people who made the lavish lifestyle possible."

Royall House & Slave Quarters Museum Website
A commitment to white supremacy will make you do some fool-ass things. This very short thread from one of my favorite Civil War historians on the web is a pretty excellent (awful) example.
Capitalism and the carceral state are connected at the root but there's still an infinite and fascinating number of ways that we can see it manifested. Here's a quick look at a number of products produced by big-name corporations specifically for use in prisons, jails, and other detention facilities as well as a discussion of how these technologies have shaped the market outside of the penal system.

A radio or music player is one of the most valuable things to someone who's locked up, helping them to stay connected to outside events and providing a small escape from the hell they've been sentenced to (and which undergirds our entire society). But in detention facilities these devices need to meet a number of security specs in order to be allowed by administrations. They can't be heavy enough to be easily used as a blunt weapon, their casings have to be clear so that drugs or weapons can't be hidden inside of them, they can't have removable screws, and their volume is either limited to be so low that a single person has to practically put their ear up next to it to hear (or else they have no external speakers whatsoever and you need headphones to listen).

Those are just the requirements of the jailers. For these items to be useful to the incarcerated themselves they also need to be highly durable, and have maximum power efficiency because commissary prices are beyond highway robbery and batteries cost money.

Multinational corporations such as Sony & RCA have created niche product lines specifically to satisfy these needs and it's interesting to see how the requirements of the penal system, and not the whimsy-seeking of hipsters, are what's carried cassette tape technology into the 21st century. Sure, cool kids affecting a retro vibe can walk into Urban outfitters and buy the album of the moment on cassette and a player to listen to it on, but the manufacturing capacity for those items still exists largely because of prison demand (cassettes are seen as a safer alternative to CDs since the shards of a smashed disc can be potential weapons), and if those items happy to be clear in color then you can rest assured it's just straight prison market surplus.

Watching this produced a lot of contradictory feelings (not least due to the host's jovial nature while describing a vast slave labor system). Like, we shouldn't have prisons so none of this stuff should be necessary. It's actually kind of chilling that the there are enough people in American jails and prisons (2.2 MILLION) to sustain a market for these products. At the same time, as long as we do have people locked up it's absolutely essential that we provide them with devices such as these and anything else that can help keep them connected to the world while easing the barbarity of their environment somewhat. As this video notes new developments in the field include prison-spec mp3 players, HD TVs, and tablets because capitalism gonna stay capitalizing.

I'd actually been introduced to this all a bit before back when I heard the "Loud and Clear" episode of the 99% Invisible podcast a while back which focuses on the enduring use of the cassette tape.

🎵To The Left! To The Left!🎵

On that Commie Pinko Tip

A Black Marxist Scholar Wanted to Talk About Race. It Ignited a Fury. - NYT


A Black Marxist scholar and activist recently had his speaking engagement with the DSA canceled due to the seentiment that he focuses too much on class/economics vs. race.

WHUT????

How is his message remotely controversial among that cohort?? This is like, baffling to me. OF COURSE racism is real and OF COURSE Black people in America have been victimized by it more than anyone from day one, and yes having to endure racism AND class oppression is materially worse than dealing with just class oppression, but I don’t understand how it’s even a question that racism *comes from* class oppression and is a tool for it, and that defeating class oppression and global capitalism is 100% necessary for defeating systemic racism.

This is not new. Modern (circa 1500) conceptions of race were developed as a means to legitimize colonialism and uphold the emerging global capitalist order. "Race" has no biological basis, it was invented in order to give the subjugation of entire peoples a scientific/theological patina so that they could be exploited mercilessly for the acquisition of ever more capital.

Racism needs to be acknowledged (constantly) and fought against, but as long as capitalism is the order of the day it will absolutely never be defeated. (I'm talking about systemic racism here of course. Interpersonal prejudice/tribalism based on something as stupid as the color of one's skin has been around since the dawn of time and will likely always be around in some form but I'm far more concerned about the disproportionate incarceration of Black youth or the massive Black/White health gap than I am about what anyone's dumbass uncle says at Thanksgiving dinner). Am I happy that Confederate statues are coming down or that Black animated characters can finally be voiced by by Black actors? YES. Does any of that shit matter as long profit obsessed oligarchs run every facet of the country as evermore people are left homeless, sick, imprisoned, food insecure, and lacking access to education and other basic needs? NO.

Race matters, in a HUGE way. But if we ever want to defeat racism Capitalism needs to go and any leader thinking otherwise is taking you down the wrong path.
 
"“An obsession with disparities of race has colonized the thinking of left and liberal types,” Professor Reed told me. “There’s this insistence that race and racism are fundamental determinants of all Black people’s existence.”"

...

"Professor Reed and his compatriots believe the left too often ensnares itself in battles over racial symbols, from statues to language, rather than keeping its eye on fundamental economic change.

“If I said to you, ‘You’re laid off, but we’ve managed to rename Yale to the name of another white person’, you would look at me like I’m crazy,” said Mr. Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin."

College-Educated Professionals Are Capitalism’s Useful Idiots - The Atlantic

Boris Johnson, the clownish prime minister of the UK often gets compared to Trump. He's brash, loves the spotlight, has weird & hideous hair, is deeply nationalist, and he makes fiery appeals to a reactionary "let's return to the (largely fictional) days when we we were awesome!" portion of his electorate. On the surface there's a fair amount of similarity. However to my mind there are two critical differences between both of these asshats that need to be remembered: 1.) On his worst day the Latin speaking, Oxford educated, former-magazine-editor Johnson is ridiculously more intelligent/well-read/worldly than 45 and 2.) On more or less any scale of either British or American politics Johnson (of the British "Conservative" party) is waaay to the left of Trump on most issues.

I say this to highlight the unbelievable skew in American politics where, of our only 2 mainstream & electorally meaningful parties, the one ostensibly on the left is a Neo-liberal, corporation-coddling, white-suburban-pandering group that's invited John Kasich to speak at its nominating convention and the one on the right is is basically Fascism-lite.

Where the hell did the Left in the U.S. go in the last 40 years? This article does an admirable job in trying to explain just that.

"In 40 years, the share of wealth owned by our richest 1 percent has doubled, the collective net worth of the bottom half has dropped to almost zero, the median weekly pay for a full-time worker has increased by just 0.1 percent a year, only the incomes of the top 10 percent have grown in sync with the economy, and so on. Americans’ boats stopped rising together; most of our boats stopped rising at all. Economic inequality has reverted to the levels of a century ago and earlier, and so has economic insecurity, while economic immobility is almost certainly worse than it’s ever been."

...

"Most liberals, like most Americans, preferred not to regard capitalists as categorically rapacious and amoral, or to imagine the U.S. political economy as a never-ending struggle in which everyone must ultimately choose between two sides. That seemed crude. They didn’t vote for Reagan, but most didn’t hate him, certainly not at first, because in their way they shared his dreamy faith in the 1940s Frank Capra movie vision of America. And to some degree, most liberals succumbed, like most Americans, to a new form of economic nostalgia that was being revived and popularized—the notion that market forces are practically natural forces with which we dare not tinker or tamper too much."

...

"The faction that was now dominant in the Democratic Party had been pushing for a more centrist economic and social-welfare policy since the 1970s, but the Republican Party after 1980 had no comparable moderating faction—which in a two-party system meant that Democrats kept moving toward a center that kept moving to the right."
 

Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse - Resilience.org

All convincing, all terrifying. Build communities, grow crops, educate yourselves.
 
"Difference #2:  Unlike past civilizations, the economy of industrial society is capitalist.  Production for profit is its prime directive and driving force.  The unprecedented surplus energy supplied by fossil fuels has generated exceptional growth and enormous profits over the past two centuries.  But in the coming decades, these historic windfalls of abundant energy, constant growth, and rising profits will vanish.

However, unless it is abolished, capitalism will not disappear when boom turns to bust.  Instead, energy-starved, growth-less capitalism will turn catabolic.  Catabolismrefers to the condition whereby a living thing devours itself.  As profitable sources of production dry up, capitalism will be compelled to turn a profit by consuming the social assets it once created.  By cannibalizing itself, the profit motive will exacerbate industrial society’s dramatic decline.

Catabolic capitalism will profit from scarcity, crisis, disaster, and conflict.  Warfare, resource hoarding, ecological disaster, and pandemic diseases will become the big profit makers.  Capital will flow toward lucrative ventures like cybercrime, predatory lending, and financial fraud; bribery, corruption, and racketeering; weapons, drugs, and human trafficking.  Once disintegration and destruction become the primary source of profit, catabolic capitalism will rampage down the road to ruin, gorging itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another."

How Green Was My Valley

On the Earth and its escalating crises

The City That Lived - The Baffler

Here we are with another installment of one of my favorite WesRecs genres: the book review of a book I haven't read! This time we have a look at an investigation into the highly probable and exceptionally hellish climate future of Miami, FL. A beach city built on a "Swiss cheese" aquifer smack dab in the middle of hurricane central. But wait, that's not all! It *also* is run through with staggering income inequality which means that when that sea-level start getting into the red (and it will) it's poorest and most vulnerable residents are sure to bear the brunt of the burden. As this review points out, contrary to most areas threatened by climate crisis the poorer residents actually tend to live in the slightly-less-threatened areas as of now...since billionaires tend to want beachfront property, but as things get worse less well off residents (frequently Haitians and Cubans) will be be displaced from their relatively safe neighborhoods by fleeing economic elites.

The maddening thing is that everyone knows this is coming. When it storms in Miami you already have a decent chance of finding salt water in your toilet or an octopus where you parked your car. Yet the housing market there is....doing pretty well??? And new developments continue to be built. Not bad for a city that may have to abandon a huge chunk of its area in the next few decades. As the article notes, a lot of this can potentially be explained by the fact that a fair amount of the beachfront/luxury property is basically a mass tax haven for absentee foreign millionaires and billionaires who will be covered by insurance in the event of catastrophic climate developments. All while their are homeless people in the streets right now and millions of other non-rich individuals that are going to be left (economically) high and dry when their homes get flooded. Ain't that America...
 
"In the course of his investigation, he bops around from court hearings to mangrove forests to nonprofit offices, consulting with dozens of different experts and advocates to get a sense of just how much time the city has left. The conclusions are about what you would expect: the city is going to fall apart, the poor are going to get hit hardest, and things are going to get very grim if the federal government doesn’t step in to help."

...

"As sea levels rise, the incoming water will not only roll over the beaches and into the streets but also creep beneath the surface of the city and its surrounds. In the Everglades, this intrusion of saltwater has already wrecked marshland ecosystems, introduced invasive species, and threatened the state’s water supply; in Miami proper it threatens to contaminate the city’s drinking water supply and overflow the septic systems that dispose of waste for tens of thousands of homes, with results that are better left to the imagination. Thus two or three feet of sea level rise, in addition to consuming the ritzy barrier island of Miami Beach and a number of low-lying neighborhoods and nearby towns, would render inoperable the infrastructure that makes life tolerable for even those residents who do live on high ground."

...

“...but there are more cynical reasons for believing in Miami’s survival: capital likes to get its money worth, and at some point transforming Miami will seem a more lucrative proposition than abandoning it altogether. As Sarah Miller wrote in an essay on Miami real estate for Popula, “There [are] just too many millionaires and billionaires here for a disaster on a great scale to be allowed to take place.””


I’m Sian, and I’m a fossil fuel addict: on paradox, disavowal and (im)possibility in changing climate change - Resilience.org

I didn't love all of this piece, but I loved a lot of it. It acknowledges a fundamental truth about about me, like minded people that I know, and society at large: no matter how much we admit the reality of climate change, and work to fight against it, our entire world is built upon the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. On the one hand that's obvious, of course electronics and internal combustion engines and all the other marvels of the modern age constantly surround us, but on the other hand, what exactly am I doing when I rail against it online and villainize CEOs and heads of state for their inaction. The very decice I am writing these words to you on is powered, ultimately, by fossil fuels and the materials that it's made of could only be extracted and molded by fossil fuels. The food I ate for lunch was transported to me with fossil fuels and the coolers that kept it fresh until I bought it were powered by fossil fuels, etc etc etc, you get the point. 

We should not simply acquiesce and say "welp whattaya gonna do?" and slink of into the climate night, but holding this, frankly, schizophrenic state of affairs right in front of us should help us to not only move away from such a destructive way of life but to also have understanding and compassion for those that we rage against in our shared plight. We cannot continue to move forward like we are, but we also need to acknowledge our own complicity and the degree to which it can seem like we're trapped. There is a way out, but we need all of us to find it.

 
"As the complexity of these pasts has come further into focus, it has become impossible to avoid the gulf between this degree of attunement to environmental contexts and my own life. Like many in ‘the west’, I would describe myself as concerned with environmental and social justice. All my work has been energised by such concerns, as well as with an animist sense of the natures with which we live, which seems resonant with aspects of the lifeworlds of those ‘indigenous people’ with whom I have interacted and worked.

At the same time, the reality is that I am completely dependent on fossil fuels and the products they make possible. This dependence exists even as I simultaneously and publicly acknowledge the serious implications of pumping more climate-forcing gases into the atmosphere. There is almost nothing in the world around me or in my life as it is currently structured that exists independently of fossil fuels. The basic things with which I write and share these reflections – from the plastic refillable pencil I scribble notes with, to the laptop I write on and the wifi system I am now connected with – are shot through with fossil fuels."
 
Black To The Land Header
Want more diversity in camping? Start with the gear - LA Times

In "the richest country in the world" homelessness threatens more Americans than maybe ever while camping so often remains the domain of elites. We live in a very weird time and place.

 
"But camping and national parks have a complicated past when it comes to racial equality and equal access for all. National parks have a history of segregation that dates to the 1930s, something that didn’t change until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Almost all U.S. national parks were originally home to Indigenous populations long before they were set aside as parks. Many of those Native American tribes were pushed off their land, often violently, to create an illusion of untouched landscapes."

...

"“It’s a precious gift, especially for someone like myself and, I think, for a lot of people of color,” Abreu said, “because of systemic oppression, because of racism, economics and all these things we have to navigate — it can all result in a de-centering.” Camping, Abreu said, allows re-centering in the midst of social and political chaos. “It’s a moment to catch your breath.”

Jackson intends to expand the BIPOC Camping Kits venture. “Black and Indigenous people have historically had connections to nature and the land that have been stripped from us,” they said. “My bigger picture is full solidarity; it’s going to take all of us coming together to topple these racist systems so we can find our sacred places again, and find peace again, together.”"
 

Outdoor Afro seeks ‘Black joy’ by finding sanctuary — and solace — in nature - Chicago Sun-Times

This article details a movement/org in the same vein as the one seen above. That is: overcoming systemic, historical, economic, and cultural barriers to Black people fully enjoying the great outdoors. Once again it is not new or novel for Black people to have deep connection to the land, quite the contrary, but time and again this connection was exploited or obscured for a host of villainous reasons. Kudos to these groups for working to remedy this.
 
"Historically, though, Black people have had a long relationship with nature that has been stymied by racism and violence, said Naomi Davis, founder of the environmental advocacy organization Blacks in Green.

The skills Africans had as craftspeople and crop growers were “exploited” after they were enslaved and brought to America, said Davis. But some Black communities resisted this by forming Maroon communities consisting largely of escaped slaves, who “lived 100 percent on, in, of, and by the land,” said Davis.

Later, she said, Black landowners also had their land stolen in a variety of ways, by the Ku Klux Klan and by county officers through legal methods. Then came the Great Migration, when African Americans moved up North and left their land due to racist Jim Crow laws.

The idea that “the threat was so real that you would walk away and leave your land is a hard concept to understand unless you’ve ever seen a person lynched and set on fire, for fun,” said Davis."



My mother’s garden - NYT (2016)

This piece is infuriating, and somewhat inspiring and about a lot more than gardening.
 
"There were other strange rules, too. My father unexpectedly sent a desktop computer instead of back payments for child-support. But the housing project forbade personal computers, because they used up too much electricity. My mother made a quick calculation — hours and gas spent driving back and forth to the university computer lab to work on papers versus the cash she could get if she sold it. She decided to keep it. The computer sat hidden under piles of bedsheets, far from any windows, in a dark corner of my mother’s room, a ghost of our need."

...

"The garden lasted a few months. Then, an agent of the town’s housing authority found out about it and told my mother it was against the rules. “But no one’s using the land,” I remember her arguing. “The kids in the neighborhood play there.” The response was clear: Get rid of the garden or be evicted. Here was another one of those impossible choices of poverty. This was what my classmates would never understand, as they earnestly debated welfare fraud and the grasping desperation of the undeserving poor.

My mother stopped tending the garden and the next weekend a maintenance worker came and poured something onto the soil that made all the plants die and turned the grass brown."

Bees Y'all

They Bee Stinging

You never know exactly how you'll fall down a research rabbit hole but Twitter, for me, has been the origin for a lot of them.

A few weeks ago I was doing my usual post-wakeup timeline perusal and I saw this ridiculous video of a very very angry man (warning: mildly NSFW language). I have no backstory or explanation for why this man decided to get so up close and personal with a wasp nest but it *seems* like this is a result of a collision between intense toxic masculinity/aggression/insecurity and a bad breakup. I had planned to include this clip as a standalone entry in a previous WesRecs in the "wtf?/yowza!" category but I just forgot about it.

Fast forward to this week when I came across an equally fascinating (if far less shocking) video of a beekeeper carefully removing a colony that had made their home in a composting bin. I was intrigued by her lack of hand protection and the calmness of the bees, especially as she captured their queen. In her voice over she notes the importance of working calmly and with intention.

So here we have two extremely different ways of approaching an encounter with Hymenoptera. I was going to include both of them in a side-by-side standalone note as a sort of homebrewed bizarro Goofus and Gallant and call it a day. But then I randomly came across this recent piece about new developments in the understanding of how honeybee tongues work (which was admittedly only of marginal interest to me) and I thought: If the universe keeps throwing bee stuff at you then we might as well search for some interesting bee stuff (when addressing myself in thought or while talking to myself I alternate been first person, second person, and first person plural...I imagine most people do?...). So here are a few fun and interesting things about our pollinating friends.
So we were just out here killing beehives every single time we wanted to extract the honey from them until the 1850s when a removable honeycomb system was developed allowing us to extract that liquid gold without, you know, wrecking a colonony's habitat and resulting in lord knows how many bee deaths??? Damn. Humanity is a virus.

That said, the process was developed. I rarely use honey and I always forget how dope it is between uses. What an awesome and unique flavor. As an American 80s kid raised on high fructose corn syrup it can still be stunning to reflect on the fact that something so much better and less diabetes inducing comes from that insect that you've been trained to either run away from or kill on sight. We need bees. They do not need us.
Bees have a rigid caste system. You're either:
  • The Queen - One per hive, bigger than almost everybody, sole job is to lay eggs (up to 2,000 a day), can designate the sex of each of her individual offspring.
  • The Workers - Female bees who are not the queen. They do every damned thing: build the hive, defend the hive, forage for food, tend to the babies, take care of the queen, make honey, etc
  • The Drones: Male bees. Their sole purpose in life is to mate with queens from other hives. They die when they mate and get kicked out of the hive and left for dead if they don't end up mating.
Reproduction and Brood Development - How are different kinds of bees created?

Bee reproduction/genetics is like...really REALLY wild. Males (Drones) are a very small percentage of all bees that are born and...they technically don't have fathers since they are the product of unfertilized eggs. Their only purpose is to mate with a queen (one of 15-24 of mates that she will have. And they die during this mating, in mid-air.
Queen bees are just worker bee larva who are selected by the nurse bees in a hive (based on a process we do not fully understand) and fed a special protein-rich food called "royal jelly" which causes them to grow bigger than a worker bee and have the ability to produce offspring. This is absolutely fascinating.
This is a book from 1947 that is in the public domain. You can download it for free and it is wild and crazy and perfect and totally insane. I have not read all of it but the author loved bees more than you or I will ever love anything in our lives and he set out to write a mass-appeal examination/exultation of bees and their society as a sort of romantic fantasy novel and it kind of succeeds but is also hella weird and he may have died a virgin but that's OK because his soul was assuredly carried to heaven by a train of pollen-dusted bee fairies.

City of the Bees - Frank S. Stuart
I was so utterly fascinated by City of the Bees that I just had to dash of a quick dramatic reading of some choice passages. We begin with Chapter 1: Gold Dust Ballerina

(You'll have to excuse the sub-optimal light and sound I just had to get this out there)
How to catch a swarm of bees - NYT

I was glad to have seen this piece from just this summer about a Black beekeeper in North Carolina, it resonated with me because of her insistence on the importance of "intention" when approaching bees and working with colonies. This term specifically is also used in the video of the beekeper removing a hive from a compost bin above. When appraching or handling bees ones's attention should be focused entirely on that task and you should be operating wholly from a desire to preserve, protect, & respect them. If that sounds a little too touchy-feely then put it this way: you are way more likely to get stung if you're loud and stressed and fearful and making a bunch of sudden movements than if you're calm, cool, & collected. Don't be messing around with bees with no prep. But if you stumble upon a hive BE COOL.

"If you can capture the queen, the other bees will dutifully fly or march into your enclosure to be near her. Approach them in a calm state so you don’t trigger them to release alarm pheromones. “Slow down and focus your attention only on the bees,” Winship says."

...

"Winship, who is black, recently acquired a pink beekeeping suit so she doesn’t have to wear the standard white one with a hood. She’s teaching her children, including her 6-year-old son, Kingston, how to tend bees and cope with the occasional sting. “Don’t scream or jump up and down,” Winship says. “Just compose yourself and walk away.” Think of bees less as property and more as teachers. “Each bee has a job, and each job works for the greater good of the entire hive,” Winship says. “Why can’t people be more like that?”"

Things Read

 

A Long Walk’s End - SB Nation

A guy embezzled nearly $10M over a decade and possibly killed his wife (who he'd hidden a secret daughter from). Then he spent 6 years hiding out on hiking trails and only got caught because he was so popular in this second life. Wild.

I want to escape to the Appalachian Trail. I am now convinced everyone who hikes it on more than a day trip is running from something.
 
"“The trail is a present endeavor,” Feener said, “with the focus often being on the pain you are in, the beauty you saw that day, where you are going to sleep that night and where your next water source is.”

Every step puts distance between a hiker and the worries of the world. Days run together. Previous lives slip away. Hikers may delve gently into each other’s pasts, but acceptance is the norm.

A hiker named Sherry Leitner said, “It’s sort of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality. If someone wants to share something with you about their ‘real life’ - meaning life off the trail - then fine, but we don’t probe.”"

...

"“The outside world and its problems don’t exist to you while you’re walking,” the hiker wrote in an email. “They might creep in at night if you’re alone or away from other hikers … but generally it’s a whole other life and it feels good. Very good.

“I dream of it still a year later.”"

Lemme tell you about the dumbest thing I've ever done: I took out $60K in grad school debt to get a poetry MFA. Since graduating almost a decade ago I have paid back approximately $40K. I now owe $60K.

You don't have to tell me how stupid this. I live it every day. I was an adult, I signed those papers, I decided to get a degree in something almost no one makes money off of. I own that. I also assert that this country fails students in financial literacy education at every step of the game and that the student loan system is wildly predatory, a life ruiner, and a ticking time bomb that will surely collapse the entire economy (if pandemic and national debt, and about million other things don't do that first).

Now, I did end up publishing a book due to a series of events that only happened because I went to my grad program but on a financial level that did not make a dent in this soul-crushing debt. But I'm relatively lucky because I have other monetizable skills, and some people are out here with six figure albatrosses chained around their necks. But what really rubbed salt on the wound was that the summer after I graduated I started visiting the Wednesday open mics at Cambridge MA's Cantab Lounge (may it forever rest in peace) which was the home of the Boston Poetry Slam. Week after week I'd go down into the dingy low-ceilinged basement of this dive and be *blown away* by the caliber of the poetry and performance. It was very soon apparent that I could've saved tens of thousands of dollars if I'd just gone there every week that I'd been in grad school.

Additionally that's where I first met April Penn a poet whose work always exhibited care and intensity and who has diligently and awesomely (if sadly a tad bit too late for my own financial future) compiled this AMAZING list of an MFA-like syllabus for the self educating poet. It's an incredible resource and if you're thinking about taking the MFA plunge my god please check it out first.

Look, there are still reasons to get an MFA for some people, and that might be just thr right path for you, but my own advice would be to avoid any and all debt like the plague and get in on this 100% free culture and education at your fingertips.

Things Seen

 

OK this is very very surprising and weirdly kind of disturbing. When you think of Vladimir Putin the image he wants you to dredge up is that of the lone and stoic strongman who takes no shit, devastates his enemies, rides shirtless on horseback, does judo, has billions of stolen oil dollars, and uses every trick and threat in the book to keep an iron grip on power. He largely succeeds in this. You may hate the guy but you're kind of afraid of him. Then you hear his voice when he's not speaking his native tongue and you might have a different impression. This is one of the greatest voice/body mismatches I've ever seen and heard. I'll cut him some slack as he is clearly being very deliberate with his word formation (his English is a million times greater than my Russian so I really can't say anything) but the pitch is just...not what I thought. This video is kind of long but the link should take you to the clip in question, if not go to 7:34.
OK I've been eating rice my whole life but before I watched this I think that all I could have told you about it was that it's "a grain", it requires wet conditions to grow. This helped me take a few baby steps away from ignorance. The more you know!

Word of The Week

Keep That Vocab Coming

Mellification, n
[ mel - uh - fi - KAY - shuhn ]

rare.
Meaning: The production of honey by bees.

Origin: classical Latin mellificus < mell- , mel honey (see mell n.2) + -ficus -fic suffix. Compare Middle French, French mellifique

Fun Facts

 

  • The horse was not introduced to the Americas by the Spanish. Equines evolved in North America and spread across the world before be hunted to extinction in the Americas 11,000 years ago. The Spanish REintroduced the horse to these lands.
  • If The Simpsons aged at a real world pace Bart would now be older than Homer was when they debuted.
  • The population of Ireland is lower today than before the Great Potato Famine.
  • It takes about 8 mins from a photon to get from the sun to your eye but can take 100,000 years to get from the core of the sun to the surface of the sun.
  • Of all the people in history who have lived to aged 65, approximately half of them are alive right now.
Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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