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WesRecs

Vol. #64 - January 29, 2021

Hello my friends, I hope you're successfully making it through another week of 2021 in America. Things are as crazy as ever but on a personal note I have felt particularly productive and excited about new projects this week. We'll see if that holds. After the last issue's epically long breakdown of my appearance on The Chase I'll just jump into things here with WesRecs 64. Lots of good stuff to chew on this week, and as a reminder you can check out www.wesrecs.info for more or less daily morsels of cool stuff I think you'll like, some of which ends up compiled here and some of which does not.

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. 
I provided my post-game thoughts about my recent appearance on The Chase in last week's edition of WesRecs but I didn't find out this clip existed until later so if you're interested you can check out some of the processes I employ in the ancient trivia art of making an educated guess under time constraints here.
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:

The "Stonk" Market Explained
A clear and digestible breakdown of the Gamestop / AMC / Robinhhood / stock market madness you're hearing about

The Anguish of grandparenting in a pandemic
A kind of profound reflection on parenting, grandparenting, being someone's kid, aging and death. (If you run into a paywall on this and can't do the incognito window trick you can give them a burner email address for access). It's very good.

Wealth, Shown to Scale
A fascinating visualization of the mind-boggling vastness, absurdity, and implicit cruelty of the fortunes of the .0001%

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

COVID Corner

Findings in Plagueland

So very apt. So sadly apt.

Regardless of how cognizant I am of America's failures, shortcomings, delusion, violence, and inequality I was truly unprepared for the politicization and cultural divide of public mask wearing in a global pandemic. I've learned, as a basic everyday survival skill to just let a lot of my COVID-related anger and frustration go when it comes to individuals gathering together unmasked in bars or having crowded holiday parties or whatever (I will never not fault the national and state government responses, but that's a different story). People are going to be people and I can only control what I do with my life and what I put out into the world. So it was helpful to see so much distilled into one single meme that I can just laugh at, cry at, shake my head at, and try to move on.
We Need To Talk About Another Pandemic Mental Health Crisis: Therapist Burnout - Forbes

In the most unshocking development of all time thhe demand for therapists has seen a sharp uptick in the past year. That's a problem because we have a shortage of mental health professionals that doesn't look to be improving anytime soon. Additionally every therapist who is treating people for anxiety about global plague, working from home, social disconnection, and profound anxiety about insurrections and conspiracy theories and national collapse is also experiencing those things themselves. They're taking on more clients than ever, scheduling more appointments than ever, and living more challenging personal lives than ever and the net effect is burnout. Medical and mental health professionals are not an infinite resource and it takes years and years of training and experience to get good ones and this is not a problem to be ignored.
 
Looking to the future, Brit Barkholtz, MSW, LICSW, a clinical therapist in St. Paul Minnesota worries that the system is unable to handle the additional strain. She explains, “I keep seeing all of these articles saying ‘the next wave of the pandemic will be in mental health’ or ‘mental health will be the next frontlines’ or ‘a mental health crisis is coming’ and I'm like... are we not already there? Because I think we're already there. Everyone I know has a full caseload and is booked months out, like if there is an even bigger wave coming I don't know how the system handles that when it seems already at capacity.”

...

Another challenge for therapists right now is that anything a client is experiencing, including working from home, having kids at home, having a spouse at home, and the trauma of the world events, they as the therapist could also be experiencing. This is only compounded if they identify as a member of a minoritized group themselves. Dr. Stern notes, “This has definitely been a difficult time to be a therapist because everyone we are treating is experiencing such a universal and existential crisis, all while experiencing the world’s pain ourselves.”

...

Long before Covid-19, psychiatrists warned that the retirement of more than half the current workforce was on the horizon and the need to train new mental health workers was critical. The pandemic and increasing provider distress are only accelerating a trend that was in place for quite some time. Therapists are a limited resource and, cannot, no matter how much they try, make up for a broken mental health system with extra hours, night and weekend accommodations. With wait times increasing and trauma lasting long after the pandemic, it will only be more difficult to see them. But, it will also not be their fault.
The anguish of grandparenting in a pandemic - 1843

This is a gem. What a magnificent meditation on parenting, grandparenting, being someone's child, aging, and death done in style that is weirdly straightforward and businesslike but also...poetic. Like I was tearing up at the end and this is not a long piece at all. I am deeply affected by the observations/sentiments/emotion in this and at the same time I'm kind of marveling at it on a technique level for accomplishing so much, with so few words, in a way that isn't remotely showy or striving. As the saying goes: this is some good ass writing. [note: I had this article saved from 6 weeks ago and thus could read it  for free. Trying to access it now is asking me to either subscribe, or to give up an email address to get access, if you run into that issue just throw them your burner email and read it, def worth it.]
 
Now we are eight months into this thing we have long since exceeded the duration of any normal interlude of separation. And I have observed that I’ve begun to mediate my experience of my children through the fact of my parents’ distance from their lives. Any time I get a kick out of something they do, I’m shadowed by the realisation of what their grandparents are missing out on. It isn’t quite death we’re talking about here, but neither is it entirely unrelated.

...

The knowledge that children are perpetually passing through themselves on the way to becoming someone else is part of the delight and fascination of parenthood. Their behaviours and traits are in a state of constant evolution, so that the very things that once seemed to define them are always slipping into the past and passing out of memory. All this is just a basic premise of being alive. But it’s also devastating when you think about it. Not quite death, but not quite unrelated either.

...

Do people love their grandchildren less than their children? It seems hard to imagine that they do, but just as hard to imagine that they don’t. Perhaps it’s a questionable distinction to begin with. In fact, being a grandparent may be a continuation of parenthood, or a reinvigoration of its essential dynamics, after an interlude of stasis.

Race & Policing

Towards The Reduction Of Harm

So like everybody I've been thinking a lot about the insurrection of 1/6 and the startling inability/unwillingness of the mainstream press and almost all government officials to recognize and call it what it was (a coordinated, though failed, attempt by the former president, his allies in government, and an armed mob of his cult-minded followers to hold congress at gunpoint –or else murder them outright– in order to reverse the results of a free and fair election).

Putting aside that whole terrifying thing where the GOP has blatantly abandoned all commitment to democracy, civil society, fact, and the rule of law I just wanted to spend some time with some items that look critically at the extremist violence of 1/6 and the implications of how we talk about and respond to those who committed it, especially from an abolitionist perspective.

Here are some things I know and believe that don't really fit together easily here:
  • The insurrectionists (both those who were on the ground and those who funded, organized, and incited them) must absolutely be held accountable for what happened and what was attempted and they must be actively stopped from further attempts. We cannot have even a hope of functioning country & civil society if this is dismissed as some fired up mob blowing off steam that can be swept under the rug with some summonses for trespassing. This was a plot, it came from the top, the danger was well known, the proper steps for prevention were deliberately or ineptly not followed and those behind it are not just going to stop in their mission.
  • I am a prison abolitionist meaning that I believe the prison-industrial-complex [PIC] (which includes prisons, jails, bail, parole, probation, the police, etc) which incarcerates millions of Americans is one of the central evils of our society. It is racist and classist and a direct outgrowth of American slavery  and it causes and perpetuates misery and cruelty on a scale that can scarcely be imagined, and rather than providing any of the benefits of "safety" and "justice" that we so often imagine it morally and physically and economically degrades every single person in this country whether they are directly in its clutches or not. It must be eliminated, not reformed, but done away with and replaced with a visionary web of policies, practices, and goals focused on actually addressing harm, making society equitable and inclusive, empowering communities, and putting people over capital. This does not mean opening every jail cell tomorrow or abandoning the idea of public safety, rather it recognizes that putting millions of people in cells does anything but create "safety". Abolition is a practice more than outcome, an effort to organize society that honors human freedom and and human value.
  • Any attempt made in the coming months to pass sweeping laws "in response" to the events on the 6th that seek to restrict protesting, clamp down on rioting, surveil groups perceived to be threats to the government, and mete out stiffer penalties for such actions will ABSOLUTELY be used to go after those who advocate for civil rights, economic equality, democracy, etc. We have seen this all before with the Patriot Act. As I said, loathe the PIC but if you're going to use it there are more than enough laws on the books already to apply to any would be coup participants (just ask all of the BLM protesters looking at 10 yrs for protesting this summer).
So basically there is a clear and present lethal threat to American democracy and to a great number of Americans themselves which has scarily broad support (at least in the general sense) and which includes figures with significant wealth and power. This threat must be addressed and neutralized. The tools that likely first come to mind with regard to achieving that goal are themselves the bludgeons that have so long been threats to American democracy and a great number of Americans themselves.

I don't have any answers for this. It's all pretty gray, and if I'm being honest, I'm having a lot of trouble thinking of any outcome that is not awful...or else outright catastrophic. This is mostly me just trying to express some grave concerns out loud, and largely failing to do it in any helpful manner but this is where my head's been at.

Here are some articles that express portions of what I've been thinking about far better than I can at the moment.
The Capitol Seizure, Abolition and Anti-Fascism - Partisan

"...For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change..." - Audre Lorde
 
Those of us who are actively organizing against fascism might find ourselves gratified in watching the state crack down against organized white supremacist violence. But there’s an extreme danger here for the left, and we need to take it very seriously: if our response to fascist violence takes the form of empowering the state to suppress protest and other political activity—and to treat trespassing and property destruction as the indicators of, say, domestic terrorism—these powers will be used against us, deliberately and with prejudice, with the goal of stopping movement momentum, dispersing organizations, and incapacitating politically activated people. The FBI and other organs of the state will draw on the same strategies they used to incapacitate the Black Panthers and other revolutionary organizations: COINTELPRO, counterinsurgency, lawfare, decades-long prison sentences and extrajudicial murder, justified in retrospect through the propaganda of protecting public safety.

...

This is another way of saying that an abolitionist response to fascistic violence cannot take the form of empowering the state to expand the reach of its own organized violence. Without question, it cannot take the form of moralizing against, say, trespassing and occupying a building, property destruction, looting or arson. This is true because we understand that policing and incarceration are not solutions to violence, and that punishment incapacitates one person but in fact does not deter others.

...

This is all to say that the question “How should the state correctly detain and punish participants in fascist violence?” is not the right question. The real questions are: how do we demobilize fascists? How do we disaggregate their power blocs when they attempt to use organs of state power to push their political goals? How—as organizers did in NYC on Jan. 10—do we outpace them in street mobilization so as to scare them out of their planned escalations? And, most critically, how do we defuse and transform the conditions that foster the development of fascism in the first place?
Republican Lawmakers Are Using the Capitol Riot to Fuel Anti-BLM Backlash  - The Appeal

That train is never late....
 
Within the past year, lawmakers in 24 states have introduced at least 45 bills to create new penalties or increase criminal penalties for offenses related to protesting, discourage cuts to police funding, and provide protections to people who drive their cars into protesters or shoot protesters in an alleged act of self defense. Six of those bills—one in Utah, one in Mississippi, one in West Virginia, one in Tennessee and two in South Dakota—have been signed into law.

But the bills aren’t aimed at reining in the kind of violent insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, and federal prosecutors already have a litany of charges at their disposal to hold the perpetrators accountable. The bills seek to criminalize conduct typically associated with Black Lives Matter protests, like blocking streets or highways and camping out at state capitols.

...


And while people across the country have faced serious charges after taking part in Black Lives Matter protests, many members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol and killed a police officer are so far being charged mainly with low-level offenses like disorderly conduct and unlawful entry (and were allowed to simply return to their hotel). The man photographed with his feet on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk faces three charges that carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

Meanwhile, two lawyers who allegedly set fire to an empty NYPD cruiser during a Black Lives Matter protest are facing life in prison—and a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years—because federal prosecutors chose to seek such a sentence.

🎵To The Left! To The Left!🎵

On That Commie Pinko Tip

Wealth, shown to scale.

Wow.....

....just wow.

For its clarity, scope, ingenuity, ambition, and moral force this data visualization is simply one of the best things I have ever included in WesRecs. I cannot recommend it (and spending time with it) enough. [make sure to look at it on a computer and not your phone]

The project is so devastatingly simple: just a very very very very long scroll-able image of a few rulers that compare, to scale, the relative wealth of an American household, how much the median American will make in their lifetime, the net worth of various "wealthy" celebrities, the $200B fortune of Jeff Bezos, the combined $3.5T wealth of the wealthiest 400 Americans (greater than that of the bottom 60% of Americans), etc vs. just some of the things that could be accomplished with small fractions of that wealth... like eradicating malaria and getting every American tested for coronavirus.

I'll be honest, I haven't even finished going through all of this yet. part of the genius of its design is that it forces you spend time with it. By making you manually scroll through a seemingly endless to-scale representation of Jeff Bezos's personal wealth you just might *begin* to grasp how much money he really has (and consequently how much is not being used to better society). Business talking heads routinely speculate as to whether or not he'll become the world's first trillionaire and I am telling you: NONE OF US can adequately conceive of how much money that is, your mind can't handle it.

In addition to being really well structured on a visual level there are also some helpful links to various articles and supporting documentation along the way (such as a detailed debunking of the frequently heard argument that people like Bezos are merely paper billionaires that could not possibly liquidate the assets that contribute to their highly publicized net worths).
 
Crowd Sourcing a Short Squeeze via Reddit While Nuking a Hedge Found and on Behalf of Gamestop For Dummies.

In this week's edition of things that prove the stark market and "the economy" are mere constructs totally divorced from the actual well being of real human beings we have: billions of dollars shifted + a bunch of overnight millionaires + the kneecapping of several investment firms because a bunch of investment minded trolls decided to drive up the price of...Gamestop. Nice.

You've probably heard some chatter even if you're not quite up on the details. Here's a solid resource in case you're not familiar or if you could just use some assistance with the financial mechanics of it. I know enough about investing to manage my own 401K, and do some occasional light dabbling so I had the most basic idea of what was going on after reading some articles - but this by far has been the most pelucid background description of the core financial play that we're seeing unfold in the news. This is major and its effects will be felt for some time to come so it's great to have quick and digestible breakdown like this for reference. This is an image, obviously, you can see the same text in text form here.

Things Read

Worthwhile Words

photo: jessica pettway
Million Dollar Slice - GrubStreet

Whoa, this article went in SO MANY different directions in such an unexpected way and I kind of love it for it. From the rapidly developing weed-infused food market, to 1990s NYC mob wars, to the federal prison system, to underground COVID speakeasies, to Instagram influencing as a business model - this really has it all. Couple thoughts:
  • I'm not sure if I'd want to hang out with Chris Barrett (AKA The Pizza Pusha) personally but the man has lived at least 3 lifetimes worth of craziness and hustle and action and reinvention. Some people have an innate business sense, that inborn hustle quality to read the situation and adapt as quickly as possible to make a buck no matter where they find themselves. I am definitely not one of those people. This guy is the definition of the mindset.
  • As much as things have changed in just the last 5 years, as mainstream and as casually accepted as weed has become in the US, we are only at the outer edges of how big it's going to get. When I was in high school weed was "drugs" (perceived by many, though not by most, as in the same class as crack and heroin), and mere possession of it could get you locked up (it still can in a lot of states, esp if you're poor or Black or brown). Now it's either available medically or decriminalized or straight up legal in most states and it's well on its way to being as mainstreamed, and as heavily marketed, as booze. There will be weed Super Bowl ads, and a weed critic column in your paper's lifestyle section, and fancy "couple's cannabis tasting nights" at chic venues. And OK fine, whatever, but as all that's going down we need to be fighting for POC equity in all of this because there are still legions of mostly poor/POC people locked up for nothing more than selling or having weed in the exact same era when white hedge fund backed entrepreneurs and major corporations are already making bank for the exact same thing in an industry that's about to experience stratospheric growth. I don't think "Big Canna" is the way and there's not really much to celebrate about Billionaires cornering the market on a plant that just grows in the ground but if that's what we're doing it's good to hear about stuff like this recent initiative: Jay-Z Joins Push to Boost Minority-Owned Cannabis Businesses that seeks to include the people that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs now that we're slowly waking up to the fact that it was a racist money grab to begin with.
  • While there will always be *some* demand for it I think there's a pretty low ceiling for the Pizza Pusher's current core business model (that is, infusing olive oil with THC and then pouring it on pizzas and garlic knots.) Weed is here to stay. Weed edibles (like lozenges, gummies, chocolates, cookies, etc) are here to stay. But as far as ingesting THC in this manner goes: a little goes a long way. You can eat 2 gummy bears and get as stoned as you'll ever want to get for the night (or considerably more so...). Just like with booze there is a limit, individual to every user, beyond which things stop being fun and become potentially nightmarish. It does not make sense to me to put the THC (which honestly does not have an amazing taste on its own) that you want to consume into an oil or a syrup and then spread that over an entire pizza when you can just take a few puffs, or chew a few gummies, or down a dropper of oil out of a medicine bottle and then just eat however much regular food you're inclined to. That is a more exact way to dose. You don't have use spices to drown out the THC flavor. And you don't have to put on 5 lbs every time you want to get high. And if you don't finish your food you don't literally have to throw weed down the garbage disposal. I think that what Barrett is thinking in terms of bar-like weed lounges and performance venues where people can toke up and chill while socializing or watching live music are definitely going to be a big part of the future, but as far as eating weed goes I think people are going to stick with small items that you can consume or drink in a few bites and swallows and be done with it rather than 5 course tasting menus where every item will get you rocked off your ass.
  • Also: fuck this dude for hosting indoor events during a pandemic where the central activity revolves around deeply inhaling and exhaling while standing around a bunch of strangers doing the same.
 
A week later, Barrett invites me to his Harlem brownstone for dinner. At 47, the stoned Mighty Mouse is a wiry five-foot-seven with a scarred shaved head and a blunt-stained perma-smile unsettled only by a persistent hacking cough. “It’s not COVID,” he assures me. “I just smoke a lot of these,” referring to the comically large blunt hanging from the corner of his mouth.

...

As we sit outside, Day offers me a slice. A thick-crusted, rectangular Sicilian pie, it’s an above-average pizza by New York standards. If you’re reading this anywhere outside NYC, it would be the best pizza you could get your hands on.

...

In 1991, acting Colombo boss Victor “Little Vic” Orena staged a coup after Colombo boss Carmine Persico was incarcerated for life. Persico allegedly took out a hit on Orena, but the plot failed when Orena evaded the ambush outside his home. Brooklyn erupted in violence. “I went from carrying money under my shirt to carrying it underneath a bulletproof vest,” says Barrett. “Every day, I woke up thinking this could be my last.” The third Colombo war was one of the most brutal and violent in New York Mafia history, with dozens shot, killed, or never seen again.

...

“This is going to be the hotbox room,” Barrett says, walking me into a glass-framed space in the corner of the restaurant.

“What about COVID?” I ask him.

“We’re installing industrial fans that will suck the smoke out,” Barrett says, pointing up to the windows in the glass room as he blows smoke toward them. “The ventilation will be better in here than the restaurant” — which would seem beside the point.

...

There are a few masks, but I’m the only attendee wearing an N95. Everyone I talk to tells me they’re from Brooklyn. I wonder if this is one of those “superspreader events” I keep hearing about. Blunts are smoked. Music plays. People dance. While hiding in a corner, I connect with a Russian woman who introduces herself through her handle, @damnhomie11. She tells me how many followers she has (1 million) and how “in the future, all of life will take place on Instagram; there will be no television.” There are so many @damnhomie11 types here it’s like I’m in a real-life Explore page. I can practically hear the ding-ding of follower counts going up.
On the Thursday January 22, 2021 episode of Jeopardy! we saw only the 3rd non-tournament tie-breaker ever on the show. They're damned rare, but perhaps not quite as rare as this being only the 3rd instance ever on a nearly 40 year show might suggest. Until relatively recently tie-breakers were not a thing because if 2, or 3, contestants ended the game with matching non-zero amounts they would just have the tied contestants collect their winnings and come back the next day. Then in the 2010s, thanks largely in part to one statistics wonk (and former player) players started frequently playing for the tie, rather than the win since the odds of coming back the next day (which is the ultimate prize on Jeopardy!, regardless of dollar amount) are greater.

Ties aren't great for the show partly because they caused more prize money to go out the door, but mostly because they really mess with contestant scheduling and result in fewer people being on per year. So tiebreakers were nixed a while back and now contestants play a single runoff clue. Whoever answers it correctly wins the whole game and the tied runner up earns just the standard $2000 second place prize. It's about as fair and reasonable as any other solution but damn is it hard to watch this gay have a monster game, and end up with $37,600 only to walk away with $2k because he wasn't the quickest on the draw in a clue that he never even expected to have to play. It's good TV though.

Insane that Ken Jennings has been hosting for like 3 weeks and he's already seen this happen once.
The History of the ‘Jeopardy!’ Tiebreaker and the Quest to Revolutionize How Contestants Wager - The Ringer
 
At The Final Wager, he spent three years breaking down the events of each night’s game in short YouTube tutorials, pausing as the doo-doo-doo of the “Think!” music began (yes, that’s its name) before launching into an explanation of exactly how much money each contestant should bet. His goal was clear: Stop the world—or at least the approximately 400 brainiacs who reach the Jeopardy! stage each year—from making lousy wagers. In the first video of the series, Williams downs a shot of scotch—ostensibly to drown his sorrows after watching yet another would-be champ fritter away a win—and then wincingly introduces himself to viewers. “Every night I sit here and I ask myself why,” he says to the camera. “Why hasn’t anyone done anything about the epidemic that’s plaguing our television screens?”

...

As more and more aspiring Jeopardy! contestants discovered Williams’s site and began to follow his instructions, the number of ties skyrocketed: In 2014, for example, the games that aired on October 28 and October 30 both produced co-champions. That spring, Arthur Chu had embarked on a headline-grabbing 11-game winning streak—at the time, the third-longest in show history—in which he explicitly deployed Williams’s recommended strategies to gun for a tie. (He never tied, but he did take home just shy of $300,000.) Chu’s success pushed the strategy into the mainstream.

...

Alley’s suspicion is that the show was never all that worried about the extra expense of paying for multiple champions’ victories (a reasonable guess, given how much Jeopardy! rakes in each year). Instead, he says, the tiebreaker was likely implemented to preserve the flow of contestants. In a given year, some 100,000 people try out for one of those 400 spots on the show. Many spend years trying to get chosen. On a typical tape day, the show brings in 10 new contestants—many having flown in from across the country at their own expense—as well as a couple of local alternates. With two ties, there are two fewer slots—two more people who may have waited years for the Jeopardy! invitation before being told to go back home and try again. For all the perennial stories about strategies like the Forrest Bounce or James Holzhauer’s big bets breaking Jeopardy!, this was the one that really did it. And so: the tiebreaker.
How the New York Times Crossword Became Too Big to Fail - Studyhall.xyz

Completing the New York Times crossword puzzle is one of the highlights of my day, every day. I learn a lot, the challenge is stimulating, and it's been continually rewarding to see myself get better and set new goals for speed. I genuinely get excited for it on a daily basis. I watched the Wordplay, the extremely well-done documentary about the NYT crossword, a while back and was really impressed with Will Shortz (its longtime editor) due to his utter devotion to puzzles, his work to develop enthusiasm for the world of cruciverbalism, and the general degree to which he seems to be living his best life (seriously he has the dream job of anyone who loves puzzles as much as him AND he also has a deep passion for table tennis and started a ping pong club and venue..respect).

What I did not realize until recently is that he is an extremely polarizing figure in the crossword universe with a history of being unperceptive to the diversification of that universe and obtuse with regard to how many of his practices and editorial choices have negatively affected and shut out crossword constructors who are not straight white men. That's not great.

What is great is the flip side to that where there has been a veritable explosion of POC, women, queer, & indie crossword constructors who are doing the coolest and most creative stuff in the field whether on their own or at publications like The New Yorker or USA Today. Since reading this I've already subscribed to the weekly work of an independent and irreverent crossword collective and I'm excited about finding more.
 
The first mention of crossword puzzles in the New York Times appears in 1924, when the publisher described the crossword as a “sinful waste” of time and energy. Five years later, the Times declared that “the cross-word puzzle, it would seem, has gone the way of all fads” in a piece titled “All About the Insidious Game of Anagrams,” another game they were not a fan of. It would take the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to change their minds. On December 18, Sunday editor Lester Markel sent a letter to publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger suggesting that, in the context of America’s entry into World War II, the Times “ought to proceed with the puzzle” not just as an antidote to the overwhelming despair of reading the news, but also a way for people to occupy themselves as they huddled in bomb shelters. Attached to his memo was a note from Margaret Petherbridge Farrar, a pioneer in the crossword industry. “I don’t think I have to sell you on the increased demand for this type of pastime in an increasingly worried world,” she wrote. “You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword.”

...

The problem with the Times Crossword goes far beyond just this archaic process: Any scenario where three white men decide what is culturally relevant is a recipe for disaster. Shortz deemed himself an “arbiter of what’s significant” in a 2018 episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, a quote has come to encapsulate the problems with the Times Crossword’s homogenous leadership. “The only way to live up to that title for anybody — [and] I don’t think it is possible to [do so] — is to have a foot in every sphere of significance,” Sid Sivakumar, the puzzle constructor behind Sid’s Grids, told Study Hall. Sivakumar has taken to calling this “lexical gatekeeping”: the fact that the lexicon of the editor informs what goes into the grid and what is left out.

...

Outside of the Times Crossword orbit, a shift is occurring in the pastime’s perception and audience. In the last year, Agard has turned the USA Today crossword into a radical and exciting destination for crossword solvers. Most constructors are women, and many are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Puzzles are full of references to Black culture, notable women, and queer culture. As Sivakumar noted: “It’s not simply the fact that [Agard] has tapped into a diverse group of constructors to make the puzzle for USA Today. It’s also that his clueing style espouses cultural diversity and cultural sensitivity. He’s bringing a totally different and fresh style of clueing that we haven’t seen from mainstream venues in a long time.”
I think I've actually included this clip in a previous WesRecs but here we go again. It features both Will Shortz and one of the most prominent members of the revolutionizing vanguard of young constructors, Erik Agard.
The Skinny on Ranked Choice Voting - Queens County Politics - Queens County Politics

I'm as enthusiastic about the fact that ranked choice voting is coming to NYC (where I currently live) as I'm disappointed by the failure of a ballot measure back in November to introduce it to Massachusetts (where I've spent most of my life). It is so much more representative and equitable and democratic than our standard winner-take-all voting method and I really can't understand opposition to it *IF* the person who's opposing it fully grasps how it works. I think the biggest hurdle it faces in gaining mainstream traction is that it is indeed slightly more complex than the standard model, especially if you've lived your entire life and voted in multiple elections without even being made aware that alternative election models exist, let alone having their benefits explained. Hopefully more support can be built for this model nationwide moving forward so that we're not consistently met with choices at the polls between a flaming pile of sewer waste and a rusty trash can that at the very least isn't actively trying to kill you.
 
Under the new system, voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference rather than casting a ballot for just one. This ballot looks similar to the traditional one –– a scantron with multiple ovals for you to fill –– but instead of filling in a bubble for just one candidate (your favorite), you fill in a bubble for all of them. If you are voting in a five candidate race, you would mark your first choice in position one, your second in two, and so on until you reach your last choice which goes in position five.

The first choice votes are then tallied and if no candidate gets the majority of the vote –– 50% plus one –– the candidate who received the least votes gets eliminated and their second choice votes are parceled out to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate has attained a majority and wins.

...

Supporters also believe the system will discourage negative campaigning, prompting candidates to reach out to more voters who might place them in second instead of relying on a narrow base. In addition, they believe voters will be more compelled to choose their true favorite without worrying about wasting a vote on someone who can’t win. Voters will also have more incentive to educate themselves on every candidate, as each one will need to be placed. In this way, the new process might not only lead to more amicable campaign practices, but might also encourage candidates to form partnerships with one another, running as a first-and-second-choice team, supporters say.

...

Another benefit of RVC, also known as “instant-runoff voting,” is that they avoid the costs of run-off elections in the case of an unclear outcome. With RCV, the runoffs happen instantly, with use of an algorithm so the costs normally associated with runoff elections are effectively eliminated.

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

I saw a shortened clip of this (just the "news panel" segment on Twitter) and thought that this was actually Delroy Lindo (one of my favorite character actors and an absolute workhorse in Hollywood for decades) twisting the screws on a fatuous/ignorant/entitled group of talking heads about their insipid views on "reverse racism". The fact that I've found that it's actually a clip from the CBS streaming series The Good Fight hasn't made it any less searing. I can *feel* this scene in my bones. It is so short and says so much about the 3rd-grade level of the national discussion about race in America that we see so often from pundits, politicians, major media, and frankly, many "well meaning white people".
I've seen The Silence of the Lambs probably more than any other movie and it's an undoubted masterpiece with acting, lighting, and psychological tension that remains out of this world. It's also still a fountain of barely restrained terror. But after at least 25 viewings over the years I can say that I've never been as disturbed by the movie as I am by this Instagram sketch? homage? fever dream? of a critical Silence of The Lambs scene performed using just chins. I think it's supposed to be funny? But it's kind of just nightmare fuel. I heartily recommend it.

From the comedy duo Slychum.
The Roman Pilum Was Unmatched as a Ranged Weapon

There was a time in my life when fending off hordes of armed barbarians seemed like a distinctly remote possibility. But we live in America in 2021 so I guess it's best to be prepared for anything. Here's a great demo of how the Ancient Roman army used a hyper-specific weapon called the pilum (a kind of javelin about 6 and a half feet long) to thwart charges by massed enemies wielding shields on one arm and weapons on the other. It's ingeniously designed to be thrown and to pierce the enemy shield. If the point itself kills or stops the opponent, great, but even if it doesn't it will at least make them drop their shield and become much more vulnerable. The more you know!
Random Viewing
 

Things Made

By My Own Hand

Just let people have their Garbage Compactor Moment

This is, more or less, an entreaty to let people be momentarily relieved by the successful installation of Joe Biden into the presidency and the concurrent abatement of the four-year daily tweet-storm nightmare we all just went through. It's 100% not about hailing Joe or Kamala as any kind of saviors (they're not) and more about taking a few days to appreciate the fact that, at least for now, we avoided a fascist coup and the crowning of King Trump.

NOTHING IS OVER and this is no time to stop fighting, stop holding to account, stop being vigilant. And truth be told the time for what I'm arguing here is pretty much past. (I was thinking we could have maybe the inauguration up through the weekend after it) but I was delayed in expressing this sentiment that I felt very much while observing the reactions to the inauguration in limited leftist social media silo. The threats we're facing are scarier than ever and a return to any kind of pre-Trump "normalcy" would itself be a tragedy so please don't get what I'm saying twisted. But you gotta breathe sometimes.

Anyway, I wrote it, and even if we're past this now I didn't want that to be entirely for nothing so here we are. I can't help but think that the same reminder will be useful on the heels of future battle victories in the war against inequality and oppression so maybe think of it then.

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

Mahala, adv. and adj.
[ muh - HAH -lah]

South African colloquial.

A. adv.
Meaning:  For nothing, gratis.

B. adj.
Meaning:  Free; acquired without payment or effort. Chiefly in for mahala: for free.

Origin: Partly a borrowing from Nguni. Partly a borrowing from Sotho.  < any of several cognate forms in the Nguni and Sotho languages (compare e.g. Zulu mahhala, Setswana mahala, both adverbs in sense ‘free (of charge)’).

Somebody Said This

Words To Admire

It would be only fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro race. If he believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts adduced. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation, who can never successfully take part in modern civilization and whose emancipation and enfranchisement were gestures against nature, then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down. But this latter person, I am not trying to convince. I am simply pointing out these two points of view, so obvious to Americans, and then without further ado, I am assuming the truth of the first. In fine, I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience.


- W.E.B. DuBois To The Reader Black Reconstruction in America 1860 - 1880

Fun Facts

Trivia To Bend Your Brain

Elmer the bull (mascot of Elmer's Glue) and Elsie the cow (mascot of Borden's milk) are an official couple and have 4 children together. Back in 1947 the Borden company, a large conglomerate, started using casein, the protein in dairy milk and a byproduct of their dairy operations, as a main ingredient in their new glue product. Elmer had already appeared in ads as the husband of their long-established Elsie milk mascot so his use in marketing for the glue brand was a natural development. My question here is what are these 2 cows cooking on the grill???
  • Opossums don't actually "play dead". Their famous defense mechanism happens under intense fear and is completely involuntary and causes them to go into a comatose state that can last for hours. The process causes them to emit a corpse like smell as well.
  • Queen Elizabeth II does not require a passport when she travels as British passports are actually issued in her name.
  • From Greg Kite in 1984 to LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and Jared Dudley in 2020, every NBA Finals matchup has featured at least one player who's been Shaquille O'Neal's teammate.
  • Phantom traffic jams (where cars are backed up without there being any actual collision or roadwork) are caused by a single driver braking suddenly, causing each successive driver to brake.
  • Prior to 1851 a diagnosis of diabetes was based on thee taste of the patient's urine.
Copyright © 2021 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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