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WesRecs

Vol. #60 - January 01, 2021

Happy New Year! We've made it...somehow. However 2021 finds you, I hope it's better than your 2020 and then some. At some point I may do a recap of personal 2020 accomplishments, failures, surprises, favorites, etc but for now I'll just say I'm thankful, and hopeful, and tired, and wary, and ready to do what I can to make my little piece of all of this better in the new year, however I can.

Short intro this week, but a packed newsletter. I've just spent the past 13 hours smoking a New Year's Day pork shoulder and it's got about 20 mins left before I can reward myself by eating myself into oblivion. But I've found some fun stuff for you this week and I encourage you to check it out below. Until next time!
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:

A Guy Rode the entirety of Broadway in Manhattan on an E-scooter
He provided historical commentary throughout and it's fantastic.

Madre de Dios
An essay on faith, spiritual searching, sea lions, the Virgin Mary, & trauma by the recently deceased Barry Lopez (RIP).

A Podcast: Jason Hickel & Andrew Keen on Degrowth
Economic "growth" is not a necessity. It's actually killing us (and the planet).

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
I can only recommend content to you that I come across myself and that I have found to be personally worthwhile. I'm most likely to be looking at content that is relevant to my current interests. My interests for much of this year have frequently skewed toward the pandemic (and the multi-level catastrophe that it's been in the U.S.) the thin ledge off of which American democracy has been hanging, climate change,  & rampant police violence + the prison-industrial complex.

All of that means that WesRecs can sometimes get a little...bleak. And while it's important that we confront and address our most persistent/uncomfortable/troubling challenges head on (with the belief that we can actually overcome them....because we can) it's also important to look at the beautiful and the good that's all around us all the time. With that in mind I will endeavor to include more content each week that uplifts me (while still including all of the usual stuff that concerns or terrifies me). So here's a great way to star the New Year with an encouraging thread from John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats about hard times and getting through them.

COVID Corner

Findings in Plagueland

No game days. No bars. The pandemic is forcing some men to realize they need deeper friendships. - Washington Post

The deeper we get into the epidemic the weirder and more tangential the results get. *Nothing* is good about COVID but if a global pandemic is what it takes to get some guys to admit that they require strong and reliable emotional connections in their lives and that feelings and vulnerability aren't just laughable weaknesses then i guess that's a  slight upside???
 
He started recognizing how dependent his friendships had become on those Sunday football games and nights at 14th Street lounges, on venting about Republicans or why the Caps fell short in the playoffs. They hardly ever talked about relationships or family, or just generally how they were doing. He had never met many of their family members.

...

But as boys begin to enter adolescence at age 15 or 16, “you start to hear them shut down and not care anymore,” Way said. They start to act defensive about their friendships, saying they’re “not gay” and that they’re not as close anymore. “You hear those expectations of manhood get imposed on them.”

Way argues the lack of vulnerability in male friendships is rooted in a misogynistic, homophobic culture that discourages emotional intimacy between men. But it’s also part of a culture that does not value adult friendship in general.

“The goal of adulthood is to find a partner, not to find a best friend,” Way said. “There’s nothing in our definition of success or maturity … that includes friendships.”
How Do We Grieve 300,000 Lives Lost? - NPR

This was written in mid-December 2020. Things have only gotten worse. The scale of the grief is ineffable. Some people have lost their entire families. This destruction will resonate for years and years to come, but for now empathy (wherever and however we can spare it, is most definitely in order.
 
There is no analogue in recent U.S history to the scale of death brought on by the coronavirus, which now runs unchecked in countless towns, cities and states.

It's equivalent to Sept. 11 happening nearly 100 times. One person now dies every 36 seconds from COVID-19.

"We're seeing some of the most deadly days in American history," says Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

During the last two weeks, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in the U.S., outpacing even heart disease and cancer.

...

By the end of January, the U.S. is expected to have lost more people to COVID-19 than service members in World War II, according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

...

"We're all in this great big storm, but some people are in a yacht and some people are on a cruise ship and some people are on a raft," he adds. "We're not all in this together."

 

Race & Policing

Towards The Reduction Of Harm

Nashville bomber's girlfriend warned police last year he was making explosives, reports show - The Hill

A domestic terrorist absolutely leveled an entire city block and knocked out a huge chunk of cellular & internet service in Nashville, Tennessee with a homemade bomb...on Christmas day...and somehow it seems to be only a slightly-more-than-peripheral news story??? As of mid-week the president had not contacted the mayor of Nashville or the Governor of Tennessee. No one in local, national, or state government had gone on TV to denounce terrorism on U.S. soil or this "attack on Christmas!". And of course no one was demanding that we close our borders in order to stem the tide of outrageous violence being unleashed on Americans as they tried to enjoy a holiday with their families because, as we know, the bomber was a homegrown white dude and that's never what happens when they decide to blow or shoot something up. They get to be "lone wolves" whose attacks were "isolated" and the result of "mental health issues". The Media doesn't jump to the "obvious conclusion" of anti-Christian violence as a motive and all white men aren't suddenly regarded with suspicion with their national loyalties questioned and talks of banning them from America in the air. And of course none of that should happen, because the actions of a single person should never warrant that, but this is America and if you can't see the bold faced difference between the reactions to this asshole and the guy who shot up that Wal-Mart and the guy who killed dozens of people in Vegas vs. a brown person committing any violent crime against the "right kind" of victims then I don't know what to tell you.

A police report first obtained by The Tennessean and later shared with The Hill reveals that officers visited the home of Anthony Q. Warner more than a year ago after his girlfriend warned that he was making bombs in his recreational vehicle.

...

While at the home, officers also spoke with an attorney who represented the couple. The attorney, identified by the Tennessean as Raymond Throckmorton III, stated that the suspect frequently talked about being in the military and making bombs.

The attorney said he “believes that the suspect knows what he is doing and is capable of making a bomb.”

🎵To The Left! To The Left!🎵

On That Commie Pinko Tip

Friendly Reminder.
Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems - The Guardian

Repeat after me:

A government should not be "run like a business". A government should not be "run like a business". A government should not be "run like a business". A government should not be "run like a business". A government should not be "run like a business". A government should not be "run like a business".
 
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

...

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

...

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

...

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

Things Read

Worthwhile Words

Madre de Dios - Barry Lopez

This week I was scanning one of the countless newsletters that I subscribe to in order to expose myself to material that might might make it into WesRecs and I saw an item telling me that the author, essayist, & nature writer Barry Lopez had died. I am largely ignorant of Lopez's work. I have never read one of his books, or heard a lecture of his or checked out an interview. Still, as soon as I read the news of his passing my mind immediately flashed to the memory of experiencing the one thing of his that I have read, an essay about his religious life and two experiences he had with the Virgin Mary. It was profound. Something like 12 years ago I was reading one of those Best American Essays collections that I'd loaned from the library and Lopez's Madre de Dios was included and I was rocked his steady, open, un-flashy, but deeply resonant prose. Not only did I love his style and vulnerability but what he relates is both amazing and devastating: literally miraculous encounters combined with a gut-punch of trauma of the worst kind, all in that steady voice. As far as any creative work I've ever made or will make I'm not sure I need to hope for anything more than the scanning of my stumbled-upon obituary triggering an instant rush of recognition, remembrance, and appreciation in someone who read one thing by me a decade before. RIP.

"Once the Beagle III was anchored in the cove, Orlando and a crewman lowered a motor-powered, fourteen-foot panga into the water and, with four other tourists traveling aboard the Beagle, we approached the sea lions. Some of them were trussed so tightly in the net’s green twine that their eyeballs bulged from their heads. To get a short breath one animal, closely bound to three or four others in a knot, might have to force the others underwater, only then to be driven underwater itself by another animal struggling to breathe. The high-pitched whistles and explosive bellows of animals gasping for air rent the atmosphere in the cove again and again. Their desperation and sheer size made an approach in the small panga dangerous, but we had no choice now. Orlando and I braced ourselves to work on the port side. Two people leaned out on the starboard side, to balance the boat. The crewman kept the lunging jaws of the sea lions away from us with an oar blade, and Orlando and I went after the net with our knives."

...

Back aboard the Beagle, everyone save Orlando and me stepped into the main cabin for a late dinner. The two of us sat on the open deck in silence, barefoot, our t-shirts and shorts soaked. Orlando, a young Argentine, was not a man particularly reverent about anything, certainly not mystical. In the deck lights we could see that our shins were turning black-and-blue, that the small cuts on our hands and arms were swelling shut from the salt water.

     I said, “Did you see what happened with the knife?

     “La Madre de Dios,” he said, staring into the night.

     Later that evening, unrolling my sleeping pad on the Beagle’s deck, I recalled a single one of her many appellations: Mediatrix of Graces.
When Usually Solitary Octopuses Get Together, Odd Things Happen - Atlas Obscura

I watched My Octopus Teacher this fall and it's all been downhill from there.

Octopus "intelligence" is a fascinating topic for anyone who's read like a single article about it, but this piece really helped me to think of it in a way that I hadn't before. From what we can see, octopus intelligence is decentralized, meaning that whereas our intelligence is located squarely in our brains, theirs is dispersed throughout their whole body (which has 8 arms and is basically liquid in its malleability). An octopus' limbs are constantly in motion, seeking, exploring, feeling. And it's doing all of that...involuntarily, almost as an afterthought. So when we observe an octopus in a research lab breaking out of its pen at 3 am to go grab a clandestine snack before sneaking back in quietly that may have all been a simply a result of 2 of its tentacles absentmindedly playing with the lock apparatus of its enclosure while it was eating or floating aimlessly and just coming up with the right way to open the door and escape and do what instinct tells it to by "accident". This is...wild. What a way to be.
 
A picture suggested by all this is that the octopus body is subject to a kind of mixed control. The body can be partially commanded and steered by the central brain, but the body also has parts that engage in their own ongoing exploration, reacting individually to their surroundings. Centrally coordinated actions can pass over to the exploratory tendencies of the arms. Watching octopuses sometimes results in a series of gestalt shifts, between seeing the animal as a whole whose each arm is a tool, and seeing an arm wander about, apparently in response to what it is sensing itself.

People often now talk about octopuses as “smart,” and in some ways they are. But that is not the term that comes readily to my mind. Octopuses are behaviorally complex, and I think they are also sensitive. I think they experience their lives in a rich way. The word “smart” points toward a particular way of being, however. It suggests that we interpret their behavioral complexity in a rather intellectualized manner. Octopuses are exploratory animals who direct the complexity of their bodies on whatever confronts them. They fiddle about and try things and turn the problem over and over—physically, not mentally. Octopuses have an extraordinary sensorium and an anarchic bodily embrace of novelty, but they are not, for the most part, ruminative and “clever” sorts of animals.
Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine - The Atlantic

I've said it before, I'll say it here: we had all the internet we needed in 2006. If we could've just held there we could've done a whole lot better. But we didn't, and here we are.

No joke: we need to be extremely concerned.
 
People tend to complain about Facebook as if something recently curdled. There’s a notion that the social web was once useful, or at least that it could have been good, if only we had pulled a few levers: some moderation and fact-checking here, a bit of regulation there, perhaps a federal antitrust lawsuit. But that’s far too sunny and shortsighted a view. Today’s social networks, Facebook chief among them, were built to encourage the things that make them so harmful. It is in their very architecture.

...

In previous eras, U.S. officials could at least study, say, Nazi propaganda during World War II, and fully grasp what the Nazis wanted people to believe. Today, “it’s not a filter bubble; it’s a filter shroud,” Geltzer said. “I don’t even know what others with personalized experiences are seeing.” Another expert in this realm, Mary McCord, the legal director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, told me that she thinks 8kun may be more blatant in terms of promoting violence but that Facebook is “in some ways way worse” because of its reach. “There’s no barrier to entry with Facebook,” she said. “In every situation of extremist violence we’ve looked into, we’ve found Facebook postings. And that reaches tons of people. The broad reach is what brings people into the fold and normalizes extremism and makes it mainstream.” In other words, it’s the megascale that makes Facebook so dangerous.

...

Facebook’s megascale gives Zuckerberg an unprecedented degree of influence over the global population. If he isn’t the most powerful person on the planet, he’s very near the top. “It’s insane to have that much speechifying, silencing, and permitting power, not to mention being the ultimate holder of algorithms that determine the virality of anything on the internet,” Geltzer told me. “The thing he oversees has such an effect on cognition and people’s beliefs, which can change what they do with their nuclear weapons or their dollars.”

 

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

Entire Length of Broadway in NYC Manhattan by E-Scooter (December 2020)

Excellent content.

Exactly what the video title says. This dude rode a Segway electric scooter down the entire length of Broadway from Marble Hill (which is technically part of Manhattan even though it's located on the mainland and would seem to be in The Bronx) to South Ferry at the Southern tip of the island, all while providing historical/geographical commentary.

This video is either exactly your thing or very much NOT your thing. I found it both rewarding and kind of hypnotic. That said, I didn't watch it straight through. I just kept it open in a dedicated browser tab and would watch 10-20 min snippets of its 90 min run time over the course of several days when I needed breaks from other tasks. I'd def recommend that viewing method if you're inclined to watch this sort of thing. Great stuff!
Manhattan’s Grid EXPLAINED | Map of Manhattan NY

Staying on the Manhattan exploration train here's a cool explainer on how the city's grid system works and the basic alignment of avenues and Central park and street orientation, etc. I knew more or less all of this before watching but I found the presentation to be pretty cool and if you're visiting NYC (or if you live here but rely exclusively on an app to tell you where you are while in the city) this is a good place to start with regard to navigation.
Wow. I had no idea that mining gold was so...chancy. I'd always imagined that a mining company would have some general idea of where a gold deposit would be, and that they'd simply dig down to where they needed to and find gold ore...which would of course need to be refined, but which would be in chunks & veins throughout a load of given rock.

Not so.

While they do indeed use geologists to take samples and determine (roughly) where the gold is, and while their engineers do work to remove as many inefficiencies as possible what's essentially happening is that once they find that general area they simply remove *all* of the rock and sift/sort the entire lode to get like a gram of gold per ton. The gold is so dispersed that you can't see it with the naked eye.

And this all somehow "economical" (yes, WILDLY destructive to the Earth but...worth it profit-wise). If you need a reminder on how rare gold is: All the gold ever mined in human history put together would make a cube that's about 68 ft on all sides. This amount can fit in an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Random Viewing

Things Heard

Listened To Recently By Wes

Keen On
Jason Hickel: How Degrowth Will Save the World


I do not love the interviewer here (lots of cutting off, bringing in relatively immaterial asides, just generally not a great conversational flow) but the subject is amazing and is talking a whole lot of sense about the gravity of the problem at hand, what addressing it could look like, and what will definitely *not* work.
 
"What if we recognized our interdependence with the rest of the living world? What if we refused any fundamental distinction between humans and nature? What if we designed an economy around mutual flourishing and regeneration rather than around exploitation and domination? I think these are the ideas we need to draw on and we imagine the economy for the 21st century."

I've been following Jason Hickel on Twitter since the spring and it's consistently rewarding. He's a much needed critic of Capitalism and the absurdity of placing "The Economy" over basic humanity who's very clearly passionate but who also always comes with a cogent easily-explainable argument with the receipts to back it up. Here's an article from this summer where he breaks town (and unarguably refutes IMO) the myth of "green growth" (i.e. that by increasing efficiencies in resource extraction and manufacturing we can get out of our climate crisis without having to reduce consumption or scale back the economy).

The Myth of America's Green Growth - Foreign Policy
 
What about technological innovation? McAfee argues that efficiency improvements will cut resource use. And in theory, that’s true, all else being equal. But in growth-oriented economies, savings from efficiency improvements are typically reinvested to expand the process of production and consumption, which ends up causing aggregate resource use to rise. For instance, if a soda company finds ways to use less metal in its cans, it will immediately invest any savings into expanding the business by, say, pumping out advertising to get people to buy more soda.

...

The only fail-safe strategy is to impose legally binding caps on resource use and gradually ratchet it back down to safe levels. Ecological economists have been calling for this for decades. In a way, this is an elegant solution to the long-standing debate about green growth. If McAfee and others really believe that GDP will keep growing despite active reductions in material use, then this shouldn’t worry them one bit. In fact, they should welcome such a move—it will give them a chance to prove once and for all that they are right.

...

But is it true? The evidence suggests otherwise. Let’s take the United States, for example. The United States has had extraordinary GDP growth over the past four decades. But, oddly, enough, real wages are lower today than they were in the 1970s, and poverty rates are higher. Why? Because virtually all of the gains from growth have gone to those who are already rich. The incomes of the richest 1 percent have more than tripled since 1980, soaring to an average of $1.5 million per person. In other words, we’ve all been pressing on the accelerator of growth, with devastating consequences for the living world, all to make rich people richer.

When you look at it this way, it becomes clear that the United States doesn’t need more growth in order to improve people’s lives. We can do it right now, without any growth at all, simply by sharing what we already have more fairly. Equity is the antidote to growth—and a much saner way to achieve our social goals.

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

Squantum, n
[ SKWON- tuhm ]

U.S. Local.
Meaning: In Massachusetts: a picnic, a ‘clambake’; spec. an annual feast formerly held on the sea-shore at which sea-food was eaten.

Origin:  Squantum, the name of a seacoast village (now part of Quincy), in Norfolk Co., E. Mass

Fun Facts

Trivia To Bend Your Brain

  • The studio's first choice for the role of Forrest Gump was John Travolta.
  • Your eyes are the same size now as they were at birth.
  • If smoothed out flat the total surface area of both human lungs is equal to that of a tennis court.
  • Your body contains enough iron to forge a nail 3 inches long.
  • One McDonald's burger can contain up to 100 cows and about 7.5% of the U.S. potato crop is used fro their French fries.
Copyright © 2021 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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