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This Week In ‘What Now’: Brandy Jensen, COVID Shaming, and Skateboarding Cats

Everything our Steward subscribers got exclusively this week.

The Discourse Blog starling shouting, "What Now"

Hello and welcome to our weekly roundup of our subscriber-only newsletter, What Now! This week our Steward tier members got:

—Online legend Brandy Jensen talking about COVID shaming, Twitter, and a whole lot more with Katherine

—Katherine’s thoughts on skateboarding cats, The Future of the Left, and, yes onions

—And, of course, Man What the Hell?!

We’ll show you some of this stuff in a second, but first, a reminder: What Now is our newsletter that we send out exclusively to our Steward tier members three times a week. It contains:

—Exclusive interviews with good, smart people (like Brandy!)

—Our Group Chat mailbag where we answer your questions about whatever you want

—Our take on a lot of news we couldn’t get to on the website

—Rafi’s “Man, What the Hell?” weekly news roundup, which now lives in What Now.

—And more!

You can get all of this if you subscribe to our Steward tier. It’s just $10 a month or $100 a year, and in return, you get What Now in your inbox, plus access to all of the stuff on our website, and the ability to comment on posts, and a link to our private Discord server. Doesn’t that sound great? Click the button below and join us! Or click here if you’re already subscribed to a lower tier and want to upgrade to Steward.

OK, let’s get into our sneak previews!

On Monday, Katherine and Brandy Jensen had a wonderful chat:

I really liked your recent Jezebel column about COVID guilting!

Oh, thank you! The commenters did not. [Laughs] They were basically just saying, oh, this woman who got COVID basically deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison because she went to a restaurant and possibly exposed others.

People were saying that in a serious way?

Well, I got a couple of people saying that getting sick isn’t punishment enough, but they didn’t answer the obvious question, which is, what would be sufficient punishment then? And listen, I understand, I think I probably could have been—I write these columns and send them off and sort of forget that people read them—and then the next day I feel like, OK, maybe you have a point, I could have been more generous to the woman who was feeling resentful because it’s justified to feel resentful when you’ve been acting in a way that you believe is responsible when a bunch of people have been acting in a way that you believe is irresponsible. 

People got mad at me for being too lenient on somebody because, you know, we’ve all been stuck at home for however long now, and we would like to make sure that nobody is experiencing any sort of pleasure that has been denied to us.

That feels like exactly it. I’ve been thinking for a long time about how the pandemic has really empowered kind of COVID cops, with us policing not only just friends and family. I used to see it online all time, even if it wasn’t all-out cheering people getting what was coming to them—oh you were going to parties and got COVID, ha ha ha—but also this kind of hyper-vigilance where you feel like you’re being careful, so it really can make you feel crazy to see other people treating this with a devil-may-care attitude. Where do you think we go from here, is this good for us as a society?

I just think it’s not a good instinct to always choose to deputize yourself. Part of it is just a reaction to a feeling of profound helplessness that you know, nobody is really doing much of anything to ameliorate the problem. So maybe that the least you can do is try to shame some people and that might be helpful— ultimately, I don’t think it is helpful, but I do get where that instinct comes from. I think it comes from a place of feeling sort of betrayed or abandoned by anybody who might be able to do anything about this. Some of it is just people who like to scold no matter what. But I do understand where that instinct comes from.

Some commenters on my column were talking about cutting somebody out of their life entirely if they got COVID after going to a restaurant. And I’m just like, What kind of world do you want to return to once you can return to the world? That’s my question. Once you’re allowed back into the fullness of your life, you should try not to have emptied it out in advance.

On Wednesday, Katherine answered wild questions in our Group Chat:

Matthew asks: I keep watching videos of cats riding skateboards, can I train my cat to do that?  Or did I miss the boat since she is no longer a kitten?  Do your cats do any tricks?

Thank you for this question. As anyone who’s interacted with me (a childless adult who cohabitates with three cats and a foster kitty) can attest, I could talk about my cats for a long time.

As the no doubt reputable website (second Google result) says:

“With the proper methods and some ingenuity from you, your feline friend will be able to surprise you when you see the plethora of things it will be able to learn. Among other things, this can also include the art of skateboarding. We have seen videos of dogs as well as cats riding on skateboards and it is a sight to behold.”

Boy is it ever! Here’s a great video of a skateboarding cat, for reference. But back to your query: People claim that it’s possible to train your cat to skateboard, but you have to start with baby steps, like putting your cat on a blanket on the carpet and dragging them slowly. If they like that, they just might like skateboarding, according to this instructional video! But the consensus also seems to be that it’s best to start when they’re kittens and perhaps more trainable. The preeminent skateboarding cat seems to be Didga, a very cute cat from Australia. Didga’s owner is a professional animal trainer with 30 years experience, who told Animal Planet he first trained police dogs in the military (hmmmm) and then went to train animals in Hollywood (demonic vibes, further hmmm).

I often think of Kedi, deeply charming documentary about Turkish street cats that puts forward the notion that dogs are so obedient to humans because they see man as God; cats are the way they are because they know better. Does training your cat to go against its higher, semi-religious nature by hopping on a skateboard throw you in with cops and Hollywood? That’s not for me to say.

In my own life, I have found cats extremely difficult to train (and even socialize after a certain age, but that’s a topic for another blog, maybe). I’ve been most impressed that, despite having all these cats around, they each seem to have one skill that’s unique to them that the others simply won’t pick up. My little guy, Sid, is the only one to have figured out that laying on the seam between the couch and the wall puts you on top of the heat vent. He’s also the best at opening partially-open doors from either side. His sister, Bea, is the only one that naps on the peak of the back of a living room chair. Marty can drink out of faucets, but his most special skill is that he is Marty, a sphinx who seems in touch with ancients.

And on Friday, Rafi tackled, among other things…

Mind your manors

In what is absolutely the start of a low-budget creature feature horror flick, the childhood mansion where the eventually beheaded future queen of England Ann Boleyn was born has become so infested with moths that estate caretakers have been forced to fight fire with fire — by which I mean they’re releasing a swarm of tiny wasps known as Trichogramma evanescens, which (if all goes according to plan) will find the moth eggs, lay their own horrible insectoid brood in their place, and then (again, this is what everyone hopes will happen) have the good British sense to die quietly and without much of a fuss.

Incredibly, this is apparently the first time the bug bomb tactic has been used in a stately English manor like this before (although it’s hardly the first time a WASP has been let loose in some upscale digs they probably don’t deserve).

“We are really hoping this pioneering approach will provide a practical and sustainable method that any of our properties can use to deal with serious infestations,” a spokesperson for the National Trust responsible for the property said in a statement to CNN.

Good luck!

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