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This Week In ‘What Now’: Luke O’Neil, Pandemic Mascots, and Much More

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—Exclusive interviews with good, smart people (like this week’s guest, Luke O’Neil!)

—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!

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OK let’s get to the good shit!

On Monday, Crosbie talked to writer Luke O’Neil about his new book, Lockdown In Hell World:

I think you do a good job of finding these people who are in pain and allowing them to just sort of talk, onto your platform. It’s what journalists should do. What do you do when you’re talking to a person who’s experienced a very acute sort of pain, to give them a platform where they can speak and rooting that in what’s going on in the wider world? 

Look, I always say this: you can obviously get better journalism from The New York Times than you can get from my stupid newsletter. But if you were going to interview someone who’s had their life ruined for The New York Times, it would be like one quote. When somebody is being crushed in America, whether it’s a predatory healthcare system or police violence, I just think it’s more interesting to just hear from the person that’s been brutalized rather than trying to frame it in this context that sort of buries it. 

The other thing that I really try to do is I don’t then go get a comment from the villains in any story. I don’t go ask the villain like, “why did you ruin this person’s life?” I don’t care. Fuck you. They did it because they’re a villain. I’d rather hear from the person who got fucked over. 

You have this metaphor early on in the book that death is like the capital of Uruguay. We all know of it but can’t quite remember or think about it. But now, for me, a year into this I don’t know if I’m ever going to forget that it’s Montevideo. When did that feeling of mortality really sink in for you?

I like really surprised myself how seriously I took it, right from the start. My wife is too. Michelle, in the background: “Still shocked, every day.”

But once I started to see what it was like to die from this shit, I was like, I don’t want to do that. In a lot of my writing and in the books I talk about wanting to die a lot and depression and suicidal ideation and stuff, and it’s finally occurred to me after like a year of not doing anything that I guess I don’t want to die. Because I’m really scared of dying from this, and if I really didn’t care either way I wouldn’t have taken it seriously. And it kind of put things in perspective for me. That’s not to make light of those types of feelings that I and many people have, but it’s almost been reaffirming in a way. I want to make it through this. I want all of us to make it through this. And sadly 500 fucking thousand of us have not. That number is impossible to think about. 500,00 people. Like, do you grasp it? 

No. No way. As soon as we start talking about numbers of people who would be at like, I dunno, a reasonably large music festival or something, I have no concept of how many people that is. 

It’s the old cliche of “a million deaths is a statistic.” Like how are we not… how am I just chilling out right now, like, I’m doing an interview for my book, after that I’m going to eat some cheddar cheese and these crisp crackers I’ve got right now. Like what is that? Is there something wrong with us? Or is freaking out all the time also the wrong answer? And I guess if anything, that’s what my writing is trying to figure out. Where is the space between that? Are we supposed to be curled up in a ball all day all the time? Or are we supposed to be defiant in the face of death and exalt in the joy of our continued living?

On Wednesday, Cros answered a bunch of reader questions like this one:

Simon asks: If you could only pick one, non-human mascot for the pandemic, who or what would it be?

This is a funny question because The New Yorker literally tried to answer this in a very serious article about an obscure Japanese mascot named Amabie. It would be very easy to choose another quirky and fun Japanese mascot for the pandemic, but I’m not going to go that route. Honestly, I don’t know at all. Non-human? The only mascot I can think of for the sheer stupidity and dark comedy of this year is Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because he brings me joy and I would like to see him at any live event I attend in the future. 

What I will tell you is that in my frantic googling to try to answer this question I have discovered that the CDC actually had a mascot name “Wellbee,” which was designed in 1962 to help promote the Sabin Type II Oral Polio vaccine. They should bring that guy back! Look at this little fucker: 


You’re great Wellbee. Never change. 

And on Friday, Rafi said “man what the hell?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!” to several things, including this:

Squid goals

You know that famous cognitive development experiment where you put a marshmallow in front of a toddler and tell them that if they can hold off on eating it for five whole minutes, they’ll get a whole other marshmallow, but — because kids are largely very selfish and stupid — they never manage to make it without shoving Mr. Stay Puft into the baby-toothed maw? Well, guess who can pass that extremely simple test? Cuttlefish. Cuttlefish can do what your cutesy-wutsey bouncing bundle of joy cannot, according to a just-published study, helpfully titled “Cuttlefish exert self-control in a delay of gratification task” (you know….edging.)

Plus they can change color.

Cuttlefish: 1.
Babies: 0.

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