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Vol. #27 - May 08, 2020

It's been a rough week in these United States, nestled quite uncomfortably at the end of a rough 2 months. But we forge onward because... what the hell else are you going to do? And better days are ahead (I do believe that).  My foremost recommendation this week is that you remember to call your mother this Sunday (or anyone who was a mother to you). Beyond that I'd just say check in on your friends and loved ones, and take some time for yourself if you can. I personally have taken up daily walks of several miles each in the last few weeks and I highly recommend the practice if you're able. The 10 hour Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN has also been personal appointment viewing (if you have no interest in basketball but are fascinated by competition, fame, or the sheer will of the human spirit there's something there for you).

In last week's WesRecs I acknowledged that this newsletter is LONG by design. I love absolutely packing it each week with content that I adore and I envision its readers spending some time with each issue, diving into what they find intriguing, glossing over that which might not be their cup of tea. BUT I realize that the length might be intimidating to some and that many (most?) people who open this will never actually see the bottom of it. With that in mind I am now trying to pick each week a few items that I'm especially fond of to quickly link to right here at the top with the barest of descriptions. Everything here is more fully detailed and introduced below but in the spirit of trying new things here we go:
As per usual in the last month 2 months of this newsletter the first part of this week's WesRecs is COVID Corner, devoted to pandemic related news, info, humor, etc. If that's quite for you right now please feel free to skip past it down to your regularly scheduled programming, take care!

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.
COVID Corner
General News/Info/Resources
  • A reporter for ProPublica dropped a ridiculous tweet thread about the byzantine wheeling/dealing/hoping? attempts of a 2 year old company with no prior experience in the field to make good on an a $34.5M contract awarded by the VA to procure N95 masks. It is a window into the utter incompetence, disorganization, and money-grabbing that are the hallmark's of the administration's efforts to meet the basic material requirement of fighting this crisis. You can read the full article about it here but the thread says most of it.
  • GIVING OPPORTUNITY: Since soon after all of this began comedian/storytelller/author Mike Birbiglia has been running a donation service to help the servers, bartenders, door people, etc who staff comedy clubs and are currently out of work due to closures. It's a cause that's near and dear to my heart and if you're able it be great if you could sned some funds to this particular group in need. There options for giving to clubs in multiple states and you get some great comedy in the deal too. Tip Your Waitstaff.
  • rescueparty2020 - "a series of short comics solicited by @desertislandcomics on the theme of utopian futures after we survive the coronavirus crisis."

How Infectious Disease Defined the American Bathroom -CityLab

Design is a response to the state of affairs that we find ourselves in and that state of affairs is often shaped by design. It's a weird, messy, glorious loop. The pandemic is already influencing how we work, dress, shop, & congregate (if we do that at all). It will inevitably influence how we build our homes, offices, and bathrooms. I think this is a really good look at how the 1918 Influenza pandemic shaped our notion of the modern bathroom. Quickie takeaway: vestibules with sinks are about to experience a renaissance.
"Alter predicted that disease-avoidance would rise to the fore of bathroom design a few years ago, when he observed the traumatizing effects of the 2003 SARS outbreak on Toronto, which killed 44 people. But home design in general — and bathroom design in particular — has long been influenced by infectious disease. This isn’t a linear narrative with clear causation, but rather a convergence of advancements in science, infrastructure, plumbing, sanitation and design trends. The modern bathroom developed alongside outbreaks of tuberculosis, cholera and influenza; its standard fixtures, wallcoverings, floorings, and finishes were implemented, in part, to promote health and hygiene in the home at a time of widespread public health concerns."


"Concern over hygiene and the spread of infectious diseases also drove another design innovation: second bathrooms. In multi-story homes, bathrooms were typically located on the second floor, near the bedrooms. But as influenza outbreaks raged in the early 20th century, some homeowners added a small half-bathroom — also known as a “powder room” — on the ground floor of a house near the entrance. In an era of daily home deliveries of ice, coal and groceries, powder rooms gave delivery people or visitors the opportunity to wash their hands using an easily accessible sink, Wright says, instead of bringing germs from other people’s homes upstairs into the family’s personal quarters."

When Blackness Is a Preexisting Condition - New Republic

"We're all in this together" in the sense that COVID does not care about your birthplace, your diploma, your resume, or your assets. But we could not be more siloed and segregated in terms of whether or not COVID will actually find you and what your outcome is likely to be if it does. Access to healthcare, the probability of preexisting conditions, the luxury of earning an income while working from home, the likelihood of living in a well-funded municipality with solid social services, eligibility for small business loans, etc etc etc all of these tend to break along racial lines in this country. "Half of all COVID-19 cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths due to the disease in the US occurred in counties that are disproportionately black." We might be in a generational crisis but America is America.
“Covid-19 operates on a much wider and more demographically diverse scale than Katrina did, but we’re certain to encounter the stories of other Ethel Freemans: people of color whose chances of survival were handicapped by generations of human-engineered disasters before they found themselves in the path of a natural one. Their deaths will overtake them silently and without fanfare, unless we are able to speak of common threats in a non–color-blind way that matches the devastating scale of the crisis at hand.”


“On paper, Covid-19 may fit the profile of an equal opportunity assassin, but the trajectory of its rampage throughout the United States strongly indicates otherwise. In April, a Washington Post study found that majority-Black counties faced three times the Covid-19 infection rate, and nearly six times the mortality rate from the virus, that majority-white counties did. Confronting these disparities squarely reveals a further truth that the conditions of disparate vulnerability are not just there, but rather reflect the long-term consequences of the nation’s racially and economically disparate response to earlier crises. Rescues past and present illuminate in striking clarity whose vulnerability warrants robust interventions and whose does not.“


The reflexive appeal to a post-racial and post-intersectional sentiment in the face of a racialized disaster is itself a key reason that racial disaster capitalism continues to destroy Black lives and Black communities. We’ve been reassured over and over again that some sort of help is on the way—buses and basic provisions in New Orleans; masks, ventilators, shelter, and economic support today. And it will be another promise in the future. Every time I hear that misleadingly hopeful phrase, “on the way,” my heart breaks anew remembering Ethel Freeman’s unheard plea for shelter that never came. Had her story and those of countless others prompted the reckoning that they should have—had the gargantuan intersectional failures that took the lives of scores of Katrina’s survivors been properly centered in our national consciousness—we would be staring down this virus and the multiple inequalities that it exposes with something more than a merely rhetorical invocation of inclusiveness and solidarity. And then, at long last, we might be genuinely prepared to fight for all of us.“

COVID/Lockdown Comedy
Ida B. Wells: The Past is Prologue
This past week Ida B. Wells (1862 - 1931) was awarded a long overdue posthumous Pulitzer Prize for “her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching”. Just this week, horrific video of the modern day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man in Georgia out for a jog, came to light, a full two months after his brutal murder. His killers had remained free and un-prosecuted all this time and would have remained so had this video not come to light. It’s fitting that Wells was honored this week because her words still scream to us more than a century later.

Below are some excellent high level video overviews of Wells' work for anyone who wants to quickly get more familiar with it.

Additionally you can read the full text her 100-page pamphlet The Red Record (1895), detailing lynching in the United States since the end of The Civil War HERE.

So one of my quarantine lifestyle adjustments was to get a Fitbt and commit to daily long walks outside. It hasn't really been much of an adjustment or burden for me, I love a good walk (and having the tracker reveals that I regularly walk about 2.5mi each day just inside my house between pacing and trips to the kitchen/bathroom, nice). My aims on the walks are to stretch my legs, get fresh air, visit interesting sites related to Brooklyn history, and to observe/document how COVID and the lockdown are affecting the neighborhoods. One of the side benefits of this is that I'm listening to a ton of podcasts again. Something I really hadn't done since I was living in Boston and spending at least 10 hours a week in my car.

One of the podcasts I've missed the most is Imaginary Worlds a show about "how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief" hosted by Eric Molinsky. It is consistently one of the most info-packed and thought provoking programs that I listen to and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, life imitating art, world building, anthropology, trivia, and pop culture history. One episode might talk about the creation of Wonder Woman and mid-century gender relations, while another might talk about the economics of Star Trek. It's great stuff. I recently listened to an episode about Solarpunk a speculative fiction genre and aesthetic focused on a positive vision for the future that embraces DIY sustainability, greenery, hope, and human ingenuity.

I think I'm in love.

Like seriously, this podcast episode was one of the most hope-instilling, heart-expanding, rabbit-hole-digging things I've encountered in a long time. Listening to it I had genuine hope for our collective future. Not only in the face of the existential three at of climate change (which the forces of capital and oppression are hell bent on steering us directly into at every turn) but also with regard to personal freedom, individual expression, fuller engagement in  both the natural and built world, and general worldwide liberation.

OK but what is Solarpunk?
Pictures speak a thousand words and above is a pretty good representation of what a Google image search will return for the term. I'm pretty new to it myself (and haven't really read much of the short fiction where most of the genre has been developed) but here are some great resources I've found so far aside from the podcast above:

Explainer: ‘solarpunk’, or how to be an optimistic radical - The Conversation

Exactly what the title sounds like, a great read that goes a bit more in depth on what this is all about.
"Although optimistic, Solarpunk’s future imaginings do not fit neatly with current political regimes or economic systems. Self-described “researcher-at-large” Adam Flynn argues that the movement begins with “infrastructure as a form of resistance”. Solarpunks are in the business of dreaming a totally different system of energy delivery, essential services and transport. Quite different to behemoth of roads and coal-fired power plants we live amongst today.

In other words, Solarpunks resist the present by imagining a future that requires radical societal change. Radical, perhaps, but not radically impossible. Indeed, many of the technologies and practices that solarpunks draw into their imaginings already exist: solar and other renewable energy, urban agriculture, or organic architecture and design. Like sci-fi authors, solarpunks remix the present to produce an alternative future."


"In other words, Solarpunks resist the present by imagining a future that requires radical societal change. Radical, perhaps, but not radically impossible. Indeed, many of the technologies and practices that solarpunks draw into their imaginings already exist: solar and other renewable energy, urban agriculture, or organic architecture and design. Like sci-fi authors, solarpunks remix the present to produce an alternative future."

The New Utopians - The New Republic

This piece contextualizes Solarpunk in the field of literary sci-fi as a whole, and does a great job of showing how it is frequently written and read as a resistance to the dystopian thuthrustrst of cyberpunk.
"Climate change, so difficult to grapple with because it requires the cooperation of nations across the globe, points to how our environmental problems are fused with the narrowing of our political options. The end of history, much heralded by Francis Fukuyama, has been accompanied not by a flourishing of democracy but by plutocratic-friendly gridlock that prevents any political action that challenges the interests of entrenched wealth. The enemy of utopia isn’t dystopia, but oligarchy. The cultural critic Fredric Jameson summed up the dilemma of our epoch when he quipped that someone once said, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”


"“Anyone can do a dystopia these days just by making a collage of newspaper headlines,” Robinson told science fiction short story writer Terry Bisson in 2009. “But utopias are hard, and important, because we need to imagine what it might be like if we did things well enough to say to our kids, we did our best, this is about as good as it was when it was handed to us, take care of it and do better.”"


"Welcome to the bright green world of solarpunk.” A mix of green technology, economic ideology, sociology, science fiction, architecture, and even fashion, solarpunk remains more of an aspirational mindset and lifestyle than a cultural movement, but the popularity of the term speaks to a hunger for an alternative to the apocalypse. “It’s hard out here for futurists under 30,” declares one manifesto. “We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.”"


" Carrying forward and advancing the kind of utopianism that runs from Morris to Robinson, and now solarpunk, is a heartening sign that the dream of a better tomorrow is still possible, even in the face of the apocalypse. To build a better future we have to first imagine it."

Things Read
Between the spreadsheets - 1843 Magazine

This was WILD.

OK so if you haven't skimmed at least 100 articles in the past decade that wonder & worry & evangelize about the effects of online dating on society, families, marriage/divorce rates, self-image, empathy, and so on then I'm truly amazed because it's the phenomenon (more like an everyday phenomenon at this point) that has launched a thousand think pieces. It's not new, it's not novel, and it's here to stay. BUT one thing that it's helped to usher in (on top of a far greater cultural awareness of, if not acceptance for, polyamory) is individuals using data science and modern management tools in order to find that special someone. This piece follows one such dude who at turns strikes me as pragmatic, sad, emotionally disabled, reflective, and...weirdly...idealistic. Online dating is great, whatever he's doing is...not for me, but hey there's all kinds of people in this world and who am I to judge how they find love??? Like i said, wild read.
"Yates is not the only one who has found that a business-like approach to relationships has made them kinder. Take the polycule – that’s a relationship constellation of three or more people – near Chicago, which recently used Excel to plan an orgy. The day before, participants entered their pronouns, likes, dislikes, boundaries, hard stops, aspirations for the orgy, std status and sexual preferences. This clarity made the experience that followed more “comfortable”, according to one participant.

One New Zealand couple deployed Agile, a project-management system that companies such as Microsoft and Lockheed Martin use to streamline processes across teams, in their marriage. The goal was continuous improvement. They held monthly retrospective meetings, where they reviewed personal successes and failures and set “action points” for the next month-long sprint."

The Man Who Thought Too Fast - The New Yorker

What philosophy I've read has overwhelmingly been in the Continental tradition, focusing on questions about how to live, what represents "the good", etc. The Analytical tradition which is mainly concerned with logic and how we can possibly "know" what we claim to know has always seemed a bit closer to math to me, staid & formulaic. But I'm starting to come around and have poking at Wittgenstein's Tractatus as of late. I had never even heard of Frank Ramsey (a translator and contemporary of Wittgenstein) until reading this, a review of a recent biography about him, but I'm hella interested now and might give that book a shot (when getting into topics that I might find challenging or unfamiliar I find it's often helpful to read biographies about major figures in those fields, everything is just more relaxed in welcoming imho...we'll see).
"When Ramsey later published a paper about rates of saving, Keynes called it “one of the most remarkable contributions to mathematical economics ever made.” Its most controversial idea was that the well-being of future generations should be given the same weight as that of the present one. Discounting the interests of future people, Ramsey wrote, is “ethically indefensible and arises merely from the weakness of the imagination.”


"There was a broader philosophical picture behind his humor. He was attracted by the idea that beliefs of all sorts were best understood in terms of their consequences. He called this “pragmatism,” following the American philosopher C. S. Peirce, who died in 1914. Ramsey took the essence of pragmatism to be that “the meaning of a sentence is to be defined by reference to the actions to which asserting it would lead, or, more vaguely still, by its possible causes and effects. Of this I feel certain.” Part of “the essence of any belief,” he later wrote, is that “we deduce from it, and act on it in a certain way.”

Falling - The Hedgehog Review

From 2014: A man who won a Pulitzer Prize, who hobnobbed with the literati & dignitaries and traveled the world finds himself in old age to be in a state of poverty. An interesting view from the inside from someone who never expected to be there.
"Compared with most poor people, I am fortunate. If you’ve got to be poor, finding yourself at the upper edge of poverty with a roof over your head and a wardrobe that doesn’t look as if it came from the Salvation Army is as good as it gets. It also helps to be white."


"If you’re poor, what might have been a minor annoyance, or even a major inconvenience, becomes something of a disaster. Your hard drive crashes? Who’s going to pay for the recovery of its data, not to mention the new computer? I’m not playing solitaire on this machine; the hard drive holds my work, virtually my life. It is not a luxury for me but a necessity. I need dental work. Anybody got $10,000? Dentists are not a luxury. Dental disease can make you seriously ill. Lose your cellphone? What may be a luxury to some is a necessity to me. Without that telephone and that computer, my life as I have known it would cease to exist. Not long after, so would I. I am not eager for that to happen. Need to go to a funeral hundreds of miles away? Who pays for the plane ticket? In the case of the funeral, my nephew paid for the plane ticket. My daughter and son-in-law paid for the dental work. Sometimes, I find it deeply humiliating that I am dependent on such kindnesses when I would prefer that the kindnesses flow the other way. Most of the time, though, I am just extremely grateful for the help of family and friends. It’s not so much humiliating as it is humbling, which is a good thing.

I am ashamed to have gotten myself into this situation. Unlike many who are born, live, and die in poverty, I got where I am today through my own efforts. I can’t blame anyone else. Perhaps, it should be humiliating to reveal myself like this to the eyes of any passing stranger or friend; more humiliating to friends, actually, some of whom knew me in another life. Most of my friends probably don’t realize or would rather not realize just how parlous my situation is. Just as well. We’d both be embarrassed."
Things Seen
You gotta watch this season's Hulu series "Dave" about the life and career of rapper/comic Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky). I think it’s one of the best comedies of recent years. Don’t think I’ve watched any comedy as eagerly since “Atlanta”. It's consistently hilarious in the most vulgar but meaningful ways possible and the emotional depth is as real as it is surprising. The supporting characters are all really well developed, the celebrity cameos (there are many) actually add to the episodes rather than just feeling like “oh cool, they’re in this one”, and the way they incorporate his music into the plot (esp in the last 2 eps) is really inventive. This has gotta get some Emmy noms (and hopefully wins). Crazy to see a comedy so strong in its debut season. I loved this show. You will too.
Things Made
Comedy in the time of COVID is weird indeed. After being part of several ZOOM/Instagram/YouTube/Facebook Live shows in the past 2 months I can say that while these mediums lose out in terms of the immediacy/energy of a live crowd and the joke-laughter feedback loop they certainly do have advantages. You can see a show stacked with comics from all over the country who would never be able to be in a club together, you can easily incorporate clips/slides/music into your performance with a minimum of technical hassle, more people (from all over the world) can watch any given show than could physically fit into most venues, and if it's a great show that has a system in place to tip performers you can earn more for your performance than you might at a similar show in the flesh. As a performer it also pushes you to explore new ways of connecting and holding a (virtual) crowd's interest. While nothing can replace being on stage with an engaged audience I'm happy to have these alternatives until performing at a packed city comedy club seems like less of a mortal danger.

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of one of the more uniquely formatted shows in this new wave of virtual comedy: The Comedy Studio: From a Social Distance. It's a talk/interview show modeled somewhat after The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson's classic era. Rick Jenkins, the owner/host of one of my favorite comedy clubs ever The Comedy Studio in Somerville, MA (formerly Cambridge) opens the show with a 10 minute monologue of jokes and observations and then introduces a performer who has a history with the club, they chat, then watch an old clip of that performer at the club (the studio has recorded all of their shows since January 2005), then talk about how the material was generated, how it's changed, the creative process, etc. I had a chance to appear on Episode no. 13 last Saturday and now you can watch it HERE. Rick and I watched a clip of mine from March 2017. It was interesting to see which of the bits I still use and which I haven't even thought about in 3 years (I think I'll try to resurrect and re-work my closing bit on the nature of personality types and our current has some legs). Take a look if you're interested and stay tuned after me for a second great interview with the very talented comedian & podcaster Caitlin Durante who haven't seen too much since we both left Boston but whose work I've always enjoyed.
Word of the Week
Amerika, n.
[ uh-MER-i-kuh]

Meaning:  American society viewed as racist, fascist, or oppressive, esp. by African-Americans.

Origin: Originally and chiefly U.S. Alteration of the name of America (see America n.), after German Amerika and Russian Amerika, to express associations of fascism and authoritarianism.
In forms with triple k with allusion to the initial letters of Ku Klux Klan
Somebody Said This
"It is [the American negro’s]  regret, that, in his own defense, he must disclose to the world that degree of dehumanizing brutality which fixes upon America the blot of a national crime. Whatever faults and failings other nations may have in their dealings with their own subjects or with other people, no other civilized nation stands condemned before the world with a series of crimes so peculiarly national. It becomes a painful duty of the Negro to reproduce a record which shows that a large portion of the American people avow anarchy, condone murder and defy the contempt of civilization. These pages are written in no spirit of vindictiveness, for all who give the subject consideration must concede that far too serious is the condition of that civilized government in which the spirit of unrestrained outlawry constantly increases in violence, and casts its blight over a continually growing area of territory."

Ida B. Wells The Red Record 1895
Fun Facts
  • The Celsius & Fahrenheit temperature scales intersect at only 1 point: -40 degrees.
  • CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automatic Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
  • Spaghetti is the plural form of the pasta type. A single strand is called a Spaghetto.
  • What we commonly think of as the “top” of banana (where individual bananas are joined in a bunch) is actually the bottom part that attaches to the tree. Bananas are curved because they grow upward toward the Sun.
  • Saint Lucia is the only country in the world named after a woman.
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.

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