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WesRecs

Vol. # - May 01, 2020

Happy May Day. We've made it through April...somehow. But these days what does time even mean? I just hope that you're all surviving and thriving and safe and not letting the incredible stresses of the last 2 months weigh too heavily on you. Check in on your friends and fam, support essential workers however you can, but definitely be sure to take care of yourself and do whatever you need to do to steel yourselves for the months ahead. They can open all of the business they want but "this" isn't going to be "over" anytime soon. We all need to be strong and caring and clearheaded for everything that lies ahead. Be kind to each other. I love you all.

BTW: I've been thinking a lot about how I can grow WesRecs by making it better and more accessible. That's made me reflect on how people most commonly engage with it. One thing that's pretty obvious, and if you're a regular reader you know this but: this newsletter is...LONG. That's been by design. This has never been meant as a quick scan-and-read. In my head I've always pictured someone opening this coffee in hand, with a good chunk of open time ahead of them, slowly going through it and stopping in at whatever items they find interesting, taking their time with the #longreads, and videos and random tidbits alike.

This is not generally how people read newsletters. And I know full well that many who open this will never see the bottom of it. In an effort to better accommodate them I'm going to try to pick 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 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  

'Heads we win, tails you lose': how America's rich have turned pandemic into profit - The Guardian

I'm typing this on May 1st 2020. Today millions of Americans who have been financially devastated by the (necessary) national lockdown measures are being asked to pay rent with no income or a severely reduced income. Millions couldn't do it on April 1st, many more won't be able to today. The fact that it's even a concern they need to have while dealing with health issues or caring for others or being full-time parents stuck in the house while schools are closed is a travesty. A lack of common sense rent moratoriums on the state and federal level (combined with a one-time paltry $1200 stimulus payment that's somehow supposed to also cover food, utilities, & other essentials) means that mi;l;ions of Americans are suffering and scared and hanging by a thread financially. On the other hand, and as usual in the US, the richest are resting easy and in some cases turning a tidy profit by taking advantage of bailout funds and market grabs. It's an outrage but hardly a surprise.

"The billionaire bonanza comes as a flotilla of big businesses, millionaires and billionaires sail through loopholes in a $349bn bailout meant to save hard-hit small businesses. About 150 public companies managed to bag more than $600m in forgivable loans before the funds ran out. Among them was Shake Shack, a company with 6,000 employees valued at $2bn. It has since given the cash back but others have not.

Fisher Island, a members-only location off the coast of Miami where the average income of residents is $2.2m and the beaches are made from imported Bahamian sand, has received $2m in aid.

Its residents seemed to be doing fine even before the bailout. This month, the island purchased thousands of rapid Covid-19 blood test kits for all residents and workers. The rest of Florida is struggling. About 1% of Florida’s population has been tested for the coronavirus, behind the national figure of 4%. The state is also in the midst of an unemployment claims crisis, with its underfunded benefits system unable to cope with the volume of people filing."


I Served 22 Years in Prison and Was Just Released Into a Pandemic - GEN

An introspective and thoughtful account from a recently released prisoner on trauma, the failure of "the system", personal responsibility, the inhumanity of prison, feeling alone, feeling hopeful, and yes emerging from 2 decades of incarceration straight into a global pandemic.

"People had been getting sick, one here, one there. The civilian who ran commissary tested positive. We stopped getting our items regularly. People started smuggling stuff around the prison, from unit to unit, to survive: coolers, frying pans, food, soap, toothpaste. With the virus, it got extra chaotic because guards didn’t want to touch or search us. They still found ways to dehumanize us, acting as if we had the disease. But they were the ones who brought it to us.

...

Last time I was on the streets, I was a child, a child who didn’t follow any of the rules. So I didn’t know how to open a bank account, pay a bill, use a smartphone or a microwave. Didn’t know my own bra size. I was bewildered by the self-checkout at Walmart. And how do you stand in line? In prison, we always had to be close. Now I have to be six feet away from everyone? I didn’t know the regular outside rules or the new Covid-19 rules."


What post-pandemic restaurant dining might be like - Boston.com

This pandemic means that a lot of innovative, amazing, well-run, neighborhood-enhancing, worker-friendly restaurants will never be able to open their doors again. That is a tragedy for both their patrons, staff, and owners that must be reckoned with at some point down the line. Many restaurants will survice though and they are now feverishly at work trying to determine what dining in public means and looks like in a post-COVID world. Nothing will be the same, but some things will, some things will be better, and somethings we'll mourn forger.
 
"The questions pile up fast. Should you rely on disposable paper menus, or is wiping down plastic-covered ones safe? What kind of thermometers are best to check employees’ health, and will diners submit to temperature checks? Can air-conditioning spread the virus? What is a restaurant’s liability if a customer gets sick? How does a sommelier taste wine while wearing a mask, and how do you rewrite a menu so cooks can stay safe in the tight confines of a restaurant kitchen?"

"Lindsay Jang, who opened the restaurant in 2011 with chef Matt Abergel, said they follow strict government rules, which can bring a fine of about $6,500 and six months in jail if not followed. Customers waiting for a table can’t congregate in what was once the restaurant’s crowded bar. Diners have their temperatures checked, and use a freshly sterilized pen to sign a health declaration form. Tables are spaced 1 1/2 meters apart, and parties larger than four aren’t allowed."

The response to COVID-19 is a preview of how we’ll react to climate catastrophe. - The Nib

An Excellent comic pointing out how our current immediate crisis previews our long term currently-unfolding crisis. We'd beetter learn the lessons that we need to learn now, there won't be time later.

COVID/Lockdown Comedy
Commie/Leftist Stuff
It's May 1st! aka Labor Day aka May Day aka International Worker's Day, a time to celebrate the struggles and victories of organized labor (the first May Day in 1889 was recognized in part to advocate for the 8 hour work day). Here are some items related to workers, worker advocacy, left politics, Marxism/Communism, etc. I am certainly no expert in this field nor a formal member of any organized political group but, as always with WesRecs, I am very happy to present to you some related material which i think you might find interesting and of use.

Up top I'll offer these great resources:
A giant chunk of my study prep for my appearances on Jeopardy! was a daily review of several past games on the invaluable j-archive site. During that time I observed that a small but noticeable amount of questions referred to the author John Green and his bestselling young adult novel The Fault In Our Stars. I figured it must have been due to a general appreciation of the book among the Jeopardy! writer's room. But as I devoted more and more of my days to study and devouring basic facts about the widest variety of topics possible I realized that the show's affinity for Green more likely stemmed from his role in hosting and running the Crash Course YouTube channel which, of you're trying to learn a lot of stuff about a variety of topics in a short amount of time is an utter godsend. Truly, it's a trivia lover's dream and if you ever have an hour to waste on a random afternoon you could do a hell of a lot worse than surfing over there and watching literally any of their videos.

If you're not really even sure what Capitalism or Socialism are as political/economic concepts (which is totally understandable if you, like me, grew up in the American public school system) then this might be helpful as quick and entertaining...crash course. Is it particularly nuanced or comprehensive? Absolutely not, but of you have 14 minutes to spare and you have trouble with these terms you can really do a lot worse.
In last week's WesRecs I included an excellent analysis of the the current US political situation in the terms of Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci. I'm still very new to his thinking and I have not yet read his Prison Notebooks but I thought this video provided a cogent and relatively breezy overview of his concept of cultural "hegemony" which we are so clearly currently seeing enacted in all of the "open the economy" protests.
I previously included this article in my older, less frequent, but still-ongoing career update newsletter: Wes Hazard's Email Newsletter and I'm happy to present it here again. The basic point is...why are we still doing this? Who really benefits if the people on the top are just trying to escape the same hamster wheel that we're all stuck on?
 
"The worker is trying to become a manager. The manager is trying to become a capitalist. I’ve put that in modern terms — let me put it in Marxist ones, just for contrast’s sake. The prole is trying to become a petite bourgeois. The bourgeois is trying to become a haute bourgeois. The worker, a shop owner, the shop owner, the owner of a chain. Even, maybe, in the small way of “owning” a home — which is to say, paying back its debt all his life — or buying a stock or a bond, and so on: the point is to amass capital. So capitalism is something like a pyramid, which we’re all climbing, worker to manager, prole to bourgeois, and at the apex is the capitalist.
 
But what is the capitalist trying to become?

The capitalist, ironically enough, is trying to earn his freedom from capitalism — just like everyone else. The only difference is that he’s a step closer. Let me prove it, with a simple and extreme example, that of a plantation, and slave, owner — the truest capitalist of all, not so long ago. What is he really after? He’s trying to earn is freedom from labour — not having to do work, hence the slaves. He’s also trying to win freedom from exploitation — he holds the whip, but is above the moral law. And from control, punishment, hierarchy — he has no boss to answer to. Perhaps he devotes his life to more “gentlemanly” pursuits — art, literature, discovery, exploration: but what’s the point of these? These, too, are a freedom from capitalism — from its bruising stress, pressure, anxiety, competition — now he is free to really be himself.”
 
 
Here we have professor, revolutionary, author, feminist, icon Angela Davis's 1972 prison interview for KPIX with Rev. Cecil Williams where she discusses her politics, her thoughts on terms like "communist" and "revolutionary" and her analysis of the United States' power and abuses of that power. "I have a very strong love for oppressed people, for my people, I want to see them free ... I want to see all oppressed people throughout the world free. And I realize that the only way that we can do this is by moving towards a revolutionary society." The clip above is in black and white, you can find a color version (that I couldn't figure out how to embed) HERE.
Things Read
  • I included a recommendation about BookShop.org a few issues back. They're working really hard to provide an online book retailer that can offer an Amazon alternative for bibliophiles who want both the selection and convenience of online book buying while also helping independent bookstores. At the time I made the rec I had just made my first order from them. I wanted to report back that in addition to the shopping experience being clean and streamlined the books themselves arrived as promised and on time. It took about a week to receive all of my items (not bad considering universal shipping delays due to COVID) and instead of making Jeff Bezos even richer I was able help out some brick and mortar indie shops for like $0.30 - $1.25 more per book. If you want more info about BookShop.org and what they're all about you can check out the article I originally posted: Thanks to Bookshop, There Is No Reason to Buy Books on Amazon Anymore - Inside Hook
Things Seen
Photo Credit John M. Wells
 
  • Normally my corniness level doesn't quite reach the "posts a pic of a sunset behind a metropolitan skyline with a faux-profound quote" benchmark, BUT New York City has had a very rough few months and well....you just can't keep this city down. (Kill me, but this pic is dope). From photographer John M. Wells Jr.
  • There's almost zero chance I'll ever make this recipe but I can't stop watching this video about carrot bacon because of incredible charm of its host, vegan influencer Tabitha Brown. I might listen to an ASMR version of this on repeat to de-stress and drift off to sleep because "that's my business". While I doubt this dish would fool anyone into thinking it was pork, the end result does indeed look tasty and with the US meat supply possibly being in peril in the coming months now might be the time to learn how to get creative with carrots.
 
  • Somebody made an amazing comic using the uber-popular "Distracted Boyfriend" meme as a jumping off point. We've all seen the meme, it's endured because it's funny and because it conveys so much sentiment in a single wordless frame, you look at it for half a second and you just *get it*. But what if there's more to this single-frame story than we might imagine? Now, the original image was shot as part of a themed series about infidelity by a commercial photographer so he could licensing to various stock image companies, so there is no "whole story" to actually be had...but allow yourself to dwell on this amazing "what if?" webcomic that uses the meme a first-panel jump-off point and weaves a story that is imaginative, funny, wordless, & well-drawn. It's by the an artist who goes by @unfinstory on Instagram and you should definitely check it out. [By the way seeing this led me to this interview with the Spanish photographer Antonio Guillem who actually took the photo the meme is based on (just one of thousands he takes every year to sell for commercial use). It's a fun little trivia sidenote and he actually tends to work with the same core crew of models over and over so the people in the pic can be seen together in a lot of other unrelated images. (see below)]
With consumption way down as the world grapples with a pandemic and national lockdowns oil prices were briefly in the negative on some indexes last month. As I was reading up on how that could happen and what it meant I realized that I don't have the firmest grasp of how oil is extracted, priced, used, and sold and the history behind the mind-bogglingly vast global industry that has shadow-ruled international geopolitics for the last 100 years. This quick explainer video did a great job of giving a neutral and clear-eyed overview of oil and the oil businesses in about 15 minutes. Great watching if you've been even kind of curious about any of this.
More of a thing heard BUT:

Darknet Diaries has gradually become one of my absolute favorite podcasts. Rewarding for both storytelling fanatics and technophiles alike the show explores the hidden corners of the internet and technology focusing on hackers/hacktivists, cybercrime, surveillance tech, etc., but all squarely centered on the people involved and how all of these things have affected them. It's well-produced, deeply researched, highly entertaining and it feels like the perfect blend of The Moth, Wired magazine, & true crime.

This episode looks at the full & varied career of Jordan Harbinger who went from being a self-taught teenage hacker & phone phreaker, to a prolific FBI collaborator targeting online pedophiles, to a driver at a security firm, a pioneer in online dating, a corporate lawyer, and now a podcaster and human relations guru. Crazy stuff.

I guarantee you'll be fascinated hearing him describe coming to a fuller understanding of adult emotions by eavesdropping on telephone calls using stolen line-worker equipment as a kid, of carrying a permission slip to have a cell phone and leave class whenever the FBI needed him during his HS years, and of building an empire based on the art of mastering and manipulating social interactions. [NB: I wasn't really aware of Jordan Harbinger before listening to this but it seems he was a pioneer in the PUA (pickup artist) field when that was becoming a thing from 2005 - 2012 or so. I don't really have time for the casual misogyny/predation that I've observed in that specific world (to the extent I've engaged with it at all) so I'm not going to advocate for Harbinger the man or his products or philosophy given how little I know about it, but this episode is a damned worthy listen.]
Things Made
In Memoriam:

I found out today that Great Scott, the iconic 44 year-old Boston dive bar/music venue will not be re-opening once lockdown is over. This is horrible news for any performers, college kids, scensters, & drunks who've ever called Boston home or were just passing through and had the opportunity to spend an evening drinking cheap beer in this Allston haven.

My most consistent and longstanding engagement with Great Scott came from the weekly Friday night Standup show "The Gas", hosted by Rob Crean. I had my 30th birthday show there years ago and it was a night to remember. Watching Rob nurture and grow that show at Great Scott is one of the most inspiring things I've seen in comedy. I feel privileged to have been a part of it since the very beginning when we'd consider ourselves lucky to have even 3 paying guests there to see comedy and we spent a good chunk of each show getting heckled by this group of alcoholic geriatrics who would haunt the Golden Tee golf arcade machine. But Rob and the rest of the comics were undeterred and slowly (painfully slowly) he managed to build a loyal audience and the room's reputation to the point where it was packed out most Fridays and bringing in national headliners.

I will miss that show and I will miss that dive bar (which as far as dive bar bathrooms go was at the top of its class for cleanliness and not having to poop in full view of a trucker).

------
As sad as this is, a fact of life that all comics must come to terms with (several times) in their careers is that all venues close..eventually. I have had so many comedy "homes" little havens where the vibes were good and I felt free to be myself on stage, and the shows were funny and I wished it would never end. They have all eventually ended. But while each was totally irreplaceable I have always managed to find a new home. Let's mourn Great Scott, we owe that. But what it embodied will never die. And The Gas show currently lives on, online. In fact you can check me out on Facebook Live next week (Friday May 8th, as part of the Virtual Gas, check FB for details).
The poster for my 30th birthday show as part of The Gas, at Great Scott (2014).
In keeping with the general May Day vibe of this issue I'm once again posting this clip of me talking about America and certain ways in which it is most "AMERICA".
Word of the Week
acatallactic, adj.
[ ey-CAT-ah-lak-tik]

Meaning:  Not concerned with or involving exchange, esp. of money.

Origin: Formed within English, by derivation; modelled on a German lexical item. Etymons: a- prefix6, catallactic adj. and n. In later specific use as adjective after German akatallaktisch ( L. von Mises Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel (1924)
Somebody Said This
The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison. There are thus real and often quite complicated connections between the deindustrialization of the economy—a process that reached its peak during the 1980s—and the rise of mass imprisonment, which also began to spiral during the Reagan-Bush era. However, the demand for more prisons was represented to the public in simplistic terms. More prisons were needed because there was more crime. Yet many scholars have demonstrated that by the time the prison construction boom began, official crime statistics were already falling.

-Angela Davis Are Prisons Obsolete?
Fun Facts
  • A “Propiertary Eponym” is the term for when a brand becomes synonymous with its generic product (Q-tip, Xerox, Kleenex, etc)
  • Compared to other Mondays in the year there are 25% more heart attacks occurring on the first Monday after the switch to Daylight Savings time.
  • Most armadillo species give birth to identical quadruplets during each breeding cycle.
  • An MIT study estimated that the weight of its passengers phones Southwest Airlines
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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