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WesRecs

Vol. #30 - May 29, 2020

Heyyyyyyy.

This is the 30th WesRecs.

That number is not intrinsically meaningful but it ends in a zero and it indicates that I've been putting out this newsletter weekly for more than half a year and I'm happy about that fact. Thank you so very much for reading it, it means the world to me.

Every week my goal is to put out an edition of WesRecs out that is *at least* ever so slightly better than the week before. I usually (but certainly not always) think I have succeeded and that's only the case because I bust my ass to make it so.

This week is a bit different. The week itself was messed up (nationally) for some reasons that should be obvious (more below if you're thinking "huh??" right now. But if you are, how the heck did you find this???). But today was a bit of a roller-coaster for me personally which I will get into momentarily (I am OK). All that is to say that this issue is a bit more... "loose" than I would usually put out, but there's a lot in my head and I need more drinks right now than I can type on so this is what we're doing. I hope you dig this one though. There will be more normalcy next week (vis-à-vis WesRecs that is...I can make no predictions about the country).

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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.
So I went to bed at like 3a today convinced that we're on the brink of armed civil war in this country. I woke up puzzled by the weird dissonance of that feeling vs. the mostly "business as usual" vibes I'm seeing in much of the press and on social media. I wasn't feeling great about the national situation as black man in America or as American, as someone who feels a searing rage over the eternal violence unleashed upon black bodies in this country and someone who fears the reprisals that a righteous retaliation against that violence may bring. What I'm saying is that I was feeling weird from the moment I opened my (very poorly rested) eyes today.

And then there was a fire at my house.
Not *in* it. But definitely *at* it.
By way of quick summation I'll just drop the text message that I sent to my 4 roommates after the fact, and after that I'll offer some thoughts:
 
TEXT MESSAGE: "Hey guys: Just a brief rundown of today’s events so we all know what’s up: About 12:30p I was in my room and I heard a bunch of yelling out in front of the house. It’s Bushwick so I didn’t think much of it but it persisted so I went to the 2nd floor landing and opened the door and saw a shit ton of smoke and a crowd of about 15 people outside. The mattress and box spring that [our recently moved roommate] had put there for eventual disposal when he moved were on fire.

A bunch of our awesome neighbors had opened the gate and dragged them out to the curb  to prevent any potential spread to the houses and they were already hitting it with what water they had. I grabbed the kitchen fire extinguisher and blasted it, which helped but not enough to put it all out. I grabbed 2 five-gallon jugs of water I had and went back out and that plus a few other kitchen fire extinguishers from the (again, awesome) neighbors pretty much took care of it. The fire department had been called by the crowd and arrived very shortly after and finished it off and left pretty promptly.

The neighbors reported that a bum had lit the mattresses with a cigarette. I’m not sure if he had entered the gate, or if it was deliberate (though it probably was since it’d be real hard to accidentally light up both of those items with a flicked cigarette).

I reported this to [our landlord], he has reviewed the security footage, the cam didn’t really see the incident go down given the angle. I moved the charred items from the curb just so they weren’t blocking everything but [our super] will be coming by to re-curb them as [our landlord] does not want anyone to potentially re-light them. House and neighboring house did not sustain any damage, no injuries that I know of, [our landlord] is having another extinguisher sent to us. Overall, lots of commotion for 15 minutes but relatively minor incident. Again, our neighbors are dope."
Now here are some very disjointed rambling thoughts on the above. None of this is formed, nor does it "add value" to the world, but dammit this is my newsletter and we've got some things to work out today so here we go:
  • Holy shit, human kindness. A group of random people from the neighborhood saw this go down, and then took it upon themselves to drag burning junk off the property to minimize damage, try to put it out themselves, call FDNY, alert the residents, ID the alleged arsonist (and send me video of them). Not bad.
  • Dammit! This is the one time I've left the house without a mask in months (forgot it in the bustle), and I ended up eating a decent amount of smoke. I am fine now, but there was some chest tightness earlier (I read all general info about smoke inhalation and talked to a friend who is an EMT, I am truly truly good and symptom free now).
  • Shoutout to the fire prevention training I had to take as a staff member of an academic research library like 7 years ago, without it I would never have known how to work a fire extinguisher in the moment.
  • Also: this is surreal, truly. I have lived in this house for about 18 months. I was *aware* that we had a fire extinguisher, but I swear to God I would not have been able to tell you its exact location before today. My eyes had passed over it many many times, no doubt about that, but it was just one of those things that I had never truly clocked. BUT this very morning I was grabbing some ice in the kitchen and just happened to pause for a bit and notice that it was in a corner, on the floor, next to the fridge, and I though "noted"....and then 4 hours later that information was very helpful. i will never forget that randomness.
  • Today I thank every overly-cautious, doomsday prepper, "always have a plan Z" instinct I've ever had. I was deep in the news in late February and saw that coronavirus would be at the gates soon enough and prepped by buying acquiring a month's worth of non-perishable food, a bunch of meds, a solar/crank powered radio, cash, and two 5-gallon water jugs which I filled in the bathtub and have had stashed in my closet ever since in case the world ends and I want to stay hydrated for an additional 15 days before I die trying to outrun a pack of feral dogs. Thank god the public health situation never got as bad as all that (it was very bad though). But the prep paid for itself today by providing the means to extinguish a mattress fire on no notice. Sadly this will only convince me to prep harder.
  • Once again, the neighbors: so good. I had barely hit the pavement double-fisting water jugs weighing 40+ Lbs each when a man I'd never seen before jumped in, grabbed one from me, and started dousing the mattress while I hit the box spring. It filled me with such positive vibes about community, and humanity, and the kindness of strangers amongs all of the brutality on TV.
  • But we live in America so race is never not present and it was extra-weird to wade through today. I am black. I live in a neighborhood of Bushwick Brooklyn that is overwhelmingly black and Puerto Rican. All of my Craigslist roommates are white. Though I am black I am definitely a gentrifier in my neighborhood. My landlord is Indian. Most of the crowd who helped out today was Latinx. The guy they pointed to (and provided video footage of) as the alleged perpetrator was black. The responding firemen (and the fire marshals who eventually followed up) were all white. This minor mattress fire in Brooklyn happened as a major police station fire in Minneapolis was still smoldering and I had woken up thinking about that. Perhaps none of it is profound, but there is a LOT here.
  • It's weird to wake up hating the police for obvious state-sanctioned murder and then to be having a casual convo with...the fire police?? I need to brush up on my municipal organizations because I really didn't know how any of this worked. My only prior association with "fire marshal" was Jim Carrey on In Living Color. But I gave my name a # to one of the responding fireman and a few hours later was talking to 2 dudes in black FDNY polos...who also had guns and handcuffs. They were professional and "nice" and it was all business but I really didn't know that a section of FDNY rolled like that, I will have to do some research.
  • When I went outside I of course asked "what happened"? And a bunch of people were all saying "that guy! that bum! I saw him! we got video!" etc etc. I didn't see him in the crowd (was trying to deal with the flames at that exact moment) but I asked one of my neighbors to send me the video just in case. It's video of a guy on the street (not in front of my place) puking. Apparently the story is that he was smoking on the stoop next to ours and his cig led to the flame. I didn't see it go down so I can't say but yeah, it's a weird day to receive footage of a clearly inebriated black man puking (but not setting a fire) on your street, with Spanish language commentary, that you have to decide whether to pass on to the white authorities and  your inquiring white roommates. I did because I want us to know what he looks like if he shows up again (doubtful) but don't think I'm not conflicted about it and its implications. I literally googled "is talking to the fire marshals snitching?" multiple times today and well, I found nothing helpful. So that's my cross to bear.
  • If you don't have at least one fire extinguish in your house GET ONE.
  • I still feel tense about the U.S. right now, and I'm still angry af and sad about the constant brutalization of black bodies, but I also feel so much more positively about what we can do for each other and how we can look out for each other in our local communities. My neighbors had this handled before the municipal apparatus ever showed up. In this instance that apparatus did what they were supposed to do effectively and professionally (but the fire department and the cops are miles apart [or so I thought] and this does not make me feel any more fond of cop-cops. (Fire cops?? Again I need to some research on what that even is).
  • There is so much more I want to say here and I would like to say what I have said better but it's been a day and I need to send this thing. Thanks for bearing with.
A powerful poem from Karisma Price, appearing in the most recent edition of Poetry. Heard about it HERE.
Black Lives

Amy Cooper and the White Embrace of Racism - Zora (Medium)

I'm including this one for those in the back. By that I mean that it's saying absolutely nothing new. If you are even remotely tuned into the politics of race in the U.S. or basic American history then reading this is like glancing at the flight safety instructions as you get ready for takeoff "yeah yeah yeah, buckle up, no smoking, masks will drop down, put on the vest, your seat floats, etc etc..." we've seen and heard it all million times. But as much as this is burned into our brains it is VERY apparent that a huge chunk of this country still does not understand this, so if you need a summation of how "white womanhood" is wielded like a bludgeon on a regular basis by "nice" people who would literally gasp at the idea of being called racist in "polite" conversation, well here you go:
 
"Amy Cooper has since been fired from her job and has returned the dog she was seen strangling in the video to an animal shelter. She claims she isn’t racist, and this, of course, is the problem. We have been conditioned to believe that racism looks like the McMichael father and son: scraggly, weathered White men in pickups wielding shotguns. But all too often, it is instead people like Amy Cooper. It’s the seemingly benign White person who lives in a city, has Black friends, and voted for the Black president but at their core is, in fact, anti-Black. Amy Cooper wasted no time in whipping out her White privilege and protected status as a White woman when threatening Christian Cooper.

She may not have been wielding a shotgun, but her accusations were indeed loaded and could have easily led to a man’s death.

America is sick and not just with Covid-19. The virus of racism has been allowed to spread into every aspect of our society. From our broken health care system, where 80% of those killed by the coronavirus are Black and Latino, to the mere presence of Black people in public or private spaces that has led to our deaths if we dare cross the wrong “Karens” or McMichaels in our path. America is dealing with two pandemics. And both of them are being viewed by far too many as a hoax. The denial of their potency will undoubtedly lead to the deaths of more innocent Black people or an uprising; but one thing is certain: The status quo will no longer be tolerated."



People Can Only Bear So Much Injustice Before Lashing Out - The Nation

If you're sitting at home looking at footage of Minneapolis and asking "but why can't they just be peaceful?" you're probably never going to get it. This is as cogent, as patient, and as thorough an explanation as I care to help you find. I'm done.
 
"Put yourself in the position of a relatively conscious black person in America just since this past March. Black people have seen a pandemic disproportionately rip through their communities while the media continually runs live press conferences of a racist president lying about the disease. We’ve seen layoffs and unemployment ravage our communities, while Congress funnels billions of dollars to white-owned businesses. We’ve seen white people absolutely lose their minds, waving guns and Confederate flags at police officers, pushing them into lakes, and gathering in large groups without consequence, while we’ve seen police literally sit on black people for allegedly violating social distancing orders.

And then the stories of the killings started. In the past three weeks: Ahmaud Arbery was lynched, on video. Breonna Taylor was killed by police in her own bed, offscreen. And George Floyd was choked out on the street in broad daylight by police while strangers literally begged for his life.

Imagine you’ve been black this whole time and watched all of this happen, and you show up to protest and, instead of being met with docile, restrained police like the white Confederates get, you are confronted by police in full riot gear who use tear gas and rubber bullets to “control” your crowd."

 
This young woman's clear passion and pain regarding the current situation does more in a minute than a shelf full of books could accomplish. So Powerful.
"The Economy"
 
Why is the Market Doing Well Lately? - Oblivious Investor 40 million people are out of work. It's projected that the majority of those jobs will not be coming back when lockdown ends. Millions of Americans will be facing evictions when eviction protections soon expire. And none of the millions of severely credit-extended Americans most drastically affected by this all of this will be willing or able to engage in frivolous consumer spending for the foreseeable future, and yet..."The Economy" is thriving??? Yes, after a wild drop at the beginning of all of this in early March the market has steadily seen some of the best monthly gains on record. The explanation here is succinct, correct, and apolitical, but given how much the sunniness of the markets diverges from the lived experience of the majority of the country: this is actually an incredible illustration of how and why and the the degree to which our capitalist overlords do not give a shit about our lives.

What Kind of Country Do We Want? - The New York Review of Books

Oh so good. I had to stop myself from quoting damn near this whole article. What we tell ourselves that we're doing is not at all what we're doing here.
 
"Long before the pandemic struck, the protections of the poor and marginalized that largely defined the modern Western state had been receding, sacrificed to the kind of policy that presents itself as necessity, discipline, even justice tendentiously defined. Wealth can be broadly shared prosperity, or it can be closely held, private, effectively underwritten by the cheapening of the labor of the nonrich, which reduces their demand for goods and services. When schools and hospitals close, the value of everything that is dependent on them falls. Austerity toward some is a tax cut for others, a privatization of social wealth. The economics of opportunism is obvious at every stage in this great shift. And yet Americans have reacted to the drove of presumptive, quasi, and faux billionaires as if preternatural wealth were a credential of some kind.

All the talk of national wealth, which is presented as the meaning and vindication of America, has been simultaneous with a coercive atmosphere of scarcity. America is the most powerful economy in history and at the same time so threatened by global competition that it must dismantle its own institutions, the educational system, the post office. The national parks are increasingly abandoned to neglect in service to fiscal restraint. We cannot maintain our infrastructure. And, of course, we cannot raise the minimum wage. The belief has been general and urgent that the mass of people and their children can look forward to a future in which they must scramble for employment, a life-engrossing struggle in which success will depend on their making themselves useful to whatever industries emerge, contingent on their being competitive in the global labor market. Polarization is the inevitable consequence of all this."

...

"The minimum wage has become the amount an employer can get away with paying. It is neither the amount a worker needs to sustain a reasonable life nor, crucially, to be important enough as a consumer for his or her interests to align with other interests. Because workers are underpaid, they are often treated as dependents, as a burden on the “safety net,” which is actually a public subsidy of the practice of underpayment. Workers often do not fall into the category of “taxpayer,” a word now laden with implication and consequence. It implies respectability, a more robust participation in citizenship, and, fairly or not, an extreme sensitivity to demands made on his or her assets for the public benefit. Equitable policies are often precluded in the name of the taxpayer so forcibly that the taxpayer—that is, a fair percentage of the public—is never really consulted. In this time of polarization, such language reflects an ugly, alienating division in our society, with bad faith at the root of it. Proud people are insulted, those same people we now call “essential” because they work steadily at jobs that are suddenly recognized as absolutely necessary."


Our Economy Was Just Blasted Years Into the Future - Marker (Medium)

It's a bit late for this in the U.S. but rapid & accurate testing plus rigorous contact tracing were our paths to a relatively safe exit from quarantine until a vaccine arrived at some point in the future which could be anywhere from 8 months - several years. Tracing, in itself, is effective and practical. But there are quite a few unethical  surveillance tech companies out there who we were rightly extremely suspicious of before all of this who are now using the pandemic as an opportunity to pivot and achieve essentially all of the things they wanted to do in the old world under the banner of making us "safe & healthy".  We need to keep them in check. Getting on an airplane with only a 15 minute wait vs a 45 minute one is not a reason to forfeit the freedom of your future.
 
"Before the coronavirus, surveillance capitalism was already a big worry — Big Tech companies were vacuuming up data from laptops, front doors, appliances, kitchens, living rooms, and smartphones and selling the resulting market intelligence for hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Now, touchless technology suggests a new front in the age of around-the-clock commercialized surveillance, hackable by Iran, China, North Korea, Russia, or any number of private actors, well- or malignly intended. It is an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime, super-charging event for Clear and its surveillance rivals, rebranding themselves while becoming an answer for companies, offices, and agencies everywhere contemplating how to safely reopen.

... "It makes them appear not to be about odious Big Brother presumptions but societal safety. In this makeover, “touchless” becomes more like “wireless,” a benign appellation meant to milk the zeitgeist."

...

"A primary economic bright spot in 2019 was the lowest-paid tier of workers, whose wages rose by a dramatic 4.5% after decades of a shrinking share of the economic pie. Companies were snapping up some of the hardest-core unemployed — among them the long-time jobless, felons, and drug users, necessary because, with the unemployment rate at 3.6%, there was no one else to fill the jobs.

The coronavirus has erased all of that, returning many of the newly hired workers to jobless status and making the prior year’s wage raises look hollow. According to a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 42% of those laid off won’t get their jobs back. How most will ever regain what they have lost is not clear since the economy had almost no cushion for them, says Rick Wartzman, director of the Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute. “The progress that was finally beginning to be made in raising all boats is now sinking the smallest boats most rapidly,” says Josh Bolten, head of the Business Round Table and former chief of staff to President George W. Bush."

Things Read
History for a Post-Fact America - The New York Review Of Books (2018)

Last week in WesRecs I talked about a historical podcast about the nature of facts & evidence (The Last Archive) that I had just found and enjoyed the first episode of. Since then I can report also very much enjoying the second episode. The host of that podcast is Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian. So much of what she'd said in that first episode had stuck with me - so when I read this book review I was delighted to see that a lot of those same ideas were reflected within. But as I continued reading the similarities between the podcast and the book at hand become so strong that it was just plain jarring and then I was delighted to find that the author of the US history book being reviewed was in fact the same person as the host of the podcast and I love when those random little synchronicities pop up on you like that.
 
"How do we know what we know? Understanding the world through stories is as old as human civilization, but building those stories from evidence, and building that evidence from facts, is a relatively recent development. The medieval world accepted proof in the form of trial by ordeal (such as by burning or drowning) or trial by combat: the idea being that if two parties to a dispute fought on an even field, God would ensure that the truth would win. There was no evidence or argument, not really—the outcome was the proof. In 1215, Church edict effectively abolished trial by ordeal, and the practice gradually came to be replaced by trial by jury. The judgment delivered by God became judgment delivered by man. The era of the fact had begun.

...

What Shapiro calls a “culture of fact” has been the dominant intellectual force of modernity, but it sits on top of the conventions it displaced. In that 2016 essay, Lepore recounts a charming story about a baseball bat that went missing when she was eight or nine years old, just before she discovered that a bully who lived down the street—suspiciously and all of a sudden—had one just like it, down to Lepore’s name written in pink nail polish on the barrel. He offered to fight her for it; she countered by challenging him to a bicycle race. “The law of evidence that reigns in the domain of childhood is essentially medieval,” she wrote. (In the end, Lepore didn’t fight or race, and headed to the library. The bully kept her bat.) But it’s not just childhood. Increasingly, this description also fits the law of evidence that reigns in campaign politics, at a time when politics can appear to be a permanent campaign: “An American Presidential debate,” Lepore continued, “has a lot more in common with trial by combat than with trial by jury.” During the 2016 debates, anywhere from two to eleven candidates talked past each other. How do you determine the winner? The outcome is the proof."

...

"When the survival of their traditions conflicted with events, it was easier to change what had happened than their idea of who they were."
Things Seen

If you happened to catch last week's WesRecs you know that Fungi are kind of my thing now. If my last week had not been so incredibly busy in my work life I would already have been foraging and working on my own oyster mushroom grow kit (luckily summer is long and there's some breathing room ahead). I'm reading a book on fungi right now (more on order) and watching every YouTube video I have time for and this is one of them and holy moly ya'll, fungi will save us. Wild & amazing stuff here.

Have a Mac? Like cool typefaces? You might have free access to a bunch of really nice ones and all you need to do is what it says HERE. (p.s. if you're a type geek and you haven't seen the doc Helvetica, I would go ahead and fix that. (it's part of an amazing design trilogy by Gary Hustwit that also includes Objectified & Urbanized.
Prison Abolition is one of those terms that often brings a maelstrom of confusion/fear/discomfort to people who are encountering it for the very first time. The initial reaction of skeptics is utterly predictable and utterly understandable. I was there once myself. This comic might help you if you're just getting familiar.
Word of the Week
The other day I stumbled on an opportune “word of the day” that I will personally be using for the rest of my life.

Say it with me now: “KLUXERY”.

Now use it in a sentence: “I don’t fux with kluxery and I’m committed to opposing it wherever it rears its motherkluxing head.” We’ve been doing this too long, time to flip the script…
Somebody Said This
Fun Facts
Not feeling it this week. Check back next time.
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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