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Vol. #25 - April 24, 2020

Happy Friday? Is it Friday? Frankly, putting this newsletter out each week is my main reason to continue measuring time. I consider that a worthy reason. 25 of these so far. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy compiling it. I am using the bountiful free time afforded to me by losing 3.5 of my 4 jobs in the global pandemic to teach myself front end web development and brush up on my photo editing skills (among many other things) so I have some rather grandiose plans for building out features and enhancing the aesthetics for this thing, but until then I hope you enjoy what we have here and I hope you are safe and healthy. Be kind to each other, I love you all.

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/Resources  

Is the Virus on My Clothes? My Shoes? My Hair? My Newspaper? - The New York Times

Here's the rare piece of COVID news that will make you feel better. If you're like most people you've experienced some existential dread after grabbing the mail, or taking a (socially distanced) walk, going to a laundromat, picking up a pizza, etc. You wonder, did I just put myself at risk? Do I need to take a shower right now?? Should I burn my jacket??? Here we have some very solid and very reassuring rules of thumb and things to think about.
“You have to think through the process of what would have to happen for someone to become infected,” said Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “You have someone who sneezes, and they have to have X amount of virus in the sneeze. Then there has to be so many drops that land on you.”

“Then you have to touch that part of your hair or clothing that has those droplets, which already have a significant reduction in viral particles,” Dr. Janowski said. “Then you have to touch that, and then touch whatever part of your face, to come into contact with it. When you go through the string of events that must occur, such an extended number of things have to happen just right. That makes it a very low risk.”

My Brooklyn bedroom has no windows - Curbed

What could possibly go wrong with renting a windowless & microscopic (less than 80 sq ft) room as "transition" housing shortly before the outbreak of the global pandemic? Quite a lot actually. Yes $800 can be considered "cheap" for Bushwick rent but if what you're getting is basically a storage closet you have overpaid. Being stuck there for 40+ days means you're two thirds of a stimulus check every month on a crypt. Yikes.
“Anything that I thought I said in the privacy of my own room has turned into a conversation with my roommates. The walls are thin. “Did I hear you’re being furloughed and your visa to remain in this country is now under threat?” my roommate, perched on our living room sofa, asked me when I came out to get a post-therapy snack from the kitchen. “Something like that,” I whimpered.”

“ My Google Home is the only thing that will talk back to me in this room. “Okay Google, do you ever get lonely?” I asked it recently at my mental nadir. “Everyone gets lonely from time to time,” it responded back in jilted HAL-9000. “I’m here if you need.”

This new newsletter looks to inform the black community about the coronavirus - Nieman Lab

Veteran Journalist Patrice Peck has created a necessary and well-compiled newsletter titled Coronavirus News For Black Folks. I've subscribed and I'm enjoying it so far.

"...the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is the most important, most pressing news story of our time. And while the mainstream media has been doing an excellent job of providing stories about COVID-19 and the pandemic, there’s still a huge lack of widespread daily coverage focused on the ways in which the disease and pandemic are disproportionately impacting the black community.

Not only will this lack of coverage likely worsen the pandemic overall due to a lack of greater awareness and information about the disease and pandemic within (and without) our community, but it’ll also devastate our community to a much greater degree. So, SpeakPatrice Presents: Coronavirus News For Black Folks aims to empower our community by circulating existing coronavirus (COVID-19) news and stories as it relates to the black diaspora and creating our own original FUBU [For Us, By Us] written and audio content to fill the many gaps in coverage, from how the disease and pandemic are specifically impacting our physical and mental health, our social and cultural structures and institutions, and more."

An Organic Crisis Is Upon Us" When Gramsci Goes Viral - Spectre

OK this is the most straight-up Marxist item I've ever dropped in this newsletter. I've got a lot to learn in that particular field and I'll fully confess I've never read Antonio Gramsci's work on its own but this article is, in my opinion, making a lot of sense ad very accurately describing the current state of affairs in the US. Do with it what you will...or won't.
"For Gramsci, capitalist rule is secured by what he called “hegemony.” Capitalists as a class have successfully convinced the rest of us that their own particular class interest – maximizing profit – is in the interest of the rest of us. Think of the way we talk about the economy: business confidence is invoked as a measure of economic health, even though it doesn’t alter the fact that wages have remained stagnant for decades despite productivity gains. We conceive of abstract measures like “economic growth” or “GDP” as somehow corresponding to the common good – even though these figures tell us nothing about inequality or the well-being of the working class."


In Louisiana, 70 percent of Covid-19 deaths have been Black residents – more than double their percentage of the population in that state. Roughly comparable figures are available in Chicago, and in Michigan, Black deaths are nearly triple their percentage of the population. In St. Louis, every single death recorded at the time of writing is of a Black resident. The notion that the coronavirus is a “great equalizer” is ludicrous in a society in which Black people are systematically excluded from access to health care and stuck in precarious employment. Of course, this is also the predicament of much of the working class, but in the US, Black, Latinx, Native American, and Southeast Asian residents are at substantially higher risks than their white counterparts. In other words, these disparities didn’t originate with the virus but were exacerbated by them. (Though this would be news to the US Surgeon General, who blamed the racial disparity on behavior: “Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs,” he instructed Black Americans from the White House podium.) The coronavirus is refracted through an already racist system in which residents of color are more likely to live in overcrowded housing and less likely to be able to work from home. The same is true globally. As the virus makes its way through cities of the global South, racialized populations living in precarious housing situations and lacking the ability to isolate are sure to be the most susceptible to infection and yes, death. This certainly gives Ruthie Gilmore’s widely cited definition of racism a new gloss: “Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”

Things Read
The Hotel of Multiple Realities - Longreads

From 2018: This is an appropriately disorienting and singular piece of writing about an extremely disorienting and singular experience. A writer is walking her dogs. She experiences a massive brain aneurysm. It's the kind of thing that kills 50% of the people it happens to and permanently debilitates the 50% that live. She's in the "lucky" quarter but the road to recovery is long and when you're dealing with a brain injury the borders of reality and personality that had before seemed rigid can suddenly become very fuzzy indeed. Her experience cannot be "understood" by anyone who hasn't been there but here she gives an extremely compelling/terrifying account of feeling physically fine in the time she was still hospitalized but being unaware of her injury and grappling with rapidly shifting perceptions about time, place, and persona.
"The brain is more complicated than all the stars in the wide open sky out there, full of structures and pathways, all sending molecule-sized little electrochemical flashes to one another. If something had happened to my lungs, my knee, my liver, it would have happened to something in my body, something of mine. However something happened to my brain, and even the phrase “my brain” doesn’t make any sense; I am a brain. Something happened to me. But which part of my brain is me, and how is this so called “me” derived from electrical impulses and neuro-chemicals, molecules traveling around at light speed through the subway system of myelin-sheathed tunnels and synaptic transfer stations? Which is the part that takes care of itself? Which part is me? How does anything as massless and intricate as whatever I call “me” derive from an earth-colored three-pound lump of what looks like wet clay? How do “I” stay safe? I don’t, I can’t.. “I” am under attack."

"My husband is a registered nurse, so he knows the term “hypergesia”: an extreme sensitivity to touch which causes excruciating pain. A steadying hand on my shoulder feels like a thuggish wrestling hold and I wrestle back. I know what it’s like to be a small lizard curled up in a comforting ball inside a warm mud pit. Hands come to wrest me out of it and I’ll fight back. I hear their voices from far away. The nurse sounds irritated, my husband apologetic. “It’s the hypergesia,” he says, trying to smooth things over, trying to make a good impression for me I can’t believe him. He’d let his throat get cut before he’d have an awkward social moment. Me, I have only one reflex; fight back, don’t let them. Whatever they are trying to do to me, don’t let them. I’m not upset, just ready to kill or die, these being my only logical options."

A Precedent Overturned Reveals a Supreme Court in Crisis - The New York Times

This opinion piece gets pretty into the weeds of Supreme Court jurisprudence and is a bit technical, but the implications of a recent (relatively boring) SCOTUS ruling which it outlines are potentially seismic.

As I said there's a lot to chew on here (I found this analysis of the case from a blog focused on SCOTUS decisions to be additionally helpful) but the court's decision in this case showed 2 things: 1.) a willingness to back away from the fundamental principle of stare decisis which dictates that courts should abide by court precedent (such as Roe V. Wade's 1973 establishment of the precedent that a woman's right to privacy extended to the fetus that she's carrying) and 2.) that the nine justices in their various decisions and opinions here are all very clearly trying to make points about and lay the groundwork for legal agendas that bear very little relation to the case they were deciding. Whether every state should require a unanimous guilty verdict for conviction when the Federal courts do is flatly agreed upon by all nine justices (yes unanimity should be required). BUT their specific reasoning for that conclusion, what that conclusion means in relation to a past court decision, and what must follow from these things is something that nearly every justice disagrees on, and the fact that all of that came to bear on this more or less open and shut case is intriguing and potentially scary.

"Was it Justice Kavanaugh’s vote to hear the Ramos case that broke the logjam and enabled the court to grant review? We may never know. But from the multiple opinions, including his, it’s clear that what this case was really about was precedent: when to honor it, when to discard it and how to shape public perceptions of doing the latter. Justice Kavanaugh’s 18-page concurring opinion, which no other justice joined, included a list of 30 of “the court’s most notable and consequential decisions” that overturned earlier rulings — a kind of “30 ways to leave your lover” inventory of decisions that occupied the ideological spectrum from Brown v. Board of Education to Citizens United.

At the beginning of this column, I referred to the Supreme Court “in crisis.” What stands revealed in this puzzling bundle of opinions is not so much a court as nine individuals in pursuit of agendas far removed from the controversy they undertook to resolve. Remarkably, all nine agreed that the Apodaca decision, the continued validity of which they had recklessly put in play, had been a failure. But the real failure lies not in what the Supreme Court did in 1972 but in what it did this week, in its inability to provide a coherent answer to the question it chose to ask.

Confederacy in the ’hood - 1843

Excellent exploration of history, memory, power, and...street names. That "Lost Cause" thinking about the civil war persists doesn't so much surprise me as baffle me. But it does, and it's a shame - not only for the people who it directly burdens and oppresses but for those who believe in it unquestioningly in opposition to all facts and reason. It angers me too. If I have to explain to you why Nathan Bedford Forrest (slave trader, confederate general, first grand wizard of the KKK, and Forrest Gump's namesake) was a bad person then I'm really not interested in talking to you at all, but I guess I will because we're all here and I think we all need to get through this stuff rather than go around it.

"Jim Crow laws also forbade black people from living next to white people. So in 1923, Young built a separate town for the black residents, one he called Liberia, a city black people could run themselves. On the plans for the city, Liberia is forty square blocks and has boulevards, a large round park and a hotel. Young donated land for schools and churches. He named the streets after cities with prominent black populations, like Atlanta, Raleigh, and Charlotte, and named the park Dunbar, after the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

But Young’s vision for Liberia was never realised. He ran out of money after a 1926 hurricane decimated Hollywood. Black residents lived in substandard housing, often in crowded tents. And soon after, Young’s street names were mysteriously changed throughout the city. In Liberia, three streets named to honour cities with robust black communities – Louisville, Macon, and Savannah – were renamed after Confederate generals who had fought to keep blacks enslaved."


"Memorialising the past is just another way of wishing about the present. The trouble is that we don’t always share the same memories. And not everyone has an equal opportunity to enshrine their group’s memory on the landscape. As the novelist Milan Kundera has said, “the only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. They are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten.” The growth of the civil war monuments peaked twice: first, in the early 20th century, when Jim Crow laws were being made, and then again in the 1950s and 1960s when the laws were being challenged. “These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy,” historian James Grossman has said. “Why would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?” The street names in Hollywood themselves were probably changed at the peak of the KKK’s dominance."

Apocalypse Then (Excerpt from Jack London's The Scarlett Plague) - Lapham's Quarterly

As awful as COVID is (and it's truly awful) we're lucky to not be faced with something as virulent or misunderstood as say, Europe's multiple waves of Black Death or the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. An excerpt here from a 1912 Jack London speculative novel about a then-future plague that would wipe out most of the world offers a vision more grim than any we're yet seeing and a perfect canvas for our worst fears. I am definitely interested in reading the full novel now.
"When I arrived home, my housekeeper screamed as I entered, and fled away. And when I rang, I found the housemaid had likewise fled. I investigated. In the kitchen I found the cook on the point of departure. But she screamed, too, and in her haste dropped a suitcase of her personal belongings and ran out of the house and across the grounds, still screaming. I can hear her scream to this day. You see, we did not act in this way when ordinary diseases smote us. We were always calm over such things, and sent for the doctors and nurses who knew just what to do. But this was different. It struck so suddenly, and killed so swiftly, and never missed a stroke. When the scarlet rash appeared on a person’s face, that person was marked by death. There was never a known case of a recovery."


"And what had occurred in New York had been duplicated in all the other cities. It was the same in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley. By Thursday the people were dying so rapidly that their corpses could not be handled, and dead bodies lay everywhere. Thursday night the panic outrush for the country began. Imagine, my grandsons, people, thicker than the salmon run you have seen on the Sacramento River, pouring out of the cities by millions, madly over the country, in a vain attempt to escape the ubiquitous death. You see, they carried the germs with them. Even the airships of the rich, fleeing for mountain and desert fastnesses, carried the germs."

Tennessee Williams' brother is a lazy, cowardly, no-account, piece of crap and if my death instructions are every ignored so brazenly I swear I'm coming back to haunt all of you.
Things Seen
In your whole life you will never be more interested in watching a dude play against a computer in a 2500 year old board game than when you watch this.
I wouldn't suggest fast forwarding through any of this engrossing feature-length documentary about the DeepMind/Google effort to produce an AI system (AlphaGo) that could beat the strongest human players of Go (the ancient board game that is exponentially more complex than chess). But if you want to see a human being flustered and with the weight of the world on his shoulders go to 49:14, if you want to see a human being utterly crushed and floundering in the face of a merciless and unfeeling machine opponent go to 1:00:02 and if you want to feel some measure of relief which confirms human resilience and creativity go to 1:11:46.

This doc was both a fun examination of human ingenuity and machine potential and an emotional roller coaster giving rise to profound questions about intelligence, spirit, competition, and humanity. Food for thought.
The Spinners - I'll Be Around
"I'll Be Around" is a personal, top 30, stranded-on-a-desert-island track for me. It was never playing during any major life event of mine or anything like that, it just speaks to my soul. I'd somehow managed to never have seen this before. Enjoy it in all of its Soul Train glory (especially the dude right behind the stage in the red tank top who is doing the absolute most.
Things Made
The exalted art of background acting (may it Rest In Peace) is one of quiet strength, endless reserve, & supple attention. The production relies on you to anchor each scene (both physically and emotionally) as every one of your colleagues from the principal actors to the director to the boom operator and the gaffer looks to your every step and head turn in order to queue their own actions and responses. It's as taxing as you might think but somehow take after take we manage to do our jobs so that everyone else can do theirs. You can see me here in "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector" as "Hospital Orderly #2" projecting the emotional backdrop for Michael Imperioli & Brooke Lyons and allowing them to fully inhabit their roles, which are substantial, and quite nearly as important as mine here. This was taped in early January, a time when I was more generous with my gifts and willing to take more or less any role if it meant being able to bless the world with them. Times have indeed changed. On Wednesday (March 11) I was offered the opportunity to work as background hospital staff once again, on the drama "New Amsterdam" that coming Friday. It was to be taped in a hospital, in NYC, all day, as the plague first unfolded. My response was a prompt "HELL NO". I have oft cherished the opportunity to share my background talents for benefit of so many millions, but at this time the future of my calling looks tenuous at best and laughable at worst. I hope no one is denied my anchoring steely visage and anchoring presence eternally, but until we know more: adieu.

(But seriously this grim assessment from Deadline makes me think that background work as I know it may never be the same. Pity, it's one of the more interesting gigs I've ever had.)
We had an excellent time this Thursday with an awesome night of science themed trivia for The Museum of Science Boston. It's a perfect way to flex your mental muscle, have some laughs, scratch that competitive itch, and socialize (safely) during lockdown. We’ll be doing it AGAIN May 14th, and you can check out The Big Quiz Thing for your group trivia needs!
Word of the Week
dildock, n.
[ dil - dok ]

Meaning:  A stupid person, esp. a boy or man; an idiot, a fool. Often in dopey dildock, dizzy dildock (sometimes with capital initials). Also as a name for such a person.

Origin:  Opie Dildock, the name of a cartoon character (compare quot. 1907; subsequently also used for other fictional characters) [Old Opie-Dilldock's Stories], with punning reference to opodeldoc n.
Somebody Said This
"My poverty is not complete: it lacks me."

"Would there be this eternal seeking if the found existed?"

"I saw a dead man. And I was little, little, little..My God, what a great thing a dead man is!"

Selections from Antonio Porchia's Voices (translated by W.S. Merwin)
Fun Facts
  • “Go.” Is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
  • Democratic Governor of New York Al Smith used “Make your wet dreams come true” as an anti-Prohibition slogan during his run 1928’s Presidential election.
  • Human beings are the only animals with chins.
  • When former president (and Democrat) Harry Truman visited Disneyland in 1957 he playfully refused to ride the “Dumbo the Flying Elephant” attraction in order to avoid the Republican symbolism of elephants.
  • Since 2015 Mercedes-Benz has included a safety feature on their vehicles called Pre-Safe Pink Noise which plays a short blast of "pink noise" when it detects an imminent, high-volume collision. This causes the stapedius muscle in your ears to contract, protecting them against loud noises and reducing any potential hearing damage.
  • Less of a pithy fun fact than an image that has stayed with me for a week now, but, uh, the shell *is* the turtle.
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.

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