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WesRecs

Vol. #37 - July 17, 2020

Crossing the streams in this one.

Lest you forget: I was the president of my high school's science fiction club....
Hello hello, it's been an active week for sure over here. I'm just about done with bringing in my second flush of blue oyster mushrooms from my grow kit, I've been hosting online trivia for the Big Quiz Thing damned near every day, I'm discovering the delights of radical anti-capitalist publishing rooted in humor and excellent design, I'm finally catching the 2nd season of You, I discovered that a wheelbarrow holds 7 hefty shovel-fulls of mulch/wood chips, and 90s R&B is saving my soul. I hope you are well on your end.

In recent issues of WesRecs I've 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. Most of these are more fully detailed and introduced below but in the spirit of making this as user friendly as possible, here we go:
 
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
A Warning from the Chickens of the World - The Walrus

Plague, police violence, inequality, climate change, poverty, racism....it's all connected at the root of global capitalism. That's not an opinion, it's a fact observable to anyone who cares to look and listen. We all have one single planet, and only one, and we have been playing the same movie for 100 years and it does not end well. We can change the reel to something less horrifying but we don't have much time.
 
"By the wonders of genetics and intensive breeding for specific traits, the fiercely wild stock of jungle fowl had been transformed into something that could grow faster, more uniformly, and by some standards, more efficiently. Between 1961 and 2017, world poultry meat production increased from 9 million to 122 million tons and egg production shot up from 15 million to 87 million tons. Since most of us experience a sort of cognitive dissonance when we see chickens and tons in the same sentence, let me rephrase this. In 1961, there were just over 3 billion people and just under 4 billion chickens in the world. In 2020, as I write this, about 7.7 billion people are jostling and shouting for space here, along with more than 20 billion chickens—and perhaps as many as 50 billion if one considers the short slaughter-and-restock turnover of those populations."
...

"Salmonellosis could have been taken as a warning from the chickens of the world, a shot across the bow, as it were. The omen was not cryptic. It might have been something like: chickens carry their own bacterial and viral microbiomes; the economies of scale for chicken production are the same as the economies of scale for disease; small farms have outbreaks; big farms breed epidemics; globalization of big farms creates pandemics."
...

“Knowledge of the social and ecological dimensions of food should be part of every food consumer’s education. An inability to talk intelligently about where that food comes from should be grounds for dismissal of politicians and corporate heads.”
Random
Watch this clip. Can you even *imagine* Trump having this level of foresight, confidence, & knowledge/acceptance of his own limitations when it comes to picking his staff?? Unbelievably valuable management qualities here. Also who knew Truman rocked such Buena Vista Social Club swag when he was on vacation???
Give People Money...Then Abolish Money
Cascade of angers: a post-pandemic fantasy - ROAR Magazine

Hell Yes.
 
"And now a strange virus has changed our lives, but where did it come from? It first appeared in Wuhan, China, but the more we read, we realize that it could have originated anywhere: it comes from the destruction of our relationship with the natural environment. From the industrialization of agriculture, the destruction of the peasantry all over the world, the growth of cities, the destruction of the habitats of wild animals, the commercialization of these animals for profit."
...

"We think a bit more and we realize that of course the economic crisis is not the consequence of the virus, though it may well have been triggered by it. In the same way as the pandemic was predicted, the economic crisis was predicted even more clearly. For thirty years or more, the capitalist economy has literally been living on borrowed money: its expansion has been based on credit. A house of cards ready to collapse."
...

"This is what we are living: the fire of capitalist crisis. So much misery, hunger, shattered hopes, not because of a virus, but in order to restore capitalism to profitability. What if we just got rid of the system based on profit? What if we just went out with our renewed energy and did what needs to be done without worrying about profit: clean the streets, build hospitals, make bicycles, write books, plant vegetables, play music, whatever. No unemployment, no starvation, no broken dreams."
 

Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing - ProPublica

Good Lord. I swear Simone Biles could not do the backflips these Westport, CT residents and community board members do in order to put a "I swear we're not racist" spin on their decades-long opposition to low-income housing development in their town. It'd be downright impressive if it wasn't so transparent and bigoted. Reading through this it's hard not to get the sense that they think of blackness or poverty as something that you can "catch", like if they're forced to live within 2 miles of a multi-family home they'll suddenly start getting racially profiled and lose their country club membership. And the most galling thing is that they all think they're "good liberals" who wouldn't be caught dead with a MAGA hat on and who "would have voted for Obama three times if they could". This is what systemic racism really looks like (or at least its one of its many faces...that shit is a chameleon if there ever was one...). No burning crosses, no white hoods, no nooses: just a heavily organized, smiling, three decade strategy to preserve "the character of our neighborhood".
 
"In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Black and Hispanic residents statewide live in some of the nation’s most segregated neighborhoods, census data shows.

The repercussions of living in segregated neighborhoods often last a lifetime.

“Neighborhoods matter,” researchers at Brown, Harvard and the U.S. Census Bureau concluded.

The “Opportunity Atlas” they created makes clear just how much it matters by showing the stark differences in where the 20.5 million children they tracked ended up. For example, children who grew up in Cunningham’s Bridgeport neighborhood were five times more likely to be imprisoned on April 1, 2010, than those who grew up 2 miles down the road over the Fairfield line. The Bridgeport natives also made half the income of their Fairfield peers."

...

"“Does anybody say we need to keep blacks and Hispanics out of Westport? No, but they talk about property values, safety and preserving open space — all the things that a town can do to prevent development that would bring up a more economically and racially diverse housing population,” Hollister said. “They don’t use the overt racial terms, but it’s absolutely clear to everybody in the room that’s what they’re talking about.”"
 
How close are you to living out of your car? If you're an American who goes through a sudden divorce, or an unexpected long-term medical crisis, or an abrupt stretch of unemployment you may be a hell of a lot closer to homelessness and extreme poverty than you think. We're able to put blinders on ourselves about how awful our economic system is for regular people like us by buying into the fantasy that we're just a wacky invention, or a lotto ticket, or a viral video away from fame and fortune. We dismiss the rampant (and designed) inequality all around us by telling ourselves that if we work really hard we'll get to the top too and that the people we walk by as they jingle change in cups are all lazy, or crazy, or addicts who might be "unlucky" but who somehow tripped up due to something they did. Don't believe the hype. This system grinds people up because it's supposed to, and even if a spot at "the top" brought you actual happiness and fulfillment (it won't) there simply isn't enough room there for all of us. For every Jeff Bezos & Mark Zuckerberg there are thousands of low-paid "essential"  workers that make their fortunes possible and there are millions of poor and struggling people that the system has swallowed to elevate them to the top of the heap.
Race & Policing
Saidiya Hartman on insurgent histories and the abolitionist imaginary - Art Forum

I included another piece from Saidiya Hartman back in Vol. 31 of WesRecs . I am more than happy to offer another here. She's truly just flexing on us and showing off why she was named a MacArthur "Genius" grant winner last year. Hartman looks at our national situation of plague, protest, division, presidential ineptitude, inequality, etc and just cuts through the B.S. to define the problem, and solution, head on.
 
“What we see now is a translation of Black suffering into white pedagogy. In this extreme moment, the casual violence that can result in a loss of life—a police officer literally killing a Black man with the weight of his knees on the other’s neck—becomes a flash point for a certain kind of white liberal conscience, like: “Oh my god! We’re living in a racist order! How can I find out more about this?” That question is a symptom of the structure that produces Floyd’s death. Then there’s the other set of demands: “Educate me about the order in which we live.” And it’s like: “Oh, but you’ve been living in this order. Your security, your wealth, your good life, has depended on it.” So, it’s crazy-making. The largest loss of Black property since the Great Depression was a consequence of the subprime mortgage crisis, and proliferating acts of racist state violence occurred under a Black president. The largest incarcerated population in the world; the election of 2016 and the publicly avowed embrace of white supremacy by 45—all of these things we know, right? We know the racially exclusive character of white neighborhoods; how in urban centers upper-class people monopolize public resources to ensure their futures and their children’s futures over and against other children. I’m a New Yorker—the city has the most racially segregated school system in the country. The Obama and Clinton voters are invested in a school system that disadvantages Black and brown children and they resist even the smallest efforts to make it more equitable. The possessive investment in whiteness can’t be rectified by learning “how to be more antiracist.” It requires a radical divestment in the project of whiteness and a redistribution of wealth and resources. It requires abolition, the abolition of the carceral world, the abolition of capitalism. What is required is a remaking of the social order, and nothing short of that is going to make a difference.“
 

Policing Doesn’t Protect Women - New Republic

TW: Rape / Sexual Assault

"But what about the rapists?!" is an almost guaranteed (and valid) concern you hear within the first 30 seconds of bringing up prison abolition to people who are unfamiliar with the concept (and thus programmed to reject it by a society that positions violent carceral measures as the only conceivable form of "justice"). The dedicated thinkers and organizers who've been doing the hard work in the abolition movement trenches for decades (primarily Black women) certainly have indeed grappled with this and the answer is pretty straightforward: the system we have now already does an abysmal job of providing any kind of justice to victims and in fact contributes to the victimization of vulnerable populations. It's plain to see once you candidly assess the current situation and step away from the knee-jerk dependence on a violent, racist, patriarchal, anti-poor state apparatus to address often systemic problems generated by that very system. These theorists and practitioners are so perceptive, so dedicated, and their vision for a better world is so expansive that it can be hard to fully grasp when you've been shackled your whole life by such a damaging view of justice and criminality. Personally I'm pretty new to all of it myself so I just try to educate myself, be open, and look to their magnificent example. Mariame Kaba's words here are particularly salient.
 
"As opposed to punitive justice, which excises people from their communities, the principles of transformative justice are rooted in a practice of community accountability. Here, perpetrators are treated as people (rather than eternal criminals) who have the capacity to permanently change their behavior. Survivors are treated as agents (rather than eternal victims) who can ask for and be provided with whatever resources and courses of action they might need. Forgiveness may be part of that equation; it may not be. And harm is located within a broader nexus of violence within the community. In her seminal work Are Prisons Obsolete?, abolitionist Angela Davis writes that the prison “functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers.” Transformative justice, on the other hand, does not let us off so easily. It asks us to understand acts of violence as arising from conditions of scarcity, trauma, and oppressive hierarchies like racism and sexism. In doing so, it reveals the pressure points where real interventions can have real impact.

This is critical, because the open secret of sexual assault is that even if the criminal justice system worked perfectly (putting rapists behind bars), it would still have little to nothing to offer survivors in the way of healing."
...

"“One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that people mostly want … answers. ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘Why did you do this to me?’” Mariame Kaba has said of this work. “They want you to admit that you did what you did.… The current system … makes it impossible for you to admit that you did harm.” Here again is the weird double bind of “crime” on full display: In the context of the criminal legal system, to admit guilt is to submit to possible punishment and violence. There is no incentive to take responsibility for harm done, which is often the very thing that survivors need. Accountability processes create a structure in which a perpetrator can voluntarily “enter into accountability,” as INCITE! puts it."


Exposing - and Ending - Police Lies - Gotham Gazette

Yes, cops are human. And humans often lie. Especially when they've done something wrong and are worried about getting in trouble. The days of cops getting the benefit of the doubt in testimony need to be over. Having a badge should in no way whatsoever privilege your eyewitness testimony over that of anyone accused of something. I don't know how much contradictory body-cam or dash-cam or cellphone footage we need to see to accept this. How many people's lives have been ruined by a liar with a badge? How many lives have been ended???
 
"Yet, cops have occupied the moral and credibility highground for far too long, meanwhile Black and brown communities have been pathologized and vilified."

...

"Police lies are entangled in police violence. Cops commonly lie to excuse their use of excessive force. Olayemi Olurin, a public defender from The Legal Aid Society’s Queens office, shared multiple stories. One of these stories involved a “teenage boy who officers lied + said threw a Capri sun on the ground,” so “they tased and beat him so many times he peed himself, was bleeding, had cuts running down his legs and couldn’t walk.” What would have kept this Black boy safe is to reduce contact between police and communities. Prison abolitionists like Marie Kaba have explained: “The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.”
Things Read
So I recently got an iPad Pro and so far it's absolutely no regrets. What a powerful and versitle device it is. I'm still learning new ways to incoporate it into my workflows every day but I can for sure say that it has made the research & assembly of WesRecs each week easier, faster, and more robust. It's really great to read on and with the iOS version of the award-winning graphic novel Upgrade Soul I think I got an awesome glimpse into the future of a very specific section of publishing. A few weeks ago in WesRecs I highlighted the awesome artwork of Ezra Claytan Daniels as he conceptualized a possible future where the LAPD was replaced by various cadres of unarmed humanitarian social service providers (such as "The Los Angeles Department of Food Security"). It was a great and timely piece about imagining a non-violent non-punitive model for justice. Anyway, that led me to dig around on his website and past work (the dude stays BUSY) and I saw that in 2018 he published a critically acclaimed graphic novel that, while it did appear in print, also had a definite version released as an iOS app that included music, subtle animations and other digital enhancements to the text. Perhaps "enhancements" isn't the right word as it was actually thew other way around. The primary version of this sci-fi melodrama, titled Upgrade Soul is the digital iteration containing all of the cool effects that you can only create and experience on a tablet. You can get and enjoy a bound paper copy but after having read and loved the digital version I'd have to imagine you'd be losing a lot of what made this so great.

First and foremost the story is strong, and complex, and original and deeply human. Then the art also rocks and the themes it gets into are super timely and rewarding. I'd recommend Upgrade Soul in any version but if you can peep it on a tablet (or even a phone with a solid screen size) definitely go that route.
We Condemn All Institutional Racism Except Our Own - McSweeney’s

Here's a little levity for you. A satire piece that speaks very much to the moment, as all of the best satire does.

"Black people have been a vital part of this institution since its very beginnings when they built it for us on stolen land. While we regret that we did not admit Black people for centuries after it was established, we are proud to boast that seven percent of our current undergraduate student body is Black, and we can’t stop reminding historically excluded students how lucky they are to be here.

Our surrounding community is taking notice of how far we’ve come. And it’s no wonder. Students and faculty take a strong interest in Black members of our campus family — asking them questions like “Do you go here,” “Do you play football,” and “Does Admissions still use affirmative action?” Our attentive staff, from campus police to brochure photographers, is keen to follow their every move. Most impressively, we’re so adept at preparing our non-white students for real-world success that they keep leaving early."

...

"To update our curriculum, in addition to Regular History, we will be offering “African American History” as an elective. The course will cover all three events: slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, and the quaint parts of the Civil Rights Movement."
 

The Real Free Speech Violations -  Arc Digital (Medium)

If you're on Twitter a lot it can be hard to remember just how many people are not. Versus other platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, YouTube, or even TikTok its 300M+ monthly user base is decidedly small. It is the very definition of a silo and and an echo chamber. It is, IMO, by far the most depression and rage inducing of all the socials, and the level of discourse between parties that don't already agree with each other is runs at a steady "junior high hallway shoving match".

Still, I check it every day, multiple times (though I'm trying to curtail that) and it's the absolute best place to find out what's going on with (your side of) the "culture war" on any given day. I say "your side" because whatever your politics are there is, trust me, an alternate Twitter where everything that you believe, every value that you hold dear is regularly mocked and torn down as idiotic, fascistic, depraved, and evil. But Jack Dorsey makes a buck no matter which version you call home...so that's nice.

All this is to say that as of late "cancel culture" has been one of the main battlefields of the culture war. Some people bemoan it, others say it doesn't exist, others think its long overdue, I could go on. It's talked about so much, and can often seem like such a high stakes battle, and I find my emotions getting heightened when I choose to engage, and I've read so many think pieces about the "Harper's Letter" and then I have to sit down and remember that, relatively speaking, very few people in this country know what the Harper's Letter is, or care, and maybe that's a good thing. Whatever, I'm rambling now. I'll just say that I liked a lot of what was said in this specific think piece and though it may be too late to resolve any of this conflict as a nation, we damned well need to recognize the scope of the conflict because what's at stake is culture itself. I'm going to quote at length here. Apologies.
 
"It is a legitimate, even worthy, endeavor to determine whether a specific person who has been fired, socially rejected, or unpublished due to their beliefs was treated unjustly. The letter, though, argues from the position that firing, social rejection, and deplatforming due to expressed beliefs is inherently wrong — that such actions create a “stifling atmosphere,” part of “the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.” If there are some expressed beliefs the writers believe warrant social consequences, they do not say.

But these social consequences, whether warranted or not, are a form of speech."

...

"The Harper’s letter makes the oft-repeated argument, “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.” What, exactly, is supposed to happen when such bad ideas are exposed? What does it mean for a bad idea to be defeated? How would you know a bad idea was finally defeated unless large swathes of people vociferously disagreed with it?

Immoral ideas may be considered defeated when they are universally criticized. That process, when it does happen, involves increasing numbers of people joining the criticism. An idea is getting closer to defeated as it becomes increasingly unacceptable to express without social consequence."

...

"There are places in the world where a local faces social stigma for announcing their support for girls getting an education. That is a terrible injustice. On the other hand, I could announce in my small American town that I admire school shooters, or promote pedophilia, and people would socially reject me—and rightly so. The problem is not social rejection for speech, the problem is when someone is wrongly socially rejected.

To use an example more relevant to the letter writers’ concerns, if I argued in my town that women should always obey their husbands, and my community socially rejected me, this too would be not only their right, but a salutary commitment to their beliefs. They used their speech to uphold norms of women’s rights.

The question at the heart of the matter is not really whether writers should ever feel inhibited. They can’t avoid it. The question is whether racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry — or certain iterations of each of those — are the sorts of things that properly warrant stigmatization and disassociation."

 
Olalekan Jeyifous Is Imagining an Afrofuturist Brooklyn - Curbed

Inspirational stuff my friends. I've been reading a lot about Afrofuturism lately and hope do do a whole feature about it here in WesRecs soon, but in the meantime I'll just leave you with these beutiful visions for the future.
 

How else has science fiction influenced your world-building?

"I’m very influenced by what I read. One of my favorite authors is China Miéville. I’ve read almost all of his works of fiction. What really inspired my conceptual thinking is The City & the City, which is a very subtle kind of sci-fi. It’s basically two cities that occupy the exact same space, and like the occupants of each city, they walk by each other and they pass each other, but they are in completely different cities. They dress slightly differently, they move slightly differently, and it’s illegal for them to acknowledge the person in the other city without going through a rigorous Customs border-crossing.

The book has always been a perfect allegory for me for the kind of interaction between a lot of the sort of gentrifying folks in my neighborhood and folks who live here for a very long time. Walking up and down the street every day, I see such a complete disconnect between the two communities of the Black folks sitting on the steps chilling and then newer gentrifying folks spilling out of bars. They may walk into the same bodega, but there’s like zero acknowledgment, you know? So it’s an interesting thing."
Things Seen
More of a "things heard" but for some reason Mary J. Blige's "Be Happy" has been on repeat in my head and in my headphones over the past week. I first got super into her classic album My Life after college (more than a decade after it was released) and back then "I Love You" was my #1 Mary jam. But this week I'm just feeling "Be Happy" on like a supernatural level. I dunno, the chorus just touches your soul.

I love and hate how cities and streets inevitably change. Think of a main street in the town you grew up as you remember it from childhood. Then think of what it looked like as a teen. Think of it now (or take a trip down Google Street View Lane if you haven't been back). Chances are it's nearly all new shops and facades and developments, and landmarks. My hometown in Massachusetts is a fine town, nothing special, but when I go back to visit my mom these days almost everything is changed. My high school is completely redesigned and in a new building, same for the library, the drug store where I had my first job has changed brands 3x, maybe three non-fast-food restaurants in the entire town remain the same, the candlepin bowling spot is long gone, I could go on. This is not a unique phenomenon but is rather the standard way of things. Most stores and restaurants and live entertainment venue simply don't last more than a generation, if that. I've felt that especially intensely as a standup comic. Of all of the venues that hosted live comedy when I first picked up a mic in Boston in 2004 literally NONE of them was still doing so at the start of 2020. Sure some of the entities had moved to different buildings in that time and were still operating but that was a minority, most had just shut down completely. And with the lockdown so many of the venues that had opened in the interim have shut up shop...or will before the year is out. Maybe it's that knowledge of how much the current catastrophe will forever alter the landscape of our cities that affected me so much about this photo series Shocking Vintage Photos Show Time Square At The Peak Of Its Depravity In The 1970s and 1980s. It's a portrait of a certain part of Manhattan in a very different time, which has been immortalized in film and fiction and music but which is so very long gone now. I hope you enjoy this collection of pics as much as I did (peep a young Bill Murray in #22 for laughs).
Things Made
I told a story on my favorite storytelling podcast about a really wild and really important weekend in college for me. I did comedy in a club for the first time. I got taken into police custody for the first time. I woke up on a lawn (and not just any lawn). For the most part that weekend was...not great. But one part was truly amazing and I kind of built my life around it and I’m so thankful it’s still part of my life (even if it’s a bit harder at this particular point in time). Check out the latest edition of Risk! at this link or wherever you get your podcasts to hear my story and some other amazing stories.
Word of the Week
Green Gown, n.
[ green - goun ]

Meaning: Now archaic and historical.  A dress stained green from rolling in grass. Chiefly in to give a woman a green gown: to engage in amorous play with a woman; (euphemistic)

Origin:  Formed within English, by compounding. green adj. + gown n.
Somebody Said This
"Some still hope that democracy will counteract the effects of capitalism. But it's no coincidence that the two spread across the world together: both preserve hierarchies while enabling maximum mobility within them. This channels discontent into internal competition, enabling individuals to change their positions without contesting the power imbalances built into society. The free market gives every sensible worker an incentive to remain invested in private ownership and competition; as long as it seems more feasible to better his own standing than to pull off a revolution he'll choose competing for a promotion over class war. Similarly, democracy is the best way to maximize popular investment in the coercive institutions of the state because it gives the greatest possible number of people the feeling that they could have some influence over them."

Work - CrimethInc. Workers Collective
Fun Facts
  • Modern snowboarding was developed in the 1960s and began as "snurfing".
  • Owing to their similar protein composition blood can be used as a substitute for egg in baking and making ice cream.
  • Mosquitoes are more attracted to people with "O" Blood.
  • 75% of Americans admit to using their phones while on the toilet and 16% of phones have been found to have fecal matter on them.
  • Will.i.am’s song “Reach for the Stars” was played on the planet Mars from the Curiosity rover.
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