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Vol. #29 - May 22, 2020

Hello! My attention this week was split somehat evenly between a parcel of opportune data entry contract work that fell into my lap and a burgeoning obsession with the fungal kingdom. Only one of those proved interesting to discuss in my weekly missive so please do forgive the preponderance of mushroom related content below and a relative lack of in-depth attention given to our ongoing global pandemic. I promise to return next week with my usual bevy of COVID content. I'm working on some visual projects related to the local Brooklyn effects of the health crisis which I think you may find interesting. In the meantime I swear that it's not all mycology below and as usual I feel assured you'll find at least a few items that you personally can jam to.

As always THANK you for reading, it really does mean the world to me. If your email client automatically shows you this with the images removed I would encourage you to opt into displaying them as... well...there are actually pictures now (this was not always the case). Be kind to each other. I love you all.

NB: For those who may be joining us for the first time: In the last few issues 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. Everything here is more fully detailed and introduced below but in the spirit of trying new things here we go:
As per usual in the last month 2.5 months of this newsletter the first part of this week's WesRecs is COVID Corner, devoted to pandemic related news, info, humor, etc. If that's quite for you right now please feel free to skip past it down to your regularly scheduled programming, take care!

WesRecs is the weekly newsletter where I (comedian/storyteller/TV Host) Wes Hazard recommend a bunch of cool content (recs) to YOU (the person reading this). There's no particular reason for this other than the fact that I love curating stuff and I'm always excited to share items that I personally have found worthwhile, exciting, or necessary. If you like what you see please be sure to subscribe to get each week's edition delivered straight to your inbox and if you know someone else who might be into it definitely share with them. You can check out all past issues HERE.
COVID Corner
General News/Info
COVID/Lockdown Comedy
  • Moving sucks. Moving during a pandemic is worse. Being asked to make a  "virtual tour" video of your apartment by the landlord who is forcing you to leave is even worse than that. It's also a weird request by that landlord because I don't know what they think they're going to get other than snark and hate. Witness this masterpiece.
  • NYC Comedy Booker & aficionado Luisa Díez has created an extraordinarily useful directory of current virtual comedy shows with vital information such as day of the week, time, show name, hosts/producers, platform, cost, etc. All with links! I can't tell you how valuable this is if you are a comedy fan looking to see what's out there or a performer who wants to see what shows might be booking. Great stuff!
OK, so part of my week was reading a single book review and then becoming irretrievably obsessed with fungus. It happens...I guess. Here I'm going to share a bit of what I've learned and why I know think that Mycology (the study of fungus) is one of the most important human endeavors and something that we should all be heavily invested in.

To start I'll say that, as I imagine is the case for many of you, my engagement with and knowledge of fungus prior to this past week pretty much extended to: Portobello burgers, athlete's foot, Blue Cheese dressing, Super Mario Bros. Goombas, penicillin, magic mushrooms, and the various molds found on forgotten foodstuffs in the back of my refrigerator.

I got my grade 1 - 12 education in what I consider to have been a relatively top notch public school system but I think that in all those years we discussed Fungi (which constitute an entire kingdom of life on earth, 1 of 5) for a collective 20 minutes in any science class before moving on to unicellular organisms, plants, and animals (Protista also got short shrift here). It was like "mushrooms, soil, spores, NEXT!".

I feel robbed cuz this shit is WILD.

Here are some items I've devoured this week which I heartily recommend:

The Secret Lives of Fungi - The New Yorker

What started it all for me. This a review of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (which come on...I'm reading whatever this dude writes on name just know he plays the pan flute and owns a dragon). I have not read the book yet but the sheer scope of what's explored in this expansive review blew my mind. And sent me down this fungus hole.
"Sheldrake notes that the hyphal tips of mycelium seem to communicate with one another, making decisions without a real center. He describes an experiment conducted a couple of years ago by a British computer scientist, Andrew Adamatzky, who detected waves of electrical activity in oyster mushrooms, which spiked sharply when the mushrooms were exposed to a flame. Adamatzky posited that the mushroom might be a kind of “living circuit board.” The point isn’t that mushrooms would replace silicon chips. But if fungi already function as sensors, processing and transmitting information through their networks, then what could they potentially tell (or warn) us about the state of our ecosystem, were we able to interpret their signals?"
 "Following the nuclear blast at Chernobyl, the industrious, resilient fungi were among the earliest living things to appear. They seemed to grow on the reactor walls, attracted to radioactive “hot” particles. In fact, they appeared capable of harnessing radiation as a source of energy, as plants do with sunlight. The first thing to grow from the soil after the atomic bomb decimated Hiroshima was, reportedly, a matsutake mushroom."
I'm a huge Star Trek fan so I eagerly tuned into the first new TV series in the franchise to debut in over 15 years when Star Trek: Discovery was launched in 2017. Watching it has been an...interesting... if not always amazing experience. Basically I don't hate it but I don't love it...yet. It's been a bold new direction for the franchise and I enjoy a lot of what they're striving for but there's enough ridiculousness to give me pause. But so far I've thought of it like this: I love Star Trek: The Next Generation with all my heart but if you'd only ever shown me the first 2 seasons of it I would've laughed in your face, so I'm holding off on final judgment. I swear, I'm getting to mycology here.

One of the most original (and slightly laughable) plot elements in Discovery has been the spaceship's adoption of a mycelial "spore drive". I'm not going to get into here but basically the crew comes into contact with a giant alien tardigrade and uses it to develop an engine that can transport the ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously via a network of space fungus. Yes you read that right. It made for some interesting plot points but it also induced a lot of groans in the fan base. Like seriously, we went from warp speed to intergalactic mushroom-based teleportation??? WTF?

Not until this week did I realize that the ship's chief engineer, Paul Stamets, is named after real-world mycologist Paul Stamets who has done as much as anyone in the past few decades to advocate for the dazzling array of possibilities that the fungal kingdom presents for humanity in the fields of energy, medicine, natural pesticides, agriculture and more. I put 2 and 2 together while watching his fascinating TED Talk "6 ways mushrooms can save the world". I'd definitely recommend it. He seems to struggle a bit with nerves on the stage but he clearly knows his stuff and is cogent and compelling. Weirdly the section on fungus based pesticides was the most compelling for me and with the foundational patents that he has in the field I can't imagine he won't be scandalously rich before too long. His work with the Department of Defense though does give me pause...

Still, I've ordered his book and I cannot wait to read it.
Get ready to take a deep dive into the "Wood Wide Web"!
Seriously, this is a term that people who are into mycology use on  regular basis and I am HERE FOR IT. Fungi talk to each other, and almost every plant talks to fungi, and fungi can talk to each other *through* plants, and plants talk to each other *through* fungi and basically nature has its own internet that operates much like ours and it's strange and freaky and wonderful.
Before animals crawled onto the shore out of the ocean plants did. And plants were only able to do it because fungi did it before them. Fungi can break inorganic rock down into soil...which is what they did, allowing life to exist on land more than half a billion years ago and oh my god why aren't we talking about fungi ALL THE TIME???
If listening to 4 academic British people (a host and 3 guests) discuss a single cultural/literary/historical/scientific topic for about 50 minutes sounds like your cup of tea probably already listen to BBC Radio's In Our Time because it's the premier radio program/podcast that provides *exactly* that experience. Though I hardly listen to every episode I've loved this show for years because it provides something that you don't really get in American broadcasting: a handful true experts in a given field, talking respectfully to each other at length, on a single topic, moderated by an experienced interviewer and academic generalist who anticipates the questions that his listenership is likely to have. Here in the "Fungi" episode of In Our Time we hear the guests lay out the basics of what fungi are, why they're important, and why you should be interested in them too. Simple as that.

Above I've provided some vidoes and a podcast and some book leads. If you'd prefer to kick off your fungal jounrey with some reading online here's a solid resource:

David Moore's World of Fungi: where mycology starts
Things Read
The Consequential Last Act of Leon Czolgosz - Lapham's Quarterly

Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated. Everybody knows about Lincoln & Kennedy. Almost nobody remembers James Garfield or the VP that stepped into replace him, Chester A. Arthur. Some people remember William McKinley, mainly because his murder elevated VP Teddy Roosevelt to the highest office in the land. Here we have interesting little look at Leon Czolgosz, the disaffected farm boy, factory worker, & anarchist who shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901. It's a classic instance of the depression, entitlement, desperation, and violence that certain young men so easily fall into when the economy is tanking and all of a sudden they find themselves with no prospects and a bleak future after being told everything would be sunny for them if they just worked hard in America's capitalist utopia (cough cough...not that that's relevant today...cough). Fun fact: it was a black waiter at the Exposition who tackled the assassin. Also, John Malkovich's character in the movie In The Line Of Fire totally ripped off Czolgosz's method of concealing his gun under a handkerchief/napkin when he tried to assassinate the president in that film.

[This piece is from Lapham's Quarterly, probably my favorite print journal (which has a decent amount of awesome online content too). They're a huge inspiration for what I try to do with WesRecs.]
"Things didn’t go well. In 1893 America sank into a depression, businesses shut down, and people across the country lost their jobs. Czolgosz was among them. When he was rehired, the company engaged in a brutal price war that resulted in lower wages. After Czolgosz joined a strike, he was fired and put on a blacklist. The only way he could work again was to wait for a new foreman to come in and then reapply under a fake identity. He chose the name Fred Nieman: Fred Nobody.

Everyone around him could see that he was unhappy, brooding, almost broken. He had been set back, as so many others had, and couldn’t recover, and in this too he wasn’t alone. Then he stopped trying. In 1898 he told his boss that he was unwell and had to quit."


"McKinley staggered, and was eased onto a chair by those near him. The man waiting behind Czolgosz—James Parker, an African American former constable from Georgia, now a waiter at an Expo restaurant—tackled him. Someone, a Secret Service agent or a soldier, grabbed the gun. In the melee it was hard to know who."

"in the history of disney animated movies there have been exactly 18 types of songs, and i'm going to tell you about each of them"

Wow this is pretty damned staggering in terms of its depth, ingenuity, rigorousness and humor. Justin McElroy, a reporter for CBC Vancouver unleashed an epic tweet thread cataloging every single type of Disney song and it is a work to behold. Insightful and backed up with plenty of clips that will send you down memory lane (both fondly & with various states of cringe) he breaks down all of the archetypal song categories from the House of Mouse such as the "I Want" songs (aka wish songs) and the villain songs, but he hardly stops there. We go way down the rabbit hole into every category and nuance you can imagine such as the "it's time to dance!" songs, the "drug" songs, & the "problematic" songs. I'm only the most casual fan of Disney (I pretty much tapped out after Lion King) but I found this totally fascinating and I love how well put-together it is.

Wes recommends.
Planet of the Dehumanized - Uneven Earth

I never thought I’d be so compelled to share a negative review of a film I’ve never seen (and now have no intention of seeing), but here we are. Basically in 2019 an environmental documentary titled "Planet of the Humans" was released. It was directed by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Michael Moore and it argues that renewable/alternative energy sources like solar power and wind power are not truly sustainable. While the film's director is ecologically minded (in intention) and is certainly not arguing for a continued reliance on fossil fuels the movie has received some critiques for being unfair or misleading in its depiction of the state of renewable energies. Again, i haven't seen it so I can't really speak to that.

What I am 100% here for is this OUTSTANDING takedown of any notion that a mission to save the Earth and its people can be separated from a mission to end global capitalism. We will get nowhere by individuals in Western nations recycling, a biking to work, and "going green!" if we do not also recognize that corporations and governments are the biggest polluters, that the consumer economy (with its focus on disposable products and its fetishism for "growth") is simply incompatible with not poisoning the Earth, and that the choices we make as consumers always disproportionately affect much poorer people thousands of miles away whose environments are more immediately impacted than ours.

I loved this article, it provided so much food for thought, so many great links, and I am now going back through the publication Uneven Earth and finding it a very compelling resource.
"A film produced by white people for other well-meaning white people, which does not include voices from the most vulnerable, who bear the major brunt of climate change and ecological collapse, entirely misses the mark around why ecological concerns are a matter of humiliating injustice for many people rather than merely a lifestyle choice. If what counts as being a “lifelong environmentalist,” as Gibbs claims at the start of the film, means making the individual choice to move into an “eco-house” and become more sustainable, then we are left with a very narrow and privileged understanding of what environmentalism actually means. The absence of more than stock-photo imagery of the structural inequalities of ecological destruction is precisely what makes this film highly simplistic and therefore dangerous at this current conjuncture."


"The film caters to Western views on environmentalism by those who do not have to deal with structural injustices of living in cities’ most polluted areas, dying from air pollution, having their land dispossessed, or whose life choices are determined by precarious migrant labour and remittance to families abroad. While the film artfully exposes the fallacy around so-called “green economy” illusions, it does so by focusing entirely on lifestyle choices like deciding whether to attend a solar-powered concert or to adopt a plant-based diet. This focus simplifies what environmentalism is meant to imply, even if the filmmakers may have had no intention of doing so. One consequence of the filmmaker’s one-sided Western environmentalist lens is its singular focus on renewable-energy supporters and activists. Environmentalism has less to do with having epiphanies of being inspired in the great outdoors, and more to do with supporting the autonomous decision-making of vulnerable communities in the face of egregious environmental pollution that no human being should ever be subjected to. Racialized environmental justice has a long history in the US. It is unfathomable that a film of this nature would blatantly side-step this, especially given Moore’s previous work on the racialized nature of environmental problems like the Flint water crisis. Only one female voice who defends the struggles of racialized people from so-called “developing” countries demanding environmental justice was offered space in the film, and even that for less than 1 minute."


"While perhaps not the intention of the filmmakers, the film paradoxically creates a narrative that is easy to co-opt by ecomodernists advocating for technological fixes to environmental problems. It essentially gives them a green light to irresponsibly advocate nuclear energy by laying claim to the failure of renewable technologies to power an industrial society. Indeed, given the lack of alternatives offered in the film, its silence on the matter essentially condones nuclear energy. Such a decontextualized view on the potential of energy alternatives like wind and solar shuts the door on renewable energy technologies without recognizing the crucial role they play as decentralized energy solutions, particularly those focused on ensuring energy democracy for communities around the world. In short, energy systems cannot be decontextualized from the kind of society that is democratically desired. Like fossil fuels, nuclear energy depends on powerful and hegemonic actors to drive and direct both energy demand and supply, but a sustainable future will require decentralized, autonomous communities that have control over their energy use and where their energy comes from."
Things Seen
As I mentioned in the last issue of WesRecs a culture of belief in conspiracy theories is taking root and sprading like a rash in America (the Qanon nonsense perhaps being foremost but not nearly an isolated phenomenon). It's a consequence of a generation growing up on the internet, non-existing media comprehension education in many schools, a brutal economy that renders entire sections of society more or less obsolete, a loss of perceived status and power in huge chunks of the population, and mass uncertainty about...well...everything.

Given all that here's Pulling The Thread: Conspiracy Thinking, a well made and easily digestible (7 parts of about eight minutes each) series from WORLD Channel about conspiracy theories, where they come from, why people believe them, how they endure, and why we're awash with them now. (Full Disclosure: I co-host a WORLD Channel program Stories From The Stage).
Franny Choi is a poet & writer who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform in person a few times, so I can definitely confirm that she knows what she's talking about with regard to best practices for reading poems out loud to an audience. What she does on the page is often brilliant, and what she does on the stage only ever enhances that amazing work.
Much of this is common sense advice for any public speaking setting, though people who aren't that experienced often forget it [things like: PRACTICE, ENUNCIATE, LISTEN TO YOURSELF SO YOU'RE AWARE OF HOW YOU SOUND, etc]. But her tips specifically related to the performance of poetry are really on point such as realizing that you have a lot of latitude to diverge from what exactly appears on the page, you should read in your own voice (vs. an idea of "poet" voice/cadence you may have in your head), and your audience is rooting for you! People WANT you do well so don't think of the audience as some kind of opposing or menacing force.
These tips apply to any live setting but Choi also gives some advice specific to our current age of virtual events: lighting is key, have an interesting background, don't be freaked out by not being able to hear audience response. All around sage advice here.
OK, once again we have more of a "Thing Heard" but since this newsletter doesn't have a section specifically for that, I'm putting it here. I was out for a long rambling walk the other day and wanted to listen to something new. I went to my podcast app's recommendation page and saw this new show first. A pretty surefire way to get me interested in anything is to put "archive" in the title so here we are.

I was not disappointed.

Here's the show's episode one synopsis:

In The Last Archive, acclaimed historian Jill Lepore traces the history of evidence, proof, and knowledge, in troubled epistemological times. From archives and libraries to interrogation rooms and evidence vaults, Lepore takes listeners around the country--and across the passage of time--in search of an answer to the question: Who killed truth? Season One begins with a murder in northern Vermont in 1919, and ends in Silicon Valley in 2020. Produced in the style of classic 1930s radio drama, The Last Archive is a show about how we know what we know and why it seems, lately, as if we don’t know anything at all.

That's all I had to go on before I spent a gripping 43 minutes with The Last Archive - Episode 1: The Clue of the Blue Bottle. I'm glad I just happened to browse the description on a random afternoon because now I'm all in on the rest of the season.

Here's a wild piece of etymological trivia that I would've remained ignorant of had I not tuned in:

"A clue used to mean a ball of yarn or thread. The word kept that meaning in English for hundreds of years. And then people started using the word clue to describe the yarn you'd use if you were stuck in a maze. If you enter a maze a really good idea is to unravel a ball of yarn to mark your way so that you can find your way back out. So "clue" started to mean a thing that you would use to find your way out of a maze. And here's another reason we use the word "clue" this way: a lot of murder victims are women and their clothes are often torn, so there were lots of clues at the scenes of crimes. Actual, not figurative, threads trailing from torn items of women's clothing."

Trust me, you'll find the rest of the ep as fascinating (and chilling) as this.
Word of the Week

This was a weirdly pleasant insomolent encounter. The Oxford English Dictionary's "Word of the Day" email reaches me each day at about 3:30 am. It just so happens that this past Wednesday I was grappling with some hellish insomnia at just that time so I ran with it and made this image of a word that was extremely appropriate for the hour.
Somebody Said This
“What is a man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?”

-Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
Fun Facts
  • Black olives are just green olives that were allowed to ripen before harvesting.
  • Rock stars including Elton John and members of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, & Genesis personally financed about 40% of the budget for the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.
  • Abraham Lincoln & Charles Darwin were born on the same day (February 12, 1809).
  • Per the USDA the day with the second highest amount of food consumption in the US, after Thanksgiving, is Super Bowl Sunday.
  • In order to prevent shark bites fiber-optic internet cables at the bottom of the ocean floor are wrapped in Kevlar.
Check me out on social media with the links below. And if you like what you've just read please be sure to subscribe and share it with a friend you think will dig it too, thanks!
Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.

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