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WesRecs

Vol. #52 - October 30, 2020

Hello my beautiful lovelies! On this most weird and fraught and electrically charged of Halloween weeks as I, like much of the country, careen wildly between soaring hope, abject despair, and chuckled resignation in the run-up to this election I have managed to find a few moments of good ol' spooky joy and horror season appreciation. I'll skip a lengthy preamble this week before getting into the newsletter but I did have a few random thoughts:

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As I've noted recently, I'm back to work as an extra on movies and TV shows in NYC. It's a very odd and very random gig but it suits me and it's been interesting to see how things have unfolded since productions resumed in the COVID era. I've worked on 4 shows so far in the few weeks that I've been back and while some productions are definitely more stringent than others with regard to specific safety measures (ex. requiring a kn95 mask vs any old cloth mask) I have overall felt pretty good about things on the health front while working.

Every cast and crew member is being COVID tested between booking and the shoot date (sometimes more than once and sometimes also on the day of the shoot), mask use is mandated when not on camera, the way that meals are distributed has been rebuilt from the bottom up, and there are now dedicated crew positions devoted to ensuring protocol compliance. Beautiful.

However up until this week all of the scenes I'd been doing were either outside or in indoor settings that were relatively sparsely populated. But this Wednesday I was booked as a "sports bar patron" in a scene where a group of 20-something guy friends goes out for a night on the town. The location was a fairly large bar up in Inwood and they packed it out for the scene so that you had almost every seat in the bar filled, with a bunch of extras placed standing around as well (like you'd see at a real bar), PLUS all of the off camera production crew. It was a lot of people and by far the biggest inside crowd that I've been a part of in more than half a year. The crew remained masked throughout, but every time the camera rolled all 40 of us extras had our masks off and it was a LONG scene. Like every take was 2 minutes and we did *many* takes. As background we weren't really talking so much as pantomiming believable speech for the camera but that still means breath coming out of your mouth and I'm not gonna lie: it felt not a little risky. Now, every single person in that room had taken and passed a COVID test 2 days prior, and everyone working there was being professional and vigilant with regard to protocols, but...yeah...felt a bit weird. I was also wearing an authentic New York Rangers hockey jersey the whole time so that was a nice touch. (Fun fact: fighting is so ingrained in professional hockey that NHL jerseys are equipped with a "fight strap" which holds it in place should you get in a scuffle so that it can't be pulled over your head to blind you. Damn.)

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On the cooking front: it rained pretty much every day this week in NYC so there was no grilling to be had and I've been pretty occupied with some projects so I didn't really get a chance to do anything elaborate but on the super-casual ten minute meals front I made a breakthrough with the guidance of this video.

I've been eating instant ramen since I was elementary school, I've been jazzing it up with an egg-drop since college, and in the last few years I discovered the benefits of adding a splash of sesame oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some minced garlic, and a lil' chopped scallion if I had some lying around (I generally have not). This video right here tho?? Showed me how to make it art. I did this with a portabello mushroom, half a yellow bell pepper, half a shallot, like 6 cloves of garlic and probably too much cayenne and wow, it took it into a whole different level of meal. Eliminating the soup broth changes the whole game. I almost never eat ramen in the summer because who wants to put their face over a cauldron of steaming soup when it's 90 degrees in August?? But this version just sidesteps that completely. It is true that you can't do a runny yolk egg-drop directly into this (it would just scramble...which is fine but not the same), but you just need to make a sunny side up or over-easy egg in the pan as the last step. This is probably more excitement than a pack of instant noodles deserves but I'm into it.

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OK then, I guess that was a lengthy preamble after all. Anyway, I'll talk to you on the other side of whatever the hell it is we're about to experience in America this week. Be kind to each other, I really do love you all, and Happy Halloween!

 
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.

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It's Halloween week so before I get into into all of the politics and election craziness and civil unrest, etc I thought I'd throw up a damn cool trivia palette cleanser in the form of a dope guide explaining how some of our favorite candies and confections got their names. I snagged this from the Reddit Cool Guides forum which, frankly, I cannot recommend enough. It's trivia + design + education and so much more.

COVID Corner

Findings in Plagueland

From Reddit, two days ago, we have an infographic showing the percentage of total COVID cases in a given part of the U.S. that were recorded in the last month. The upper Midwest is plainly seeing the biggest spikes but it's not really looking "good" anywhere. On a national level we just experienced our worst week yet in terms of the total number of new cases and hospitalizations. And no matter what happens this Tuesday the current do-nothing "the worst is behind us" / ""we're rounding the corner!" administration will be running the show until at least January so buckle up for what is assuredly going to be a long and difficult winter.

-Wear a mask
-Don't travel or gather unnecessarily
-Look out for your people
-Develop an indoor hobby (preferably several)
-Get your flu shot
-Stock up on essentials
-For the love of god do not go to any Halloween parties
In the 2020 US election, we can choose a just future - The Lancet

The world's premier medical journal does not often get "political". In fact it almost never does. So when they decide to buck convention and step into the election ring you should at least take note.

 
In terms of health, the current US administration has intentionally lied about the grave risks of COVID-19, failed to implement a coherent national pandemic strategy, hamstrung and underfunded public health agencies, initiated the process to withdraw the USA from WHO, reversed and weakened health regulations, attacked abortion and contraception access, eroded transgender health protections, and aired racist, anti-Asian, anti-science views. Furthermore, the US administration under President Donald Trump has cut food stamps, denied climate change, jeopardised the 2020 Decennial Census, undermined Indigenous sovereignty, imposed discriminatory anti-Muslim travel bans, unleashed federal force on peaceful protesters, openly appealed to white supremacists, and separated immigrant families and caged their children.

While Black and Indigenous communities, and people of colour more generally, are made vulnerable under the current US administration, no one is fully immune to its harms. Ultimately, unfettered racism, truncated rights, anaemic protections, and the resource inequities these exposures create shorten lives. Anyone who doubts this needs to only consider the past 9 months.

...

When it comes to this administration, “it is what it is”. But seeing it clearly is essential. When torrential rain flooded parts of Louisiana, extreme winds decimated parts of Utah, and the US western seaboard spent weeks aflame, it is important to see this administration's enshrinement of fossil fuels as accelerants for climate catastrophe. When Vice President Mike Pence asserted that “We will have law and order” as a condition of a second term of a Trump presidency, it is crucial to see the rise in hate crimes, white vigilante terror, and human rights abuses that have been a condition of the first term of this administration. Seeing this clearly prevents tacit acceptance of a dangerous diversion. This type of diversion is how Indigenous dispossession becomes “discovery”, “settlement”, and “Columbus Day”. It is how vigilante mob violence against Black communities become “race riots” with “fine people on both sides”.

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So whether shrouded in a booth or the privacy of our own homes this November, US citizens who can vote must affirm these self-evident truths: white nationalism and authoritarianism imperil democracy; democracy and equality are co-constitutive; equality is essential to health; the social, economic, and political conditions necessary to advance equality safeguard the planet; and thriving societies require sustainable environments and equitable economies. All these issues are on the 2020 ballot. We hope US voters choose a just future.
I've included a few different narratives from people living with #LongCovid in past issues of the newsletter and I'll continue to do so here because I think it's critical that more people have an understanding of the fact that the potential outcomes for an infection go beyond a simple binary of death or "all better". This illness is so new and so understudied and there is so much that we don't know about it. Yes, remarkable strides have been made in just the last 9 months or so, to the point where the survival rate (provided you can actually get care and a bed in a hospital if it gets that bad) is higher than it was back in the spring, and we can reasonably hope for a vaccine next year. But I assure you that COVID continues to be nothing to play with. I've seen account after account of fit, active, young people who were bed-ridden for weeks or months and who only slowly got to the point where they could live and work unassisted. Very few of those stories ends in a 100% recovery. So keep all of this in mind, remain vigilant, and do your part to keep yourself and others safe. This #LongCovid account is particularly vivid and sad and worth reading.
Just like this earworm harmonizing says: The pandemic isn't over just because you're over it. Damn that has been stuck in my head for days now and you know what...I'm not mad! This one hit home for me because I've walked up and down this street countless times and have eaten at El Jefe's a bunch (including a very weird [and final] 3rd date). I can attest, it's a solid Cambridge taco, but that is no reason to act the fool in line outside of the business and not wear a mask with 40 of your schoolmates. Ya'll go Harvard, have some sense.

America

What Will The Next Week Bring?

My Neighbor Joined a Sex Cult; it Explains A Lot About Trump’s America - Politically Speaking (Medium)

I'll admit that while I'd seen headlines here and there for a while now and I was vaguely aware of a Hollywood star's involvement in some sort of cult/sex-ring, I really didn't know anything about the NXIVM scandal until I read this this week and checked out a few other items. Having done that I'll say that the story is both wild in its dimensions while at the same time sharing common & predictable elements with every other con-man lethario brainwashing cult situation you've ever heard of from the Branch Davidians to the Children of God. This org is much more modern and business oriented, binding its adherents to a reverence of "success" and "entrepreneurship" vs holiness and spiritual awakening, but on an emotional level it's all the same.

Anyway, my first dive into this mess was this piece which makes an interesting comparison between the NXIVM following and hardcore MAGA-heads (which, yes, is indeed a cult by any definition). I've noted my fears and emergent despair about the rise of Qanon multiple times in WesRecs this year and I have to say none of this is making me feel any better about the mob-minded irrationality that is currently thriving in America.
 
When I arrived at the neighbor’s house, there were dozens of people packed in her lavishly appointed living room. Sitting at the front of the room with two well dressed men, she explained that Raniere’s program could improve your life and help you overcome difficult barriers, and that his ideas were all about self improvement. Other people might not understand you, but Raniere — he got it — and he alone could fix all of your problems. It didn’t take long for cracks in this egg to appear, as the Canadian pretty much steamrolled their entire presentation by asking who was making money (no answer), whether the group was a non-profit (nope), and what were the presenter’s qualifications to teach all of us the meaning of life (none). We had a chuckle and left, as I had toddlers at the time and didn’t have the luxury of attending the $3,000 self help week they were peddling, even if I wanted to.

After arriving home, I decided I needed to confront my neighbor about the fact that she might not have realized she had joined a cult. As a former felony prosecutor, I thought maybe she would listen to my advice and consider dumping Raniere. The problem with my plan was — once you are in a cult — you’re in. There aren’t any facts to persuade (that is just fake news), or truth to share with a cult member (all arguments will be pegged as lies). The more I read about Raniere, the more panicked I became for my neighbor and her children. Apparently he was a lifelong cheater and scammer, and any basic Google search revealed a multitude of past transgressions. After later asking her a few questions about Raniere, I realized any attempt to change her mind was futile. It was apparent that unless he was arrested (and maybe not even then), she would be a loyal follower. With so many facts available about how horrible a person is, only radical disinformation and disengagement from reality allows a person to follow a monstrously defective leader. Sound familiar?

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One refrain seems common from all of Trump’s most ardent followers regardless of these allegations: a feeling of belonging to a special community of insiders and a misguided sense of purpose. Even if siding with Trump means alienating family, losing relationships, or dying of COVID from attending an unmasked Trump rally, their allegiance is supernatural and rock solid. If Raniere provides any guidance — science, the truth, or even the destruction or derision of our democracy won’t change the course of Trump’s most dedicated believers. If even 30% of Americans are heading in this direction, this isn’t going to end well.

...

After years of following Raniere, it all came predictably crashing down; her family ripped apart by a man who showed all the signs of being a sociopathic cult leader. Raniere and his top lieutenants are all either indicted or in jail (facing charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy and forced labor), including actress Allison Mack, and heiress Claire Bronfman. By the time Mack had her doubts about Raniere, she had surrendered her life to him and it was too late. At a plea hearing in federal court, Mack was asked why she joined NXIVM. Her answer was “to find purpose. . . I was lost and I wanted to find a place, a community in which I would feel comfortable.” As the New York Times pointed out, her friend Christine Lakin says “the only thing I can think of is she so badly wanted to connect to something that she didn’t see the rational side of things.”

Unfortunately when Trump’s followers wake up, it might be too late for America.
I swear reality is gonna put satire out of business in the year 2020.

Also, while we're on the J Kush front it seems like a good place to drop this little nugget from a congressional hopeful in Arizona comparing his journey to Harvard to that of the first son-in-law. I know nothing of Ruben Gallego's politics, or his personal story beyond what is recounted in this thread and I'm not in a position to comment on his particular house race but I really liked this so I'm sharing it with you.

Race & Policing

Towards The Reduction Of Harm

Things Read

Worthwhile Words

From NY Journalism Professor Jay Rosen we have: The 18 different types of newspaper titles - (Twitter Thread)

Man was this informative and entertaining. A journalism professor and a data guy sat down and fed hundreds of newspaper titles into a spreadsheet then assessed and collated the entries to find the 18 basic categories into which (English language) newspapers generally fall into. I swear this is more interesting than that might sound. Very glad to have stumbled upon this.
 
Category 1: Everything postal. Printers were often postmasters. Newspapers were delivered by mail. The associations among news, printing, postal service and delivery go back centuries.

Thus: The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Washington Post, The Post and Courier (SC).

Category 2: Updatedness. Simplest name for a news product is to call it "news" or something very close to what news means: the latest.

Here belong all titles like The News, The Bulletin, The Columbus Dispatch, The Hartford Courant, or even the Ashland Daily Tidings in Oregon.

Category 3. Chron logic. Time and divisions of time. Dayness and nightness.

Thus: endless titles that begin with the words Daily, Morning, or Evening. The Morning Call in Allentown, PA; The Evening Standard in the UK, The Day in New London CT, The Hour in Norwalk CT.
A shadowy AI service has transformed thousands of women’s photos into fake nudes: ‘Make fantasy a reality’ - The Washington Post

I'm no Luddite, at all. But I think we could've left technology and social media where they were in 2006 and been much more happy for it. Deepfakes are still kind of a novelty at present but within a few years they will become ubiquitous and I find myself wondering everyday what that means for the very meaning of things like "truth" and "proof". Once a teenager in his bedroom can create a totally believable fake video of anyone saying or doing anything (along with any number of other imposter personas) we will have lost the ability to use video recordings as evidence, and any actual video recording or photograph will be easily dismissable as a possible/probable fake. As I wrote about at length last week the very nature of "truth" and an agreed upon reality is already crumbling in this country. This might be the nail in the coffin.
 
Users of the automated service can anonymously submit a photo of a clothed woman and receive an altered version with the clothing removed. The AI technology, trained on large databases of actual nude photographs, can generate fakes with seemingly lifelike accuracy, matching skin tone and swapping in breasts and genitalia where clothes once were.

...

“You’ve taken my identity and you’ve turned it into porn . . . That feels so visceral, harmful, wrong,” Citron said. “Your body is being taken and undressed without your permission, and there’s documentary evidence of it. . . . Intellectually, [you] know it hasn’t happened. But when [you] see it, it feels as if it has, and you know others won’t always know” it’s fake.

...

The automated service, however, only works on women: Submit an image of a man — or an inanimate object — and it will be transformed to include breasts and female genitalia. (In one submitted image of a cat’s face, its eyes were replaced with what appeared to be nipples.)

...

The deep-learning pioneer Andrew Ng last year called DeepNude “one of the most disgusting applications of AI,” adding: “To the AI Community: You have superpowers, and what you build matters. Please use your powers on worthy projects that move the world forward.”

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

At age 4 Sade was my first ever celebrity crush. I love her music and this song has appeared on *quite a few* of the late nite/ date nite playlists and mix CDs that I've curated over the years but I had never watched the video until this week. I'm smitten all over again. Kudos to the art director for creating a realistic underwater scene using fake plants, soft/hazy lighting and wind machines. Well done, but I also can't watch this and not think of Tom Hanks' Splash or, for waaaaaay different reasons, the utterly unique horror synth-pop romance Polish musical The Lure, that I was amazed by a few months ago.
If you're a WesRecs OG you might recall that I spotlighted her work in both WR 25 & 38 so you know I'm a fan, and I have absolutely zero qualms about urging you once again to check out the relentlessly splendid work of Courtney White. She is an illustrator with a style all her own that I've always found compelling, but in the last few months especially her work has gravitated to the explicitly political and we should all be grateful for that. Her regular skewering of 45 and his idiocy, cruelty, hypocrisy, and lack of humanity are as well done as they are necessary and she executes them with her finely tuned skill and perception in a way that leaves you sad and angry and motivated and (often) laughing. I'll admit I had the privilege of calling Courtney a co-worker back when I last had a 9-5, so I can say that in addition to her art being thoroughly legit, she's also an extremely kind and cool person to know and a creator worth supporting. Check her out.

All images here are from Courtney's IG page which I urge you to follow.
My heart belongs to Jeopardy! but as of late I've kind of gotten into The Chase. It started as a British quiz show, and an American version was made for a few seasons on Game Show Network a few years ago (of which the first 2 seasons are on Netflix). If you love trivia you'll probably be into it, and the ways in which it's different from Jeopardy! are quite interesting. These include:
  • The fact that the players aren't competing against each other but rather against an experienced trivia expert.
  • Portions of the game are played individually while the finale is a team effort/
  • There are no "categories" players are asked questions from all over the trivia map with no seeming rhyme or reason.
  • In certain portions of the game speed is very heavily emphasized.
  • In the event of a win whatever money an individual player earned is put into a pot and split evenly among their remaining teammates.
It's easier to watch a game to understand the rules vs me telling you here but I'll just say that I think it has a very nifty game design and that it makes for compelling watching.

All that brings me to this episode of the British version of the show from 2011 which is, without doubt, one of the most thrilling and emotionally up-and-down TV (let alone game show) experiences that I've had in a minute.

I don't want to spoil anything but when the one dude who you definitely DO NOT think should "go for it" decides to GO FOR IT with the wildest results ever...I think it kind of says a lot about the state of the GOP since 2016 (even though this was taped well before then). And when the one dude went full-on rat bastard traitor coward I literally could not believe what I was seeing. Like, I promise I will die before ever even thinking about going out like that. Just wild. So great.

Whenever I play British trivia I'm guaranteed to do about 25% worse than normal because I know nothing about their TV shows, the royals, or cricket but this made up for everything in sheer entertainment value.
Now THIS is the geography nerd content that I love to see!!!
Random Viewing
  • This 80s news clip already had everything: arcade game panic, ridiculous Boston accents, feathered hair, government overreach, etc. BUT THEN karate got thrown into it and it reached transcendence. Excellent trip down memory lane.
  • I, for the most part, hang all of the pants in my rotation on pegs so that there's no risk of them becoming wrinkled, but if did fold them I'd be glad to have this great demo on how to fold jeans and shirts professionally like they do in clothing stores. Anyone who ever had a summer job at The Gap knows this already but while I did my time in the retail trenches I was never doing with clothes so this was a helpful tutorial for me. I do not know why they include 2 pants examples but OK.
  • In the past 4 years I have suffered not only through Trump's presidency but also an avalanche of Trump impressions. A rare few have been very accurate or very funny. The majority have been uninspired and painful. This one though? This one right here??? UNCANNY. My god this is so on point and impressive. If you close your eyes it's him. This dude just nails everything, the sounds, the inflections, the turns of phrase, everything. I'm still marveling at it. And as a (very casual) Weird Al fan who fondly remembers Amish Paradise I also found the commentary funny within itself. If you have no idea what he's talking about I can't really see that diminishing your appreciation of this though since it will come off as inane as anything the actual dude might say on a given day. Needed a laugh this week, so happy for this.
  • This is one of the dumbest things I've ever shared in WesRecs but it made me laugh and seeing as how we're all looking f=down the barrel of a bloody guerilla civil war I figure we can use the yuks. I present you with: The Uruk-Hai from Fellowship of the Ring overdubbed with normal voices.

Things Made

 

Over at Stories From The Stage we made a special Cast Your Vote episode that will air this Monday on election eve. You can watch it online or on your TV and we'll be doing a FaceBook Live chat to accompany it. Details HERE.

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

psephology, n
[ see - FALL- uh -jee ]

Meaning:  The study of public elections; statistical analysis of trends in voting; (now usually) the prediction of electoral results based on analysis of sample polls, voting patterns, etc.

Origin: 1950–55; <Greek psêpho(s) pebble + -logy; so called from the Athenian custom of casting votes by means of pebbles

Fun Facts

Trivia To Bend Your Brain

  • You get approximately 70.7% more more food in a Chipotle burrito bowl than you do in a Chipotle burrito of the same price. It is far more economical to order a burrito bowl with a tortilla on the side.
  • Neil Armstrong walked there first but Buzz Aldrin was the first man to pee on the moon. (He also was the first to eat and drink on the moon, taking communion on Sunday 7/20/69).
  • Potato chip bags are intentionally manufactured to be noisy in order to boost the consumer’s perception of the chips as “crunchy”. They could be much quieter.
  • Distance-wise “outer space” is only an hour’s car ride away from Earth’s surface.
  • In the U.S. someone is shot by a toddler roughly once a week. (A toddler being 3 years of age or younger and the majority of victims being the tot themselves).
Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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