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Vol. #28 - May 15, 2020

Hello Hello Hello! Thanks for once again checking out WesRecs! As I've said before, I find this intro thing here to be the most difficult part of this week to week. I'm never quite sure what to say. On a technical note I'll say that I started this newsletter by very intentionally *not* including any images or video thumbnails. We have a few of those now, so if you're looking at this in your email inbox definitely click whatever box you need to in order to display it with images.

In the last few issues WesRecs I 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:
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

Death of a Survivor - The New Republic

Prison really is one of the absolute worst things we do to people in this country. This woman should not have been in prison at all, and she *certainly* should have been let out at the onset of this crisis. Heartbreaking stuff.
"Lulu was “fun, fun-loving,” Melissa Love, that baby sister, now 53, told me, but she began to take drugs and became involved with men so violent that she had two strokes from the abuse. She bore scars on her head from a hatchet attack. “She was a drinker, she was on drugs, but she’ll give you the shirt off her back,” her sister Brenda said. “She had such a hard life. Some of the stuff we went through, I tell people and they don’t believe it. But it’s all the truth.""

"All visitation to Bedford Hills was canceled on March 16. Incarcerated women, civilian workers, guards, and their families fell ill. Lulu wrote to Melissa on March 20, cheerful as usual, grateful for her care package of popcorn and Honey Buns: 'Hey Sis, How are you doing? Is the sun out up north? I got the stuff you sent me.… Thank you very much for all that you did.… Love you both and tell the kids I said hello and to continuously wash their hands and face. Love LuLu.' As the virus circulated, she grew anxious. On March 28, she asked Melissa to “contact people in higher places and let them know.” With her underlying health issues, she added, “I cannot afford to get this virus. It may kill me. Please help.”"

"Hospital staff ultimately decided that Lulu, who had developed gangrene in her hands and feet and whose organs had shut down, had no chance at recovery. A doctor approached Lulu, intending to facilitate a last video chat with her family, but the prison guard at the door intervened: Per policy, no such communication was permitted. Lulu’s sisters called Bedford Hills to get special authorization. “After 30 minutes of them transferring us here, there, everywhere, we didn’t get any approval and no answer,” Melissa said. “We finally called the doctor back and asked if someone could hold the phone to her ear.”"

I lost both my parents in the COVID-19 era. How do I reopen my own life? - The Boston Globe

A haunting personal essay that offers just a sliver of the grief that has by and large remained unacknowledged publicly in all of this.
So I can tell you all about X in the age of coronavirus, where X is grieving; starting a new job; wrestling with whether to travel for life-and-death matters; dealing with assisted living, emergency room visits, home hospice care, estate planning on Zoom, then memorials on Zoom. When this is over, I’d be happy never to see Zoom again.

But you don’t need me to tell you how hard this is. You need me to tell you how to keep going.”


“My siblings and I had to cancel our mom’s memorial service because of the pandemic. We then wrestled with how to have a proper burial for our dad. In the end, we made the difficult decision to travel from our respective homes to Illinois, despite the risks of exposure to us and our families. I took a nearly empty plane from Logan Airport to Chicago and drove the two and a half hours south to Champaign-Urbana."


“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one does. We make our choices and we live with them. I do know that I can’t imagine not having made the trip to see my siblings, bury our father, and grieve together. Whatever happens with the pandemic, we all need each other; we need to work hard and ask the right questions; we need to be honest and not afraid.”

COVID/Lockdown Comedy
Get Fat, Don't Die - Hazlitt

This image is from another time, another plague, and another American president indifferent to the suffering of his country's citizens but it speaks to us across the decades. I really enjoyed reading this article in Hazlitt about the Diseased Pariah News an 11-issue newsletter that appeared sporadically in the 90s which was published by and for gay men living with HIV in an era when that diagnosis was mostly still a death sentence. The main editors, Beowulf Thorne & Tom Shearer (who would both eventually die of AIDS) were vibrant men with wide interests and a deeply sardonic humor who were tired of the monolithic image of the person living with AIDS as a "Languishing Saint and Hug Object" who was to be simply pitied until they quietly died with a whimper. The pair instead insisted on asserting their own agency, defining the illness on their terms, and living out the rest of their lives with as much humor, raunch, and defiance as possible. This article focuses mainly on Thorne's food & cooking column which focused on rich, calorie-heavy, hedonistic foods intended to combat the characteristic wasting of AIDS patients while also offering variations for those whose illnesses made eating difficult or a chore. I had never heard of DPN until I read this but as a diehard zine-ster and curator myself I am deeply intrigued by its style and voice and the fact that a small team of terminally ill men with no major publishing apparatus behind them were able to create a thoroughly unique passion project that was nationally known on the underground and which even got some mainstream mentions. You can find a complete (but not incredibly well organized) collection of all issues HERE. Warning: this stuff is about as NSFW as you're gonna get.
"Twenty-four years after protease inhibitors and combination antiretroviral therapy (the “cocktail”) brought the immune systems of millions of HIV-positive people back into healthy ranges, it’s hard not to read Diseased Pariah News without straining for a happy ending. Hang in there for a few more years! the brain shouts at each page. The same thinking that collapses World War II into a moral victory and the Civil Rights Movement into a triumph has recast the plague years as a self-contained tragedy. 

Yet to laugh at Wulf and Tom’s jokes—to take in the full spectrum of the rage and grief coded into each shocked laugh he drags up from your chest—requires you to strip away the safety of history."

"By the time DPN published its first issue in 1990, four people were dying of AIDS every hour, and the U.S. death count was rocketing up to 100,000. According to David France’s How to Survive a Plague, by then at least 20 U.S. states had considered quarantining people with HIV in camps, arresting them for having sex, or even tattooing their status on their bodies. Hate crimes spiked across the country, to the indifference of many police departments....That year, many say, marked the darkest period of the epidemic. For Wulf and Tom, turning the plague into a sick joke was a radical act of self-love. "

"Now that I am decades older than Wulf was then, the gall of the magazine—to mock death, and shame, and governmental neglect, and all the squeamish attempts at empathy AIDS occasioned —strikes me as a form of redemption. And to snicker at Wulf’s jokes, each laugh tinged with the grief and horror I thought long buried, feels like the best way to honor him."
Things Read
The Prophecies of Q - The Atlantic

This reading is as scary as it is vital. You cannot dismiss this movement as a bunch of internet freaks and weirdos. It binds its followers to it with a truly religious fervor and that type of thing cannot simply be reasoned away (though it defies reason...because it defies reason). The only way to combat this (and it needs combating) is at root causes. People turn to this because they feel lost, hopeless, that the world and the elites are leaving them behind, that scary and unworthy “others” are taking “their country”, etc. The only way out is hardly an appeal to reason or even a violent check against them. It’s...providing them with hope, and purpose, and a visibly fair shake. Which does not happen in the capitalist order. There will always be stone cold religious freaks whose only want in the world, the only thing that could possibly satisfy them is the rapture, the second coming. But for most meaningful work, economic security, a belief in a society that cares about them, a hope for the future, seeing your neighbor as truly a neighbor would be enough. But none of that happens in a capitalist system. Racism and xenophobia follow from capitalism. But they (and most Americans who have nothing to do with Q) will fight tooth and nail to preserve capitalism because it’s all we know and we literally cannot conceive of an alternative. Like I said, an essential read but hardly an uplifting one.
""The power of the internet was understood early on, but the full nature of that power—its ability to shatter any semblance of shared reality, undermining civil society and democratic governance in the process—was not. The internet also enabled unknown individuals to reach masses of people, at a scale Marshall McLuhan never dreamed of. The warping of shared reality leads a man with an AR-15 rifle to invade a pizza shop. It brings online forums into being where people colorfully imagine the assassination of a former secretary of state. It offers the promise of a Great Awakening, in which the elites will be routed and the truth will be revealed. It causes chat sites to come alive with commentary speculating that the coronavirus pandemic may be the moment QAnon has been waiting for. None of this could have been imagined as recently as the turn of the century.

QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end. The group harnesses paranoia to fervent hope and a deep sense of belonging. The way it breathes life into an ancient preoccupation with end-times is also radically new. To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion."


"Arthur Jones, the director of the documentary film Feels Good Man, which tells the story of how internet memes infiltrated politics in the 2016 presidential election, told me that QAnon reminds him of his childhood growing up in an evangelical-Christian family in the Ozarks. He said that many people he knew then, and many people he meets now in the most devout parts of the country, are deeply interested in the Book of Revelation, and in trying to unpack “all of its pretty-hard-to-decipher prophecies.” Jones went on: “I think the same kind of person would all of a sudden start pulling at the threads of Q and start feeling like everything is starting to fall into place and make sense. If you are an evangelical and you look at Donald Trump on face value, he lies, he steals, he cheats, he’s been married multiple times, he’s clearly a sinner. But you are trying to find a way that he is somehow part of God’s plan.”"

Here’s what we know about police violence, based on the data that’s been collected over the past several years. A thread. -Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) on Twitter

The endless videos we see of black bodies destroyed in acts of state-sanctioned violence and murder aren't just trauma-of-the-week clips. They're data points in a vast constellation of police misconduct and tacit judicial approval that can be studied and analyzed to determine what most contributes to its continuance and, more importantly, what can be done to prevent it. This thread clearly and concisely breaks down data collected on police violence over the last several years and offers some compelling insights. Among them are that more restrictive "use of force" policies and greater accountability for officers involved in instances of police misconduct greatly reduces the amount of police violence. Additionally police misconduct spreads like a disease among officers, "Just as some depts have higher violence rates, some officers have higher violence rates too. In Columbus, 6% of officers commit 50% of all use of force. When the system fails to hold them accountable it causes MAJOR problems... officers in close proximity to officers who have records of misconduct end up being 4x more likely to use force & 5x more likely to shoot someone."

In other words: train police to not have the mentality of being an occupying force inside of "enemy" territory, set the bar very high for the acceptable use of force, and swiftly and publicly punish officers who violte these principles. Excellent read.
Things Seen
In last week's WesRecs I briefly mentioned being invested in the still-airing 10-hour ESPN Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. I've now seen 8 of the 10 episodes (the last 2 air this Sunday) and it remains INCREDIBLE. It's definitely one of the best sports documentaries I've ever seen (shoutout to Riding Giants and When We We Were Kings) and it's so expansive, so well made, and features so many interesting personalities that I can promise you'll be watching with rapt attention even if you don't know the difference between a layup and a jump shot. You come to see that the essence of MJ wasn't basketball itself. I mean yes, he had amazing court intelligence and was blessed with incredible physical gifts that allowed him to play at the highest level of the game, but what separated him from all of the other incredible athletes in the NBA was his drive, his competitiveness, his killer instinct. The man needed to win, it pained him (deeply) to lose. He could not stand to be bested at anything (basketball, golf, gambling, pitching quarters, whatever). That's what truly separated him. The always-burning psychological compulsion to prove himself over others is what pushed him to practice longer than anyone else, to watch more game tape than anyone else, to motivate (torment) his teammates to be their best more than anyone else, to humiliate his opponents more than anyone else. Watching it you realize that "Oh...Michael Jordan is a crazy person who just happened to luck out and find an outlet for his sociopathy that was legally sanctioned and visually enthralling and capable of generating billions of dollars for several corporate entities." I mean no disrespect by this, and if you think this assessment is an exaggeration pay special attention to episodes VII & VIII and tell me that MJ silently swinging a baseball bat in his basketball practice uniform while smoking a cigar and fantasizing about avenging the previous night's playoff loss is not the visual definition of a serial killer. Watch the documentary.

This video right here tho is more for NBA stats nerds. We all know reflexively that Michael Jordan is "the greatest basketball player ever" but this video really gets into some nitty gritty numbers that illustrate just how ridiculously head-and-shoulders above the rest of every other player he was (Wilt Chamberlain & Bill Russell have arguments based on their insane individual records and sheer number of championships respectively, but they played in a much less competitive era and neither could do everything MJ could do).
  • Being a Black Bull Rider in a Majority White Sport - Vice My experience of the competitive rodeo extends to the 1994 Woody Harrelson/Kiefer Sutherland action comedy "The Cowboy Way" and the novelization of another 1994 movie "8 Seconds" both of which I took in as a kid in the 90s. But I'll say that the final professional bull ride of Neil Holmes that's featured at the end of this look at black bull riders was some of the most exciting sports viewing I have seen in years. This was a worthwhile watch both for its insights into a competitive world that's massively popular in part of this country (but which I have no familiarity with) and for the ways in which it shows everyday people (vs. professional talking heads, or theorists, or people who've been through the grad school ringer) talking to each other honestly and openly about race without it starting in a screaming match.
Uninhibited Black Freedom. RIP Little Richard.
I've known Myq Kaplan since I started doing comedy and throughout that decade and a half I have always admired his work ethic, his devotion to the craft, and the way he found and honed and remained true to his exceedingly personal voice. When I first saw him 15 years ago he was already funny and while we would be at the same open mics it was clear that he would not be doing open mics for very much longer. But funny as he was, as unafraid of the crowd as he was, as unique as he was, I can't say that I was in love with his style. It was obvious that it was *effective* and clever and singular, but I'll confess that I felt that his wordplay and and breakdowns of the absurdities of language often felt like too much of a game to me, all the comics I loved were personal, and vulnerable and less remote. I knew what Myq was *thinking* (because he expressed it exquisitely) but I felt at a loss for what he was feeling.

Now I was just some open mic comic (and would remain so for a very...very long time) so who cares what I think? But in the last few years, it's been a pleasure (often an inspiration) to see Myq's personal growth as manifested in his comedy. The ever increasing attention to mindfulness, and care, and appreciation, the way he has firm convictions while also cherishing the endless differences people exhibit. His refusal to point out the flaws and hypocrisies in others without also acknowledging them in himself. It's a way of being (and of being an artist) that more of us should aspire to. I write all that to say that this week I had a chance to listen to A.K.A. (his latest album) and it's one of the most impressive pieces of comedy I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, truly. Totally hilarious, totally human, totally him. I recommend it here without reservation and I can't wait to see how he continues to evolve.
Things Made
It was a bit of an obligation-packed week for me so I have not been able tp produce much new work but I will say that, as always, I've monitored the news and it seems like this piece of mine from the turn of the year has retained some unfortunate resonance: My Bottom 10 Most Appalling American Shootings of The Decade
Word of the Week
[ ih-MYOO r, v. ]

Meaning: 1. transitive. To wall in, to surround with a wall or walls; to fortify. To imprison.

Origin: medieval Latin immūrāre, < im- (im- prefix1) + mūrus wall (compare late Latin mūrāre to wall). Compare French emmurer, which may be the immediate source
Somebody Said This
"Whoever reaches into a rosebush," she writes in this book, "may seize a handful of flowers; but no matter how many one holds, it's only a small portion of the whole. Nevertheless, a handful is enough to experience the nature of the flowers. Only if we refuse to reach into the bush, because we can't possibly seize all the flowers at once, or if we spread out our handful of roses as if it were the whole of the bush itself -- only then does it bloom apart from us, unknown to us, and we are left alone.”

-The Memoirs of Lou Andreas-Salome
Fun Facts
  • was the first .com domain name ever registered, coming online on 3/15/85. I’m it’s namesake company was a technology firm which produced computer workstations devoted to the programming language Lisp. If you visit the address now you’ll find a digital museum devoted to early internet history.
  • There are more ways to arrange a deck of 52 cards than there are atoms on earth. (The calculation for possible combinations, 52 factorial [52!] yields 8.0658175e+67, or to simplify, an 8 with 67 zeroes after it).
  • Weirdly, the current global health crisis is not the first time that the Corona beer brand has suffered due to idiotic beliefs and product associations. In 1987 Corona (after less than 10 years in the American market) was hot on the heels of Heineken as the most popular imported beer in the US when suddenly sales began to slow due to rumors that workers in the Mexican bottling plants were using the beer bottles as urinals. Eventually it was determined that the parent company of Heineken was responsible for spreading this totally untrue rumor and they had to settle with Corona’s parent company for damages.
  • German Chocolate Cake (originally German’s chocolate cake) is not named after the country but rather after Samuel German who developed a type of dark baking chocolate that would be used in the cake.
  • The fighting on the Normandy beaches during D-Day was so intense that today it’s estimated that 4% of the sand there is magnetic shrapnel that has broken down into sand-sized grains.
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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