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WesRecs

Vol. # - March 20, 2020

So it's been another week of adapting, improvising, learning, worrying, and connecting (at a safe distance). I've spent so much time this week reading the news, hustling for $$$ as a performer with no performances (I'm OK), and learning new skills or brushing up on old ones that I know I'm missing info in this newsletter that I've meant to add. Nonetheless here it is and I'm starting on next week's tomorrow. Once again this edition of WesRecs is packed to the gills with pandemic related content but just in case you're a bit burnt out on all that I've put it in its own clearly marked section, the first thing below. If you want some virus related resources, news, think pieces, & comedy then by all means check out COVID Corner. If you've had your fill then go ahead skip on down to your regularly scheduled programming. There's slightly less of it than I'd like, but as I said I've been kind of occupied by the world being on fire. Regardless I'm proud to say that I've made it to 20 weekly issues of this thing and I look forward to many more.

I love you all.


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 Info/News/Etc

In the last two issues of WesRecs I've shared content that's highlighted the degree to which jails and prisons are a ticking time bombs for the spread of COVID-19 and how threatened the populations in those facilities are. Thankfully a small handful of mayors in the US are recognizing this and ordering that elderly and low-level offenders languishing in some facilities be released but it's not nearly enough.

The Incarcerated Person Who Knows How Bad It Could Get - Gen (Medium)

Here's the first piece I've seen offering a current inmate's perspective. As the article notes: This incarcerated person, who wishes to remain anonymous, is serving a 15-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in a southern U.S. state. The facility in which he is housed operates beyond capacity and has scarce medical care.
 
"In this building, we have 136 men touching everything: rails, doors, door handles, computers. There are 20 men who touch the phone before me. The building is infested with mice, cockroaches, and rats; in the basement, there’s a stagnant foot-high pool of water. You get sick easier because you don’t get the vitamins you need; your immune system is weak. Crushed apples in the morning and meat substitutes. The trays aren’t washed right and are covered in fungus. When a big boss comes for an inspection, they throw away the trays and bring in a new set to make it look like they’ve been using those all along. But usually, you have to grab that moldy tray from a guy serving you out of a kitchen covered in dirt with no air conditioning. He’s dripping sweat, screaming to his friend, spitting all over the food. A couple days ago, they brought in oranges, at least. I hadn’t seen an orange in a year and a half."
 ...
 "For personal use, they give us three small bars of soap a month and one roll of toilet paper a week. Usually, those bars get stolen and resold, so we have to buy our own soap at the commissary for $1.80 a bar. Toilet paper? $8 a roll. I’ve been here going on two years, and still don’t have a job because there aren’t enough available. But if you do have a job, you get paid $7.50 to $20 a month. If you don’t have money, you don’t have soap or tissues."

An Epicenter of the Pandemic Will Be Jails and Prisons, if Inaction Continues - The New York Times

Particularly good on walking the tightrope between pandemic mitigation and preservation of prisoner rights. Long-term solution is of course no prisons, but in the immediate future things are not looking good.
 
"On Friday, the Federal Department of Correction announced that incarcerated people at all 122 federal correctional facilities across the country will not be allowed visits from family, friends or attorneys for 30 days, in response to the threat of the coronavirus. But this ethical sacrifice raises more questions than it answers about the broader set of changes that will be required to limit this contagion while protecting the rights of incarcerated people.
 
Jails are particularly frightening in this pandemic because of their massive turnover. While over 600,000 people enter prison gates annually, there are about 612,000 people in jail on any given day. More than half of the people in jail are only in there for two to three days. In some communities, the county jail or prison is a major employer. Jail staff members are also notoriously underpaid, may not have paid sick leave and are more likely to live in apartments, in close and frequent contact with neighbors. They return home daily to aging parents, pregnant partners or family members with chronic conditions."
 

Firsthand Accounts of Being ill With COVID-19
In the last year the Twitter thread has become one of my favorite literary genres. They're punchy, easily digestible, and always come with the feeling that you're being let into someone's secret circle where they can share their most immediate thoughts (even if they have hundreds of thousands of followers who are all reading the same thing. Whens someone on the platform whose writing & opinions I really value goes "Y'all need to hear this: THREAD" and I see "1/" at the bottom of their tweet I pretty much drop what I'm doing and buckle up, it rarely disappoints. Amidst this public health upheaval I've found these threads from policymakers, health professionals, travelers, and a million random individuals to be particularly helpful in gaining insight about what's going on internationally and here at home. While we've had a non-stop flood of news about how nations and agencies are dealing with the crisis Twitter has been an indispensable resource for insight into how everyday people are handling it and in particular for how those actually afflicted with COVID-19 have managed. Here are a few firsthand accounts of what it's actually like to be infected. Interesting on their own, but they're also helpful as a reference point if you think you're starting to experience symptoms.

Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here's How. - Politico In this piece 34 thinkers who are habitually occupied with thinking about the "Big Questions" of culture, technology, science, art, politics, etc reflect on the probable and possible ways that we'll see structural change in the wake of the pandemic. Some of these projections can already be seen unfolding, some are just maybes, all of them are fascinating. This one of the few things I've read about the situation that fosters some degree of hope rather than fear or resolve. Just a few of the listed possibilities:
  • A New Kind of patriotism - centered less on militarism and winning wars and more on healing and civic-mindedness.
  • A Return To Faith In Serious Experts - "The colossal failure of the Trump administration both to keep Americans healthy and to slow the pandemic-driven implosion of the economy might shock the public enough back to insisting on something from government other than emotional satisfaction."
  • A Healthier Digital Lifestyle - "This is a different life on the screen from disappearing into a video game or polishing one’s avatar. This is breaking open a medium with human generosity and empathy. This is looking within and asking: “What can I authentically offer? I have a life, a history. What do people need?” If, moving forward, we apply our most human instincts to our devices, that will have been a powerful COVID-19 legacy. Not only alone together, but together alone."
  • The Rise of Telemedicine
  • Government service regains its cachet
  • The rules we’ve lived by won’t all apply - "America’s response to coronavirus pandemic has revealed a simple truth: So many policies that our elected officials have long told us were impossible and impractical were eminently possible and practical all along... All along, evictions were avoidable; the homeless could’ve been housed and sheltered in government buildings; water and electricity didn’t need to be turned off for people behind on their bills; paid sick leave could‘ve been a right for all workers; paying your mortgage late didn’t need to lead to foreclosure; and debtors could’ve been granted relief."
  • The inequality gap will widen - One of the few dispiriting possibilities on the list this one emphasizes takes the focus off of the 1% vs. the 99% inequality gap that we've become well aware of and focuses more on that between the top 20% (largely consisting of well-educated, double-income couples with well paying jobs like computer programmers and those in the middle rungs of finance & management) and everyone else.
  • A revival of parks - "Society might come out of the pandemic valuing these big spaces even more, not only as the backdrop to major events and active uses, but as an opportunity to be together visually."


Coronavirus Comedy
This is an incredibly challenging time for everybody, whether you're directly dealing with life & death concerns, or you're trying to stay afloat in rough financial waters, or you're just struggling to cope with cabin fever and disruptions to every facet of your daily routine. The old adage of laughter being "the best medicine" may sound trite if you're worried about a relative in a nursing home that's on lockdown or if you've got a fever and a hacking cough and still can't get a COVID-19 test BUT I still think it's a valuable sentiment to hold on to and I know for a fact that the darkest times do indeed produce some of the biggest (and most necessary laughs) so here's a quick rundown of some public health crisis comedic reliefs:
Things Read

I really make an effort to vary my WesRecs sources as much as possible in order to provide a variety of perspectives and concerns. Looking at the past 19 issues I've definitely noticed an over-representation of material from publications that literally have "New York" somewhere in their titles (there are at least in the section above). I'm working to tweak the channels by which I get most of my content so that I'm seeing things that are new to me (it was only just today that I've realized the powerful and customizable nature of the Apple News app which I've hitherto dismissed as an undeletable inconvenience, my bad). BUT I'm throwing two NYT articles in a row at you here because I read them and loved them and I think you will too, forgive me.

I Don't Want To Be The Strong Female Lead - Brit Marling - The New York Times

So one of the small silver linings among the brewing COIVD-19 catastrophe is that with social distancing, lockdown, & canceled gigs/teaching opportunities I have found myself with an abundance of free time at home and not many daily obligations to meet. As such I've been marching through the approximately 140 tabs across 3 browsers and 8 browser windows that I've had open for months. Where I'd previously only been able to nibble here and there at this compilation of #longreads, videos over 5 minutes, recommended reading lists, etc. the past week has given me the time to make real progress. All this is to say that I've finally gotten around to reading a lot of stuff I wish I'd had time for earlier. Among them is truly powerful and incredibly perceptive piece from writer/actor/director Brit Marling about the way that Hollywood shunts women into predictable roles as victims or eye-candy or mothers/girlfriends for male leads. And how even when women get to be the gun toting, ass-kicking, boss ladies they are essentially being presented as men...but sexy. Using female writers such as Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison as models she now works to create both characters and narrative structures that are fully *feminine* in their essence and this is not only necessary but it will inevitably expand the scope and enhance the quality of art for all of us. Fantastic read here.
 
"It would be hard to deny that there is nutrition to be drawn from any narrative that gives women agency and voice in a world where they are most often without both. But the more I acted the Strong Female Lead, the more I became aware of the narrow specificity of the characters’ strengths — physical prowess, linear ambition, focused rationality. Masculine modalities of power."
...

"When we kill women in our stories, we aren’t just annihilating female gendered bodies. We are annihilating the feminine as a force wherever it resides — in women, in men, of the natural world. Because what we really mean when we say we want strong female leads is: “Give me a man but in the body of a woman I still want to see naked.”
...

"I don’t believe the feminine is sublime and the masculine is horrifying. I believe both are valuable, essential, powerful. But we have maligned one, venerated the other, and fallen into exaggerated performances of both that cause harm to all. How do we restore balance? Or how do we evolve beyond the limitations that binaries like feminine/masculine present in the first place?"

The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It? - The New York Times

Academic job hunting, scholastic backstabbing, identity fraud, an alleged sex scandal, and facts vs. honesty. DAMN this story has it all. Whether you've done time in tenure track purgatory or academia is a foreign land to you I guarantee you'll be sucked in by the mystery and and drama herein. When anonymous allegations threaten to tank a writing professor's dream job she and her wife must face off against her university, her accuser and the clock in order to get to the bottom of it all. There are also some excellent reflections on victimhood and the kinds of truth that we and our institutions have at our disposal.

On the Madness of Crowds in the Global Age of Terror - LitHub

I bought this dude's book right after reading this and I look forward to devouring it as soon as it arrives. There was far more that I wanted to quote from this piece than there is below but after a certain point I was just more or less copying and pasting the article, I'll just say: read it.
 
“My argument is in two parts. The first part examines how the 17th-century ideal of expertise came about, and why it has been losing credibility, especially since the 1990s. In particular, mounting inequality in the West means that, in certain ways, the facts produced by experts and technocrats simply do not capture lived reality for many people. Objective indicators of progress, such as GDP growth, conceal deep fractures within society. Crucially, these divisions are not merely economic, but have acquired a bodily and existential dimension: people’s lives are being shaped by divergent health, life expectancy and encounters with physical and psychological pain. Pessimism emanates most strongly from bodies that are aging faster and suffering more.”
...
"The ultimate danger of this situation is the one identified by ­Hobbes in the 17th century. If people don’t feel safe, it doesn’t matter whether they are objectively safe or not; they will eventually start to take matters into their own hands. Telling people that they are secure is of limited value if they feel that they are in situations of danger. For this reason, we have to take people’s feelings seriously as political issues, and not simply dismiss them as irrational. Individual and collective worlds have been taken over by feeling. We don’t have to speak the language of “culture war” or adopt violent rhetoric in order to recognize that politics is becoming increasingly framed and approached in quasi-militaristic terms. The political task is to feel our way toward less paranoid means of connecting with one another.”
...
"“Perhaps the great virtue of the scientific method is not that it is smart (which is now an attribute of phones, cities, and fridges) but that it is slow and careful. Maybe it is not more intelligence that we need right now, but less speed and more care, both in our thinking and our feeling. After all, emotions (including anger) can be eminently reasonable, if they are granted the time to be articulated and heard. Conversely, advanced intelligence can be entirely unreasonable, when it moves at such speed as to defy any possibility of dialogue.”

 
Things Seen

This is more of a "Thing to be Seen" but it's for an excellent cause and if you're in need of some guaranteed laughs you should definitely check it out. Former Boston comic, and recently internationally-touring-comic-who-is-now-not-touring-because-live-in-person-comedy-is-not-currently-a-thing MYQ Kaplan is taking part of a very cool and very much needed online comedy event tomorrow that will benefit a good cause. I encourage you to both donate and enjoy some guranteed laughs which I know you'll appreciate after the week we've just had.

In MYQ's own words:

Tomorrow night (Saturday) at 9pm EDT, I'll be performing comedy as part of a streaming show presented by #comics4rentcontrol, exclusively for supporters of the Rental Affordability Act — a rent control initiative that will be on the ballot November 3rd in California. If people donate $1, they can watch, and the more people that donate, the better it is for the cause, because they want to have as many unique donors as possible, which is why it's only $1! 
(Full disclosure: it is also better for me. If a certain number of people donate using my link, then they'll pay me more for doing the show, and they get a higher donor number which is what they want. So, if you have a dollar and want to help the cause and/or help me,  thanks for clicking and contributing and enjoying and sharing as desired! PS If you want to share on Twitter, click here! If you want to share on Facebook, click here!)


I first discovered the YouTube account of Steve1989MREInfo a year and a half ago and included my review of the first video of his that I watched in my other newsletter back then. I've been a fascinated subscriber since and the dude never disappoints. In brief: this guy collects, analyzes, and reviews military and civilian ration packets from all over the world and from every era possible. He'll eat a cracker from the American Civil War, sip beef broth from the Boer War, and contemplate tasting spaghetti from the Vietnam Era. But as shocking as that stuff may be he is no way here for shock value. He seems to be just a guy who is fascinated by the mind-boggling variety of ration packs out there and who wants to share that wonder with the world. He knows his stuff, his manner is easygoing and enthusiastic and whatever his personal politics might be he does not come off as a crazed jingoistic gun nut (which is what you get a lot of the time if you venture into survivalist & military history YouTube. I'd recommend checking out my first time review via the link above but here are some other hits you might like. I don't think this pandemic will quite get us to the point where ordinary citizens need to be informed of the pros and cons of various Meals Ready to Eat but if you check out this channel you'll have a head start if we do. Here are some favs:


Le Cinema Club. I heard of this via the Boston Hassle's excellent quarantine entertainment post so I'll just quote them on this dope resource:
 
Looking for something a little unpredictable? Le Cinéma Club is a curated global streaming platform that presents one film a week, for free! The Club usually presents a new film every Thursday – the length varies week to week. Some are five minutes, some are forty-five. Some may be longer still! No matter what, the films are thought-provoking and different from standard YouTube fare.

Lil Wayne - Da Drought 3 - Put Some Keys On That - More of a "things heard" BUT Lil Wayne's shimmering meteoric non-stop output from about 2006-2009 is one of the most stunning bodies of hip-hop creativity ever assembled. I was fiercely dialed in then, stupidly ordering CD-R mixtapes off Ebay (that often didn't work) like a chump before I got wise to the fact that all of it was free online, sigh. Anyway I've used some of the recent free time that I've had to reaquaint myself with some of things I haven't heard in a decade and I'm stull as hyped as ever over this freestyle. As someone who appreciates just how much human pain and strife and evil it took to produce a situation where I, a black man, speak English as my native tongue I do take some satisfaction in the fact that Wayne here sounds like he's having the absolute most fun that is possible when speaking English. The puns, metaphors, rhymes, wordplay... Pure delight, pure mastery. Oh and BTW: incredibly NSFW...obviously.
Things Made
Word of the Week
Pyrexia n.
[ pi - REX - ee - yah]

Meaning: Fever; an instance or episode of fever. In early use also: any of a group of diseases characterized by fever (obsolete).

Origin: post-classical Latin pyrexia (1764 or earlier), probably < ancient Greek πυρεκ- , stem of πυρέσσειν to be feverish (see pyrectic adj.)
Somebody Said This
"One person’s truth, if told well, does not leave anyone out.”

- Paul Monette
Fun Facts
  • Just like humans, giraffes have 7 neck vertebrae.
  • Sharks, in principle, cannot get cavities. The surface of their teeth contains 100% fluoride and as they both change their teeth out regularly and are in constant movement in water their teeth just may be the healthiest in the animal kingdom.
  • Unlike adults human babies can breathe and swallow at the same time. This is due to the position of an infant's larynx which is relatively high in the neck. BONUS FACT: a newborn human baby weighing between 5 - 8 lbs only has about 1 cup (0.236L) of blood in their bodies.
  • The can opener wasn't invented until 48 years after the invention of the can.
  • Iguanas have 3 eyes. The third sits on top of the head and is physiologically very simple. Called a parietal eye it can only detect the difference between light and dark and is used to alert the animal to aerial threats.
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!
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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