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WesRecs

Vol. #57 - December 11, 2020

Hey!

It's another week down in this ridiculous year and I don't know about you but I have been RUNNIN' non-stop since I was last in touch. Shows, show prep, writing, promoting, meetings, teaching, and all the rest of it have occupied what seems like every moment of the past week. Don't get me wrong, it's good to be making money, and and to be productive, and to be a part of dope projects but damn if it doesn't get a little exhausting sometimes. But hey, it's 2020, I'm preaching to the choir here, we're all going through it. I'm just glad to have the opportunity to put this newsletter together and even happier that you've decided to spend some of your own busy week with it. THANK YOU!

Boy oh boy though: I CANNOT wait for that magical period between 12/24 - 1/1 when the world mostly shuts down and no on expects a damned thing from you. Oh it is glorious. I don't look at email, I don't set any alarms, I might be drunk at 1pm and it's totally fine...just glorious. Truth be told I plan on being extremely productive during that period this year but it in a way where I can pretty much disconnect from everything and just go wherever my work takes me. Sweet indeed.

It was a fairly quiet week on both the cook and TV/film viewing front this week. I was so busy that I barely made it through 1 episode of Raised By Wolves (the show does continue to enthrall me though). I mostly spent the week hosting A LOT of trivia games for The Big Quiz Thing and researching the Boston Tea Party for an upcoming show. You could spend your time in much worse ways so really I can't complain.

Anyway, enough of me talking, let's just get into it. Thank you again for spending some time with the newsletter, it means the world.

Peace!
This showed up on the timeline a few weeks back. It gives me that warm holiday feel. OH TO BE YOUNG AGAIN!
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.

WES Around the WEB

F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K
F O L L O W on T W I T T E R F O L L O W on T W I T T E R
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I’ve been working on a Boston Tea Party themed comedy show. As a nod to the December 16th, 1773 event we decided to make the colonial-era warm beer + rum + molasses + eggs + nutmeg cocktail “Flip”. It was not the worst thing I’ve ever tasted but it was definitely not my jam, but damned if I’m wasting booze in this economy. At about 9p I managed to drink about half of the concoction and then threw the rest away. I definitely noticed black scrambled eggs (from my coffee stout being too hot when I mixed it) at the bottom of the cup. I thought that was the end of it. It was not. End result: well watch and see. I’m fine now.

Race & Policing

Towards The Reduction Of Harm

Project NIA - Defund the Police

In the past few months of WesRecs I've included a lot of articles in a genre that could best be titled "Share this with the rational, compassionate, forward-thinking people in your life who feel that something simply must be done about the police murder/abuse/harassment of poor and melanated people (and the ridiculous over-incarceration of Americans in general) but who are likely to be scared away by movements seeking to 'abolish prisons' or 'defund the police' because they think those measures are 'too radical' and they're unable to conceive of any alternative".

There are a lot of people in that group (I know, I used to be one of them) and as such there are a wide variety of pieces that fit the description, coming at it from different angles. Here's another one. It's a video this time so you can share it with people in the aforementioned group who might not like to read or who don't have the time. It is very well made, it is to the point, and it's talking sense. Police do not solve or prevent the problems that the popular imagination would have you think they do. In fact they cause and exacerbate quite a few of them. If we really wanted those problems solved we'd take the billions of dollars we funnel to police departments each year and redirect them to education, housing, healthcare, food safety, public assets, etc etc.
The Senseless Killing of Brandon Bernard - The Cut

Shortly after his 18th birthday Brandon Bernard did a truly horrible thing. He and a group of other youths abducted, robbed and murdered a couple and set their bodies on fire. That happened, he was involved, no one disputes that. It was a ghastly thing.

We can acknowledge and denounce the incredible harm of that act and still acknowledge and denounce the senselessness of Bernard's execution (aka state sanctioned murder) this past week. I don't for a minute pretend to fully grasp the pain/rage/grief of the families of the Bernard's victims. They suffered a loss that can never be made whole and they are quite obviously entitled to feel whatever it is they feel. At the same time, Bernard's execution does not restore the victims, it does not make society safer, it does not deter future instances of similar crime, and it turns Bernard's family (his mother, siblings, and children) into additional victims who themselves have now lost a loved one.

In the 17 years that Brandon Bernard lived alone in a box waiting for his execution he was by all accounts repentant, a mentor and friend to other inmates, and a participant in youth outreach. He turned to religion, and crocheting and he managed to not lose his mind or descend into bitterness and resentment. The prosecutor in his own case argued for clemency, as did 5 of the jurors that convicted him. It didn't matter. In the lame duck waning days of the presidential administration of a weak and pitiful and vengeful man, who will do anything if his small mind tells him it will make him appear "strong", he was killed in a ghoulish spate of executions being crammed in with a gusto that would have been far better applied to curtailing COVID or providing relief for homeless and hungry Americans.

His victims did not have to die, and they shouldn't have. He did not have to die, and he shouldn't have.
 
Bernard was barely a legal adult at the time of his crime. The federal government hasn’t executed someone who committed a crime when they were that young in 70 years. In his life in incarceration, sentenced to death, Bernard lived a model life of reform. He became a friend to other men in his same circumstance. He was one of the “go-to guys for help in here,” one of them said. In his clemency petition, Bernard’s lawyers said he took part in religious activities and outreach to young people. Even the prosecutor in his case supported a commutation of his sentence because of his “remarkable” record. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of the United States was unmoved.

...

People on death row are confined in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in what’s called a “special confinement unit.” They are kept alone in cells for 23 hours a day. Bernard was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day for 17 years. Visits with his two daughters, his mother, brother, and sister took place through a pane of glass.

...

Brandon Bernard was claustrophobic, locked in a room by himself for 23 hours a day for 17 years, with just a sliver of sky, and by the end he was making sweaters. He hadn’t become angry, or mean; he hadn’t been driven out of his mind, and he shouldn’t have been put to death. Bernard seems to have been an extraordinary person; after he was killed, his lawyers said he hoped even in death he might help move us closer to a future when our country will not “pointlessly and maliciously” kill its own citizens.
Why I Became an Abolitionist - Harpers Bazaar

Damn this hits so close to home. I'm older than this writer and my experience doesn't exactly align but as I've previously written, the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer was a seismic moment in my thinking and political alignment and it really kicked my ass down the path toward abolition. Great piece.

 
Abolition is just as it sounds: a commitment to eradicating and replacing harmful systems rather than incrementally reforming them. Though mostly associated with the 19th-century movement to end chattel slavery, abolition is an evergreen framework for effecting change that prioritizes radical imagination. Instead of inheriting the society that was passed on to us, we have the opportunity to build a society that works for our evolving communities and needs. Thus, abolition is an ongoing process of assessing and replacing any system that doesn’t serve all of us. It goes beyond the tearing down to also include the rebuilding that must take place.

...

My mind was opened to how our society fails people in ways that change their behavior. I stopped seeing the world in swaths of good and bad, and recognized that our punitive society first stems from a refusal to help people evolve past who they once were and what they once did. It also became clear there could be no justice in such an intentionally broken system. I learned to trade the word crime for harm, because a lot of criminalized behaviors don’t actually hurt others, and a lot of actions that do hurt people are never addressed under our current system.

...

A more recent phase of my development as an abolitionist has been recognizing that oppression is fostered in an ecosystem, and thus, abolition cannot be siloed to one field. To put that more plainly: Abolishing one system while not examining the ways other industries are also plagued by institutional racism is counterproductive. If we abolished policing as we know it tomorrow without transforming capitalism, medical racism, social work, and the school-to-prison pipeline, we wouldn’t actually eradicate systemic racism at all. This is especially the case when we realize that abolishing our current criminal legal system would depend on a network of community groups being capable of serving a community with diverse needs.

America

What Are We Doing?

'This Must Be Your First’: Acting as if Trump is trying to stage a coup is the best way to ensure he won’t. - The Atlantic

If you're in late middle age in Turkey you have lived through *a lot* of coups, of various stripes. The writer here has seen their share and they're here to drop some knowledge on Americans who don't quite know what they're looking at, or how to respond, when it comes to extrajudicial power grabs (or the attempts at such). We need to look at what we're seeing (and what we're likely to see in the future) with clear eyes.

 
Who draws these grossly unfair maps, which are typical of others across the country? The state legislatures, which themselves are often elected using maps that reflect unrepresentative gerrymandering. In North Carolina in 2016, for example, the Republicans won a veto-proof supermajority in the state House of Representatives—obtaining more than two thirds of the seats—despite winning just 52 percent of the vote. Statewide races cannot be similarly gerrymandered though, and that year, North Carolina voters elected a Democratic governor and attorney general. In response, the lame-duck legislature rushed to take away key powers from those offices. They succeeded. The general assembly then used its veto-proof majority to override 23 of Governor Roy Cooper’s 28 vetoes in the first three years of his term, rendering one of his key remaining powers effectively useless.

...


When voters try to contest gerrymanders or power grabs, many of the cases end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, where lifetime appointments are made by the president but approved by the Senate. The Senate is so lopsided right now that 26 states containing just 17 percent of the U.S. population elect a majority of senators—the smallest that proportion has ever been. That’s the people in the smallest 26 states. The Republican Party’s Senate majority in recent years has rested on its strength in these rural states. Barack Obama couldn’t even get a Senate hearing for his last nominee to the Supreme Court.

...

It’s not enough to count on our institutions to resist such onslaughts. Our institutions do not operate via magic. They do not gain their power from names, buildings, desks, or even rules. Institutions rely on people collectively agreeing to act in a certain way. Human laws do not simply exert their power like the inexorable pull of gravity. Once people decide that the rules are different, the rules are different. The rules for electoral legitimacy have been under sustained assault, and they’re changing right before our eyes.

We’re being tested, and we’re failing. The next attempt to steal an election may involve a closer election and smarter lawsuits. Imagine the same playbook executed with better decorum, a president exerting pressure that is less crass and issuing tweets that are more polite. If most Republican officials are failing to police this ham-handed attempt at a power grab, how many would resist a smoother, less grossly embarrassing effort?

 
Joe Biden’s Cabinet Is a Lost Cause for the Left - The New Republic

He wrote the crime bill, he doesn't support Medicare for all, and he wants to work with Republicans (the majority of whom wont publicly acknowledge his legitimacy as president after the election that we had A MONTH AGO). Still, Joe Biden was and is an infinitely better option than the alternative but he definitely has the ability to squander his win and any good faith in himself and he's off to a decent start so far...

 
As Chicagoans know, Emanuel’s most ambitious step into transportation policy as mayor was his endorsement of a high-speed tunnel project from Elon Musk that has yet to materialize. Chicagoans also know that Emanuel’s efforts to cover up video of a black teen’s murder by a Chicago policeman probably better qualify him for a post at the CIA. That agency, we’ve been told this week, might finally be headed by a Black man; we also know a woman has been chosen to run the Department of Defense. Overall, Democratic policy professionals of all identities and stripes have been given plenty of reasons to rejoice at Biden’s choices so far. Civilians in Yemen have not.

...

In 1970, the political economist Albert Hirschman published a short book on the relationships between institutions and their unhappy consumers or members called Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. The schema laid out in the title is fairly self-explanatory: The disgruntled can voice their complaints within an institution and work toward changing it, or they can exit it. The responses chosen depend largely on the extent to which they feel a sense of loyalty or commitment to the institution in question. Hirschman understood immediately that the internal dynamics within political parties and coalitions could be understood in this way.

...

That said, it seems fairly clear at this point that the left should, somehow, put itself at a more meaningful remove from the Democratic Party—that it should abandon the notion it might significantly move Democratic elites from below, and instead build out a detached movement adjacent to the Democratic Party that might interact with it only when it makes strategic sense to do so. Democratic socialists refer to this as an “inside-outside” strategy; frankly the inside portion of the term should probably be dropped. After all, a party that’s unwilling to turn over the reins even to younger moderates ideologically aligned with leadership isn’t ripe for further ideological transformation on a timescale adequate to meeting the crises the country faces, including, obviously, climate change.

...

Broadly speaking, instead of holding to the idea that the Democratic Party is the primary medium through which progressives have to act and communicate, the left should be taking itself directly to the American people, just as the conservative movement ultimately did after Goldwater’s loss in 1964.
Philadelphia’s Election Results Are a Warning to the Democratic Party - The New Republic

As the sages of En Vogue once said:
No, you're never gonna get it (ow!)
Never ever gonna get it (no, not this time)
No, you're never gonna get it (my love)
Never ever gonna get it

(Pssst....: Little known fact...they were talking about the current Democratic leadership)
 
On its face, the outcome might seem to confirm the efficacy of the strategy pursued by the Democratic Party for the past decade or more: Run up the score in the cities and win over an increasing number of suburban residents to assemble an insurmountable metropolitan voting bloc. Republicans can dominate the areas where few people live so long as Democrats control the population centers. From a purely mathematical perspective, this outlook makes enough sense. But real politics are rather more complicated than numbers on a spreadsheet, and aggregates can obscure at least as much as they reveal. In this case, they conceal the disturbing fact that, relative to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, Joe Biden lost ground everywhere except among white professionals. And a closer look at those professional-class voters’ preferences suggests that they may not be here to stay.

Let’s start with the suburbs. In the four Philadelphia “collar counties,” the Democratic presidential swing—Biden’s gain over Clinton, less Trump’s gain from 2016—was some 100,000 votes. Given that Clinton lost the state by 44,000 and that Biden won it by about 60,000, this boost was as decisive as Democratic strategists could have hoped. But there is good reason to believe that this will not be replicated in the future. While these suburban voters were turning out for Biden, they were simultaneously voting for Republicans down ballot in large numbers. Taken together, the Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in these four counties underperformed Biden by roughly 65,000 votes. Take those votes away four years from now, and the Democrats lose the state.

...

Counterfactuals can only get us so far, but it seems safe to conclude that had the Republican ticket been headed by someone less cretinous, we would be having a different conversation about the suburban showing.

...

This is not a story of voters of color flocking to Trump. Rather, it is simply empirical evidence that corroborates what anyone who has spent time in these areas already knows: Liberal elites’ refusal to offer an economic vision that connects to the real suffering that working-class people of all races have long experienced produces mass frustration and political apathy. For decades, the Democratic Party has drifted further and further from the working people that once constituted its base, a shift that is part of a historical process at bottom driven by neoliberal economic restructuring and the resultant disempowerment of the labor movement. Imploring Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to change their tune will not accomplish much unless such demands are accompanied by expanded organization of working-class people, above all, in the place where most of them spend most of their waking hours: at work.

🎵To The Left! To The Left!🎵

On That Commie Pinko Tip

The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty - MIT Technology Review

No one is coming to save us from our machine overlords. This is the most dystopian ish I read all week. This combined with that Harper's piece from a few weeks back have all but driven a stake through the heart of my hope for the possibility of economic safety for the non-rich in this country over the next several decades.
 
For low-income individuals, one temporary economic hardship can lead to a vicious cycle that sometimes ends in bankruptcy or homelessness.
She doesn’t remember exactly when she realized that some eligibility decisions were being made by algorithms. But when that transition first started happening, it was rarely obvious. Once, she was representing an elderly, disabled client who had inexplicably been cut off from her Medicaid-funded home health-care assistance. “We couldn’t find out why,” Gilman remembers. “She was getting sicker, and normally if you get sicker, you get more hours, not less.”

Not until they were standing in the courtroom in the middle of a hearing did the witness representing the state reveal that the government had just adopted a new algorithm. The witness, a nurse, couldn’t explain anything about it. “Of course not—they bought it off the shelf,” Gilman says. “She’s a nurse, not a computer scientist. She couldn’t answer what factors go into it. How is it weighted? What are the outcomes that you’re looking for? So there I am with my student attorney, who’s in my clinic with me, and it’s like, ‘Oh, am I going to cross-examine an algorithm?’”

...

The lack of public vetting also makes the systems more prone to error. One of the most egregious malfunctions happened in Michigan in 2013. After a big effort to automate the state’s unemployment benefits system, the algorithm incorrectly flagged over 34,000 people for fraud. “It caused a massive loss of benefits,” Simon-Mishel says. “There were bankruptcies; there were unfortunately suicides. It was a whole mess.”

...

She brings up a current case in her clinic as an example. A family member lost work because of the pandemic and was denied unemployment benefits because of an automated system failure. The family then fell behind on rent payments, which led their landlord to sue them for eviction. While the eviction won’t be legal because of the CDC’s moratorium, the lawsuit will still be logged in public records. Those records could then feed into tenant-screening algorithms, which could make it harder for the family to find stable housing in the future. Their failure to pay rent and utilities could also be a ding on their credit score, which once again has repercussions. “If they are trying to set up cell-phone service or take out a loan or buy a car or apply for a job, it just has these cascading ripple effects,” Gilman says.

Things Read

Worthwhile Words

People Who Have Won Big On Game Shows Break Down How It Affected Their Life  - GeorgeTakei.com

Responses culled from This Reddit Thread.

Winning on a game show changed my life. It didn't make me "rich", or even get me out of debt (thank you Nelnet!). But it did give me enough to quit a full time job (that paid me far more than I make in a year now) and it allowed me to move to NYC to pursue my comedy/storytelling/acting dreams (1.5 years before COVID hit). And even though I spent 18% of my after-tax winnings on paying for health insurance out of pocket I thank the heavens every day for the opportunity that I had. As such it was fascinating to read what the experience of others was on this front. Also the mom below truly had the worst day ever.
 
Here's a tip: If you ever go to one of those game shows that pick contestants out of the audience, they have a producer briefly interview EVERYONE (usually in groups) beforehand, and as long as you're lively without being theatrical, and seem interesting without being crazy, you have a good shot at being picked. When the producer was interviewing the 20 member slot of audience members I was grouped with, he asked everyone their name and what they did and one interesting fact about themselves. And one random guy who desperately wanted to be on TV started doing the worm there in the interview area. You could immediately see on the producer's face that though he was forcing laughter, that's definitely not what they're looking to put on TV. Loose cannons are a big no go.

-itsjustmoran

...

My Mom won a trip to Vegas by calling in about her worst day ever on a radio show. They were giving away a weekend for 2 in Vegas to someone that had a really bad day.

My Moms day started off with my Dad getting into a car accident totaling the van, our only vehicle at the time. Then when she got the rental car she did some grocery shopping and accidently locked the keys in the trunk after she loaded the groceries in.

She had to wait over 2 hours for a guy with his arm in a sling to show up to unlock the trunk, and the key snapped off. They had to call a lock smith to open the trunk and that took another hour.

All the perishable groceries were no good anymore because they were in the trunk for 3 hours. Then when my Mom was finally on her way home she hit a cat.



She then got home and had my brothers and I help her take in what was left of the groceries when my older brother closed the door locking all 3 of us out of the house.

Our neighbor had to help us break back into our house by prying open a window and helping me through so I could go unlock the door.

This was back in 1991 or 1992. My parents had a wonderful vacation, and nine months later had my baby brother.

-irememberthepotahto
Turns Out The Host Of ‘Jeopardy!’ Has Even More Responsibility On The Show Than You Might Think - Uproxx

I'm a Jeopardy! superfan and I had the opportunity to see this process in person and I had no idea about this until I read this. I knew the timing for arming the buzzer system and allowing contestants to ring in was done manually by a member of the production staff but I had absolutely no idea, not even an inkling, that Alex was responsible for manually calling time on the contestant response window. WILD.
 
The most fascinating part of that story, however, was pointed out by McNear herself on Twitter: The show’s host is actually in charge of determining when to ring the tone that signals when contestants ran out of time to answer a question. Yes, though you likely may have assumed there’s a set time players have, it’s really up to the host to physically press a button that plays the chime. This was revealed by other hosts of spinoff Jeopardy! shows, including Bob Bergen, the former host of Jep!

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

What the Night Sky Would Look Like If the Other Planets Were as Close as the Moon - The Atlantic

This is from seven years ago but I'd never seen it before so I'm sharing it with you. An artist created accurately scaled images of what the various planets of the solar system would look like  from Earth if they were located where our moon is (in case you've forgotten middle school: The moon is about 25% the size of Earth. Earth is significantly bigger than Mercury and Mars and roughly the same size as Venus. All of the other planets are much much bigger than Earth [especially Saturn & Jupiter], and as of a few years ago Pluto doesn't count).

The article has some cool blurbs explaining the project but the Saturn image just really stood out to me. I love it. I would get this framed if I knew how one went about getting things framed and hanging them (In my mid 30s all of the art on my walls is still posters hung with tacks...).

Of course if Saturn was actually in this position in our skies it would wreak utter havoc with its gravity and we'd all be dead from titanic tsunamis and hellish volcanoes in short order, but as an image?... this is great.
The combined weight of ants on this planet is greater than the combined weight of humans. And that's just ants, never mind all the other insects & arachnids.
Random Viewing

Things Made

By My Own Hand

I was very happy to be able to share part of my story about prepping for Jeopardy! on today’s episode of The Moth podcast! This was recorded at a monthly Moth Story SLAM in Jersey City, NJ on 2/19/19. I've definitely spoken about my Jeopardy! experience on comedy and storytelling stages before but this recording has an entirely different focus (and is much shorter and more comedic) than the Jeopardy! story I shared on Risk! last year. As an added bonus I got to record an interview this week speaking about Alex Trebek's legacy (RIP) and what it was like to meet him.

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

oeillade, n
[ ey - YAHD ]

Meaning:  A glance of the eye; a meaningful or knowing look, esp. an amorous look, an ogle.

Origin: Middle French, French œillade glance, especially a secret glance as a sign of affection, benevolence, etc. (1518; c1480 as oeullade ) < œil eye (end of the 10th cent. in Old French (as olz , plural); < classical Latin oculus eye: see oculus n.) + -ade -ade suffix.

Fun Facts

Trivia To Bend Your Brain

  • An Estimated 50 Percent of the world's population has never seen snow in person.
  • Tigers, Jaguars, and leopards love the smell of Calvin Klein's "Obsession For Men". Big cat photographers in the wild are known to use it to lure their subjects to their cameras, reporting that the animals will often drool with their eyes half closed at the smell.
  • Barbie has been outfitted by more than 70 famous designers including Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior.
  • Just 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived WWII.
  • Disney's "The Princess and The Frog" caused a minor salmonella outbreak in the U.S. after its release and more than 50 children were hospitalized after they attempted to free cursed princes by kissing frogs.
  • Brazil's Northernmost point is closer to Canada than it is to Brazil's southernmost point (in fact it's closer to every other country in the Americas than it is to Brazil's southernmost point).
Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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