Today's Special

"And here is Earth, a bright-blue jewel glittering in our modest galaxy, wandering in the darkness like a tourist in a bad neighborhood, about to be mugged." From "Stephen Hawking is a Peeping Tom," in Essays.

The Critical Mass

A part of the uniform, or a sign of a sick society?

The World Series is special. That awesome Game 5, with the vast pendulum swings of lead changes. And Game 7, with starting pitchers thrown into relief roles as if there’s no tomorrow, which there isn’t. We even had one of the victorious Houston Astros ending his post-series television interview by asking his girlfriend to marry him.

And at the opening ceremony of the final game, we were presented with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by four members of the Los Angeles Police Department. Except why were those officers wearing sidearms? And I tweeted out that question. Then, on with the game.

And this morning, I’m thinking I’m bothered by more than just the hypocrisy of armed police officers creating beautiful music. It’s a piece of a much-larger picture.

If I were in the position of needing a gun for self defense, I’m sure I’d be happy to have it. But few difficult questions have just one answer. There are usually 30,000 gun deaths in the United States each year. Very few of those victims were criminals shot while committing a home invasion. Most committed suicide, were killed in an accident or were murdered, either by a stranger or, more likely, someone they knew.

Thirty-thousand deaths is an epidemic.

Guns are not only tools for killing people, they are political tools. Politicians use fear to move forward their agendas. We have one such politician/carnival barker in the White House right now. We’re being encouraged to fear anyone who is not a white Christian American. Left unsaid: Trust only straight, rich men. That’s also a part of their equation. Everyone else is either a potential terrorist or someone who wants a free ride on your tax dollars. And the answer is point a gun at them, or build a wall.

It’s a fact that, in this country, most victims of terror attacks were killed by a socially disconnected white American male with a pile of automatic rifles on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel (58 dead), or who invaded a Connecticut elementary school (26 dead), or brought a gun to Bible study in a Charleston church (nine dead) or parked a truck rigged as a fertilizer bomb in front of an Oklahoma City federal building (168 dead).

Any threat, be it terrorism or the faulty maintenance of amusement-park rides, should be taken seriously. But fear is used to cloud perspective. One of seven Americans will die of heart disease. It’s the same numbers for cancer. Those numbers are of no concern to Congress or the president  as they work to disembowel the Affordable Care Act.

Nor do our leaders react to a list being compiled by The Washington Post, which says 813 citizens have been killed this year by police. Killedbypolice.net places the number at 994. The National Safety Council, The National Center For Health Statistics and the Cato Institute calculate that over your lifetime you have a one in 8,359 chance of dying in an incident involving a police officer. But those odds can go up, depending on circumstances. The most-frequent victims are white males armed with a gun or some other weapon. One in four people killed are mentally ill. Black males represent one-fourth of the people killed each year.

Of that average of 1,000 people killed each year in recent years by police, how many were unarmed? The Washington Post says it was about one in 10 in 2015. That percentage has dropped slightly each of the last two years. So we’re getting better? It depends on your reaction to one of those videos where it appears clear that a pissed-off cop executed an unarmed black man.

Numbers are easy to dismiss. Those same charts also reveal that over our lifetime, we have a one in 1,600,000 chance of dying from an asteroid hitting the Earth. I’ve never even heard of anyone being killed by a space rock. That number is simply an actuarial calculation based on the knowledge that humongous meteors are out there and the planet has been struck in the past. And if one the size that wiped out the dinosaurs hits us again, civilization is done.

Unlike meteor strikes, we see terrorist attacks frequently. Yet the Cato Institute calculates your chance of dying at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist as one in 3.6 million, and that includes the 3,000 people who died in 9/11.

So a story’s not told simply in numbers. In the just-completed World Series, was the excellence of the games, and the home-run record, a matter of great hitting or lousy pitching? It’s your perspective. We cheer when Air Force fighter jets fly low over a sports stadium. If you’re a shepherd in Afghanistan and you see a low-flying jet, you run. At a football game, people stand for the National Anthem. But when athletes kneel in protest of police violence against black people, outrage follows. Both are political messages. But one is allowed, one frowned upon.

One respondent to my pre-game tweet about the LA police quartet insisted guns are “part of the uniform.”

No, comfortable trousers are a part of the uniform. Guns are a whole other, and very ill-fitting, accessory in civil society.

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The Critical Mass

Truth and beauty: Hurricanes and other blowhards is why we need the arts

It’s been a month since the nightmare in Las Vegas.

A month since Puerto Rico was flattened by a hurricane, and still more than 70 percent of the island is without power.

Three weeks since the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, perhaps the biggest film and theater producer in America, had been egregiously sexually harassing women since the late 1970s, news that has led to an eruption of women who have stepped up and said: Me Too.

We install a government as a vehicle to address our largest problems. Yet our elected leaders have done virtually nothing about any of the most-alarming issues of the moment. Increasingly we have to do what we can, as individuals. And many small efforts can add up.

Rick Simpson, who’s a friend, and the 6 p.m. Thursday host of Gumbo Variations on WRUR-FM (88.5), has organized “Benefit for the Displaced,” 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Camp Eastman Conference Center, 1558 Lake Shore Blvd. The $10 donation per person goes to the displaced victims of Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires. “We have good friends who live in Santa Rosa (thankfully they did not lose their house, but many of their friends & neighbors did),” Simpson wrote in the invite. “And a Rochester neighbor and friend has family in Puerto Rico. We have good organizations lined up to distribute funds.” Musicians are turning out and there’ll be an open mic set up, with folks invited to bring a dish to pass and a favorite beverage. Attendance is limited to 80 because of the size of the building, so RSVP at ricmon31@aol.com.

I see other benefits this weekend. An artist reception with Rochester’s Darren Brennessel at 5 p.m. Friday at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center, 142 Atlantic Ave., followed at 7:30 p.m. by Linda Starkweather’s one-woman show, Travelling with a Broken Compass. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of art and the tickets to the show ($15 advance, $18 at the door) will go to relief efforts in Puerto Rico. And “Musical Relief for Puerto Rico,” at Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 N. Fitzhugh St., is 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with all donations going to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The arts does this. Because we’re shocked that disaster can reduce Americans to third-world conditions, and our government is unable, and unwilling, to step up and offer proper aid. Instead, our president mocks the Puerto Rican people, calling them lazy and unwilling to do things for themselves.

And when the government does send help? Whitefish, a Montana company with only two full-time employees – but connections to the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke – was awarded a $300 million contract to get the power lines back up. The contract was cancelled by the governor of Puerto Rico when people started asking questions about how a small company with no experience in such disaster-relief projects landed that job.

And look who’s on the job. We get a White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who revealed Monday that he thinks the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about a “lack of ability to compromise.” That same day, three key players from the president’s campaign were indicted or pleaded guilty on charges that emerged from the investigation into Russian interference in the election, with more indictments certain to follow. And as you read this, Congress is plotting a bill in which close to 80 percent of its tax cuts will go to the richest one percent of the population.

To put it in terms that some of these guys might understand, we pay good money for leadership. Yet we get nothing in return. We’re getting ripped off. I’d rather buy a piece of art, or hand $10 to Rick Simpson while Fred Vine plays guitar, because I like truth and beauty. And I’ll know my money’s doing some good.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

The Critical Mass

Wendell Castle’s walk through a particularly murky woods

The big, overstuffed chair in the living room is about to make that sad, final journey to the curb. I’m very fond of it. I wrote the bulk of a novel while sitting in that chair.

One thing’s holding up the move: Where’s the dog gonna snooze? The chair’s cushions are lopsided, the springs sagging, the result of a 90-pound Weimaraner who shows no respect for Value City craftsmanship.

Practicality. That’s a prime consideration with furniture. Unless you are Wendell Castle. He’s not a form follows function guy. His new show, “Wendell Castle Remastered,” runs through Dec. 31 at the Memorial Art Gallery. The 2 p.m. Nov. 19 talk, “Embracing Upheaval,” will likely be a declaration of war on the American living room.

The Rochester creator of the art furniture movement was his usual artful figure at the show’s opening reception; he cultivates a trim, designer-professor look in round eyeglasses and, as always, a superb jacket. Everyone wanted to talk to him, of course, and at 85 he was wearing down a little by the end of the evening. “That would never fit in my house,” I said to Castle, pointing to a nearby piece, a lamp that looks to be about 15 feet tall.

“It won’t fit in mine, either,” he said.

OK, so neither one of us lives in an airport hangar. The piece is made of a beautifully polished wood that bends upward at odd angles, like a paper clip that’s been twisted into a new shape, which is exactly how Castle came up with the form.

And he’ll worry about where it fits later. It’s all about the art of the piece. The anti-Ikea.

The exhibition is filled with preliminary sketches and finished works that seem to have been inspired by a walk in a particularly murky woods. It’s a fusion of organic and digital, technologies that mix handcrafting skills with a robot capable of precise 3D scanning, 3D modeling and computer-controlled milling that Castle has developed over the decades. The overall feel is sculptural. Black-stained layers of ash wood seamlessly come together as humongous fungus, which on second thought becomes chairs and tables. Huge discs that seem to have been cut from irregular tree stumps function as dinner tables. One table has a natural-looking rot hole in the center. The hole seems to be there so that you can see the artful design of the center post that holds it up.

I suggested to a friend that maybe the hole’s purpose was for guests to toss chicken bones into it during dinner.

“I’ve eaten at that table a few times,” he said. “Wendell said he puts holes in his tables because he’s tired of seeing people putting flower vases on them.”

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

The Critical Mass

Outsider media: Mother’s little helper

Mom misses Art Bell.

I’m spending a few days with my mother. She’s doing all right for 87. Losing her vision, so she’s living in an assisted-living facility in Cleveland. A really nice one.

So how’s it going, Mom?

“I need a harder toothpaste. The one I have is too soft, I use it up too quick.”

The television’s usually on all day. She watches only one channel. Like I said, she’s 87, so it’s Fox News. I have one rule when I visit. The moment I step in the door, the TV is turned off.

They’re lying to you, Mom.

“Oh, but I like the people.”

Mom, Fox is a culture of sexual harassment. The former CEO, Roger Ailes. Eric Bolling. Bill O’Reilly.

“Oh, Bill O’Reilly, that doesn’t surprise me.”

She goes into her bedroom to take a nap. But first, she turns on the radio. Mom doesn’t like silence.

It’s a right-wing station. And apparently a pretty low-watt station, because the host of the talk show has to shout to be heard.

“Maybe we’re going to see this Trump tax-cutting bill passed after all,” he says. “Maybe you don’t like the guy, but low taxes creates jobs. Who doesn’t like jobs? That’s a good thing, right?”

“He’s lying to lying to you,” I tell my mother. There’s no evidence that giving money to rich people has ever resulted in job creation. Demand for goods and services creates jobs, not a rich guy looking for something to do with extra cash in his bank account. “They just keep the money for themselves.”

The guy on the radio has heard me. “Have you ever worked for a broke person?”

Probably. And a lot of people who have worked for Donald Trump have worked for a broke person as well. He’s filed for bankruptcy six times.

A few years ago, my mother was seeing people walk through her house. Strangers of normal size, and lots of little people. Three little girls in particular. They didn’t say anything, just smiled and moved on. My mother has Charles Bonnett Syndrome. It’s found in elderly people with limited eyesight. The brain isn’t getting enough visual stimulation, so it starts feeding on stored images. The strangers, the torn curtains and the mountain with people sledding on it that she saw when she looked out her window in the middle of Ohio farm country in June were hallucinations. She knows that now, and after a while the odd images disappeared. But they do return on occasion, although much less intensely. Like during Game One of the World Series. Instead of seeing Dodgers and Astros, Mom said she saw pink flowers.

More from the radio. “Scientists have discovered a 21-year-old woman who sweats blood,” says a perky-voiced woman newscaster. I guess we’re expected to say, “Ewwww!” Presented with another person’s distress, rather than compassion we’re supposed to be entertained. Stay tuned, she’ll tell us more in a few moments.

She doesn’t talk about them much, but Mom is drawn to odd stuff and conspiracies. She was into Art Bell, the host of the overnight radio talk show Coast to Coast. Talk of UFOs, aliens. That’s where she heard about the Dyatlov Pass mystery, where nine Russian winter hikers were found dead in 1959 in very strange circumstances, with inexplicable injuries. The last book she read, before her eyesight had deteriorated too much, was about whether the victims died in an avalanche, experienced panic attacks due to infrasound, were accidentally killed by Russian military tests or were murdered by a wandering group of yeti.

Late night, early-morning talk shows are also where my mother hears about great, life-enhancing products. Fruit juice mixes, cleaning products and My Pillow. I mentioned My Pillow to My Friend Sarah. “I got one of those,” she said. “It was a disaster.”

My brother, who lives just five minutes away from Mom, has managed to discourage her from investing in My Pillow. And that excruciatingly expensive skin cream.

Mom’s actually quite intelligent. She just tends to believe anything she hears on TV or the radio.

I hear the muffled radio voices from her bedroom again. The 21-year old woman who sweats blood has an extremely rare condition called hematohidrosis.

Mom misses Art Bell, who has retired. But others are eager to help. I’ve found four scraps of paper around her apartment with “Smart Mouth” written on them. It’s a miracle mouthwash she’s been hearing about on Coast to Coast. She wants some.

I’m thrilled my mother is so interested in personal hygiene.

Yeah, Mom’s doing all right. Thanks for asking.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

The Critical Mass

People who lie to you think you’re stupid

On this morning’s dog walk, I noticed that the neighbors across the street have already taken down their New York Yankees flag after last night’s loss. They’ve replaced it with a Buffalo Bills flag. Which seems to be an invitation to yet more heartbreak.

Around the corner we walk, to the next street, where a Trump flag is flying over one of the houses.

People lie for many reasons. Greed, spitefulness, jealousy. Self preservation, as in “I don’t know honey, I must have caught it from a toilet seat.” Or self-aggrandizement, as in any discussion that involves golf scores. Lies are often a need to cover inadequacies, fill in a vacuum in the liar’s life. We lie to ourselves: “I’ll start working out next week.” Sometimes, we even lie to be nice: “No George, one more beer won’t make your ass look too big.” Lying is so much a part of our society that we often don’t even think much about it when we hear one.

But we should. Liars lie because they believe they’re smarter than you. They think you’re too dumb to catch them. And while many lies are harmless and easy to dismiss, some are not.

Donald Trump.

I have never seen anything like this. Trump is like a character from a Ring Lardner short story. It’s not just the sheer volume of lies that this guy spins. It’s the willingness of so many people to simply dismiss what’s happening as politics as usual.

This past week was a typical White House week, with a handful of crises, mostly self-created, at which we can marvel. Let’s recap one:

On Monday, Trump was asked why he hadn’t commented on four American soldiers killed in Niger nearly two weeks earlier. He claimed he had written letters to their families and that they would be mailed that day or the next, as though all presidential correspondence is simply tossed into a U.S. Post Office mailbox, in the same way as you or I would send a birthday card.

He added that previous presidents rarely sent letters or made calls to the families of American soldiers killed in action. Trump was implying that his empathy for their sacrifice was far greater. People who had worked for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama immediately refuted that comment; both had been quite active in consoling grieving families. Lie No. 1 exposed.

It kept getting worse. Trump claimed he had called “virtually” all of the families who had lost a member in service to our country since he took office. True, if “virtually” all means less than half. Meanwhile, an email surfaced which showed that hours after Trump made his claim, the White House asked the Pentagon for the names of all of the U.S. servicemen who have died since January, and contact information for their families. If Trump had already contacted the families, why did the White House need their names and contact info? By the end of the week, those families began receiving rush-delivered condolence letters from Trump. Lie No. 2 exposed.

Trump called the widow of one of the four soldiers and, in his familiar ham-handed manner, told her that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.” She was understandably shocked at his lack of empathy. As were an aunt and a family friend, Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who were listening in on speakerphone. When Wilson gave her account of the conversation, Trump immediately announced Wilson had “totally fabricated what I said,” and also claimed to have proof. Of course, just as Trump had once claimed his investigators had found proof that Obama was not born in Hawaii, the proof that Wilson had lied also did not emerge. Lie No. 3 exposed.

In serious need of damage control, the White House sent Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to the media. Kelly is a sympathetic figure, his own son was killed in Afghanistan. Kelly said Trump had merely mangled the talking point he was delivering to the soldier’s widow (thereby admitting Trump had indeed said those words, exposing lie No. 4). Then Kelly went on the usual Trump White House tactic of diversion, claiming that Rep. Wilson was “selfish” and had falsely claimed in a speech that she was responsible for the federal funding of a new FBI building in her district. Of course, a video of Wilson’s speech then turned up. She said no such thing, but instead talked about her role in naming the building after two FBI agents who had been killed. Lie No. 5, with a direct line connected to Trump, exposed.

And that’s just one of this week’s White House crises. That’s not even getting into the Puerto Rico hurricane recovery fiasco, the heath-care scramble, the national debate over sexual harassment and more news on the Trump campaign and administration’s Russia connection.

Trump has no redeeming qualities. He is uninformed and mentally unstable. He is a man whose gilded course in life was launched with a $1 million gift from Daddy. How many of us got that kind of break and squandered it as a racist, bigot, misogynist and liar?

Yet that guy on the next street is still flying his Trump flag.

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The Critical Mass

Bat McGrath: The early years.

Bat’s advice on life from a Tennessee mountaintop: Keep it simple

Bat McGrath is coming back to Rochester, with a gig Friday at The Little Theatre. I can use a little Bat right now.

The signs are all around me. Yesterday, with my hands full of coffee cups and jackets, I put a set of keys on the roof of the car. Just for a few seconds, I thought. And then drove off. A mile down Lake Avenue I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw something sliding past the window, and onto the street. I turned back but, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at how bent-up a set of keys gets when 40 cars drive over them.

A minor problem. Four keys, I’ll get new ones made. But it’s nevertheless an irritation. Big things, little things go wrong and you realize it’s time to simplify life. So you can pay attention to details, not let dumb things happen.

McGrath’s songs are often like that. He sings about “re-arranging the change” on the bar in front of him. I understand that image, I’ve sat in bars idly re-arranging thousands of dollars in coins over the years. He sings about using wire to put a rebellious muffler back on your car. I used to do that kind of thing all of the time, years ago. Use a coat hanger, rather than pay a mechanic $100 to do the job.

He writes lots of love songs.

Bat today: Ethan Porter, left , and Bat McGrath.

As most Rochesterians know, McGrath and Don Potter were the music scene here, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They had a great band, The Showstoppers, and a late-night coffeehouse, Hylie Morris’ Alley, where young musicians like Chuck and Gap Mangione, and Steve Gadd, would show up to play.

I wonder what happened to those guys?

Good things, I guess. For Potter and McGrath, too. Potter found God and The Judds, and has done well for himself. McGrath and Tricia found each other, and moved to a mountaintop home in the woods just outside of Nashville. You can usually find them up there with the dogs. And the copperheads. Living a quiet life of creativity. Tricia was on The Young and the Restless for years. Now she makes quilts. McGrath, who gave up writing and performing for a while to work as a bodyguard for Van Halen, before returning to being a musician.

McGrath’s been riding a real creative surge, writing songs, cranking out new albums. The parts wear out; he had a triple bypass a couple of months ago. But he and Tricia keep things simple, and manageable, with few distractions. And the creativity flows on that Tennessee mountaintop.

Friday’s show starts at 8 p.m., tickets are $15 advance, $20 the day of the show, and available at The Little and thelittle.org.

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The Critical Mass

 It’s time to start pruning the bad limbs from the tree

Several friends of mine have been posting ME TOO stories on Facebook. Women bearing witness to their experiences with sexual harassment. I’d heard pieces of these stories from them, but not the whole thing. I’d never picked up on the sense of entitlement that some men seem to feel when they’re alone with women, often in cases where they’ve just met. I didn’t get a full sense of the depravity. The outright weirdness.

This awakening that we’re seeing is inspired by the allegations that Harvey Weinstein, who was perhaps the biggest entertainment mogul in the world until last week, is a longtime sexual harasser. A friend of mine was quoted in Sunday’s Washington Post on the matter. She said one of the things she learned as a radio DJ in the 1980s in Buffalo, where Weinstein was getting his start in the entertainment business, is as a woman, “never be alone in a room with Harvey Weinstein.”

I suppose you could say that was the ’80s, and we’ve come a long way in three decades. Yet a year ago we were hearing the Access Hollywood tapes in which a presidential candidate confessed to sexually assaulting women. And there was plenty of outrage. It didn’t matter, we elected Donald Trump president.

I was sitting in a bar with friends one night in June 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in this country had the right to marry. Someone pulled out a phone and showed off a photo of the White House lit up in the colors of the rainbow. I know that not everyone in America was happy about it; but around our little table that night, we were delighted. And proud. We felt that America was moving forward.

Do you think we’ll feel something like that again anytime soon?

So we can’t rely on society correcting itself, moving forward. Too many conflicting interests are in play. In fact, by many yardsticks – the conversation on race, the rise in violence and discriminatory actions against LGBTQ people, the attack on the environment, the economic divide in this country – we’ve been backsliding over the past six months.

And don’t blame the Duck Dynasty crowd. Our elected officials don’t like to deal with tough questions. Many media outlets seem to believe that presenting both sides of a story means bigots get equal time. A lot of corporations, often headed by smart people who should know better, are reluctant to join the fight.

Play it safe, don’t rile people.

I don’t like living in an echo chamber, hearing only my voice. Social media exacerbates that problem. And for that reason, whenever a friend tells me “you should block that idiot” on Facebook, I’ve always declined to do so. My reply has generally been, “I think we need to know they’re out there.”

Now I’ve changed my mind. We know they’re out there. They’re getting louder. Gathering around statues of the heroes of the Confederacy, guffawing over misogynistic jokes, planning racist Halloween costumes. I don’t want to be just one more small megaphone that amplifies their message.

So this week, I’ll be poking around my social media accounts, blocking a few people here and there. Not people with whom I simply disagree. But the ones who disseminate fake news stories intended to distract from the debate. And certainly the racists, and those who thrive on bigotry, hate and ridicule.

I want them to understand that they’re not welcome. It’s like the words on a T-shirt that a guy I know sometimes wears: MAKE RACISTS AFRAID AGAIN.

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The Critical Mass

The lonely paperboy

It’s not been three weeks yet since I was laid off as entertainment writer at the Democrat and Chronicle. And one of the first things I did, of course, was cancel my subscription. I didn’t feel like finding that reminder sitting on the front porch when I took the dog out for the morning walk.

On Friday, I got a letter from the D&C, “we want you to consider coming back.”

As a subscriber.

A form letter, accompanied by lots of boxes to check, for which option suits my needs: “Includes Saturday and Sunday delivery of the print edition…”

But no box for “Kiss my ass.”

And that reminds me: You can subscribe to The Critical Mass by clicking on the “Subscribe” button on the left side of my under-renovation web site, jeffspevak.com. It’s free. You’ll get an email informing you as to when the next snarky blog has been posted. Just like this one.

The Critical Mass

Harvey Weinstein fooled me, too

Harvey Weinstein is the entertainment story of the moment, although it’s certainly not the kind of press he’s been accustomed to receiving over the years. One of the mighty has fallen. A front-page blockbuster story in The New York Times alleging you have sexually harassed, and even assaulted women, can do that.

Sometimes.

Weinstein has been perhaps the biggest name in the entertainment industry for a few decades. A producer of film and theater. I interviewed him a year ago, as a road production of Finding Neverland, which he’d been involved with as both a film and movie, was coming to Rochester. I dug out the notes I’d taken from our conversation. He’d been heavily involved in the development of the show from the beginning, and was eager for people to understand the changes that had been made since its debut. “It’s more fun,” Weinstein said. “It deals with a great subject matter, and you walk out of the theater feeling stronger. We’ve added new songs, so the ending is really upbeat and fun and much more triumphant.”

That is the mission of this kind of entertainment, he said. “These are tough times in our country, economically, for a lot of people. When they see Finding Neverland, the story of Peter Pan, families walk out of the show so happy. And that makes me happy.”

I’m sure he is right, although big-time Broadway musicals are not my thing. Once we’d dispensed with the chatter about Peter Pan creator John Barrie, who was a peculiar fellow, we moved on to what I was really interested in hearing about. The intersection of entertainment, politics and social issues.

Weinstein walked that none-too-subtle line of family entertainment and addressing challenging issues. On both fronts, he moved in hefty celebrity circles. And the entertainers were not always singing about little boys who can fly.

Weinstein was calling from his Manhattan office, ebullient over the previous evening’s benefit for Hillary Clinton, which he co-produced. Was he the liberal entertainment elite we’ve been warned of?

“This is what we do, speak as citizens,” Weinstein said. He has been speaking out for years on AIDS, juvenile diabetes, gun control, universal health care, poverty and multiple sclerosis research. Weinstein also produced the acclaimed 2014 film The Imitation Game, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who broke the German Enigma code machine during World War II, and then as a gay man was persecuted by the British government. As I had just watched the film, which is awash in socially-conscious messages still relevant to today, I asked Weinstein about it.

“Thirty-nine thousand British men or women who were criminalized as homosexual, between 1900 to World War II,” he said. “And were still criminalized as of the movie’s release.

“Benedict Cumberbatch and I talked about it, the importance of it. And it led to a movement to de-criminalize those people.” In fact, Weinstein helped to lead that campaign to pardon gay men convicted under the same law that had resulted in Turing’s chemical castration.

Filmgoers seek out such message films because, Weinstein said, “They want to know the truth.”

I asked Weinstein, what motivated him to take the lead on social issues?

“My dad,” he said. “He was a GI in World War II, he saw active combat. He always said that without the GI Bill, neither my brother or I would have been able to go to college.  That’s the importance of the government setting up services to help people.

“When my Dad passed away, I went to a theater and saw An American in Paris. That helped me get through a tough time.”

So I ended up liking the guy. But he didn’t scream at me, call me a fucker, push me into a wall, threaten he was going to ruin my career. Nor did he invite me to his hotel room, expose himself to me and masturbate into a potted plant. All things that, over the past week, he’s been accused of doing.

And it keeps getting worse. Weinstein has admitted to much of this astoundingly bad behavior, although not the assault and rape allegations. The first lawyer that he had retained as the charges were becoming public knowledge suggested that Weinstein was simply a dinosaur acting as men did a few decades ago, and was still learning how to behave in the 21st century.

That’s a pretty astounding piece of logic. Apparently young women who want to work in the entertainment industry have to put up with the slow learning curve of men such as Weinstein. And that excuse also defies common sense. As the head of a vast entertainment conglomerate, Weinstein can’t operate from the past. He not only has to know what’s happening now, he has to anticipate what people will want in 2019.

So Weinstein fooled me. Get in line. I interviewed Bill Cosby a year or two before the rape allegations against him emerged. I had no idea. Years ago, I was fond of a literate, socially liberal band called Moxy Fruvous. I interviewed its frontman, Jian Ghomeshi, who went on to become a well-known Canadian broadcaster, until more than 20 women accused him of slapping, punching, biting, choking or smothering them.

Ghomeshi was acquitted in the 2014 trial on charges brought by three of the women, although there was a stipulation that he had to apologize to one of his accusers. Cosby’s sexual assault trial this summer ended in a mistrial. The investigation into the Weinstein allegations has just begun.

So now we have questions to ponder.

One, how did Weinstein get away with it for so long? Who stayed silent, when they should have spoken out?

And two, if you want to use them as Exhibits A, B and C of liberals being just as capable of egregious behavior as anyone else on the political spectrum, that’s fine. I’ve seen such talk on the internet.

I’m not too sure of Cosby’s politics; I know him as a guy who spoke often of the value of education, and scolded black teenagers for wearing saggy pants. Weinstein and Ghomeshi I took as progressive, forward-thinking men. But once we saw who these guys really were, all three of their careers, and their legacies, were ruined.

But we now have another one in the White House. One blockbuster story after another. A man who’s admitted to committing sexual assault, if you recall the infamous Access Hollywood tape: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” A man whose own words and actions confirm he is racist, misogynist, bigot, business scam artist, ecology assassin and prodigious liar.

Shouldn’t the president of the United States be held to a higher standard than a guy who makes movies and Broadway shows about Peter Pan?

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert.

The Critical Mass

Photo by Aaron Winters.

 

I hear you.

So the subscribe button has been installed this week on my web site, www.jeffspevak.com. It’s over there, to the left. Hit it, you’ll be asked for your email, and from there to eternity you will be notified of each new blog posted on The Critical Mass. An aggregate of culture and social discourse in Rochester, the nation, the world, the universe and the swamp inside my head.

(WARNING: Common side effects from consuming The Critical Mass include nausea, drowsiness, inflamed bowels and mental disorientation.)

I’m humbled and energized by the support I’ve received the last two weeks, both through social media and as I wander through the city. And thanks for all of the free drinks, that goes without saying. If half the folks who reacted to my getting laid off as entertainment writer at the local newspaper – after 27 years of busting my ass, thank you very much – hit that subscribe button, I’ll be a social-media mogul. Share this post with your friends, discuss The Critical Mass with strangers, tell them all to hit that subscribe button, Hit it, hit it, HIT IT.

(WARNING: The Critical Mass should not be accompanied by the operation of heavy machinery and/or consumption of more than four cocktails in one sitting.)

The web site itself is undergoing re-thinking, reconstruction. The blog remains active, but some content has been removed. It will return, with new stuff, and fully compatible with your 21st-century devices. That’ll take a month or two, because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Fortunately, my friends do.

Nor do I know where this is going. It’s all part of my personal re-invention. What is it I do? Perhaps more importantly, what is it I want to do?

(WARNING: The Critical Mass has been linked to internal bleeding of the brain, outbreaks of mass hallucinations among rodent populations and unexplained livestock mutilations in rural areas of Wyoming and eastern Montana.)

No, I don’t know where this is going. Not yet. But I have some pretty good ideas…

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