Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Stylin’ with the Space Force

An acquaintance asked me last week if I’d stopped writing The Critical Mass. No, I said. Just been laying low, absorbed with the new job, visiting my 90-year-old mom in Cleveland, doing laundry.

And, to be quite honest, I had nothing to add to the blogosphere, and in particular the national debate surrounding Trump. Well, “debate” is not the right word for what we’re witnessing. Hundreds of doctors and psychologists have signed letters stating that the president has serious mental issues. Hundreds of lawyers have signed petitions declaring Trump has committed crimes. A national study of almost 200 political scientists concludes that Trump is the worst president ever and forever. Thousands of witnesses have corroborated accounts of Trump lying, assaulting women, cheating his business partners, calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” referring to Mexican citizens fleeing poverty as rapists, steering government business to his own properties to financially benefit himself, violating campaign finance laws to buy the silence of Playboy models and porn stars with whom he’s had affairs, ordering children to be separated from their parents at our southern border, encouraging supporters at his rallies to physically attack protesters, abolishing environmental protections, evading taxes, asking the FBI to jail reporters, extorting foreign governments in his search of political favors, mocking the physical characteristics of people who question his integrity, spreading bizarre conspiracy theories, obstructing justice, creating fake national emergencies and launching military actions to distract from investigations into his corrupt administration, intimidating witnesses, consorting with murderous dictators in Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, and lying about his golf scores.

There is no “debate.” Trump’s unfitness as a leader is a foregone conclusion.

But I cannot remain silent any longer on this latest outrage. The Space Force uniforms are insane.

To update readers on this sartorial saga, Trump announced early in his presidency that he was creating a sixth branch of the U.S. military, the Space Force, to… well, to fight our space wars. And this week the Space Force moved closer to reality, because we have now seen the Space Force uniforms.

I’m not sure why this announcement took so long, because we’ve been studying various uniform prototypes for decades, with hand-to-hand space combat in mind:

Alas, the Space Force has chosen to fly off in another direction. Surprisingly, our first look at the new outfits this week did not come with Melania strutting down a fashion runway. All we got were a few promo shots of…

Waitaminute! Will our Space Force be duck hunting?

As our brave men and women wrestle evil for control of the stars, they’ll be rocking in what’s called the OCP pattern, or multi-cam. Camouflage intended to hide our troops in jungle terrain, or in the desert, or when they’re walking through airports on their way to what Trump calls “shithole countries.”

The internet, one of the most-cynical inventions in the history of mankind, has already exposed the problem here: Wouldn’t our Space Force be better protected if our fighting men and women wore tunics decorated with stars and planets? If we want to think bigger, perhaps a supernova? Or, going in the other direction, a plain, black outfit? Because, those of us who go out at night and look up have noticed that space is mostly black.

At least the USSF could have picked a camo pattern that’s more cosmic. This one is called “Rhodesian Brushstroke,” and is appropriately spacey:

No, no, no, says the Space Force. Not only is the Space Force to be taken seriously because it has uniforms, but it also has a Twitter account. And someone in the Space Force with access to that presumably top-secret password immediately rushed to the defense of the uniforms with a tweet:

USSF is utilizing current Army/Air Force uniforms, saving costs of designing/producing a new one.

Members will look like their joint counterparts they’ll be working with, on the ground.

Let’s take this official statement at face value. A risky proposition of course, considering the Trump administration is not exactly tethered to reality. Is it “saving costs?” The statement here suggests the Space Force is concerned with a responsible – frugal, even – use of your tax dollars. Great, but the proposed U.S. military budget for 2020 is $718 billion. I think we could safely set aside $1 million to avoid embarrassing our Space Force when it encounters outer-space high society. You know the French Space Force is gonna turn some heads.

More telling, the USSF says these uniforms are intended for “on the ground” members.

OK. The initial Space Force proposal calls for 16,000 personnel. Doing what? Sitting at computer keyboards, gathering intelligence on potential targets launched by North Korea’s space program, marching in parades. How many Space Force people will actually see service in space? Not many, considering the cost to put them up there, and keep them up there. Men and women riding around in space ships, checking inspection stickers on satellites, shooting lasers at threatening aliens, whether they are from Betelgeuse or Mexico, is pure Trumpian fantasy. While we’re waging this Cold War like Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb in the final scene from “Dr. Strangelove,” the Russians are infiltrating the internet, creating divisions that are ripping our country to pieces.

When weighing the price tag of launching a nuclear war versus the cost of hacking our elections, the Russians are getting a real bargain.

Wouldn’t those 16,000 new Space Force recruits be put to better use as special agents assigned to fight the internet blitzkrieg that has been launched by Russia? We could even let them keep the same Batman T-shirts they wear when humiliating their Fortnite opponents.

Reality: If the USSF is really concerned with saving costs on designing/producing new uniforms for the brave men and women patrolling the distant, lonely reaches of the exosphere, it could go with real tried-and-true designs. Of which there are probably thousands stored in television and film production warehouses all over Los Angeles. Like these:

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Only John Agar can save us now

earthI’m staring now at the alien presence in my living room. Smart TV.

I’ve been fighting this thing for a couple of months now. This alien presence, which the impotent folks at Time Warner Cable have been unable to keep from bugging out while I’m watching a show. This alien presence, with its hundreds of channels, yet rarely a program or movie of interest. This alien presence, with its array of apps in which I have no interest in accessing through my television – Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Hulu and NFL Game Day. They are encouraging me to live my life around my Smart TV. If I have to go to the bathroom, or eat, or talk to someone, all I have to do is push the Pause button and the pitch stops halfway to home plate.

Such luxury doesn’t come cheap. And it feels as if they’re charging me per units of frustration. The more disgusted I get, the higher the Time Warner bill. Unless we call Time Warner and announce we’re cancelling cable, and only then do they magically find a way to strip a few bucks off the bill.

“That’s not much….”

“We’ll throw in HBO!”

“Well, OK….”

This summer, after the old TV died, I was ready to completely dump cable. But that Smart TV salesman reeled us back in.

“Why, look at all of the baseball games you can watch! And Netflix, all the movies you desire! And look at those apps! You must keep your cable! Think of your family! In fact we have a cable representative right here in the store!”

Now baseball season’s over. So when I need mindless relaxation – we all need that – I’ll maybe turn on the TV. That takes about 15 minutes, as I battle with the two remotes and a computer modem that’s 10 yards from me but might as well be on the moon. Then I search the Netflix offerings. It’s hit or miss. Virtually no Kurosawa movies. A few minor flicks by Peter Sellers, none of his great old comedies. I cannot believe how many films have been made about superheroes in the last 10 years. And plenty of old TV shows… hey, where’s Rat Patrol?

But what I have started watching is the old Dark Shadows vampire soap opera, with bats on a string and the shadow of the cameraman visible on the wall. And the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is really clever and well acted. I have finally discovered Portlandia, long after the rest of you laughed and moved on.

And my first love in low-culture entertainment is here as well, setting my pulse racing… really bad sci-fi movies.

If you have a film set in some uncertain corner of the world in an undefined time, where a lost jungle village of blonde women in rabbit-fur bikinis battles a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I’ll watch it. If aliens from another planet are determined to conquer the Earth, and only John Agar stands between them and our doom, I’ll watch it. If mankind’s careless testing of atomic bombs results in the creation of giant irradiated ants and only the U.S. Army, armed with bazookas, can blast them back into the desert, I’ll watch it.

But then I read a news story Wednesday morning that scared the hell out of me. Worse than giant ants. Big changes were coming to Netflix that day.

A lot of it seemed cosmetic. New background color on the display, that sort of thing. But in the last sentence of the story, almost an afterthought of reporting, was this line:

If you’ve connected your Netflix account to Facebook, it will show you what shows your friends have watched.

Oh, Lord. It’s bad enough that the National Security Agency is logging my phone calls and my e-mails.  Do I really want my friends on Facebook, seeing that last night on Netflix I watched John Agar in Invisible Invaders?

Why do today’s cars look like shit?

Now this is a car: 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

Now this is a car: 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

I went to a car show recently. A couple of hundred vintage vehicles, strong on low-slung Studebakers with chrome-studded front ends. Some excellent ’55 T-Birds, a ;’50s-era Hudson and, as always, the candy-colored ’57 Chevy Bel Airs. And cars of the early ’60s, like the 1963 Plymouth Belvedere, making the awkward transition from rocket fins to conservative lines, yet still artful. Really memorable designs.

Unlike today’s vehicles. Car shows of the future will not feature the Honda Kia and the Chevy Malibu. We are living in an automotive moment that is best, and will be easily, forgotten.

Today’s vehicles are loaded with standard and optional toys – cup holders, phone chargers and GPS, plus a bare-minimum of cylinders to prop up the mileage. But style-wise, it looks like the architects of ’70s strip malls found new jobs in the automotive industry.

As evidence, examine the evolution of the Thunderbird over the decades. The first couple of years were classic, the next few acceptable, occasionally interesting, distinctive, always some sense of sporty. But by 1971, Ford’s designers lost it. They started creating 4,400-pound monsters. Square and dull. By the mid-’80s, the Thunderbird looked like every other car on the road. By 1990, the pounds-per-wheel pendulum was swinging back the other way, and the  poor, confused Thunderbird looked like a Pinto.

Why is it that car designers, floundering for new ideas, don’t go back to concepts that people really liked? Remakes don’t often work – did anyone see that McHale’s Navy movie? But people like retro furniture, which was pretty much what we had in the 2002 Thunderbird, a resurrection of the old ’55 Thunderbird’s sporty lines. Its brief experiment in style over substance declared a failure, Ford went back to making all of its cars look like SUVs.

This is an era of automotive identity crisis. A car goes down my street, the driver honks at me and waves. I don’t know who it is, because everyone’s car looks the same. The headlights and taillights all now have that squinty, wraparound appearance. The cars don’t look sleek, but blunt. And there’s a 72 percent chance that it’s silver. Or some fantasy color like Atlantis Blue. Really? Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves centuries ago, if it even existed at all. How do we know what shade of blue was preferred by Atlanteans?

I haven’t owned a piece of automobile chrome since my 1972 Impala.

I recognize what’s going on here. Automotive design is being strangled by the same corporate culture that’s killing talk radio, sports commentary, news reporting, pop music, fast food and hairstyles. Group think. That fella over there is doing it, he must know something, we’d better do it too.

Group think spills over into car names. They’re killing me. Back in the day, car names held a degree of romance. Buick Riviera. Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Hudson Terraplane. Rolls Royce Silver Wraith. Corvette’s Sting Ray really did look like a sting ray. And I doubt that anyone knew what this thing was when it was first introduced in 1938. But years later Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, knew a good name for an alien journalist when he saw it: Ford Prefect.

Today’s cars? Walk through a mall parking lot reading the names of the vehicles, and be prepared to be walloped by the numb world of marketing. Prius, Scion, Fiesta, Forte, Elantra, Altima, Fusion. The focus groups that approve of these names even named a car for themselves. The Ford Focus. But the car of today that I most fear is the Ford Probe. Who wants to be stopped at a red light, only to get rear-ended by a probe?

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