Jeff Spevak, Writer

Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

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Epstein is dead. Long live Epstein.

I’m not sure if this photo is real. But the evidence suggests the sentiment is real.

I can’t stand it, anymore. My quiet Sunday morning is ruined. My head is going to explode.

Jeffrey Epstein, multi-millionaire serial pedophile and sex-crime ringleader, committed suicide. Zero evidence has been presented to suggest he was murdered. Zero evidence has been presented that a dead body was substituted for Epstein, and at this moment he is flying to his private Caribbean island. To say otherwise is to ignore the fact that undoubtedly dozens of people – including doctors and too many prison officials to be bribed – are in on the conspiracy.

Imagination is a great thing. It helped Sherlock Holmes solve many crimes. Who would have thought the demonic ghost haunting the moors of Baskerville was actually a dog painted with phosphorus? But there are no such dogs roaming the hallways of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

We must always go to where the evidence leads. To do otherwise is frivolous. It can be fun, even. But then we encounter moments when imagination creeps into the realm of dangerous rationalization.

This week, we’re once again debating guns, following three high-profile mass shootings. Rather than addressing what’s obvious – guns being used as conflict arbitrators – we’re hearing imaginary nonsense about how murder sprees are a mental-health issue (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have schizophrenics and manic depressives). Or how video games led to these shootings (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have video games). It takes a lot of imagination to block out the inexcusable hate that this week’s killers felt for their victims.

We’ve seen a lot of imagination at work on immigration. Last week I was talking to a Republican who insisted that separating children from their immigrant parents at the border is a longstanding policy. It is not. Re-writing history takes some imagination, but mostly it’s lying. Barack Obama’s immigration policies contained specific language aimed at keeping families intact. It is a Trump executive order that snatched children from their parents and put them in cages. Defending cruel policy utilizes the same imaginative rationalization that led Trump to claim during the 2018 elections that the caravan of Central American refugees heading for our southern border, people fleeing poverty and the threat of death, were actually violent, disease-ridden gang members.

And once the election was over, the caravan magically… disappeared.

Imagine that.

Conspiracy theories, offering different levels of threat to Americans, that have been thoroughly disproven: 9/11 was an inside job. Obama was born in Kenya and his birth certificate is fake. The Holocaust didn’t happen. And the Hillary Clinton all-you-can-eat buffet of Benghazi, her unsecured email server and how she ran a child-sex ring out of a pizza restaurant. We can add to that pile aliens at Area 51, the moon landings were fake, extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids called “Annunaki” are secretly ruling humanity. And Paul is dead.

Oh, sure, rampant corruption of officials is easy to imagine in this age of a Trump White House. This morning, the current president of the United States re-tweeted a conspiracy rumor suggesting former president Bill Clinton is complicit in murder – again with zero evidence. It demonstrates once again that Trump and his administration, and the adoring acolytes who hide their corporations’ profits in offshore accounts or paint “TRuMp” on the sides of their weathered barns, have careened through the guard rails protecting law and functional society.

The evidence is conclusive. Epstein’s dead, he killed himself. If anything, today’s Epstein conspiracy talk sheds light on the incestual level of corruption to be found among the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Rats finding comfort, and protection, in each other’s company.

Distraction allows them to escape. We must stay focused. What is the true conspiracy? Conspiracy theories thrive without light. The most-dangerous ones feed on lies.

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We believe lies because we want to

Jesus Christ, seen here as an orange blob, visits Notre Dame.

Can you see it? The image of Jesus Christ in the midst of the fire raging at Notre Dame cathedral?

Jesus also made an appearance earlier this year in some clouds over Italy during a sunset. All over the world, people are seeing Jesus in their food. The scientific name for this phenomena is pareidolia: The mind’s willingness to make something familiar out of random stimuli, such as colors or shadows. It’s all very subjective, of course. In the case of Jesus sightings, no one knows what Jesus actually looked like. In fact, there isn’t any historical evidence that someone named Jesus Christ actually existed.

I look at those flames exploding from the belly of Notre Dame and I see… well, to me it looks like Victor Hugo, whose “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is set in the cathedral. His words celebrated the centuries-long, organic growth of that beautiful building:

Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

We damn near lost it in a single afternoon. Perhaps because of a cigarette carelessly tossed aside by one of the contractors working on the building. Even civilization’s massive edifices of stone can be gone in a few moments. What chance is there for something elusive, easily malleable?

Like thought?

Pareidolia is the new normal. Seeing things that are not there. In today’s new Orwellian era, in which truth does not matter, random stimuli is rudely dumped at our feet and re-configured by the renowned conspiracy theorist Donald Trump.

Reading through just this week’s disaster buffet of chaos, I see that Trump’s nominee as the nation’s new director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, has withdrawn his name from consideration. Trump blamed pressure from the “LameStream Media.” Hours later, when asked why his administration hadn’t uncovered what appears to a serious lack of credentials, as well as some résumé padding on Ratcliffe’s part, Trump told reporters, “You vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press, and you vet for me.”

So, the serious responsibility of picking a serious person for a serious position is shared with the “LameStream Media.”

Or how about this: Trump is claiming that the tariffs he’s directing on imported goods from China are being paid for by the Chinese government. You’d be hard pressed to find an economist who won’t agree that those tariffs aren’t actually being paid for by the American people through higher price tags on Chinese imports when they arrive here.

Or how about this: Trump continued his attack on an American city, Baltimore, which he has called a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Yes, like all aging, major cities that are struggling with a shifting economic base, Baltimore has many issues. Here in Rochester, we share those troubles. And Trump is the president of the country where you’ll find these cities. He bears some responsibility.

Or how about this: This week alone, we’ve seen mass shootings at a garlic festival (three dead, 16 injured), a Texas Walmart (20 dead, 26 injured) and a trendy bar district in Ohio (nine dead, 26 injured). Before going to work, the Texas killer posted an online comment about “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Perhaps he thought he had the approval of a racist president who has been warning us for two years of this “invasion,” as he also calls it, of our southern border.

Once again, no good guy with a gun was available to stop these bad guys with guns. But that lie will go on. In addition to arming school teachers, we must now issue guns to bartenders, farmers and check-out clerks.

Also this week, at a ceremony honoring 9/11 first responders, Trump claimed to have had some kind of role in the heroics that emerged from that day, although he was vague about what it was that he might have done to help out. No one saw him digging through rubble, searching for survivors. What we do know is that, during a radio interview shortly after the attack, Trump made the claim that, with the World Trade Center reduced to rubble, he now owned the tallest building in New York City.

And even that claim, grotesquely self serving, was a lie.

These lies are brazen, and often easy to verify as false or nonsensical. So why do so many people believe them?

Perhaps Trump’s supporters choose to ignore facts because he says what they want to hear, even if he fails to deliver on his promises.

Some of Trump’s supporters are racists. They understand he’s a white nationalist who calls for people of color who disagree with him to “go back to where they came from.”

Some of Trump’s supporters recognize that he supports their insistence that they be well armed, even as our televisions announce BREAKING NEWS of mass shooting after mass shooting, breaking news which rarely occur in countries with tougher gun laws.

Some of Trump’s supporters approve of his southern-border policies, whipping up fear to justify separating families, caging children and turning back Central American refugees who are fleeing crime and poverty. They believe his lies that the refugees are disease-ridden criminals when, in actuality, this country built of immigrants benefits economically and socially from their presence.

To Trump, those detention-center cages crowded with immigrants are perfectly acceptable, but Baltimore is not.

Some of Trump’s supporters deny the existence of climate change, even as scientists tell us that the planet’s weather is evolving even more quickly than anticipated due to human activities. Climate-change denial is led, of course, by the fossil-fuel industry, which fears the job-producing, clean energy of the wind turbines mocked by Trump. It’s a lie that energy-efficient technology costs jobs; the coal industry has been on the decline for decades, and today employs less than 75,000 people. It is being replaced by cheaper energy sources, such as natural gas and wind turbines. In fact, environment-safe technology now employs twice as many workers as all U.S. fossil fuel sectors combined.

As temperatures driven by climate change rise, millions of people will face floods, forest fires, extreme weather, food and water shortages, and displacement from their homes.

What a real White House looks like.

And on, and on, and on go the lies. You would hope that time would be the architect of greater things. But we continue to flee back, to our dark caves. Rather than inspiration – the Obama White House lit up in rainbow colors in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry – we’re seeing a dark political pareidolia of exclusion and hate.

The truth is, our belief in lies is a longtime mechanism, employed for the convenience of our conscience. The genocide of the native people living here, and the reliance of slaves to build this country, was eased by the lie that those people were less than human. For all of Trump’s flailing about on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and his breaking the treaties that hold this Armageddon in check, the United States remains the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in war, when we unnecessarily dropped two bombs on Japan, which was already beaten, killing thousands of innocent people.

Hiroshima. Just because we could do it.

So we allow a prolific liar, an admitted sex offender, a man who cheated business partners, a common grifter, a gleeful tax evader, a man whose words undermine our legal system and democracy, a man who insults the disabled and war heroes, a man whose trips to the golf course have so far cost the nation $110 million, and a mentally unstable leader, to live in our White House, and represent us. This ugly American.

This man is dead inside. He has no soul.

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

What they don’t know either helps them survive, or it kills them

The band lays down a jazzbo beat as I recite “Old Drunks.”

I’ve had a few people – well, three, that’s a trend, right? – ask me about the spoken-word piece I read at Tommy Brunett’s birthday party before a hundred or so people Sunday at Marge’s Lakeside Inn, on Lake Ontario beach. Tucked in among performances by musicians that included Suzi Willpower, Mike Gladstone and Brian Lindsay (“What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” was a perfect choice for Lindsay), what I read was a tribute to the men and women who built America and, now worn out and broken, live out their lives in saloon shadows, lit by neon beer signs. The words are actually pulled from a yet-to-be-published novel that I wrote, “A Bottle of Mezcal.” You can find the first few chapters of the manuscript on this web site under the heading “Works.”

So, for those three people, here’s the text from Sunday’s reading:

OLD DRUNKS

A guy wearing the weary tweed jacket of a failed Bohemian novelist sits at a table talking to a woman blanketed in the too-heavy makeup of a declining actress. Yeah, she had been a star of the community players stage, once. They stare idly at the television mounted on the wall over the bar. It’s a hockey game. “We live in a violent world,” he is saying. “Even vegetarians kill plants.”

She nods, her eyes trailing off to stare down at the pimento-stuffed olive at the bottom of her glass. It looks up at her like a disapproving eye.

Ray Charles sings, and the old guys at the bar grunt with approval. Some of them have only one good arm, and the blood vessels in their noses have bloomed into bright-red gin blossoms. I watch them lean forward into their pints of beer, seemingly in unison; they are red-assed mandrills now, crouching on the river bank, sipping the water.

But years ago they built this country. They can tell you how to mix the mortar that keeps every brick in this city in place. If you ride the trains with them, they point out the window, to the lines strung on the poles outside, and tell you those wires are made of copper because they have turned green in the weather. They can start a car with a screwdriver without killing themselves. They know stuff like that. Even that old guy in the polyester suit has stories. He worked fishing boats in Alaska and logged somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. That was in the days when men used horses to drag the trees down the hillside. Those horses would work until their hearts burst, and the crews piled the carcasses against the wall of the bunk house. In their youthful exuberance, the loggers slid down the corrugated tin roof and landed on the dead horses, laughing. Polyester Suit says he once cannonballed onto a horse that exploded on impact. “His guts blew out his mouth and his asshole,” Polyester Suit says. “Musta been exactly ripe.”

These old guys shot real people in wars and dropped bombs on historic cities without a second thought, but Johnny Cash rumbling “Sunday Morning Coming Down’’ makes them cry.

Their lives are arcs of random experience. What they don’t know either helps them survive, or it kills them.

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

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