Jeff Spevak, Writer

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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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The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: April 22

Today’s coffee, a simple Colombian. First music of the day: Townes Van Zandt’s At the Window, on vinyl acquired yesterday at National Record Store Day.

1, “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle,” is the lead story of the day. Perhaps you’re not surprised to read about “a campaign of bribery to win market dominance” waged by Wal-Mart de Mexico. But Wal-Mart officials in the United States took significant steps to keep the story secret once they’d gotten wind of illegal activities. Laws were broken in both Mexico and the U.S., but authorities were not notified.

2, A rotting log has been rolled over, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, nicknamed ALEC, has been exposed. Last week, as its activities came to light, the conservative group backed off from its endorsements of tighter voter identification regulations, anti-labor union policies and pro gun laws such as Stand Your Ground (too late for Trayvon Martin, the dead Florida teenager). ALEC turns out to be an organization of “not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country,” The Times reports. Delving into the morass, the newspaper writes of how “The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills  affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.” The organization creates “model bills” that lawmakers can introduce in their states and “sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Last month, on the day that Supreme Court arguments on the law began, ALEC sent an e-mail to legislators with a bullet-point list of criticisms of it, to be used ‘in your next radio interview, town hall meeting, op-ed or letter to the editor.'”

3, A 51-year-old woman named Carolina Salguero purchased an oil tanker for $16,500 in 2006 because she believed it was important to preserve the vessel as a piece of history. It’s now tied up at  a Brooklyn dock. “Some ships run into icebergs and become 3D movie extravaganzas,” The Times writes.”Others disappear silently into the abyss of paperwork.” The 74-year-old Mary A. Whelan will soon be homeless. Salguero is just about of of money; it costs $5,000 a month just to park the ship somewhere, anywhere. “Of course it’s a romantic impediment,” Salguero says of her selfless task of preserving this 613-ton piece 0f maritime history. “‘Mother of a homeless oil tanker’ is not a label that encourages many fellows to step up.”

4, The government of the Republic of Georgia is building a futuristic “instant city” in the shore of the Black Sea, a city called Lazika that it says will be home to 1.5 million people in 10 years. Megelians, the ethnic group that has lived in that marshland for centuries, say that the planned skyscrapers would require 80-foot foundations. “Those are huge buildings,” said one resident. “I don’t know how the swamp will hold them.”

5, Alex Cassie has died at age 95. He was the British officer who produced many of the forged documents that his fellow prisoners of war used after they’d tunneled out of Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany, an exploit that inspired the Steve McQueen film The Great Escape. The real-life ending wasn’t particularly satisfying. Seventy-six prisoners got away, but 73 were recaptured and 50 executed on Hitler’s orders. Cassie, who suffered from claustrophobia, chose to stay behind.

6, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Sting, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton first learned to play guitar from the instructional manual Play in a Day. Bert Wheedon, the British studio musician who wrote the manual, has died at age 91. “As I travel up and down the country, I meet many groups who try to blast their way to success with too much noise and not enough talent,” Wheedon said in a 1997 interview with the British newspaper The Independent. Perhaps thinking of Pete Townshend, another famous guitarist who learned to play with his manual, Wheedon told The Independent, “I can’t understand why anyone should want to smash a cup and saucer, let alone a guitar.”

7, In the Sunday Review, essayist Andrew F. March nails the argument against social media. “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”

8, A new argument by The Times editorial page against legislation being enacted  by some states: “Arizona’s cold-blooded immigration statute was enacted in 2010 to bring about ‘attrition through enforcement’ – to make life so harsh for undocumented immigrants that they would be driven out of the state. It invites unfettered racial profiling and the abuse of police power. And, if allowed to stand, it opens the door to states’ writing their own foreign policy, in defiance of the Constitution.”

9, “I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once as a wayward teenager, and never tried it again,” The Times reports Mitt Romney as saying last fall. In the essay “The Wrath of Grapes,” Timothy Egan makes a case, perhaps coincidental, that our better presidents were the one who drank. Drinkers: FDR, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams. Occasional tipplers: Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Non-drinkers, William Howard Taft, Jimmy Carter (who had all alcohol removed from the White House) and George W. Bush, “who seems doomed to have his name forever followed by, ‘and we know how that turned out,'” Egan writes.

10, For decades, a Russian-built clunker called the Lada was the family vehicle of necessity in Finland. The cars had two selling points: They were cheap, and had a good heater. The Automobiles page interviews Risto Nykanen, a Fin who restores Ladas. “For everyday use, Mr. Nykanen owns a sporty two-door Opel,” The Times writes. “But its computerized innards do not fully impress him. ‘If a nuclear bomb goes off, all microchips will collapse,'” he said. He affectionately tapped the hood of one of his Ladas, a washed-out gray 1974  sedan. ‘Well, this is one model that has no chips inside,’ he said. ‘It’s all mechanical. It’s atom-bomb proof,'”

11, The Columnist is the third play about the newspaper industry – all based on true stories – to open this season in New York, following The Wood, about Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, and CQ/CX, about a Times reporter who was exposed as having made up fake sources for his reporting.  Starring John Lithgow and written by Pulitzer Prize winning David Auburn, The Columnist is about Washington columnist Joseph Alsop, a hawkish supporter of the Vietnam War. Alsop dismissed war critics as “misguided young crusaders and Communist sympathizers among the press corps” even as the helicopters were landing on the roof of the American embassy in Saigon to remove the last of our personnel. Auburn says he was inspired to write the play while reading contemporary pundits’ similarly mistaken cheerleading of the invasion of Iraq. “Noting the unwillingness of many of those involved to recognize their errors,” The Times writes, “he found himself wondering: ‘How do you arrive at that point when you are so firmly committed to a particular point of view that nothing will dissuade you or force you to re-examine it?'”

12, The Avenging Conscience, the upcoming film starring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe, is the 241st film or TV show to feature Poe or his work.

13, In the magazine, we learn that the city museum of Waycross, Ga., features a mummified dog that had been trapped inside the hollow trunk of a tree.

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: May 16

1, The fascinating lead story of the day, “For Times Sq. Suspect, Long Roots of Discontent,” examines the man accused of leaving a bomb in Times Square. Faisal Shahzad was living a successful life in the United States, yet did not know how to resolve the moral, cultural, ideological and religious divide between Muslims and the West.  George Bush invaded two Muslim countries, and Shahzad, like many Muslims, knows that one of those invasions –  Iraq – was justified by a series of lies by the Bush administration. Shahzad saw the photos of Muslim men at Guantanamo, many of them swept up for no apparent reason, and now in shackles. “He understood the notion that Islam prohibits the killing of innocents,” this important story reports. But in an e-mail to friends, Shahzad wrote, “Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows?” Nothing will be resolved by viewing the problem through a Western lens. The story is far more complex than the cartoon version of the Muslim world that many news organizations present.

2, Las Vegas, “is trying to recover by building what it does not need,” The Times writes of a new housing boom in areas where the housing crash was loudest. Here, 9,517 new homes sit empty, another 5,800 were repossessed in the first three months of the year. Contractors suggest that homes are now more affordable after the crash, and they’re stepping into that market. Yet, “Simply put, the country already has too many houses,” The Times writes. Is this any way to run an economic recovery?

3, Confusion reins in the nomination of Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stephens in the Supreme Court. Worries are emerging among the left that she’s not as liberal a pick as they’d like.  In particular, the contentious Citizens United case in January, allowing corporations unlimited ability to contribute to political causes, is free speech; Kagan seems to side with the conservative viewpoint. Or maybe not. In the examples quoted in this story, no position seems definitive. Sometimes her academic words are at odds with her most-recent work as solicitor general. As Loyola Law School election specialist Richard L.Hansen notes, “her statements in court “were on behalf of her client and might not represent her own thinking, which might in any event have changed in the intervening 14 years.” Perhaps only Barack Obama, who we know does his homework, knows what he has here.

4, Health insurance companies are working fervently to undo Obama’s health care initiative. Consumer groups, The Times reports, “worry that their legislative victories could be undone or undercut by the rules being written by the federal government and the states.” The story notes that “One provision bars insurers from carrying out an ‘unreasonable premium increase’ unless they first submit justifications to federal and state officials. Congress did not say what is unreasonable, leaving that task to rule-writers.”

5, Bud Mahurin, U.S. fighter pilot ace, has died at age 91 in Newport Beach, Calif. Mahurin was credited with shooting down 20.75 enemy airplanes in the European and Pacific theaters  during World War II (the three-quarters reflects shared kills with other pilots).He also shot down three MIG-15s during the Korean War before he himself was downed by anti-aircraft fire, was captured and tortured, and releasd at the war’s end. “You seldom think of aerial combat – getting shot at – as fun,” he said in 2003, “but it’s a lot of fun if you’re doing the shooting.”

6, Also in the obits, K. Dun Gifford, a healthy-eating advocate who said “We need to teach people that food is glorious and you don’t need to eat a lot to be satisfied,” and Richard LaMotta, inventor of the Chipwich Ice Cream Sandwich, died within two days of each other.

7, The hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons is a man at peace: a Vegan who meditates, does yoga, rides his bike, drinks green juice and tweets his prayers.

8, The Green Hornet is due to be released in January, starring Seth Rogan. The role of Black Beauty, the Green Hornet’s legendary vehicle, is being played by 29 customized vintage Chrysler Imperials.

9, Sunday Business has gotten ahold of Ben Bernanke’s 1975 high-school yearbook photo. The now-bald future Federal Reserve chairman sports long hair and a mustache. Nor sure what that means for the future of the economy, though….

10, Feel good about that new Arizona anti-immigration law? “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped and frisked by the New York City police in 2009,” The Times writes in Week in Review, “but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested.” The most-common reason for stopping people was “furtive movements.”

11, Arts & Leisure features Holland Cotter’s love letter to Emily Dickinson. But perhaps not the Dickinson most of us are casually acquainted.”At her most extreme,” he writes, “she was a terrorist:”

Had I a mighty gun

I think I’d shoot the human race

12, In the magazine, an issue otherwise dedicated to money,  suggests a recipe for Yucatan Shrimp by the Florida crime novelist Randy Wayne White, who owns a restaurant near Sanibel Island. “You will note that the shrimp are unpeeled,
writes Sam Sifton. “The communal act of peeling and eating the cooked shrimp, White says, leads to a sharing of the spirit of Sanibel itself….” Besides, most chefs will tell you that the shell adds to the flavor.

13, The Book Review examines Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. That might be all you need to know about the famous, “Man Who Never Was,” a scheme in which the British planted fake invasion documents on a corpse, leading the Germans to believe an invasion was coming to Greece, rather than Sicily. “The operation succeeded beyond wildest expectations,” writes reviewer Jennet Conant, “fooling the German high command into changing its Mediterranean defense strategy and and allowing Allied forces to conquer Sicily with limited casualties.” It all comes off like a spy novel, perhaps because much of it was concocted by Ian Fleming – who would later go on to write the James Bond novels. Fleming himself discovered the idea in an old detective novel. Regimes rise and fall on familiarity of pop culture.

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