Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Time enough at last

Burgess Meredith, and the isolation of a good library.

As far as I was concerned, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day got off to a good start this week. The Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tigers, 9-0.

Waitaminute… the Tigers beat the Indians, 9-1.

No, the Indians beat the Tigers, 15-4.

Fantasy baseball. If there’s no sports news, we can just make it up.

Is anything more media-irrelevant in these coronavirus days than the sports pages? On Saturday morning, I browsed through The New York Times sports section. The star player of the Oregon Ducks, Sabrina Ionescu, has been denied her opportunity to compete for the NCAA Women’s basketball championship, because the season’s been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sports announcers have gone to Facebook to post factious commentaries on their dogs eating dinner. A few dozen guys, connected through basketball, celebrated a birthday together; four have since tested positive for coronavirus, two others are dead of it. And the NFL draft of college players is still on for next month, so brace yourself for four weeks of sportswriters turning to the always-useless exercise of conducting mock drafts.

Disappointment. Dogs eating dinner. Death. The NFL draft. And mock drafts would be happening anyway, coronavirus or not.

We all have our ways of coping. Who am I to point a finger? For every chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls that I will read today, I will just as likely sit through 90 minutes of They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

It did not help that just his morning, some web-site links arrived in the email, sent by My Friend Barbara. “For when you don’t want to read the news… or you run out of books, whichever comes first.”

The Voynich Manuscript.

She provided a link to The Internet Archive. Its goal is “universal access to all knowledge.” Digitized collections of websites, music, millions of books. Assembled by volunteers. It’s called Folkscanomy, “a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content.”

Once I had logged in, I found all of this… amazing stuff. A link to a site that shows every page of The Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious 15thcentury book written in an as-yet unbroken code, the pages filled with drawings of obscure herbs and cosmological references, and women taking baths.

Music, some of it relevant, as musicians post videos of their coronavirtual concerts. Hip-hop mix tapes. Religious sermons. Medieval Alien Jazz by Eat Rust, an atonal collection of electronic psychedelia with titles such as “Gather The Inner Organs Into A Neat Pile – It’s A Sign That You’re Still Alive.” And way more Grateful Dead concerts than I’ll ever need.

And there is The National Emergency Library, created especially for readers in our current pandemic. Here, I found the 1925 edition of Certain Mounds and Village Sites in Ohio, an exploration of some of the Native American burial mounds in the southeastern region of the state; I’ve visited a few of them. Here’s Orwell’s always relevant Nineteen Eighty-Four, not far from Rachel Carson’s prescient Silent Spring, 396 books and magazines about Dr. Who, and a photo magazine called The New Nude.

Anatole France.

Here’s a book I never would have known of, were it not for me being granted time enough at last: From 1925, Anatole France: The Man and His Work. The digital listing allows me to read the forward on the long-dead French writer:

“Had I been Nature,” said Anatole France, “I should have made men and women not to resemble the great apes, as they do, but on the model of the insects which, after a lifetime of caterpillars, change into butterflies, and for the brief final term of their existence have no thought but to love and be lovely.”

This morning has shed its skin and evolved into that classic episode of The Twilight Zone, “Time Enough at Last,” where the book-loving Burgess Meredith is the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust. He wanders up the steps of a public library, and finds books and books and books. Then stumbles and breaks his eyeglasses. “That’s not fair,” he wails. “That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was – was all the time I needed…! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”

Indeed. Under Feature Films, sub-head Sci-Fi / Horror…

Click …

Oh no. Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Zontar the Thing From Venus. Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory. Teenagers From Outer Space. Curse of the Swamp Creature. Roger Corman’s Dementia 13. The 1962 low-budget cult classic Carnival of Souls, which overcomes the zombie acing of its cast with eerie sets and foreboding organ music.

All this, and time enough at last!

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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?

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