Jeff Spevak, Writer

Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Page 2 of 153

Liberate Michigan! Open Fuddruckers!

No one likes us anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from the Facebook Federales, notifying me that my Jan. 3 post had been deleted because it violated Facebook’s standards of decency. The anonymous 1984-era clerk in charge of the process added that I could go through some kind of electronic court proceeding if I wanted to dispute the social media Godzilla’s ruling.

I had no recollection of what viral pornography I had committed. And as the post was about three months old, getting into a wrestling match with Mark Zuckerberg’s henchmen didn’t seem worth the effort. Moments later, I’d forgotten about it.

Forgotten about it, until this weekend, while reading news reports about thugs armed with automatic rifles and waving Confederate flags swarming the steps of some of our state capitol buildings, protesting how government guidelines for social distancing violates their right to spread the deadly coronavirus among the general population.

This Facebook post by the comedian and social analyst Patton Oswalt summed it up nicely:

Get it? There are people risking viral death by storming state capitol buildings & screaming, “Open Fuddruckers!”

Facebook’s accusations brought back to mind my history of of lawless, irresponsible actions. Dark thoughts are always racked up in the recesses of my head, like bats in the rafters. Which one had gotten out? I checked my posts, scrolling all the way back to Jan. 3.

Whatever I had posted that day was indeed gone.

But I also send my Facebook posts to Twitter. I checked it. Back to Jan. 3. And there it was. The offending post:

How about that? To hell with diplomacy. Now we just assassinate leaders we don’t like. 

This post had followed Trump’s announcement that day from Mar-a-Lago:

Hello, everybody.  Well, thank you very much.  And good afternoon…

Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani.

Hello. Thank you. Good afternoon. We killed an Iranian general.

Soleimani was supposed to be Trump’s bin Laden moment. Remember it? Maybe not. So much has happened since then.

Further investigation revealed  that as of January 11 Facebook (and Instagram, which Facebook owns) began censoring posts “that voice support for slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani to comply with US sanctions.”

Memes love hypocrisy.

It was a blow to my sense of self importance. I had merely been swept up in a dragnet along with the rest of the libtards. Millions of us, perhaps. Social media has standards for progressives, but not the president.

What was it about that post that Facebook found to be supportive of the murderous Soleimani? I wasn’t calling for any harm to come to Trump. The post, by an American citizen expressing an opinion, was merely suggesting exactly what it says:

To hell with diplomacy. Now we just assassinate leaders we don’t like. 

Diplomacy taking a back seat to a gun is how we do it here. Last year Brown University released the results of a study called the “Costs of War Project.” It was an estimate of the death toll from the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, from October of 2001 to October of 2018. The project placed the number of people killed during these U.S. military incursions to be at least – at least – 480,000. More than 244,000 of them were civilians. On top of that, in those three countries indirect deaths — from disease, displacement and the loss of infrastructure — was estimated to be in the millions.

The authors of the report added that its study only “scratches the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war.” Add the death tolls from Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, and the casualty figures from the U.S. war on terror are higher still.

United States foreign policy is an indiscriminate murder machine. The news these days confirms the correct answer here is not, “We live in a safer world thanks to our ability to kill our enemies.”

Living in oblivion is as dangerous as living a lie. Sometimes the lies are as dangerous as falsely shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Sometimes the lies are as dangerous as telling people there is no danger at all. The coronavirus is a hoax, Trump said, comparing it to the common flu. “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”

OK, so let’s accept the idea that you don’t care about the global responsibility of the U.S., and how it swaggers through the latitudes and longitudes. Let’s look at the numbskulls who are demanding, as Oswalt puts it so elegantly, “Open Fuddruckers!” Those folks – ignoring the advice of experts in medicine and epidemiology, and the body count – were emboldened by Trump tweeting “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

Trump is using the same strategy that has worked for him in the past. Creating confusion and division.  The Human Filibuster, Vice President Mike Pence, was on Meet the Press last Sunday morning, and insisted Trump is not calling for treason and insurrection.

OK, then. So what is he calling for?

We have our lives to live, we don’t always have time to monitor Machiavellian games. But life is wasted, if you’re not a seeker of truth.

BE 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.

The truth, and where to find it


I keep looking for, thinking about, what good might come out of this world-wide disaster. It will be difficult to find our way through this. Through the fog. Reality obscured by the daily White House coronavirus press briefings.

This one, from last week, is easier to understand if you imagine it as a Monty Python skit. With John Cleese, who excels at portraying buffoonish authority figures displaying a comical lack of self-awareness, as President Trump. And Eric Idle, master of the befuddled expression, as the Reporter.

President Trump: “I think mail-in voting is horrible, it’s corrupt.”

Reporter: “You voted by mail in Florida’s election last month, didn’t you?”

Trump: “Sure. I can vote by mail.”

Reporter: “How do you reconcile with that?”

Trump: “Because I’m allowed to.”

A true story.

I’ve stopped watching Trump’s version of FDR’s Fireside Chats. Trump’s more of an arsonist. I leave farce to the professionals.

I’m also leaving advice on how to protect myself from coronavirus to medical professionals. I leave my understanding of climate change to scientists. I leave economic theories to reputable economists, not a guy whose career has been a string of failed businesses, bankruptcies and bailouts from daddy.

The pursuit of facts, not conspiracy theories. Until recently, as the body count grew too high to deny, Trump was suggesting that coronavirus was simply a Democratic Party attempt to bring down his presidency. As if people in Italy and Spain would willingly sacrifice their lives to influence the outcome of November’s U.S. presidential election.

Trump has lowered the bar on every aspect of life in the United States.

And the standard of truth has suffered the most. Why do so many millions of Americans buy into this? It’s like that old horror film, Children of the Damned. Are they a futuristic race… or a threat to our planet?

Trump calms his followers: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

What good can possibly come of this pandemic? There’s nothing to be found in the death of hundreds of thousands of people.

If anything can be rescued from this rubble, perhaps it is… time.

I’m working from home. I’m not going out to see shows, or movies, or new exhibits at the museums. I’m not hanging around with friends. I’m looking out the front window, watching my neighbors walk their dogs. What’s on TV? Tiger King, no thanks, I’m not into the spectacle of white-trash drama.

I venture onto social media, and see how you’re amusing yourselves. Posting your high-school portraits. Compiling your “Choose Your Quarantine House” list. That one’s on both Facebook and Twitter. Name five celebrities – writers, TV stars, musicians – who you’d like to be quarantined with. Here’s one of the early houses: Justin Bieber, Will Ferrell, Kylie Jenner, Dr. Phil and Mindy Kaling.

If I was in that house, I’d sleep in the garage. But it gets me to thinking. My Writers Quarantine House?

  • Certainly Haruki Murakami, so I wouldn’t have to read his books a second time just to begin to understand what the hell is going on in those pages.
  • James Joyce, so I can ask him, “Why does Finnegan’s Wake open in mid-sentence, and what do you mean by ‘wielderfight his penisolate war?’”
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, because I want to know where he got the idea to write a novel about a dog who has the pituitary gland and testicles of a criminal implanted in his body, and becomes a cat-strangling Bolshevik.
  • And Margaret Atwood, because I want to know what inspired the bioengineered plague and post-apocalyptic corporate evil and blue butts of her novel Oryx and Crake.

For my fifth, how about George Saunders, because I’ve interviewed him, and I want to know where such a nice, normal guy finds such strangeness. Or Colson Whitehead, because I want to know where an elevator to the future will take us. Or Marquis de Sade, just in case things get a little too comfortable.

Time, it’s an intellectual exercise.

I’m reading obituaries in The New York Times. Bruce Baillie. Cause of death… well, he was 88. A photographer. I’d heard the name, but wasn’t familiar with his work. Now, in death, I know him. And I’m fascinated by the guy. A pioneer in avant-garde film. A hippie, counter-culture favorite. His lens was set on Zen. Short films, sometimes with superimposed imagery. One of the most remarkable is a 2½-minute film from 1966, “All My Life.” The camera slowly pans a long fence, overgrown by weeds and wild roses, as Ella Fitzgerald elegantly sings the song of the same name. Many people might find it stupid. I’m amazed at its simplicity, and beauty. If that fence were in my back yard, I’d be staring at it all evening, as the sun set, glass of wine in hand.

The Times tells me that musicians, actors and artists are dying of coronavirus. John Prine, it got him at age 73. That one seemed to hit a lot of my friends hard. People are posting lines from Prine songs on Facebook. “Lake Marie” is my favorite Prine song, and I posted a couple of lines from it.

Because we love music. And because Prine told the truth

BE 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.

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!

BE 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.

Page 2 of 153

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén