Jeff Spevak, Writer

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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.

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It’s time to start pruning the bad limbs from the tree

Several friends of mine have been posting ME TOO stories on Facebook. Women bearing witness to their experiences with sexual harassment. I’d heard pieces of these stories from them, but not the whole thing. I’d never picked up on the sense of entitlement that some men seem to feel when they’re alone with women, often in cases where they’ve just met. I didn’t get a full sense of the depravity. The outright weirdness.

This awakening that we’re seeing is inspired by the allegations that Harvey Weinstein, who was perhaps the biggest entertainment mogul in the world until last week, is a longtime sexual harasser. A friend of mine was quoted in Sunday’s Washington Post on the matter. She said one of the things she learned as a radio DJ in the 1980s in Buffalo, where Weinstein was getting his start in the entertainment business, is as a woman, “never be alone in a room with Harvey Weinstein.”

I suppose you could say that was the ’80s, and we’ve come a long way in three decades. Yet a year ago we were hearing the Access Hollywood tapes in which a presidential candidate confessed to sexually assaulting women. And there was plenty of outrage. It didn’t matter, we elected Donald Trump president.

I was sitting in a bar with friends one night in June 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in this country had the right to marry. Someone pulled out a phone and showed off a photo of the White House lit up in the colors of the rainbow. I know that not everyone in America was happy about it; but around our little table that night, we were delighted. And proud. We felt that America was moving forward.

Do you think we’ll feel something like that again anytime soon?

So we can’t rely on society correcting itself, moving forward. Too many conflicting interests are in play. In fact, by many yardsticks – the conversation on race, the rise in violence and discriminatory actions against LGBTQ people, the attack on the environment, the economic divide in this country – we’ve been backsliding over the past six months.

And don’t blame the Duck Dynasty crowd. Our elected officials don’t like to deal with tough questions. Many media outlets seem to believe that presenting both sides of a story means bigots get equal time. A lot of corporations, often headed by smart people who should know better, are reluctant to join the fight.

Play it safe, don’t rile people.

I don’t like living in an echo chamber, hearing only my voice. Social media exacerbates that problem. And for that reason, whenever a friend tells me “you should block that idiot” on Facebook, I’ve always declined to do so. My reply has generally been, “I think we need to know they’re out there.”

Now I’ve changed my mind. We know they’re out there. They’re getting louder. Gathering around statues of the heroes of the Confederacy, guffawing over misogynistic jokes, planning racist Halloween costumes. I don’t want to be just one more small megaphone that amplifies their message.

So this week, I’ll be poking around my social media accounts, blocking a few people here and there. Not people with whom I simply disagree. But the ones who disseminate fake news stories intended to distract from the debate. And certainly the racists, and those who thrive on bigotry, hate and ridicule.

I want them to understand that they’re not welcome. It’s like the words on a T-shirt that a guy I know sometimes wears: MAKE RACISTS AFRAID AGAIN.

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The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times so you don’t have to: June 10

Today’s coffee is from the island of Java. The first music of the day: birds singing outside the open windows after the early morning rain.

1, In this poor economy, unemployed people in their 60s are being forced to turn to Social Security much sooner than they’d planned. About 200,000 more people than expected filed initial claims in the last two years which will, of course, place a greater strain on that entitlement program. And when Republicans blame people for not working, we have to gently remind them: Congress must pass the jobs legislation that they are blocking. People want the opportunity to live to their full potential, and the country will benefit from  that. “I would rather be functioning and having a job somewhere,” says a 62-year-old California who lost her job as an executive ad assistant in 2008. “I really don’t enjoy living like this. I’ve got too much to do still.”

2, Monday is the 50th anniversary of the escape of three prisoners from Alcatraz. It is generally assumed that the three men – Frank Lee Morris (who had a genius IQ of 133) and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin – drowned in the attempt. Their battered raft, made from raincoats glued together, was found the next day on an Angel Island two miles away. But today’s story in The Times says that a 2011 National Geographic TV program “disclosed that footprints leading away from the raft had been found on Angel Island, and that contrary to official denial, a car had been stole nearby on the night of the escape.”

3, Speaking of enduring mysteries, Jane Mendelsohn, who years ago write a book called I Was Amerlia Earhart (she wasn’t claiming to be, she was simply inspired by the aviator) writes in the Sunday Review about the public’s fascination with her disappearance. Earhart’s in the news again as an expedition prepares to search for the remains of her plane on a Pacific island where someone found a broken jar that once carried the kind of face cream that Earhart used. And a old photo taken on that island years ago now looks to someone like a piece of the landing gear from her airplane. And radio signals long ago dismissed as either hoaxes or the product of freak weather have been re-analyzed and declared very likely to be distress signals that came from Earhart hours after her plane would have run out of fuel. “But did she really survive?” Mendelsohn writes. “I still don’t think it matters. We will always care and wonder about the things that vanish, the personal ones like a jar of face cream or our 20s, or the big ones like Amelia Earhart or the MF Global money, but what’s important is taking responsibility for our actions and for the things we’ve lost, even and especially if what we’ve lost is out own way.”

4, Just a reminder, in case you’re for or against Obama’s health care law, from an essay by Pam Belluck, a health reporter with The Times: “Most of the major elements of the Affordable Care Act have not taken effect, and would not until 2014.”

5, In an editorial, The Times warns, “If you wanted to reproduce the conditions that lead to the Great Recession in 2007, the easiest way would be the plan unveiled last week by House Republicans: gut the regulators who are supposed to keep the worst business practices in check.”

6, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, examined Google searches to determine if a decline in racial prejudice helped elect Barack Obama. His conclusion? Quite the opposite. “Racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized,” he writes. “A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans.” Depressingly,  Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “In 2008, Mr. Obama rode an unusally strong tail wind. The economy was collapsing. The Iraq war was unpopular. Republicans took most of the blame. He was able to overcome the major obstacle of continuing racial prejudice in the United States. In 2012, the tail wind is gone; the obstacle likely remains.”

7, Modern classical compositions, such as works by Philip Glass, offer a daunting problem: The electronics on which they are created quickly become outdated. So a Glass piece written for an electronic organ in 1978 will very likely sound different today because of improvements in the technology of the instrument. “Ligeti’s Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes (1962) should be the easiest of his scores to perform,” writes Allan Kozinn in the Arts & Leisure section. “All you have to do is wind up the 100 metronomes, start them at exactly the same time (OK, that is not so easy) and let them wind down until the last one stops. But try finding 100 wind-up metronomes these days.”

8, I lived in Texas for three years. I know what Gail Collins is talking about in her new book, As Texas Goes… How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. Texas politics does seem to have played a major role in destroying important financial and energy regulations, and has contributed characters to the debate – George W. Bush –  who weren’t up to the job of leadership. The Alamo and “the massacre of 189 stubborn white men,” as reviewer Lloyd Grove writes, is certainly a symbol of the Texas mindset. He points out a Collins comment that The Alamo reflects Texas as a state which is “at its best when there’s an enemy to rise up against. Outsized and brave. And frequently somewhat lunatic.”

9, In the magazine, we learn that, “According to a new study in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, failure to follow unwritten ‘Facebook friendship rules’ causes immediate, real-life defriending.” Please allow me to apologize now to all of you if my Facebook etiquette is lacking; but that comment defines exactly why I hold social media in such disdain.

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