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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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If it were up to us

Jan Regan on gun control

Jan Regan.

Monday evening at The Little Café, a handful of the regulars were sitting at the usual table, passing around a copy of a letter to the editor that had appeared that morning in The Finger Lakes Times. I watched as people read it, silently nodding in approval.

The writer’s name was familiar to this group. Jan is not an uncommon name. Among Norwegian fisherman, even. More telling, she’s a Regan. That makes her sister of two other Regans in the room, Kerry and Scott, members of the band playing that night, Watkins & the Rapiers. Music enthusiasts in this town also know Scott as the host of Open Tunings, the smart morning music show on WRUR-FM (88.5).

Some of us have even met her in the past, maybe at a Finger Lakes winery. Jan Regan, a photographer, has been involved in music, for a while booking shows at Geneva’s Smith Opera. Monday night at The Little, she stepped into the gun-control debate. And nailed the issue perfectly. So damn logical, I expect gun advocates’ heads will explode when they read it.

I asked Jan for permission to reprint her letter:

To the Editor:

Singer-Songwriter Cheryl Wheeler wrote a song, “If It Were Up to Me,” in 1997 that speculates causes behind the horrific gun violence in the United States with an endless litany of societal ills: Maybe it’s video games, abuse, the internet, parents, schools, politics, and so on. Her last thought: “But if it were up to me, I’d take away the guns.”

I am with her. Not that I would venture into the dangerous territory of suggesting we ban ALL guns, but certainly the ones that appear again and again as “the weapon of choice” in so many recent mass shootings.

In many ways, Marc Thomas’s editorial “Clear Thinking Needed in Gun Debate” (March 4, 2018) makes exactly this case. He bemoans universal background checks as ineffective as so many mass shooters seem to acquire guns legally. He cites the “see something, say something” mantra as not enough (suggesting the somewhat scary notion that citizens “do something about it” on their own rather than wait out authorities). He notes the ineptitude of agencies to act on tips provided to them in the recent Parkland, Florida shootings, and the shocking reality of a professional armed guard hired to protect a school who simply didn’t act.

Exactly. These often-suggested measures to protect public spaces – background checks, reporting suspicious behavior, and placing “good guys with guns” in vulnerable places – can be important measures, but will always face human error.  A person suffering mental issues can fool everyone, and have no problems passing background checks. A parent or friend might think it impossible that this person they know, even if troubled, could actually shoot an innocent human being. An overwhelmed worker could mistakenly judge one of his or her many cases as non-credible. And if all of these checks fail, and a shooting does occur, armed personnel could, for whatever reason, be completely in the wrong place and have no impact in stopping the perpetrator.

One sure way to keep guns out of the hands of those who will use them to do evil is to eliminate the guns. At least to eliminate the ones that cause the most harm the fastest, with no other apparent purpose but to do just that.

Jan Regan


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The demons in our midst

The backstories to tonight’s Mastodon concert at Rochester’s Main Street Armory run deep.

It’s called one of the world’s top heavy-metal bands, but Mastodon is actually a genre-bending rock and prog quartet whose seven albums often reach for expansive themes, and the demons in our midst. Based in Atlanta, it features two musicians, drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher, who graduated through the ’90s Rochester indie-music scene, most notably with the quirky metal band Lethargy.

It’s hard to tell whether success comes with a price, or if it’s just life, but Kelliher damn near drank himself to death. Mastodon’s 2009 album Crack the Skye was inspired, in part, by the suicide of Dailor’s 14-year-old sister, Skye. And the band’s latest album, Emperor of Sand, strikes a new theme: A collection of songs heavily influenced by cancer that has touched the band. Kelliher’s mother died of a brain tumor, Dailor’s mother has been undergoing chemotherapy for years, and bassist Troy Sanders’ wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

And there’s this. One of the tour’s supporting acts is Eagles of Death Metal, which evolved out of a put-down of a band that Josh Homme, a guitarist with Queens of the Stone Age, considered to be a little too tame to be called death metal. So the joke became a band, then a tragedy: Eagles of Death Metal was playing a sold-out show at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November of 2015 when terrorists entered the theater and began randomly shooting people. Eighty-nine were killed, including the band’s merchandise manager, in a coordinated series of attacks that including suicide bombs, claiming the lives of 130 people and injuring 368 more. Homme rarely tours with Eagles of Death Metal, and was not at Bataclan that night; but co-founder Jesse Hughes was there, with the band escaping out a back door of the club. ISIS claimed credit for the attacks.

The Bataclan tragedy was followed in May of this year by a suicide bomber, inspired by Islamist extremism, who blew himself up after an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and injuring 250. And then came last week’s massacre in Las Vegas at a Jason Aldean country-music concert, leaving 58 people dead and injuring 489. That one was carried out by an American citizen; a terrorist attack with no known motivation.

The stories of these distant tragedies are often accompanied by a collection the pictures of the victims, a yearbook page of death.

The details are often different when large crowds come under attack. In Nice, France, an ISIS sympathizer driving a truck down a sidewalk killed 77 people. In Norway, a right-wing extremist planted a bomb in Oslo, killing eight people and injuring at least 209 when it exploded. He then went to a youth camp, shooting to death 69 people and injuring 110, many of them teenagers.

Will we no longer gather as a community for concerts, or a stroll down the sidewalk on a beautiful summer evening? The commonality in all of these acts of violence against society is fear. The perpetrators – be it extremist politics or the infamous “disgruntled former employee” – want to bring daily life to a calamitous halt. And after the bodies are counted, we see fear again. Fear as a legislative tool.

The Second Amendment is a difficult piece of grammar to interpret. Here it is, in its entirety:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The historical context is important. The Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of all Americans to carry automatic weapons. The Founding Fathers, of course, never heard of such a thing. If the notion had struck Ben Franklin, the Battle of Bunker Hill might have had quite a different conclusion. The Second Amendment simply calls for “a well regulated Militia.” And in the 21st century, militias are as relevant as stagecoach drivers.

Yet we’re stuck with a large sector of the country that believes that the safety of his family, and the preservation of his country, is in the hands of a well-armed man.

A well-armed white man. Because consider that same person’s reaction to a well-armed black man, or a well-armed Muslim man. That changes the argument, exposing the roots of the fear.

Cancer kills far more Americans than foreign terrorists. Yet while we crank up spending on our military, there are proposals before Congress now that will remove Americans’ access to proper health care. Should we deport legislators who are behind this threat to our lives? Perhaps you have encountered the statistic that more Americans are killed by their furniture falling on them than are killed by terrorists. Yet we hear no one calling for the deporting of Ikea.

We can’t outlaw trucks, we can’t prevent some angry person from stopping at the hardware store on his way home from work and buying the materials he needs to make a bomb. Instructions can be found in right-wing publications or on the internet. Something big and dangerous will always be at hand. In the larger picture, our leaders are unwilling to tackle the admittedly difficult task of changing the culture of violence. Something that won’t be accomplished in our lifetimes, but a beginning that we owe to the future.

A comment I heard a day or two after the Las Vegas shootings is such events, while tragic, are the price we pay for the Second Amendment. That argument didn’t seem to get too far; I don’t know many people who are willing to surrender their lives for your right to own a gun. No one wants to die from a random bullet fired by a sportsman from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

No, the argument we’ve returned to is: “If we give up guns, only criminals will have guns.”

Think about that for a moment. If we give up guns, only criminals will have guns… If we give up guns, only criminals will have guns… If we give up guns, only criminals will have guns…

That would make them easier to spot, wouldn’t it?

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