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Swept up in turbulent waters, attacked with killer tomatoes

Oh no, Scott Regan is playing John Prine’s “Lake Marie” on “Open Tunings,” his morning radio show on WRUR-FM (88.5). That song always makes me cry.

“We were standing, standing by peaceful waters….”

Damn. Sniff.

So yeah, I’ve been on blog sabbatical for a while. Reading, listening to music, walking the dog. But I’ve had absolutely nothing to add to the public discourse over the last month or two. That shouting, antagonistic, barbaric yawp of people sliding into the abyss that inevitably claims all of us. The Etruscans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Manson Family…

These are times that make my brain hurt. But I did continue to scribble notes on scraps of paper. Which I now unload, here, as an unreliable document of the past couple of months.

My respect for COVID over the past two years has led to a dramatically reduced social calendar. The biggest negative? I’ve been watching more television. That Applebee’s commercial with the cowboy swinging his Levis-clad butt in my face was forcing me to re-think my pledge to not throw heavy objects at the TV screen. Thankfully, over the last week, that commercial seems to have receded into whatever marketing hell it came from.

Not incidentally, the best show I’ve discovered during the COVID TV era is a low-fi Canadian faux-dramedy, “Trailer Park Boys.” Anything that depicts humans as irredeemably stupid gets my Emmy Awards vote.

When I heard about it the next morning, I didn’t know what to make of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. Judging by the high degree of attention it was receiving in the media, this was big, big news. And two days afterward, a sports gambling company piled on, reporting that geotagged Twitter data showed 41 states supported Rock and nine states were behind Smith.

I have thought long and hard about this. Emerging from the fog with thoughts such as: With Russia invading Ukraine, do Will Smith and Chris Rock even matter?

I just keep repeating to myself…

“Peaceful waters. Standing by peaceful waters.”

I read a review of the recent release of the final book of Simon Gray’s four-volume “The Complete Smoking Diaries.” For true completists, those books are, “The Smoking Diaries,” “The Year of the Jouncer,” “The Last Cigarette” and now “Coda.” From the reviews I’ve read, Gray’s memoir quartet sounds a lot like Marcel Proust’s seven-volume “In Search of Lost Time,” which we used to call “Remembrance of Things Past.” Here’s a review from The Guardian of Gray’s first book in the series, when it was first published in 2004:

It’s perfectly possible to take Simon Gray’s diaries for just what they seem to be: a grouchy-hearted, grimly comic rant against the world by a playwright in his mid-60s who finds himself neglected by the modern theatre, unable on pain of death to drink a drop of his former daily three bottles of champagne, and obliged to confront the ineluctable mortality of his friends and therefore of himself. ‘The Smoking Diaries’ is a lament for the sorrows of growing old, of finding oneself stranded in a place from which there is already no return.

Ineluctable. Or, inescapable, inevitable. As a writer in his mid-60s who finds himself neglected, I am a moth ineluctably drawn to this flame.

Here’s a cocktail napkin on which I’ve scribbled “Food Insecurity,” “Underserved” and a third word that’s been blurred out by a crescent of red wine from the bottom edge of a wine glass. This looks like it came out of a conversation about feel-good euphemisms. Food insecurity is when people are starving, which should not happen in a nation of rich people. Underserved is when minorities can’t have access to decent schools or health care. Which, again, should not happen in a nation of rich people.

On another scrap I find this:

“The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.”

– Marcel Duchamp

Duchamp died in 1968. Was he predicting any artists living today must rid themselves of the artificial propellant of social media? Or did he mean today’s great artists might as well pick out an unoccupied piece of land and dig themselves a shallow grave?

Of course, I write down everything this guy says:

“I think inside every song there are other songs. But I also think, inside your voice, there are other voices that you have yet to discover and that’s kind of why you are here.”

– Tom Waits

And inside every comment is a lie. And other lies that we have yet to discover. And that’s kind of why I am here. My more-recent notes grow increasingly dark. There’s a list of names that basically asks: These people are transparently lying, how do they get away with it?

It’s like dialogue from a political satire. Marjorie Taylor Greene denying she had called for martial law to overturn Trump’s election defeat, despite the presence of an email in which she irrefutably suggests the answer might be in declaring “Marshall Law.”

Or The New York Times reporting that, in a private meeting, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California warned his Republican colleagues that their inflammatory comments might get people hurt or killed, and he was going to call Trump and suggest he resign. McCarthy insisted that story was “totally false and wrong.” And then, oops, here come the audio tapes of McCarthy, proving the Times story is totally true and correct.

Political satire isn’t always funny. Politi-tag this Twitter data and we’ll see it’s largely conservatives backing a notion borrowed from “Fahrenheit 451.” They’re calling for book burning, including high school math books.

Something’s not adding up here. Who are these nimrods, how did they get into positions of power? It’s the media as well, and voices like Laura Ingraham, attacking President Biden’s proposal of student loan forgiveness. She tweeted, “My mom worked as a waitress until she was 73 to help pay for our college.” It apparently escapes the Fox News Harpie that Dear Old Mom working way past retirement age to pay off her kids’ college tuitions might be a sign that something’s wrong with our system of higher education.

And what about the act of throwing a tomato at a presidential candidate? Asked about comments he made in 2016 about that possibility, Trump, the man who would go on to be the leader of the free world, raised this horror in a court deposition released just this week: “You can get killed with those things.”

Attack of the killer tomatoes.

I just keep repeating to myself…

“Peaceful waters. Standing by peaceful waters.”

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.

Is this land still your land?

As a child, all of the adults who surrounded you, towered over you, said the same thing: Never lie. Lying is wrong.

In elementary school, you joined your classmates in singing:

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

If you attended Sunday school, perhaps you heard that one of Jesus’ teachings was the riches of earth are temporary, that we should be seeking spiritual treasures rather than a private jet with your name emblazoned on the side.

And in your junior high history or social studies classes, you likely heard about the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

So what’s happened to all of that? We have a mentally unstable president who each day issues a torrent of demonstrably disprovable lies, while he lives a life of privilege built on corruption. We live in a land that was not made for you and me, but was made for the rich. And when people who yearn to breathe free come to our borders, we chase them away.

In our adult world, we do not live up to the standards that were set for us when we were young. Perhaps the United States never lived up to those standards, and we’re simply paying lip service to a vision of society that makes us feel better, but doesn’t actually exist.

It’s either over for Trump, or it’s over for us. Everywhere we turn, virtually every day now, we find smoking guns. Big ones. To quote Dirty Harry Callahan, his week’s revelations have been the equivalent of “this being a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”

We’re out of luck. Since the first speculation that Russia may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, I wondered: How would the Russians even know where to concentrate their efforts to affect the outcome? Wednesday we learned that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, turned over campaign polling information to Russian citizens connected to the Russian government. What other possible reason is there for Manafort to do that, other than the Trump campaign was asking the Russians for help in defeating Hillary Clinton?

It’s called collusion. Treason, even.

You may call me naive, and insist that the world is a dangerous place full of terrorists, and the end justifies all means. I will call you delusional. All of these lies and all of this corruption and contempt for science and facts isn’t making us any safer. In fact, the new landscape of chaos and crisis is tearing apart our elections, our democracy, our trust in our leadership, and our trust in each other.   

Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” actually had alternate versions over the years. It was re-written by Guthrie many times, verses were added, then eliminated. He wanted the song to project the right balance of warning against unchecked authority, yet faith in the common people.

And so it is, in this – yet another version – of an amusingly prescient verse written by Guthrie, a version I found yesterday on the internet:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;

Sign was painted, it said private property;

But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;

This land was made for you and me.

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.

People who lie to you think you’re stupid

On this morning’s dog walk, I noticed that the neighbors across the street have already taken down their New York Yankees flag after last night’s loss. They’ve replaced it with a Buffalo Bills flag. Which seems to be an invitation to yet more heartbreak.

Around the corner we walk, to the next street, where a Trump flag is flying over one of the houses.

People lie for many reasons. Greed, spitefulness, jealousy. Self preservation, as in “I don’t know honey, I must have caught it from a toilet seat.” Or self-aggrandizement, as in any discussion that involves golf scores. Lies are often a need to cover inadequacies, fill in a vacuum in the liar’s life. We lie to ourselves: “I’ll start working out next week.” Sometimes, we even lie to be nice: “No George, one more beer won’t make your ass look too big.” Lying is so much a part of our society that we often don’t even think much about it when we hear one.

But we should. Liars lie because they believe they’re smarter than you. They think you’re too dumb to catch them. And while many lies are harmless and easy to dismiss, some are not.

Donald Trump.

I have never seen anything like this. Trump is like a character from a Ring Lardner short story. It’s not just the sheer volume of lies that this guy spins. It’s the willingness of so many people to simply dismiss what’s happening as politics as usual.

This past week was a typical White House week, with a handful of crises, mostly self-created, at which we can marvel. Let’s recap one:

On Monday, Trump was asked why he hadn’t commented on four American soldiers killed in Niger nearly two weeks earlier. He claimed he had written letters to their families and that they would be mailed that day or the next, as though all presidential correspondence is simply tossed into a U.S. Post Office mailbox, in the same way as you or I would send a birthday card.

He added that previous presidents rarely sent letters or made calls to the families of American soldiers killed in action. Trump was implying that his empathy for their sacrifice was far greater. People who had worked for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama immediately refuted that comment; both had been quite active in consoling grieving families. Lie No. 1 exposed.

It kept getting worse. Trump claimed he had called “virtually” all of the families who had lost a member in service to our country since he took office. True, if “virtually” all means less than half. Meanwhile, an email surfaced which showed that hours after Trump made his claim, the White House asked the Pentagon for the names of all of the U.S. servicemen who have died since January, and contact information for their families. If Trump had already contacted the families, why did the White House need their names and contact info? By the end of the week, those families began receiving rush-delivered condolence letters from Trump. Lie No. 2 exposed.

Trump called the widow of one of the four soldiers and, in his familiar ham-handed manner, told her that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.” She was understandably shocked at his lack of empathy. As were an aunt and a family friend, Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who were listening in on speakerphone. When Wilson gave her account of the conversation, Trump immediately announced Wilson had “totally fabricated what I said,” and also claimed to have proof. Of course, just as Trump had once claimed his investigators had found proof that Obama was not born in Hawaii, the proof that Wilson had lied also did not emerge. Lie No. 3 exposed.

In serious need of damage control, the White House sent Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to the media. Kelly is a sympathetic figure, his own son was killed in Afghanistan. Kelly said Trump had merely mangled the talking point he was delivering to the soldier’s widow (thereby admitting Trump had indeed said those words, exposing lie No. 4). Then Kelly went on the usual Trump White House tactic of diversion, claiming that Rep. Wilson was “selfish” and had falsely claimed in a speech that she was responsible for the federal funding of a new FBI building in her district. Of course, a video of Wilson’s speech then turned up. She said no such thing, but instead talked about her role in naming the building after two FBI agents who had been killed. Lie No. 5, with a direct line connected to Trump, exposed.

And that’s just one of this week’s White House crises. That’s not even getting into the Puerto Rico hurricane recovery fiasco, the heath-care scramble, the national debate over sexual harassment and more news on the Trump campaign and administration’s Russia connection.

Trump has no redeeming qualities. He is uninformed and mentally unstable. He is a man whose gilded course in life was launched with a $1 million gift from Daddy. How many of us got that kind of break and squandered it as a racist, bigot, misogynist and liar?

Yet that guy on the next street is still flying his Trump flag.

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