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When worlds collide

The view from behind The Spring Chickens.

A few months ago, I was complaining to My Friend Alayna that, “Everyone wants me to write for them, but…”

She finished my sentence: “No one wants to pay you. Now you know how local bands feel.”

I don’t mind being thought of in that company, as long as I can feed my dog. But the freelance life is tough. One week in October, I put $4,000 in the bank. The next week, nothing. The week after that, nothing…

It’s the never knowing what’s going to happen next month, next week, that gets to you, while waiting for one of the non-existent jobs I’ve been talking to people about to suddenly appear. So I’ve taken a job elsewhere. At Record Archive. It’s a temporary thing. I’m helping them during a busy holiday, they’re putting some money in my pocket and adding some structure to my life.

This comes after taking a step back and spending a few weeks evaluating the world. I stopped blogging, even. Haven’t done one since – looks like since Oct. 21 – while… well, while just dealing with it.

This should have felt like a triumphant year. The first year in my life that I’ve actually sold a book, 22 Minutes, to be published next spring (See the Oct. 17 blog entry on that below). All year long, I’ve been doing what I want to do, write. Freelancing for WXXI and others. Writing for myself.

But there’s a shadow over every word. It’s been a lousy year. When worlds collide, that’s when we really feel the fragility of existence.

It’s more than this Trump thing. The daily barrage of outrages and lies from our president and his White House communications team, led by its human spit valve, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Reducing the United States to stooge for the world’s despots. For years, I thought I lived in a country that set a high moral standard for the rest of the world. But, no. Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who lived in this country and wrote for The Washington Post, was murdered by a 15-man hit squad from Saudi Arabia, and our president’s reaction was: “Meh…” Rejecting his own intelligence reports, and accepting a Saudi argument that the journalist was “an enemy of the state,” Trump argues that such atrocities are acceptable, if they keep down the price of a barrel of oil. And because the Saudis are good clients of our weapons industry.

That’s an economic policy with limits. If Trump were offered a deal that having his fingers and head cut off, and his body dismembered and disposed of, would assure low prices for Americans at the gas pump, I don’t think he’d go for it.

It’s been a lousy year because I looked at the news this morning and saw that America continues down its intolerant path, tear gassing children and their parents at the border. People who are seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.

It’s been a lousy year because, even though I was laid off by the Democrat and Chronicle 14 months ago and have negative feelings about the place, I still have good friends who work there, and I consider newspapers to be essential to our society. But the company continues to implode. A week ago, buyouts were offered to some of the newsroom’s veteran staff members. Its slick grocery-store product, Rochester Magazine, publishes its last issue next month. The downward spiral cannot be halted.

It’s also been a lousy year because I was driving home one afternoon and, maybe 200 yards from my house, I came across a motorcyclist lying dead in the middle of Lake Avenue, killed just seconds before I showed up. Almost every time I come to that spot in the street, which is virtually every day, I think about it.

It’s been a lousy year because a handful of friends are now battling serious illnesses. And some have died.

My wonderful mother-in-law, Helen, died in October. She was 94. Perhaps you saw her out with Margaret and I over the last couple of years. Until just a few months ago, she was hanging out with us for shows at The Little Café, going out to dinner with us, celebrating birthdays and New Year’s Eve with friends.

Here’s one thing that helps gets you through the tough times: Music. We held a celebration of life for Helen on a Sunday afternoon at The Little Café. Friends made the food. Musicians played. First the Spring Chickens: Scott Regan, Connie Deming and Steve Piper. By the time Maeve and Ben Mac An Tuile were singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the place was packed. Then Dick Storms and Tony Valle, joined by Sarah Long Hendershot, singing “Summertime.” One of my favorite songs. Throughout the music, I was looking around the room. And saw people weeping. Me too.

And then I saw a room filled with friends loudly chattering away, laughing. The pain was gone, the music did it.

Now I’m starting my second week at Record Archive. I have a mixed bag of skills to offer. I cleaned a toilet my first week. Some of my co-workers – the Archive seems to have a strict “No Assholes” hiring policy – were shocked that I had never before touched a cash register. But I have vast experience with the alphabet, a primary consideration when filing CDs.

And it puts me in a roomful of music once again. I needed that.

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.

Trump shows us his space junk

Hey kids! Vote for your favorite Space Force logo and win a prize! Prizes like a chance – slim, but still a chance – for you and your family’s survival in the event of an intergalactic showdown between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys!

“Space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea,” President Donald Trump said last March in a speech at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. “We may even have a Space Force … because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said: ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force.’ And I was not really serious. And then I said: ‘What a great idea! Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”

And that’s how momentous decisions are made. “I was not really serious… What a great idea!” Yet Trump’s announcement this week that he is ordering the creation a new arm of the American military to fight our future space wars has been roundly ridiculed, and deservedly so. Ridiculed not only by late-night TV comedians, but by military experts, including generals with serious scowls on their faces. That’s quite a range of mockery.

Vice President Mike Pence chimed in to defend our defense, calling for America to dominate outer space. Dominate! “Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces,” he said, “to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people and to our nation.”

We must protect our satellites, Pence said, from Russian and Chinese aggression. And I assume this means our military architects must hit the drafting boards to design menacing-looking space ships to defend our GPS signals and the colonies that we will establish as we venture to far-flung planets whose gravity is so powerful that carbon molecules falling through their atmospheres are squeezed into rains of diamonds. If there are riches to be mined, America must have them.

Impressionable children, the ones who will have to deal with the consequences of these actions, can be won over early with the ideas of cool-looking Space Force uniforms. And the emails from the Trump For President in 2020 campaign office calling for a vote on your favorite of six Space Force logos.

But most of us are not impressionable children. Our Darth Vader leadership needs to understand that the cosmos is not just the 21st-century version of Columbus sailing to the West Indians and writing in his journals that Europeans have to keep coming back, because there are plenty of native people there to be enslaved. There is accepted international space law. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 outlaws nuclear weapons and prevents any country from claiming ownership of the moon or any planet, reserving them for peaceful purposes. It has been signed by 107 countries, including the U.S. and Russia. Another 23, including China, agreed to the treaty after the closing of the signing period.

Of course, the world has taken note of the Trump administration’s disregard for any signed treaty it decides was a “bad deal.” So maybe The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has been rendered irrelevant by Presidential Whim. “What a great idea!”

Despite the combative attitudes of the United States and Russia, our scientists and their scientists are already working together on the International Space Station. While Putin and Trump are exerting their malevolence on the planet, science and cooler heads are at work high overhead.

Robert Heinlein’s future was Starship Troopers. We don’t want that. We need to be working in the other direction. All of this outer-space ambition is coming from an administration that can’t get things done closer to home, like putting hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico back together, or getting clean water to the people of Flint, Michigan.

The Space Force won’t happen. Trump can’t just sign an executive order to make it happen; the last time a new arm of the military was created was 1947 and the U.S. Air Force. That was done by Congress, not President Truman. And who pays for it? In searching the internet, I stumbled on this comforting and amusing logic in a Pentagon in-house journal, Defense AT&L Magazine, a piece written by Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward:

In the Star Wars universe, robots are self-aware, every ship has its own gravity, Jedi Knights use the Force, tiny green Muppets are formidable warriors and a piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But even the florid imagination of George Lucas could not envision a project like the Death Star coming in on time, on budget.

It is craziness – a Space Force, building a wall between the United States and Mexico – designed as distraction. Whether he’s targeting immigrants, Democrats, the media, the FBI, the CIA or his own cabinet, Trump is running out of Bad Guys to distract us from what’s going on: The most corrupt U.S. presidential administration, a gang of grifters, is going down. Because when this is all done, it’ll be worse than Watergate.

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 new urgency in Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day. A holiday that calls attention to the fact that it’s been a year since we’ve had a president.

The United States is falling apart.

We should be united in the idea that we must act against guns in this country. “Thoughts and prayers” are useless. After the latest, not the last, mass killing at a school, every argument presented by pro-gun people is thoroughly refuted by common sense. You say mass shootings are the work of the mentally ill? Where are the mentally ill mass assassins in other nations – Great Britain, Canada, Australia – with the good sense to make assault rifles as illegal as lawn darts? You ask, mockingly, why don’t we make trucks illegal, since terrorists have used them to run over innocent people on crowded streets? Trucks are designed to move freight, AK-47s are designed to kill humans.

You say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun? We need to flip the culture, and accept the reality: The overwhelming history of the world tells us that guns are evil. Maybe you’re an honest deer hunter, but because you stayed silent as the gun culture spiraled out of control, you are complicit in these tragedies. We no longer need guns to put food on the table. That’s what grocery stores are for.

And on and on it goes.

We should be united in the idea that racism is evil. Instead, we are divided by racists emboldened by a racist in the White House.

We should be united in the idea that sexual harassment and assault is evil. Instead, it is excused by a man in the White House who himself has faced convincing charges of harassment and assault.

We should be united in the idea that, in the richest country in the world, every citizen should have access to affordable health care. Instead, we have a man in the White House who is working to reverse that right.

We should be united in the acceptance of science. Instead, we have a climate-change denier in the White House.

We should be united in the understanding that no adult can support a family on the current minimum wage. Instead, massive corporations grow richer and richer on the backs of an abused working class, thanks to the economic policies of the man in the White House.

We should be united in the idea that Americans want clean air and water, safe working conditions and national parks celebrating the grandeur of our landscape. Instead, those protections are being stripped away by the man in the White House.

We should be united in the belief that a great nation is defined by how it treats its most-vulnerable citizens. Instead, the House of Representatives has just passed a bill that damages the Americans With Disabilities Act’s mission to help a disabled citizen use legal representation to fight for equal access to businesses and other facilities. Without a tweet of protest from the man in the White House.

We should be united in the idea that a foreign nation should not be allowed to meddle in our election process. Instead, we have a man in the White House who seems to have no interest in preventing this from happening again. Because he knows he’ll need those foreign agents again in 2020.

We should be appalled that the First Amendment is under attack by the demagogue in the White House who is too absorbed in protecting his own interests to understand the role of the press in preserving American democracy.

We should be united in the idea that this is a nation united by truths, but truth has been bent into unrecognizable shapes by the liar in the White House.

We should be united in the demand that the man who occupies the White House not shatter our moral compass.

And on and on it goes.

Happy Presidents Day. A day set aside to celebrate our greatest leaders. And today, a holiday reminding us that we don’t have one.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

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