CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Aquarian Weekly
3/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion

CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE 
Or…The Death of Choice in The Cyber Age

I live in a fortified compound in the mountains. It is my life choice, well, my wife’s and mine. I choose only to live an urban or rural existence. I want to be either lost in a sea of humanity or invisible in nature. Splendid, if I may, dear Warren, isolation. Suburbia is not for me…or us. As a consequence, we do not have broadband up here yet. Therefore, if we want access to the Internet – let that read, phones, web service, television, ANYTHING…we need to use Cablevision. If you are unfamiliar with this company, it’s because they choose to go by the “hideout” title of Optimum. Why? Mainly, because they suck, and their owner is a bleating troll of a man and his family is the vermin that have single-handedly destroyed the NY Knicks. But that is for another column. For now, we concentrate on this monopoly and how it is wholly unconstitutional. 

So, how come it exists?

Well, you say, there is plenty of unconstitutional shit that exists: income tax, health insurance monopolies, bullshit drug laws, the Patriot fucking Act, but that is not bothering me now. This is. So stick your “what abouts…” somewhere and follow along. 

Recently, I was mere days late with a payment to Cablevision. It was the first time since the 1980s and certainly for the first time since I have been at my current address here in the mountains that this has occurred. But I noticed a ten-dollar charge on my current bill as a consequence of this heinous faux paus. Now, I’m a big boy and I take what I have coming…mostly. I am willing to pay my due for tardiness or driving into a temporary police barrier or for the bizarre things I did in Freeport, Bahamas lo those many years ago. However, I did have a point here. 

You see, in the weeks after the Hurricane Sandy recovery, I entered a debate with the upper regions of management at Cablevision on how ten days of non-service should be deducted from my bill. They disagreed, claiming, perhaps quite rightly, that circumstances being as they are, a natural disaster dictated that they could not provide service. To refute this sidetracking, I actually used the example that would come to befall me this week: “Well, I bet, that if I were late ten days with my monthly payment, I would suffer the consequences.” They hemmed and hawed with that, never mentioning that for a late payment (one day or one month) there is a charge. 

And so, I went hard at Cablevision this week, who, predictably hid behind some poor woman from India, who answered my complaints with great aplomb. Although it was nearly impossible to understand her apologizing and saying she could do nothing about the charge due to her heavy accent. Despite this, I tried to explain that for three-plus decades I have been duly paying my bills promptly without fail, and shouldn’t there be a special dispensation for loyal, on-time late bill payers? “Sorry, sir…” was how each of her tack answers, clearly read from some sheet, began. 

You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service.

I asked, as is my wont, for several supervisors, but not surprisingly none came. What may have been surprising to the woman halfway across the globe was I patiently waited for nearly 45 minutes for one of these cowards to emerge and handle my growing recalcitrance. The hearty customer service woman even stayed on the phone with me and after a time too became a little miffed. 

You know who gets away with this shit? Companies that have a monopoly.

You know how I know Cablevision does not care if I am screwed around or to even give me an audience to my complaint?

Allow me to demonstrate…

I thanked the woman and offered my condolences for the unforgiving gig she had to perform and proceeded to check and see what other providers of the Internet I may procure.

Spoiler alert: There are none.

Actually, that is not entirely true. Verizon (after several and varied calls to them and enduring its rather cumbersome web site experience) finally offered my home a direct DSL line, only if I would commit to two years with them and accepted their TV package, which I do not need. I just want Internet, and quality Internet. I have two girls at home, helping me clog up four devices and three televisions, who would skin me alive if they had to suffer sub-par Internet speed. DSL would not cut it. So, really, it is partially true that I cannot find competition for high-speed Internet in the Jersey mountains, a mere 34 miles from the biggest city and largest media center on planet earth. Not to mention residing in a country that busted monopolies in the early 20th century.

My quandary, of which I stated to the overly bubbly representative from Verizon named Ethan, was “I would as soon as pay a homeless man to stand on my lawn with a rusty antennae than to hand over another dime to the veracious monstrosity that is Cablevision, however I cannot live for five minutes on DSL with my daughter’s Herculean tick-tock output and the constant stream of anti-Trump rhetoric blasting from every monitor in the house.” 

This was vexing to say the very least. The amount of hate and rage that filled my otherwise dormant heart over ten bucks may seem like abject craziness to you, but at that moment it was to be my Alamo.

So…?

I finally swallowed hard and manned up. Calling into Cablevision with the express purpose of ending my relationship with this demon corporation and begin extricating myself from the soul-crushing grid had become a moral imperative. This had transformed from a meager customer/company spat into Armageddon.

Strangely, but maybe not so much, the phone prompt wait is next to nothing when one chooses “Ceasing Service”. The voice on the other end sounds as if it were down the block and not in the Middle East. It is warming and congenial and did not ever respond to my whining with anything less than empathy. The name, blessedly, of this avenging angel was Jessica, who even echoed my sentiments with a positive, “Oh, yeah,” when I mentioned that in this day and age Internet service is as important as heat and electricity (well maybe not electricity, since you need electricity to get the WiFi going, but still). And this sweetly accommodating soul not only waved the wicked ten-dollar late fee, but duly discounted my bill the same tenner in perpetuity.

Suddenly, miraculously, my anger was assuaged, and I was $130 richer. 

Who cares? is how you would correctly respond if you read most of this piece. You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service, you might say. And you would be correct. But, come on, DSL? What year is this? And how can my girls handle an entire Sunday without adorable cat videos on YouTube or how can I get through a day without Tweeting something horrible?

So, I guess, let’s look into this appalling stain on our liberties at a later date and excuse me while I order something I definitely do not need on Amazon.  

Read More

ENOUGH WITH FOX NEWS

Aquarian Weekly
3/20/19

Reality Check

James Campion


ENOUGH WITH FOX NEWS

Most columns that begin with “I never do this” and then the columnist goes on to do it is total bullshit. And yet, here I go: I hardly ever comment on other news outlets or media in general in this space. I think over the nearly 23 years of penning Reality Check I may have dedicated an entire column on matters of media once or twice, and mostly it was in a mocking capacity and scarcely worth noting. When I do make passing critiques on the silliness of cable news or morning shows or the way-too-easy-target talk radio crap-fest, it is merely in the service of a larger point – however rambling or meaningless said point. But today I am forced to comment on FOX News merely because it is suddenly embroiled in a first amendment issue, the likes of which I have spent a lifetime interpreting, and in most cases, defending to its most precious core.

Recently, the Democratic Party has refused FOX News’ request to host any of its presidential candidate debates. This is, of course, the privilege of the party, as it can find any outlet to do so, but the reasoning has gone beyond the right-leaning channel’s penchant to be overly critical and sometimes rancorous towards the party and its liberal platform as a matter of principle over coverage. Party chairman, Tom Perez, issued a statement this week that the cable news outlet “is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.”

Now, normally, I would take issue with this. Mainly because words like “fair” are quite subjective and downright arbitrary and don’t belong in a serious political discussion and the very idea of “neutral” is at worst nebulous and at best in the eye of the beholder. Hate speech, liberal or conservative ideas, broad mayhem set beside intellectual exchanges all fall under the right to free speech and a free press. However, it has become increasingly disturbing how much FOX News has acted as a state-run propaganda wing of the White House in the past two years, specifically in the past 14 months. So much so that it must be finally stated that what has become of the already marred FOX News brand over the past decades has reached an untenable level of subjective glad-handing and worse still a direct link to governance. Therefore, it can no longer be looked upon as anything resembling a news source. It is for intents and purposes the kind of bizarro shit you see on YouTube or read on Facebook or listen to at the end of the bar around 3:15 am, and once again (yikes!) working as an unelected branch of the federal government.

recent study by New Yorker magazine has fully revealed the length and breadth of the damage FOX News has done to what was already loosely being sold as journalism. The exposé brilliantly researched and written by respected investigative reporter, Jane Mayer, with a myriad of inside sources, is beyond damning. It lays out a systemic pattern of back-and-forth sharing between Donald Trump and its public employees of information, suggested policy and agenda formats for U.S. public and international policy, and a measure of cover-ups on legitimate stories of executive branch crimes and misleading and/or alternate reality concepts peddled as facts.

It appears when the public elects a product of television – and its shortcuts to reasoning and immediate gratification of response, extrapolated in the concussive mendacity of Twitter and most of the Internet – there are consequences. It appears the choice of this president to use one singular communication tool posing as “news” to both figure governing techniques and ideologies, and to have those echoed back to him as if a cheerleading squad, and then promote fiction as a narrative to have it reported as fact, thus creating new fictions, is both stupid and dangerous.    

You have to go back to early 20thcentury Randolph Hearst level of journalistic corruption to equal the well-organized presidential publicity machine FOX has become

Now, to be fair (fair?), there is – and the New Yorker is as guilty of this as any – an alternate argument that much of what comes from commentary or coverage on the liberal side has also been queer and icky and at times downright lunacy. I used to watch FOX as my role here dictates to digest all the areas of coverage until I started to experience a dramatic shift in merely defending this president or stretching the credulity of an argument into pretzels as an insult to my intelligence. But I also watch MSNBC and can report that while it is the oft-times overly enthusiastic opposition wing of this edict, and it goes beyond the pale in setting up scenarios (much like FOX during the Obama administration) giving hope to the resistance that soon there will be impeachments and all the stuff that riles up the bases on both sides, it has never directly influenced presidential policy. You have to go back to early 20thcentury Randolph Hearst level of journalistic corruption to equal the well-organized presidential publicity machine FOX has become wherein hosts of shows, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and FOX & Friends, which even those within the Donald Trump orbit have admitted the president is both obsessed with and educated by, have crossed the barrier normally set up for purported news organizations.

The most egregious example of this is the recent furor over an emergency at the nation’s southern border, which has been roundly refuted by those actually controlling the border and every other news organization. Again, there are many in the Republican Party and even the White House staff who see the entire episode as classic Trump hyperbole, but by in large has received legitimate “coverage” on FOX News, including the election-period nonsense about invading caravans of illegal alien criminals, and the completely made up figures of drug trafficking, et al. Whether the argument about border security is lacking or is fine or whatever is up for debate, but a crisis? No. Yet it is covered as such by FOX, which is regurgitating the paranoid musings of a lunatic as a legitimate story. Either way it is not news and therefore cannot be considered a source of news. In the end, it cannot be allowed to do newsy things like moderate debates.

Bill Sammon, managing editor of Fox News’s Washington bureau, recently referenced poor Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Shepard Smith and Martha MacCallum as those who “embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism.” This is true in the sense that those are sincere reporters who find themselves besmirched by their affiliation with this clown show. Problem is if they are truly pros they would not only quit FOX but go on a pilgrimage to stop these embarrassingly pro-Trump-or bust tactics. They can stay if they wish. I shall not. And apparently those not named Donald Trump, who have a choice to be covered by legitimate news outlets, will not either. And who can blame them?

Enough with FOX News.

Read More

TRUMP vs KIM II

Aquarian Weekly
3/6/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP vs KIM II
This Time It’s More Stupid & Just as Meaningless


I know much should not be expected from a game show host posing as president, but this one takes the cake – even for The Donald. How he was now twice suckered by this fat little shit heel in North Korea is beyond comprehension. The guy is pushing 73 years-old, obese, on a myriad of medications for old guys and he has to schlep halfway across the world to suck up to a dictator, offering one gushing compliment after the other and tossing around words like love as if a 1960’s soul song parody, and he gets the same thing; North Korea and Kim Jung-un have zero intentions of ceasing their nuclear capabilities or giving up their cache of weapons for America or China or anyone. Nor should he, since the last meeting between these two submentals, when they both shook hands, took photos and told everyone everything was fine, he has gone his merry way. And it appears will continue to do so.

Well, as long as Donald Trump loves him, like the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, American Enemy #1, Vladimir Putin, accused pedophiles, rapists, sexual harassers, sleazy NFL owners, and Virginia Nazis, we’re okay.  

So now, after all the pomp and blather and the usual pressers and fantastic publicity Jung-un gains from having the leader of the world’s most powerful nation fawning all over him while he continues to make a mockery of human rights, the whole thing falls apart with no deal, but plenty of finger-pointing contradictory post mortems from two lying-ass camps, and a steaming pile of embarrassment for the United States.

I don’t have to ask this question, but I will: Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic? Because it sure seemed like he and his sycophants were hinting that for months. This is after the first détente in which Trump kissed Jung-un’s ass and was certain that North Korea, shuttering in his wake, had already agreed to stop proliferating its nuclear arsenal. When his intelligence agencies, the ones he daily vilifies as if Russia’s carnival barker, showed him proof this was not in fact the case, just the opposite, that North Korea had ramped up their weapons efforts since, the president told them they were nuts and went back to eating cheeseburgers and watching FOX & Friends.

And so, entering this farce as he does everything – ill-prepared and breathing in his mind-numbing double-shots of delusion – the president was rife for being duped and duped he would be. Within hours of ramping up his heretofore woefully lacking negotiating skills, Trump bailed on the negotiations. He claims Kim-un would not budge on his weaponry (no shit) even while asking for the U.S. to lift all sanctions. Predictably, North Korea claims they would have gladly (I am sure, heh-heh) stopped their nuclear program for only a handful of lifted sanctions.

Let’s review: Lying sack of shit tyrant and the guy from North Korea both lied to each other, their own countries, and the world…again.

And while Trump was over in Viet Nam (he finally got there after his bullshit deferment during the war) lap-dogging a dictator who spat in his face and sent him home with his tail between his knees, his scumbag hood lawyer/fixer was telling the U.S. Congress what we already know – he’s a cheat, a racist and a con artist. This also bodes well for the international press, who snicker behind our amateur president’s back as he takes everything from diplomacy to government shutdowns to twitter fights with Spike Lee as performance art instead of actual governance.

But listen, unlike Trump himself, who mocked an actual working treaty with a tyrannical regime in Iran as “the worst deal ever”, I believe in trying new things with crazies, instead of the same old. So when the president was selling this idea that if he couldn’t get to Kim with nastiness and then smooching, no one can…so why not try? I did not disagree. I had doubts this moron could pull it off, but the idea was sound. Why continue to do what we’ve done for over a half century with North Korea? This was and is my point about the Iran deal, which Trump claimed to hate, while knowing nothing about it except it was conceived and executed by Democrats during the Obama Administration. Thus, in his usual spectacular level of hypocrisy he does the same thing as Obama did with Iran with Jung-un, but instead of bringing actual diplomats or representatives from the state department and written agreements that must be documented, he sits for tea and chats with a man who has him over the barrel, kicks the American press out of the room – because he knows he is getting his clocked cleaned – and then tells everyone he’s ending the proceedings.

Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic?

This hokey clusterfuck Trump has weaved in North Korea is just the tip of a foreign policy disaster he has going. Never mind the dozens of people in the defense and state departments that gave abandoned ship on this lavish foreign policy in which it is a one-man fantasy camp – as in standing next to the aforementioned Putin on foreign soil and telling the American press he believes a Russian despot over his own intelligence that Russia did not, in fact, commit a single hacking crime against our presidential election.

To wit: Standing at a press conference in Viet Nam, Trump defended Jung-un over the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died after suffering a massive brain injury while in a North Korean prison. “I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump told reporters.

This is the kind of idiocy that sent the former Defense Secretary James Mattis running for the hills. Infamously, it was Mattis who had to explain to the befuddled El Douche in January of 2017 that we need U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula “in order to prevent World War III” when Trump couldn’t grasp why we spend any money there. Later, Mattis would tell his subordinates at Defense that Trump “has the understanding of a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

This is an insult to my daughter and her friends, as I believe they would comprehend a need for defending the region, but I’ll take that up with Mattis at a later date.

But digesting these nuggets, all of this North Korea goofiness makes sense now, doesn’t it?

I am never going to assume anything with this mess of a presidency, but I would guess this will be it for the Trump/Kim love affair. Who knows if there will be more threats, vindictive nicknames or bizarre tweets, but with the Syrian situation in flux, this weird pussyfooting with Venezuela (troops in Columbia?), India and Pakistan (both nuclear powers) on the brink of war, and the powder keg Middle East, it is good to see a complete dunce has our back.

Read More

WHERE WE ARE ON WEED

Aquarian Weekly
2/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion


WHERE WE ARE ON WEED
NJ Finally Poised to Vote to Legalize, Tax & Regulate Recreational Marijuana 

You know you’re close to actual legislation when committees are being formed, with fancy titles, and taxation has numbers to it and government officials, including the governor himself are going on the record with time tables. This means, at least as it currently stands, we are as close to an actual vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of New Jersey than we have ever been, and that is pretty damn cool and about friggin’ time.

“We’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line, but I think we’re all working really hard to get this done,” Governor Phil Murphy told reporters this week, tamping down too much excitement. “We’ve said all along that this is not a light lift.”

The pulling back of expectations is also a good sign, as NJ legislators begin massaging the vote with numbers that everyone can live with. We are just about through the morality bullshit stage where people warn against blood running through the streets and a plague of frogs. We’re into reality time here (oh, if only the federal government worked in this construct) and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

With New York suddenly breathing down our necks, the Garden State needs to make this happen – beyond even the promises of Governor Murphy, who was supported in this space in 2017 for this and this only. It is a very lucrative and successful business model currently seeing a variant of successes in eleven states. But just like anything else going state-to-state without a federal law to back it up, these are vacillating experiences. Each state has taxed, regulated and policed the new laws in differing ways. In fact, some have “relaxed” restrictions now, sort of a test pattern of legislation most recently in Michigan, Utah and Missouri – in all cases the popularity of legalizing recreation weed is well over 60 percent.

Here in NJ we’re at 62 percent, but much higher among people under 50. How this is being represented by our…ahem…representatives will to be determined. The measure needs 21 votes in the Senate to pass. The conservative estimate of absolute votes on record currently is 16. The hold up on some of these potential thumbs-up votes have to deal with reaching agreements on the initial number of licenses to be distributed and how many public consumption sites would be allowed. There is also language in the latest bill which include expungements — clearing marijuana convictions from criminal records – that has to be ironed out. But perhaps the most pressing hurdle was traversed over the past month when taxation was put to rest.

Ah, yes. Taxation. This is the main reason this space had called for this measure – beyond the hypocrisy of having alcohol, sport-book gambling, bear hunts, et al being legal and a profitable substance being viewed with an early 20th century lens – is the money that could curtail the high cost of living in this state; property and school taxes being the big culprits. How lawmakers came to an agreement makes perfect sense, which scares me, because usually making sense is enough to doom any bill. “There will be a $42 excise tax on every ounce that is sold, regardless of price,” State Senator Nicholas Scutari told CBS News this week. “There will be a three-year look-back in case we need to reevaluate that because it is a possibility that the price goes down so low that $42 becomes unmanageably high.”

We’re into reality time here … and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

The reason why taxing by weight is important is the simple supply and demand shift in the pricing of a once illegal substance brought into the economic structure of a state. For instance, a Cuban cigar is somewhere in the range of $32 to $35 right now. A similar quality cigar, like my favorite, the Ashton Magnum, singularly goes for anywhere from $11 to $15. The mistake is in thinking that you’re taxing a $32 item once it is legally and thus readily available, but if the U.S. Congress were to lift the ridiculously meaningless embargo on Cuba the price of these cigars would plummet to the range of Dominican cigars (Ashton is Dominican), which are in the class, but in my estimation have not yet reached the level of quality of the Cuban. All of this, of course, effects how the cigars will be taxed.

There is not enough time to go into the ridiculously high tobacco tax here, but holy shit, man.

In essence, this kind of market shift is what happened to flat-screen TVs over the past decade-plus. What used to be a luxury item, priced as such, flooded the market and became pedestrian. And this is where the government has to be prepared to ride the decrease in price for the legalized brand of pot, as opposed to those who may still choose the black market to purchase theirs. I personally think it is silly not to since now one will know what one is actually buying.

The price of an ounce of marijuana has plummeted to half in the past year in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize it in 2014. It has reportedly generated over $5 billion in revenues for the state in the past five years, but I am not sure if Colorado legislators provided a failsafe for the free market to dictate the price, which it always will. My guess is they are getting hammered in their projections – for a good example of this see the federal government’s projections for the success (not) of the passing of the Affordable Care Act or the recent Republican tax reform law (not), which both woefully misread the actual pace of its returns. This is something governments due by rule. NJ has to be on this, and it looks like it is.

Governor Murphy originally wanted a tax closer to 25 percent, but with the tax-by-ounce agreement it will be closer to 12 percent to start. Either way the projections are good for added tax revenue immediately for the state.

All of this to say that we are close, as close as we can possibly be to getting there, but we are talking about votes and changing the laws dramatically for a controversial subject. Nevertheless, one that has rightfully been discussed in rational ways in the past half-decade leading to us profiting from it.

Hooray for the free market and democracy. Only a half century to make a plant legal.

Read More

NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT

Aquarian Weekly
2/20/19

Reality Check

James Campion


NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT
Or The Political Price For Betting On Fantasies

Let me reiterate what I wrote here one month ago nearly to the day: President Donald Trump has every legal right to declare a national emergency to procure funds (doing an end around of congress) to build a border wall for any reason he deems necessary. There is no constitutional dispute that can oppose this and any such attempt to stop it should not stand up in court. Presidents have the power to do some crazy shit. The issue is with the system, not Trump. However, supporters of the president who think this is bad precedent might be correct, since once it is in place a future Democratic president can and now most likely will (especially this leftist bunch gearing up to run in 2020) call for a national emergency on guns or climate change in 2021 should they defeat Trump in his re-election bid, assuming he makes it that far. Who knows with this nut? But the question once he does needs to be: What of the political fallout?

The 88 percent of Republicans – all that is left of Trump’s core support – who have stood strong for the president, more or less anywhere from 39 to 44 percent of the national electorate – may see this battle at the border, wholly made up by Trump, as an imperative that supersedes political consideration. In other words, if this costs him a second term, so be it. It’s that important. That is admirable. Truly. Even if there is no crisis or emergency at the border nor any of the sketchy arguments for this wall, which won’t even work for what these people want anyway, and yada yada yada, Trump ran on this nonsense and the nation (or at least a minority of them bailed out by the Electoral College) voted him in and this is what we get.

Still, the idea of building a wall along the southern border of the United States is unpopular. According to an average from PollingReport.com, somewhere in the ballpark of 67 to 70 percent of Americans oppose using their tax dollars to pay for this boondoggle. Once again, Mexico was going to pay for this. When you’re done laughing at that move along to the paltry polling average of Americans who support this national emergency maneuver; 31 percent.  That is abysmal, even considering Trump’s sad polling standards.

Again, not that it matters legally or morally or whatever crap people like to argue, this move, while wholly constitutional if not wacky, will bring consequences. And assuming Trump wants to run again, then these numbers are scary. Of course, since we all thought him doomed in 2016, his side will rightly argue we don’t know what we’re talking about. But consider this; at the current rate of popularity, no president has ever seen a second term, and some were bloodied in a primary challenge or…well, quit.

I brought up a presidential emergency thing when citing the Viet Nam conflict/police action/advisory mission/war last month. It was lunacy and a made-up crisis that was by far the worst event that was cast upon this nation since I began breathing. How did that work out for Lyndon Johnson? He quit. And well he should have. The fallout from this horrible mess was severe and rapid and it destroyed his presidency.

This move, while wholly constitutional if not wacky, will bring consequences. And assuming Trump wants to run again, then these numbers are scary.

Right now, Trump, whose national approval rating is averaged out at around 40 percent is hanging by a thread among independents – the voting block that he carried by four-percent in the autumn of 2016 and to which he has not only lost but flat-out hemorrhaged, at least for now. This was brought to bear last autumn when Republicans lost 40 seats in the House of Representatives with a whopping 12-percent of Independents abandoning the president.

No matter how you slice this – even with the mysterious non-voter/non-polled electorate that came out of the woodwork in the Rust Belt to put Trump over the top in 2016 – if these numbers hold, or, as many Republicans have predicted – go further south (no pun intended) for Trump there is virtually no way he can be re-elected. Unless, of course, he can get Hillary Clinton to run again. And I am not sure that even works out for him.

Thus, this is a bold political move for a president that has not displayed a scintilla of evidence he has a fucking clue what he is doing.

To wit: If this was a national emergency, which Trump all but announced when he threw his hat in the ring in the summer of 2015, then once he was sworn in with an overwhelming Republican majority in both houses of congress, he would have pursued the money more vigorously. He did not. Next, he could have just studied the election results from November 2018 and surmised that his enemy had just stormed the gates and been given a mandate from the American voting public to curtail him. This was duly verified by the abject failure of the Trump strategy to paint the border as a sieve and the siege evil caravan instead of trying to taut a solid economy and stem the tide of the Blue Wave.

Now here he is months later stumbling into another political landmine for something even he, until last fall, didn’t consider that dire.

Trump can call for all the national emergencies he wants. He’s president. But assuming he’s not impeached, does this finally and completely doom him for 2020?

The numbers tell you, yes.     

Read More

THE NEW LEFT

Aquarian Weekly
2/13/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE NEW LEFT
& The Dawn of Generation Progressive 


The abysmally erratic first two years of our Game Show President unleashed an explosion of women into the U.S. Congress this year, most notably a 29 year-old no-nonsense balls-out Bronx kid named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aka AOC – in the social media parlance of our times. AOC is an unapologetic, vocal, and bring-the-pain socialist. Trust me, this is coming from someone who was registered as one in the late 1980s and hounded for half a decade to write for and speak on behalf of its tenants – so much so that it eventually sent me running screaming back to a libertine level of capitalism. But this ain’t the 80s, it is the age of Trump, whose inability to form a sentence or have an original thought or understand much less embrace any ideological concept has allowed him to be hijacked by isolationists, evangelical nuts, and the age-old GOP Trickle-Down thing that is coming home to roost for middle-class tax returns this year. Since, the tribes have gone to their corners. Trump holds on to his 35 to 40 percent zealotry while the New Left has taken control of a third of the federal government that will challenge where the Democratic Party may go into the fast-approaching 2020 presidential scrum.

All of the above would have been considered fair political analysis before things went way off the rails. Now anything goes, because if this current craziness is acceptable than bring on the opposite craziness, right? Compared to the pall of 2019 DC, which has no real agenda beyond feeding the fragile ego of a maniac, and the general feckless capitulation therein, we have ourselves a vacuum, and it is being filled.

But, really, how crazy is socialism in a country with income tax, Social Security, Medicare and the most popular entertainment on the planet, the NFL – a completely socialist construct that controls wages, shares revenue, shuts down free speech, exploits bullshit patriotism, blackballs its employees, awards liars and cheaters, and forces American cities to build giant edifices in which to ply their brain-damaging trade? Shit, they want to kick people off their land to build a southern border wall no one needs or wants. Socialism is everywhere, bub, and to be fair it is really popular and it’s getting more and more so. There is now an entire generation of kids who are finally seeing our fixed game and now with a bunch of demented old white men running things into the ground, giving each other tax breaks and attacking minorities, immigrants and the socially progressive, they have awakened from their normal level of stupor to get involved.
 

And they are not alone. What AOC and nearly every early Democratic candidate for 2020 has learned is everything they are bringing to the fore is amazingly mainstream.

At the top of the list is an expansion of what is suddenly not only an invincible Affordable Care Act, which is the main reason the House of Representatives flipped in such a dramatic way last November than anything else. Clearly unpopular in 2010, ironically costing the previous president the House, it now costs the current one its chamber. The ACA has become a major plus for progressive candidates. In fact, a FOX News poll right before the 2018 midterms revealed 51 percent of Americans support the ACA while 40 percent despise the 2017 GOP tax cut which is predictably unraveling among middle class voters, especially in the states that made Donald Trump president, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. And that is FOX News! The others, as you can imagine, lean further left and were even higher. This has also been exacerbated by the realization that the jobs El Douche promised these poor suckers are not coming back. For instance, the coal industry, despite a massive deregulation campaign, has been losing more jobs under Trump than Barrack Obama, but this of course has nothing to do with presidents. It’s called capitalism and progress. If only Trump or those who voted for him understood this before it was too late.    

The New Left isn’t coming. It is here.

You would think nothing could compare to the power of the ACA or the fury building out there against the rich. But let’s consider the 77,000 desperate Rust Belt Trump voters also supported another admitted socialist, Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders was the populist, isolationist, anti-trade, pro-American working-class candidate standing against Hillary Clinton. There is enough post-2016 data that makes it possible that had Sanders not been ripped off by the Democratic Party and the Clinton Campaign, he may be the 45th president instead of whatever the hell this thing is in the White House. This has always been about Hillary Clinton and not Trump or Sanders for that matter.

The numbers don’t lie. In fact, we should have seen this coming. For instance; the only right-leaning president to win the popular vote in the last quarter-century-plus is George W. Bush in 2004. Obama won it twice. And despite the propaganda, Obama, a pro-free-trade, pro-Wall St., geopolitical centrist was not remotely as “radical” as AOC or what is a large Democratic caucus in the congress right now. In fact, The New Left is the final nail in the Clinton/Moderate/Electable coffin. Those days, like the days of pure conservatism Trump has slaughtered, are over.      

Need some more samples of how The New Left is more mainstream than you think? How about two out of three Americans, and its building monthly, support gun control measures? Many of them are starting, for the first time in my lifetime, to inch this majority to challenge the Second Amendment, which I thought silly in the 1980s. And no one can blame a generation filled with kids who’ve been shot at now in record numbers for over a decade. I kind of predicted this one a while ago, and it is starting to happen and happen with a wind at its political back.

Marriage equality is not even up for debate anymore, obviously, but its support is now in the eighty-percent level, which is stunning, even for an old marriage equality warhorse like me. Roe v Wade? Holy crap. While the numbers for restrictions on abortion have risen in recent years, with the advent of science, still a solid 60 percent of Americans do not support overturning it.

Finally, the two new ones that have rightfully brought the fear of Allah into the hearts of the ultra-right across the board is AOC’s call for a Green Initiative. But eight out of ten Americans accept the overwhelming science on Climate Change, including 65 percent of Republicans, while the president thinks it is – like all things with this guy– a hoax. And the 70-percent tax rate on people making over $10 million a year that has sent the Right into paroxysms of fear and loathing? Eighty percent of Americans agree with this idea. Factor in the over three million popular-vote even Clinton accrued and the sheer volume of voters that came out for Democrats in 2018, those are the kind of numbers that win elections. As long as we keep having them and the new generations who support socialist measures come along, you can see why GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing backflips trying to pass laws to suppress it.

The New Left isn’t coming.

It is here.  

Read More

THE DISHONEST ARTIST

Aquarian Weekly
1/30/19

Reality Check

James Campion

Guest Columnist – Sean Barna


THE DISHONEST ARTIST

This week I turn over this space over to a guest columnist for only the third or fourth time in my nearly 22 years of Reality Check. Sean Barna is a wonderfully honest singer-songwriter that I have personally interviewed and featured in this music paper last year after the release of his brilliantly courageous Cissy EP, but most importantly I am now proud to call him friend, colleague and brother-in-arms. His work inspires me, his songs challenge me, and his performances are experiences. My place in all of what you are about to read may be minor but nonetheless noteworthy. His recent personal and familial revelations and how they have reflected and effected his art written beautifully below was sent to me out of the blue this week and I asked the author if he would allow me to share it with my readers. Fortunately, for us all, he said yes. And so it is with honor that I bequeath my little corner of the world to Sean’s voice. 
                                                                                             – jc 


Every year, on the Friday evening of MLK weekend, I park my car on CO-RD 30, at the base of Red Mountain, in Lake City, Colo., and trek through the snow for an hour to my friend Kale’s cabin tucked away from civilization at 10,500 feet. By the time the sun is down on Friday, I am joined by twelve to fifteen of some of my dearest friends, not to mention a newborn baby, two toddlers, and four or five dogs. We have all the eggs, cheese, tortillas, and chili we will need for the weekend, and plenty of cheap beer and whiskey to pass the time between meals. There are almost too many of us to fit comfortably in this two-bedroom cabin, but when I get anxious, I open the sliding glass door and walk out onto the porch, where I can stare down at frozen Lake San Cristobal to find solitude and silence.


Most of this group met in 2009 and 2010, when we were all living in Paonia, Colo. Many have moved on from that place of magic, but Paonia is our common thread. From these people, and from the majesty of the snow-covered San Juan Mountains, I draw life-affirming energy. While I traverse up the mountain atop six feet of snow pack with borrowed snow shoes, my city-ravaged body toiling through every step, I feel powerful and free.

This past Sunday, January 20, while two of these friends encouraged me from the saddle of a parked snowmobile, I sent a voice memo to my parents telling them, “I am definitely a queer person, and have been for a long time. I’m also with someone, and happily so.” Then I turned off my phone and ascended 2,000 feet up the mountain, breathless from the altitude and hoping to calm the anxiety and ignore the feeling that I needed to vomit.

I am 33 years-old. The negativity and anxiety I invited into my life by staying silent about my sexuality has been unbearable for a while, as was the near-constant focus on worst-case scenarios of coming out. My dentist asked me once, “Do you suffer from anxiety? You are grinding your teeth so hard at night they are actually breaking.” Not cracking — breaking.

Of course, every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it. In 2003, an inattentive driver with a suspended license hit my brother with a car and killed him. The effect on my parents was immense, devastating, and remains the great tragedy of their lives. Of course, this was also a tragedy for me, and any decision to come out as queer had to be made in the fog of grief. What I thought for a long time was that I could not hurt them anymore, even if protecting them put an extra burden on me. My queerness, I thought, would be inherently painful for them.

But my brother died fifteen years ago, and at this point I’ve released two EPs and one LP that do not shy away from queer themes or, for that matter, the grief of losing my brother. Especially in last year’s EP, Cissy, I deal with queer themes in nearly every lyric. “Serious Child” is about the underbelly of Brooklyn nightlife, “Danger Baby” is a tragic story of a trans woman who loses her battle to an intolerant society, “Modern Man” is a searing dissection of masculinity, and “Queer Mad Blues” is a love letter to queer people having a hard time. My observations of queerness did not go unnoticed, including by the gay-centric publication, NewNowNext, Billboard’s LGBTQ column, Aquarian Weekly, and a few podcasts.

On the podcast Underwater Sunshine, author James Campion and singer Adam Duritz of Counting Crows spent nearly an hour going lyric by lyric, dissecting where Cissy fits into the canon of queer songwriting. Adam sings on one of the songs and is one of my best friends and he tried to steer the conversation away from it actually being stated that I am, myself, queer. James did not realize I was not “out” and could not help making the obvious observation that the scene I was describing was, in fact, my scene.

Every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it.

I understand — my lyrics are honest, and I am proud of them. Because of this, my friends thought I was being ridiculous. They would say, “Haven’t your parents heard the lyrics? They must already know.” In fact, they know all the lyrics by heart, but in public interviews I would instead discuss the honesty and fearlessness of the drag queens I had come to know in the Brooklyn drag scene. Much of Cissy is about these drag queens. Instead of talking about my role in queer art, I would talk about theirs. Then, in mid-November, on the third floor of a typical walk-up apartment in Brooklyn, one of the queens, Misty Meaner pulled me aside and dressed me down. Or as it is known in gay culture, she read me — hard, brutal, and for more than an hour, while our friends barely pretended not to notice. She said I owed it to my parents, I owed it to other queer people who have come out, and I owed it to myself. “You better get your shit together and stop being a coward,” she said.

I was playing a role I was ashamed of, that of the dishonest artist. In the midst of finalizing the lyrics for my next LP, Margaret Thatcher of the Lower East Side, and on the eve of a tour and official showcase at SXSW that will bring more publicity, I knew I had arrived at an unsustainable situation. I started telling my friends that I would come out while I was in Colorado. I knew the reflection of the sun on the untouched snow of a 13,000-foot mountain peak would make me feel small and impermanent, its cleansing brightness reminding me that it’s a miracle any of us exist at all. Standing in this place, reaching the peak after hours of arduous hiking, you can always look back and see the footprints to be reminded of your journey. I knew that if I could carry my secret all the way up this mountain and then back to New York City, I might carry it forever.

In the end, I told my parents my secret by texting them a voice memo. I did not know how they would respond, so I climbed. When I finally unlocked my phone to read their reactions, I was halfway up the mountain. I saw that within three minutes of receiving my message, my parents responded with grace, kindness, and love. Every fear I had was unfounded. And, of course, they already knew.

They’d heard my songs, after all.

Read More

THE DELUSION FACTOR

Aquarian Weekly
1/16/19

Reality Check

James Campion


 THE DELUSION FACTOR
Or How to Get Out of a Political Impasse 101      

Not that he is inclined to take any advice, quite obviously, but I have some for the president of the United States to get him out of this political corner he has painted himself into.

As discussed in this space a few weeks ago, Donald Trump’s insistence that the federal government, with our willing tax dollars, bankroll a fantasy he conjured during campaign rallies that was supposed to be paid for by Mexico and that no one involved on a professional level thinks we need or that will actually work is a dead end. His wholly manufactured border crisis, easily verified by merely asking people at the border, (for instance his 4,000 terrorists – there have been six – or “massive drug smuggling”, which is mostly done on airplanes and through legal entry in cars or vans) has also queered the deal considerably. And now that the purse strings in congress has been taken over by the opposition party with a mandate to put the brakes on foolish Trumpian bromides, there will be no funding for The Wall. And, unfortunately, since our game show president works most comfortably in a delusional construct – his reasoning, statistics, and overall dire depiction of issues all originate from a demonstrably false base – it therefore provides a flimsy foundation for any cogent argument. This has all led to this current impasse that resulted in the shutdown of a portion of the federal government for, at the time of this writing, 21 days.

Hence, political corner painted.

Now, Trump’s first mistake – and this has been repeated throughout his first two years in office – is he misunderstood the entire idea of a partial government shutdown, at first living under the other delusion that these 800,000 federal workers were somehow merely liberal democrats that can suck it, or part of the pork-fat, anti-government rhetoric the Right has depicted for a century, or that these jobs would not also affect key elements of national safety like Homeland Security, Air Traffic Control, farmers, and even people receiving tax refunds. He also miscalculated how much people would accept living without paychecks and working for free for what he deems patriotic reasons. This is an excellent symbol for his cracked ideas that somehow the American people would endure trade wars and pay more for products to save a couple of thousand jobs, or the kind of thing hippies believe, not purported titans of industry.

But alas, as is my wont, I digress.

Trump being an idiot is not what we’re about this week. It is what he has available to him as president to switch the narrative of this madness – and by available, I mean, not salient compromising points or even a modicum of mature meditation. He has shown a specular incapacity for any of that. What Trump can do, and must do, is declare a state of emergency and send the military down there to “build a wall”, whatever the hell that is. There really is no other way for him to pull out of this and do what he does best, claim victory, whether its draped in ignominious embarrassment or not. Congress is not going to budge on this, nor should they, it is insane.

Now, I realize there are some constitutional purists who would bitch about this, but really there are copious examples of the commander-in-chief blowing past congress and ignoring facts to enact some crazy shit. For example, just in my lifetime we have Viet Nam, a completely made up crisis – the Gulf of Tonkin incident, emanating from a false narrative, the goofy “domino theory”. What was reported by the Pentagon never happened and whatever the LBJ administration thought about the spread of communism in Asia or Nixon’s “secret plan to end the war” no one after the initial advisor stage and troop build-up thought it was a sound move. Ten years, two administrations, and 60,000 American lives, including thousands mutilated and mentally destroyed, and millions of dead Vietnamese and Cambodians later, well you get the point. And we now know that there never were any weapons of mass destruction nor a scintilla of enriched uranium in Iraq, but well, the war, long after “Mission Accomplished”, is still going on, after hundreds of thousands dead and trillions of dollars wasted, blah blah blah.

“There’s always the army, Mr. President, Lincoln used it.”

There are certainly more of these throughout our history, proving without a doubt that Trump has every right to make something up and then use our money and kids to make it happen. Even if some judge sees it differently, because there will be lawsuits, Trump can claim he did everything he could to satiate the weirdly racist desires of his 35-percent base and whatever other delusions he has about how drugs and gangs get into this country.

Because Trump is a neophyte at this, he’s overplayed his hand. He was unaware that his minions and their radio and FOX News voices were going to hold him to this lunacy. He used to do things like claim the Central Park Five were guilty as sin, when they were not, or that he had evidence that the president of the United States was born in Kenya, he did not, but eventually he went back to mocking Rosie O’Donnell, cheating on all of his wives, or hosting game shows. Now, as president, his blurting of claptrap becomes reality for the great unwashed, and it comes with consequences. After blowing the House at the midterms, Trump has gone from “Maybe we’ll get to it” when the Republicans could have handed him funding (except many also thought this was goofy) to whatever nonsense he laid on the American people for ten excruciating network minutes this week, which I have to give an Associated Press colleague credit for describing as “something like watching a monkey trying to fuck a greased football.”

Trump is probably going to get impeached anyway. Things are looking grim. Yesterday his fixer decided he’ll go in front of the new congress and the American people and describe those crimes he helped Trump commit in NYC for years and the special counsel has evidence his campaign manager shared opposition stats with Russians. These are just the first of many dominoes to fall. My advice is take this last ditch effort to blow things up and go to the military. As Al Haig told Nixon in his final hours in the Oval Office when the beleaguered president was facing impeachment, “There’s always the army, Mr. President, Lincoln used it.”

Then send everyone back to work.

You’re welcome. 

Read More

THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE

Aquarian Weekly
1/2/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE  

 Existence is illusory and it is eternal.
–  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
 – Sex Pistols, “Anarchy in the UK”

The bizarre nature of this illusionary resplendent wall that exists in the pantheon of incredibly stupid concepts rumbling around in the cracked frontal lobe of this game show president of ours has taken on at once a symbolic, political, racist, nationalist, and cultural slant on levels of geographical surrealism worthy of Salvador Dali. It has become artiste Americana – a kind of grotesquely abstract Dadaist performance craft meets paranormal emblem of strength and hate and protection and division. Yet it exists only in lore, like Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett. It is neither a thing nor it is not a thing. It is all things to all people: an edifice, an abomination, a salvation and a joke. It lives in imagination and litigation, as well as legislative combativeness, all of it devoid of recognizable definition. Moreover, there appears to be no sane rationale for its proposal or battle, despite its stated imperative. No one, not even its conjuror can quite pinpoint what the fuck it is or what it means or what portion of it is real or something else entirely. It’s existence or vision is malleable, as if a child’s dream or Lewis Carroll’s obsession. It is not the wall…it is The Wall.

With deep apologies to Pink Floyd’s intellectual property, at the time of this writing a partial government shutdown over The Wall’s congressional funding continues as part of its strange journey through our lexicon. Its supporters demand it. Its detractors defy it. It’s not unlike the first years of Christianity or the final sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey; it is mystery and mysticism and myth; Egyptian nu and a Coptic mindfuck; it has begun, but yet it has not. It is partial but permanent and it is must be at the same time it always has been. Again, neither its origins nor those who espouse its elixir seemed to have a goddamn clue, and perhaps they never did, for in the unknowing, there will be knowledge.

Cue the sitar.

A nearly two-thousand mile cement Wall, a real wall (we think) along the rocky, valleyed, mostly desert terrain the length and breadth of the American/Mexican border was first proposed by then celebrity candidate Donald Trump as a way to get cheers from rally participants in what was fast becoming a media sensation in the late months of 2015 into 2016. “We’re going to build what…?” Mr. Trump asked. The hooting throng would bellow, “…a wall!” And then after this line began to lose its swagger for El Douche, it became the now infamous, “And who is going to pay for it?” To which the crowd shouted gleefully, “Mexico!”

This piece of cheap carnival theater, which became the very foundation, some say raison d’etre of the Trump run to the presidency – a minstrel barker kind of tent revival meets the bearded lady to which the candidate bragged endlessly outdrew all the other normal tie-and-haircut political nonsense – tended to use hyperbole and National Inquirer bold type headline lunacy as pure showmanship. The Wall, its very nature and idea of conceiving it and building it, much less getting the very country it would be erected to flip off, was truly a work of punk rock genius. Those paid to say so, communicated this safety-pin-power-cord delusion as Trump merely riling up the base and kicking sand in liberal tree-hugging faces. None of it, they laughed, was meant to actually be real.

Somewhere along the line it did become real for Trump. It may have been the nifty scare tactics he used to try and stem the tide of the Blue Wave that would crash at his door last November, when the Caravan – another Grendel-like form created from the bowels of the Anglo-Saxon queer Puritan dysfunction of our national gene pool – was to bear down on us with disease and drugs and killer rapists and brown-skinned marauders. The commander-in-chief even deployed the U.S. Army in its wake, reminiscent of mad King George’s paranoia cum policy. This alerted his most loyal servants, who for reasons only known to them keep defending this car wreck presidency, to need The Wall. “Walls work” said a press release on the Homeland Security home page, framing what can best be described as a fourth-grade level explanation for why brick is heavier than a bag of leaves. But the question everyone within the Beltway was prompted then to ask laid it all on the line: Did Trump always believe this schtick or was he forced to eat it, like writing “I hope I die before I get old” and living way past 70? Because this summer a bipartisan piece of legislation made it to Trump’s desk that provided $25 billion in funding for this campaign rant and he refused to sign it, and only now does he demand $5 billion, five-times less, to build something he claims is already being built and/or he doesn’t seem to need congress to do so.

Did Trump always believe this schtick or was he forced to eat it, like writing “I hope I die before I get old” and living way past 70?

Trump’s latest shifts in truth – a master at work – has gone from a wall needed to one already partially built to a mysterious Christmas week signing of non-existent contracting bids for an out-of-thin-air 115 miles (no one knows where the number came from) and several curious tweets of a type of gothic, spiked fence taken from Getty images that no one involved can begin to surmise was ever part of the original hype. Suddenly the phrase “steel slats” was a thing, like emoji or hydroponic weed. And before the president traveled all the way to Iraq to call our military “suckers” and lie to them about pay raises they never received, there was a proposal of using them once again for a political prop and start laying brick. “I’ll just get the military to build it,” he tweeted.

Speaking of tweets, as I literally finish this up, the president has tweeted plans on unilaterally closing the entire southern border if he doesn’t get your tax dollars to realize this weird hallucination of his, throwing a grenade into U.S. commerce and halting aid to South American countries. Nothing, though, on Mexican funding.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth border security experts and high-ranking officials of Homeland Security, as well as cyber geeks in the U.S. military, not to mention actual contractors routinely scoff of the idea of building a mid-level barricade in an era of drones and electronic surveillance and other barely legal inspired forms of protecting the other three borders of the nation and aboard, not to mention the treacherous landscape it is meant to span, thinks any of this, any of it, is such for a good idea.

But yet it exists; a collective agreement of understanding that this is what happened or what happens, like say, Columbus discovering America or that somehow human existence has not affected the earth in any way.

In a very effective way, The Wall is a microcosm of this presidency which on a daily basis seems to secure the idea that artifice is the actual and that this is and always be that. It is art; Diane Arbus in its reach – horribly beautiful and damaged, set to music by Nine Inch Nails and wonderfully American.

Read More

RESURRECTING LENNY

Aquarian Weekly
12/19/18

Reality Check

James Campion

RESURRECTING LENNY
In Praise of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel & The Spirit of the Great Lenny Bruce

I probably should have penned this piece last year after the first season of Amazon Prime’s magnificent series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel written and directed by the brilliant Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose work I have admired for years in her previously smart, funny and poignant, Gilmore Girls (2000-2007). Maisel is the finest piece of serial television I have seen since AMC’s titanic Breaking Bad – its characters are deeply vivid, filled with relatable pathos, and deliver exquisite dialogue framed in stellar set-design, music and costuming. The plotlines within the impressive locations and ambiance of 1950s NYC are absolutely riveting. And thus far I have not even sent a nod to its star, who is a tour-de-force as Mrs. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan or one of my favorite actors, Tony Shalhoub as her father, Abraham or the comedic whirlwind that is Alex Borstein as Maisel’s cantankerous manager or that the first season took home three Golden Globe Awards and five prime-time Emmy’s, including Best Series and Outstanding Comedy Series respectively. Nope. This tribute to what is now my favorite TV show begins and ends with Sherman-Palladino’s resurrection of one of my heroes, Leonard Alfred Schneider, better known as Lenny Bruce.

Anyone who has read a line of this column for the past 20-plus years knows from which I speak. Lenny “not a comedian” Bruce, along with Mark Twain and Hunter S. Thompson, make up the Holy Trinity of satire around here. There is no James Campion without Lenny, who I have been writing about since I’m 19 and have quoted copiously here in Reality Check from its start, including dedicating a two-part series on a seminal record of Bruce’s impact on American culture and jurisprudence, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of An American Icon in 2002. I have read everything published on or by Lenny Bruce, listened to and studied his every bit, and probably reviewed every film on him made.

Did I mention I am a fan, as in fanatic, as in, drooling worshipper of Lenny Bruce?

So you can imagine my surprise when then 39 year-old actor, Luke Kirby first enters the series in its opening episode as the 33 year-old Bruce – crumpled, wincing, brandishing a smirk and a cigarette and waving his arms over his signature trench coat like the Mineola martyr he transformed into a lethal weapon. Of course, Lenny is leaving jail, bemused by his persecution for speaking his irreverent mind, as he would infamously do on several occasions from 1961 until his death five years later. He confronts Mrs. Maisel, who was also hauled in for her irreverence cum liberation from her upper-crust prison, mostly as a vehicle of narrative. This is understandable, but as an unofficial “keeper of the Lenny flame”, I was at first put-off if not titillated. This is supposed to be 1958, when there were rumblings that Bruce was pushing boundaries and unleashing his observations into territories not yet expressed in polite (or otherwise) company, but he wasn’t yet the dean of arrested comics. That would, as stated, come soon and often. And, quite frankly, I was not sure how Lenny would fit into this light comedy about a pampered but sharp-witted Upper-West side Jewish house wife and mother who is dragged into the world of edgy comedy by the emotionally violent disruption of her life when her feckless husband leaves her for his secretary. But soon my trepidations were not only quelled but eviscerated.

This is one of the finest portrayals of a historic figure I have ever seen – in comedy or drama.

From the first, in the hands of Kirby, a trained and celebrated Canadian actor, Bruce comes alive – and not in the oft-tired impressionistic biopic way in which the famous and doomed are slathered across screens for lazy melodrama. (Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bruce in Bob Fosse’s 1974 film Lenny is still one of my faves, though) No, Kirby inhabits the essence and spirit of Bruce, and through this he becomes Mrs. Maisel’s guardian angel first, but thanks to the preternatural chops of Sherman-Palladino’s pen begins to unfurl the subterranean spectacle that is the birth of modern American comedy as a social mirror in a time of nuclear threat, racism, religious fanaticism, and an emerging drug culture, for which Lenny infamously would partake to fatal ends. As the first season progressed, it is clear this is no apparition or mere narrative vehicle. Bruce floats through the series, appearing at the right times to better understand the zeitgeist and to lend credence to the period. And there is no time Kirby does not resurrect him, wholly and without fail.

Quite frankly, this is one of the finest portrayals of a historic figure I have ever seen – in comedy or drama. There is a scene in which Bruce is smoking weed outside a downtown club with jazz cats that Maisel hovers, like us, interlopers in this time-traveled reimagining. Watch Kirby move, interject, parry and jab, both verbally and physically. His wincing bravado masking an entrenched mass of insecurities hidden slightly by this smoldering rage that would soon bring the icon to life for real is remarkable. Holy shit, I have seen it about a half-dozen times now and it gets better every time.

Eventually, Kirby’s Bruce does indeed become the patron saint of Brosnahan’s Mrs. Maisel by season’s end in a fantastic wrap-up of events, but even more, for me, is how we finally see the transformation from Bruce as specter into Bruce as working comedian circa 1958. As he agrees to play Greenwich Village’s famous but now defunct Gaslight on McDougal Street in support of the equally persecuted Mrs. Maisel, Kirby brings Lenny’s soul back into focus effortlessly. This is no longer an interpretation of off-stage Lenny, but the one chronicled in the pantheon of 20th century aura: His mannerisms, his inflections, his very core of the legendary Bruce stage presence, the delivery and mastery of which is on display in a mere two to three minutes of screen time – much of it interrupted by dialogue of the main characters or in the background. But it is truly extraordinary and, for me, an emotional experience.

This season, figuring the Bruce thing did its job vaulting the fictional characters where they needed to go for the second act, it was even more surprising to see his return. I awaited it with great anticipation once I knew Kirby’s Bruce would play a role, but the show is so damn good, it was not as if I merely watched it to see him ply his trade. But when he did, man, his creation scaled new heights. All of this culminating in the season finale that forced me to finally get all of this out.

Now, I guess this is a spoiler-alert, but not really – since this entire piece is pretty much my dumbfounded admiration of Luke Kirby’s work and my child-like excitement in seeing Lenny Bruce brought to life with so much passionate respect – but the recreation of Bruce’s truly seminal appearance on the Steven Allen show, which, time-wise, is spot-on 1959, is so incredible I really only offer that you need to see it and then watch the film, easily found on YouTube of Bruce’s actual appearance. Again, it is not mere mimicry, it is magnum opus of interpretation, a living, breathing case study in the greatness a creative genius. You watch a man nailing someone nailing something pretty substantial to the monument of American culture. And it is no wonder it becomes the epiphany for the main character and the revelatory moment for the series.

Thank you, Luke, wherever you are today. You and Amy have put Lenny where he belongs; back in our reverence for his craft, his art, his legacy. The show is great, but this is a gift.

Read More
Page 3 of 82«12345»102030...Last »