Queen Of Vernon 1993 – 2007

Aquarian Weekly 1/2/08 REALITY CHECK

QUEEN OF VERNON 1993-2007

The Lion of Judah shall break every chain. – Rastafarian Prayer

The Queen Of VernonShe was regal. Not in any preordained, systemic, lordly manner, but there was a distinct nobility to her that was able to transform you. Somehow in her presence you possessed the capacity to escape the parameters of the mundane, shed your worldly ignorance, and witness, if only of that infinitesimal moment, what the religious describe as the reward of salvation, a glimpse of heaven, a visceral peace with the injustices of shuffling coldly across this spinning sphere.

She was, in a very real sense, a vessel. In her, all things were possible. Suddenly you were okay with the idea of burning bushes. You accepted the unknown. Magic happened.

It was in her walk, proudly distant but informal, a passionate gait. You could lose your breath to watch it, especially when it was coming toward you. You could brace for it, but it did not matter. You were always stunned by its infectious rhythm, an unsettling balance of silences.

It was also in the whisper of her voice, forever seducing a response. In the daytime, with its meandering din, it would be lost, muffled, ignored. She opened her tiny mouth and it would seem as if nothing was coming. She was miming, passing air futilely. But at night, the dead quiet of its suspended middle, it was a clarion, a broken but furious roar. It reminded you that listening meant more than hearing. It meant receiving the message unfettered by distraction. It meant respecting her presence.

But it was always in the eyes where she would ultimately steal your soul. Your will was hers, and although she knew it, she let you think it was your doing, your entire purpose for being around. One peer into those pools of infinite emerald beacons, bizarre portals into Neverland, would paralyze you. And when you were captured there, dumbstruck by this abduction of your senses, you half expected seraphim to begin battering your skull with deafening arias from La Bohème.

Not sure where any of this came from, I only know it was there. Everyone I knew who visited with her would feel it. None of us could explain it in any sane way, but they would tell me, and I would not argue. I was its willing victim again and again. I sympathized with them all. Whoever they were at whatever age, they would chase her down. Ask where she was hiding. Try and win her attention. But she would never give of it liberally, just the opposite. You had to win it. You had to achieve her.

And that’s the nut, really. The rarity of her. And not in the sense that she would make herself scarce, she was attainable by merely looking. She was there, as beauty and grace is there daily for us to grasp if we would just take the time to see it. She was a reminder that whatever redemption exists, it does so in repose, not wild abandon. Wait for it.

Wait.

In between the cracks, through the mist and noise and over the grinding hours of our advancing age, it will always be there. You simply have to see it. It waits for you. She would wait for you.

Transfixed, nearly hypnotized, I began to lose my grip. I could hear traffic and birds chirping, but it sounded as if submerged. All things faded. It was, for that moment, just us. Then she blinked, and went about her way, showing me the walk that launched a thousand melodies.

I would watch her wait. She waited on people, on nature, on the morning, the weather, and the passageways to the next best thing. I watched her wait all the time. It calmed me. Humbled me. She would sit for hours, silent, frozen, staring. Sometimes it was into the woods. Other times it was into the abyss. Many times it was both; like when she was young, sitting on the main chair at The Desk and staring into the black screen, hoping for a spark in there. I would embarrassingly tell I was the one who had to make the words dance. I could not on most days and begged her forgiveness.

But still she would wait.

If you were ready, when you were ready, she was ready, and not a moment before. It’s true, she would avoid most contact, and when forced, give of herself grudgingly, but oh, when you won her patience and received her audience, it was as if the pilot light provided you to figure things kicked on, and the gears began working again. And somewhere in the little pinholes that the toughest parts of this life leaves you, a tiny space was filled.

No matter how many times this would happen, it would be like the first time.

My first time was ten years ago in a little hamlet on the banks of the Hudson River. There was an inclined walkway, a cluster of trees, and a slightest hint of sunlight peaking through the clouds. I was descending a crude stone staircase when I saw her. She was waiting, again, at the bottom. She startled me at first, but I did not back away. I bent down to stare. You had to bend down to really get into it with her, dive in. No fear. Open. Naked.

She stared back. There was nothing said.

Transfixed, nearly hypnotized, I began to lose my grip. I could hear traffic and birds chirping, but it sounded as if submerged. All things faded. It was, for that moment, just us. Then she blinked, and went about her way, showing me the walk that launched a thousand melodies.

I was visiting that day with the woman who would be my wife. We were younger then, well, she was younger, I was always old, a festering crank, a bitching creep of a man. She was then as she is today, an immovable phalanx of emotion. Her compassion for the vessels of the unknown remains impenetrable. And amid talk of poetry and art and dreams and nightmares, we broached what I had begun to describe as “the moment”. She had felt it too. She knew where I had been, for she was there only months before when she found the vessel caged. She knew instinctively that she had to free her, which is why, among many intriguing things, I married the woman.

My wife knows a good entranceway into the beyond when she sees it. After all, it is in the waiting.

So they lived together for awhile, my wife and the vessel, but the vessel had to go away, ten or twelve days, and my wife was not sure she would ever see her again. But of course she did. She merely had to wait. She had to collect the time. She needed to show patience.

Soon the vessel came to live with the rest of us sloppy, boisterous, strutting boys, and the two of them taught us the ways of the fairer sex. We traveled together from one outpost to the other; the Putnam Bunker, Fort Vernon, the Clemens Estate, each stop the girls put us straight; taking the high ground, gathering the hours, offering glimpses of the unknown.

On the way, the vessel was anointed the Queen of Vernon, the mountain princess of the gateway west. It was her prime, the days of the hunt. Then she embraced the vagaries of the Compound, where she seduced another, a cherished friend named ironically after a monarch of distinction, Elizabeth, who was to share her final hours. It is here, on the hill, where she rests now.

Her name was Mazzy.

She was our lady feline.

She died on Christmas Eve.

Long Live the Queen.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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James Campion’s “Reality Check” Celebrates Ten Years

Aquarian Weekly 8/15 – 8/29/07 REALITY CHECK

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT, AND HE FEELS FINE
Reflections On Ten Years Of Reality Check

jc 2007

Humans need laws. We are weak and stupid and would reduce our quality of life to fossil fragments without them. We have so many laws now it would choke forty civilizations. We cram God and country and all that weepy singsong crap down every throat possible. Yet we continue to reign as the most heinous creatures sucking air. – Tramps, Thugs & The Corporate Lie 12/8/99

It feels almost as though Campion and the yet-unconquered mountain of human reason were made to square off against each other, and when I read his regular dispatches from the front of whatever war he happens to be fighting that week, I picture him standing before that mighty pile of rock, shouting out the real deal, telling logic and actuality how it really goes down on this twisted and interminably fucked planet of ours. The mountain, for its part, has no response.

And what incredible self-indulgence could drive one to grate week after week on the spinal nerves of America’s backbone in hopes of maybe digging through the spin and misinterpretation, the utter lack of context, to the discovery of true motives. Like planting a flag on the North Pole and calling it yours, so too is the futility of speaking truth to a power that simply will not listen, and doubly admirable then is continuing on until the throat is raw and bleeding.

Undaunted by the hopelessness of his or anyone (everyone) else’s position, Campion continues forward, upward and deeper inside, pulling apart the sediment of that mountain, element by element, so that at the end of it he may have the pieces wholly dissected and ready to be put back together in a way that actually makes sense. Those upon whom the title of “rational” would be heaped can only stand on the sidelines and whisper well-earned wishes of “good luck,” or otherwise lose themselves in their own desperate sneers of, “you’re out of your mind.” In either case, Campion is the one who does while we are the ones who watch.

Unable to idle in an age of enforced stillness, his is the frantic and hyperventilating voice of a man who cannot give himself up to the ultimate cynicism-that belief that in between two sides of any story there is no truth to be found. Whether there is or not, I’m at no liberty to say, but I take great comfort knowing there remains at least one good human being out there dedicating his decades to finding out for sure.

To the next 10,

JJ KoczanAquarian Weekly Managing Ed. July 2004-May 2007

John CusackCampion’s whole bleak trip is a means to an end. It’s so apocalyptic it has to be a put-on, or it reveals ulterior motives, like a reverse pep talk. As long as he’s painting everything dark you no longer feel so bad about your place in it.

John Cusack Actor

Interventions and parental group therapy are nice, but a carefully placed fist to the temple sets the bully straight and gives a lifetime of hope for the bullied. I’ve had plenty of experience with bullies, and it sounds to me like the AMA is bullying us into robbing our kids of childhood’s most precious victory, the ass-whupping of the deserved. Life is about a series of defeating bullies; the sooner we understand it, the better. – In Defense Of The American Bully 6/26/02

I first came across “jc” while interviewing him about Deep Tank Jersey and Fear No Art, the latter had just been published. Coffee turned to beer and critical interpretations of music [Lester Bangs on low battery life] led to insights about religious exile – no Main Street here – rather an address amid a hipster neighborhood yet to be discovered by the New Yorker or some other rag worthy of at least a few page turns before interest turns to self congratulatory prose. You won’t find Campion there, however. He lurks between the shadows cast by accepted “rogue” journalists. Lyricist John Perry Barlow penned the phrase “Shadow boxing the apocalypse;” Campion’s column is his gloves. Ten years in, the laces are tattered, the red, leather mitts scuffed but his blows still hit hard, especially when on target.

Late last year my wife and I read excerpts of Midnight For Cinderella at some joint in New York City celebrating its release. The bar was loud, the PA was at times inaudible, but somehow Campion’s truths, his take, rang true.

Keep on, keeping on…

Will King Musician (“Coming On In From The Cold”) Journalist (North Country News, The New Jersey Cooperator, Rescue Magazine)

James Campion was an ardent supporter of my former column, Ruminations for many years, during which time he made outlandish declarations about my thoughts and writing. He is often self-indulgent (aren’t we all!) and takes his own opinions way too seriously (ahem! I too have been guilty of same!) but he’s also brilliant at his best, consistently passionate and insightful.

Rita J. King Journalist/Author (Village Voice, CorpWatch, Huffington Post)

Breakfast With HunterJames Campion sees the truth in art and life in ways that few people recognize and even fewer are able to express so eloquently.

Wayne Ewing Filmmaker (Breakfast with Hunter, When I Die, The Last Campaign)

Come now, fellow travelers, this is the waning century. Let us rise from slumber and count the coffee beans among us. Power corrupts, and absolute power is like an IV loaded with speedballs cruising through the main vein. It is King Richard III wandering through the desert looking to trade the Third World for a goddamned horse. No human can survive it with a shred of decency left intact. There are horrible places on this globe where you can go to see the fierce results of its wounds. – Ugly Truth 3/24/98

When I started Hackwriters I had lots of enthusiastic writers but none with any political savvy. James sent in a piece that was witty, intelligent and a little wicked. I knew immediately that here was a guy with talent and a great set of values. James Campion wants the world to be better than it is and knows that someone has to point out the imperfections. I cannot think of a better man to point the finger than James Campion and we have valued every piece for eight long years. The world is still imperfect so anticipate that James has a long career ahead of him.

Sam North Editor of Hackwriters.com

Dan BernCampion doesn’t bash sacred cows – he bludgeons them, removes their entrails, leaves them wishing they had never been cows at all. And yet, for all of it, Campion has that thing held probably in common by all great satirists, be they Swift, Twain, Mencken, Vonnegut, or Campion’s beloved Hunter Thompson: a deep romanticism, an unshakeable love for the things, people, ball teams, bands, towns and ideas that have been unable to lose him along the way.

Dan Bern Singer/Songwriter (12 CDs and EPs, including New American Language, Fleeting Days, and Breathe) Author (Quitting Science, Tales of Toscana, Ted The Cow, World Cup)

I am lucky to have friends with guts of steel and the resolve of titans. Unfortunately for them I have none of these attributes, and can only churn out bad words and funny asides about meaningless bullshit, so I offer only my gratitude and undying friendship to the faithful. The Desk is dead. Long live The Desk. – A Bittersweet End To The Putnam Bunker 9/5/01

Know this, if you know anything about what is slowly happening to the social landscape of this country, as long as this nation is at war the truth can no longer be considered an absolute, it is a concept to be manipulated and raped and put on display for those with agendas to dance around like savages soliciting rain. – Post Mortem On War Coverage 4/9/03

Pat BuchananI think we have pretty much astonished the establishment so far. We’ve been out there fighting battles, and the more they call us names and the more they say this and that it just tells me that we’re in this thing for the long haul.

Pat Buchanan Political Commentator, two-time presidential candidate, speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan

One question to the editor of the Aquarian: Did you ever actually check Jim’s references ten years ago? Apparently not. The good thing is, through on the job training and a naturally poisonous keyboard, Jim has managed to make even this rock-ribbed Republican occasionally laugh at my own party. That’s talent. There aren’t many writers with the wit and sarcasm of Jim Campion. In fact, I can only think of one. And you’re lucky enough to have him.

Rob Astorino Former Westchester County Legislator, Executive Producer of the Michael Kay Show/ESPN, and current program director of The Catholic Channel on Sirius Radio

“So how does it feel to be Clinton’s butt buddy? How can someone be so wrong so often and still be able to live with themselves?” The response of “if you don’t like it write your own fucking column” began my three-year journey of sharing the political page of the Aquarian with one, James Campion.

James’ writing style is pure genius. It is a wicked combination of intellect and street smarts that says he can kick your ass while simultaneously spouting the works of Aristotle and the combined ERA of the ’78 Yankees starting rotation. His biting wit and satire on all things sports, political or pop culture makes waiting out the week all that more fun.

He ain’t lib and he ain’t conservative…he’s James Campion, and I believe he hates everyone equally.

Thanks for the laughs and the inspiration. May you have many more 10-year anniversaries. The thinking public needs you around.

Bill Roberts Conservatively Speaking

What level of brain-dead mannequins are we enduring with this vat of bilge? We need gory caged ferret fights to the death. That is how democracy works, not some number-crunching pinheads with interchangeable personalities. Likeable sods with wet feet and dapper ties leave us with grinning charlatans from the South pampered by daddy’s oil and tobacco money. This is what we deserve now. We don’t want any nasty commentary on the way things are, just force-feed us the Pollyanna pabulum and send us to bed with no dinner. – Notes From The Campaign Fringe 10/18/00

Messenger RecordsDuring my 11 years as an owner of an independent record label, I’ve come across only a small handful of writers who go beyond great writing talent. Having integrity and the resolution to act upon it is not a choice; it’s in their DNA. James is one of those few. He is militantly honest and passionate, and he seeks and exposes the truth wherever he can find it. James is among the best of the good guys.

Brandon Kessler Messenger Records

CAMPION… the name itself brings pimples to my geese! First time I saw him I thought he was one of the dwarves from the castle, turns out he’s a glorious midget with a knack for the written word. GENIUS… that’s what he is… I’ve not seen such unrestrained rambling since I spoke at that Meth convention in Prague. Say what you want about Meth heads… at least they DO!! And Campion… Do’s… yes…. the man is BRILLIANT!! I love his writing so much I HATE IT! Kaptain Von Karl, my Minister of Propaganda idolizes the freak! Especially for his infamously twisted plan to make his Jesus book so big… no one would be inclined to move, let alone lift and carry it back to a book shelf, thereby forcing the poor sap who purchased it to create a permanent advertisement for Campion on their coffee table. The “child” in Campion is strong… the “imp” and “brat” powerful… He is quite assuredly… a shaman, a prophet… an Asshole! Long live the Midget Asshole!

The Mighty Chief Wonka BLAZO!! (Publisher of “Fear No Art”)

Colonel Campion has illustrated a consistent objectivity in the dispensing of ire. No one is sacred, no punches are pulled. One week he’ll piss off the conservatives, the next the liberals, and the next both. But hey, fair is fair, and if you’re going to lift up that rock, you’d better expose all the slugs.

Chris Uhl Aquarian Weekly Managing Ed. 1998-2002

The manifestation of violence from hatred is delicate. It is nurtured as much as the trip from love to philanthropy. What happens on a dim Tuesday just outside of Denver should not be looked at as an aberration as much as a culmination. We are lucky more children don’t take to the streets with savage vengeance for the abuse, distrust, and pain we substitute for understanding, and the garbled misinformation we trade for teaching. – Cyclical Pain: Child Abuse In The 90s 4/21/99

Eric HutchinsonI love James’ writing, and not just because he usually speaks highly of me in it. He displays a sincere, thoughtful touch while still managing to sound jaded and pissed off at just about everything. His rantings are the stuff Dennis Miller wishes he had the mental capacity to pull off. James is the moral compass of Northern New Jersey. Now THAT’S scary.

Eric Hutchinson Singer/Songwriter (…Before I Sold Out, Sunds Like This)

James Campion, a More Handsome Michael Moore?

I first met Mr. Campion when he was shaking his finger at the universe along with my friend Al Quagliata, they spoke at length with a scathing vocabulary which seemed to police the very stars into alignment. They were at a bar and I coerced Al to introduce me to his handsome pontificating partner. James was friendly for a moment, then asked me what project I was working on and how I knew Al. I confess I was worried that he might criticize me along with the corrupt politicians and racist movie stars. I briefed him on “Putnam,” a one-act musical about superstars (Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, etc.) staging early deaths to get out of the fame ring. Quagliata (excellent comic actor/impressionist) was portraying John Lennon at the time. Lucky for me, James softened to the concept that a talent agency might just enact a celebrity’s demise if for no other reason than to get the paparazzi off their backs, giving some validity to the notorious Elvis sightings. Then like a rodeo cowboy, he immediately jumped back on the journalistic beast, holding on tight to the beliefs he’s been riding now for ten years. I’ve been a fan ever since we met and highly recommend Trailing Jesus before the Middle East disappears entirely.

Sharon Fogarty Playwright (The Overdevlopment of Scott, Putnam, Portrait of the Artist as a Dumb Blonde)

It has never been particularly important for me to have anything resembling a strong philosophy or belief. Those things are transient, like standing at a railway station and hoping to get to Detroit by taking the nonstop to Philadelphia. I want the next train that pulls in to head in my desired direction, but no matter what I believe, the damn thing is going to Philly. It’s a train all right, but not the one I hope it will be. – What Is Belief? 8/8/01

A national election being decided by one state, controlled by partisan judges and attorney generals presiding over clairvoyant hand counts, where hired drones spin electronic ballots into lamplight to guess at voter intent: It is entirely possible that a Zippy the Chimp funzo dance on a Twister mat would be a more legally binding and fair-minded attempt at choosing the leader of the free world. – Surviving The Great “System” Anal Probe 11/29/00

Ralph NaderI thank you, James, for your continuous support of my independent message and your reasoned good will in the face of political hysteria, and most of all keeping the hope for a progressive agenda alive in this country. I’ve tried to give voice to tens of millions of people as the underdog candidate for Americans who get pushed around and defrauded and harmed and disrespected and excluded and underpaid and laid off and denied health care. The American people need to know they can have anything they want, the problem is they don’t seem to want anything at all, or at least it appears that way on Election Day.

We’re all prisoners of an exclusive two-party monopoly with a barrier called an electoral college and we’ve got to break out of prison. We have to liberate our minds, begin voting our conscience, and stop voting for politicians who go to Washington and month after month vote against their supporters. They’ve turned over the U.S. government to an increasingly smaller number of giant multi-nationals, who’ve turned Washington into corporate occupied territory, and have no allegiance to our country or communities other than to control or abandon them to China or elsewhere as they see fit.

Keep up the good fight.

Ralph Nader Historic consumer advocate, three time independent presidential candidate, author, and tireless activist

Your piece on my book The Trials Of Lenny Bruce was really terrific. You’ve done Lenny and me a great honor. I’m even more grateful for your enthusiastic endorsement of and efforts on behalf of my work. Also, having perused your book, Fear No Art, I can honestly say it is a please to experience the range of emotions expected from the works of a fine essayist.

David Skover Dean’s Distinguished Research Scholar & Professor of Law at Seattle University

Kathleen Glynn & Michael MooreKeep giving them hell, James.

Kathleen Gynn Author, Film Producer, Activist

The abuse of LSD at the New York Times has reached epidemic proportions. I happen to know it isn’t just at the print level anymore, but management and editorial staff have now imbibed beyond any definition of recreational consumption. This is why the Times has never understood George W. Bush. The president is a cokehead. He has all the tendencies: paranoia, overt machismo, a painful inability to construct coherent thoughts verbally, and a penchant to scratch his groin incessantly without shame. Only a serious speed freak would continue to describe what is happening in Iraq as progress. And only acid junkies would comment so blindly that there is some kind of insidious U.S. plan for a bloodless coup in that mess. – Manifest Destiny Made Easier Through Modern Chemistry 12/29/04

While I’ve yet to meet the man, James Campion is on a short list of people I wouldn’t mind sharing a bunker with. Bravely holding ground, wisely weighing when to flank and attack, and keenly aware of his enemies’ weak points, he pens Reality Check, the longest currently-running column The Aquarian Weekly is proud to publish, based on an entirely unscientific, dusty once-over of our archives. It’s that breed of brazen, unemotional analysis of the world’s organized evil that we hold dear here, and there’s no better soldier than James.

Patrick Slevin Aquairan Weekly Managing Editor

James Campion keeps amazing me. He is one of the few demented souls our industry has produced. As fast as I could, I’ve tried to think of new and exciting editorial ideas to throw his way and every time I did he came through with flying colors. I’m proud to call him friend, but I have warned him more than once if I get one more call in the middle of the night begging for plane fare to D.C. in order to find kidnapped journalists I will shoot him.

Dan Davis Editor-In-Chief/Editorial Director Magna Publishing Group

Denise MihalikI have had the most delicious time conspiring with James. He is inspiring, truthful, audacious, and a TOTAL muse. He’s liberated and free and inspires others to be themselves. UNAFRAID. He mused me into creating a slew of art for his book, Midnight For Cinderella, which was out of the ordinary for me and totally rad. I have never had so much fun working with anyone in my life. Creatively he just says… GO…DO…BE.

Denise Mihalik Artist/Photographer

I think if people actually read the Bible, there could be trouble. But people don’t read. They watch television and snowboard and make money and plot getting laid. And when it comes time to do whatever they feel like doing or hating or co-opting, they interpret things like the Bible in their own interesting way. Worse still, they rely on crooked hacks to do it for them, which gets us all in trouble. – Gay Bishops & Other Modern Illusions 8/13/03

Jim Campion is pure gold. There is not an ounce of bullshit in his commentary. The man is straight up, and what more can you ask from a politically charged, passionate scribe. His battles are selfless, righteous and to the point. In recent defense of my plight, Jim Campion went above and beyond the call of duty in a piece entitled; Hooligans in the Press Room (almost one year ago to the day). The piece was vintage Campion; pure and seething, as he attacked a pack of clueless piranhas (a new publisher and managing editor) at the North County News who dismantled the best weekly sports section in the nation in one fell swoop.

When he worked freelance for me back in the wee ’90s covering the sports beat in Westchester and Putnam County, I looked forward to Campion’s fiery piece each week, just as I looked forward to our weekly beers at the End Zone Sports Bar in Putnam Valley, NY. The readers of Reality Check are now prone to his prose, hooked to his interpretation, and fortunate for his views. A decade of excellence has captured their eyes and minds… may his venomous spew continue.

Ray Gallagher NYSPA Award-Winning Editor, Writer & Photographer (North County News, Bedford Record, Lewisboro Ledger, Putnam Co. News & Recorder, P’Ville/Mt. Kisco Examiner & the Hastings Enterprise)

Ani DiFrancoI enjoy our conversations. I really do. But I do not use e-mail and I get all my news from the Nation and Ms. Magazine. I live on a bus most of the time, and I steer pretty clear of the TV. I can’t watch TV. It depresses me or enrages me. CNN is an impossible place to tap into anything real since all of the information is completely co-opted and controlled by corporate forces. I really don’t have a mind for the hyper details of foreign policy, or of what the stupid white men are doing, but I do have some basic ideas and feelings and impressions. I would make a very bad columnist like yourself, because if you believe in objectivity, then your reading of any kind of media is going to be misguided.

But I do enjoy our conversations.

Ani DiFranco Singer/Songwriter/Poet/Activist

Just know that authors inspire young writers, but scribes like Thompson, Twain or Mencken do not inspire, they abduct. Taken hostage, bound and gagged and beaten mercilessly from the first sentence. It is violent and disturbing, like all of life’s greatest gifts, not unlike an actual birth, with pain and screaming and blood everywhere. – Hunter Stockton Thompson 1937-2005 3/2/05

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Corporate Lunacy In The Wake Of Katrina

Aquarian Weekly 9/20/06 REALITY CHECK

CHING-CHING, CASH IN ON TRAGEDY! Part II Aggressive Accounting, Money-Grabs, & The Future Of New Orleans

New OrleansIn Part II of our interview with Rita J. King on her investigative report, Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering On The American Gulf Coast for CorpWatch (corpwatch.org), we uncover more greed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: Corporate feeding frenzies leading to the fleecing of the unfortunate and the jobbing of the lazy federal government, which, in turn, fleeces us in the tax game, and learn how the these crimes could eventually bury the beauty and tradition that was once New Orleans.

These “business practices”, while being sneaky and rotten, are pretty much expected as shenanigans as usual. The question must be then, is all of this unethical behavior technically illegal?

It’s not necessarily illegal, but it clearly demonstrates the degree to which laws are set up to favor corporations. At a certain point you have to say it’s not a matter of politics, or anything other than the obvious fact that the greater good is not being served. I am not prepared to completely blame corporations for that – they’re playing a game. It’s called capitalism. I understand that. But if the system isn’t working, this is how empires crumble. In the history of the world, I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization that has recognized its own demise in time to do anything productive to avoid the calamity.

Taxpayers need to know that the Army Corps of Engineers, Bechtel and Halliburton, among others, are using the same contract vehicles in the Gulf Coast as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. They need to know that there are indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity open-ended contingency contracts being used on the Gulf Coast to squeeze out local companies, and cost-plus contracts that allow them to collect a profit on everything they spend, which really gives them an incentive to overspend. The report lays out the astronomical charges in detail. The American people need to read it.

“It’s not just that it’s expensive to get things done, we’re throwing billions of dollars at things that are not getting done – it’s wasteful, it’s disgusting, and how can we really expect the rest of the world to believe we’re interested in preserving their respective cultures, if we’re willing to decimate our own?

After all this research and investigation, what is your final assessment of these repeated money-grabs? Will they eventually bleed taxpayers and/or the federal government dry and consequently stall the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast or New Orleans specifically?

Corporate law requires that corporations put profit above everything else. People need to keep that in mind. The law is subject to the people. If people don’t like their taxes to skyrocket and their money to be squandered they must act. It’s not just that it’s expensive to get things done, we’re throwing billions of dollars at things that are not getting done – it’s wasteful, it’s disgusting, and how can we really expect the rest of the world to believe we’re interested in preserving their respective cultures, if we’re willing to decimate our own?

I wonder, in the absence of the minority voices, whose master plan to rebuild will be followed. The Louisiana Recovery Authority is coming up with a master plan, but in whose image? What are the values being used? It’s very unclear. It is one of the most precious regions in this country for its cultural diversity. You can’t rebuild what was already there, but you can value the history. I think the single most important characteristic of the rebuilding effort needs to be a creative approach to synthesizing the past to build a viable future.

Ironically, I watched a documentary on the rich and mysterious history of New Orleans only a few weeks before the devastation, and it was one of the first things I thought of, how much of it will be washed away inevitably?

When the early French settlers came to New Orleans, they almost perished from the heat, and so they brought in slaves from Ghana, because the climates are so similar, and the slaves wove into the wrought-iron gates of the city a symbol called the Sankofa, which still stands today. It is a heart with spirals on the inside and the outside and it means – which Bob Marley immortalized in his wonderful, “No Woman/No Cry”; “In this great future, you can’t forget your past.” You can’t rebuild unless you take the past into account. I believe the image of the Sankofa should stand as the pervasive symbol of the entire rebuilding effort of New Orleans.

But will it ever be rebuilt – physically, culturally, or symbolically?

The future of the city is uncertain, but I question the wisdom of rebuilding it in an area where the levees haven’t been improved. Climatologists are predicting increased ferocity in weather patterns in the near future. So rebuilding in this climate has to be undertaken with the utmost caution.

You’re talking planning, wisdom and compassion, so my humble guess is it will never be rebuilt.

Well, will it be rebuilt to my utopian vision? No. But it will be rebuilt to someone’s vision, and as such I think people need to keep a sharp focus on this process. We’ve been given an unprecedented opportunity here to look at our values, and the manner in which this rebuilding process is accomplished says something about the lives of every American. So people can hash out their ideas of American values until they’re red, white, blue in the face, but if they do not take a step back and realize this is the defining gesture of our lifetime, how we rebuild the Gulf Coast, then there is the risk it can be inevitably turned into a Mardi Gras theme park.

Really, what it comes down to is there’s something different about that place, and if we lose it, it will be a huge victory for homogenization.

Besides the public, or those who go to the Corpwatch web site, who is going to see this report?

The 20,000-word report is available with photographs online, in PDF format, and it’s also available as a pamphlet, the size of a magazine, which has been disseminated to most major media, and I believe it will be given to all congressional representatives. We are hoping to do a book, because, to my knowledge, CorpWatch is the only not-for-profit organization that has trailed Homeland Security’s spending since its inception. CorpWatch has written reports on spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, an alternative Halliburton report, and now this. All of it can be viewed on their site.

For more on the report and Rita J. King’s continued investigative journalism, please visit: ritajking.com

Part I: Corporate Lunacy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

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A Discussion with Dan Bern Part I

Aquarian Weekly 4/16/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part I An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

Dan Bern songs speak to me. That is the power of song, and it is not lost on him. And although he is one of the most prolific composers of this era – Messenger Records chairman, Brandon Kessler told me he could release Dan Bernan album a week – there is an obvious care given to each lyric, each characterization, each wonderfully crafted chord progression. This is because Bern is cut in the mold of the old-time songster who would use the medium to cajole and soothe the listener right along with its author, as if sharing an experience. And the range of his emotions is wide.

He should have a wider audience, and he’s working on it, touring like a madman – he even recently played his baseball songs at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – but mainly because Dan Bern is everything right about the craft of songwriting and performing. A troubadour, a poet, a painter and a writer, he shies away from nothing, opening dangerous channels to allow his audience to peer down with him.

The first time I saw him; he blew me away, the honesty and humor right there for everyone to see. No pretensions, no illusions, pure ugliness and beauty set to music. Soon after, Bern’s recordings played in the background for the final excruciating days of finishing my last book; no small task since completing a book is like being in some kind of labor/limbo for months. And it was a pleasure to hand him a copy after his Bowery Ballroom show mere days after conducting this interview.

It was more of a discussion than an interview really, as Bern let his slow, infectious drawl pour over the answers with an old country wisdom belying his mid-thirties experience. We started out with a jibe on his playfully rambling song, “Jerusalem”, which happens to be the first one on his first, self-titled 1997 recording, a song in which Bern announces that he is the Messiah; a nugget too good to ignore for a wise-ass like me.

jc: Let me start off by asking, are you still the Messiah, or has that changed for you the last couple of years?

Dan Bern: No. (chuckles)

jc: No, it hasn’t changed? Or no, you’re not the Messiah?

DB: No.

jc: (laughs) The only reason I’m asking is I’m Beelzebub. So I guess you and I have a meeting in the desert sometime soon.

“The whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

DB: I’m looking forward to it. Anytime, bring it on.

jc: Do you see yourself less as a folksinger and more as a satirist? Most of your work, specifically “Cure For AIDS” and the “Swastika Song” are in that vein, less serious commentary than satire.

DB: Well, it shifts around. I think it really depends on the song. Actually, those labels – folksinger or satirist – I tend to shy away from them myself, or anything that can put you in a box. Other people do it, but I never found it necessary. This way I can take it from song to song.

jc: Would you say that your songs are more observations rather than commentary?

DB: I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit into some larger picture? So I think the observation is part of the work, but then what does it mean? What did you make the observation for?

jc: So would you consider the meaning behind these observations in your songs more from an optimist’s standpoint or a pessimist’s?

DB: I certainly have my moments of pessimism, but I think overall just to be out here doing this, being able to write songs in the face of everything else, there’s a hope, a belief in something.

jc: So you’d say writing the songs, even from the pessimist’s side, is something of a catharsis for you and the hope comes from the listener going through the same thing?

DB: I think so. If you’re just looking to depress people, what’s the point? If someone is out there going through terrible times, from losing their house to just fighting traffic, and they spend their hard earned money to go out and hear me play my songs, there has to be something positive there. I know if I’m going to a show I’m expecting to be uplifted somehow, gain a kind of inspiration from it. I’d hope that’s happening with my performances.

jc: How much of your own personal experience do you put in the songs? In other words, you write predominantly in the first person, so when you use “I” in a song, are you talking directly from your own experience?

DB: Well that shifts too. There’s some reflection of me. It’s the narrator, really. If you look at it like a short story, the “I” is coming from the narrator, not the guy who wrote it. There’s an assumption that within the theme there will be a good deal of a similarity with the author. It works like some kind of a mirror, but you have to give yourself the complete freedom to take the truth as you see it and stretch the hell out of it. (chuckles)

jc: (laughs) All right, but for instance, the touching aspects of a song like “Lithuania” seems extremely biographical, while also speaking to various different avenues of the universal personality, even if the listener didn’t happen to have grandparents who were murdered by Nazis. There is something personal, yet eminently relatable to ghosts of our past that shape us, the relatives we’ve never met, the experiences of escaping our legacy.

DB: Yes, a song like that crosses over. That song is very much, if not completely, autobiographical.

jc: As opposed to something satirical like “The Swastika Song”, which comments on the same issues as “Lithuania”, but in a completely different voice. You are coming to grips with the issues of the past in “Lithuania” and grabbing back a part of history that has been annexed by hate to return it to a positive art form in “The Swastika Song”.

DB: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s like a big mural on the wall. You throw it up there.

jc: Would you consider yourself a realist? Or do you try and create a world that is best suited for your art?

DB: Hopefully I’m covering the whole ball of wax song by song. Again, in the course of a two or three hour show, I feel the need for the songs to speak clearly and linearly at some point and distort and stretch at other points. I don’t think I’d be comfortable sitting with only one way of speaking of things.

jc: Or one viewpoint.

DB: Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

NEXT WEEK: PART II

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