Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Diary of the Infected & Discoveries Along the Way
The mystery is over me. On the third day of January 2022, let the record show, I became one of the statistics you read every day – the growing cases of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. I am counted among those who have finally fallen to the bane of the early 2020’s – our pandemic, our Great Depression, our WWII moment. This is the one where as much as Americans hate to think we are in the same boat, we are here. Whether you choose to believe or accept or whatever the rationalizations you tell yourself, we are in this deep. To what extent, I don’t know. Scientists don’t know, then I don’t. Doctors are calling audibles, so I shan’t offer a half-assed opinion. This is, of course, not the first time I’ll be writing about the Coronavirus, but it is the first time I’ll be doing it as its victim.

FILE PHOTO: A woman takes a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a pop-up testing site as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 27, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

To begin, I had it pretty bad – chills, fever, headache, bouts of dizziness, sore throat, coughing, the whole thing. My wife had it worse. At least three days of high fever and severe coughing ever since. My thirteen year-old daughter had glassy eyes, some fever and felt mostly achy. We were all extremely fatigued throughout. (Note: All of us are fully vaccinated, but were awaiting our turn at a booster, which did not come in time). It has been about eleven days since my first symptoms, and I am still kind of woozy and still need to take a seat more than I normally would and even find myself wandering away from this word-machine here. The girls are recovering slowly but surely. This was a bitch for sure, but all in all, no issues with the lungs or worries about a hospital run and we have our taste buds and smell intact. We also have the blessed antibodies. Now that it is over, I can say it is worth that, at least.

But, again, the mystery is over for me. The stigma of thinking, “I can’t get this” or after a while, “Fuck it, if I get this.” You know. We have mostly lived our lives carefully here, and our circle of friends and certainly family for the past almost two years now. Sure, we would get together, play music, drink, hang, travel. I have traveled to South Padre Island, Texas, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico and Austin, Texas since March 2020, and we did our Long Beach Island shore run both years. We have attended and played in our local (and traveled to) music fests – mostly outdoors, but some indoors – over this time. We have masked up, used our hand-sanitizers, washed our hands, took our vitamins, and lived our lives. This worked for way longer than I would have imagined. There was not a time after the initial shut-down that we overdid our quarantine thing. We lived. And even spent the 2020 holidays heading up to my extended family in Syracuse and bringing my mom in for summer and holiday visits. This time around it got us. Not my mom, who by the way will murder me if I print her age, but let’s just say I am pushing 60 later this year and she is about four-foot nothing and 74 pounds and was with all of us and went back to North Carolina with nary a symptom. She did a few tests and came up clean. She is likely at yoga or kickboxing right now as I write this. I am convinced she is a cyborg and having always assumed she would bury us all; I think I have my answer now.

Last thing on the family and the getting together for this past New Year’s Eve, which is what sparked this thing: Of my immediate family, (twelve in all, not including the maternal cyborg) seven of us got taken down. Now, this doesn’t mean all of us tested positive. The opposite. My wife and daughter did Rapid (two negatives) and my daughter did a more conclusive one through the nose (negative). Once I had the same symptoms as my bother-in-law, who called me the Monday after New Year’s Day to inform me of his infection, I went to get the two big tests – molecular (RT-PCR) tests that detect the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus. It was saliva. Took nearly a week to get the results: Positive. But we already knew.

I think it is important we be careful, and be responsible, and get vaccinated

To that end, I think it is important I report that any Rapid Test you may take for the Omicron is mostly bullshit. I have heard from friends and colleagues who have had this variant that they had to take rapid/home tests three or four times to get a positive result. I would say, in my experience now, and those who have shared it with me, if you were with someone who has Covid, and you have symptoms, you have Covid. Period. Even two nurses and my doctor said it is almost impossible with Omicron to be near someone who gets it, and if you have similar symptoms, escape unscathed.

I can also state that while this variant and the times we live in now with vaccines (I had my first two doses done in June and was due for my booster in December, as mentioned, but there were none to be had until mid-January anyway), plus post-infection medication (I took an antibiotic prescribed by my doctor), it is still very serious. I blanche at anyone undercutting the importance of not getting this and taking care to not push yourself if you do. And while I have gigs that allow me to continue to be productive from home, there is still, as mentioned above, a period of rest that must be adhered to. This thing sucks, no doubt about it.

I do not regret living as I have the past year-plus with this thing all around us. I would do it all again, even New Year’s Eve. I think it is important we be careful, and be responsible, and get vaccinated, and if choosing to not get vaccinated then at least respect those who might be concerned to be around you. Whatever you decide, and however this turns out for you, please know that it is serious, and that we all do not know its after-effects and what is coming around the corner.

But, for this writer, the direct experience fighting off this virus has been nothing like the flu or a bad cold. Everyone that has had it that I’ve spoken to has shared unique symptoms and experiences. Everyone’s response is different. Some worse. Some less so. There is no standard for this. It is Covid. It’s its own thing. Know that. And proceed accordingly.

And please stay safe and healthy and think of others the same way.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Thoughts from a Parent on the New Violence Normal
Okay, so the morning I am writing this (December 17, 2021) I get a text from one of my daughter’s eighth-grade friends at around six am on whether the young thirteen year-old in my care is going to school today. I must admit (bad parenting 101) I was unaware that there was a warning out there about some National School Bomb/Shooting Day floating around the Internet thanks in no small part to a Tik Tok/Snap Chat social media viral frenzy over a few days in mid-December. This was, as I have researched, the bizarre but expected offshoot of a hoax perpetuated by some enterprising urchins in the Midwest trying to get schools to shut down “for fun.” But, well, in this era of the weekly school shootings, and being a parent of a middle school kid, this was, to say the least concerning.

Spoiler Alert: We sent our kid in. Packing.

Well, not really. It is just something I write to be pithy and to allay my growing fears about what the hell is going on, but unlike many of my fellow Americans, I am not in the “What Have We Become?” camp. This has been the America of my fifty-nine years of breathing. In the 1960s, there were weekly bomb threats to my Catholic School in the Bronx, NY. I was in first grade, and we were routinely waltzed into the playground behind the school. Interestingly, one time I was standing back there and noticed the shadow of the school engulfing us tikes as we waited for the bell to usher us back into the joint. I decided that any detonated bomb would likely rain rubble down upon us. I turned and walked home. I got a lot of shit for that, but at six, I think I possessed enough self-preservation to consider it again the moment I heard they’d announced in the towers on 9/11 that everyone should not panic and stay in their cubicles. My guess is I would have turned and walked out. But who knows?

Anyway, it totally sucks that we must be wary of our children walking into a school that may or may not be shot up or blown up today. Right? Whether you support full gun rights or fear every kind of terrorism or believe some other thing, we can agree this ain’t cool. This is not Jerusalem, after all. When I went to Israel in 1996 the main response to what had been going on there for decades (centuries?) was “We just want our kids to take the bus in peace.” – Palestinians and Israelis.

I live in the mountains of New Jersey, and although there is the usual congregation of gun-perverts you expect up here, I think it is a fairly benign region. But then again, these sleepy towns are the ones with the neighbor’s kid who decides he’s had enough.

But getting back to this morning’s drama, before the fancy tweet from Governor Phil Murphy, “While there are no known specific threats against New Jersey schools, the safety of our children is our highest priority and we will work closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared,” I received several texts from other concerned parents. By the way, as an aside, I think this whole using Twitter to make serious government-related announcements should stop. Another fantastic legacy held over from our previous President Idiot. What if you are not on Twitter? Your kid doesn’t count? You think I follow Murphy on Twitter?

“We just want our kids to take the bus in peace.”

– Palestinians and Israelis.

Doing some research on all of this, there have been, according to Nassau, Long Island Police Chief Patrick Ryder, a 148-percent increase in school threats this year. It is a thing now. So “a thing” usually ends up being exploited on the Internet. This, I think, (Jesus, I hope) is what we have here. I have prided myself in not living in fear – of viruses, terrorists, evangelicals, fringe movements, the government, Major League Baseball, big cities, traveling abroad, mainlining absinthe, and the like. This was a tough one. My daughter is more important than anything on planet earth, as I am sure your offspring is. But how are we supposed to live (function) in this “new normal” environment of violence-first? I wonder back to the Pilgrims and those lunatics who started building houses on Native American land, or any number of crazy violence-related shit Americans have been dealing with since we decided to stomp around here as if we owned the place?

I suppose there is no answer to any of this when you consider our legacy of violence. And now our ability to post some madness out there that gets reposted and reposted. How do you think you end up with the kind of street riots of 2020 and, most egregiously, the January 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol in broad daylight? The Internet is our playground. And every playground has those kids, you know those kids. The ability to communicate the idea of violence, insurrection, destruction is so easy now. And so is complete and utter bullshit. The crazies count on the bullshit. And although I do support every kind of free speech, this equates to shouting fire in a crowded theater. Causing panic is terrorism. So, if you forward this stuff, are you a terrorist? I am still formulating my opinion on government officials who support those who caused January 6, including President Idiot, so I’ll get back to you on that.

And, let’s face it, it is all well and good to use this space to parse these social aspects of our collective damaged psyche for a lark, however, this is my kid. These are your kids. Are we forced to live in an armored compound and stock up on canned goods?

I say, nah to that. But I guess I cannot fault anyone for going full-on “Check Out” when this kind of thing hits home. It can change perspectives. Fast.

I always say Expect the Worst, Hope for the Best. I guess prepare for all of the above is the best answer to any of it.

And by it, I mean, reality.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion

In Praise of High White Notes – The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism and a Discussion with its Author, David S. Wills

I have told this story time and again in this space; in the early to mid-nineties and then again in the early aughts before his death by suicide, I met and spoke with one of my most cherished literary and journalistic heroes Hunter S. Thompson, and in each of these brief but fruitful discussions I came away with an understanding on how much the myth of the wild Gonzo drug-addled, booze-hound, gun-toting lunatic overshadowed the serious, methodical ultra-talented wordsmith, a writer of such consequence as to be rightly called the Mark Twain of his generation. Thank you, David S Wills, who in the pages of his new book, High White Notes – The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism digs deeper and deeper into the brilliance of Thompson’s art and the natural inclinations he mixed with learned formation to come up with his finest work. Equally, Wills takes to task the times when Thompson sabotages his considerable talents, and lazily leans on repeating himself like a Las Vegas lounge singer toying with the melodies of the best of songs for mere schlock entertainment.

But it is the music in Hunter Thompson’s writing that Wills reveals so masterfully in his book; sharing the Good Doctor’s finest achievement in the rock and roll era in mostly a rock and roll magazine to a predominantly rock and roll generation. It is the rhythm and meter of his most spectacular prose that we find the real Hunter, as it still sings its grandest tunes to us. And that is where, as one of Thompson’s mentor’s F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, the “high white notes” are hit – his early days as a serious journalist to his discovery of Gonzo and its off-shoots and deviations. It is a grand journey and Wills takes us there.

I spent some time with Wills a month or so ago when the book came out. Here is our discussion on his wonderful book, the mercurial nature of the literary titan that is Hunter Stockton Thompson, and what we can rediscover in his canon today.

We begin way back with the music of Fitzgerald…

David Wills: There is that famous story when Hunter was very young, typing out of The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925) and it is a very important foundation for his writing. I can’t remember his exact words, but he explained it to a friend when he was young, about getting the rhythm. And then later in his life, anytime he talked about Fitzgerald, it was always the music of his prose, it’s the way it sounded, the way he captured the sounds of the ear. And that’s exactly what Hunter was trying to do throughout his own career. And if you look at those brilliant moments, or what I’m calling the “high white notes” of his career, I think that’s when he absolutely infused his prose with that music. And I don’t think it’s an accident, I think he was aiming for that all along. And I think he achieved that in things like, “the wave” passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the “edge” passage from Hell’s Angels. And I think that’s why when we look at his later books, which I was very critical of, there are sentences and occasionally whole paragraphs where he did have that music, but, as a whole, he lost the rhythm of it.

There’s a reference in the end of the book about how he was really curious about learning why language sounds a certain way. He was trying to study poetics from a friend, because at first it just came naturally to him. And that, I think, comes from having read Fitzgerald and typed out Fitzgerald as a child, as well as other great writers, as well, of course, he was a big (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge fan. So, he read a lot of poetry, even if he didn’t write it. I think that kind of infused his very best writing with a musical sound.

james campion: He loved Dylan, and specifically “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965) was a huge inspiration for him. And obviously Dylan conflated the art of poetry with music, the way Hunter might have conflated prose and verse. And then, of course, he writes about the conflicting radio playing one song in the car in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and “Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones, 1968) blasting on a boombox in the back. Also, the conflict of bringing in Doris Day into that book juxtaposed with the psychedelic drug culture, and some of the other music selections he introduces in Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1973) He was consistently infusing music itself into the work, and this never really occurred to me in the way I just described it to you, until I read your book.

DW: I’m glad. I wasn’t consciously thinking about music that much when I was writing it. I was aware, of course, as one of his famous quotes is something like, “music is fuel to me”, and he would blast certain songs as he was writing, and people around him say it wasn’t just he was listening to music, he would listen to the same song or album, over and over and over… He talked a few times about whenever he wanted the energy and inspiration, he would just blast out “Mr. Tambourine Man” on these immense speakers. He had a wall of speakers, that was just the most powerful thing because he didn’t have any neighbors around for far enough that you could get away with that.

jc: I would say that you hit upon something that’s really important to understanding where Hunter lived as a writer. When I was working on my book on Warren Zevon, and, as you know, Warren and Hunter became close later in life, I was always amazed writing that book at how much Zevon was a closeted literary freak. He was always quoting books in his songs and how books inspired entire albums. He always said “Werewolves of London” was his answer to the Vegas book. I always felt like Hunter was a closeted rock and roll star, and in many ways, he did become one. I love when he finally admitted in the late seventies, “I have to sign autographs now, there are more people here to see me than Jimmy Carter.” And it negatively affected his way to write. He was trapped by this rock star persona.

DW: He was conflicted about his celebrity. He would say, “Oh, I hate ‘The Duke’ in The Doonesbury Comic Strip.” (Garry Trudeau – 1970 to present) And sure, he probably did hate it to some extent, but whether subconsciously or not, he knew this was adding to his brand. He loved money, he wanted to make more and more money, and he knew that this contributed to this self-perpetuating cycle whereby he’s just growing more famous every year. And I think I mentioned in the book that I saw a photograph somewhere, and it was on his “wall of things.” He was a very visual person, he needed to connect things when he was writing, but he had a wall of just pictures that were important to him, and on that wall was a Doonsbury comic strip, and I thought that would be very surprising if in amongst pictures of his son, and things like that, stuff that was really significant to him, he had this one thing that he supposedly hated.

Now, he did only say negative things about the strip in public, and yet, when everyone went at his house, he’d put on some wacky outfit, the Hawaiian shirt, his cigarette holder, he wanted to be recognized. He wanted people to see him and go, “There’s Raoul Duke, the famous crazy author!”

jc: And you do point out that this, along with the drug abuse and alcoholism negatively affected his later work.

DW: Yes, it became, in my estimation, cartoonish and unbalanced. When I’m reading Hunter, or really anything, but specifically Hunter, because he was so tuned into certain words and how they work, I notice weird things that maybe other people wouldn’t notice, like collections of words that get repeated and themes that aren’t prominent. And I noticed when reading his work, there was a lot of, how do I say, surface stuff like “activistic” or “savage” and the use of drug names. And so, I wanted to go back and explore, how did this develop? Because he wasn’t always the same person, the same writer. But if you go back and read his very first writings as a teenager, you can start to see the patterns in the words and the themes starting to emerge, and so I wanted to explore that. And so, I dug up everything I could find, undoubtedly, I’ve probably missed a few things. But I think I’ve got ninety percent of it.

jc: It comes through in your narrative. You can see the incline and the decline of his work very clearly in your book.

DW: I felt his early work was interesting and worth exploring further because he didn’t want to be a journalist. He just recognized early on as a very well-read person – his mom preached the value of books to him – that he wanted to be a novelist. And then when he discovered (Ernest) Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Don Levy, and later the Beat Writers to some extent, he wanted to do what they were doing; write this revolutionary prose. And he realized, “I’m a kid with no formal education, and I’ve got jail on my record, this long criminal record, what can I do? Well, I can literally only write, it’s my only saleable skill.” So, you get stuck into sports journalism, which he enjoyed, but I don’t think he viewed it as high art of any sort.
jc: Right, but you point out this background gives him this unique ability to write action, which he uses in his best work, Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing, that he developed from being a sportswriter, which by the way Hemingway was and (Kurt) Vonnegut was, there’s so many great writers that started out being forced to describe action that was crucial to their development.
DW: Yeah, and so you look at his later writing, and one of the weaknesses, I think, is that when he lost his physical mobility, and because of being trapped by celebrity to some extent his capability of mingling with other people, the action was gone. But yeah, he took those sportswriter verbs and then he turned it into describing motorbikes and cars, and then this weird, violent prose. Soon everything was infused with this violence. But you go back to his early sports writing, and when he was describing the wrestling stuff as though it was real, like the guy had his neck broken, and it sounds so stupid. But then you look at his later writing, and you realize the satire, the subtle nod to “I’m saying fake things, made up things, with the intention of my reader knowing, but without me saying explicitly that this is made up.” It was always there from the beginning. You can see the origins of Gonzo, which I always categorize as just this weird mixture of fact and fiction, as I’ve said many times, it was there from almost day one, which is kind of bizarre in that you can see he’s trying to make this, what he perceived as just shit journalism, into high art. He’s also writing these short stories, and these novels, at the time, which he was convinced were going to make his fame and fortune, but then the end, of course, it was the mixture of that fusion of “literary journalism” that made him famous. And no one ever really did it that well, and no one’s ever been able to replicate what he did.

jc: Yeah, I’ve always said that there is no Gonzo Journalism, there’s just Hunter Thompson. And I think one thing you point out in the book is his unerring sense of humor. That was what drew me to him, like Twain and Vonnegut; I laugh out loud when I read Hunter’s work. That’s not the truth with many writers, even the ones whom he worshipped, like Hemmingway, who did not write “funny.” Hunter also loved to use humor to topple people at the top, but specifically people with money, which reflected what Fitzgerald wrote about in Gatsby, wherein he wasn’t accepted – he was the “new money,” and you get that from that great article “Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Border” (1963), the guy hitting golf balls into the Barrio. And then later you have Louisville Gentry in “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” (Scanlon’s Monthly – 1970) and the Blue Bloods in Las Vegas pissing away money while people are starving and dying in Vietnam. He’s constantly bringing it back to the “haves and have-nots” and he does it so effortlessly. But he’s writing the same story over and over again, which you point out.

“I … take Fear and Loathing apart line by line, word by word, just doing the closest of close readings, and I’m still laughing until the tears come. It’s just such a work of fucking genius.”

DW: I think there are various themes, probably too many themes, that’s one of his problems is trying to cram everything into every story. But yeah, that’s one of the ones that was just endlessly repeated. And as other people have commented, he was just constantly trying to write The Great Gatsby for the fifties for the sixties to the seventies to the eighties. And even he would admit that in interviews, and sometimes in his stories, he was looking around, like, where’s Daisy now? And you know, how can I replicate this image and this theme.

jc: The green light, and all that stuff, yeah.

DW: Yeah. Constantly, constantly. But he did have this immense ability to portray wealthy and powerful people in a shockingly negative light. That, as you said, stems from his own childhood and his feelings of inadequacy in Louisville. You can see it so many times through his writing. What I tried to do in the book was point out where he said and wrote things that are racially quite insensitive, but for him, wealth and racism were inextricably mixed. Whenever you see him attacking rich people, there’s always this element of, subtly or not, accusing them of being racist, especially when you see the Kentucky Derby piece. It really came out there. And, of course, this contempt for the native people – the rich Gringo smacking golf balls into this poor Colombian neighborhood. Whether that ever happened or not, who knows? But yeah, he just tied those things together. And time and again, you see that coming out this, “Wealthy people are awful, racism is awful” and just bringing these together.

jc: You cite what you feel is Hunter’s misuse of capitalization and ellipses and just odd phrases that are not proper sentences in the book quite a bit. It’s again, getting back to music, his changing the notes like Coltrane’s “Favorite Things” (1961). And it’s not necessarily right, but it’s right for him. But you point out, “Hey, man, this is getting a little silly now.” Did you study literature and grammar?

DW: Yeah, I taught grammar at university for many years and actually wrote a few books about grammar. So, I definitely have that sort of bias coming through. However, having spent much of my life studying the Beats and Hunter Thompson having always been my favorite writer, I have huge respect for people that can break the rules of grammar. But Hunter himself said, I don’t remember the exact quote, so I’ll just paraphrase, he says, “If you want to break the rules, you have to know the rules first.” And I think that’s an immensely important thing that very few of the people that copy his style ever bother to think about. He started with an intuitive grasp of the language, then he studied the rules until he knew them inside out. And you can see that through his early journalism as he’s learning and getting better and better, and his writing becomes tighter and tighter, more and more grammatically accurate, then you can see in the early sixties, he’s he starts to say, “Well, this is the grammatically correct way. But this is a more effective way to do what I want to do.” And he starts breaking the rules, and he starts forging his own style. My contention was, though, that he had an immense grasp over language in the beginning. And later, as he got into the cocaine, and it started to rattle his brain, he lost control. And you can see I mentioned a few times how he was unable to keep control of the narrative. So, he would forget that he’d already said something, and…

jc: Like the ESPN articles (2000 – 2003). I went back and looked at a few and you’re right about that.
DW: And in The Curse of Lono (1983), he tells us three times the Japanese runners ran past Pearl Harbor. So, I don’t think he’s doing that for emphasis, he’d forgotten that he’d already said it twice. And you can see this time and again, these mistakes. And when you look at the grammar, you start realizing, later on, when the grammar gets worse and worse and worse, and these errors start coming around, it’s no longer a matter of emphasis. You’ll look at his sixties writing, and he’ll capitalize a word to give it special importance. And I think that’s a legitimate technique, and I think it draws attention to this word. And he’s using the sentence fragments for importance. And he’s using the ellipses for importance. Later, he loses that control.

Now, there’s an argument to be said that maybe early on the editors were exercising more control over his writing and making it more straightforward, but I don’t think that covers nearly half of it. And you can see from his unpublished work that this same disparity exists. It’s just a lack of ability rather than a choice.

jc: What was your biggest revelation about Hunter when working on this book?

DW: I don’t know. There were so many myths that came up that just didn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny and yet they’ve been repeated in articles and biographies. I don’t want to say anything bad about the biographers because they’ve all in their own way done a great job, but they just kept taking what Hunter said and repeating it as the truth. But it was very clear to me that whether he meant or not what he said it was not the truth. I guess it was surprising to me just how much he fabricated about his own life and other things. Like the old expression, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” For instance, in Kingdom of Fear (2003), everything, in my opinion, was just bullshit. They’re all his biographical stories, and he was called out by the New York Times Book Review in that he had the opportunity to really get into the important stuff for the first time, but he didn’t do it. And, you know, he was talking about as a child getting arrested at nine years old by the FBI. I remember even as a 20-year-old reading that and saying, “That just can’t be true.” And yet, again, and again, it is repeated as truth. And I investigated and investigated and I couldn’t find anything to disprove it, but that’s the thing with Hunter; when he was lying, it was always the stuff that was hard to disprove.

jc: What do you think is Thompson’s finest work?

DW:  Well, you know, people ask me this about Hunter and about (Jack) Kerouac and other people I’ve studied, and I want to name something really obscure, but honestly the classics are classics for a bloody good reason and with Kerouac it was On the Road (1957) and with Hunter it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You mentioned earlier about laughing, it doesn’t matter how many times I read that book, or how many times I study it and studying a book really ruins it for you in many cases, but I go back take Fear and Loathing apart line by line, word by word, just doing the closest of close readings, and I’m still laughing until the tears come. It’s just such a work of fucking genius.
jc: It really is.
DW: On so many levels, it’s just magnificent. And that’s why the chapter on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is so stupidly long in my book because there is so much to say, there’s so many levels to how brilliant it was.
jc: I loved the way, getting back to Fitzgerald, you break down the word-number and meter and focus of passages in Gatsby and Fear & Loathing and how they eerily match-up; almost mathematically. It illustrates what we were discussing earlier that lineage of greatness and musical sound in the writing.
DW: I’m glad that worked, because I didn’t want to get too into the technical stuff. I have a terrible memory, but when it comes to stuff like that, for some reason, it kind of sticks out to me. So, I would see a word or a phrase or even the number of syllables in the sentence and it just resonates. I usually start with, “So, in December of 1958, he wrote this, and that’s the same, and that’s why he’s doing that are on page 100. And something of Gatsby he’s got the same number of syllables there…”
jc: I realized after reading your book, why those are my two favorite books. And having written about music for most of my professional life and almost exclusively in book form now, it all became clear to me. That, and the humor we spoke of earlier.
DW: Yes, and above all of that, the fact that no one really understands Fear & Loathing in that way. It’s so funny on the surface level, and I just can’t get over that. Having said that, I mean, perhaps his best work, just on an objective level, might be “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy” (Scanlon’s Monthly – 1970), which he wrote two or three years before that, and everyone talks about “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” as the breakthrough Gonzo work yet, just before he wrote that he wrote the Jean-Claude Killy piece, and everything is in place there, basically. He was essentially rewriting the Jean-Claude Killy piece in a more refined sense with a little less constraint. And then Fear and Loathing is the long version of “Kentucky Derby.” He found this template in Jean-Claude Killy that worked, so he copied it and he copied it. And one of the problems with the rest of his career was that he just tried to copy that again and again and again. It’s like, “Okay, you can get away with it three times, but when you start getting into it more and more, it’s more noticeable and more repetitive.”

But just to give another layer to this answer; my favorite book was The Rum Diary, (1950s manuscript published in 1998) and it’s not a brilliant book like Fear and Loathing, which is technically magnificent, but The Rum Diary, from a purely subjective stance, and we are talking about the most subjective of subjective writers, The Rum Diary had a huge influence on me. When I read my early writing, and I attempted a lot of fiction – I’m terrible at fiction, and one of the reasons is probably because I was just trying to copy The Rum Diary over and over. I re-read it in the research for this book, and two things struck me. One, it definitely wasn’t as good as I originally thought, although I enjoyed it again. And two, I felt, oh my god, I was ripping him off so badly without realizing it! The Rum Diary just ruined me as a writer of fiction back then. And yeah, I still love it for, you know, the books that we love. There’s not necessarily a good reason for it. Sometimes you just read them at the right moment in your life and they hit you in that way reading Hunter will do for all of us.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
How Candidates Use and May Use SCOTUS Decision on Roe v Wade
The most important Supreme Court hearings on women’s reproductive rights since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision to legalize abortion under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, specifically its Due Process Clause, providing the sacrosanct “right to privacy” to all citizens, male and female, is underway. A decision is expected this summer, and with the current ultra-right court, packed with three new judges that have a written and judicial history of opposing the law, it appears its current legal status is in jeopardy. The new controversial Mississippi law seeks to lower the abortion timeframe to fifteen weeks that pro-choice advocates claim will further roll back the rights of women against government interference to control what happens inside their bodies. The pro-life argument is that it protects a fetus at that point in the pregnancy, which new scientific evidence points to its viability to survive outside the mother.

To reiterate what I have always written here, I support all American’s Fourteen Amendment rights, as all Americans should. Many who cry about the government’s mandates on vaccines (“My body my choice”), have filched the pro-choice rallying cry as their own while simultaneously supporting overturning Roe v Wade. This is precisely why Senate Republicans played fast and loose with denying then President Obama a vote on his pick to replace the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia with ten months to go before the 2016 election and then with only six weeks to go before the 2020 election, rammed through a replacement for staunch defender of Roe v Wade, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a known anti-Roe candidate.

Abortion has always been ancillary political chum, but make no mistake, it is fully engaged in the construct now, and this will be a cut-and-dry political decision for this court. It wants to make it about constitutional law, but since 1973, Roe v Wade has been considered – over hundreds of challenges – to be “settled law”. So, like the whole flip-flop Republican maneuvers to stack this court with changing philosophies, this is now fully about politics.

The abortion debate has moved away from the 1980s into the 90s’ “third-rail” framing into political gold for Republicans, used to great effect in every local and national election for this century thus far. The slow, methodical building of local and appellate judges and the ignoring of the high crimes of the former president to remake the high court is evidence that this is now, by consequence, a fully engaged and shamelessly political issue on the table for Democrats should the expected ruling come down this summer.

According to recent polling, there is anywhere between sixty-five to seventy five percent of Americans who want no part of the government dictating what goes on in a citizen’s body. This is far higher than pro-gun number (also a Republican winner at the voting booth for decades), as nearly seven out of ten Americans want stricter gun laws. I have been consistent in my argument for the First Amendment, and therefore reluctantly support the Second Amendment on the merits of the slightest restructure of those rights as a slippery slope to government control over our constitutional heritage. And this is where I fall on abortion. It is not a moral or political decision for me. It is law and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution to protect our rights to not be invaded by a social, political, or governing institution. I believe every American should support this. But most conservatives are goofy with this issue and just chuck the whole “Don’t Tread on Me” edict. They want their guns and not adhere to health mandates but go nuts on a woman’s uterus. It breaks the hypocrisy charts, and it should not be.

But back to politics, where abortion has been mostly a winner for Republicans. It is not the main reason for hanging onto their shrinking support on most issues at the polls, but it helps. Religious support for Republicans during the Reagan Era shifted this paradigm. One wonders in the wake of this decision if the Biden Era will be seen as a new rallying cry for pro-choice activists once their rights have been so radically impinged.

Conservatives… want their guns and not adhere to health mandates but go nuts on a woman’s uterus. It breaks the hypocrisy charts, and it should not be.

I wholly support expanding the Supreme Court, blowing up the filibuster, and/or passing state laws here in New Jersey to protect women’s reproductive rights. I think it is as important as the Civil Rights issue, and later, for me, marriage equality. These are all dramatic political plays with major risks, but this issue calls for the kind of sweeping actions Republicans pulled in 2016 and 2020 to stack the SCOTUS with anti-Roe judges in the first place.

The Democrats are poised to take a serious beating in 2022. President Biden’s approval numbers are nearly at Trump-level tanking. Note: If there is a presidential poll that puts you in a discussion with Trump, it is time to panic. Inflation is real and it is going to get worse before it gets better. Oil prices are rising, as new Covid variants pop up. This whole new “Parents Rights” stuff that helped secure a Republican gubernatorial victory in a mostly blue state, is happening. There are some months to go, and things swing so quickly in this political climate, it is hard to predict six months out, never mind a year. Half a year ago, Biden had a 53-percent approval rating; the highest for a president since the first months of the Obama presidency thirteen long years ago. It hovers dangerously at 42-percent. Considering mid-term history, the massive redistricting going on right now, and the draconian anti-democratic laws being crafted in the wake of the Big Lie in Republican-run states, Dems are in electoral peril.

But… introduce this disastrous SCOTUS decision, and there is your wild card. Does the left have any chance to exploit abortion rights the way the right exploited wiping them out? Can this be, in essence, the passing of the Affordable Care Act kind of political wind shift that kick-started the right-wing Tea Party movement of 2010 this time galvanizing liberals and independents?

Let’s face reality here; the House is toast for Democrats, where redistricting tips the scales considerably. But the Senate is different, and in the wake of a Roe v Wade gutting, could rile up the independent vote (staunchly pro Roe v Wade) and the vacillating suburban women vote that wilted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but came out in droves to sink Donald Trump last year. It is, after all, the Senate that approves future federal judges; something Republicans have used as a craven cudgel to remake minority ideologies a force. It is political viper Mitch McConnell’s greatest or saddest legacy.

The SCOTUS decision, the final victory for the right’s decades-old fight to essentially end national abortion rights is upon us. It is as political as any decision in my lifetime for the high court, and it may be a powerful political pendulum that could swing the other way

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now, so before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself.
– Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers after getting caught in a dangerous lie about having been vaccinated according to league rules.
Spoiler alert: There is no “Wake Mob” that busted Aaron Rodgers. For very weird reasons, he didn’t want to get the Covid-19 vaccination, so when he was caught bullshitting his teammates, the league, the fans, the press, and anyone else who may have been in contact with him, and then consequently contracted the virus, he relied on the new way for idiots to get out jail free; blame it on “Cancel Culture”. Since Rodgers is purportedly a “smart guy” – when using football player metrics, this is like being the thinnest Sumo Wrestler – we’ll assume the maneuver is less brain damaged muscle goon and more like Ted Cruz lite. This is assuming the Texas Senator doesn’t have brain damage, which is still very much up for debate. Nevertheless, Rodgers is part of a league that makes him millions of dollars a year playing a kid’s game, and that league has a rule about Covid vaccinations, and he broke it. He could have at least blamed it on some middling employee like Tom Brady always does when he is nabbed cheating. But he went the lazy “Woke Mob” and “Cancel Culture” route, and that put him on the Reality Check radar.

I haven’t watched pro football for five, six years now. I don’t like the game anymore – the rules, the general play philosophy, the replay, the way it is broadcasted or the cadre of criminals that play for, coach, or run its teams. The whole thing is a cesspool unworthy of my attention. If it were still enjoyable, or more to the point, I still gambled, then I would endure the other stuff. I am no moralist. But the game sucks and the players mostly suck now and couldn’t hold a sweaty jock to anyone who played the thing before 1982, never mind the 1990s. It’s a joke. But I do know who Aaron Rodgers is, since he won a Super Bowl and an MVP before I bailed. He seems like a fine gentleman. He is friends with friends of mine. I don’t mean to disparage him here. But he needs to be made example. Not necessarily in the vaccination debate, which is even more inane than the NFL, but because we need to call-out phonies who fuck up and then conveniently blame some imaginary goblins.

The “Woke Mob” is a pejorative reference, I presume, to being “woke”, which when reintroduced into the lexicon in 2017 (a socio-political reaction to the Neanderthal horrors of a misogynistic racist having been elected president of the United States and duly supported Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia that year) is defined by Miriam Webster’s as “Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” It was also attached that year to a modern women’s movement after the massive national inauguration day women’s march. But Woke is not a 2017 invention. Its earliest usage is as old as me, and if my knees are any indication, that is a long run. In a 1962 New York Times Magazine article written by African American novelist, William Melvin Kelley, titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It”, the author of that year’s controversial best-seller, A Different Drummer deftly satirized the mostly white Beatnik (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, etc.) movement’s appropriation of Black vernacular in their work.

We need to call-out phonies who fuck up and then conveniently blame some imaginary goblins.

Now, I don’t expect a Green Bay Packer QB or that fat idiot from Texas to know any of this, but people yammering on about shit they don’t know has kept the words flowing in this space for nearly quarter of a century, and I don’t expect that spigot to turn off anytime soon, so we forge ahead on this imbecilic issue.

Now, to Rodgers’ moronic attempt to place himself within the Cancel Culture argument – also a misinterpretation of a wider social undercurrent still in its infancy. Like sports trades, any social movement needs perspective. When people were in the middle of the Civil Rights era, there were arguments against providing rights to Black people considered cogent – state’s rights, property rights, who gives a shit about Black people, that sort of thing. Now, we think these things are insane. Unless you consider people cracking the social mores of society and being ostracized for this as some kind of sin against liberty. But that is a terrible shortcut to actual thinking. No one is jailing Aaron Rodgers for this, he’s not being “cancelled” – sent adrift like Bill Cosby, who got funneled into Cancel Culture after his repeated raping of drugged women for decades. In fact, I would respect Rodgers more if he was stripped of his right to earn a living like Muhammad Ali was by the boxing commission for rightly rejecting the draft on religious grounds. He could be a martyr. Get a little Lenny Bruce thing going. But he won’t, because he is a phony dipshit, who just wants to remain likable after lying about a dangerous disease he’s been spreading in secret.

Rodgers, unlike Colin Kaepernick, is still a viable talent. When Kaepernick was demonized for his right to protest the killing of unarmed Black men by police in 2016 – something the league did not prohibit, like unvaccinated cry-babies – his abilities had eroded so much that blackballing him from the league, which he most certainly was, worked famously. It also helps that Rodgers is a white man. And if you ain’t Woke, you might miss that point.

I am not into labels, and I really hate grown men who don’t man-up when they’re busted. If Rodgers wants to make a stand on this, which he most certainly won’t, because it will cost him a shitload of money and the last part of his prime, and let’s face it, the kind of courage and strength Ali possessed would not bitch about Woke nonsense.

You want to have the fluid social movement argument about Woke and Cancel Culture that will look as lovely to your grandkids as the state’s rights stuff did in 1962 to keep Black people from using the same toilet as a Caucasians, then have at it. Just don’t use them to make excuses because you got pinched. Own up. Move on.    

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Coming to Grips with Humanity One “Like” at a Time
Facebook’s rank-and-file employees warned their leaders about the company’s effects on society and politics in the United States. And they say its inability to effectively moderate content has magnified those dangers, both in the U.S. and abroad.      
             – NPR Review of Facebook Papers 10/25
The release of the Facebook Papers has underlined a point I have consistently, and most times vulgarly made in this space for twenty-four years now: The problem is never with politics, companies, media outlets, art, etc, it is with us. We’re the problem. We make this stuff. And sometimes with the best intentions. Television was to its inventors a way to communicate and educate the masses, raise their awareness, and challenge the intellect and imagination for generations to come. It ended up with Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore and Tucker Carlson. We also buy, consume, and support this stuff we make. We do this. It is our way. So, who could possibly be surprised that when some college dink creates a way to rate women on the Internet that it would devolve even further into a mud pit of domestic terrorism, human trafficking, and Baal Worship groups?

Apparently one Frances Haugen was surprised. So much so, that the former Facebook product manager disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission a cache of communication and damning data that reveal that (wait for the shocking conclusion to this allegation…) Facebook’s leaders “repeatedly and knowingly put the company’s image and profitability ahead of the public good – even at the risk of violence and other harm.”

This is adorable. Next, we’ll be stunned to learn that oil companies spend billions to lobby and cover-up their pollution of the planet or that the National Football League is nothing more than a gambling delivery system.

You know who runs oil companies and the NFL? Us. You know who uses oil/gas to run our vehicles and heat our homes and incessantly watch the promotion of violence, stupidity and brain damage? Us. We don’t care about the planet or the dumbing of our culture, any more than we care if our neighbor dies of Covid. God forbid they might be gay or socialist or religious or want to get an abortion. Then we care. A lot. An annoying lot. But companies? They don’t give a shit about anything but “profitability.” Even “image” is a crapshoot. It’s actually refreshing when someone doesn’t try to sell, say, fascism as some kind of self-help, security measure. This was always the difference between someone like say Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, although to be fair to Reagan he wasn’t a psychotic terrorist, but still, I like my fascists to be up front about it. Trump is at least that.

But, as usual, I digress.

Also, if I may, this Haugen person was a product manager – and what the fuck does a product manager do at an internet social media site? – not some poor sucker that worked in the mail room. When she joined this rancid outfit, Haugen was presumably under the delusion that it was there to nurture babies and keep kittens safe. The woman is thirty-eight years-old (twenty-one when Facebook was launched) and attended fucking Harvard! Didn’t she read the dozens of books painting its founder Mark Zuckerberg as an angry misogynist and raging sociopath? Assuming she’s not a reader (do you have to read to get through Harvard?) there was even a popular film about the whole thing that presents Zuckerberg as all of the above, in addition to a narcissistic, exploitive, backstabbing, lying piece of steaming shit. So, um… Haugen went to work there anyway. Then, I guess, she suddenly found Jesus?

Our nature does not lean towards our “better angels’ it leans towards Facebook.

But enough about Haugen. I am sure she is trying to save her soul by whistleblowing, and for entertainment purposes, we thank her. But let’s get to the Facebook Papers, which I assume submits that somehow Facebook has an obligation to keep lunatics from being lunatics or idiots from believing idiotic shit, or whatever it is alleging. Spoiler alert, Facebook was invented and implemented for exactly these things. It is a platform for humans to do what humans do. It is in a way a microcosm of America, which has always stood as the Great Human Experiment. Give people the rights and freedoms to hang themselves or as Lincoln surmised choose to express “the better angles of our nature” and things don’t go so well. I love Abraham Lincoln. He was by far our greatest president and the true moral compass for a nation so badly damaged by “our nature” that he wiped out half the nation and gave his life for the effort. But in this case Honest Abe was wrong. Our nature does not lean towards our “better angels’ it leans towards Facebook.

We could have used Facebook to come together as a global village and cease hunger and genocide, instead we used it to perpetuate something called Q-Anon, which is a middle-school version of Dianetics, if L. Ron Hubbard’s parents procreated with sub-mental cousins.

The first big revelation in the Facebook Papers is that its algorithms do not properly translate globally, leading to misinformation and hate-speech, which hardly ever transpires here in our English-speaking nation (Cue laugh track). You know what else doesn’t translate globally? Porn and Trumpism. Neither gives a shit, and if you consider this for a hot minute, why should Facebook? You think Chiquita Banana corporation carefully considered the oppression of the Cuban people? How about Apple? Do they lose sleep over eight year-old Chinese girls putting their IPhones together in poorly ventilated sweat shops for twelve hours a day? I am sure most of us who have these phones don’t give it another thought. But Facebook needs to care?

After the January 6 attempted bloody coup against our government and the blatant attack on the core of our democratic system perpetuated by the then sitting president of the United States and backed by a large majority of one of the two major parties in this country, it was revealed that much of the effort was planned on Facebook. This must have also been astonishing, since most of the people who use Facebook now are middle-aged white angry people. But, alas, the network only labeled these activities “harmful” but “non-violating.” Which makes sense, because unlike those who actually worked in congress and helped plan the overthrow of the government on behalf of a crybaby, Facebook does not and should not be the arbitrator of political decorum or possible sedition. Those who argue that Twitter has acted more responsibly, then good for Twitter. While it was their decision to kick off domestic terrorists, this is a business model for Facebook. Hell, someone beyond OAN has to profit from this.

Now, the revelation of human trafficking of Filipino maids is a different story. If this brings Facebook to its knees, then so be it. That ain’t cool, because unlike anything stated above, or the nifty discussions on whether the “Like” button is a form of bullying, that activity is illegal – but again, is only a glimpse into what depths human nature can go when it has a chance to exploit, profit or subjugate.

Ahh, Facebook. It is our mirror. We see ourselves and we don’t like it, so we blame the glass. This is what we do, but then we’d only have ourselves left to shout at, and what fun is that? That would be, to use the visual parlance of the platform, a thumbs down.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Treason, Banning Abortion, Lean on Voting Rights, and Attack on LGBTQ or Not
New Jersey is not Texas or Alabama, or God forbid Florida. We do not elect religious loons or social puritans. We occasionally get sucked into cults of personality, like with the tough-talking poser Chris Christie, who sold us a guy-next door boondoggle and ended up a spluttering sewage pump. He was a portly fucktard and a total bust as governor. Even a knuckle-dragging celebrity whore like Donald Trump routinely ignored him. This is the free-thinking state. Our stronghold against the national fervor to turn the concept of democracy into a propagandized circus freakshow for hack lawyers, Internet goons and land rapists. We have open debates on things like corruption here. We know who our criminals are and if we choose to elect them on merit, fine. But eventually we merrily expunge fascists when they reveal themselves. I helped get one of those out of my district, so I know. And this is why there is no other choice but to vote for Governor Phil Murphy for a second term.

It is odd to cite “the lesser of two evils” in this case. Murphy has actually been a solid governor. His leadership during the Covid crisis received less press than the shamed and sacked former governor of New York, whose name escapes me at the moment. The other guy, a shameless publicity hound and ego pimp, ultimately did more harm than good. There was a steady hand in this government during the depths of the pandemic of 2020 and beyond. No grandstanding. No panic. No shifting agenda. And, of course, there is the legalization of marijuana, the only reason I touted Murphy’s first run for the seat four years ago. He delivered. And soon we shall see its results on state income, as we have already seen a welcomed plummet in ridiculous drug arrests. Murphy deserves another term.

But this is less a full-throated endorsement for the Democratic candidate as it is a warning to New Jersey voters about Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli. The latter is a dangerous gamble with the state’s stand on women’s reproductive rights, a fortification of democratic parameters like voter protection, security for the LGBTQ community in the workplace, and the above-cited measured approach to the Covid crisis.

Firstly, make no mistake New Jersians; Roe v Wade is on life support nationally. Once this radical right-wing Supreme Court gets ahold of the phalanx of abortion cases coming this year, the matter will be thrown to the states. Nearly seventy percent of N.J. voters support Governor Murphy’s “Reproductive Freedom Act,” which expands the medical care for women and acts as a stronghold against the inevitable attack on women’s fundamental control over their bodies from federal government interference. A Don’t Tread on Me concept that has escaped those who wave that particular flag. Don’t get me started on the misuse of symbolic laundry. I have fought on that hill too many times to recall.

Nonetheless, women’s rights are in serious peril in the wake of a Ciattarelli administration. A source inside the campaign was quite open with me about the candidate’s Right to Life stance – a politically correct phrase for “Open Your Legs and Let the Statehouse In.” It is the most crucial issue facing the state, especially, again, with the imminent striking down of Roe v Wade in the Supreme Court.

A vote for Jack Ciattarelli means a total overhaul in our voting system.

The source also confirmed that although Ciattarelli has tried to distance himself from the treason-wing of his party, he not only attended a Stop the Steal event this past year, later claiming ignorance of the thing, which should make you stop for a moment and consider his mental faculties, but he also spoke at a Pro-Trump rally, boasting a roll back in the state’s current LGBTQ curriculum and pledging to wipe out mask mandates for schools. So, in a way, he is a Right to Life candidate who is okay with killing kids already out of the womb. This is a problem for me. I have one of those “out of the womb” kids. I like having her around. And Jack Ciattarelli is not allowing the state government to endanger her, so he can appeal to the zombies at OAN.

And make no mistake, a vote for Jack Ciattarelli means a total overhaul in our voting system; pulling polling stations out of Black neighborhoods and implementing all these useless and anti-democratic, anti-voting laws the other fascists are signing into law in Republican-controlled states across the fruited plain. Do you want partisan flunkies overturning your vote to give an election to the loser? That’s a thing right now. States handing over the power for government employees to blithely overturn the will of the people. And Jack Ciattarelli supports this. Loudly. Boldly.

Ciattarelli’s act may play well in goober states. But here his policies and beliefs are sadly atavistic, so he has predictably leaned heavy these past weeks on the Lower Taxes bullshit. Let me ask you, because I know the answer, I’ve been living in this state since late 2001; did your taxes go down over the two Chris Christie terms? No. They did not. So, if you are going to toss out democracy, habeas corpus rights, the protection of the socially persecuted, and put your kids in danger, shouldn’t you at least pay a little less money to the state? But you won’t. Not a dime. In fact, like with Christie, your taxes will go up. And they will continue to go up if this puritanical crackpot gets in office and turns the thing into the latest Republican shit-show.

And that is the nut, isn’t it? As my friend Doc Buzz once mused so presciently about all-things politics; Who’s kidding who? Ciattarelli is a Republican. And until further notice, this is the party of Trump. And Trump is a treasonous criminal, who should have been dragged from that podium on January 6 and tried on sedition charges instead of ending up shuffling his fat carcass around Mar-a-Lago speed-injecting acetaminophen and pissing on women dressed like his mother.

New Jersey is not Mar-a-Lago. There is a scrouge across this land and we need a defense against dangerous idiocy.

Vote Murphy.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
The Governor’s Race May Predict a 2022 Mid-Term Outcome      
In two weeks, the national temperature of the voting public will be taken again. The last one, the doomed recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in September, did not end well for Republicans. But this was before the approval-ratings nosedive for President Joe Biden, who has appeared overwhelmed and mostly impotent in the face of several crisis from Afghanistan to the border to Covid-19 surges to inflation, which has led to a national malaise and as a result the hemorrhaging of the Independent vote. Virginia is not only a “purple” state but has leaned solidly in the Democrats’ column since 2012 – an unprecedented thirteen-cycle winning streak in a highly competitive state. While stressing again, as in California last month, most politics is local, a governor’s race in a key battleground state like Virginia is a fair to crucial bellwether on how badly things could go for Democrats in the 2022 mid-terms.

Beyond national prognostications – a fun exercise for political junkies like yours truly – reside the players. The two candidates acutely represent both parties. Former Governor of Virginia and current Democratic candidate to regain that title, Terry McAuliffe is a pre-Obama lifer, mostly centrist and connected to the national political machine. He has the full backing of the national party, which means his president Joe Biden. His opponent, Glenn Allen Youngkin, is a former CEO of the $260 billion global investment Carlyle Group, loudly endorsed by former failed businessman and recent ignominious loser of the 2020 presidential race, Donald J. Trump.

On the ground, Virginia is not immune to the national issues facing a mostly post-Covid United States. Economic strains including jobs, vaccine mandates, the undermining of democratic ideals and the state of the current presidential administration is on the table for Virginia voters.

So, the state (a bellwether of national politics), the parties (locked in a death-match of reality and conspiracy) and the candidates (reflections of this ongoing narrative) are all entwined in this one. It is why we have these elections. It is why we vote. And when it is done, we accept the outcome as the will of the people and not some lopsided agenda-fueled tyrannical overthrow of the system based on ego-addled lies. But that is for many future columns to come. Virginia is the order of the week.

Virginia – seemingly always at the center of the national fervor and our historical tipping point.

For the record, McAuliffe is a loathsome hack. He toiled for both Clintons in wins and losses and ran the party for a spate in the early aughts. He represents wheel-and-deal party politics and is roundly dismissed by most politicos as something of a relic. Youngkin is a Republican, which now unfortunately represents anti-American domestic terrorism. He claims to be against the brutal violence perpetuated during the dark hours of January 6 at our Capitol and is trying to distance himself from recent rallies for his campaign hosted by petulant thug Steve Bannon, who is soon to go to jail for contempt of congress in his role inciting the attempted overthrow of the 2020 election results in a bloody coup. At a recent pro-Youngkin rally, participants pledged allegiance to a flag used on January 6, which unfortunately for the candidate reminds voters of what it means to back anyone on a Republican ticket now.

But the Democrats have had a bad sixty or so days. The barely Democrat-controlled congress is in a stalemate on how much more we can jack up the deficit, duly bloated in record numbers by the outgoing Republican-led congress for four years of drunken spending. Both parties fight against the power of the other to spend our money and now it is the progressives v the moderates on what should have been a slam-dunk effort to expand infrastructure spending eight years ago. As mentioned, Biden’s national numbers (52-percent disapproval in Virginia as a result) are in a sinkhole and McAuliffe can no better hide from this than Youngkin can wipe the stain of Trumpism (eleven months of claiming the 2020 election was a fraud with zero evidence) from his candidacy.

Ever more the reason why the Commonwealth of Virginia, once the most powerful force in the nascent days of the republic, birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, the father of modern democracy and the former capital of the Confederacy, is back at the center of our national soul. The very history of America plays out on its bloody ground. And in two weeks it shall again.

As of this writing, McAuliffe barely leads Youngkin by three points, well within the margin of error. Biden easily carried Virginia by ten points only eleven months ago. Youngkin, a very wealthy CEO, has outspent his opponent, exposing his weakness on crime and economics in a phalanx of attack adds. McAuliffe is clinging to two key popular issues: The state favors vaccine mandates for businesses (fifty-four percent) and keeping Roe V. Wade legal polls at sixty percent. Recent abortion-restriction laws in Texas have alerted voters to the reality of this issue most of all. What a shocker. In a close race, the Republican is all about crime and the Democrat is all about reproductive rights.

As far as the numbers guys are concerned, this one is hard to prognosticate. Beyond the national climate or local issues, there is recent history in polling. According to the Five Thirty Eight estimates, a model for higher turnout has McAuliffe leading Youngkin by eight points instead of three points. This is similar to the 2017 race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam, in which the latter trailed by the same three points going into the election but ended up losing by a solid nine points. The problem with this, the celebrated prediction group notes, is that in 2017 there was an unpopular Republican president. Now that particular shoe is on the other foot.

The final word on this election, as in most close elections, is Independents. Right now, Youngkin leads McAuliffie by nine points there. That is the difference between Biden carrying Virginia last year and the Democratic candidate coughing it up in two weeks. Whether this tells us how 2022 will play out and the prospects for a Republican wave or a more tempered Democratic defeat is dubious. But less so when considering Virginia – seemingly always at the center of the national fervor and our historical tipping point.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
& Seeking an Auto in Wild Times of Mega Deception  
Editor’s Note: This column is dedicated to jc’s brother, P.J. Campion, whose guidance, and stellar recon work put him in a position to survive some crazy shit.
Author’s Note: If you have read this column for even a week, much less the last twenty-four years, you know what a cynical skeptic I am. I’ve purchased many cars and faced some bizarre behavior for decades, and hell, Southeast Toyota Finance would not take my late father’s lease after he exited the planet in 2019 without putting the car up for auction and our family having to pay the balance. I know how ruthless and dishonest this industry can be. So, make sure you keep this in mind when reading the following mayhem. 
Before the deluge of angst, I’m going to lead this one with a positive. After one solid week of searching for either a new car lease or a used car purchase in a time of computer chip shortages, shrinking inventory and underhanded car dealer bullshit I found the car I ultimately wanted: a Mitsubishi Outlander SE. Thanks in no small part to the honest and upstanding folks at Nielson Mitsubishi in Rockaway, N.J. Especially its manager Andrew Kamaris and salesman Ryan Bet. Those guys were an welcomed oasis in an arid landscape of abject prevarication. The Nielsen Group is the only dealership in a thirty-mile radius of my home that is not currently raising prices by anywhere from five to eight grand on automobiles and running bait and switch schemes to rival a congressional bill caucus. It is the wild west out there.

Boy, did I find this out the hard way.

My experience started about two weeks ago with a recon visit to Route 17 Mitsubishi in Ramsey, N.J. Spoke to a fast-talking lifer named Pete. He assured me what I was looking for was in stock at the advertised price – a base model Outlander. I was more interested in this level of what they call in the industry “trim” than the slightly more expensive SE that I ended up with, but more on that later. Because, you see, Pete did not care about any ad (Two grand down, three-year lease, at 10K miles a year for $334) that drove me to the dealership in the first place, nor that he assured me on the phone before I came in that he had “everything in stock.” He showed me the SE. We drove it. Throughout the test drive I was flabbergasted that the base model had heated and electric seats, climate control, etc. “Oh, yeah, and plus, we don’t have computer chips in these, so we never had a shortage.”

Pete, like his promise of “everything in stock”, was making all of this up. He then came back with well north of $450 a month with four-grand down and a four-year lease. (I did not want a four-year lease. He told me I could bolt on the lease after three. He did not mention that I would still have to pay for a car I was no longer driving.) None of which was in the ad. When I showed him the ad, he proceeded to lie badly that it was for a front-wheel drive vehicle. (Note: I have worked with truly agile liars in my time. Pete sucked at it.) It was not front-wheel drive in the ad. My bro, P.J confirmed this on the phone and sent me the link. I showed Pete the link. This put Pete on his heels, forcing him to blurt out that the car in the ad was the ES (base model), not what I drove. I reminded him that he assured me that what I drove was the base model. He started coming apart at this point in our Dali-esque illogic-speak. This rote character out of central casting of a slick, old-time car huckster was not holding it together. I told him and whatever suit came out pretending to be the manager that if they got the car I wanted, I would be back two days hence to buy it. Pete and the de facto “manager” said they would have it by then. They even sent me a text asking if I was still coming a day later. I never heard from them again.

P.J suggested the aforementioned Nielsen Group around this time and when I called the guy (whose name I do not recall, but this could have been my hero, Ryan) he did not blow smoke up my skirt. “We just do not have any ES models in the color you want, man. It’s tough to get or keep anything now.” To make matters more complicated I really wanted the car in dark gray. I understood and appreciated his honesty. It turns out I should have stayed with Nielsen. But…

I moved onto another dealer fairly close (like 45 minutes away close) in Goshen, N.Y. Mainly because my pal, Brock lives up there and he is a car guy, and he trusted his area to come through for me. But predictably, Healy Mitsubishi could not help but crank up the lie machine. When I called, they said they had the cars on their web site in their lot. I had not been completely felled by a phalanx of deceit yet, so I took the long trip to Goshen. (Cue the sinister music here) A lovely young woman greeted us and proceeded to say that not only did they not have any of those cars listed on their site, but the first woman I spoke to, who answered the Healy Mitsubishi phone and oozed confidence to this end, had no authority to promise any of this. She is merely the “web person.” I would confront this “web person” mystery before too long with another manufacturer.  

Fed up with Mitsubishi, my bro did some recon on a car my late dad was interested in back in the day, a Nissan Montero. Route 23 Nissan in Butler answered my queries about its availably and price this way: “My manager wants to know what you want to pay for the car?” I told him five-hundred bucks with a used moped trade-in. He did not get the joke. I wished to know what the professionals at Nissan wanted to charge for the car, since I had never even seen the fucking thing in person, just some photos on the Internet. They did not call me back for nearly the entire week, and when they did, they said that I had to put five-grand down and that it would be marked up six grand and the monthly payments were north of five bills. I wished them well and said I preferred my offer with the moped. He still did not get it.

As mentioned, once I drove Pete’s SE, the bastard had me hooked, so my bro sent me to Route 46 Mitsubishi, where comedy and tragedy reside comfortably to form a miserable cocktail of time-wasting crapolla. To their credit, these lunatics hid nothing. The manager, a corpulent smile-fiend with an open shirt revealing a giant crucifix laying on a tuft of chest hair sat me down and explained the current economic climate. “I’m going to be honest with you, ignore the MSRP, the way the industry is right now you can automatically add five grand to every sticker price,” he said, affecting an air of parental guidance. He may have even touched my knee sympathetically, but I probably conjured that due to lightheadedness. Yet, I still drove one of their ES series, and it was something like $498 a month with $5,500 down. (and by the way, I found out the ES’s hood undulates spastically if you get it over sixty MPH, something they failed to mention until I told them about my highway experience). “Oh, that’s a recall.” So, I’m woefully overpaying for a damaged car I must eventually take back in? Fantastic.

Before I left, I found a plaque with the president and vice president (I assume of the dealership), who wanted me to call if I was not 100% satisfied. You can imagine that I did this, because I did. At first I got something called the Sun Homes Sales Group in Florida. When I called again, the prompt sent me right to the VP. I left my message of hate and rage. He never returned my call for comment.

One last shot. A used Outlander. My bro found City Motor Group in Haskell that advertised a used 2016 SE. Looked clean, he said. $16,769.00. Forty-five thousand miles on it. Drove down there. Perfectly cordial bunch. Test drove it. Liked it. Then they sent me to the “finance guy” and things went sideways fast. After something called a “Multi-State Inspection” fee of $1,800.00 and other “hidden” fees added on – a list I had to wrest from the guy as if it were Trump’s tax returns – the final number was 21-grand, another five-thousand dollar mark-up. When I brought up the idea that making sure a car they were selling could pass inspection might be on them, like, say, if you buy a steak in a restaurant you assume that meant it was being cooked without a special fee, he said that because things are so crazy out there they can get away with it. “We used to pay for this, but now people are willing to pay for it.” He was right. When I checked on the car writing this, it was sold. (Cue the P.T. Barnum quote about suckers…)

Note: On the City Motor Group web site is a Code of Ethics under something called the National Independent Automotive Dealers Association that has as much integrity as the “multi-state inspection” charge, because if you go to their web site you get a 404 Web Page Not Found message. It reads (I added the italics for comedic emphasis): “Members of the NIADA and its state associations are independent auto dealers that abide by a strict Code of Ethics for membership that will give you additional peace of mind. Among other things, NIADA dealers commit to operating with integrity, honor and fair dealing toward the general public, comply with all city, county, state and federal laws, employ truth and accuracy in advertising and selling, and constantly strive to improve business methods to the end that the public is better served.”

When you’re done throwing up, it’s important to note the operative words found in that pile of steaming shit: “all city, county, state and federal laws.” There are no laws. It’s like OPEC without the third-century garb. That should frighten us the most, but I digress.

At this point I can tell you I tried to buy a car listed as a 2021 Chevy Trailblazer at Schumacher Chevrolet in Clifton that was not only on their web site, but I called first and spoke to another “mysterious web person,” who told me as I was six-minutes out they had the car on the lot. Ten or so minutes later the guy on the floor said it sold two days ago after he said it was a “service model” and some other stammering nonsense. But I won’t burden you any further.

Suffice to say, P.J.’s desperate last-minute plan of building the Outlander of my choice on their corporate web site the Sunday evening before the good people at Nielsen saved my ass was a winner. After only a couple of minutes with these guys I knew the difference between a preponderance of dealers out there that are using this crisis to gouge consumers and those who are riding it out with us and trying to do the right thing. And quite frankly, considering the vagaries of capitalism, who knows what the “right thing” is? They are selling these cars. People need them and dealerships need to stay solvent selling only a portion of their inventory. No one expects this computer chip shortage to subside until maybe the end of next year and who knows what a world looks like without Covid anymore?

But beware. There are sharks in the water now. And they have ramped up their image of charlatans a notch or two. Finding salesman like Andrew and Ryan in these waters is rare. But they are out there. Hang in there like P.J. and me. But don’t give into the “That’s the way it is now, eat it” mentality. They want you to give in, to get lazy. To accept their reality. It does not have to be. Love my car. Love even more that it took all of the above and more to get it at the proper price from honest sellers.


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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
What the Golden State Recall Election Tells Us About National Politics 
Six weeks ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom was in trouble. The recall election slated for 9/14 looked to be hanging in the balance. When a recall was first broached last year after a backlash resulting from his flouting his own mask mandate and other stressing economic issues facing his state, the idea of ousting him before the end of his term was about 50-50. But there was a serious swell rising against the beleaguered Democrat. Since, there have been alternative Republican candidates entering “the race”. Then the numbers shifted dramatically. The frontrunner, Larry Elder is the biggest culprit, if Republican strategists on the ground are to be believed. Elder’s presence has morphed a competitive contest into a rather banal one.

Elder is another of these goofy “conservative” talk show hosts. Before the age of Trump this used to mean something. Now, it is a place for abject lunacy. His candidacy in a wildly Democratic state centers mostly around name recognition, the usual twenty-nine to thirty-eight percent far-right militant radical vote, and for window dressing, being African American does not hurt. For a while that kind of thing held some sway, especially when he received a rousing endorsement from Trump himself. It was enough to gain a plurality among the right. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the governor’s seat; Elder started appealing to the body politic. It was then when things went rapidly south.

And I need to stress rapidly.

Californians, it turns out, are not so keen on someone who says before his first cup of tea upon being sworn in he would eliminate the mask mandates put in place by the current administration, and then make it more difficult to fully vaccinate the state. This stuff is gold on the radio, where resentment, fear and outlandish blather helps sell beer. On the campaign trail, however, it is poison. In the past two weeks the nearly 50-50 split to kick Newsom to the curb has gone the other way almost twenty percent. Now nearly seven out of ten in the state support keeping the governor right where he is. Twenty percent did not shift by the selling of a new Newsom, but the very possibility of a crazy Elder.

What California tells us, if anything, is that although a chief executive may not be the popular choice, his opponent matters.

Now, I know that contextualizing a state or any local race into a national prognostication is foolhardy at best and quite frankly fucking insane at its core, but for the purposes of fun, let’s take what was happening to an obviously vulnerable sitting executive and extrapolate his story of seeming defeat to an unlikely reprieve on the national scene.

While Newsome’s governorship was being taken off life support, the president of the United States has been in a significant tailspin. Not since George W. Bush, the last president to enjoy a crossover appeal and rejection, has a president suffered the kind of nosedive approval ratings as Joe Biden in the past three weeks. As broached in the space recently, his steady fifty-three percent approvals since inauguration in January has sunk him to forty-five percent. Not once in those weeks has there been a respite. The numbers dive, slowly, steadily.

The botched and badly communicated exit from Afghanistan and the return of the Covid restrictions, rising hospitalizations and deaths being the two big reasons. There has always been a sense that Biden is not completely compos mentis, and the former did not help this assessment. The Covid thing is beyond his control. The federal government can only do so much. If states like Florida, Texas, and most of the South wish to force schools to not mask children and basically ignore the Delta variant explosion, then so be it. But among independent voters, these issues have led to a softening and then a mass exodus.

This is a crisis point for Biden. Independents decide close elections. And without an opponent, and if things were to be settled this November instead of three years from now, he would be very beatable.

Which brings me back to California. There is still a fervor to want change at the top, and Newsome’s approval numbers may not be overwhelming (he is at Biden’s former fifty-three percent) but once Larry Elder took his radio schtick into actual politics, it went the other way. If a Trumpian candidate is pummeled in California now, one wonders if Joe Biden might consider trolling Donald Trump to announce his candidacy. Because there is a very strong possibility that if a sane, actual conservative runs in 2024, the president is in deep shit.

Of course, Biden has three years, not three months. But what California tells us, if anything, is that although a chief executive may not be the popular choice, his opponent matters. Not sure there is (the November election is less than a year ago) the stomach for another Trump run or for another Trumpian candidate. And since Elder has already started predictably claiming election fraud a week out, the fallout might also be equally as ugly.

Let’s see if the Elder vote shows up to make this competitive. But if he loses, and if he loses by ten points, his presence in the race clearly forced the electorate to choose between incompetence and bat shit crazy dangerous.  

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