Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

A Disjointed Primer from the Front

Here’s the deal: There are too many humans on this planet. Way too many. Before we get into this little dissection of the failing middle class in this country, it is important to get that major flaw out of the way. There are way too many people for almost everything; resources, economy, peaceful living conditions, etc. Sure, we have far too many ideologies and idiosyncrasies and certainly way too many theologies to coexist, and while this is nothing new and has been bemoaned by every civilization since the Incas, when you get right down to it, there’s just too many high-functioning mammals sucking air to make stuff work.mid-class

Now, let’s get down to the American middle class, or whatever is left of it.

Recently, the president of the United States gave his sixth State of the Union address. It was arguably from an aesthetic standpoint his finest speech since his race-relations one back before he was even president. For the most part, Barack Obama has spent the first six years of his presidency either completely bungling general communications or failing to even begin trying; all this despite his talent for speechifying. For my money, it has been his greatest flaw as president, whether you agree with any of his policies or not. He just has no ability to clearly define his position on things.

But during this latest address he pulled no punches. Pointedly, it is coming from a lame-duck echo of his presidency, this “fuck it” stance he has taken since about four months into his second term, which becomes ever more flaccid in the final two years with the legislative branch out of his hands. Nevertheless, the address went full-boar populist and hammered home an interesting little nugget to keep in our kit bags for the 2016 political season; income inequality and the middle class.

In one of the stranger turns in recent years, Republicans like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, and in a brief mental lapse during his insane flirtation with running for president a third time, Mitt Romney, have been throwing around the notion (not entirely untrue) that Obama’s economy, while turning the corner in many positive ways, has been more beneficial to the top percentile of the nation; the Wall Street crowd mostly, further shedding light on what used to be a Democratic Party trope; the widening gap between top wage earners and the growing poverty line. And while this plays into the “Food Stamp President” narrative, it also belies six years of Republican carping about how Obama is a closet socialist who is going to take your money and give it to lazy-ass crack mothers.

And while there is some truth-telling in this ramp-up to political babble-on (I would like to officially mark that I believe I am the first person to equate the Biblical Mesopotamian stronghold with useless political rhetoric) it misses the point of the middle class entirely. The middle class has never been an organic concept, it wasn’t in Rome and it never was here. It is man-made, or more to the point, federal government made, and since we have no World War or bloody Police Action to help thin the herds and thrust this country into a fabricated economic boom, then we’re going to need to create it out of thin air. And this is not going to be easy.

In order to get perspective on this, let’s revisit the period when perhaps the greatest middle class in modern times (and by modern times I mean like 2,000 years) was created after the human abomination known as World War II.

After a war that finally pulled America out of its Great Depression, following a dozen agonizing years of fits-and-starts, there was a jolt to an economy once hampered by isolationist speculation of doomed proportions that literally created an international juggernaut. This is better known in our history as the G.I. Bill (and to the wonks among us, The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act); and never has there been a more singular marriage of socialism and capitalism ever concocted by a governing body anywhere. It was quite simply in economic terms a perfect storm, manipulated wholly by a fat-and-happy federal government to fashion a middle class – a consumer-based, freewheeling machine worthy of victors.

The United States government used the haunt of patriotism and the always effective “support the troops” play to impose an implausible tax burden on the wealthy of between 70 to 91 percent to provide returning soldiers low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans (in most cases zero interest) to start businesses and purchase homes. The sweeping bi-partisan bill signed by FDR included cash payments of full tuition and living expenses to attend universities, high schools or pay for specific vocational training, as well as a full year of unemployment compensation. This combined with private entrepreneurs like William Levitt, who built his eponymously-named town in Long Island, NY for G.I.s following the war with the help of both the state and federal governments – which assisted in fighting local unions to allow a free-work environment along with eventually building the Long Island Railroad and the expansive Long Island Expressway to allow these new workers access to the most industrialized city on earth.

By the mid-50s, some dozen years after WWII and two-dozen after Black Tuesday plunged the nation into an economic disaster, nearly eight million veterans had used the G.I. Bill to create the middle class, which by the end of that decade was the predominant class in the nation and would help give the United States the economic muscle it needed to build roads (the interstate highway system – another federal government creation), invest in technological development (a combined interstate and private banking system manipulated by the federal government) and fill public education facilities with an explosive Baby Boomer generation that, of course, would assist in this idea that there are too many people on this planet.

Eventually, this all-for-one shit got old. This is especially true of the aforementioned Baby Boomers who spent their formative years pissing up the rope of the economic groundswell they enjoyed, which tumbled into the predictable slow collapse of the federal-government-run economy in the 1970s. Unions got bloated. The onset of the Cold War helped erect the ridiculously massive and uncontrollable Military Industrial Complex. The rich elected people to bust up high-tax rates in the 1980s and, well, except for the Internet boom in the 1990s, things began its slow dirge.

The middle class has never been an organic concept, it wasn’t in Rome and it never was here.

It is not a question anymore about the failing middle class, but whether this kind of immense manipulation can happen again? I say no. War is different now. Do you realize we ran two of these things for thirteen or so years with no positive effect on the economy? In fact, the large majority of us sacrificed nothing. And the battle over the role of the federal government in the private sector, which was all the rage until the Second World War, found new voices as a result of the fallacy that a governing body can perpetually prop up an economy.

Forget the fact that the world is a completely different place than in 1945 in every possible way; most significantly our outlook on collective responsibility for the future. Fuck the future. That is our motto. And it may be a good one, a natural thinning of the herd, as opposed to some systemic one based on war and economic machinations. But without that or a massive bloody uprising – not really our thing with all the Internet porn, Netflix, celebrity worship and slack-jawed consumerism of tons of shit we don’t really need, we find ourselves with a dying middle class.

And worst of all, there are too many of us.

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Teenage Singer/Songwriter Sneaks Up on 2015

Gina Royale is recording her first EP of original material. All of 17, the petite, soft-spoken budding singer-songwriter moves about the studio as if it is her bedroom; petting a lazy dog, giggling at the occasional quip, and half-listening as the producer adjusts the levels on what will soon be a drum track for “Tightrope”, a highly stylized mid-tempo slice of pop/rock. You would never guess this is the composer of a track everyone, including her dad, is working hard to realize. And that’s the way Royale likes it.

“I want to surprise people,” she whispers to me later, a wry grin creasing her alabaster, be-freckled face.

gina_bwSurprise people” is exactly what she did a few weeks before I stopped in to see her record at Boonton, New Jersey’s Audio Pilot Studio. She surprised me, for sure. I was asked to emcee an event for a close friend, who had survived cancer – a party/benefit in West Milford boasting a line-up of local bands, food and fun. It was a lazy late-summer day, and the music thus far had been entertaining if not mostly forgettable. Royale’s dad, Andy Rajeckas, a pianist, was set to play instrumentals as the guests partook of the catering.

“My daughter’s going to sing a couple of her songs,” Rajeckas leaned over to inform me seconds before I was supposed to announce him. “Her name is Gina Royale.”

And so I did, condescendingly prompting the audience to give it up for the young, adorably quiet girl for which her daddy ceded his modest stage time. She sat at the keyboard, mumbled something into the microphone, and began to softly play. I probably made it four to five feet off the stage when the voice hit me; bluesy, honest, arrestingly emotive. I turned; half expecting to see if someone else had wrested the mic from this kid. Nope. Royale was kicking ass.

Her set was maybe five songs, all of her own material, save for a very moving rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which in her hands appeared far more meaningful than I’d heard since the ex-Beatle was gunned down in NYC 34 years ago. Throughout, I could not take my eyes from her, not for dynamic or seductive reasons; it was the voice, and the flow of the songs that seemed achingly mature for someone you might cast in High School Musical.

She received applause, but nothing like what I experienced while working my way through the crowd, such as it was. People were stunned that what they had heard wasn’t a CD or wondered how we suckered an obvious recording artist to play at this thing.

My effusive praise made it to Royale’s dad, who for all intents and purposes is her acting manager. And why not? Wouldn’t a manager make sure his client got on a bill wherein she would debut free of expectation and…well…surprise people? And, of course, her manager/dad told me all about her upcoming recording date and here we are.

I am sitting in a typically ragged studio-type couch watching intently as Royale runs down another number that will appear on the EP, “T-Shirt”, a song she describes as an experiment in taking an innocuous item and placing undo import, as in the t-shirt of a boy possessed by a smitten girl; a charming metaphor for an adolescent heart. “I usually start with the title of the song,” Royale explains, as if describing the building an engine. “I find a unique title and then work out the chorus and find a rhythm to go along with that, work out some lyrics, build a chorus, build whatever comes right before the chorus, and then the rest of the song…in that order.”

Royale’s drummer, Josh Grigsby, on loan from a local band called the Karma Killers, the dad, who added keyboards to the tracks, and producer/studio proprietor, Rob Freeman, who also plays guitars and bass on the project, surround her. I can just about make out that innocently proportioned face, those piercing green eyes, and the obligatory wisp of blonde locks, as she begins to unveil the song – half heartbreak, part defiance, all playfulness. It is already, even without accompaniment, a stellar pop vehicle. Doubtless, anyone would be happy having this as a potential hit. It’s quick to the hook, turns around with panache, and is fueled by the voice that turned a few benefit-goers heads only weeks before.

“I want to hear my songs on the radio,” Royale says later. And although it is an obvious statement millions of dreamers might utter in their spare time, this is a young lady who truly means it. “I want people to enjoy my music. It’s not that I am straying away from my own style just so more people will like it, I love pop music.”

“I want people to enjoy my music. It’s not that I am straying away from my own style just so more people will like it, I love pop music.”

Royale began absorbing music at an early age, beginning on flute and saxophone, then enduring the inevitable piano lessons any daughter of a musician would be expected to, but it was hearing Taylor Swift’s Red at age 14 that made her think in terms of composing. “When that record first came out, I thought the lyrics were so amazing and beautiful and deep and I wanted to write songs like that,” she says. Studying vocals from a classically trained perspective provided her a foundation, but it was one that she fought, as more and more classic pop music began to enter her transom; The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer would all work as undercurrents to her craft.

And it is indeed a craft for Royale, whose approach to songwriting echoes the Brill Building era of hit song assembly lines, ala Carol King, Irving Mills, Neil Sadaka, et al. To better underscore this workman like demeanor, she attended a songwriting camp last year at William Paterson University and literally worked at developing her technique of playing with chord progressions, honing melodies, and finding the elusive bridge. “It’s a strategy,” she smiles.

And that strategy will lead her this coming autumn or perhaps even January of 2016 to a college with a heavy emphasis on music. “I want to study contemporary vocals in college, but it’s hard to find a major like that,” says Royale. “Thirty schools in the country have it. The majority of them are in California, but I’m looking at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They are specifically a contemporary music school in general, so their vocal program is only contemporary. I’m also looking at the New School for Jazz Contemporary Music in New York City, The University of the Arts in Philly, and William Paterson University here in New Jersey, which also happens to have that major.”

Even in the quest for high education, Royale remains pragmatic to the core: “My reach school is Berklee, but being more realistic, it would be William Paterson, which is affordable. It’s easier to get into and it’s a university, so I can still have something to back me up if music falls through.”

And one wonders with all this strategy, schooling and purpose, if perhaps something of spontaneous combustion might be missing from all this songwriting equation. Yet, Royale is not totally unaware of this. “If I didn’t have that influence, I would probably do a long emotional rant on the piano,” she answers matter-of-factly. “I am not a depressing person, but I like to write depressing songs or like songs about heartbreak. I can always draw more emotion from that, and although not that many sad things have happened to me, I feel like I can describe more emotions that way. Every time I try to write a happy song it ends up being dumb and cheesy. My goal is I want to have a radio-appeal song, but I don’t want it to be cheesy. I still want it to be unique on its own.”gina_color

Lyrically, Royale combines universal pop tropes of love and loss and yearning with honest experiences from her own teenage life, as in the betrayal of a friend and the infinite coming-of-age battle between integrity and popularity. This is evident in “I Don’t Need You”, the third song on the EP Royale is calling Heir, a clever play on the double-meaning between her moniker and being the offspring of a musician: “I don’t wanna take your calls/I don’t wanna hear your voice/And I don’t wanna kiss your lips/I don’t need you boy” is something of a feminine call to arms for all young girls caught in a bad-boy grip.

This sense of renewed independence, whether autobiographical or melodramatic, is a theme Royale feels comfortable with, as in another original composition she brings up during our conversation that is not included on Heir, “Courage”, fueled with the kind of righteous indignation that could only be roused by growing up.

“Last year I was supposed to sing ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin as part of this Memorial Day Veterans tribute,” recalls Royale about the origin of the song. “I was so excited; I knew my part and everything, and the day before the show I was kicked out by this girl who was in charge of it, all because her best friend wanted my part. The next day the girl wouldn’t even talk to me, because she felt so terrible. One of my favorite lyrics from that song, and I always hope she’ll hear them, is when I mention her going to James Madison University in Virginia; ‘Your sly tongue won’t take you very far/Take it out to Virginia and see where you are.’”

Perhaps Heir’s most infectious song is “Hello Heartbreak”, wherein Royale defiantly sings a torrid verse of impenetrable fury: “You had all the traits of a crook/Wanted more than what you could have/You have no idea what you took/And I don’t know, I don’t know if I’ll steal it back,” the final line is repeated three times to drive the rancor deeper. It attacks from the opening verse and refuses to let up. It may also be Royale’s most effective Taylor Swift homage, using a bouncy melody to express torment, which is only part of its allure, which hits home when you could swear you’ve been singing the thing your whole life.

Not to say that Royale is overtly derivative, but the arrangement of the songs on Heir reflect a modernity that you would expect from youth, and, quite frankly, what you need to hear from youth, as if heralding a new order or at least reminding you that being young is still as much a weirdly explosive amalgam of exhilaration, confusion and angst as you remember it to be.

But to hear Royale say it, and as she performs it, she is happy sneaking up on everyone.

“I want to be that kid, who, you know, most people don’t expect that I can even sing,” she says smiling, as if it is all transpired in her head already. “In school, I am a hermit. I don’t talk to anyone. I have like three friends. It’s not that I’m shy. I just don’t like anyone in my school. People never assume I sing, and then when I do, I’m this short, tiny girl and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you can actually really sing! You can really hit high notes!’ I want to surprise people.”


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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Cheating New England Patriots Befoul Super Bowl Again

Author’ Note: As a friendly disclaimer, the below is the rantings of an always-disgruntled NY Jets fan, whose disdain for the New England Patriots is profound, but, mind you, one that has always maintained that Tom Brady, while being a whiny fop, is the finest quarterback of his generation. Just saying.

So the NFL’s New England Patriots, 2014 AFC champions, are cheating again. What a surprise. One week from the sport’s biggest day and one of the teams appearing in its biggest game is tainted. Again. The Pats, who won three Super Bowls by spying on the teams they beat, which led to the league fining the organization a record half-million dollars in 2007, were busted this time for deflating footballs below league standards. This, according to players, especially quarterbacks, gives unfair advantage of accuracy and grip to the team using them. Or, more to the point, cheating. Again.Deflated-NFL-Football

These shenanigans, referred to now as Deflate-gate, allegedly came at the behest of its star quarterback, Tom Brady, who has been on record declaring his preference for slightly deflated footballs and who may or may not have demanded before several games this year, including the championship contest, that game balls be illegally doctored. This allowed Brady to drag what by all measures was a mediocre team with a lousy defense and no running game into yet another Super Bowl.

As a matter of deconstruction, while it may seem completely insane to anyone familiar with “fair play” that each NFL team gets to choose the balls they use on offense, it is true. Apparently, and I was unaware of this (despite the ridiculous amount of my life wasted watching pro football), quarterbacks today can slightly (within reason) doctor balls to match their grips and have them ready for Sunday’s game. Another argument for why it is beyond stupid to ever compare today’s QBs to anyone who played when this was a completely different sport.

Be that as it may, the Patriots, and more to the point, Tom Brady, and by a buck-stops-here kind of justice, the head coach, Bill Belichick, took this rule-bending wackiness to another level, or, put more directly, cheated. Again. And it appears that no matter what happens in the way of a league investigation or fines or a suspension or more likely nothing considering the money and public relations involved here, this incident, still open-ended by the time of this writing, will officially put a stain on the big game and its multi-billion dollar sport.

To say this has not been a great year for the National Football League is a gross understatement. First, it bungled the lightly-suspended Ray Rice for beating his wife unconscious and then conducted its own a cooked investigation that shockingly cleared it from covering up. This was followed by the Adrian Peterson’s non-suspension for whipping his child black-and-blue with a stick until people were so appalled the league decided to arbitrarily ban him indefinitely. Then we have this year’s play-offs, which have displayed some of the most curiously abysmal officiating that anyone could remember, unleashing even the most impotent NFL media suck-ups to call into question the game’s legitimacy.

Now the almighty Super Bowl has been tainted by another underhanded ploy by Belicheat (a nickname that is so popular that when you begin typing “Beli…” into the Iphone, it finishes it for you) and his somehow clueless QB, Brady.

There is no getting away from this one: A team playing in America’s biggest sports showcase cheated its way there. And according to the latest reports, the championship game may have been the culmination not the origination of this cheating. The Baltimore Ravens, the team New England beat by a mere four points to get to that game, reported this behavior to the NFL, prompting the league to twice check balls two hours prior to the championship game (a once over is already standard procedure). However, once in the hands of the Patriots’ sidelines, 11 of the allotted 12 game balls checked at halftime of a game they were winning handily against the Indianapolis Colts, were somehow magically deflated to the requisite Tom Brady liking. The 12 Indianapolis Colts balls? Not.

The league is in a quandary on this one. The Pats, Brady, and their coach are the golden boys. This is not unlike Major League Baseball’s initial cashing in on the steroid-addled Mark McGuire vs. Sammy Sosa homerun chase that galvanized a dying sport in 1998 and then years later acting as if they had been conned and forced to treat juiced players as if pariahs.

It is also tough to see this being resolved with idiot league commissioner, Roger Goodell, who while having bungled everything in his path this year, is chummy with Pats owner and renowned Satanist, Robert Kraft, a man so patently hypocritical that while his team is pretty much known for having cheated in some form or other for over a decade possesses the gall to have the league conduct a tampering investigate for an off-the-cuff comment by the NY Jets owner regarding one of their former players, who now plays for New England. This would be like a man riddled with cancer upset that someone sneezed on him.

Of course everyone is denying everything. The coach, normally a monosyllabic mumble-machine, spent press conferences this week sounding as if he took a crash course in PR 101. Tom Brady, when asked if he is a cheater, responded with “I don’t believe so”, which is the kind of thing guilty people say in lieu of an answer. Innocent people get pissed at such an accusation and say, “Absolutely not!” But at least for those of us who wondered how Brady was so much better than everyone else, it has become obvious that it is merely because he plays by his own rules. Or, if you will, he cheats. Again. And this kind of revelation makes more sense to me, like when a guy dressed up in a gorilla suit debunked the famous Big Foot footage.

Put all your money on New England for the Super Bowl. Why? Because they are really good at cheating. And cheaters win.

You see, in the end, what gets observers of such a stunt so ginned up is the arrogance; the idea that it is not good enough to be on the top of the world – ala Richard Nixon, Barry Bonds, etc. – you have to slant the playing field just a little bit in your favor. Gamesmanship? Sure. Necessary? Probably not. I guess maybe if we found out our lovable underdog 1980 Olympic hockey team had doctored their sticks or spied on the unbeatable Russians, we might be less pissed. David pulling a fast one seems less egregious than if Goliath had loaded rocks in his tunic.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that if the Patriots win, they lose. Everyone now knows they didn’t actually earn this Super Bowl appearance. So there’s that. And it certainly puts into deeper question many of the previous football deeds Brady and Belichick accomplished as legitimate. But mostly it means you need to put all your money on New England for the Super Bowl. Why? Because they are really good at cheating. And cheaters win.

This is the NFL brand for 2015: Beating women and children, fixing refs, the governor of NJ humping Jerry Jones after Dallas Cowboys wins, and stealing championships.

Rah! Rah!


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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Welcome to the Jungle

And so the right to govern is upon the Republican Party, which has bitched for six years that it was the minority, throwing stones at the systemic glass house, but now finds itself at the forefront of legislation. Or, in other words, it is easy to be the outsider carping about how things could be different if someone else, namely you, had access to the gears. Now we’ll see how this goes.

There is little question that the Barack Obama Administration took a beating in both the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms. This is what happens to most presidents, some worse than others, and these were significant thrashings. The 2010 Tea Party movement following the completely partisan and highly questionable passing of the Affordable Care Act was monumental if not brief. In other words, this is what happens when a preponderance of people, many of those with no governing experience in the least, whose sole purpose for being elected is to stop the very thing to which they were elected to steer, can be troubling. Beyond Mitt Romney, a party-power moderate, being a total disaster as a presidential candidate, look no further as to why the Tea Party experiment lasted about 18 months and helped re-elect an anemic Obama.

The 2014 round was different because many moderates, or those who claimed so, took the point, and especially in the case of the GOP takeover of the national scene ala the senate, there was a fundamental shift in the RNC that took much of the groundswell of both Obama campaigns and funneled it strategically into winning back the game. It is important to note that by all indications the Republicans should have taken the senate in 2010 if not for the Tea Party muse of amateur candidates going sideways and scaring many voters who came in wanting a sea change.

One thing the 114th Congress has achieved in its victory is the continued perception that Obama is an abject failure as a president. His November low-40s approval rating, the spate of scandals vaguely attached to him at the beginning of the always dangerous second term, and his obvious lame-duck demeanor of “going it alone” on domestic (immigration) and foreign (ISIS) policies put him on very shaky ground.

However, much of the “scandals” attached to the president were wildly overblown (Benghazi) and some, while being indefensible, commenced completely outside the White House (IRS), but are hard to escape since the buck, as stated in song and story, must land at the executive’s feet. Having affirmed this, the Republican surge of 2014 is also different from 2010, because while being two years removed from a seismic financial collapse in ’08, the economic trends have been pointing upwards for well over a calendar year, and have recently spiked for the first time since before the 21st century into the category of solid. (2013 marked largest private sector job increase since 1999). Therefore, using the method for which the 114th congress wrested power from the Democratic power base – the fault of all things falls to the president – it would seem that some plaudits are due Mr. Obama.

Perception has quickly shifted since November – remember this is perception, not reality, a game usually played by the party out of power – now that the economic outlook has improved greatly. The reasons for which are many – some global, some policy-driven, mostly the pendulum swing of natural order, as many economists predicted during the 2012 presidential campaign that the candidate lucky enough to be around would benefit from the trend pointing upward. Had Romney prevailed he could claim, “I told you so” and if Obama won, which happened, he could claim a six-year plan reaping the benefits.

For the record, these include the unemployment rate down to 5.6 percent currently from 9.6 when Obama took office. Many rightfully cite that it is partly due to a preponderance of the workforce failing to even continue looking for a gig, which, we are reminded, was the also the case in 1986 during conservative economic stalwart, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year in office when the number was a steady 7.1 percent. And this was, as we all remember fondly, “Morning in America”. It is also important to note that candidate Romney promised to get the number down to under six percent by his apocryphal second term in 2016. It is two weeks into 2015.

Additional numbers compiled by Forbes magazine (hardly the font of Keynesian economics) from graphs presented in the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 report, reveal the result of 58 consecutive months of private-sector job growth (most in the history of the republic). This has slowly, if not painfully, produced an increase of 5 percent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most in over a decade. This is not factoring in the tripling of the stock market since 2009 and the recent dip in gas prices to under two dollars, which seemed so much a pipe dream also-ran Republican candidate, Newt Gingrich was laughed off the stage by a conservative audience when he promised to personally get prices under $2.50.

As stated, much of this spectacularly fantastic economic news when compared to the financial horrors of the Western hemisphere hanging from a thread in the autumn of 2008, are due to many factors well above and beyond the White House – not the least of which being the dreaded 2013 Budget Sequestration, which both parties warned would destroy the entire concept of the American economic system, can be seen as a very positive effect on this recovery, including the “congress of no”, which has substantially subtracted to the national deficit – $486 billion down from $680 billion in 2013. But if the perception of a corrupt administration was a determining factor for bashing the president then it stands to reason the perception of the recovery is his to gloat.

Thus the president’s approval rating has spiked to a modest, but hardly egregious, 47 percent. To contrast, George W. Bush, whose pathetic two-terms are unfairly compared to this president, left office with an amazingly sad 22 percent.

Okay, so where does this leave our 114th Congress, already cranking out bills to get the Keystone Pipeline going (57 percent approved by American public), hits on the existing Dodd-Frank law, and a legislative response to Obama’s controversial executive action on immigration laws?

One thing the 114th Congress has achieved in its victory is the continued perception that Obama is an abject failure as a president.

Unlike, say, the 1994 Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich, which assisted in making Bill Clinton’s late-90s’ economy by far the best war-free run ever, this is not a stable crew. First off, House Speaker John Boehner is mostly despised by his base and his trust factor with the president is nil, as is Obama’s record to deal with political adversity, (he sucks at it), while consequently Clinton thrived better under pressure than when things went fairly smoothly.

The good news for all of us is that this congress shows no signs of spending or even recognizing the final two years of this presidency, and most of the executive orders Obama has promised will do little to shift economic trends. The question, which now must be asked (some 22 months out) is who will take the White House in 2016 and what effect that might have in shifting power in the senate back to the Democrats, or if by then, as was the case with the swing from last summer to now, the numbers begin to lag on the perception of both parties.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

A Call For Satirical Jihad

Another year, another attempt by violent religious idiots to stem the tide of human evolution; the kind of thing that obliterates the notion that we will ever be free of faith-based nonsense, but also a clear reminder that vigilance against ignorant, theological hatred is a lifetime endeavor. And it is one I have embraced for as long as I have sustained memory. As a slight token, I am sipping java right now from a Banned Books mug I received as a gift whilst doing a book signing this past summer, each one of them a result of the tireless work of religious idiots.Jean-Jullien_dezeen

And let’s be clear from the outset, what happened in Paris this week has less to do with what has come to be the normal geographical and ideological power plays used by groups like ISIS or ISIL or al Qaeda, propagated under the convenient guise of religious fervor. Trust me, Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck or more genuinely motivated by their faith than al Qaeda. Even Osama bin Laden gave up on the whole Allah bullshit after awhile. His was a Saudi revolutionary, skillfully perpetuating the preternatural hatred for Western (read that Judeo-Christian) nations in the Middle East to his own ends, as old a ploy as the jingoistic Nazi crap of the 1920s, but without an actual nation to defend; other than the symbolically vapid “nation of Islam”, of course.

What went down in Paris in the killing of ultimately 12 victims, (ironically, a nice round Biblical/Qur’an type number) including five cartoonists, an economist/journalist, and two police officers was akin to say a fundamentalist Christian attack on homosexuals or Catholic bombings of abortion clinics, and to a lesser degree that PMRC goofiness that set a rage in me so deep I worked every bone in my body to elect George W. Bush president in 2000 against pompous moralist, Al Gore. And as much as anyone with half a brain may deduce that I would regret such an obvious blunder on my part, remember this; a cold cynic is merely a damaged romantic on a rampage.

This war against free speech and free expression has been raging for as long as religions have been threatened by the inevitable march of progress and enlightenment. It is Galileo being jailed for the temerity to speak the scientific truth or a Monkey Trial denouncing biology as heretical crimes against society, or votes to keep fellow citizens from enjoying similar rights.

The most dangerous threat to faith – which may say more about how weak faith is than its opposition – appears to be satire. Yes, comedy. This is what is deemed by religious loons as the most harmful cudgel in which a modern society can throw at their religious belief. In this case the target was the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, the European response to the American Mad magazine or the precursor of The Onion, lampooning all sorts of sacred cows, both secular and religious. Of course, mocking zealots is as easy and in some cases as lazy for the comedic mind as pointing out that Donald Trump has a spectacularly bad haircut or that Chris Christie happens to be freakishly rotund or Rosie O’Donnell overtly masculine.

But the Muslims apparently have a loophole in the “can’t take a joke” quotient, as it is even forbidden for worshipers to even lovingly portray the prophet Muhammad in any form. My guess is that Muhammad had a pretty good idea that his brand of stupidity was rife for mockery and it wasn’t worth all that Christian blubbery to also fall victim to the obligatory derisive caricature. Either way, here in 2015, where science, technology and intellect has mostly ruled the day, Third Century cretins take all this quite literally and help to lend credence to murderers shouting, “The Prophet is avenged!” (It is important to point out that I have chosen here to capitalize Prophet not for respectful reasons, but to better illustrate that Muhammad being a “prophet” in moniker is tantamount to noted gambling icon, Jimmy the Greek).

Look, what we do around here is mostly satire. It is our life’s blood and the one art form that jarred me from whatever probable stupor I was likely going to be stuck in for the rest of my days. So, for me to roll out my usual, “What the hell is everyone so crazy about with satire? It’s not harming anyone! Leave us alone!” will not fly this week. Because if done correctly; if worked through with some serious chops, satire had damn well better be threatening and concussive and scare the living shit out of those with their heads firmly planted in the sands of time.

The most dangerous threat to faith … appears to be satire. Yes, comedy.

This is why the victims of Charlie Hebdo are our martyrs, like Niccolò Machiavelli, the Marquis de Sade, Thomas Paine, Oscar Wilde, Carlo Collodi, Lenny Bruce, Alan Berg, Bill Hicks, and a shitload more I’m forgetting. I have a deadline, after all.

I need to take a moment to celebrate our patron saint, Mark Twain, who managed to have his books banned on several occasions over decades of brilliance (even after his death), yet remained an internationally beloved figure that made a fortune selling himself as an enchanting personality. Somehow, in one of the great feats in American art, he was indestructible. In essence, Twain is a satirist’s Christ figure, and one that is not taken lightly around these parts, I assure you.

As a sidelight, I wish to weigh in quickly on the North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures to help put the kibosh on what was sure to be another hilarious cinematic romp (this is the sarcasm portion of our program) with The Interview. Although obviously it does set a dangerous precedent for any outside source, whether religious kooks or rogue nations, to force the hand of the aforementioned freedom of expression, the entire episode following the threats of “9/11-type attacks” on movie theaters was a matter of commerce, not art. The art was created, paid for, and set to be viewed. The way it would eventually be viewed by the public is at issue; to gain profit for all that money invested. This is known in modern parlance as a business decision. If theaters would rather play the penguin movie than take a chance on crazies firebombing their establishment, then that is their choice.

Certainly, with no distribution, Sony could not justify putting the thing out. All of this is merely the pangs of industry, not some affront to artistic integrity or attack on free speech. If anything, that whole ordeal was a perfect metaphor for how much “art” actually plays into the Hollywood construct. Believe me when I tell you (and not just because the option on my novel came and went for nearly a decade without a peep) there are plenty of fine films that never make it, because, well, it doesn’t reek of possible dollars.

And so, I am here to formally declare a satirical jihad on all religions that make it their business to cease the flow of blessed mockery that helps us better cope with their lunacy.

They can hit us, kill us, and even halt a few Hollywood craptaculars, but it cannot stop us. We are legion. There are too many of us. We will keep coming with witty asides on absolutist farce and mocking pictures of your stupid prophets and their asinine anti-humanist miasma masquerading as sacred. What is sacred is pure, unadulterated satire. May it long live.

I am Charlie.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Sort of…

It is important to point out that this “normalizing” of relations with Cuba is a long way from lifting the 50-plus-year useless embargo on the Castro regime, which is still an oppressive communist construct and has little recourse but to run down the clock until the Castros die, something I brought up around six years ago in this space. Of course then it was under the same tired theme of hoping that Fidel Castro would die quicker than he is – the man has a Keith Richards like invincibility – so I can get cheaper Cuban cigars and not have to be forced to smuggle them in with my shaving kit from Mexico or Europe twice a year. Or paying $30-plus a pop for a Cohiba Rubusto because a few votes in Florida might go bye-bye.castrocigar

Without being too cynical, a stretch for me, this is a way overdue move by the president, dare I say by far the best thing he has done (for me, personally) but it would have made more sense timing-wise with his party holding sway over the legislative branch, instead of the concussive slaughterhouse it has been for Democrats over the past three election cycles. But politically it was dangerous, which is why it never got done on either side of the ideological aisle for the past half-century, especially since the Soviet Union went bankrupt in 1989.

But, as stated, it had to get done, at least to the point of what the executive branch can accomplish. It takes congress to lift embargoes and it surely will not do so, because this congress does everything the opposite of this president, as illustrated over the last two editions, as will be the case with the new one to come, even if the issue at hand might make sense or even if it was a fairly Republican idea once when someone else was in charge. There is no sense dissecting that kind of childish minutia when I have Cubans to consider.

However, as long as this embargo stays in place then there will be no free and open market to bring down prices and get the distribution lines going. Sure, I can schlep to Cuba now and bring back around $100 of Cubans, but I would rather have it shipped – and by shipped I don’t mean my current available method of having a connection in Dublin, Ireland send me a box for an astronomically over-priced figure and hope it isn’t red-flagged. Only my absinthe gets here unscathed from Paris.

It’s hard to admit in print the volume of illegal shit that comes and goes from the Clemens Estate, even in this most austere time of spying and lock-down. It has not stopped the flow of contraband and it never will. This is what New Jersey deems a “free zone”, something I negotiated in 2005 when attempting to secede from the county and was rebuffed with extreme prejudice. The paperwork alone could choke a dozen lawyers, but it did grant me a crow’s nest described in the permit as a “balcony” and a ten-day a month grace period to gain access to my nineteenth century canon.

What we’re talking about here is easing the burden of simple price gouging and I have to think about the bottom line. If I want to smoke Cubans at a descent clip than there has to be a complete lifting of the embargo, and as long as dipshits like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and the kid from Florida who made a name for himself gulping water after every sentence during a very entertaining rebuttal to a state of the union address, then it ain’t happening. And that is sad.

My favorite is when Cruz within a 72 hour period defended the United States right to torture and the importance of keeping the Gitmo detention center open (located in Cuba) then went on a ten-minute rant on CNN decrying regimes like Cuba who torture. Jesus, God in heaven I pray that this guy runs for president – more fun than watching Dennis Rodman on Hollywood Access explain foreign relations while high on Nepalese temple balls and threatening to kick Billy Bush’s ass.

Okay, so what does this mean for the greater scheme of things since this is occasionally a column that deals with politics – not necessarily issues, but the political ramifications of said issues?

Well, for one, Florida is back in play for Republicans. Those who dismiss this do it at their own peril.

Believe me, this move by Barack Obama is a classic lame-duck, final two years, fuck it move.

It is also a move, as stated before, which had to be made by this president now. Reason? Firstly, Joe Biden is not going to be running for president in 2016, thus no one from the current administration needs to be sheltered politically. Obama clearly doesn’t give a flying flatulation about his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Why should he? She is a private citizen and hasn’t even declared herself a candidate yet. Free reign.

Secondly, this is a progressive president, supposedly. (But only when it makes pragmatic sense, as many of my liberal friends continually point out to me as my conservative friends did when W. was posing as one for eight years) Just like Nixon (the staunch red baiter) opened up relations with China in ’72 and/or Clinton (the first black president) diving headlong into welfare reform in ’96 or hard-line rhetoric machine, Reagan’s arms-control negotiation with Gorbachev in the 1980s. In all cases it had to be the opposite of what the base clamors for, allowing for a smoother transition into the inevitable march of time.

While a fair number of liberals support lifting the embargo with Cuba, many are human rights activists and still many more are supporters of the Democrats maintaining power in the White House past this president, especially with Republicans having taken over two-thirds of the federal government. This is tricky. Obama, not the shrewdest of political junkies, but astute enough, knows this. And, believe, me, only days after former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it known that he is likely to run in 2016, a moderate with strong demographic ties to Hispanic voters, the president has to understand that Florida and its 29 electoral votes, pretty much a done-deal for Hillary before, is now up for grabs or more likely gone.

But all of this pales when sitting alongside getting a flow of more affordable Cuban cigars to the Clemens Estate.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Or CIA – Our National Apathy Over Dirty Little Secrets

In April of 2009 this space said all it was going to say about the United States and torture during those wild and woolly years after 9/11 when, as warned by this space in the autumn of 2001; the “gloves would be coming off.” This is how it works around here. You don’t like it, wear a helmet or go back to your Instagram and Twitter. No, in the wake of this latest report on our national ugliness, I only mean to bring agonizing perspective, or, if you will, pour a bucket of ice water on your white-hot outrage.pinochet

But our been-there-done-attitude comes from our study of human nature (and by “study” I mean living for over a half century, most of it confronted with this miserable shit and having the forum to share it) that and if it wasn’t fixed then, it ain’t getting fixed. It’s like all this whining about this president having too much power, when the expansion of that power has been growing since Andrew Jackson in 1831.

Time to wake up and smell the steaming-hot helping of feces.

When I was a kid in the mid-70s’ – 1975 to be exact – there was some hubbub about the Central Intelligence Agency that at first rocked the core of our moral construct as a country and then kind of petered out, as is our wont. This was the end of innocence, as if the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, the murders of Selma, the riots on campuses, Viet Nam (yes, damn it, I am evoking Nam again – how do you write anything about the CIA without mentioned that colossal massacre?), the shootings at Kent State, the Weather Underground, Watergate, Patty Hearst, etc. had not been enough to shake us from our Pollyanna slumber.

It began with the Church Committee, named after a rakish 54 year-old liberal Democrat from Idaho, who had an unassailable hatred of the CIA and set about uncovering some of the most heinous crimes ever perpetuated around this globe by a single unit outside of the Nazi Party.

Most of what we know and openly accept today as business-as-usual for the spy unit of our federal government was a bit of a shocker for some in the 70s’. For some odd reason, there wasn’t much talked about concerning the CIA after WWII. This was the Cold War, and people, I guess, accepted the whole thing as some kind of intrigue novel meets James Bond – kind of romantic, sort of dangerous, and full of weird gadgets like shoe-phones and pens with poison tips or a gas-fog corsage. We all saw Get Smart; funny, paranoid, inside-baseball stuff.

Then the Church Committee started to peel back the layers of our stinking onion and boy was it a big deal.

For awhile. We hadn’t discovered the Fonz yet and KISS had yet to break it big.

Through five administrations representing both parties, the CIA literally ran amok; unchecked and unflinching: Assassination attempts of foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and the solicitation of the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro. There was also the little nugget of the “HTLINGUAL” program, a warrant-less infiltration of the U.S. Postal Service – in other words since the early 1950s until 1973, the CIA routinely and aggressively opened the mail of American citizens, and in many cases actually stole packages and personal correspondence with no repercussions or even a blurb in the Something Examiner. Chances are if you used the USPS to communicate in any way from 1951 to the early 1970s’ and it went missing or you never received it, there is a very good chance it was absconded by the CIA.

Chill Alert: This was before it was legal. The 2001 Patriot Act took care of that annoying detail.

Of course, after some ooohh-ing and ahhh-ing, the backlash started, wherein many in the government and the Gerald Ford White House began shutting down the investigation due in part to executive order and “national security” concerns (the usual stuff), protecting the lives of hired murders around the globe to save face and keep the engines moving. Those who still kept JFK in the sainted category were appalled and fought back, and, well the whole Nixon thing is well-documented, so we’ll leave that abomination to the annals of history for now.

What was not known through the Church Committee, but would later be revealed through leaks and books quoting “hidden sources” was the spectacular list of actual assassinations of world leaders, bloody and bloodless coup de tats and other insane shenanigans by this tax-funded rogue enterprise.

These included, and would later come back to haunt in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan), Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, East Germany), Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua) and South America (Argentina, Guyana, Venezuela), overthrows of governments and instituted puppet regimes of despotic factions in Iran, Syria, Guatemala, Tibet, South Viet Nam, Brazil, Chili, Argentina. Some of the most hideous mass murderers in the recent history of our planet were ushered in and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

We are responsible for – and if by “we” I mean we are somehow attached to this as we are attached to say, something LeBron James does since you are a Cleveland Cavs fan or you wave a flag every time something goes right around here, then I guess you are somewhat culpable for this crap, but I digress – such luminaries as the Shah of Iran, Jorge Ubico, and Augusto Pinochet, among others. Do yourself a favor when you’re done reading this; look up the legacy of these gentlemen and then get worked up over torturing a couple of hundred suspected terrorists.

It will be hard to up your dander.

So what is Campion saying here? What is his angle; the usual, sure this is horrible, but we have done much worse and likely are still doing much worse? Am I siding with Dick Cheney? Do I have such contempt for this country I would just come to the conclusion that we are somewhere in the ballpark of evil and I’ll just finish writing this, throw my hands up and go have a beer and a stogie?

Well, yeah, sure. I guess.

Some of the most hideous mass murderers in the recent history of our planet were ushered in and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

But that is too simple. I only mean to bring up that the CIA’s mere existence is the issue (an existence that continued long after 1975 for some truly bizarre and abhorrent behavior), not its latest in a long line of “crimes”. Why do I put quotes around it? Am I trying to be cute or do I not think that defecating (how many times can I possibly use excrement as metaphor? Answer: four times) on the conventions of international war that was the legal umbrella for the Nuremberg Trials is a serious stain on our national soul?

Excuse me, I need a cigar and a beer.

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Aquarian Weekly


James Campion


Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner. He choked him to death while four other men held him down and pulled his hands behind his back and proceeded to cuff him, leaning all of his weight on the man’s head as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

This is not a crime.eric-garner-dead-photo


I don’t care if Pantaleo is a police officer. I don’t care that he is white and Eric Garner black. I don’t care if Garner was selling cigarettes illegally, which shouldn’t even be a crime in itself, but that is for another column. I don’t care that Garner had a record or if Pantaleo was an upstanding citizen. I don’t care if the NYPD banned choke-holds in 1993 or that the victim had asthma or was obese. I don’t care that the racial makeup of Staten Island is predominantly white or that prosecutors, who normally slam-dunk grand jury indictments, tend to not want to push hard to go to trial against a police force it needs to stand with 99.9 percent of the time. I certainly don’t care that the city’s smallest borough just re-elected a man to congress with 20 federal indictments against him or that while campaigning he threatened (on television) to throw a reporter off a “fucking balcony” in the nation’s capital. And I don’t care about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri or any of the dozens of places around this nation where both black, white or “other” get gunned down by police officers, deserved or not. I don’t care about whether this is racism or not. I don’t care about protests or riots or op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal, The NY Times or what stupid shit Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews are spewing nightly. I don’t care about semantics (neck compression or chokehold) or nuance (manslaughter, first-second-third degree).

Here is what I do care about, and what any American or any human being should care about; a man killed another man and is not standing trial for it.

This is the fact: Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner, violently, pitiless. And how do I know this? It is all clearly visible on a 14-minute video. Not a shaky two-minute thing that misses the origin of the event. And not something copyright-owned by Life magazine like the Zapruda film of JFK’s head exploding in the back of a limo, doled out incrementally to tease our gruesome curiosity or fuel conspiracy. It is available in about a 100 forms all over the Internet and it shows the whole shebang go down; and unless you are comfortable in a fascist state or are into snuff films, it is goddamn horrific. But make no mistake about it, it is murder and murder is a crime, and if it is not, as a grand jury decided this week, I am not sure I even understand the concept of crime or murder anymore.

Although there should be far more responsibility placed on the police officer (an armed civic defender paid for by citizens) in shooting an unarmed man, I still am not sure what the hell happened in Ferguson, Missouri in August, and neither are you, as neither is Sean Hannity, who supports any police action or Al Sharpton, who cannot help but thrust his face into everything that appears beneficial for his own publicly. Yet, I have my doubts about what happened there. Did Michael Brown attack Darren Wilson and then “charge at him” or was he standing with his hands up and gunned down in cold blood?

Not sure.

But I have definitely seen the complete video of Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner, along with four other officers either working as accomplices or certainly doing nothing to abate their colleague’s overzealousness, which led to what the New York City coroner eventually deemed a homicide.

Video evidence that this is a crime.

Scientific evidence that this is a crime.

How is this then not a crime?

The Rodney King video is still hard to watch. The first time I saw it I was enraged like every clear-thinking human not already bigoted on either side of the race spectrum. Then I find out the guy was hammered and driving like a maniac and being chased for miles by cop cars and a police helicopter, before wrestling with five guys before they lost their nut and began to beat him senseless. When we first saw the brutal video no one knew how we got to the beat-down, whether you think it justified or criminally insane; a Los Angeles grand jury eventually found it to be the former, while a federal investigation settled on the latter.

This video is different. Not only do we see the entire event unfold, but Eric Garner, totally sober and more-or-less minding his own business, is telling the officers to stop harassing him, and even backing away while doing it. He literally puts up his hands, something we are still not sure Michael Brown did. He is spending the entire time pleading and arguing for them to leave him alone. This prompts the officers to descend on him like something out of a black-and-white Gestapo film and take him down like an animal and murder him.

Speaking of which, there has been a preponderance of references to Nazis and tyranny in our recent political discourse, on both sides of the ideological aisle, but who can argue that the state bearing down on a man this way does not reek of militarism or fascism in the most acute way? How is that not tyranny? How do we protect ourselves from those we expect to protect us? And when they act like maniacs, and murder us, how do we reason the state does not see it as a crime?

And, by the way, this space has supported the police in many matters over the years when it was easy for vogue protesters and knee-jerk reactionaries to dogpile. At the beginning of my second year of this column, my diatribe over the inconceivable defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a subsequent “benefit concert” here in New Jersey, for the murder of a police officer named Daniel Faulkner landed me in a four-month battle with the members of Rage Against the Machine – well documented in the pages of this paper.

This is not about a sweeping allegation against the police, especially the NYPD, with whom I have had great respect and admiration over the years. Believe me, growing up in NYC and having spent the better part of my private and professional career there, I openly, and have done so in print, supported Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cleaning up of what was quite obviously to anyone who spent any time here during the ‘70s and ‘80s a cesspool of crime and degradation. I thank the NYPD every day I take my child into Washington Square Park to play, something that would have been akin to child abuse three decades ago.

a man killed another man and is not standing trial for it.

But this incident is a crime and it is murder; not cold-blooded, but murder nonetheless. I expect that Officer Pantaleo was angered and frightened and quite blatantly acted way over-the top. I don’t think he meant to kill Garner, but kill him he did. Hell, I’m a man. I get it. I get really, really pissed and lose my shit when stuff goes down – or at least I used to, but I am old and I am small and hardly ever got the best of it, so that has kind of faded. But, believe me; I get the “snapped” thing.

Officer Pantaleo is probably not evil, he might be, but I am not going there. And Eric Garner was no squeaky-clean innocent. But he is dead and would not be if not for Daniel Pantaleo.

In any measure of understanding, this is murder and murder is a crime.

So I ask you, then how is it not?

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MIKE NICHOLS – 1931 – 2014

Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

MIKE NICHOLS – 1931 – 2014

Film is the theater of the unconscious.
– Mike Nichols

I hate endings. Never liked them; in books, films, sometimes songs (especially fades – what the hell is that?), whatever. This is why my novel has a shitty ending. And I took a lot of guff for that. But it was a sort of my way of protest against “the ending”, seemingly so tacked on and trite, unrealistic stuff.

Happily Ever After.FilmTV_Graduate-underwater-50

Nonsense. What’s next? That’s what I want to know.

The grand exception to this is the 1967 film masterwork, The Graduate, which has been without challenge since I first saw it at age 19, my favorite movie of all time.

You know the ending; two college-aged kids, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katherine Ross), mostly alienated, disillusioned, mixed-up and beyond impetuous, having just escaped what would surely be lives trapped in suburban drudgery, sit panting in the back of a bus they board with no real plan. They don’t know where it is they’re going. They just needed a vehicle out of “there”. Elaine, still adorned in a wedding dress, having abandoned the sanctity during its ceremony, and her rescuer Benjamin, who has spent most of the film screwing Elaine’s mother in a fog of social confusion, sit disheveled. They laugh. They exhale. And then they stare into the abyss. What the hell have they just done? What will become of them? How can anything ever approach normality again? They will literally, as the great Doctor Thompson counseled us; “buy the ticket and take the ride.” The film then cuts to the back of the bus, an exterior of their two heads still staring forward as it rides off into the sunset.

What the…?

Exactly. No ending. It is maybe the only piece of storytelling, especially Hollywood storytelling, which subverts “the ending.” It ends; well it ends simply because it can’t keep going, as life. You have to live your life. These people have their own problems. Get back to yours.


Mike Nichols, the film’s director – his second in a long distinguished career that included comedy writing, acting, dramatic writing, stage directing and films – who passed away this week, decided during final editing that this amputation of his story was his film’s conclusion; a film about being lost, finding no solace in the things that are determined for us long before we had a choice. It is a film about deceit leading to discovery. A film about how perhaps an entire generation misread the tea leaves on revolution as salvation and ended up with a decade-plus of drug overdoses, narcissistic excesses and 1980s apathy. These kids don’t know. They never know. And maybe they never will.

Nichols presupposes all of this in his art. This is his greatest triumph. This is his Great Gatsby, his Sgt. Peppers, you know; his big thing.

And not just the perfect anti-ending ending, but the entire roll-out; from opening scene to final frame, there is not a wasted or throwaway shot in The Graduate. And unlike Charles Webb’s 1963 novel, it is awash in subtext. Shit, the film opens with Benjamin sitting on an airplane (as a bus) staring into the abyss. Then we see him being ushered along a moving sidewalk at the airport, yet he is motionless, being carried along as if a part in a factory; people passing him by in a flurry of activity. The damn opening is a film in itself.

I recently watched it with a young colleague of mine and drove him crazy pointing out the nuances of the thing in every scene. To be honest, nuances is cutting it way short; the metaphors in The Graduate are so profound and unapologetically blatant, it’s scary. And since the Buck Henry/Calder Willingham screenplay is a satire bordering on farce; it is something of a miracle that Nichols manages to unveil such a poignant visual assault. There is, as the saying goes, truth behind the humor.

The “messages” Nichols provides with the camera belie the absurdity of the dialogue, a bizarre story of anti-social terrorism, as if the main character is on a personal suicide mission of no discernible purpose but to crash and burn. Maybe, we think, it is because, as the great Warren Zevon once sang, ‘I rather feel pain than feel nothing at all.”

I realize I am merely using the passing of a great artist to gush about my favorite film, but The Graduate was more than that for me. Steven Spielberg wrote of seeing The Graduate upon the death of Nichols this week as “life-altering,” which I took as one damned brilliant director giving props to the other for inspiring him. But for me it was “life-altering” in the sense that having seen it for the first time as a late-teen and then again in college later the next year (in full wide-screen format, which it must be seen, because when I first viewed it on television it was so cropped that half of Nichol’s fantastic visual storytelling was missing), it got inside my psyche. For months afterwards, I had dreams in which I was in the film, the main character, (the incredible image of Benjamin forced to wear this ridiculous diving suit his parents give him for a birthday present at the bottom of the pool; alone, submerged, embracing the silence) and others wherein I was seeing the story play out as a voyeur; overhearing conversations, seeing something I was not meant to see, but could not look away.

Nichols once said that film is an unconscious art, and in a very real way, more than any other film, The Graduate got inside me that way. And it has informed my fiction (as little and strangely subversive as the output has been) and formed much of my ho-hum look at what others may consider the seminal moments of our lives. The sense that Nichols’ visuals – beautifully accented by Paul Simon’s wonderful songs, which should never be understated as a major contributor to the work – seem to stay with me long after its immediate effect. I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road around the same time and it also blew my doors off, but I rarely returned to it later in my maturity. I barely think about it now, other than nostalgically, even as a literary device to inspire. The Graduate has stayed inside me.

Powerful stuff.

A few years ago I took in Nichols’ staging of my favorite American play, Death of a Salesman with the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman on Broadway. Nichols was a man of the theater first and considered film an extension of that. There were elements of what I perceived in The Graduate throughout the production, and while I was moved to tears for the first time in a theater, yet, like most of Nichols work after The Graduate, it pales. Some good stuff, some not-so, but nothing like that shot-for-shot masterpiece.

It is maybe the only piece of storytelling, especially Hollywood storytelling, which subverts “the ending.”

Oh, and weirdly enough, speaking of Mike Nichols and “life-altering”, I happened to have kissed my wife for the first time on his property; a horse ranch in Monticello, New York, where my wife’s best friend and later our maid of honor, Pamela, trained and rode his horses for completion.

And so upon his death, I contemplated these things; The Graduate, my impenetrable love for my wife, my impish, almost maddening sense of non-conformity as religion, and thank Mike Nichols for his art.

A worthy ending, indeed.

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Aquarian Weekly


James Campion

The Fallout of The 2014 Mid-Term Elections

Poor old Mitch McConnell. He’s so happy, for now. The Republican Party takes control of the U.S. Senate. Thus, as minority leader, he suddenly becomes majority leader. Just like that. Presto. Democracy. Cool stuff. New regime, like the waves of 2006 and 2010 that changed everything. Remember? No? Because they changed nothing, which is the exact opposite of change, like when Change was all the rave in 2008. That’s out now. Kaput.mitch-m-75

Six years of obstructionist politics to “make Barrack Obama a one-term president” (negative sound-effects buzzer) turned into plan B, take over the Senate, (positive chiming sound effect) allows McConnell this new lease on political life. Problem is McConnell is going to have to govern now; work with a lame duck president of the United States, who has no reason to do so with no one from his current administration having to defend it, or at least caucus with a very ornery Right Wing filled with TEA Party types who were elected to stop government from growing, and even some of whom, like the always entertaining self-promoting Ted Cruz and whatever Rand Paul is today – libertarian, hawk, Republican power player – will be positioning themselves for a White House run.

Good luck with all that.

You see, McConnell is very old. Not sure how old, but likely not able to quickly get through a supermarket line quickly or maneuver a car in city traffic without causing some delays. He speaks as if someone has a gun to his head in a spy film and looks two minutes from having “fallen and I can’t get up”. But luckily for McConnell he doesn’t have to drive or buy his own groceries. He’s been in the Senate for 30 years. Thirty fucking years in the Senate. I was 22 when he came in. I am friggin’ old, but not as old as Mitch McConnell. Or Harry Reid on the other side of the putrid aisle. Two aisles, both putrid. The one they call Red is now in the hot seat. We’ll see how that goes.

A few months ago McConnell was spending millions fending off a battle to his Right and then spent millions defending himself against a weak opposition from the Left. He works for a body of government that has a 19 percent approval rating and has accomplished less than any congress in the 238-year history of this republic. Now he’s the big boy, and it will be high time he gets to work, because there is little patience in this electorate and the way the map is looking and the demographics are shaping up for 2016, his lifeline ain’t long.

But make no mistake about it; this was the Democrats turn to take the beating, much like 2010, but with less populace outrage. This was big Republican mainstream money and less grocer-next-door quality of the TEA Party run; well organized and strategically planned. Good execution. Old politics style. No longer is the passé Affordable Care Act in play; this was the summer of ISIS and Ebola and “Obama hates America”. Very effective stuff when the mood, which has not changed since late 2003, is “Kick the bums out!” New bums, Old story.

For instance, lending a nod to the quality reporting of Andrew Romano from Yahoo News, who while pointing out that despite a surge of Latinos over the past half-decade and the legalization of marijuana, the fairly progressive state of Colorado elected Cory Gardner as part of the key states to flip the Senate to Republican, also notes the GOP strategy to run a “repackaged” Gardner as a moderate. “Gardner isn’t a moderate,” Romano writes. “He’s a pro-life Republican who ranked as the 10th most conservative House member in 2012. He has opposed Republican immigration reform efforts, voted to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood was defunded and supported Ted Cruz’s efforts to gut Obamacare. Yet he emphasized compromise and displayed a remarkable, Bill Clintonesque talent for triangulation on immigration, abortion and birth control. In the process, Gardner may have provided the GOP with its biggest lesson of the night: A Republican can still win in a purple state — if he’s the right kind of Republican.”

Like Mitch McConnell, who is the face of the 2014 mid-terms; big time GOP national politics is back. Let’s see if they centrist this thing like Newt and Big Bill in ’94 or if they go off the rails and turn this into part six of “The Revenge of the 2000 Election” and usher in new bums from the other side of the putrid aisle.

Here’s my guess; the Democrats follow the winning model of obstructing any wild bills that are sure to continue flowing from the House and declare them “radical”, further pushing the narrative that Washington is “broken” and that it needs “new blood”. Blaming a lame duck president, who is no longer bound to run (and what comes of that for the next two years is fodder for another time) will not curtail the derision aimed at the newly “Republican-controlled” legislative branch. A sort of copycat strategy wonderfully deployed to political success the past six years, which allowed the GOP to grab seats at the power table.

Two aisles, both putrid. The one they call Red is now in the hot seat. We’ll see how that goes.

It will go down like that (the two-aisle putrid equation) and it will work, because unlike the fortuitous map just exploited by Republicans (mostly defended seats by Democrats in both “Red” and “Blue” states) in two years it will be the Democrats who will go after 23 of the 33 seats held by their opponents in more friendly territories – Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin – doing so in a national election year when far more Democratic demographics flood to the polls to vote for what looks like the most potent presidential candidate in several generations.

Lots of jobs will change hands; some people on the Left and Right (shouted from the rooftops by their lapdog town criers on cable news and radio) will bitch and celebrate. But for you and me, it’s the same old “two putrid aisles” using tried-and-true fear mongering and waves of our frustration to gain power that they will abuse to secure book deals, corporate speaking engagements and lobbying gigs.


Just like that.

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