OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV

Aquarian Weekly

6/12/19

Reality Check


James Campion

OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV


My bride,

I can vividly remember the first time I decided to do this, the week of our nuptials in early June 1999, an unthinkable twenty years, one daughter, yoga instructor certification, six books, three houses, two-dozen or so weird and wonderful trips abroad, and a half-dozen cats ago. It made sense I would come here to make my witness. I had officially begun what would become this column the first night we spent alone together, on our way to see Sinead O’Connor at the Beacon Theater. It was the twenty-sixth day of August 1997. I sent my very first socio-political piece to the Aquarian that evening from the fax machine at the Roosevelt Hotel where my oldest and best friend of forty-five years now, Chris was working media. I began to fall in love with you that night. I did. Maybe I told you a few weeks later. Two months after that you moved into my hovel and transformed a boy into a man and a mostly directionless heart into one with a laser beam focus. And that is why I felt the need to write the first of these Open Letter pieces before we were to be married on June 12, 1999, twenty years ago today. I still had this fear that one day I could lose this thing we had that I shall never, ever take for less than what it is; the answer to the question (you know from which I speak) about the meaning of…well…everything.

I wrote then: “Let’s face it, who is going to pick me up and dust me off the way you do? Who is going to heal those wounds, the ones the doctors can’t see, or the tax man can’t heist, or the priest can’t bless with a few hollow words? I don’t deserve any of this. I should be banished to a remote island in the Pacific and left to dig for fallacies with a teaspoon.” – 5/26/99

And, of course, it is probably the darker side of maudlin and certainly the upper register of cheesy to do this in public, even for a writer. Most of us tend to change names and mask much of our emotions in subtext and metaphor, and for the most part I am rarely if ever truly honest in this space unless forced to be. I have too much fun with the form for it to actually mean something. I made that assessment on the twentieth anniversary of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey three years ago in which I was sure that the emotions I expressed in it eventually turned into a muted narrative of disparate wordplay. I felt icky admitting this, but it’s the truth. But here, I come clean. And even that doesn’t matter all that much, not to us. We never use words to express what it is we embarked upon almost twenty-three years ago (the day you walked up to my door in your pajamas – November 4, 1997, and stayed, thank the universe). In fact, words are pathetically incapable of approaching what you mean and have meant to me.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance.

And because of these subpar expressions, I wish every day I could paint, and that I had your eye for visual artistry, the one Scarlet got in spades and displays on occasion when we least expect it. Maybe then I could actually illustrate this bond, this current of electricity that comes from knowing that you came and never left and then made it official – standing before all of our friends and family in an old theater in Syracuse – and married me in front of a woman judge, who butchered my middle name. I can hear my mom now, B-A-R-T-O-L-O-M-E-O. I also wish I still wrote songs, but love songs are a dime-a-dozen and none of it really does the trick. I think your connection to Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” (she’s true like ice, like fire) makes more sense to me every day I get to be with you and argue with you and sleep with you and laugh with you and challenge you and be challenged by you and get to kiss your lips and your forehead and your cheeks and hold your hand and put my arm around your waist and worry about shit we will never really be able to do anything about and then avert our eyes for just a moment from all this us-us to see the kid we made but who now makes us.

You know when I am sure that words fail, because when I typed that last sentence my hands were shaking. They were. No joke. I almost lost control of them for the briefest of moments and couldn’t ride it out until I could and that is why I think I do this – get these thoughts down every five years we’ve been married – not for you, but for me. I need to do it. I do. I need to force it out in this space and out of my head and my soul what the hell being married to you has done to me and for me and why whether it is twenty years ago on a mostly overcast and sticky June day near where you grew up and we danced together like we loved to dance together and how I love how we could dance together, or ten minutes ago, it is eternal.

All the pain that you have known / All the violence in your soul / All the ‘wrong’ things you have done I will take from you when I come – Sinead O’Connor, “This is the Mother You” – our wedding song.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance. Our movements through this life together moves effortlessly even when it is messy and rocky and challenging and filled with the pressures and death and parenting and art. It will always be you and me in the swirl of that dance. The smell of you, the sight of you, the texture of you remains. That is what I remember today as we celebrate that particular day today and every day. The dance. Yeah, our dance. Together. Always.

All mistakes made in distress / All your unhappiness / I will take away with my kiss, yes /

I will give you tenderness

So, you know, we’ll start the next twenty or at least the next year as we have done all these others, embraced. This is how it makes sense to be around…with you. Because with you always made sense. Getting together – eleven years apart in age, some 180 miles distance, the visual and the literary, the caustic and the emotional – made zero sense. But the you-and-me always did. Always will. And that makes writing this, like the previous three (and that one a few days before we hitched) so difficult and so damned easy. A paradox. This love. A familiar and rhythmic paradox that I would not trade for anything anywhere, anyway.

Thank you for coming over that night. For that sticky June afternoon. Our Scarlet.

And the dance.

Our dance.

Twenty years.

Dance with me.

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CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Aquarian Weekly
3/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion

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

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

So, how come it exists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow me to demonstrate…

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

Spoiler alert: There are none.

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

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

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

So…?

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

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

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

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

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

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THIRTY-SIX HOURS

Aquarian Weekly
10/24/18

Reality Check

James Campion

THIRTY-SIX HOURS
The Nightmare of Legal Purgatory in the Island Tombs

Thirty-six hours.

No water. None. No place to sleep. Well, steel benches. Fifty degrees with blowing ceiling fans in a twenty by thirty-foot cinderblock room. Open, rusted, putrid, reeking toilet. Cold, wet cheese sandwiches and tepid pink milk every six hours. None of which I eat or drink. No answers. No assistance when needed. Twenty-plus men, of variant degrees of criminal activity and equal parts desperation – some understood, others duly ignored with a violent bravado borne of experience, social order and race. I start off standing in the corner, not making eye contact. Then I pace. For the first overnight stay, I paced. And pace. I do not sit. I do not talk, unless asked. “What are you in for?” Waiting.

Prison Cell Bars

My hands, I start to notice (not at first, because I choose to ignore it) begin to shake, ever so slightly, uncontrollably. Muscles begin to tighten. No one knows I’m here. That is what I think about – minute by minute with every slow-motion passing hour. My dear wife, Erin, my darling daughter, Scarlet. No one knows I’m here. And I will be here. Thirty-six hours. Cold. Hungry. Very tired. Or too wired and steely to be tired. Not frightened, but pensive, like being caught in a time warp. Time, like a suspended luxury concept for the free, stands still here, as my identity, which has left me for this enduring subsistence of a creature grappling with defense mechanisms I have not used since I was kid in a new neighborhood with the bullies lying in wait, as Dostoevsky wrote, “neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect,” I waver between defeat and defiance. Incarcerated; physically and emotionally.

At 11:20 PM or so on Tuesday evening, the ninth day of October, 2018, I left the Sony Hall on W46th street, hugged my friend, Eric Hutchinson, who had just completed a triumphant show with his band The Believers, the members of which I’d interviewed three hours earlier. I had stopped by a bar at five and had a beer. Had one during the interview in the six o’clock hour and another during the show around 9:30. I did not eat. This would be key to what eventually would be my plea, but none of it matters now.

What ended up mattering more than anything during the crucial hours that landed me here was that I made a wrong turn by the Lincoln Tunnel and found myself in what was described to me by a very angry and stressed-out NY police officer as a “temporary police barricade” while “a drug bust was in progress.” I had driven into a crime scene in the biggest city in America and passed the breath test for DWI but failed a lower demarcation by .02, (.072) just inching into what I would learn is a DUIA, a bunch of acronyms that only mean I was in handcuffs and soon sitting in a jammed van with very pissed off drug dealers and eventually a mid-town precinct.

The police who would eventually tend to me were professional and calming. It was chaos in that place. It was me, some guy in a candy apple red Camaro and a half-dozen to ten drug dealers. Hardcore. But kids. Just kids, man. “This guy isn’t fucked up,” opined one of the officers when I easily passed every physical test for sobriety. “Let’s work something out.” What we worked out is the charges for driving through the “barricade” – a mere hundred or so yards from the tunnel’s entrance – would be dropped for a plea deal on the DUIA. It would amount to an “infraction” with no bail, instead of a misdemeanor that would require trial; something akin to a speeding ticket with some additional penalties. But other than that, I felt that once I saw the judge and paid my fine, I would be home in time to not scare the shit out of my wife.

This was not to be.

“Your car is parked on forty-first and eleventh!” was the last thing the chubby, blonde, kind-faced officer said to me after we talked Yankees, our daughters, our favorite beer and weird songs from the 1960s. Before I passed through the metal detector he assured me that night court would take me in a few hours.

This was not to be.

I do not write the rest of this piece as some kind diatribe against the system or as a “wronged citizen”. I was guilty. Guilty and despondent and angry at myself and wondering what would have happened had I left two minutes later or two minutes earlier or if I had seen the officer in the corner of my vision waving wildly on the avenue or if I had seen the flashing lights coming from the other side of my peripheral vision or if I had just gunned the engine and blew through the damn thing and gotten into the tunnel or if I had two beers instead of three or that I was “lucky” to drink them because it gave the cops an out to drop misdemeanor charges and all those things you think about during the long hours of sleepless hunger in a freezing tank, but this is not why I write. I write because there is a voice in this place where we find ourselves, and that voice is there now and tomorrow and the day after that with no water and a refusal of medical care and an ignoring of violent retribution and an overcrowding that tumbles into cruel and unusual punishment.

And I do not write to bear witness or cry for cushy environs for lifers and drug dealers and women batterers and drug addicts and erratic drunks and damaged souls that saw fit to beat someone senseless with a bat to protect street cred or whether you hail from the top of the Sugar Hill steps in Harlem or if “I had just dumped the bags when I finished that fifth” and have “two bitches waiting to bail me out of this fucker.” I do not write for face tattoos or gang colors or borough rules or failing to respond to a warrant and spitting on the floor or throwing up on one’s self or whatever happened to the white kid who had caked blood all over his head and shirt and pants and some make-shift plastic bag in place of clothing.

I write because none of us are convicted. We await a “fair and speedy” trial as promised by the U.S Constitution and because this is the U.S.A. and the living conditions of this place is “worse than Guantanamo Bay!” or is filled with people in limbo with less rights than Rikers Island. “At least in Rikers you get three hot meals and a pillow, man!” I write because they cannot or will not and I have to. For them.

The “tombs” as they were once called, in the bowels of the Centre Street courthouse in Lower Manhattan have no laws. That’s for people on either side of this. We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go. The bars are the same. The smell. The despair. All the same. Everything is the same. No one cares here that I’m published, or come from a sound, middle class background and make a good living and own a beautiful home in the mountains and have a podcast and will be co-hosting a music festival by the weekend. The 18 year-old kid with three kids and four drug busts for selling meth and me. All the same now.

The Correction’s Officers are also in some kind of legal and moral vacuum. They have no affiliation with police or any political station. Many of them are ex-gang-bangers and some have done this job for far too long. They go beyond dismissive and actually verbally challenge and torture those who have legitimate concerns about why it’s 50 degrees here. “Roaches, body odor and disease, the cold takes care of all of that,” one says. When I implore several abut contacting my wife through texts, they make a veiled reference to the upstairs, in the court, where there is heat and water and workable phones and how one in my predicament shouldn’t have so many “concerns”. The phones in this holding pen, two of them, do not have receivers – ripped out of their sockets. “You maniacs did this, now deal with it,” comes another answer. And when I look into the eyes of the kid they brought in after me, Hispanic, handsome, dangerously troubled – maybe 18, perhaps 19 – he is shivering and scared and starving and we do not know why we’re not seeing a judge after a long night of pacing and then another day and another night.

I regret not making a phone call at 12:30 in the first minutes of Wednesday morning from the police station. The officers told my lawyer they offered it to me. They did not. I remember that clearly. I debated asking. But I’ll pay my fine and go my way, I thought. Stupidly. By mid-afternoon that day, a dozen hours since I was pulled from my car amidst the swirling lights and shouting and commands from everywhere, my wife and friends and lawyers and police tried to find out where I ended up. They did, eventually. It was all hands on deck for the Editor-in-Chief of the Desk. I was in the hole and the troops rallied. And I thank them for that – Johnny M, Vegas, Elizabeth esq, even Eric, and the rest.

We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go.

Later Wednesday it dawned on many who had been there – some for four or five days (one poor soul was told he was “re-arrested”, whatever the hell that means) – that the city could hold you here for up to 72 hours for anything from felony to infraction. And we would never drink any water and refused the cold, wet cheese sandwiches because needing to defecate in this dungeon on that toilet was never going to be an option, even for those who had served real time. “Let this man contact his family!” someone shouts. “I’ll pay off the guard,” a fairly well-dressed drug dealer intones to me. When the guard refused the $500 he flashes, he punches his chest and points to me. Then he turns his attention to the lunatic screaming in Spanish and kicking the phones until they have to take him away with a broken foot.

After one long day and two nights in this nightmare, they call my name. Each time they had called names with docket numbers, I stood like a dog awaiting a stick to be thrown. All of my humanity tucked inside – nothing resembling what I left in that car at 11:20 would make it here, not for this long, and not with these people; demons and miscreants and tender, misguided discarded street survivors. The ones who called my wife once they got outside and the others who tried to explain that for me there would be no long days and nights in real jail, “You’ll be all right, brother.” They understood my fear about the people who worry about me. I could not be worried about. Not in here. Just stay alive and do not get caught in the middle of the next fight, the next threat, the next desperate move.

And I go upstairs, finally, there is no phone. Of course. Just a public defender and a bemused judge and then my papers and my release into the pouring rain in Chinatown trying to flag down a cab in rush hour. I look up through the sheets to see 4:48 PM. Thursday. I’m free. And the cab takes me to my car, just as the cop said, forty-first and eleventh. No tickets. No impounding. A sign “Do not move, by order of the NYPD.” Some weird perk of having to nearly rot in legal purgatory.

I was arrested in NYC on Tuesday, October 9.

I emerged with a story to write on Thursday, October 11.

“There’s a place…” began one of the last men I spoke to, his eyes watery with tears, his future without family, without hope, without precious freedom in front of him. “…where they should know about what goes on down here.” He was ringing his hands and running them over his scalp like I did. He was… me. “It’s bullshit, man. This ain’t right. We should have heat and water and we should get care if we’re injured. We’re not convicted. We await our right to trial in this horrible place? How does this happen here? How does this happen?”

I write that now, as I lived it then.

How does this happen? Here? In America? In the greatest city in the world?

And it is happening now. I can feel it as if it is still happening… to me.

Thirty-six hours.

Changed me.

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SALINGER (THE CAT) 2006 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
8/8/18

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

SALINGER (THE CAT) 2006 – 2018

If you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.

– J.D. Salinger, Cather in the Rye

I’m not sure I’m buying that twice in my lifetime now a male, black cat of mine decided it no longer wanted to be and wandered off into the woods to cease living as some sort of bizarre coincidence. I see this as either a flaw in my make-up or in the general system I have found myself in. J.D. Salinger didn’t believe in randomness and I believe neither did his namesake, my late, great 12 year-old little man, Salinger. It’s been a couple of weeks now that he went missing. And this is not at all like Salinger, whose life was clockwork with a personality that was always caution-first. We never worried about him, until we did, and now he is gone. Long gone. And we will miss him. He was my boy, the one cat of the three that truly loved me. When he came in from a long day of mayhem I was his go-to. He checked in with daddy and I dug that. It is also right to point out as a matter of opening here that three of the cats that paid any kind of attention to me contracted some kind of thyroid condition that killed them before their times, Mr. Kitty, the black patriarch, Mazzy, the Queen of Vernon, and now Salinger.

A few words, this week, for Salinger, if I may. This will be the third feline eulogy that has found its way into this space over the past 21 years, which weirdly but poetically mirrors my time with my wife, Erin. We did lose a feral cat we took to naming Tom Cat last year, who after years of terrorizing our cats and eventually being the recipient of my Vegan-Super-Human-Animal-Lover wife and daughter’s considerable efforts to keep alive crawled into our basement to expire. But he did not rate this space. Salinger does. Because, unlike Mr. Kitty or Mazzy or even the mighty Gueem, I personally picked Salinger out from a bevy of shelter cats when he was the cutest little kitten – wide-eyed and frisky, a smattering of white on his chest like a priest collar, and this adorable penchant to jam his face into my chin, so I can feel his fangs on my skin. He kept following me around the place the entire time we were looking. So, I guess, in essence he picked me.

And he always, even on the last day I saw him, found a moment to walk his way onto my chest and give me that special Salinger kiss. It was cool. We kissed all the time. It was, for all intents and purposes our forbidden love, filled with inter-species, inter-racial, homosexual overtones that only we understood. His falling asleep on his back, legs akimbo, growling seductively might have added to our odd pairing, I admit, but a chin-jamming kiss by Salinger could make things all right most days. And when that wouldn’t do it he always knew the right time to curl up under my right arm to watch TV. It was one of my favorite things we did together. He would hop into bed and plop himself down in the crook of my arm and sit and watch the TV with me, occasionally looking up lovingly at me and then jam those fangs into my face, or sometimes biting my ear just a little, purring to beat the loudest band. His purring, especially at night, could rival The Who at Monterey – ear-splitting but beatific. Probably should have named him Townshend.

He was black. He was proud. He was a lover and a hunter.

The name? Yeah, Salinger. Just so happens when we got Salinger and his little sis, Sadie (two-for-one deal that my wife, of course, talked me into – little black cats jammed into a box together, licking each other and snuggling and biting and fighting and being a classic duo), I was on this J.D. Salinger kick. This happens every few years with me, but in 2006 it was pretty intense. My dear friend and master songwriter, scribe and painter, Dan Bern and I had plans to go up to New Hampshire and write about it. Not to bother the reclusive Salinger, but just hang around the little hamlet of Cornish and swing by his post office or where he got his coffee in the morning or where he might take his afternoon walks. You know, kind of gather in his spirit. We never made it. Naming Salinger kind of brought comfort to all that, even when the human Salinger died eight years ago those big eyes of his would look up at me and say, “Well dad, I’m still here, right?” That was nice.

It is also not coincidental that once Salinger stopped coming in from his long summer sojourns a few weeks back there appeared to both Erin and I to be something of a pep in the step of the local chipmunks. The frogs were hopping pleasantly. Birds that used to twitter and screech at the very sight of him sang songs of delight. Mice were giddy. For the Wicked Witch was indeed felled. Salinger, as much as the Vegan-Super-Human-Animal-Lovers adored and coddled him, murdered so much wildlife these past dozen years it is hard to fathom. He reached heights that would be the envy of jungle cats everywhere. He got his three-square a day, but this did not stop him from bringing in the odd mole or baby squirrel and gnawing insatiably on its mangled carcass at all hours of the night. How many times did we return from some activity to find live birds flying around the bedroom or a chipmunk frantically scurrying around the kitchen, courtesy of Salinger? He was a beast that terrorized for hundreds of yards on and around the property and deep into the woods and across the street along the lake. You could catch him at any hour of the day joyfully batting around some frightened and doomed creature. Carnage was Salinger’s game, and he was proud of it.

For years I would posit to my wife that if we were to suddenly shrink down to mouse-size the cats would eat us without hesitation. She would and still does make a veiled argument that they would recognize us and spare our hides. However, even she had to agree that there was little doubt what Salinger would do to any of us given half the chance. Whatever was left of the dozens of frogs I had to mercy kill over these past years would attest to this. He would smack us around until we died and then eat us whole, well, except for the heart and liver and whatever else that damn cat would leave for me to deal with some mornings.

But that is all in the past now. My little man is gone. My Salinger. Our Germs, German, Germie, or as my daughter, Scarlet liked to call him “Oh No!” because, well, any story about Salinger we would share would begin with an obligatory, “Oh, no!”

He was black. He was proud. He was a lover and a hunter. His meow late at night could take the paint off your walls and the coat of hair upon him was like silk.

Petting him honored my soul.

I miss him right now.

Fuck.

Good-bye Salinger.

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TWO DECADES – ONE SPACE

Aquarian Weekly
8/29/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

TWO DECADES – ONE SPACE
How The Hell Did This Happen?

I find that by putting things in writing I can understand them and see them a little more objectively … For words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order, if you don’t lie to yourself and use the wrong words.

– Hunter S. Thompson from a letter to Larry Callen, July, 14, 1958

The godfather of this space wrote that when he was 21. It took me some time to find it this week from the volumes of his collected letters compiled by my friend and film-maker Wayne Ewing at the turn of the century. It is the best way that I can describe how I’ll cobble together these thousand-or-so words to fill out this column I’ve been sending to press for two decades this week. There is a great deal of wisdom the Doctor imparts in those pages, some of them I was lucky enough to discuss with him on several occasions when he was alive. Last time I saw him was in 2004 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble where I was honored to give him a copy of my second book, Fear No Art, the first collection from words written right here in this space. When I first met him in the early 90s I had yet to be a published author. I was still a free-lance geek wrestling with a baseball manuscript that I would later abandon to finish my first book. All the time, somewhere in the ether, was the Aquarian Weekly and what would become this monstrosity we call Reality Check.

To borrow an overused phrase; it was twenty years ago today…I was in New York City to see Sinéad O’Connor (whom I later interviewed for a cover story) at the Beacon Theater, a show I would review for this paper and others. I ducked into the Roosevelt Hotel, where my dearest and oldest friend Master Chris Barrera was toiling in an audio/visual mélange, and faxed (that’s right, kids) a 350-word piece about a riot at a vegetarian rally in Eastern Connecticut. For all intents and purposes it was a “first date” for me and my soon-to-be wife of 18 years and my first stream of words of this run. It was, to say the least, a significant moment on all fronts.

I can’t recall what the segment was called, but it was three commentators taking on similar subjects from different angles. This lasted a few months, maybe close to a year, but at some point, as is my wont, I was the last one hanging around, and this paper’s managing editor at the time, a burly and gregarious biker-scribe named Dan Davis, asked me to just keep writing.

Davis had nabbed me (and by nabbed I mean a phone call that I taped at the time in which he literally threatened me) during my writing of the aforementioned first book, which would become Deep Tank Jersey. That thing, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, provided me the most writing gigs I had ever been offered. I was 32 and I was determined to take on too many stories and go to too many queer places for the bylines. Some of that period ended up in my only novel, completed in 2002 and published 11 years later. It will no doubt stand as my manifesto on the damage inflicted by sending words for a living.

Davis and I concocted some weird shit for many magazines, including the now-defunct East Coast Rocker, where I wrote regular sports and social commentary for two years. Then all of a sudden, Chris Uhl, my second managing editor, came on board and demanded words. Uhl was an ornery but fair bastard with an incredible penchant to locate enemies without much evidence. I found that an enviable trait and immediately took his orders as gospel. It was Uhl who told me not to worry about petty things like censorship or decorum or what Keith Richards once described to a presiding Sussex judge as “petty morals” and to write “whatever the hell you like”, and I took that straight to the core of my terrible being and began to do so.

Uhl was the one who named this space Reality Check sometime in 1998, the year I first “covered” the World Series, which I would do for this space and others for the next four years. I covered the controversial 2000 presidential election and began to build on my “connections” and get access to some of the most bizarre places in politics and sports and entertainment and did not apologize for any of it. There were many warriors I befriended and many deviants to squelch. I once shared these pages with a proud maniac named Bill Roberts, who toiled at this thing for a few years before he had to quit due to dangerous circumstances that I knew all too well. The cover story after 9/11 may have been our proudest moment. It hangs framed in the Reality Check News & Information Desk headquarters at the Clemens Estate. It was high combative times and no one got rich, but there were words, so many words.

It is a tribute to the very point of this existence to find those truths for you, the reader; the one who makes the writer whole.

Somewhere along the line I worked my way through a decade of this nonsense and built an incredible mailing list, abused many interns and assistants, and met some incredible artists and politicians and actors and musicians and you name it. The first time I did something like this on the anniversary of my tenth year, we had many of these people weigh in; Ani Difranco, John Cusack, Ralph Nader (still my favorite interview among many), Pat Buchanan, Eric Hutchinson, Dan Bern and more. It was kind of gratuitous, but how could you blame me? Ten years? That seemed insane then; 20 years is pure madness.

I have been writing under this banner longer than anything I have ever done. Period. Longer than my marriage, longer than my entire schooling, way longer than I have ever lived in one place – Reality Check has outlived Yankee Stadium and many of my favorite places in NYC that have long been turned into banks or Starbucks. I now have a daughter, as many of the beloved people in my life have added to this human experiment. I went from a transient to domesticated (started at the Putnam Bunker in New York through Mount Vernon up in ski country, New Jersey, to my current digs in the mountains) during this run. I have seen myself speed closer to death and somehow understand why it needs to come.

Manning this ship has given me life-long brethren in my ensuing managing editors who carried on Uhl’s edict to “Let Campion go!” and for that pristinely glorious gift I thank the dogged J.J. Koczan, the mercurial Patrick Slevin, and that man for whom I now stand at the parapets and aim high, Giorgio Mustica, the only one of these lunatics I have yet to meet and bend an elbow and close a musty tavern to spit on the universe and thank whatever is up there for the time it takes to crank one of these fuckers out for posterity.

I was able to accomplish here for 20 years a damnable edict; millions upon millions of words to pursue what I had always dreamed of long before I wanted to be a writer – when my mom took me to get my first library card – find a place where you can get it down and get it out and have people read it – unfiltered, undeterred, ample and willing. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s wonderful mantra for the writer with a deadline, “Do not worry. You have written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Here is mine: It is a tribute to the very point of this existence to find those truths for you, the reader; the one who makes the writer whole. We dance this thing together because we must. We disagree, we agree, we debate and we ride the piss-train, but it has to remain so.

Not sure I have much left in me, but as long as the words come I will take pride in putting them together here, like I did this morning of August 25, 2017, nearly 20 years to the day I first sent words to this paper and began this journey that somehow keeps on going. It is my scar, my disease, my elixir and my anguished joy.

Thanx for reading it.

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STUMBLING INTO FATHERHOOD

Aquarian Weekly
6/21/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

STUMBLING INTO FATHERHOOD
Dedicated to the Dad in All of Us

I have never written much about my daughter in this space. That is not what it’s for. I do recognize that in its origins nearly twenty years ago this coming August I would pepper these paragraphs with personal anecdotes and even deign to dedicate entire columns to the incredible happenstance of my marriage and the woman that I somehow convinced to love me. But I always saw those more as trite sociological deconstructions than any true profession of emotion that were nonetheless done with great care. Some people were even kind enough to call them romantic, which I think says more about the passing generation’s appalling lack of poetry than anything else.

But I had something happen to me this past week that has never happened before. And for someone only a few months from 55 years of age that is oddly monumental. On Saturday, June 10, Scarlet Moore Campion, nine years-old with a considerable shy streak that would never dare imagine doing anything in front of strangers much less family and friends, performed in her first piano recital. She’s only been playing for what…a year and half at most? And a good portion of it has been accompanied by the type of hemming and hawing and general whining that would make lesser humans than my wife or her lovely teacher, Chloe Nevill crack.

Good thing they didn’t, because despite all of it my girl kicked ass. Of course she did. I doubt I would dedicate a column to abject failure in the face of everything I have written above, but it wasn’t just the ass-kicking that plied me with the kind of bizarre awe that I have only read about. And it was also far beyond parental pride or a relief that this little person that I held in my arms within minutes of her passing through the birth canal was now sitting at a piano on a stage and performing a piece she learned on an instrument I could barely conceive. It was….what? Love, yes, but I would say it was more like a suspended moment of existential truth. It was as if I could grasp the surrealistic concept of joy, or at least understood it was possible. Like maybe if a butterfly had landed on my shoulder and handed me its novel.

Sure I was nervous for her, especially when she clutched my arm upon her microphone introduction and whispered, “Dad, I’m scared.” But I figured that much. Yet, as she walked up there and set her music down (eventually, since she forgot it at first) in front of the keyboard and began to play there was a visceral transformation in my DNA. It was shuffled around and put back together in an Escher rendering figured by William Blake’s dream. I tried to explaining all this to some artist friends the other night and I think we came to the conclusion that I had an out-of-body experience. I am fairly certain that my daughter’s actions distilled my corporal foundation from water and tissue into the ether and back again, leading to the stunning realization that I existed; but not as the guy writing this, but an extension of my daughter’s…let’s say, spirit, whatever the hell that is – I don’t know what it is, but it’s there and I was part of it and it was damned cool.

Better than being published. Better than being alive.

An old friend of mine, Rich Mattalian, who ended up being the participant in my first published book titled Deep Tank Jersey once told me, and I paraphrase here, that you don’t really know love until you have a kid. It sounds maudlin and gratuitous, especially when he told me twenty years ago when the very thought of offspring was silly. I never wanted a kid. Not this myopic, selfish, easily distracted boy/man with rage issues and a penchant for substance abuse. Just putting children around me is dangerous. Making one? Being responsible for its life, safety, personality and overall psychological make-up is to put it mildly pure madness. Then my wife and I had to go and have, and really did want, a girl.

I have come to understand from song and story that apparently fathers are pretty important to young women. So to say terror has been my main go-to emotion during the course of this purported meander through fatherhood for the past nine cycles around the sun is somewhat like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground.

You see, until Saturday fatherhood was a mystery to me. I’ve had many ups and downs with it, as anyone who has kids must. This is not unusual, I guess. I mean, it took me all of five seconds to understand the scope and depth of the idea of it. I loved my daughter immediately without combing its intellectual aspects from day-one. Strangely enough it is how I found my wife; all instinct and no pragmatism; the entire thing was like a car accident. You look up and you’re in it. No plan there. I have even kind of, sort of understood Scarlet and she may have understood me at some point. This never seemed to coalesce the way it did for me Saturday. There were stolen frozen moments in time, but not like this.

We could dance together and crack each other up, and damn it if we don’t both love NYC. To be fair, I kind of brainwashed her. Whenever we were left alone together from her initial months on the planet I would whisk her down to Washington Square Park or the Bleecker Street Playground and then I’d wheel her around and hell if she didn’t dig the sirens and yelling and cabs and weridos and sensations of the place as much as her old man. But beyond those things, fatherhood was something akin to holding onto a wild animal that at once could take your jugular and explode into a million crystals.

But then…Saturday.

I have no words for this. Epiphany is bullshit. Okay, it’s like that one crescendo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (also known as the “Ode To Joy”, because, well, you know he had to know) when it just goes wooooooooooo and takes off and it goes from outside of you where you were listening and burrows deep inside the you that was there before you heard it but is now somewhere in the composer’s head, as if you were fool enough to believe you were the one composing it. And I know Ol’ Ludwig tickled the ivies and it’s a tortured metaphor, but it’s honestly what I thought of…like being inside of something all of a sudden. There must be some kind religious or psychological term for this phenomenon. But whatever it is, I had it.

I still don’t know diddly about any of it. But I know this, seeing Scarlet up there playing the piano under a spotlight amidst the breathing and shuffling of people I have never seen and will likely never see again and having the whole thing suspend in the air of both time and space and then stumble back down into what I now choose to call fatherhood is one of the greatest things I have experienced. Better than being published. Better than being alive. Better than knowing that I won’t be alive at some point so it’s good to be alive.

It was something, man.

Really good. More than good.

And then we got some candy.

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A SEASONAL WISH

Aquarian Weekly
12/28/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

A SEASONAL WISH
What You Write The Day Before Christmas Eve With A Crushing Deadline

Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

-Warren Zevon
“Keep Me In Your Heart”

I remember it vividly.

I was walking up 14th Street across from Union Square Park staring up at the Barnes & Noble where I last saw Hunter Thompson alive – the place we spoke for one of those short spurts I would get with him. Within a few months he would put a bullet through his brain. And I remember the June sun on my face and being thankful that everyone I loved was alive and more or less healthy. And I was momentarily pleased by this. It seemed right.

12-26_sw

I’m remembering this with only a week left in 2016 because it has been a tough one for a lot of us. Many of my friends and loved ones have had a rough go, like my dad dealing with health problems and my sister-in-law battling cancer, and still others who are gone now. This year, in particular, I lost my beloved mother-in-law, Mary Lou Moore. She was a uniquely gifted artist, and more importantly, loved this column and loved to laugh at its weekly impertinence and to be honest my general impertinence. And that always touched me; how such a sweet, creative, loving soul could get a genuine kick out of this mess.

She died in late June, almost two years to the day that I had my 14th Street epiphany. My wife and I were on our annual anniversary weekend sojourn in downtown NYC and Mary was at my mountain home hanging with our then six year-old daughter, Scarlet, who soon would be eight and find herself without her maternal grandmother.

Later in the year two good friends would lose their parents. This will be their first holiday season without them. My dad had a scare this year; quadruple bypass surgery. He’s had a couple of lousy health years. And the whole thing gets me thinking again of my 14th Street epiphany and I wonder if somehow I’m a jinx.

Or if I was trying to tell myself something that I’m now acutely aware seeing time pass over these two years and how everything that transpired did so in such a shockingly rapid manner that it all seems like a dream.

My dear Uncle Johnny – who has the distinction of two mentions in as many weeks in this space – was not well that summer. I had visited him in a hospital for patients with dementia down in Florida the previous February, and since his dad, my maternal grandfather, had suffered from the same malady, and I seemed to have acquired quite a few of their genes, I only assumed I would be going nuts soon or at least willing to admit I’ve been clinically nuts and not just symbolically so for some time. And I also wondered how long he could last living that way. I got my answer. He died that autumn. And then I pondered how long any of us have and I was just glad that for that fleering moment, just a few steps across from Union Square, that everyone was okay and maybe they would be for a little while longer.

But a little while was not long enough. It never is. Is it?

And I guess in some ham-fisted way I wish that we would all have a 14th Street moment more often and realize how finite all this is and all the bitching and moaning about things we cannot control are merely distractions to those things we actually can, like being kinder to each other and maybe making a phone call or offering a hand or a compliment or a reminder to those we care about to let them know how fortunate we are that they’re in our lives and that they have their health and their right mind for another one of these seasons.

“Hold me in your thoughts, Take me to your dreams…”

You see, when I was younger (Man, you know things have crept well past sentimental into maudlin-ville when someone writes, “When I was younger…”, but I pointed it out, so that exempts me and so shall I proceed), I would fraction life out in summers – like how many summers do I have with these friends of mine, or how many summers will I be carefree and single and penniless and not give a shit until it becomes sad or pathetic? How many summers could a relationship survive or a job or a book project or some other activity that appeared at the time to have an infinite shelf-life?

Now, maybe, I think of this season, this “holiday season”; the one I usually “endure”, and wonder how many more of these Christmas mornings will be left for the kid digging on Santa or how many more will I have with my dad or how many more with my friends that I think will somehow age but not get closer to not having another summer or season?

Okay, so last year I wrote a screed defending Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge and now I’m bringing people down with “loved ones are not going to be here forever, so start acting like it” nonsense that no one needs to hear.

Well, I think that’s bullshit. We do need to hear it. I certainly needed to hear it last year when we still had Mary and never in our wildest dreams did we consider not having her, and maybe that is silly hindsight that humans play with in order to ease their minds that you cannot spend every “season” wondering who will be here next year to share it.

Shit, there’s probably no other reason to bring any of this up except to point out that I work too much and cannot enjoy enough of what its brought me because I’m not sure I’m four or five or less “seasons” from losing my mind or that someone else might not be here that I need to tell how much they mean to me.

Time to rectify that.

Right?

Right.

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SYRIA – JUST SAY NO

Aquarian Weekly
9/4/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

 

SYRIA – JUST SAY NO

                                                 Keep on chooglin’.
                                                         – John Fogarty

This is a nation of war junkies. I’m a junky, you’re a junky. We cannot get enough. There isn’t a skirmish, civil war, revolution or upheaval that we can’t comment on, Syriainvestigate, monitor or butt into. It is amazing. Since World War II, arguably the only war this nation has involved itself in that remotely hinted at national security or moral imperative, we have stumble-bummed our way around this globe to horrific results.

Now here comes the nightmare of Syria.

In no way, shape or form should we bother to even nod at this atrocity. It is classic Eighth century madness perpetuated by 21st century weapons. It is a firestorm. It is a quagmire. Most pressingly, it has no direct correlation to the running or defense of this nation. It will end in disaster and huge debt; none of which we can afford after 12 years of this miserable shit.

So, of course, we’re seriously discussing diving right in.

It is important to point out that despite begging the first of our fabulous warring Bushes to not sink us in the Kuwait tomfoolery; this space supported a second move on Iraq in 2003. Never in my most cynical, hell-addled imagination did I think we could fuck that up so spectacularly. I lived through it and reported on it and I still find it hard to believe what an incredible stank fest that thing became, and this was facing a fractured military force which had surrendered to CNN camera man a decade earlier.

Believe me when I write this; Syria is another animal entirely. This is not a good idea now, and never was. Even the humanitarian-chemical weapon excuse our government is pitching is weak when compared to the consequences. We get directly involved in this shit storm and there is a whole bunch of crap to pay.

Believe me when I write this; Syria is another animal entirely. This is not a good idea now, and never was. Even the humanitarian-chemical weapon excuse our government is pitching is weak when compared to the consequences.

Let the Russians deal with this. Syria is their bitch, their oil supply. We handle ours, Saudi Arabia, the right way. We forgive their human rights atrocities, their terrorist activities and toss them tons of money. We bow to their leaders on the tarmac and sell them huge chunks of our major cities. This is how it is done. But Russia is a broke anachronistic lump of atrophied machismo, whose leader is a foul wretch comically under the delusion he still matters. It is sad, but it is their sadness, not ours. We have our own broken Middle East junk; and that’s on the $$$ docket for many generations.

So we need to go cold turkey, turn away from the pure, deadly stuff before it gets on top of us for good and we end up like a bloated Elvis, slumped off his toilet and face down in the shag rug.

Consider this an intervention.

Was Viet Nam not enough of a near-death ride?

Sometimes it’s a party and then it’s that one time – a lethal speedball with John Belushi in a steamy cabin at the Chateau Marmont.

Syria is our speedball.

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EDWARD J. SNOWDEN & GLENN GREENWALD: HACKING INTO HYPOCRISY

Aquarian Weekly
6/19/13
REALITY CHECK
James Campion

EDWARD J. SNOWDEN & GLENN GREENWALD: HACKING INTO HYPOCRISY?

If there is one thing that this space has tried to illustrate for the past 16 years is that hypocrites are not the exclusive property of ideological or political affiliation. In the past weeks, as we have been inundated by a phalanx of stories depicting with grand detail one fuck up after the other from the current administration, which whisked into Washington five years ago on a transparent change in government delusion, here come hordes of congressman like Rand Paul (threatening to take the NSA to the Supreme Court after he dismissed the same body as meaningless following the landmark Affordable Care Act ruling) and senators like Lindsey Graham (supporting the government’s spying on citizens’ phone and e-mail records while arguing that gun background checks are an invasion of privacy). It is a wonder you vote.
snowden
I have never seriously voted. Mostly, I backed candidates with no chance to win as a protest against two representatives from massive corporate-backed political parties offering nothing approaching an original thought or concept. Then my mortal enemy, Al Gore decided he needed to be president, so I all-but worked with the Bush campaign to smear his sorry ass back to Tennessee only to watch the dumb-struck asshole who bested him make a mockery of governance for eight long years. Then I decided to vote for Barack Obama, as a member of my own generation in protest against the annoyingly overrated Boomer dipshits who preceded him, only to be once again stuck with another lost idiot acting as if he just woke up and someone told him he was president.

But my voting record and vast disappointment with politics aside, there never appears to be anyone truly minding the store, so it’s back to figuring out exactly how the shit-house will go down this time.

This week the latest in a long line of computer geeks given access to a spectacularly massive cadre of sensitive national security files, Edward J. Snowden has clearly represented why neither political party will ever have the answers needed to quell the rapacious need for the American people to appear free while feeling safe, or other such fairy tales.

Okay, so you would have to be completely in the tank for the sorry butt end of whatever remains of a national Right Wing movement in this country not to have noticed that for two congresses now Republicans have provided nothing in the way of serious legislative rebuttal to what they deem as “socialist, anti-American and freedom-threatening policies”. In place of doing its job, the GOP-controlled congress decided to throw feces against the wall and screech like monkeys to make the Democratic president look ineffectual.

This worked great. He was re-elected by the greatest margin a member of his party tallied to secure the presidency since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. I was two at the time. I was 50 last November. That is a long run with no Democratic dominance at the executive level. And you know what; it ain’t gonna end soon. Not with the current demographics of the country pointing Left and an entire generation of young people fairly certain the majority of the Republican platform is religiously-based nihilistic bigotry.

Snowden’s anti Big Brother Libertarian roots are only outdone by Glenn Greenwald’s ultra-radical attempts at dismantling the American myth.

On the heels of this we have Mr. Snowden, a 29 year-old Booz Allen Hamilton employee (contractor to the National Security Agency) and chronicled supporter of Ron Paul’s anti-government brigade, leaking classified top-secret material to a foreign newspaper. As another quick aside, lord knows the sub-contractor element is not lost on me, the near victim of many hoaxes perpetuated by “businesses” I thought I was hiring to do jobs, only to find they merely fobbed it off to some other dinks, whose only care to the completion of said job was to not get caught screwing up, which in my case, they most assuredly did.

Snowden’s motivations for leaking vital defense intelligence on a lark are best framed by the reporter who broke the story, Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald told the NY Times this week that his infamous source for the British paper, The Guardian scoop “knew that in order for someone to do this story the way it had to be done he had to be in an adversarial posture vis-a-vis the U.S. government.”

Snowden, an “ex-CIA” (once CIA always CIA – ask Lee Harvey Oswald and George H.W. Bush) who claims after making a living working in the business of citizen surveillance suddenly found Jesus and decided this was crazy, wanted to join the “feces tossing task force” and make nasty for what could tactfully be described as a beleaguered president. However, Greenwald’s analysis mirrors the very argument for Daniel Ellsberg’s outing of the gargantuan lies the U.S. government laid on the American public for over a decade of unsanctioned mass murder in Viet Nam.

You see, although it appears as if Snowden is just a radicalized version of say Mitch McConnell, whose failed attempt at turning his senatorial position into the home-base for making Obama a one-term president, there is something far more interesting. Both Snowden and his non de plume Greenwald are Ellsberg worshippers (full disclosure, so is the author). Moreover, Snowden reportedly met directly with the nation’s most cherished whistleblower through documentarian, Laura Poitras this past January.

Snowden’s anti Big Brother Libertarian roots are only outdone by Glenn Greenwald’s ultra-radical attempts at dismantling the American myth. Greenwald’s current post at The Guardian has given the ex-litigator and award-winning blogger legitimate reporter contacts and sources, many of which were used to reveal the “secret wars” both hot and cold the U.S. has been running since 9/11, including the Dick Cheney/Karl Rove/Scooter Libby outing of a CIA agent in 2005.

Greenwald, an ex-patriot forced to live in Rio De Janeiro with his Brazilian partner because of discrimination against same-sex marriage, which consequently disallows similar rights of citizenship to heterosexual couples, has personal as well as ideological issues with the United States government of which he wrote in the preface to his wonderfully cynical 2006 book, How Would a Patriot Act, “the fact that this seizure of ever-expanding presidential power is largely justified through endless, rank fear-mongering—fear of terrorists, specifically—means that not only our system of government is radically changing, but so, too, are our national character, our national identity, and what it means to be American.”

The Snowden/Greenwald partnership in bi-partisan derision for the flimsy foundations of this republic has come at a crucial time, as new and old neo-con voices begin to bellow about dragging the U.S. into another bloody quagmire in Syria – trumped by ex-president, Democrat Bill Clinton and former presidential candidate, Republican John McCain.

Killer drones, Gitmo, an endless war in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, systemic discrimination and the rank hypocrisy of our times, all neatly wrapped up in one single act of blessed conceit by pissed-off people with a pen.

That is something I can finally vote for.

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Be Careful

Aquarian Weekly
5/1/13
REALITY CHECK
James Campion

BE CAREFUL

Men are qualified for civil liberties in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites: in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity.— Edmund Burke

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.— Rahm Emanuel

edmund_burkeEdmund Burke is an interesting cat. I like to read him when alarmists shout incessantly about how things are worse than ever. Things are not worse than ever. It is far better. Not everything, of course. Most things are far, far better. Burke understood this concept more than most. Burke was not an absolutist. He was a realist. However, despite things being generally better, we tend to repeat our mistakes, especially ones made in recent history. Like this week, when for reasons understandable to human emotions; fear, grief and hate, but not so much in the pursuit of our intellectual and legal collective known as the United States of America, we are dangerously close to trading on our civil liberties…again.

Suddenly, as two bombs go off in Boston, we are faced, in a far less and entirely different set of circumstances as 9/11 — let’s not detach ourselves completely from reality, here — but with an equally charged political and social dilemma. When confronted with our own (false) sense of safety, how much does protecting the freedoms that separate us from most of the planet matter?

Burke is also an interesting cat because he is simultaneously the “philosophical founder of modern conservatism” and “the font of liberalism”; both forces always at work whenever this nation feels a tinge of vulnerability. We are constantly under siege from these two damaged and discredited notions on how our liberties should be compromised. Oh, they love to throw their aphorisms around, mostly framing the other side as some kind of enemy to “the greater cause”.

Then, ever so slowly, almost without notice, you become indebted to their ideologies and forced to ask their permission to see if you’ve been a good little American.

By all this I mean to say that the discussion (some of it serious, most of it drivel) following a tragedy, for instance, Newtown or Boston, most assuredly veers into the diminishing of our rights; whether it’s to curtail the purchase of a certain level of gun or its ammunition or blithely calling to wave every possible right granted to an American citizen by the amendments to the U.S. Constitution, like Miranda rights or search and seizure, etc. And what makes it all so interesting is that those who defend the rights granted by the Second Amendment in the former case are now the same clamoring about trashing Amendments 4 and 5 and a few more for good measure.

Don’t be fooled. Both liberals and conservatives are always keen on limiting your freedoms, while clouding up your vision of this by arguing that the other has a monopoly on those limits. We’ve discussed these anomalies, or more to the point, hypocrites many, many times in this space, far too many times to fathom. But be very aware and extremely careful when it comes to this bullshit about national security. This is when freedoms always end up on the chopping block.

Don’t be fooled. Both liberals and conservatives are always keen on limiting your freedoms, while clouding up your vision of this by arguing that the other has a monopoly on those limits. We’ve discussed these anomalies, or more to the point, hypocrites many, many times in this space, far too many times to fathom. But be very aware and extremely careful when it comes to this bullshit about national security. This is when freedoms always end up on the chopping block.

The disastrous response to 9/11, all of it still on display today, from airport security, the uselessness of Homeland Security, the ramp up in military action and the tragically tyrannical Patriot Act, was some of the most egregious attacks on our basic civil rights ever enacted. Don’t get me wrong, there were terrible examples of this each time war reared its ugly head in this country, but these were particularly thorny in a time when the expansion of knowledge (the internet and soon to be social media and these now ubiquitous phone/camera/video recorders) was giving us a more penetrating glimpse into our government’s direct role in the robbing of our rights.

The reason many over-shot the presumption that George W. Bush was “the worst president ever”, the way they now deem the current president (mostly through revenge, because Obama has some way to go to be as destructive as Bush) is because we have more information. Now, being riddled with information is not always the best thing, (most of it is paranoid innuendo) but it is preferable to being completely in the dark as Americans were during the War of 1812 or the Civil War or the Spanish/American War or pretty much every war through Viet Nam. It could be said that information was what eventually doomed the criminally insane doings in Viet Nam, or as military supporters will couch it: “We were too wishy-washy about our determined mission there”, which actually means that the government couldn’t quietly get away with the same level of chicanery it did for entirety of the 20th century up to that point.

So that brings us to now, where we have a 19 year-old American citizen incarcerated in the state of Massachusetts, the very breeding ground of the American experiment, for the crimes of murdering and seriously injuring other American citizens. Some want him tried as a military combatant, which would obliterate any case against him, for the simple and binding reason that he is not a military combatant, anymore than Timothy McVeigh, who as an American citizen (not given the title of president), perpetrated the greatest harm to this country’s citizenry ever.
This also bring us to the notion that because the FBI had once interviewed one of the Boston suspects some years ago and let him go, the government is now considering “lowering the bar” on what it means to be “a serious threat to national security”.

Whoa, jack. Hang on there.

Who decides this? What “bar” and who is deciding to “lower” it to what now?
This badly formed but wholly important previous sentence is what should have been asked in 2001, and, quite frankly, before each time the government tried to put its citizens on notice that “well, as long as you are safe (which we’ve already determined is a false premise to begin with) then you can endure a little less of your rights.”

Look, I do not believe gun control could work, or as history shows in the recent past, has worked in this country; however , I have a better shot at making the argument that it is a far more pressing issue than terrorism. Since 1970, when terrorism began to take hold as an effective method for those not fortunate enough to have nukes and ambassadors and a CIA or KGB at their disposal to make a mark on the international violence tote board, about 3,400 people have been killed in this country in “terror-related” deaths. From 1980 to the present, nearly one million people have been killed from a gun.
Either way, no tragedy or crisis, as former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once mused leading up to the massively unconstitutional Affordable Care Act, ever passes around here without someone concocting some new way to eliminate a portion of your rights.

Be aware.

Be careful.

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