Sunday, December 31, 2017

Life's Little Injustices (Take X): "Hey, Where's Mike?"

Something seemed wrong lately at our friendly neighborhood Spartan grocery store. The rhythms of life seemed, somehow, a little bit off. I'd noticed it building, slowly but surely, over the last couple weeks. The standard employee banter had lost its usual edge, or even seemed a tad forced, at times. The eye contact became more hit and miss. But those weren't the only indications, as I quickly discovered.

Before long, odd little signs started popping up at the checkout lanes: "WE ARE SORRY, BUT WE CANNOT ACCEPT WIC OR BRIDGE CARDS (Reckoner's Note: for food stamp recipients) AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE." Soon enough, we'd end up feasting our eyes on this little gem: "21 AND OVER IS THE LAW! YOU MUST SHOW ID WHEN PURCHASING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES. NO EXCEPTIONS!!"

How odd, I told myself, since 21+ is the gold standard in most jurisdictions nationwide? Or is somebody trying to underscore something that we already know? What gives, exactly? 

I got my answer soon enough, on my nightly trip to score a two-liter or two of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi.

I found myself standing behind a gent with his own modest haul of beer -- a six-pack of something or other, if I recall correctly -- and assorted snack food items. Suddenly, he popped the question: "Hey, where's Mike?"

The cashier furrowed her brow. "What you do you want with him?"

"You know, Mike," the customer persisted. "The guy with the shirt and tie, carrying the big, oversized cell phone..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," the cashier responded. "He was here 10 years. Well, he's not here anymore."

"Really?" The customer frowned. "Why not?"

The cashier sighed. "We got bought out a couple weeks ago, by the son of the current owner." She explained that his father wanted to get out, retire, enjoy some well-earned rest, that type of thing.

The customer jerked a thumb at the signs. "Oh, and that's why you can't take..."


A-ha, I thought. They're transferring the license owner to the new regime, which is why the food stamp cards are on hold for awhile.

"Okay, so what became of Mike?"

"Well, whenever a new owner comes in," the cashier explained, "they typically prefer to bring in their own people, new blood, whatever you call it. The only way that Mike was gonna stay here, they told him, was that he'd have to start over..."

"Wow!" The customer sucked in a breath or two. "You mean, he'd have to go back out on the floor?"

"Pretty much, that's what it would have meant." The cashier frowned. "He didn't wanna do that, so that's why he's gone."

The customer finished counting out his change. "Man, that sucks. I liked the guy."

"Well, that's what's happened," the cashier sighed, a little harder this time. "Anything's possible when a new owner comes in. Right now, there's a lot of changes going on..." She gestured toward the signs. "And we don't know yet what's gonna happen."

"Wow, that's too bad." The customer finished scooping up his change into his pocket, grabbed his six-pack and snacks, now safely tucked into their cheap plastic bags, and walked out.

Within a minute or two, I followed out the door. I thought about all these times that I'd seen Mike, who presented the upbeat facade of the local store manager better than most of his cohorts I'd seen. Then I thought of him coming home, and breaking the news to his family, a forty- or fiftysomething-plus man effectively hearing, "Sorry, kid. Time to start over." 

Most likely, I'd never see him again, unless he found a similar foothold with the competition...Aldi's, Martin's, Meijer's Walmart, take your pick, you name it, there's quite a few locations...another domino rolled over in the never-ending quest for corporate profit.

I couldn't shake those images out of my head for most of the week. --The Reckoner

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Punk Rock Art Corner: We Salute The Senate's Glorious Strong-Arming of Trump's Tax Scam

<"Now the GOP will pay 
the political price 
for a bait-and-switch, 
just as it did on Trumpcare, 
which paid for tax cuts 
for the very rich by cutting Medicaid. 
Republicans seem incapable 
of avoiding these 
reverse Robin Hood schemes.">

<Jennifer Rubin, 
"Right Turn," 
Washington Post>

<USA Today>
"Together, we will give 
the American people 
a big, beautiful Christmas present."
<President Trump>

 "Our focus is on 
helping the folks 
who work in the mailrooms 
and the machine shops 
of America; 
the plumbers, 
the carpenters, 
the cops, 
the teachers, 
the truck drivers, 
the pipefitters -- 
the people that like me best."
<President Trump>

"My donors 
are basically saying, 
'Get it done 
or don’t ever 
call me again.'"
<U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)>

“I think
 not having the estate tax 
recognizes the people 
that are investing
as opposed to those 
that are just spending 
every darn penny they have, 
whether it’s on booze 
or women or movies.">

<U.S. Senator 
Charles Grassley (R-IA), 
Des Moines Register>

<Political Algebra>

“I have a rough time 
wanting to spend 
billions and billions 
and trillions of trillions 
of dollars
 to help people 
who won’t help themselves. 
Won’t lift a finger, 
and expect the federal government 
to do everything.”

<U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)>

<XVI Poem>
Laws are created to be followed
by the poor.
Laws are made by the rich
to bring some order to exploitation.
The poor are the only law abiders in history.
When the poor make laws 
the rich will be no more.
<Roque Dalton>

<See You In 2018 ...
...The Reckoner>

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman: "Seen This Movie Before" (Just Say No To Trump's Tax Scam)

<"Seen This Movie Before": The Highwayman>
<click the image to get the full size/flavor!>

Is Trump's tax plan a scam? Let's put it this way: I''ll cite one of my favorite recent factoids from Vanity FairFor Republican magical thinking to work -- splendiforous results occur, and don't blow up the deficit -- the U.S. economy would have to grow at five percent, per year, over 10 years, "in line with emerging economic powerhouses China and India," Vanity Fair reports. "Guess what sports fans? That’s not happening, especially in an economy that has already supposedly been benefiting from absurdly low interest rates for close to a decade, and that is already at or near structural full employment."

I'd call that a fair statement. In contrast, the Federal Reserve's median forecast for growth is 1.8 percent -- which sounds a tad more realistic, given what we've seen lately -- while the Congressional Budget office foresees the dueling U.S. House/Senate versions add, at best, a tenth of a percentage point to growth, "bringing us to a whopping 1.9 percent," according to Catherine Rampell, of the Washington Post

We'll see soon enough what emerges from behind closed doors, which is why I've held off on commenting -- this is the bunch, remember, that cobbled together four increasingly poor health bills -- but, by and large, the public isn't buying this particular our latest guest cartoon from my good friend, The Highwayman, makes abundantly clear. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Before The Trumpkins
Vacuum What's Left Of Your Cash Flow):

Atlantic: Why The GOP Tax Bill Is So Unpopular: GOP Deficit Hawks Fear
Tax Plan Is Secret Budget-Buster:

Vanity Fair: It's A Ponzi Scheme: Wall Street
Fears Trump's Deranged Tax Plan
Could Kick Off Economic Euthanasia:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lucky Day Forever

Full Closed Captioned Edition in English
"Prole 514 dreams about winning the Great Lottery. The lottery winner is transformed and allowed admission into the elite White society, where everyone is beautiful, young and happy and people spend their carefree lives solely on fun and partying. One day, 514's wish comes true... but was this what he really wanted?" Lucky Day Forever (2011) by Alek Wasilewski

---The Squawker

Are the Robots Taking Over?

I noticed in my old ho-dunk town, they remodeled McDonald's, and are putting computer ordering kiosks in. This is a bad sign, that in a small town in the middle of nowhere, they are already pushing the fast food workers out. I rarely shop at Wal-mart and was in one the other week and noticed they expanded the self-check outs, and there was only ONE cashier working. The majority were using the self-check outs. It used to be they were pushed off to the side and the majority were still using the cashiers. What are they going to expect people to do for work? With Republicans, since they don't care about anyone but the uber-rich, they certainly aren't talking about this growing issue of automation taking the jobs away. Why do they want machines to do everything, so we end up having no one to talk to...not even service people?---The Squawker.

Baby Boomer Disconnect: The Vacation Version

In my affluent town, it seems everywhere I go, the six-figure Baby Boomer set are always bragging about their endless travels. What does one say to this? "I got to go to Buffalo in 1992, that was my last air plane trip?" When Ingrid and Betty talk about their trips to Rome, Greece and India, it gets draining. Given the financial disconnect between these oldsters and their younger counterparts, one can see who really did vote for Trump and has no idea of how the rest of us struggle.

I got a bit irate at a few, and said, "Wow I'd go to Europe if I won the Lotto!" A self-help group, a past bible-study and now a community class, it's happened several times. I hear about the multiple far-flung  vacations and more. How do they all have thousands of dollars to take these trips? Are they trying to elicit jealousy? And it's not just one "once in a lifetime trip" they are talking about but multiple ones, with pictures to share. I don't relate to the people I live around. So many of them their lives are nothing but saving face and bragging about their experiences bucket list style.  Yes, I know not every Baby Boomer is rich, maybe they drive their poorer counterparts nuts, too. Honestly maybe it's better I stayed home, because they'd be the ones surrounding me on the plane, or around those cute cafes and expensive shops they wax on on about---The Squawker. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman: "Sell Or Be Sold" (Just Say No To Trump's Tax Scam)

<"Sell Or Be Sold": The Highwayman>
<click the image to get the full size/flavor!>

Party line-driven legislation....crammed with fuzzy Washington math, leaps in logic, and wishful thinking ...hashed out behind closed doors ... whose key provisions favor the upper crust, with the groundlings as the giant "pay for", we're not talking about another Zombie Trumpcare/ACA Repeal (Take Umpteen-Whatever-Attempt-It-Is-Now), but the Republican tax "reform" plan, as our GOP friends are calling it.

And, like Zombie Trumpcare, it's going down like the proverbial lead far, at any rate. The big reveal is now off until tomorrow, due to the absence of little details like...who's going to pay for this latest go-round in Zombie Trickle Down Economics...not to mention the cracks already emerging in the "cut cut cut"/"simplify simplify simplify" feelgood facade that we've seen being previously trotted out for the cameras.

All hell is about to break loose, once we see the screwing that's being proposed in cold print. As Yogi Berra so famously said: "It's deja vu all over again."

But don't take our word for it. My favorite summary comes from Bruce Bartlett, the man who helped architect the Reagan-era tax cuts, and doesn't want to be in the same room with the current bunch comparing themselves to the Gipper: "Illustration of the Republican tax plan,Halloween edition--Give all your candy to the first kid and hope that he shares with this friends."

This nugget from Vanity Fair works well for me, too:

"If the idea was to deny Democrats an opening to paint the Republican Party as an annex of Koch Industries and the Chamber of Congress, they might have wanted to double-check the fine print in their own plan before rolling it out. All the salesmanship in the world won’t help Trump if and when a large swath of his “forgotten men and women” realize that they’re paying more to finance Trump’s tax savings."

I'm sure you can find more; maybe we'll save them for a "favored epitaph" list if this whole ill-starred enterprise collapses. For now, though, just enjoy the above cartoon from my good compadre, The Highwayman...and crank up "Sell Or Be Sold" (The Minutemen), too, while you're at it. Because the point's still relevant...more now, than ever.--The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Before Trump & Co.
Start Picking Your Already Bare Pockets): Trump Tax Scam:

The Minutemen: Sell Or Be Sold:

NBC News: The GOP Tried Trump-Style
Tax Cuts In Kansas. What A Mess:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Not Another List Article: How To Fail As A Writer (Rebutted)

<Photo & Artwork: The Reckoner>

First off, the usual full disclosure: as I've said before, I think, I enjoyed The Book Of Lists and The People's Almanac...first, as a pre-teen, and then, as a high school student, curious about the world around me. In lesser hands, though, the concept underwhelms, which is how I feel about endeavors like one that caught my eye on recently: “How To Fail As A Writer.” 

So, in the spirit of providing counter-information, our rebuttals follow below, one mind-numbing trope at a time:

1. Don’t worry too much about your opening line. Readers will soon be past it and into the good stuff.

Fair enough, but maybe the author prefers to ease us into the story. Consider Maj  Sjowall's and Per Wahloo's seventh entry in the Martin Beck mystery series, The Abominable Man (1971). The first chapter simply describes the killer's late night drive through Stockholm, to reach his target – whom he slaughters at the hospital, with a bayonet, in the next chapter. In just eight pages, we've gone from mundane to terrifying. This approach works well, in the right hands. 

2. Don’t be concerned that your ending goes off with a fizzle. The rest of the book was worth the price of admission.

Same response as #1. Sure, sizzle trumps fizzle, but one person's “fizzle” is another person's subtle coda. For further reference, see how The Abominable Man ends:

"Bohlin too climbed up on the roof and looked around.

"'For Christ's sake, why didn't you shoot?' he said. 'I don't get it --'"

"'No one expects you to,' Gunvald Larrson interrupted him. 'By the way, have you got a license for that pistol?'

"Bohlin shook his head.

"'In that case you're probably in trouble,' said Gunvald Larrson. 'Now, come on, let's carry him down.'"

3. Don’t worry about typos and grammatical errors. Trivial details won’t bother veteran readers.

Again, depends on a) your audience, b) intent, and c) underlying rationale. Sniffin' Glue, which launched the whole punk fanzine movement, is riddled with errors, large and small...but we're still reading it and talking about it today. If you're not doing Sniffin' Glue, then, yeah, get a proofreader.

4. Go with your first complete draft as your final draft. Your gut instincts were correct the first time around, you’ll just dilute them when you edit.

Didn't hurt Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs or Jack Kerouac, right? Whose ghosts would you hang out with in that After Life Waiting Room – the above gents, or the editor of Lawnmower Quarterly, who's sweating over every comma till his hands bleed? 'Nuff said!

5. Only write when the urge hits you. If you need discipline to write, it’s not really writing.

Many big name authors, like Stephen King, make a point of writing so-and-so many words a day, regardless, because it's a discipline, some sort of a job, blah-blah-blah...doesn't work for me at all. I'm not the type who waits all day for inspiration, but let's face it – I got into writing, and other creative activities, in hopes of escaping the nine-to-five (plus) job. The day I approach it that way is the day I think about doing something else.

6. Do not exercise, enjoy hobbies, or have any kind of life . Any minute spent not writing is time down the drain.

Some people thrive on battering till the job gets done. If that means locking themselves away from friends, TV or Internet, why should we care, if the results kick ass? Leave 'em alone, and leave 'em to it!

7. Sleep as little as possible. Sleep deprivation will unlock your inner writing god.

Maybe, maybe not. No two writers' circadian rhythms run alike. For reference, I only need to look at my household. I'm a dedicated night owl, who's lived much of his life between “midnight to six,” as the Pretty Things say. By contrast, Squawker is more of a day person, and would probably wilt trying to keep my hours. In other words: to each his own.

<Failure is not an option.>

8. Quit your day job immediately. Work gets in the way of your writing.

I can only speak for myself here. When you're doing that 40-hour drill, as I once did, time is the rarest element on your personal periodic table. Not surprisingly, you often feel squeezed, even resentful, of having to divide your creative energies with The Man's demands and expectations. On the plus side, you're less likely to waste time, because every minute counts (literally).

Now, after a decade of self-employment, the creative ball game has changed. I feel more relaxed, after doing my “rent money party” stuff – those un-sexy, greenback-generating activities that you need to pay the freight – I have more freedom to pursue creative activities that often got diverted, postponed, or sidetracked, depending on whatever juggling I was doing that week between my day job, household demands, and personal life.

So it's not a case of, "Is one schedule better than another?" A better question might be, "Here's Door Number 1. Here's Door Number 2. Both carry big tradeoffs. Which ones can you live with, depending on which door swings open?"

9. Be as original as possible, forget conforming to any genre expectations.

Should every writer resign themselves to cranking out genre fodder? Some of the biggest splashes – books, film, or TV, take your pick – have come from defying the expectations that straitjacket the best-laid genre fiction. Imagine a tone-deaf executive's reaction to Vince Gilligan's famed pitch for “Breaking Bad”: “You're gonna turn a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher into 'Mr.Chips'? Are you kidding me? The teacher's unions will crucify us!” Thankfully, it didn't happen that way.

10. Ignore the belief that publishable books have structure or that you need one.

Didn't stop anyone from reading Naked Lunch, or On The Road, right? To name only two famous works that break this rule.

11. Leave details as ambiguous as you can. Let your readers rely on their mind-reading abilities to intuit what you really meant .

Ambiguity is a powerful tool, actually. Haiku is rife with it. Russian literature couldn't exist without it. Scandinavian crime fiction extensively integrates it into the plotlines (such as in our above example, The Abominable Man, whose victim turns out to have been one brutal SOB in uniform, once Beck and his colleagues dig deeper). A pox on such commandments!

12. Make sure your readers cannot easily form mental images from your story.

Overdosing on imagery and exposition is equally bad. I remember a high school teacher saying how much he loved James Michener, with one caveat – at times, he found himself wishing for a bit less detail: “I love him, but sometimes, I find myself asking, 'When he's gonna get done?'”

13. Don’t worry about logical inconsistencies, keep your readers on their toes!

Like so many aspects of writing, inconsistency depends on who defines it – but it's not necessarily a show stopper, as any child of the '60s and '70s can tell you, particularly when you consider how network TV worked then. 

Consider “Batman”'s infamous third (and final) season. It's a season where the Penguin doesn't seem to recognize Alfred, the loyal butler, despite their many previous run-ins; Batman seems unable to suss out Batgirl's secret identity, even after spending time with her under their respective civilian alter egos (Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon); and strange, second-tier villains like the hyper-feminist menace, Nora Clavicle, flout their own conventions by dressing in slinky, sexy outfits (that men, presumably, might find appealing -- instead of the Margaret Thatcher prison matron's garb you'd expect her to wear, right?).

In short, the scriptwriters tossed consistency out the window totally, after a stellar first season, and a reasonably solid second one (despite a handful of clunkers). Even so, for all the above howlers, they're part of our pop cultural memory bank, and they've never stopped airing (consistent or not).

14. Do not waste time learning the craft of writing. Focus on producing lots of words – that’s what writing is all about.

Of course, it's worth remembering that, once upon a time, producing lots of words is exactly what writers did, because that's how they got paid. Pulp-era titans like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey earned, on average, five to 10 cents a word, or $3,000-4,000 per novel produced. Even so, disparities persisted, as Burroughs famously groused about his rival: "Zane Grey, the only writer who probably tops my sales, owns yachts and beautiful summer homes ... he cruises all over the world, while I sit here with my nose to the grindstone."

The point is that, in this scenario, craft took second priority to simpler considerations (like selling) -- although Burroughs tried, in vain, to crack the slick magazines, without success. He saw himself as a populist entertainer and storyteller first, as he explained his decision to start writing at 35, after many failed business ventures ("I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read, I could write stories just as rotten").

Those issues are no less apparent today. How artful does a Harlequin romance novelist really need to be, for example, given the formula they're expected to follow? Which isn't to suggest you should give up, or give in, because writing is a craft. Just realize, that in certain situations, you may have to make some allowances. 

<Failure is not an option.>

15. Don’t read, not even the great authors. And especially never read other authors in your genre . Their writing might rub off on you and make yours less original.

Here's the flipside of that argument. I've seen many aspiring writers soak up favored influences, to their detriment. How else to explain the countless Charles Bukowski wannabes that I endured at college literary readings, as they tripped over one another in recreating his style, while exploring the seamier side of East Lansing's happy hour bars, sweater-clad armies of preps, and split-level aluminum siding. None of them, of course, had ever experienced a county hospital ward, a drunk tank or racetrack. Net result? I stopped reading Bukowski for quite awhile. 

16. Do not research your topic. Your intuition is more compelling than facts.

If you're writing a historical period piece, that's one thing. If you're interweaving bits of life experience with anecdotes, journal entries, and news articles – that's a different kettle of piranha, as they say in England. A story or a novel is more than just an array of facts, no matter how artfully arranged.

17. Do not ever read for other writers. Critiquing will just cloud your mind and take your focus off your own work.

Skip to Statements #22 and #23.

18. If an editor critiques your writing, stick to your guns that it’s his fault he didn’t understand “what you really meant.”

Most editors' suggestions, in my experience, will raise your game. That only makes the boneheads stand out more, such as the one who change a quote of mine, about a rock guitarist who questioned his manager's agenda. The quote changed from, "He sussed him out, good and proper," to, "He cussed him out, good and proper." Apparently, the guy had no grip on the subtleties of British slang, but did he ask me? I didn't find out till the back issues hit my PO box. Yes, I went ballistic, but I couldn't fix the damage after the fact. Every time I see that quote, I get irritated all over again. Trust me: sometimes, it's best to stand your ground.

19. If a reader gives you feedback that something in the plot seems to be missing, ignore her. Better yet, prove it’s “all there” by pointing to page 224, where three words in the middle of a paragraph at the end of the chapter “explain it all.”

Like editors, readers can help by pointing out things you've missed, or call attention to issues that might slip past you. Or, as I've seen on many a Goodreads site, or forum – they can also bang on endlessly about minor points, dredge up irrelevancies that don't matter, or miss the point you're trying to drive home.

20. Never back up the electronic copy of your work. It’s good for your creative juices to be in constant fear of losing your book beyond the event horizon of the cyber black hole.

Now this statement actually makes sense! But you can't force people to back up their data. Nor is it a new issue, as I remember from seeing people in journalism classes rush to share their latest scoop, and snap on the tape recorder, only to watch their faces sag when you heard: "Fzzzzzzzz....

 The “I've Gotten Away With It So Far” Club is stuffed with too many charter members who left their creations in the laps of the digital gods – and suffered accordingly. It's one reason why I write out a lot of my stuff in longhand first, or even dictate it into a digital voice recorder. Different strokes, different folks, and all that.

21. Forget the idea of practicing any kind of writing other than your book. It’s just a distraction.

Didn't hurt J.D. Salinger, did it? As he famously noted about his best-known work, The Catcher In The Rye, he claimed to have spent 30 years – essentially, whatever life he'd lived, up till then – in preparing to write it. As I've aleady noted, some people thrive on that kind of single-mindedness.

<Failure is not an option.>

22. Do not stoop so low as to take the advice of writers who have walked the path before you. You need to find your own path in your own way.

23. Never show your writing to anyone.

These last two statements mirror each other, so I'll tackle them together. Generally speaking, you will have to figure out your own path, because you may encounter people who try steering you in their direction -- whether it makes sense, or doesn't -- or fail to understand what you're doing.

Getting feedback is a good idea. Just remember, though, it's not always infallible. Take the oft-told story of Van Halen's producer, Ted Templeman, goading Eddie Van Halen, into re-recording one of his guitar solos...again. And again. And again.. Finally, after many frustrating, fruitless hours, Eddie went into the studio alone, late at night, and recorded the solo he felt like doing. But he didn't breathe a word to anybody. The next day, Templeman heard the results, and -- so the story goes -- said: “Great!” Don't feel surprised if this happens to you once or twice in your travels.

Let's face it – allowing list articles to guide your creative destiny is like asking your friendly neighborhood fortune teller if that job offer (Chief Rat Killer) is the one that you've really wanted all your life. Except the fortune teller's batting average might end up a tad higher than the list article. --The Reckoner

<Photo & Artwork: The Recokner>

Links To Go (Hurry, Before 
Somebody Writes Another Damned List Article):
Bookbaby: How To Fail As A Writer:

Odyssey: A List Article
About Why I Hate List Articles:

The Daily Telegraph: 
Xenophobic Hack Or Master Storyteller?:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trumpcare Demise Takeaways (& Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman)

<The Highwayman: "Christmas For The People">

Trumpcare is dead, for now.  As we saw last month, on live TV, John McCain's (R-AZ) dramatic "thumbs" down gesture on the Senate floor finally scuttled his party's effort to strip millions of their dearly-won health insurance -- whether they owed it to the Affordable Care Act itself, or living in a Medicaid expansion state (like me). The bats have been forced back into the abyss, leaving Trumpcare to join the love bead, the Nehru jacket, the pet rock, and the Sears cocktail dress in the Hall of Historical Japes

Fittingly, for me, the so-called "skinny repeal" psycho circus (July 27-28) coincided with a medical procedure -- like Trump's election, when I underwent an emergency tooth extraction the morning after, as I've already written here:

The night before the skinny repeal psychodrama unfolded, I underwent a vascular procedure that had eluded me for a decade, due to my uninsured status. Basically, I needed to close a vein or two. It wasn't life-threatening, but the doctor told me that -- had I waited much longer -- I'd surely start feeling worse, since  blood had been pooling in my legs, and feet...not snaking back up to the groin, as Nature intended.

So I laid down on the table, and got the job done. I didn't feel any pain, aside from a half-dozen pokes of the doctor's needle. Naturally, my inner thigh felt a little tender afterwards, but all that's ebbed away as I sit here writing. Needless to say, I feel better than I've felt in ages. And it didn't cost me a dime (at least, I haven't seen a bill yet).

However, without my Medicaid card's surprise appearance in my mailbox a couple months ago, my surgery would never have happened. I can't even count, over the last decade, how many workarounds I investigated...from applying for charity care via the local hospital, to the GoFundMe route, and selling off everything I owned. Among other options.

That being said, the warped course that the health debate took -- from the House Republicans' equally ill-starred effort, to the various Senate alternatives cobbled together in those secret meetings, and "working" lunch breaks -- should spike any notions of the "adults in the room" restraining Trump and his ultra-right acolytes. Look no further than veteran shapeshifters like  Lindsay Graham (D=SC), who breathlessly denounced the "skinny repeal" effort for the TV cameras...only to vote for it hours later.

We heard equally tortured volleys of verbal gymnastics from so-called moderate GOPers like Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Dean Heller (NV), and Rob Portman (OH), who offered varying reservations about Trumpcare's impact on hospitals and vulnerable constituencies, like people with disabilities...only to cave in, as Graham did, and join their fellow "adults" in sending "skinny repeal" down the conveyor belt with a hearty shove. 

Heller's example is especially pathetic, as we watched him zig (first, opposing the Senate's original Better Reconciliation Act as "bad for Nevada," then agreeing to allow to debate on it), and finally, zag (with a few more scripted verbal reservations)...before his knees buckled, and he, too, joined the "adults" on their skinny repeal stampede.

Heller's attempt to play every possible end against the middle smacks of General Friedrich Fromm's actions, as portrayed in Valkyrie. For those who don't know their war history, Fromm is the guy who declined to take part in the July 20, 1944 bomb plot against Adolf Hitler, but held out the possibility of joining the conspirators later...but only after getting proof of the dictator's demise. 

Confronted with the opposite outcome, Fromm hurriedly moved to execute the ringleaders, an act that didn't fool his Nazi paymasters. He, too, wound up executed in March 1945 (having been stripped of his military status the previous -- though, out of deference to it, Hitler allowed him to be shot, rather than being slowly strangled from a loop of piano wire -- lucky guy, eh?). 

Senator Heller hasn't seen the movie, I guess.

If nothing else, the near-success of all this frenetic backroom maneuvering is testimony to the siren song of groupthink -- although, funnily enough, it didn't sway Senators Susan Collins (ME), or Lisa Murkowski (AK), who staked out their opposition from the beginning, and -- unlike their tin-eared, tone-deaf colleagues -- showed signs of actually doing their homework, and listening to their residentes' concerns.

Time will tell whether the political will exists to fix the Affordable Care Act's well-documented warts (which Collins and Murkowski repeatedly pointed out, to anyone who cared to listen).. However, the failure of Trumpcare also proves that the resistance to it -- and whatever equally ill-thought-out initiatives fly off the president's desk -- is alive and well. Without so many millions of us taking the time -- whether it involved marching, picketing, or trying to track down a fugitive Senator or Congressman, ducking their constituents -- we might already have been bemoaning our return to the Dark Ages (as in, 20 to 50 million newly uninsured Americans, depending on which estimate you believed).

I will remember both those nights -- my procedure, and the collapse of Trumpcare -- as long as I live and breathe. I couldn't help but feel emotional after the impact of McCain's gesture sunk in. I'd been working late, as usual, which meant I kept the TV on. Due to the camera angles CNN was using, however, what happened wasn't immediately clear. Of course, the meaning quickly became clear enough, especially after the networks replayed that footage --- which prompted me to tell people: "This is why we do this. This is why we fight so hard to change things."

Of course, plenty of other fights loom ahead. But, for me, the biggest takeaways come down to two points: first, the system worked, for a change. A bad idea remained a bad idea, and stayed on the cutting room floor. The second is an expression attributed to Abraham Lincoln, one that Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi liked to quote when the GOP cranked up the first of its zombie healthcare bills last spring: "Public sentiment is everything." If you want to explain why Trumpcare tanked, I couldn't think of a better epitaph.. --The Reckoner