Sunday, November 27, 2022

Life's Little Injustices (Take XIX): Hey, AT&T Greedheads: You're Scrambling My Budget!


<Cover art:>

Not so long ago, I found myself rereading The Saga Of Hawkwind (2004), written by the late Carol Clerk. If you haven't come across it, by all means, check it out: it's a fantastically written, 500-page epic history of the Founding Fathers of space rock, as they're commonly called. 

Clerk dishes out everything you ever wanted to know about Hawkwind, but didn't know what to read, or where to ask. At its core, it's a narrative defined by 50-odd years of constant lineup changes, and dueling egos, often working at cross purposes, amid the usual music biz skulduggery, with one constant (guitarist Dave Brock) at the center of the vortex.

Some of the most relevant tidbits happen when Clerk explores various aspects of the industry that make it hard for musicians to stay afloat. As Brock himself notes in the last chapter ("Dave Brock: God, Satan...Or Just The Captain Of The Ship?"): "The trucking companies are getting more than I'm getting on a tour.

"The rock 'n' roll business being so corrupt, all these different people, trucking companies, bus companies -- the guy who's driving the bus wants 
£10 food and £30 per diem, and he's paid to drive the bus.  It's all these things around the periphery which piss me off."

After revisiting that passage, all I can say is: Dave, you have my deepest sympathies, as I know the feeling. I got a fresh reminder of this phenomenon last week, after my phone bill landed in my mailbox.

<"Sick 'N' Tired, 
So Sick 'N' Tired..."
The Reckoner>

This is how crazy it gets 'round the periphery: last month, I had a $3.46 credit. This month, I'm starting down a bill of $236 and some change. 

See, when November started, I'd paid two months' worth of bills, because I'd fallen behind. C
halk it up to that cost of living/inflation thing everyone's going on about lately, so when I got a surplus of 200-some-odd bucks, I'd promptly paid it, to get caught up. 

That mess started around the second week in October, when I tried calling the doctor, and got a nonstop dial tone. I realized something was up, as a panic-stricken email from my supervisor confirmed ("Your phone has been busy all day. Please call me, I can't get through"). I wound up calling AT&T, who duly confirmed they'd cut me off. 

I don't recall getting a disconnect notice, I protested. Of course, you got it, the rep stoutly maintained. Once upon a time, they called to pester you, whenever you fell behind; now, they've switched back to paper notices, apparently. Whatever.

In the end, I borrowed from my supervisor to get the phone back on. Of course, that meant having to repay her, forcing me to repurpose another amount intended for something else. That's how it works around the periphery: one domino topples another, creating a ripple effect that scrambles your budget.

Of course, the chaos came during a particularly busy week. I didn't really have time to fight it, let alone think about it, so I did what anybody in this boat does. "Right," I told myself. "Here's your $110, and some change. Now please go away." And that's the last thought I gave it, essentially. That is...until the new bill arrived.

<"Thank You For Your Business..."
The Reckoner>

Lo and behold, that $236 amount jumped right out at me. "What's going on here, then?" I ask myself. A quick scan confirms my worst fears. Apparently, they've whacked on a $30 reconnection charge, which they told me was coming. I can live with that, I suppose.

Guess what, though? They've whacked on $30 and $50 sums for a pro-rating of the bill. Say what? How or why that happened, I'm not sure but I'm still on the hook for it, so I'll have to let it slide. It's not like there's a Phone Bill Appeals Board to hear my case.

By the time you include the inevitable taxes ($11.74), they've added $129 on an otherwise unremarkable monthly bill of $100 or so. Luckily for me -- if that's the right word -- I can spread the cost over a couple weeks, and minimize some of the damage. Sure, a couple more dominos will topple, but it's the beginning of the month, and I'm getting paid again. All's well that ends well, right?

I suppose, but it pisses me off, all the same. It's all part and parcel of the corruption around the periphery of Big Business, as in, "We know you're hurting, so guess what? It's time to squeeze you a little harder." It's the same mentality that you see with local governments, when they whack the cost of somebody's forced lawnmowing bill onto their taxes. Or water bills that they're struggling to pay, because they're double the local average. Or retroactively compounding interest, as many student loan borrowers discover, to their everlasting regret.

The same story holds true at the grocery store, where the Squawker and I spent $350 -- literally, half my paycheck -- to avoid making the trip for another couple weeks A loaf of bread? Ka-ching!  $5.89. A jar of mayonnaise? Ka-ching! $5.49. Eight-ounce package of sliced turkey lunch meat? Ka-ching! $4.29. A bag of onions? Ka-ching! $2.99. A bag of tomatoes on the vine? Ka-ching! $5.66. And so on, and so forth.

God knows what everything will cost next time, as prices like these keep on rocketing upward. Even a meal out, to give you a break from cooking, averages 25 to 40 bucks in this town. But there's the dirty little secret, right? It doesn't cost them $30 to turn your phone back on, anymore than it costs $350 per person to get your food on the grocery shelf. A lot of this stuff is just the banksters making out like bandits. Because they are bandits. 

Even after a catastrophic global pandemic, we're still left where we started, of agitating for change that most people 
see as long overdue, and desperately needed. That is, anyone who isn't a rich right wing greedhead, like a certain rogue billionaire who just bought a certain media platform, that a certain rogue ex-President publicly poo-poohs interest in reclaiming. They're fine with all the chaos and crap that they've stirred up. 

In one sense, I guess I could consider myself fortunate, in that I can generate income beyond my day job to deal with these problems. But in another sense, I'd say, "Maybe not," since the same greasy global shuffle is going on -- or, as Don Letts says, in "Outta Sync," the teaser for his forthcoming solo album: 

"Predictions of dystopia? 
Three jobs to pay the rent.
The threat of just a few degrees? 
We're talking two percent." 

We'll find out how close to reality those predictions come, as dire as they are. Because, you see, that's another collateral consequence of life on the periphery -- we usually know what's going down before everyone else does. 

We feel the social ills first; when things fall apart, we're first to catch cold. When things finally rebound, we're the last to catch up. Because, unlike everybody else, we don't exactly get to shop till we drop. See you at the checkout line. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry, 
Grab Your Ticket Outta Babylon
Because It's Burnin' Red Hot, Hot Hot...):

Don Letts: Outta Sync (Official Video):

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Midterm 2022 Reflections: Red Ripple, Anyone?


<The Gift: LP cover, 1982>

"Get the trans-global express moving
And see our marvelous leaders quiver
They know if that happens
Their lazy days are over
The day the working people rise together...

"We'll all rest much more easy
The responsibility you must bear
When it's your own future in your hands
Maybe a hard one to face up to
But at least you will own yourself!"
The Jam, "Trans-Global Express" (The Gift)

The bats are back in the belfry, the red wave fizzed into a red ripple, the Republicans' hostile electoral takeover has crashed and burned, and best of all, I don't have to howl, "The long arc bends, my ass!" That's one way of summing up our now-bygone midterm election ritual, which we'll discuss shortly.

I dreaded that November 8 date more than most, as I was scheduled to report election returns for the Associated Press, a gig that I've held for nearly a decade. If the elephant party was really enjoying a big night, I'd be one of those suckers stuck \watching it. Though I doubted all the "red wave" ballyhoo, like many progressives, I struggled to contain the many anxieties playing tricks with my mind. 

So many unknowns loomed. Had the pollsters somehow missed a hidden appetite for autocracy lingering at the ballot box? With so many nail-biting races predicted, how would the Democratic coalition hold? Would voters buy into the Republican kayfabe about inflation and income, or the mainstream media's narrative that cast Biden as the pinata of the hour?

As it turned out, none of those things happened, and I've honestly never felt more grateful for a particular outcome. The Highwayman's cartoon, published here on the eve of the big day, won't haunt my dreams after all. I won't have to draw on a different Jam song ("Funeral Pyre") for inspiration.

Instead, I'm leading off with lyrics from "Trans-Global Express," one of the keynote songs from The Jam's final studio outing, The Gift (1982), which soared to #1 UK on its March 1982 release, and spent 25 weeks on the charts there. In the US, it peaked at #82, marking the band's second best position (after Sound Affects, which topped out at #72, in 1981).

"Trans-Global Express" outlines a theme that Paul Weller often expressed, as he prepared to wind down The Jam that year. The lyrics call for workers to push back against oppressive political elites for a more equitable world, and gain a stronger say in their own lives. Now 40 years old, "Trans-Global Express" also contains lines that seem eerily prescient for today, as well ("All the things you ain't got no more/Keep us divided with their greed and hate/Keep you struggling to put food on your plate"). Or maybe that's just a nice way of saying, "Same shit, different day," right? 

In any case, Weller felt strongly enough about the "Trans-Global Express" concept to tweak it slightly, as the title of the Jam's final world outing (the Trans-Global Unity Express Tour), and closed side one of the original album with it. Unfortunately, I don't think the production does the song justice.  For the most part, I find it claustrophobic and cluttered, with most of the lyrics lost in the murk of an otherwise fine funk-dub track.

Hell, for years, I didn't even know what the lyrics were, until I researched them online, after being asked to deliver an invocation for my local church. But I figured they'd work a treat, as the opposite of the far right's nostalgic paradise. You know the scenario: some hellish mixture of the 1950s and 1980s, when America made no apologies for kicking ass, with those pesky minorities kept firmly in their place, with the little woman always expected to have a pot of meatloaf humming on the stove, black eye be damned.

As usual, Bernie had it right. 
As usual, the punditocracy missed it. 
What else is new?

"In dreams begin responsibilities." 
<W.B. Yeats>

“By preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except the steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.”

<George Orwell>

As midterm fizzles go, this one proved pretty spectacular, though some faceplants loomed larger than others. Here in Michigan, the entire Republican ticket bottomed out, starting with Tudor Dixon's 10.6% loss to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who won re-election by nearly 470,000 votes.

Voters dished out the sharpest electoral humiliations to Republicans Kristina Karamo, and Matthew DePerno, two of the creepiest, most unhinged wannabe authoritarians imaginable, whose respective campaigns for Secretary of State and Attorney General focused on one simple premise: "Just give us the levers of power, and we'll beat the hell out of our enemies, real or imagined, with them.""

Incumbent Jocelyn Benson crushed Karamo by a 13-point margin, while incumbent Dana Nessel made do with a smaller margin (7.6%), that reflected a bitter, hard-fought campaign, as her victory statement suggested: "For all the LGBTQ kids out there who were demonized, and whose lives were weaponized by sad and broken adults during this election cycle: You are good enough. Your lives and stories matter. God loves you just as you are. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise." 

Trump had endorsed them both, of course. Still, I'm glad that neither Karamo nor DePerno will get a shot at engineering an electoral victory out of thin air for the man who elevated them to prominence. Nor will DePerno get to enforce an archaic 1931 law that criminalizes abortion, which also fell by the wayside, after Proposal 22-3 passed by a 13.3-point margin.

Women here regained their reproductive freedom, and other significant protections, such as freedom from prosecution, in case of miscarriages. Michigan's story mirrored similar measures that passed in California, Kentucky, Montana, and Vermont. The results came as a sharp retort to the Supreme Court's call to let state voters decide on what they viewed as right.

Michigan Republicans also lost their 40-year hammerlock on the State House and Senate, too -- an outcome that lifted Democrats to power in unlikely places. For example, Joey Andrews became the first Democrat to represent his Southwest Michigan district since 1964, when Floyd Mattheeussen rode the Lyndon Johnson landslide to a one-term tenure in Congress. Hopefully, Andrews will get to stick around a bit longer than that.

Nationally speaking, just one of Trump's gubernatorial picks won, in Nevada. Most of his Senate picks also tanked, with the notable exception of JD Vance, in Ohio. Even then, Vance had to campaign hard for his five- to six-point victory margin, while his unassuming counterpart, Mike DeWine, romped to a 25-point re-election win as Governor. You know it's a weird night when that happens, but there you go.

By and large, Trump's cadre of election deniers also flamed out at the ballot box. I'm gratified that the bug-eyed likes of Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania) and Mark Finchem (Arizona), or cooler counterparts, like Kari Lake (Arizona), and Jim Marchant (Nevada), won't get to try their hand at turning our democracy into a far right hellscape. 

In the end, the Democratic coalition held together and then some, driven by outsized turnouts among young, Latino and independent voters, something the pundits never saw coming, either. As Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, succinctly put it: "This should teach us a lesson, that voters always have the last word." Quite!

<Promo Poster, 1982:
Featuring the individual shots
of (L-R) drummer Rick Buckler, bassist Bruce Foxton,
and guitarist/frontman Paul Weller,
that showed them in running poses
(hence, the red, green and yellow shades
selected for the original album cover).>

So what should we make of all this, exactly? For me, the biggest takeaway is the canyon-sized gap between all breathless predictions of a Democratic rout, and how Election Night actually played out. That had been the mainstream media's prevailing narrative until June, when the Supreme Court's dunking of Roe v. Wade -- followed by the eagerness of GOP-dominated state legislatures to pile on, with so-called "trigger laws" -- suddenly made it seem unthinkable.

The narrative changed again this fall, when these types of headlines began carpet bombing my inbox: "Dems Are Suddenly Playing Defense On Abortion" (10/21)."Democrats Aim to Hold the Line Against Heavy Midterm Losses" (11/4). "Democrats Warn of Massive GOP Turnout In November" (9/23). "Democrats Worry They're Being Overshadowed In Arizona Governor's Race" (10/15). "Did The Democrats Peak Too Early?" (10/7). "Inflation Shifts Midterm Momentum Back To GOP" (9/30). "The State That Could Doom Democrats' Senate Chances" (9/27).

And those were just the headlines that I kept in my email! But just imagine the effects on an undecided voter who hadn't paid much attention. Had you read any of these headlines, you might have decided the whole shebang was already over, and stayed home. Thank God it didn't play out that way.

The same goes for a similar onslaught during those final weeks of negative poll stories, that showed mostly Democratic candidates in some dire strait or other. The problem? Much of the sourcing came from Republican-affiliated polling firms, like Trafalgar or Rasmussen, whose numbers have
 always raised eyebrows. Or should have raised more eyebrows, in this case.

In the end, Michael Moore -- whose predictions of a "blue tsunami" drew howls of laughter around the Beltway -- turned out to be the most accurate forecaster of 'em all (aside from Plouffe, perhaps). But, as he pointed out (see below), anyone outside the Beltway Bubble could have foreseen the outcome, if they'd applied a little common sense:

We were lied to for months by the pundits and pollsters and the media. Voters had not ‘moved on’ from the Supreme Court’s decision to debase and humiliate women by taking federal control over their reproductive organs. Crime was not at the forefront of the voters ‘simple’ minds. Neither was the price of milk. It was their democracy that they came to fight for yesterday.”

I agree with Moore's other key observation, that Democrats should stop adopting a defensive crouch as their default stance. Yes, to nobody's great surprise, Trump has announced a third White House run in 2024 -- underwhelming results, or not -- because he has no Plan B, beyond trying to avoid getting fitted for an orange jumpsuit. (At least it'll match his makeup, if it happens.)

But Trump won't always be on the ballot to juice turnout, as Moore points out: "
They may be trying to gin up the vote through fear – ‘This is going to happen so you’d better get your butts to polls’. They may think it’s noble, but I don’t think it’s noble at all."

Yet that sort of appeal may not work so well against up-and-comers like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose 20-point re-election victory gave the GOP one of its few bright spots on Election Night. DeSantis shares many of the qualities that Trump rode to success in 2016, but make the former President an increasing liability for 2024 -- the same brittle defensiveness, blinkered, grievance-fueled governance, outsized authoritarian instincts, and willingness to push his base's darkest, most primal buttons.

Unlike Trump, however, DeSantis seems far smarter and disciplined, without any of the baggage, which will require a different approach to fend off. The type of freeze-dried machine politics that backfired in New York -- where Republicans gained new unforeseen openings, after the courts tossed out a Democratically-tilted electoral map -- don't strike me as the right answer.

John Fetterman's successful Senate campaign in Pennsylvania offers a better way forward. Unlike many of his cohorts, Fetterman leaned into economic issues, like the $15 an hour minimum wage, and the need to pry healthcare away from the profit mongers. He went on the offensive from the start, and never let up. Through creative use of social media, Fetterman kept his TV doctor opponent, Mehmet Oz, constantly off balance, and scrambling to play catchup.

Most importantly, though, Fetterman defined himself as someone actually worth voting for: "I'm proud of what we ran on. Protecting a woman's right to choose, raising our wage, fighting for the union way of life, healthcare as a fundamental human right." I'm positive that posture played a critical part in lifting him over the finish line, instead of simply casting himself as the lesser, blander evil (Mainstream Democrat 101), or larger than life, "I alone can fix it" authoritarian messiah (Textbook Republican 101).

Even so, the most inspired campaigns in the world won't mean anything, unless progressives continue pushing for basic structural reforms -- like an end to gerrymandering -- that would make the system more responsive than it is now. Michigan's midterms, for example, marked the first districts redrawn by an independent citizen's commission that voters approved in 2018.

While the results weren't deemed ideal by Democrats or Republicans, they still created a more level playing field than observers had seen in decades -- forcing both parties to actually compete for the voters they desired, rather than cherry-picking them from some artificially crafted boundaries designed to keep the status quo forever. 

As I've joked to my friends, any map that ticks off Detroit Democrats and West Michigan Republicans can't be a bad thing. Without it, though, Michigan Democrats wouldn't have broken the logjam that prevented them from advancing their signature priorities. Now that they finally have, Whitmer and her allies should try doing exactly that. Showing people that government actually works is the best defense against extremism.

While there will always be some people who get some illicit thrill from marching around in camo drag, that doesn't mean the majority will join them, especially if their lot improves -- whether it means restoring the child tax credit, or passing the $15 an hour minimum wage. Combine those outcomes with an electoral and judicial system finally freed from its current dysfunction, and manipulation, and maybe then, we'll bring home some version of the Trans-Global Express, and the ideals that it represents. All aboard! --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Raise A Glass
To The Republic, As It Still Stands):

Lucid: Instead Of A Red Wave, The Midterms
Produced A Wave Of Firsts In American Politics:

New York Times: Abortion On The Ballot:

The Guardian: "I Never Doubted It":
Why Film-maker Michael Moore Forecast "Blue Tsunami"...:

The Huffington Post: How John Fetterman's

Yahoo News: Five Myths That The 2022 Midterms Demolished:

Yahoo News: What Voters Told Republicans In The Midterms:

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman Takes On Today's Midterms: "Happy Days Are Here Again"

 <11/14/22: Further Updates/Commentary
To Follow...Shortly!>

<"Happy Days Are Here Again":
Take I/The Reckoner>

When we asked our sin-house cartoonist, The Highwayman, to come up with a satirical take on the midterms, he grumbled a bit, mumbling something about how it's hard to parody an entity (the Republican Party) that turned into a cartoon long ago. "Fair enough," The Squawker and I conceded. Especially when you consider the dark, toxic and malignant cartoon that today's GOP has turned into -- the party of COVID bleach cocktails and cat litter box conspiracies that pretends to play by the rules it eagerly seeks to undermine, even as they're itching to get their grubby little paws on the switch. Then he came back, and gave us these three panels.

    <"Happy Days Are Here Again":
Take II/The Reckoner>

As we quickly grasped, however, when The Highwayman barks an immediate "no" at you, it's really his way of saying, "I'm feeling inspired, but haven't sorted out all the details out quite yet." And he found some suitably inspirational music, as you'll see from the links below. These panels pretty well capture it, since -- depending on whose narrative you read -- it appears that massive chunks of our population, the same ones who believe that Trump really won a second term in 2020, are ready to unconditionally trust the empty suits in his party, who continue the quest of catering to America's most aggrieved and neediest man.

<"Happy Days Are Here Again:
Take III/The Reckoner>

That's one possibility, though it's immediately contradicted by the odd glimmer of hope, here and there -- this past week, for instance, I've seen several pieces claiming that youth turnout could match or surpass historic levels today. If that's so, the Democrats may not in be for such a long night. But if people are really just shrugging off the idea that democracy's on the ballot? All I can do is remind them, "Crack open your Weimar Republic histories, and see how well that idea worked out." 

Autocrats don't like workarounds, which they spend a great great deal of energy trying to pre-empt, or stamp out. Yes, it's natural to cling to that belief, but the record doesn't support it -- and if you're not voting today, because you've convinced yourself that "you'll adjust," or "things will work out somehow," you're not only putting yourself at risk. You're putting the rest of us at risk, too, which is the central idea of the Neurotics song quoted here ("Let's Kick Out The Tories").

Funny, isn't it? That song came out exactly 40 years ago, and yet, we're still scrapping over the same old, sane old mad parade of issues. How much -- and how little -- has changed, over the march of time. We'll see how that march turns out today. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (A Punk Rock Ditty A Day
Keeps The Forces Of Reaction At Bay):

The (Newtown Neurotics): Let's Kick Out The Tories:

Chumabwamba: I Get Knocked Down:

The Daily Beast: The Republicans
Are Bad For The Economy: Here's Why:

TIME Magazine: The Christian Nationalist Forces
That Terrorized Me As A Child Have Grown Only More Powerful:

Saturday, October 29, 2022

House Rules 101: A Gentle Reminder


<"And Today's Hot Topic Is..."
The Reckoner>

Ever heard that old expression, "A place for everything, and everything in its place?" In life, it's one of the most common rules that you'll ever encounter, especially when you're trying to get or do something.

In other words, if you're a heavy metal band looking for gigs, you don't call Fran's Folk-Rock Bar. If you're building credits as a short story writer, Reader's Digest is probably not a great fit for your X-Files-style opus about aliens co-opting the Swiss banking world. And if you're after a job, your Iron Chef-style kitchen mastery won't impress the Paradise County Crime Lab.

Makes sense, right? Otherwise, Fran's Folk-Rock Bar, Reader's Digest and Paradise County are wasting an awful lot of time. That's why they post house rules to screen out the random person who closes their eyes, crosses their fingers, throws a dart, and hopes for the best. Hopefully, everybody takes the hint, and follows suit, but not always.

I know the feeling, because I'm still periodically getting random comments from people who aren't reading the entries here closely. The latest came from somebody who extolled the virtues of veganism, that "Hubs is voluntarily on board," and how thankful they were not to live in the UK, or Ukraine.

But that comment came in response to, "Life's Little Injustices (Take XVIII): Medicine As A Business (Sticker Shock Strikes Again)," which talks about high medical bills, and how much they suck. There's no references to the UK, Ukraine or the virtues of veganism anywhere, so guess what? I didn't approve it, and it's headed to the virtual round file.

So if you're wondering, "What happened to my comment?" Well, now you know. Does that make you a bad person? No, but you're not reading too closely, either. That also goes for the guy who sent a link to his blog about Indian politics -- to gin up his numbers, I'm guessing. I ditched that one, too.

We post links here all the time, so that's not the issue. But they have to fit the theme of the entry, or the blog itself. Otherwise, what's the point? Read those little keywords on the right side of the main page. See any that say, "Hubs's vegan odyssey," or, "Modi-mania goes mad?" 

If not, then save yourself the extra keystrokes. You can't wing the virtual equivalent of a paper airplane, and expect it to land. That's why I have moderation in place. Nothing personal, but without it, we'd probably get dozens of comments about Hubs's vegan deep dive, and God knows what else. 

I learned as much on my website, where I once had to scrub a fistful of comments in elaborate Sanskrit cursive! It looked great, but it didn't belong there, so out it went. All I can say is, I hope they had fun.

One other point is worth repeating. From time to time, we get commenters who want to pick a bone -- and pick it, and pick it, and pick it. I'm presuming that's why, one time, I got a series of comments from somebody who just loved it when some Republican dickhead or other called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a foul name. 

At first, I let them go, but when I thought a bit longer, I scratched them all. This isn't Danny's Virtual Dive Bar, where everybody just gets to yell over each other.

For my money, I believe in "one and done." That means, say your piece, then move on, and let others do likewise. To put it another way, if "The Jazz Odyssey" struck you as This Is Spinal Tap's finest hour, you don't need to embroider the point, over and over and over. Once or twice will do, thanks.

So, to sum up...

Whatever you comment on, make sure it has some bearing on the business at hand, Otherwise, it's going in the bin! Respect the space, and whoever is using it, including The Squawker and myself.

Or you can take your Jazz Odyssey Fix to the appropriate venue -- or Hubs, and his Vegan Deep Dive, for that matter -- along with your X-Files opus to the relevant venue. On the bright side, thought, the Miskatonic University Review might just love it. You never know -- different strokes, and all that, right? Right. --The Reckoner

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Hinckley Has A Vision (So Should We Listen?)


<Wayne's World Was Never Like This:
Doc Dart and friends dish out 
pure cable access chaos, 1982:>

I can't believe they're serious
Superstitious spastic fools
They live for everlasting life,
And ruin my life here on Earth

They must be so intelligent
To know so much more than me...

Hinkley had a vision,
   Hinkley had a vision...

<"Hinkley Had A Vision," The Crucifucks>

<Doc Dart works the crowd (Steve Shelley, rear),
The Dale, Akron, OH, 1982:>


If you spent any time in East Lansing music circles in the early or mid-'80s, you may have heard  this song, at some point. If not, you probably heard of the band (The Crucifucks), or its perpetually wired 'n' weird frontman, Doc Dart, the man behind those provocative lyrics.

The name practically guaranteed struggles in booking gigs, and creative billing workarounds on flyers (such as "Christmas Folks"). Airplay on college radio stations -- the most receptive outlets for music that didn't suit mainstream tastes -- was also often out of  the question. Nowadays, if you hear their name invoked, it's some sort of punk historiy name-check (typicaly, as the pre-Sonic Youth entry on drummer Steve Shelley's resume).

I remember that era well. For diehard
 fans, Doc Dart came across like a punked-out Jim Morrison -- constantly duking it out with cops, promoters, and other dodgy authority figures, when he wasn't getting busted for petty offenses, and pushing the envelope of whatever the Greater Lansing gatekeepers deemed as the acceptable face of its music scene (mainly, crappy cover bands, whose career highlights amounted to: "I supported so-and-so when they came to town").

"Hinkley Had A Vision," from the band's 1985 self-titled debut album, typifies Doc's fiercely confrontational stance -- screw Christianity, screw the government, screw the military, screw those slam pit party crashers -- driven along by his nails-on-a-chalkboard vocal style.

The song equates the delusions of winning actress Jodie Foster's love -- which Hinckley cited as his motive to shoot Reagan, and three others -- with the fallacies of organized religion, as Doc sees them ("Aw, teach me how to pray, good Christian/If it works, you'll all be dead"). One man's craziness is another man's vision, and vice versa, Doc suggests. And we don't always get to pick and choose whose vision makes better sense. 

Curiously, the song misspells Hinckley's name, but no matter; we all know who's referenced here. Such is the power that notoriety confers on those who seek it. 

<John Hinckley's FBI mugshot>

By the time "Hinkley Had A Vision" came out, it seemed hard to foresee any other future for its subject, other than permanent confinement in a psychiatric hospital, once a jury deemed him not guilty by reason of insanity. By then, his surname had become a lightning rod, as viewers of "The Greatest American Hero" learned, in 1981 -- when its title character's name morphed from Ralph Hinkley, to Hanley, and back at warp speed, with no explanation offered (nor required, perhaps).

Given all those unsavory connotations, the notion of Hinckley winning his freedom after 41 years of institutional living would have struck most people as bizarre, or downright absurd. But that's what happened in June, when a federal judge ordered his unconditional release. By then, Hinckley had won the right to release music and artwork publicly -- an opportunity he's maximizing to its fullest, now that he's finally a free man again.

So far, that freedom has brought mixed results. On one hand, he's living every artist's dream. Asbestos Records, an independent punk and ska label, plans to release a vinyl album of his music (though I don't see it posted on their website yet). He's planning to start a label (Emporia Records), and has staked out a presence on Spotify, and Twitter. Like any good record mogul, John Hinckley covers all the bases.

On the other hand, Hinckley's attempts to promote his music live have foundered, amid the usual, predictable barrage of death threats, public outrage, and security issues. John Hinckley's Redemption Tour seems fated to end up like Bill Cosby's Victory Lap Post-Courtroom Comedy Tour, as in, not coming to a town near you, and more than likely, never.  Even infamy has its limits, it seems.

The response from from one of the venues (Market Hotel: Brooklyn, NY) that scratched Hinckley's live debut is unintentionally revealing, and hilarious, at the same time: 

“It is not worth the gamble on the safety of our vulnerable communities to give a guy a microphone and a paycheck from his art who hasn’t had to earn it, who we don’t care about on an artistic level, and who upsets people in a dangerously radicalized, reactionary climate.”

Fine. If you don't care about him artistically, and security's such a hassle, why give him a stage in the first place? Well, you know the old joke about promoters, right? They'd sell tickets to their grandmother's cremation, if they could get away with it. Enough said on that one.

Such unforgiving scrutiny leaves Hinckley in a curious nether position. His marquee value stems from his outlaw status, not anything that he's achieved in his own right, an opportunity that decades of confinement understandably denied him. Yet his hopes of being judged solely for his musical merits ("I'm trying not to dwell on the past") seem like wishful thinking, given how he gained our attention in the first place. His output is outsider art, in the truest sense of the term.

All the rosy digital statistics can't paper over that reality, At 52,500 followers on Twitter, 30,600 subscribers on YouTube, and 15,000 listeners per month on Spotify, Hinckley's numbers are certainly impressive. Yet Hinckley doesn't follow anybody on Twitter, nor does he ever respond to the numerous comments that pepper his many YouTube videos.

It's a curious omission for a newly-minted artist who talks so earnestly of wanting to uplift others through his music ("
In a lot of ways, I’m just like them, the person that’s listening to the song"). Security and liability reasons may be prompting this non-response, but it's hard to imagine Hinckley changing people's perceptions, without letting them into his world -- if only for a little bit. Otherwise, he'll have to accept a fanbase consisting mainly of curiosity seekers, looky-loos and rubberneckers as the price of continuing his career, however he defines it.

<John Hinckley: The one-man band today,
on his YouTube channel:
"Hope For The Future">

With all that being said, is John Hinckley's music actually worth a listen? That depends on what you're expecting. Now that he's back among us, Hinckley has a vision: one guy and his guitar, channeling the musical influences of his teen years, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. (Though I don't see them on his YouTube channel, he's apparently also done a couple of tracks with a band -- wonder how that blind ad read.)

He's got a major yen for Elvis Presley, too, judging by the covers he's posted on his channel ("Can't Help Falling In Love," "Don't Be Cruel," garnering 34,000 and 27,000 views, respectively). I didn't mind those so much -- it's hard to do a bad job with anything from the King, as long as you pay attention to the basics, which Hinckley does. His affinity for Dylan also shines through on his version of "Mr. Tambourine Man." At 40,963 views, it's the blockbuster attraction of his channel so far, which makes sense.

No surprises there. Many troubadours, including Yer Humble Narrator, include covers to draw listeners. So how do Hinckley's originals stack up? Well, let's just say, I'm not hearing any classics yet. The overall effect comes across as what you'd hear from some standard issue folk-rock strummer at a coffee shop on Saturday night.

"Hello, everybody, hope you're doing great," Hinckley kicks off a video for one of his latest efforts, "Can't We Just Get Along?" "I'd just like to say, I now have 18 songs of mine, on the music streaming sites (which he then rattles off). So check out my 18 songs on the music streaming sites. Right now, I wanna do another original song of mine." 

It's the kind of aside you'd hear from that '70s-era coffee shop strummer's Millennial offspring ("Hey, guys, this song's about looking at the gutter and the stars! Check it out now, at"). But it's one sorely lacking in the mannerisms that any performer needs to genuinely connect with an audience. The overall combo of flat affect and purely promo-driven spiel makes the connection an even bigger stretch.

And that's before he launches into his earnest plea ("Well, I don't know what's wrong with this world, I wanna see some love/Can't we get along, all day long? Think it's time we do"). It's an odd request, again, considering the events that landed him behind those four walls, but I digress. The riffing and strumming patterns bear a distinctive Dylan imprint, though the overall lyrical muse seems closer to Dr. Seuss.

Those same tendencies persist throughout several other clips, such as "You And I Are Free" ("That makes 26 songs of mine on the streaming sites, so check 'em out, when you have a chance"), or "Unlock Your Heart" ("Listen, everybody, if anybody knows of a record label that would put my music out on vinyl, let me know"). 

The best of his efforts, "Don't Give Up On Innocence" ("I remember the hopes that I had before/One by one, they were booted out the door"),  and "Hope For The Future" ("I have seen so many ups and downs, survivin' through the years"), mine a more Beatle-y vein, with subtle nods to the demons that drove Hinckley's past. When Hinckley sings, "I am just a guy/Who made it through the rain" ("We Are Drifting On The Sea"), suddenly, it's easy to believe him, and his whole shtick seems less of a stretch, at least for a time.

<The unlikely becomes likely: Doc Dart
announces his upstart bid for Mayor of Lansing, 1989:
Lansing State Journal>

So what kinds of connections is John Hinckley making, exactly? That's hard to say. Judging from my deep dive through his YouTube channel, he hasn't allowed any comments on it for about a year. When he did, the responses ranged from tasteless cracks ("This guy makes bangers, and one went into Ronald Reagan"), to snide sarcasm ("He should share his music with Jodie Foster"), to gushing fanboy guff ("You're an American hero. Your songs make me cry, but smile. You're [sic] proof redemption works").

Huh? Say what? Actually, the heroes of Reagan's near-assassination on March 30, 1981, were Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, who caught a bullet in his chest, and Washington, DC police officer Tom Delahanty, who took a bullet apiece to his neck, and spine. Not the guy who took such great care to load his sidearm with six Devastator slugs -- designed to explode to contact -- of the same type that left Press Secretary Jim Brady with permanent disabilities.

With Hinckley beyond any further legal retribution, his detractors are left to curse his rock 'n' roll dreams as the stuff of mere blood money, since he's essentially using his notoriety to drive them. In all fairness, though, could you imagine him pumping gas, or stocking the shelves at Costco? Who would ever hire him, or look over his resume? (Cue the sound of crickets chirping.) I thought so. 

It's also worth recalling why Hinckley fought so hard to release music and art under his own name, a reason that does come down to money. At
 67, Hinckley's Social Security check is his only regular income, so whatever cash he can find to supplement it would undoubtedly feel most welcome.

In some ways, Hinckley is fortunate that he wasn't released sooner. Otherwise, he might have wound up stranded without a job, or other support, except that of his parents and their basement -- figuratively, and literally. It's the premise of "Get A Life" large, minus the baggage that dogs would-be Presidential assassins.

<The ever-elusive cassette:
"Black Tuesday," Doc Dart's 
unreleased solo album, 1991:
YouTube screen grab>

Just where does this examination leave us? Let's circle back to the man who wrote that song, "Hinkley Had A Vision." Doc Dart's muse has remained quiet since his last release, The Messiah (Crustacean Records: 2006), released under the monicker of 26. That handle comes from a lyric in "By The Door," off the Crucifucks' first, self-titled album ("The little hand is on the two/Now the big hand is pointing at you!/What time is that?"). I assume that his current hiatus stems from his well-documented, lifelong struggles with depression and mental illness.

Still, it's a crying shame that Doc Dart remains largely unknown and unheard, beyond devotees of '80s hardcore, and his folkier, poppier, yet equally intense solo albums, Patricia (Alternative Tentacles: 1990) -- named for the therapist who treated him -- and Black Tuesday (1991), intended as the follow-up. However, Alternative Tentacles rejected it, leaving Doc to pass out 100 cassette copies to friends and allies. That was far as it went, so good luck finding any of those original cassettes anywhere.

However, you can find Black Tuesday, plus Doc's other solo efforts, and the usual live bits and pieces -- easily enough on YouTube. Having heard it, it strikes me as an amazing piece of work, one that should be out now, not languishing in somebody's drawer somewhere. But don't take my word for it. Check out the link below, and hear it for yourself.

To me, it's telling that much of Hinckley's core audience are Millennials who weren't even around when he first lost his freedom. Is it unfiar to compare his cod philosophizing and coffeeshop strumming with works like Patricia, or Black Tuesday? I don't think so. I know which ones I'll end up playing more, who's the greater talent, and who deserves a wider audience.

Listening to Black Tuesday for the first time left me pondering the similarities and differences between these two men. Both were born just two years apart in the 1950s. Both came from privileged backgrounds and wealthy families, where money and resources were never an issue. Yet both also ended up estranged from their families, and struggled with a lengthy trail of failed relationships, mental issues, and hit or miss career prospects.

One major difference separates them, though. Shooting Reagan earned Hinckley earned a niche in criminal history that he can never erase. It's also one that allows him to bypass much of the heavy lifting -- of booking shows, building fanbases, and so on, sight unseen -- that other artists have to do. So how do we ever separate the assassin from the artist? As leaps of faith go, this one feels a bit heavier than most.

A longtime friend of mine said as much, in discussing Charles Manson's creative efforts. Once he popped the million dollar question ("So what sort of music does a murderous cult leader make?"), the answers didn't feel sufficient enough to hold his interest over the long run, and he eventually moved on from it. 

Countless listeners, I suspect, have drawn similar conclusions about Manson's music and writings, leaving them to occupy the same head space inhabited by other problematic works -- like Gacy's clown paintings, Goebbels's unfinished novel, or Hitler's emotionally arid, overly precise artwork. How many of Hinckley's current fans will care about the guy five, 10 or 20 years from now? Is morbid curiosity enough to sustain a career? Somehow, I doubt it. Time will tell.

Better yet, let's rephrase the question. Would anybody care as much about Hinckley's art and music, without all the macabre baggage surrounding it? The answer seems obvious. When all's said and done, once the dust finally settles, the notoriety that gave Hinckley the floor will also probably end up being his ceiling. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Not For Hinckley:
He Can Do His Own PR, Thanks):

Doc Corbin Dart: Black Tuesday:

Jangle Pop Hub: Album Review:
Patricia: By Doc Corbin Dart (1990):

Mark Prindle's Record Reviews:

3AM : Please Give Me Orders:
Doc Dart Interviewed By John Szupnar: The Troublemaker:

Monday, October 10, 2022

Life's Little Injustices (Take XVIII): Medicine As A Business (Sticker Shock Strikes Again)

<"Watch Out For Falling Bills...
Take I"/The Reckoner>

You'd think I'd learned my lesson by now. Last spring, I'd been waiting on a procedure that I desperately needed, to make some "south of the border" improvements near my groin area. I'd reached the point where delay wasn't an option anymore. I was supposed to undergo it last November, only to have it KO'd twice -- once, due to COVID-19, the other, due to scheduling issues with the doctor. 

A freak ice storm pushed the date back yet again, from February 1, to April 22 (see my previous entry, "Life's Little Injustices (Take XVII): Medicine As A Business (You Gotta Love It)"). One more postponement followed, for scheduling reasons.

The May 26 date held, and I underwent the knife for an hour. The doctor only needed to numb the relevant body part, so I was awake the whole time, and didn't feel any pain. I took a couple days off, to ease the recovery process, and went back to work the following Monday.

A $200 bill soon landed on my doormat. I had the cash, so I promptly paid it, figuring it was my portion of the overall cost ($530 and some change). Come July, I received a second bill, for $180, and then, a third, for nearly $90. 

The former statement referenced Some Pathology Practice Or Other, in Toledo, OH. The latter bill contained info at all. 

Wait a minute, I told myself. I know you pay some of these costs for these things out of pocket, but...  I did some quick calculations to see where I stood. Taking these two bills into the equation, I'd end up paying 88 percent! Hmm, that doesn't seem right. What's up with that? I asked myself.

So I did what the pundits tell you. I called the various entities involved, and asked them what's going on, starting with our local hospital, which now owns the urology clinic that did my procedure. (They own everything else that matters here medically, too, but that's another discussion for another day.) 

I also rang up our so-called insurer, who ever returned any of my three calls. That matched what the hospital's customer support staff told me -- they reached out to them, too, but never heard back. Figures, right?

<"Watch Out For Falling Bills...
Take II"/The Reckoner>

July and August gradually faded into September, and now, October, as the big runaround continued. A couple of threatening notices from Some Pathology Practice Or Other landed on my doormat, too. Ironically, though, after months of runaround, I finally got the answer I needed.

Guess what? I'm on the hook for those other amounts, too -- the $90, due to that "out of network" thing. (Mind you, I've never received any info of who's in the network. But I digress. As for the $180? The Billing Department at Some Pathology Practice Or Other told me, "We did send that to your insurer, and they refused to pay it." 

So I'm still paying that 88 percent of the total, or $460. Oh, well, at least I didn't have to pay the entire cost upfront, something that you face constantly, as an uninsured IC (independent contractor). But still...

I'm not faulting any of the billing or customer support departments. They were pretty cordial and professional, and I had no problem getting them to accept the $30 per month I proposed to pay the $180 bill. I don't know how I'll handle the $90 bill yet, but I'm sure I can figure out something.

On one level, it's all good. And yet, on another level, it really isn't so good. Having to pay that 88 percent cost leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Fine, Herr Keaton, I get that it's a business, and you need another designer sweater to grace your already overstuffed hall closet. I'm sure your ex-hippie parents will love it!

Sure, Dr. Huxtable, I know you planned to buy a second Mercedes this year -- for your Roman numeral-entitled offspring. And yes, Mr. Ewing, I'm sure you can buy quite a few boots and 10 gallon hats, once we're all done shelling out 88 percent of your bills. 

<"Watch Out For Falling Medical Bills...
Take III"/The Reckoner>

But you know something? Sure, American medicine is definitely a business, but it's definitely the least efficient, least responsive business I've encountered. I shouldn't have had to burn up four months trying to figure what I was paying, or why.  

In contrast, I remember when Morgan Spurlock did a program on medical tourism. The Thai hospital he visited gave him an itemized bill for the hypothetical procedure that he outlined, down to the last baht. Wow! What a concept, right? Makes me wonder what else they've sussed out ahead of us.

Of course, medicine isn't the only driving force in the big squeeze most of us feel right now. The Squawker and I got a fresh reminder at the store yesterday, where we paid $4.29 for a dozen eggs (Ka-ching!), $7 for a pound of packaged lunch meat (Ka-ching!), and $7 for a package of organic sausages (Ka-ching!).  

Don't worry, though. I'm sure all the endless Biden-related investigations that the Republicans plan, if they retake Congress next month, should reduce all those prices in one fell swoop, right? 

And if you really believe that...I'll let you, Dear Reader, finish the sentence this time. Something's got to give, all right. I'm just tired of it always being me. --The Reckoner