Monday, September 1, 2014

Lonesome Rhodes rides again



Labor Day weekend has traditionally been a time to enjoy public lands, taking advantage of the three-day weekend to spend some time outdoors at the end of summer.  However, Ted Cruz has introduced a radical amendment to the Sportsman's Act of 2014 which would have the federal government divest in a significant portion of public land in the West, either passing the land directly off to the states or auctioning it off to the highest bidder in a public sale.

It doesn't matter that many states are already having a difficult time managing their state parks in the wake of the massive budget cuts pushed through by Republican state legislatures since 2010, or that sportsmen groups, for whom this bill was initially intended, want the land to remain a federal public domain.  Ted seems to think the federal government simply has too much land, making it difficult for poor ranchers like Cliven Bundy, who Cruz infamously supported in his standoff with the BLM earlier this year.

The federal government already offers very low leases.  Bundy just refused to pay for 20+ years, so it added up to a considerable sum in delinquent fees, interest and fines.  When the BLM seized his cattle after multiple court orders to pay, Bundy called in his Oathkeepers to get his cattle back.  Since then any number of persons have jumped on the bandwagon, and have become Bundy's Buddies, supporting this divestment in federal land, which Cruz put forward in his amendment, scuttling a bill that had passed the Senate by a vote of 82-12.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going on here.  A relative handful of Republicans want to free up more land for grazing, logging, oil, gas and mineral rights, undermining the Sportsmen's Act in the name of big business.  No doubt, the Koch Bros. and other syndicates are behind this initiative, who it seems these "maverick" Republicans answer to these days, while pretending to be representatives of the people.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Library of America goes Broadway and more

In an effort to appeal to an ever-widening range of readers, Library of America offers a collection of 16 Broadway classic musicals from 1927-1969.  It is much more than a "fake book," with plenty of illustrations and revealing insights into the long running musicals, but I think you have to be a serious fan to shell out 60 bucks for this two-volume set.

It is one of many interesting titles due out in the coming months.  A collection of Ring Lardner came out in August, which tempts me a great deal.   A set of early Elmore Leonard novels also caught my eye.  There's also a new collection of Louisa May Alcott, keeping in their classical vein.

Library of America has grown to over 200 volumes since it was established in 1979, and is making a concerted effort to keep up with the times.  It has covered an impressive range of topics over the past 35 years, from the colonial years of America to contemporary journalism, with just about every piece of Americana in between.  LOA still provides subscriptions, but you can find their volumes through most book suppliers, although you might not necessarily get the slip case that comes with direct purchases.

Among my personal favorites are the Writings and Drawings of James Thurber and The Oregon Trail, The Conspiracy of Pontiac by Francis Parkman.  What are your favorite titles?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tan is the New Black



Sorry, I couldn't resist.  Seems everyone is talking about Barry's new tan suit and looking for a clever way to title there opinions.  This appears to be the age we live in when an unexpected choice of clothes creates more stir than what is going on in the world, notable the crisis in Ukraine, which took a nasty new turn, which President Obama responded to, but the glare of his new tan suit was simply too much for reporters to digest.

August is usually a difficult month, with Congress out on holiday (again) and focus on the many Congressional and gubernatorial races around the country.  Obama didn't exactly distinguish himself by saying his administration doesn't have a strategy yet on Syria.  In fact, he seemed pretty low key about what's going on in the world, but I imagine his administration has a pretty good sense of events.

Unfortunately, this administration has been unable to communicate that effectively, leading many critics to think that he has put his administration on hold until after the midterm elections play out.  My impression is that he has opted for Eisenhower's "Hidden Hand" approach, preferring to work behind the scenes with world leaders, rather than out front like many Americans would like him to do.  I see I'm not the only one who picked up on this.  Eisenhower was praised for this approach (in retrospect) but Obama has to endure the many criticisms.

Basically, it is a policy of containment not much unlike that we saw during the Nixon years (who had served Eisenhower before), rather than trying to dramatically effect or inflame situations.  This is certainly the approach to Ukraine, where any attempts to supply the government with arms, would no doubt lead to major escalation in violence.  Of course, this frustrates Ukrainians, who see Russia supplying the insurgents in Donetsk, with the Ukrainian military losing ground it had previously gained in taking back this breakaway province.

Syria and Iraq are similar situations, but the Obama administration seems more free to give military assistance, even if it hasn't unveiled a policy as yet.  In Syria, the situation is reversed with Russia providing military support to the Assad government, which the Kremlin claims it was contracted to do, and the US providing aid to the insurgents, although now it finds ISIS part of the insurgency, which it hadn't bargained for.

I suppose a more somber gray or navy suit, which he normally wears, would have been in order given the gravity of the situation.  However, what his press conference alluded to most was the lack of communication between the White House and Congress, and that now that he is back in town we may see more executive action with Congress on break.  Something, Congressmen have pointedly demanded he not take with threat of another government shutdown.  So, what's a President to do?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer of Fire



Driving across Wyoming in the summer of 1988, I found myself limited to the southern half of the state due to the smoky haze of the fires that engulfed Yellowstone National Park.  It was a contentious issue as park policy was to let the fires burn, as they were initially started by lightning, but as the fires threatened to engulf the entire park and surrounding areas, firefighters were called into bring the fires under control.  This proved to be a mammoth undertaking that involved thousands of firefighters as well as troops from Fort Lewis, Washington.  Ironically, it was rain that finally put the fires out in early September.  The damage was immense, leaving nearly 500,000 acres scorched and countless wildlife dead.

Yellowstone was the nation's first national park, established in 1872, two decades before Wyoming was granted statehood.  The expeditions of Ferdinand V Hayden, stunning photographs of William Henry Jackson and the meticulous paintings of Thomas Moran easily compelled President U.S. Grant to sign The Act of Dedication that created the National Park.

There were those opposed to the National Park, fearing that it would hamper the lucrative fur trade.  Native Americans found themselves excluded from the park, which led to subsequent skirmishes and the building of a fort to prevent them from entering the park.  Old Faithful Inn was also built during this time.  Martial law reigned at the park.

It was out of this rough and tumble time that Wyoming gained statehood in 1890.  If the state could count buffalo among its citizens it would have long before achieved the number of persons necessary to apply for statehood.  In December, 1888, Governor Thomas Moonlight reported 55,500 residents, which was still short of the 60,000 requirement.  The territory held a Constitutional Convention in Cheyenne anyway, and a year later the request was granted.

The big battle wasn't so much over population as it was over the state constitution, which still included women's suffrage.  Wyoming had been the first territory to grant women the right to vote in 1869.  There were about 1000 women living in the remote Western territory at the time and they were given a stake in the territory, even thought the US Congress had still refused to do so in the new voting rights amendment to the Constitution.  There was a lot of pressure on Wyoming to rescind this right in 1890, but Cheyenne officials refused to budge, and women retained their right to vote.   Wyoming became known as the "Equality State."  In fact, women earned the right to vote throughout the West, but not in national elections.  The state further made history when it voted Nellie Tayloe Ross the country's first woman governor in 1924.



Wyoming remains a rugged state, yet for the most part it seems controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which continues to be a very contentious issue.  Wyoming senators have carried an inordinate weight in Congress over the years, principally Alan Simpson and Dick Cheney, who have made sure ranching and mining interests have had easy access to this land.  This harks back to the Johnson County War of 1892 when syndicate cattle ranchers brought in hired guns to drive off what they considered to be interlopers, resulting in bitter confrontations.  This was the subject of Michael Cimino's epic film, Heaven's Gate, made in 1980.

I've longed for a chance to get back to Wyoming and see Yellowstone.  The name apparently has Algonquin origins, meaning "large prairie place," which is what I remember most when I drove along desolate Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to Green River, before heading northwest to the bottom edge of Idaho, following the Snake River to my home state of Washington.  My parting image was of the Wind River Range.






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If only Lou Gehrig knew


Lou Gehrig bids farewell to Yankee fans in 1939
It seems everyone is dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads these days in the name of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or more simply ALS.  The origins of this challenge are debated, but it evolved into the ALS challenge earlier this summer when golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his cousin, Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has ALS, and was immediately picked up by the social media and television media in turn, and has quickly spread around the world with the mayor of Vilnius recently taking the challenge.

Instagrams make it easy for just about anyone to film and instantly download their ice cold bath, which has become a big hit among teenagers, sometimes with disastrous results.  Celebrities try to one-up each other in the name of charity, but the arty poses look more like self-promotionals.  Lost in all this is the serious nature of the disease, which was first called to the public eye when ALS ended Lou Gehrig's baseball career in 1939.  As a result, it was known as Lou Gehrig's Disease for many years.

Given its very low prevalence, it had pretty much gone under the radar, although it was first recorded in the late 19th century by French and British doctors.  It is a motor neuron disease which over time leaves its victims unable to move or speak, but with their mind fully intact.  Stephen Hawking has a motor neuron disease similar to ALS.

Stephen Hawking enjoying a lighter moment
Funny enough, marijuana not only provides much needed relief for ALS patients but if used in early stages of the disease can stave off the effects for a longer time.  Cathy Jordan helped popularize the use of medical marijuana for ALS patients and has far exceeded the 3-5 years she was given to live by her neurologist in 1985.  Lou Gehrig had died within two years of being diagnosed with the disease.

Maybe persons should be lighting up a joint for ALS instead of dumping ice cold water on their head.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fight for Your Right



When I was living in Ballard, I remember seeing this warehouse church and wondering what these guys were about.  There were always young persons hanging out Friday and Saturday night like it was some music club.  As it turns out, it was the hip new church in Seattle, led by a charismatic young minister, Mark Driscoll, who would use any hook or crook to attract new parishioners into his Mars Hill Church.  Within in a few short years, he went from this garage church to a megachurch.  Doesn't seem like too many persons asked questions at the time, but now Driscoll finds himself under a harsh spotlight.

He is part of the new wave of religious teachings where you have to be a man's man to enter heaven, as there is no longer any room for "pussies."  One of Driscoll's catch phrases was that America had become a "pussified nation."  He assumed the moniker of William Wallace and took to the blogs chastising a liberal country that had become much too sensitive and needed to have the balls of Braveheart to make itself feel whole again.  I think he gets this image more from Mel Gibson's movie than from history.  He litters his posts with colorful epithets, like Rush Limbaugh, and for several years got away with this masquerade, but in a recent book admitted to his many shortcomings.

Warren Throckmorton has been following Driscoll for some time in his blog, describing the power struggle taking place at Mars Hill as the pastor secured the church for himself.  What began as a council of elders all too quickly devolved into an autocracy of one, with Driscoll bullying the elders who didn't like his methods.  Plus, the church had become a lucrative business and like a brash CEO, he wanted to control those assets.  He used church funds to push his books to the top of best seller lists   He was also charged with plagiarism in A Call to Resurgence.  Throckmorton offers a snapshot of the man in this article for the Daily Beast.


Driscoll appears to have an exceedingly high testosterone level, preaching a great deal on the joys of sex, even providing a manual of sorts in Real Marriage.  It is the sense of power that seems to get him off, like one of those porn kings from the 1970s, although to hear him tell it he has been faithful to his wife.  Naturally, he doesn't have any time for homosexuals.  He doesn't like any overt show of male bonding, referring to such demonstrations as "homoerotic huddles."  It's a Man's World, as far as this big buck is concerned.

Jesus wasn't one to take it on the chin and turn the other cheek.  Driscoll is one of those ministers who believes that Jesus would have fought back, often using the language and imagery of the resistance movements of the 60s and 70s and even the Hip-Hop language of the 80s and 90s.  You gotta fight for your right to party with God!

There's certainly nothing new about Driscoll.  The only concern is that this attitude seems to have become pervasive in the conservative evangelical church and is now seen as a form of resistance to what these church-goers believe to be the "emasculated" world we live in, ruined by years of equal rights.  Seattle is the perfect place for a guy like this, as it is one of the most liberal cities in the country, providing no end of material for his sermons on the mount.  I'm sure he will bounce back from this little setback, as he strongly feels he has God on his side.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Elevated



My biggest impression of Utah is the Wasatch Range, which loom like a snow-capped wall over Salt Lake City.  It is the sudden rise from the plain of the long valley that creates this indelible impression.  I had never seen anything like it and could only imagine the impact this made on the early Mormon settlers, who felt they had found their divinely ordained home.

Utah probably would have become a state much sooner had the church renounced polygamy, but the insistence on this practice by Mormon elders and the authority invested in these religious leaders, held up statehood for decades.  This article also points to a pervasive anti-Mormon bias in the United States that led to clashes in the territory, a.k.a. The Mormon Rebellion, especially with the advent of gold rushers and the railroad that threatened Mormon hegemony in the region.  It was 46 years between territorial status (1850) and statehood (1896), much longer than Nevada and Colorado, more sparsely populated states, which had been part of the criteria used against Utah.

The state had evolved from the theocracy first instituted by Joseph Smith to a Republican form of government with a separation between church and state.  Mormons remained the dominant religious group in the territory, and many still kept to their roots, including the practice of polygamy, but the territorial constitution in 1887 finally outlawed the practice, paving the way for statehood.  Still, the Congressional vote on statehood was held up, mostly on political grounds, as Mormons didn't subscribe to either of the two major political parties.  In 1891, the Mormon People's Party disbanded.  Most Mormons joined the Republican Party because they felt their chances of statehood were better served in the GOP.  The state has remained staunchly Republican ever since.

To be honest, I never could understand Mormonism.  I had friends who were Mormons, and had leafed through the book of Joseph Smith, but it was just hokum as far as I was concerned, but his The Book of Mormon had attracted wealthy and influential converts, which allowed him to establish Nauvoo in Illinois in 1839.  However, it wasn't long before Smith's vision of a Utopian city came in violent confrontation with the state.  He was arrested for treason in June, 1944, and shot by an angry lynch mob within days.  A Mormon exodus followed suit, led by Brigham Young, who settled the Mormon enclave in the Western territories.

He was the "American Moses," founding Salt Lake City on the same principles as Nauvoo, and was the first Utah Territorial Governor and superintendent of American Indian affairs, which gave him great latitude in the region.  No man better personified the motto of Utah, Industry, than Young, who was responsible for spreading Mormon influence all the way to northern Mexico.


Today, you find Mormons everywhere, even in Lithuania, marching around in their trademark black pants and white shirt offering their faith to anyone willing to listen.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker had great fun with this evangelical streak of the church in their Broadway hit musical, which I have to imagine will be made into a movie before long.  The Church of Latter Day Saints didn't seem particularly put off by the raucous blend of humor and music, cleverly using the play as a springboard to appeal to young audiences.

In fact, Salt Lake City could almost be considered liberal these days with its Annual Undie Run aimed at uptight Utah laws.  Amazingly, Barack Obama won Salt Lake County in 2008, although he lost Utah to McCain in the general election.  It is clear that the state capitol has moved well beyond the original vision of its founding fathers and become a very diverse and fun city to live in.




Saturday, August 23, 2014

Come Fly With Me

William Stadiem starts his book, Jet Set, with the classic song by Frank Sinatra, only as Stadiem tells it Frankie wouldn't have been caught dead on a commercial airline, opting  for his dual-prop Martin 404 instead, although he later traded it in for a Lear Jet.  In fact, most of the "jet set" traveled in their private planes, shepherded away from the tarmac in a flotilla of limousines to avoid the unruly mobs waiting for their arrival.  Just ask the Beatles, who were literally assaulted on their first visit to New York in 1964.  But, even they weren't able to save Pan Am.

Nevertheless, the 50s and 60s were the heyday of commercial air travel, offering comfy seats, meals and an unlimited supply of booze in mini bottles to wherever you were going, whether it be Acapulco Bay or Peru.  For a few dollars more you could fly first class and be treated to unparalleled comfort, especially aboard the inaugural flight of the 747 in 1969 with its super bar and other luxurious amenities on trans-continental flights.  The ultra-sleek Concorde took to the sky the same year, offering flights across the Atlantic at supersonic speed, but it was a joint British-French venture.

TWA terminal 1956
Air terminals further evoked this spirit to fly, like Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal in New York, which after falling into disrepair has been refurbished into a luxury hotel for the new "jet set," recalling the past that Frankie sang of.  The glamour hasn't worn off completely.  Modern airports are as sleek and luxurious as ever, especially when flying first class, as many airports go out of their way to separate the one per cent from the 99 per cent, so that a well-heeled traveler doesn't have to brush shoulders with the middling class.

Unfortunately, for most of us it is a grueling wait in check-in lines, coupled with searches and small bag checks to make sure they don't exceed the size and weight limit.  You are lucky if you get a bag of honey-roasted peanuts anymore, which used to be standard on virtually all domestic flights.  Instead, you have to shell out cash for bottled water, as it seems nothing is "complimentary" these days.  On Ryan Air, you even have to scramble for seats, as only a select few are reserved.


Little wonder many persons feel themselves pining for the past, when flying was an event, and you even got a Pan Am carry-on bag, which I clung onto for years as a "toy bag."  Of course, there were a lot fewer air travelers back then so the airlines could afford such perks.  I was hoping for more out of the short-lived television series, Pan Am, a few years ago, but it met a similar fate to the airline.

Today, if you want to be pampered you have to fly to the Orient, where airlines still lavish a lot of attention on passengers, even those sitting in economy class.  It seems that in the East, there remains a wanderlust for the sky, where in the West we treat airlines like airbuses, literally calling them that in Europe.

Frank and Dean in 1965
American airlines have struggled to keep up, often merging with European airlines to maintain a world-wide net of destinations to keep in competition.  The glory days of flying appear to be over in the United States, unless you are fortunate enough to have your own private jet like Frank Sinatra had.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Will the Real Glenn Beck Please Stand Up!



Glenn Beck seems to have undergone a change of heart, not so much politically as personally.  Beck no longer wants to serve as the conservative lightning rod.  Howard Fineman speculates that this kinder, gentler Beck is trying to appeal to more cable companies to carry The Blaze, his video-streaming television channel.  It has proven quite lucrative, pulling in about $20 million a year for him, but could do much better if more cable companies carried it.

The talk show host had already expressed some remorse in an interview with Megyn Kelly earlier this year, saying "he played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart," not realizing how "fragile" people were.  He would now focus on "uniting principles."

Glenn Beck credits Mormonism for this, but he had converted back in 1999 (thanks to his future wife Tania), when he attempted to break his alcohol and drug dependencies once and for all.  However, it seemed he replaced one addiction with another, and has only recently come to realize that his antics were more a product of his previous substance abuse than they were his religious conversion.  He produced a video, The Unlikely Mormon, in 2008 on his conversion, but it seems there are still doubters within the tight-knit Mormon community.

Having a (second) family does seem to have toned him down a bit.  So too the Sunday School classroom, where he said in his interview with Fineman that he encounters intense teenagers, who come from liberal families, that have taught him to be humble.  He donates a considerable amount of money to various causes, and even provided relief supplies through churches and other organizations to stranded children on the border at McAllen, Texas.

It is also worth noting that he did warn viewers about embracing Cliven Bundy, whereas Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh immediately rushed to old Cliven's defense, and turned it into a crusade against the federal government in the form of the Bureau of Land Management.  So, it seems Beck has become a better judge of character if nothing else.

All this may make Glenn Beck a better man, but his politics still appears to be in all the wrong places, to paraphrase country singer Johnny Lee.  He still views "progressives" as a diabolical force hellbent on imposing a socialist order upon us.  Hence, his threatening open letter to Andrew Cuomo.  Beck splits time between Dallas and New York, but apparently no longer feels welcome in the Big Apple after Cuomo's bellicose words a few months back.

Seems Beck's brand of politics appeals more to the Lone Star state anyway, where his Restoring Love show sold out Dallas Stadium.  Maybe he imagines himself assuming the mantle of Billy Graham.


I'm Mr. Smith



One of the most evoked images in politics is that of Jimmy Stewart mounting his filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The filibuster was once regarded as "democracy's finest show."  There were many quotes that were "good for headlines" in that movie, written by Sidney Buchman and Lewis Foster.  Mr. Smith was railing against corporate lobbying, which is still seen as a scourge in Washington.

Frank Capra was careful not to take an overt political stance.  Rather, "the contest is between guileless virtue and the intrinsic corruption of business as usual," as Tom Carson notes in this article for The American Prospect.  Carson contrasts this with the overtly political filibuster Ted Cruz staged last year that garnered so much press attention and made Cruz the darling of the Tea Party.

No doubt Cruz studied the film, as did Rand Paul who mounted a filibuster a few months before, when he tried to stop the nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA.  This was actually closer to the movie as Paul was drawing attention to the corrupting influences on Washington politics in the continued use of drones in the war on terror, even if he became hyperbolic in his concerns that the Obama administration would use drones on American non-combatants, which the administration had no intent of doing.  .

However, neither are hayseeds like Mr. Jefferson Smith.  Cruz has an Ivy League education, and Paul has an M.D. from Duke University School of Medicine.  But, both are junior senators who attempt to appeal to the common man in the same vein as Mr. Smith, or Lonesome Rhodes, as the case may be.

On the Democratic side, we saw Wendy Davis mount a filibuster on the Texas State Capitol floor, immediately making her the darling of the political "left."  She has since parlayed this showdown over a harsh abortion bill into a run for Texas governor.  She too appeared to be channeling Mr. Smith in her pink Mizuno running shoes.

However, the Tea Party believes it has the voice of the people on its side, and the background of its representatives does seem to be more in keeping with the country roots of Mr. Smith, who came from an unnamed Western state.  Like the Tea Party, the film starts out as a comedy, but all too quickly turns into a melodrama on the meaning of democracy and one man's effort to keep this "the land of the free."

The Teapartiers have been pushing this mantra since 2010 when they raised their Gadsden Flag and essentially declared war on federal government.  They gone after stodgy old Senators like Mr. Paine, although their success rate has diminished greatly since the midterms four years ago.  They still hope to dislodge Thad Cochran in Mississippi, but it seems they will lose this battle too.  Ultimately, Teapartiers will present themselves as "beautiful losers," as its influence on the GOP wanes.

However, Rand Paul seems to have risen above his Tea Party roots and expressed a more populous message on Ferguson in what seems an attempt to reach out to a broader audience.  We might just have our Mr. Smith?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!



As a kid I was drawn to the shield on the Oklahoma state flag.  It was an Indian shield, an Osage Nation buffalo-skin shield to be exact, with seven eagle feathers and an olive branch and native peace pipe across the front.  It represented the union of the Oklahoma and Indian territories, which came in together as the State of Oklahoma in 1907.

It wasn't the first flag however to represent the state.  I guess after struggling four years to come up with a design, the state went with this rather banal banner, which didn't please anyone, so the state chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a competition and Louise Fluke won with the much more appropriate buffalo shield.

Oklahoma is one of those states you hear about but rarely have the opportunity to pass through.  I first came to the state not so much for its native American heritage, as the Price Tower in Bartlesville, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  It was the only "skyscraper" he had built.  It once towered over the small city but now serves as a landmark to a man and his dream of a mile-high skyscraper.  I was lucky I came on a Thursday as it was the only day open to tours at the time.  It was initially designed as a mix-use apartment, office and retail building, but Wright had made the rooms so small that it didn't suit the functions very well.  Now it serves as an Inn.

I ventured around the state a bit after that and liked what I saw.  I drove down through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, crossing the Red River near Quanah, Texas, where I stayed the night at Copper Breaks State Park.

Quanah Parker was an important figure in native American history, and played a significant role in establishing the Indian territories in Oklahoma.  In his day, there were no such borders.  The Comancheria stretched far and wide with the Comanche seen as a continual threat to ranchers, who began moving into the area thanks to the Homestead Acts.  After countless range wars and abductions (Quanah was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been abducted in the 1830s), the federal government reached an uneasy truce with the Comanche and other native tribes, among them the Cherokee, who had been relocated to the Midwest after enduring the Trail of Tears.

Clement Vann Rogers played a significant role in the statehood drive.  He was part Cherokee and a prominent figure within the tribe, serving as judge and senator. He was their delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention in 1907.  But, Clement is best known for his son, Will Rogers, who would become an American icon as a humorist and social commentator.

Young Will started out in Vaudeville as a cowboy performer, cracking jokes while he twirled a lariat.  He eventually got into movies, but it was his weekly columns for the McNaught Syndicate that made his mark.  He called them "Slipping the Lariat Over."  From there he branched out into radio and personal appearances, winning the country over with his unique brand of humor.  He had great fun with the Harding/Coolidge years.

Of course, there was the musical too.  Rogers had initially been signed by Oscar Hammerstein's father to do his act on the Victoria Roof with his pony.  One can imagine what it was like to get the small steed into the elevator.  The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! premiered on March 31, 1943, eight years after Will Rogers' death.  It ran for over 2000 performances, almost as many as Roger's rooftop appearances.  The musical gave us many enduring songs, but none moreso than Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!  Here it is from the 1955 movie production, with Gordon McRae singing.  That's Alfred Drake in the original production below.





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who Owns History?



History has always been a sensitive subject, but no more so than it is today as conservatives take exception to the "negative" framework being offered by the College Board for Advanced Placement United States History in high schools across the country.  The Republican National Committee issued its challenge to the revised framework, based on an analysis by Larry Krieger, a deeply concerned retired American history teacher.  The RNC apparently wants Congress to block funding for the AP history program until the College Board addresses its concerns.

Krieger's lengthy analysis revolves largely on the scope of the program, which he feels doesn't stress the role the United States played in promoting religious tolerance and democratic institutions.  He notes that there is virtually no mention of this during the Colonial era (1607-1754).  Instead, there is too much focus on the Pueblo Revolt and other "Indian Wars" and emphasis on British cultural superiority, which apparently he doesn't consider that relevant.

He cites Puritan John Winthrop's sermon aboard the Arabella, where he compared their future settlement to a "city upon a hill" that future generations would look to as a model of government, but fails to note that Roger Williams was expelled from this anointed kingdom and forced to find refuge among the Indians in present day Rhode Island, or the executions of those that didn't comply with the harsh religious doctrine of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  It seems Professor Krieger might want to get off his hill and read a little more about those "religious tolerant" times.

The new framework may have its shortcomings, but at least it attempts to honestly address the past, not view it through rose-tinted glasses, which appears to be the case with the RNC.  It is not a curriculum, but rather a set of guidelines for effectively teaching AP American history at the high school level so that students will be prepared for college.  Teachers are expected to meet key objectives. They are not being forced to cover prescribed topics.

This seems lost on Krieger and the various groups who are attacking the College Board.  Among these groups is Concerned Women of America, on whose panel Krieger sat, which feels that Biblical principles have all but been left out of the curriculum, er I mean framework.  They view the AP framework as a left-wing attack on their values.

Into this highly charged environment, David Coleman wrote an open letter, which Michael Hiltzik scoffed as "soft-soaping," saying it would do little to subdue the angry conservative mob who wants nothing less than American history taught its way.  Larry Krieger cherry picked from the 150-page document to set up straw men for his arguments, much like David Barton has done in his faux history books, knowing full well that his readers won't take the time to read the actual document.  Nevertheless, Coleman has tried to mollify the conservative critics by releasing sample tests to show that the Founding Fathers and other key aspects of our history haven't been omitted.

However, it is doubtful that this will satisfy the thundering herd that has jumped on this issue and widely dispersed it through its conservative blogosphere.  It raises the question once again, Who Owns History?

Be kind to your fine feathered friends




It seems the new Ivanpah Solar Power Plant in the Southern California desert has raised some concerns.  Its 460 feet tall water towers, heated by a huge array of solar panels, have been dubbed a "mega-trap" for birds, resulting in numerous avian deaths.  The "solar flux" field generates temperatures up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, literally vaporizing birds in mid air, dubbed "streamers" by employees, as all you see of them is the vapor trail.  While the Fish and Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement has expressed its concerns, it also noted that nearly 1 billion birds die each year flying into windows around the country.

Yet, this story has been picked up by conservative blogs and Fox News, voicing their "concerns" over the impact large scale solar power plants have on wildlife.  At least,  Fox News notes that cats are the biggest culprit in the death of birds, an estimated 1.4 billion kills per year, but "opponents say that would do nothing to help the (poor) desert birds."

For years, such "opponents" have been decrying bird deaths caused by massive wind turbines.  The manufacturers of these wind turbines have been seeking ways to minimize the number of bird and bat deaths, despite the number of flying wildlife deaths associated with these wind turbines is a small fraction of the total deaths per year.   It seems these manufacturers have to endure much tighter scrutiny than do window manufacturers, home builders or cat owners.

It's nice to see all this concern over wildlife, but where was this outcry before?  Sequestration led to cuts in Fish and Wildlife Departments across the country, and conservatives in Congress haven't exactly been amenable to attempts to protect endangered wildlife, especially where coal and oil leases are concerned.  Remember when President Obama declared a moratorium on deep-water oil drilling, because of the impact on marine and bird wildlife?  It was just as quickly lifted when concerns were raised over the economic impact of such a freeze.



Seems like what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander, or in this case pelican. When oil companies feel the squeeze, environmental regulations are relaxed, but when solar and wind companies are squeezed they have to respond forthwith.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out who is orchestrating these attacks on alternative energy companies.  The Ivanpah Solar Power Plant supplies carbon-free electricity to approximately 140,000 homes.  Imagine more such power plants around the country?  It's not birds who are in danger.  It is oil and gas companies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All of Them Witches




After watching the uninspiring remake of Rosemary's Baby, courtesy of NBC, I read the book over the weekend.  It is a quick read.  I got the sense Ira Levin was essentially writing a working script for producers who would quickly bite on the story, which they did. It wasn't even in print before Paramount bought the movie rights from Random House.  Robert Evans, the executive producer, had Roman Polanski in mind from the start.  Apparently, it didn't take much convincing, as Polanski had already done one "apartment" movie, Repulsion, and immediately accepted the offer.

What made Levin's book so good was the subtle sense of humor that disarmed the reader.  It was hard to imagine a doddering old couple like the Castavets as leaders of a witches' coven in central Manhattan.  In fact, there was little to suggest any such association other than an odd locket filled with "tannis root," which Minnie gave to Rosemary after the awful fate of Terry.  This too was part of Levin's dark humor, as there is no such thing as tannis root, nor a book called "All of Them Witches."  Polanski would similarly have great fun with both in the movie.

There were real references, such as to a Time issue entitled Is God Dead? published in 1966, and to Pope Paul's visit to New York in 1965.  Levin spins his story around this confluence of events to project his "Year One" of the reign of Satan.  Anton LaVey had proclaimed the year 1966 as "Anno Satanas," although there is no specific reference to this occult figure in the novel, unless maybe you scramble the letters.

I'm tempted to think that Levin might have been inspired by the Russian classic novel, The Master and Margarita, but it wasn't published in English until 1967, the same year his novel came out in print.  Levin probably was aware of it, as the release of the novel in Russian the year before had been a major event.  The novel was actually written between 1928 and 1940, but Soviet censors had kept it out of print

Levin himself may have made a pact with the devil given the runaway success of the book and the movie.  His only previous novel was A Kiss Before Dying, although he had success in drama, screenwriting and even songwriting during the 14 years between the two books.  Kiss had similarly been made into a movie in 1956 with Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter. But, Rosemary's Baby was quite a departure from anything he had written before.


The 1968 movie was very faithful to the novel.  Polanski didn't deviate from the story in any significant way, carefully building the suspense.  He relied on his fellow countryman, Krzysztof Komeda, for the mesmerizing soundtrack.  You couldn't ask for a better young couple than Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes.  The two played wonderfully off each other.  Ruth Gordon was a brilliant choice as Minnie, and Ralph Bellamy played Dr. Saperstein to perfect comic effect.  Ultimately, this was Rosemary's movie, and Mia fully embodied the role.  You couldn't help but feel for her every step of the way.

So why remake the film?  I guess one could say that for many of the remakes we see today, but you are asking for trouble when you try to measure yourself against a classic occult film like this.  Zoe Saldana was apparently the driving force behind the movie, as she is given production credit.  NBC called in a pair of dubious writers to reshape the narrative for the 21st century, resetting it in Paris for some reason, and reshuffling the characters like a pack of tarot cards to see if they could come up with something different but not stray too far from the proven plot.  The end result is a lavish production that looks wooden with the only compelling performance that of Carole Bouquet as a significantly reshaped Margaux Castavet.

I think it is wise sometimes to leave well enough alone.  That's certainly the case with Rosemary's Baby, a film classic and arguably the best movie of the occult genre.


Monday, August 18, 2014

1033 to Ferguson




The scariest part of the ongoing Ferguson riots is the degree to which the police department is outfitted with military-grade equipment to deal with the crisis.  Rather than attempt to calm residents by showing some empathy for the situation, the Ferguson Police Department has gone into full assault mode, quelling the riots by force, often excessive, which has resulted in more injuries and arrests in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown.

Since 1990, police departments across the country have been quietly amassing a sizable arsenal of military-grade equipment thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act that allows them to buy surplus military equipment at greatly discounted prices.  For instance, The Police Department of Watertown, Connecticut acquired a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle for less than $3000, which cost the military over $730,000.  The 1033 Program was initially aimed at combating drug activities, which often saw drug gangs with high-powered weapons.  Such procurements are not a matter of public record so it is hard to gauge just how much military ordnance local and state police departments have acquired over the years, but the ACLU estimates about $4 billion worth of military equipment has exchanged hands.  John Oliver sums up the situation well.

An MRAP vehicle was spotted in Ferguson, although the police department doesn't have one registered in its possession..  Events have spiraled out of control with Gov. Jay Nixon issuing a curfew and calling in the National Guard.  Of course, it doesn't help when you have incendiary figures like Rev. Al Sharpton on hand, but obviously this is a time to promote calm, not more unrest.

Accounts of the incident vary.  As a result, Eric Holder has called a federal investigation into the matter.  Police responded to a robbery that took place at a convenience store, and had stopped 18-year-old Michael Brown on the street.  According to the policeman that fired the fatal shot, Brown refused to yield to warning shots and was subsequently shot in the head.  Afterward, it was revealed that Brown was unarmed, but his bulky frame was apparently enough of a threat to justify the shooting.  It seems the St. Louis County Police Department was unable to budget cameras for its' police officers, so we will never know what actually transpired.

While friends vouch for Brown's gentle demeanor, the police and the conservative media have gone out of their way to paint Brown as a two-bit thug, possibly involved with a notorious drug gang.  Shades of Trayvon Martin, as this incident appears racially charged as well.  Whoever you choose to defend, it certainly should give anyone pause the degree to which these police departments are now armed and potentially very dangerous in what seemed a very minor infraction.  Brown apparently had stolen a box of cigars.

I understand that when a police officer encounters a suspect, he doesn't know the person's history and so he has the necessity to be on his guard, but two shots to the head indicates that these officers were shooting to kill.  It seems that with the increase in firepower, so to has come a change in attitude, as if these troubled streets are potential urban war zones.  In fact, many police departments are being trained in urban combat.  This is exactly what Chris Kyle's company, Craft International, does.

How far this goes is anyone's guess, as police departments are scrambling for military surplus.  Even Walton Country, where I grew up in Florida, now has an MRAP vehicle to patrol the beaches.  This is not a county known for drug trafficking or a high crime rate, although the writer of the article saw fit to defend the acquisition.  Sadly, many seem to be accepting this increasingly militarized society we live in.  Obviously, the folks of Ferguson, Missouri, are not.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Guarding Hillary



According to Ronald Kessler, guarding Hillary was "a form of punishment" as she treated her detail like "sub-humans."  The author has compiled a list of such anonymous revelations from former security staff to show readers the "character" of their leaders.  He also said that Biden liked to take dips in his pool au natural whether there were women security staff present or not.  Kessler also writes of the numerous security breaches that put the first family in jeopardy such as Bradley Cooper being allowed onto the White House compound without a full security check of his SUV.  Many of these allegations have been refuted by a spokseman for White House security, Ed Donovan, who called the book "intellectually lazy and riddled with inaccuracies."

Kessler has written a number of books over the years on the White House, the FBI and the CIA, but this one seems to be a bit too much on the salacious side.  For the past 8 years he has been covering the White House for Newsmax, which gives you a pretty good idea where his political affinities lay.  I guess with Hillary the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, a book like this is a convenient way to attack her indirectly.  She didn't respond directly to the allegations.  The Clintons dumped the book in with others by Edward Klein and Daniel Halper as part of a "hat trick" of authors "concocting trashy nonsense for a quick buck."

Meanwhile, Hillary has been stumping her own book, Hard Choices, enjoying a little tete-a-tete with Stephen Colbert to show off her lighter side.  In the New Yorker review, John Cassidy suggests that her second set of memoirs maybe a preemptive strike against other Democrats thinking about running for the presidential nomination in 2016, notably Elizabeth Warren, who is the favorite of progressives.  The longer Hillary doesn't declare the shorter time these other potential candidates will have a chance to get their names across to the national electorate.  This clearly works to Hillary's advantage.

So, we get the conservative establishment launching preemptive strikes of their own in an attempt to kill her candidacy before it ever comes to pass, figuring that their Republican nominees would have a better chance against a progressive like Warren, as Hillary leads all the potential Republican challengers by wide margins in the various polls.

This is a throwback to the early days of pamphleteering, although now pamphlets take the form of "books" rushed to the printers during election seasons so that they can be displayed in supermarkets, malls and airport shopping centers all around the country.  It seems to be an effective form of advertising, especially when the authors appear to sign copies as Hillary has been doing.  You could call it campaigning without campaigning, as there is no better way to endear yourself to fans than by autographing books for them.

Liz Warren has similarly been promoting her memoirs, A Fighting Chance, which contrasts nicely with the title Hillary chose for her book.  Warren is also in demand by Democrats running for Congress, and has been touring the country extensively so that she gets her name out to a broader electorate.  At 65, Warren's "moment" is now, just like Hillary's, and one has to think she will put her name into contention.


Of course, there is also the possibility that the two will appear together at the 2016 Democratic National Convention as running mates, which would easily unite the Democrats, especially in the wake of some of the comments Hillary made recently regarding Obama's foreign policy.  Clinton has since walked back on those comments, given that she was Secretary of State not so long ago, sharing in those "hard choices."

Guarding Hillary may again be the Secret Service's worst nightmare, if we are to take Kessler's book at its word.  Right now, she seems the one candidate able to form a bridge between the two parties, as shaky as it would appear.  Judging by her promotional tour, she wants to keep it that way.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mr. Happy

I first saw Robin Williams at Gator Growl in 1982, a Florida pep rally so to speak.  I had never laughed so hard in my life.  The guy had most of those in the stadium bent over laughing for the one hour plus he took the stage.  He focused a little too much on his "Mr. Happy" that night for alumni who had brought their children, but that was signature Robin, poking fun at every part of himself.

Williams and Reeves at Julliard
For all his great performances, it was his unscripted moments that stood out.  Christopher Reeve recalled the time Williams burst into his hospital room before the first surgery on his spine, and in a heavy Russian accent said he was his proctologist and was there to give him a rectal exam.  Reeves said that was the first time he laughed since the accident.  Hopefully, he was heavily sedated so that it didn't hurt.  Reeves and Williams had been roommates at Julliard.

His appearances on Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show, Letterman, etc. were always memorable, but one that stood out for me was when he burst in on an interview with Jonathon Winters, his "Comedy Buddha," at the 7:30 mark and the two took over the Late Show with David Letterman.  I can't help but think that Winters' death last year left a deep hole in Williams, who had long acknowledged Winters as his primary inspiration.

Williams and Winters in 2008
There have been many great comics over the decades.  The idea of the stand-up comic may have come from the UK but it is in America that it took hold.  Jack Benny is perhaps the king of the American stage with his signature dry humor.  In the 60s it became a form of political and social commentary, notably Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory.  By the 70s, sex became a dominant theme with some acts getting very raunchy, particularly those of Redd Foxx, who was one of the first stand-up comedians to parlay his routine into a situation comedy, Sanford and Son, toning down his ribald jokes considerably for television.

Saturday Night Live took the format, added sketches, brought in guest stars to light up the evening, having a great run between 1975 and 1980 that inspired NBC to bring back Laugh-In for one year.  This is where Robin Williams first appeared on television, before taking a guest role on Happy Days as an alien from the Planet Ork that would launch his own television show.  Jonathon Winters would make numerous appearances on Mork and Mindy.  The rest as they say is history.

Even when a movie misfired, Williams could always be counted on to give a memorable performance.  He was great as Teddy Roosevelt in Night in the Museum.  He seemed to have a penchant for presidents, taking on Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Butler and wonderfully mocking Ronald Reagan in a segment of Saturday Night Live, which he visited several times.

He won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting in 1998, but probably his best loved role was that of Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam.  He won the Golden Globe that year.  Like Cronauer himself, he would entertain troops when the occasion arose.  He became the Bob Hope of his generation.

In this wonderful segment of Inside the Actors Studio from 2001, Williams shares insights into his many faces and many roles, for the most part demonstrating them to a captive audience and host James Lipton.  He talks about his work on Awakenings, one of his more memorable films, and the time he spent with Oliver Sacks.  He expressed his great admiration for the neurologist and author, and said if he could be anything other than actor it probably would be a neurologist.  Sacks likewise was very much taken by Williams, as he tells about his time with him at the 2 minute mark of this video clip on the making of the movie.

Sacks and Williams on the set of Awakenings
As in movies as in life, Williams was an incredibly giving man.  He actively took part in the Make a Wish program, bringing cheer to many people just like he had Christopher Reeve all those years before.  We often forget that these funny men need cheering up from time to time as well.  It is very sad to see Robin Williams go.

His death has touched seemingly everyone, but no persons more than his family.  His three surviving children offer their touching tributes.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The lingering images of Jim Crow

A recent lawsuit against Pespico and other companies associated with Aunt Jemima pancake mix brought to mind the many other racially tinged logos that have dominated American advertising for years.  David Pilgrim has devoted a museum to such memorabilia, recalling not only the many manifestations of Aunt Jemima since 1890, but Uncle Ben and the black chef on Cream of Wheat.  Moss Kendrix provides a bit of the backstory to these three enduring images.

Aunt Jemima was apparently taken from a minstrel play in the late 19th century, with various women portraying her at fairs and other promotional events since 1893.  Anna Harrington became the face of the company in the mid 1930s, although the company refers to her as Anna Robinson in their product history.  Her descendants claim that Quaker Oats, the parent company, appears to have misidentified her in order to avoid paying royalties.  As a result they are suing for $2 billion.

This may sound like a frivolous lawsuit on the surface, but it points to a much darker picture as to how blacks have been used to promote products largely on the basis of race.  Pilgrim notes that everything from black shoe polish to ashtrays have a "cultural utility," and are forms of propaganda when black faces are used on the products.  Some may regard it as just plain kitsch, but the purpose of Pilgrim's museum is to show how products like these can have different meanings when viewed in the light of Jim Crow, the era out of which much of the imagery emerged.


These images aren't purely American.  You can find blacks used to promote products like Lucaffe and Julius Meinl coffee, produced in Italy and Austria.  Meinl offers a brief history of the logo, claiming it represents the Ethiopian origins of coffee, but the image is that of black slave from the 19th century.  Julius Meinl has since gone with a silhouette image to avoid a direct association.



It is hard to gauge how much harm these images cause these days.  Pilgrim's museum goes well beyond advertising, presenting many of the racist caricatures that have been drawn of Obama, which indicates that Jim Crow is still very much a part of our society.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Rust and Stardust




All the Vladimir Nabokov novels got a makeover last year, including Lolita, which remains as controversial today as it was when released on an unsuspecting public in 1955.  The first edition came in a plain green cover and was printed in France, since no American publisher would touch the manuscript with a ten foot poll.  The controversy that swirled around the book in France virtually assured it would be a big hit in the States when it was finally made available in 1958.  It also came with a simple cover belying the toxic tale of romance within.  With the success of the novel, Nabokov firmly established himself as an American author and could quit his day job at Cornell.  The interesting thing is that soon afterward he fled the US all together, settling in Montreaux, Switzerland far from the madding crowd.

You either love Lolita or hate the novel, there seems to be very few in between.  The name soon entered into the American lexicon, with just about every precocious "nymphet" since being labeled a "Lolita" who is caught engaging in similar activities.  I suppose what made Lolita so controversial in its time was how Nabokov forced you to take Humbert's point of view, and for many readers that is deeply unsettling.  The language itself is intoxicating further adding to the level of complicity.  Here is Martin Amis sharing his thoughts on the novel.

The book has gone through many manifestations since its initial printing with many covers over the year.  It has sold over 50 million copies in a wide variety of languages.  There is even a book on the many covers of Lolita, as well as an annotated version with introduction and notes by Alfred Apple to held guide you through its intricate narrative.

The movie versions have been largely panned.  Nabokov didn't seem to care much one way or the other about the 1962 film.  He was disappointed by the severe editing of his 400-page script that took place, with James Harris rewriting much of it, not to very good affect.  Kubrick wanted the role of Quilty expanded (to better use Peter Sellers) as well as a number of other changes, largely to get the movie past the censors.  But, perhaps the biggest mistake was casting a voluptuous 16 year-old Sue Lyon in the lead role, which hardly fit the nature of the character.

Dominique Swain looked more the part in the 1997 film by Adrian Lyne, but somehow the film came across as moody and sentimental, even if it was closer in narrative structure to the novel.  Lyne also takes in more of the travel log, as Humbert takes Lo on the road with a rainy atmospheric scene in New Orleans, among other stops on their ill-fated journey.

Brian Boyd provides a historiography as well as analysis of the novel, challenging many of the basic assumptions that surround the book.  Here is an interview with Nabokov from the Paris Review, with several mentions of Lolita and his work on the movie.  However, I think it is best to experience Lolita yourself.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Might Makes Right




While Rand Paul attempts to clarify himself in regard to his support of Israel, Congress gave the country a shot in the arm by approving $225 million in additional military aid so that Israel can bolster its "Iron Dome" defense.  The only thing that slowed this bill down was attempts by Republicans to cut money from other earmarked programs in their "revenue neutral" approach to federal spending.  Not surprisingly, American defense contractors like Raytheon manufacture components for the system.

Paul had earlier been against Israeli subsidies, which Jon Stewart pointed out on a recent segment of The Daily Show, but has since fallen in line with the establishment view in Congress, which cuts through both political parties.  The Kentucky senator is jockeying for a place in the Republican presidential primaries in 2016, and seemed to figure out that backing Israel is an integral part of any successful campaign.  After all, he may be needing Sheldon Adelson's money at some point.


Meanwhile, Sean Hannity is literally in Israel, "reporting" first hand from the war zone.  Stephen Colbert had his own fun with the embedded journalist, comparing him to the "News Anchor Baby," a 5-year old phenom on Youtube.  Of course, Hannity took offense to such a comparison, but I have to think it is the pint-sized newsboy who should be taking offense.  At least, he was honest in his reporting.

Hannity had earlier been called to task by Russell Brand, who labeled the Fox pundit a "terrorist" for bullying Yousef Munayyer on his show.  Munayyer is one of the lone voices defending Hamas in the American media, but it seems Hannity just wanted a whipping boy on his program, giving the director of the Jerusalem Fund little opportunity to explain his position.

Fox is not alone in this one-sided coverage.  Virtually all the mainstream media outlets have uncritically taken the side of Israel, even after the IDF bombed a "safe site" in Gaza that left 20 persons dead.  The White House was forced to condemn the air strike, but the news media quickly blamed the civilian casualties on Hamas, claiming that they are using "human shields," an all too common refrain.


So far, nearly 2000 Palestinians have been killed in the air strikes.  They have no "Iron Dome" of their own in Gaza, and are at the mercy of the IDF.  You would think the American media would show a little more sympathy toward the Palestinians, but that seems too much to ask.  So, one turns to "comedy" news programs to get any kind of perspective on the situation.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul tries to remake himself once more, as he struggles to balance his Libertarian views with the partisan politics that dominate our two-party system.  You were right the first time, Rand, we shouldn't be subsidizing Israel in its ongoing war with Palestine.  The United States shouldn't make itself complicit in these atrocities.