Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sex and Corruption: The more things change, the more they remain the same

The other day, I was in a "holier than thou" --- well, heck, I've been married (happily... really) for 41 years --- and grousing about John Edwards, and Arnold, and Wiener and all the rest. And he commented, it's always been that way. This weekend I'm halfway through a book that underlines that point. It's THE WOMEN (2009) by T.C. Boyle. It's about the turbulent middle years of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

After 20 years and six kids with his first wife, Wright left her for the wife of a neighbor/client. They moved to his dream estate, Taliesen in Wisconsin. On August 15, 1914, a male servant went berserk, slaughtered Wright's mistress and half a dozen others,a nd burt the place to the ground.

Finally receiving his divorce from first-wife Kitty in 1922, Wright married his then-mistress Miriam Noel. She turned out to be a morphine addict. The breakup of their marriage and his liaison with the woman, who would later become his third wife, form the first half of Boyle's novel.

Here's Boyle, talking about himself and the novel:

And here's the February 9, 2009, review from the LA Times:

T.C. Boyle

Viking: 452 pp. $27.95

On paper, T.C. Boyle's latest novel, "The Women," sounds like a prizefight: Swaggering fiction heavyweight takes on America's greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle has written about outsized historical personalities before -- notably, cereal magnate and doctor John Harvey Kellogg in "The Road to Wellville" and midcentury sexologist Alfred Kinsey in "The Inner Circle" -- but Wright's eminence and notoriety towers over both. " 'The Women,' " Boyle has said, "is part of my egomaniacs of the 20th century series," but surely this is the culmination, the apotheosis. As a study of self-regard, how do you top a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright? With one on Picasso? Or Donald Rumsfeld?
Wright's sexual shenanigans got him tangled up with the Mann Act --- federal law making it a crime to transport a woman or child over state lines for immoral purposes --- twice. The first time he hired non other than the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, to get him off the hook. Darrow himself was something of a philanderer. He also got into hot water for allegedly bribing jurors. His name came up recently in connection with John Edwards, which sort of brings this post full circle.

Darrow’s path to redemption could serve as a template for Edwards. Darrow faced his accusers squarely in Los Angeles, made eloquent pleas in his own defense and won a “not guilty” verdict in his first trial and a hung jury in the next.

Read more:

Truly, my friend is right: the more things change, the more they remain the same, when it comes to the behavior of rich, famous and powerful men. (Just call me Ozzie Nelson.)

These high profile trials should NEVER be on TV!

She should be kicked off the planet for going around like that.

A Sunday Morning Retrospective, as the GOP Fatcats Cling to Their $$$

April 27, 2008:

America’s 21st Century Proletariat Are an Ominous Omen
By James Castagnera
Attorney at Large
The story seemed like an April Fool’s joke when it appeared in the media on April 1st. The America’s Promise Alliance, chaired by founder Colin Powell, reported that fewer than 50 percent of big-city high school students graduate. In Philly the figure is put at 49.6 percent. In Detroit it’s a shocking 24.9 percent. Cleveland’s Municipal City School District issues diplomas to only 34.1 percent of its students. By contrast, 78 percent of Cleveland’s suburbanite students graduate. In Baltimore, the numbers 34.6 percent in the city, 81.5 percent in the ‘burbs. Nationally, more than a million kids drop out annually. I thought, “You’re putting me on.” But, no, the Fox Network carried the story… so it has to be true, right?
If you live in an affluent suburb or a quiet small town, and if your kids (or grandkids) are in college, should you care about these numbers? I wondered about this recently, while visiting old friends who live in a gated community in Tampa, Florida. Arriving there, we drove up to a guardhouse, where we identified ourselves and our destination. Checking us off a list, the gatekeeper waived us through, after providing directions to the next gate. At gate number two we called our friends, who gave us the code. We pressed the numbered buttons and the gate swung open.
For me, the most interesting thing about that gated “community” is that it’s no community at all. Our friends have been there nearly two years. They know none of their neighbors. During a three-day visit, I seldom even saw a neighbor. I saw no kids at all. So far as I could tell, folks drove out to work in the mornings, drove home in the evenings, and stayed home the rest of the time, unless they drove someplace else, such as a restaurant or mall.
This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed or un-remarked. In a book called “Bowling Alone” (2000), Harvard Professor Robert Putnam plotted the sharp decline of membership in civic organizations, and even in bowling leagues. Home entertainment centers, the Internet, video games, and virtual communities (including on-line dating networks, as well as MySpace and Facebook) conspire to keep us in our cribs.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia annually logs about 400 homicides. These appear to be mostly crime and drug related. Many of the shooters apparently are pursuing the only lucrative business opportunity a typical dropout has in North Philly.
Again, I ask, should we care? April, said T.S. Eliot, is the cruelest month. He got that right. April 20th was the ninth anniversary of the Columbine massacre. April 16th was the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Cruel indeed… and perhaps ominous as well. The alienation and violence of the inner city, like some Medieval plague that worked its way from city slums to royalty’s country palaces a millennium ago, may be spreading. I wonder how long it will be, before inner-city gangs begin marauding outside their own violent ‘hoods. The day that happens, many affluent suburbanites will find themselves isolated and ill prepared to protect themselves.
If I sound like Poe’s raven, a harbinger of doom, well, so be it. While we watch our giant, flat-screen TVs and wonder why our favorite NFL team made the draft picks it did or who will be the next American Idol or what Angelina and Brad are up to this week… or whether Barack or Hilary will be the next one to appear on Leno or host “Saturday Night Live”… statistics such as the inner-city graduation rates are building like the sediment at the mouth of the Mississippi. That mighty American river, by the way, now ends its long continental course at the newest “third world” city.

October 4, 2009:

Capitalism: A Love Story
Reviewed by James Ottavio Castagnera
Special to The History Place
In case one moviegoer in a million is unaware of Director Michael Moore’s politics, the opening titles of “Capitalism: A Love Story” clear that up. Moore uses security-camera footage of bank heists as a metaphor for his chosen subject. But by the end of the film, one wonders if this is more than a metaphor. Midway through this documentary --- one in a long line that began in 1989 with “Roger and Me,” Moore’s dirge to his hometown of Flint, Michigan --- an evicted homeowner suggests that he might resort to robbing a bank. By the film’s end, after applauding a worker sit-in and an evicted family successfully squatting in their former home, Moore is advocating a revolution.
“I can’t live in a country that does this to its people,” he complains. “And I’m not going anywhere.” After that warning, he asks for his audience’s help. In doing what? In replacing capitalism with democracy, he tells us.
Michael Moore, despite the gloomy pictures he has painted about firearms (“Bowling for Columbine,” 2002), health care (“Sicko,” 2007) and other national ills, is at heart an optimist, when it comes to everyday Americans. His hopes are not without foundation in our history, as this newest film demonstrates. Following a brief interview with his ancient father at the bulldozed site of the giant auto plant where the old man had worked, Moore runs some footage of the 1936 UMWA strike against the auto giants that (in his words) helped create the American middle class. Moore got it right. The Americans whom Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” first won their unions and their worker rights, before going on to win World War II.
Where are the progeny of these workers today, Mr. Moore? In a tragic twist on “It takes two to tango,” Moore’s film explains that average U.S. citizens were tricked into thinking their homes were banks from which they could withdraw hard cash in the form of home equity loans. The loan documents were loaded with fine print that permitted the holders of the paper to escalate the monthly payments, often dramatically. This, so far as I know, was frequently the case. When it was done, it was criminal and its results were often tragic. But what were these homeowners thinking? And, if they weren’t thinking then, are they likely to start thinking now? My point is that Moore’s optimism may be misplaced. Today’s Americans, daughters and sons of “The Greatest Generation,” are not their fathers and mothers.
We saw Moore’s misplaced optimism before… in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the ‘expose’ of the 2000 presidential election and the Bush presidency that he hoped would help swing the election John Kerry’s way. Republican partisans countered with “Fahrenhype 9/11,” which effectively challenged many of Moore’s contentions and exposed some exaggerations that undermined Moore’s credibility. At best, “Fahrenheit 9/11” was a neutral factor in a race which ended with a second Bush/Cheney win and four more years of Republican rule.
Just as “Fahrenheit 9/11” featured scenes of protesters taking to the streets after the Supreme Court awarded the 2000 election to Bush, “Capitalism: A Love Story” features the sit-in mentioned above, as well as other protests. Moore also points out that five years ago few, if any, pundits imagined that the black state legislator from Illinois, who gave the keynote speech at the Democratic presidential convention, would wind up in the White House. Even two years ago, when Obama was the junior senator from the Land of Lincoln, precious few could see his candidacy going all the way. (I admit I couldn’t.)
Still, in the film’s final moments, Moore engages in a farcical attempt to make citizen’s arrests of the CEOs of AIG, Bank of America, and the other big winners in the Bailout. The Obama administration has indicated that it will not attempt to “claw back” the bonuses that have enriched the very corporate executives and dealmakers who brought the U.S. economy to the edge of the cliff, requiring a $700 billion parachute from us taxpayers. Don’t count on radical reforms from that quarter, Mr. Moore.
Then what of “The People”? In 2008 only 56.8 percent of all eligible voters went to the poles. This figure was only 1.5 percent higher than the comparable turnout in 2004. How can Moore place his trust in democracy, when 100 million of his voting age countrymen don’t even go to the polls?
Furthermore, what would really have to replace capitalism? Democracy is not an economic system. Moore briefly makes fun of people, from Sarah Palin to some of the men and women in the street, who tried to brand Obama a “Socialist.” Chortle all you want, Mr. Moore, but the alternative to capitalism does seem to be socialism. And, while some of the Scandinavian countries seem to have figured out how to make democratic socialism work pretty well, warnings of potential economic stagnation should not be taken lightly.
Moore, I think, is on firmer ground, when he argues that a return to serious regulation of the financial and banking industries, a more-fairly graduated income tax structure, and revival of labor unionism would go a long way toward closing the gap between rich and poor, resuscitating America’s middle class, and realizing some of the job security and employee benefits that (ironically, as Moore shows) our former foes, Germany and Japan, accord their citizens.
That this will come via a grassroots rebellion is wishful thinking. Obama’s approval rating hovers around 50 percent. His healthcare initiative is teetering on shaky ground. Pressure is mounting to put more troops in Afghanistan, which will siphon scarce federal funds. And many ordinary folks I meet are expressing impatience with him… never mind that he has been in office little more than eight months.
No, Mr. Moore, the people will not be rising up any time soon. AIG has distributed its bonuses with impunity. And I had to see your new film in an “art house,” because the big multi-plexes aren’t screening it, at least not in Philadelphia.
{Jim Castagnera is the author of Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education [Praeger 2009] and 16 other books.)

July 5, 2010:

Reviewed by Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place
Sebastian Junger hit the big time 13 years ago with The Perfect Storm, a non-fiction best seller that morphed into a major motion picture starring no less a celestial light than George Clooney. Some reviewers dubbed Junger the new Hemingway. But since then, his output --- at least on the bookshelves --- has been modest. Fire was a collection of magazine articles, notably including a few on America’s Afghan War. A Death in Belmont came next. A combination childhood memoir and murder mystery, the book recounts the Junger family’s proximity to the Boston Strangler killings and speculates on whether Albert DeSalvo was ‘who done it.’
With Restrepo and a new book entitled War Junger raises his Afghan reporting for Vanity Fair from journalism to art. Reviewing War for The Washington Post back in May, Philip Caputo, whose 1977 A Rumor of War captured the grunt’s reality in Vietnam, wrote, “He thus becomes a kind of 21st-century battle singer, narrating the deeds and misdeeds of his heroes while explaining what makes them do what they do. These reflections, drawing on his wide-ranging research into military history, biology and psychology as well as on his personal experiences, overreach once or twice. Otherwise, it's the best writing I've seen on the subject since J. Glenn Gray's 1959 classic, ‘The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle.’" []
Caputo might also have mentioned War Historian John Keegan’s 1976 The Face of Battle, another Yeoman’s effort at putting our imaginations alongside the boots on the ground. But what now distinguishes Junger from all these predecessors is Restrepo. Virtually a companion piece to War, the film was reportedly self-financed by Junger, until National Geographic stepped up to the plate late in the game. Tim Hetherington, Junger’s photographer on the Vanity Fair pieces, shares credit as co-director. The title derives from the outpost in the viciously contested Korengal Valley, where the two journalists/filmmakers were embedded. The base was named after a combat medic, Pfc. Juan Restrepo, who had been killed in action. As Junger told news media enroute to winning an award at the Sundance Film Festival, "It’s a completely apolitical film. We wanted to give viewers the experience of being in combat with soldiers, and so our cameras never leave their side. There are no interviews with generals; there is no moral or political analysis. It is a purely experiential film."
This, in my view, is both the strength and the weakness of the 93-minute film. On one hand, you are indeed there. Restrepo includes some great battle footage. Its directors obviously took some serious chances to take us into the fray. The downtime scenes also are instructive. One gets the sense that these soldiers--- who, after all, did volunteer for this experience --- sometimes missed the action, when the boredom of garrison life took hold.
But, at the same time, these men cannot escape the horrors of war. The interviews with individual soldiers, that intersperse the film, are very revealing. For instance, one enlisted man confides that he’s tried four or five different sleeping pills and he still can’t sleep. He adds that, actually, he no longer wants to sleep, because he relives the bad parts in his dreams.
We also see scenes in which the CO meets with village elders, assuring them that, if the Taliban are subdued, a road will be built. With it will come newfound prosperity. When the elders ask, what about the civilian dead we’ve endured, the CO says that happened on his predecessor’s watch and they need to get past it.
No narration accompanies these powerful words and images. No experts --- no talking heads--- help us make sense of what we are seeing and hearing. This to some degree is also the film’s greatest weakness. Junger in an interview indicated that the soldiers seldom discussed policy. Granting that in a Republic such as ours, this role falls to our elected civilian leaders, still some reflection on the meaning of it all would seem to be healthy.
Of course, this soldierly contemplation can’t be done out loud, risk-free, in a public forum… as General Stanley McChrystal learned the hard way following his disastrous interview with Rolling Stone. All the same, McChrystal’s self-destruction may not have been a useless gesture. His doubts about the war’s prospects are informative, and therefore valuable. Restrepo gives us a look at the adrenalin rush of combat, the occasional flashes of bloodlust that presumably accompany any military campaign, and the intense bonding and camaraderie of camp life.
But do the soldiers care, should they care, about the apparent futility of the 50 lives lost in taking and holding Restrepo? The outpost has since been abandoned. The promised road has never been built. The parallels to Caputo’s Vietnam, as he noted in his review of War, seem more and more compelling. Was Restrepo the Outpost another Hamburger Hill? If so, shouldn’t Restrepo the Film explore that overarching issue, even if, as in McChrystal’s interview, the line between military and civilian roles is crossed?
The Hurt Locker, 2009’s best picture, which I also reviewed for The History Place, presents its director’s point of view. When the protagonist finds it impossible to reintegrate into his former home life and returns instead to the war in Iraq, we get the message. Junger and Hetherington deliberately try to avoid interjecting a point of view. I wonder if they have been a bit too hands-off here, given that their film stands almost alone as a cinematic voice in the crucial national debate about the future of America’s Afghan incursion.
Bottom line, I’d like to make three points.
One: For a taste of what the war in Afghanistan is like for the American combat troops, who experience it everyday of their tours, this film can’t be beaten. We owe the filmmakers a debt of gratitude for risking their necks to take us there.
Two: If you want some help in making sense of what you will see on the screen, you should read War, either before or after you see the film. The book makes up for the deficiencies of the film that I have suggested in this review.
Three: If you want to see Restrepo on a big screen, you had better act quickly. In the whole of my hometown of Philadelphia, I was able to find it playing in only one downtown art house. I doubt it will be around for long. (However Netflix promises that it will be available soon, in case you can’t find it in a theater near you.)


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The prez turns 50 next week

Friend --

As someone who got his start as a community organizer, President Obama's entire career has revolved around the idea that ordinary people working together can do extraordinary things.

So I hope you can take part in marking his 50th birthday next week in the way he would appreciate most: with a solid showing of grassroots action in every corner of the country.

This Wednesday, August 3rd, campaign volunteers will get together for house meetings in all 50 states. We'll plan local events, strategize about how to grow the campaign in our communities, and talk about how to spread the word about the President's accomplishments to our friends and neighbors.

Best of all, folks will also have the chance to join an exclusive live video conference with President Obama at their house meeting.

Can you attend a house meeting in Ardmore? Here are the details:

What: House meeting for President Obama's 50th birthday

Where: 142 Sutton Road
Ardmore, PA 19003

When: Wednesday, August 3rd
6:30 pm

Death on a Dangerous Planet

1. Death by stupidity:

The Darwin Awards:

Man dies trying to catch a foul ball:


2. Genocide:

Encounter with a Killer
By James Ottavio Castagnera

Washington, D.C., May 29, 2008--- He seems to be a nice young man: age 27, a winning smile and an easy going sense of humor that quickly charms his audience. I’m attending, along with 9200 others from around the globe, the 60th annual convention of NAFSA, the top international-education organization. This particular event is a speech by Ishmael Beah, who last year published “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.” The grand ballroom of the Washington Convention Center is full to overflowing for Beah’s talk.
Wisely, young Ishmael focuses his address on his experiences since leaving Sierra Leone to live in the U.S., where he attended a United Nations high school in New York, then Oberlin College. He alludes only obliquely to the dark days of his country’s civil war, when, as a child of 13, he was recruited into the army and transformed into a teenaged killing machine.
Beah’s book tells that earlier story. After losing his family to rebel atrocities, Beah and his boyhood buddies roamed from village to village, until finally being conscripted into a unit of the national armed forces. Issued an AK-47, he was fed a seemingly endless supply of cocaine, marijuana, something he calls “brown brown” (a concoction which he claims contained gun powder), and unidentified white capsules that probably were “uppers” (since he says he seldom slept).
Following a few weeks of “basic training” Beah and his buds were deployed into action. Action, one gathers from his book, typically involved raiding villages, shooting everyone in sight and looting whatever was found of value, be it food, drugs, or munitions. He describes in gory detail cutting the throats of prisoners and burying wounded rebels alive. Summing up, he says he killed “too many people to count.”
Eventually, Beah and many another boy soldier were rescued and rehabilitated by UNICEF in cooperation with various NGOs operating in the war-torn, West African nation, situated between Liberia (an equally blood-soaked and diamond rich state), and Guinea. So thoroughly was Beah reformed that he was picked from among his comrades to address the United Nations in New York on the plight of Africa’s children. There he met the woman who would adopt him, once he managed to make good his final escape from Sierra Leone. All this occurred before he was even out of his teens.
Pondering the war crimes Beah describes in “A Long Way Gone” and trying to connect them up with the pleasant young fellow at the podium, I am reminded of the late philosopher, Hannah Arendt. In the words of Wikipedia, “The Banality of Evil is a phrase coined in 1963 by Hannah Arendt in her work ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem.’ It describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.”
Arendt’s premise fits the West African experience of the 1990s and early years of the new century as snuggly as it fits the Holocaust. If “A Long Way Gone” isn’t a good fit on your summer reading list, try the film “Blood Diamond” on for size. You’ll get the idea. Today, the sub-Saharan traveling horror show described in Beah’s book and depicted in the Leo DiCaprio movie has moved to the Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, here I am in line outside the convention center’s massive ballroom, standing in a long line to get my copy of “A Long Way Gone” autographed by its author. When it’s finally my turn, I watch as Ishmael Beah inscribes his large and rather elegant signature on the title page. As he hands the book back to me, I say, “Hell of a book, man. Thanks a lot.” Ours eyes meet momentarily and he beams back at me… the boyish smile of a lad who never could have pulled the wings from a fly.

3. Capital Punishment:

James Ottavio Castagnera: The Lottery of Life and Death in the Criminal Justice System

[Jim Castagnera is a Philadelphia lawyer and journalist, who writes a weekly newspaper column, “Attorney at Large.”]
Last week Kenneth Lee Boyd won the lottery of his life and secured himself a footnote in U.S. criminal justice history. At around 2:00 AM on Friday, December 2nd, Boyd became the 1000th prisoner executed since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate the death penalty in 1977. The high court had declared most state death-penalty laws unconstitutional. Many of those states moved quickly to amend, and in ’77 the Supremes gave a green light to Utah to stand a murderer named Gary Gilmore in front of a firing squad… yeh, no kidding, a firing squad.

Naturally, this landmark number --- 1000 --- set off a flurry of debate about the death penalty. At one end of the public-opinion spectrum are people who think capital punishment should be eliminated… period. They point out that the top capital-punishment countries are the US, China, South Vietnam and Iran. Do we really want to keep that kind of company, they inquire?

On the opposite end are pro-death penalty people, who probably agree with John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University, who opines, "If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."

Somewhere in between are those who fret that we may wind up executing innocent people. In fact legal history is loaded with legendary cases that leave us pondering this possibility. Among the most famous is the Lindbergh kidnapping, which occurred in Hopewell, New Jersey, way back in 1932. The two-year-old son of national hero Charles Lindbergh was lifted from his second-floor nursery. The Lindberghs shelled out a $50,000 ransom, only to learn later that the infant had been killed and buried in a shallow grave.

Another two years passed before a German immigrant named Bruno Richard Hauptmann spent some of the ransom money and was arrested. The trial in Flemington (NJ) was a media circus. Hauptmann, convicted and sentenced to die, went to the electric chair in Trenton proclaiming his innocence. His widow, who lived into her nineties, continued to campaign for his exoneration. Today, many historians believe the Hauptmanns were telling the truth. Some even say that Lindbergh accidentally killed his own child in a misconceived practical joke that ran amok. As recently as June 22, 2003, the New York Times reported, under the headline “This Case Never Closes,” the new discovery of a kidnapping note by Archivist Mark Falzini of the New Jersey State Police Museum. The note, scrawled on a wooden table leg with screw holes matching the pattern of punches in the original ransom letters, reads in German, “I was one of the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby and not Bruno Richard Hauptmann.”

Equally intriguing is the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, a successful young doctor living in suburban Cleveland, who was accused in the summer of 1954 of brutally murdering his wife. Despite his claim of having fought with a “bushy haired man” who had invaded the Sheppard home, Dr. Sam was convicted and served 10 years in prison before F. Lee Bailey won a Supreme Court ruling that yet another media circus had poisoned the jury. Bailey, destined to become one of the great defense lawyers of the 20th century, won an acquittal in a subsequent re-trial. Sheppard’s tragedy was far from over, however, as a malpractice suit drove him from his medical practice. He became a professional wrestler and an alcoholic, dying in 1970 of liver failure. By then he was up to two fifths of liquor a day. In the 35 years since then, the mystery of who really killed Marilyn Sheppard has spawned wild tales of homosexuality, bisexuality, and conspiracy, all spinning around the enigmatic osteopath-turned-wrestler. The most famous form of the legend is pure fiction: “The Fugitive” --- first a TV series, more recently a Harrison Ford film --- has the good doctor trying to chase down a one-armed man.

We’ll never know for sure whether Bruno Hauptmann, killed by the state, and Sam Sheppard, killed by the bottle, were innocent or guilty men. That one was executed and the other acquitted hasn’t helped those who yearn for absolute truth. The odds are 50-50 that an innocent man (Hauptmann) was fried and a guilty man (Sheppard) walked away.

That’s all a part of the capital punishment lottery.



4. Serial Killers:

Jim Castagnera: America's First Bona Fide Mass Murderer

SOURCE: Lehighton (PA) Times-News (9-14-05)

Holy Cross Cemetery is a mere half dozen miles from my Havertown home… a quick drive down Lansdowne Avenue. An early burial ground of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Holy Cross plays host to hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish and Italian immigrants; a common inscription on many a weathered tombstone reads something like, “Born County Cork 1846.”

Had I not taken a book called “The Devil in the White City” with me to the Shore this summer, I might never have known that Holy Cross is also the final resting place of America’s first bona fide mass murderer. According to author Erik Larson’s 2003 bestseller about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Dr. H.H. Holmes accomplished most of his killing in a suburban-Chicago building he called his “Castle.” The Castle combined businesses, such as a pharmacy, a restaurant and a small hotel with a Boris Karloff-like basement containing a crematorium and a sound-proof gas chamber. Holmes eventually confessed to killing 27; some say the real figure may be as high as 200.

Holmes penned his horrid confession in Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison, where in 1896 he waited to be hanged for the murder of a partner-in-crime, one Ben Pitezel, with whom he had launched a fake patent dealership along Philly’s Callowhill Street. Holmes had insured his partner’s life for $10,000. When he found Pitezel passed out from hard liquor at the Callowhill shop, he decided it was time to collect on the policy. Tying the helpless drunk’s hands and feet, “I proceeded to burn him alive by saturating his clothing and his face with benzene and lighting it with a match.” Homles coyly adds to the confession, “So horrible was this torture that in writing of it I have been tempted to attribute his death to some humane means --- not with a wish to spare myself, but because I fear that it will not be believed that one could be so heartless and depraved.”

The Chicago police who investigated the Castle following Holmes’s Philadelphia conviction had no trouble believing every word of his grizzly confession. They found claw marks on the walls of the “Vault,” the airtight chamber equipped with gas jets that Holmes controlled from upstairs. They also found skulls, ribs, a shoulder blade and a hip socket that the crematorium had failed to reduce to ash. The stovepipe from this gas oven was lined with human hair. Holmes even had a medieval torture rack.

The mad medico was as bold as he was crazy. After murdering Pitezel on September 2, 1894, he hastily left town. While he was away, Pitezel’s burned body was found by a customer, who stopped by the Callowhill shop to sell a patent. Pitezal was buried as a pauper in a Potter’s Field. But just a few days after the funeral, Holmes reappeared, advising the life insurance company that the supposed-pauper was their policy-holder, Pitezal. The body was exhumed and identified by Holmes and the deceased’s daughter Alice, whom Holmes subsequently killed along with a younger brother and sister. The insurance carrier paid up to an attorney for his widow, Carrie. Paying $2500 to the lawyer, Holmes then talked Carrie out of the lion’s share of the proceeds, told her that her husband was still alive, and took her on a whirlwind tour of Detroit, Toronto, and Ogdensburg, New York… always promising that her husband and children would be joining them at their next destination.

A Philadelphia detective named Frank Geyer finally caught up with Holmes in Boston. The insurance company had come to the conclusion that the body exhumed from the Potter’s Field was not Pitezel. Indicted in Philly for conspiracy to defraud the carrier, Holmes wisely pleaded guilty. However, the Philadelphia D.A. wasn’t satisfied with this conviction. The investigation was continued and on September 12, 1895, a grand jury indicted Holmes for murder. He and his attorney then changed their story, agreeing that Pitezal was dead, but contending that he had killed himself. Holmes claimed he had found his dead partner, and fearing that the insurance policy wouldn’t pay off on a suicide, had burned the body to disguise the self-inflicted wounds. The jury didn’t buy this yarn. Holmes was convicted and sentenced to hang.

When his motion for a new trial was denied on November 30, 1895, by a tribunal with the charming name of “the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery of Pennsylvania,” his luck had finally run out. Awaiting the inevitable, he penned the confession published first by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then, on May 7, 1896, behind the high walls of the prison at 10 th and Reed Streets (where an Acme now stands), Holmes was hanged. The Inquirer reported the presence of a huge throng of would-be spectators. “There was a good deal of fin de siecle brutality about the crowds,” commented the paper. “There was nothing that they could possibly see, but the high forbidding walls. There was nothing they could hear. Yet they all seemed drawn to the spot by some morbid fascination. Coarse jests were bandied from lip to lip as the crowd surged to and fro.”

Having sold the cleaned and polished skeletons of many a victim to Chicago medical schools, hospitals and private physicians, Holmes feared he himself might become a victim of grave robbers. ( Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute had made an offer to buy his pathological brain.) Consequently, on his instructions, his coffin was half filled with concrete. Then his body was placed inside and covered with more concrete. His grave, too, was filled half way with wet concrete, before the coffin was lowered and buried in more of the same.

Holmes’ Holy Cross grave has no marker. Author Erik Larson places it at “section 15, range 10, lot 41.” He adds, “At the gravesite there is only an open lawn in the midst of other old graves. There are children….” To be precise, there are four children, all of whom died in 1896. Ten or twelve feet in front of their tiny tombstones, adorned with marble lambs, is a rectangular depression in the grass.

Beneath the grass, half burned away by this summer’s sun, and the topsoil, and a few feet of ancient concrete, lies America’s first self-proclaimed mass murderer. He outdid Jack the Ripper by at least 20, and perhaps 200, slayings. Yet, prior to Larson’s “Devil in the White City,” he was practically forgotten… the nearly-anonymous monster in my own back yard.

5. Torture:

James Castagnera
The Question of Torture:
A Tortured Inquiry in the Offing

“Torture” is in the headlines as I write this Blog. Asked about his attitude toward declassified memos, which suggest Bush Administration officials condoned illegal interrogation techniques, President Obama initially indicated intent to look forward, not back. He then back-pedaled, suggesting that he might support some sort of inquiry. His waffling opened the door through which Move On.Org rushed, waiving a petition. Congressional liberals also are shouting for Bush White House blood. A witch-hunt, if permitted, will be both unfair and dangerously distracting.

Bush and his minions are victims of what the administrative partner in my old law firm labeled “the smart-stupid syndrome.” When this law partner failed to produce promised new clients, he was told that he would be phased out of the firm. Ruefully, he ruminated, “Last week, I was considered smart. People around here asked my advice about anything and everything, whether I knew something about the issue or not. Now that the word’s out about my leaving, I’m seen as stupid. Nobody asks my views on anything, as if I were suddenly stripped of all my expertise along with my partnership.”

On September 12, 2001, and for the next three years --- at least through the 2004 national election --- Bush was considered “smart.” He had come off as “presidential” in the days immediately after the Nine-Eleven attacks. He looked the part of national war leader, when he landed on an aircraft carrier and declared victory in Iraq in the spring of 2003. In the autumn of ’04 the real war hero, John Kerry, came off looking wimpy and inept by comparison.

But inexorably the image tarnished, as the two-front War on Terror dragged on, expensively and with apparent futility. Now, in April 2009, W’s legacy appears destined to be reduced to a single irony: he blundered so badly that he facilitated the election of America’s first African-American president. Obscured by the economic meltdown of autumn and winter, the dramatic rise to power of a charismatic man of color, and now the brouhaha over the torture memos, is the simple but irrefutable truth that for nearly eight years no further terrorist attacks have happened on American soil.

Did Bush Administration Interrogation Techniques Work?

Historians and social scientists appreciate the difficulties inherent in establishing cause-effect relationships. Did effective intelligence work contribute significantly to the utter absence of further terrorist attacks in the United States? To even venture an authoritative answer to this question, we need the data. NPR reported this morning the existence of some 6,000 interrogation records, about half of which allegedly involved ranking Al Qaeda operatives. If an inquiry into the “torture” policies of the Bush Administration proceeds, this material is crucial evidence… unless, of course, you believe that the interrogation techniques must be punished no matter what they yielded. (More on that issue below.)

For those readers who may agree with me that inflicting serious pain on an Al Qaeda terrorist is preferable to a dirty bomb blasting Mahattan, or my own hometown of Philadelphia, the issue of efficacy is a crucial one to resolve.

Among my current reading material is the 2007 biography of a British double agent during WWII. Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Zigzag (Random House) includes a detailed description of how the Brit’s leading counter-espionage officers turned German spies into double agents. According to MacIntyre, physical torture was abhorred and eschewed, and yet the results were dramatically successful. The theory, which apparently comported with experience, was that --- given enough time --- anyone could be made to break, to talk, and finally to turn.

The fly in this ointment is time. About half of all Americans, according to recent public opinion polls, condone the interrogation techniques adopted by Bush but now forbidden by Obama. I suggest that the percentage would soar if the scenario involved a known threat of substantial magnitude, a tight timeline (say days or even hours) and a strong suspect. All the same, only the data contained in the 6,000 extant interrogation records can verify the reliability, or lack thereof, of the “product” obtained by means of water boarding and its kindred “harsh” interrogation techniques.

Utilitarianism in an Age of International Terrorism

In our honors course, “Theories of Justice and the American Common Law,” Political Scientist Jonathan Mendilow and I cover Jeremy Bentham and his fellow Utilitarian philosophers. We note that to the extent the American common law can be generalized, Utilitarianism --- the greatest good for the greatest number --- comes as close to a dominant, if largely implicit, organizing philosophy as any theory of justice can claim to come. We then pose the following hypothetical: If a Utopia could be assured, but only at the price of one innocent child spending eternity in a filthy cell, sore-covered and wallowing in her own excrement, would that innocent’s endless misery be justified?

The “hypo” stimulates a brisk discussion, from which we move the conversation to such real-world circumstances as the persistence of poverty and violence in our inner cities, and ask whether this is the price we are prepared to pay for the middle-class prosperity of the American majority? Again, the discussion is lively, often heated.

The simple fact --- the point of our little exercise --- is that our society makes Utilitarian trade-offs all the time. How many Americans would not trade the human rights of one Al Qaeda operative for the lives of, let us say, a million Americans in the “dirty-bomb” scenario?

If we assume for sake of argument that the 6,000 interrogation records were released and demonstrated the efficacy of the now-forbidden “torture” techniques, this Utilitarian balancing act must be addressed in any inquiry that is launched
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

An honest inquiry, I believe, requires that we do one more thing, and that is to make every reasonable effort to put ourselves into the minds of Bush officials and intelligence-service officers during the days, weeks and months following the incendiary deaths of several thousand Americans in an attack more lethal than Pearl Harbor. What might each of us have done, confronted by (1) a mandate to make America safe once again, and (2) a set of interrogation alternatives about which both the effectiveness and the legality were ambiguous? I will say here that I believe I would have erred in favor of harsher interrogation techniques and against any serious risk of a reprise of Nine-Eleven. Perhaps you, reader, are comfortable mounting a more-lofty moral height, regardless of the potential carnage on the slopes below.

All this being said, I probably will not surprise you by adding that in my view Obama’s first instinct --- to move ahead and meet the massive political and economic challenges in front of us --- was the right instinct. An inquiry into the interrogation techniques of the Bush years is (1) unfair to the U.S. intelligence officers and civilian policy makers caught up in the crisis of their moment, (2) portends a political/media circus in which we can ill afford to indulge, and (3) endangers America’s security by demoralizing our intelligence services and encouraging our enemies.

[Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia attorney and university counsel, is author of Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education (Praeger, 2009).]

This entry was posted on April 24th, 2009 at 09:55:02 am and is filed under Uncategorized.

Comment from: Barry Seldes [Visitor]
Two points:

First: "If a Utopia could be assured, but only at the price of [your] innocent child [or grandchild] spending eternity in a filthy cell, sore-covered and wallowing in her own excrement, would that innocent’s endless misery be justified?" In fact,would you volunteer your your child or grandchild for the promise of everyone else's Utopia?

Second: An old ethics class question: a number of copycat cutthroats, unknown to each other, can, each of them, be stopped in their tracks if one is captured, publicly tortured via the most horrific means, and then executed.

To date, none have been captured.

Would it be acceptable for the authorities simply to grab an innocent person, claim him to be a captured cutthroat, publicly submit him to excruciating torture and later, execute him? Let us suppose that this procedure would have the expected salutary effect on would-be cutthroats. The procedure would be very utilitarian. But would it be just?
04/24/09 @ 13:17
Comment from: Hugh Ormsby-Lennon [Visitor]
Slippery slopes and thin ends of the wedge here.

Read Philip Stephens's "America's abuse of the law handed victory to terrorists," Financial Times 4/24/09, for a moderate and subtle rejoinder to this stuff. For googling, article begins "Here is a chilling thought. Barack Obama has gifted a dangerous advantage to America's enemies . . ."
04/25/09 @ 01:57
Comment from: Jim Castagnera [Visitor]
Stephensen's piece is a fine and thoughtful essay. I am particularly impressed by the following:

---When the US army published its latest manual for intelligence staff in 2006, General John Kimmons, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, flatly denied torture worked: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that ... the empirical evidence of the last five years tells us that.”

General Kimmons made two obvious but important points. The credibility of intelligence obtained under duress is always doubtful: tortured terrorists will say anything. And: “It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used.”---

Kimmons grounded his position upon practical, real-world considerations, and therefore is persuasive.

This to me is where the rubber meets the road. I do not believe that a reasonable person can say without equivocation either (1) torture is always justified, or (2) torture is never justified. On one hand is the rule of law. On the other, is the magnitude of the threat posed by terrorism, e.g., the likelihood that terrorists will one day (soon) possess a dirty bomb. To hold fast to an unbending rule in the abstract is a fool's game.

Rather, one must make pragmatic decisions on the basis of the best available data. This is Mr. Obama's greatest strength.
05/02/09 @ 06:44

Of bananas and daiquiris and long lunches

First, a brief history of the banana in the US:

The Banana: More American Than Apple Pie
By James Castagnera
A bunch of them sits on our kitchen counter top right now. At the moment, the bunch is yellow with some green streaks. I like them that way. A soft banana from inside a brown-dappled skin makes me queasy. Memories of a friend’s toddler squishing an over-ripe banana and stuffing it into his nostrils and ears are indelibly etched inside my brain.
Americans on average eat about 25 pounds of bananas per year. How anybody knows this is a mystery to me. However, the data point is believable. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that every American eats the same species of banana. So do Asians and Europeans. The Cavendish banana is the sole species sold worldwide. For growers, that’s not only weird; it’s worrisome.
The Cavendish’s predecessor was the Gros Michel (Big Mike). Until the 1920s Big Mike ruled the produce shelves. Then a fungus called Panama disease obliterated Big Mike. The Cavendish up until then had been “dissed” as less savory and harder to ship without bruising. When Mike went down, Cavendish climbed to the top of the heap. United Fruit and Standard Fruit figured out how to crate and ship the Cavendish, so that it ripened just in time to arrive on America’s grocery shelves.
I know all this thanks to a new book called “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World” by a travel/adventure writer named Dan Koeppel, that was published in January. Koeppel chronicles not only the biology, but also the politics, of the banana. Brilliant marketing by American entrepreneurs made the curvaceous yellow fruit, Chiquita if you like, a formidable rival to the good old American apple. To price their product competitively, after shipping it thousands of miles, these Yankees required Central American labor in plentiful supply at slave wages. No wonder, then, that “Yanqui, go home!” remains the motto of so many Latin Americans. United Fruit in the 1950s collaborated with the CIA in toppling unfriendly (read “reformist”) governments in the aptly named Banana Republics.
These Cold War-era shenanigans were lampooned brilliantly in Woody Allen’s 1971 film (what else would it be called?) “Bananas.” Allen’s Fielding Mellish blunders his way into a rebel camp in hot pursuit of Nancy (Louise Lasser), a lefty lassie for whom he has the hots. A curious triviality of “Bananas” is that throughout the entire film you never see one. Never you mind. The fruit, as much or more than America’s fear of Communism, was the back-story behind the conflicts that wracked Central America throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Despite its political prowess and monopoly status on the world’s produce shelves, the Cavendish may go the way of its predecessor. A prime example of bio-non-diversity, the best friend of our breakfast cereal is being attacked by the same incurable fungus that brought down Big Mike. Most experts believe it’s not if but when the Cavendish will succumb. Meanwhile scientists are seeking a resistant hybrid that will one day fill the impending gastronomic gap.
Following heartbreak, assassination, revolution, and a criminal trial, Fielding Mellish’s Odyssey ends in a honeymoon bed with Nancy (the marriage’s consummation delicately reported by Howard Cosell for “Wide World of Sports”). Whether either the Cavendish banana or the still-impoverished republics where it’s grown have happy days ahead remains to be seen.
As Castro ends his 50-year reign, releasing power to brother Raul, Cuba poses a threat to no one anymore. Venezuela’s eccentric Preside Hugo Chavez pesters Uncle Sam with a more worrisome threat of withholding petroleum, but his efforts at exporting revolution so far have gone nowhere. And I can eat berries on my granola, if needs be.
So, if the Cavendish goes the way of the Gros Michel, I’ll enjoy my cereal with blueberries or raisins, unperturbed by Central America’s fate. I’ll still munch my Cap’n Crunch while recalling with a smile my favorite Lou Costello shtick:
Costello: How much are those bananas?
Botchagaloop: Nickle apiece, three for a quarter.
Costello: I’ll take three.
Botchagaloop takes Lou’s quarter and hands over two bananas.
Costello: Hey, that’s only two.
Botchagaloop (counting): One-a banana, two-a banana, that makes three-a banana.
Lou takes his two bananas and walks off, as Botchagaloop pockets the two bits.
How do you like them apples, folks?

Next, an endorsement of a great Philadelphia restaurant... with, among other things, great daiquiris (including banana, natch)... pricey (the food in general and the daiquiris in particular)... but my daughter Claire and I had a great time there yesterday.

Last but not least, Jimmy Buffet's "I Wish that Lunch Could Last Forever"... Amen!

What's this got to do with law, education and employment? Not a damn thing. Just wanted to share.

Have a great weekend!


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Friday, July 29, 2011

NAFSA 2012 seeks proposals

NAFSA 2012 Call for Proposals

Workshops, Sessions, and Posters

Submit a proposal by 11:59 p.m. EDT, August 1, for NAFSA’s 64th Annual Conference & Expo, “Comprehensive Internationalization: Vision and Practice”, in Houston, Texas, May 27- June 1, 2012. Showcase your innovative ideas and practices through workshops, sessions, and posters and engage attendees from around the world.

Review the call for proposals and watch a tutorial on mastering the online process at

Submission Deadlines:
August 1, 2011, 11:59 p.m. USA EDT – Workshops and Sessions
December 15, 2011 – Posters

The proposal form has changed for 2012. Submit your proposal today!

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Will my generation be remembered as the most selfish generation of Americans?

Will America Even Be Able to Afford Dunce Caps for Political Class?By Joe Gandelman | July 26th, 2011 | 46 Comments
Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
The debt ceiling limit crisis has revealed one fact: the current political class of leaders who are largely from the Baby Boomer and post-Baby Boomer generations could never be confused with “The Greatest Generation.” The Most Partisan Generations? Perhaps.

SEIU wants help from YOU

Dear friend,

Last night Republicans in the House of Representatives failed to pass a plan to raise our country's debt ceiling in exchange for as much as $1.8 trillion in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

The bill asked NOTHING of millionaires and corporations, everything of the most vulnerable among us, and it's a good thing it failed.

With Tuesday's deadline looming, it looks like anything that has a chance of passing will have to start in the Senate.

Thousands of SEIU members and allies helped stop a horrible bill because of the calls we made to our representatives in the House, but now the Senate needs to hear from you as they begin deliberations certain to last all weekend.

You should make an emergency call to your Senator RIGHT NOW and tell them to stand up for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid:


As you can tell, there is very little margin for error. Protecting the benefits so many people depend on could hinge on a single vote, so every call matters.

Make yours now.

In solidarity,

Mary Kay Henry
President, SEIU

P.S. After you've made the call, please report what your Senator said at this link:

What's going on with Indian students?

1.July 29, 2011
Federal Agents Raid Virginia Institution That Draws Many Students From India
Karen Kasmauski for The ChronicleThe University of Northern Virginia is located in a series of office buildings in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Nearly all of its students are in the United States on visas.
By Tom Bartlett, Karin Fischer, and Josh Keller
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security raided the University of Northern Virginia on Thursday morning, hauling away computers and boxes of paperwork and notifying the suburban Washington institution that it may lose its ability to accept foreign students.

2. Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 1:10:44 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
Subject: ISTAnetwork : International Student Advising Forum : Does playing US DV lottery constitutes intent to migrate? - New post on NAFSA Discussion Forums

Tope Bada just posted at ISTAnetwork : International Student Advising Forum : Does playing US DV lottery constitutes intent to migrate?.
I have counseled 2 graduate students for admission and they went for visa adjudication at the US consular post in Abuja recently. The interviewing consular officer "214(b)ed" the students because according to him, they have "played" the DV 2012 Lottery and hence shown an intent to migrate. The first student's F-1 visa was denied because the Consular Officer asked her if she has applied for an immigrant visa previously but she replied in the negative but stated that her cousin had submitted registration for the DV Lottery 2012 for her last year. The consular officer then left his desk and went inside to consult. He came back later to inform the student that she qualifies for the F-1 visa but he cannot issue it to her because she "played" visa lottery.
In the case of the second student, he was issued the F-1 visa and after he has left the premises of the post, he was re-called by the embassy security and subsequently denied the F-1 visa by the Consular Officer because according to the consular staff; "he has in his record that someone played visa lottery for the student sometimes ago".
I am aware that the DV 2012 results are still pending and usually if an applicant wins and does not follow up by sending the Immigrant Forms to KCC to proceed, there is no intent to migrate. In this case, the students supposedly have only played the lottery while the result is pending and neither of them ever filed an immigrant application. Even, if the result comes out that they have won, they might still decided not to proceed if its not convenient.
I will like to know if there is any legislation that supports this consular officer's decision that playing the US DV lottery is an intent to migrate and will subsist as an answer to the question on the DS 160 form that states if a visa applicant has ever filed an immigrant petition?
This is the first time I have heard of such reasons being used as an excuse for visa denial by a Consular Officer. Advise and suggestions required! Thank you.
To view the entire thread, click or copy and paste this link:

DHS July 29th Daily Bulletin

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Journal of Homeland Security Education is now on line

Journal of Homeland Security Education is online!
Steve Recca - July 28, 2011 13:22
The Journal of Homeland Security Education (JHSE) has launched its website. Visit for more information on submission guidelines. The first issue is set for publication in January/February 2012.

The latest from Prof. Ely Karmon in Jerusalem

Dear friends and colleagues,

See attached my latest op-ed for the Spanish daily El Imparcial, "The Flotillas to Gaza - New Actors in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
For the Spanish readers, please see the link for the article "Flotillas con destino a Gaza: Los nuevos protagonistas del conflict,"

Best regards,

Ely Karmon

Ely Karmon, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scholar
International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and
The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at
The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC)
Herzlyia, Israel
Tel.: 972-9-9527277
Cell.: 972-52-2653306
Fax.: 972-9-9513073, 972-9-7716653

New releases from the Homeland Security Digital Library

HSDL Critical Releases in Homeland Security [July 2011]
Every two weeks, the Homeland Security Digital Library identifies a targeted collection of recently-released documents of particular interest or potential importance. [Login to the HSDL is necessary to open some documents.*]

Exploring Patterns of Behaviour in Violent Jihadist Terrorists: An Analysis of Six Significant Terrorist Conspiracies in the UK
RAND Europe

Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qaida
United States Military Academy. Combating Terrorism Center

Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations: Progress Report 2011
United States. Dept. of Homeland Security

Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Accident
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security
United States. White House Office

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