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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 89

[ 48 ] June 19, 2017 |

This is the grave of Alexander Hamilton.

I see little reason to rehash Hamilton’s biography, which is well known. So let me just make a few points.

1) Hamilton was a visionary when it came to developing capitalism and was obviously much more influential than Jefferson in the creation of the American economy, even if Jefferson was more influential in developing its mythology.

2) Hamilton became a horrible authoritarian and was one of the scariest people in American history by the mid-1790s. His fear of the people is to be shunned and damned. Down this path lies very bad things.

3) The Hamilton play was very good in terms of the music and production. It is nowhere close to the truth of Hamilton. Moreover, it is part of a desire to reclaim the Founders from conservatives, but creates more myth instead of a clear-headed understanding of the past. Ron Chernow is very much responsible for this, for his book is deeply flawed and he is not a real historian.

4) Hamilton was not nearly as anti-slavery as the play suggests and married into a slaveholding family, showing little regret over that. He’s hardly John C. Calhoun of course, but the idea of Hamilton as some sort of antislavery icon simply is ridiculous. He never did a damn thing about slavery.

5) There is no Leftist Hamilton we should hang our hat on.

6) Hamilton died at the right time. His anti-democratic impulses were rejected more by the year. Had he lived another 30 years, he would be seen today as a right-wing crank.

7) If you are going into a duel, shoot to kill.

Alexander Hamilton is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery, Manhattan New York.


Today In Donald Trump’s America

[ 44 ] June 19, 2017 |

Well, this is horrifying:

Police found remains Sunday thought to be those of a missing Virginia teenager who they say was assaulted and disappeared overnight after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area, and a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case.

The mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, and relatives identified the girl as 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.

Fairfax County police identified the man charged with murder in her death as Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling.

According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

I can strongly recommend a course … of … Goop

[ 245 ] June 18, 2017 |

Was giving a luxury brandzine the same name as a well-known industrial hand cleaner a mistake? Perhaps.

There are no surprises in Lindy West’s article about Gwenyth Paltrow’s first In Goop Health health and wellness expo.

There wasn’t a group vaginal steaming event. There’s nothing narsty in the aura photography tent. Irate support staff don’t rise up and pelt attendees with vaginal crystals and coccyx leeches.

I’m not making up the steam, stones or leeches. I didn’t misspell Good. In other words, the article about a health and fitness event for women contains everything one would expect.

The fact that it is an actor-turned-health-guru project aimed at people who could afford $500 – $1,500 to attend probably didn’t make that much of a difference in the content. For example:

After a brief history of Goop (“I started to wonder: Why do we all not feel well? Why is there so much cancer? Why are we all so tired?”), Paltrow introduces her personal physician, Dr Habib Sadeghi, DO.

The answer to these questions is some combination of life events, exposure to various things that make you not well and just plain aging. The reason that people of all walks of life are drawn to what Paltrow is selling is a combination of fear, confusion and dissatisfaction with the health care they are receiving.

And a desire to know what the knowingless men know not.

Women are more likely to be targeted by garbage merchants. We’ve been groomed for it. In addition to standard health concerns and the usual hurried health care encounters, we have to deal with societal sexism which impacts the health care we receive. And has a built multi-billion dollar industry on insecurity about ourselves and a horror of time’s passage. That’s how we’ve reached the point where women will let hastily trained health care providers take lasers to their genitals for cosmetic purposes.

It’s nuts. And it’s why health guidance from a beautiful famous woman and doctors who speak soothingly is so damn attractive.

He talks for an hour about “cosmic flow”; his left testicle; the “magnificence” of Gwyneth (“I’ve been down and I’ve touched her feet … and I’ll do it again”);

OK, the mention of his balls is a bit surprising. I assume the foot touching was done to check Paltrow’s circulation.

and his belief that “consciousness precedes phenotypic expression”, which means, basically, that all ailments are on some level psychosomatic and your ovarian cysts are really just little nodules of emotion – or something.

Now there’s a completely original thing for a doctor to say to women, but “consciousness precedes phenotypic expression” sounds mysterious enough to keep people from throwing their water bottles.

And of course there’ll be sport obsession with the current hip, happening body system.

The next panel, on gut health, counters Sadeghi’s consciousness theory with the assertion that all human illnesses are caused by antibiotics, ibuprofen, caesarean sections and legumes. The human gut is a rich rainforest, they say. Antibiotics are “napalm”, and taking one ibuprofen is “like swallowing a hand grenade”.

Another original thing: attempting to scare the shit out of laypeople – perhaps literally in this case – because talking to them like adults is too much effort. I mean, there certainly are things about the widespread use of antibotics that should leave everyone petrified, but it’s along the lines of Lots of people will get antibiotic resistant infections and die unprettily. I have no idea why NSAIDs are like live hand grenades.

And for attendees who don’t like sport, there’ll be sport scary stories about the biggest, baddest, bogey of all: Fat.

Someone relates an anecdote about a marathon runner who had to get a faecal transplant from her fat niece, and it made the marathon runner fat.

This would have been a good time for the irate support staff to start throwing the crotch rocks.

Or better yet, for any of the doctors on the panel to do some quick research and issue a correction: There is a case report which noted unexplained weight gain by the donor and the recipient, following a fecal transplant. In an example of everything wrong with science reporting, articles about the report made the unsupported claim that the donor – the minor daughter of the recipient – was overweight at the time of the transplant. Perhaps Paltrow does – as West jokes – intend to start selling her own crap.

I’m actually surprised it wasn’t on offer. This is a place after all where people were voluntarily receiving IV infusions. I can’t imagine they’d hesitate to down a few pills claiming to contain 100% organic, free-range Paltrow Poo. Maybe that was in the Collagen Garden  and West didn’t have access to that part of the shindig.

For attendees who don’t like variety there’s sport: Quacks talking about food.

Dr Steven Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox, reveals that from January to June inclusive, he consumes all his calories between 6pm and 8pm, because “we evolved to search for food all day and then fast”.

Pretty sure he meant search for food and then eat, but was light-headed from hunger.

It’s funny how our understanding of human evolution – of the point at which we were once our truest selves – can shift according to which restrictive diet is on-trend that day.

And that understanding is strangely selective. Not that I expect Dr. Gundry to spend his days roaming the aisles of Jeff Bezos’ latest acquisition. Or better yet, furricking in the hedgerows for his meals. However, the belief that the life of early humans was that organized is almost charming.

I am no anthropologist, but I suspect that if early human scored a handful of nuts at 8 a.m., he ate them at 8 a.m. And if she dug up some grubs at noon, she ate them at noon. And if they chased some hyenas away from a recently deceased gazelle at 4 p.m., they ate that at 4 p.m.

I’m never certain what people mean when they make evolution the basis for the diet du jour. It seems to range from wobbly biped up to right before attempts at what we recognize as agriculture, and certainly that lack of clarity must be part of the magic. However, I find it irritating.

As is this.

Gundry argues that human beings aren’t meant to eat any plants native to North America, because we are native to “Africa, Europe and Asia”.

This would doubtless come as a shock to the surviving descendants of people who ate native North American plants for thousands of years before Europeans showed up mob handed and spread small pox all over the place.

But do pause to appreciate the delicate balance of permissible and forbidden unnatural things that is a common hallmark of wooquack. Native North American plants are unnatural and forbidden (except for blueberries, it seems). Importing non-native plants (either for crops or straight to the grocery) is not natural but it’s permissible.

The trick is to make the marks think they’re getting some secret wisdom, not to make them think or to make them uncomfortable in ways that aren’t conducive to getting them to hand over the moolah.

As for Central and South America, I don’t know what people down there are supposed to do. I thought at first that he realized suggesting avocados, chocolate and cocaine would have been a step too far. But I checked his blog and two most recent entries about the benefits chocolate and the joys of avocado ice cream. Then I remembered he’s a quack.

At one point, Dr Amy Myers casually distinguishes between the gut bacteria Asian people need (because “they” eat a lot of seaweed) and the gut bacteria that “we” need. You don’t have to glance around the room to know who “we” are.

Neither does one have to glance at a map to know how completely fucking stupid such an assertion is.

There was even – to switch TV comedies for a moment – a course of leeches:

There is one moment I can’t stop thinking about. Near the end, Kerr casually mentions that she once tried leech therapy as part of her wellness practice: “One was on my coccyx because it’s really good to, like, detox the body, rejuvenate the body…

She popped one down her cod-piece breeches.

At any rate, there are a number of legitimate medical uses for the little suckers, but detoxing the body or curing Blackadder of his crush on his manservant aren’t on the list.

… I had a leech facial as well. And I kept the leeches. They’re in my koi pond.”

I’m going to start a maggot farm. When someone creates the quackified version of what is politely referred to as larval therapy, I’ll be rich.

However, it seems there was a little something for everyone at the event, even reporters.

Kerr’s body is almost certainly what those people mean when they say “a natural healthy shape”, because our society conflates conventional beauty with health. But, I don’t know – I might be fat, but I’ve never felt like I needed to get an IV drip on a patio in Culver City or put leeches on my butt to suck out toxins, and I’m grateful for that.

I guess Goop did make me feel well after all.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 88

[ 70 ] June 18, 2017 |

This is the grave of Roscoe Conkling.

Born in 1829 in Albany, New York, Roscoe Conkling became the prototypical politician of the Gilded Age. He was born into an elite political family. His father was in the House and was a federal judge and his mother was a cousin of British Lord Chief Justice Alexander Cockburn. He knew Martin Van Buren and John Quincy Adams as a child. He skipped college and went straight into the law and also became involved in Whig politics. He worked locally in Utica for the election of Winfield Scott in 1852 and John C. Frémont in 1856, switching easily from the Whigs to the Republicans by that time. He was elected mayor of Utica in 1858 and to Congress that fall. He served two terms, losing in 1862. He then worked for the War Department for two years before regaining his seat in the 1864 elections. In 1867, he was elected to the Senate.

As a senator he became a leading ally of Ulysses S. Grant. He also became a notorious purveyor of patronage politics, with all the corruption that involved. He was pretty good on Reconstruction issues and shepherded the Civil Rights Act of 1875 through the Senate. Grant offered Conkling a position of the Supreme Court, but he refused, believing his powers more important in the Senate. He hated the reform element of the party that led to the Liberal Republican movement of 1872 and their alliance with the Democrats to run Horace Greeley (of all people, what a ridiculous nominee not that any living American knows anything about that) against Grant in 1872. Those Republican reformists were both anti-corruption and wanted the Republican Party to stop caring about black people. Conkling didn’t really like them for the latter reason, but it was his love of patronage that really made him hate them. When the Hayes Administration tried to clean up some of the grotesque corruption of the Gilded Age, Conkling turned on it. When Hayes tried to dump Chester Arthur, a close Conkling ally, from his position as collector of the New York Customs House, a massive source of patronage power, Conkling held up the replacement nominees for 2 years and it wasn’t until 1879 that new people were confirmed, over Conkling’s objections even then.

In 1880, Conkling fought for a third term for Grant and hated the other two possible nominees, James Blaine and John Sherman. When that was impossible, he was unhappy with James Garfield, who was a compromise candidate settled upon by the Blaine and Sherman factions to defeat the Grant faction. His good friend Chester Arthur was named VP, basically at Conkling’s choosing for losing the presidential slot. Garfield then sought to isolate Conkling, naming his enemies to many slots, including the New York patronage positions. Furious at being denied the “right” for senators to control patronage in their own states, he resigned from the Senate in 1882, sure he would be reinstated by the New York Senate. Whoops, didn’t happen. This was all part of a break between Conkling and Arthur over civil service reform, which Arthur supported to Conkling’s outrage. Arthur actually then nominated Conkling to the Supreme Court later that year. He was confirmed by the Senate and then decided he wouldn’t do it. So he went home to New York and practice law.

Conkling also loved him the ladies. He was married to utter scumbag 1868 Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour’s sister but carried on several affairs fairly openly, most notably with the daughter of Salmon Chase, causing her divorce. Supposedly her husband chased Conkling around their Rhode Island estate with a shotgun. He was pretty famous and many relatively famous people of the next generation were named after him. Supposedly, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of them but his father hated Conkling and named him that because he didn’t think the child was his and as Conkling was a known philanderer, it was a shot at Fatty’s mother. This sounds too pat a story of a comedian’s birth origins to be true, but who knows.

Unlike most wealthy Gilded Age men, Conkling was very into physical fitness and an aggressive masculinity that would later be picked up on by a new generation of men such as Theodore Roosevelt. This had its downside though. When the Great Blizzard of 1888 struck New York, Conkling was downtown. He tried to take a coach home but it got stuck in the snow. So Conkling, impatient and wanting to prove himself, decided he would walk home in the blizzard. He made it as far as Union Square. He collapsed, got pneumonia, and died a month later.

Roscoe Conkling is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica, New York.

This post begins Graveapaoolza. In other words, I have such an enormous backlog of these things that I am going to do a grave a day over the next week in order to chip into this before I myself die and have like a thousand grave posts sadly unwritten.

A criminal case that did have a surprise ending

[ 78 ] June 18, 2017 |

I was certain the very famous man who admitted he bought sedatives in order to sexually assault women would be found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman after giving her sedatives.

The high-profile case accusing Bill Cosby of aggravated indecent assault ended in a mistrial Saturday after a Pennsylvania jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision.

The outcome leaves one of America’s most recognized entertainers as well as his accusers without vindication, but prosecutors immediately announced they will retry the case.

About an hour into the sixth day of deliberations, Judge Steven O’Neill declared that the jury of seven men and five women were hopelessly deadlocked in a legal battle closely watched by the public as well as dozens of women who have accused Cosby of similar misconduct in the past.

Richard Spencer – Angry again, angry again

[ 51 ] June 17, 2017 |

The complaint of the Punching Bag Who Walks Like a Man may sound familiar. That’s because like all tough right wing types he’s a natural born whiner.

November – Disappointed because the Day-Glo Dickhead disavowed white supremacists (except Bannon).

December – Distances his dapper Nazis from Napoleorange.

April – Disappointed the Half Wit in the White House ordered air strikes in Syria.

Clearly there’s a pattern and that pattern is whining because tRump is being mean to him. But I’m glad he whined again to TPM, otherwise the world might not have been treated to Cuckito ergo sum.

Milwaukee’s dungeon master decides he won’t take job he says he was offered

[ 60 ] June 17, 2017 |


“Late Friday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. formally notified Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly that he had rescinded his acceptance of the agency’s offer to join DHS as an assistant secretary,” said Craig Peterson, an adviser to Clarke.


“Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role.”

That’s nice. How about aggressively playing in traffic?

The American Political Order Is In Great Shape

[ 100 ] June 17, 2017 |

Your daily reminder that the President of the United States is a stereotypical Fox News watcher/premium lead for conservative spam marketers:

Trump advisers and confidants describe the president as increasingly angry over the investigation, yelling at television sets in the White House carrying coverage and insisting he is the target of a conspiracy to discredit — and potentially end — his presidency. Some of his ire is aimed at Rosenstein and investigative special counsel Robert Mueller, both of whom the president believes are biased against him, associates say.

Dianne Feinstein, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire both Mueller and Rosenstein.

“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired,” Feinstein said. “That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office.”

Aides have counseled the president to stay off Twitter and focus on other aspects of his job. They have tried to highlight the positive reviews he received Wednesday when he made a statesman-like appearance in the White House to address the nation after Rep. Steve Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice.

Yet Trump’s angry tweets on Friday underscored the near-impossible challenge his advisers and legal team have in trying to get him to avoid weighing in on an active probe.

The man actually TiVos morning cable news wankfests so he can watch and yell at them in the evening. James Comey may think that standing up to Trump ex post facto means history will remember him fondly. but he’s dead wrong.

That Time Connor Kilpatrick Told Michael Tracey to Hold His Beer

[ 303 ] June 17, 2017 |

About 90% settled  in at the new abode and I’m planning a post about my old one, which I’ll remember very fondly. In the meantime, please enjoy this:

USS Fitzgerald

[ 92 ] June 17, 2017 |

So this happened.

Seven sailors are missing and three more, including the commanding officer, were confirmed injured after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel early Saturday off the coast of Japan.

Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who took the helm of the Yokosuka-based destroyer last month, is in stable condition after being evacuated by helicopter to a naval hospital in Yokosuka, Navy officials said.

The other two injured sailors, who received lacerations and bruises, were flown to the same hospital, 7th Fleet announced on its Facebook page.

The collision happened about 2:30 a.m. Saturday about 56 nautical miles (roughly 64 miles) southwest of Yokosuka near the Izu Peninsula, a Navy statement said.

Very difficult at this point to say what happened; the MV was steering what looked like an erratic course, and it’s unclear what kind of information environment the bridge crew on USS Fitzgerald faced.

This Day in Labor History: June 17, 1864

[ 14 ] June 17, 2017 |

On June 17, 1864, the Washington Arsenal exploded in Washington, D.C, killing around 20 workers. This tragic event highlighted the growing dangers of the American workplace and the indifference to workplace safety that proved deadly again and again in Civil War munitions factories.

Even before the Civil War, workplace safety in the American workplace was shockingly nonexistent. In a society where untimely death was pretty common, the nation largely gave a collective shrug to workplace deaths. This is how courts could rule that employers had no responsibility for workplace safety or over 1000 workers could die building the Erie Canal without causing a crisis of any kind.

During the Civil War, the industrialization of the United States grew rapidly, setting the stage for the coming Gilded Age and preparing for the growth in the American economy over the next several decades. But the Civil War certainly did not lead to any special preparations for workplace safety. In fact, the Civil War was pretty bad for northern workers. They faced rapidly rising inflation far outpacing wages, long workdays, and military intervention against early attempts to strike, particularly in factories involved in production for the war. The tiny American union movement would grow significantly during war, laying the groundwork for the resistance to capitalism that would become so striking during the 1870s.

For obvious reasons, a big growth area in the economy during the Civil War was in weapons production. With the growing wartime economy, new opportunities for women’s work arose, but these were not really opportunities so much as they were desperate choices made for sheer survival. Many of these women were working a hard, dangerous job because their husbands were among the Civil War wounded or dead. The wages were OK for average women’s wages at the time–$50-60 a month–but with inflation skyrocketing, the real wages declined over time. Those wages were also only half as much as men made. The combined average costs of rent and food was about $50 a month, forcing women to live together to save money. Young girls made up a large percentage of the workforce at armories, often Irish girls without other options except prostitution.

At the Washington Arsenal, which is now Fort McNair, near Nationals Park in Washington, dozens of women labored filling cartridges with gunpowder in what was called the choking room. They were not allowed to talk so they could focus on placing precisely 50 grams of gunpowder in each cartridge. This was dangerous labor. In 1862, an explosion at a Pittsburgh arsenal killed 78 workers. It was June in Washington so it was hot and crowded, the women wearing the heavy clothing of the era. Unbelievably, these very workers at the Washington Arsenal had just sent a $170 contribution to raise a monument for the victims in Pittsburgh just before they would die themselves.

June 17 was a particularly hot day. The arsenal made a variety of ammunition for heavy artillery, muskets, carbines, handguns, and other weaponry. It also made fireworks. With July 4 coming up, the arsenal was preparing its supply of fireworks. The superintendent, Thomas Brown, was known as a “pyrotechnist” with 20 years of experience making fireworks. He laid out some star flares to dry near the workers. They had a practical use too, as they could be used to illuminate Confederate positions, but these were to be used for the Independence Day celebrations. This was a bad idea. There were a lot of stars and he set them very close together. Around noon, something set off the flares. Probably it was because the intense heat and the sun shining on them sparked them. They started to explode near the gunpowder.

The Arsenal actually had written safety regulations. It said that there should not be more gunpowder in the choking room than necessary. As per usual in these years, no one paid attention to this. The choking room exploded thanks to all the gunpowder laying around. Some workers escaped. Those on the opposite side of the building jumped out of a second floor window and survived. But somewhere around 20 workers died that day. It was never clear given how poorly employers even kept track of their employees during these years. A few died immediately, some survived for a short time. Eight were burned beyond recognition. About twelve were sent to the hospital on site that was already filled with the wounded from the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. Yet this could have been far worse. Had the fire spread to the magazines, the explosion and death toll would have been epic. As it was, it took an hour to put out the fire, which was helped by being right on the Potomac River.

That these women had to wear hoop skirts on the job in order to ensure the modesty of the women workers made the disaster worse. Not only were they heavy and made it hard to move but because the fabric was held in place, it made them quite flammable. The youngest girl who died was a 12-year old girl named Sally McElfresh. The event touched many who felt these women sacrificed for the nation. Abraham Lincoln attended the funeral. So did Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. There was a long funeral procession attended by thousands.

Typical of the period, Superintendent Brown faced no consequences. There was a coroner’s jury that rebuked him for his carelessness, but that was about it. After all, it was not against the law to commit extreme negligence when it came to workers’ lives. Workers died all the time from employers’ indifference, whether accidental or not. They faced no legal consequence. The surviving families received small amounts of compensation. A statue was erected to honor the dead.

Another explosion took place at the Washington Arsenal in 1865. At least eight men died that day. Nothing seems to have changed after that event either. The Confederacy also suffered arsenal explosions in Richmond and Augusta, killing a number of women and children in both.

The image at the top of this post is a picture of the women working at the Arsenal. Many of them died that day.

This is the 229th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

…. I happen to be in Washington for a conference. So I wandered out to the Arsenal explosion monument to pay my respects.

He thinks too much: such men are dangerous

[ 90 ] June 17, 2017 |

You can’t make this stuff up.

Right-wing activists attempted to shut down the controversial performance of Julius Caesar that portrays the titular character as Donald Trump.

There is, of course, a certain pathos to self-proclaimed conservatives seeking to halt—through disruption—a performance of a classic work of literature by one of the most important authors in the western literary canon. I’m sure on most days at least some of these people complain about politically correct snowflakes on college campuses destroying western culture, what with their ‘trigger warnings’ and calls to ‘decolonize the curriculum.’

But the lunacy doesn’t end there. Julius Caesar is, of course, a tragedy. A group of conspirators, jealous and fearful that he will end the Roman Republic, brutally assasinate Caesar. But instead of saving the Republic, their actions precipitate its downfall. One has to be a bit dense to see this (somewhat lazy) interpretive decision as inciting violence against Trump.

But it gets better. So much better. There are the now-mandatory misspellings. And jokes about gerbils. And crackbrained attempts to claim that the performance incited the attack on the Republican congressional baseball team.

And then it goes completely off the rails.


Also, of course, no witches were burned in Salem or in The Crucible.

So, in summary:

1. A bunch of far-right agitators tried to shut down a play that represents Trump as a master military leader and politician, brought down by jealousy and fear, and whose murder ushers in dictatorial empire. Indeed, the first performance of Julius Caesar I ever saw had Marc Antony et al. switch to Nazi uniforms once the struggle following Caeser’s assasination gets underway. Subtle, I know.

2. One of those involved provides an analogy designed to demonstrate to liberals why he’s on the side of justice. What’s he do? He messes up the title of a rather famous American play—one that uses the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for McCarthyism. Even better, he suggests casting Hilary Clinton in the role of one of the characters falsely accused of being a witch. Because why not confirm every stereotype about Trumpistas?

Perhaps we are witnessing a performance art piece intended to showcase—in a negative light—the triumph of Trumpism over conservative intellectualism?

If not, all I can say is that it’s a very good thing the play wasn’t a reiminganing of Sir Ian MacKellen’s version of Richard III for the Trump era.


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