Archive for March, 2015

A Clear Case of Treason?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on March 13, 2015 by playthell

Joe Cotton

Tom Cotton: The Pugnacious Dork who is marching us into a war with Iran

 Some Constitutional Scholars think so and I agree

Anyone listening to the chatter on the right of our political spectrum will no doubt have heard the phrase “according to the Constitution” ad nauseum.  It is quoted among this crowd as if it were Holy Scripture.  Which, ironically, is quite fitting since the exact meaning of both is ambiguous and therefore open to multiple interpretations and endless speculation.  Hence many students of the evolution and character of this foundational document disagree on its meaning.

The letter to the leaders of Iran, written by Tom Cotton, an iconoclastic freshman Senator from Arkansas, and signed by 46 other Republican Senators who should have known better, advising their leaders against concluding the nuclear weapons agreement President Barack Obama is presently negotiating, begs questions about the constitutionally mandated division of powers between the various branches of government – the executive and legislative branches in the present case – and whether Senators must obey federal laws in the exercise of their prerogatives.

The law in question here is the Logan Act of 1799, which expressly states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

In the opinion of Temple University Law Professor Peter Spiro: “This letter seems squarely to satisfy the elements of the law.” If this is true, then 47 members of the US Senate are guilty of treason!  Let us consider the text of the Republican letter.  Titled An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the letter states:

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress. First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.”

First of all the letter is an embarrassment because of its misreading of the constitution on the relative powers of the President and the Congress in the conduct of US foreign relations.  Although much is made of the fact that Senator Cotton is a Harvard Law School grad, he nevertheless made a critical error when he argues that treaties with foreign countries must be “ratified” by two thirds of the Senate.  One need only look at the explication of the role of the President and Congress provided on the Senate Webpage – which is easily accessible to the hubristic Senator – to reognize that he has inflated the Senate’s role.  The revelant passage reads:

“The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification.”

He is also dangerously wrong on his interpretation of the constitutional mandate for the Senate to “Advise and Consent” on questions of foreign relations.  For in the matter of treaties the Senate’s role is not invoked until after the President has completed his negotiations with a foreign power.  Hence what these Senator’s did was clearly illegal!  By my close reading of the Logan Act, I think Professor Spiro is right on the money in his opinion that the Republican letter “seems squarely to satisfy the elements of the law.”

As with all important federal legislation the intention of the architects of the law must be understood and considered in our interpretation of its meaning.  The Logan Act is named after Dr. George Logan, a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature that was elected to the US Senate, who attempted to interfere in US foreign policy by holding negotiations with the French government in 1798, just 15 years after John Jay negotiated the Treaty of Paris officially ending the Revolutionary War with England.

However the Bon homie that characterized the relationship between the French and the English colonies in North America during the revolutionary era had deteriorated to the point where the two nations were on the brink of war by 1798. This situation led the recently formed United State of America to pass several laws in order to insure the security of a country composed of many nationalities, some of them Frenchmen or sympathizers with France.

Hence Congress passed the “Alien and Sedition Acts” to prevent those who supported France from abusing the right to free speech through open advocacy of the French cause, especially aliens. They also passed the Naturalization Act which changed the residency requirements for naturalized citizens from five to fifteen years, and they passed the Logan Act to prevent American citizens from meddling in matters of foreign diplomacy, which is clearly defined as a presidential prerogative.

Viewed from this historical perspective the violation of the letter and spirit of the Logan Act by the Republicans becomes even clearer when we look at Supreme Court precedents in their ruling on the Constitutional separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches of our Federal Government: which is based on a three-fold division of power between the Executive, Judicial and Legislative departments that “check and balance” each other.

One of the definitive rulings cited by legal scholars on this question is the opinion of Justice George Sutherland, in the 1936 case of the United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. “The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation” the Justice concluded.  “He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates.  Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude and congress itself is powerless to invade it.” So there you have it.

Although given the politics of the situation it is unlikely that these Republican Senators will be prosecuted. Yet their scandalous attempts to subvert the President’s efforts to conduct foreign policy negotiations with the intent of achieving a treaty with Iran regarding nuclear weapons, and avoid starting yet another war in the Muslim world, exceeds their constitutional authority and clearly violates the Logan Act.  Since they all pledged under oath to “defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” they are guilty of treason most foul!

However it is a safe bet that they will not be prosecuted for their crimes against the nation; indicting 47 Senators of the opposite party for treason would be too easy for right-wing bloviators in the media such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their spawn to make it look like a partisan bloodbath.  Yet the reaction from the print press, even the conservative newspapers, has been caustic; the Republican Senators have become the objects of sustained ridicule.  The New York Daily News, a major daily with a large working class readership, greeted the Senators’ letter with the bold headline “Traitors!”

The intensity and contempt of the major media has conspicuously shaken many of those who signed Joe cotton’s letter.  Dr. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reported last evening that some of the Republican Senators are now saying that they were not serious, and all the hoopla  results from the fact that “the Obama Administration can’t take a joke.”  It is clear that many realize that they have screwed up and it could cost them a shot at the presidency in the next election.  Hence the best way to chastise these reckless Republicans is to whip their asses at the polls.  Alas, while I have no doubt that these scoundrels have committed treason….I believe the problem will be solved politically: at the ballot box not the courtroom.

Captain America to the Rescue!

Tom Cotton

A real head ass Southern Peckerwood!
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Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road
March 13, 2015

Timbuktu: A Timely and Important Film

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags on March 11, 2015 by playthell
Timbuktu - the movieA Beautiful Malian Family destroyed by Islamic Zealots

 Portrait of an African Tragedy

More often than not the power of cinema is put to frivolous ends and questionable purposes.  In the US the cinema is viewed as an entertainment business with no higher purpose than providing entertainment and cheap thrills from the power of special effects, which often are more important to the film’s success than the story.  And since the major movie companies are driven by the imperatives of commerce rather than culture, as the production cost of these technically complex films keep getting higher and higher they will receive the majority of the company’s promotional dollars, crowding other films that deal with down to earth human stories out of the market.

However in other parts of the world filmmakers view their artistic medium as a powerful weapon for social change and a means of capturing and recapitulating their history in a powerful way that can touch people who have not acquired literacy, and they are making powerful consequential movies for a fraction of the costs.  This is what the filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissakohas has achieved in his powerful new movie Timbuktu which was released on January 28, 2015.

With a gripping screenplay written by Abderrahmane Sissako and Kessen Tall,  stunning cinematography and  hauntingly beautiful Malian music composed by Amine Bouhafa, and outstanding actors the film has won several awards and provides a close up view of the Jihadist takeover of a portion of Northern Mali.  It meticulously recounts the imposition of a crude fundamentalist version of Sharia Law, which they believed was handed down from God/Allah to his last prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, to whom he dictated the Koran, Islam’s equivalent of the Christian Bible, directly.

Although there have been profusion of stories of the Jihadist rampage and the outrages that resulted all over the Middle East and Africa – North, East and West – which catalogue their atrocities, this movie puts flesh, bones and faces on the victims as they come to life through the magic this movie, which I believe is destined to play a heroic role in fighting the murderous Islamic fanatics.

One gets the impression that the filmmaker keenly understands the danger of writing about Islamic fanatics when he fudges the issues he so deftly handled in the movie by responding to a query about the message of the movie with this bit of saccharine sophistry, “I didn’t want to have a Manichean attitude, to have the good on one side and the bad on the other.”  I saw no indication of any attempt to produce the kind of wishy washy movie of the sort that he describes here; the portrait of the Jihadists is one of unrelenting evil and totalitarian oppression.

It is a true to life rendition of who the Jihadists are.   Hence I am forced to speculate as to Sissakohas motives for clearly misrepresenting his own work, and I fear it is a hesitation to insult this murderous mob that appear to have tentacles everywhere.  The long time Fatwa on novelists Shalmon Rushdie, recent assassinations of the editors at the Parisian magazine Charlie Eghbo serves as a stark reminder that these Islamic zealots will not hesitate to murder artists and intellectual who criticize them.  Making this movie was in the nature of things a courageous act, but he should not be expected to be martyred for it.

From its opening frames the movie launches a scathing critique of Islamic Jihadism, and it remains unceasing through the movie.  I saw not a single scene where the Islamic militants are shown to have any virtue, courage nor honor.  They are depicted as the murderous barbarians that they are.  For example the film raises a fundamental issue regarding the deep cultural conflict between indigenous African cultures and Islamic dogma imported from the Arabs when it shows the Islamic Jihadists destroying a pile of  classical African sculpture that is celebrated around the world because it was produced by a people with polytheistic beliefs that contradict Islamic beliefs about art.  This conflict is symbolic of the historical relationship between African and Arab civilization.

These works of art have been roundly praised by art critics and students of the tradition around the world.  But the Arab Islamo-Fascists and their brainwashed black lackeys intended to destroy all of these priceless treasures, just as the Taliban destroyed the magnificent colossi hewn into the side of a mountain by blowing them up because they were carved before the rise of Islam and manifested the pagan values of their creators.  It is the objective of the Islamist to convert the whole world to their version of Islam and establish a global Caliphate – i.e. an Islamic state under Sharia governed by an absolute ruler whose authority comes not from the consent of the ruled by from God!

As is their standard procedure wherever Islamic fanatics take over a country these zealots banned smoking, drinking, music and art. They demanded that women cover themselves from head to toe, even wearing gloves and socks in the hot Malian climate and the sentenced offenders to public punishments ranging from floggings for men and women and stoning to death after burying their victims up to the neck in sand and casting stones at their heads.  Adultery was punishable by death.  The movie does a powerful job of recreating the ad hoc religious courts in which citizens were tried and sentenced by armed, ignorant, religious fanatics armed with the most deadly modern weapons, either acquired on the black market or taken from defeated troops armed by the US and other western countries.

The power of this film lies in the way Sissakohas approached his subject.  There were few speeches by political or religious figures; instead he took us inside the daily lives of the characters within their communities before the arrival of the Jihadists, who were foreign Arab invaders that recruited local men upon fear of being put to death should they resist.  And he employed the barren but strangely beautiful landscape to powerful effect.  The result is that we are there; we witness the intimate lives of the people as if we were invited guest.   The film captures the serene life of the rural society before the arrival of the soldiers of Allah, which magnifies the horror as they terrorize the community with their whacko interpretation of the Koran.

Although much of the Malian population was Muslim, they followed a different doctrine.  This is indicative of a raging civil war over theology in the Muslim world, and the ease with which one could run afoul of the new Koranic laws is represented in the film by the plight of a group of twenty-something men and women who are chilling out in their living room playing on string lutes and singing traditional songs.  One of the Jihadists heard music and called in a complaint to the local headquarters, and they dispatched a heavily armed patrol on a search and destroy mission against the unoffending young artists as if they were armed forces who had attacked them.  For their religious “crime” of making music they were arrested, taken from their homes and imprisoned, then sentenced to from forty to eighty lashes with a whip in the public square.  The floggings and stoning’s are so convincingly st age that we experience the horror of the victims.

A Singer being flogged in the public Square

Timbuktu V

All she did was Sing!

Of the myriad horrors revealed in this movie, none renders a more powerful indictment of Jihadists than the tragic story of the musician Kidane, who lived on the edge of the vast Sahara desert – which as large as the entire USA – with his beautiful wife and darling daughter.  He has chosen to remain in his simple albeit comfortable tent despite the fact that all of his neighbors have fled as the Jihadist take over the region.  A religious man with an optimistic outlook on life Kidane, movingly played by Ibrahim Ahmed, believes that he can get along with the Jihadist and that one day they will be gone and life can return to normal.  He was wrong, and a single mistake resulting from a conflict with his neighbor resulted in the death of Kidane and his wife at the hands of a Jihadist firing squad, leaving their wonderful little girl alone in the world facing a horrific future.

Kidane before the Jihadist Court

Timbuktu = Trial

A harrowing lesson in Sharia Law

This movie leaves no stone unturned regarding the horrors of the Jihadist and the director made a wise decision in choosing to reveal these horrors through the lives of citizens that we came to know well enough to feel their pain.  It is a powerful reminder that we cannot pretend that these people don’t exist or that we can escape their wrath…much of which is directed at the USA and justifiably so. Nevertheless, regardless of our sins against the Islamic peoples, we cannot sit idly by and watch the Jihadists devour entire areas of Africa and the Middle East and build a haven for terrorists to attack anywhere in the world….including the new Freedom Tower in New York.

Perhaps the left, many of whom believe that a Boko Haram  victory in Nigeria or Mali is less offensive than those governments forming alliances with France, England or the US to defeat them, will learn something from this movie. If nothing else they should learn that the modern Islamic Jihad is real, it’s murderous, it’s spreading and it can only be stopped with superior force of arms!  Indeed, as the movie shows so poignantly: the rise of militant Islam on that continent is a modern African tragedy.

 An actual picture of the expulsion of the Arab Jihadists
 Rejoicing expulsion of Islamis from Timbuctoo
The African people of Timbuktu take out their drums and rejoice!
(Double Click below to see the News documentary)
“The Quill and the Sword: How the Islamist took Timbuktu”
https://youtu.be/WxB6qy2DMY8

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 Playthell G. Benjamin
 On the Road
March 11, 2015

 

At the Track with El Grande Renaldo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports!, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 3, 2015 by playthell

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David Hardiman, Virtuoso Trumpeter, Professor,  San Francisco Jazz Master

 Watching the Sport of the Gods at Golden Gate

 When I agreed to meet my main man Renaldo Ricketts aka El Grande Renaldo – poet, painter and San Francisco Bon vivant – at Golden Gate Field I hadn’t been to a race track in over thirty years.  Not because of any crazy notions about the horses being treated “inhumanely,” since I believe humane treatment ought to be for humans although it is seldom achieved.  And horses well….they should be treated like horses…Duh?    I was kept away from the track by weightier considerations.  Since I am a passionate horse lover and hold a longtime fascination with the equestrian arts, I attended those marvelous horse shows at Madison Square Garden and often rode my own horses.

However I never missed the running of the Triple Crown Races on big screen televisions and thought I had the best seat in the house until yesterday, when I found myself standing tight down by the edge of the track – so close you could feel the momentum of those powerful Thoroughbred horses as they galloped by.  And since I had my camera with me I was happy as a hog in slop.  Renaldo had invited me to join him at the track on other occasions when I was visiting the Bay Area.   But I always played past it.  But this time it was on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, a landmark in the life of anybody these days, but most especially out spoken high spirited black men like Renaldo.

So I thought what tha hell; I’ll go hang out with my buddy and watch some great equine athletes do their thing, which is run faster and longer than any animal on the planet.  While I like to watch the horses Renaldo loves to play them, and is one of the few people who is successful at it.  The way he does it strikes me as some strange conjuration that’s part art, part science, and part Mumbo Jumbo, which makes it beyond the reach of most rational beings and has led to wreck and ruin for may who tried to unlock the secret to winning money playing the horses.  It is a mystery that I long ago decided was beyond the realm of my comprehension and I wouldn’t give a cripple crab a crutch to wager on a nag!

I grew up amid horses, my grandfather was an excellent horseman and my uncle was the town blacksmith in St. Augustine Florida, the nation’s oldest city, where people still rode horses through the street when I was a boy.  Hence I not only learned how to care for horses and handle them whether hitched to a carriage or under saddle, but to shoe them too.  I know a lot about horses, which is why I don’t bet on them.  Horses are living creatures that have a mind of their own and can be moody just like humans; or they just might not feel well, but you never know when they will sit down on you.

I’d rather play the lottery, where all I need is a dollar and a dream and one hit can put me on easy street.  However gambling wise guys know that playing the horses offers much better odds, but to win you have got to work at it and do some study.   In the photo essay below you will witness the intensity of the bettors, as the scan the TV monitors that adorn the walls everywhere, and the disciplined concentration with which they study the racing forms.

El Grande Renaldo is something of a legend at Golden Gate Field, the lovely race track nestled on the banks of the San Francisco Bay, especially in the Second Floor Lounge,  where the bartenders and barmaids treat him as an old friend and his seat at the end of the bar is practically reserved.  He was generous in providing my drink of choice, rum and coke with olives and cherries, while he stuck to light beer and sparkling water.  Like most of the people at the track Renaldo is all business.  He is not only placing bets on races all over the country and following them on the many TV monitors about.  It was fascinating to watch.

However there were many fascinating episodes on that adventure at the track.  It began with the ride on the shuttle bus that ferries people back and forth from the BART train station to Golden Gate Field.  The driver, a Pacific Islander who looked to be in his late thirties, was a passionate fan of vintage 1950’s Afro-American Rhythm and Blues, especially the southern artists.  So on the way to the race track I heard Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Etta James, Sam Cooke, and James Brown.  They were all original recordings which ran about three minutes and change.  As this was the music that I grew up on it was like a trip back in time, except that back in the day in Florida I would never have been on a bus full of white people grooving to the music and seated next to a white woman with a skirt so short one wrong move and we would have seen her tonsils!

Thus I found myself strolling down memory lane and reflecting  on how dramatically race relations  have changed during my lifetime, not that I need any reminders, after all we have a black family in the White House, everything else pales beside that fact.  I say this without fear of contradiction, despite the verbose ahistorical numb skulls who insist that nothing has changed.   When I arrived at Golden Gate and walked into the vast park I began to have second thoughts as to whether I would actually be able to find Renaldo, but he had assured me in no uncertain terms that he would be where he said he would be.  And he was.

The first thing I heard when I entered the lounge was Renaldo’s voice calling out my name.  There he was in his seat at the end of the bar, impossible to miss with his radiant smile and Falstafian girth, holding forth in his lively loquacious fashion as his fellow travelers looked on.  He asked what I was drinking, introduced me around, and then turned his attention to the next races.  As Renaldo worked his strange alchemy, whereby he turns cardboard tickets into gold the way his Moorish ancestors were rumored to have turned sand into gold back in the day, I wandered down to the edge of the track and began photographing the horse and the humans, who were diverse and of interesting variety.

What was conspicuously absent from the multi-ethnic stew was Afro-American trainers and jockeys.  I’ll bet most people never even notice this, or find it unusual even if they do.  This is because most people who visit race tracks have never seen any significant black presence among the horse handlers.  Yet for many years during the late 19th and early 2th century, Black American Jockeys and trainers dominated the tracks; they owned the Kentucky Derby!  Since I have already written about this in another essay I shall not reiterate it here, for a full discussion of that topic enter “Black Jockeys” in the search engine of this blog.

The point is that they were driven out of the industry by white racist who couldn’t compete with these black masters fairly. And if they had their way Brother Hardiman would not be thrilling the crowds with his wonderful trumpet artistry.  They tried to lay him off but the public wouldn’t stand for it, Renaldo first among them in sparking a letter writing campaign to the management of golden Gate.  The lesson here is that we must be eternally vigilant and ready to battle the forces of white supremacy at all times: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere!

I have often felt that there is a serendipitous quality about how I come to write certain essays.  This is a case in point.  Recently I saw a movie starring Will Smith as a con man who hooks up with a foxy grafter and they paint a fascinating portrait of the high fashion hotties and other characters who hang out a race tracks.  So I was looking closely to see if I recognized any of those types.  However the high point for me was watching all of the beautiful horses; I really got an eyegasm.  Some of them you will see in the photographs below.

A hail fellow well met, everybody greeted Renaldo with a warm vibe, what the French call “bon homie.” But the person that I found most fascinating was the official Bugler at the track who plays the fanfare announcing the races.  I was first struck be the fact that he would play impromptu jazz improvisations during the intermission between races, and they were so hip I wondered who it was.  Well he turned out to be David Hardiman, virtuoso trumpeter, Professor of Music and Director of the San Francisco All-Star Jazz Orchestra.

So when he came out to play his next fanfare Renaldo introduced us and I asked him to play the classic Jazz tune Bugle Call Rag, and he swung it.  I have attached a clip of Hardiman and his orchestra in performance at the bottom of this essay.  Every time I hung with Renaldo in San Francisco it has been a fascinating and culturally enriching experience.  The first time we hung out he took me to the Church of Saint John Coltrane; this time I met one of train’s musical descendants. Hence I knew something fascinating would happen hanging out at the track with El Grande Renaldo!

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 After Playing the classic “Bugle Call Rag” at my Request
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The Bugler and I became fast Friends
 We had been Properly Introduced by a Mutual Friend
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El Gran Renaldo: San Francisco artist and Bon Vivant!
 It Was a Stylish Crowd

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 Filled with Free Thinking Fashionistas!
 Folks Still Wear Hats…….
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By the San Francisco Bay
 Even Barely Legal Young Foxes
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Be Rockin Fly Sky Pieces
 Many Mexican Playas Rock Cowboy Hats …

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 …and they play em to the Max!
 Harry Reems Jr Sported a Fedora
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 Played off by a Handle Bar Mustache
 And the Star Girls
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Bedecked themselves in finery
 Then Strutted their Stuff….
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…..before the High Rollers
 Some Fly Girls….
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 Put themselves conspicuously on Display
 While Others…..
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 Are Low Key
 Most People Came to Bet on the Races

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I came to watch these Marvelous Equines
 Among Racing Wise Guys…..Nothing is left to Chance

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They study racing forms as if they were Talmudic Text
 Even as they dine on wine and swine

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They keep their eyes on the prize
  Renaldo has a special spot in the Second Floor Lounge
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From whence he monitors multiple races and watch his fortunes rise or fall
 He has felt the Thrill of Victory…..

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 ……and the Agony of Defeat!
 Man’s Best Friend….The King of Beasts!
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Thoroughbreds can run longer and faster than any animal on earth!
 The Jockeys are cool, calm and collected
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As they wait to board their mo
The Boss Bugler Presented a Fanfare
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To Announce Every Race
 And what splendid Races they Were!
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The ran like they were running for their lives!
Until One Breaks Away From the Pack

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And takes the Money
 The Horses build up such speed
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 They need time to slow down
The Losers are quickly unsaddled
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And returned to the paddock 
While the Winning Steed

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Prances around like a Conquering Hero
 Heading to the Starting Gate

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 Racing Horses are so Hyped they must be Restrained by another Rider
 Ready to Run!
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The Escort’s job is Critical to Keeping the Racers Under control
 Getting them in the Gates require great skill

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 The Calm before the Storm
 The Big Grey took this One!
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A Rare Color for a Thoroughbred
 After the dramatic win…
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…….this champ got all snuggly
 It was just another Day for the Big Gray

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I marvel at his beautiful Conformation

 

In the Winner’s Circle!!!

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 This is what it’s all About!
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Double click to see Hardiman and the Jazz All-Stars

Playthell G. Benjamin 
March 2, 2015
 San Francisco