SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The men are shown with sex toys around their necks, doing skits in blackface, dressed in wigs and women’s clothing and consuming copious quantities of alcoholic beverages…[I]t’s the American power elite at play, as photographed by Alejandro Tomas over 26 years of attending an annual horse ride called Rancheros Visitadores in the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, Calif.
Tomas, a senior faculty member at Seattle Central Community College, has assembled a startling photo essay on leisure activities of leading citizens — including a former president of the United States. The ride of the rich, in early May, is one of several elite gatherings: Best known is the summer Bohemian Grove encampment in Northern California, where Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon once huddled over 1968 presidential plans.
Tomas’ photo essay begins with solemnity. The Rancheros get a send-off at the 204-year-old Mission Santa Ines, where a Franciscan priest conducts a “Blessing of the Horses” and tells their owners to “ride with God.” Leaving the mission, those in the saddle plan their sins. Tomas’ shots show prostitutes arranging assignations with Rancheros during the upcoming weeklong ride. The hookers come from as far away as Las Vegas.
Liaisons take place away from the Ranchero’s three encampments, in nearby towns where some of the locals call them “Los Ranchero Liquidores.” Of course, no women are permitted on or near the trail ride. The campsites — set up by a largely Hispanic work force — are locked from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. But Tomas’ pictures show much away-from-camp cavorting.
Who goes on the ride? The club is exclusive, white and male, with a membership limited to 600. A couple hundred invited guests and guys from the wait list attend each year. Photos from the 1989 ride show Reagan, an honorary member, on a buckboard beside former Interior Secretary William Clark. Gen. P.X. Kelly, commandant of the Marines, also is pictured.
“Ronald Reagan was known as somewhat of a moralist,” Tomas explained. Hence, we have a revealing pair of shots from the ’89 ride. The Gipper is shown looking on at a male skit. In the skit, a blown-up sex doll has been discreetly clad in a bra and panties.
At least the doll was dressed discreetly.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”