Totten: The Truth About “American Sniper”

The Truth About American Sniper
Chris Kyle wasn’t a savage; he killed savages.

by Michael J. Totten, 30 January 2015, City Journal
Photo by Chris Kyle (Facebook)

Clint Eastwood’s new film, American Sniper, is a blisteringly accurate portrayal of the American war in Iraq. Unlike most films in the genre, it sidesteps the politics and focuses on an individual: the late, small-town Texan, Chris Kyle, who joined the Navy SEALs after 9/11 and did four tours of duty in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. He is formally recognized as the deadliest sniper in American history, and the film, based on his bestselling memoir, dramatizes the war he felt duty-bound to fight and his emotionally wrenching return home, with post-traumatic stress.

The movie has become a flashpoint for liberal critics. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore dismissed the film out-of-hand because snipers, he says, are “cowards.” “American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds,” comic actor Seth Rogen tweeted, referring to a fake Hitler propaganda film about a Nazi sniper, though he backtracked and said he actually liked the film, that it only reminded him of Nazi propaganda. Writing for the Guardian, Lindy West is fair to Eastwood and the film but cruel to its subject. Kyle, she says, was “a hate-filled killer” and “a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.”

The Navy confirms that Kyle shot and killed 160 combatants, most of whom indeed had brown skin. While he was alive, he said that he enjoyed his job. In one scene in the movie, Kyle, played by a bulked-up Bradley Cooper, refers to “savages,” and it’s not clear if he means Iraqis in general or just the enemies he’s fighting.

But let’s take a step back and leave the politics aside. All psychologically normal people feel at least some hatred for the enemy in a war zone. This is true whether they’re on the “right” side or the “wrong” side. It’s not humanly possible to like or feel neutral toward people who are trying to kill you. Race hasn’t the faintest thing to do with it. Does anyone seriously believe Kyle would have felt differently if white Russians or Serbs, rather than “brown” Arabs, were shooting at him? How many residents of New York’s Upper West Side had a sympathetic or nuanced view of al-Qaida on September 11, 2001? Some did—inappropriately, in my view—but how many would have been able to keep it up if bombs exploded in New York City every day, year after year?

Kyle had other reasons to hate his enemies, aside from their desire to kill him. In American Sniper, we see him in Fallujah and Ramadi fighting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq, the bloody precursor to ISIS. His immediate nemesis is “the Butcher,” a fictional character whose favorite weapon is a power drill. The Butcher confronts an Iraqi family who spoke to Americans and says “if you talk to them, you die with them.” He tortures their child to death with his drill.

Kyle kills a kid, too, but in a radically different context. The boy is running toward Americans with a live grenade in his hand. “They’ll fry you if you’re wrong,” his spotter tells him. “They’ll send you to Leavenworth.” He’s right. Kyle would have been fried, at least figuratively, if he shot an innocent, unarmed civilian—regardless of age—with premeditation. In a later scene, he has another child in his sights: the child picks up a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and aims it at an American Humvee. “Drop it,” Kyle says under his breath from far away. He doesn’t want to pull that trigger. He’ll shoot if he must to protect the lives of his fellow Americans, but the kid drops the RPG and Kyle slumps in relief. How different he is from the Butcher, who takes sadistic pleasure in torturing children to death—not even children of the American invaders, but Iraqi children.

So yeah, Kyle thought his enemies were savages and didn’t shy away from saying so. There are better words—I’d go with psychopaths myself—but do we need to get hung up on the semantics? Kyle, along with everyone else who fought over there, should be judged for what he did rather than what he thought or what he said. Had Kyle chosen to murder innocent women and children with his rifle, then we could call him a hate-filled killer with justification. But as far as we know, everyone he shot was a combatant.

We do see actual hate-filled killers in this film, and none of them are Americans. The man who shot them did everybody a favor, and that can’t be undone by his vocabulary. What would you think of a man who kills a kid with a power drill right in front of you? Would you moderate your language so that no one at a Manhattan dinner party would gasp? Maybe you would, but Kyle wasn’t at a Manhattan dinner party.

No experience produces as much anxiety as going to war, and anxiety changes the brain chemistry—sometimes temporarily, other times indefinitely. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, it strips away our ability to think in shades of gray. It’s a survival mechanism that evolved to keep us alive; it’s older and more primitive than human consciousness itself. Complex and slow higher-brain reasoning inhibits the fight-or-flight response necessary in times of imminent danger, so the brain is hard-wired to short-circuit around it.

As a journalist in various combat zones, sometimes embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq and other times working solo, I’ve spent time in that mindset. It’s not pleasant and it’s not pretty, but there’s nothing immoral about it. Nearly everyone is susceptible to it. Don’t believe me? Try spending a few months being hunted by ISIS in Syria and watch what it does to your mind. A left-liberal friend of mine in the media business who spent years in the Middle East put it to me this way over beers in Beirut: “I get a lot less liberal when people are trying to kill me.”

I managed to pull myself out of that mental state fairly easily, partly because I experienced no personal trauma and partly because I never spent more than one month at a time in a war zone. But Kyle spent years in that state, and it persisted after he left Iraq and returned home with at least some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. After his final tour, we see him go straight to a bar and order a beer. His wife calls him and is shocked to discover that he’s back in San Diego rather than still overseas. When she asks why he didn’t come home, he says, “I guess I just needed a minute,” and breaks down in tears. Later we see him in his living room staring at a dead television set while horrific sounds of war explode in his head. Kyle absorbed an extraordinary amount of mental and emotional trauma, stress, and anxiety. This makes him a coward? A psychopath? A hate-filled killer? A Nazi? Seriously?

Here’s a medical fact: psychopaths don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress or any other kind of anxiety disorder. And cowards don’t volunteer for four tours of duty in war-torn Iraq. I live in a coastal city in a blue state, like most of the critics of American Sniper. I was raised with the anti-military prejudice common in my community, despite having a military veteran and Republican for a father. (He served in the army during the Vietnam War, on the Korean DMZ, and to this day has a hard time saying anything positive about the military.)

Spending months with the U.S. military in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad—the cities Chris Kyle fought in—shattered every stereotype about soldiers and war I had in my head. Michael Moore, Seth Rogen, and Bill Maher likely wouldn’t change their views of war and foreign policy had they done what I did, but they almost certainly would moderate their view of the men and women who fought on our side, if for no other reason than that the words they use to describe men like Chris Kyle apply tenfold to the killers Chris Kyle brought down with his rifle. The people complaining about this film are those who most need to see it, even if watching American Sniper can’t compare with time in the field with the army and the Marine Corps.

I lost track of how many soldiers and Marines told me of their frustration with an American media that so often describes them as either nuts or victims. If we don’t want to lionize them as heroes—Eastwood doesn’t, and Kyle himself is portrayed as uncomfortable with that kind of praise—we should at least understand and respect what they’ve gone through and save our rhetorical ammunition for the other side’s head-choppers and car-bombers.

Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of six books. His most recent, Tower of the Sun: Stories from the Middle East and North Africa, was published last November.

 

Enten: How Meteorologists Botched The Blizzard Of 2015

Roads and trains were shut down across the New York area Monday night and into Tuesday, and for what? It snowed in New York, but only 9.8 inches fell in Central Park after predictions of a foot and a half or more. What went wrong? Forecasters, including yours truly, decided to go all-in on one weather model: the European model (or Euro).

And the Euro was way off. Other models had this storm pegged.1

Update after update, the Euro (produced by the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting) kept predicting very high snow totals in New York. As of Monday morning’s run, the Euro was still projecting a foot and a half in the city. This consistency was too great for forecasters to ignore, especially because the Euro had been the first to jump on events such as the blizzard of 1996 and Hurricane Sandy. It also was one of the first to predict that a March 2001 storm was going to, like this one, be a bust. The Euro had a good track record.

That consistency, though, hid a great sense of uncertainty. The SREF (or Short-Range Ensemble Forecast), produced by the National Weather Service, collects 21 models (shown below). And Sunday night, the SREF indicated that the storm could be very different. Five of the 21 models in the SREF had (on a 10:1 snow-to-liquid ratio) less than 10 inches of snow falling. Nine of the 21 predicted a foot or less. Only eight could have been said to support 18 or more inches of snow in New York City.

screen-shot-2015-01-27-at-12-55-57-pm

In other words, 57 percent of the SREF members Sunday night suggested the forecasts were far too gung-ho. By Monday afternoon, 11 of the 21 members were on the 10-inches-or-less train. Eight of the 21 still supported big-time snow, but they were a minority.

The SREF members were not alone in being suspicious of so much snow. In Sunday’s 7 p.m. run, all of the other major models were against the Euro.

  • The American Global Forecasting System (GFS), which was recently upgraded, had only about 20 millimeters (or 8 inches of snow on a 10-to-1 ratio) falling for the storm. Although the GFS is considered inferior to the Euro by many meteorologists, the difference is probably overrated. Both models perform fairly well over the long term, as was pointed out in The New York Times this week. The GFS was showing the storm would stall too far northeast for New York to get the biggest snows. Instead, as we are seeing, those larger totals would be concentrated over Boston.
  • The GFS solution probably shouldn’t have been ignored given that it was joined by the Canadian’s global model, which had only 25 millimeters (or about 10 inches on a 10-to-1 ratio) falling as snow. The Canadian’s short-range model was slightly more pessimistic than the global. It predicted only about 20 to 25 millimeters (or 8 to 10 inches on a 10-to-1 ratio) of snow.
  • The United Kingdom’s model, which typically rates as the second-most accurate behind the Euro, was also on the little-snow train in New York. It had only 20 millimeters (or 8 inches on a 10-to-1 ratio) falling as snow.
  • Even the United States’ short-range North American Mesocale (NAM) model was on board with smaller accumulations, though it would change its tune in later runs and agree with the Euro for a time. On Sunday night, the NAM went with the 20 millimeters of snow.

Put it all together, and there was plenty of evidence this storm wouldn’t be record-setting in New York. Of course, forecasters are going to miss on occasion. Forecasting weather is very difficult. Models aren’t perfect, and forecasters should be practicing meteorology and not “modelology.”

That said, there are a few lessons to be learned:

  1. I’m not sure forecasters (including amateurs like myself) did a good enough job communicating to the public that there was great uncertainty in the forecast. This has been a problem for media forecasters who have historically been too confident in predicting precipitation events. A study of TV meteorologists in Kansas City found that when they predicted with 100 percent certainty that it would rain, it didn’t one-third of the time. Forecasters typically communicate margin of error by giving a range of outcomes (10 to 12 inches of snow, for example). In this instance, I don’t think the range adequately showed the disagreement among the models. Perhaps a probabilistic forecast is better.
  2. No model is infallible. Forecasters would have been better off averaging all the model data together, even the models that don’t have a stellar record. The Euro is king, but it’s not so good that we should ignore all other forecasts.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with changing a forecast. When the non-Euro models (except for the NAM) stayed consistent in showing about an inch or less of liquid precipitation (or 10 inches of snow on a 10-to-1 ratio) reaching New York and the Euro backed off its biggest predictions Monday afternoon, it was probably time for forecasters to change their stance. They waited too long; I’m not sure why.

Meteorology deals in probabilities and uncertainty. Models, and the forecasters who use those models, aren’t going to be perfect. In this case, there was a big storm. It just so happened to be confined to eastern Long Island and southern New England. But that’ll do little to satisfy New Yorkers who expected a historic blizzard.

McCarthy: I’m Glad Obama Skipped Paris

 

I’m Glad Obama Skipped Paris
He doesn’t really believe in protecting speech critical of Islam.

Unlike many conservatives, I was not outraged when President Obama directed the Justice Department to end the pretense of “defending” the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I feel the same way about the president’s decision not to join dozens of world leaders in Paris last Sunday to march in favor of free speech and against Islamic-supremacist terror. I’m glad he stayed home. I’m glad he didn’t send Vice President Biden (whose main job is to attend such exhibitions), Secretary of State Kerry (whose main job escapes me), or Attorney General Holder (who was in Paris but still didn’t go).

It’s not too often that the “most transparent administration in history” is, what’s the word? . . . transparent.

 To be sure, in the immediate time frame of these decisions, Obama was moved more by frivolity than by principle. On DOMA, he needed to make a gesture to well-heeled donors on the left who, in their frustration over the president’s too-slow “evolution” on gay marriage, were withholding campaign cash. As for Paris, I suspect Obama wanted to watch the pro-football playoffs (which is why —  shades of Benghazi! — the White House refused to reveal what the Leader From Behind Of The Free World was doing in lieu of attending the free world’s march).

Nevertheless, even if the two decisions were not made for noble reasons, they represented Obama’s true positions. It is important that we know where the president stands.

Obama was always against DOMA, always in favor of gay marriage. He adopted the “evolution” pose because his true position was politically risky. (I resist saying it was politically “unpopular” because gay marriage is not as unpopular as it was just a few years ago). Back then, he wanted to get elected and reelected; he still cared enough to feign support for what he opposed in order to remain viable.

I was glad when Obama came out of the closet, so to speak. Put aside the benefits of transparency. The president’s gamesmanship on DOMA was not cost-free hypocrisy. As Ed Whelan has shown, in ostensibly defending the statute, Holder’s Justice Department was actually sabotaging the litigation — forfeiting some of the best arguments in DOMA’s favor. When the Obama administration switched sides, it was at least possible to replace the Justice Department with counsel who would zealously represent the cause they were advocating.

Of course, the fact that the Justice Department would now be on the other side decreased the pro-DOMA side’s prospects of winning. The reversal may well have swayed the Supreme Court. (See Ed Whelan’s assessment of the incoherent and lawless majority opinion, here.) Even under Holder’s baleful stewardship, the Justice Department remains influential with the federal courts.

Still, it is better to know where policymakers really stand. As I argued in Faithless Execution, most conservatives do not begrudge the Obama administration’s right to disagree with us. We object to the administration’s dishonesty in conveying its policy preferences and its lawlessness in imposing them.

That brings us to Sunday’s march in Paris, where well over a million people — but no one of note from the United States government — gathered to defend free speech.

The show of international solidarity in the immediate aftermath of last week’s jihadist atrocities was very moving. But let’s not kid ourselves: It was rife with hypocrisy. Throughout what has become of Europe under the leadership of those who marched, Charlie Hebdo’s lampooning of Islam is regarded as actionable “hate speech.” Prior to last week, these preening progressives could reliably be found appeasing Islamists by prosecuting publication of the same words and images they made a show of celebrating on Sunday. Are you holding your breath waiting for that to change?

Me neither.

And that’s just the craven Western leaders. Also front and center at the rally were Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. These men are notorious promoters of jihadist terror and the sharia repression of speech it enforces. Erdogan is a significant backer of Hamas and Hezbollah who admonishes that it is a “crime against humanity” to urge Muslims to assimilate and adopt Western principles like free expression. Abbas, who is now in a unity government with Hamas, has a long history of brazenly endorsing terrorism (“resistance”) against Israel.

Both Turkey and the Palestinian Authority — along with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamist governments — are enthusiastic proponents of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s project to impose sharia standards worldwide. As University of Tennessee law professor Robert C. Blitt relates in a USA Today op-ed this week, Islamic law’s repressive blasphemy rules are at the top of their wish list — to impose them on the world as they are imposed “in a vast arc of Islamic countries from Morocco in the West to Indonesia in the East.”

The Obama administration has been the lead Western partner in that project for six years, since the first days of Obama’s presidency.

The Islamist–progressive alliance I explored in The Grand Jihad would have you believe that accommodating sharia blasphemy rules would result in only a narrow limitation on free expression crudely obnoxious toward Islam, the sort of thing few of us would lament — e.g., expression analogous to the nauseating Piss Christ. This, however, is simply false.

Sharia forbids any speech — whether true or not — that casts Islam in an unfavorable light, dissents from settled Muslim doctrine, has the potential to sow discord within the ummah, or entices Muslims to renounce Islam or convert to other faiths. The idea is not merely to ban gratuitous ridicule — which, by the way, sensible people realize government should not do (and, under our Constitution, may not do) even if they themselves are repulsed by gratuitous ridicule. The objective is to ban all critical examination of Islam, period – even though Islamic supremacism, a mainstream interpretation of Islam, happens to be a top national-security threat that we sorely need to examine if we want to understand and defeat our enemies.

 In conjunction with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Obama administration sponsored United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, the patent aim of which was to make negative criticism of Islam (under the vaporous guise of “inciting hostility”) a violation of law in every country. (See here, here, and here.) That would include our country, notwithstanding the First Amendment. That is, if the Obama administration had its druthers, it would be illegal to publish the anti-Muslim satire featured in Charlie Hebdo. As PJ Media’s Patrick Poole notes, Resolution 16/18 follows seamlessly from the OIC’s “10 Year Plan of Action,” adopted in 2005. A key plank of the plan is to “endeavor to have the United Nations adopt an international resolution to counter Islamophobia, and call upon all States to enact laws to counter it, including deterrent punishments.”

Hillary Clinton, as Obama’s secretary of state, not only spearheaded this “Istanbul Process” collaboration with Erdogan’s Turkey and the other OIC governments. As related in my column last weekend, Mrs. Clinton also endorsed the use of coercion to punish expressions of “Islamophobia” — as she put it, “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming.” What better way to circumvent such inconveniences as the First Amendment?

Of course, the Istanbul Process has not occurred in a vacuum. As I summarized in The Grand Jihad, Obama’s vaunted 2009 Cairo speech adopted the Islamist fantasy that Islam — as opposed to Islamic-supremacist extortion in the form of the Barbary pirates — had “been part of America’s story” from the start of our history. Obama took page after page out of the shopworn Islamist playbook: expurgating scriptural passages commanding terror, war, and intolerance in order to portray the Koran as a veritable love poem; attributing to Islam (as opposed to the subject peoples conquered by Islamic raiders) the preservation of the West’s cultural inheritance; intimating that Israel’s homeland was a gift to salve European consciences in the aftermath of the Holocaust, rather than the ancient home of the Jewish nation for centuries before Islam existed; and invoking “resistance,” the weasel word used by Islamists to rationalize terrorism, in addressing jihadist mass-murder attacks.

Obama even echoed the false claim that American law had targeted Muslim “charitable giving,” making it harder for Muslims to fulfill their obligation of zakat. In point of fact, American law does not single out Muslims; it prohibits material support to terrorism. That has been a particular problem for Muslims because, contrary to the oft-repeated fairy tale, zakat is not charitable giving; it is the required financial contribution to the fortification of the ummah (zakat may be given only to Muslims, not to “the poor” in general), and under classical sharia, an eighth of it is supposed to go to violent jihadists (as the authoritative sharia manual Reliance of the Traveller explains: Zakat is paid to “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster”).

Over the objections of the Egyptian government, the administration invited top officials of the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood to Obama’s Cairo speech — notwithstanding that the Brotherhood is rabidly anti-American and had just been proved in an American criminal trial (the Holy Land Foundation case) to be the driving force behind a multimillion-dollar Hamas-support conspiracy. After the Egyptian government fell, Secretary Clinton exerted pressure on the generals then in control to cede power to the elected Brotherhood government, which had vowed to implement a sharia constitution. When the generals agreed to step aside, and the Islamists predictably released terrorist suspects, stepped up the persecution of non-Muslims, and engineered adoption of a sharia constitution, the Obama administration continued to support it with lavish financial and military aid — aid it threatened to cut off only after the Egyptian armed forces, with broad public support, ousted the Brotherhood from power.

Obama is so preternaturally averse to acknowledging jihadist terrorism that he absurdly rebranded the War on Terror as “Overseas Contingency Operations.” His administration refused to acknowledge that the Fort Hood Massacre, in which a brazen jihadist mass-murdered thirteen American soldiers, was jihadist terrorism, insisting, instead, on the ludicrous label of “workplace violence” — belittling the heroism and ultimate sacrifice of those who were about to deploy to battle terrorists in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, when Afghan Muslims rioted and murdered over the accidental destruction of Korans, Obama . . . apologized to Afghanistan.

The president and his underlings purged information about Islamic supremacism and its instigation of terrorism from materials used to train intelligence, military, and law-enforcement personnel. Instructors who lectured on these materials were terminated, as were others who refused to conform to the administration’s delusional, counter-historical, counter-commonsense smiley-face jihad.

Consistent with the administration’s undermining of the First Amendment in the Istanbul process, the Justice Department refused to rule out proposals to criminalize speech unflattering to Islam. In congressional testimony, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to utter the words “radical Islam,” much less to concede the nexus between Islamic-supremacist doctrine and terrorist attacks by Muslims. Even this weekend, after the jihad mass murders in Paris made it politically impossible to resist the word “terrorism” and the discussion of Islam’s connection to it, Holder rejected the phrase “radical Islam” –  blathering, instead, about how terrorists “use a corrupted version of Islam” to rationalize their attacks (while conveniently omitting mention of the authoritative scriptures and mainstream sharia jurists endorsing jihadist terror).

For consultation on national security and to fill top policy positions, the Obama administration has turned to Muslims with intimate ties to Islamic-supremacist groups and extensive histories of condemning American counterterrorism efforts — not just controversial practices like waterboarding but civilian terrorism prosecutions in which Muslim radicals have been convicted, often based on overwhelming evidence. The administration ran roughshod over federal antiterrorism law in issuing a visa to a member of a notorious Islamic terrorist organization in order to consult with him on developments in Egypt. It has similarly consulted with sharia jurists who endorsed terrorist attacks on American military personnel in Iraq. President Obama reversed course in Libya, backing anti-American jihadists in the ouster of a regime that was cooperating with our government against those very jihadists — a coup that has left Libya in ruins while enabling the jihadists to raid Qaddafi’s arsenal.

The Obama administration has abused government power to project support for sharia’s repression of speech critical of Islam. In the aftermath of the Benghazi massacre, the president and his subordinates did not stop at fraudulently blaming an obscure anti-Muslim video for the carnage — thus implying that rioting was an understandable response to offensive expression. They proceeded to trump up a prosecution against the video producer, while Obama and Clinton condemned the video in public-service messages broadcast in Muslim countries. Obama exploited the administration’s “blame the video” fraud as the backdrop for his infamous declaration at the U.N. that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

And, let us not forget, the Obama White House castigated Charlie Hebdo magazine for publishing cartoons that derided Islamic supremacism. The president’s then-spokesman Jay Carney upbraided the publication not merely as “deeply offensive” but also potentially “inflammatory.” This accords with the administration’s pattern of rationalizing jihadist violence as an understandable reaction to verbal or artistic rebukes of Islam — a pattern of blaming speech rather than barbarism that Obama’s lip-service condemnations of the violence cannot camouflage.

If President Obama had attended the Paris march on Sunday, he would have been demonstrating in favor of the very free-speech principles he has assiduously worked against for six years. He would have been demonstrating against the same appeasement of Islamic-supremacist extortion that has been the hallmark of his presidency.

It would have been an epic exercise in hypocrisy. I’m glad he didn’t do it. As between Islamists and me, I’d rather know where my president’s sympathies lie. And I do.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

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BREAKING: Charlie Hebdo: Live Feeds from FRANCE24 and BFMTV- Suspect(s) entrapped

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Hemingway: ” Don’t Be Deceived by the Reaction to Charlie Hebdo Massacre—Our Media Are Cowards”

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HotAir – Morrissey: USA Today column: Why did France allow satirists to attack Mohammed?

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Nous sommes Charlie


H/T Parkertoons