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Huntsville

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

The Karolyi Ranch

Good riddance.

Once viewed as a beacon of “dreams, desire and dedication” for a generation of young women, now symbolic of years of abuse and betrayal, the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston will no longer serve as the national training center for the USA Gymnastics women’s team.

The federation said Thursday it has canceled its lease to use the gym and housing complex, owned by famed coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi in the Sam Houston National Forest, as the site of monthly training camps for the nation’s elite gymnasts who have won the last two Olympic team gold medals and the last four Olympic all-around championships.

The announcement by Kerry Perry, USA Gymnastics’ new president and CEO, came as a judge in Michigan prepares Friday to sentence former team doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to seven state counts of criminal sexual conduct and is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” Perry said. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.”

The Karolyis were – allegedly, at least; they deny it – among the many enablers of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics is deeply complicit in Nassar’s crimes. Kerry Perry should tear it all down and start from scratch, with a genuine commitment to put the athletes first and to put a much better system of oversight in place. The whole thing is sickening – Nassar had more known victims than Jerry Sandusky, in case you’re wondering – and I strongly suspect there are more sins to uncover. Get it all out into the open and make sure all those who were part of the problem get their comeuppance.

Encroaching on Sam Houston National Forest

The march of development continues apace.

All over the Texas Piney Woods, along farm-to-market roads and state highways, multicolored signs hawk real estate – small plots of paradise among the tall trees. The billboards offer “gated acreage” and “room to breathe,” promoting rural charm not far from urban amenities.

But in the process of subdividing and selling the woods, fast-growing Houston has found its way into once-remote public lands. The Sam Houston National Forest, 60 miles north of downtown, is suddenly buckled up to the big city, with thousands of new houses sprouting around it and bringing a new set of challenges for forest rangers.

There are more people living here, more people coming for a visit. And more people mean more traffic on two-lane roadways, more off-road vehicles going their own way, more fallen trees on fence lines, more trash and more crime. Just in the last few years, authorities have found three farms growing marijuana for Mexican cartels.

“There are now six lanes to our doorstep,” district ranger Warren Oja said of the recently widened Interstate 45, which cuts through the forest. “More people are finding the Sam Houston (National Forest) who didn’t know it was here before.”

Not that there is anything wrong with people wanting to camp and hike and fish in the expansive forest, which covers 163,000 acres in Montgomery, Walker and San Jacinto counties, and Oja is making plans to create more recreational opportunities.

No, Oja said, what’s troubling about the forest’s growing popularity is the need to do more with less, making its preservation more difficult than ever before. With budget cuts across the U.S. Forest Service, his staff has gone from 40 people in 2010 to 23 now, including one technician to maintain campground facilities and 240 miles of trails.

[…]

Brandt Mannchen, a Houston resident who has volunteered countless hours of labor for the Sam Houston forest, said the federal agency that oversees the area needs to be better funded, with money either for more staff or to buy additional property to fill in the holes in the forest to limit urban encroachment. The forest, for example, didn’t receive additional funding in 2011, when the driest year in Texas history damaged thousands of trees. Some drought-related debris plugged culverts during May’s storms, causing unpaved service roads to wash away.

“The money we are talking about is peanuts,” Mannchen said. “We are being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

The state’s four national forests and two national grasslands are operating on a $15 million budget, down from $36 million in 2008. Forests managers have supplemented their appropriations through timber sales, which totaled $1.3 million last year. And Oja said volunteers have provided about $400,000 in labor since October at the Sam Houston forest.

Mannchen said it isn’t right that the forest’s trails are open only because of the work of volunteers. The Sam Houston Trails Association, for one, is maintaining trails and constructing new ones through grants.

The story doesn’t examine the reasons for the budget cuts, but if I had to guess I’d say they’re the result of sequestration, which as it happens Congressional Democrats are trying to kill off. That would be good news for Sam Houston National Forest and the people who use it, not that anyone who lives nearby is likely to understand that. One way or the other, I hope the Forest Service can get what it needs. The Sam Houston National Forest is worth taking care of.

The Adickes museum

Cool.

A Tribute To American Statesmanship

It’s been 70 years since David Adickes danced the jitterbug in the old Huntsville High School gym. Now, at age 85, he pauses at a flight of schoolhouse stairs, uncertain if his knees can stand the climb. Still, there’s a rare bond between Adickes – the Houston artist who has charmed and shocked with his giant concrete statues – and this 1931-vintage backwoods temple of learning.

Only four years ago, the long-vacant brick building with a leaky roof and cracked walls seemed destined for demolition. Then Adickes, looking for a suitable showcase for a lifetime of paintings and sculptures, learned of its plight and made an offer.

Later this month, he will host a private reception to open the refurbished, 80,000-square-foot school as a gallery for more than 300 paintings and undetermined number of statues. Initially, the site will be open to curators hunting works for museum exhibits. Eventually, the Huntsville native hopes to open the school as a museum of his work.

“If not now, when?, to quote Jack Kennedy,” Adickes said. “I’ve always wanted to do this. … I think every artist is concerned about what’s going to happen to his work when he’s gone. Permanence always has had a great value to me.”

As you well know, I love me some Adickes artwork. Looks like I’ll need to plan a road trip at some point.