Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves



Ray Bradbury remembered

Note: This was an op-ed obituary published four years ago. I neglected to post it and am doing so now in light of recent controversies concerning free speech on campus.

Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, which shouldn’t surprise anyone because he was after all, 91, but somehow it does. However, he died during the extremely rare transit of Venus which doesn’t surprise at all.

As Bradbury grew older his hair turned white, he collected the usual assortment of wrinkles and infirmities, but his eyes! He had the eyes of a child to the end.

Bradbury has been eulogized by artistic luminaries such as Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, and on June 6, by President Obama.

“For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values,” the White House said in an official press release.

That’s generous considering what Bradbury said about Obama after he made cuts to the space program, “He should be announcing that we should go back to the moon!”

It turns out Bradbury was a libertarian conservative, having migrated from a liberal Democrat to a supporter of both Reagan and Bush, and harsh critic of Clinton.

Or perhaps it was the parties that migrated. The author of “Fahrenheit 451,” one of the most impassioned defenses of free expression and high culture ever penned in English, never wavered in his support for liberty. When the threat to free expression came from the right, he was a liberal. When it was from the left, a conservative.

When Michael Moore filmed “Fahrenheit 911,” Bradbury angrily demanded, “Give me back my title!”

Bradbury was hailed as the greatest living writer of speculative fiction, a catch-all term for everything that isn’t fiction set in known history or the here-and-now, but defies categorization. He wrote in the genres of more-or-less science fiction, but also fantasy, mystery, and historical reminiscence.

The fact is Bradbury somehow never forgot what children know, that the “ordinary” world is in reality strange and wonderful.

His tales of the fictional “Green Town” were directly modeled on his very prosaic home town of Waukegan, Illinois, but imbued with the magic that is all around us unseen.

Though it’s been decades, I still remember a story of an old maid walking to her isolated home after dark, knowing there is a strangler on the loose. Her growing unease as she begins to suspect someone is following her home. Her relief when she enters her home and hurriedly locks the door. And the Hitchcockian twist at the end when a man clears his throat behind her!

Then came the one-two punch after I caught my breath, turned the page, and found the very next story began with three boys grumbling that some of the excitement had gone out of life because the old maid has stabbed the strangler to death with a pair of sewing scissors!

Bradbury loved a happy ending. When Francois Truffaut made “Fahrenheit 451” into a movie with a more upbeat ending, Bradbury was delighted. When publishers bowdlerized the book to remove content they found objectionable, he was outraged. Bradbury knew what his priorities were.

A man of contradictions, he wrote “The Martian Chronicles” and “R is for Rocket,” but never learned to drive and used a typewriter to the end.

He wrote to the end of his life, his talent forever fresh. The ancient Greeks said, “If the gods love you, you die in childhood.”

The gods must have loved Ray Bradbury, for he died still a child at heart.

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Well, it’s happened again to everyone’s shock and horror, but to no one’s surprise.

Jihadists struck at several locations around Paris. The latest death toll stands at 129.

Some of the attackers are dead. More believed responsible for planning are being sought.

France reacted by bombing areas held by ISIS in the Middle East.

Satisfying for sure, but not likely to affect anything in the short run.

Other reactions include cries of “false flag!”

Some people love this one. It makes them feel wise and powerful to know they have the world figured out when all us peasants are still in the dark.

I have a couple of observations. One is that it violates the Principle of Parsimony expressed in William of Occam’s famous razor.

Paraphrased it means that of competing explanations, the simplest is most likely to be closest to the truth. In this case you have a bunch of murderous fanatics screaming they did it, they’re glad they did it, and they’ll do it again. Versus the CIA/Mossad managed to talk a bunch of peaceful Islamists into doing something they’d never have thought of on their own.

As the late Christopher Hitchens said, “What is asserted without proof may be dismissed without proof.”

Another predictable reaction is that they’re “not really Islamic.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, has a doctorate from the Islamic University in Baghdad in Islamic studies and history. His immediate family include professors of Arabic language and rhetoric.

Could you please tell me how he’s “not Islamic” with citations from the Koran and Hadith – in Arabic with notes on translation?

Then there’s the blowback hypothesis. We caused this by our meddling in the Middle East and all the people we’ve killed there.

This argument has some merit to it. We have meddled, and continue to do so and lately our meddling has caused two large Arab Muslim countries to collapse into chaos. Iraq because we didn’t have the stamina to stay and do the imperialist peacekeeping thing after we deposed a murderous tyrant. And Libya because we knocked off a murderous but relatively well-behaved tyrant and didn’t even bother to march in and fix things.

And by the way, the U.S. did those in spite of vociferous objections from France.

One can point out that lately Muslims have killed hundreds of times more Muslims than Westerners have.

Doesn’t matter. That’s what cops call a “domestic dispute” and they hate them precisely because attempts to break up a fight often end with both parties turning on the meddler.

We could talk all day about why they hate us and miss the essential point – that they hate us, and there is probably little we can do about it. They have their reasons, but they are theirs not ours.

The attacks on Paris were well planned and involved French citizens born in the country but who do not feel themselves to be French, coordinated with fellow-jihadists outside the country.

And they will do it again.

Why? What do they hope to gain by it?

Well, sometimes they do manage to affect state policy. After the Madrid bombings in 2004 that killed 191 people and wounded 2,050, the Spanish voted out their government and withdrew the miniscule force they had in Iraq.

Big deal.

What I think they’re doing is counting coup.

The Plains Indians gave the highest honors not to warriors who killed the most enemies, but to those bold enough to ride in amongst their enemies and slap one in the most insulting way possible.

The jihadists come from a proud hyper-macho culture that sees the wealth, freedom and accomplishments of the West as deeply humiliating. They cannot hope to overcome the West by military force, but they can humiliate us back.

And no matter how much we bomb them in return, one coup counted against the West is a greater victory in their eyes.

If I am correct, this is going to go on for some time.

I would give a lot to be wrong.

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I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of illiterates I have met in my lifetime, but the number of innumerates I’ve met are innumerable.

OK now I’ve had my little joke let me explain.

Innumeracy is to numbers as illiteracy is to writing. An illiterate cannot read on a functional level, an innumerate can’t do simple math.

Way back in 1988, mathematician John Allen Paulos published a book called “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences.” I remember how something Paulos said in an interview struck me. That people who’d be ashamed to admit they had never seen a Shakespeare play would boast about how they were unable to balance their checkbook!

Among other things, it motivated me to go back and teach myself some more math than I’d left high school with. I learned for example, how to solve quadratic equations and messed around a little with matrix algebra.

I forgot it almost immediately, but the point is that I proved to myself that I could learn it, I could relearn it if necessary, and it wasn’t because I was incapable of math that I hadn’t learned it to begin with.

This meant that years later when I took advanced statistics in grad school I approached it with confidence.

That’s why I read with shock and a good deal of resentment a column by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

In an article dated August 25, 2015, “Lessons from the Virginia Shooting,” Kristof made several claims involving numbers of which two leaped off the page at me.

“More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history,” he claimed.
And further, “More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.”

I am not going to argue the issue one way or the other. What I want to do is have a look at the numbers.

Gun deaths vary from year to year, there were 33,636 in 2013. Let’s round down to 30,000 per year to make the figures easier to grasp. Approximately 60 percent of all gun deaths are suicides and 3 percent accidental discharges. Suspects killed by police amount to a few hundred per year at most and can be omitted.

That’s 47 years since 1968, and 47 times 30,000 is 1.41 million.
Of which 37 percent (the percentage of gun murders) is 527,700 which is far short of the casualties on both sides of our single most devastating war, the Civil War (750,000 all causes, both sides).

In the second claim Kristof cleverly said, “gun homicides AND suicides every six months” so let’s divide the whole number by two, which nets 15,000.
Combined American casualties only in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to about 7,600. Throw in only the 3,000 killed on 9/11 and that’s 10,600.

OK, so that’s true – but how significant? Iraq and Afghanistan are noted among our wars for how few American casualties there were, given how long they’ve dragged on.

And if you counted only gun murders, that’s only 5,550, a little more than half the U.S. casualties from the war on terror.

As I said, I used a rounded number for ease of calculation and because the figures I got varied from source to source over a five-minute search. I am perfectly capable of doing the math by hand, but I used a calculator for convenience. I could have done rough estimates in my head.

The extraordinary thing about this is, it would seem that anyone familiar with basic statistics, heck basic arithmetic and a passing knowledge of American history would see the glaring errors in these claims. These claims are not just a little off, they’re wrong by orders of magnitude.

So what’s the matter, the guy can’t do basic math?

Kristof was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, and was a Rhodes Scholar.

I can think of two explanations, both of them worrying.

One is that a Harvard grad and Rhodes Scholar didn’t see at a glance there was something screwy about these figures (if he himself read the claims elsewhere).

The other is that he did see – and was counting on his readers not being able to see.

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Why Israel must survive

“I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us.”
Eric Hoffer

I get into a lot of arguments about Israel lately, and I’m sick of it.

I’m seeing a rising tide of anti-Semitism that worries me, a lot. And no I don’t believe, “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist.”

There was a time that might have been true but no more.

I am well aware of the moral ambiguities involved with supporting a state which contains a sizable minority of people who hate it. People who must be kept in check with measures that leave a bad taste in the mouths of free men.

I know there were people already living there when the survivors of European Jewry descended upon what had hitherto been at best a sleepy backwater of various empires that ruled the region over the past two millennia.

I realize that Israel is not much of an advantage as an ally in the region, immensely complicates our relations with the Arab states, and absorbs entirely too much foreign aid.

No, I don’t believe that having distant ancestors from the place automatically gives anyone a right to colonize it. By that logic I and my fellow-Celts could claim a great deal of Western Europe and tell these Germanic Johnny-come-latelies to get the hell off our land.

And I will point out I had reasoned criticisms of Israel waaay back when it was seriously unpopular to express them.

Nonetheless I say Israel must live.

Here’s what I think. The Islamic jihadists have made it plain they desire the death of all Jews. Not Israelis, Jews. Everywhere.

Furthermore a fair number of the elites of the western world have concluded this is an acceptable price to pay for peace. More in Europe, but it’s catching on here too.

I never wanted to be part of this struggle and seriously resent having to take sides.

But I did have to. Because the Islamic jihadists have made it plain I had to.

And so I had to side with the nation whose law mandated the release of accused war criminal John Demjanjuk because the evidence he was one specific concentration camp guard did not rise to the bar of proof demanded by civilized law, versus the culture which demands if your sister or daughter is raped, seen with a man not a close relative, or just gets uppity that it is your duty to murder HER.

You have probably seen this claim: If the Arabs laid down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis laid down their arms there would be six million fewer Jews in the world.

Does anyone seriously doubt this?

I have another question aimed purely at your self-interest. Who is more likely to a. discover a cure for cancer, b. develop a clean, renewable energy source, c. find some kind of accommodation for that nation or any other nation in those horrible circumstances – six million Israelis or 600 million Arab Muslims?

Israel must survive. Because Israel is an outpost of Western Civilization, which to date offers the best hope of eventually insuring the liberty and dignity of every man and woman.

And because it is in Israel where one of the twin roots of our civilization lies.

If you are a child of the West, no matter what your ancestry is, you are part Hebrew and part Greek.

The Greeks taught us how to think. The Hebrews taught us about justice and the rule of law.

Western Civilization might have been born when the prophet Nathan said to King David, “Thou art the man!”

If it is wrong for a subject, it is wrong for a king. Equality under the law. Does anyone realize how revolutionary that ideal was at the time, and how rare even today?

Not only Israel is under attack, but all of Western Civilization, from without and within. If we let Israel fall it will send a clear message that we will sell our kin to survive, thus insuring our own inevitable downfall.

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Democratic Socialism

I got into an online discussion the other day, slammed someone down hard, felt first smug, then kind of bad.

Well I guess I started it. Vis-à-vis Bernie Sanders presidential campaign I said, “Socialists hate corporations so much they want to turn the whole country into one big corporation.”

Someone replied that though some socialists favor central planning, not all do.

Then he said, “Look it up, I know research is hard.”

So I let him have it.

“I lived in several countries in Eastern Europe 1991-2004. I was elected Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997. I’ve smuggled cash to support families of imprisoned dissidents in Belarus. I know what jackboots and rubber truncheons applied to tender places feels like. I don’t know how much more research I can stand.”

I was expecting a huffing and puffing reply, and prepared to uplift the virtual finger, when to my surprise he apologized for the snark and said he sincerely appreciated the good I’d done.

“We American socialists” want nice stuff for everybody without all the nasty stuff that’s been associated with some socialist regimes abroad he said.

OK, point taken. I’ve been preaching and trying real hard to practice civility in public discourse. Because I think we’re getting dangerously uncivil. As in nearing the point of “the heck with it just shoot ‘em” uncivil.

“Please forgive me if I seem impatient,” I replied. “But do you imagine I’ve never heard this before? Do you think nobody in the old Soviet Union ever said, ‘Why can’t we have socialism but free speech and be nice to people too?’ Socialism doesn’t work and can’t be made to work. The best socialism is like a big corporation, the worst is hell on earth.”

I’ve had this conversation so many times over my adult life and it just seems to go round in circles. What’s wrong with this noble sounding ideal?

Because it does sound good. Take care of everybody. Make sure everybody has a good job, a decent place to live, health care, and a comfortable retirement.

Don’t we all want that?

Sure do, but how to go about it?

The simplest solution seems to be to let the government take care of everything. Take our taxes and do all that nice stuff. After all, the body has a brain that makes decisions. Isn’t the government the brain of society?

For people who don’t find that analogy creepy, let me point out something.

This thing we call “the market” is not a real thing. It’s the name we give to the uncountable number of decisions we all make every day.

Am I going to get up and go to work or slack off? Am I going to brush my teeth and shave? What tooth paste, shaving cream and razor do I want to buy?

And that’s just the first five minutes after waking up.

I’ve heard socialists like Bernie Sanders argue; sure we need soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. But do we need so many companies making so many brands? Isn’t that wasteful?

Economists can explain why it’s not. But to me socialism, whether it’s the mild kind that tries to make the economy jump through hoops to the not-so-nice kind that made National Socialist Germany or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics so unpleasant, is all about taking those choices and concentrating them in fewer and fewer hands.

Lately it’s been about health insurance. “We don’t like your plan, here’s another.”

Maybe theirs is better, maybe not. Point is, it’s not your decision anymore.

Obviously some things can’t be left to your decision. You don’t get to make up your mind which side of the road to drive.

And obviously people make lots of bad choices. That’s why there’s a liquor and heroin industry.

So do you think it’s better a few people make the important choices for everybody else?

Now that socialism is respectable again, that’s the question they need to answer.

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Waiting to watch a man die

Yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 30) I got up, packed my kids off to school and prepared to drive two hours to see a man die.

But for the second time in two weeks he didn’t die, and I’m exhausted.

I was covering the third attempt by the state of Oklahoma to execute Richard Glossip for the murder of his employer Barry Van Treese in 1997, for the online magazine Red Dirt Report.

Glossip was convicted in two trials for hiring Justin Sneed to murder Van Treese. Murder for hire is considered heinous enough to merit the death penalty, even though the actual killer got only life in a medium-security prison.

I will state up-front that I’ve mostly heard from the people who think Glossip is innocent. I have tried to look for the case for the prosecution to be fair, but I must say the level of uncertainty here is enough to make me very nervous about killing a man.

The case for the prosecution appears to consist of the testimony of a meth head petty thief, plus Glossip’s highly suspicious actions following the murder. Glossip did not report the murder immediately and locked the motel room where the body was.

However, there are other explanations for this behavior – the obvious one being panic.

The prosecution’s theory of motive seems very far-fetched to me. That Glossip hoped after the murder of his employer that his widow would just give him both of Van Treese’s motels (in Oklahoma City and Tulsa) to manage.

Come on! How likely is that?

Neither jury saw a video of Sneed’s interrogation where he changed his story multiple times, and only implicated Glossip when the detectives suggested Glossip put him up to the murder.

The defense team is not stressing this, but Glossip is certainly guilty of being an accessory AFTER the fact. For which he would have quite deservedly gotten some time, but likely been out by now.

I got into this riding on the coat tails of Tim Farley, who has followed this story from the beginning. He’s done all the work and I stepped into it just because I’m doing some casual free lancing for The Red Dirt Report and have the time to travel.

So there I was, preparing to go to join the press pool at the media center of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, popularly known to us Okies as “Big Mac.”

I told my son, 14, and my daughter, nine, where I was going and what I was going to do. I told them there were corn dogs in the freezer and that I’d likely be home late if the execution went through.

“Then I hope you come home early Daddy,” my daughter said.

I told her they had cookies at the media center.

“Ohhh, can you bring me some?” she pleaded.

“No!” surprising myself a little with how vehemently I said it.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because Daddy is a superstitious Celt at heart and I’m not going to bring my baby girl cookies from an execution party,” I explained.

“You’re mean,” she said.

You can follow the link to the story I wrote for the Red Dirt Report. I’m rather proud of it, considering I wrote it late at night, dead tired, after I’d driven home, fed my kids, did the eye exercises for my girl’s ambliopia, and put them to bed.

I’m still processing this experience, and it’s not over yet. I want it to mean something because a man I think is probably innocent, and certainly hasn’t been convicted with enough certainty to warrant death, may yet die in another 37 days.

Like a lot of people I’m conflicted about the death penalty. I’m terrified of mistakes, and since the death penalty was reinstated more than a hundred people have been released from death row in America, 10 of them in Oklahoma alone.

Worse, the guilt of some who have been executed has been called into question.

But, I’m glad Roger Dale Stafford and Sean Sellars were executed. I’m glad because they scared me. Like a lot of people, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

And I want this to mean something to my children, because the world is a dangerous place, especially for those who don’t know how dangerous it can be.

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Modern Witchcraft

I have an announcement to make, I am not a rapist.

Wow! Aren’t you glad to hear that?

How about you? Are you a rapist?

“Heck no!” I hear you say, indignantly.

Oh you’re just saying that. Maybe you even believe it’s true, but you’re a rapist and just don’t know it.

“I’ve never raped anyone!”

You were socialized in a rape culture, didn’t you know that?

Well as a matter of fact, neither did I.

“Don’t teach women how to be safe – teach men not to rape!” we are told.

Where are men taught to rape, may I ask?

Well, as it happens in certain cultures yes, men are taught to rape – often by their mothers. But please show me where in the U.S. little boys are taught to rape women who dress immodestly, go out alone, or just get uppity.

Oh yes, in certain third world immigrant communities. But let’s not go there because if you do you’re a racist.

Well we are told it’s a subtle thing in our culture that teaches boys unconsciously without anyone ever actually saying it’s OK to rape. We are nonetheless assured it shapes our society.

In the abstract to “Dismantling Rape Culture around the World: A Social Justice Imperative,” Pamela R. Fletcher, Associate Professor of English and Women Studies, St.Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota writes, “Many object to the term rape culture, deeming it an overstatement. Some even consider it an oxymoron, for how does rape and culture really connect? In speaking of culture, we editors of “Transforming A Rape Culture” (Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth 1993, 1995 and 2005) refer to the way in which a society operates formally and informally, based on attitudes, beliefs, customs, and rituals that its members sanction as acceptable and normal. Based on our research and analysis of the high incidence of sexual violence perpetrated around the world, we contend that the term encompasses widespread anti-female attitudes and values, and the resultant oppressive conditions women and children encounter in the global institution of patriarchy. Misogyny and sexism are the cornerstones of patriarchy that enable a rape culture to flourish.”

No, “rape culture” referring to the United States is neither an overstatement nor an oxymoron (the author doesn’t seem to know what an oxymoron is). It’s a lie at best, a sick fantasy at worst.

No, there are no attitudes, beliefs, customs, nor rituals, formal or informal, in the culture I was raised in that give even the slightest hint rape is OK. In fact not all that long ago the specter of rape invoked outrage enough to sanction a temporary set-aside of the taboo against murder.

The author goes on to quote rape statistics from the U.S. compared to third world hell holes and war zones, as if the data collection methods were consistent in each country.

“Women in the U.S. reported that they were raped at an early age: 17.6% said they had been victims of an attempted or a completed rape, 21.6% were younger than age 12, and 32.4% were between the ages 12 and 17. (Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth 2005, 7).”

Not according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The rate of rape for persons 12 years and older was 28.4 per 1,000 in 2005, 23.2 per 1,000 in 2013, and 20.1 per 1,000 in 2014, according to the DOJ. That’s roughly three percent in 2005, declining to two percent in 2014.

Oh but they must be using a different and biased set of statistics!

Funny thing though, earlier in the same paper they do cite DOJ stats.

“Although rape is underreported to the police, U.S. Department of Justice studies show that when rape survivors do report, more than 50% of them state that they knew the rapist (Ibid).”

That last fact is not news, but note when they did cite the DOJ they did not use their data for how many rapes occur in the U.S. Instead they got them from a source more to their liking.

I’ve been having a bit of fun with this, but when it comes down to it, it’s not funny at all. Psychologists with degrees from respectable schools insist this invisible force makes all men in America suspect – though rape has always been rare in this country and according to DOJ statistics getting rarer, in spite of a lessening of the stigma involved in reporting a rape to law enforcement which should result in reported rates getting higher.

This paper airily generalizes data from vastly different cultures into a world-wide phenomenon, fudges stats when it suits the author’s purpose and ignores data inconvenient to the narrative such as figures that show men and women in intimate relationships physically assault each other at roughly equal rates, though of course the consequences of a male striking a female are usually far more serious than the reverse, absent a weapon. And though it’s harder for a woman to rape a man, rates of male rape may very well exceed female rape when prisons are factored in. (Now that’s an under-reported statistic!)

The author appears to conclude that the U.S. belongs on the roll of shame because we were late giving women the vote and failed to pass the ERA!

Now where have we seen this before? Subtle forces causing great social ills, with chains of causality invisible to all but a few gifted with a special insight?

“These our poor Afflicted Neighbors, quickly after they become Infected and Infested with these Daemons, arrive to a Capacity of Discerning those which they conceive the Shapes of their Troublers; and notwithstanding the Great and Just Suspicion, that the Daemons might Impose the Shapes of Innocent Persons in their Spectral Exhibitions upon the Sufferers, (which may perhaps prove no small part of the Witch-Plot in the issue) yet many of the Persons thus Represented, being Examined, several of them have been Convicted of a very Damnable Witchcraft: yea more than on Twenty have Confessed, that they have Signed unto a Book, which the Devil show’d them, and Engaged in his Hellish Design of Bewitching and Ruining our Land.”

-On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather, 1692

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Oh the Humanity! Little 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a persecuted genius who built a digital clock for a science project, was detained at his high school, rudely questioned and hauled off in handcuffs by those bigoted, white, Islamophobic Texans in Irving.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest weighed in.

“This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do,” said Earnest.

President Obama has invited Ahmed to the White House and talks of displaying the clock there as an inspiration to young inventors everywhere.

Mark Zuckerberg declared the future belongs to young geniuses like Ahmed. Hillary Clinton tweeted her support.

On the right voices cried, hey wait a minute, that kid’s dad is a Muslim activist who has twice run for president of Sudan! He’s probably using his kid to do a dry run for a real terrorist attack and get us to relax security in our schools!

Has everybody gone nuts?

To begin with, the kid invented nothing, built nothing. He took apart a digital clock and repackaged it in a metal case.

He answered evasively when questioned. He did indeed ride to the police station in handcuffs, because that’s what police regs say you do when you get a ride to the police station. They were taken off, then put back on when his sister asked to take a pic of him in cuffs.

“The people at the school thought it might be a bomb, perhaps because it looks exactly like a ****ing bomb,” said comedian Bill Maher.

Does anybody in this day and age seriously think this was an innocent mistake?

Asked if they’d have done the same for a white kid (and why does that question always come up?) Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said they’d have followed the same procedures.

You know what? I believe him. Mostly because I’ve been through this with my own son in a somewhat less spectacular fashion. He used to like to make guns out of Legos you see.
Ahmed’s father, Mohamed El Hassan, rather than come down to pick up his son and giving him holy hell for raising a fuss, struck a tragic pose.

“Because my son’s name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11 he got mistreated,” El Hassan said.

The North Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is “investigating.”

And of course we’re hearing the term “Islamophobia” bandied about. Evidently there is an epidemic of this, though curiously the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has not caught on to it yet.

Outside the extremes of left and right: “He’s a victim of rabid Islamophobia!” and “He’s a terrorist in training!” I could think of a couple-three explanations.

El Hassan is the leader of a small Sufi group in Texas. As it happens I’ve long been fascinated by these interesting people and know more than most about them. They are often persecuted as heretics in the lands of Islam and consequently have learned to express their teachings in parables and jokes.

Could it be this family is trying to teach us all a lesson about tolerance and not jumping to conclusions because of invidious stereotypes?

On the other hand, El Hassan came to this country and worked his way up from humble jobs to become a successful businessman. Could it be that he’s inspired by the Modern American Dream, “sue somebody and get rich”?

Or could it be that this kid is kind of a teenage jerk who knew very well how people would react if a kid named Mohamed brought something that looks a lot like a bomb to school? That he’s “woofing.”

Spiritual me wants to believe the first, but cynical me remembers that’s just the kind of thing I’d have gotten a kick out of when I was an idiot teen.

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An innocent man may die this week

Richard Glossip
By the time this goes to press I may be watching an innocent man die for a crime he did not commit.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to die at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester for the murder of Robert Van Treese in 1997. And I will be in the press pool.

Glossip was convicted in two trials of hiring motel handyman Justin Sneed to kill Van Treese, owner of a motel in Oklahoma City Glossip managed.

Sneed is serving a life sentence for beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Under questioning Sneed confessed that Glossip hired him to kill Van Treese for the money from the motel receipts he kept in his car.

Unless Oklahoma governor Mary Falllin grants a requested 60-day stay of execution, Glossip will die by lethal injection at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

This story landed in my inbox a week ago when I was asked to cover a meeting of a group at the University of Central Oklahoma called, Conservatives and Progressives United Against the Death Penalty.

I still haven’t had time to do research in depth. I’ll also add the disclaimer that I’ve heard almost entirely from people who passionately believe Glossip is innocent or have doubts of his guilt.

Those people include the usual assortment of bleeding hearts such as Sister Helen Prejean and actress Susan Sarandon who played Sister Helen in the movie “Dead Man Walking.”

But they also include rock-ribbed conservatives such as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and legendary football coach Barry Switzer.

That said, this case stinks.

Glossip was convicted solely on the testimony of a meth head and thief, given in return for life in a medium security prison.

Understand, Glossip was no angel. His lawyer Donald Knight admitted Glossip was dealing meth, or at least closed his eyes to what was going on in the shady motel he managed. Glossip also failed to notify the police and locked the room the body was in for 10 hours.

So, Glossip is guilty as an accessory after the fact at least. But the motive and evidence do not appear to warrant a conviction of murder for hire.

The prosecution argued that Glossip handed over $4,000 in motel receipts to Van Treese, then convinced Sneed to kill Van Treese for the money and split it 50/50. And/or that Glossip was afraid Van Treese was going to fire him over $6,000 in missing funds, or because Glossip wasn’t maintaining the run-down place, or that once Van Treese was dead Glossip would somehow get to manage both of Van Treese’s motels.

Under questioning Sneed changed his story eight times, only implicating Glossip after detectives suggested Glossip hired him. This is on video – which neither jury was allowed to see.

However Dr. Richard Leo, an expert on false confessions, has seen the video and given a detailed opinion on how he thinks the detectives used techniques often seen in cases of false confessions.

Glossip’s current legal team who are working pro bono, claim to have a witness who served time with Sneed who says Sneed has boasted about setting up Glossip.

And apparently not even Sneed’s mother and daughter believe Glossip is guilty.

Glossip’s conviction was a perfect storm of inadequate representation and a prosecution by the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, whose administration was characterized by “errors, misconduct, and general disregard for life and innocence” in the judgement of Mark Fuhrman author of, “Death and Justice: an expose of Oklahoma’s death row machine.”

It is possible Glossip’s cause has been hurt by the fact his help comes from anti-death penalty advocates, who believe he’s innocent but the causes may be confused in people’s minds.

However I am not categorically against the death penalty, though I would have it reserved for the most heinous crimes where there is no doubt of guilt.

Murder for hire is a heinous crime, but this case is very, very thin.

I have been asked in the context of death penalty cases what I would do if it were my child who was the victim?

And I answer, I would kill them myself and sleep like a baby afterwards.

Then I ask in return, “If it were you who had to do the killing, how much certainty would you want that the accused was guilty?”

Note: This is my weekly op-ed. I usually wait to post online until the print version is out, except in cases where the news is time sensitive. I think this qualifies as time sensitive.
I should also note that Glossip’s family have told me, though I have yet to confirm, that he was offered commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment in return for allocuting to the crime – and he refused.

UPDATE: I was in the press pool at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester on Sept. 16, when we got the news the Court of Criminal Appeals had granted a stay of execution until Sept. 30. I wrote about it in the Red Dirt Report online magazine.

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Election season ironies

This is shaping up to be the most interesting election season in quite some time.

The Democrats like to charge the Republicans with being the party of “old white men.”

So who are the three top candidates, assuming Joe Biden goes for it?

Two old white men and an old white woman.

And after years of accusing the right of name-calling over the epithet “socialist,” they’ve got one bona fide card-carrying socialist in the running.

But of course if Elizabeth Warren enters the race they’ll have a fake Indian.

On the Republican side they’ve got a black guy, two Hispanics, a woman, and a reality-show star who’s spent more of his life as a Democrat than a Republican.

A favorite insult on the left is to characterize the right as dumb.

So on the right they have Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon, and Ted Cruz, who Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz called one of the school’s smartest students. The other one being Warren.

Carson may be the smartest guy who’s run for president since… maybe Thomas Jefferson. There are mediocre family practitioners, even mediocre internists. There are no mediocre brain surgeons.

And to pile irony on top of irony, the far-right has raised questions of Obama’s place of birth and citizenship status for the past seven years. But there’s no hiding the fact Cruz was born in Canada and held dual citizenship until recently.

When Obama ran for president the first time it was noted how little actual experience he’d had as a state legislator and senator, and that he’d actually won a contested race only once.

Now we have Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson who’ve never held elective office and of the three only Fiorina has actually run in a race, unsuccessfully one might add.

Ted Cruz has a fair amount of experience in office now, but Marco Rubio’s resume is rather thin when examined closely.

If Hillary gets the nomination she’ll be in much the same position Richard Nixon was in his second presidential race. With several felony charges hanging over her head and possible indictments in the future.

Plus, it’s becoming more and more evident that Obama doesn’t want her to succeed him. The Clintons and the Obamas loathe each other on a deeply personal level.

So maybe Biden, except Biden is deeply wounded by the death of his eldest son and couldn’t be expected to be in top form.

And Biden’s top form may be good enough for senate races, but on the stump he could be a disaster. He’s extremely affable but extremely gaffe-prone as well. When he’s in a rhetorical pickle he just makes stuff up on the fly.

Sanders seems like a nice enough guy, but face it, he’s a socialist and I don’t think the time has come yet when that’ll fly in America.

Trump is making a lot of noise and getting applause for saying things a lot of people are thinking but don’t dare say. He also has a short fuse. If Megyn Kelly rattled him how is he going to handle the heat in a debate?

Carson seems like a nice guy, perhaps a little too nice to lead this country in a dangerous world full of people who don’t like us much. He’s brilliant, but politics isn’t brain surgery.

Fiorina is smart and successful, but again has zero experience in office.

Rubio is as some conservatives point out, the right-wing Barack Obama. Ethnic-American with no accomplishments that warrant leaping into the presidency at this stage of his career.

Cruz is brilliant and prepared. He would run rings around anyone in debate.

Rumor has it the downside is Cruz likes people to know how brilliant he is, and that grates.

So how is this going to play out?

Durned if I know. But it’s going to get interesting.

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