Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves



Silent Cal

I saw this poster on Facebook and I got to thinking, why don’t we know more about “Silent Cal”?
By most historical accounts his administration was a good one, a time of peace and prosperity. So how come he’s almost forgotten?
A story from history:
In 11th century Norway there was a king called Harald Hardrada, meaning “Harald Hard-council” or perhaps just “Harald the Ruthless.” Seven feet tall he was. Served in the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire. Succeeded to the throne or Norway. Fought 20 years to unite the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark.
He died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge while trying to conquer England. But the effort of the Saxon King Harald Godwinson to march up to defeat Harald Hardrada certainly contributed to his defeat mere weeks later at the Battle of Hastings, 1066.
Harald Hardrada bankrupted his kingdom and the Kingdom of Denmark. He trampled on the rights of the freeholders of Norway, and ruined a rather promising Saxon kingdom of England.
His son Olaf waged no wars, ruled justly, and respected the liberties of the Norwegian freeholders.
Harald had sagas written about him.
His son had no sagas written about him and comes down in history to us as “Olaf the Quiet.”

P.S. To loyal readers, and those who heartily wish me in warmer climes. Sorry for the infrequency of posting lately. What happened was, I got another job, in Wyoming of all places. It increases my income by 40%, offers more challenges plus I’m living in paradise.
It is impossible to sustain a bad mood when you can step outside your front door and take a walk with the Rocky Mountains for your companion.
I’m settling in, getting to know the place and taking possession of my new apartment. Soon enough I’ll be getting my children enrolled in school, etc.
Bear with me please, I’ll be baaaaaack.

No tags



Waking the bear

The Bear has awoken from hibernation and boy is he grumpy!

That is to say, Russia is on the march again and is doing what Russia does – expand.

Putin has seized Crimea from Ukraine with all the subtlety of that note attached to the brick you found in your living room by your shattered window.

This was initiated by an elaborate false flag operation by “self-defense” militias allegedly made up of ethnic Russians who all happen to have Spetznaz training. Followed by a quickie “plebiscite” organized by baseball bat wielding community activists to legitimized things.

Does Putin expect anybody is going to believe this was all on the up-and-up?

Short answer, no. And he doesn’t care.

Why go through the charade then?

For the benefit of those in the West who very much want to believe this was legitimate and are scared to death of what it means. It gives them a face-saving way of caving in to Putin’s aggression.

What does it mean?

Large philosophical answer, that the world hasn’t changed. That nation-states continue to act the way it is the nature of nation-states to act. That the world is still a dangerous place. That, in the worlds of Edmund Burke, “There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.”

Immediate practical answer, Putin sized up the West and saw this was the moment to act.

NATO minus the United States is a military pygmy. The United States, he saw after the Syrian crisis, is led by a man in love with the sound of his own voice but is clueless, weak and vacillating when it comes to meaningful action.

He saw the people of the United States are weary of military adventures in faraway places that never seem to change anything and never seem to end. And that many are more than a little resentful of a lot of backbiting from West Europeans who sat behind a ring of American steel for two generations, contributing little but sneering much.

So is this over now that Putin has what he wants?

No it isn’t and no he doesn’t.

This was what violence professionals call “the interview” in the five stages of violent crime. That stage in which the potential assailant seeks the answer to the question, “Can I get away with this?”

This is what is going to happen:

*Putin is going to take more of Ukraine, starting with the Russian-majority eastern part of the country, if unchecked he’ll take all of it.

*Putin will attempt to reabsorb the non-ethnic Russian countries once part of the Soviet Union that have substantial ethnic Russian minorities. First either the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia or perhaps Central Asian states such as Kazachstan or Uzbekistan. Because the latter are in Neville Chamberlain’s words, “far away countries of which we know little.”

*In the longer run Putin is going to move to bring the former Warsaw Pact countries back into the orbit of Russia.

*Putin is going to come down hard on dissent within Russia. A lot of good men and women who worked and hoped to make Russia a free nation among free nations are going to have a very bad time. This has already begun.

How soon is this going to happen?

I have no idea.

What can we do about it?

Who do you mean we?

If you mean the Western alliance, maybe this will revitalize NATO to the point the European countries start taking their military readiness seriously now they are not so certain they can rely on the U.S.

If they don’t, they may come to the point they have to abandon a NATO member or six – at which point the alliance will cease to exist.

If you mean the United States, probably nothing at present. The U.S. can avoid making empty quasi-threats that accomplish nothing but to make us look like foolish weaklings.

In the long run, get a rational energy policy in place. The U.S. is poised to become an oil and natural gas exporting nation again, if only we allow the exploitation of our immense reserves. Russia has the capability of dominating Europe through the energy pipeline. We can counter that easily, if we only will.

But if you mean us – as in men and women of good will, think long term.

*Keep lines of communication with dissident groups in Russia who oppose resurgent Russian imperialism open. Publicize their plight. Make the names of those arrested, beaten, imprisoned known.

*Raise awareness of the danger faced by the small nations reborn after the fall of the Soviet Union. Help build and maintain social media networks across the region.

*Support independent journalism by reporters willing to go there. For decades now major news organizations have shut down foreign bureaus in the name of economy. The profession of foreign correspondent is almost extinct. As a result we are getting canned news from a very few sources which are vulnerable to intimidation and heavily politicized.

Independent journalists such as Michael Yon have shown how crowd-funded journalism can work in places like Iraq and Thailand.

*Most importantly, recognize there is still hope. A world of despotism is not the destiny of mankind and America can still be a beacon of liberty to the world.

No tags



Review: Star-Crossed

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

- William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” Prologue

“Star-Crossed” (a.k.a. “Romeo and Juliet meet Alien Nation”) is a science fiction romance created by Meredith Averill which premiered on The CW last month.

It’s a great pleasure to write this review, because after it’s filed I’ll never have to watch another episode of this dreck again.

In case you missed the “star-crossed lovers” reference, it’s yet another iteration of “Romeo and Juliet,” by… oh heck you know who it’s by.

It’s not that it’s unoriginal, Shakespeare wasn’t original. “Romeo and Juliet” was based on “The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet” (1562) by Arthur Brooke, and many earlier works.

“Romeo and Juliet has been done as a ballet by by Sergei Prokofiev (1935), no less than 27 operas, uncounted popular song references, and movies.
“West Side Story” (1961) made it into a musical with an ethnic gang theme. “China Girl” (1987) did the same but grittier with a mafia versus triads theme.

“Star-Crossed” is an attempt to do it as science fiction.

There are good reasons to try it as SF. Most Americans don’t believe in ghosts, destiny in the stars, or the fact that our families might detest each other as an insurmountable barrier to True Love.

When I was doing my anthropology masters fieldwork among immigrant Filipinos one of my informants told me how meaningful “Romeo and Juliet” is for them.

“In the Philippines if a couple’s families are against each other, they have no chance,” he said. “In America kids just say, ‘Oh they’ll come around when we have children.’”

Not even different races provide enough tension anymore.

But aliens… now that might present some problems.

The first “Alien Nation” film (1988) made alien refugees the ultimate immigrant story. The spin-off series added the subtext of an inter-species romance. “Star-Crossed” tries to take it from there.

In brief, later this year aliens called Atrians arrive on Earth and are immediately attacked, because they are different I guess. Six-year-old Emery Whitehill (Aimee Teegarden) finds an Atrian boy Roman (Matt Lanter) in a shed and protects him.

The Atrians are rounded up and kept in a detention camp for ten years until the government decides to integrate them into our society by sending a group including Roman and his sister to high school in a move reminiscent of Little Rock 1957.

There Roman and Emily reconnect but of course the path of true love never runs smooth, particularly after Emily’s father accidentally shoots Roman’s father dead.

It could have been good. It’s difficult to see why they didn’t choose to make it good, considering that Averill has some solid writing credits in SF (“Life on Mars”) and fantasy (“Happy Town”).

One, the Atrians look like Anglo-Saxons with some tattoos. Could they have considered making them look well, alien? Could they have spent as much as Star Trek used to on makeup, or been daring enough to find some exotic-looking mixed-race actors?

Two, there is nothing convincing about the Atrians’ culture presented so far. Just some tacked-together customs with nothing to indicate a coherent whole. And by the way do you think it likely technologically advanced aliens would have a basically tribal political structure?

Three, there isn’t even a hint of a backstory. How come these aliens from another world seem to be human enough to be sexually attractive – and can we interbreed. And if so why? Are we long-lost kin?

But what really grates is the offensive way we, as in 21st century Americans are portrayed. As if there has been no social progress since Little Rock. Except now the bigotry is a charmingly multi-racial us against the new minority.

Why does the series assume we’d immediately attack aliens who had not attacked first, rather than react with awe and wonder?

Why do they assume our alien classmates would be pariahs rather than rock stars?

Why would the government be so stupid as not to check the local community for organized and dangerous bigots? Even I don’t buy that.

Why do they dismiss legitimate fears we might have as racism?

Are the Atrians the vanguard of an invasion force? Might they carry alien pathogens like those European diseases that decimated native populations? Would contact with a superior civilization destroy or damage ours even without any ill will on their part?

And most offensive is the stereotypical pickup-driving, tobacco-chewing redneck using phrases like “race traitor.”

Go back and try again Averill.

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.

No tags




Because I’m still on the mailing list of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, I still get their travel advisories, warnings of demonstrations that might turn lively etc.

On Monday I got one with a link to the site of U.S. Passports and International Travel, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State.

“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine, and particularly the Crimean Peninsula, due to the potential for instability following the departure of former President Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government.”

Ukraine is the largest country that lies entirely within Europe, a fact that comes as a surprise to most folks who don’t think much about it until something like this happens. The population is about 78 percent ethnic Ukrainian and 17 percent Russian – well above the dangerous number for a disaffected minority, particularly one with a larger state next door.

The remainder are a collection of small minorities such as Belorussians, Tartars and Romanians.

As of the time of writing Russian forces have occupied and established control of the Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that is historically Russian but was included as part of the Ukrainian SSR in the old Soviet Union by Nikita Krushchev for reasons now obscure. An old rumor has it he was drunk at the time but never mind.

President Obama spent 90 minutes on the phone with Vladimir Putin, a call he called the toughest of his administration.

Whew! Hope Vlad appreciated that.

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia’s action and called it, “an act of weakness, not of strength.”

No it’s not. Invading and occupying someone else’s territory who doesn’t dare immediately respond with all the force at their command takes strength for sure, it’s just not very nice.

“There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this. There are a broad array of options that are available, not just to the United States but to our allies,” Kerry warned.

No there aren’t. There’s not a damn thing we can do that Putin cares a fig about. Everything Kerry mentioned we might do is purely symbolic or economic pin pricks to be finessed away as soon as the furor dies down.

Sarah Palin is crowing though. Palin warned in 2008 after Russia threw it’s weight around in Georgia that they might very well invade Ukraine if Obama was re-elected.

To be sure it doesn’t take a psychic to predict “Russia will invade Ukraine, sometime,” but Palin was ridiculed by a fair number of oh-so-wise “foreign policy experts” so she’s got some comeback coming.

I haven’t been to Ukraine but I’ve lived within spitting distance of it and I have friends there. So it pains me to say that the reality is, Ukraine is too close to Russia and isn’t important enough to our interests to risk war over.

Come on, does anybody seriously think the U.S. with it’s NATO allies, who between them cannot put a combat division into the field and don’t have a strategic air force to their name, are going to move east in force even absent the possibility of a nuclear exchange? Let’s get real.

So it’s not entirely fair to blame this on Obama’s administration. Nevertheless it does not help matters to invite the contempt of Putin and the world by bluffing with a bad hand. We can “condemn in the strongest terms” without making empty threats.

And how did Palin know that Russia might do that when wiser heads poo-pooed her as an intellectual lightweight?

Because she knew something they don’t. Something Putin knows very well. Something Thucydides knew 2,500 years ago when he wrote the history of the Peloponesian War.

That human nature does not change in spite of pious moralizing. That it certainly hasn’t changed from Thucydides’ time until now.

That in a world with no power great enough to impose laws on nations, “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

No tags



Snow down South

It snowed again in Minnesota and North Dakota Sunday night. Not enough to get excited about, just a couple of inches. We’ve had more this winter and might have more again. We might even cancel a school day or two again before it’s over.

It’s been an pretty cold winter over much of the country, with snow down as far as Georgia and South Carolina, which is unusual but not unheard of.

However down south it has a different effect. Atlanta has been basically paralyzed for two out of the past three weeks and there are power outages over huge areas of both states. Major highways became disaster areas.

So what gives?

Well we all know Southerners don’t know how to drive on ice and snow. Trust me, I am one. I know how to handle it because I’ve lived in the North long enough.

When you’re driving down a clear road and hit an unexpected wind drift and do a 180 to 360, your average Northerner shrugs and says, “Well that could have been worse.”

If you haven’t plowed into deep snow you restart your car and continue. If you have, you call a tow truck to pull you out. If you have AAA, it’s likely free. (Unsolicited product endorsement.)

I’ve known Southerners who’ve moved up here and haven’t gotten used to it yet. Maybe you have too. The first time it happens for them, they may get the shakes so bad they have to call someone to drive them home and can’t bear to get behind the wheel for a couple of days.

Now imagine a highway full of people with the same reaction…

Try and be compassionate toward them. Not too long ago I was reminded of how terrifying it can be when I drove a grain truck for harvest.

There’s nothing that takes the romance out of trucking like losing all visual contact with the road surface during a ground blizzard, or feeling 40 tons slip on the ice at 45 mph…

Back in Oklahoma I had a journalism teacher from North Dakota, who had a very strict attendance policy. Being from NoDak he was entirely unsympathetic when a few inches of snow had students pleading with him to relax his policy.

Nope, not going to happen.

“I’ll tell you the secret though,” he said compassionately. “Drive slow.”

In places where years pass without a flake of the white stuff all winter it’s just not worthwhile for cities to invest in a lot of snow removal equipment. It’s just easier and cheaper to shut everything down – it’ll be gone tomorrow.

But what about the power? How come that doesn’t happen up here where we always have snow and ice?

I can tell you exactly what happens, because I’ve seen it.

One year in Oklahoma we had freezing rain over a lot of the state. All night long I heard the loud CRACK of limbs breaking off trees laden with the burden of ice.

It’s not like that doesn’t happen up here, though because of our winters the trees get regularly pruned by the weather.

Down where they don’t have this kind of weather but once in several years, they forget you have to keep tree branches trimmed back from the power lines.

After that storm in Oklahoma about two-thirds of the state was without power, in some places for weeks.

So please, don’t make fun of us Southerners and the next time you get a heat wave of 90-odd degrees, or as us Okies say, “kinda warm,” we won’t make fun of all the Yankees dropping like flies.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

No tags

The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer for 2013 is out.

A crucial way of measuring press freedom is of course, how dangerous it is to be a journalist.

Last year 75 journalists, 4 media assistants and 8 netizens and citizen journalists were killed, down 20 percent from last year.

Looking at the list of countries where journalists are known to have been killed as a result of their activities as a journalist, there are some surprises.

As in surprisingly low: Afghanistan, Columbia and Libya only one apiece, Russia and Mexico only two apiece.

Surprisingly high: Brazil, 5, the Philippines and India eight apiece. Who knew?

Unsurprisingly high: Egypt, 6, Pakistan, 7, Somalia, 7, Syria, 10.

It’s worth noting these figures do not include cases in which a journalist’s work has not been confirmed to be linked to their murders. Nor are they clear as to whether journalists in war zones were specifically targeted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time like a lot of civilian casualties.

The last American journalist murdered on American soil was Chauncy Baily of the Oakland Post (California) in 2007, by the target of his reporting.

Wikipedia has a list of American journalists killed in the line of duty going back to 1837.

The first noted was Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, editor of the Alton Observer, lynched by a pro-slavery mob. This Okie who has rankled a bit at jibes from self-righteous Yankees takes some satisfaction in pointing out this was in Alton, Illinois.

Then there’s a run of three journalists between 1843 and 1848 who all worked for the Vicksburg Sentinel (Mississippi). But since two of them died in fights or duels I don’t think it’s fair to count them as murdered.

Irving Carson, reporter for the New York Tribune, made history by being the first journalist killed in the Civil War on April 6, 1862, while covering the Battle of Shiloh.

Mark Kellogg became the first Associated Press reporter killed on the job – at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.

In 1934, 1935 and 1945 three journalists in a row were murdered in Minneapolis. All for investigating corruption and organized crime.

The 1945 murder of Arthur Kasherman of the alternative Public Press is said to have figured in the election of one anti-corruption crusader named Hubert Humphrey as mayor of Minneapolis.

What’s ironic about that is the next journalist on the list is W.H. “Bill” Mason of KBKI radio in Alice, Texas, killed by Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick, who Mason had exposed as the owner of a strip club.

Former Governor Coke Stevenson who had just lost the Democratic senatorial primary to Lyndon B. Johnson, thought Smithwick could prove Johnson had won the primary by voter fraud. Unfortunately Smithwick was hanged before Stevenson could talk to him. Since then it’s been pretty conclusively proven Johnson did indeed steal that election. Among other reasons because Johnson used to boast about it when he was going large, and had a picture to prove it.

Looking down the list it seems that considering the sheer number of them, being a journalist isn’t very dangerous in this fortunate country of ours. I’ve made people mad enough to complain about me, but it’s never occurred to me that anyone would want to murder me. (Of course the day is still young…)

Ironically the only times I’ve been in danger on the job was when I was still a part-time amateur in Eastern Europe. My editor felt it prudent to keep my name off an article once. His judgment was confirmed when a couple of so-called “mafia” type came to the office demanding to know who wrote that article about taxis. (Taxis? Another time.)

But of course there’s always the possibility of danger while chasing a story a bit too enthusiastically.

From the 2013 Darwin Awards:

“(31 March 2013, Newcastle, England) The UK homeless population’s numbers are difficult to gauge; the website sets a low estimate at 2,300 homeless people per night.

Intending to advance his career, investigative journalist Lee Halpin, 26, decided to acquire background in the problem by pretending to be homeless. He borrowed a sleeping bag and, waving aside the concerns of friends and family, he set off into the streets alone. “I will sleep rough, scrounge for my food, interact with as many homeless people as possible, and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can,” said the journalist–three days before freezing to death in a boarded up hostel.”

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

No tags

The part of a journalist’s life we don’t like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.

For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.

You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.

Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you’re looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.

Hence antanaclasis.

Antana-what? You well may ask.

Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning “against” or “back,” ana “up,” and klasis “breaking.” In Latin it’s called refractio “rebounding” and it’s a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.

Those things that us writers do are called “figures of speech” and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae “The Forrest of Rhetoric,” a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.

I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.

Antanaclasis is defined as, “The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance.”

That’s a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it’s a different word.

“Your argument is sound…all sound.” —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in “reasonable” versus sound as in “air” or “wind.”)

“In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.” (“Skill” versus “cunning” or “fraud.”)

In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” —Vince Lombardi

Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D’israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.

Gladstone once said, “Mr. D’israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease.”

“That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress,” D’israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D’israeli in these exchanges.)

Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it’s not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning “to adopt a position with passionate conviction” versus “to hold in your arms.”

So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?

I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.

Watch this space for further developments.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent website.

No tags



The Enigma of Pete Seeger

Legendary musician Pete Seeger died January 27 at the age of 94.

By all accounts Seeger lived a rich and rewarding life. He died just six months after the death of his wife of 70 years, Toshi-Aline Ota. Their marriage produced three surviving children, all artists in their own right, and six grandchildren.

Seeger grew up in a world full of art and music. Scion of a family with centuries-old roots in New England, his father was a Harvard-trained musicologist his mother was a concert violinist trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and later a teacher at the Julliard School. His stepmother was Ruth Crawford Seeger, considered one of the most important modernist composers of the 20th century.

His brother Mike Seeger, and sister Margaret “Peggy” Seeger (who survives) were also prominent folk singers. Seeger’s uncle was the poet Alan Seeger, who gained posthumous fame for “I Have a Rendezvous’ with Death” after he was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916, while fighting with the French Foreign Legion.

In 1936 at the age of 17, Seeger discovered what was to be the driving passion of his life when he visited the Mountain Dance and folk Festival in North Carolina, organized by his father and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford under the auspices of the WPA Farm Resettlement music projects.

There Seeger heard the five-string banjo for the first time and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was also the year Seeger joined the Young Communists League. He became a member of the Communist Party USA in 1942.

Seeger’s importance to music is something scholars are going to be investigating and arguing about for generations. Sometime back then musicologists realized the vast majority of music produced by the human race had left no record, as if vast empires had arisen and fallen without leaving a trace.

Seeger and others sought out folk music and recorded it so that it might never be lost. But more than that he composed original music based in the folk tradition.

And of course what Seeger is remembered for is putting his music to work in service to the causes dear to his heart. When we are forgotten people will still be singing his adaptation of the old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome.”

Seeger stood up to be counted from the very beginning of the Civil Rights era, against the Vietnam War, and at the very end was marching – or hobbling, on two canes with the Occupy Movement.

He raised public awareness of the pollution of the Hudson River, defied network censorship of controversial views, and took a stand for the First Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee, earning a year jail sentence, overturned on appeal.

During the Second World War he joined the Army and entertained troops in the South Pacific with Special Services.

But before that he spoke of Adolph Hitler as a benign leader who only wanted peace while Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were pals.

“Franklin D, Franklin D, you ain’t a gonna send me across the sea,” he sang.

He turned on a dime when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and beat the drums of war.

Most biographies say he “drifted away” from the Communist Party in the late ‘40s to early ‘50s. It’s also possible he was ordered to distance himself from them as spies and prominent people the Soviets found useful often were. So far none have been uncharitable enough to suggest that.

He identified himself as a “communist with a small ‘c’” after that.

He once said, “I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”

Well you could describe the program of the Khmer Rouge that way too. We don’t know what Seeger thought about that because he never condemned the Killing Fields of Cambodia, or at least not loudly enough that anyone remembers.

Seeger’s affection for the Soviet Union lasted through revelations of Stalin’s crimes against humanity, the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. He remained an admirer of Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Min.

He did ultimately express some regret for slavishly following Stalin, after the fall of the Soviet Union. But when he did it was tepid and self-serving.

Seeger was by all accounts a sweet and gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Supremely gifted, generous, loving husband and father, and apologist for mass murderers.

How can one person reconcile those ghastly contradictions within himself?

I don’t know how. I don’t know that I ever will.

No tags



Review: Lone Survivor

“Lone Survivor,” written and directed by Peter Berg, is based on the 2007 book, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10,” Marcus Luttrell’s account of the doomed mission Operation Red Wings, as told to novelist Patrick Robinson.

In June, 2005, four Navy SEALs embarked on a mission to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in a village deep within the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The mission went horribly wrong, Luttrell was the only survivor. Sixteen more Americans would die in the rescue attempt when the Chinook helicopter they were riding in was shot down.

The movie starts with archive footage of Navy SEAL training. Men are immersed in the cold sea shivering, exhausted beyond the limits of endurance while relief is just steps away. Ring a bell three times and put your helmet on the ground beneath is. The line of helmets grows longer, but a few endure to become SEALs.

Cut to Afghanistan and scenes of the daily life of elite troops in between missions. Men email home, joke, plan a wedding and haze newbies.

Then the briefing for the mission, identification of the target, and insertion into the mountains by helicopter.

The team: Lieutenant Michael P. “Murph” Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), team leader; Hospital Corpsman First Class Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), medic and sniper; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), radio operator; Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), sniper.

The team reach a point in the mountains above the village and find out there are more Taliban than expected. Then an old man and two teenage boys herding goats stumble upon them.

The team realize there are only three alternatives for them, and two of them amount to killing the three Afghans. They elect to release them and abort the mission. The movie doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the decision. It’s not only humanity, but fear of the consequences of violating the military’s rules of engagement.

The team attempts to retreat to high ground and radio for extraction, but quickly find communications equipment unreliable in the mountains. Worse, they find a deep ravine between them and the peak. Worst, within an hour the Taliban is on them.

After action reports, citations for the Navy Crosses awarded, and investigation by skeptical journalists arrive at different figures for the number of Taliban. Suffice it to say, there were more Taliban than SEALs on the mountain, and they were more heavily armed.

The rest of the film is an agonizing portrayal of the team making a fighting retreat, falling down the mountain and being shot to pieces.

Luttrell arrives alone at a water hole where he is found by Afghan villagers who persuade him with some difficulty to trust them, take him in, shelter him and protect him from the Taliban until help arrives.

To this day Mohammad Gulab (Ali Suliman) the Afghan who found and sheltered him according to the tribal code of Pushtunwali and Luttrell are fast friends. Gulab was brought to America to see the premier of “Lone Survivor.”

Berg put in a lot of work to make this movie as real as possible, and it shows, both on the screen and the unusual silence of the audience.

Luttrell moved in with Berg for a while to work on the script. Berg himself became the first civilian to embed with a SEAL team in Iraq and interviewed families of the dead SEALs.

Berg took the minimum salary allowed under Directors Guild of America rules and convinced a lot of the cast to lower their asking price to keep production costs down. Making this film meant a lot to a lot of people.

It’s doing well at the box office and has generally been a critical success.

But it’s also been called violence porn and light on character development,

Kyle Smith of the New York Times called it “a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning.”

Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly, evidently didn’t bother to stay till the end and distilled the message to “Brown people bad, American people good.”

No it’s violence, portrayed accurately. “Violence porn” is Hollywood sanitized violence where people shot just drop and go to sleep.

No, it’s an action driven movie where character is shown by how men act under extreme stress.

Yes, it ended in near-total catastrophe and we are not winning the war. Does it follow we have nothing to learn from why military operations end catastrophically in the Hindu Kush, “the graveyard of empires”?

Whatever you think of the war, the Taliban murder women who dress “immodestly” and shoot little girls in the head who want to go to school. The SEALs are the good guys. Enjoy the movie.

Note: This was published in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.

No tags



Going Galt

There is some good news and bad news about employment.

The good news is, that although employers created only an anemic 74,000 jobs in December, nevertheless the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent to 6.7 percent.

The bad news is, the reason unemployment has dropped appears to be because two-thirds of the adult, able-bodied unemployed aren’t looking for work at all.

That’s the lowest labor force participation since 1978.

There’s an expression that’s been gaining currency in the last few years, “Going Galt.”

The phrase comes from the book “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Also know as “Atlas Shrugged and Shrugged and Shrugged…” by those who don’t fancy three-hour speeches dropped into the middle of the plot.

The theme of the book is that fed-up with an intrusive government destroying the economy the “men of the mind” go on strike. Some run off to a hidden valley in Colorado, while others take jobs that make them just enough to keep body and soul together.

One character goes off and becomes a pirate on the high seas, but we get to see disappointingly little of him.

In the course of the novel the economy grinds to a halt.

The durn thing is long, it’s annoyingly didactic and in some spots just downright weird. It’s also sold about seven million copies in English alone since its publication in 1957. Not counting foreign editions. I’ve met Ayn Rand fans from Russia, India, Bulgaria and Iran.

Part of the appeal is the gripping descriptive writing. From the first page you can see the palpable decay of society in the crumbling infrastructure and endless frustrating difficulties of bureaucracy strangling a civilization.

When I uprooted my life and moved to the former Soviet bloc shortly after the fall of communism I felt like everything I saw in the grim, grey, filthy cities was somehow familiar.

For another, Rand gave disaffected youth permission to be themselves, to seek out a destiny of their own choice. That’s considered more-or-less normal in these days of “follow your bliss” but back then it was heady stuff with a whiff of brimstone about it.

Ironically in her personal life Rand was a powerful and dominating personality who considered her personal tastes the norm of the universe. A circle of acolytes that gathered around her lived in mortal dread of not fitting in. Some people who knew her say it was best to admire her from a distance.

Rand grew up Jewish in Russia, and survived the revolution, the civil war, and the Great Terror just getting out and coming to America in 1925. Here she found intellectuals hailing the horror she’d escaped from as the first steps towards the utopian future.

Among conservative anti-communists National Review read her out of the movement entirely in a review by Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers called it a “remarkably silly book” and said, “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To the gas chambers — go!’”

Still it continues to sell, with sales doubling and tripling in recent years. A few conservatives have actually recommended it in public, causing great glee among Democrats who charge Republicans with being the party of Ayn Rand.

No such thing of course. Among other things, Rand was an outspoken atheist and not what you’d call a family values sort of person.

What she has given contemporary culture is that notion of “Going Galt.”

For me Rand’s central premise, that progress is the result of a few lonely geniuses dragging the world into the future kicking and screaming, just doesn’t work.

Even a cursory study of the history of industry and technology shows that while there are figures of towering genius, progress is driven by the efforts of a lot of people, mostly obscure.

But what happens when taxes and inflation grow to the point that the effort versus profit curve is so steep it just isn’t worth the bother?

What happens when running a business means all your decisions are subject to arbitrary review by bureaucrats who have to justify their salaries by sticking it to somebody every now and again?

What happens when expressing the wrong opinion, or just telling a tasteless joke can mean your job, your career?

What happens when you realize success depends on political connections, or promotion on being the right demographic regardless of merit?

What happens when you realize you could collect benefits equal to twice the entry-level salary in your job?

Could it be that a lot of people are just going to say, “The heck with it, I’m going to chuck it and spend time with my friends/children/books.”

And I hate to say it, but it’s looking better to me all the time.

No tags

Older posts >>

Theme Design by