Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

October 30, 2009

American exceptionalism

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:41 pm

Note: This appeared as the weekend op-ed in my paper.

Last April President Obama made some remarks about the idea of American exceptionalism, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

These remarks were immediately taken out of context by some to mean he was making light of America’s considerable accomplishments.

But anyone who listened further would have heard, “I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world… And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”

It is clear that Obama does believe America is in some way an exceptional country, though he has in the past admitted that like a great many Americans he finds it hard to articulate why.

Claims of American exceptionalism are viewed with suspicion by some Americans, and resentment by some foreigners, because they take it as a synonym for “arrogant,” and indeed our president has done a fair amount of apologizing around the globe for American arrogance.

But if you spend any time abroad, you’ll realize that not only Americans view America as an exception among nations.

For one thing, you can choose to become an American. That’s true of very few other nations where you are born what you are and that’s that. That’s what has made this country a magnet for those who sensed there was something more for them here than a life at the bottom of “the natural order of things.”

Our American identity is based not on ancestry, but on our relationship to a body of political literature. It’s very loosely-defined but certainly includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist, and some of the great inaugural addresses of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

I have heard second-generation Americans quite un-selfconsciously refer to “our” Revolution, and “our” Civil War. And of course they’re right.

America is remarkable in terms of the continuity of its political institutions. Though young as a culture, our elections and succession of offices have been ticking over like clockwork, uninterrupted by war and crisis for two-and-a-quarter centuries now.

In that same length of time France has had five republics, two kingdoms and an empire. China fell into chaos and rose again to overshadow the world, and the mighty Soviet Union rose and then vanished, leaving only a legacy of horror.

This is indeed an exceptional country, brought into being by a unique set of historical circumstances that are not likely to be repeated.

And yet there is something arrogant about out assumption of exceptionalism, a dangerous arrogance.

Americans seem to assume that America is eternal, and immune to the kind of disasters that have overwhelmed countless other nations in the past.

And oddly enough, this is an assumption shared by a great many foreigners as well. People I’ve met in nations where they are grimly aware that their own national survival is precarious, nonetheless seem to assume that America will always be there to run to.

Very few Americans really believe that we could spend ourselves broke and decline to the status of another big second-world country. Hardly anybody believes we could be rent by sectional divisions, or drastic changes in population demographics and break apart – in spite of the fact that it very nearly happened here once. Few believe deep down, in spite of overheated rhetoric, that we could loose our liberty from conquest, coup d’etat, or just the slow decline of an enervated and apathetic population.

And yet, why not? Why are we any different from the Etruscans, the Lusitanians, or the Confederation of Poland/Lithuania?

Is that arrogance our secret weakness, our Achilles heel? I often wonder if any American can appreciate their own nation the way a Pole or a Lithuanian appreciates their own, after the experience of nearly losing it forever?

October 24, 2009

Another Ah-ha! moment

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:48 pm

In my review of Thomas Sowell’s book, “A Conflict of Visions” I described reading it as one of the great Ah-ha! moments in my life.

A commenter in Peru agreed, “I have read in 1996 the Spanish translation of the 1987 edition. It was also an Ah-ha moment for me.”

Well I caught Rush Limbaugh on my pickup radio the other day talking about his blacklisting while trying to buy a football team.

Rush said, “If the NFL can be politicized, what makes you think a liver transplant can’t be?”


October 18, 2009

Take the jab!

Filed under: Humor/satire — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:37 pm

I’m sitting at home writing this, with a temperature of 101 and diffuse aches throughout my body. I’m cold, in spite of layers of thermal underwear. My head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton wool and my throat feels like it’s been swabbed with sandpaper. And though I’m not coughing much, when I do it feels like two guys with baseball bats have laid into both sides of my lower ribs simultaneously.
In other words, I have the flu.

What’s worse, I have no excuse for it. A few weeks ago I covered a drive-through flu innoculation our city/county health personel put on at the county highway department barn. How difficult would it have been to pay the fee and get the jab myself?

Well, maybe I didn’t want to spend the money, and maybe I’m kind of chicken about shots.

Apparently lots of people are, our City/County Health director said while the event went very well as a preparedness exercise, turnout was disappointing.

I guess the joke’s on me. I had to spend the money and get blood drawn anyway.

Not that that did any good. My doctor said everything was normal in my bloodwork, which simply ruled out a number of other things I didn’t have and confirmed what I knew already. It’s flu.

So I said, “Bed rest, plenty of fluids…”

“That’s right,” he replied, “everything your grandmother would have told you. And, don’t take anti-fever medication unless it gets above 102. Fever fights infection.”

That’s one of the reasons my father, a retired physician, says medical services are overused in America.

“Things that used to be treated with a mother’s kiss are taken to the emergency room these days,” is how he put it.

So now I’ve paid the co-pay to confirm what I already knew, and done my bit to raise the insurance premiums of my co-workers next time around.

In the meantime, I can’t hug my kids (and I could use a hug right now,) I can’t kiss my wife (and she’s going to kill me if she gets sick while the play she’s in is running,) and while nausea is one of the symptoms thankfully absent, nothing really tastes good either.

So do yourself, your family, and your co-workers a favor and take the jab!

October 17, 2009

When deadly force is a duty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:49 pm

Dumb moments in journalism

If you go here you’ll find a Dutch website* with a video of British press interview with a raghead (observe the gutra on said head) about the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, speaking in a good solid English working-class accent – the accent I associate with the salt of the earth, saying:

“…in Islam, the punishment for anyone who insults the prophet (Arabic phrase which means “peace be upon him,”) — is capital punishment. He should take the lesson from Theo van Gogh and others who’ve faced the punishment.”

The journalist (not on-camera, only his microphone appears) then breaks in to ask, “Is that (unclear) be construed as a threat?”

Is the Pope Catholic? Does the bear shit in the woods?

After which the interviewee goes on to elaborate that, while he wouldn’t necessarily be the one to carry it out, short answer: yes.

Well, perhaps the fellow was just double-checking. Perhaps it was an example of English reserve. And perhaps the excerpt wasn’t long enough to show how he undoubtedly had penetrating questions about how could the interview subject expect full rights of citizenship and rely on the hospitality of a free society, and yet demand the right to annul those very freedoms which made that country such an attractive destination for immigrants?

Now go on and listen to the speaker with the megaphone express his hatred for democracy in every country in Europe, and “this dog Wilders.”

“Islam will dominate… So no matter where he runs… Islam will come, and it will conquer… Islam will enter the house of every person in this world…We will see the European crusaders destroyed…”

You get the drift.

And, this takes place outside the Houses of Parliament, the “Mother of Parliaments.”

Interviewer asks, “So you consider this a victory today, that you’ve prevented him from speaking?”

I vote clueless.

Listen a little longer and you’ll hear another speaker loudly trumpeting his invitation to Geert Wilders to come out and be murdered by the mob. And moreover, expressing his indignation that the British police won’t allow them to come in and get him.

I don’t know about you, but it’s my strong impression that these fellows mean what they say. (How’s that for English-style understatement?)

I suppose some fellow-libertarians (those not members of the “libertarians with cojones” caucus) are going to call me names again for this, but there are times when a government of free men must be willing to shed the blood of its citizens.

This is one of them. That mob of savages should have been read the Riot Act**, ordered to disperse, and if they didn’t they should have been treated to mass volley fire.

You don’t like tyrannical government supressing free speech? So do you think the tyranny of a bloodthirsty mob is an improvement?

Now that I’ve stuck my foot in it, let me think of a few other occasions when I saw government clearly failing in its duty to use deadly force.

For those preparing angry comments calling me a racist, try this on for size.

A few years back, a mob in a German town besieged a hostel for immigrants. In the course of the riot, the mob set fire to the place and burned to death several Turkish women and children.

The police pretty much stood by wringing their hands.

Their clear duty was again, order the mob to disperse and give them a “first, second, third warning…” followed by volley fire. Then form a skirmish line, sweep through town and shoot/bayonet anyone carrying an incindiary.

Case three, requiring more subtlety.

A while back I saw a news video of English soccer hooligans in a stadium with two tiers of seating. The upper tier was quite high above the lower tiers.

The lager louts were ripping up the wooden seating and throwing it onto the heads of the spectators below.

From that height, throwing heavy objects onto a crowd is attempted murder.

Obviously, volley fire is not an appropriate response in crowded conditions. Snipers are.

“If you are not prepared to use violence to defend civilization, you must be prepared to accept barbarism.”
–Thomas Sowell

*To show you something about education in the Netherlands, the web site text is in Dutch, but the video is of course in English, but with no translation or subtitles. The Dutch audience is just assumed to understand English.

**From Wikipedia: The Riot Act[1] (1713) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which authorised local authorities to declare any group of more than twelve people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The Act, whose long title was “An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters”, came into force on 1 August 1715, and remained on the statute books until 1973.

No longer on the statute books. Pity, it’s kind of classy.

“Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!”

Point being, you get a warning. Von Hayek pointed out years ago that one of the essential qualities of the laws of a free society is not that they always make perfect sense, or be perfectly just (if there is any such thing this side of heaven,) but that they be consistent. You’ve got to know from day to day what to expect from the law.

Sue the bastards Rushbo!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:52 pm

How could you say these vile things Rush Limbaugh?

“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”

“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

Oh, you didn’t. In fact they were made up. By people who were not mistaken, but deliberately lying.

But here:

You can find a site which still claims El Rushbo said them all – and cites sources!

Please take a minute to go there, and click on the SOURCE buttons under each quote.

Back now?

OK, notice that each source is secondary. Among the sources are the book “101 People who are Screwing up America,” by Jack Huberman, and (a say it very softly, communist – shhhhh, front organization.)

(OK, spare yourself the trouble, I’ll say it for you, “MCCARTHYITE PIG! WITCH HUNT! WITCH HUNT! WITCH HUNT!” There, don’t you feel better now?)

Not once is a written source or an air date for these alleged quotes cited.

So what? This is a tinfoil-hat-wearing blogger so who cares?

Except that supposedly “professional” types at CNN and elsewhere are refusing to apologize, some (such as one Rick Sanchez) offering lame excuses of the “Well if it ain’t true, it oughta be” kind.

The wittiest living man writing in English, Mark Steyn, pointed out the single, obvious fact that should have given the lie to this. If Rush had made these statements, does anyone seriously think they would only have been brought public attention now?

The occasion of these particular slanders/libels* is of course, Rush’s attempt to buy a football team.

I could give a crap except for one thing, this time the slanders have evidently achieved their purpose. They have derailed what was a purely business deal.


Rush, I think you just won the lottery.

Libel laws in the U.S. I’m told, rest on two legs, 1) the assertion must be false (in America truth is absolute proof against libel**), and 2) there must be demonstrable damage.

Nowadays “mental anguish” has been accepted as damage, and defined down to “hurt feelings.” Dumb and dangerous to free speech. But Rush actually suffered an aborted business transaction directly attributable to these slander, as documented by the football bigwigs’ public statements.

Sue the bastards Rush! Sue them down to their underwear! Sue everybody in sight!

As a libertarian I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable about libel laws (and I’ll present my Free Market Anarchist alternative later.)

In a civilized society, a gentleman falsely accused of making statements that vile would send a designated gentleman around to the slanderer with a polite request for either a public apology, or a meeting on the Field of Honor.***

One could of course, say no. And thus be revealed as a coward without the courage to defend one’s lie. And of course, no jury would award more than a slap-on-the-wrist fine and a hearty handshake for the slandered party when he met the offender on the street and caned him. (As Sam Houston once did on the Capitol steps to a member of Congress who made a vile – and racist, insult, then haughtily refused him a duel.)

But we don’t have a civilized society, so sue them Rush!

P.S. I’ll point out here that I have been sharply critical of Rush Limbaugh in the past here when his mouth ran ahead of his brain.

But read the post and see that what Rush said on that occasion was an intemperate, and uncharitable interpretation of something that was admittedly true.

Note also that the insults I delivered to Rush for satirical purposes, “fat, deaf, junkie,” were also true at the time.

*A lawyer friend once explained the legal difference between libel and slander to me: slander is spoken, libel is written. That’s it.

That definition held for centuries until broadcast/recorded media made it a bit more complicated. The modern convention seems to be to use the term ‘libel’ for everything.

**In the U.K. startlingly, this is not the case. Which is why London is a favorite destination for libel tourism.

***Am I kidding? Even I don’t know.

UPDATE: Correction from a lawyer friend.


Just glanced at one of your blog pieces, and noticed this error: “The modern convention seems to be to use the term ‘libel’ for everything.” Nope. The modern convention is to use “defamation” for everything — correctly, BTW: defamation is the category which encompasses both libel & slander.

October 15, 2009

All eyes on the prize

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:25 pm

Note: A slightly different version of this was the weekend op-ed in my newspaper.

“The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows:…and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
–Last Will and Testament of Alfred Nobel

Norway, with less than five million inhabitants and a military smaller than many states’ National Guard, has managed to do what Russian might, terrorist ruthlessness, and Latin American tyranny could not.

They’ve made the president of the United States a laughingstock.

In 2009, a record 205 nominations were received for the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was awarded to President Barack Obama, nine months into his term. Worse, nominations closed on Feb. 1, which was less than two weeks after Obama took office.

Of course the Nobel Peace Prize Committee did not mean it that way. They obviously chose Obama because he’s the anti-Bush, and to influence U.S. foreign policy in a direction more to their liking.

But Obama supporters and detractors alike realize there is no upside to this. They only difference is whether they’re reacting with delight, or dismay.

Obama said he was, “surprised and humbled.” I suggest a better adjective is “humiliated.”

If you doubt this, imagine yourself in large public gathering introduced by a speaker who heaped the most fulsome and effusive praise on you, which you knew for a fact you did not deserve.

Heck, it’s embarrassing enough for any man with self-respect to listen to when you do deserve it.

If someone is heaping abuse on you, you can ignore it and look above it all. So how do you deal with sickeningly sycophantic praise without looking rude and graceless?

So why would the awards committee make such a gaff? And one at such odds with their intended purpose?

Well, to begin with the Peace Prize is awarded by an entirely different set of people than the other Nobel prizes. The Nobels for Physics, Chemistry, and economics are awarded by a committee from the Swedish Academy of Science, the literature prize from the Swedish Academy.

The Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament, roughly representing the political makeup of that body. This year that’s three from left to far-left parties and two from conservative parties. The chairman of the committee is the notoriously gaff-prone Thorbjorn Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway. (A.k.a. “The Joe Biden of Norway.”)

For another, the prize has always been inconsistently awarded.

Teddy Roosevelt won the prize for brokering the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese war. And both sides agreed he deserved it.

On the other hand, both Hitler and Stalin have been nominated, Yasser Arafat actually won it, and Jimmy Carter only won his twenty years after he negotiated the peace between Israel and Egypt.

Mahatma Gandhi (nominated 5 times!), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Václav Havel, and Corazon Aquino never won.

In 2007 the committee nominated Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved 2,500 Jewish children during the Second World War. She was tortured and left for dead by the Gestapo, and later imprisoned by the Communist government.

That year Al Gore won it for his Power Point presentation on Global Warming.

The fact is, the Peace Prize has always been a poor relation coasting on the reputation of the other Nobel prizes given for real, substantial accomplishments in literature, science, medicine, and economics. (With a curious exception. There is no prize for Mathematics.) So I wouldn’t take this prize too seriously.

Still, though I have my differences with Barack Obama, that’s the President of the United States you’re patronizing you lutefisk-eating Euro-weenies!

October 8, 2009

How about a “public option” for newspapers?

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:45 pm

Note: This is a rare, in fact unique example of an op-ed that I was asked to hold. Not spiked, just asked to hold and rework if I liked.

I was not offended. In fact, I was delighted when I thought about it.

Why? Because it scared the $#!+ out of my publisher and editor. What they said was, 1) “We sometimes make mistakes” is a damaging admission. Manifestly true, and we’re not trying to hide it, but it’s the kind of honesty that can hurt you if it ever comes up in court.

And 2) they thought some people would actually say, “Hey, what a great idea!”

But most of all, because given the premises of the health care argument, the logic herein is inescapable – and that’s scary.



Wednesday night President Obama gave a speech to congress outlining his ideas for health care reform. Mostly it was a recap of what he’s been pounding away at for a while, with a couple of minor surprises.

The president did give a nod to the lawsuit factor driving health care costs up. Baseless accusations of malpractice too-often force health care providers to practice “defensive medicine.” By ordering every diagnostic test under the sun they try to avoid winding up on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Since the president has so far studiously avoided the subject of tort reform this was praiseworthy, however offhand and half-hearted the mention.

Another surprise was he didn’t quite insist on a “public option” in health insurance.

He didn’t have to. Once a large enough fraction of the health care industry is pulled into the government sector, the rest will fall into place.

The president said, “But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance.”

How could anyone object to that? He’s not proposing to nationalize the health insurance industry after all.

In fact, this sounds so reasonable I have an additional suggestion. How about a public option for newspapers? We could try it right here in our city.

We at the newspaper are aware that local government is sometimes not entirely happy with our coverage. We sometimes make mistakes. Some accuse us of being one-sided or unfair, or of only reporting bad news. We often give coverage to people they regard as troublemakers with nothing constructive to say.

And, we have a quasi-monopoly in our county as it’s only daily newspaper. And let’s not forget that advertising can be pretty expensive. Why should only big, rich businesses be able to afford full-page ads? What about small mom-and-pop businesses? Don’t they deserve quality advertising?

So why not start a tax-subsidized newspaper to create some competition in the local newspaper business? And maybe a radio station as well. After all, if the people are paying for it, it would serve the people and not some private for-profit interest.

Using the president’s logic, “But an additional step we can take to keep newspapers honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the media. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have access to news and advertising. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have newspaper subscriptions and advertising accounts.”

A tax-subsidized newspaper could afford more reporters and photographers, more color pages and more comics. A not-for-profit newspaper or radio station could offer free or greatly discounted advertising.

This wouldn’t affect your present newspaper or radio station. Any business which preferred to could keep their own paid advertising in the privately owned media.

Of course, more people want their particular news interests published than any newspaper has room or any radio station time for. But you shouldn’t worry about news and ad rationing. Public option media would have an impartial board of prominent citizens appointed by the government to review submissions and decide what is really important and newsworthy.

Isn’t that the way it always works in government?

After all, it’s not like we’re proposing a government monopoly on newspapers.

Reworked Afghanistan post for an op-ed

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:26 pm

Note: Readers will recognize this op-ed I wrote for my newspaper as a reworking of an earlier blog post. I’m posting it because, 1) I post almost all of my published op-eds as a way of filing them in a secure location, and 2) it shows the difference in styles between a newspaper column and a blog post.

The differences are due to space constraints, and the prospective audience. Writing op-eds, you are always struck by how many things you have to leave out. And you know that your audience is composed of a lot of people who don’t agree with you, so you have to take a certain approach just to get them to read it.

I’ll have more to say about that kind of writing later, after I figure it out myself. So:

I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan

I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan, and recent events are only making it worse.

General Stanley McChrystal, President Obama’s hand-picked commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is already in trouble with the administration for going public with disagreements over strategy.

Obama picked McChrystal, to replace General David McKiernan in May, 2009 less than a year after McKiernan took command.

Afghanistan is Obama’s “war of necessity,” as opposed to Bush’s “war of choice” in Iraq.

Certainly a punitive expedition to Afghanistan after Sept. 11 was entirely justified. The planners of the attack were there. The Afghan government said “Nyah, nyah you can’t have them” when we asked, so we went in and killed and captured as many of them as we could find.

Comb the history of civilization and find me one which would deny a legitimate cassus belli existed in this case.

But sticking around to practice nation-building on the Afghans strikes me as a long-term project with immense costs and problematic gains.

If you believe western civilization is engaged in what amounts to a long war against Islamic jihadism whether we like it or not, Afghanistan doesn’t look like the best place to pin down limited resources.

Whatever you think of that war, Iraq is an ancient civilization near the geopolitical center of Islam. Iraq is rich in resources, and in the hands of a hostile power capable of supplying money and resources to the jihadist campaign against the West.

Saddam Hussein for example was, as our “ally” Saudi Arabia still is, paying substantial sums to families of suicide bombers in Israel.

Afghanistan has always been peripheral to the ancient civilizations of the region. It’s importance to the jihadists is basically, that it’s a great place to hide.

For students of military science, the critical difference difference between them is the strategically important part of Iraq is pretty flat. Afghanistan… isn’t.

As a descendant of Scottish highlanders I can affirm that forcing civilization on mountaineers is very, very difficult. Mostly because they don’t want it.

I feel for Afghanis who have to live with the Taliban, especially women who aspire to a life as something more than domestic chattels. But our resources are not infinite, and we have every reason to believe this new kind of war is going to be a long and expensive one.

So at the risk of sounding heartless I have to ask, what’s in it for us? What do we gain by the enormous expense in the long term? And might those resources be better applied elsewhere?

Students of World War II might remember Germany lost two sizable armies in Africa and Russia, and possibly the war, because Hitler was unwilling to abandon any theater of operations once occupied by German soldiers.

Students of Vietnam remember that the justification of fighting for a democratic regime was rendered indefensible by a succession of about a half-dozen coups in rapid succession followed by strongman rule. Now it appears Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have rigged the last election.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”

With Afghanistan we have an electorate not fully committed to the war effort, and an administration that has shown itself weak and vacillating on the issue.

If we stay in Afghanistan, the Russians can do to us exactly what they did to us in Vietnam, and what we did to them when they occupied that country. They can supply cheap arms to our enemies at no risk to themselves, while we expend immense sums of money and the valuable lives of our soldiers.

I say if the jihadists base themselves in Afghanistan, play whack-a-mole with them every time they stick their heads up. But unless we’re willing to commit to an all-out effort, with all of the resources our field commanders ask for, maybe it’s better to fight the jihadists another day, in a place where the outcome is more decisive.

Gilded ghettos

Filed under: On Thinking,Philosophy,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:46 am

I’d like to draw your attention to this message from my friend Robert Bidinotto, which he posted on his facebook page. It deserves wider distribution than his mailing list, and his web site is hors de combat after the hosting company fraked up.

Underneath I’m going to indulge myself in some sour grapes. Or at least that’s what some may say.

Lest you think Robert is indulging himself in some of those, I’ll point out here that wa-a-a-ay back, Robert was the writer who broke the “Willie Horton” story in Reader’s Digest during the Bush/Dukakis campaign.

And by the way, Robert NEVER referred to the oft-incarcerated psycho as anything but “William Horton.”

Robert wrote:

In Defense of the “Right-Wing Populists”

by Robert James Bidinotto

Jonah Goldberg—the undeniably intellectual author of Liberal Fascism—criticizes those intellectual weenies, both left and right, who attack talk-show host Glenn Beck and other right-wing populists, including Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Partiers. (See his article here: )

I’m with Goldberg on this.

I’ve spent most of my professional life within the right-wing think-tank world. Sadly, in my experience, the majority of the wonks and theorists who populate this mini-universe live in the rarified air of theoretical abstractions severed from real-world experience—that is to say, totally inside their own skulls. Many have migrated straight from grad schools into think tanks, without the invaluable rite of passage provided by a job out in the competitive marketplace. As a result, they have become cocooned in a self-selected world of other intellectuals, and many are uncomfortable around those who don’t share their bookish preoccupations. This causes an interesting cultural tension for right-wing intellectuals. As a point of ideological faith, they profess to like “Americans,” at least in the abstract—but they despise most of the concrete examples of Americans whom they encounter in the streets and shops.

Read conservatives such as David Frum, David Brooks, and Peggy Noonan, or even some prominent denizens of libertarian think tanks. Such right-wing intellectuals are about as disconnected from Main Street America as are left intellectuals. Their alienation from their nation’s citizens finds expression in constant, condescending contempt toward people like Sarah Palin and “Joe the Plumber,” toward rank-and-file Tea Party activists, and toward the talk-show champions of Main Street America, like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin. Such people, they sniff, are so intellectually impoverished, so unrefined, so lacking in Ivy League nuance and subtlety.

I sense that such conservative intellectuals would love to spend hours at a Georgetown dinner party trading bon mots with a smooth and refined progressive like Barack Obama, or exchanging light-hearted barbs with a quick-witted left-wing comic like Jon Stewart. But they wouldn’t be caught dead with a beer in their hands at a barbecue hosted by Sarah, Joe, or Glenn.

Many have noted that America seems to be undergoing a political realignment. But I think that’s merely one part of a much broader cultural realignment. It’s a realignment of American society based on fundamentally clashing values. And this value-conflict reveals itself in a host of other profound differences—in lifestyle preferences, personal priorities, and social-class affinities.

Of course, the most public manifestation of this great divide can be seen in the political arena. There, we’re witnessing an all-out attempt by arrogant, technocratic know-it-alls to take over our lives, our social institutions, and entire industries, and to run them strictly according to their pet theoretical systems. Educated at the best universities, comfortably surrounded by other anointed members of the Establishment elite, they believe they know how to manage the lives and affairs of ordinary Americans far, far better than those little people can do for themselves. Meanwhile, Main Street America is righteously rebelling against this self-appointed aristocracy, and popular figures like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin are giving eloquent voice to their cries of protest.

In this pivotal battle for individual freedom, those intellectuals on the right who align themselves with the power-hungry elites, rather than with the beleaguered citizenry, are akin to the Tories who betrayed their fellow colonists and supported the coercive Crown during the American Revolution.

As for me, I’ll gladly leave the parasitical aristocrats to their glittering cocktail parties, preferring to stand outside in the streets with the protesting crowds bearing signs, torches, and pitchforks. It’s an easy choice, because not only do I know which side is right, but also which side will ultimately win.

The author is online at,, and

I replied:



I’ve refrained from bitching about this too much, because it’d sound like sour grapes, but…

A few years back I returned from 13 years living and working in Eastern Europe (Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, with frequent visits to the Baltic States and points east) with a good working knowledge of Polish and street competence in a few other Slavic languages. I was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights for my work with Serbian dissidents. I ran money to Belarusian dissidents, founded the Liberty English Camps (now operating in a half-dozen countries around the world,) been in a few truly hairy situations, and have been kicked with honest-to-God jack boots and beaten with real rubber truncheons. (They’re not all rubber, they have a steel rod inside.)

I thought, thought I, with my education, accomplishments, and experience, I should be working with think tanks and foundations dedicated to spreading liberty throughout the world.

So I applied in a number of places over 3-4 years. The responses usually went through three stages: 1) initial enthusiasm, followed by 2) rapidly cooling ardor, and 3) excuses for not hiring me.

“Oh Steve, we thought with your experience you’d be bored in this position.” (Real example.)

Now, I don’t actually know, but it occurred to me that since most of these positions would have had me working for people who in your description, “have migrated straight from grad schools into think tanks, without the invaluable rite of passage provided by a job out in the competitive marketplace,” they might have a problem hiring someone who’s been some places and done some stuff.

Or as my (Polish) wife asked, “Who are these children who keep calling you?”

I did get a paid internship through the conservative National Journalism Foundation, which placed me at Human Events for three months. I had a ball and made some good friends – but you’re right. Inside-the-Beltway people often have more in common with their inside-the-Beltway opposite numbers on the Left than they do with their alleged constituency outside the Beltway.

Victor Davis Hanson called the right-wing think tanks, “gilded ghettos.”

Amen. Every time I hear that yet another libertarian or conservative think tank has moved “up” to offices inside the Beltway I think, “Another casualty in the war for liberty.”

Or maybe that should be “defection.”


Robert’s comment: “Maybe Victor Davis Hanson is so sane because he’s a farmer, as well as an academic, and not afraid to get dirt under his fingernails.”



On reflection it occurs to me that the inside-the-Beltway crowd is actually out of touch with the real Washington as well.

Three months in D.C. I stayed in a nice little flat behind the Supreme Court, a five-minute walk away from the office. From Capitol Hill, out to Dupont Circle and Embassy Row in one direction, to Foggy Bottom in another is it’s own little world, kept reasonably safe by at least three separate police forces (D.C., Metro, and Capitol Hill P.D.) and innumerable private security agencies.

A 20-minute walk in another direction, or a 3-5 stop ride on the metro, and you were in a different world entirely. (Which then changes back around Silver Springs.) Even within the metro system you are in a different city if you get on the green line.

D.C. is an island of calm surrounded by a sea of barbarism the insiders have zero contact with, and though they’re aware of it, they prefer not to think of it. (I was told, “If you live on Capitol Hill, you have to, have to, send your kids to private school.” No elaboration needed.)

And weirdly, on weekends inner D.C. has the quiet deadness of a small town on Sunday.

P.S. For those who know D.C. – apologies if the geography is vague. I never got a sense of spatial location there, which kind of makes the point…

October 3, 2009

Defending that putz Woody Allen

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:45 pm

Roman Polanski got himself arrested and is facing extradtion to the U.S. to face the music after 32 years on the lam, living the life of a hunted fugitive, hiding in posh parties and movie premiers in European capitols.

Hollywood and the artistic community abroad are aghast at us uncultured American barbarians. They’ve gone public with their hitherto private conviction that artistes are above conventional morality and the law.

In America of course, this gets you a horselaugh. Which is probably one of the reasons disaffected artists and intellectuals are among the most prominent America-haters.

I do think there are… troubling things in the Polanski case that I may deal with later.

Or maybe not. Frankly, this and some criminal cases I’ve covered lately are making me want to book a place in Our Lady of Perpetual Incarceration convent school when my little girl gets to be school age.

But right now, this is one of those times I have to grit my teeth and defend someone I disagree with, against a specific charge I know is unjust.

Woody Allen signed a petition demanding the release of Roman Polanski.

Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!

Conservative commentors are having a field day.

L. Brent Bozell said, “Woody Allen, another famous dirty old man in Hollywood, who scandalously carried on a sexual relationship with an adopted stepdaughter 34 years his junior, and then married her.”

Married a girl he was carrying on with? Oh heavens to Betsy surely not! All Right-thinking social conservatives must surely disapprove of that.

Bozell is the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley. As I recall, Jerome Tucille wrote in his book about the then-nascent libertarian movement, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, that Bozell in his youth helped found something called The Sons of Thunder.

“Sons of Thunder” is a Bibilical reference to the disciples James and John, sons of Zebedee, nicknamed “thunder.”

Evidently these guys wore red berets, carried crucifixes and broke into hospitals to baptise aborted fetuses.

But I digress.

Jonah Goldberg, who really ought to know better, wrote, “No surprise that Woody’s on board, given that he married his adopted daughter.”

I once wrote, “Your belief in freedom is tested by your willingness to defend the freedom of people you despise.”

This isn’t quite one of those occasions. This is more a test of journalistic integrity.


She is the adopted daughter of Allen’s previous girlfriend Mia Farrow – who was not his live-in girlfriend either, and Farrow’s then-husband Andre Previn.* Allen was never legally or informally a parent-figure to her.

He did father a child with Farrow and they adopted two together. Allen lost any parental rights whatsoever to the adopted children in court, and only supervised visitation with his biological child, who has since cut him off.

But then that’s what happens when you don’t marry the mother of your child and speaks volumes to the issue of allowing unmarried couples to adopt.

And, he and Soon-yi have been married for 12 years now, have two kids and seem to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

(Evidently Soon-yi isn’t the kind to take any of that we-don’t-need-a-piece-of-paper-to-affirm-our-love crap. Good for her.)

Bozell, what you’re doing looks suspiciously like deliberate misleading – the kind of thing you accuse the Left of doing. You wrote “an adopted daughter” though you didn’t specifically say “his adopted daughter” it looks an awful lot like you were trying to slip it by.

Goldberg, you wrote something that is just flat wrong. Since it’s an easily checkable error of fact, I’m assuming you simply made a mistake. Plus I like you better and don’t want to believe you acted with malice aforethought.

Woody, you’re a putz for signing that stupid petition – but everybody should lay off your family.

Note: Since it is known that there is a similar, though not quite as large an age difference in my marriage, the question arises whether I have something personal invested in this.

Not really. We’ve never gotten any static or public disapproval. If there’s been any behind our backs, I’ve never heard it and wouldn’t give a $#!+ anyway.

*For those too young to remember, composer Andre Previn was the husband of Mia Farrow’s good friend Dory Previn. Farrow fled to Dory Previn after her marriage with Frank Sinatra broke up, then stole her husband. Dory Previn got a sort of revenge by writing and recording a song about it:

“Beware of young girls who come to your door,
Wistful and pale, twenty and four,
Delivering daises with delicate hands.
Beware of young girls, too often they crave,
To cry at a wedding… And dance on a grave.”

“She was my friend, my friend, my friend.
She was invited to my house, Oh yes she was,
And although she knew my love was true, and no ordinary thing,
She admired my wedding ring, she admired my wedding ring.”

“We were friends, oh yes we were,
And she just took him from my life, oh yes she did.
So young and vain, she brought me pain, but I’m wise enough to say,
She will leave him one thoughtless day, she just leave him and go away, Oh yes.”

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