Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 29, 2010

From WaPo: Authorities seek deal with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Filed under: Politics,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 4:38 pm

And it just keeps getting weirder.

From the Washington Post: “Authorities are inching toward an agreement that would secure cooperation from the suspect in the failed Detroit airliner attack, according to two sources familiar with the case, even as fresh details emerged about the intense and chaotic response to the Christmas Day incident.

Seizing on the near miss, GOP lawmakers have mounted a sustained attack on President Obama and the Justice Department, saying they may have lost out on valuable intelligence by charging Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a federal court rather than under the military justice system.

But new details complicate that narrative, suggesting that Abdulmutallab, 23, clammed up even before he was informed of his right to remain silent — a warning that could have come later had he been placed in military custody. He continued to speak to authorities before undergoing treatment for second- and third-degree burns below the waist that occurred during a bid to detonate explosives on Northwest Flight 253.

The incident has provoked criticism that federal agencies missed intelligence signals that might have prevented the attack, and has reignited a fierce debate about the adequacy of traditional law enforcement tools to combat terrorist threats.

Well, duh. To coin a phrase.

Now here’s what occurred to me. They had this guy in custody and talking, in what has to have been terrible pain from setting his own crotch on fire, and they gave him an anesthetic?

I personally think the self-inflicted nature of the guy’s injuries makes the issue of torture moot.

What was it Batman said to Ras Al-ghul?

“I can’t kill you. But I don’t have to save you.”

New study just in! Kids watch a lot of TV

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:16 am

Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?

-Bye Bye Birdie, 1963

The results of the 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation study, “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds,” has confirmed what a lot of us suspected, only worse.

Today, the 8-18 year-old age cohort devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day, more than 53 hours a week, to using entertainment media. If you factor in media multitasking (texting while watching TV for example,) that seven-and-a-half hours counts as 10 hours and 45 minutes.

That’s an increase of an hour and seventeen minutes a day since the last study in 2004. At that time it was thought media use among kids had topped out, because it couldn’t possibly get any higher.

Fooled us I guess.

The study cites a number of factors:

*Increased ownership of mobile devices like cell phones and iPods by kids. An increase of 39 to 66 percent for cell phones, and from 18 to 76 percent for iPods and other MP3 players.

*Media in the home; 64 percent of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, 45 percent say the TV is on “most of the time” when nobody is watching. Seventy-one percent of kids surveyed have a TV in their bedroom, 50 percent have a game player.

*Social networking via texting and sites such as Facebook.

And then there’s that rules thing. Only 28 percent of young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV, 30 percent have rules for video games, and 36 percent for computer time.

And rules make a difference. Kids with parental rules report three hours a day less media consumption than kids without rules. And while stressing that correlation does not prove cause and effect, heavy media use correlates rather strongly (47 percent) with lower grades in school.

There is some good news. Time spent reading books remained steady at about 25 minutes a day. Time reading magazines and newspapers dropped, but a lot of them have gone on-line, so that may just be the difference in how it’s delivered. I’m waiting to see what the effect of Kindle-type devices have on news media consumption.

Some of this is not as big a deal as we might think. Notice that a lot of that media use is leaving the TV on basically for background noise. I myself often leave the news on, listening with half an ear while waiting for a story I’m following to come up.

Also, a lot of that “media consumption” is listening to music on portable devices. I know it’s probably not Mozart, but with the exception of some hateful rap, I don’t see much harm in that.

Nonetheless as a parent I am concerned.

There is also some good-and-bad news. When I was a kid, the most TV channels you could get anywhere was three, and frankly I don’t remember all that much golden about “the Golden Age of Television.”

Now with cable or satellite, you can get hundreds of channels. With the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, etc, there’s something interesting, informative and educational available 24/7.

But, this is all sedentary activity and it shows. Obesity is way up among kids, and the Pentagon says most young people who want to join the military can’t pass the physical.

Other than Viewing with Alarm, opinions differ about how to deal with this, or whether it can be dealt with at all.

In our home, we have a daily limit on screen time. That’s all screen time, computer plus TV plus games total. How they divide their alloted time between media is up to them. There is of course, no limit on reading time.

Furthermore, we control content. Certain TV programs are off limits for kids. No vicarious killing of human beings in videogames, and no TV in the bedroom. Not now, not ever.

Yes the rules bend sometimes. And yes there are fights over them sometimes.

But as my wife says, “What’s wrong with saying no?”

Will it do any good in this media-saturated society?

Ask me in 20 years.

January 24, 2010

Hey maybe somebody gets it – or maybe not

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:20 am

There might be hope yet. Or maybe not.

After the first heady rush of having overcome the Senate Sixty by one vote in a special election, saner voices on the Right are cautioning against the Republican Party regressing to the Big Government kleptocracy they embraced in the 90s, squandering yet another chance presented to them on a silver platter.

On Michelle Malkin’s website you’ll find, “Conservatives: Beware of McCain Regressions Syndrome.”
Savor the irony: After a career spent bashing the right flank of the party, Sen. McCain is now clinging to its coattails to save his incumbent hide.

And pay attention to the hidden, more troubling irony: While he runs to the right to protect his seat, McCain’s political machine is working across the country to install liberal and establishment Republicans to secure his legacy.

Uber right-wing economics writer Lawrence Kudlow asks, “Are Republicans Listening to the Scott Brown Message?”

Sen. Scott Brown’s epic victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday night dealt a crushing blow to Obamacare, cap-and-trade, card check (and other union favors), and most importantly, all the tax hikes that are lingering on the table. But does Washington really understand the Scott Brown message?

President Obama thinks his “remoteness and detachment” are the problems. This is nonsense. Obama’s tax hikes and spending explosion are what caused the populist tea-party revolt that was punctuated by Scott Brown’s extraordinary victory.

And that leads to the next question. Are the Republicans listening? Do they really understand why Scott Brown was victorious? If they do, why aren’t members of the Republican leadership loudly campaigning for an end to tax hikes, just like Scott Brown?”

Kudlow goes on to say: “A recent Washington Post poll showed that by 58 to 38 percent, voters want smaller government and fewer government services. This, too, should be the Republican congressional message.”

Amen!

A little background. I joined the Libertarian Party within a year of its founding. I was the first libertarian to run for office in Oklahoma. I knew founder Dave Nolan slightly. I haven’t heard from him in years and my strong impression was that he was somewhat disenchanted with what he’d wrought.

Thirty-eight years and a fair amount of money later, the LP has seen vote totals decline from a high in 1980. Once lauding itself as “the third-largest party” in America, a verbal slight-of-hand if there ever was one, it is now the fifth.

Though there has been some progress in getting people elected to local offices, when libertarians have been effective at all, it’s been to split the conservative vote and get further-left politicians elected.

That’s not my idea of progress.

Worse, there has been no attempt to use the power of being a “spoiler” to any effect, i.e. quite frankly – blackmail. As in “We’ll stay out of this race in return for your support for….”

Worse still, it has become a haven for bright-but-terminally-nerdy utopians who on some level don’t really seem to want the movement to grow. If you’re a big fish in a little pond, perhaps you really don’t want the pond to get bigger.

Worst of all, the party for a while fell into the hands of a clique who disregarded party rules, handed out high-paid jobs to cronies, ultmately bankrupting the party and leaving it with a crippling debt load.

In short, they behaved just like any other politicians.

There is something in the structure of the Constitution that seems to allow two major parties, and that’s it. The replacement of one of the two parties by an up-and-comer has happened precisely once in our history, when Lincoln led the Republicans to victory.

This was immediately followed by the Civil War, which ought to tell us something. Don’t ask me what.

European parliamentary systems are different. England has three viable parties with representation in the Mother of Parliaments. Other countries have several, sometimes getting to an unwieldy number that paralyzes their governments. Not altogether a bad thing sometimes…

But we’ve got the system we’ve got, and over the years I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion libertarians, libertarian-conservatives, classical liberals, and whatever the hell you call yourselves, if you love liberty we are going to have to 1) work within one – or both, of the major parties, and 2) enter into ad hoc alliances on specific issues with people who have other goals we don’t much like.

Right now, majority opinion seems to be for smaller government. Not nearly as small as I think it should be, and of course everybody has a different idea of what part should be cut or shrunk.

The Left, whose consistent goal has always been totalitarian, seems to have overplayed its hand. As long as they counted on a Fabian strategy they could count on a steady progress towards the Total State they dream of.

But now when their goal seemed within easy reach, when they controlled the Democratic Party and large majorities in congress, they lunged for the brass ring and in doing so they’ve revealed themselves for what they are. Oops!

If they’d waited a little longer, after their control of education created a generation incapable of critical thinking and utterly ignorant of history…

Perhaps they thought they had already.

So where do we go from here?

I don’t have a plan. Given the fluidity of the situation, I’d be a fool to express any certainty right now. But I will recommend one action, we must loudly and consistently let the Republicans know WE DON’T TRUST YOU, NOT WORTH A DAMN!

You want to get returned to power? Earn it.

We want our freedom to speak our minds without having to look over our shoulders. We want our children to grow up educated as we choose. We want to keep our money. We want our country to welcome people who share our ideals and want to live like we do.

We want to be at least as free as we’ve been.

Maybe some politicians are getting it. And maybe they’re just waiting for the furor to die down before they stick their snouts in the trough again.

January 21, 2010

Brown croaks Coakley

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:51 am

My weekend Op-ed on the Coakley/Brown election in Massachusetts.

The Meaning of Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the people of Massachusetts elected Scott P. Brown a Republican, to the U.S. Senate in a special election held to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Let that sink in for a minute.

In Massachusetts, Republicans hold only 16 seats (10 percent) in the State House of Representatives, and five (12.5 percent) in the State Senate. The state has no Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, and hasn’t elected a Republican U.S. Senator since 1972.

State Attorney-General Martha Coakley, twice elected to statewide office, had the endorsement of Kennedy’s widow, a last-minute visit by President Barack Obama, and once led Brown in the polls by 30 points.

Both sides have suggested reasons for Coakley’s staggering defeat by an obscure state senator, who had previously won only district elections.

Candidate Coakley came off as arrogant, elitist, and dangerously ignorant on foreign policy and terrorism. When criticized for not campaigning harder, she disdainfully asked if she should stand outside of Fenway Park in the cold shaking hands, then referred to Red Sox star pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling as “another Yankee fan.”

Worse, she’s scary. During the height of the “recovered memory of child abuse” hysteria she helped ruin the lives of the Amirault and Souza families on obviously bogus charges, then refused to prosecute a real but well-connected child rapist. (Now serving two life sentences.)

Coakley played dirtier than you can get away with in the Internet Age, when she made easily-checked claims Brown wanted hospitals to turn away all rape victims, and suggested Roman Catholics shouldn’t work in emergency rooms, in a state with a huge Irish population!

President Obama didn’t exactly help when he disdainfully referred to Brown’s pickup truck no less than six times in one speech. Some people just don’t get that a pickup, like a Harley, is as much a lifestyle statement as a ride.*

That’s how some Democrats would like to pass off the loss. But the unpleasant truth is, that’s only part of the problem. The election was also a referendum on the Democratic Party leadership.

According to a recent poll by the Washington Post, 58 percent of respondents claimed they preferred smaller government with fewer services, with only 38 percent favoring a larger government with more services.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 33 percent of respondents said the administration’s health care proposal is a “good” idea, 46 percent consider it a “bad” idea, and 55 percent disapprove of Obama on health care in general.

Both parties have extreme wings, which exercise influence on the national parties way out of proportion to their numbers. Because extremists are more passionate and committed than moderates, and willing to devote more of their lives to a cause. People whose own business is worth minding rarely have any interest in minding other people’s business.

The extreme wing of the Democratic Party is Hard Left, ranging from European-style Social Democrats to outright socialists.

The extreme wing of the Republican Party are big government theocrats who want the state to enforce a reign of virtue. But both meet at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum. Both want a busybody government, different only in the specific ways they want to run your life.

Leadership of the national Democratic Party has been captured by the Hard Left. Their problem is, most Americans aren’t that far left – including the majority of Democrats. That has to worry Democrats at the state level. It wasn’t just Republicans who elected Brown, who is only moderately conservative at most.

Either party can be captured by their extreme wing, but never both at once. When extremists, left or right, take over leadership, they marginalize the extremists of the other party. Right-wing extremists can safely be ignored by Republican leadership, because they have no place else to go on election day.

Flushed with success over huge electoral victories in 2008, the national leadership of the Democratic Party seem bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by trying to force a Hard Left agenda on a moderate-to-slightly-conservative country with a strong libertarian streak.

If I were the Republican leadership, the only thing I’d worry about is Democratic leadership returning to their moderate-to-liberal core constituency.

*Yes. I drive a pickup. And it’s got four-wheel drive to boot.

January 16, 2010

Have they learned? Will they learn?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:05 am

Thomas Sowell’s latest column, ‘Are Republicans Due?‘ is, as usual for Dr. Sowell, well written and thought provoking.

When a baseball player has come to bat after failing to get a hit twenty times in a row, some fans say he is “due” for a hit. But statisticians say he is no more likely to get a hit in this at bat than at any other time. In other words, there is no such thing as being “due.”

I urge you to read it. It is a somber warning that on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts, our nation faces threats which could very well be the end of us as a nation, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

One of the dangerous disadvantages of the American point of view, is that we tend to assume America is eternal. We’ve never had a foreign conquest, never a violent overthrow of government, never even had an interruption of the more-or-less orderly electoral process. And we assume deep down that this is somehow historically normal.

Our European cousins in this respect at least, know better. (About their own nations, oddly enough many Europeans I know tend to assume America will always be here.) In particular, citizens of smaller nations in Europe are acutely aware that a hiccup of history could wipe their nation out – forever.

Who now remembers the Lusitanians? Who remembers the original Prussians were a Slavic people, wiped out by the Teutons who took their name?

Well, America seems to be waking up. Many people are worried, about our debt, about mad fanatics getting nuclear weapons, about everything Sowell talks about.

Some are pinning their hopes on a Republican “surge” in the 2010 and 2012 elections. That may be our only hope, third parties have a long history of not working in this country. Or worse, splitting the opposition and giving the election to a party that otherwise wouldn’t have won.

But, this could also be the time of the Truce of the Bear.

Here’s the comment I left under Sowell’s article:

The last time Republicans gained control of congress, to put it bluntly – they betrayed us.

They put their snouts into the trough as enthusiastically as any leftie.

That said, there’s still a difference between bad, and less bad.

The fact is, once political power is gained it takes a rare individual willing to give it up, much less a party. And it is generally political suicide to even attempt to repeal entitlements the public has gotten comfortable with.

I fear the problem is systemic, and not easily amenable to “throwing the rascals out” and installing the “good guys.”

Perhaps if enough people realize the consequences of our present course could be fatal to our country, there might be enough sustained pressure on our politicians to keep them reasonably honest.

And perhaps not.

January 14, 2010

Last of the witnesses

Filed under: Op-eds,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:28 am

Note: My weekend op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record

Update: I reworked this column to make a different point about Heroes and Heroism on the Objectiviist website The Atlasphere.

“A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic”
-Joseph Stalin

On Monday, January 11, Meip Gies died in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland, aged 100.

Among the honors Gies was awarded in her lifetime were: the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994, and the Yad Vashem medal given by Israel to the “Righteous among Gentiles” in 1995. In 1997 she was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Gies, an Austrian who became Dutch, was the last survivor of five men and women who hid Edith and Otto Frank, their daughters Margot and Anne, Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer, in a secret room in an office building in Amsterdam from July 1942 to August 4, 1944. We should remember their names.

On that morning in August, the Gestapo arrested the hidden families, and two of their hiders: Victor Kugler, and Johannes Kleiman. Gies’ husband Jan was away working with the Dutch Resistance.

The arresting officers were: Austrian SS Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer, and Dutch NSB (national socialist collaborators) members Gezinus Gringhuis, Willem Grootendorst and Maarten Kuiper. We should remember their names too.

They were acting on a tip supplied by an informer who has never been identified, despite two investigations by Dutch authorities.

Kugler and Kleiman were imprisoned for various terms. Of the hidden, only Otto Frank survived the war. His daughter Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen konzentrationslager in March, 1945, aged 15, two weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops.

Gies and her friend Bep Voskuijl were questioned but not arrested. They returned to the hiding place and gathered up belongings left behind, including Anne’s diary. Gies hoped to return it to Anne after the war. Instead she gave it to Anne’s father Otto.

After Otto Frank read the diary, he told Gies, “I never knew my little Anne was so deep.”

Frank succeeded in having the diary published in 1947. Since then it has been translated into dozens of languages, and adapted into a play and a movie. It is consistently rated among the one hundred most important books of the 20th century.

Gies always refused to allow herself to be called a hero. She wrote in her book, Anne Frank Remembered, “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more, much more , during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness.”

Much has been said of the heroism and goodness of ordinary people like Miep, Jan, and their friends.

Not so much has been said of the evil done by equally ordinary people. Silberbauer returned to his life as a policeman in Vienna after the war. He was briefly suspended in 1963 but reinstated after Otto Frank testified Silberbauer had obviously acted on orders and behaved correctly and without cruelty during the arrest.

Perhaps he did not know the fate awaiting those he arrested. Perhaps he never asked.
Roughly one million men served in the SS during WWII. About 70,000 of them volunteered for concentration camp duty. Only 1,700 at most, were tried after the war. Most survivors apparently went back to living normal, unremarkable lives.

Anne Frank has become the voice for the roughly 21 million victims murdered by the Nazis. Has anybody listened?

According to the University of Hawaii democide website, from the year of Anne’s death to 1987, the USSR murdered an estimated 16 million (out of 62 million total since 1917,) Communist China 76 million, North Korea 1.6 million, Poland 1.5 million, Yugoslavia 1 million, Cambodia 2 million… the list goes on.

And I wonder, where is their Miep Gies? Where is their Anne Frank?

January 9, 2010

A cheerful agnostic looks at Brit Hume and Buddhism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:14 am

“The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.”
Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)

Well, FOX commentator Brit Hume really stepped in it.

I didn’t see it, but evidently on a televised discussion he opined Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism and get right with Jesus to turn his life around. From the Left commentariat’s response, you’d think he’d advocated the return of the Spanish Inquisition.

Bill O’Reilly weighed in with his usual restraint.

(I am NOT being facetious. A lot of people don’t seem to see that O’Reilly is in control at all times. His writing style is generally quite restrained. On air he calls people names like “pinhead,” interrupts constantly, and comes off very in-your face, but he’s not losing it. He makes other people lose it – and sits back and smiles.)

“On my TV program, I asked Hume whether he was proselytizing, as he is a devout Christian. He said no and put forth that he was just offering Woods some advice he might consider. Thus, the question becomes: What is Hume’s sin? Why are people like Washington Post critic Tom Shales and “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart going after him?

The answer, I believe, lies in the explosive nature of right and wrong, good and evil; and in the unease some Americans feel when a religious conviction they don’t hold is displayed before them”

I left this comment on the site:

I’m a cheerful agnostic on religious matters so I can fairly claim not to have a dog in this fight. (I used to be a militant agnostic*, but mellowed as I got older.)

So speaking as an outsider looking in – the claims of believing Christians to being slighted more than other faiths by the “intelligentsia” are definitely true.

When I was in grad school in anthropology I saw this all the time. You could all it xenophilia; xenophobia stood on its head.

People who wouldn’t dream of uttering a critical, or even skeptical word, about exotic foreign religions or customs would mercilessly mock those held by their own countrymen.

(A kind of fun example of this is fraternities. Social science majors are generally the kind of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in one – and that includes me. “Frat rats” is what we called them when I was in college, and jokes other people tell as blonde jokes were sorority girl jokes. But any one of them, again including me, would have killed for an invitation to be adopted into one of the remaining Plains Indian warrior fraternities or African tribal societies.)

The last time I was in grad school, I had a course with a professor who loved to mock the beliefs of Christians in class. Since this was a class in qualitative research, it was difficult to see the relevance of his going on about, “people who believe a 30-year-old carpenter was killed and came back to life.”

A young lady, all of four foot ten if she was an inch, quietly mentioned on a couple of occasions that she was coming from a Christian perspective.

(I mention her size, because this guy was around 300 pounds. This could have been very intimidating to a tiny woman, if he hadn’t been such a wuss.)

Did this molify him? Did it cause him to consider that mocking other people’s deeply held religious views in certain settings is extremely rude? Did he consider that gratuitously insulting someone you are involved in a power relationship with is an abuse of authority? Do I even have to answer these questions?

And one more thing. Sitting to his immediate left in every class was a lovely young woman from Turkey, who happened to be the president of the Muslim Students Association on campus.

Strange, I attended every single class that semester and don’t recall him saying anything about, “people who believe a book was dictated by God to a semi-literate camel driver.”

Perhaps I stepped out to go to the loo and missed it.

Maybe he’s a xenophile like a lot of social science types, uncomfortable in his own culture and attracted to exotic cultures – or rather his idea of what an exotic culture is like.

And perhaps he’s a coward who only offends people he knows will take it.

Brit Hume evidently offended some Buddhists, but they’re not likely to declare a fatwa on him. (I don’t think for a minute that delightful Turkish lady would have declared one on Professor Fatso either – but I can’t vouch for some of the other Muslims on campus if word had gotten around of an insult to Islam.)

And for the record, I think both Hume and O’Reilly may have missed something about Buddhism.

There is evidence that Gautama the Buddah might have been what I call a “cheerful agnostic” himself. Buddhism as originally taught, is not a religion per se but a philosophy, or a Way, that can be practiced in conjunction with another religion, even Christianity, or no religion.

* A militant agnostic says, “I don’t know what the truth about God and religion is, and you don’t either.”

A cheerful agnostic says, “Hey what the heck, you might be right.”

And no, he doesn’t really believe that. He’s just flat not interested in the argument. Just as he has no interest in converting to your faith, he has no interest in attacking yours.

As I’ve asked before, if religion is a crutch, then what do you call someone who goes around kicking crutches out from under people? A fearless seeker of the truth, or a bloody sadist?

January 7, 2010

The underwear bomber and how I got profiled

Filed under: Politics,Terrorism — Tags: , — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:58 am

Note: A slightly different version of this appeared as the weekend op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record.

Well, 2009 sure went out with a bang.

On November 5, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, suffering from the hitherto-unknown “pre-traumatic stress syndrome,” shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and gunned down 13 fellow soldiers in Ft. Hood, Texas, including one pregnant woman.

President Obama urged Americans not to “jump to conclusions.”

On Christmas Day Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, driven mad by poverty, oppression, and having to live in a $4 million hovel in London, attempted to explode a bomb in his undershorts on a flight to Detroit.

Abdulmutallab was taken into custody, advised of his right to remain silent and provided with a lawyer, Miriam Siefer, who has some experience representing terrorists.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano crowed, “The system worked.”

President Obama, referring to “the incident,” called Abdulmutallab “the suspect” who “allegedly tried to detonate an explosive device,” and an “isolated extremist.”

Obama and Napolitano subsequently issued revised statements after polls allegedly showed an alarming number of Americans jumped to the conclusion they’re airheads.

Sorry. About the only pleasure I get in these terrible times is making fun of the sheer airheadedness that passes for public dialog on the subject of “man-caused disasters,” in Napolitano’s preferred phrase.

Listen, I understand a winning candidate has to pay off supporters with jobs. But does he have to put them in positions they are obviously incompetent for and expect them to actually work? In the Diplomatic Corps, ambassadors to cushy posts in Paris or London are figureheads, provided with an “assistant” who does the real work.

As much as Republicans would like to think otherwise, the nonsense didn’t start with this administration. After 9/11 George Bush created the absurd phrase “war on terror.”

Author Dan Simmons brilliantly asked, “What if after Dec. 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt had gone before congress and asked for a declaration of war – on Aviation?”

Terror is a tactic, not an enemy.

We are told by treating terrorists as criminal defendants we’re “upholding the rule of law.”

Since 1929 there has been a body of international law called “The Geneva Convention” which defines Abdulmutallab and his kind as “unprivileged combatants,” and says it’s just fine to try them by military commission and summarily execute them.

Some express alarm about a “backlash” against Muslims in America.

Since 2001 there have been (depending on definitions) as many as 60 foiled terrorist plots and successful terrorist incidents, resulting in more than 3,300 dead Americans. All perpetrated by individuals within a pretty specific demographic.

In the first five years following 9/11, Anya Cordell, founder of the Campaign for Collateral Compassion, counted eight “backlash” murders of Middle-Eastern men. To get that figure she had to count a convenience store owner working late at night, two unsolved murders, one involving a business dispute, and one who was dating his killer’s ex-girlfriend.

Hasan all by himself did worse than that in just one “incident” than 300 million Americans.
This doesn’t strike me as much of a backlash, but I sympathize. I was profiled once.

About six years ago as I got on a flight from Richmond, Virginia, to Lithuania, I was asked to step out of line, surrender my shoes (not standard practice then,) and was patted down.
The official very courteously apologized for the inconvenience.

I said, “Hey that’s OK. I’m the one getting on the plane.”

I wondered why I was singled out. Until it occurred to me a black-haired man, who tans pretty swarthy and has a nose some have been unkind enough to call large (and when Arabs tell you you have a big nose, you have to face it, you have a big nose,) whose name identifies an ethnic group which has produced its fair share of terrorists, and a bunch of Arabic stamps in his passport, might fairly arouse some suspicion.

Later a colleague asked, “Yeah, but how’d you like to get profiled all the time?”

“A heck of a lot better than I’d like being blown out of the sky,” I replied.

One got past the Fargo Forum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:00 am

As I mentioned earlier, I get up early every workday to do the police report. Well, yesterday was one of those days that make it worthwhile.

One of the officers showed me a back page of the Fargo Forum. The “art” (photos not exactly connected to a news story, just kind of human interest) was of two guys shoveling snow from around a car. (Cops up here call such a car trapped in a No Parking from — to — A.M. zone a “snowbird” by the way.)

The reporter did what reporters are supposed to do, and asked for the names of the people so they could identify them for the cutline.

That’s how we know Mr. Heywood Jablome was out shoveling snow on Dec. 27. (more…)

January 1, 2010

Martial arts and combatives, pt 2: What can you get out of it?

Filed under: Martial arts — Tags: , — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:40 pm

In Martial arts and combatives, pt. 1 I mentioned some of the instructional stuff on combatives that’s out there.

A few weeks ago I rented a teaser DVD for the Defendo program, and right now I’m working my way through the Kevin O’Hagan’s Special Forces Close Combat System series I got through a used DVD sale from Goldstar Video Rentals.

I love the video age. Before videotapes if you didn’t have access to training in different arts and styles, you had to rely on books. There are good books out there, but they’re limited. The authors either had to go with lots of photos or drawings, and light on text, or fewer pics, which sacrifices continuity of technique.

Many of the books, such as those by Fairbairn and Dempsey, often show only the end or mid-point of a technique. How you get there is described in print, which doesn’t help much if you aren’t an experienced fighter.

And, in some of the classic stuff I cited in part 1, you get a curiously stiff and posed look in the photos. The line drawings in Fairbairn’s ‘Get Tough’ actually convey more of a sense of movement than the photos in ‘Defendu.

I think this has to do with the photographic technology of the time. Cameras then weren’t as good at taking action shots and required longer exposures. Which meant they had to hold a pose rather than capture an action shot. And the process for printing photos in books made the end product more expensive and often of poor quality.

It was worse in earlier times when illustrations were printed from woodcuts, though those illustrations were often marvelous. But there were very few of them in the fecthbuchen (manuals,) which is what makes recreating early European fighting arts from surviving manuals so dicey.

In the case of the Second World War-era manuals, I think they were writing for an audience of young men more prepared by their upbringing to learn from them.

Men grew up fighting then: on the playground, at work, on the streets and in bars. Brawling and recreational fisticuffs may have been considered kind of low-class, but it didn’t evoke the horror and calls for “intervention” that it does today. (Not to mention the legal consequences, both criminal and civil.)

What the manuals and training did was to teach “dirty tricks” and “low blows” that lethalized the brawling skills of recruits.

For anybody with boxing experience, this is fairly straightforward. Everyone who’s studied boxing as a sport has been taught the fouls and illegal moves. To weaponize boxing you start by practicing the fouls.

My point about this is, “combatives” teachers sometimes like to cop an attitude of “this isn’t martial arts, this is the real thing.” However, looking at these videos I see an awful lot of martial arts techniques. If you know something about bunkai (application) of traditional Karate kata for example, you see them in combatives DVDs: palm heel strickes, fist hammer, knife hand, ridge hand, and that rising outer forearm strike usually mis-called an “upward block.”

The difference is how they’re practiced. There’s something in the energy of the O’Hagan and the Defendo demonstrations that’s hard to describe, but you could call it intent. Though they’re pulling the blows, they actually look like they’re intending harm rather than trying to look good for an audience.

So what can you get out of them?

If you’re a practicing martial artist; application of techniques you’ve been taught but perhaps didn’t realize how to actualize, new ideas about how to chain them together, and a reminder of what martial arts is at base – a learned viciousness.

I say “learned” because though men are combative by nature, we are not lethally combative by nature. The so-called “animal” part of our nature is actually not geared to kill, but to fight for dominance. The “killer instinct” is that part of us which is specifically human.

More on this later…

What can you get out of these resources if you are not a skilled martial artist?

I don’t know. I haven’t been a beginner since I was a boy, and I’ve been pretty skilled for a while now. I’ve got some ideas though.

The goal of this kind of training is “maximum results in minimum time” as my friends at the International Police Defense Tactics Association put it.

But, police and military are teaching recruits they’ve already put through a lot of physical training. For civilians whose idea of PT is doing forearm curls with a beer stein…

Marc “Animal” MacYoung has some interesting things to say about “Dango Jiro Karate” (an inside joke, it means “Mulligan stew Karate” -or what my wife might call “bigos* Kung Fu”) but to my regret has not yet added this to his indispensible set of books and videos.

The goal for most of us is, 1) to have a system of self-defense relevant to our needs, 2) with a training regimen that doesn’t seriously screw with our lives, time and money-wise, and 3) has rewards beyond competence in self-defense (which we may never need,) and 4) teaches skills which can be maintained as part of a solo exercise regime.

Anything I missed? How about world peace and a cure for cancer?

Next: How this sedentary desk commando trains solo.

* Bigos is the national dish of Poland, a hunter’s stew made from saurkraut, mushrooms, kielbasa sausage, other meats, etc. It’s delicious and filling, take my word for it. But if you’re making it in an apartment, the whole building knows it…

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