Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 26, 2010

Dumb camera tricks

Filed under: News commentary,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:53 am

Note: Weekend op-ed, Smile! You’re on YouTube

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Scott McNealy, CEO Sun Microsystems, 1999

Last week two Winnipeg high school teachers were suspended pending a decision on whether they’ll be fired or not.

Apparently the teachers, male and female, decided to liven up a spirit rally in the gym by performing a lap dance. It was said to be… not in the best of taste. But you don’t have to take my word for it, a student caught it on cellphone camera and posted it on YouTube.

My money’s on fired.

Northern Territories, Australia: A closed circuit TV camera allegedly, “shows a woman throwing her 10-month-old baby on the ground after her partner left on a bus without her.”

In the newspaper business we have to say “allegedly” to keep from being sued. But you can see that on the Internet too.

Last November, Miss California and Miss USA runner-up, Carrie Prejean, settled a lawsuit against the Miss USA pageant out of court, after some racy videos she’d made surfaced. Not as racy as videos Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, and Rob Lowe made, but racy enough, though they’ve been kept off the Internet – so far.

By the way, I think those teachers should be fired. Not just because they were acting in a vulgar and indecent manner in front of kids as young as 13, but because they were so unbelievably stupid it’s difficult to imagine they’ve anything worthwhile to teach.

I mean, come on, they didn’t know that was going to happen?

Everybody has cell phones these days, most with cameras.

There are video cameras in buses, streets, shops, and pockets. Because of my job, I am never without a digital camera that takes both stills and video.

And yet people still insist on doing dumb things in front of cameras they really ought to know are going to come back to haunt them. If they’re funny, they easily go viral on YouTube.
High school kids have even coined a word for taking and sending intimate pics of themselves with cell phone cameras, “sexting.”

(“Oh but my boyfriend would never pass these around to all his friends, because he loves me and we’ll be together forever.”)

There are actually a lot of pluses to living in the video/Internet age.

A lot of crime is caught on camera these days, making arrests and convictions more likely. Dashboard cameras record what really goes down during traffic stops and makes police mindful of their own professionalism as well. Politicians can’t get away with flip-flopping quite so much when anything they’ve ever said in front of a camera is accessible from any computer. The organization distributes video cameras around the world to document human rights abuses.

But we also have to live with the possibility any embarrassing or shameful thing we do or say could be recorded, and that recording could be around forever.

And you think it’s bad now, wait until you can go to Radio Shack and buy a video camera mounted on a radio-controlled scale-model ant, housefly, or cockroach. (“Learn about nature firsthand through telepresence! But of course you must agree not to spy you your neighbors with this educational toy.”)


I’d guess ten years tops.

It used to be religion exercised a certain amount of social control by teaching God watches and judges you. I liked it better when it was only God. He’s more forgiving and doesn’t post on YouTube.

The Other War

Filed under: Law,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:45 am

If you’ll look here you’ll find Ollie North’s article on the narco wars south of the Rio Grande.

North warns, rightly I think, of the violence in Mexico related to drug gangs, spreading murder and kidnapping to the U.S.

But… how the hell can anyone fail to see the parallel between drug prohibition and our earlier disastrous attempt at alcohol prohibition? Though I wasn’t alive then, I have lived in a country with prohibition, Saudi Arabia. It’s not quite Chicago during the Al Capone years…

The relevant section:

“The Obama administration seems to be of two minds about what needs to be done about the problem. To its credit, it has continued to fund and even expand the Bush administration’s Merida Initiative, aimed at improving Mexico’s internal police and security services with $1.6 billion in training and equipment. Unfortunately, Obama administration officials also speak routinely about “reforming U.S. drug laws,” suggesting that having “user amounts” of illicit narcotics would no longer be a criminal offense. How that would reduce the demand for drugs in America is hard to fathom.”

This is the comment I left:


“How that would reduce the demand for drugs in America is hard to fathom.”

The point is not to reduce demand for drugs, that’s almost certainly what free-market economists call an “inelastic demand.”

The point is to lower the price, and as distasteful as it sounds, put the drugs in the legitimate market to deny the profits to the gangs.

It is unfathomable to me how Americans failed to learn the lessons of Prohibition, or somehow think they only apply to alcohol.

And how conservatives’ passion for liberty fails when something touches a raw nerve.

“The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”

G.K. Chesterton

February 22, 2010

Training with Guro Danny again

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:34 pm

Danny & me

This weekend I drove four-and-a-half hours to Minneapolis to the Minnesota Kali Group school to train with Guro Danny Inosanto.

Danny was one of Bruce Lee’s senior students, and his choice to carry on his art of Jeet Kune Do. Since Lee’s death, Danny has learned and taught… probably more martial arts than most martial artists have even heard of.

I trained with Guro Danny twenty years ago, perhaps about a hundred seminar-hours over 4-5 years since Terry Gibson invited me to become an associate student of his. I travelled regularly to Tulsa (about two hours drive away) to train at Terry’s Progressive Fighting Arts Academy (later Progressive Martial Arts) in Tulsa. As well as training with Terry I attended almost all the seminars in Terry’s school, with teachers such as: Ajarn Surichai Surisute, Muay Thai; Paul DeThouars, Pentjak Silat; Paul Vunak, Jeet Kune Do; Nino Bernardo, Wing Chun; and others.

I also trained closer to home with Sifu John Douvier of the Wu Wei Gung Fu/Mushin Kan lineage.

I hadn’t seen Danny in almost 20 years, since I took off for Poland in 1991. Of course he didn’t remember me when I reintroduced myself. He’s probably met as many people in the past 20 years as the population of some countries I’ve lived in.

It was great. Though just like I remembered, it’s a lot like trying to drink from a fire hose. Danny’s approach is to throw an awful lot of stuff at you, in 2-5 minute bites in rapid-fire succession, switching arts and styles constantly.

Still, what was inspiring was seeing Danny again; lively, quick, agile, witty and sharp, much the same as I remember him, minus some hair.

He’s 73!

Speaking as a 58-year-old with two small children – it’s a real upper.

February 19, 2010

The Mt. Vernon Statement

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:17 am

Note: A Slightly shorter version of this appeared as my weekend op-ed.

Mt. Vernon was livelier in the 18th century

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, a group of prominent conservatives unveiled The Mt. Vernon Statement, a ringing call to return to the founding principles that made America great and a beacon of liberty to the world.

Reading it over carefully, I find nothing to disagree with.

That’s not a compliment.

I can’t disagree with any of it because it is a collection of innocuous platitudes Karl Marx would have a problem finding anything to disagree with.

The statement opens, “We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.”

How nice.

Ask any leftist if he favors “economic opportunity,” or “the rule of law.” Do you think he’s going to say, “No way!”?

Ask right and left-wingers how they define those terms if you want to know what they disagree about

A few “progressives,” such as the late historian Howard Zinn, would tell you “the ideals of the American Founding,” were all about slavery, genocide, and oppression of working people. But they are pretty marginal. Most pay lip-service to the Founders and the Constitution, whatever their private opinions.

“It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.”

I got almost the same words from a socialist I once interviewed!

It reminds “… economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world” and on in this vein for 546 words.

OK, this I understand because I’m a politics geek. It’s an appeal for a united front among a variety of political sects that sail under the flag of “conservative.” But it’s utterly opaque to non-geeks and says nothing to ordinary people worried about economic decline and the intrusion of “soft tyranny” into our lives.

There’s a saying in this biz, “If you’re writing for everybody, you’re writing for nobody.”

This thing was put together by committee, and reads like it.

The Mt. Vernon Statement is advertised as an updating of The Sharon Statement of 1960, (379 words) which heralded the beginning of the modern conservative movement. It was drafted by M. Stanton Evans, then 26 years old when he wrote:

We, as young conservatives, believe:

That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;

That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty…”

Agree or disagree, this is a succinct, direct, and clear statement of principles.

Now read this, from Steve Kangas’ website “Liberalism Resurgent.”

“Liberals therefore advocate a moderated meritocracy: those with the most merit continue to earn the most money or power, but a percentage of it is redistributed back to the middle and lower classes. This is accomplished by progressive taxes, anti-poverty spending, and other forms of regulation.”

Again, agree or disagree, he’s writing clearly and directly about concrete proposals. Point being, reading these guys you know they disagree, how they disagree, and can make your own decisions accordingly.

Liberals tend to believe the newer the ideas, the better they are.

Conservatives believe in the wisdom of tradition. The Mt. Vernon Statement helps prove their case, they did better 50 years ago.

Note: For a really bad example of political writing, check out The Port Huron Statement, written by Tom Hayden (a.k.a. ex-Mr. Jane Fonda) at the founding of the Students for a Democratic Society in 1962. At 25,859 words it’s great bed-time reading for insomniacs, but you won’t wake up any smarter.

I’ve got to say though, the one thing I’ll always be grateful to the Mt. Vernon Statement for, is drawing my attention to The Sharon Statement. I’d somehow managed to miss reading that one, and it’s a gem of clear, succinct writing.

February 13, 2010

Two stupid bureaucrat stories in one week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:24 pm

I’m on some kind of roll. I got two stupid bureaucrat stories in quick succession last week.

Number one story: Representative Pomeroy (D-ND) came to our town to meet one-on-one with our local hospital administrator.

Yours Truly, the Congressman’s aid and one radio journalist sat in.

Here’s an excerpt from my story:

“…in rural hospitals it has long been established practice that routine therapeutic services can be performed by nurses and other professional staff as long as a doctor or other mid-level practitioner such as a physicians assistant is within 30 minutes of the hospital. At Mercy Hospital, that means almost always, since the Meritcare Clinic is physically attached to the hospital and its staff have hospital privileges.

The significant line in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services rules states, “The physician supervision requirement is generally assumed to be met where the services are performed on hospital premises.”

…Then in late 2009 somebody at CMS issued a “clarification,” interpreting the rule as requiring a physician or mid-level practitioner has to be physically present, or nearby and not otherwise occupied, even for procedures that nurses have always done. CMS made the hospital aware of the new policy a couple of weeks ago.

Pomeroy called the ruling, “Completely absurd” and said Medicare gets greater value in this region of the country than anywhere else, and Medicare patients get better care than anywhere else.

“This would be a wrecking ball on the rural health care infrastructure,” Pomeroy said. “The administrator who came up with this one could not have had experience in a rural facility.”

Heuser called the ruling “a death knell for small rural hospitals,” and said the effect of the new rule on Mercy Hospital would be to mandate the hiring of at least five new mid-level practitioners, assuming they could be found, increasing operating expenses by at least $650,000 per year.

Worse, CMS could decide to audit Medicare billing going back to 1998 and decide procedures done by nurses were overcharged, then demand the hospital pay back reimbursements amounting to as much as a $1 million per year…”

Well, what if this wasn’t just stupid? What if some people who want socialized medicine think a great way to bring it about is to drive private (OK, semi-private) medicine out of business starting with rural health care?

This has crossed the minds of more than one person I’ve talked to.

Second stupid bureaucrat trick, this one from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Federal rules state for highway construction, improvement, and repair with federal money involved (which is everywhere in the lesser-populated states) every acre of wetland must be replaced with one or two (depending on “quality”) of wetlands created or restored from previously-drained wetland.

(Some years back, in the ’80s maybe, farmers were encouraged to drain wetlands. Now the guvmint wants them back. Go figure.)

Previously, the counties have been allowed to contribute to a “bank” of wetlands created elsewhere in the state. The state Fish and Game Department was fine with this.

Now the Corps is insisting on a rule that wetlands created to make up for losses caused by grade raises in county roads and state highways (when you raise the roadbed, you have to widen the slope) must be within the same region.

The problem is, there’s too damn much water in the state. We’ve had years of wet conditions and a major flood last year. The reason the roadbeds have to be raised to begin with is because the wetlands were encroaching on them.

County road improvements around the state are being put on hold because the counties can’t find farmers who want to sell 99 year easements on their land.


February 11, 2010

Avatar, the lure of Neverland

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:43 am

Note: This weekend I decided to do a fun kind of op-ed for the paper.

OK, everybody else in the world has commented on it, so I suppose it’s my turn.

James Cameron’s Avatar broke box-office records to become the highest-grossing film of all time, beating out his previous film Titanic, which held the record for 12 years.

Surprisingly, the extraterrestrial fantasy provoked a fair amount of political commentary. One commentator called it, “the Atlas Shrugged of the Left.” Some conservatives criticized its portrait of a ruthless military officer serving his evil corporate masters, whatever the collateral damage.

Left-wing commentary was generally favorable, though there were a few who criticized it as an updating of the “White God among the natives” genre.

Briefly, for those vacationing in Antarctica who missed it, the story takes place on a world called Pandora, the moon of a gas giant planet circling the star Alpha Centauri. Pandora is home to an intelligent species human enough to have attractive native women, if your taste runs to ten-foot blue-skinned women with tails.

Humans can’t breathe the atmosphere, so they interact with the natives through avatars, bodies grown from a mix of human and native DNA, controlled through a mind-link.

The planet is the source of a valuable element “unobtainium,” which the evil corporation will stop at nothing to get. (The word unobtainium actually originated with aircraft engineers who wished they could have a metal with characteristics including… you get the picture.)

A crippled ex-Marine is recruited to replace his identical twin as an avatar controller, and enlisted by the psycho security chief to get the natives to move to a reservation or something, so the corporation can rape their land. But the good-hearted warrior goes native and dances with big flying animals waaaay cooler than wolves.

The film is stunningly, achingly, beautiful. There are anecdotal reports of young viewers suffering mild depression because they can’t climb into a tanning bed and wake up on Pandora.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot about it that is, well… kind of dumb.

Contrary to Hollywood gospel, there actually aren’t a lot of high-ranking psychos in the U.S. military. You don’t get promoted very far if you’re out-of-control nuts. And wouldn’t you think a super-expensive space program would psychologically screen at least as thoroughly as NASA does?

Corporations are the stock villains in Hollywood, where $300 million films are made by humble craftsmen working in a cottage industry. And it’s interesting to note how many people who fear and distrust multi-billion dollar corporations are perfectly fine with multi-trillion dollar governments.

The Pandoran natives, whose culture is an eclectic mix of African and American Indian tribal societies, live in harmony with nature on their world. On Pandora nature doesn’t seem to include lice, fleas, or intestinal parasites.

Pandoran women have high rank in their society, and at least some are hunters. That would be wonderful news to women in Earth hunter-gatherer bands. The division of labor in hunter-gatherer societies is; men hunt, women gather. There are no exceptions.

But hey, Pandorans aren’t human so you can imagine any society you like for them.

In the rousing climax the Pandorans, led by the Marine, defeat a hi-tech armada with bows and arrows.

Something like this actually happened in 1879, at a place called Isandlwana. A Zulu impi 20,000 strong got lucky (and the Brits got stupid) and wiped out a British column of 1,300 men. Unfortunately Zulu losses were so heavy their nation never recovered.*

And by the way, constructing effective longbows requires at least a medieval level of technology, not early primitive.

But pfaugh on quibbles! I loved it as much as I loved Cameron’s Terminator, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Obviously, in spite of the science fiction trappings, this is James Cameron’s fantasy of utopia, or heaven. Being a fantasy we are not required to take it seriously. It is only mildly disturbing that Cameron himself appears to take it seriously as a political statement.

So Cameron wouldn’t be the first creative genius who was nuts. Think of Van Gogh and enjoy it anyway.

*There was a great movie made about the battle of Isandlwana, Zulu Dawn, with John Mills, Peter O’Toole and Burt Lancaster, magnificent in one of his greatest dramatic roles.

One of the greatest tributes paid to any soldiers was by an old Zulu veteran of the battle, describing the last stand of the British troops as the Zulus overwhelmed them.

“Like lions they fought! Like stones they fell, each man in his own place.”

February 6, 2010

In union there is strength… but whose?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:07 am

One of the president’s nominations is coming up pretty soon, one Craig Becker, nominated to the National Labor Relations Board.

From Employment Law Update, April 27, 2009.

President Obama has announced his plans to nominate Craig Becker and Mark Pearce as board members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board). The five-member Board serves as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Board Members are appointed to five-year terms, with the term of one member expiring each year. The Board traditionally consists of three members selected by the party controlling the White House, and two from the other party. Becker and Pearce, along with Chairwoman Liebman, would constitute the three Democratic-selected seats. Assuming President Obama follows precedent, only one Republican Board seat will remain vacant. When and how that seat will be filled is not clear.

Currently, Craig Becker serves as Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations. Becker was part of Obama’s transition team, acting as a member of the Agency Review Team overseeing the Department of Labor. According to an entry posted on the National Association of Manufacturers’ ShopFloor, Becker is believed to have authored one of the labor-related executive orders issued on January 31, Notification of Employee Rights Under Federal Labor Laws.

Becker earned both his law school and undergraduate degrees from Yale in 1981 and 1978, respectively. For the past 27 years, Becker has taught and practiced labor law. In 2007, Becker represented the plaintiff in Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke, 127 S.Ct. 2339 (2007), in which he argued (unsuccessfully) that the Supreme Court should overturn a Labor Department regulation exempting home-care aides employed by third-party companies from federal minimum wage and overtime coverage. Becker has also written a number of labor-related articles, including Representing Low-Wage Workers in the Absence of a Class: The Peculiar Case of Section 16 of the Fair Labor Standards Act & the Underenforcement of Minimum Labor Standards published in the spring 2008 edition of the Minnesota Law Review, and Neutrality Agreements Take Center Stage at the National Labor Relations Board published in the Labor Law Journal.”

So who gives a frack?

Well, since the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) (with heavy irony on the “free choice”) is stalled in the senate, it seems that it’s possible for the NLRB to just waive their collective hand and make it so.

In the words of a Clinton staffer way back when, “Stroke of a pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool.”

The EFCA is also known as “card check.” What it means is, when a union wants to unionize a workplace, instead of holding an election with a secret ballot of the workers, the union guys could just go around to everybody’s home and say, “Wanna union? Just check this.”

I’m usually inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to people’s motives. If I think they’re wrong, I like to believe they’re merely mistaken about the consequences of what they advocate.

But card check? I cannot believe that anyone of normal intelligence does not see what an invitation to coercion this is.

A controlled economuy needs a thug corps. (That’s “core” not “corpse” BTW.*) Much experience abroad and at home shows this.**

Don’t want a union? Perhaps the first brick through your window will change your mind. Still being stubborn? Maybe little Johnny gets into more than his fair share of playground fights.

And BTW, I was a member of AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) once. Aside from irritating things like openly endorsing presidential candidates with my (involuntary) dues, as far as I was concerned, they were just another layer of management.

Note: This is an expansion of a comment I left at a column by Liz Mair.

* Much merriment on the Right has been had over President Obama’s mispronounciation of “corpsman” when eulogizing a Navy medic in Haiti. Everyone points out Bush would have been laughed at for the same. They’re quite right.

Some point out it shows the Commander-in-Chief’s utter unfamiliarity with matters military. They’re right too.

But what most have perhaps missed is, how it speaks to the president’s education and experience. It is quite common among bright kids who learn to read early, and non-native speakers who study English, to encounter and add many words to their vocabulary which they have never heard pronounced. Particularly if the word has an odd spelling or irregular stress. (As a kid I pronounced “origin” as “o-RI-gin” until my Mom corrected me – “O-ri-gin.”

It’s almost a parable about the difference between book learning and experience in the real world.

** Again and again I plead, get and read Jonah Goldbergs, ‘Liberal Fascism.’ Look up the history of America during WWI and the National Relief Act during the Depression.

UPDATE: The Senate blocked the confirmation of Craig Becker by a vote of 52-33. That makes 15 absent or abstaining senators. Which adds fuel to my growing suspicion that among those growing ever more uneasy about the Axis of Obama Agenda, are a quite number of Democrats. I further suspect we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.

February 5, 2010

A bad year for the reputation of science

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:07 am

Note: My weekend op-ed.

This year began badly for the reputation of science.

Bad news from the the global warming front. First came the scandal of the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit which revealed systematic manipulation of data and attempts to silence critics of the global warming hypothesis.

Now research by computer expert E. Michael Smith and Certified Consulting Meteorologist Joseph D’Aleo revealed the National Climatic Data Center, a division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been cherry-picking data to support the claim of man-caused global warming.

From the 1960s to 1980s, the NCDC used measurements from about 6,000 stations worldwide for calculating global temperatures. In the 1990s, the number of stations dropped by almost 75 percent to about 1,500. Strangely enough, the stations chosen as a representative sample always seemed to be in warmish places.

Still worried about vaccinating your children?

The British medical journal The Lancet has just issued a full retraction of a study it ran in 1998 linking measles-mumps-rubella vaccines to autism. There was strong evidence against the purported link all along, but in 2004 it was revealed Dr. Andrew Wakefield had been paid to conduct this study on children who were clients of lawyers (surprise! surprise!) preparing a lawsuit.

Britain’s General Medical Council ruled last week Dr. Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.” He may lose his license. Only then did The Lancet finally cave in and issue a retraction.

In the meantime vaccination rates in Britain plummeted to all-time lows and waves of measles outbreaks followed.

Is this depressing? Want a pill?

A study by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, the University of New Mexico and the University of Colorado, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that antidepressants drugs were not appreciably better than a placebo for people with mild or moderate depression.

It turns out many studies sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry excluded patients with mild depression, even patients who went to doctors looking for help.

Sometimes you’re not depressed, you’re just unhappy. But you can’t make billions of dollars selling pills for unhappiness

What the heck is going on? Isn’t science, like journalism, supposed to be all about the disinterested pursuit of truth with a capital ‘T’.

Would be nice. But unfortunately a lot of scientific research is agenda-driven. People whose self-image is tied up with being a world-saver don’t want to hear the world gets along just fine without them.

Furthermore, modern research can be very expensive and scientists have to eat like everyone else.

A pharmaceutical company definitely wants to know if their product is going to kill people whose relatives might sue them. They don’t want to hear their product probably won’t do much at all for people shelling out money for a pill to make the pain of living go away.

A lot of research is government funded, and politicians who campaign on promises to “do something about…” don’t want to hear what they want to do is likely to do more harm than good.

Tort lawyers want to hear harm was caused by somebody with deep pockets. Their clients want to believe their misfortune makes sense and was somebody’s fault, rather than a random accident in an uncaring universe.

Scientists don’t like ugly facts that poke holes in their beautiful theories. Nobody does.

Now that you’re really depressed and wanting a pill that’ll really do some good, let me point out something.
What all these scandals have in common is, they were eventually revealed. Though often in the face of pretty formidable opposition after considerable harm was done.

And it is my strong impression it’s getting harder to hide scientific fakery and easier to expose it via the Internet.

Scientists are human like the rest of us, but the scientific methods and protocols still work and are still our best hope of keeping science honest.

February 4, 2010

None explain it better, few as well

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:49 pm

“For every hundred men who can design a utopia on paper, you’ll find maybe three who can run a chicken farm.”
-Author unknown

When Thomas Sowell passes from this vale of tears (Not soon I hope! But he is in his high 70s.) Victor Davis Hanson will have my vote as the wisest man in public life in America.

First, look here.

Conservatives are in a “I told you so mood” – as the 2008 talk-radio bombast about Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, “redistributive” spread the wealth, European socialism, etc., well, turned out not to be 2009 bombast at all.

Moderates and independents sigh, “I can’t believe this is happening to me; he seemed just like Clinton with all that balanced budget talk, balanced energy policy, and mainstream help-the-little-guy talk. What happened to the Barack we trusted?” David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Christopher Buckley no longer talk of the knowledge of the great books, of a first class mind and temperament, and a detached calm and sense of competence.

Liberals wonder, “Why is the coolest guy around suddenly flubbing every opportunity to get our agenda passed?” The hard-left laments, “This guy is a triangulator who gave us a nibble, then pulled away the bone.”

His supporters counter, “See, he is a pragmatist and centrist who alienates the extremes.” No, no, no – he alienates them, but now the middle as well. What keeps his approval ratings in the forties is only the idea that the American people cannot quite yet accept a failed presidency after a mere 12 months – one that they had invested such hopes in after the poll crashing of Bush’s final two years.

Stage Three

The finger-pointing and blame-gaming begin since no one can properly address the real and only problem: Barack Obama has had no previous identity or independent ideology. By osmosis (rather than by careful study or life-long experience) he absorbed the trendy left-wing cant that variously manifested itself wherever he traveled, from the Occidental lounge dorm to the Ivy League salon groupthink to Chicago organizing to Rev. Wright’s pulpit to the liberal caucuses of the U.S. Senate. For a while, it was all as easy as sonorously thundering “hope and change.” He never before had to articulate his leftism in any real detail, defend it, debate it, or analyze it.

But now as his polls dip, we hear instead gripes over tactics, not the essence of the problem – the absence of an identity confidently and honestly expressed.

Now here.

I could continue ad nauseam, but you get the picture. So why does Obama serially tell untruths, mislead, and do the opposite of what he promises?

Here are four brief reasons. They are complementary, rather than mutually exclusive.

1) He does this because he can. Obama, from college at Occidental to Chicago organizing, has never been called to account. He was always assured that his charm, his ancestry, or his rhetoric alone mattered, while his record, actions, and accomplishments were mere footnotes. He channels our hopes and dreams and need not traffic in reality. We, the people, like the media, have tingly legs and believe the president is “some god,” and therefore need not question the charismatic face on the screen.

2) Obama is a reflection of an era of liberal academic postmodernism. There are no absolute facts; truth is only an illusion in the eye of the beholder. Reality instead is relative, and predicated on the basis of power. Ergo, what others say is true is simply a reflection of their race/class/gender/religion/cultural privileges. Speaking “truth” to power means simply opposing those who, you deem, have more advantages than you and yours.

3) Obama is a neo-socialist who believes the ends of social justice justify most means necessary to achieve them. As a philosopher-king who knows what is best for ignorant lesser folk, who can’t possibly appreciate all the ways in which he works and suffers on our behalf (Cf. Michelle’s “deigns to run”), Obama reluctantly must employ Platonic “noble lies” to achieve the common good: OK, we don’t understand ObamaCare and therefore fear it and the way it is packaged and sold; but once it is forced down our throat, we will come to love – what is good for us.

4) Obama is a narcissist, who believes that his reality is our reality, that his rules are our rules. If the king, the autocrat, the heart-throb, the prophet, or the messiah says something is true, then facts and reality adjust accordingly. Facts and corrections are boring. And if confronted with contrary evidence, the self-infatuated simply smiles with the assurance that the problem is others’, not his.

And it is, sort of.

Now I’ll add something. I think this is a right-on assessment, because I believe I understand a bit about Obama’s outlook.

And the reason I understand, is I can recall a time when some of that could have described me and people I grew up with – in my teens and twenties perhaps. (Not the socialism though. I was never that much of an idiot. And post-modernism wasn’t so specifically formulated when I was a youth.)

Accomplishments? I don’t gotta show you no steenking accomplishments. I’m really smart!

I grew out of it – eventually. And not without cost to be sure.

And here’s something everybody seems to be missing, for reasons one might attribute to that elusive bogeyman, “unconsious racism.”

Forget his complexion, Obama is a preppie. I don’t believe he’s ever spent a day in a public school in his life. He is the child of privilege through and through, with the same sense of entitlement you find in kids with names like Rockerfeller, Harriman, DuPont and Kennedy.

During that largely innocuous speech to America’s schoolchildren he carefully implied that he grew up the disadvantaged son of a single mother. He didn’t quite say he was poor growing up, but he sure didn’t go out of his way to mention his mother’s PhD or that the grandmother who largely raised him was a bank executive.

Then he kind of slipped and said Michelle “didn’t have much either.”

Michelle father was a Chicago workingman who didn’t have a college degree, but had a decent well-paid job in public utilities, and was an influential Democratic ward heeler as well. An awful lot of folks have done worse.

They were both affirmative-actioned through the Ivy League – and why not? The very wealthy have been doing it for their own not-overly-brilliant or too-lazy offspring for generations.

And, I don’t think they are atypical of this generation of college grads at all. This is what the 60s generation of academics has wrought. A generation of men and women who can build a utopia overnight – just don’t ask them for details.

Or to run a chicken farm.

February 1, 2010

How to slant a news article

Filed under: Media bias — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:58 pm

By now everyone has heard that James O’Keefe, one of the dynamic duo who revealed ACORN as the criminal enterprise it is, was arrested in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans for allegedly trying to bug her phones, a pretty major bust.

He said he was trying to check out Landrieu’s claim that her phones were not receiving all the calls from constituents mad about her having whored for the “Louisiana purchase” that bought her support for Obama’s plans to socialize medicine.

There, that’s one way you slant a news report. Pretty blatantly.

Now look at a more subtle way MSNBC does it.

O’Keefe was the brains behind a series of undercover videos that have caused major problems for ACORN – the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now.

He managed to do what Republicans have been trying to for years – hurt the political affiliates of ACORN, which have registered hundreds of thousands of voters in urban and other poor areas of the country.

By producing undercover videos shot in ACORN offices, O’Keefe brought a firestorm of criticism that the group was helping its low-income clients break the law.

Using a hidden camera, O’Keefe, posing as a pimp and accompanied by a young woman posing as a prostitute, shot videos in ACORN offices where staffers appeared to offer illegal tax advice and to support the misuse of public funds and illegal trafficking in children.

Edited videos of those visits to ACORN offices were first posted on, a site run by conservative Andrew Breitbart. In the past, Breitbart has said O’Keefe – now a paid contributor to – is an independent filmmaker, not an employee

First bold: anybody doubt who they think are the good guys?

Second bold: ditto. They’re not just “clients,” they’re “low-income clients.” Not “poor and oppressed,” that would be a bit over the top don’t you think?

Third bold: “appeared to” Heavy sigh. This might be the journalistic equivalent of the “allegedly” we use to avoid being sued for saying somebody did something he/she is accused of doing. On the other hand, there was nothing “appeared to” about it. They did offer advice on how to break laws, and no amount of editing could explain away what was on those videos.

Fourth bold: “Edited videos…” See above. A rather neat way of saying the videos are doctored, without actually having to committ to the claim.

What’s the difference between the example I offered and the MSNBC version?

I made it plain which side I’m on. MSNBC is trying to maintain the appearance of impartiality (badly in my opinion) while telling you what you should think.

Another example from CBS NEWS Political Hotsheet.

James O’Keefe was riding high last year when he released a series of videos showing employees of community-organizing group ACORN offering advice to O’Keefe and a friend that seemed to endorse trafficking in children, among other illegal activities.

The undercover videos made O’Keefe a star in conservative circles and presumably helped him muster the courage for another high profile stunt – though this time, it seems, things went badly for the 25-year-old.

O’Keefe and three others – including the son of an acting U.S. Attorney, are accused of trying to manipulate the phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans. According to an release from the United States Attorney’s Office, witnesses say O’Keefe was in Landrieu’s office when two co-conspirators came in “dressed in blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a light green fluorescent vest, a tool belt and a construction-style hard hat” and pretended to be there to repair the phones. (Here’s the affidavit.)

Better in some ways. They link to the affidavit for example. In the Internet age, when someone makes an allegation and doesn’t supply links to supporting documents – or the links lead to other news reports (i.e. secondary sources) one has to wonder if they are lazy, or want to edit the facts to suit themselves.

Noentheless, notice the “seemed to” and the right up front sneers.

And also, notice the other trick – and I’ve seen this done on the Right and the Left, it’s just too irresistable. James O’Keefe is not Adonis, but he’s not ugly either. Look at the picture. You take enough closeup snaps of anybody’s face and you’re going to find some extremely unflattering ones. Particularly among people who have habits of pursing their lips, squinting, etc.

True, some are better subjects than others. Photographers and videographers always seem to catch Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair with that wide-open-eyed speed freak stare.

IMHO, not as bad as the MSNBC article. But again, does anyone doubt where the reporter leans?

But, I did learn something that kind of tickled me.

O’Keefe, a former Rutgers University student, has a history of stunts that predates his ACORN hidden-camera work: According to the Star-Ledger, he “mounted a satirical campaign to ban Lucky Charms cereal from campus dining halls on the premise the breakfast fare was offensive to Irish-Americans” as a student.

Which reminds me, I must tell you sometime about my campaign against the offensive stereotypical “Fighting Irish” mascot of Notre Dame…

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