Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

March 27, 2010

Tom Hanks is a brilliant actor, director, and a jackass

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:56 pm

Note: I dashed this off in about 20 minutes in white hot anger after the last post got spiked as my weekend op-ed. This is the one that got published. I’ve expanded it slightly to include some more of that great old flick.

Damn I’m good.

Tom Hanks is causing a bit of a stir among veterans and historians with his assessment of America in World War II.

In an interview with MSNBC about his new miniseries, ‘The Pacific,’ Hanks told MSNBC World War II in the Pacific was a war of “racism and terror.”

Well yes it was – but he meant U.S. racism and terror.

Hanks said, “The Pacific’ now is coming out where it really represents a war that was of racism and terror and it seemed as though the only way to complete one of these battles on these small specks of rock in the middle of nowhere was to– I’m sorry– kill them all.”

He went on at length in that vein, philosophizing about how long it’s taking us to get over racism and how history is repeating itself in our current actions, etc.

Historians, and I mean people who study, you know, what really happened, are aghast.

Those of us who loved ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and ‘Band of Brothers,’ are disappointed. Hanks has gone and drunk the moral equivalence kool-aid.

A dose of reality here please. During the Pacific war the reason American forces had to “kill them all” in so many cases, was the Japanese would not surrender, they preferred to die.

At the Battle of Guadalcanal early in the war, some Marines attempted to rescue and deliver medical aid to a small band of wounded Japanese soldiers under a white flag. When the Marines approached, the Japanese cut them to pieces with swords. The Marines never underestimated Japanese soldiers again.

Near the end of the war at the Battle of Okinawa, hundreds of local civilians committed suicide, on orders from the Japanese military. Some killed their children rather than let them fall into American hands, because they were told the Americans would commit terrible atrocities.

Instead the Americans fed them.

Hanks will no doubt point to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What he won’t point out, and probably doesn’t know, is the Imperial Japanese Army killed more civilians in the ‘Rape of Nanking’ than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. And they did it up close and personal with bullets, swords, rifle butts, and ways I can’t mention here.

But what I thought of when I read Hanks remarks, was another movie about the Pacific war I first saw when I was a kid, and again many years later as an adult.

‘Destination Tokyo’ was a war movie made during World War II, as entertainment and quite frankly as war propaganda.

It starred Cary Grant as a submarine captain on a mission to land a Japanese-speaking Navy meteorologist ashore in Japan to take weather observations for the upcoming Doolittle Tokyo Raid. It manages to be a first-rate action movie, a thinking man’s movie, and yes, propaganda.

As the sub is traveling by the Aleutian Islands they shoot down a Japanese plane. While they’re attempting to pull the pilot out of the freezing water, the pilot kills a sailor with a knife, and is killed in turn.

In the sub’s wardroom the men talk about their comrade and what they’re doing.

One sailor tells how his uncle in Greece taught philosophy, and how you have to be really good to teach it in the country where they invented it. But the Nazis killed him, “because they got no use for anybody that doesn’t think like them.”

Another tells about how his dad was no good, a bum and a lush, who died in bed screaming from the DTs. But in America even a bum gets a chance to die in bed.

The captain compares the lives of the two dead men, and how their friend’s dad gave him a pair of roller skates when he was a kid. The pilot’s dad gave him the knife in a samurai-era ceremony.

The Captain says, “That’s what we’re fighting this war for, more roller skates. We’re not doing this just for us, we’re doing this for the next generation of Japanese kids. There’s lots of Mikes dying right now. And a lot more Mikes will die. Until we wipe out a system that puts daggers in the hands of five-year-old children.”

When I saw this as an adult, I was astounded. What a genuinely noble and high-minded thing this was to say about the enemy – in a movie made during that terrible war.

Yes of course there were racist caricatures, I’ve seen them too. But there was also a lot of this kind of thing too.

Tom Hanks makes great movies, but he ought to see more of the great old movies.

Afterthought: This comes hard, Hanks has made great movies about Americans at war. Movies that showed a great appreciation of courage. What the hell happened to him?

Cowardice is what I think. Hollywood doesn’t like America, doesn’t like real heroes, and doesn’t like depictions of courage that show up the phony courage they like to pat themselves on the back for.

Hanks lives with these people. I think he caved in. Sucks to be him, because those movies he’s made show he knows better. I think he had to say these things to be accepted by the people around him – and my guess is that it’s going to eat him up inside.

UPDATE: Go over to PJTV and see Poliwood where Roger Simon and Lionel Chetwind take apart Hank’s comment.

And, they point out that Hanks once came out against Clinton a while back, got leaned on, and caved.

They’ve got the same basic analysis I do. Nice guy, no cojones.

And be sure and read Victor Davis Hanson’s point-by-point rebuttal of Hank’s remarks.

March 25, 2010

What’s with the U.S. and Israel?

Filed under: Politics,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:43 pm

Note: My weekend op-ed. Spiked.

The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah*, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.
-Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith 846 A.D. (Sayings of the Prophet collected by Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, 810-870) incorporated in the charter of Hamas.

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met twice on Tuesday in an atmosphere somewhat strained.

Contrary to customary protocol, reporters were not invited to see them shake hands and begin talks, and the White House did not issue a formal statement afterwards.

What’s going on?

Two weeks ago, during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, a low-level bureaucracy announced the building of 1,600 new apartments in east Jerusalem. Though it doesn’t appear to be a deliberate provocation, Biden, a strong supporter of Israel, was miffed enough to show up late to a formal dinner. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later called Netanyahu to cuss him out for 45 minutes – and Madam Secretary is said to be a formidable cusser.

Netanyahu isn’t budging on the apartments.

Angry Palestinians have delayed new U.S.-sponsored peace talks over the issue. So what else is new? President Obama was described as “furious.”

So why aren’t the Israelis cooperating with us? Aren’t we their biggest supporters?

Short blunt answer, the Israelis aren’t cooperating because they get nothing from it – and they don’t trust us.

That Israel gets nothing from concessions is easy to show, if anyone has eyes to see. Harvard law professor Alan defender-of-the-rich-and-guilty Dershowitz, wrote a book, ‘Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge.’ You can dismiss it as special pleading if you like, but what you can’t ignore is the heart of it. It’s a table he created by listing all concessions made over 30 years to the Palestinians in one column, and in the other a list of terrorist acts and attempts.

In every single case, concessions have been followed by escalating terrorist acts. Simple, obvious, ignored. Like it says, terrorism works.

Why don’t the Israelis trust us?

Because they shouldn’t.

Biden is known as a strong supporter of Israel, which won’t matter unless and until the “vice” is removed from his title.

Secretary of State Clinton has been known to drop the “fucking Jew bastard!” bomb when angry and was a strong supporter of Palestinian statehood, until she publicly embraced and kissed Yassir Arafat’s wife Suha. After the subsequent backlash she discovered her “unrelenting support of Israel.”

There is no direct evidence President Obama is an anti-Semite, but he is undeniably comfortable with anti-Semitism. (Hint: 20 years in the front row of Rev. Wright’s church. Somebody forgot to tell him you’re supposed to stand up and walk out when a preacher starts racist rants from the pulpit.) And his reaction to Iran’s nuclear program has been tepid at best.

You may have missed all this but I assure you the Israelis haven’t.

But isn’t White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a Modern Orthodox Jew who spends a lot of time in Israel?

I don’t know where Emanuel fits in all this, but he may share the same illusion most Americans cling to, that Israel’s enemies want peace.

Every American president for decades has known bringing permanent peace to the Middle East would assure his place in history. So far only Jimmy Carter has had any success, and only because Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat came to want peace more than he wanted his own life. Carter is now openly, bitterly anti-Semitic.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for another Sadat. More likely, there will be no peace until something indescribably horrible happens in the Middle East.

* “O Abdullah” probably doesn’t refer to someone named Abdullah, but to the meaning of the name, “slave of God.”

March 20, 2010

Hold on to your hats, it’s coming!

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:22 am

“Great changes should not be forced on slim majorities.”
-Thomas Jefferson

This is Saturday, and they say a vote on Obamacare could be tomorrow.

Though polls show majority public disapproval, Intrade Prediction Markets is selling bets it’ll pass by July 30 at 82.7 as of right now.

You can think of that as a percentage prediction. I trust Intrade more than any poll, because you actually have to put your money where your mouth is there. Since it was established, it’s had a phenomenal record in predicting election results.

I hasten to add it’s not a static picture, you have to keep checking. The Intrade figures on the last Massachussetts election only shifted to favor Scott Brown within a few days of the vote.

But as it stands now, it looks like the socialization of one-sixth of the American economy will be well underway next week. And not just any sixth, it’s the one which grabs a significant fraction of the population by the short hairs. The only better method of social control I can think of off hand, would be socializing grocery stores and gas stations.

From what I’ve seen of the plan, it looks like the jiggery-pokey with the numbers provides for collecting money for a few years before the plan actually goes into effect, so it won’t go broke for another couple of years after that.

Some predict immediate effects, such as doctors and facilities refusing to take Medicare patients anymore and doctors leaving the practice of medicine.

This is an awful thing to say, but I hope so. I hope it collapses before I’m old, sick, and caught up in the system.

Some say it’ll be repealed in a wave of disgust after next election sweeps the Republicans to power with a supermajority.

Lots of luck. That majority will have to be pretty super to override a presidential veto.

I don’t have anything more to say that I and others haven’t said before, but I do have an anecdote I’d like to record for posterity.

A few weeks back, while covering a non-health care related event*, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conversation between a county official, active in local Democratic politics, and the aid to one of our senators.

I know, like, and respect the county guy. He’s a retired farmer and truck driver, and attends to county business very well.

He was giving the D.C. guy absolute hell. He called the D.C. Dems “gutless” for not passing a public option. Actually, what he said was they were gutless for not “ramming it through.”

His argument was that it should have been rammed down the throats of the people, against the “opposition” – and don’t worry, they’ll learn to like it like they like their medicare.

His personal bitch was that he’d recently had to pay 10 grand for a knee joint replacement, if memory serves. And he couldn’t understand why he saw people in wheelchairs protesting socialized medicine at Tea Party rallies. Didn’t they know what’s good for them?

I did not contribute to the conversation. I was there wearing my reporter hat, and when you show up with that hat on, you kind of can’t take it off till you leave. The D.C. guy kept glancing at me, and it seemed to me he felt a little constrained in what he was saying. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I do have reason to believe my articles and op-eds get read by the NoDak congressional delegation, or at least by their aids.

That’s the attitude folks. You’ll take it and you’ll like it.

Another thing, I know the local Republican chair too. He’s a cheerful, laid-back, live-and-let-live sort of guy, who likes to do his job and go home to his family and his hobby of making lots of different varieties of home-made wine.

In short, he hasn’t got the fire in the belly the local cause junkies have. He seems to be Republican chair by default.

That’s what worries me. The natural, non-ideological libertarian-leaning folks who just want to live their lives and mind their own business and live their own lives just aren’t motivated to the extent the “opposition” is.

There are highly motivated activists in various libertarian organizations – but long experience has shown they’re incapable of founding or working together within large organizations. The largest and most successful are ones which have financial angels and are run, often in an weirdly dictatorial manner, by long-time career staff.

Further, libertarians tend to drop out of activism whenever they succeed in getting a life. (Hint, it’s roughly an 80% male movement.) And when they don’t succeed in getting a life, they tend to drift away on floating abstractions as their contact with reality grows increasingly tenuous.

Among other things, this tends to call their credibility into question when they say they know how to organize and run a nation-sized polity. That and the fact they have trouble answering their mail.

I believe at this point there has never been a greater chance of our nation declining to something like the economic level of pre-Soviet collapse Eastern Europe.

I believe at this point there has never been a greater chance of our nation breaking up altogether since the Civil War.

And I believe at this point there has never been a greater chance our descendants will someday look back at this era as the time a great nation committed suicide at the height of its power.

*FEMA presentation on flood insurance.

March 19, 2010

Mean Greens and werewolves

Filed under: Movies,On Thinking,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:01 pm

Note: my weekend op-ed.

I’ve just read an interesting study about how buying green makes people mean.

Two PhDs at the University of Toronto; Chen-Bo Zhong, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, and Nina Mazar, Assistant Professor of Marketing, asked the question, ‘Do Green Products Make Us Better People?’ now in press at the journal Psychological Science.

The answer, according to the article’s abstract is, probably not.

“In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.”

In layperson language, good examples encourage good behavior, but good behavior can justify bad behavior later.

The researchers set up three experiments with a total of 305 students at the University of Toronto. Subjects were tested to see if buying green products creates enough “moral credentials” to encourage them to lie and steal for their own advantage.

The results were clear, and depressing. It does.

The study attributes this to what the authors call, “the licensing effect,” whereby “virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.”

In other words, I’ve been really good so now I get to be bad.

This is interesting because it offers insight into a lot of behavior way outside the scope of the experiment.

Did you ever wonder how pedophile priests justify their betrayal of their oaths, their parishioners, and their duty to God? “Climate change activists” who travel about in chartered jets and chauffeured limos, leaving carbon footprints the size of a small town? Idealistic politicians who get on the gravy train to enrich themselves after just a short time in office? Animal rights activists who treat mere people like dirt?

Explanations offered for this include: they’re hypocrites, they’re phonies enlisting in a cause they don’t really believe in but find more profitable than working for a living, or they’re degenerates infiltrating a respected institution to gain access to innocent victims.

It could be all of these, but maybe it’s also something else. Maybe it’s the licensing effect.

As I read the study, I started to get the feeling I’ve seen this movie before. Literally.

Silver Bullet is a 1985 movie based on Stephen King’s novella, ‘Cycle of the Werewolf,’ starring the late Corey Haim, Gary Busey, and Everett McGill.

The story is, a crippled boy Marty Coslaw (Heim) believes a werewolf is behind a series of grisly murders in a small New England town. The boy sets out to discover which of the townspeople is the werewolf.

It turns out, it’s the town’s pastor Reverend Lowe (McGill.)

Before Marty and his Uncle Red (Busey) manage to kill the werewolf with a silver bullet, the boy confronts Reverend Lowe.

The Reverend is aware he’s a werewolf. But, he tells Marty, surely all the good I do when I’m not a werewolf justifies ripping a few people to bloody shreds once a month?

I mean hey, nobody’s perfect.

The medieval church used to have a practice called “selling indulgences,” offering absolution for certain sins for money. The revulsion caused by this practice eventually became one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation.

So now that feel-good causes have largely replaced religion in people’s hearts, is this what we’re doing? Buying indulgences?

March 14, 2010

For the bias file: Amy Goodman

Filed under: Media bias — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:59 am

The following is a column by Amy Goodman, published March 12, 2010, about the death of a 23-year-old American student named Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer On March 16, 2003. Corrie’s parents are suing the government of Israel.

Rachel Corrie’s (posthumous) day in court

An unusual trial begins in Israel this week that people around the world will be watching closely. It involves the tragic death of a 23-year-old American student named Rachel Corrie. On March 16, 2003, she was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer.

Corrie was volunteering with the group International Solidarity Movement, which formed after Israel and the United States rejected a proposal by then-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to place international human-rights monitors in the occupied territories. The ISM defines itself as “a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles.” Israel was building a large steel wall to separate Rafah from Egypt, and was bulldozing homes and gardens to create a “buffer zone.” Corrie and seven other ISM activists responded to a call on that March day to protect the home of the Nasrallah family, which was being threatened with demolition by two of the armored Israeli military bulldozers made by the U.S. company Caterpillar.

Note word choice.

Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, related what happened: “The bulldozer proceeded toward Rachel. … She was in her orange jacket. When it kept coming, she rose on the mound, and the eyewitnesses testified that her head rose above the top of the blade of the bulldozer, so she could clearly be seen, but the bulldozer continued and proceeded over her, and so that it was covering her body. It stopped and then reversed, according to the eyewitness testimonies, without lifting its blade, so backed over her once again.

Now notice this, the source cited is Rachel Corrie’s mother – who was in the U.S. not Israel. Cindy Corrie is quoted telling the story in the first person. The ultimate source are “the eyewitnesses” – who are not named.

And check the description of the International Solidarity Movement at David Horowitz’s site Discover the Network.

Led by Palestinians working closely with American recruiters, ISM invites American volunteers to travel to the Palestinian territories and disrupt the actions of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which is engaged in anti-terror operations in the region. ISM maintains a continual, low-level presence in the territories year-round, punctuated by occasional large, episodic campaigns. At various times, ISM members have temporarily taken over Israeli military checkpoints, interfered with the arrests of Palestinians charged with terrorism, and attempted to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes containing subterranean tunnels for weapons smuggling.

And about that mention of Caterpillar tractors:

The Chicago chapter of ISM has endorsed the “Declaration Regarding Caterpillar Violations of Human Rights,” a document that impugns the U.S.-based Caterpillar Corporation for selling its machinery to the Israeli army, which in turn uses that equipment to demolish Palestinian terrorists’ homes and bases of operation. This Declaration characterizes the Israeli actions as malicious and unprovoked acts of indiscriminate destruction that constitute “grave abuses of human rights and humanitarian law.”

Their account is a little different:

Among ISM’s most well known members was the late Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old volunteer who, in March 2003, was crushed beneath a bulldozer in Rafah when its operator failed to see her trying to block the destruction of a tunnel through which Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were receiving smuggled weapons.

I have a lot of respect for Amy Goodman. Unlike a lot of “activists” she walks the talk. She got the living daylights beaten out of her by Indonesian troops after witnessing a massacre in Timor back in 1991 and has put her own personal ass on the line in a lot of other places as well.

This is an Appeal to Pity. Of course, it’s a column not a news item, so she’s got the latitude to put her opinions in. But…

The Wikipedia article quotes Michael Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, said, “She’s not an editorialist. She sticks to the facts… She provides points of view that make you think, and she comes at it by saying: ‘Who are we not hearing from in the traditional media?'”

I think it’s great to find “who are we not hearing from in the traditional media?” and I wish more journalists would do that.

But look again – she did not cite the “eyewitness” source, she did not cite other eyewitnesses who apparently have a different story. And rather than quoting those eyewitnesses, she quoted Corrie’s mother.

That’s a twofer, an appeal to pity and a thirdhand account of the incident phrased in such a way she doesn’t have to identify the source.

She most certainly is an editorialist, and is shilling for the ISM.

March 12, 2010

My path to punditry

Filed under: Op-eds,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:52 pm

Note: Weekend op-ed/

“We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t.”
-Frank A. Clark, newspaperman

I don’t suppose it would surprise anyone to know that I, like every small-town newspaper columnist, would like to be nationally syndicated.

After all it’s got to be the best job in journalism, like getting paid to be the pub loudmouth. The only job better is the late Charles Kerault’s job On the Road, but my wife might have her own opinions about raising the kids in an RV. (Letting me roam around alone on assignment all year probably wouldn’t fly either. After his death it was revealed Kerault had another wife somewhere on the road.)

It’s also no secret many young journalists want to move into Opinion as fast as their little legs can carry them through the newsroom.

So for what it’s worth, here’s my notion of an ideal columnist and how to prepare to be one.

Firstly, get experience. Travel, live in different places, see some of the world. Work at jobs that aren’t journalism and live in places that aren’t Washington. There’s an awful lot of the breed in Washington who’ve never done this.

I’ve worked in Washington too. And don’t ever let anybody tell you different, it’s a small town at heart. It’s as provincial as any one-horse town in the Midwest, except they can’t even grow wheat.

Go to the Creators Syndicate website and you’ll find two columnists, one on the liberal page, one on the conservative, both just out of college. One started writing a syndicated column while still in college, the other is billed as “one of the youngest columnists in the nation.”

That is not a recommendation to my mind. Yes, both are highly intelligent and no doubt had stellar academic careers, but what the heck have then seen of life?

Yeah, those grapes are awfully sour. But the point remains.

Study on your own: history, logic, rhetoric, statistics.

History is absolutely necessary to taking a long view and cultivating a sense of perspective. It ‘s the next best thing to experience.

Logic teaches you what an argument is: a set of statements the last of which (the conclusion) you claim must follow from the others. Just as important, it teaches you what an argument isn’t: attacks on the arguer or his motives, appeals to authority or pity, unfounded generalizations, etc.

Rhetoric is the art of turning a persuasive phrase. You have to keep the readers’ attention, especially if you’re going to be telling them something they’d rather not hear, so your writing has to keep them entertained. And it lets you know what folks are up to when they say fine-sounding things that don’t make sense.

Statistics: an awful lot of arguments are made – and an awful lot of lies told – through statistics. Studying stats gives you a great appreciation for that old saw, “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”

Regularly make it a point to read points of view you don’t agree with. I have a set of bookmark folders on my computer labeled: right wing, left wing, libertarian, anarchist, feminist, specific issue sites, etc. Of course I spend more time in some than others – but I regularly make a point to go to sites I ordinarily wouldn’t.

How can you argue for a position, if you don’t know what the argument against it is?

Read other columnists. This gives you a sense of what issues people care about, and keeps you from reinventing the wheel. When there’s an issue I want to write about, I see what columnists I respect are writing about it. Then I do something different.

Try to avoid “preaching to the choir,” think of your audience as people who disagree with you at least some of the time. Disagree is what free men do.

And most of all, you must have intellectual courage.

Most people have physical courage. But how many people have the courage to calmly consider ideas that sadden them, scare them, or make them profoundly uncomfortable?

How many times have you examined arguments and evidence, and come to a conclusion which you did not like and wished were not true? How often do you consider that you may be wrong? How often have you decided you simply did not know the truth and had to live with uncertainty?

That’s intellectual courage, and it’s rare.

That’s my plan. If I follow it, will it make me a famous nationally syndicated columnist?

I don’t know. I do know it’ll make me the columnist, and the man, I want to be.

March 7, 2010

Hannah Giles is hotter than a three-dollar pistol

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:44 am

Christian/Conservative commenter Doug Giles has a post defending his daughter Hannah’s work, with James O’Keefe in exposing ACORN as a criminal racket, albeit supported by highly-placed politicians, by a tight-assed Christian lady by the name of Dawn Eden (can that be a real name?)

Not that Hannah needs it. I seem to remember a few years back that Doug and daughter Hannah were studying Brazilian Jujitsu together.

Ms Eden evidently didn’t think it was very Christian of her to use deception or dress like a hooker to get the story.

Doug spanks the lady and sends her home, but the interesting thing was this comment to the post. It’s early in the morning and I was in the mood for mocking satire.

Hey, I promised you I’d try to be more cheerful.

I love mockery and satire – but indulge myself in it only rarely. For one, doing it all the time diminishes the effect. (Paging Ann Coulter.) For another, like any other indulgence, it’s bad for you when overindulged in.

So just this once because it feels soooo good. As we say in Oklahoma, “I know it’s wrong – but I’m weak.”

This was fun to write. Not least because I really despise these cowardly little shits who post vile, insulting rants anonymously.


That said, I do make an exception where there is the possibility of danger to myself and my family. As my wife said, “There are people out there who don’t like you. And they know where you live.”

And furthermore, I’m old, feeble, unarmed, and helpless. Really. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Now on to the letter.

From someone who signed in as “ReglionisforTools”

“christians” are morons

So is anybody that prostrates and prostitutes themselves to these fake “gods”. Stop living in fear of the make believe retards; step into the light and fresh air. I know, I know, it seems scary at first(it isn’t) to be without your made up, diaper wearing, old man that lives in the sky and his gay rabbi son, but you can do it.

Remember when you were children and you had leave behind childish things like make believe friends? Same applies here with “god” and jebus. Grow up already and move on nobody likes an adult child.

Crazy religious freakazoids have the back bone to join us that are smart happy and successful. Have the courage to chose freedom instead of intellectual and emotional slavery. Chose fresh air and sunlight over darkness and fetid stink of your ignorance and fear. Embrace, please embrace personal hygiene, most of you tubos need to sooner rather then later. Please stop having sex with barn yard animals and those you are related to by blood. Please, fatties, please start a diet made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and real food that doesn’t issue from a clowns mouth.

If you have the intestinal fortitude to leave the self imposed world of ignorance and fear behind, your IQ will easily raise by a minimum 10 points. That would be helpful to all of you mouth breathing religious lunatics because you are only sporting about a 75 IQ to begin with.

My post:

Dear ReligionisforTools,

I’m of the Cheerful Agnostic persuasion, and my favorite philosopher Eric Hoffer was an avowed atheist – who nonetheless thought the Bible was a stupendous literary and philosophical achievement.

Hoffer said the fanatical unbeliever is actually engaged in a desperate search for belief.

So I have to ask you about your claim to be “smart happy and successful.”

We’ll leave aside the questions of “smart” and “successful” for the moment. After all, a lot of people can’t handle grammar, spelling, and punctuation these days, and I’d count anyone as successful who is happy.

Now as to happy, what kind of happy, contented person lurks anonymously on web sites and hurls vile insults at strangers?

I mean seriously, if you lurked outside of churches and hurled those insults you’d likely be carted off to the local mental hospital – though it would at least be braver than uttering them under an assumed name on the Internet.

Ah! Could that be it?

Giles, O’Keefe, and Rose have… what’s that word?

Courage. And, they seem to be having a ball as well.

Does that really get to you?

So I’m afraid I have to tell you that I have serious doubts about your claim to be happy.

I expect the proof with come in yet another vituperative screed from you.

(That’s smart-people talk for “really nasty letter.” I have a measured IQ it would be immodest of me to boast about – but I don’t consider myself smarter than say, St. Thomas Aquinas.)

So, since you’d reject out-of-hand advice from the Bible, which you really shouldn’t, there’s a lot of clear, tough-minded thinking recorded therein, try Thucydides.

“The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage.”

The American Empire that wasn’t

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:44 am

I guess I’m feeling the effects of the long northern winters. I’m beginning to sound depressed, even to myself.

I promise, I’ll get back to something more cheerful soon. Or maybe not.

A while back I promised a regular feature that never quite materialized, “Uncomfortable Thoughts.” The idea was to examine ideas that made people, myself included, profoundly uncomfortable.

Maybe it was too uncomfortable, or maybe I got nervous about committing them to e-print, but it never quite got off the ground. I posted a few pieces and kind of dropped it.

But I’d like to revisit an idea I played around with a while back and a sketchy notion of why I thought it might be a possibility.
I apologize for repeating myself, but I got to thinking about it again recently, while working on a piece about courage.

It seems to me that courage comes in three dimensions: physical, intellectual, and moral. I’ll develop this later, but intellectual courage is what I was talking about, the courage to deal with ideas which scare you. I’ve got friends who are physically and morally brave – but quite frankly, intellectually pretty cowardly.

The two most common expressions of this I’ve seen are, 1) attacking a scary idea rather than addressing it, usually with insults and ad hominem attacks on whoever is stating the idea. And 2) doing what I call “making up stories.” By that I mean, as soon as the idea is presented, the hearer makes up an explanation on the spot which explains away the scary thought – based on little or no evidence at all.

At any rate, a common insult hurled at America, is the charge of “imperialism” which I dealt with in a previous post.

Webster’s revised unabridged dictionary (© 1996, 1998 MICRA Inc.) defines empire as:

n 1: the domain ruled by an emperor or empress 2: a group of countries under a single authority; “the British empire” 3: a monarchy with an emperor as head of state 4: a group of diverse companies under common ownership and run as a single organization
and imperialism:
n 1: a policy of extending your rule over foreign countries 2: a political orientation that advocates imperial interests 3: any instance of aggressive extension of authority.

By the standard definition, the US is not an empire. It is neither a monarchy nor is it a group of countries, but a single country with a recognized common culture whose legislators are chosen from every region of the country without any legal qualifications of ethnicity, religion or even native birth. By the second definition of empire (and ignoring the pejorative connotations of the word) there are only two countries of any size in the world today that match the definition: Russia and India.

As for creating an empire, after an initial period of expansion into almost empty territory[1], the US appears to have reached the limit of its territorial enlargement, the last being a few island possessions taken from the Empire of Japan at the end of WWII. And in these cases, the US grants a huge measure of local autonomy (for example the local laws of Guam are not subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court) and has made it plain that they can have complete independence any time they ask for it.

The US does indeed maintain military bases in a great many countries. However, unlike the bases maintained by the former Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, they are not used to intimidate the governments of their host countries by threat of force. When Charles Du Gaulle withdrew from NATO and demanded the removal of American bases in France, the US removed them without much protest or even economic reprisals. Similarly, US forces evacuated bases in the Philippines and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when local opinion turned against them. Etc.

Now here’s the thought which keeps me up at nights.

What if, in a hypothetical future of The Long Night I spoke of in my last post, our descendants, hell everybody’s descendants, curse us for not becoming an empire?

America seems to be drawing down, just as the isolationist Right always wanted. Sure Obama went to war in Afghanistan, probably to prove he isn’t a metrosexual wimp. But he’s announced we’re going to be completely neutral between Britain and Argentina as, yet again, the Falkland’s issue hots up. And he says we’re drawing down in Iraq, after taking credit for the success there.

I wonder what he’s going to say if it all falls apart when we leave?

Lech Walesa, first president of free Poland, has lately been warning the Poles and other Eastern Europeans that they’re on their own, don’t count on America.

Some years back, when I was picking up some extra change as copy editor for various English-language publications put out by the Polish Academy of Science, I had a conversation with a Polish paeleobiologist.

He dropped an opinion that literally stunned me.

“America should just declare itself an empire, and we (Eastern Europeans) could be second-tier citizens like the late Roman (Byzantine I think he meant) Empire.”

“Uh, uh, uh,” I wittily replied.

I think it was actually a while later I thought of what I sort of should have wanted to say.

“Nice idea, and very flattering, but integral to our ideals as a nation is the notion of a common, unranked and undifferentiated citizenship. We accomplished this over time and at great cost, and this would be a step backwards for us.”

I still believe that, with all my soul. But I also see that he was considering a far worse alternative than being second-class citizens in a mostly benign American Empire, that of again being subjects of a resurgent Russian Empire.

America will draw down and withdraw from the world eventually, because we must. Because we’re running out of money to fund our presence abroad.

Hurray! (I hear some of you say.)

And yes, this might not be an entirely bad thing – if the Europeans can recover their military tradition and become self-sufficient in self-defence again.

But what if they can’t? What if it’s too late?

Can a continent of one-child families even bear to think about military careers for their sons? And economically they are probably incapable of building and maintaining modern militaries as long as they have to support their massive social welfare states.

What if, at the end of WWII, instead of both feeding and undertaking the defence of France, Germany, Italy etc. at our expense, we had taxed them? Not right away, but after they weren’t starving anymore.

“OK, we’ll maintain our military in Western Europe and hold the line against the Soviets – but you’ve got to pay the cost of maintaining them. As you build up your own forces capable of mounting guard on Europe with the NATO alliance, we’ll draw down ours and reduce your taxes in proportion. In the end, we’ll all be equals in an alliance of free states – and that will happen in a couple of generations when we know we can trust you – yes YOU Germany, Austria, and Italy.”

That is the crucial difference between an empire and what we’ve been doing with our forces in over a hundred countries around the world. We don’t tax them.

In the end, this is of course unsustainable, like any other empire but probably quicker.

Poul Anderson once asked, “Now the British Empire is no more, and is the world a safer place because of this?”

If the Long Night draws over Europe, and the remnants of the indigenous Europeans plead to be allowed to resettle in America, perhaps with the white South Africans, and the last Israelis, I wonder what they will think about “American Imperialsim” then?

March 4, 2010

Sociology for Cynics

Filed under: Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:16 pm

Last night, as I was about to call it a night, this idea just popped into my head, virtually full-grown.

Damned if I know where it came from, I wasn’t thinking about the Grand Scope of History, I was reading John Gardner’s ‘Grendel.’ It of course, owes a lot to Eric Hoffer’s essay, ‘The Role of Undesirables in Society,’ and Poul Anderson’s fortunate phrase, The Long Night. It probably ought to owe something to Toynbee, except I’ve never read him.

It might actually be called ‘History etc,’ except that doesn’t rhyme with cynic.

At any rate it’s a classification of five stages of civilization, perhaps ours, perhaps any other, which are:

1) vigor
2) virtue
3) decline
4) decadence
5) the Long Night

Vigor: the founding age, the age of the pioneers and founders. Brawling, lusty, vulgar, and definitely not the kind you’d bring home to dinner. Especially if you have pretty, nubile daughters.

(They’d throw themselves at them. Charming bad boys. Might work out, and you’d have some tough, strong, grandkids – or your daughters would regret it the rest of their lives and you’d wind up supporting your grandkids. It’s a toss up.)

Hoffer described them perfectly. He met their kind among the Okies, fruit pickers, and men in the labor camps set up during the Depression. He asked older local folks in California who remembered the pioneers, and when pressed they replied that the people who most resembled the pioneers were the Okies and migrants.

Virtue: the age of the stolid New Englanders who moved west, from perfectly nice places to live. The westward migration in the covered-wagon era was overwhelmingly a middle-class movement, as shown by the cost of the wagon and all the gear.

Hard-working, church going, tight-assed for sure, but self-reliant and enormously inventive. Where the voortrekkers broke trail, these built civilization.

What happens is, families and single women move in. The hell-raising pioneers either get hitched and settle down, or take advantage of the new civilization (which means “city”) and colonize a corner of it.

That corner is called, “skid row.”

Decline: civilization has now existed long enough to feel natural to most of its living citizens. The idea of “enemy” is fading. Tolerance is the new frontier. Reason and negotiation, backed by armed watchfulness, will solve all problems with hostile strangers.

Decadence: civilization is accepted as eternal. “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.” Tolerance becomes aggressive. In fact, the idea of tolerance is insulting. We must embrace what we formerly only tolerated.

If reason and negotiation fail with hostile strangers, well then we can’t have been reasonable enough. Thus surrender is the only moral imperative.

This period is actually the most fun to live in for party animals. The possibilities for pleasure are endless, and can be enjoyed openly. The only social sanctions are against being an intolerant killjoy.

But these are a different kind of party people than the vigorous men who could wake up with tremendous hangovers and work them off with an hour of hard labor and lots of water.

Metrosexuals seldom live a life physical enough to have negotiating room with their vices.

This era is followed by…

The Long Night: preceded by a transition period in which there is first a breakdown into the default male form of organization – the gang.

Since disorder is the least tolerable of social states, society re-stablilizes into the only truly natural units of human society – the family, the band, and the tribe.

Enemy means stranger. Strength means brutality – and you don’t dare be less brutal than your enemy.

Women lose all gains in freedom and independence, their status is dependent on attaching to a powerful man – who can brutalize them at will.

Gee, sure am glad I had that nighmare before I went to sleep.

You needn’t take any of this seriously, but… which stage do you think we’re living in?

I vote for late decline/early decadence.

Legislating Moral Indignation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:19 am

Note: The case referred to was a disorderly conduct charge against a 14-year-old girl who in Feb., 2009, called a 17-year-old black girl the N-word outside the local teen center. She then followed her into the bathroom at a pizza joint nearby, again used the epithet and said something to the effect of, “You don’t own this town.”

The 14-year-old got six months probation and had to attend a “sensitivity class.” This was all finished by the time the appeal went to the North Dakota Supreme Court as, “In the interest of H.K., a child.” I’m told there shouldn’t be any long-term legal burden for the girl, since juvenile records are by law destroyed when the juvie turns 18.

I don’t know any of the parties in the incident. I do know the attorneys on both sides.


Something has been bothering me since the North Dakota Supreme Court ruling in a local case last month, something I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on until recently.

The Supreme Court upheld the disorderly conduct finding in juvenile court of a 14-year-old girl accused of using racial slurs against a 17-year-old African-American girl last year. The defense had argued the juvenile court was trying to criminalize the use of an offensive word, and that even offensive words are protected by the First Amendment.

I realized what was bothering me about this the other day, when I saw a little boy crying because a young teenage girl told him his T-shirt was “gay.”

(I advised the boy to suck it up and don’t let them see you cry or they’ll torment you without end.)

In the local case I fully realize there is more at issue than free speech. There are legitimate questions the prosecution raised about what constitutes disorderly conduct, fighting words, and actions likely to result in a disturbance of the peace.

And yet, I wonder if what was decided was less a question of law than moral indignation.

But shouldn’t we be indignant? Shouldn’t we do something?

Sure should, and if my kids used racial slurs like that I’d be pretty indignant on their backsides. But should moral indignation be a matter for the law?

There’s a lot of complicated ways it can be applied, but I think the basic question of whether a rule of conduct should be a law is, does it protect life and property?

The question is not whether it makes people nice, polite, socially conscious, non-smoking consumers of low-cholesterol organic foods.

I’d like to point out two examples of the desire to legislate moral indignation that fall, conveniently enough, on opposing sides of the political spectrum.

Once upon a time, in a state far, far away, I was a welfare bureaucrat for the state’s Department of Human Services. My job involved an awful lot of time spent establishing applicants’ eligibility for services. The department at that time claimed to have disbursement rate of around 60 percent. That is, sixty percent of all the tax money the department received eventually wound up in the hands of single mothers, dependent children, the aged, disabled, and blind.

This was considered very good for any welfare agency, where disbursement rates are more often around 40 percent.

There were of course, a fair number of clients who were con artists and scammers, i.e. “welfare cheats.”

This makes some people livid.

“That money is for the genuinely needy! We need to catch those cheats and make them pay it back, or send them to jail!”

In vain I’d explain that catching all the ineligible recipients would cost more money than the department would save, and actually make less available to genuinely needy clients. Didn’t matter to them, it was wrong and it had to be stopped, whether it would save money or not.

Switch to the opposite end of the political divide and income distribution.

Here live the people who are made livid by multi-million dollar golden parachutes paid to incompetent executives to buy out their employment contracts before they ruin their companies.

Again, it does no good to point out that the money paid them is insignificant in terms of total revenues, does not significantly affect costs of the company’s goods and services, and is in fact money well-spent to get rid of an incompetent or under-performing CEO. (Hat tip to Thomas Sowell for pointing this out.)

“It’s wrong!” and has to be stopped, whatever the damage done to contract law which, like free speech, is one of the foundations of our civilization.

There’s no doubt moral indignation feels good. Research shows feelings of moral indignation can cause a release of endorphins in the brain, resulting in a “natural high.” This would explain a lot about “cause junkies,” whose lives revolve around a passionate quest to set the world to rights.

But passion is a poor basis for deciding questions of law.

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