Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

June 23, 2010

A new chapter in the personal saga of Steve

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:41 am

I’ve been up here in North Dakota for two-plus years now, and doing OK.

I just got my second consecutive first and second-place awards from the North Dakota Newspaper Association Better Newspapers Contest for government reporting and reporting, in the category of newspapers less than 12,000 circulation. I also got a substantial raise, the largest ever given in one step I’m told.

I celebrated by resigning last month.

I have a few reasons (one of them a point of principle which nobody’s going to care about next month, I’m a journalist, not a hatchet man) but the time seemed right.

I had a young twerp of an editor (not the editor who hired me) who is a perfect specimen of his generation’s educational accomplishments. He recently “clarified” one of my op-eds, altering a sentence to identify Neville Chamberlain as prime minister – of Czechoslovakia.

(Just consider the level of ignorance that implies. One, not knowing anything about the history of World War II. Two, not realizing that there is no way “Neville Chamberlain” is a Slavic name. Weirdly, the guy is not the least bit embarrassed by his abyssmal ignorance. Worse, I fear this ignorance is not too uncommon among college-educated people of his generation. Worst of all, you can graduate from journalism school not knowing who Neville Chamberlain was – much less what he means to the history of the 20th century.)

I was contemplating what an unpleasant place to work our newroom had become. Doubly painful considering how much I used to enjoy coming to work every morning. And it occured to me the chances of moving up were not good.

The first thing that struck me was, two years at a small community newspaper is experience at an entry level job. If I’m still there in five years, it spells “loser” on a job ap. Make no mistake, I loved working at a community newspaper but while I can get better at the job the one thing I can’t do is raise the population of our county. (Twenty percent larger than the state of Rhode Island, population about 12,000.)

The next thing I thought was, the job market is currently full with far more experienced journalists laid off from the larger papers. And, I’ve topped out income-wise. I fully understand why, but the newspaper is never going to be able to pay me much more than they are now. And frankly, it’s not enough to support us. We’ve only been able to live on my salary because we have other sources of income.

And, while news writing is great practice, doing it for a living is taking away from the kind of writing and research I want to do.

I had an interview in Minot two weeks ago, so we made a camping trip out of it. My wife was not thrilled, she loves this little town and wants to graduate from our local university. (Go figure. She grew up in her country’s capitol, a city of two million, and attended a university older than the United States. She loves this university.)

As we were driving back through the countryside I thought of a plan that will allow us to stay here.

On Monday I’m starting truck driving school.

It’s a little far ahead for definite plans, but “have laptop – will travel.” I’ve been looking over the audio courses available from The Teaching Company and ordered one on music theory – something I’ve always wanted to know more about.

Open road here I come!

June 13, 2010

Ruminations June, 2010

Filed under: Ruminations — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:58 am

* Redline on the weird-shit-o-meter.

For those of us who expected this administration to be very bad, the actual experience of living in the Age of Obama is… seriously weird.

Forget partisan politics. Even if you’re a freakin’ Democrat if you don’t have the feeling you’ve just unlocked Rod Serling’s door of the imagination and walked into the Twilight Zone, you must be off your lithium.

We the People elected a president who was supposed to be super-intelligent; never mind the “57 states” the “Austrian language,” and the academic transcripts that are evidently protected better than a lot of state secrets. (Hyperboly? How many state secrets have been leaked in the past few years? Wouldn’t you think a transcript would be easier to get ahold of?)

Now he’s cruising through his term with such an air of such eerie detachment it’s like, like… well, like nothing else in recent history comes to mind. It’s just weird.

And Democrats are getting alarmed, you can tell. When James Carville turns his shrill invective on a fellow-Democrat you know things are getting tense in the ranks.

* And by the way, why is the president so hinky about his academic record?

There is no shame in a “gentleman’s C,” academics isn’t for everybody – and it doesn’t neccessarily have anything to do with intelligence or leadership qualities. Winston Churchill had an abysmal academic record.

John Kerry promised to release his military record after the Swift Boat veterans made their charges. We’re still waiting, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Hillary Clinton evidently has a class paper kept under lock and key, lest the public discover how far left her opinions tend, or once tended. But then, that hasn’t exactly been a secret either.

But grades? Come on, there can’t be anything more than a little embarrassment involved here.

* The TV guide channel on our cable provider was showing ‘Paris Hilton’s BFF’ when I switched on the other day. I’d previously seen ‘Paris Hilton’s British BFF’ in passing.

I miss the interactive guide you could actually page through the whole day’s choices like we had in Oklahoma. This one just scrolls through the channels in a two-hour window while they show a program above the display at the bottom.

For those of you fortunate enough not to have seen it, the show is an elimination-round contest between a number of young ladies contending to become Ms Hilton’s party-pal.

So now that I’ve seen more minutes of it than I’d have tolerated if I didn’t have to, I can honestly say one thing. If I were single and courting again, I’d rather hear from the object of my affections that she’d been a hooker than a contender for Paris Hilton’s BFF.

* We took the kids to see the new Karate Kid movie last night. You do the same, it’s a worthy remake of a great flick.

One thing they fixed in this movie. In the original, the one thing that nagged was the unrealistically short time Daniel-san had to train before the tournament. I don’t care how great your teacher is, if you’re going to face bigger opponents with a lot of lead time in their training, most likely you’re in the deep doo-doo.

And, these Chinese kids were good.

What they did in the remake was show in passing that Dre (Jaden Smith) had a background in gymnastics and dance. That made his ability to do some spectacular moves believable.

* I read an interview with Jackie Chan about his role. He was quoted as saying he hoped this film would give him credibility as an actor, rather than just an action star.

Mr. Chan, you were always a comedic genius. Nobody should put down the ability to do physical comedy. Just ask Charlie Chaplin or Jerry Lewis.

June 11, 2010

The Nazi Slur

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:09 am

Note: A slightly different veriosn of this appeared as an article in The Dakota Beacon May issue.

They’re at it again, the Nazi hunters. And this time they’ve found the state of Arizona.

Not Nazis living in Arizona, the whole state. It seems the Arizona legislature passed a law requiring enforcement of immigration law closely modeled on the corresponding federal law. The federal government has been lax in enforcing its own laws, so Arizona is going to do it at the state level on that section of the U.S./Mexican border within their jurisdiction.

To those who don’t have to live with their problems, this makes Arizonans “racists” and “Nazis” you see.

No, no, don’t bother to thank me. I’m just glad I had a chance to straighten that out for you.

That’s something I’ve wondered about for years. Why is it when someone is reaching for a symbol of ultimate evil to tar someone with, they always seem to grab “Nazi” off the shelf of history?

“WHAT?” I hear your outrage. “Don’t you know history?”

Yes, quite well, thank you very much. Enough to know the Nazis come in a distant third in the mass murder sweepstakes of the 20th century. The murder tally of the Soviet Union is at minimum, ten times that of the Third Reich. The total of all murders by all communist governments, and I mean murders of helpless civilians excluding casualties of war, is at least 100 million.

Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison, the Third Reich had only 12 years to accomplish what the USSR did in 81 years and the Peoples Republic of China in 61 years. Still one has to wonder, why nobody calls someone whose politics they don’t like, a “Lenin” or a “Mao”?

You seldom hear anyone called a communist. And if you do, you’ll be ridiculed or answered with the counter-charge “McCarthyite!” though the late senator from Wisconsin is not known to have murdered anyone.

But you can still be taken seriously after calling someone a Nazi. And by the way, I take that “Nazi” slander pretty seriously. You see, unlike those who bandy it about so carelessly, I’ve been to Auschwitz. An experience I can safely say I’ll not forget till the day I die – as much as I wish I could.

But what’s really astounding is that anyone can publicly call themselves a communist and have a successful career in the civil service or academia. If you even brought up the question of whether someone advocating a political philosophy whose adherents have murdered millions should be supported at public expense, you’d be accused of “persecuting them for their opinions.”

(This is neither speculation nor hyperbole. I’ve heard it in those exact words.)

One has to ask, for God’s sake why? Why is it acceptable, even respectable, to identify oneself with the perpetrators of mass murder, as long as it’s not Nazi mass murder?

Various explanations have been offered.

One reason could be that the Nazis mostly murdered Europeans. The Chinese and the Russians were more distant peoples whose history and culture we knew little about. Perhaps for that reason we don’t call someone a “Tojo”, though the Japanese killed Chinese in numbers far exceeding the European casualties of WWII.

It could also be the Nazis made the mistake of picking on a highly-literate people whose survivors were capable of telling their story to the world. We all know something about Jewish history because it is part of the history of western civilization. But how many in the West know or care about the history of the Crimean Tartars, Ukrainians, or Tibetans?

A bit of that elusive bugaboo “unconscious racism” might be at work as well. Perhaps we expect Asians and Russians to behave with what we think of as “oriental cruelty”, but Germany was a civilized European nation whose contributions to western civilization are considerable.

Some suggest the communist regimes lasted well past their period of greatest brutality. So that when their crimes against humanity become widely-known they were already a generation in the past.

This explanation doesn’t work for me. For one, the knowledge was always available at the time. It was just denied and covered up, sometimes by sincere believers who were shocked out of their political faith when confronted by convincing proof of communist atrocities.

Among these was the writer Howard Fast, who told about his disillusionment in his autobiography, ‘Being Red: A Memoir.’ The process of leaving the Party began for Fast after he was given a copy of Kruschev’s secret speech detailing Stalin’s crimes. It took him awhile to process it though, and he kept his knowledge of the speech to himself for quite some time.

But the horrors were also concealed by accomplices with full knowledge of the truth, such as New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who witnessed first-hand the deliberate starvation of Ukrainian peasants at Stalin’s orders. Duranty reported seeing billowing fields of golden grain, and happy well-fed peasants dancing and singing the praises of the people’s paradise and kindly Papa Stalin.

The reality he saw was people starving to death by the millions as what food they managed to produce was seized.

Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize is still displayed in the NYT offices. The prize committee refuses to revoke the award, in spite of protests by Ukrainian-American organizations.

And most damning, well after the period of the greatest Soviet terror in the ‘30s, and China in the ‘50s, intellectuals like Noam Chomsky were still following the script as a communist government murdered millions in Cambodia: first deny, then minimize, then actively excuse.

Chomsky added a step to the customary progression: then blame the United States.

And I have to ask myself, how far can you go in denying, or actively justifying the murder of millions before you must be considered an accessory at best, an accomplice at worst?

But sometimes I get the depressing feeling the real reason may be that it’s safe to beat the Nazi horse, because it’s a dead one. They lost.

The USSR was until recently, and China still is, a terrifying reality in the present. They had and have numerous apologists and defenders in the West. Among them New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who openly wishes the U.S. government could get things done just like China does.

Today’s neo-Nazis are a miniscule group of pathetic losers nursing a neurotic need for attention, who don’t really scare anyone anymore.

When I hear “Hitler” and “Nazi” tossed around by people who would never say “Stalin” or “Mao” or “communist,” I have to ask, is it because they are afraid of these kind of people? Or worse, is it because they admire them?

Could that be it? And why?

Leftists are intellectuals, just ask them. Or don’t, they’ll be only too happy to tell you anyway.

And though I say it who am one, intellectuals tend to be, shall we say, a bit on the wimpy side. They may admire strength, but often have little idea what it is, and too damned often they think strength is brutality.

America’s longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer saw this years ago when he said, “One strategy of the weak is to hint at their capacity for evil.”

Recommended reading:

Gulag: A History. Anne Applebaum, 2004.

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Mark Kramer, Jonathan Murphy, Stephane Courtois, and Jean-Louis Panne, 1999.

Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society, Paul Hollander, 1997.

June 9, 2010

Ding-dong the witch is dead

Filed under: Media bias,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:01 am

Well she’s gone now. Helen Thomas has “retired” after her too-public remarks that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to the countries their grandparents escaped from.

Cautious columnists wonder whether or not the Hearst chain required her resignation. Oh puh-leeze, she was fired.

After perfunctory condemnations of her anti-Semitism – her colleagues were shocked, shocked, to find out about it after a mere two generations of nasty remarks of that nature, there followed all the usual encomiums about her tough, uncompromising journalism.

Heavy sigh. It continues to surprise me that Thomas is taken seriously as a journalist, purely on the grounds of professionalism.

A journalism teacher (a leftie at that) once told me, “There is one star of the interview – and it isn’t you.”

Every time I’ve seen Thomas at the White House on TV, she wasn’t asking questions, she was making speeches. Followed by a sentence that was technically an interrogative, usually something like, “Why don’t you see what I’m telling you?”

That’s her prerogative in her own column, but at a press conference she was taking time away from journalists who wanted answers. You know, those things we ask questions to get?

So why did the White House, under several different administrations, put up with that crap?

I dunno. First woman on the job maybe? Kid gloves? Maybe no president of either party wants the image of a pres who throws a journalist out of the room.

And maybe it’s precisely because WH press secretaries trying to equivocate and stonewall knew they could use up valuable minutes real journalists might have used to ask real questions, by letting Helen Thomas vent.

P.S. By all means read this grand article by David Harsanyi on, “Why the Helen Thomas case makes me nervous.”

June 7, 2010

No, I’m not Jewish

Filed under: Politics,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:51 am

I experienced an interesting piece of synchronicity this morning as I was mulling over the news of the Peace Flotilla to Gaza.

I came across this hilarious parody produced in Israel, “We Con the World.”

It was evidently put together, released by PM Netanyahu’s office, then retracted with an apology. I found it on a hostile comment to a column by Caroline Glick. The commenter thought it was outrageous. I thought it was a hoot!

It also underscores what a lot of us are wondering these days. Why should Israel give a damn about “international public opinion” (which means in effect, Arab and European opinion) since it’s never going to change no matter what they do or don’t do?

At about the same time I received a comment on a years-old post, “Observations on Arabs.”

Of course, the poster called me a racist. Then followed with a racist insult.

One Earl J said, “I don’t know how I reached this site (curse you, google!), but this racist hatchet job made me throw up a bit in my mouth. The most sinister kind of racist is the one who coats his hatred with a fake gloss of objectivity. I checked some of your other posts and I see you’re either a Zionist or Jewish. No surprise there.”

I replied, “Actually I’m mostly Scottish and Irish, with some exotic touches on my mother’s side.

“Have you tried Gaviscon? Best non-prescription thing for acid reflux I’ve found.

“My good friend Ali Alyami, founder of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, hasn’t noticed I’m a racist yet. Please don’t tell him.”

I forgot to add a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien. When a German publisher interested in a translation of ‘The Hobbit’ asked if Tolkien was an Aryan name, he replied that none of his family were speakers of Sanskrit, Hindi, or Romani. But, he said, if they were asking if it was Jewish, “I regret that I have none of the blood of that talented people in my veins.”

Then I came across an article about how senior White House correspondent Helen Thomas has been dropped by her agency over her remarks that the Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.

She evidently got caught on record and immediately apologized.

First impression, it’s interesting to see that remarks perceived as anti-Semitic are still un-PC. It kind of puts a crimp in conservative claims that anti-Israel sentiments have been mainstreamed.

Secondly, what’s ironic is I kind of agree with Thomas – except I’d like to bring them here.

In a nuclear age, Israel is just too vulnerable. Ahmedinajad is a moral monster, but he’s also right. A country that small equals a “one-bomb state.”

And as I’ve said before, I think we should consider taking in White and Colored South Africans and Zimbabweans. Eventually we may be taking in indigenous Europeans fleeing the Islamicization of the continent as well.

And by the way, does anybody in the Middle East realize that when Israel is incinerated in nuclear fire a whole bunch of Palestinian Arabs become radioactive ash as well? Are Hamas’ Palestinian buddies even concerned about this?

Oops, gotta go now. I have to pick up my white sheets at the cleaners for the cross-burning tonight.

June 5, 2010

Meditations on beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:59 pm

Derbrahlee Lorenzana claims she was fired by Citibank for being too hot.

The Village Voice, and a whole bunch of other news sources, are carrying the the story of Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mom in New York who claims she was fired for her looks.

Do go to the Voice, if you’re a heterosexual male you won’t regret it. There are 26 pictures of this extraordinarily beautiful woman in clothes appropriate for the office and evening wear. Aside from her looks, she knows how to dress.

Not that it matters, Lorenzana would look stunning in a potato sack – but evidently that’s not always been so great for her. She mentions her way of walking down New York streets, eyes forward, never making eye contact with anyone.

I can’t come to any conclusions about her case against Citibank, I’ve only heard one side so far. The bank claims her firing was performance-related. She claims supervisors said she was too “distracting,” and dictated in detail how she was to dress, which was not according to the official dress code. She said they held her to a far more rigid standard than other women in the office.

She also said she’s received some pretty crude harassment on occasion. Sadly, I find that credible. Men can be pigs, especially when influenced by acute testosterone poisoning…

Ultimately she said after being transferred around, and assigned to jobs she was not trained for, she was fired. Now it’s in arbitration.

Perhaps she needed a sassy gay friend to help her deal with this kind of $#!+.

A couple of things occur to me. One is that beyond Lorenzana’s stunning looks, there’s something else about here the pictures only hint at. I’ve known other women just as beautiful. There is something I can only describe as, for lack of a better word, “provocative,” about her looks.

I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, and I most certainly do not mean she looks like a tease or a vamp. It’s the same quality I noticed in another dark-haired beauty I knew in Poland. She was a happily-married mother, certainly beautiful – but that doesn’t stand out in Poland as much as it does here. But there was something about her I describe as “innocently provocative.”

It defies explanation – as you can tell by my fumbling attempts to explain it.

Another thing is that there is something about American culture and our attitudes to beautiful women that… (again, searching for appropriate word) tends to warp the psyches of women whose beauty blooms early. The most together beautiful women I’ve known in this country tended to be “ugly ducklings” whose beauty bloomed after their personalities were fully formed.

I once knew a beautiful 12-year-old who literally tyrannized her overweight 16-year-old sister for example.

In Poland I didn’t notice this kind of thing, or at least not quite as much. My wife for example, is a stunner in her own right, and charmingly unaware of it.

(Some would say this explains why she settled for me ;-))

Some thoughts about beauty, in no particular order. I couldn’t impose any order on it anyway – it’s an elusive subject.

* I remember some English students I had in Poland. in particular three very attractive women, two of them single professionals, one married.

One day the subject of beauty came up in class. I got an earful from two professional women who bitterly complained about the beautiful women in their offices, and the influence they had over the male managers.

I was thinking, “In America, women in the office would be complaining about them.”

On another occasion, a lovely Polish woman mentioned her husband had a new secretary, “But I want him to get rid of her, because she is too beautiful.”

And I was thinking, “If she’s saying this, I want to meet the secretary!”

* After Phil Spector was arrested for the murder of Lana Clarkson, I remember two women on a news program talking about the case. One remarked that no beautiful woman committing suicide (Spector’s feeble defense) would shoot herself in the face.

My wife remarked, “Unless her beauty was a curse to her.”

* Which reminds me of Deirdre of the Sorrows, the Irish tale from the Red Branch cycle (and play by John Millington Synge) about a woman whose beauty was a curse to her, and those who loved her.

A pretty good retelling of the myth can be found in Morgan Llywelyn’s ‘Red Branch.’

If they ever made it into a movie, Lorenzana would be my nominee for the part of Deirdre. (Though she’s Italian and Puerto Rican, she could pass for Black Irish.)

* A martial arts bud of mine is perhaps the most beautiful man I’ve ever known personally. He married early so he never played the field, but I can tell you women openly stare at him in public.

He’s also one of the most accomplished martial artists I’ve ever worked out with, and has had several amateur and semi-pro fights in boxing, kickboxing and grappling.

I am accounted a handsome man even yet at my age, but I wonder, what’s it like to be that devastatingly handsome? I wonder how much my friend’s looks have to do with his motivation to train to that level of deadliness. Is there a desire to escape a “sissy” image? His looks are not the least effeminate though, he’s just a beautiful human being.

* At an American Studies Conference in Minsk, Belarus, I met an American woman, a clueless lefty academic. To give you an idea how clueless, at one point in a presentation she referred to the “bearded, Christlike figures of Che and Castro.” She didn’t even notice the cold wave that swept across the room from the Belarusians desperately praying for the fall of communism in their country.

At one point she touched on the theme of how “cultural imperialism” is spreading the “Caucasian ideal” of beauty across the world. (She was, by the way, not beautiful.)

I’ve heard this many times before, and I’m not buying it. Light skin has been considered desirable in many cultures, even before European contact. As English sailors landing in Tahiti for the first time found out much to their delight.

I think light skin plays the same part in the beauty ideal as long fingernails, elaborate hairdos, certain kinds of confining clothings, etc.

I don’t think it’s a Caucasian thing at all, I think it’s an aristocrat thing. All of these culturally acquired beauty markers carry the same message: this person does not work with his/her hands.

And interestingly, now that most people work inside we see that a tanned/olive complexion is replacing pale as the epitome of beauty. But the message is the same, it indicates a person who has the leisure to get that tan.

Yet underneath the culturally-defined beauty markers there seems to be a standard of beauty that is remarkably consistent across cultures. Markers that indicate health and fertility.

* I was talking with an English colleague in Poland about beautiful women, and their attitudes. What we had both noticed, about both our countries vis-a-vis Poland was – say you’re waiting at a tram stop and you see one of these Polish girls who is so beautiful you can’t tear your eyes off her.

We agreed that in Poland our experience was, if you caught her eye she’d probably smile at you.

In America and England, as my friend put it, “She’d give you that ‘What the f*** are you looking at?” attitude.”

* A friend and student of mine, one of those beautiful Polish girls, was running the Public Relations department of a major foreign corporation. At a lesson once I exaplained the American weirdness of sexual harassment lawsuits and how men in American offices say they don’t dare compliment a woman on her looks.

She looked thoughtful and said, “That explains it then.”

She was referring to an American colleague who evidently liked to play the gallant and shower the ladies in the office with extravagant compliments. Poor sod didn’t get to do it in the states.

* Femina lupa femines , in Bulgaria, which is by the way the best-kept secret in Europe as far as beautiful women go (according to the Peace Corps more of their male volunteers marry local girls in Bulgaria than any other country,) I met a stunning young opera singer at a conference.

She had won awards at competitions all over Europe, and a full scholarship to study in the States. When she applied for a visa at the embassy in Sofia, the female clerk stamped it DENIED, and said to her, “Oh you beautiful Bulgarian girls, you just want to marry an American guy, then what will our poor girls do?”

* In one of the many fascinating conversations my wife and I had with our son’s late godmother and daughter’s namesake, Judith Baklanova-Hatton, I remarked about a mutual acquaintance that he suffered from what is possibly a man’s greatest misfortune at birth – that he was fortunate at birth.

I mean that he was “a gentleman of leisure” and had never had to work for a living. For a man, that can be crippling.

(I also believe upper classes are well aware of this, and in many cultures have evolved ways of countering the effect – a good subject for another post.)

When Judith agreed, my wife asked, “What do you think is the worst thing for a woman?”

Judith thought for a moment and said, “To be disfigured.”

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