Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

October 27, 2010

Juan Williams and the Elsa Effect

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:04 pm

Juan Williams, as everybody knows by now, was fired by National Public Radio for admitting when boarding a plane he gets nervous when he sees obviously Muslim-looking men boarding.

The fact he then thoughtfully disected his own prejudice and lamented it, counts for nothing with the hyper-PC crowd at NPR.

I like Juan Williams. He’s the kind of liberal I grew up with, before the name was hijacked by Hard Left America-hating loonies. He’s always thoughtful and disagrees like a gentleman. I think FOX will be richer for having him on board as a full-timer.

Some have noted that hey, PC trumps black!

For me the fact Williams is black evoked an ironic memory from decades ago when the civil rights struggle was still heroic. Doubly ironic since Williams has written extensively about the struggle.

Back then the late John W. Campbell, legendary science fiction editor of Astounding/Analog magazine, coined the term “The Elsa Effect.”

He postulated, you’re on the African veldt and suddenly you see a lioness charging at you! You raise your trusty rifle and shoot her dead.

Oops! Turns out it was Elsa, the lioness from “Born Free,” running up to give you a hug and a kiss.

You’ve committed a terrible injustice – but would anybody blame you?

So, said Campbell, is the reaction many white people have to black people on the street. Fear. Avoidance. A general desire to be somewhere else.

Unjust? Sort of.

Look, we know by far most black people aren’t going to mug you – but enough are willing to to make that fear more than mindless bigotry. (Depends on context of course.)

For Christ’s sake, Jessie Jackson admitted as much back in the days he still had occasional flashes of honesty!

Jackson said when he’s walking down a dark street, hears someone behind him, when he turns around and see’s they’re white, he feels relieved. Then ashamed.

What was ironic about that was, I heard about Jackson’s remarks and the controversy they engendered when I was living in Warsaw.

What struck me at the time was, when I walk down a dark street in Poland and I hear someone behind me, if he’s black I feel relieved. Because I know he’s an African student or businessman and not out to mug me for beer money. If it’s a Pole I don’t know that.

But that’s nothing compared to the side-splittingly funny irony coming from moderate muslims. Turns out they get just as nervous when they see muslims in traditional/medieval dress getting on planes.

October 24, 2010

The creeiest story in my repertoire, part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:18 pm

This isn’t the creepiest story in my repertoire by itself. As creepy stories go, it’s not even in the big leagues. But it happened in the same context as Creepy Story, part 1.

That in itself makes it kind of weird. You’d think people would, you know, learn?

Same sewage treatment plant, same personnel minus Bill M, who you may recall, hanged himself.

Guy I worked with, and briefly roomed with during a time his wife kicked him out of the house. They had some kids too, which is always rotten.

At any rate, outside our Oklahoma town just up the old state highway, there was a dive on a hill overlooking a dip in the road.

Since my old room mate was on the night shift a lot, he left his wife at home. One evening he had free, wifey suggested they go together to this place on the hill she liked.

The way I heard it the next day from my very puzzled former room mate was, he was ordering at the bar, not being offensive in any way. (I believe him, he wasn’t a bad-natured fellow at all.)

Someone in the bar’s employ abruptly grabbed his shirt and pulled it up over his head. Then he and/or another guy punched him up a bit.

It ended outside where one of the bar employees with a baseball bat told the two of them never to come back.

Roomie was puzzled. Every one of the rest of us at work knew exactly what it meant. You’ve sussed it out by now too, haven’t you?

I told the story to a verly worldly old friend of mine soon afterwards. (A friend who’d enjoyed the facilities at Club Fed in his youth kind of worldly.)

He sighed and asked, “Why do they do these things?”

Good question.

Of course, eventually they divorced. Really sad story about that too. She got pregnant and they decided they couldn’t afford more kids, so they paid a visit to the abortion clinic.

They were both crying so he said, “Let’s not, we’ll just be poor.”

She replied, “It’s not yours.”

Even weirder, and this is not the first time I’ve heard of a cheating wife say this, when all was revealed about what she spent her time doing when he was working late shifts, she said, “Why didn’t you stop me?”

People are weird. And creepy sometimes.

October 17, 2010

Hauling… seed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:10 pm

Just spent three days hauling high-olaic sunflower seeds over North Dakota country roads. It was back and forth from the grain elevator in Wimbledon to the sunflower seed plant in Enderlin – about 83 miles one way.

Nights I parked the truck in a line at the gate of the plant, or near the loading chute by the elevator, and slept in the cab.

I had to learn a whole new skill set on the fly: loading the seed, securing the tarp, the correct order to submit samples, weigh, unload and weigh again, etc.

Fortunately I was helped in this process by many kind gentlemen who taught me the procedures – often gruffly and with much profane langauge, but the point is they taught me, and for this much thanks.

I also had to eat on the fly and today I’m going grocery shopping to put together a cooler of food that is, 1) convenient to reach and eat with one hand, and 2) nutricious. Easy.

Driving on state highways in a low-population density state is easy and kind of fun. But you do wind up with the truck drivers’ backaches. I try to deal with that by stretching and doing Tai Chi arm swinging and the Windmill exercise when I have a few free minutes – not a common occurrence on the road during harvest. And when you do have some free time there is a mighty temptation to do something frivolous with it, like eat or sleep.

I’ve also seen a lot of trucks the knights of the road have personalized with their own heraldry. One I saw was kind of sweet. A husband and wife couple had put their names on the side of the cab identifying them as the owner-operators, and listing their eight grandchildren as “co-pilots.”

But I must confess my favorite was a fellow with a black tractor emblazoned with the legend, “You don’t have to have class to haul ass.”

October 11, 2010

Torture debate

Filed under: Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:50 am

A discussion list I sometimes participate in had a comment from a retired English military officer, who thinks holding the prisoners at Guantanamo is our national disgrace.

The discussion veered into torture, and whether waterboarding is torture or not, and whether it was justified. I mentioned waterboarding had been used on a handful of subjects for a combined total of six-and-a-half minutes, which allegedly produced lifesaving information.

His reply was, “Some limited means may be justified in some circumstances – but never include torture. Principles are not selective.”

A friend at the RiteOn blog posted parts of my reply and urged me to post it here.

My reply:

A nuke on a timer or remote detonator is hidden in a city. We have one of the conspirators in custody. (Timeline: 5-10 years I’d say.) How many millions are to die to protect your delicate sensibilities?

A child is kidnapped and in the hands of people who would willingly rape, torture, murder her. We have one of the confederates in custody. (Remember the two little Belgian girls who starved to death in a pedophile’s hidden dungeon while he was in prison on another charge? What if the authorities had known while they had him?)

During the post-Munich Olympics Mossad operation to assassinate Black Septembrists, an apparently innocent bystander was gunned down in Lillehammer, Norway in front of his pregnant wife. (Later reports indicate he may not have been clean, but no matter.)

A Mossad agent was arrested and confined in a small cell. As a child he’d been hidden from the Nazis by nuns in a small closet for prolonged periods and as a result was intensely claustrophobic. He cracked and blew the operation. (But I wonder how someone with such a conspicuous weakness got into the Mossad…)

Was this torture?

I’ll add this: if your answer that torture, or “enhanced interrogation” is never, ever justified, even in the above circumstances, please forward this message to all of your immediate family:

“Dear Family, I love you very much, but I thought you should know that I’d rather see you dead, from nuclear incineration or slow torture, than give a moments discomfort to a terrorist or pedophile psychopath and violate my principles.”

And might I request you CC me? I’d like to lurk on the discussion.

October 6, 2010

How to make an American citizen dead

Filed under: Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:14 pm

There’s something interesting going on in the ongoing right/left debate these days.

One Anwar al-Awlaki has made Obama’s Hit Parade – to be terminated with extreme prejudice as soon as located with a reasonable degree of precision. Precision defined by the blast radius of the explosives a cruise missile can carry. Not a good idea to be standing next to Mr. al-Awlaki when his translation to the garden of delights awaiting the martyrs is effected.

What makes this terminate-on-sight order interesting is, al-Awlaki is technically an American citizen.

So? Then he’s a traitor and deserves death, right?

Nobody is arguing that. Conservatives complain Bush would have been crucified while Obama gets a free pass, and of course they’re right. But that’s not the point.

What’s interesting, and what shows a lot about the place each side is coming from is, conservatives are objecting to the process and procedure involved in making one measly traitor dead.

Kevin D. Williamson commented, “The penalty for treason is not assassination without trial, and there is nothing in our Constitution or tradition to suggest that it is.”

Williamson elaborated in National Review “If Awlaki were to be killed on a battlefield, I’d shed no tears. But ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in Yemen or Pakistan is no different from ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in New York or Washington or Topeka — American citizens are American citizens, wherever they go. I’m an old-fashioned limited-government guy, and I am not willing to grant Washington the power to assassinate U.S. citizens, even rotten ones. The three most powerful people in government at this moment are Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, a fact that should give pause even to the most hawkish conservative. I would hope that other conservatives see this at least as a matter of prudence, if not a burning moral question.”

David Harsanyi in The Denver Post said, “At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I have to wonder: If a president — any president — has the authority to order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without oversight, what exactly can’t a president do?

Now, as a matter of foreign policy, I am quite comfortable when Islamic extremists, militants and terrorists meet their atomized ends through the work of unmanned flying contraptions operated remotely by the U.S. government.

Then again, I can also unequivocally state that the thought of an American citizen being placed on one of these terrorist hit lists without due process of law or any oversight is a precedent that I find disconcerting.

My unease over the case of Anwar Awlaki — an American citizen penciled in for targeted assassination by the Obama administration — isn’t based on any conspiratorial daydreams about Barack Obama wanting to randomly knock off citizens.

There is no doubt, in fact, that Awlaki is a despicable character, a member of radical Islamic networks, dangerous and deserving of a most gruesome fate.”

Now see Jonah Goldberg.

“Does Anwar al-Awlaki deserve to die? Would it be good for America and the world if, through some combination of fate, luck, justice, and the arsenal of democracy, his heart stopped beating tomorrow? Does Barack Obama have America’s best interests at heart when he endeavors to make that happen?

The answer to each of these questions is, as far as I can tell, yes.

For starters, the very idea of a secret presidential assassination list is creepy in a country committed to democracy and the rule of law.

There’s ample precedent — and common sense — to support the claim that the executive branch can kill American citizens when they are sworn members of enemy forces and avowed traitors working with the enemy.

But those precedents start to fray at the edges when the whole world is the war zone and the war doesn’t end until a diffuse, committed, and often camouflaged army of suicidal religious fanatics defy their god and agree to leave the Dark Ages. And the common sense starts to drain away like water through your fingers when you contemplate that we may be facing these kinds of problems for half a century. So while it strikes me as a no-brainer that al-Awlaki should go, what about the next guy? Or the next?

And we know there will be a next guy.

So, let’s have Congress and the president come up with some clear, public rules. Better to start the debate over an easy case than a hard one.”

Good point Jonah. There’s a legal saying, “Hard cases make bad law.”

Now here’s the point, all these guys want to see al-Awlaki dead (me too.) It’s how he gets dead that matters.

So what? Dead’s dead, right?

That strikes me as a crucial part of the left/right divide. The importance they place on how it gets done.

The right thinks power is dangerous when unchecked by formal processes and procedures. The left thinks unchecked power is a jim-dandy thing to have, if you’re the right sort with the right intentions.

That’s why they are neither inconsistent nor hypocritical when they remain mute or actively justify Obama’s exercise of power they’d (rightly) crucify Bush for.

And note this: the above-quoted conservatives and libertarians (Harsanyi could be described as a “libertarian hawk”) are concerned about what could happen if they were on the receiving end of that policy. That implies they consider the change of political power to be normal, natural, and by and large a good thing.

What does it say about someone who is not worried that a grant of power of that sort would ever be used against them? That once granted, they’d never give it up?

October 1, 2010

Run Johnny run!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:48 pm

Over at National Review Online you can find this interview with John Bolton, about his political philosophy, what’s wrong with things in America today, and his chances of running for President in 2012.

Bolton describes himself as a “Goldwater conservative.” For libertarians that’s about as good as it’s likely to get at this point in history.

“I think that the level of federal spending, taxation, and regulation is way too high,” Bolton says. “It got way too high before the Obama administration. I think that our objective should be lower taxes and lower federal spending. . . . We have got to get the aggregate impact of the federal government on our economy way below what it is now and, in fact, below Bush 43 administration levels. Much of the spending should be decided at the state and local levels. So I would push the federal share of the economy much lower than it was even at the beginning of the Bush administration. . . . My philosophy is not a bean-counting, accounting ‘look at this.’ It is a philosophy that smaller government is better government, and government that is closer to the people is best of all.”

Of course, we’ve heard the like before and been disappointed. And it seems the power of the presidency to expand government and restrict liberty is greater than the ability of any one man in office to limit government and expand liberty.

For those of us concerned about national security and Obama’s kum-ba-yah touchy-feely approach to foreign policy, Bolton looks pretty good. He points out that the only defense against loose nukes getting into the hands of terrorists is pre-emption. He’s skeptical about nation-building and reportedly suggested that we should have deposed Saddam Hussein, left the Iraqis with a copy of The Federalist Papers and wished them the best of luck.

So will he walk the talk?

I’ve actually met John Bolton briefly, in a candid small-group situation. For what it’s worth, my impression of him is what you see is what you get.

And, he’s smart, articulate, knowledgeable and he’d rip Obama a new one in any debate.

This could be the first time in my adult life there could be a candidate that I could regard as better than damage control.

So run Johnny run! And don’t listen to the spinners – keep the ‘stach.

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