Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

March 26, 2011

Quote of the day, from the big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:50 am

Courtesy of the most articulate man ever to occupy the White House.

“That’s why building this international coalition has been so important,” Obama said. “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.”

OK, I’ll say it.

It’s not that anybody hates Obama, get that out of your head. Nobody hates Obama, because you have to respect someone to hate them.

What it is, is a growing feeling of uneasiness.

And it’s not “because he’s black,” as his diehard True Believers keep insisting to the country full of people who voted for him, most of them because he’s black.

We liked the idea of capping the long march to equality and justice with the election of a black president. So we knew less about the man than we know about the early life of George Washington. (Not an exaggeration, I invite you to do your own digging.) Mostly we wanted this whole racial thing to be over.

If you believe, as I do, that the color of your skin is the least important thing about you, then can we for Christ’s sake stop yammering on endlessly about it? I want to talk about how smart and charming I am, not how white I am.

And not that many people think he’s a diabolically clever mastermind working his secret plan to impose One World Socialism on the U.S. and make us a junior partner in a gigantic UN, di-dah, di-dah, di-dah.

Would it were only that!

No, the most outstanding, and alarming characteristic of this presidency is the sheer goofiness of the man. It’s like Chance the gardiner is occupying the Oval Office.

And like Chance, sometimes there is something so terribly sweet about the man, in all his cluelessness. Until you contemplate who’s finger is on what button…

March 25, 2011

Sometimes life just hands you a joke…

Filed under: Humor/satire,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:12 pm

I went to Fargo yesterday to consult with an ENT my primary care physician referred me to.

Cool side note: my grandfather, who I never met due to him dying before I was born, was an EENT back in the barely post-pioneer days in Oklahoma, when they still had the first “E.” What’s really cool was, decades ago I went to a dentist in Norman, Oklahoma who got to maundering about his first contact with the medical profession, who turned out to be – my grandfather!

I’ve been having a problem with my sinuses since mid-December when I first contracted a strep infection, then went through two courses of antibiotics, and quit a driving job because the damn sinuses just wouldn’t clear up! I cough and sneeze frequently, and produce… never mind you get the picture.

It’s not that it’s horribly painful, it’s that it never goes away. Let me put it this way, if the doc had said, “We’ve got to saw off the front of your skull with a rusty hacksaw and blast out your sinuses with a fire hose,” – I’d have gone for it.

Soooo, I show up for my appointment and the doc turns out to be a Lithuanian hippie.

Now as it happens, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Lithuania with my wife and son. My daughter’s middle name is from out late dear friend Ilona Daukene.

Pleasant chit-chat with the doc, a thorough examination of my head bone cavities, and he writes me a prescription for antibiotics, various expectorants, and nose sprays loaded with steroids. I feel better already, but I won’t be passing any drug tests for the next month or so…

So of course, because I know a few words in Lithuanian, I was able to thank the doc in his native language.

“Thank you” in Lithuanian, is “Atchoo!”

March 23, 2011

Well Obama has his very own war now…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:31 am

I commented on the Facebook site of a NATO reserve officer I correspond with sometimes.

“Hooray! Now another bloody-handed Middle Eastern tyrant will fall. The United States will of course be blamed for everything that goes wrong during and afterward, and another bloody-handed tyrant will replace Quadaffi in the fullness of time.”

Now I don’t think it’s wrong to hunt down and imprison/kill mass murdering tyrants. It’s the costs I worry about. How much does it cost us in men and money? What are the costs to the people you are “liberating”? Are they going to thank you afterwards and say it was worth it to be free of the tyrant?

And what are you replacing the tyranny with? Realistically speaking, do you think the Libyan (or Yemen, Bahrain, etc) resistance is full of budding Sam Adamses?

Since imperialism became unfashionable we can’t march in, shoot the bad guys and present the next regime with a bill.

Nor can we stick around for a couple generations building a decent civil service, court structure, and imposing a reasonbaly just code of laws, while collecting taxes to fund the project.

No, no, no, mustn’t do it.

But since I’m in a sour mood anyway, I have to say I have no patience for those libertarians who talk about “invading someone else’s country,” or worse, “a sovereign state.”

In what way is a state wherein you can be arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed – or in the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, have your pretty wife or daughter snatched for the Top Guy’s sons’ pleasure, “your country” in any meaningful sense?

As for the issues of “sovereignty,” in my brand of libertarianism (the sane one) the sovereignty of the individual has to be recognized for me to take the sovereignty of the state seriously.

And of course there is the question of how the Obamandroids are going to react to their “peace candidate” waging war? They going to twist themselves into pretzels explaining how Iraq was George Bush’s unjust and unconstitutional war, but Libya is Obama’s Noble War of Liberation?

(Hat tip Maureen Dowd: “Candidate Obama said about a possible strike on Iran, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.””)

Just asking.

As to the constitutionality of Obama committing to military operations without an OK from Congress, opinions differ.

I did however come across this very perceptive observation by Andrew McCarthy, who falls on the unconstitutional side but notes:

“Agree or disagree with my reasoning, how can it be, given the Constitution’s manifest vesting in Congress of powers over the decision to go to war and the compulsion of means for fighting war, that a president can think he needs approval from the U.N. or the Arab League but not from the representatives of the American people?”

March 21, 2011

Crummy journalism: lies of omission

Filed under: Media bias,News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:50 am

I suppose it’s no secret I don’t have a very high opinion of national big-name journalism. In fact, I’m collecting examples for a book on the subject of how to do crummy writing and biased reporting.

There is a weird inversion of what you expect here. The best journalism is done at the community level, and it’s often very good indeed. The worst is done on the national newspaper/network level, and it’s often very bad.

One reason that has been pointed out is the ideological homogeneity of most big newsrooms. Most journalism is produced in environments which are further left-of-center than the national norm. The conservative counterbalance over at FOX news and conservative papers and magazines tends towards homogeneity as well, but it’s worthy of note that FOX actually does have self-identified liberals on staff.

(National Review Online also has an admirable diversity of views, and a list of links to stories expressing contrary views as well. For real diversity in opinion editorials you can go to Creators syndicate where they post editorials grouped under ‘liberal opinion’ and ‘conservative opinion.’ Treat yourself to some of each. I adore Lenore Skenazy.)

Another reason is, we’ve become Hypersensitive Nation. There are things we cannot say in public, without serious risk to our careers. Indeed there is a growing cottage industry of catching, recording, and publishing celebrities and politicians saying un-PC things in unguarded moments.

It was certainly bad in the Bad Old Days of kings and tyrants when you could step in it deep by saying things about the king or the church. But I have to wonder, is it any better now that there are a multitude of easily-offended “minority” groups who can hold you accountable, not for your actions but for your opinions – or even tentative speculations?

(I put “minority” in scare quotes, because it includes women, who were 51 percent of the population last I checked.)

The result is though we pride ourselves on being a free people with a free press, journalists lie a lot because they’re afraid.

Case in point, CNN broadcast journalist and opinion columnist Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Velez-Mitchell has an impassioned op-ed on the CNN website entitled, “11-year-old girl can’t be ‘willing’ in sex.”

It’s about an 11-year-old girl who last November was passed around like a bottle of liquor by possibly up to 28 young men between the ages of 14 to 28 – some of whom recorded the event on cell phone cameras.

If that isn’t bad enough, well here’s what she wrote in the lede.

“What’s more shocking than the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl? The fact that some people are actually blaming the little girl.”

The article goes on to report since there is video evidence that precludes a defense of “somebody else did it,” the defenders of the accused are falling back on “Plan B” – blame the victim.

As far as I can tell, every word of the article is true, and the speculations valid. And yet she lies.

There is NOT ONE WORD in the story that says the “divisions” in this town are black-brown! The victim is Hispanic, the accused are black.

Did Velez-Mitchell think these facts are irrelevant? Will she deign to notice them if that town explodes in a black-brown war? And yes, I know what saying this is going to get me called.

She sort of lets you in on this without actually saying it:

“First, an attorney for some of the suspects described the girl as someone who had a “desire to be a willing participant.” That was followed by the arrival in town of a Houston-based community activist named Quanell X who stood before a group of local parents and exclaimed, “It was not the young girl that yelled rape! Stop right there. Something is wrong brothers and sisters… Where was her mother? Where was her father? Where was her family?””

That’s kind of a broad hint, “Quanell X” is not a typical Anglo-Saxon name, even in this age of trendy weirdness in names.

She continues:

“Perhaps more disturbing than his words were the murmurs of approval from the crowd. How about asking, “Where were the parents of the 14-year-old boy who is now accused of raping the 11-year-old girl?””

And that crowd was composed of…?

Here’s a hint for Ms Velez-Mitchell: if that 14-year-old boy and the other boys and young men were representative of their demographic, there is a 70 percent chance there was no father at home. So that’s “mother,” not “parents.” And to answer your question, she’s in the crowd blaming the young girl.

Velez-Mitchell asks what kind of example we as a society are setting young boys?

I’d like to ask, what kind of example are you setting me Jane? You’re a big-time journalist and I’m strictly small-town small-fry. Aren’t you supposed to be setting an example for those of us who’d like to believe fearless pursuit of the truth will take you far?

Can’t any of you big names squirrel away some of the big bucks you’re making for a stash of drop dead money*?

As you can see from the bio, Velez-Mitchell is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and an Irish-American father. I think we can safely assume she uses her parents’ names hyphenated to get the minority career bump. Hell, over at FOX Julie Banderas, nee Julie Bidwell, does that. (The difference is, Banderas actually looks Hispanic. Velez-Mitchell looks less Hispanic than I do.)

She is also listed as “one of the few openly-gay journalists on television.” Oh puh-lease, that hasn’t been a career disability in years.

Velez-Mitchell is the author of the book, Secrets Can Be Murder: What America’s Most Sensational Crimes Tell Us About Ourselves.Wikipedia says the book “delves into the secrets unearthed in more than twenty of the most widely covered murder cases of recent times. The book’s premise is that, by studying the secrecy and deceit embedded in these tragic scenarios, we can learn to opt for honesty in our own lives and avoid similar outcomes.”

Oh yeah? I’d like to meet the courageous author of that book. You don’t by any chance know where I can find her do you?

Velez-Mitchell seems to think saying loudly that 11-year-old girls shouldn’t be raped and blamed for it, is an act of courage.

Don’t boast to me about your courage lady, this article shows you’re a coward, just like that ass US Attorney-General Holder said.

* “Drop dead money” is a phrase James Clavell used in his novel ‘Noble House.’ It means enough money, liquid and unencumbered to be able to tell anyone “drop dead” and walk away. I don’t have drop dead money, my security is a CDL – but I’d rather be a first-rate journalist than a mediocre truck driver.

March 20, 2011

Reflections on Itamar, part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:24 pm

“There were young knights among them who had never been present at a stricken field. Some could not look upon it and some could not speak and they held themselves apart from the others who were cutting down the prisoners at My Lord’s orders, for the prisoners were a body too numerous to be guarded by those of us who were left. Then Jean de Rye, an aged knight of Burgundy who had been sore wounded in the battle, rode up to the group of young knights and said: ‘Are ye maidens with your downcast eyes? Look well upon it. See all of it. Close your eyes to nothing. For a battle is fought to be won. And it is this that happens if you lose.”
– Froissart’s Chronicles, 14th century

I have deliberately waited to comment on the Itamar Massacre until I had gained enough control over myself to do so with a certain degree of objective detachment.

I may be alone in this, and it’s not likely to win me any popularity contests. But as I’ve said, you know you’re being objective when everybody likes you – or everybody hates you.

The facts as they have emerged so far are these: in the West Bank Israeli village of Itamar last week, two men broke into the house of the Fogel family and murdered Udi Fogel, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, their sons Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and their four-month-old baby girl Hadas.

The victims were stabbed in the heart and had their throats cut. It subsequently emerged the baby had been beheaded.

Two boys, Roi, 8, and Yishai, 2, were somehow overlooked. The couple’s daughter Tamar, 12, returned home from spending Shabbat with friends, found something suspicious outside the house and roused a neighbor. The neighbor got his gun and accompanied her into the house to find Yishai shaking the bodies of his parents, begging them to get up.

Reportedly, bloody footprints were found leading to the nearby Palestinian village of Rafah.

Palestinian response has been contradictory. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas officially condemned the murders as, “immoral and inhuman” according to the BBC news. We also know Palestinian leaders have a history of issuing statements for the Western media contradicted by statements issued for home consumption in the Arabic-language press.

Other Palestinian sources claimed it was an Israeli set-up. This seems a frail reed in light of reports of people celebrating and handing out sweets in Rafah.


(Photo credit Free Republic.)

Reaction in the West has ranged from outraged among supporters of Israel, to muted among supporters of the Palestinians.

Supporters of Israel found fault in much of the media coverage. Examples include treatment of the story in the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC.

After looking over the offending sites, in my judgement their coverage does seem to lean a certain way, but you can also find things that don’t seem to get mentioned in conservative Israeli-supporting media.

The BBC reported, “On Sunday some settlers set fire to Palestinian cars and attacked Palestinian homes in revenge. There are fears there could be more violence.”

The violence feared does not include beheading four-month-old babies though.

President Obama released a statement, “There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home,” which seems eerily detached.

It is also not true.

Plenty of parents and children have been killed in their homes over the past century, by bombs dropped from aircraft, artillery fire, or Predator drone attacks. Some of them on President Obama’s orders, some of them by Israeli firepower.

(However, the president has generally been getting a pass in the media Israel doesn’t get.)

The allied bomber pilots and crews who smashed the Third Reich and imperial Japan are rightly regarded as heroes. We don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the women and children who died when they rained hell on them from the air. We can’t, or we’d be paralyzed by conscience.

What is horrifying to us in the west, is the up-close and personal nature of the murders, and the deliberate targeting of helpless civilians. Not as “collateral damage,” in that detestable military euphemism, but calculatedly, deliberately, and gleefully.

But there is something perhaps even more horrifying. From time to time we see news stories in the west about crimes committed by murderous psychopaths with similar results. We don’t see masses of people dancing in the streets, celebrating the murders with gifts and sweets, and naming public facilities, events, and streets in honor of the murderers.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth on the issue, almost all of which misses the point.

Some point out that Palestinian casualties have always been higher than Israeli casualties. They’re quite right.

The best comment I ever saw on this was from an Israeli girl a few years ago. She pointed out in her village they get fire through their living room windows from a nearby Palestinian village. They sometimes respond with fire from helicopter gunships.

“Excuse me for our superior firepower,” was how she put it.

Others point out the Palestinians are resisting colonizers of their land. I agree, and I’ll point out that I was saying this way back when it was still dangerous to do so, before the rise of anti-Semitism on the Left.

Claims by Zionists of a prior right to the land based on their descent from the original inhabitants a few thousand years ago are nonsense. By those lights all of us of Goidelic Celtic descent could demand the right to settle in Spain, the jumping off point for the colonization of Ireland and Scotland. Hell, we could make a case for the reconquista of most of Western Europe.

The counter-point is that Palestinians living in Israel are both freer and richer on average than any Arab population elsewhere in the region under governments of their own, and that most of the misery they suffer within the boundaries of Israel is self-inflicted.

This is also quite true.

We could go round and round with these points and not get anywhere. What is preventing a resolution here is I think, certain cultural illusions held by the west. Illusions seen and understood, but not shared by non-westerners.

We need not be ashamed of holding these illusions, all cultures have them and it takes an extraordinary effort of courage and clear thinking to see past them. And we must, because our survival as a civilization depends on it.

I expect a lot of disagreement on this, but firstly can we agree on one point?

This has been stated many times before: If the Palestinians, and all Arab countries hostile to Israel, laid down their arms, stopped attacking Israel, and renounced force as a means of getting what they want, there would be peace. If Israel disarmed and renounced force, there would be no Jews left there within a very short period of time.

At this point in time, I think it perverse to deny this elementary fact. The way opponents of Israel deal with it, is to ignore it. They can’t deny it with a straight face.

Would Israel’s enemies allow the Jews to evacuate the country (assuming they could find a place to go) without attacking them as they left?

Who knows? My guess is not, but it’s just that, a guess.

The primary illusion we are hampered by is about how peace is made, and it’s a relatively recent one. Few members of western civilization would have held it in the early-to-mid 19th century for example.

There are three ways peace can be made between contending parties: through reason, exhaustion, and victory.

Today we assume peace can always be made through reason. Warring parties will make peace if they are shown the costs of war outweigh any benefits of victory.

Peace arrived at by clear reasoning is historically rare, and the most likely to fail in the short run. Clear-eyed statesmen may prevent war by reasoning among themselves, but when the situation changes enough to make only one side believe it has a chance of getting what it wants through war, the peace can collapse overnight.

Recently we’ve seen an example of the peace of exhaustion, where one or both parties are just too sick of the conflict to go on.

Northern Ireland, Ulster, looks like it’s finally at peace. There were certain concessions made, and certain injustices redressed, but the goal of the Catholic faction, unification of Ulster with the Republic of Ireland, was not achieved. Mostly it seems, the “hard men” got old and didn’t want to kill each other anymore. For some reason, young men were no longer interested in continuing the war.

(And by the way, a nodding acquaintance with the long history of Ireland would show that if Ireland is ever unified, it won’t be “again” but for the first time ever.)

With Ireland at peace (knock wood) the last prolonged conflict in the world that did not involve Muslims ended.

The most common reliable and lasting peace is achieved by overwhelming victory.

Why is there no serious Confederate irredentist movement? In most other countries a civil war of that magnitude would be simmering for centuries afterwards.

Could it be because the South was so thoroughly beaten there was never the least doubt they lost because of overwhelming force? That there was no credible “stabbed in the back” consolation?

Furthermore, what would be the point of reopening the issue? Slavery is gone and not likely to return. (Or rather if it does, it will be an equal-opportunity non-racial slavery.)

Why are Germany and Japan, in spite of some friction and honest disagreements appropriate to free men, now our friends and allies?

Because both of them learned in the clearest possible way that it is a terrible thing to be our enemies. Because they learned it is dangerous to be our enemy, it is dangerous to be friends with our enemy, it is dangerous to be in the same neighborhood as our enemy.

Next: Reflections on Itamar, part 2: Things we don’t want to think about and are too polite to mention.

March 16, 2011

A weekend at the movies: The King’s Speech, and Battle: Los Angeles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:11 am

I took the family to Fargo last Friday, and we wound up spending the weekend at the Holiday Inn after the blizzard shut down the Interstate. Soooo, we indulged ourselves in a few movies on the room’s big flat-screen TV.

We watched The King’s Speech in Fargo, then when we got back Sunday I really indulged myself and went to see ‘Battle: Los Angeles.’

I found them both inspiring. And the combination thereof lifted my spirits considerably, at a time they needed it.

Now please hear me out before you dismiss me as a rank philistine for equating a schlock, cliche-ridden SciFi alien invasion flick with the inspiring true story of a man who became the man and the king his country needed in its “finest hour.”

Over at the Celebritology blog (“Enabling celebrity news and pop culture junkies since ’06”) Jen Chaney and Liz Kelley wrote under the heading “Battle: Los Angeles
wins and once again critics lose.”

“Battle: Los Angeles” was marketed as an epic alien attack movie. Also epic? The bad reviews that accompanied it. (Roger Ebert’s in particular was a masterpiece: “Here’s a science-fiction film that’s an insult to the words ‘science’ and ‘fiction,’ and the hyphen in between them,” he wrote. Dang.)

But the critical flogging didn’t matter. “Battle” won the weekend box office with $36 million.

B:LA had all the cliches, and if they missed any could you spot it? The Young Commanding Officer who has never seen combat, the Tough Old Sarge who’s seen it all, the marine who blames him for his brother’s death, the Rainbow Band of Brothers of all races and ethnicities, the Beautiful Civilian Lady, the Cute Kid who has to be comforted when his brave dad dies, and even the new cliche The Tough Chick soldier.

What critics forget is, archtypes become cliche because sometimes they are true.

For example, in all branches of the military it is quite common for young and inexperienced junior officers to command non-commissioned officers older and more experienced. It’s a division-of-labor/career path thing. Officers often enter the military through schools that teach them theory of strategy, structure of military organization, logistics, etc. Non-coms are educated via the school of experience under the guidance of other non-coms.

A veteran of Marine Force Recon once explained to me, “We need officers to do the paperwork.”

At any rate as far as realism goes, if you can use the term about an alien invasion movie, I think this is pretty good. The portrayal of the responsibilities of command, and the nature of real leadership is done pretty well without hitting you over the head with it in the midst of all the shooting and explosions.

One thing that grated on my nerves was a brief newscast which described what they figured the aliens were after – to use our water for fuel, “and the level of the oceans is already going down.” I cannot bother to go into how absolutely absurd that is. The sheer ignorance of science that implies, and the calm assumption that the audience would be ignorant enough to swallow it without gagging was insulting.

But then it occurred to me that this could be taken as a comment on the scientific illiteracy of contemporary journalists and I cheered up right away.

Now here’s what it has in common with The King’s Speech, it’s a movie about courage. And that’s out of fashion among critics these days.

Albert Frederick Arthur George no-last-name (unless you count “Windsor,” a WWI-era adoption after they figured “Battenburg” or “Saxe-Coburg Gotha” sounded too German) was not intended to be King, and didn’t want to be. Among other reasons he was painfully shy and stammered badly.

In spite of his position of privilege his upbringing appears to have been ghastly. He was bullied by his father, his appalling nanny, and his older brother, later Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor. Born left-handed he was forced to become right-handed (evidently a common precursor to stammering) and had knock knees “corrected” with iron braces.

However, what shows through the movie in some very touching scenes is he was witty and clever in spite of his speech defect. The bedtime story he tells his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret is a hoot, and there is some very good repartee with his therapist Lionel Logue.

His brother abdicated amid controversy over “the woman I love,” the absolutely awful Wallis Simpson. Among its other virtues, the movie corrects the treacly reputation of the Duchess of Windsor as a wronged woman denied her rightful place as Queen just because she was American.

The real Wallis Simpson was a nasty piece of work, more than a bit slutty, probably sexually deviant, and though the movie doesn’t mention it – a thief. (After her death the royal family quietly re-appropriated some jewelry she’d run off with.)

Edward himself was a self-indulgent weakling and among other things, a Nazi sympathizer.

‘Bertie’ (the King’s nickname among his family, and Logue) is deathly afraid of public speaking, which is not uncommon at all. In his case he literally can’t get through it without his diaphragm seizing up to the point he has trouble breathing, much less speaking.

He’s got a loving and supportive wife, and good councelors (Winston Churchill among others) but the one thing he needed that Logue provided, along with his expertise in speech therapy, was a friend.

Bertie doesn’t lack courage, he’d obviously rather be under real fire than give a speech. And that’s an interesting reflection on courage, that there are different things that terrify different men. It’s often not just fear of dying, it’s different ways of dying, or even things feared worse than death.

Fighter pilots and submariners both have to have courage. But the cockpit of a fighter plane in flight might give a submariner intense uncontrollable vertigo, and life in a submarine might give a pilot the claustrophobic heebie-jeebies.

(And BTW that’s SUBMARINE-er. A sub-MARINER is an inferior sailor.)

Logue taught the king techniques he’d discovered while treating shell-shocked soldiers in WWI, but his real gift was showing him how to face and conquer his greatest fear – and not by shouting at him to “Just buck up and do it!”

You’ve got to see the flick to see how he does it.

Bertie and Lionel remained friends for the rest of their lives, probably the only friend and equal Bertie had in his life. Lionel, according to the screen credits, stuck with Bertie in every public speech throughout the war. They died within a year of each other.

Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, reportedly believed to her dying day (at 102-years of age) that the strain of being king killed him.

“The courage of your friends gives you strength.” Arab proverb.

March 10, 2011

Surprise endings in movies

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:53 pm

DON’T WORRY. NO SPOILERS!

I’ve just seen two movies with endings that managed to surprise me: The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de sus Ojos, 2009) from Argentina, and Far North (2007) from the UK.

Movies that actually do surprise you at the end are fairly rare. Let’s face it, most plots are formulaic and always have been. Sometimes the surprise comes when you are led to expect a formulaic ending, and the movie maker then gives you a twist you didn’t expect.

M. Night Shaylaman pulled it off twice very nicely, with The Sixth Sense (1999,) and Unbreakable (2000.)

He almost kinda pulled it off with The Village (2004) but given the plot, there really wasn’t any way he could reveal the secret behind the village all at once, and he had to do it further from the end than the others.

He also seems to have pulled that off about as much as he’s going to. When people go to his movies these days thinking, “How’s he going to surprise me this time?” it’s got to be harder to pull off.

Signs (2002) just flat reeked. Aliens capable of crossing vast interstellar distances to conquer the earth are limited to hand-to-hand combat unarmed except for natural weapons once they get here. So one of the characters can take out a super-advanced alien – with a baseball bat.

Oh yes, and they’re allergic to tap water…

The Secret in their Eyes is not exactly a murder mystery, you know pretty early who raped and murdered the beautiful young schoolteacher. It’s about a detective (or court investigator, his function doesn’t seem quite equivalent to an American cop) who is obsessed with bringing the murderer to justice, because he’s obsessed and inspired by the obsessive love of the victim’s husband, and because he’s obsessively in love with his supervisor.

And by the way, his supervisor is played by Soledad Villamil who at the time the movie was released was 41, and a stunning example of the beauty of a “woman of a certain age.” Her character is gutsy and clever, and you have no trouble at all believing a man could fall in love with her and remain in love for 25 years.

The movie is about justice and corruption. The killer is caught early in the film and sentenced to life in prison. Then a few years later the investigator, his supervisor, and the widower find he has been released because the Isabela Peron regime has found his talents useful. And now they are the hunted ones.

It’s about vengeance and the question, what kind of vengeance is due a man who has taken everything from you? What can you take from him to equal what he has taken from you?

And it’s about love, and the courage to love.

There are a few surprises throughout the movie, and I shouldn’t give any of them away, but at one point you think, “Oh s**+! He’s going to lose his chance with the hot prosecutor because he’s too chicken to declare his love for her.”

Then you find, it’s not that at all. Arrrrgh! Can’t go any further. See it.

Far North, on the other hand, gives you a surprise ending not quite what you expected – but it doesn’t work for me.

Adapted from a short story by Sara Maitland, it stars Michelle Yeo, Sean Bean, and Michelle Krusiec, who in spite of the name is Chinese.

It’s about two women from a Siberian herding tribe living on the edge of the tundra, an older but handsome woman and her foster daughter. They are the last survivors of a band wiped out by Russians and they live alone, trying to avoid any contact with humanity.

Then they find a Russian conscript escaping from a labor camp and nurse him back to health.

Of course, by this time you expect you’re going to have a love triangle ending in betrayal and at least one murder. The only surprise you expect is, who’s going to do who?

The ending you get is a surprise, and kind of gross, and it’s a real temptation to tell you – because it just doesn’t work for me. I won’t because some people do like this film.

There is no setup that leads you to expect this to happen. OK, some are going to argue with me on that one. There is a shamanistic prophecy and some camera shots early in the flick. But there is really nothing to indicate the ultimate betrayer is capable of that particular betrayal. Sorry.

See it if you like. It’s visually beautiful, and the scenery ain’t bad either 😉 If you like “magical realism” it might be your cup of tea, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve blogged previously about movies from various perspectives here:

Review of “Let Me In”

Looks that speak volumes

Great flicks that bombed

What happened to movies?

Great moments in mediocre movies

March 7, 2011

Evolution: Two Views

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:41 am

This was originally published in The Dakota Beacon. And as you can see, it was addressed to conservatives – but also to liberals, though I didn’t think a lot of them would be reading the Beacon.

Note: Stephen Browne has a Masters Degree in Anthropology and has worked as a bar tender, sewage treatment plant operator, English teacher, freelance writer and journalist.

A few years back when I was the world’s oldest intern at the Human Events office in Washington, I got into a flame war with an Internet troll.

Usually I don’t bother with that kind of thing. Life is too short to spend time in slanging matches with yahoos. And besides, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Trolls are generally semi-literate hysterical neurotics too cowardly to insult you under their own name. If you keep your cool it’s just too easy to wage a war of wits with the half-armed.

But every now and again when I have time on my hands I allow myself the guilty pleasure. As we say in Oklahoma, “I know it’s wrong – but I’m weak.”

At any rate, in one exchange the troll charged, “You conservo-tards don’t believe in evolution.”

Gleefully I shot back, “Wrong again Buckwheat. They don’t give advanced degrees in anthropology to people who don’t believe in evolution. I’m qualified to teach evolution. Care to debate classical Darwinism versus Punctuated Equilibrium?”

Nevertheless, in the very diverse conservative movement I know there are people who don’t believe in evolution. I cringe a little whenever I hear advertisements for the “Creation Science Center” on AM 1100 the FLAGG as I’m driving down the highway.

I don’t wish to belittle anyone’s religion and I have no patience for militant atheists. If it’s true as they claim, that religion is a crutch, then what do you call someone who goes around kicking crutches out from under people? A fearless seeker of the truth, or a bloody sadist?

But most of Judaism and Christianity has become comfortable with evolution. Indeed, many religious thinkers have welcomed the expanded vistas of science, revealing a universe unimaginably vaster and older than previously thought, and what this creation says about its Creator.

So when Leftists make fun of religious conservatives I have to agree that I find denial of evolution in the face of the available evidence perverse. And it distresses me that few seem to realize that evolution is a vindication of the conservative world-view.

What nobody seems to realize is while it’s perverse to deny the reality of evolution, this belief is harmless. The Left view of evolution is equally false, and anything but harmless. It is in fact responsible for untold suffering and misery. On the
Left the common belief is that evolution happens, but that it doesn’t matter and has no consequences.

The most destructive tenet of Marxism, gospel on the Left, is that there is no fixed human nature. That the mind of Man is a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which anything can be written.

We now know this to be false, confirmed by genetics, anatomy, and those behavioral scientists who are still sane and unafraid. Though to be sure, all thinking men have seen this for a long time. The Old Testament writers may not have known about what we now call evolutionary psychology, but they had a deep understand of its consequences. What I call a “pre-scientific intuition.”

What they knew and what we moderns have confirmed, both in the laboratory and through the disastrous social experiments of the past century, is:

1) There is a “human nature” common to all men and women. That nature is rooted in the adaptation of our species to the environment, and is expressed as behavior that best ensures our survival as a species.

Among other things people are naturally acquisitive. They want to acquire property and power. They favor kin over strangers and want to pass on their property and privilege to their children. They fall in love with all the baggage, pleasant and un- that that implies, etc.

2) Human nature evolved over a very long time and does not change through relatively brief historical time.

3) Within the broad parameters of our common humanity, there are a lot of different ways to be human, affected by our personal heredity, respective cultures, social environment, and individual choices.

4) That nature is expressed differently in men and women, i.e. there is a different statistical distribution of inherited physical and mental attributes between men and women. (Keep in mind I said “statistical distribution.” Saying that men are generally taller and stronger than women does NOT mean there are no tall strong women and short feeble men. And wouldn’t it be stupid to design a species with two sexes and a drive to pair up, and give them the exact same skill set? Who would you want to partner with in life? Someone with the same strengths and weaknesses as yourself, or someone who’s good at what you’re bad at?)

This is drawn very broadly, and of course every statement can be qualified. To begin with, there is such a thing as free will. We know this because we are obviously capable of acting in foolish and contra-survival ways. Chief of which is the denial of these elementary facts.

Think of all the horrors of the 20th century. Nazism was based on a denial of the common humanity of all, the idea that mankind could be divided into a “master race” and “sub-humans.”

Communism was based on the idea that a new kind of human being could be made by destroying all traditional social connections and controlling every aspect of the social and economic environment.

And the watered-down Marxism of Political Correctness holds that we can erase the inherent differences between men and women, such as the natural aggressiveness of young boys and nurturing drives of girls, by re-programming their behavior and language, resulting in idiotic social and educational policies that are both tragic and comic.

Worse, if one accepts that it is both possible and desirable to change human nature through government action, it follows that government must have all power necessary to do so – and use it ruthlessly.

I once heard a young man deride conservatism as the belief that “nothing should ever change.” This is ridiculous on the face of it. The founding of the American nation was the single most revolutionary change in the history of civilization to date.

What lies at the heart of conservatism is the realization that some things never change. Human nature, the inborn drives and motivations for both good and evil that make us human, can be disciplined but does not change, and cannot be changed by pious hopes and wishful thinking.

The modern Left inherited the 18th century utopian notion that Man is born good, and corrupted by society – which must be destroyed and rebuilt anew.

The inheritors of the American Revolution realize that Man is what he is, and to create a reasonably free and just society, we must work with human nature, not against it.

March 6, 2011

All the news that’s fit to bury

Filed under: Media bias,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:50 am

Over at the Huffington Post there is a story by a lady with the delightful name of Pigeon O’Brian about her quirky friend Lisa Druck – better known after a name-and-lifestyle change as Rielle Hunter.

Rielle Hunter is of course, the baby mama of former vice-presidential candidate and presidential contender John Edward’s love child.

Ms O’Brian, described as a publicist and former magazine editor, eventually broke the story after much soul-searching. The story of how she she reached the decision to break the story is actually quite moving.

The story of the hoops she had to go through to break it is infuriating. After being brushed off by at least two major media outlets, it was the National Enquirer that followed up, and eventually cornered Edwards in the rest room of a hotel where mama and baby were staying.

The mental picture of Edwards frantically trying to pull the door shut against the reporters and photographers on the other side trying to pull it open is one I cherish.

Whether to reveal a presidential contender is a gold-plated phoney should be a no-brainer to any journalist with integrity. And incidentally, de morituris nihi nisi bonum est, but the late sainted Elizabeth Edwards comes off just as phoney and far more ruthless.

But O’Brian wasn’t covering the story herself, and it was a sort-of friend who was involved. A lot of journalists were on the campaign/Edwards beat and knew what was going on with Mr. Wonderful.

It took the Enquirer to break the story – and this wasn’t the first time they took on a story the “respectable” media was burying with a back hoe.

That’s it, no moral to this story I care to beat you over the head with. Read the HuffPo story.

March 4, 2011

Wow f**k! Read this.

Filed under: Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:02 am

Long time readers know I occasionally put in my two cents worth about the relationship scene in America today.

I touched on the subject in Have Some Free Relationship Advice and A Bad Time for Lovers.

I think they were quite well-received, so trust me – read this.

Tracy McMillan is a successful TV writer (Mad Men, The United States of Tara – not too shabby!) and a three-times married single mother of a 13-year-old son.

Sometimes desperation and/or resignation makes one brutally honest with oneself. McMillan writes about Why You’re Not Married and my guess is she’s going to catch hell from a lot of women, who on some level know she’s right.

They’ll never forgive her for that.

For a small number of American women, this might be the slap that brings the Sudden Zen enlightenment. (I’m guessing McMillan experienced the Gradual Zen enlightenment.)

McMillan starts from the premise, you want to get married. So why aren’t you?

She lists six reasons, and goes into greater but not tedious depth.

1) You’re a bitch.

2) You’re shallow.

3) You’re a slut.

4) You’re a liar.

5) You’re selfish.

6) You’re not good enough.

There is however, light at the end of the tunnel. She does have some good news and advice on how women can fix their predicament.

One should point out however, that she’s still a forty-something three-time loser and author of, I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway: A Memoir.

A look at the book blurbs is enough to scare any man.

And a kind of sad endnote. I can’t find it now, but the other day I was looking at a similar article by a never-married thirty-something writer who admitted she’d kind of like to be married too. She mentioned she’d had a few long-term boyfriends who never got into committment mode.

This was kind of wistfully sad – but somebody ought to tell her that she isn’t doing herself any favors by listing under “orientation” in her online profile, “slutty.”

Trust me on this one too.

UPDATE: OK, this did piss off some women. Go see Jessica Ravitz’s Why I’m Not Married (and it’s not because I’m an angry slut.)

Oh. My. God. I have no reason to believe Ms Ravitz is a slut, but oy vey is she angry!

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