Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

April 28, 2011

Birther baloney and Truther tripe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:43 pm

Well President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate, and Birthers, prominent among them Donald Trump, have egg on their faces.

The President is looking rather like the proverbial cat that ate the proverbial canary.

“So why didn’t he simply release this before all the fuss?” I hear you say.

Do I really have to answer that? For one, the Birthers have furnished the president with a handy club to beat his political opponents with. These nutballs were a gift from heaven Obama wasn’t going to give up right away. The Republicans had their turn when it was revealed Van Jones, the president’s pick for “Special Advisor for Green Jobs” was a “9/11 Truther.”

However the inconvenient truth about the Birthers and Truthers is, Birthers are found only on the right, while Truthers are found on the right and the left, and indeed overlap quite a bit. Many conspiracy fans are both.

For another, while the Birther controversy was always wildly improbable, requiring one to believe in a conspiracy stretching back to Obama’s birth announcement in the Honolulu newspaper, it conveniently distracted from other things the President has been less than forthcoming on, such as his SAT scores and his grades in college.

And by the way, why is he reticent about those? Scores and grades might be embarrassing, but a lot of the giants of political history have had poor academic records. Winston Churchill comes to mind, and if you ever had a look at Andrew Jackson’s correspondence you’d see he was barely literate.

Furthermore, place of birth does not necessarily determine native- born citizenship status. The child of American citizens is an American citizen from birth, no matter where he’s born. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone. George Romney, father of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was born in the Mormon Colonies of Mexico to American parents. When he threw his hat into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 he just ignored the native-born citizen issue, and nobody called him on it.

Now here’s the interesting issue that nobody has brought up to my knowledge. My son was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an American father (moi) and a Polish mother. We registered him at the appropriate government office in Warsaw and the American embassy, and got him two passports. He has been a citizen of both countries since his birth.

Can he grow up to be president?

We don’t know, the Constitution doesn’t address the issue. Dual citizenship must have been very rare back then, if it even existed legally. Heck, it’s only been since the late 19th – early 20th centuries that North American and West European governments routinely required passports to cross their borders.

So what I wonder is, Barack Obama’s globe-trotting mother married first a Kenyan citizen, then an Indonesian citizen. At any time in his life did she ever claim dual citizenship for her son, or did he ever travel on a passport issued by another country? That wouldn’t show up on birth records. Neither of my son’s passports says anywhere that he has another one.

And would it matter? Again, we don’t know.

April 16, 2011

I’m moving

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:29 am

To Marshall, Minnesota to be exact. I’ve got a newsroom gig at a larger paper in a bigger town.

Trucking paid the bills while I found another writing job, but I must say the romance of trucking palls a bit come winter in North Dakota. I was home on weekends only, not really eating well in spite of all attempts to keep healthy food on hand, (I must tell you about my hard tack recipe sometime,) and not getting any exercise.

About time too, Valley City, ND is holding back high water again. Been there. Done that.

I’m looking for housing right now, living out of a motel room. My family will join me after the school year ends.

April 12, 2011

Are we a culture in decline? Some numbers.

Filed under: Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:39 am

“All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.”
– Robert A. Heinlein

One of the features of the “culture wars” is the back-and-forth about whether our country, and our civilization (the one called “Western”) is in decline: economic, military, moral and cultural.

Heinlein once said, “If you can’t put numbers on it, it’s not science, it’s opinion.”

I have some reservations about this, but another time. Here’s some numbers courtesy of Mark Steyn who’s famous for supporting his contentions with hard stats.

It’s from a review of James Cameron’s “Titanic” of all things. I wrote an unpublished review of the movie some time back, condemning it for slandering the reputation of the courageous dead. Contrary to Cameron’s dreck, all accounts say the wealthy passengers met their fate as any man who is a man would wish to.

“Mr Cameron notwithstanding, the male passengers gave their lives for the women, and would never have considered doing otherwise: Over three-quarters of the women – and only 20 per cent of the men (survived.) On a luxury liner sailing between two technologically advanced societies, the chaps had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats and sail off without them. The social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure.

“Today, in what Harvey Mansfield calls our “gender-neutral society”, there are no social norms. Eight decades after the Titanic, or round about the time Cameron began working on his film, a German-built ferry en route from Estonia to Sweden sank in the Baltic Sea. Of the 1,051 passengers, only 139 lived to tell the tale. But the distribution of the survivors was very different from that of the Titanic. Women and children first? No female under 15 or over 65 made it. Only five per cent of all women passengers lived. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Forty-three per cent of men aged 20-24 lived.”

Any questions?

“Where there are no men, be thou a man.” – Rabbi Hillel

April 5, 2011

An attitude adjustment: movie review

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:36 pm

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

I went to see The Adjustment Bureau the other night. The trailers looked interesting, and I was in the mood for a movie due to a recent setback.

It was worth it. The flick was a very clever variation of what you could call “a glimpse of the scenery behind the world” plot, loosely based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick.

Seeing it had the odd effect of convincing me my “destiny” was on the right track after all, after I’d had an experience that made me fear it had derailed. Precisely the kind of thing that would have occurred to PKD.

Rough plot outline: Senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon – adequate) looks like he’s about to win the election when pics surface of him mooning some friends at a class reunion. He get’s creamed.

While hiding out in the Men’s room rehearsing his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt – spectacular) who is hiding out because she’s a quirky prankster and has just crashed a fancy wedding. Banter follows, a connection is made, they kiss passionately on impulse.

He goes out to make a spontaneous speech in which he (gasp!) tells the truth about campaigning, focus groups, consultants, and the petty lies politicians tell to get liked. The kind of thing that would win a politician the undying loyalty of a great many people, if only they knew.

Things get seriously weird after this. He’s on his way to work at his new job, and a guy sitting in the park receives a phone call telling him Norris “has to spill coffee on his shirt at 7:05 a.m.”

The guy misses it, and Norris boards the bus to meet – Elise. You then find out the guy in the park has telekinetic powers as he flicks his finger and spills the coffee Norris is holding.

Norris gets Elise’s phone number. But then because he’s early to the office, he stumbles onto an eerie scene in which everybody is frozen and mysterious characters dressed like riot police are doing stuff to his buddy’s head with odd machines.

That’s the glimpse behind the scenery of the world. He runs, they catch him, they explain. They were causing a minor opinion change in his bud. And it was easy to catch him because they have a trick of opening a door – into another place.

Oh and by the way, he can’t be with Elise. Not ever again. So they take the number. They’ve got other plans for him.

The rest of the movie concerns his struggle with the agents of “the Adjustment Bureau” to find and connect with Elise in spite of all they can do.

Who are they? We don’t know. They’re not omnipotent and do have limitations Norris can exploit. They guide history for example, but they can’t rewrite it.

He asks one who’s favorably disposed to him, “Are you angels?”

“We’ve been called that,” is the enigmatic reply.

The only explanation he gets are from the favorably disposed agent, and Thompson, the heavy hitter nicknamed “the Hammer” (Terrence Stamp – magnificent) who’s called back to field work especially to take care of this.

Thompson explains They guided humanity out of the caves until the Roman Empire when they tried letting us control our own destiny – followed by five centuries of the Dark Ages.

They took control again and created the Renaissance, and tried giving us control again at the beginning of the 20th century.

“The result was World War I, World War II, the rise of Fascism…” you get the picture.

Plot continues with boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, etc with rolicking action and a teleportation chase scene skillfully interpolated with an emotional reconnect and a conclusion I won’t reveal.

It ends on a narrative reflection which evoked an eerie sense of synchonicity in me, because I’d been discussing the idea a very short time before. Maybe free will is our heritage, but it doesn’t come to us automatically. We have to fight for it, earn it.

All very good, I’m glad I went to the movie and I’m urging my wife to see it.

Now here’s what jarred me, in a very PDK kind of way. Dick took the idea that what we think is reality is really someone else’s construct very seriously. Partly because he very seriously took a lot of drugs, and partly because he had some serious brain malfunctions which caused him to have some interesting hallucinations (or religious experiences, take your pick) and eventually killed him.

When you see the film, note when Thompson is relating everything that went wrong in the 20th century, there is not one word about communism and the estimated 100 million murders committed by its adherents in that bloodiest of centuries.

To anybody who knew the first thing about history, that should be the culmination of the list. But it’s been airbrushed out of the historical record. Almost like powerful beings who can freeze us long enough to perform minor mental adjustments have…

See what I mean?

April 4, 2011

Reflections on Itamar, part 2

Filed under: Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:38 pm

“If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.”
– Thomas Sowell

“Shver tzu zein a Yid” Yiddish saying, “It’s hard to be a Jew.”

Back in Reflections on Itamar, part 1, I said I had to wait a bit before commenting to maintain a certain degree of equanimity.

For part 2 I’ve waited a bit longer to see how the international reaction would shake down.

Sadly, it seems my suspicions were correct. Attention to the murders of both parents and three young children in the Fogel family is already fading. Some say it’s news in competition with the dramatic ongoing crisis in Japan. Others think the world is sick of hearing about dead Jews.

Pro-jihadist Arabic-language sites are full of praise and the blessings of Allah for the murderers. That is perhaps to be expected.

Apologists for terrorism point to the sufferings of the Palestinians. This too is to be expected, though to my mind it’s eerily like a lot of semi-apologies for the Holocaust I’ve heard over the years.

No one seems willing to consider the sufferings of the Palestinians are very largely self-inflicted. Nor that a fundamental difference between the two sides is, there are Israeli advocates for the Palestinians who live unmolested in Israel. There are no Palestinian advocates for Israel who dare voice their opinions in public.

The most inane comment on the murders comes from those who hope this won’t “adversely affect the peace process.”

This is so far out of touch with reality you have to wonder what planet these people live on. Can no one see the truth staring them in the face?

There will never be peace between Israel and its enemies in the foreseeable future.

Eric Hoffer once pointed out that Israel is the only nation that has to sue for peace after winning a war. Israel can never make enough concessions to satisfy an enemy that hates them beyond reason.

What strategic purpose was served by murdering the Fogel family? What goal was moved forward by beheading a three-month-old baby girl?

None. They did it because it felt good. They did it to win praise and admiration from their people. And they did it to taunt the Israelis, “You can’t defend your women and children.”

The Israelis respond by announcing they are going to build still more settlements. Oooo, that’ll show them! Put more potential victims in reach.

Oh yes, and they’re going to hunt down the killers and bring them to justice.

Justice in Israel means lengthy confinement – perhaps until terrorists grab some hostages and offer to exchange them.

Israel does have the death penalty – which has been imposed precisely once by civil authority. And the executed was Adolph Eichman!

“It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”Moses Maimonides, Sefer Hamitzvot, Negative Commandment number 290.

What can you do to deter an enemy who gleefully announces they can lose fifteen of their own to your every one and still win?

Nothing we are willing to even consider.

How can you persuade a people not to murder your children, when they readily murder their own children in so-called “honor killings“?

You can’t. Not by any means we’re willing to use.

The Israelis could of course, surround the village the murderers fled to – the one where they handed out sweets to celebrate them, and threaten to shell it flat with artillery and napalm the rubble if they don’t hand over the murderers pronto. World opinion would call them Nazis for it, but they do that already.

They won’t. Israelis including people close to the dead family have already preemptively denounced any suggestion of collective punishment to avenge the murders.

Times like this remind me of one of Thomas Sowell’s most interesting, and disturbing insights, “The law of diminishing returns applies to morality as well. It is possible to be too moral.”

And since I seem to be quoting Sowell a lot here, let me end with one more. “If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.”

April 3, 2011

Elections free and fair, or one man, one vote, one time?

Filed under: Academic,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:21 am

Over at the Wall Street Journal is an interview by Bari Weiss with Bernard Lewis, who at age 95 is still sharp as a tack and the preeminent scholar of the Islamic world.

The article is entitled, ‘The Tyrannies are Doomed,’ which gives you Lewis’ opinions in a nutshell. Read it anyway, there’s a lot of good stuff in it, starting from the obvious truth that while the tyrannies may be doomed, there’s no guarantee that anything better is going to replace them.

Well I say obvious truth, but evidently it isn’t so obvious to a fair number of people.

“And yet Western commentators seem determined to harbor such illusions. Take their treatment of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. The highly popular, charismatic cleric has said that Hitler “managed to put [the Jews] in their place” and that the Holocaust “was divine punishment for them.”

“Yet following a sermon Sheikh Qaradawi delivered to more than a million in Cairo following Mubarak’s ouster, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that the cleric “struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching.” Mr. Kirkpatrick added: “Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.””

Heavy sigh. The New York Times again…

There is some fascinating stuff on how traditional institutions moderated the power of Islamic rulers throughout history, until seriously weakened by modern technology. Lewis cautions against imposing an Anglo-American model of democracy where it doesn’t fit into the local political culture, and cites post-WWI Germany as an example of a bad fit.

He also has some interesting things to say about Women’s Lib for the Islamic world, which by chance Kathleen Parker also has a few things to say this week. See her endearingly entitled, “‘Women aren’t pet rocks’.

According to Lewis:

“My own feeling is that the greatest defect of Islam and the main reason they fell behind the West is the treatment of women,” he says. He makes the powerful point that repressive homes pave the way for repressive governments. “Think of a child that grows up in a Muslim household where the mother has no rights, where she is downtrodden and subservient. That’s preparation for a life of despotism and subservience. It prepares the way for an authoritarian society,” he says.

Amen. And see the Parker article to read how George and Laura Bush, whatever missteps George’s administration may have made, have always realized this and continue to work for women’s emancipation in the Islamic world to this day. Something that counts for zero among left-wing American feminists, who evidently think a western woman’s right to an abortion trumps an eastern woman’s right not to be genitally mutilated, beaten, or murdered for getting uppity. And by the way, women in Islamic countries can’t get abortions either.

The really important point Lewis makes is that in the transition to a free society, elections should be last in order.

Others have made this point as well. Thomas Sowell has said the rule of law must be established before elections take place. Milton Friedman used to point out that Hong Kong as a Crown Colony was free, but definitely not a democracy.

And any anthropologist should be able to tell you that if you have a state composed of tribal/ethnic groups, the state is going to become the possession of the largest, if it has a majority, or the largest coalition of tribes with a common interest. In this case, if the state is a major distributor of wealth (such as oil revenues,) the permanent minority may see no other alternative than violence to seize the state or secede from it. The rule of law must be established to prevent a newly established government from reverting to feudalism, the default state of civilization, or chaos.

Yet I think there is something beyond the first free and fair elections, a point at which everybody stops holding their breath and dares to hope freedom may have gained a sure foothold in their country. I saw this in Poland in the first years after the fall of communism or it might never have occurred to me.

It’s not the first free and fair election that matters. It’s the first election in which the party in power loses and steps down of their own free will, reasonably confident they will not be prosecuted – or executed.

I think that’s why we in America are so reluctant to begin criminal prosecutions against officials of past administrations, even in the face of some pretty obvious criminality.

Everybody can think of their own examples. I’m among those who would like to see Janet Reno, and very possibly Hillary Clinton, face charges, and I mean capital charges, for the murder of those harmless religious lunatics in Waco, Texas.

But the trouble is, different people have different views about who should be prosecuted for what. For example, soon after Obama took office there was some loose talk about prosecuting certain people for renditions and such – before the usefulness of renditions was discovered by the administration.

Perhaps it’s best not to open that can of worms, even if we have to grit our teeth and let some pretty flagrant injustices pass unavenged.

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