Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

April 30, 2012

Got topped big time!

Filed under: Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:59 pm

Friday night I had a date – sort of.

Gal in the same boat as myself, separated, not yet formally divorced single parent.

Not quite ready to move on, but I thought there was a spark there. We got to moving to quickly, backed off a bit.

Then she texted me and said she’d missed my company and invited me to a movie. Hey great!

But beforehand, she texted and said a girlfriend was trying to invite herself along. Now this girlfriend is married, but my girlfriend-in-potentia says she keeps hitting on her.

She texted, “Ewww! She keeps hitting on me!”

Went to meet her at the movies, and was a little late. Got in, and there the two of them were sitting. Lady friend waved “Hi” I sat down, and the two of them put their heads together and got up giggling and left about 10 minutes into the movie!

What the heck was this, make fun of the straight guy?

Reminded me of what a bitter friend once told me about his dating experience, “About half the time when a woman shows an interest, she’s setting you up for humiliation.”

It wasn’t that bad actually. When she texted with a quasi-apology I just told her to buzz off.

So Monday noon I’m at the staff meeting at the paper and talking about my review for this week. I don’t really want to review “American Reunion,” and decided to take my son to the new “Three Stooges.”

Then a colleague came in from an assignment taking pictures at a circus.

She’d just gotten pissed on by a lion.

Damn, topped my story big time!

April 26, 2012

Lowry shows integrity and ethical consistency

Filed under: News commentary,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:03 am

I have often said that your belief in freedom and your respect for human rights is tested by your willingness to defend the freedom and support the rights of people you just flat despise.

This will tend to put one in uncomfortable and embarrassing situations from time to time. If you for example, defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis, you know people are going to accuse you of being one.

Legendary journalist and uncompromising defender of freedom H.L. Mencken said, “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

I don’t think you find much of that kind of integrity around these days. There seem to be an awful lot of people in public life who condemn the same actions of people they dislike, that they excuse or actively justify in people they like.

We all remember the story of the Boston Massacre from our American History classes. The incident in 1750 when British soldiers fired on a mob, killing five men. The incident was used as propaganda by the pro-independence party to raise the tensions that led to the outbreak of revolution five years later.

I wonder how many people remember that the soldiers were defended on murder charges by John Adams, a fierce patriot and later first vice-president and second president of the United States?

Adams won the acquittal of six of the soldiers and succeeded in getting the sentence of two reduced to manslaughter, punished by a branding on the hand.

Adams wanted independence, but genuinely believed the soldiers were innocent of the charges. He was willing to kill them on the field of battle, but would not sully the cause of independence with an injustice, nor corrupt the law to serve an agenda.

But I’ve just found a contemporary example. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative publication National Review, has an article, “John Edwards: Slimy, not criminal.”

Edwards is currently facing some pretty serious charges of violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to his mistress and mother of his love child, while his wife was dying of cancer.

In the public sphere he has essentially no defenders. His own party has dropped him like a hot rock, and former friends and aids are testifying against him.

Lowry makes no secret of the fact that he thinks Edwards is a detestable human being. But he also lays out in detail why Edwards’ actions, though morally reprehensible, are not criminal.

“If Edwards were being prosecuted for shameful dereliction of duty as a husband and father, he’d deserve 30 years of hard labor. If he were on trial for extreme oleaginous insincerity, he’d deserve to be sent to the nearest supermax prison. If he could be charged with running two faux-populist presidential campaigns (first in 2004, then in 2008) that were all about stroking his own ego, he’d deserve to hang at dawn.

“None of these things is a criminal offense, though. And neither is paying hush money to your mistress. In the case of United States of America v. Johnny Reid Edwards, it is the United States of America that is out of line…

“The prosecution is a naked exercise in attempting to punish a loathsome man for his loathsomeness. As such, it is an offense against the rule of law, which depends on clear rules and dispassionate judgments. Every wrong — even flagrant wrongs, played out in public and involving mind-boggling deceit — is not a crime. By stretching the laws to try to reach Edwards, the government is creating the precedent for future ambiguous, politicized prosecutions, perhaps of figures much less blameworthy than the reviled man currently in the dock.

“John Edwards belongs under a rock, but not in jail.”

Good for you Lowry! Whether one agrees or disagrees with your politics, that shows integrity and ethical consistency.

And hey, you gotta love a writer who can use phrases like, “oleaginous insincerity.”

April 9, 2012

Bye Mike

Filed under: Eleagic mode,News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:49 am

Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog.

Veteran broadcast journalist Mike Wallace died yesterday at the age of 93.

Wallace was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 9, 1918, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents originally named Wallik, and his life only got more interesting from there on.

Wallace was one of the few remaining survivors of the beginnings of broadcast journalism, back when it was common to have a wider variety of experience than is even possible today. He was at various times a commercial pitchman, a game show host, radio narrator for shows such as the original Sky King and The Green Hornet, sportscaster, and stand-up comic (didn’t know that one did you?)

He also served as a communications officer on a U.S. Navy sub tender during World War II.

I feel safe in saying no journalist starting out these days could ever amass a resume like that.

My first memories of Mike Wallace were from the half-hour documentary Biography, which featured informative and interesting, but mostly softball pocket bios of prominent people, living and dead.

In 1959 Wallace and Louis Lomax produced The Hate That Hate Produced, a five-part documentary on The Nation of Islam, featuring one Louis X, later known as Louis Farrakhan.

Wallace began, “While city officials, state agencies, white liberals, and sober-minded Negroes stand idly by, a group of Negro dissenters is taking to street-corner step ladders, church pulpits, sports arenas, and ballroom platforms across the United States, to preach a gospel of hate that would set off a federal investigation if it were preached by Southern whites.”

With Farrakhan responding, “I charge the white man with being the greatest liar on earth! I charge the white man with being the greatest drunkard on earth…. I charge the white man with being the greatest gambler on earth. I charge the white man, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with being the greatest murderer on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest peace-breaker on earth…. I charge the white man with being the greatest robber on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest deceiver on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest trouble-maker on earth. So therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you, bring back a verdict of guilty as charged!”

It would not be the last time Wallace and Farrakhan clashed on air.

Contemporary critics have called the documentary a “caricature,” “one-sided,” and even “yellow journalism,” but The Nation of Islam and Farrakhan have no reason to complain. Farrkhan and Malcolm X were catapulted to fame and became frequent interview subjects, college speakers, and talk show guests (before Malcolm X’s assassination,) and the Nation of Islam’s membership doubled to 60,000 in the weeks after the broadcast.

Whether one regards that as a desirable outcome or not, it illustrates something about Wallace as an interviewer. He let his subjects have their say.

Well yes, but isn’t that what journalists are supposed to do?

Ideally yes, but in this day and age there are an awful lot of so-called journalists who constantly interrupt their subjects, cut them off, argue with them, and shamefully edit their responses.

Wallace did a great service to a lot of people when he revealed he had been treated for severe clinical depression, including a suicide attempt. He said it took him a while to acknowledge because he thought of it as a shameful weakness.

He was one of the founders of 60 Minutes, which created the genre of TV news magazine.

Wallace could be startlingly naive at times. In one interview he spoke of his long professional relationship with Yasser Arafat, and how he’d come to admire him. This from an intelligent, mostly well-informed Jewish journalist would be a little like hearing Walter Lippman profess his admiration for Adolf Hitler. It should serve as a cautionary tale, that journalists get out and about a lot, but our experience on any given subject tends towards the superficial.

Wallace’s surviving son Chris is a journalist at FOX News. Mighty big shoes to fill, I must say.

Good by Mike. Somehow it doesn’t feel like TV News without you.

April 4, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:48 am

Note: This appeared in the TV Guide of the print edition of The Marshall Independent.

After a number of so-so to absolutely dreadful adaptations of classical myths over the past few years, finally there’s a movie that does an intelligent job of adapting myth to screen.

A living myth resonates enough to be reinterpreted in subsequent generations. In this case Theseus and the Minotaur, the story of the seven youths and seven maidens Athens was forced to give to Minos, King of Crete to be fed to a monster.

“The Hunger Games,” based on the book by Suzanne Collins, is set in a post-apocalyptic future. The 12 districts of Panem are ruled from The Capitol in the Rocky Mountains. The Capitol is rich and conspicuously decadent, the districts that feed it are grindingly poor.

Every year two “tributes,” a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen by lot from each district to participate in The Hunger Games. The twenty-four contestants are released in a wilderness area to fight for survival, until only one is left.

District 12 resident, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a dirt-poor woods girl and huntress who volunteers for the games in place of her 12-year-old sister Primrose (Willow Shields.)

The other tribute from District 12 is an upper-class (for the district) boy Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson,) who has been seriously crushing on Katniss for a long time. But even if they both survive all the other contestants, they’ll have to fight it out among themselves. This lends itself to a certain amount of romantic tension.

Oh yes, and while Peeta is crazy about Katniss, Katniss is sort of attached to a boy back home.

Katniss and Peeta are escorted to The Capitol where they are mentored by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson,) the only living winner of the games from District 12. Their district hasn’t won in a long time, and whiskey-swilling Haymitch tells them up-front he doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.
Nonetheless, someting about Katniss inspires Haymitch, and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) an image-consultant who volunteers to groom her and teach her how to win the masses over.

OK, that takes you through the first 15-20 minutes, before you’re even in the Game. The set-up is very skillfully done, and now you’re at ease in Panem.

Aside from the story of Theseus, the movie owes much to previous murderous-game-shows-in-a-dystopian future movies, such as “The Running Man,” and numerous reality shows.

There’s an underlying theme exploring what the role of mass entertainment is in keeping the masses subjugated. “Panem” is an allusion to the Latin, “panem et circenses,” (bread and circuses,”) referring to the dole and gladiatorial games the rulers of ancient Rome kept the masses content with. It doesn’t beat you over the head with pop-sociology though, thank you very much!

Lawrence is convincing as Katniss. She learned to skin squirrels, chop wood, and fight for her role in Winter’s Bone (2010) and it shows. Watch for her in the future. She’s better than beautiful, she’s talented.

Donald Sutherland has a cool, understated presence as President Coriolanus Snow. Harrelson is great as the survivor anesthetizing his pain with liquor, redeemed by a chance to strike back at the system that wounded him almost to madness. Kravitz can act, who knew? And Hutcherson is an adorably goofy love-struck teen.

There have been questions raised about how appropriate it is for children to see teenagers killing each other. My first reaction was, “What do you think war is but teenagers killing each other?”

But the violence is mostly shown with a soft focus or indirect angle, with some exception. I am of two minds about this, caught midway between a disgust with violence porn, and worry that sanitized violence gives an unrealistic idea of what violent death really looks like. (Katniss shoots an enemy with a bow, and the guy drops dead right there and then. Ask any bow hunter how likely that is.)

At any rate, it looks like you’ll have an opportunity to find out for yourselves. The movie played to a packed house, and there are two sequels: “Catching Fire,” and “Mockingjay,” in Collins’ trilogy.

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