Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

May 29, 2012

My Memorial Day op-ed 2012

Filed under: Eleagic mode,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:12 am

The run-up to this Memorial Day has been interesting to say the least.

As readers of The Marshall Independent can see, I interviewed a Korean War veteran who has been living with the injuries of that war with the support of his wife and family, since he came home in 1955. A remarkable man who persists in the face of adversity and remains cheerful.

I also went grave-hunting for the resting place of two veterans of the war of 1812 who are buried in Lyon County. I had no idea! And it’s a little embarrassing to admit it had totally escaped my notice that this is the bicentennial year of the war that gave us our national anthem.

I also found the grave of a veteran who over a military career spanning 22 years fought in the Florida War (or Second Seminole War,) the Mexican War, the Sioux Uprising, and the “War of Rebellion.” I have no idea is his service in the army was continuous or whether he just “marched to the sound of the drums” when he heard the call.

Looking into the background of the holiday, I found that it started out after the Civil War and was first called Decoration Day. And very touchingly, the first known celebration of its kind was May 1, 1865 when newly-freed slaves gathered to honor the Union dead in Charleston, North Carolina.

I learned that memorial days were observed locally to honor the Confederate or Union dead, but as early as April 25, 1866, women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers at the graves of the war dead regardless of which side they’d fought for.

I also got into a heated discussion online, that degenerated into childish insults when I said the yes indeed, the Civil War was all about slavery (And how do I know? Because they said so themselves!) And caused great consternation when I suggested that nothing we do or don’t do is likely to end the scourge of war.

Saying that is taken by too many people as arguing for war, and it’s fashionable these days to be “against war.”

Smug self-righteous nonsense. Only a lunatic is “for” war.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe World War II.

The sixth century Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some military historians to be the greatest field commander in history, said, “All men with even a small store of reason know that peace is chiefest of blessings.”

Does anyone think their moral authority to condemn war is greater than these men? It takes two parties negotiating in good faith to preserve peace. War can be started by just one.

I heard personal stories of meeting disabled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the implied accusation that if I could have that experience I’d be a pacifist – as if I hadn’t known anyone wounded, crippled, killed in war.

“A country like ours, possessed of immense territory and wealth, whose defense has been neglected, cannot avoid war by dilating on its horrors, or even by a pacific display of pacific qualities, or by ignoring the fate of victims of aggression elsewhere,” said Winston Churchill.

We, the civilians of this generation, while paradoxically farther removed from our contemporary wars than our grandparent’s generation, are more exposed to the horrors of war than they.

Modern media brings the war to us in real time, and has grown beyond the ability of the government to censor and sanitize what we see of it.

Modern military medicine saves more wounded than ever before. In the horrors of a Civil War surgery, the most severely maimed did not survive. Today more than ever before are coming home, with the evidence of their maiming for us to see.

“If you would have peace, prepare for war,” said Flavius Vegetius, author of the oldest surviving military manual.

But how can we ask our young people to prepare for war, how can we ask them to fight wars, after they’ve seen what happens to some who do?

The same way we always have. Set aside a day to honor those who prepared for war, those who fought the wars, and those who fell in them.

Have a good Memorial Day.

May 18, 2012

What I’ve been doing lately – columns

Filed under: News commentary,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:29 am

For loyal readers who’ve wondered if I’ve been taken over by the brain-eating movie reviewer from Mars. I’m still alive. I’ve been busy with other projects and personal issues I won’t bore you with.

I’ve been posting the TV and movie reviews I do for the print-only edition of the newspaper I work for as kind of a place holder, and because I think they’re kind of good in a mostly-inconsequential way. At least they appear to be the stuff I get the most complimentary remarks about from readers and fellow-journalists.

But what I’ve been really busy with, and haven’t chosen to unveil until now, it trying to become a self-syndicated columnist.

Some know I had a weekly column at my last newspaper. Well, now I’m at a bigger paper with a bigger staff, and they say, “Blog.” I have posted some of my newspaper blog stuff and will probably do some more, but I’m kind of uneasy about putting up a lot of stuff on my site that I do on company time.

After having gotten polite brush-offs from major syndicates, I discovered Minnesota’s own Jill Pertler, who is a self-syndicated columnist.

Soooo, what I’ve been doing is cranking out a column every week. I have a source list of Minnesota newspapers with contact data. Every week I cut about 20 from that list, and send a column to each of them with a contact letter, addressed personally to the editor. Then I add each to my long list of Minnesota editors, and send each weeks submission to the whole list.

It’s a bit tedious to be sure. But, I’ve gotten one contract so far and several nibbles. Pretty good after a couple months. Pertler said try it for six!

I haven’t been posting my stuff yet, because of course you don’t want to give away for free what you’re trying to sell. Not until a decent interval has passed for sure. And besides, the blog format is a bit different from newspaper column style. However I’m going to start posting after that decent interval has passed, just to archive these and make them available to potential subscribers.

So without further ado, here’s one from a couple weeks ago>

Slender majorities
By Steve Browne

President Obama is currently being roasted for an apparent gaff about the Supreme Court.

In regards to the current case before the court concerning the constitutionality of Obamacare, the president said on April 2, “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Right wing pundits are having a field day bludgeoning Obama, a graduate of Harvard law school, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, and one-time lecturer (not a professor) on constitutional law with Marbury v Madison, the 1803 case that established the principle of judicial review. Not to mention the fact Obamacare passed by seven votes, hardly a “strong majority.”

What is bothering me is less the president’s views on judicial review than those seven votes.

What occurred to me while thinking about this issue was Thomas Jefferson’s remark, “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”

Jefferson of course, could toss off more profound observations in an offhand remark than most of today’s political thinkers can in a book.

This is what is bothering me about an awful lot of issues these days: energy policy, foreign policy, healthcare, etc.

Everyone can see these issues split the country right down the middle – and that’s precisely why we should be treading carefully here.

These proposed policies tend to be of the top-down, one-size-fits-all, my-way-or-the-highway kind. There’s little room for significant decision-making on the state and local level – or individual choice for that matter. You pays your taxes, you get your marching orders.

Now some decisions by government necessarily have to be of this kind. If we’re going to war, you don’t get to say, “No thanks, not my war,” and continue to trade with, travel to, or even send letters to the enemy country. There’s a word for that – treason.

Or for that matter, try opting out of using the roads.

But the issues we’re dealing with today are a lot less pressing than eminent war. Sorry, you may believe the climate is causing the seas to rise and flood Miami, but it’s not happening on a time scale equal to the Pearl Harbor attack, nor is it quite so obvious to all that the threat is looming as rapidly as some passionately believe.

People are not dying en mass in the streets from lack of health insurance, whatever the proponents of nationalized single-payer insurance say.

Yes it is possible man-caused climate change may have serious consequences down the road. Yes there are many individual hardships caused by skyrocketing medical costs. But the point is, these are complex issues, with wide range for honest disagreement among honest men. We are not going to solve them with government-mandated policies crafted slap-dash in six months!

And we are not going to make the acrimony go away by half the population forcing the policy down the throats of the other half. If the differences of opinion on any significant issue amount to a few percentage points (and in fact, in the case of Obamacare, polls show it’s a lot more unpopular than that,) then heck, that’s the percentage of people who change their minds six times before breakfast!

Consider World War II, the last war we had a nearly universal consensus for, versus Vietnam. Ask why the British traitor Lord Haw-Haw was executed and Tokyo Rose imprisoned, while Jane Fonda returned from making propaganda tours in North Vietnam and nobody dared lay a finger on her?

Precisely because WWII had universal approval, while Vietnam was so deeply divisive.

One of the principles of constitutionally limited government is that all decisions which can be left to individual citizens – should be. And for precisely this reason. Deeply divisive issues wind up being decided on slender majorities, and those decisions rend our society and breed contempt for all authority and all law.

May 14, 2012

Review: The Avengers

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:14 am

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

OK, you know everybody thinks “The Avengers” is great, and it’s made box office history by earning $441 million (more than twice the production costs) in it’s first week after the international release, plus a weekend gross of $200 million in North America.

So what else can I tell you?

I can tell you that unless you go see it for yourself you won’t know just how REALLY GREAT it is!

“The Avengers” is the apex of a story arc of five previous movies, bringing together six Marvel Comics characters to form a superhero team and save the world.

Development on “The Avengers” began in 2005. After many delays Joss Whedon was brought on board in 2010 to rewrite the screenplay and direct.

This is the culmination of the life work of one Stanley Martin Lieber, who went to work for his cousin’s husband at Timely Comics in 1939 as a 17-year-old gofer. He adopted the name of Stan Lee because he had ambitions of writing serious novels under his birth name. Then in 1941 he was allowed to contribute the text filler for Captain America Comics #3, and the rest is history.

Marvel Comics have been turned into movies as early as 1944, as well as cartoons, and TV series. Now Marvel characters on film have caught on in a big way and a new generation of fans has experienced the Marvel universe primarily from the movies.

They’re baaaaack.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back from Asgaard, because his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned to Earth from exile via the mysterious Tesseract, introduced in Captain America.

Loki is coming with an army of powerful aliens to conquer the world. Fury brings Captain America (Chris Evans,) Thor, and reluctantly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) on board, and dispatches Agent Natasha Romanov “The Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson) to fetch Bruce Banner and his alter ego The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo.)

To complicate things Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner,) who has history with Romanov, and Thor’s friend Professor Erik Selvik (Stellan Skarsgård,) have been turned into Loki’s brainwashed slaves.

That sets the stage for a slam-bang CGI battle in the canyons of New York between the superhero team and aliens on flying motorcycles and giant scaly-fish-looking flying battleships.

It shouldn’t work – but it does.

There’s the banter. It’s witty, quick, in character, and they keep it coming.

Tony Stark is at his cynical, wisecracking best. Thor talks like a refugee from Shakespeare in the Park, and Captain America captures the earnest, unembarrassed idealism of the World War II era, but they’ve got great quips and comebacks too.

The characters are a bickering, mismatched bunch brought together by common danger, duty, the Machiavellian manipulation of Fury, and the natural leadership qualities of Captain America.

The super powers aren’t believable, but the heroism is.

And so is the villainy.

Loki announces his return very appropriately, in Germany, “Kneel before me. I said? KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

If you can’t imagine there are real people who think like that, you’ve led a very fortunate life. But I assure you there are, and they’re more common than we’d like.

Fortunately so are the kind of people like Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) who can’t match the powers of his idol Captain America, but matches his courage and sacrifice. Or tarnished, conscience-stricken, Romanov who is willing to wash out the blood on her ledger with her own if necessary.

And yes, the morally ambiguous Fury, who realizes the terrible danger of using the power of the Tesseract to make weapons, but takes the risk because the universe is after all a very dangerous place to face unarmed.

On the surface the battle seems to be a face-off between demigods Thor and Loki and their respective allies. But the real pairing is between Loki, the master of slaves, and Captain America, who when the chips are down far more powerful superheroes choose to follow, because he is a natural leader of free men.

I could go on, but I won’t. Just see it.

May 6, 2012

Review: The Three Stooges

Filed under: Media bias,Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:50 am

Note: Originally published in the TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

I suppose I’m dating myself, but I can remember when you could expect to run into The Three Stooges pretty much daily on your black and white TV.

The Stooges started as a vaudeville act in 1925, composed of two brothers of Lithuanian Jewish origin, Moses and Samuel Horwitz, a.k.a. Moe and Shemp Howard, and friend Louis Feinberg or “Larry Fine,” scion of a Russian Jewish family.

If you find that surprising, did you know Larry was an amateur boxer and a talented violinist?

Shemp later left to pursue a solo career, and was replaced by another brother Jerome, who wanted into the act so badly he shaved his long flowing locks to become “Curly.” After Curly suffered a stroke in 1946, Shemp rejoined the team until his own death in 1955.

Shemp was replaced by Curly look-alike Joe Besser, and later by Joe DeRita as “Curly Joe.”

Altogether the Stooges made 220 films, most of them shorts that played alongside feature films in movie theaters.

Their humor was noted for broad slapstick, violent and often cruel. But there was also an “us against the world” solidarity, and a lot of clever wordplay. Such as when you see the Stooges outside the law office of “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe.”

Now after 10 years in the making, mostly spent looking for the ideal cast, the new Three Stooges has arrived, featuring Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry, and Will Sasso as Curly.

Briefly, the trio are on a quest to save the orphanage they were raised in, to the ruin of the institution and the despair of the nuns that run it. They have a month to raise $830,000. They get involved in the machinations of would-be black widow Lydia (Sofia Vergara,) who wants them to murder her husband Teddy (Kirby Heyborne,) who turns out to be an fellow alumnus of the orphanage.

So how does it stack up to the original gang?

In a word – uncanny. These guys have got the Stooges down. The voices, the mannerisms, even Curly’s “nyuk-nyuk-nyuk-nyuk” and “woo-woo-woo-woo.”

The resemblance is so strong it sometimes makes one uncomfortable to see it’s not the original Three Stooges after all.

All of the trademark slapstick tropes are there. They only one they seem to have missed is the board-over-the-shoulder-and-abruptly-turning-around, but perhaps I blinked and missed it.

Of course my 10-year-old son laughed all the way through it.

So how is it different from the original Stooges?

Well as you might expect in this day and age, it’s bawdier and a little crude in spots.

Sofia Vergara displays a generous amount of cleavage, and uses it for comic effect. The original Stooges did the lobster-attaching-itself-to-the-face thing, but wouldn’t have stuffed it down someone’s pants.

Moe gets invited to join the cast of “Jersey Shore” to slap the cast around, and who wouldn’t like to see that?

And did I mention the fart joke?

All of that probably won’t raise many eyebrows, but there’s the Catholic thing.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue commented, “The Stooges are depicted seeking to raise money for their orphanage; it is run by habit-wearing, stereotypical nuns. One of the sisters is played by swimsuit model Kate Upton; she is shown wearing a “nun bikini” with a large rosary around her neck. Another nun, Sister Mary-Mengele, named after the Nazi war criminal, is played by Seinfeld creator Larry David.”

I’m not Catholic, but it irritates me to see Hollywood congratulating itself for its courage in fighting a battle that was won a long time ago. The Legion of Decency has been moribund for a long time folks, get over it.

And there’s a scene where Lydia is reading the conservative magazine “The Weekly Standard” in bed. Subtle – NOT.

There’s a nod to social responsibility at the end where the makers explain how the stunts are done and caution kids about the eye poke and hitting people on the head with hammers.

Oh come on! Was there ever a verifiable case where anybody was actually harmed imitating the Stooges? Give the kids’ intelligence a little credit guys.

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