Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

September 28, 2012

Review: For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:16 pm

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

“The Catholic Church in Mexico is a political movement, and must be eliminated in order to proceed with a Socialist government free of religious hypnotism which fools the people… within one year without the sacraments, the people will forget the faith…” Plutarco Elias Calles Calles, President of Mexico (1924-1928,) ‘Maximato’ (1928-1935) in a private telegram to the Mexican Ambassador to France.

You may have to rent “For Greater Glory,” as it plays only in indy-type venues and theaters with at least eight screens.

And you should, if you’re at all interested in the history of our neighbor to the south and our sometimes uneasy relationship.

No American ever remembers what no Mexican ever forgets, that the southwest quarter of the United States was once the northern half of Mexico. And few on either side of the border remember that from 1926 to 1929, the government of Mexico fought a ruthless war against the Roman Catholic church, called the Cristero War, for the battle cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) A war in which priests were shot or hanged in their own churches, peasants hanged from telegraph poles across the country, and children tortured and executed for refusing to renounce their faith.

The United States was involved in that one also. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Whitney Morrow (Bruce Greenwood) on orders of President Calvin Coolidge (Bruce McGill )to protect U.S. oil interests, supplied the Mexican government with arms, then helped broker a peace. The Knights of Columbus helped support the Cristeros (and fund this movie,) and the Ku Klux Klan offered to support the government of Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles.

“For Greater Glory” tells the story of the Cristiada through the career of General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia) a retired general, who was hired by the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty to turn the Cristeros into an army.

The irony was that Velarde, like Calles (Ruben Blades) was a Freemason and lifelong anti-clerical, if not outright atheist.

As portrayed in the film, Velarde believes in religious liberty and his devout wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) wants their two daughters to grow up as practicing Catholics.

Velarde at first signs up for the money, and because he’s bored manufacturing soap. But soon the spirit of the Cristeros, the brutality of the regime, and a boy’s courage makes him a believer.

The boy (Mauricio Kuri) became the Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio.

Along the way Velarde has to win the loyalty and respect of men like fighting Priest Father Jose Reyes Vega (Santiago Cabrera,) and Victoriano Ramirez (Oscar Isaac,) nicknamed ‘El Catorce’ after he killed 14 Federales sent to arrest him in single combat.

“For Greater Glory” has been surrounded by some controversy. The timing of its release couldn’t have been better scripted in Hollywood, arriving in theaters as the Obama administration and the Catholic church butted heads over the issue of whether the church will subordinate doctrine to government policy. Reviews have been mixed, reflecting reviewers’ opinions.

“For Greater Glory” obviously means something to Cuban-born Andy Garcia. Thousands of Cubans murdered by Che Guevara’s firing squads went to their deaths shouting, “Viva Christo Rey! Viva Cuba Libre!”

(By comparison all you really need to know about Che is, when surrounded he dropped a loaded machine gun and shouted, “I am Che Guevara and I am worth more alive than dead.” His captors disagreed.)

Garcia’s line, “There can be no compromise with freedom, it is by its nature absolute,” echoes Garcia’s public statement, “Freedom is not negotiable.”
Well, you don’t have to step into that controversy to enjoy the movie, it will outlast the circumstances surrounding its release.

But it is Dean Wright’s first effort as director, and it shows. It’s got continuity problems. Velarde’s conversion seems abrupt and unexplained. He goes from atheist to telling the divided Cristero leaders, “This is a war for God” in the next scene.

So was he being cynical at the beginning, or was there a Road to Damascus event we missed?
Eva Longoria’s role is way under-developed, as is Peter O’Toole’s as the martyred Father Christopher.

There’s a scene filmed hand-held camera style to emphasize the chaotic violence of the event that only makes it look like a bad home movie.

Still on balance it’s entertaining, inspiring, and often thoughtful with a realistic appreciation of the ambiguous role of the Vatican and the United States in the conflict. And you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate a brave people stubbornly insisting on their right to believe and worship as they please.

Note: On May 21, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized 25 saints and martyrs of the Cristero War, most of them priests but pointedly excluding priests who took up arms. In the closing credits there is actual film footage of the execution of Blessed Miguel Pro by firing squad. As the order to fire was given, he spread his arms in the form of a cross.

September 26, 2012

Review: 2016: Obama’s America

Filed under: Movies,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:27 am

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

“2016: Obama’s America” is an electioneering movie modeled on Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and made for the same purpose, to influence the course of an upcoming presidential election.

The film is based on two books by D’Souza: “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” and “Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream.”

This movie will probably not be seen by Obama supporters in any great numbers, and is unlikely to persuade anybody who’s mind is made up. Co-writer and director Dinesh D’Souza most likely made it to sway independent voters, and rally the conservative troops.

The tagline of “2016: Obama’s America,” “Love him or hate him, you don’t know him,” is eminently true. Surprisingly little is known about the life of the current occupant of the White House, arguably less than is known about the life of George Washington in total.

However, the end line of the documentary, “Love him or hate him, now you know him,” is far less defensible.
“2016” presents a theory of motive. Obama’s motives for what he has done in office. According to D’Souza, other right-wing theories of Obama’s motives: he’s a socialist, he’s a secret Muslim, etc, are unsatisfactory explanations.

D’Souza presents his thesis that Obama is motivated by the Third World anti-colonialist vision inherited from his Kenyan father, Barack Obama Senior.

The problem with attribution of motive is, you can claim you know someone else’s motive all you like, and simply dismiss all counter-claims. Motive is impossible to know for sure, because it resides in people’s heads, is most often mixed and ambiguous, and is what people are most likely to lie about, even to themselves.

The only way to get a reasonably confident take on someone’s motives is to examine how well it explains their actions, and by ruthlessly honest introspection. If you can see the same motives in yourself under similar circumstances, you might be on the right track.

D’Souza takes this tack and presents his own background as being very similar to Obama’s. Both are mixed-race scions of families from countries colonized by Britain. Obama’s father was from Kenya, D’Souza’s family is from India, or former Portuguese Goa to be exact. Both were steeped in the anti-colonialist traditions of their respective families that explain essentially all of the Third World’s misery as the result of ruthless exploitation by the Western colonial powers.

According to D’Souza, the whole thrust of Obama’s presidency has been to weaken the West in general and the United States in particular, and transfer huge amounts of its wealth to the Third World.

D’Souza introduces Obama’s intellectual mentors: African-American poet and Communist Party member Frank Marshall Davis, Palestinian anti-colonialist Professor Edward Said, former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayres, etc.

It’s an intriguing hypothesis, one that might even strengthen Obama’s waning appeal among hard leftist who share their anti-colonialist views. But to be accepted as viable, a theory must not only explain but rule out other explanations.

To his credit, D’Souza has interviewed a number of people the media has never bothered to: friends from Hawaii, Obama’s mother’s PhD advisor, and a real coup, Obama’s half-brother George, who surprisingly argues the British should have stayed longer in Kenya.

D’Souza interviewed historian Shelby Steele, who also has a mixed-race background and presents some very interesting speculation about Obama’s appeal to white voters as a non-threatening African-American they can feel good about supporting.

And he presents the testimony of Obama himself, from the audiobook of his autobiography, “Dreams from My Father.”

But he interviewed precisely one psychologist on the influence of absent fathers, and none with alternative opinions. He glosses over another possible explanation, that any possible anti-colonialist views came directly from his mother. Which actually seems more likely from the evidence presented in the film.

And he ignores data that contradict his thesis entirely.

If Obama’s natural sympathies lie with Third World Muslims against the United States, then why has he been killing them with Predator drone attacks at a rate four-five times greater than George Bush ever did? Why has he not followed up on his promise to close Guantanamo? Why has he continued to wage war in Afghanistan?

If Obama sees himself as a transformative president, impatient or outright hostile to constitutional constraints on his power, it is unnecessary to invoke a non-American mindset. Of our two other most transformative presidents, Franklin Roosevelt was patrician Dutch-American, and Woodrow Wilson was a southerner (also racist and ardent segregationist.) Both were as American as apple pie. And bottom line, there are plenty of Americans with no overseas background who share the same views.

Love him or hate him, I’d still say go see it. You’ll learn a lot of interesting things you didn’t know. But as for D’Souza’s theory, I’d say interesting but unproven.

September 17, 2012

Another 9/11

Filed under: Syndicated columns,Terrorism,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:38 am

“Say ye unto the Khwarezmians that I am the soveign of the sunrise, and [the emperor is] the sovereign of the sunset. Let there be between us a firm treaty of friendship, amity, and peace, and let traders and caravans on both sides come and go.”
– Ghengis Khan, to an ambassador from the Khwarezmian empire, before the Khwarezmian (Persian) Emperor had the Mongol ambassadors murdered, provoking a war that led to his defeat and death.

After the murder of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya, I received an email that drew my attention to a letter to the editor posted in the U.K. Daily Telegraph.

“Would Americans reading this at last grasp that free speech does not extend beyond the jurisdiction of the Constitution which grants the Right. Those who imagine otherwise do the USA a grave disservice if not criminal damage to American interests.

We in UK enjoy similar freedom but Americans must not take this for granted elsewhere. Like it or not politics and religion are sides of the same coin in the Muslim world. Does the US invite another 9/11 ?”

The cluelessness of this is staggering. This WAS another 9/11. Not the same in scope and casualties, but carrying the same message.

Unfortunately this cluelessness is matched by our Diplomatic Service. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice earnestly announces that the riots in Libya are apparently spontaneous a and not part of any coherent plan, even as more embassies in Muslim countries come under siege and AL Queda urges more attacks on U.S. diplomats.

“What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video,” Rice said.

Oh puh-lease! These events are deliberate, planned, and come with a message, “We are at war with you and will not allow you to forget it.”

The ostensible excuse was an amateurish 14 minute trailer for a movie depicting the prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light, that now appears never to have been made. The trailer is probably all there is of the film. It seems to be the production of an Egyptian Coptic Christian who is on probation/parole for some kind of fraud. It is not even certain the trailer was originally intended to be about Mohammed at all, since it seems to be clumsily overdubbed.

Nevertheless, it is being touted as an intolerable insult to Islam, for which apologies, abasement, and restitution is required. Apologies which the administration seems only to willing to provide.

Those mobs claim they are offended at all of America, for the work of one man, or at most a handful of men, and want to hold all of us accountable for it.

There is something Americans fail to understand about Arab Islamic culture and their point of view. For them, rights and obligations are not reciprocal. They don’t see anything contradictory about insulting our faith, our culture, our way of life, while demanding the most meticulous respect for theirs.

It’s not the movie, it’s us! Get it? They don’t like us and will seize on any excuse to be offended.

From ancient times, both civilized people and barbarians have agreed upon one crucial principle, that the person of an ambassador is sacred. Ambassadors may come and go between warring sides bearing messages and return unharmed.

Christopher Stevens was not the victim of a random riot. He was sought out in his secret safe house and murdered. His body was dishonored and dragged through the streets as the rioters took pictures of him with their cell phone cameras, from inches away from his corpse.

This is also a message, “We are not interested in what you have to say. We will not listen. We will humiliate you as we choose, and you are impotent to do anything about it.”

Bio: Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: “Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY Used,” published in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Novosibirsk, Russia, and “English Linguistic Humor: Puns, Play on Words, Spoonerisms, and Shaggy Dog Stories.” In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights. He is currently living in his native Midwest, which he considers “the most interesting foreign country I have ever lived in.”

Note: Publications receiving this may use at most 3-4 columns free of charge to test reader reaction. Contact author for single-issue and subscription rates. It’s not very expensive.

September 12, 2012

Deadly decisions

Filed under: Martial arts,Personal,Science — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:44 am

Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog at The Marshall Independent, which references an article “Deadly force decisions.”

Researching and writing the article “Deadly force decisions” for Monday’s paper was the most intense experience I’ve had at the Independent to date – and that includes donning harness and climbing a 70 foot ladder to the top of the MERIT Center wind tower simulator.

Though the article ran more than 900 words, I could easily have made it twice as long. Because what I didn’t include was, I got to try a few simulations myself.

Trainer Matt Loeslie let me try the LASERSHOT simulator out with a pistol during a break between officer trainings.

Let me explain, though I haven’t had much to do with firearms for some years, I’m passing familiar with them. I am not a stranger to interpersonal violence in odd parts of the world, and I have seen violent death.

Years ago I was within earshot of a deadly force encounter in Oklahoma and clearly remember the sequence of shots. And I remember many years ago a certain idiot youth and friend darn near did get shot doing something stupid that scared an officer near a crime scene under low-light conditions.

The police of course, are pros and have extensive training in these kinds of scenarios. The simulator is designed to bring an element of realism that gun ranges can’t have. I asked if the simulator induces stress. Some officers said it can sometimes. One joked that media presence was a great stress provider.

Then my turn came. I left shaken. I’m still a little shaken.

One scenario: a man in an apartment hallway holding a knife to a woman’s throat screaming he was going to kill her. There were bystanders in the narrow space.

After trying out the commands to drop the knife, just like I’d seen the officers do, I took the shot at the suspects head. Replay showed I got him. Very possibly grazed the victim but certainly saved her life.

Loeslie complimented my shooting, and asked gently if I could have taken the shot earlier.

Could have, and should have. The fact is I was caught up in it and did not want anyone to die.

Lesson learned: under American law an officer’s duty is to protect life, including the life of a suspect. But sometimes the choice is forced upon them of who is going to die.

The last scenario I tried was a prolonged horror. Answering a call to a high school where a “hit list” was found in a student’s locker. A pretty young girl is summoned out of class and asked to explain.

Everything went south from there, and I probably did pretty much everything wrong.

She goes to her locker ignoring all commands to stay where she was. She opened her locker, ignoring commands to show her hands, pulls out a cell phone. I shot.

The scenario should have ended there, but I think Loeslie had stepped out of the room and the scenario kept playing. (Fact is, I don’t know. It was that absorbing.)

Girl calls her mother and has a very disturbed conversation.

Then she puts the cell phone back, ignoring continued commands to be still, and this time pulls out a gun.

Ignoring commands to put it down she then put it to her head and finally pulled the trigger.

Startled by the sound of the shot, I shot her again as she fell. It couldn’t have made her any deader, but I was horrified.

Later with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it occurred to me I should have had a Taser rather than a pistol. I didn’t have the Taser simulator but I could have said “Taser!” to indicate a transition from pistol to Taser. I should NEVER have let the girl open the locker, perhaps should have restrained her physically or even Tasered her.

Yes, I know how that would have looked in the press if a gun hadn’t been found in the locker.

I draw two conclusions from this experience.

One is that I am VERY glad the technology for this kind of training exists. This is not the kind of decision-making skill one wants officers to learn “on the job.”

The other is, I think every journalist who covers the police beat should try out this training.

And it wouldn’t hurt the general population to see some of these scenarios either. Especially those involving traffic stops, low-light conditions, etc.

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