Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

October 30, 2012


Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:35 am

Note: This is an op-ed from my syndicated column. New revelations are coming to light so rapidly, it may be outdated by this evening.

The Kissinger Lesson, “That which will be revealed eventually, must be revealed immediately.”

This past week, two weeks before the election, may be remembered as the week it ceased to matter whether a sitting president was re-elected or not.

That was the week the hastily thrown together official story of the attack on the American consulate and CIA annex at Benghazi on the historically significant date of Sept. 11, totally fell apart.

Here’s what we know to a reasonable degree of certainty. On Sept. 11, men armed with automatic rifles and RPGs, supported by mortars, began to take positions around the American consulate. They apparently recruited locals off the street and directed them to “demonstrate,” possibly using an obscure YouTube video allegedly insulting Islam to inflame them.

The video was not the motive of the attack. As of several days after the attack the video still had hits in the low hundreds.

During the attack on the consulate, Ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, Foreign Service Information Management Officer, were killed.

Consulate personnel were rescued and Smith’s body recovered by security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALS, who allegedly disobeyed instructions not to leave the CIA annex. They were both killed by mortar fire when the annex came under attack.

Stevens’ body somehow wound up at a local hospital, after being dragged through the streets, allegedly desecrated, and photographed by members of the mob.

The administration’s public statements have been confused, contradictory, and sometimes outright bizarre.

Though Obama claimed in debate that he did in fact call the attack a “terrorist incident” (backstopped by moderator Candy Crowley) the video shows he made a vague statement that about not being intimidated by “acts of terrorism” not clearly connected to the attack. Five days later UN Ambassador Susan Rice was still trying to connect the act to the anti-Mohammed video.

Then on Friday, Fox News reported that it “learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command…”

FOX said it’s sources claimed CIA operators were told twice to “stand down.”

The attack was observed and videoed by a Predator drone in real time, and possibly by an AC-130 gunship as well, if reports the former SEALs were lighting up the mortar that killed them with a GLD (Ground Laser Designator) are accurate. At all times help was never more than two hours away, likely much sooner.

The administration, though Vice-President Biden, attempted to throw the intelligence community under the bus, claiming they acted (or failed to) according to the information they had at the time.

Intelligence refused to go gently into that good night, and is very possibly the source of subsequent leaks.

A CIA spokesman said, ”No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. ”

And does anyone believe that CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus would give a “stand down” order with the lives of men holding an untenable position at stake?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell on her sword the American way, “OK, it’s my fault, now can we stop talking about it?” (As opposed to the Japanese way of accepting responsibility, which involves resigning in disgrace and possibly hara-kiri.)

Obama was caught off-guard in friendly territory by KUSA-TV reporter Kyle Clark, a Denver affiliate of NBC. He refused to answer a direct question about personally denying the requests for help, and responded with boilerplate about “bringing those responsible to justice.”

OK, so what everybody is wondering is, is this going to affect the election? Is this the October surprise that destroys Obama’s chance of a second term?

Doesn’t matter. If Obama is re-elected, like Nixon was after Watergate, Benghazi-gate is not going away. He will preside over a crippled administration propped up by a totally discredited media.

October 26, 2012

Sports scandals

Filed under: News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:41 am

Note: cross-posted from my blog at The Marshall Independent, Oct. 11.

The news is full of two major sports scandals: on October 9, 2012, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and maximum of 60 years in prison after being convicted of 45 counts relating to child sex abuse.

There’s a lot of other people going down with him too. A lot of university officials have resigned, including Penn State President Graham Spanier, and a fair number of them are sweating bullets waiting to see what they might be charged with.

It seems to a lot of the Penn State crowd, winning football games was more important than the welfare of children.

And in the world of cycling, recent revelations by the US Anti-Doping Agency revealed that many times winner of the Tour de France, de Suisse, de Luxembourg, etc, had been doping for years. The inspiring cancer survivor comeback kid stands revealed as a cheat and a bully.

And, you have to speculate whether Armstrong’s testicular cancer, for which he underwent chemo, brain surgery, and had one testicle removed, was caused by steroid use.

My God! Who wants to win a durn game that much? Quite a few people it seems. I was at Oklahoma University during the last years of head football coach Barry Switzer’s tenure there. Eventually even the regents of that football mad school suggested Barry move on after a number of scandals. The tip of the iceberg was revealed the year in which one player shot a team mate, another got busted for cocaine possession, and four were convicted of a gang rape in the athletic dorm.

What was really shocking was the number of people ready to blame the victim. As shocking as the number of people at Penn State who appear not to have even thought of the victims.

We used to say, “Oklahoma University’s football team are honor students. ‘Yes, Your Honor. No, Your Honor.'”

So why would a university ignore blatant signs that one of their assistant coaches was a moral monster? And why would an athlete risk death and be half-castrated to win a few more bicycle races?

I can only think of two reasons, one of which I understand, the other I don’t.

There is of course, money. High salaries, prizes, endorsements, book deals, etc.

As my dad used to say, “Football is a fun game. But when you’re making a quarter million dollars a year at it – it’s not a game.”

The other has to do with what the Wide World of Sports used to call, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”

It’s not that I don’t understand that it feels great to win, and rotten to lose. But to ignore the abuse of children by someone they should be able to trust? To risk a horrible death?

Come on! There are more important things than winning a game.

Perhaps I don’t understand because I’m a teacher and lifelong student of martial arts. Moreover, in the arts I teach we don’t do tournaments. We do boxing, wrestling, combat games, competitive exercises etc. But we don’t train to win a specialized sport, we train for the eventuality we hope will never come, to defend our lives and the lives of others.

We don’t do formal tournaments, as fun as those are, because the training to win combat sports is too specialized. Tournament sports have rules to insure the safety of the participants, which necessarily degrade combat effectiveness.

It puts things in a different perspective when you train not to go home with a trophy, but to go home with your life.

Armstrong almost didn’t, and Sandusky is going to spend the rest of his life in prison, isolated from a general population in which nearly every single individual would kill him without a second’s thought.

I’d like to ask Armstrong, and the people who knew or suspected the harm Sandusky was convicted of doing to children, “Was it worth it?”

Review: Fist of the Reich.

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:39 am

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

A nice thing about having a movie rental store in town is finding foreign movies you’d rarely find on TV or at the movies.

Looking for something to review while homebound with the grunge, I came across a DVD of German director Uwe Boll’s, “Max Schmeling: Fist of the Reich” (2010.)

Boll is famous for making films of surpassing awfulness, many based on video games. He’s remained in business despite a lot of bad box office due to quirks in the German tax code that effectively subsidized unprofitable movies.

In 2006 Boll endeared himself to every artist and writer who’s ever been panned by critics by challenging five critics to a boxing match. The documentary made of the matches was called “Raging Boll.”

But Boll’s movies aren’t all bad, and even the turkeys can be entertaining enough for a beer-fueled evening at home, such as the “Bloodrayne” series.

Critic Chris Alexander said (after fighting him) that Boll’s movies were “bloated, expensive and incoherent attempts at aping American genre pictures, sporting some of the most boneheaded casting choices in filmdom”. He also said Boll was an, “insane, two-fisted rogue, and a shockingly honest one at that, someone who absolutely adores film, knows its history and truly lives for what he does.”

Maybe it’s because of his bad boy image that Boll could make a movie about Max Schmeling, the German boxer who twice fought Joe Louis “the brown bomber” in 1936 and 1938, winning the first match and losing the rematch.

Making movies about the Third Reich was a dicey proposition in Germany for a long time after the war, when it was still dangerous to reveal opposition to the Nazis. Later, telling the story of heroic resistance to the Nazis opened the artist to charges of trying to whitewash German guilt.

“Fist of the Reich” is a boxing movie and something more. Boll came under some criticism by casting retired boxers Henry Maske as Schmeling, and Yoan Pablo Hernandez as Joe Louis. Maybe Boll thought it would be easier to turn boxers into actors than vice versa. It works, the match scenes are gripping.

Most of the story is told as a flashback. Schmeling, a wounded paratrooper on Crete, is ordered to escort a British prisoner to a camp a few days walk away. The prisoner is a boxing fan and in spite of orders not to talk to him, Schmeling relates the story of his career, his courtship and marriage to Czech actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest,) and his conflict with the Nazis which resulted in his being drafted and sent on dangerous missions to make a proper German hero of him posthumously.

Schmeling loathed the Nazis, and they barely tolerated him. Schmeling’s manager and friend Joe Jacobs (Vladimir Weigl) was an American Jew. During the Krystalnacht pogrom, Schmelling rescued the two sons of his Jewish friend David Lewin (Stefan Gebelhoff,) and helped them escape the country. (Henry and Werner Lewin became successful businessmen in America and told the story only after Schmeling’s death.)

After telling him the story, Schmeling lets the British officer go, who returns the favor after the war when Schmeling is briefly imprisoned as a Nazi celebrity.

Having lost everthing, Schmeling briefly entered the ring again at age 40, with predictable results. He nevertheless ended his career with a dignified surrender, rather than humiliating defeat.

The rest of Schmelings long and active life is told in the ending credits. He became a wealthy businessman and supported many charities. He remained a life-long friend of Joe Louis and helped support him when he was destitute.

So is Boll “aping American genre pictures”? Well a lot of the scenes certainly owe something to the “Rocky” franchise.

So who cares? “Fist of the Reich” stands on its own and Maske does a pretty good job living up to his responsibility in telling this story.

It’s a heavy responsibility, because “Fist” is a movie about character, courage, and choices. Schmeling and Anny stayed in Germany because if they’d fled the Nazis would have taken it out on their friends. By doing so Schmeling and Anny were able to save at least four people’s lives.

Asked why he never told that story, Schmelling just said, “It was my duty as a man.”

On the other side, a journalist asked his opponent and friend Louis how he could wear the uniform of a country that treated him as a second-class citizen.

And how I wish Boll had included Louis’ answer, “America ain’t got no problems Hitler can solve.”

“Fist of the Reich” tells the story of men living in a time when it was difficult to be a man. For this Boll can be forgiven a lot of bad movies.

October 24, 2012

Review: Taken 2

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:18 am

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

Liam Neeson is Hollywood’s gift to all us single fathers who aren’t getting any younger. In “Taken 2” he plays an action hero at age 60, reprising the role he created in “Taken” (2008.)

In “Taken” Neeson played Bryan Mills, a former CIA agent now freelancing in security work. His estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by white slavers in Paris while on the phone to Mills, who calmly tells her she’s going to be taken, and that Daddy’s coming to find her.

Then he tells the Albanian kidnappers if they don’t let his daughter go, he’ll find them and kill them. They don’t and he does.

“Taken 2” opens up with Murad Hoxha (Rade Serbedzija,) the father of the chief kidnapper, vowing vengeance on Mills and his family. Specifically he wants to take Kim, her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen,) and Mills so he can kill the women in front of Mills before signing him off.

Lenore is remarried but having relationship problems. Kim wants to play “Parent Trap” with Mom and Dad on a trip to Istambul, where Mills has just finished a job. This of course fits in perfectly with Hoxa’s plan.

The pace starts from sitcom with an overprotective father, divorced parents who still have feelings for each other, and a daughter who’s dealing with passing her driving test and a new boyfriend. From there it jumps into non-stop action in an exotic locale before the denoument and return to domestic drama.

This sounds formulaic, and reviewers haven’t always been kind, but it’s got a lot to recommend it.

Liam Neeson exudes a kind of masculine strength we haven’t seen much of on the screen since the passing of a generation of male leads like Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, etc. Each of them expressed their masculinity in very different ways, but they had it without doubt.

Many of the old time stars were war veterans, or had led rough and tumble lives. Neeson grew up Catholic in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, had a short career as an amateur boxer, and once snuck into Ian Paisley’s church to hear the Protestant firebrand preach.

The rational for the action is pausible. This isn’t a quest for a doomsday weapon, it’s about human trafficing. The kind that goes on today, even in Paris.

The villian is plausible. Hoxha is not out for world domination, he’s engaged in an Albanian “gyak grindje,” a blood feud to avenge the death of his son.

He tells Mills the men Mills killed had wives, families, sons.

Mills counters they ruined the lives of thousands of girls, and their families. That Hoxha’s son Marko was responsible.

To Hoxha, this is irrelevant. Marko was his son and that’s that. If Mills kills him, he has two other sons who will come after him.

“And I will kill them,” Mills replies.

OK, so it’s just an action movie, but this is a very important point. We like to believe if we understand what somebody’s grievance with us is, we can always reach some kind of accomodation.

There is not a shred of evidence to support this.

Yes, an enemy is not a villain in his own eyes and he has his own reasons. But they are not our reasons, and sometimes we cannot share a world in peace.

The action is standard Rambo-fare, but better done than most. Furthermore, it’s got a lot of clever stuff in it. When Mills and Lenore are taken and transported with bags over their heads, Mills does his spy thing.

“One, two, three, right turn, sound of metal hammering. One, two, three, four, music playing, left turn…”

Lenore and Kim are brave and capable of being cool in a crisis, but neither of them is Wonder Woman, demolishing men hand-to-hand.

The crowded environment of Istambul with its winding narrow alleys and close set roof tops makes close personal combat plausible.

And someone has done his homework. In one scene Mills uses a move to disarm his opponent that I’ve heard about, but never seen taught.

When his enemy pulls out a pistol, Mills counters with a hard palm-heel strike directly to the muzzle of the gun.

This move is said to cause an automatic to jam. You can see why it’s not recommended, but it’s really interesting to me that the director would include that piece of obscure combat lore in the movie.

If you like action movies, and can ignore some continuity problems (Lenore is hung upside down with a cut throat to bleed out slowly, but when the head bag comes off has no blood on her face or hair) then pay no attention to the critics.

Neeson is inspiring to us geezers as an aging professional in the most important fight of his life. Janssen is very appealing as a ‘woman of a certain age’ who has aged very well, and Grace comes off as adorably spunky under stress.

And one can’t help but notice that Hoxa’s two sons are still around…

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