Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 27, 2013

Is winning really everything?

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:43 am

Two things happened recently that say a lot about media.

One of course was one of the biggest media events of the new year. Lance Armstrong went on Oprah, twice, and bit his lip, quivered his chin and confessed how hard it was to tell his 13-year-old son that those things everybody is saying about Daddy are true.

Armstrong is former professional bicycle racer who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. He was disqualified and all honors stripped from him in 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs.

”I said, `Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’” Armstrong said.

Armstrong doubled down on how awful he was after criticism that he wasn’t contrite enough in the first interview.

Coincidentally I came across an Internet meme recently, one of those aphorisms that make you stop and think. “You never make the same mistake twice. The first time it’s a mistake, the second time it’s a choice.”

Armstrong didn’t make a mistake, he engaged in a highly organized criminal enterprise over a period of years. He doped himself, coerced his team mates into doping, bribed, threatened and slandered people who attempted to expose him, and had the chutzpah to have a book written about his noble self and his struggle with cancer – which was very possibly self-inflicted by his doping.

At least he didn’t try to claim credit for writing the book, it’s one of those “with” or “as told to” books, though perhaps by now the author wishes he would.

I, like a great many other people whose own sins weigh heavily upon us, would very much like to believe in redemption. In this case though it’s going to take a little more than quivering his chin on Oprah.

On this bright side, I came across this gem of a story quite by accident.

On Dec. 2, cross-country runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya was in a race in Burlada, Navarre, in Spain. (Anaya is from the Basque minority in Spain.)

Anaya was trailing Kenyan runner, Olympic bronze medalist Abel Mutai, when Mutai stopped ten meters before the finish line, evidently under the impression he’d crossed it already.

Anaya could of course have raced past Mutai for a win, and it most likely would have been confirmed. Hey, you snooze you lose. Fans were shouting at Mutai and telling him to keep going, but he doesn’t speak Spanish.

Instead Anaya dropped back and guided Mutai to the finish line first.

“I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him,” Anaya said.

When I came across this news item the first thing I thought was, “I have to show this to my son.”

I’ve thought of a few other things since then.

Remember that 1981 film “Chariots of Fire”? Scottish runner Eric Liddell, played by Ian Charleson, refuses to run a race in the 1924 Olympics because it will be run on the Sabbath and he takes his religion very seriously. He stands firm, in spite of intense pressure from the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and the British Olympic Committee.

When all is resolved and his racing is re-scheduled in a way he can live with, Liddell lines up on the starting line. An American runner, Jackson Scholz, comes up to him and hands him a note, “He who honors Me, him will I honor. 1 Samuel 2:30.”

Inspired, Liddell went on to run the legs off all of them.

Another story. Back in 2001 I covered the opening of the European Little League center in Kutno, Poland. I got to meet the late Stan “The Man” Musial and top officials of Little League baseball. I was delighted to find that these guys really, really, believe in all that corny stuff about sportsmanship and character building being more important than winning a damn game.

One American national official (my apologies for not remembering his name) told me how proud he was of his son’s behavior, and what a gentleman he was in how he behaved towards an opposing team member he’d accidentally hit with a ball.

What am I getting at?

We like these stories! Didn’t you?

Yes it’s possible to find them. I found Anaya’s story, after I saw it on Facebook and googled his name.

But he didn’t get on Oprah. Who knows, maybe he wouldn’t have gone? He seems to think of what he did as just doing the right thing, without any fuss.

But then again, nobody asked him.

January 25, 2013

Hard thinking about soft targets

Filed under: News commentary,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:36 am

Note: This is cross-posted on my blog at The Marshall Independent.

Today (Friday) my interview with Matthew Loeslie law enforcement coordinator at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, appeared in the Independent under the title, “Active shooter: What to do when the unthinkable happens.”

The article was the result of an interesting and wide-ranging discussion that covered much more material than could be included in the article, but may pop up later.

One of the things discussed was soft targets and how to harden them. Though school shootings are rare, they are nonetheless a magnet for the homicidal/suicidal personality precisely because they offer an unprotected target-rich environment.

I wrote about this back in ’06 after the Amish tragedy.

Other possibilities include theaters and shopping centers, both of which have featured in recent active shooter incidents. The shopping center shooter committed suicide immediately upon being confronted by an armed civilian who had a permit but technically shouldn’t have been carrying inside the mall.

(When I lived in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1998 I had to pass through a magnetometer every day I went to work in an indoor shopping mall or the British Council Library. At night I used to go to sleep to the music of partying locals firing guns into the air, and occasionally throwing grenades into the Beautiful Blue Danube.)

The concept of schools as soft target magnets horrifies some people. I’ve been the subject of almost hysterical vilification for merely pointing this out.

Too bad. Unpleasant facts do not cease to be facts because you don’t like to think about them.

And to make you even more uncomfortable, if you’ve seen “Zero Dark 30” you know that one of the things mentioned in passing is that Al Queda has discussed doing this kind of thing in a much more organized fashion.

Minnesota West and a number of other places around the country offer good information on survival. We’re beginning a dialog on a subject many don’t want to think about – arming a few teachers, perhaps by offering pay incentives for teachers who agree to take – let’s call it what it is – combat pistol training and maintain their skills.

(I’m not suggesting the teachers carry. A firearm can be kept in a lockbox with a digital combination, perhaps in a teachers desk. Students need not know which teachers have them. And if you have a problem with this, may I ask why you trust your children to them everyday?)

But of course, hardening the target doesn’t solve the problem of homicidal insanity. Harden one target and those bent on murder/suicide will go somewhere else.

How to recognize and deal with the problem of homicidal insanity, or just plain evil, without totally junking our constitutional protections against prior restraint is another subject.

But for now, hardening schools and making spree killers look elsewhere for targets is just fine with me while I’ve got kids in those schools.

Review: ‘Zero Dark 30’

Filed under: Movies,Terrorism,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:19 am

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

Yes it’s pretty good. But if you can’t handle moral ambiguity and the often nasty way the world really works, you’ve got no business seeing it.

“Zero Dark 30” is about the hunt for Osama bin Ladin culminating in his execution by Seal Team Six.

I’d better say something here. I have some strong feelings about this, because I’d heard of Osama bin Ladin before 99.999 percent of my fellow Americans had.

My students in Saudi Arabia used to ask me if I’d heard of him when I worked in the Kingdom before 9/11. I had but I told them I hadn’t. They assured me I would someday.

Did killing Osama seriously hamper Al Queda?

No. Don’t care. It’s personal.

It was personal for “Maya” (Jessica Chastain) the CIA operative recruited just out of high school whose only significant work for The Company was tracking bin Ladin. “Zero Dark 30” is Maya’s story.

It begins on 9/11, but director Kathryn Bieglow (a pretty driven woman herself by all accounts) doesn’t show you the smoking towers, or the agonizing scenes of the victims who held hands as they jumped to their deaths.

You see a blank screen, and hear a woman trapped on a burning floor talk to a 9-11 operator.

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” you hear as the connection is lost.

Maya is introduced as a young analyst witnessing the brutal interrogation of an Al-Queda member by CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke).

She elects to come in without a mask. Dan asks if she wants one.

“You don’t wear one. Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks.

“He’s never getting out,” Dan says.

Maya is visibly upset. She gets over it. She witnesses beating, humiliation, and water boarding, then supervises a beating herself.

When her best friend, a mother of three (Jennifer Ehle), and six colleagues are killed in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack she goes from driven – to obsessed.

The film has upset some people.

Some Republicans claimed its release was intended to highlight President Obama’s role in authorizing an operation already in the pipeline before his administration, and help insure his re-election.

Others call it pro-torture.

But if anything the person who gets the credit for deciding to trust Maya’s certainty in spite of everybody else’s doubts, is CIA Director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini).

Obama’s sole appearance on-screen is assuring Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” that “America does not torture.”

A lie of course, but to be fair what else could he have said without revealing too much to our enemies?

Not exactly pro-torture, the film recognizes it happens. It’s shown having an effect on Dan. He burns out and goes home, after warning Maya that when it becomes a public issue again the last person holding the bag is going down.

The fact is, our enemies torture and brutally murder captives. Civilized people have agreed to follow certain rules, even when conducting a business as uncivilized as war. Our enemies never signed those accords. Rules are for people who play by rules.

Tell anyone that someone they love more than life is in the hands of Al-Queda and watch them join the “waterboarding is for sissies” club.

If you think this is intolerable, then you need to tell your immediate family, “I’m so sorry, I love you all, but I’d rather you died horrible deaths than cause a loathesome human being a moment’s discomfort.”

It’s also been alleged Bigelow obtained improper access to classified information.

Does it give away useful intelligence?

I don’t know. If Maya is ever outed, I wouldn’t want to be her insurance underwriter.

A CIA spokesperson said the movie is, “an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, their vital mission and the commitment to public service that defines them.”

If that’s true, it’s rather alarming. But there have been reports Maya has fired off at least one email to all the CIA people who were commended for the operation, telling them in no uncertain terms they didn’t deserve it because all they ever did was obstruct her. And that’s pretty much what the movie shows,
Maya dragging the Agency kicking and screaming into seeing it her way.

In the end, Maya sees off Seal Team Six and is waiting to identify Osama’s body on their return.

There’s a lot of ambiguity here too. They got Osama, his top henchmen, and a lot of information on hard drives, tapes, and documents.

They also killed the father of a roomful of kids, and his wife when she jumped on his body. They did by all accounts attempt to confine the killing to adult males in the compound.

But those kids are going to grow up some day. You might want to see this movie before they do.

January 23, 2013

Review: ‘Lincoln’

Filed under: Movies,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:37 pm

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

Amendment XIII
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, declared adopted on December 6, 1865, eight months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

“Lincoln” has been covering Steven Speilberg with yet more glory, and adding to the already bright luster of the careers of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.

Spielberg is kind of hit and miss. He’s acknowledged to be a great director, but…

Sometimes he reaches out and skillfully plucks your heart strings, leaving you moved to tears as you leave the theater, and feeling like you’ve been seduced by a smooth-talking sharpie the next day.

Worse, he has sometimes taken liberties with history in service to his ideology.

Spielberg marred what should have been the crown of his career, “Schindler’s List,” with a lie. Oscar Schindler didn’t take the Jews on his list to Czechoslovakia and persuade the Nazis not to murder them by sheer force of character – he armed them.

Spielberg lied because he hates guns.

But I think this one hits the mark and will go down among the great movies of this generation.

“Lincoln” covers the last four months of the life of the 16th president, when he strove mightily to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution through the House of Representatives.

It begins with a scene of appalling carnage. A fierce hand-to-hand struggle in rain and mud between Confederates in grey and black soldiers in Yankee blue fades into a scene where two black soldiers are recounting the struggle to Lincoln himself on a visit to the troops.

This is how Speilberg solves one problem. If you make a film about Lincoln, you have to, have to, include “The Gettysburg Address,” and at least part of “The Second Inaugural Address,” and neither of them were given within the time frame of the movie. Spielberg has the soldiers recite “The Gettysburg Address” back to him from memory.

Spielberg very adroitly presents the legal complexities constraining Lincoln’s actions and his fears that once the war was over and his war powers terminated, the former slaves freed by The Emancipation Proclamation would be returned to slavery.

At the time Roger Taney was still Chief Justice of the Supreme court, the man who wrote in the Dred Scott Decision that black people were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Lincoln had the support of the Republican Party, founded specifically as an anti-slavery party but containing both Radical Republicans demanding immediate and unconditional freedom and equality for slaves, and conservatives led by party founder Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook, who has himself played Lincoln) who wanted to end the war with a negotiated peace first.

Many sincerely detested slavery but feared sudden emancipation, as they had every right to with the horrible example of Haiti off our southern coast.

Lincoln had to persuade the former, led by Stevens, to moderate their public stand to “equality before the law only,” and the latter to move immediately and forego the chance of a negotiated peace. And Lincoln needed the support of a crucial number of southern sympathizing Democrats.

Otto Von Bismarck said, “Those who love sausage and revere the law, should never watch either one being made.”

This movie is about a sublime law being made, that all men are free, in ways that fascinate and repel.

The movie alternates between post-battle scenes of indescribably horror, and scenes of repulsive political corruption, yet still manages to be inspiring.
Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies his father and joins the army after seeing soldiers dumping wheelbarrows full of amputated limbs in a pit outside an army hospital.

Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) hire a shady reprobate (James Spader as William N. Bilbo) to bribe, cajole, and get crucial votes from lame-duck Democratic congressmen any way they can.

Lincoln diverted a Confederate delegation from Washington and guarded by black soldiers so he can tell congress he “has no knowledge of a Confederate delegation in Washington.”

Lincoln was a rare leaders who could use corrupt means and not be corrupted by them. Who could lead the “Team of Rivals” as Doris Kearns Goodwin titled the book that begat the film, and make them work together for a common end. Who could deal with men who detested him, and in many cases win them completely over.

Lincoln buried two of his children, one while in office. He had a difficult and mentally unstable wife. During his term as commander-in-chief more Americans were killed than all our other wars combined.

In his last days in the White House, Lincoln confided to a visitor, “I shan’t last long after this is over.”

Day-Lewis captures perfectly the unbearable sorrow you see on the statue at the Lincoln Memorial. And I doubt there was a dry eye in the theater as the movie ended with the Second Inaugural Address.

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

January 16, 2013

Train your brain!

Filed under: On Thinking,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:43 am

Note: Cross-posted from my blog at The Marshall Independent.

Most of us try to get at least some physical exercise.

A great many studies have shown the health benefits of even moderate exercise. A 30 minute walk every day, or every other day, walking with a heel-to-toe roll strengthens the calf muscles enough to take a lot of wear and tear off your heart and flakes the rust out of your joints.

A little time spent at the Y during the winter months does a lot for quality of life, especially those of us who spend entirely too much time sitting down. Not trying to emulate the lifters, not going for weight, just moving.

But what about our brains?

Turns out there’s a whole science and a growing industry dedicated to brain exercise, and I’ve become an enthusiastic convert.

You buy a subscription and you get 5-10 minutes a day of games that help improve memory, speed, decision-making, calculations, pattern recognition, and helps get the brain started in the morning better than coffee.

For me personally it’s great for writer’s block, concentration, and articulation. If I’m stuck on a piece, a little break for training helps get the words flowing again. And it’s something productive to do in those frustrating times while waiting for someone to return a phone call!

The site lets you chart your progress in the areas you chose to work on, and compare your improvement to other users in your age group. There are said to be physical changes in the brain too. There’s neuron growth, just as physical exercise causes muscle growth.

It’s even supposed to make you a better driver!

There are several different companies, the one I use is called Lumosity.

January 14, 2013

“Thanks for ruining my life”

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:47 am

Note: Published op-ed.

I’ve just read a news item about a 16-year-old girl who violated a court order by Tweeting the names of two boys who sexually assaulted her at a party last summer. The boys’ lawyers filed motions that she be held in contempt of court and she could theoretically have faced jail time.

Theoretically, let’s get real. The judge’s gag order would almost certainly have been overturned, if it ever got that far. But she faced them down and the boys’ lawyers blinked.

The young lady has identified herself, but I won’t use her name here. If you wish to find out about the case, google the title of this column. The case is in Kentucky.

Firstly I have to say I admire the young lady’s courage and outspoken defiance, and I totally agree the two boys got off easy with a plea bargain. I personally favor a public flogging – and I do not mean that figuratively.

I have to say that firstly, because a lot of people are going to be very angry with what I have to say secondly.

According to the article, what happened was the girl passed out drunk at a party. Two boys, both students at a prestigious private school, neither with a criminal record, partially undressed her, took unforgivable liberties with her body while stopping short of the strict definition of rape, and took pictures with their cell phone cameras. The victim knew the boys but only slightly, according to the news accounts.

The girl woke up the next morning not knowing quite what had happened, and only found out about it months later when she heard rumors of the existence of the photos.

I always read of such cases with a sense of despair.

Despair, because this kind of trauma is so easy to avoid, because so much pernicious nonsense is written about it, and because talking sense about it will get you accused of “blaming the victim.”

So who am I to talk about it?

I am, like the mother of the victim, a single parent of a little girl who will all-too-soon be a beautiful young woman. I have close friends who are rape victims. I am a ranked instructor in two martial arts, with intermediate to advanced training in about a half-dozen others, and a certified instructor of military combatives. And I just avoided a rape attempt when I was about 11 years old.

When cases such as this get media attention notes go up all over Facebook about how we live in a “rape culture,” and

“Rather than teach girls how not to get raped, we need to teach boys not to rape.”

Nonsense on stilts. Who the heck teaches their sons to rape women in this country?

Rape in our country is, thank God, relatively rare compared to theft and simple assault, and stranger rape is the least common.

Precautions against stranger rape are cheap and simple, essentially identical to the precautions one would take against robbery. They involve good locks, security systems, situational awareness, and avoidance strategies far more than carrying a gun or spending years in martial arts training to become a “human weapon.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, sexual assault, like simple assault and murder, is mostly committed by a perpetrator the victim knew, at least slightly, while engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as passing out at parties surrounded by strangers.

Again, IT IS NOT BLAMING THE VICTIM to say certain behaviors put one at risk. A very old friend of mine was raped by a hitch hiker she picked up while she was driving alone. When she told me the story, the tears I saw in her eyes tore my heart out – which does not change the fact that picking up a hitch hiker was a serious error in judgment for a woman alone.

More of us than ever before are raising children alone, which no matter how devoted we are limits the time we can supervise them. Alcohol is, face it, easy enough for teens to come by. And cell phone cameras are in the wrong hands a terrible weapon for casual humiliation.

The greatest weapon we have to protect our children is neither guns, nor martial arts, but information. Fortunately,
it is available for free here:

No Nonsense Self-Defense

Some of it is disturbing, and the advice therein excites a fair number of critics. Just go there. As it says, “We’re about prevention, not damage control.”

January 11, 2013

Review: ‘Deception’

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:24 am

Because my family in Newport, Rhode Island, knew some of the people involved in the affair of Claus Von Bulow, accused of putting his rich wife Sunny into a persistent vegetative state with insulin, I once offered to give a cop acquaintance all the inside skinny on the scandal that fascinated the nation in the early 1980s, and inspired the movie “Reversal of Fortune” (1990 ).

He just shrugged and said, “High society murders are boring.”

He then quoted the Sherlock Holmes adage, “There is nothing so complex as simple murder.”
The case of a derelict found dead by the side of the road of blunt force trauma is generally going to be a lot harder to solve than that of the rich heiress who keels over at a dinner party with the scent of bitter almonds (cyanide) on her breath. (The butler did it.)

That is, the butler probably did it if he hated the rimes-with-witch, was mentioned in her will, and had a friend in a chem lab or had recently bought some cyanide (not exactly a hot item at the grocery store).

The entertainment in high society murder stories comes from the interplay of the characters, and the thrill we get from seeing that the high and mighty are no better than we are, we only hope more interesting. (Not especially, but they do have more money.)

To keep the mystery going, they’ve got to work hard at it and put in all kinds of complications that in real life make murders much easier to solve.

In “Deception” Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson) a high society girl is found dead of a drug overdose, but with bruises on her face, including one which appears to have imprinted the distinctive marks of a signet ring.

The case comes to the attention of a beautiful detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good) who as it happens was the girlhood best friend of the deceased. Well actually she was the black maid’s daughter who grew up with the rich girl. In spite of the Southern Gothic trappings this takes place in New York.

Locasto shows up for the funeral with a story of escaping a relationship with an abusive boyfriend and in short order is invited to sleep over for the funeral, and then offered a job by the deceased’s daddy, pharmaceutical tycoon Robert Bowers (Victor Garber).

Add in a love triangle. Locasto has history with the handsome son/brother of the family Julian Bowers (Wes Brown), who is a primary suspect, and Will Moreno (Laz Alonzo) the cop she’s partnering with on the case. The flame is re-ignited with Moreno, but then it seems advantageous to fan the embers of her former romance with Julian. Straight out of Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946).

Oh, and did I mention the older brother of the family Edward (Tate Donovan) who was trying to get his sister disinherited? And that as a teenager he was the prime suspect in the rape and murder of a young girl? And is anybody going to miss the allusion to the case of Kennedy family scion Michael Skakel now in prison for a similar murder?

She agrees to take the job and wear a wire and by the end of the pilot episode, there’s been another murder of a paparazzi who’s snooping around for scandal.

Now by this time they’ve got to explain why the feds are spending so much time and energy on what appears to be just another rich dead junkie.

Well, it turns out Robert’s drug company is marketing a drug that kills people, because drug companies get rich by killing their customers don’t you know. And maybe Vivian knew something…

So Joanna is sent in under deep cover to gather evidence that no prosecuting attorney would touch with a ten-foot-pole because of the detective’s prior relationship with the suspects, investigators, etc.

The first thing she discovers is the deceased was clean and drug-free for a while before her death – and pregnant. This had somehow been missed by the coroner.

This rouses the suspicions of the hardened investigator who has never known junkies to relapse or get into abusive relationships with men who hit them in the face.

Joanna discovers a sex tape on Vivian’s computer which has a conversation with a stranger who tells Vivian that this time things are going to be different.

She also discovers that that Vivian’s troubled little sister, who calls Joanna “House guest” in a manner so reeking of disdain you just know she’s going to wind up her confidant and BFF, is actually Vivian’s out-of-wedlock daughter being raised as Robert and his second wife Sophia’s (Katherine LaNasa) stepdaughter.

The pilot ends with Julian crying alone in the night, slipping a signet ring with a design just like the marks on his dead sister’s face off his finger and throwing it away.


Of course nobody in the family looked at the corpse’s face at identification and said, “Hey that mark looks just like Julian’s ring!”

And of course nobody who loves someone who is seriously screwing up their own life has ever had a desire to smack them hard.

And since it is the pilot, you already know it can’t have been Julian, just because they seem to have shown it is. Got to keep the mystery going until the series is cancelled.

January 7, 2013

What should we know? What should we tell?

Filed under: Free Speech,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:14 am

Note: My weekly op-ed.

I will venture a prediction; every single person reading this column has things about them they would rather other people did not know.

If you’re lucky, it’s information that would merely embarrass you. If you’re not, you might have secrets exposure of which would put you at risk of losing your job, your friends, your marriage, or your life.

These need not be shameful secrets. You might not want it generally known that you have something worth stealing at home, for example.

Case in point. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, the The Journal News in Rockland County, New York, recently posted an interactive map on their website showing the names and addresses of approximately 44,000 people in the area who had legally registered hand guns. The information was taken from the gun registry database obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

And that’s when the manure hit the oscillator. The newspaper’s office was flooded with angry phone calls and emails.

And irony of ironies, though police who reviewed the messages found none of them overtly threatening (it’s not illegal to tell someone you are very angry with them) management was so alarmed they hired armed guards for the building. Now it seems those guards are going to be a permanent fixture of The Journal Record’s office.

Opinion about the consequences was mixed at first. On the one hand, it was pointed out that burglars now knew which houses had armed owners waiting inside and could avoid them, to the detriment of unarmed homeowners.

On the other hand, burglars who want to steal guns now know just where to find them.

Burglars after guns are often more dangerous than those who just want your stereo. A thief who steals mass-produced commodities knows overworked police can spare little effort to trace something that is quickly lost in the market of cheap used goods.

But a handgun whose chain of ownership is broken and cannot be traced if found at a crime scene is a valuable item indeed to a certain kind of criminal. The worst kind.

Then an even more sinister development emerged. It turns out about 8,000 active and retired police officers are on that map, and inmates in the Rockland County jail have been taunting corrections officers by telling them their addresses.

One has to wonder what The Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson and Editor Caryn A. McBride were thinking. McBride said she believes knowing where gun owners live is in the public interest.

No, they were indulging an urge to be news makers rather than news reporters, an occupational hazard of the profession. And sell newspapers of course, although that seems to have backfired on them.

And since turnabout is fair play, enterprising bloggers are now creating their own interactive maps showing names and addresses of The Journal News staff.

Way back in 1999, Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, shocked and angered a lot of people by saying, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

Well, “zero privacy” may be a bit of an overstatement, but the fact is McNealy was more right than wrong. Nowadays a lot of your life is an open book and more and more people know how to read it.

That same year author David Brin published, “The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?”

Brin points out the genie of surveillance technology and openly available information is out of the bottle and is not going back in. But he said the ability to look at your life need not be tyrannical, if it works both ways.

He further pointed out that maintaining the privacy we desire is going to depend on a mutual agreement not to invade the privacy of others in ways we would not want ours to be invaded. A kind of Golden Rule for the Information Age.

I think that point has been made rather forcefully to Janet Hasson and Caryn A. McBride.

January 4, 2013

Review: Les Misérables

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:31 am

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

“Les Misérables” has come a long way from its slow start as a French “sung-through musical” in 1980. I have no idea what the difference between a sung-through musical and an opera is, but it’s an opera to all intents and purposes.

An English-language version was developed and premiered at the Barbican Centre in London, England, on 8 October 1985. In spite of bad reviews word spread by word of mouth and it became a world-wide sensation. Such a sensation it became one of the few productions with a universally recognized nickname, “Les Miz.”

When you see and hear it, you understand. Soon after it opened in the U.S. critics noted with wonder rock-ribbed nuke-the-dirty-hippies-till-they-glow right-wingers coming out of theaters singing “Will you join in the crusade, who will be strong and stand with me? Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?”

I’ve been familiar with the music for 20-odd years, and days after seeing the opening on Christmas Day the tunes are still running through my head. “Red – the blood of angry men! Black – the dark of ages past…”

“Les Misérables” is based on the book of the same name by Victor Hugo. It covers three decades of the life of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), one-time convict, who becomes a prosperous factory owner under an assumed name. He becomes a fugitive again, the foster father of an orphaned girl Cosette (Amanda
Seyfried, Isabelle Allen as a child) whose love, and the love of God, redeems him. He is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who is obsessed with his capture.

This is the personal story of a handful of people, set in an age of turmoil and revolution. In other words, it’s an exciting story set in an exciting time.

It’s about sin and redemption, of individuals and nations.

Hugo pulled this off so well “Les Misérables” is considered one of a handful of the best novels ever written, in spite of some quirks. Hugo liked to make lengthy digressions on a number of subjects, which is why most people have read abridged translations and thus miss the 20-odd page long grammatically correct sentence Hugo wrote just to show he could.

As a former sewage treatment plant operator I personally miss Hugo interrupting Jean Valjean’s flight through the sewers of Paris to discourse for 27 pages on the folly of polluting the water with sewage instead of using it to fertilize the land, but I digress.

Visually it’s stunning. Since I’ve always managed to miss it on stage, I don’t know how they did it without the wonders of CGI. But the visuals don’t overwhelm the production.

The casting was inspired. Even Allen’s relatively minor part is magnified by her image used as the now universally recognized logo of the work, based on the iconic illustration from Hugo’s first edition.

But… I’m scarcely the first to notice that they cast actors who sing, rather than professional singers in the major roles. Of the three leads, Crowe’s voice is kind of high and reedy, not at all what you expect from his speaking voice. Jackman is competent but not strong. Seyfried is not a strong soprano.

I don’t think any of them could have belted their numbers out to the back rows without a mike.

On the other hand, the sheer presence of Jackman and Crowe makes you forget the flawed voices.

The supporting cast are great. Anne Hathaway as the beautiful, doomed Fantine, knocks you down and sits on you, reaches into your chest and rips the heart right out of you with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

And somehow they took a woman rated one of the 100 most beautiful people and made her look malnourished and diseased. You watch with horrified fascination the corruption and death of a beautiful innocent.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier are repulsively comic and they can sing, who knew?

Eddie Redmayne as Marius sings beautifully and portrays to perfection one of the earnest young idealists who in the time since the founding of the American republic have given France The Reign of Terror, two kingdoms, five republics, and an empire.

And keep an eye on newcomer Samantha Barks (from the Isle of Man of all places) as the other beautiful doomed character Éponine, who loves Marius and dies on the barricade after doing the right thing so he can live happily ever after with Cosette. Rumor has it Barks beat out Taylor Swift for the role. Not too shabby.

As the movie ended with the peaceful death of Jean Valjean and the beginning of Marius and Cosette’s happily ever after, Valjean’s spirit left for the big barricade in the sky with all the martyrs of the 1832 uprising joining him in a reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I heard a hearty “Amen!” from the audience.

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