Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 17, 2014

Snow down South

Filed under: News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:34 am

It snowed again in Minnesota and North Dakota Sunday night. Not enough to get excited about, just a couple of inches. We’ve had more this winter and might have more again. We might even cancel a school day or two again before it’s over.

It’s been an pretty cold winter over much of the country, with snow down as far as Georgia and South Carolina, which is unusual but not unheard of.

However down south it has a different effect. Atlanta has been basically paralyzed for two out of the past three weeks and there are power outages over huge areas of both states. Major highways became disaster areas.

So what gives?

Well we all know Southerners don’t know how to drive on ice and snow. Trust me, I am one. I know how to handle it because I’ve lived in the North long enough.

When you’re driving down a clear road and hit an unexpected wind drift and do a 180 to 360, your average Northerner shrugs and says, “Well that could have been worse.”

If you haven’t plowed into deep snow you restart your car and continue. If you have, you call a tow truck to pull you out. If you have AAA, it’s likely free. (Unsolicited product endorsement.)

I’ve known Southerners who’ve moved up here and haven’t gotten used to it yet. Maybe you have too. The first time it happens for them, they may get the shakes so bad they have to call someone to drive them home and can’t bear to get behind the wheel for a couple of days.

Now imagine a highway full of people with the same reaction…

Try and be compassionate toward them. Not too long ago I was reminded of how terrifying it can be when I drove a grain truck for harvest.

There’s nothing that takes the romance out of trucking like losing all visual contact with the road surface during a ground blizzard, or feeling 40 tons slip on the ice at 45 mph…

Back in Oklahoma I had a journalism teacher from North Dakota, who had a very strict attendance policy. Being from NoDak he was entirely unsympathetic when a few inches of snow had students pleading with him to relax his policy.

Nope, not going to happen.

“I’ll tell you the secret though,” he said compassionately. “Drive slow.”

In places where years pass without a flake of the white stuff all winter it’s just not worthwhile for cities to invest in a lot of snow removal equipment. It’s just easier and cheaper to shut everything down – it’ll be gone tomorrow.

But what about the power? How come that doesn’t happen up here where we always have snow and ice?

I can tell you exactly what happens, because I’ve seen it.

One year in Oklahoma we had freezing rain over a lot of the state. All night long I heard the loud CRACK of limbs breaking off trees laden with the burden of ice.

It’s not like that doesn’t happen up here, though because of our winters the trees get regularly pruned by the weather.

Down where they don’t have this kind of weather but once in several years, they forget you have to keep tree branches trimmed back from the power lines.

After that storm in Oklahoma about two-thirds of the state was without power, in some places for weeks.

So please, don’t make fun of us Southerners and the next time you get a heat wave of 90-odd degrees, or as us Okies say, “kinda warm,” we won’t make fun of all the Yankees dropping like flies.

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

February 7, 2014

Where journalism is dangerous

Filed under: News commentary,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:12 pm

The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer for 2013 is out.

A crucial way of measuring press freedom is of course, how dangerous it is to be a journalist.

Last year 75 journalists, 4 media assistants and 8 netizens and citizen journalists were killed, down 20 percent from last year.

Looking at the list of countries where journalists are known to have been killed as a result of their activities as a journalist, there are some surprises.

As in surprisingly low: Afghanistan, Columbia and Libya only one apiece, Russia and Mexico only two apiece.

Surprisingly high: Brazil, 5, the Philippines and India eight apiece. Who knew?

Unsurprisingly high: Egypt, 6, Pakistan, 7, Somalia, 7, Syria, 10.

It’s worth noting these figures do not include cases in which a journalist’s work has not been confirmed to be linked to their murders. Nor are they clear as to whether journalists in war zones were specifically targeted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time like a lot of civilian casualties.

The last American journalist murdered on American soil was Chauncy Baily of the Oakland Post (California) in 2007, by the target of his reporting.

Wikipedia has a list of American journalists killed in the line of duty going back to 1837.

The first noted was Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, editor of the Alton Observer, lynched by a pro-slavery mob. This Okie who has rankled a bit at jibes from self-righteous Yankees takes some satisfaction in pointing out this was in Alton, Illinois.

Then there’s a run of three journalists between 1843 and 1848 who all worked for the Vicksburg Sentinel (Mississippi). But since two of them died in fights or duels I don’t think it’s fair to count them as murdered.

Irving Carson, reporter for the New York Tribune, made history by being the first journalist killed in the Civil War on April 6, 1862, while covering the Battle of Shiloh.

Mark Kellogg became the first Associated Press reporter killed on the job – at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.

In 1934, 1935 and 1945 three journalists in a row were murdered in Minneapolis. All for investigating corruption and organized crime.

The 1945 murder of Arthur Kasherman of the alternative Public Press is said to have figured in the election of one anti-corruption crusader named Hubert Humphrey as mayor of Minneapolis.

What’s ironic about that is the next journalist on the list is W.H. “Bill” Mason of KBKI radio in Alice, Texas, killed by Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick, who Mason had exposed as the owner of a strip club.

Former Governor Coke Stevenson who had just lost the Democratic senatorial primary to Lyndon B. Johnson, thought Smithwick could prove Johnson had won the primary by voter fraud. Unfortunately Smithwick was hanged before Stevenson could talk to him. Since then it’s been pretty conclusively proven Johnson did indeed steal that election. Among other reasons because Johnson used to boast about it when he was going large, and had a picture to prove it.

Looking down the list it seems that considering the sheer number of them, being a journalist isn’t very dangerous in this fortunate country of ours. I’ve made people mad enough to complain about me, but it’s never occurred to me that anyone would want to murder me. (Of course the day is still young…)

Ironically the only times I’ve been in danger on the job was when I was still a part-time amateur in Eastern Europe. My editor felt it prudent to keep my name off an article once. His judgment was confirmed when a couple of so-called “mafia” type came to the office demanding to know who wrote that article about taxis. (Taxis? Another time.)

But of course there’s always the possibility of danger while chasing a story a bit too enthusiastically.

From the 2013 Darwin Awards:

“(31 March 2013, Newcastle, England) The UK homeless population’s numbers are difficult to gauge; the website sets a low estimate at 2,300 homeless people per night.

Intending to advance his career, investigative journalist Lee Halpin, 26, decided to acquire background in the problem by pretending to be homeless. He borrowed a sleeping bag and, waving aside the concerns of friends and family, he set off into the streets alone. “I will sleep rough, scrounge for my food, interact with as many homeless people as possible, and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can,” said the journalist–three days before freezing to death in a boarded up hostel.”

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

February 6, 2014

Antanaclasis that’s what!

Filed under: Culture,Humor/satire,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:41 am

The part of a journalist’s life we don’t like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.

For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.

You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.

Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you’re looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.

Hence antanaclasis.

Antana-what? You well may ask.

Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning “against” or “back,” ana “up,” and klasis “breaking.” In Latin it’s called refractio “rebounding” and it’s a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.

Those things that us writers do are called “figures of speech” and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae “The Forrest of Rhetoric,” a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.

I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.

Antanaclasis is defined as, “The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance.”

That’s a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it’s a different word.

“Your argument is sound…all sound.” —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in “reasonable” versus sound as in “air” or “wind.”)

“In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.” (“Skill” versus “cunning” or “fraud.”)

In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” —Vince Lombardi

Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D’israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.

Gladstone once said, “Mr. D’israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease.”

“That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress,” D’israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D’israeli in these exchanges.)

Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it’s not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning “to adopt a position with passionate conviction” versus “to hold in your arms.”

So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?

I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.

Watch this space for further developments.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent website.

February 3, 2014

The Enigma of Pete Seeger

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:39 am

Legendary musician Pete Seeger died January 27 at the age of 94.

By all accounts Seeger lived a rich and rewarding life. He died just six months after the death of his wife of 70 years, Toshi-Aline Ota. Their marriage produced three surviving children, all artists in their own right, and six grandchildren.

Seeger grew up in a world full of art and music. Scion of a family with centuries-old roots in New England, his father was a Harvard-trained musicologist his mother was a concert violinist trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and later a teacher at the Julliard School. His stepmother was Ruth Crawford Seeger, considered one of the most important modernist composers of the 20th century.

His brother Mike Seeger, and sister Margaret “Peggy” Seeger (who survives) were also prominent folk singers. Seeger’s uncle was the poet Alan Seeger, who gained posthumous fame for “I Have a Rendezvous’ with Death” after he was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916, while fighting with the French Foreign Legion.

In 1936 at the age of 17, Seeger discovered what was to be the driving passion of his life when he visited the Mountain Dance and folk Festival in North Carolina, organized by his father and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford under the auspices of the WPA Farm Resettlement music projects.

There Seeger heard the five-string banjo for the first time and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was also the year Seeger joined the Young Communists League. He became a member of the Communist Party USA in 1942.

Seeger’s importance to music is something scholars are going to be investigating and arguing about for generations. Sometime back then musicologists realized the vast majority of music produced by the human race had left no record, as if vast empires had arisen and fallen without leaving a trace.

Seeger and others sought out folk music and recorded it so that it might never be lost. But more than that he composed original music based in the folk tradition.

And of course what Seeger is remembered for is putting his music to work in service to the causes dear to his heart. When we are forgotten people will still be singing his adaptation of the old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome.”

Seeger stood up to be counted from the very beginning of the Civil Rights era, against the Vietnam War, and at the very end was marching – or hobbling, on two canes with the Occupy Movement.

He raised public awareness of the pollution of the Hudson River, defied network censorship of controversial views, and took a stand for the First Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee, earning a year jail sentence, overturned on appeal.

During the Second World War he joined the Army and entertained troops in the South Pacific with Special Services.

But before that he spoke of Adolph Hitler as a benign leader who only wanted peace while Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were pals.

“Franklin D, Franklin D, you ain’t a gonna send me across the sea,” he sang.

He turned on a dime when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and beat the drums of war.

Most biographies say he “drifted away” from the Communist Party in the late ‘40s to early ‘50s. It’s also possible he was ordered to distance himself from them as spies and prominent people the Soviets found useful often were. So far none have been uncharitable enough to suggest that.

He identified himself as a “communist with a small ‘c’” after that.

He once said, “I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”

Well you could describe the program of the Khmer Rouge that way too. We don’t know what Seeger thought about that because he never condemned the Killing Fields of Cambodia, or at least not loudly enough that anyone remembers.

Seeger’s affection for the Soviet Union lasted through revelations of Stalin’s crimes against humanity, the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. He remained an admirer of Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Min.

He did ultimately express some regret for slavishly following Stalin, after the fall of the Soviet Union. But when he did it was tepid and self-serving.

Seeger was by all accounts a sweet and gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Supremely gifted, generous, loving husband and father, and apologist for mass murderers.

How can one person reconcile those ghastly contradictions within himself?

I don’t know how. I don’t know that I ever will.

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