Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

March 29, 2014

Waking the bear

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:01 am

The Bear has awoken from hibernation and boy is he grumpy!

That is to say, Russia is on the march again and is doing what Russia does – expand.

Putin has seized Crimea from Ukraine with all the subtlety of that note attached to the brick you found in your living room by your shattered window.

This was initiated by an elaborate false flag operation by “self-defense” militias allegedly made up of ethnic Russians who all happen to have Spetznaz training. Followed by a quickie “plebiscite” organized by baseball bat wielding community activists to legitimize things.

Does Putin expect anybody is going to believe this was all on the up-and-up?

Short answer, no. And he doesn’t care.

Why go through the charade then?

For the benefit of those in the West who very much want to believe this was legitimate and are scared to death of what it means. It gives them a face-saving way of caving in to Putin’s aggression.

What does it mean?

Large philosophical answer, that the world hasn’t changed. That nation-states continue to act the way it is the nature of nation-states to act. That the world is still a dangerous place. That, in the worlds of Edmund Burke, “There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.”

Immediate practical answer, Putin sized up the West and saw this was the moment to act.

NATO minus the United States is a military pygmy. The United States, he saw after the Syrian crisis, is led by a man in love with the sound of his own voice but is clueless, weak and vacillating when it comes to meaningful action.

He saw the people of the United States are weary of military adventures in faraway places that never seem to change anything and never seem to end. And that many are more than a little resentful of a lot of backbiting from West Europeans who sat behind a ring of American steel for two generations, contributing little but sneering much.

So is this over now that Putin has what he wants?

No it isn’t and no he doesn’t.

This was what violence professionals call “the interview” in the five stages of violent crime. That stage in which the potential assailant seeks the answer to the question, “Can I get away with this?”

This is what is going to happen:

*Putin is going to take more of Ukraine, starting with the Russian-majority eastern part of the country, if unchecked he’ll take all of it.

*Putin will attempt to reabsorb the non-ethnic Russian countries once part of the Soviet Union that have substantial ethnic Russian minorities. First either the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia or perhaps Central Asian states such as Kazachstan or Uzbekistan. Because the latter are in Neville Chamberlain’s words, “far away countries of which we know little.”

*In the longer run Putin is going to move to bring the former Warsaw Pact countries back into the orbit of Russia.

*Putin is going to come down hard on dissent within Russia. A lot of good men and women who worked and hoped to make Russia a free nation among free nations are going to have a very bad time. This has already begun.

How soon is this going to happen?

I have no idea.

What can we do about it?

Who do you mean we?

If you mean the Western alliance, maybe this will revitalize NATO to the point the European countries start taking their military readiness seriously now they are not so certain they can rely on the U.S.

If they don’t, they may come to the point they have to abandon a NATO member or six – at which point the alliance will cease to exist.

If you mean the United States, probably nothing at present. The U.S. can avoid making empty quasi-threats that accomplish nothing but to make us look like foolish weaklings.

In the long run, get a rational energy policy in place. The U.S. is poised to become an oil and natural gas exporting nation again, if only we allow the exploitation of our immense reserves. Russia has the capability of dominating Europe through the energy pipeline. We can counter that easily, if we only will.

But if you mean us – as in men and women of good will, think long term.

*Keep lines of communication with dissident groups in Russia who oppose resurgent Russian imperialism open. Publicize their plight. Make the names of those arrested, beaten, imprisoned known.

*Raise awareness of the danger faced by the small nations reborn after the fall of the Soviet Union. Help build and maintain social media networks across the region.

*Support independent journalism by reporters willing to go there. For decades now major news organizations have shut down foreign bureaus in the name of economy. The profession of foreign correspondent is almost extinct. As a result we are getting canned news from a very few sources which are vulnerable to intimidation and heavily politicized.

Independent journalists such as Michael Yon have shown how crowd-funded journalism can work in places like Iraq and Thailand.

*Most importantly, recognize there is still hope. A world of despotism is not the destiny of mankind and America can still be a beacon of liberty to the world.

March 10, 2014

Review: Star-Crossed

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:29 am

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

– William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” Prologue

“Star-Crossed” (a.k.a. “Romeo and Juliet meet Alien Nation”) is a science fiction romance created by Meredith Averill which premiered on The CW last month.

It’s a great pleasure to write this review, because after it’s filed I’ll never have to watch another episode of this dreck again.

In case you missed the “star-crossed lovers” reference, it’s yet another iteration of “Romeo and Juliet,” by… oh heck you know who it’s by.

It’s not that it’s unoriginal, Shakespeare wasn’t original. “Romeo and Juliet” was based on “The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet” (1562) by Arthur Brooke, and many earlier works.

“Romeo and Juliet has been done as a ballet by by Sergei Prokofiev (1935), no less than 27 operas, uncounted popular song references, and movies.
“West Side Story” (1961) made it into a musical with an ethnic gang theme. “China Girl” (1987) did the same but grittier with a mafia versus triads theme.

“Star-Crossed” is an attempt to do it as science fiction.

There are good reasons to try it as SF. Most Americans don’t believe in ghosts, destiny in the stars, or the fact that our families might detest each other as an insurmountable barrier to True Love.

When I was doing my anthropology masters fieldwork among immigrant Filipinos one of my informants told me how meaningful “Romeo and Juliet” is for them.

“In the Philippines if a couple’s families are against each other, they have no chance,” he said. “In America kids just say, ‘Oh they’ll come around when we have children.’”

Not even different races provide enough tension anymore.

But aliens… now that might present some problems.

The first “Alien Nation” film (1988) made alien refugees the ultimate immigrant story. The spin-off series added the subtext of an inter-species romance. “Star-Crossed” tries to take it from there.

In brief, later this year aliens called Atrians arrive on Earth and are immediately attacked, because they are different I guess. Six-year-old Emery Whitehill (Aimee Teegarden) finds an Atrian boy Roman (Matt Lanter) in a shed and protects him.

The Atrians are rounded up and kept in a detention camp for ten years until the government decides to integrate them into our society by sending a group including Roman and his sister to high school in a move reminiscent of Little Rock 1957.

There Roman and Emily reconnect but of course the path of true love never runs smooth, particularly after Emily’s father accidentally shoots Roman’s father dead.

It could have been good. It’s difficult to see why they didn’t choose to make it good, considering that Averill has some solid writing credits in SF (“Life on Mars”) and fantasy (“Happy Town”).

One, the Atrians look like Anglo-Saxons with some tattoos. Could they have considered making them look well, alien? Could they have spent as much as Star Trek used to on makeup, or been daring enough to find some exotic-looking mixed-race actors?

Two, there is nothing convincing about the Atrians’ culture presented so far. Just some tacked-together customs with nothing to indicate a coherent whole. And by the way do you think it likely technologically advanced aliens would have a basically tribal political structure?

Three, there isn’t even a hint of a backstory. How come these aliens from another world seem to be human enough to be sexually attractive – and can we interbreed. And if so why? Are we long-lost kin?

But what really grates is the offensive way we, as in 21st century Americans are portrayed. As if there has been no social progress since Little Rock. Except now the bigotry is a charmingly multi-racial us against the new minority.

Why does the series assume we’d immediately attack aliens who had not attacked first, rather than react with awe and wonder?

Why do they assume our alien classmates would be pariahs rather than rock stars?

Why would the government be so stupid as not to check the local community for organized and dangerous bigots? Even I don’t buy that.

Why do they dismiss legitimate fears we might have as racism?

Are the Atrians the vanguard of an invasion force? Might they carry alien pathogens like those European diseases that decimated native populations? Would contact with a superior civilization destroy or damage ours even without any ill will on their part?

And most offensive is the stereotypical pickup-driving, tobacco-chewing redneck using phrases like “race traitor.”

Go back and try again Averill.

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

March 3, 2014


Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:33 pm

Because I’m still on the mailing list of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, I still get their travel advisories, warnings of demonstrations that might turn lively etc.

On Monday I got one with a link to the site of U.S. Passports and International Travel, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State.

“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine, and particularly the Crimean Peninsula, due to the potential for instability following the departure of former President Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government.”

Ukraine is the largest country that lies entirely within Europe, a fact that comes as a surprise to most folks who don’t think much about it until something like this happens. The population is about 78 percent ethnic Ukrainian and 17 percent Russian – well above the dangerous number for a disaffected minority, particularly one with a larger state next door.

The remainder are a collection of small minorities such as Belorussians, Tartars and Romanians.

As of the time of writing Russian forces have occupied and established control of the Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that is historically Russian but was included as part of the Ukrainian SSR in the old Soviet Union by Nikita Krushchev for reasons now obscure. An old rumor has it he was drunk at the time but never mind.

President Obama spent 90 minutes on the phone with Vladimir Putin, a call he called the toughest of his administration.

Whew! Hope Vlad appreciated that.

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia’s action and called it, “an act of weakness, not of strength.”

No it’s not. Invading and occupying someone else’s territory who doesn’t dare immediately respond with all the force at their command takes strength for sure, it’s just not very nice.

“There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this. There are a broad array of options that are available, not just to the United States but to our allies,” Kerry warned.

No there aren’t. There’s not a damn thing we can do that Putin cares a fig about. Everything Kerry mentioned we might do is purely symbolic or economic pin pricks to be finessed away as soon as the furor dies down.

Sarah Palin is crowing though. Palin warned in 2008 after Russia threw it’s weight around in Georgia that they might very well invade Ukraine if Obama was re-elected.

To be sure it doesn’t take a psychic to predict “Russia will invade Ukraine, sometime,” but Palin was ridiculed by a fair number of oh-so-wise “foreign policy experts” so she’s got some comeback coming.

I haven’t been to Ukraine but I’ve lived within spitting distance of it and I have friends there. So it pains me to say that the reality is, Ukraine is too close to Russia and isn’t important enough to our interests to risk war over.

Come on, does anybody seriously think the U.S. with it’s NATO allies, who between them cannot put a combat division into the field and don’t have a strategic air force to their name, are going to move east in force even absent the possibility of a nuclear exchange? Let’s get real.

So it’s not entirely fair to blame this on Obama’s administration. Nevertheless it does not help matters to invite the contempt of Putin and the world by bluffing with a bad hand. We can “condemn in the strongest terms” without making empty threats.

And how did Palin know that Russia might do that when wiser heads poo-pooed her as an intellectual lightweight?

Because she knew something they don’t. Something Putin knows very well. Something Thucydides knew 2,500 years ago when he wrote the history of the Peloponesian War.

That human nature does not change in spite of pious moralizing. That it certainly hasn’t changed from Thucydides’ time until now.

That in a world with no power great enough to impose laws on nations, “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”

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

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