Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

August 21, 2014

Buy your kids experiences, not things

Filed under: Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:41 am

We’re coming to the end of a longish road trip from Wyoming to Oklahoma and back, and what a trip it’s been.

We spend nights on the road in our tent, though last night we splurged on a cabin at KOA in Limon, Colorado. It’s still half the price of an inexpensive motel.

Since the kids are going to school shortly after we get back (Boo!) we took our time, didn’t try to cover too much ground in a day and stopped at a lot of places that looked interesting.

Yesterday we stopped at a family-run petting zoo sort of thing. We saw two live five and six-legged cows, lots of prairie dogs, goats, pigs – and a cage full of rattlesnakes.

Of course my kids wanted to spend my money on lots of things.

“Nope,” I said.

Well not entirely. I don’t stint on reading material and I have given in to requests to supplement their allowances to buy a few keepsakes. But most pleas I deny, to teach them discipline, that there is not an infinite supply of things they can have.

But what I don’t stint on is experiences. Things like that petting zoo, or a zipline ride, or tickets to the Children’s Museum in Seminole and Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma where their great-grandparents lived.

As I write this my kids are outside trying out some reclining tricycles the campground has for rent.

What I am buying them is memories. Things that will last longer than any thing I might buy them. Longer than I will last in truth.

Perhaps someday they’ll have some little thing they treasure, something they’ll tell their children Daddy bought them. But things get lost or broken, these memories they’ll keep. And they’ll know how to do the same for their children.

August 18, 2014

It’s a riot!

Filed under: Op-eds,Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:11 pm

“Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!”
– The Riot Act, in force August, 1715

It seems like old times to this child of the ‘60s. Ferguson, Missouri, population 21,000 is burning. A curfew has been declared and as of this writing the Missouri National Guard has been called out to do the job a highly militarized police force, and the Missouri State Police couldn’t handle.

The immediate cause was the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a city police officer. Circumstances are still under investigation but a depressing series of revelations all seem to point in the general direction of exonerating the officer.

Would it were otherwise! Why oh why can’t he be a sadistic psycho bigot who somehow slipped through the screening process? Then we could arrest him and after a decent interval and the motions of a trial have him hanged, drawn and quartered in the city square.

If in fact it turns out the officer was assaulted by a huge man with a long rap sheet for offenses including theft and assault with grievous bodily injury then the officer will be exonerated. After which he’ll be hounded to his death with further trials for violating the civil rights of the deceased and endless wrongful death lawsuits. That is if he’s not murdered in his home whose location the media conveniently found and reported.

And of course, following the verdict there’ll be more riots.

In the course of the riots police will stand by while the businesses that make Ferguson an even marginally viable community are looted and destroyed.

Unless more business owners stand at the entrance to their property with guns and say, “Not here you don’t.”

And what if one of them has to shoot, and yet another “good boy who’d been in some trouble but was turning his life around” gets killed?

Al Sharpton may just have to move to Ferguson.

The fact is, the riot could have been stopped on day one. Draw up a line of armed men in the street where the mob is assembled and “read them the Riot Act,” i.e. command them in no uncertain terms to disperse, give them a stated time to do so, then back up the threat with deadly force.

Follow up by arresting the Revs. Sharpton, Jackson and New Black Panther Minister-of-Whatever and charge them with inciting to riot.

Of course we can’t do that.

The brutal reality is it would be career suicide, and very possibly real suicide for anyone who gave such an order. And perhaps this is a good thing. With all the surplus military equipment being handed out like party favors to local police forces this might start to look like the easy option whenever a crowd got out of hand.

What can we do? Isn’t there some way to address those fabled “root causes” of riots?

Here’s the root cause we’re all too polite to talk about. Rioting, looting and destroying property are fun.

Does any other explanation make sense? Does destroying the source of jobs and livelihood do anything to address poverty, unemployment and injustice?

What they’ll do is try to contain the damage as much as is possible with the tepid levels of force they can use and wait until the mob has had all the fun it can stand, for now.

August 14, 2014

Old Buildings

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:15 am

I spent July 4 on the road this year. I had some business to attend to out of state (Wyoming) on the 5th so I decided to take off early and spend a few days covering a few hundred miles at a leisurely pace and take the time to see some of small town America.

I packed my tent, cot, sleeping bag and of course my laptop and Kindle. That’s my notion of “glamping” (“glamour camping”), almost any campground is going to be about a fourth or a fifth the price of the cheapest motel.

As I drove down Interstate 64 I’d see small towns with populations measured in the low hundreds, some only barely within eyeshot of the highway. When the mood struck me (often) I’d pull off and drive through the town, note the houses and businesses and wonder why people lived here and what they did for a living.

In this part of the country many small towns are all about serving the needs of the surrounding farms whose business keeps small grocery stores, equipment dealerships and fix-it places alive.

I stopped in Medora, North Dakota, to check out the summer residence/hunting lodge built by the Marquis de Mores to run a failed cattle business from. (Hint: Monsieur Marquis, if you’re going to run a cattle business out west you need to be here more than three months a year and dispense with the lavish lifestyle while the business is starting up.)

A little further east I diverted down “The Enchanted Highway,” 32 miles of two-lane blacktop festooned with eight of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures. It’s a work in progress developed by local artist Garry Greff starting in 1989.

The so-called highway ends in a town with a population of less than 200.

Some of the towns were quite forgettable. Some were quite charming. At least one looked like a piece of hell. There’s something about a very wide main street in the hot glaring sunlight gives that impression.

As I toured I reflected on what makes a small town livable. What makes it a place people want to come back to and raise their children after they’ve sampled the bright lights and big city?

Some reasons are intangible. Motivated people who get together with other people to organize and run things: a community center, a baseball team, a park committee, a local museum or library.

A town needs these kind of people, and they need projects to occupy their time or they tend to become awful busybodies.

In this day and age, some reasons are technological. Cable/satellite TV, video rentals and lately streaming video give people access to movies and entertainment that used to be available only in larger population centers.

On the one hand this keeps people in small towns from feeling out of touch with popular culture. On the other hand it tends to be solitary entertainment, not a community activity.

But there’s something I’ve noticed about towns I drive through that makes me think, “I could live here.” They have trees, a center and old buildings.

Tree-lined streets give shade in the hot summers and mute the effect of harsh sunlight on houses that highlights the imperfections and age-spots. Moreover old trees show that people have lived here a while, and all that while they’ve taken care of those trees.

A center is usually pointed out with signs that say, “Business district.” Even better is when they say, “Historic business district.” That usually means the businesses will be housed in brick buildings that are connected down the length of each block. Here is where the cafes where people gather for coffee and conversation are.

Nothing says “built to last” like brick. Even if the building has to be gutted, with minimal care the shell will last centuries. And there’s something about being able to stroll down a row of businesses without having to pass an alley entrance.

Outside of the business district, old houses. In the decades bracketing 1900 people came to the rural west and built beautiful Victorian homes with turrets, porches and fancy woodwork trim.

Sometimes you find houses like that preserved by the local historical societies. It’s better still if they have owners who live in and care for them.

In the larger small towns with small colleges the last stage of a big house’s life is when the owner turns it into student apartments. After which you might as well burn it down. I just moved from a town that lost three of its oldest, most elegant houses that way. Touring the ruin while workmen salvaged what they could of the antique fixtures

I could see they used to be beautiful. And I wonder, can’t we build like that anymore?

August 1, 2014

Taking chances

Filed under: Op-eds,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:38 am

“He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, who dares not put it to the touch, to win or lose it all.”
– James Graham, Earl of Montrose

Recently I made one of those decisions.

Yes, one of those decisions. One that feels so right, except for the odd times when something shouts in your ear, “Are you blankety-blank crazy?”

A few things happened first. One was a friend died. Not an extremely close friend, but a dear lady who graciously took care of my children when I was a new single parent and trying to get our lives together.

She did it for a ridiculously low price while I worked during that first summer. Loved my kids and they loved her.

She had just seen her first married daughter present her with her first grandchild. Though she wasn’t very old, she died of congestive heart failure.

This reminded me that all flesh is grass, and we do not in fact have enough time to accomplish everything we want to.

While reflecting on this I realized something that had been bothering me about an old friend I’ve known… a very long time.

My friend, to put it mildly, is a pill.

Everything and anything in the news is evidence of what a thoroughly awful country we live in, how everything in the world is our fault and always has been.

He calls himself a libertarian, but in fact he’s a right-wing progressive. Since he believes we could achieve Utopia, anything less is not worth having.

His negativity is intensely irritating. My guess is he’s unhappy with what he’s accomplished in life and blaming it on the world.

I don’t want to be like him. So I’m quitting my job and taking six months off to write a book I’ve been talking about for a decade.

It’s not totally half-baked. I’ve had a working outline for a while, and the main points have been written up and published in various places.

My job as I see it, it to reorganize it and write it up in a more readable form. Looking back, I see that my writing has improved over the past ten years.
I also see there has never been a better time to get it done.

The working title is, “The Progressive Mind: Reflections on the Suicide of a Civilization.”

The theme is that in America in particular, and Western Civilization in general, the most affluent and privileged classes absolutely loathe the civilization that made them arguably the most fortunate people in all of human history.

This sounds seriously crazy, but I believe I know why, and I believe I can explain it.

I’m giving myself six months to write it before I have to return to regular work. I have the resources to live on, and beyond.

My children won’t suffer because of Daddy’s eccentric quest, quite the contrary. I’m going to set up a work schedule for the school year: take kids to school, write for three hours, exercise for health maintenance.

After school time and weekends are for my children, because that’s the other thing about being mortal.

I’ll also devote more attention to my neglected blog and continue to write columns and take the occasional freelance assignment.

Then we shall see if my “battle plan” survives contact with the enemy: sloth, procrastination and self-doubt.

With the responsibility of two children I can’t undertake adventures like I could when I was young, pack a bag and go.

But I can I hope, set them an example they’ll remember when I’m gone.

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