Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 28, 2015

Beam him up, he’s leaving Earth

Filed under: Movies,News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:47 am

Spock

Well another piece of my childhood is gone. Leonard Nimoy died Friday at the age of 83. While not quite the age of a mature Vulcan, he did indeed live long and prosper.

Forever associated with the half-human Vulcan Science Officer of the Enterprise, Nimoy’s TV career began the year I was born with an appearance on “Queen for a Day.” A show I barely remember but which might be counted as a proto-reality show.

He played Indians, cowboys, soldiers, sailors and cops. Though he reprized his Spock role throughout the rest of his life in Star Trek movies, an animated TV show, and self-referenced it on many guest spots on other geek series such as the Big Bang Theory, it was never set in stone. He created any number of other roles such as Paris on “Mission Impossible,” and Theo Van Gogh in the one-man stage play and TV movie “Vincent.”

He created the Vulcan nerve pinch, the envy of generations of martial artists who secretly believe if we could just get it right…

The story has it that Nimoy loathed having to do fight scenes and one day on set said, “Couldn’t I just pinch him on the neck or something?”

He also created, or rather popularized the ‘V’ shaped Vulcan greeting that goes with “Live long, and prosper.”

Nimoy was the child of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who grew up bi-lingual, speaking both English and Yiddish. The hand gesture is a rabbinical blessing he explained. The shape of the hand resembles the Hebrew letter ‘Shin’ which is the first letter of several sacred words: Shaddai (one of the names of God), Shalom (a greeting which means “peace”) and Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of God created to live among men).

In later years Nimoy was active in the movement to preserve and pass on the Yiddish language.

But of course, he will always be Spock to those of us who loved him.

This is what Spock means to me, and how he helped shape my image of the man I wanted to be growing up.

Spock of course was highly intelligent. What was revealed as the character developed over the course of the series was that he was also extremely passionate, as apparently were all Vulcans not just half-humans. Spock mentioned Vulcan once had “an aggressive colonizing period, brutal even by human standards.” One colony became the warrior culture of the Romulan Empire.

This and his half-human heritage created tensions that made Spock pretty miserable. After one adventure on a planet full of hallucinogenic spores inhabited by blissed-out colonists he commented, “For the first time in my life, I was happy.”

The way Spock dealt with it, was self-control, duty, a wry sense of humor, and philosophy.

The code for self-control in the series, was “logic.” Spock evaluated situations in terms of logical or illogical. But you never saw him construct a syllogism or draw a Venn diagram. Spock expected the default behavior of rational beings to be self-control. Not letting the passions get the upper hand when their self-interest was at stake. Spock got flummoxed when sentient beings acted irrationally when it would better serve them to exercise a little self-control.

Duty, Spock was Science Officer of the Starship Enterprise, a position corresponding to Executive Officer on a Navy ship. Along with the captain, and often as acting captain he was responsible for the lives of hundreds of people. To fail in his duty could mean their deaths, or the deaths of innocent sapients of other species – or war.

Spock’s sense of humor was wonderful and oddly, rarely noted. He was the master of the dry rejoinder and the uplifted eyebrow, an expression that spoke volumes.

Once when Leonard “Doc” McCoy was searching for a cure for a malady that struck some of the crew, including himself, he utters in frustration, “I’m just an old country doctor.”

Spock, raised eyebrow, “As I always suspected.”

Philosophy, never explicitly expressed but shown in action as the best of philosophy always is.

Spock was not exactly a pacifist but committed to exhausting all non-violent, or at least non-lethal alternatives first. But he could argue for warlike action as in the first encounter with the Romulans, his ethnic kin.

Spock displayed real objectivity, not the counterfeit of non-evaluation so popular in academia today.

On one planet where wars were waged with computers, the ruler explained that those declared casualties were expected to report to be killed for real, and rationalized that this was how they avoided a potentially world-destroying conflict. And oh by the way, the Enterprise had been declared a casualty so would the crew please report to the killing booths?

“I understand,” Spock said.

“Ah you approve Mr. Spock!” the ruler said.

“No,” Spock replied. “I understand. I do not approve.”

Spock’s humor, sense of duty, and philosophical objectivity might have been summed up in one scene in the first season.

When parting with a woman he loved but could not be with, he told her, “If we all have our private purgatories, surely mine can be no worse than anyone else’s.”

“Mr. Spock,” she said, “I never even knew your first name.”

Spock smiles, “You couldn’t pronounce it.”

Beam him up Scotty.

“May his memory be a blessing.”

February 24, 2015

Fabulators

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:07 am

On Monday Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Robert A. McDonald, apologized for falsely claiming last month that he had served in the US Army Special Forces.

This happened in a conversation with a homeless veteran in Los Angeles and was unfortunately for him captured on camera. That’s the great thing about the video age, casual lies get caught. Either someone says something that gets recorded, or someone lies about something that happened and it turns out there’s an audiovisual record of what really happened.

But this is just plain weird. Service records are just that – records. They can generally be accessed with a Freedom of Information request.

I think we have probably all known some pathetic loser who claims he was an Army Ranger, a CIA agent, a “mercenary” or whatever. Sometimes it’s someone who’s never been in the military, or perhaps someone who was a truck driver in the Army who reinvented himself as a combat hero like former University of Colorado professor and fake Indian Ward Churchill.

Sometimes someone lies for tangible benefits, like Churchill or Sen. Elizabeth Warren who parlayed fake Indian ancestry into lucrative jobs reserved for affirmative action appointments. (And by the way, my ancestry is about one percent African, and by the old “one known drop” rule…)

But most of that kind we’re likely to run into are people with no significant accomplishments of their own who simply invent the glorious self they wish they could be, but don’t dare.

But what are we to make of people with real, substantial accomplishments who tell self-aggrandizing lies?

McDonald is, unless this also turns out to be fraud, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point (1975), served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and completed jungle, arctic, desert warfare and Ranger training. I think it unlikely these claims would have remained unchallenged this long if they were false.

McDonald had nothing to gain and everything to lose by lying. For God’s sake why would he do that?

We’ll probably never know. Perhaps he doesn’t even know himself.

February 12, 2015

Pants on fire!

Filed under: News commentary,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:16 am

Well big shot NBC anchor Brian Williams got caught in a lie.

Well actually he got caught telling a lie over and over again for many years and now network execs are looking into a whole series of possible fabrications and his expense account to boot, while he cools his heels for six months without pay.

That six months pay is reportedly in the $5 million range.

We’ll see if Williams is ever welcome back in the chair. Rumor has it there are other journos like Katie Couric who are eyeing it and that Tom Brokaw has wanted him gone for a while now.

I’ve got two observations about this. One is that Williams is not exactly a journalist, he’s a news reader.

The paradox of broadcast journalism is that once you get to the coveted top spots you’re not collecting news you’re presenting news collected by others. Often as sort of an MC of news where you introduce someone reporting from the field. It used to be that you worked your way into that comfortable position with your reporting creds, but more and more it’s all about being good-looking, having a nice speaking voice, and being able to radiate sincerity. All of those things Williams has in spades.

They are also the characteristics of a good serial liar.

But face it, it’s not likely anyone is ever going to come to broadcast journalism with the cred of Walter Cronkeit, Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney, or Paul Harvey again. Maybe it was a case of envy, of wanting so much to be like those giants of yesteryear that his fantasy life became more real than his real life.

And maybe there’s something else as well.

We live in a world today where sober academics proclaim that there is no absolute truth, only “social constructs.” And this has filtered down to the street as well.

I remember a few decades ago when a particularly vindictive ex was going around telling people (including calling up my mother) that I’d “beaten her up twice.” I had not, and in fact nobody among our circle of friends and acquaintances believed her. Among other reasons, she had no bruises to show and by that time her manifest charm was beginning to slip and she was alienating a lot of other people.

One friend of hers however said I was harsh to call her a liar.

“How so?” I asked. “She told a lie, and not a harmless one.”

“Well maybe it was true for her,” she replied.

“It – did – not- happen,” I said. “It’s a lie.”

“Well maybe it’s true for her,” she repeated.

Understand, she was not claiming I was the liar and my ex wasn’t. She was saying we each had our own contradictory version of the truth – and they were in some sense both true. I don’t know about you, but the idea of this concept permeating our courts and newsrooms gives me cold chills. I think it’s already permeated our politics.

Hillary Clinton did not run through sniper fire at the Tuzla airport in 2008. Barack Obama’s mother was not denied reimbursement for insurance claims in 1995.

But I think the difference between some of the lies told by public figures these days, and good old-fashioned lying to cover up something wrong, illegal or embarrassing, is these are not self-conscious lies but self-aggrandizing stories told by people who do not believe there is such a thing as objective truth.

February 10, 2015

In the sick house

Filed under: Immigration,News commentary,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:07 am

We are now ensconced in our new home, mostly unpacked and semi-organized. I also have two sick kids and I’m not feeling tip-top myself.

My daughter came home from school with a scratchy throat. Took her to a nearby walk-in clinic and the nice PA said, “You have strep young lady.”

Oh boy, I have what amounts to a hereditary weakness to strep which used to regularly knock me flat on my back for a week once a year. However in adulthood it doesn’t seem to bother me as much and I haven’t experienced that feeling of gargling with napalm it used to bring. I’m told it’s not that my immune system has gotten stronger, it’s that strep has evolved into a less malign form. Even among microorganisms it’s considered rude to murder your host.

So of course my son and I both got it. What’s odd is how the symptoms and recovery differ. My little girl is still active and energetic, but lost her voice and can only speak in a scratchy whisper. She communicates with gestures and a stack of notes she wrote: “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t care” etc.

My son however has a slightly ulcerated sore throat.

I myself was knocked flat and though my throat wasn’t noticeably painful it was a tremendous effort just to stand up. A friend reported the same feeling.

One to two days sleeping around the clock and I was up and on the mend (knock wood!) without the aid of antibiotics. My children’s illness however still lingers even with strong doses of antibiotics.

It was about this time I became vaguely aware that Rush Limbaugh had said something-or-other about illegal immigrants bringing measles or something into this country and was getting excoriated for it. Well that’s Rush, he enjoys irritating people.

I do not. I would rather start a discussion that makes people think.

However thought being an often painful exercise, one often precedes the other.

So with some trepidation I’m going to have to say, Rush’s central point is correct. And I know this because I asked them at the local office of the Department of Health as I was getting my kids vaccinations for school.

When we moved from Wyoming to Oklahoma in between semesters I found there were a few more vaccinations required here, measles among them. Furthermore there is no grace period. In Wyoming I believe it was three weeks to get your kids the jabs, after they started classes. Here, no jab no school.

So I asked, “Is that because there are lots of students here from places with different vaccination protocols?”

“Yes,” the nice nurse said.

See? Simple question. No politics, no problem.

Every parent knows schools may be fine institutions for preparing our kids for the future, and getting them out of our hair for a few blessed hours a day, but they are also gigantic petri dishes swarming with disease cultures.

That’s just the way it is. Deal with it, don’t shout about it. My voice is to weak to shout anyway.

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