Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

August 29, 2015

Along Old 66

Filed under: Travel — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:33 am




While working on some personal writing projects from home I tend to get a little stir-crazy. Yes, yes, now that school has started I have all the peace and quiet I need to work on the mighty literary works I’ve planned.

And sometimes I hate it. I miss deadlines, and I miss getting in my car and going somewhere!

So I made an arrangement with the online publication Red Dirt Report. When the peace and quiet gets to much for me I head out on the road and find something to write about. A decade of rural journalism has shown me the boonies are just full of interesting people doing interesting stuff.

Case in point, a private museum in Warwick, Oklahoma a town of about 250 people on old Route 66. Two guys who like motorcycles bought a brick building getting near a century old now, and made a private museum. I dropped by and interviewed the co-founders and wrote it up here.

I visited on a Thursday morning, somewhat concerned about whether there would be any visitors to interview – and met people from France and China!

I am fascinated by the phenomenon of the local museum in this country. I lived in Europe for 13 years, and I don’t believe there is anything like this there, or at least not on the scale there is in the U.S. Small towns and counties in rural America support museums, and sometimes guys like these with a hobby put one together.

Jerry Ries one of the co-founders told me they get anywhere from 20 to 500 visitors a day. Now consider that’s on a two-lane highway long bypassed by the Interstate system.

Build it and they will come!

Note: The bikes are a 1909 Triumph and two motorcycles used in the movie “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

August 12, 2015

Thoughts on Israel, idealism, and atrocities

Filed under: News commentary,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:27 pm


The picture here is from Tunisia. A man is stepping on an Israeli flag. A young lady in Tunisia posted it on a Facebook page called PMWB “People who Want to Make the World Better.” Somebody recently made me an administrator on the page. I have no idea who it was or why they did.

The young lady said it was in solidarity with the Palestinians after an attack on a Palestinian home by suspected Jewish radicals resulted in a toddler burned to death.

(Note the co-authors MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH and TIA GOLDENBERG, Associated Press. Good for AP!)

I asked the lady, “So are you going to post a pic of stepping on a Palestinian flag the next time one of them blows up an Israeli school bus?”

She replied with a terse, “No,” and I set out to write this article.

Then after a few minutes she posted, “I was kidding, of course I will do it! It’s all about humanity,” and the article took another turn.

Kidding? I don’t think so. I think what happened was anger answered first, then reason gained the upper hand. And I give full credit to the lady for forcing reason to control passion.

What I did was to post two of my articles on the Itamar massacre in 2011 here and here.

We’ll see how folks there react. I have a certain jaundiced cynicism about people who proclaim they are out to “make the world a better place.” Bless them, if we didn’t have some of them around perhaps nothing would ever improve, but experience seems to show they generally see things in black and white with sharp outlines and little appreciation for moral ambiguity.

Heavy sigh. Every culture has certain blind spots that place limits on their thinking that can only be overcome with great courage and heroic effort. I believe a big blind spot in American culture is the notion that all problems have solutions and all situations can be improved. We believe this so implicitly that we never even consider whether it is true or not, we simply assume it is.

One consequence of this is our belief that everybody can share a world in peace with enough good will and sweet reason.

There is not a shred of evidence to support this.

This conflict is not going away anytime soon, and like it or not we’re going to be involved in it.

Some of my questions, observations and opinions are:

*I don’t buy a prior claim of European Jews to the land of their ancestors. As I said in Reflections on Itamar, “By those lights all of us of Goidelic Celtic descent could demand the right to settle in Spain, the jumping off point for the colonization of Ireland and Scotland. Hell, we could make a case for the reconquista of most of Western Europe.”

*Nevertheless Palestinians resident in Israel are freer, richer, and materially better off than those living under the thugocracy of the Palestinian Authority, or citizens of any majority-Muslim country. This appears to matter to them not at all.

*Yes, there are atrocities committed by Israelis against Palestinians. All such cases are illegal and condemned by the majority of Jewish Israelis. The perpetrators are prosecuted when caught.
Atrocities against innocents committed by Palestinians have the covert support of the PA and are celebrated by Palestinians in the street like a carnival. The perpetrators are feted like heroes.

*Yes, when the conflict breaks out in violence Palestinian casualties exceed Israeli casualties.
The Palestinians boast they can take a casualty ratio of 15 to 1 and still win.
An Israeli girl once remarked that their Palestinian neighbors shoot from their neighborhood through the picture windows of their Jewish neighbors. “So excuse us for our superior fire power.”

*Israel is our ally, the only sincere one we have in the region. Our other Middle Eastern allies are fence-sitters who at times support terrorists at war with us. Israel’s motivation may be self-interest, but it’s pure self-interest. They stand or fall with the U.S.

*Israel is our civilizational kin, they share the heritage that binds Western Civilization. Indeed, the twin roots of Western Civilization are in ancient Greece and Israel. What will be the fate of our civilization if we abandon our kin?

*One way to illustrate the stark difference between Western and Islamic civilization: The Israeli High Court released accused war criminal John Demjanjuk because the evidence that he was one particular concentration camp guard did not rise to the bar of proof demanded by law. Compare this with the custom of “honor killings,” the strong social pressure on the family of a woman who is raped, or just gets uppity, to murder her.
Does anyone think in the long run we can share a world in peace with people who hold these values? Can we even ignore them indefinitely?

*Does anyone seriously doubt the contention that if the Arab states and resident Palestinians stopped attacking Israel there would be peace, but if Israel laid down their arms there would be about 6 million fewer Jews in short order? Is you deny this, why do you think so?

*Has anyone noticed the schizophrenic nature of the anti-Israel rantings from places like Iran? They deny the Holocaust, then boast they’ll do it right next time. They decry the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli rule, then boast how they’ll annihilate Israel with nuclear fire in due time. Do they think Palestinians are immune to nukes?

*Does anyone doubt the problems of the Palestinians in Israel are largely self-inflicted? If not, why?

*Where does your self-interest lie in this?
Where is a cure for cancer more likely to come from, six million Jewish Israels or 600 million Arabs? How about a cheap renewable energy source? New agro-tech to feed the world? Great literature?

*If the situation of the Israelis looks long-term untenable, should we invite them all to evacuate the country and move to America?

“I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us.” – Eric Hoffer, 1968

August 6, 2015

Virtual mobs

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:47 am

Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer wanted to realize a lifelong dream but his dream turned into a nightmare. Instead of shooting a lion named Scar or something like that, he shot a lion named Cecil.

Actually in the interests of journalism accuracy I really ought to ask Palmer if it was a lifelong dream. I’m assuming it was because a big game hunt in Africa takes a lot of bucks (sorry, couldn’t resist) so it’s not the kind of thing you do on a whim.

Unfortunately I can’t ask him because he’s in hiding. He’s shut his business down and – again assuming, but it’s a good bet his employees are looking for other work. Not just because of the shut down, but perhaps because they might consider it unwise to stand to close to him when he does resurface, given the number of threats he’s received.

Apparently Cecil was something of an international celebrity, the subject of studies and star of documentaries.

It is alleged Palmer’s African guides lured Cecil from his home on the nature park so Palmer could shoot him with a crossbow. Then he was tracked for some time before being finished off with a rifle. It is unclear at present if his guides broke any game laws or if Palmer was aware of any violations.
(And how exactly does one lure a lion? I’ve heard of staking an animal out to attract predators to a specific location, but how do you get them to follow you for some distance without actually catching you?)

Palmer went from obscurity to infamy in a matter of days.

Of course we know Internet threats are just people blowing off steam. Until they’re not.

Back in 2013, Justine Sacco a PR agent for the media firm IAC got on a flight to Africa. Being a bit of a twit, before she boarded she tweeted to some friends, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!

When she arrived she found she’d been fired before the plane even landed after the tweet went viral.

Well maybe she should have been. Not because the tweet was stupid and offensive, but because she’s supposed to be a public relations expert for heaven’s sake!

What’s disturbing is a photo was taken of her apparently in the act of hearing her nice little world had just fallen apart. That’s how long it took someone to find out who she was, why people were upset with her, and get in a position to take the shot.

Would everybody please pause for a moment and try to recall stupid things they’ve said they really wouldn’t like to have broadcast to the four corners of the earth?

Would you like to consider how many of the outraged might be seriously disturbed individuals?

Now if that thought wasn’t disturbing enough, consider the phenomenon of flash mobs.

Flash mobs are large groups of people who assemble in response to text messages. Sometimes for fun, but sometimes to get 30-40 people together to loot a store and vanish before the police can arrive.

Flash mobs are the realtime version of virtual mobs. What they have in common is they are apparently random. Their rage can be triggered by any number of things and directed at anybody.

Yes, there are inciters who look for opportunities to direct public ire at public figures whose opinions they don’t like. But public figures are ready for that in this day and age and have prepared defenses. Ironically sometimes by employing PR people like Sacco.

Virtual mobs form to satisfy the basest instincts of mankind, the desire to bully and intimidate with perfect immunity. To wield the power of numbers without responsibility for the consequences. To pick random strangers and make them scape goats for their pathetic lives.

There have always been mobs. But mobs plus instant mass communication has produced something very ugly.

And I do not think we have seen the last, nor the worst of this phenomenon yet.

August 5, 2015

Robert Conquest R.I.P.

Filed under: News commentary,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:53 am

He is gone where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart. Go traveler, imitate him if you can. He served liberty.
(Rather free translation from Latin of Jonathan Swift’s epitaph.)

George Robert Acworth Conquest, CMG, OBE, FBA, FAAAS, FRSL, FBIS (15 July 1917 – 3 August 2015) has gone, and with him much savage indignation. He was 98.

I urge you to read his Wikipedia entry. Conquest was in his youth a communist, back when it was still excusable. He changed his mind after seeing communism close up and dedicated his professional career to exposing the greatest crimes of the 20th century.

He wrote about Stalin’s Great Purge; estimated murders as high as 20 million. He wrote about the planned famine in Ukraine, the holodomor; deaths somewhere between 2.4 to 7.5 million. He poured well-deserved scorn on Western intellectuals who denied, excused, or actively justified a world-wide holocaust that murdered as many as 100 million people.

By rights the crimes of communism should have had at least as much attention paid to them as the crimes of Nazism. And yet, how many people really know what happened in that “Ravaged Century” Conquest wrote about in such detail?

We live in a world in which any academic who denied or excused the Nazi holocaust would quite rightly have his career destroyed. Yet it is acceptable to deny or excuse the communist holocaust which was at least 10 times greater.

Why? For God’s sake why?

“The dead remember our silence.”

August 2, 2015

The strange appeal of Donald Trump

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:47 am

I have a confession to make. I don’t much like Donald Trump, never have, and yet I’m feeling the buzz too.

I don’t dislike Trump because he’s a gazillionaire. Not even that he inherited a fortune and the connections to grow it. That he took a large sum of money and made it into a huge sum is an accomplishment not to be despised.*

He could have taken the goods and become just another Trust Fund Idiot famous for parties and scandals and diving head first into an early grave. Instead he studied and made himself master of a specific highly-specialized field of business, real estate.

I don’t like Trump because I find his manner abrasive and because way back when he was still married to his first wife Ivana he dissed her publicly in an interview.

Now that I think of it, the specific question was about her statement that Trump would run for president when he was good and ready.

I don’t like Trump because he tried to use a city’s power of eminent domain to run little a old lady off her property so he could build a casino. I don’t respect him because he lost.

I don’t like Trump because he’s switched sides on issues like abortion, universal health care, gun control, and whether Hillary Clinton is competent or not. I don’t respect him because he was their “friend” and a large donor to the Clinton Foundation.

I don’t like the Clinton’s either, and think their Foundation is an ongoing criminal enterprise. But I don’t like people who turn on their friends; not for principle but for expediency.
Trump has been a registered Democrat, once sought the Reform Party nomination, and is now seeking the Republican nomination.

Somehow I don’t think this is a sign of evolving political thought.

I actually started to warm to Trump when he got into show business.
While other people were mocking him, I thought maybe he’s really found his niche. Somebody with an outsized ego, tremendous vanity, bombastic personality – he’s a natural!

I thought maybe this is the kind of thing that would really make him happy and fulfilled. An accomplishment that would stand alone outside the shadow of his father.

After all, they say politics is show business for ugly people.

And now much against my will I find myself drawn to The Donald, knowing full well he’d be a terrible president, and worse a spoiler in the race to prevent Hillary from becoming president.


“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

No, it’s not that I don’t think it’s an offensive overgeneralization.

It’s because he’s not backing down!

How many times have we seen someone make an off-the-cuff remark in the heat of the moment, or maybe only something meant as a joke, who was then forced to abase themselves publicly in the most humiliating way you can imagine, then likely lost their job anyway.

Americans are furious about illegal – stress ILLEGAL immigration. Neither party is taking them seriously. The Democrats see a sea of potential life-long Democratic voters who will insure them a permanent majority.

Republicans are dominated by elites who see a permanent source of cheap tractable labor.

Neither gives a damn about the possible effects of the importation of a huge number of people with little understanding of democratic processes who are less and less willing to assimilate.

Trump said what a lot of people wanted to hear, then stuck to his guns when he got crucified in the media for it and lost a lot of business.

Of course, if Trump never did another deal in his life he could still buy himself a small country to retire in.

Still, that’s why Trump is overtaking the establishment pols in the polls. Oh we’ll get over it by convention time, never fear.

Some of us just wish we could see someone with a real chance display that kind of guts.

* Turns out I was wrong about this. Latest estimates of Trump’s present fortune versus the fortune he inherited indicate it has grown at a rate no greater than the money a conservative mutual fund would have. In other words, Trump might be richer today if he’d done essentially nothing.

August 1, 2015

Reflections on Chattanooga

Filed under: Op-eds,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:02 am

I was on the road again this past two weeks and not paying much attention to the news. Nevertheless I couldn’t avoid hearing that four Marines and a sailor were killed in a spree shooting at a recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I must confess it was not altogether a surprised to find the name of the (late) shooter was Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez.

As it happens, what I was doing that weekend was participating in a get together of violence professionals. Including : law enforcement, security personnel, medical professionals with experience in traumatic wounds, scholars. In general a gathering of seriously well-educated, seriously tough people.

The underlying theme of these events is the safety of yourself and your loved ones in a dangerous world.

The event included not only training in specific techniques of personal combat, but lectures on awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation.

Naturally I’m going to draw a parallel between the events of that terrible day and the gathering the following weekend.

The obvious issues were brought up right away.

We have a military in which trained men and women are not allowed to carry personal arms on base or at duty stations such as the recruitment center.

We could go back and forth on that one, and I’m sure we will over the next few weeks. I understand some governors in their capacity of commanders-in-chief of the state National Guards are taking matters into their own hands.

Then there is the observation that when that evil young man murdered nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston last month, the media immediately, and I believe correctly, assumed it was a racist hate crime. But in this case an awful lot of people seem to be looking for a motive while ignoring the quite obvious conclusion he was a jihadist who regarded himself to be at war with the United States.

What’s I’d like to contribute to the discussion is this.

There is something any professional or trained non-professional in the field of personal security would say you have to, have to do in a dangerous situation to have any chance of survival.

Don’t pretend it’s not happening!

We share the world with a culture and a religion which produces a certain critical number of individuals who hate us enough to die for the chance to kill some of us.

Yes they’re a minority within their own culture. Yes the number of casualties they inflict are miniscule in comparison to auto accidents every year.

We should not however lose sight of the fact they enjoy widespread passive support among Muslims world-wide, and that the auto industry is not working feverishly to produce more automobile casualties.

We can disagree on whether Muslim rage is caused by our foreign policy. We can argue whether we should pursue a conciliatory or aggressive policy towards Islamic countries or some combination of the two. We can argue all day about the likelihood of Islamic jihadists acquiring a nuclear bomb or bioweapons.

What we should agree on is: the jihadists regard themselves as at war with us, many live among us, they will seek to do us harm at unpredictable intervals, and they are looking for ways to maximize the harm they do.

Can we at least acknowledge this? Or will we continue to deny the simple reality until they force us to acknowledge it?

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