Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

September 24, 2015

Modern Witchcraft

Filed under: Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:34 pm

I have an announcement to make, I am not a rapist.

Wow! Aren’t you glad to hear that?

How about you? Are you a rapist?

“Heck no!” I hear you say, indignantly.

Oh you’re just saying that. Maybe you even believe it’s true, but you’re a rapist and just don’t know it.

“I’ve never raped anyone!”

You were socialized in a rape culture, didn’t you know that?

Well as a matter of fact, neither did I.

“Don’t teach women how to be safe – teach men not to rape!” we are told.

Where are men taught to rape, may I ask?

Well, as it happens in certain cultures yes, men are taught to rape – often by their mothers. But please show me where in the U.S. little boys are taught to rape women who dress immodestly, go out alone, or just get uppity.

Oh yes, in certain third world immigrant communities. But let’s not go there because if you do you’re a racist.

Well we are told it’s a subtle thing in our culture that teaches boys unconsciously without anyone ever actually saying it’s OK to rape. We are nonetheless assured it shapes our society.

In the abstract to “Dismantling Rape Culture around the World: A Social Justice Imperative,” Pamela R. Fletcher, Associate Professor of English and Women Studies, St.Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota writes, “Many object to the term rape culture, deeming it an overstatement. Some even consider it an oxymoron, for how does rape and culture really connect? In speaking of culture, we editors of “Transforming A Rape Culture” (Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth 1993, 1995 and 2005) refer to the way in which a society operates formally and informally, based on attitudes, beliefs, customs, and rituals that its members sanction as acceptable and normal. Based on our research and analysis of the high incidence of sexual violence perpetrated around the world, we contend that the term encompasses widespread anti-female attitudes and values, and the resultant oppressive conditions women and children encounter in the global institution of patriarchy. Misogyny and sexism are the cornerstones of patriarchy that enable a rape culture to flourish.”

No, “rape culture” referring to the United States is neither an overstatement nor an oxymoron (the author doesn’t seem to know what an oxymoron is). It’s a lie at best, a sick fantasy at worst.

No, there are no attitudes, beliefs, customs, nor rituals, formal or informal, in the culture I was raised in that give even the slightest hint rape is OK. In fact not all that long ago the specter of rape invoked outrage enough to sanction a temporary set-aside of the taboo against murder.

The author goes on to quote rape statistics from the U.S. compared to third world hell holes and war zones, as if the data collection methods were consistent in each country.

“Women in the U.S. reported that they were raped at an early age: 17.6% said they had been victims of an attempted or a completed rape, 21.6% were younger than age 12, and 32.4% were between the ages 12 and 17. (Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth 2005, 7).”

Not according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The rate of rape for persons 12 years and older was 28.4 per 1,000 in 2005, 23.2 per 1,000 in 2013, and 20.1 per 1,000 in 2014, according to the DOJ. That’s roughly three percent in 2005, declining to two percent in 2014.

Oh but they must be using a different and biased set of statistics!

Funny thing though, earlier in the same paper they do cite DOJ stats.

“Although rape is underreported to the police, U.S. Department of Justice studies show that when rape survivors do report, more than 50% of them state that they knew the rapist (Ibid).”

That last fact is not news, but note when they did cite the DOJ they did not use their data for how many rapes occur in the U.S. Instead they got them from a source more to their liking.

I’ve been having a bit of fun with this, but when it comes down to it, it’s not funny at all. Psychologists with degrees from respectable schools insist this invisible force makes all men in America suspect – though rape has always been rare in this country and according to DOJ statistics getting rarer, in spite of a lessening of the stigma involved in reporting a rape to law enforcement which should result in reported rates getting higher.

This paper airily generalizes data from vastly different cultures into a world-wide phenomenon, fudges stats when it suits the author’s purpose and ignores data inconvenient to the narrative such as figures that show men and women in intimate relationships physically assault each other at roughly equal rates, though of course the consequences of a male striking a female are usually far more serious than the reverse, absent a weapon. And though it’s harder for a woman to rape a man, rates of male rape may very well exceed female rape when prisons are factored in. (Now that’s an under-reported statistic!)

The author appears to conclude that the U.S. belongs on the roll of shame because we were late giving women the vote and failed to pass the ERA!

Now where have we seen this before? Subtle forces causing great social ills, with chains of causality invisible to all but a few gifted with a special insight?

“These our poor Afflicted Neighbors, quickly after they become Infected and Infested with these Daemons, arrive to a Capacity of Discerning those which they conceive the Shapes of their Troublers; and notwithstanding the Great and Just Suspicion, that the Daemons might Impose the Shapes of Innocent Persons in their Spectral Exhibitions upon the Sufferers, (which may perhaps prove no small part of the Witch-Plot in the issue) yet many of the Persons thus Represented, being Examined, several of them have been Convicted of a very Damnable Witchcraft: yea more than on Twenty have Confessed, that they have Signed unto a Book, which the Devil show’d them, and Engaged in his Hellish Design of Bewitching and Ruining our Land.”

-On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather, 1692

September 22, 2015


Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:23 am


Oh the Humanity! Little 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a persecuted genius who built a digital clock for a science project, was detained at his high school, rudely questioned and hauled off in handcuffs by those bigoted, white, Islamophobic Texans in Irving.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest weighed in.

“This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do,” said Earnest.

President Obama has invited Ahmed to the White House and talks of displaying the clock there as an inspiration to young inventors everywhere.

Mark Zuckerberg declared the future belongs to young geniuses like Ahmed. Hillary Clinton tweeted her support.

On the right voices cried, hey wait a minute, that kid’s dad is a Muslim activist who has twice run for president of Sudan! He’s probably using his kid to do a dry run for a real terrorist attack and get us to relax security in our schools!

Has everybody gone nuts?

To begin with, the kid invented nothing, built nothing. He took apart a digital clock and repackaged it in a metal case.

He answered evasively when questioned. He did indeed ride to the police station in handcuffs, because that’s what police regs say you do when you get a ride to the police station. They were taken off, then put back on when his sister asked to take a pic of him in cuffs.

“The people at the school thought it might be a bomb, perhaps because it looks exactly like a ****ing bomb,” said comedian Bill Maher.

Does anybody in this day and age seriously think this was an innocent mistake?

Asked if they’d have done the same for a white kid (and why does that question always come up?) Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said they’d have followed the same procedures.

You know what? I believe him. Mostly because I’ve been through this with my own son in a somewhat less spectacular fashion. He used to like to make guns out of Legos you see.
Ahmed’s father, Mohamed El Hassan, rather than come down to pick up his son and giving him holy hell for raising a fuss, struck a tragic pose.

“Because my son’s name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11 he got mistreated,” El Hassan said.

The North Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is “investigating.”

And of course we’re hearing the term “Islamophobia” bandied about. Evidently there is an epidemic of this, though curiously the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has not caught on to it yet.

Outside the extremes of left and right: “He’s a victim of rabid Islamophobia!” and “He’s a terrorist in training!” I could think of a couple-three explanations.

El Hassan is the leader of a small Sufi group in Texas. As it happens I’ve long been fascinated by these interesting people and know more than most about them. They are often persecuted as heretics in the lands of Islam and consequently have learned to express their teachings in parables and jokes.

Could it be this family is trying to teach us all a lesson about tolerance and not jumping to conclusions because of invidious stereotypes?

On the other hand, El Hassan came to this country and worked his way up from humble jobs to become a successful businessman. Could it be that he’s inspired by the Modern American Dream, “sue somebody and get rich”?

Or could it be that this kid is kind of a teenage jerk who knew very well how people would react if a kid named Mohamed brought something that looks a lot like a bomb to school? That he’s “woofing.”

Spiritual me wants to believe the first, but cynical me remembers that’s just the kind of thing I’d have gotten a kick out of when I was an idiot teen.

September 14, 2015

An innocent man may die this week

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:02 pm

Richard Glossip
By the time this goes to press I may be watching an innocent man die for a crime he did not commit.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to die at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester for the murder of Robert Van Treese in 1997. And I will be in the press pool.

Glossip was convicted in two trials of hiring motel handyman Justin Sneed to kill Van Treese, owner of a motel in Oklahoma City Glossip managed.

Sneed is serving a life sentence for beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Under questioning Sneed confessed that Glossip hired him to kill Van Treese for the money from the motel receipts he kept in his car.

Unless Oklahoma governor Mary Falllin grants a requested 60-day stay of execution, Glossip will die by lethal injection at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

This story landed in my inbox a week ago when I was asked to cover a meeting of a group at the University of Central Oklahoma called, Conservatives and Progressives United Against the Death Penalty.

I still haven’t had time to do research in depth. I’ll also add the disclaimer that I’ve heard almost entirely from people who passionately believe Glossip is innocent or have doubts of his guilt.

Those people include the usual assortment of bleeding hearts such as Sister Helen Prejean and actress Susan Sarandon who played Sister Helen in the movie “Dead Man Walking.”

But they also include rock-ribbed conservatives such as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and legendary football coach Barry Switzer.

That said, this case stinks.

Glossip was convicted solely on the testimony of a meth head and thief, given in return for life in a medium security prison.

Understand, Glossip was no angel. His lawyer Donald Knight admitted Glossip was dealing meth, or at least closed his eyes to what was going on in the shady motel he managed. Glossip also failed to notify the police and locked the room the body was in for 10 hours.

So, Glossip is guilty as an accessory after the fact at least. But the motive and evidence do not appear to warrant a conviction of murder for hire.

The prosecution argued that Glossip handed over $4,000 in motel receipts to Van Treese, then convinced Sneed to kill Van Treese for the money and split it 50/50. And/or that Glossip was afraid Van Treese was going to fire him over $6,000 in missing funds, or because Glossip wasn’t maintaining the run-down place, or that once Van Treese was dead Glossip would somehow get to manage both of Van Treese’s motels.

Under questioning Sneed changed his story eight times, only implicating Glossip after detectives suggested Glossip hired him. This is on video – which neither jury was allowed to see.

However Dr. Richard Leo, an expert on false confessions, has seen the video and given a detailed opinion on how he thinks the detectives used techniques often seen in cases of false confessions.

Glossip’s current legal team who are working pro bono, claim to have a witness who served time with Sneed who says Sneed has boasted about setting up Glossip.

And apparently not even Sneed’s mother and daughter believe Glossip is guilty.

Glossip’s conviction was a perfect storm of inadequate representation and a prosecution by the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, whose administration was characterized by “errors, misconduct, and general disregard for life and innocence” in the judgement of Mark Fuhrman author of, “Death and Justice: an expose of Oklahoma’s death row machine.”

It is possible Glossip’s cause has been hurt by the fact his help comes from anti-death penalty advocates, who believe he’s innocent but the causes may be confused in people’s minds.

However I am not categorically against the death penalty, though I would have it reserved for the most heinous crimes where there is no doubt of guilt.

Murder for hire is a heinous crime, but this case is very, very thin.

I have been asked in the context of death penalty cases what I would do if it were my child who was the victim?

And I answer, I would kill them myself and sleep like a baby afterwards.

Then I ask in return, “If it were you who had to do the killing, how much certainty would you want that the accused was guilty?”

Note: This is my weekly op-ed. I usually wait to post online until the print version is out, except in cases where the news is time sensitive. I think this qualifies as time sensitive.
I should also note that Glossip’s family have told me, though I have yet to confirm, that he was offered commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment in return for allocuting to the crime – and he refused.

UPDATE: I was in the press pool at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester on Sept. 16, when we got the news the Court of Criminal Appeals had granted a stay of execution until Sept. 30. I wrote about it in the Red Dirt Report online magazine.

September 5, 2015

Election season ironies

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:20 am

This is shaping up to be the most interesting election season in quite some time.

The Democrats like to charge the Republicans with being the party of “old white men.”

So who are the three top candidates, assuming Joe Biden goes for it?

Two old white men and an old white woman.

And after years of accusing the right of name-calling over the epithet “socialist,” they’ve got one bona fide card-carrying socialist in the running.

But of course if Elizabeth Warren enters the race they’ll have a fake Indian.

On the Republican side they’ve got a black guy, two Hispanics, a woman, and a reality-show star who’s spent more of his life as a Democrat than a Republican.

A favorite insult on the left is to characterize the right as dumb.

So on the right they have Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon, and Ted Cruz, who Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz called one of the school’s smartest students. The other one being Warren.

Carson may be the smartest guy who’s run for president since… maybe Thomas Jefferson. There are mediocre family practitioners, even mediocre internists. There are no mediocre brain surgeons.

And to pile irony on top of irony, the far-right has raised questions of Obama’s place of birth and citizenship status for the past seven years. But there’s no hiding the fact Cruz was born in Canada and held dual citizenship until recently.

When Obama ran for president the first time it was noted how little actual experience he’d had as a state legislator and senator, and that he’d actually won a contested race only once.

Now we have Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson who’ve never held elective office and of the three only Fiorina has actually run in a race, unsuccessfully one might add.

Ted Cruz has a fair amount of experience in office now, but Marco Rubio’s resume is rather thin when examined closely.

If Hillary gets the nomination she’ll be in much the same position Richard Nixon was in his second presidential race. With several felony charges hanging over her head and possible indictments in the future.

Plus, it’s becoming more and more evident that Obama doesn’t want her to succeed him. The Clintons and the Obamas loathe each other on a deeply personal level.

So maybe Biden, except Biden is deeply wounded by the death of his eldest son and couldn’t be expected to be in top form.

And Biden’s top form may be good enough for senate races, but on the stump he could be a disaster. He’s extremely affable but extremely gaffe-prone as well. When he’s in a rhetorical pickle he just makes stuff up on the fly.

Sanders seems like a nice enough guy, but face it, he’s a socialist and I don’t think the time has come yet when that’ll fly in America.

Trump is making a lot of noise and getting applause for saying things a lot of people are thinking but don’t dare say. He also has a short fuse. If Megyn Kelly rattled him how is he going to handle the heat in a debate?

Carson seems like a nice guy, perhaps a little too nice to lead this country in a dangerous world full of people who don’t like us much. He’s brilliant, but politics isn’t brain surgery.

Fiorina is smart and successful, but again has zero experience in office.

Rubio is as some conservatives point out, the right-wing Barack Obama. Ethnic-American with no accomplishments that warrant leaping into the presidency at this stage of his career.

Cruz is brilliant and prepared. He would run rings around anyone in debate.

Rumor has it the downside is Cruz likes people to know how brilliant he is, and that grates.

So how is this going to play out?

Durned if I know. But it’s going to get interesting.

September 2, 2015

Cop Haters

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:30 am

“Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;”

Rudyard Kipling, Tommy

(Note: This is an op-ed I wrote before the recent alarming string of police murders across the country.)

There are a lot of people out there who hate cops.

“So what else is new?” I hear you ask.

(Cops among the readership are probably just rolling their eyes.)

Of course there are people who hate cops. There are whole sectors of society that dislike and distrust cops. I’m talkng about middle and upper-class white people who hate cops.

I’m talking about respectable members of society with no criminal records, no contact with police beyond getting a traffic ticket, and no contact with the kind of people who engage in criminal enterprises and accept arrest and imprisonment as a business expense.

I am not talking about people who recognize and speak out against corruption and abuse of power by individual cops and broken agencies.

Any honest cop know there are such, though they’ll tell you they are rare. We can argue about whether they’re being too optimistic.

I’m talking about people who appear to hate cops on principle. I’m talking about people who state there are no good cops, because all cops are sworn to enforce all laws, including stupid or unjust laws.

That’s the rationalization at least. To me a whole lot of it looks like the adolescent resentment of authority that I remember from my own early years, only I grew out of it.

“You’re white and you’re not poor, of course you like cops!” I hear.

I have a confession to make. I once was enamored with the romance of outlawry, and my interactions with cops were not always positive.

And long ago in one of the Eastern European countries newly liberated from communist tyranny, I was once the recipient of a beating with honest-to-God jackboots and honest-to-God rubber truncheons.

I will further confess that I have a more than passing familiarity with criminals and ex-criminals. Respectable people are sometimes astounded when I mention that I actually know murderers, more than one in fact.

And I should mention that I’ve had extensive use-of-force training, including a fair amount of police training in the U.S. and abroad while pursuing stories.

That I think is one of the reasons these people irritate me so much. The fact that they make confident pronouncements about what cops should have done in the kind of hot situation they have zero competence dealing with themselves.

I’ve heard a professor of philosophy ask the old question, “Couldn’t they just shoot them in the leg?” (To her credit, when it was explained to her why this is uttely unrealistic she understood and changed her mind.)

I’ve heard others Monday-morning quarterback about police shootings where a cop shot someone making a sudden move who turned out not to be armed.

“Why can’t they wait until they see a gun? They’re out of control!”

I’ve heard police shootings condemned because a mentally disturbed person “only had a knife.”

(There is something called the “21 foot rule.” A lot of evidence shows knife beats gun within 21 feet. And mentally disturbed people too often have hysterical strength and sky-high pain tolerance.)

And I know of anti-cop sites which post article after article about “police brutality” with precisely one source – the accused!

“It’s people like you that justify police states!” you say.

Listen, I’ve lived in police states. And you know what – police states have lousy police. And I don’t mean brutal and repressive, I mean undertrained, incompetent and indifferent police. So-called police states are sympathetic to criminals and regard their citizens as the enemy. I have never once seen the level of courteous professionalism among cops there that I’ve seen here and in Great Britain.

Yes, sometimes you run into bad cops, sometimes you run into a cop who’s having a bad day, and sometimes you run into cops with problems they can’t leave at home.

But could it be that you’re more likely to run into a cop who deals with the scum of the earth on a regular basis and doesn’t know you from Adam? Who deals with people who’d cap your middle-class ass without a second thought because you dissed them, because you had something they wanted, or just because?

One last question. If enough people keep harping on this “there are no good cops” things, how long will it be before a lot of cops decide there’s no point in trying to be one?

P.S. I have been trying to point out to a number of people and organizations:

1) They need to demand the same journalistic standards they’d expect if they were being covered. Sites such as CounterPunch and Cop Block often publish stories of “police brutality” with precisely ONE source – the arresttee.

2) They need to learn something about use-of-force issues before sounding off about something outside their area of expertise. Rory Miller’s “Force Decisions” is a great place to start.

3) If they wish to be effective spokespersons against police misconduct they have to do their homework and stop posting every piece of dreck that supports their prejudices.

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