Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

May 31, 2016

No, he didn’t apologize

Filed under: Eleagic mode,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:59 am

First of all, Obama’s speech at Hiroshima wasn’t terrible.

I have to say that because Facebook and right-wing websites are full of indignant protests that Obama “apologized for dropping the bomb.”

No he didn’t. I have the text of the speech in front of me now and nowhere does he apologize. He said it was an awful thing, and who in their right mind would disagree? He said that war was an awful thing. Ditto.

The speech was a diplomatic homily. It says basically that war is terrible, and that atomic weapons have made it even more terrible. It avoided blame and dwelt on how our achievements in science and technology can be applied to horrific destruction.

This is scarcely an original observation but it was well said.

He said we should pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal both Ronald Reagan and Admiral Hyman Rickover “the father of the nuclear navy” endorsed.

He rather surprised me when he said, “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” because Obama always struck me as a “Let’s make us a utopia and we’ll get it done yesterday” kind of guy.

Obama did mention the atrocities of the Axis powers in an oblique sort of way.

“The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us.”

He didn’t come out and say, “This is why you had it coming” but did anyone really expect him to?

The fact is an awful lot of people who don’t like Obama, and I’m not a fan myself, assumed he apologized and blamed America for dropping the bombs because that’s what they expected from him.

Whoever wrote the speech did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between commemorating the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reminding his hosts that the government of Imperial Japan did bring it on themselves.

I have heard arguments for and against Truman’s decision to drop the bombs, and some of the arguments against come from rock-ribbed conservatives.

I myself think the arguments for carry more weight The bombing of Hiroshima came only two months after the 82-day battle of Okinawa had ended. A battle that cost 14,900 allied deaths and 80,000 deaths overall, as Japanese soldiers and civilians fought with fanatic courage to the bitter end.

Many of us have seen the film of a woman throwing her baby off a cliff, because they’d been told the Americans would torture and kill them.

I cannot imagine what she felt like when instead, the Americans fed them.

Obama gently reminded the Japanese that the Allied victory brought them a better way of life, a better philosophy than the fanatic militarism of their past.

“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”

Realizing this ideal between our two countries came at a terrible cost. A cost that will without doubt be paid again and again, because there are evil men in power in the world still.

I don’t say this often, but good job Mr. President.

May 27, 2016

Single parenting

Filed under: Op-eds,Personal,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:07 am

Monday morning my little girl asked if her friend could ride to school with us.

“OK sure, no problem,” I said absent-mindedly.

“And could you sign these papers?” she asked.

OK, permission slip for Park Day. Oops, discipline slip. A blotch on a usually perfect record, this one for late work. Grades – hey, advanced in reading! So glad.

Friend’s mother drops her off. We drive to school me still musing in the car.

Then I hear from her friend, “And I have to answer a lot of questions to see if I’m depressed or have anxiety.”

“Honey, sometimes you’re not depressed, sometimes you’re just sad,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Sometimes I’m sad because the boys make fun of my name.”

“Well listen,” I told her. “In a few years they’ll all be wanting dates and then you can be mean to them if you want to.”

I should mention that she, like my daughter, is nine. And like my daughter she’s very pretty and will probably grow up to be beautiful, so the possibility of being mean to the boys is no idle threat.

She and my daughter have frequent sleepovers either our place or hers. Never been a problem. I’ve never seen any signs she’s anything other than a happy normal little girl.

Of course there could be things I don’t see. But I’ve got this feeling the schools are looking for psychological problems when the problem is childhood.

Kids can be pretty rotten to each other. I was physically bullied as a child in school because I was puny and kind of a smartass. (I dealt with it by learning to fight – and to be less of a ****.)

My son has a different problem. At 14 he’s bigger than I am – and I’m not little. He’s not a target for physical bullying, but the teasing, slanging, insulting are just as hard to take. Maybe harder because he can’t fight back.

My daughter may be the most well-adjusted person I know. She’s physically active, popular, has lots of friends, and is kind to kids who are not so popular.

It worries me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. She lives in a broken home and is being raised by an eccentric older single father. Shouldn’t she have some problems?
Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement and official “Worst Mother in the World,” has pointed out that statistics prove this country at this time is the safest it’s ever been to be a child.

Yet we are full of anxiety for our children.

My children have more freedom to venture further away from home than pretty much all of their age-mates. And their confidence shows. Other little girls look to my daughter to accompany them on walks. Neighborhood boys are beginning to cultivate my son’s friendship. Perhaps because they like the idea of having a big friend.

It’s not that I don’t worry about my children, it’s that I get a grip on myself when I do. I’ve lived in dangerous places. I know the difference between the reality of danger and paranoia.

It’s not that I discount the possibility of psychological problems. My immediate family has many cases of depression, hyperactivity, and Aspergers. It’s that I know the difference between those kind of problems and the **** life throws at you.

So why are we so worried?

Some of it has to be the technology. We didn’t have iPads, the Internet, or smart phones. It is having some kind of effect on our kids but we have no idea what the long-term effect will be, because there hasn’t been a long term yet.

And of course the media has something to do with it as well. Criminal predation on children is rare – but because it’s rare it’s news. Which gives us the impression it’s more common than it actually is.

And could it be we’re worried about ourselves and projecting it onto our children?

May 24, 2016

The Uber Economy

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:43 am

Somehow I always knew I’d wind up as a cab driver.

I think it was that scene at the end of “The Razor’s Edge” when Tyrone Power said his next adventure might be going back to America and getting a cab so he could meet lots of people.

“Cool!” I thought when I first saw that movie, and again when I saw the vastly underrated remake with Bill Murray.

Of course, in this day and age that’s a whole lot more difficult than when he so blithely tossed off the idea. Cabs and cab drivers are subject to a stack of regulations which make entry difficult to impossible.

So I became an Uber driver.

The problem is, right now I can’t take a full-time journalism gig. Various commitments with my kids mean I have to, as in have to, take them somewhere four out of five weekday evenings. I also have to spend an hour-and-a-half every day without fail helping my daughter with her eye exercises. A commitment that will run at least another six to eight months.

Journalism hours are irregular at best. I’ve done some freelance work but at least one editor got miffed and cut me off when I couldn’t commit to becoming full time.

So I got a new phone and downloaded the Uber ap. When I go online and someone needs a ride I get a ping and a set of directions to pick them up. When they get onboard I get directions to their destination. (A sneaky trick they use to keep drivers from refusing rides to places they might not want to go.)

This is great for me. I can’t really take advantage of the best times; early morning and afternoon rush hour, and late evenings on weekends, but I can slow down the cash hemorrhage. For most people it’s a part time supplement to their income, but some do make a living at it.

OK, no benefits. I’m a contractor. Some have reacted to indignation at the idea and call it “exploitive” and “unregulated,” Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among them.

Sanders however uses Uber almost exclusively. Hillary uses only limousines to avoid exploiting the little people.

What I’d like to point out to the honorable politicians is, this is not a choice between a good job and a bad job. It’s a choice between a job that exactly suits my immediate needs – and no job.

There is also another ride sharing company Lyftt, and something called Arcade City is vowing to redesign the business model yet again to make it driver owned.

What made this possible was computers and smart phones that put a willing buyer and a willing seller in touch in real time.

And this is only the beginning, I just found out there are Uber-like services for freight. Companies like uShip put people with things to move in touch with people who have appropriately sized vehicles. And that means from bicycles to semis!

What else has the technology made possible?

Well by now everyone is familiar with Kickstarter and GoFundMe. By the end of this year I expect to take delivery on a back pack designed for on the go travelers who need to take a business suit, and a new kind of winter parka.

I’m terribly disappointed the flying bicycle didn’t get off the ground, so to speak, but the point is I wasn’t out any money from a failed investment. And the entrepreneurs who think of these cool ideas have access to capital they don’t have to go begging to banks for.

GoFundMe makes charitable giving personal, sending our help and aid directly to the recipient without paying Goldman-Sachs-sized salaries to administrators.

Concierge medical practices avoid insurance hassles and maintain affordable prices for routine care at least in part because they have access to huge medical databases

We are seeing the democratization of access to information and capital at a time when complex taxation and regulation were strangling the entrepreneurial spirit. Of course there is a backlash from those who see their interests in keeping both tightly centralized and regulated.

Hang on to your hats folks, it’s going to be one heckuva ride!

May 13, 2016

On fences and neighbors

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:48 pm

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”
-Robert Frost

Fences, barriers, boundaries, and borders have been much on my mind lately, and things that bother me about them that I can’t quite articulate.

It seems the Progressive project of the present era is to dismantle them all.

It started well. We wanted to end racial discrimination enforced by law, and we did. We wanted to end discrimination against women in the workplace, and made great strides. We wanted to end the legal persecution of homosexuals and did.

But we found that discrimination persisted in popular prejudices. We attacked them with laws rather than education, because education was too slow, and we made progress.

Then it got crazy. Not all at once, but a piece at a time until what was satire in one generation became sober reality in another.

Some examples in no particular order:

The latest flap about bathrooms and why shouldn’t men use the ladies?

We and the Europeans are conflicted about national borders, and whether we have a right to keep anyone out at all. Even if it means accepting huge numbers of people who are actively hostile to the political and ethical principles our civilization is founded on.

Feminist psychology holds sex is merely plumbing and “gender” is a social construct, an artificial barrier to keep half the human race oppressed. So if women are disproportionately represented in certain professions it has to be fixed, right now! Because it can’t be that some women like to have children and be around to raise them, can it?

The courts have decreed a business has no right to pick and choose among its customers. (If you’re Christian at least. We await the results of test cases directed at Muslims.)

Universities and large corporations have whole departments dedicated to recruiting people who look different, but Heaven forbid a conservative should be found in the social sciences or humanities!

And lately the federal government has been considering ways to make the suburbs of the nation more diverse in terms of income and ethnicity.

This has been going on for a while now, long enough to show some effects on society.

It does not seem to have made us one big happy family. In fact, our country seems more divided than ever. Divided by race, party, and even in our most intimate relationships.

As Wendell Berry remarked, “Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.”

The same might be said for race relations. The long hoped-for healing seems to be receding from our grasp.

Even anti-Semitism, “the oldest hate” seems to be coming back with a vengeance.

Maybe that’s just the effect of a lot of people from different backgrounds mixing more than they used to. Throw people together who used to stay at arm’s length from one another and there’s bound to be some friction.

Or maybe it’s because some folks have shown they have no tolerance for other people’s boundaries. Don’t want to cater a gay wedding? By God you will, you intolerant Bible-thumping bigot!

Oddly enough, these are often the same people who think Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on their door with copies of The Watchtower are an intolerable intrusion on their personal liberty.

And maybe Progressives have it backwards.

Maybe a diverse society demands more acceptance of boundaries, not less. More of a common culture, not less.

Maybe toleration should extend to our prejudices and preferences, insofar as they remain personal and private. Maybe if people don’t want your company or your business you should go somewhere else.

“He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”
-Robert Frost, Mending Wall

May 7, 2016

A war like no other

Filed under: Op-eds,Social Science & History,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:31 pm

I have just finished a long conversation with some of the greatest figures in the history of Western Civilization.

Over the past month I listened with rapt attention to tales of battles on land and sea, of political intrigues, the rise and fall of great states, and the decisive victory that shaped our world.

For 27 years, 431–404 BC, Athens and Sparta vied for control of the Greek world, which then extended from Greece proper west to Sicily and southern Italy and east to the Aegean shore of modern-day Turkey.

My entry into this world was via 36 DVD lectures from The Great Courses by Professor Kenneth W. Harl, professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University.

The lecture course is called The Peloponnesian War. The war the historian and eye witness Thudydides called, “a war like no other.”

I had previously enjoyed the 24 lecture course by Professor John Hale, University of Louisville on The Greek and Persian Wars which gave me a tremendous hunger to know more about the history of Greece.

That civilization we call Western is comprised of the speakers of European languages spoken in Europe west of the Ural Mountains, and in the last five centuries spread to the Western Hemisphere, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The twin roots of that civilization lie among the ancient Greeks and the ancient Hebrews. If you are Western then no matter where your ancestors came from you are part Greek and part Hebrew.

Only a few generations ago this was universally acknowledged. Everyone knew the Bible and high school students on the American frontier studied ancient languages and history. President Harry Truman never went to college, and Gen. George Patton had the reputation of a rough profane soldier, but both could read Thucydides account of the war that led to the downfall of Greece in the original Greek.

And what did they learn from it, soldier and statesman?

They learned that as Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England said, that a country has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

The Athenians and Spartans led a coalition of Greek cities to defeat the invading Persians in a sea battle at Salamis and a land battle at Platea. A generation later they fought each other for 27 years.

Later still the Spartan allies of Boeotia marched into Sparta and destroyed forever the myth of Spartan invincibility.

They learned that to survive and prevail a nation must be adaptable.

Sparta was the premier land power in Greece, but learned to become a sea power to defeat Athens.

They learned to beware of demagogues. Democratic Athens was periodically swept by enthusiasm that led them to confuse their hopes with their abilities as Thucydides said about the disastrous invasion of Sicily.

They learned there are no certain outcomes. After the disaster at Syracuse that cost Athens hundreds of ships and thousands of men, they recovered with breathtaking rapidity. Then on what seemed to be the eve of victory, lost all.

They learned that everything has costs.

Athens funded their war by levying tribute upon the city states of their maritime empire, which their allies came to resent enough to rebel against. Rebellions that were often brutally put down.
They learned about the interdependence of nations.

Athens was forced to surrender when they could no longer feed themselves from their own lands and their route to the grain lands of the Black Sea was cut off.

They learned that civilizations like men, can die. Exhausted by the war, Greece was conquered by Phillip of Macedon and became a province of various empires for the next two thousand years.

And they learned that while many things change, some things never change. And they learned to tell the difference.

We have forgotten these things, but we will re-learn them, perhaps at great cos

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