Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 30, 2017

Guest post: when cliches replace reason

Filed under: Culture — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:24 am

My friend Josh Amos sent me this at my request after telling me the outlines of the story. The story can’t be trimmed to column-size (700 words max) so I’m posting it here. Josh speaks for himself quite well, so without further ado:

An incident happened at my son’s high school in 2005 that had what has been described as a “cracking good tale of stupidity running rampant in the schools.” I wish it were not true but it is.
I was a single dad of a teenage boy at the time
Two teenage boys were playing basketball, and a dispute started. Over what who knows, but like most teenage boys, taunts and insults ensued and a scuffle started. It was determined that taunts and insults had racial over tones to them and the principal intervened. Instead of introducing swift strict and impartial discipline to two deserving teenage boys (see idiots) the principal decided that this was an opportunity to have a “racial dialog” the upshot was the black boy decided that he was justified in his actions and the white boy decided that he couldn’t get a fair shake from the school’s administration. Shortly there after, the white boy’s truck was vandalized and his Confederate Flag sticker was scraped off of his truck box. The matter was reported and after some more of the principal’s “dialog” nothing was done to address the issue. To further enflame the matter the alleged perpetrator (still feeling fully justified) and several of his friends began taunting the white boy over the matter.
So the white teenage boy did what teenage boys often do…he upped the ante. He hoisted the confederate flag on his truck and drove to school with it flying at a time and place where everyone could not help but to see it. The provocation produced results. Four black students three boys and one girl violently attacked the white boy and his truck and a general brawl ensued. The local newspaper took note and headlines were made. Again, the principal decided that instead of swift and impartial punishments for all involved, he would form a “diversity council” and the first four members of the board were….you guessed it, the four black teens who assaulted the white boy. The white boy was not invited. Several faculty members and a few parents were invited (including me, who volunteered), a couple of non-white students, and two paid “diversity specialists” one an older black woman from the Evergreen State College in Olympia(of the recent Antifa riot infamy) and a middle aged Hispanic woman from Pierce Community College.
I attended the first meeting and was appalled at the goings on. The entire meeting was not about inclusion, justice, unity, good manners, respect, or anything that makes an adult be able to function in any kind of society, let alone a multi cultural society like America. The meeting was a cliché’ of cultural Marxism and blatant white bashing. The history teacher literally apologized to the students for slavery. The parents (mostly the black children had white parents) railed against all of their perceived injustices. The students began complaining of imagined racist slights they received from teachers. The paid diversity experts not only encouraged the four black teens for assaulting the white teen, they told them it was the “duty” of black men and women to “confront” racism everywhere they saw it. There were promises of diversity type scholarships made to the students.
No one addressed let alone discussed the behavior of the boy who started this whole chain of events. No one tried to discuss why it was wrong to mob up and attack someone you disagree with. No one told the parents that a great deal of their child’s problem was due to their parenting. No one told the history professor he was teaching incomplete and agenda driven history, and no one discussed how the principal made this entire problem worse by missing several key opportunities to end the behavior problems before they got out of hand. Finally, no one questioned why there were paid social justice warriors telling kids that violence was ok? And what were their qualifications? And how much were they getting paid? Any discussion that was contrary to the agenda was quashed and disagreements were not allowed. The school handed out SJW books with reading assignments. I read and critiqued the assignment.
The next meeting happened and fewer parents were in attendance. So this is when the key part of the agenda was stated “only white people can be racist because white people have power and minorities don’t.” At first I was shocked that this old, debunked, lie was still being told, but here was a room full of academics all nodding their heads in agreement, and the look on the faces of the teens was one of “I just got a license to go hunting and its ok!” Once I heard this, It was clear that there would be no reasoning with this bunch. So I used the time tested method of dealing with self-important tripe.
I laughed at them.
“So are you paid “experts” are trying to tell me that the Nazi party was not racist until the day after they were elected to office, or are you saying that the KKK is no longer racist because they don’t have power anymore?” I hooted with scorn, “This is moral and intellectual bankruptcy.” Minor bedlam ensued, but I refused to yield and sadly nothing was going to change to course of this disastrous panel. I stopped laughing and I turned to the four black kids and directly addressed them. I told them that they were wrong. Period. They had the ability to be better but that the diversity professionals were setting them up for failure or worse. I further went on to point out that the laws governing self-defense and the judicious use of lethal force would have allowed the white boy they mobbed to kill all of them and probably successfully sue their parents into the poor house. Their eyes all got wide. I told them it was ok not to like the truth I was telling them but they had to understand that I didn’t want to see them hurt or killed, but I wasn’t sure that the diversity professionals and the academics could say the same thing.
Rough truth. Could I have delivered better? Yes. But it was clear by the reactions of the academics that my time on the diversity board was coming to a rapid close. Sure enough a day later I received and email from the principal stating because I couldn’t agree (submission) to the agreed upon diversity board agenda and their premise, that I wasn’t welcome back. No surprise.
I enrolled my son in college the next year and moved on from that high school.
About three years later, I went into a local pizza shop and there was the boy/young man working. He saw me and got an embarrassed look on his face. Having made many mistakes as a young man myself, I wasn’t going to kick him while he was down. I asked him how he was doing and how school was going. Turns our that he got the scholarship but lost it and was back working. I told him that that sort of thing happened, “You broke it, but you can fix it” he could be a man, work hard, learn, grow and make his way back. He nodded and thanked me.
I wondered later if the diversity professionals or academics at the high school that had profited off of that young man’s mistakes had ever reached out to him in his time of need?
Josh Amos
Single dad, former Marine, MBA magna cum laude

September 19, 2017

Why I despise SJWs

Filed under: Culture,News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:25 am

Social Justice Warriors make my teeth itch.

On Sunday the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards got political (Surprise! Surprise!) and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss evidently sang a song about how nice it would be to have a president “who is not beloved by Nazis.”

Last week ESPN anchor Jemele Hill tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

Author Sarah Jaffe responded to Miami Police Department warnings against looting in the wake of Hurricane Irma with a tweet, “good morning, the carceral state exists to protect private property and is inseparable from white supremacy”

Carceral state? Meaning we lock people up who break into homes and steal stuff? Oh whatever will this poor old world be FORCED to endure next?

Someone named Daniell Rider found a decoration at Hobby Lobby which included some cotton plants so offensive she took to Facebook to express her outrage.

“This decor is WRONG on SO many levels. There is nothing decorative about raw cotton… A commodity which was gained at the expense of African-American slaves.”

This would be humorous but evidently she got tens of thousands of “likes” and even more comments pro and con.

Because of a cotton plant. Let that soak in.

This is but a recent sample of the mischief SJWs have gotten up to in the past few weeks. Over the last few years we’ve seen them make life miserable for science fiction fans, gamers, and hobbyists of all kinds.

Look, we get it. Nazis are bad. Racists are bad. Slavery was just awful. Thank you. We’d never have known that if you hadn’t told us.

But wait a minute. The Third Reich was destroyed in 1945, it’s most prominent leaders were hanged or imprisoned.

Slavery was abolished in 1865 when congress passed the 13th Amendment.

Racism persisted for a long time afterwards and still exists though much diminished. But we have come a long way from the days of Jim Crow. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde about war, racism is not just considered wrong – it’s vulgar.

And here it gets complicated. Discrimination in hiring, employment, public accommodations etc, is illegal. Get caught doing it, and you could be in serious legal trouble. Just being accused of it can involve you in expensive litigation not to mention social opprobrium.

But inequalities persist that can’t be explained by the remnant racism in this country. There is a good argument that the cultural legacy of slavery and Jim Crow play some part in persistent poverty and high crime rates. Culture is powerful.

There is also a good argument that well-meaning attempts by government to help have had negative effects on family stability resulting in generational poverty.

And if you make the case for those claims SJWs will call you a racist and say YOU’RE the problem.

If you’re white, they’ll call you a White Supremacist. If you’re black, they’ll call you an Uncle Tom.

In the most recent absurdity, TV personality Chelsea Handler called Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson a “black white supremacist.”

I disagree with SJWs. I think they’re wrong and I think they’re living in a fantasy world in which Nazis and Klansmen are still as powerful as they were almost a century ago rather than the tiny minority of pitifully neurotic attention-seekers they are.

But that’s not why I feel this overwhelming contempt for them.

Nazism was destroyed at a terrible cost by a generation of men and women we rightly revere.

Slavery was destroyed in a war that killed more Americans than all our other wars combined.

Jim Crow was defeated by the patient courage of generations of Americans who risked their lives and reputations to stand up for what was right.

What price do SJWs pay for their conspicuous advocacy of causes won before they were born?

There is honor to be had in the mopping up operation for sure. But what risks do they run? What hardships do they endure? What justifies their arrogant assertions of their courage and moral superiority?

They believe themselves to be the equal of mighty ancestors but show themselves to be only posturing phonies.

This column appears in the collection “The View From Flyover Country: A Rural Columnist Looks at Life in the 21st Century” available at Amazon.

August 11, 2017

Other ways than ours

Filed under: Culture,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:49 am

Just the other day I had a delightful conversation with a chance met acquaintance at our local family pub.

This elderly fellow (by which I mean my age) was wearing a T-shirt that he’d acquired in Monrovia, Liberia. A young (college-age) man asked if Monrovia was in Europe somewhere.

Well no, it’s in Africa and it’s the capitol of Liberia. And in fact it’s named after President James Monroe. Because the country was founded by the American Colonization Society in the 19th century as a nation for freed American slaves.

The Americo-Africans formed a local aristocracy that ran things until a coup, followed by a purge, followed by two civil wars.

At any rate my new acquaintance is a retired small-town police chief who was recruited for peace keeping duties in Liberia after he retired from the police force.

In the ordinary course of events one might wonder what we found to talk about, our backgrounds in America having so little in common. He was a cop, I a journalist. He had lived in Africa, I in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Quite a lot actually. We talked with the easy familiarity of people who share a common language. The language of people who know there are other ways than ours.

Most Americans really don’t understand this on anything but an intellectual level, and oddly enough we’ve found those who are loudest in their appreciation of “diversity” understand it the least.
Unless one has lived in a truly foreign culture, and by lived I mean for at least a year and acquired a functional knowledge of the language, one cannot really appreciate that not everybody thinks like us.

We are a W.E.I.R.D. culture: Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic. A term my new acquaintance had never heard before but understood instantly when I mentioned it.

For example, he told me the story of conducting an investigation into an accidental drowning in a village out in the bush.

How do you think that would go in small town America?

A tragedy for sure, and a terrible loss for family and friends. I know, I’ve covered such stories and taken some heat when people thought the press had been too intrusive.

Would you ever think it would result in murder though?

What happened was the investigative team spent the best part of the day trying to convince villagers that this kind of thing just happened, that it was nobody’s fault. Because they were about to take it out on the least popular most vulnerable villagers. Because in their culture they did not believe there was any such thing as “death by natural causes.”

And he really doesn’t know what happened after they left the village.

I mentioned an experience in the Middle East when I got some of my news from an English-language newspaper, The Arab Times.

I was reading an advice column, but not exactly the kind of advice Dear Abby used to give. A reader wrote in to say he had a beef with a neighbor and was thinking about getting even.

He was going to get even with black magic.

The advice columnist sternly warned him that using black magic was strictly against the Koran.

Well, it’s strictly against the Bible too but it doesn’t come up very often in Sunday sermons these days.

Understand, the columnist was in no way denying the reality or efficacy of black magic. He was warning that it’s against the law.

How quaint. To think such things still exist in odd corners of the world. But of course that kind of thing doesn’t happen here anymore. Not since colonial days and the Salem witch trials.

Think so? If you were to go to the Navaho reservation and talk to the Navajo tribal police you’d find they take accusations of witchcraft very seriously. Because yes even in the 21st century people could get killed over that kind of thing.

This is what experience of other cultures teaches. That while yes, we are all human beings and share a common human nature within that common humanity there are a lot of different ways to be human.

Note: The title of this column is an allusion to Robert Heinlein’s book “Podkayne of Mars.” It’s the title of a book the titular heroine’s archeologist father wrote about the native Martians.

April 27, 2016

Gender Privacy

Filed under: Culture,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 4:58 pm

This bathroom thing has, pardon the expression, gotten out of hand.

Those of us in the punditry industry have been saying for a while now that it’s hard to do satire anymore because life has gotten so absurd it’s hard to tell the difference.

So now all we can do is give examples from the news and say, “You can’t make this $#!+ up!”

I never in a million years would have imagined so many people would be passionate about asserting the rights of guys to use the ladies bathroom.

“But I identify as a woman!”

Yes, and I’m really sorry about that. Honest to God I am, and I’m not being facetious. It must be living hell to live with that kind of confusion. But the fact is, you’re not.

“What about people who’ve undergone the gender reassignment surgery?”

Then you’re an unfortunate human being who has found a doctor willing to surgically mutilate you. But you still have an XY chromosome set. In my humble and Johns Hopkins University’s not-so-humble opinion.

(Johns Hopkins university hospital pioneered the surgery, and has abandoned it after concluding that the surgery does not turn a man into a woman or vice versa in any meaningful sense.)
However that law in North Carolina so many think is the Confederacy rising again specifically excepts those who have had the surgery.

“Transgendered persons aren’t all sex offenders!”

OK, but beside the point.

This is the point. I have a nine-year-old daughter. I don’t get to go into the ladies room with her, and she certainly doesn’t want me to although when she was younger I changed her diapers more often than I can count.

Why in hell should she want a stranger who is capable of standing up to pee in the ladies room with her?

It’s not about my fear of sex offenders preying on my daughter – it’s her privacy!

Is that so hard to understand?

Yes, ladies rooms have stalls. Yes we have public restrooms. And we have certain social conventions of behavior in them, which I think but do not know for certain are different for men and women.

I had a young man of confused gender ask me why he couldn’t keep using the bathroom of his (?) choice and what are you going to do, have a pantless inspection before anybody walks in?

Could we solve this the way we always have, with a certain benign hypocrisy?

If you can’t tell the difference between a lady and a drag queen, ignore it!

If you are a business owner, set your own policy and see if your customers can live with it. Target has already begun that experiment so we shall see. That North Carolina law is about public accommodations.

And why did they have to make an issue of it to begin with?

Well I can think of a couple of reasons.

One is that this is in no way shape or form a battle for “rights.” It’s a case of “Notice me damn it!” from a bunch of, again pardon the expression, drama queens.

And for a number of straight men and women, it’s virtue signaling.

“Look at me! I’m a civil rights hero!”

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, the Freedom Riders risked being murdered and buried in the swamp. You might get unfriended on Facebook. Oh the horror!

You risk nothing while making countless women uncomfortable in their most private moments on behalf of a tiny minority of pathetically confused individuals. They certainly deserve our compassion, but not turning our lives upside down to humor their delusions.

Behind that smug, I’m-so-much-more-enlightened-than-you posturing is a smarmy let’s-freak-out-the-squares attitude that I remember from my hippie days when I was that kind of @$$#0!e too.

January 12, 2016

The Invasion of Europe

Filed under: Culture,Immigration,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:57 am

One day in 1998, while I was working at an Industrial Training Center in Saudi Arabia, I heard that sound which once heard is never forgotten. It was the sound of hundreds of voices screaming mindlessly, the sound of a mob.

What had happened was a delegation of American executives, including one woman, was touring the facility. Somehow the American woman became separated from the group and was wandering through the hallway when a break between classes occurred.

I heard the roar of the mob, grabbed a student and shouted, “What the hell is going on? Is there a fight?”

“It’s a woman, Teacher,” he said. “An American woman.”

Imagine if you will what this woman must have felt walking by hundreds of young men screaming things like, “Can I *** you?” at the top of their lungs.

Well more than a hundred German women in Cologne, and on a smaller scale in Hamburg and perhaps Sweden didn’t have to wonder. They experienced it and worse first hand over New Years.

Reports have it thousands of North African Muslim refugees mobbed young women, groped them, tore their clothes, and robbed them.

Police were overwhelmed – and perhaps reluctant to act.

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker advised young women to “stay at arms length” from “unknown men” and dress modestly.

Worse, many German newspapers attempted to kill the story, as did Swedish newspapers in 2015 when something similar happened at a concert.

The Germans are caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, there are living men and women who recall the mass rape orgy of the Red Army at the fall of the Third Reich. On the other hand, they’ve long felt the need to be conspicuously humanitarian for two generations after Nazism. So when asked to take in refugees they’re like the gal who can’t say no.

So what explains the Swedes?

The East Europeans who endured two generations of unwanted guests under the Soviet occupation have no such qualms. Poland has seen mass demonstrations against taking in Muslim refugees and Hungary has re-built border fences dismantled after the fall of communism.

For more than a generation Western students have been taught the doctrine of cultural relativism, the notion that each culture should be judged by its own standards and no culture is in any objective sense better than any other.

When I was getting my masters in anthropology this was holy writ. Which is one reason I didn’t go further than an MA. I have a problem keeping my opinions to myself you see.

So here’s mine. Western civilization is suffering a crisis of confidence. On the one hand we hold to the values of equality, tolerance and inclusiveness. After much bloody history we have at last arrived at a place where we consider the in-group, those people we are obligated to act ethically towards, as all of humanity regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual preference.

And that has caught us on an awful contradiction when we welcome into our midst members of a culture that accepts chattel slavery, the brutal subjugation of women, the murder of apostates, honor killings, murdering homosexuals, and killing those who insult their religion as perfectly OK.

Try to put yourself into the mind of a man who would murder his own daughter for being raped, daring to choose her own husband, or just getting uppity in public.

In Jordan, one of the more progressive and Westernized Arab Muslim countries, in spite of the efforts of Queen Rania and Dowager Queen Noor, men convicted of honor killings typically get sentences less than you could expect for a DUI.

Honor killings have come to Europe with Muslim immigrants, and lately to America.

There are those who say our wars in the Middle East have created this refugee crisis. Perhaps so, but we did not create that culture.

If we should not be over there, perhaps they should not be over here. And if they wish to come, can we make it plain that in our countries we make the laws and customs?

November 22, 2015

Ray Bradbury remembered

Filed under: Culture,Free Speech,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:25 am

Note: This was an op-ed obituary published four years ago. I neglected to post it and am doing so now in light of recent controversies concerning free speech on campus.

Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, which shouldn’t surprise anyone because he was after all, 91, but somehow it does. However, he died during the extremely rare transit of Venus which doesn’t surprise at all.

As Bradbury grew older his hair turned white, he collected the usual assortment of wrinkles and infirmities, but his eyes! He had the eyes of a child to the end.

Bradbury has been eulogized by artistic luminaries such as Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, and on June 6, by President Obama.

“For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values,” the White House said in an official press release.

That’s generous considering what Bradbury said about Obama after he made cuts to the space program, “He should be announcing that we should go back to the moon!”

It turns out Bradbury was a libertarian conservative, having migrated from a liberal Democrat to a supporter of both Reagan and Bush, and harsh critic of Clinton.

Or perhaps it was the parties that migrated. The author of “Fahrenheit 451,” one of the most impassioned defenses of free expression and high culture ever penned in English, never wavered in his support for liberty. When the threat to free expression came from the right, he was a liberal. When it was from the left, a conservative.

When Michael Moore filmed “Fahrenheit 911,” Bradbury angrily demanded, “Give me back my title!”

Bradbury was hailed as the greatest living writer of speculative fiction, a catch-all term for everything that isn’t fiction set in known history or the here-and-now, but defies categorization. He wrote in the genres of more-or-less science fiction, but also fantasy, mystery, and historical reminiscence.

The fact is Bradbury somehow never forgot what children know, that the “ordinary” world is in reality strange and wonderful.

His tales of the fictional “Green Town” were directly modeled on his very prosaic home town of Waukegan, Illinois, but imbued with the magic that is all around us unseen.

Though it’s been decades, I still remember a story of an old maid walking to her isolated home after dark, knowing there is a strangler on the loose. Her growing unease as she begins to suspect someone is following her home. Her relief when she enters her home and hurriedly locks the door. And the Hitchcockian twist at the end when a man clears his throat behind her!

Then came the one-two punch after I caught my breath, turned the page, and found the very next story began with three boys grumbling that some of the excitement had gone out of life because the old maid has stabbed the strangler to death with a pair of sewing scissors!

Bradbury loved a happy ending. When Francois Truffaut made “Fahrenheit 451” into a movie with a more upbeat ending, Bradbury was delighted. When publishers bowdlerized the book to remove content they found objectionable, he was outraged. Bradbury knew what his priorities were.

A man of contradictions, he wrote “The Martian Chronicles” and “R is for Rocket,” but never learned to drive and used a typewriter to the end.

He wrote to the end of his life, his talent forever fresh. The ancient Greeks said, “If the gods love you, you die in childhood.”

The gods must have loved Ray Bradbury, for he died still a child at heart.

November 6, 2015

Why Israel must survive

Filed under: Culture,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:39 am

“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

I get into a lot of arguments about Israel lately, and I’m sick of it.

I’m seeing a rising tide of anti-Semitism that worries me, a lot. And no I don’t believe, “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist.”

There was a time that might have been true but no more.

I am well aware of the moral ambiguities involved with supporting a state which contains a sizable minority of people who hate it. People who must be kept in check with measures that leave a bad taste in the mouths of free men.

I know there were people already living there when the survivors of European Jewry descended upon what had hitherto been at best a sleepy backwater of various empires that ruled the region over the past two millennia.

I realize that Israel is not much of an advantage as an ally in the region, immensely complicates our relations with the Arab states, and absorbs entirely too much foreign aid.

No, I don’t believe that having distant ancestors from the place automatically gives anyone a right to colonize it. By that logic I and my fellow-Celts could claim a great deal of Western Europe and tell these Germanic Johnny-come-latelies to get the hell off our land.

And I will point out I had reasoned criticisms of Israel waaay back when it was seriously unpopular to express them.

Nonetheless I say Israel must live.

Here’s what I think. The Islamic jihadists have made it plain they desire the death of all Jews. Not Israelis, Jews. Everywhere.

Furthermore a fair number of the elites of the western world have concluded this is an acceptable price to pay for peace. More in Europe, but it’s catching on here too.

I never wanted to be part of this struggle and seriously resent having to take sides.

But I did have to. Because the Islamic jihadists have made it plain I had to.

And so I had to side with the nation whose law mandated the release of accused war criminal John Demjanjuk because the evidence he was one specific concentration camp guard did not rise to the bar of proof demanded by civilized law, versus the culture which demands if your sister or daughter is raped, seen with a man not a close relative, or just gets uppity that it is your duty to murder HER.

You have probably seen this claim: If the Arabs laid down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis laid down their arms there would be six million fewer Jews in the world.

Does anyone seriously doubt this?

I have another question aimed purely at your self-interest. Who is more likely to a. discover a cure for cancer, b. develop a clean, renewable energy source, c. find some kind of accommodation for that nation or any other nation in those horrible circumstances – six million Israelis or 600 million Arab Muslims?

Israel must survive. Because Israel is an outpost of Western Civilization, which to date offers the best hope of eventually insuring the liberty and dignity of every man and woman.

And because it is in Israel where one of the twin roots of our civilization lies.

If you are a child of the West, no matter what your ancestry is, you are part Hebrew and part Greek.

The Greeks taught us how to think. The Hebrews taught us about justice and the rule of law.

Western Civilization might have been born when the prophet Nathan said to King David, “Thou art the man!”

If it is wrong for a subject, it is wrong for a king. Equality under the law. Does anyone realize how revolutionary that ideal was at the time, and how rare even today?

Not only Israel is under attack, but all of Western Civilization, from without and within. If we let Israel fall it will send a clear message that we will sell our kin to survive, thus insuring our own inevitable downfall.

February 6, 2014

Antanaclasis that’s what!

Filed under: Culture,Humor/satire,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:41 am

The part of a journalist’s life we don’t like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.

For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.

You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.

Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you’re looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.

Hence antanaclasis.

Antana-what? You well may ask.

Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning “against” or “back,” ana “up,” and klasis “breaking.” In Latin it’s called refractio “rebounding” and it’s a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.

Those things that us writers do are called “figures of speech” and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae “The Forrest of Rhetoric,” a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.

I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.

Antanaclasis is defined as, “The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance.”

That’s a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it’s a different word.

“Your argument is sound…all sound.” —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in “reasonable” versus sound as in “air” or “wind.”)

“In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.” (“Skill” versus “cunning” or “fraud.”)

In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” —Vince Lombardi

Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D’israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.

Gladstone once said, “Mr. D’israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease.”

“That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress,” D’israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D’israeli in these exchanges.)

Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it’s not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning “to adopt a position with passionate conviction” versus “to hold in your arms.”

So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?

I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.

Watch this space for further developments.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent website.

November 30, 2013

Some thoughts on what it means to be an American

Filed under: Culture,Op-eds,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:40 am

Just the other day I had a Facebook exchange with a friend.

This was an exchange of the kind which reminds me of (journalist) Frank Meyer’s observation, “We find comfort among those we agree with, growth among those we disagree with.”

The fact is, sometimes I spend entirely too much time with people I agree with. And of the people I don’t agree with, a lot of them don’t argue very well. It’s just not very challenging to discuss disagreements with somebody whose contentions begin and end with, “I just feel…”

When you disagree with someone who can support their position well, it challenges your brain, makes you define and refine what you believe and why you believe it.

The Facebook format forces you to do it in tiny bites, which is frustrating but also sharpens your ability to write succinctly.

In this case the point of disagreement came down to the hot button issue of our day, race.

He believes there is a cabal of white supremacists attempting to gin up racial hatred, because they are fearful of coming demographic shifts which will result in whites becoming a numerical minority around the middle of the century.

I think this is absurd, that white supremacy is the obsession of a tiny minority of pathetic losers.

In my humble opinion racial divisions are being ginned up because a voting society can always be dominated by a coalition of minorities. (There is allegedly a mathematical proof of this.) Therefore it is in the interest of at least one party to hinder the assimilation of minorities, foster divisions in society and nourish a sense of grievance.

But after signing off it occurred to me that it may not matter who is right or wrong, if we lose sight of what it means to be an American.

I don’t care what the racial/ethnic makeup of America becomes, so long as we remain American in the only way that counts.

There have been lots of nations which retained their culture but changed their look. The Mongols in the time of Ghengis Khan were not Asians but a Turkic people among whom red hair and grey eyes were fairly common. That changed after the conquest of China when every Mongol warrior brought home a Chinese concubine or ten.

Several North and South American Indian tribes and bands have become more phenotypically white or black due to intermarriage. Gypsies I’ve known in Northern Europe look distinctly different from their cousins in Romania and Bulgaria. Ashkenazic Jews often look far more European than their Sephardic brethren. Examples multiply.

I do believe that fears of demographic shifts are not groundless. I will state here and now that I used to be an open-borders libertarian. I rethought that position after conversations with people in the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

These postage stamp-sized countries have always lived with the knowledge that a hiccup of history could wipe their nation out – forever. Who now remembers the Lusitanians? Or that the Prussians were originally a Slavic people whose land and very name was taken by the Germanic people who wiped them out?

For the Baltic peoples, a “demographic shift” means their countries become Russian, and they become a historical footnote.

But America is too big for that to happen, isn’t it?

Furthermore, America has always been a mixture of peoples. Samuel Johnson described Americans disdainfully as a bastard race of Scots, Irish, Germans and Indians. Why should any more mixing make a difference?

(After the Revolution perhaps Dr. Johnson had time to reflect that though it’s the purebreds that win the dog shows, it’s the mutts that win the fights.)

It shouldn’t matter – unless we lose sight of what makes us all Americans.

America is almost unique among nations in that our identity as a people is not defined by ancestry, but by our relationship to a set of ideas embodied in a canon of political literature.

The only other examples that come to mind are the Jews and their relationship to Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Teaching), and the Icelanders and their Sagas, historical literature about the founding of their nation.

The American canon is ill-defined but certainly includes the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense by Tom Paine, the Constitution, and The Federalist (a kind of operating manual for the Constitution). I’d say the bookends might be John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government on one end, and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses of Abraham Lincoln on the other.

I would include Cato’s Letters by Trenchard and Gordon, a whole lot of pamphlets that circulated on both sides of the Atlantic in the 50 years prior to the Revolution, and the anti-Federalist papers as well.

Much of the Hebrew canon is made up of discussion and debate about the proper relationship of men to God and men to men in society. The American canon is a debate about the relationship of men to each other in political society.

In the American canon many historical threads come together. Echos of the Irish Brehon law that “a man is better than his birth.” The Native American notion that one may become a member of the tribe by adoption as much as birth. And the Hebrew tradition that a man can demand an accounting for his treatment by his sovereign – or even his God.

This is what being an American means to me, and if we lose this we – and humanity, lose everything.

December 21, 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Filed under: Culture,Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:46 am

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

One day in the early 1930s, an Oxford don, Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, was grading exam papers, when he was inspired to write on a sheet of blank paper, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The rest of the story is still unfolding.

J.R.R. Tolkien published “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in September, 1937, with a print run of 1,500 copies, which sold out by December.

Further editions followed, and translations into other languages. In 1938 he received a letter from a publisher in Germany who was producing a translation, asking if his ancestry was “arisch.” (In fact the name is German, though not typical.)

Tolkien answered, “Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

That probably tells you as much about Tolkien as anything. Witty, learned, upright, honorable, and fearlessly outspoken.

“The Hobbit” was followed by “The Lord of the Rings” and volumes and volumes of Tolkien’s notes and unfinished manuscripts put into some kind of order by his son Christopher after Tolkien’s death in 1973.

In 1977 “The Hobbit” was made into an animated film by Rankin/Bass studios. It wasn’t terrible, but in spite of some high-powered talent it just wasn’t what we’d been waiting for.

Then along came Peter Jackson and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Jackson proved he’s the guy who can do it, so this time around there was no anxiety about “The Hobbit” on film.

Well… maybe a little.

“The Hobbit” is being released as a trilogy at least as long as LOTR. “An Unexpected Journey” will be followed by “The Desolation of Smaug” (2013), and “There and Back Again” (2014).

Jackson filmed both 2D and 3D versions, and used new digital technology with double the frames per second of conventional film. Three-D I can take or leave, but the visual effects did seem somehow more vivid.

So how are they going to stretch one book into a trilogy?

“An Unexpected Journey” didn’t actually seem overlong, even at 2 hours and 50 minutes, even at the midnight premier. And it ended in precisely the right place, right after Bilbo acquires the ring that figures so prominently in LOTR.

The film is faithful to the book, with some additions. Familiar characters from LOTR are retrofitted into “The Hobbit”: Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). Not to mention a cameo by Frodo (Elijah Wood) and old Bilbo (Ian Holm) that sets the stage for the whole story to be shown as a flashback.

For young Bilbo, Jackson cast British actor Martin Freeman, an inspired choice.

The role of Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), mentioned only a few times in the cannon of Middle Earth, is expanded greatly and equipped with a chariot pulled by rabbits. More non-canonical characters are going to be interpolated into the trilogy such as elf warrior maidens.

What Jackson is doing is basically the same thing Tolkien did to the second edition of the book after he had fleshed out LOTR. Tolkien rewrote just enough of “The Hobbit” to make it a consistent introduction to LOTR. Likewise Jackson is fleshing it out with material from the appendices in LOTR to make it a more of a prequel to the LOTR trilogy.

Now say this very, very softly, but in some ways Jackson has improved on the books.

Lin Carter (1930-1988) a very bad writer but very good editor of fantasy fiction, once incurred the wrath of fandom by pointing out “The Hobbit” and LOTR taken together, is a very good work – with serious flaws.

One of them is that Tolkien couldn’t write female characters worth a damn, and hence potentially fascinating roles are relegated to walk-ons. Odd given the inspiration his mother and his wife gave to his work.

The temptation of elf-queen Galadriel is an important and moving scene, but that’s pretty much it for her in LOTR. Jackson gives her more screen time in “The Hobbit” and a role in events worthy of her stature.

Bilbo is given dialog telling why he’s sticking with Gandalf and the 13 dwarves, though he’d very much like to cut and run home, which shows real nobility of spirit. The kind ordinary English people showed in the dark days of WWII when LOTR was written.

I think Tolkien might have liked it.

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