Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Logic only a journalist could love

The Patriot-News, our local fishwrap, is endlessly fascinating. Their editorial pages are exemplars of the anti-business model so beloved by self-regarding guild members. (See examples here, here, here, and here.)

Lately, they are less likely to argue with their conservative readers; they prefer to troll them.

Case in point: this defense of Marie Harf and her “don’t kill the terrorists hire them” brain fart.

As Marie Harf controversy shows, it's nuance, not truth, that's the first casualty:
See, Marie Harf did not say something stupid, nor did she ad lib an inartful answer to a tough question, nor did she articulate a seriously flawed policy.

No. Marie Harf is a victim. Her subtle geopolitical insights were misunderstood and misinterpreted by sexist, agist, stupid right-wingers.

Now, she's the "terrorists need jobs lady." And, at age 33, she's been patronizingly dismissed (with no small amount of sexism underpinning the criticism) as too young and inexperienced to hold the job she now holds. It's a firm bet that no similar accusation would have been hurled if Harf's first name were Michael instead of Marie.
I guess John L. Micek never heard of Tommy Vietor or Ben Rhodes.

Micek also defended Harf by appealing to the wisdom of the greatest American statesman of the twentieth century. http://leadandgold.blogspot.com/2003/05/marshall-george-marshall-may-have-been.html

But any military response must still be accompanied by a political one. After military victory in World War II, it was the Marshall plan that secured seven decades of peace among the warring parties.
This struck me as a poor analogy for a lot of reason. So, I tweeted one to Micek:

Re Harf: We did not start debating the Marshall Plan until we had defeated the Nazis.
Micek then proceeded to “destroy” me like his intellectual heroes Jon Stewart and Vox do to pesky stupid conservatives:

Doesn't mean we have to wait in this case
I was devastated. His tweet laid bare the fatuity of my arguments and I beheld the wisdom of Marie Harfour new Kennan.

Now I know Marie Harf was right because of the Marshall Plan, even though the “plan”, circumstances and timing are completely different.

There are misleading analogies and flawed analogies. Then there is thisa non-analogy which is better than the best analogy because it proves Marie Harf was right and right-wingers are stupid.

Journalist logic at its finest.

By the way, there is a better analogy for Harf and Micek to use. We once did dangle economic growth in front of an enemy engaged in a shooting war.

In 1965 LBJ proposed a “TVA on the Mekong” to Ho Chi Mihn as a carrot to end the invasion of South Vietnam. Ho turned him down cold. Hanoi and the NVA preferred victory first, economic development later.

Just for the record, let’s get a few other points clear.

The Marshall Plan was not an attempt to wean the Nazis away from their warlike ways or address Germany’s legitimate grievances. Before Marshall the Diplomat worked to rebuild Germany, Marshall the General had implemented the Total War strategy which left Germany crushed, helpless, and with no choice but to surrender “unconditionally”. Contra Harf and Micek, Marshall and the rest of the allies were quite prepared to “kill our way” to victory.

At no point did the US negotiate with the Nazis or dangle incentives before them.

As Churchill put in July 1941:

We will have no truce or parley with you [Hitler], or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst and we will do our best.
Finally, nuclear weapons, massive retaliation, and Mutual Assured Destruction had more to do with keeping the Cold War cold than did the Marshall Plan. The Bomb and the Polaris kept Western Europe free; the Marshall Plan helped them regain their prosperity.

What do you mean “we”, writer man?

Ron Rosenbaum in Slate:

Why America Loves Serial Killers
They give us an alibi for our murderous culture.

Don't turn away: Serial killers are America's alibi, and every time you pay your 12 bucks for another serial-killer movie or put one on your Netflix queue, you're feeding the beast.

You're an accomplice. In making serial killers giggly, kitschy chic, we're all accomplices.
From 2005:

The glamorization of evil is one least attractive features of our age. For my money, Silence of the Lambs was an obscene book and movie for precisely this reason.
From 2008:

I'm not a big fan of the slasher/serial killer horror genre. It's partly a matter of philosophy, part cultural inheritance.

A college friend once summed up the moral of the Friday the 13th series as "you can't kill the boogie man." At the time that struck me as an accurate assessment which meant the movies were profoundly nihilistic.

The glorification of sadism is repugnant, and, in itself, is a deal-breaker. These movies also have little appeal because i find it impossible to identify with the victims and their contrived helplessness. The "plots" require too much suspension of belief for any student of Col. Jeff Cooper.

Can't kill the boogie man? Yes we can!
From 2003:

Figures like Holmes or Peter Wimsey are fictional and bear little resemblance to real detectives. But they are hyper-realistic compared to the serial killers in modern thrillers. Writers like Thomas Harris have turned the detectives into somewhat intelligent bureaucrats while making the killer the one endowed with the rare mind. Philip Marlowe is only the " personification of an attitude, the exaggeration of a possibility;" Hannibal Lector bears no resemblance to real serial killers. He is the personification of an impossibility as a criminal, but the perfect example of moral rot as an "artistic" creation.
This post by Ace explains why True Detective struck such a nerve and why it was a breath of fresh air on American TV:

The show ultimately was, as Pizzolato said, not about the serial killer at all, but about the two men, Hart and Cohle, and their long, rocky relationship with one another.

And it's about mystery. The serial killer plot is a pretext to explore mystery -- and evil -- and philosophy -- and sex -- and all the rest of it, but in the end, the show was about the mystery and muddle of life. Not about some Hannibal Lecter-like supercriminal and his lunatic beliefs.

In the end, he wasn't the interesting one; the heroes were the interesting ones.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kind of Blue

This is an incredibly interesting BBC report on Miles Davis's epochal album. Especially liked the interview with drummer Jimmy Cobb, the last surviving member of the sextet.
Miles Davis and Kind of Blue

Thursday, February 05, 2015

In honor of Brian Williams hard-won journalistic credibility

Ace is the place:

Brian Williams Has Been Lying About Supposedly Being Shot Down in a Helicopter In Iraq Since 2003; Now Says He "Misremebered" Some Details and Is "Sorry"

Brian Williams: You Should Trust My Reportage Because of All the "Sand Snakes" (Ground to Air Missiles) I've Had to Personally Dodge to Deliver the News to You
From the archives (2007):

Is Brian Williams going nuts?
Note that incidents of the sort Williams invented were central to his argument for why people should trust him. Oh, and why NBC should pay him millions of dollars.


Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus?
Exit question:

At what point does NBC News become complicit in his lies? At what point does the failure to fire him mean that they approve of his fabrications?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Murder, mystery, and Nazi spies

I’n not a fan of the true crime genre. All too much of it consists of cheap, exploitative stories written by unintelligent, poorly-educated hacks.

Every now and then a compelling story draws the attention of an enterprising reporter. The result is a book than surpasses its pedestrian competion.

Clint Richmond’s Fetch the Devil is just such a book.

In 1938, Hazel and Nancy Frome disappeared as they drove from El Paso to Dallas. Days later they were found murdered over a hundred southeast of El Paso. The wife and daughter of a prominent West Coast executive had been tortured for several days before they were killed and dumped in the desert. The investigation into the crime was the largest in Texas history. Yet, the crime was never solved despite the diligent efforts of talented investigators.

Richmond tells this story with verve while avoiding cheap sensationalism and pervy voyeurism. He also does a great job limning the historical settingAmerica a decade into the Great Depression, war clouds gathering in Europe, unrest in Mexico that threatens to spill across our southern border.

As is often the case with unsolved murders, the investigation was compromised by media-whoring and political jockeying by various police agencies.

Fetch the Devil ends with the author offering his hypothesis of who murdered the Frome’s and why. I found his ideas well supported by the facts and very convincing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Benghazi: Imagine a press corps that did its job

This piece by Sharyl Attkisson demonstrates that there are still important unanswered questions about the 2012 terrorist attack and the White House’s handling of it.

Unanswered Benghazi Questions: 8th in a Series
We do not know the answers to Attkisson’s questions. But we do know this much:

If there is no fire, the White House sure is wasting a lot of energy pumping out smoke screens.

If the WH has nothing to hide, they are not helping themselves by spreading so many lies.

The consequences for the republic are grave when the watchdog press sides with those in power.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The submarine cocktail: not a girly man drink

Edward Ellsberg:

Even so I had always come up after a dive numbed and stiff from the cold, requiring a powerful “submarine cocktail,” a pint of hot coffee and whisky, mixed half-and-half, to help thaw me out.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Two hundred years ago today

New Orleans

On this day in 1815, Andrew Jackson decisively defeated the British Army at New Orleans.

Robert Remini, in The Battle of New Orleans, wrote:

There was a time when the United States had heroes and reveled in them. There was a time when Andrew Jackson was one of those heroes, along with the men and women who stood with him at New Orleans and drove an invading British army back into the sea.

The victory was unexpected. The British had had the better of it in most of the land and sea battles and even burned Washington, DC. At New Orleans they had 8,000 regulars who were veterans of Wellington's army that had defeated the French in Spain. Jackson had only 4,000 troops most of whom were militiamen and recent volunteers.

Even more surprising was the lop-sided outcome. British losses were 291 dead, 1,262 wounded and 484 taken prisoner. The Americans lost only 55 KIA, 185 wounded and 93 missing.

We rarely commemorate the battle today, but for those who were alive in 1815 and for their children, it was a different story. Remini, again:

Americans in the first half of the nineteenth century did believe that January 8 would be remembered like July 4-- both dates representing the nation's first and second declaration of independence from Great Britain. Indeed some called the War of 1812 the Second War for Independence. Generally speaking, widespread observance of January 8 as a day of national celebration continued for the next fifty years.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sometimes it takes a mole to catch a mole

The Mysterious Cuban Spy at the Center of Obama’s Havana Rapprochement

Little is known about the Cuban who is now headed toward what will likely be a comfortable retirement in the United States. But what little U.S. officials disclosed on Wednesday make him one of the United States’ most important Cold War spies. “Information provided by this person was instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States and ultimately led to a series of successful federal espionage prosecutions,” Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a statement, a highly unusual acknowledgement of a U.S. intelligence asset’s contributions.

Among the Cuban spies he helped take down were Montes; the former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, and members of the so-called “Wasp Network,” which infiltrated the Cuban exile community. Taken together, Montes and Myers are probably the most damaging turncoats in the history of the U.S. intelligence community, rivaled only by Navy Warrant Officer John A. Walker, who compromised an immense portion of American encryption systems.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pearl Harbor and the path to war

Two interesting articles on the run-up to the Pacific War.

A Strategy has to be able to work to be masteful
The author has made an in-depth study of the Japanese plans and actual attack. He is less than enthralled with the "genius" of Commander Minoru Genda and Admiral Yammaoto.

Japan's Decision for War in 1941: Some Enduring Lessons

Still, it cannot be denied that, in threatening Japan's economic destruction (and consequent military impoverishment), the United States placed the Japanese in a position in which the only choices open to them were war or subservience. "Never inflict upon another major military power a policy which would cause you yourself to go to war unless you are fully prepared to engage that power militarily," cautions Roland Worth, Jr., in his No Choice But War: The United States Embargo against Japan and the Eruption of War in the Pacific. "And don't be surprised that if they do decide to retaliate, that they seek out a time and a place that inflicts maximum harm and humiliation upon your cause."
The key lesson for today is to recognize that a policy can be morally right but strategically obtuse.

The U.S. insistence, after Japanese forces moved into southern Indochina, that Japan evacuate China as well as Indochina, as a condition for the restoration of trade relations, thus made no sense as a means of dissuading the Japanese from moving south. On the contrary, the demand that Japan quit China killed any prospect of a negotiated alternative to Japan's conquest of Southeast Asia (e.g., restored trade in exchange for Japan's withdrawal from Indochina). In effect, the United States went to war over China rather than Southeast Asia -- a volte-face of enormous strategic consequence since it propelled the United States into a war with Japan over a remote country for which the United States had never been prepared to fight. The fate of China, even of Southeast Asia, did not engage core U.S. security interests, especially at a time when Europe's fate hung in the balance. A war with Japan was, of course, a war the United States was always going to win, but Japan was not the enemy the Roosevelt administration wanted to fight. The United States could have settled its accounts with Japan after Hitler's defeat had been assured. Was denying Japan an expanded empire in Southeast Asia more important, in 1941, than defeating Hitler?