Thursday, September 30, 2004

Perp Walk

The latest issue of the American Spectator has an article on the "perp walk." Surprise number one-- it is opposed to the practice. Surprise number two, it is written by Judge David Sentelle-- one of the favorite liberal boogie men during the Clinton investigations.

The perp walk would be bad enough if the humiliation of the accused were the only intended or accomplished result. however, the walk, commonly conducted at such time as to achieve maximum media exposure, is displayed not just for family and neighbors of the accused, but for every potential juror who sees the front page of the newspaper or the beginning of the evening news.


The camera-ready perp-walk puts the lie to the sanctimonious posturing of the MSM that their privileges are a necessary counter-weight to governmental power and serve to protect the rights of citizens. When it suits their interests, reporters and editors will sacrifice the "presumed innocent" thing and do the work of the DA/police if it gets them a good picture.

The same thing happens with leaks. "Sources close to the investigation" usually means prosecutors or detectives. In their quest for an "exclusive" reporters will let them taint a jury pool with information that may or may not stand up in court. That hardly counts as standing up for the little guy against the power of government.

Instead of complaining about pajama-wearing ankle-biters, reporters like Steve Levy might want to explain why the MSM was largely silent when prosecutors foisted the "satanic ritual child abuse" scare on the public and sent innocent people to jail. Or why the checks and balances of the MSM and the professional ethics of journalists allowed some outlets to actually incite the hysteria. Or, finally, why it was the discreditable right-wing Wall Street Journal op-ed page that gave Dorothy Rabinowitz a platform to blow the whistle on the witch-hunt.

Tell me i was wrong

In this post i likened the reaction of an editor to a PowerLine op-ed to "an Edwardian butler who discovered a group of Welsh miners gathered in the grand dining hall. It is not what they did; it is that they were there at all."

Read this over at Captain's Quarter's and tell me this attitude isn't endemic to the profession:

Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.

Bloggers don't know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square -- without editors, correction policies or community standards. And so their tripe is often as vicious as it is vacuous.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

On leaks, bias and truth

Justoneminute notes that the Plame/Wilson leak investigation hasn't turned out like the press had hoped. Safire lays on the bombast and trots out the usual justifications.

The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before.

Leaks, for good or ill, are an integral part of modern journalism. Without them the Times, CBS, and Newsweek would publish fewer stories of much shorter length. Investigative journalism as it is now practiced could not exist. So leaks make news and, thus, generate information.

But, as Edward Jay Epstein* noted his book Deception, they do so while withholding critical information about context, the motivations for the disclosure, and the professional competence of the person making the statements.

In short, while they generate information, they may not add anything to the store of knowledge; they may, in fact, subtract from it. Amb. Wilson's leaks, after all, created a false picture of pre-war intelligence and the honesty of the current administration. We do not know if the "Pentagon sources" telling Hersh that Iraq is the new Vietnam are the same people who told him in October 2001 that Afghanistan was the new Vietnam.

As Epstein also points out, journalism's reliance on leaks separates it from traditional scholarly disciplines where the search for truth is inextricably tied to the explicit discussion of sources and methods.
Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

One of the ways the ideological bias of journalists manifests itself is in their decision to focus on either the leak or the story. They care about the disclosure of Plame's status as a CIA officer; they didn't care about the illegal release of Linda Tripp's personnel records by a Clinton political appointee. The timing of the Berger revelations is a matter of grave concern; the motivation of those who gave the Abu Ghraib photos to Seymour Hersh is a matter of indifference. The Pentagon sources warning us of a new Vietnam are treated as pure truth-tellers; no one asks if they are evidence of a defeatist coterie who are mired in the mindset of 1968.

Bias can also be a factor in how other journalists treat the "scoop." Both Bill Gertz and Sy Hersh have many talkative contacts in the Pentagon. The rest of the MSM is ignorant about those source's identity, credibility, and competence. Nevertheless, ABC or the LA Times are far more likely to run with a Hersh story that one by Gertz.

Why? How can the reader/viewer be certain that this has nothing to do with Hersh's reflexive anti-Rumsfeld slant or Gertz's pro-brass slant?

Epstein also hones in on some murky ethical questions.

By concealing the machinations and politics behind a leak, journalists suppress part of the truth surrounding a story. Thus, the means by which the medical records of Senator Thomas Eagleton were acquired and passed on to the Knight newspapers (which won the 1973 Pulitizer Prize for disclosing information contained in these records) seems no less important than the senator's medical history itself, especially since copies of the illegally obtained records were later found in the White House safe of John Ehrlichman.
We agree that it was wrong for Ehrlichman to possess the records and wrong for him to share them with ANYONE. Yet, the journalism profession celebrated the reporters who told millions about Eagleton's psychiatric history. Reconciling those positions requires a level of sophisticated (and sophistic) reasoning that makes angels dancing on pins look like child's play by comparison.

In many cases, acceptance of leaked material compromises reporters. To protect their source and to ensure future scoops, they tacitly agree to ignore part of the story. They have the privilege of revealing that Candidate A had a mistress who bore him a son and that Candidate B was addicted to cocaine. What they cannot reveal is that Candidate C is employing a stable of private detectives to did up dirt on the opposition. Those detectives, after all, are the source of the headline-grabbing stories.

When a reporter uses an anonymous source, it is implied that it is dangerous for him/her to speak out publicly. This usually casts the other side-- the nonleaker-- in an unfavorable light. The target of the leak is not just wrong-- they are engaged in a cover-up and are prepared to retaliate against their opponents. However, we have only the source's word for this. A crucial part of the story-- the part that adds drama-- has to be accepted on faith.

Increasingly we see another type of murkiness from the widespread use of leaks. They are defended because they help the pursuit of truth. But when the leak itself becomes the issue, journalist's refusal to reveal sources becomes a barrier to truth: it prolongs a controversy that could be put to bed quickly.

In the Plame 'outing' or the revelation of the Berger investigation the big question is "who told?" This might be more important than the specific information conveyed to reporters. The conventions of journalism are a huge obstacle to answering that question.

Former Army intelligence officer Col. Stuart A. Herrington made an astute observation in his book Traitor's Among Us:
In the unique world occupied by our media colleagues, trusted government civil servants who betray sensitive information are First Amendment heroes.
He speaks from experience. He nearly had a years-long investigation blown apart because some one leaked news of it to the New York Times.

It is another strange bit of reasoning: A reliable and trustworthy source is someone willing to break trust with his or her colleagues and betray the confidences of their friends.

* Epstein's book, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism is out of print. It is well worth picking up a used copy.
Journalism: Worst of all worlds

Instapundit lays out his concerns:

As I've said before, I don't know what worries me more -- the thought that the standards of journalism have been slipping recently, or the thought that, maybe, it's been this bad all along and we just couldn't tell before. . . .?

How's this for bleak-it's been bad for a long-time, it's getting worse, and it won't change soon?

Prestopundit relates an experience many of us can identify with:

Well, if you were on the inside anywhere in America when Big Media came to town to report on things, you always knew. When I was younger and living in Richland WA, CBS News or a big city paper would report on the happenings at the Hanford Nuclear Site. My dad was an insider, my neighbors were insiders. CBS News and the big papers always got the story wrong, in ways big and small.
Taking only CBS, before Rathergate there was the fantasy "expose" of the demon-possessed Audi 5000. Only someone completely clueless about cars could have produced that piece of ignorant sensationalism. Before the Audi story, there was The Uncounted Enemy: another muckraking piece that only the willfully misinformed could have put together. And don't get me started on the coverage of farming/farm programs or guns and gun control.

At the heart of journalism lies this problem: reporters have to write stories on subjects about which they are woefully ignorant. This is not a slam, just reality. Almost everyone would be in the same boat if they had to cover the beat of the typical reporter. The genius polymath who could do it is not going to work for what the average journalist earns.

What has changed is that too many reporters now substitute knowingness for curiosity and class solidarity for critical thinking.

They know the SBVT are lying and everyone they know knows the SBVT are lying. Doug Brinkley said so. QED. The charges are debunked. Who needs facts or analysis? Who even needs to read Unfit for Command?

That's how we get the situation Prestopundit describes:
What explains the poor performance of the press? Bias played a big part. But the biggest problem was a profound lack of background understanding. Almost always the storyline was pre-written, and this directed reporters away from getting the background understanding which would help them avoid errors and get the story right. In other words, pre-existing assumptions wrote the story in advance, and this pre-defined story prevented big media reporters from doing their job -- investigating and finding out what the real story was. Bias also played another role. Reporters were biased against those involved -- and this prevented reporters from making use of those with expert knowledge or solid local knowledge on the ground. That is, reporters were self-cocooned -- within their pre-written story and hermetically sealed against the penetration of any outside expertise or local knowledge.

Knowledge and knowingness

I posted this in November 2003. i wanted to repost it because it ties into a new post i'm working on and it will be easier to refer to it this way.

Getting Hip to Squareness

This is one of the best things Michael Kelly ever wrote.

In all these states we were, first and above all, not-square. Everything was a variation on that; to be seen as clever and even profound you had to be not much more than not square.
*******
Knowingness, of course, is not knowledge—indeed, is the rebuttal of knowledge. Knowledge was what squares had, or thought they had, and they thought that it was the secret of life. Knowingness is a celebration of the conceit that what the squares knew, or thought they knew, was worthless. In The Graduate the career advice ("Plastics") of a family friend, Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is classic square knowledge. Benjamin's mute disdain toward that advice—and his elaborately played out disdain for all that McGuire and the Robinsons represent—is classic anti-square knowingness.

You can see in this example the problem that a return to square poses: anti-square is so much easier and more fun. Knowledge, even on McGuire's level, is notoriously difficult to acquire. Sixteen years of hard, slogging schoolwork, and what do you know? Not enough to carry on ten minutes of intelligent conversation on any subject in the world with any person who actually knows something about the subject. Knowingness, though—a child can master that. (Can and does: there is an obvious inverse relationship between age and knowingness; the absolute life peak of knowingness generally arrives between the ages of twelve and sixteen for females, fourteen and eighteen for males—whereas, as these cohorts can attest, grown-ups don't know anything.)

This is why Benjamin Braddock had to ignore, with prejudice, Mr. McGuire. McGuire may have been a fool, but he was, in the limited area of business and economic trends, probably a knowledgeable fool. Had Benjamin been obliged to respond to McGuire's advice in terms of knowledge, he would have been utterly lost—he would have been the one exposed as a fool. But for Ben—and more to the point, for the movie's audience—knowingness offered a lovely way to not only counter McGuire's knowledge but also trump it. Ben didn't have to know anything about McGuire to show himself intellectually (and aesthetically, and even morally) superior to McGuire. He only had to know that what McGuire thought he knew was a joke and McGuire was a joke because—because the McGuires of the world are definitionally jokes, and if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you, because you are a McGuire. That's knowingness, and for no-sweat self-satisfaction you can't beat it.

Kelly was more right than he may have known. In matters big and small knowingness plagues us.

If you want a small example, take a look at VH1's "I Love the ...." programs. As this blogger noted, they are just a series of snide, bitchy comments by people who really know little about the subject they are discussing. Everything is just fodder for a snarky joke.

In the latest New Criterion, Mark Steyn gives a common example:

In the days after September 11, I ran into no end of college students eager to lecture me on the "root causes"-- poverty breeds despair, despair breeds anger, anger breeds terrorism, terrorism breeds generalizations-- yet unable to name the capital of Saudi Arabia or find Afghanistan on a map.

Knowingness is a key element in many (most?) of the deleterious movements which have swept through the humanities over the last four decades. Graduate students did not have to master a subject in the old-fashioned way. They could just pick a short-cut-- racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia-- and go cherry-picking for facts that fit.

For example, the history of the Northwest Territory used to be a complex matter of competing empires, tribes, religions, classes, and ethnicities. Now you just have to illustrate the genocidal attitudes of greedy settlers and you're home free.

Why really try to read Eliot or Pound carefully? Just pick out the lines and phrases that show fascist sympathies or anti-Semitic attitudes and be done with it.

These types of scholarly movements are a sham because they minimize the element of discovery in the research. The "scholar" knows what s/he will find when the s/he sets out. The footnotes are just a charming convention that serves as a smokescreen.

As Kelly wrote, the problem is figuring out how to go back to attitudes that are not as easy to pull off and not as much fun.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Good news

Jack Sparks says Son Volt is recording a new album. While you're there read what the man says about Junior Brown.

For a few months Comcast offered alt-country as one of their digital music channels. (Then they took it away the scum.) It was an oasis in the radio desert here in the big empty. Junior Brown, the Jayhawks, Son Volt, Amy Rigby...

It put the crap coming out of Nashville to shame. I am forever puzzled by corporate country's unerring bad taste. Big and Rich, Lone Star, kenny Chesney, Shania-- they get promoted while much better artists get lost in the shuffle.

Not that this is unique to country. Pop/rock stations and labels are worse.

So any way, here is a random list of artists/albums that beat 99% of the stuff on radio/MTV/CMT.

The Flatlanders Wheels of Fortune



The Jayhawks

Dave Barry wrote once that the typical guy's idea of the perfect love song is John Lee Hooker's "Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom." I think he's right. My favorite version is John Lee and Big Head Todd and the Monsters on Beautiful World



When Shelby Lynne released Temptation, it seemed possible that Country Swing was poised for a comeback. Instead, we got Shania/McGraw swing- your-ass- pseudo-country. Nevertheless, it's a great record.


A post-Hendrix Merle Haggard. That's the best way to describe Chris Knight, especially his debut record, Chris Knight

The Bottle Rockets, Blue Sky

Not exhaustive. Not necessarily the tip-top best. Just what came to mind.


John Kerry: The Lawyer

Beldar has a run-down of Kerry's career as a lawyer. He seems to have missed one very important episode.

In 1978 Edward Brooke was running for re-election to the Senate. As a liberal Republican and the only African-American member in that body, he was in a good position to win.

But in the summer he was crippled by a legal-ethical scandal and Paul Tsongas picked up the seat for the Dems.

Check out this picture and note the caption:

Middlesex County 1st Assistant DA John Kerry explains to the press on June 16, 1978, that an investigation into possible criminal charges stemming from US Senator Edward Brooke's admitted "misstatements" in his first divorce trial was ordered that day by Middlesex DA John Droney, right. Middlesex Assistant DA Richard Kelly looks on.
Speaking of Slate

Did that turn out to be a dead-end for Bill Gates or what? All those millions dumped into an experiment in Internet media and he gets a NYTimes op-ed pages sans newsprint.

Blogging-- the real breakthrough Internet media/technology-- surprised them like it did the rest of the MSM.

What's funny is that they coulda' been a contender. They had Kaus; they could have had Instapundit. But Kinsley and company missed it completely.
The most offensive political cartoon of the year

from slate:

look for the 9/24/04 image.


Dan Rather as the crucified Christ?

Fox News as the Roman executioners?


What is even more amazing is that the Carlisle Sentinel here in church-going, Fox-loving, red America chose to put this crap on their Sunday op-ed page.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Doing the enemy's work

Sun Tzu, unlike Clausewitz, paid more attention to diplomacy and deception than to combat on the battlefield. Michael Handel writes that he "places the highest priority on defeating the enemy (preferably by non-violent means) before the war breaks out." Sun Tzu himself says "the next best thing [to winning before the war] is to disrupt his alliances."

Al Qaeda knows it has no choice but to work from Sun Tzu's playbook. A Clausewitzian strategy is beyond their means; they cannot stand and fight against the Marines and they know it. But they have had apparent success attacking the coalition in Iraq. (See Spain.)

In light of this, Joe Lockhart's comments on Allawi's speech are slimy and reprehensible. The Kerry crowd has decided to echo the propaganda of the terrorists in order to score points in the campaign.

Sadly, this is not a one-time faux pas by a staffer. Kerry's own sister went to Australia and did Al Qaeda's work for it there.

OBL was emboldened by the American retreat from Somalia and our weak response when our African embassies were bombed. The baseline problem in Iraq is to ensure that the terrorists do not receive a similar boost in morale. This transcends the political campaign. The Kerry people refuse to acknowledge this.

Bush's "soft" duty in the TANG

Tim Worstall crunches some numbers and shows that flying F-102s was in no way to avoid danger. The mortality rate of pilots was only slightly less than that of all service personnel assigned to SVN.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest collection of business and econ blogging is here.

How does that re-virgining process work again?

OK. This is speculation but y'all know I'm right.

Wonkette is the blogger of the moment. A high-profile blogger. One of the MSM's favorite examples of the shallowness of blogs, the rumormongering that goes on in the blogosphere, the snarky, sex-drenched essence of the writing found on blogs. She's a cover girl for the NY Times Magazine and an unnamed example of the mess the Chritian Science Monitor sees when it looks at the internet.

But before she was Wonkette, she was a serious journalist. A capital S serious journalist at respectable journals where pajamas are not part of the dress code.

So maybe she proves the point the MSM is making. Maybe the fact that a bad journalist became a popular blogger shows that their standards are higher than the blogosphere's and that editors are better than self-policing.

But what happens when she leverages this blogging gig to reenter the world of serious journalism? Will the CSM write about the scandal of falling journalistic standards at Newsweek? Will the Times editorialize about moral failure at the NYRB? Will Joel Klein scold ABC for putting a shameless, partisan scandal whore on its staff?

I think we know the answer. But it still raises an interesting question. How does the process work? What makes a serious journalist? How can you be one yesterday, not one today, and be restored to grace tomorrow?

There is some sloppy circular reasoning going on here. The NYTimes/CBS/Newsweek are credible because they employ only serious, professional journalists. The journalists who work for the NYTimes/CBS/Newsweek are serious professionals because they were hired by a credible news organization.

Or you have to rely on a form of magical thinking that believes in talismans and the voodoo power of paper, ink, and paid subscriptions. Or maybe there is some sort of baptism or blessing that makes the "journalist" serious and credible no matter how wayward their previous career?

That really must be it. It is a society more secret than Skull and Bones, with rituals, incantations, and secret handshakes. Best of all, it has a special re-virgining process for those who go astray like Wonkette or those who once were partisan flacks like Stephanopolous.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Hissy fit

It just seems to me that if you are going to call bloggers "vultures sitting on the Internet" who depend on the hard work of MSM journalists, you might want to put it in a different column. Not one devoted to defending Dan Rather and "60 Minutes". Not one where bloggers did the digging first and the icons of the MSM were revealed to be fools.

HT: Powerline.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

An important footnote to the history of the Vietnam war

Eddie Adams and the famous Tet photograph

Photographs Do Lie
That's a good question

From Travis Bickle to a walking corpse

One of the tasks for future film historians will be trying to work out exactly when Robert De Niro started to suck.
Outrageous

Check this out from Powerline:

The Associated Press Pulls Out the Stops for Kerry

Friday, September 24, 2004

Makes you wonder

Back in the dark ages (say 1993) some of our high-minded media critics worried that too many Americans got their news from television instead of from reading.

Now that millions of people do just that, shouldn't that be a cause for celebration?
Blogs HAVE replaced newspapers

In the 1930s, New York had eight major daily newspapers, 35 daily foreign language newspapers, and dozens of smaller dailies, weeklies, etc.

Other cities could not support that level activity, but most cities had two or three dailies-even smaller places like Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Charlotte. Of course, most people read no paper or only one. But the info-junkie of 1910, 1940, or 1950 could read two or more. Most of the news was the same, but the marginal differences were important: a second editorial perspective, a wider mix of feature stories, contending reviews of books, movies, theater.

By 2000 very few people had that option. Most cities had only one broadsheet daily. You took what the Tribune or Dispatch or Times offered and you took it lock, stock, and barrel.

Blogs have replaced that second newspaper. Just as the engaged resident of New York could read the Times and Arthur Krock and then get the perspective of Walter Lippman in the Herald-Tribune, now anyone with an internet connection can match Mark Steyn against Nicholas Kristof against Charles Krauthammer.

The blogroll, Instapundit, and hyperlinks break the trend toward consolidation that has prevailed for the last 50 years (for the reader, not yet for the advertiser or publishing entrepreneur). Economics and the competition from television reduced the choices. Now, technology has restored some of them. How is that anything but a net good?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Clayton M. Christensen

This is a very good interview with Clayton Christensen on technology, innovation, and corporate performance. RTWT because it is loaded with insight.

CC said one thing that deserves far more attention than it usually gets.

If you look at any company that you would say has transformed itself over the last 30 years or so, it is GE. In every case, they achieved the transformation by setting up or acquiring new disruptive business units and selling off or shutting down ones that had reached the end of their lives. In no case did they transform the business model of an existing business unit to cause it to catch the disruptive wave.
Welch did not change GE's culture just by changing minds. The world-beating GE of today was created by purchase, pink slips and divestiture. In 1981 the firm employed over 400,000. Over the next decade, 150,000 new employees came in through businesses that were acquired. During the same period, 190,000 employees left via businesses that were sold, and 170,000 left through layoffs and headcount reduction. When allowance is made for individual employees who left and were replaced by new hires it becomes clear that the change at GE came from changing people and growing businesses with the "right stuff." Very little had to do with transforming the hearts and minds at laggard businesses.

In light of that, one has to wonder about all the change efforts in corporations that focus on changing minds in the hope of emulating GE or Microsoft.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

MSM Aims at Bloggers; Hit Own Foot

This article from the Christian Science Monitor is not really a hit piece on bloggers, but the reporter certainly intended to take the blogosphere down a notch or three. In so doing, he illustrates why fisking is such a popular sport among the pajama-clad barbarians. He is oblivious to the fact that the very particulars he cites contradicts the thesis he presents.
Since the CBS furor, the blogging community has been showered with accolades in opinion pages and editorials. Still, it's premature to start awarding Pulitzer prizes to the laptop set. Professional journalists have been the ones consulting experts and following up promising leads.

Let's just note that it was also "professional journalists" who bit on the forgery in the first place. We have bigger fish to fry.
"I would argue that we were able to do a few things that blogs were not," avers Christopher Isham, chief of investigative projects at ABC News, one of the first news outlets to challenge CBS's documents.

That would be a good point if he told us what those things were. But he does not do that. Just a quote and an assertion.

Charles Johnson, a blogger in Los Angeles with an expertise in typography, suspected forgery: The documents looked too contemporary. He typed one of the memos into a Microsoft Word document - using the program's default settings - and found that the CBS documents were an exact match. He sent Power Line a link to his findings at LittleGreenFootballs.com.

Hey, an expert and an experiment. Unfortunately for Mr. Humphries, also a blogger linked by other bloggers.
By noon, Bill Ardolino of the INDC Journal blog had seen the Power Line stories and interviewed a typeface expert. The expert's doubts about the memos appeared that day on Mr. Ardolino's blog.
An expert, an interview. Alas, a blog. Strike two.
And, like a champion Bingo player, Power Line was also first to shout out that Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, the man who supposedly pressured Colonel Killian in a memo dated 1973, had retired a year and a half earlier.

Real research, a smart nose for a promising lead, confirmation of problems with the documents. All done by the uber-bloggers at Powerline. Swing and a miss. Strike three.

So what did ABC do that the bloggers did not?

The fallback position is that bloggers simply moved faster than the MSM, but the cavalry would still have arrived in time to shoot down the story.

Still, a perception exists among some bloggers - and among many news consumers - that without blogs the media wouldn't have picked up the story.

Not so, says Dan Gillmor, author of "We the Media" and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. "People upset about the documents and raising questions would have been on the phone to every reporter they could get on the phone to
."

Color me unconvinced. Colonel Killian's son and wife expressed their doubts about the documents to the journalists at CBS to no avail. Does anyone really believe that the New York Times or NBC would have started an investigation on their own if PowerLine, LGF, and INDC Journal had not built up an overwhelming case by the time Mr. Isham sat down to lunch the day after the story aired?

But a follow-up question to Humphries, Isham, and Gilmor: Where is the MSM coverage of the AP scandal?

In a smaller but more recent example, bloggers attending a Sept. 3 Bush campaign stop challenged Associated Press claims that a Wisconsin crowd booed when the president announced that Bill Clinton was to undergo heart surgery. Several blogs posted audio and video of the rally on their sites, and the AP later retracted its story.

PowerLine did yeoman work on this one as well. And the offense was even more egregious. For an AP reporter to make stuff up in order to smear Republican voters is much different than trying to score a scoop and being conned in the process. Moreover, the AP has continued to stonewall the question. Let's count the days until Mr. Isham and ABC "break" the story.

How about we knock down some straw men?

Other critics have complained that blogs can traffic in rumor, such as a claim in February that Sen. John Kerry had had an affair with a former intern.

As I recall, one of the sites that flogged this story the hardest was Wonkette who is hardly a typical blogger. She is, after all, a professional journalist with all the right credentials to "deserve" our trust. Not at all like those non-journalists in Minnesota who went after Dan Rather and the AP.

Another thing. Reporters gossip and spread rumors among themselves. These provide the subtext to a lot of the newsgathering and editorial decision-making. Readers and viewer, however, never see or hear of it. At least with blogs it is all out in the open, which lets the reader in on the back-story.

"We can't be too quick to equate the bona fides and journalistic chops of a blogger with that of any mainstream media organization," says Christopher Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News. "The bloggers do not have any system of checks and balances. My issue is simply when we start elevating these journals of opinion to the level of newspapers of record, so to speak."

This is a two-fer. First, no one is talking about turning a blog into a "paper of record." Instead, we are replacing the very idea of a paper of record with a customized morning paper with built-in checks and balances. Bad news for Bill Keller; good news for the curious, intelligent reader.

Second, Klein keeps bringing up "checks and balances" but does not acknowledge that these keep failing. Rathergate is just the most recent example. The corruption at "60 Minutes" goes back decades. The Audi 5000 story was laughable on its face and was demolished by exhaustive tests run by "Car and Driver". The hit piece of General Westmoreland was bad then and gets worse as we learn more from the archives. Has anyone at CBS ever uttered one word on the record about their mistakes or corrected their conclusions in light of additional evidence?

UPDATE: Wizbang has more examples here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Changing Minds

A surprising number of MSM voices are still in denial on the "60 Minutes" meltdown. Juan Williams on FNC's "Special Report" kept his mind closed to the forgery evidence by insisting that the question was open as the substantiation piled higher and higher. Jeff Jarvis notes that Tom Shales of the WaPo and Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair have dropped into the fever swamps of conspiracy theory to justify their anti-Bush positions. Today on "Fox and Friends" I heard the co-founder of CNN advise CBS to go after the AWOL story even harder to make people forget that "60 Minutes" made a mistake. Andy Rooney told Imus that "no one" doubts the story is true, they just haven't found the evidence yet.

Something very strange is going on here. Journalists, those hard-bitten, impartial gatherers of facts, are sounding like Birchers: "I don't have the evidence, but here is what really happened."

A few months ago I wrote a review of Changing Minds by Howard Gardner for Strategy and Leadership. He is especially pessimistic on our capacity to change our own minds. We do not, on the whole, accept new facts and revise our theories. Rather, we interpret or disregard the new information to make it fit our theories. This is not a matter of IQ or lack of education. He points out that intellectuals are "particularly susceptible" to removing cognitive dissonance by "reinterpreting" the facts.

Among the forces that exacerbate this tendency to lock-in a theory are emotional commitment, public commitment (pride makes it hard to climb down when everyone is watching), and an absolutist personality.

Knowing this, it is easy to see why "60 Minutes" was so easily outdistanced by bloggers. Further, Gardner's work suggests that the MSM will suffer more such embarrassment at the hands of new media voices.

Journalists like to say they write the first draft of history, but as noted here, they are peculiarly resistant to revising that draft. They work in a professional echo chamber where their peers agree with them on almost all the big issues and they are unaccustomed to sharing "explanation space" with dissident voices. It is a milieu that does not weed out absolutist personalities. Moreover, their work is so public that admitting mistakes is very hard. In the case of television, so much work, time, and money get invested in a story that emotional commitment is almost inevitable.

The situation in the blogosphere is completely different. While individual bloggers may be resistant to change, the sheer multiplicity of voices changes the dynamic. Moreover, the fluid nature of the medium and the lack of a captive audience makes blogging an environment more hospitable to flexible personalities and less friendly to the absolutist type.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Blogs as disruptive technology

Photon Courier has a good post that applies Clayton Christensen's insights to the MSM and Intenet media.

(HT: CotC over at Voluntary Exchange)
Some Basic Political History

A key assumption in the Bush/TANG/AWOL narratives is that George H. W. Bush had clout enough to pull a lot of strings in the state of Texas in 1968 or 1972. Overlooked in all the back and forth is the plain fact that Bush was a junior republican congressman at a time when Democrats held a large majority in the House. (248 D to 187 R in his first term).

The situation was even more lopsided in Texas. As late as 1978 Republicans had almost no power in Austin because they were practically invisible in elected office. In that year the Texas Congressional delegation split 22 D and 2 R. In the state Senate it was 28 D and 3 R. In the State House there were 132 Dems and only 18 Repubs.

In 1970 Bush the elder lost a Senate race to Lloyd Bentson and was effectively out of Texas politics. But he was somehow supposed to have the clout to intimidate and influence the TANG chain of command.

The whole idea is funny to those with long memories. The old media meme of GHWB in 1980 and 1988 was that he was a wimp, a lapdog. Hard to reconcile that with a the new meme that he wielded power to protect and advance his son.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition is up at Voluntary Exchange. Check it out for the latest blogging on economics and business.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Competitor Intelligence (III)

Part One

Part Two

In the first two installments, I looked at some of the implementation and cultural issues that hinder the competitor intelligence function in corporations. In the interest of fairness and completeness, this post looks at the pessimist's case: those issues that suggest that the CI function may not be cost-effective for many businesses.

One problem is that good intelligence must, by its very nature, be kept secret. However, the stock market cannot value something that it does not know about. CEOs like to tout their company's special competencies in order to increase share price. A secret competence in CI does nothing for short-term shareholder value. Therefore, it is hard to justify a heavy investment in it.

When we look at how real-world intelligence agencies operate, it is amazing how much drudgework takes place. Huge amounts of seemingly trivial material have to be gathered (often from open sources) and then organized before it is analyzed. In matters of war, peace and terrorism, this investment can be justified. It is harder to do so for corporations since the payoff is less certain.

It is also much harder for corporations to retain their secrets and their CI assets. The CIA and KGB had relatively few moles and defectors. Corporations lose employees (including CI people) everyday to their competitors. Thus, investing in CI means investing in an asset that depreciates rapidly.

In war the most critical external factors for strategic success are the plans and actions of the enemy. It is a two-player, zero-sum game. This is seldom the case in markets. Technology, the general economy, consumer attitudes, etc., are often as important as the actions of competitors. Further, competitors can rarely hinder one's actions in the same way that an opposing army does as a matter of course. Finally, surprise which is often decisive in war is rarely so in business.

If we look at the most successful intelligence agencies and operations in history we see that they tend to share the same context: a weak nation or military facing a strong enemy that directly threatens its existence. This is true for Elizabethan England facing Philip II of Spain, Israel for most of its history, Britain in the fall of 1940, the US Navy in the spring of 1942, and the Soviet Union circa 1917-1922.

The prospect of hanging focuses a man's mind and the same holds true for a nation and its spies. Without that focus, intelligence performance declines.

When agencies have to scan a multi-actor environment they, of necessity, will produce a lot of reports on a variety of threats. Only some of these threats will become critical. The reports that cover non-critical subjects (or aborted threats) increase the ratio of noise to signal around their reporting on critical matters. Hence, the paradox-a well-funded agency made up of conscientious, talented analysts will lower its own value to policy-makers. They will not sound clear warnings on the questions that matter most.

(See also part two on the importance of strategy and doctrine to intelligence performance and this post on which discusses how British anti-fascist actions actually aided Hitler in the critical years of 1935-36.)

Businesses rarely face a single, dominant competitor whose actions are the primary factor in success or failure. They, instead, operate in a multi-actor environment where scanning (with its inevitable problems) is the normal mode of operations.
Mark Steyn

CBS defense of Rather hints at bigger story

There's no legal or First Amendment protection afforded to a man who peddles a fraud. You'd think CBS would be mad as hell to find whoever it was who stitched them up and made them look idiots.

So why aren't they? The only reasonable conclusion is that the source -- or trail of sources -- is even more incriminating than the fake documents. Why else would Heyward and Rather allow the CBS news division to commit slow, public suicide?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The new morning paper

Hugh Hewitt gets at something important here. Info junkies can put together their own "morning paper." Even if you live in a small town in Kane County, Illinois, you can get your news from the cream of the crop of national reporters and commentators. WaPo, NYTimes, WashTimes, Mark Steyn, The Weekly Standard, Fortune, Beldar, Newsweek, and One Hand Clapping. It is a richer mix than any single paper can deliver to your door.

The key difference is editorial control: the Internet user chooses the stories and writers instead of Bill Keller. In both cases, only one person gets to choose. What is the evidence that Mr. Keller knows better than most individuals what they SHOULD read?
MSM: Shrinking Audience, Leftward Drift

I think Stanley Kurtz makes a good argument. As liberal bias drives conservatives and moderates away from broadcast news, the remaining audience is happy with the slant.

In market research, we often run into this problem. A firm losing market share will not see any indication of trouble in their customer satisfaction numbers. Their customers are happy-it is just that there are fewer of them.

Media companies have an additional layer of insulation. Their advertising revenue is based on more factors than the absolute size of the audience. As long as broadcast networks are larger than their competition, they can command a premium CPM. They remain the only game in town for advertisers who want to make a big splash. In addition, it is easy to cook up justifications and rationalizations about the elite nature of their audience, their higher spending in key categories, their role as influencers. (CNN has been successful doing this versus Fox.)

Much of this is poppycock and will not stand up to scrutiny. But here is the rub: liberal advertising types in Manhattan or San Francisco see no reason to scrutinize them. For one thing, it plays to their ego. ("People like me are more important than the masses who eat at Crackerbarrel and live in places like Stoughton, Wisconsin.") Second, they are not spending their money.

At some point, the process of drifting left by shrinking will go too far. Then, the advertisers will not want to associate their brand with an ideological media product. Ford, after all, wants to sell SUVs to Republicans and Democrats. The fierce rear guard action will become a collapse marked by a crashing revenue model.

Unfortunately, that will take some time. Even worse, it probably will not happen before CBS/ABC/NBC completely lose their reputation for fair and honest journalism and their capacity to do real reporting.
CBS/Secretary

CBS has interesting standards. A secretary's recollections of her boss's views from 1972--- solid evidence. The SBVT's recollections from events they participated in 1968-69-- not credible at all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Power of the Tail

Ilyka Damen weighs in on the audience of small bloggers. It's really too good to miss-- bloggers as Goth chicks and journos as jocks. Need i say more?

She also touches on a point made by Justin Katz last year. He wrote then

I think it indicates an importance in remembering that folks like Jeff Jarvis are old-media types dabbling in — and differentiating themselves using — new media.

As he said, always worth remembering.
Vietnam as product attribute and all-purpose response

The Kerry/Edwards campaign has a bad case of Vietnamitis -- no matter what the issue or the debate, they find a way to throw in Vietnam as their rebuttal, usually in a hysterical shriek that could serve as a parody in and of itself

From Captain's Quarters.

They really don't have much of a choice. As Kerry's fawning biographer admitted:


"Kerry decided to make Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign for one clear reason: Imagine him without his military record -- he would just be another liberal from Taxachusetts," Brinkley said. "With Vietnam, he could challenge Republicans on their strongest position -- standing with the military and with the American flag. Now you're seeing the negative effects of that"
Beldar cuts to the chase

Dan Rather was complicit in defrauding the American public in an attempt to defeat a sitting President. Rather must be fired now. Congress should subpoena CBS News' lawyers and all documentation of their advice.

RTWT

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"The Passion of the Putin"

That's the title of a post on a blog i just ran across. Very good analysis of Putin's actions from someone who seems to know quite a bit about Central Asia and Russia.
I won’t dance around it with niceties one bit from the get-go. I’m perplexed by the tone of the criticism Putin’s proposed political reforms. Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m not nearly as worried.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Power of the Tail

Hugh Hewitt offers up an interesting hypothesis here on the importance of small bloggers.

Technorati founder David Sifry explained the importance of this to me at the Democratic Convention in Boston, calling it the "power of the tail." Sure, a few hundred blogs seem to own a large share of the traffic, as N.Z.Bear's rankings by traffic shows. But there are tens of thousands of blogs each racking up unique visitors. If those blogs in the tail pick up a meme --say, "Dan Rather is a doddering fool and CBS is covering up for him"-- its spread across the universe of people using the web for information gathering is huge and almost instantaneous. And irreversible because a friend or colleague of Rick is much more likely to believe his analysis because he knows and trusts Rick than it is some knucklehead from CBS who is attempting to dismiss Rick as a pajama-wearing loon.

i wonder if he is right. Speaking only as a sample of one, i know that most of my friends and family don't even know that i blog. They get my opinions the old-fashioned way-- i inflict them on them over the phone or in-person.

This is a question i'd really like to see my fellow small bloggers weigh in on.
Don't Touch John

A few years back I went to a playoff game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. It was a tight game and the refs were especially solicitous of Mr. Jordan. The Hornets picked up a couple of questionable fouls when His Airness had the ball.

What sticks in my mind is the reaction of the Charlotte fans. There were boos, of course. But then they started chanting "Don't touch Mike" each time the Bulls Brought the ball up court. For sports fans, that was pretty witty. Using sarcasm to shame the referees is way beyond the usual "you suck" screams aimed at officials.

This came to mind watching the press reaction to the SBVT, Bush AWOL, and Rathergate stories over the past couple of weeks. The press is like those referees-they are supposed to be unbiased, but they also are concerned about the well-being of their superstars. They cannot call a foul on the SBVT or those who analyze the Christmas in Cambodia fairy tale. However, they can portray them as GOP tools or loner losers who have no professional credentials. If they cannot squelch the questions about the Kerry record, they can keep returning to Bush's National Guard record. (See Prof. Bainbridge for the latest example.)

The encouraging thing is that the Charlotte fans succeeded. Their taunting chant seemed to force the officials to drop their special "Jordan rule" and gave the Hornets an even break. Can bloggers do the same with the MSM?

Even if they cannot force real fairness on the press, bloggers have one signal advantage: journalists lack the uncontested power of a referee. Their power is indirect and rests in the minds of the voters who read/view their stories. Their influence depends on their credibility and the relative size of their megaphone. Both of these factors are eroding before our eyes.
Small Town, Big Lives

I found this in a post by Julie:

I find it interesting. Local "small" news is still by far the most interesting. All the odd, unusual, very real, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes laughable things happen to real people on a local level.

I think she's got a good point. It called to mind one of my favorite passages from Chesterton:

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique....The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment like that which exists in hell
Heretics
Carnival

Check out the Carnival of the Capitalists here.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Agincourt and Bloggerdom

This post from Belmont Club suggests that the "60 Minutes" forgery fiasco is an inflection point like the arrival of the long bow on the medieval battlefield. I think this is an especially fruitful analogy-- one worth pursuing further.

Agincourt, along with Crecy and Poitiers, underline the fact that a victory can be overwhelming without being decisive. the English bowmen ruled the battlefield but England lost the Hundred Years War.

As noted below, that is precisely the problem that bloggers face vis-a-vis the MSM. No matter how many stories we debunk, they still possess the bigger megaphone. If they want, they can usually ignore the criticism because they know that our readership is smaller that their circulation/viewership. They still get to frame the story. Finally they get the last word as the Boyd/Powerline matter demonstrated.

This could change over time. Their megaphone is less powerful than it was five years ago. Their credibility is probably lower than they believe. Their ability to frame an issue is no longer unchallenged.

Two questions remain. First, how many media outlets are smart enough to break from the herd and go after the underserved segments of the market? Second, can blogs dramatically increase their readership? Can we get on the radar of the non-news junkies.
Denial can be a winning strategy

I don't expect old media to admit that "60 Minutes" screwed up. They, like "60 Minutes" and CBS have a vested interest in maintaining MSM's monopoly in the "explanation space."

As Hemingway wrote, "hawks do not share."

You can call that denial, but it is also a problem for bloggers trying to get the truth out. Too many of us are waiting for that Perry Mason moment when Dan Rather shouts "OK they're fake, but Bush must be defeated."

What if that never happens?

Denial is actually a pretty good tactic for the MSM. A defeat is not decisive unless the loser wants it to be. (A point made by Professor Colin Gray in this paper.) As i noted here, "German doctrine and strategy in 1941-42 failed because Stalin, unlike the French, refused to accept that crushing operational defeats were strategically decisive." Or as Gray wrote: "In words attributed to Mao Tse-tung: There is in guerrilla warfare no such thing as a decisive battle."

Belmont Club looks at the question with a tactical analogy

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Irving Kristol on Journalists

One of the reasons for this mindlessness is that the quality of the people now entering the media is very poor. People used to be recruited into the media more or less at random. Whether you became a journalist was a matter of luck that depended on whether a job happened to be available, whether you needed a job, whether you liked writing a bit.

Now, of course, we have schools of journalism. Most publications these days-- not all, thank God-- recruit from schools of journalism. That means they are recruiting from the bottom 40 percent of the college population since, on the whole, bright students do not go to schools of journalism. The very bright go on to work in the sciences. Those at the second level go to professional schools, such as law schools, or on to graduate work in the humanities and social sciences. At the third level, you get students going into schools of business. At the fourth level you get students going to schools of journalism. And at the fifth level you get students going into schools of education.

To the degree that the media recruits from schools of journalism, it is recruiting young men and women who don't think very well and who don't have the habit of thinking particularly.

Our Country and Our Culture, 1983

Friday, September 10, 2004

It's only a game

In the June New Criterion Anthony Daniel writes about the children's games and makes an astute point about the human psyche:
"Our hearts pounding, we would creep into [a neighbor's] garden, as if it were full of danger, and then run away, experiencing the joy of a narrow escape. Of course, we knew it was make-believe, and yet we took it seriously as well, a curious instance of man's inherent ability to split his mind into irreconcilable parts, and yet retain his personal identity."
In most case individuals do not have any problem keeping the game and reality in mind at the same time. Football fans become emotionally involved with a team, our team, and care about the outcome of the games. But we know, in our hearts, that it is still a game.

I often wonder if modern journalism has lost its ability to keep the game separate from the reality reporters cover. The profession plays by a set of rules which add excitement and permit score-keeping. The former is superficial and the latter is spurious, BUT THE PRACTITIONERS NO LONGER RECOGNIZE THIS. They think such things matter in the larger scheme of things.

Examples:

1. On election night, the networks will compete to see who can "call" each state first. The "winners" will trumpet this fact as evidence that their political coverage is best. Yet, what does it really matter if CBS calls New Jersey for Kerry at 8:05 p.m. or 8:16 p.m.? We will all know the outcome by 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning.

2. Everybody loves their "exclusive" stories. But there seems to be only a weak correlation between "exclusive" and important/relevant/trustworthy. In fact, the hunt for the blockbuster scoop leaves the media vulnerable to getting conned and punk'd. (Just as Dan.)

If we compare the message boards at Free Republic or the Democratic Underground to Instapundit, it is clear that the juicy stories appear where fact-checking is weakest. During the Clinton years, the USENET boards had more "exclusives" in a day than Isikoff has had in his career. The MSM understands this when they compare themselves to bloggers and Drudge. Yet, they turn around and act in a contrary manner when competing amongst themselves.

3. The Wall Street Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for "uncovering" the Spiro Agnew corruption scandal. As with most such awards the implication was that if they had not pursued the story, the public would have remained in the dark and a crook would have continued in office. However, this is demonstrably false. The U.S. Attorney in Maryland was meticulously taking down the corrupt operators and building a case against the VP. The Journal reporters simply passed along the information that was leaked to them. The public would have learned of Agnew's legal problems because eventually he would have been indicted. The Journal performed no grand public service.

This is often the case with investigative journalism. Others do the real investigation; the reporter just repeats what his sources choose to give him. By allowing the journalist to take a star turn, the prize-givers both inflate the importance of the journalism profession and hide from the reader/ viewer a lot of crucial information about the source of the story and the motives behind the exposé.
Taking my role as a wet blanket seriously

The downside to bloggers busting Rathergate wide open:

The next generation of forgeries will be much improved . (See here and here). It's like the on-going struggle for survival on the Serengeti-- both predator and prey get better.

Who Punk'd Dan Rather?

The JunkYard Blog looks at who might have given the forged TANG documents to CBS. It is an interesting list, but is, IMHO, too narrowly focused on political motives. Just for grins here are my additions to it:

1. A conman. MOTIVE: The pure thrill of the game plus possible monetary gain. Did CBS pay someone as a consultant to get the documents? Are there more documents ready for sale to less scrupulous news outlets eager to get in on this story?

2. A disgruntled CBS staffer. MOTIVE: Embarrass Dan Rather; point out decline in news standards at the network; show the detrimental impact of budget cuts on the news division.

3. Tabloid reporter. MOTIVE: Demonstrate that the gap between "real news" and tabloid news is pretty much imaginary.

4. Blogger. MOTIVE: Hits. (We really need to get the guys at Powerline under oath.) Discredit the mainstream media. (Mission accomplished.)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The French Connection?


France's corrupt dealings with Saddam flourished throughout the 1990s, despite the strict arms embargo against Iraq imposed by the United Nations after the Persian Gulf war.
By 2000, France had become Iraq's largest supplier of military and dual-use equipment, according to a senior member of Congress who declined to be identified.
Saddam developed networks for illegal supplies to get around the U.N. arms embargo and achieve a military buildup in the years before U.S. forces launched a second assault on Iraq.
One spare-parts pipeline flowed from a French company to Al Tamoor Trading Co. in the United Arab Emirates. Tamoor then sent the parts by truck through Turkey, and into Iraq. The Iraqis obtained spare parts for their French-made Mirage F-1 jets and Gazelle attack helicopters through this pipeline.
************
As of last year, Iraq owed France an estimated $4 billion for arms and infrastructure projects, according to French government estimates. U.S. officials thought this massive debt was one reason France opposed a military operation to oust Saddam.
This doesn't sound like the work of an "ally". More like Chirac was vying for "merchant of death' honors.

In any case, the French actions made them nonbelligerent allies of Iraq in its confrontation with the US and UN. No one disputes that FDR was opposing Hitler when he aided England in the summer and fall of 1940 (destroyers for bases deal, lend-lease, etc.) It is also clear that France is no disaffected ally--- under Chirac she has become an active adversary.

Not to mention the fact that had France not actively subverted the arms embargo, Saddam may have been forced to continue the inspections regime and give up his dreams of being the new Saladin.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Valuing Harvard

I see some big bloggers are linking to this article by Gregg Easterbrook on the value of attending highly selective (hence expensive) colleges. If they read the people on my blogroll, they would be way ahead of the curve. See this from Aaron from last December.
Peterson Case

With all the lawyers yacking about the Peterson case (what would Greta do with out it?), i wonder if any one of them have mentioned Timothy Evans, Reginald Christie, or #10 Rillington Place even once?


The Puritans in Salem only managed to hang 19 people for witchcraft in 1692 and actually acquitted over half of those charged. If they had had Nancy Grace on the bench, they could easily have hit triple digits and scored a 100% conviction rate. Judging by her CNN and Court-TV appearances, she has never seen a defendant who was not guilty.


Worthy cause

Help Keep Mudville Gazette running.


Scandal

David Warsh has an interesting story about government insiders, delicate foreign policy questions, and greed. If it was Bush-oil-Iraq the din would be frightful. But this is Clinton-Harvard-Russia, so no one cares.

Read it, then take a step back and ask how this must look to the average citizen of Moscow.
David Gelernter

His article in The Weekly Standard is incisive as always. The most enjoyable moment comes when he shows why actors turned poets should fear Yale professors:

At an anti-Iraq war demonstration in March 2004, the actor Woody Harrelson read a poem. "I recognize your face, I recognize your name. / Your daddy killed for oil, and you did the same." We often hear this "blood for oil" accusation. After the first Gulf War we had Iraqi and Kuwaiti oilfields in our grasp. If our goal was to steal oil, why did we give them back? Are we that stupid?
The more telling point is his identification of our liberal elites as the new reactionaries and Bush as a "progressive president in the best sense."

Reactionaries recoil from new ideas and try to suppress and defeat them. They want things to stay the same....Reactionary liberals want everything to stay just the same. All trends must continue just as they have been.
Gelernter is a conservative but his portraits of FDR and LaGuardia in 1939: The Lost World of the Fair were warm and positive. He clearly admires both men despite their liberalism.

But their liberalism was free-wheeling, pragmatic, and experimental. Faced with the economic crisis of the 1930s, FDR was willing to try many different potential cures. AND, he was quite willing to jettison those that did not work or which created political opposition.

Many of his self-styled followers have lost sight of his flexibility. They hold onto both his goals and his programs. Thus, we dare not change anything about social security, labor laws, or utility regulation. A man who thinks cars should be just as they were in 1938 is clearly a reactionary curmudgeon. What, then, of the man who thinks old age security should use the funding mechanisms and delivery systems of 1938? Just the man who want to use fuel injectors instead of carborateurs is not an enemy of the internal combustion engine, so, too, not everyone who suggests changes to social security is a Scrooge in disguise eager to send senior citizens to the workhouse. The refusal to acknowledge this really is reactionary.
Round-up

Captain's Quarters and FFM are not ready to just move on from Beslan

Powerline is scoping out more French perfidy


RWN has an interview with John O'Neil of SBVT

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Open Source Terrorist Training

Two stories in USA Today emphasize a point made here.

Al-Qaeda tie to school hostage-takers probed

Tedeyev says the hostage-takers had learned from past terrorist mistakes. While many Russians complain that the government tried to cover up the crisis, Tedeyev blames the media for giving the terrorists the information they needed to conduct the attack.

The hostage-takers carried gas masks and broke windows to avoid being gassed like Chechen separatists who took over a Moscow theater in 2002. During that rescue operation, 129 hostages died.

"It seems they studied all the cases," said Tedeyev. "It becomes more difficult for the state to fight terror. TV shows everything the Spetsnaz (special forces) does. We seem to teach (terrorists) ourselves, and then we suffer for it."


Russia school seizure was long planned

The Moscow theater standoff ended when Russian forces pumped in a knockout gas that disabled the militants — and inadvertently killed most of the 129 civilian victims. Perhaps learning from that experience, the Beslan hostage-takers brought along two dogs, possibly to detect gas.

The editors at USA Today might want to take a look at what they print, though. That way they won't raise questions that their reporters have already answered. From the second story:

Why the militants scouted Beslan at all was not immediately clear. The city of 30,000 could have been seen as large enough to provide a shockingly high number of victims while not large enough to risk a heavy police presence. It also is the location of the region's main airport and is on a railway line.

From the first:

[Beslan, a] city in North Ossetia, historically the only pro-Russian, Christian part of the North Caucasus.

Update: Off to OTB's Beltway Traffic Jam
Kerry and Assassinations

OK. Junk Yard Blog agrees that John Kerry has a creepy fascination with political assassinations. And he has details on a new, very recent "joke."
"Vietnam duality challenges Kerry"

Several things are clear from this Boston Globe article (HT: Captain's Quarters).

1. The Kerry people live in a cocoon. They misjudged how devastating his 1971 Senate testimony about routine atrocities would be in a presidential campaign because "Massachusetts voters never gave him serious trouble for that remark". So a rabid statement about U.S. war crimes was no matter of serious concern because he never had much trouble with it in the one state McGovern carried in 1972.

2. His Vietnam record was seen as a product attribute-- like the new, secret ingredients detergent makers are always touting in their commercials. "New Wargo -- now with pentantium ferrohydroz!" It was a way to sell an undistinguished, very, rich, and very liberal senator from New England to voters in West Virginia and Arkansas.

His hagiographer Brinkley is quite clear on the political utility of the war record.
"Kerry decided to make Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign for one clear reason: Imagine him without his military record -- he would just be another liberal from Taxachusetts," Brinkley said. "With Vietnam, he could challenge Republicans on their strongest position -- standing with the military and with the American flag. Now you're seeing the negative effects of that"
3. The Kerry staff has been blind-sided by the importance of the new media . They knew that the MSM would give little play to the charges of his critics. They thought that with their contacts in Washington, Boston, and New York they held the interior lines and could out quickly quash any scattered outbreaks of bad press in the hinterlands. They had no idea what the new media could do-- how it helps people organize despite the distance between them, the speed with which books can go from final draft to the display tables at Barnes and Noble, the cumulative effect of thousands of fact-checkers, the degree to which the internet and talk radio have eroded the credibility of Kerry's MSM allies. (See more here.)
What He Said

Yes, ESPN has transformed the culture. But that's both good and bad. We have all become that wise-cracking host of "SportsCenter."

And i much preferred ARF to poker as a spectator "sport".

Monday, September 06, 2004

Shame on Delta Airlines
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition is over at Joe Grossberg's place.
"The Opaque John Kerry"

From Nat Hentoff:

"Since the centerpiece of Mr. Kerry's presidential campaign is not his 20-year Senate career, but what he did in Vietnam, including his medals, aren't voters entitled to look at the entire record? If not, why?"

"I have written biographies, and have never experienced an exclusivity agreement such as the one Mr. Kerry's campaign staff claims [with Douglas Brinkley]."

HT: PrestoPundit

Just One Minute has a round-up of other areas the Kerry campaign is stonewalling.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Competitor Intelligence: Part II
Part 1 is here.

The initial post in this series looked at some of the practical reasons competitor intelligence (CI) efforts fail. (By one count, 90% of new CI initiatives do not survive three years.) In this post, I want to look at the systemic problems growing out of managerial mindset and habits.

One difficulty is that even the best CI does not look like the data and information managers are accustomed to using. Internal MIS can produce reams of numbers, variances, and reports. They are carefully reconciled and percentages are calculated to the second decimal place. Compared to this, good CI will seem skimpy and weak. It just is not possible to get the depth of detail about competitors that we can retrieve about our activity.

Unfortunately, the well-established internal information architecture is often the standard by which the CI product gets measured. This tendency is exacerbated by the case study method prevalent in MBA programs.

In this paper (.pdf file) outlining his epistemological hierarchy, Stephen Haeckel writes that intelligence "in the CIA sense of the word, is produced by the application of inference to information." This reliance on inference presents a problem in a corporate environment where the information paradigm grows out of cost accounting and financial theory. Information is supposed to be analyzed in spreadsheets and complex statistical models. Inference, which often relies on nearly incommunicable wisdom arising from innate talent, individual experience, and wide reading, just does not seem concrete enough. Frequently, the intelligence estimate goes through a process akin to being nibbled to death by ducks as conventional analysts in various departments raise objections and "concerns" based on their SOP methods of attacking questions.

A related problem is that analysts using traditional methods focus on elements of detail complexity while competitor assessment is a matter where dynamic complexity plays a large role. (See here for more.)

I sometimes think of this as the Cassandra problem: the assessment of the situation can be correct but the person making the assessment is unable to convince peers and policy makers of its value.

This problem becomes particularly acute when CI produces bad news or cast current corporate performance in a bad light. When a benchmarking study shows customer service performance languishing in the third quartile, it is much, much easier to attack the methods of the study than to face the problem and take remedial action.

Another systemic weakness grows out of the underdeveloped nature of strategic management at most corporations. Good intelligence work is usually associated with a clear strategy and sound doctrine. These provide the conceptual filters that let intelligence analysts concentrate their efforts on the key questions and to deliver a product that is actionable.

World War Two's battle of Midway provides a good example of this. The code-breaking and intelligence assessment by Adm. Nimitz's staff is one of the great triumphs of modern military intelligence work. However, Layton and Rochefort were aided by Nimit'z clear leadership. Despite the carnage on Battleship Row the Pacific Fleet was looking for a fight from the beginning of 1942. The US Navy possessed a clear understanding of modern warfare: it had been working out carrier tactics and operations for over two decades. In the dozens of wargames played at the Naval War College in the 1930s enemy was nearly always the Japanese Fleet.
With clear direction, useful doctrine, and a deep understanding of their enemy, the naval analysts honed in on tracking the big fleet carriers of Adm. Yamamoto. When Tokyo launched the Midway operation, Nimitz was given ample warning and could set his trap.

Japan, in contrast, simply assumed that they would surprise the Americans, had no clear strategy, and had a doctrine which contained more wishful thinking than hard-headed analysis. No surprise, then, that the fog of war hung more heavily around the Japanese commanders.

One quandary that corporate intelligence professions face is the penchant of senior executives to put more faith in their own informal intelligence gathering than in the product of their own CI groups. Executives meet their peers at conferences, often they have worked together at previous employers. In short, they have sources not available to the CI grunts. When their own informal assessments conflict with the formal estimates, it is tempting to dismiss the latter and rely on industry gossip, experience, and gut feelings.
Getting above their raisin'

This weekend NASCAR isn't racing at Darlington. They moved the Labor Day race to California and shunted the second Darlington race farther into the fall. Another piece of evidence that NASCAR has decided to sell its soul for TV ratings. (As if more evidence was needed after they made Ben Affleck-of Cambridge MA and the Kerry bus--- grand marshal of the Daytona 500.)

As NASCAR has grown in popularity, they have snubbed their core fans repeatedly. They stopped racing at North Wilkesboro and dropped one of the races at Rockingham. Now the Lady in Black no longer hosts the Labor Day race.

I know that they are riding high right now and want to strike while the iron is hot. But not every fan is equal just as not every customer is equal to a business. The new fans will shift away to something different--wrestling, soccer, curling, Lebron-ball. When that happens NASCAR will regret losing those who supported the sport for 50 years before it packed up and moved to Tinsel Town.

NASCAR might want to read up on what happened to boxing in the 1950s when it chased TV popularity. It achieved great ratings on the tube but that killed the boxing clubs and small promoters. Opportunities for young fighters dried up and so did the loyalty of the cognoscenti. When TV audiences got bored with boxing, the sport, as a whole, was worse off than it was before it chased the followers of the one-eyed Buddha.

And if I sound bitter, it's because I am. Of all the sporting events and venues I've attended, the Labor Day weekend race at Darlington was by far the best-the most fun, the greatest fans, and a day off afterwards to recover.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

They Crossed a Line

The Warsh article mentioned below contemplates the evolution of the newspaper industry and brings to light the little discussed competition among papers in what he labels "the explanation space":
the lofty region where short-term causal explanations of events are forged.
***
by their very nature, newspapers also exist to communicate a sense of proportion. A good deal of their impact derives from the way they choose to play a story.

Warsh also highlights the apprehension that newspapermen feel as they watch the demographic trends.
Great anxiety abounds today in the industry about what will happen as the next generation of technology is thoroughly built out. Clearly, many young readers prefer to get their news from the Web rather than paper and ink. And anyone witnessing the wholesale vertical disintegration of the broadcast television industry has to acknowledge the possibility that advertisers may find more advantageous ways of reaching the audiences that they seek.

This uneasiness is made worse by pocketbook concerns. For the guild, jobs are at stake:
The Financial Times shows how a cosmopolitan world view can be constantly refreshed and communicated on a shoe-string - barely three hundred full-time editorial employees around the world are required to put it out. But the bigger papers would prefer not to cut their editorial staffs of a thousand persons or more. No one willingly prunes that much.


All of this helps to explain the vicious columns Jim Boyd of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. wrote in response to the op-ed piece by the guys at Powerline.

From Boyd's perspective, it is bad enough that blogging barbarians compete against him in "explanation space." Once, bloggers were easy to dismiss because their readership is small. The situation became worse when the collective weight of blogger opinion and reporting forced the MSM to cover the questions about Kerry, Cambodia, and his war record. That was a sign that his side was losing its ability to determine what was newsworthy.

Hindrocket and The Big Trunk went further. Their op-ed column usurped the journalist's 'rightful role" and appeared on the pages of Boyd's own paper. The barbarians had breached the walls and were roaming free inside the city. Boyd reacted like an Edwardian butler who discovered a group of Welsh miners gathered in the grand dining hall. It is not what they did; it is that they were there at all.

Friday, September 03, 2004

"Historians Committee for Fairness"

I see that Michelle Malkin has run afoul of some history cops with her new book.

Clayton Cramer rightly takes them to task on his blog and points out the hypocrisy evident in the contrasting reactions of historians to In Defense of Internment and Bellesiles’s Arming America.

If the self-appointed defenders of Historical Accuracy want to be even-handed, perhaps they should encourage all the media who gave Douglas Brinkley a soapbox to bring on some of the critics who have documented the evasions that fill Tour of Duty. By the way, did these historians express any concern that Brinkley was not equipped to write about brown water combat in Vietnam when his book hit the shelves? Come to think of it, how do these velvet-shod bullyboys feel about Kerry/Brinkley locking up the archives that were used for ToD?

This post over at Volokh is spot on.

Finally, since they are concerned that MM is not qualified to deal with her source material, take a look at this article-- Fraud with Footnotes

A sample
Even before the recent postmodernist wave, history graduate faculties were already loaded with future professors who had not so much learned history as historiography, learning "American history," for example, mainly as a review of the various conceptual schemes of Charles Beard, Frederick Jackson Turner, and other such grand explainers, while often remaining very poorly informed about anything that actually happened in the United States between 1776 and the last quarter of the twentieth
century.
******
Revisionists of the 1960s tried to select documents that would support otherwise improbable explanations of which forces had most importantly shaped the behavior of past historical figures. The revisionists of this era need few documents, new or old, since they treat all accounts of the past as mere 'narratives' to be mangled and dismembered on their feminist/post-colonial/anti-racist/gender-sensitive Procrustean bed.
*****
This kind of research is not instructive, but clever: a display of the student's familiarity with fashionable preoccupations, not the historical events on which these are brought to bear
.


Thursday, September 02, 2004

Fad Surfing

I'm desperately behind in my blog reading. i just found this post at Photon Courier on the question of corporate fad surfing.

Those who tend to be excessively devoted to particular intellectual systems, it seems to me, are those who concretize abstractions..who think that some conceptual model, which may be useful under particular circumstances, is actually something real and tangible. Falling under the sway of abstractions, when one doesn't really understand how abstractions work, can be dangerous. Whether a person who thinks this way is "intelligent but uncreative" or really not all that intelligent in the first place is, I guess, mainly a matter of definition.
I'll throw a couple more ideas into the stew. When i compared Clausewitz and Michael Porter I suggested that a key difference in their respective theories lay in the relative importance of "doing" versus "thinking."

Clausewitz presents descriptive theories, his aim is to help the future commander prepare himself for the challenges he will face. In contrast, Porter's work is intensely prescriptive. His Five-factor framework and generic strategies are templates waiting for the executive's implementation.

Porter's, then, implies that the key to business strategy is "knowing". The doing will almost take care of itself. Clausewitz never presumed that the science of war (which gets studied in peacetime) could ever supplant the art of war (which wins actual battles and campaigns).


Also, this observation by John Derbyshire gives much the same diagnosis as Photon Courier:

The nature of the confirmation process ensures that in all but the most confident administrations (of which, I think, FDR's was the last), nominees to SCOTUS are controversy-free mediocrities. As Robert Bork discovered, a nominee who possesses a lively imagination, a willing pen, and a head full of interesting ideas will stand the same chance under congressional scrutiny that the beautiful Hypatia, the only great female mathematician of antiquity, stood
with the Alexandrian mob. Which is to say, he will be stripped naked and then have the flesh scraped from his living body with oyster shells.

A side effect of the justices being drawn from the lower-middle of the justicial bell curve is that, like other well-read but weak-minded folk, they are more than usually susceptible to intellectual fads.