Saturday, July 28, 2007

Criminal justice and political hacks

The Michael Vick case is going to be an interesting acid test for professional right-wingers. The Duke lacrosse case and the Scooter Libby trial found them defending due process and warning of the dangers of ambitious prosecutors. Now we’ll see if those positions were heartfelt and principled or simply a matter of political tactics and spin.

Newsbusters has already flunked.

Will the Vick Co-Defendant Plead-out Stop the Inane Duke Lacrosse Comparisons?
They are happy to engage in the sort of speculative pre-judgment that caused so much harm in Durham. Almost every point they make about Vick’s guilt is just an echo of what was said about the lacrosse players and Nifong in April 2006.
The agony of the push media guild

In one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy ends up with the power to read minds. This turns out to be a curse instead of a gift. The thoughts of those around her are raging cacophony of voices inside her head that drives her to madness and the brink of death.

That’s what the internet has done to the people who make their living in the old media. Once they lived in a quiet world where they talked and every one else listened. Their work was rarely criticized. Sometimes they heard whispered praise or demurrals from other guild members but it was all very civilized.

Now, unfortunately, the great unwashed have a voice and the push media do not like what they hear. They spend months, even years, writing a book and then the barbarians deface its Amazon page with unflattering reviews. The New York Times goes all out on a story that illustrates the evils of class, privilege, and racism and then some blogger in Brooklyn shows that the Grey Lady is a gullible fool. The New Republic tries to find a new Hemingway in Iraq and uncredentialed amateurs suggest that his dispatches are not true.

No wonder Brian Williams moans about the dire threat posed by guys like Vinny in the Bronx.

Buffy was cured with the blood of a demon. Unfortunately for the MSM, no one has found a cure for fisking and fact-checking.

That is the dark specter that troubles the sleep of the push media. Now they know what we really think of them. Now they know that we do not trust them.
Does the Columbia Journalism Review want to be a joke?

The World Wide Standard looks at their take on the Beauchamp fiasco:

CJR Weighs in on Scotty Beauchamp


It's as bad as the CJR's reaction to the end of the Duke lacrosse hoax.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Missing something

Using steroids is cheating according to baseball purists and that means Barry Bonds should be anathema to all right thinking fans.

OK. Then why is notorious spitballer Gaylord Perry in the Hall of Fame?

FYI: I'm a Bonds-hater of long standing, but for the right reasons. I can't forgive him for coming up small in the post-season for the Pirates and then bailing on the team as a free agent.

UPDATE: Scott Chaffin has some smart thoughts here.

Just to clarify-- i think steroids need to be banned. They are dangerous. I'm just puzzled by the idea that there is good cheating (Gaylord Perry) that gets you to the Hall of Fame, and bad cheating (Bonds) that keeps you out of the Hall.

I think i am mainly disgusted by the sportwriters who are now so high and mighty about McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. Not too long ago, they were celebrating those men and their homers even though the whispers about steroids were everywhere.

Also, it's true that the steroid era has played havoc with the records book. We are to blame the players for this. On the other hand, no one has a problem with the shrinking size of ball parks that also produce more home runs. (Though, truth is, the Babe had a pretty sweet place to play in the Bronx for a lefty power hitter.)
Steyn on then justice system

He was several good ideas for reform.
No surprise here

Wow, JPod thinks that the nepotism angle on Scott Thomas is a non-issue. Of course, he sort of has to say that, doesn't he?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Very good analysis of Scott Thomas and "Shock Troops"

The Scott Thomas affair at New Republic -- maybe a different take

Based on a mix of semiotic analysis and my seat of the pants experience as a frequent reader of professional and near-professional writing by new writers, my guess is this: I think "Scott Thomas" is actually an MFA writing student, or a recent graduate of such a program, probably with some military experience – he may be serving in some non-combat specialty in Iraq – probably from one of the elite MFA programs, the twenty or so from which college creative writing faculty and small-press staff come disproportionately. I also think I know how his piece came to be published in New Republic, in outline if not in detail, and that story will also be somewhat instructive and revealing.
Barry Bonds

Steve Sailer has some good points about steroids in sports:

Bonds started taking steroids in 1999 because he was jealous of the credulous admiration paid to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for hitting all those homers in 1998. You kept hearing silly stuff like "McGwire and Sosa have returned the innocence to the game!" McGwire was caught with a steroid precursor in his locker in late 1998 and it still didn't instill many doubts.
[And]

Baseball stat guru Bill James was shamefully quiet during the many years while the steroid scourge distorted individual statistics, and he's not doing his reputation any favors by digging himself a deeper hole by still talking about Bonds' new wonder bat and other rationalizations.
It's funny to see so many sports reporters wail about Bonds when many of them (cough, Lupica, cough) jumped on the McGwire/Sosa bandwagon in 1998.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

JFK: Myth-making and the unmaking of modern liberalism

A good review of what sounds like an interesting book.

Trapped In Camelot

As James Piereson recently told me, "If Kennedy had been killed by a right winger with the same evidence that condemned Oswald, there never would have been any talk about conspiracies. It would have fit neatly into the moral framework of 1950s and '60s-style liberalism. And the liberals would have been off and running with it, and no one would have talked about conspiracies."

That's the subject of Piereson's new book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, in which he argues both that Kennedy was a victim of the Cold War, and that the repression of his killer's ideology caused tremendous psychological damage to the collective health of the nation
.


The heart of the issue

AMac, a frequent commentator over at KC Johnson's blog, points to a great blog find:

David Thompson
I especially liked this point on post-modernism:
The issue, as I see it, is one of bad faith. Hiding a small and tendentious idea, or no idea at all, inside Very Big Language is not a promising indicator of good character, honesty or wisdom. As I’ve argued elsewhere, one might suspect that the unintelligible nature of much postmodern ‘analysis’ is a convenient contrivance, if only because it’s difficult to determine exactly how wrong an unintelligible analysis is. In this respect, one might see the PoMo phenomenon as not so much a loose collection of often disreputable ideas, but more as a rhetorical tactic employed by narcissists, ideologues and academic shysters.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

No surprise here

The Humane Society has set-up a website so that people can send emails to the NFL calling for Vicks's suspension. I used it but changed the wording to call for respect of due process and referencing the Duke lacrosse case.

Shortly thereafter i received an email from the Humane Society. They thanked me for joining the effort to suspend Vick, asked me to tell my friends about their site so they could email the NFL as well, and then, inevitably, there was this:

And if you haven't already, please help us care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case by making a special donation today:
Tomlin makes changes

On to happier football news. It sounds like the new coach is making his mark already with the Steelers. Unlike Cowher, he is focusing a lot of time and effort on improving special teams play. Given how that has been a weakness for years with the Steelers, i like the message.
Crews and teammates

One theme that reoccurs in the cases of athletes in legal trouble is that of the entourage, posse, crew. Rich famous athletes now travel with a group of hangers-on who ride the gravy train but have no connection to the team. Not that long ago, even the most famous players on championship teams tended to hang out with other players.

The trouble with a posse is that no one dares stand up to the player and no one has the team's interest at heart. If you want to see how it used to work, read the best football book ever written.

OTOH, this article makes it pretty clear that the Falcons were willing enablers of Vick's behavior for a very long time.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Michael Vick

I've never been a fan of Vick and the the accusations against him are horrific. OTOH, if the Duke lacrosse case taught us anything it is that indictments are just accusations-- not evidence, not proof. So i'm going to wait for more information and give the QB his presumption of innocence. I wish the cable pundits would do the same.

They have learned nothing. Nancy Grace is ready to hang Vick today, right now. Lester Munson is making the rounds as a legal expert despite his laughably bad performance on the lacrosse case. Hannity and O'Reily at Fox News are back to their usual position as police state apologists.

For the time being, i'm going to ignore the story. The indictment is lurid, no doubt about it. But, then, so were the first batch of documents from Nifong and the DPD. We all know how wrong those documents were. It makes sense to wait and see.

UPDATE: Bob Smizek gets it:

Count me among the tens of millions of Americans who considers himself an unabashed dog lover -- man's best friend.

I'm fond also of the Constitution -- mankind's best friend.

The rush to judgment on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for his alleged involvement in a dogfighting ring, considering we recently saw much the same thing in the Duke lacrosse case, is disturbing and disheartening. How many times do we have to be deceived by the criminal justice system before we can put aside our rage and act like citizens, not fools
?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Duke lacrosse: The AJR review

The American Journalism Review has a long article that assesses the media’s performance on the case.
Justice Delayed
It does a stellar job covering the main points from the beginning to the end of the case.

The first thing that stands out is how few of the media bigwigs will take responsibility or admit to mistakes.

Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says criticism of his paper's performance has "in some instances been unfair to the point of hysteria." But he also says, "I think we were a little slow to get traction on the story, frankly. Partly we were slow figuring out who had custody of the story: sports, national, investigative. It took us awhile to get specific people focused on this as their responsibility."
He makes it sound like The Times was guilty of not giving the story its due. As all who followed the case know, (and as the AJR points out) The Times ran over 100 articles on an out of state crime story. Worse, their big name sports columnists were happy to dive in and condemn the lax players from the get-go.

Like the DPD, Keller wants to blame the wrongly accused for his paper’s mistakes.

Keller says the Times tended to cover the saga episodically "rather than early on focusing a lot of investigative energy on the story. It took us longer than it should have for us to give the holes in the prosecutor's case the attention it deserved." He adds that reporters' jobs were complicated initially because the defense wasn't talking.
What a crock. A month into a case there were three facts that should have made all fair-minded reporters take a close look at the case. First, the DA was in a tough primary election campaign. Second, the players eschewed the easy and expected defense strategy: “she consented”. Instead, they insisted that no sexual encounter took place between the escort and any lax player. This was a dangerous position to take because DNA tests could blow it out of the water. Third, the DNA results confirmed that there was no attack as described by the accuser.

When Stuart Taylor’s first article appeared, there was no excuse for any reporter not to take another look at the story they were pedaling. Very few did. That should shame the MSM and helps explain why so few people believe them.

Newsweek’s Evan Thomas still justifies the most grievous sin of the case:

The narrative was properly about race, sex and class... We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place... We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong."
As usual KC Johnson has the best response to this line of “argument”:

If the facts are wrong, though, why explore the narrative at all? Is it fair to use the Duke lacrosse players to tell a larger story of athletes run wild--a theme that appeared not only on sports pages but also was splashed, repeatedly, on the front pages of major newspapers and amplified on cable shoutfests? Says Johnson: Once the facts are "proven not to be true, you certainly have to consider whether the narrative is relevant."
Thomas’s stance is simply bigotry dressed up as sociology. (See more here).

Stuart Taylor offers some good advice to reporters:

Asked what the media should learn from the Duke case, Taylor, sounding exasperated, strikes a similar note. "Read the damn motions," he says. "If you're covering a case, don't just wait for somebody to call a press conference. Read the documents."
I doubt, however, that they will take it. Digging for facts is hard work and most MSM pundits prefer to get by with a combination of trendiness, laziness, arrogance, and knowingness. They also evince an amazing condescension toward outsiders who do the work that the media refuses to do. More than one journalist mocked bloggers for their “obsession” with the case when confronted with inconvenient facts. (A Newsday hack did it just this week.)

One last point. Nancy Grace stays true to form and hides behind her spokesman rather than answer hard questions about her coverage of the case.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nimitz

Adm. Chester Nimitz and Gen. George Marshall are the greatest American military leaders of World War Two. While Marshall made his mark at the level of grand strategy, Nimitz was a military commander and his accomplishments deserve to be mentioned with those of Grant, Wellington, and von Moltke.. Further, it is arguable that Nimitz had more lasting influence on the American military establishment than did Marshall.*

Nimitz took over the Pacific Fleet in January 1942. Most of his capital ships lay crippled in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were sweeping west across Burma, south toward Australia, and east into the Gilbert islands. Three and one-half years later, the U. S. Navy had Japan isolated with an air-sea blockade and had completely destroyed the Imperial Japanese navy.

The Pacific war covered unimaginable distances. Paris is only 200 air miles from London. Berlin is only 1,000 miles from Moscow. Tokyo is nearly 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor. The Atlantic sea lanes covered 3,400 miles from New York to London. The Pacific sea lanes measured 7,800 miles from San Francisco to Austrailia.

The official naval history notes that “nothing in past warfare told how amphibious forces could advance in great leaps across an ocean where the enemy had dozens of island bases.” Nimitz had to wage a modern combined-arms amphibious war across those vast distances. Moreover, the three critical components of that war--fleet logistics, carrier operations, and storm landings--were in an embryonic state. Each of them had a fledgling doctrine that had never been tested in battle. Nimitz was simultaneously building the greatest fleet in history, training that fleet in a new way to make war, and wielding that fleet against an enemy that was initially superior in numbers, quality, training, and experience.

It is easy to look at the lop-sided victories at the end of the Pacific war and chalk them up to the vast material superiority of the United States. This history by hindsight obscures Nimitz’s achievement. It ignores his masterful use of intelligence in 1942 when the Pacific Fleet was numerically inferior. At Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal he blunted the Japanese offensives destroyed much of its carrier force. In 1943 he pressed forward in the Solomons and the Gilberts which denied Japan the opportunity to rebuild those forces. Even in the great battles of 1944, the relentless operational tempo of the Pacific Fleet had much to do with the overwhelming victories.

The Japanese fleet did not dare to oppose the landings at Tarawa and the Marshalls because her carriers had no trained aircrews: the fight for the Solomons and the defense of Rabaul had ground them down to the point of impotence. Nimitz followed up the success in the Marshalls with a massive strike on Truk (Japan’s “Gibraltar of the Pacific”) which neutralized that base for the remainder of the war. When Japan fought the decisive battle for the Marianas, Truk was of no use to them and no threat to the US fleet. Further, the Americans did not have to invade it and, thus, avoided months of effort and thousands of casualties.

Each month saved meant fewer losses for the Americans and more problems for the Japanese. IJN air crews went into battle with limited training and no experience. That was the main reason that the Battle of Philippine Sea became the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

This was the hallmark of the last half of the Pacific War. Japan, off-balance and with incomplete preparations, faced the onslaught of the greatest maritime force in history. Nimitz never relinquished the initiative and so never gave the IJN a chance to recover their strategic equilibrium.

It was a supreme example of the importance of “will” in strategy. Nimitz and his superior Adm. King had many opportunities to accept delay in the Pacific. Lesser commanders might have pointed to the long supply lines (often over 3,000 miles from the Fleet to Pearl Harbor) as a reason to move more slowly or to take smaller steps in the island hopping campaign. Nimitz pressed forward with a measured aggressiveness that marks the commander who possesses Clausewitzian “genius”.

Samuel Morison, the official historian of the Navy in World War Two introduces the man this way:

Nimitz, calm in demeanor and courteous in speech, with blue eyes, a pink complexion, and tow-colored hair turning white, was a fortunate appointment. He restored confidence to the decimated Pacific Fleet. He had the prudence to wait through a lean period; to do nothing rash for the sake of doing something. He had the capacity to organize both a fleet and a vast war theater, the tact to deal with sister services and allied commands, the leadership to weld his own subordinates into a great fighting team, the courage to take necessary risks, and the wisdom to select, from a variety of intelligence and opinions, the correct strategy to defeat Japan.


A half-century later, Nimitz’s star is even higher. Here is Dan von der Vat’s appraisal from The Pacific War:

All in all, Nimitz has a claim to be considered the most important military leader in the war against Japan, the greatest admiral in American history, and the outstanding naval officer of the Second World War.


* Marshall’s military contribution in WWII was the building of a twelve million man army for the battle in Europe. After the victory, that army was dismantled and we have fought all our later wars with smaller armies. Nimitz, however, brought the carrier warfare to the fore of American military doctrine and refined the use of carrier task forces to near-perfection. The use of carriers has been central to every war, skirmish, and crisis the US has faced since 1945.



The Duke perp walk

It was a piece of videotape that was replayed hundreds of times on television. Reade Seligmann and Colin Finnerty arriving for their arraignment, handcuffed, and in the back of police cars. Look, the pictures said, the DPD chased down two dangerous men.

It was one more lie in a case founded and perpetuated by lies. A story in the Brown Daily Herald tells us what really happened:

He and fellow sophomore Collin Finnerty, who was also indicted the day before, drove to the back of the Durham County jail, where they had arranged to meet officers. (Team captain David Evans, who held the party where the rape was said to have occurred, would be indicted a month later.) They were handcuffed and then driven 15 yards to the front of the jail, where camera crews were waiting, Seligmann says. He believes Nifong orchestrated the whole thing to maximize media attention.
The DPD and Nifong were acting in character. This little bit of drama is of a piece with the set-up on the DNA collection. It also confirms what Judge Sentelle wrote about the "perp walk" and its threat to justice:
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.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Like dumping a jar of scorpions into a box of tarantulas

Pro wrestling fans clash with true crime fans over the Chris Benoit case.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Secrets, lone wolves, and inept terrorists

There there is a cautionary lesson in the silence of Oscar Collazo and Booth's abettors. Sometimes investigators close the books too early on a case. They fail to discover all the threads in a plot because the perps maintain their silence or persist in their lies.

This is especially true when the culprits are driven by ideology rather than the greed of common criminals. The Rosenbergs, after all, kept silent even though that meant a date with the electric chair. Alger Hiss kept lying for a half century.

Peter Lance's research shows that the FBI and DOJ missed important links in the terror cell that carried out the 1993 WTC bombing. Some of those links reappeared in the investigation of 9/11.

It is never wise to underestimate the enemy. Most of the recent terror arrests in the US have been reassuring. The accused look fairly inept. On the other hand, Timothy McVeigh was an inept bomber who managed to build the OCK bomb and kill 68 people. Terrorists can ride the learning curve just like any one else.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Booth Cell

To Americans living in 1865, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was a seismic event, a shock like that of 9-11-01. That fact gets lost when we look back after a century and a half. Time may not heal all wounds, but it certainly obscures the damage from later generations.

Manhunt does a pretty good job recapturing the shock, horror, and anger that gripped Washington in April 1865.

More books have been written on Lincoln than any other American. It is a marvel that writers find new things to say. Yet, Manhunt is fresh and exciting: it covers a well-known story but manages to read like a piece of investigative journalism. In part, that is because it devotes most of its attention to the aftermath of the murder at Ford’s Theater. The hunt for Booth and his conspirators makes for a gripping, less familiar tale.

Another factor, i think, is that each generation reads history in light of their own experiences. In a post-9/11 world, certain aspects of this story stand out in ways they did not in 1999 or 1962.

If J.W. Booth had died 1 April 1865 no one except historians specializing in American theater would know his name. If some diligent Civil War scholar managed to piece together Booth’s attempts to aid the South, the conspiracy would sound like a joke. Unsuccessful terrorists look fairly stupid and Booth & Co. are no exception. A vain actor, a crazy ex-soldier, a drunk, a matron, and a few hangers-on -- how could such people think they could change the course of history?

Yet, the Booth cell did just that. They murdered a president, nearly murdered the Secretary of State, and intended to kill the vice-president. All the attackers escaped from the scene of their crimes. Booth and Herold remained at large for twelve days.

What is striking is that the whole plan was a marvel of improvisation. Booth had only eight hours to make his preparations, hand out assignments, and carry out the deed. (Booth even took time to write a letter to the newspapers claiming credit for the act.) He did all this without cell phones or email; everything was done through face to face meetings.

That may have worked to his advantage. The conspirators shared pro-Southern sympathies and they hated Lincoln and the Republicans. It was Booth’s charisma, however, that held them together and turned malcontents and bigots into accomplices to political murder.

Swanson’s book also does a great deal to rehabilitate the dour Edwin Stanton. The Secretary of War comes off as the Rudy Giuliani of the story. He is the man who holds shock and grief at bay while he sets the manhunt in motion and takes steps to ensure that Confederate die-hards do not exploit the assassination. Stanton’s actions were also improvised and show why Lincoln held him in high esteem.

Manhunt delineates the help that Booth received from Confederate sympathizers during his twelve days of “freedom”. These accessories after the fact kept their secrets for decades. While the government suspected much, they never turned up hard evidence against most of these accomplices. Like Oscar Collazo even those who were caught kept their secrets.

(Swanson discussed his book with Instapundit here.)


Monday, July 09, 2007

Recommended

I've been reading Stephen Hunter's American Gunfight. It's an interesting read on a forgotten episode of American terrorism. It's especially good because Hunter is thoroughly knowledgeable about firearms and the dynamics of deadly force.

Two points had special resonance in light of current events. First, one of the assassins, Oscar Collazo, was, to all outward appearances, a hard-working immigrant who was on his way to assimilating into New York's melting pot. He was married, had a good job, and was active in his community. Yet, for all his outward normality, he was a willing recruit for a suicide mission.

Second, Hunter and Bainbridge make it clear that the assault on Blair House was not the work of a couple of lone loonies. There was a deeper conspiracy that included political leaders in Puerto Rico. Collazo, who spend 29 years in prison for his crime, kept his secret. For decades, the government had an incomplete and distorted picture of the men who carried out the attack, their motives, and their enablers.

(Hunter discusses his book on Northern Alliance Radio.)






Friday, July 06, 2007

Media criticism and corralled rebellion

Most of what passes for self-scrutiny in the MSM resembles the corralled rebellion of the corporate bureaucrats. They want the appearance of criticism, but they have no heart for the real thing. So they make certain that the appraisals are not too critical.

We see thus with the ombudsmen (public editors) at big papers like the Washington Post and New York Times. Their critiques read more like artful defenses of bad journalism. Did the paper print “fantastic lies”? Well, our reporter had a credible source who confirmed the story. How can a source be credible and confirm a lie? That question will rarely make it into the ombudsman’s column.

What will show up is lots of trivia. “We got this date wrong.” “We apologize for getting that name wrong.” They truly praise themselves with faint damns.

CNN’s Reliable Sources is supposed to offer an independent look at how the press covers stories. Yet, even there, the scrutiny is carefully managed. Reliable Sources cannot be choreographed like pro wrestling, but boxing knows how to fix the outcome without fixing fights. Kurtz runs his show the way a boxing manager picks the bouts for a highly-touted but suspect heavyweight. Pick opponents who will do their best, but who cannot do real damage. Feed your boxer a clumsy bleeder who won’t make it out of the fifth round; set up your puncher with a glass-jawed Adonis who has no jab.

On Reliable Sources it means that the bloggers who assail the MSM will be represented by Jeff Jarvis and Ana Marie Cox. That is, by bloggers who work for the MSM and who never forget where their professional loyalty lies.

Kurtz and Reliable Sources are also masters of another avoidance tactic: the automatic filibuster. The set-up is simple. Take three opinionated talking heads, make them cover two or three important issues, and only allot ten minutes for the whole discussion. What you get is assured superficiality with no one able to lay a glove on any of the media miscreants under examination.

The show has a great fondness for using talk radio jocks on the pundit panels. People like Rachel Maddow rarely bring deep understanding to the questions at hand. They do know how to claim their share of air time. Not surprisingly serious press mistakes get lost in a flood of unfunny one-liners.