Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When magazines mattered

I'm reading New York Days by Willie Morris, his memoirs of his time at Harper's where he was editor-in-chief in the 1960s. What is striking is how much cultural influence magazines had then. Norman Mailer covered the 1965 march on the Pentagon for Harper's; most of Armies of the Night first appeared in that magazine. Tom Wolfe was becoming Tom Wolfe in Esquire at the same time. Joan Didion was chronicling the 1960s and California for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. The New York Review of Books was launched and quickly became "the chief theoretical organ of radical chic." Commentary under Norman Podhoretz zigged (New) Left and then zagged right into neoconservatism. In Cold Blood debuted in The New Yorker before it became a best seller.

A lot has changed in forty years. Magazine titles have proliferated, but their collective heft has fallen. Magazine stories are, by their very nature, ephemeral. Once, though, it was possible for a story to roil the intellectual waters for a few weeks, maybe even a few months. Now even the biggest cover story is forgotten in only a few days. It is as though the 24/7 news cycle makes us structurally incapable of remembering anything we said or wrote or read three days ago.

In his book The Muse in the Machine, David Gelernter notes that "thinking is primarily, overwhelmingly remembering". If memory now plays little role in our public discourse, how much thought is really in the "national conversation"? Maybe, to cadge a phrase from Lionel Trilling, there is no real thought there at all, just "irritable mental gestures".

Stuart Taylor on the "Hate Crimes" bill

Just an outstanding column:

'Hate Crimes' and Double Standards
Our esteemed legislators think that the federal government has nothing better to do than to prosecute barroom scuffles. It reinforces a point that Forrest McDonald made in his A Constitutional History of the United States all the way back in 1984:

Between the late 1950s and the early 1980s government in the United States became so big and so complex that it all but lost the ability to function. A medical term, 'iatrogenic disease,' illness resulting from treatment by a physician, fairly well describes what happened. Starting with the New Deal, government attempted to solve problems of a nature and magnitude beyond the capacities of a limited constitutional system and perhaps of any system. Some remedies worked, others did not. When they did not, the tendency was to create a new program on top of an old one, rather than to scrap the old. By the early 1960s this jerry-built machinery was beginning to produce, or aggravate, social problems of a scale previously unknown in America. Every governmental 'remedy' produced a new governmental-caused sickness; and yet Americans had become so addicted to the habit of believing that government could cure everything that the response of the late sixties was wave after wave of crash programs. These created new problems that, in the seventies, resulted in more programs. By the time considerable numbers of people began to suspect that they were overgoverned, the reality was that, though government interfered in their lives from cradle to grave, it scarcely governed at all, in the original constitutional sense of the term. Government had ceased to be able to protect people in their lives, their liberty, and their property; and it had lost the capacity to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Outstanding column on Duke lacrosse

A team of their own

A couple of items he mentions add credibility to the idea that Duke needs to address the Gang of 88's excesses because they were "university-sanctioned" actions:

There were professors who organized huge protests. There was one who made it part of class time to have students attend an anti-lacrosse rally. Another made a now discredited Rolling Stone story on the case required reading.

One-sided accounts of the case made their way onto class syllabi

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Duke lacrosse: KC Johnson does the MSM’s job

A really great post on the Gang of 88’s listening ad:

The Group of 88: Non-Endorsement "Endorsements"

Several points demand attention in this latest batch of revelations.

1. It is more evidence of just how agenda-driven the Gang of 88 was. Not only were they willing to hijack the lacrosse case to serve their ends, they were also willing to lie and mislead about their departments’s support for that hijacking.

2. Hoax supporters have made a lot of hay out of the “fact” that the lax players used fake names at the party. This dubious assertion (based as it is on Precious’s word alone) was repeatedly thrown out to show that the players were up to no good from the beginning of the party.

Now, though, the tables are turned. The tenured potbangers who condemned the lacrosse team have a dirty little secret of their own. The brave listening statement not only used unverifiable quotes, it also came complete with fake endorsements.

3. No member of the Gang of 88 has broken ranks to condemn the dishonesty that KC has uncovered.

4. Duke senior vice president for public affairs John Burness justified the cancellation of the 2006 season because the party was a “team-sanctioned event.” For that reason, Duke had to act decisively because the events reflected badly on Duke. If one accepts this line of reasoning, it is all the more puzzling that Duke has been so circumspect about the Gang of 88 and their actions.

Duke has tried to minimize its connection to the ad and emphasizes that professors are free to speak their mind. But KC’s reporting makes this rationalization completely untenable. The Gang did their best to make the ad appear to be a university sanctioned statement. Moreover, to create this illusion they lied, dissembled, and violated normal academic procedures.

Surely, this calls for a clear statement from President Brodhead and, perhaps, some actions against the dishonest professors who claimed departmental endorsement for their agitprop.

5. I doubt that Duke will do any such thing. Through out this travesty they have treated the Gang of 88 with kid gloves. Early on they were solicitous and sought to placate them. When the hoax unraveled Duke tried to minimize the harm the Gang did and insisted that the professors were misjudged and mischaracterized.

If only they had done the same for their students. The lax players, however, were given no such benefit of the doubt. When they were condemnedcollectivelyas privileged, lawbreaking, violent, racist misogynists, only a handful of officials spoke up. Even then, no one tried to defend the party. No one made excuses such as this offered by the chairman of the Classical Studies Department on behalf of a tenured potbanger:

The department did not vote to endorse the ad. An individual faculty member gave the “go ahead,” and at least one member of the department was upset that this had happened without departmental consent. The action was well-intentioned, if in retrospect it may appear mistaken; it needs to be understood in the context of the immediate, highly emotional reactions to the first reports of the incident.

“In retrospect may appear mistaken”, “understood in the context”, “well-intentioned”. No one at Duke dared use language like this about a bunch of 18-22 year olds who held a spring break party. But they expect us to accept it when it is applied to middle-aged college professors who had days to weigh their actions.
Duke lacrosse: Not so wise guy

Another Washington Post sports columnist decides to weigh in on the lacrosse case:

Continuing Conflicts
A fundamental problem of the MSM is that pompous mental midgets like Mike Wise really think they are adding something valuable to the national discourse. In reality, the ignorant and uninformed just skip over their embarrassing eructations while those readers who are informed and engaged just marvel at the arrogant prejudice that the MSM happily puts on display.

See also:

A Word to the Wise

Duke lacrosse: Standing to criticize

Howard Kurtz is a smug little weasel

Friday, May 25, 2007

Duke lacrosse: Neff and Taylor at the National Press Club

La Shawn Barber attended the panel discussion and has an in-depth post on it:

Duke Case: Journalists’ Rush to Judgment
A couple of points caught my attention.

Joeseph Neff of the News and Observer is remarkably astute about the cable news shows:

His paper was getting calls from national media outlets that essentially wanted local reporters to come on their shows and do the reporting for them.

Some members of the MSM remain arrogantly obtuse:

[American Journalism Review editor] Reider closed the discussion with this: Let the Duke case be a lesson for young journalists. Try to avoid the rush to judgment and mob mentality. Report crime stories like the Duke case as routine court cases. That will help keep the focus on facts, not stereotypes.
I don't know why Reider thinks that young journalists have a special need for this lesson. The student-run Duke Chronicle did a better job on this case than the New York Times. The people who should be chided are old bulls like John Feinstein who bloviate little regard to the facts.

Moreover, who is Reider to preach in light of this little nugget?

Reider said that the MSM’s coverage of the story is the new story and admitted that his publication, The American Journalism Review, should address this but hasn’t so far.
Duke lacrosse and the future of the academy

KC Johnson looks at the deeper forces at work at Duke and the implications for higher education.

Duke Lacrosse And The Professions of Diversity

Thursday, May 24, 2007

For Memorial Day

Cold Hard Football Facts pays tribute to the NFL players who gave all for their country.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The hidden path to innovation

This is one of the most interesting articles i've seen on innovation.

The Weakest Link

by Nicholas G. Carr

A product’s vulnerabilities can point the way to lucrative new business opportunities.

When you think of modern aircraft, you think of big things: massive turbine engines, great expanses of sheet metal, elaborate electronic and hydraulic systems. Yet it was a very small thing — a two-cent piece of rubber — that played a crucial role in determining the shape and speed of today’s planes. And the story of that piece of rubber reveals an important lesson about the path of technological advances and the focus of business innovation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A guild man bares his teeth

and ends up drooling all over himself.

Not everybody's a critic

Sure, anyone with a blog can express an opinion about a book, but true criticism is more than just an opinion.

He does have one very good point:
Very often, in the best reviews, opinion is conveyed without a judgmental word being spoken, because the review's highest business is to initiate intelligent dialogue about the work in question, beginning a discussion that, in some cases, will persist down the years, even down the centuries.
Unfortunately, that point gets lost in a tangle of cranky, hypocritical, and irrational venom.

Schickel admits that most print reviews are “hack work, done on the fly for short money.” Yet he spends most of his time bashing bloggers. Apparently, hack work done for money is more tolerable than hack work done for free. Maybe Schickel subscribes to the ethics of whoredom. More likely the distinction between paid and free is important to him because the paid hacks tend to be members of the journos guild. As we shall see, guild membership is very, very important to Mr. Schickel.

He is, for some reason, deeply offended that “a former quality-control manager for a car parts maker, last year wrote 95 book reviews for his website.”

He never names this hapless blogger. He does not tell us why this nameless blogger matters. He does not quote any of his reviews to show us how inane or superficial they are. “The guy from car parts” simply gets under his skin because he dares to do what Mr. Schickel gets paid to do. Mr. Schickel takes it for granted that his distress is a good reason for his readers to disdain all such people.

That is an odd attitude to take when one is arguing in favor of educated, intelligence criticism. A critic who cannot follow his own rules even when he is propounding and defending those rules is a singularly obtuse and insincere critic.

I think that this sentence really gets to the heart of Mr. Schickel’s discomfort.

We need to see something other than flash, egotism and self-importance. We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion.
“Credentials.” “Right to an opinion.” Mr. Schickel clearly thinks that his credentials speak for themselves and, thus, he has a right to an opinion. As for the rest of us, we need to go away and stop bothering his readers.

The funny thing is, no one is forcing any one to read the website of the “guy from car parts.” If his work is of little merit, he will be unheard and will have no part in the dialogue that Mr. Schickel pretends to cherish.

No. The problem is that people do find merit in these sites. At least they find enough value to stop paying for the fatuous pronouncements of blowhards like Schickel.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Duke lacrosse: Most of the story is still untold

Millions of words have been written about the Duke lacrosse case. The players have been exonerated by North Carolina’s Attorney General. The casually jaded among us might wonder if there is anything left to say.

Judging by It’s Not About the Truth by Don Yaeger (with Mike Pressler) the answer is a resounding “Yes”. This sorry saga began with a flood of lies, spin, and bias. There is still a lot of truth to uncover from beneath that slimy rubble.

Yaeger is a writer for Sport Illustrated. Pressler, of course, was the coach of the lacrosse team when the hoax got off the ground. This book marks the first time that we hear Pressler’s side of the story. For that reason alone It's Not About the Truth is essential reading for anyone interested in the disaster that swept through Durham and Duke.

The story of the Pressler family is compelling. Their lives were thrown into turmoil; Mike Pressler lost his job. Yet, they displayed grace and integrity throughout the ordeal. After all the public whining by the Gang of 88, the Presslers a dramatic and refreshing change. Unfortunately, Duke kept the Chafes and the Farreds while driving the Presslers away. It takes a special, twisted institution to discard the wheat and hoard the chaff.

The book is not a first person account of the scandal and frame-up. Yaeger has done extensive shoe leather reporting; he interviewed over one hundred people to write this story. His access to Pressler and many lacrosse players enabled him to break new ground in reporting the hoax. But make no mistake, he did a lot of valuable research into all aspects of this case.

For instance, Brodhead and his loyal factotum Burness turn out to be more anti-lax and pro-Gang of 88 than they pretended to be. Burness, says Yaeger, “became famous for ‘off-the-record, not for attribution’, slamming of the players” to reporters.

Yaeger digs into the seamy world of the Platinum Club and Bunnyhole Entertainment. Samiha Khanna’s carefully crafted portrait of a shy student who was new to dancing is now thoroughly and completely discredited. On the very day that story appeared, she was videotaped dancing at the Platinum Club.

It’s Not About the Truth also provides new insight into the activities of the police and players in the crucial first days of the disaster. His reporting should shatter the myth of the “blue wall of silence”. At the same time, it paints an unflattering picture of the key investigators. Well before Nifong entered the picture Gottlieb, Himan, and Clayton were happy to take their shots at some rich Dukies even if that meant ignoring evidence and conducting a sloppy investigation. They are also not above telling a bald-faced lie or two.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of all the new information this book offers. There is much more. In fact, I could blog for a month just on the new perspectives made possible by Yaeger’s reporting. Any one who was interested in this case will want to read it. Every Duke parent and alum should read it.

Duke lacrosse: What are they putting in the administrators's coffee?

KC Johnson reports on Duke's official reaction to the DPD's policy of harassing and over-charging Duke students. Actually, it is an official non-reaction. The powers that be at Duke do not have a problem with the DPD.

Upholding "Separate-but-Equal" Justice
I am still amazed at Brodhead's hypocrisy. He is willing to get involved when a student runs into trouble in Armenia. He is happy to lobby for the release of a terrorist murderer. But he blithely ignores the abuse his local cops deal out to his students in Durham
An important and overlooked part of strategic planning

David Maister: Are We In This Together? The Preconditions For Strategy

Managers build their plans and strategies on the assumption that people in their firm are ready and willing to be team players, acting collectively to create or achieve something in the future.

The truth, however, is that these attitudes cannot be assumed to exist. In fact, they may even be relatively scarce. In many firms — perhaps even most — these preconditions for strategy may not exist.

It is hard to identify and create buy-in for what “we” (i.e., the firm) should do if there is no strong sense of “we” — a mutual commitment and sense of group loyalty and cohesiveness. Similarly, it can be meaningless if the members of the firm are not committed to go on a journey together into the future

Friday, May 18, 2007

The irony of David Halberstam

Roger Kimball casts a cold eye (very cold) on the “sentimental rubbish” that the press gave us after Halberstam’s death.

A dissent on David Halberstam
I discussed Halberstam’s Vietnam reporting a few months ago:

Vietnam: a different sort of revisionism

A fragment of history, lost, never to be recovered

Vietnam reporting

Long before that, I noted that his career trajectory helped make defeatism part of the mental bias of ambitious military reporters:

What is not often discussed is how professional ambitions make journalists defeatists. When wars go well, the uniformed military receives the praise. It is they who enter into history. We remember Nimitz and Patton, not the correspondents who wrote dispatches about the victories at Midway and Bastogne.

In contrast, Vietnam made the careers of David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and Neil Sheehan. Exposing military failure and atrocities makes the journalist the hero not the chronicler. It is a powerful temptation, one which could cause a reporter to lose proportion and distort the meaning of events. Yet this is not something that seems to get discussed much

Kimball points to this article by Hilton Kramer who also is not a Halberstam fan. One passage was interesting because of its insight into the journalism racket and for its perverse historical echoes.

What I was expecting that day over lunch were some sage observations about the way the policy of détente, following upon the debacle in Vietnam, was affecting the situation in Europe. But as the wine flowed and our conversation became more animated and confidential, the subject that was uppermost on the mind of my luncheon companion, who had spent many years in both Eastern and Western Europe, turned out to be something else. Rather to my surprise, I was suddenly treated to a long and acute analysis of what was happening to the Times’s foreign news coverage as a result of the Vietnam War. This was a subject that had clearly become a cause of considerable worry and professional chagrin for this writer, whose journalistic experience went back to the Second World War and who harbored few illusions about the kind of suffering and social wreckage that Communism had brought to the millions whose lives it had come to dominate.

The vehement, free-wheeling tirade to which I was treated that day touched on many particular people, editors as well as reporters, and many specific episodes, but its essential points were the following: The Vietnam War was proving to be a disaster for the Times’s foreign coverage. The paper had to send in all those reporters in relays to cover the war. Many of them were young men who had little or no experience of the world. They knew nothing about politics and even less about war. There were exceptions, of course, but very few. Some had never before had a serious foreign assignment or seen any military combat. At one point the Times had even sent in a fashion reporter from its Paris bureau. Communism was an abstraction to them. They thought the real enemy in Vietnam was the USA. They weren’t Communists themselves, but they proved to be complete suckers for the anti-anti-Communist line that was now ascendant in the Western press. History for a lot of these guys began with the election of John F. Kennedy, and most of them thought Bobby Kennedy was a saint. In Vietnam, they had three ambitions: to get out alive, to win a Pulitzer, and to see America defeated. Their whole view of the world was shaped by Vietnam. They saw the world divided into good guys and bad guys, and we were the bad guys. Then, when they had finished their stint in Vietnam, they had to be rewarded with assignments to more glamorous foreign capitals, where they were likely to understand even less than they had in Saigon, and where they seldom knew the language, the history, or the culture of the countries they were writing about. This was the kind of comic-strip coverage of foreign affairs the Times was now getting. All in all, it was probably a good thing that newspaper readers were now less interested in foreign affairs than they used to be. It was keeping the circulation of misinformation at a lower level than it would otherwise be.

I can’t say that this conversation changed my view of the world, but it certainly changed the way I read the foreign news columns of the Times, and not only the Times. It wasn’t until a little later, as I watched some of these Vietnam-era correspondents ascend to positions of power on the paper, that I realized they were bringing the same good guy-bad guy scenario, with America as the bad guy, to their coverage of the domestic scene as well

If Kramer’s lunch companion was right, then the Times was repeating the mistakes of the US Army which helped set the stage for the Vietnam quagmire. After World War Two, the Army’s system of Professional Military Education went into decline. By 1962, this had produced a generation of officers ill-equipped to confront the strategic and operational challenges of counter-insurgencies and limited wars. It was these under-educated generals that Halberstam railed against in Vietnam and in his later books.

In the Spring 1998 issue of Joint Forces Quarterly, Lieutenant General Leonard D. Holder, Jr., and historian Williamson Murray explained why the service schools suffered this fate:

Despite the tributes U.S. military leaders lavished on the role of PME in preparing them for World War II, education fell into decline after the war. The Cold War with its monolithic dependence on nuclear weapons, which required little adaptation, was one reason. With a constant threat, there was less cause to study the complexities of strategy and war, particularly given the fact that America emphasized deterrence rather than combat. More-over, a generational shift in the l950s brought the junior officers of World War II to command positions. They had joined the military in the 1930s and gone to war as lieutenants and captains with-out receiving PME and returned home as colonels and generals. As a result, many discounted the role of PME in military professionalism. By the late l950s, the services had allowed professional military education to drift.
So it turns out that Halberstam and Co. were not that different from the hubristic, ignorant generals that populate their books and news stories about Vietnam.

There is one key institutional difference. The Army and other services went to great lengths to discover, learn, and teach the lessons of Vietnam. The journalist guild, however, still pretends that their heroes such as Halberstam got it right the first time in 1965.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Mercury 13"

Great post on the creation of a modern myth.

The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
As is often the case, professors do the myth-making, not the fact-checking.

Monday, May 14, 2007

And pondering this:

"Tired" of the War?
Pondering this

Like all intelligent men who are not in any way creative, Sir Robert Peel was dangerously sympathic towards the creations of others. Incapable of formulating a system, he threw himself voraciously on those he came across, and applied them more vigorously than would their inventors. He would defend a policy long after the time when it would have been wise to compromise, and then, with a sudden understanding of his adversaries objections, would become an advocate for the Opposition.

Andre Maurois

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Steyn at the top of his game

On his good days, Mark Steyn packs more common sense into a single op-ed than any other writer in America. Today is one of his good days.
Fortress America's gate is open

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Two takes on the MSM's woes

Michael Malone looks at newspapers:

The Sheer Stupidity of Newspapers These Days

It's only been a couple of years since I first made the prediction, which earned me a ton of brickbats in the media, that newspapers were dying, and that only a handful would survive this decade, and that even those would be utterly transformed.

A crucial reason for that, I said at the time, was that as newspapers began to spiral down, they would lay off their top talent first and be unable to recruit the best and brightest of the next generation. The result would be a rapid collapse of the intellectual capital in those institutions. In other words, they would grow dumber and make more and more stupid mistakes
Networks continue to lose viewers:

Where have all the viewers gone?

Maybe they're outside in the garden. They could be playing softball. Or perhaps they're just plain bored.

In TV's worst spring in recent memory, a startling number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show
They are still pretending that nothing is wrong:
"People are not consuming less television, they're watching it in different ways, and the measurements haven't caught up," said Alan Wurtzel, chief research executive at NBC (owned by General Electric Co.).
Some of their excuses are getting pretty old.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Duke lacrosse:Unbelievable

Friday with Farred
Some members of the Gang of 88 are beyond clueless. Others are simply cowardly or dishonest.

I say that because i know that it would deny their individuality if i assumed they all agreed with Prof. Farred. (Prof. Chafe told us so.) But why do none of them distance themselves from this unthinking, mean-spirited dreck?

They are either afraid to break ranks or they agree.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Duke lacrosse: Can the MSM look into the mirror?

I doubt it. Judging by the commentary from inside the echo chamber, they are averse to looking closely at their performance. They want to blame it all on Nifong and impersonal forces.

Certainly, Nifong's sins are the worst. He was the prosecutor and he abused his powers. His actions, however, do not excuse the MSM. Until they recognize that fact they will deserve their infamy.

Phase One

The first thing the MSM did wrong was cover this case. They took a local crime and blew it up into a national story. They wanted a parable of racism and privilege. They constructed it before they had all the facts. That is not journalism; it is propaganda.

Their next mistake was to try to cover a criminal investigation as breaking news. Faced with a dearth of hard information reporters breathlessly repeated rumors and innuendo. There was no need to do so. If there is no news then there is no story. Instead, cable TV tried to keep it alive and ended up looking ridiculous. (Wendy Murphy earns her place on cable precisely because she does not need facts to fill airtime with her histrionics.)

The third mistake took place at the same time. Lazy pundits felt a need to comment on the case despite the shortage of facts. They added to the noise and shed no light on the truth.

The first five or six weeks of coverage was just business as usual for the press. It revealed their limitations, but the worst was yet to come.

Phase two

By the time Stuart Taylor's column appeared (1 May 2006), there was enough information on the table to see that something was wrong. All an enterprising reporter had to do was look, think, and start connecting the dots. The outline of the real story was becoming visible.

This is not 20/20 hindsight. Taylor did it. Bloggers did it. The MSM did not. Was it laziness, devotion to an agenda, limited intelligence, or stubbornness? Take your pick, mix and match, it does not matter. There is no explanation that does not put the press in a bad light.

It was at this point that much of the press pulled away. Many of those who stayed on the story kept trying to carry water for Nifong. Only a few hardy souls like Ed Bradley did good work.

Why did the story become unimportant when it became inconvenient and complicated?

Why did so many reporters dismiss the DNA evidence?

Why did they accept the idea that police reports, lab results, and iron-clad alibis were just "defense spin"? Isn't it a reporter's job to cut through spin and reveal hard information? Instead, they threw up their hands and pretended that nothing could be known.

Why did so few journalists try to unravel the lies that surrounded the statements of the police and DA?

To repeat, by 1 May there were enough dots to reveal the outlines of the frame-up. The blog hooligans could see it, but professional journalists could not.

If I ran a business and discovered that my professionals could not compete with amateurs, I would be scared. Very scared.

Survival in such a case depends on facing the facts. Denial is a slow boat to oblivion.

Denial, nonetheless, is the order of the day. Some, like cynical Johnny Feinstein and moronic Terry Moran, continue to impute guilt despite the facts. Others, like the ombudspersons at the Washington Post and New York Times, minimize the errors they made and plead extenuating circumstances. Only a few (like the News and Observer) are willing to address their missteps with any degree of honesty.

More and more, big media resembles the US auto industry circa 1982. As their customers grow more disenchanted, the executives offer excuses and explanations. While they may sincerely want to improve, they lack the courage and insight to make the changes necessary to improve.
Blaming Tenet and distorting history

This piece in the Examiner seems to blame George Tenet for every post-Cold War "failure".
Commentary: Tenet needs to confess
Unfortunately, the author glosses over just how rare good HUMINT is.

She also ignores Steven Den Beste's crucial point: just because something is valuable or desirable, that does not mean it is attainable or feasible.

Katz-Keating overstates CIA's ability to generate or control sources within totalitarian societies like Iraq. Even during the Cold War, our best sources were volunteers ("walk-ins"). Essentially, they fell into our lap.

In addition, Katz-Keating blames Tenet for not revamping our HUMINT capabilities in the wake of the Ames case. She ignores the fact that CIA was paralyzed by another mole hunt in Tenet's first years as director. The hunt was conducted by the FBI which turned out to be unfortunate because the real mole was Robert Hanssen. Nonetheless, as long as CIA was under investigation by the Bureau, Tenet's ability to make big changes was limited.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

McGreevey, Foley, Ryan, and Wolfowitz

Newsbusters has a good entry on the AP’s PR effort on behalf of former governor Jim McGreevey (D-NJ).

The coverage of McGreevey is interesting when it is compared to the treatment of three Republicans.

Last year, the press insisted that they did not care that Mark Foley was gay; the real issue was his dirty talk with former pages. But with McGreevey, they mostly ignore the corruption and concentrate on his new life as a “gay American.”

In 2004, the press was eager to see the sealed divorce records of Jack and Jeri Ryan. They breathlessly reported on the salacious bits. The disclosures torpedoed Ryan’s campaign for the U.S. Senate and opened the door for Obama. Yet today the MSM is relatively unconcerned about McGreevey’s divorce or his wife’s side of the story.

For months, we have seen news stories about Wolfowitz, his girlfriend, and the World Bank where they both work. This, without a doubt, is a legitimate story. When it comes to McGreevey, however, his comparable scandal gets far less attention. The biggest outrage ends up as a footnote. As Newsbusters points out, McGreevey’s greatest lapse as governor was not being in the closet; it was putting his boy toy on the state payroll in a highly sensitive position. The Democratic wunderkind appointed “a foreign national to a homeland security position, despite a lack of basic experience. McGreevey hired Israeli citizen Golan Cipel to the post, even though not having an adequate security clearance prevented him from attending all of the meetings and briefings for this $110,000 a year post.”

Let's not forget that Oprahfying the McGreevey story has a big upside for one political party.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bill Whittle takes on conspiracy thinking


It’s called Occam’s Razor, and not Occam’s Hypothesis, or Occam’s Theorem, or Occam’s Bit of Useful Advice, because it is a razor it cuts cleanly and with great efficiency.

And though it pains me to say so, this culture is in desperate need of a shave
It deserves to be read in full.

I think that he nails the personality of the average Grassy Knoller

I’ll tell you something. These conspiracy theorists that ignore that miserable, pathetic, self-aggrandizing egomaniac named Lee Harvey Oswald, or glorify him as a patsy and a hero, do so because deep down inside they realize something unpleasant about Lee Harvey Oswald and themselves.

They are Oswald
Whittle knows his conspiracy theories and he understands the importance of critical thinking.

Heinlein said something important on the latter point:

The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship.
Loony literature can look very scholarly with hundreds of footnotes and long appendices. It is the logic and critical thinking that is missing. Sometimes, basic honesty in handling the sources is a little scarce as well.

The sad thing is that the same weakness shows up in many respectable academic departments. How many trees have died so that historians could argue that Stalin was not a mass murderer or that Alger Hiss was a victim of anti-Communist paranoia?

It happens right before our eyes in the blogosphere. There are plenty of blogs that refuse to believe the NC Attorney General in the Duke lacrosse case. They ignore the evidence and write of dark, formless conspiracies. Or, they ignore most of the evidence and twist a few points to create the shadow of a hint of a doubt that maybe something illegal happened. They sound like Birchers and are too far gone to realize it.

Whittle is right that such thinking usually grows out of the limited mind and stunted personality of the conspiracist. The possession of dangerous, secret knowledge is intoxicating and gives meaning to those whose achievements fall short of their self-esteem.

The late Michael Kelly touched on another part of the appeal. Knowingness is an attribute that is easy to acquire. Knowledge requires hard study and hard thinking. Knowingness is the lazy way out.

Photon Courier discusses this as it applies to academia.
This is especially apt:

Why is theory (which would often more accurately be called meta-theory) so attractive to so many denizens of university humanities departments? To some extent, the explanation lies in simple intellectual fad-following. But I think there is a deeper reason. Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships--all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics--you don't need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying "that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors" (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan's unusual novel True Crime.)
To go back to Heinlein and the academy, i've come to believe that the really fuzzy fields like sociology use scholarship and theory to avoid both logic and data.

Ideological commitment plays a role, too. Oswald was inconvenient for the Left. If JFK was murdered by a right-winger in a right-wing city, it confirms the Left's view of the world. But if he died at the hands of a communist revolutionary wannabe, then things get messy. It is no wonder that so manny tried to remove Oswald from the picture. (It is worth noting that the first attempts to paint Oswald as a patsy came from Communist propagandist here and in Western Europe.)

Lastly, we the problem that Howard Gardner identified: it is hard to change our minds one we have taken a position in public. Many find it easier to invent conspiracies than to admit that they were wrong.
John Feinstein defies description

Check out this report on his latest eruption.

How does a man like this become a respected sport pundit? From beginning to end his commentary has been ignorant and mean-spirited. He fails the acid test and lacks standing to criticize the lacrosse team. Based only on Feinstein's work, the Post continues to challenge the New York Times for worst paper not in Durham when it comes to this travesty.
Duke lacrosse: Brad Bannon

KC Johnson posts an interview/profile with one of the lawyers who defended Dave Evans.

Bannon makes a point that deserves more attention:
So you can see that North Carolina as a whole has acted progressively and consistently over the last several years on many fronts to improve the fairness of the criminal justice system and has, in fact, been a nationwide leader in some of those efforts. You can also see that defense lawyers in the Duke lacrosse case have been actively involved in those reforms.

Many of the defenders of the lax players write as though the events in Durham prove that North Carolina is especially backward on criminal justice reform. The truth is quite different as Bannon makes clear.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weeb Ewbank

Cold Hard Football Facts has a nice appreciation of Weeb Ewbank
Weeb Ewbank's legacy is unmatched.
His name is unknown.
I wrote about Ewbank here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Defending the almost indefensible

True crime buffs and true crime writers can be pretty defensive about their genre. Periodically, they set out to justify their interest in murder and mayhem.

The latest apologia appears over at Crime Rant, a blog run by two TC writers. It is a guest post by Laura James who runs her own TC blog.

In Defense of True Crime

In truth, the 500-year-old true crime genre is absolutely essential to an informed society. Crime impacts everyone. Politicians and the public respond with changes in our laws, policies, and budget priorities. Unless a full account of a high-impact case is developed, there is no complete factual basis on which to decide whether changes are necessary and what those changes should be.
Hard to argue with that. In fact, I agree. When I wrote this post about civilians and mass murders I relied heavily on two true crime books: Peter Hernon’s A Terrible Thunder and
A Sniper in the Tower by Gary M. Lavergne

Nonetheless, you cannot judge a genre by the role it might play. Nor can you judge it solely by its best esamples. Sometimes you have to look at what is typical.

It is hard to see any high-minded purpose behind the dreck that sits on the shelves at Wal-mart or in the true crime section at Waldenbooks. Writers with little talent or industry (and even less intellect) grind out shallow retellings of murder. Serial killers find a ready market; domestic murder has its devoted fans.

(True crime fans mirror Law and Order writers in their perception that murder in America is the exclusive preserve of middle class white people.)

This passage is just laughable:

A true crime author recently remarked that he thinks every young woman in America should read “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule, the classic crime story of Ted Bundy. Any woman who followed that advice and read the tale of the handsome, charming exterior that hid a sadistic predator would indeed be better armed for it, better able to recognize snakes in the grass like Bundy.
Rule was already an established crime writer when she met and was taken in by Bundy. If studying and writing about criminals did not prepare her, how can reading one book help other women? As I noted before:

What i find funny (in both a sick and in a 'ha-ha' kind of way) is that Rule gained her fame not because she was psychologically acute, but because she was obtuse. Her book on Ted Bundy was notable because she knew Bundy and never suspected him until he was arrested.
One of her blog hosts provides a similar example. In January, when the frame-up was plainly obvious, he provided this gem of wisdom on the Duke lacrosse case:

That all said, I am also for justice and a fair trial. And here’s the thing: looking at all the evidence that’s been made available and judging this thing as an outsider, I’d say some of it points to guilt.
When a lauded author in a genre can be so obtuse, what benefit comes from reading it?

Actually, we have a pretty good laboratory to see how TC fans put their “learning” to work. Court TV runs an active board that covers the full range of crime stories. Anyone who followed the Duke case there knows just how irrational and ill-informed the majority of long-time posters were. (CTV, for some reason, has deleted most of their threads on the case.)

James points to the Virginia Tech murders as an example where policy debates need to be informed by the knowledge that TC readers bring to the table. Yet, at CTV, the VT threads are almost dormant. TV fans are much more interested in (obsessed with might be more correct) Ana Nicole Smith, Scott Peterson, child predators in the bushes, the next Scott Peterson, and Natalie Holloway. Far from bringing critical insights to important matters, TC fans bicker among themselves about the trivial, the tabloid, and the anomalous.

Publishers print what the market supports. What readers want is freak porn in paperback.

Pet peeve

I'm sick of "politically incorrect" being used as cover for loutishness. I'm tired seeing of any and all objections to crude humor dismissed as creeping PC.

Tossing around the c-word, b-word, or n-word does not transform a wimp into a brave warrior for freedom. It just shows that some parts of his psyche never left the eighth grade. This is nothing to be proud of.

The faux machismo of the AutoAdmit guys is funny in a pathetic, sad way. When the controversy first surfaced, they told the women who complained to toughen up and deal with it. Now that one of them got bit in the backside, they whine. I'm reminded of that tough prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption -- the one who "cried like a little baby" when the police arrested him.
This strikes me as justice

Law Firm Rescinds Offer to Ex-AutoAdmit Executive

The Law Blog has learned that law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge rescinded its job offer to Anthony Ciolli, the 3L at Penn Law who resigned as “Chief Education Director” of AutoAdmit last month. He resigned in the wake of a WaPo exposé on how the site in part served as a platform for attacks and defamatory remarks about female law students, among others (see our earlier post here).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Big fights then and now

I understand there is a title fight this weekend. I wonder how many sports fans know or care?

It is a cliché that box has lost popularity. It is hard to imagine just how big boxing used to be.

In his biography of Jack Dempsey, Roger Kahn puts it into perspective:

[Babe] Ruth's annual salary was fifty thousand dollars. (It eventually reached eighty thousand dollars). ... Any year he chose to fight, the heavyweight champion could gross a million dollars from his fists and his irresistible persona.

Duke lacrosse: filling in the blanks

A few days ago i wondered what was happening in the ten days between the time that the DPD arrived at Krogers and DA Nifong's entry into the case. KC Johnson has answered some of those questions with a three part series on the actions of SANE-in-training Tara Levicy. (I,II, III).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Worth noting

Liberty v. Security

Likewise, I think there's value in encouraging kids to complain about the bullies in their midst, but this puts an interesting twist to it. If you complain, will those in authority do something about the bully or make a note that you have feelings of persecution?


I think there's value in examining all these issues and we may well find some answers that help reduce the number of spree killings; but ultimately I suspect that "loony control" will prove as futile and contraproductive as gun control. I'm not sure we want to turn into a society of informers and snitches, or start medicating every kid who writes something wierd or doodles pictures of death's heads and dragons.

I like the pick

So sue me. I think the Steelers 3d round selection makes a lot of sense. This could be a whole new look for the Steelers if he is as good as his reputation and if Bruce Arians is serious about this:

Arians wants to use more tight ends and wide receivers in various formations and more one-back schemes.
I've argued before that the fundamental weakness of the the Cowher/Bettis Steelers was their reliance on uni-dimensional players: RBs who ran inside, TEs and FBs who blocked but did not catch passes. That left them vulnerable in the playoffs where good defenses could shut them down.

Now, though, the Steelers can be more unpredictable. Willie Parker has the speed to go outside. If teams jam up the middle, he can make them pay. Especially with a good tight end on both sides of the line. (No more slow developing sweeps waiting for Dan Kreider to get out in front of the play.)

Moreover, the TEs are a bigger threat in the passing game than a blocking back. Nothing like watching a TE rumble for 30 yards to make LBs stay home and respect the pass.

Finally, the thought of a 6-7 receiver in the red zone just makes me smile.
The looking glass war

Remember how angry the Bush administration was over the New York Times' stories that revealed the details of secret operations? There were many in the blogosphere who wanted criminal charges brought against the Times editors. It is hard to take that view and reconcile it with this:

Just a few feet from the podium, Rove was found at The New York Times table, in discussions with the likes of D.C. Bureau Chief Dean Baquet and columnist Maureen Dowd. When asked why the paper, which often battles the White House, chose to invite Rove, Dowd said, “I don’t do the inviting anymore.”

Reporter Jim Rutenberg said he had asked Rove because “we cover him and I just asked.” Was he getting any scoops from the White House insider? “He’s telling us everything,” Rutenberg joked
I think that this prove Bill Keller was right. Months ago he told PBS that the Bush administration liked having the issue but was uninterested in taking any real action.

It's not an accident that a certain number of these speeches decrying The New York Times happen to be at the microphones of Republican fundraising events. The New York Times is red meat to a certain slice of the conservative base.
I'm glad i didn't waste my outrage.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Reason #438,517 that the MSM is becoming a joke

What can you expect when the media watchdogs lie?

I ran across this at CJR Daily:

Duke v. Iraq, an Exercise in News Judgment

I thought the writer had a fair point about the attention paid to the exoneration of the lax players compared to the extension of the tours of duty in Iraq. I might have quibbled on some points, but it is an honest argument. (One I made here about Iraq versus the Natalie Holloway story.)

Sadly, the writer did not present his case in an honest manner. Far from it. He blatantly distorted quotes and changed their meaning.

This is from the CJR piece:

Friend and former colleague Brian Montopoli noted as much on Friday on CBS' the Public Eye, pointing to the comments of Gregory Papadatos, an Army medic and Iraq vet who feels much the same way: "Somebody please tell me why that one incident, which caused no bleeding or dying, is getting more radio air time than the fact that [a medic friend of his] -- along with about 100,000 of her closest friends and colleagues -- has just been told she has to spend three extra months in a combat zone."
If you click over to CBS News you can read all of what the Iraq vet wrote:

Now, keeping all of this in mind, somebody please tell me why a deejay with a reputation for irreverence calling a basketball player a "nappy-headed ho" should leave that woman "scarred for life" (which is a direct quote from one of the Rutgers basketball players, in Wednesday's newspapers). After that, somebody please tell me why I should care about it. And THEN somebody please tell me why that one incident, which caused no bleeding or dying, is getting more radio air time than the fact that MY little buddy - along with about 100,000 of her closest friends and colleagues - has just been told she has to spend three extra months in a combat zone.
No mention of the Duke lacrosse case. The soldier was referencing the attention paid to the Imus imbroglio.

Why did McLeary do this? If he really cared about the extension of the combat tours, the point is still made without butchering and twisting the quote.

Maybe he just does not like lacrosse players.

The bigger question is why CJR Daily ran such a dishonest piece. It does not look good when the official organ of high-minded journalism puts its imprimatur on something this bad.
Today's must read

Freak Porn News

How much of what passes for news falls into the category of "freak porn" -the collection and dissemination of the most unusual events anyone can find or manufacture? Designed to shock a jaded public, freak porn occupies so much of the daily news cycle that, other than the weather and traffic reports, I'm not sure the modern news media serves any real purpose anymore. It's merely sordid entertainment.
An idea so absurd, only a journalist would waste time on it

Manhattan's Bloomberg as the new Perot. ($req'd)

Sure, there might be an opportunity for a moderate to make a splash. You have to be trapped deep in the echo chamber to think that this nanny-state mayor from deep blue New York City qualifies as a moderate.
Good question

If, as immigrationists often claim, the economy benefits so much from low skill workers, why continue to spend money educating native born Americans? Think of the economic boom to result if we stopped funding high schools and colleges in order to increase the homegrown pool of unskilled labor.

Across difficult country

HT: Steve Sailer

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No such thing as a lone wolf

Good write-up on what the investigations in Europe have turned up.

This strikes me as encouraging and important:

It was common knowledge that Zougam was involved in radical activities, but investigators lacked sufficient evidence to charge him or even to maintain a constant tap on his phone.
The dots are out there, but first we have to collect them.
Wendy Murphy continues her idiocy

KC Johnson deftly fillets the most stubborn hag of the hoax.

Despite her jaw-dropping performance on the Duke lacrosse case, Murphy remains a frequent and honored guest on Fox News.
The gang that couldn't think straight

KC Johnson has an outstanding post on the Gang of 88 and their attempts to clarify what they meant to say when they ran their ad.

The response of Professor William Chafe is interesting on many levels.

I am appalled at the way that bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’ have put words in our mouths, denied our individuality and [used] racist and violent language to attack us—including sending us e-mails and making phone calls wishing our deaths and calling us ‘Jew b-’ and ‘n-b-’.
As KC notes:

Quite beyond the unintended irony of accusing “bloggers”—as a bloc, stripped of their individuality—of denying the “individuality” of people who signed a joint public statement, Chafe’s claim is absurd on its face.
As a blogger who has written on the case, i wonder if i should be offended at Chafe 's statement? He is denying my individuality and putting [racist] words in my mouth. That seems wrong seeing as how: 1. i defended the Group of 88, 2, never sent any of them an email, 3, never encouraged others to send them an email, and 4, have a long-standing position against urging others to send emails to political opponents.

Come to think of it, i believe that Chafe's statement has hurt me deeply.

Oh well, i guess i'll just brush it off and work on beginning the healing process.

There are other whose individuality was denied; maybe Chafe wants to speak up for them.

For thirteen months the 46 lacrosse players have been condemned as arrogant, loutish, privileged, pampered, law-breaking jocks. Even after the charges were dismissed, there are those who continue to condemn them. As i noted yesterday, Seligmann, for one, in no way resembles this caricature.

So, has Chafe or any other member of the Gang of 88 ever spoken out against this denial of the players's individuality?

To tell the truth, i actually believe the Gang when they say their ad was not really about the alleged crime. In The Roots of Radicalism, there is an interesting quote from Mark Rudd about the New Left's mindset and methods.

Even Berkeley had a slogan that 'the issue is not the issue,' meaning that the real issue was not free speech on campus but thoroughgoing social change.
In Durham, the issue was not the alleged crime. That was just a handy club that could be used to bludgeon Duke into making changes. Not that it will take much to push Brodhead in that direction.

As for the three falsely accused men and their teammates? They were just collateral damage in the war against Duke by those who hate what it is today.