December 11, 2006
New Season of Sleeper Cell
The second season of Sleeper Cell is currently being released on Showtime.
I don't get Showtime, and was hoping to watch it via iTunes. Haven't found it there yet, but the first episode of the new season is available free via the official website.
Spoiler alert! Don't watch it if you have a desire to watch the first season, which I thought was excellent.
December 5, 2006
Followup to "Why Newt Is Right"
Well, there seems to be quite a bit of misunderstanding of my last article in TCSDaily. I'll lay the blame for this solely at my own feet, since I'm the one who did all the writing.
The article is titled, "Why Newt Is Right," and if I could have added a subtitle, it would have been, "To worry about a catastrophic attack." It seems instead that many people added their own subtitle, something like, "To restrict free speech."
Arguing in favor of restricting free speech was not my intent. Aside from poor writing on my part, that it was nonetheless taken that way may show just what problems await us as the war continues.
For example, blogger Glenn Greenwald took special umbrage to the piece:
In a TCS Daily column this week entitled "Why Newt is Right," Josh Manchester talked about all the bad things that would happen in the event that a nuclear bomb were detonated in Long Beach, California, and then expressly urged measures for "physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism"Like I said, this is my fault for writing poorly. When read in context, this sentence was meant to show an alternative strategy to restricting free speech:
An offensive yet superficially benign way to accomplish some of these same goals might be to begin a cultural war against extremism. In addition to physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism, such a campaign might seek to propagate competing memes, which appeal to the same core demographic that is apt to become extremists.I should have written, "instead of" where I did write "in addition to."
Let me elaborate upon this, since I obviously did a poor job in the article: Rather than merely restricting speech, as many would assume is what I was talking about, why not create competing ideas, and discredit those that appeal so strongly to the core demographic (young men) who are drawn to terrorism? In order to do this, I think many of the same things Newt mentioned would be necessary: technologies to disrupt and track extremist websites. As I tried to say in the piece, to merely restrict such websites is a defensive method.
To take an example: outlawing a website only gives it a sort of cache within the world of rebellious extremists. But a lampooning of extremist ideas in a comedic fashion, in a cultural manner that appeals to the demographic of extremism, would be much more valuable, and probably more successful in the long run.
For the benefits of monitoring terror sites instead of shutting them down, see this backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Also, I don't think it's clear that Newt wants to restrict free speech. Instead, he was merely noting that the pursuit of terrorists and stopping attacks is going to require "a serious debate about the first amendment," and that it is better to have this debate now to "develop the appropriate rules of engagement." I don't think it's a straight leap from that to detention camps, and a police state, as the left seems to assume. I can't speak for Newt, but what I was more concerned with is things that we can do now that will serve the purpose of both preventing an attack and preserving the government. To me, this includes civil liberties. In fact, it's not just to me. I used the examples of the nuclear strategists Fred Ikle and Philip Bobbitt in the article. One of Bobbitt's pet peeves is that as of today there is no legal mechanism in place to quickly reconstitute the House of Representatives should a majority of its members be killed or incapacitated in an attack (the Senate does not have this problem, as replacement Senators can be appointed by governors). I'm no legal expert, but I believe that the only way to restaff the House of Representatives is to hold new elections. Even if these are scheduled to take place a few months after an attack, those months are likely to be when crucial decisions need to be made by the House, and when crucial oversight needs to take place as well.
In short, ask yourself: is the United States less or more secure in its freedoms if a plan exists to quickly reconstitute the House of Representatives after a catastrophic attack?
You might say that such measures are how the Nazis rose to power. I'd argue that "stockpiling laws" such as Bobbitt has advocated, is meant to stop such a nightmare scenario from occuring.
This in fact is the entire thrust of Fred Ikle's new book. It's no accident that it's called "Annihilation From Within." Here's an excerpt from the book's website:
Our greatest threat is a cunning tyrant gaining possession of a few weapons of mass destruction. His purpose would not be to destroy landmarks, highjack airplanes, or attack railroad stations. He would annihilate a nation's government from within and assume dictatorial power. The twentieth century offers vivid examples of tyrants who have exploited major national disasters by rallying violent followers and intimidating an entire nation.Frankly, Ikle is advocating a series of measures to prevent this from happening, not a series of measures that would make it more likely. If you need more evidence, I'll go get my copy and quote some more.
To be clear as well, just so I'm not misunderstood, neither Bobbitt nor Ikle argues for restrictions on speech.
Now Newt is a different story. As I tried to argue in the article, he's right to be concerned with the same issues as Bobbitt and Ikle. I think he's right to raise the questions of undermining terrorist communications as well.
If Al Qaeda were a state -- Qaedastan -- where we could clearly locate them, is there any doubt we would have destroyed their command and control infrastructure long ago?
The problem is that Al Qaeda, or jihad, or extremism, or however it can be identified, is not a state. It is more like a virus. It's command and control infrastructure is highly diffuse and a lot of it is located in cyberspace. To stem recruitment, I think we should offer counternarratives and competing memes. Newt thinks we should shut down recruiting websites.
Whichever of us you agree with, the point is that we are both concerned with preventing another attack. Newt is asking for a dialogue about free speech in order to figure out how to stop terrorism from spreading through the internet. To merely demonize him as wishing to restrict speech is to deny the very dialogue that he seeks.
I'm a blogger. I can appreciate the beauty of free speech. In a post a long time ago I once told "the troglodyte FEC bureaucrats and their draconian moronic henchmen in the court system" that "You can have my blog when you pry it out of my cold dead hands."
At the same time, as a blogger, I'm pretty in tune with the power of the internet to organize people and ideas. Jihad can use this power just as well as Josh.
I guess all of this debate swirls from the fact that cyberspace is both speech and a place. It's probably the one true commons in the world today.
Well, I hope that helps somewhat. Again, I wish I could have been clearer in my article.
December 3, 2006
At least someone in the world has a sense of humor about Iraq. Also, looks the Marines in Ramadi have some spare time here and there.
November 29, 2006
Damned if you do . . .
It's hard to know what to make of the New York Times. In its latest escapade, the Times has published an article titled, "Bush Adviser's Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader," which excerpts a classified report from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to the President. The memo supposedly questions Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's ability to control sectarian violence in Iraq and recommends that steps be taken to bolster his position.
The memo was reportedly produced by Hadley after a trip to Iraq and a meeting with Maliki that took place on October 30th.
Stop for a moment and completely disregard the content of the memo. Instead ask yourself: how long has the Times had this information? The memo is exactly one month old. Now ask yourself: why are they releasing this story on the very same day that Bush is set to meet with Maliki?
It is really hard to know what to make of the Times.
November 22, 2006
The Death Squads
The blog Healing Iraq points us to a BBC Channel Four special on Death Squads, which is available here on GoogleVideo. It's a very interesting report, running about 45 minutes. There's a bit of mandatory front-line reporter theatrics, but overall, very interesting.
What do you readers think?
November 15, 2006
Jihad beats McWorld
A story over the weekend in the Times chronicled the use of hip-hop music by Islamists to spread their messages.
HIP-HOP and rap artists are teaching young Muslims the ideology of radical Islamism through songs about the war in Iraq, the oppression of Muslims and the creation of an Islamic state governed by Sharia, or religious law.
Intelligence agencies have identified music as a “tool for indoctrination”. The phenomenon began with an American group called Soldiers of Allah. The group has since disbanded but its music and lyrics remain popular on the internet. Other groups in Britain, France and the US have been identified as giving cause for concern. Many use the derogatory term “kufur” to describe non-Muslims.
[ . . . ]
“The music is very persuasive because it is giving young people ideas, and those ideas are what might motivate someone to become a jihadi. The material is all in English. It’s spreading a radical message to domestic populations that don’t speak Arabic or Urdu.”
"American culture conquers all" is a meme that has circulated for years. A friend used to joke that if Britney Spears could have been convinced to do some concerts in Afghanistan, there would have been no need for a US invasion.
Yet stories like these hint at a different set of conclusions: that like any other Western innovation, pop culture can be subverted to serve the virus of radicalism. In this case, the use of hip hop, a form which glorifies the artist and his ego, serves to glamorize jihad.
Rather than meeting radicalism with apple pie and entreaties to freedom vacuously defined as popular music, jeans and McDonald's, it seems that the much-vaunted "war of ideas" that is sometimes heard but rarely elaborated upon will have to actually take place, and hold some substance. Moreover, it seems that any new memes introduced to fight against those of the radicals, will have to be Muslim in origin, even if they use Western forms, as seen here. It is a complex problem and one unlikely to be solved by any government, if it can be solved at all. Creating counternarratives is a task best left to the private sector in the West, and putting such narratives in the form of popular music will take some time -- not in the least because those most likely to do so probably feel that their lives will be endangered.
November 8, 2006
Help Bill Roggio Go To Iraq
What's going to happen in Iraq? Bill Roggio wants to know. So he's going.
Hello, everyone. I am planning an embed to Iraq in the next three to four weeks. My goal is to embed with the Army in Baghdad and the Marines Ramadi. These two cities are the flash points in Iraq.Follow the link to donate to Bill. He's already embedded once each in Iraq and Afghanistan and did a great job.
If you are not already aware, I have devoted all of my time and energy to this endeavor. This is my full-time job. I need your support to make this happen.
I believe this war is too important for me to sit back and let others do the work. I learned early on that our greatest deficiencies in this war are partisan free reporting, education on the nature of our enemy, and honest, informed reporting on how our troops are doing on the ground. Currently, there are 11 embedded reporters in Iraq, while the United States has over 150,000 troops in country.
I really need your help to keep this project going. Please support this embed by donating via PayPal.
Or, if you wish to send a check, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you an address.
Additionally, if you would like to donate a specific item, such as life insurance, an airline ticket or camera, email me and we can discuss the options.
Thank you as always for your support.
November 6, 2006
A toast to heroic journalists!
David Halberstam has written a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review that lauds Peter Arnett's reportage in Vietnam. It ends with this:
Even as I write there are in some parts of the world young men and women going out every day, and doing something difficult and complicated, something that takes a surprisingly varied array of talentsHmm. Who might that be? Warriors?
— the ability to write quickly, a rare, almost intuitive sense of politics, and of course a certain kind of courage, the courage to stand up to powerful people who are always trying to bend you and intimidate you. When I was a young man in Saigon I was privileged enough to witness such work and to see a great institution at its best, at a moment in a democracy when it mattered.
Will these memes ever die? How long can the glory years of the press in Vietnam keep their minds afire? Halberstam's tribute to Arnett is completely without any mention of the coverage of the Tet offensive -- was that a great institution at its best? It was certainly at a moment in a democracy when it mattered. Maybe Arnett was never tarnished -- or blessed -- with participation in that holy event.
November 2, 2006
The Final Surprise: El-Baradei Strikes Again
The New York has launched its final, pre-weekend October Surprise of the silly season. An article entitled U.S. Web Archive Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Guide has just been posted on its site, and is getting the all caps, red text treatment from the Drudge Report. The article alleges that the US archive of seized Iraqi documents, released on the internet in March of 2006, contained some documents with detailed plans for the construction of nuclear weapons.
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.The Times is careful to note that these plans were from before the first Gulf War.
But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.The alarm was raised by the IAEA, according to the Times.
In September, the Web site began posting the nuclear documents, and some soon raised concerns. On Sept. 12, it posted a document it called “Progress of Iraqi nuclear program circa 1995.” That description is potentially misleading since the research occurred years earlier.
The Iraqi document is marked “Draft FFCD Version 3 (20.12.95),” meaning it was preparatory for the “Full, Final, Complete Disclosure” that Iraq made to United Nations inspectors in March 1996. The document carries three diagrams showing cross sections of bomb cores, and their diameters.
On Sept. 20, the site posted a much larger document, “Summary of technical achievements of Iraq’s former nuclear program.” It runs to 51 pages, 18 focusing on the development of Iraq’s bomb design. Topics included physical theory, the atomic core and high-explosive experiments. By early October, diplomats and officials said, United Nations arms inspectors in New York and their counterparts in Vienna were alarmed and discussing what to do.
The diplomats "were alarmed and discussing what to do." It seems obvious, does it not, to pick up the phone and call your nearest American colleague and tell him he's got an anarchist's cookbook up on his internet? Certainly no government official who expects to keep his job would sit on such information? If, as the Times notes, the documents in question were only a dozen or so in number, then would it not take the retasking of a couple of translators and perhaps 6 hours of time from a nuclear physicist to determine if the documents in question are what the diplomats suspected them to be?
Or does one sit on this information for a few weeks, instead picking up the phone to the New York Times, and craft yet another October Surprise?
It's not impossible. In fact, it happened before -- two years ago, with the same agency! The IAEA, that is. The IAEA played a big part in the last October Surprise by the New York Times -- the aptly named Al Qaqaa story, now safely ensconced behind the TimesSelect firewall. The abstract notes, "International Atomic Energy Agency warned of danger of these explosives before war . . ."
There is one other aspect of the Times story that seems strange. The documents in question are described by -- surprise! -- an anonymous intelligence official, like this:
A senior American intelligence official who deals routinely with atomic issues said the documents showed “where the Iraqis failed and how to get around the failures.” The documents, he added, could perhaps help Iran or other nations making a serious effort to develop nuclear arms, but probably not terrorists or poorly equipped states. The official, who requested anonymity because of his agency’s rules against public comment, called the papers “a road map that helps you get from point A to point B, but only if you already have a car.”Doesn't this buttress the argument that Saddam could easily have restarted his nuclear weapons program if the sanctions regime collapsed? If the Arabic documents can show Iran's scientists how to get around failures, then surely they could show Iraq's?
Another question: why were the nuke documents only begun to be released in September and earlier October? Where were they until then?
Tomorrow will be yet another interesting day in the silly season.
October 31, 2006
Second Lieutenant Booth and Senator Kerry
Yesterday Senator Kerry insulted those in uniform. But the day before yesterday he called the parents of Marine Second Lieutenant Joshua Booth, killed in action in Iraq earlier this month, to offer his condolences. His mother explains:
Second Lt. Joshua Booth died on Oct. 17. His mother said that what makes Kerry's words so offensive is that they come one day after Kerry called the family to offer condolences.So was Lieutenant Booth good at anything?
"We did appreciate the call. I am appreciative of anyone who reaches out to me and to then turn around and say something that is so totally incorrect," Booth said.
As to whether Kerry should apologize, Booth said that Kerry needs to do more to make amends.
"In addition to apologizing, he needs to learn a little bit about what our men and women in the military are actually made up of," Booth said. "We don't want to send that kind of signal, that you only go into the military if you are not good at anything."
You decide. Last week National Public Radio did a segment about him and it can be heard in its entirety here.
Why do they hate us?
Robert Keohane and Peter J. Katzenstein have a new article in Policy Review that excerpts their work Anti-americanisms in World Politics. They find that things are a bit more complicated than one might think:
First, we distinguish between anti-Americanisms that are rooted in opinion or bias. Second, as our book’s title suggests, there are many varieties of anti-Americanism. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that what is called anti-Americanism varies, depending on who is reacting to America. In our book, we describe several different types of anti-Americanism and indicate where each type is concentrated. The variety of anti-Americanism helps us to see, third, the futility of grand explanations for anti-Americanism. It is accounted for better as the result of particular sets of forces. Finally, the persistence of anti-Americanism, as well as the great variety of forms that it takes, reflects what we call the polyvalence of a complex and kaleidoscopic American society in which observers can find whatever they don’t like — from Protestantism to porn. The complexity of anti-Americanism reflects the polyvalence of America itself.As to the first point, they make a careful distinction between opinion and bias:
Some expressions of unfavorable attitudes merely reflect opinion: unfavorable judgments about the United States or its policies. Others, however, reflect bias: a predisposition to believe negative reports about the United States and to discount positive ones. Bias implies a distortion of information processing, while adverse opinion is consistent with maintaining openness to new information that will change one’s views. The long-term consequences of bias for American foreign policy are much greater than the consequences of opinion.The authors then go on to detail the varieties of anti-Americanism that they have discerned:
Liberal anti-Americanism. Liberals often criticize the United States bitterly for not living up to its own ideals . . .Their most interesting paragraphs are those detailing the "polyvalence" of America:
Social anti-Americanism. Since democracy comes in many stripes, we are wrong to mistake the American tree for the democratic forest. Many democratic societies do not share the peculiar combination of respect for individual liberty, reliance on personal responsibility, and distrust of government characteristic of the United States . . .
Sovereign-nationalist anti-Americanism. A third form of anti-Americanism focuses not on correcting domestic market outcomes but on political power. Sovereign nationalists focus on two values: the importance of not losing control over the terms by which polities are inserted in world politics and the inherent importance and value of collective national identities . . .
Radical anti-Americanism . . . is built around the belief that America’s identity, as reflected in the internal economic and political power relations and institutional practices of the United States, ensures that its actions will be hostile to the furtherance of good values, practices, and institutions elsewhere in the world . . .
Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries in which the elite has a long history of looking down on American culture. In France, for example, discussions of anti-Americanism date back to the eighteenth century, when some European writers held that everything in the Americas was degenerate . . .
Legacy anti-Americanism stems from resentment of past wrongs committed by the United States toward another society. Mexican anti-Americanism is prompted by the experiences of U.S. military attack and various forms of imperialism during the past 200 years . .
American symbols are polyvalent. They embody a variety of values with different meanings to different people and indeed even to the same individual. Elites and ordinary folks abroad are deeply ambivalent about the United States. Visitors, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, are impressed, repelled, and fascinated in about equal measure.And they finally describe the process by which the concept of "America" is appropriated worldwide:
“Americanization,” therefore, does not describe a simple extension of American products and processes to other parts of the world. On the contrary, it refers to the selective appropriation of American symbols and values by individuals and groups in other societies — symbols and values that may well have had their origins elsewhere. Americanization thus is a profoundly interactive process between America and all parts of the world. And, we argue here, it is deeply intertwined with anti-American views. The interactions that generate Americanization may involve markets, informal networks, or the exercise of corporate or governmental power — often in various combinations. They reflect and reinforce the polyvalent nature of American society as expressed in the activities of Americans, who freely export and import products and practices. But they also reflect the variations in attitudes and interests of people in other societies, seeking to use, resist, and recast symbols that are associated with the United States.
Is there not also a distinctly conservative form of anti-Americanism? Many conservatives look at the US today and are aghast at much of its popular culture, consumerism, and selfishness. Those who feel this way would be the first to deny it. But don't they really adhere to pastoral or romantic visions of a past that will never return? They love America, but as it once was, not as it is.
Second, the authors' description of the process of appropriation rings similarly with the Adventures post Globalization and War, about a year ago, especially a certain part, which attempts to debunk key assumptions about globalization:
Globalization will inevitably lead to Westernization. It's rather ironic that so many leftist academics espoused this theory, since it manages to embrace a sort of assumed Western superiority while at the same time turning the rest of the world's cultures into victims. Or maybe, Westernization would result because we in the West are so aggressive? No matter. The assumption is false. If there is any lesson to be learned these days from globalization's effects on people and cultures, it is that it transmits all of them, and transforms all of them. There is an process of give-and-take at play in nearly every place -- whether physically or in cyberspace, or other media -- where two or more cultures and peoples collide. In this way, we find radicalized Muslims as easily in Munich as we do in Mecca, and democrats as easily in Kabul as in Kansas. Moreover, the very cultures that were thought soon to be washed away by the onrush of global capitalism find themselves just as easily transmitted by it as those of the West. Witness the border region of the US and Mexico, which is a teeming hybrid of both Western and Latin cultures, or examine the growing influence of Chinese and Japanese pop culture upon the rest of Asia and even the United States. Western -- and American -- culture have influenced each of these others in turn, but by no means can be described as ascendant, and even less and less so, as dominant.Finally, one of Keohane's and Katzenstein's most interesting insights is that of the polyvalence of America. If personal freedom has become second nature in the United States; if man feels free to do as he wishes in all spheres of his life -- much more so than in other places; and if a respect for freedom has become institutionalized over centuries, then isn't the polyvalence of America much more than just an "American" trait? Isn't it a microcosm of the expression of human life in all of its manifestations? Emma Lazarus didn't mince words in her poem on the Statue of Liberty.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,Perhaps it is that golden door that is most upsetting to so many elsewhere, who are still learning of the unimaginable dynamism that lay behind it.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
October 26, 2006
Steve Acuff Airs a YouTube Video
Steve Acuff, Republican congressional candidate for North Carolina's 4th District, has just aired what I believe is his first YouTube video, in which he denounces CNN for showing an insurgent snuff film, calls for their investigation, and describes their behavior as treasonous.
I've mentioned before that I did a little bit of volunteer work for Steve's congressional campaign over the summer. I didn't help much, just once a week for a couple of hours over the course of a month or so.
So having met the man, let me say that this is the most angry I've ever seen him. Don't get me wrong. He's still got his emotions in check. But the degree to which he's upset about this issue clearly shows.
Also, the film doesn't even mention his opponent. In fact, it's not really even a political commercial, in a certain sense.
I should make it clear that I didn't assist with making this film.
Steve's campaign site is here.
September 27, 2006
Michael Yon Names Names
Michael Yon, the retired Green Beret who embedded for months with US forces in Iraq, pulls no punches in this email dispatch he just sent to his mailing list:
Pajamas Media recently reported that there are only 9 embedded reporters in Iraq . Many are blaming this on the media, and while I can never be called an apologist for mainstream media, I can say with certainty that the United States military is censoring.Them's fighting words! Yon has huge credibility on issues like this. It seems he would not easily risk it.
It remains unclear if this is a general policy, though there are recent inquiries to the office of the Secretary of Defense. I await response. Or, perhaps, the censorship is merely the policy of ******* who is responsible for operations involving embeds. ******** is said to be the most quoted man in Iraq . I've learned to trust nothing he says. I do know for a fact that ******* has been untruthful with the media. If ******* calls me on this, I'll take the time to prove it.
While sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and friends, fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military apparently is preventing journalists from telling the story. They attempt to deflect accusations of censorship by allowing in just enough reporters to appear transparent.
UPDATE: After noting Belmont Club's post on Yon's email, which notes that it has not been verified as actually coming from Yon, I've removed the name that Yon mentions in the email. It should not have been included in the first place.
Berlin Production of Idomeneo A Little Strange to Begin With
The AP reports:
German politicians condemned on Tuesday a decision by a Berlin opera house to cancel performances of Mozart's "Idomeneo" over concerns they could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.At first glance, this seems to fit the familiar pattern of:
The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday it was replacing four performances of "Idomeneo" scheduled for November with "The Marriage of Figaro" and "La Traviata."
The decision was taken after Berlin security officials warned that putting on the opera as planned would present an "incalculable security risk" for the establishment.
In the production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs.
a) Western person or institution makes a public statement with some sort of content about Islam or Mohammed
b) Muslims go nuts.
Yet perhaps there is something else to this story. First off, what the heck is Idomeneo about and why does its performance include as props "the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs?"
Wikipedia's synopsis of the plot makes no mention of any of the these people, except for Poseidon [Neptune] and no mention of his beheading.
My guess is that this is an instance of some pretty ridiculous modern liberties taken with the script of Idomeneo. More akin to the whole "Piss Christ" controversy years ago than to either the Cartoon Jihad or, for lack of a better term, the Pope Jihad.
This doesn't mean that as free speech it shouldn't be defended. It just means that perhaps it's a little less defensible than the other instances. In the end of course, bad taste is not a crime, or shouldn't be.
September 15, 2006
Interesting New Contracts at Intrade
In the past few days, the online prediction market Intrade has doubled its number of contracts for both US or Israeli strikes against Iran and for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The actual contracts can't be pointed to, so you'll have to go there and poke around a bit to find them.
This probably reflects a desire on the part of the Intrade folks to keep on top of these events, rather than any unusual movements in those markets.
August 30, 2006
Carolina FreedomNet 2006
I've been invited to be a panelist at the upcoming conference Carolina FreedomNet 2006, which will be held in Greensboro on October 7th. See the link for details. A number of other local Carolina bloggers will be present, and the keynote remarks will be made by Scott Johnson of Power Line. Looks to be great fun and the cost to the public is only $25! That's a steal compared to other conferences I've seen or attended.
August 9, 2006
Interview with Alan Furst
I've conducted a brief interview with Alan Furst, who has written several superb spy novels set in pre-WWII Europe. The interview is now up over at TCSDaily.
Furst's own site is www.alanfurst.net.
I have to tell the story of how this came about, cause it's pretty neat.
Mrs. Chester dragged me shopping one day and I ducked into a Borders in need of a reprieve. Browsing around, I moseyed over to the Mystery/Suspense section to look for Furst's new book, The Foreign Correspondent.
I couldn't find it, so I went to the help desk. There, I saw a stack of copies, along with the entire inventory of everything else they had in stock by Furst. "Are these all on hold?" I asked the staff. "No, we've set them aside because he's supposed to come in today and sign them. He's supposed to be here any minute."
Well, this was cool! So soon enough Mr. Furst did arrive and signed a copy for me. I went and sat down in the cafe. Then a thought occurred to me: why not a blog interview? I asked him and he agreed immediately, saying he loves reading blogs.
Anyway, I thought that was very kind of him and a pretty cool little backstory.
Furst's novels are truly fascinating. You feel as though you are really in Europe right before all hell breaks loose. And in some cases after it's broken loose too.
My favorite is Night Soldiers, probably because it's a bit longer than the others, which means all the more intrigue:
I've also read The World at Night and Dark Voyage:
Those were both excellent as well. When reading these works, the scope and depth of the changes that were afoot in Europe really begins to dawn on the reader. Most interestingly perhaps is that everyone seems to know that war is coming . . .
Loyal Readers here at Adventures will probably enjoy any of Furst's novels. Go check out the interview too.
UPDATE: Here's a previous post that references his work as well: Through The Looking Glass.
July 31, 2006
Not a great way to identify an anonymous source
An AP article, Marines Prop Up Ailing Local Gov't in Iraq (via the Washington Post), contains this snippet:
"There's been a concerted campaign against government officials that's had some great success ... the government center is nearly devoid of governance," said the top Marine intelligence officer for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, who asked not to be identified because of security policies for intelligence officers.It's things like this that make me really wonder about some reporters. Unless 3/8 is in an unusual situation, there's probably only one intel officer in the battalion, and definitely not more than a few if more than one. What a way to screw up a source. On the same token, if I was an intel officer in Iraq, I'd avoid the press like the plague itself.
July 19, 2006
Attribution would be nice once in a while
Today, the Washington Post publishes a predictable piece filled with anti-Bush animus, also with the title "The Guns of July," written by Harold Meyerson. Here tis.
At least when I get ideas from somewhere else, I'm kind enough to mention so. Nah. I'm sure it's a coincidence. Well, if the term enters popular lexicon, at least I'll have a story to tell at cocktail parties. A friend once tried to meet girls by telling them he invented the phrase "Pardon my French."
July 7, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.-Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
The North Koreans are causing Japan to rethink their pacifism. Not only that, but the cemented US-Japan security relationship, well-described recently in the Weekly Standard, gives a sort of legitimacy to the respect for militarism that has long been an undercurrent in Japan. Japan, after all, has a long, long tradition of respect for military virtue. How one perceives it is in the eye of the beholder. Much of Japanese militarism in the past could be characterized as a sort of stoic nihilism. Yet at the same time, Bushido, the code of the samurai, inspired George Lucas to create the Jedi Knights in Star Wars, which went on to become a mythopoetic icon in its own right in the US.
It's possible that most peoples in the world who are proud of their own histories search for something meaningful to find in the martial portions of those stories. The Japanese have long found their own meaning in serving as a kind of poster-child for anti-nuclear activism, using their war history as a sort of lesson to the world. Regardless that it saved millions of lives on both sides by ending the war sooner, the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave Japan the opportunity to retool its military history into that of a shamed victim (as opposed to a righteous victim, which we often see in a variety of contexts in the West). When I was 16, and about to take a bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima to visit the memorial there, my host-father told me, "You'll see exactly what your country really intended to do to us."
But as Churchill said, great battles "change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations." The threat to Japan of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea is doing just that. Consider this video on YouTube, entitled Aegis [hat-tip to Belmont Club]:
If the Japanese are making fanflicks of the Japanese Navy, it seems the tables are turning on Article 9, and some of Churchill's "new moods" are being created.
Or maybe they're not that new after all:
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleepSaviour of Nippon when the guns begin to shoot . . .
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
June 27, 2006
Open Letter to the President of the New York Times
I just sent this email to Scott Heekin-Canedy, President and General Manager of the New York Times:
To: email@example.comI do not expect a response, but will certainly print any I receive.
Subj: Publication of Classified Material
I am outraged that the New York Times chose to publicize an ongoing intelligence operation on its front page on June 23rd, 2006. By the admission of the story itself, the program to track terrorist financing was legal; it was effective; it was limited; it had no history of ongoing abuse; it was independently audited by an outside board; and it was briefed to members of Congress. What else could one want from a classified program? If the t's weren't crossed and the i's weren't dotted, then I challenge the New York Times to mount some constructive criticism that would have made the program better.
While you consider that, I am contacting the largest institutional shareholders in the New York Times Co and asking them to sell their stakes. I am also contacting the three largest buyers of national advertising and asking them to refrain from buying advertising in your publication. Below is a copy of an email I've just sent to Proctor and Gamble, General Motors, and Time-Warner.
On Friday, June 23rd, 2006, the New York Times published on its front page the details of a classified, legal, and effective program to monitor the financial transactions of terrorist networks. The program is legal and had been briefed to members of Congress. It had no known record of ongoing abuse and is audited by an independent board of auditors.
The decision to out such a government program endangers our national security, with such little benefit to the public as to seriously question the judgment of those who decided to publish the story.
As one of the largest national advertisers in the United States, I’d like to recommend that your firm seriously consider not purchasing advertising in the New York Times. Why invest in a media organization that displays such little respect for the security of the United States?
I write on my own behalf, and not for the government. Thanks very much for your consideration.
I am extremely disappointed that the Times has chosen to endanger our national security in such a blatant fashion, with such little to gain from that recklessness. And to be based in Manhattan as well! Unbelievable! Do the memories of our enemies' intent to take innocent life run so shallow on 43rd Street?
Despite your protestations of serving the public interest, I think your newspaper's decision is disgraceful.
Joshua P. Manchester
Captain, US Marine Corps Reserve
UPDATE: Response received from T. Rowe Price:
Dear Captin [sic] Manchester:Pretty standard, but the first paragraph indicates that they did actually read my email, which is better than I could have hoped for.
Thank you for your e-mail to T. Rowe Price.
We appreciate your taking the time to contact us regarding our
investment association with the New York Times Company. Please be
assured that your comments have been forwarded to the appropriate party
If you have any questions or need additional assistance, please call us
at 1-800-225-5132. Representatives are available Monday through Friday
from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. ET and Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5
Senior Account Services Representative
June 26, 2006
Hit Em Where It Hurts
SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES
It is sad and unfortunate that the New York Times has chosen to publish the classified details of a legal and effective government program meant to secure the Republic from attack. In fact, it is not just sad, it is enraging. In December, I thought that the outing of the NSA wiretapping techniques was in poor form, but there was a case to be made, and it was made by many, many commentators, that the program was operating in a gray area of the law.
But this latest bit of treason is truly outrageous. The program was legal; it was effective; it was not abused; it had independent auditors; and it was briefed to the members of Congress of both parties who Needed To Know.
I've never written about this on the ole blog here before, but there was a period not long ago when I wrote some things that could have been construed as putting sensitive data in the public realm. Shortly thereafter, I received one email -- one -- from a concerned member of the military. He wasn't a government representative, he was just acting on his own. He made a case that what I had written was not a good idea. I disagreed with him, but I felt disgusted and sickened. I immediately removed the post in question. I emailed the other bloggers who had linked to it and discreetly asked them to remove their links. They complied.
The truth is, I was absolutely horrified that I might have done anything at all to endanger ongoing operations. God forbid I should be the officer who burned an op.
Now this is just a blog, and I had only received one email, but that was enough to make me reconsider. But by its own admission, the President of the United States himself asked the New York Times not to reveal the details of how we spy on terrorist financing. And by its own admission, the New York Times blew him off.
Fortunately for all of you who are as shocked as I am, it turns out that the details of how the New York Times finances its own operations are not secret at all. In fact, The New York Times is owned by a public company, known as The New York Times Company, trading as NYT on the New York Stock Exchange.
I just spent a few fruitful moments on Yahoo Finance and discovered some basic information that may be of interest to many of you readers out there. On the major holdings page, we learn that a significant percentage of the New York Times' stock is held by institutions and mutual funds: 83%, quite a large chunk. Those institutions, especially the mutual funds, are in turn owned by none other than many of you Loyal Readers out there. You might want to find out if you own a little piece of the New York Times in your own 401K or IRA. Take a look at the largest mutual fund holders:
FUND, size of holdingHere's the contact info for some of those funds, if you are an investor:
PRICE (T.ROWE) EQUITY INCOME FUND $196,152,500
FIDELITY EQUITY-INCOME II, FUND $133,709,464
PRICE (T.ROWE) MID-CAP VALUE FUND $59,853,088
FIDELITY EQUITY-INCOME FUND $63,835,036
PRICE (T.ROWE) CAPITAL APPRECIATION FUND $53,100,380
VAN KAMPEN SERIES FUND INC.-GLOBAL FRANCHISE FUND $46,467,059
VANGUARD 500 INDEX FUND 1,362,604 $34,487,507
FIDELITY CAPITAL APPRECIATION FUND $37,926,669
FIDELITY PURITAN FUND INC $37,209,406
FIDELITY VALUE FUND $37,118,280
T. Rowe Price: 800-225-5132
Fidelity: 800-FIDELTY [one might ask them what exactly they render "fidelity" to]
Van Kampen: 800-341-2941 (Say "Representative" or press "**0")
If a few dozen investors were to call the these numbers tomorrow and ask if these respectable blue-chip investment firms are going to continue to hold the stock of a company that sells out the security of the United States, my guess is that would register pretty quickly with the management of those firms. Those firms after all, being in the financial services industry, no doubt have a significant presence in Manhattan. And Manhattan after all, is the site of our most ignominious encounter with our sworn enemies -- whom the New York Times has decided to assist.
Now, what else might we find on Yahoo Finance? Returning to the Institutional Holdings page, [here it is again], one can find a list of Institutional investors in NYT as well, though these are probably less responsive to outraged individuals like you and me . . .
Poking around in the New York Times Annual Report does however yield some useful information. On page 2, we learn that 65% of all advertising revenue for the business segment that contains the Gray Lady comes from national advertisers. Hmm. Interesting. A bit further, on page 12, we find this tidbit [emphasis in original]:
Our largest newspaper properties are dependent on national advertising.Later, on page F3, we learn that the same business segment, the News Media Group, earns 95% of the revenue for the entire company. The role of those national advertisers to the viability of the firm is becoming very clear now.
A significant portion of advertising revenues for our largest newspaper properties is from national advertising. As a result, events that affect national advertisers, such as structural changes and challenges to their traditional business models, may change the level of our advertising revenues. Increased consolidation among major national and retail advertisers has depressed, and may continue to depress, the level of our advertising revenue.
Googling "largest national advertisers" led me to this new article in AdAge magazine, which is dated -- what are the odds? -- June 26, 2006, and consists of the 51st annual listing of the 100 largest national advertisers in the United States. If you clickthrough you'll get to a lovely PDF with all the info you could need about national advertising in it.
Let's focus on, say, the 3 largest national advertisers in the United States. Here are their Investor Relations contact numbers. Perhaps a few calls suggesting that they refrain from buying advertising in the New York Times might not be a bad idea:
Proctor and Gamble 800-742-6253
General Motors 313-667-1500
Time Warner 866-INFO-TWX
I'll be calling each of these myself during regular business hours tomorrow.
To reiterate the facts, as reported by the New York Times itself: the program was legal; it was effective; it was briefed to Congress; there were independent auditors; there was no evidence of abuse. These are the facts. I know they're true cause I read them in the New York Times.
If you contact any of the above-listed numbers, feel free to leave a comment here about your experience. Or shoot me an email. I'd like to know how it goes.
UPDATE: Ah yes, one final bit of info. According to the contact page on the New York Times Company corporate site, here are some good people to know:
Catherine MathisThose might come in handy.
Assistant Director, Investor Relations and Online Communications
UPDATE2: As recommended by a commenter, here are the contact methods for the 3 investment companies, and 3 national advertisers listed above. This is actually a much better way to go. I realized this after calling Fidelity. THe poor person on the other end of the line doesn't really know how to react when politely asked if Fidelity might be able to sell its NYT holdings.
T. Rowe Price (Click on the Contact Us link and a popup window will appear)
And the Time-Warner email, as noted here, is "ir" at "timewarner.com.
UPDATE3: Here's what I sent to the financial institutions:
Your firm is a large institutional investor in the New York Times Co (NYT). On Friday, June 23rd, 2006, the New York Times published on its front page the details of a classified, legal, and effective program to monitor the financial transactions of terrorist networks. The program is legal and had been briefed to members of Congress. It had no known record of ongoing abuse and is audited by an independent board of auditors.
The decision to out such a government program endangers our national security, with such little benefit to the public as to seriously question the judgment of those who decided to publish the story.
I’d like to recommend that your firm seriously reconsider its investment in the New York Times Co. Why invest in a media organization that displays such little respect for the security of the United States?
I write on my own behalf, and not for the government. Thanks very much for your consideration.
Joshua P. Manchester
Captain, US Marine Corps Reserve
May 15, 2006
Hey! What's all this moping around?
Well Loyal Readers, I've been on vacation with Mrs. Chester for a week or so. Didn't pay too much attention to the news while gone.
You can imagine my surprise upon returning and plugging back in to see there's all this talk of Conservative Fatigue Syndrome.
If some of you out there need a little inspiration, I offer you Corporal Jeremiah Workman, USMC:
The President of the United States takes great pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS to
CORPORAL JEREMIAH W. WORKMAN
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following
For extraordinary heroism while serving as Squad Leader, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 23 December 2004. During clearing operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Workman displayed exceptional situational awareness while organizing his squad to enter a building to retrieve isolated Marines inside. Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapon fire, and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly exposed himself and laid down a base of fire that allowed the isolated Marines to escape. Outside the house, he rallied the rescued Marines and directed fire onto insurgent positions as he aided wounded Marines in a neighboring yard. After seeing these Marines to safety, he led another assault force into the building to eliminate insurgents and extract more Marines. Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs. Corporal Workman continued to provide intense fire long enough to recover additional wounded Marines and extract them from the besieged building. Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman's heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
For the President,
Secretary of the Navy
Semper Fi, now-Sergeant Workman! I'm glad you're on our side.
[Thanks to Sgt. Workman's mother-in-law for forwarding the citation to me!]
May 3, 2006
This Is Our War
Devin Friedman of GQ magazine was kind enough to mail a copy of his new book, This Is Our War, which is a compilation of photographs taken by US troops in Iraq. Friedman was on one of many visits to Iraq, sponsored by GQ, when he had a revelation: the war in Iraq is the first where every particpant can take digital photographs of his own experience. He describes his realization in the introduction:
Sitting in this mess hall eating shitty cardboard cinnamon buns with lonely, geeky, barely postpubescent, kind of frighteningly smart army grunts, I had two thoughts. One: the familiar panic at realizing that the rabbit hole goes way deeper than you thought, that the lives of the people you're trying to write about are more vast, rich, mysterious, and moving than suspected, that you've barely scratched the surface. Thought two: Just imagine the untapped resources, the files and files of beautiful, honest, intimate, hilarious, harrowing pictures that exist on the hard drives and Memory Sticks of a nation of soliders, a collective memory of the war in Iraq probably far superior to whatever's on the photo servers at The new York Times or Newsweek. Superior not in terms of technical skill and artistic composition (though often that, too) but in terms of capturing that brittle, fleeting sense of what it's like, that shy animal that tends to make itself scarce around journalists except in brief interludes.Friedman and the GQ staff have done a bang-up job in assembling the photos in this work. Moreover, they've refrained from any excessive commentary. Aside from Friedman's brief intro, and a forward by Gen Wesley Clark, the rest of the book is photos, their attributions, and the occasional quote from troops.
If that "fleeting sense of what it's like" is ephemeral to journalists, I suspect it is just as much so to veterans like myself. Flipping through This Is Our War is an excellent exercise in dredging up memories -- both good and bad -- for me and a work that can do that, which can really make one remember vividly for an instant what it was like is truly to be cherished.
For those who have followed the war in detail, as I imagine many of you loyal readers have, I'd recommend taking a look at this work to get a better mental picture of the landscape of Iraq, in all of its details: the lifestyles of the troops, the terrain, the weather, the Iraqis themselves.
April 28, 2006
Mrs. Chester and I just returned from viewing United 93. It was . . . enraging, gut-wrenching, and very emotional.
I usually don't find myself getting worked up too much in movies, but at the end I realized that waves of adrenaline and anger had been coming over me for nearly the entire film. From time to time I found my pulse absolutely racing. I also realized when it was over that I had broken out in, quite literally, a cold sweat. Perhaps there's just something visceral about that day that is burned into many of us.
From time to time there were the briefest of moments when I would remember -- not just mentally, but in my bones -- what a September 10th mentality felt like. You know -- how things were just . . . different.
The film was outstanding and I highly recommend it. It bested my expectations on nearly every level: the acting was good, the story stuck to the facts, and it was apolitical as far as I could tell. Kudos to the director and producer for pulling that off. It was also refreshing not to see any big-name actors in the film. It's supposed to be about regular folks after all, right?
Mrs. Chester reports that she had an emotional response as well. She also liked that the passengers were not portrayed in some sort of gung-ho heroic super-patriotic light, but rather that they just realized that they had to try to do something to save themselves.
I wonder if it will be shown in Europe?
The theater was about 75% full. When the film ended there was a moderate level of applause.
And that's it. Go see it for yourself.
UPDATE: United 93 is apolitical as I mentioned above. But I wonder if it might have some political effects, particularly with regard to Tipping Point politics. I'll make a confession: as I reflect on my thoughts and feelings during the film, I can't help but admitting that when seeing images of the younger hijackers -- not Ziad Jarrah, the pilot, but the muscle -- I am overcome with absolute revulsion. It makes one wonder if our entire enterprise of reforming the Middle East is a fool's errand.
I don't usually think this way. In fact I rarely do (see the link in the above paragraph). Yet this is how I found myself thinking during the movie, and I don't think it was because that was the filmmakers' intended effect. I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels this way after watching. It was a fleeting thought, but there nonetheless.
Perhaps this is just me. I have rather emotional reactions when it comes to the defense of the United States. Many things I can argue or debate with cool distance and even-headed dispassion. Not so with defending America. Politics might be a messy, relativistic labyrinth in general, but one thing I know: this country is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and all who wish it harm be damned.
For better or worse, I predict Tipping Point effects from this film . . .
April 22, 2006
Mary McCarthy: The Left's CIA Mole
Frequent readers will know that I'm a huge fan of the BBC series MI-5. This latest episode in the US regarding Mary McCarthy's alleged leaking of classified information to press agencies is very reminiscent of one episode of MI-5 in particular, in Season 3. Entitled "Sleeper," it begins with 5 seeking to "activate" a world-renowned chemist, a Nobel winner in fact, who long ago promised he'd be there when needed. The scientist is played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid (Lord Sidious in another role, of course).
Scientist: [laughing] "Activate me?"It appears that Mary McCarthy might have either sold her own soul to the Democrats, or perhaps merely volunteered it of her own will. Either way, it appears that she serves a higher calling than the US Constitution: it appears she serves only one political party.
Harry Pierce, MI-5 senior officer: "You knew this would happen someday."
S: "Harry! That was . . . 20-odd years ago!"
H: "It was twenty-four years."
S: "That was bravado. When I said yes to you, I didn't take it that seriously."
H: "I did. Young MI-5 officer, you were the first sleeper I recruited."
S: "I never heard from you again!"
H: "We don't contact sleepers until we wake them."
S: "Ahh . . . No, no. Whatever it is you want me to do, no. My life is . . . set."
H: "Nobel prize winner. But did you really deserve it?"
S: "What the hell are you suggesting?"
H: "Your work which won you the Nobel . . . your discovery of the chemcial imbalance between neurons in the brain . . . that basic research came from nerve gas experiments at Port and Down which we made sure you were given."
S: "What . . . are you saying MI-5 manufactured my whole career?"
H: "We opened doors for you, and to your credit you barged right through them. That was the agreement: we'd help you become an expert in your field and if we ever wanted to call on your expertise we would."
S: "What am I Faust? I sold my soul to the devil for my success?"
H: "You sold your soul to your country. What's wrong with that?"
How else to explain both her meteoric rise in the intelligence bureacracy and the size and choice of her political contributions (!!! Jeez -- who knew that intelligence personnel were allowed political contributions. Last week I mentioned that George Marshall refused to vote when an officer in the Army. It appears no such apolitical regimen is required of our spooks.). From entry-level analyst to National Intelligence Officer in only 10 years. One might fervently hope that our civil service rewards excellent performance at such a quick pace, but one would be wrong, I believe. It just ain't so. The only explanation is political hackery of the first order.
And then there's the campaign contributions: perhaps as much as 9500 of Mme. McCarthy's dollars went to Democratic candidates in 2004.
You know I really don't want to accuse the Democrats of "planting" her at the CIA, or seeking her out for favors and advancement. I think it's more likely that she was especially ruthless in making known her political beliefs, and those were rewarded when the time was right, and punished later when Bush came to office. With her 2004 campaign contributions perhaps she hoped to earn a higher position than her likely demoted status under Bush. And when Bush won again, she set out to tarnish his administration, out of spite. That's the narrative which seems most likely to me.
All of this is hair-raising because it really makes one wonder: what the heck are the Chinese, Russians, Saudis, etc able to pull off if our own spooks are up to pranks like this? Who's minding the store while these yahoos have a go at some domestic political intrigue of their own? Seriously, what kind of people get their jollies from trying to maneuver their way into the position of First Assistant Deputy Assistant to the Undersecretary of Whatever, instead of trading espionage blows with the Russkies and ChiComs? If it seems bewildering to you too, I'm at a loss to explain it -- except to say that many years ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the CIA's clandestine service, writing under his pseudonym, Edward Shirley, published an article in The Atlantic about his own experiences at Langley, which asked the question, "Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?" The answer is either "no", or that they were playing a quite different game altogether.
In most spy stories -- real or fiction -- top agents are usually rewarded with money, positions of influence, medals, etc. I think it was John Walker who, on the occasion of one of his meetings with his Soviet handler, was told he'd been given the rank of Colonel in the KGB and awarded the Order of Lenin, or some such. Of course he'd never see any of that, but things like that were supposed to make the inside man feel better about his treachery. The same usually occurs in novels as well . . .
Well, Mary McCarthy may not have been promised anything by any official intelligence service or political party for her own treachery (if guilty of course), but she'll certainly receive it nonetheless. As In From the Cold notes via Belmont Club,
Within a few weeks, fired CIA officer Mary McCarthy will take her place in the pantheon of liberal heroes. Democratic politicians, left-leaning pundits and analysts in the drive-by media will hail her "courage" in exposing secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, and providing that information to the Washington Post. There will almost certainly be a book and movie deal; I'm sure Joe Wilson's literary agent will be in touch, if he hasn't called already. However, timing for those media events will probably depend on whether Ms. McCarthy spends any time in jail for her "disclosures."That's right. She might not be a spy for any single foreign country or other master, but she certainly will be rewarded by the twisted interests of the Left, which seem foreign enough to me.
April 18, 2006
FLASH: Marine Sgt to receive Navy Cross
A Loyal Reader emails:
You were one of the first blogs I read as the invasion of Fallujah unfolded. You really made it feel like I was there.I'll hold on releasing the name until I hear more details.
I am writing to inform you that my son-in-law [name withheld] will be receiving the Navy Cross in a ceremony at Parris Island . . .
He earned the award for action on 12/23/04 while clearing houses of weapons and people. His 20 man squad suffered 11 wounded and 3 KIA that day.
To my knowledge, this will be the second award of the Navy Cross during the War on Terror. The first went to my Basic School classmate, Captain Brian Chontosh.
You heard it here first . . . developing . . .
March 23, 2006
The President's Sergeant Major
A few days ago, the case was made here that the President, if not the Secretary of Defense, needs a "directed telescope" to help him understand ground events in Iraq, and to refute, counter and clarify whatever hash is out in the evening news in the US:
While in Napoleon's time the directed telescope was one of two parts that were reinforcing -- regular reporting being the other -- in our day, there would be three parts: regular reporting, the directed telescope, and the press. The telescopes would be a powerful tool to have in the arsenal of a Defense Secretary or President in need of further independent information on the status of forces or situations. And, in my conception, the telescopes might provide valuable information about the conduct of a given battle or campaign. Such information could be priceless in engaging in the debate with the press described above. They might be composed of a couple of colonels, some independent civilians (West himself, or Robert Kaplan might be good examples, since this is similar to the roles they've fashioned for themselves already, albeit independently), and even a physically fit diplomat or two. Combined with robust archiving, search, image retrieval, and public-speaking capabilities inherent in the combat pundit office (perhaps "office" is the wrong term, as it should be informal, small, and not legislatively created), the National Command Authorities might be much better able to determine the status of all kinds of events, and use that information to refute inaccurate media memes (and be more informed in general as well).
Several new stories serve to clarify this idea a bit. First, Peggy Noonan has an excellent piece in today's Opinionjournal about the distance of elites from the masses, and the resulting cause for error in judgment:
The leaders of the day did not know that terrible violence was coming because of what I think is a classic and structural problem of leadership: It distances. Each of these men was to varying degrees detached from facts on the ground. They were by virtue of their position and accomplishments an elite. They no longer knew what was beating within the hearts of those who lived quite literally on the ground. Nehru, Mountbatten, Jinnah--they well knew that Muslims feared living under the rule of the Hindus, that Hindus feared living under Muslims, that Sikhs feared both. But the leaders did not know the fear that was felt was so deep, so constitutional, so passionate. They did not know it would find its expression in a savagery so wild and widespread.So how to correct for this as much as possible? Keeping the idea of a "directed telescope" in mind, now see this exchange between Hugh Hewitt and Michael Yon, warblogger extraordinaire:
Each of these leaders had been removed by his own history from facts on the ground. "Elitism" doesn't always speak of where you went to school or what caste, as it were, you came from. You can wind up one of the elites simply by rising. Simply by being separated for a certain amount of time from those you seek to lead.
People who know most intimately, and through most recent experience, what is happening on the ground, and in the hearts of men, are usually not in the inner councils. They have not fought their way or earned their way in yet. Sometimes they're called in and listened to, at least for a moment, but in the end they tend to be ignored. They're nobodies, after all.
This is a problem with government and governing bodies--with the White House, Downing Street, with State Department specialists, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and West Point, too. It is not so much a matter of fault as it is structural. The minute you rise to govern you become another step removed from the lives of those you govern. Which means you become removed from reality.
Hugh Hewitt: . . . Michael Yon, when you do go back, which part of the country are you headed to? Are you going to embed with another unit like the Infantry division you were with a year ago?Now tie it all together. You can see it, yes? What the President needs is his own Sergeant Major - a directed telescope on the battlefield reporting directly to him. Not his staff, not the White House Spokesman or the Press Pool. The chain goes straight to The Man himself.
Michael Yon: Well, I've already contacted Sergeant Major Mellinger, who's the top enlisted man in the theater, meaning he is the top enlisted man in Iraq. And he goes everywhere. I've been out with him twice before, and I call him the University of Iraq, because he seems to know everything that's going on. So I'd like to spend a couple of weeks with him, getting in-briefed again about the new state of the country, because he speaks very bluntly. And then after that, I'll go to probably where the action is. I tend to go to where our troops are seeing the most combat, but then I pop out sometimes, and go to the peaceful areas. But I want to know how our troops are doing.
This is not hard to envision. Grab any of a number of Sergeants Major out there who are now retired. They have made careers of making gut calls in all manner of odd situations. Grab a guy who used to be in Delta Force, or the 1st Marine Division SgtMaj. You could grab an officer if you preferred (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar), but if it was me, I'd have a senior enlisted man, the type who's harder than woodpecker lips. Whoever he is, he must be able to communicate very very very well. Then give him an armored four door humvee, a translator, and a couple of shooters to be a mini-brute squad. That's all he'll want if he's the kind I have in mind. He can always hop on a bird if needs to. Get him some nice equipment too -- a camera, a sat phone, etc.
Then set him loose. Tell him to go to whatever is interesting and report whatever he thinks necessary. Give him no format whatsoever. No timeframes whatsoever. Or, if you know of a particular operation that needs checking up on, send him there.
One more thing he needs: a little letter signed by POTUS that says, "This man may go wherever he wishes. Do not impede him." He can laminate that and put it in his vest and that's all he'll need for access.
The cost of all this is miniscule compared to the added channel of insight that the President would have to the events on the ground. He can then make better decisions, question his subordinates a little more pointedly, but most importantly, be very prepared to refute, clarify, and offer counternarratives to the press.
March 17, 2006
Fallujah, media memes, and public debate
I knew Wretchard was reading this book, so I decided to read it too and finished it earlier in the week.
The thing that struck me, but which West does not explicitly state, is that media perceptions were the driving factor in two key decisions made by the Bush Administration: first, to order the assault on the city in April of 2004, and second to halt it a few days later.
First, US popular revulsion to the images of the four dead military contractors in Fallujah caused the Administration to seek vengeance solely for its own sake.
For a gleeful mob to hang Americans like pieces of charred meat mocked the rationale that the war had liberated grateful Iraqis. The mutilation was both a stinging rebuke and a challenge. National pride and honor were involved. The president's envoy to Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, went on television in Baghdad to denounce the atrocity, vowing that the "deaths will not go unpunished." The spokesman for the JTF, Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, followed up by saying the attack on Fallujah would be "overwhelming." Write an order for the Marines to attack, General Sanchez told his staff, and I don't mean any fucking knock-before-search, touchy-feely stuff.The Marines, namely the 1st Marine Division, then still under General Mattis, and his immediate field commander, LtGen Conway of the First MEF, had intended to slowly take over various portions of the city over months, not invade it in one decisive action. But they had their orders (apparently very poorly written ones, according to West) and they carried them out.
But then media coverage and perceptions of the attack were once again integral in operational decisionmaking. The CPA
had prepared a public affairs plan in support of the offensive, although it didn't address the Arab press.That left Arab media to shape perceptions of the battle with no American influence at all.
On April 4, Fallujah was dominating international headlines because all major news outlets had rushed reporters and video crews there after the administration's vow of an overwhelming response.West's chapter entitled "Faint Echoes of Tet" is priceless. Here's an extended excerpt:
The CPA and all Iraqis were relying on the press to inform them about the military situation. Reports about the fighting came from two major sources -- Western journalists, principally American, and the Arab press. The two dominant Arab satellite networks were Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, based in Qatar. In addition to reaching hundreds of millions of Arabs, their reportage was more trused by Iraqis than was the US-funded channel called Al Iraqiya, based in Baghdad. About 25% of Iraqis -- the more wealthy and influential -- had access to satellite reception, and by a five-to-one margin they preferred Jazeera to Iraqiya . . .West offers what might have been a palliative for this spin.
Both networks had learned how not to bite the hands that fed them. Criticism of the autocracies in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere had resulted in the closure of offices and the withdrawal of advertising revenues. Diatribes about the Israeli occupation of Iraq were the two staples of their coverage that received wide approval among Arab governments . . .
In April the insurgents invited a reporter from Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his crew into Fallujah, where they filmed scenes from the hospital. Hour after hour, day after day after day in the first week in April, the airwaves were filled with pictures of the dead, the bleeding, and the maimed. The Arab media were calling the resistance an Initifada, linking the insurgent fighting against the Americans to the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis. The sound bites featured the wails of the mourners, the sobs and screams of mothers, and the frenzied shouts and harried faces of blood bespotted doctors and nurses. No one with a breath of compassion could watch Arab TV and not feel anguish. Most poignant were the pictures Jazeera ran of babies, one after another after another, all calm, frail, and pitiful in the repose of death. Where how or when they died was not attributed. The viewer assumed all the infants wwere killed by the Marines in Fallujah. The baby pictures would bring tears from a rock . . .
A Jazeera and Al Arabiya were unrelenting in broadcasting the plight of the civilians in Fallujah, while the internet amplified the message of Marine callousness and sped protests around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. On the Google search engine, during the month of April, the word Fallujah leaped from 700 to 175,000 stories, many highly critical of the Marines. Quantity had a spurious quality of its own, resulting in an erroneous certitude based on the sheer volume of repetition.
The reports filed by Western journalists embedded with the Marines did not support the allegations of widespread, indiscriminate carnage. Senior US government officials, though, didn't have the time to peruse tactical reporting. Instead, in their offices they turned on cable news, where video clips from Fallujah were shown over and over again. The images, obtained from a pool that included the Jazeera cameramen inside the city affected viewers in Iraq, in Washington, and in Crawford, Texas.
In the face of this press onslaught, the White House, the Pentagon, the CPA, and CentCom were passive. Partially this was a military reflex to avoid any comparison to the 'body count' debacle of Vietnam. none of those at the top of the chains of command, though, requested from the Marine units in daily contact any systematic estimates that distinguished between civilian and enemy casualties. Given the video recorded the the unmanned aerial vehicles and the imagery required of every air strike and AC-130 gun run, records of the damage would have been easy enough to collect and verify had anyone thought of doing so.
In the absence of countervailing visual evidence presented by authoritative sources, Al Jazeera shaped the world's understanding of Fallujah without having to counter the scrutiny of informed skeptics. The resulting political pressures constrained military actions both against Fallujah and against Sadr.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, which in the 1990s was so influential at describing the nature of the emerging connected world, made two observations that are relevant here:
1. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. In the case of Fallujah, the CNN and other western outlets frequently used footage from Jazeera, subverting to some extent the hierarchy of national boundaries as being determinative of press coverage. The same is true with the Google News aspect that West mentions. And finally, the hierarchy of the chain of command was subverted as well. Presumably the President himself had Fallujah brought into his living room, and its coverage shaped his perceptions of the battle. West implies that he did not seek out other opinions, notably that of the ground commanders, Mattis and Conway.
2. Markets are conversations. Cluetrain asserted that the information technology revolution allowed mass markets to revert to their conversational origins: the haggling, debate, and spirited nature of the traditional market or bazaar, rather than the stilted interaction between monolithic institutions and underdog individual customers that came to characterize relationships in the age of the industrial society.
West's solution to the whole conundrum, as mentioned in the last two paragraphs above, is very interesting. Traditional public relations methodology has attempted to generate enough contrary content such that the good might offer an alternative to the negative for the public to choose what to believe themselves. But what West advocates is something more like a public debate, in which some viewpoints, spin, or memes, are publicly refuted in some meaningful way. The only member of the Bush Administration who does anything like this on any kind of regular basis is the Defense Secretary. Occasionally when asked a leading or insinuating question for example, he responds with another question that attempts to refashion the dialogue. But even he doesn't do this that often. Keeping track of what memes are proliferating, where they come from, how they contradict each other, and finding concrete and believable evidence to refute them is a big job. Few military or policy organizations do this well. Not even corporations excel at this: usually they stumble along with PR as a sort of arm of the Marketing department. How many times has a corporation been accused of something and responded with deft explanations and a robust defense? Only about a tenth of the time or so would be my guess . . .
In fact, the only kind of organization I can think of that has an inherent stake in immediately and strongly responding to charges made by the press -- or by an opponent, with the press as its proxy -- is the political campaign. Attack ad is met by attack ad, and spin meets spin. But even those organizations are in search of the ever-memorable sound bite, not some public consensus on "truth."
Perhaps then, one thing that the Defense Department needs is a rapid response combat punditry team. Since this would essentially be a political function, it should be staffed with appointed civilians, but preferably those who are not too closely tied to the reigning administration, if that's possible. The office would work to refute, debate, clarify and offer counter-narratives in any case deemed necessary. This would be something different from "propaganda" creation, at least as I envision it. Propaganda nowadays is smelled as such by the public immediately and if there ever was value to it, it would certainly be counterproductive today. But to publicly enter into a debate with the memes, or individuals in the press -- to begin a conversation, rather than the traditionally conceived shouting match or corporate institutional-speak-- might be very effective. It would be a difficult job, but it seems to be a necessary one these days. The key would be to be forceful, but not necessarily adversarial. Public debate is about winning people over to one's side after all, and the ultimate coup would be to win the press themselves.
Notably though, one key to good conversation is when each side is willing to admit previous mistakes, or misjudgments. A candid combat pundit would do so. And if the press failed to do so, it would lessen it morally in the eyes of the independent observer. Or, miracle of miracles, perhaps some would admit mischaracterizations from time to time. In that case, would not public debate be more enlightened than it is now?
The blogosphere already performs the function I've described to some degree, but with much more limited effectiveness. Someone based within the DoD would have the authority of office to go with that of the megaphone.
A second technique for offering evidence to counter inaccuracies that enter public discourse would be the use of a small number of "directed telescopes", perhaps working out of the same combat pundit office mentioned above. The directed telescope was an innovation of Napoleon. Each was a pretty senior colonel or general officer, held by Napoleon in exceptionally high esteem, and trusted implicitly. He would use them to survey terrain, deliver important communications, gather intelligence, make judgments of enemy dispositions, and occasionally they would jump in to correct units that were not following Napoleon's intent. Martin Van Creveld describes this technique in Command in War:
Climbing through the chain of command, however, such reports tend to become less and less specific; the more numerous the stages through which they pass and the more standardized the form in which they are presented, the greater the danger that they will become so heavily profiled (and possibly sugar-coated or merely distorted by the many summaries) as to become almost meaningless. To guard against this danger, and keep subordinates on their toes, a commander needs to have in addition a kind of directed telescope -- the metaphor is an apt one -- which he can direct, at will, at any part of the enemy's forces, the terrain, or his own army in order to bring in information that is not only less structured than that passed on by the normal channels but also tailored to meet his momentary (and specific) needs. Ideally, the regular reporting system should tell the commander which questions to ask, and the directed telescope should enable him to answer those questions. It was the two systems together, cutting across each other and wielded by Napoleon's masterful hand, which made the evolution in command possible.While in Napoleon's time the directed telescope was one of two parts that were reinforcing -- regular reporting being the other -- in our day, there would be three parts: regular reporting, the directed telescope, and the press. The telescopes would be a powerful tool to have in the arsenal of a Defense Secretary or President in need of further independent information on the status of forces or situations. And, in my conception, the telescopes might provide valuable information about the conduct of a given battle or campaign. Such information could be priceless in engaging in the debate with the press described above. They might be composed of a couple of colonels, some independent civilians (West himself, or Robert Kaplan might be good examples, since this is similar to the roles they've fashioned for themselves already, albeit independently), and even a physically fit diplomat or two. Combined with robust archiving, search, image retrieval, and public-speaking capabilities inherent in the combat pundit office (perhaps "office" is the wrong term, as it should be informal, small, and not legislatively created), the National Command Authorities might be much better able to determine the status of all kinds of events, and use that information to refute inaccurate media memes (and be more informed in general as well).
As organized from 1805 on, Napoleon's system for cutting through established channels and for directly gathering the information he needed consisted of two separate parts. The first was a group of between eight and twelve adjutant generals; these were men selected unsystematically from among colonels and generals who caught the emperor's eye, usually carried the rank of brigadier or major general, and were between ages thirty and forty and thus in the full flower of their mental and physical powers. Their duties varied enormously, from reconnoitering entire countries (Savary in 1805) to negotiating a surrender (Rapp in the same year) to spying out enemy headquarters under the cover of a truce (Rapp again, on the eve of Austerlitz) to commanding the cavalry of the artillery reserve in battle (Druot, Lauriston) to governing a province and commanding a garrison far from the main theater of operations. Such responsibilities called for practical savoir faire as well as diplomatic ability, the knowledge and talents of a military commander, and, last, but not least, sheer physical stamina.
PS: Comments are currently closed. Feel free to email me any thoughts or responses you have. I may include them here, but no promises.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention: in case there's any doubt to the role the press played in the Fallujah Battle, remember that when the city was finally assaulted in November of 04, the first objective was seizure of the hospital so that he images mentioned above would not be used so spuriously.
March 5, 2006
Discussion Topic: Media Memes and the War on Terror
Of all the memes disseminated by our media with regard to the war on terror in general, and Iraq in particular, how can they be categorized or classified? My thought is:
-the US is disrespectful of Islam (the Newsweek story)
-the US routinely violates human rights (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib)
-the Iraq war is analogous to the Vietnam war
-Iraq is perpetually on the brink of civil war
-extreme Islam should be tolerated (the refusal to publish cartoons)
-Iraq grows more violent by the day
Are there more? If all of these might be categorized in some way, what would they be? Aside from mere opposition to US efforts, can more distinct categories be discerned?
March 2, 2006
Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, “I don’t care what the Muslim world thinks, I’m not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don’t care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don’t trust them, and I’m not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!”Geraghty points to this New Republic piece, in which Peter Beinart asks,
Courting these voters will mean supporting proposals that are supported by wide swaths of the American people, but are largely considered nonstarters in Washington circles: much tougher immigration restrictions, including patrolling the Mexican border; racial profiling of airline passengers instead of confiscating grandma’s tweezers; drastically reducing or eliminating entry visas to residents of Muslim or Arab countries; and taking a much tougher line with Saudi Arabia and coping with the consequences of that stance. Since 9/11, the Bush administration, and most leaders on Capitol Hill in both parties have dismissed those ideas as unrealistic, counterproductive, or not in accordance to American values.
If you listen to Democratic criticism of the port deal, the Jacksonian themes are clear. In the words of California Senator Barbara Boxer, "We have to have American companies running our own ports." But nationalism tinged with xenophobia makes Democrats uncomfortable.
For Democrats, stealing the Bush administration's populist, unilateralist thunder would be a remarkable coup. And it would be a remarkable historical irony, since Jacksonianism in Jeffersonian clothes--civil libertarian, anti-globalization, uninterested in transforming the world--inverts the foreign policy of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Politically, the opportunity is clear. There's just one catch: Is this really what Democrats believe?
I'm convinced this is all a remake of Naked Gun. You remember the scene: in his zealous pursuit of the Queen's would-be assassin, Lt. Frank Drebin finds himself at an Angels game, suddenly taking the place of the umpire behind home plate. A pitch is thrown. The crowd goes silent. Drebin is quiet. The pitcher stares at him. The batter turns and looks at him. Drebin looks back at him. Then he mumbles, "Strike?"
The crowd goes wild. Drebin smiles. He's got em now! He's forgotten all about the assassin for the moment. The next pitch is thrown. It's obviously way outside. Drebin calls another strike. The crowd goes nuts! Drebin does a little dance behind the plate, with two fingers up in the air, repeating, "Two! Two! Two! Strike Two!" On the next pitch, Drebin calls a strike before the ball even hits the catcher's mitt. Then he polishes it off with a moonwalk and a bit of breakdancing.
This is where the Democratic party finds itself. With their friends in the press, they've thrown out all manner of arguments in their zealous quest to wrest power from George W. Bush. Then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a position to umpire a large commercial transaction. Everyone waits to see what they're going to say.
The country goes wild! They reinforce their success and continue on this meme. But as Beinart notes above, are they really ready to deal with the underlying reasoning that leads the nation to cheer at their calls?
We all know how that segment of the movie ends. Drebin is having so much fun that he forgets about the sleeper in his midst. Then, when he's reminded, he starts a riot on the field. Of course, it's Hollywood and in the end he's a hero. But is this the kind of national security that we want? Ask a Democrat what kinds of actions he's prepared to take in the war, and he'll say he'll withdraw troops from Iraq. Then he'll list a litany of things he would have done differently. But does he really have a plan of any substance? In the midst of discrediting the Bush Administration, he sees an opening on Bush's right. Finally! But is he really ready to go there and do the things that those constituencies want done? All of a sudden, the pre-9/11 Democrats have gone on a blind date with 2006 voters. I have a feeling that before it is all over, the Democrats will be as terrified of the voters as they are of Arabs.
This all goes back to my post of yesterday: How will our society answer the question: Is Islam compatible with a free society? The Democrats may be about to side with those who say, No. SInce this violates some of their most fundamental principles, and those of multiculturalism, can they even make this journey? Or are we witnessing a transformation of the Democratic party?
Interestingly enough, Naked Gun opens with Drebin "on vacation" in Beirut, if memory serves, where he takes out Ayatollah Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Qaddafi all at one time.
[Frank has beaten a horde of America's most-feared world leaders in a conference room and heads for a door]This was supposed to be funny back in 1988: a witless American taking the fight to the enemy: basically what the American people would have loved to see done to any of those world leaders. But it's meant to be a farce!
Muammar al-Qaddafi: Hey, who are you?
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!
[the door hits Frank in the face and he loses his balance]
Who knew it was prophetic of the possible electoral machinations of the Democratic party in 2006?
The Key Strategic Question
Is Islam compatible with a free society?
This is the key strategic question of our day.
In October, William Buckley wrote:
The moment has not come, but it is around the corner, when non-Muslims will reasonably demand to have evidence that the Muslim faith can operate within boundaries in which Christians and Jews (and many non-believers) live and work without unconstitutional distraction.[h-t to a Belmont Club commenter]
Buckley is correct that this is a question demanding an answer, but he misjudges the timing of its asking and answering. The truth is that assumed answers to this question have been fundamental in developing our strategies in the war on terror, and that we have yet to answer it definitively.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? A 'yes' answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a 'no' answer.
In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak notes the tone of discourse in the beginning of our war:
"Surely," the proposition was put forward, by many Islamic voices as well as by the president, "a modern and faithful Islam is consistent with nonrepressive, open, economically vital societies."To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
Since 9/11, the assumption of our government has been that Islam can be compatible with freedom. The Bush administration has been exploiting all manner of divides within the Muslim world, not to conquer it, but to transform it such that a type of Islam compatible with freedom -- and therefore the West and the US, the wellspring and birthplace of modern individual liberty -- will come to the front at the expense of a type of Islam that is irreconcilable. Every institution of government answers our key question with a resounding yes. The Pentagon, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, makes a distinction between "bin Ladenism" and moderate Muslims, our would-be allies. Bush makes speeches in praise of freedom in general and especially in the Muslim world. The defense establishment is addressing what it calls a 'war of ideas':
The U.S. government is also focusing more attention on the intangible but vital dimension of the "war of ideas" between radical Islam and moderate Western and Islamic thought. The Pentagon's September 2004 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to counter ideological support for terrorism to secure permanent gains in the war against terrorism.A yes answer to the question requires Red State Christians in the US to tolerate an Islam that tolerates them. A no answer to the question requires an abandonment of belief in the universality of ideas originating in the west, because it becomes clear that a large portion of humanity -- a fifth perhaps -- follows an incompatible religion. A yes answer forces one to attack totalitarian elements within Islam. A no answer forces a clash of civilizations, a Great Islamic War, as it assumes that all Islam is totalitarian.
It stated the importance of negating the image of a U.S. war against Islam, and instead, developing the image of a civil war within Islam, fought between moderate states and radical terrorists. This kind of imagery will feed into the broader debate beginning in the U.S. on how to win such a war of ideas and how to cultivate moderate democratic Islamic states.
A yes answer might lead to the establishment of something like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as discussed in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The idea of the congress, however, grew out of a feeling among independent intellectuals on the non-Communist left, as well as American officials, that the West after World War II faced a huge Soviet commitment to propagandizing and imposing Communism, and might lose the battle for European minds to Stalinism.One principle of the CCF's founding document was, "Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance."
So the congress — established at a 1950 Berlin meeting at which the writer Arthur Koestler declared to a crowd of 15,000, "Friends, freedom has seized the offensive!" — launched magazines, held conferences, mounted exhibitions, and generally sought to expose Stalinist falsehoods from its liberal position. At its height, according to Coleman, the CCF "had offices or representatives in 35 countries, employing a total of 280 staff members."
A no answer might disparage the notion that Westerners can say anything of import to those practicing Islam. I'm not sure if Bruce Thornton would answer no to the key question, but he doesn't seem to like the idea of Westerners trying to convince Muslims of anything new about their religion:
If, then, you are in possession of this truth that you are absolutely certain holds the key to universal happiness in this world and the next, why would you be tolerant of alternatives? Why should you tolerate a dangerous lie? Why should you “live and let live,” the credo of the spiritually moribund who stand for everything because they stand for nothing? And why wouldn’t you kill in the name of this vision, when the infidel nations work against God’s will and his beneficent intentions for the human race?A yes answer to our question might force us to reexamine the religious roots of our own conceptions of freedom, in order to figure best a way to help Muslims look for such roots in their faith. This might resemble the efforts of David Gelernter in his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, "A Religious Idea Called 'America'"
This is precisely what the jihadists tell us, what fourteen centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence tell us, what the Koran and Hadith tell us. Yet we smug Westerners, so certain of our own superior knowledge that human life is really about genes or neuroses or politics or nutrition, condescendingly look down on the true believer. Patronizing him like a child, we tell him that he doesn’t know that his own faith has been “hijacked” by “fundamentalists” who manipulate his ignorance, that what he thinks he knows about his faith is a delusion, and that the true explanation is one that we advanced, sophisticated Westerners understand while the believer remains mired in superstition and neurotic fantasy.
The most important story in and for American history is the biblical Exodus; the verse “let my people go” became the subtext of the Puritan emigration to America in the seventeenth century, the American revolution in the eighteenth, and--in significant part by Lincoln’s own efforts--of the Civil War in the nineteenth. It became important, also, to the twentieth century Americanism of Wilson and Truman and Reagan and W. Bush--Americanism as an outward-looking religion with global responsibilities.A yes answer might say that if God gave Biblical antecedents for the freedom of all mankind, He might have put some in the Koran as well . . . A yes answer would try to figure how to play our own religion-based beliefs into a conversation with Islam, as Henry Jaffa seems to argue in the Claremont Review:
In the end we do need to know the real character of Americanism. The secular version is a flat, gray rendition--no color and no fizz--of this extraordinary work of religious imagination: the idea that liberty, equality, and democracy belong to all mankind because God wants them to.
We [are], in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.A no answer, on the other hand, might first start with Islam as anathema to free society, then move to other religious creeds, seeing them through a lens of general suspicion.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? Like a Zen koan, this is the question that vexes us.
Our answer of course, might change. The Bush administration has been answering yes for five years. But, inhabiting a democracy, it is of course reflective of and responsive to public sentiment. Several commentators believe that sentiment may be shifting. A piece by Jim Geraghty on his National Review blog wonders if Americans' answer to the key question is changing:
This strikes me as the fallout of the Tipping Point™ - my sense that in recent weeks, a large chunk of Americans just decided that they no longer have any faith in the good sense or non-hostile nature of the Muslim world. If subsequent polls find similar results, the port deal is dead.Perhaps the people's answer to the question is changing.
And what to make of the Manifesto from a dozen European intellectuals, Muslims or former Muslims many of them? How are they answering the key strategic question?
It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats . . .In Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Claire Berlinkski, author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, she relates this story:
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others.
Reynolds: You have this wonderful scene in your book where you talk about this, this Englishman of Bengali descent, and he said that when he traveled to the United States, he saw all these immigrants who were US citizens being welcomed by the INS and told, "Welcome home!" And he said, you know, if I ever got that kind of treatment you know when I returned to England, I'd happily lay down my life for England right there . . .In a dissenting statement to the above-mentioned manifesto, Paul Belien in Brussels Journal quotes Dr. Jos Verhulst:
Berlinski: I would have died for England on the spot, that's what he told me. If ever once, someone had said "welcome home" when I showed them my passport at customs and immigration, I would have died for England on the spot.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise – Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep – full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.When I was in Iraq, one Iraqi told me he wished Iraq could be the 51st state in the union. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that there are many Muslims who would prefer that we answer the key question with a yes, saying to those Muslims who can find Islam compatible with freedom, "Have courage!" and once they've achieved their freedom, "Welcome home!"
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him to see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
To what fate are we assigning them if we answer no?
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Even though I had no direct quote above, this piece, like most that I do, had a lot of influence from Belmont Club, especially Blowback.
UPDATE2: There seems to be some problem posting comments. The server must be a little slow. It took me several tries to post last night. Thanks for your patience.
February 24, 2006
"Solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism."
Ian Schwartz has a 2 mintue and 27 second video available of Christopher Hitchens' speech at the Danish Embassy in DC today, where Hitchens organized a pro-Denmark rally. [Hat-tip: Instapundit]. I've put together a little transcript of Hitchens' remarks:
"Brothers and sisters, I [inaudible] . . . a speech.I imagine that Hitchens and I might disagree on many points. He's more or less a socialist after all. But he's pretty much won my admiration for all time with his spirited defense of the war in Iraq. The piece he wrote in the Weekly Standard back in September alone is absolutely outstanding [see A War to Be Proud Of], and when I see things like Fukuyama backpedaling, I look back on that piece and feel comforted.
It misses the point . . . [inaudible] [laughter]
[Crowd: "Speech! Speech!"]
Brothers and sisters, I just thought I would thank everyone for coming and say how touching it is that people will take a minute from a working day to do something that our government won't do for us, which is quite simply to say that we know who our friends and our allies are, and they should know that we know it. And that we take a stand of democracy against dictatorship. And when the embassies of democracies are burned in the capital cities of dictatorships, we think the State Department should denounce that, and not denounce the cartoons.
[Cheers of support and applause]
And that we're fed up with the invertebrate nature of our State Department.
[Laughter, cheers, applause]
If we had more time, brothers and sisters, I think that we should have gone from here to the embassy of Iraq, to express our support for another country that is facing a campaign of lies and hatred and violence. And we would -- if we did that we would say that we knew blasphemy when we saw it, we knew sacrilege when we saw it: it is sacrilegious to blow up beautiful houses of worship in Samarra. That would be worth filling the streets of the world to protest about.
[Cheers and applause]
We are not for profanity nor for disrespect, though we are, and without any conditions, or any ifs or any buts, for free expression in all times and in all places
and our solidarity . . . [inaudible]
So, we said we would, I told the Danish embassy that we would disperse at one o'clock. I hope and believe we've made our point, I hope and believe that today's tv will have some more agreeable features, such as your own, to show, instead of the faces of violence and hatred, and fascism, and I think I can just close by saying, solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism.
[Applause as Hitchens steps away]
Today only increases my favor for Hitchens. Three cheers for Denmark!
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
February 21, 2006
"I want hard bastards. I want MI-5."
(dialogue excerpt from Episode 8)
I've finished watching Season 3 of MI-5 and it did not disappoint. MI-5 is consistently one of the best television shows around. It addresses varied aspects of intelligence work, the clandestine lifestyle, morality and national security, and is not afraid to call a spade a spade when face to face with Islamic terror. It is superb.
If Season 3 has a theme, it is of the trials of love while engaged in serving one's country, a cruel mistress indeed. Also, extended ruminations on death are throughout these ten episodes as well. When is it moral for a country to order an assassination? I found the scenario that the show used to be completely justified, but, well, I'm a Marine. Is the lifestyle of a spy compatible at all with a personal love life? When has an agent gone too far in influencing a target? What should one be prohibited from suggesting?
These larger questions are punctuated with bits of technological whimsy -- I'm no computer geek but I think some of the technology mentioned seems a little far-fetched -- but they at no point detract from the plot, as they are ancillary to the more substantial questions above.
There are also a few digs at the Americans ("Most Americans still think the world on the other side of the oceans is empty save for signs saying 'Here be dragons." -- I took no offense at this, but found it amusing.), interservice rivalry (whew! are things really that bad between 5 and 6?), political usage of the agency, and the role of corporations in influencing policy. But none of these made up the substance of plots, and were really sideshows -- maybe even bones thrown by the writers to their political masters at the BBC.
No, this show is a work of art of the highest quality.
One episode contains a chilling exchange between a suspected terror financier -- who hides beneath three-piece suits, flawless English, and legitimate businesses -- and a female agent sent to investigate his motives:
TARGET: [sipping cognac] "American rubbish."I found this exchange to be very compelling because the message was not only delivered by a silver-tongued businessman, speaking to an attractive woman in a $500-a-night hotel suite, but also because its content is not one of Islam, Allah, paradise or fascism. It is only the most cynical nihilism. What a telling scene. For all of our rightful stereotypes of poor Arabs shouting in the streets and brandishing AK-47s, here is another side of Al Qaeda equally dangerous: megalothymia wed only to violent thrill-seeking. Might this derivation of "Islamic" terror be a growiing constituency of Eurabia in the future? I hope not, but suspect so.
AGENT: "You don't like Americans?"
TARGET: "I think no better or worse of them than of anyone else. I did enjoy watching the planes flying into the Twin Towers."
AGENT: "It certainly made the pulse . . . beat a little faster."
AGENT: "The people jumping . . . was awful though."
TARGET: "Can't you imagine the excitement of those young men who had taken over the planes? To do something so . . . devastating, so spectacular . . . "
AGENT: "It almost sounds as though you . . . support Al Qaeda."
TARGET: "No . . . I'm not interested in their ideology. They're a business as well as a terrorist organization."
AGENT: "But they could do something here or back in London that would kill everyone."
TARGET: "Why be so frightened of death, Sophie? Couple kissing down in the lobby. Boy who brought us the drinks. Who would really care if they all vanished tomorrow?"
AGENT: "Well, their families, the people that love them . . ."
TARGET: "Compare their trivial lives to those men who rushed to their deaths on that beautiful morning in New York."
AGENT: "Is that what you enjoy then? Death and destroying people?"
TARGET: "Enjoy? No, not really. But if you don't like death and destruction, I suggest you look away for the next thirty years, because it's inevitable. And millions will perish."
AGENT: "You know, you make money from people who deal in death and destruction. I'm not sure I entirely approve of you."
TARGET: "But there is a part of you that agrees with me, I'm sure."
AGENT: "What makes you think that?"
TARGET: "You're clever. You're a bit lonely. I imagine you've never been able to keep a lover, but you pretend that's through choice. One thing puzzles me though. That lost child at the station.
AGENT: "What about it?"
TARGET: "I saw your face. It wasn't the Sophie Newman who screams at cloakroom attendants.
AGENT: "How do you know about that? . . . [recovers her bearing] I've always had a soft spot for children. That other bitch happened to lose a particularly beautiful scarf of mine."
TARGET: "Shall I have her killed?"
TARGET: "The girl in the cloakroom? Hmm? Come on, Sophie! I thought it was your mission in life not to be bored. Let's see if she's working tonight.
AGENT: "Let's just . . .sit down."
TARGET: "One call to the casino, and one of my men can follow her to her house, kill her, and everybody in it."
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: "Come on, Sophie, you don't find this boring do you? We can listen to her screaming." [Speaks a few sentences in Turkish into his phone] Good. She's working. So how much pain does she deserve for losing your scarf?"
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: [Looks at her, then hangs up phone] "One person. A million people. You or me. It changes nothing in the end. Life is only a dream. And one day, we all wake up from it."
AGENT: "I'd like to believe that when people wake up from it they'll see a kinder face than yours."
TARGET: "Good night, Sophie."
Lest you think that this is the only impression of terrorists that is given, I have to contrast the above depiction of terror's nihilistic side with the portrayal of an influential imam in a London mosque in an episode from Season 2. The imam gives this homily to six would-be suicide bombers in one scene:
"What is it to wear 150 pound American training shoes? To put on jackets with a label from Milan in Italy? What is it to drink alcohol? To go clubbing, and end up fumbling a slut of an English girl in the park at dawn, your mind wrecked with pills? It is nothing but ash in the mouth, the taste of the death of the soul. For the west sells you the illusion of an earthly paradise. This is how the American Jews on Wall Street make their money. But despite all the pressures of the West, gaudy promises in your schools, on the television, the way your British friends behave, you've kept yourselves pure. You've become the West's worst fear: young people they cannot sell to, young people they cannot touch. You know the way to true paradise: through a martyr's death." [ALL, shouting] "Death to America and her allies! Death to the unbelievers! Death to the West!"That episode aired at least a few months before the bus and train bombings in London. Like I said, MI-5 does not shy from asking the difficult questions inherent in strategy, or offending where necessary to ask those questions. If you aren't watching MI-5, why not? I recommend starting with Season 1.
February 18, 2006
The Saddam Tapes and the Intelligence Summit
The Intelligence Summit, a "non-partisan, non-profit, educational forum", is taking place this weekend in the Washington, D.C. environs. Another blogger, Kobayashi Maru
, is there and I just spoke with him on the phone. He had some highlights from this morning's speaker, John Tierney, who discussed the tapes of Saddam Hussein recently released to ABC, and subject of a story on Nightline.
Here are some points Tierney made this morning. Take from them what you will:
-Only 4% of the tapes have been analyzed
-The tapes contain the voices of senior Iraqi scientists, meeting with Saddam. Many of these scientists' identities were completely unknown to UNSCOM. Tierney implied that they were being hidden and were never interviewed in the search for WMD in Iraq.
-References are made on the tapes to "plasma programs" of some kind, which Tierney took to mean that Iraq was attempting to manufacture hydrogen bombs first, rather than more simple nukes.
-It is clear from Saddam's tone of voice, and his laughter on the tapes, that he was supremely confident that he had UNSCOM completely running around in circles and utterly confused insitutionally as to what he was actually doing.
Other speakers in the tapes share the same view.
-Tariq Aziz is not just a diplomat at arm's length on the tapes, but is very highly valued by Saddam. At one point, Saddam tells him that when they win the fight against the Americans, Aziz will write the book about it. (Readers with a sense of irony may enjoy knowing that US troops occupied Aziz's home in the spring of 2003. A detailed account of this may be found in The March Up by Bing West and Ray Smith.)
-Many speakers on the tape punctuate their remarks with references to Allah, God's will, etc etc. Tierney points out that Saddam never stops them, corrects them, or discourages them from using such pious language. This may be meaningless, as such expressions are common in the Arab world. But they seem to speak to the notion that Saddam would never cooperate with Islamists.
-Tierney implies that in one portion of the tape, Tariq Aziz makes the case that a biological weapons attack would be more difficult to blame on Iraq than a nuclear attack. Tierney then mentions that the anthrax attacks in 2001 were in some part blamed on personnel at Fort Detrick.
-Another speaker, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jack Shaw, has restated his case that the Russians helped move Iraqi WMD materials to Syria, and have even helped move some of them back to Iraq, and that many places in Iraq where they might be have still not been thoroughly investigated. He makes the case that the US wants to keep a lid on this in exchange for Russian cooperation with Iran in the future. Shaw also implies that some of these allegations have been corroborated by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
So that's some highlights from today at the Intelligence Summit. Take what you will from them. Are they true? Who knows? But they're certainly interesting.
Based on my interpretation of the list of speakers at the conference, I think it probably succeeds as a non-partisan forum. Looks like quite a number of different backgrounds and viewpoints are present.
January 11, 2006
Spirit of America Releases Anonymous Blogging Guides in English, Arabic, Chinese and Persian
This is fantastic. I think Spirit of America is one of the coolest non-profts to come around in a long time.
The guides are a synthesis of all currently available information on the subject of anonymization. They have been edited for non-technical readers, translated into the languages of the target areas and posted on the wiki. Bloggers can use the wiki format to expand, edit and change the current guides to reflect a closer knowledge of the changing situation in their countries. Others may use the guides, and the other resources provided, to translate the guides into other languages or create new guides specific to their countries’ situations.
Man, that is cool.
January 10, 2006
Advice for Military Public Affairs
Here's a few suggestions I just made to a PAO at CENTCOM about ways CENTCOM can get their message out to bloggers. I thought I'd see what you readers think:
1. The availability of deployed military personnel for interviews with bloggers, via phone or email. Maybe this could work in a "Request for Interview" fashion, where a blogger or group of bloggers would request to interview either a certain person, or someone knowledgable about a certain topic and then the PA folks could find the person or someone who fit the bill.
2. Invitations for bloggers to travel to areas where CENTCOM is operating. That might be pie in the sky, but it worked for Bill Roggio.
3. An ability to develop relationships between bloggers and PA personnel to discuss issues of interest to bloggers.
This is the key: the secret is that a blog is not news, or rarely is it news. A blog is a conversation. The trick to get CENTCOM's story out is for peple at CENTCOM to join the conversation.
September 17, 2005
The Flight that Fought Back
Having returned from Austin, i've had a chance to watch "The Flight that Fought Back," which I TiVo'd last Sunday.
About halfway through it, it is excellent. Very well made, good acting, good music and score etc.
One thing I don't understand: why does it memorialize the "40 passengers and crew" of the flight? There were 4 passengers who caused the whole damn thing and deserve no memorials whatsoever. I don't get it. Same with the whole "Crescent of Embrace" nonsense. Not sure why we include the jihadis among the number to be remembered.
UPDATE: Mrs. Chester thinks this is a silly post. She watched the whole thing and reports that the number doesn't include the terrorists. She says that's common sense. Well, it usually is, but not when the Flight 93 memorial is a giant red crescent pointed toward Mecca.
May 29, 2005
Law and Order, SVU, decides to drink the Hollywood Koolaid
last night I sate down to watch and episode of Law & Order, SVU that I had TiVo'd earlier this week. What I found was that instead of spending the time to write a good drama like they usually do, this week the show's makers decided to drag the reputation of the US Army through the mud, by alleging that the Army is willing to make a rather chilling cost-benefit analysis about the distribution of questionable anti-malaria medications. The show attempted to make a case that the Army thinks like this: "some soldiers will die at war anyway, so it's ok if a few die from our questionable drugs. The vast majority will benefit." This is absurd.
Well, I just discovered that I wasn't the only one who noticed this nonsense. See Quillnews: GE's NBC drama tells Army families to have nightmares this Memorial Day for a much beter fisking than I could have managed.
Even though that was the last episode of SVU for the season, I won't be TiVoing it any longer. (Yet another instance in which the internet pulls me away from the television . . .)
May 17, 2005
The End of the Obvious Pseudo-Event
An Evil Genius, acting shrewdly and cleverly to harness the megaphone of mass media, can now change the fate of nations.
Rivaling the nuclear alchemists of the 20th century in power, an individual can effectively exert enormous change in policies, societies, and outcomes, solely by shrewd use and manipulation of public opinion.
Some might say this has been the case for some time. Surely, they might argue, the media has been influential for quite a while. Yes, but in this age we have entered a new sort of environment. Now, individuals have more impact on the media than before. Whereas the media as an institution had this power previously, now it is within the grasp of normal citizens, provided they possess some modicum of cunning. Whilst the CIA or other covert agencies may have attempted disinformation or propaganda campaigns before, we now exist in an age where such a campaign could be started and followed through to its goals by small groups of people operating alone.
The potential power of the small groups who will manage to manipulate mass messages for their ends is truly mind-boggling.
While gobs of brainpower is spent on discerning the likelihood of small bands of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon and detonating it in the United States -- and rightly so -- little thought has gone into considering the equally enormous impact available to groups of people who are able to manipulate the mass media into parroting their message across the globe.
The case of Newsweek and the Koran is most likely not one of deliberate misinformation, as the case of Dan Rather and the National Guard memos was. It is instead one of journalistic incompetence. But both episodes hold the smallest glimpse of what the future might portend. If a mass media newsroom, equipped with all of the latest technological gadgetry, every possible database and fact-checking method at hand, and dozens of minds supposedly trained to ask penetrating questions about truth and authenticity can be fooled -- deliberately or not -- then the rest of us are so many sheep ready for slaughter.
While the standard tools of public relations -- the press release, the news conference, the reliance on projecting a certain image via the use of some phrases, and the careful avoidance of others -- seem stale, contrived, and outmoded to us now, we are headed toward an era in which institutions lose nearly all ability whatsoever to control the images through which they define themselves.
This makes calls for more careful deployment of our "soft-power," all the more meaningless. Colonial Operations and Strategic Communication, a post from January, noted Joseph Nye's definition of "soft power":
Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished.Furthermore, the post referenced a study by the Defense Science Board, (first noted on Belmont Club) which said this:
Strategic communication -- which encompasses public affairs, public diplomacy, international broadcasting, information operations, and special activities -- is vital to America’s national security and foreign policy. Over the past few decades, the strategic communication environment and requirements have changed considerably as a result of many influences. Some of the most important of these influences are a rise in anti-American attitudes around the world; the use of terrorism as a framework for national security issues; and the volatility of Islamic internal and external struggles over values, identity, and change. ... America needs a revolution in strategic communication rooted in strong leadership from the top and supported by an orchestrated blend of public and private sector components.When the mass media are so invariably hostile to the sitting administration, is such a campaign even possible? Who is to orchestrate such a blend of components? No such orchestration is possible, if it ever was, for two reasons:
1) the mass media has an aversion to being the handmaiden for any government program and
2) the mass media is rapidly being replaced by a decentralized free global and private press that is unprecedented.
A top-down approach will not work if saving America's image is the goal.
What will become of the era of mass-marketing campaigns? For the forseeable future, individuals will swim in a sea of images that are uncoordinated, contradictory, of questionable trustworthiness, and of unclear origin. It is this environment which institutions must manage -- not manipulate -- in order to achieve the ever-more elusive desired public image.
In the past, monolithic organizations were able to effectively control their images in the public realm through the careful manipulation of equally monolithic media outlets. Today, neither the monolithic organizations nor the media outlets can truly be said to still exist. How much more difficult to control the images given off by all members of a corporation, or a government or other institution.
Instead, here is the ultimate paradox: a single individual, with a single message, unwatered-down with aggregate corporate goals or concerns, and unfiltered by the professional caste of the Fourth Estate, will be infinitely more successful in affecting changes in opinions all over the world.
Are we then, at the end of the age of "pseudo-events"? In his 1961 book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, the historian Daniel Boorstin noted the rise of the manufactured event, meant to make news. He noted the following characteristics of pseudo-events, which make them overshadow spontaneous events:
1. Pseudo-events are more dramatic. A television debate between candidates can be planned to be more suspenseful . . . than a casual encounter or consecutive formal speeches planned by each separately.Perhaps it is most fair to say that mass media is not dead, and pseudo-events are not either. At the same time as media is decentralizing, the public has become fed up with pre-planned, orchestrated pseudo-events. That is to say, the public is completely unenthused about pseudo-events that are recognizable as such. Since our technology has surrounded us with pseudo-events, we tire of them, ever searching more frantically for spontaneity and authenticity. At the core of this truth is where our Evil Genius above will strike. He will continue to manufacture pseudo-events, but they will not be recognizable as such. They will appear to be unauthored, unedited slices of life, but in fact they will be as carefully positioned as ever before, but opaquely so.
2. Pseudo-events, being planned for dissemination, are easier to disseminate and to make vivid. Participants are selected for their newsworthy and dramatic interest.
3. Pseudo-events can be repeated at will, and thus their impression can be re-enforced.
4. Pseudo-events cost money to create; hence somebody has an interest in disseminating, magnifying, advertising, and extolling them as events worth watching or worth believing. They are therefore advertised in advance, and rerun in order to get money's worth.
5. Pseudo-events, being planned for intelligibility, are more intelligible and hence more reassuring. Even if we cannot discuss intelligently the qualifications of the candidates or the complicated issues, we can at least judge the effectiveness of a television performance. How comforting to have some political matter we can grasp!
6. Pseudo-events are more sociable, more conversable, and more convenient to witness. Their occurrence is plnned for our convenience. The Sunday newspaper appears when we have a lazy morning for it. Television programs appear when we are ready with our glass of beer. In the office the next morning, Jack Paar's (or any other star performer's) regular late-night show at the usual hour will overshadown in conversation a casual event that suddenly came up and had to find its way into the news.
7. Knowledge of pseudo-events -- of what has been reported, or what has been staged, and how -- becomes the tes of being "informed." News magazines provide us regularly with quiz questions concerning not what has happened but concerning "names in the news" -- what has been reported in news magazines. Pseudo-events begin to provide that "common discourse" which some of my old-fashioned friends have hoped to find in the Great Books.
8. Finally, pseudo-events spawn other pseudo-events in geometric progression. They dominate our consciousness simply because there are more of them, and ever more.
Cunning will be the image-makers who create the new stealth campaigns. Cowardly will be the institutions and individuals who rely on the old methods of easily spotted pseudo-events. And incredibly brave will be those who shed all pretense, and allow their employees to blog; their politicians to act in public without handlers; and their news to be raw and unrefined.
Also: See A New Kind of Car Chase and see how one innovative company is trying to make its pseudo-events as authentic as possible. Note as well, how uncertain they are as to what image of the company will result, and whether it will increase sales.
And here's an earlier post about pseudo-events, enemy war propaganda, and the relationship of both to the mass press.
February 16, 2005
Suspending "The Whole Truth Series"
I am going to abandon my efforts at a "Whole Truth Series," for several reasons:
1. After the Jordan affair, I've had my fill of exposing news execs.
2. I've found that the only way to get enough information for a decent post would be to spend so much time on this that my blog would cease to be anything else.
3. Better ways of getting behind the scenes info are already out there . . .
Might sound as though I am giving up. Not true. As a maneuverist, I am choosing not to reinforce failure, and to reinforce success instead. And I will continue to report undercovered events, opinions, and tidbits.
I want to apologize for taking so long to respond, many of you wrote several weeks ago. The last two weeks of January were really hectic for us as we were busy catching "bad guys" and digging up weapons caches (see this week's Time magazine "Hunt for the Bomb Factories" by Mick Ware) in order to ensure the safety of the elections on the 30th. Since then, we pulled up stakes and headed south to Kuwait after 404 days (we counted every one of them!) in Iraq. We should head back to the good ol' U.S.A. in the next two weeks, get our feet back under us for about two weeks and then take thirty days of much needed leave.Is he jaded about the future of Iraq after 404 days? No.
I predict that things will be much better in a year than they are now. The period from April to December of last year was the high-water mark of the insurgency and now the people have cast their votes for the future. You can't imagine how we felt to see little old women, mothers, fathers and Iraqis from all walks of their society braving mortar and suicide bomb attacks to cast their votes that Sunday.Welcome home, sir.
Now the hard-liners see that their days are numbered unless they also take part in the process. This will not be easy, but as I like to say: if wars were easy and painless, everyone would have one and nobody would ever give up. We won't give up – the American voters also cast their ballots to see this thing through.
UPDATE: Operation Truth is a blog of blogs. It is devoted to compiling stories from service personnel of all stripes who've been to Iraq. Go check it out for more on-the-ground info.
February 6, 2005
War Reporting in the Battle of Baghdad
When I was working for a Marine engineer battalion in Iraq, a new kind of communication and tracking system was fielded. Called the "Blue Force Tracker," (BFT) it was two separate components: a Panasonic Toughbook laptop computer, plugged into a GPS receiver and mounted inside a Humvee.
The BFT had two capabilities: it allowed anyone else with another BFT to see the location of every single BFT on the battlefield. The GPS system sent signals to a satellite which were then transmitted down to every other system and displayed on the Toughbook screen, on an overlay of the imagery of a given area. The other capability was email -- very short and simple text messages could be sent back and forth between differing BFT's.
We used our three BFTs in two ways. We either attached them to the battalion headquarters, or we would send one on a convoy so we could track convoys traveling over long distances.
We also had some small shortwave radios. These were battery-powered and also had a dial at the back which could be spun to recharge the batteries. In Kuwait, we had been able to receive Voice of America broadcasts, but in Iraq we were mainly restricted to the BBC World News Service (or some such).
When Marine and Army forces made it to Baghdad and entered the city, no report of this was made on the BBS radio news. But we could see it happen. We could see where individual Army and Marine humvees were inside Baghdad, overlaid on imagery of the city.
Later, the BBC quoted Iraqi news organs as saying that the presence of US forces inside Baghdad was a fiction, and propaganda by the US government. Still, we could see our own vehicles all over Baghdad -- we could even pinpoint a specific vehicle and ask the system which unit each was attached to. We were 60 miles or so away and could see the infiltration of American units throughout the city.
The next day, the BBC reporter came on and mentioned that his Iraqi news minders hadn't shown up that day. There's the rub. He was restricted from reporting what he saw with his own eyes. How much more so was CNN restricted when making a deal with Saddam to put its bureau there for a decade, as I've asked at Easongate.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: The Easongate Blog
Chester's next adventure is . . . Easongate:
The Easongate blog has been created in light of Eason Jordan's recent statements at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he accused American servicemen of intentionally targeting and killing journalists in Iraq. These are serious charges that should not have been made without supporting evidence, which he did not provide. American servicemen and women are risking their lives daily and it is wholly inappropriate for a man of his stature and influence to make baseless claims in front of an international audience. As an experienced journalist, he fully understands the impact of his words and the effects on his audience. Mr. Jordan has a past history of making such statements.
The purpose of this blog is as follows:
· Act as a clearinghouse for information related to Mr. Jordan's recent and past statement concerning the United States military.
· Provide analysis and commentary on the developing situation.
· Advocate CNN to take real and meaningful disciplinary action against Mr. Jordan.
· Create a petition expressing the public's displeasure with Mr. Jordan's statements.
· Gather information on CNN's advertisers and make this information available to the public.
Our hope is that CNN will launch an investigation into Mr. Jordan's past and recent history, and take appropriate action. The staff of Easongate is not confident CNN will address this situation without external pressure, however, so we hope to provide the means for the public to place pressure on CNN to act.
Gen Mattis Controversy, continued
This story is snowballing. Stones Cry Out questions why Mattis' statements were carried in four major dailies within 48 hours, but the MSM has been completely silent on the recent comments of Eason Jordan, chief news executive for CNN, who recently said that the US military routinely targets journalists.
HughHewitt is connecting the same dots between Mattis and Jordan.
The blogosphere is on this right now, but wait until post-Superbowl when all of our readers hear these stories. It's not going to be pretty.
A Marine wife's thoughts here: Villainous Company: In Defense of Jim Mattis
February 5, 2005
Gen Mattis: Further Discussion
[See my first post about Gen Mattis' comments here.]
One thing I've failed to mention on this blog before is that I was invited to join something called the National Security Roundtable last month. The Roundtable is a forum of former and current active and reserve officers from all services (appears I am the only Marine though). Several national security reporters also contribute. The list is administered by Michael Noonan of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The discussions are viewable by the public, but only members can comment.
Right now, there is quite a debate going on about General Mattis' recent comments. Check it out here.
UPDATE [8:08pm]: Being a Marine, I often get emails from other Marines who've put together some quotes about Marines. We are all obsessed of course. I got one such email this week, and it contained a quote I had not heard before. I think it applies to this current kerfuffle with Gen Mattis quite well:
An Anonymous Canadian Citizen:
"Marines are about the most peculiar breed of human beings I have ever witnessed. They treat their service as if it was some kind of cult, plastering their emblem on almost everything they own, making themselves up to look like insane fanatics with haircuts so short as to be ungentlemanly, worshipping their Commandant as if he was a god, and making weird animal noises like a band of savages. They'll fight like rabid dogs at the drop of a hat just for the sake of a little action and are the cockiest SOBs I've ever known. Most have the foulest mouths and drink well beyond man's normal limits, but their high spirits and sense of brotherhood set them apart and, generally speaking, of the United States Marines with whom I've come in contact, are the most professional warriors and the finest men I've had the pleasure to meet."
Just as few priests are pedophiles, few soldiers are sadists. Mattis has brought dishonor on the US Marine Corps with his words. Killing is never appropriately called "fun." I think he should resign.Well, I can't speak for soldiers, but I will guarantee you this: There are three types of Marines I've ever met: sadists, masochists, and sadomasochists. Personally, I fall into the masochist camp, as anyone who looks at the time stamps on many of my posts and remembers that I have a day job will realize. We Marines desire what George Bernard Shaw called "a purpose that is a mighty one" in which we are "thoroughly used up," and in striving for that moment, our masochism in training ourselves, and our sadism in training our subordinates is rarely tempered.
UPDATE [10:43p] Just had a thought: if some PFC or Lance Corporal made a comment about killing bad guys being fun, it would no doubt be reported in an "aww, that's so sad what that innocent teenager has become. Too bad he was duped into joining the military, the poor rube. Shame on the horrors of war" - type manner. Heh.
February 4, 2005
The Fourth Rail Wants YOU . . . to keep CNN honest
Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail needs your help. He wants CNN to release a tape or transcript of the recent remarks of Eason Jordan, who has accused the US military of deliberately targeting journalists. From the fourth rail:
Like many other bloggers, I have received the “canned” reply from CNN, attempting to clarify Mr. Jordan’s statements:Eason was attempting to speak out on an issue that is important to news organizations all over the world. Unfortunately, he was not clear enough in explaining his assertion. He was responding to an assertion that all 63 journalists killed in Iraq were "collateral damage." While the majority of the 63 journalists killed in Iraq have been killed by insurgents, the Pentagon has acknowledged that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. Mr. Jordan emphatically does not believe that the U.S. Military intended to kill journalists and believes these accidents to be cases of "mistaken identity."I have sent the following reply, which I copied to several bloggers:Hello CNNia Administrator,
Release the videotape and a transcript of Mr. Jordan's comments at Davos, and I will be convinced. Until then your apologetic is unconvincing and insulting. Several bloggers in attendance heard otherwise, and based on Mr. Jordan's history, I am inclined to agree with them.
Mr. Jordan has a long history of demeaning the US military and accusing them of targeting journalists. As a former soldier I am personally insulted. Perhaps CNN should launch an investigation into his statements. Your association with Mr. Jordan can be very damaging to your credibility and reputation.
I have suspended citing CNN as a source of material in my weblog, which is viewed by over 1,500 people a day, until I am convinced CNN is honest in getting to the bottom of this story. My readers typically follow the links through on my posts to read my sources. I have copied other bloggers in an attempt to convince them to do the same. Hopefully this will create a noticeable impact on your site hits and give your advertisers pause.
Also, I have begun to compile a list of CNN advertisers and will put together a letter to make them aware of this situation unless I see results.
We demand the transcript of Davos and nothing less.
UPDATE: Events like those at CNN and with Eason Jordan seem to come more and more often as we witness the death spiral of the Fourth Estate. Via RealClearPolitics:
We’re in the midst of spectacle, and many people aren't even aware of it.
Not every watershed event in history is marked by explosions, walls tumbling, or changes of government. We’re experiencing a sea-change, the type that political science textbooks 50 years from now will describe in apoplectic terms to wide-eyed students, who will have difficulty believing we actually used to live this way.
I’m talking about the intellectual near-disintegration of the mainstream media, or "MSM." (That its new moniker is a dismissive acronym is telling in itself.) It’s been in the works for a number of years, but we’re seeing the start of real momentum in the avalanche.
UPDATE 2: The Fourth Rail is gathering momentum. It just received attention from National Review's Kerry Spot. Remember, you heard it here first. Also, I'd vow to never link to CNN until this is cleared up, as some other bloggers have, but I never link to them anyway. Don't ever watch the ole Communist News Network either. Heh.
February 3, 2005
"US General Says It is Fun To Shoot Some People"
As soon as I saw the headline, I knew it was LtGen Jim Mattis.
"Actually it's quite fun to fight 'em, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," said Mattis.The man is harder than woodpecker lips. Comments like this will probably keep him from being Commandant, but don't rule him out for a three or four star field command, even CentCom. Remember, two and a half years ago, he was just a Brigadier General. Interesting that his comments are completely out of context:
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
In a statement, Gen. Michael Hagee, commander of the Marine Corps, praised Mattis as "one of this country's bravest and most experienced military leaders."
"While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war," Hagee said.
"I have counseled him concerning his remarks and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully," Hagee added.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, made the comments at a conference Tuesday in San Diego.San Diego? Might he have been on board Camp Pendleton? Might he have been talking to some Marines? He says, "I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," as though he is talking to the troops.
The AP has again taken something entirely out of context. If he was talking to the troops, a thousand dollars says the response was positive. Marines can't stand milquetoast generals. They respond to charisma.
UPDATE: A quick contrast. Quotations by General George S. Patton:
"May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't.
"Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler. Just like I'd shoot a snake!"
- General George S. Patton, Jr
(addressing his troops before Operation Overlord, June 5, 1944)
"There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time."
- General George Patton Jr
"It is the duty of all commanders to see that their men are fully aware of the many vile deeds perpetrated upon civilization by Germans, and that they attack with the utmost determination, ferocity, and hate." -- General George Patton, Jr.
"I can assure that the Third United States Army will be the greatest Army in American history. We shall be in Berlin ahead of every one. To gain that end, we must have perfect discipline. I shall drive you until hell won't have it, but a pint of sweat is worth a gallon of blood. We are going to kill German bastards -- I would prefer to skin them alive -- but, gentlemen, I fear some of our people at home would accuse me of being too rough."
-General George Patton, Jr.
From Victor Hanson, in The Soul of Battle:
Bradley openly ridiculed Patton's speeches, claiming GIs often laughed at him. In reality, Third Army recruits gradually developed the sense that they were in a personal war with Hitler. Patton yelled at them constantly:I want them [the Germans] to look up and scowl, "Ach! IT'S THE GOD-DAMN THIRD ARMY AND THAT SON-OF-A-BITCH PATTON AGAIN!"
More from Hanson, on the effect of Patton on the enemy:
Since Hitler and his generals, unlike the Americans and the British, felt Patton to be the Americans' most gifted commander, the Anglo-American commanders would create an elaborate ruse of having Patton seem to be preparing a second invasion of France at Calais to the north of the June Normandy landing site. Patton, in essence, would -- and did -- tie down an immense German army to the north, which would wait in vain apprehension for this dashing general to cross from Dover and attempt a characteristically relentless deive through northern Europe on the shortest direct route to Germany.Now, once again, LtGen Mattis' remarks:
"Actually it's quite fun to fight 'em, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," said Mattis.
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
UPDATE 2: Boy, they are really piling on. Aljazeera.Net for example has a photo of Abu Ghraib accompanying the story about Mattis. BBC News gets the story wrong and claims Mattis was publicly rebuked. The LA Times sheds a small bit of light on the context of the remarks, though they get his name wrong, so who knows what else they've screwed up:
Lt. Gen. John Mattis made the comments Tuesday at a San Diego forum on tactics in fighting the war on terror. Mattis, who has been known as "Mad Dog Mattis" to troops, is currently commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.More:
Seated at a long table next to other military commanders, Mattis told about 200 people at the San Diego Convention Center: "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."More:
Mattis added: "You go into Afghanistan, you've got guys who slapped women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
His comments were met with laughter and applause from many in the audience of the forum, hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute and sponsored by many top U.S. defense contractors.
As commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, Mattis led that force in their advance on Baghdad in 2003, the longest, fastest move of a division-sized unit in Marine Corps history.
Unmarried, Mattis has served nine tours of duty in the Middle East. [Note from Chester: We used to joke that he would soon be eligible for Iraqi citizenship.]
Mattis' comments came in the context of how to transform the armed forces to fight the war on terror beyond Iraq. He questioned future spending on new forms of air and sea warfare. "Our very dominance of certain forms of warfare have driven the enemy into historic forms of warfare that we have not mastered."
He also said it was "almost embarrassing intellectually" that commanders were looking to unspecified future wars and enemies to reshape the military, rather than to the insurgents it now faces in the Middle East.
"Don't patronize this enemy," he said of insurgents. "They mean business. They mean every word they say. Don't imagine an enemy somewhere in the future and you're going to transform so you can fight him. They're killing us now. Their will is not broken."
UPDATE 3: If this keeps its momentum, I'll begin to tell stories of my own personal and group interactions with General Mattis. He is truly an amazing individual. I've got at least five or so good sea stories, but will hold off to see how this develops.
UPDATE 4: Oh what the heck, why not toss one out there now? First, a short one:
I was in Egypt in September, 2001, attached to the First Marine Expeditionary Brigade, whose Commanding General was Brigadier General Mattis. We were participating in a training exercise that had taken place every two years since Desert Storm.
I took four or five bulldozers about 20 kilometers out into the desert from the Brigade's base camp, to build a cantonment site for the 1st Tank Battalion over several days. What a great job for a 2nd Lt with only four months in the fleet! It was me, 7 Marines and Seabees, and two sections of the tank battalion's scout platoon for security -- also led by another 2nd Lt -- alone, unafraid, and unsupervised. Awesome.
The main reason why we were alone is because the Egyptians were being rather difficult about US personnel leaving our little part of their massive desert base. They were restricting traffic, requiring passes that were in short supply, etc. So we had to go out and stay with just one visit a day from the tank battalion for resupply purposes.
On the third day, the tank battalion CO came out to check our progress. He said that General Mattis had just met with the Egyptians and told them that if they didn't quit playing their chickens*** games that he would backload the ships and take his F-18s and go home.
Remarkably, the Egyptians' attitudes improved dramatically overnight.
[Apologies to MOC (Mom of Chester) for the exceptional profanity in this post. Incidentally, I was once in a meeting of officers, prior to deployment to Kuwait, in which then-Major General Mattis spoke again. He mentioned that he had promised his mother that he would not curse so much . . .]
UPDATE 5: Not a single mention of this story in the Early Bird this morning. It has either died, or is unimportant. Interestinly, the Early Bird covered the controversial comments of LtGen Boykin pretty closely.
UPDATE 6: Welcome Chrenkoff readers. Another Gen Mattis story on the morrow.
UPDATE 7: Here's the next story.
In January of 2003, several of my battalion's officers and I attended a "rock-drill" exercise at Camp Pendleton. This was to simulate all of the actions by battalion-sized units in the first 96 hours of the invasion of Iraq. The moniker rock-drill I believe refers to the fact that each unit has a number of rocks to signify its forces. We actually used legos.
The event was held on a large asphalt landing zone in the middle of nowhere on Camp Pendleton. Begin an engineer, and from the FSSG, my battalion's own participation was minimal, so I mainly got to watch.
A crew of enlisted Marines had drawn relevant terrain features and phase lines in chalk on the asphalt. The regimental COs from 1st, 5th, and 7th Marines and their staffs were present, as were their subordinate battalion commanders.
To appreciate this story you must learn the term "OPT" or Operational Planning Team. It is a small group used to plan an operation. OPT is also used as a verb: " We need to OPT this, before we make our minds up." Etc.
I got to watch while General Mattis put his regimental commanders through their paces. Each part of the invasion, or specific terrain had a specific name. For example, the "Opening Gambit" described the destruction of the Iraqi 52nd Mechanized Infantry Division by 5th and 7th Marines. One particular Gas-Oil Separator Plant which was to be seized before Saddam could torch it was called "the Crown Jewels."
Gen Mattis began a series of socratic questioning to his regimental commanders, pausing every little while to offer an observation about battlespace geometry and the coordination of fires between varying units.
One exchange went like this (name of commander changed):
Gen Mattis: Bob, how big did you say our force at XX will be?
Regt CO: It's a reinforced company, sir.
Gen Mattis: [looks to his intel officer] How big is the enemy force there?
Intel officer: It's a mechanized brigade sir.
Gen Mattis: [back to Regt CO] So you're telling me we're putting one reinforced company against a mechanized brigade?
At this point, the Regt CO turned and looked at his XO, who turned and looked at their operations officer. The operations officer looked back, then bowed his head. The Regt CO looked back to Gen Mattis and said:
"Sir, we're going to OPT the dogs**t out of this."
This was a very amusing exchange to watch.
UPDATE 8: All new updates to this post will be as separate posts in my blog. About to make one now. Thanks for reading!
February 1, 2005
"Seized Soldier" is actually GI JOE!
Don't have any lib sites bookmarked to see what the left said about this when it happened. But would be funny to check now.
January 30, 2005
Some actual debate takes place for 40 minutes on the Democractic Underground . . .
. . . and then the posts are pulled off. But they're captured for eternity here. How embarassing for the Dems. Truly Sad.
Lest The Adventures of Chester be accused of being too partisan, we'll say this: allegations like those made by Maureen Dowd about US interrogation methods need some sounding out. If they are true, it seems that perhaps the interrogators were a bit . . . overzealous.
January 29, 2005
Obsidian Order: Followup
This is a followup to this post, below about a debate on the seeming problems with several different shots of a car bomb in Baghdad.
The conversation in the comments section at Obsidian Order (See The Obsidian Order: A Very Special Effect) mentions the frequency with which two Reuters photographers find themselves near the scene of car-bombings or among terrorists in action. A commenter notes:
A google search of the photographers shows that while Khalid Mohammed has few photos to his name, none of which show an obvious pattern, the same does not apply to the other two.Are these the same photographers who were right on scene when mobs of Iraqis were beating and mutilating the corpses of dead Americans? To be reminded of this horror,[Alert -- it's graphic] see The Memory Hole > images: Iraqi Mob Desecrates Americans' Bodies and if you really want to see the video, there are several links on the site, but be forewarned.
Both Ali Jasim and Ali Al-Saadi have quite a number of photos of insurgents in action with the Sadr militia and Mehdi army. Also both are credited with photos of the american corpses hanging from the bridge in Fallujah. Ali Jasim's are the most recognized as he has the snap of the people beating the men's ashes with their shoes. This would seem to indicate that they have good contacts with the insurgents and could, I am not saying that they were, have been notified that something would happen there at that time. Ali Jasim does have several pictures of bombs in which the flames are still quite active which seems to indicate the event was recent.
Back in December, Belmont Club asked some probing questions about journalists and how they seem to be in the right place at the right time. Belmont Club reprints a letter sent to Powerline, from a reader, a Mr. O'Brien:
AFP, AP and AP TV had advance notice of the murders of contractors in Fallujah last spring, so that they could position themselves on scene. ... Apparently the reporters were tipped to go to a specific location. They were not told exactly what would take place, but they knew it was going to be a terrorist action of some type. For security reasons, the terrorists give the reporters very little notice -- just enough to get there, if everything goes right. They were told exactly what street corner to be on, where they would be expected by and under the protection of the terrorists. ("If you're anywhere else, we can't guarantee your safety.") ... After the contractors were dead and their bodies looted, the reporters stayed and encouraged the mob that had gathered to mutilate the bodies. I am told by our Arabic speakers that they can be heard egging the youths on during the video of the mutilations. "Go ahead, cut him up. What are you afraid of?"Belmont Club's analysis continues and is fascinating:
I have no idea if these charges are true; Mr. O'Brien's allegations would surely outrage many journalists working for the Associated Press. But why, in principle, should Mr. O'Brien's allegations be withheld from students where the photos of contractors should not? All of the arguments advanced by Ms. Halperin apply to the Powerline article as well. The obvious response would be that Mr. O'Brien's allegations are 'false' while the the picture of the contractors hanging like meat from the bridge is 'true', though a moment's reflection will show that one does not disprove the other. Yet as Ms. Halperin is at pains to point out, the real truth is not contained in the actual photograph but in is its larger signification. "The image, very reminiscent of the dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia, was too important for the editors here at The Morning Call to ignore. It is a powerful photo. I suspect this particular picture will prove to be a historical flashpoint image that helps define the Iraqi conflict and who we are as a people." One could argue that O'Brien is asking equally fundamental questions about who you trust to convey the news. Ultimately, the case for preferring the AP's account and dismissing Mr. O' Brien's rests upon an appeal to the authority of the AP brand name. It rests on trust. The public knows the AP and doesn't know Mr. O'Brien, hence it is the AP's account that represents the canon.I am a blogger. A private citizen. I read and write for the world to see, though only a small, miniscule slice of it does. But information about me is available here on my website.
Yet ironically we do know Mr. O'Brien, who at least has a name, while we will probably never know the identity of the "brave Iraqi" photographer who captured the execution of Iraqi election worker on Haifa Street.
Who are these photographers? Who are the editors who write captions for these images?
Can the military listen in on their cell phones? It might save some lives. Or at least answer some questions.
Final note: Remember the images above every time you read or hear a reference to the lack of Sunni participation in the election this weekend. Who wants to bet that some of the self-disenfranchising Sunnis are those featured smiling, waving, dancing, and beating the bodies of dead Americans in April? It's worth a thought.
January 28, 2005
Quite an interesting montage . . .
An earlier post alluded to a controversy in the blogosphere about the fortunate presence of wire service photographers at the scenes of terrorist acts in Iraq. Go check this out: The Obsidian Order [hat-tip: Instapundit] today offers an in-depth look at photos from one such scene. The conclusion:
The key and blindingly obvious point: there are at least three photojournalists from different outfits there exactly at the time it goes off! This is not a lucky coincidence. The pictures are clearly taken less than a minute after the original explosion and less than a minute apart. Also: all of the photographers are stringers, not regular staff photographers.One of the comments on the site says:
Interpretation: One, this was staged, the particulars of the bomb ensure it will be ineffective and safe from the distance from which it was photographed, but visually spectacular. The people running are most likely also staged. Two, the reporters were invited to see it. Three, they knew it was staged.
Fox news had the sequence on the TV tonight. FNC said the Iraq police had shot up the car and stopped it -- the car caught fire -- then apparently a bomb inside went off. When the camera pulled back, the police with their guns raised were in the near filed framing -- as if they had been shooting at the car.Ah ha! There we have it! The reason the pictures look funny is because the Iraqi security forces killed the attacker before he could properly position his vehicle and the vehicle then sympathetically detonated. But wait! This is good news right? Iraqi security forces disrupted an attack. Then why does the Reuters caption under each photo read thus:
So I am not sure what your point is. Looked to me like the Iraqi police got their man before he could reach the school. FNC said a school was the target, not that it was hit by the explosion.
An Iraqi boy runs past a car just as it explodes in front of al-Nahdha High School which was scheduled to be used as a voting centre in Baghdad, January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali JasimNot only does Reuters refuse to acknowledge the success of Iraqi security forces in every single caption, but they instead mention a completely different bombing that was successful in killing innocents.
This is truly amazing! And they spit on us lowly bloggers! Obsidian Order rightly asks, who are these photographers and what are their motives? We must ask the same about the caption-writers.
Another chink in the wire service armor falls away.
January 27, 2005
Bloggers vs. the Mainstream? Not quite . . .
Monday's San Jose Mercury News carried an interesting article by Frank Bajak about the relationship between bloggers and the established press and news outlets.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The managing editor of The New York Times threw down the gauntlet as she stared across a big O-shaped table at the prophets of blogging.Aside from eliciting questions about the return on investment for the New York Times' vast logistical apparatus, (Did John Steinbeck possess such support when he accompanied allied troops across North Africa and wrote "There Once Was a War"?) Ms. Abramson is largely missing the point. In fact there are several problems here. Let's look a little closer.
Did they have any idea, asked Jill Abramson, what it cost her newspaper to maintain its Baghdad bureau last year?
The unspoken subtext was clear: How can you possibly believe you can toss a laptop into a backpack, head for Iraq's Sunni Triangle and pretend to even come close to telling it like it is?
For that you need a bulwark of experience, credibility and financial, medical, legal and logistical support. Not to mention a staff of savvy locals. And that cost Abramson's paper a million dollars last year, she said.
How is news created? Perhaps in three or so ways?
1. An event occurs. A journalist is dispatched to write, or take pictures, or record it. Often, these are spontaneous events. Just as often they are carefully scripted events meant for journalistic consumption.
2. A corporation, government agency, civic group, thinktank, or some other organization releases a study in a press release. This is then poured over by journalists and their editors to examine how best to write about it. The resulting product is offered to the public.
3. A journalist attempts to uncover what is really going on in a given locale, subculture, or with a certain person of note or celebrity. This takes the form of interviews, investigative journalism, etc. Thus the phrases, "behind the scenes," "on the ground," "exclusive interview."
4. Often, the above three methods are mixed.
In all of the above mentioned methods, the news is viewed as a product. The raw material is the event, the interview, the document, the press release, the footage. These raw materials are then crafted into what is consumed as news.
The first big change that bloggers have brought to all of this is a relentless examination of the original documents -- events, interviews, press releases, footage, etc -- that was previously unavailable to the general public. The editorial role of the news producer is on the decline. This is why blogs are growing in popularity. No longer does the reader or viewer only get the small, refined bits of news raw material that is dished up in any given old-media outlet. Bloggers routinely link to those original pieces of raw material themselves and their readers are free to examine each in detail.
The vast majority of politics and war blogs, like this one, offer an opinion, not an original piece of raw news material. Every now and then, a blogger will find him or herself in the midst of an event, or scoring an interview, or traveling through a newsworthy place. When that happens, he adds to the overall amount of raw material available for the general public to weigh and judge. But for the most part, bloggers aren't offering original, fresh news pieces.
Instead, a blogger is his own editor, and replicates the jobs of those who manage the content at the New York Times. And blogging is open to anyone. Plenty of blogs are authored by those who have more than established their bona fides in print journalism. The Becker-Posner blog is one example. The Victor Hanson papers is another. Kevin Sites not only shot footage in Fallujah, but also authored a blog while in Iraq.
The second big change that blogging brings to the media is really the kicker: the instant feedback mechanism. Even if some blogger found himself at the site of, say, a car-bombing in Iraq, or a political revolution in Ukraine, if he covered it in a way that did not ring true with others, they are usually welcome to comment on his site. Moreover, depending on the extent of their disagreement, they are free to set up a rival site and write their own interpretations of events there. This is true for anyone. Someone who takes issue with the majority of opinion here is welcome to comment (though please stay on topic and don't use profanity) or to set up, say, www.chesterhasnoclue.com. The corrections and feedback are instant. But not to dwell solely on corrections: the most enjoyable part of blogs is their conversation-like tone. In some blogs, regular readers will even have very robust discussions within the comments section -- sort of like sitting around a table with a vast number who share the same interests, though certainly not the same points of view.
The New York Times has no such feedback mechanism. Its editorials are strangely absent of authorship -- who even to respond to? who to email? Only the Times chooses which letters to the editor to publish. Yet despite all this, it claims objectivity. Objectivity is only worth something if you rely on the polished, refined, news-as-a-product that is the output of the established press -- and if you only rely on one outlet. If you want everything -- the good, the bad, the ugly, the contradictory, the confusing, the outtakes, and the raw materials -- you turn to a blog, you probably turn to several, and you know that you are seeing life as it is, not as it is polished up to be in Manhattan.
Having said all that, Mrs. Abramson appears equally wrong about the logistics required to produce journalism. Consider Robert Kaplan, who started as a travel writer, and has authored in-depth works on the future of the world, based on his many travels. He will admit that writing such work certainly requires a patron of some kind -- but he is also on the record as saying that when he travels to a place, he often does so with nothing more than the clothes he's wearing, and a backpack with a book or two and paper to write on. Hard to see how this cannot be replicated by just about anyone with either independent means or free time.
In fact, it already has been. Consider Steven Vincent, author of the book, "In the Red Zone." [See Vincent's blog here.] Vincent went to Iraq alone and with little or none of the massive logistical support which Mrs. Abramson describes, and created an excellent work about the experience.
Returning to the Mercury News article, let's examine a bit more:
The best single war story I've seen out of Iraq, a piece on the fight for Fallujah by Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lassiter, I learned about from a blog's RSS feed.Bajak makes several errors. He confuses credibility with original authorship. Certainly we can all agree that there are many credible judges who didn't author the case law on which they render opinions.
(Note to bloggers: You've got to build credibility and respect before you'll be allowed like Lassiter to accompany soldiers into combat. I don't doubt that will happen in the future, but for now at least, bloggers do very little original reporting).
But how to gauge a blogger's authority and reliability? Easy: reputation management, something eBay does well. Reputation tools for bloggers are needed and one of the most respected voices in tech journalism, Dan Gillmor, is looking to technologists to develop them.
Bajak doesn't seem to understand the issue of the correspondent either: in the future -- and it might be a bit off -- journalist-bloggers won't accompany troops into combat in places like Fallujah. The troops will BE the bloggers, in one way or another. Perhaps the journalists will just be in a sort of facilitating role. Who knows? The technology won't be quite like it is today. It will be better. But whatever its form, it will allow more of the raw news material than ever to be in the public domain.
As to his need for a technology-based reputation management tool, this is laugh-out loud funny. Bajak clucks his tongue at those of us who don't get paid to write -- and are therefore presumably untrustworthy. Yet somehow, an organization like the New York Times, which had a huge false-story scandal not long ago, is immune from the need for a reputation watch. Can the public post comments below a New York Times editorial? Is the Times' regular readership offered the opportunity to view such comments? Certainly this is unwieldy for the print version, but perhaps something like it could be avaialable online. The online version is free after all.
But that ignores the bigger issue, mentioned earlier: bloggers do have a reputation management tool. It's our readers. If a blogger started publishing rants about a given topic with little evidence of raw material to back it up, it won't take long before few will read anymore. [Eventually though, he'll get a lucrative deal to replace Maureen Dowd when she finally goes completely bonkers . . . but that's neither here nor there.]
One of the best analogies for the blogosphere phenomenon is that of open-source software. A friend in the tech industry mentioned this yesterday. Rather than producing a finished piece of software, programmers create something that can be edited by users to suit their needs. Much is the same with the blogosphere. The follow-up question, is how anything is interesting if it only fits the needs, preconceptions, and tastes of a single person. The answer is that the market for ideas continues to exist. It's just been rapidly expanded.
Hugh Hewitt discusses many of these ideas in his new book, "Blog." He likens the effects of the technological advances that have created the blogosphere to those of Martin Luther's time. In this case, established media are the go-betweens, who are employed to be arbiters of truth, just as the Catholic Church was once employed to dispense pardon and pennance.
So, to answer the question, "Are bloggers more reliable than the mainstream press?"
Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and it's up to you to sort it out. Just like life itself.
Some follow-up thoughts:
Note that Howell Raines, in an interview in The Atlantic in the first half of 2004, stated that if the New York Times did not exist, nothing like it would be invented to take its place. [Sorry -- can't find the link -- should be a cover story for the April to June timeframe.]
Don't miss the discussion on this topic over at Belmont Club last week. Wretchard always has some interesting things to say. In this case he asks whether the media is truly merely a polisher/refiner of raw news material, and whether or not traditional media isn't occasionally complicit in the production of the raw material itself -- as in the case of the recent assassination of Iraqi election workers in Haifa street in Baghdad and the serendipitous presence of AP photographers in the exactly correct place in the exactly correct time.
January 19, 2005
In today's bombings . . .
Today in Baghdad, 26 people were killed and 21 were injured in 5 separate car bomb attacks.
What is unreported in most versions is that coalition troops repelled the attacks in every case, causing the attackers to detonate their bombs outside from their intended targets. From Central Command:
Despite loss of life, a spokesman with the 1st Cavalry Division said none of the suicide bombers hit their intended targets.Now, 26 people dead it seems would be enough to make the headlines so bad, that this small nugget of good news could certainly be inserted to show a silver lining of some kind . . .
All of these car bombers were stopped by security forces before they could reach their intended targets, said Lt. Col. James Hutton, the divisions public affairs officer. While the any loss of life is tragic, it could have been a lot worse.
But of four of the major US dailies, only one makes mention of this tidbit.
See versions from:
Incredibly, only the LA Times carried the news that coalition troops fought off the attackers, thwarting the intended lethality of their plans. Perhaps this can be excused given that the silver lining is near the end of a short Central Command press release. Yet all four of the stories seem to quote it, as though someone who was involved in the production of the stories actually turned to Central Command for details. All four stories have this line:
Four vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices detonated in the Iraqi capital in the span of 90 minutes this morning. Initial reports indicate 26 people died in the blasts, with at least 21 more wounded.
The Times: "The American military reported that 26 people were killed and at least 21 were wounded . . ."
The Post: "The U.S. military said 26 people were killed in 90 minutes of morning rush-hour violence . . ."
The LA Times: "Four car bombs exploded within 90 minutes here today, killing at least 26 Iraqis and injuring 21 other people, the U.S. military said."
The AP: "The U.S. military put the death toll from the day's Baghdad bombings at 26, saying the number was based on initial reports at the scene. Iraqi officials gave a lower toll - 12 people killed in the bombings and one at the Kurdish office.
Sunni Muslim insurgents have threatened to disrupt the elections, and the five car bombings - four within a span of 90 minutes - underscored the grave threat facing Iraqis at this watershed in their history."
So, we can conclude that someone in each of these news organizations is reading Central Command press releases.
So here's what was not in today's headlines:
And the press chose to ignore one bad news story as well:
Two Iraqi Civilians Killed After Trying to Speed Through Military Patrol
Certainly 23 intelligence troops graduating doesn't merit top billing like a coordinated carbomb strike. Neither does the detention of a dozen suspects after a raid. But taken collectively, and over, say, three or four months worth of time, the cumulative effects of smaller positive stories -- of which Central Command releases several a day, right along with the big bad ones -- do in fact constitute news, though they must struggle to reach the horizon of those would deem them so.
Writing in 1961, in his book, "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America," historian Daniel Boorstin noted that pseudo-events have the following four characteristics:
1. It is not spontaneous but comes about because someone has planned, planted or incited it . . .The car bombings were not pseudo-events, they were real. Real people died. but those who orchestrated them did so in the manner exactly prescribed by a careful reading of Boorstin's definition of how to make news.
2. It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced . . .
3. Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous . . .
4. Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. [his example:] The hotels' thirtieth-anniversiary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.
UPDATE: "The Image" is now linked in the sidebar.
January 18, 2005
Another example of good stuff circulating among vets via email
Wow. Go see this:
It was put together by this firm.
Excellent. Favorite is the hitchhiker.
Grassroots Election Coverage in Iraq: From the Friends of Democracy Project and Spirit of America!
Another message from Spirit of America:
We've been helping the team at Friends of Democracy with their project to provide countrywide, ground-level news and information on Iraq's upcoming elections. The goal is to provide a more complete picture of Iraq's elections from the perspective of the Iraqi people. This effort is a direct result of the funds you helped raise in December. Your support made this possible.
Friends of Democracy is creating a grassroots correspondent network that they expect will provide information about the elections from Iraq's 18 provinces. Friends of Democracy is also seeking information from the people of Iraq via blogs and email. This part of the project is described here.
The information coming from Iraq will be gathered and published in Arabic using the Arabic blogging tool Spirit of America developed and provided to Friends of Democracy. More on that here. The election information from Iraq - reports, photos and hopefully some video - will be available on the Web and will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington on Sunday, January 30 after the polls close in Iraq. We hope C-SPAN will cover the conference. (More here.)
We all expect that the major newspapers and networks in the U.S. and elsewhere will focus on the expected violence in certain areas of the country. Friends of Democracy seeks to provide a more complete picture. The elections are an historic event. Many Iraqis, Americans, Brits, Aussies and others have died to make them a reality. We think that people deserve more than the standard "if it bleeds it leads" approach.
We'd appreciate your help with this project. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Blog about this project when the English and Arabic websites are ready on Monday.
2. If C-SPAN covers the Jan. 30 Washington, blog about the broadcast and encourage your readers to tune in.
3. Provide a pro bono blog ad for the next two weeks.
4. Help us find people we need (see below):
We need a site editor/producer for the English language Web site.
And, we are looking for people who can develop election coverage graphics for the FoD website and Jan 30th event. People with experience developing graphics for the web and for broadcast would be especially helpful.
Please let us know if you can provide a BlogAd for this project. Tell people you think can help to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
[Chester adds: You can politely contact CSPAN and ask that they carry this coverage. The contact info is here. The Adventures of Chester has offered a free blogad to Spirit of America and recommends other bloggers to do the same.]