The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 29, 2004
 

Landesman sex slaves article: NY Times ombud's verdict is in


Daniel Okrent has devoted his piece today to a report on his examination of Peter Landesman's The Girls Next Door piece in the January 25 edition of the New York Times Magazine [1].

The tone of Okrent's piece, it seems to me, is one of weary condescension towards all those concerned, both inside the Times and out.

He starts with a little story. One of the points made against the Landesman piece had been to suggest that his description of a scene in Plainfield, NJ was impossible (February 11).

Okrent quotes the passage; then says
I visited Plainfield last week, and I can assure readers that every detail in Landesman's description is accurate. I can also assure you that every detail in my own description is accurate:

And then gives it - at rather greater length than Landesman's!

And appends the moral:
Not every journalist sees every fact from the same angle.

To which the idiomatic reply is, I believe, Duh!

That Okrent should seek to make this point (and so ponderously!) with such an example is doubly surprising given one of the key elements of the case against former Times fabulist Jayson Blair (AP May 11 2003):
On March 27, Blair wrote under a dateline from Palestine, W.Va., about the family of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, a POW rescued in Iraq. He described how Lynch's father "choked up as he stood on his porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures." The porch overlooks no such thing, the Times said, and no member of Lynch's family remembers talking to Blair.

Perhaps this was an attempt by Okrent at satirising the anal nerds and nitpickers who would worry about such trivia.

Of course, the reason why those of us interested in the quality of reporting have to nitpick is because the media are so damned unforthcoming about the evidence they have for stories. Only when they produce a piece with internal inconsistencies, or trip up over something which we peasants can verify independently can they be effectively challenged.

Then we get an insight from Okrent into the internecine hostility between the news people and the Magazine people. Some Times reporters were apparently in the van of those complaining about the sex-slaves piece: he gives us a flavour of their gripes one lot against the other, then says:
Both sides are better at offense than defense.

(He also refers to the new Times edict on the use of anonymous sources. He makes his unhappiness with current practice clear; but says that
imagining a modern newspaper without unattributed quotes is like imagining the Arctic without ice.
Perilously close to a shrug of the shoulders there, perhaps.)

On fact-checking, he is realistic:
...sometimes, a source will make an assertion - for instance, that he saw women walking through Cottonwood Canyon, Calif., in high heels...Virtually all the fact-checker can do is call the source and ask, "Did you see women walking through Cottonwood Canyon in high heels?" The firmest "yes" doesn't even approach proof. It's often not the fact that gets checked, but the fact that someone said it was a fact.

This is not something that is made clear on the back of the box!

And, on the news/magazine dichotomy:
Newspaper reporters engage in a daily dialectic, and try to follow a controversial declaration with a balancing statement from someone on the other side. Magazine writers, believing in the primacy of narrative, will withhold contrary views until the end of the piece - or, often, withhold them altogether. Magazine writing, says Gerald Marzorati, editor of the Sunday magazine, "encourages point of view and authorial opinion." Newspaper writing does not. (Except, of course, when it does.)

Okrent's big journalistic gig was over at Time Magazine I think: sounds as if he feels the NYT's culture wars have all the interest of the Schleswig-Holstein Question, with none of the side-splitting gags.

On the piece itself, he says that
...Landesman and [his] editors carried the advocacy to a fault. In possession of a horrifying story, they didn't allow it to speak for itself.

They didn't make the story up, he's saying, they merely made it out to be bigger than it was. He goes on
I won't use the word "hype," which connotes a mendacity that was in no way present here. The verb I prefer is "shout"...

I'm not sure that hype is limited to cases of deliberate lying.

The state of mind I suspect we're dealing with is rather like Tony Blair's seems to have been in the run-up to the Iraq War: he was monomanically intent on having a war, and therefore was disposed (and how!) to believe evidence that Saddam had WMD and disbelieve evidence to the contrary.

Okrent challenges inter alia the cover line Sex Slaves on Main Street, the numerical estimates, the unqualified use of the words of alleged victim 'Andrea'.

But, on that last point concludes:
The question is not whether Landesman believes Andrea - what matters is whether he can persuade the rest of the world to believe her.

Er...Surely what matters is the quality of the evidence she has to offer, and the fairness with which he presents that evidence. Landesman's task was not to persuade the readers, but to give them the material to come to a judgement on the reliability of what he quoted her as saying.

(Among the matters not mentioned by Okrent is the failure to disclose in the article that 'Andrea' suffers from multiple personality disorder!)

Okrent says
When I first read Landesman's piece, I found him credulous. Having examined the article more closely, and having done some reporting of my own, I'm convinced that the proper adjective would be "inflamed."

And, as a result,
He brought into the story figures, facts and circumstances that he felt added to his argument. Instead they turned some readers into skeptics, some skeptics into critics.

Okrent seems obsessed with Landesman's failure to impress his readers, and rather less concerned that with the quality of the product: the problem was that a good proportion of those figures, facts and circumstances appeared to be unreliable or misleading.

Okrent then muddies the waters with reference to three subsequent police operations directed at alleged sex slavery operations in the US. (No one, I think, is saying that sex-slavery in the US does not exist - but the reference to those three operations sounds like a rebuttal of just such an argument. Straw man alert!)

Then we go back one last time into the news/mag culture war - which has a definite Big Ender/Little Ender quality to it - and, finally, the conclusion:
Based on my examination of Landesman's materials, on conversations with law-enforcement authorities and on the internal evidence itself, his choices were fairly arrived at. But they weren't justified terribly well.

So do you tear Landesman apart because you don't believe his sources, or because you can't locate an audit trail to some of his assertions? Or do you accept the hideous realities he describes and emerge convinced that sex slavery is a genuine problem? I do the latter - I just wish he and his editors had been more circumspect in making the case.


That's pretty wretched stuff, I regret to say - a hodge-podge apparently designed to spread around of bit of blame, about presentation rather than substance, and cloak the whole in the mantle of concern about the substantive issue.

Now, I'd say, first of all, that the internal evidence of Okrent's own piece contradicts his conclusion: the estimates Landesman gives of the numbers of victims -
perhaps tens of thousands
and
30,000-50,000
were, I think Okrent is saying, completely unsupported by any evidence. In the vernacular, he's suggesting that Landesman pulled them out of his ass.

Was that a choice that was fairly arrived at?

The analogy with the promoter of a company is, I think, a valid one. The promoter, like the journalist, has a peculiar knowledge of the true state of what he is selling; the investor, or reader, has no such knowledge. This disproportion of knowledge justifies the promoter/journalist being held to a particular high standard in the information he provides.

The promoter who inserts estimates of the company's value based on wishful thinking is rightly held criminally liable; the responsibility of the journo is to a different 'court', but his use of wishful-thinking data is reprehensible for the same reason.

It is simply not good enough for Okrent to suggest that, because there are, say, 1,000 sex-slaves, the fact that Landesman suggested there were 30,000 is a mere matter of presentation.

And there is an element of moral blackmail in the assertion that one may either tear Landesman apart or accept the hideous realities he describes.

No one is trying to tear Landesman apart: use of such emotive language can only enhance the reader's sense that the wool is being pulled over his eyes.

(Readers will recall that, if anyone was threatening to pull anyone apart, it was Landesman threatening blogger Daniel Radosh (January 31)! Something of an own goal for Okrent there (in soccer parlance)!)

But even adjusting his statement for reality, Okrent's is a false dichotomy: I suspect that all of Landesman's critics would be happy to stipulate to there being a sex-slavery problem in the US that requires dealing with. But that position in no way contradicts the questioning of Landesman's article.

Okrent is saying, If you persist in criticising Landesman, you can't care about the poor sex slaves. You're a mean-spirited pettifogger, more interested in point-scoring than the plight of girls genuinely in peril of their lives. (Though, strictly speaking, they may be many fewer than Landesman told you...)

The second point is that the criticism that I've seen - mainly from Radosh and Jack Shafer - has been specific. And Okrent's piece in general makes no effect to deal with those criticisms point by point.

(Some points have already been addressed by the Times itself (my February 17 piece [1]). But Okrent's USP is that he is independent. The fact that the Times has spoken to a point is no reason why Okrent should treat it as dealt with.)

I detect a sneer [2] in Okrent's reference to an inability to
locate an audit trail to some of his assertions

A variation of
the best is the enemy of the good:
Okrent supposes Landesman's critics are looking for pie in the sky, whereas all they're interested in - I think - is straight answers to some reasonable questions.

This being the real world, a lot of those answers may be unsatisfactory; Okrent seems to be doubting whether the questions need be taken at all seriously.

Which, from someone in his position, is rather disappointing. (Understatement.)

  1. The substance last looked at here on February 17. The Landesman article is reprinted here.

  2. Something here of Mr Bounderby's view that the hands wanted to be
    fed on turtle soup and venison with a golden spoon


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Dutroux case opens tomorrow - Belgium on trial?


Way back in 1996, it seemed like El Gordo. The rank incompetence and corruption of the government of a Western country seemed as if they might lead - via a truly dire criminal case - to its removal by peaceful revolution.

Never happened of course, or was ever going to. Turning up stones is not the Belgian way. The government - and the parts responsible for justice and law and order in particular - is designed for minimum efficiency and maximum political benefit.

Jobs are allocated to political parties to share amongst their cronies. The police and gendarmerie battled against each other with far more ferocity than ever was evident in their fight against crime.

It was a great twofer: if the cop responsible for a case wasn't corrupt, he was too stupid or lazy to make much headway.

But, there was the great Marche blanche of October 20 1996, which gathered 300,000 in Brussels: surely something would be done?

Not much has been, so far as I can tell. But at least Dutroux has been preserved long enough for there to be a trial.

There is plenty of Dutroux stuff about: Le Soir has a page with links to a dozen or more stories. Libre Belgique has a piece summarising the main matters at stake in the trial, both in the case and without; the paper also has a piece extracting elements from the acte d'accusation drawn up by Procureur Michel Bourlet.

There's an AP chronology of the case. And a long piece in the Nouvel Observateur.


MORE (March 1)

A Belgian site - in French [1] - has materials on the case, including the 1997 report of the Enquête Parlementaire - which I don't think advanced matters much.

There is also the Julie et Mélissa site (Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were two of the girls with whose murders Dutroux is charged).

And an official handout from the Justice Ministry on the trial.

(I haven't traced any site with trial documentation - not entirely staggered at that!)

I have no idea whether I'm going to be taking more than a passing interest in the trial. The suggestion is that it is going to be a monumental whitewash, in more ways than one. Though some whitewashes (like Hutton) do not wash as white as it promises on the label!

  1. Dutch is, well, double Dutch to me: I'm not proud of it, it just is! To oversimplify, given the balance of the population, around half of Belgian material in the national languages is liable to be in Dutch. Official material will usually be in both, I suspect. The rest is inaccessible, except to the small minority of the world population who are Dutch speakers. (Not a rant, just a fact.)


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Some genuine anti-semitic abuse at last?


Ian McCartney, Chairman of the Labour Party, comes across (personal grooming aside) as Rab C Nesbitt's less cultured brother.

He's where he is, I suspect, as a sop to Old Labour stalwarts: he doesn't get a whole lot of airtime, as a rule.

Oliver Letwin is Gordon Brown's shadow as Chancellor of the Exchequer - chief Tory spokesman on finance in the House of Commons. Reminiscent of a superior sort of estate agent. He is also a Jew - or is, at any rate, of partly Jewish antecedence [1].

In a speech, McCartney characterised Letwin thus:
No Oliver Twist, this man, more of a Fagin.

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. as Alan B'stard would have put it.

  1. As is Tory leader Michael Howard. And several leading ministers under Thatcher and Major.


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The Anti-Miscegenation Amendment


I can't pretend to understand why Bush and friends should be touting the homo-amendment, which - like the Clinton impeachment - falls woefully short of the necessary 67 votes in the US Senate [1], not to mention the 290 needed in the House, the three-quarters of states...

The futile exercise has been the occasion for much whooping and monkey-shining from the neo-McGovernites - which might have put off swing voters, had any of them been paying attention.

But it has also unearthed a historical oddity. (One I'd never heard of it before, but, then, that's scarcely saying much.)

In 1912, Rep Seaborn Roddenbery (D: GA-2) introduced an amendment to the US Constitution making inter-racial marriages illegal.

The fullest treatment online - which isn't full at all - is a 1999 piece in the Journal of African American Men (new one on me) called The Socio-Political Context of the Integration of Sport in America [2].

For Roddenbery (and many more) had got riled and stirred thus far by the antics of heavyweight boxing champion, and miscegenator on an epic scale, Jack Johnson. Whilst sticking it to Mister Charley was not, perhaps, Johnson's primary objective, he was pretty damned successful at it!

When he went so far as to marry one of his white women, one Lucille Cameron [3], blood vessels burst:
two ministers in the South recommended lynching him...

And Roddenbery [4] pushed his amendment, saying:
Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict.

A WaPo reader supplies an exact date for the introduction (December 12 1912) and a partial text:
Intermarriage between negros or persons of color and Caucasians . . . within the United States . . . is forever prohibited.

Unfortunately, he also misspells Roddenbery's name and states that he was a Republican - in Georgia in 1912! - and I suspect that there would have been an e added to negros

There is, so far as I can see, nothing more authoritative on the Roddenbery Amendment online.

The Amendment appeared at an interesting time, of course. It was just after that arch-segregationist, Woodrow Wilson - over whom liberals were once wont to drool (it's neocons now!) - had been elected, and Jim Crow was just about at its acme (the Guinn case banning the grandfather clause came in 1915). (This was the lame-duck session of the 62nd Congress.)

It was also around this time that racial classification solidified - the process described in the Daniel Sharfstein piece I looked at on January 20.

Beyond the stuff checked here, there is nothing online about Roddenbery [5]. (There is nothing at all on Google under his name correctly spelt!)

Perhaps a by-product of the homo-amendment nonsense will be a detailed treatment of Roddenbery's claim to fame.

  1. The old saying amongst the Southern Caucus in the Senate in the 1950s was You very soon get to 33 - that is, enough to prevent the two-thirds majority then required to pass a cloture motion. (Before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, natch.) The homo-amendment will wait till hell freezes over for its 67.

  2. Via Atrios to Corante. The piece states that the amendment was introduced in 1911, which seems wrong, since, it seems, Johnson only contracted his inter-racial marriage in December 1912.

  3. Cameron, I seem to remember, was the name of the South Carolina family in The Birth of a Nation who were force to suffer the indignities of Radical Reconstruction. And whose scion Flora was pursued by the jumped-up renegade Gus, so as to fall to her death. (My piece on December 22 2003 discusses the question whether this was suicide or accident.)

  4. Roddenbery, not Roddenberry: according to the Congressional Biographical Dictionary.

  5. He is namechecked, and nothing else, in an interesting 2001 review of a couple of books in this area, The Law of Black-White Marriage in U.S. History by Peter Wallenstein and Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law edited by Werner Sollors.

    The review mentions the late date of the word miscegenation - from memory, it was invented in 1864 and used against Lincoln and the GOP by the Copperheads in that year's election campaigns. Before it caught on, the word used for the practice was amalgamation, it says.


MORE
I can't help feeling that the insignificant Congressman from Georgia was not the only legislator to move such amendment to the US Constitution. There is no list of proposed amendments online, that I can see.

And let's not pass up the chance of remembering Miscegenists of the Year for 2003, Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler (December 2003 archives passim). Daughter Essie Mae Washington is back in the Palmetto State this weekend speaking at Allen University [1] in support of a fund-raising dinner.

No news about a Hollywood deal yet, that I can see.

  1. One of those colleges known these days as historically black.


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Saturday, February 28, 2004
 

Over at the CJR Campaign Desk, what facts are they checking?


It's what you might call the ultimate watchblog; and its arguments with bloggers over publishing exit polls before the closing of voting have been amply covered by Jay Rosen.

The Campaign Desk is a worthwhile exercise, no doubt. But one entry (from February 11) raises the question in the hed:

It cites an AP piece [1]:
Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., said he heard a 1998 speech in which then-President Clinton warned that something must be done about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. "Unfortunately, he did not complete that task before his term expired," Goss said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

CD cops a 'tude:
Huh? "Said he heard ... "?

By what journalistic standard does that qualify as attribution?

Has AP lost its contract with Nexis? Or has it just lost any pretence at attempting to nail down the facts? Has it no clue how to, say, peruse Clinton's 1998 speeches to see if Goss is talking through his hat or, conversely, if he's on to something?

Or is it, as we here at Campaign Desk have "heard," that AP's editors have a clause in their contracts letting them leave early on Wednesdays?


CJR hiring straight out of junior high these days?

The point is: What was the news here? Under the (chimeric) regime of objective journalism, the speech of a Congressman is a reportable event in itself. He may be speaking the purest bologna [2], but the rule is that what he says is ipso facto news; and that parsing or ridiculing is optional, and, if done at all, must be done in a different piece.

No doubt, the rule is imperfectly adhered to. But, for reasons which pass my understanding, there still seem to be plenty of hacks happy to defend its merits.

A notable exception was to be found in the pages of the CJR itself last year, in an article by David Greenberg [3] Calling a Lie a Lie: The dicey dynamics of exposing untruths. Greenberg ran through some Bush lies, and why the press had been reluctant to call him on them.

In contrast to juicy tabloid lies - Clinton's sex lies, say,
The lies reporters dislike...center on what are usually more important matters: claims about public policy - taxes, abortion, the environment - where raising questions of truthfulness can seem awfully close to taking sides in a partisan debate. Most of Bush's lies have fallen in this demilitarized zone, where journalists fear to tread.

Now, checking the truthfulness of Goss' assertion about Clinton isn't exactly in the same league as questioning tax or abortion policy. But it would be questioning the truthfulness of an elected representative.

And the clear default of the system of objective journalism is that the elected representative will be treated as speaking the truth. (Though this clearly is utterly against the weight of the evidence!)

Absent this absurd convention, you'd hope that the natural curiosity of the journalist concerned would have impelled him to check Goss' statement out. (Campaign Desk couldn't spare a single Googling Monkey to do so, apparently: all too busy practising their flouncing, perhaps.)

But, then, as I've recorded umpteen times here, the media usually manage to stifle such natural curiosity pretty effectively: Robert Novak's South Dakota ballot-stuffing blast was never followed up, to take but one example close to home.

There is also the related Lord Hutton question. Hutton was adamant that there was no difference between an allegation made by the BBC, and an allegation made by a third party, but published by the BBC. In both cases, the BBC was to be held as responsible for the truth of the allegation.

In defamation law, one has the repetition rule - which says much the same. But, most hacks agreed when the Hutton Report came out, strict adherence to Hutton's Edict would make journalism practically impossible.

(Note that, when the BBC published the allegation by Clare Short that HMG had bugged Kofi Annan, there was nary a whisper that it had so grossly infringed Hutton's commandment barely a month after the tablets were Fedexed from Sinai!)

The irony is that, whereas it was American hacks who bellyached the most against the BBC post-Hutton, American-style objective journalism is the reverse of the Hutton rule: in reporting politicians' pronouncements, objective journalism views the newspaper as effectively interpleading in a suit between the pol and his public, or acting as a mere conduit.

On the substance of the Goss piece, I have to say, if I had been the journo concerned, it would have annoyed the hell out of me not to trace the speech and make sure it said what Goss said he remembered it saying. And I wouldn't have gone first to Nexis [4] - I'd have called up one of Goss' guys, given him the chat, used the inquiry as a pretext to probe what might really be on Goss' mind.

In other words, done some actual journalism. If that was ever allowed.

  1. It uses a Yahoo link - which only last a few days. (Wouldn't the CJR know this?) The ABC links are usually pretty durable - Googling Monkeys oblige...

  2. Bologna is (or was) notoriously the foodie capital of Italy, whose charcuterie is both excellent and expensive. It was also regularly ruled by Communist local administrations (1970s, 80s). Go figure.

  3. A piece I mentioned on September 8 2003.

  4. I've never used it. But Goss' vague formulation might make a keyword search time-consuming even on the professionals' gizmo.


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Sex in the City finished: for the students of Flagstaff, it never started


Well, it wouldn't have if John D Haeger, President of the Northern Arizona University had his druthers:

On February 12, just in time for Valentine's Day, student Claire Fuller penned a brief how-to guide on oral sex in The Lumberjack, the student rag.

On February 26, the site put up a note from Haeger, copied from the NAU site, decrying Fuller's piece in terms that seem to be channelling a mixture of Kyle's Mom and The Music Man's Harold Hill (You Got Trouble):
On February 12, 2004, The Lumberjack published an article graphically and explicitly describing sex acts. I am personally appalled at the lack of responsibility shown in the publication of this article.

American universities have long valued the freedom student journalists hold to write without censorship. But writing without censorship cannot be equated with writing irresponsibly without regard for the values and interests of the entire community they serve. In this case, The Lumberjack's reading audience includes university students, faculty and staff but also includes citizens, including children, of Flagstaff and the larger Arizona community...


What, precisely, went on at NAU in the intervening fortnight is not disclosed. People making all kinds of new friends? I gather it gets chilly of a night up there this time of year...

Ahem! Now, I gather that NAU is a public university, and therefore the First Amendment applies. Notwithstanding, according to the Arizona Republic (February 25), the NAU's publication board is meeting on March 5 to review the situation.

Provost Liz Grobsmith is quoted as saying
the Lumberjack has become a laughingstock.

(Wrong answer, I think she'll find.)

It also quotes the faculty adviser on Claire Fuller's piece (emphasis mine, I'm afraid):
I read it quickly on deadline and had mentioned that I was not completely comfortable with it. But it didn't rise to the level of obscenity, whereby I would have taken a much more aggressive role.

The man's name: Rob Breeding! (I reckon there's a riff to be worked about most of the names...but I won't go there.)

Plenty of fools about in Flagstaff, and we're nowhere near April...

[Via the impeccably wholesome Romenesko]


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Friday, February 27, 2004
 

Taking a rest from altar boys, Catholic clergy fuck LA Times up the ass...allegedly


If it's true, another hole punched in the fantasy of objective journalism.

According to LA Weekly's Jeffrey Anderson (February 27), Cardinal Roger Mahony is never in need of Angel Soft when a Times hack is on hand.

Anderson traces to 1988 the feather-bedding that the Times has given Mahony on the issue of child-molesting priests. Notably, the incident where Mahony, his lawyer and his PR man sat in with the Times editorial board in 2002 to put them right on an investigative piece the paper was planning to run. The board saw the error of their ways.

He compares the Times' performance - unfavourably - with that of the Globe, Herald and Phoenix in Boston in covering the issue in their neck of the woods. Lack of competition in Los Angeles, he suggests, may make it less awkward for the Times to go along.

But, it seems, the Times is not unique. Anderson quotes William Drummond, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley:
If a newspaper can avoid an open breach with any large segment in the community, it will do so. It’s too dangerous...

I don’t think there’s any editor in the country that’s strong and powerful enough to tell a Catholic archdiocese to go take a hike.


Objective journalism? It ain't necessarily so...


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Fetus is unborn child bill passes US House - with 47 Dems' support


On November 21 2003, I flagged HR 1197, the so-called Laci and Conner's Law, ostensibly designed with the narrow intent of protecting fetuses from harm as a result of criminal acts (within Federal jurisdiction), but of value to the anti-abortion lobby in introducing into the US Code the notion that a fetus is an unborn child.

HR 1197 passed the House on Roll Call 31 by 254-163. Of those voting for the bill, 47 were Democrats.

I suspect that most liberal Dems would vehemently oppose the bill (though there may, I suppose, be some Catholic liberals who would support - a category analogous to the old Jim Crow liberals.)

But, needless to say, they would have no difficulty in seeing Dem supporters of the bill welcomed back in January if a Dem majority House was in prospect.

(A point made, in the context of the homo-amendment, by Kos.)

It's two-party politics as (virtually) decreed by the Constitution. As American as apple-pie.

It used to be the case, in the 'Good Old Days' of the Solid (Democratic) South, that Mississippi (and one or two other states) would rather vote for a monkey than a Republican; it was equally certain that, had Mississippi managed to elect a monkey to Congress [2], nice Northern liberal Democratic members with Ivy League degrees would have been as rabid as any nigger-baiter from Dixie to get him seated!

  1. Except during the period running up to the Civil War, I believe.

  2. And you have to wonder how much scrutiny from the taxonomists some who were elected would have borne!

MORE

I change act to bill in the hed, though act is technically correct, I think.

Whether it can pass the Senate is problematical, according to AP.

The opponents of the bill had a good try at flushing out the ideological nature of the measure by introducing - and duly seeing voted down - an amendment (from Rep Zoe Lofgren) which would have created a similar crime but without the need for an unborn child definition.


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Thursday, February 26, 2004
 

Jim Crow rules and the California Indian casino racket


Back on October 16 2003, in a round-up on the Indian casino racket nationwide, I mentioned a paper dealing with the arcane rules which govern who is counted as a member of an Indian tribe. Different tribes, different rules. Some use the blood quantum system.

Now, a Slate piece (February 24) avers, Congressmen want an investigation of the Ione Band of the Miwoks
which has grown in number from 70 people to 535 people since 2002

A casino with revenues of $185 million a year is planned. QED.

Will Schwarzenegger do anything about it? Has he the power?

If the racket did not supply such piles of wampum to the squaw-men legislators of the states interested (and what states are not?), perhaps there might be some chance of a remedy - a constitutional amendment negativing the sovereignty nonsense would be a higher priority than banning homo-marriage, one would ideally have thought.

However, those are mere druthers. The wampum will continue to be dumped into the pols' war-chests, and gaming Indians will live high on the hog, whilst their non-gaming brethren husband their food stamps.


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Don't cry for Powell...


Slate's hed combines the colonic [1] with the melodramatic:
The Tragedy of Colin Powell: How the Bush presidency destroyed him

The article (February 19) tells the sad but familiar tale. But doesn't really explore the question, What did he expect?

Surely, knowing the rest of the top Administration foreign policy line-up [2], he expected to be resident fall-guy.

I'm no expert; but I'm fairly sure that there are plenty of examples in post-war history where presidents have chosen men as Secretary of State whom they proceeded to sideline - for instance, under Richard Nixon (with Henry Kissinger as National Security Advisor), William Rogers wasn't exactly Go To Guy #1.

The piece talks about Powell as a good soldier. He was canny enough to nix any thought of standing for the presidency for 2000; he's been knocking around the upper echelons of USG for long enough to have known how things were likely to pan out.

Perhaps folks have gone beyond the necessities of business and been unnecessarily insulting or vindictive. Perhaps he over-estimated his powers of endurance [3].

Like many Secretaries of State before him, Powell likely will serve only one term. He exercised the influence over USG strategy that he could have expected to have (ie, not much). He chalked up another big job, and a bunch of air miles.

Tragedy seems completely over the top.

  1. It's title and subtitle; but functionally colonic.

  2. If he did: I suspect the chronology is more or less on the record somewhere.

  3. The bawling-out of the House staffer that the Slate piece starts with seems exceptional. We all have bad days.


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Blair channels John Prescott as Clare Short might just have picked a winner for once


On the allegations that UKG spied on Kofi Annan, made by Clare Short on the Today programme, Blair said this, amongst other things, at his monthly presser today [1]:
When people put to you specific allegations, it is why it is so irresponsible to make them, they know I'm in the position where it is the practice that I must hold to that you can't confirm or deny them, and then of course you will get endless speculation about why certain things are done.

The party line is that
we act in accordance with domestic and international law, and we act in the best interests of this country
but without confirming or denying that the bugging of Annan took place.

It seems to me that the substance of the Frank Koza/Katharine Gun business [2] (spying on UN Security Council members) has implicitly been admitted by HMG - use of ECHELON was no doubt made.

Can the Annan spying allegation gain traction where so many other, at first sight promising, Iraq-related lines of attack on Blair have fizzled?

At the moment, we have squat. What we need is something tying Blair into the business. The Hutton evidence suggests that the weakest links are the extraordinarily eager-to-please Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett and the head of MI6 (with an ego the size of Texas) Sir Richard Dearlove: aided by the shambolic system of record-keeping, general dissension amongst the spooks - it's just possible that an interesting leak might emerge.

There is, of course, the element of attrition: Blair is certainly much perkier since being whitewashed by Lord Hutton. But every scandal takes its toll. As time passes, more folks become disillusioned with him and his running of things; there are plenty in the Commons who have been sacked or passed over; the lack of coalition grip (albeit falling short of Quagmire) over events in Iraq (in which HMG is, at the best of times, a mere bit player); disillusionment in UKIC with politicians' handling of intelligence (and, ex-pols' leaking it): all of these things tend to reduce the threshold of dissent at which the formerly acquiescent feel enabled - entitled, even - to turn to opposition.

I mentioned before the natural parabolic cycle of a news story: a government (in Britain, at least) follows much the same path: the lift of achieving power after years in opposition is enormous, much more than a mere honeymoon. In Blair's case, it lasted until well after his re-election in 2001 - he sailed over such scandals as Bernie Ecclestone and Peter Mandelson (twice). He was walking on water.

No longer. What he would have brushed off in 1998 could well now be fatal. That is what supplies a (small) dose of reality to hopes of killing him off over Iraq. (Metaphorically, please - no Blair Memorial Wars, for Mel's sake!)

One thing seems definite: zero chance of a prosecution of Clare Short under the Official Secrets Act!

  1. See also the briefing of the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS). Who might have been Godric Smith or Tom Kelly - the guy who smeared the then dead David Kelly as a Walter Mitty character.

  2. As expected, Gun was acquitted on the direction of the judge when, at the start of her case at the Old Bailey, the prosecution stated that they would offer no evidence.

    The Guardian's intel guy, Richard Norton-Taylor, has an interview with Katharine Gun.


MORE

Tip for drama-doc makers: Gun - who is not Katherine - is, in some pics, a ringer for the pleasant-looking but absurdly named Honeysuckle Weeks.


STILL MORE

Interesting to see how HMG is spinning the Clare Short 'revelations'.

Short was a sort of licensed maverick as Blair's International Development Secretary, from the heady days of 1997, when Blair wanted one or two characters among the grey suits and Stepford Blair's Babes.

Her having kangaroos in her top paddock was her USP for Blair, it seems. He kept her on where other ministers would have got booted.

As a war prime minister, however, he found Short less amusing. But still he refused to sack her when she called him reckless - she threatened to resign over the war, but didn't [1]. Afterwards, she did.

Now she makes a twat of herself on reality TV. But they still invite her on news shows.

Tony's spinners are saying that she was
back in her own world
when she was talking about the UN spying stuff.

And, evidently, drawing attention to the fact that her outrage at seeing product from the spying on Annan had not risen to a level to impel her to do anything about it at the time.

(That cuts both ways, of course: Tony knew she was a loonie, yet kept her in the Cabinet. Goes to judgement - not Tony's strongest area.)

If that's all she's got, her revelation is a one day wonder. As the FT suggests, it might even have done Blair a favour by overshadowing HMG's difficulties over the collapse of the Katharine Gun trial.

However, these things tend to proceed in a crabwise fashion. What appears a setback may in fact be the cause of progress. The UKIC is in a fragile state right now. Some may be extra-careful to keep their heads down; others may be pushed over the edge into leaking, with HMG's climbdown on the Gun case naturally fresh in the memory.

What we need is evidence: and they, spooks and those, like David Kelly, who work with them, are the only viable source of such evidence.

And of course Short herself has breach a mammoth-sized hole in the Official Secrets Act herself. Assuming no prosecution is forthcoming - and, though I suspect Blair would find transportation to Devil's Island for life an inadequate penalty, she's pretty safe from a dawn knock on the door.

(Simon Hoggart, one of the parliamentary sketch-writers - that odd British breed - takes an amusing look at the situation.)

  1. Stuff in the March 2003 archives on the business.


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More on the fantasy world of William Safire


On February 23, I looked at a piece by ex 60 Minutes guy Barry Lando on various Iraq-related matters where Safire's allegations were, to be polite, against the weight of the evidence: on the Douglas Feith/Weekly Standard bin Laden/Saddam memo; the Mohamed Atta Prague meeting-that-never-was and others.

Now David Corn in Nation (February 24) takes another crack at the issue, with Safire's February 11 piece (reprint). Safire's piece was based on a piece of February 9 from Dexter Filkins (reprint) - but a later NYT piece (reprint) contains a USG denial of an Ansar-al-Islam/Al Qaeda link.

Again, my point is not to get into the substance, but to raise yet another case where the policy of the Times not to offer corporate corrections of factual errors in op-ed articles is shown up as absurd; and to illustrate the fatuousness of the doctrine of objective journalism.

Next stop: Daniel Okrent's piece in Sunday's Times. He's reviewing the situation, let's not forget, in relation to the Peter Landesman sex-slaves article.


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Katie Hnida: how do girls play (American) football?


Katie Hnida was on the football squad for the University of Colorado. She told Sports Illustrated hack Rick Reilly she'd been raped and otherwise sexually assaulted by fellow squad members (resulting in suspension of coach Gary Barnett). A piece on alternative CO news source Westword focuses on the question whether victims, as well as alleged perpetrators should be named in public (Kobe Bryant being the locus classicus).

My query is, How can a girl take part in a rough old game like football when the rest of the players are guys?

Clearly, there are sports where girls and guys compete on equal terms (eg show jumping); some where they should (snooker/pool/billiards, darts, bowls); some where girls are handicapped but no harm can come to them from mixed competition (golf, tennis, cricket).

But football?

I assume this is all a load of Title IX bollocks. Was she doing the guys a favour by playing for them, and saving their sport from being axed? In which case (if her allegations are true), clearly they're bastards twice over. Was she the only girl? Because, like military and naval outfits, there's bound to be a proportion over which the girls have safety in numbers to be able to maintain some kind of discipline over the guys.

I'm still hung up about how a girl can play in the first place, though...


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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
 

Village Voice drops the Big One on Kerry (just possibly...)


More mature (older, then) British readers may recall a sitcom from the 1970s featuring an old Northern plebe[1] whose catchphrase was
I served all through 't Fust World War...

Presidential poll-leader John Kerry has (so far as I can tell from this side of the pond) been similarly less than loathe to use his war experience for electoral advantage. When two or three vets are gathered together, can Kerry be far away?

Which copper-fastens the relevance of Sydney Schanberg's article dated February 24 in the Village Voice.

Schanberg considers the conduct of Kerry as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/ MIA Affairs in the early 1990s; the Committee's remit, Schanberg says,
was to investigate the evidence about prisoners who were never returned and find out what happened to the missing men.

He alleges that Kerry's objective was quite different:
He wanted to clear a path to normalization of relations with Hanoi.

[Why? What was in it for Kerry? Clearly, Kerry is no crypto-communist, working from within to secure the prosperity of ideological Fatherland.

Schanberg says Kerry
contend[ed] that he supported normalization only as a way to learn more about the missing men.

How strong an argument that was depends rather on the relative strengths of the negotiating position of North Vietnam (DRV) and the US. At first glance, it would seem to suggest that the US wanted normalisation (for whatever reason) a damned sight more than the DRV. (Because, once relations were normalised, the stick that might have coerced DRV cooperation would have been surrendered.)

For the DRV to get away with position that implied We know the POW situation, but we won't tell until you normalise would imply they had a very strong position [2].

It sounds like the post-game excuse from the losing team's manager - bullshit, rather than a statement intended to be taken seriously. What was Kerry's real objective?

What about cash? Cui bono? Who would have benefited [3] from North Vietnam's rehabilitation, to the extent of finding it worthwhile to pass over some dead Presidents to Kerry or his campaign?

Or was it Clinton? Perhaps under pressure from the Pentagon to shut the running-sore POW issue down. Did he provide any incentive, lucrative or otherwise, to Kerry to take the path that Schanberg alleges he took?

MMO is not proof. But a rank failure to show a sort of convincing motive on Kerry's part means that Schanberg comes to the plate 0-1.]

But, whatever the motive, Schanberg is saying that Kerry ensured that the Committee took a dive. That he palled up with Pentagon officials to script hearings; he refused to demand relevant documents; refused to subpoena relevant portions of the Nixon tapes when Nixon refused to hand them over; refused to call witnesses, such as ex-presidents of the period; refused to subpoena USG employees who were afraid to volunteer to testify for fear of victimisation; and - most graphically - caused a mound of documents to be shredded, rather than, as had been promised, handed over to the National Archives.

If these facts can be shown to be as stated by Schanberg, I should say the piece could put Kerry in some difficulty.

What is there out there that supports Schanberg's story?

The first thing to say is, there's no press pack yet.

The second thing is, Schanberg has been on Kerry's case before on this issue: the VV reprints a Penthouse piece on the subject from 1994 - when the topic was a good deal fresher than it is today.

Evidently, whatever Schanberg threw at Kerry in the 1994 article didn't stick. What sort of press did it get? (There is nothing on Usenet - per Mr Google - for vietnam schanberg kerry between 1993 and 1997 - plutocrats and pros with Nexis will have the gen, of course.)

Who is Schanberg? According to this from the OJR in 1999, he was then 65 years old, a print legend and Pulitzer Prize-winner. This places Schanberg in 1993 as associate editor of Newsday and author of the book that became the movie The Killing Fields.

Old Men Forget - as Will Shakespeare says; and they are apt to ride hobby-horses.

On the other hand, for the politico-military-industrial complex to lie and deep-six incriminating evidence would scarcely be news either.

To start with, what is required was (in 1991-4) and is now actual journalism to check out the prima facie case that Schanberg has laid out, to see how it triangulates without other known data (obviously, Kerry and the DOD aren't going to be doing any interviews!)

But I suspect that that is not going to be enough. My guess is that, for most voters, Vietnam and the POWs issue is over to the power of googol. If famous vets want to play Ikettes at Kerry rallies, fine. But whatever happened in 1973 - or 1993 - won't affect most 2004 votes (any more than one floozy, more or less).

Someone needs to Oprah-ise it up. How? Oprah's got megabucks from doing it: ask her! I don't think the usual - indignant weeping relatives - will cut it. My guess: a relative needs to go back to the DRV and find one of these guys alive - something as extreme (and as vanishingly unlikely) as that.

But, perhaps Hillary has a suggestion...

  1. Uncle Mort, I think it was. Played by the very un-plebe Robin Bailey; known as the voice of The Brigadier - spinner of fantasy cricket anecdotes penned by Peter Tinniswood.

  2. Evaluated accordingly to their goals. The old joke about there being no bite in the threat to bomb them back to the Stone Age because they were already there crudely expresses a truth (widely acknowledged for years past), the failure to face which dogged the US effort in Indo-China: namely, that DRV constraints and objectives were completely different to those of the US.

    In 1991-3, another twenty years of dirt-poverty in exchange for blowing off Uncle Sam's attempts to settle his conscience on the POW question would quite likely have been a small price to play - according to the DRV calculus.

  3. What purports to be a 1993 Washington Times op-ed (found on Usenet) suggests that, on lifting US objections to the IMF's lending to the DRV, Clinton
    caved in because of heavy lobbying by 1) Japanese interest groups that want to use the Vietnamese as a cheap labor source, and 2) U.S. companies that want to cash in on lush contracts that will result from the loans.
    No idea whether that's true or not.

MORE

On Schanberg's finest hour - he got the 1976 Pulitzer for International Reporting for his Cambodia reporting - a piece in the fairly out there Newsmax has Mona Charen badmouthing him and it:
Sydney Schanberg, whose reporting from Cambodia heaped scorn on the notion that there was a bloodbath in that unfortunate nation, and said "nothing could be worse for the Cambodian people than the American presence." Once the Americans left, Charen recalled, “we had one of the worst bloodbaths in the history of the world.” One third of Cambodia’s people were eliminated.

Schanberg, who was the with the New York Times at the time, would not be the first Times Pulitzer laureate to have got a nasty touch of Dictators' Disease (Walter Duranty, of course; and others?).

No evidence that I've seen for Charen's charge against Schanberg; but then I haven't looked.


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Five rounds each - can any MoD equipment snafu story get traction?


Before the war, I mentioned several times the truly woeful record of the UK Ministry of Defence in supplying equipment that works to the forces it deploys. The SA 80 rifle and Challenger 2 tank were two of the MoD's Edsels in the firing line. As it were.

Then there was Sgt Steven Roberts who had to give up his body armour - and was then shot, and died for lack of the armour.

And the MPs sent into a hostile area without a workable radio to call for backup.

Now, a soldier has said that
We had five rounds each to defend ourselves. I actually crossed the border with five rounds.

The magazine held 30 separate bullets but I was issued with five separate bullets to last the entire hostilities of the war.


Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was whistling Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah after his Hutton reprieve, and his record on previous kit snafus has been as Teflon as his supremely lucky boss. (Except Hoon usually has to make a chump of himself in the process - as with his appearance before the Commons Defence Committee on February 5 - where his outburst on the 45 minute WMD intel overshadowed his questioning on the issue of defective and inadequate equipment.)

Tony loves having him around as Fall-guy Apparent for Iraq, and any future pre-emptive jaunts he may consider joining: the grieving widow of Sgt Roberts has failed to make an impression, so I doubt whether the five round guy will do any better.

We'll see.


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Does anyone read AP copy before it's sent? (Or put in the paper...)


There has in Britain been an explosion in the incidence of hospital-caused disease (MRSA, in particular) over recent years: discussions I've heard usually put this down to the simplest conceivable cause: doctors (and others) have stopped washing their hands between each patient [1].

The comparable precaution in journalism: reading the damned copy before it gets published! Some of the tasks of newspaper editing take years of experience on the job: reading is surely not one of them.

Yet clearly no one either from AP or the San Francisco Chronicle read the headline on this story:
Bush urges gay marriage ban; Democrats accuse him of pandering

Reference to a dictionary would have revealed in thirty seconds flat that the primary meaning of the word pander is
a : a go-between in love intrigues b : PIMP

Ordinarily, one would take the more common, metaphorical meaning as read.

A copy-editor with the least bit of nous would have seen that the context might invite the reader to consider the literal one. In particular, to wonder whether the ancient AP or august Chronicle might be attempting some kind of feeble sophomoric play on words between the two meanings. And to waste time trying to figure out exactly where the jest was supposed to lie.

It was only on January 12 that we were talking about the long internal AP list of contact phone numbers which was put out as a wire story.

This clearly could only have happened if nobody at all had read the piece before it went out.

My guess is that, with the pandering piece, much the same thing happened at the AP end as with the contact list; and that the Chronicle pretty much slaps AP product on its site as it comes in, so no one thought to check it over first there either.

At least Brer Coughlin is trying - and very much in both senses of the word this time! Seems to me that neither AP nor the Chronicle gives a flying one!

  1. I believe that the fall in maternal mortality (1940s?) in the UK was largely due to the replacement of doctors by midwives in managing deliveries. Puerperal fever was the killer: doctors too proud to ask to use the kitchen tap the cause. (From memory...)

MORE

The hed is the Chronicle's alone, it seems.

Pander is used by AP (also here under the byline of Deb Reichmann):
Democrats accused Bush of pandering to right-wing supporters and tinkering with the Constitution

Perhaps it is an AP house joke?

Another AP piece - no byline - has the Log Cabin Republicans accusing
Bush of "pandering to the radical right" and "writing discrimination into the Constitution."

No English majors among the LCRs then.

A real bareback ride...


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Tuesday, February 24, 2004
 

Blair's 45 minute problem, like Kerry's putative tottie, in the deep freeze


I'm fairly certain there is a literature - probably larded with MLA-speak and calculus - describing the system of news: the way the various actors in the process cause a particular story to ferment, unnoticed by the mob, until it surfaces with a bang, describes a parabola in attaining its apogee of flight before eventually crashing beneath the surface.

Topics may survive for ages - in the UK in the 1970s, one apparent perennial was union domination [1] - but stories are doomed to disappear. (If the same actors and the same issues crop up again, that will be a different story because the world will have moved on.)

So, the story that was the release of the Hutton Report is now dead. And the topic of the quality and use of Iraqi WMD intelligence has no representative in the news arena in the UK right now.

The Guardian intel man Richard Norton-Taylor pointed out (February 18) that, (almost) in the immortal words of Gerry Adams, it hasn't gone away, you know:
The government is deluding itself if it imagines a scandal of this magnitude can be made to disappear.

And that must be right.

We have, at the very least, one more crack at the subject - when Lord Butler reports (around July, according to RNT). And activity amongst Congressional committees - and (in what could be UK election year) the White House intel inquiry - could well launch another 45 minute story or two.

Of course, it'll not be the same next time: Blair will have suffered a few more months wear and tear (dicky ticker and all); but the public may well be bored with the whole thing: We bought the T-shirt last time, we know Blair is a terminal liar, let's move on. Chances are that intel woes will be strictly for wonks from now on. So the apogee of any new stories just won't be that high.

And the way the blogosphere works, mostly: no press-pack [2], no blog-juice.

I'm therefore distinctly dubious about getting out my 45 minute set out of the toy-box: which is a shame in a way, because a skim down the Hutton material (collected at the link to the left) will suggest that that, from the most cursory examination of the evidence given to Hutton, the whole 45 minute intel business was an Ealing comedy. One of the late ones, without any laughs.

We'll see...

  1. Which feels now as if it went out with the high-button boots. An early example of the genre is the 1854 Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay - online here.

  2. Or, at least, no member of the Big Media willing to stick to the task of point-man.


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The bombing Auschwitz counter-factual - online materials


A filler piece in the Observer on Sunday got me looking to see what of substance there was online that might set the layman like me on the right track.

Two to start off with (comments on the basis of a first read through):

First, a 1996 thesis [130pp (PDF - 8MB)] by Rondall R Rice called Auschwitz and Anglo-American Air Power: Historical Debates and Military Capabilities [1].

In the first half, Rice gives a detailed historiography of the issue. In the second, he takes on the task of ascertaining, by a painstaking analysis of the material available to planners at the time, whether an effective bombing raid on the camp could have been made, giving the available technology and prevailing conditions. He concludes that such a raid would have been technically possible.

Second, a 2002 piece (PDF) by Joseph R White in Holocaust and Genocide Studies entitled Target Auschwitz: Historical and Hypothetical German Responses to Allied Attack [2].

The paper takes as a given at the outset that a raid such as that considered by Rice had in fact been mounted by the Allies in the summer of 1944; its purpose is to consider the likely reaction of the Germans to such a raid in the light of their response to Allied raids on the neighbouring IG Farben factory and elsewhere.

After a brisk, name-laden dozen pages (followed by the same again of footnotes), White concludes that there was
little room for retrospective optimism about the life-saving prospects of an Allied bombing of Auschwitz

The fact that there was no such raid is, of course, grist to the mill of those seeking to portray us Europeans as The Eternal Anti-semites - the Americans, who were in charge of the Allied war effort in Europe at the time, get tarred with the same brush; but then, even Glorious Allies need keeping in line.

So far as I'm aware, Rice's workings have yet to be fully analysed by experts in the relevant fields - to the layman, they look pretty thorough and his conclusion is correspondingly plausible.

The point is this: if the raid was not technically possible, that would throw out the case against the Allies on summary judgement, without the need to get into the messier political and strategic questions - consideration of which allows in arguments whether anti-semitism played a role in the decision not to bomb, either primary (actors were anti-semitic) or secondary (the effect of antisemitism in the general population - avoiding confusing the perception of war aims [3]).

To judge from Rice's historiography, White's piece is the first to look at the thing from the German side. No doubt, a full-length book will be forthcoming, if it hasn't already been produced.

The calm and businesslike approach of both pieces is a welcome relief for any who might suppose that matters in this area can only be discussed with the open-mindedness - and at the decibellage - of Kyle's Mom delivering her harangue about Canadians!

  1. A colonic title, neither half of which gives much of a clue to the content! The file size is so big because of the maps and photos - which, ironically, mostly don't reproduce so well! It's also been scanned as an image: no copy/paste, nor is it picked up by any search engine: I got it here.

  2. The bastard thing is copy-protected - so, again, no copy/paste!

  3. Just as a lot of Northerners in 1861 would fight for the Union but not to abolish slavery.


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Monday, February 23, 2004
 

News and the narrative arc: the boys can't help it


Everyone loves a good story.

It's true (probably) since language began. It's what makes billions for Hollywood and lesser amounts for Random House. And it's a killer for journalistic credibility.

Hacks even use the word story. My understanding is that they mean by it not any specific piece, but a schema which comes to be accepted as accounting for a particular set of facts.

And, in everyday life, a manager comes down to a plant to investigate a hold-up in production; he'll ask, What's the story? And the supervisor will give him a tale with a beginning, middle and end. Edited to protect his own ass and give narrative satisfaction. (A misunderstanding with suppliers is always good.)

You might say, Everyone tells 'em: what's the harm?

Take a look at a piece in today's Harvard Crimson by one J Hale Russell (via Romenesko) which examines the media treatment of the rise and fall of Howard Dean. (That rise and fall just slipped into the consciousness like a hot knife through butter.)

And that's his point. It's not a new one - Deaniacs were bellyaching about the skewed nature of his coverage - the anger, the wife, the scream [1] - for a good long while before he threw in the towel. But it's a 1,500 word piece, and worth it for the references [2].

The fact is that the top editors in news decree that a certain amount of airtime and column inches are to be devoted to the campaign each day. Armies of hacks and helpers are despatched, budgets go through the roof. This Rapid Reaction Force had better damned well react rapidly, and repay the investment made.

Self-fulfilling prophesy: which is not to say that hacks necessarily make up things cold. But the available facts are processed and moulded by the minds of folks who have deadlines, and need product.

And the most attractive sort of mouldings are stories. Archetypes, stereotypes, stock plots are swirling around the hacks' heads: generations brought up on TV know the importance of the narrative arc: the template which packages mediocre acting, plodding direction and hackneyed story ideas into a 40 minute hour of TV that will at least keep folks in their seats between ad breaks.

And facts that don't fit the arc get junked or ignored or downplayed or reinterpreted.

(The notion of objective journalism yet again shown to be a self-righteous sham.)

The narrative is the Primrose Path of journalism. The grotesque arc imposed on Dean - outsider to front-runner to kook to failure - was not devised by conspiracy or with premeditation. (Or, at least, I don't see that the Deaniacs have made out a case for that.) It was just too easy to interpret the facts in that way. The pack mentality of the press - a rather different thing than a conspiracy: the opposite of premeditation, in fact - acted as invisible whips: Lyndon Johnson-style strong-arm stuff being neither possible nor necessary.

To go down to posterity as the poster-boy for media manipulation is not exactly up with being President of the United States. But, as a consolation for Howard as he snuggles with Judy on the couch watching the results in November, it'll be something.

  1. Repeated 633 times in a particular period, according to AP, according to the piece. With, the piece says, Diane Sawyer, who was such a bitch to Judy Dean during the twosome interview as to deserve some anger from the candidate (tipping a glass of water over her head would probably have been a proportionate response), being the one to find out that the scream was an artefact of the recording set-up.

  2. No damned links, of course. Bastards!


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Conservatives and the GOP: whatever happened to race?


Via Matthew Yglesias, a piece in the Moonies' house mag on the bleating of Christian conservatives about how little of their agenda they get pushed by the Republican Party.

Gary Bauer, president of American Values runs through a list of grievances:
The gay rights movement is more powerful, the culture is more decadent, the life of not one baby has been saved, porn is in the living room, and you can't watch the Super Bowl without your hand on the off switch.

Why isn't race on the list?

Too painful to relieve the days of something almost approaching hope, when the Michigan University cases [1] gave USG a golden opportunity to strike a blow against the Kafkaesque monstrosity of affirmative action, that surely no conservative adminstration would think of flubbing. No brief would have been O'Connor-proof; but the government brief that was produced was truly abject.

Don't conservatives want to get rid of affirmative action?

Not for the first time, I have to admit utter incomprehension.

(It's interesting that, after seven years of Blair's centrist rule, however great the cringing on the race - and, post 9/11, the religious - fronts that there has been from HMG, there's been no sign of any willingness to go down the AA path. )

And, what's the interaction between social and economic conservatism in the US? Economic conservatives must clearly be furious that Bush has let the dollar slide and the deficit rip: what's the cross-over between that group and the social conservatives?

Do the social conservatives perhaps tend to be the equivalent of the Jim Crow liberals, who voted a straight New Deal ticket, but were the opposite of liberal on race matters?

  1. That well-known alliterative firm of undertakers, Grutter and Gratz.


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Yet another unfathomable rule of journalism: NY Times op-ed corrections


Last time (February 12), it was matters arising from Michael Massing's piece on Judith Miller's WMD coverage.

But a piece in Salon by former 60 Minutes producer Barry Lando on the excesses of Times op-ed merchant William Safire yields another.

Lando looks at Safire's treatment of the infamous Douglas Feith memo that was leaked to the Weekly Standard which supposedly gave proof that Saddam and bin Laden were bosom buds; various stories about supposed French government collusion in WMD-related shipments to Iraq; and the Mohamed Atta-Prague business.

It looks likely that there's plenty factually wrong with at least some of Safire's pieces on these topics.

The point is, however, that, even if there were the most monstrous howler imaginable, the Times would not judge itself responsible for making the appropriate correction.

As Lando puts it, the Times is
a paper that regularly runs a "Corrections Box" to fess up to the most picayune of inaccuracies, from an incorrect middle initial to the misspelling of a company name -- but not to innuendo and error on its Op-Ed page.

It's a view of editorial responsibility that one could not have divined a priori. If a Safire piece were defamatory, or infringed some sort of national security law, the NYTC as publishers would be responsible, clearly. So why the distinction on a practical/ethical level?

We may get a clue from last year's controversy over Daniel Weintraub's blog at the Sacramento Bee. The suggestion was that the newsroom were collectively huffy about some of Weintraub's output - he was scooping them, or some such nonsense - and a mob was formed to pressure the Bee management to curb him.

If this is right - and I have no intention of researching the point - the Weintraub incident would be yet another example of the absurd and other-worldly dichotomy maintained in the warped minds of American journos between news and opinion.

And the Times policy on op-ed content seems informed by a similar notion: viewing op-ed as the last vials in existence of the dread scourge of the Yellow Press (Hearst, and later Colonel McCormick) that must be hermetically sealed from the bright and wholesome world of News.

If it were needed - which it wasn't - the Safire case illustrates just what a will-of-the-wisp the distinction (an expression of the Great God objective journalism, natch) is in practice. In order to comment, he first has to bring in facts on which to comment; and when statements are made as true in his columns, they automatically receive the New York Times seal of approval, at least in the opinion of the layman [1].

The issue of op-ed exceptionalism is one that ombud Daniel Okrent has on his to-do list - according to his February 15 piece.

  1. One question here is the status of analysis pieces carried in news sections of newspapers. The main point of such pieces is for the expert journo to review the facts as presented, and give us the benefit of his - well, opinion on them.

    How is that to be distinguished from what Safire does? (Who said 'Competence'...?)



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Sunday, February 22, 2004
 

Fantasy Island - jail for Irish cops whose leaks spoil the fantasy


Tony Blair isn't a great fan of the hand of history these days: it always seems to be clutching so vital or exquisitely sensitive part of his distinctly unhealthy body [1].

With recent defeat in elections for David Trimble, and now the Provisional IRA (PIRA to the cognoscenti) accused of attempted kidnapping, the elaborate hoax - the technical term constructive ambiguity - which was the much vaunted Northern Ireland peace process is fast coming to resemble Miss Havisham's back-parlour.

And the Celtic Tiger down South is grumpy: the new Garda Síochána Bill [2] (in clause 55 [3]) forbids Gardai [4] to disclose information
if the person knows the disclosure of that information is likely to have a harmful effect.

And disclosure is deemed to have a harmful effect if, amongst other things, it
(k) affects adversely the relations of the Government with any political party, group or institution in Northern Ireland or the Government’s ability to promote agreement, advance the peace process or engage in negotiations with regard to Northern Ireland.

A modest five years imprisonment is the maximum penalty. (From memory, Katherine Gun - piece earlier today - only faces two years.)

Presumably - I see no reason why not - any journalist who receives such information would be liable as an accessory or co-conspirator. Would the new super-duper, ask-no-questions European arrest warrant be available if, for example, a Northern Ireland journalist received a tip-off from a Garda officer infringing this legislation?

  1. Blair's heart troubles kept secret.

  2. Text here (PDF). The title in Irish is Bille an Gharda Síochána. My surmise is that the spelling is correct - but that an (whatever that means) causes mutation of the following consonant.

    Long ago, I several times tried to learn Welsh - whose morphology is nowhere near as complicated as Irish, but which is afflicted with the same mutation mania. I seem to remember seeing a list of no fewer than sixty different circumstances in which one kind mutation was obligatory. The effect on meaning is nil.

    Appropriate indeed for a language used primarily as a tool for political action, not communication. As is Irish, of course. (Entry to a new New Statesman misleading advice to foreigners competition: Try ordering a McDonalds or giving directions to a taxi-driver in Dublin in Irish...)

  3. In the UK parliament, the sections of legislation yet to be enacted (ie, bills) are called clauses. It's probably the same in Ireland.

  4. The Irish plural is used in English. (More colloquially, the police are called Gards.) Memories of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC RIP) oblige.


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More anti-semitism propaganda from an old source


As I recall, mouth-for-hire Melanie Philips was one of the first to mount the bandwagon of those shouting about the new anti-semitism around the time of French Ambassador Daniel Bernard's shitty little country remark [1].

And here she is again, in the Observer today, true to her theme:
Let us all agree on one thing at least. The more Jews warn that anti-Semitism has come roaring out of the closet, the more people don't like the Jews.

That is a thoroughly nasty piece of work straight off the bat. No evidence, just a flat-out smear.

I suspect (I'm not aware of any polling on the issue) that, in Britain, the campaign of anti-semitism accusation - to the extent it's made any impact at all - would, for the most part, have resulted in boredom and incomprehension, not hatred against anyone. People think they know what anti-semitism is and can't see much evidence of it roaring out of the closet - or anything close - in Britain. A lot of them oppose the policy of the Israeli government - but then, they did that before the anti-semitism campaign started. No cause and effect there - none proved, at least.

The disconnect between fact and propaganda is as striking as that on Iraqi WMD that now afflicts the US and UK governments.

The lack of quantification is worrying: she says, for example,
the Community Security Trust, a Jewish charity, reported the second largest rise in 20 years in attacks on synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish people in Britain.

But fails to give any idea of how many attacks there were [3]. Or place the level of such attacks in any kind of context.

Similarly, she chooses one or two anecdotes -
..a woman said to me one evening, 'I hate the Jews'...
- and expects us to take these as representative in some way.

And then has the chutzpah to thrown in that
Some Jews grossly over-react to perceived anti-Semitic bias.

As if to say - those chaps over there. Not me, of course.

There's plenty more of the old bollocks, warmed up for the umpteenth time.

One experiment that might be done: take a focus group of white Britons who admit to anti-semitic feelings, and explore with them what, apart from the Middle East situation, makes them hate Jews. What about what Jews do in this country. What about the Jews they know? What about Jews in politics, in the media here?

My hunch is that the reasons for loathing of Jews given by self-confessed British anti-semites would be almost exclusively confined to Israel/Palestine.

  1. For the avoidance of doubt, Philips is herself a Jew.

  2. I don't read German, therefore haven't read the product. It's a hypothesis, liable to yield to cogent evidence to the contrary, as hypotheses do.

  3. Though the CST site is unhelpful, Reuters (February 20) has the numbers: for 2003, a total of 375 attacks evaluated as anti-semitic, a 7% increase on the number for 2002. Of these,
    The number of anti-Semitic assaults rose 15 percent last year from 2002 to 54, while incidents involving damage and desecration of Jewish property were up 31 percent to 72.
    The more mathematically minded will have realised that, of the 375, that leaves 249 unaccounted for. Go figure...


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UN bugging trial still on


Having mentioned Frank Koza yesterday, it's only right to mention that the trial of Katherine Gun, the GCHQ girl [1] is to start this Wednesday, according to the Observer today.

Since she is bang to rights on the facts - she did leak the infamous Frank Koza memo - she will be going for a necessity defence; which will involve requesting material whose disclosure would likely be vastly embarrassing to HMG. Like the full text of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's opinion on the legality of the Iraq invasion.

The prospect remains that the prosecution will say on Wednesday that it intends to offer no evidence, and that will kill the trial before it starts. On the other hand, the judge may be a safe pair of hands - who will deny any defence demands for disclosure, and pass the buck up the appellate chain.

The last intel-related guy to try this, David Shayler, failed in his defence. Gun, however, looks a much more appealing prospect: given the evident moral turpitude of HMG in the planned bugging of fellow UN Security Council members, the general reputation of HMG for failing to tell the truth, the dubious legality of the war in whose aid the bugging operation was to take place - and the fact that she's a girl doesn't hurt.

  1. Brought up in Taiwan, and therefore bilingual in Chinese (Mandarin) - as vanishingly few white folks are round the world, I suspect.


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A not-so-secret Pentagon document, a not-so-exclusive for the Sunday Times


Breathlessly bylined from Baghdad, one Stephen Grey, attempting to belie his name, is jumping up and down like a five year old:
A Pentagon intelligence guide to Iraq that was distributed to American troops six months before last year’s war indicated that they faced little danger from chemical weapons.

A copy of this tome, he avers,
the Iraq Country Handbook, marked “for official use only”, was bought last week for £5 by a Sunday Times reporter in a Baghdad market.

Does that mean that someone else bought it? Or that he bought it, but wants to add to the mystery?

He can scarcely contain his excitement:
The manual's publication date — September 2002 — suggests that the American military were making preparations to invade Iraq long before any debate at the United Nations.

Those sneaky Yanks!

Before those award noms go in, one might want to consider whether Brer Grey might have saved Rupert Murdoch five quid: would the volume he acquired have, by any chance, been this? Available since God knows when on the Global Security site at the cost of 4.2 MB worth of patience.

Of course, the DOD might have published two docs called Iraq Country Handbook in September 2002, the public one and the Top Secret one in Grey's hot little hands.

It might. Or this might be another example of BSJ - British Sunday journalism. (Or complete bollocks, as it is better known.)

I wonder what Con Coughlin has for us today...


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Saturday, February 21, 2004
 

Kerry/Polier: the murk gets murkier


Last time, we left the identity of the 1998 mystery caller on the Kerry residence as unknown.

Back amongst the Freepers, I find that there was a thread (seperate to the one I linked in the earlier piece) which kicked off with the Herald piece itself.

Two names emerge. The first is Kristen Murphy - who is, if I understand it aright - identified as the woman in this photo (Post #20 - photo no longer online, or on Wayback). It is then pointed out (Post #61) that Murphy does not fit the description of the mystery woman.

Then, Post #63 says
The woman from the 1998 story that was dropping off the resume was a 22 year old model from Harvard. Here's info from the Boston Herald:

We are told she is one Maria Goodman, a 22-year-old Harvard student and former model who, Kerry's people claim, was dropping off a resume.


That mutatis mutandis matches the graf as published by Kaus.

(So it looks as if the Freeper in the other thread had omitted the woman's name to protect her blushes! Whoda thunkit...)

Which leads me to ask, who is Maria Goodman? After finding that I am not the first blogger to whom it has occured to ask the question: Roger Ailes did so on February 13.

(And his is the only source for "john kerry" "maria goodman" on Yahoo; and on Google - except that, in the 20 minutes since I got to Ailes' site via Google on that query, it's suddenly (apparently) disappeared from the Google site. Spooky or what?)

The other obvious search, "maria goodman" harvard also helps not a whit. For an apparent striver like Mystery Girl, Goodman certainly keeps a low online profile! (Name change after the publicity?)

On the other hand, Yahoo People Search - which I seem to remember caught un-secret agent Frank Koza, of beloved memory - produces 200 Maria Goodmans.

Conclusion? Coming up empty on all counts, I think. Supreme annoyance at having to rely on (apparently misleading) copies of copies of news material on FR forums, because of the greed of Big Media; a blank on the substantive issue; the fundamental reliance of bloggers on the actual journalism of others exposed, yet again.

Bugger...


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Spin and objectivity: a Spanish Civil War perspective


As I think I've mentioned before, I've tried several times to get into the Spanish Civil War. The obvious high road is Hugh Thomas' book - originally published, from memory, in the early 60s, which has run into several editions. Each time, the eyes have glazed over by page 100, and that was that.

Perhaps an in is to be found in a piece of 13,000 words by Keith Williams called 'History Stopped in 1936' Writing and Media Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War.

Although Williams starts off by namechecking Jean Baudrillard, there is no MLA-speak to speak of. He discusses Arthur Koestler (Spanish Testament) and George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia), as well as sundry anglophone poets, newsreels, etc.

He explores what Koestler calls the dream barrier:
Koestler wrote of the ceaseless difficulty of overcoming ideological dissociation between mundane consciousness and extraordinary events, of which British scepticism about the Endlösung was an extreme instance. People viewed newsreels of 'Nazi tortures, of mass-shootings, of underground conspiracy and self-sacrifice', but without linking them 'with the realities of their normal plane of existence'...Though world facts were made 'accessible' as never before by the technology of the hyperreal, people were 'prisoners, each in his private portable cage'. Unless such 'dream barriers' between audience and victim were broken down 'this will remain a phoney civilization.'

(There is - natch - nothing much about Spanish or French material. Williams is specifically interested in British interactions with the war.)

There are all sorts of reasons why, to the British, the Spanish Civil War was special: it was the first war in which -isms were in play [1]; the first war in Europe [2] in which a decent proportion of Britons felt engaged, albeit mostly as kibitzers [3]; the first where broadcasting was engaged; the first fought in the immense cultural shadow of the First World War [4].

And there was, I think, a genuine feeling at the time that this might be a dress rehearsal for a wider European war.

Whilst, as ever, eschewing crude read-across, comparisons might usefully be made with later wars, including the recent Iraq war. (I've read the thing just once, so I won't get into the substance right now.)

I actually came to the Williams piece while searching for stuff on Claud Cockburn (now best known as the father of Counterpunch's Alexander Cockburn). His mimeographed newsletter The Week was famous for its attacks on the supposedly Nazi-leaning Cliveden Set of the Astors.

It was (which was where I came in) a sort of blog avant l'heure. [5].

Cockburn, an ideologue during the War (I believe he stayed loyal to the Communists throughout, unlike, famously, Orwell), expresses a realistic view (deathbed repentance?) of the nature of news in his 1981 autobiography:
...Cockburn discussed what he called the 'factual heresy', arguing that the real deception of press-reporting lay in the myth of neutrality, because narrative 'construction' of the facts was inevitable in order to give them relationship and meaning:
To hear people talking about the facts you would think that they lay about like pieces of gold ore in the Yukon days waiting to be picked up - arduously, it is true, but still definitely and visibly - by strenuous prospectors whose subsequent problem was only to get them to market. Such a view is evidently and dangerously naïve. There are no such facts. Or if there are, they are meaningless and entirely ineffective ... until the prospector - the journalist - puts them in relation with other facts: presents them, in other words. Then they become as much a part of a pattern created by him as if he were writing a novel. In that sense all stories are written backwards ... Journalistically speaking, 'in the beginning is the word'.

You don't read anything like that in contemporary Communist sources, I suspect. Orwell's 1938 Homage to Catalonia [6] is a tale of disillusionment with the Communists, on account of their Realpolitik-ing in Spain (rubbing out the more English-ly heterogeneous pro-Republican group the POUM, whose forces Orwell had joined). The Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939 persuaded others of his point of view.

Screaming from all of this stuff is the complete absurdity of the possibility of objective journalism - the fairy-tale still being shlepped around by some (many?) American hacks, against all the evidence to the contrary [7].

  1. The Guinness Book of World Records would want a tighter formulation - what about the post-World War 1 wars against the USSR, for instance? But leave it at that.

  2. There were, of course, various conflicts in the Empire that had occurred since 1918. But these had little effect on the public consciousness, I would reckon.

  3. The Abyssinian Crisis of 1935-6 engaged the British public no end - in domestic politics, it was a whole big thing, resulting in the demise of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare (of the Hoare-Laval Pact) and a general raising of heads from domestic concerns.

    I have a book - which I thought I'd mentioned before, but can find no trace of having done - called British Public Opinion and the Abyssinian War 1935-6 by Daniel Waley (1975) which covers the period. It's valuable - and I'd thought I'd used it in the context of the appeasement canard War Party hacks were throwing around in the back end of 2002 - to show that passivity amongst ordinary Britons in the face of world events in the mid-30s was by no means universal.

  4. World War 1 as a peculiar icon for the British is a stock topic. There's the poets, of course - Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, etc; the jerky newsreels; the Western Front; the blind patriotism; the general ignorance and immunity of the Home Front (and consequent shattering effect of the Zeppelin and Gotha raids).

  5. I was going to do a piece bringing in Cockburn, the Left Book Club, Penguin Specials, Commander Stephen King-Hall's K-H Newsletter - of which I have a run - and other British current affairs publishing peculiarities of the pre-War period. Another time, hopefully.

  6. Which was refused by Victor Gollancz, publisher of the Left Book Club, and other left tracts besides (notably Guilty Men by, inter alios, the still alive Michael Foot). HtC is available online. The site has the rest of his stuff, too.

  7. Is this another manifestation of the phenomenon of American innocence? That maidenhead which has, over the years, been surgically reattached, in the manner of the Eastern practice, more times than Bill Clinton was lunched on in the Oval Office...


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