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Whodunnit, WaPo?

Friday, March 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a small matter -- of some concern to journos and scholars perhaps -- of truth in attribution ]
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My twitter feed this morning included this:

Now Stéphane Lacroix is a scholar of salafism and politics at Sciences Po whose little book with Thomas Hegghammer, The Meccan Rebellion, marks him as someone the mere mention of whose name generates a click-through, a download and — time permitting — a careful reading.

I clicked, I saw, I printed to .pdf.

And that’s where things got just a little strange.

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In the upper panel below, you’ll see what I saw when I clicked through to the WaPo site as suggested by McCants:

— while in the lower panel above, you’ll see what I saw when I hit their “print” button.

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I’ve “enlarged” the credits in those two screencaps, and I do understand that the WaPo “Monkey Cage” blog-post in question was likely posted by Marc Lynch, fow which I’m grateful, and that even the “for print” version gives Lacroix credit at the very end of the piece, noting in italics:

Stéphane Lacroix is an associate professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris, France.

Today, I notice all this. In a year or three, though, if for some reason I want to quote the piece after finding it by a quick search for MB-related file-titles on my laptop, I’m liable to attribute it to Lynch rather than Lacroix. Because the downloaded .pdf copy I now have stored away tells me the piece was “By Marc Lynch”.

Whose opinions I also respect. But who didn’t in fact write it.

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From my POV the world is perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing — not even my inclination to change things I notice and find unhelpful.

Like failing to distinguish “written by” from “translated by” and “posted by” — or “date posted” and “date last updated” from “date downloaded” for that matter…

Because — forget truth in advertising, it’s a lost oxymoron — we could really use something as basic as truth in attribution, okay?

Thanks.

And now I’ll go read the article.

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Flight 370: or the search for a landing strip

Monday, March 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- whose own quest is for a long-enough strip of reliable mental silence to land an original thought on ]
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Here is Foreign Policy‘s map of landing strips that Flight 370 might have used, offered with the caveat that as with a wiki, individuals may add or have akready have added spurious information or uninformed speculations at this point:

You may of course prefer the greater density and spread of James Fallows‘ offering from The Atlantic — both are interactive, but Fallows’ version as formulated by Atlantic reader David Strip doesn’t allow you to add landing strips if your own devising, though “if you click on any of the individual dots on this map, you’ll see popup information about the site — runway length, location, elevation, etc.”

Thankfully, someone at NASA was not satisfied by the “in the box” thinking for which Google is renowned, raised their scopes to the heavens and looked “outside the planet”:

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Conclusion?

In the memorable words of Alan Watts: Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown

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The Totally DoubleQuotable James Fallows

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Malaysia flight 370 seen through the media glass, darkly ]
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Here’s Fallows in The Atlantic on Malaysia flight 370:

As the years go by, I am more and more convinced that the immediate, fast-twitch talk-show responses on what we “have” to do about some development are almost always wrong, and the calm, day- or week-after reflections about proportion, response, and national interest are almost always wiser. If I could, I would put all cable-TV discussion of breaking-news crises on a 24-hour delay.

I would love to DoubleQuote that up with some other specific example — but which?

With the initial reporting that the Oklahoma City bombing was likely Islamic? From the American Journalism Review, Jumping to Conclusions in Oklahoma City?

Within hours of the bombing, most network news reports featured comments from experts on Middle Eastern terrorism who said the blast was similar to the World Trade Center explosion two years earlier. Newspapers relied on many of those same experts and stressed the possibility of a Middle East connection. The Wall Street Journal, for example, called it a “Beirut-style car bombing” in the first sentence of its story. The New York Post quoted Israeli terrorism experts in its opening paragraph, saying the explosion “mimicked three recent attacks on targets abroad.” “We were, as usual, following the lead of public officials, assuming that public officials are telling us the truth,” says John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s magazine and author of a book on coverage of the Persian Gulf War. He believes the media overemphasized the possible Middle Eastern link and ignored domestic suspects because initially the police were not giving that angle much thought. “Reporters can’t think without a cop telling them what to think,” MacArthur says. “If you are going to speculate wildly, why not say this is the anniversary of the Waco siege? Why isn’t that as plausible as bearded Arabs fleeing the scene?”

With the student Sunil Tripathi, widely and falsely accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers, whose body was later found in “the waters off India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island”? As later reported by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon:

Of all the ways in which last week’s horror in Boston showed the resilience and cooperation of a community in the wake of disaster, the tragedy will also inevitably go down as a shining example of the desperate, despicable scramble to hunt, to accuse, to blame first – and worry about ethics and responsibility later. If ever. We saw it in the epic bungling of mainstream media outlets like CNN and the New York Post. We saw it in the frenzy of Redditors and overeager tweeters. We saw it, most cruelly, in the story of a missing student, a young man whose body may have been pulled Tuesday night from the Providence harbor:

Sunil Tripathi was already making headlines before the Boston Marathon bombing. The Brown undergraduate was last seen on March 16, wearing “a black jacket, blue jeans and a Philadelphia Eagles cap.” … And then Boston happened. In what was later far too generously referred to as the “confusion” of its aftermath, the amateur detectives of Reddit decided that the missing man could be seen in images at the scene of the bombing. “The photos bear good resemblance… not perfect but there are definitely strong similarities… skin tone, hair color, approximate build, and yes that nose.” Where the whole thing really went berserk, though, was in the rumor, which instantly became a desperately repeated report, that Tripathi, along with another man mentioned by name, had been “identified on police scanner” as a suspect. Tripathi’s photograph was instantly splashed across the world. He was declared unquestioningly in the news feeds of both hasty, news-hungry social media users and several media outlets as a “suspect.”

And so forth…

Or should we go with something simpler and more general, like Moltke the Elder‘s dictum:

No plan survives contact with the enemy

or Philip Snowden‘s:

Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of war

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The DoubleQuote is a fine and useful form — but deep down, it’s pattern recognition — and as in the present case, a pattern may recur more than once…

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In this instance… James Fallows later commented, in Malaysia 370 Update: Landing Strips, Cell Phones, and More:

Rupert Murdoch loses his mind. You can see it here. What’s most amazing about the response below is that it happened before anything was known about the flight — whether it had blown up, ditched in the sea, been hijacked, landed safely by mistake somewhere, etc.

It’s possible that the jihadist interpretation will turn out to be true. But the word “confirms,” before anyone knew (or yet knows) what happened to the flight, from perhaps the single most powerful “journalistic” figure in the world is … well, it confirms a lot of suspicions about Murdoch.

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Frontline on the Papacy, and the questionable reliability of media

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- noting once again that spin is slant and slant is spin ]
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Last night, Frontline hosted a documentary on Popes Francis and Benedict, and the troubled Church the former inherited from the latter. Not unexpectedly, the child abuse scandal featured prominently in the discussion:

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I happen to be of the opinion that Benedict XVI’s reign was largely devoted to restoring beauty to the liturgy, and thus strength to the inner, contemplative aspect of Catholic life, while that of Francis seems largely devoted to restoring generosity to the world, and thus strength to the church’s outer, active side. In my view these two pontificates are therefore complementary, with contemplation rightly preceding action.

This, however, is not the view the mainstream press likes to take — for it is all a bit even-handed and non-partisan, which doesn’t grab as much attention as a lurid headline…

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I cannot possibly comment on everything that was said in the documentary, much of which deals with known facts — abuses and coverups — but I did wonder, as I began to watch it, just how accurate it might be — and when I reached the point at 35′ 24″ where psychiatrist Martin Kafka MD of Harvard Medical School speaks [upper panel], I was surprised and a little dismayed:

You see, I was already acquainted with the views of Billy Graham‘s grandson, Boz Tchividjian [lower panel, above] on this precise question.

I am not in a position to evaluate the two claims: all that I can say is that Dr Kafka’s certainty seems to be in question, as does that of Boz Tchividjian, executive director of the Protestant investigative and reparative body, Godly Response to Abuse.

Why didn’t Frontline mention this no-less-expert and widely reported contrary opinion?

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As I say, I am becoming increasingly leery of believing my own eyes — when what they are viewing is opinionated reporting of any stripe.

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Jottings 12: KSM’s “non-violence” refers to preaching, not fighting

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- not an aha! but a d'oh! moment ]
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This, from the Huffington Post last month:

The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, “it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity,” KSM, as he’s known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means ofconverting” and that reaching “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.”

I saw various versions of this tale — from the LA TimesKhalid Shaikh Mohammed issues ‘nonviolence’ manifesto:

The Koran, Mohammed wrote, “forbids us to use force as a means of converting” others, and “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.” Those statements clash with his earlier braggadocio in saying he plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and in calling for young Muslims around the world to embrace violence.

— and from Andrew Cohen, explaining in The Atlantic why the manifesto may have been made available in the first place:

Perhaps the feds welcome Mohammed’s shifting interpretation of the Quran, which he now says prohibits violence as a means of spreading Islam.

However, I very much doubt that’s what’s going on.

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The true meaning of KSM’s writing may be a little different from the reading given to it by the press. Here’s an actual quotation from the manifesto:

It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims to invite them to embrace Islam.

The Counter Jihad gets this bit right, I think, in a post titled KSM’s Prison Communiqués Part II: Wartime Religion of Peace Propaganda:

In point of fact, Islamic law teaches that, before waging offensive jihad, Muslims must first invite nonbelievers to accept the truth of Islam. Doctrinally, this summons to Islam is a necessary precondition to waging violent jihad. There are numerous examples of bin Laden and Zawahiri (bin Laden’s deputy and now the leader of al Qaeda) issuing public statements calling on infidels to accept Islam.

It’s a one-two sequence. Before engaging in acts of war, the jihadist must first make a peaceful and indeed graciously phrased invitation to convert to Islam… in the words of the Qur’an, 16.125:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. Q 16.125

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The result, in the case of KSM’s manifesto, is an appeal that blends Murray Gell-Mann‘s quarks…

Everything that turns in the universe, from the smallest quarks to the largest supernovas are worshipping God, just as Muslims in Mecca circulate around the Kaba, counterclockwise. If you have Mecca TV channel just look for one hour how people from all around the world travel in circles like any electron or moon or earth or sun or any star or galaxy does. Try to record the picture for 15 minutes and then fast forward the picture then repeat it again, then ask yourself who told Abraham (PBUH) and these people a thousand years ago to imitate the laws of the Universe and nature. The answer will be He Who created these trillions of galaxies and human beings and made ?xed laws for all, but granted humans free will in order to test them.

— with the fifth century AD Neoplatonism of Proclus Lycaeus:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…

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Interestingly enough, KSM also quotes Matthew 5.44-45a:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…

— and in a letter to Rory Green, a British Christian who had written inviting him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he responds:

I appreciate your deep concern regarding my worldly and hereafter life … You asked me to repent from my sins. For your own information, I never stop.

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Let’s just say, it pays to peer beneath the surface.

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