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June 09, 2010

"Hysteria" vs. Inability to Read

Wow. Apparently I hit a nerve:

The practice of blogging makes one fairly insensitive to strange things being said about you. But occasionally, things made up by other writers approach the threshold of bizarre and at least mildly humorous. Recall that Michael Yon reported that he had received a letter alleging that U.S. troops were being ordered to patrol without rounds chambered in their weapons...

...After publishing this article I sent the link to Lt. Col. Tad Sholtis, saying that if the report was true, the ISAF had really big problems. Sholtis responded that he didn’t think so, and later e-mail me the denial that there was a blanket order like that to all U.S. forces or ISAF forces. I have no reason to doubt his account, though it should be noted that he didn’t deny that there were specific units that engaged in this practice. He couldn’t possibly know what every unit had ordered. I amended the article to publish Shotis’ response in the interest of complete openness.

Enter someone named Cassandra who blogs at Villainous Company. Behold the hysteria.

I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the “information” provided. Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that’s essentially all it was) had any meaning then perhaps he ought to do a little fact checking. He received this response …

And then she proceeded to reproduce the note that Sholtis sent me. It’s strange how someone can get something so totally wrong. The only answer I have is that a writer takes certain presuppositions to a subject and that tends to cloud all of the facts.

First let's take what I said line by line:

1. I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the "information" provided.

Cursory examination of my original post shows that "this post" and the two sentences that follow it clearly refer to Yon's Facebook page:

An American soldier emailed from Afghanistan saying that his unit has been ordered to patrol with no round in the chamber.

I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the "information" provided.

Accuracy check: Did I find the post fascinating when it came out? Well, you'll have to take my word for it. In any event, this is opinion not fact. Was any rank, unit, or location provided? No, it was not. This is clear from reading Yon's post (which I excerpted in its entirety, by the way). Did Yon make any attempt to verify whether the soldier's unit had issued such an order? If so, no evidence of this was provided. Did Yon make any attempt to verify whether the order came from ISAF, or whether ISAF was even aware of it? Again, if he did either of these things no evidence was provided. Nor was any contextual information (such as was provided by Smith) provided.

Conclusion: so far, nothing I said was inaccurate.

2. Next line:

Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April...

Accuracy check: Did Smith defend Yon back in April? Yes, he did - in a post entitled "In Defense of Michael Yon - An Open Letter to Milbloggers".

On to the next part of my post:

... decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that’s essentially all it was) had any meaning then perhaps he ought to do a little fact checking. He received this response [Sholtis' response is then quoted].

Accuracy check: Do I know what Smith was thinking? Of course not. I don't read minds. However, he clearly decided a single sentence from Yon was important enough to write about. And clearly he didn't think just quoting it was enough. On the contrary, he attempted to provide context about patrolling practices. This is something many bloggers who wrote about it thought was important. To do so, Smith contacted a Marine who was at Fallujah in 2007 who essentially told him that such an order was laughable and would get soldiers killed.

So now we have far more information that Yon's single sentence post conveyed. But Smith apparently didn't think even this was sufficient. After writing his post (something I could not know at the time) he went on to address an important contextual question: did this order come down from ISAF (IOW, is the practice widespread)?

The answer was: NO (hence Sholtis' response, which I quoted).

Is noting that Smith, unlike Yon, took the time to do a bit of checking so he could provide as much context as possible an "hysterical response"? If so, precisely what makes it "hysterical"? Was my characterization of his post inaccurate? As to the fact that he did some checking and provided context that added information, no. As to what he was thinking, clearly I could not know that.

What I do know is what he did: he attempted to find out as much as he could and then conveyed that information to his readers. Far be it from me to infer anything from these actions, but it hardly seems "hysterical" to posit that he checked what he could because without any context it was hard to know what to make of Yon's post.

Did I ever claim that Yon was wrong? No, I did not. My criticism was that - unlike the three bloggers I cited (one of whom is an admirer of Yon's and two of whom are not) - Yon didn't do any checking. He passed on an unverified rumor from an anonymous source with no attempt to verify any of the particulars and no contextual information as to whether such orders are out of the ordinary.

While we're on the subject of bizarre and amusing responses, I refer you to Smith's initial comment on my post:

That you would have a problem with me discussing whether there are local COs requiring their reports to patrol without a round chambered is bizarre in the superlative. I said in the very post that I must assume that the report is accurate, and then commented from there in order to address certain weapons "conditions" based on previous experiences. The very response from Tad Sholtis that you copied and pasted into this post is what he sent to me, and in fairness, I posted his exactly response to me in the same post.

I didn't corroborate the facts or do "fact checking" as you call it because it is impossible for me to do so. Is this hard for you to understand? The article was about the requirements IF THE REPORT WAS TRUE. The presupposition was stated right there in the post.

Again, truly bizarre. I cannot possibly begin to understand your moral preening on this. I think you ought to relax a bit.

Let's look at Mr. Smith's rather emotionally charged comment.

1. Did I "have a problem with [Smith] discussing whether there are local COs requiring their reports to patrol without a round chambered"?

No. Nowhere do I criticize him for doing so. In fact, I did precisely the opposite: I praised him for discussing the rumor in a responsible manner:

... what is more credible? A single, unsourced, unsubstantiated sentence on Facebook? Or the posts of three bloggers who took the time to ask questions and to provide context and information?

2. Did I ever say Smith thought the report was inaccurate?

No. Here's what I said:

Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that's essentially all it was) had any meaning...

Nowhere do I say I thought Smith didn't believe the report. Nowhere. What I said is that he provided additional information about the report. And I praised him for doing so.

3. I didn't corroborate the facts or do "fact checking" as you call it because it is impossible for me to do so. Is this hard for you to understand?

Here is my response to Mr. Smith's comment:

Given that there was no unit mentioned, no location, and no supporting details there was really only one "fact" you could check: whether the supposed order to patrol without a chambered round had come from the top or not.

This is, in fact, what you did. And the entire purpose of mentioning this was that, unlike Yon, you did attempt to ascertain that fact. The rest of your post, which I said precisely nothing about, dealt with evaluating whether such an order would have made sense.

4. "The very response from Tad Sholtis that you copied and pasted into this post is what he sent to me, and in fairness, I posted his exactly response to me in the same post."

Did I ever say Sholtis had not sent the response I excerpted to Smith? No.

Did I claim Smith hadn't posted Sholtis' response in his post? No - in fact I praised him for emailing ISAF and informing his readers of the response.

Now on to the McChrystal post Smith references next. Here's what he has to say about it:

Cassandra also seems to equate support for individuals with support for the campaign. For instance, after General McChrystal called Marjah a bleeding ulcer, she published the standard lines from the PAOs, namely that the quote had been taken out of context.

Here is the entirety of what I had to say on the subject:

I was disturbed the other day to hear that Gen. McChrystal had supposedly said that Marjah was a "bleeding ulcer". I wondered at the time whether he had been quoted accurately as the remark seemed impolitic, to say the least.

Interestingly, according to ISAF the "ulcer" quote was taken out of context...

All of which only confirms the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"!

It "seems" that once again, Mr. Smith is doing exactly what he accused me of - attempting to read my mind. Note that I said nothing about support for McChrystal being the same as support for the campaign. All I did was inform my readers that PAO objected to the McClatchy article.

Here's a suggestion for Mr. Smith: if he feels the need to respond at such length to a post which only mentions him tangentally, he would do better to read it carefully. That might help him avoid making a lot of accusations that, given what I actually said, seem... how shall I say it?... a bit overwrought.

Lighten up, Frances.

Posted by Cassandra at June 9, 2010 08:52 AM

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Comments

Wait - is it bad (ulcer) to report an ISAF response, or good (weapons)? I'm very confused.

Posted by: Greyhawk at June 9, 2010 11:34 AM

I can't help finding it funny that, in a post where he accuses me of making things up, his entire "argument" rests on things I never said.

But I've given up trying to make sense of these folks. If reality doesn't fit their world view, they just alter it after the fact :p

Posted by: Cass at June 9, 2010 11:38 AM

Father say to Charlie, wise man know when to say, 'uh, maybe I misunderstood' and go on long walk for a beer. Unwise man persist in firing off rounds.

Posted by: bt_Charlie_Chan_hun -- you should see famiry tree at June 9, 2010 11:52 AM

I still don't know if Marjah in particular and Afghanistan in general is a "bleeding ulcer" or not. Whether McChrystal characterizes it as such, or not, doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference to me. As to chambered or unchambered, so what? I'm assuming the lower level unit commanders are competent, and that their orders are situational based.

However, the blog wars slog on through the trenches. Which it appears, it might be the bigger campaign. Cassandra, sticking her nose in the big boys' business. Yeah, I got that vibe from him. Watch your step missy.

:)

Posted by: Allen at June 9, 2010 12:05 PM

Somebody should get their ass kicked over this.

Just tell me who, and I'll put on the BIG boots. :)

Posted by: Don Hussein Brouhaha, the littlelest ass-kicker at June 9, 2010 12:06 PM

Well, if he can't argue his points based of fact, obviously he needs to invent new ones. Your posts on MY didn't seem confusing to me, but then I"m not emotionally invested in the issue.

Posted by: Pogue at June 9, 2010 12:10 PM

Cassandra, sticking her nose in the big boys' business. Yeah, I got that vibe from him. Watch your step missy.

Allen, you ignorant slut ... :)

Posted by: Cass at June 9, 2010 12:16 PM

Boy, it's pretty obvious that this Frances guy didn't know that amping-up out of tune on "someone named Cassandra" can reward you with an intellectual wedgie. I mean, she's only been not backing down on the blogosphere for like 100 years or so. He should have fact checked that.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 9, 2010 02:03 PM

Gratuitous film reference :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrllCZw8jiM

Posted by: Cass at June 9, 2010 02:18 PM

Oh!
I thought you were referring to this Frances.
Thanks for clearing that up!

Posted by: spd rdr at June 9, 2010 02:30 PM

"Boy, it's pretty obvious that this Frances guy didn't know that amping-up out of tune on 'someone named Cassandra' can reward you with an intellectual wedgie." -- spd rdr

Spd Rdr, that's why I love VC! Cass is like the ol' Veggimatic...slicing and dicing the unwary.

BTW, loved your 'Francis' insert. Man, that brought back pleasant memories of my childhood (and seemed an appropos response to this post).

Posted by: ziobuck at June 9, 2010 03:25 PM

I haven't seen Francis the Talking Mule for ages.

Too funny!

Posted by: Cass at June 9, 2010 04:34 PM

He passed on an unverified rumor from an anonymous source with no attempt to verify any of the particulars and no contextual information as to whether such orders are out of the ordinary.

Yon is just getting back at McChrystal for Yon getting booted off his imbed.

Yon keeps talking about how much damage he is able to do now that he has time out of the wire, so to speak, as a way to imply that it would have been a better idea to give Yon his imbed so he'd be satisfied.

Truth is, Yon isn't satisfied with current conditions. If he was, he would sit in Thailand or the US blogging about issues, using his contacts in the military indirectly, rather than directly sitting across from his contacts as they experience things they then relay or replay.

That's not exactly a mindset that thinks up of "researching sources" whenever something new pops up. Yon would far more likely think of how to use new information or rumors in a way to boost his case against his self-proclaimed enemies in NATO.

Well, obviously this takes up time, so in between his "foot massages", he probably ain't doing any of that checking up work.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 9, 2010 05:02 PM

Here's a suggestion for Mr. Smith: if he feels the need to respond at such length to a post which only mentions him tangentally, he would do better to read it carefully.

Reading things carefully won't improve people's perception of the truth.

Under an emotionally charged state, and the people involved are either unaware or not trained to de-escalate it, it doesn't matter how many times they read something. Their monkey still tells them that what they read was "bad". It simply reinforces that repetitive mantra. Now, of course, this works better the more ambiguous things are, but that's the nature of the internet. There are a lot of ambiguous issues that first come up between the Original Post and the Response Post. Nobody can say everything that needs to be said with a post on a subject.

All kinds of thoughts are buzzing around and there is not a lot of synchronizing going on. Because there lacks time. The data requires time to cross from one person and then back again as a response. Thus the time in which people wait to get more data so that they can judge whether they are thinking is right or not, is in their own minds the "wise thing" to do.

But that's what they think they are doing. What they are actually doing is listening to "what if" comments and then writing down their actual response on the internet as if their monkey's "what if" fear scenarios were true. What if he meant it in a bad way? What would I say? Then they would proceed to say it, thinking they are only "checking". They're not checking. They already assumed it was true and now is replying to that "truth".

The monkey told them that they should be afraid and cautious of Cassandra reading their mind and assuming things. So they included that in their response. They were "thinking" that they were probing for the truth and for verification.

This is why careful reading doesn't do anything. Once in an emotional state, all perception inputs are controlled or adulterated by the monkey swinging the big emotion stick around. You literally cannot trust some of the things you are thinking.

The more people lack the resources to confirm or deny the truth of what they fear, the more people will listen and act on the monkey's "what if" scenarios. For example, if Smith had a choice between checking his sources or writing a facebook response, Smith would far more likely check his sources first then write. This prevents him from listening to monkey fears and writing down his response to those fears on facebook, thinking he was "verifying things".

Yon's post on FB implies he either was satisfied with his sources or he has no more sources to call upon, so he just posts on FB cause he has no access to other options. His lack of substantial follow up implies either the original issue was not as big as perceived or Yon's got ulterior motives for making the case for hot weapons in the zone.

It is a lack of self-discipline that there exists this disharmony between intention and action.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 9, 2010 05:21 PM

Another reason to keep reading VC. Well done.

Posted by: Cricket at June 9, 2010 05:53 PM

"Apparently I hit a nerve".

Apparently. ;-)

I'm back from a sailing trip on a 44' catamaran in the Bahamas; I see that one Ymar (etc.) couldn't let it be...but said individual seems to spend entirely too much time pontificating in the blogosphere. Even Grim told this person to stop "helping", and was essentially ignored.

Now, I can't wait [/sarcasm]to see what words are thrown my way for pointing this out... ;-)

Posted by: camojack at June 10, 2010 01:30 AM

Camo:
I HATE YOU! (and I want to be you, too).
I love me some catamran!

Posted by: spd rdr at June 10, 2010 09:41 AM

Camo:

I'm glad you're back and hope you're feeling rested and relaxed!

Ymar has a strong personality, as do many readers here at VC (including me). So long as we don't start bashing one another over the head with oily seafowl, hopefully we can all get along, no?

Are you going to post photos of your trip?

Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2010 11:35 AM

Camo:
I HATE YOU! (and I want to be you, too).
I love me some catamran!
Posted by: spd rdr at June 10, 2010 09:41 AM

I love you too, and I know you're a catamaran man, man. ;-)

Camo:
I'm glad you're back and hope you're feeling rested and relaxed!
Ymar has a strong personality, as do many readers here at VC (including me). So long as we don't start bashing one another over the head with oily seafowl, hopefully we can all get along, no?
Are you going to post photos of your trip?
Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2010 11:35 AM

Regarding "Yammerski", (heh, heh) I don't like being told what to do, particularly by someone who doesn't even know me (or the particulars of the situation in question) and free (unsolicited!) advice is generally worth what one pays for it, y'know? ;-) Besides, I already had some correspondence with Grim about that business, and he relayed an apology from Laughing Wolf...which (as I said in my reply) was better late than never, but should have been done 3 years ago, directly. Whatever.

As for posting photos, I might just; I got a great shot of some bats flitting about in a cave facing Little Harbor...

Posted by: camojack at June 11, 2010 12:45 AM

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