Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some son-of-a-bitch would die

Filed under the heading of "can we have a better effing media" is this article from the LA Times; L.A. gun buyback yields rocket launcher, assault weapons.
"A $2,000 pair of pocket pistols and a military rocket launcher -- sans rocket -- were among the 1,673 firearms that Los Angeles residents traded in for gift cards in the city’s gun buyback this weekend."
reads the first paragraph of this little item.

Charlie Pierce goes wild with this, asking;
"Who in the holy hell goes out and buys a freaking rocket launcher? What are you hunting? Traffic helicopters? And then, who in the holy hell turns it in to the cops? Shouldn't this engage the interest of the FBI's crack Set-Up-The-Loonies unit that has been so successful elsewhere?"
and on the face of it, given the newspaper article, his concern seems like a legitimate one.

But - speaking as someone who has had his rocket launchers in the day - wellll...let's just say that there are "rocket launchers" and "rocket launchers".

If this thing was, say, the "launcher" section from an RPG-7, well, that's bad. That really is a "rocket launcher"; you get your hands on the grenade round and you're in business.
But if this thing was - as I suspect it was - the dunnage from an old LAW or an AT-4, well, frankly, that's just a piece of fiberglass pipe. It's expendable, and is somewhere between difficult and impossible to reload. It's issued as a unit, launcher and projectile, and once it's fired the "launcher's" only real use as a weapon is as a bludgeon and not a very effective one, at that.
I will not disagree that the U.S. is pretty freaking ridiculous on who can tote around what weapon and why, but not sure that the whole "rocket launcher" thing here is really the cherry on the top of the self-licking ice cream sundae.

But you'd never know that from this article, and I suspect that there's one of two reasons for that;

First, it's possible that the LAPD did not produce the "rocket launcher" for the reporter, or describe it other than as such. In which case, one would think that the stupid fucking reporter would have asked an actual question, you know, like reporters in movies do, about the exact nature of this weapon.

Or, second, it's possible that the police DID produce the thing, and the reporter stared at it like a cow at the minutes of the Council of Trent, and ambled away as fucking clueless as he was before seeing it.

It's hard to tell which is worse.

But what is telling is that Charlie had a neat little quote from James Madison in his blog the following day:
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

-- James Madison to W.T Barry, August 4, 1822
which sums up the utter fuckupitude that this little newspaper article represents.

In our current civilization We the People are asked to make many decisions on issues we have no personal knowledge of, in places we have never visited, and with information perforce supplied by others.

And the only way we can arm ourselves with the power of knowledge on these issues, from wars to traffic law, is through the reportage of others.

But if this article does anything, it shows how a simple question of physical fact - one that could have been clarified with a single, simple question - can be rendered not just completely, utterly useless but actively misleading - "OMFG, there are rocket launchers out there on the streets of LA!!!!" - through the total incompetence and ignorance of one local reporter.

And this is to completely elide the pernicious influence of maliciously deliberate liars of the Glenn Beckian sort.

It remains in me, therefore, no real sense of wonder that we are so thoroughly fucked.

Update 5/24 p.m.: In the Comments section over at Milpub where this was cross-posted, Andy (one of our most reliable regulars here - the next round's on me, Andy...) does his usual thorough job of fact-finding and tracks this nonsense down further. He finds a photo of this fearsome weapon of mass destruction at the Bakersfield TV station site and notes that it is, as suspected, an inerted training aid - in this case, of a U.S. AT-4.
So, no, the streets of LA are not in danger of becoming Beirut or Ramadi, LA Times, as a few simple questions would have established.


Why, oh why, can we not have a better fricking media?!?


Leon said...

It's why I despair when in this day and age, in the midst of the ever-continuing "war on terror" that reporters and news anchors haven't figured out the difference between:
1. Tank vs apc/ifv
2. machineguns vs assault rifle/smg

It's like looking at a subcompact car and continuously calling it a SUV.

FDChief said...

I don't expect the dumb fuckers to know the difference between 7.62 and 5.56, but, c'mon - a teeny little MAC10 is NOT a "machinegun"!

It's hopeless to assume the public can be effective sovereigns of themselves when they can't even get simple information like this correct, let alone things like the factions involved in the fighting in Syria or the political alignments of the Egyptian candidates.

What a fuckin' fuckstory.

Anonymous said...

This story is inherently shady. Here's why:

First off, there's no byline. So this piece belongs to the editor that sent this to print, who apparently shall also remain nameless.

So don't blame the reporter. Chances are the reporter did in fact ask what type of rocket launcher it was. He/she may not have been given an answer.

Indeed, it's also possible there was no reporter present at all this. It's entirely possible this is simply a crudely reprocessed press release, with a couple pics. They sent a photog and some hack in the newsroom retyped the press release in a manner befitting the editor's wishes.

As such, this is just propaganda. It's not "news," per se, as one might like to assume that LAPD can distinguish between an inert training device and one that will actually go "BOOM" when one hits the trigger.

Then again.....

--Ford Prefect

FDChief said...

So the "reporter" is off the hook...OK. Not sure how that makes this "better". So the editor - who, one assumes, is a more experienced and supposedly more competent news person than a mere reporter - is either too fucking dumb, or too careless, or too bought-into-the-message-of-scary-booga-booga-missiles-on-the-street to fact check this?

So, I repeat; why, WHY can't we have a better media?"

Anonymous said...

It doesn't make it "better." Not by any means.

Your question is valid and has been for decades now. Sorry, I was not intending to diminish that at all.

What I was suggesting was this isn't about "incompetence" or some idiot who can't ask a decent question.

It's an editorial decision, which is why I called it "propaganda" for the City of LA. They would call it PR, but that's a distinction without a difference. The picture of the chief displaying the "rocket launcher" for the mayor IS THE MESSAGE.

We can't have better media because 90% of all media outlets in the US are owned by six corporations. They have interlocking directorships which include a number of corporate interests like "defense", energy, medical industry concerns and so on. As such, media outlets have devolved into propaganda organs.

This particular story is simple framing to induce fear among Angelinos of their friggin' neighbors. It's pretty simple really. It will make some people look around their neighborhoods with a certain kind of "who has rocket launchers?" dread.

It's stupid beyond words, but it seems to work.

When people can question all this and reign in the fear, it will stop working.

In this sense, your outrage serves a valuable purpose. It IS a fuckin' fuckstory. But it's all driven by management, which means it's policy-driven. And policies exist for a reason.

The old organs don't function in a way one might construe as "public service". They don't exist to inform people. They exist to serve specific interests.

It just so happens, The People, or whatever label one cares to put on "the rest of us," don't figure into that policy regime. We are merely receptacles for crap like this.

This is why we can't have "better media." This is why we have to create new outlets to serve the public interest. And judging by the polls that show "the media" ranks about as well as congress, which is to say just below used car salesunits, I'd say there's an interest....

One of the reasons the media polls so poorly, is because people such as yourself are calling foul on it. As such, please don't infer I'm trying to discourage you.

I merely had a fairly technical point, much like your point about the "rocket launcher." Both the Chief and the Mayor knew what it was. But they felt the need to make it "dramatic."

FDChief said...

Ah. Gotcha.

Still, what's infuriating is that this, to me, is like a poster child for the State of the News circa 2012; "we don't "report", we just "relay".

I'm not looking backwards with a rosy glow - I realize that the news biz has always been a devil's brew of greed, vanity, foolishness, truckling to power...but think about some of the reportage (and editorial choices) that were willing to expose and condemn this sort of blatant fear-mongering and stupidity.

For every Hearst, who furnished the war if he got the pictures, there were editors that were willing to publish the Pentagon Papers, or the Watergate stories. Sure, there's always been media types who were eager and willing to be the stenos for the Authorities. But there were always others who thought that the public's right to the facts was more important.

But this damn thing just points up the reality that our present media is about 99.5% the former. I'm not sure what it is; laziness? Fear? Corruption? The effect of those ginormous media corporations worried more about "access" and the bottom line?

But whatever the reason, the problems I see here are:

1) the U.S. public is used to thinking of the news as "news" - to them, if it comes out of a screen or off a sheet of newsprint it's a "fact", and

2) the current media are either a) fully licensed fools for one faction (FOX & Friends...) or corporate stenos who can't be trusted to call bullshit on even painfully obvious bullshit like this.

So the end result is that the credulous public gets sold these propaganda stories as "news".

At least in the old fascist or communist countries the public KNEW that the "news" was whatever lie the regime wanted them to hear. The U.S. public is starting to recognize that - as your polling data shows - but I think the old consensus is still the current mode of thought.

So until We the People are willing to follow your suggestion to either create new outlets or accept the input of the rogue sources like WikiLeaks and MediaMatters as equal to the "mainstream" media I fear for our Republic.

Anonymous said...

I too fear for the Republic, for all the reasons you lay out.

The Access issue is a deeply cynical position careerists use to justify their ritual dishonesty. "If I don't act as stenographer, I'll lose access!"

Yeah. At this point, it's amazing they even bother with that trope. The fact is, they're largely comfortable with that kind of "professional" relationship, which is why it doesn't bother them. It really is more about corruption than fear. The fear is what helps the newbies enter the world of corruption, but it's not what keeps them there. Ditto for politics, in my experience.

I had a friend in J-School who collected warsaw pact propaganda very informally. I miss that stuff, because it was hilarious most of the time. I guess one advantage Russian people had is they knew all too well they were being lied to. Americans are only very recently starting to really get that, but our propaganda is more slippery. It's also inherently anti-(small-d) democratic.

The latest Pew poll on media credibility came in at about 16% approval rating. So the other 86% are already in one position of disbelief or another. That's a positive sign in my book, but it still doesn't solve the problem.

Calling out these phony stories does help though. I've ignored little stories like this one for a long time now. It's such SOP that most people don't even think about it very much. But you chose a very good example, because the structure and content of this story is a standard template... and also very obvious.

Looking at these mindless, standard-issue tidbits, it's easier to see how an implosion chamber used to make industrial nano-diamonds then becomes a "nuclear trigger testing device" in Iran. These mistakes are not accidental. They're just too convenient to be anything other than intentional.

Lastly, I've been reading this blog for a while now and I would like to relay how much I enjoy your writing and the subject matter. Your military history posts are especially good.

FDChief said...

A friend of mine mentioned that the blogger Fabius Maximus - who has been one of the few people running around like his hair was on fire trying to make this problem clear to the sheeple - appears to have thrown in the towel and admitted that the combination of economic, political, and social dysfunctions is so massive that there really is no likelihood that the U.S. can now avoid some sort of relapse back into the open oligarchy of the Gilded Age.

With the difference that in the late 19th Century the U.S. had tremendous unexploited reserves of natural resources - particularly petroleum; we forget that West Texas crude was crucial in winning WW2 - and social capital, I would argue that we've on the other side of the parabola at the moment.

So IMO we're likely to continue as we have been since the Eighties until some truly heinous calamity exposes the corruption and incompetence of the oligarchs in providing anything approaching a decent future for the mass of the U.S. public.

Unfortunately - at that point I think we're more likely to take a turn to a hard dictatorship than back to a republic or liberal democracy. The public capability for genuine popular sovereignty has just atrophied too far...

And I appreciate the hat-tip. I spent a while on the blogosphere looking into sites that "do" military topics and military history and found waaayyyy too many had drunk some kind of kool-ade or just lacked genuine intellectual rigor. I wanted to, and hope to, provide some genuine value on the subject. Hope you keep getting that from here.

basilbeast said...

About 22, 23 minutes in


Anonymous said...

So IMO we're likely to continue as we have been since the Eighties until some truly heinous calamity exposes the corruption and incompetence of the oligarchs in providing anything approaching a decent future for the mass of the U.S. public.

I'd say we're already 90% there. The only thing missing is the big Clampdown, which seems to be occurring in stages, if the absurd violence against Occupiers is any indication.

Way back in college, in my Latin American politics class, we referred to Mexico as the Perfect Dictatorship. While it had the (small-d) democratic affections in a somewhat free press and "constested" elections, it was still a one party state in which each president would pick his successor.

That's pretty much where we've been for some time now. It's a little messier, but it helps to preserve the façade of a "democracy," even though it's still rather tightly managed by technocrats.

(If you've never seen them, Adam Curtis did a smart documentary for the BBC about Neo-Liberalism and technocratic rule, that while a tad simplistic, gets the overall pretty well:

Their problem lies in their incompetence, as you mention. They actually believe their own pseudo-scientific BS. This is also why they don't have an adequate response to the Occupy movement, or the student movement up in Quebec (pretty impressive, that one), or even how they're going to handle things when Greece leaves the Euro... which will resonate like aftershocks after a Biggie.

So yes, we're headed down a dark road, but at some point, the sun will rise again. We can always rely on hubris to fell its most bombastic practitioners--witness Democrats expressing their desire to slash Social Security in the middle of an election cycle. If not for the well rehearsed tendency of Authoritarians to self-destruct, I'd be vastly more fatalistic these days.

Anyway, far too many words! Succinctness was never my strong point, with notable exceptions. ;^)

Anonymous said...

Damn it. Not "affections," but rather AFFECTATIONS.