Sunday, August 28

"You're telling me this because?"

Once again, Pundita must rip herself away from reports about China's pig disease; this time to snap at Dave Schuler. Readers who have trouble following might want to stop at Dave's blog first and read his August 24 entry What's a credible source?"

Dear Pundita:
You might be interested in some of the items in the Strategy Page Prediction Market, particularly the avian flu items:

Not dispositive, of course, but interesting.

Hope all is well and that you are happy, well, and resting.

Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye

Dear Dave:
No of course we're not interested in a lame attempt at psyops. And how can Pundita be "happy, well and resting" when a loyal reader and contributor to this blog tries to discover what it's like to have cheese tostitos for brains? We all fall prey to these urges on occasion but we need to banish them before publishing to a blog. Do you not realize I stake my reputation on the intelligence of my readers? How could you do this to Pundita?

There is an easy way to gauge the weight of Chi's speech if you know that he's a has-been but in case I'm talking to cheese tostitos at the moment we'll break this into easy steps.

First, Chi Haotian is not China's defense minister. So you worked yourself into a dither for nothing. General Cao Gangchuan is China's defense minister, and has been since 2003 when he nudged out Chi, who is in Jiang Zemin's faction. This would be the same Jiang Zemin who was shoved out of the chairmanship of the Central Military Committee by none other than the same General Cao.

You would know these things if you paid attention to Pundita's entreaties to her readers to click on the link I have provided at least twice, and which was featured in the very first post I made on this blog and most recently in the Strange Days in China... essay.

This is the link to the November 2004 Epoch Times article that dishes the gossip on why Jiang left the CMC early. The gist -- that the power struggle in the top tier of the CCP pits a well educated cadre against a less educated one -- can be verified independently of ET's article.

I present again that blasted Epoch Times article on the real story of why Jiang Zemin decamped earlier than he'd planned. As I have done before, I urge anyone who wants a clue as to what's going on in China to read the article with full attention.

I interject that once you digest the writing and dig into the situations it refers to, you'll appreciate why so many have tried so hard during the past year to thoroughly discredit The Epoch Times. The bastion of objective reporting they ain't. But the bar is so low today that this is not an indictment, only a caution. ET can provide valuable insights into doings in China if you know how to read the paper.

It is well established that a changing of the guard took place in China in 2003, and that the change brought in a younger, well-educated, more 'modern-thinking' group, which includes Cao. It was really only a matter of time before the new guard shoved out the rest of Jiang Zemin's faction -- and Jiang himself.

I interject that the above hardly conveys the bitterness of the struggle and the certain fact that Jiang and his faction have not gone quietly into the night.

If you ask why, then, the Epoch Times describes Chi as defense minister in the introduction to the speech that initially angered you -- Ouija is in a snit just because I asked for the next winning Powerball lottery numbers. So I must fall back on guessing.

I'd say it's likely that the wrong description is a translator's oversight. I say this first because ET was careful to point out that Chi is the former defense minister in the background to the earlier speech of Chi's they recently published.

And second because ET's readership is presumed apprised enough about China's affairs to know that Chi is the former defense minister. Thus, I doubt ET was trying to get one over, in this case.

If you ask, 'Then presuming Chi actually gave the speech, why would ET give so much space recently to the scaremongering of a has-been?' -- now we come to the fun part. (This would be fun only for readers who have heroically slogged through every single post I've written on the "China pig disease" reports.)

It so happens that The Epoch Times published Chi's alleged biowar statements exactly one week after publishing an article about a reported Ebola virus outbreak in China. This is the August 1 article which quotes liberally from the Wong/Wang Boxun interview, and which mentions a March 25 ET story that discusses a report of an Ebola outbreak in February in Guangdong province.

The August 1 article is very clearly ET's way of disputing China's official explanation of strep suis as the cause of the "pig disease."

The question is how far they were willing to run with Wong's claim. So it was not so much what Chi reportedly said about biowar that merited a footnote in one of my posts about pig disease (the one in which you found the link to Chi's alleged speech). I wanted readers to note the timing of ET's publication of the Chi speech -- again, one week after the Ebola virus outbreak story.

Specifically, the question is whether ET's decision to publish the Chi speech in question relates to the ET August 1 article; i.e., whether ET was insinuating that the scary virus/bacteria combo Wong claimed to be the real cause of pig disease is actually a bioweapon.

Because ET knows that General Chi is a has-been and that his entire faction has lost power in China's military and top CCP leadership, my guess would be "yes."

As to whether this guess means I think there could be such a bioweapon -- there is still not a shred of evidence to support Wong's claim. That China has developed, bought and/or stolen bioweapons, I have no doubt. Yet to assume a link between this and the pig disease outbreak would be ridiculous because we don't have reliable data on the outbreak. Indeed, we don't even know whether the outbreak is a disease or a case of poisoning.

Next: You reported to your readers that you tried to learn whether Chi actually gave the speech in question. You expressed frustration at meeting a blank wall. In such cases one has to fall back on contextual analysis, not textual analysis. In figurative terms, you need to ditch the microscope and pick up a wide angle lens.

Chi's statements are consistent with the general tone of Unrestricted Warfare, which won praise from Jiang Zemin, and with the statements of superhawks who are connected with Jiang's faction in the military.

However, no one in China's military who has clearance to talk about China's war scenarios would make such statements. So if General Chi got away with making that speech, you can bet General Cao had a reason for letting Chi run off at the mouth.

Now because that particular over-the-top speech is quite recent, Pundita would place a small bet that the real target is Japan. China has not quite gotten to the saber rattling stage but recent statements suggest they are trying to Gaslight Japan.

(For readers who are unfamiliar with the reference: the movie Gaslight, which features Charles Boyer's character spooking Ingrid Bergman out of her wits.)

Whether or not the words were delivered by General Chi, there must be at least a grain of truth in them, just from what we know about contingency war planning. However, the most striking -- indeed, astounding -- part of General Chi's alleged speech is the starkly accurate depiction of China's environmental problems. The description is not one you'll find in the travel guides and it is a damning indictment of the Chinese Communist Party's long rule.

So I'd say that if anything the text of the speech is a window on the disenchantment in China with the CCP and the anger that has built among Chinese about foreign and domestic companies that are ruining the land.

I interject that the latter is a theme that has become dear to the heart of Jiang Zemin and his followers since losing power. They are trying to align themselves with the rural Chinese who have suffered most from pollution, deforestation, etc., brought on by rapid widescale industrialization.

Indeed, the biowar horror story that Chi's speech spins can be read as saying that if China doesn't reverse course the land will be so poisoned, so denuded of vegetation, so uninhabitable, the Chinese will have no choice but to invade another land. From that angle, he sounds as much a foaming Green as a Dr. Strangelove.

Next, if you had read Pundita posts About Boxun and the Epoch Times vs Xinhua News Agency, you could have spared yourself research time. However, there's a key you need, if you're trying to gauge the usefulness of Epoch Times articles. Pundita is trying to take some vacation time this coming week but I'll write up a post about the key as soon as possible.

For now, I'll observe that those who closely followed the 2002-2004 phase of the Beltway Wars, which flooded the major media with leaks, counter-leaks and "inside information," developed a rule of thumb:

If the news report has anything remotely to do with Washington, the first question to ask is, "You're telling me this because?"

These days, it is often the timing of a report's publication that is the first thing you want to note and try to analyze.

Do you remember when you wrote me about the Time cover issue that published excerpts from Jeffrey Sachs' latest book? Remember I warned that this had to be seen within the context of Sachs' consulting work for Kofi Annan and the upcoming G8 Summit, which was still months away at the time. Looking back on the weeks running up to Gleneagles, do you see why I gave that warning?

So while the rule of thumb is not a crystal ball, it will help you put innumerable headline stories in proper context. That provides a kind of guidewire while maneuvering through disinformation, misinformation, shaping, shading, smoke, omissions and lies.

This, from a battle-scarred veteran of fishing teeny bits of reliable data out of the flood of leaks that characterized the height of the Beltway Wars.

Finally, and if you'll pardon my being instructive, I've observed before on this blog that you have shall we term it....a side of yourself that pops out on occasion. You won't allow yourself to arrive at a good point without first thrashing through brambles.

Your quest to line up ways to vet sources is a noble one and there must be more work done in this area. As soon as I have time I will check out the source-checkers you noted in your post.

But speaking quite frankly, the days are gone when one can complacently lean on a particular source(s) for guidance, no matter how authoritative the source. The best guide is to learn to automatically switch into a thinking mode that is one part intelligence analyst and one part bunko squad detective.

A seasoned cop or prosecuting attorney can tell you that there are many ways for a witness to shade the truth until it becomes a useful lie. What's harder to twist out of shape is the simple fact that people have a motive for providing information at a certain time and in a certain way. This observation holds as true for The New York Times editorial board (and the one at The Epoch Times) as it does for a police informant.

So again, whenever you're wondering how much or what to believe, it helps to start the investigation by thinking, "You're telling me this because?" And try to find a ballpark answer before proceeding.

If you don't like trying to think in the manner of a police detective or intelligence analyst when you study an important news report -- these are the times we live in, Dave. To improve standards in a profession that doesn't want to police itself (there is no accreditation for professional reporters) requires the news consuming public to become more alert about the way data can be manipulated. Speaking of which, now it is time for Pundita to return to reports about pig disease.

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