ChuckB's blog

Instapundit on the importance of bad news

If you've frequented the political end of the blogosphere for very long, you have probably heard of Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit. He's a law professor at the University of Tennessee, and an omnivorous and incredibly prolific blogger. Politically I would characterize him as rather independent but either at the conservative end of libertarianism or at the libertarian end of conservatism. He would probably prefer to be characterized as a "dynamist" in Virginia Postrel's use of the word: pro-market, pro-technology, pro-liberty. He has also spoken out strongly in favor of the war on terror and of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has not, however, been an uncritical supporter of these actions. For instance, when an Iraqi blogger posted an account of alleged misconduct by U.S. forces, Reynolds linked to the account and posted a followup, despite criticism from readers. It appears that the investigation of the incident has not concluded, but the battalion commander of the unit involved has been punished for impeding the investigation. In posting this most recent update on the matter, Reynolds also reflects on the importance of bad news:

This leads to a bigger point on the Iraq reporting. Neither I, nor, I think, anyone who wants the Iraq effort to succeed, wants the press only to report good news. This is bad news, and it deserves to be reported. In fact, it needs to be reported, because it's only by finding out what's wrong that we have a chance to fix it. It's the cheap-shot faux-bad news, the lazy hotel-bar reporting, etc., that I object to. If a Western journalist had dug out this story, it would have been good journalism.
[emphasis mine--ChuckB]

This is a point that many in the pro-war camp would do well to heed. I include his mention of cheap-shot journalism because the contrast of it with "good" bad news is crucial to Reynold's point.

Police Find Bomb on High-Speed Rail Line in Spain

From a WaPo story:

The minister said it was not yet known who had placed the bomb. He said early analysis suggested the explosives were similar to those used March 11 to blow up commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring 1,800.

Wait, that's not fair! The deal was we'd vote in a government that would withdraw our troops from Iraq, and you'd stop attacking us.

Gwynne Dyer on the Falluja ambush

I came across an op-ed piece by someone named Gwynne Dyer on the Iranian Mehr News Agency site, via a link from Google News. Here's the bit I want to write about:

Statistics don't actually mean much to people; pictures mean a lot. Mr. Bush has succeeded in persuading a (dwindling) majority of Americans that his Iraq adventure had something to do with fighting terrorism, which is why the public has been so patient with him as the 'weapons of mass destruction' failed to turn up and the Iraqi armed resistance grew. But surely not all of the people in those jeering crowds in Falluja can be terrorists? Is it possible that they really don't want us there? Then why are our kids being sent there to die?

Dyer's thoughts here are backwards from at least two perspectives. First of all, it seems to me that the assumption underlying the three final questions in this paragraph is that if "they" don't want us there, we shouldn't be there--bring our kids home! But who is the "they" whose ill will Dyer takes as the criterion for us to depart? Is it the residents of Falluja alone? Is their desire for us to leave adequate grounds for us go evacuate Iraq entirely? Does the will of the 15% who want us to leave immediately (among whom the residents of Falluja are putatively numbered) trump that of the other 53% of Iraqis who want us to stay, at least until there is a stable transition of power? Or perhaps Dyer means that the desire of the Fallujanis for our departure means that we should just stay out of Falluja, but continue occupation elsewhere. That would be a coherent military doctrine, wouldn't it: ceding control of the area occupied by our most dangerous adversaries? It would be rather like saying after 9/11 "well, we know the Taliban doesn't want us in their part of Afghanistan, so we'll just occupy the part now held by the Northern Alliance." Any attempt to figure out just what Dyer means reveals the utter incoherence of this bit of his writing. Doubtless he means something by it, but there is no rigorous way of figuring out what. Don't even bother wondering how he would have applied this fuzzy criterion to the unpopular post-war occupations of Germany and Japan.

Secondly, I take him to imply in his second sentence that there is no connection between the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror (if he doesn't think this, then I apologize to him). Let's think back: what was one of America's greatest crimes in Al Qaida's eyes? The defiling of Saudi soil with the deployment of our infidel troops there. And why were infidel soldiers deployed there? To prevent Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. And who now presents no threat to other Gulf states? Saddam. No connection, eh? Wouldn't bin Laden be happy if, instead of defiling Saudi soil by our proximity to Mecca and Medina, we could instead sully Shia Islam's holiest sites in Iraq? Of course, we'd still have to give East Timor back to the Indonesians, Andalusia back to the Moors, and destroy Israel before al Qaida would be placated. Oh, and cease to propagate any cultural influence whatever to Muslim countries. But even then, I don't think they'd stop trying to destroy the West. There are, after all, many Muslims living in the West being exposed to our decadance.

Going the way of the dodo

This bit appears in the March 2004 "Notes & Comments" section of The New Criterion online, under the rubric "Prizes for everyone":

Remember the Caucus Race in Alice in Wonderland? The creatures “began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over.� “But who has won?� the contestants asked when everyone stopped moving. At last the Dodo said, “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.� We thought of the Dodo’s approach to competition recently when reading about the decision of the Nashville, Tennessee school system to abolish its honor roll because it had become “an apparent source of embarrassment for some underachievers.� As The Washington Post reported, “after a few parents complained that their children might be ridiculed for not making the list, lawyers [it’s always the lawyers, isn’t it?] for the Nashville school system warned that state privacy laws forbid releasing any academic information, good or bad, without permission.�

Surely, we thought, this is to take a very parochial view of the matter. For if students might feel embarrassed about not making the honor roll, think of how embarrassed they would be if they were not the valedictorian, the winning quarterback, a national merit scholar, a prize-winning pianist, the homecoming queen, or one of the students accepted at Harvard. Think of how awful they would feel if it got out that they were not in every way as smart, as attractive, as talented, as successful as the lucky few who were, like Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever, and rich.� An honor roll, as its name suggests, is meant to honor, to give public recognition, to those who excel. It is a last, pale inheritance of the spiritual patrimony we have inherited from the ancient Greeks who strove to be the best—and to be publicly recognized for their achievements. Nashville, like so many other communities, has decided to side instead with the Dodo.

Iraqi people optimistic; BBC has the story

If you read Michael Pate's excellent Third Superpower blog (hosted right here on [1], or if you check the Strategypage from time to time [2], or if perhaps you've discovered just how funny Scott Burgess's Daily Ablution can be [3], then you may already know about this poll. On the off chance that someone may not yet have discovered these wonderful sites, and this interesting poll of Iraqi public opinion conducted by Iraqis and "sponsored by several foreign media networks", I'll summarize the results here.

  • 70% believe they are doing well
  • 56% believe life is better than before the war
  • 70% are optimistic about the future
  • 53.3% want coalition forces to stay until there is a functioning Iraqi government
  • 15.1% want coalition forces to leave immediately
  • 75% want a strong, unified state, without special privileges for ethnic or religious subgroups
  • 20% of Iraqis want an Islamic state
  • 49% believe the war was justified
  • 39% believe the war was wrong
  • 41.8% believe the war liberated Iraq
  • 41.3% believe the war humiliated Iraq
  • 17% approve of attacks on coalition troops
  • 78% feel attacks on coalition troops are unacceptable
  • 96% feel attacks on Iraqi police are unacceptable

Iraqi perceptions of the country's most pressing issues:

  • 22.1%: lack of law and order
  • 11.8%: unemployment
  • 9.5%: inflation
  • 4.2%: electricity shortages
  • 4.1%: housing problems
  • 3.7%: quality of infrastructure
  • 1.8%: terrorist attacks
  • 0.2%: religious & ethnic strife

(Emphasis indicates those numbers I feel bode well for the future of Iraqi civil society.)

What I find perhaps most striking of all is that the BBC, which many feel has shown a distinct anti-war bias in its coverage of the invasion, has reported about the results of the survey. Of course, they were one of the media concerns that sponsored the survey. And while the report doesn't overlook the negative findings of the survey, it also cannot overlook the positive. The report starts thus:

An opinion poll suggests most Iraqis feel their lives have improved since the war in Iraq began about a year ago.

The survey, carried out for the BBC and other broadcasters, also suggests many are optimistic about the next 12 months and opposed to violence.

The BBC hosts a PDF summary of the survey as well.

UPDATE: I forgot to include James Dunnigan's comment on the poll results and the press:

One thing the survey makes very clear is that most foreign media reporting on Iraq are reporting what they want to see the Iraqi people thinking, not what the Iraqis are actually thinking. This, however, is not unique to Iraq, although European and Arab media tend to be even more distorted in their reporting than is usually the case.

[1] A Dose of Reality
[2] Shocking Results of Iraqi Public Opinion Poll
[3] 0 - Number of Interesting Posts Today

Richard Clarke 2002 vs. Richard Clarke 2004

An article on Reuter's ("Republicans Want to Declassify Clarke's 2002 Testimony") suggests that Clarke has given two rather different accounts of the Bush Administration's attitudes towards terrorism: one, most famously, before the commission investigating failures of government leading up to 9/11, and the other before congressional panels in 2002.

Now, senior Republicans in Congress want to declassify Clarke's congressional testimony to show the discrepency:

"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,"
[Senate Majority Leader Bill]Frist said on the Senate floor.

He quoted Clarke as telling Congress behind closed doors, "the administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during its first 11 months in office."

Clarke on Wednesday told a commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks that the Bush administration in its first eight months in office regarded terrorism as "not an urgent issue" -- a charge the White House has hotly denied.

Said Frist, "It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media ... but if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far, far more serious matter."

On The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, 9/11 commissioner John Lehman (former Sec. Navy) commented: "And I think, frankly, because it turns out we both have the same editor at Simon & Schuster that there's a certain amount of bookselling going on here and fair and judicious does not sell a lot of books."

If Clarke's 2002 testimony is declassified, it will be interesting to compare it point-by-point with what he's said before the 9/11 commission. If he did lie to Congress, his book promotion may end up costing a good deal more than he anticipated.

Who was Sheik Yassin?

This Globe & Mail editorial knows part of the answer:

Sheik Ahmed Yassin was often called a "spiritual leader." In fact, he was the leader of a ruthless war of terrorism against Israeli men, women and children.

That Sheik Yassin was a murderous fanatic is not in doubt. He was the founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Its goal is quite simple: the destruction of the state of Israel.
Not just an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the end of Israel.

His decision to continue the slaughter of Israeli civilians despite last year's attempts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks helped scuttle the international road map to peace.

Bob Tarantino notes that, despite acknowledging Yassin's true character, the editorial couldn't bring itself to consider his killing a wise move on Israel's part. Wretchard has a different and rather more nuanced take on the matter here, here, here, and here. I found especially interesting the information on the infighting within Hamas after Yassin's death as well as the implications of his death for relations between Arafat's associates and Hamas.

I say that if you want get an idea of who a person was, consider his effect on his posterity:

At a debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: ``Hamas activists in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?''

The Fatah candidate refused to answer, suggesting his rival ``look at the paper, go to the archives and see for yourself. Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have not stopped fighting the occupation.''

Fatah set up models of Jewish settlements and then blew them up with fireworks. The display was meant to emphasize the group's focus on attacking settlers and their communities - considered by Palestinians to be one of the most provocative elements of Israel's occupation of territory they claim for a state.

Hamas countered by blowing up models of Israeli buses, a tribute to the dozens of suicide bombings its members have carried out in the past three years, killing hundreds of Israelis.

Speaks volumes, I'd say.

(From a Guardian article no longer online but quoted at Daimnation!)

Putting two and two together

From a NYTimes op-ed piece:

A stick of cobalt, an inch thick and a foot long, is taken from among hundreds of such sticks at a food irradiation plant. It is blown up with just 10 pounds of explosives in a "dirty bomb" at the lower tip of Manhattan, with a one-mile-per-hour breeze blowing. Some 1,000 square kilometers in three states is contaminated, and some areas of New York City become uninhabitable for decades.

Europe starting to wake up?

In the Washington Post's "World Opinion Roundup" column, Jefferson Morley cites some European reactions to the Madrid bombings that I found surprising:

Sociologist Emilio Lamo de Espinosa says Europeans have been dreaming. Writing in Le Monde (in French), Lamo says Europeans have thought they would be spared because they haven't supported the Bush administration's policies.

"When the Americans declared war on terrorism, many of us thought they exaggerated. Many thought terrorism was not likely to occur on our premises, [inhabited by] peaceful and civilized Europeans who speak no evil of anybody, who dialogue, who are the first [to] send assistance and offer cooperation. We are pacifists, they are warmongers. . . . . Don't we defend the Palestinians? Are we not pro-Arab and anti-Israeli?"

"Can we dialogue with those who desire only our death and nothing but our death?" Lamo asks. "Dialogue about what? The manner in which we will be assassinated?"

"The war against terrorism will be long and difficult," he concludes. "It was that cretin, President Bush, who said that." [emphasis mine--ChuckB]

This man has thought through the issue of Islamofascist terrorism in a clear-eyed way, and has concluded correctly that the Islamofascists will not spare Europe just because they aren't America. He has correctly perceived the implacability of Al Qaida and its associates towards all of Western culture.

Morley's column finds the Guardian taking up the same theme:

In London, the Guardian says "emergency security meetings across Europe yesterday signaled the deepening recognition that the 200 deaths in four trains blown up in Madrid on Thursday probably constitute more than just a domestic Spanish terrorist event." The leftist London daily says no European nation will be spared, no matter what its past stance on the war on terror or Iraq. [emphasis mine--ChuckB]

I would go further and say that 9/11, and Bali, as well as something like Madrid 3/11, would have taken place even if the U.S. hadn't invaded Iraq, or even if Bush hadn't been elected. Of course, the invasion of Iraq necessarily changed the calculations of AQ et al. in their choice of targets. It brought new problems, new demands, new reasons to attack here instead of there, but the first WTC attack, and the USS Cole attack, and the African embassy bombings show us that war was declared years ago.

Until the war on terror is over, the question will never be "Will they attack?" but rather "Where?".

Robert Bork criticized

Catching up with The Remedy tonight. In the middle of an interesting post ("Saving the Republic, Killing Freud") I came across a strafing of Robert Bork, the Reagan Supreme Court nominee who was not confirmed. Of course that seems odd, coming from a conservative blog, but it is worth paying attention to.

One occasion for the posting is an essay by Colorado State Senator John Andrews on the possibilities and difficulties of preserving the American Republic. I haven't read the essay, so I am relying on Claremont blogger Thomas Kranawitter's discussion of it. Kranawitter:

[Andrews] writes, "today's constitutional conservatives agree that these republican checks upon democracy are justified by the unchanging moral order of the universe itself." Some, perhaps many, conservatives believe this. But not all. And not many of the most influential conservatives.

For example, later in his essay Mr. Andrews cites a recent book by Judge Robert Bork that chronicles the moral bankruptcy of courts around the globe. But Bork himself has lent his authority to undermining moral right, arguing in his The Tempting of America that there is "no principled way to make [moral] distinctions," that we "put such issues to a vote and ... the majority morality prevails." Can one imagine a purer defense of unmitigated democratic moral relativism? For some unexplained reason, Mr. Bork rejects moral relativism only when it is issued from a court bench, not when it comes from a popular vote.

Fellow conservatives, take note: if Kranawitter is correct, Bork believes that there is no principled way to make moral distinctions, and that sheer democratic force is the way to decide such questions.

That scares me a great deal, and I hope it scares you as well. Fifteen or so years back, when I was much more apt to read The Nation than The National Review, I picked up a copy of the latter (I think I was a para-professional doing reference in a public library branch) and found an article on Bork and natural law. The (conservative) author was of the opinion that it was a good thing that Bork hadn't been confirmed. He cited Bork's own writings to show that Bork denied the notion of natural law. The author ended the article by suggesting that Bork's silence on the Declaration of Independence (our nation's founding document, which affirms natural law and reasons from it) ought to raise serious doubts in the minds of conservatives about Bork. I'm inclined to think he was right.

Conservative disaffection with Bush

In an uncharacteristically long posting, Instapundit blogs about fading support from the "war base". Plenty of space in the Updates section given to the pro-war base as well, including some lefties. Though he's conservative/libertarian and pro-war, I've found that Glenn Reynolds (the Instapundit) is willing to be critical of Bush when he feels it's warranted.

Presidents and jobs

Robert J. Samuelson states what should be obvious in this Washington Post column:

Why Spain was attacked

Many suggest that Spain's Socialists victory at the polls came because the people of Spain blame the rail bombings in Madrid on Islamist ire at Jose Maria Aznar's support for the invasion of Iraq. If only we withdraw from the coalition and don't inflame the Islamists further, the Spaniards are supposedly thinking, they won't attack us.

I have to wonder about that explanation of Spanish public opinion. Everything I read before the invasion suggested that the Spanish people were not behind Aznar in his support for the war. And in the coverage of the massive protests by Spaniards against the bombings, I don't recall having seen much in the way of anti-U.S. and anti-Iraq-war protests. In my view, the more straightforward explanation for the conservatives' electoral defeat in Spain was the unpopularity of the Iraq war, rather than fear and appeasement of the terrorists.

If I am right about Spanish attitudes, it tends to undercut Christopher Hitchens's analysis of the "nutty logic" underlying the elections. He does cite some on the Spanish left has having claimed that Spain was attacked because it supported the Iraq invasion, but must we assume that the wider populace bought into these claims?

Nonetheless, even if the Spanish vote was not intended as a message of capitulation and appeasement, it is hard for me to believe that it won't be seen that way by the Islamist terrorists, who will now imagine that they have been successful in shaping the politics of an infidel nation to their advantage. And in any case, given the goals of the Islamist terrorists, there is no hope of appeasing them.

As Hitchens points out, the terrorists have not spared those countries who were either neutral (Morocco) in the war or who hindered it (Turkey). Fareed Zakarias reinforces this point in his Washington Post commentary:

Some in Spain have argued that if an Islamic group proves to be the culprit, Spaniards will blame Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. It was his support for America and the war in Iraq that invited the wrath of the fundamentalists. But other recent targets of Islamic militants have been Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, not one of which supported the war or sent troops into Iraq in the after-war. Al Qaeda's declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone -- yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.

It seems to me that Al Qaida and the indigenous movements allied to it have declared implacable war by terror on all whom they consider infidels. That includes the obvious suspects as Jews and Americans, but also Islamic nations who are either not Islamic enough (such as Morocco and Turkey), or who deeply conservative but corrupt (such as Saudi Arabia). The only difference among these targets will be the opportunities for and benefits from attacking that they present.

I found Hitchens's column via Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day and the Zakarias quote via Daniel Drezner's blog.

Humorous tech business headline (rather crude)

From The Register:

SCO lifts skirt but investors recoil

I have to say, the folks at The Register have a way with their headlines. Picturesque to say the least.

Conservatives are stoopid; LISNewzsters are smart :-)

[Note: this journal entry is occasioned in part by Ender's posting noted below, but also in part by Blake's daring to suggest that there actually is intelligent conservative opinion worth listening to.]

In a reply from Ender, Duke_of_URL (posting as an anonymous patron) in a thread on Christian publishing and culture, said he felt that Christians were more thievish than the rest of the population.

His generalization reminds me of the Duke U. philosophy professor (hmm, Duke_of_Url, Duke U., I wonder ...), who stated that stupid people were generally conservative, by way of explaining why there were so few conservatives in Duke's humanities departments:
"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."


  1. Brandon misrepresents Mill;
  2. Brandon commits a non-sequitur in the first paragraph;
  3. Brandon has the demographics wrong--conservatives are not more stupid than others (scroll down to the Lindgren quote; wait, here's a sample:

    If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests.
    [emphasis mine--ChuckB])

Now think about this for a moment: if LISNewzsters are drawn chiefly from liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, then we come from the two smartest groups in the country!

Charges against "Skeptical Environmentalist" dismissed

You may have heard of Bjorn Lomberg, the Danish statistician and director of Denmark's national Environmental Assessment Institute. He wrote a highly controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist, in which he questioned much of the "scientific consensus" concerning global warming.

Safer Internet (Double)Plus

Perhaps someone is tempted to imagine (or even assert) that I suggested the story about the EU's attempts to protect children while they use the Internet to make an argument for filtering along these lines:

Mel Gibson and anti-Semitism

From Steven Greenhut's review of The Passion of the Christ at

[Gibson's] only on-screen performance was of his arm and hand hammering the nail through Christ’s hand. In one small dramatic act, Gibson exposed Abraham Foxman’s and the Anti-Defamation League’s efforts to defame the biblical account of Christ’s death as anti-Semitic.

Gibson was saying, loud and clear, that he helped crucify his Lord and Savior.

John Whitehead: ultra-conservative authoritarian

John Whitehead has a new article up at Razormouth. In it, he worries about the too-uncritical embrace of politics by Christians. The whole article is worth reading, especially for Christians. I offer two representative quotes:

The religious fervor of the gladiator salute “Hail, Caesar!� finds its counterpart in today’s political scene. Candidates in modern election campaigns present themselves as heroes whose election will mark the advent of a new society. More and more, even in the United States, they claim that the state will provide all the answers to our woes. (Consider the present administration’s assertion that the government can now heal our marriages, cure our health problems and take care of us from cradle to grave, as well as save us from terrorists.)


As Professor Alan Johnson once wrote: “A Christianity tied too closely to the civil authorities soon finds itself being used as a tool to sanction the particular policies and acts of a government which uses the church to win citizen approval.� In other words, believers must avoid becoming merged with the state or politics, or else they risk becoming partners in the government’s ultimate goals.

Fang-Face, if you are reading this, would you please contact Whitehead somehow and let him know what an authoritarian religious extremist and drippy-nosed malodorous pervert he is. I'm so incensed, I can't bring myself to do it.

He concludes his article with the acquiescence of the German church to the Nazi regime prior to the Second World War. While I find his comparison of Nazi Germany to our present situation rather over-the-top, not to say krankhaft (pardon the pun), as long as he is bringing it up it is an example we should bear in mind. Fortunately, our constitution is a good deal stronger than that of the Weimar Republic, and our economic woes ain't got nothin' on the Germany of the 20's and 30's. Still, we dare not cease our vigilance, whether or not we support the Patriot Act.

How to pay off the debt and save Social Security

Exploit senatorial intelligence.

Why not?

This could even make me rich. I'll start a MorningStar-type report ranking the portfolios of various senators, then I'll create index funds whose holdings are keyed off of the best portfolios. Perhaps once a year we would recalibrate according to changes in the rankings.


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