Friday, January 18, 2008

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of January 18 have been posted.

First place in the council went to Ed. Schools: They're Awful (for the most part) by The Colossus of Rhodey. It's a dead-on post, and as one who got a teaching certificate long ago, I can add my voice to the chorus of people attesting to that.

Votes also went to The Race Card, Liberal Guilt and Our Next President by Wolf Howling, Paul of Mises; or How the New Republic Bewitches the Right by Big Lizards; and 500,000 Iraqis Did Not Die by Cheat Seeking Missiles.

The last was an important post on the new study by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government estimating 151,000 war-related civilian deaths, as opposed to 655,000 estimated by the notorious and much-criticized Johns Hopkins/Lancet study of civilian deaths in Iraq.

The number matters, in domestic political arguments at least. The authors of the 600,000 figure knew they were throwing out a political grenade, because they insisted their report be timed to hit the headlines just before Congressional elections in the U.S.

The number matters. Because the anti-Iraq War argument often is built around it. A version of it came up recently in a spat between Michael J. Totten and some progressive anti-war commenters, for instance. It can be paraphrased like this: "The amount of damage and death unleashed by the Iraq War is so great as to overwhelm any good that has or can come as a result of it, and anyone who fails to admit this is either insane or vicious." The 650,000 figure is the central prop of that argument.

However, arguing against it is a walk through a minefield. All unnecessary deaths are tragic, all modern wars kill far more civilians than soldiers. It doesn't matter to a dead Iraqi if she's one of 150,000 or 650,000.

Laer generally does a good job of it, but its probably not wise to put the more accurate number into the context of the Dresden firebombings or the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, as he does; two of the most horrific acts of the last century.

This is the sort of issue you would argue differently among friends and among opponents. But online, every piece of writing is open to both. And an unsympathetic reader would retort with, "OK, so we're comparing ourselves to the S.S. in Poland? Wonderful." Laer's listing of deaths attributed to Saddam before his ouster is a better tactic.

He rightly flags a gross shortcoming in the new study:

Unfortunately, the new Iraq/WHO study, which you can read in its entirety here, does not include a break-down of violent deaths among the three war-related causes -- military ops, insurgent attacks or sectarian violence. If the breakdown were available, I'm sure it would show Islamists to be responsible than Americans for the deaths of Iraqis. I'm looking forward to that study.

Outside the council, the landslide winner was Kangaroo Court, Ezra Levant breathtaking blast at a "human rights commission" that hauled him in to defend himself against publishing things that offended someone. Even people on the American left who found him odious were able to see he's right about this. As Chomsky said, "If we don't believe in free expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

Also getting votes were Ashamed to be Canadian! by Covenant Zone, which dealt with the same topic, Barack Obama -- I'm Sure We've Seen Him Somewhere Before by Armando Iannucci, and The Media Does It Again by Armed Liberal at Winds of Change.

The last was one of many able take-downs online of a big Sunday New York Times cover story on murders committed by returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bloggers were able to use easily available statistics to show what the New York Times omitted to learn or report: That the murder rate among such men is not out of line with the general rate among men of that age group who have not been to war.

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