• Michigan’s infamous Mddle East specialist, Juan Cole, comes up with another doozy

    Carbon dioxide, Cole says, is “a far more deadly gas” than what was used in “the gas attack in Syria on April 4.”

    His basic argument is encapsulated in the headline of his recent article in The Nation:

    The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

    If Trump and his cronies really cared about children killed by noxious gases, they wouldn’t be trying to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere –Juan Cole

    You see, it’s about drought. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s the drought that caused everything to go wrong in Syria.

    Oh, yes, and Trump is to blame. Plus, he’s a hypocrite for bombing a Syrian base to stop more chemical weapon attacks because Trump doesn’t also agree with Al Gore on climate change. If you can follow that logic, check with your doctor. If you agree with it, apply to graduate studies with Prof. Cole at Michigan.

    Again, to quote the professor:

    The Syrian civil war has left more than 400,000 people dead, among them graveyards full of children and innocent noncombatants. About half the country’s 23 million people have been left homeless, and of those, 4 million have been driven abroad (some of them contributing to Europe’s refugee crisis and its consequent rightward political shift). The war occurred for many complex reasons, including social and political ones. The severest drought in recorded modern Syrian history in 2007–10, however, made its contribution. –Juan Cole


    Comment:  Notice that, in the fine print, Cole relegates the drought to a much more ambiguous status. It “made a contribution” to the humanitarian disaster, he now says. How much contribution? He refuses to say.

    Yet the whole point of the article is that carbon dioxide in Syria is more deadly than poison gas attacks, which are war crimes (for good reasons). In short, the article is bait-and-switch, seasoned with hyperbole, political correctness, and a steadfast refusal to look true evil in the eye.

    The most appropriate comment comes from the movie, Billy Madison. It is pitch perfect for Prof. Cole’s analysis:

    In other words, a drought may have contributed, indirectly, to the carnage in Syria. But to emphasize it as a major cause is misleading, tendentious, and wrong.

    To put it differently, California had multiple years of drought and, according to recent statistics, the civil war there has claimed far fewer than 400,000 lives. Perhaps under 300,000.

    Hey, let’s at least give Jerry Brown some credit for avoiding barrel bombs in the Central Valley. So far.


    Hat Tip: Daniel Pipes and Campus Watch. They found the Cole article and publicized it. Kudos.

    Tom Blumer at NewsBusters, who initially publicized the article.

  • Fascinating personal reflections by Prof. Jean Yarbrough: “How I Became a Conservative”

    Jean Yarbrough, a distinguished political philosopher at Bowdoin College, describes her personal and intellectual journey in a brief, engaging campus talk, published here.

    She entered college in the mid-1960s a liberal Democrat, from a “blue collar/middle class” neighborhood on Long Island, the first generation in her family to attend university.

    In those heady days on campus, she moved left and eventually joined the Students for a Democratic Society, the most prominent leftist group of the era.

    In graduate school, though, she began to rethink her views as she grappled with truly great books.

    “Having wasted my undergraduate years protesting,” she said the first peg of her conservatism developed when she began studying the “great texts” in her graduate program at the New School for Social Research in New York City. “I read great books, and these books changed my life. They made me think more seriously about the world around me.” . . .

    The books she read during this period pushed her to carefully consider the importance of natural rights, constitutional government, statesmanship, and virtue — its role in society and how it can be cultivated.

    She goes on to discuss her changing views about foreign policy, marriage-motherhood-and-feminism, religion, and economics. It’s thoughtful, candid, and accessible.

    At a time when students at so many schools refuse to hear alternative views, it’s wonderful to see Prof. Yarbrough given a respectful hearing on her campus and a chance to engage students with serious, often-difficult and controversial ideas. That’s what higher education should be about.


    As an addendum, Prof. Yarbrough includes some of her favorite books on politics. A specialist in American political thought, she knows the field well and has written highly-regarded books on Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Her list is worth pondering–and pursuing.

    • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
    • Plato, Apology, Republic, Gorgias, Symposium, Laws
    • Aristotle, Politics, Rhetoric, and Nicomachean Ethics
    • Locke, Second Treatise of Government
    • Rousseau, Second Discourse, Emile
    • Tocqueville, Democracy in America
    • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
    • The Federalist Papers
    • Abraham Lincoln’s writings
    • Hannah Arendt, On Revolution and The Human Condition
    • Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History and his Selected Essays
    • Harvey Mansfield, Taming the Prince
    • Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided

    Comment: If you read these books–and only these–you would have an unsurpassed education in political thought.

  • Wiretapping Trump Tower: The Allegation is VERY Serious. So Where’s the Evidence?

    The accusation is extremely serious.

    President Trump, by then sitting in the Oval Office, accused his predecessor of authorizing wiretaps on “Trump Tower.”

    Worse yet, he said, the wiretaps were done during the campaign. The clear inference is that the wiretaps were political. A very serious charge, indeed.

    There are three possibilities, and maybe a fourth:

    1. Legitimate reasons for the wiretap that passed muster with a federal judge
    2. Political skullduggery by Obama, a very risky and likely illegal act
    3. A false charge by Pres. Trump, an incendiary accusation, made without any basis.

    There are other possibilities, too. For example,

    • A foreign power or private party could have engaged in surveillance and masked itself as a US agency (or perhaps simply been mistaken for one).

    It is even possible that you US and friendly foreign powers surveil each others’ citizens and exchange information about them to avoid legal restrictions on surveilling their own citizens.


    The problem here simple:

    If true, the charge that President Obama ordered this surveillance is a very damaging one since it goes to the heart of our free and fair elections.

    If untrue, then making the charge is damaging to Pres. Trump, whose words ought to carry weight. If the charges are reckless, they damage his reputation–and ours as a country.

    Now’s the time to show some evidence or show some humility and retract.

    That is what Sen. John McCain said, and he is right.

    Instead, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is saying:

    • “Wiretapping” didn’t mean exactly that; it meant any type of surveillance
    • “Pres. Obama” didn’t the President himself; it meant his administration

    CNN’s report on today’s Spicer Press Briefer, where he made these comments, is here.

    Comment: I read Spicer’s comment as


    Comment #2: Lest the Democrats feel too smug about all this.

    They have been suggesting for months that they lost the election because of the Russians.

    US spy agencies have said that Russians engaged in disinformation, but there is zero evidence they affected the outcome, and the Democrats have presented none.

  • A Ray of Hope for Free Speech at Middlebury, after the Mob

    Linked articles are in bold purple

    But opposition to Middlebury’s free-speech movement shows where the opposition lies at most universities

     There is good news for open discourse at Middlebury College after the despicable violence that prevented Charles Murray from speaking and injured Prof. Allison Stanger.

     Prominent faculty there have circulated a petition for free speech and garnered lots of signatures. 

    Parini and Callanan, the distinguished scholars who have headed up this effort, deserve high praise for it.

    At the bottom of this blog post, I quote the exemplary principles they lay out.

     Let’s go beyond praising the free-speech petition and use the signatures to show where support free speech comes from and where the opposition lies.

     So far, 63 faculty members have signed on. More might join in the next few days.

     They come from a broad variety of departments–but not all

    In fact, it is worthwhile to examine the departmental affiliations of who signed up for free speech and, on the other side, those who signed the counter-petition (prior to the speech), demanding Murray stay away and then sliming him with false allegations about his views and scholarly findings.

    Most (but not all) of Allison Stanger’s colleagues in political science signed the pro-free speech petition, as did she. That’s not surprising. She was, of course, injured in the riots, and some of her friends and colleagues undoubtedly wanted to show solidarity with her.

    Parini’s colleagues in English and American Literature signed in larger numbers than most departments. Support from literature departments would not happen at most universities. That it did at Middlebury may reflect the kind of department Parini helped build or simply his colleagues’ friendship.

    Who signed the petition beyond faculty in Political Science and Literature? The bulk were in the “hard social sciences” (Economics, Psychology), History, Russian, Math, Chemistry, Geology, and, surprisingly, Religion.

    (By “hard social sciences,” I mean those, like economics and psychology, that aspire to be sciences, emphasize large data bases, mathematical models, and empirical testing of causal models. Fields like anthropology and history certainly use data, but they are generally more interested in the actors’ mentalities, intentions, and meanings. Thus, “hard” does not mean difficult, and “soft” does not mean squishy.)

    Who refused to sign? There were zero signatures from the following departments and minors:

    African American Studies, African Studies, American Studies, Arabic, Comparative Literature, Dance, Education Studies, French, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Global Health , Greek, Hebrew-Classical, Hebrew-Modern, International and Global Studies, International Politics and Economics, Latin, Linguistics , Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Physical Education, Physics, South Asian Studies , Spanish and Portuguese, Studio Art, and Theatre

    That is based on the stated affiliations of the signatories, compared to Middlebury’s official list of its departments and majors. It is possible, of course, that some signatories have “affiliate appointments” in these departments or that the departments have no exclusive faculty of their own.

    The data show

    • Supporters of free speech come disproportionately from the physical sciences, “hard” social sciences, and, to a lesser extent, the biosciences.
    • Opposition comes from the Humanities, Arts, and softer social sciences. Because social justice.

    That distribution reflects my own experience across multiple universities (but is not based on systematic data).

    On nearly every campus, the staunchest opponents are professors of gender, sexuality, women’s studies, race, Native American studies, education, and social work, all highly-politicized bastions of the left. American Studies is now essentially the same and so are most literature departments. (Middlebury is an outlier.)

    They always lead the opposition to free speech. Because social justice.

    If students don’t agree with the dominant political ideology of these departments, they leave or never enter in the first place. (It is snarky but true to add that students don’t enter them if they are thinking about building skills for future employers. My point is that they are not building skills for open-minded, critical thinking, either.)

    These departments never hire professors who vary from the party line. Never.

    Here, for example, are the three full-time faculty in Middlebury’s gender studies program. All three signed the “Keep Murray Away” petition. NONE signed the free speech petition. That is anecdotal, of course, but it is repeated on campus after campus. You would be hard fixed to find professors of Gender Studies, Sexuality, Race Studies, Education, or Social Work who take a strong position in favor of free speech. And they are pretty thin on the ground in theater or comparative literature. All think it would permit “oppressive” speech that hurts the weak, poor, and vulnerable. 

    At Brandeis, for instance, the same department–to a person–opposed having Hirsi Ali come to campus even though she had already been invited and even though Ms. Ali is the single most important voice for women’s rights in the Muslim world. They and like-minded faculty got the spineless administration to cave in and rescind the invitation. (FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has a summary of the episode here.)

    The dominant ideology of departments like these is:

    • America is an exploitative country and a malevolent force in the world;
    • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the right track but too willing to compromise, too willing to work within “the system”
    • America and our college campuses are composed of two main groups: the oppressed and the privileged. Our departments stand with the oppressed. They are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, needing “safe spaces” to express their views unchallenged. A space is unsafe not because of any physical threat but because certain views (or even the presence of certain people) can produce psychic injury.
    • As professors are activists, inside the classroom and outside. Our teaching is explicitly designed to improve the situation of the oppressed and to assign blame to the oppressors.
    • Designated oppressors should feel guilty and can partially absolve themselves by following our movement, not by leading or questioning it.

    Put differently: February is “Black History Month” only because it is the shortest month.

    Their viewpoint is summarized in Bernie Sanders’ angry rejection of the idea that America is a compassionate country. His fury is brief and telling.

     Turning to the brighter side:

    ⇒ The Middlebury Principles are excellent.

    It is hard to see why all faculty and students don’t endorse them enthusiastically.

    That they do not is the tragedy of our time on campus.

    Here are the principles, quoted directly:

    • Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.
    • Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.
    • The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.
    • The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.
    • Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.
    • Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.
    • A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.
    • No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.
    • No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.
    • The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.
    • The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.
    • The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.
    • A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.
    • All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter. –Middlebury Principles

    Comment: It is hard to improve on that as a principled defense of free speech on campus.

     My own op-ed on these issues, focusing on the 3 steps needed to restore free speech at universities, is here at Real Clear Politics


    Update and Correction: “Social Sciences” removed from list of Middlebury Departments without a signatory. It is a division, not a department, and many social scientists did sign.

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Thanks for suggesting this article:
    ◆ Tom Elia
    for sending me The American Interest piece

    ◆ Greg Piper of The College Fix for the correction.

  • Does Russian interference mean Trump’s victory is illegitimate?

    Such serious charges require strong, convincing evidence

    So far, we don’t have it

    A former student asked several friends, including me, whether we thought Russia had coordinated with the Trump campaign to illegally fix the US Presidential Election.

    Here is my answer. I welcome your response.

    (1) Foreign powers always collect secret information. All spy agencies do it. That’s their mission.

    (2) What the Russians did–disclosing their information to affect public opinion–was unprecedented in the U.S. The Russians have played this dirty game for a long time in Europe. The goals are three-fold:

    • Discredit politicians in the midst of a campaign
    • Shape public opinion
    • Discredit the democratic election process

    The Russians had some success in all three areas in the 2016 US election.

    The question is: How much?

    (3) There is no evidence it affected the outcome

    But the popular vote was close in several key states that went to Trump. Under those circumstances, it is hard to know, with certainty, which factors could have switched the outcome, state by state.

    (4) There is no evidence of coordination, voluntary or coerced, between Russia and Trump. To claim that is to claim treason. Making such claims without very strong supporting evidence is wildly irresponsible.

    (5) Publication of unverified dossiers by news sites is contemptible. Saying “well, we don’t know but here’s what BuzzFeed is saying” is a less serious violation of journalistic standards, but it is a violation nonetheless. That’s what CNN did. That opened the floodgates.

    (6) Nothing presented so far undermines the vote of the Electoral College, making Donald Trump the legitimately-elected President.

    (7) We live in a country that protects free speech so anybody can say, “Trump has not been legitimately elected.”  They can say it whether it is true or not, whether they believe it or not.

    So, John Lewis is within his First Amendment rights when he disparages Trump’s election and says it is not legitimate. It is irresponsible, but it is his right.

    (8) John Lewis’s declaration and the Clinton camp’s consistent drumbeat are dangerous to stable, democratic governance unless the accusers have convincing proof.

    Our democracy depends on the peaceful transfer of power, accepted as legitimate by the public and both parties.

    BuzzFeed’s dossier, produced on demand by Trump’s R and D opponents, is not proof enough. To publish it was shameful.

    Bottom Line

    To differ on policies is one thing. To say the incoming president has come to office through illegal means, thanks to a nefarious foreign power, and that they two cooperated to subvert American democracy is a much, much more serious charge.

    Richard Nixon declined to make such a charge in 1960, when the integrity of the vote count in Illinois and Texas was in question.

    Nixon simply conceded. He never raised the claim that John Kennedy’s election was illegitimate and a perversion of democracy.

    Nixon knew that such a grave charge requires stronger evidence. That was true in 1960. It is true today.

    Responsible leaders, parties, and news organizations should not lightly toss out the accusation our election was undermined unless they have convincing proof.