Thursday, October 12, 2006


Blossoms of Death.

One of the rhetorical (and false) axioms the the power-consolidating White House has relied on is this one: your pretty civil liberties mean nothing to you if the Islamo-fascists get you, and so you best give up a few so I can prevent Osama from shimmying down your chimney like an evil Santy Claus. It has been by this (false) logic--and the resulting fear of many Americans--that Bush has seized extra-Constitutional powers. It is also by this logic that Bush has justified his half-witted invasion of Iraq. Yeah, sure, things are "a little rocky" in Baghdad, but the blossoming garden of Democracy is far better than the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein.

As have so many of the paradoxes upon which Bushian policies rest--we must cut down the trees to create healthy forests, we must give tax dollars to the wealthy to feed the poor, etc.--this one is beginning to collapse inward. With yesterday's report of 600,000 dead, with the flowering civil war (Baghdad's only blossoms are IEDs), with the simmering rage rippling across the Mideast, it is well to point out one more: Bush, for all his fine intentions, has killed more Iraqis than Saddam ever could. If life is the ultimate civil liberty, Bush's unshakeable faith in Democracy will do little for the hundreds of thousands killed in his grand experiment. Worse, they did not sacrifice their lives for their own vision of the future, but the vision supplied by the arrogant, ignorant brain trust at the Project for a New American Century. Saddam or Dick Cheney--does it much matter to the dead?


Jeff Alworth said...

As a corrolary, a comment on war and peace. American pacifists have had a rough go of it in the last twenty years. Our little experiments in Panama and Iraq (the first time) and Afghanistan have convinced a majority of citizens that exercising our might is good for the empire. We have slipped into same kind of arrogance in which the lords of the British Empire once indulged. Looking at the catastrophe in Iraq, and the decades of suffering and death it will cause, I find that my faith in non-violence is renewed. Surely, if this is the best the warlords can do, nonviolence can do better. It would be an ironic--and welcome--consequence of the Bush White House if he encouraged a new wave of pacifists to rise in the US.

Idler said...

The situation in Iraq is sufficiently lamentable without having to resort to grotesque distortions. It takes a combination of serious bias and embarrassing credulity to take seriously the Lancet study figure.

Have you thought about just how many people that is? How it compares with the mortality of other conflicts that involved far more daily violence on a far grander scale?

On another topic, it's nice for the ruthless murderers of civilians that they can kill set off bombs in shopping centers and other public places day after day, slaughtering fellow Arabs with abandon and never be blamed for it. In your twisted ethical view it is Bush that killed them. But I guess that's the point of terrorism. Kill and main enough people to get exactly the kind of reaction they get from you.

Jeff Alworth said...

It takes a combination of serious bias and embarrassing credulity to take seriously the Lancet study figure.

Oh really? Do tell why you think the methodology is wrong. And no, Sean Hannity's opinion doesn't count. It is the only scientific study ever mounted that actually asks people on the ground. The number is shocking. How does that make it wrong?

In your twisted ethical view it is Bush that killed them.

In your twisted ethical view, the GOP and George Bush never have to take blame for anything that is a direct consequence of their hubris, incompetence, and ignorance. (Invading Iraq as a way to spread Democracy--c'mon, even I knew six months before the invasion that it would pull the lid off a civil war--see "Pre-war Argument Against the Invasion" link in the right column.)

The fact that you will hold no one accountable for this debacle is a topic I touched on recently--if you liked this, you'll love that.

A little bird said... put some context to the 600,000 people figure and it makes it all the more horrible. I read a pretty thorough explanation of the Lancet study methodology and it looked sound. Given that Jeff does research by trade, I value his stamp of approval on it. As he pointed out, just because a statistic is shocking, it doesn't make it wrong. There were death certificates to back up over 90% of the claims those families made. The sad fact is, if we hadn't invaded, the insurgents, terrorists, foreign fighters, etc. wouldn't be there. How would Americans react if China decided that the Bush regime was evil, invaded us, lost control of our borders, and allowed 600,000 people to be killed? Whatever happened to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you?"

Idler said...

I don't deny that Bush has responsibility. I just don't put it all at his door. When a U.S. President decides to use force, he bears responsibility for the consequences of that choice, as do the members of the legislature who support him, through their votes.

Bush is responsible in the same way, for example, that Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the consequences of invading North Africa and later Europe, among other of his decisions to use force.

Bush's decision was more questionable, perhaps, because the threats he used to justify the Iraq war were more speculative.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a purely predatory use of violence, the threats and acts of the enemy are part of the calculus of responsibility. This is true for conventional warfare. It is far more true in the case of terrorism.

Terrorists in Iraq have committed countless acts of deliberate murder of Iraqi civilians just going about their business. To say Bush killed these people is ridiculous and disgraceful.

It is especially so given that these acts are committed with the purpose of effect, counting on people to react the way you do, along with others who don't perversely allocate blame as you do, but who nevertheless are likely to be impressed by the terrorists' tactics.

You obviously wish violence on no one, but you should consider how terrorists play on your reactions. Their success in moving you convinces them of the efficacy of such tactics, and thus perpetuates them. They can't beat the U.S. militarily, so they work to undermine the country's will. Their barbarity is thus ultimately aimed at getting a reaction from you, and you play along. Thus, while it is remote from your intentions, you play a role in the causation of the terrorism, just as Bush does.

That doesn't mean you bear anything remotely like the same responsibility. That would be absurd. After all, if the U.S. government hadn't gone into Iraq, these particular acts wouldn't be happening. But you still ought to consider the very important role you play in what might be called "the economy of terrorism," both for now, and for the future success of such tactics. They haven't prospered to date for no reason.

With regard to the Lancet figure, just because something is shocking doesn't mean it's wrong. But I'm adverting not to the shock but rather the raw implausibility of the number.

My competence to evaluate statistical methodologies is limited. However, since the first Lancet study, I've read over arguments on both sides, which can be found to support just about every shade of credibility or lack of it. I have certainly come across highly qualified people who have offered evaluations of the methodology and found it seriously wanting.

My point is that apart the figure cited in the Lancet is absurd prima facie. That is why I phrased the second paragraph of my last post the way I did. I still see no evidence that you have considered the figure's implausibility.

As some writer pointed out, we've seen many headlines and reports, day after day, month after month, from sources respected by both sides (e.g., PBS' Jim Lehrer News Hour) that, if I may paraphrase, "today was an especially bloody day in Iraq: 40 people were killed." For the Lancet figure to be in the ballpark, every single day would have been more than ten times worse than that.

I encouraged you to think about this in relation to previous conflicts that we know involved vastly more violence on a far grander scale. I'm certain you haven't done so, and that you probably have no idea of what kinds of warfare result in what quantities of casualties. If you bother to research that, you may start to see what I mean.

There is simply no way that the Iraq insurgency, carried out with the means being used, could result in the numbers of causalties claimed by the Lancet study. This is a case of statistics lending plausibility to something that otherwise would not have it. Don't be a sucker.

Jeff Alworth said...

Idler, I'm not going down this road with you again. I think you do a pretty fair job of offering a metaphor for your position--and therefore the reason I'm not going to debate this--when you write:

My point is that apart the figure cited in the Lancet is absurd prima facie.

I think you have the wrong Latin--you mean "a priori." The arguments you make are close-ended and cauterized to reason. If you don't know anything about stats, and you've already made your decision, why are you debating it? So it feels with every one of your arguments.

Idler said...

No, I don't mean a priori. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the term I used.

Given your past performance, I'm not surprised that you're not interested in entertaining my perfectly reasonable argument. Talk about closed and cauterized against reason.

The beauty of statistics is that, with the right approach, one can claim outlandish things and then disqualify non-statisticians from replying.

You can reward my candor about my limited statistical acumen with the same cheap shots that you're prone to take your at ideological opponents. But perhaps I could pick a few of what seem to me as the more impressive arguments and you could demonstrate your expertise by telling me what's wrong with their methodological analysis. That might be fun.

Again, I'm open about my limited (but not nonexistent) competence in dealing with statistical methodology. But I offer another criterion. There's no reason why you couldn't entertain a critique based on that, and there is every reason to be open to it given widespread skepticism of the study (which you cannot fail to be aware of).

Apparently you'd simply rather not bother. But I'm the one that's "cauterized and closed." Well, if it gives you the cover you need to bail out with dignity, that's OK with me.

Idler said...

Even Iraqbodycount has dismissed the Lancet study:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, let's see if I've got this right.
1.If I disagree with Idler, then I clearly haven't researched or thought about things properly.
2.If a statistic seems unlikely on its face, then it is automatically false.
3. Checking the methodology of a seemingly improbable statistic is not evidence that the improbability of said statistic was considered.
4. Statistics are worthless anyway because they can be used to make any claim you want.
5. Not supporting our current administration's decisions (which I think have been bad) helps the terrorists.

Did I miss anything?

Jeff Alworth said...

Idler, thanks for the Iraq Body Count rebuttal. I think it's a compelling argument, but to be clear, it's not actually a statistical refutation or a refutation of the data. They argue, simply, "It is unlikely that incidents of this scale would be so consistently missed by the various media in Iraq."

It may be unlikely, but my experience is that data sometimes are. You either need to find a fault in the methodology or reconsider your assumptions. Since they can't find fault in the methodology, they make their argument by "implication," which I don't dismiss out of hand. Neither is it by itself bulletproof.

(And I wish you'd knock off the "if it gives you the cover you need to bail out with dignity" bullshit. Your towering arguments have not yet so reduced me that my dignity is threatened--but our conversation is by those kinds of comments.)