Monday, July 21, 2008


If This is a Win, What Would a Loss Look Like?

My friend Jeff decided to torture me yesterday by making me watch "Fox News Sunday" as the price of sharing his air-conditioned relief from the NYC heat wave. Kristol, Hume, Wallace, crowing about how we're winning in Iraq. I just thought I'd run down the current conditions to show what a win looks like in these guys' world:

1) 4.2 million people have fled their homes since the 2003 invasion. That's "million". Of the total, 2 million are in Syria and Jordan and the rest are IDPs, internally displaced persons. Just for some perspective, the total population of Iraq is 28.2 million (Jul 2008 est.). That's 15% of the population. An equivalent per capita number of refugees in the US would be 45 million people, or more than the populations of Texas and New York combined.

2) The money is insignificant compared to the number of lives lost (mostly Iraqi) and ruined, but the cost of the war so far is a staggering $600 billion (just the direct costs, to say nothing of the future medical costs and blowback) with the price tag going up by $3 billion a week. According to Al Gore's recent speech, it would cost between $1.5 and $3.0 trillion (combined public and private investment) to make the entire US economy carbon free in ten years time. Here's a very complicated calculation: ($3 billion/week) X (52 weeks/year) X (10 years) = $1.5 trillion. Wow, that was complicated! The Fox News Sunday crew thinks the Iraq war is a great idea. They also think Al Gore's idea is completely nuts. Even Tom Brokaw, a bastion of the so-called (but in no way) liberal media, couldn't restrain his incredulity at the idea of an audacious plan to shift to renewable energy. $3 billion a week for energy independence and a last shot at avoiding the global warming catastrophe? Preposterous. $3 billion a week for Iraq? No problem.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


A Surge of Ignorance

To hear John McCain tell it, the lessening violence in Iraq is the result of the surge of US troops, which he supported. Now if you buy the argument that the US has any business having troops in Iraq in the first place, then perhaps the surge did help - but it's a weird idea to think that increasing the number of troops helped to lessen the violence, much of which was caused by the presence of US troops in Iraq in the first place. But the main reason for the lessening violence in Iraq, the reason that John McCain studiously and ignorantly ignores, is the cease-fire declared by Moqtada Al-Sadr last August. If you look at US casualties, the number stayed pretty level through August of 2007, then started to decline precipitously. The surge had been in place for months at that point with little effect. But immediately after the Mahdi Army cease-fire, US casualties fell in each month to the low levels now being seen. News reports at the time reflected the dramatic impact the cease-fire might have on the spiral of violence:
Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said Baghdad would only welcome the move if Sadr's lieutenants stop attacks and their attempts to "blow up" the Iraqi government. "I will see on the ground what is going to happen," he said. "It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal."

The Pentagon has identified Sadr's militia as the biggest threat to stability in the war-ravaged country, even ahead of the Iraqi al-Qa'eda network.
So the "biggest threat to stability" declared a cease-fire that was expected to "reduce violence a great deal". But to listen to John McCain, it's all about the surge of US troops. And this is the guy who claims to be the foreign policy expert in the race.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Thanks for Clearing That Up!

From an article on the bad state of the US economy in today's Washington Post:
"I think the problem now is a general confidence crisis that is complicated by some global contagion that's now spreading," said Brian Bethune, a chief economist with Global Insight of Lexington, Mass.
Global insight, indeed! Is "Bethune" lispish for "buffoon"?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Cognitive Dissonance

Somewhat to my surprise, I have enjoyed several recent columns by David Brooks in the NYTimes. Today's column about how scientific explanations for human behavior have lost favor was one I enjoyed more through hopefulness than belief. For example, I would love to believe that what Brooks writes here is actually true:
It wasn't long ago that headlines were blaring about the discovery of an aggression gene, a happiness gene or a depression gene. The implication was obvious: We're beginning to understand the wellsprings of human behavior, and it won't be long before we can begin to intervene to enhance or transform human life.

Few talk that way now. There seems to be a general feeling, as a Hastings Center working group put it, that "behavioral genetics will never explain as much of human behavior as was once promised."
My hopefulness didn't last long. In today's Science Times (the same paper, for god's sake, on the same day) was an article about Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard professor and father of Sociobiology. Some gems from that piece:
...he proposed that many human activities, from economics to morality, needed to be temporarily removed from the hands of the reigning specialists and given to biologists to work out a proper evolutionary foundation.

Morality and religion, he suspects, are traits based on group selection. "Groups with men of quality - brave, strong, innovative, smart, and altruistic - would tend to prevail, as Darwin said, over those groups that do not have those qualities so well developed," Dr. Wilson said.
This is not some fringe character, mind you. So, to David Brooks and his editors at the New York Times, I'd like to make a suggestion: Don't publish opinion pieces that are directly contradicted by stories in other sections of your own paper, published on the same fragging day!

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