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A miracle

Mysterious ways

David Aaronovitch thinks that the election in Iraq is a miracle, ((Thanks to organic cheeseboard.)) and he wishes people would stop talking about the war, because by God, after all, it’s been seven years already? This combination of views is entirely logical, in that only if you forget the war and its aftermath — as Aaronovitch wishes so desperately to do that he now, remarkably, considers any and all “casualty figures” to be “implausible” — can you think of the recent election as a miracle, ie:

A marvellous event occurring within human experience, which cannot have been brought about by human power or by the operation of any natural agency, and must therefore be ascribed to the special intervention of the Deity or of some supernatural being; chiefly, an act (e.g. of healing) exhibiting control over the laws of nature, and serving as evidence that the agent is either divine or is specially favoured by God. ((OED Miracle 1.))

Indeed, so painful have the last seven years apparently been for Aaronovitch that his new defensive fantasy is to self-hypnotize himself into believing it has all been a bad dream; or so one might infer from the way the article begins:

Imagine for a moment that you’ve woken up to the election results from North Korea.

Of course, if you’ve just woken up to something and have no idea about, or have successfully repressed the memory of, what preceded it, it is probably easier to take it as a miracle — or even as, in Aaronovitch’s words, a bloody miracle. Perhaps the phrase bloody miracle makes you think of God smiting the enemies of the righteous with inexplicable sanguinary violence, but I am sure that cannot be what Aaronovitch really means.

  1. 1  Bruce  March 11, 2010, 8:28 pm 

    Defensive-sounding piece from Aaronovitch. More striking, for me, than the “miracle” metaphor was the “self-wounding” stuff:

    It is (I am told) “understandable” that many sensitive Britons feel “wounded” by the circumstances of the war. Well, it certainly was understandable, but it isn’t any longer. Seven years on, it’s gone well beyond the original wound, and we’re at the stage where many folk twist the knife in their own scar to keep it bleeding. They want to stay wounded — they enjoy their wounds.

    I recall John Birt, the former BBC Director General, using the same kind of framing (in Birt’s language, “picking open a healed-up scab”) to refer to political campaigners of the left. It’s a peculiar metaphor for the horror, anger, disgust, etc, felt by many over past crimes of the powerful.

    Aaronovitch refers to “bloody” and “bleeding” a few times, but he doesn’t mention the amount of blood you might expect from the war-wounds of over 100,000 wounded/slaughtered Iraqi civilians. His use of the term “implausible” in respect of casualty figures strikes me as more “subtle” (in an insidious kind of way) than described above. He doesn’t appear (to me) to say that “any and all” casualty figures are implausible. He says:

    They have become ghosts, invoked as (implausible) casualty figures, or seen on TV briefly lamenting a death or maiming.

    Logically, this could imply that he’s seen one figure which he regards as implausible, a figure invoked often. Who knows, from what he’s written, whether he finds any figure plausible. He just doesn’t talk about it, leaving us with the word “implausible” next to “casualty figures”.

    And he writes the illogical nonsense that “it has made it almost impossible to discuss the Iraqis themselves, to consult them or listen to them”. Basic logic obviously is no requirement for highly-paid newspaper columnists.

  2. 2  Daniel Simpson  March 12, 2010, 8:24 am 

    Basic logic obviously is no requirement for highly-paid newspaper columnists.

    Indeed. Regarding Weapons of Mass Distraction, he wrote in 2003:

    If nothing is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again


  3. 3  organic cheeseboard  March 12, 2010, 10:26 am 

    thank you! To add – if this is a miracle, it’s one that’s been planned for (however badly) for about ten years and has had millions, possibly billions of dollars thrown at it. With that in mind, the genuine miracle is Aaronovitch’s steadfast belief in the project, which has been unwavering – so much so that his belief in it as a miracle is nothing short of… miraculous…

  4. 4  ukliberty  March 12, 2010, 10:54 am 

    @organic cheeseboard, if Wikipedia is to be believed, it’s about $704bn – Stiglitz estimates about $12 bn (or 3,196,079.48 police officers*) per month.

    * Daily Mail units.

  5. 5  sw  March 12, 2010, 2:14 pm 

    It’s really quite sleazy, isn’t it? The implication that God is acting on your behalf; the disingenuous tone of false humility (we didn’t do it, don’t give us credit for it, thank God); the importation of benign Judeo-Christian theology (whatever the religion of the speaker) into the political life of a nation of mostly Muslims. But I couldn’t help but hear echoes of another British-American “miracle” – is not a “miracle” a common take on a delightfully surprising outcome in a sporting event? (Type “miracle” into the search engines on the Guardian website, and look at how many sports stories come up; interestingly, do the same on the Daily Mail website, and you get a lot more “””news””” items involving “miracle”.)

  6. 6  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 2:43 pm 

    Incidentally, I think Aaronovitch wins a “tactical battle” to the extent that he gets people focusing on the implausibility (vs plausibility) of a given study’s “casualty figures” – the antiwar arguments then concentrate more on insisting that a given study is credible. To my mind this isn’t an intelligent approach, given the difficulty of estimating conflict deaths and the much stronger arguments against the war which don’t depend upon the credibility of any given survey/death-count. In other words, if (eg) the 2006 Lancet study is shown to be unreliable (assuming its authors ever publish its sampling methodology), that shouldn’t weaken the case against Aaronovitch’s war “logic”.

    If you don’t have an antiwar case before the death-count reaches 1, then you probably, on some level, frame the issues in a similar way to Aaronvitch (ie seeing humans as interchangeable, sacrificable units). Yet the absurd reductio of some antiwar arguments (eg in response to Aaronovitch’s provocative remarks) is that you’re providing support to the pro-war case if you don’t promote a death-count of over a million.

  7. 7  sw  March 12, 2010, 3:15 pm 

    Bruce? Bruce! Actually, I might agree with you? Mostly? Is it similar to the “””intelligent””” design vs evolution debate, where IDers say “evolution is just a [sneer] theory” forcing their interlocutors to say, “No, evolution is rock-hard fact“, at which point the scientific project (which always views even the rock-hardest of facts as susceptible to study, to refinement, to substantial modification based on new theories and new evidence, and even to reversal if these new theories are supportable) is compromised by the supporters of evolution themselves? It’s not just a distraction (as with so many of the faux debates about certain studies’ “flaws”), but a way of fundamentally undermining the concepts underlying your opponent’s certain argument by roping your opponent into supporting a position that, essentially, supports you (hence science becomes a form of “faith” for its devoted certainty to fact, rather than a practice that is always suspicious of the perfection of the fact). In this case, the “pro-war” legions produced loads of “””evidence””” in support of their war, sort of a faith-based, intelligent design form of evidence, while getting the “anti-war” rabble to squabble over the nature of the empirical evidence of the war’s disastrous consequences?

  8. 8  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 3:23 pm 


    The implication that God is acting on your behalf; the disingenuous tone of false humility (we didn’t do it, don’t give us credit for it, thank God); the importation of benign Judeo-Christian theology

    I didn’t read any of that in Aaronovitch’s piece. He uses the “miracle” metaphor, but then so do I when my bank undercharges me. He doesn’t seem to take that metaphor anywhere – he immediately introduces much more insidious ones, imo.

  9. 9  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 3:56 pm 

    sw, I don’t really understand your second post (#7) – perhaps you’re reading too much into my words? There’s a clarification of what I mean in the conclusion to this ZNet article, which may or may not have been written by one of my sinister sock-puppets:

  10. 10  ukliberty  March 12, 2010, 4:04 pm 

    We rightly make much of our violent shortcomings, as with the death of Baha Musa in 2003 at the hands of our troops. As The Times reported yesterday, his family may have received up to £3 million in compensation. It is true, but difficult to say, that had Musa been a victim of Saddam Hussein, not only would there have been no inquiries, no money, no apologies, but that anyone even whispering such things would have quickly ended up murdered. And yes, that difference matters greatly.

    It’s as if we shouldn’t be self-critical because Hussein (why do people use his first name?) was worse. Indeed we should be thankful that we don’t live in a country where our leaders do bad things and aren’t held to account (er…). But we all know Hussein was nasty to his own people – I thought the anti-war argument was fundamentally about whether we had a right (or even a duty) to kill them as well.

    (It strikes me from time to time how peculiar it is that we will not introduce the death penalty for murderers, rapists and paedophiles , even where there is incontrovertible proof of their crimes, despite significant public support for it, yet we send “our boys” to kill tens of thousands of foreigners on the flimsiest of evidence. Is there something like Parkinson’s Law of Triviality going on here?)

  11. 11  richard  March 12, 2010, 5:01 pm 

    sw – I’m sorry to ask you to explain the joke, but your inch marks are confusing me. Are you riffing off Steven’s question marks? Is there some super-quotation going on here, where you’re signalling suspicion of the quoted text?

  12. 12  Steven  March 12, 2010, 7:03 pm 

    I agree with sw’s #7.

    ukliberty@10 —

    Hussein (why do people use his first name?)


  13. 13  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 7:15 pm 

    I agree with sw’s #7.

    Which of its propositions do you agree with? (It might help me to understand it better).

  14. 14  Steven  March 12, 2010, 7:25 pm 

    All of them?

  15. 15  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 7:27 pm 

    You don’t sound sure?

  16. 16  Steven  March 12, 2010, 7:35 pm 

    Question marks will sometimes have that effect?

  17. 17  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 7:50 pm 

    sw mostly agrees with me, he says. Or rather he says he “might”. And you agree with “all” that sw says, but you sound uncertain? I bet George Lakoff’s students don’t have this trouble.

  18. 18  richard  March 12, 2010, 8:00 pm 

    I wouldn’t be so sure? Derrida’s student certainly did?

  19. 19  richard  March 12, 2010, 8:04 pm 

    heh. Derrida’s students. I was tempted to leave the mistyping as it was in homage, but I really didn’t mean to imply that he had only one.

  20. 20  Tawfiq Chahboune  March 12, 2010, 10:43 pm 

    Aaronovitch is playing funny buggers. He’s spinning this disaster into a success story.

    After the invasion, having failed to install Ahmed Chalabi as “President”, the US turned to Iyad Allawi, former Saddam henchman and mass murderer. This was the “Saddam-lite” option advocated by the State Department before the invasion, which Bush finally adopted having noticed how insane the neoconservatives he had elevated to power were.

    Now, one can believe that in all Iraq the US could find no one with better democratic credentials than Allawi, but it doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny whatever. That President Chalabi/Allawi was the US definition of “democracy” tells us a great deal. That the Shiite clergy had a more sound interpretation of democracy is one of the stranger ironies of modern times.

    Patrick Cockburn may have been presumptuous when he reported “US admits defeat” in Iraq, but not spectacularly so. Unless, that is, empowering an anti-US Shia clergy to hold effective veto power over Iraq, strengthening Iran as a regional actor, and destabilising Saudi Arabia (nearly all the oil is in the Shia dominated areas), among many other notable outcomes, are apparently successes.

    Since anything approaching democracy in Iraq would have these undesirable outcomes, it is not credible that the US supported democracy promotion, as the US showed by its actions in Iraq. Aaronovitch is no bloody fool, and he knows that the war has been a total catastrophe for US policy. He can’t admit this – after all, he’s limbering up for a war with Iran. So he does a good act of pretending that he supports the democracy that the US tried to strangle at every turn.

  21. 21  Bruce  March 12, 2010, 11:48 pm 

    One bit of sw’s post (#7) I understood:

    while getting the “anti-war” rabble to squabble over the nature of the empirical evidence of the war’s disastrous consequences?

    That’s sort of it, but of course establishing a death-count (or, better, documenting every death, AFAP, rather than estimating – IBC’s aim) is important for obvious reasons. The point is not to confuse two separate lines of reasoning, not to use a given death-estimate as a sort of condition of the validity of an antiwar case (which gives rise, among more important things, to “suspicion” of those who argue lower figures).

    As for the conspiriological framing of your evolution/ID case, I don’t think it applies here, as far as I understand it – I don’t see Aaronovitch “roping [his] opponent[s] into supporting” his views. I think he’s just inept/illogical. If he’s won any tactical victories, then I think it was probably by accident.

    I’m tempted to add that war has no light-shedding similarities to a scientific experiment for corroborating that many people are slaughtered when you drop bombs. But I’d probably be misrepresenting what you were trying to argue, and since I’m not really sure what you were arguing…

  22. 22  Steven  March 14, 2010, 9:54 am 

    Another miracle.

  23. 23  Bruce  March 14, 2010, 10:12 am 

    The miracle is that it looks like a clip-art image of Jesus. Well, as Picasso once said: everything is a miracle; it’s a miracle you don’t dissolve in the bath like soap.

  24. 24  Bruce  March 14, 2010, 5:47 pm 

    Another bit of sw’s post (#7) I understood:

    as with so many of the faux debates about certain studies’ “flaws”

    Takes me back… all the people lining up in certain “science” blogs to allege flaws in the studies which didn’t produce the correct figure (IFHS, ILCS, IBC), while dismissing as “feeble”, “tendentious”, etc, all the claims of flaws in a study which did seem to produce the right figure. Objective, non-tendentious debates.

    Meanwhile, the Stonewalling/Coverup Award goes to the study with the correct figure (another “victory” in terms of Aaronvitch-logic):

  25. 25  Bruce  March 15, 2010, 7:14 pm 

    Then again, sw was perhaps alluding to a “faux debate” which appeared on these pages, something like this:

    Person A says claims of flaws in the Correct Study (CS) are all “groundless”.

    Person B links to studies claiming flaws in CS, and adds that it “doesn’t help” A’s case that a similar study estimated 450,000 fewer deaths and that CS’s author was suspended for “ethical” violations of study protocol, etc.

    Person C says the stuff (which B linked to) from experts critical of CS amount to “tons of people saying, ‘Yeah, but I think the number is lower, ’cause it doesn’t feel right’.”

    Person D says that B seems like a suspicious character who is “trying to undermine the credibility” of CS with casual insinuations, etc.

    That kind of faux debate? Don’t get me started.

  26. 26  Steven  March 15, 2010, 8:05 pm 


  27. 27  Bruce  March 16, 2010, 10:17 am 

    *Eastwood glare*

  28. 28  ukliberty  March 16, 2010, 3:51 pm 

    Thanks Steven @12 for your pointer to the Saddam naming thing.

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