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Some percentage

Hitchens and ‘moral idiocy’

Christopher Hitchens’s response to the Lancet study is ingenious. First he smears it as fantasy – because the Lancet apparently has “a reputation for conjuring bloodbaths”. But then, “for the sake of argument”, he assumes that the figures are correct. What then?

Indeed, if you look more closely, you will see that less than one-third of the surplus deaths are attributed, even by this study, to “Allied” military action. Grant if you wish that this figure is likely to be more exact, since at least the coalition fights in uniform and issues regular statistics.

Where are the “regular statistics” issued by the splendidly uniformed “coalition” on how many people they kill? Oh, that’s right, there aren’t any. The reassuring “less than one-third” figure is actually 31%. This is not, as Hitchens thinks, the proportion of the total “excess” or “surplus” deaths post-invasion attributable to the “coalition”, but specifically the proportion of violent deaths. It amounts to 186,318 people. Hitchens continues with a quibble born of ignorance:

We are told that 24 percent of the violent deaths were caused by “other” actors, and 45 percent of them by “unknown” ones. If there is any method of distinguishing between the “other” and the “unknown,” we are not told of it.

Uh, yes we are. The problem appears to be that Hitchens has only bothered to read the Guardian story on the report to which he links, and not the report itself. “Other” in the “cause of violent death” column at Table 4 (p 5) means deaths attributed to forces other than the “coalition”: in other words, to insurgent and factional violence. “Unknown”, meanwhile, means just what it says – that the study cannot with confidence attribute those deaths to one or other force: “the responsible party was not known, or the households were hesitant to specifically identify them” (p 5). But anyway, even if the “coalition” are killing people, one can conduct a hand-waving argument that they are killing the right people:

Make the assumption that some percentage of those killed by the coalition are the sort of people who have been blowing up mosques, beheading captives on video, detonating rush-hour car bombs, destroying pipelines, murdering aid workers, bombing the headquarters of the United Nations, and inciting ethnic and sectarian warfare. Make the allowance for the number of bystanders and innocents who lost their lives in the combat against these fanatics (one or two, alas, in the single case of the precision bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just to take one instance). But who is to say how many people were saved from being murdered by the fact that the murderers were killed first?

Who is to say, indeed? Not Hitchens: he is merely pulling this stuff out of thin air. To a detailed statistical study that explains its methodology and gives confidence intervals for its estimates, Hitchens’s response is to appeal to “some percentage”. Look, some percentage of the people we are killing are themselves murderers. That is no doubt true. But what percentage does Hitchens suppose it to be? Does it make a particular difference, for instance, if some percentage is less than half, or more than half? Even if some percentage were, for instance, an impressively accurate 75%, that would leave 25%, or 46,580 civilians killed by US-led forces. Would that number be okay?

Hitchens no doubt intuits that even a favourable figure for some percentage would work out, after some minimal arithmetic, at a horrific total of blameless Iraqis killed by the “coalition”. That is why he leaves it so usefully vague. The appeal to some percentage is affectedly casual, even bored, displaying an aristocratic impatience with mere bean-counting, a confidence that a righteous roll-call of horrors inflicted by the insurgents will trump the findings of people who have been to Iraq and conducted a door-to-door survey of death. Some percentage further Unspeaks the leftover percentage of Iraqi civilians killed by the “coalition”, denies that there is any point in even coming to an estimate of how many they are. Why bother counting them? Just imagine that even more would have been killed by the “murderers” if, er, we hadn’t already killed them ourselves. Concentrate your mind on the fact that some percentage of the people we are killing are villains. After some further meditation on the fact that the “coalition” wears uniforms and the fiction that it issues regular statistics on how many civilians it kills, you may come to conclude that the percentage in question is as close to 100% – give or take “one or two, alas” – as makes no difference.

But the story is even happier than that:

But the “tit for tat” confessional killings were and are a deliberate tactic of the insurgency and now threaten to spread into mass reprisals on both sides, while all the effort of the coalition is devoted to negotiating a compromise between the country’s factions. It is simple moral idiocy to fail to distinguish between these phenomena.

From a vague protestation that we are killing the right people, Hitchens moves miraculously to a claim that, anyway, we aren’t killing anyone at all. All the effort of the “coalition”, you see, is “devoted to negotiating a compromise”. No doubt because of my “moral idiocy”, I have contrived to miss the recent statistics issued by the uniformed “coalition” showing that all airstrikes, bombing and shooting have ceased, to be replaced by diplomatic negotiations throughout the country. Or perhaps “negotiating a compromise” is a delicious new form of Unspeak for “killing people”. Or maybe some percentage of Hitchens’s article is disingenuous garbage.

  1. 1  Chicken Yoghurt » Unspeak: Some percentage  October 17, 2006, 12:28 pm 

    […] Chicken Nugget: Some percentage […]

  2. 2  Michael  October 17, 2006, 2:53 pm 

    Stephen, would “some percentage of….garbage” be more than a third? 90% perhaps?

  3. 3  Deltoid  October 17, 2006, 4:39 pm 

    Slate’s war on epidemiology

    You would have hoped the editors of Slate would have taken into account the way Fred Kaplan’s innumerate criticism of Lancet 1 was shredded, but they’ve gone and published an attack on the study by Christopher Hitchens, who knows less…

  4. 4  Graham Giblin  October 17, 2006, 4:45 pm 

    When I first heard the Lancet figures I nearly fell off my chair. I had been angered enough by the Iraq Body Count number of about 50,000 civilians (surely a fitting enough number of deaths to atone for the deaths of 3000 US citizens, especially by a nation which had nothing to do with 9/11). If true, this number was beyond astonishing. If the numbers were applied to any western nation I simply can’t imagine what the reaction would be. If Iraq was the response to 3000 people on 9/11 what would be the response to 200 times that number?

    I waited for the debate about the accuracy of the sampling methods. I waited for the commentary on the implications for the nations who had so enthusiastically shocked and awed the Iraqi people. I knew that if 650,000 was right, then this was the story of the decade and feathers would fly.

    Nothing. A story or two about George Bush and John Howard simply dismissing the figure as “not credible”, General Casey mumbling about a figure of perhaps 50,000 that he had vaguely heard but couldn’t recall where, and other stories that concentrated on a debate over the figures without giving any of the reasons for or against really.

    The coverage and commentary in the British press was far better than I found in Australia.

    Nevertheless, I still haven’t found the discussion of the implications if the figure is anywhere near correct. All we who are citizens of nations that supported and participated in the invasion (US, UK and Oz) are implicated in such carnage, are in a way personally responsible. Who are we as peoples that we have allowed it to happen? Is it worse to go than to stay?

    Because the argument now is that to leave would embolden “the enemy”. I do not know what more heart ”the enemy” could gain, or recruiting poster they could hope for, than from the continued presence of coalition troops in Iraq.

    If the figures are anything like real (and they claim a CI of 95% from about 400.000 to almost a million) then there is nothing left of any of the reasons they gave us for invading in the first place. All have been discredited. WMDs, 9/11, Uranium from Niger. The low figure is higher for just three years’ work than estimates of Saddam’s reign of terror over 23 years. Torture may be worse now than under Saddam.( The democracy so vaunted is disintegrating into dectarian vilence and civil war. What could possibly be left as a justification? Not letting the “terrorists” laugh at us is what.

    And there was George Bush’s masterful piece of Unspeak on about 12 October:

    “No, I don’t consider it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.”
    – I have authority on my side, if no statistical or other arguments. I think from the gut and my gut tells me it’s wrong. (cf. Stephen Colbert’s White House Dinner speech –
    – I am compassionate.
    – They don’t mind our violence. They almost quite like it. At least, they’re not complaining.

    “Six-hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at is just… it’s not credible.”
    – It’s not a statistical survey – it’s a “guess”.

    “If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis can defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven from which to launch new attacks on America.”
    – The appeal to our parental instincts. The Iraqi “democracy” isn’t a hopeless, stitched-together, corrupt, hatge-filled disaster; it is like a defenceless llittle baby that only a heartless parent would abandon to the depradations of the monster.
    – The Iraqis were implicated in 9/11.
    – You should fear for your lives (again).

    “How do I know that would happen? Because that’s what the enemy has told us would happen.”
    – The amorphous group of often unconnected insurgents, islamists and sectarian warriors is reified and simplified for the American people, as a single entity with a single mind and voice.

    “By helping the Iraqis build a democracy, an Iraqi-style democracy, we will deal a major blow to terrorists and extremists.”
    – We are tough and powerful enough to protect you fron these devils.

    “We’ll bring hope to a troubled region, and we’ll make this country more secure.”
    – We are nice and compassionate people who “bring hope” (and we dropped a lot of hope out of bombers in the first few hours of the invasion).
    – It’s a “troubled region” by nature, so the catastrophe in the region is not of our making.

    The real troubled region seems to be the USA.

  5. 5  Steven  October 17, 2006, 5:15 pm 

    Thanks for your comments, Graham. Some of what you discuss I have written about in A level that they tolerate and They will follow us, but I like your extra readings, particularly that of “troubled region”.

    There have been a lot of good posts about the details and methods of the Lancet report at Crooked Timber, by the way.

  6. 6  Ratzinger  October 17, 2006, 6:33 pm 

    Graham is right, of course, this is all extraordinarily shaming. But I was not surprised that the Lancet figures were so high. It sounded about right. News reports of sixty dead there, another forty there, knowing that journalists are not able to move freely through the country, always implied something far more alarming underneath.

    In some parts of Baghdad the coalition forces have welded down the manhole covers to stop people dumping bodies down the sewers.

    Tony Blair at his monthly press conference today exhorted the Muslim community in Britain to get the “balance right” between “integration and multiculturalism”. He spelt that out further: they should integrate. Perhaps not an entirely unreasonable request if it is hedged with certain riders, but he then conflated that process of domestic “integration” in the UK with a resolution of the division between moderate Muslims and islamicist extremists throughout the world. The DNA in that argument, its inner viral logic, would imply that the entire Muslim world should just shut up and embrace modernity as he defines it. Fantastic. Perhaps he is right: the world would surely be both more pacific and congenial, if the Sufis managed to smother the Wahabis with kindness and Levantine cosmopolitanism.

    But one could be forgiven for thinking that Tony Blair, a man complicit in the death of more 600,000 Muslims, might not be in the best position to advance the moderate’s cause.

  7. 7  tim  October 17, 2006, 7:05 pm 

    You can believe 655000 Iraqis have died.
    But only if you believe it was paradise under Saddam.

    The Lancet this week published a report claiming that 655,000 people have been killed in Iraq.
    It is based on flawed research that would shame any publication, except one that had previously been responsible for giving Andrew Wakefields MMR “research” the oxygen of publicity.

    The research is based on the pre war death rates under Saddam Husseins regime before the 2003 invasion, assessing those afterwards, and labelling the difference war related deaths.

    Unfortunately the researchers have made two huge errors.
    Their figures only stand up if adult Iraqis living under the Ba’athist regime hardly ever died. Either of natural or violent causes.

    Secondly they included the data to undermine their conclusions in their own report.

    The researchers claim the death rate in pre war Iraq was 5.5 per thousand and backed up this claim in a country of 25 million people with an analysis of 82 deaths. Thats a death rate, half that of the EU but perfectly possible in a “young” country with a high birth rate, low median age and good life expectancy.

    Unbelievably the same research claims infant mortality was 10%.

    5.5 deaths per thousand means that 137,500 Iraqis died each year.
    10% infant mortality in a country of 34 births per thousand and 25 million means that 85,000 of these deaths were under one year old.

    Leaving a death rate for Iraqis over one year old of 2.1 per thousand.

    Less than half that of the lowest country in the world.


    And on the subject of violent deaths pre invasion?


    They drew the following conclusion “As there were few violent deaths in the survey population prior to the invasion all violent deaths can be considered “violent excess deaths”
    82 deaths analysed.

    Read that again. No violent deaths under Saddam.
    Not even domestic violence. Prison works.

    This may tell you something about the motivation and rigour of the analysis.

    Or a desire for headlines.

    The World Health Organisation gives a figure of 9.03 deaths per thousand in Iraq pre invasion.

    A figure which ,put through the Lancet prism would have reduced its headline death toll by hundreds of thousands.

    And the headlines by a few.


  8. 8  Steven  October 17, 2006, 7:17 pm 

    As you know, your objections were answered repeatedly in comments here.

  9. 9  tim  October 17, 2006, 7:23 pm 

    I’ve never visited this site before.
    where were they answered?

  10. 10  Steven  October 17, 2006, 7:25 pm 

    That is a link to the thread at Crooked Timber in which you said exactly the same things; I have no interest in repeating the discussion here.

  11. 11  tim  October 17, 2006, 7:29 pm 

    And nobody has refuted that a 10% infant mortality rate makes a pre war 5.5 per thousand crude death rate impossible.

    [yes they have, at #155 and #208 and #215 etc – SP]

  12. 12  tim  October 17, 2006, 7:48 pm 

    they refute nothing.
    The WHO,Unicef calculate a pre war infant mortality rate of 10%
    UNDP (in the same report the JHU got its graph from) estimates a 40 deaths per thousand for under fives.
    Yet the JHU figures only work if a medical miracle in infant mortality happened around the time of their sample.

    As Daniel Davies has conceded the UN estimates a crude death rate of 10 per thousand pre war.
    A figure that would have left the JHU arguing that the first 22 months of the invasion led to a saving of lives.

  13. 13  Steven  October 17, 2006, 7:52 pm 

    Which part of #10 above are you having trouble understanding?

  14. 14  tim  October 17, 2006, 7:57 pm 

    I’ll leave.
    If you believe infant mortality in Iraq was 10% pre and post invasion, but took a drop to 2-3% while their research was done, I think we’re both wasting our time

  15. 15  lenin  October 17, 2006, 8:12 pm 

    Tim, if you look out the window, you will notice your credibility floating away on a high wind.

    1) The Lancet survey makes no assumption that life under Saddam was paradise. The researchers measured the number of deaths per thousand before the invasion began, from the first day of 2002, and discovered a pre-war death rate of 5.5/1,000/year. That doesn’t assume that Iraqis “hardly ever died. Either of natural or violent causes.”

    2) Iraq is indeed by all accounts a young country, with over 40% of the population under 15 in the year 2002, and a life expectancy of 67 years (according to the CIA World Factbook for that year).

    3) 5.5 deaths per thousand means 120,000 deaths annually before the invasion – this much information was available in the discussion of the survey itself (see Supplementary Notes).

    4) 85,000 infant deaths per year is not “Paradise”. It might be said to be closer to Hell if you like those metaphors.

    5) The Lancet does not claim infant mortality was 10% (interesting that you do not say of what, even if it isn’t hard to disinter your meaning). Nowhere in their study is the figure of 10% mentioned in connection with findings in the sample obtained. Appendix E gives specific figures for pre-war infant mortality until 1999, using statistics provided by USAID, which are introduced as extraneous information as a means of helping people understand and interpret the results, not as information contained in the sample obtained, as you claim. The infant mortality rate in 1999 was slightly over 100 per thousand live births, which is close to 10 per cent (and therefore we must assume this is what you thought you were referring to), but it isn’t the figure pertaining to 2002, which was when their research began. Therefore, not only are we dealing with a different set of statistics, obtained by different means, we are dealing with a different time period.

    6) They said: “As there were few violent deaths in the survey population prior to the invasion all violent deaths can be considered “violent excess deaths””

    You said:

    “Read that again. No violent deaths under Saddam.”

    There is a difference between few (in which usage few is relative to the many hundreds of thousands detected post-invasion), and none. This is a difference that I like to think most five year olds understand. They are, substantively backed up by reports of violent deaths inside Iraq by Amnesty International, which notes for the years leading up to 2002 from 1994 “hundreds” of executions per year, and then in 2001 “scores” of executions, and then in 2002 “some improvement”. In short, such violent deaths as obtained would have been largely due to criminal activity in that preceding period.

    In short, you don’t understand the figures you are working with, which you casually misattribute, you show no sign of having actually read the report much less understood it, you misconstrue statements found in the report, and you can find no point at which the authors of this report have misconducted themselves in the survey. It looks very much like someone has spoon-fed this information to you.

  16. 16  asdf  October 17, 2006, 8:17 pm 

    i agree that tim sure does get around.

  17. 17  the uncool dude  October 17, 2006, 8:25 pm 

    Christopher Hitchens? What on earth happened to the poor chap? I was in awe of that man’s prose in the eighties & nineties. His lambasting of the much-coiffured Clinton left me gagging for more. His lampooning of the vile and ever oily Kissinger was nothing short of masterful. But then, post-millenium, he became another person. Has the real Hitchens been abducted by the CIA I remember thinking at the time. They’ve cloned the blighter. We must start up a campaign to get the real Hitchens released pronto.

    And now that his old bete noir, Kissinger, appears to have got his favourite mug back at the tea-room in the Oval office his prose has slid to new depths of insipidity. Can this flaccid, lugubrious, labyrinthine stuff really have dripped from the pen of the master? A pen at one time I would have given me granny away just to kiss or at least, ever so briefly, to suck. No, on second thoughts, that sounds a little too weird even for me.

    Incidentally does anyone out there now NOT have an opinion on the veil? Nobody I know has even seen anyone in a veil except the kid from No 32 on Halloween night. And yet oddly they all now seem to have a view on the subject.
    These are strange times indeed. I wonder if Straw woke up in the night with the blinding realisation – ‘Ahhah! the veil! That is the source of the trouble’.

  18. 18  lenin  October 17, 2006, 8:26 pm 

    I might be able to help you with the old What Happened to Hitchens bugbear:

  19. 19  tim  October 17, 2006, 8:33 pm 

    The graph used is a USAID internal report 2004 and does not end in 1999.
    (read the footnotes)

    All international groups estimate a 10% infant mortality rate (pre and post invasion)

    If you wish to argue that 80,000 babies died and only 40,000 people above one year old in pre invasion Iraq then that would be a bizarre mortality graph.

    2001 WHO figures give 79000 deaths for 800,000 births.
    2004 UNDP estimates the previous year as 40 deaths per thousand for under fives alone.

    a medical miracle must have occurred in 2002.

    on the subject of violent deaths the report chose to portray all post invasion deaths as excess.
    for the purposes of their presentation their were no violent deaths under Saddam.

    On the subject of spoon feeding.
    It must be difficult to shift from the view that sanctions were killing 100,000 children a year to believing a total death rate of 120,000(ish) just before the invasion.

  20. 20  tim  October 17, 2006, 8:57 pm 

    Oh, yes and I nearly forgot, Lenin

    Who do you think wrote this.

    “Here’s a curious thing, however. According to UNICEF, between 1999 and 2002, there was some mild improvement in child mortality – from 130 per thousand live births to 125 per thousand.”

    I think you’ll find it was you.

  21. 21  tim  October 17, 2006, 8:59 pm 

    “Here’s a curious thing, however. According to UNICEF, between 1999 and 2002, there was some mild improvement in child mortality – from 130 per thousand live births to 125 per thousand.”

    Lenin of Lenins Tomb

  22. 22  tim  October 17, 2006, 9:08 pm 

    3) 5.5 deaths per thousand means 120,000 deaths annually before the invasion – this much information was available in the discussion of the survey itself (see Supplementary Notes).

    But In January he was arguing 125,000 infant deaths.

    Ba’athist reincarnation Lenin?

  23. 23  tim  October 17, 2006, 9:11 pm 

    very sad steven.
    Lenins reincarnation

  24. 24  lenin  October 17, 2006, 9:21 pm 

    tim –

    1) I did read the footnotes, that’s why I was able to tell you where it was from. The footnotes tells you in what year the report was produced, not to what year their figures extend.

    2) If the points in the graph correspond to the marked years, then the last year for which it gives figures is 1998 (not 1999 as I had thought). This means it is even more out of the time frame than I had thought. (It could be that the points don’t correspond to anything in particular, but this is counterintuitive – I’m assuming they correspond to the named years).

    3) You are, once more, not comparing like with like. It is absurd to expect the death rate in 2003 to be like the death rate in 2002. I sense you can figure out the reason for this.

    4) It must be difficult to shift from the view that sanctions were killing 100,000 children a year to believing a total death rate of 120,000(ish) just before the invasion.

    It would be if anyone were suggesting that in 2002, that was the rate of infant deaths. In fact, this figure is for 1996. Richard Garfield’s more conservative estimate yielded 350,000 excess infant deaths between 1991 and 1997, which would be sick enough in itself and, if extrapolated, would fit more than comfortably with the Lancet’s measurement of pre-war death rates.

  25. 25  lenin  October 17, 2006, 9:22 pm 

    Oh, I apologise, am I answering a banned troll?

  26. 26  tim  October 17, 2006, 9:27 pm 

    4) It must be difficult to shift from the view that sanctions were killing 100,000 children a year to believing a total death rate of 120,000(ish) just before the invasion.

    It would be if anyone were suggesting that in 2002, that was the rate of infant deaths.

    you yourself argued it was 125,000

  27. 27  homo ludens  October 17, 2006, 9:49 pm 

    Hey, Uncool, I like your style man.


    If you stopped arguing with Tim he might go away in a bit.

    Your link by the way is long on invective but short on enlightenment. However I may be able to assist there.

    Hitchens’ conversion was not so much on the way to Damascus as on the way to Tel Aviv.

    If you now re-read much of Hitchens’ post-2001 stuff the penny will doubtless drop.

  28. 28  Steven  October 17, 2006, 9:53 pm 

    Lenin, you’re welcome to school the troll if you wish.


    Hitchens’ conversion was not so much on the way to Damascus as on the way to Tel Aviv.

    Well, that’s long on insinuation but considerably shorter on enlightenment.

  29. 29  Prof homo ludens  October 17, 2006, 10:13 pm 

    Hi Steven

    Would it be too much to ask for everyone to refer to me as ‘the Prof’ in future; I believe I have earned it you know.

    Well I was trying to make my point succinctly and without reference to such phrases as ‘malodorous macho assholes’ and ‘impacted faecal matter’.

    I think you should more thoroughly acquaint yourself with CH’s bio if you want to appreciate the full import of my statement. I am trying to titillate not insinuate.

    By the way, where’s Tim? I’m missing him already.

  30. 30  Steven  October 17, 2006, 10:37 pm 

    Sorry about the abrupt disappearance of “Tim” and all his works for a while there, my spam software administered an automatic “retro-spanking”. Good taste, perhaps, but not deliberate by me.

    Professional homo ludens: does that mean you’re some kind of cyber-athlete?

  31. 31  lenin  October 17, 2006, 11:11 pm 

    homo – I didn’t attribute Hitchens’ conversion to some post-911 affinity for Israel because a) he remains a critic of Israeli policy, one of the few areas in which he retains some portion of his critical faculties, b) as I point out his imperial pretensions preceded 9/11 somewhat anyway, and c) such claims are faintly antisemitic (often based on Hitchens’ discovery of his alleged matrilineal descent, which actually produced a rather decent criticism of Zionism from him at the time).

    At any rate, is it necessarily the case that there is a trade-off between invective and enlightenment (between heat and light as my high school teachers would have said)? Isn’t invective sometimes the best way to convey information?

  32. 32  lenin  October 17, 2006, 11:13 pm 

    tim – you yourself argued it was 125,000

    Did I argue that the rate of infant mortality in 2002 was 125,000? Perhaps it’s because it’s late and I’m tired, but I’m mystified. Please explain.

  33. 33  Prof homo ludens  October 17, 2006, 11:58 pm 


    I would like to apologise for the ‘missing Tim already’ comment.


    I’m assuming you want an intelligent debate so I won’t go down the ‘anti-semitic’ route. Hitchens’ anti-Zionist critique was clever but not entirely convincing. That’s not to say Hitchens has made a wholesale recanting of his previously held views. Nevertheless the seismic shift in his Weltenschauung (sorry but it’s the only word that covers it) coincidentally at about the time of his discovery of his lineage requires some explaining. Hitchens may be trying to conceal this from himself as much as from others in classically Freudian fashion. Hitchens is a consummate controversialist and is perfectly capable of mounting an attack as a diversionary tactic. Speaking personally when I see a coincidence I’m immediately very suspicious. That is just experience of human affairs I guess.

    Your ‘imperial pretensions’ are mostly consistent with Hitchens 90s standpoint generally and do not necessarily represent a ‘sea-change’ in his world-view. Hitchens’ discovery of his antecedence was the vital fillip to a more far-reaching re-evaluation of his philosophy. It was, I would argue, pivotal in fact. But this is theoretical as is often the case when analysing human behaviour. Nonetheless it has explanatory power in my view.

  34. 34  Steven  October 18, 2006, 12:03 am 

    From the State Department’s Washington File last week, U.S. Questions High Estimates of Iraq Civilian Casualties:

    The study was led by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health working with the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq. However, the study’s authors acknowledge that their number is the midpoint in an estimate that ranges between 390,000 and 940,000.

    No one at State has ever heard of a normal distribution? Daniel Davies has made the observation that the “point estimate” is not really the point, so to speak. But the way the numbers work is that a figure around the “midpoint” is far more likely to be correct than a figure at either end.

    “That 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen,” U.S. General George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters October 11. “I’ve not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so I don’t give that much credibility at all.” Casey said he could not recall if his estimate of 50,000 was from the U.S. government or from the Iraqi government.

    Shorter Gen. Casey: this number here is bigger than those numbers over there, so it can’t be right! And don’t ask me where I got those numbers over there, I can’t remember!

  35. 35  lenin  October 18, 2006, 12:07 am 

    tim – I saw your previous post belatedly. In the post of mine that you link to, you might notice that I specifically cited Garfield’s very conservative research.

    I did not say at any point that the infant mortality rate in 2002 was 125,000. I did say that “The World Health Organization believes at least 5,000 children under the age of 5 die each month from lack of access to food, medicine and clean water.” The citation was for 1999, it was correct, and the total per year would be 60,000 based on that.

    I did not mention, I think, even the number “125,000”. I did cite a figure from UNICEF suggesting that the total number of deaths per thousand in 2002 was 125 per thousand, a different statistic and a different kind of statistic.

  36. 36  Prof homo ludens  October 18, 2006, 12:09 am 


    Invective is often resorted to in the absence of, and, as a substitute for, argument. Otherwise yes. Yer great hairy armpit of a man yer.

  37. 37  lenin  October 18, 2006, 12:14 am 

    homo –

    Hitchens’ anti-Zionist critique was clever but not entirely convincing. That’s not to say Hitchens has made a wholesale recanting of his previously held views. Nevertheless the seismic shift in his Weltenschauung (sorry but it’s the only word that covers it) coincidentally at about the time of his discovery of his lineage requires some explaining.

    That’s interesting – when do you think Hitchens made his discovery? (I know the answer to this, but I also know when some people think it happened).

    Your ‘imperial pretensions’ are mostly consistent with Hitchens 90s standpoint generally and do not necessarily represent a ’sea-change’ in his world-view.

    My point, precisely, is that there has not been a sea change to speak of. His views on Afghanistan were not inconsistent with his views on the Falklands, or Bosnia, or Kosovo.

    Hitchens’ discovery of his antecedence was the vital fillip to a more far-reaching re-evaluation of his philosophy. It was, I would argue, pivotal in fact.

    When did Hitchens make his ‘discovery’? You are heavy on vague generalities, but light on specifics of this kind.

  38. 38  Steven  October 18, 2006, 12:44 am 

    By the way, it turns out that Daniel Davies already addressed the claims re infant mortality when hack critiquers of the previous Lancet report were making exactly the same complaints as Tim has been forlornly attempting here, so let that be an end to it.

  39. 39  Prof homo ludens  October 18, 2006, 1:02 am 

    In Hitchens’ only, to my knowledge, biographical essay he goes into some detail of his discovery and what it meant to him of his antecedence. In fact, I have a copy of ‘Prepared for the Worst’ in front of me just to check the details.
    Do you know something other than what is contained in this text?

    If so, what?

  40. 40  Graham Giblin  October 18, 2006, 4:27 am 

    Iraq Body Count has a considered appraisal ( of the Johns Hopkins/Lancet statistics which relies more on the unlikelihood of such large numbers if extrapolated in certain ways; on the implications of, for example, massive coverup, corruption or total breakdown of systems; and on the discrepancies with other reporting. But it is sober, which is something.

    Meanwhile, I still wait for anyone who was a promoter of the carnage – whether it’s 50,000 or a million – to stand up and say “we need to reflect on the implications for who we are and have become”. Even perhaps to say, “That would be too many and too high a price for us to have forced others to sacrifice for our fears. We have a river of blood on our hands. We were wrong and are ashamed.”

    I suppose not. Rather they are saying with Adolf Hitler, in Mein Kampf:

    “Thus inwardly armed with confidence in God and the unshakable stupidity of the voting citizenry, the politicians can begin the fight for the ‘remaking’ of the Reich as they call it.”

    By the way, I found a Hitler quote which sits well with my point at [3] above the reification of “the enemy”:

    “The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

    But the storm will pass. We will not deal with the figures and the implications because it is too hard. It is too hard to be quite certain and it is too hard to acept that we have been the cause of so many deaths. So we will, like Bush, be comfortably sad – “I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me.” Or, as La Rochefoucauld said, “We all have the strength to endure the misfortune of others.”

  41. 41  tim  October 18, 2006, 8:41 am 

    you wrote here

    Here’s a curious thing, however. According to UNICEF, between 1999 and 2002, there was some mild improvement in child mortality – from 130 per thousand live births to 125 per thousand.

    Using that figure would not only discredit the whoe assumptions of the Lancet report it would also imply that Noone besides babies died in pre war Iraq.

    [How many times do you need to be told that 125,000 is not the same as 125 per thousand? This is quite elementary – SP]

    Indeed on the lowere range of the Lancets Confidence intervals for mortality under Saddam, It would mean reincarnation.

    On the subject of DD.
    the only thing he peoduces is an assertion that there “must have” been a dip in infant mortality pre war.

    [Wrong, the link I gave at #38 says much more than that – SP]

    He provides no evidence.

    [Stop it now – SP]

  42. 42  Steven  October 18, 2006, 9:54 am 

    “The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

    That is brilliantly apt for the recent use of the term “Islamic fascism” in particular, and most rhetoric about the “war on terror” in general. Thanks.

  43. 43  lenin  October 18, 2006, 10:36 am 

    homo – well, you might want to check his essay, written in 1988, ‘On Not Knowing the Half of It’.

    tim – you’re getting no more free education from me. Pressure your notorious local MP to deliver it instead.

    Graham – I’m afraid that IBC’s “considered” criticisms don’t amount to much. Where it is not eyebrow-raising, it is circular reasoning. And where it isn’t that, it is assumption and selective citation. I don’t want to repeat everything I’ve said elsewhere, so here’s the whole pitch:

  44. 44  tim  October 18, 2006, 11:04 am 

    I’m not confusigg the, uh uh uh, figers hehe. Lenin wrote dat 125,000 babies diid in 2002. De Lasst claims a 5.5 peh dousand dead rate in Iraq circa 2002. Total deads (pop 26 million) = 132500 Dud accordigg t’ des figers dehe webuhre on 7500 deads odeh dan babies. De UNDP estimates dat de infant mortality rate remainid rough similar droughout de pehiod 2001 t’ 2004. Dose who wish t’ argue dat dehe was some miraculous dip dat noone has ebeh mehbshurd must note one digg. De Lasst study usid the, ERRRR, same UNDP populashun figers t’ detehmine its clusteh sambles. If de miracle occurred, uh uh uh uh,the, errr, clusteh sambles are wrong. If it didn’t the, errr, crude dead rate assumpshun is wrong. Lee me lone!

  45. 45  tim  October 18, 2006, 11:11 am 

    [you’ve been repeatedly warned. now go and troll somewhere else – SP]

  46. 46  Prof homo ludens  October 18, 2006, 12:06 pm 

    Hitchens post-1988 shifted in a way which only makes sense if you see it as the point of birth of the contemporary Hitch. In short the first steps on the rock-strewn path to a full Straussian-inspired Neoconservative conversion. This makes sense of the Clinton monomania, the ‘Trial of HK’, the defense of Chalabi, and the tangled desparate artifices aimed at justifying the dumbest craziest necon project of all time – Iraq. No wonder the bloke is fond of a tipple.

    There were plenty of articles surfacing even in the mid to late eighties on the growing influence of Straussians and the wider neocon movement within the GOP. The whole intellectual movement in origin and development was New York-centred with a disproportionate jewish representation.
    The fact that Hitch’s episode of discovery is the only biographical subject he has chosen to write about is in itself revelatory. I’m surprised Steven doesn’t take more interest in Strauss – after all he thought most of history’s great philosophers were ‘masters of unspeak’ rather like the Government’s of GW and TB.

  47. 47  Steven  October 18, 2006, 12:16 pm 

    Cf. Strauss and me. In fact Hitchens wrote in 2000 about “the cynicism of Strauss’s theory and practice”, and his “school” as “neo-cultist”. I suppose you think this was an elaborate double-bluff?

    with a disproportionate jewish representation

    What do you mean by that, exactly?

  48. 48  'The Prof'  October 18, 2006, 7:38 pm 

    I am using the term ‘disproportionate’ here to mean that there was a strong jewish component to the intellectual roots of neoconservatism going back to the 1930s – that is that the proportionality of jewish intellectuals within the movement would not have been reflected in the population more generally.

    In a sense this ethnic composition is irrelevant. I mention it only to make the Hitchens connection. In fact despite Strauss’s own jewish background there is a strong anti-religious element to his philosophy which again accords well with Hitchens’ position. Both would view Islamic fundamentalism as anathema and an enemy of American-style democracy. I am interested in the Straussian influences within the neocon group as well as with Hitchens. It means he has been influenced, of course, but that doesn’t require him to be signed up to the whole kit and caboodle. Hitchens distancing himself from the ‘noble lies’ stuff for example. But the beauty of the Straussian is that nothing is what it seems. So Hitchens may be doing what any good Straussian would do – dissimulate. It’s intellectual conspiracy theory really – and I love it. Oh yes I do.

  49. 49  Steven  October 18, 2006, 9:07 pm 

    I mention it only to make the Hitchens connection.

    Of course, to “make the Hitchens connection” there is no need for vague insinuations of “disproportionality”; and the “connection” itself is rather tenuous if it depends merely on this and not on anything Hitchens has in fact written. But I do find it illuminating when people are careful to point out who is Jewish and who not, and how many of them there are.

  50. 50  'The Prof'  October 18, 2006, 10:59 pm 

    I have to say I was hesitating to bring in the ‘jewish’ bit and you may have noticed me trying to put the emphasis back onto the argument & the ideas – such as the similarity of Hitchens’ viewpoint with many Straussian-influenced neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz.

    However your keenly honed anti-semitic radar has set the blue lights off and the sirens whirring and now, by God, you’re on the scent. But I shall give up re-emphasising my emphasis and allow you your ‘illumination’. It’s of no consequence to me. After all, in circuitous fashion you’re getting paid for this stuff; I’m not. I hope in my modest way that I have made some small contribution to the furtherance of your career, or metier, as they say in Paris. In which case perhaps you would bung me a few bob sometime; circumstances permitting of course.

  51. 51  Steven  October 18, 2006, 11:45 pm 

    I fear that the fashion in which I’m getting paid for “this stuff” is so circuitous, if indeed it exists at all, that the monies in question are taking a leisurely tour of the local supercluster of galaxies. Should boffins make a breakthrough in human longevity, however, I’ll be happy to buy you a demi in a few billion years.

  52. 52  the uncool dude  October 19, 2006, 12:50 am 

    Don’t take the demi; I did and by the time Steven got back from the gents…

  53. 53  'The Prof'  October 19, 2006, 1:38 am 

    Have no fear dude.

    I would never accept a demi. A pint perhaps of honest English Ale, frothy and redolent of hops, and accompanied by the faintest echoes of leather on willow and enveloped by much hearty guffawing of stout yeomanry types. Paris? Perhaps in Henry Miller’s day. But now? Mercenaries and pseudo-intellectuals infest the place bringing foppery and meretriciousness. Where are the poets and the artists? The money-god like some bastard cuckoo has sent them packing. Now tourists trapse the Montmartre and all is shallow, empty, materialism. The wannabes stalk the streets, the cash-nexus seduces all, and the soul of Paris is moribund beyond redemption. Even the wailings of Baudelaire can’t save it now. Thank god Miller is in his grave for it would have grieved him indeed to see the American air-conditioned nightmare ravage his beloved Paree. We are all doomed of course – rapacious, insatiable, humanity.

    I hope I convey something of my feelings on the matter.

  54. 54  Steven  October 19, 2006, 7:39 am 

    You do, you do. Also those of your alter ego “uncool dude”. Is there another one of you called “Paul Ward”?

  55. 55  the uncool dude  October 19, 2006, 3:25 pm 

    Never heard of the geezer.

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