Saturday, October 27, 2007

Estimating the number of Iraqi deaths

For most Americans, any conversation regarding the number of Iraqis killed due to the invasion and subsequent occupation will be emotionally charged. There's no way around it, I suppose. Given how most of us are pretty well brainwashed from early childhood on to believe that the US is a "shining beacon on the hill" and that for many their sense of self-worth is likely to be negatively affected when their noses are rubbed into the nature of their very government's actions.

Which brings us back to the estimates of Iraqi deaths. If one goes back to the propaganda prior to the start of the war, the Iraq war was sold to the American public in part on the premise that the war would be short in duration and minimal in casualties. Now well into the fifth year, it is pretty clear that neither premise has been met. The question becomes just how bad is it? Trying to get a hold of a satisfactory answer is tricky, as it turns out. First off, war zones tend to be quite chaotic, and even if we were to assume that all parties involved would want to report accurately on the dead and injured, we are unlikely to expect much in the way of accuracy. News reports will only be as accurate as the reporters on the field, and over time, it's become increasingly difficult for English-language news services to get reporters outside of the Green Zone. Hence even the best aggregators based on news reports, such as Iraq Body Count (IBC), are probably going to significantly undercount the number of Iraqis killed under occupation. It also seems reasonable to expect that the US military and whatever puppet regime "governing" Iraq will be less than forthcoming regarding Iraqi casualties. Massive Iraqi casualties, especially civilian casualties, make the US government and its military look evil, and Iraqis puppet regimes look ineffective. We can expect that these particular organizations would be motivated, if anything, to suppress casualty information.

If the usual methods to assess a death toll are unacceptable, those interested in some approximation of the truth will search for an alternative method or methods. Starting with a 2004 paper published in Lancet, a prestigious and reputable peer-review medical journal) and followed up with a paper published in the same journal two years later, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University tried a novel approach - they used rigorous survey and sampling methodology in order to arrive at a closer approximation of the actual death toll. Their findings were nothing short of startling. The initial study, covering the first year of the US occupation, estimated the number of Iraqi deaths caused by said occupation to be at approximately 100,000. The second study estimated the Iraqi death toll, as of July 2006, to be around 601,000. More recently, ORB, using a different but equally rigorous survey and sampling methodology, estimated the Iraq death toll to be at 1.2 million. To an American public (and of course America's ruling elites) such numbers were bound to be the height of political incorrectness, and given the reaction - especially by US right-wing authoritarians, but to some degree as well among self-described moderates and the so-called "respectable left" - it is safe to say that these three reports have touched a nerve or two. After all, the prospect of belonging not to a civilized and gentle world power (as most Americans would characterize themselves), but rather a barbaric and murderous regime.

That's certainly not a "feel-good" message for a nation addicted to feeling good. The question becomes: how believable are these rather unpleasant numbers? To what extent are these numbers reflect reality (in other words, how externally valid or generalizable are these survey results)? To address that, it is useful at this point to discuss the sampling methodologies employed in these three studies. All three studies used forms of probability sampling. It is probably worthwhile to discuss why probability sampling methods are usually preferable to nonprobability sampling methods. To give you a taste, here's a description reasonably similar to what I use in the classroom:
A probability sampling method is any method of sampling that utilizes some form of random selection. In order to have a random selection method, you must set up some process or procedure that assures that the different units in your population have equal probabilities of being chosen.
The two Lancet studies were based on a form of probability sampling called cluster sampling:
The problem with random sampling methods when we have to sample a population that's disbursed across a wide geographic region is that you will have to cover a lot of ground geographically in order to get to each of the units you sampled. Imagine taking a simple random sample of all the residents of New York State in order to conduct personal interviews. By the luck of the draw you will wind up with respondents who come from all over the state. Your interviewers are going to have a lot of traveling to do. It is for precisely this problem that cluster or area random sampling was invented.
In cluster sampling, we follow these steps:
  • divide population into clusters (usually along geographic boundaries)
  • randomly sample clusters
  • measure all units within sampled clusters
The ORB study employed yet another form of probability sampling called multistage sampling, which combines multiple probability sampling methods:
The most important principle here is that we can combine the simple methods described earlier in a variety of useful ways that help us address our sampling needs in the most efficient and effective manner possible. When we combine sampling methods, we call this multi-stage sampling.
For example, consider the idea of sampling New York State residents for face-to-face interviews. Clearly we would want to do some type of cluster sampling as the first stage of the process. We might sample townships or census tracts throughout the state. But in cluster sampling we would then go on to measure everyone in the clusters we select. Even if we are sampling census tracts we may not be able to measure everyone who is in the census tract. So, we might set up a stratified sampling process within the clusters. In this case, we would have a two-stage sampling process with stratified samples within cluster samples. Or, consider the problem of sampling students in grade schools. We might begin with a national sample of school districts stratified by economics and educational level. Within selected districts, we might do a simple random sample of schools. Within schools, we might do a simple random sample of classes or grades. And, within classes, we might even do a simple random sample of students. In this case, we have three or four stages in the sampling process and we use both stratified and simple random sampling. By combining different sampling methods we are able to achieve a rich variety of probabilistic sampling methods that can be used in a wide range of social research contexts.
What these sampling methods buy researchers is the ability to infer that their results are not merely descriptive of the sample, but of the population from which the sample was derived. The Iraqi death toll estimates based on probability sampling methods, while horrifying to ponder, are believable.

Now, as for the estimate counter that I've been displaying on the upper left-hand corner of this blog, we can make a few statements about its accuracy. First, as Just Foreign Policy notes, the counter uses as a starting value the Lancet study's 2006 estimate of 601,000 Iraqi deaths and then uses a median estimate based on IBC's estimations subsequent to the Lancet study. Just Foreign Policy is even kind enough to give us the formula used to derive their regularly updated estimate:
We multiple the Lancet number as of July 2006 by the ratio of current IBC deaths divided by IBC deaths as of July 1, 2006 (43,394).
The formula used is:
Just Foreign Policy estimate = (Lancet estimate as of July 2006) * ( (Current IBC Deaths) / (IBC Deaths as of July 1, 2006) )
Given that IBC's estimate tends to be conservative, the JFP estimate will probably be a bit conservative as well. Is the JFP counter "scientific"? No. But, given its consistency with externally valid studies, it does give us a rough ball-park idea of what is being done in our names.

I would also note that the sampling techniques used by ORB to estimate the Iraqi death toll were the same ones used to estimate the Rwanda genocide death toll - and those estimates were accepted at the time by, yes, you guessed it, the US government. It is also worth noting that sampling methodologies (along with whatever census records were available) were used to estimate the death toll from the Nazi Holocaust. Reputable estimates, for example, place the death toll among Europe's Jewish population at about 5 to 6 million. My understanding is that that number is routinely accepted among the German populace, and has been for quite some time. I doubt there are too many in Germany who "feel good" about what their nation did during WWII. Holocaust denial will often get one in legal hot water in Europe, and even where there are no legal constraints, Holocaust deniers are justifiably viewed as kooks and crackpots. We in the US also have no good reason to "feel good" for what our government has perpetrated in Iraq. Indeed, we will eventually be held accountable. Currently, our own genocide deniers hold sway in mainstream American discourse - indeed our early 21st century version of holocaust denial is still quite politically correct. The statistics available, though, are enough to show such denial for what it is (pure falsehood), and I would not be the least surprised to see the deniers thoroughly discredited in the coming decades, much as was the case with Germany several decades ago.

So much for habaneros of truth

Try the Bhut Jolokia of truth:
It's hot. Scorching hot. Guinness World Records hot.

Researchers at New Mexico State University have discovered the world’s hottest chili pepper. It's called the Bhut Jolokia, a variety originating in Assam, India.

In tests that yield Scoville heat units (SHUs), the Bhut Jolokia reached 1 million SHUs, almost double the SHUs of former hotshot Red Savina (a type of habanero pepper), which measured a mere 577,000. The result was announced today by the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Chili is spelled "chile" by some, including Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Bosland collected seeds of Bhut Jolokia while visiting India in 2001. He grew the plants for three years to produce enough seeds to complete the field tests.

"The name Bhut Jolokia translates as 'ghost chile,'" Bosland explained. "I think it’s because the chile is so hot, you give up the ghost when you eat it!"

The intense heat concentration of Bhut Jolokia could have a significant impact on the food industry as an economical seasoning in packaged foods, he said.

On a related note

A number of prominent neocons seem to have this thing for an Iraqi organization that is somehow both Stalinist and Islamist (and has a history of terrorism). Go figure.

Amiri Baraka sez

Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national oppression and terror
violence, and hunger and poverty.

Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever
Seen God?

But everybody seen
The Devil

Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog

Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO (+) who who ^
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!
nerdified link

Download Somebody Blew Up America here.

Justin Raimondo on the Mythmakers

In creating new realities, these Great Men of History are basically telling us a story that is mostly about themselves: about their role in history, and their will to shape it. They are weaving a narrative in which they are the heroes, and the rest of us are just spear-carriers, waiting for direction. As they cavort about on the world stage – invading countries on various pretexts, and changing regimes at will – they mesmerize their audience and draw them into a shared illusion. Their last performance was quite a success, at least for a while, one that so dazzled the media that hardly anyone who mattered dared challenge the administration's imaginative narrative – until it was too late….

Instead of stepping outside the box, reporters preferred to stay inside the echo chamber so skillfully constructed by the War Party, where it was warm, and safe, rather than go outside and face the scorn of what former CNN chief executive Walter Isaacson calls the "patriotism police." The efforts of the media vigilantes had an effect: even a hint that news anchors didn't share in the Bushian belligerence that swept the nation after 9/11 provoked a storm of outraged emails and phone calls. Isaacson sent out a memo soon after the invasion of Afghanistan telling his staff to "balance" reporting of civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the administration began ginning up the invasion of Iraq, not a lot of intimidation was required to make the media malleable. As Howard Kurtz puts it in his recent book, Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War,

"For [Brian] Williams, it all went back to 9/11. As a citizen, he had thought on that fateful day, thank God that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell were on this team. How together we all seemed. In Williams's view, there was something about the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that, in the eyes of the White House press corps, gave Bush a stature that could not be violated."

No wonder Williams does "not enjoy looking back on the run-up to war," as Kurtz puts it. And when he did look back, in an interview with the President in late summer of last year, the President's stature, at least in his eyes, was apparently still inviolate. When Bush stubbornly insisted that pre-war Iraq had "the capacity" to build WMD, Williams failed to challenge him. When Bush denied making a direct connection between Iraq and 9/11, Williams sat there similarly dumbstruck – although he might have cited the President's March 18, 2003 letter to Congress in which he contended that war with Iraq constituted "continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Williams's deference to the President and his policies persists, as Kurtz shows: " Every day, Williams asked the question: Did Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel have any news other than another twenty Iraqi civilians killed when an IED detonated, leaving the same smoking carcasses and pathetic scenes of loved ones crying?" Kurtz also reports that "No one in their right mind, [Williams] believed, would want America to pull out tomorrow. He did not want America to withdraw from Iraq," although he did recognize "how deeply the war had divided the country."


There is, by Matthews's account, a concerted effort to exclude alternative voices, especially when it comes to the war issue: "There's a lot going on among our producers, our young bookers, now that I never noticed before. There is an almost menacing call that you get whenever someone hears something they don't like – their people call up and threaten, or challenge, and get very nasty. That's now become the norm."


In order to maintain even minimal support, the War Party must create an alternate reality, a Bizarro World where failure is success, civil war is civil society, and a theocracy is, in Bush's phrase, a "free Iraq." If they can project that impression to the American people, via the media, History's Actors can continue their bloody drama, "creating other new realities" in a looming confrontation with Iran.


In a free society, it is the media's duty to expose the deceptions routinely practiced by government officials, especially when the lives of American soldiers and innocent civilians are at stake. In the run-up to the Iraq war, when mainstream "news" outlets became nothing more than transmission belts for government propaganda, American journalists went AWOL. Whether they will redeem themselves in the precis to the next war remains to be seen.

nerdified link

Friday, October 26, 2007

In His Own Words: Yassin Aref

Currently held in a US gulag. Some excerpts:

This summer when the temperature was above 90 degrees, it was like we were living in an oven because there was no air conditioning. I was happy winter was coming so we would be okay for a couple months, but when I spoke with those who were here last winter, they told me that when that happens you will wish it was summer again and accept the oven, even prefer hell over this place in winter. I asked why and they said because the whole entire roof leaks, and because when the snow comes we can’t go out to spend some time in those small cages or play handball or basketball. And in many cells you spend most of the day bailing the water out so it doesn’t fill up. I thought they were joking, but when it rained last week I saw myself that the roof started leaking. When I told them now I knew they weren’t joking, they laughed and said just wait till the snow comes! I was there when one inmate asked a CO who was supposed to fix the air conditioning, why he was not coming. He said they were waiting for the Government to send the money. Billions go to the war but they can’t fix the roof or air conditioning here!

Even worse, we are under a threat every day. When we complain about something or ask why they don’t move us somewhere else until they fix this building, they answer that there is no other place for us except the ADX. [The Administrative Maximum or Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where inmates are subjected to sensory deprivation, kept in solitary and continuously deprived of all human contact, slowly driving them insane.] They say they can’t put us in any ordinary unit. So we constantly hear that if we don’t like it here we can always go to the ADX. Also, if we get in trouble and get a disciplinary ticket, there is always the threat that we will be transferred to the ADX. Currently there is someone waiting to be moved there, he has spent the last three weeks in the SHU [Solitary Housing Unit] waiting to be transferred. Yet they knew he did not have any serious disciplinary charges. People are not supposed to be placed in the ADX for such infractions!


But all this pressure and oppression has failed to make us react in kind. Instead we daily remind and advise each other to be patient and tell each other not to answer their threats. That we should complain only to God and withhold our anger. We look and wait for the American people to wake up and look at what their Government is doing. We came here legally, mainly as refugees, in order to live free. We were respecting the law and looking at ourselves as guests here but we never thought that those who invited us and promised us freedom and help to build our future would target us to cover up their bad policies, and that there are no laws to protect us.

Locking us down in this old leaky building and prohibiting us from hugging our children and calling them often on the phone will never bring peace to this country, and will never make this nation safer. But it is really putting the justice system in this country on trial.

Is it true that all humans are equal?

Is it true that everyone is free to choose his faith?

Are human rights really protected by law?

We hear this but we would like to see it!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Manson Blackwater "Family" Does Damage Control

At least Uncle Charlie didn't try to spin "Helter Skelter". Actually one of the commenter's reactions say it aptly:

“Cost efficiency of Blackwater - saving the US taxpayer millions of dollars so that the US Government doesn’t have to take troops from their missions or send more into harms way.”

Oh, that’s double-plus good. Language doesn’t seem to mean anything at all anymore. We should just grunt at each other.

“Professional population of service veterans and mature law
enforcement personnel.”

Mature? Strange choice of word. Old enough to drink, drive, and shoot at passing cars.

“Sacrifice in lives lost by Blackwater saving US diplomats without one single protectee harmed.”

Massive firepower trumps those sissy civilians anytime. I seem to recall those four contractors in Fallujah ended up getting a lot of troops killed, in addition to themselves. But that’s so 2004–and we wouldn’t want Condi to get hurt, would we?

Stupid Fox News Tricks

Here's the scoop from the "geniuses" at FauxNews: Southern California wildfires are - get this - being caused by al Qaeda. Now that's a hoot. Next they'll be blaming robberies of 7-11 convenience stores on al Qaeda. Or, how about childhood obesity? Tooth decay? Global warming? The possibilities are endless when such a convenient bogeyman is available.

Neoconman Norm Podhoretz's Bad Evening

It ain't easy being a neocon, as the above video makes clear. Seem you can't even advocate genocide in public these days without having to deal with some very inconvenient questions. From the accompanying article:
Arch-Neo Con Norman Podhoretz's book reading at a recent Barnes and Noble appearance in New York turned into a hostile affair after he told the audience that Iran should be bombed because "We were attacked by Islamofascists on 9/11," before being bombarded with accusatory questions and eventually telling the crowd to "shut up".
Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy advisor was subject to walkouts by individuals disgusted at the fact that Podhoretz openly called for air strikes on Iran, labeling Podhoretz a "fascist" who would have blood on his hands.
He later defended the fact that he signed the infamous Project For a New American Century documents, a Neo-Con manifesto for world domination that includes advocating the use of race-specific bio-weapons, and claimed that the PNAC had been "misrepresented".
Podhoretz then admitted that the CIA had overthrown the U.S.-friendly Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh in the 50's, but called it "ancient history."
He then went on to make a case that Iran was behind the violence in Iraq and had formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda, despite the fact that the two are Shia and Sunni respectively and as such are arch-enemies. He was then educated about how in fact it was the U.S. government that is funding Al-Qaeda affiliated groups to attack Iran. This mattered little to Podhoretz, who was then asked why we should "fight back" against Iran by bombing them when they had never attacked us?
Podhoretz's answer was to state that, "We were attacked by Islamofascists on 9/11," clearly implying that Iran attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Such unmitigated and bellicose propaganda might fly on Fox News, but many members of the audience were having none of it, asking why they should trust Bush and the Neo-Cons after being lied to for six years.
And yes, you read correctly - this guy is possible Presidential contender Giuliani's foreign policy advisor. If you watch the video it'll also be clear that his own racist past came to haunt him as well. So it goes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The difference between Republicans and Democrats?

Here's one:
Republicans will claim the money is needed to "win the war on terror." Democrats will claim we need to spend $16.4 billion a month because "we can't abandon the troops while they're in the line of fire." No doubt the dead troops and the dead Iraqis are most appreciative of that difference.

Neocon Muslim Hatred Week a Bust

Found at the libertarian blog:

Ultra-hawk blog Blackfive reports on David Horowitz’s dazzling opening of Islamofascism Awareness Week:

What a let down. My buddy Ebo and I attended Horowitz’ opening night of Islamo-Fascism Awareness week and if this is our answer to sharia, then I guess Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad it will be.

Both of us were predisposed to agree wth most of what Horowitz was saying, but as is my complaint fairly often, his tone and delivery ruined his chances of doing his cause much good. He spoke in front of what was potentially a very hostile crowd 3/4 or so antagonistic to his viewpoint. He was so uninspiring a speaker they didn’t even really heckle him. I will give credit to the Muslim Student Association and the other groups who were there in opposition, they maintained more decorum than Mr. Horowitz. By the end he was saying “Well I guess you just aren’t able to read” and “I don’t know what to do if you can’t add two and two and get four.” …

We held out ’til the end and the Q&A had Horowitz launching the testy ad hominems I noted and complaining that the questions were too long in comparison to his epic length musings on how dumb his audience was. I heard the College Republicans, who sponsored him, were wicked pissed.

So much for the "Klan rallies on Quaaludes". This is what movement "conservatism" is reduced to: ad hominem attacks by uninspiring speakers and writers. Not to worry: the neoconmen will likely outlive their current host, the GOP. Given a few years, we'll find these same folks extolling the virtues of the Donkle, as they return to the party that first launched this bunch of war fetishists.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Riverbend sez

No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own... especially their own.
nerdified link

That was from her most recent dispatch, this time from Syria where she is currently residing after fleeing Iraq - as have so many other Iraqis.

RIP Paul Raven

Found this as I was checking out some music blogs:
MINISTRY bassist Paul Raven was found dead yesterday (Saturday, October 20) in a private home in a small French village on the Swiss border after suffering an apparent heart attack. Raven (who is also known for his work with KILLING JOKE and PRONG) was in Geneva working with French recording artists TREPONEM PAL on their new release alongside drummer Ted Parsons (PRONG) and members of THE YOUNG GODS.

Born in Wolverhampton, UK on January 16, 1961, Paul Vincent Raven established himself with his work in the seminal post-punk/industrial act KILLING JOKE after he replaced the band's original bassist in 1982, recording and touring with the group throughout its most commercially successful period, performing on "Fire Dances", "Night Time" and "Brighter than a Thousand Suns". Throughout his extensive career, Raven participated in other collaborations, including PRONG, MURDER, INC., PIGFACE and GODFLESH. Most recently, Raven was nominated for a 2006 Grammy for "Best Metal Performance" for his work with MINISTRY's Al Jourgensen, with whom he had begun collaborating in late 2005 on the MINISTRY release "Rio Grande Blood". After a 2006 world tour with the group, Raven helped Jourgensen and PRONG's Tommy Victor pen the latest MINISTRY CD, "The Last Sucker", which is also the band's final studio release.
Hat tip to Totally Fuzzy. Although I'm a jazzer these days, at one time I was quite the fan of Killing Joke during that band's heyday. Albums like Night Time and Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions were practically worn out on my turntable & later, cd player. His bass playing helped to define that band's style as became apparent after he finally split from the band. Of course Raven managed to stay tuned in to the industrial metal scene for the remainder of his life, including apparently an extended stay with Ministry. I had stopped following Ministry after their disastrous Filth Pig album - I'm guessing that a talent such as Raven would have easily breathed some much needed life into that particular band. Needless to say his presence in the industrial side of the music world will be missed.