Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday 31 October 2006

'Send the Marines' and other laughs; email account disabled

A few days ago, I posted a blog entry entitled ‘Democrats’ 'values and deepest principles'’. A reader wrote back reminding me of the lyrics to an old Tom Lehrer classic:

When someone makes a move

Of which we don't approve,

Who is it that always intervenes?

U.N. and O.A.S.,*

They have their place, I guess,

But first - send the Marines!

We'll send them all we've got,

John Wayne and Randolph Scott;

Remember those exciting fighting scenes?

To the shores of Tripoli,

But not to Mississippoli,

What do we do? We send the Marines!

For might makes right,

And till they've seen the light,

They've got to be protected,

All their rights respected,

Till somebody we like can be elected.

Members of the corps

All hate the thought of war;

They'd rather kill them off by peaceful means.

Stop calling it aggression,

Ooh, we hate that expression!

We only want the world to know

That we support the status quo.

They love us everywhere we go,

So when in doubt,

Send the Marines!

This reminded me of one of my other favourite satirical songwriters, not as well known as Tom Lehrer, Dave Lippman. So I googled him and found his website, and sent the reader the lyrics to one of Dave’s appropriate tunes from his ‘Shoot from the Lipp’ album, which I repeat part of here for your delectation:


(Home on the Range)

Oh give me a gun where the terrorists run

The government, just as we say

Where seldom is heard a disparaging word

And the lies are spoke loudly all day

(Marine Corps Hymn)

From Peoria to Pretoria we'll defend the master race

We will fight our dirty little wars even out in outer space

First to fight for right, then farther right

Keeping U.S. interests safe

We are proud to claim the title of United Bomb and Strafe

(My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean)

The Pershing flies over the ocean

The Trident sails under the sea

Cruise Missiles fly over the Urals

To make the world safer

For me

God bless free enterprise, system divine

Stand beside her and guide her

Just as long as the profits are mine

After I’d spent a couple of hours reading lyrics and listening to MP3s and laughing myself silly, I wrote to him to ask whatever happened to a song I remembered - a long rap that chronicled the history of the Contragate gang right back to their origins in the 1950s. Dave wrote straight back, reminding me of the album – ‘Shrub in ‘88’ – which only ever came out on cassette. Remember cassettes? Anyway, I suggested putting the lyrics up on his site and he has now done so. It’s much too long to put here, but I really recommend anyone reading this make a point of visiting his site, ordering his cds (He’s about to reissue ‘Shrub in ‘88’ on cd), and checking his tour schedule. He may be playing someplace near you (NYC this Saturday)! Anyhow, here’s a sample:

It may have been illegal but it wasn't wrong

Lemme tell ya, life's a beast

When you're caught between Iraq and a country

Of strategic importance in the Middle East

Not much has changed.

On a more sombre note, I got an automated email a couple of days ago that seemed to suggest that someone on this list had reported the blog as spam. It may have been a coincidence, but the next morning, the email I send it from was disabled. I’ve had a read through some of the pertinent entries on the google discussion board and it seems that this happens quite a lot. Many of those who’ve had their Gmail accounts disabled can’t even speculate as to the reason. You can report it and send emails to Gmail support to your heart’s content, but from what I read, there is no possibility of ever receiving a response or explanation from a human being. I think it is possible that accounts are sometimes reenabled, but this appears to be entirely unpredictable and ad hoc. I am certainly not expecting it. Nor do I expect ever to find out whether there was a connection between the two incidents. I have accordingly established a Yahoo address with a similar name.

What emerges from this is,

1. if you don’t like my blog, please just reply to any email from me asking to be removed and that will be your last one. Reporting it as spam is a particularly cruel and vicious approach and creates a lot of unnecessary busywork finding workarounds.

2. if you are using Gmail on the web, as opposed to via an email client like Outlook, then bear in mind that you are using the beta version, so glitches are to be expected, and there is this other little problem of having your account disabled without warning. That means that you will lose all your saved email and contacts and whatever else you use the site for. So I strongly recommend either starting to use a client program or taking some other step to download and archive your valuable email and other data. You might also consider establishing an alternative email account on Yahoo or somewhere, if you don’t have one already. As far as I can tell, if you want to access your webmail through Outlook or the like, Hotmail’s free service no longer supports this at all. I don’t believe free (i.e. US) addresses have ever done so. Free yahoo accounts of other nationalities, e.g. or, will allow access via a client if you sign up for ‘Yahoo delivers’. If you tick ‘yes’ on top of the yahoo delivers sign up screen, which is compulsory, then the box that says only send me adverts about the ticked stuff, and then don’t tick anything else, that should keep spam to a minimum.

Sunday 29 October 2006

Those pesky natives!

‘David Fromkin, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is the author of “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.”’

As if setting out to prove Chomsky’s assertion that intellectuals are completely subservient to power, he published an op-ed entitled ‘Stuck in the Canal’ in yesterday’s Times.

The article purports to be a dispassionate look at the ‘Suez crisis’ in anticipation of its fiftieth anniversary today, coincidentally, Turkish Republic Day.

…the United States was engaged in an effort to hold the line against Russia

The Middle East was essential to this policy of containment. The Arabic-speaking Muslim world had been taken in hand by Britain and France after the First World War, and though they had since achieved independence, the countries of the Middle East remained predominantly Western-influenced. European and American oil companies played an important role in Middle Eastern affairs. Britain retained a presence at the strategically vital Suez Canal in the form of a major military base and a garrison of more than 80,000 men.

The esteemed professor surely understands that the nonsensical expression ‘the United States was engaged in an effort to hold the line against Russia’ will raise few eyebrows among Times readers. We all know that it was the responsibility of America, ‘the leader of the free world’ to ‘hold the line’ against ‘Soviet aggression’. And yet, since 1924, when Stalin took control of Russia, with his profoundly antiMarxist doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’, fomenting workers’ revolutions was completely off the Soviet agenda. After WWII, Russia was very much on the defensive. It is not absolutely obvious who was holding what lines against whose aggression. In this context, the kind of Soviet aggression Professor Fromkin intends is the threat that the Greek anti fascist resistance might take power, and the successful attempts by the US and Britain to make sure that resurrected fascists regained control.

‘The Middle East was essential to this policy of containment’ because they were sitting on ‘our oil’. That might be why the beneficent British and French had done the poor deluded natives the favour of ‘taking them in hand’ after graciously freeing them from the Ottoman Sultan’s yoke. Funny that a Professor of History and author of a book on the fall of the Ottoman Empire can’t be bothered mentioning Sykes or Picot and the underhanded sellout of the Arabs, the Kurds, and anyone else they could think to betray. It was all the Turks could do to hang on to Anatolia and a little piece of Thrace, after fighting for five more years.

It is nice of the Prof to collocate ‘European and American oil companies played an important role in Middle Eastern affairs’ with ‘the countries of the Middle East remained predominantly Western-influenced.’ Obviously he wouldn’t want to prejudice our own conclusions by actually pointing out the nature of that ‘important role’. And that insignificant British ‘presence’ was sufficient to station a soldier every two metres along the 163km long canal.

The professor feels no need to clarify why it might be that, ‘As early as 1952, the C.I.A. was searching for an Arab leader to support, someone who would make hard, unpopular decisions.’ Must be their commitment to democracy that leads them to want to support a ‘leader’ ready to sell out the popular aspirations of the led.

‘Eisenhower and Dulles believed that by their actions at Suez they were showing the nonaligned nations that, unlike the British and French, Americans were not imperialists — but the third world remained unconvinced.’ Those pesky ungrateful natives. They never appreciate what the white folks do for them. They probably thought the US had some nefarious reason for overthrowing the elected government of Mossadegh and installing that nice Shah in Iran just three years earlier, or the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954.

‘And in Europe, skeptics claimed the episode showed that the Americans intended to steal the empires of Britain and France.’ Now why would they think a thing like that? After all, it had already been over half a century since the US stole the Spanish Empire. On the leftwrites site, Robert Bollard recently reminded us of the origins of ‘the white man’s burden’, quoting from Kipling’s poem and an apropos anti-imperialist quote from Mark Twain.

Some say Kipling’s poem, apparently enjoining the US to accept the traditional ‘responsibility’ of the colonists of myth for the welfare of the colonized ‘sullen peoples’, was in reality intended as satirical. It begins:

Take up the White Man’s burden–

Send forth the best ye breed–

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need;

To wait in heavy harness,

On fluttered folk and wild–

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half-devil and half-child.

Professor Fromkin may not be strictly accurate in writing ‘Within years of the Suez crisis, Britain and France began decolonization programs in which they released territories they had held around the world. The winds of change had begun to blow — and they had come from Suez.’ I seem to recall, however, that the Algerians and Vietnamese had quite a time persuading the French to leave, and the Tahitians, Marquesans, Martiniquains, and others still haven’t managed it.

And, as I wrote in response to Robert’s post,

It is also worth remembering that it’s not over yet. Some of the trophies acquired during the Spanish-American War, unlike the Philippines and Cuba, have remained US colonial possessions to this day. The most significant among these are Puerto Rico and Guam. Eastern (American) Samoa, another US colony, was acquired from Germany at the same time, in 1899. Although Hawai’i, annexed in 1898, was ‘granted statehood’ in 1959, and its people can therefore vote in US elections, it still looks very much like a colonial possession. By 1959, of course, the indigenous Hawai’ians were a small minority.

Although it doesn’t get as much attention as its French counterpart, the US colonial empire is actually much larger, both in area and population.

Israel compromised itself through its partnership with European imperialism — providing evidence to enemies who had asserted all along that Israel was no more than a European imperialist itself.’ It’s odd that Professor Fromkin can describe Theodore Herzl as among Israel’s enemies – some call him the founder of Zionism, with his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish state, where he writes, ‘If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.’

‘And its victory in the Sinai campaign — one of many dazzling triumphs — illustrated the paradox that the more Israel won on the battlefield, the further it got from achieving the peace that it sought.’ A curious paradox that the regional bully, after a long campaign of ethnic cleansing, consistently winning ‘dazzling triumphs’ against its neighbours fails to achieve peace. And obviously peace is precisely the objective of all the wars.

In this connection, it is worth remembering, although far be it from the Professor of History to remind us, that today also marks the massacre of 47 helpless ‘Israeli Arab’ civilians lined up against a wall at Kafr Qasem and shot for the crime of returning home after the curfew was declared and nobody had bothered to tell them about. Fortunately, another historian, Tom Segev, writing in Ha’aretz, has not forgotten this irrelevant detail.

A spokeswoman at the Education Ministry quoted Minister Yuli Tamir: "The massacre and the subsequent trial became a foundation stone in Israeli society's national consciousness and imprinted upon generations of commanders and soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces the moral boundary by which to act." In other words, we've learned the lesson. How nice.

How nice, indeed! It’s a relief to know that the IDF has known the moral boundary since 1956 and cleaves to its fabled purity of arms, never, ever hurting anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

On a happier note, ‘On Oct. 29, 1929, stock prices collapsed on the New York Stock Exchange amid panic selling. Thousands of investors were wiped out.’ Happy Wall Street Crash Day – here’s to many more!

Wednesday 25 October 2006

Welcome to Earth!

Today’s NY Times editorializes:

Badly weakened by criticism of his conduct of this summer’s inconclusive war in Lebanon, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has chosen to make an unwise and damaging trade-off. Bringing the pro-settler Israel Beiteinu party into his governing coalition reinforces his vulnerable parliamentary majority. But it makes it virtually impossible for Mr. Olmert to carry out the partial West Bank withdrawal program he ran on just seven months ago.

Well, the Times may consider it inconclusive, but others have managed to draw some conclusions – that Israel failed to achieve so much as one of its stated goals, that it succeeded in devastating Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, that it enhanced Hizb’allah’s prestige throughout Lebaonon’s ethnic communities, and that it drove a wedge between the ‘moderate’ totalitarian regimes favoured by Washington and the people they oppress – the ‘Arab street’.

But what’s all this about a trade-off? After all,

Israel Beiteinu is the political vehicle of Avigdor Lieberman, who advocates annexing West Bank settlements and reassigning Arab Israeli citizens to a rump Palestinian state.

exactly Olmert’s ‘convergence plan’.

Meanwhile, the nasty terrorist extremist Hamas

refuses to take the most minimal steps required for diplomatic credibility — a clear rejection of terrorism, acceptance of prior agreements and acknowledgment of Israel’s legitimacy.

Unlike the kind and gentle and eminently diplomatically credible Israeli government, which has fully embraced nonviolence, implemented every agreement in both letter and spirit, and has gone to such lengths to acknowledge Hamas’s legitimacy.

It makes you wonder where they dig up these editorial writers who seldom seem to be able to follow their own argument from one end of a sentence to the other.

Sunday 22 October 2006

Spot the loonie

October 22, 2006 9:16 AM #


Spot the loonie

‘You imposed a group of terrorists ... on the region…It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals... This is an ultimatum. Don't complain tomorrow…. Today, with the grace of God, the efforts to establish this fake regime have failed totally.’ Ahmadinejad, as reported in Ha’aretz.

‘Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime… this is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom… The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.’ George W Bush

Ha’aretz, in the same article, after reiterating the discredited ‘face of the map’ remark, reports ‘Iran is accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.’ Accused of seeking to develop – now that’s something that demands that tens of millions of Iranians must suffer.

And while on the topic of loonies, check out who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Alex Cockburn writes:

As the economist Robert Pollin put it pithily when I asked him what he thought of the award to Younus , "Bangladesh and Bolivia are two countries widely recognized for having the most successful micro credit programs in the world. They also remain two of the poorest countries in the world."…

P. Sainath, author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought and India's most outstanding journalist on rural destitution and the consequences of economic policy,…points out that …"They are paying between 24 and 36 per cent on loans for productive expenditures while an upper class person can finance the purchase of a Mercedes at 6 to 8 per cent from the banking system."

The average loan of the Grameen bank is $130 in Bangladesh, lower in India. Now, the basic problem of the poor in both countries is landlessness, lack of assets. In the Indian province of Andhra Pradesh, where there are thousands of microloan groups, land costs 100,000 rupees an acre, poor land maybe 60,000 rupees--over $2000. $130 doesn't buy you the ranch, not even a good cow or buffalo.

If capitalism could solve the problems it creates, it would have done so by now, wouldn’t it?

As for the Nobel Peace Prize, in case some have forgotten, here is a partial list of some of those so honoured for their contribution to world peace: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Henry A. Kissinger, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, Menachem Begin, Elie Wiesel, Óscar Arias Sánchez, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, Frederik Willem de Klerk, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, The United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter.

Saturday 21 October 2006

Peace now, but first…

Private property rights!

Ha’aretz reports that, ‘according to a survey by the Peace Now settlement monitoring team’, 74% ‘of the 102 outposts in the West Bank…are at least partly built on private Palestinian land’.

‘Dror Etkes, the head of the monitoring team…called construction on these lands "highway robbery."’

And here’s me thinking the issue is that all of every ‘outpost’, ‘settlement’, ‘Jewish neighbourhood’, kibbutz, moshav, city, and, yes, highway, throughout historic Palestine, including ‘Israel proper’, was built on stolen Palestinian land.

‘"The removal of the outposts, and punishment of the people responsible for their construction, will bring Israel somewhat closer to the level of a country in which the rule of law prevails," Etkes said.’

And justice can wait.

Speaking of justice, I’m just reading Jonathan Cook’s Blood and religion: the unmasking of the Jewish and democratic state. Pretty compelling stuff. Those ‘Israeli Arabs are incredibly patient and forgiving people. Just reading about what they put up with makes me see red. But ultimately, just more evidence that Zionism is racist and Zionists are not embarrassed about being racists – it’s in a good cause, after all.

OK, what about ‘the veil’?

OK, what about ‘the veil’?

British poodle, Tory Blain and prominent ‘Labour’ ex foreign minister, Jack Straw, have made headlines lately with their remarks about veiled women. Straw claims the veil is a ‘visible statement of separation and difference’. Well, duh. Straw’s views on the kilt were, curiously, unreported.

Yesterday Al Jazeera reported a West Yorkshire teacher who lost her discrimination case when she was suspended for refusing to remove her veil. The report doesn’t mention what she was teaching. As I point out later, in my view, it makes a difference, although not to whether it is discrimination or not.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were schools in England, even within the Kirklees council’s jurisdiction, including Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury itself, that actually require girls and boys, even male and female teachers, to dress visibly differently. Well might anyone wonder why they are promoting such separation and difference.

If the objective is to promote secularism, it is entirely counterproductive to exclude veiled women, or anyone practicing what they believe their religion requires of them, from secular institutions, as they did in France last year. Even if this were not intuitively obvious, Turkey has banned the veil for 80 years and look where it’s got them. Aishah Azmi’s case in Dewsbury, though, is irrelevant to this issue – after all, what would a Church of England school have to do with promoting secularism?

According to the veiled women I have asked about it, their motivation for ‘dressing modestly’ is to avoid arousing male lust. This is the case whether or not they cover their hair, or their faces. They all think they are dressing modestly. It hardly seems to make any sense at all, however, given the avowed purpose, to cover everything else but to leave their sexy eyes exposed. But then, if religious beliefs made any sense, they wouldn’t be religious beliefs, now would they? Ironically, those wearing a full burqa actually accomplish what they claim to set out to do.

There may in fact be a correlation between the amount of skin a society considers it acceptable for women to expose and some measure of women’s rights or equality. But even if such a correlation exists, it is not evidence of a cause and effect relation, much less which is the cause and which the effect. It is a big mistake to think that a miniskirt is either a sign of liberation or a strategy to achieve it.

If a veiled woman wants to work as a dentist, a bricklayer, an engineer, a chef, or what have you, this is entirely unobjectionable. I do have a concern, however, about a language teacher who will not allow students to observe what they do with their vocal apparatus. Don’t laugh. I had a veiled woman in one of my classes studying to be an English teacher.

Addendum: In a big surprise, today's NYT had an op-ed by one Paul Cruickshank, arguing that criticizing veiled women was counterproductive!

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Meanwhile, back at the UN…

Danny Gillerman, ‘Israel's ambassador to the United Nations urged the Security Council to take tough measures against "demented" Iran for its nuclear program in the wake of North Korea's declared atomic test.’

Waxing poetic, Yahoo reports, ‘"The international community should learn the lessons of what occurred in North Korea," [he] told army radio. "North Korea was only the preview. Iran will be the feature film, which, if no one takes serious action, will be projected throughout the whole world."’

Furthermore, as if their ambassador to the IAEA hadn’t just said that nuclear proliferation wasn’t an issue, ‘Israeli leaders called for the North Korean test to serve as a wake up call to the international community on the risks of nuclear proliferation and prompt a zero-tolerance policy with Tehran.’

Ignoring Juan Cole’s critique of the translation of Ahmadinejad’s one remark (not ‘repeated threats’ for crying out loud!), Yahoo concludes, ‘Israel considers Iran its arch-enemy for President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to wipe the Jewish state "off the map" and for his comments questioning the Holocaust.’

Well Ahmadinejad may or may not have said anything about wiping Israel off the map, but I for one hope to live to see a map free of sectarian ethnocracies like Israel and hierocracies like Iran.

You learn something new every day

It never occurred to me that a state that is not party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty could manage to get a seat on the IAEA. The Israeli ‘Ambassador’ to the IAEA, Israel Michaeli, in his profound wisdom, is reported to have opined, "The fundamental goal in the Middle East, as in other regions, is obtaining regional peace, security and stability, not arms control per se." This is doubtless why Israel is threatening Iran. Nothing to do with concerns about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons development at all. What’s most likely to secure regional peace, security, and stability is undoubtedly a continuing military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and utterly destroying neighbouring countries. Oh, and two or three hundred nukes, of course.

Needless to say, the IAEA did not resolve that Israel’s nuclear program was a threat.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

600,000 die for oil

I was wondering when we’d get the update, and there it was in this morning’s Times. The new estimate, allegedly carried out by ‘researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’ based on a survey of ‘1,849 Iraqi families’, comes to 601,023 violent deaths since the US invasion, with a margin of error of about 30%.

I hasten to add that I haven’t seen anything about this on the Bloomberg School’s website, nor does a Google search turn up anything about this most recent survey.

There is bound to be a lot of controversy about this estimate. The lowest point in the reported range for July, 426,369, is nearly ten times the low estimate at Iraq Body Count for today, 43850. I’m not sure what IBC was claiming in July, but anyone who is interested can sum the reports on the IBC database back to then and subtract the total from the current count.

The reason for the broad confidence interval is the small size of the sample, but that doesn’t mean the estimate is wrong. What it means is that the researchers, using conventional statistical reasoning that is accepted by their critics in any other context, are very confident that the actual number of violent deaths is in the reported range. As the estimate approaches 601,023, they are less and less confident. It is worth emphasizing that they are just as confident that the actual number is at the high end of the range (793,663) as at the low end – it is not more likely to be between 426,369 and 601,023 than it is to be between 601,023 and 793,663. It is more likely to be between, say, 501,023 and 701,023 than it is to be between 600,023 and 602,023.

And there are other factors that could conspire against the accuracy of the estimate. The Times doesn’t tell us how the researchers defined an ‘Iraqi family’. Indeed, the researchers may not have even used a ’family’ as the unit they were enumerating. It is quite plausible that the Times is confusing concepts like ‘family’ and ‘household’. The media do this every day. The people interviewed may not have reported accurately. The interviewers may have falsified data. But these are issues in every survey and they seldom arouse doubt, or even comment, in any other context.

So how do we explain the discrepancy? IBC’s method is much more conservative. It is not based on accepted principles of statistical sampling and estimation. It is simply a count of deaths reported from certain causes – roughly the same set of causes as the Johns Hopkins study, as far as I can ascertain so far – in at least two independent media sources:

For a source to be considered acceptable to this project it must comply with the following standards: (1) site updated at least daily; (2) all stories separately archived on the site, with a unique url (see Note 1 below); (3) source widely cited or referenced by other sources; (4) English Language site; (5) fully public (preferably free) web-access.

The project relies on the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies. It is assumed that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own rigorous checks before publishing items (including, where possible, eye-witness and confidential sources). By requiring that two independent agencies publish a report before we are willing to add it to the count, we are premising our own count on the self-correcting nature of the increasingly inter-connected international media network.

The site lists 38 sources identified as ‘some core sources’. It is not at all clear whether this list is comprehensive or indicative, and if not exhaustive, whether it comprises 97% or 1% of the core sources. Nor do we know what non core sources are being used or on what basis. Anyway, among the ‘core sources’ they mention are such beacons of truth as Fox news, the London Telegraph, the Toronto Star (but not the slightly more reputable Globe and mail), and of course the NYT.

I assume that when they write of ‘two independent agencies’, they mean that the reports come from completely independent sources. So if the NYT reports what AFP said, that’s not a second report. Ultimately, it seems to mean that at least two different reporters have to have interviewed witnesses or seen documentation of a death before it adds to their count. We know that the vast majority of reporters in Iraq are either holed up in the Emerald City far from the action and almost all the rest are embedded with the occupation forces. Then some reports may exist that are never published for editorial reasons. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that only a fraction of the total number of deaths that actually occur are reported, and an even smaller fraction independently reported by two separate agencies.

IBC is fairly upfront about what it is that they are reporting, to their credit. But they have been subject to a lot of criticism, especially by MediaLens. The nature of the critique, as I read it, revolves around two issues. For one thing, IBC relies on ‘the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies’, which MediaLens quite understandably rejects. For another, the media, and politicians, tend to recycle the IBC figures as if they were something they are not. If the criticism is that it is not good enough to mention your methodology on your website and then allow the media to report figures however they like without making a point of correcting those misperceptions by consistently drawing attention to what the figures really represent, that seems sound to me.

Statistics of all kinds are widely misunderstood. Those who collect, analyse, and publish them tend to be fairly conscientious about providing the information required to interpret them correctly. There are definitions, classifications, explanatory notes, footnotes, glossaries, details of the collection methodology, sampling procedure, often even the text of the questions asked. It is largely because those reporting the statistics in the media do not bother familiarizing themselves with and explaining these ‘metadata’ that statistics have gained their widespread notoriety as distortions. In a sense, it is not the fault of those disseminating statistics that they are being abused like this, but in my view, they do have a responsibility to publicly repudiate abuses. And this certainly applies to IBC at least as much as to anyone else.

In their defense, one of the points IBC make is that they exclude combatant deaths. They criticize the authors of the previous Hopkins study published in the Lancet for including combatant deaths and not being sufficiently open about it. Of course IBC rely on their trusted, but decidedly untrustworthy, media sources not only for the numbers killed, but for distinguishing combatants from civilians. As if they could tell. It is notoriously difficult to make this distinction in the kind of counterinsurgency that’s going on in Iraq and I think it must be particularly difficult in a society where nearly everyone is armed. It’s also worth pointing out that most of the ‘combatants’ killed in the counterinsurgency – those who really are combatants – are only in combat because of the invasion and occupation that they are quite legitimately resisting. So excluding them from the toll of the war is deeply cynical.

It is worth remembering in this context that the people who have taken up arms against the imperialist occupation, whether they are motivated by ‘pure’ anti-imperialist sentiments, revenge for a lost loved one or cavalier humiliation, or Islamic extremist jihadism, are in the front line of the struggle against imperialism, are doing us all a favour, and deserve our gratitude and support.

The real point, of course, is that the US never had any business going into Iraq in the first place. They had no business cultivating Saddam in the 50s and 60s. They had no business supporting the Ba’ath coup in 1963, or Saddam’s takeover in 1968. They had no business arming Iraq to the teeth and provoking their attack on Iran, much less on arming both sides to maximize the devastation. They had no business giving Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait and then turning around and smashing the country to smithereens. Or imposing sanctions for over a decade that killed a million and caused awful suffering for millions more, for turning their backs on those they encouraged to rise against Saddam and even providing him with air cover as he slaughtered them. For the crime against humanity of invading and occupying Iraq for the sole purpose of gaining a strangehold on the energy sources of their economic rivals in Europe, Japan, and China, no penalty is too severe. That even one Iraqi was killed in pursuit of such an objective is unimaginably vicious and cynical.

I heard Amy Goodman’s 27 September interview with Seymour Hersh this morning. He claims to have spoken to a lot of returning soldiers and mentions two things in particular that I think are relevant. It is apparently so dangerous for those supplying the troops that they drive their trucks up the highway at night without lights at 120km per hour, even as they go through populated areas. It is very windy in the desert, and when the wind is going the wrong way, you can’t hear the trucks coming. He didn’t say how many he thought were killed this way, but again, even one would be too many. He also said that US troops travel in convoys of three. When the first in the convoy hits an IED, everyone piles out of the other two and shoots everything that moves. He mentioned an incident he’d heard about where what moved was a bunch of people playing soccer in a nearby field. The perpetrators tried to cover up their crime by planting material suggesting that the murdered were ‘combatants’.

Again, one is already way too many, particularly in pursuit of such venal objectives. But not everyone feels that way, thanks in no small measure to the professional integrity of the media. Some might think 45,000 dead and uncounted wounded, crippled, blinded, etc. is a price worth paying for freedom. And perhaps it would be, if it had anything to do with freedom. But those same people might balk at 600,000 – roughly a fortieth of the total population. And it is worth bearing in mind that, according to the Times, the study only enumerates ‘violent deaths’ – not deaths from diseases caused by the destruction of sewage and water treatment facilities, certainly not from depleted uranium radiation poisoning. So this study is very welcome and we should continue to emphasise that the highest estimates are at least as plausible as the lower ones and probably more plausible than the lowest, which come from the quisling Iraqi ‘government’ and IBC.