A writer for Artvoice has managed to write one of the most, um, ambitious transitions I've ever read -- he lurches from an early snowfall in Buffalo to the Iraq War in one easy paragraph.
When it was all over, most of us were left in the dark without electricity, heat and, for some, potable water and telephone service. People gathered in small clusters to shed a few tears for their beloved neighborhood trees.
Life would be simple if we could just pause the story here and focus on clearing our streets of debris and putting our utility infrastructure back together. But our reality in 2006 isn’t so simple.
George W. Bush once said, “I’m a war president. I make decisions with war on my mind.” This is also our reality. And as long as we tacitly support George W. Bush’s wars with our tax dollars and our complacent acquiescence, we too should always have war on our minds.
Only a full-blown case of BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) could inspire that unusual mental association.
Now, the writer's goal was to put the storm into perspective and to tamp down some of the local hysteria, a theme I firmly approve of. But after having mysteriously segued into the Iraq War, he must now follow up by comparing the number of deaths here resulting from the storm to the number of Iraqis who've died since the United States invaded them three years ago. His source is the recently-released John Hopkins survey estimating that number at +/- 655,000, a number no one who sat and thought a moment would possibly believe.
At least six people have died so far as a result of last week’s storm. And that is truly tragic. By comparison, however, the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, released a study just before the storm, reporting that 655,000 Iraqis died as a result of the US invasion.
The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, employed universally accepted demographic sampling techniques traditionally utilized by the US government. In 92 percent of the deaths randomly examined, there was even a coroner’s report listing a cause of death. Six hundred and one thousand of the dead died directly from violence. Considering that according to recent US government reports, troops are firing 1.8 billion bullets per year in Iraq, this number is quite believable. Add in insurgent gunfire and the number seems low. Another 54,000 Iraqis died, according to the report, from otherwise natural causes not treated due to war-related degradation of that nation’s health care infrastructure.
The media have quickly adopted this 655,000 number as truth and never fail to trumpet that the study used a widely recognized methodology. It did, sort of, but the numbers are still more than suspect.
The group--associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health--employed cluster sampling for in-person interviews, which is the methodology that I and most researchers use in developing countries. Here, in the U.S., opinion surveys often use telephone polls, selecting individuals at random. But for a country lacking in telephone penetration, door-to-door interviews are required: Neighborhoods are selected at random, and then individuals are selected at random in "clusters" within each neighborhood for door-to-door interviews. Without cluster sampling, the expense and time associated with travel would make in-person interviewing virtually impossible.
However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.
Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.'s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711--almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size.
Without even trying to understand the arcana of sampling methodology, consider that 655,000 deaths since March, 2003 would average out to 500 civilian casualties each and every day -- about 15,000 a month. There's no possible way numbers like that would have gone unnoticed and unreported. Even though the left is convinced that the mainstream media were in Bush's pocket after 9/11, the crush of bodies at the morgues and the sheer numbers of funerals across the country couldn't have escaped attention.
If 500 Iraqis were dying at the hands of Americans each day, there would be no strife now between Sunnis and Shiites -- their common hatred would have united them long ago against the United States. Iraq is not Africa where human life is so cheap that hundreds of thousands can be killed and no one notices. While a tiny minority of jihadists appear not to value life, they are not representative of the population who rather enjoys living.
As for the claim that 1.8 billion allegedly fired bullets makes 655,000 deaths plausible? Well, I'm as in the dark as you are on that one.