"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Friday, September 30, 2005

And everyone buys it...

"Unless we own the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality upon us and the future realities about to hit us, we will fail".
Tony Blair

BBC News
The Guardian
Sea Level Change


Thursday, September 29, 2005

21st Century Pirates

Flying the flag of greed

They are the pariahs of the high seas. They exist in many cases outside the law. The profits of their proprietors take absolute precedence over the conditions of those who work on them. They are the "flags of convenience" ships, where the naked greed of their owners rules supreme, writes Mary Raftery.

Irish Ferries is in the process of embracing full membership of this club. Already one of its passenger ferries, the MV Normandy, no longer flies an Irish flag. It was re-registered under the flag of the Bahamas earlier this year. And now, the last remaining Irish-owned passenger ship company is turning its back fully on the Irish flag, making it clear that it intends to re-register all of its ferries elsewhere.

© The Irish Times


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pro-War finally show their support

Finally getting out there and marching, the pro-war lobby made a real impact. All 500 of them.

"The protest Monday followed a massive demonstration Saturday on the National Mall that drew a crowd of 100,000 or more, the largest such gathering in the capital since the war began in March 2003.

On Sunday, a rally supporting the war drew roughly 500 participants. Speakers included veterans of World War II and the war in Iraq, as well as family members of soldiers killed in Iraq."

Full Article: CNN


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Double Standards

Dear Madam,

In today's Irish Times (22/09/05) you ask, quite rightly, "how can they [Coalition forces] do that [hand over power to Iraqi police] if they cannot trust their designated successors to co-operate with them?" However, while coalition forces remain, at the apparent insistence of the Iraqi government, is it not also the coalition's responsibility to co-operate with the forces they are preparing to succeed them?

Two heavily armed undercover British soldiers were involved in a fire fight with Iraqi police, they were arrested and allegedly handed over to a Shia militia, the result was the British raid on an Iraqi jail, killing five civilians. The question is, how can the successors to the coalition maintain any sense of order if their trainers are working both with them and against them?

Would the media have reacted in the same manner if the roles were reversed?

"Iraqi forces raided Abu Ghraib to rescue two Iraqi civilians who were detained by Coalition security forces following a raid on Monday. The Iraqis said the men were held by a hostile military force who allegedly had been torturing inmates in the prison."

Yours sincerely,

Britain's role in Iraq

The arrest of two British undercover soldiers in Basra this week by Iraqi police and their subsequent handing over to a Shia militia group and rescue by British troops raised serious questions about security in the city.............

© The Irish Times


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ring any bells?

It is interesting that Kevin Myers resurrects Tolstoy to effect one argument and then two days later disregards the thinker to put forth an interesting slant on anti-Americanism, whatever that is. What would Tolstoy have thought of his latest offering?

"Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthralment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached.

Patriotism is slavery."

More Tolstoy:

The Balance of Power

Nuclear Proliferation perhaps?

“Every one who realizes the true import of these festivities cannot but protest against what is tacitly included in them:”

[B]efore we can look round, the usual ominous absurd proclamation will appear in the papers: —

“We, by God’s grace, the autocratic great Emperor of all Russia, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., etc., proclaim to all our true subjects, that, for the welfare of these our beloved subjects, bequeathed by God into our care, we have found it our duty before God to send them to slaughter. God be with us.”

The bells will peal, long-haired men will dress in golden sacks and pray for successful slaughter. And the old story will begin again, the awful customary acts.

The editors of the daily press, happy in the receipt of an increased income, will begin virulently to stir men up to hatred and manslaughter in the name of patriotism. Manufacturers, merchants, contractors for military stores will hurry joyously about their business, in the hope of double receipts.

All sorts of government functionaries will buzz about, foreseeing a possibility of purloining something more than usual. The military authorities will hurry hither and thither, drawing double pay and rations, and with the expectation of receiving for the slaughter of other men various silly little ornaments which they so highly prize, as ribbons, crosses, orders, and stars. Idle ladies and gentlemen will make a great fuss, entering their names in advance for the Red Cross Society, and ready to bind up the wounds of those whom their husbands and brothers will mutilate, and they will imagine that in so doing they are performing a most Christian work.

And, smothering despair within their souls by songs, licentiousness, and wine, men will trail along, torn from peaceful labor, from their wives, mothers, and children, — hundreds of thousands of simple-minded, good-natured men with murderous weapons in their hands — anywhere they will be driven.

They will march, freeze, hunger, suffer sickness, and die from it, or finally come to some place where they will be slain by thousands, or kill thousands themselves with no reason — men they have never seen before, and who neither have done nor could do them any mischief.

And when the number of sick, wounded, and killed becomes so great that there are not hands enough left to pick them up, and when the air is so infected with the putrefying scent of the “food for cannon” that even the authorities find it disagreeable, a truce will be made, the wounded will be picked up anyhow, the sick will be brought in and huddled together in heaps, the killed will be covered with earth and lime, and once more all the crowd of deluded men will be led on and on till those who have devised the project weary of it, or till those who thought to find it profitable receive their spoil."

The Picket Line


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Cead Mile Fu*k off

Dear Madam,

Every year thousands of privileged Irish people board chugging great mechanical birds laden with sun cream and guide books in search of something alien to the Ireland of a thousand welcomes. Needless to say there is ample opportunity to find something different, from the birthplace of humanity to shrinking regions where tribes still survive without modern essentials like mobile phones and hummers. The opportunity to meet billions of people who haven't succumbed to the wonders of 24 hour shopping and reality TV. However, these people obviously offer little to modern society, with their backward ways and keenness for the domination of women.

Although Mr. Myers slays all migrants in his sweeping critic it is more than obvious he has one particular bone to pick. It is quite apparent his argument is not intended to curb the influx of Australians or Spanish. According to Mr. Myers the millions of Muslims around the world do little more than rape and suppress women.

With little real knowledge of Arab cultures Mr. Myers follows the formulaic model for attacking Muslims. Such that his piece adds just another arrogant slander against a continent so diverse and yet so misunderstood after decades of the same subtle imperial literature that cast the Irish as uncontrollable savages. As the sign in the window of a London bar once read; No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.

The elected leaders of our 'enriching Western European and North American' cultures have consistently led us into wars against Churchill's 'uncivilised tribes'. Faithfully supported by a media that has become more than efficient in its role as the mouth piece of power.

We stand to gain little from this aggressive attack based on stereotype and generalisation. Unfortunately it will simply further serve to reinforce our notions of superiority. A superiority so heavily reliant on the resources we maintain by supporting the very regimes he is rightly appalled by.

Kevin Myers has confused culture and the laws enforced by fundamentalist regimes. Irish law does not condone any of the punishments he notes, anybody migrating to Ireland can be assured the same safety afforded to every other citizen.

His article epitomises what Edward Said called the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture," less the subtlety.

Yours sincerely,

In response to:

An Irishman's Diary

Yet again the mumbo-jumbo of "multiculturalism", a term that is unfailingly invoked in every pious homily about immigration, has been raising its grinning, idiotic head, writes Kevin Myers.

continued... The Irish Times


Friday, September 16, 2005

Start investing in Sun Cream

Global warming 'past the point of no return'

By Steve Connor, Science EditorPublished: 16 September 2005The Independent

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.

The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a "tipping point" beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.

Satellites monitoring the Arctic have found that the extent of the sea ice this August has reached its lowest monthly point on record, dipping an unprecedented 18.2 per cent below the long-term average.

Experts believe that such a loss of Arctic sea ice in summer has not occurred in hundreds and possibly thousands of years. It is the fourth year in a row that the sea ice in August has fallen below the monthly downward trend - a clear sign that melting has accelerated.
Scientists are now preparing to report a record loss of Arctic sea ice for September, when the surface area covered by the ice traditionally reaches its minimum extent at the end of the summer melting period.

Sea ice naturally melts in summer and reforms in winter but for the first time on record this annual rebound did not occur last winter when the ice of the Arctic failed to recover significantly.
Arctic specialists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University, who have documented the gradual loss of polar sea ice since 1978, believe that a more dramatic melt began about four years ago.

In September 2002 the sea ice coverage of the Arctic reached its lowest level in recorded history. Such lows have normally been followed the next year by a rebound to more normal levels, but this did not occur in the summers of either 2003 or 2004. This summer has been even worse. The surface area covered by sea ice was at a record monthly minimum for each of the summer months - June, July and now August.

Scientists analysing the latest satellite data for September - the traditional minimum extent for each summer - are preparing to announce a significant shift in the stability of the Arctic sea ice, the northern hemisphere's major "heat sink" that moderates climatic extremes.

"The changes we've seen in the Arctic over the past few decades are nothing short of remarkable," said Mark Serreze, one of the scientists at the Snow and Ice Data Centre who monitor Arctic sea ice.

continued... The Independent

Climate Change special report

New Scientist

A massive global increase in the number of strong hurricanes over the past 35 years is being blamed on global warming, by the most detailed study yet. The US scientists warn that Katrina-strength hurricanes could become the norm.Worldwide since the 1970s, there has been a near-doubling in the number of Category 4 and 5 storms - the strength that saw Hurricane Katrina do such damage to the US Gulf coastline late in August 2005. Peter Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, says the trend is global, has lasted over several decades and is connected to a steady worldwide increase in tropical sea temperatures. Because of all these factors, it is unlikely to be due to any known natural fluctuations in climate such as El Niño, the North Atlantic Oscillation or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. "We can say with confidence that the trends in sea surface temperatures and hurricane intensity are connected to climate change," says Webster's co-author Judy Curry, also of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The team looked at the incidence of intense tropical storms and the study results are the strongest affirmation yet that Katrina-level hurricanes are becoming more frequent in a warmer world.Unnatural trendThe study finds there has been no general increase in the total number of hurricanes, which are called cyclones when they appear outside the Atlantic. Nor is there any evidence of the formation of the oft-predicted "super-hurricanes". The worst hurricane in any year is usually no stronger than in previous years during the study period. But the proportion of hurricanes reaching categories 4 or 5 - with wind speeds above 56 metres per second - has risen from 20% in the 1970s to 35% in the past decade. "This trend has lasted for more than 30 years now. So the chances of it being natural are fairly remote," says Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) at Boulder, ColoradoMoreover, says Webster, natural fluctuations tend to be localised. "When the east Pacific warms, the west Pacific cools, for instance. But sea surface temperatures are rising throughout the tropics today." The surface waters in the tropical oceans are now around 0.5°C warmer during hurricane seasons than 35 years ago. Satellite eraHurricanes form when ocean temperatures rise above 26°C. "The fuel for hurricanes is water vapour evaporating from the ocean surface. It condenses in the air and releases heat, which drives the hurricane's intensity," says Webster. "The tendency to Katrina-like hurricanes is increasing," Holland says. Without the warmer sea-surface temperatures, "Katrina might only have been a category 2 or 3".All the data for sea surface temperatures and hurricane numbers and intensities come from satellite data. "We deliberately limited this study to the satellite era because of the known biases [in the data] before this period," says Webster.This is the third report in recent months highlighting the growing risk to life and property round the world from hurricanes and tornadoes. In June, NCAR's Kevin Trenberth reported a rising intensity of hurricanes in the North Atlantic. And in August, Kerry Emanuel of MIT found a 50% increase in thedestructive power of tropical storms in the past half century.

New Scientist


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Geldof's defense

Bono paraphrased Churchill. Geldof, however unintentionally, quoted Bush.

'A great justice has been done ... On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 ... Mission accomplished, frankly.' Bob Geldof

Nine million people in Britain alone watched the Hyde Park concert on television; the crowd of 200,000 who saw it live easily broke the venue's records. Make Poverty History, the charity coalition whose cause Geldof had adopted, distributed more than 6m white wristbands, and persuaded hundreds of thousands of people to march on Edinburgh. Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, called Live 8 "the greatest thing that's probably been organised ever in the history of the world"; Madonna called it a revolution.

In that context, Geldof is plainly angered by the allegation that Gleneagles, in the words of Christian Aid, was "a sad day for poor people in Africa".

The defense:

"I'm not trying to big it up," he says. "But outside narrow national politics... the international experts are just amazed that so much got done or agreed upon... If we get $25bn that wasn't there before, where those monies come from doesn't fucking matter. They weren't there, they didn't exist, and now we've got a means of getting them." Even if the debt money and the aid money are one and the same? "Everyone knew that! That's nothing new! Besides, the debt is only $1bn of $25bn. But it was always included."

The Guardian

Charities working in Africa, many of which are now critical of Geldof, accuse the G8 of double accounting and massaging the figures, saying much of the total “aid” package is made up of a supposedly separate debt cancellation programme announced at Gleneagles.

According to the charities, only an additional $1 billion will be available next year.

But the UN is only the first hurdle for Geldof. Leaked documents from the World Bank suggest its development committee meeting later this month may want to place more conditions on African countries before they are approved for debt cancellation. The documents say the total cost of debt cancellation could be lowered by $10 billion if “fully disbursed credits (money already provided and spent) only are included in the G8 proposal”.

The Sunday Times


Sunday, September 11, 2005

You want it...

you just don't know it yet.

"By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke... there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing."

Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags!
Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!

"Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web! "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?"

Neuromarketing is the new technique being developed by big companies to see if their products 'light up' your brain
By Jonathan Thompson
Independent on Sunday
Published: 11 September 2005

It has been described as the Holy Grail of marketing, and soon companies may be queuing up to invest in a process that allows them to get inside the minds of consumers - almost literally.

"Neuromarketing" tracks volunteers' reactions to products not by listening to their views, but by reading impressions from their brains. The system, which has been condemned by some as Orwellian, puts consumers into MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanners to see which feelings are engaged by a product.

The technique, which could make focus groups redundant, is based on the technology used in hospitals to analyse medical conditions. By focusing on blood flow to certain parts of the brain, analysts can track a range of feelings at cellular level, from recognition and approval to enjoyment and arousal. This can then be put to commercial use by advertisers.

The process is already in use. Yesterday, the IoS was allowed in to watch as young volunteers were tested by Viacom Brand Solutions, which owns a number of popular television channels, including MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon. The experiment took place at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences in south London, part of King's College Hospital.

Viacom's managing director, Nick Bampton, said: "We're trying to find out what is relevant and engaging for the viewers, and also how we can improve the return for investors. What this should result in is a win-win situation: viewers will get what they want, programmers will get what they want, and advertisers will get what they want."

Advocates say that neuromarketing is an efficient form of market research because at least 95 per cent of all thinking, including emotion, happens below the level of awareness. In other words, this approach could tell them more about a person's feelings than that person could ever express verbally.

Although few studies have been conducted so far, one British company, Neurosense - which ran yesterday's session for Viacom - is a pioneer in the field. Dr Gemma Calvert, a co-founder of the Oxford business, said: "There is so much advertising out there now, and this provides a means of clearing the clutter. It bridges the gap between what the consumer really wants and how the manufacturer can supply that."

continued... The Independent on Sunday via Media Lens


Thursday, September 08, 2005

100,000 does not include Fallujah

It has not be discredited, but it has been widely criticised. Go figure.

Dear Mary Dejevsky (The Independent),

I was quite concerned to read your explanation of the way you chose to report the death toll in Iraq as reported in the Lancet to the Media Lens editors.

Why should there be a difference in reporting the death toll in the Congo and that in Iraq? Should a truly independent media be swayed by archaic obstructions like patriotism, loyalty to power or fear of rocking the corporate boat that keeps newspapers like the Independent afloat.

Why is it that the same method conducted by the same people, in the same way can be treated in such different manners? It is because we are, in the case of Iraq, directly responsible for those deaths?

The simple question is, does the denial of probably over 100,000 needless deaths make sleeping easier or harder, from a lay perspective?

Yours sincerely,

Understand more: Burying the Lancet - Medialens


Questions and Answers

Dear Madam,

As Newton Emerson answers the questions of thousands of desperate columnists in today's Irish Times one is struck by the pointless nature of his derision.

Who cares about the questions of thousands of desperate columnists, who cares whether George Bush's minimal popularity is finally wavering towards death, who cares whether Bill Clinton had the same flaws but managed to hide them better, who cares whether John Kerry would have put America and in turn the rest of the world in the exact same position, who cares whether the Democrats can sort out election fraud in the next year?

It is common knowledge that journalists ask questions to sell newspapers, it is common knowledge that rich America keeps poor America poor, it is common knowledge that unsustainable growth will exacerbate Global Warming, it is common knowledge that there is no real effort to curb this warming, it is common knowledge that people are dying across the world due to the greed of others, it is common knowledge that we are not as 'developed' as we'd like to think.

This is all common knowledge and yet we still argue over who is the lesser of two evils.


Ill wind blows all the way to Washington, or does it?
Newton's Optic: Newton Emerson copes with the consequences of an ill wind.

As the full horror of Hurricane Katrina sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if this is the end of George Bush's presidency. The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that every copy of the US Constitution was destroyed in the storm. Otherwise President Bush will remain in office until noon on January 20th, 2009, as required by the 20th Amendment, after which he is barred from seeking a third term anyway under the 22nd Amendment.
As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if the entire political agenda of George Bush's second term will not still be damaged in some terribly satisfying way.

continued...© The Irish Times


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Help? Don't need it

Its alright to take money from Saudi Arabian princes, but left wing south american leaders, thats going to far.

Repsonse to letter in the Irish Times.

Dear Madam,

Having not heard John O'Shea comments on Morning Ireland it is difficult to defend his 'apparent comments' voiced by Carol Carty in todays Irish Times other than to say he obviously deems the threat to life is more serious in those third world countries he works in than those in the more developed world.

John O'Shea, in working with GOAL, deals on many occasions with populations that live in abject poverty while their leaders live in luxury. Those of us that contribute to his work see the necessity of aiding peoples whose governments have no affection for. America is one of the richest nations in the world and just as we cannot rely on those nations with riches displayed in palaces of gold we cannot rely on that 10 percent of America that controls 80 percent of its wealth to provide support for those that fail to register on its governments radar.

The US government's response to this disaster has been abysmal. From the failure to provide an adequate evacuation plan, to their abandonment of those unable to leave, to their aggressive/inhuman policies against looting this administration has shown a lack of competence and a lack of morality. Indeed, this evidences the need for a positive response from other rich nations. But if you do feel compelled to give generously to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, don't try and twist an aid workers personnel assignment of importance into 'anti-Americanism', unless you can explain this reasoning to the children still dying in Sudan.

It is precisely this anti-Americanism that has put the most vulnerable in the most dangerous position. With the rejection of Venezuelan aid reported in today's Irish Times it is quite obvious that anti-Americanism is, if anywhere, rampant within the US Administration.

Yours sincerely,

Madam, - I found Lisa Hawkins's letter in yesterday's edition, detailing the begrudging response of some of her neighbours to her collection for the New Orleans disaster victims, very interesting in the light of the remarks by John O'Shea of Goal on Morning Ireland. Mr O'Shea apparently believes that money sent to alleviate the suffering of Hurricane Katrina victims would be better put to use in Africa through the hands of his own organisation; some of Ms Hawkins's neighbours apparently believe that aid to US citizens is solely the job of other US citizens.

As a dual Irish-American national I have a mixed response to this sour-faced stinginess. As an American I am horrified by the ham-handedness and lack of empathy displayed by the White House in response to the Katrina disaster. However, here in Ireland I smell the stench of revenge from those who disagree with the Iraq war and the general aims of the Bush administration. But the poorest of the poor and the mentally and physically frail who were abandoned in the wake of the flood are as much the victims of the uncaring, ideal-minded, anti-pragmatic US administration as any innocent citizen of Iraq. To withhold aid to the victims of Katrina because of anti-American sentiments is to punish the downtrodden of the American system.

As an Irish national I am deeply embarrassed by the mean-spiritedness displayed by John O'Shea. We in Ireland have been quick to take whatever America has to offer for our own benefit. To pull back the hand of friendship from some of its poorest and neediest citizens at this time belies an undercurrent of resentment at being in some ways "under compliment" to the US and is a classic display of the worst of Irish begrudgery rather than the generosity for which the Irish people are known.

Denying money to hurricane victims through the Red Cross should not be placed in the same category as anti-war demonstrations or plane-bashing at Shannon. To endorse deliberately withholding such aid is to deny compassion, and our shared humanity, in the name of a twisted "political correctness".

Mr O'Shea says the Irish Government should have "offered advice" in place of money. Oh, really? Based on Ireland's extensive experience of hurricane damage and mass evacuations, I suppose? - Yours, etc,


US rejected aid offer from Chavez
Duncan Campbell in Baton Rouge

Foreign aid: An offer of aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, which included two mobile hospital units, 120 rescue and first-aid experts and 50 tonnes of food, has been rejected by the US, according to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

Mr Jackson said the offer from the Venezuelan leader included 10 water purification plants, 18 power generation plants and 20 tonnes of bottled water.

He said the refusal of aid was typical of the mishandling of the crisis by the Bush administration.

The offer was one of many from governments and aid organisations across the world, despite the allegations of conservative commentators and bloggers that the US is being ignored by countries it helped during crises. "This may be Mr Bush's worst hour of leadership," said Mr Jackson, who is urging the government to use deserted military bases to house evacuees.

Article: The Irish Times


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Betraying the poor

First thing to say is, take off that stupid white wrist band.

And still he stays silent
By hailing the failure of this summer's G8 summit as a success, Bob Geldof has betrayed the poor of Africa
George Monbiot
Tuesday September 6, 2005

Two months have not elapsed since the G8 summit, and already almost everything has turned to ashes. Even the crustiest sceptics have been shocked by the speed with which its promises have been broken...

There is just one thing Geldof can now do for Africa. This is to announce that his optimism was misplaced, that the mission was not accomplished, that the struggle for justice is as urgent as ever. But while he holds his tongue, he will remain the man who betrayed the poor.

Full Article: The Guardian


Monday, September 05, 2005

Explaining the Lancet to a lay person

Or an 'Independent' journalist (from Les Roberts, a world renowned epidemiologist and lead author of the report).

Dear Mr. Kirby and Ms. Dejevsky,

"I was disappointed to hear that you felt our study was in some way dismissed by Jack Straw's anemic response to our report in the Lancet last November. Serious reviews of our work and the criticisms of it were run in the Financial Times, the Economist, the Chronicle of Higher Education (attached above) and the WSJ [Wall Street Journal] Online on August 5th. Closer to home, John Rentoul of the Independent solicited a response to the Jack Straw letter last Nov. 21st and we responded with the attached letter [Not provided here]. I am told that it was printed by your paper.

"Many people, like Ms. Dejevsky, have used the word extrapolation to describe what we did. When I hear people use that word they mean what is described in my Webster's Unabridged: '1. Statistics. to estimate the value of a variable outside its tabulated or observed range.' By this definition and the one I hear used by everyone on this side of the Atlantic, we did not extrapolate. We did sample. We drew conclusions from within the confines of that universe from which we sampled. Aside from a few homeless and transient households that did not appear in the 2002 Ministry of Health figures or households who had been dissolved or killed since, every existing household in Iraq had an equal chance that we would visit them through our randomization process.

"I understand that you feel that the sample was small: this is most puzzling. 142 post-invasion deaths in 988 households is a lot of deaths, and for the setting, a lot of interviews. There is no statistical doubt mortality is up, no doubt that violence is the main cause, and no doubt that the coalition forces have caused far more of these violent deaths than the insurgents (p<.0000001).
"In essence this is an outbreak investigation. If your readers hear about a sample with 10 cases of mad cow disease in 1000 British citizens randomly tested, I am sure they would have no doubt there was an outbreak. In 1993, when the US Centers for Disease Control randomly called 613 households in Milwaukee and concluded that 403,000 people had developed

Cryptosporidium in the largest outbreak ever recorded in the developed world, no one said that 613 households was not a big enough sample. It is odd that the logic of epidemiology embraced by the press every day regarding new drugs or health risks somehow changes when the mechanism of death is their armed forces.

"The comments of Ms. Dejevsky regarding representativeness '(it seemed small from a lay perspective (i remember at the time) for the conclusions being drawn and there seemed too little account taken of the different levels of unrest in different regions. my main point, though, was less based on my impression than on the fact that this technique exposed the authors to the criticisms/dismissal that the govt duly made, and they had little to counter those criticisms with, bar the defence that their methods were standard for those sort of surveys.)' are also cause for concern because she seems to have not understood that this was a random sample.

"By picking random neighborhoods proportional to population, we are likely to account for the natural variability of ethnicity, income, and violence. Her words above strongly suggest that the Falluja numbers should be included, rather than being used to temper the results from the other 32 neighborhoods. Please understand how extremely conservative we were: we did a survey estimating that ~285,000 people have died due to the first 18 months of invasion and occupation and we reported it as at least ~100,000. "Finally, there are now at least 8 independent estimates of the number or rate of deaths induced by the invasion of Iraq. The source most favored by the war proponents (Iraqbodycount.org) is the lowest. Our estimate is the third from highest. Four of the estimates place the death toll above 100,000. The studies measure different things. Some are surveys, some are based on surveillance which is always incomplete in times of war. The three lowest estimates are surveillance based.

"The key issues are supported by all the estimates that attribute deaths to the various causes: violence is way up post-invasion and the Coalition is responsible for many times more deaths than are the insurgents. The exact number is less important that these two indisputable facts which helps us to understand why things are going badly and how to fix them.I hope these thoughts are helpful.Sincerely,Les Roberts"

Perhaps most damning in Roberts' reply - in light of media criticism of the Lancet's alleged exaggeration of civilian deaths - was his refutation of the claim that the uneven levels of violent unrest in Iraq compromised the accuracy of the figures. In fact the study not only accounted for this variability, it erred on the side of caution by excluding data from Fallujah where deaths were unusually high. Moreover, other violent hotspots - such as Ramadi, Tallafar and Najaf - were all passed over in the sample by random chance. This suggests that the actual total of civilian deaths is likely to be higher than 100,000. Indeed, it would make far more sense for the media to be criticising the report authors for under-estimating the number of deaths.

We wrote to Dejevsky asking if she had received Roberts' response. She replied on September 1:

"yes, and i understand the arguments. but i stick to my position that extrapolation, however scientific and well-thought through is no substitute for real figures. i know that the 'real' figures here do not exist, but i still think that extrapolation has obvious drawbacks which lay the resulting figures open to question - and therefore vulnerable to govt spokesmen who seek to discredit them. incidentally, my view on extrapolation is really neither here nor there. my chief objection to it is, as i have just said, that it lays the figures themselves open to question by those who have an interest in discrediting them.all the best, mary"

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