Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Vacation In Iraq

From this article by Alicia Colon.

Where would you rather vacation? Iraq or New Orleans the summer before Hurricane Katrina. Statistically, your life would be twice as much at risk riding the St. Charles Steet trolley last June than walking down a street in downtown Baghdad.

According to Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the following are the FBI statistics for violent deaths per 100,000 people in various countries and U.S. cities from 2004-2005:

Columbia ----------------------- 61.7
New Orleans (before Katrina) -- 53.1
South Africa -------------------- 49.6
Washington, DC ---------------- 45.9
Baltimore ---------------------- 37.7
Atlanta ------------------------- 34.9
Jamiaca ------------------------ 32.4
Venezuela ---------------------- 31.6
Iraq --------------------------- 25.71

Taking these numbers as given, one can still argue that Iraq is not New Orleans or South Africa or that socialist paradise Venezuela. In most of these locales (Columbia is a bit different) violent death tends to occur among criminals and over personal disputes of family members. In Iraq, the deaths are frequently targeted at people trying to improve their lives, or believing the wrong thing about the Imams, or for being born to the wrong ethnic group, or coming from another country, or for working for the government or a newspaper. In short, Iraq is a war-zone and these other places are not.

But that cuts both ways. Iraq is a war-zone. It has nit-minded crocodiles...athiests in religious clothing...crossing the border for no purpose but to explode themselves among strangers. And like many Muslim-majority countries today, it has adherants to a mutant concept of Islam (both Sunni and Shi'a, from Basrah to Mosul) who see it as God's directive to kill anyone --especially women or anyone perceived as vulnerable-- who doesn't worship and live exactly as the mutant adherants want.

Yet despite all that the violent death-to-population ratio in Iraq is significantly less (at least within whatever are the confines of these statistics) than a city --Washington, DC-- to which American parents happily send away their children in large school groups.

It's not my intention to poo-poo the reported horrific murders and crimes we read about from Iraqi bloggers in the sidebar to the right. My point is about statistics. And about the news people choose to focus on. When you read about horrible murders happening in Iraq, it is important to also remember that Iraq's economy is currently growing at over 16% annually. That's down from 30% in 2004. There is no way that can happen without the lives of a lot of people getting a heck of a lot better. In fact, a lot of the suffering in Iraq, such as the limited electricity, is largely caused by the booming economy.

If I were made editor of a national newspaper, I could fill an entire edition every day with stories of terrible murders and fatal negligence that occur in America. I could fill a big fat suppliment with stories of scandals and malfeasance by people in power. Actually, a newspaper like that would look a lot like the news I get now. Every story would be accurate, but such a newspaper would provide a distorted understanding of life in the U.S.

Also, perfectly accurate stories of the deaths of pro-Iraqi forces in absence of stories about the missions they are performing is also a distortion. The statistical violent death-rate on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day was appalling. However, the statistical death-rate at the time was hardly the relevant headline.

Nuff said.

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