Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Mathematics of Fraud

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

Not that any of this is a surprise; it's the strict tabulation of the minimum number that catches the imagination here.

What can you do with 935 false statements? With that number of deceptions, a family of two adults and three kids could each tell a different lie every day to skip an entire year of work or school, with enough falsehoods left over to excuse the family from church, synagogue, or circle for all but three weeks a year.[1]

But nobody could get away with that. The adults would lose their jobs, and the kids would be chased by truant officers. The Deity or Deities involved have their own ways of responding. Let's see what those 935 lies have actually bought.

Category Total Number Number per Lie Notes
US soldiers killed 3,931 4 Four soldiers--enough to start a band, though most of these kids are a year or two older than the Beatles were. It's actually 4.2 something, but all numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number.
US soldiers wounded[2] 28,938 31 What does it mean to be wounded? Imagine it: 31 wounded soldiers, an entire classroom of healthy young men and women who will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the physical and emotional scars of this war.
Iraqi civilians killed 80,621 86 A smallish symphony orchestra might have 86 players. My annual family reunion usually draws that many -- five generations of preachers, nurses, housewives, writers, farmers, social workers, and truck-drivers. The country church I grew up in might be that crowded at Easter. Data is drawn from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures to produce a credible record of known deaths and incidents. I selected the lower number for my computation. Other estimates are far higher: A study published by the Lancet says the risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq is now 58 times higher than before the US-led invasion.[3]
Journalists killed 125 0.1336 The figure of 125 killed does not include the 49 journalism support workers killed or any of the abducted journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists . . . considers a journalist to be killed on duty if the person died as a result of a hostile action—such as reprisal for his or her work, or crossfire while carrying out a dangerous assignment. CPJ does not include journalists killed in accidents, such as car or plane crashes, unless the crash was caused by aggressive human action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire). Nor does CPJ include journalists who died of health ailments. Note that it takes approximately eight lies to kill a journalist.
Direct cost to US taxpayers $488 billion $521,925,133.69These numbers are incomplete--just to the end of 2007; they do not begin to cover the ongoing medical and psychiatric needs of veterans, for example, or the cost of rebuilding Iraq, or the interest our grandchildren will be paying on this monstrous debt. They are also hard to grasp. For each lie, we could have built a new medical school, and still have had enough left over to put 1,918 kids through a year of Head Start. Or we could skip the med school and the education, and just buy 2,372 lucky families a new house at the national median home price of $220,000. For every lie.
Cost so far to taxpayers of Oakland, CA $574.7 million $614,652.41 Each lie would pay for 27,938 copies of Ruby K. Payne's excellent A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Or they could have put almost nine new cops on the streets for each lie.
Oakland children who could have been provided with health care 214,364 229 That's right--every lie could have given health care to 229 kids. Instead of killing 4 American soldiers, wounding 31, and killing 86 Iraqi civilians. How would you rather spend your tax dollars?


[1] Based on these assumptions: both adults working a 5-day work week, minus the US-average 13 days of vacation; a school year of 180 days; one religious service per week and a year of 52 weeks; the excuses for missing religious services apply to the whole family.

[2]What does wounded mean?

"I think maybe I just need a couple of days without getting blown up." Three articles plus interactive multimedia. But the pictures, distressing as they are, show just a little of what happens. A few smears of blood, an incision, an expression of dazed pain. They don't show shattered bones or gaping wounds. They don't need to.

Struggling Back From War's Once-Deadly Wounds
The survival rate among Americans hurt in Iraq is higher than in any previous war - seven to eight survivors for every death, compared with just two per death in World War II.

But that triumph is also an enduring hardship of the war. Survivors are coming home with grave injuries, often from roadside bombs, that will transform their lives: combinations of damaged brains and spinal cords, vision and hearing loss, disfigured faces, burns, amputations, mangled limbs, and psychological ills like depression and post-traumatic stress.

Wounded soldiers often economic casualties
Economic forecasts vary widely for the federal costs of caring for injured veterans returning from the Middle East, but they range as high as $700 billion for the VA. That would rival the cost of fighting the Iraq war. In recent years, the VA has repeatedly run out of money to treat sick veterans and had to ask for billions more before the next budget.

"I wouldn't be surprised if these costs per person are higher than any war previously," says Scott Wallsten, of the conservative think tank Progress and Freedom Foundation.

[3] I could not find a reliable estimate of the Iraqi wounded. The number must be immense.

What are they stealing from you with every lie?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Honest, It's Not What It Looks Like

It isn't really a . . . .

Coochie, it's a couch. Best joke so far: "My boyfriend loves it, but he couldn't find the pillow!" (Heard from someone at work, who got it from a friend.)

Taxi, it's a baby bootie. From .

Cannoli. Or a tin of anchovies. Or whatever. It's an amazingly cool crocheted toy.

Piece of sushi, Maguro or ikura. It's candy.

Landscape, it's a lot of food amazingly arrayed. Go through the photos and check out the bread mountains, cumin-paved roads, and sunset ocean of rippling salmon with a beautiful pea-green boat.

Face, it's a house, a cheese grater, a mushroom, a sneaker sole.

Boring old web page, it's an extravaganza of optical illusions. Also, check out the nifty bridges.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Macworld Keynote Speech condensed by almost two orders of magnitude.

Best moment: watching the Air sliding from an ordinary manila envelope . . . I am in awe.

I remember the first laptop I fell in love with. I was a tech writer when the Gavilan, sometimes touted as the first laptop, was announced. God, how I lusted after that sleek, sexy machine! As the reviews said, It was just too much state-of-the-art stuff in one package.

A 9-pound, 5MHz laptop with 64K of RAM , no hard drive, a 300-baud modem, a 400 x 64 monochrome display screen (plus connections for a monochrome monitor!), and an optional four-pound printer. All for only $4,000.

So, no, the Air at $1799 doesn't look bad at all. On the other hand, I'm never in any rush these days to buy the latest technology. It will be faster, sleeker, and cheaper in 15 minutes.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Storm Front

There are sandbags in our courtyard at work.

Although this may be helping keep the conference room dry, the water's ankle-deep in most places, and going to the bathroom means wading through the lake.

It doesn't rain often out here, but it makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in frequency. Some parts of the Bay Area have had eight inches of rain since the first storm hit yesterday -- and when the current storm blows itself out sometime tomorrow, a third will move in with more wind and rain. High winds knocked over a tractor-trailer on one bridge, after which the authorities wisely closed it until further notice. Streets are flooding, power is out, and the mountains are experiencing blizzard conditions -- winds over 100mph and blinding snow.

Snipped from the official report:
Winds in the coastal mountains either side of the Oregon-California border gusted over 150 mph during the morning. Winds gusted to just over 100 mph on the hill tops around Oakland and San Francisco, causing tree and power line damage. . . . Heavy rain totals in the coastal mountains north of San Francisco have reached 8 inches. Heavy rain is gradually shifting southward from northern California into central California and finally into Southern California. Rain totals will range from 2 to 5 inches in the valleys and along the coast to as much as 1 foot in the coastal mountains. Flash flooding is likely along the entire California coast and will not be confined to burn areas. . . . In the mountains of California, hourly snowfall rates could reach 6 to 8 inches. Snow accumulations between 2 feet (valley floors) and locally 12 feet (ridge tops) will bury the Sierra by the end of the weekend. White-out, blizzard conditions will make any travel through the Siskiyou and Sierra Mountains deadly. Damagingly strong wind gusts will continue over California especially in the vicinity of a strong cold front, ranging from between 50 and 70 mph at the lowest elevations to as high as between 150 and 200 mph at the ridge tops of the Sierra. Strong and damaging winds will also impact western Washington and most of Oregon, where winds could gust over 60 mph. Swells along the Washington, Oregon and northern California coasts will peak between 30 and 35 feet overnight and high surf warnings have been issued.

Note to non-Californians: this office building, like many out here, is designed as a series of suites, each opening onto an open central courtyard. The second floor has a walkway all the way around.

This floor plan is admirably adapted to the climate here, and it allows both privacy and shared public space. A company can rent one or many suites, so the space is flexible. Originally used for domestic architecture, this style is a descendant of the grand haciendas, which housed not just nuclear families but multiple generations of family and servants.

The adobe haciendas were and are beautiful buildings, cool, comfortable, elegant. This building, like many, borrowed the floor plan but skipped the Spanish Colonial architectural motifs: no red roof tiles, for example, or Moorish arches. And unfortunately, no drains in the paved courtyard, although we do have a redundant fountain.

Northeasterners visiting here often feel uneasy; these buildings strike them as too informal to be businesslike. Going outside to visit a colleague in a different suite (or the lunchroom, bathroom, conference room) seems undesirable and distracting. Part of the problem is probably climate-related. The open-courtyard design makes no sense whatsoever in any climate less benign than California's. My first thought on seeing those external corridors and staircases open to the sky is still "What happens when it snows?"

But I suspect that the issue is less practical than that. The hacienda- style floor plan is familiar to Easterners as the basic design of a Motel 6.