Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Million Deaths . . .

What does incredible stupidity look and sound like? Rush Limbaugh notes that:
The number of highway deaths in this country, 43,443 in 2005, is 40 to 50 times our troop losses in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Well, ten or 20 times at least. And a whole lot more deaths per month than any civil war in Iraq, if there was or is a civil war in Iraq. I don't know whatever happened to "if it bleeds, it leads," but there's a whole lot more bleeding on our highways than in the war zone in Iraq out there, and a whole lot more dying going on in the American highway system than there is in the so-called civil war in Iraq . . . For every Cindy Sheehan, there are 40 to 50 mothers who have suffered far worse heartbreak. Cindy's son gave his life for his country, not for going to the drugstore. (emphasis added)
. . . there are agitators in this country who are actively promoting combat losses for political gain. They count a thousand, and then 1,500, and then 2,000, and 2,500. Well, let's do a count of highway deaths on a daily basis, see how long it would take us to get to a thousand if we're having nearly 44,000 a year . . .

Here is an equally valid statistical comparison: I own a dozen pair of socks (full disclusure -- I made that number up), the rate of American and Iraqi deaths in Iraq is vastly higher than my sock ownership level, but that tells you nothing of value.

Limbaugh is thinking like Stalin -- deaths on American highways and in Iraq are simply statistics to him. The former, in his fevered mind, somehow justifying or explaining the latter; which have become a political liability to Bush and the Republicans.

He also compares our highway deaths to civilian casualties in Iraq, while ignoring the vast population difference between the two countries. in excess of 3,400 Iraqi civilians died in July. When you take into consideration the population difference between the two countries -- the U.S. is about 12 times larger than Iraq -- you see that roughly as many Iraqis are getting killed a month in the war as Americans are a year on the highways [3400*12=40,800].

5 comments:

Bob Weber said...

Using Limbaugh-logic one can "prove" that Stalin or Mao did nothing wrong. After all, Mao may have killed as many as 100 million people as part of the revolution,and brought horrendous suffering, but today China is prosperous and there's no shortage of Chinese! (As a matter of fact, many right-wingers wouldn't mind thinning the Chinese population by a few hundred million.) Isn't it wonderful that those 100 million died as part of the glorious revolution rather than as prosaic deaths?

CS said...

NEOCONOLOGIC101- Billions of people have died of old age throughout history. Hitler only killed a few million. Thus, Hitler wasn't so bad...

Scott Horton said...

I love how American road deaths are the standard for what's acceptable in "foreign policy."

Anonymous said...

Well i don't want to rush in and defend Rush, but we have heard similar statistical strethes from antiwar skeptics too.

Haven't we all heard comparisons of the 9-11 death toll to the road toll, AIDS deaths, or whatever? This is used to argue that the war on terror is an example misplaced priorities.

So Rush's kind of statistical jibberish is not the exclusive sin of any one commentator or political faction, it's just the way political debate is conducted today.

I think it was the mathematics writer Darrell Huff (?) in his book "How To Lie With Statistics" argues that a basic knowledge of statistics is as essential for the workings of democracy as basic literacy.

Huff meant this as an argument to push for the desirable goal of better maths education at school. Although it would also seem to be valuable ammunition for those who argue that democracy is looking more and more like some kind of imaginary ideal not a real world political system.

Sean Scallon said...

Iraq was a war of choice. Many people do not have a choice whether they have to drive to work or school or to get groceries.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics and Rush excels well at the former.