Math Is Our Friend

I may be numerically challenged, but I can read a table. A rightie blogger claimed,

Did you know that more members of the military were killed in Jimmy Carter’s last year in the White House than in any of the years we’ve been fighting in Iraq? Think about that. In the peaceful year of 1980, 2,392 servicemen died while on duty defending our country. In 2003, the start of the Iraq War, only 1,228 servicemen and women died. In 2004, the number was 1,874, it went up to 1,942 in 2005, and it dropped to 1,858 in 2006.

WTF? You say. The blogger is pulling these numbers from page 10, Table 5, of this PDF document. In 1980, out of a total of 2,159,630 persons in the military (active and reserve), 2,392 died. In 2006, out of a total of 1,664,014 persons in the military, 1,858 died.

I bet you see where this post is going already.

As a commenter helpfully pointed out, the military was 50 percent bigger in 1980 than it is now. In 1980, the commenter calculated, there were 1.17 deaths per 1000 soldiers. By 2000, the fatality rate had dropped to 0.55 per 1000 soldiers. We can see from Table 5 on page 11 of the same document that a reduction in the rate of accidents lowered the overall fatality rate. In 2006, however, there were 1.35 deaths per 1000 soldiers.

We can also see that in 1980 there were zero deaths from hostile action and one from a terrorist attack. I don’t know what happened to the one. In 2006, there were 753 deaths from hostile action and 238 deaths pending determination of cause.

Also note that the tables don’t say if the military personnel were on duty or on leave or enjoying free time when they died.

Back to the rightie blogger:

In fact, only during the Clinton years of 1996 into the Bush years of 2001 and 2002, during a period of time when the Clinton policy of refusing to defend our national interest was in place, do we see the number of military deaths fall below 1000 annually.

During the 1980’s, when we aggressively defended the peace against the Soviets, the number of military deaths routinely topped 2000, with a high in 1983, the year of the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, topping out at 2,465.

The number of active-duty military personnel dropped quite a bit in the 1990s. It went from 2,046,806 in 1990 to 1,367,838 in 1999. The number of selected reserve troops also decreased in the 1990s, although the number of national guard remained steady. Fewer troops, fewer deaths.

During the entire decade of the 1980s, a total of 81 troops died in hostile action and 294 died in terrorist attacks (263 in 1983). The rest died of accidents, illness, and homicides.

But let’s go back to the key point, more members of the military died in 1980, while Jimmy Carter was in the White House abdicating our responsibilities around the world, than in any one of the years we’ve been in Iraq.

The moral of the story is that peace is dangerous.

I’d say the moral is that somebody is dumb as a bag of hammers.

Update: Somebody at the Weekly Standard can’t read tables, either.

Religion in Retreat: Burma

From the Daily Mail:

Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma’s ruling junta has revealed.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand.”

Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand. …

… Reports from exiles along the frontier confirmed that hundreds of monks had simply “disappeared” as 20,000 troops swarmed around Rangoon yesterday to prevent further demonstrations by religious groups and civilians.

Word reaching dissidents hiding out on the border suggested that as well as executions, some 2,000 monks are being held in the notorious Insein Prison or in university rooms which have been turned into cells.

There were reports that many were savagely beaten at a sports ground on the outskirts of Rangoon, where they were heard crying for help.

This is what we had feared.

Rosalind Russell writes for The Independent:

“We cannot turn back now. Whether it takes a month, a year or more, we will not stop.” With his russet-red robes pulled around his knees, rocking back and forth on a low, wooden stool, the senior monk spoke quietly but determinedly.

Over the past few days, the monk has seen many of his fellow Buddhists rounded up and carted away as Burma’s military regime brutally cracked down on anti-government protests, trying to suck any oxygen away from the flame of revolt. Pools of blood stain monastery doorways, memories linger of monks as young as 15 being clobbered over the head with truncheons and rifle butts.

But in the now-tranquil, tree-filled courtyard in central Rangoon, it is not of these atrocities that the monk, in his early sixties and wishing to remain anonymous, wants to speak. It is the atrocities which the Burmese people have suffered. The people are living under rulers busy enriching themselves with natural gas, timber, diamonds and rubies while spending less on health care per head than nearly any other country on earth. They are living in poverty more akin to sub-Saharan Africa than Asia.

“As monks, we see everything in society. We go everywhere, to ask for our food and we see how people live,” he says. “We know that they give to us when they themselves do not have enough to eat, because there is no work and the costs of living are so high. We also see how the wealthy live. We see how everything is getting worse and worse.” And that is why he is adamant that the fight must continue. “We have already lost too much and the people cannot continue to suffer as they do,” he explained. “We knew well the risks before we started. It is up to us. We have to see this through to the end, whatever the end will be.”

At the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt has a moment of clarity:

Tell China that, as far as the United States is concerned, it can have its Olympic Games or it can have its regime in Burma. It can’t have both.

Here, too, I understand the arguments against: China’s rulers are gradually becoming more responsible in the world; to threaten their Games would only get their backs up. The Games themselves offer a chance to enhance international understanding; if we let world affairs interfere, there will always — every two years — be some cause. The athletes have trained for years; they deserve their chance.

And yet: Hundreds of thousands of Burmese have risked everything — their homes, their families, their lives — to be free. They have done so with nothing on their side but courage, faith and the hope that the world might stand with them. And they still have a chance to succeed.

Whether they do depends mostly on decisions made inside Burma. But people and countries outside can have some effect. Burma’s neighbors in Southeast Asia could do more. The world’s largest democracy, India, could do far more. China could do most of all.

China’s Communist rulers have reasons not to help Burma’s democrats. They enjoy privileged access to Burma’s timber and other resources, for one. Even more fundamentally, dictators will shudder when they see another illegitimate regime threatened by people power.

What could push them the other way? Their desire to be seen as responsible players, maybe. Their desire to have their one-party rule recognized as more sophisticated and legitimate than the paranoid generals of Burma, maybe. And, maybe, their deep desire to host a successful Olympics next summer.

If a threat to those Games — delivered privately, if that would be most effective, with no loss of face — could help tip the balance, then let the Games not begin. Some things matter more.

A UN envoy has arrived in Burma and may or may not meet with junta leaders on Tuesday.

Religion in Retreat: America

Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers that Christian conservatives’ political power is in decline:

Today, their nearly three-decade-long ascendance in the Republican Party is over. Their loyalties and priorities are in flux, the organizations that gave them political muscle are in disarray, the high-profile preachers who led them to influence through the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation that’s less interested in their agenda and their hold on politics and the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is in doubt.

“Less than four years after declarations that the Religious Right had taken over the Republican Party, these social conservatives seem almost powerless to influence its nomination process,” said W. James Antle III, an editor at the American Spectator magazine who’s written extensively about religious conservatives.

“They have the numbers. They have the capability. What they don’t have is unity or any institutional leverage.”

David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times and Michael Scherer at Salon report that “Christian leaders” are considering backing a third-party candidate if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee. Michael Scherer writes,

The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives. James Clymer, the chairman of the U.S. Constitution Party, was also present at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the proceedings.

“The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party,” said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. “Dobson came in just for this meeting,” the person said.

The decision confirms the fears of many Republican Party officials, who have worried that a Giuliani nomination would irrevocably split the GOP in advance of the 2008 general election, given Giuliani’s relatively liberal stands on gay unions and abortion, as well as his rocky marital history.

David Kirkpatrick writes,

A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major portion of Republican primary voters. But the threat is risky for the credibility of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters could still choose to support even a pro-choice Republican like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are worried about war, terrorism and other issues.

I’m not holding my breath until Dobson et al. bolt the Republican Party. Right-wing religionists have profited mightily through its relationship with right-wing politics, and as long as fundies can deliver enough votes to swing close elections I suspect the GOP will continue to make nice with the fundies. But the bloom is off the rose.

Eve Conant wrote recently in Newsweek:

As a movement, conservative Christians have yet to get fired up about any of the leading Republican presidential candidates. There was a brief wave of enthusiasm for Fred Thompson, but that may be ebbing. One of the nation’s most influential evangelicals, James Dobson, wrote a scathing e-mail about Thompson, obtained by the Associated Press last week, in which he objected to the candidate’s opposition to a constitutional marriage amendment and said Thompson had “no passion, no zeal.” Meanwhile, Mitt Romney suffers among some evangelicals because of bias against his Mormon faith. Front runner Rudy Giuliani leaves conservative Christians particularly cold. “If the Republicans are foolish enough to nominate the pro-choice Giuliani, that will give the Democratic Party license to hunt for evangelical votes,” says [Southern Baptist Richard] Land, who has been contacted by both the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns. “I don’t know how successful they’ll be, but at least they’ll have that license.”

Even if Giuliani is the nominee, I foresee Dobson and other Christianist leaders having a change of heart. At some point they’ll step forward and say they have been assured that Giuliani won’t betray Christian values in the White House. For his part, Rudy will have to engage in prodigious ass kissing to bring Dobson around, but I know he’s got it in him.