Tag : perspective

Causes of Death, 2001

I’m re-posting this (originally compiled this list in ’04 or so). Seems ever-useful. These are the number of deaths in 2001 by cause and IIRC there were some other causes in the 10-14 range that got omitted because they started getting redundant and/or uninteresting (there are many types of cancer).

  1. Lung cancer: 157,400
  2. Car accidents: 42,443
  3. Breast cancer: 40,600
  4. Prostate cancer: 31,500
  5. Prescription drug reactions: 31,000
  6. Suicide: 30,602
  7. Murder: 20,308
  8. Hypertension: 19,250
  9. Illicit drug use: 17,000
  10. AIDS/HIV: 14,175
  11. Poisoning: 14,078
  12. Suffocation: 5,555
  13. Gallbladder cancer: 3,300
  14. Drowning: 3,281
  15. Terrorist attacks: 2,986

It’s tricky identifying *one* cause of death (e.g., was the cause of death smoking or lung cancer?), but I don’t think that negates the point here. Even at its height, namely 2001, terrorist-related deaths in the US were not particularly significant compared to other causes of death. When you further amortize those deaths across the decades with few if any terrorist deaths, the number becomes even less significant.

I don’t think there are a lot of good ways to die, but death is clearly inevitable. The more society does to curb death, the more it seems to restrict the quality of life. Laws, agencies, and procedures put into place since September 11, 2001 have done this and done so in the name of preventing a cause of death that may be dramatic, but is one that has never been significant. These costs and infringements on personal liberty are a sop to irrationality.


Iraq Cost-Benefit Analysis and Net Present Value: The Only Reason to Be For or Against Continuing the War

I’ve been watching the PBS series Carrier, which follows the USS Nimitz through a Persian Gulf deployment in 2005 (note: this post was written a while back). One of the things that’s most striking is how the crew splits up in terms of their views on the war. Also striking is how neither side’s opinion is based on the only thing that matters: whether the benefit of the war is worth the cost. Unsurprisingly, their opinion bases seem to echo everything that’s heard among people with mouths who aren’t in the military.

Stated Reasons for Continuing the War:

  • Because “The Surge” is working. (Seriously, this was presented as an actual reason to continue the war in a Wall Street Journal opinion article.)
  • In order to spread democracy to Iraq. (So how come we’re not invading Russia and spreading democracy there? Oh, right, because they’re already democratic — sort of like the German Democratic Republic was, I guess.)
  • Because of 9/11. (?)
  • To stop the terrorists.
  • To establish a strong relationship with another oil-rich nation.

Stated reasons for ending the war:

  • Because it’s an imperialist, racist war.
  • Because too many Americans and Iraqi civilians have died.
  • Blood-for-oil is wrong.
  • Because we’re just encouraging the terrorists and ruining our international reputation.
  • Because it’s illegal.

The problem with all of these reasons is that none of them get down to the details that matter. Instead, they’re all just bumper sticker-quality sound bites that seem to serve only to unite the masses within their respective teams. Ugh: humanity. It’s not about your team, it’s about good decision-making.

The only valid reason for continuing the war in Iraq is the belief that, from this point forward, the benefit to waging the war outweighs its cost. The only valid reason for pulling out of Iraq is the belief that, from this point forward, the cost of waging the war outweighs the benefit. While many of the above reasons hint at benefits and costs, none of them glance at the other side of the balance or are considered to the point of actually understanding the details from which to derive an actual value. If we’re going to argue mindlessly with opinions rooted only in our environmental and cultural biases, at least we could argue to those specifications.

Or, better yet, we could seek rational figures and probabilities that would help us determine the best course of action. It’s not hard to reduce the value of the Iraq war from this point forward to a mathematical equation in order to weigh the benefit against the cost: it’s just a net present value (NPV) evaluation. All we need to do is understand and quantify the costs (from this point forward) and then understand and quantify the benefits (form this point forward).

“From this point forward” because everything that’s already happened is a sunk cost and can’t be changed at this point.

Post over.


(Re-read this after doing the thing about posts I hadn’t posted yet and there-during impressed myself. It’s still relevant enough, I guess — and there’s always Afghanistan.)

Fear Mongering Sucks

Economist Cover Everyone’s Going to Die

Really? On edge? The entire world?

 Economist Scares People for No Good Reason

Interestingly, in the previous issue, the Economist, the most influential “newspaper” in the world, demanded that the US House pass the $700B bailout. Now? Not sure it’ll work (so tremble in fear you morons).

Oil Prices Rising, Hooray!

 And how is it that the media now views falling oil prices as bad and rising oil prices as good? Didn’t that used to run the other way around? Like two weeks ago?

 Everything Is Terrible, Run In Fear

“Plunge”, eh? Nah, that’s not editorializing, sensationalistic, or overtly alarming for the sake of generating reader interest.

All People Are Unemployed!

How about this for a headline: “Recessions Are Normal and Cyclical” and then as a sub-head “Similar economic figures seen five years ago” (And “careening”?! Why is this one “careening”?!)

De-regulation Is a Disaster?

The article’s premise is that deregulation — and not monkeying with monetary policy — caused the current recession. And that the way to fix bad government is with more government. Newsweek delenda est. And no, they don’t deserve italics.

Why You Should Barricade Yourself in Your Foreclosed-On House

Although the article talks about how what really happened is that most people didn’t realize that the economy was tanking when, in fact, it was — that’s not exactly how the headline link comes across.

Krisis um dein Geld!

Although, to be fair, everything sounds calamitous in German.

People who profit from inciting fear should be hung from their skin. Probably. And we certainly never pulled crap like this when I was at sportsTALK*.


* = Just the 2000-01 parts.

US War Deaths per Day by Conflict (War, Battle) and How Iraq Compares

These should be in order chronologically and it’s admittedly a little weighted toward the Pacific Theater of World War II. In case you don’t want to read to the bottom, Iraq: 3,973 deaths in 1,806 days, 2.2 deaths/day.

Event US Deaths Duration Deaths/Day
Lexington & Concord (Revolution) 50 1 day 50.0
Estimated death count (US only).
Battle of Saratoga (Revolution) 800 2 days 400.0
Estimated death count (US only, obviously).
Battle of New Orleans (1812) 37 2 days 18.5
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Mexican-American War 1,733 730 days 2.4
Wikipedia doesn’t have such a good read on this one. Deaths include only killed-in-action combattants on the US side.
Bull Run/Manassas I (Civil) 847 1 day 847.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Battle of Shiloh (Civil) 3,482 2 days 1,741.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Bull Run/Manassas II (Civil) 3,000 3 days 1,000.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate). Death total is estimated.
Antietam/Sharpsburg (Civil) 3,654 1 days 3,654.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Battle of Gettysburg (Civil) 7,863 3 days 2,621.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
San Juan Hill (Span-Am) 124 1 day 124.0
Estimated death count (US only, obviously).
Battle of Belleau Wood (WW1) 1,811 26 days 69.7
One of the most important battles in US Marine Corps lore, spawned the (reputed) quotes of “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” and “Come on, you sons of bitches, you want to live forever?”. It’s also cited as the source of the nickname “devil dogs” often applied to US Marines (as German soldiers purportedly began to refer to the marines as Teufelhunde).
Battle of Midway (WW2) 307 4 days 76.8
Includes only US deaths.
Battle of Guadalcanal (WW2) 7,099 187 days 38.0
Includes all Allied deaths and nearly all of those were US. The majority of deaths were inflicted on naval personnel (4,911) — the US didn’t have the most universally brilliant admirals at the onset of WW2.
Battle of Tarawa (WW2) 990 4 days 247.5
Back when people had still heard of “Tarawa”, it was known as “Bloody Tarawa”. There was an Academy Award-winning short made about it, With the Marines at Tarawa.
Invasion of Normandy (WW2) 1,465 40 days 36.6
(Commonly referred to as “D-Day”, despite the fact that D-Day is a generic term. Oh well.) Deaths for all Allied combatants was around 2,700 (includes British and Canadians).As the Normandy Invasion wasn’t exactly a discreet action, I’m estimating the end to have been, as Wikipedia suggests, “mid-July” (I used July 15, 1944).
Battle of Saipan (WW2) 2,949 25 days 118.0
Includes only US killed-in-action (not missing).
Battle of Peleliu (WW2) 2,336 72 days 86.5
Note to military planners: don’t give an invasion a name like “Operation Stalemate” again.
Battle of the Bulge (WW2) 19,276 41 days 470.1
Includes only US deaths.
Battle of Iwo Jima (WW2) 6,821 35 days 194.9
Most iconic battle of the Pacific; but it was neither the most “intense” in terms of death rate (Tarawa), nor in terms of number of deaths (Okinawa). Still, 1.7x the number of deaths in Iraq in less than 1/50th the time.
Battle of Okinawa (WW2) 12,513 98 days 127.7
Deaths figure is actually “dead or missing” and includes all Allied combatants (although there were few non-American combatants involved among Allied forces), but no civilians.
Korean War 36,516 1,128 days 32.4
Includes US combatants killed-in-action only. Do people even remember that there *was* a Korean war?
Vietnam War 58,209 3,353 days 17.4
Includes only US killed-in-action (not missing).
Gulf War I 358 210 days 1.7
Deaths include only killed-in-action and are for all allied combatants.
Iraq War & Occupation 3,973 1,806 days 2.2
Duration and deaths are as of March 1, 2008 and include only US military deaths. “Start Date” for Iraq war considered to be March 20, 2003. If this is the current generation’s Vietnam, then the current generation is getting off very, very easily.

Also worth considering is that the US was a much smaller country (population-wise) in these earlier conflicts. The US population in 1940 was 132 million (less than half of today’s estimated population of 303 million). The US population in 1860 (just prior to the Civil War) was only 31 million.

If you need a finer point put on this: the number of American troops killed in our (almost) five-year adventure in Iraq is about the same as the number of American troops who died in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) IN ONE DAY. Given that today’s US population is just over 9x that of the 1860 population, the current Iraq conflict has about 1/15,000th the relative death intensity of the Battle of Antietam (= 1 / ((3654.0 deaths/day / 2.2 deaths/day ) * (303.1 million population / 33.4 million population)) = 1/15,072 ). Or, other way around, the Battle of Antietam was relatively 15,000 times as bad as the current Iraq war (in terms of death rate and impact on the relative population).

If we wanted to go deeper, I could figure out what the death rate for civilians between 18 and 25 has been during the years of the Iraq war and discount the rate accordingly — but I’d also have to do that for the other battles and wars and I’ve spent enough of my Saturday on this already.

My point: I think the media should be required to report all of the above any time they report the number of deaths in the Iraq War+Occupation to date. Even better, news consumers should DEMAND this (not that they ever would). But perspective should matter. The rational reason Iraq is a crappy situation has more to do with how we’re destroying our own economy for the sake of making everyone in the world hate us than it does with the ferocity of the fighting and dying. As war deaths go, Iraq’s been relatively gentle. Our country should be making its foreign policy decisions based on clear objectives, rational analysis, and items of statistical significance, not on the media’s unwillingness to disseminate reason.



(Virtually all figures are from Wikipedia and are sourced there.)