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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


LowerManhattanite: "Iraq...By The Numbers"

Count Cheney gleefully crunches the numbers Over There

Thanks to LowerManhattanite for this fantastic piece

"Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas." —Albert Einstein, 1935

"Math class is tough!" —Teen Talk Barbie, 1992

"You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to 'THE' math." —Karl Rove, 2006

In my school-going years, I was a pretty good student. I half-studied/half-coasted my way into the National Honor Society. I could rock the sh*t outta History and Science. Language Arts? Eh...I could work that a little bit, too.

But Math. Ohhhhh, Math. Math was the deaf dominatrix who could never hear me scream the "safe" word. I could do the damn thang...but not with the efficacy I had with other subjects. I could halfway bend it to my will--up until the middle of High School, where I hit the nail-studded wall of "the crazy, elliptical, John Forbes Nash/A Beautiful Mind-y math that I was never gonna use in life, ever. Log and Trig--postulates and theorems? "Just f*cking kill me", I'd mutter heavenward in Ms. Scavone's classroom of numerical horrors. I could never get a Goddamned fire drill when I needed one, then.

Adding, subtracting, multiplication and dividing came natural, though. And through grasping those basics, I could figure percentages and do all the stuff a person really needed Math for. But I didn't enjoy it, if you know what I mean. Because immutable. I couldn't play with it. Not like Language Arts--where you can craft a two letter sentence.

So? :)

Or a sixty-word one. And history, well, the joy of history is that it's constantly being made, re-made, and re-contextualized--and can be linked by names, or era, or all manner of subjective arcana--depending on who's presenting it and why--as long as you hold to the facts. Science changes with time. Fluidly. From flat earth, to round earth--phrenology to brain scans--alchemy to nanotechnology.

But Math? Two plus two is always four. Numbers never fail. Abuse them and you will pay. Put twenty gallons of gas in a ten-gallon tank and you'll have a dangerous mess. Math don't play.

Which is why I find attempts to f*ck with it as funny as a Old Grand Dad-lubricated, presidential Segway fall. Screwing with Math makes you the Coyote--and Math, the Road Runner, and the Road Runner hasn't had sh*t happen to him yet. The Coyote? Well... um...not so much. :)

One such mathematical anvil drop-turned-anvil-rebound-to-the--grille-of-the-idiot-anvil-dropper is this misbegotten Iraq War.

You see, wars have always told fascinating, odd tales of numbers. Movies have recently brought us "300", the tale of how a force of 300 Spartans--in a force of 7000 Greeks faced down a rolling, Persian army of 300,000 and fought valiantly before eventually being mowed under. We wince at the reality of having lost 600,000 lives in our own ghastly and stupid Civil War a century and a half ago. 1200 soldiers went down in one brutal pop with the still-leaking-oil-today U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor. And I still find myself shaking my head at the Soviet loss numbers of WWII. Imagine losing every single person in New York's five boroughs--and then throw Philadelphia on top. That's how many Soviet soldiers died fighting the Nazis. 33,000 here, 70,000, there, 360,000 some f*cking place else. Eleven million in total. Rough, awful numbers.

Dare we even touch on VietNam, and the evil number-finagling of General William Westmoreland? Let's not, and say we did, shall we?

But let's go back to Iraq's numbers--and ugly numbers they are. Look past if you can for a moment at the simple U.S. forces casualty number of 3,317 dead and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead. Hard as that may be, let's focus on some of the other hard numbers of this war.

That's the approximate number of Iraq's population.

That's the approximate number of U.S. forces presently in Iraq.

Now, in spite of my aversion to hard math, I do enjoy the minutiae of statistics. It's probably from the sports nut in me. But in all seriousness, some of the numericals involving Iraq are plain, old riveting. The above numbers are examples of it. A few years ago, I sat with a cousin of mine, a former (as of now) NYPD Internal Affairs Detective. It was around the time of the trial for the cops involved in the Amadou Diallo shooting, and I noticed an oddly ramped-up police presence as we rode around.
"They're getting ready for people to spazz the f*ck out, huh?", I opined.
"Total waste of time.", my cousin said ruefully. "If things really got stupid, we couldn't do a Goddamned thing to stop it. It's a show. An expensive, overtime-sucking show."

"That's kinda rough.", I said.

"It's f*cking reality. Eight million people versus 35,000 cops?", he mused. "Please. You saw what happened in L.A. LAPD couldn't do sh*t. They booked. The numbers couldn't work. And it ain't like they actually had everybody in town in the streets buggin'. You can't really police a big number like that when they wanna tear sh*t up. What's it? Ten million people over there? Say five percent get froggy and jumped--that's like...half a million people--versus 10,000 officers--maybe 6,000 on call at any given moment. 6,000 versus half a million. You see why that sh*t went down the way it did? That's why Five-O couldn't do a damn thing when stuff blew up in the 60's. Or even now. Yeah, 35,000 NYPD's gonna stop eight million people. Or let's keep it real--20-25,000 cops--real cops on peak call are gonna shut down half-a-million people out for blood. It's cosmetic. Fighting the numbers is f*cking cosmetic."

I remember my cousin's blunt realism whenever I think about the numbers in Iraq. A population of 25,000,000 against an invading force of 150,000. Baaaaaaaaad numbers on the face of it. Break it down on the straight-up and it remains awful. Say you do the hard-core, actively angry five percent of the population thing, and boil it down to...maybe 1.2 million angry-enough-to-toss-a-bomb for nationalism. That's damn-near a 10:1 ratio against the in-country U.S. forces. Then figure in the passive-aggressive portion of the populace, who while not necessarily willing to chuck a molotov, will gladly allow the angry hands-on-ers to store their weapons and war implements with them, and deploy from their homes. What's that number--maybe a few hundred thousand more? Stir in the backstabbing Iraqi forces the U.S. is "training" and you get a few thousand more...and sh*tfire, the math goes totally, f*cking Hatchet-Face on you.
It's twenty pounds of sh*t in a five pound box. Unworkable no matter how you move the numbers around. Which is why all the "Give us six months more...and then another six months...and uh-another six months, please" sh*t-talkery rings so hollow these days. Sprinkle in a boatload of benign anger at the invading force from an otherwise jaded population--an anger at third-rail sh*t like Abu Gharaib, Haditha, and various other ugly indignities of war and it becomes Algebra on crack--with a big, fat hovering unknown, an x- factor of opposition no one wants to see the sum of.

Rove's delusional, pre-election day, "math" quote bubbles up through the quick-sh*t again. "You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to 'THE' math." There has been a disingenuous spinning of the Iraq numbers that smacks of Rove's "Bugs Bunny" ("One for you, one for me. Two for you, one, TWO for me...") counting method. Except it hasn't worked out all Bugs Bunny crafty. It's gone more like the previously cited Wile E. Coyote--waving a quiver-lipped goodbye as his body drops ravine-ward, dragging the rubber face shortly afterward.


Now, back to the U.S. casualty numbers I bypassed before. Here are the post-surge figures from the last three months.
83 Deaths in January.
80 Deaths in February.
81 Deaths in March.
69 Deaths thus far in April (20 Days)
UPDATE: 85 Deaths thus far in April (23 Days)

U.S. troop deaths are up 21% since the "surge". 21% since the surge has begun. Failing upwards, people. Mission accomplished redux. Immutable f*cking math. A-gain.

Let's go a little futrther. We've had days recently--last week actually, where a couple hundred Iraqis have been blown to smithereens since the vaunted security crackdown.

Some days thankfully, we get lucky and only 56 are exploded into molecular nothingness.
But on the whole--especially of late--the numbers, like the upswing to 1861 civilian deaths last month simply stink...on f*cking ice.

25,000,000 Iraqis.
150,000 troops.
150-180 attacks per day on coalition forces.
3317 American Troops Dead. As of 4/20/07. This figure will change. Only upwards.
The same for hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.
Countless mathematical Friedman Units having come and gone. Come and f*cking gone.
Fourteen hundred and forty nine (1449!) days since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished", and the claim of the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

Move a decimal, slide a comma over. Accommodate the ugly, new sums. Publicly, they obfuscate. Politically, they masturbate. And in quiet...on fingers and toes, flag-draped casket, after flag-draped casket...they tabulate.

Because as I said before, " immutable. You can't play with it."

But you can use it in art. You can measure a canvas. Figure up the ingredient proportions of papier maché. Suss out vanishing points and perspective using basic geometry. can use it in music. Quarter notes. Eighth notes. Hey! A double-flatted seventh chord! And then of course...there's always lyrics.

"And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die."

Country Joe & The Fish--circa Spring 1967

Son of a bitch--willya look at that? Almost forty years to the month.

Funny how math works...ain't it?

- posted by LowerManhattanite

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