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Oct 13, 2006

The Toll


The blood stains and the child's sandal convey the profound cruelty of Iraq's odyssey.  The manga character, with its allusion to girl power and international pop culture, also personalizes and compounds the sense of lives, and innocence, dashed.  The fact the image shows just a section of floor also connotes that this culture has been laid low -- and that one must keep ones head way down in order to survive.

In the emotion, however, I don't want to completely overlook the controversy over how Johns Hopkins arrived at this number.  The best treatment of the issue, I thought, was William Arkin's at WAPO.  If the report's ultimate value was to force the Administration, the Pentagon and the media to accept an overall toll in Iraq that is closer to 400,000 than Bush's 30,000, than why belabor the methodology.

I saw news of this report on the front page of numerous international papers this week and frankly, the standard headline seemed to marginalize the significance.  I credit The Independent for upping the visibility.

(Article link.)

(hat tip: lv)

(image: unattributed. The Independent. U.K. Oct. 12,2006. Cover)


The image says one thing:

Iraq is a mess. However you look at it fails:

As an act of liberation...
An Imperial adventure...
A military manuver...
As a regiona tranforming event...

Failure...let me count the ways.

Arkin's piece is a remarkable bit of hackwork for an otherwise fine writer. One clue: anyone who puts the IBC numbers beside the Lancet numbers obviously has no idea what they're talking about.

If you're looking for a substantive critique of the Lancet study, see here.

bertolt brecht

when evil-doing comes like falling rain
Like one who brings an important
letter to the counter after
office hours: the counter is already closed.
Like one who seeks to warn the
city of an impending flood,
but speaks another language. They do not understand him.
Like a beggar who knocks for the
fifth time at the door where he has four times been given
something: the fifth time he is hungry.
Like one whose blood flows from
a wound and who awaits
the doctor: his blood goes on flowing.

So do we come forward and report that evil has been done us.

The first time it was reported that our friends were being
butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred
were butched. But when a thousand were butchered
and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of
silence spread.

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, no body calls out

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When
sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer
heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer

There's one aspect of Arkin's article that I don't find that insightful: a long, dry discussion of statistics is concluded by a reassurance that readers should not "reach for their hankies", because (wait for it).... he's going to continue blogging while he travels.

Phew. Nothing to get upset about in this story, then.

The image is a fine one.

Oddly, this picture reminds me in its off-kilter geometry of the picture of Keith Ellison from October 11. The diagonal of the floor tiles echoes the strong diagonal in the Ellison photo, the pink of the shoe echoes the woman's headress. the shoe is placed almost in exactly the same place as Ellison.

The floor is a mess--in addition to the shoe, the floor is spattered with black, red, yellow. The chaos of the colors on the floor and the single child's shoe provide visual evidence that the death toll has been way too high.

I also find interesting the photo of Margaret Thatcher's jugular. We are seeing conservatives cut their own throats over this war?

Interesting, the William Arkin link, and reasonable. I've not personally witnessed the violence in Iraq, but the John Hopkins study used the same technique conservationists use to count the deer population in the U.S., so I would guess it's a little off. Not that I have a problem with that; it's a good kind of propaganda. Foolish, though.
As for the photo, it's nothing new - appealing to emotions by using images related to children. It can be effective, but in this case, is played out, and I doubt that anyone was terribly moved by it. Sad but true?

Thursday, October 12th, 2006
Co-Author of Medical Study Estimating 650,000 Iraqi Deaths Defends Research in the Face of White House Dismissal
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The White House is dismissing the findings of a medical study that says 650,000 people have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion. The study was conducted by American and Iraqi researchers and published in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet. We’re joined by the report’s co-author, epidemiologist Les Roberts. [includes rush transcript]

[...] AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why don't you lay out exactly what you found?
LES ROBERTS: Sure, we, as you said, went to about 50 neighborhoods spread around Iraq that were picked at random, and each time we went, we knocked on 40 doors and asked people, “Who lived here on the first of January, 2002?” and “Who lived here today?” And we asked, “Had anyone been born or died in between?” And on those occasions, when people said someone die, we said, “Well, how did they die?” And we sort of wrote down the details: when, how old they were, what was the cause of death. And when it was violence, we asked, “Well, who did the killing? How exactly did it happen? What kind of weapon was used?” And at the end of the interview, when no one knew this was coming, we asked most of the time for a death certificate. And 92% of the time, people walked back into their houses and could produce a death certificate. So we are quite sure people didn’t make this up.

What have we done?!

I keep a cut-out of the February 16, 2003 cover of The Independent in a frame in my apartment. It has a picture of me and perhaps a million others marching the previous day in London against what the photograph above documents. The Independent is not a great paper, but it has its moments.

One of the commenters above doubts that anyone is "terribly moved" by this image. I am.

This is worth reading for people doubting the methodology etc of the Lancet report and -- I've posted these here before -- these images merit our attention and action.

The bottom line is that the mortality rate is four times as high now than before the war. Is that so hard to believe, given the hundreds of tortured bodies found daily in Baghdad alone? The 650,000 figure is an estimate of the human results of a quadrupling of the mortality rate.

The cluster sampling with probability of being selection proportionate to size is a standard methodology used throughout the world and in the US to determine mortality rates, immunization rates and morbidity rates in a given population.

The analysis techniques for this type of study take into consideration the uncertainty of the population estimates, and the quibble about whether a household is on a "main" street or a "residential" street is rather silly. For the many years that cluster sampling with PPS has been conducted, GPS to locate households is almost never done. One can calculate the design effect of a study design.

You can look up this methodology on any school of public health website or epidemiology class syllabus.

it's poignant, yes ~ but inelegant.

the real image of import here is that gigantic number 655,000 rendered here so large as to become figurative itself, bursting to the very border. the red underlines are a bloody score underscore.

THE TOLL OF WAR IN IRAQ ” writ large in proper font caps lends gravitas; on the other hand, it could be replaced by a map of IRAQ viewed from the south at such an acute angle that it is no higher than this text-line ~ yet still recognizable ~ the image becomes essential, thus ~ entirely reduced to pictorial elements...

...with the addition of a black border : we're talking about DEATH.

DEATH TOLL looms large over Iraq.

i keep wanting to erase all other text / distractions; i keep thinking it would have been a courageous decision, a departure from their nurtured brand = "our covers usually look like this instead of that," for the editors to be so bold as to render boldly simply a huge number within a solemn black border. But i also think that it would have worked brilliantly...

...the departure from the publication's brand recognizable "cover style" being all the more noticeable by the absence of its traditional elements: rather like those iconic covers where gigantic type announces WAR! or ATTACK! or PEACE!

The shoe reduces the enormity of the crime to a singular, personal poignancy. That there is only one shoe amplifies our sense of loss. As a child's shoe, the conceit implicit is innocence.

650,000 Iraqi people are represented as children : Again that infuriating, patronizing meme of Western media, to infantalize an entire population. While we may indeed see and feel "they are as innocents," an occupied Arab audience might interpret "they are as children" entirely differently, fwiw.

In my mind, "the shoe" also works better in complete isolation; ie., sans text, all other distractions, etc. "The Shoe," alone, while telling A story well, fails to tell THE story here...

...that enormous number figure. Consider that image of thousands of children's shoes piled up in some storage room at Auschwitz, filling the FRAME, filling your brain with the horror of what holocaust really means. Though it is said that, "A death is murder, but 650,000 deaths is just a statistic," the point, the graphic challenge is to convey holocaust as an amplification of A loss ~ from discrete to continuous or catastrophic horror: a single shoe is a testament, a mass of shoes is an undeniable document.

This particular children's shoe, in isolation, is universal, it carries no unambiguous cultural identifiers (ie., "iraq", or any other place). We can see that this foot-wear was mass-produced rather than hand-made (but that, too is just as easily found as cast-off surplus production ~ as commonly worn by second- and third-world children as Westerners). That, and the postmodern cartoon character, identify TIME = NOW...

...this shoe is a symbol of the sacrifice of a modern innocent, yes, but he or she could be in a Middle Eastern War Zone or a Suburban American School Zone :-/

I'm having trouble getting any purchase on this image or on the Lancet controversy. First of all, the image by itself is not "poignant"; it requires *the viewer* to provide the storyline in order to infuse the abandoned shoe with meaning, and therefore, in order for the image to be affective (as well as effective, btw). An abandoned child's shoe — even one that happens to have blood on it — does not mean the child is dead. It doesn't mean anyone is dead. So the image is manipulative.

Onscreen the image looks almost abstract — colors and shapes that are hard to identify as representing something real. Certainly the ground looks like an abstract expressionist painting, and the shoe looks like pop art. I find this painterly effect unignorable and distracting to a fault; it's off-putting, in fact. Is it a painting/illustration instead of a photograph? (That would be the first thing I would check if I had the paper in my hands.) And if it is an illustration rather than a photograph, what is The Independent trying to say? That the study is abstracted, not quite real?

As PTate mentioned, the angle is off-kilter. This strangeness, I think, equates to foreignness. And any hint of foreignness only removes us from the subject and from the emotion of the subject. If people are unmoved by this image, these are probably some reasons why. The image is actually ambivalent.

The controversy (in news reports and on blogs) about the Lancet methodology puzzles me. Since when did ordinary people *ever* give a moment's thought to any study's methodology on any topic, for any news story? (Even the Democracy Now! interview discusses the methodology at length.) The number is what's controversial. Or rather, THE NUMBER. But THE NUMBER is too big. THE NUMBER, people think, can't be right. Immediately the focus shifts from something uncomfortable (THE NUMBER) to something people *know* absolutely nothing about (good vs. bad methodologies, and how many Iraqis have *really* died) but they have a definite *opinion* about. In changing the focus, they in effect change the number to something smaller. Apparently it matters A LOT to A LOT of people (not just Bush) that this number remain small(er). Please can we talk about THE NUMBER and not the methodology "controversy"? The reason we can't talk about THE NUMBER is because acknowledging it means *we* would have to take some action to make it stop.

The final thing that bugs me about this cover is the headline, "Human cost much higher than expected, says survey." Who is The Independent referring to exactly? If they had done their jobs in reporting the actual "human cost" all along, then maybe "expectations" would be "higher." This kind of wording is a typical media maneuver to take *themselves* off the hook.

There, I got some purchase.

rtbag > " Onscreen the image looks *almost abstract* — colors and shapes that are hard to identify as representing something real. Certainly the ground looks like an abstract expressionist painting "

yep !! I definitely got that impression with the caveat that after looking over many other similar blood scenes, the black objects I identified as singed human remains which moved them out of the art abstract realm for me. Thus the shoe is not pop art but all that remains of ONE incinerated young girl + or - 649,999 other ONES of varying ages and gender. I figure it would take 64 weeks non stop at a second a photo to view this number of photographs, with food and rest a 108 weeks is required to enter fully into this reality of hell.

I think this is a good picture choice for the headline. you don't know if the child was killed or was it saved in time while losing a shoe in the tragedy. It also reminds people that we are just killing "terrorists" but actual people. Some could say that 'collateral' damage is no different than torture, since we know that innocent people will be harmed and we do it anyway. You would get the same end result by just rounding people up to torture and kill them.

It shows what horror is there but still leaves hope that the future might be better if we get involved and do something about it.

jt from BC: If the black is singed human remains, why isn't the floor singed? You may well be correct in your interpretation, but *again,* such decoding requires *you* to bring that information to the image based on your self-directed research (so again, *you* provide the storyline), not based on The Independent's providing it in a caption or in a history of publishing images depicting the death toll in Iraq. My complaint is with The Independent for publishing an image that simply *evokes* rather than *tells* the obviously UNTOLD story. At 655,000 deaths we give them credit for showing a shoe? Come on! That's NOT even close to good enough! I'm with Gonzo — show us ALL of the shoes — and Keir — show us the actual bodies.

Also, if this is a photograph, it's been altered — the dark shading at the top of the page was added to make the headline stand out against the messy floor. That's a common practice to make type stand out, but what's questionable about this instance is it was made to look like a natural shadow rather than a computer-generated one: it is gradated rather than ghosted or the type set in a box. Of course the effect this way is much more dramatic, and therefore more manipulative.

Why do we have to be manipulated? In this case it's not to influence our opinion or educate us, it's to make us buy the paper (or the article, which one must SUBSCRIBE TO in order to read). Why hasn't the press pursued the goddamn story in the first place? That's their job. I don't want art from a newspaper, I want the story, up front and center and in everyone's faces. That's what's required to make the senseless killing stop, but maybe the newspaper sells more papers during wartime so it's not in the paper's best interests for the killing to stop.

"Free press" my ass.

rtbag > "Free press" my ass.

Precisely that's why I've been obliged to decode the MSM for over fifty years as it becomes more interested in the bottom line than in presenting basic facts in a comprehensive framework. As Keir notes The Independent *tried* with this half way measure. With the exception of Robert Fisk's on-site reporing of personally counting and stacking of bodies by risking his life and sneaking into morgues his work is but a token effort of this publication which is another MSM outlet flogging the illusion of the generally held belief that "fair and balance" reporting characterises the Fourth Estate. We will get a facsimile of the holocaust scenario perhaps when this slaughter is over, for at the moment its only the old Saddam Movietone version "that fit to print" or *free* to publish.

the BAGman et al, do realize that "The Shoe" is reductionist; ie., from many to one. "You should feel this shoe," is an admission that the photographer / editors could find no other graphic solution to death on such a SCALE that it becomes "unimaginable" = un-image able.

When photojournalists wander around some killing field such as Katrina or Sadr City, they wonder "how in hell do i encapsulate the SCALE of this horror?" and often as not choose reductionism as their mode d'emploi...

...the abandoned children's toy; a torn family photo;

Though it may take skill to do this well, i daresay this approach is obvious, almost to the point of being cliche. Reductionism is either an admission that the artist could find no way to depict SCALE, or an implication that we, the viewers would be unable to grasp it, "if we tried," so they can't (and thus, we don't).

in that sense, The Shoe is infantalizing us.

Were we to label this shoe as belonging to a Jewish child circa ~1943, we feel this loss, but fail to grasp the catastrophe of their loss: an entire culture. But to say that this is impossible, that the unimaginable is un-image able, is an insult not only to us, but also to exceptional artists.

i guess that is why my first impression of this cover was "poignant," yes, but not an elegant solution to the graphic problem of depicting true Crime Against Humanity.

Just a minor note re THE NUMBER controversy. I'm not a statistician, but I've had stat classes and, as a biologist, have used basic statistics most of my life. Basic statistics is all you need to understand this.

1) There are huge uncertainties in the true number of excess deaths (in large-ish part because the US did not live up to its obligations as an occupier and try to keep a tally).

2) There is 95% certainty that the true number falls between 392979 and 942636. In other words, there is only a one in twenty chance that the true number is "only" 350,000 deaths or over one million.

3) The range is so large because of the uncertainties in data collection. The uncertainties people carp about are already figured into the range.

4) If you want to carp about uncertainty, higher numbers are as likely as the lower ones.

5) The range, 392979 to 942636 excess deaths, has the same level of certainty as all other biomedical research. If you want to disbelieve their results based on methodology, you have to disbelieve all epidemiological research. This is not to say such research is always perfectly right. It's just to say that it has the same level of certainty as the rest of biological science.

(A bit more detail in my post here.)

The image of the little girl's shoe on the bloodstained floor is evocative enough that it still has my eyes welling up. That being said, I am grateful that it does not show more of the carnage as I can only take so much. It's bad enough to know the tragedy that picture represents, it's another thing to have the full reality burned into one's brain. And that is just from someone who at least has a certain degree of separation from the reality (other than it being largely my government's actions bringing much of the suffering about).

.....what MonsieurGonzo said (10/14).

Plus the image is just too effing trite!

"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters"

What comes to mind is Goya, "Disasters of War"

For me, that photograph says it all. It speaks to all of my thoughts and emotions about this cursed debacle.

What of the people who are faced with images like this one every day? For them, these scenes aren't magazine covers. They are part of the landscape in the deaths of their children.

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