Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What's In A Number?

“Sure Hope There's A Bottomless Pretzel Bowl In Hell!”

It was last April when I began a post on “The Math” of Iraq's awful, destructive numbers thusly:

"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, November 2006

In that post, I crunched, deconstructed, re-processed and then ground out the brutal numericals as best I could—even using mathematical anecdotal evidence offered by a family member with some hands-on experience in dealing (in a law-enforcement manner) with “bad” numbers.

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."

It is now a year from that time. The reported U.S. casualties in Iraq were as of that day, April 20th...3317.

The total today, April 1st, 2008? 4012 Just about 700 more soldiers dead since that day. Averaging about two soldiers a day, blown to bits, shot down in streets, captured and tortured to death...mutilated till the heart simply spares the body by saying...enough, and mercifully gives out.

And for what? The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens snuffed out? Blown up, phosphorus scalded and bulldozed en masse into ignominious, lime-dusted trenches. For them? Their lone freedom is from life itself.

Is it the remaining populace...who want us out of there in the absolute worst way? To where a sizable percentage of the country's twenty-five million people support the efforts of the militarized thousands who pick our troops off like so much ripe fruit? What exactly are we doing for them? What is that positive thing that we can look on with pride?

Was it taking down Saddam Hussein? How long ago was that, pray tell? Five years ago this month? Captured him that winter? “Mission Accomplished” was declared that Spring. Happy Crocus Day...War is over!

And ninety percent of the U.S. military casualties have occured since that “victory”.

For what?...the deaths of 4000 American soldiers.

A number denigrated by the soul-dead, no-skin-in-the-game cheerleaders for this abominable conflict. Some like to say that all things being relative, the figure's not so bad, while others simply pooh-pooh the carnage and callously blurt a “So?” when confronted with the people's discontent with the wastefulness of the conflict.

What's four thousand lives gone, really? I mean, what's in a number, really?

If you took every Major League baseball player who appeared in a game last year—just under a thousand players, and every NFL gridder, from Tom Brady to the most obscure “suicide squadder” whose cleats brushed turf for a down—some 1700 players, then threw in every NBA rim-hanger, brick-tosser and superstar—about 500 people and finally topped it off with the total of all whose feet cleaved ice professionally for the NHL las t year—about 950 padded, gap-toothed zoomers, put them all in an arena at once and then caved the roof in while setting the place ablaze...you'd end up with about 4,100 dead. Not a far cry at all from the senseless Iraq total thus far.

Or perhaps...perhaps if you sold out the world-famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem for three straight nights, but instead of a stunning show, had a team of assassins simply mow down everyone seated in the theatre. Fill 1400-plus seats three times over and have those people blown away and tou get to 4000 easily.

My high school graduating class consisted of 508 students. Multiply that by eight and you're at...4000 yet again.

Let's take a page from the poison book of our “So?”-spouting vice president if you will for a moment and link 9-11 to Iraq, shall we? Take the number of people killed at the World Trade Canter on September 11th, and then add to that ghastly total another 300 firefighters.

Then add 300 more policemen.

And then, tack on 300 more civilians to the death list and you're right there again—at the heart-sinking and un-magical 4000 number.

When you put it in that perspective, it's not such a piddling number, is it?

That question's really for our tough-guy veep—the flightless bird and defenseless friend-shooting Mr. Cheney.

But people like him and his “boss”, and the oleaginous Michael O'Hanlon, the wattle-full-of-deceit Fred Kagan, and the “Stratego™-is-like-real-life” believing Victor Davis Hanson see lost American lives as blurry, non-corporeal haze. Vapors and dust to be burned off with the light of never-ending, hubris-driven war.

These are people. Real people in that 4000 who are dead...and gone, and will speak no more. Individuals with as much to give as anyone else, only to be sacrificed as human fucking kindling to stoke a senselessly burning fire.

I've seen Steven Spielberg's “Saving Private Ryan” maybe four times. But I've only watched its frightful first twenty minutes once. The film didn't depict those carried off in death's bottomless satchel as the typical faceless wave of falling bodies in costume department camo.

You remember those awful deaths individually.

The soldier blown in half as Tom Hanks is dragging him across the beach to “safety”.

The poor bastard who takes a fatal bullet to the forehead after cheating death moments before thanks to his then still-on-his-head helmet.

The beach's radio operator, frantically dialing for back-up one second, and then—little more than a blast-emptied skull a moment later.

Every death is an individual one, no matter how those who wish to wave away and downplay them as a collective, faceless lump of sacrifice to an unnameable “greater good” may try to. Parts yes, of that bigger than you think it is “4000” number, but individuals nonetheless.

Like Sgt. Matt Maupin of Batavia, Ohio. Captured four years ago in Iraq and classified as missing ever since. Up until this past weekend that is—when his remains were found and identified.

Just one of four thousand. Or five thousand. Or hey, why not TEN thousand if the likes of the dangerously flawed John Sidney McCain should ascend to power and opts to make this a “Hundred Years War 2.0”.

I said it this weekend when that death was added to the scrolling tally...

“Just...Goddamn the waste of it all. How do people sleep at night behind this out-of-control meat-grinder of a war?”

Those who cheered. Who signed off. Who to this very day will NOT see it for the historical clusterfuckery that it is. I realize now that these people don't sleep. To sleep you must be alive. And these people are dead. Soul-dead as a hunk of petrified wood or a shard of rough brick in a pile of refuse. They may close their eyes and lay down to “rest”, but it is a vampire's rest.

And 4,000 lives sucked away is nothing to them at all. A mere apéritif...before an eternity if there is such a thing as “Karma”, of dining hopefully as bellowed in the movie “300”...in hell.