Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Power of Zero

Via a rather loose concatenation of links, I began reading the first page of the book, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife:
An Eastern concept, born in the Fertile Crescent a few centuries before the birth of Christ, zero evoked images of a primal void, it also had dangerous mathematical properties.  Within zero there is the power to shatter the framework of knowledge.
It is not so strange that I would read this eventually, although it is a bit strange that I would be reading it now.  Last night, I was reading The Golden Ratio : The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number, by Mario Livio.  What is strange is the confluence of ideas thus provoked.  I went from the mathematics of Zero, to the amount of postwar planning for Iraq.

click for article about phi

In an earlier post, I quoted a snippet of lyrics from a Patti Smith song, Radio Baghdad.  Here is the entire thing.  Unfortunately, the lyrics do not convey the message.  (You really have to hear Patti work this one over, in her own special way.)
Suffer not Your neighbor's affliction
Suffer not Your neighbor's paralysis
But extend your hand Extend your hand
Lest you vanish in the city And be but a trace
Just a vanished ghost And your legacy
All the things you knew Science, mathematics, thought
Severely weakened Like irrigation systems
In the tired veins forming From the Tigris and Euphrates
In the realm of peace All the world revolved
All the world revolved Around a perfect circle
City of Baghdad City of scholars
Empirical humble Center of the world
City in ashes City of Baghdad
City of Baghdad Abrasive aloof

Oh, in Mesopotamia Aloofness ran deep
Deep in the veins of the great rivers
That form the base Of Eden
And the tree The tree of knowledge
Held up its arms To the sky
All the branches of knowledge All the branches of knowledge
Cradling Cradling
Civilization In the realm of peace
All the world revolved Around a perfect circle
Oh Baghdad Center of the world
City of ashes With its great mosques
Erupting from the mouth of god Rising from the ashes like
a speckled bird Splayed against the mosaic sky
Oh, clouds around We created the zero
But we mean nothing to you You would believe
That we are just some mystical tale We are just a swollen belly
That gave birth to Sinbad, Scheherazade We gave birth
Oh, oh, to the zero The perfect number
We invented the zero And we mean nothing to you
Our children run through the streets
And you sent your flames Your shooting stars
Shock and awe Shock and awe
Like some, some Imagined warrior production
Twenty-first century No chivalry involved
No Bushido

Oh, the code of the West Long gone
Never been Where does it lie?
You came, you came Through the west
Annihilated a people And you come to us
But we are older than you You come you wanna
You wanna come and rob the cradle
Of civilization And you read yet you read
You read Genesis You read of the tree
You read of the tree Beget by god
That raised its branches into the sky Every branch of knowledge
Of the cradle of civilization

Of the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates
Oh, in Mesopotamia Aloofness ran deep
The face of Eve turning What sky did she see
What garden beneath her feet The one you drill
You drill Pulling the blood of the earth
Little droplets of oil for bracelets Little jewels
Sapphires You make bracelets
Round your own world We are weeping tears
Rubies We offer them to you
We are just Your Arabian nightmare
We invented the zero But we mean nothing to you
Your Arabian nightmare

City of stars City of scholarship
Science City of ideas
City of light City
City of ashes That the great Caliph
Walked through His naked feet formed a circle
And they built a city A perfect city of Baghdad
In the realm of peace And all the world revolved
And they invented And they mean nothing to you
Nothing to you Nothing

Go to sleep Go to sleep my child
Go to sleep And I'll sing you a lullaby
A lullaby for our city A lullaby of Baghdad
Go to sleep Sleep my child
Sleep Sleep...
Run Run...

You sent your lights Your bombs
You sent them down on our city Shock and awe
Like some crazy t.v. show

They're robbing the cradle of civilization
They're robbing the cradle of civilization
They're robbing the cradle of civilization

Suffer not The paralysis of your neighbor
Suffer not But extend your hand

-- Patti Smith, Oliver Ray
The Iraq war is like some crazy TV show.  Crazy in that we don't know who to believe.  A fork in my link-skipping took me to this:
Secrets of the morgue: Baghdad's body count

By Robert Fisk
The Independent
17 August 2005

Bodies of 1,100 civilians brought to mortuary in July
Pre-invasion, July figure was typically less than 200
Last Sunday alone, the mortuary received 36 bodies
Up to 20 per cent of the bodies are never identified
Many of the dead have been tortured or disfigured [...]
they're robbing the cradle...

The Independent
have placed most of the story into their archive, but the full version can be viewed at Information Clearinghouse.  It includes this:
While Saddam's regime visited death by official execution upon its opponents, the scale of anarchy now existing in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and other cities is unprecedented. "The July figures are the largest ever recorded in the history of the Baghdad Medical Institute," a senior member of the management told The Independent.
Fisk mentions that there are no official reports on the subject of Iraqi mortality, so it is not possible to confirm his report independently.  Regardless, there is some supporting evidence.

In October 2004, the leading medical journal in Britain, The Lancet, published a controversial study (free registration) in which it was estimated that there had been 100,000 (note the large number of zeros) excess deaths in Iraq since the start of the war.  By "excess," they mean that the death toll was above that which would have been expected in prior years, even under Saddam's brutal regime.  Fisk's article in The Independent is consistent with the results of the Lancet report.  According to Fisk, in July 2005, in Baghdad alone, there were about 900 excess deaths.

The Lancet article was released early, leading to claims that it was a politically-motivated effort to influence the results of the Presidential election in the USA.  That may have been.  Unfortunately, if that was the intent, it did not produce the desired result.  Various people attempted to discredit the report by criticizing the methodology.  Incidentally, a statistician, Tim Lambert, posting at Deltoid, took an interest in this.  In my view, he successfully defended the methodology of the report.  

Many of the critics of the Lancet report cited a UN report,  Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, which estimated the number of excess deaths to be much lower (about 23,000).  Note, however, that even the more favorable report is not even faint praise for the US-led effort:
  • 12% of the Iraqi children in the age group 6 months – 5 years suffer from general malnutrition.
  • 8% of children suffer from acute malnutrition.
  • 23% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

In the two weeks prior to the survey it was found that 14% of children had had a cough or cold, 14% had had fever, and 9% had had diarrhea. Two percent had had other illnesses, and 1% had experienced an accident.
they're robbing the cradle...

According to the Washington Post, the incidence of child malnutrition was increased, compared to pre-war levels.  Recall that, before the war, the general population was suffering from the effects of economic sanctions.  So the fact, that child malnutrition has been worse after the war, is really, really disturbing.  

and various members of the BBA have reported that planning for the post-war period began in 2001.  But the documents uncovered so far indicate only planning for military affairs and oilfield development.  But it appears that the amount of planning for the welfare of the Iraqi people was a big, fat Zero.

categories: politics, rants
tags: ,

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
E-mail a link that points to this post:

Comments: Post a Comment