Today’s Fortune Cookie Says

Your fondest dream will come true within this year.

I’m not sure which fondest dream that might be — I’m continually changing my mind — but I’ll take it.

July’s US Military Fatalities in Iraq

[On 3 August, the fatality figure for July 2007 at Iraq Coalition Casualty Count was revised down to 80. Michael White at ICCC says that a fatality announcement from 19 July was never confirmed and was removed from the database.]

On 31 July, before the month had even ended, Stephen Farrell of the New York Times wrote a story titled “U.S. Death Toll in Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in ’07”. Based on the figure reported by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count at the time (74), that was certainly true. Also true at the time was the claim in the headline of an Associated Press story by Kim Gamel in The Washington Post that read “U.S. Toll in Iraq Lowest in 8 Months”.

By the end of 2 August, the total US military deaths reported by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count was 81, the same as the figure for February and March of this year. The number of deaths was still the lowest for any month of the year, but three of the seven months this year could claim the same. The eight month streak had shortened to four. And there is still a possibility that more July deaths may be recorded.

Both stories couched their claims. The AP story mentioned in its fourth paragraph that July 2007 was the deadliest July since the beginning of the war (54 had died in July 2004 and 2005). The Times article admitted several paragraphs in that “Some casualties in late July may be reported after the beginning of August, so the count is not yet definitive for the month.” Both quoted military officials — who should well know when the reports for a month could be considered final — noting the early numbers as heartening or a “positive sign”.

For the last three years now, July has been a month when — by chance or due to some operational reason — fatalities among US troops went down in Iraq compared to June of the same year. The drop in 2005 and 2006 was around 30%. If the July 2007 figure had held at 73 or 74, the drop from 101 in June would have been about 30%. That is when the two stories were released, despite the expressed knowledge by the reporters that the figure would almost certainly continue to rise for a couple of days. As it currently stands, the trend in the absolute number of deaths from the previous Julys doesn’t look good (2005: 54, 2006: 43, 2007: 81). Even worse is the trend of the drop from June to July (2005: -31%, 2006: -30%, 2007: -20%).

Despite their caveats, and the almost certain knowledge that their statements would be blown out of the water by figures to be released in a couple of days, this is how “responsible” journalists and editors lead the Times story:

BAGHDAD, July 31 — The death of a marine in western Iraq brought the American military death toll to 74 so far in July, on course to be the lowest monthly figure this year.

Was it? Because by the end of the workday in the US on 2 August, that statement and the headline above it were invalid.

This is the AP lead:

BAGHDAD — American military deaths for July rose to 73 on Tuesday with the report of a Marine killed in combat, but the toll was still the lowest in eight months as the U.S. said it was gaining control of former militant strongholds.

Which part of that statement is backed up by facts, do you think?

See also “Spinning the Dance of Death”.

Spinning the Dance of Death

[post moved to this evening from early in the morning of 1 August]

Percentage Change in US Military Fatalities in Iraq from June to July 2003-2007 (updated at 10am 11pm 5pm on 2 August)
  June July % change
2003 30 48 +60%
2004 42 54 +29%
2005 78 54 -31%
2006 61 42 -30%
2007* 101 74 78
80 81
-27% -23%
-21% -20%
*may not yet include all casualties for the month

The US military death toll has dropped from June to July in each of the previous two years, for whatever reason, and this year it dropped slightly less than it did in 2005 or 2006. July 2005 was followed by an August where casualties jumped up to 85 (+57%) and in August 2006 they went up to 65 (+51%).

If seven more casualties get one more casualty gets reported for the month (at least six of those from July 2006 weren’t reported until 1 August or later), that “lowest death toll in eight months” or “lowest death toll this year” figure shortens up to a tie with only four months earlier, which tracks the trends of the last two years (three months in 2006, four months in 2005) as well.

[As of 5pm Pacific time on 2 August, the death toll for US military personnel in Iraq had reached 81, which is equal to the figures for February and March this year. July no longer has the lowest death toll this year (it’s tied for lowest, but it could still go up), nor is it the lowest toll in eight months as the AP trumpeted even before the month was over. It’s the lowest in three months.]

[As of 3 August, the figure had been dropped down to 80. Michael White at the ICCC responded to an inquiry by saying that a death reported on 19 July had not been officially confirmed and was removed from the count.]

But rather than wait to make sure the numbers were all in before proclaiming success (does that sound familiar?) the AP for some reason decided to run with the story even before the month was over, despite the almost certain likelihood that a few more American servicemen would be reported on the casualty list during the first days of August.

Mash Bridges

As you know, you cross the Mississippi with the bridges you have, not the bridges you want.

The Architect and the Badger

Many years ago I was a big fan of Mike Baron‘s comic book series The Badger, which was just the right mixture of goofiness, psychosis, and brilliance to appeal to me in my early twenties (the most psychotic character in the series was the title hero who, after being his in the face and bleeding on his torn costume looks at his adversary and says: “You broke the shirt! Now you’re going to pay!”).

The Badger and Baron and a lot of other things from two decades ago sort of drifted away when I went back to college, but I’ve been working on a web site with some Google ads and up at the top was a banner graphic for one of Baron’s latest creations, an online graphic novel called The Architect, that mixes allusions to Frank Lloyd Wright, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and H.P. Lovecraftian horror in a brief, entertaining experience. It ain’t The Badger, but it’ll kill a few minutes.