Monday, March 26, 2007

The "Pull out of DC" email

I keep getting this stupid email:
There has been a monthly average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 deaths. That gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 persons for the same period. That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capital than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: The U.S. should pull out of Washington
Maybe people think this is funny. Maybe they give a little laugh and say, "Gee. Sure is dangerous in the old chocolate city. Thank goodness I live in Baltimore." Or they shake their heads and say, "Wow, guns sure are dangerous. We should get rid of them."

More often, I get this email from some gun nut or other who uses it to buttress their argument that D.C.'s gun ban has actually caused an increase in violence (demonstrably untrue).

Most commonly, though, this comes from some chucklehead who's trying to make the point that the Iraq conflict is the least dangerous military engagement in US history (actually true in terms of death, less so in outright casualties), and we should therefore stop our fatuous whining about it, roll up our sleeves and get in there and finish the job (whatever job that might be--no one seems to have a coherent answer for that question).

Well, I finally got tired of it when I got the email from my Mom. Mom's a progressive, but she can be a little credulous about things that come in through her email.

This email isn't glib and funny. It's venal and factually wrong. It is a perfect case-in-point example of rightwing mendacity. A lie, I say. At some point, someone purposefully put this little turd into circulation to make a point (any one of several tired points the right likes to harp on). This is not "an important conclusion." It is a bunch of crap.

Fortunately, we have a very fine myth-busting tool available to us thanks to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index (warning: .pdf). That Index, updated and released every week, can tell you almost everything you need to know about what it's possible to know about Iraq.

That Index, and a little internet research into DC crime statistics and population, give you everything you need to disprove this bullshit quote. But looking into it all is a pain in the butt (which is what the sender is counting on).

Well, I've taken all the work out of it for you. I've even done the math.

If you're guilty of passing along that nice little piece of garbage, you owe it to everyone you've sent it to to send them this (all page numbers refer to the Index):

First of all, the quote gives an overall death figure but then uses it to claim firearm deaths. You can't actually determine "firearm" deaths from anything the US military gives out. Plus, there are so many other sources of hostile death in Iraq that it seems silly to limit yourself. Is it any more vicious to be intentionally killed with an IED than it is with a Kalashnikov (or, for DC purposes, a Glock 9)? But that's fine: it's easier (and logical) to compare overall homicide statistics with overall hostile-action deaths. DC doesn't break out its firearm crime, either.

The information in the quote is also out of date (as people keep getting killed). The close-to-current death toll is well over 2,112. And the average troop strength over the last 22 months is a bit lower than 160,000.

Actual US troop strength per month is 145,000 for the last 22 months. (p.21) Over the past 22 months, there have been 1,562 total casualties for US forces in Iraq. Of those, 191 died from non-hostile causes, leaving 1,371 total deaths due to hostile action (p.8). This is off a little bit, because the report is only current through March 21. But it's more than half of what the email claims, while troop numbers remained proportionately higher. So that actually helps Mr. Free Republic.

At an average of 62.3 deaths per month, that's roughly 43 per 100 thousand -- less than the 60 per 100k Mr. Freep claims. Wow! It's even safer in Iraq than we thought!

In 2006, there were 196 homicides (of all kinds) in Washington, D.C.; 198 in 2005. That's according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

According to the US Census Bureau, DC's estimated 2005 population was 550, 521. They lost 3.8% of their population over the previous 5 years. Assuming that trend continued in 2006, the 2006 DC population was about 546,337. So the average population over 2005-6 should be about 548,429. That's roughly 40 homicides per 100,000 people per year, or 3.34 per month.

3.3 per 100k per month in Washington. 43 per 100k per month in Iraq. Well, I've never been very good at math, but I think 43 > 3.3. Right?

Comparing hostile-action deaths in Iraq to homicides in DC, Iraq is about 13 times more dangerous than DC. Or, in the language of the email, you're over a thousand percent more likely to be killed in Iraq.

But the comparison is even more full of bullshit than it seems at first blush. For the DC statistics, we looked at all homicides. Because DC isn't at war, that accounts for all wrongful deaths in the District of Colombia. But when we looked at Iraq, we only looked at US military deaths due to "hostile action." We didn't even consider that Iraqi military and police killed, by month for the last 22 months, averaged 189. Per month. (p. 11) So if you're an Iraqi policeman, Iraq is about 57 times more dangerous than Washington D.C.

Or the average of 2,871 Iraqi civilians killed per month during 2006 (p.13). That's almost as many as the death toll on September 11. Actually, it's more as if Saudi Arabians killed 2,871 Americans every month for at least one year. Or perhaps if they killed Canadians, instead. Since Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

So I hope we can can sacrifice this stupid email to the recycle bin. It's flat-out wrong. But that hasn't kept it from popping up repeatedly. It's even made it on to the TeeVee (OK, Fox). And when you started sending it to my mother, you pissed me right off.

Anyway, the actual conclusion (the email-author's logic) is that we should invade DC. Don't think I haven't thought about it...


BKDMBASS said...

I thought the email was saying we should abandon Washington, D.C.

From the looks of this ...

... white people already have ...

Jim said...

The email says that, but, by its own logic, it should not.

That map is good as far as a snapshot goes. DC began to be mostly black at the end of WWII, a trend that continued. But if you look at this map (from the same source as the one you cite), you can see that the percentage of non-Asian Hispanics in DC neighborhoods actually decreased during the 90s. This was due in large part to an increasing suburbanization of the black community. The report that accompanies the maps also details the increasing integration of DC neighborhoods over that time (see, e.g., pp. 20-22).

Taken as a whole, it would seem to indicate a gradual return of whites to DC. After living there in 2000 and in conversations with my friends who still do, I would say that gentrification and gradual reintegration are the trend.

d.nesbitt said...

I enjoyed this post. It seems that if people believe DC is more dangerous (even incorrectly) than Iraq, the reaction should not be glee, but horror in the decline of many of our cities. Living in Baltimore I see everyday how apathetic people are to violence in our cities. Teenagers are killed on a weekly basis and we offer a collective yawn. Not only should we get out of Iraq, we should dedicate ourselves to solving problems in our own cities. said...

Jim, if you're still up or get this Sunday morning, send me an email at - - - I've got something rather urgent to discuss.

Peace - DI said...


Sorry about the alarmist tone of that comment, and thanks for responding like you did. I just wanted to get as many people in on this dumb April Fools prank where we'd all post something about an article of impeachment being passed in the House Judiciary Committee.

Kind of fizzled, but it was fun to think it might cause some sort of a stir.

These comparative thoughts on violence in Iraq and cities in America has been going on since 'Mission Accomplished', with a Brit Hume episode of it a few years back I remember gets me angry, but then I consider the fact that these are the same people who denied that smoking caused lung cancer, that CO2 emmissions should be regulated...they shrugged their shoulders when those miners died last year, etc.

Empathy isn't their MO - - - what you did by highlighting it here is probably the best any one of us can hope to do to combat it. I used to call up right-wing radio talk shows and get in a few good lines before getting talked over and cut off, but w/ the kids now, I don't have the time or concentration for anything like that.

Jim said...


No worries. Glad to find myself in the loop -- I've not been an up-to-date broadcaster for a little bit; kind of off the air most of the time lately.

Sent you a quick email for more detail (though not much, I'm afraid).

And I agree that there's something stupidly quixotic about a post like this, or calling in to Hannity/Rush/Assholedejour. But like a cigarette or a tall glass of straight whiskey, sometimes I just can't help myself.

Peace back atcha.

Jim said...


glad to find you on the web. Thanks for coming by--I hope you find it mostly entertaining. And I hope things are going well. I'll be entertaining a you man and his parents this weekend, all of whom you know really well. I'll be sure to pass along all good things.

JKG said...

I've been struggling with my correspondence this week. Last night I was compelled to spend most of the night composing the new essay on deadissue...once I get into a kick like that, everything else falls to the side.

Looking forward to reading your post on the Portland waterfront.

A nice double shot of Jamisons sounds good right about now!