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The War Nerd September 4, 2003
Corsica: Beware of Scooters
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

Now that we've got everything running so smooth in Iraq, I thought I'd talk about something a little lighter, to take our minds off all that peace and law and order that's busting out all over Saddamland.

Gee whiz, according to the latest recount the death toll in that Najaf truck bombing has dropped below 100 again! If Iraq gets any more peaceful, there won't be anybody left alive to enjoy all that expensive imported democracy we brought to the party. So today's column has two parts. The first is educational, scientific, all that. I thought it up myself, too. The second part is what you might call the light comedy part of the column: I announce the winner of my competition to find the very fakest, wimpiest, no-contact "war" on the planet.

But first, a War-Nerd science lesson. You know how Newton was sitting there picking his nose when he got hit by that apple obeying the law of gravity? Well, the same thing happened to me while I was watching the Najaf bombing reports. Not the apple -- I was indoors -- but the sudden blinding flash of genius: it hit me like a diamond bullet that these casualty counts always go through the same three stages. First there's a ridiculously low number, then a high one, and then, about three days after the place went boom, a third count pretty close to accurate.

I'm calling it "the Brecher Casualty Curve," just in case there's money in it. Like maybe I can get a DoD grant to do further study on all the mathematical wrinkles of my Curve...sit on my ass at home all day surfing war sites, writing off my pizza bills as business expenses. Sweet. And listen, compared to most DoD expenditures, my pizza bills are a great investment. Take the B-l bomber...please.

Let's watch the magical Brecher Curve in action, using the Najaf bombing as sort of a story-problem: "If 20,000 Shiites coming out of a mosque meet 2,000 kilograms of high explosive expanding at a zillion FPS, how many Shiites will be missing from the next group hug?" We simply apply the Curve and stand back to watch it work.

Stage 1: the local cops and PR boys invent a ridiculously low casualty figure, approximately one-fifth to one-third the real total. As in, "Sure, half of Najaf just vanished in a cloud of burning fertilizer, but that doesn't mean people DIED!" Remember the first figure they gave for the Najaf bomb? 17 dead, that's what they said. If you've watched as many of these things as I have, you knew that was a lie. What gets me is why all the wire-service and TV mouthpieces pass this shit on like they believed it. Do these guys actually look at ten square blocks of blood and rubble and believe it when the cops tell them only 17 people bought it? Well, not for very long. That's how you get to the next stage.

Stage 2: The official story breaks down and the death toll zooms out of control. In the Najaf bomb, the figure went from 17 to 125 in a few hours. What happens is that after a few reporters wade around the local hospital getting their argyles dyed hemoglobin-red and counting all the people lying in the hallways with blankets over their faces, the count boomerangs. You get a hysterical overcount. So just remember next time: this stage will ALWAYS turn out to be too high, usually by about 20%.

So get out that calculator you use once a year, around midnight on April 14, and do the math. That way, while the TV geeks are still stuck at Stage 2, you will be already at....

Stage 3: the actual death toll. This usually starts to come out about 48 hours after the truck goes boom. And it's almost always expressible in simple math:

Stage 3 = Stage 2 -- 20%.

So in the Najaf bomb, Stage 3 = Stage 2 (125) -- 20% (25). Which would be, uh...100. Yup, according to my all-knowing, all-seeing Brecher Curve, the final death toll in Najaf will be 100. If your office is having a pool, get a bet down on 100 before everybody tries to get in on it. In fact, put a few bucks down on everything from 95-105. This thing has a margin of error, like us scientists always say.

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Gary Brecher
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