Friday, September 22, 2006

Beta Point (Deaths in War > Deaths in 9/11)

Back when they were trying to design fusion reactors, the engineers used to talk about the beta point, the point at which the process actually produced more energy than it took to bring it off.  Although no one much talks about the possibility of fusion reactors anymore (partly due to Pons and Fleischmann’s cold fusion confusion from 1989 the public lost interest), the idea of the beta point has returned in the discussion of the world’s energy future.  First many experts point out that the end of the age of oil is not necessarily when the earth runs out of oil, it actually begins when it takes more than a barrel’s worth of energy to get a barrel of new oil out of the ground.  Many people don’t realize it, but that point is closer than most of us realize.  Second, critics of bio-diesel repeatedly point out that it currently takes something like a gallon of oil to make a gallon of bio-diesel.  Think about it, you have to power the machines that plow and harvest the fields, then you have to process the stuff somehow and get it somewhere.  Both of these “Beta points” remain very controversial in the meantime.  

Now there’s this intriguing policy beta point,  the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have now exceeded the number of people who died in 9/11, 2,973 deaths.   This does not include civilian contractors, journalists, or more significantly the number of Iraqis, foreign fighters, or Afghans who have died in the conflict. One might not want to count those who have actively participated in what they call the “resistance”, but the much larger number of dead Iraqis and Afghans includes thousands of children and civilians.  In fact, the vast majority of deaths in both places haven’t been military personnel or even terrorists.  It’s been individuals who were going to mosque, shopping at the market, applying for a job with the police, or even in at least one horrifying incident attending a wedding.  

The Yahoo article is quick to point out that it’s not unusual for the military reaction to an outrage to cost more lives than the original incident.  One thing most people don’t know is that the allies actually suffered more casualties in World War 2, largely due to Russian losses, than the Axis powers.  This is particularly frightening when one is reminded that close to 100,000 Japanese died in a single night of fire bombing at the end of the war (a much larger number than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  

The current cost of the Iraq war is officially 375 billion dollars btw.  Even in war one needs to ask the question “When does it stop being worth it?” and that assumes that it ever was.  At some point, even the most vociferous supporters of the war have acknowledged that the United States needs to draw down troops.  In the “optimistic” version, this happens when Iraqi security forces get more capable.  There are currently more US troops in Iraq than there were twelve months ago.  

So, here’s a somewhat intriguing question.  What’s the “beta point” for our Middle Eastern adventure?  While it’s hard to calculate dollars against say a “sense of security” or just the satisfaction of “getting rid of that tyrant Saddam”, will we have gotten 500 billion dollars of value out of the mission?   Btw, 375 billion is the “official” cost, we’ve paid far more than that when you ask the question what do we ordinarily get that we also haven’t been getting, e.g. security resources have gotten moved around in some fairly shifty ways.

It’s even more gruesome to compare the value of lives lost, American and non-American, against some more abstract goal, but if this was all somehow about 9/11 what’s the “beta point”?  We have quietly slipped past one of them. The administration hasn’t been anxious to mention it nor does the President keep a sign at his press conferences like the one that used to be outside McDonald’s.  

I know there aren’t necessarily straightforward answers, but this is what executives in all other fields have to do.  They make decisions and then have to find a way to measure whether or not that particular course of action was a net positive or a net loss.  If it’s the latter, you usually get fired though almost never tortured.  At some point though, the best you can do is what the classics folk call a “Pyrrhic Victory”.  

In the meantime, I invite anyone to share thoughts on what the beta point should be here.



At 9/22/2006 10:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and I'm glad you brought up non-American lives lost. It's scary how many Americans value Americans' lives over anybody else's and how many think that God favors America, (USA article on a study on our views of God). I think the Beta point will never be reached when it comes to Iraq. If we were truly a rational society, we would address automobile accidents and all the lives that preventing those could save. But we're not rational and we have an administration that takes advantage of this by using fear and divisiveness to justify murder. The only hope is that the public is getting fed up with this and will vote these anti-freedom, pro-war politicians out in 2006 and 2008.

At 9/23/2006 04:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The beta point was March 19 2003 when we could have estimated the hideous costs of the coming debacle and spent the gigamoney on bribing the Iraqis instead.

Love the idea of the McDonalds Counting Sign at Press Conferences.

At 9/23/2006 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Atul,
I don't think there's anything inherently rational about human behavior. It's more accurate to say that it's adaptive. I think those in power understand this all too well. Those out of power spend far too much time talking about "what makes sense" when it may not be about sense and more about seeing how it all adds up.

Mr. Pogblog,
I figure it'll be at least 500 billion dollars. There are 27 million Iraqis. We could have given each and every Iraqi 20,000 dollars to turn in Saddam and vote in an election.

At 9/23/2006 05:01:00 PM, Blogger inkyhack said...

Geesh, you guys are just so short sighted and selfish. Sure, there may have been a cheaper and more humane way to get rid of Hussein, but then what would have happened to all those hard-working executives in Halliberton. Did you ever think of that? This war has put a lot more gold-plated forks on their tables this year. Would you rather have them eat with silver?
Or how about those poor oil company executives. They are barely scraping buy as it is. If it weren't for this war, some of them may not have even been able to buy a second yacht for their children this year.
Of course, I'm not even counting all those God-fearing Christians in the armaments business. If it weren't for Iraq, some of their children may have had to drop out of Oxford and go to (gasp) Harvard. Or all those honest politicians who would have been deprived the chance to wrap there words with an American flag just a few weeks before an election.
You guys are just a bunch of heartless bastards.

At 9/24/2006 08:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, inky -- you're absolutely right. What were we thinking? I love working to a canine nub all day with no health insurance at age 61 to provide those essential luxuries for Halliburton et ilk. I am a selfish lout and I will go to a Re-Education Center and get my mind right.

Thank you for setting me back on the right (!) path. My errors in servility may have sent me to Hell if you hadn't intervened. I'll quit my whining for better conditions for the poor. Clearly they wouldn't be poor if God shed his grace on them. Who God loves eats with golden forks. It's soobvious now you mention it.

At 9/25/2006 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I agree, we may be measuring the beta point completley wrong. Perhaps, the Iraq war beta point is when certain companies and people stop making a profit out of the war.

Mr. Pogblog,
You don't need health insurance. that's what Oral Roberts is for.

At 9/26/2006 01:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Oral Roberts does the miracles on false teeth?

My guess is that him 'n Godboy never cured the false teeth?


Post a Comment

<< Home