January 14, 2002

YOUR LETTERS Two letters from


Two letters from previous correspondents, this week: John K. from Montreal on yet another theory for Western European domination of the world (see Jan. 10 entries), which boils down to we have "Judeo-Christian...Greek...critical, analytical thinking" and everybody else has "fatalism." Suffice it to say I believe he's wrong (in many places rather deeply wrong: the idea that people from the Middle East are devoid of any sense of personal style is, to say the least, foreign to my experience, anyway). John, read Jared Diamond's book first: it's a very provocative read. Then I'll be happy to argue his thesis with you...

Also, Tom R. from Albuquerque writes in about Marc Herold. I actually see Tom popping up all over the blogs these days. (Tom, I love you, but... get your own! It's not so hard, and I'd be happy to give you a hand with it if you need it. I'd read it, anyway.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:40 PM



Writer Peter Gorrie took innumeracy to new heights this Sunday in the Toronto Star, with a front page piece leading inside to a full page of the "numbers" of the Afghan War. It starts out:

The official death toll from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center keeps falling... the unofficial death toll among civilians in Afghanistan keeps rising.
This week, it stands at more than 4,000, as the U.S. military continues to rain bombs and missiles on suspected terrorist targets. That's not counting the hundreds of people starving or freezing to death or succumbing to disease in refugee camps in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

This of course, is a reference to the discredited Marc Herold "study." Inside, it continues:

Number of civilians killed in Afghanistan -- estimated 60 to 65 per day, or more than 4,000. (This figure was compiled by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold, using information from many media and government sources. It is disputed by U.S. officials as too high.)

Both Reuters and Human Rights Watch, organizations with impeccable credentials in this area, have come up independently with estimates of around 1,000 civilian fatalities so far. That is certainly an appalling enough number to make the Star's point. Yet the Star gives their front page blessing to a number from an avowed anti-war protester, based on no significant research whatever. You don't have to be a "U.S. official" to dispute the Herold study: anyone who reads it and doesn't dispute it is either an idiot, or dishonest, or both.

The piece, which is illustrated with a dated U.S. Navy photo of what appears to be the launch of a Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile as an example of the "12,000 bombs and missiles used by the U.S", also devotes a full paragraph to the Afghan mine-sniffing dogs that were "traumatized" by U.S. bombing, and claims there were 117 "backlash incidents" against Canadian Muslims, and 1609 against American Muslims, since Sept. 11. No explanation of what a "backlash incident" is, or whose figures those are, however. Maybe they're "Professor" Herold's, too...

PS: Conspicuously absent from the piece is any statistic that reflects poorly on the Taliban... such as total people killed during their reign, number of artworks destroyed, number of prisoners released when Kabul freed, amount of money made by the Taliban from heroin smuggling, etc. All wrapped up under the guise of a Harper's-style bare-facts-of-the-war statistical summary. That's Canada's largest newspaper for you, folks.

Posted by BruceR at 02:38 PM



I'm not saying I agree with Jean Tang's Salon story on Star Wars I vs. Lord of the Rings I, if only because it really seems a completely apples-oranges comparison. (One could have just as easily written a piece proving Star Wars was better than, Titanic, say, or vice versa.) The point that LOTR (FOTR? Whatever.) might have made its characters more human (hobbitish?) by acknowledging their foibles and fallibilities in a humorous fashion is valid, a la Star Wars, but it's hard to strike the balance between making your heroes both human and heroic, and I think both movies do a good job, within the limitations their creators were operating within.

However, there is one point where the joke is so obvious, so ready-made, that the fact FOTR doesn't acknowledge it almost makes for a continuity error. I am talking of course, of Gimli at the Council of Elrond. Gimli, the dwarf of the party, you'll remember starts off the meeting by trying to destroy the One Ring with his ax... wrecking the axe in the process. After a whole lot of jaw-jawing (Jar-Jaring?) the heroes declare their fealty to the cause with their weapons ("You have my bow!" "You have my sword!" "You have my Holy Three-Iron of Antioch" etc.) and Gimli of course makes his second contribution of the scene by saying... wait for it... "You have my axe!" and waving it around in a manner calculated to frighten the nearby onlookers.

Now, this leads to one of only two conclusions. Either Gimli has pledged fealty with some other dwarf's axe that he just scarfed, having broken his own, or he "borrowed" his neighbour's axe before, and crappified it trying to break an unbreakable ring, so that he didn't dent his. Considering how dwarfs are portrayed in The Hobbit (not to mention Tolkien's friend Lewis' Narnia tales) axe-thefts are perfectly acceptable Dwarf behaviour. Don't tell me either scenario couldn't have been played for laughs with only a couple seconds of film, to break up what, even with Peter Jackson's best efforts, ended up a rather overserious scene:

GIMLI to DWARF #2: Borrow this a sec? (Taking axe.)
(Gimli smashes axe, on ring, breaking it.)
DWARF #2: That was my father's axe, you son-of-an-Orc!"


DWARF #2: (standing up) And you have my... (Gimli trips him, grabs his axe.)
GIMLI: My axe! And you have my axe!
DWARF #2: Wha?.. Who hit me?

Or any other of an innumerable number of variations...

Posted by BruceR at 01:52 PM