Friday, April 20, 2007

The Blacksburg Unit

First of all, boys and girls, who knows what a Friedman Unit is?

I know! I know! Pick me Spotty!

All right, grasshopper, what's a Friedman Unit?

A Friedman unit is the amount of time that columnist Tom Friedman predicts will be required before we can determine whether a decent outcome is possible in Iraq. He's been saying that the next six months will tell the tale for years. The blogger Atrios, who is much better known than you, Spot, came up with the term. A Friedman unit is therefore six months.

Thank you, precocious grasshopper. See me after class; I have a special project for you. That's right; a Friedman Unit is six months.

In a similar vein, Spot thought it would be useful to measure the violence in Iraq from time to time in terms of comparison to the recent horror at Blacksburg, Virginia. In round numbers, a Blacksburg Unit is therefore 30; Spot thinks that is sufficiently precise for our purposes. So for example, there were nearly three hundred people killed or found dead in Iraq on Wednesday: that would be how many Blacksburg Units?

Ten Blacksburg Units, Spotty.

Right. There have been more that 3,300 US service persons killed in Iraq since the invasion. How many BUs is that?

Wow. That's 110 Blacksburg Units.

Right again. Final question, a harder one. Ready? It is estimated in a study in the British medical journal that as of last fall, 655,000 people have died in Iraq as a result of violence or illness directly attributable to the war. How many BUs is that?

That's 21,833 Blacksburg Units.

Very good. By the way, do you know where we got the numbers that permit us to do long division?

Well, it's called the Arabic number system, so I'm guessing the Arabs, Spot.

Yes, that's right. Can you imagine doing long division with Roman numerals? That's what the western civilization that people like Katie and Victor Davis Hanson are so fond of would have given us. Spot thinks that sometimes a little more cultural humility is in order, at least in some circles.

Class is over for the present. Don't think, boys and girls, that today's exercise was to minimize the tragedy of the loss of life at Virginia Tech. Quite the reverse. Spot wants you to take all the horror and grief experienced on that one campus in America and multiply it by the thousands and thousands of people who have died in Iraq.

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