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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Innumeracy in the orchards?

A while back, when the Hussein trial began, I wrote about the irony that one of the crimes Hussein and his associates were being accused of was of destroying the orchards of Dujail. As I wrote then:
Orchard destruction is a routine practice in Palestine and Iraq, and I haven't heard a word of criticism of those practices in the Western corporate media. Indeed, the whole situation would be laughable were it not so tragic for those involved.

And don't even ask about the destruction of Vietnamese farms and forests by the U.S. application of Agent Orange. I'm sure that dwarfs Hussein's destruction of farmland in Dujail by many orders of magnitude.
But in today's trial coverage, we got a number to go along with the accusation when we read of "the razing of 250,000 acres of palm groves and orchards." Let's see. There are 640 acres per square mile, that makes 390 square miles of palm groves and orchards allegedly razed. Dujail has (had?) a population of 10,000 people (this article says 75,000). I don't know how big it is, but Baghdad, by far the largest city in Iraq, covers 250 square miles. That means the defendants are charged with levelling an area more than 50% larger than Baghdad, in a town (and, ok, surrounding countryside) with less than 0.2% of the population of Baghdad (6 million). Possible? Yes. Plausible? Not really. Source of the allegation? Like so many such allegations, completely unknown. I can find hundreds of repetitions of the claim, all using exactly the same number without even an "approximate" attached, as if it were measured by a surveyor, but not (so far anyway) the ultimate source.

For another way to look at this, 390 square miles is just a little smaller than a square 20 miles on each side. That's a large area! If you had a huge bulldozer with a blade 20 feet wide, you would have to drive it 20 miles, then turn around, and drive back 20 miles, and keep repeating that until you had driven 20 miles more than 5000 times! At 5 mph, it would take you 880 days, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to complete the job. What kind of speed you could maintain while you were knocking down trees along the way I really don't know. But, even with many bulldozers, that's one heck of a job.

Update: Decided to throw another data point on the fire. Central Park in New York, something many people are familiar with, contains 843 acres. That makes the alleged area razed in Dujail just under 300 times more than the size of Central Park! Imagine what it would take just to bulldoze all the trees in Central Park! On second thought, don't imagine it, it's too horrible a thought.

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