October 21, 2010

Statistics, Lies, and the New York Times

An op-ed appeared in the New York Times on October 9th pointing out how much murder actually costs a country. It quoted research at Iowa State University that calculated that each murder costs society $17.25 million in victim's costs, loss of earnings, and the justice, punitive, and prevention systems. Sounds like a lot, but I’m prepared to believe it. The article highlighted the fact that the USA has the highest murder rate, twice as much as any other OECD country. To illustrate the piece, a graph showed that the USA's rate was 5.5 per hundred thousand, followed by Finland at 2.6, then, amazingly, Israel at 2.4, with all the rest of the countries showing lower rates.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. I stopped, read it again and saw that the statistic apparently comes from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Well, I thought, I'd no more trust the United Nations than I would trust Ahmadinejad to tell me how many Iranians have been raped this year by his regime's secret police. The statistics, I accept, did only claim (in very, very small print) to cover the OECD countries. No Muslim, African, or South American countries were included. Perhaps the figures were true. The thought occurred that as Tel Aviv might have been trying to emulate Sodom and Gomorrah. Still it surely hadn't descended to the level of the favelas of Rio. Still I wondered. Did these statistics include only civil murders, or perhaps terrorist ones too? Perhaps they applied to the West Bank and Gaza, since the UN considers Israel responsible for everything that happens there.

Was I being paranoid again? Overreacting? I often do nowadays, to the mindless and irrational hatred directed to Israel; its warts, believe me, I see in color and 3D, but I still find the shrill and hateful microscope applied to them a dishonest distraction from the overwhelmingly worse situation that is to be found almost everywhere else in the world today. I had heard that the various mafias in Israel were having a great time shooting each other up. The Moroccans (with representatives in the Knesset) versus the Russians (with even higher representation) versus the Palestinians (with everyone's support), and now I believe the Albanians are in on the act too. And I had heard that soldiers returning from the fronts often lost control and their tempers and their guns went off too readily. The massive stress of ongoing military service and of living under constant threat, and the not insignificant issue of Jewish mothers and nagging Jewish Israeli Princess wives, as well as spoilt Jewish mothers' boys throwing a tantrum when they don't get their way—well, for a moment the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that the statistic could, might just be correct.

The latest statistics released (belatedly) by the National Crime Records Bureau for 2008 reported on the murders in the world as follows:

India - 32,719
South Africa - 30,960
United States– 16,692
Pakistan – 9,631
Israel – 177
Austria – 148
(China doesn't report)

You can do your own Googling but Haaretz reported last week that so far in 2010 there have been 105 murders in Israel--54 of those were among Arabs (out of which 23 were family honor killings). Even one murder in Israel is one too many but still the impression one gets from the NYT impression is so distorted. It might not technically be wrong, but it certainly is not right.

There was a time when I would have said that if it appeared in the New York Times it must have been right. But I am no longer the innocent young idealist who believed in the honesty of the free press any more than I believe nowadays in the honesty of the British "bobby" or the objectivity and incorruptibility of the judiciary. I have seen and experienced the corruption of them all. No one in his or her right mind would give democracies the benefit of the doubt nowadays, either capitalist or socialist ones (and I don't think there is any significant practical difference any more).

I used to think journalists were honest and objective. Those were the days of George Orwell. No longer. Reporting is so biased and subjectively distorted that I am now on the point of joining the millions who simply shut out those papers, channels, and websites that they know have an agenda they find offensive and logon only to those they find some comfort in. Ironically, the proliferation of internet sources has narrowed political perspectives and reinforced isolationism, precisely because the shrill is too disturbing and deafening. Why would I ever want to listen to anyone who compares Israel to Nazi Germany? Has anyone yet discovered gas chambers outside Tel Aviv or extermination camps in the Negev?

I never thought I'd ever become a fan of Rupert Murdoch. But thank goodness for the Wall Street Journal he now owns, where in addition to articles critical of Israel one can also find others in support, or at least understanding, of her predicament. And thank goodness for Fox News, biased as it is, for at least there one can hear and see a different point of view. And how sad for Europe where state monopolies and political pressures on broadcasting all but shut out another point of view. The unfortunate result is that civilized discourse and balanced debate all suffer. We abuse each other from the safety of our own mental ghettos.

Long live the Aussies!

6 Comments:

At 2:59 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

You're a hundred per cent right, Jeremy. I stopped getting The Guardian forty years ago and have never regretted it nor seen fit to buy it again. Its anti-Israel bias has been nothing short of destructive. What upsets me is that only the Right support Israel (and not all of them).

No thinking person is going to see Israel as perfect but the criticism levelled at her goes well beyond the bounds of honesty and into the realms of scapegoatism. I just wish for a modicum of fairness but have no hope for it.

 
At 1:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Criticism in good faith is often more valuable than praise. Israel is founded upon a doctrine of "National Self Determination", a doctrine which is in practice bound to be problematic under any circumstances.

Tony

 
At 7:58 PM , Anonymous dk said...

I didn't realise that Finland was so dangerous!

Didn't you find anything odd in there apparently being nothing between "Pakistan – 9,631" and "Israel – 177"? Or have you edited out some statistics, accidentally, or to better present the argument? Only asking, only half seriously.

 
At 10:09 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

dk:
Yes, I did select; otherwise the blog post would have been too long. But your point is correct!
J

 
At 10:09 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Leila:
Indeed, no matter in what country you look at the press it has become increasingly polarized.
J

 
At 10:10 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Tony:
Better the wounds of someone who loves you than the kisses of an enemy! Proverbs 27.6

 

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